Things are most decidedly not great in my head at the moment.
There’s a lot going on. It is only ten days to the Relay for Life, a major local fundraising event for the Cancer Council with which I’ve been involved for sixteen years. You can read more about our family’s experience with cancer here. (This account was penned by my daughter last year). In addition to my own diagnosis in 2004, I helped when my Grandpa and Nanna were in end of life stages from a brain tumour and melanoma, respectively. So while it is a great cause and I’m very proud to be involved, Relay season does bring complex emotions in addition to the extra volunteer workload.
This year, we won’t be relaying at the Showground as we usually do. Instead, we’ll be relaying in COVID-safe team bubbles. My workplace is hopping on board and Relaying next Tuesday, March 16. We’ll count our cumulative steps and collect donations and generally have a bit of a laugh together. If you’re interested, you can donate to the cause here. Overall, Nowra is aiming to raise $100K for cancer research, support and advocacy at this one event. personally, I’m hoping we smash that goal. $137K and change would see our cumulative fundrasising tally since the event’s inception pass the $3 million mark, and I don’t want to wait until 2022 to see that milestone reached!
On the official Relay day of March 20, Cafe on Campus is hosting a VIP morning tea for cancer survivors and carers. You have to register for that one, though, so get in quick if you’d like to come along. The RSVP date has been extended to today, March 10.
In addition to all this excitement and colour, our book is entering the final phases. There are about three chapters left to come back or go through final edits, and then I will spend at least one whole day on collating and checking and going through the long-avoided tasks like checking Bibliographies.
As usual, it’s proven a bigger task than anticipated and my limbic system is not happy about it. And because it’s Realy season, I’m acutely aware of any “coping” strategies that are potentially carcinogenic, like drowning my sorrows. And sleep increasingly becomes a problem when stress comes out to play.
All of which is not placing me in the best position for the usual trials and tribulations of the beginning of session! And at the moment, we seem to be having lots of early starts and late finishes, so by the time I get home I’m barely capable of speaking to my poor husband.
He, however, has been an absolute trooper. He’s made me laugh with his stories about the antics of naughty teenagers at school, and this week he even surprised me with flowers and chocolates for International Women’s Day.
Think I’ll keep him, at least. The rest of the stuff on my plate is probably long overdue for review.
I missed WordPress Wednesday next week, after six (?) weeks of being good. I took last Wednesday as an annual leave day. Since we can no longer travel anywhere on “proper” holidays, I’ve taken to nabbing a mid-week stay-at-home-and-potter day when the odd day pops up that’s not back-to-back online videoconferenced meetings.
My exciting news for the day is that I have submitted a Revise and Resubmit that has been looming over my head for some time. I had told the editor I needed a month, which would have been up on Monday. Despite my best intentions, I stayed at work until 6pm the last two nights to try to finish it up, and it still took until 3pm today. There should have been dancing on the tables, but instead I headed off to another online meeting.
This week has already been endlessly long, and going to the office and staying until teatime hasn’t really helped. It’s also meant that when I get home, I can barely manage to sort out some dinner and make it to the couch, where mindless television hums along in the background. With a very few exceptions, I wouldn’t even say that what I do is watching TV. It’s more passive than that.
So, very little more has happened on the reno front. Rob and I made an attempt at clearing his room when he was home last weekend, and I’ve been in a few times to remove mold and cobwebs and try desperately to make it all look and smell cleaner before I really attack it with the Sugar Soap. I hope he wasn’t expecting it to be finished and ready for him to move back in this weekend!
I also haven’t worked on the ScoMo memorial jigsaw puzzle for a bit, but that may be just because it’s getting hard.
One thing I did manage to do was to encourage a regional colleague to not be scared of blogging. Erin, our admin assistant at UOW Southern Highlands and a proud recent addition to the ranks of UOW alumni, has started a personal blog where she tells the story behind some of the photos in her Instagram account (an account which sometimes makes me envious, right before I remember I’m older and more sedentary and apparently too lazy to even persist with a jigsaw puzzle when it gets a bit hard!). You can check it out here.
As we near the end of the year, people often cheerfully ask me if things are winding down. In truth, I am not sure I’ve ever been more wound up!
Last week we had Graduation celebrations for our students in the Southern Highlands, Batemans Bay and Bega. And because the week wasn’t busy enough, Shoalhaven hosted a two-day event for Indigenous students. And, just to add to the degree of difficulty, the massive Currowan fire between the Shoalhaven and Batemans Bay closed pretty much every road into the area, and put celebrations in jeopardy.
The week started off in Moss Vale, which was pretty smokey, as you can see in the pictures.
The guest speaker who gave the Occasional Address was none other than my friend and long-time collaborator, Dr Roslyn Weaver. Ros’ parents still live in Moss Vale and we all have a lovely catch-up when she makes her annual pilgrimage home each December. She’s currently using her research and writing skills while working in Vancouver. A UOW alumn and former tutor at the campus, she was a great choice to congratulate the students and inspire them that the skills and confidence acquired during their studies are very transferable. There is one graduate, however, we don’t want to go anywhere any time soon! Erin Acton is our Admin Assistant at UOW-Southern Highlands, who graduated with her BA.
I then spent two days with Indigenous students from the Shoalhaven. They undertook art and dance classes on campus, and then we all went on a Bush Tucker walk at Booderee the next day. I learned so much on that one hour walk!
For at least a week beforehand, there were many urgent communiques about whether or not the celebrations in Batemans Bay might not be able to proceed. We created Plans B & C, which we thankfully didn’t need. In true enterprising regional style, however, I later discovered that the eight graduands who live north of the Princes Highway closure had developed their own Plan B, costing out a charter boat!
Since then, I have pretty much been in recovery mode, frantically trying to finish off a whole bunch of work stuff before I start my annual leave this afternoon. We have had HSC results and ATARs released; we are waiting on information about some very cool incentives to study at regional campuses–watch this space if you are thinking about studying at UOW-Shoalhaven, UOW-Southern Highlands, UOW-Bega or UOW-Batemans Bay from next year–there are some new scholarships in the pipeline. We had two finalists in the University’s Pod Decorating competition, an Info night at Shoalhaven Campus, and there are more info sessions and drop-in days to come.
Away from work, things are also busy. In addition to the usual festive activities and ever-increasing to-do lists that abound at this time of year, our eldest is turning 21 on December 21. We are in the middle of a record-breaking heatwave and half the country is on fire, so we’ve been hastily shifting her vision of a cute outdoor grazing platter and glasses of Pimms to something which still has those elements but hopefully without our guests contracting heatstroke and salmonella. (This may also feature lots of Zooper Doopers).
So from our regional team and my regional family, our very best wishes to you and yours for the holiday season. Stay safe, stay hydrated, and most of all:
As we sat in the chapel, my friend and former colleague leaned over and asked, “How’s your health? Are you feeling OK?”
Gallows humour, but it seemed apt. We’ve been to a lot of funerals this year.
We had headed back to Goulburn, which is always a bit like revisiting the scene of the crime: the site of my first official teaching post, and the place where I met, dated, and became engaged to my husband. The gentleman whose life we were honouring, Bob, had been my husband’s mentor when he was a beginning teacher. Bob had done the reading at our wedding. His widow had painted our anniversary candle, which had been made by the guy with the black humour sitting beside me. In the pew in front was my former boss, and in the one ahead of that was a couple who’d attended our wedding (keep in mind we had fewer than thirty people there – to have five of us in the same room is statistically significant), and in the row in front of that my friend and bonus-Mum who’d come with me to select my wedding dress.
The story my husband tells over and over about Bob is that when regaled with stories about Tony’s early teaching exploits, Bob would ask, “But who was learning? Them, or you?”
After the service we hung out with our former colleagues, and it was easy. I miss these people. As a staff, we had been united, and those bonds remain.
At the club afterwards, one of my colleagues was updating me on his three sons. The eldest I had met earlier that afternoon; the youngest wasn’t there; and I was asking him where his middle child was. Many years ago, as a first year out teacher, I had taught that young man. When I say “taught,” I don’t know that I actually did. I clearly remember someone asking a question about teaching for the HSC of our Methods teacher during the Dip Ed, and she laughed and told us not to worry about it: no school would give an HSC class to a first year out.
Worse, they gave me Contemporary English. We had really only studied 2U and General.
Contemporary English was basically two topics. Total. So we spent six months on a topic about sport (those who know me will understand the irony), featuring David Williamson’s The Club, which is not a bad play, but it’s pretty hard to milk it for content for six months. The other text was Peter Skyzrynecki’s anthology, Joseph’s Coat, which I had studied at Uni. For a week. I think we covered almost everything in that anthology by the end of six months.
Add to that the fact that on Day 1 at that school, I had been called out of an all-staff meeting to answer an urgent call, telling me that my dearest friend from senior school had taken this own life. This Year 12 class was literally my first timetabled class in my new career. I walked in and the boys were seated on one side of the room, talking about hockey, and the girls were on the other, discussing their upcoming debutante ball. These patterns of behaviour were familiar to me, and I immediately started flashing back to my own senior years in Lithgow.
So there we were: I was consumed with grief, and my class were triggering it; I was teaching to the HSC when I was ridiculously inexperienced and arguably ill-qualified; and I was bored by the content. Add to that a class where many of the students resented being “made” to do English, and we were in for a fun time. Year 12 gave me the Amanda Woodward award that year, which was their way of calling me a prize bitch without having to utter that word on assembly. I reckon I deserved it.
I’m not sure what they learned, but I learned a lot. In subsequent years, I would no longer be afraid of teaching HSC kids, and carved a career out of it, at Nowra Tutoring Solutions, in uni transition programs, and in HSC Marking. As much as I declared that that entire class hated me, I do recall one student (aged over 18) with whom I was actually quite close out of school, because of our shared exchange student experiences; another girl stayed after school twice a week while we lifted her literacy via free tutoring; and of course, there was my colleague’s son, who was quiet and polite, and kept himself to himself.
But then, there was Jim.
Jim was a fully-grown man, already 18, who wanted to be out of school and on a worksite, and my recollection is that he gave me hell every lesson he was actually present. And one day after I had called him to stay back at yet another recess, I finally dropped my teacher guard and said something along the lines of, “this isn’t working – what’s your problem with me?”
So he told me.
Jim didn’t feel respected. He thought I was treating him like a child. So I thanked him for his honesty, told him I’d try to do better, and suggested a means by which he could let me know if he wasn’t happy–that didn’t involve interrupting the class. He acknowledged that he needed to show a bit more respect in the classroom, too. From then on, we treated each other quite differently, and class got easier.
(The texts didn’t get anymore interesting, though).
So that Middle Child of my colleague came in after he finished a work call, and he greeted me warmly. He updated me on his life and career. He’s polite and affable and clever, and doesn’t appear to hold any grudges against any former teachers for their cluelessness.
To any beginning teachers out there: take heart. It seems we don’t do lasting damage. And you will learn so much in those first few years, sometimes from unexpected quarters. Just do what you can to make sure the kids are learning, too.
Yes, I do have thoughts to write and share about my recent adventures in South America. No, that is not what this post will be about.
Today, we are going regional. Very regional. Today we’re talking about Merriwagga. Merriwagga: between Goolgowi and Hillston on the Kidman Way; home of the the Black Stump and the tallest bar in Australia, population 169. And I’m related to most of that 169, on my father’s side.
Around about a century ago, give or take, my Nanna’s family packed up and travelled overland from Omeo in Victoria to their own slice of rather red dirt in Merriwagga, which they named Omeo Park. Nan was in charge of looking after what she referred to for the rest of her life as “that blasted goat,” while her younger brothers got to sit in the cart with her mother. Nan then lived there until she married my Pop when she was 28. She was one of the first students at the Merriwagga School, and made her way back out there for the school’s 75th anniversary. I have one of her book prizes from school on my shelf. There are boxes and boxes of family history info that she collected, that none of us have quite known what to do with in the intervening decade.
Not long after they arrived in Merriwagga, they lost their eldest son, Robert, and Nan became the de facto oldest child. Her three younger brothers, Kevin, Roy & Cec would all serve in the Second World War, and remarkably, all returned and lived to be quite elderly men. I have recollections of meeting all of them, but some are rather faint. Twenty years ago I went out to Merriwagga for a visit and was urged to go and see Uncle Kevin in a local nursing home, and I had to ask the staff which one he was, because I hadn’t seen him since I was a small child.
Our relationship with Uncle Roy was different. I have a very clear memory of Dad taking us to see Uncle Roy and Aunty Tid (yep, she’s tiny!) when I was in primary school, and of him being very excited. I also recall being about 14 and him being at my Nan’s house and suddenly addressing me in Japanese, which I was learning at the time. Turns out he’d been stationed in Japan during the post-War Occupation, a fact of which I was completely unaware. And that was my Uncle Roy – constantly surprising me with little snippets from his very interesting life. And he managed to get me a good one this week, almost seven years to the day after his passing. But more on that later.
Growing up, we were pretty nomadic. I was born in Western Australia; my brother in Queensland. After that we moved to New South Wales but my mum wised up. My mother had been born and raised in the same house in Bligh St, Wollongong, and so Wollongong became very familiar to me, and was a large part of the reason why I chose UOW when I came out of school. My father had also had a rather nomadic upbringing, because his father worked for State Rail. The place to which he returned and felt that sense of familiar belonging was Merriwagga. There are photos of him out there, looking young and tan and relaxed, with a bunch of much younger cousins climbing on him. When I did a family history project in Year 8, I included photos of my mother, young and beautiful, with very long brunette hair, very large sunnies, a massive smile and a very short mini skirt, posing next to the Black Stump.
Apparently Dad took her out there to get familial approval at some point quite late in their courtship. And she, the city girl, got quite the introduction to regional life; going pig shooting with the cousins and swimming in dams, among other things.
She also talks fondly of Aunty Tid taking her on a tour of the Letona factory in nearby Leeton, where Tid’s irreverent sense of humour took centre stage. In one area, so the story goes, there were massive conveyor belts in every direction. Tid reportedly decided that it was all a show for the tour groups, and the conveyor belts weren’t actually going anywhere but around the room, and challenged Mum to track one can and see where it actually went.
Canning peaches in Leeton
So Mum speaks of Tid’s humour. Dad talks fondly of her cooking – how she would cook an amazing meal for around fourteen men, and wait to see who turned up at lunchtime. I always associate her with extreme kindness. Aunty Tid and Uncle Roy had a bunch of kids, some biological and some adopted. I couldn’t tell you who was who because I don’t know. It never mattered. In recent years, she passed along a message via one of her daughters that I was to keep sending Christmas updates, because she looks forward to them so — she has lost her eyesight, but makes sure someone reads them to her. Twenty years ago at my brother’s wedding I overhead her tell my Nanna conspiratorially: “Kimberley’s really lovely, isn’t she?” Now every time you visited, my Nanna would crush you in a a surprisingly iron-like, rather bony hug to show her affection, but like many in our family, articulating that stuff in words was not such a strong suit. To hear her agree with Aunty Tid has been a precious gift that I can call on in my roughest of rough days. That these two very amazing, very tough women thought I had value jolts me into remembering that when I need to.
So this week I saw a post on Facebook from one of Roy & Tid’s kids, my (second) cousin Jackie, who, like her parents, is just an amazing person, saying that the area around Hay, Hell and Booligal (the name of a book that was always lying around Nan’s house!) was being featured on Back Roads. I looked up from my phone and said to my husband, “Merriwagga’s going to be on Back Roads. Now.”
And he changed the channel. We were rewarded within about a minute and a half with Heather Ewart (wife of Saint Barrie of Insiders) announcing that she was heading to Merriwagga.
Ewart began to introduce The Black Stump Hotel, which has the tallest bar in the Southern Hemisphere. I said to my husband, “so you can ride a horse up to it.” The publican, onscreen, explained that there were two theories–one was to stop the railway workers jumping over the bar, but that locals believed another story. And in rode a bloke on a horse, to have a beer while still on the horse. I laughed and said to my husband: “See? I know the local story.”
So they introduce a local, Lance, who tells the story of how his grandfather was droving stock and popped in for a beer without dismounting one day. And I’m not paying much attention–remember how I said Roy and Tid had a whole bunch of kids? Well some of them were girls, and I don’t know their married names or how many kids they had. And then it cuts to Heather introducing footage of said grandfather in a BBC movie from the early 70s, repeating the drinking at the bar on horseback stunt. And she introduces Lance’s grandfather as Roy Little.
I let out a bit of a squeal and burst into tears as I yelled, “it’s Uncle Roy” as my husband says, “I’ll record it.”
Seems the story about riding a horse up to the bar I was told as a kid was missing one major detail.
A horse …
… and his Roy. Credit: ABC Bakc Roads
You can catch this brilliant piece of Australian television (and my family history) on ABC’s iView service. I believe it’s also being replayed this week.
I missed blogging last week. I have three WordPress sites–two associated with co-authored books, and this one. I’m endeavouring to post in at least one of them each Wednesday, but my fledgeling routine’s been a bit derailed recently.
First, my husband has a pretty extended stay in hospital. Next, I heard that my dear friend and mentor, Jack Fisher, had passed away. Jack was my across-the-road neighbour when we first moved to Nowra. In fact, when we heard that our first house was for sale (we bought from my spouse’s colleague) we did a drive-by, even though we knew the colleague was away. She later told us that as soon as they pulled up in the driveway, Jack was over there to tell them that someone had been cruising past slowly. It was like the ultimate in Neighbourhood Watch! Jack and his lovely wife Esma were a big part of our lives when our kids were little; and I’ve often joked that my kids thought Jack and Esma were their grandparents for quite a while. Certainly they came to the kids’ parties, my son’s christening, and so on. And then, in 2004, when my daughter was in kindy at the local school around the corner and my son was just 3, I was diagnosed with choriocarcinoma. And one night I heard a knock on the door and there was Esma (who is tiny and a bit feisty), proferring a bowl of home-made soup. She told me she thought she’d seen a bald head from across the road, and why hadn’t I told her, and proceeded to tell me all about accommodation near the Wollongong hospital, and the wig library.
You see, Jack and Esma had been around this particular block a few times. I’m not sure of the final tally of Jack’s “cancer events,” as he called them, but I do know that they started in the 1980s.
In 2005, I asked the family and friends who had been so supportive if they would like to come and spend a weekend at our local showground, catching up and raising money for the Cancer Council. Jack and I had a conversation on the front lawn one day where I told him about this plan and innocently asked if he’d heard of the event. He told me that he was on the organising committee.
Turns out Jack was the father of Relay in the Shoalhaven, and the first ambassador. He served on the committee for well over a decade, and I later joined it, too. He supervised we the valued few as we made mass fruit salad at ridiculous hours of the morning. We were prone to singing, making sometimes bawdy and often terrible jokes and being rather loud, as people who have had no sleep at all are sometimes wont to do, and Jack was our “supervisor.” Really, he spent most of his time telling other people to leave us alone, and occasionally telling us how many more rockmelons there were, or how much time we had left until the hungry hordes would arrive for breakfast. With Jack at the helm, we were always ready on time.
Jack only stepped down from the Relay committee two years ago, at the age of 88; the same day I hung up my very large, fetching, and sunsafe hat as the Chair and handed over to the amazing Cathy Lucas. I loved and respected Jack enormously, and was always so pleased to catch up with him.
In the same week as Jack’s funeral, I had to fly interstate after the sudden death of my uncle and godfather, another man whom I loved dearly and who taught me so much about what is important in life: family, laughter, speaking your truth, and never refusing a social drink. When you combine these two losses, an unwell husband, my usual busy life and some unexpected stuff at work, it was not a great week or so. But I had amazing support from my friends and colleagues, because the thing about regional people is: they step up, and they always seek to find solutions. A colleague picked my son up from work so that I could make it to the hospital–over an hour away–during visiting hours. Meetings were moved to accommodate my suddenly fluid work week. Texts were sent to make sure I was doing OK and asking for help when needed.
This weekend, we were back at Relay. The weather was pretty rugged, but we soldiered on, found the humour, and kept everyone safe, even as things that were not supposed to be airborne sometimes became airborne. I’m no longer on the committee officially, but after all these years, I step in and help where I can. And I love being in the front office. I love sitting up beside my “Relay Mum,” Denise, in the middle of the night, and talking life, politics, the universe, and everything. I love that in the emotional moments, the committee members will notice and hug each other, and then get back to it. I particularly love that my children (who now live in Wollongong), will turn up every year and be there. In fact, my daughter was thanked in the program this year for her support, because the Chair figured that she would turn up, and knew that whilever she was there, she’d be helping.
During the Twilight ceremony, my daughter wept openly as she saw photos of both Jack and another committee member, Pud, whom we lost a few years ago. I had a moment of pure mother guilt, that I had inadvertently brought this grief into her life. With some sleep and some clarity, today I can see the blessings and pride in knowing that I brought these wonderful people into her life, and yes, we may now be grieving for them, but the wonder is that we had them in our lives for the time that we did. This past weekend pretty much sums up what I love about both regional living, and the Relay for Life: both involve caring for each other, stepping up, being resourceful, and being hopeful.
To my fellow Relayers: rest up today. We’ve earned it. See you on the track next year.
If you’d like to know more about our family’s experience with cancer, my daughter has written very eloquently about it here. (You can also make online donations via this link).