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.

 

 

 

 

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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!

 

Big Red Bash #7: Signs for the Times

I know. It’s been a long time between drinks. I had intended for this post to be out some time ago. Then life happened. A bunch of assignments, a sudden death in the family, a sick kid…

But here we are finally at the end of our outback adventure and as I promised last time, this final instalment is about a special project I had going during our trip. Travelling through the Australian outback necessitates long stretches of driving. Sometimes the scenery doesn’t change all that much. Occasionally we spot some livestock or pass another vehicle. We also have to keep a look out for kangaroos who decide the grass is greener on the other side of the highway. But there is one thing that often catches our attention – town signs.

Not so long ago, the town signs around Australia were pretty standard – a simple white sign with black lettering. But this is not the case any more. I have noticed a  change in recent years to utilise a wide variety of designs which reflect something about the town’s location, industry or history. I think it’s a good idea. Not only are there some really interesting and beautiful designs, but the signs give little clues to the history that might be discovered and inspire travellers to stop a while to explore.

As we set off on our trip, I thought it would be interesting to get a photo of every town sign on our route, after all it might be quite a while before we were back that way. I managed to do this for almost all of the towns we passed through, stopped for a cuppa or stayed for a while. Here are some of the interesting things we noticed on route or have discovered since coming home.

 

Australian towns have some very interesting names and sometimes you wonder where they came from. Towns like Cunnamulla, Thargomindah and Wallumbilla are believed to originate from the indigenous names for the area. Others, like Condamine, Mitchell and Roma are named after Colonial figures and explorers.

 

It became quite apparent that towns within the same shire often shared similar designs, shapes and backgrounds, yet included a feature specific to their own area. I really liked the signs for Bollon and St George, which I thought were not only beautifully designed but also quite original.

 

I also liked some of the signs in the Maranoa shire which had a very pretty purple, pink and red sunset background with a striking black silhouette.

 

Four of the towns on our route – Condamine, Cunnamulla, Birdsville and Wallumbilla – are all featured in the Australian version of the song “I’ve Been Everywhere”. Even Toowoomba gets a mention too.

 

As rural towns decline and the population migrates to the big cities or the coast, tourism becomes an essential industry throughout the interior. Much as we always say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a town by its sign – the truth is that we do. So anything that might encourage people to stop for a while in towns they would usually drive straight through, is a really great tourism initiative. The signs remind us that every town is unique, and despite the dwindling population, that these little places have been home to many people over the years and have their own place in our history.

Brisbane Writers Festival 2018

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A few weeks ago Bec and I travelled down to Brisbane for the 2018 Writers Festival. It was the first time I had attended the Festival but luckily Bec had had the opportunity to go when she was in grade seven. It’s always been a highlight of her last year at Primary School because she was able to meet Emily Rodda and have her copy of The Golden Door signed. It was the first time she had ever met an author. I had once been to the Adelaide Writers Festival, many moons ago, but this was my first experience of the Brisbane Writer’s Festival.

The Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF) has a long history, starting life in 1962 as the Warana Writers Convention. More than fifty years later, it has grown into a three day event, with over 150 sessions and drawing a crowd of over 20,000 literary lovers. The events are housed mainly at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) and the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), both located very conveniently at South Bank in the CBD. 

The key drawcard of the BWF for us, was Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series. We have both loved the Divergent series, although I am still to read the last book – you know, so many books, so little time – and Bec has really enjoyed the Carve the Mark duology.  As soon as we discovered that Veronica Roth was coming, that was it, we were so there! 

Our BWF schedule began on Thursday evening with Dystopian Futures: An Evening with Veronica Roth and Friends. Veronica was interviewed by Kim Wilkins, who is an Australian writer based in Brisbane. Kim writes fantasy, as well as general fiction under the name Kimberley Freeman. It was quite exciting to see Veronica Roth up close and hear her talk about her books and her recent experiences with Australian wildlife. The highlight, of course, was when Bec was able to have her copy of The Fates Divide signed by Veronica.

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On Friday, Bec was having a study day while I caught the train into the city to attend two sessions and just soak up the literary atmosphere. My first session for the day was A Hundred Small Lessons with Ashley Hay and Kristina Olsson. I was unfamiliar with Ashley Hay but she has had a very accomplished career in journalism and fiction. Ashley was interviewed by Kristina Olsson, who is another award-winning author new to me, but that’s the beauty of writers festivals. We not only get to meet our favourite authors but also discover some new ones too. Ashley’s work is apparently known for its ”incandescent intelligence and a rare sensibility.” Her most recent novel, A Hundred Small Lessons, is about “the many small decisions – the invisible moments – that come to make a life.” It explores what it means to be human and the way that place changes who we are. It is a story of love and of life.

I really enjoyed the conversation between Ashley and Kristina. One of the things that really stood out to me, was Ashley’s encouragement to pay attention to the little things of life because these little moments or lessons are the real stuff of life. Straight after the session I headed directly to the Festival bookshop and bought two of her books, The Railwayman’s Wife, which explores grief, and A Hundred Small Lessons. Of course, I was also tempted by two other titles, The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (winner of the Stella Prize in 2017) and Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. And I just couldn’t resist a Hermione Granger library bag…. You might notice the little yellow tag in the top right hand corner. Remember the days when we used to fill out those little yellow cards when we borrowed a library book? Well, that’s exactly what it looks like. The bags were produced by Out of Print and proceeds of their products go towards funding literacy programs and donating books to needy communities. A very worthy cause.

After lunch I attended Writing as Women’s Work with Anne-Marie Priest and Melissa Ashley. Anne-Marie’s most recent book, A Free Flame  is a group portrait of four leading 20th century writers, Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Hewett, Ruth Park and Christina Stead. It explores their lives and the challenges they faced as women writers when women’s writing didn’t receive the respect it deserved. Melissa’s novel, The Birdman’s Wife, also focuses on another overlooked woman, Elizabeth Gould, who was responsible for the beautiful illustrations in the Gould collections. Elizabeth was often just known as her husband’s assistant, but as Melissa notes, John Gould’s books wouldn’t have been possible without her artistry and attention to detail.

Saturday was our last day at the BWF but unfortunately our first session The Lace Weaver with Lauren Chater had to be cancelled. Sydney had been experiencing some very wild storms and Lauren was unable to fly out. It was a bit disappointing but I did enjoy reading her debut novel which is set in Estonia during the second world war. I didn’t know much about Estonia’s history, but Lauren’s book brings to life the difficulties faced by the Estonians caught between the Soviets and the Nazis, as well as the Estonian tradition of knitting lace shawls. I thought it was a very fine debut.

We wrapped up our BWF experience with Love YA: Crafting Futures. Part of the BWF program included a Love YA festival held across the river at the Brisbane Square Library. These sessions were free and focused especially on YA. The Crafting Futures session featured Veronica Roth (again!) and Cally Black, whose debut novel, In the Dark Spaces  was published in 2017. The focus of the discussion was “Reflecting on the present through the lens of dark speculative fiction.” A few of the highlights included Veronica’s explanation of how she developed the language for Carve the Mark and the important place that series like Harry Potter have played in the evolution and success of YA. Veronica made us all laugh at how excited she would be to meet J. K. Rowling. We sometimes forget that writers are human too – just like us. They get excited too about meeting the authors who have played an important part in their life, especially during those teenage years. 

Well, that was our BWF experience for this year. Now we have to wait to see the program for next year. 

Happy Reading!

Big Red Bash #6: Finally – the BRB

View from Big Red

Finally, after travelling the Adventure Way, reflecting on the Burke and Wills Saga, and hanging out in Birdsville, it was time to head out to the Big Bash campsite. To ease congestion and prevent long delays, Roll In to the campsite had been extended over three days. We didn’t take up the offer of early entry but there were still plenty of  vehicles heading out with us on Tuesday morning.  At times it did seem a bit like a free for all on the road, as at one point there seemed to be almost four lanes of vehicles, all travelling in the same direction, all jostling to get further ahead in the pack. We just took it easy – after all, we’re all going to the same place.

Arrival at the Big Bash was well organised with plenty of guides to point us in the right direction and help us find a spot. It was quite a unique experience camping among a crowd numbering in the thousands and there was plenty of dust floating in the air as campers walked back and forth from their campsites to the stage and Big Bash Plaza. Definitely not a place for wearing white.

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The View from Big Red

One of the top things to do at the Bash is climb Big Red. The sand dune is quite deceiving. You don’t realise how tall or steep it is until you start climbing. Luckily, I had Dan to tow me up the side, although I do think he picked the steepest route possible. It is only from the top of Big Red that you really get a sense of the size of the crowd.  It was also the only place where you could get a signal, so everybody had their phones out, taking selfies and sending messages. If you wanted to make a call, you had to climb Big Red.

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Big Red was a fantastic playground for the kids who spent all day and some of the night climbing up and sliding down, over and over again. There was also a beach volley ball court on top. You probably couldn’t get a court that was further from the ocean than the one on top of Big Red.

One of the most interesting features of the Big Bash Campsite were the self-composting toilets. I thought they were really cool. Port-a-loos are standard fare at any festival these days, but these worked more like long-drops, except that the drop was into a wheelie bin parked underneath, rather than a pit in the ground. The loos were located all around the campsite, mostly in sets of about eight, and a sprinkle of sawdust was used to facilitate the  composting process. By the time we got out to the Bash we were quite used to lining up, but the line up first thing in the morning was always especially long. The thing I liked the most, though, was the unique artwork on the doors. No two doors were alike.

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The Big Red Bash provides a lot of opportunities for campers from across Australia to get to know each other. People socialise with the campers next-door and give a hand with a flat tyre or leaking water tank. On Wednesday morning the crowd came together to cheer on the participants in the Bashville Drags Race. Competitors, dressed in drag, climbed to the top of Big Red and then raced down the dune and into the campsite. I was impressed with the array of glitter, feathers, sparkling tiaras, flowing wigs and gorgeous gowns on the mostly male field. It was hugely entertaining and raised money for a very good cause – The Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Then on Thursday morning, there was the Guinness World Record attempt for the Biggest Nutbush Dance. Aiming to beat 522, practice sessions were held so participants could perfect their technique and then they nervously lined up in place, hoping they wouldn’t be the one tapped on the shoulder for being out of time. With about 2000 participants, I think the record was well and truly achieved.

The crowd

Of course, the real reason we had all gathered at the base of Big Red in the dust was for three days of classic Australian music entertainment which kicked off on Tuesday afternoon. Campers trekked down to the stage area loaded with rugs, folding chairs and eskies packed with refreshments. Hats and sunscreen were a must for the afternoon and coats and scarves for the evening, because as soon as the sun slipped below the horizon, the chill of the desert could be felt.

It was so good to see big name artists willing to endure a little discomfit, the dust and the desert to put on a show at an iconic landmark like Big Red. Not only does it raise essential funds for the Flying Doctor Service but it brings tourists into small rural towns feeling the bite of the drought. We enjoyed all the acts. Adam Brand got the crowd on its feet for a tribute to the soldiers who fought and died for their country. Dan really enjoyed The Angels and Hoodoo Gurus rocking out the desert. And on Thursday night we sang our hearts out with John Farnham and his classic “You’re the Voice”.

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Camel Rides Were A Popular Activity

And then it was time to pack up and go home. There were about 7,000 people and over 2,000 vehicles camping out at the Big Bash and most of them wanted to leave first thing Friday morning. Getting 2,000 vehicles out of the gate in an orderly fashion was going to be no mean feat. We had already heard stories about the long delays of previous years, so we got up early, before 6am, when it was still only -3.5 degrees, packed up and joined the line. We were in the line up by 6.45am and that’s where we sat for the next hour until they opened the gates at about 8am. Tempers were getting little testy when some campers, who thought they could just sleep into 8am, tried to push into the line. We didn’t have a radio in our car but apparently there were some choice words being said over the airwaves!

Considering the large number of campers lined up, the Roll Out did proceed pretty smoothly and we were out the gate by about 8.30am and heading back towards Birdsville. Again, it felt like travelling in a long convoy, although by this time, we weren’t strangers so much anymore, but fellow bashers. As we all headed down the highway, I don’t think we expected to be pulled up in a drive-thru random breath test, west of Windorah, in the middle of nowhere.  I guess the police thought they might catch some campers who had had a heavy night, but it did slow the traffic down a little coming into Windorah, where, of course, everybody wanted to fuel up.

Incoming!

Fortunately, the Windorah locals were ready for the onslaught. No doubt they probably saw the cloud of dust drifting in from the West and yelled “Incoming!” They had a detour all set up to divert the campers away from the main street and through the fuel stations in a steady but orderly fashion. From Windorah we went on to Quilpie for the night, where, in the middle of town, we hit our only kangaroo for the entire trip. Fortunately, it was only just a little stunned.

We were now approaching the end of our outback adventure, and needing to be back home for Monday, we took the most direct route along the Warrego Highway through Roma, Miles and Chinchilla. We had a really great trip and enjoyed our time at the Bash. We’d like to go again some time in the future, but perhaps next time we’ll bring some friends too. Throughout the trip I had a little project going on, which will all be revealed in the next and final post about our Big Red Bash adventure.

Caring for the Carer

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Life is a difficult balancing act. Most of us are trying to juggle work and family commitments while also trying to maintain our own well-being and sanity. For the most part, it works, even if sometimes it’s a mad scramble and there are a few near-misses. Occasionally though, it doesn’t work and everything falls in a screaming heap. Including ourselves. 

If you’re a carer of someone with special needs, the balancing act is often a lot more precarious. The demands on a carer can be relentless and overwhelming. And it is the carer’s needs who always come a very poor last.

Carers Get Tired

Caring is a tiring job. It just goes on and on and on. My son Dan is a great kid, or should I say, young man. He is always happy and helpful, but he also has a never-ending source of energy. Even though Dan is nearly 22, in some ways it is like caring for a pre-schooler. I’m not saying that Dan is a pre-schooler, it’s just that he requires supervision round the clock. I can’t just pop down to the shops and leave Dan at home alone. He is either in care or he’s with me. And while Dan continues to live at home, that is how things will continue to be.

Dan requires constant prompting for every little task, even though he usually knows exactly what to do. This does get rather tiring because it feels like you are trapped in Ground Hog Day. It’s just the same day over and over and over again. And since Dan needs to be prompted to use the bathroom, there are no sleep-ins. Not if I want a dry bed.

Dan loves to be out among people, but his boundless energy and long lanky legs make it a very exhausting exercise. Exhausting for me, that is. Dan has no sense of road safety, so I need to hold on to him, just to keep him safe. Unfortunately, Dan loves to travel at maximum speed. Walking slowly is just not on his radar. I think he would make an excellent physical trainer.

 

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Carers Get Run-down

As carers, we are always told to “look after yourself” but no one really tells you how this actually works in practice. We know that we should get plenty of sleep and exercise, eat a healthy diet and enjoy some down time. But keeping up with all the demands of caring, plus everything else the world likes to throw at us, means that the things we know we should do, get pushed aside.

Getting enough sleep is a real challenge, especially when Dan feels the need to break out in song in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning. I know regular exercise is important, but it’s hard to fit it in when there are already so many things I’m trying to squeeze in during his time in care. Now and then I  get enthused about planning an interesting and healthy menu, but at the end of the day I’m tired, the fridge always seems to be empty (I don’t know where it all goes) and I actually hate cooking.

We often don’t even notice that we are getting run-down. So often we are just concentrating on getting through the day, doing all the things we have to do. But when we are constantly giving out, without being replenished, eventually we just run out of steam.

Carers Get Sick

Carers are pretty tough. We can survive on little sleep and we get used to putting ourselves last. And when people ask us how we are, we always say we’re ok – even when we’re probably not. But the thing is, we have just done this for so long that we don’t know any different. We have felt tired for so long, we can’t remember how it feels to not be tired. We have put ourselves last for so long, we feel guilty indulging in a few minutes of down time when there is so much to do. We actually don’t recognise that we are not ok. This is our normal.

But Carers can only run on empty for so long – and then we get sick. And what happens to all the things carers usually do? Well, either someone else picks up the slack or we just focus on what is absolutely essential or things just don’t get done. And then we feel bad for all the things we’re not doing because we’re tired and run-down and sick. It can be a vicious circle.

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Things have been a bit quiet here of late.

I got tired. I got run-down. I got sick.

Getting sick is our body’s way of telling us we need to stop. We need to prioritise. We need to take care of ourselves. We need to learn to say – no.

It all sounds very easy but it’s so hard to do. But you can help.

Everybody knows someone who is caring for a person with special needs. It doesn’t have to be a child. It could be a parent with dementia. It could be a partner with a terminal illness. The next time you feel moved to say, “take care of yourself”, you might like to think about how you can offer some practical help – a few hours respite, mowing the lawn or doing some grocery shopping. Every little bit helps.

Carers need to be taken care of too.

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Big Red Bash #5: Lining Up in Birdsville

Birdsville Hotel – Version 2So far, on our Big Red Bash adventure, we have followed The Adventure Way, been sobered by the tragic tale of Burke and Wills and the Dig Tree, and been quietly impressed by the revival of the Betoota Pub. After four days of travelling the outback roads of Queensland, we rolled into Birdsville – two days ahead of schedule! This turned out to be a good thing.

As we drove in past the town sign, we couldn’t help but see 4WDs and caravans pulled up and camped – everywhere! Birdsville is a small outback town – a very small outback town. The population only numbers a little over 100. Except for two events in the year, when it explodes to about … 7,000 (+/-). The Big Red Bash is the first event and the Birdsville Races, held in September, is the second.

With such an influx of visitors the town’s resources are stretched to the max and beyond. You quickly get used to lining up – for fuel, for bread, for pies and just about everything else. When we arrived in Birdsville on Friday, we had very little trouble fuelling up and booking into the Caravan Park. But by Sunday afternoon – it was a different story. The line of incoming vehicles stretched out along the main road, out past the bridge and out of sight. This was the line up for the fuel station. Only thing was – the town had run out of fuel. People just had to wait in the line for the fuel tanker. I think the whole town heard the cheer go up when it finally arrived.

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As the Big Red Bash only started on Tuesday afternoon, we had a few days to explore Birdsville and socialise with the other Bashers camped in the Caravan Park. One of the good things about a town as small as Birdsville is that you can walk everywhere. In fact, with so many vehicles everywhere, it was probably quicker to walk anyway.

The Bash organisers had set up a registration and merchandise centre in the middle of town. So on Saturday morning we strolled down and joined the line to register, get our wrist bands and entry sticker for the car. Then we lined up to get some merchandise. After coming all this way, we wanted some proof of our adventure, and who knows if we would get the chance to come again. I was impressed at how well it was organised. A display area had been set up where you could look at everything, check sizes and so on, and once you had made your choice, one of the attendants would check things off on a list. Then you lined up with your list to collect the merchandise. Then you joined the line to pay for the merchandise. It was actually pretty streamlined.

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Then we took a walk around town and joined the line streaming out of the Birdsville Bakery. Every morning there was a long line of people queueing up for freshly baked bread. This time we were lining up for camel pies.  Yes, I did say “camel” pies.  The Birdsville Bakery has a reputation for their camel pies. Are they really made from camel? Apparently so, and they tasted pretty good.

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Of course, you can’t go past the Birdsville Pub. You need to at least step through the doors into the bar and look up. See the hat collection attached to the ceiling! With so many visitors in town, patrons needed to eat in shifts for the evening meal.

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Another building well worth seeing is the Australian Inland Mission Hospital Museum which has a good display of medical equipment and photos of Birdsville’s history. The hospital was once housed in the Royal Hotel which was built in 1883. The hotel is now heritage-listed and its ruins are pictured below.

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Despite the pressure that a population explosion places on a town like Birdsville, events like the Big Red Bash and the Birdsville Races are critical for the survival of outback towns. Okay, so the town ran out of fuel, and out of bread, and out of pies, but as tourists, we didn’t mind having to line up. It’s all part of the Bash experience and it gives us plenty of time to chat with each other as we wait. Besides, we’ll have to do plenty of lining up out at the Bash. That’s we’re headed next.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Study History?

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Photo by Darran Shen on Unsplash

Studying history often gets a bad rap. It is seen just as a long dull list of dates and dead people. However, I find history really interesting. It can also be sobering, tragic and sometimes, downright horrific. But I believe that if you want to know where we are going in the future, you need to know where we have been

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey

When we delve into the past, we can trace the movement of people, ideas and changes in cultures and societies. History provides a fascinating revelation of how our forebears thought, lived and died. It highlights achievements in medicine and science, as well as the devastating consequences of war, famine and disease.

Ancient history often seems quite remote to us here in the 21st century, but it is surprising how we can join the dots from then to here and now, one thought leading to another, one event leading to another, one era evolving into another. History is not just the story of some ancient people, in a far away land, in a time forgotten. History is the story of us.

“History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” – David McCullough

We can go back hundreds or even thousands of years, to medieval Europe or to ancient Greece, or we can just go back to a time that is still in living memory. Even though we are now living in the 21st century, the events of the 20th century are still clear as bell for many of us. Some of us might still remember where we were when JFK was shot, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon or when the twin towers came down. However, it still feels somewhat startling to discover that the time of your childhood is now considered history, even if it only feels like yesterday.

Photos by Cristina Gottardi, Tom Parkes & Holger Link on Unsplash

When we wander back through history, we can find stories of ordinary people, just like us, living, working, breeding and dying, and events that changed the world, like fire, sea navigation, the printing press. For many of us, the 20th century has been a period of rapid change, of great achievements and of unspeakable horror. If you were to make a list of the top ten events of the 20th century that changed the world, what would you choose?

While everybody’s list might look a little different, I think there would be some events that would make it onto every list. Here’s a list that I came across recently.

Top 10 Most Important Events of the 20th Century

  1. World War I and World War II
  2. Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945)
  3. Holocaust (1933-1945)
  4. Rise of Hitler (1919-1933)
  5. Great Depression (1929-1939)
  6. Discovery of Penicillin (1928)
  7. Fall of Berlin Wall (1989)
  8. Landing on the Moon (1969)
  9. Bombing of Pearl Harbor (1941)
  10. Assassination of JFK (1963)

How does it compare with your list? For me, the two World Wars and the Holocaust always rank highly in my mind. And it doesn’t seem to matter how much we think we already know about these events, there is always more for us to learn. We can read about the facts of WWI and the Holocaust, but we can only imagine how it must have actually felt for those who went through it and for those who survived. With Europe in ruins and the horror of the Holocaust revealed, the question both then and now is – how did we come to this?

And this is where the study of history comes in. We can look back years, even decades before, and trace the ideas, the events, the people. But – we need to be careful.

“historians always know how the story ended; vision in hindsight is always perfect.” (Findley & Rothney, 2011, p77)

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In the full knowledge of what we know now, we can look back and see what could or should have happened, what world leaders should have or should not have done. It’s so easy to point the finger and cast judgement. Would we have chosen any differently?

Perhaps we might wish we could turn back time and change the course of history, but then we would not be where we are today. It could be better or it could be worse – we will never know. Whether tragic or horrific, amazing or marvellous, the events of the past have made us who we are today. The things we do today will be the history of the future. Let’s do all we can to make it a good one.

 

Findley, CV & Rothney, JAM 2011, Twentieth-Century World, 7th edn, Wadsworth, Belmont CA.

Big Red Bash #4:Betoota – Ghost Town

 

Arra Road – Version 2

The word “outback” brings to mind visions of an open barren landscape, sparsely populated, dotted with the ruins of abandoned homes and towns. Yet the journey into western Queensland has been anything but solitary. All along the way, we have been part of a long convoy of caravans and trailers, many heading to the same location – the Big Red Bash.

Whenever or wherever we stop, one of the first questions to be asked of a fellow traveller is, “Heading to the Bash?”, followed by, “Where are you from?”. From all over Australia, music lovers have hooked up their vans and trailers and headed for the Bash. Some are travelling in groups, while others, like us, are travelling on their own. But it doesn’t matter where you stop, or who you meet, the friendliness of strangers is always the same. There is a sense of camaraderie. We are all heading into a remote and harsh landscape, and you never know when you will need to depend on the kindness of strangers.

As we headed north from the Dig Tree along the Arrabury Road, we could see the direction of the road by the long dust cloud that preceded us. We could even count the number of vehicles in front of us by the number of dust clouds. Sometimes we would pass a group of caravans that had pulled off onto the side of the road for morning tea or smoko, as it is often called in regional QLD. With a friendly wave, we would move up a few places in the convoy.

The landscape was indeed quite barren but possessed a stark beauty. You might wonder what could survive out here – but then, we are currently in the middle of one of the worst droughts in living memory. It would be interesting to travel out this way after a wet winter and see the difference.

Haddon Corner

 

We took a little detour off the main road out to Haddon Corner, the point where the borders of Queensland and South Australia meet. It wasn’t until we actually got almost to the end of the road, that we discovered you had to cross two sand dunes. We made it over the first sand dune, but decided to ditch the trailer to cross the second, and pick it up on the way back. I must admit, after all that, Haddon Corner was a little disappointing. I was at least expecting a sign, but there was a monument.

And finally we arrived at Betoota, a ghost town, with a population of zero.

 

Betoota Sign 2

So, why go to Betoota?

In Australian culture, the song “A Pub with no Beer” has achieved iconic status. Immortalised by Australian country singer, Slim Dusty, the words go like this…

But there’s nothing so lonesome, so morbid or drear                                                    Than to stand in a bar, of a pub with no beer…

The story of a pub with no beer actually dates back to 1943, when a farmer called Dan Sheahan wrote a poem about a pub with no beer. His poem became the inspiration for  Slim Dusty’s song. You can read more about Dan’s story and poem here.

 

Betoota Hotel

For the last 20 years, the Betoota Pub has been a pub with no beer. Like Noccundra, the Betoota Pub is the last standing building in what was once the town of Betoota. But not for much longer. The Betoota Pub is currently under renovation, with the aim of reopening in August, in time for the Betoota Races. The new owner happened to be there and was quite happy for all the tourists to have a wander through the pub and see the progress so far. The idea is that the pub will be open during the peak tourist season and perhaps for private functions. So, if you’re thinking of getting married in outback QLD, you might like to keep Betoota in mind!

After wandering through the pub, we headed down to the creek to find a peaceful little spot to camp. Plenty of other travellers had the same idea too. It was nice to enjoy the quietness before joining the throng of the gathering masses in Birdsville – our next stop.

 

Betoota

Big Red Bash #3: Burke, Wills and the Dig Tree

Coopers Creek

Cooper Creek

The Dig Tree is an important site in Australian history and in the sorry saga of the Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition. Set on the bank of Cooper Creek, it is a popular camping spot for Australian tourists and the place where we stopped for our second night on our way to Birdsville for the Big Red Bash. It is a peaceful spot. It is almost 160 years since the ill-fated expedition and the landscape has changed little since Burke and Wills first clapped eyes on it and yet, it is a stark reminder of the need to respect the outback.

Dig Tree Campsite – Version 2

The Burke and Wills Story 

Robert O’Hara Burke was the leader of a Victorian expedition to cross the Australian continent from Melbourne, on the south coast of Victoria, to the Gulf of Carpentaria, on the north coast of Australia. Leaving Melbourne in August 1860, the team experienced a series of calamities, including broken wagons, torrential rain, rat plagues, starvation and disease.

Three months after leaving Melbourne, Burke established a Depot Camp on the bank of Cooper Creek, where the Dig Tree is now located. From the Depot Camp, Burke set out with three men (William John Wills, Charley Gray and John King) to continue on to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The men left at the Camp were instructed to wait for four months.

Burke and Wills did make it to the Gulf, although they didn’t quite get to the open ocean. However, the journey had taken two months and 2/3 of their rations. Gray died on their way back to the Depot Camp and when they finally staggered into the camp, it was deserted. Finding a coolibah tree emblazoned with the words: DIG (the Dig Tree), they discovered buried provisions and a note explaining that the rest of the team had left – just that morning. 

Dig Tree

The Dig Blaze

By this time, King and Wills were so weak they could barely crawl, so instead of following the departed team, Burke, Wills and King followed the Cooper Creek and this is where Wills, and then Burke, eventually died. Of the four men who set out from the Depot Camp, John King was the only one to make it back to Melbourne. He only survived because he was taken in by an Indigenous tribe, who cared for him until he was found by a Relief team in September 1861.

The bodies of Burke and Wills were eventually recovered and buried in Melbourne where they received a state funeral – the first for Victoria – and in their honour, the expedition was renamed The Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition.

The Dig Tree is believed to be about 200-250 years old and is now protected by a board walk and guard rail. On a tree nearby, there is an image of Burke’s face, carved by John Dick in 1898.

 Brave or Foolhardy?

Seven men died.

Three men, Burke, Wills and King, walked a total of 5,000 km from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria and back to the Depot Camp at Cooper Creek.

But… Relief teams mounted by Victoria, South Australia and Queensland did succeed in surveying and mapping areas of the interior, which up to that point, were unknown to the white community.

This is just a brief summary of a story that is both fascinating and tragic and you can discover more about Burke and Wills here. From the Dig Tree we head north to a small town called Betoota, with a population of …0. But that’s next time.

 

Source: http://www.burkeandwills.net.au