As an Australian, I get very mixed responses when I tell people I enjoy Halloween.
Some see it as an opportunity for the community to share in something fun. In my town, the local Scout group organises the trick or treating so that the kids are supervised. Anyone wanting the kids to visit them for treats must be registered and checked out first. One of the local cafes sets up a House of Horror for everyone to enjoy, free of charge, and various other businesses run promotions.
Most Aussies, however, respond with something like “Ugh, It’s so American!” or “It’s just more commercialism!”
While it’s true that Halloween hasn’t historically been a big part of our culture in Australia, most are surprised to discover it’s not an American thing at all. It actually originated as a Celtic celebration of Samhain in Ireland, and from there spread to Scotland, Wales, England and France. In a strange coincidence, the British who landed in Australia in 1788 thinking they owned the place also originated in those places, so there’s that.
My first real experience of celebrating and embracing Halloween was in Canada, where it was all about community and celebrating the season, rather than commercial opportunism. It was wonderful. People decorated their homes and yards as a sign to kids that they were welcome to visit on their trick or treating routes. People in the streets wished each other a happy Halloween. We visited an apple orchard that offered hayrides and a corn maze, in addition to picking your own apples and enjoying the fare of the kitchen. October was a time of festivity and community amidst the changing of the season and the anticipation of winter’s arrival, made all the more cheerful by the brightness of pumpkins decorating shops, streets, gateposts, homes, and anywhere else people chose to put them.
Sure, the shops sold more chocolates and toys designed to give to kids who came knocking. But why can’t that be seen as a boost to the economy, rather than soulless exploitation of shoppers? If people don’t want to join in the celebration, they are not obligated to do or buy anything at all.
It is fair to say, though, that the growing popularity of Halloween in Australia is the result of the predominance of American TV and movies on Australian screens. People can complain about Halloween all they like, but until they’re willing to stop watching all the American shows and films they tune into religiously each week, or binge watch on weekends, it’s quite a hypocritical objection to raise. You can’t complain about your neighbour’s kids dressing up to go trick or treating if you can’t pause the latest episode of ’The Haunting of Hill House’ or ‘Riverdale’ to answer the door.
Ultimately, people can make their own choices. There’s no obligation to join in, but there’s also no need to be supercilious about it.
I’ll be celebrating Spooky Season all month, and joining in the Halloween festivities in my town again this year. And I’ll be loving every moment of it.
While in Bendigo for the Tudors to Windsors exhibition this weekend, my best friend and I hatched a plan to take another trip soon. We want to visit Daylesford, a beautiful town renowned for its quirky shops and several vintage bookstores.
My friend wasn’t travelling home with me today, though, as she had to go to Melbourne instead. So, I had the opportunity to go exploring and find out more about where we were planning to go.
The prospect of road trip on my own is one I welcome. As an introvert, that kind of time alone is hard to come by, and the past five weeks have been intensely busy and very people-y. So, after I dropped her at the Kangaroo Flat railway station for the 10.27am train, I headed off to see what I could see which, as we all know, is the reason why any bear goes over the mountain.
It was a cracker of a day. The sun shone broadly in a big pale blue sky, but it wasn’t hot. It was, in fact, a perfect late Autumn day for driving through the countryside.
My first destination was Castlemaine, a pretty little town with tree-lined streets and lovely old buildings that date back to the Gold Rush, like so many other towns in this region, Bendigo included. I boosted the local economy with my purchase of a large coffee, and kept going.
You don’t have to travel far out of Castlemaine before you’re in Campbell’s Creek, where there is a fabulous used book store called Book Heaven, where I stopped— in the interests of research, of course. I excelled myself by only staying half an hour and only buying three books, even though I was entirely unsupervised and, in all honesty, I could have been there all day without even realising.
Driving on toward Daylesford, I came to a small town named Guildford where there was a sign to the left, pointing up a sandstone track, that said ‘Guildford Lookout’. I’m the kind of traveller who loves a good lookout, so I headed up the track to the top of the hill where I found myself surrounded by pretty countryside dotted with a few autumn coloured trees. It was a really good opportunity to break my journey with a bit of a walk before continuing down the road.
Daylesford seemed quite vibrant and busy. I didn’t really feel like walking the Main Street and shopping, but then, I very rarely feel like shopping, so that came as no surprise. Instead, I followed some signs and headed down to Daylesford Lake.
What a gorgeous spot! Walking along the shore was lovely, with a wide and level path that led past a cottage to which I paid very little attention until I was on my way back and I saw a sign on the back of the building.
If that wasn’t fate inviting me in, I don’t know what it was. It was lunchtime, and this wonderful little shop sold books, coffee, and food. Perfect!
Once again, I found three lovely old books to add to my collection while my lunch was being prepared. My lunch was delicious, and I was very pleased to find that all the books were half the marked price— until I discovered that the shop is closing down. That was a real disappointment, as I was hoping to come back next time with my friend.
Even so, it was a very happy and satisfied booknerd that walked back into the car to drive the rest of the way home.
I have had the most delightful weekend: time with friends, exploring bookshops, connecting with history, and a relaxing drive home. It really would be greedy to ask for anything more.
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.
Nestled in the countryside at Port Macdonnell, South Australia, is Dingley Dell Cottage, once the home of Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon. He came to South Australia from England as a mounted policeman in 1853, and also made a name for himself as a jockey and steeplechase rider before entering politics in 1865.
His first published poem was’The Feud’, printed in the Border Watch newspaper in July, 1864. Two volumes of his poetry were published in 1870, after which Gordon suicided.
After falling into disrepair over the years, Dingley Dell Cottage has been restored and now operates as a museum, displaying Gordon’s horse-riding themed drawings, letters, and some of his personal possessions.
I was privileged to visit Dingley Dell on Saturday and see Gordon’s home and belongings for myself. My time there gave me a sense of connection with a poet whose works I confess I have read and studied less than other Australian poets, and motivated me to address that oversight.
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.
Today I caught a train into Melbourne for an appointment tomorrow.
That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but.. ouch.
I didn’t even think about only being seven weeks post-surgery when I got on the train. I probably should have done, though.
Here’s the thing. A country rail journey here is bumpier than a car trip and the jostling is constant. You can’t adjust the seat or change your position, so it is what it is.
The great thing was that my travelling companions were a. people I know well, b. very helpful and c. not actually able to walk much faster than me, so apart from the jiggling it was quite a good trip.
By the time we arrived at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, my back was feeling very tender indeed. It was great to get off the train and walk for a bit, which helps to relieve the inflammation and get the circulation going again.
I also really like this railway station. Melbourne has two iconic stations: Flinders Street Station is old and beautiful, while Southern Cross is funky and cool with its sleek designs and wavy roof. I find it hard not to look up at that roof and think, “That’s SO cool!”
From the station, it was only a short cab ride to the hotel. Now that I am lying down in my hotel room and have had some ibuprofen, I feel quite okay, so no harm done.
As of today, Amazon’s new rule about Australians only buying from their AU store will apply. Yet again, it seems that living at the arse end of the earth isn’t enough of a disadvantage. We already have to pay more to go anywhere and to send things overseas in the mail. Having anything delivered from overseas is ridiculously expensive. Now this.
I’ve yet to see how the new rule will affect my ability to actually buy kindle books and leave reviews for them.
I’ve definitely spent the required $50 in the US store, so I should still be able to leave reviews if it doesn’t happen automatically. It’s just an extra thing I’m going to have to do if I want to leave a review.
Are they going to make me spend another $50 in the AU store before I can leave reviews there, though? That remains to be seen, but I’m guessing so.
I feel as though I’m being screwed over by the Zon, yet again.
I’m so thankful that I have all my universal book links and custom shortlinks set up as part of my own branding.
At least none of that will have to change.
One quick virtual tour through the AU store confirms what I already suspected – prices for everything are higher, even factoring in the exchange rate. I can tell you where I won’t be shopping for anything other than eBooks! And if the books I want to read are available elsewhere, I’ll be giving the fine folks at Kobo some business.
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.
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.