Our local council has created this gorgeous candlelight memorial for all the people in our local government area of Corangamite Shire who have passed away in 2020.
Most of these people‘a families were very limited in how many they could have at the funeral. The way we have mourned and comforted one another has had to change. Our ability to travel and see each other has been limited or, at times, impossible.
Gestures like this help us to feel less alone, and to know that our loved ones are remembered. It’s very touching that the community as a whole is able to acknowledge their absence from the towns and social circles in which they lived.
There are 129 lights burning through the night. That’s 129 families like mine that have been changed forever. And, I’m sure, it’s 129 families who appreciate the thoughtfulness of a local government that thinks beyond budgets and logistics to stop for as long as it takes to light 129 candles, and invite the community to stop, remember and reflect.
My sister and I went to see the memorial tonight, to pay tribute to our dad and to share the sight with our family interstate via video.
Thank you to the Corangamite Shire and the local community members who helped make this happen. It is very much appreciated.
My comment yesterday that I was playing songs full of snow even though I live in Australia generated some interest in what Christmas is like here, so I thought I might share a little about how Australians celebrate Christmas.
Many of our traditions are the same as everyone else’s. We sing the same songs, send Christmas cards, decorate with Christmas trees, tinsel, wreaths and lights, and hope that Santa will visit and leave us gifts. We have Christmas music in all the shops and soppy Christmas movies on TV.
There are a few key differences though.
Christmas happens in summer here. When we sing ‘Let it Snow’ and ‘White Christmas’ it’s wishful thinking— usually because it’s ridiculously hot outside. My little Canadian spruce is decked with tinsel and fairy lights, but it will probably never see snow– at Christmas, or at any other time of year.
Because it is summer, kids are on their long break between one school year and the next. Term 4 finishes sometime in the middle of December, and the kids return to school sometime toward the end of January.
This gives people the opportunity to more easily travel longer distances to visit family, or to spend Christmas near the beach or in other desired locations. While this certainly happens in other countries, Australians have made a time-honoured national tradition of ‘going away for the Christmas Holidays’.
Some of the traditional Christmas songs like Jingle Bells have been rewritten to reflect Australian conditions, and we also have some of our own songs that probably aren’t sung anywhere else, except for maybe New Zealand. Many of these are less well-known now than they used to be, partly because our culture is significantly led by American and British influences, partly because their lyrics and subjects are outdated, and mostly because they were ridiculously hard to sing.
Many of us still have traditional Christmas food like turkey and ham, but we’ll often have salads on the side instead of hot vegetables. Some people barbecue steaks and other meats instead, while others opt for seafood for Christmas dinner. The traditional Christmas pudding is often accompanied or even replaced by cold desserts like cheesecake, trifle or iconic Aussie desserts like pavlova or chocolate ripple cake.
It’s still a day for family and friends, but lots of Australians spend Christmas or Boxing Day gathered at the beach or by the pool. Christmas meals are often eaten outdoors, hopefully under cover or in the shade. It’s not unusual for Aussies to enjoy their post-Christmas-dinner nap in the cool of the air-conditioning or in front of the fan.
One of my absolute favourite Australian Christmas traditions is Carols by Candlelight. Crowds gather outdoors, often picnic style, and sing Christmas songs together. There are local events all over the country, but there is also the nationally televised showbiz charity event held in Melbourne on Christmas Eve every year. Santa usually makes an appearance, as do various celebrities of TV and the music industry who, supported by a band, an orchestra, and premium choirs, entertain and delight the nation.
Because of Australia’s longitude, we start our Christmas Day while most of the world is still full of anticipation on Christmas Eve. Only New Zealand and some small Polynesian nations of the Pacific Ocean start their Christmas before we do.
While the rest of the world is waking up to Christmas morning, Australians can often be found gathering outdoors again for a game of cricket in the back yard, or another dip in the pool or at the beach.
On the 26th, many Australians will tune in to the Boxing Day Test Match— also cricket— on the TV or radio, broadcast from the Melbourne Cricket Ground where up to 100 000 dedicated fans attend the game in person for each of the five days scheduled for the match. Don’t let that surprise you – we’re a sports-mad nation, and the cricket lovers among us are as dedicated as any.
After all the excitement of Christmas, things settle down for a day or two before we get the barbecues out and gather together again to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
For many years, families have made a tradition of going into the city to see the department store Christmas windows.
We don’t live in a big city, or near one, but shop windows decorated for Christmas have become popular out here in the country, too.
Tonight we had the unveiling of the Christmas windows at the local hardware. They made an event of it, added in some competitions and games, and generated a lot of interest among the community. A good number of community folks turned out for the event, and there was a lot of excitement and chatter among the crowd.
The Christmas windows at H Hardware in Cobden, Victoria.
The windows, each decorated by a different staff member, are fabulous. They all show creativity and a sense of humour, and they are sure to be a feature of the Christmas lights viewing in town.
“Why would you live in Cobden?” is a question I get asked from time to time. My standard response is, “Why wouldn’t you?”
An evening like this is just another reminder of just a few of the reasons why my town is a really great place to live.
Over the past few weeks, I found myself growing heartily tired of advertisements and posts about Fathers’ Day.
I sincerely wish all the dads out there and their kids a very happy Father’s Day, and I truly hope they can spend some quality time together. I hope kids of all ages cherish their dads and make the most of every opportunity to spend time with them while they still have them.
For me, though… it just hurts. This is my first Father’s Day without my dad after 53 years of having him in my life. It has only been 11 weeks since he died and I miss him enormously every day.
I have so much to be thankful for. Dad was wise, and funny, and encouraging, and consistent, and caring, and always there when I needed him. I loved being able to care for him and provide for him, to spend time with him every day, and to take him to the places he needed or wanted to go. We were father and daughter, but also great companions and partners in laughter, day trips, good coffee and sweet treats.
All of that is why I miss him so much. And while everyone else is celebrating their dads as they absolutely should, it feels empty for me.
So, I spent part of my day commemorating my father.
I went to visit the grave where both my parents are now buried. I placed flowers there, took some photos, and had a big howly cry.
There was a young guy nearby, placing something on a grave — maybe his own dad’s or grandfather’s resting place, I don’t know. He approached me gently and asked, “Are you okay, miss?” We we’re both wearing masks, but his eyes were kind and I could see he was genuinely concerned for me. I thanked him and explained it was my first Father’s Day without my dad as he died in June, and he nodded. “He was lucky to have a daughter who would cry for him,” he said. Then he patted my arm and walked away. What a kind, compassionate soul!
As I calmed my breathing and emotions, I took some photos for the family.
My next stop was the Camperdown Botanic Gardens. I love walking there. It’s so pretty and there is always something lovely to see. It was the perfect place for reflecting and mindfulness as I walked. Surprisingly, I was the only person there: everyone else was missing out, because it was an absolutely glorious day. There were blossom trees covered in buds and blooms, new leaves on limbs that have been bare all winter, a glorious grove of bluebells, pretty tulips and cheerful daffodils and jonquils. They were all sights that were good for the soul.
My third destination for the day was the nursery: I wanted to buy a tree to plant in memory of my dad. There were some lovely options – silver birches, ornamental pears, weeping cherry blossom, and a range of decorative blossom trees. In the end, I couldn’t decide between the crabapple and the Persian witch hazel, so I bought both. They both have leaves that change with autumn colour, and pretty blossoms to give cheer in late winter and early spring.
There was one funny moment when the lady who runs the nursery suggested a maple tree. I had to confess to her that I adore maples — they are my favourite tree— but I couldn’t get a maple this time because nobody would believe I bought it to remember Dad. A maple would definitely be just for me.
It has been an emotional roller coaster of a day, but I have tried to fill it with positive things and happy memories instead of dwelling on the past or wallowing in misery. I experienced a beautiful moment of kindness from a stranger, enjoyed fresh air and sunshine on an absolutely cracking spring day, and I have two lovely new trees that will brighten the garden and my life.
The crabapple has been planted, and the Persian witch hazel is just waiting until tomorrow evening for its turn.
Counting my blessings instead of my tears is definitely what Dad would have wanted me to do.
In my endeavours to work and teach from home, I am supported by a highly competent and very specialised team. It’s fair to say my home office environment would not be the same without them.
Human Resources Manager: Scout
Scout’s vision is to head an organisation that exists to serve. Not one for sitting on the fence, she is unashamed about demanding efficiency and expecting 100% compliance. She is an expert manager of her Human Resources and is proficient at making them do exactly what she wants them to. Current levels of isolation and social restriction have made little difference to her management style, and she continues to dispatch any unwanted guests of the smaller variety with impressive alacrity.
Scout started here as a junior in July, 2006, and has leapt from height to height since then. She proudly acknowledges that she is, in fact, the cat’s whiskers around here.
Office Manager and Head of Security: Abbey
Abbey has a range of responsibilities, but dislikes being described as a ‘general dog’s body’. She oversees security, makes regular inspections of the yard and monitors all entrances and exits with careful attention, Abbey takes motivating all team members almost as seriously as ensuring that every meal and snack is thoroughly Lab tested. Abbey consistently demonstrates a level of loyalty and commitment that goes above and beyond the call of duty. She is also a most excellent listener, and regularly provides great counselling and support.
Abbey started here as a junior in November, 2007, stepping eagerly into the role sadly left vacant by her predecessor, Chiara. At this point in time, she has no plans to retire, and we embrace her presence here for as long as she is willing and able to stay.
These wonderful team members have a very strong rapport and consistently demonstrate genuine mutual admiration and respect. They work really well together, each bringing their unique talents and abilities to the job and complementing one another perfectly.
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.
As my post about my local ANZAC Day ceremony generated a number of questions from around the world, especially via my social media posts, I thought I would follow it up with an explanation of the history and traditions of ANZAC Day.
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.
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.