She had a change of heart when undertaking her annual ritual. It was liberating.Read More...
a cup of reflection, a pinch of advice, a teaspoon of sweetness
She had a change of heart when undertaking her annual ritual. It was liberating.Read More...
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.
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.
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.
“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:
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.
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 4 – have 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.
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.
© Can Stock Photo / ionutparvu
© Can Stock Photo / alphaspirit
© Can Stock Photo / 4774344sean
© Can Stock Photo / yarruta
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.
Want to know more?
Australian Red Cross – www.redcross.org.au.
Gunnedah Branch Red Cross – www.gunnedah.nsw.gov.au/index.php/business/business-support/business-directory/Other/4339-red-cross-gunnedah-branch
Fashion Parade by Enchanted Emporium and Riley’s Furniture and Carpets – See the lovely clothing that showcased on their facebook page – www.facebook.com/flowersballoonsgunnedah.
“He says he is suffering from depression” she scoffed. “I don’t know what he would be unhappy about?”
I opened my mouth to respond, to clarify that depression isn’t about being unhappy but I couldn’t find the words to explain it. I just nodded and tried to change the subject. That was a few years ago.
Awareness around our mental health and well-being is improving with quite a bit of funding being provided for awareness campaigns, research and education.
But there is still a stigma and misunderstanding.
I have to admit that I have been in the denial and misinterpreting camp, though I have been willing to know more, understand better. I have read, I have listened, I have wanted to empathise.
Today I had a light bulb flash, a serendipitous moment that made sense. I wanted to share with you.
Why do we talk about our physical health and not our mental health? Why do we split them into two?
If I asked you “how are you?” most of you would think about your physical state like –
“I’ve got a bit of a back ache today” or “the arthritis is playing up, must be a change in the weather coming” or “my shoulders are aching a bit, must have been the way I slept”
And that’s what I expect the answer to be.
What if…we start to think about our wellness as our whole self? Mind and body. They are not separate, they function as one yet we tend to think about them as two separate ‘conditions”.
Our mind is a powerful element that can affect our physical state.
Our physical state, likewise affects our mind.
Did you just go aha? I did. (or you might already know all this and it is me that needed to catch up)
I know that when I am stressed I get headaches, I am tired and exhausted.
Stress is a state of mind – headache physical.
I broke my ankle 2 years ago. The hardest part about that mending was trying to manage the sadness and feeling of helplessness as the ankle healed.
Broken ankle physical – helplessness a state of mind.
See where I am going? They went together to make me.
This morning I attended a short course about Mental Health. In 90 minutes Kate from the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program provided a clear and for me, a different perspective about mental health.
She spoke about mental wellbeing (note I didn’t use mental health!) as a scale or continuum from not coping to coping well. All of us move along this scale, its normal. Where we are on the scale depends on our physical well-being, our ability to manage and juggle what is happening in our life and how much we are carrying the load of someone else, those around us whether family, friends or work colleagues.
Check out this great clip – Mental Health Wellness Continuum – it was another aha moment for me.
The session also included some snippets about how to ask the right questions to help others, where to go to get more help either for self or those we are concerned about.
And then some gobsmacking realities –
My take home I want to share with you is this:
Don’t wait for special awareness days to ask those close to you R U OK?
Don’t dismiss their physical symptoms with a light hearted “I’ve got a Panadol”.
Don’t say “have a few wines or a beer and it will be alright, it will pass”.
Take time to listen. Ask. Show you care.
E V E R Y D A Y.
And make the effort to learn more about mental wellbeing and how to help others. It could save someone’s life. It might save your own. We are all part of the same village, we should look out for each other.
If you are an employer, big or small, make mental well being part of your Work Health and Safety program.
Start by checking out the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program website. There are loads of tools, stories and contacts to get you started
Thank you Kate from RAMHP and the Gunnedah Community College. It was a day of discovery.
Image credit: © Can Stock Photo / focalpoint
It was heavenly. To the extent it almost took my breath away. After weeks of heat, the cooling change that swept from the south has been a most welcome reprieve.
If only for a short time.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the demise of our home air conditioner. While I am happy to report (so far) I haven’t had the third white good failure I am still without an air conditioner. It has been brutal and humbling.
Today the temperature has plummeted to a cooling 24 degrees celsius (75 F) at 11am (instead of around 35C/95F). There is even snow being reported in the high country to the south. My head is clear, my energy uplifted and perspective on life has reset to a positive course.
It is astounding how being hot drains one’s vigour and sends your drive plummeting to a level of boiling sloth.
I have tried to remain positive and upbeat, though I think DH may disagree. I kept telling myself that there are hundreds of people who do not have the luxury of an air conditioner, or cannot afford the electricity to run it, I’m not alone. That helped for all of 5 minutes before my resolve took another negative hit.
I remember when I was for pregnant, nearly 27 years ago. We were young and broke and air conditioners were still considered a luxury. I survived without one then, I can do this now…surely?
It has been a learning time as I attempt to be more resilient in the summer furnace. I have learnt or re-learnt a few things about keeping cool over these last few weeks, that I can share with you.
The opening and closing of doors and curtains around the house has become a daily ritual. Open in the cooler times of days to allow any zephyr of breeze to flow through the house, close in the peak of the day to shut out the brutal heartbreaking heat that rides on the summer westerlies.
The routine of each day also changes. I have become a walking temperature forecast and can recite what the temperature is going be each hour, having studied 3 weather apps for the day and week ahead. I plan my day around the what needs to be done in the cooler (not cool, just cooler) parts of the day versus what does not need to be done until about March when this summer will come to an end, or my air-conditioner is fixed.
Between about 3 and 8 pm little is possible as the living area turns into Satan’s boudoir. The better options are reading a book or watching the tennis and cricket – but that is what summer is all about isn’t it?
I had to search for a different novel to read. While I was comfortable under an air conditioner a story about the struggles of country Victoria in the summer drought of the late 1800’s was an interesting read. It became a little to close to my own experience post mouse-in-airconditioner and a novel set in the Arctic circle has been a worthier escape.
Dining outside in the evening is a pleasant experience. It has been a necessity for us as the house is like a mini fire of hell from about 6 pm. I tried to make light of it by saying “we will dine alfresco tonight, by the fountain” where in actual fact we have dined on the shady back lawn with the garden sprinkler cooling our feet.
In my search through family photos I even found a pic of my grandmother, father and aunt escaping the heat near a water tank – outside was always cooler than in. the look on their faces says it all!
Wet towels are currently a necessary part of the wardrobe. Some respite can be felt if you wet your hair and then sit in front of the fan with a wet towel across your shoulders and/or your feet. In the heat the towel is dry in about 10 minutes but the short respite welcoming. Wet and repeat.
Buying an expensive fan does not provide you with better cooling. When its hot, its hot and no fan on this planet will be better than another. The fan that offered an additional misting function along with “new technology” cooling effects for about $150 did not blow the hot air around the room any better than the $20 pedestal fan from the reject shop. This has been an expensive lesson to learn!
I have discovered that its OK to break out your inner child and run through the sprinkler on the back lawn. I have many childhood memories of playing in the yard with a sprinkler, or a home-made slip and slide.
When we first moved to the farm at Curlewis we had an above ground pool. It was bit of makeshift pool, with no fencing or landscaping, it had no filter or cleaning mechanism so after about a week it was time to drain and refill.
Water was abundant and cheap in those times and the routine of emptying overnight and filling the next morning became part of summer fun. We whiled away many summer hours in that pool, plopped in the backyard for easy access. Others around us all seemed to have similar in the yard – one friend had an old iron water tank cut off at about a metre, another used her dad’s fishing tinnie as a useful ‘pool’ to lay during the summer afternoon. We were inventive and unrestricted by today’s safety regulations.
Over the years my children discovered the joy of a hose during the summer months. Being held hostage by the air conditioner inside is not an enjoyable experience for a band of energetic children or the parent – a simple hose, sprinkler and large container can provide hours of fun.
I have survived, so far. It has given me time to search through old family photos to find past glimpses of fun under the sprinkler, but maybe that was just an excuse to sit longer under my mother’s functioning air conditioner!
I try not to call Air Conditioner guy Dave every day but I search for hope that the beast that taunts me from my living room wall will be functioning soon.
I wish that ‘soon’ will be this week, cross your fingers for me
I love front loader washing machines. I know others that don’t – DH even prefers twin tubs.
Yes you can still buy the twin tub washing machine. On a recent trip to the local electrical store with Miss22 we spotted one – she had to ask what it was. When I explained that you wash in one side then manually take the clothes out, put them in the spin side, spin, rinse, spin, repeat she was a little gobsmacked at the idea of it! Really? People still do that?
It is quite manual work but less things break, though I do remember overflowing my first twin tub a few times as I chased the sock pairs around the house.
After years of top loader machines, I find front loaders are easier on the clothes, create less pill and use less water. Sure, you need to change your washing habits as once that door is locked you cannot open to throw that last minute find into the mix.
Or as I recently experienced once that door is locked it may not open again.
It is a terrible sinking feeling when the machine beeps its completion, you nonchalantly bend to open the door…and it doesn’t budge.
I check the lock light has gone off and try again
I turn it off at the wall, count to 60 and try again
I turn it back on, jiggle the controls and try again
I run a short rinse and spin cycle thinking it just got itself confused – I know how that feels – and try again
I rock the whole machine and try again
I pull on the handle and realise how plasticky and fragile it is and try again
I walk away, have a coffee and try again
I start to list all the pieces of clothing now a prisoner in the machine and try again
Nothing, nadda, zip. No offer of bail, no small sign the damp prisoners will be released anytime soon, they are locked up tight and starting to sweat.
A phone call to the local washing machine repairer puts me at ease
“Oh it happens a lot, Paul knows how to unlock it, I will get him to call round. Wait for him, don’t be like the guy last week that had his children’s school clothes in there and took to it with a crowbar. Just wait for Paul”
I was beginning to know how that poor guy felt! At least I have other clothing that I can use.
Washing machine repairer Paul bailed out the clothes with a bit of packing tape – yes highly technical stuff. A replaced part, a week of waiting and we are back on track.
I froze as I glanced at the bill stuck to the fridge this morning. Things happen in threes – especially with household white goods.
Number 2 struck last night.
I had enjoyed a slow relaxing summer day in the cool of the air-conditioned lounge. It was a Netflix day as the summer January sun makes anything outdoor unbearable.
At about 7 last night, when it was still high 30 degrees outside I could smell something burning – crispy, electrical, smouldering burning. I smelt the stove, nothing. Turned off all the power points, nothing. Checked the roof outside to see if there was any smoke coming out, nothing.
Then there was a loud bang and a flash of red and orange from the air conditioner.
If you think having your clothes held captive in the washing machine is heart stopping imagine what the thought of no air conditioner at the peak of our inland summer feels like.
It is dead…and so is the mouse that thought camping on one of the internal power boards was a good idea.
Thank heavens air conditioner guy Dave came to the rescue first thing this morning. I only hope the factory that sells the parts has returned from their Christmas break, though it might be a long, hot week ahead.
I now look at the weather forecast with different eyes, scanning for how hot it really will be rather than an inquisitive view to see if we will break more records this week.
A funny weather app that I discovered isn’t so funny when you need a wet towel around your neck while sitting directly under the fan.
I usually shop in the morning – I am now planning for the hottest part of the day and I will take my time.
I am starting to plan car trips – at least the car is cool.
I am scanning movie times – a second rate flick in an air conditioned cinema is worth the few hours of comfort, mid-afternoon.
I am listing friends and family to visit, in the afternoons.
I am hoping air conditioner guy brings the parts by the end of the week.
I am dreading number 3.
© Can Stock Photo / dumayne;
© Can Stock Photo/godruma;
© Can Stock Photo/stuartmiles
Malo le’ le’…again. I promised I would return and I did. I fell in love with the contagious smiles and welcoming embrace of the Kingdom of Tonga last year and I do believe I left a piece of my heart drifting gently through the cerulean waters of this island paradise.
A few weeks back I journeyed again to connect and renew, if only for a short time.
The capital city Nukualofa maybe a bit more bustling, the western influences maybe slowly creeping into its veins but once you voyage to one of the outer islands the slow-paced bustle is left far far behind and you are vortexed into a postcard. The waters, every shade of blue, turquoise and aqua are as deep as forever. The sun warmed our winter weary bodies as we were resuscitated by the dashes of island breeze that fluttered in the air.
A small boat ferried us to our island escape on Kapa, just a stone throw from the main island of Vava’u, where our host welcomed us with a warmth we had grown to expect from this Kingdom. One cannot help but just relax and fall into an island way of living, the clocks are few, the technology connections to the outside world intermittent, the call of the ocean mesmerising.
As a new day was heralded with a postcard sunrise we packed way too many belongings for a day on the water to search for the regal majesties of the ocean – the humpback whales. I am an ‘in case packer’ – I packed a large backpack for the day, in case we got wet, in case we needed some food, in case we needed an extra battery, in case the boat broke down and we needed to spend a night on the water, in case, in case, in case. And of course, used very little of it!
On the whale tour boat (Beluga Diving) we met travellers from the across the globe, all with a similar wish.
The Japanese ladies were kitted with the iPhone in water proof pouches hung around the neck. If you ever wondered if these work – they do! We dived, we snorkelled, we were in and out of the boat and the iPhone survived brilliantly.
The Intense Italian was so concentrated and really dominated the personality of the boat. He was equipped with large DLSR cameras – one he spent more time keeping dry and free of salt spray than actually using, the other enclosed in a mammoth water proof case that took several people to lift back into boat each time.
And an Australian couple from Brisbane, Simon and Allison. Seasoned travellers who dive and snorkel regularly off the coast of the Queensland. It was good to have kin folk close by, even if I did feel a novice as this was the only second time I had worn snorkel gear.
Day One was a tad windy and the waters choppy. The calming island zephyr had decided to whip up enough to make the whales head to deeper, calmer waters. We spotted a few, jumped in to observe underwater when possible but the main act hadn’t read the script.
As we farewelled our whale-seeking-friends at the end of day, our skins parched by the island sun and wind we wished them safe travels, never believing we would see them again.
Until we met the boat the next day.
To our surprise and delight we were teamed again with the Japanese ladies and our Brisbane couple, small world sometimes. And I arrived with less ‘in case’ luggage – it was me, my snorkel gear and sunscreen today. I have to admit it was liberating.
The Intense Italian had been replaced by a young French Wanderer, travelling the world post doctorate before settling into the hum drum of mature living. Yes, a small amount of envy and a great amount of admiration for solo travelling women such as she.
What a magical day.
Within a short time of leaving shore we came across a mother and her new babe. Our Tongan guide was first in the water, establishing a relationship with her in a language that seems to cross between them in silence. We are just visitors to this timeless world of the Tongan people and their whales.
In groups of four we slid softly into the water and as quietly as possible swam close the mother and baby. I felt a bond to the resplendent mother of the blue ocean as she moved slowly, buoyed by the natural currents of the water. Her baby exuded an energy that all young seem to have as it ducked and weaved, from side to side, top to under. I could not help but relate to a time when my babes were young and rarely sat quietly in my lap!
As other travellers busily clicked their cameras and jockeyed to a position to make that ‘like-worthy’ shot I was happy to just be. The desire to capture for perpetuity can take away from just taking in the experience that is unfolding in front of you. I left that for others.
The serendipity of the moment hypnotised me. A lump rose in my throat, my mask fogged with tears unchecked, a soft choir of an ocean song echoed in my ears as I was suspended in the water magnetised and connected to this mother of the ocean. As our eyes met amongst the sunbeams dancing through the water I hope she could hear me say she was doing a great job with her babe and safe journey back to the cooler waters of the world.
And then is was over. We left the new family in peace, reminding ourselves we are purely observers to the main act and our time of theatre was over.
Malo. Thank you. My heart still stays, I will return again.
Footnotes and travel tips:
We stayed at the Reef Resort. I highly recommend this as a place to stay. It only has 5 cabins so only a few other guests at any one time. The Japanese coral gardens on your doorstep are wonderful to discover with snorkelling. Host, Herwig is very very helpful and a wonderful host. Hannes and Julia are top chefs – the food was amazing and they are always smiling and offering to help in any way.
Herwig booked our whale swim tours for us through Beluga Diving. Biggest tip is to book these well in advance of your travels. I did not realise this and nearly missed out! Book at least two days, preferable three. Cost is about 400TOP (= ~ 235 $AUS) per person per day.
We travelled to VaVau’ via Nukualofa but have since learnt that VaVau’ is an international airport and you can travel via Fiji. The flight times are a bit more reasonable via Fiji.
It was meant to be just a drive from point A to point B to share Christmas with the family. It had been one of those years that was best left behind and I was excited to spend time with special family members. Away from ghosts of the past.
Along the Newell Highway this drive took a turn. No longer was it just a means to travel the thousand odd kilometres across 3 states. It was my pilgrimage. One final trip with you across the land we treasured and admired its changing tides.
You would have been impressed with the miles and miles of golden paddocks. The grain now harvested and its gilded hue slightly fading as the stubble turns to earth. We would have both been intrigued with the individual wheat stacks across the Riverina as farmers were wrapping their wheat in plastic to store on farm. A clear sign of a very prosperous year.
My mind was taken back to driving the same road with you in the early ‘80s and how you wished you had travelled at night as the track was profoundly depressing with the ravages of drought – bare paddocks blowing in the summer winds, the sparse starving stock seeking water and feed to survive, the skies clear with little hope of saving rains.
I know you would have appreciated the difference now and noted the numbers of sheep, fresh off shears that roam the knee high pastures. I noticed. You had taught me to see.
We could have chuckled together at the farm mail boxes as we scooted down the Newell, many decorated for Christmas. You would have pointed to the water filling swampy low areas, now a wetland haven for multitudes of birds that chorus as we break for road works along the stretches damaged from the floods that now bring life to the region.
Ducks and turtles forage in the evening stillness as we stop for the night at Forbes. A few Willy Wagtails sing an evening lullaby in the fading light. A single tear trickles down my face as their song takes me back to the night not so long ago when the Willy Wagtails warbled a midnight melody calling in a sadness that settled as you took your last breaths. I knew I needed this pilgrimage to bid you farewell.
The story you told me on another trip a few years back springs to mind as we take the long stretch from Forbes to West Wyalong. I still find it hard to imagine how my grandfather Clem rode this same track on a horse in the 1920s. It seemed such a long expedition to buy another horse! I try to imagine the dusty tracks now replaced by sealed highways, the cleared cultivated land that would have been pristine and untouched, and the stars overhead as he rested his weary body and horse each night. I’m thankful you shared this piece of family history with me.
The West Wyalong truck stop is a welcome sight, not just for us but for many travellers on similar journeys to loved ones for the festive season. I strike up a conversation with a family eating their cereal in the carpark, the children’s hair still woolly and eyes still cloudy from the night sleep. In years past that was us. I have recollections of getting dressed in town parks, eating corn flakes from plastic cups as you and mum tried to get some miles in before we woke. Having had children of my own I appreciate how precious those quiet miles were.
You would have wandered around the busy carpark and struck up a few other yarns with fellow travellers. I only watched this time and envisaged the stories of voyagers along the Newell.
I smile at the football ovals in each town with the four posts at either end. I’m not sure you ever played Australian Rules in your time in the south of the state? As we continue through Narrandera I seemed to recall you did play ‘proper’ football games out this way as you sought some Rugby League comps in the heart of Australian Rules country. I guess you spent some time in these towns along the Murray River and Riverina district and probably broke some hearts as a young single graduate in this area.
Stories from you faded as I crossed the swiftly flowing Murray River and headed into Victoria. I continued on this pilgrimage with a heavy heart, knowing that you would have truly relished in the changing landscapes as we zoomed towards Melbourne.
I have no doubt you would have repeated the story of trying to drive in Melbourne with your mother-in-law and her strong opinions in the back seat and how you unexpectedly ended up on the steps of Parliament House. I think the roads are better now – or at least with technology we made it the port in plenty of time for our passage across Bass Strait, where we gathered to make new memories with one less seat at our table.
You can rest. Our land is in good hands.
“I wept because I was re-experiencing the enthusiasm of my childhood; I was once again a child, and nothing in the world could cause me harm.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage