Two years ago, it was my town threatened by bushfires. It was my community losing homes, livestock, and family farms. Now, it feels as though half the country is burning, or has already burnt down.
The horrific and disastrous bushfires this summer have triggered so many feelings and memories. I remember how gut-wrenchingly awful it was then, and cannot comprehend the exponential scale of the current catastrophe my country is experiencing.
Like then, I have friends who have lost everything except the few things they managed to take with them as they evacuated. My heart breaks for them, but I am so incredibly thankful they got out when they did.
I feel so useless. It seems as much as one donates and supports and cries and prays for an end to the fires, it never feels like enough.
Add a few layers of grief, empathy, and occasional despair, and you get something of an idea about how many Australians are feeling at this point.
I wrote this poem, and a number of others, in the aftermath of the St Patrick’s Day fires of 2018. It seems an appropriate poem to post at a point where a large proportion of eastern Australia is either on fire, has burnt, or is blanketed in acrid smoke.
It is a recollection of an actual conversation among locals in my town back in March 2018, and bears witness to the resilience and the empathy of Australians in the face of adversity.
This poem is included in ‘Smoke and Shadows’. All profits from the sale of this book between January 1 and June 30 are being donated to ongoing bushfire relief.
This post caught my attention today because it echoes many of my own thoughts and feelings about the gifts I’ll be giving – and receiving – at Christmas.
I’m keen to give people what they want and what they need for Christmas, rather than spending money on something they won’t value. I’m also increasingly aware of the level of waste and discarded goods that are piling up on our planet.
So, this year, I have gone a little green in my requests and in my shopping.
My gift request of my husband was to buy me a couple of trees for our yard. The first one I chose is a maple, as anyone who knows me would assume,- and the other is a spruce that we can use as a real-life Christmas tree each year, and dress it up in the garden. Both hearken to my love for Canada and the very happy memories I have made there. I am unable to travel there at the moment, so why not add a little more Canada to my home? While some might say that I should only be planting Australian species, I would argue that tree is a tree, and any tree is better for the planet than having none. And in this case, two trees are better than one!
Without disclosing any secrets about gifts I have bought for others, I have rejected anything plastic, disposable or wasteful. I’m using recycled paper giftwrap and cloth ribbons rather than the curly plastic foil variety. I’m buying from local small businesses, and hopefully helping them provide their families and workers with a good Christmas too.
My contributions might be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but making a difference even on a local scale is still worthwhile.
I find this question really interesting to ask people because there are so many different ways a person can approach this question.
There’s people who’ll say “a million dollars” and people who’ll say “I don’t want a thing”. There’s people who’ll say items that they really know and love, and people who’ll provide practical options they know that person can afford. Some people even ask for donations to be made in lieu of gifts.
Honestly, to me, what people provide as an answer tells me a lot about who they are. Not that any one answer is better than another. Well, perhaps some answers are better than other’s. If you told me you wanted to kick a puppy for Christmas then I’d think you’re a bad person But, that was a huge tangent and I should get back on track. For the most part, when people answer…
Don’t misunderstand me: I am not being flippant or casual in saying ’Thank God It’s Friday”.
And especially not tonight.
At the end of yet another really sucky week in a succession of variously sucky weeks, I can honestly say I am so thankful for the fact that it’s Friday night and I am free of any obligation to look or sound like I know what I’m doing, stick to a schedule, wear proper shoes, or talk to anyone that I’d rather not talk to, for two whole days.
I’ve come home from work tonight, fed the dog and fed my dad, done the dishes, and consider all my obligations to have been met. I am currently hiding under a quilt in my living room so that the universe might not know where to find me.
And if you see someone poking pins into a voodoo doll that looks like me, do me a favour and take it off them, will you please? Gently? And maybe give it coffee and pizza. Thanks in advance.
Today, with encouragement from my friends Kim and Helen, I am undertaking a new challenge: I’m going to learn to knit.
It is a skill that has defied me in the past. I have tried— and failed—several times before. As humiliating as that has been, I have remained a little jealous of people who can whip up a scarf or pair of gloves, or a lovely sweater, with relative ease.
My first project is going to be a scarf. I found some wool that I really love, and will look wonderful as a warm, wide scarf that I can wrap around me when it gets cold. I bought the wool and some bamboo knitting needles just the right size, so I’m ready to start. Helen has promised to teach me this afternoon.
I’m excited. I’m keen to put my past failures behind me. I’m super keen for the scarf. To be honest, that’s probably the biggest motivator, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Right?
If I catch on and manage to make a go of it, I will update you on my progress at some point. If I don’t… we will never speak of this again.
101 years after the end of World War I, people all over Australia and New Zealand gathered today in remembrance of our soldiers, the nurses and doctors who supported them, and all those who served to preserve our freedom.
At our local ANZAC Day ceremony, I witnessed some lovely moments.
Members of the CWA had knitted poppies and used them to line the path to the cenotaph. They looked beautiful, but also served as a poignant reminder of those who had given their lives during the war.
Local men who had served stood proudly, wearing their medals. There are fewer of them each year, but their number was supported by the children and grandchildren of those who have passed, wearing their forebears’ medals with pride and reverence.
One of my own former students gave a beautiful heartfelt requiem for the fallen. He spoke so well, and really knew his history. He made me really proud.
An elderly gentleman standing near me bent down, took his restless young grandsons in his arms and explained to them why they needed to be quiet and pay respect. He then pinned his own poppy on one boy’s shirt. The smile on that child’s face as he stood quietly beside his grandfather for the rest of the ceremony was a wonderful thing to see.
Several young people of my town raised the flags of Australia and New Zealand to half mast and stood with their heads bowed during the Last Post and the minute of silence before raising the flags to full height and saluting them.
Over thirty local groups, organisations and businesses laid memorial wreaths at the base of the cenotaph. Young members of the local Scout group carried and laid wreaths for those who were too elderly or frail to do so, keeping pace with the older folk as they walked to and from the cenotaph.
A teenaged member of my theatre company sang the national anthems of both countries with reverence and pride. Everyone in attendance stood and sang along with pride. Not everyone knew the New Zealand anthem, but plenty of folk did.
After the ceremony, the local Scouts carried around plates of sandwiches and refreshments for the townsfolk who had congregated. Every single one of them said “Excuse me” before offering us something to eat. Every single one of them smiled and spoke respectfully.
I have no doubt that similar things happened in every locality across Australia at 11am today to commemorate all those who served to defend our country and preserve our freedom, because that is what Australians do on April 25th.
I rested for most of the day. I made some promo graphics, played on social media, and I’ve been listening to an audiobook of the history of the Romanov dynasty, which is super interesting for my history-loving brain, so my body can relax and heal.
I did manage a couple of non-taxing tasks around the place in my walking/standing times, which felt good.
It was a lovely spring day, so I opened doors and windows to let the fresh air though the house. I tidied a few small things away, and sorted out the mounting pile of papers on my desk and worked out what to do with them.
The junk is in the recycling, and I now have a “to do” pile for tomorrow and a “to file” pile for that currently far-off day when I can comfortably and safely bend down to use my filing drawer. Both piles of papers are small. This makes me happy.
I am also feeling positive and happy for more creative reasons.
I submitted a short story for an anthology after being recommended to the publisher by a fellow author. I hope they accept it, just because I would appreciate the encouragement of having them like it enough to include it.
I also submitted a poem that I was commissioned to write a couple of months ago. You may recall me writing in March about the bushfires that devastated our local area. One of the farmers who lost everything except his wife and children in the fires provided me with some photos and written reflections, and asked me to write a poem based on those to demonstrate the power of loss and grief experienced by farmers in the region.
My poem will be used to accompany a working report to the Government on the impact on farmers of the loss os property, livestock and livelihood as a result of the fires, so it was an absolute privilege to be asked to write such a piece. Of course, there is always a bit of tension in knowing it’s important and wanting it to be exactly right, but I am probably just as obsessive about every poem I write, so I am experienced at dealing with that. I really hope he likes it.
So, for now, it’s more waiting but I have plenty to keep me occupied. My “ideas and plans” writing notebook is still quite full. Be afraid!
Today is ANZAC Day: the day on which Australians and New Zealanders stop to commemorate and reflect on the sacrifice of all those who served our countries – very often side by side – in World War I, and ever since.
113 years after the ANZAC forces stormed the beaches and clambered up the cliffs at Gallipoli, we stand in sombre silence and remember the enormous losses of life suffered on that day, and every other day, during major conflicts like the two World Wars. Every year, attendance at dawn services, ANZAC Day marches, and commemoration ceremonies around Australia grows, even though all the soldiers who fought in World War I, and many who fought in World War II, have passed away.
Peter Rock, the MC at this morning’s ceremony at the cenotaph in my local town, made a profound observation in the early moments of his opening speech: “Those who are surprised by the fact that ANZAC Day commemorations continue to draw record attendance understand very little of our national character.” He went on to speak about how and why we remember those who fought and sacrificed themselves for our freedom. Their bravery is renowned, but so is their commitment despite adversity, their mateship, and their love for their country. He’s absolutely right – those are qualities that have indeed become part of our national character. Our freedom and our mateship are the rewards of their courage and service.
That’s something my town has been reminded of in recent weeks. This time, our enemy was fire, and our battle was fought with water and fire retardant foam, not with bullets and mortars. Those who faced the danger and fought to keep the rest of us safe did so knowing they were putting themselves at risk, but that didn’t stop them. Behind the fire front, they were supported by others who worked tirelessly to supply and feed them, but also to care for those who had to flee from the fires, and for all those who were traumatised by them in various ways. Of course, it’s a very different scale to what was experienced by the soldiers who went to war, but the selflessness and the determination to serve and protect is the same.
Thankfully, no lives were lost in that particular war, although there were numerous casualties in terms of homes and livelihoods. It has been relentless and exhausting, yet our community has come together yet again to help, support, and defend. People may have lost their houses, but they are not homeless: we are their home, and we will make sure they have what they need to start over and keep going. In true Aussie fashion, our local community has been incredibly generous, as have many people from beyond the local area. There really is no better place to live.
Today’s ceremony was, as always, very well attended. Representatives from service groups, churches, local government organisations, school students and professional organisations laid wreaths in memory of the fallen. Families stood together, some wearing medals that belonged to fathers, uncles, or grandparents who served in the military and have since passed on. The flags of both Australia and New Zealand were flown at half mast until after the minute of silent reflection, and the national anthems of both countries were sung. Tears – whether of sorrow for the fallen, of thankfulness for the freedom we enjoy, of patriotic pride, or a combination of all those factors – were shed.
This afternoon, there’s a big concert being held on the local football ground, not just to raise funds for fire relief, but also to give some joy and celebration back to a community that has done some really hard yards over the past six weeks. Talents from both the local area and further afield will be performing. Local businesses are providing catering, entertainment, and every other service that’s needed.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that the locals are going to turn out in force to support that concert, and each other, because that’s what we do. We stick together in times of trouble, and we cheer each other on in our victories. In doing that on ANZAC Day, we will continue to remember the lessons we learned from the ANZACS and all our other diggers.
At the going down of the sun, just as we did in the morning, we WILL remember them.
This week, I did something I haven’t done in quite some time: I put an item I really wanted on my “watch list” on eBay. That set in motion the next chain of events: checking in daily– or more often, as the end drew nearer– to see if anyone had placed a bid, choosing the precise time at which I would place my first bid so that nobody else could click the “Buy It Now” button, waiting with anticipation as time ticked away, and then moaning about how slowly time moves in that last half hour.
Honestly, that last half hour of an auction for an item you really want is like walking through glue. After a whole week of saying, “Far out! How is it 4pm already?”, yesterday afternoon d r a g g e d like you wouldn’t believe.
By the time there were just ten minutes left, I was poised like a cat watching the proverbial mouse. I was ready to bid if someone else outbid me. I was prepared for that battle of one-upmanship that often happens in the last five minutes, yet still breathing the mantra “nobody see this… please, nobody else see this.” The tension gripped my shoulders and I had to work to keep my breathing steady. When the auction finished without anyone else bidding, relief washed over me like a wave, right before the excitement of winning put me on a high for the rest of the day.
You may think I’m exaggerating, but this is a scene that is all-too-familiar to people accustomed to buying things on eBay and similar auction sites. It’s the thrill of the chase and a cat-and-mouse game, without even leaving the room. It can be quite addictive, although I only indulge occasionally.
Sure, I use eBay now and then for everyday items that my local stores don’t carry. Most of those, you can just buy casually because they always have more than one set of stainless steel drinking straws, for example. What I’m talking about here is the one-off item that you don’t want to miss out on.
The last big thing I bought like this was a set of antique books – a complete set of Charles Dickens novels published in 1911, that I snapped up for $76. I’m pretty sure that whoever sold it didn’t know what they were selling, or how to list it properly, because that was an absolute steal. But hey – there it was, and there I was… what’s a book-loving girl to do?
Yesterday, the item in question was an out-of-production collectable teddy bear by Charlie Bears, a UK firm who make the most adorable bears ever. Their faces are ever so expressive, and every bear is just a little bit individual.
I have a number of these bears already, but there’s always room for one more. As my husband says, “Some women buy shoes. Some women gamble. For Jo, it’s books and bears.”
This is Percival. He is super cute, and was listed for about a third of the retail price. Again, what’s a bear-loving girl to do? It just wouldn’t be right to leave a poor little bear all homeless and alone, would it? Just think of me as one of those altruistic animal rescuers, giving otherwise miserable bears a new chance at life in a sanctuary with others of their own kind.
If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram, you will most likely have seen some of my bears posing with my books. It’s a marketing angle I’m trying out since Facebook and Instagram in particular seem to favour posts that major on visual appeal rather than advertising value. In a social media world where everyone needs to find their own niche for marketing, “A Book and A Bear” is mine. People seem to enjoy the posts and respond very favourably, so I’m running with it.
Now that the auction is over, the next phase begins.
We just have to be patient and wait for Percival to arrive. It’s fair to say that Diesel is as excited as I am.
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On Friday afternoon when I left town for a family wedding a couple of hours’ drive away, my greatest concern was that my father wouldn’t feel too lonely while we were away. When we left the wedding reception on Saturday night, and I checked my phone, my heart leapt into my throat as I began to realise what hell had unleashed back at home.
It is late in the season for fires, but there has been very little rain and the region has been tinder dry. Hot and very windy weather conditions created the opportunity for fire to take hold and spread rapidly through both farmland and natural bush.
One outbreak led to another, and another, and then another. My town, and those nearby, were experiencing the greatest crisis in decades. Surrounded by a ring of fire, people watched, worried, and sought refuge in the middle of town.
Social media posts showed what locals could see from their yards or where they had been driving. A friend who lives nearby posted photos of what she could see – and it was terrifying.
The emergency services website showed incidents all across the region, one after the other, spreading in a grim pattern of danger and destruction.
Roads were closed. Authorities forbade people from driving into the area. The situation was officially described as catastrophic. And my 86 year old father was at home on his own. Nausea swept over me as I struggled not only with fear, but also with feelings of absolute uselessness: there was absolutely nothing I could do.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much. The radio stations weren’t forthcoming with updates until after 3am, so I turned to social media for information. With the aid of Facebook, I consulted with neighbours and made sure that our uncle had taken steps to make sure Dad was okay. I tried to call, but was unable to make contact. In the end, I just had to trust that things at home were as under control as they could be.
The fires continued to burn and spread throughout the night and the following day. As people’s stories of loss and devastation were told, offers of help were made and communities rallied, even while the fires still raged. There is no doubt about Aussies – they know how to help a mate, and they don’t hesitate to step in where needed.
Even late into the afternoon, the roads to home were all still closed, so we made our way back to a neighbouring town to wait until we could get home. One road opened at 5.50pm; we only needed one road, so we headed home. We knew that even though the road was open, authorities didn’t want people just driving into the area without good reason, but my dad was a very good reason to be making the trip.
We were very glad to find that Dad was fine, our home was safe, and the town itself was untouched except for smoke. Our local football oval was filled with emergency service manpower and vehicles from other places. They had come to help fight the fires and provide relief to the local crews, many of whom are volunteers, who had been working for many long hours to defend and protect people, properties and towns.
Fifteen minutes after returning home, a succession of five fire trucks went zooming down our no-through road, and my heart was in my throat again. Whatever had them rushing out had to be close, as there’s only about two kilometres of road past our place before the road ends. Within half an hour they had sorted the issue and came trundling back. My neighbours and I applauded them, gave them the thumbs up, and cheered them to show our gratitude for their quick response. They waved back and returned the thumbs up, their smiles letting us know that they understood and were thankful for our response, too.
Not long after that, new plumes of smoke not too far away indicated that there were new fires springing up. I could hear the sirens as they rushed out of town to meet the new emergencies, and reminded myself that the crisis wasn’t over just because my immediate surroundings were relatively safe.
Thick smoke once again settled over the town. We took encouragement from the fact that warnings were downgraded to critical from catastrophic, and the symbols on the emergency services’ online fire map gradually began to change from red to orange.
Incredibly, no human lives have been lost and very few serious injuries have been suffered. This is testament to the dedication, hard work and training of our first responders, particularly our firefighters and State Emergency Service volunteers.
Despite the smoke in the air and the knowledge that the crisis wasn’t over yet, I slept so much better last night knowing that we were being protected by hundreds of committed and able firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews. It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the job they’ve done and continue to do.
This morning the pall of smoke blanketing our town was thick. It stings the eyes and the throat, and it smells. Yet that is the only discomfort I suffer, and for that I am incredibly thankful. What a blessing to be able to say that.
The waterbombers and helicopters are flying overhead, and the work to control and extinguish these fires continues. People who are much, much braver than I are working in difficult and dangerous conditions, and for that we are all incredibly thankful.
The warnings for my town have been downgraded to Watch and Act but others are still in danger. We all have to remain vigilant.
Beyond that, we all have to care for each other.
People have lost homes, or farms, or herds… or all of that.
Our local community in the southwest of Victoria has been shaken and found strong, supportive and caring – and now, we must continue that by caring for those who have lost so much.
I have no doubt that Cobden will ace that – we’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.
As I’ve said on numerous occasions, we’re incredibly blessed to live in Cobden. It’s a great community, and I’m thankful that it has passed this most recent test.