Category Archives: Travel

Retracing the Footsteps of Our Cycling Champion.

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

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

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

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

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

Cecil Walker Maddison Square Gardens

In an interview in 1939, he reflected:

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

Marrickville Station

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

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

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

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

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

Above: The Henson, Marrickville.

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

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

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

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

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

John Lennon & Allen Saunders 

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

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

Je suis Notre Dame…

“To know her, is to love her!”

The Beatles

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

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

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

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

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

So, I did what I could.

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

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

 

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

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

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My backpack and I just before I left. 

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

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

Rowena Notre Dame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

M- Mountain…Motivational Quotes A-Z Challenge.

“You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting,

So… get on your way!”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

As I launch into my latest contribution to my series of Motivational Quotes for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, I’m asking…What does a mountain mean to a writer?

I’m not sure if this is any different to what it means to a great adventurer like Sir Edmund Hilary, or even a toddler seeing a relatively small hill which seems like a mountain to them. However, a mountain represents inspiration, challenge, stretching yourself, great physical beauty as well as mystery even horror.

It is important to keep all these characteristics of the mountain in mind as we face our mountains through life, and not only in our writing or other creative endeavors. That way, we still appreciate the awesome beauty of the mountain while we’re almost dying gasping with everything we’ve got, as we struggle clawing our way towards the summit.

“The way up to the top of the mountain is always longer than you think.

Don’t fool yourself, the moment will arrive when what seemed so near

is still very far.”

– Paulo Coelho

Another interesting thing about people, is that we seek mountains out. We’re not content to simply keep walking along the flat, and strangely seek to stretch ourselves well beyond anything we thought possible.  We like to push ourselves. Indeed, that could well be a need, and part of what makes us human.

Above the trees

a mountain has melted

into haze

Michael McClintock

However, mountains can be more than challenging. Indeed they can be deadly. More than 296 people have died trying to conquer Everest. Although Sir Edmund Hilary was the first to climb it, he didn’t advocate conquering at any cost:

“Human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.”

– Edmund Hillary

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However, mountains aren’t just for climbing. They’re for painting, photography or simply dreaming and wandering. They don’t have to be a verb. They can just be.

On a less inspirational note, most writers would be familiar with having mountains of paperwork. After all, that’s what a book is. It’s a pile of paperwork either glued or stapled together and if we keep climbing and conquering these mountains, our name will be on the cover and on the spine.

Best wishes,

Rowena

While Your Were Dancing…

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

other plans.”

Allen Saunders & John Lennon

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

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

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Never a dull moment!

After all, we truly live in a beautiful world!

Carpe Diem. Seize the day!

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

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

L: Life…A-Z Challenge.

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

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

other plans.”

Allen Saunders & John Lennon*

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Rowena

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

J: Journey…

Welcome back to my series of Motivational Quotes for writers and creatives working on large projects, such as writing a book. This is series is part of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge where we write our way through the alphabet to a theme. Today, we’ve reached the Letter J and I’ve chosen a quote which focuses on the journey. No doubt, you probably know it, but it’s always good to be reminded:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Lao Tzu

Over the last few years, the word “journey” has been seriously over-used and has lost a lot of its magic. However, just because the word is tired, doesn’t mean that the nature of a journey has changed what with its changes of scenery, challenges, ups and downs and inherent movement from a beginning, through the middle and to the end. Of course, this progression could well be chopped and changed around when it comes to writing about it. However, one of the important things about a journey is that it needs to be lived.

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I’m always intrigued whenever I see these snail markings squiggling through the local rock pools. Well, it actually looks like the limpets in the photograph have made that journey.  

The quote from Lao Tzu is one of my all time favourites, and I often remind myself that the hardest part about achieving anything is usually getting started and taking that first step. Somehow, it seems to get easier once you’re actually moving, gain momentum and are on your way.

This quote is also a reminder not to let the enormity of what lies ahead, defeat you. Just get started putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll get there eventually.

Keep Going!

Obviously, to reach your destination you also need to keep going long after you’ve taken that initial step. After all, we’re talking about a journey of a thousand miles. That’s a long journey. It’s not a journey of one step and you’re already there to reach out and grab hold of your prize.

Isn’t it amazing how much you can get out of that one simple sentence?!!

Very great wisdom indeed!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Beach Invaders…Ocean Beach, Australia.

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

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

Back soon for the rest of the walk.

Best wishes,

Rowena