Category Archives: Christianity

The Triwizard Shorenament – Outing the Bully Boys of Privilege.

Yesterday, marked the end of Year 12 in our high schools, and was what’s colloquially known as “Muck-up Day”.

“Your path is your character defining itself more and more every day, like a photograph coming into focus.”

-Jodie Foster

As the name suggests, muck-up day spawns a lot of pranks, including the almost obligatory egg throwing at cars and shops. Indeed, at its worst, it summons up visions of Robespierre’s reign of terror, albeit in school uniform. However, for the students themselves, it means saying goodbye to school, friends, teachers and in many ways, plays one of the last notes of childhood. Yet, it’s also the first step towards liberation and a lot of fun…as long as nothing goes wrong.

By the way, knowing most of you are visiting from overseas, I should point out that Year 12 is the final year of school, and after students have completed their Higher School Certificate exams (HSC), they’re released from captivity into the world like a swarm of bees. That’s when they often head over the Queensland border to celebrate Schoolies Week at Surfers’ Paradise, or on this side of the border at Byron Bay.

In my day, Muck-up Day was more sedate. We might’ve signed each other’s school collars, filled in note and year books, and there had always been rumours of boot polish on the toilet seat. However, at least from memory, that was bad as it got. After all, if we got sprung, there’d be no all-important school reference.

However, from what I’ve gathered in recent years, Muck-up Day has spawned the treasure hunt…a rather quirky or challenging check list. All of this should just be a bit of fun. Indeed, a few years ago, I was eating fish and chips and taking photos at Terrigal Beach on Muck-up Day, and was approached by a few year 12’s. Their list included being photographed with a stranger. I think he might’ve put his arm around me. It was all good fun. They were all dressed in lairy neon outfits and were just running around, mostly sober having a good time and not hurting anyone.

However, this year a treasure hunt with a difference has unfortunately come to light. Sadly, this document reveals privileged bastardry is alive (and possibly even thriving) at at least one of Sydney’s prestigious boys’ school. Looking very much like an annual report, the instructions for the treasure hunt were cleverly entitled: The Triwizard Shorenament. This particular list included 10,000 points for flying down to Melbourne which is currently in Covid Lockdown, “shit on a train”, “break into Taronga Zoo”, drink “6 [vodka] Cruisers in 6 minutes” and “skull 700ml bottle of vodka”. In addition to the inherent elitism expressed, many of the acts are vulgar, anti-social, criminal and also show a concerning acceptance of alcohol abuse. Indeed, you’ve got to ask is this what their privileged parents consider “a good education”?

It’s certainly reinforced our decision to send out kids to the local state school. Well, it might not have been a choice, but there are good and bad eggs everywhere and you just have to hope either sort doesn’t go flying through your car window on muck-up day and hit you in the face.

Meanwhile, I’ve wondered how much media and community attention The Triwizard Shorenament is going to attract. While it’s certainly received some media coverage, there’s also that desire to repress. Stop the bad publicity.

However, I feel the actions outlined in this document, need to be assessed and used as a mirror, a score-card. Not just for the boys and the school involved, but also for the wider community. How did something like that see the light of day in 2020? Don’t we all know better? Moreover, there are six Anglican Ministers on Shore’s school council. Don’t they stand for something better than that? Or, is money all that matters? Are values such as character, integrity, compassion and equality to be spat on and reviled while the kings of the castle squash their minions under foot?

I hope not. However, for me these questions aren’t just ideological. Aren’t mere theory. This is where I’m from.

Of course, I didn’t attend Shore School. It’s a single-sex school for boys. However, I did attend the female equivalent. I was, and to some extent, am still part of this elite. While my life didn’t quite follow the plan and I’ve manged to find more snakes than ladders in my personal journey, I can still fit into those shoes and belong. It’s still where I came from, and part of who I am.

Perhaps, that’s what concerns me most about this despicable treasure hunt. I’d thought we’d moved forward in the last 30 years. That equality had gained a foothold. Moreover, that during the current coronacrisis, we as a society were becoming more caring, compassionate and understanding. Indeed, it is for this reason that the action of spitting on a homeless person disgusts me so much. Haven’t we all learnt just how close anyone is from landing on the streets? Indeed, it’s said many of us are only one maybe two pays away.

Of course, it could said, and it has and has been argued, only a small group of boys was involved. However, it doesn’t even take a close look at the report to see it’s a polished, detailed, and well-planned document. It’s not something put together on the fly and rashly emailed out in a moment of poor judgement. It looks like it was printed, and while I don’t have a lot of facts at hand, I think it was distributed to students and in a way that shows sufficient social acceptance for the plan. That the organizers weren’t stepping out of the mould and felt comfortable putting it together. There doesn’t seem to be an expectation of ridicule, shame, rejection by their peers. It was all carried out all but in the light of day.

However, it’s not easy to speak out against the cool or socially acceptable kids at school. There are also going to be students who were completely out of the loop and knew nothing about it at all, who’ll also have to live with the fallout, and amidst all of this, there will be some very distressed students and families. Although I deplore what was planned and the ideology behind it, I also believe in redemption. That the powers that be in the Class of 2020 can turn this around for good. Apologise and do some community service.

On this front, I’d like to refer back to a very gutsy speech given by Mitch Donaldson, the outgoing school Captain of Sydney’s Knox Grammar School at Speech Day 2007. In front of 1350 fellow students, 150 teachers and 600 parents in the school assembly hall, he spoke out against pressure from over achieving and overbearing parents, which had created a culture of cheating and bullying in year 12. He then pointed the finger at instances of parents who bullied school authorities into giving prestigious positions to their undeserving sons. He said: “There have been people in our year group who have stolen, who have belittled, and who have cheated their way through the past six years.” And most of them, he said, got away with it. But to those who played the game, he said, no matter who your father goes to the gym with, listen carefully. No matter what your efforts, you cannot and will not be able to ever buy respect.” Although that speech went on for 20 minutes,  apparently you could hear a pin drop. After all, the last thing you expect at a school assembly like that is for someone to tell it like it is. And at the end of the speech… after a moment of stunned silence… the whole hall rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. Mitchell Donaldson was angry with the injustice that he saw going on in his school 1.. That was an extremely gutsy move.

Sure, the instance at Knox Grammar was different to what went down at Shore, but you can see the parallels, and that they’re two cabs from the same rank.

I’ve inserted a couple of links here in case you’re interested in further reading:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-23/sydney-shore-school-threatens-expulsion-for-muck-up-challenges/12691756

https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/elite-private-school-students-filmed-naming-worst-sydney-suburbs/news-story/67a23c2548fb0250af42a820d46302a4?from=htc_rss

I’d be interested to hear what you have to say about this, and how it might reflect on what you experience in your community. Meanwhile, I’ll site the values of the French Revolution… Equality, Liberty, Freedom.

These values are still worth fighting for today.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Source

  1. https://www.mpc.org.au/media/resources/2007/20071125.html

Starting Over – Friday Fictioneers 17th September, 2020.

Dan couldn’t believe his luck when he spotted an almost new, wooden high chair sitting beside of the road. It had been sent straight from heaven, landing right at his feet. Although a new job would’ve been better, it was still an answer to prayer. He said nothing to Jess, and wrapped it up in a huge, pink bow. Dan didn’t have a TV, and didn’t worry about the news. Never found out what had happened, and how that high chair came to be sitting beside the road. The chair didn’t share its tragic secret either. It was starting over.

….

100 words. This week’s photo prompt has kindly been provided © Roger Bultot

This has been a contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. https://rochellewisoff.com/ Please forgive my clumsy links here. I’ve been forced over to the new block editor and am lost in the undergrowth. I am improving but still have a lot to learn.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Beyond Wisdom… Friday Fictioneers

Grace was longing for a crystal ball. Desperate for clarity, she’d finally decided to see a psychic, even if it was the Devil’s work.  After all, it had to be better than pouring the last remnants of hope down the pokies, especially now her winning streak was gone.

She handed over her last $50.00 note to Madame Sahara Rose. Fingers crossed.  

“You’re going to fly the trapeze and find romance.”

Grace snatched her money back.  That was enough bullshit to bury her alive.

Instead, she accepted the job on board the Ruby Princess. How could a cruise go wrong?

….

99 words Photo thanks to J Hardy Carroll.

For the last year, I’ve been researching WWI and especially the bios of individual soldiers in detail. I’m repeatedly struck by the mix of random chance, good and bad luck and also how our own choices influence our fate in both good and bad ways. I’m also interested in how we can often shoot ourselves in both feet and make matters worse, instead of improving our lot. Over the last period of time, I’ve also notice people say: “It is what it is”, as though there was nothing they or anyone or even God or science could do to improve things. Our fate isn’t etched in stone. We can make better or worse choices and unfortunately this character whose life was already down the toilet, ended up on the cruise ship which spread Covid 19 around Australia. Hopefully, this will be her turning point.

This has bee a contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. https://rochellewisoff.com/ Please forgive my clumsy links here. I’ve been forced over to the new block editor and am lost in the undergrowth.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Home On A Saturday Morning…2020.

This morning, I became strangely captivated by the absurdity of our kitchen table. Or, more to the point, by the macabre and unlikely pairing of random objects which had simply been placed one on top of the other just waiting for someone to come along and put them in their rightful homes.

That might have been a job for Friday night so we could start the weekend off with a clean slate, open space and an outlook uncluttered by the detritus of four people and three dogs living under the one roof under the somewhat trying circumstances of informal isolation. Well, at least, that’s largely the go for my husband and I while we’ve loosened the noose for the kids who are on school holidays. Even still, they’re told to wash their hands as soon as they come home, and are interrogated about who they’re catching up with before they leave, and where their friends have been, as well as where the people they’ve been hanging out with have been. Any mention of Melbourne, and it’s out to the dog house. Fortunately, we live just North of Sydney and are still well away from experiencing what’s going on in America and other virus nightmare zones. However, we’ve not letting our guard down, and security is tighter at our place than the Queensland border.

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2020 will go down in history as a year we don’t want to repeat.

Anyway, I’m sure our kitchen table was clear last night. Or, at least, it was some time yesterday. Then, Mr 16 returned home from a day out with his mates and pulled a gazillion plastic spoons out of his pockets and dumped them on the table. He thought they were a great joke, and I reminded me of a friend of mine who used to do that, and earned himself the inevitable nickname of “Spoon”. Spoon was tragically killed in a car accident in his early twenties when he swerved to avoid a koala. One of my best friends had gone out with Spoon for a few years, and my connection with him was more second-hand, although when someone in your circle dies young in a tragic accident like that, you can feel a misplaced closeness. That somehow you knew them better than you did. Or, perhaps you just remember every single little detail and they’ve become frozen in a poignant time capsule in your heart for eternity.

However, my son knew nothing about that when he brought all these spoons home and spread them all over the kitchen table. Not only that, he left them there almost like a piece of ephemeral street art. Just to compound matters, he dumped them on top of my latest attempt to maintain some kind of diary and routine during 2020 when I have nowhere to go and virtually nothing to remember. I have no reason to routinely open a diary and be concerned with where I’m going, which is making it very hard to keep track of that rare random place I’m supposed to be (Is anyone else struggling with that? I know it surely couldn’t just be me?)

Anyway, after deciding that the image of my 2020 diary buried in plastic spoons somehow encapsulated the weirdness of 2020, I noticed a few other “curious points of interest” on the table. While we would usually hide all this unsightly kitchen and family clutter to produce a Insta-perfect shot, I was suddenly struck by all the personality and character which had been thrown together here, and how it possessed a strange kind of beauty which ought to be shared before it was swept away like detritus on the beach.

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First up, there’s this combo of a chocolate biscuit with a touch of lime resting on my tablet box. For the last 13 years, this tablet box has been part of my day more regularly than clockwork. Every day, I take a good handful of tablets to stave off my auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis. While photographing the spoons and my diary, I must’ve been in between thoughts and hadn’t quite managed to get my biscuit onto a plate. The biscuit was made by a friend of mine are chocolate with a hint of lime and rather special. They were left over the other night, and being kind and thoughtful, she divided the leftovers up into Chinese containers for us all to take home. Although I was also taking home the remains of a chocolate macadamia cake I’d made, I was looking forward to having her biscuits with a cup of tea. They were a real treat.

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Personally, I don’t feel the chewed up rubber innards of a tennis ball warrant an explanation. However, there might be those of you who don’t have scraps of tennis ball deposited all over the house like we do. Indeed, tapping away at my desk, I’ve spotted a streak of fluoro-orange felt with a few bits of cracked rubber still attached. Indeed, on the other side, I’ve just spotted one of my son’s disposable plastic spoons. How did it migrate out here? Surely, it wasn’t me?!! I don’t know. However, I’ve clearly been persecuted by crappy paraphernalia at every turn, and I can assure you most emphatically that”it wasn’t me”. Moreover, I’m sure sure that everyone around me, both human and canine, would agree. Of course, no one ever owns up to their crap, and the miscellaneous layers just keep building up until you pop out one morning, and a strange sedimentary rock is sitting there. Or, perhaps it’s more of a sandwich. I don’t know. All I do know, is that I don’t see this on anyone else’s Facebook pages, and I clearly don’t live an Instagram-able life!

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The quest for meaning continues…

Of course, the chaotic state of our kitchen table could well be a cause for prayer. Indeed, our house probably needs more prayer than most. Feeling that the state of the house was heading irretrievably down a precipitous cliff, I finally brought back the cleaner yesterday. By the way, I should point out that my cleaner isn’t some uppercrust indulgence. Rather, she’s a disability support worker and more of a vital necessity, except that the risk of catching the coronavirus far exceeded the need for a squeaky-clean house and we’ve been “doing alright” on our own. Anyway, when the cleaner found a stray rubber band, she hung it over the praying hands which I’d bought from Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral, and I thought it was a good laugh.You can’t take life too seriously, especially at the moment.

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Along with humour, nature has also been getting me through this year which just keeps doing my head in on so many fronts. I picked this shell up on one of my photography beach walks, either at Patonga or MacMasters. I’m not sure. I have a scattering of shells on our kitchen table from these walks. They’re ostensibly nothing spectacular, but they hold memories for me of those beautiful walks in the bright sunshine now that it’s Winter here, and I’ve had a cold for a few weeks and have switched into hibernation mode. I know it’s not good psych, but outside can wait.

Meanwhile, the outside is peering in through my window…the vast expansive branches of the Jacaranda tree just outside the door, a white camellia from our next door neighbour’s garden’s been keeping me company for awhile now, along with the chatter of the birds. There usually a dog (or all three) at my feet or even sleeping under my desk, although they’ve abandoned me today. The kids are home and no doubt they’re far more exciting. Moving humans are far more interesting than stationary ones tapping away on keyboards, and they have no concern for my ideas.

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Proof a mother’s work is never done.

Last, but by no means least, are my daughter’s pointe shoes and the accompanying post-it note. She bought a new pair of pointe shoes during the week and while they might dazzle you with their starstruck beauty, they not only torture your feet, but also your fingertips as you sew on elastics and ribbons which keep them attached to your ballerina’s feet. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried sewing into these beastly instruments of torture. However, jabbing a needle through leather is impossible for mere mortals. I snapped one needle and drew blood on separate stitch, and yet there was no respite for this ballerina’s mum. I just had to keep going and find a way. I ended up with a very strong, sword-like needle and pushing it through with the back of the dog’s brush. The dog had chewed it and there was a little tooth mark in the tough plastic where I could position the needle and push it through. Indeed, it almost appeared purpose-built, as long as I didn’t think to hard about it. Indeed, it didn’t even cross my mind at the time about how weird and absolutely bonkers it was. By 3 am, I only had one shoe done and decided my duty was done. That I was never going to have it finished in time for this morning’s class, and left an apologetic note… all on the kitchen table.

Meanwhile, I’m finding that our kitchen table’s being used less and less for its intended purpose. That it’s either too hot or too cold to sit out there in the kitchen, and i’s much more comfortable to sit out in the lounge with the reverse cycle going and the TV on. Just to compound the disintegration of family connection, our daughter usually eats in her room and our son often eats at his desk in the lounge while either playing games or watching videos. I really didn’t want us to go down this path. A path I know will lead to wrack and ruin. However, there are times I feel like Atlas carrying the weight of the family on my shoulders and I have to put the load down for a bit and recuperate a bit.  Stretch out. Extend my wings and do something without resistance. I don’t know if people realize they put themselves in the too hard basket and what that means, but sometimes, I run out of words to keep explaining and hope maybe a thought might pop into their heads without me putting it there myself. That, at the very least, they might actually stop to ask…Are Mum and Dad okay? Now, there’s a novel thought. One I didn’t consider myself when I was their age but surely something they could learn…

Anyway, it’s now Saturday afternoon and with my back turned on the tide, I have no idea what the table’s like now, However, it’s time for another cup of tea and I did just happen to see a faint ray of sunlight through the clouds.

So, now I wanted to ask you about your kitchen table. What does it say about you and what’s going on at your place? Although showing off your unkept table going against the grain, I’d love you to join me in this and have a bit of fun and please share your efforts in the comments. It could be really interesting to see a range of kitchen tables around the world and how different people live.

Meanwhile, I hope you and your loved ones and communities are safe and if they’re not, I’m thinking of you!

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share…15th June, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

This week, I have a very special treat to share with you…a magical chocolate cupcake. After watching Masterchef, I went the extra mile on these and pulled out the piping bag, giving them a knockout chocolate fettuccine hairstyle. However, you have to fight for them. Before I’d iced them, the dogs stole seven of them. Can you believe it?!! What’s more they didn’t left any evidence. Not even a crumb on the bench. It’s like the simply vanished. That’s why they’re magical cupcakes. Anyway, I took them along to Church for morning tea and they were shown off under the glass just like in a real cafe and they looked a million dollars. So, I hope you enjoy them.

chocolate cupcake

As we meet up for another Weekend Coffee Share, I wonder what’s going on in your neck of the woods and how you’re going.

Our world is so churned up at the moment, it’s hard to know quite where to start and considering I’ve been living in my cave, I’m not even going to try to comment on what’s going on out there. I keep seeing flashes of things on the TV and no longer know what to make of anything. I just can’t understand why people can’t all just be people, see others as people and just show some respect. For me, the Golden Rule offers a simple guideline on how to treat people. It’s not rocket science…treat others as you would like to be treated. You can even take it a step further and apply the inverse Golden Rule, which aims to treat people as they would like to be treated. Of course, this has nothing to do with racist violence.

However, here in Australia, we had a magnificent example of how we can get it right when rescuers developed a personalised rescue plan to find a missing non-verbal youth, Will Callaghan, who is on the Autism Spectrum. The outpouring of love for Will and his family was really phenomenal and truly warmed my heart. So much so, that I had to write about it myself: Finding Hope On Mt Disappointment.

After that, much else fell into flat relief.

However, I had a bit of a turning point for myself.

I went to the shops.

I didn’t immerse myself in the shops. Just popped in to pick up a lay-buy and was twinkle-toeing like a burglar trying to get in and out without coming into contact with anyone, and most importantly maintain social distancing so I didn’t inhale the same air. However, the shop is still closed until further notice, which was rather disappointing after working myself up so much just to be able to walk in, pull out my credit card and pay for my grey tutu skirt.

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Even sitting at a humble picnic table has been mission impossible during the coronacrisis. 

OMG! Living during this coronacrisis has taken the simple, and turned it into the ridiculous. However, I still can’t be too careful. The virus is out there, although in the case of the Australian context, that’s becoming doubtful. However, there’s still the odd isolated, unexplained case and I don’t want those to include me. Moreover, now it’s cold outside, it’s becoming more comfortable at home.

After navigating my way around the shopping centre successfully, I decided to attend our Church life group on Friday night. It was being held at our friend’s place which is perched up on poles in the gum trees. I love his place, as it’s filled with all sort of eclectic vintage and antique treasures and looks like a cosy museum. Everyone was really upbeat to be back together again, but it took me a bit of time to get my bearings, find a seat which social-distanced effectively and I was really grateful that my friends understood and didn’t treat me like a fruitcake, because I’m not naturally a germophobe. This has been thrust on me by my damaged lungs and the virulence and sneaky habits of Covid 19.

On Sunday morning, I went to physical Church for the first time in about 3.5 months. Our Church used to meet at the local community centre. However, the local Anglican Church went on the market and we decided to throw our hat in at the auction. Then, there was an anonymous million dollar donation and a phone call to the bank to find out about those mysterious zeros in the balance. Anyway, Sunday was our first service in the new building and what with us all coming out of lock down like something off the set of Sleeping Beauty, we were all so happy and bouncing all over the place. We had a BBQ afterwards of bacon and egg rolls and I was too embroiled to eat it and after having two friends pass me wipes to remove dripping egg from my personage, I decided to take it home where I could concentrate. I’m one of those people who spills their coffee while their talking on an ordinary day, let alone when I’ve been let out of isolation after 3.5 months, we’re in our new church home and surrounded by dear friends. Indeed, this is the sort of thing which can light all your matches at once and you can combust like in that book/movie by Laura Esquivel: Like Water For Chocolate.

By the way, my weekly walk continued. I went for a walk along Pearl Beach with my friend Roland on Thursday. We’ve walked along Pearl Beach before, although last time we took on the Western headland and walked around the rocks. This week we stuck to the sand and walked along the beach. There was a massive white cloud hovering above the horizon which looked like a massive white cauliflower with dense, tight curls. It was quite mesmerising and it had that feel that it could “beam me up, Scotty”, like a spaceship.

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The Spectacular Cauliflower Cloud. 

Then, we a pod of dolphins a few metres out. They seemed to be forming a circle around a school of fish. They were so much fun to watch, but unfortunately eluded my efforts to capture them with the camera. I wasn’t surprised as they’re difficult if not impossible to photograph but it would’ve been nice.

I turned back and noticed our footprints stretching back behind us in a perfect trail. There was perhaps one other person on the beach and we were just out of reach of the waves. I quickly took a few photos, as I sensed a poignancy there. Walking with my friend. It’s not something I do very often. It’s usually more of a case of “coffee”, which lately has been more likely to be a cup of tea. Thinking about it, that’s something I’d like to change as I like being in the outdoors and I need to do more walking.

By the way, I’d lost track of how long we’ve been hibernating at home. We checked out the usage on Geoff’s train Opal card, which he uses to get to work. That was last used on the 17th March, and I was probably in isolation a week or two before that. That means I’ve been in iso now for roughly 3.5 months with only going out for exercise until last week. So, i’m feeling a bit like Sleeping Beauty heading back out there again. Or, perhaps I’m just Sleepyhead.

The strange thing I found stepping back out there again, is that some people haven’t been out of action at all and have been out and about. They almost don’t comprehend that people like me have been out of circulation for 3-4 months and for some of us, we were also in a different form of lock down escaping the bush fire smoke last Summer. I’ve been very grateful to have my writing and research and indeed this time being locked away has really made a difference on that front. Doing my writing and research at home is my usual modus operandi but there isn’t that menacing threat out there and I can have a more balanced lifestyle and not be shut away from my friends both the ones I see on a more intentional basis but also the ones I see regularly when I’m out and about, especially at the dance school. I want you all back. Is that too much to ask? That said, I’ve been mighty grateful for all my friends on the blog. You’ve got me through, not only the coronacrisis, but life and I appreciate you so much.

Anyway, I asked you at the start how things are going in your neck of the woods, so that’s where I’ll finish up. how are you?

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sunset Walk At Patonga, NSW.

Lately, I’ve been getting itchy feet. Real itchy feet. Not surprising after being in lock down for at least 2 months, and not being allowed to leave the house except for grocery shopping and my eternal arch-nemisis….exercise. I wasn’t too sure whether meandering along with my camera, especially pausing to take in the view or stick my camera up a tree, counted as “exercise”. Or, whether this seemingly innocent escape for a woman with mobility issues, might be considered “illegal”. After all, a girl simply going out on a driving lesson with her mum in Victoria, was pulled over and initially fined $1652 until sense and intense media pressure prevailed. I didn’t want to land myself in that kind of trouble.

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The Jetty at Patonga looking towards Broken Bay and Palm Beach. 

 

Restrictions are really starting to lift here in Australia now, especially considering the exceptionally low transmission rates we have here. However, although our kids went back to school this week, I’m still practicing social distancing and largely staying home. Besides, it’s almost Winter here. I’m as snug as a bug in a rug getting on with my WWI research and writing projects, which I view as my job. At least, that’s the direction I’m working towards. I also have a fairly extensive, global network of blogging friends and we get on really well.

Rowena Patonga 2020

Here I am going for my walk. No selfie capabilities on my SLR. Besides, I quite fancy being a lurking shadow in all sorts of distorted dimensions. 

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk

and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

I don’t really NEED to go out, but that can also become a problem. Unfortunately, my arch-nemesis exercise, along with sunlight and the great outdoors where I can stretch my wings and almost inhale the ocean, are almost critical for my mental health and happiness.

 

So, feeling rather virtuous, I headed over to Patonga Beach on Thursday afternoon. It’s  about a 15 minute drive away, taking us past last week’s Water Tower Walk Water Tower Walk, Pearl Beach, and we keep driving through Brisbane Waters National Park with nothing but bush on either side and the road stretching through seeming nothingness ahead. This area is so untouched and seemingly remote, that it’s hard to believe we’re only a stone throw from Sydney.

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Here’s one of our stunning Rainbow Lorikeets feasting in an Illawarra Flame Tree at Patonga. The tree was full of them chatting away.

The last stretch of the drive passes through some sharp twisting bends as you descend the hill into Patonga. After driving through the bush, the tranquil sea-side village of Petonga, which means “oyster” in Aboriginal, feels like something out of the set of an old movie. Patonga is nestled on Brisk Bay, which is on your left where there’s a rustic jetty heading out towards the Hawkesbury River on the extreme right and Palm Beach, across the other side of Pittwater on your left. There’s also a children’s playground here on the waterfront, which no longer captures my attention now that our kids are in high school. However, before our local park was given a massive upgrade, I used to take the kids to a park located next to the camp grounds at Patonga, which was almost on the beach.

However, today I was fairly rather reflective because my sister-in-law is starting treatment for breast cancer, and my thoughts are very much with her. Not only because she’s family and because what she’s going through is rotten, but I went through chemo a few years back for my auto-immune disease and it’s a frigging rollercoaster, even just from a logistical point of view. This time, it’s my turn on the sidelines, and I want to do a good job of that. Indeed, I want to do a better job of what I’m doing so far, because the card I wrote and it was an extensive message straight from the heart) is still sitting in the loungeroom and I’ve been thinking of a gift but haven’t got there yet. You know, there’s that going round in circles and wanting to get that gift that’s going to hit exactly the right spot, and heaven forbid in your desire for perfection that you actually end up doing NOTHING!! My goodness. Haven’t we all been guilty of that.

 

 

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Frolicking in the wonders of nature, able to walk through the clouds.

Anyway, I picked up a few shells along the beach to include in my letter to my sister-in-law. I hope she appreciates them for what they represent, and that she doesn’t take me for a cheapskate.

Sea gulls Patonga

Sea gulls might be common but I still love them. They’re such characters and theis flock was just standing in the shallows on the beach looking like they were really enjoying themselves and I had to join in their festivities. Besides, they made me feel like less of a lone ranger and part of a wider belonging. 

So, going on this walk was really good for dealing with all of that, as well as all the fall out from the coronavirus and the kids suddenly being forced back to school full time  this week by the NSW Education Minister. As my walk continued and the sun started to set behind a row of incredibly majestic Norfolk Pines, my footsteps seemed to lighten as all these stresses wafted out to sea and far away.

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher

storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”

― Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds

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Sunset Behind the Norfolk Pines, Patonga. 

Of course, by this stage, I’m castigating myself for staying indoors and not getting outside amongst all this more often. What I appreciated, perhaps, beyond all else,was soaking in that vast expanse of space, and being able to stretch out as far as the eye can see. Even the most minimalist of homes, still has four walls, and I can assure you that our place has a hell of a lot more. You could say that the interior is made of books and tea cups with a pile of musical instruments thrown in.

Meanwhile, the sun has set on another day, but we did make it next door for a chat with our elderly neighbours who are family to us. They live behind us across a back lane way and one thing I’ve loved about lock down, is that is been perfectly acceptable to get around in your pyjamas. I bought a fancy pair of Peter Alexander PJ pants with are hot pink with white circles and are pretty shmick. I had no qualms about wandering out the back gate over to their place in my PJs with my ugg boots on. It was so incredibly relaxing. You could even say liberating. It’s been the same on zoom. At first, I used to get dressed, but now we’re all in PJs, dressing gowns and the other night I even watched an interview with Cate Blanchet and Stephen Colbert via zoom and both of them were in their PJs. It made for such a relaxed and intimate interview.

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What a magnificent sunset and I just love the feathery white clouds floating over the lingering blue sky. 

“Ô, Sunlight! The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”

― Roman Payne

As tempting as it is to immerse myself in nature and escape the heaviness and responsibilities of life, there’s always that rubber band drawing me back home in both good and bad ways. At times, I really resent having to rush home from my sunset photography jaunts to get dinner cooked for the family. However, I really cherish our family and all that being part of a family entails. Sure, there are responsibilities. However, there’s love, connection, intimacy, belonging along with frustration, irritation, expense, and that sense all round that someone’s clipping your wings. As much as we need togetherness, we also need time apart, space to do our own thing and the capacity to create and be a part of stories which we might choose to share with the family and have something to talk about. Moreover, this sense of family is also what you make it. You can build your own family. You do not need to be alone and these families are just as legitimate as your more conventional families. Blood is thicker than water, but the bonds of experience and caring for each other and especially being in the same boat are also strong.

I’m not quite sure how I reached that point after setting out on a walk around Patonga. However, with everything going on in the world at the moment, for many of us, it’s a time of deep questioning and thinking about just about every aspect of life and it will be interesting to see what life will be like on the other side. I for one am not planning on going back to how it was before and am working towards creating my own new world. How about you?

I hope you and yours are well and staying safe.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 11th May, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Yesterday, was Mother’s Day here in Australia. Geoff gave me a beautiful bunch of flowers, the kids did nothing and I ordered myself a book I’m really looking forward to receiving through the mail…Julia Baird’s: Phosphorescence. I can’t wait to read it, especially because I have a dreadful track record for buying books and not reading them, which mirrors my approach to gardening….buying plants and leaving them out the front dying of total neglect. So, wish me luck and I think you’d better hold me to an update next week. Hopefully, it should be here by then, but you never know with the post. Like everything else, it’s not running on all cylinders either.

We went down to my parents’ place in Sydney yesterday for Mother’s Day lunch. Up until a year or so ago, my mother had been coming up to our place once a week for something like 14 years, but we haven’t seen them since Christmas Day this year. It’s been so long that it even feels like a mistake. I’ve got it wrong. Geoff and I ended up with chest infections so we didn’t go down for the kids’ birthdays back in early March and then lock down slapped us in the face and cancelled Easter. And my brother’s birthday….So, our Mother’s Day Cake actually had Happy Birthday on it.

Happy Birthday Cake

An update on the coronavirus  here in Australia, We’ve currently had 95 deaths and have around 750 active cases. You could say we’ve been very lucky, and I guess in many ways we have. However, it’s more a case of wise judgement, quick action by the government, heeding the examples of Wuhan and Italy and knowing just how rampantly infectious this virus is before it got here.

I’ve also wondered whether there’s some kind of correlation between Australia’s response to the coronavirus and gun control. You might recall that Australia dramatically changed its gun laws following Tasmania’s Port Arthur massacre on the 28–29th April 1996 where 35 people were killed and 23 wounded in a mass shooting. Australia’s response is often used as a shining example of what is possible whenever America experiences another mass shooting. Once again, our infection rates are sending the rest of the world a message…Stay home and stay safe.

The big question for Australia and New Zealand is… where to now? Each state in Australia has different incidence rates and so there’s no overarching national prescription. At the moment, where we live in NSW, two adults and dependent children can visit someone at home, which allowed us to visit my parents for Mother’s Day yesterday. On Friday, restrictions will further ease  with 10 people being able to meet indoors and non-essential shops are starting to open. For many, this will be an alleluia moment. However, when you listen to our Chief and Deputy Medical Officers and our State Premier, there’s definite caution and the situation is described as “precarious”. We still need to social distance and people in high risk categories are still being told to stay home. I’m planning to lie low over the next two weeks and if the stats remain low, I’ll ease up a bit. After all, amidst all the optimism, there’s also the expectation of new cases and I need to ensure that’s not me. Indeed, we all need to think about how to keep our immediate circle and ourselves safe and work out from there and not necessarily just go by the rules. The more people we can keep out of circulation the better.  This is no time to be a lemming!

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Billy the Bantam arriving home in Sydney on board the China in 1919. 

Meanwhile, my research into WWI Australian soldiers serving in France continues. Last week, I found out my Great Great uncle’s battalion, the 13th, had a lively animal mascot, Billy the Bantam Rooster. He travelled all the way to France via Egypt and even managed to return home, unlike way too many of his human mates. On arrival at their billets in the French village of Steente-je near Bailleau, Billy immediately set about showing those French coq’s who was boss and defeated four roosters well over twice his size in a battle of David meets Goliath. Indeed, to use an old-fashioned Australian colloquialism, you could say Billy was as mad as a two bob watch (that was a cheap watch back in the days before decimal currency arrived in 1966.)

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I was also chasing up on a quote which took me on a thrilling literary adventure. While reading a NSW Red Cross Journal from December 1916, I stumbled across this quote from Swiss philosopher and journal writer Henri-Frederic Amiel:

“Never to tire, never to grow cold; to be patient, sympathetic, tender; to

look for the budding flower and the opening heart; to hope always; like

God, to love always–this is duty.”

Henri-Frederic Amiel

This has led me to his Journal Intime, which was published by friends after his death and completely eclipsed his other life’s works. I have read throiugh the introduction and a couple of entries and am intrigued and gripped by what I’ve read so far. Have you encountered his work at all? I wrote an introductory post the other night: Midnight With the Philosopher’s Journal and will be posting more and would love you to join me.

I’ve also been watching Masterchef, which I’m enjoying as much as ever and the other night I watched Graeme Murphy’s production of Romeo & Juliet featuring the Australian Ballet. It’s possibly only the second ballet I’ve ever watched from start to finish, and to be honest, I prefer more of a medley with acts of various works put together. I couldn’t see the point of the start which was the court scene, but the death scene at the end was amazing and as tragic as ever. I’ve also been listening to podcasts from the Irish Times. I haven’t listened to a podcast before so that was yet another new thing I’ve tried since lock down and I’m pretty chuffed by my capacity to branch out and explore these new things.

No one is bored here, and we will be craving boredom over the next couple of weeks. Geoff noticed a few pallets of floorboards on an auction site and won the bid at 25% of retail. They come from a movie set and have barely been used. While FINALLY replacing our very cruddy carpet in the lounge room and conquering the adjacent kitchen dining areas sounds very exciting, there’s a staggering amount of work involved moving all the stuff out and it doesn’t help that i collect very delicate and fragile antique china. Indeed, our numerous collections aren’t going to make this much fun, and in the meantime we’ll be needing to store the floorboard. I can already feel a massive headache coming on. Indeed, make that a massive, skull crushing migraine. However, it will make a world of difference to our place. Wow. I can’t wait. I can’t wait until it’s OVER!!

Before I head off, I just wanted to tell you about a heart warming touch of human kindness we received on the weekend. We’ve had friends from Church offer practical assistance and some groceries. We knocked these offers back due to social distancing concerns on the practical assistance front, and we felt there were people who had lost jobs who could use the groceries more than us, and we switched to buying our groceries online. Anyway, just because you’re being self-sufficient doesn’t mean you don’t need connection, friendship, love and encouragement particularly at the moment. The very morning after a rather melancholy and reflective night, the package arrived. We waited for all the family to arrive home before we opened it, which naturally fuelled our curiosity. Who had sent it? It had come from Melbourne, which threw us a bit. We’re from Sydney. Finally, we opened our box of tasty snacks and there was a card from our niece, who was simply thinking of us. I was so touched and it really warmed my heart. We tucked a bit more in my brother’s birthday card. I didn’t want to be tight after being so blessed.

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Pano sunset Yattalunga….Geoff and Rowena Newton 

Lastly, my local walks have continued. I managed to spot a pelican at our local beach on Wednesday afternoon on sun set, which was quite unusual. I don’t think I’ve even seen a pelican there before and we’ve been living here for 20 years. Thursday, I met up with my usual coffee friend, Roland, but we’re now walking instead and we walked along the rocks on the Southern end and sat on a rock inhaling the view across to Umina Beach (home) and the sea air. Driving home, I saw possibly the most electrically beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. There were magically layers of glowing pink and orange cloud and I was almost delirious…and annoyed. I didn’t have my phone or my camera, but managed to catch the moment past the moment on my SLR when I got home. I had to drive a bit down the road to escape all the power poles. (Who put them there??:?)

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I didn’t quite capture the moment, but it’s still stunningly beautiful. 

On Friday night, I desperately hoped for a repeat of the previous night’s sunset and so I rallied up Geoff and a friend and headed over to her place at Yattalunga. It took a bit longer to get there than anticipated and I lost my phone (yet again) before we left, which also delayed things. So, the sun had actually set by the time we pulled up, but it was still beautiful and serenely atmospheric!!

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Yachts at Yattalunga.

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Low tide Jetty At Yattalung, NSW Central Coast.

Yachts Yattalunga

It’s amazing the different colours you can bring out. 

I am finding my time beside the ocean very therapeutic. I’m sure so many of us are just longing for those waters to wash over us and take everything associated with this rotten coronavirus away. Cleanse away the grief, weirdness and stress of trying to keep ourselves and loved ones safe go to work and juggle school at home for the kids. Indeed, I might head back to the water tomorrow and cleanse my soul again. This is also a spiritual thing for me, and I can feel God with me through all of this, but it always gets complicated.

Anyway, what’s been going on in your neck of the woods? I am quite interested in what it’s like for people in different countries as we make our way through the coronacrisis as well as some of the artistic and creative responses.

Anyway, this has been another Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to come along and join us each week.

Best wishes and please stay safe,

Rowena

 

K – Köln (Cologne), Germany…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to what I surely hope is Day 11, of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, where we’ll be touching down in Köln (Cologne) on the River Rhine. I was in Köln back in May, 1992 with my best friend Lisa, and it was our second port of call on our great European backpacking adventure. I didn’t know much about about Köln before the trip. However, my grandmother used to wear 4711 Eau de Cologne when I was a little girl, and while it was mesmerising then, it was more of a “granny fragrance” and most definitely not something I’d wear myself. However, you’re welcome to visit the Farina Fragrance Museum near the Town Hall.

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When I think back to our time in Köln, the first thing that comes to mind is hunger. The second is food envy. By this stage, our initial stash of bread rolls from our first free night’s accommodation in the KLM Hotel in Amsterdam, had well and truly run out. Ever conserving our pennies, we thought very carefully before lashing out on a punnet of strawberries to share for dinner, which tragically turned out to be sour. So, it take much imagination to put yourself in that picture. Just to rub salt in the wound, we were staying at the Youth Hostel, and a group of German high school students was also staying there and while we were starving, they were all being dished up huge, delectable bowls full of spaghetti. While we were drooling, crippled with growling hunger and covertous food envy; these spoiled brats, didn’t finish their meals. Indeed, the dining room was filled with half-empty bowls and if we didn’t have any self-dignity (or perhaps if we’d been travelling alone and didn’t have an eye witness) we could’ve polished off their leftovers, and even licked the bowls. The irony is, of course, that we were still flush with funds at this point, and I actually arrived home with enough money to buy a return ticket to Europe. However, it was that uncertainty of not knowing what lay ahead, which reigned our spending in (something we know all too well in these particularly uncertain times).

Aside from the hunger,  magnificent Köln Cathedral was absolutely sensational, particularly since this was the first cathedral we’d ever visited in Europe and it was so far beyond anything we have back in Australia , that it blew me away. . Apparently, the cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark. Construction began back in 1248 but was halted in 1473, unfinished and work did not restart until the 1840s, when the edifice was completed to its original Medieval plan in 1880. It’s hard to imagine something being unfinished for so long, and it makes me feel so much better about all my own unfinished projects. 

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There was another aspect to our visit to Köln Cathedral. As it turned out, we were in Köln during the 50th Anniversary of “Operation Millenium” where Britain almost bombed Köln out of existence in retaliation for German attacks on London and Warsaw. Indeed, on the evening of 30 May 1942, over 1,000 bombers took off for Cologne under the Command of Bomber Harris. Köln was decimated. All but flattened, except for the magnificent Cathedral which miraculously survived peering imperiously over the carnage. I’m not going to make any apologies for not liking war or its after effects. This wasn’t some virtual experience in a video game. You can find out more about it here HERE. I’m yet to finish watching this documentary but it seems rather balanced and definitely has some incredible and very sobering footage.

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As part of the anniversary commemorations, there was a small protest outside Köln Cathedral called the “Cologne Complaining Wall for Peace”. I was fascinated by this at the time, particular as an Australian who’d only been in Europe for a week and it really opened my eyes. It’s always good to hear more than one side of any story, and I usually prefer multiple angles to really shake things up. So, now I’m going to peer at these photos from 28 years ago hoping my dodgy eyesight can glean something from all those years ago.

Here goes:

A Monument for “Bomber Harris”.

May 31, 1992 is the 50th Anniversary of the 1,000 bomber attack on Cologne. British Airfield Marshal Arthur Harris ordered the attack. The destruction of Dresden on February 1, 1945 was his work, too.

In May

The British Government plans to dedicate a monument to him in Central London with funds from the veterans’ organization.

“Bomber Command Harris”

KILL ONE,

and you’re a murderer.

Kill 100,000

and you are a hero.

To keep matters straight- Harris’s carpet bombing attacks “to demoralise the civilian population” were a reaction to the raids which Nazi Germany committed against cities like:

Guernica (1937)

Warsaw (1939)

Rotterdam (1940)

Coventry (1940)

Belgrade (     )

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Köln in 1944. 

The display also included photos of Köln after the bombings, showing the monumental devastation. Look at it now, and on first impressions, you’d never know until you  take a deeper look and discern the new from the old.

While I acknowledge bringing up controversial and rather grim details of WWII is rather hard hitting, I do believe we need to know about this things. That we can’t just fill our head with happy thoughts, and hope to acquire wisdom. That as much as we campaign and long for peace, that war inevitably seems to comes in one form or another and we not only need to be prepared, we need to know how to fight and defend ourselves against the enemy. As it stands at the moment, that enemy is a virus but the principles remain, especially if you don’t want to be a sitting duck for attack.

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However, before I move on from its beautiful Churches and cathedrals, I thought we might check out Groß St Martin’s Cathedral. It’s a Romanesque Catholic church and its foundations (circa 960 AD) rest on remnants of a Roman chapel, built on what was then an island in the Rhine. The church was later transformed into a Benedictine monastery. The current buildings, including a soaring crossing tower that is a landmark of Cologne’s Old Town, were erected between 1150-1250.

St Martins 1946

The church was badly damaged during World War II, and there was a question of whether the church should be restored, and how it should be restored, was the subject of debate. Should the church be left as a ruined memorial to the war? Or should it be fully restored? And if so, which period in the history of Great Saint Martin represents the “original” church? A series of public lectures were held in 1946/47, under the theme “What happens to the Cologne Churches?”. These lectures involved artists, politicians, architects and restorers, and mirrored public debates on the issue. In spite of some public scepticism, restoration work began in 1948, and the church was opened to worshippers when the interior restorations were completed in 1985, after a long wait of forty years. The altar was consecrated by Archbishop Joseph Höffner, who installed holy relics of Brigitta von Schweden, Sebastianus and Engelbert of Cologne, in its sepulchre. So, it hadn’t been open long before I was there.

Cologne Hot Chocolate

Lastly, after rousing your sympathy for this little Aussie Battler starving away over in Germany, I do have a confession to make. I did manage to find one indulgence. This was a hot chocolate with whipped cream. I’d never had one before, but a pact was made. It was divine. I absolutely loved its pure indulgence. Loved it enough to endure the disapproval of the skim brigade. After all, everybody needs a little bit of naughtiness.

On that note, it’s time for us to leave Köln behind. Back in 1992, Köln marked a fork in the road. With Germany in the grip of a train and garbage strike with trains difficult to catch and rubbish piling in the streets, Lisa decided to leave Germany and I can’t remember whether she went back to Amsterdam, or headed onto Prague and Budapest. Meanwhile, I continued further South bound for Heidelberg, accidentally leaving my passport behind in Köln just to complicate matters a little more after having my wallet stolen in Amsterdam only days before. However, as we head along to L in the Blogging A to Z Challenge, we’ll be heading somewhere else but you can visit Heidelberg HERE.

Have you ever been to Köln? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

H- Heidelberg…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Day 8 of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today, we’re flying from Geraldton in Western Australia, back across to Europe and touching down in Heidelberg, Germany where I live for around 6 months back in 1992 while backpacking through Europe.

Heidelberg Castle Door

Knocking on the door of Heidelberg Castle. 

I first arrived in Heidelberg about a week after I arrived in Europe. There was a rail and garbage strike in Germany at the time, and it was difficult to get around. So, when it came to leaving Cologne, my friend decided to head to Budapest while I came to Heidelberg.

At this point, I was incredibly homesick and I remember locking my backpack in the lockers at Heidelberg Railway Station and bursting into tears. I wanted to go home. As you may recall, I’d had my wallet stolen in Amsterdam at the Orange festival and I’d lost my passport in Cologne.  I was missing a very close friend back in Sydney, who was one of the closest friends I’ve ever had. It was one of those friendships which hovered along the very brink between friendship and romance with a bubbling intensity all of its own. Being on a pretty tight budget, I was trying not to call him, but oh me of little self-control buckled when I spotted a phone booth outside the station. Standing there with a handful of German Marks, I poured the coins through the slot and those few precious minutes  were gone in a flash and my emotions were churning around like a washing machine. I wanted to go home, but I’d had a big farewell party before I left, and wasn’t due back for a year. So, I had to tough it out, or I’d have major egg on face.

 

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It was at this point that I came across a group of Christians doing street mission work near the train station. They didn’t know me from a bar of soap. However, when they heard that I’d lost my passport and was feeling lost, they invited me to stay for a few days initially until I could get to the Australian Embassy in Frankfurt for a replacement. I ended up staying with them for about a month then, attending their German Church while also going to an American Baptist Church. This is just what I needed and it suited me better to have more of a lived-in experience than to be moving around like a rolling stone for 6-12 months without any roots in the ground.

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y initial room in the attic where I slept in the blue sleeping bag alongside a young woman from Rottweil who spoke a German dialect and no English. Talk about jumping in the deep end, but so worthwhile and incredibly special. 

 

 

Of course, it would’ve been great to have seen more and especially travelled to places like Rome, Greece, Scotland and Ireland, which I’m still hanging out to see. However, it’s much harder to camp out on someone’s floor when you’re older and now I’m married with family commitments. So, it isn’t an experience I could have later in life. Moreover, I’m exceptionally grateful for the love and hospitality I was shown, and the love we continue to share. It was the experience of a lifetime and probably more in tune with being an exchange student than a backpacker.

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In the Altstadt.

Ultimately, I ended up living in Heidelberg for something like 5-6 months all up. While I was there, I took the family’s daughter to school in Kahlsruhe and while she was in school, I worked in a plant nursery or Gartnerei just helping out. My boss asked me once what I wanted to do when I got back to Australia. I mentioned journalism. Well, she didn’t think I was cut out for this more practical work. She said she’d found it much much easier to communicate with the Polish workers across a language barrier than with me. I’d had no experience of outdoor work like this, and these days I’m renowned for my brown fingers. Yes, I’m a plant killer.

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My desk later on down in the cellar. You will notice there are two clocks on the desks with different times. I was so incredibly homesick that I stuck an Australian $5.00 note to the wall and an American friend gave me the photo of the Sydney Opera House which takes such a prominent position on the wall. There’s also my diary with my poetry and reflections of seeing the Mona Lisa on top of my Bible. Such a time capsule. So precious. 

So, as you can see, my experience of Heidelberg was more of a lived experience, living in between the German locals and American Army families there. I used to go to aerobics at the US Military base down the road where they incorporated square dancing, and in true military style called out “Move it! Move it! Move it!” The US Military had shipped America to Heidelberg and some of the troops had their “Yank tanks” shipped out, which dwarfed the local German cars. There was even a Burger King on base. I was trying to improve on my German, but it was quite struggle living in another country and not knowing the language well. I was seriously regretting mucking around during my German lessons at school and not paying more attention. Yet, at the same time, I found a real sense of community and belonging there, which has touched me for life. After all, people matter. I have no doubt that God was holding me in the palm of his hand throughout these travels and keeping me safe, sometimes in spite of myself and I am very grateful that so many people  heard his voice and took such special care of me.

Heidelberg castle by night

Heidelberg Castle By Night. 

Architecturally speaking, Heidelberg is a beautiful city, even by European standards and is best known for it’s castle, the Philosopher’s Walk and Baroque Altstadt. I also had an experience of a different kind in Heidelberg. That was driving along the Autobarn at 240 kph in my friend’s BMW. That was ever so much faster than my bicycle. There are no photos of that experience, but there was a deal of heartbreak down the track, which leads me into German musical classic: I Lost My Heart in Heidelberg.

It was very hard returning to Australia after living in Heidelberg. I came home to Sydney for Christmas and was undecided about heading back. Indeed, I had no idea how it would pan out when I flew out of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and touched down in Sydney. After being the only Australian in my communities in Heidelberg, I returned to Sydney feeling culturally dislocated and very torn. However, as I started reconnecting with people back home, the penny dropped. I was Australian and I belonged here. Besides, on top of that, the economic realities of life also hit me smack on the face. While it was okay to scoot off to Europe for a year, my father reminded me of the need to make a living, while pointing out the difficulties of meeting someone overseas and how that would work out. Ouch! It was time for me to get a proper job, and when I had all my family here, I didn’t need to recreate that on the other side of the world.

It’s taken me almost 30 years to write that. Leaving Heidelberg and my friends behind was like ripping velcro apart. However, there are times where that fork in the road isn’t an easy choice and either road is going to involve some pain. It is during these times, that we just have to keep putting one foot after the other and keep walking. Of course, it can be hard to see what God is doing during these times. However, that’s what I love about the  Footprints Poem. That when we feel like we’re alone and can only see one set of footprints, that’s when Jesus is carrying us and sharing our burdens.

Returning every day to all these places I’ve been during the A-Z Challenge, has actually been a lot more emotionally confronting than I’d expected. I’ve never been good with goodbyes, and that’s what travel is….constantly leaving people, places, memories and even parts of yourself behind, and then moving onto the next place like turning the page of a book and letting go of every page that’s gone before. I can’t do it, which is probably why I’ve been living in the same house now for almost 20 years. That, along with my acute health conditions, which hasn’t stopped me from being a traveller, but have certainly redefined the perimeters of travel.

I probably should’ve expected this. However, my inspiration behind this series was very different. I wanted to post a series of inspirational travel photos to lift our spirits at this unprecedented time where travel of any sort beyond work is not only banned, but most of the planes are also strangely grounded. Moreover, even if we could magically transport overseas across the globe, nowhere would take us in. Well, at least, not without throwing us into deepest darkest quarantine for 14 days. After all, travellers have become the unwitting conduits of this modern plague. However, that doesn’t mean that we should ultimately lose our love of travel or our insatiable zest to explore new places, their people and cultures. No one knows what the world is going to look like when we get to the other side of this pandemic, but the cogs will continue moving forward going somewhere and hopefully we’ll till be going along for the ride.

Have you ever been to Heidelberg? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS- Perhaps, you’d like to read a flash fiction piece I wrote about that phone call to my friend in Australia: Like A Fish Needs A Bicycle – Friday Fictioneers

 

More Than A Walk….Newtown to Broadway, Sydney.

Time has a habit of flying around here mysteriously escaping before I manage to grip hold of it. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that an entire week has passed since I went to Newtown.

Last Monday, I met up with my friend Stephen at Sydney’s Central Station to catch the train to Newtown and leisurely wander and cafe crawl our way along King Street, past Sydney University and onto the Seymour Centre where we were supposed to be attending a talk by eminent science communicator, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki about stem cell research and the brain. Stem cell research could be something I’ll be relying on down the track with my lung and muscle troubles and my brain isn’t in top notch working order in some ways either. I was born with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain and have what’s known as a shunt managing the pressures and keeping things in working order. So, this lecture provided a great opportunity to find out more. However, in the meantime, it was a great opportunity to catch up with Stephen.

Love

We spotted this sign at a pub just near Newtown Station.

These days it feels like I’ve known Stephen beyond my own eternity. We were part of a group of friends who used to attend St Barnabus Anglican Church Broadway around 1994 before my hydrocephalus was dramatically diagnosed in my mid-20s and St Barnabas (or “Barneys” as it is known) was equally dramically burned down. Both of us thank goodness have both risen from the ashes and rebuilt. However, I wonder whether there was some kind of bad omen with my friends from Barneys, as I have not been the only one been dealt an atypically difficult hand. I’m not sure whether I believe in this from a Biblical, Christian perspective. It’s just pure observation and associating all our troubles to the physical burning down of a much loved and historic Church provides some kind of external visual for our hidden, personal suffering.

vegan fried chicken

I took this photo for my son who hangs out at KFC after school. I think he’d be disappointed, although I have many vegan friends who’d be thrilled to go there. 

Anyway, getting back to Newtown.

King Street Newtown historic

Newtown is 4 kilometres South-West of the Sydney CBD and was established as a residential and farming area in the early 19th century. The area took its name from a grocery store opened there by John and Margaret Webster in 1832, who placed a sign atop their store that read “New Town Stores”.

I Have A Dream

Street art – King Street, Newtown. 

The main street is King Street which winds its way along the spine of a long ridge which rises up near Sydney University in the North and transforms into the Princess Highway in the South. This elevated position gives King Street a imposing appearance and also explains why it’s tributaries (or side-streets) run down hill. As you walk along King Street, it’s easy to understand why its main shopping strip is the longest and most complete commercial precinct of the late Victorian and Federation period in Australia. The architecture really is quite different and a tad ghostly even compared to other areas populated by ancient terraces houses. After all, in this country with just over 200 years of European history, terrace houses assume a misplaced sense of history.

Although I lived in the inner city many moons ago long before marriage and mortgage took me over the Hawkesbury River Bridge and onto the Central Coast, I’ve never lived in Newtown. I lived in Chippendale and Glebe and my last haunt was a converted warehouse just off Broadway. I always knew that lifestyle couldn’t last. However, I never anticipated my catastrophic health problems and how you could literally be blown up and yet somehow still standing with seemingly no visual sign anything’s happened at all. Marriage and kids also brought blessings, change and challenges which were also unexpected and difficult to grapple with. My time in that converted warehouse in many ways were my last hurrah. Well, at least of the person I was before surgery.

So in many ways, while Stephen and I were walking along King Street we were walking along memory lane. The weather wasn’t great. So, I didn’t take my SLR and was photographing with my phone which is deeply unsatisfying. It just doesn’t have the same clarity and I’m sure it’s only a small step up from the Kodak aim and shoot I had as a kid. You know the ones where you shoved a cartridge in the back and dropped the thing off at your local chemist for processing. Humph. These days that all sounds so archaic, and I don’t feel that old even if there are additional lines I choose to ignore in the mirror.

Biscuit Sandwich

Anyway, given that I was catching up with Stephen, walking down memory lane and didn’t have my SLR, my photos of King Street are hardly representative and I’ll need to go back and explore the place more fully. I guess what I’ve captured is more along the lines of street art, than architecture and there’s also a rather sumptuous photo of something which might be described as a biscuit sandwich although it was called a “birthday cake”. It was exceptionally yum and I’m needing to find a recipe to replicate these at home. Not good for the waistline, but pure indulgence for the soul.

Sourfest

Newtown has changed a lot since I was living in the area from 1988 through to around 1996. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if it’s been for the best. The place has been gentrified and the grungy, crumbling edifices along King Street have been spakfillered and restored. Of course, these buildings look clean and beautiful but when you know what went before, there’s that same sense you get when you see an old face without lines…too much character and personality has been removed. I look at these buildings and wonder where they went, although they’re still standing and I know from a popular aesthetic point of view, they look so much better, even if they have been given cosmetic surgery. Yet, that doesn’t deny something’s missing. History is important. It shouldn’t be whitewashed away.

Gould's

Inside Gould’s back in the day.

Back in the day,  Gould’s Book Arcade wasn’t quite the epicentre of Newtown, but it definitely made a significant contribution to its intellectual, bohemian yet working-class character. Walking and talking,  I wasn’t scrutinizing every shopfront we walked past. Yet, there was this awareness that Gould’s could well be missing. Lost. Gone. Obliterated. Along with it, this dejected sense that a wrecking ball had gone through Newtown’s heart and wiped it out. Fortunately, a quick Google search revealed that Gould’s is not dead. Rather, due to rising rents it was forced out of it’s traditional location to 536 King Street on the Southern side of Newtown Station, which meant we missed it. Meanwhile, an interview with Mairi Petersen, the first wife of bookshop founder, the late Bob Gould is enlightening:

“Books have little place in the lives of people moving into Newtown these days…Once Newtown was students and the working class. No more. Now they are paying millions to buy in and when you look at real estate agent photographs of houses for sale there is not a book to be seen.”

I’d be interested to explore the homes beyond these real estate photos to see if that is true. Mind you, a lack of books, doesn’t mean the locals are not reading. Space is these ancient terraces is at a premium and even a Kindle-reject like myself who’ll one day be found buried under piles of books in our place can understand the possible need to make the switch.

By the way, if you saw our house, you’d say that it has a certain Gould’s feel to it, especially after the roof leaked like a sieve last night and we’ve had to shift close to a hundred books and these were just the stacks and not the contents of the shelves.

Anyway, we kept walking passed Sydney University my former stomping ground. Indeed, I was the third generation of my family to study there and belong to the place. Clearly, there’s a lot of history there, but not for today. We couldn’t be late.

We arrived at the Seymour Centre and the place is empty and the theatre still locked up. We were half an hour early to avoid the stampede. However, my antennae have gone up. Something’s wrong. Very wrong and when they tell me nothing is on that night, panic sets in. As person living with hydrocephalus, it’s not uncommon for me to screw up dates and appointments. Turned out we were a month early.

Above: We walked past the contemporary Barneys (where Stephen and I first met) on our way to Central Station Barney’s as we knew it looked more like the 1872 version. This part of Sydney is known as Broadway and the sign in the footpath is a tribute to the  sign battle between Rector Rob Forsythe and the publican across the road at the Broadway Hotel, Arthur Elliott. 

Above: Street art, Broadway.

While I hate making mistakes and chastised myself for not reading through the email I’d printed out before I left, I knew Stephen and I were meant to catch up. That we both needed to revisit our old stomping grounds. Not just in terms of place, but also the history we share from all those years ago. Given the profound changes in personality which may or may not have come about with the deterioration of the hydrocephalus and subsequent brain surgery, it’s a me who is difficult to resolve, not really knowing if I’ve ever been myself and what that ultimately means. It’s something I need to explore further somewhere beyond that stretch of King Street.

Holy Duck & candle

We travels detoured to the Holy Duck Chinese restaurant just off Broadway. As a fan of Australian cartoonist  Michael Leunig, I loved he positioning of the duck alongside the candle. 

Do you have any memories of King Street Newtown or a similar street which seemingly has a life and character of its own where you live? Or, perhaps you’ve had something life-changing happen to you and grapple with what that means. I’d love to hear from you, although I may not reply promptly as I’m researching and writing a book at present, which is rather time-consuming.

Best wishes,

Rowena

For another take on changing Newtown, you might like to read this from the Sydney Morning Herald: King Street Is Dying

Sources

Last Chapter For Gould’s Book Arcade

Newtown- Wikipaedia

Photo of the current St Barnabas Broadway: By Sardaka (talk) 07:34, 19 March 2014 (UTC) – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31688133

Photo of “I Have A Dream” street art: Hpeterswald [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D