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

Dili, gateway to Timor Leste

A comfortable one-hour flight from Darwin, in the Northern Territory, will have you in Dili, the capital of Timor Leste, one of the newest nations on earth,  and leaving behind many of the comforts of home. Tourism is a fledgling industry here but it is a country where one is so warmly welcomed and the people give much of themselves to visitors.

A small, basic building serves as the international airport and is a far cry from the slick commercial ones we are used to. The local yellow cabs look like duct tape is used to keep them together. They are a reminder we are in a third-world country. The shattered windscreen and scraping mudguards accompanied by plumes of exhaust fumes do little to instil confidence that these vehicles can make the trip into the centre of Dili. Car ownership and even motor bikes or scooters, are beyond the reach of most East Timorese. Other than taxis, there is the local Mikrolet, a mini-bus used by most to travel around town or to the more remote parts of the country. Colourful and noisy, they remind one of public transport in India. For other people, walking long distances is common.

The taxi ride from the airport is an experience. Our laden suitcases tax the suspension of our hire car. We are carrying extra luggage because we have special supplies for the village of Venilale, with which we have a partnership with back in Australia. The boot of the car where our suitcases are stowed, is also home to a rather large black box which amplifies the rather loud, grating music for our driver’s entertainment. Obviously, proud of his sound system, for me in the back seat my poor ear drums were under assault. We politely requested that it be turned off!

We spent our first three nights in Dili at the Hotel Esplanda, with comfortable western-style accommodation. The up-stairs restaurant overlooks the sea which provides a cooling breeze and respite from the humidity. The southern Australian winter months is a recommended time to visit East Timor.

 

 

 

When in Dili there are some essential places to visit to get a feel for the country,  its people, history and Timorese culture.  If you are keen to buy some authentic souvenirs from Timor Leste, then the Tais Market, is a must. Here you can choose from several different stalls hand-crafted items utilising this traditional woven fabric which is often used as part of their national dress. It is a great opportunity to see local women operating the hand-looms up close. There may be some bargaining but it tends to fairly low-key and not as aggressive as you find in other Asian countries.

One aspect of travel in East Timor, is using American dollars as the local currency, which seems strange at first, given how far away America is. Also be prepared to carry plenty of cash because credit card facilities are not common at many of the markets or retail shops run by local Timorese. Most items are not particularly expensive compared to back home. Grab a hand of bananas from a street vendor for $1US for a quick cheap snack!

Other places of interest with powerful stories to share are the Santa Cruz Cemetery, and Chega, the truth and reconciliation museum. I wrote about Chega in an earlier post The importance of storytelling beyond once upon a time… if you would like to read  more about why recording people’s stories is paramount to the healing process.

Preceding the violent events of 1999 when East Timor’s fight to become an independent nation was international news was the Santa Cruz Massacre on November 12, 1991. On that morning  the Indonesian security forces violently suppressed a peaceful procession of some 3,000 Timorese people to Dili’s Santa Cruz cemetery.  This led to the deaths of 271 East Timorese, 382 wounded and 250 reported missing afterwards according to local accounts (Braithwaite, Charlesworth and Soares 2012). To better understand the events leading up to the Indonesians opening fire on those present, I would recommend the reference link below to the ANU (Australian National University) publication.

This was my first trip to East Timor and in all my travels I had never encountered a graveyard like this one. Bearing in mind the horrific event of 1991, the place has a surreal feel  with its ramshackle collection of monuments and tombs to honour the dead. Unlike our orderly English-style cemeteries, with footpaths and signs, Santa Cruz, requires scrabbling over graves to get anywhere. I found myself constantly apologising to those below for stepping on their final resting places. Shrines celebrating the dominant Catholic religion of many East Timorese and a legacy of 400-years of Portuguese colonisation, are plentiful and varied in their design. Mini-church buildings and praying hands are among the more unusual decorations.  On my way out of the cemetery, I found a dead cat lying on top of a grave, looking as if it had been placed there intentionally.  As, I said, it was a surreal feeling.

Another popular tourist attraction for both locals and foreigners, is the sunset walk (or run for others!) to the Cristo Rei statue via a 590-steps stairway passing stations of the cross.  The 27 metre high structure stands with the arms of Jesus stretched out to welcome us. Ironically, it was a present from one of the most Muslim populated countries in the world to the  predominately Christian country in 1996. Indonesian President Suharto used it to mark  the 20th anniversary of Indonesia annexing East Timor as a token gesture to please the Catholic majority (atlasobscurra website). This failed to stop East Timor’s fight for independence which escalated in 1999.

Another place worth checking out while in Dili, is Arte Moris a centre for fine arts established in 2003 and described by Lonely Planet Guide as “quirky”. It provides an outlet for the youth of Timor Leste to express themselves through various artistic mediums of contemporary and traditional forms. The place has a real reggae feel and features dark and humorous pieces.  The building with its broken ceilings and run-down surrounds are due to lack of money for such things and believed to send a political message by the artists about the lack funding for the arts (Yin Hooi 2017). In a country still dealing with the trauma of the past, here is somewhere to create with the future in mind. If you are interested in buying any of the works, a phone call is made to the individual artist to negotiate  a price.

Dili, is a fascinating city with much to offer but for its people there is much work to do to improve the lives of everyday Timorese and build a stronger, positive future for all. The nation’s capital makes a great start to any travels beyond Dili. But be prepared for the roads leading out…

References:

Braithwaite, John, Charlesworth, Hilary and Soares, Adérito (2012), Chapter 6, Santa Cruz Massacre, 1991,  Networked Governance of Freedom and Tyranny: Peace in Timor-Leste,  by ANU E Press, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p174961/pdf/ch061.pdf

Ying Hooi, Khoo (2017), How arts heal and galvanise the youth of Timor Leste, Myanmar Times, 14th June, 2017.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/cristo-rei

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/timor-leste/dili/attractions/arte-moris/a/poi-sig/427823/356192

 

Jack Frost nipping at our heels!

Winter brings new challenges and perspectives on life in the country.

 

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Moving from the city to the country; early morning frosts brings back childhood memories.

Winter arrives with the icy fingers of frost and heavy fog in abundance. Jack Frost is laying claim on our wide open spaces with great delight, as temperatures dive down to minus zero Celsius. The appearance of snow on the nearby mountain peaks, has brought the best ski season in five years attracting visitors and tourist dollars to the region.

I began this post at the start of winter and here it is with only one day officially before the start of spring. Life and other distractions have kept me away from finishing this blog about my tree-change during the cold months. My blogging was focused on Creativity and Innovation,  my latest university unit towards my agonizingly slow process of getting my first degree.

It has been an exceptionally cold winter. The wood heater is working overtime and the woolly jumpers and fur-lined boots busted out of the wardrobe. My two furry friends, Friskie and Rambo, have increased the snuggle factor as the temperature gauge drops overnight.

My respite from the cold was a two week trip to East Timor (Timor Leste) in July with a local friends group of 16 which included eight secondary college students, teachers and community members such as myself.  This was a life-changing trip and has increased my passion for this emerging nation and its beautiful people to do more to support them. I will post separately about my travels to Timor Leste and share my observations and experiences. The morning I flew out to 30 degrees plus temperatures, it was minus 5 at home! Very cold by Australian standards.

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Our frozen landscape!

With the cold weather, also came a wet winter. Many of us thought that last year’s big wet after almost 10 years of dry weather was  a one-off and not to be complacent that the same would happen again. Obviously, we were optimistic when we bought our 22,000 litre water tank to catch the run off on our shed in April – it is now full. Both our dams have filled as well which is a bonus. Bolly (my hubby) continues to clear up around the place and is making some significant inroads. Where he has cleared the banking between the dams, is now a clearway for visiting kangaroos. We do see some big holes which belong to our burrowing wombats but not near the house thankfully. Rabbits were also on the increase but their numbers seem to have tapered off. My city cat, Rambo, caught his first rabbit the other day and his second one the next day. We are not sure if it was the same rabbit or not! Not bad for a 11-year-old cat who sleeps most of the day.

Sadly, we had to have one of our old cows put down recently. The extra cold mornings and the deterioration in her health, meant that it was the most humane thing to do. The other two despite their slow movements are happy munching grass and treating us with the contempt they think we deserve.

Although the chilly days bring their challenges to keeping well rugged-up and warm, the landscape is always changing and giving us new vistas each day. But seeing the early daffodils nodding in the breeze gives one hope of warmer days ahead.

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Oh daffodil your arrival not only brightens my garden but gives a promise of spring to come.

 

The importance of storytelling beyond once upon a time…

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 by such tales, our attitudes and morals were shaped by such storytelling. Being able to communicate through narrative is part of our human nature.

When we grow up, we learn not all stories have a happy ending and we need to find ways to make sense of the impact of events on our own lives and the world around us. I recall being fascinated by Aboriginal rock art images in Kakadu National Park, in the Northern Territory. The stick-like figures drawn by Indigenous people thousands of years ago showed swollen joints of individuals. I found out later this is was a  result of poisoning from the uranium in the ground. Other rock art depicts many images from the Dreamtime including the Rainbow Serpent. These stories are passed down from generation to generation.

The power of story-telling in much more recent times, is the first-hand accounts of individuals who have endured horrors beyond comprehension.  But there is healing in telling such stories for those involved and a challenge to the rest of us not to forget. During my recent visit to East Timor, my travel group had the privilege of visiting the Chega Museum in Dili. The word Chega loosely translated from Portuguese means, “No more, stop, enough!”. Chega was also the title of a report compiled by the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in Timor Leste. It is a powerful and emotional journey as one tours this former Indonesian prison, the site of many atrocities against the East Timorese and learn of the inhumane treatment of individuals and their families beyond its walls during the invasions. The trauma experienced has left deep scars but the personal stories told are part of the healing and a message to us that we must never permit this to happen again.  But the museum is also a place of hope and peace – where visitors can leave positive messages.

The power of one’s own story can have an impact across the generations and across the world if we preserve the narrative and ensure that those “Once upon a time..” stories have a happier ending.

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The entrance to the Chega Museum, Dili, Timor Leste.