On being a grandparent: the joys and the joys

When I was expecting my first grandchild, a colleague’s eyes opened wide.

‘You’ll love it. It’s the best thing,’ she enthused. ‘It’s better than having your own children.’

I thought she might have been exaggerating, but now four and a half years and four grandchildren later, I can confirm she was absolutely right. It is, indeed, the best.

I was always looking forward to being a grandma, but it still surprised me how good it is. All the benefits without the strain of being the actual parent. All the joy and cuddles and fun and ridiculous pride without the sleepless nights, the frenzy, the washing, the juggling of work and childcare, the witching hour before dinner (or is it after, or both?), the complete inability to take a pee in private, or even at all, and that constant, aching exhaustion …

Is it all starting to come back to you?

But now as a grandparent, I don’t have to suffer those horrors and instead get all the benefits of little bubbas without the downsides. Well, mostly without the downsides. How crazily special is that?

And now, just days ago, we have welcomed another little bubba into the fold: the fourth for us, the first for them, the one that launches them into a whole new world, that of being a parent.

And while Mum and Dad absorb the newness of parenthood and the wonder of that tiny little being, so I contemplate the things I love most about being a grandmother.

It’s a gift

Being a grandparent is a bit like magic. Unconditional love is thrust upon you by adoring small people. There is little like the joy of a baby’s face erupting into a smile when they see you, or toddlers racing to give you a hug or tell you the latest tale.

It’s a privilege, and one that doesn’t happen to everyone, which makes it even more special. Not all who want to become parents get to do so, and I’m cognisant of that. I am grateful to be blessed with two children of my own and now a growing tribe in the next generation I also call my own.

 

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Photo: Mel Hill Photography

Doing it over again

Being a grandparent allows you to do relive your favourite bits of parenthood. Do you remember the last time your child held your hand walking along the street? Somehow that stopped happening, without you realising. Now I get another chance to experience those special things one more time, and soak them in: a small warm hand gripping mine, a little body snuggling up on the couch for a cuddle, or a warm leg wrapped over mine when someone sneaks into my bed on a sleepover.

“I like to be the big spoon,’ Miss 5 announces as she envelopes my thigh with her whole leg.

Lending support

As grandparent, I get to be a support person. The challenges of raising babies is forever etched in my mind. Our first born seemed averse to sleep from the start and for years she slept little and sporadically. 30 years on and the sound of a crying baby still stresses me and thrusts me back to those long days and longer nights, seeking sleep. Now I witness that grown baby experiencing similar challenges. We share that common ground, and I know the value of sharing the stress and the value of an extra pair of hands, or ears, as well as the fun times.

Sometimes our role is to provide support, relief, applause or maybe a glass of wine, and we do that willingly. The parents do the hard yakka and we get to marvel at the job they’re doing and hold them up a bit when needed, even if that’s just hanging out together to make the day easier all round.

How difficult it must be for young parents without parental support, or even worse, to be a single parent. Hats off to those who manage a relentless job solo. And how difficult too when grandparents have to step in to replace the parents.

Good for them, good for us

We all benefit from this relationship. It’s well documented that spending time with grandkids is beneficial: it can energise you and keep you fitter, physically and mentally. Research also shows caring for grandchildren extends longevity. Those games of memory and draughts and chess will keep our brains active too, and all that lifting and chasing them is keeping us fit. I do rue the day, however, when I taught them to play ‘Red Rover’ (essentially a chasing game) as now I have created two river monsters who thrive on running across imaginary waterways and who have no regard for the effects of heatwaves and unrelenting chants on grandparents.

Conversely, we teach them about the world in our own special way. I’m the puzzle queen and theatre-taker, while Grandude teaches them about gardening and spends long periods at building sites to watch diggers in action.

We each put joy in the others’ lives, and joy is good for the body and the soul.

 

The same sense of pride

Again, we get to burst with genetic pride. That powerful and perhaps irrational conditioning (fog?) that convinces you your kids are the cleverest, most spectacular, most advanced in all the land applies just as strongly with grandchildren. Remember that chest-crushing pride you felt watching them on stage in truly dreadful performances, and the tears of pride that came with it? Well, it’s the same with the next generation. The thrill you get when they intentionally hit that dangling rattle for the first time or take a wobbly first step is every bit as intense. Somehow though, because they’re your children once removed, we feel we can be freer in our boasting of their outrageous talents and glorious looks.

The gift of time

But for me, the best thing about being a grandparent is the gift of time. When we had our own kids, life was busier and more stressful. Actually, it was manic. Although we played and had fun, there’s some regret l I couldn’t spend more time just sitting or reading to the kids or telling them a long story.

Now I have the space and time to take things slowly and gently breathe in the little moments. We can dedicate entire mornings to games or books if we want, or slow, leisurely walks looking for treasures, like feathers or pretty leaves, with which to make artworks. No pressure to finish up so we can race off to do something else. Of course, our own list of house jobs remains largely undone, but there’s always next week.

We’re especially fortunate that most of our grandchildren live nearby and we see an awful lot of them. Many times a week, (sometimes many times a day!), so our home is their second one. Miss 5 even says she wants to move in. (Perhaps not. The serenity when they leave is also something to be much appreciated.) Now the new addition in another state makes visitation more complex and so we will begin to wear a path up and down the long highway between us.

It’s not bad at all.

What about you? Are you a grandparent? What’s your favourite thing about it? Would you consider being a surrogate grandparent?

 

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Eyes up: it’s the Canberra Balloon Spectacular – what you need to know

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Balloons skimming water of Lake Burley Griffin during Canberra Balloon Spectacular

For nine days in March every year, Canberrans awake to the magic of a flotilla of hot air balloons drifting gently across the city skies. It’s something we’ve been witnessing for more than 30 years, but it’s a sight that never grows old.

The Canberra Balloon Spectacular, originally held in 1988 as a one-off, is now firmly embedded as part of the two week long Enlighten Festival, when the nation’s capital literally lights up in celebration of our birthday. That’s a solid party!

This year the festival takes place between 9-17 March. More than 30 giant balloons in all colours and shapes launch from the lawns of Old Parliament House, just as dawn breaks. The mornings are still and just-chilled, but there’s live music and hot breakfasts on the side.

To help you make the most of the festival, the biggest of its kind in Australia, here are a few tips.

Keep updated

Ballooning totally depends on the weather, and weather can be fickle, so daily launches aren’t guaranteed. To avoid disappointment (and complaining kids), check updates before you leave home. You can follow Enlighten on Facebook, visit its website, tune into local radio or call Canberra Connect—and possibly save yourself a wasted trip. Although, even if the balloons don’t fly, breakfast’s still on.

If you’re keen to catch a balloon sighting or two, go at the beginning of the festival. If flights are cancelled, you’ll have more opportunities during the rest of the week.

Get there early

The balloons start filling from 6.15am on the lawns of Old Parliament House, taking around 15 minutes to fill and lift. Most have floated off by around 7am. This is where the action starts and it’s a buzz  watching the balloons being fired up.

If you’re running late or just want to watch the balloons floating across the city, pick another location. The flight paths vary with the wind, but they often head north-westish across the city.

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Keep room for breakfast

Arriving early for take-off lets you get up close and personal and witness the balloons come to life. You’re part of the atmosphere, surrounded by the swoosh of the gas cylinders and the heat of the flames, the riders in the baskets, and hundreds of early risers.

It’s a bit of a party atmosphere with live music on the weekends and hot breakfasts available each day from the Belconnen Lions Club. You can grab pancakes, burritos and juice, and of course there’s always coffee.

Dress warmly

Even though March days in the capital are mainly beautiful, it is Canberra remember, and the mornings can be surprisingly chilly and the grass damp. Wear closed in shoes and bring a jacket.

Pick your vantage point

There’s a multitude of places to view the drifting kaleidoscope as the city wakes up. Try one of these, or perhaps all of them:

  • Commonwealth Bridge, where the balloons come towards you over the National Library
  • down by the lake opposite the National Museum, one of the first places the balloons reach and where they’re quite close
  • anywhere along the lake from the Carillon to Regatta Point provides a wide vista with our iconic buildings and Black Mountain Tower in the background
  • from Scrivener Dam or Black Mountain peninsular looking towards the city
  • from the heights of the arboretum as the sun rises.

Shoot like a pro

The Balloon Spectacular is a photographer’s true delight, as the hundreds of thousands of shots taken every year attest, but you don’t have to have the best gear to get a great shot.

If you want to increase your chances of nailing something really special, don’t fret—I’ve got you covered with tips for photographing Canberra’s balloon spectacular. Anyone can get amazing shots.

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Look out for the new entrants

The balloons come from all over the globe and each year brings a couple of new characters to the skies. In past years we’ve had an angry bird, Kerbie the frog, a Scottish bagpiper, Simba, Yoda and Vincent Van Gough. And who could forget the controversial Sky Whale, commissioned for Canberra’s anniversary with its rather distinct, umm, mammary glands? Who will it be this year? They’re not cheap those special balloons, costing around $200,000 to make one.

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Swing high, swing low

For a real treat, you can take to the skies yourself in one of the balloons. Both Balloons Aloft and Dawn Drifters offer paid balloon rides during the festival.

To get a really unique perspective, you could hit the lake waters instead on a guided kayak tour with Canberra Urban Adventures. The balloons often get very close to the water as the balloon operators like to show their talent by seeing if they skim along the top. This year will be your last chance on a kayak tour as sadly they won’t around much longer.

Set your alarm, Canberra, and don’t miss this spectacle. It’s totally worth getting out of bed for, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like rising before 8. Maybe leave your pooches at home though, as some get quite sketched out by those gas swooshes and looming shapes.

 

This article was first published in HerCanberra.

Mysterious Lake George: separating fact from folklore

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Lake George dried out as a grazing field

Lake George, splayed at the edge of the Federal Highway half an hour from Canberra, has long been the stuff of myth and legend. This eerie, atmospheric place that suddenly fills with water only to miraculously empty has spawned many tales—about bunyips, UFO sightings and ghostly apparitions—and sadly many deaths. And where the hell does all that water actually disappear to?

For decades I’ve witnessed this mercurial place transform from lapping lake to fields of green, seemingly overnight, and been fascinated by the stories that abound. So when local investigator, Tim the Yowie Man, was hosting an evening soiree at Lerida Estate winery to divulge some of the lake’s secrets, it seemed a no-brainer. I had to be there.

The mystery of the disappearing water

The history of the lake goes back millions of years, as the 250 metres of sediment and bedrock below attest, providing a boon for scientists. Originally the lake drained into the Yass River but seismic movement along a fault line caused a major lift in the land, cutting off inflow from river systems and forming what we know now as the Cullerin Block with the lake sitting at its base. That’s the big escarpment you drive along as you head to Sydney.

The term ‘lake’ seems a misnomer in this instance, given lakes usually contain water. Although now mostly seen as a large flat stretch of grazing land, in many periods including the 1980s and ’90s and even in 2016, water would lap at the edges of the highway before suddenly disappearing, as if by magic, sometimes retreating kilometres overnight.

These dramatic fluctuations have given rise to much conjecture, including theories that as the waters emptied out in Lake George they filled up somewhere else across the Tasman, or even in China, in some strange aquatic balancing act. Some proffered the idea of mysterious underground canals or tunnels, or possibly quicksand, to explain the disappearance act.

It’s perhaps somewhat disappointing to learn it’s not that complex and science has a simple explanation. The lake bed, stretching 25 by 10 kilometres, is large and very shallow and has no river inflows. This leads to a lot of quick evaporation. Simples! Basically more water goes up than comes down, not nearly so intriguing as the notion of secret channels and alternating lake levels in foreign lands.

And those sheep? They’re not as stupid as they look. They just move as the water levels change.

Capital, raceway or a place to swim?

Discovered by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1820, Lake George was named for the then King of England, but there is evidence Aboriginal people were in the region 60,000 years beforehand. The Indigenous people called the lake Weereewa, meaning place of bad waters or a place of conflict. Perhaps an ominous name.

The lake area was one proposed to be the site of the new capital of Australia, with the lake waters to feed nearby agricultural lands. Only trouble was when the official party turned up to review the site, there wasn’t much water to be seen, putting to bed the idea of transforming the area into ‘the Venice of Australia’. At one time consideration was also given to making the lake into a speedway. In retrospect, it was a fortuitous decision to look for alternative locations for both.

Gazing across the flat green fields of the ‘lake’ dotted with sheep, it’s hard to imagine this place once held more water than Lake Burley Griffin and was the scene for many a family day out. In the 1960s it hosted swimming and boating events and sailing boats dotted the water. Even the odd paddle steamer found its way there. People would travel from near and wide to frolic in the waters, travelling from Sydney by train for the day. The regattas, however, could be fraught as westerly winds could postpone events and lead to many boats capsizing and rescues.

There was a time too when recreational and even commercial fishing was rife, but it’s hard to keep fish alive when the water keeps disappearing.

Tragedy on the lake

Sadly, the area has also been the site of many deaths, both on the lake and on the once treacherous stretch of undivided highway flanking it. When the lake is dry, it seems totally implausible this site could be the site of drowning deaths. Even impossible. But this part of the many strange lake stories is unfortunately true.

The lake’s shallow depths and calm appearance belie its dangers, and when full, the lake is prone to strong gusty winds which can change suddenly and whip up the icy waters into a frenzy. More than a dozen people have lost their lives through drowning or hyperthermia since 1949. Five of those occurred in one incident in 1956, when five cadets from the Royal Military College Duntroon drowned when their small boat capsized in the suddenly rough waters. It was days and in some cases months before their bodies were found when the water levels dropped. A few years later, a family day out on the lake turned to tragedy and a family from Queanbeyan drowned with only one person surviving, the priest who was with them, to tell the harrowing tale.

For art’s sake

Nowadays the waters are largely missing in action and it’s more common to spot an artwork than a sailing boat. Given the many moods and ever-changing landscapes of Lake George, and despite its sometimes dark history, it’s not surprising the lake has inspired a range of artistic endeavours. The site of the sporadic month-long Weereewa Festival started in 1999, the lake has drawn artists and musicians and many a dancer to float and frolic across its surface. A number of artworks was temporarily installed on the lake bed during one festival, and if you’re looking in the right place, you might stumble across a sunken house, one installation that stayed on.

Other art pieces have appeared over the years including a striking herd of zebras out on the plains. Popular as they were, unfortunately the two Canberra creators didn’t seek permission from the land lessee so the striped family was duly removed. Happily the zebras reappeared later that year at Floriade, with Baby George zebra in tow. Guess where he was conceived?

But wait, there’s more

But what of those reported UFO sightings, including a double sighting by a mother and daughter, and the phantom hitch hiker, a young girl, who seeks a ride on the highway? Is she the small girl who drowned on the lake decades ago? And what were those strange lights on the horizon and why did hundreds of fish suddenly die overnight? And when was the lake ‘monster’ last spotted?

If you’re keen to hear more, you can join Tim the Yowie Man on one of his regularly run events, or track down the thoroughly comprehensive Magnificent Lake George: The Biography— by recently-deceased Canberra local Graeme Barrow, which provides a detailed and fascinating history.

Tim the Yowie Man at Lerida Estate

There was much to learn while sipping on lovely local wines, but even on an drizzly evening that coincided with a full moon and the summer solstice, there were no ghostly beings to be found lurking around the lake.

Perhaps I may have to go a little further south around Collector to find a ghost and meet some of their reported ‘locals’. That might have to be my next port of call.

 

A shortened version of this article first appeared on HerCanberra. See if you spot the differences.

Two’s company, but sometimes one’s even better: thriving by myself

I have a little confession. I’ve been happily married, even deliriously happily married, for more than 30 years. (That’s not the secret.) But as my dearest and I spend more and more time together during the days and evenings in our (reasonably recent) retirements, I’m finding I’m needing a little space. In fact, I’ve discovered that having some time just for me is allowing me to thrive.

Not that I don’t love spending time with him and doing things together (he’s rather good company), but in order to really discover myself as an individual, especially now as a non-working person, I’m really relishing a bit of time and space just for me. To think, to explore, to try new things—whatever I’d like—all my myself.

So, it is with the utmost of love and respect that I want to say to my most beloved:

I love you dearly, but occasionally, please just leave me alone!

Sometimes you hear women complain their husbands are golfers and that they spent inordinate amounts of time on the golf course. Not me! I encourage it. Because when he’s on the course, that’s my special time, when he’s out for four or five hours at a stretch and I’m completely left to my own devices to do whatever I want—write, read, ‘waste’ as much time as I want on the computer. Whatever I want with no one to come and ask what I’m doing. Not that I’m doing anything sneaky or untoward. It’s just I don’t want to be bothered.

And those days when he’s booked in to golf and I’m planning to do all the things, and then it rains and he stays home instead! Ugh! My special time disappears.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m married to perhaps the most wonderful man on earth, and I love spending time with him. But as I’m getting older, I’m really valuing some ‘me’ time more and more, when I’m not beholden to anyone else and I can do things that bring me pleasure, even if others can’t understand why. Like, blogging!

I like to be by myself when I’m on my computer, in my little cyber world, and don’t even like someone else at the desk next to me. I know I shared offices for decades, but now I don’t like sharing that much. Concentration levels are so much higher when I’m by myself. Or maybe I’m just becoming old and curmudgeonly.

Mr T and I have been together since we were teenagers, and while we share a myriad of similar interests, we also enjoy our separate interests. As I said, he golfs, I play tennis. He likes James Bond movies, I like tragic dramas. He cooks, I eat. Most of our holidays are together, but we also do our own trips. He goes on wine trips with the boys, I go to Thailand with the girls for massages and cocktails. I’m even having a couple of weeks in Zimbabwe soon without him. He will of course worry the whole time that I’m in peril or lost (to be honest, I have no sense or direction so the latter is highly likely, and given that’s it’s Zimbabwe, in fact, the former may also be a possibility), but I’m going to give it a go anyway.

We are a fabulous partnership, as our many couples, but we’re also two individuals so I’m delighted we are able to pursue different interests and have different friendships and don’t always have to be tied to the hip, even as we spend more and more time together. It’s good for both of us. I’m not an introvert—I thrive on the company of others, especially my family —but this little place I’m discovering now that’s just for me—I have to say, it’s an absolute blast.

What about you? Do love spending some time by yourself?

10 ways to express your love this Valentine’s Day, without the spending

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There’s a lot of hype about Valentine’s Day, and a bit of pressure to fork out a lot of dollars for your special one. Some buy into it (literally) while others condemn Valentine’s Day for its crass commercialism and refuse any notions of bunches of overpriced red roses and not-so-cute teddies.

It can be an expensive affair if you let it, but if you’re on a budget there’s a whole world of opportunity to celebrate the day with the special one in your life, without breaking the bank.

Here are a few ideas for starters.

1. Write a note and leave it on the pillow, with a chocolate. Make it a heart-shaped one if you must.

2. Hide some secret notes around the house, in a pocket, in a text, on a steamed up mirror.

3. Go nuts (still on the note idea). Write a heap of them, each one noting something you like about your partner or some of your favourite memories and put them in a jar. If you’re a planner, you can add to this during the year every time your partner does something great or thoughtful. Too late for this year though!

4. Take a walk together – along a beach, through a forest, up a mountain heading for a view. Turn off your phones!

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5. Make some heart-shaped biscuits.

6. Watch a sunset together. Sigh.

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7. Pick some flowers from your garden, or someone’s else’s if you have to. Add some greenery to fill it out.

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8.Make a special dinner. Bring out the good glasses and crockery. Hell, you could even use napkins, and I mean the fabric ones. Pop a bottle of bubbles to make it really special.

9. Watch a romantic comedy together curled up on the sofa.

10. Set some mood lighting. Light candles all over your house and turn the lights down low, or sprinkle some fairy lights around your bedroom to set the scene.

 

 

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If you don’t have a partner, use the day as an excuse to shower your friends and other loved ones with smiles and kindness. Maybe have a singles girls night out instead and celebrate your friendship. Send a message to say how much they mean to you. There is always someone to love.

And it you do have a partners, don’t forget those who don’t have a partner or have recently lost one. They deserve little notes and flowers as well.

What do you to celebrate the day? Ignore it or make a fuss?

The travels of Captain Cook and Joseph Banks: brought to life at the National Library of Australia

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Illuminated globe depicting the travels of Captain James Cook from the Cook and the Pacific exhibition at the National Library of Australia

The names Captain James Cook and Sir Joseph Banks spark instant recognition in Australia for the roles they played in the history of European-settled Australia and in various other parts of the world. Captain Cook, in particular, has become an almost mythical historic character, often being incorrectly attributed as the first one to discover Australia. While his navigational and scientific achievements were very significant, we are now paying a little more attention to the people and the places he and his fellow travellers encountered on their voyages, and the impact they had. The current exhibition at the National Library of Australia, Cook and the Pacific, gives us a detailed history of the trips and invites us to consider them from a number of perspectives.

The Cook and the Pacific exhibition covers the three major Pacific voyages of James Cook, exploring the regions and the voyages through the eyes of the British travellers and the First Nations peoples they met along the way. It covers travel to Tahiti, Hawaii, New Zealand, the east coast of Australia, and surprisingly, even Siberia and Antarctica.

It’s a fabulous exhibition, and with borrowings from 20 museums and libraries in Australia and across the world, and having consulted all the communities involved in the exhibits, it was three years in the planning. It includes maps and manuscripts, rare books, paintings and beautiful artworks, and some contemporary takes on the voyages. Highlights include a replica of the HM Bark Endeavour, the pahao (dagger) of swordfish reputed to be the one which killed Cook in 1779, a recovered canon from the Endeavour and some of the original plant specimens the ship carried, and a Chief Mourner’s Costume from the Society Islands from the 1700s.

One of the things that struck me most (apart from what a harsh existence it must have been on board and how rubbish I would have been as a navigator), was the variety and complexity of the relationships formed with the First Peoples the travellers met along the way. This ranged from being friendly, as seen through trading and sharing knowledge, to extremely friendly, as in relations with females, to being completely violent and warring, resulting in many deaths, including that of Cook himself in Hawaii. It must be said that at the time he was trying to capture and take hostage of the local king so it’s hardly surprising the locals were upset.

One of the stars of the exhibition is the original hand-written Cook journal of the Endeavour, side by side with an edited version in another’s handwriting which is usually housed in England. It’s believed this is the first time the two journals have been together since the 1770s. James Cook had no say in how journal was edited before publishing, so it would be interesting to compare the differences.

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The exhibition also contains artwork by the renowed Tupaia, a native Arioi from Raiatea in the Society Islands, who was Cook’s constant guide and translator on his first voyage and who could navigate the oceans and islands without the use of navigational equipment, with the ability to map 130 islands from memory. How interesting how much knowledge they shared.

It’s really a remarkable collection, and if you can possibly get there before it closes on 10 February, you should. Get your skates on. And – bonus – they’re both free!

And while you’re there …

Beauty, Rich and Rare

Slide from the Beauty Rich and Rare exhibition at the National Library of Australia

The Cook and the Pacific exhibition coincides with a spectacular audio-visual display at the National Library: Beauty, Rich and Rare. (Does that make you want to sing along?). The immersive display, splayed over five large screens, tells the story of early navigation in the 1700s and the witnessing of the Transit of Venus, an astronomical event which occurs once every 243 years, and explores the spectacular and surprising flora and fauna that greeted Europeans when they landed on Australian shores, samples of which they took back to England.

As David Attenborough said of this voyage of exploration, ‘No journey has brought back such treasures.’

There are over 1 million species in Australia, most of them unique to our island continent, so imagine how amazed they must have been when they stepped ashore and saw it for themselves.

The show, which plays at various times during the day, allows you to step into the shoes of Joseph Banks, the ship’s naturalist and botanist (after whom we named our unique Banksia plant species) and those of his team of scientists and illustrators as they documented the thrilling plant and animal species that greeted them.

The huge number of plant specimens (over 30,000) collected by Banks were studied and drawn by botanical artist Sydney Parkinson, the first artist to set foot on Australian soil. He made 674 detailed drawings of the specimens with detailed notes about their colours, as well as 269 water colour illustrations. Poor old Parkinson didn’t survive the trip home, succumbing to dysentery  after they left Batavia, but when they returned to London, Banks employed five artists to create watercolours of all Parkinson’s drawers and 18 engravers to create 743 line engravings, insisting that every line of the sketches be included. Bank’s famed Florilegium wouldn’t have been possible without those drawings.

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Back to Captain Cook, and an interesting fact

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Good old Captain Cook has been in the news a bit lately in Australia, given the Prime Minister recently announced a replica Endeavour will re-enact Cook’s circumnavigation of Australia in the 18th century – at great cost. Never mind that he didn’t actually do that – that honour actually belongs to Matthew Flinders. Of course, Twitter had a field day with Scott Morrison’s error-filled tweet with many suggesting his learn his history himself, and hey presto – there’s an instant #WhatCookDid hashtag happening with tweets about what Cook actually did. Some may or may not be quite true.

Here’s a sample.

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Sometimes I love Twitter.

As an aside, did you know that Captain Cook wasn’t actually a captain? I didn’t learn that at the exhibition but it did spark a following revealing conversation. At the time of ‘captaining’ the Endeavour, his official ranking was Lieutenant and it wasn’t until he returned to England that he was promoted to the rank above Captain. So officially, he was never Captain Cook! All these years we’ve been calling him the wrong name.

 

 

Life in the suburbs of Canberra: when peacocks become your neighbours

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Peacock head

The sight of a number of chilled out peacocks and their lady friends, in their dazzling shades of turquoise and iridescent blue, is something you might expect in a zoo or perhaps sub-continent India, but surely not in the streets of downtown Narrabundah, one of Canberra’s inner-most suburbs. But there they are, as they’ve been for decades, just strutting around as if they own the place. And now, after years of consideration and a bit of a community stoush, it looks like they’re here to stay.

No one is exactly sure how the birds got there. There’s a reported story from the locals that a peacock, variously called Andrew or Harry, turned up at a house in 1992— and just stayed, venturing from the backyard to the front. Gradually others moved in to keep him company and they seemed to get on well, because their numbers have slowly grown to their current count of around 30.

There are also reports from other locals that the peafowl have been around in smaller numbers long before then, since the 1970s and 1980s. One theory is that they were released from a small zoo on Mugga Lane in Symonston that closed in the early 90s. Another is that a former diplomatic resident in the area kept them at his house for several years and released them when he went back home. Take your pick. There’s also a smaller muster (that’s the collective noun, although pride or ostentation is also used) of them at Pialligo, where they’ve similarly been hanging around for some time.

I’ve lived in or close to the area for nearly 30 years, so the occasional sighting of a peafowl while on a walk has become quite normal, though still delightful. Our dogs over the years have been most intrigued, but well behaved from a distance. Last week in the middle of a heatwave, six peafowl unexpectedly turned up in my driveway, the first time I’ve ever seen them stray this far from their usual haunts, and wandered happily around for an hour or two before they headed off home in a pack, or a pride.

Although they surprise visitors to the neighbourhood, they’re very well known locally and drivers are well-trained to look out for them. Most of the locals with whom they share streets are very fond of them, or at least largely unfazed. Although they do rummage in gardens, many residents delight in their company and often leave out seed and water. In return, they get to watch the beautiful birds and their fine colours, and sometimes their exuberant feather displays and shimmering dances as the boys try to attract the girls. And around Christmas, they get to see the families and watch cute parades of little chicks tottering around close to their mums.

Peahen and chicks at Narrabundah

Not all the residents love them, of course, citing their droppings, loud mating calls and the damage they can cause to gardens as the reasons for their complaints. The ACT Government has taken the complaints seriously and a couple of times over the years has attempted to capture some with the intention of re-homing. Only problem was they couldn’t find suitable homes, so they were returned back to where they came from.

In April 2018, the government again put out notice of its plan to capture, cull and re-home the birds and called for submissions from the public. A Save the Narrabundah Peafowl movement was  formed by a group of supporters dedicated to protecting their feathered friends, and the community spoke quite loudly, holding meetings and advocating online. While some in the community voiced objections, the responses to the consultation were overwhelmingly in favour of retaining the birds, who have become part of the fabric of the neighbourhood.

So in June 2018 the cull was cancelled. Power to the people! Now there’s an agreed approach to managing the peafowl into the future so hopefully they’ll stick around for quite a while longer.

Now safe in their suburban home, at dusk when the light dims the peafowl appear on the streets and in their favourite ‘safe’ gardens where they know they’re likely to be fed. A number will jump on the rooftops to watch the sun go down. It’s rather a lovely sight.

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Personally, I love this little ostentation of peafowl (just giving each of the collective nouns a go) and I’ve popped in a couple of times of late to try and capture some photos. It was harder than I’d imagined. They’re not stressed by people, but they’re constantly on the move and they don’t like you to get too close. I managed to see a couple of clutches of chicks, but on the day I took the grandkids for a little peek, we could only spot one. Sadly, I’ve read that our heatwave over the last week or so has been too much for a few of them to cope with and some haven’t made it.

It’s nice to know whenever I venture that far on my walking outings, I may run into some. I’m always thrilled when I do.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over their colours. Surely they are one of nature’s most splendid creatures.

Do you have any usual inhabitants in your area?

Peacock at Narrabundah

 

 

Six ways to kick start your year: new year, new you

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Here it is 11 January and I’m still pfaffing around with notions of new year resolutions, or not, and already the month is escaping.

There is always much written about using this season for refreshing, revitalising, reinventing, or even resizing. There are a hundred ways of approaching the whole thing. Of course, entirely ignoring the hoo haa is also one of those ways – as you were, soldier.

But I don’t want to miss the chance entirely so here’s what I’m doing. You may like to use a couple of the ideas or modify them to suit yourself.

1. Write down your goals

Every year The Dearest and I write a list of five goals for the year. Call them aims, intentions, resolutions, things on the to do list—despite the semantics, it’s pretty much the same thing. But the important thing is we write them down. That means:

  • we have to consider what goes on the list carefully (like having only three wishes from a genie, you need to make them good ones)
  • we’re inclined to remember them and take them more seriously once they’re committed to paper. Like writing a shopping list before you go to the supermarket—even if you leave the list at home, you’re way more likely to remember what you intended to buy.
  • as we keep the lists over the years, it’s a hoot looking back on the ones we wrote decades ago and seeing how many we managed to achieve. We even had the kids to do it when they were at school and some of those old lists are pretty funny.

2. Make your goals SMART

For fear of sounding like a retired communication professional, I’m actually putting a bit of thought to using an acronym and trying to make the goals ‘SMART’, that  is:

  • specific
  • measurable
  • achievable
  • realistic
  • time-bound.

That means thinking about making the goals and avoiding the really fluffy ones and making myself really accountable.

If you want to go one step further, you can even break down one aim into some nuts and bolts of how you’ll get to achieve those goals. What are the actual steps you’ll take to get there?

For example, it’s fine to write down you want to ‘be happy’, but how are you planning on getting there? Maybe, investing in some ‘you’ time, having more social interaction, etc.

3.Choose a defining word

Choose a word, or even two, that encapsulates what you want to achieve for the year and use that as an ongoing inspiration. I learnt this idea from Sue from Sizzling Towards Sixty when she wrote about the word she’s chosen (although she did cheat a little and choose two words – rules are made to be broken!) Choosing a word can focus your thoughts on what’s important to you or something you want to change. In fact, this word for a year is a ‘thing’ with its own website, hashtag and all. #oneword365  I quite like it!

I’ve chosen productivity as my word. It’s an adaptable and active word. As someone very prone to procrastination and time-wasting, I need a word (as well as tools and activities, and sometimes a good foot up the backside) to keep me on task. I’m going to plaster that work up across the inside of my eyes!

4. Don’t be restrained by a timetable

Miss the very beginning of the New Year? No worries! So did I. The start of the year is a very popular incentive for renewal thoughts and activities, but it can be pretty busy after all and many of us are still in a Christmas pudding coma.

It’s not too late! Use any marker you want as your starting point for achieving what you want- new week, season, whatever. Important thing is just get started.

5. Use props as little helpers

There are all sorts of tools to help keep on track of aims. Some people use a diary or a list to track what they want to do or achieve. I’m a big list lover and always have several on the go to keep me on track and focussed. And it’s sooooo good when you start ticking things off!

Jo from Andanyways has a lovely long list of 101 things to do in 1001 days . Imagine the satisfaction of madly ticking off all those babies? Tick heaven.

Some people like stickers or posters stuck in prominent places to remind them of what they’re trying to achieve.

Others like to have an accountability buddy, someone to meet regularly with to check in on progress.

I’ve just invested in a couple of physical props – a selection of pretty notebooks (all the pinks and greens) in the hope that it will assist in keeping me organised and focussed. Different notebooks for different purposes. If I have everything arranged nicely and looking beautiful, surely that will help counteract the messiness of my mind?? I’ll let you know.

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It would certainly help if I tidied up my desk too. My solution so far this year has been to simply move my computer into a different and beautifully clean space. I fear I’m missing the point. #headinsand

6. Do what’s right for you

There’s no right way or wrong way to approach a new year, armed with lists and objectives or otherwise right in and see what eventuates.

Whatever you do and however you approach the year, hope it’s a good one for you with as much health and happiness as possible.

In case you’re interested, here’s my list for the year:

  • Achieve publication in three external sources
  • Write and adhere to a comms/marketing strategy
  • Improve my productivity/organisation
  • Keep the house tidy
  • Start painting the outside of house (note I didn’t say finish!)

Now that I’ve stated that publicly, I’m accountable for it, right?

What are you planning for the year ahead? What do you use to keep you honest?

 

Notebooks for the year ahead

 

Farewell to the Christmas sparkle: the end of the 12 days of Christmas

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It’s 6th January today, which means I’m right on target to take my Christmas decorations down for the year, or I may have missed it by a day, depending on your chosen timetable.

Which may or may not mean I’m in for some back luck. Take your pick.

That is of course, if you celebrate Christmas in the first place and have had the company of a sparkly Christmas tree for the last month or so. And that is of course, if I – or you – are to be influenced by century old Christian traditions and liturgical calendars, which seem to shift with time and have various iterations and interpretations according to religion and culture. There’s actually a lot of variation. In any case, they’re really quite interesting.

Have you heard about the Twelve Days of Christmas? That’s what it’s all about. The 12 days of Christmas start on Christmas Day (or perhaps Christmas Eve, depending on which theory you subscribe to) and therefore end on 5 January, or the 6th (depending on which theory you subscribe to).

The official liturgical ending of Christmastide, the Christmas season, is the Epiphany, celebrated on 6th January. That’s when the three wise men finally discovered little baby Jesus, some 12 days after his birth, and had an ‘epiphany’ or great revelation. They had to travel quite a distance to meet him, so according to that timetable the wise men are only arriving now, bearing their gifts. The 6th January is also the day that Jesus was baptised by his cousin.

There’s all sorts of ways people around the world celebrate the day, not just by clearing away the Christmas gear. According to Rob Kerby from Beliefnet.com

‘Celebration varies widely around the world. Greek Orthodox youth take a frigid swim. In New Orleans, it is the start of Carnival, which ends with Mardi Gras. In Russia, any water poured on Epiphany is regarded as holy. In Latin America, children receive gifts. In Shakespeare’s England, it was the last day of a series of wild parties!’

That last bit explains the name of that famous play Shakespeare wrote to be performed on Christmastide, the Twelfth night, about the shenanigans that went on with people getting dressed up and being silly impersonating others etc. I only discovered that about Twelfth Night last night – so I guess I had a little epiphany of my own!

So there you have it, the reason people often say you have to pack your Christmas stuff away on 5th (or possibly 6th) January. Beware the bad luck if you don’t.

Of course, this means that if we’ve just restricted our Christmas celebrations to  Christmas day alone, we may have missed out on eleven whole days of celebrations, partying and present-giving. Remember that song, on the first day of Christmas …?

So farewell Christmas sparkle and my little angels and shimmering tree. See you in December …

2018: the year that was, in words and pics

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Fireworks in Canberra

Personally speaking, 2018 was a pretty bloody good year, though it disappeared much more quickly than I’d like. A tell tale sign of ageing, to be sure.

There was much to be grateful for. I’m aware it wasn’t great for many, so that’s even more reason to be grateful.

My year brought some great joys and many good times. The most special joys related to new arrivals in the family and news of imminent arrivals:

  • firstly a delightful fur ball with the name of Harkin

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  • the safe delivery of a little angel with the sweetest of dispositions and the worst of sleep habits.

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  • the great news of another bubba on the way, this one to be a first-born.

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There were pictures of the days and the moments, the little ones as they grew and charmed, and the travels and the sunsets and the pretty things all around.

Mainly it was about my family. What a tribe. How do you capture a year of living and laughter and little ones at your feet? It really doesn’t do it justice.

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Let’s be frank. There were a ridiculous number of photos, far too many, but much has been captured forever to help it into our eyes as well as our hearts. (2019 will perhaps be the year of taking less but better photos, and certainly should be the year of culling them.)

But still,  here’s an attempt at putting my favourite pretty bits of 2018 in a little pictorial grid.

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There were more good things.

I officially retired and now have a new world of opportunity before me, including photography and writing. Lots of travelling up and down the coast and visiting family.

We packed up and sold my Mum’s home and saw her happily settle into a new and improved life, although a lot of her belongings are still at my house!!

I was part of the Urban Providore Taste Panel and met some lovely new people, both online and in real life.

I joined in a local group and learnt new skills, like capturing light painting at night.

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I went to my first gay wedding, in the first year it was made legal.

I had an article published about ghosts, with the promise of more in 2019 (articles, hopefully not ghosts).

Yep, it was a good year.

Unfortunately that long list of thing to do around the house remains remarkably long, but I guess there’s always next year.

And let’s just not mention the political disgraces that are going on around us, here and overseas. But let’s not go there – that would drag this down.

Happy New Year! Bring on 2019.