Tag Archives: Morpeth

Irish Famine Monument, Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney

DSC_4290My journey through the Blogging from A-Z Challenge continues today and as I approach the letter I, I am starting to understand why this thing is called a “challenge” and not a “walk in the park”. With the kids on school holidays and being at Palm Beach and wanting to experience more than just the inside of my laptop despite the blah weather, today I’ve taken the easy way out. I have cut and pasted most of this post from my other blog: Finding Bridget: https://bridgetdonovansjourney.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/welcome-to-bridget-donovans-journey/

After introducing you to my German heritage yesterday, today I’ll dip a very little toe into the Irish side. Although being a Curtin hailing back to the City of Cork, County Cork; I wanted to introduce you to Bridget Donovan, who I came across on a complicated goat’s trail off a goat’s trail even though she is my Great Great Great Grandmother. Bridget was little more than a name on her daughter’s birth certificate (her daughter Charlotte Merritt married James Curtin), which had turned up in the family safe many years ago. That was, until a Google search showed up a Bridget Donovan who was one of the Irish Famine Orphan Girls who went sent out to Australia as part of the Earl Grey Scheme on board the John Knox on the 29th April, 1850.

This was how I discovered the Irish Famine Monument at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks. No doubt, I’ve walked past the Famine Memorial many times since its completion in 1999. Yet, I missed it. If you know me, that isn’t exactly surprising. With my head up in the clouds or my attention focused through a camera lens, I frequently miss even the blatantly obvious.

It’s a pity because this monument is so much more than a static reminder of the Famine. Rather, it has become something of a living, breathing focal point not just for people exploring their Irish roots like myself but also for the modern Australian-Irish community, especially at it’s annual commemorative event. You could say any excuse for a Guinness will do!

While you might be wondering why anyone would build a monument commemorating an Irish famine which took place over 150 years ago in Ireland in modern Sydney, it is worth remembering that many, many Irish emigrated to Australia particularly during or soon after the famine. This means that the Irish Famine is, in a sense, part of Australian history as well.

Moreover, the Irish Famine wrought such devastation that it must be remembered. We should never forget that an estimated 1 million people lost their lives and a further 1 million emigrated and what a loss of that magnitude meant for the Irish people…those who left and also those who stayed behind. The politics behind the Famine is also something we should keep in mind because unless we learn from the dire lessons of the past, history will repeat itself and many, many will endure perhaps preventable suffering.

While I grew up as an Australian understanding that my Dad’s Curtin family had emigrated due to the potato famine, that was a simplistic view. The causes of the Irish Famine were much more complex than the potato blight itself and certainly our family didn’t emigrate until the tail end of the famine, or even a few years after the famine had “ended”. This is interesting food for thought and I can’t help thinking the Australian Gold rushes also attracted its share of struggling Irish searching for their pot of gold at what must have seemed like the end of a very long rainbow.

While I recommend visiting the Memorial in person, the Irish Famine Memorial’s website also provides helpful background information about the Irish Orphan Girls and the Irish Famine Memorial. It includes a searchable database you can find out if you, like me, can claim an Irish Orphan girl. There are over 4,000 up for grabs and the good news is that you don’t even have to feed them.You have a better chance than winning Lotto!

You can click here to access the web site: Mmhttp://www.irishfaminememorial.org/en/

About the Monument

Although I have visited the monument a couple of times, I have learned so much more about it since deciding to write this post.

Bridget Donovan wasn't on the list... missing in action yet again!!

The Australian Monument to the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852) is located at the Hyde Park Barracks, on Macquarie Street, Sydney, Australia. It was designed by Angela & Hossein Valamanesh (artists) & Paul Carter (soundscape). I must admit that I didn’t notice the soundscape on my visits and I missed much of the detail and symbolism in the monument itself. My attention at the time was focused on the list of names etched into the glass and finding out that Bridget Donovan, as usual, was missing…lost, silent. The artists had selected 400 names to represent the over 4,000 Irish orphan girls so you had to be lucky for your girl to be chosen. However, the artists had chosen the girls above and below Bridget on the shipping list and had left Bridget out. I swear it is like Bridget has activated some kind of privacy block from the grave. “Leave me alone”. She really doesn’t want to be found.

The Plaque

The web site provides a detailed explanation of the monument:

“On the internal side of the wall, the long table represents the institutional side of things. There is a plate, a spoon and a place to sit on a three legged stool. There are also a couple of books including a Bible, and a little sewing basket. In contrast, on the other side, is the continuation of the same table, but much smaller in scale. There sits the bowl which is hollow and actually cannot hold anything, representing lack of food and lack of possibilities. There is also the potato digging shovel, called a loy, leaning against the wall near a shelf containing some potatoes. The selection of 400 names, some of which fade, also indicates some of the girls who are lost to history and memory.”

Anyway, even if you can’t claim Irish blood, the Irish famine Memorial is certainly worth a visit and you can check out the Hyde Park Barracks Museum while you are there.

Bridget would have worn something like this simple dress...Hyde Park Barracks Museum.

I have written about Bridget Donvon’s Journey more extensively in my other blog: Finding Bridget, which you can check out here: https://bridgetdonovansjourney.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/welcome-to-bridget-donovans-journey/

You can also read about our Irish night where we cooked up an Irish Stew, Irish Soda Bread and had it with Australian Pavlova to commemorate 160 years since John Curtin, an Irish Sailor who went on to become a Stove Maker in Sydney’s Surry Hills: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/irish-nightcelebrating-a-journey-from-cork-city-to-sydney-1854-2014/

xx Rowena

Lady’s Tour of Historic Morpeth

After picking up our new dog, Lady, from Raymond Terrace this morning, we drove over to the historic town of Morpeth, which is located on the Hunter River near Maitland. I adore Morpeth with its old historic buildings and streets so wide you could turn a bullock train around back in the day. As a serious lover of history, I’m not a great one for living in the present.

Walking the dog in Morpeth.

Walking the dog in Morpeth.

Even though Morpeth is only a couple of hour’s drive away from home, I don’t seem to get there very often. I think it has been two years since my last epic visit. If you haven’t been to Morpeth, you are really missing out. In terms of architecture, Morpeth is something of a time capsule dating back to the mid 1800s with rugged cobbled footpaths and colonial buildings with broad verandahs. There is even an original slab bark hut dating back to the 1830s which has been restored. In a sense you could also describe Morpeth as a shopper’s paradise but it’s not some trashy shopping mall but more of an experience with Miss Lilly’s Lollyshop, Morpeth Sourdough, ginger beer numerous cafes, old wares shops and irresistible boutiques. You can read about my previous trips to Morpeth here:

As much as I love visiting Morpeth and almost sent us broke on one particular trip when it seemed like I almost bought up the place, our visit today was about spending time exploring together and having our first adventure with Lady.

With a name like Lady, you would half expect her to be traveling to Morpeth in coach perched up on a plush, velvet cushion. However, she is a Lady, not the Queen and yet I still picture her doing the royal wave. Well, she would if she could. I don’t believe dogs can wave but there’s always someone keen to prove me wrong!!

It was really exciting to take Lady for her first walk but it was truly memorable to take her for her first walk in Morpeth, watching her run over the cobblestones with the kids. My daughter seems to have claimed Lady as her dog at this stage and she loved running along with her. Our original dog, Bilbo, is a big dog and a bit too much for her to take on  her own for a walk. Lady is the perfect size for Miss. I think Miss also likes the fact Lady is a girl dog. As an 8 years old, boys are mostly annoying pests!

You call that a cow? Lady, checks out the metal cow at Grazer's Cafe, Morpeth.

You call that a cow? Lady, checks out the metal cow at Grazer’s Cafe, Morpeth.

While Lady wasn’t too happy being tied up outside Miss Lilly’s Lollyshop, we were able to have lunch with Lady at a local cafe called Grazers, which has a cute cow theme. Lady comes from a farm with real cows so I don’t know what she thought when we photographed her next to a metal cow sculpture. I could almost hear her calling out through the obvious confusion: “Please explain!” While she might have been a bit baffled by the metal cow, there was no confusion over the kids’ ,meat pies. We had been warned that Lady can really jump and she was particularly keen on the kids’ meat pies. A dog is a dog, after all!

I've never met a dog who doesn't like a meat pie!

I’ve never met a dog who doesn’t like a meat pie!

Lady was also quite a traffic stopper as well. Being a Monday, there weren’t that many people out in Morpeth and most of the shops were shut but a few passers-by stopped for a pat and a chat. Lady is so friendly and affectionate wagging her tail and nuzzling up to everyone she meets. She almost seems to manufacture happiness itself and I can’t help feeling she’s exactly what our family needs…a breath of fresh air.

Pausing at the pansy patch.

Pausing at the pansy patch.

The historic bridge crossing the Hunter River is one of Morpeth’s main landmarks. We walked down a very steep set of stairs to walk beside the riverbank where Miss managed to find a bunch of prickles and blackberries but after just a scratch, she manged to extricate herself unscathed with a few directions from Mum. Mister loved exploring the river bank and lay down in the grass in the shade. It’s now spring and it was quite a warm, sunny day where a bit of shade went a long way.

Relaxing in an antique bathtub outside Campbell's Store, a Morpeth icon.

Relaxing in an antique bathtub outside Campbell’s Store, a Morpeth icon.

We had so much fun!!

Yet, as much as I love Morpeth, I also wanted to get home before dark and we still had to introduce the two dogs. It was time for the next chapter to begin. Would they be anther Romeo and Juliet? Time would tell.

Driving back home from Morpeth was a bit more complicated than I’d hoped. Morpeth is out past Maitland, which out on the New England Highway and it seems out this way all roads lead to Newcastle, whereas I was wanting Sydney. Somehow, I kept missing the turn off and I was driving back and forwards between Hexham and the Newcastle suburb of Beresfield. We ended up going back and forwards and even tried a back way only to find ourselves back on the road heading north. We weren’t lost. I knew we were facing the wrong way and heading for Brisbane listed wasn’t a good thing. I just couldn’t join up the dots and find our way out. Personally, I found the signs quite inadequate. Being a huge city, Sydney deserves a big sign not some kind of footnote while the Hunter Valley Vineyards has a huge, rather distracting sign.

As we arrived closer to home, I started briefing the kids on the all important new arrival. Or to be more particular, how we were going to introduce Lady to Bilbo. While Bilbo isn’t quite an old dog, he is very set on his ways and he’s quite wary of strangers. He’s an excellent guard dog and doorbell. We always know when someone’s turned up. The plan was to introduce the dogs in neutral territory out the front and hope for the best. I’m no dog expert but I knew this was going to take time and at least a bit of massaging. As much as I thought Bilbo might like a girlfriend and had been told about his new “friend”, as far as he was concerned, nobody had consulted his opinion and like all foreign bodies, Bilbo would no doubt want Lady out. At the same time, Bilbo had been warming up to other dogs at the beach and I thought he was ready to take the step step.

Well, as ready as he was going to be.

Jazz in the Vines

It already seems like a lifetime ago. The weekend before last, Geoff and I escaped for a weekend away in the Hunter Valley about two hours North-west of Sydney. The Hunter Valley is wine country and we were staying at Cypress Lakes with Muscular Dystrophy NSW to attend Jazz in the Vines. We had an absolutely awesome time and really enjoyed living the high life.

Geoff took Friday off work and we went on a detour to Morpeth “on the way” to pick up the tea cosies which I’d bought on my last visit. We also had to restock our supplies of coconut ice, peanut brittle and fudge from Campbell’s and we enjoyed a lovely lunch.

We settled into our hotel and I had a short, long bath if that makes any sense. It was so relaxing and I could have stayed there for the night but we were off to the group dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food was magnificent even if I can’t quite remember what it was…a fish, a chicken dish perhaps. I don’t think I’ll ever get a job as a food critic.

Breakfast was included with our package and my excuse for eating so much was not having to buy lunch. I was good and started the day with yogurt, muesli and fruit but it soon went downhill and I was devouring the hash browns. There’s nothing like hash browns on a hotel buffet breakfast. They didn’t have pancakes on Saturday but they did on Sunday morning.  They were only fair…not the best I’ve had.

After breakfast, we all boarded the bus out to the Tyrell’s estate for Jazz in the Vines. Jazz in the Vines was celebrating its 20th Anniversary with an impressive line up of talent. We had special seating in the tent. I was just leaving the toilet when I heard Tom Burlinson (of Man From Snowy River – the movie fame) singing New York New York. I rushed down the front with my camera in tow like a woman possessed and captured a few new memories. I remember a band called Paris Dumper doing New York New York at the Nagg’s Head in Glebe too many lifetimes ago. We all used to do the Can Can back then when we could LOL!

Lisa Hunt was the final performer and she was fabulous. My favourite song was Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia. It was amazing. It was so good that I tried recording it on my mobile phone. I’ve never done that before but it was really, really good. Unfortunately, the recording sounds dreadful. Not worth keeping. I was down the front in what I guess you’d call the mosh pit and it was awesome being amongst it all. Looking at all the crazy and outlandish outfits and trying to dodge the many wine bottles which were rolling around in the grass. They did look rather deadly.

Jazz in the Vines wasn’t all just about wine. The Hunter Valley Cheese Company had a stand and we bought ourselves a cheese platter for lunch. Yum. Made plans to visit the factory on Sunday to continue my adventures of a cheesy.

As much as we loved Jazz in the Vines, perhaps the real entertainment was on the bus on the way home. There was a very interesting character…a bloke wearing a black afro wig. Geoff tells me an old lady on the bus asked if she could feel his wig. I missed that bit and all I saw was this bloke putting his wig on ton this old woman’s head. Then shoved it under her armpit and that wasn’t all. Then he was doing back flips in the aisle. I should be thankful. At least he kept his gear on although I’m surprised the bus driver didn’t throw him off. Kids have been busted on the school bus for much less.  This was all on a crowded bus. He kept saying that he came from Newport Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Geoff asked me how I’d feel if he was saying he was from our area. Hmm. Glad he wasn’t. We have dubbed him “the Ambassador for Newport”. He did a very impressive job…unforgettable at least!

I should also add that this bloke ended up sitting next to Geoff…what a contrast! I don’t think Geoff knew which way to look.

We had dinner back at the hotel. Again, it was fabulous and I do remember consuming a rather decadent chocolate pudding!

Sunday morning, I felt like a stuffed chook after yet another buffet breakfast. It was goodbye to all the Muscular Dystrophy crew and we were off to tour the vineyards after stopping off for a few photos along the way. I just had to photograph the roses and the vines together and I just might have photographed my teacup out there. Who would do something crazy like that??

We aren’t big wine drinkers and to be honest, I was more interested in the cheese. We went to the Hunter Valley Cheese Company for a tasting and a tour. This place is definitely worth a visit even if cheese is just a little naughty. http://www.huntervalleycheese.com.au/index.html

We bought some of the Hunter Gold Washed Rind Cheese and they had some kind of Irish cheddar which came in green wax. We didn’t buy some but I wish we had. It tasted great but also looked rather quirky with its green skin and I love quirky!! Might have to go back!

Our next stop was McGuigan’s next door where we entered the weird and wonderful world of wine.

As far as I’m concerned, wine comes in a bottle and most of it is undrinkable. I prefer very sweet, fruity wines and I’m usually offered Chardonnay which is very dry. I drink a wine and I either like it or I don’t and I almost burst out laughing when I hear people rave on about their wines:

“A kaleidoscope of flavours; ginger, apricots, honeycomb and toffee brittle. The palate is intensely rich however the acidity is a supreme counterfoil”

It sounds like something from a candy store!

You won’t get any of that fancy wine talk from me.

I didn’t even try to pretend that I knew what they were talking about. I didn’t need to show off although I was wishing I’d listened just a little more to all Dad’s wine talk. He is a wine connoisseur with a serious cellar. When we were kids, my brother used to do a very good send up of Dad sniffing his wine and pronouncing it a “jolly good year”. If it wasn’t, it was poured down the sink…no matter where it came from!

As for me, I don’t know a good year from a bad year. We bought a bottle of Merlot and a dessert wine…a Traminer. I have trouble writing about food and describing it. I have no chance of describing the wine other than to say that I could drink it. I am not much of a wine drinker and prefer sweet, fruity ones. I might as well stick to lemonade!

Next we drove round to Constables Vineyard http://www.constablevineyards.com.au/gardens/sculptures, mainly to see the sculpture garden, however, we did buy another dessert wine. This one sounds like it could transmit a deadly disease..a Botrytus Semillon. I wasn’t far wrong. With this Botrytus stuff,  the vine is exposed to the “noble rot” of Botrytis cinerea which is a necrotrophic fungus. In other words, it’s a parasite. It consumes the water content of the fruit, concentrating the sugar present in its pulp. When attacked by Botrytis cinerea, the grapes shrivel and the acid and sugar levels are intensified.

All day Sunday, I had this sense of living on borrowed time. You know how it is when you are having a great holiday and you know you’re about to come crashing back to reality.

All too soon, we were at the station meeting up with my mother and the kids and I also had violin practice. Not good having to rush of to rehearsal after not touching the thing for a few days and right before the concert. Should have been practicing all day and being prepared.

Thank you Muscular Dystrophy for a fabulous weekend away.

xx Ro

Morpeth Revisited

If you are trying to resist an over-active sweet tooth, Morpeth is fatal.

Same goes for bread.

If you are trying not to be tempted by fashion, art, vintage books, baby dolls, teddy bears and luscious designs, Morpeth is also fatal.

If you long to return to yesteryear with gorgeous cobbled footpaths, streets wide enough for a bullock train to turn around and stunningly rustic historic buildings…Morpeth is impossible to resist.

To top it all off, I know the brochures all talk about the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting down the main street but all I could smell when I first stepped out of the car was cow. I won’t be specific but there was that gorgeous country cow smell which for me, is almost more fragrant than a rose.

Morpeth is my kind of place. In fact, I even saw a few signs around town which had my name on them…For Sale…For Lease…For Rent…

I’m sure it’s a sign.

I’m sure it was a sign!

I could so easily move to Morpeth even though I do love our stunning beach with breathtaking views across Pittwater to Palm Beach Lighthouse and beyond.

It’s interesting because of all the things I did see, there was one notable thing I didn’t see in Morpeth… technology shops. They might have been there but I didn’t see any computer shops or shops selling fancy TV remotes you need engineering degrees to operate. Yes, Morpeth definitely seems like my kind of place.

I’m not going to pretend to know Morpeth well or have any inside knowledge of the place. I’ve only been there twice but my grandfather’s grandmother, Charlotte Merritt, was born there back in 1864. While in some circles that could almost make me a local, they didn’t stay very long and never became part of the social framework. I believe her father was some kind of itinerant labourer who moved around a lot.

My Great Great Grandmother, Charlotte Merritt, who was born in Morpeth in 1864.

I ended up in Morpeth for the first time almost by accident about a month ago when we were visiting nearby Maitland. I was a bit curious to see where Charlotte Merritt had come from and friends of mine live in Morpeth and told me all about fudge and ginger beer tastings, Miss Liley’s Lolly Shop, a teddy bear shop and all the cafes. It sounded like a veritable of kaleidoscope of tempting possibilities. We were off.

Morpeth is a historic village located in the Hunter Valley North of Newcastle, Australia. It was founded in 1821 and is a historic river port. It’s 168 KM North of Sydney and roughly two hours drive depending on who’s driving and the traffic conditions.

This is my second visit to Morpeth and this time, I am here all by myself and the world, or should I say Morpeth, is my oyster.

Display upstairs at Campbell’s Store.

If I had to use one word to describe Morpeth, it would have to be “enchanting”. It has that real feel of being in a magical childhood setting like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I almost expected the oompa loompas to turn up any minute. Or perhaps, I was Alice in Wonderful and the white rabbit was about to turn up.

As much as I could wax lyrically about all the stunning, gorgeous wonderful things I saw in Morpeth, I was a woman on a mission. Both Mum and Geoff had requested more coconut ice from Campbell’s. My son had requested “souvenirs” and I was there with the explicit purpose of visiting the annual Morpeth Weird & Wonderful Novelty Teapot Exhibition and the Morpeth Tea Cosy Challenge. The local newsletter, The Morpeth Whisper had also featured a Leaning Tower of Pisa Tea Set, which I wanted to check out and I was also keen to have more of a lingering look at the very enticing clothing boutiques in Swan Street.

Something told me I should have robbed a bank before I went to Morpeth. There was just so much temptation on so many, many fronts. I had to take a deep, deep breath and muster all the self-restraint I could find and I still have more than just a few confessions!

Me with the tea cosys

I started out at the Morpeth Tea Cosy Challenge. This display was simply inspirational, magical with over 400 entries were on display. Most of the designs were knitted and there were amazingly intricate, detailed and imaginative worlds made out of wool. We’re talking flowers, birds, dainty little tea parties with teeny cups and saucers and even a red back spider. Personally, when I was at school, I struggled to knit the compulsory 20 cm x 20cm woollen squares we had to make for the annual clothing drive. I couldn’t imagine how anybody could produce these amazing creations without a magic wand or a pair of magic knitting needles!

Aren’t they just amazing!

Most of the tea cosies were either for sale or sold. There were so many exquisitely pretty designs to choose from but I opted for something quirky instead. I bought two tea coseys. One was the Queen of Hearts and the other one was Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. I’d had a rough time with our son last week and as I headed North along the freeway to Morpeth, I really did feel glad to get away and have a break…even if it was only for one day. So the Queen of Hearts sort of resonated with me…as did Tweedledum and Tweedle Dee. I couldn’t quite recall what the Queen of Hearts actually did in Alice in Wonderland at the time but she certainly had a very stern look on her face and she had a stick with a heart on the end in one hand. She really looked like a force to be reckoned with. I could use a bit of assistance. Both of kids can join forces against me and make life quite difficult at times so Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee seemed quite appropriate for them. I’m hoping the Queen of Hearts will sort them out!

The Queen of Hearts with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

Once I arrived home, I actually remembered what the Queen of Hearts actually said. That was “off with their heads!”

Oh well!

The New Baby.

I wandered out of the Tea Cosy Exhibition and into the baby Doll shop. Cathy Brady meticulously transforms doll parts into incredibly life like works of art or is it real life? This is a highly skilled and painstaking process taking 180 hours of work over a three week period…almost like a long labour. I personally thought these baby dolls were a vast improvement on the real thing. They’re low maintenance. They don’t cry. There are no dirty nappies. You can put them down and they’ll still be there when you come back. These dolls are also so lifelike that they do indeed have personality. But they can’t love you. Hug you. They’re not quite the same as the real thing but a very, very close impersonation. You can visit the dolls at http://www.cathybradyartist.com/realistic-baby-dolls-for-sale

Cathy Brady- the Artist at Work.

Next, I wondered downstairs to the teapot exhibition. Now, I have a funny feeling I missed out on some of these. I did see a lot of teapots but most weren’t handmade. I am wondering how I managed this considering that was the main reason I went to Morpeth but there was just so much to see, perhaps I was a little overwhelmed. I ended up buying Geoff and I the leaning Tower of Pisa for our upcoming 11th Wedding Anniversary. I thought it summed our relationship up pretty well. We’ve had some tough times. We’re leaning a bit to one side but we haven’t toppled over. We’re still standing almost tall.

The teapot Exhibition

I wondered across the road into Miss Lily’s Lolly Shop. Even an adult feels quite childlike going into a candy store. I found some beautiful looking lollies that looked like polished stones. Unfortunately, I’d run out of cash and went on so many deviations along the main street that they had shut by the time I got back so that leaves something to look forward to for next time.

My New Suicide Shoes

Further up Swan Street, I saw the most deadly pair of heels in my size. I don’t know what was going through my head because given my muscle disease, I only ever buy sensible shoes. But I was in holiday mode. I was feeling frivolous and for once, I wanted to buy a pair of sexy shoes. So what if I couldn’t walk in them? I could always use my walking stick although that would look a bit silly. I’m sure it’s not written in the rule books but you can’t wear a pair of staggering high heels and use a walking stick! They’re diametrically opposed opposites. But they were only $30.00 and they have a solid block heel and surprisingly, I could actually walk in them after all. When I told Mum about them, she told me they could be my “under the table shoes”…uncomfortable shoes which you wear to a venue and discreetly take them off under the table. Sounds good to me although I suspect we’ll have to park right next to the table.

Writer At Work.

With so many nooks and crannies to explore, I wasn’t that interested in eating even though, yet again, there was so much temptation. I stopped for lunch at Cups N Crepes and had a banana smoothie, a cappuccino and a sumptuous Mars Bar and Caramel Cheese cake, which was delightfully mousey and melted in the mouth. It took me awhile to get through the smoothie and so I ended up writing for about an hour. I love writing in cafes and just letting my pen run wild. Shame I didn’t have the laptop though. I wouldn’t have to type it all up now.

Orange Trumpet Vine

While I was writing, I was almost mesmerised by a carpet of bright orange flowers (the Orange Trumpet Creeper) trailing down a boutique across the road. Growing on a rusty tin roof and back dropped against the deep blue sky, the composition was perfect. I zoomed in. I zoomed out. Just fabulous!

I also watched to get some shots of the bridge. The white wooden bridge over the Hunter River is a prominent feature in Morpeth. I was actually hoping to walk across but there was no footpath. I had to make do with photos from the bank.

The wind was incredibly strong and the river was so choppy that you could almost go for a surf. Okay, you know I’m exaggerating but you get my drift. I wanted to capture the raw energy of the wind in my photos. There is a very tall gum tree near the riverbank and its leaves and branches were exploding in a cacophony of sound as they thrashed away in the wind. There was such brute force and spirit but photos just didn’t do it justice.

Time was starting to get away from me by now.

Next stop, was Arnott’s Bakehouse, home of the famous Morpeth Sour Dough. I am a bread lover from way back and I was like a kid in a candy store staring at all that beautiful bread. At the time, I didn’t really have much of an idea about sour dough and was a bit wary to be honest. I chose a wholemeal loaf, which looked scrumptious and relatively “safe”. I really do recommend checking out their website at www.morpethsourdough.com.au. There are too many stories for me to encapsulate them here but this story was so funny, I’ll provide a direct link: http://www.morpethsourdough.com.au/media/14444/wish~july%202009%20v1.pdf

I don’t know if this is sacrilege but I brought my sour dough home and covered it in butter and Vegemite. The remaining loaf was converted into French toast for Sunday lunch and it was definitely scrumptious…a far superior product to my previous efforts. I’ve got a feeling I can buy this bread locally and if it wasn’t close to midnight, I’d be in the car and on my way!

I knew I only had a day or actually it was only three-quarters of a day in Morpeth and the Cinderella hour was rapidly approaching. Perhaps, I should have just felt grateful for the time I’d had but it was very hard to leave when I was having so much fun!

I had to be back by 6.30PM at the very latest to pick the kids up from after-school care. You don’t want to be the bad mother who arrives late and keeps everybody waiting even though the staff are well aware that “things happen”. I want to be responsible but at the same time, I feel like being wicked. I definitely have a bit of bad attitude what with buying the Queen of Hearts “off with their head” tea cosy, the suicidal high heel shoes and not caring about how late I arrive home… not to mention how much money I’ve spent. I know I’m over-compensating for something! Do you think I could blame the prednisone again?

Last stop Campbell’s where I stock up on Coconut Ice, Peanut brittle musk sticks and some boiled lollies for the kids. It sounds like I’ve bought a lifetime supply but I’m sure they’ll all be gone by the end of the week!

The clock has now struck four o’clock and contrary to my expectations, the car hasn’t turned into a pumpkin and my clothes haven’t turned into rags. There is no mad panic around me. It is all a matter of self-discipline. I can be strong and go now or I can push the envelope a little and hope the accelerator will do the trick. After all, it’s not every day you get to go to Morpeth and Geoff could possibly pick them up if I’m “stuck”.

Photographing the shadows on the cobbled footpath.

I walk out of Campbell’s and notice the shadows on the cobbled footpath. My camera is in the car. I was going to going to head off but just one last photo, then I’ll hit the road. Make it ten.

I somehow managed to get lost leaving Morpeth and was heading North towards Raymond Terrace. I also got stuck in heavy traffic but I still managed to pull up at after-school care at 6.00pm with half an hour to spare. I walked in to catch the kids in the middle of a fight. Another child had taken my son’s bag by mistake and later on that night my daughter had a bit of a tummy bug. I always expect payback. I can’t expect to have pure unadulterated fun without repercussions.

I’m hoping to get back to Morpeth again soon to do their walking tour. It looks fabulous. Stay tuned.

One final note…this morning when the musk sticks ran out, the kids I should go back to get some more. It was then that my son remembered the huge rainbow lollipops he’d seen at Campbell’s.

“The size of those rainbow lollipops!” he gasped. “I don’t care if I die. I just want one of those rainbow lollipops!!

“Make that two,” gasped my daughter.

“They have rainbow lorikeets in them,” my son exclaimed. “That’s why they’re not healthy. They have feathers in them.”

I don’t know where he got that idea from but it’s definitely “creative”.

I am already planning another trip. I still haven’t done the walking tour and I would mind a long lunch with some friends either.

Do you have any tales about Morpeth?

xx Ro

Driving Myself Crazy…Day trip to Morpeth, Australia – Part 1

Yesterday, I did something almost devilishly wicked. I booked the kids into after school care and went on a day trip to Morpeth in the Hunter Valley, almost 2hours drive each way from home. It was one of the best things I have ever done!! It felt like Alice’s journey into Wonderland. Morpeth is that kind of place.

I don’t usually do this sort of thing. The only time I ever run away from home, is to go to the Sydney Writer’s Festival once a year. That said, I do have a lot of medical appointments in Sydney and I have been known to get a little “lost” coming home but we’re only talking a minor deviation…not an epic adventure!

Mind you, I have to be honest and say that the main reason I don’t escape isn’t ideological. I have a bit of a thing about driving. I wouldn’t call it a phobia because to my way of thinking, a phobia involves an irrational fear. My fears, on the other hand, are perfectly logical… rational even! I get lost easily and the same kind of spatial issues which make it difficult for me to follow maps, also make it difficult for me to park my car. For some reason, I can’t work out where my car is in space and I usually leave room for an entire Olympic swimming pool both front and rear. I’m not great at reversing and I also get lost easily as well. On top of all of that, I get extreme fatigue which strikes at unpredictable moments. So while I can be full of beans and bouncing all over the place one minute, the next I could conk out completely and need to go to bed immediately…not great when you are driving long distance. You could say that it’s deadly even.

So as you can see, my fears are more than justified!

On the other hand, I want to explore and experience the world and not be stuck in such a small, minute part of it. In my early driving days, probably just after I got my P’s, when I had even greater driving anxiety, my Dad asked me: “Does your licence say you can’t drive anywhere? Well, no one’s stopping you. You can drive anywhere you like!” Dad’s words often come to me while I’m driving and somehow empower me! I can go anywhere! Do anything! I just need to convince myself!

But the local geography around here doesn’t help the situation. You see, we’re surrounded by water and there’s a steep hill with a bit of an annoying road between here and the freeway to Sydney. I broke down on that road once and subconsciously, that hill has become some kind of barrier, a boundary, a line in the sand I don’t cross. It’s even come to define me: “I don’t go up the hill”.

Of course, it’s only now that I’ve been up the hill and beyond that I’ve realised just what a mountain the hill had become… a complete blockage to growth and exploration.

After all, mountains are meant to be climbed not just left in the way! They should be stairways to heaven and the stars not roadblocks stunting our dreams.

I had already conquered the mountain recently and had almost driven to Newcastle. I was almost sure I could reach Morpeth.

Campbell’s Store, Morpeth. This is home to fudge tasting, coconut ice, peanut brittle as well as the MorpethTea Cosy Challenge.

I first visited Morpeth about a month ago. It wasn’t a planned trip and I met up with my cousin with husbands and kids in tow, which made it very difficult to explore Morpeth in any depth i.e. look at anything much or spend a lot of money. I did manage to buy a new dress and a shawl literally trying them on over my jeans on the run. We also managed to taste test the ginger beer and the fudge. We actually saw a lot but I also saw so many beautiful things in all those tantalising old shop windows that my eyes almost popped out of my head. I had to go back…alone!

Home to the famous Morpeth Sourdough

I also had another imperative…visiting the annual Morpeth Weird & Wonderful Novelty Teapot Exhibition and the Morpeth Tea Cosy Challenge, which is held in the last two weeks of August.

You see, I collect antique and vintage teacups and saucers, plates, table cloths. I love an authentic retro tea party. Not a high tea and not something stiff and starchy either. I just miss cups of tea with my grandmothers. More than cups of tea, I miss their love, their warmth, their smiles and almost getting lost inside their huge, warm hugs! There is nothing else in this universe quite like a grandmother’s love. I can almost feel their love when I surround myself with all this old world finery. Both of my grandmothers had collections of bone china tea cups and it was tradition to choose your own cup. My grandmother should have had her kettle wired into her doorbell because as soon as anyone walked in the door, the kettle went on and we all had tea. I bought a number of exquisite Shelley teacups with money from Mum’s parents. My grandma would have loved them but she would have put them safely away in her sideboard. She never ever used her special things.  I use some of mine but I do reserve the Shelley ones for rare, special occasions. Some of them are over 80 years old and have become fragile little old ladies. Of course, I don’t know if tea cups actually develop osteoporosis but they can’t take calcium supplements either so I just have to be careful.

With so much to look forward to, you can understand why I was so determined to overcome all my driving hurdles and just get to Morpeth.

But fear is a strong thing. If you have read my post about the bird flying into my house, you would already know that I have some huge issues with fear. I’m not just talking about anxiety but serious jelly-legged, hyperventilating, debilitating fear. It’s the sort of fear that leads to total avoidance and locking yourself up in an awfully restrictive cage…a cage you really need to break out of quick smart before it becomes your home, your comfort zone and you even forget how to fly.

But then I heard about brain plasticity. You are not set in stone. You can even re-invent yourself. The more you do something, the better you get at it. You might not get rid of your weaknesses altogether but with a bit of effort, you can certainly make them better. Now, if you didn’t have to live with your weaknesses, if there was any possible way of getting rid of them, if you could just somehow open the door of your cage and somehow spread your wings and fly free across the open sky, wouldn’t you just do it?!!  Wouldn’t you move both heaven and earth to experience the liberation of unfettered flight?!!

I would and I have.

I put my key in the ignition. Turned the key. Moved my foot off the brake and shifted it onto the accelerator. I was a little nervous but I wasn’t afraid because slowly but surely, I’ve been unconsciously building up to this moment by going on more and more driving excursions, building up what is referred to as “resilience”.

My main strategy for handling the long drive was to break it down into smaller, less daunting chunks…a series of small drives instead of one very long and winding road. There was the stretch up the hill. My next stop was Ourimbah. The end of the freeway represented another break in the journey and then there was the drive up the New England Highway into Maitland and then the turn off to Morpeth. It also felt good checking out the road signs and slowly but surely watching the kilometres count down.

When I left home yesterday, I had no idea whether I could actually make it to Morpeth but I was so determined to get there. At the same time, I was kind to myself. Said that I just needed to try. I didn’t have to get there. If I didn’t make it, it wasn’t the end of the world. There was always next year.

But all the positive thinking in the world can’t make something happen and I am also responsive to that. The night before, it was looking like my trip wasn’t going to happen. After a difficult afternoon with our son, I crashed in bed almost unable to move. Then the weather went haywire. The rain was pouring down. There were strong gusting winds and Geoff rang to say that a tree had even fallen across the railway tracks and he was going to be late home. It was really looking treacherous outside  and there was no way I was going to drive through that. I was starting to wonder whether I should just have a quiet day in bed and rest instead! That’s what any sensible “sick person” would do but not this little black duck.

But when I woke up yesterday, it was all sunshine, blue skies and I was out of here. All the doors opened up. All the obstacles disappeared. It was meant to be!

I pulled up in Morpeth quite chuffed. I wouldn’t say jubilant because the drive was that easy that it barely rated as a challenge in the end.

Stepping out of the car, that unmistakable smell of fresh cow manure hit me in the face like a fragrant rose. I was in the country. I felt like I’d climbed to the top of the Magic Faraway Tree. Walked through the back of an old wardrobe and found myself in mystical Narnia. I was Cinderella dancing at the ball.

That’s right. I was Cinderella. I might have driven kilometres away from home but I was still on a relatively short leash. I had to pick the kids up from after-school care by 6.30PM and had to allow for contingencies.

Carpe diem …seize the day. Today is my day and I am going to seize each and every single second and squeeze it til it’s dry.

Go Ro! The world is my oyster and I am its pearl!

Wish me luck!

xx Ro

PS: I will take you on a tour of Morpeth in my next post so please stay tuned.

PPS: I should point out that although I’m a wary driver, I’m no recluse. I do spend a fair amount of time “working from home” doing my writing and more recently painting but most of the time, I’m out and about. When it comes to going to Sydney, catching the train just makes good sense. Sydney traffic is just dreadful. The roads are so choked up that they’re little more than car parks. I honestly don’t know how anyone gets around without taking a packed lunch and a good supply of water just in case!