The Ozy Youth Choir-Sydney Peace Project


OJ Rushton, musical director of the Ozy Youth Choir Honouring Defence Service, had a dream. She invited kids from the Southern Highlands and bush to come together and join her fledgling choir. Some of the kids had parents in the military, and all immediately felt a sense of belonging. The lessons are completed online, though the choir regularly meet up for rehearsals and camps. I heard about the Ozy Youth Choir via another parent. My daughter and I went along to a performance to see what it was all about. Within moments, I had been embraced by OJ, and my daughter had been given a choir shirt and was singing! We experienced a home-coming, as though are souls had been searching for these very people. It felt as though we had landed on a puffy cloud, surrounded by alto and soprano tones.

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OJ Rushton

Throughout the last three years, my daughter has had the honour of singing at Government House, at the Australian War Memorial, alongside Damien Leith and Harrison Craig, Ian Moss, Laura Wright, Kate Ceberano, the Australian Army Band and many others. The highlight would have to be singing at the opening ceremony for the Invictus Games at the Sydney Opera House. It coincided with our camp, and what a week we had! Concord RSL kindly offered us the use of their old bowling green to set up our tents, and went above and beyond, gifting use of a kitchen and showers and providing us with food and transport to and from rehearsals. The heavens opened up on the second day, and the camping ground was flooded! All we could do was laugh and try our best to keep dry! The choir worked hard, returning to our base late most nights.

Finally, the day of the opening ceremony arrived! The parents looked up as an ominous clap of thunder sounded over Sydney Harbour. Then, the lightning came, along with torrential rain. The massive storm delayed the start of the show by an hour, and then it departed as swiftly as it had arrived. The memories of the opening ceremony shall remain with me always. We cheered on the athletes, listened to sublime music, and everybody stood and gave Prince Harry a standing ovation after he delivered his powerful speech. The kids understood how pivotal this event was for the athletes, and all who came to support them, and felt deeply honoured to have been there.

 

The choir got back to camp shortly before midnight, and woke at 5am the next morning, to prepare for a breakfast at the Australian Museum to honour the families and dignitaries connected to the Invictus Games. My daughter still talks about Elisabeth, who is a member of an organization called TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors). My daughter had sung with the choir outside the Sydney Opera House, and had held Elisabeth’s hands. This dear lady explained to me at the breakfast, how much this had meant to her, showing me a photo of her son, Toby, whom she had lost in Iraq. Singing helps to heal; it reaches into the core of a person, assuring them that they aren’t alone. It is a way of telling stories, and uniting people. Here is a video, detailing our time at Concord RSL and the leadup to the Invictus Games. After the breakfast, we walked down Art Gallery Rd to cheer on the athletes competing in the road cycling. We were in awe of them beforehand but nothing prepared us for how we felt afterward!

We were also honoured to have joined with Invictus as a Peace Partner to launch the Peace Project at Government House two week’s ago. Several schools joined us, both online and in person. Here is some footage of the wondrous day! Last year, the Ozy Youth Choir reproduced an iconic photo from a century ago, on Bondi Beach, in honour of the Centenary of ANZAC. On Friday 2nd November, we shall be gathering at Government House in Sydney, to do it again! We shall sing as one to honour the end of the Centenary of ANZAC and to welcome in the Centenary of the Year of Peace. His Excellency, the Governor of NSW and Mrs Hurley are hosting the  Sydney Peace Project on the Parade Ground. Join us at 1pm, either in person or online. Registration is essential. Follow this link to join!

Studies have shown that those who engage in singing enjoy better health. I can understand why, particularly when you sing with others. Coming together to sing unites us as one unstoppable, unflappable, powerful force.

 

 

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Eurydice, Safety and Heroes found Lacking


This past week, a 22 year old comedienne of extraordinary talent, was brutally murdered on her way home from a gig in Melbourne. Her name was Eurydice Dixon. We cried and grieved for a woman most of us had never met nor had the privilege to see perform. We mourned her and we realized that her death holds a mirror to society and our perceived safety. Every woman I know looks behind when they hear footsteps quickening as they walk. We keep our keys in our hands in case they need to be used as a weapon in carparks and when nearing home. We scan our surroundings and check in with friends after they leave our presence or we theirs. We tend to sit in the back of an Uber or taxi, and are hyper-vigilant at all times. Eurydice certainly was vigilant, and it still wasn’t enough, because the onus was on her accused to be a decent human being and not destroy her young life. We know what she was doing out at night; walking home from her work. Nobody has asked what the hell he was doing out.

Last weekend, I opened a Sydney paper and my eyes cast to a front page story. It detailed the abuse two sisters suffered at the hands of several high-profile visitors to her parent’s home in the 70’s. The parents happened to be well-known writers. I realized that I knew one of the men mentioned in the story, and immediately wanted to vomit. He is now deceased, but was one of Australia’s foremost pop artists amongst other titles. I knew him to be quiet and unassuming, and in his later years, professed a religious leaning. I had gone to his home in the Eastern Suburbs countless times, and had numerous conversations with this fellow. I never got the ‘creep vibe’ which women count on to assist in discerning who is to be feared and who isn’t. I recall on one occasion I asked him if he would consider donating some of his art for a charity auction I was involved in. The next day a courier came with signed shirts, prints and posters. I was touched by his generosity. I never saw the lecherous side to his character, but I have no doubt it existed. Repulsed, I gathered the books I had in my library by the girl’s parents. I also gathered up the biography and prints I had from the artist. I wanted nothing to do with either their art nor them, in any capacity.

Looking back I believe that I was spared hell from this artist for the fact that I had already been through hell. My body was damaged and scarred, and I had lost my youthful naiveté by the time we met. We were also always within crowds of people at art openings and parties. I had prided myself on being able to spot a predator at ten paces, and yet in the past few years, a GP I had seen was incarcerated for rape, and I heard that others from my past had been accused of such horror. The link between them was that they all looked normal. They were all educated, charming and seemingly decent. Somehow, it makes the horror worse. They were able to have access to young people, unabated. To be honest, it turns my perceptions on whom is to be trusted upside down and inside out. I feel pressure on a daily basis to keep my daughter safe, whilst she craves liberty of movement the older she gets.

I recall when I was a little girl and would play in the park around the corner, leading onto a dead-end street. There was a vacant block next to the park, overgrown with weeds. I saw a man hiding within the tall grass and was informed by a friend that he had called out to her, beckoning her to come over. I saw him watching me, feeling his gaze before I saw his eyes. I took it upon myself to knock on every door on the street and notify the residence that there was a bad person about. The police were called and it was found that he was a sex offender, with a long history. I didn’t think for one moment that it would have been my fault if anything had happened to me. I was simply at the park for the purpose of playing with friends. As we grow, we are taught that it is up to us to be vigilant, to not take public transport nor walk at night. We must be alert and alarmed at all times. Too bad if we are without a car or need to be out for work or any other reason. The onus goes from the creep in the long grass watching us to the fault of a woman walking by with a purpose.

We start to doubt our own impressions of situations and people as we grow. We worry about making a fuss, about being impolite to the stranger attempting to strike up a conversation, for instance. You know what, girls and boys and grownups have the right to move through their lives and our streets unabated. Eurydice had the right to safely walk home from her gig. The blame is entirely with her killer. The blame lies with the parents of the girl’s whom they didn’t protect in their family home. The blame is with the artist whom I had once admired. I now can’t even bear looking at his face nor hearing his name. The blame is with the creep watching the kids from the long grass, not with the kids playing in the park. I have gathered up the artist and writer’s works; people whom I once looked up to, and have thrown them in the recycling. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the paper came back as cardboard, holding cartons of inspired work by decent men and women?

Spice Alley, White Rabbit Gallery and Neurosurgeons


Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting my new neurosurgeon. Indeed it was a privilege, to meet such a humble and kind man. I presented a selection of my favourite scans from the past two decades, and as he studied them, he asked how on earth I had managed to inflict such damage. I tell you, after a lifetime of answering this question, you get quite nonchalant and so I muttered something about a bad man, my falling, and things of that ilk. I should have just brought him a copy of my book. Once he was over the shock of that discovery, he examined my head, neck and shoulders, all of which contorted in pain. I was booked in for nerve blocks and associated tests, and bid him farewell. My morning had required me to be a patient, vulnerable and hurting. The following part of the day would see me reclaim who I truly am, which is somebody who gets transported by beauty.

My daughter and I took off on a grand adventure, firstly to the White Rabbit Gallery at Chippendale, a magnificent space that used to be a luxury car showroom. The exhibition The Sleeper Awakes had started that day, and we were so entranced by the colours and symbolism that we forgot to take photos! It would have seemed almost rude to have not been in the moment. Trust me, if ever you are in the city, it’s worth a visit! I did however, manage a snap of the glorious tea room. The best cages are empty ones; beautiful in their emptiness.

We walked with our lovely friends to Spice Alley     at around 5pm, before it got busy. There was a wild variety of vendors, and the difficulty was deciding! There was plenty for a vegetarian like myself to choose from. I settled on the best vegetarian fried rice I have ever had! The heady spices were combined in such a way as to delight the taste buds. As we ate and drunk our bubble tea (and wine), we talked about everything from Nikola Tesla to Facebook, movies and authors.

When we boarded the train for home, I felt exhilarated, as one does at the end of a fruitful and satisfying day. I was exhausted and in pain, yes, but the over-riding emotion was gratitude. Gratitude for caring specialists, good friends, art galleries, delicious food, a new hangout and a happy child. My body feels frail; in need of reconstruction, and the pain is merciless. I was a patient, scans in hand. For the most part, I was still Raphaela, an irrepressible spirit who will not have her life dimmed. You can be both, and balance it well. The next day, I was in bed, but never mind. Last Friday, I was both a patient and healed.

Vale, the Birdwatcher


We received an email from a lovely friend, courageously explaining that she had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She also mentioned she would be starting treatment at Chris O’Brien’s Lifehouse, which may gift her more time. We saw her shortly afterward, and my daughter wrapped her arms around the diminutive Scot. This lady knew that her days were numbered, and prepared those she loved. She showed her husband where everything in the house could be found, and planned her funeral. Her dearest wish was to die at home, and we were very grateful that she was able to do so. The petite bushwalker, social justice advocate, swimmer and birdwatcher fell into slumber last Monday, and yesterday, we celebrated her life. She had enjoyed a crisp glass of wine (or whiskey), films and music, as well as the company of children and animals. A life well-lived. After refreshments were served, my daughter and I went for a stroll, and came across the most magnificent bird mural. “It’s a sign,” she said, and I truly believed it was. Our friend was adaptable, moving countries and going on adventures as others might change clothes. She was also reliable and a meticulous planner. Her traits held her in good stead, as well as those of us whom admired them and hoped to emulate them. The Kingfisher is a member of the Australian Kookaburra family, and is a promise of peace, abundance and love. How apt that we stumbled upon a wall filled with such symbolism?

The Nest


I had been given very little hope of ever having a child with IVF (after three attempts). Despondent, I went for a walk in a local park. I was standing under a tree, brushing away my tears, when an empty bird’s nest fell at my feet. I took it as an omen, and cradled the precious gift. I still have it- behind glass in my cabinet-eleven years later.Just the other day, I was walking with my daughter, and the nest pictured above landed at my feet! I marvelled at the time and effort that went into building it; a perfect home and  refuge. Of course, it came home with me, and my little bird was just as enchanted as I, coming close to inspect the handiwork. Nests and eggshells from newborn chicks are items I tend to find regularly. What are yours?

Jamala Wildlife Lodge


A friend of ours was having a landmark birthday, and his fiancée organized to stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge. After much saving, I booked a room as well. My friends stayed in one of the Giraffe Tree Houses, where they could feed Hummer the Giraffe, whilst we had a glorious cabin outside the uShaka Lodge. It was less expensive, as we had no animals overlooking our room. Some places had bears and lions outside! We left our bags at reception and were ushered into the lodge, where afternoon tea was served. An aquarium featuring sharks and other marine life ran along one of the walls, whilst the other overlooked the Colobus monkeys. As if all this wasnt enough, we were able to become acquainted with pythons and turtles, which the zoo keepers brought out.

The first tour of the private zoo demonstrated how loved all the animals are, with personal stories about each character we met. The beautiful Sun Bear had been rescued from Cambodia by the Free the Bears organization. Many of the animals were rescued from harm or had medical conditions that would see them perish in the wild. The majority of the money made from the Wildlife Lodge goes directly back into conservation. Once the tour was over, we were taken to our rooms, which were heated, our bags waiting for us.

We had a few hours to relax before we were called to dinner. My daughter was taken upstairs in the aquarium for an early meal and tour of the facilities with the other kids, whilst I had canape’s and champagne on the terrace leading to a dining cave. Once inside, we were delighted to be  joined by hyenas on one side (behind glass), and lions on the other. It is up to the animals as to whether they come close during dinner. They arent coerced into doing anything. The four-course meal was splendid, and the champagne flowed!

We had a lovely sleep on the beautiful four-poster bed, but waking up to get to the cave for the 7am breakfast was pretty tortuous! Breakfast consisted of every health food imaginable, such as coconut yoghurt, chia puddings, muesli as well as hot food. At 8am, the second tour started, and we got to get up close with the gorgeous rhino.

After the tour had ended, my daughter and I were driven to our encounter with the meerkats. We sat on a rock, and the darling little creatures (all brothers), immediately scampered over for a closer look. We fed them, and they bounded from one lap to the other, their fur soft and warm. They were an absolute joy to watch and its a memory we will treasure forever.

Our stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge ended all too quickly, but it is a time our friends and I will always cherish.

 

The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever!


My daughter and I and some dear friends went to Sydney Park last Saturday to pay homage to Kate Bush, whilst at the same time, denouncing domestic violence. I used to listen to Wuthering Heights as a young girl, living under the oppressive understanding that a violent and possessive man would be deciding when my life would end in the near future. I didn’t have to imagine him telling me that I was ‘going to lose the fight,’ nor have ‘bad dreams in the night.’ He told me routinely, and I indeed had bad dreams. I imagined coming back dressed in red, banging on the window, trying to get somebody (anybody), to hear me and welcome me in. Never in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned joining so many others, dressed in red, dancing to this song so many years later! It was a powerful remembrance of how far I have come, watching my little girl twirl by my side. St Peters has a special place in my heart. I was a young poet/artist when I lived there, selling my wares to the little shops up King St. I would take my little dog, Mitzi Winstopple to Sydney Park each evening, and dream of the future.

In preparation, I raided our fancy dress box and my daughter found a 50 cent gown that fitted her beautifully.

It was cathartic, and I felt cleansed. We wandered up King St to the Union Pub, where scores of other Cathy’s gathered. We bought felt hats for $10 at a bargain store, and I told my friend of my life in St Peters, and the sadness I felt at leaving. I came back not only to pay homage to Kate Bush, but to retrieve something I had left behind; myself.

The next day, I paid for my dance. I wept with the pain, but it was worth it. If there is a price to be paid, always make sure it’s worth it. Two days later, my spine is coming good. I can’t wait until next year!

 

Vivid, Wirrimbirra and how to talk with kids about terrorism.


Psychologist John Blythe has the following advice on how to talk to kids about the latest horrors. I was grateful to read it before I sat my daughter down to answer her pressing questions. My heart is with all who have suffered as a result of these atrocities.

There is evil in this world, the energy denser than tar, and yet there is goodness, shimmering and light as gossamer. There is also beauty, and thank goodness for that!

We had a little walk around Vivid last week. Sydney can get bitterly cold this time of year, and the food trucks supplied us with chilli bowls, hot chocolate and tea. Scores of volunteers of all ages cheerfully directed the crowds, and strangers chatted and greeted one another. I would suggest going on a week night, rather than the upcoming long weekend, as it is far less busy!

Waratah

We also went to Wirrimbirra Sanctuary, where we met the following characters.

There is evil, but there is also light and beauty.