A Road Trip For One.

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. 

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

Catching The Train.

Today, I caught a train to Melbourne. Perhaps I should have thought about that a little more.

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. 

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.