From Melbourne to Sydney


One often says of oneself as a child, this is where I grew up.  But to me, at least, one doesn’t realise that one has grown up until one leaves that place and returns.
Yes I grew up in Canowindra (New South Wales). I grew up too in Kiama (New South Wales). And then Canberra and Brisbane (although I will never make it as a Queenslander!). And now that I have returned to Sydney that I realised I had grown up some more in Melbourne. And for that much like Mary Queen of Scots feels towards Calais I will be forever grateful.  For Melbourne will be forever in my heart.
That’s not to say I have lessons to be learned. I’ve learnt about the love and honesty (sometimes searingly so) of family and the support whether near or far of friends. I’ve learnt about friendship found false and true. I’ve learnt more about my own heart. I’ve learnt about resilience and faith. I’ve learnt how true it is that the universe both conspires to hinder you at every turn and consummate your hidden wishes once you turn towards it.
The last year or so has been difficult, financially, career wise, mentally and spiritually. Yet in the midst of those not so good times there was joy to be found, comfort within myself and people around me ultimately leading to a path of hope. The secret for me at least was to find out what was most important to me and step by step (in fact fingernail hold by fingernail hold) move towards it everyday. And in doing so, I had to be prepared to lose everything to gain that hope. For faith isn’t mere belief or suspended disbelief: it’s progress towards an unseen goal with absolute certainty that it’s the correct course with absolutely no certainty that it will happen.
But in the past four or so weeks I’ve seen my close family again, changed jobs, moved house, gained a glimpse of a new direction professionally and continued a current direction personally.  But I still have much to learn and still so far to journey.

That Love of Loves

I still don’t know how that motorcyclist didn’t hit her. And me too I suppose.  Every so often I stop and wonder why. Considering what happened to her later. I just shake my head and muse upon the two memories I have of her.

We were standing at a bus stop. Near the Old Treasury Building in Brisbane. Waiting for the one solitary service that took us to Jimboomba and then Beaudesert. The time was about ten to five. I was early for a change. We were both standing near the edge of the footpath. She was on my right. That was both safe and dangerous.

As I looked to my right, I saw him. The glint of the sun on his helmet. White helmet, black rider, grey bike. He was going way too fast. His intent was to turn the corner to my left. But too late he realised his way was blocked. A car had stopped there. With nowhere to go, he jumped the footpath. And headed straight for us. And before I could reach out to grab her, he was past. He had turned back off the footpath. Back on the road to take the corner.

We just looked at each other. I mumbled something to the effect that I’m sorry I couldn’t get you out of the way. I completely forgot that I would’ve been hit first or been hit trying to save her.  Besides I only knew her vaguely. She had just started taking the bus.  As we had mutual acquaintances on the bus, I knew her name. I’d say hello. I had found out that she had finished school and had started her first job. That’s all I knew about her until that day or the next day, or another day, when she sat next to me.

There was something about her that day. A certain light in her eye. The way she held her smile lightly. How her dark brown hair circled her light face. How her pale skin seemed to shine with a quiet light. Yes she seemed more attractive than ever. Eighteen or nineteen? I wasn’t sure. But I knew it wasn’t me.

Normally, she sat with her friends, but not today. She sat herself down next to me and immediately began or resumed the conversation. She talked about her new job. I heard her enthusiasm and dedication. I thought it’s pleasing to hear someone telling me they loved their job. Just about everyone else I knew complained. But I heard another reason. One that brought it all together.

She told me. The two men in the seat behind me stopped talking. And started to listen too. But they thought she was talking about something else. During our conversation, I could hear the remarks they were making. It has nothing to do with me, I thought. And resisted the temptation to drape my arm over the seat, lean over and set them straight.

For here sitting next to me was a girl in love. For the very first time I thought.  And she was in love with everything now. So it didn’t matter who she told. Or how she told it. For to her it was the real thing. For she was telling me about both sides of this love : the joy and the difficulties too.  Behind me I knew the two watchers could see her moving around as she spoke to me. They thought something else was happening.  But they could not have been more wrong. Here was someone jumping out of her skin with an ultimate joy.

She was infatuated that was true. She spoke extraordinarily highly of her boyfriend. But mentioned how it wasn’t easy to see each other. And how they stayed in touch despite the distance. For this was before smartphones, social media and apps. Call me or don’t call me. Write me or don’t. And they were doing both! I mused to myself, she knows the way ahead isn’t easy but doesn’t care.

And she was in love now with the world. And that is what my backseat companions didn’t realise.  Once in love with love, now all was love. And that brought me joy and comfort in my situation.

And then the light went out. For I never saw her again. And then I heard what happened to her. But she had seen, heard and felt that love of loves.



A Lesson in Listening…

It was early December 2003. At that time I had separated, was couch-surfing at a mate’s place and was looking for accommodation. I had inspected a small place in South Brisbane earlier that week, applied and then was accepted, and now was on my way to sign the lease.

I chose the wrong platform. Then the wrong train. I then found the right train. I raced down the escalators to catch it. I reached the platform, saw the train and promptly dropped my wallet scattering coins. I looked across at the train, I looked down at the change and chose the train. By then I assumed I would be late. I phoned the real estate office to warn them. And as well it was raining.

Then I turned up on time! And the rain stopped. I easily found the real estate office. But the entrance wasn’t easily accessible. I circled around the back and found a gate. Looking over the gate, I saw it opened into an indoor-outdoor area. To the left of the gate there was a window/counter and the back office door. I let myself in and announced myself. I was asked to wait and did.

After about 10 minutes or so, there was a knock on the gate. I opened it. Standing before me was a young woman. My guess was that she was tallish  (5 feet 9 inches or 175 cm). She had blondish brown very wispy hair, quite the thinnest face and blue eyes. She reminded me somewhat of the actress Kate Hudson. But I didn’t say anything. She was wearing a white or off-white blouse and beige trousers. She had no earrings, no rings, just a watch and had a red Indy 500 strap around her neck. She wore little make-up and didn’t need even that.

We introduced ourselves. I said to her it seemed that you have missed the rain. I then leant through the window and mentioned that she had arrived. I asked her where she worked. She replied that she worked at one of the local radio stations. I immediately thought she might be one of the announcers. But I didn’t say that either.

We both sat down and waited for our appointments. My dynamic Scottish property manager appeared, filled out and processed the paperwork rapidly and then disappeared. In the meantime, my acquaintance’s New Zealand property manager appeared, processed the paperwork whilst having an animated conversation. I listened while I waited. In that time, I worked out that perhaps the other property manager was from Nelson in the South Island.

Finally I was called to the counter for my deposit. I paid my deposit and again had to wait. I started to get worried about time. I began to think of leaving when the New Zealand property manager asked me, “Did you get your receipt?” I replied that I hadn’t.

As I was waiting, my acquaintance attempted to put in her deposit. She searched through her purse for the extra money and came up short. She asked me if she could borrow 60 cents as she had given a tip.  It turned out she was 10 cents short. I gave her the remainder. That was all I had left in my wallet after the spillage. We laughed at that.

I was then asked where I was going. I replied back to work in Brisbane. I said I was taking the train back. Despite that she offered me a lift. I accepted. It would be quicker by car.

When she received her receipt, we left. She opened the door to her car for me. I got in.

And then began a remarkable conversation. It started in the usual way. She told me she was an account manager. She mentioned also that she had previously been in an advertising agency.  She asked me what I did for a living. I said that I was in Information Technology support and added that I preferred the people side of it.

Then something odd thing happened. I made a comment. It was something like “God willing” or “In faith.” Quick as a flash, she  asked me if I was religious. I replied, a little bit reluctantly, “Yes I believe.” I then added that I don’t force my beliefs on anyone. I concluded that people should find out for themselves. She happily left it at that.

We moved on to the next subject and the next. In a short drive from Clayfield to Brisbane, we covered quite a few subjects. I still wonder how so much was said in so little time.

In the end I was dropped off at work. We wished each other well and really that was that.

But I was puzzled. How did we cover so much in so little time? I turned the conversation over in my mind. After a while I remembered what she did when I spoke. As a good listener, she focussed on what I said. But as Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” That’s why she was a brilliant listener : she focussed and asked me what I didn’t say.

Yes that day I learnt a lesson in listening…

Walk By The Water

As a child, I lived in Kiama New South Wales, a small town by the sea. Kiama BlowholeOccasionally walking to school,during the summer king tides,  I would see the world famous Blowhole in action. Waves would break high and wide, the spray would envelop  the lighthouse like smoke around a candle.

Similarly, while living at New Farm in Brisbane, I would take the long walk to work. First I would sidle down to the ferry terminal at New Farm Park, and take the ferry to work. Each trip the Brisbane River was different.

When I arrived at work, I felt renewed and refreshed.

Having moved to Melbourne, walking by the water is an experience I have revisited. I live at Port Melbourne and occasionally walk to work via the esplanade.

It still changes my whole day. Some days the sea is frosted sky blue glass. I feel like stopping and skipping stones. Other times the sea is a green blue wave concrete mixer topped by white crested waves. I stop and set aside the idea of a swim. Other times its a blue skin like parchment. I stop and think about growing old.

All I’ve done is look for something new in a dull and boring world. Most times I find it.

But still there’s something missing here. Why do I love walking by the water?

One clue is that when I hear that phrase, I immediately think of the sublime Eva Cassidy singing Wade in the Water.

But it wasn’t until the other night, that the next clue completed the jigsaw. I now realise why I love walking by the water.

This night was hot and perfectly still. And though a reasonable distance from the water I heard it. The waves.

And it brought back memories of an earlier time.  Where even though I was even more distant from the sea, I heard it too. The ebb and flow of the waves in the far distance quietly lulling me and calming me, renewing and refreshing me.

The next time I walked by the water, I really heard the waves.

My Brisbane Storm

Much like the other day in Brisbane, and  2008 storms in South-Eastern Queensland happen fast. Perhaps faster now. This one from over a decade ago didn’t leave me much time.
Thie storm began with a small white grey cloud. It seem to tumble and twist like flying cotton candy.  I watched it for a while fascinated and distracted. Then a stray thought occurred to me. Why was it moving so fast?
It was still sunny, hot and humid. There was no wind at that stage, not a breeze, not a whisper. Being a typical Queensland day we had all the doors and windows open, hoping to catch a touch of cool.
I then looked behind the little cloud.  As we were then living on top of a small hill, I had a good view south-west. Usually I could see the mountains. As I looked from west to east the sky was a moving grey tsunami. The mountains were swamped, enveloped in a moving morph of black grey cloud. As I looked more closely, I could see that the clouds weren’t entirely grey. They were changing colour in front of me. I had the distracted thought that they looked like bruises. Green, purple and even yellow shades swirling and rotating.
Then another stray thought occurred to me.  These are snow clouds. The last time I had seen clouds like this I was living in Canberra. My mind started to wander again.  But it doesn’t snow in sunny south-east Queensland.
This was a serious storm. It’s speed left me little time to prepare.
I grabbed the first thing near to me.  I snatched up my youngest son and ran inside. I plopped him near the door and shut it. I just hoped he didn’t sense my rising panic.
Quickly, I upended the outside tables and put the chairs inside. Once inside I closed all the windows. I was running now.
I ran to the front of the house. I shut and locked the front screen and slammed the front door. I sprinted through the house to the main bedroom to do the same. Now I was in a rapid routine. I had done this battening down routine quite a few times before.
By the time I got to the bedroom it was too late. The storm had arrived. The rain was like sea-spray. The wind started to howl and rise in volume. I thought for a second I was on a sailing ship rounding Cape Horn and would be swept away.
I shut the bedroom door and screen. The next thing I knew I had thrown myself full length on the bedroom floor. There had been an explosion. I looked outside and saw flotsam and jetsam. Piles of mulched leaves and branches had already filled the porch. I couldn’t see the front yard trees at all for the sheets of rain.
Then the sky roared at me and the house. I found my children and ushered them into the hallway which was the perfect centre of the house. I  huddled them together to ensure they felt safe but felt that at any moment they wouldn’t be. The sky roared even louder. I still don’t know how long we waited. Then it stopped silent.
Once disaster has been averted, I had a sense of relief. That was followed by the false belief that nothing really happened. In that state of mind, I went out the backyard. The first thing I saw were silver grey sheets on our back fence about 50metres from the house. It was the remnants of our next door neighbour’s shed in pieces in our back yard. My distracted thought was why can I see the back fence at all. We now had no trees. We had a yard of twisted limbs, twigs and branches. That would be tomorrow’s problem : a cleanup for me while I watched the birds that normally visited try to find a place.
Then I went out the front. Apart from a mulch heap of leaves and branches the trees at the front were intact. Except for one.  The largest tree was split in two. Half the trunk had twisted and fallen and was suspended by a remaining branch. I still have no idea if it was lightning or wind.
It was only when our neighbours arrived to retrieve their shed, I realised the storm’s full effect. They had been extremely lucky too. Much like the people from Brisbane the other day.

Driving A Car That Does Not Match Your Self Image!

On the weekend just past, in Brisbane, I hired a car. Usually my normal hire car is small, economical and unobtrusively white.

This time, I left the hiring until a few days before the trip. As a result the cheapest choice was just one: a Ford Falcon. Naturally, ticked the box thinking I would be hiring an ordinary Falcon (Sorry Holden and Ford supporters) much like my Dad’s old car.

So far, so good, I arrived and picked up the car. At first, I couldn’t find the car and when I did find the car, I was taken aback. I had hired a muscle car – a Ford Falcon XR6 complete with racing dash, coloured black with a spoiler. It may have all the other accoutrements but I wasn’t really sure.

For the average middle-aged man, this would be a godsend, a chance of glory driving a  young man’s car.  My confession is that I have never been at that stage of life where I need to impress someone by the car I drive. Most of the cars I have driven have fitted into the above category : small, economical and unobtrusive. But certainly not this one.

What I didn’t expect was the reaction from the other drivers on the road when they saw me in this beast.

The first and most glaring was that they expected me to not to keep to the speed limit.

As a result, no-one was really game to overtake me. Again for a middle-aged man this should engender a feeling of strong superiority. But not me.

The second was their reaction to any lane change that might be construed as slightly disagreeable. As I said to my passengers : Was that person waving at me because I might have done something wrong? Or not?

Consequently, I have decided to postpone my mid-life crisis indefinitely as I am not ready for a muscle car or a sports car. Besides which there are better ways to seek glory.