Category Archives: WWI

Weekend Coffee Share – 29th March, 2021

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

I’m hoping I’ve made the deadline this week. It’s actually Monday night here in Sydney, which might not sound like much of a weekend coffee share, but when you’re busy over the weekend, Monday can be a good time to decamp.

So, how are you? How has your week been?

Whopping big clouds are great for photography, but more of a concern on a practical level.

Mine has been wet, with intermittent sunshine. I’m not sure whether you’ve heard about the flooding through NSW on Australia’s East Coast? We’re right where we are. However, reports show that in the last week, the entire NSW coast has been drowned by at least 200 millimetres, and in some places, more than 400mm of rain. To put that in context, Sydney averages 132mm of rain for the whole month of March. Flooding stretches 600 kilometres from Sydney to the Northern Rivers. The other difficulty, is that some of the areas experiencing the worst flooding, were also hard hit by the bush fires and the drought before that. That a pretty brutal trifecta that the Little Aussie Battler might laugh off in public, but it’s “hard yakka” and the farmers need every bit of help they can get. That is along with the animals. I heard a heart-breaking story of a Taree farmer losing 200 head of cows and has had a few of them turn up all over the place, including the beach. The cows are apparently having a rough time. Having their hoofs submerged in the flood waters has water-logged their hoofs and it’s hurting them to walk. I saw where they’re been laying down carpet in the paddocks to help them. Extraordinary, isn’ t it?!! Here’s a clip: https://www.manningrivertimes.com.au/story/7179146/carpet-needed-for-cows-at-oxley-island-video/

However, it hasn’t been all rain.

There’s been a dazzling fusion of sun, rain and incredible clouds, which is the perfect prescription for photography. I was actually quite lucky to get these photos, because if I hadn’t been babysitting my friend’s son and had promised to take him to the park, I probably would’ve been shut away inside at home doing my research without any conscious awareness of what was going on outside and I would’ve missed all this incredibly majestic beauty. It was one of the best sunsets we’ve had in a long time. Of course, the trouble with exceptionally magnificent skies like this, is dangerous storms, exceptionally heavy rain and even hail. I’ve been caught in all of the above before so I know all about it. The only trouble was this time I had my friend’s son in tow. So, he was told he had about 15 minutes at the park, and we might have to leave very quickly and make a run for it. One half of the sky was a very deep purple, and a series of huge, double-decker cumulous clouds had invaded the other half. Then, I spotted the rainbow arching over a mountain of cloud rising over the beach. Magic. I didn’t have my SLR with me, but the photos from my phone were still incredible.

We have just gone into the last week of the school term. So, it’s been Open Week at my daughter’s dance school. She recently turning 15 and she’s pretty serious about it. So, she’s getting to the pointy end of things. So, it’s been amazing to watch her and her classmates dance. She also had an audition where we were able to watch her perform, and that was a treat as well. We’re also very grateful that she’s been able to return to dancing in public and almost “back to normal”. I still don’t take it for granted, even though we’re having an amazing run.

Speaking of Covid, Geoff and myself along with our 17 year old son are getting vaccinated with the Astra Zeneca vaccine tomorrow. I was feeling very excited. Then, our daughter said her friend’s mum has been feeling really sick afterwards. So, now I’m feeling like I should double-check. Oh, no I shouldn’t. “She’ll be right, mate”. What choice do I have? Being immuno-suppressed and having lung fibrosis, I can’t risk catching Covid. Then, it could well be all over red rover.

I am making good progress on my WWI research and writing project. I now have the foundations of an introduction and a reasonably detailed plan. I also have a lot of gaps. However, at this stage I’m just wanting to get enough together to apply for a research grant. This first stage of the production line, is looking at the Australian Home Front from the announcement of war to the final return of the troops in 1919.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. As I said before, I hope you’re having a good week and don’t find yourself in lock down wherever you are.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Natalie the Explorer at https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 22nd March, 2021.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Tonight, I’d like to invite you over for a good old fashioned lamb roast along with roast potato, carrot, peas and gravy. It was all rather scrumptious, but I know the fat content isn’t going to do my heartburn any favours. I know I’ll pay for it, but it’s a rare treat. We had Creamed Rice for dessert with plump, fresh raspberries. So, if it wasn’t for the steady, heavy rain and floods throughout NSW, I’d invite you over for dinner. As it stands, I think you’d be better off on bread and dripping where you are.

If you’d like to read more about the NSW floods, you can click here: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/mar/22/nsw-flooding-rain-forces-evacuation-of-18000-people-on-mid-north-coast-and-sydneys-west

Has has your week been? Or, the last couple of weeks to be honest? I hope you’re well, and somehow miraculously liberated from Covid, even in your dreams.

We’ve had a busy time here. We celebrated our son’s 17th birthday recently, which was followed by party at our place with about 15-20 friends. The rain came down in the middle of that while I was outside chatting under the shade sail and I got drenched and needed to get changed. All good. I spent much of the night in the kitchen sorting out the food and keeping the party going. I could’ve flown the feminist flag and said I was too good to do the dishes and he could do it himself, but he needed me to do what was needed, and be thinking of him, and not where my own life is heading – or not. (Yet, at the same time, I do feel my kids have reached a “certain age” where they can step up to the plate and pull heir weight, and I’m not spending the rest of my life wiping their backsides. It’s just that his birthday wasn’t the time for that conversation. That said, I’m still waiting…)

Anyway, the party went really well. of course, there was no alcohol, and it was so encouraging to see them all laughing, and making their own entertainment. Our son played some of his old Scouting Gang Show DVDs on the TV. It sounds a bit daggy and rather unconventional, but the songs were excellent and it creative a fun, festive atmosphere while our son strutted around being the Greatest Showman as he acted as MC. Meanwhile, the dogs turned out to be the unexpected stars of the show and I’ sure they thought it was their party. Someone threw Zac a balloon and he bumped it with his nose and that went on for at least 15 minutes with them all standing round him in a circle. Being a bordr collie x kelpie, he has no off-switch and he was just delighted to be the star (especially as his sister Rosie usually shows him up on the ball fetching front).

Meanwhile, I might’ve mentioned that I recently won some recording studio equipment for our son and some studio time with a recording studio professional. Well, the equipment arrived last week. So, that was pretty exciting for him. He’ll be doing the mentorship session after Easter, which is seemingly just around the corner.

My research into Australia’s involvement in WWI continues. I’ve been beavering away trying to get a draft together so I can try to get some grant funding, and get what is turning out to be a series of books together. The trouble is that I keep finding an endless supply of gold nuggets, and the stories and the storytellers just keep on coming. However, I’ve only been hard at it for about 18 months now. So, I can’t expect to cover such a big area and get myself up to speed in the blink of an eyelid.

Since I’ve been doing this research, I’ve also been quite overwhelmed by what I didn’t know, especially as I thought I had a reasonable understanding. However, ignorance is like that. It’s what you don’t know you don’t know that’s going to bite you. So, I’m frollicking in all these stories like a pig in mud, but I am drawing up plans and trying to get some scaffolding in place. Get the show on the road.

I guess this all brings me to our pet subject… covid. Being in Australia, you’re probably wondering what I’ve go to be worried about. There’s barely been a case of community transmission in a very long time. However, the reason our transmission has been so low is that we’re vigilant, and we’re not as vigilant as we were, and most of us don’t need to be. However, I do, and it’s much harder when restrictions are tight and we’re all (well, most of us) are doing the right thing. Now, I’m having to excuse myself. I’ve stopped going to physical Church because they’re back to singing against government restrictions and have lodged a complaint about discriminating against Churches with singing restrictions. So, as you can see life gets complicated.

The covid vaccine rollout started here in NSW on the 22nd February for frontline staff and employees of nursing homes and disabled facilities. Today, it was extended to group 1b which is elderly people over 70 along with younger people with chronic health or disabilities. This includes me. The only trouble is finding out where and how I’m going to access it, and this really started to stress me out. We Australians went into battle over toilet paper this time last year, and I dread what it’s like trying to get the vaccine. I was going to try to fight my way through today. However, I was getting so stressed, that I’ve decided to put it off. My GP isn’t currently part of the rollout, which I feel leaves me high and dry. However, local production of the Astra Zeneca vaccine is launching this week and that will push things along a lot I hope. I, no doubt like most of us, just want my life back, and even though I know the vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s better than nothing, and since we’ve had few cases here, we have herd vulnerability.

Well, I’d better call it a night and get to bed.

I hope you and yours are doing well.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Natalie the Explorer at https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/

Best wishes,

Rowena

Positive Thinking Be Damned – An Aussie Voice From the Spanish Flu Pandemic 1919.

I wonder how many people have taken on a project throughout Covid… Something to give them an enhanced sense of purpose and hope when everything around us is at best weird and completely unrecognizable (even your nearest and dearest behind the cursed mask), or for those who are losing precious loved ones one after another, there’s tragedy and grief.

Three out of the four of us trying on glasses at Specsavers last week when part of Sydney was under lockdown and we were playing it safe.

I’d got stuck into my project before covid. That’s because I was already in iso at home literally struggling to breathe during the Australian bushfire crisis. I have 50% lung capacity and was confined to our loungeroom or bed with the air-conditioning on. On bad days, I couldn’t leave these rooms. It was absolutely terrifying, and seriously life-threatening. Yet, at the same time, I was quite safe in my hidey-hole.

This is when doing some background research on family members who’d served in France during WWI really took off, turning into multiple projects of epic proportions. It is only a short jump from WWI to the 1919 Spanish Flu Epidemic. Indeed, tonight while I was researching some Australian war artists, I came across a rather impassioned letter to the editor of Smith’s Weekly talking about all the trials and tribulations they’d been through what with the drought, followed by the war and then the Spanish Flu. They go on to describe living conditions and restrictions at the time, and I thought it made for pretty good reading, and decided to share it with you.

By the way, before you read it, it might help you to understand the Australian context by reading a verse of Dorothea MacKellar’s famous poem, My Country, which eulogizes the trails and tribulations of living in Australia, and provides a background to the letter:

“I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains

Of ragged mountain ranges

Of droughts and flooding rains”

-Dorothea MacKeller, My Country.

AUSTRALIA’S TROBLES

Australia is a land of troubles! First, a thrice-barrelled drought squats down on our Sunny Land and burns her up like cinder. Then, Noah-like floods of varying horse-power and dampness smites your essential industries, pastoral, agricultural, etc,, one where they feel it. Then we have the war and its toll of precious life. Then, for a change, we are visited by the Spanish visitation. People walk around gagged and masked as if they belonged to the Secret Council of Ten or the Clutching Hand Gang. The Tax Collector then takes it into his head to camp on our front doorsteps. To escape him, we jump on a passing tram and go into town. “Please don’t sneeze!” “Please don’t cough!” “Please don’t spit!” “Please don’t cross your legs!” “Please don’t blow your nose in the car; do it outside!” “Please don’t spread yourself out. You don’t own the tram. Squeeze up and make room for others!”

These are a few of the “Please don’t” “By orders” we encounter. In despair, we seek the theatre. Alas! “Closed till further notice on account of influenza epidemic!” stares at us with baleful eyes. Then, horror of horrors, we have the politician! Our last trouble as usual, is the worst of all! What Australia has done to be inflicted with the political pests and poltroons that infest our fair land. Heaven alone knows! O.B.U. and Bolshevik orators, bulb-eyed editors, clerical hum-bugs, business profiteers, wobbly poetic Post-misses, and catch-as-catch-can Premiers and State Governors form a formidable list enough to drive a man into the bush for the rest of his days. Truly, Australia is a land of trials and troubles. Anybody any remedy for all these ills?

— H.

Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), Saturday 26 April 1919, page 9

You have to have a bit of sympathy for poor H. these days now, don’t you?! Mind you, from where I sit, H. was living it up by getting out and about. I haven’t caught a train since February last year when I caught up with a friend in Sydney, and we went out for dinner. I’m so pleased we did. That meal’s now starting to look like the Last Supper!

Not that I feel like I’m missing out most of the time. That’s the good thing about being into history. You know it goes round in cycles like the lands at the top of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree. The landscape keeps changing, and you just need to wait for something else, and hopefully better, to come along.

Meanwhile, climate change is starting to make it back on the news. I would tend to call this unprecedented, but I am not even a speck of dust when it comes to the length of breadth of history which spans infinity. I really don’t know.

Anyway, its good food for thought. Any comments?

I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS You can read more about the impact of the Spanish Flu Epidemic on Sydney here: https://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/ah-chew-sniffle-sniffle-the-pneumonic-influenza-pandemic-of-1919/

Weekend Coffee Share – 2nd November, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Before you get too comfortable, we’ll need to duck down to the supermarket because I just saw these irresistible Apple & Ricotta Fritters with Cinnamon Sugar on TV. I’ve never made anything like this myself before. However, I’ve been getting quite adventurous lately and really want to give them a whirl. Here’s the link: https://www.farmtofork.com.au/recipe-index/apple-and-ricotta-fritters-with-cinnamon-sugar

Are you tempted as well?

Humph…

Anyway, were you almost shocked like me that it’s now November and another year has almost gone up in smoke? I know this year is 2020, and it’s a year we’d all like to accelerate through, destroy, blow up, delete or all of the above. However, a year is still a year, and good things have happened in 2020. My cousin and his wife had a baby last week and friends got married and we’ve even been to a few parties lately. Of course, we’re rather shielded from the full impact of the virus and also extensive lockdowns here, but I’ve also been researching WWI intensively this year and that puts 2020 into perspective.

Last week was a bit clunky around here. There’s been the ongoing saga of our son’s subject choices for his last year at school and trying to keep him there for another year when he doesn’t need it to go into sound engineering. I’ve been doing my research which is very slow and I must admit I’ve been doing a lot of avoidance. I find it all confusing, and since I went down the university path and that was over 30 years ago, a lot has changed and I’m starting to feel like I’m from the era of the horse and cart (or is that actually his impression of me?) Not much has been said for a few days and he was home sick today. I can’t help wondering if I lie low and don’t say anything, he’ll accidentally get through Year 12 and he’ll at least have that under his belt before he heads off to TAFE to get a trade certificate to get into the sound engineering course he wants to do. However, this is probably too much to hope for and more stress is just around the corner.

Meanwhile, my research is progressing well. I’m still beavering away on my WWI research. I posted yesterday a South Australian farmer I’m researching, Herbert A Stewart who found close to 200 messages in bottles washed up on the beach near his home in Rendelsham , South Australia. He forwarded the letters onto their intended destinations with a cover letter, and there was one day where he found 47 bottles. So, at times he was really under the pump and while this would seem a unconventional way of supporting the war effort, it would’ve made such a difference to the families and friends of these men. I was also surprised to find that some of the messages in bottles thrown overboard in the Great Australian Bight were found in New Zealand. That’s extraordinary. I’ve also found it rather calming and reassuring to think about the ocean currents circulating around the world regardless of everything else that’s going on just like the sunrise and the sunset. There’s that continuity. At least, there was before cllimate change.

This afternoon, I went for a quick walk along the beach. Even though it’s almost Summer here, a cold wind was blowing and so I just did my walk and didn’t hang about. Not unsurprisingly, I almost expecting to find piles of bottles scattered across the beach after doing all my research. However, there wasn’t much to see on our beach today….just a jellyfish.

Meanwhile, it’s getting quite late. So, I’m going to head off.

So, what’s been going on for you? I hope you’re okay and keeping safe.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali: https://eclecticali.wordpress.com/

Best wishes,

Rowena

My Research Quest: the South Australian Farmer and Soldiers’ Messages in Bottles WWI.

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m not sure whether you can help me, but I’m hopeful.

After all, one of the things I appreciate about blogging, is how you can write and share your ideas before you’ve fully nutted them out. You can test the waters, and even hook up with others interested in the same area and collaborate in a more low-key environment. This is particularly good, too, when your nearest and dearest in terms of love, relationships and DNA, doesn’t share your research interest. Indeed, many of us would be better off talking to the dog, or trading in the cat.

However, by heading online too soon, you risk making mistakes, and there’s a definite safety in holding back until you’ve dotted the i’s crossed the t’s. Possible wisdom in staying offline perfecting your manuscript and seeing it published in print, even if your scribblings might be set in stone.

Of course, operating within the university context can provide the ideal nursery environment to safely nurture your research project and receive much needed mentoring support. However, there’s still that sense that you need to have your “shit” together before you put it out there, even as a concept. Indeed, embarking into the realms of professional research is very daunting. After all, “thou shalt not make a mistake” is its first commandment, but we’re only human. Even if it’s only a comma out of place, it’s still a mistake, and at the very least, you have to live with your own censure.

My personal journey along the serious research path is even lonelier than most. While research has been part and parcel of my writing and I have an honours degree in history, my current interests have been fuelled by the events of late 1999 and 2020. Firstly, I was forced inside by thick, suffocating bushfire smoke when I simply couldn’t breathe for weeks at a time, and I depended on our air-conditioner. After a brief intermission, I was back inside self-isolating from the coronavirus, which turned into lockdown, back to self-isolation. All I can say about that, is thank goodness for my research. It’s been a lifeline this year.

So, after keeping virtually all this research offline, I’ve decided to cast a line out into the world wide web. Moreover, just like anybody going fishing, I’m optimistic my efforts won’t return with an empty hook, and I’ll find a great big fish dangling at the end of the line,

Lieutenant Roy Mandeville Lenton wrote one of the messages found by Herbert A Stewart in 1916.

The blog has come through for me before, and I’m hoping it will deliver once again, even if this approach does seem equally random as the very messages I’m chasing. They were written by Australian and New Zealand troops and sealed inside bottles and often thrown overboard as they crossed the Great Australian Bight with a hope they’d eventually find their intended destination.

Map showing roughly where Herbert A Stewart found the messages in bottles SE of Rivoli Bay, South Australia.

However, my primary focus isn’t on the troops themselves, but on a South Australian farmer who found almost 200 messages in bottles near Rivoli Bay on the Limestone Coast. Not only that, Herbert A Stewart of “Bleakfield”, Rendelsham forwarded the messages to their intended destinations with a cover letter, and he even went to the trouble of forwarding letters written by NZ troops on to New Zealand.

While you would think that forwarding messages in bottles doesn’t make much of a difference to the war effort, when you look at it on this scale, it takes on a different slant. Indeed, I’m incredibly inspired by Herbert’s dedication, hard work, love and compassion for the soldiers and their families. Indeed, I’d love to be more like him.

Bottle housed in the Australian War Memorial.

By the way, it’s worth putting Herbert’s efforts into some kind of context. While it wasn’t unusual for soldiers to throw messages in bottles overboard in transit, so far I haven’t come across anyone else finding the sheer number of messages Herbert found. As far as I can tell, he found at least 180 bottles, and on the 31st August, 1916, he found a record 47 messages. The closest I’ve come across is Harbour Master, Ned Carrison, of Port McDonnell, South Australia who found 10 bottles on the 16th July, 1916 not far from Herbert’s stomping ground.

At the moment, I’ve only been able to identify 22 of the messages found by Herbert Stewart, and this is clearly only the tip of the iceberg. It looks like Herbert kept a record of all the messages he’d found, and I’m hoping that’s somehow been preserved. I’d also imagine that there are families out there who still know the story of how an ancestor or loved one’s message was forwarded to them by Herbert A Stewart of Bleakfield, Rendelsheim, South Australia. I would love to hear from you.

I’m also interested in the WWI messages in bottles in general. So, I’d love to hear from you if that’s of interest.

An empty chair is often used to represent a loved one who has passed away…

While researching messages in bottles might seem quirky and eccentric, the reality is that each bottle is a time capsule preserving a fragment of a much larger journey of a soldier, or group of soldiers heading across the ocean to the front. Moreover, they also tell a story about the person who finds the bottle. Who were they, and what were they do on the beach? They often had to work hard to salvage the scrap of paper which had been floating adrift at the mercy of the sea. I’ve read about bottles turning up covered in seaweed and barnacles. Messages which are wet and barely legible but the finder is just able to pick out an address, a name, a detail and the message has been printed in a newspaper. There was a message written by an Australian soldier which was found by a Maori man on the beach in New Zealand, Herbert Stewart also found a letter by a Maori man from the 1st Maori Continent which was found near Rivoli Bay, South Australia. Indeed, there’s something rather touching about the currents carrying these bottles across boarders and boundaries, especially when I’ve been conducting my research during Covid where we have boundaries on boundaries on boundaries, and we can’t even hug a friend. The ocean, on the other hand, knows no boundaries and these messages in bottles rose from the deep, and went where they went until they were found, retrieved and passed on. Sadly, some of these messages took years to research their destination and by that time, some of their scribes had inevitably died…killed in action, died of wounds, casualties of a foreign war.

Anyway, if you have any information to share or would like to pick my brains, please leave a message. I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

Beyond Wisdom… Friday Fictioneers

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

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

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

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

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

….

99 words Photo thanks to J Hardy Carroll.

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

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

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 23rd August, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

This is the first time I’ve actually written my coffee share post on the weekend for a very, very long time. I usually leave it til Monday night when the weekend is done and dusted. However, I’ve missed a few weeks as Mondays have been busy. For me, the start of a new week is a bit like starting a new year every seven days. Monday is the day when everything needs to be in order, so we can all get off to a fresh start. It doesn’t always work and there even times where the kids’ uniforms sometimes even miss the wash and pandemonium reigns. This has been happening more often since the so-called kids became teenagers and the relaxation of parental vigilance on part isn’t usually matched with an increase of responsibility on their part.

Anyway, I can offer you a choice of banana muffins with macadamia nuts or chocolate chip cookies with dark chocolate and macadamia nuts. Both are home-baked and a scrumptious treat.

We went on a picnic across from the beach today with some friends and decided to go for a beach walk together afterwards. Going walking with Geoff along the beach is a very rare event. Although we live right near the beach, he seems to be allergic to sand and much prefers the still water where he goes sailing most weekends or occasionally out on the kayak. I took some photos of us down at the beach. I particularly like taking shadow photos. They always intrigue me and you can see my scarf blowing in the wind, which was rather strong and definitely unsuitable for sailing unless you want to end up in New Zealand.

You’ll notice that Geoff had adopted a new look. He usually keeps his hair and beard short. However, hewas avoiding the barber during lock down and his hair now reaching down to his shoulders. In keeping with the longer ahir, the beard has followed suit and he'[s stareting to look like his 4 x Great Grandfather Robert Sleighthom who had what Crocodile Dundee wouldcall: “Now, that’s a beard!!” I don’t know what the meaning of all this is. Or, how long this look will be hanging round. Not unsurprisingly, it’s attracted quite a lot of comment. I call him Moses. He’s also been called Santa. Yet, there’s still no snippers in sight.

I can understand in a way. I haven’t had my hair cut for over six months. I couldn’t be bothered doing much with it when I was just at home, and perhaps Geoff’s had the same idea but he’s out and about more than me and has also been back to work for a bit. I didn’t bother to get my Winter clothes out of storage.

Clearly, Covid isn’t doing much for our motivation.

Well, at last not in some areas.

Although Geoff was going to be replacing the floors throughout the house, he’s been diverted into car maintenance. This has been a frustrating business. We have, among other cars, a bright red Alfa Romeo which was my pride and joy until she started making fearful screeching, scraping noises leaving little doubt she was requiring emergency surgery. While Geoff works in IT, he’s also very good with cars which is the only reason we’d buy a finicky Italian car which looks absolutely gorgeous and goes fast, and is as temperamental as any hot-blooded Italian. There often seems to be that trade off between style and reliability and any character car, usually seems to have plenty of character (or is it just old age?) Anyway, Geoff sent the turbo down to Wollongong to be reconditioned. That came back, but unfortunately so did the screech. He’d narrowed the noise down to three parts in the same general vicinity so he order the lot and now we’re just waiting for them to arrive. Geoff’s having great fun watching the exotic list of destinations they’re passing through. I think collectively they’ve come from Estonia, London and somewhere else and they’re seemingly hopping all over Europe whilst most of us poor humans are stuck at home since Covid’s turned travel into a dirty word. Oh to be an exotic car part travelling the world…Gee. Now, I’m really getting desperate.

Meanwhile, my research continues. That’s my research into WWI. What started looking at the experiences of a couple of family members, expanded into soldier’s bios and then took another twist and turn and now I’m putting together a series of bios of people from the home from who made a difference in some way. I’d collected these together while I was researching the soldiers and found them very inspiring. Most of these stories are about ordinary people who took a simple step, which proved extraordinary in some way. Given my own personal limitations due to health and disability issues, I found the whole idea that you could write a letter which could trigger off a movement rather extraordinary and highly motivational, especially in these current times.

However, while the concept is good and I’ve collected an amazing amount of information, it’s quite something else to convert facts into lively story telling without losing the truth. This is why any authors change the names and it becomes “based on a true story”. I’ve found myself trying to turn the engine over and really get into the flow and its a lot more difficult when you’re dealing with facts. The pace can feel quite jerky and it can read like a boring business report too. However, there’s that balance somewhere in between and that’s what I’ve striving towards. Indeed, last night I finally had a taste of what it is like to write at full flight and really get some lively words down on paper. It was such a relief and I would’ve been thrilled to bits if the flow didn’t wait until 2.30am to kick in and it was close to am by the time it stopped. I sort of cared. I am trying to be responsible. Follow regular hours. However, it’s hard to be regular when you’re simply not.

Can any of you relate to that? I’m sure you can.

The down side to all my hours of research and writing, is that I’ve been doing a lot of sitting. While I thought it was really positive to be working so hard and being so dedicated and focused, apparently I need to be distracted. Go for a walk. Move my feet. fidget. This is apparently why I’m ending up with annoying sciatic pain which is also affecting my legs. Indeed, since yesterday I’ve had a clicky knee and that really doesn’t feel good. So, I’ve pulled back a bit and went for a beach walk with Geoff today while the cold August winds swept across the beach and we could’ve been in the Sahara if it weren’t for the ocean lapping at our feet.

Meanwhile, we’re still in need of a major overhaul at home. I’ve taken a boot load or so to the opportunity shop and I have another load ready to go. However, we’re looking at dismantling and throwing out an old upright piano. I’m hoping to salvage some of the parts to display around the house, and I’d also like to make a sculpture of a person out of it using the pedals as feet. This project is even more ambitious than it sounds, because the only sculpture I’ve even made was out of papermache when I was about eight. However, as you might’ve gathered by now, I’ll be counting on Geoff to come to the rescue. He comes to my rescue a lot!!

Lastly, speaking of pianos, I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned that we recently bought a new keyboard synthesizer after I decided to get back into playing the piano during Covid. My initial plan was to accompany myself on the violin and to play the same tunes. However, I’ve expanded from there after picking up a book of easy classics from Mum and I’m now playing Clair de Lune in addition to Fur Elise and the first bit of Moonlight Sonata which I’d kept up. I’m really enjoying my playing, although I’d like to be progressing a bit faster and making less mistakes. In other words, that the rust would fall off immediately along with the realities of what amounts to almost a 20 year break. I’m now playing for at least 30-60 minutes a day so hopefully I’ll be sounding reasonable soon.

Well, that’s about all to report here. What have you been up to? I’m looking forward to popping round to your place and catching up with you soon.

This is another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share…4th August, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, this week I celebrated another birthday. I don’t know whether I’ve become any wiser, or even if I feel any older. However, I can’t kid myself that staying away from the hairdresser is doing me any favours. Stick my head in her door, and I’ll be transformed. I’d love to take Geoff with me as well. He’s in DESPERATE need of a haircut and beard trim and is looking like Moses after being in lock down and isolation at home for a few months. The trouble is he seems to like his new look. I’ve been giving him not too subtle hints, and then a work colleague of his who does photography on the side, asked him if he could take his portrait. Well, that was something having my husband approached to be a photo model, especially when you think the kids would be much more likely targets. Well, the downside of all of this, is that he’s been told not to change anything. Yikes! They had their first go at it today and I swear the beard was transmitting some weird kind of pulsating signal which interfers with technology, because all of his equipment miraculously failed and the connections between his camera and computer failed. Now, this is usually what happens when technology and I cross paths, and Geoff being an IT guru usually has the reverse effect. The computers know he’s in the office and behave themselves  when he’s around but muck up and go on strike when he’s on leave. Indeed, one of his former managers, was thinking about sticking a photo of him near the server to keep it happy. There was one particular Summer, where the air-conditioning failed and the server fried over the Christmas break while we were driving in between Hay and Adelaide in some of the most remote country in the world. I’ll never forget that call. Technology!!

Birthday Cake

Meanwhile, there’s covid, which seems to be like that annoying English backpacker who says they’re only going to stay for a week and is still glued to your couch six months later and showing no signs of moving on.

I don’t know whether you’ve been hearing about what’s been going on with Covid here in Australia? Well, just when I was starting to think we could even become covid free like New Zealand, things went pear-shaped in Victoria and I was back in isolation and second-guessing everyone I meet. There are a few outbreaks in Sydney, which are a concern, although not of immediate threat to us here. However, our situation has been challenged by my husband’s manager who has insisted that all IT staff return to the university to work on campus, despite NSW Health putting out a directive that anyone who can work from home should be working from home. The trains are virtually empty and he has no trouble parking at the station. So, it’s clear that many people are either working from home or have lost their jobs. So, I don’t understand why his manager has to be a trail blazer leading the way from common sense, but I guess we might just attribute that to “management”.

 

In addition to our frustrations with what’s happening at work, if what we see on TV is any indication, Covid seems to be bringing out the idiot in droves.  Here in Australia, we have “Bunning’s Karen” who refused to wear a face mask into the hardware store as requested and went troppo. However, that’s nothing compared to three Queensland girls who went down to Melbourne on a high-end handbag shoplifting spree in Melbourne and were fined in Melbourne for being at a party and flouting covid restrictions. Then, when they returned to Queensland, they lied about being in Melbourne and two of the three are currently in hospital with Covid. Meanwhile, with a bit of a humorous take on increased cases in Victoria, a map of Australia with Victoria missing, is doing the rounds.  This is a bit of blessed relief for the Tasmanians who are traditionally left off the map, mostly by accident. This, however, is much more intentional.

Map of Australia Without Victoria

Meanwhile, my research into Australian soldiers who served in WWI is continuing. You’d think I’d be ready to put pen to paper and start writing this massive epic. However, while my research is uncovering some brilliant stories and insights into the soldiers experiences, as well as efforts from the home front to support their efforts, it also uncovers my ignorance and I still don’t feel I’m in a position of knowing or understanding yet. Of course, that takes years and I’ve only been focused on this for one year so far, which really makes me a beginner. That said, I do have an honours degree in history under my belt and I’ve maintained an interest in history, especially Australian and Irish cultural history through my family history research. So, I’m not a rank beginner and I’m not completely untrained either. I just need to work out where I’m going to position myself on that continuum between storyteller and historian. I really do enjoy a good story, but I’m also a stickler for the truth and I’m not one to bend the facts to tell the tale unless I’m wearing my marketing/publicity hats. At the moment, I’m just going to keep “head down, bum up” and expect that I’ll find my voice when the timing’s right, and that will determine which way I go and this way, I’ll sort of grow into my spot instead of a fixed point determining who I am (if that makes any sense). This process might not be so structured, but is more organic.

The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, Pocket Editions for the Trenches ...

Well, I think about does me for this week. Have you been watching any good movies lately? Or reading any books? I read C.J. Dennis’s: The Songs of the Sentimental Bloke during the week. This is a great Australian tale of romance and family life set just before the outbreak of WWI. The entire thing is written in verse, and uses the Australian vernacular of the day, which is harder to understand than Shakespeare. However, there’s a dictionary at the back if you need it. The book was very popular with the troops at the trench, and he’s been called Australia’s answer to Robbie  Burns. If you’re interested in checking it our, it’s available for free online  Here

Anyway, it’s getting late here so I’d better head off. I hope you’ve had a great week and I hope you and yours are well and staying Covid safe.

This is another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share… 22nd June, 2020

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

How was your week that was? Perhaps, you might need a cup of tea or coffee while you reflect on that and a Tim Tam might also get the brain cells moving. They were on sale this week, and we have what would be a year’s supply of Tim Tams for the more restrained consumer stashed away in the cupboard. However, please don’t accuse us of food hoarding in these lingering days of Covid 19, as these supplies could well only last us a week, especially if the teenagers stage a raid!

It’s Winter here, and to be honest, it feels like I’ve spent the last week snuggled up in my dressing gown and ugg boots. However, I know I’ve been out and about within a fairly confined circuit because I’m still social isolating and being careful as much to avoid Winter colds and flus as much as Covid 19. I don’t know how I’d go living somewhere it actually gets cold. I’ve been huddled by the heater rugged up and it’s been 18°C. I clearly have no resilience to the cold at all!!

Lady June 2020

Lady is clearly thinking mischievous thoughts and is in stealth mode.

That said, I did manage to get Lady to the beach for a walk and I actually clocked up around 5000 steps. However,  I wasn’t so virtuous on Saturday. I talked instead of walked and the sun set before I managed to get going. As I picked up dinner, my phone flashed a report on my screen usage and congratulated me on 5 seconds of exercise. How’s that for impressive!! Well, at least I went for a walk while I was waiting for our meal.

Lady & Ron Kallmier

Lady and I ran into a friend who’d caught this huge salmon down at the beach. As I took the photo, I wasn’t watching the dog and as you can see, her nose in only millimetres away from the fish… the scallywag!

I’ve done a lot better on the research front. I’m continuing my research into the stories of Australians serving in France during WWI. I’m really excited about how this is going and how lucky I am to be putting these stories together in 2020 when I have so many resources online at my fingertips and I can flit around all over the place to build really comprehensive profiles. It really enhances my capacity to get inside their shoes, slip inside their skin and try to get some idea of how they lived, breathed and possibly even viewed the world around them. Or, at least, I can delude myself into believing I can. After all, these people aren’t going to be so obsessed with themselves on so many different levels as I am, and they might even appreciate finding out what I’ve put together and would get quite a surprise. I certainly haven’t allowed for things like getting a song stuck in their heads for hours on end. Or, what it’s like to basically be a bloke. That is exceeding the realms of even my over-zealous research. Moreover, I also need to factor in what goes on in my own mind. Sometimes, there’s absolutely no traffic at all, and at other times, the same thought can get stuck driving round and round the roundabout, and there’s equally very little to report. So after that rethink, I’m going to retract my great confidence about stepping into these soldiers boots and confess that no matter how much research I do, they’ll still be characters where the facts will always be infused with a dose of me along with the effects of being buried in history for over 100 years.

The other thing I wanted to mention this week, is that I am now well on the way towards resetting my sleep patterns. I’m not sure whether I’ve ever truly confessed about just how out of synch my sleeping habits have become during lock down. Although I’ve been a night owl for some time and might get to bed around 1.00 am, this has slipped back a considerable notch and I was going to bed at 3.00 am most nights and waking up at midday. Indeed, some days, I was waking up in the afternoon. I was rather embarrassed about this, and it wasn’t working for me or anyone else. It was like I’d become a shift worker living in a time zone all of my own, and it needed to change. Now, I’m gradually working towards waking up at about 7.00 am to help get the kids off to school. Geoff’s still working from home, so I’ve been let off the hook. So, next week, I’ll  be down to 9.00 am. Being Winter and losing so many hours of sunlight, sleeping through the day simply doesn’t make sense so I’m pleased to be seizing more of the day.

Lastly, I wanted to update you on the story of Will Callaghan, a non-verbal teenager on the Autism Spectrum, who went missing for two nights in bush land in Victoria a few weeks ago. A friend of his mother’s is now hosting a fundraising campaign to help make the family’s life a bit easier. As you could imagine, looking after Will and his brother, who is also on the spectrum, has additional challenges and it’s also equally important to look after carers and ensure they are not stretched to breaking point. If there’s a way we as the community can help lighten the load, we need to try to do what we can. This is most certainly challenging atm when so many people are in need. However, what strikes me about this family is that their needs are long-standing and ongoing. There isn’t that capacity to plan for a rainy day or build a nest egg. It’s more a case of getting by and hoping the wheels don’t fall off. Anyway, here’s the link: https://www.mycause.com.au/page/229759/will-callaghan

Anyway, I’d like to have something more exciting to share with you next week, but it looks like that will have to wait. Excitement seems to involved large crowds, partying, swinging from the chandeliers. However, I’m hoping to find somewhere new and interesting to explore on foot and through the lens, and there’s always the possibility of unplanned excitement in this household, but that wasn’t the kind of excitement I had in mind.

So, how was your week? I hope you and yours are staying safe from the dreaded Covid 19. Melbourne’s having a few troubles, but it’s all good here.

Take care and stay safe!

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

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share – 11th May, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

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

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

Happy Birthday Cake

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

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

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

Billy the Bantam crop

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

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

Amiel's journal

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

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

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

God, to love always–this is duty.”

Henri-Frederic Amiel

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

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

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

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

Panorama Yattalunga2

Pano sunset Yattalunga….Geoff and Rowena Newton 

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

sunset

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

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

Yachts Yattalunga pano

Yachts at Yattalunga.

Jetty Yattalunga

Low tide Jetty At Yattalung, NSW Central Coast.

Yachts Yattalunga

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

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

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

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

Best wishes and please stay safe,

Rowena