Monthly Archives: April 2015

ANZAC Day 2015: The Solitary Soldier

One hundred years of memories.

Recently I was approached by a 97 year old friend, Margaret who wanted me to help her collate extracts of letters, photos and artefacts from WW1 for a book for her family. I thought she may have a couple of letters etc. When she arrived with a bag filled to the brim with faded letters, diaries, photos, cartoons and coins I realized she had an invaluable record of what life was like for the everyday Australian foot soldier during World War One.

1Charles Conal Scott.bmp - Copy

Margaret managed to print several copies of letter extracts and memorabilia at Officeworks to give to the family on the 100th Anniversary of the ANZAC landing. It was a labour of love.

Writers are always trying to see things from another’s perspective and as I read the letters, some written in pencil, others in fading ink that Margaret’s father sent to his mother I found myself asking the questions that nag all writers: How, When, Where and Why? But the biggest question of all was,  ‘What if … What if Margaret’s father had not returned, like so many other men… How would Margaret’s mother (a young fiancée at the time) have felt after losing him.’  How did all those women, forever bonded by the loss of a loved one in a universal sisterhood  feel year after year? The result was the following story.

Anzac 1

MY SOLDIER

 ANZAC day. The last post has long sounded. The plaintive call lingered in the early morning mist and slowly died as the first flush of dawn lightened the sky. The speeches are over, marchers gone. I bend to touch the delicate blossoms placed at the base of the tall granite column. Blossoms that will soon fade and die. Red roses, bright camellias and a handpicked bunch of hardy daisies that will outlive the others by a mile. How many years have I come to this spot? Too many to remember. Beauty Spot, it is called. An integral part of Carrum, right on the mouth of the Patterson River. A place where mothers bring their toddlers to play and fishermen sit on the low stonewall dreaming of the catch of a lifetime. There is the fresh clean smell of salt and spray: a fitting place to close the eyes and dream of what might have been, to remember the handsome face, coiled puttees, kaki clad faded figure in the ornate frame over the fireplace.

The diamond you slipped on my finger that wintry night in June flashed promise and hope. The dream of manly boots next to my fluffy slippers. A line full of nappies and a cradle to rock. The joy of a family to cook for, a family to love.

That last night we danced and clung to each other before we hurried home to the rented two-roomed flat. The next morning the gate squeaked and I wept into my pillow.

I quietly read the words forever-inscribed in stone. To the imperishable memory of the soldiers of this district that gave their lives… Simple heartfelt words from a grateful community. I am always surprised at his simplicity. This is not an ostentatious crowded statue with flags flying and rifles raised in anger.

Here is one solitary soldier standing upright and alone, hand gripping his rifle barrel, the butt resting on the ground. At ease, but ready and waiting for…, what?

I have never known war, but when I gaze at him I can smell the acrid smoke, hear the whistle of shells and the cries as mates fall. I have lived my life under sunny skies and yet I can identify with his quiet sadness, his overwhelming sense of loss. The telegram read, ‘We regret to inform you that corporal T K Wells VX1068 of the AIF Infantry…’ I thought of planting a tree. At least then there would be something living and growing.

220px-BacchusMarshAvenueofHonour

Recently I drove in heated comfort past an Avenue of Honour where row upon military row of silent trees flashed past in the kaki haze of a misty morning. Tall old trees, some over fifty years, planted when young soldiers fell. They no longer stood at the edge of endless paddocks. Ballarat was running out to embrace them, to include them into the teeming life of what is now a city. There were so many trees. Each one a son, daughter or husband and I saw the ghosts of their kin stretching back as far as the horizon. Like a stone in a pond, so may lives caught up, like mine, in the far-reaching circles of the wars to end all wars.

I was shell-shocked for months until it finally seeped into my unwilling brain that you would never again be by my side, your arm around my waist as you kissed everything better. But life goes on and I have known love. Not your love but the worn tartan slippers beside mine in front of the dying fire are comfortable.

I shiver as I gaze up at the long list of names etched into cold stone and run trembling fingers over the rough rock. So many did not survive to witness this new millennium, to drink in the beauty of spring blossoms, or to come here year after year. I gaze up at his strong young face and wonder what he would think of my knotted veined hand pressed against my heart. Time shall not weary them…

The glow in the west bathes him in gold as I sit and dream. And there’s talk about moving him. Some people want a car park, others, townhouses with sweeping bay views. Cart him away to some easily forgotten spot? Over my dead body. I’ll not let them take my soldier. Not this time.

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Testing Boundaries in Thailand

The adventures of two Australian families and two grandmas holidaying together in Koh Samui and Phuket.

phuket swimming

A writer thrives on new experiences but when facing new challenges and venturing into unknown territory you rely on your instincts, or as I call it, gut feeling. This trip from Melbourne to join my son and his Queensland family in Thailand feels right. I hug my seventy-six year old husband goodbye knowing that the constant 38C heat of a Thailand summer would be too much for him. Son, Paul, drives me to Tullamarine and ensures that my newly validated visa card, ipad and iphone  work, I have Thai Baht in my pocket and my 7ks of carry on luggage is the correct weight. He works out a back up plan in case anything goes wrong on the 24hour trip ahead entailing 2 flights, two hour bus and ferry trip to the Thai island of Koh Samui.

bus 1 raja ferry

When you are a writer your five senses swing into action. You see so many different faces displaying a myriad of emotions. You try to understand if the owner is speaking Indian, German, Russian, Thai, Malayan or a form of broken English. You have weighed your carry-on luggage  a thousand times but still worry that it might be overweight. Excitement is tinged with anxiety and unconsciously you cross your fingers that all will go well. So many untold stories surround you and you want to understand and record them all. Waiting to board the plane to Kuala Lumpur you whip out your writing pad and start a diary. It helps ease the tension building inside you.

statue thai house 5

Sitting under a veranda at the Raja Ferry terminal on Koh Samui intense heat wrapped around me like a hot blanket on a summer’s day. Son Jason arrived in a hired air-conditioned twelve seater bus and took me to meet the rest of the group relaxing by a large swimming pool framed by sweet scented frangipani. At the Koh Sumui beachside Yacht Club I was lovingly welcomed by Jason’s wife, Karen and two grandchildren Tahlia (8) and Caxton (5). Also there were Karen’s brother, Mark, partner, Lou, Tyler (4) and Piper Lily (2). Noela, (Karen’s mother), is the Noni and matriarch of this clan. After dinner we all travelled in the bus to the three story house swap home high on a Koh Samui Hillside.

bus Thai house 4

Fifty years ago I lived for two years in Malacca Malaya but time had dimmed my memory. I had forgotten the intense, draining heat of an Asian summer, smelly drains and piles of decaying rubbish by the side of the road. However, indelibly imprinted on my memory was the friendliness of the people, their sunny smiles and easy going ways. I was delighted they did not seem to have changed.

spirithouse

The house in Koh Samui had a large living area and a huge covered deck that faced the sea. The constant gentle breeze made the heat bearable.

balcony Koh Samui thai house 2

I felt comfortable and happy in my bed in the loft, especially when the cute room had an air-conditioner and two fans. They guaranteed a good night’s sleep.

attic

Every day we explored the island. Sight seeing, shopping and lazed on lounges or swam at a peaceful beach. For fun, Jason hired a long-tail boat so we could snorkel over a reef teeming with brightly coloured fish. I was glad I’d made room in my carry-on luggage for my snorkel and mask and wished I had my flippers. There was a strong current that day.

belly button

After a week on koh Samui, Mark drove the bus onto the Ferry leaving for Suriat Thani on mainland Thailand. Jason drove from there and decided to take the all day scenic mountain trip down to the bridge that would take us onto the island of Phuket.

The day we travelled was the festival of Songkran (New Year) a public holiday and the biggest water fight of the year.

songkran 4 Songkran in Pattaya

On this day, to wash away any problems of the past year, adults and children drench others and in the process are themselves saturated. children and adults bombard cars and passengers with water guns, dishes of water scooped out of barrels put by the side of the road or spray everything with a constant steady stream from hand held hoses.

Symbolically the heavens opened and rain bucketed down for the entire day.  No one minded being drenched. It was a relief in the intense mid summer heat. villa

The villa in Phuket was big and spacious with a lovely cool swimming pool. Much to the children’s delight, Mark and Jason hired a motor bike. The children clamoured to be taken for rides and the guys insisted I go for a spin. Wind whistled through my hair as I clung precariously to the driver, narrowly missing tuk tuks and pedestrians.

kids bike   tuk tuk

In the bus we visited Surin, Kamala and Kata Noi beaches, Bang Tao, Wat Chalong and rode elephants at Kok Chang. The four young adults had a night in Bang Tao looking for cock fights and pingpong balls while the grandmas happily relaxed by the villa pool.

elephants and family.  beach 5 wat gold wat

4 on the town

One highlight was a mountain top restaurant with amazing views. The two men had a Chang beer while the rest of us enjoyed long, deliciously cold mango drinks or Mai Tai cocktails.

amphoe 

mai tai

It is such a bonus to move away from your comfort zone and do something different: to see how other people live and make do with what they have available. Down from the villa in Phuket a local house turned an unwanted toilet bowl into a pot for their plants

toilet fern

This time away with family and friends allowed me to test my boundaries and I discovered I can do many things I thought impossible. It also gave me the opportunity to be with the family and meet beautiful people in a fascinating country.  Precious memories that will last a lifetime.

GJTbeach

An unexpected journey

Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, Surat Thani Airport, then a bus and Raja Ferry to Ko Samui.

I’m joining Jason, Karen, Tahlia and Caxton on their holiday in a private house on Ko Samui  Island off the coast of Thailand.

thai family pic

A friend asked me what airline I was travelling on. When I told her, she wrinkled her nose and said, ‘What flowers would you like me to bring to the crash site’.

Jason, Karen and family left last Friday and have sent pictures of the house. It looks superb. All I have to do is get there.

Thai house 4 thai house 2

I’m delighted to see it has a pool as it will be as hot as hell the entire time we are in Thailand. It is their summer and temperatures soar during April.

thai house 6  thai house 5

When I asked Jason for the address of the Ko Samui house the returning text said, ‘No address here. Just go past the white horse and turn left at the big chicken, Go straight until you find the old lady selling bananas, then you will see a medium sheet of bamboo on the left which is our driveway.’ Thank goodness he is meeting me at the ferry.

To be continued

Unexpected Sailing Fun

Writing is all about new experiences.

It was going to be a quiet Easter munching chocolate and catching up with odd jobs and chores when the mobile phone rang. Paul revealed that good friends of his, David and Belinda were taking their boat out on Western Port Bay for the day and would I like to go.

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I couldn’t grab my boating bag, jacket and sunglasses fast enough. An amazing opportunity to feel the wind in my hair while sailing somewhere I’d never been before.

The boat was superb and in calm seas, perfect for a newby sailor like me, we left from Hastings Marina and, using the motor,  sailed up the snaking channel to Western Port Bay. I learnt about the extensive mudflats that catch many a sailor unawares. David said, ‘there are two kinds of boats on Western Port. Those that get stuck in the mud and those that will’.

The bay is a haven for birds and wildlife. We saw flocks of swans, pelicans, penguins, and a friendly seal waved his flipper as he swam past. all we needed were for some dolphins to come our way.

boat 3

To read more about the history etc of Western port Bay I’ve added this link. Belinda produced an amazing lunch of fresh salmon, crusty bread, salad and cheeses. Bobbing on a dead calm sea without a breath of wind we talked about moving towards a special fishing spot not far away before heading home. David and Paul winched up the anchor but before we had gone any distance the wind started to blow and was soon strong enough to turn off the engine and use the sail.

Wow…the wind picked up, the boat heeled over and I felt as if I was in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. We raced through the water, wind streaming through our hair and David gave me the wheel.

boat 1

Feet planted firmly apart I wanted to yell into the wind, ‘Ship ahoy’. As the wind got stronger, the waves higher, the tilt of the boat more pronounced I handed the wheel over to Paul whilst David worked the ropes controlling the sail. We tacked back and forth across the bay until we had made our way back to the channel and the Hastings wet pen that was home.

Thank you, David, Belinda and Paul for sharing with me an amazing, exhilarating day.