Category Archives: Australia

Bryce Courtenay’s ‘April Fool’s Day’ and a renewed perspective

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Every now and again a book comes along, that for whatever reason you read at precisely the right moment and it has the potential to affect you tremendously. Most recently I had this experience with Bryce Courtenay’s beautifully written, but heart wrenching story about his youngest son’s death at the age of 23, which I have just finished reading. The cover was familiar. I had glanced over the book hundreds of times both as an adolescent perusing my parents bookshelves for something to read and later as an adult on the same mission when visiting my mother. But for some reason, I had not picked it up to read until now. I always say you need to be in a certain frame of mind to read some books and perhaps my current state of mind was simply ripe to read April Fool’s Day.

The book brought me to tears on many occasions but it also occasioned me to laugh out loud and at other instances to feel genuine anger and disgust towards the blatant lack of empathy and consideration of the Australian medical and political communities of the time. Not since reading Shantaram or indeed Sepharad last summer in Europe, have I felt this connected and impacted by a book and even then not on this level.

Reading for me is, and always has been, a refuge, an opportunity to delve into another world and escape my own for a while. The topic of Courtenay’s book is not what you would call light reading or indeed lighthearted. The story of his son’s slow and painful demise is horrendous and Courtenay does not shun away from the details or try to hide the reality of the suffering caused by haemophilia or AIDS. But what struck me most about the book, and I believe this was one of the goals in writing it, was the sheer positivity, willpower, desire to live and unfailing love portrayed by his son Damon and the entire family, and in particular in the relationship between Damon and his girlfriend Celeste.

You really begin to question your own priorities and petty problems when confronted with a book like this. I almost felt ashamed at myself for giving my own minor grievances so much airtime and energy over the past few months.

Courtney masterfully blends raw despair and heartfelt humour, both of which make up most human lives, throughout his writing. Despite the seriousness of the book, one particular scene is simply brilliantly written and had me in absolute stiches. It is when Courtenay is describing his three son’s plunge into what he calls ‘pubescent insanity’.

‘Instead of quite liking their parents they now see them as practically mentally retarded. Everything “sucks” and nothing can be done to please them. Their angst, confusion, malice, ill-temper, thoughtlessness, despair, superiority and disinterest comes out in the form of arms locked across their chests and brows so deeply furrowed as to be practically prehensile. Their voices drop an octave and they temporarily lose the ability to speak, this faculty being replaced by a Neanderthal grunt which covers every possible situation they may confront.’

The book not only provided me with a bit of a shake up to reconsider my own priorities but oddly enough it was also a balm of sorts. Since leaving Australia four months ago after an almost four-year stint Down Under, I have only recently begun to realise how much I missed the country, the people, the way of life and my own life there. Despite being born in South Africa, Courtenay lived most of his life in Australia and in my opinion – having taught and read some Australian literature – he has developed an Australian flair for writing. Reading this quasi-Australian novel with many familiar expressions and locations was like a temporary balm on my still open wound.

I have to admit that it took me a while to appreciate Australia literature and the books and short stories of writers such as Tim Winton and Henry Lawson. They have a unique quality about them that makes them distinctly Australian, as well as possessing an uncanny ability to capture the feeling of the country and it’s people. The writing is raw and open, unlike many of the American and British authors I have read over the years, who often tend to embellish situations and skirt around the reality. There are of course many exceptions to this claim, Zadie Smith being one that immediately springs to mind. Nevertheless it took me a while before I really appreciated the writing of Australian authors. I suppose coming from a diet of largely classical books, the majority being from English authors and female, maybe I am slightly late in coming to the table in my appreciation of more modern and realist writing. However, being a high school English teacher in Australia certainly helped in broadening my literary repertoire.

Being the true geek and English teacher that I am, despite leaving Australia, I have kept abreast of the changes being made to the NSW English curriculum. I most recently perused the new list of prescribed texts for the HSC. Always on the lookout for new books myself – my amazon Wish List is almost at 200 books – I was pleasantly surprised by the many new and varied texts that have been added and indeed to the extensive number of Australian authors included. While I cannot as of yet offer an opinion on many of these authors, apart from Winton’s of course, I do plan to read a number of these over the coming months.

But I digress from my original purpose in writing this post, which was to talk about Courtenay’s April Fool’s Day. The book simply has to be read. I cannot say much more than that, it is a wonderful, heartbreaking and life-affirming book that has helped me in beginning to get back on track and refocus my priorities. But please ensure you have time to savour it, don’t rush this book, and make sure that you are in the right frame of mind to read something of this intensity.

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We’re all going on a summer holiday

The beach

It’s the last day of school; you’re sitting quietly in the classroom at the edge of your seat, eyes glued to the clock. The ticking seems to be getting louder and louder and the hand is crawling, as if in slow motion. You’re waiting, waiting for the final bell of the school year to go: the signal that it’s the holidays, the summer holidays.

 

It’s been over 10 years since I left school, but I’m getting that unmistakable summer holiday buzz. That feeling of waiting impatiently for that final bell to go so that I can dash out of the school grounds and enjoy my five-week, well earned break.

It’s funny, when I left school I never thought I’d set foot on school grounds – never mind voluntarily – again. And I certainly never imagined I’d experience that distinct summer holiday excitement, exclusive to my school days ever again. But after completing my first term as a fully-fledged schoolmarm, and at the cusp of a well-earned five week summer holiday, that feeling is palpable.

I did it; I survived my first term of teaching! It feels like quite an accomplishment and I’m pretty impressed with myself for making it. I must have done a half decent job as the school have lined me up to continue teaching in Term 1, starting at the end of January.

 

On my way to work this morning, on the last day of school, I had to stop in at the mechanic to get the bumper of my car bolted back on – not as dramatic as it sounds. While waiting, I popped into the little café next to the mechanics to get a coffee. In our current cashless society, I like many others, rarely carry cash, so I was somewhat surprised when the café owner said they didn’t have Eftpos facilities. On hearing I was a local and waiting for my car to be fixed the barista bartered with me; either I come by later and pay for the coffee or I could pop into the Servo and buy him a Powerade in return for a coffee. Much amused I popped next door and got him a purple Powerade.

It felt like it should already be the holidays as I sat outside on the verandah in the morning sun, listening to the birds and looking out at the trees swaying in the breeze. Tomorrow I’ll be on my way to the coast to spend Christmas with my mum, sister, her partner and my gorgeous nephew. After about six Christmas’s Down Under and living here for over two and a half years, I still can’t get used to Christmas in the sun. There is something just not right about it being hot and going down to the beach at Christmas. It’s supposed to be cold outside with snow on the ground, while you sit inside in front of an open fire curled up with a good book where it’s warm and cosy with the smell of Christmas baking wafting through the house.

 

The bell is about to go, I’m sitting at the edge of  my chair – like I did all those years ago at school – watching the clock on my computer screen crawl from 3.19 to 3.20. I’m going to press the ‘Publish’  button and then dash out the door, into my car – with a secure bumper – and home to the pub for a well earned glass of Vino Bianco before finishing off my packing and going to bed on time as I have an early start in the morning.

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Wiser words on teaching after surviving my second teaching placement (at a private school)

Year 10 student comment

Year 10 student comment

With three weeks and counting left before I have to submit my final assignment for University, I feel that I’ve come a long way since starting out last September, both in relation to learning about the ins and outs of teaching and of course actually standing in front of a class and teaching.

Year 8 student comment

Year 8 student comment

For my first teaching placement I spent seven weeks at a local public school, after which I have to admit I was slightly skeptical about my second placement which was to be at the local private school. Being myself from the Irish public school system (although at the time I did not rate it and I’m not sure how it’s changed since I was at school) I was already somewhat prejudiced towards the private system, with what I believed were a number of solid reasons. However, after having spent six weeks teaching and working at the private school, my views have changed considerably. Yes, there were elements that I had had preconceived ideas about which proved to be well founded, however, as a whole the school was great, the students were a delight (most of the time) and the other teachers were not only excellent teachers but also very supportive and inclusive.

Year 10 student comment

Year 10 student comment

I know that I already mentioned in a previous blog my slight trepidation regarding my choice of going into teaching before my first placement, and how I was relieved that I had made the right decision during my time at the school. Well this was only further reinforced during my second placement.

Year 8 student comment

Year 8 student comment

At one point during the six weeks I was asked by the principle and other teachers if I could give a careers talks about my background and experiences both of working and University to the Year 9s and the Year 10s. I assented and spent a half hour on two consecutive Thursdays talking about and answering question regarding my previous experiences. When asked by a student in the Year 9 class whether I thought different types of people were suited to certain jobs, I responded that I did believe this was the case, to which I was further pressed as to whether I believed my personality was right for the fields and jobs I had chosen (journalism and PR), this really made me think. The honest answer that I came up with and responded to the class with, was that no, I don’t believe my personality fitted either the field of PR or journalism, but that I had gone outside of my comfort zone and tried and succeeded in both areas, growing with each experience and acquiring new skills. It was only after I said this out load that I realised that standing in front of a class and teaching is the most natural thing for me and it’s the most comfortable I’ve ever felt. Yes, I was terrified at the start and the idea of being unprepared for a class truly frightens me (which is why I don’t believe I’ll ever be unprepared for a lesson) but it feels right and that’s what I told the students.

That’s the great thing (I really despise that word, its such a filler and lazy word) about living in the 21st Century, you don’t have to know and decide what to do with your life straight after finishing school. You can go on to try many different things before you decide or find out what it is you’re supposed to or want to do. It took me a few years, but I learnt so much in the process and had the opportunity to travel at the same time, I’d never take any of it back.

And the most rewarding things about teaching; well it’s when you teach a great lesson, when you inspire students and when they write lovely things about you when asked to feedback on your teaching!

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Road trip; Byron Bay and Queensland

Byron Bay lighthouse

After four months of winter and work, I was hanging for a break, absolutely dying to get away for a few weeks. Last year I went to Newcastle for a week with my sister and nephew to recuperate after winter, and this year Queensland was on the cards. Originally we were going to fly straight to Brisbane, but what with one thing and another and wanting to leave as soon as possible, we ended up driving via Byron Bay to Queensland.

The drive was lovely, and long. I’ve finally started to get used to the vast distances in Australia, it takes about six to eightOld Bar beach festival hours to drive from one side of Ireland to the other, but in Australia, well six or eight hours is nothing. It took us two days to drive to Byron Bay, stopping in Bar Beach on the way, where they happened to have a Kombi run that evening. Which is something I’d never seen before, there were just so many VW’s in every colour imaginable.

Byron Bay

Byron Bay was lovely, if a bit windy. We walked to the lighthouse on our first day and the view was spectacular. It was so nice to be lying and walking on the beach again and soaking in the sunshine, it was much needed. On our last afternoon there, I booked a time at the local tattoo parlour to have a tattoo. It’s something I’d wanting to do for years but was always too scared to actually go ahead with. Finally, with some morel support – although I was told it felt like a Stanley knife cutting into you – I decided to go for it. On the aforementioned afternoon we rocked up at the tattoo parlour, I was surprisingly relaxed – although while the lady was doing the tattoo I gripped the chair so hard my fingers were cramped by the time she was finished. Once it was all over and done with, the lady proceeded to explain the aftercare and the rest is a bit of a blur as I passed out falling smack bang on the tiled floor. The egg on my forehead that resulted from passing out, was definitely something to write home about, it was bloody huge! By the next day, half the swelling had moved down my face so I now had two puffy black eyes and a somewhat deflated egg on my forehead. A month later and I still have a small lump on my head and the wrinkle lines on my forehead still don’t line up. Other than that, love the tat!

Oh yea, and that all happened the day before I met my boyfriends family!

When we finally arrived in Queensland it was hot. It was throughly enjoyable, relaxing, not working – just a bit of studying – and lovely warm weather. While there I went for a two hour horse ride, in true country style; Western saddle, riding through the cattle and gorgeous sunshine. I hadn’t ridden a horse for maybe 10 years and I loved every minute of it. Not so much after, as my ass was a little bit sore for the next two days and every time I sat down I had to wince.

Following the lovely two week break, I went straight into teaching, but that’s another post for a different day!

 

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Victoria – a trip to Melbourne and Philip Island

Melbourne

Melbourne

With my mum visiting from Ireland my sister and I thought it was fitting to take her on a trip, somewhere where none of us had been before. So we decided on Victoria; Melbourne and Philip Island – or Penguin Island as my sister insisted on calling it – to be more specific.

Cowes Pier, Philip Island

Cowes jetty, Philip Island

Seeing the weather was good we decided to camp on Philip Island, something I hadn’t done in years. After a tedious but beautiful 10 hour drive through national parks and along the coast we finally arrived at the campsite which we were staying at just outside Cowes. Situated just behind the beach and a 10 minute walk from Cowes jetty and the village, it was ideally located.

Penguin Parade on Philip Island

Penguin Parade on Philip Island

Penguin Parade

Penguin Parade

Philip Island is renowned for it’s Fairy Penguins – or small penguins as they are now known due to someone taking offence to the name ‘fairy penguin’. They are between 6 and 12 inches tall and are too cute. They used to live all over the island but due to human interference there is only one part of the island that is conserved and where you can see them in their natural habitat. Every evening as the sun sets in the ocean the little penguins come ashore from their day of fishing. First one, then the next they wait till there is a good group on the shore before waddling up the beach, hopping up the rocks and into their nests for the night. This is known around the island as the Penguin Parade and one evening we went down to watch it, it was absolutely gorgeous. We saw hundreds of penguins come ashore. As no photography is allowed, these are not my own pictures but I just thought the penguins were too adorable not to post a few photos of them.

Sunset on Philip Island

Sunset on Philip Island

While there we visited a wild life park with lots of native animals. We got chased by emu’s, fed roos and wandered around, all of us enjoying it just as much as my 15 month old nephew. We sunbathed on the beach, built sandcastles, went go karting  on the islands famous Gran Prix  Circuit and go karting track and cooked on the campsite barbecue every evening, it was great.

Ca da Vin

Ca da Vin

Hopetoun Tea Rooms

Hopetoun Tea Rooms

After a few days of camping on the island we drove into Melbourne where we stayed for one night. It was 40 degrees when we arrived, pretty hot to be wandering around a city but it was nice to finally visit the city I’d heard so many good things about. True to what I’d been told it was very cultural and European in vibe, a foodie heaven with lots of quirky little cafes and restaurants down alleyways and

Paella

Paella

backstreets. We passed this gorgeous little tea room in the Block Arcade, the queue to which was too long so we just drooled from outside. For dinner we went to a lovely mediterranean restaurant, Ca di Vin tucked away on Postal Lane beside the GPO. The ambience was great and the food even better. We shared saganki and zucchini fritters as an entree and a gorgeous paella and pizza for mains. We let the waiter choose our dessert, which was a vanilla cheesecake with a pistachio base and basil dressing drizzled on top, it was very unusual and tasty.

All in all it was a throughly enjoyable few days away and we all had a really good time. We were back in Thredbo in time for Christmas and the festivities and copious amount of food that goes with it.

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Netball – how a non sporty girl found a team sport

netball

Since I can remember I have been very anti sports, avoiding most sports, in particular team sports. PE or sport classes in school proved somewhat difficult to get out of as they were compulsory. My male PE teacher, despite being terrified of and pretty obliging to the “but sir, it’s that time of the month” excuse, did not let us get away with it every week; even he knew that was not possible. The classes I did take part in at school involved my running away from or ducking from the ball more often than not, and I was pretty much always one of the last ones picked for a team; you get the picture.

When I told my mum that I had joined a netball team she literally laughed for five minutes; talk about being supportive! But to be honest I still find it quite funny myself, as I’m sure do most people who know me and my lack of sportiness. Saying that it’s not like I don’t do any exercise at all, I’ve been swimming a few times a week since I was 18 and I’ve recently started frequenting the gym about four times a week, as well as swimming once a week, so I’m not a completely hopeless case!

Going back to my mum, once she stopped laughing over the phone she proceeded to ask me what netball was. Funnily enough I had no idea what netball was either until about two months ago. When a friend and I sat down at the end of the season to put together a list of summer activities we wanted to do, starting a Thredbo netball team was top of the list. At the time I too had to ask her what netball was. I still haven’t figured out whether it’s not a sport we play in Ireland or if it was just the school and Uni I went to that didn’t have netball.

Over the next few weeks we managed to get together a team of about 12 girls willing to play, we’re  a mesh up of people who can play well, those who have played before and a couple, like myself, who have never played before. We went for Thredbo White Magic as our team name and we signed up to compete in the 2013/2014 B Grade competition, which will see us playing in Jindabyne every Tuesday evening until mid April.

netball court

I found the first few practices slightly baffling, I had a netball court drawn up for me with all the positions, and then we played half a game changing positions to see who was best suited for each one. I ended up being selected to play either Wing Defense or Goal Defense. It took me a while to get somewhat comfortable with my position and what I was supposed to do, although I’m still far from competent.

Our first match was last Tuesday evening. As we drove up the the courts I started to panic, there were a lot more people there than I expected and I guess I suddenly realised I had to play a match for real and I was still pretty clueless.  We registered, got our finger nails and jewelry checked before donning our bibs and getting out on the court. As the game progressed I, and I think everyone else on our team got more comfortable in our positions and therefore increasingly confident. We kicked the other teams asses – they were a bunch of 14 year old students and we are all in our 20ties and 30ties – but still! The umpire, much to our disgust, was the other teams coach and the ref was someone from their school, talk about being biased, but we still won.

I have to say it felt pretty good to win and I think everyone was both surprised and pretty pleased. However, that was only the first match of the competition, we still have a lot of games to go and I”m really hoping we don’t have to play the girls who were playing in the other courts; they were pretty big and rough looking. I guess time will tell whether I get any better and how we get on. I’ll keep you posted!

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Sunshine, the beach and BBQ’s in Newcastle

Merewether beach

Merewether beach

We finally had a very welcome respite from the snow, cold and the winter; a trip to the beach. Following a rather long car journey – through which I slept a significant portion of the way – we arrived in Newcastle. The closer we got to Sydney the warmer it got and upon arrival our jeans and hoodies had to be quickly swapped for lighter attire, which we were all more than happy to do.

You’ve no idea how nice it was to finally be at the beach after being in the country for five months and to have sunshine, something I’d missed this year as I left Europe just before the summer started. On the first morning I was woken with a cup of tea and ordered out of bed and down to the beach. So off we went, mugs in hand, down to the beach to drink our morning tea while looking out at the ocean; what a life!

The rest of the day involved car hunting – I was adamant to find a car to buy and drive back – lunch in the sunshine at Newcastle wharf and a glass of wine on the beach followed by the first of a few barbeques that weekend. I did in fact find a car, which I collected and drove back to Thredbo a few days later at the end of our long weekend.

Seafood basket

Seafood basket

Sunday saw my sister, nephew and I driving down to Nelson Bay. It was a perfect day; not a cloud in the sky, gorgeously warm and sunny and the seaside town was bustling with people out to enjoy the long weekend and the great weather. We wandered around the Sunday market, ate an absolutely gorgeous seafood feast of freshly caught fish and crustaceans, after which we even ventured into the rather cold water for a very quick dip.

That evening was the night of the all important Rugby League Grand Final between the Roosters and the Sea Eagles, I have to admit I was ever so slightly ignorant and lacking in interest in this big game. We watched it in front of the TV while eating a barbeque of scrumptious spicy pork ribs, delicious chicken wings and rather divine garlic prawns and of course a few beers to wash everything down.

The trip, as is always the case, was over way too quickly and Tuesday afternoon saw me picking up my new – used – car and driving it the seven and a half hours drive back to Thredbo. It was fun after such a long time to be driving again and the freedom of having my own car here is great. Road trips here I come!

But for now I’m back in Thredbo working for the summer and planning a number of trips around the country in the coming months, so lots to look forward to, the next one being back to Sydney at the end of November and then further along the coast.

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