The Phoenix Project

Image courtesy of Phoenix Project

Phoenix Project is a new and very exciting series of community events coming to my home town of Cobden, Victoria.

Phoenix Project really is the perfect name. Almost a year ago, Cobden, Camperdown, Terang, and much of the surrounding area was either destroyed or threatened by bushfires. Homes and livestock were lost – but miraculously, no lives. Our town, and those others nearby, emerged covered in soot and smelling of smoke, but determined to recover and keep on going as we always have done before. 

That’s something I’ve had to do in my own life, too. I’ve been through some pretty tough seasons when it felt like my life was burning down around me. Yet I’ve emerged, covered in soot, and smelling of smoke and… you get the idea. As I observed last night, I’m a bit of a phoenix myself.

There’s no doubt the fires were an absolutely awful experience for everyone involved. But we got through it.

And those hard times in my life – I’ve come out braver and stronger than I’ve ever been. Well – mentally and emotionally, at least. My spine would tell you a different story.

I was very privileged to be one of the featured artists on the opening night of The Phoenix Project, alongside outstanding blues musician Alister Turril and Josh and Yas, spoken word artists from lowercase poetry in Geelong.

I shared some of the poems from ‘Smoke and Shadows’ that I wrote during and after the St Patrick’s Day fires, followed by some of my fantasy style poems because I didn’t want my bracket to be too heavy or confronting for a largely local audience. 

The poems I shared all focused one way or another on the idea of resilience, and  getting through the trials of life stronger and wiser than on the way in. 

It was a great night. The music was cool, the poetry was powerful and thought-provoking, and the tone of the evening was 100% positive. 

Phoenix Project continues this weekend with a great lineup of musicians and artists to feed the soul of everyone who comes along. 

Details of coming events can be found on the Phoenix Project Facebook page

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Unexpected Bonus: The Bay of Whales Gallery

We discovered a new Indie art gallery in the small hamlet where we go camping every year.

After a crazy-busy Christmas and New Year “silly season” followed by some medical events with my father, we managed to get away for a few days to one of our favourite destinations.  It’s a little caravan park (aka ‘trailer park’ in American English) nestled into a bend on the Surry River on the south-western coast of Victoria, just down the hill from a small hamlet named Narrawong.  

Many people might drive through Narrawong on their way from Warrnambool to Portland and suspect that there’s not much there. 
They’d be wrong. 

This area is full of surprises. We’ve been spending part of our January here for years, but we are still finding new things to do and see. 

This year’s unexpected bonus was a visit to the Bay of Whales Gallery, where wildlife artist Brett Jarrett creates and exhibits his amazing realist art of all sorts of animals and birds. 


Visitors are welcome to talk with Brett and watch him work, which makes them feel very connected to his artwork.  It’s a very relaxed and comfortable place, and it was lovely to be able to walk around and peruse Brett’s paintings at our own pace. 

There is beauty outside the gallery, too. Peacocks and chickens roam the grounds of the building, which sits atop a hill that overlooks natural bush, farmland, beach and bay.

The Bay of Whales Gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday. 

My friends and I can personally testify that very good coffee and a range of delicious home-made cakes are available on weekends.  

Follow Brett Jarrett Wildlife Artist on Facebook or Instagram.

The View From The Top Of The Mountain

Why it’s been two weeks since I last wrote a blog post.

Wait.
What?
It’s the end of December already?

What a busy month it’s been.  The last time I wrote on this blog, I bragged about turning my alarms off and being able to relax because school was done for the year. HA! Add that to the list of things I shouldn’t say if I don’t want to tempt the fates. 

In the few days between school finishing and Christmas, my father had a slew of medical appointments. Christmas shopping had to be done. End of year breakup parties had to be attended. Some decoration of the house, at least, had to be done. Then the presents had to be wrapped. And all the time, people kept telling me to take it easy, to not worry about things, and to not feel I had to do all the usual Christmas things.

I did have to, though. My husband’s family were all coming for Christmas, and mine were arriving shortly after, so I needed to make some effort. I’m glad I did, too – we had thirty people sharing Christmas lunch in our home. Everyone brought part of the feast with them, so my contribution was minimal – I made a chocolate honeycomb cheesecake, a trifle, and the maple glaze for the ham, all of which were done the day before. 

My husband and I had agreed well before the day that it would be better to leave the running of the day to him and his sisters, so that I could preserve both my back and my energy.  There is, after all, no point in undoing weeks of healing for in the course of one busy day. 

My Christmas Day was, therefore, quite relaxed. I was able to relax in my recliner and cuddle my adorable great-nephew, drink whatever lovely cordial was in the glasses that people handed to me, and enjoy a wonderful day of fun, laughter, conversation and sharing with my family. In the late afternoon, we went to visit our best friends and exchanged gifts before sharing dinner with them.  That time, too, was precious and relaxing and lovely.

Boxing Day for us is always a day spent with extended family and friends, so we gathered at my sister-in-law’s home for a barbecue with another group of thirty or so people – some were double-ups from the previous day, some were not – on a blazing hot 40 degrees Celsius Australian summer’s day. Thank God for shade, fans, and lots of cool drinks!

Tomorrow, my sister and her family arrive from interstate for a second Christmas, and to spend some valuable time with my father. And that means it’s going to be busy again! 

For that reason, I was determined that today would be blissfully quiet. It was stinking hot again: 41C in the coolest part of mainland Australia – so I stayed indoors and enjoyed the air conditioning. Thankfully, I managed to catch up on some social media and prepare the rest of Book Squirrel’s Golden Squirrel Indie Book Awards for the 31st, which I really needed to get done so that everything is properly prepared and ready to roll. 

So, I really shouldn’t have made flippant remarks about being able to relax. It’s true I’ve been able to sleep in a bit, and I haven’t had to put real shoes on more than once, which is always nice.

In all honesty, though, getting to the end of this year feels like I’ve climbed a mountain to find that I’m standing on top and looking out to the western horizon as the sun sets.

I’m thankful to have survived the journey thus far, and I can see how far I have come.  One thing is for sure, though – I won’t complain if 2019 is kinder than its predecessor.

Achieving Balance… Slowly.

As a poet, I am always inspired by the beach and the sea.

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I posted recently about needing to write some positive poetry to balance the number of dark and melancholy poems that I’ve written, so that my next collection isn’t entirely moody, angry and defiant.

On Wednesday evening, between a meeting and a theatre company rehearsal, I grabbed some dinner and headed to one of my favourite spots – the beach. It was an unseasonally mild evening for early May— still 24 celcius when I got there— so I took off my shoes and grounded myself in nature with some deep breaths and my bare feet on the earth. It felt so good to find quietness and solitude there, just the sea, a few gulls and me.

While I sat on the foreshore and pondered the scene before me as evening fell, the beginnings of a poem came to me. Now that it’s finished, I’m pretty happy with it. I love the sensuous, joyful feel of a lovers’ reunion, and I think I’ve captured the moment well.

Consider me encouraged.

 

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

 

Thank you to everyone who took the time to encourage or inspire me with ideas, whether as a comment or in a private message. It means a lot to me that you would do that, and that you’re interested enough in my writing to help me in that way.

 

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

 

If you appreciated this post, please leave a comment or simply click “like“.
This helps my post to be seen by others. 
I’d also appreciate any feedback on the poem. 

Thanks in advance, 
WNB

ANZAC Day: It’s Part Of Who We Are.

ANZAC Day is more than just a very special day. It’s part of who we are.

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.

2018-04-25 12.13.17Peter 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.

Why You Should Support Your Local Independent Book Store.

Supporting local businesses is vital. It should be a straightforward choice.

Yesterday was somewhat traumatic. Having confronted a face from the past that I’d really rather not ever see again, I was left with time on my hands and too much on my mind. So I defaulted to my usual sanctuary – books. I didn’t have my device with me, so I headed to my favourite book store to find something to read. My need for ink on paper and a pretty, nicely textured cover in my hands was just too strong.

It’s a luxury, you know, having a local bookshop. The town in which I live doesn’t have one, but the larger town in which I work has two, as well as a fantastic place that sells second hand and antique books.  2018-04-06 12.01.50

For me, the choice is simple. I will always support locally owned, independent businesses rather than larger chains or big department stores.

As an Indie author, I know how hard it is to compete against the bigger fish that swim in the same pond. Among other advantages, traditionally published authors have someone else’s marketing budget on their side, along with a team of people to help them get their books in front of readers.

It’s actually not a lot different for independently owned shops, whether they sell books or anything else. Consider for a moment what they have to compete with: not just the huge online companies that control the world of desktop shopping, but also those local shops owned by large commercial chains which, while they may have a local presence, are generally not owned by anyone who lives down the street from you or whose kids go to the same school as yours. The owner of that local store has to pay the rent and insurance, stock the shop, pay employees, and make a living in an increasingly difficult and competitive marketplace.

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That’s why I buy my physical books at an independent store rather than from a book retail chain, or a big department store. The price for the same book is no different, but I know that I’m helping to put food on the table of a local family, or helping them to pay the neighbourhood mechanic for fixing the family car. My $30 probably won’t make much of a difference at all to an international company, but it makes a huge difference to an individual business owner.

2018-04-07 09.49.15I admit that the local store doesn’t have everything I want. I like to read some fairly specialised history, and I completely understand why they don’t usually stock that: I’m more nerdy about my history than most of the population. I can handle shopping further afield for that if I have to – but if I ask them to order a particular history book for me, they will.

They do, however, have a large range of children’s books, teen and young adult fiction, adult fiction, biographies, and new releases.

They also have a great selection of books written by local authors, whom they happily and actively support and promote.

Did the local book chain store agree when I asked them to stock my books on their shelves? No, they did not.

My local independent store not only agreed, but went way beyond that: they not only stock and display all of my books, they actually organised and hosted my first book launch.

They  also host regular events at which local authors are welcome to meet and greet readers, sign books, and give readings from their work. That kind of support is pure gold to an author.

If we don’t support our local businesses, we will lose them. We will be left with fewer options, poorer service, and towns and communities that no longer prosper and thrive the way they once did.

It’s not really such a difficult choice, is it?

Aftermath.

Today, driving to and from work, I saw the devastation with my own eyes, and my mind took a snapshot that developed into a poem. 

Yesterday I wrote about the fires that had burned around my town on the weekend.

Today, driving to and from work, I saw the devastation with my own eyes, and my mind took a snapshot that developed into a poem.

It’s titled Aftermath and I’d love for you to read it.

Promo Y Aftermath 2018-03-20 17.17.03

 

I took some actual photos, too.

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My Personal Response To The Fires in SouthWestern Victoria.

It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews who have kept us safe.

What a weekend it has been.

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.

Wildfire.

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.

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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 22.19 Cobden Victoria

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Photo by Wendy Bernhardt. Saturday March 17 2018 23.46 Cobden Victoria

The emergency services website showed incidents all across the region, one after the other, spreading in a grim pattern of danger and destruction.

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That little white dot in the middle of the map is my town – Cobden, in southwestern Victoria.

 

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.

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Smoke rising above Cobden as we drove home from Camperdown on Sunday evening.

 

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.

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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.

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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.