Smile – One Word Sunday

I love this photo of these two children taken with their parents’ permission in Dili, the capital of Timor Leste in 2017 during my first visit there. I have written posts and shared my photos in earlier posts.

Black and white focus on Paris

An iconic landmark in Paris which can seen from many parts of the city.
Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.
A carousel seems to be a common sight in French cities and Paris is no exception.
Waiting for a fare on the Champs-Elysees.
Arc de Triomphe is a wonderful structure that sits in the centre of a busy, chaotic roundabout that works.

Grey clouds here today prompted me to explore the beauty of black and white images of places I loved and as a reminder of travel before COVID.

Shades of Autumn

“Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.” – Unknown

The clocks were turned back during the first weekend of April and it seems to have coincided with a definite change in the seasons. There is a coolness in the evening air despite some days of sunshine. The mid-March temperatures in the low 30s and annoying blow flies seem to have disappeared here in Victoria. But April can produce some stunning Autumn weather to enjoy over the Easter holidays. Will wait and see. We have avoided floods here but our hearts go out to those especially in NSW who have experienced severe flooding twice within a month.

For me autumn offers a calming time of year. It is subtle and yet spectacular as it reveals its hidden beauty. From green to gold, yellow to red. Here in North East Victoria the colours of autumn tend to really come into their own about mid April to early May. Then the great shedding of leaves starts as we approach winter. Raking is one way to get a good work out!

Over the weekend I explored our 25 acres with camera in hand for different perspectives and to capture the various tints and hues of the changing season. I also managed to find glorious brightly-coloured flowers.

There was also a visit to one of my favourite local places, Jamieson, an historic Victorian township on the river and in the bush-clad hills that were once home to many searching for gold. My husband and I attended the once a month Anglican church service which was followed by lunch in a nearby café.

Whatever season you may be going through, remember to enjoy the one you are going through now!

Passport to nowhere?

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

Given I’m lucky to get out of the state let alone travel abroad, posing for my photo for a replacement passport seemed such a frivolous thing to be doing during a COVID Pandemic. Today, my shiny new document arrived with what I consider the world’s worst passport photo but hey aren’t they all? Now I have a very expensive book with several blank pages that need filling.

I lovingly look at my old passports with pages of stamps of foreign places I have visited and the memories come flooding back. First time backpacker adventures, island escapes to the sun, trips to visit family and a three-month honeymoon on bicycle.

My new passport is good for the next 10 years so I’m hoping to get some good use out of it! Here’s to happy travels post pandemic!

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.

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.

Snow, rain, and the road less travelled

This winter seems like a blur – the third one we have experienced in our new country home. Each day a kaleidoscope of colours mingled with smells and sounds that speak of  that time suspended between autumn and spring.  My life has fallen into that trap of busyness and too little time to do all the things I want. Sounds like my old working life – there are times when anxieties try to raise their ugly heads and I have to force them back down. I like to be busy and doing useful stuff, but there are times when I long for long periods of just being. Sometimes  I manage it. Anyone would think I am talking about the winter of my discontent!

 

From a delightful autumn we have tumbled into winter with some unexpectant heavy snowfalls on the lower hills. I was quite surprised to awake to snow falling at our place which is only 400m above sea level. As an Australian, I am always fascinated and enraptured when I see snow falling. My English-born husband doesn’t have quite the same enthusiasm!

It has been a cold and wet winter here. Unlike all of NSW and huge parts of Queensland, gripped in a crippling drought, Victoria with the exception of Gippsland, has enjoyed heavy rain falls. The beginning of the year here was dry but as the year progressed we would get a little bit more each month, until this month when we received over 35ml overnight! Now we need our gumboots if we want to walk around outside because the ground is so sodden. But it was so exciting to see our dams overflowing and even our dry gullies flowing. I love paddling through the impromptu puddles and water courses because it reminds me of my childhood.

 

 

I am still beavering away at my studies; the closer I get to the end the harder it seems at times. Being a mature age student may be a challenge but the joy of learning and incorporating your lived-experiences makes it a rewarding journey. Speaking of journeys, we did a big road trip from end of June to July, covering more than 6000 kms in three weeks. There was a purpose for this trip so we tried to make it a bit of an adventure as well. The purpose was carried out but was not without its stresses.  It was a rushed trip and despite heading north, we got rain on the Sunshine Coast and managed even in drought areas to be welcomed with muddy campgrounds. We took our camper trailer which is really just a tent on wheels! But compared to the two-man dome tent we use to crawl out of, this is luxury and we still feel like we are camping, without having to haul a large caravan behind us.

Our road trip which went through outback NSW and inland Queensland, made us realise just how bad the drought was. Miles of bare, earth paddocks without stock. In all my years of country driving, I had never seen so much road kill as I did on this trip. Starving and water-deprived kangaroos and emus, ending up as dinner at the side for the hundreds of opportunistic crows, dotted every metre or so along many parts of the road. Water is the lifeblood of this country and when you venture out into the rural heartland away from safe, comfortable urban surrounds, it hits you in the face. One farmer near Lightening Ridge said they were feeling sorry for the kangaroos which are usually considered a nuisance when they are in large numbers. Faced with hand feeding whatever stock that they may still have, the kangaroos were so hungry that they were eating the bags that the grain for sheep came in. Life is not pretty in these conditions but it serves to remind us that whatever we do we are so insignificant compared to the forces of nature.

 

Got to visit some great communities and shared a bit of our money where it was needed. Enjoyed campfires and good company. Saw some parts of the country I hadn’t seen since the early ’80s and some new places. Will do a travel blog to expand a bit more on the places we visited.

 

We had to be home before the end of July because I had study commitments and the biggest thing I had to face was removal of three wisdom teeth which had been “grumbling” (as the dental surgeon described it) for more than five years. This was hanging over me like a cloud as dark as Lucifer and a piece of coal (anyone who knows Cowboy Junkies will understand this reference!). July 26 I went under the knife for the first time in my life. I survived but ended up extremely ill for two weeks. I won’t go into details but it wasn’t pleasant to say the least.

I am finally getting back up to full-strength and trying to catch up with everything that got put on hold. The sun still comes up and goes down – sometimes I am treated to the most stunning views and I count my blessings. We have a mob of 14 kangaroos including some joeys in the pouch who seem to like the green, juicy grass on our lawn – usually they turn up early in the morning and late afternoon. Our resident wombats continued to dig holes around the place to our annoyance. The daffodils are out so despite the snow on the hills, there is a glimpse of spring to come.

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Winter cometh amid change

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Remnants of gold and red have lingered on from a delightful autumn to be embraced by the crisp, clear, first day of winter. A touch of frost is evident in the lower paddock and the dawn shadows are slowly replaced as the sun rises over the nearby hill behind our house. After throwing another log on the fire and brewing fresh coffee, I love nothing more than being snuggled up in bed with my electric blanket and furry friends, sipping on my morning cuppa as the view unfolds outside my window. Each day is different.

 

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More than 18 months have passed since the permanent tree-change. This is our life now. City life is like a distant memory and somewhere we still visit occasionally for special events, appointments and catch up with friends. Lying in bed listening to the ABC’s Melbourne Radio (it is hard to give up some habits after 30 years!), the traffic reports remind me how much I loathed the congestion on the city roads and travelling across from eastern suburbs to the west for work.  We have other obstacles to dodge now but the pace of life is slower so not rushing around everywhere.

The nights are really drawing in now, the sun is dipping behind the hills around 5pm. This week we have been treated to some sunny days and we have finally got around to cycling during the warmest part of the day to our roadside mail box 4km away. Our social cycling group that meets on Wednesdays has moved its start time from 8.30am to 9.30am during the winter months.

My husband Bolly and I have found another social group to join which I found on a local Facebook group page calling for musicians and singers to get together to encourage one another and for the sheer joy of making music in a relaxed and comfortable environment. The first gathering was in the lounge room of a young man with three singers and two guitarists unknown to each other. Almost two months later others have joined and we now have a permanent home at the local RSL club.  We are invited to bring music to the group for us to learn and practice. It is a diverse group with a range of tastes ranging from pop, rock and through to country. Numbers such as Eva Cassidy’s haunting cover of Fields of Gold, Under the Milky Way by The Church and classic country favourites by Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. The group is still evolving and bonding but we look forward to our Thursday night sessions. Music has such a positive impact on people and without the pressure of having to perform in public it provides an opportunity for us to learn. I own a blue guitar bought for my birthday from Aldi that sits on the KISS book for learning chords in my lounge room in anticipation of me finding time to learn.

My other consuming passion is photography. A local Facebook group encourages photographers to share their images and improve our skills behind the camera. Living in such a beautiful part of the world sees lots of wonderful outdoor shots including mountains, rivers and animals featured.  I was quite pleased with several awards for photos I entered in the local show last November. The administrator of the page also puts out challenges to develop our creativity. One member is a professional portrait photographer and gave up his time for free to conduct a workshop for interested members. So about three weeks ago, three of us had the opportunity to learn how to do studio-quality portraits with a professional model. The only cost was a contribution towards the hire of the model (also a trained actor) who was an amazing subject to capture. Also got some tips on editing with a professional software package.

On the study front, I have just completed a unit in Overseas Development which I enjoyed and gained several new insights into how aid is delivered in developing countries. Now I am embarking on a unit called Sustainability, Ecology & Communities which involves a major project. Slowly getting closer to the end!

There is no shortage of activities to keep us occupied. My duties as show secretary have kept me a lot busier than expected and I am still on a committee for a community house in Melbourne. But we did manage a week away using my timeshare allocation down at Victoria’s Phillip Island. The Penguin Parade is an a popular national and international tourist attraction. The little penguins nightly descent from the sea up to their burrows above the beach has made Phillip Island one of the must-see places. There is a lot of new building there to expand the site for the increased tourist numbers. But there is plenty of other things to do on the island which is linked by a bridge from San Remo on the mainland.

 

We weren’t worried about seeing the little penguins because we have done that before when we were still living in Melbourne. One area that has had a significant makeover is near The Nobbies. Gone is the tired-old bright blue kiosk covered in seagull droppings. In its place is a fairly new attraction called the Antarctica Journey which uses a mixture of cinema and photography to create a stunning visual display. There is an interactive section popular with young and old – with lots of selfies the order of the day. It is a wonderful way to experience what it would be like to be in Antarctica in an eco-friendly way. We loved it so much, we ended going again the following day with friends who hadn’t been there in 10 years. They loved it too. Of course there is a shop and a licensed café that looks over the wild seascape as it lashes against the rock formations known as The Nobbies. It was freezing cold and wet but if one is wrapped up, the walk along the boardwalk provides great views and you may even see the blow-hole in action.

 

 

Later in the week we did a boat cruise out to Seal Rocks which is not far past The Nobbies. Be warned you can feel a bit queasy from the choppy sea and if you are down wind of the seals, the smell can be overwhelming too. It was worth the trip to see so many Australian fur seals in one place. The younger pups frolic around the boat and leap out of the water and dive below in great numbers. On the rocks the adults including several large males are sunning themselves. Several 100 seals have chosen this wild part of the coast as home.

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Leaping seals, Seal Rocks.

 

Despite the rain every day, we managed to fit in some walks on the various surf beaches, a change from looking at our hills and mountains. Another worthwhile visit while on the island was to the National Vietnam Veterans Museum. A war that caused a lot of division among many Australians with many protesting our involvement in an American conflict. Sadly, when serving soldiers returned, they did not receive the welcome back that those from World War 1 and 2 did. The Vietnam War had a profound impact on the physical and mental health of many men. It has taken many years, but finally recognition for their service is happening and sites such as this museum honour their contribution.

After a wet week away we return home to dry, sunny days. But winter has arrived with icy blasts felt from the mountains this week and 21ml of rain over one day.  The town is overflowing with visitors during this long June weekend in honour of the Queen’s birthday (which is in April!) and the official start of the snow season. Not much snow to be had but plenty of fun. Bolly and I enjoyed a day up  at Mt Buller last weekend while entry was still free. Freezing cold but enough snow for tobogganing and snow ball fights.

 

We have some friends from the city staying for the weekend with their two young children so our house is full. Always lovely to have young people around and see the world through their eyes! Attempts to catch yabbies in our dam proved fruitless but a lot of fun anyway. The seasons are changing and so are we, as we adapt to our new life and routine.