Category Archives: Christianity

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”.

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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

Not Quite A Perfect Father’s Day…

A picture tells a thousand words, but it can also tell a thousand lies. After all, how many of us stick those perfect-looking family photos up on our blogs and Facebook projecting this idyllic life out to all and sundry? Most of us do it unwittingly, simply sharing the moment. However, how many of us are brave enough to tell the truth? Admit we didn’t have a perfect day?

However, to be perfectly honest with you, I don’t believe online is the place to broadcast the truth either. Indeed, my grandmother who had quite a lot of wisdom stashed under the lid, used to say that you never run down your family to other people. While this can lead to the stiff upper lip and a swag of behaviors we’ve tried to overcome in subsequent generations, it also shows respect and allows family members to have their off days without fearing their dirty laundry will be aired in public and they need to hide themselves away.

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However, I’m also mindful that it doesn’t take much to project this image of the perfect, happy family especially if you’re still married to your original spouse and your kids scrub up alright. Indeed, without you even knowing it, you could even become a role model. That’s all well and good if you feel you deserve it. However, a lot goes on behind closed doors. Too much at times and you just can’t spill the beans and get it off your chest because it isn’t your story to tell. Or, as I said, you don’t want to broadcast what was really a blip on the radar…a bad day.

It was much easier to do that when the kids were small. You could share at playgroup about your toddler throwing a tantrum in the supermarket and exchange notes. It feels like more of a betrayal when you spill the beans on your teen. That you need to adhere to the code of silence. This is possibly quite different to when I was a teen and my mother played bridge and tennis with her friends. She was pretty discreet and I can’t imagine her disclosing any of our antics. Indeed, she is known to be very good with secrets…watertight. She doesn’t leak. Besides, I think she was inclined to hold back and keep our family’s business to herself. Indeed, I remember going to stay with her parents being given a list of things not to tell my grandparents for a swag of reasons. However, my grandmother knew I was the weakest link and most of the time I didn’t even need to say a word anyway. She already knew.

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Anyway, this Father’s Day was never going to be perfect. By that, I mean giving my husband breakfast in bed, opening presents and for us all going off to Church together. They always have something special at Church and a photo booth, which is lots of fun if your Father’s Day is shaping up alright, but salt in the wound if it’s not. However, only Geoff made it to Church today. I’m still getting over a virus and am taking things slow. Our daughter was off to dance rehearsals for Swan Lake and the curtain opens in only three weeks. So, she was gone for most of the day. Meanwhile, our son couldn’t sleep and didn’t get there either. It wasn’t a great show of family solidarity for Father’s Day and I just couldn’t make it happen either, which I probably would’ve done if I was feeling better.

However, despite a day which was teetering along like an apprentice  tightrope walker teetering back and forward from the brink, I tenaciously clung to my plans to cook a special baked family dinner and even a family specialty for dessert…my mum’s sponge cake topped with luscious passion fruit icing and dollops of cream. It was quite an effort cleaning all the paraphernalia and vitally important detritus off the kitchen table and I can’t remember the last time we actually set the table and had a more formal dinner.

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The Family Sponge Cake (oops I was struggling to blend the butter into the icing but it tasted great).

I don’t know if good food is a way to the heart, a way of helping people to bond and connect and for some of the walls to come down. However, it seemed to do the trick. Our daughter said the potatoes were the best I’d ever made, which is high praise coming from her as she eats like a sparrow. Our son wasn’t too hungry and was feeling tired and went off to bed without even trying the cake. However, he did start to perk up a bit.

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Indeed, they all did after I produced a big photo album and they started looking at old photos of Geoff’s Mum and Dad and the extended family. This was quite intentional on my part because Father’s Day is a hard day for my husband. His father died when he was around 16 just before Father’s Day 36 years ago. He didn’t get the chance to get to know his father as an adult. Obviously, the kids and I have never met him and there is quite an absence there. We don’t have a lot of stories and only a handful of photographs. So, it was really good to see Geoff and the kids pouring over these photographs and he could talk the kids through them. Our kids are a lot younger than their cousins so it was interesting for them to see them when they were their age. Sometimes, I must admit that it feels like our family missed the boat. We just weren’t there.

Meanwhile, there’s my Dad. We usually catch up with my Dad on  Father’s Day every year, although there are some years we celebrate on a different day because plans simply don’t come together, which is what happened this year. Father’s Day is held on the first Sunday in September here in Australia, and with the first Sunday falling on the 1st, it caught us off-guard. We didn’t have anything planned.

Dad didn’t mind. He was feeling exhausted as well and was happy to have a quiet day. We all seem to be getting over the Winter colds, which were compounded by heavy rain and winds during the week, which only reinforced our lethargy.

So, it wasn’t a perfect day. However, it did remind me to hang in there, even when things are far from perfect, and keep beavering away towards building connection, bridging gaps, misunderstandings and grumpiness. Never give up. If you think that sounds like a rallying cry, you’re right. I’m still trying to convince myself. However, your nearest and dearest are worth fighting for. Indeed, they are your world. For many of us, our forebears bore arms and defended our country and our principles. However, how many of us would make the supreme sacrifice for our family? I don’t know. Or, perhaps we’re prepared to die for our families but not prepared to live?

“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

Jackie Kennedy

These are difficult issues. What would I do to save my family? Would I give it my all? Or, would I shut up shop. It’s all too hard. After all, there probably is no perfect family, although there probably are perfect moments which we need to seize hold of and savor for eternity.

Perhaps, we should also abandon the entire concept of the perfect family. Understand that a Happy Birthday, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day might need to be considered beyond the day itself when things turn pear shaped or even go catastrophically wrong. That it’s not just about the date but about celebrating the person and our relationship and might be more about something that happened last week, a few months ago than this particular day.

Naturally, for many father is a stranger. An unknown on a whole range of levels. Sometimes that’ s a ache and other time something not experienced, isn’t missed and perhaps others have even filled those shoes. I will not dare to presume to understand.

So, I guess I’m feeling like making a toast to overcoming disagreements, strained relationships, misunderstandings and working through even times where we are treated badly and a serious apology is in order. That’s not to gloss over the pain, betrayal and disappointment. It’s not to condone and accept domestic violence of any kind. However, it is to encourage working through rocky relationships and trying to nut things out, smooth things over and to keep talking. This  is as much directed at myself as anyone else. I find it much easier to retreat inside myself and shut the door. However, love and relationships are the most important things to me and it’s ultimately detrimental to  do that. The only way forward is to come out of my hidey-hole and get the ball rolling.

I am hoping you might also find these reflections helpful and you might like to add some thoughts or experiences in the comments. Our families and relationships mean the world to us so let’s try not only to keep hanging in there, but to also bring out the best in them too.

Best wishes,

Rowena

On The Run…Friday Fictioneers.

“Over my dead body! Dot thundered. “You won’t get me into a nursing home!”

However, the good Lord had other plans. Sent a blood clot to her brain. It wasn’t strong enough to take her out, or destroy her mental faculties, but it had left her paralyzed in a wheelchair.

Dot was sure she could manage at home. Yet, her daughter had her assessed and off she went. Worse than jail, and she’d committed no crime.

However, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Her daughter locked her up, but her grandchildren set her free.

Grannie was on the run.

….

100 Words

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. Every week we write 100 words to a photo prompt. This week’s PHOTO PROMPT  Linda Kreger.

My take on this week’s prompt was inspired by my husband’s aunt who was a strong-willed, intelligent and independent woman who lived at home with her son for many years after a stroke left her in a mobility scooter. Unfortunately, she had another fairly massive stroke which didn’t kill her but she couldn’t go home and it was hard for all of us when she had expressed her wishes so clearly but there was nothing anybody could do. That was her lot. This stroke, by the way, had again only really affected her mobility and she was still as bright as a button and it was a tough cross to bear. I would’ve liked to set her free.

Best wishes,

Rowena

The Countdown to 50…Yikes!

Tomorrow, which is currently approaching faster than a Japanese bullet train, I turn 50 and in so many ways am happy to chant “Fifty not out”, even though I’m not a cricket fan by any stretch of the imagination. After all, when we rewind six years ago before I found out they were were going to give me chemo to combat my rampaging auto-immune disease, I was in dire straits. I was potentially looking down the barrel of 12 months to live. That’s serious stuff for anyone. However, at the time, our kids were nine and seven. They were along way off independence and being able to fend for themselves.

So, I am absolutely exuberantly happy to still be here. I truly appreciate the frailty and transience of life and the need to grab onto it with both hands and carpe diem seize the day.

However, in addition to this gratitude, there is also disappointment. A disappointment which can feel like an arrow straight through my heart.

Of course, it’s only natural that reflecting on my 50 years really intensifies both the good and the bad. It brings out the stuff you don’t think about very often as well as the stuff you leave right at the back of your closet hoping there might just be an imaginary land out the back where it could disappear altogether never to return. Of course it doesn’t though, does it?!! Instead, it sends you a huge birthday card. One of those ones which play a song when you open it up which is too loud to ignore.

Of course, I’m not the only one you has had disappointments. Indeed, while mine have been pretty intense at the time, others have been through worse and even much worse.

Moreover, since I’m still here to tell my tale, I’m considerably lucky. Blessed. Whatever you call it. My glass is more than half full. It’s literally overflowing.

Yet, there is the tear. I’m not going to deny it’s there. Or, wipe it away so no one else can see it. Life is full of ups and downs and I don’t believe we should ever deny those times we’re face down in the mud unable to surface. It is what it is. However, acknowledging that, is very different from getting stuck there.

I haven’t got time now to take this any further at the moment. The clock’s just past midnight and so I’ve already passed from my 40s into my fifties and moved on.

Now, it’s time to get to bed because some wise owl thought it would be fantabulous to welcome in the new day by watching the sunrise with the family. We’re heading off to Pearl Beach about 6.00am when I’m usually snoring and dreaming away.

However, I’ll leave you with this great hit from the Uncanny X-Men:

Stay tuned for more reflections.

Meanwhile, you might want to share how you felt about and experienced your most recent milestone birthday in the comments below.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

 

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

 

Our Spiritual Journey…

It’s not very often that I even touch on the spiritual side of my life…my beliefs, my faith or Christian community. That’s not because they aren’t an important. Rather, it’s just that I often see too many shades of grey, and wrestle with so many aspects of my own faith, that  it’s not easy to package it up and present it to anyone else in a vaguely coherent state.

I guess that’s what happens when you’re “beyond the flow”. You’re not usually the sort of person who walks into a place and immediately feels comfortable in that empty seat. Indeed, you bring your own. Ask questions. Wriggle. Don’t quite feel comfortable and look around at all the people who belong and ask: “What about me? Where’s my place? Will I ever belong?”

Above: Barney’s back in my day before it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt. Although I really struggled within myself while I was there, I was very happy there too if that makes sense. Found my place for awhile.

When I was in my twenties, I moved from the small Lutheran Church where I’d grown up and didn’t have many people my own age, and started going to St Barnabas Broadway. “Barney’s” was the Anglican Church aligned with Sydney University, where I’d literally swung from the chandeliers as an undergraduate, loving and being fully immersed in virtually all aspects of campus life. Barney’s was jam-packed with hundreds of young people, and I thought I’d hit the jackpot. That was until I struggled to run into the same people week after week and missed the intimacy of my home Church. Yet, I persevered and went to home groups and formed a really tight group of friends who were also mostly on the fringe of things to some extent. For example, the women among us weren’t real good at wearing floral dresses, which were a kind of uniform at the time. Over time, we came to see ourselves as the “black sheep”.   Indeed, a friend of mine and I wrote this incredibly sad, cynical story of sheep drowning in their own tears abandoned by the shepherd. This wasn’t so much a comment on Barney’s, but more a sense of the individual getting lost and overlooked. Of course, that’s nothing new, but when you feel yourself drowning in sorrow, it can feel like you’re the only one who has ever been there. However, with the exception of mental illness, it is often something everyone experiences from time to time. Moreover, your teens and twenties can be particularly turbulent as you try to launch yourself out into the so-called real world and search for love. It is difficult for most people to respond to drowning souls. However, if you know anything about life saving, you’ll know that you’re not meant to drown yourself saving someone else. Rather, they recommend using props like a broom, which enable you to save a life and not go down in the process.

Anyway, as it turned out, my sense of drowning in my own tears, wasn’t far off the mark. While I was turning to spiritual and psychological sources of help, I was actually battling the effects of undiagnosed hydrocephalus (or fluid on the brain) where the cerebral spinal fluid (CFS) was building up inside my head and squashing my brain. I didn’t have trouble with headaches, but I was clumsy right through high school  and with the pressure on my frontal lobe, wasn’t just extroverted. Stress was also quite disabling. After all, my brain was already under the pump.

When I was 25, I moved to Western Australia thinking a more relaxed lifestyle would be better. However, I was diagnosed with the hydrocephalus a few months later when I couldn’t touch my nose in a basic medical check up. Six months later, after a serious and sharp decline, I had brain surgery in 1996 where they inserted a VP Shunt from my brain under the skin through to my peritoneum. I moved back to Sydney to recover. The shunt blocked and it was decided I had to stay put and I moved back home with mum and Dad and did six months rehab to get back on my feet. I was off work for six-twelve months and went from being a Marketing Manager in a serious relationship to moving back in with my parents with my life squeezed into my bedroom cupboards. While I was grateful for their support, becoming a dependent child again was devastating. It wasn’t part of my plan, ambition and contradicted every little aspect of how I saw myself as a intelligent,  independent career woman.

Then, the shunt blocked, and my bad luck appeared terminal. Not in a life and death sense, but in terms of my morale. I remember talking to a friend and thinking I’d never get married and have kids. That I “couldn’t even take care of a goldfish”. These were gruelingly difficult days, extending into months which kept crawling along. 

Clearly, I’ve come a long way sense then. I met my husband Geoff on NYE 1998, while I was still in the recovery phase from that surgery. He took me on when I was still pretty much a rough diamond, and loved me regardless. Was part of the ongoing journey which saw me continue to recover and extend myself even to the present day. Thanks to what we are still finding out about neuroplasticity, I started rising back up and getting back into the land of living, even if I wasn’t quite back in the fast lane.

Anyway, I’ve taken you on a massive detour from where I intended to take you today.

DSC_3084

Praying for our son after the baptism.

The reason I’m touching on the spiritual, is that our fifteen year old son, who is known as on Beyond the Flow as the inimitable “Mister”, got baptised yesterday. When I asked him why he got baptised yesterday, he told me today that the baptisms were on so he might as well do it. However, his face told a different story yesterday when he was bursting with excitement, glowing and clearly being touched and immersed not only in the water, but also in the Holy Spirit and God’s love. Please don’t ask me for an explanation. This was clearly supernatural. I live with this character and experience the ups and downs, highs and lows and the clean versus messy bedroom. I know he’s not a saint, and yet he is. Somehow, so am I. Yet, I feel incredibly ordinary even if I’m no longer that lost, black sheep drowning in my own tears.

I am incredibly proud of our son for choosing to get baptised now. He turned 15 on Friday, and clearly this is an age group renowned for making other choices. Fantastic!

family zoom

Our family after the baptism

The other thing I was really stoked about, was that despite the last minute notice, we had a good contingent of family there. That even included Geoff’s sister and her boyfriend from Queensland, who just happened to be down. It was actually a very rare situation where Geoff’s family outnumbered my side. With my Dad being one of seven, that doesn’t happen often. Mister also had a few of his friends along and our Church (Hope Unlimited Church) also has a strong youth group and they were there literally cheering him along. Indeed, four of the youth were baptised yesterday.

Haebich Bible crop

 

Lastly, although it spent the service out in the car, the family Bible made it inside afterwards and I managed to share it with a few people. It was published in 1872/74 in Philadelphia and originally belonged to my grandfather’s grandfather, Heinrich August Haebich who was a blacksmith in Hahndorf, South Australia. His wife’s family included the Hartmann’s and Paech’s who were among the first German immigrants to come to South Australia. They migrated to under Pastor Kavel, because they didn’t believe in changes to the liturgy back home.  On one hand, you could say they were very devout and fought to defend their faith (which for Pastor Kavel included going to prison at the time). On the other hand, you could describe them as stubborn and resistant to change.

Papa's Retirement

My grandfather photographed at his retirement service.

My grandfather became a Lutheran Pastor. A shepherd in the very meaning of the word, he told stories of driving out through the mud to reach families and connect them with Church and salvation. He and my grandmother worked tirelessly in a ministry capacity, but also as what we’d today would view as social work. While serving in Wollongong in the 1950s, their congregation was mostly made up of European migrants known as “New Australians” who were struggling to adjust to a new country, language and culture and deal with having to start over again with perhaps little more than the shirt on your back. These legendary heroics of migrant Australia, didn’t come without a cost. My grandparents and their kids, lived in a tiny matchbox-sized manse next to the Church where their door was always open and they gave more than really was a good idea. My grandfather would marry a couple. My grandmother would be the bridesmaid and my mother or aunt would play the organ. At the larger weddings, the family would have to leave before the dancing could start. These were interesting time, so different to how I have grown up.

Walker_family_1945_after_release_from_internment_camp_small_cropped_379x277

The Walker Family after their release from the Japanese. 

This is just my Christian and spiritual legacy to our son. Meanwhile, Geoff grew up in a Seventh Day Adventist Family in Scottsdale, Tasmania. In his twenties, he moved to Sydney where the home group he attended broke away, becoming Dayspring Church. Going back in time, his family included a Methodist lay preacher and another branch of his family, the Walkers and Brookers were active in the early days of the Salvation Army. Indeed, his grandfather Herbert William Brooker played the cornet in the band which we’ve inherited. Actually, I just found out last night that Herbert William’s cousin, George Walker, was a Lieut.-Colonel in the Salvation Army and was interred by the Japanese during WWII while serving as a missionary in China.  Geoff’s Great Great Grandfather, Robert Sleightholm,  actually built much of the historic Church of the Good Shepherd at Hadspen in Tasmania. I know that’s different to pastoring a Church, but he was still a Church builder. Incidentally, that’s far better than being a Church seller and wrecker. The Anglican Church has put  the Good Shepherd up for sale. Read here. What did I say about the shepherds and the sheep?

While we are very proud of our strong Christian heritage, that is not to discourage people my kids refer to as first generation Christians. While it can be quite encouraging to come from a Christian family and there can be that internal cohesion, it can also be quite different if your Christian walk goes off on a tangent to your family. Christian communities have seemingly become more tolerant in recent years, there are tensions between different expressions and interpretations of faith. This legacy might not always leave you with a blank slate or room for your own faith to grow unimpeded and without perhaps being pruned too harshly. So, whatever your family situation might be, that’s okay. We are all God’s children and valued members of God’s family. Jesus loves us.

Funny I should write all of this, because I usually don’t speak up and it’s been really hard for me to feel an ongoing sense of belonging and commitment to Church. As you’re probably aware since my battle with the hydrocephalus, I was dealt another whammy when I became progressively immobile following the birth of our second child, Miss, and was diagnosed 18 months later with dermatomyositis. For awhile there, I felt like God didn’t love me any more and had channelled his wrath my direction and was zapping me with thunderbolts. I was really angry, hurt and just bereft that I had a second very rare, unpronouncible disease and I hadn’t even turned 40. Of course, I was mad. Mad with God. Mad with life, but mostly petrified of dying and leaving my then three and 18 month old children without their mum, especially when they were too young to even remember their mother or what it was like to have a mum.

My ongoing struggles with chronic health and disability also made it difficult to get to Church regularly and build those ongoing, continuing relationships where I could be a part of things. Me being me, I was also radically overthinking everything. Plus, I was fighting to stay alive, particularly after the dermatomyositis started causing fibrosis in my lungs. I developed bronchitis, pneumonia. I really should wear a mask out in public during fly season, but I am who I am and that isn’t me. I want to be with people, not behind a wall of any sort.

So, life is complicated and as frustrating and exhausting as it might be, I have to keep rising back to the surface and being not only part of community, but being something of a shepherd and caring for the flock from my seat somewhere out the back and not quite out the front. That’s my place. Meantime, Geoff can be found either up the front playing base, setting up and packing up chairs often with our son in tow. Our daughter went to her first meeting of Church dancers last week. That’s quite development compared to when my Mum was growing up.

Well, although this is the extended version of the baptism, it really is very much a fleeting overview of our spiritual journey and we’d love to hear from you. Moreover, if you have written any posts along these lines, please include links in the comments below. I’d love to read them.

Love & God Bless,

Rowena

Lt-Col George Walker Dies

Lieut.-Colonel ‘George Walker, commander of the Newcastle Division of the Salvation Army, died in Newcastle last night at the age of 61. Lieut.-Colonel Walker became an officer in the Salvation Army’s Burwood Corps 37 years ago, and then joined the China and India mission service. During the Second World War he was interned by the Japanese, and is remembered by many prisoners as welfare officer in a number of internment camps around Peking. After the war, he served as a travelling evangelist in New South Wales and Queensland, before taking up his Newcastle post a year ago. Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), Wednesday 16 April 1952, page 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Two Ships Collide…Stumbling Across the Wyrallah Disaster 1924.

On Tuesday 8th April, 1924, two ships collided in a treacherous stretch of water near the entrance of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, known as The Rip.  Five crew members and one passenger drowned when a massive coal steamer, the Dilkera, ploughed into a small coastal steamer, the Wyrallah, which had strayed across its path. The Wyrallah sank like a stone in less than ten minutes, and the heartbreaking cries of the drowning men could be heard from the Dilkera until there was nothing but silence.

Survivors Wyrallah Age April 10 1924

For the survivors, there was the dampened joy of a “miracle”. Meanwhile, for the families of the lost, there was only devastating heartbreak, and in many cases, also serious financial hardship. Widows were left without husbands, and children without fathers. With the victims being Melbourne men, the tragedy would have hit the city hard. With those few degrees of separation, many would have known the families and been touched by the Wyrallah Disaster in quite a personal way. Indeed, I can almost hear people talking in the streets about someone they knew. Yet, that pain was obviously most acute for the little ones who’d lost their dads. I keep thinking of those little children all tucked into their beds on that ill-fated night, sleeping soundly and not knowing Daddy wasn’t coming home. It breaks my heart. I’m also conscious that my grandmother and her brother were also sleeping in their beds at home in Sydney’s Bondi, equally oblivious to the tragedy. However, lucky for them, their father came back. Well, at least, he did that time.

My Great Grandfather, Reuben William Gardiner, was Second Mate onboard the Dilkera, and that’s what initially drew me into this story. While you’d expect that some reference to the collision would have passed down through the family, the first I knew about it, was spotting a reference in the online newspaper repository, Trove. I am something of a shadow hunter, relentlessly pursuing the lost tales of my ancestors through the online newspapers. Naturally, finding a reference to something this monumental, was something I had to pursue at full throttle and naturally, I wanted to know more about his role in the tragedy. I donned my Sherlock Holmes hat and cloak and set to work.

Reuben Gardiner

Second Mate Reuben William Gardiner

Unfortunately, when it came to knowing Reuben William Gardiner on any personal level, I’d barely seen the tip of the ice berg. He died more than thirty years before I was born, and had become little more than a photograph on my grandmother’s shelf, and a few snippets of story.  He was still quite a young looking man in the photo, and he was wearing his officer’s cap. Although he’d qualified as a Master Mariner, he was working as Second Mate with the Adelaide Steamship Company. Apparently, from a technical perspective, that meant he was responsible for navigation onboard. However, that doesn’t take into account his love of the sea, the comraderie with his mates, or that knowledge that the fate of the ship rested in the Lord’s hands. Or, perhaps it was all just down to luck. I’m actually surprised more philosophers weren’t created out sailing on ships, rather than hanging out in the relative safety of Paris cafes.

Ruby & Reuben Gardiner

Reub & Rube…Reuben William Gardiner & Ruby May McNamara 1910.

Reuben Gardiner was born on 3rd Dec, 1876 in Newtown, Sydney to William Henry Gardiner boot maker and Sarah Ann Baker. A few years later, his younger brother, Frederick, followed. However, in 1884, tragedy struck when his mother and twin brothers died in childbirth leaving nine year old Reuben and brother without a mum. On 1st April, 1891 William Henry Gardiner married Jane Ann Lynch at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church Wollombi. Reuben struggled to adjust to his new step-mother, who he referred to as “Mrs G”. According to my grandmother, when he was around 17, he left home in West Maitland and joined the merchant navy. In 1910, he married piano teacher Ruby May McNamara at Waverley. Ruby was the eldest of eight daughters born at Queanbeyan to John McNamara and Elizabeth Johnston. I knew Ruby as “Gran, but they called each other: “Reub and Rube”.

Reuben Gardiner on ship

Reuben Gardiner far left photographed onboard ship possibly the Arkaba.

What I did know about Reuben Gardiner, was that he died of a heart attack at sea onboard the Arkaba in 1936. Reuben died only four months after my grandmother, concert pianist Eunice Gardiner, had left for London with her mother onboard the Esperance Bay and neither could attend his funeral held at Sydney’s towering St Mary’s Cathedral.

Pix 1940 May 11 pg 24

Eunice had won a prestigious scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London and was already quite a sensation. A fundraising committee had been established by Lady Gordon and a big testimonial concert was held at Sydney’s Town Hall to finance her studies. However, there was never any question of Eunice going to London alone. Her father was clear: “You might as well throw her to the sharks in Sydney Harbour.”However, this meant that Ruby wasn’t here to bury her husband and make those last goodbyes. That in supporting her daughter’s prodigious talent as she had always done, Ruby had made an incredible personal sacrifice. Reuben’s death also meant that Eunice’s older brother, Dr Les Gardiner, a young doctor at St Vincent’s Hospital, stepped in and supported his mother and sister while putting his own surgical studies on hold and supporting his own wife and family.

So, in a different sense, I have also grown up with this story of a father going off to sea, and not coming home, but for different reasons.

Photos Watson + Wise

Captain Watson of the Dilkera on the right and survivor, Alfred Edward Wise, mate of the Wyrallah (left)

In addition to my personal connection to the collision, I also saw another story emerging from the Wyrallah Disaster. Something about the mysterious twists and turns of fate, which most of us fail to understand, and pause to question from time to time and usually at our peril. These two ships could well have passed each other in the night. Yet, through a series of such twists and turns, they collided. Why was it so? Why did the survivors make it, while the victims perished? Was it God, fate, destiny or just bad luck? Who or what was at the helm of that particular ship? The one which makes all the ultimate decisions over life and death? Was it God? Each of us has a length of string. Some of us have a longer piece of string than others. Moreover, some of us will know when our time is close, while many have no idea at all. They’re suddenly struck down by the equivalent of a cosmic thunderbolt, and that’s it. Game Over.

Captain Bracken

Of course, we can’t live our lives constantly in the shadow of the Grim Reaper. We need to Carpe Diem seize the day. Stretch ourselves out to our full capacity, not knowing whether we’re going to make it. Indeed, there seems to be something innately human about challenging ourselves well beyond our known capabilities, even if it does lead us to our death. In that case, our loved ones stoically celebrate: “At least, they went doing what they loved.”

Map Wyrallah wreck site

However, I wonder how many of us actually consider that it could well be a little, miniscule detail something so small we can barely see it, which in that flash of lightening, that momentary second in time, puts us in the wrong place at the wrong time? Moreover, in some instances the difference between life and death can be a few centimetres either to the left or the right. One person dies, while the other survives. It can all seem so random. In many instances, there were turning points where decisions were made setting all sorts of events in motion. Yet, there is no turning back. After all, we can’t just rewind and “play it again, Sam”. What’s done is done. We can only learn from it, and do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Above: Three of the “missing men who lost their lives onboard the Wyrallah. Engineer John Wighton (on the right) went back in to rescue the firemen and didn’t make it out.

Personally, I find it hard to understand how God’s will, fate, destiny, good and bad luck and miracles all come together. I don’t understand why some people who have been very close to me or people I care about, have died tragically and far too young. However, I do believe that each of us has our lot…our own burden to carry. Yet, at the same time, I also know that in many instances we can make things better or worse for ourselves. Indeed, I’m constantly amazed by how often we shoot ourselves in the foot without any help from anybody else. I do that myself.

Weekly Times 19 April 1924 model boats

It took a long of reading and research before I could even start to understand what happened on that ill-fated night of the Wyrallah Disaster. Moreover, naturally my initial focus was to place my Great Grandfather at the scene and find out what I could about the role he played, if any. However, most of the newspaper coverage focused on the survivors and “missing” from the Wyrallah, and they weren’t interested in the actions of Mr RW Gardiner. However, that didn’t stop me from infusing him into the scene. As I read stories of survivors being wrenched from the wreckage by the grip of a stranger pulling them to safety, I wanted that to be him. I wanted him to be the good guy, the Good Samaritan, the hero.

Dilkera 2 after collision Argus April 10

However, tough decisions also had to be made and not everyone could be the hero. The Dilkera had also been damaged in the collision and at the time, both ships were within the treacherous waters of The Rip. The Dilkera desperately needed to reach safety to assess her own damage. So, after quickly saving who they could, a decision was made not to stop to save the drowning men… the chilling voices calling out from the sinking vessel. Captain Watson decided that it was “better to save one ship than to lose two”.  Of course, when you’re talking about maneuvering a massive vessel like the Dilkera, swinging into action wouldn’t have been a simple matter, and it was considered too dangerous to send out the lifeboats. There would only be a further loss of life. Yet, there’s still that Good Samaritan in me who can’t understand how anyone could leave those men behind without even throwing them a lifebelt. That said, by all accounts, it seems that the men died very quickly and more than likely, that nothing could be done. However, I wasn’t the only one asking such questions and the newspapers of the day also wanted to know. There was also an inquiry.

Graduating Menzies

A young Sir Robert Gordon Menzies.

Speaking of the inquiry, I thought I might just mention that Sir Robert Gordon Menzies (1894-1978), former Australian Prime Minister twice over (26 April 1939 – 29 August 1941 and19 December 1949 – 26 January 1966) , represented the owners of the Wyrallah at the inquiry. Admitted to the Bar in 1918, he’d already established a name for himself. In 1920, as advocate for the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, he won a case in the High Court of Australia, which proved a landmark in the positive reinterpretation of Commonwealth powers over those of the States[1].

So, already quite a complex story has started taking shape. However, unfortunately even a good story doesn’t come all neatly gift wrapped. I have a lot of hard work ahead but I want to take this story as far as I can. Fingers crossed. I can see this one having a beginning, a middle and an end.

I would be particularly interested to hear from anyone connected with collision of the Wyrallah and the Dilkera. It’s definitely a story which deserves to be retold and it would be lovely to honour those precious men who tragically lost their lives, leaving their families behind.

Best wishes,

Rowena

[1] http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/menzies-sir-robert-gordon-bob-11111