Carnival of Flowers – Celebrating 70 Years

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It’s the first weekend of the September School Holidays, the flowers are out in full bloom and the local parks and gardens are crowded with visitors and tour buses. It must be Carnival time.

The Carnival of Flowers is Toowoomba’s premiere event of the year, a festival that celebrates flowers, local wine and food, and Australian music. It is one of the longest running Australian events, garnering a number of tourism awards and this year it celebrates 70 years, so it will be a very special celebration indeed. For months gardeners have been hard at work in the local parks to prepare the floral displays, and despite the exceedingly dry conditions of the drought, they have done a fabulous job. The floral displays are just beautiful.

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The very first Carnival was held in 1950 and attracted a crowd of around 50,000 to see a three mile procession led by a team of bullocks. Following the hardship of World War Two, the Carnival was envisioned as an event that would encourage economic activity and promote Toowoomba’s reputation as the Garden City. Sadly, I don’t think bullocks are a feature of the Carnival parade anymore, but Toowoomba businesses and community groups put in many hours of hard work to prepare their floats and costumes and put on a spectacular display of colour, music and all things floral. Last year Dan was in the parade on the Yellow Bridge float and he will be again this year, although this time they are just walking the route so I hope they have someone fit and fast to keep up with him!

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Every year the Carnival seems to get bigger and bigger with a variety of events and activities over ten days to keep people of all ages entertained. In keeping with the 70th celebrations there will be 70 different experiences this year for visitors. The Food and Wine Festival has become a popular addition to the Carnival, providing opportunities for visitors to sample Queensland wares while enjoying some iconic Australian entertainment, like John Farnham, Dragon and Bjorn Again. Other events include:

  •  Gardening Competition for Local Gardeners
  •  Photography Competition 
  • Garden Tours
  • Steam Train Rides
  • Talking Pub Tour
  • Carnival Memorabilia Display

We will be heading into the city centre today for the parade but we will be taking advantage of the free shuttle bus service rather than fight the crowds to find a parking spot. We can hop on the bus a short distance from where we live and it takes us into town to Queens Park, the hub of the Carnival. Here visitors can enjoy all the usual carnival entertainment such as amusement rides and side show alley. The Carnival also runs a Park Shuttle service that takes visitors between the three main garden displays at Picnic Point, Queens Park and Laurel Bank Park. Last year the Carnival attracted a crowd of over 255,000 so the shuttle bus is an excellent idea.

From humble beginnings the Carnival of Flowers has grown into a spectacular event that showcases the Toowoomba region, cementing its reputation as the Garden City and providing inspiration for all the novice gardeners among us. If you are planning a trip to Queensland, keep the Carnival of Flowers in mind.

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Carnival of Flowers 1950 – 2019

 

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National Bookshop Day 2019

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Across Australia today, readers and book lovers are celebrating the wonderful contribution that the local bookshop makes to communities big and small. It is a magical experience to enter a store specifically designed for the promotion and selling of books. Meandering slowly past rows and rows of shelves stacked with books, their colourful spines facing outward, exposing titles printed in bold black or embossed in sparkling metallic, we look for a new friend to take home. Will it be from the new release display at the front of the store, or the science fiction and fantasy section that has been promoted to the middle, or my favourite, the classics section hidden in the back corner.

In a regional city like Toowoomba, as well as the big cities that dot our coasts, we can often take our local bookshops for granted. We can choose from the big chains like QBD or Dymocks, the occasional independent book store, as well as the book sections located in department stores. However, for many book lovers in rural Australia there is no local bookshop.

Bookshops Need Booklovers

Before Toowoomba, we lived in a small country town out west. For most of that time, there was no local bookshop. However, I do remember the delight when an independent book store opened in the Main Street. It was an exciting event to have our very own bookshop, designated purely to books and so it was greeted with great enthusiasm by the local book lovers. It was thrilling to walk through the doors, browse the books on the shelves, enjoy the quiet or relax in the comfortable book reading furniture. Sadly, it was not to last. Independent bookshops never lasted more than a few months in our town. A rural bookshop needs more than just a handful of book lovers to be viable.

It’s hard for bookstores to be a viable concern in a rural town. Rural residents are often less well off. Books are a luxury they may not be able to afford, especially now when many rural areas are in the grip of severe drought. With a smaller population, there is simply not enough avid readers to support a book store. There is also less access to book related events, like writers festivals or author events, to encourage and promote reading as a worthwhile leisure activity. And rural towns often have a different culture, one focused more on more physical activities like sport. Quiet activities, like reading, are often not as highly valued.

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There were other options for buying books of course. The local newsagent stocked a small range of books, and our one department store in town also stocked a small selection of books, but not always what I liked to read. Often I had to wait for a trip to a larger town or regional city for the opportunity to visit an actual book store and on these occasions, our to-do-list was so jam packed with appointments and essential purchases that there was little time for browsing through a book store.

We did of course have a very good library. It provided a welcoming environment for browsing the shelves, enjoying some quiet reading time and sampling unfamiliar writers. But I never understood why there were no classics. What is a library without Austen or Bronte or Shakespeare? Surely I was not the only reader who loved the classics?

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Fortunately for rural book lovers, we live in the technological age. With limited access to a physical book store we are forced to turn to the online market place. It’s never quite the same as a real bookstore though. We cannot pick the books off the shelf, feel the embossed print, smell the paper, or read the first page. Online book stores are good if you know what you are looking for, but they hold so many titles it’s time-consuming to browse in the way that you can in a real bookstore. On the other hand, there is the anticipation and excitement of the arrival of a package in the post. After all, somebody has to keep Australia Post going!

So whether your local book shop is a physical store devoted to books, a couple of shelves in a department store or a well visited bookmark in your internet browser,  celebrate the joy that books bring to our lives and spare a thought for those living in rural communities where the local bookshop is often just a beautiful dream.

Happy Reading!

Lifeline Bookfest 2019

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Every year thousands of booklovers across Australia count down the days to their local Lifeline Bookfest. For Toowoomba booklovers this is usually the first weekend in March. Early on the Saturday morning a long of line vehicles can be seen crawling down Glenvale Road towards the entry gates of the Toowoomba Showgrounds. Inside the main pavilion sit rows and rows of boxes filled with books just waiting to find a new home. Like many other booklovers, we’ve been looking forward to this day so much it’s been highlighted on the calendar. 

Lifeline is an Australian charity organisation which provides a range of counselling and support services for children, youth and families as well as emergency relief. It was founded in 1963 by Reverend Dr. Sir Alan Walker. Concerned about the often devastating impact of loneliness, isolation and anxiety, he began a crisis line to provide critical support for people in need. Today Lifeline has around 40 centres across Australia, employing around 1,000 staff and attracting 11,000 volunteers who donate their time. The Lifeline book sales help to raise funds to continue this vital service.

 

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This year was the 39th Lifeline Bookfest held in Toowoomba and according to the local paper, it was going to be even bigger than before. There were seven shipping containers filled with books and volunteers worked throughout the week to have everything ready for 8am Saturday morning. The books are organised into a variety of categories including sci fi & fantasy, crime & thrillers, fiction, non-fiction and children’s. And it’s not just books. Pre-loved magazines and toys are on sale too.

Seasoned book-festers usually come prepared. Some bring shopping carts or wheeled suitcases. Some come with a list of desired titles. Others are just content to take home an armful of new books. We didn’t have a formal list of titles that we were looking for, but we did have a few things in mind. Bec was after some Star Wars novels and I was on the look-out for Australian, literary and award-winner titles, plus anything that might be on The List – the 1001 list, that is.

One of the cool things about the Bookfest is that you can hire a shopping trolley for $2. Do you know how many books you can fit in a shopping trolley? Quite a lot.  We weren’t the only ones with a shopping trolley, but we did get a few strange looks because our shopping trolley was pretty full. It also attracted a few comments, all good fun of course, about how much we read and how long the trolley load of books would last. A few weeks one person asked.  

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We were pretty happy with what we managed to find. Bec found some Star Wars books and some Kathy Reichs. I found some Anne Rice, Margaret Atwood, Richard Flanagan and the first ten books of Sookie Stackhouse – just to name a few. The Bookfest is always a bit of a lottery. You never know what treasures you might find. So yes, we did buy a trolley load of books but we also helped to raise money for a very worthy cause. The Toowoomba sale raised $75,000 for Lifeline, while the Bookfest held in Brisbane in January raised $1.4 million. That’s some serious money raised out of second-hand books.  

The only trouble now is to find some space on the bookshelves and more time to read.

 

2019: Looking Forward

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Another year has come and gone. I don’t know where 2018 went. It seems like I had just settled into 2018, remembering to write an 8 instead of a 7, and suddenly it’s the end of the year. How did that happen? The older we get, the faster the years seem to zoom past. It really doesn’t seem quite fair, somehow. But as they say, time waits for no one. As we watch 2018 disappear in the rear vision mirror,  2019 roars into view. What will this new year bring? Will some pleasant surprises come our way? Will unexpected challenges throw a curve ball into our plans? Perhaps you have already started to make some New Year resolutions.

  I am not really one for making New Year resolutions. Despite our best of intentions, very few of us actually manage to keep our New Year resolutions. It’s so easy to get carried away by the buzz of the New Year moment, gazing optimistically into the future through a merry alcohol infused haze and make rash resolutions with almost no forethought and maybe even less foresight.  Resolutions tend to be all or nothing. You either keep them, or you don’t. There’s often no middle ground. When we fail to keep our resolutions – and you can bet that we will, because after all, we’re human – our failure can be compounded with feelings of resignation, hopelessness or even depression. It’s a win or lose situation, and most of the time, we will lose. We get tired or busy or distracted, and before you know it, our good intentions have hit the dust. It’s all over, red rover.

I think goal setting is a much better way of initiating change in our lives, especially change that is important for our health and well being. When we set a goal, we are setting a target to aim for. It’s not something we can achieve overnight, but something that can be achieved slowly, over the course of time. Slow change is often easier to implement and maintain in the long run. Sometimes there will be setbacks. Sometimes it might feel like one step forward and three steps backwards or vice versa, but on the whole, as we look back, hopefully we will see how far we have come.

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Setting goals requires a bit of forethought.  Resolutions often fail because we haven’t thought about why these things are an issue, why we have failed to keep them in the past, what motivates us to change and what are the likely challenges we will face. When we set goals, these are the very questions we need to ask ourselves so that we can map out a plan to strive for our goal. This is where we get down to the nitty-gritty of how we will achieve our goal.

We might break our goal down into a series of steps. This is something I learnt when Dan was very young and we were trying to help him learn basic skills for school and life. If necessary, we can even break down each step into mini-steps – baby steps. Baby steps are so much easier to achieve than giant leaps. And if we get to the end of the year and we haven’t quite met the goal, you know what, it doesn’t matter. The goal is still there. We can see the progress we’ve made. We can just keep going. Besides, sometimes the journey towards the goal can end up being just as important as actually reaching the goal.

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During this last week my inbox has been flooded with posts reviewing the year, celebrating achievements and setting challenges for the next year. And it seems I’m not alone in preferring to think in terms of setting achievable goals rather than making rash resolutions. Beth at Life…Take 2 and Itinerary Planner at Travel Itineraries, just to mention two, also talk about goals rather than resolutions. Funny how we can be on the same page and thinking the same thing at the same time.

Our goals don’t just have to be about achieving things like weight loss or increased fitness or career promotions. While these are all worthy goals, as we head into the new year we might also like to think about more family and community focused goals, like having more family time, showing kindness to strangers and patience to shop assistants, respect to our colleagues and forgiveness to family. Life isn’t always about being faster, stronger, higher but also about being kinder, friendlier, happier….

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2018 has been a year of ups and downs. We lost a dear friend to cancer on Easter Sunday and a family member passed away suddenly barely two months ago. We have had to deal with the stress of moving house and transition to university life. But there has also been the joy of Dan’s life growing to include new opportunities and the satisfaction of achieving numerous small goals.

Standing on the eve of 2019, we continue to look forward to whatever joys and challenges the new year will bring. As we set our goals for the next 12 months, we hope that 2019 is kind to you and that you experience the love, joy and hope of life in abundance.

Happy New Year!

A Sticker for the Ow

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One of the challenges of Dan’s autism is his high pain threshold. We often don’t know that something is wrong until it is very wrong. Recently Dan went to bed one evening  perfectly fine, but the next morning he could barely hobble to the kitchen table to have breakfast.

What’s wrong? Why are you limping?

Ow.

Show me Ow.

Dan rubbed his left thigh and sure enough, there seemed to be a red mark, although he is unable to tell us how it happened. Without witnessing an accident or injury, we often never know how the bruises come about. But we do know that when Dan says “Ow”, it means it really hurts.

Autism and a high pain threshold often go hand in hand. In his book, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Tony Attwood notes that people on the spectrum often do not “show distress in response to levels of pain that others would consider unbearable” and this can often result “in frequent trips to the local casualty department.”

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Yes, hospital emergency departments are something we have had experience with over the years, for both detected and undetected injuries and illnesses. Dan has a tendency for hitting his head and has the scars to prove it. It’s amazing how much blood can pour out of a body part that appears quite bony, but at least this kind of injury doesn’t go unnoticed.

Dan received his first scar at the age of two, just prior to the birth of his sister, Bec. We were shopping for a new single bed for Dan and as we wandered around the furniture store, he tripped over a rug, flew through the air and collided with a bed. Needless to say, we didn’t buy that one. A few years later, Dan was kneeling on a chair at the kitchen table, when…bang! His chin hit the table. Blood streamed down his chest. Off to the hospital again and another scar.

The most recent emergency trip was just a few years ago. Dan was riding his bike around our property and ran smack into the loader. Dan had his hat on, so the brim hid the bottom edge of the loader bucket and, as Dan prefers to look at his shadow while he is riding, he probably wasn’t looking where he was going either. At least this time he let the nurse put in a few stitches. That was a first.

Infections though, are a different story. Tony Attwood highlights how ear infections and tooth aches can often go undetected until they’ve reached a very serious level. Dan had a lot of ear infections when he was young, but he never complained and rarely cried, so it wasn’t until we noticed him pulling on his ear that we knew something was wrong. It was often quite difficult trying to make medical staff understand the reality of life with a non-verbal child who has a high pain threshold.

 

Our most recent injury started with the limp, but then it got worse. Apart from the limp, Dan seemed okay. Then we noticed he looked a little pale. And before we knew it, up came his breakfast. Great – a tummy wog. At least this time I managed to get him to direct it into a bucket – that is a first and a really big step forward for Dan. Usually he just gets so distressed, well, it just goes everywhere. But we weren’t done yet.

While he was taking it easy, a small pile of books fell onto Dan’s foot. Ow! And it was the same foot that was already limping. It was only later that I discovered he had a sore toe as well.

What’s this? When did this happen?

Ow.

Yes, I can see it is ow.

This is where the sticker comes in. Sticker is Dan’s word for bandaid. Bandaids are wonderful inventions. They can miraculously heal any sore spot. So, while I’m putting the sticker on….what’s this under your foot? Tinea? What next? After a visit to the doctor and the podiatrist, I spent the next week playing tug of war with a sore foot as I vainly attempted to inspect sore spots and apply cream and stickers. Thankfully, the tummy is now settled, the limp has disappeared and we are down to just one sticker on the foot.

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Vigilance is really important if you have a non-verbal autistic child with a high pain threshold. It is so easy to miss something because your child is happy, active and continuously singing. But then again, perhaps vigilance is important for people without a high pain threshold too. We all need someone who can look beyond the “everything is okay” facade and ask the question: are you okay? And sometimes we need to be truthful and say “Ow”. Being vigilant and looking out for each other means we can all live happier and healthier lives.

 

Attwood, Tony 2008 The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Jessica Kinglsey Publishers:London, pp 288-289.

 

 

 

 

Bowling for Cancer

 

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Sporting achievement is not something that I am known for. When the sporting genes were being dished out, I was at the back of the line and by the time I finally got to the front, well… there was nothing left. I don’t mind watching it, but years of compulsory PE lessons taught me that it was best to keep my lack of coordination and general all-round lack of anything even approaching sporting ability…to myself. So when I was invited to be part of a lawn bowls team for a social fundraising day, I was a bit dubious to begin with.  I had never played lawn bowls in my life and I didn’t know a whole lot about it, except that my grandfather used to play and it involved rolling some balls down a green.  But it was a social event and a fundraiser for cancer research, so hey, why not give it a go!

My husband Paul was our team captain and the only player in our team with any real bowls experience. He even has his own set. A couple of friends, who had played an occasional game before, made up the rest of the team.  So essentially, we were a team of hacks, which didn’t really matter as the first team we played against were also mostly a team of hacks. One of the girls was a complete novice – like me, and the two guys reckoned they had a practice session about five years ago. So it was a very entertaining and sociable round. 

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Throughout the afternoon the club was running a competition for touches. A touch occurs when your ball hits the little white ball, called the kitty. I was using Paul’s set of bowls, which were quite biased so I had to aim for the kitty on the green next to us so that the ball would swing in and actually stay on our green, rather than wandering off somewhere else. As it was my first time, I was just concentrating on keeping my ball on the green without going outside the lines or falling into the gutter, and then … I got a touch! And the prize for getting a touch?  

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  XXXX – an Aussie icon! You can’t get better than that! Considering I am not a beer drinker, this is actually quite funny. Paul later accused me of getting rather possessive about my bottle of beer, but considering it was the first time I had ever won anything for a sporting activity, I thought I was quite entitled to be a little possessive about it.

Our second round was against a team who had a little more bowling experience, however we managed to come out on top. And again, it was another enjoyable and sociable round. I was really impressed by the friendliness of everyone. Experienced bowlers were only too happy to give a few pointers and encouragement to those of us who had no idea what we were doing. This is one of the great things about a social day. Anybody can come along, learn a little bit about lawn bowls, have some fun and be part of a community project that is focused on supporting others in need.

After the two rounds we gathered in the club house for the prizes. Being a hack team we didn’t really expect to win anything, but, surprise, surprise  – we won second prize! I’m not quite sure how that happened. It looked like they were just drawing names out of a hat. I certainly don’t think it was on merit, but the fruit platters looked delicious and were very gratefully received.

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The social bowls day turned out to be so popular, they actually had to turn people away, which is a little sad in one way, but quite encouraging in another. Sometimes we can feel quite overwhelmed by all the bad news that flashes across our tv screens, but it is good to have our faith in humanity restored when we see ordinary people leading by example, coming together to have fun, to make connections and to show their support for others.

And as for lawn bowls? Who knows. Perhaps one day I’ll follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and take it up for real. I might even be lucky enough to win another bottle of beer. Cheers!