International Cat Day is here!

Celebrating our moggies! From South Africa to Australia and everywhere in between.

Sunshiny SA Site

Did you know that the most popular pet globally is the cat?

To celebrate them, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and other animal rights dedicated the 8th August as International Cat Day for the kitties who have been our companions for almost 9500 years.

My kitties sauntered into our hearts when we needed them. They have fed our souls, filled in the gaps and generally improved our psychological health.

Want to enrichen your life? Get a cat or cat-sit with a friend. Their unwavering love, loyalty, friendship and companionship will add strength and value to your life.

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A beautiful set of numbers, not!

Dark winter skies during COVID-19

The former Australian treasurer and Prime Minister, Paul Keating reknown for his cutting comments in parliament and memorable quotes used the words “a beautiful set of numbers” to describe the nation’s economic outlook. Sadly, here in Victoria over the past two weeks we are playing a dangerous numbers’ game with new COVID-19 infections hitting triple digits and several more deaths after weeks of being cautionsly optismtic of flattening the curve. We were leading the way with zero new community transmitted coronavirus infection cases. But as all the health experts and our government leaders tell us there is no room for complacency. With the exception of NSW which recorded 20 new cases today, all the other states and terrorities have managed to avoid any new cases or community outbreaks in recent weeks. Victorians are not welcome over the state borders. This has created headaches for those who live and work in towns located along the borders on both sides.

I am one of the forunate ones living in regional Victoria where there have been only three confirmed cases which was early in the pandemic. Our city friends and one regional shire are now forced back into Stage 3 lockdown while the rest of us are free to move around while abiding by social distancing restrictions. It has become a macarbe pastime waiting for the daily media conferences by our state leader giving the COVID-19 figures for the past 24 hours. While the numbers have come down today we are still in triple figures which is cause for alarm. The COVID-19 Pandemic State of Emergency has been extended until August 16 in the state of Victoria. It is very tough on people in the city of Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire being forced back into Lockdown for the third time but the government is trying to avoid Stage 4 Lockdown restrictions if possible. As of midnight on Thursday, all residents outside their homes will be required to wear a face mask (under 12s will be exempt) as per the web link below.

For those living in regional areas in Victoria that are not under lockdown but still adhering to social distancing restrictions and hygiene procedures the official advice is if you feel you cannot keep the 1.5 metre distance from other people you should wear a face mask. To further protect our rural areas more COVID-19 testing sites are being set up including one in our local town from this week.

My husband just called me outside to view the most beautiful rainbow over the hill near our house. Maybe that is a good sign of better things to come, just as my early flowering daffodils promise hope as they explode into a bright yellow display. The colour is most welcome as our winter has been a cold and grey one since the official start of winter from June 1.

Today July 20 also marks the anniversary of the first man on the moon in 1969. I remember watching the black and white television in the school master’s house with the other 12 students from my bush primary school as this history in the making event unfolded. Surely, if we can put a man on the moon we can find the means to beat this coronavirus that is causing such global havoc. One has to have hope.

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/face-masks-will-soon-be-mandatory-in-melbourne-here-s-what-you-need-to-know

https://www.thoughtco.com/first-man-on-the-moon-1779366

Stuck in Paradise Down Under!

Mountains and lakes form part of my escape to paradise in the High Country.

Here in Australia it looks like our leaders are preparing us for the road out of the COVID-19 crisis come June with an easing of more restrictions. While our nation is the envy of other countries with our low rate of infections and death toll at 101 to date, it is not guaranteed that we will avoid a second wave of the virus outbreak without a vaccine available as yet. To me this coming out is the most dangerous part so far because I have been able to self-isolate at home and minimise face-to-face contact with others. In one way I am not in a rush to return to “normal” because that means getting back on a crazy treadmill of life activities. On the other hand a sunny beach holiday (has turned cold down south!) or a trip for lunch at my favourite winery with friends would be nice!

One of the most notable aspects of this lock-down has been the level of innovation and creativity emerging via our computer and phone screens in recent weeks. I have enjoyed listening to balcony concerts from fellow blogger and soprano Charlotte Hoather from her London flat through to fun parodies of popular pop music.

Stuck in Paradise is a parody of the 1980s hit Run to Paradise by Australian band The Choirboys. The video is typical of Aussies poking fun at themselves even when the going gets tough. The original song brings back special memories of being stuck on a Contiki bus tour in 1989 and travelling through the former Soviet Union and East Germany. For three weeks every morning when we boarded the bus that was the theme song for our trip with no respect for those of us suffering from overindulgence in vodka and black-market champagne the night before!

Our hearts go out to those who have suffered terrible loss and upheaval during this coronavirus emergency but a sense of humour and a love of the arts is helping many of us find the road out.

The “new normal” continues…

The golden hour offers a bit of magic during a time of uncertainty.

How different is the world compared to last year? Tucked away in my rural paradise in the Southern Hemisphere I can pretend not much has changed as I ooh and ah over an another stunning sunset sipping on my scotch and dry. It is my favourite time of the day. Tasks completed during the day and an opportunity to sit with my husband to savour the view. The only downside to this is the arrival in recent weeks of 200 plus screeching cockatoos free-wheeling between the various huge gum trees that surround our home. These native birds love to destroy trees and any other soft-wood they can find to combat their boredom. They love to start their deafening noise before sunup drowning out the melodic magpies and sweet sounding currawongs which come down from the mountains.

Anyway, I’m not complaining because giving up some of the pleasures and activities I was enjoying until things changed in March is the price I’m willing to pay if we continue to flatten the curve here in Australia. The enormity of this pandemic has shaken the world and its nations to the core. The loss of human life is heart-breaking to watch across the globe and the impact it has on those at the frontline. There is no denying that we all have a role to play in beating this COVID-19 in the little actions such as regular handwashing and social distancing through to staying home as much as possible. For those of us fortunate to have a roof over our heads this is possible but for others we need to be aware of the impact.

Thankfully, we seem to have moved beyond the initial panic buying of supermarket items including toilet paper but supplies of certain items are still limited and being restricted. Once a fortnight trip into town is all I can cope with at present. Shopping has become more stressful with limits on how many people are allowed in a shop, trying to keep our distance in narrow supermarket aisles while trying to reach into the meat section and having to pack our own grocery bags. Walking down the street people avoid you like you have the plague!

A highlight of our new routine has been the advent of takeaway deliveries once a week to outlying areas by one of our local hotels. My husband loves the Mexican Parma while I like the spring rolls washed down with a drop of local Aussie pino noir! They set up the van in a designated spot so we can do a drive through to pickup our meals and alcohol orders. This is one way of keeping staff employed while the hotel is closed due to Level 3 coronavirus restrictions. Living out of town we don’t bother with take away very often so it feels like a treat. But everyone must pre-pay by card over the phone when putting in their order to ensure no physical contact.

Easter regardless of whether you a follower of Jesus or use it as a break away with family and friends, was different this year. Our town is usually overflowing with visitors and hosting an array of events to keep people amused. After the economic downturn from the impact of nearby fires in January, there was a campaign to encourage visitors to return and fill their eskies with local produce. Come April and we are asking people to stay away!

My husband and I celebrated our birthdays one day apart during Easter. While there was no special dinner out or a trip to a winery even, Bolly (my hubby) bought some gourmet takeaway from town and fine wine to enjoy. The two of us spent most of our birthdays talking to family and friends over the phone at length because like us they have the extra time to spare. I think that has been a positive out of this. So many more people are talking about how they are catching up with friends they haven’t spoken to in a long time.

Church was different with a Zoom meeting but was lovely to see the faces and hear the voices of those we are missing from our regular Sunday gatherings. The local community radio provided air time for a stations of the cross a joint service with the Catholics and Anglicans on the Good Friday.

ANZAC Day on the 25th April was surreal with no war memorial services to attend. But people found ways to mark this sombre and important day by staying home and standing in their driveways at dawn with a candle as they remembered those who gave their lives for us. We took a battery radio outside to listen to the Dawn Service broadcasted from Canberra’s War Memorial with a handful of people including our Prime Minister Scott Morrison. My husband and I lit our old kerosene lantern and stood in our paddock watching the sun rise. As the strains of the Last Post played I was surprised by how moved I felt by this simple action. The magpies provided a beautiful background chorus. We later visited the war memorial in town practising social distancing and were able to view the many wreaths and tributes that were laid by various individuals and community groups and organisations.

Autumn has been delightful here and the show of colours better than previous years. We are allowed out to exercise so we are fortunate to have the picturesque Delatite River nearby to enjoy. April came to a close with impressive rainfalls and a wintery blast. We received more than 130ml in one week so there is lots of runoff from the hills behind us and our dams are overflowing which makes us very happy. This cold snap also brought more than half a metre of snow to Mt Buller making for a magnificent sight on a clear sunny day.

So life carries on with its own rhythms as we look forward to less restrictions in the near future.

Unprecedented

Nature is a picture of resilience

Several words have become the new catch phrases of our world-wide “new normal” during the Coronavirus pandemic including “unprecedented”, “stay home” and “we’re all in this together”. So stay home I have except for one trip into town, my first in two weeks. It was an eerie feeling and not a lot of joy to be had. Strict hygiene measures were in place at the pharmacy and supermarkets. People giving me a wide berth on the street as part of their social distancing. There are still shortages of certain items and limits are in place.

There was an hour and a half wait to pick up prescriptions so my husband and I had to fill in time. It is not worth going home when you live more than 20 minutes away. Cafes are only open for takeaway coffees but you are not allowed to sit outside to drink them. An older friend of ours got moved on the other day by the police for enjoying a coffee in the median strip with a friend after their bike ride.

You are allowed to exercise (just don’t congregate) so we did a walk around town which was very quiet. Otherwise, we have been self-isolating on our 25 acres where we are surrounded by fresh air and nature in abundance. No complaints from us, it could be a lot worse and is for a lot of people.

We enjoyed stunning autumn days beginning of the week which has now ended with more 60ml of rain which was much needed. During the week I have enjoyed exploring photo opportunities and been playing around with some editing tools. Lovely to have time to do these things without feeling guilty that you should be doing other tasks.

While it is surreal staying home and not being engaged in any activities beyond our boundary fences, there has been positives in getting more jobs done and the chance to phone friends you haven’t spoken to in a long time. As they say “‘We’re all in this together” and if we pull together then hopefully sooner rather than later we will get through to the other side.

Would love to hear your comments for survival during COVID-19.

Finding joy in the small things

It is quite surreal this current situation. I am sitting at home safe and well but with an overwhelming knowledge that not all is well in the world. The sun comes up and goes down. The birds sing without a care and the autumn breeze is gentle on my face. I am blessed to live in a rural area where no cases of coronavirus have been confirmed and free to roam about my property and nearby town (for the time being!). However, the endless number of event cancellations and the empty shelves in our local supermarkets tells a different story. But I am determined to distract myself with other thoughts. My home is full of special memories, books and objects that give me great joy.

The other day I found an op shop buy for $2 to add to my vinyl collection. Opera may not be everyone’s cup of tea but Australia’s late Dame Joan Sutherland was without a doubt one of the world’s most gifted singers we have known. I regret that I never had the opportunity to see her perform live. Over the years I have watched many of her performances on the television. It is still on my bucket list to attend an opera at the Sydney Opera House. The vinyl may crackle but the soaring voice of Joan Sutherland gives me such joy. I found a performance from Tosca to share below.

Whatever gives you pleasure – whether it be music, words, pictures or film – enjoy the gift of creativity as a way to escape the onslaught of media coverage during this crisis. Let me know what small things give you joy? I’m sure others would love to know.

Hope beyond grief

We are drawn to the light…

Today marks the first anniversary of losing my stepson, Matt. At age 39 he made a decision to end it all. For his Dad and I it has been a journey of trying to make sense of this action and how we share his story to encourage others to talk about suicide. I wrote a post about this last year where I encouraged people to reach out to others who may be struggling

I don’t feel it is right to share his images with strangers or without his permission. I have never been one for sharing my personal grief on social media although I respect those that find it helpful. We are all different in our responses to grief. However, Matt’s Dad and I believe, that the best thing we can do is live our life to the full and honour his memory in that way.

I was clicking through my numerous photos today and I was struck by how the vision of the sun shining through the mist offered a glimmer of hope. The restorative power of nature should never be underestimated. I have gathered several pictures that resonated with me and provided a sense of beauty that speaks to the soul even when we are in a dark place.

Please remember there is help out there for yourself and loved ones. Useful links for two Australian organisations are below:

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Frenzied February!

It seems in an eye blink this month has flown with March snapping at my heels already. I guess life is like that especially when you have a diary full of activities and trips away. I started the month with a 46 degrees Celsius heatwave followed by a 22-hour power outage due to a severe storm. This did not bode well for local businesses already suffering from the economic downturn from the January fires.

Despite the heat I headed off on a mini road trip to Hay, NSW on the first weekend of February to catch up with my Mum and enjoy Tom Curtain’s “We’re Still Here” show. Air-conditioned cars and motel rooms certainly help one survive the sweltering hot weather out on the vast, flat, salt-bush plains. Although I love my home in the high country of Victoria, I have a great affection for the sweeping flat country that meets the sky on the horizon wherever you gaze. As a young girl we lived at Deniliquin about 100 kms from Hay on similar country. My big skewbald gelding Patch disappeared one day and was found on a large property several miles away a week later. I remember riding him back home on open flat country with wide roadside verges and a full-moon beaming down on us. I was only 12 but that memory is one of my favourites.

The heat was certainly intense and I felt like I was the only person travelling on the roads on my drive over to Hay. It was a thrill for me to be part of such an isolated landscape and to escape the confines of more urban areas. I came across a large herd of cattle enjoying a green pick by the edges of the large irrigation canal. This part of Australia is struggling with drought conditions. Signs on fences “water = life” and “stock needs water” emphasises the water management issues and lack of rain.

On arrival in Hay, one could be forgiven for thinking it was a ghost town. Even some of the popular tourist attractions such as Shear Outback and Bishops Court were closed. No doubt when the mercury gets into the high 40s, volunteers can’t be expected to work in those conditions. My Mum and I found an oasis being the Riverine Hotel in the main street where we drank some beers in air-conditioned comfort with many others with the same idea. The main street was empty except for the occasional B-double truck passing through with donated round bales of hay to help out those struggling to feed stock. That night the local take away was flat out with many opting out of cooking at home.

Thankfully, early next morning some rain did arrive and cooled things down considerably. That night was a pleasant temperature in the Hay Park to watch Tom and his team treat us to music, horsemanship skills, dog handling, audience participation with the young children, and a couple of goats even mingled with the crowd!

Earlier in the day Mum and I drove out to the One Tree Plain Hotel, once a staging post for the Cobb & Co drivers and horses. The rustic building is not open to the public and is now used for special events. Back in town we checked out the old Hay Gaol which also houses many historical items. The gaol in 1961 became an institution for young girls and was quite grim.

The next day Mum I fitted in checking out the local op shops and I found a couple of bargains. A coffee and toasted sandwich at newly opened café called The Black Sheep which was a cute eatery afterwards and said our goodbyes. The trip home was an easy run and I managed to fit in a side trip nearer Benalla, in Victoria’s North East to see the silo art installation at in the quaint village of Devenish, which commemorates our First World War involvement. Beautifully done. Another example of the value of public artworks.

Back home to my committee commitments. To make life more interesting my husband and I auditioned for a new local theatre group production late last year and rehearsals began in earnest this month with three sessions per week. “The Kastle” is an original stage show which carries on from where the much loved Aussie movie “The Castle” left off. The next generation of Kerrigans recreate the struggle between the ordinary working class person and beaucracy. The castle in dispute is their home. Lots of pub choir music and crazy dialogue guarantees a fun-filled performance.

However, we take our leave from rehearsals for a week so I can travel to Perth, Western Australia for my graduation ceremony. After five challenging years of studying part time via distance learning, I received my Bachelor of Arts degree. My husband Bolly and I thought it was a good reason to fly to the other side of the country and enjoy a break away at the same time. We chose a hotel in the centre of Perth which was a perfect base for lots of outings. The graduation ceremony was held outside at Murdoch University and more than 350 students were there to collect their awards. It was a special night.

Loved our time in Perth. Discovered lots of street art, good bars and eateries, and enjoyed a lively time at the Irish pub around the corner. Managed a day trip to Rottnest Island where we hired bicycles and swam at the most gorgeous beaches. Will need to do another post about our trip.

We fly back home in time for the two of us to do bar duties for the Mansfield “We’re Still Here” tour gig by Tom Curtain. It was great to catch up with Tom and the team so soon after his Hay show. Good night had by all.

Since then we have managed to fit in some cycling with our social group. We have helped friends net their grape vines to protect the fruit from the birds. Makes one appreciate the end product in a bottle even more!

This week we had an overnight trip to Melbourne for the Australian premiere of the documentary film directed by my friend Mark Street “William Kelly’s Big Picture – Can Art Stop a Bullet?” at the Nova Cinema in Carlton. This is a really thought provoking film and the artist himself was there for Q&A afterwards. The power of art for good is a strong message in this film. Please check out the website for more information about William Kelly and screenings.

https://www.kellysbigpicture.com/

Now we are back home to our country retreat to recharge for the coming month which should coincide with the start of autumn but Mother Nature may have other plans!

Weathering summer…Down Under

Where the hell did January go? I finally took down my Christmas tree late in the month rather reluctantly because I love an excuse to turn it on at night and enjoy the sparkling white lights against my blue and silver decorations. I still uphold the tradition of exchanging Christmas cards especially with those who live a long way from us and our overseas friends and families. Letters and family snaps fall out of the cards, giving us a glimpse of other people’s year that was.

The fires and smoke haze have disappeared for now in our part of the world. Kids are back at school. After a reprieve from hot days and almost 60ml of rain in the last week or so, one can almost be forgiven for thinking that we are through the worst. But the temperature gauge started to sneak up again and today it was 32 degrees Celsius at 10am. Tomorrow it will get into the mid-40s in places. January is always a funny month like that. One has plans to do lots during the quieter holiday period but when the weather is extreme it robs one of their mojo!

The holiday period has been a disaster for those who rely on the busy tourism period, so some of us locals have been trying to do our bit by spending money locally. While it is nice to be able to get a park outside your regular supermarket in town, the deserted streets are testament to a huge economic hit taken by businesses. Hard to imagine how much worse it is for those towns and regions actually burnt out.

But us Aussies are a resilient bunch and we bounce back with some help from our mates. A social media campaign “Fill Your Esky” is promoting the idea of people from the city and elsewhere to head off to places impacted by the fires and fill their ice boxes with produce and other goodies during their visit. We decided to head up to the hills to Jamieson, a pretty old timber village on the river about a half-hour drive from our home for lunch at Deb’s Café and a couple of craft beers at the Jamieson Brewery to do our bit. The Australia Day long weekend did see an influx of visitors especially for the annual river regatta which starts at Kevington. From what I heard it was well supported and loads of fun.

Here’s hoping for better things to come in 2020.

Beyond the smoky haze

Sunset through the smoke haze
Nearby hills are obscured by thick smoke haze

Summer in Australia includes the Christmas and New Year celebrations followed by fun filled relaxing holidays by the beach or camping in the bush. Boating, fishing and water-skiing are popular on large lakes and rivers. December and January have marked a period of heartache and devastation as fires raged across the country with NSW, Victoria and South Australia receiving the brunt of the damage. Many people’s holiday plans have been impacted by the closure of our national and state parks by authorities where there are fires and significant threat to life. There was the mass exodus of holidaymakers through our town when the evacuation order was made. Now it is strangely quiet and many local businesses are suffering from loss of income from the impact of the fires. Most of Victoria and NSW has been shrouded in smoke for several days with reports of smoke haze in New Zealand and South America.

We have been fortunate to only be subjected to smoke haze when so many have suffered lost of lives, homes, livelihoods, massive stock losses and trauma elsewhere. But it has been difficult to escape the wall-to-wall coverage of the fires and the social media frenzy without feeling somewhat overwhelmed. Situations like this also seems to bring out the best and the worse in humans. Stories of unsung heroes and the compassion for others has been uplifting. Another sad aspect of our bushfires is the huge loss of our native flora and fauna.

We continue to ensure on the hot days that there are plenty of water bowls around the house for all the different birds that visit us ranging from the tiny finches through to the larger magpies. Bolly(my husband) has been working extremely hard clearing any fallen leaves and branches from around our property. The hot windy days are nuisance because you have to clear up all over again! We have complied a “what to do in a fire” situation book of instructions and photos for us to refer to and for any house sitters or visitors. We have a fire-fighting pump near our dam and sprinklers in our lawn if needed. While we don’t feel in any particular danger being in cleared farming land there is still the risk of grassfires and lightening strikes hitting paddock trees.

A most welcome cool change overnight has brought 7ml of rain followed by clear, blue skies, this morning. One has to be optimistic if we are to support one another and look after our mates to get through the tough times.

The importance of storytelling beyond once upon a time…

I have been exploring some creative writing pursuits since I posted this and it has reminded me of the importance of the narrative.

Escape to the High Country...

Words, pictures, voices and actions can be woven into storytelling in all its different forms. It can be an oral history passed down by Indigenous Australians, a Shakespearean tragedy, a rousing Italian opera, tall tales shared by good mates, moving pictures on the screen both big and small, or found in the pages of a book. Whatever means is used to tell a story, there is a purpose behind the telling.

For writers or at least for me, the narrative is the holy grail of storytelling. As children we often heard or read the words, “Once upon a time…” that would lead us into the world of princes and princesses, fairies and elves,  wicked step-mothers and ugly sisters. There was usually the elements of good and evil, a sense of injustice and redemption, followed by a happy ending to the fairy tale. Without being aware of the morals being espoused…

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The Spring that was…and the start of Summer that wasn’t.

It is not the language of the painters but the language of nature to which one has to listen.

– Vincent van Gough (1853-1890) Dutch painter

The end of November is technically the end of spring in the Southern Hemisphere but since when has Mother Nature complied with calendar definitions of the seasons? The start of summer here in the high country of Victoria saw a dump of snow on nearby Mt Buller and chilly days for the locals. We were talking to family in England and there wasn’t much difference between their temperatures and ours.

But the sun has returned with the promise of warmer days ahead. Our neighbour has tackled our long grass and soon it will be turned into large round bales for fodder. Our November has been a busy month and brings with it a mixture of joy and sadness.

The local Mansfield Festival over the unofficial Melbourne Cup long weekend brings an influx of visitors from the city to join in the activities. I help out early at the bush market on a stall to raise funds and awareness of our East Timor Friends of Venilale group while Bolly my husband is at the Anglican church setting up for the book stall and Devonshire Teas. Then at 11am myself and several others from our agricultural society group gather to participate in the annual street parade. Great opportunity to promote our up and coming show on the 16th November. Part of our display was a rusty 1937 Chevrolet farm ute which attracted plenty of attention. The rain held off until after the parade.

This Chevy hasn’t been on the high street since the 1950s! Road closed for parade traffic only.

Sunny skies were the order of the day for the Mansfield Melbourne Cup Day horse races and despite recent bad publicity about the treatment of some racehorses after their career is over, there was a good crowd and a social atmosphere for all ages. These country events also provide much needed fundraising for community groups.

We join the members of our RSL sub-branch and the wider community to pay our respects on Remembrance Day with a special service.

I somehow managed to find time to write a short story for the local Bushy Tales competition. This year’s theme was to be based on an “animal”. While I did not win with my piece about Friskie, our beautiful bushy-tailed friend who we sadly lost in October, it was published in a collection of stories and poems. I was invited on the presentation night to share my story which was written as part of my healing from the grief of losing a much-loved pet.

The 130th Mansfield Show was hailed as one of the most successful in years which was helped by perfect sunny spring weather. Without the huge effort by committee members and many other volunteers the show would not happen. As secretary my November was extremely busy. It was good to see horse entries up this year and the number of young children entering the various pavilion sections.

We entertain two lots of visitors during November and always enjoy sharing our little bit of country with them. The kids especially enjoy a ride in the trailer and wielding an axe! There are birthdays to celebrate not far from home, one a 70th and the other an 80th in idyllic rural settings. November is also sad as I remember family members who died five years ago.

But as the year draws to end, we reflect on the good things and learn from the not so good, and continue to count our blessings