Category Archives: Photography

Weekend Coffee Share… 17th July, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

This week, I’m retracting all my boasts about the balmy warmth of a Sydney Winter, and will let you know you’d better bring a big thick woolly blanket when you come to visit me this week. Indeed, last night, I not only dug the scout blanket out of storage, I put a beanie and woolen gloves on before going to bed AND jacked my electric blanket up to high. It only warms the bottom side and cool air was chilling my head through the window and one blanket and a doona were no longer enough over the top. I think I saw that it was actually 18°C today. So, you probably take me for an absolute wimp. However, the houses here aren’t central heated or prepared for the cold and are better suited to letting out the heat. That’s great for about 10-11 months in the year but then there’s that last month of Winter that really reminds you you’re alive and Winter isn’t such a myth after all.

So, what have you been up to?

Last week, I headed up to Blackheath in the Blue Mountains West of Sydney to stay with a cousin. We’re not exactly first cousins. Rather, we’re what I call “family history cousins” and my 4 x Great Grandfather and her Great Grandfather were brothers who came from the island of Islay in the Scottish Hebrides. I contacted her recently to fill her in on all my discoveries of bigamy, divorce and other intrigues, and she told me a cousin had dropped off two albums of photos dating back to the 1880s and invited me to stay. I was off. Didn’t need to be asked twice. I don’t like leaving people without a name, especially when such old photos are so rare and precious.

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A page from the historic family photo album showing Angus Rutherford Johnston & James Campbell.

Blackheath is in the Upper Blue Mountains and Sydney-siders have called it Bleakheath due to its “freezing” temperatures for generations. Blackheath locals call themselves “Blackheathens”. They sound like a dangerous bunch but are actually rather harmless. Indeed, there’s a strong creative community thriving in the area, along with an outpost of one of my favourite bookshops: Glee Books. Yes, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I spotted that and of course I bought a stack more books despite having piles and piles of books back here at home that I’ve never read.

Above:A family visit to the Paragon Cafe in 2011 Continue reading

Off To Join The Blackheathens…

When I first heard about being a “Blackheathen”, I thought it sounded like joining a Satanic cult. However, Blackheath is actually a town in the Blue Mountains West of Sydney and the locals call themselves “Blackheathens”, while throughout it’s history, visitors have dubbed it: “Bleakheath”. It is freezing. Well, at least by more wimpy standards where 18°C is considered “frozen” and we’re wrapped up in so many layers of jumpers, blankets, coats and overcoats, that we look more rugged up than Eskimos.

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Any way the wind blows, Henry goes with the flow…

Last week, I loaded up the little red car and drove up to Blackheath to stay with a cousin for four days. This was no ordinary “cousin” either. My 4 x Great Grandfather, John Johnston was her Great Grandfather’s older brother. We first met about 20 years ago when I was researching the bridge they built, the North Sydney Suspension Bridge, and I came across her name in a newspaper article in the local history file at the library. We met up back them, along with another cousin who was in her 80s at the time, and we formed a sort of inner circle of this vast outer circle of this Johnston family hailing back to the island of Islay in the Scottish Hebrides.

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Angus Rutherford Johnston my 4th Great Uncle and James Campbell in Seattle, USA. The photo album itself was a work of art.

When I got back in touch a few weeks ago, it turned out that a cousin had dropped off two family photo albums dating back to the 1880s and she invited to to come up to stay, copy of the photos and catch up.

Govetts Leap

 

As it turned out, copying the photos was the tip of the iceberg and I was brought deep into the Blackheath fold and not only taken to local lookouts, but also inside Blackheath. I watched a local musical theatre production on DVD called something along the lines of: “A Hot Time in Blackheath”. Blackheath used to be a popular destination for not only honeymoons back in the day, but also a “dirty weekend”. As I’d toured the lookouts in the past, such history had never crossed my mind. So, it was quite interesting to get this inside perspective.

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Zooming in on a rock face over Govett’s Leap. I have always been astounded by the tenacity of Australian plants to grow in such challenging locations.

Before I left for Blackheath, I had been planning to indulge in food the entire week without any thought of ballooning into twice my size or blowing the budget. I was wanted to indulge. However, while we did stop at the Ivanhoe Pub for a magnificent pie, I actually indulged more in books as I found out that one of my favourite all time bookshops, Gleebooks, had a store in Blackheath and I fell deep down that precarious slippery slope back into book addiction.

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Meanwhile, in the nearby carpark, I spotted an amazing mural designed by Jenny Kee,  a well known Australian fashion and event designer and writer and Blackheath local on the side of the historic Victory Theatre. The mural features bold and colourful representations of Australian plants and wildlife in Jenny Kee’s typical style.

Of course, my time in Blackheath was over way too soon. However, I did spend a few hours in Katoomba, breaking the homeward journey. So, stay tuned.

Have you ever been to Blackheath?

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

The Journey Home…A Personal Quest.

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”

– Matsuo Basho

For those of you who have been following my blog for awhile, you’ve probably sensed that I’ve been grappling with something. Something like a whole lot of random puzzle pieces, and wondering why they won’t all fit together. Arranging and rearranging them and then darting down another wombat tunnel (these are rather long and extensive by the way) searching for another missing piece, hoping that this time, I’ll finally be able to see the entire picture. Or, at the very least, have all four corners and the edge pieces in place.

Fueling this quest has been a sense that something isn’t quite right, which might’ve been blown off as anxiety or misplaced perfectionism if the story had been a little different.

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The Good Little Girl.

Of course, the general recommendation was “to go with the flow”. The only trouble being, that I was beyond the flow. Moreover, nobody ever presented me with a map or gave me any directions whatsoever to try to find the flow, let alone a lift. Indeed, since whenever, I’ve never gone with the flow or even known what it was.  Hence, why I’ve called my blog “Beyond the Flow”.

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Here I am in Year 6 aged 12. The Serious Student.

Lately, this sense of not going with the flow re-positioned itself, and I felt more like I was living in between the lines where I perhaps don’t belong to either group but see something in between that other people miss. This perspective is also rather interesting when you look at it from a visual perspective, as you’re inhabiting that white space between two sentences. Not that I can actually read either sentence, as I’m up too close. It’s all a blur. I’m just there. Indeed, I could well be fast asleep, and quite at peace in what actually seems an uncomfortable, or even isolating position.

Rowena Dressing up

I used to love dressing up and performing. My brother and I put on little shows at home.

By the way, I didn’t say that I was alone. I’m not. Indeed, I’m actually starting to wonder just how many of us hover in between worlds not really knowing where we belong and yearning to find our home. Or, perhaps we/they have reached a point of acceptance, or even giving up, and have pitched a tent where they are and set up camp.

For many of us, there’s a complicating factor which heightens this sense of living in between the lines. Of not going with the flow. Even, grappling to know who we are within our own skin, before we can even attempt to work out how we can find our place in the outside world.

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The Irrepressible University Student. You can see I’ve jumped right out of my box by now.

Personally, my struggle to know and understand myself raised up into something of a tsunami wave, after I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain when I was 26. Apparently, it had been there since birth, but randomly became symptomatic in my mid-20s. Suddenly, thanks to my diagnosis, I had an explanation for being quirky, uncoordinated, and not fitting in. Better still, I had a cure. A magic fix. I had brain surgery and was given a shunt, which not only reduced the pressure in my brain and improved my coordination, it also felt for a time like the lights had gone out. Indeed, I started to believe that the theatrical, extroverted independent woman I had always been, was largely the fabrication of this disease. That all this pressure in my head, had made me disinhibited. That at least some percentage of who I thought was me, was in actual fact the disease stepping into my shoes and even inside my very skin and taking over.

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Performing My Poetry in Paris in 1992.

This, of course, left the door open for way too many questions, and they not only moved in, but also made themselves at home.

Indeed, it left many doors and pathways open as I grappled to find some rock solid sense of myself. That core at the very centre of my being. The bit that is left, when you remove and take off all the layers and external forces and just is.

“To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.”

Eckhart Tolle

Much of this exploration has either been unconscious, or going on in the background while I’m getting on with the realities of life. If you’ve lived with this , you’ll know what I mean when I say the front screen is running but there’s another screen running behind closed doors, behind the curtain, or even somewhere at the back of your eyeballs (the eyes being the window of your soul). I never intended to live and operate like this, and I must admit it’s been very frustrating. I’ve really struggled to know quite who I am, and then to confound it further, I developed a debilitating auto-immune disease, which side-swiped me like a massive monster truck. Of course, it didn’t stop to see if I’m okay, or to even help me get my bearings. It just kept going.

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Aristotle

Anyway, as I said, I’ve been niggling with this in the background and moving very much by feel. I feel comfortable, belong and really thrive in some settings, but in others, I shrivel up and am almost screaming in my skin to escape. I feel awful. There doesn’t need to be an explanation. Indeed, there often isn’t one.

Performance Queanbeyan 1886

 

I am coming to wonder whether it’s been this struggle within myself, which has taken me so deeply inside my family history. Indeed, now that I’ve found the missing piece of the puzzle, it feels like this is what I’ve been searching for my entire life. It wasn’t a coincidence that I wanted to swing from the chandelier. Or, that I wanted the be an actress right through high school (in addition to being a journalist). There was this pull from somewhere deep within my DNA, which didn’t connect with Mum and Dad or anybody in the near vicinity. However, deep within the lines of historic newspaper text, there it was. My grandmother’s grandmother performed in an amateur Minstrel Show in Queanbeyan, near Canberra. While it wasn’t New York, the programme was printed in the newspaper, and she wasn’t only the pianist. She was also acting. Indeed, Lizzie Johnston was playing Louisa in a romantic farce: The Rival Lovers. Finally, I had permission and acknowledgement of who I’ve always been. A constant beyond the ups and downs of life and collisions with life-threatening illnesses. An extrovert who doesn’t need a stage to perform, and can even perform in words upon the page, just like my kids sing and dance across the stage. Indeed, I don’t need a drink to perform a on stage either. Rather, I need someone to tie me to my seat in the audience.

Of course, that is not to say we’re pre-determined by our genes. However, personally I found it very encouraging that someone else in my family has been down this road, and I’m not crazy. That it wasn’t the result of too much pressure on the brain. It’s simply me. Moreover, there are quite a few performers on both sides of my extended family tree.

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My Great Great Aunt, Rose Bruhn, owned an elite hair and beauty salon in Brisbane but could also make kookaburras laugh on command, had a budgie who recited reams of Shakespeare. She appeared with them at charity fundraisers where she also performed poetry and she played the violin.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost.

Rowena Lizottes

The humble violinist. I was actually a rank beginner when this photo was taken, but I have an in-built sense of theatre.

However, I’m not sure that this discovery is going to change a hell of a lot. These days, I’m pretty content with what I’ll call “my lot”. I’ve been doing some performances on my violin, which isn’t quite the same as jumping out of a cake or swinging from a chandelier, but I now understand a little better why I wanted to perform, and wasn’t content to only play alone at home.

While this journey is incredibly personal, and having problems with your brain isn’t something to brag about, it was a story that needed to be shared. While it’s been a catharsis for myself, I wanted to reach out to people grappling with similar issues, and hold your hand. We are not alone.

The Missing Piece

Lastly, I wanted to share an animation of a favourite book of mine by Shel Silverstein: The Missing Piece . It might be simple, but it’s very profound.

If this post connects with you in any way, I would love to hear from you via the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Belated Weekend Coffee Share… 25th June, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

It’s now Monday night here, so I hope you’ve have a great weekend . Although I’m turning up rather late this week, hopefully a few stragglers would still like to join me and keep the coffee and conversation flowing.

How was your week? Do you have any stories you’d like to share?

Well, I had a busy week and much of it was rather annoying because it involved medical appointments. I had one in Sydney, one locally with my GP and was back to the GP for an iron infusion on Friday, which will hopefully turn me into Popeye the Sailor Woman in a few weeks’ time once it’s take effect. These medical appointments weren’t such a big deal, and it was more a case of one appointment generating another and then they seem to breed like rabbits for a bit. However, fortunately they largely retreat back into their hidey holes much of the time these days and only reach this kind of frequency very occasionally.

After my doctor’s appointment on Monday, I headed down to Kirribilli for a coffee and set myself up with my notebook and started randomly writing. I love downloading my soul in pen on paper like this in a rustic old cafe, and it also feels so good for the soul to get all that stuff out as well.

Last week, the kids’ school held their annual Variety Concert over two nights. Our daughter danced on Tuesday night and our son was on lights the first night and backstage the next. What with having to drop him back and forth, my daughter and I also decided to watch the second concert as well. I’m really glad we did, not only because the acts were so good and we enjoyed some incredible entertainment, but also because I hope by being there, we might’ve encouraged some young performers. It’s very rare that you ever hear anything about being a “talented audience”. I’ve personally put in many years learning the piano, ballet and the violin, but no one even sat me down and encouraged me to learn how to be a productive member of the audience and be more than just a bum on a seat. Of course, my mother taught me not to crinkle lolly wrappers and not to cough, go to the toilet or talk during a performance and these days we also need to ensure we switch our omnipresent phones to silent. However, these things are more about the etiquette of being in the audience, rather than really getting into it. You can applaud with gusto and enthusiasm. Smile. Better still, you can compliment the performer afterwards, ideally pointing to something specific so they know you mean it and you payed attention. You see, while the performer’s talent might seem very obvious to you and that you might expect them to be egotistical and full of themselves, quite often I find the reverse is quite true. That many highly talented performers are perfectionists. Perfectionism is a state which can never be reached, and so far too many live with an agonising sense of their weaknesses and mistakes, rather than their incredible abilities to take everyone around them on a magical flight to someplace else, or even deeper within their soul.

Anyway, I digress. I am rather prone to philosophizing, and I guess sharing philosophical ideas over coffee is nothing new.

While I don’t really see getting around my local area as “travelling” per se, the beauty about blogging with people from all around the world, is that my own backyard become exotic. My backyard to travelling to you.

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Our local Beach during Winter.

Anyway, last Saturday Geoff’s sister from Queensland came down for a visit along with her son who has been living in Canada or the US for over 15 years. So, we met up with them at a local cafe and then decided he should see more of his own country before he heads back and took him for a drive to Patonga, which is located on the Hawkesbury River about 15 minutes drive away through the bush and round some fairly twisty bends. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been to Patonga, and I’ve really get to ask myself why I don’t get out and see more of the local environment when I’m surrounded by glorious beaches, stunning coastal views and the great Aussie bush. I guess, like for most of us, life gets in the way. There always seems to be so much to get done and so much of that really isn’t exciting either. It’s little more than crossing stuff off the list, but I know from past experience that ignoring it only makes it worse.

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Fishing Boats at Patonga.

Well, I guess it’s time to wrap things up here. I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit and I look forward to popping round and touching base with you as well.

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

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Madame Cuisinier – Friday Fictioneers.

It wasn’t a case of who done it. Rather, it was just a question of whether Madame Cuisinier knew that migratory quail were toxic, and would kill her husband.

Of course, nobody wanted to believe, that a Great Grandmother could kill her husband.  Married for over 60 years, they’d been born in Paris during the Occupation. Why not get a divorce? Why go to all the trouble of catching and preparing the quail and concocting that wonderfully fragrant yellow sauce, m’qalli, just to poison him? Why not feed him cake?

Madame Cuisinier wondered why she couldn’t follow through with their plan. Why she couldn’t eat the dish. It would’ve been the perfect end.

…..

My apologies for going a bit over this week, but I couldn’t work out how to shortened this complex tale. I’ve been watching Masterchef lately and couldn’t by-pass a food reference.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields  PHOTO PROMPT © Jean L. Hays.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Lover’s Potion…Friday Fictioneers

Nobody had ever sent Michelle a letter before. Not even a postcard. Text had become the language of love. Yet, Jerome was different. A poet. Not that she understood any of his writings. He was in her philosophy class, and they kept running into each other until it was a long lingering picnic in Central Park. So, she didn’t think twice, as she inhaled the white powder….a touch of romance. Off to start her shift at the Met, she tucked the letter into her journal. Not even a doubt, she spread its sweet perfume throughout the packed August crowds. A woman in love is an easy target.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

Bets wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share… 3rd June, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, the fact that I’ve turned up here on time, should let you know that I’m having a quiet weekend and am not gallivanting around exploring new places, like I was last weekend. Indeed, I probably should’ve held off on some of last week’s news and popped it into this week so I could actually have something interesting to say.

How has your week been? I hope it went well.

Well, it’s officially Winter here now, and I guess that also explains my shift towards hibernation, and wanting to wrap myself up in thick woolly layers. Indeed, we’re all mighty thankful for a warm dog on the lap and they’re also thankful for the added warmth themselves. We don’t have central heating and we actually try not to heat the house at all to keep the electricity bills down and be kind to the environment. Most of the time, it’s not that cold. Mind you, I confess that I do have my electric blanket on low some nights. It feels so good. Despite Winter and the cold, the days are largely pleasantly sunny and I can’t complain too much. It’s actually 17°C or 63°F, which would probably make for quite a nice day out in London. Actually, the weather in London surprised me. It’s actually climbed to 25°C. I wonder if they’re actually enjoying it or starting to complain about the heat?

A few weeks ago, I had a call from my Dad’s second cousin about the family history, and this has launched an effort to try to get “my affairs in order”. Or, to be precise, get my ancestors’ affairs in order. I tend to dump new information into a file and intend to get back to it, but inevitable don’t and the information I’ve dumped might really belong somewhere else. I just put it there so I can find it again. Moreover, some family members warrant a book all of their own and so I’ve accumulated a hell of a lot of information and stories and it is rather overwhelming. It’s only when someone rings up that I’m forced to get on with it and get the chaos sorted out.

1910 circa Suspension Bridge German postcard

Cammeray Suspension Bridge circa 1910

 

My latest family history adventure, has taken me to New Zealand. My 3rd times grandparents John Johnston and Maria Bridget Flanagan (nee Docherty) were married at Invercargill and lived along the West Coast in fairly rugged terrain during the New Zealand gold rush. We went to New Zealand on our honeymoon and visited a few of these places so I am able to visualise their lives to some extent, which sort of brings their lives back to life. They ended up moving to Australia where John worked with his younger brother Alexander Johnston who was a building contractor, who built a beautiful historic bridge called the Cammeray Suspension Bridge. It was quite an engineering achievement in its day. Well, that is quite aside from the fact that the cables were rusting away by the 1930s and the bridge needed to be almost completely overhauled. These Johnstons also trace back to whiskey distillers on the island of Islay in the Scottish Hebrides. So, there are more than enough stories to tell and it’s been very difficult to wrap it all up and declared it “done”.

I also participated in Friday Fictioneers this week, which is hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s story Babushka had a Russian influence. Not sure where that came from, but isn’t writing like that? All sorts of snippets from all over the place, come together in a kind of dance.

We also went to a funeral on Friday. It wasn’t just a funeral. No funeral ever is. She was a friend, not a close friend, but our boys used to play AFL football together and you do get to know someone standing on the sidelines over a few years. Our boys have also been in the same class for the last couple of years, and while they’re not close friends, there’s that connection from their football days. However, unfortunately the thing that really connected us together is our common fight to overcome severe health issues to see our kids grow up. As much as you can say you’re going to fight it and put up a fierce incredible fight, sometimes you just don’t make it and I guess I’ve really come to believe we each have our time. You might get cancer. You get run over by a bus. You just don’t know.

a million birds take flight

During the burial, I looked up and saw three black cockatoos flying majestically like eagles overhead. They were strangely comforting.

So, while I questioned whether I should keep our coffee share light and chatty or whether I should share the funeral with you, I thought that was also part of my week. That it’s important to share our downs as well as our ups. To acknowledge the passing of a friend, and not just gloss over the surface like it doesn’t matter. It does.Indeed, I also wanted to share that although I expected to breakdown and really lose it at the funeral, I actually found it quite beautiful. It was held in a beautiful, local glass chapel and you look out onto majestic gum trees and the great outdoors…God’s creation. I was really touched by how my friend had touched so many lives through her enthusiastic and loving community involvement, and her particular love and focus was to help kids struggling to learn how to read. So, in her humble everyday style, she changed so many lives for the better and loved her family like a warm Mama bear, and so she will be keenly missed.

So, last week for me was more about rest, recovery and recharging the batteries than climbing mountains and conquering the world. All part of striving for some kind of balance, when we’re always living with so many competing pressures.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali. I encourage you to pop round and join us. 

Best wishes,

Rowena