Mega Mendooran

“Are you coming to the Meganuts on Saturday?”

“The mega-what?”

“It’s a few cars and markets in Mendooran – come on over.” Urged my brother-in-law (BIL for short), a local of Mendooran for a few decades.

Now I know there are a few things I need to explain.

You are busting to ask…Where is Mendooran?

Its about 350 kms west of Sydney, NSW, nestled on the banks of the mighty Castlereagh River – claims to be the oldest settlement on the river as squatters settled in and around the district in the 1800s.

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Today the population is close to 300, with a community pride and heart of a thousand. I experienced a piece of this community spirit last weekend as the town and its people hosted the annual Mendooran Meganuts and Markets.

So… what is Meganuts? It took me some time understand this too.

Was it some huge nut that you can only find on the banks of the Castlereagh, and we would be given a bucket to scramble to pick them?

Was it some sort of market that sold really big things or lots of them?

Did it have something to do with the mega murals displayed on many of the old shops and buildings around the town?

Was it just a term of endearment for Mendooran locals?

I had been commandeered to help with the food stand, where there was going to be not just the traditional bacon and egg rolls, snags sandwiches and coffee but Pea n Ham soup, Curried Sausages and Pulled Pork rolls with homemade apple sauce. My BIL doesn’t do anything by half – and as we chipped the frost off the windows and attempted to start a campfire I did start to wonder if he was meganuts!

It wasn’t long after the first slice of bacon was sizzling on the BBQ and the curried sausages were warming in a camp oven over the open fire that a stream of shiny, much loved vintage rolled into town. There were Fords, Chryslers, GMC and International Trucks, a Pontiac, a Fargo, Holdens, Hot-rods, Buick, Monaros, Willys Jeep, and a host of other trucks, cars and bikes that I have no idea what they were! I was in awe, even if I had no inkling of what I was looking at. There are magnificent.

All driven with exploding pride by nuts.

Car nuts. Meganuts.

By mid-morning the main street of Mendooran was bursting with vintage glory. Most had been polished with love and attention, fully restored to shine again, while others were at various stages of renewal. They were driven into town by their keepers, coming around the pub corner at the top of town and making a grand entrance as they gently schlepped past the growing crowds near the Bowlo club.

There was no trumpets, bands or fireworks. Just good old fashion appraisal of each other’s treasure, awe at the investments in restoration and a catchup with old and new fellow nuts in the winter morning sun at Mendooran.

Car nuts. Motorheads. Restorers.

There was time to enjoy the gourmet fair and maybe pick up a bargain or two at the markets hosted by the local Bowling Club. As well as the grand spread put on by BIL you could grab a few home baked goodies from the CWA ladies and some locally made cheese produced by two lovely local ladies, Pip and Deb at Blue Sky Cheese to keep the appetite satisfied before the engines were warmed and they set off for a town tour and the afternoon events at the showground.

It was a mega morning. Mendooran Pride on show.

A quaint town with friendly people, loads of history and stories to tell. It’s not that far a drive from anywhere. Take a trip sometime, detour off the main highways and you never who or what you might see.

New Haven

This was a short story submitted for a competition. The rules were

  • The first word must be NEW
  • Must include the words NINETEEN, DESERT and PRESENT
  • Needs to include some kind of list.
  • no more than 500 words.

 

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“New! Pfft. Nothing new about this place” as her eyes scan the place of her youth.

The wooden chairs recline askew, their colours faded and peeled. Few wooden slats remain on the jetty, crusty sea urchins making their home in the undisturbed crevices of the once lively port.

For a moment she allows the memories of that summernineteen years ago to creep into the present. Carefree sunbaking on that jetty, swimming under a midnight moon, flirty laughter, first kisses and teenage love. First love. Tom. Her body fires with the recollection. His hands charting her tanned summer body, gently nudging his fingers into unmapped territories before advancing further across her breasts, down her stomach and…

“Katie is that you? O-M-G it is you! What are doing back here? Its been a while since you suddenly took off to the desert?”

Kate turns to see a wiry bodied woman stumble across the long grass in her strappy heels.

“Josie? Hi. Yes, it’s me Kate. Got a few things to sort out after mum’s death”

“Oh yes, sorry to hear about your mum. We thought you would be back for the funeral but you didn’t make it?”

“No, I was out on muster, in that desert place and didn’t get the news for a few weeks.”

“Gosh. I don’t know if I could be so…nonchalant about not making it to my mother’s funeral. But then again you hadn’t seen her for how many years?”

“It’s been nineteen years since I saw my mother. Did you move away at all?”

“Me? No, never really wanted to” asserted Josie in a voice that was mercilessly strident. “I married Tom, you would remember him from school? We divorced a few years ago. He doesn’t know how to keep his manly parts in his pants. I’m living back at home and doing some work for Daddy.”

“You married Tom? Swim star Tom?”

“Yes, surely did. He was lovely at first but…well we won’t go there, its old news now.”

As Josie drones about changes around New Haven Kate processes Tom with Josie. Obviously, his appetite for older women had waned, or the desire for a comfy lifestyle more appealing.

“Actually, Daddy will be pleased you are here to finalise the sale of house. He is going to buy it and turn it into a resort for divorcees. He said I’m going to be the manager. We have already started a list of things that we will do the place to make it all modern. Who would have thought I would be a Resort Manager!”

“Woah! Your father thinks I’m selling?”

“Why wouldn’t you? You haven’t been here for years.” Slowly Josie realises Kate has other plans.

“You are not selling?”

“No Josie, I’m not selling.”

She wanted to shout I left nineteen years ago because of my mother. She was like Tom, couldn’t keep her legs together – they made a good pair.

It was time to let the past lie.

“I’m coming home.”

Hopeless

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There was a long sigh as she wiggled deeper into Nana’s musty chair, searching for the hugging warmth in the early morning cool. It was the only piece of furniture she had brought into her marriage ten years ago. The rest of ‘her’ household carried the spirits and ghosts of five generations of Bartoo from the silver candlesticks hidden in the back of the century old cedar sideboard to the wooden tea chests from England, that now stored baby clothes, christmas decorations and old farm records.

Her mother-in-law had not approved of her insistence that Nana’s chair, with its wide, tea stained armrests and floppy pink paisley patterned cushions would have a home on their verandah, facing out to the house paddock and the farmland beyond. But she had rarely received her mother in law’s approval over the last ten years. Josie was used to the harrumphs, tongue clicks and eye rolls from Deidre. She had just chosen to ignore them many years ago.

Just like how her husband Dan had chosen to ignore the advice from his father for many years. Josie had lost count of the number of times Dan had charged into their kitchen, slamming doors, throwing his hat on counter and yelling.

“He won’t listen to me! The price for mung beans are sky rocketing, this country is perfect for them. All I want to do is sow 200 hectares and give them a go, but no ‘stick to what we know son’ is all I get. ‘Use the overdraft to buy a few more sheep’ he says.

I will never be allowed to run this place while he is around.”

Yet again Josie was the referee, spending the evening trying to calm Dan and getting him to see his father’s perspective. All the while cooking dinner, getting the boys fed, feeding the poddy calves their evening meal and finally settling the boys to bed with a story or three.

As she snuggled deeper around Nana and took a sip of her morning tea she remembered how Dan went ahead and sowed the mung beans while his parents holidayed on the coast for a few days. It if hadn’t been for that record-breaking week of above 47 degrees and those tough hot northerly winds it would have been a bumper crop. The cattle finished off the charred remains and looked in reasonable condition for sale. She wasn’t sure Dan was in as reasonable condition afterwards.

He had been slowly withdrawing from everyone. He second guessed every decision and avoided his father even more than before. Alan would ring to speak to Dan and Josie was running out of excuses where he was. She had even gently suggested to Alan he just drive over to see Dan, but Alan didn’t think that would be a good idea.

“He will come to see me when he is ready, pet.” he would say. “He has always been a proud man, he needs some time to himself.”

Josie wasn’t sure how much time they had.

The overdraft was now fully drawn and the bank had made it clear last time that they were not going to extend again. The interest was breaking them, let alone the actual debt. All the businesses in town had stopped credit to them, until they paid some off their accounts.

The dry storm last night had kept Dan and Josie awake. Mother Nature showcased her power and might with scene after scene of electrical dancing against a bursting backdrop of earth rattling drums. The shadow of the storm clouds looked hopeful with each flash of light, the musty scent of rain toyed with their senses. They had leaned against separate verandah posts waiting to hear the saving sound of drops on their tin roof. They watched until the land grew still, the sky lightened to dawn a new day. They turned and left the show, a dry parching taste of failure mixed with a growing unease and hopelessness in the pit of their stomachs.

The new day with no rain. Their stock with no water or feed. Their bank account with no funds.

They knew the decision had been made for them by the Dry Storm God. The last of their stock had to be destroyed.

Josie bought the bullets after her day of paid work. The intermittent pay from casual teaching had been a saviour for the family and their expenses. It was good to be able to add pasta or potatoes and a bit of fresh fruit to the diet of lamb, lamb and lamb. She prayed nightly that they didn’t get sick, she knew she wouldn’t be able to buy the medicines without asking for help from Dan’s parents.

Frank at the feed store let her put the box of bullets on the account. Josie had taken the boys, fresh from an afternoon sleep into the store and let them loose. After pulling them off the stack of chicken feed and picking up the buckets that had come crashing down as Jake ran past them, Frank let her have the bullets just to save his store.

“I know what the bullets are for Josie, and I am sorry,” he said gently, a look of pity in his eyes “I cannot give you any more credit after this, I have a family to feed too. Please don’t come back until you have some money to pay off the account”

“Thanks Frank, appreciate it. Sorry to put you in such a terrible predicament” She had tried to keep her emotion in check, but her voice caught and her eyes welled up.

“Come on boys, Dad will be wondering where we are.”

She yelled at the boys on the drive home and was immediately remorseful. It wasn’t their fault, none of it was. She just needed to release some of the built-up emotion that was choking her, release the pressure in readiness for what was ahead.

Dan greeted the vehicle as it pulled up next to the house followed by a plume of red dust that had chased them down the road from town.

“Did you get them?”

“Hey dad!” the boys yelled. “There was a new kid at Mrs Jones’ today, his name is Toby. He goes for the Sea Eagles, but he was really funny. He said we could go to his birthday party next week. Can we go?”

“I don’t think so.” Dan replied without hesitation “We have too much work to do around here.”

“Oh Dad, that’s not fair. We never get to go anywhere fun! Mum, can we go? You can take us, can’t you?” they cried in unison.

“Just go inside boys, change your clothes. We can chat about it later.”

It was then the boys felt the tension riding on the wind. They immediately slid out of the vehicle and ran inside.

“Frank booked them up.” Josie explained as Dan unpacked the bullets from the back “but it was the last time he would give us credit. He said don’t come back until we can pay some off the account.”

“Well that is going to be bit hard without anything to sell isn’t it. I will have to try the mob over in Ginny Gully, see if they can give me some seed and fertiliser. Otherwise we will have to start to selling the machinery. Not that it is worth much.”

Josie leaned across to touch Dan’s hand whispering, “We will be OK, something will change soon.”

He pulled his hand away as if touched with a burning poker.

“Don’t Josie, just don’t. This is it. We have failed, can’t you see that?” and stomped into the shed to get the equipment ready for the morning.

Later in the evening Josie walked silently along the verandah having fed the boys and them tucked into bed. She drew a deep breath as she spied a new mountain of dirt in the far end of the paddock looming in the silhouette of the setting day. Dan had prepared the hole ready for the act in the morning. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the shed light glowing as Dan battled his own demons, the weight of five generations bearing down on him.

Dan shuffled aimlessly around the shed. He picked up the broken reading glasses of his grandfather, with their ivory frames and broken nose piece that caused them sit crooked on his grandfather’s face. Dan could see him tinkering at the bench “Don’t need a new one son, we can fix this with a bit of wire and paint.” drifted a crackled voice from the past.

He spied the pile of manuals and ledgers, left forgotten under a corner bench. Every manual for every bit of machinery on this place was stacked in that corner under a layer of fresh dust settled from the recent dust storms. Dan almost laughs.

“Ha! That’s where my topsoil got to!” Then the profound hopelessness razes him again.

“I have no choice.” he yells, to the ghosts of the ancestors, to his sons, to his wife, to no one in particular. “You don’t understand how hard this is.”

Josie whispered, “I do understand Dan, you just won’t let me help you.” and folded herself into Nana’s chair on the verandah to watch the end of the day.

She could hear the call of the cockatoos as they jostled for prime position to roost for the night, the distant bellow of cows, the whisper of foreboding riding on the dusty draughts. She sits to wait for Dan to come across to the house.

She waits.

 

The phone startled her as it shrilled from the lounge. She jumped to answer before it wakes the boys.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Josie?” whispered the female voice on the end of the line. “Is that you Josie?”

“Yes, it is. Is that you Deidre?” What was Dan’s mum doing ringing her this late in the evening?

“Yes, dear its me. How are things? Haven’t spoke for a while.” Deidre’s voice was clearer now.

“How do you think Deidre? The crops have failed, the sheep are starving to death, there is no water other than what is in the house tank. I have little food in the cupboard and cannot even afford to buy myself tampons.

“Other than that, we are fine. Thank heavens we are healthy, as there is no way we could afford any medical bills. And you?”

“Oh Josie, there is no need to be like that. I’m sure it is not that bad, dear.”

“Oh it’s that bad Deidre. Anyway, no Dan is not around. He is out in that shed polishing the rifle and preparing for tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? What’s happening tomorrow? Is he doing something special for his birthday, is he?”

Josie’s knees crumple. A rock hits her chest. Bells clamour in her head. She searches the desk for a calendar. She could hardly remember the day, let alone the date.

“Josie? Are you there? What is going on?”

“I’m here.” she said, distracted as she continued to search through the pile of bills and letters discarded across the desk.

“Well I thought I would come over and take the boys in the morning. We could cook a cake and have a little party for Dan? You and Dan could do something nice for the day and come over for dinner? How does that sound?”

There was a long, silent pause.

“If you haven’t got anything planned already that is.” Diedre added to fill the silence

“Ahh, look Deidre we have had a bit going on lately. With this drought we are busier than ever hand feeding and watering the stock we have left. You know how it is.”

“But it’s his birthday. Surely you have something planned?”

Josie’s mouth was moving, no sound was coming. Her hands squeezed the phone, her knuckles white. She felt like a hunted kangaroo backed into the corner of a paddock, no where else to go but forward. Into the gunfire.

“We are shooting all the sheep tomorrow. Hole is dug, bullets are at the ready.” Josie fired, factually.

There was silence on the line.

“Oh, I’m sure you don’t need to do that. Alan will come over in the morning and see Dan. Won’t you Alan?”

There was a muffled grunt and then a ‘tsk’ from Deidre as she came back to her call with Josie.

“Oh, I don’t understand why those two cannot get along. If Dan could just apologise to his fath…”

“Dan apologise?” Josie yelled before Deidre could finish her sentence “Dan apologise?”

It was then her hardened exterior burst apart. The emotions that she had kept in check for months shattered and sprayed towards Deirdre.

“Apologise for what? For not being able to be all the son HE wanted him to be? For not being the one that drove to town that day instead of staying to shear the sheep because golden son was too lazy? For not being the son that wrapped himself around the tree? For not being able to step up and farm this god forsaken land that has been hammered to death by five generations before him? For ditching all his own dreams to come back here, to be yelled at, beaten down until he questions his own worth?”

She knew she needed to stop, but the shards kept flying

“Apologise for marrying the drunken drover’s daughter instead of someone with better social standing? Apologise for wanting to stand on his own two feet?

“Just what exactly does Dan need to apologise for Deidre? Can you tell me?”

As Josie drew breath a booming heavy voice filled the temporary silence.

“I think you should hang up now. We will be there at 7 in the morning.”

The click of the receiver echoed through her ears. She slowly fell to the floor and wrapped the last of her emotions in close as she hugged her knees to her chest.

Dan had still not come back to the house.

She had never felt so broken.

 

“Mum, mum, MUM!” the boys yelled as they shook Josie, still curled on the floor.

As Josie stretched and struggled to open her eyes the boys cheer.

“Yay! We thought you were dead or something. Never seen a dead person before, we didn’t know what they looked like. Were you dead mum?”

“No, not dead.” she scrambled, dazed by the morning light.

“Grandpa and Ma are here. They want to take us to their place for the day. Can we go? Mum?”

“Ah yes, I suppose so. I will be out in a minute. Go ask them to come into the kitchen, I will just freshen up. Have you seen Dad?”

“Nah, haven’t seen Dad. Grandpa! Ma! Come in. Mum will be here soon. She just needs to pee.” they yelled in unison as they ran off down the hall, the clatter of their boots knocking on the wooden floor.

“Morning everyone” Josie chirped, way too loudly as she comes into the kitchen “How are you Alan? Deidre?”

“Hello Josie. Can’t find Dan, do you know where he is?” was the stern reply. Deidre glanced towards to Josie and then busied herself with filling the kettle and looking for mugs.

A gunshot was heard in the distance. Then another. And another.

Alan stood, grabbed his hat and started to head to the door.

“Alan, stop. I will handle this.” Josie said with more force than she was feeling.

She looked at the boys, then a pleading look at Deidre.

“Boys, why don’t you go get your backpacks and hop into Grandpa’s car. Have breakfast over at Ma’s place, it will be a big treat.”

“Come on dear.” says Deirdre, with more force than Josie had ever heard her use towards her husband. “Come with the boys. Let Josie deal with this.”

“Call me if you need me!” yelled Alan over his shoulder as the boys pushed him towards to the car, skipping and chanting, oblivious to the unease hanging in the air.

Josie stood in the drive and watched as the car turned down the road, the trail of dust slowly settling. The damn dust.

Its grains seeped into every crevice in the house, its sharp edges smashed the life from plants as it swirled on the wind. It wedged in her teeth, lodged in her hair, trapped in her ears. Damn dust, sucking the life from every plant and human on this place.

Another gunshot broke her reverie.

She grabbed an apple and headed off in the direction of the newly formed mountain in the bottom paddock. She could hear weakened bleating of the sheep, dogs barking and another gunshot.

And then nothing.

The sheep stopped bleating. The dogs stopped barking. The only sounds to break the morning air was the mournful craw of a crow and a faint rumble, like a train shunting.

Josie stumbled over the cracked ground in her haste to get to Dan. She looked to the sky and saw knolls of dark grey clouds moving quickly towards her. The rumbling became louder, the wind whipped up. The whole sky was filling with shades of black, blues and greys.

She could see Dan’s vehicle, the dogs now cowering underneath it, frightened of the thunder rolling towards them.

Dan must have stopped to see whether the storm was coming. She can see him sitting in the ute. She races to him.

“Dan! There is a storm coming! Do you see it? Dan!”

He doesn’t look her way. Surely, he can hear her, unless he has the radio on looking for a weather report.

“Dan!”

She reaches the vehicle, and shakes him. “Dan, what is the matter? Can you hear me? Look at me!”

As she grabs the side of his head to turn his face towards her, confused as to why he is ignoring her she feels wet, hot, slimy liquid.

Her hand is covered in red.

“NO! Dan, no! Why, why, WHY?” But she already knew why. The signs had been flashing for months now, they had all chose to ignore them.

He was still breathing. She shakes him, tries to get a response.

“Josie?”

“Dan. I’m here. Hold on, don’t you dare leave me. There is a storm coming, it looks a bottler.”

“I couldn’t do it Josie.”

“It’s OK Dan, we can talk about it later. Let’s get you to the hospital now.”

“I couldn’t look those sheep in the eyes and say ‘see ya’. Couldn’t even do myself in properly. God, I am such a failure.”

He started to thrash and push Josie away.

“Leave me be, let me die a slow painful death. I am not worthy to stay in this world. I’m hopeless. You would be better off without me.”

“No damn way Dan Bartoo, you are not leaving me and the boys with this mess. If you are going so am I. Hand me that rifle. We can go together. Leave Alan and Deidre to raise your sons, he will enjoy ruining another two lives.”

Her threats seem to the have the desired effect. Dan stopped struggling and crumpled with remorse.

“Dan Bartoo. You have two wonderful boys and a wife that loves you. We can walk away from all this if you like. Just don’t leave me to do this on my own. I need you.”

She was almost yelling now as the noise from the storm beat its drum overhead. She was shouting in a dusty whirlpool of misery and hope.

“Move over, let me get you some help. Here, hold this on your wound. We need to get out of here before we get bogged. That would be a stupid irony wouldn’t it?”

She whistled the dogs up into the back and turned the vehicle towards the homestead. The storm tailed them all the way back, she could see the cacophony of dirt, hail, heartache and despair swirling in the clouds through the rear-view mirror.

As she tied up the dogs and turned towards town the heavens opened and released the golden droplets of life.

“Keep awake Dan, talk to me!” she yells over the noise of the storm. “Dan!”

“Its no good Josie. We are broke, we are broken.” utters Dan, with little strength. “Nothing can fix all this. Not ten inches of rain, not one good crop. I’m done.

“Sell the farm, get some money for it. Take the boys somewhere that rains, where it is green all year round.

“Tell them I tried hard Josie, I really did try.”

“No, Dan. We can fix it. We are not broken, just a little warped. We can straighten.” Josie pleads as she turns onto the highway to town, driving well above the speed limit.

“We are rich with two crazy boys who love you without judgement. I still love you, have never stopped. Richness is more than the money Dan.

“You just need to believe in yourself. Believe in ‘us’. We can sell and go somewhere green.

We can do this together. We need you to come with us.”

“Dan! Dan, stay with me” she yells as Dan slumps forward, blood dripping to his knees. “No way Dan Bartoo you are not leaving me. YOU HEAR ME! YOU-ARE-NOT-LEAVING ME!” as her foot pressed harder on the accelerator.

The town never felt so far away.

 

Josie is distracted by the hospital cat as it struts across the low brick fence, exuding confidence and royalty. She had got to know the routine of many over the last few months, from nurses to doctors, cleaners to this resident cat. The voice on the phone became a little louder.

“Josie? Are you still there? So, he will be OK then?” Alan asked, a touch of emotion in his voice.

“Yes, Alan he will be OK. We will be OK.” Josie hesitates “One day, we will be OK.”

“When are you heading? Can…” there was a short pause. “Can we see you all before you go?”

“Ah, we are packed up ready to leave. Just waiting for the Doc to sign the papers.” Josie was full of regret, she had tried to get Dan to see his parents. His counsellor thought it best not to push it for the moment. Dan had a lot of healing to do, inside as well as out.

“Oh. well let us know how you are doing. Let us know when we can come to visit.”

“I will Alan. The boys want to write you letters, I will make sure they do when we settle. You will have our address.

and Alan?”

“Yes, Josie?”

“Be patient. We will mend. Dan will mend.”

“It’s good he is finally seeing someone. Not easy for a Bartoo to admit they need help.” Says Alan, almost with some pride.

“Not easy for any farmer to admit, let alone a Bartoo. Hopefully the boys will grow up knowing that it is OK to ask for help.”

“Yes, we all need to change. I’m sorry it took this long and…ahh…an incident to realise”

“An attempted suicide Alan. Call it what it is. Don’t make it shameful and sweep under the carpet with all the other family ghosts. Talk about it, admit it, tell your friends exactly how it is.”

“Let me know when Dan is ready to see us. Be safe Josie, look after yourselves.”

“We will, I will Alan. Send our love to Deidre.”

“And Josie?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks for saving my son.”

 

2018 Advent Calendar – Making a Difference

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I am looking forward to Christmas. Not like in my younger years when we counted the days until Santa showed up leaving gifts below the tree in our family lounge, our belly’s stuffed with Christmas goodies, roast chicken and pudding. I am looking forward to spending the time with my three girls, even though it may be fleeting now they are spread across the land.

In my time away from regularly working this year I have taken time to reflect about what is important.

  • Is it the money?
  • Is it health, contentment and family?
  • Is it turning up to a job that might not quite align with your personal values?
  • Or is waking with purpose each day and focussing on work that fires your passion?

I will let you decide which answers I have chosen. But more on that in the new year.

In the lead up to this Christmas I would like to highlight opportunities for us to give, with gratitude. There are many people and issues that are asking for our help, both in our home country and across the world. I often feel our political arena is creating walls where we should be creating openness and acceptance. I am privileged, and I know that. I have little need for more ‘stuff’ – how about you? Do you think its time we spend some time making a difference to those around us that might just need a hand up?

Don’t get me wrong, there will be presents under our tree as we come together as family and we will be eating some gorgeous food but I do think there is room for some thought to others that may not be as fortunate as me, or possibly you.

So lets start this 2018 Advent Calendar of Making a Difference. Over the next 24 days I will profile charities that are close to my heart and align to my values. You may like to consider giving to one or more of them, or it may inspire you to put some effort into donating to a charity that is close to your heart and speaks to your values. You may even like to make your gift purchases from some of these charities. Its up to you.

ItsInTheBag

Day 1: Share the Dignity.

This is an Australian charity that I have supported for a few years, founded by Rochelle Courtenay. Rochelle learned of homeless women going without basic sanitary items during their menstrual cycle and instead of saying ‘the government should…’ or ‘someone should…’ she asked ‘What’s stopping me from doing something’. This has become Share The Dignity.

“WE BELIEVE ALL WOMEN MATTER AND ALL WOMEN DESERVE DIGNITY AND JUSTICE.”

I have started with Share the Dignity as their current Christmas campaign, #itsinthebag finishes on December 2nd, though donations are always welcome. Up to December 2nd you can drop off a handbag at a Bunnings store that contains basic women needs like personal hygiene products, shampoo, tissues, deodorant, items to make a woman feel special. These will be distributed locally to homeless women, women at risk or women experiencing domestic violence or poverty this Christmas.

Share the Dignity, like many charities also have a shop that you can purchase gifts for your family and friends, or even yourself and in return you are giving something back to those in need. Either way you will make a difference

You can find more information at www.sharethedignity.com.au

 

 

 

Image credit: © Can Stock Photo / ESchweitzer;

 

Spending time with my Tribe

I remember when she first asked me whether I would write a letter. It was over a wine and a chat in Newtown where she shared with me her idea – she was turning 50 and Olivia, her daughter was turning 16. She wanted to do something that marked this momentous time in both their lives…and knowing Amanda I knew a cake would not suffice!

I was a bit emotional to think that I was one of the 30 women that Amanda asked to pen a letter to their 16-year-old self, but oh what a marvellous challenge and inspirational project.

DearMe_tribe

Every letter in the collection shows emotion, reflection and a timelessness. You could be a 16-year-old girl in the 1960s, 1970s or in 2018 with the same self-doubts, questions and wisdom that are captured in the collection of letters titled Dear Me. As Amanda says in her forward “while I think young woman today face some unique challenges, many of the challenges are timeless and, you might say universal”

dearme_bookDear Me was launched this week, with many of the authors coming together to embrace the final product, party with Amanda and Olivia and celebrate with a tribe of girlfriends, old and new. It is a powerful feeling to be among your tribe, wrapped in a celebration knowing we had travelled similar but different paths to this moment in time. Those paths captured so eloquently, sometimes raw and forever etched in the pages of Dear Me.

The energy I savoured from this event, buoyed by meeting new inspiring women in my tribe then propelled me to another experience a few days later in my own home town. As part of Small Business Month, we welcomed Lisa Messenger, Australian entrepreneur and author to a luncheon. I have enjoyed The Collective, especially the mag for some time and was excited to enjoy the company of Lisa with other townsfolk to glean some brilliant insights as she spoke to local business people (85% women!) over lunch.

I was not disappointed.

Her hometown is Coolah, just down the road from here and she remarked it was like ‘coming home’ as she drove across the north west. It is that old saying you can take the girl out of the country, but you cant take the country out of the girl!

Her tomes of counsel resonated across the hall, such as – have an unwavering self-belief, just meet people as equals, make it easy for people to say yes, cash isn’t the only currency – sometimes sharing the same values and beliefs will be enough for a business relationship to blossom, dont be afraid to break a few things, find people that supplement your weaknesses, be nimble – be flexible – duck and weave until it works, always be curious.

Oh so many pieces of very sound, encouraging advice!

I was sold already however I almost wanted to leap from my seat and bear hug Lisa when she said with such conviction that…

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A bit of fan shot, with Lisa Messenger

“Rural communities are the single thing that I am most passionate about. Location isn’t an issue – as long as you have a laptop, kitchen table and vision you can do anything”

Yep, I know you want to hug her now too – don’t you!

She finds the BEST talent in regional areas. We have known this for decades, the secret is out and I’m OK with that.

I’m a believer in things happen or come in threes. What could my third be – what other revelations about the power of a tribe could I experience this week?

2pm – The Civic – Gunnedah – today, Sunday. I enjoyed an afternoon at the movies with my mother watching, most fittingly Ladies In Black. The underlying themes of women as second-rate citizens was such a yang to the ying of the tribal celebrations of earlier in the week.

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Spending time on a Sunday with mum!

I could not help but think what the women in the movie would write to their 16 year old self, or what they would think of Lisa’s advice. It was a serendipitous close to the week, a time to reflect how far our tribe has progressed, but there are similar challenges that still exist today.

Thank you to my tribal colleagues, I am inspired by many from the past, stimulated by those in my present and so excited about the vision I see for our future tribe.

Footnotes + Links:

Dear Me is available for purchase – head to www.xplore.net.au/inspiration/books/dear-me/ or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AmandaWebbAUS/

You can follow Lisa on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Ladies in Black is currently showing in cinemas – check out www.screenaustralia.gov.au/the-screen-guide/t/ladies-in-black-2018/35635/  for more information about the movie.

Thank you to Gunnedah Shire Council for arranging the Lisa Messenger lunch event, as part of Small Business Month – a  NSW Government initiative.

Thank you to Gunnedah Shire Band catering for a delicious lunch as well.

Bootcamp

A friend recently opened my world to Seth Godin. His very short daily blogs provide insightful tid-bits and surprisingly seem to be appropriate for that day. I am not sure how he does it, but they ‘speak’ to me.

Today’s was

A job without a boss

That’s what many freelancers want.

The ability to do your work, but without the hassle of someone telling you what to do.

The thing is, finding a well-paying job without a boss used to be a lot easier than it is now. The race to the bottom is fierce, and the only way to avoid it is to create projects, innovate on strategy and build something worth seeking out.”

So appropriate for my to-do list today.

I want to share insights from an informative 10 hours I attended last week – a Bootcamp.

Now before you go thinking I was covered in mud, face smothered with war paint and dressed in camouflage I will put your mind at ease. It was 10 hours of learning about our digital world and how we can maximise for a small business. A bootcamp about Small Business Digital Transformation.

There were quite a few ah-ha moments that might be helpful to you too.

Ah-ha moment 1 – the next Big Things. Over the course of the sessions we chatted about the next big things on the digital horizon, namely:

  • The world’s digital connectivity – Currently only one-third of the world is connected. What will happen to my business when the rest of the world is connected to the internet? Why do we put our own boundaries on our business just because we operate from a small country town? Take a look at Birdsnest – an online fashion business that operates from Cooma, a town similar size to Gunnedah in the Southern Highlands of NSW. It is the town’s biggest employer and is now an international online store because Jane listened to the customer and used the digital world to meet their needs.
  • Virtual and Augmented Reality – it is not just for the big companies, change your mindset. How could you disrupt your customers shopping or service experience through innovation in the virtual reality world? Have you thought about it? Could a customer walk through your furniture store or try on your clothing in a virtual setting? mmm, the mind boggles.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) – the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with humans. Don’t discount it for your business.

Rather than see doom and gloom, that we cant compete with the internet we need to be thinking “What is the opportunity for me?” How can my business use these to redefine the customer experience and grow?


Ah-ha moment 2 – time and patience. Rome wasnt built in a day. Be ready to fail fast and move on. A great example was Airbnb success story. It was not an overnight success, it took time and belief. You can read more about their story here – including how the founders went from having credit cards maxed out (broke!) to a billion dollar company.

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Ah-ha moment 3 – put yourself in your customers shoes. I think we can agree that we can tend to fall into the rut of thinking we know what our customers or potential customers want. Do we ask them? Do we try to understand them or do we use the digital options available to us as a scatter gun and hope to goodness one of them work?

Learn your customer, create key customer personas and target your brand and digital strategy to these. It will save you time, it will save you valued dollars and increase the chances of being successful.

This includes knowing what social media your customers prefer. Again – not what YOU prefer…where are your customers hanging out? If you are posting dozens of images on Facebook yet your persona is on Instagram then you will miss them…learn Instagram and hang out with them!

Have a look at your website. If you were a customer would you enjoy the experience of visiting your website? Ask your customers, check out your google analytics (which are free!) and understand how traffic is finding you, enjoying their visit or leaving.


Fun fact – it takes a split second to establish credibility, trust and interest with customers when they enter your website. What is your first impression?


Ah-ha moment 4have plans and review often. I hear you – you are too busy trying to run a small business to plan and strategise.

Make the time.

Build it into your calendar and stick to it. Set Goals as part of business planning, develop a digital strategy – what social media fit to your customer personas, what time are there mostly there, how can I get their attention? Prioritise actions and continually review. Its about your customer, not you.

Plan to make time to innovate. Step away from your daily routine, learn about these next big things and take innovation time out. Innovation comes from our creative side of the brain so do something creative and you might be surprised what pops into your mind. Macramé, painting, drawing, crochet, woodturning, photography…you don’t need to be Da vinci, it’s the practice not the perfection that is important.

Child With Toy Virtual Reality Headset Stock Photo

Ah-ha moment 5 – Design thinking. This was an amazing process to work through and I highly recommend following up with attending a future bootcamp to learn how you can use design thinking to really understand your customer needs and provide targeted solutions and services.

We learnt about Black Star Pastry and their journey. Black Star Pastry makes that most instagrammed food the Strawberry and Melon Cake. Christopher The is a chef turned business owner.

His advice “You need to change your mindset from being the creator of a product to being a problem-solving business person” resonated with many of us.

Need some more inspiration to believe you can? Check out some of these business stories. You can be the next one…just imagine you can.

Amazon – Jeff Bezo – 10 rules for success

Airbnb – Three business lessons you can learn from Airbnb

Airbnb – insights with co-founder Joe Gebbia

Consider how you can adapt some of these into your business. As Seth reminded me this morning –


“Create projects, innovate on strategy and build something worth seeking out.”


What is your next step?

 

 

Digital Bootcamp is conducted by Netstripes as part of the Business Connect NSW Government initiative. Check out Netstripes website to learn more about their Digital Accelerator Program.

It also includes free hours with a business advisor to help you work through your main areas of concerns for your business. I highly recommend registering for Business Connect and using the services offered for free.

Thank you also to the Gunnedah Chamber of Commerce for facilitating the Bootcamp for Gunnedah.

 

 

Image credits:

© Can Stock Photo / ionutparvu

© Can Stock Photo / alphaspirit

© Can Stock Photo / 4774344sean

© Can Stock Photo / yarruta

Diamond in the Snow

I love listening to podcasts, particularly when driving. One that I listened to recently was an interview with Rupert Guinness who rode his pushbike from Fremantle in Western Australia to Sydney – 5000 kilometres in an event called the Indian Pacific Wheel Race. It was an amazing story. I have on my to-do list to read the book.

Part of the tradition of the race is to dip the back wheel of your bike in the Indian Ocean as you leave Fremantle and dip the front wheel in the Pacific Ocean when you arrive. My road trip last week had some similarities…and no, it wasn’t that I was anywhere near a bike, or involved any form of exercise for that matter!

My day started at Coogee Beach, Sydney, overlooking the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. It was a work day and I was aware that not far from the beach the rapid pace of morning commute was swelling as traffic and city life had awakened. I felt a million miles way soaking the soothing holiday atmosphere of Coogee. The beach had been freshly groomed overnight with the pattern only broken by a few footprints from swimmers brave enough to test the cool winter waters.

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Coogee Beach

I dipped my toes in the sand and breathed the dust free salty air.

And then turned the car west to the mountains that cosset the eastern seaboard of Australia. A stop in Bathurst for the night, visiting Daughter3 before setting on new adventures, six hours drive away.

For the best part of the next day I weaved up and down, left and right around the mountain range, slowly edging closer to my destination. From Canberra onwards the car gently climbed upwards. I had left the sea level far behind, the blue waters now replaced with winter tawny colours of the snowy mountain ranges. My temperature gauge dropping, the windows feeling colder as I travelled through Cooma and climbing higher to Jindabyne.

I had enjoyed this trip in summer a few times and was surprised at the transformation of the country in its winter glory. Jindabyne takes on a holiday vibe as visitors flock to the region for a taste of snow and winter ice. The streets are busy with people wrapped in their warmth, cars are returning from the mountains with little of mounds of white scattered across their hood and screens.

Eek! What am I doing here? My only experience with snow up until now is spotting it high on mountain tops in the distance and taking the children for a play in some really slushy ice when we had a sprinkle near home 18 odd years ago. I am no snow bunny!

I pushed onto Bullocks Flat, not sure what to expect. It seemed in the middle of nowhere and the weather was closing in. The commotion and busyness of the train station at Bullocks Flat is surprising for a first time visitor. Who knew this little central station chaos existed out here in the wilderness? Masses of people, dressed in their winter snow fashion pushing trolleys loaded with skis, food, and alcoholic warmers were waiting for the train to take them higher into the mountain. And then more were alighting from the ski fields, tired and exhilarated as they chatted about their day on the slopes.

The train – known as the Skitube Alpine Railway takes me higher up the mountain, running mostly underground. It is an easy way to enter Kosciuszko National Park and NSW ski fields. It transports its passengers to a white harborage where all you see is snow.

Cold, icy, white snow.

Magical, enchanting, frosted crystals.

But I still had further to climb, my days journey was not over yet. A quick hug from Daughter1 and we loaded into the Oversnow.

Just a few steps out the door and jump on up…

What? Doesn’t sound hard? I didn’t have my snow legs. I don’t think I will ever develop snow legs. The snow, while it looks magical is deviously slippery to the unqualified. A few tentative slips and lots of holding on to others I am seated up high on the Oversnow next to Dean, my trusty driver who lives for this time, year after year.

The weather had closed in and the winds were blowing another sprinkling of fresh white dust on the fields. The holiday makers were excited at the thought of fresh powder in the morning. I was fighting the images of being lost in a blizzard, to the extent I thought I could almost hear the wolves howling as we ploughed towards the top. But Australia doesn’t have wolves, I know that!countryhorizons_RoadtoCPSR

I was a mix of apprehension and wonderment as Dean steered the Oversnow higher into the snow, poles set out along the track our only guides as we traversed across frozen creeks and granite rocks to my digs for the next few days.

Charlotte Pass.

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Charlotte Pass from above.

To those who have never been here it can just look like a group of buildings tucked in the shadows of Australia’s highest mountain Mount Kosciuszko.

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The Chalet is the queen of the village. Built in 1938 the snow revives her tired bones and allows her to shine like a diamond amongst the white crystals. The holiday makers, many who have been returning to this same place for decades bring with them laughter, smiles, exhilaration and life. The staff, many who return year after year welcome with open arms as they accommodate guests every need.

I alight from the Oversnow and am propelled into a bustling village. Skiers are coming in from a day on the slopes as the groomers set out for their 6-hour shift to smooth the canvas for another day. Boards and skis are parked at the door, snow shaken off and the open fires welcoming guests to relax for the evening.

Inside the grand queen the bar cantillates with Après-Ski – the day is over, time for drinks before the village sleeps and fresh diamonds of snow silently fall to rest around us outside.

The first morning I got it. For many years I struggled to understand the lure of purposely travelling to the coldest areas of winter under the guise of a holiday.

Until that first morning. I now understood.

As the winter sun created the first light of day I was halted in my tracks as I peered out to the snow-covered terrain. It was still, it was quiet, it was fresh, it was white.

All white. Smooth white. Serene white. Magnificent white.

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I understood the attraction, I grew to understand how this country can call you back year after year.

Where else can you walk a few steps from your warm and cosy Chalet, clip on your skis or board, jump on a lift and within 10 minutes be hurling down the fresh powder of the morning runs?

Where else do staff know you by your first name, where you feel like you are with family, where every meal is like one that your mum makes at home?

Where else are you are perched at 1760 metres, breathing in clear, clean air in one of the most pristine environments of the world?

I dipped my toes in the snow and acknowledged, with gratitude the treasures our land has to offer

Charlotte Pass Snow Resort. A diamond that shines high in the mountain tops.

I had travelled my own journey from sea to mountain top and hope to again.

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Top of Australia – Mount Kosciuszko in the distance. Taken from the top of the chairlift at Charlotte Pass.