A different sort of celebration …

Our graduation celebrations were cancelled this year, but the regional campuses decided to still offer an opportunity to have graduation photos taken. UOW-Shoalhaven’s had to be postponed because of the announcement of local COVID sites, but Batemans Bay, Bega, and Southern Highlands had their very busy (but very fun!) photo shoots last week.

I headed up to Moss Vale on Monday to help out and to be a warm prop in the photos with certificates. And since graduating during a global pandemic is a once in a century experience, we took a leaf out of the 2020-COVID-safe-Santa-photos book and decided to offer graduates some photos that commemorate this very strange historical moment. In addition to traditional and family portraits, we swapped the traditional handshake photo for an elbow bump, and then took things a step further with UOW-branded commemorative masks, using tongs to keep 1.5 metres apart while handing over the certificate.

It was a lot of work to safely (ie while masked) assist with gowning of each graduate, keep the groups suitably separated, and to be able to offer personalised nibbles plates for each family group. But the smiles from the students suggest that it was all very much worth it.

We also took the opportunity to take some staff photos, and the leafy campus and grand architecture of the building make for a rather lovely backdrop. I’m really happy with how these shots turned out. Our photographer for the day, Carl, is a proud UOW-Southern Highlands alumnus and now a teacher, who gave up a day during his school holidays to come and capture these snaps for us.

More proud UOW alumni. With our admin assistant, Erin and campus manager, Stephen, in front of the Murcutt-designed building.

Wait, is it Wednesday already?

It’s pretty late in the day to be working out that it’s WordPress Wednesday, but I guess that’s a good metaphor for how this week is going so far. Monday was such a mess I only made it to mid-morning before retreating to a darkened room with a migraine. Apparently there really is a limit to how many curve balls you can cop at work before your brain explodes just a little bit!

Backing up a bit, though, we had a lovely weekend because the kids came home for Father’s Day. I spent Friday up in Moss Vale at the Southern Highlands campus, where plans were afoot to farewell our Admin Assistant, Erin, who’s taking a six month break from her role. I spent the day working there and then came home to see the kids, and let the party people party in peace.

I did pick up a new family member in the process, however.

Meet my latest companion, Zoe.

Zoe had been living as a solo hen at my colleague Stephen’s house, and since she has a couple of boisterous canine brothers, getting more hens to keep her company wasn’t really an option. So after some negotiations, Erin and I headed into the chook pen to corner a single chook. I warned the chook that she might not like what was going to happen next but that she’d be fine, before grabbing her. And then I tried to reason with her (the chook, not Erin) that she should stop flapping and let me pin her wings so that she wouldn’t injure herself. At that point Erin retreated from the run and I heard her call out to Stephen, “I think she’ll be fine.”

I do remember wondering whether she meant me or the chook.

I placed the big cardboard box on the passenger seat beside me and popped a hand on it when we went around corners, and there are quite a few when you travel via Kangaroo Valley. The chook whinged the whole way, so I knew she was fine and had enough air. When we got home I transferred her to the cat carrier above, and popped her in the run to keep her a bit separate, but get the others used to her.

Previously unnamed, we of course had to go through the list of as-yet-unused companion names and while the rest of my family ignored me, my son turned to me very seriously and said, “I think Zoe.” So Zoe she is.

Zoe Heriot, companion to the second Doctor.

Day 2 we kept her in and let the others out, much to their disgust because they lost access to their nesting boxes. Day 3 I threw the doors open but Zoe was not overly interested in free ranging. She’s getting a bit more into it over time.

Day 3: Disinterested. (Above). Day 4, Ruling the roost (below)

In addition to socialising a chook, my daughter decided to indulge our indoor cat, Tinkerbell, who thinks she wants to be an outdoor cat and is forever trying to escape. As we learned when she has previously, briefly managed to do the Harry Holt, however, she actually finds Outside to be be Big and Scary.

When your new chicken matches your old cat …

While Jamie was here, and in between knocking out assignments, scholarship applications and lecture prep, she assisted with yet more painting and a bit of gardening. Earlier in the week I’d had a good go at Robert’s room, but left it to him to move the bulk of the furniture because my back is protesting mightily, at this point. The photo below is as far as I got on my own. About this time, my husband popped his head in and cheerily suggested that I sing out if I needed help, which left me pondering what on earth made him think there was even a possibility that this was finished and I therefore didn’t need any assistance?

No After shots yet, because we promptly moved half of Jamie’s furniture in there so that we could start on her room this weekend!

Relaxing at home (when you have a solid dose of McMahon genes)

I just have the touch-ups to go and then hopefully I can enlist some assistance to move the stuff that belongs in the kids’ rooms, into the kids’ rooms. At which point, there will only be the main bedroom to go. And fixing the door jamb into the ensuite that was replaced but not yet painted. But I’m definitely getting there.

On Sunday Jamie cooked up a pretty snazzy celebratory brunch. I will be forever grateful that she went into hospo for her casual teenage jobs, because she has learned a lot of useful things in the process. (I still think being a waitress is where/when I learned to actually cook!). Rob went into retail and it has fewer skills that are transferable to the household – although we do get some pretty impressive balloon bouquets on our birthdays!

I kid you not, there was an actual menu and this is what I ordered.

So, I theoretically should have been in a relatively good place to be dealing with curve balls this week after a pleasant, productive weekend, but I wasn’t. It’s been a long and difficult year, we have buckets of uncertainty at work–where we are losing staff (voluntarily at this stage, but it’s a loss all the same), and today we got word that Fair Work passed our EBA variation, which is nice and all, but it means our temporarily reduced pay packets cease to be theoretical very, very soon. Yesterday’s evening news bulletin was all about journalists who are household names seeking embassy refuge in the middle of the night before being hurriedly bundled out of China. It’s all very … 2020. Dystopic. And of course my heart goes out to my friends in Victoria, who are dealing with another layer of yuckiness on top of all this.

Please rest reassured that we’re not feeling very “gold standard” here in NSW at all.

Spring is Sprung

It was August 1988. Princess Beatrice–she of the recent controversial wedding dress fame–had been born on 8/8/88, and my friend had been beside herself wanting to be the one to write that date on the class board. Chalkboard, you young folk.

Who wore it better?

Late August/September was Work Experience season for Year 10. I had a week’s work experience at The Lithgow Mercury. One of the staff writers, Jeff, turned to me cheerfully one morning and said, “Come on; it’s time to go do the ‘Spring is Sprung, the grass is ‘riz’ story.” And then I was propped up against some cherry blossoms in a park on the highway, and this image was plastered across the front page.

Slow news week, clearly.

So as I sit here looking at the buds on our deciduous trees outside, reminders that it is now officially Spring here in Australia are kind of what stops everything feeling a bit … Groundhog Day.

Don’t drive angry.

I am still painting. I’m in Robert’s room now. It’s a bugger of a job, because the room is small and has some extra angles and with the bed in the middle, I can’t quite get to every wall in the way I would like. It took darn near two hours to get one coat on last night, and in the harsh light of day, I’m thinking it’s going to need three. Plus I need to come up with a plan to reach the bit I was unable to reach. And I need to do it soon, because both kids are coming home this weekend, so he can’t bunk down in his sister’s room the way he has for the last two weekends.

The ScoMo Jigsaw Puzzle continues at an incredibly slow pace, but the puzzle preserver I ordered in March is now in the post, so I guess I’d better pick up the pace. After painting, of course.

The never-ending videoconferenced meetings continue, but each day seems to bring new surprises in the higher education sector. The reforms package is headed to the Senate; locally, we have (as of an hour ago) a decision on who will be our new Vice Chancellor. This week, I was asked to give input into key enrollment metrics. At the moment, it feels like a game of academic pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. There are potential changes in students’ enrollment patterns because of bushfires, COVID, floods, unemployment, a recession (to be officially announced later this week), and the reforms before the parliament. It’s an extraordinarily difficult environment in which to try to make predictions.

One bright spot on the horizon: I’m heading up to the Southern Highlands campus for a visit on Friday. It will be my first in-person visit to any of the other regional campuses since February. One of our staff is taking an extended leave of absence and Moss Vale is close enough to not require an overnight stay, so it’s not so much “travel” as “working on campus … just at a different campus.” I’ll pack masks in case there are other tutors in the office, but in all likelihood I’ll be every bit as socially distanced as I am here at my dining room table most of the day.

No cats to sit on the laptop up there, though.

Broken Run

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.

I’ll always make an exception for this.

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.

Rookie error: thinking a night time image featuring reflections is “pretty.” It’s hard, is what it is.

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.

Of Chainsaws, Charities, COVID-19 and Catastrophising: an Update

Remember how we all couldn’t wait for 2020, because the end of 2019 was so horrifically awful? Yeah.

So about three weeks ago, I took out my trusty chainsaw and set to work on the dead tree in the front yard that had fallen over when we had the flooding that followed the fires. (Yes, for those playing along at home: we’ve had fire, flood and plague. Pestilence should be along any minute now).

A few weeks prior to that, Groundskeeper Troy had told me that he is very insistent on his younger relatives wearing full protective gear when using chainsaw, because he’s seen the injuries. I don’t own much in the way of protective gear.  Gloves. I wear gloves. And my usual eye glasses.

So to be fair, I had actually put the chainsaw down safely, when I had the brilliant idea to stomp on a long tree branch and break it in half. Which worked. But then the tree fought back, and flung upwards at a great rate of knots, tearing a cross shaped fairly deep cut in the bridge of my nose.

So I staggered inside, bleeding from the face, shocked eyes above the profusely bleeding wound, to where my husband was relaxing. And all I could think was, “Troy warned me about this!” It’s the chainsaw equivalent of, “Oh No! I had shot my eye out!”


At least it wasn’t my eye.

Turning up at work the following Monday was pretty embarrassing. As he peered at my nose, Troy suddenly grinned and asked, “Do you reckon you’re the only member of the leadership team with an injury from chainsawing right now?”

The following week I went to a meeting of the leadership team, and I did indeed appear to be the only one with an injury to my face from clearing timber at home. The joys of regionality.

The regional areas in which our campuses are located are only just starting to think about the rebuild process, which is one step before the recovery process, after the fires. And now we have a virus with which to contend, too. People are already stressed and anxious, so there’s catastrophising happening, and it’s making tempers short. Like the rest of Australia, we’ve had our grocery store times truncated and deliveries suspended. And each day we are dealing with new movement, travel, and gathering restrictions. But as yet, no really big calls have been made. Schools remain open. Universities, including ours, haven’t been told to close, but are moving to online delivery post-haste. We did have to indefinitely postpone Graduation. This morning the PM gave us all a dressing down, giving us a classic daggy Dad bollocking regarding hoarding: “Stop it. Just stop it.” I half expected him to threaten to pull over the car.

Pesky little thing, causing big, big problems.

In the midst of dealing with crises, mostly real but a few imaginary, I’ve also been volunteering behind the scenes organising a major community event for the NSW Cancer Council. To the surprise of no one, it obviously can’t go ahead as planned in a couple of weeks.

nowra relay off

Imagine trying to juggle a conference call with other volunteers, and an update on a local campus from the security firm, simultaneously. Or distressed staff members and a message from your kidult saying they have flu-like symptoms and asking what to do, all in one day.

That’s where we’re at. The tree was easier to deal with.

Still, things could be worse. I have toilet paper, and I have hand sanitiser, which arrived by post yesterday and shall be treated like liquid gold. My nose has healed up nicely, but the scar might be permanent.  And so we keep on keeping on.




Fires and Floods and Scholarships … Oh My!

It turns out this blog recently had its first birthday, and I missed it. To be real, I’ve missed a lot of things in the past few weeks and even months. My last post on here was pre-my daughter’s 21st birthday and Christmas. Jamie’s 21st was on a catastrophic fire day. We had most of the party inside, as planned, but headed outside for the formalities and cake-cutting because the Southerly had come through and dropped the temperature from the 46 degrees Celsius with which we started the party, down to a figure around half that.

With the Southerly came some pretty hectic ember attack behaviour from the Currowan fire, that blew embers 11km into town and started a new fire in Worrigee. That fire, in turn, started to blow burned leaves and ash into our backyard, about another 10 km away. Which was very festive. Always a nice moment when you have to suggest that the guest of honour change out of her flammable-looking outfit.

fireball speech
Speech time, under an orange sky and with thick smoke behind us. #nofilter

With high school besties Brianna and Sky. Again, no filter. This is the colour our world was.


After that, we of course had Christmas and it was pretty calm, all things considered. Santa came past on a fire truck, which was a relief, because I really though the truck would be otherwise engaged.

A couple of days after Christmas we had a community briefing where we were told that the fire was breaching all containment lines and would inevitably jump the Shoalhaven River. A day after that, the SES doorknocked our street and showed us the projected path of the fire on a map. On both occasions, we were told that properties would not be defended. This was not the kind of thing you could put people in front of, even if there were enough appliances.

So we decamped to the kids’ place in Wollongong on December 30. I naively thought it would be for two days, and didn’t take any work clothes. We were away for almost two weeks.

In the interim, fires came within a few kilometres of our campuses at the Southern Highlands, Batemans Bay and Bega, as well as in the Shoalhaven. Some staff and students lost everything. UOW Bega became a place for students and staff to shelter. Batemans Bay campus become an overflow evacuation centre. On New Year’s Eve, our Admin Assistant Nicky Bath wound up hosting a slumber party for 300 people, most of whom were strangers and very frightened. She did such a great job that a local retirement village and the Disaster Welfare team organised for her to host their evacuated residents a few nights later.

UOW Batemans Bay: ready for anything.

Since then, we’ve had torrential rain, and even had to close a campus owing to flooding in the area. It has put the fires out. The clean up phase has begun, but rebuilding is a while off yet. Our communities are hurting. But they are resilient. Our impacted students have re-enrolled, which is remarkable.  We’re offering them what support we can, be it financial (emergency grants), emotional (through counsellors, student support advisors, campus managers and a welfare calling campaign), or practical (replacing lost uniforms or textbooks, loaning out laptops).

And to finish on a very positive note: we also have available scholarships for students who are new to UOW and intending to study at a regional campus. Destination Australian scholarships provide $15 000 per year for the duration of a new student’s degree. This is a great opportunity for people who want to study, and want to stay local. We have five available at each regional campus (Batemans Bay, Bega, Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands) for domestic students. Applications close this Friday – click on green hyperlink above for details.



‘Tis the Season

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.

Image result for currowan fire image
Not the best driving conditions for graduands or staff …

The week started off in Moss Vale, which was pretty smokey, as you can see in the pictures.

with Ros

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.

with Sammi and Erin
With Regional Outreach Officer Sammi, and Erin. We did not consciously co-ordinate; we are just that sympatico. #teamregional

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!

Graduations at Bega and Batemans Bay also went off without a hitch. We even made front page news in Bega!

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!

What could go wrong?



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.

bushfire sun
Bushfire sunset over UOW-Shoalhaven Info night.

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).

Can  confirm she will be looking way more glamorous than me on Saturday … Zooper Doopers notwithstanding.

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: