Bushfires and Climate Change


In the months leading up to Christmas in Australia, the atmosphere was charged with a negative current. You could see the threat hovering within the blistering sun, and in our parched gardens and lawns. We started to taste ash on our tongues, and took to sealing up our homes. I had to assist a few people who were battling with the air quality, and they all said that they didn’t have a history of asthma, and that their struggle took them by surprise. Fires raged all around my area, and a cursive look at the Fires Near Me app each morning, told a startling tale. This bushfire season was unprecedented, starting early and violently. Friends were forced to leave their homes, with minutes to spare, on occasion. Leading up to Christmas, an installation was put outside Wynyard station, a stark reminder of what had transpired, and what may lay ahead. Charred and devoid of green, it highlighted the calamity our country was facing.

I have followers in many countries, and I know you have all been looking on in horror. I was on the periphery of it, but have many friends who were out there fighting the fires. Some of my mates had to evacuate, and some lost property. Asthmatics have died due to the air quality, and those in ill health have had to seek refuge inside. The smoke permeated through operating theatres, MRI machines, and office blocks. I have had to resort to steroids, two preventers and face masks in order to breathe. An estimated billion native animals have perished. The festive season saw many of us unable to celebrate. Rather, we were refreshing our phones for the latest updates, checking in with loved ones, masking up and feeling helpless as our country burned. This is unprecedented, and can’t be allowed to be our new normal.

Personally, I am appalled at how our government has handled this tipping point. They refused to meet with fire chiefs in order to prepare for this season. They denied the reality of climate change, favouring coal and ignoring alternatives put forth by scientists. Here is an excellent resource on National Geographic, detailing the scientific reality of climate change. Australia has one of the highest emissions of carbon in the world, and the time to look into renewable energy sources to greatly lower our emissions, is today.

We have good people on the ground, helping to restore and rebuild lives and homes, and also rehabilitate the wildlife that survived. The cost of these bushfires will be astronomical, not just in 2020, but in the years to come. Here are a few ideas of where to donate:

Spend with them is an Instagram account, set up by Turia Pitt. When you order a product from this account, you shall be directly helping towns and businesses affected by the fires.

 

Donate to Animals Australia

In NSW, you can donate to your local Rural Fire Service

In Victoria, donations can be made to the Country Fire Association

In South Australia, you can donate to the CFS 

Givit

Foodbank

WILDLIFE

Donate to Animals Australia

Wires

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

Wildlife Victoria

Educate yourselves on climate change, and start adapting your life. This is a crisis that will affect our world as a whole. You can check out your carbon footprint on this excellent free resource. We can all do better. We must do better. It should be our tribute to those who perished in the bushfires; those who lost everything, and the animals who succumbed. Australia is a breathtakingly beautiful country, which shall rebuild and restore. We need you to visit in the year ahead, to buy from us, and receive our hospitality. I believe as a people, we are already saying, ‘never again.’  I feel the clarion call has been received and responded to. There have been protests and  free educational sessions arranged to deal with climate change and demand action. The commentary on social media toward what transpired in the years leading up to this disaster, has been blistering. We simply won’t stand for inaction, nor apathy. Not anymore.

 

Ratbags and Rogues


Step into working-class Sydney in the 60’s through to the 90’s. These ‘ratbags and rogues’ saved public spaces, historic buildings and homes. They even took over the building of the Sydney Opera House, at one stage! This is a story about the union movement, and what it takes to stand up to powerful figures, whose deepest desire is to squash you underfoot. Told with humour and wistfulness, it also has it’s share of tragedy. Given the current climate, it is also a call to arms. To purchase from Apple iBooks, here.
To purchase the paperback, click here.  For the Kindle version, click here.
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Nanna Lyn


My daughter was booked into her first singing lesson after she pleaded with me. She was five years old, and desperate to get to it. I had just started driving again after surgery, and that along with being directionally-challenged, saw me arriving with mere moments to spare. I heard a warm voice holler to “come on in,” and reclining like a grand dame in the living room, was Nanna Lyn. She had warm eyes, and a kind face. I was invited to stay and chat whilst my girl had her lesson with Lyn’s granddaughter, Tiah. An eclectic array of cats and dogs sauntered in and out, their cunning a sight to behold. Within moments, Lyn and I were chatting about our lives.

I looked forward to our catch-ups. This no-nonsense lady would have me in hysterics. She didn’t suffer fools, so I tried not to be one. She gave tremendous advice, and was on hand through every trial. Raising her daughter as a single mum, her home had been a beacon for the neighbourhood kids. The school of hard knocks hadn’t made her hard. Rather, it had softened her, making her receptive to other people. Our Nanny Lyn had an acerbic wit, and we often had tears rolling down our faces from laughing so much. She taught me how to program the internet onto my tv, and was much more adapt at technology than I. A paid-up member of the Barry Manilow fan club, you had me in hysterics, as you relayed some of your early misadventures.

Lyn would order melts for my wax-warmer at home, after I became enchanted with the aroma of a confectionary shop, which streamed through her screen door. My daughter attended lessons with Lyn’s granddaughter for six years. Finally, the time came when Tiah graduated from her music degree, and was offered placement at a school. We were thrilled for her, but missed our weekly sessions. They had been both instructive and incredibly social. The three women, Nanna, mum and daughter, lived together, and worked in simpatico. Christmas festivities were a sight to behold; they went all-out. It must have taken them a solid week to decorate their house. Not only did the trio adore Tiah’s singing students, but they had enough love left over to foster kids as well.

Their home was the sort of place where you felt safe. The same was true of their hearts. We kept in touch via texts and messages. Recently, I discovered that Lyn was going to be having a biopsy, and she underplayed it when I queried her. I ended up in hospital, and who happened to be in the next room, but Nanna Lyn. We spent time together, touching on some very deep subjects. We talked of pain and despair, hope and spiritual matters. I told her that I wished with all my heart that I could take this burden from her and her girls. I was lectured about taking care of myself, eating right, etc. The usual Nanna lecture. I laughed as I promised that I would be good.

She was excited that my daughter and I were flying to South Australia for my friend’s wedding, and her last text message consisted of her wishing the couple a happy life, and ourselves a joyous time away. “See you when I get back,” I replied. Sleep came fitfully upon our return. I had a dream about Lyn. She looked radiant, as though lit from the inside. She was talking to me, but I can’t recall what she said. I woke with a start and looked at my phone. It was 4am. Later that morning, I received word that she had passed, at 4am.

If you had been granted another twenty years of life, it would still be too soon to say goodbye. You came into this world like a comet, and then quietly crept out in the wee hours. It was typical of you to be unassuming, preferring the spotlight be on others. The end was painless and peaceful; you deserved no less. We will love you all our days, with the same ferocity with which you loved musicals. I wish everybody could have met you, and basked in your attention. To have known you was to be gifted care and warmth and love. As you flew away from this place, I can envision you hearing Tiah singing ‘Songbird.‘ You had shown me a video of Tiah, performing it as her HSC piece, and your eyes pooled with tears at the viewing. Fly free, little bird, unencumbered by worldly nonsense.

Assumptions


We all do it, don’t we? Make snap judgements about situations and people. Assumptions… I guess a part of it comes from fear. Terror of being rejected, of not knowing or appreciating our worth to other people. A single mum, I had been undertaking three full-time courses (now only two), and have been flat-out between studying, managing my health and being present for my girl. I haven’t gone out to dinner or even had a coffee with friends, and have felt a little disconnected. To my amazement, when I bump into my tribe, I am greeted with hugs. They have missed me, as much as I have missed them! You have no idea what an invitation can mean to somebody; that sense of connection. Hell, even meeting to do a grocery shop together! People who value you will understand that mummy needs to bank coin. Food isn’t going to buy itself! They get that you are studying, working, surviving on little sleep or have medical appointments to manage. Don’t assume that because you haven’t been visible, that you aren’t missed or wanted. Don’t assume that somebody that has gone to ground is avoiding you. Life is cyclical. There are times when everything happens all at once, and times when the clock empties itself of commitments.

Somebody backs out of an invite to an event or meal out? Perhaps their finances are fragile, and the focus is on making rent and keeping the lights on. Somebody disappears from social media? Could it be that their world has shattered into a million pieces, and they have been buried deep? All shall be revealed come spring, when they emerge as a new being. When parts of a person wither, shrivel, hollow-out and die, it is an immensely private and deeply painful time. They can’t articulate what all this means, nor what it feels like to themselves, let alone their 900 Facebook friends. Time is a luxury that we aren’t afforded much of in this modern age.

In the olden days, a woman with a new baby would have a time of healing. A person in mourning would have a period of keening. We weren’t accessible 24/7, encouraged to show how positive we were being in the face of it all. We were able to just be, instead of do. I met a single mother I adore in the supermarket the other day, and we hugged and briefly caught up. It was a Saturday night, and she was on her way home from work. She has also gone back to University. “At the end of the year, when my studies are over, I can’t wait to catch up!” she enthused. Oh how I appreciated her words. She is in a contracting season, where her studies, her job and her girls are her entire world. It is a mere season, and she can appreciate that it’s end shall offer growth. I look forward to our catch-up, knowing that it will be worth the wait.

Learning from Toddlers


Hopping onto a full carriage at Central station, I was cursing myself for arriving in peak hour. Tired and hungry, I stood next to an equally exhausted lady, who grimaced by way of a greeting. People left at the next few stops, and a mother with a stroller boarded. That is when everything changed. I hadn’t noticed the mother and little boy before, seated in the middle section. The little boy stood as I found a place to sit, and wandered over to the stroller, greeting the little girl with  unadulterated joy, as though they were old friends. After he introduced himself, the little girl’s mum was offered a seat by a building worker. He actually insisted. The little girl was let out of her stroller and the kids sat snuggled together. I watched as their rapport was built, sharing toys and French fries.

The lady I had been standing with smiled knowingly, when she heard the mothers describing how hard new parenthood had been, and how they had been certain they were screwing it all up. Parents of older kids chimed in, and told their own stories. We confessed all the things we vowed to never do with our kids, which we all did. We talked of our own battles and what we had learned through the years. I laughingly relayed that I had vowed to never feed my toddler chips, and stories were told about all the silly rules we had administered, pre-children. Banana sandwiches are great, but then so is the occasional bucket of chips. Pretty soon, the whole carriage was chatting, introducing ourselves to one another. The toddler’s energy and ease of friendship had contaminated us all. They alternatively sung Wiggle songs, played with toys and ate chips.

An hour passed, and it was time for the toddlers to say goodbye, and they hugged one another. I thought of the ease in which the little boy had gone up to greet the little girl. It had brought out the best in all the weary travellers. It taught us to get our noses out of our phones, and actually smile at one another. Even if you are only going to be with a group of people for one solitary hour of your life, make it count.

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Womens Wave, Sydney


Perusing the commentary on social media, there are apparently people who don’t believe that we need to march in support of women’s rights. That would be welcome news for  the thousands who marched in Sydney last weekend. If only it were true… We demanded the right to feel safe on our streets, our thoughts turning to Aiia Maasarwe, the vibrant young student killed in Melbourne. She will never be forgotten, and was certainly remembered Sunday. It could have been any one of us…We traveled into the city with a woman who had survived domestic violence. She left her marriage when pregnant with her youngest, and has been to hell, lingering to grab other’s from it’s fire. We stood spellbound, listening to Yumi Stynes, Aunty Norma, Jane Brock, Rae Johnston and Bri Lee. If you can imagine several thousand people, silent and keeping space for the speakers, the trees themselves staying as still as the air. The peace was occasionally broken by rapturous applause. As we began our march past the courts, my friend began crying. So many of us had experienced violence in the past, and being part of a collective was in direct opposition to how alone we had once felt. “Things are going to change for our girls,” I whispered, hoping I was right.

I have witnessed girls being too intimidated to play at a local park, right near their home, after boys demanded that they be their girlfriend. They refused, and the boys didn’t like it. Now, they will only go to the park accompanied. I have seen cat-calling of eleven year old’s, suggestive messages left for them in their bags. I had the displeasure of traveling on a train with two teenage boys the other day. By the looks of them, I would hazard a guess that they were sixteen years old. One was talking to the other about sending “a chick” pics of their anatomy, and demanding that she do the same. The way in which they were talking, and the phrases they used to denigrate young women, made my skin crawl, and I let them have it both barrels. Once upon a time, the defence brought up the fact that I was on the pill as an argument in court. Never mind that I was taking it for severe period pain, later diagnosed as endometriosis. Certainly never mind that it had nothing to do with my being raped. I have seen misogyny at work, and felt it’s cruel aftermath. I have met gentlemen and fabulous boys too, many of whom took part in the march. They give me renewed hope.

Do you know how hard it is to leave an abusive marriage? Even if you are the one fiscally responsible, adept at paying bills and stretching money, real estate agents prefer to have a husband’s name on the lease, particularly if you are at home with small children and he works full-time. So many things in your husband’s name, and none in yours. There are many ways to feel trapped in this world, and a lot of rabbit holes to disappear down. My daughter was asked by a reporter why she was here. She said “because my mum was hurt badly when she was a teenager, and women and girls deserve to feel safe and respected.” We sure do, sweetheart. Her friends chatted to the reporter too, adding their heartfelt sentiments. They are the daughter’s of  women who rose like the mythical phoenix, and shall be silent no more.

The call was placed for a Safe State, a list of recommendations put together by frontline workers and experts to end family and domestic violence. You can show your support here.

Financial Abuse


I recently met up with a friend whose partner (in secret), had racked up substantial debts, which they were repaying at $550 per week. If you asked her partner what he’d bought, I don’t believe he would be able to tell you, such was the lack of value placed on the items. It has added up to a huge chunk out of their wages. Financial abuse is insidious, tied in with emotional and mental abuse, and at it’s heart, control.  Ultimately, living with someone whose goals aren’t aligned with yours, is unworkable. Being lied to, having money taken out of your account and being forced to withdraw what you have saved in order to live, is more common than most people think. It consists of regularly making up excuses when you can’t afford to go out,  whilst trying to keep the household running and school supplies bought. It is incredibly stressful.

I have seen and heard it all in my time. I have seen people I love left with nothing after sacrificing everything, in order to pay off debts that aren’t even theirs.  I have seen people trapped by ill health and other issues, rendering it harder to leave. I have seen people promised money over the Christmas period, or a partner swearing that they would pay their share, and then not do so. I have seen it all, and wept with those on the receiving end.

I have written an ebook about financial, emotional and mental abuse, available on iBooks and Amazon Kindle. It is such an important subject, and my main goal was to help people feel less alone. The fact that you are still here and fighting for yourself and any children you may have is extraordinary! It takes such a massive effort (and toll), when you are locked out of your own life; financial matters and fines, debts and betrayal hidden from you. If this is you, keep going, please. I have seen lives rebuilt after suffering these particular traumas. I have seen a woman five years down the road- and now financially secure-cradling the hands of another, promising that they too shall get through it. I believe her.

 

The Consolation of Shopping


I once knew an elderly gent whose house was filled with clutter. The living room had no available seats, and he had given up using his mahogany dining table. There was no room for cutlery, let alone plates. I have seen shipping containers filled with items which still had their tags attached, never used. I have seen sheds built in yards to house the surplus of a person’s shopping addiction. I have come to understand the motive behind chaotic shopping patterns.

The $100 shoes that were on sale, in a style they would never wear, in a size that doesn’t fit, represents the love they never received. It is also symbolic of ill-fitting relationships.

The designer dress is symbolic of needing a lift after a failed attempt on IVF. Having the news broken over the phone, seeing prams and pregnant women everywhere is enough to drive a woman into the closest store.

The new furniture, smart TV and rugs represent the sinking feeling that something is not quite right within a cultivated life.

The bookshelves crammed with ornaments is symbolic of the urge to hold onto the past and it’s people, even though it is time to let go.

The broken pots and detritus in the garden is symbolic of a life out of control. They looked so inviting at the garden centre! You had grand plans to make an entertaining area in the yard, but realised that everyone in your family flits in and out, and the conversations you crave aren’t to be had. Those items symbolise abandoned dreams. It is akin to telling yourself that you aren’t worth the effort and time, nor is it worth doing for your sole enjoyment.

Perhaps, people that are content in life don’t shop excessively. The items that they buy are needed, and valued. They use everything that they buy, and don’t purchase gifts to win favour. A life that is in balance doesn’t swing like a pendulum.

The endorphin kick one feels at the shops is as forgotten as the identical shorts and shirts at the back of the wardrobe once home. The sinking feeling when one surveys the damage held on receipts is not worth the fleeting rush to the brain’s reward centres.

This stuff can’t make up for the cruelty inflicted on you. It is no substitute for inclusion, nor love. It can’t make pain disappear, or a longed-for child appear. It won’t make people love you more, and it can’t vanquish illness.

I have had the sad task of clearing out several homes of friends when they died. I have seen their bedrooms crammed with makeup and skincare, shoes and clothes, and gifts hidden away in case they are needed one day. Everything still had the prices attached. I have seen beds used as repositories for shopping bags, thrown into the room as though they were a live stick of dynamite, ready to explode. I have felt desperately sad as I surveyed the magazines and kitchenware, piled high in living rooms. Not wanted nor needed, nor ever used. I have understood that such scenes have been their attempt to stockpile in case they meet with a cruel winter. It happened once, and it can happen again. This stuff is their insurance policy. Mindlessly purchased, they felt the lovely flutter in their tummies, their brain beliving that this purchase will make their life better. Heck, it will make them better. It will make them care less that their husband is a philanderer, their family is a hot mess and that they are depressed. It will eradicate all of it. The shopping culture lies. It manipulates us, deliberately and often. It knows what it’s doing, down to the displays, the lighting, the music, the colours and scents. It knows how we think, the holes we try to fill and what we are trying to make up for.

Here’s how you can beat the horrid high and low during this Christmas season.

  • Make a budget and stick to it!
  • Make a list of those whom you want to buy for, and decide what you want to gift and how much you can spend beforehand.
  • Check in with yourself before leaving home. Buying stuff is no consolation for feeling lonely and sad. Make sure anything that you purchase is for the right reasons.
  • Eat before you leave home, and carry a water bottle. That horrendous disorientated feeling brought on by shopping centres is made worse by hunger and dehydration!
  • Check in any rewards points you have accrued throughout the year. These can be used for groceries or you can opt to donate them to a charity.
  • Declutter your home. The stuff that makes you depressed has to go. The clothes you have held onto but never worn, the kitchen gadgets in boxes and books you have yet to read, need to be donated or sold. No good comes from a home without sufficient room for energy to circulate.
  • Give experiences, whether that be movie tickets, a voucher to dinner in the New Year or babysitting services. Experiences last longer than stuff.
  • You have nothing to prove to anyone. You are enough, just as you are. Put down that item you can’t afford, and bake something for your friend instead.
  • Call your friends and organise catch-ups. Go on picnics or have a coffee together. People need you, not stuff.
  • Shop local! Support your local farmers markets and shops. These people are your neighbours and possibly your friends.

I remember in living colour, the sadness I felt as I surveyed dusty shelves piled high with items still in their original packets. The hope that this product would be a game-changer had long perished, and all that was left was a prison built of  discarded aspirations for a better life. Sit with pain, befriend and understand it. Shopping won’t help what needs fixing. Self-love can.

Christmas in Sydney


As we near Christmas, the scramble to wrap up the year has begun. It has been a whirlwind for us all. I am not ready for Christmas. I was not ready for all that transpired this year. Yet, here we are. We always go to see the Martin Place Christmas Tree, on its maiden lighting, my daughter and I. We had a lovely surprise two years back when another family joined us on the train to Sydney, and we have shared this occasion with them ever since. My daughter had been unwell, and our friends assumed that we wouldn’t be going in this year. Not a chance! My girl bounded in and announced  she was feeling better, insisting we go. We met up with our friends, and amused the other passengers with our musical elf and reindeer ears. We walked through Martin Place, noting the food van and the grateful punters lining up for a meal.

When the tree was lit, I screamed with excitement! It doesn’t matter how old you are, it is a thrill!

 

Life can suck, sure, but when thousands of people go ‘wow,’ and people either side are smiling at you, all is forgotten in that moment, even the light rail debacle. It was made pretty with lights and choirs.

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There were performers on every corner, and as the choir sang a request for peace, I felt it reach inside my soul. We stared into each other, these choristers and I.

 

We greeted strangers in the Pitt St Mall, admired the Swarovski Christmas Tree in the Queen Victoria Building, and pressed our faces against the David Jones Christmas windows. For a few precious hours, we were as enthralled and excited as young children. For a few precious hours, there was beauty. May it continue throughout the new year, this hope, this energy.

Christmas Decorations are up, and hope is cutting through


I lost a friend the other day. Joan was 102 years of age. She still lived in her own home, and had a special interest in social justice, regularly attending meetings and hearing speakers talk on homelessness, refugees and domestic violence. I met Joan when I was handed a card addressed to ‘the lady with the long blonde hair who has a little dog.’  I was pregnant, and opened the card to find a letter containing the most sublime writing. So began a decade of correspondence; heartfelt, searing and thrilling. I would smile when I saw her cursive on an envelope, knowing that she had poured out her heart to me. Her life hadn’t been easy, but then again, no great heroine’s is. She adored Christmas, and I thought of her as my daughter and I put up our tree.

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When I was going through IVF, a group of us would put our trees up early, to lift our spirits. It is such a difficult season to deal with infertility. As we looped the decorations onto the tree, we paused. Each bauble contained a memory, and we talked of who had given us each one, and where we had purchased the rest. We reminisced as I told my daughter what age she had been when she had made the paper angels and ceramic bells.

This year has felt like a battering rod has crashed through my life, leaving little more than debris. Fortunately, I am skilled at building decent shelters from remnants. What a strange time it is to be alive in this world. Can you believe that our Government wanted to cut funding to Foodbank, an essential service for some of the most vulnerable in our society? I am pleased to report that after public backlash,  they changed their minds. I am astounded that they attempted to pick up chump change in this manner!

The house is ready for Christmas, as my daughter rehearses for end-of-year plays and concerts. We are ready for hope, for light and for miracles. We are preparing for 2019, and the start of a new dawn. Having the tree and decorations up has brought fresh energy into the house. It is a statement, saying that in spite of everything, we are ready to celebrate. In spite of everything, we are looking forward. The twinkling lights represent every dream we hold in our hearts. Those dreams are ready to burst forth.