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.

 

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Toowoomba – Garden City

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On most mornings of the week, after I take Dan to Yellow Bridge, I like to take a walk along the West Creek walkway. Passing walkers with dogs straining at the leash and children on bikes, enjoying their last days of freedom before the end of the school holidays, I realise how spoilt we are for parks in Toowoomba. Throughout the city there are over 240 parks and gardens. Most are just little parks or playgrounds, usually within walking distance, dotted around the suburbs, like this one that was just a few steps down the road from our last house….

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Then there are the more formal gardens of Toowoomba, such as the Japanese Gardens, Laurel Bank Park right next to Yellow Bridge, where Dan goes every week, Picnic Point  with scenic views of the Darling Downs, and Queens Park right in the CBD. Every September these gardens attract thousands of visitors as Toowoomba hosts the Carnival of Flowers. Even in the midst of drought, the parks and gardens provide a little oasis from the hustle and bustle of city life. Despite its city status, the open spaces of Toowoomba’s gardens and parklands help to foster a friendly country atmosphere. It is one of the things that I like most about Toowoomba and it reminds me of my hometown, Adelaide in South Australia.

But it wasn’t always this way. 

Travelling back in history, I discovered that Toowoomba once provided a very different view. Back in 1878, the streets of Toowoomba were littered with…

overflowing cesspits, filthy pigsties, dirty poultry houses, offensive middens … putrefying accumulations of fruit and vegetables, ill kept drains and stagnating slop-water and slime’

Sounds delightful, doesn’t it. Hardly the picture of a garden city, but probably no different to any other city in the world during the nineteenth century. It is quite shameful to think how quickly European settlers were able to turn a pristine location into a cesspit of filth and slime. I am reminded of the story of King Midas, except that instead of turning things to gold, we have a tendency for turning things to filth.

But we can turn it around.

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As I wander along the walkways and around the gardens today, past the artificial lake where enthusiasts sail their remote controlled boats, past the floating water lilies or the waterfall gushing down the quarry cliff-face, it is hard to imagine the overflowing cesspits and stagnating slime. In a city known for its gardens and clean mountain air, it’s difficult to imagine typhoid epidemics and schools without proper sanitation. We may not always be able to return locations to their original condition, but we can always do something to turn a cesspit into an oasis.

I think the Toowoomba Regional Council should be commended for their efforts to create a healthy, attractive and sustainable environment for the city’s residents and visitors. All through the year, and especially in the lead up to the Carnival, you can see them hard at work, planting, pruning, irrigating and mowing all the parks and gardens. With around  1000 hectares of parkland to maintain, it’s certainly a massive job.

But wherever we live in the world, we can all play our part. It’s always a shame to see our environment littered with refuse – especially just a few steps from a bin. It’s not hard to…

  • Put your rubbish in the bins provided or take it with you.
  • Recycle your containers and rubbish
  • Keep the waterways clean for the fish, turtles and birdlife

Do you have some favourite parks or gardens in your hometown? I’d love to hear about them and if you’re ever in Queensland in September, please come on down to the Carnival.

 

Reference

Enid Barclay, “Fevers and Stinks: Some problems of Public Health in the 1870s and 1880s”, Qld Heritage, Vol 2, no. 4 1971 pp 3-13.  

 

 

A Night Out at the Theatre

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I really love old buildings. I love the detail in the architecture, the arched windows and the sense of character that I often find missing in contemporary buildings. Toowoomba is blessed to still have many of its historic buildings and I love wandering around the city streets, bemused at the way they sit juxtaposed to contemporary buildings, wondering about the people who helped build them or who used to work in them.

One of our favourite historic buildings is the Empire Theatre. It was opened on the 29th June 1911 and had the latest technology of that time to show the most exiting advent in entertainment – big screen movies! Sadly, much of the original theatre was destroyed by fire on 22 Feb 1933. Despite this devastating setback, the theatre was rebuilt and the two walls that were left standing after the fire were incorporated into the new design. Amazingly, the theatre was able to reopen at the end of the year on 27 Nov 1933. 

The Empire Theatre continued to be at the centre of Toowoomba’s cultural life for many years. Unfortunately, the lure of the television set and other entertainment led to the theatre’s closure in 1971. For a while it was used as a warehouse and then as a TAFE college and then sadly, it just fell into disrepair. Fortunately, this was not the end of the story.

Eventually the need for a performing arts centre resurfaced and the Empire Theatre was restored and reopened its doors on 28 June 1997. Today, the theatre blends contemporary technology with the architectural grandeur of its past, still retaining some of the features from both 1911 and 1933. One of the most outstanding features is the grand proscenium arch, which is possibly one of the last of its kind left in the southern hemisphere. The arch is back lit with a rainbow of colours and provides a stunning frame for centre stage.

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It still is the largest performing arts centre in regional Australia and hosts a variety of world class performers. You can read more about the Empire Theatre, it’s history and its cultural program here.

We have enjoyed seeing a number of ballet performances and musicals at the Empire Theatre. Last year we went to see a local production of Wicked and earlier this year we went to see the Pirates of Penzance. It was Bec’s first Gilbert and Sullivan musical, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. Not long ago the Empire Theatre was one of a number of locations around Australia that screened sessions from the Sydney Writer’s Festival free to members of the public and just recently Dan, Bec and I enjoyed the Queensland Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake.

There is something about the story of Swan Lake that fills our hearts with a blend of joy and sadness. If you only ever see one ballet in your life, it should be Swan Lake. The beauty and grace of the swans and the tragic ending of the doomed lovers always moves me to tears. Bec learned ballet for a few years when she was younger, so we have seen a few different ones – The Nutcracker, A Midsummer Dream and La Fille, Mal Gardée – but Swan Lake is always our favourite.

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A Walk in the Park

 

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We’re pretty spoiled for parks here in Toowoomba. There are the Japanese Gardens at USQ, the waterfall and walking track up at Picnic Point and Laurel Bank Park right next to Yellow Bridge where Dan goes everyday. Right in the centre of town there is Queen’s Park where many events and festivals are held. And then there are the numerous small parks and playgrounds dotted around the suburbs.

Just a few minutes walk from our place is the West Creek Corridor, a stretch of parkland that follows the creek into the centre of town. It not only provides a recreational area for locals but also a wetland sanctuary for birdlife. One of the main features, though, is a walking and cycling track that follows the creek. On any given day, weather permitting, you will see any number of walkers, joggers, cyclists, mums with prams and dog-walkers out for a spot of exercise or just a bit of fresh country air.

Most days I try to find time for a walk along the path too. I like the way the path meanders through different environments – under a canopy of tall palm trees, over open grassland and through a patch of tall, dark forest. The path criss-crosses the creek, so even if you go for a walk everyday, you can still take a slightly different route each time. And if you follow the path far enough, you will pass thousands of bats hanging from the trees.

The bats are a story in themselves. There used to be a miniature railway under those trees. Until the bats moved in. After fruitless and expensive attempts to move the bats on, it turned out to be cheaper to move the railway across the road to a different spot in the corridor. Once a month the Toowoomba Live Steamers run miniature steam trains along the railway and for the cost of a two dollar gold coin, anybody, even adults, can have a ride.

There are other fun things to do along the West Creek Corridor. You can rest for a while on a bench and watch the ducks and ibis on the lake. Or, if you’re more the energetic type, you can make use of the free fitness equipment scattered along the walkway. You can bring a picnic lunch or cook some snags on the BBQ while the kids explore the playground.

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When I wander along the walkway and see the birdlife, the leaves changing colour or the trees beginning to flower,  I find it hard to believe that Toowoomba was once known as The Swamp.  Sadly, I see that the magpies are starting to gather. Magpie season is just around the corner, which means we might soon need to give the walkway a miss for a while.

Lucky for us, though, we have lots of other places we can go for a walk in the park.

166 Days Till Summer

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Today is officially the coldest day of the year for Toowoomba and I can quite believe it. The wind is howling around the house, underneath the garage door and into our living area. It is absolutely freezing outside. This morning it was just 4 degrees at 7.45am when Dan and I ventured outside to go to Yellow Bridge.

I don’t have a proper temperature gauge, but my phone says it is 12 degrees outside. There is something wrong with those numbers. I think they should be the other way round. And it gets worse. Overnight it is supposed to go down to minus 1 degree, and tomorrow is not going to be much better than today. Hibernation is starting to sound like a very good idea.

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Although technically it is 12 degrees outside, according to the weather bureau, when you take the wind chill factor into account, it actually feels more like 5 degrees. At 6 o’clock this morning, officially it was 0.6 degrees in Toowoomba, but it felt like minus 5 degrees.  No wonder we are feeling so cold!

For those of you who live in places where the temperature regularly plunges below zero, the ground is covered in deep layers of snow and you look forward to getting out your skis and sleds, you might wonder – what’s the big deal?

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This is Queensland.

This is the Sunshine State.

It’s supposed to be…Sunny One Day – Perfect the Next

Now Toowoomba is on the top of the Great Dividing Range, and we can get cold winters. But even for Toowoomba, 5 degrees is cold, although it’s not quite a record – yet. Depending on whether you count the chill factor or not, the lowest temperature on record for Toowoomba is either 20th Jun 2007 (minus 16.7 degrees) or 25th June 1961 (minus 3.6 degrees).

Despite Queensland being the Sunshine State, it has actually snowed here in the past. Weather records have been kept on the Darling Downs since 1896, and in that time it has snowed at least 18 times. Of course, a snowfall here is nothing like a snowfall in real snowy places. You might be able to scrape up a snowball, if you’re lucky, but I wouldn’t count on getting out your skis.

On the bright side, winter here is usually short and sweet, so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for better days to arrive. In the meantime, we’ll rug up, wrap our hands around a mug of hot steaming coffee and count down to summer. 

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Only 166 days to go.

Ju Raku En

Japanese Gardens

The Japanese Gardens are one of my favourite places in Toowoomba. A walking path meanders around the gardens, past tall trees, over traditional red bridges and past waterfalls and lakes. In springtime, the cherry blossoms are in flower and the ducks and other wildlife are nesting.  The garden’s official name is Ju Raku En, which means “enjoying peace and longevity in a public place” and it certainly lives up to its name.

When Bec was still at school, Dan and I would often come to the Japanese Gardens for a walk. After dropping Bec off at school, we always had some time to fill in before Dan’s day at Yellow Bridge began. We would wander along the pathways, although with Dan it was a bit more of a gallop. Sometimes we would climb up the steps to the ‘Distant Pavillion’, sit in one of the shelters and look out on the ‘Crowd of Ducks Lake’ or watch the water rushing down the ‘Dragon Gates Falls’.

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This morning I visited the gardens for the first time in a while. After walking through the large red gates, I took the path that runs along the perimeter, paused on the footbridge to take a quick photo of the waterfall (you know how much I love waterfalls), and then crossed over a red bridge to a shelter by the lake. Apparently the red bridges are a traditional Japanese feature, designed to ward off bad omens. I didn’t see any swooping magpies, so maybe it works.

As I came up to the lake, I was just in time to see a group of ducks,  swimming in formation from the island in the middle of the lake, right past where I was standing. Right in the centre of the group, were some fluffy ducklings, out for a morning swim. So cute.

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I love the lush green foliage in the gardens. It always feels cool and refreshing and makes a fabulous backdrop for the bright red bridges. The shelters are the perfect place to hide away with a book, and being right next to the university, the gardens are a great place for students to find some peace and quiet in between lectures. Thousands of visitors enjoy the peace and tranquility of Ju Raku En every year. Perhaps one morning I’ll see you here too.

Waterfalls

I have a thing for waterfalls. There is something about them that always draws my attention. Perhaps it is the sound of the water as it rushes down the rock face and hits the water below. Perhaps it is the freshness of the spray that lingers in the air. Or maybe it is just the way the sunlight dances on the water as it pours over the escarpment and weaves its way over and around the rocks. It is a symbol of life; quenching thirst, refreshing dry skin, essential for survival.

I grew up in South Australia: the driest state in the driest continent. There are a few waterfalls in South Australia, but like many Australian waterfalls, they can be seasonal. Most of Australia’s waterfalls are found in the Great Dividing Range, which runs from the tip of Queensland down through New South Wales to the Grampians in Victoria. It is over 3,500km long and the third longest land-based mountain range in the world. Toowoomba sits on the Great Dividing Range, or the Range, as it is often called.

One of my favourite places in Toowoomba is a recreation area called Picnic Point. It is actually one of the oldest recreation areas in Toowoomba, established around 1885, and has undergone a lot of changes since then. On a clear day, there is a great view to the east, down the Range, to the Lockyer Valley and beyond. But my favourite place at Picnic Point is the waterfall garden.

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It’s not a real waterfall. It was constructed back in 1965 on the face of a bluestone quarry and over the years they’ve done a lot of work to create a rainforest setting. It’s quiet, shady and secluded. Except for the steady drone of the traffic in the background, you could almost forget that you were in a large regional city. The rock face is about 5m high, so it’s certainly not a big waterfall, but I like the sound of the water as it drops from the top and flows down through a series of pools. On either side of the largest pool at the bottom, there are two old-fashioned lampposts that remind me of The Chronicles of Narnia.

As soon as I step out of the car, I can hear the waterfall. I know that every time I come to Picnic Point, except in times of severe drought, I can expect to hear that sound. Just the idea of a waterfall fills us with expectation. On our recent trip to the Crows Nest National Park I was filled with that same expectation. After walking through the bush, past the water pools, up and down numerous steps, I was expecting to see a waterfall. Sadly, I was disappointed. There was no water. Not even a trickle. It’s been a very dry season. Despite the disappointment, I am determined to go again. No matter how many times you see the same waterfall, it is never the same. Every time is different and that is the beauty of nature.

In the meantime, I know that I can go back time and time again to Picnic Point, wander down the short path to the waterfall garden, sit in the shelter, listen to the kookaburras laugh and watch the water as it tumbles down the rocks. When I have had my fill of serenity and solitude, I can return to the hustle and bustle, refreshed and replenished – until the next time.