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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Frida, Tomatoes and Giving Pain Meaning


I had a hard time holding my newborn. When I was pregnant, I practiced carrying  a string bag filled with oranges, and a sack of potatoes. Weights and hydrotherapy also played an important role. When my daughter came along, I found it very difficult to hold her, and wrangling her as an active toddler was a challenge! Breaking my back again when she was three, saw me unable to carry her; even navigating a roundabout in the car would see me bite my lip to avoid screaming in agony.

I am a planner and think a great deal of the future. I guess when one has had so much out of their control, you grip onto that which you can have power over. My spine is a case in point. Working with weights each day and walking are things I can do to prepare for the future. I had researched spinal cord stimulation, and sought experts in this particular field. I was excited about the prospect of being able to cope as my back pain became more challenging (the fusion sites are already wearing out with age). I was so young when the damage happened, which means that preparations and reparations have to be considered now. I thought of my daughter as a teenager and young woman. I want to travel with her, and maybe one day be a hands-on grandmother to any children she may have. I want to be able to hold those babes in my arms. Unfortunately, a site of major damage is the thoracic region. Holding anything in my arms is agonizing. For a year, I harboured hope that spinal cord stimulation would help. It was to be my insurance policy; a nod to the next decades of life.

Last week, my daughter and I saw Evita at Sydney Opera House. It was a spectacular production, which left us spellbound. Tina Arena as Eva Peron, was stunning, and deserved the standing ovation which she received. My girl asked lots of questions about Argentina, and we researched it’s history online after we left. We stayed in Sydney overnight, having a leisurely brunch before seeing my spinal specialist. Armed with my latest test results,  I followed the doctor to his rooms, unaware of what was to come. I assumed we would be arranging to have a trial device implanted.  Spinal stenosis and fibrosis at the site of former surgeries meant that there isn’t adequate space to weave the wires through. I can’t even have epidural injections to manage the pain. Having surgery to place a stimulator would be far too hazardous, as it turned out. It was a lot to take in. It means I have to reimagine my future, and my daughter has to reimagine hers. Simple things like sitting or carrying luggage, going on long treks or long-haul flights will be that much more difficult.

I went home and cried. I watched the movie Frida, as I laid on my Frida cushions. It will be a reimagined future. I am doing everything in my power to keep my bones and muscles, kidneys, lungs and mind strong in preparation. There will be no hope of relief nor reprieve from the merciless pain. It shall always be there, a constant reminder of the brutality of my youth. It will limit what work I can take on, and how far I am able to drive. I will be damned if it limits what I can do with my daughter. She stubbornly took my suitcase off of me the other day, on our way to our hotel room, giggling as she ran ahead, despite my protestations. She reaches out her arm to me, and carries my backpack on her strong shoulders each and every day.

 

We shared the bus ride to RPA with an eloquent middle-aged gentleman who was homeless. He was Italian, and ate a tomato as though it were an apple. He reorganized his bag, and when he stood, he rolled deodorant under his armpits, before gifting the family opposite a drawing. He read a book on philosophy as he sat back down, finishing his tomato with relish. As we departed, he tipped his hat. I would love to know his story; I’m sure it is brimming with pathos and triumphs. The most remarkable stories are.

I have always been fascinated by birds, butterflies and dragonflies. How wondrous it would be, to have wings. For over half my life, I have been fused from my shoulders down, with  limited range of movement. I am grateful that I have been able to walk, and if my mobility were to cease tomorrow, there would be no lamentations. I just want (and need), to be well enough to see my daughter through to her adulthood.

For a moment, I regretted the time and money spent seeing specialists and having all of the tests done. What a monumental waste of a year! Then there was the matter of the space all of this took up in my brain. I had put things off ‘until after I had the device fitted.’ Ironically, as I reflect, I see that these days had only brought my daughter and I closer together. We had stayed in the city, walking and laughing in the rain. We brunched and cheered on street performers. We had been together, smart phones displaced from our hands. I found myself outside the Downing Centre courts, a place I had avoided since the court case I endured at sixteen, trying to get a bad man to pay for the vile things he had done. I stood outside for fifteen minutes, waiting for our bus. Lost in my thoughts, the Italian gent, tomato in hand, tipped his cap and we talked. Mental illness had robbed him of a lot, but not his heart. Physical injury had robbed me of a lot, though not my heart. For a moment, we were in simpatico. He gestured for my girl and I to board the bus before him, and I glanced out the window at the imposing courts. I had come back to retrieve that girl.

Perhaps, none of it was about a spinal cord stimulator. Perhaps it was to give me leave to spend quality time with my daughter. Maybe it was also about facing another piece of the past. Maybe it was to show me that I can organize travel and hotels and that I am enough for my daughter. I am the mum that she needs. Perhaps it was to affirm that I need to let go of fear. The worst has come and gone and I am still here. Maybe I was meant to meet the Italian fellow, and be encouraged to eat vine-ripened tomato’s as though they were apples. He even ate the stem, and I realized that nothing is ever wasted. The same is true with lives.

I have been referred to a physical therapist, and my specialist is going to review my case at the next practice meeting. As I reflect on the year gone by, I see no wastage. My daughter and I had experiences we would never have had, and seen parts of Sydney that we wouldn’t have. We have met magical people, been in magical shops, had magical food and stepped out of comfort zones. The only thing left to do is eat a tomato as though it were an apple.

 

Word Play and Giggles


I adore plays on words, and am also fond of the whimsical and absurd. As I lay in bed with an appalling migraine, recovering from my occipital nerve blocks, I discovered the following bouncing around the internet. It probably wasn’t the wisest of times to imbibe in such hilarity, as boy, did my head hurt! Without further ado, may I present, the following:

In Australia, our National Anthem is Advance Australia Fair. We know the first verse by heart, but begin humming by the second. The majority of us also have no idea what the line, ‘Our home is girt by sea’ means, until now!

Mystery solved! You are welcome!

Living Life on your own Terms


She knew what it felt like to be owned, or rather, how it felt when others presumed to own her. She had never felt as free as when she placed her most treasured possessions in a suitcase and left the detritus of her old life. The wardrobe was crammed with dresses and coats she would never wear again. The comforts of times past were still sitting on the shelves, her linen on the turned-down bed. She looked around her room one more time, and then closed the door, not looking back. One suitcase and a pocket filled with dreams were all she carried. She would never again see photographs of herself as a child, nor read through old schoolbooks. Stories were contained inside her mind, recollected at a moment’s notice. It is much more fun to belong to oneself. She thought of who she might be as an older lady. She hoped that she would have honed her own style, after years of discarding what hadn’t worked. She hoped that she may have found what did. Whether that be becoming a Lady in Pink, or the Chick in Green.

Perhaps, there would be the wistfulness that comes when one has had to make hard but true choices. This Iggy Pop song would take her back.

There is a price to pay for freedom, whether it be emotional, material or everything in between. One must not think too much about the risks, or one would never be brave enough to leave. All it takes is a deep breath, and the knowledge that the centre isn’t holding and is actually giving way. The trip into the unknown is the only way to survive. To be one’s own master, not owned nor contained. Twenty years pass, just as in the song, ‘Candy.’ She is ever closer to reaching her golden years. Perhaps a lady in pink awaits, or maybe she will become a rainbow. She wonders whether she has used up her quota of colours in younger years; maybe she will instead cloak herself in charcoal and grey? She knows that birds, dogs, a wild garden and books shall feature heavily. Wherever she ends up, and whomever she is evolving into, she can say she has lived life on her own terms. She was always an unruly spirit, unconstrained and certainly never owned nor boxed in. No matter what they thought…

 

Invitation to Peace Project Launch-Historic Photo on Bondi Beach


Bring your friends and family down to Bondi Beach and join the RSL Youth Choir in an historic photo shoot! To launch the National Peace Project, the participants shall be filmed as they assemble to make the map of Australia, the Red Cross emblem at it’s centre. The choir and Army Band shall also be performing, and the event will be filmed for a DVD to promote Peace Project 2018, to mark the end of the Centenary of ANZAC. The RSL Youth Choir is a wonderful place of learning and service for young people, offering them the opportunity to step up as leaders. Our fervent hope is that this event shall bring the community together in song, remembrance and mateship. Afterward, the ocean may beckon!

To register for this free event, follow the link. See you there!

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!

 

Manchester


My daughter has been my companion to many concerts. Some operatic, some classical, some pop and some rock. The squeals of joy echo through my home when I inform her that we have tickets to a visiting performer. She carefully selects what she is going to wear, and we make plans to have dinner somewhere nice beforehand. Watching her dance and gaze at the performer in awe is all the reward I need. We went to Sport for Jove’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, shortly after I heard the dreadful, unfathomable news about the terrorist attack at Manchester Stadium. I looked around at all the young people laughing and delighting in the performance, and was struck cold by the thought that it could have been us. It could have been us at any performance we had attended. Afterward, my daughter chatted excitedly about the play, and how much she had enjoyed it, and we stopped at a shopping centre in the heart of Sydney for lunch. A policeman with an Irish brogue came up to us, and started chatting. It felt as though three humans were connecting, trying to make sense of the evil which had just occurred. He smiled at my daughter, and I knew that he was thanking his stars that it hadn’t been a Sydney concert. It could have been.

A friend posted a warning last night that a van had been spotted next to our local park, with a fellow lingering long enough to cause suspicion. I almost despaired. Should we now add concerts to the long list of things we need to be wary of? Are backpacks set to become suspicious, not just when left alone on public transport, but also when securely strapped to someone’s back? Parents could be rendered nervous wrecks, incapable of venturing out with their offspring, let alone allowing them to venture out by themselves. I must admit, my immediate desire was to bustle my daughter home, where she is safe. However, this is no way to live. Once upon a time, I was a hermit, a bad man stalking me. I barely left my room in three years as a teen. I remember feeling angry that my life had been reduced to an isolation cell, whilst he was roaming free.

I eventually stepped out by myself, and what a revelation it was! I determined never to close the door and put myself into solitary confinement again. I won’t do that to my daughter either. Did you know that amongst all the horror, several homeless men (who were sleeping rough near the arena), ran to help? They comforted children, stemmed blood loss and helped get people to safety. What I will say to my child, is always look for the helpers… There is always helpers. We will still attend concerts, but sadly our innocence has gone.

Newsies


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I didn’t quite know what to expect when I attended the preview of Newsies, a movie filmed on Broadway during a live performance. The sublime music and spectacular dancing entranced both my daughter and I, dropping us gently into New York circa 1899, and the beginning of an uprising. The whole audience cheered for the street-smart newsboys, and sneered when the villainous mogul slithered onto stage. It is heartwarming, especially knowing it is based on real events and real lads. It opened up a discussion with my daughter about trade unions, and how essential they have been in bringing workers decent conditions. I highly recommend taking the kids to see the movie this Sunday.

Here is an article from the illustrious Elissa Blake on Newsies.

Newsies is being screened for one day only, on Sunday 19th February at Event Cinemas. Book here.