Category Archives: Writing

A-Z April Blogging Challenge- Theme Reveal – Places I’ve Been.

Once again, yours truly is completely unprepared for the annual A-Z April Blogging Challenge, despite fervid vows to “Be Prepared” next year and have all my posts written up in advance. Well, I guess my disorganized, last minute response could well be in keeping  with the theme of today…April Fool’s Day. Last night, I decided to change direction from ANZAC Soldiers serving in France during WWI to a photography travel series covering places I’ve been. I chose this theme because much of our world is currently in some form of social isolation at home and any form of travel has been outlawed and a plane has become a rare sight.

So, let me introduce myself.

Rowena 2018

My name’s Rowena Curtin and I’m no longer a 40 something writer, researcher, wife, mother, photographer and poor impersonation of a violinist. I am now 50. However, let’s be quite clear. I haven’t become 50 something YET!!!

Family

The Family at Christmas 2019

The other cast members here are my husband Geoff and two teenagers simply known as Mr and Miss. Geoff is currently working from home having conference calls and the like from our kitchen dining area which has now become his office. Our kids are doing schoolwork from home until the end of the week when they go on holidays. Our daughter has also been turning our kitchen into a dance studio right through dinner time and then there are the three dogs who are overjoyed to have all their ball and stick throwers at home. So, as you can see. Our place is rather cozy at the moment and will be for the unpredictable future.

Lady at Ocean Beach

Lady at Ocean Beach, Umina, NSW.

By the way, we live at Umina Beach just North of Sydney Australia. The beach is only a short walk away, which has been a blessed escape hatch from being imprisoned at home. Well, being stuck at home hasn’t quite become a prison yet. So, perhaps I was exaggerating things just a little for creative effect. However, whichever way you look at it. The world as we know it right now is hardly situation normal.

Of course, we’ll be travelling around the world alphabetically. However, there will be a particular emphasis on revisiting my 1992 backpacking trip around Europe where I landed in Amsterdam and then caught a train to Koln (Cologne) in Germany and onto Heidelberg, where I ultimately ended up living for roughly 6 months with a local family which was the experience of a lifetime. I also spent a week in Berlin living in what had been an East Berlin student house which still had all the authentic “interior design”. Then, I spent two weeks in Mons which included seeing Van Gough’s house nearby. There was about 6 weeks in Paris, a weekend in Florence and a week in London. It has become the trip of a lifetime, despite my desire to get back. Added salt to the wound, was when our son’s 3 week school history tour of Europe was cancelled due to the Coronavirus. He was due to be there now, but my goodness! We’re so glad he’s home.

So, I invite you to join me for these vicarious travels and I hope these photos and stories lift you out of the coronacrisis and possibly even taken you to your happy place. Indeed, that is the hope for myself.

Moreover, if you are doing the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, please leave a link to your theme reveal in the comments below.

Stay tuned!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Watch Out For the Triantiwontigongolope!!

If you thought that the Coronavirus was something to watch out for, you’d better brace yourself because if the Triantiwontigongolope gets out of Australia and takes on the world with equal force, they’ll be nothing left. A close relative of the vicious Dropbear (at least in terms of Aussie folklore), this insect is truly something to watch out for. Well, at least, that’s according to poet CJ Dennis who penned this poem back in the 1920s.

I remember hearing this poem when I was about 10 ears old and with its rollicky rhythm and great humour, I absolutely loved it and I thought you would too…especially at the moment when other horrors have us in various stages of isolation or taking our chances firmly believing in the great Aussie spirit (and no doubt you have your equivalent wherever you live): “she’ll be right mate!”

So, here goes:

The Triantiwontigongolope

There’s a very funny insect that you do not often spy,

And it isn’t quite a spider, and it isn’t quite a fly;

It is something like a beetle, and a little like a bee,

But nothing like a wooly grub that climbs upon a tree.

Its name is quite a hard one, but you’ll learn it soon, I hope.

So try:

Tri-

Tri-anti-wonti-

Triantiwontigongolope.

 

It lives on weeds and wattle-gum, and has a funny face;

Its appetite is hearty, and its manners a disgrace.

When first you come upon it, it will give you quite a scare,

But when you look for it again, you find it isn’t there.

And unless you call it softly it will stay away and mope.

So try:

Tri-

Tri-anti-wonti-

Triantiwontigongolope.

 

It trembles if you tickle it or tread upon its toes;

It is not an early riser, but it has a snubbish nose.

If you snear at it, or scold it, it will scuttle off in shame,

But it purrs and purrs quite proudly if you call it by its name,

And offer it some sandwiches of sealing-wax and soap.

So try:

Tri-

Tri-anti-wonti-

Triantiwontigongolope .

 

But of course you haven’t seen it; and I truthfully confess

That I haven’t seen it either, and I don’t know its address.

For there isn’t such an insect, though there really might have been

If the trees and grass were purple, and the sky was bottle green.

It’s just a little joke of mine, which you’ll forgive, I hope.

Oh, try!

Tri-

Tri-anti-wonti-

Triantiwontigongolope.

 

If you’d like to read more about CJ Dennis, please click here

Well, I hope that’s given you a bit of a laugh and I hope you’re okay.

If you have something funny to share, please leave a link in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 10th February, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

I should preempt today’s coffee share with a few “Glub! Glub! Glubs” because after surviving extreme bush fires and choking smoke, we’re now experiencing damaging heavy rain and winds and flooding. Indeed, you don’t even need to live near a river to be affected and today our daughter had a day off school because a tree had fallen across power lines and the school was also flooded. Her older brother wasn’t impressed. He had to go to school.  As far as the impact on us is concerned, our back room which is one of those atmospheric indoor-outdoor rooms with Laserlite to let in the balmy light, leaked like a sieve. This is the third time we’ve had to virtually everything out of the room. The last two times, hail had peppered holes through the roof like machine  gun fire. This time there were numerous gaps for no explained reason and my husband superhero that is, had to get up on the roof armed with goodness knows what goopy sealand stuff and paint to seal it up. I told my son that’s what his job will be when he grows up. Something tells me our daughter will never get up there in her pointe shoes and she’ll need to find equality in other areas, especially something which doesn’t involve removing spiders from the house!

Without any further ado, I’d better check whether you’d like tea, coffee, hot chocolate or some other beverage of choice. I thought you might like to join me and dig into one of these biscuit sandwiches I found at a cafe in Newtown, Sydney today. It was absolutely scrumptiously divine  with rich butter cream in between two chocolate biscuits dipped in sprinkles for a bit of festive colour and crunch. Wow! I feel like getting straight back on the train for more, except the trains were out today after the storm so I’ll have to exercise some uncharacteristic patience.  Meanwhile, I’ve sitting next to a chunky caramel kit kat. Have you tried one of these? I’m a recent convert and they’re sooo good!

So how are you and what have you been up to?

King Street Newtown historic

Last Monday, I met up my friend Stephen who was part of a group of friends I had in my early 20s and we’d largely lost touch I got married and moved a little North to the Central Coast, which is part of Greater Sydney. We met up at Sydney’s Central Station and caught the train to Newtown which is 4 kms South-West of the CBD. Traditionally, it’s had a large student population and was rather grungy and bohemian. However, now it’s become highly expensive and let’s just say the place has had a face lift. Stephen and I found a cafe where I found the biscuit and walked down King Street onto City Road past Sydney University. .

 

We had planned to go to a lecture but I’d mixed up the date and we were a month early. So, we went out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant off Broadway, called the Holy Duck. It was wonderful and we had a cocktail each. To be more about our adventure, click HERE

My adventures researching the stories of WWI to gain a better understanding of our family’s involvement and what happened in general continues. This project has been like jumping off a cliff clutching an octopus. I just keep ploughing deeper and deeper with no idea where the next soldier’s letter will take me. It’s been a real confirmation of that old proverb…”everybody has a story”. It’s interesting rebuilding the story of WWI through the eyes of the little people. Privates who had no say in what happened and were simply flotsam and jetsam ordered around by top brass or shot at by the enemy. However, they still had concerns of their own like the rest of us and reading through y husband’s Great Uncle Ralph’s diary, right before the Battle of Amiens which proved to be a critical turning point in the war, he’s writing about not getting mail for awhile with the underlying implication that he was missing home. Or, perhaps there was a certain someone we don’t know about who he was missing in a special way. That said, he does express hope that the war will soon be over: “Let us hope that Providence will be kind to us this stunt and enable us to make a move that will go a long way towards winding up this ghastly business.”

The new school year kicked off a week ago. Getting the family and the house ready for this is to be a logistical nightmare. Now that I’ve been studying more of the logistical side of managing a war, I realize the operations side of the household has been sadly lacking. That love isn’t enough to get the troops moving. We need to get all that boring stuff which feminism and equality was supposed to do away with, done. Speaking of this reminds me that I’m intending to have a talk with the kids about equality. How’s this for a bumper slogan…”Equality begins at home”.

Anyway, the start of the new school year, is always when the rubber hits the road with my new year’s resolutions. After all, it’s virtually impossible to stick to just about any resolution during the January holiday period in Australia. We’ve all gone troppo. So, now I’m trying to get into the routine of going for a walk after I drop the kids at school in the morning. I managed to pull it off on the first two mornings. However, on the third, I ran into a friend and went for a talk instead. Since, then I made up for a few walks almost reaching 10,000 steps on my rip to Newtown, although I don’t done much walking since. It’s been raining. Yes, I know it hasn’t necessarily rained all day everyday but it hasn’t exactly been inspiring and like most of us with our best-intentioned resolutions, I’ve fallen off the wagon.

My other resolution is to try to do at least 30 minutes of daily violin practice. This has been rather hit and miss as well. Some nights, I forget. Others, I’ve been too busy and others I simply can’t be bothered.

So, perhaps I need to add reading motivational books to to list of resolutions.

Yet, all the same, there’s another school of motivational thought which is geared well towards limping and impaled failures. That’s the idea that something is better than nothing and not to let a mediocre effort convert to giving up. That the person who cuts back the number of cigarettes is still making progress even if they haven’t quit. That it’s better off to be an imperfect vegan who cuts back their consumption of plastics and fossil fuels than making no change at all. That our instance on perfection, can inherently cause us too fail. I get that. Yet, at the same time, I still want to tick all the boxes. Get everything right.

I know we’re almost heading into March, but how have you been going with your resolutions? Are you still chipping away at them? Or, have you moved on altogether?

Anyway, I thought I’d give us a few motivational quotes to spur us on…

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent” – Calvin Coolidge

“If you fall behind, run faster. Never give up, never surrender, and rise up against the odds.” – Jesse Jackson

“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way. And don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.” -Richard M. Nixon

“Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” ―Harriet Beecher Stowe

“There is no failure except in no longer trying.”– Elbert Hubbard

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

–Robert Collier (1885-1950), American self-help author

 

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”Confucius

 

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”F. Scott Fitzgerald.

 

Well, I’m not sure whether all those quotes are enough to get me away from my writing to clean up the incredible mess from last night’s storm and leaking roof, but they were encouraging. Indeed, they actually pose a strong argument for ignoring the mess and just keep researching and writing until the book’s done. If only! However, something tells me that could be rather catastrophic on too many fronts. Better have a look at Plan B.

This has been a return to writing for the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

A Short Victory…Friday Fictioneers.

All James ever wanted was to eat a bowl of ice cream. However, James was severely lactose intolerant and ice cream was forbidden. Now a teenager, he was sick of everyone asking why he he had to have soy milk. Why can’t you have ice cream? What’s wrong with you? To compound his troubles, his mother hovered over him like a hawk. However, she wasn’t going to be at camp, and James had forged her signature on the medical forms. Finally, James indulged in his very first bowl of ice cream. All good until he got stuck on the bus.

….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s PHOTO PROMPT © Na’ama Yehuda.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Snapshots of Australian Birds.

Perhaps, I should’ve tossed my research hat out the window, when we arrived in Byron Bay. That way, I could appreciate a pretty photo for what it is without having to research everything I see to the nth degree. Clearly, I ask too many questions and if I were a less complicated soul, I could’ve simply posted these bird photos without any explanation at all. Not even a name.

Consequently, what started out as brief snapshots of some of the birds we encountered around Byron Bay, has expanded into something much more complex and I must admit I’ve learned quite a lot myself along the way. After all, I take my role at Beyond the Flow as Australian tour guide seriously. I not only want you to see what I saw. I also wanted to share some local, lived insights which you won’t find in a more scientific account of my stunning feathered friends.   These photos were taken in my in-laws’ backyard and at the Macadamia Castle, which has a bird aviary. It’s not quite the same as seeing them in the wild, but it does make it easier to get a good photograph. Yet, as much as I love photography, I’d naturally prefer all birds to fly free.

So welcome to the cast:

Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo

Although this guy lives at the Macadamia Castle, sulfur-crested cockatoos are very common in the wild where we live on the NSW Central Coast and in Sydney. You can’t appreciate these crazy characters from a simple photograph. They’ll perch up in the trees or telegraph wires and swoop down kamikaze style across car windscreens and only narrowly escape being hit. They’re absolutely cheeky, and don’t let that gorgeous feathered-face deceive you. They’re very destructive and are renowned for chewing through wood-trim on your house, your balcony, and stripping fruit trees bare. Moreover, behind that beautiful smile, lies an ear-piercing screech. Yet, despite their shenanigans, they still want to be your best friend and crave attention. They seem to love posing for the camera with a huge cheeky grin and you might even get a “Hello”.

Jacko

Jacko with family cropped out.

When I was a young child about 8 years old, my Dad bought a baby sulfur-crested cockatoo, called Jacko. He initially lived in a cage in the laundry inside where he had the joy of listening to my father’s voice on an old tape recorder. Indeed, it was an old tape recorder then, although I think cassettes were somewhat new at the time. It was 1977. I still remember that old recording and will take it to my grave…”Hello Jacko! Hello Jacko!” Jacko made it outside into the aviary but didn’t stay with us for very long. We were moving house and there seemed to be some kind of “discussion” between my parents. Although we were moving onto five acres, it seems there was no room for Dad’s birds and Jacko went to live with friends. So, not unsurprisingly,  sulfur-crested cockatoos have a special place in my heart.

Rainbow Lorikeets

Rainbow Lorrikeet

Rainbow Lorikeets are the happiest little birds on earth and on sunset you can here them chirping away drunk on nectar in the trees if you’re lucky…or not depended on your perspective. My friend’s mum planted a red bottlebrush outside his bedroom window and he was woken up by a swarm of rainbow lorikeets at the crack of dawn whenever it was in flower. He was not amused.

Amelia Rainbow Lorrikeet

Our daughter feeding seed to the Rainbow Lorikeet  at the Macadamia Castle last week. 

The Rainbow Lorikeet isn’t as outgoing or interactive as the Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo and seem reasonably gentle. Back in the day when we mere mortals weren’t as educated about looking after wildlife, we’d coat a slice of bread in honey and soak it in water on a plate and put it out in the backyard. The Australian museum refers to such backyard feeding as “artificial feeding stations”, but the birds didn’t mind. That bread and honey was a sure-fire magnet. They loved it.

The Galah

Galahs

Galahs feeding in the backyard.

These galahs were photographed in my in-laws’ backyard, where they had quite a large flock of galahs. Apparently, numbers there have increased lately due to the drought and possibly also the fires. The in-laws have planted bird-attracting plants, but given the drought, have also been putting seed and water out for the birds. It’s been interesting watching the changing cast of characters out at the seed bowl. The galah’s are at the top of the pecking order, and shoo away the doves who sit perched up on the wire above waiting for the galahs to buzz off. There are also some pretty red-breasted finches who have their own seed bowl in the thicket.

Galahs were originally located in arid, inland Australia, and only expanded into their present, vast range in the early- to mid-20th century. The galah’s scientific name is Eolophus roseicapilla. Its holotype was collected in Australia in 1801 by biologists on the Expedition led by France’s Nicolas Baudin and is held in the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, in Paris.

The word galah comes from Yuwaalaraay and related Aboriginal languages of northern New South Wales. In early records it is variously spelt as galargillargulah, etc. The word is first recorded in the 1850s. The bird referred to is the grey-backed, pink-breasted cockatoo Eolophus roseicapillus, occurring in all parts of Australia except the extreme north-east and south-west. It is also known as the red-breasted cockatoo and rose-breasted cockatoo.

The term “galah” has also entered the Australian vernacular, and is a derogatory term meaning a “loud-mouthed idiot”, “fool”, “clown” and is also use to describe gaudy dress. It  has also inspired a number of colloquial idioms: To be “mad as a gumtree full of galahs is to be completely crazy. “To make a proper galah of yourself” is to make a complete fool of yourself. A “pack of galahs” is a group of contemptibly idiotic people. If you’re a fan of that great Aussie TV export Home and Away, you might’ve heard Alf Stewart complain: “Ya flamin’ galah”, which means you’re a complete idiots.

The Laughing Kookaburra

kookaburra2

Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree. They might look cute and sound hilarious but they have the last laugh once they’ve snatched the snags off your BBQ!

Of course, even these brief snapshots of Australian birds, wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the kookaburra, even though it didn’t feature central stage. Indeed, the photo I’ve included here was taken at Pearl Beach round the corner from home where they’re rather partial to stealing sausages (Or snags in the Aussie vernacular) straight off the BBQ without any concern about burning their beaks!! We spotted a few kookaburras while we were on holidays around Byron Bay, but what I remember most was hearing the kookaburras laugh while I was floating on my back at Brunswick Heads watching fluffy white clouds scud across the deep blue sky. There was absolutely no doubt I was in Australia. Indeed, over the years, the sound of kookaburras laughing has been used to create a sense of Australia in movies over the years.

Aunty Rose & Kookaburra

My Great Great Aunt Rose Bruhn with her pet kookaburra who appeared on Brisbane radio.

Australian King Parrot

Male King Parrot

Male Australian King Parrot

This parrot is living at the Macadamia Castle. Although I’ve occasionally seen them in the wild i.e. my backyard, they’re quite shy and not all that common. Indeed, it’s a real treat to spot one.

Male Australian King-Parrots are the only Australian parrots with a completely red head. Females are similar to males except that they have a completely green head and breast. Both sexes have a red belly and a green back, with green wings and a long green tail. King parrots are normally encountered in pairs or family groups.

The Emu

Emu

We also saw the emus at the Macadamia Castle. I had no idea how the emu originally got it’s name. However, it turns out that ’emu’ isn’t an Aboriginal word. Rather, it might have been derived from an Arabic word for large bird and later adopted by early Portuguese explorers and applied to cassowaries in eastern Indonesia. The term was then transferred to the Emu by early European explorers to Australia.

Emu2

Emus are a funny-looking flightless bird, which also makes quite a peculiar sound. Not that I’m being judgemental. I haven’t spent a lot of time with emus, although they used to have a few at the Australian Reptile Park up the road from home, and they were savage food thieves. In the wild, packs of emus have been known to decimate farms. I think my grandfather used emu oil to treat his arthritis.

Emu feet

Emu feet. 

My childhood memories of emus, include a show called: Marty and Emu. It took a bit of detective work to dig that one out of the memory bank. They appeared on a kids’ show called: The Super Flying Fun Show, which was hosted by “Miss Marilyn” Mayo. Of interest to Australians, Darryl Somers appeared later on in the history of the show, and you can see how Hey Hey It’s Saturday with Darryl and Ossie Ostrich evolved from there. It turns out that Rod Hull had appeared with emu on the show before my time  and a duplicate emu was made when Hull returned to the UK and continued his performances over there.

Marty & emu

Marty Morton & Emu (I was so excited to see them again!)

Of course, when we’re talking about cultural representations of the emu, you can’t go past John Williamson’s classic: Old Man Emu:

These are only some of the birds we saw on our travels. The ones we photographed or found most interesting. We also saw a large flock of black cockatoos on the drive North, which we had no chance of photographing, but they were good to see. There were also crows and magpies.
I’ll sign off with this photo of a duck in plastic kiddies wading pool at the Macadamia Castle. Usually, this pond is full. However, there’s been such low rainfall that the pond’s dried up for the first time in the 15 years we’ve been going there. These are clearly hard times for our wildlife (and domestic ducks).
duck
What is your favourite Australian bird? Please share in the comments below.
Best wishes,
Rowena

References

Driving North- Photographing the Aftermath of the Australian Bush Fires.

No doubt, you’ve also experienced that mixture of excitement and disappointment on a long drive, when you spot something spectacular out the window, but are having difficulties finding somewhere to pull over safely. If you’re as desperate as yours truly to seize the moment in 6 x 4, the fear of missing out (popularised as “FOMO”)  grips you body and soul. You’re a possessed maniac just like that person busting for the toilet in the middle of nowhere yet precariously still strapped into their seat. Don’t you know that desperation too? You’re about to explode. You have to get out. You can’t wait any longer. The cry goes out: “Pull over!!!”

Sunset After the Fire's Been Through

That’s what happened two weeks ago when we were driving North from Sydney to Byron Bay via the Pacific Highway and we spotted the sun setting through the burned out bush. The sun was enormous, glowing like a ball of fire through the charred eucalyptus or gum trees. It was strangely breathtaking. I had to seize the moment, which was rapidly disappearing with the fading light.

Fortunately, my husband who was driving at the time, was sympathetic to my plight and pulled over without complaint. The photos didn’t work out quite as well as I’d hoped, and actually tell quite a different story now I look at them back home. After all, they contain so many signs of life and nature fighting back against the devastating impact of the fires. Indeed, we saw vast expanses of trees exploding in a profusion of fresh green leaves seemingly as a form of post-traumatic growth. My goodness. These eucalyptus trees are tough. Bloody resilient. The bush wasn’t dead after all.

DSC_7292

The family in front of the lens with me behind it. 

By this stage, the bush fires had been extinguished up North, but were still blazing fiercely on the South Coast. Yet, we still weren’t sure what we were going to find. Independently, Geoff and I have been up and down this road all our lives and since we met 21 years ago, we’ve driven up here at least once a year to see his sisters and family. So, while this stretch of the Pacific Highway isn’t quite an extension of our driveway, we know it well. We care about it, too, and it sent a chill down our spines when we heard that a fascinating time capsule to early settlement, a museum called Little Italy, was at risk. I’m sure I screamed out: “NO!!!” to the TV. If I didn’t, I certainly wanted to. The devastation has been catastrophic.

However, we were relieved and almost surprised to see that the bush had endured, persevered and overcome. Indeed, we saw kilometres of bush where trees were sprouting fresh green leaves, an almost freakish, furry-green regrowth, as their will to survive went into overdrive. Indeed, I wondered if this was a variation of the post-traumatic growth we can also experience following a traumatic event. I’m not a scientist so I can’t know for sure. However, on a personal level, I found it very encouraging and it certainly lifted my sagging spirits. After being confined to the lounge room at home to escape the menacing smoke, I’d watched months of bush fire coverage on TV. Indeed, I was seriously starting to wonder how much of our precious Australian bush would be left when we ventured further afield. So, I found these shoots of green such a relief. A restoration of lost hope.

Horses after the fires

Horses running from humans rather than the flames. 

We’d pulled over to photograph the sun setting through the scarred, burned-out landscape. However, while we were there a couple of skittish horses ran passed not to escape the fires, but from us. I madly clicked away and sadly didn’t do the moment justice. However, the makings are there. It doesn’t take much imagination to see these horses running from the flames. Much better in the imagination than reality, and I certainly don’t want to be around to photograph that. Indeed, I’ll leave that to the movies. Far too many animals have been lost in these horrific fires. I’ve seen enough. I just hope there’s some way our wildlife can bounce back like these trees and am grateful for the rain and for the incredibly generous donations which are coming in from around the world. They’re much appreciated.

There has been such catastrophic suffering. I don’t even know where to begin. Possessions can be replaced, but there’s the horror for many of the engulfing flames and smoke and many have lost their lives. There’s a post traumatic anxiety pervading all our communities. At a very basic level, just watching the coverage on TV is enough, but our population is relatively small here in Australia. Our friends and families were at the heart of these catastrophic fires, even if we were well away and not impacted ourselves. What is perhaps most telling, is that the smoke from these fires reached as far away as South America. That’s the other side of the world and a reminder, that we’re a global community.

Driving back home, we stopped off at Taree, where the fires hit hard. We saw the writing melted on road signs on the turn off and places where the fire had jumped across the freeway, showing just how bad it was. There was a roundabout covered in the charred remains of grass trees and it looked pretty bleak until my husband pointed out that fresh shoots were springing from the devastation. A keen photographer himself, he said: “that’s your shot”. Unfortunately, this time there was nowhere to stop, and that one went through to the keeper.

Have you been affected by the Australian fires? I’m thinking of you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

At Home in Byron Bay on Australia’s East Coast.

Ever since I first stepped foot in Byron Bay, it’s felt like home. Not that I’ve ever been able to live here in a physical, geographical postcode sense. Rather, I’m perpetually “just visiting”, and my sense of belonging is more metaphorical. More about finding my tribe here, rather than owning real estate. After all, I am beyond the flow and it’s perfectly normal to think outside the square here. To extend your horizons so far beyond the norm, that all your inhibitions melt and flow away. There’s no ridicule. No one’s laughing at you. It’s creativity personified and you can be whoever you are with that same liberating freedom, as diving off a bottomless cliff and finally learning to fly.

Kombi Byron Bay

In it’s heyday, Byron Bay was Kombi paradise with rows of Kombis parked beside the each with boards on top.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

Every time I come up here now, I see less and less of old Byron as the surviving remnants of her golden hippy era, are increasingly consumed by “progress”. Indeed, these days Byron is starting to look more and more like Sydney’s Double Bay and dare I use the word “posh”. I don’t mind posh and posh has its place. However, for those of us who actually remember old Byron (and even I came along fairly late in the piece), posh can go someplace else. Instead, I say bring back the Kombis all lined up along the beachfront with their surfboards perched on top…trophies celebrating freedom, sun, surf, sand and eternal Summers. The gateway to the inland hippy heaven of Nimbin, Byron was full of hippies, rainbows and a Mecca to the thriving counter-culture.

Byron Bay unicorn

That’s the Byron I first visited in around 1994. At the time, I’d sold out on my creative side and had gone fully corporate myself working as a marketing executive in the Sydney CBD and living nearby in a trendy, converted warehouse apartment in Sydney’s Broadway, a stone’s throw from Glebe. I’d graduated from Sydney University. Hung out in cafes writing and performing poetry while searching for the meaning of life. That’s before I headed off backpacking through Europe on what was meant to be the last hurrah before finally growing up and settling down to a real job, a career, a husband, mortgage, kids and a dog in the burbs. Implicit in all of this, was that I would personify the values of my parents, my school and the almighty North Shore. Of course, that had absolutely nothing to do with running away to Byron Bay and doing the happy dance barefoot on the beach.

That’s probably why I experienced such a jolt when I first came to Byron Bay. That despite having all the trappings of the corporate life, it wasn’t me. Or, at least, it wasn’t fully me. I was staying at Jay’s Hostel in Byron Bay and a group of us hung out together in the way that travellers do, almost bonding immediately in a way that’s impossible back home. I bought myself a hippy dress, hung out at the beach and in cafes philosophizing about life the universe and everything. No doubt, I also scribbled away in my journal, and wrote poetry. I felt so alive.

I don’t know what happened. However, it was like I’d been struck by lightning while I was in Byron Bay. When I arrived back in Sydney, my life there both at work and at home felt strangely unfamiliar. It was like I’d stepped into someone else’s life. It no longer made sense.

In hindsight, it’s no surprise. I was working long hours stuck in an office without any windows doing number crunching and database analysis of all things. How does a poet end up doing that? That is probably my greatest folly. The job description had changed, but I persevered trying to get some stability on my CV. They might as well have handed me a shovel, because I was rapidly digging my own grave. Coincidentally, it was while I was in this job, that the unchartered harbour in my head (known medically as hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain) was starting to make its presence felt. I was becoming seriously ill, although I wrote it off as stress at the time and moved to Western Australia.

I didn’t make it back to Byron Bay again until I came up here with my now husband, Geoff, in 1999. Geoff’s mother was living at nearby Nureybar with his sisters’ family and I was on my best behavior. It was very different going back to Byron Bay with him. He works in IT, and it’s not that he isn’t creative, but he didn’t connect with it in quite the same way I did.

Over the years since then, we’ve generally come up to stay with his sister at least once a year as a family and we’ve explored Byron Bay and the lighthouse with the kids. This has also been a very different experience…ice creams up at the lighthouse, stopping down at the Railway Park in town for the kids to enjoy our climbing tree…a fig tree which was damaged in a storm and fell over onto its side. By some miracle, it survived and grows along the ground, enabling even young kids to climb up into its branches and explore. The tree also has a special place in the local community. We’ve seen ribbons and scarves tied around its branches. A milk crate suspended upside down by a rope. A few times, a local woman known as “Mamma Dee” has done community art projects in the park. She had a heartfelt concern for young people and wanted to fill the park with love and connection and for young people to believe in themselves. Too many young people she knew had taken their own young lives, and she doing what she could to make a difference. Well, at least, she touched me. We’ve also met Christian groups giving away free food in the park and across the road, the Adventist Church runs a soup kitchen. All these things are acknowledgements of the darker remnants of old Byron…the many lost, broken and searching people who flee to Byron Bay in search of answers to life’s imponderable questions or to simply simply escape.

During these years when the kids were young, my sister-in-law would often mind them to give me a break and I’d disappear over the hill and into Byron. Once again, I’d found my wings and had that same sense of creative liberation, I’d experienced on my very first visit. Byron Bay was very much “my place”.

Fast-forwarding to 2020, we’re back at Nureybar again for a family holiday. It’s been three years since we’ve all be up here for an extended family holiday together. Geoff and the kids came up without me two years ago when I was sick and Geoff and I were child-free last year, when the kids were away at the Australian Scouting Jamboree in South Australia. So this means, the kids are three years older since we were here last, and the family dynamics have changed quite a lot. Indeed, the kids are no longer kids, and have evolved into teens. Indeed, our son is about to embark on his second last year of school.

So, instead of finding myself shooting off to Byron Bay solo, it’s been me and my girl…Miss 13. This has launched me into yet experiencing yet another perspective of Byron and I am a 13 year old girl buying bikinis and reporting everything back to my friends back home. Well, maybe not. I did turn 50 last year and I clearly can’t squeeze my feet back into a 13 year old’s shoes or even her bare feet. I would’ve loved to take her back to my Byron Bay, which was much more philosophical and reflective than commercial. She remembers some of it, such as the ladybird shop which used to pump clouds of bubbles down the main street. However, even the graffiti on toilet walls was good up here and it’s all but gone.

Yesterday’s trip to Byron Bay culminated in the Twilight Markets which are held in Railway Park around our climbing tree. We were wandering around and I bought a cards with prints by local artists. My daughter wanted to buy this candle thing where you poured scoops of wax beads into a glass container to make your own candle. I bought our son a kangaroo skin bracelet. We spotted Nutella donuts and they were an immediate must have just in case they sold out. Yum!!! They were divine. However, while we were soaking up the ambience and running back and forwards to the ATM across the road, the clouds were playing nasty tricks in the sky and it seems that all these national prayers for rain to extinguish the bush fires and ease the drought, were suddenly answered while the prayers of the market stall holders hoping to make a living, went unanswered. The heavens opened. Just a little at first and the stall holders valiantly persevered. The band moved back undercover and played on. The food vans stayed put. However, the rain had other plans and I just managed to buy some CDs from the band before they packed up and called it a day. The food vans were made of tougher stuff and we bought a plate of gado gado and by this stage, there was no hope of eating it under our tree. Rather, we hot-footed it back to the car as fast as we could with a plate of foot threatening to escape. While sitting in an almost generic white Subaru Forrester might seem rather ordinary, it was strangely atmospheric. We put on the new CD and as the rain fell all around up, we were making memories. It was so much fun and I felt 21 again.

Despite the rain, we headed back down there again today. Needed to stretch our wings.

More fun lay ahead, which started out trying on sunglasses and outfits at a vintage shop. How do you like our red sunnies? We didn’t buy them. I could hardly get multi-focals for the pair I tried on, but they were a lot of fun. We explored shop after shop and worked our way up to the beach. Still wet and overcast, we didn’t even consider swimming, but we did enjoy listening to the band at the Byron Bay Hotel who was playing Eagle Rock. We crossed the road and walked down onto the beach where we spotted something like 200 surfers hit the surf and formed a circle. Initially, I’d thought it was a surf school, but then I wondered if it was a funeral or memorial. There’s always something at Byron Bay you can’t quite explain and I just remembered that included a guy we spotted on the street corner known as “Cool” who was about 70 and swirling a hoola hoop while singing along and shaking maracas with a difference…one was a pineapple and the other was a banana.

Our holidays aren’t over yet. So, I’m interested to see what else Byron Bay and this incredible region have in store.

I’ll come back and add more photos once we’re back home. Our Internet connection is not the best here and is frustrating to say the least.

Best wishes,

Rowena