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.
Occasionally I experience the discomfort of hearing people laugh, or at least smirk, at the town I live in because it’s small, rural, and offers less than the bigger cities.
It’s not surprising that this gets my hackles up.
Our little town of 1800 people has more to offer than most people realise.
We have doctors. We have our own pharmacy, fully stocked hardware store that also sells building supplies and pet supplies, and a newsagent/stationer that also sells lottery tickets, toys and gifts.
We have two boutique gift stores, a clothing store, lawyers and accountants, and a fantastic hairdresser.
We have a large supermarket, two banks, a top notch bakery, a cafe, an Asian dine in/takeaway restaurant, two other places for “fast food”, a real estate agent, a laundromat, and a butcher,
You can buy furniture, flooring, curtains, bedding and upholstery supplies.
There are two places to get fuel or and three where you can get service for your car. There’s a place that sells tools, trailers, and automotive/engineering supplies. You can get your tyres changed and your wheels aligned and balanced at three different places in town.
And that’s not even starting on the number of plumbers, electricians, and other tradies around.
There’s a pub for getting a drink or a good meal, or hosting a party or event in. There are also two rather lovely bed&breakfast establishments.
We’ve got a miniature railway, an historical dairy park, a go-kart racing track, a skate park, and a dam for fishing in, complete with geese and ducks. There are two big parks to play in. There’s a golf course, and a golf club that serves great meals and drinks.
We’ve got a footy/cricket oval, tennis courts and netball courts. The footy team go alright, and win their share of games and finals matches. We’ve also got both an outdoor and an indoor swimming pool!
We have a police station, and police officers who are active and involved in the community in positive and proactive ways. They’re helpful when you need them, they work to keep us all safe, and we don’t have to live in fear of harassment or prejudice. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a police shooting in this town.
The schools here are full of kids. Really full. There’s no danger of the schools being closed, or teachers being out of work.
We’re only ten minutes away from an excellent hospital, and 45 away from a really big one with all the fancy bits and pieces.
We have people of varying faiths and ethnic backgrounds, living in harmony with one another. Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, JWs and whatever other faiths exist here, all get along just fine, because we’re neighbours and that’s the way it’s meant to be.
People greet each other in the street, and say hello, and wave as they drive past. When someone is in need of help, they get helped. Our healthy collection of churches and service clubs make sure of that.
And we have Christmas music playing in the street – not just Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph, either. They play songs about the birth of Jesus, and the wonder of God’s love for the world. It’s true that “Winter Wonderland” was slightly out of place in yesterday’s summer temperatures, but I know I’m not the only one who yearns to be back in a place they love where it is winter at the moment, or who is, in reality, dreaming of a white Christmas.
Christmas is celebrated in town with activities in the local park, followed by Carols by Candlelight, where hundreds of people gather to sing and celebrate together, on the Sunday evening before Christmas.
We also have Easter celebrations where the churches in town join together and worship Christ as Saviour in public, and plant a cross in the park to remind people that the true meaning of Christmas is actually Easter.
We also celebrate Spring with a big town festival, including parades, art exhibitions, rubber duck races on the dam, and lots of other merriment.
Nobody is offended. Nobody hates on others because they don’t agree. People just keep on smiling, and waving, and saying hello, because that’s what we do.
This town should be the envy of anyone who lives in a place where even one of those things doesn’t happen.
On top of all that, we’ve got fresh air, beautiful farmland scenery, rivers and creeks, and the amazing Great Ocean Road and beaches galore within an hour’s drive.
People shouldn’t be knocking my town. They’re just jealous and don’t even realise it.
We’ve just been away for the hottest weekend of the summer. I don’t cope well with the heat, so I’ve sought out the coolest places possible, stayed out of the sun, and tried not to complain about how hot I’ve been. We’ve spent the weekend with some pretty great people, and really enjoyed our weekend away despite the oppressive heat of 39C with high humidity.
I enjoyed the most blissful sleep for all but the first five minutes of the two-hour drive home. I’m not going to lie to you – enjoying the air conditioning in the car after some delicious ice cream, I was possibly the happiest I’ve been all weekend. I may have snored like the lady I am, or thrashed around in a dream, but I wouldn’t have known. The phrase “dead to the world” has never been more appropriate.
On arriving home, we found that there had been a “cool change” and the temperature outside was down to 31C with even higher humidity. By the time I had finished unpacking, even my eyelids were sweating, and I could feel the tickly, trickly beads of most unladylike sweat running down my back.
Thankfully, my furbabies didn’t care how hot or sweaty or uncomfortable I was. As usual, my labrador Abbey nearly turned herself inside out with excitement and some supercharged tail wagging. My tortoiseshell cat, Scout, sat on the end of the bed and talked to me as I unpacked and put things away.
When I finally sat in my comfy chair tonight, Scout leaped up onto my lap and cuddled into me as hard as she could. At that point, I didn’t care how hot I was either. When your cat loves you enough to welcome you home with happy cuddles and purring worthy of a poorly tuned Volkswagen Beetle, you cuddle her right back for all you’re worth. That’s what loving your furbaby is all about.
The cuddle only lasted a few minutes. Once we were both ridiculously, uncomfortably hot again, she jumped down and lay on the floor beside my chair, both of us enjoying the breeze from the fan.
She’s still purring loudly enough for me to hear her, fifteen minutes later. This kind of welcome really is one of the best things about coming home.