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.
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
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.
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”
Dear 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…
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
Mum and I were fortunate to spend time with some favourite rellies this week – a tasty meal with my father’s sister and brother and their spouses. These aunts and uncles have been a part of my life forever and part of mum’s for over fifty years.
It was the start of birthday celebrations for mum, she turns 75 – wowsers! I have started this story about my mum several times and while most stories that I write come easily this one has eluded me.
There are few words in the English language to describe this lady appropriately.
In recognition of her 75 years I am going to try. Im sure the photos I have included will help paint the picture of this lovely lady.
Apparently, my dad said to his sister many years ago that the best thing he ever did was marry Brenda. As one of their 3 children I’m kinda glad he did too! She was a hit with his family from the start – including his mother, which for those who knew Ellie was something monumental.
I sometimes wonder if things would have been different if she was born in a different era. Would she have been a nurse? A counsellor? A psychologist?
As a middle child born during the late World War II years she was destined to leave school at 16 years and work to help support the family. As was the norm in the 1950s she worked until she married, at a local jeweller and then became a full-time wife and mother.
Would have, could have. I get the feeling she doesn’t regret how her life has turned out. It has still been one hell of a ride!
Life was tough growing up during those post war years, a middle child of six children whose father died when she was seven. The Murray River was her home – born in Yarrawonga and childhood in Corowa until a handsome school teacher swept her away when she was nineteen to Gundagai, Manilla and finally settling in Curlewis in 1974.
She was a bit of a looker as a young lady in Corowa. Her sweet curls set from rags in her hair a common sight in the family album, her peaches and cream complexion shining in photos taken at district balls and dances in the early 1960s. She has a quirky talent of being able to raise her right eyebrow which she used effectively to gain the attention of the handsome school teacher who used to visit their home in Parade Place, Corowa. Her skilful talent obviously worked, as they were married in 1963 and enjoyed over 50 very happy years together.
In times of sadness and loss this wonderful lady is the glue, the strength, the rock that guides and helps both family and friends through their most traumatic experiences. She does this without hesitation and it usually involves delivery of some home-cooked food to feed the soul.
Food baked by her, always with love and heart. Many have tried to recreate her jam drops, her Anzac biscuits, the almond bread, weetie pudding, curried chicken or memorable sponge cake. It is never the same. One of my daughters commented that Gran cooks with love in it – and no one can put Grans love in, so they will never be the same. I have to agree with this theory.
She was also quite the seamstress, sewing many of our clothes and her own in the early years. She still is the go-to person for mending and fixing clothing for family members, some even saving things until they next visit for Gran to fix.
Selfless – Caring – Generous – Thoughtful are all words that easily spring to mind.
There was invariably a little note wrapped in my school lunchbox with a smile, or simply the words love you x written on it. Just her way to let me know all was fine in the world, she was there in spirit, always.
When my girls come home to visit the pantry is stocked with home baked goodies, delivered by Gran who knows their favourites to welcome them home. She has baked birthday cakes forever, and always whatever is requested, though most of the time one cannot go past her sponge!
Her door is always open, the kettle is always on, there is always a cold beer in the fridge and food in the cupboard that she can whip into a master meal in a heartbeat. We had many a night with friends, playing cards and dancing, laughter and silliness in our Minhala home. The lady of the house was in the thick of it and making sure everyone was having a great time, their glasses full and their hunger satisfied. From Dad’s co-workers and students to my brother’s navy mates who would turn up at last minute on weekend leave – they were welcomed, bedded and fed – usually being sent off with armfuls of leftovers to get them home.
Officially she is Gran to eight grandchildren, unofficially to countless others. At the local school she was known for quite some time simply as “Gran’ – even the Principal fondly called her Gran. A most fitting title indeed for this lovely lady.
Her caring nature may have made a wonderful nurse, the way she can listen without judgement may have made a leading psychologist. Would haves, could haves that we will never know. I do know though, that she is the most considerate and forgiving mother and grandmother this side of the black stump. She is the most loving, honourable, proud wife, mother and grandmother in cooee of the Murray River.
And she does a damn fine cooee that has called many a child from up the paddock!
She is the one with the infectious laugh, the silliest faces, the quirky sense of humour, the willingness to give anything a go.
She is our world.
She is my mother.
She has made me all that I am and all that I will be.
She is my best friend.
Happy 75th birthday Brenda Christine – Mrs T – Mum – Gran x.
We could feel the car climb as we navigated through the mountains, heading north on gentle winding country roads. The land is painted every shade of brown as it bunkers down for a long, dry yet mild winter. Landowners are out and about with the morning feed ritual, small clouds of dust disperse into the morning air as the hay and feed is tossed out to nourish their depleting stock.
Our car slows for the cattle grabbing precious feed along the roadsides. The herds seem to be in good condition though my heart aches for the stockman, watching over his mob and looking to the clear blue sky hoping for drought breaking relief, soon.
Upwards we climb in search of the little settlement tucked between the Nandewar Ranges and the Horton Valley in the upper reaches of the Manilla River. The place that sits on the Peel Fault, granite country to the east and folded sedimentary to the west. The town that flourished from the 1850s with gold mining, and now the centre of prime grazing and cropping country. Country Australia.
Barraba. A word that appropriately means meeting place.
Especially appropriate in July as, each year crowds descend on the town to enjoy art and craft, reconnect with old friends and make new acquaintances, encompassed by the history and culture captured in its buildings and people.
Frost Over Barraba.A celebration of painting, photography, pottery, jewellery and music that creates a glowing warmth even to the most boreal winters day.
As we approached the town centre the final autumn leaves seem to herald our arrival, fluttering like natures flags in the wisp of an icy breeze. The main street was a buzz with placards and people, the atmosphere almost bohemian as travellers mix with locals, joining together to celebrate all that Frost Over Barraba promises.
Historic shops, once standing idle and forgotten are bought to life for the weekend as exhibitors dust away the forgotten and grime to create a unique atmosphere of new wares in old frames.
A quick recharge of coffee and the most lemoniest lemon meringue tart at the Polka Dot café is welcomed before we start our expedition along Queen Street. The street is blanketed with the last of the autumn leaves, the almost bare trees brightened with decorative childrens art creating a pictorial backdrop to the artistic avenue.
I met Merlene at Merlene’s Fine Fibre Studio, sitting in the back of her store, spinning. The wheel turns at a mesmerising pace as she draws and twists her home grown raw wool into yarn. Four local women show their wares in the store where they frequently come together to share knowledge, stories and support each other. They make yarn from their own alpaca, wool and cashmere, dye it a rainbow of colours using native plants and turn into garments from booties to jumpers. We laugh when Merlene tells us she is almost considered a local – she has lived in Barraba for 34 years!
The array of unique goods on show at the Barraba Potters and Craft Guild is wicked. We browsed for ages, warmed by the open fire as it crackled amongst the laughter of friends, appreciating the work to create felt scarves to woollen beanies, woven wall hangings to photographs, earrings, necklaces and other clay adornments.
We viewed the stylish pottery works of Anna Henderson on display at Andy’s Guesthouse, feeling right at home in the comfortable surroundings warmed by another woodfire to break the chill of the winter air.
I fell in love with encaustic paintings of Liz Priestly, the lino prints of Sharyn Jones and the aboriginal cultural reflections of Jodie Herden who can paint so much meaning and detail onto a tiny gum leaf.
I chatted with Annette, who had travelled from Coolah, about her studies to become a gemologist and was drawn to her exquisite jewellery display. It was too good an opportunity to add to my own jewellery collection as well!
We wandered into the Playhouse Hotel where more fine artisan jewellery was displayed, this time by Elisabeth Cox. We almost gate crashed a jewellery making class as we freely wandered around the displays.
I stared with mouth agape as I discerned the amazing talents of a photographer I have followed for some time, Andrew Pearson who had his best works on display at the Playhouse Hotel. It was one of the many highlights of the day to then meet him in person a bit later and express how much I enjoy his sensational works.
All these magnificent exhibits – what more could there be?
The pinnacle to the festival is the Frost Over Barraba Art Exhibition at the top of Queen Street.
The memorial hall was packed with displays that showcased infants art, primary and secondary school artworks, watercolour and oil paintings as well as sculptures of numerous shapes, sizes and subjects professionally laid out for visitors to enjoy and judge as connoisseurs of fine arts. I do have to mention a friend of mine won the Watercolur section – congrats Maree Kelly with her interpretation of the Namoi River.
It was then time for us to head home, though there was some regret we didn’t take time to plan to stay for the lantern parade and fireworks, or attend the range of art lessons on offer, but there is always next year.
Congratulations Barraba – you warm a winters weekend with the pride and hospitality that is a symbol of regional Australia.
The air was warmer than in previous years, this drought continues with no end in sight. The ground crunched under our feet, not from frost but from the dry, baked earth that has seen little rain over the summer months. The whispered greetings as we waited to start were about how dry it is and the old timers remarking they haven’t seen it so bare for many decades.
Down the street, in the dim morning dawn a train rumbles through the town, past where once a railway station once stood. Its whistles blow with an air of prosperity as more black gold is hauled east to the port. Those same tracks carried our troops to port a century ago. Families gave one last long hug on that platform and waved a tearful farewell as sons, fathers and brothers were sent across the oceans to fight the big war.
Some returned, others lost their lives on the battle fields of the western front.
The memorial in the local park a constant reminder of those who went. Saunders and Stead Killed in Action and never returning to the black soil plains, the smell of eucalypt, the blue skies and open land of home. Delve who died of wounds, fighting with desire to return to help turn the sods and reap many more harvest with his family at home.
Bass, Campion, Davies, Martin, Pryor, Sullivan arriving home to the heroes welcomes to live with ghosts of unspeakable acts and brutality beyond what humans should ever endure.
The story of farewells on the rail platform, the deaths, the losses, the angst and returning ghosts continue across decades. And continue today.
At the village Anzac Day 2018 ceremonies over 300 people paused to remember and thank those who have gave their lives, so we can continue to live in freedom and choice.
In his commemorative address John Lyle reminded us of these sacrifices – from the 300, 000 who fought on the Western Front, to World War 2 where many Prisoner of War returned home without any post war support and were just told ‘to get on with it”.
People at home could not, and probably still don’t comprehend the brutality and slaughter they witnessed. He reminded us of other wars and battles, including families who still wait for news from those serving in current conflicts.
As the brass band filled the autumn skies with music and we gave our thanks through prayer and hymn the Australian landscape around us continued its chatter. The galahs squawked overhead, the trains whistled, the cars zoomed by. Life and choices we continue to enjoy.
Our youth perspective confirmed these brave men and women of our past are role models for future generations, helping provide the freedom and opportunity that we can tend to for granted.
They are, Breanna said “A link to the past that helps shape our nation and the future”.
In the quiet morning light in Curlewis NSW on April 25th 2018 villagers – young and old – came together to remember. The following poem, read at the dawn service describing why we do so eloquently.
Reflecting on one hundred years, since ANZACS first became
There’s much that now is different, but much that stays the same
There’s still a price for liberty, so we can choose our path
There still are those who go to war and pay on our behalf
There still are those who sacrifice and leave loved -ones behind
So we can have the right to vote and speak what’s on our mind
There still are those who face a foe and fight in foreign lands
In hopes that we’ll be terror free and safe from evil hands
There still are those who take a wound and live with daily pain
Their battle is a lifelong thing; their price for freedom’s gain
There still are those who give their lives and break their happy home
There still are grieving boys and girls – and partners all alone
So keep in mind our wounded vets and families of the lost
They’re still the ones who bear the bulk of freedom’s daily cost
Remember freedom has a price – we’re in our soldiers’ debt
Remember to remember – lest we all forget
by Ian Coate
+ thank you to all who helped with the 2 Anzac ceremonies at Curlewis – Councillor Colleen Fuller, Peter Boem & Phoebe Neil, Curlewis Public School, Curlewis Bush Fire Brigade, Hunter River Lancers, Gunnedah Shire Band, all who presented reflections or prayers, read the ode and finally thank you to the small Curlewis Anzac Committee.
The old hall stands in the centre of the town. Over the years the floor has been swept by debutantes, the dust stirred by the beat of music and washed with copious amounts of alcohol and drinks. Old timers reminisce about the regular dances across the district mid-last century – from Curlewis to Nea, Breeza to Spring Ridge and many other halls in between. The floor is perfect for a bush dance, with many a heel and toe having been stepped out across its boards.
In recent years it has been the function centre for local school presentations, town meetings, an outpost of the shire library, regular boot scooters and fundraisers such as trivia nights in the dead of winter that then took days to warm the bones to some semblance of comfort.
But the laughter, friendships and memories will warm you for a life time.
This hall, costing 5000 pounds to build was opened on March 21 1958 with a Grand Opening Ball. History tells us it’s steel framed with a brick frontage. It has a 72 by 42-foot dance floor and 34 by 12-foot stage. The project to build it was one of the biggest public ventures taken on by a district centre – taking two years of community effort, fund raising and voluntary work.
It truly is a community resource built and cherished by the village.
On Sunday I enjoyed the company of friends at this treasured centrepiece of our town. The Gunnedah Red Cross held its major fundraiser, a gala day complete with a fashion parade in our hall. What a glorious way to spend a Sunday.
The old hall stood tall as it was once more filled with chatter and camaraderie. The kitchen clattered with food preparations, the yard shone with prized vintage cars, the edges packed with small markets showcasing their wares. And then as a finale to a delicious meal we enjoyed a parade as the latest fashions promenaded across the stage, inspiring all to update or add to their winter wardrobe.
It was rewarding to contribute to the fund-raising efforts of The Australian Red Cross who provide a range of services and programmes including international aid and humanitarian law advocacy, migration support, emergency management, blood donation via the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, and community services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, youth, families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.
As a local it was warming to watch our hall being used and enjoyed by both villagers and visitors. I’m sure it too enjoyed the chats, laughter and smiles as much as we did.