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!

The real deal…

The real deal…in Aussie lingo if you hear someone described this way, it is a high compliment indeed. Genuine, what you see is what you get, knowledgeable, not arrogant, a willingness to give of themselves generously, true-blue, and an ability to get on with anyone; are some of the attributes that come to mind. This year I had the pleasure of meeting two such individuals.

One a highly credentialed senior journalist and the other a skilled horseman and country musician. I’m not sure that they have ever met but they do have in common a love of Australia and sharing stories of people and places.

Heather Ewart, esteemed and seasoned television journalist with the ABC for many years, is the real deal. From hard-nosed reporting on the 7.30 Report to fronting the series Back Roads she is travelling across Australia with her producer and camera crew to capture the essence of places and people that are off the beaten track. Usually, smaller communities with characters and stories aplenty to share feature.

Our paths crossed recently during the annual Tolmie Sports Day held each February for 133 years in a bush setting in the hills about halfway between Mansfield and Whitfield in Victoria’s north-east. The day showcases traditions such as the wood chop, woodwork and blacksmithing and newer ones to include a chain saw competition. Equestrian events offer various novelties and jumping competitions for younger and older riders. The foot races judging by their names cater for all abilities and ages; ranging from the single ladies race to the Cooked Chooks through to the bloke’s Old Buffer’s Race and the Prime Bucks. The dog jump is always a crowd pleaser and so was the special display by the “Flipping Disc Dogz” which promotes a positive message of encouraging young children that they are capable of doing great things. It has a feel of an English fete with an a bush flavour. There are historical displays and of course the ever-popular Devonshire teas.

The day starts in brilliant sunshine but after lunch, the clouds rolled in and the rain poured down. But the local CFA (Country Fire Authority) volunteers agreed with me the much needed rain was preferably to dealing with bush fires. Despite the down pour and the risk of frizzy hair, Heather and her camera crew continued filming and interviewing some of the local identities and personalities. There were still smiles all round and good-natured banter. Heather posed for photographs with many of the local volunteers and assisted with the raffle draw taking it all in her stride.

Having followed Heather’s career and her more recent foray into presenter of the popular Back Roads series, one can see her ability to tell a story and to engage with individuals on all levels. Heather grew up as a country girl in the Victorian town of Murchison on the Goulburn River. There is a relaxed, laid back manner about her and a genuine interest in people’s stories. She manages to dig up some real gems like old-timer Tarpot in a recent episode featuring Windorah in outback Queensland. Sadly, Tarpot died recently but he is immortalised on screen. If I told Heather I thought she was “the real deal” she would probably brush it off and tell me she had encountered much more worthy contenders for the title.

The new Back Roads series including the Tolmie episode is due to return to our ABC television screens from June 17. While on the subject of ABC television, it is worth noting journalist icon, Barrie Cassidy, as well as being husband of Heather Ewart, retired in June after 18 years presenting Insiders, a successful current affairs show with shrewd insights into Australian politics . Described by many as tough but always fair, the accolades and response from the public and politicians alike, puts Barrie into the category of the real deal as we hear “back to you Barrie” for the last time. One hopes that Barrie and Heather get to spend more time together on a back road somewhere!

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-27/abc-tv-back-roads-heather-ewart-the-road-back-home/8001104

https://www.abc.net.au/news/about/backstory/television/2019-06-09/barrie-cassidy-signs-off-from-insiders/11186060


My other contender is Tom Curtain, respected horseman, dog handler and a golden Guitar winner at the Tamworth Country Music festival held every year in NSW. I met Tom in his home town of Katherine in the Northern Territory playing at the tourist motel where I was staying with my husband and friends in 2012. My Mum, a country journalist interviewed him when he was performing at the “Man From Snowy River Festival” in Corryong some time before. Growing up on a large cattle station one of five boys his life revolved around horses, dogs, music and all things country.

Tom Curtain can play his guitar on a horse with no bridle…if you are lucky you may even catch him standing up on a horse and playing.

His lyrics echo the stories of so many who call Australia home – that great dividing line where the city ends and bush begins. As a young man while out in the mustering camps, Tom would try to hone up his playing skills. Obviously, a combination of perseverance and talent, came together in the 2004 release of his first album Smack Bang providing insights into life in the territory. He has gone on to win, the prestigious “Australian Independent Artist of the Year” at the 2018 Southern Stars Australian Independent Country Music Awards in Tamworth, NSW.

Tom also knows about resilience and having to reinvent one’s self when one door closes and take on a new venture which was to be the Katherine Outback Experience after his livelihood disappeared due to a downturn in the pastoral industry because of the Australian Government’s ban on live export of cattle in 2011.

Tom and his partner Annabel embarked on a whirlwind tour across Australia performing at small towns including Mansfield in Victoria(slide show above) and big cities such as Melbourne, earlier this year as part of his “Speak Up” tour. This tour was a result of the “Speak Up” single duet with Sara Storer that Tom penned in memory of Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett who at 14 took her own life after being bullied. This had a huge impact on Tom, a parent himself, who knew Dolly as a part of his local community. The song and the video clip was possible thanks to the generous support of several musicians who kindly donated their time and studios with 100 per cent of all proceeds and royalties from the song going to ‘Dolly’s Dream’. The Dolly’s Dream Foundation has been established by family and friends to help raise awareness about bullying and get more educational programs into schools. As part of this awareness program, Tom, arranged school visits and media interviews to spread the word about Dolly’s Dream while on the road with his “Speak Up” Tour.

Tom is the real deal when it comes to his work ethic and ability to connect to so many people through his horsemanship skills, working dogs’ display and undisputed musical talent. Watching him in action, it is wonderful to see how he can get the young kids up and dancing. His passion for sharing Dolly’s story is evident and a positive part of her legacy. Check out the two websites below to find out more about Tom Curtain’s music, his Katherine Outback Experience show and supporting Dolly’s Dream.

https://www.katherineoutbackexperience.com

https://www.tomcurtain.com.au/