following the little mountain’s footsteps

vegie garden chilies

It’s been a bit of a crazy time here in Bootville lately.  My poor old Grandad has had quite the year, suffering a heart attack in January then a stroke in April.  There have been many trips to Brisbane, quite a bit of extended family angst, and many big changes.  Through it all, my lovely Mum has dedicated more than 20 weeks out of the last 26 to caring for Nanny and Grandad – something she does with inspiring patience and love.  She has lived with them – first Nanny and Grandad, whilst Grandad recovered from his heart attack; then with Nanny, whilst Grandad spent many long weeks in rehab following his stroke.

Every day she helped Nanny up, prepared her breakfast, helped her dress, did the chores, arrived at the hospital just before lunch so she could chat with Grandad’s therapists and physicians, help Grandad with his lunch, back home to Nanny, make Nanny’s lunch, do the laundry (always lots when someone’s in hospital), do any shoppings, sometimes take Nanny on little outings, start supper preparations, back up to the hospital, help Grandad with supper, settle him cosy in bed for the night, back home to Nanny, share supper, support Nanny and listen into the wee hours of the morning, as Nanny navigated this strange and unsettling new time in her life, send off the daily family update to our aunts and uncles and cousins who are scattered across the world, then to bed, always with an ear cocked to make sure Nanny was okay and didn’t need help.

In amongst this, new living arrangements had to be sorted for Nanny and Grandad, and the awkward and sad process of packing up Nanny and Grandad’s home began.  I’m in awe of my Mum and the grace and the strength with which she navigated these tricky waters.  Nanny and Grandad are now safe and comfortable in their new home.  But wow, there has been a significant toll on the extended family and I doubt things will ever return to the way they were.  At many times, I found myself grinding my teeth as I contemplated the strange and fraught family relationships that have emerged.

But this period has also seen a strengthening of the closeness between Mum and her lovely sisters Mary, Cate and Jackie.  Their love and the passion with which they advocated for their mum and dad was often the one light of many difficult weeks.  As I write, Mum, Mary and Cate are there in Brisbane – they’ve packed the last boxes of Nanny and Grandad’s precious treasures and pieces of Nanny and Grandad’s furniture are being shared amongst the siblings – visiting with Nanny and Grandad, taking them on wee adventures, making peace with this new phase of their old and frail parents’ lives.

I know I’m so very very priviliged to be a 44 year old who still has her Nanny and Grandad and I’m incredibly grateful for the wonderful times we have shared with them – many, many happy, funny, silly, creative, adventurous and beautiful memories.  But there’s still a little bit of me that feels a sense of loss.  The family home – that has been recreated wherever Nanny and Grandad have lived (they were irrepressible adventurers) – is now no more.  The familiar and comfy velvet armchairs and sofa with the old standard lamp softly glowing – lighting the stitches of countless knitted jumpers and crocheted rugs.  The long heavy dining table with all the chairs – so as to squash in as many children and grandchildren for Nanny’s feasts of pumpkin soup, roasts and sponge cake, as possible.  The elegant dresser, its glass doors illuminating Nanny’s treasured Lottie collection.  The twin beds with their electric blankets – oh my, how Janie and I loved these as little girls, arriving on cold dark nights after the long drive south.  Nanny’s fabulous sewing table and her trusty Bernina.  Grandad’s hall stand with his Akubra hat and walking stick.  His outdoor cupboards stuffed full of all the handy little things he MIGHT one day need.  The old fashioned kerosene lamps he used to light each night on the back porch so he and Nanny could sip their evening drink whilst looking out at their garden.  All of these will colour my stories and memories for many more years to come – but we will never gather there again as a family, with that wonderfully comfortable sense of familiarity and belonging.

In amongst all of this, Mum came down to Melbourne to help Abby and I prepare for Abby’s debut.  Yes!  The Debutantes’ Ball is alive and well here in our corner of Melbourne :-) Abby needed a long white ball gown with elbow length gloves.  It was such a blast!  And part of these preparations involved MAKING the dress for which we needed Mum’s overlocker – which was at home in Merimbula.  So, two weekends before the ball, Mum and I hopped in the car and set off for home.  The first time she’d been home in over two months.  We took our time – soaked up as much sun as we could, marvelled at the ocean’s beauty, visited with sweet neighbours and of course, headed up to Tilba for cheese … and a little, late afternoon adventure to a new for us spot  – Mystery Bay!

down to the sea

Now Tilba is a wee village nestled into the side of Mount Gulaga – a very spiritual place for the local Aboriginal people.  And I’ve been told a really beautiful story about this Mother Mountain and her children.  Mother Gulaga had two sons – Baranguba and Najanuga.  One day, they asked if they could go play – Mother Gulaga said yes, but reminded them not to go too far because the sea would come in soon.  Najanuga – the smaller son, obeyed and played just a little in front of Mother Gulaga’s feet – he is now the small rocky hill that sits between Tilba and the ocean.  Baranguba – the older son – ran out to the ocean where he laid down amongst the fish and the dolphins and the whales – and there he stayed, a rocky island visited by local Aborigines in their canoes for thousands of years – we now call him Montague Island and it is a seabird refuge with a lighthouse.  Legend has it that the bond between Mother Gulaga and Baranguba was never broken, and if you stand quietly on her summit and press your ear to her rocks, you can hear the dolphins as they play around Baranguba, her adventurous child.  A Tilba local also told me that ANU scientists, studying the hundreds of underground springs and streams in the area, put dye into the springs on Mount Gulaga and sure enough, the same dye came out in streams and ponds on Montague Island.  Local Aborigines refer to these sources of fresh water on a rocky ocean crop as Mother Gulaga’s tears.  Amazing!  I love stories such as these, and the rich and meaningful connections Aboriginal culture makes with its landscape.

You can just make out Montague Island in that photo above.  It does indeed look like a person stretched out sleeping.  But you can get a much better view of it from Mystery Bay.  So – despite the cold and encroaching sunset, down we went.  There were a few brave souls on the beach – some fishermen, two women riding horses, and a few children digging in the sand.  It is an incredibly beautiful spot.  The bay is littered with large sharp rocks and to the north side, a collection of caves, hollowed out from the cliffs.  Very Famous Fivish.

fisherman patterns in the sand rocky montague island standing on the point a clash of waves sea jewells sunkissed rock moon two little rock children the next little inlet the caves sunset

It was a beautiful, if fleeting, visit and I’m so looking forward to taking Julian and Abby back there on a glorious summer’s day.  The Far South Coast – it just keeps jumping up with more beautiful presents for us every time we visit. According to the neighbours, there’s also a little beach there – Billy’s Beach – that has the best shells ever.  Mum and I didn’t find it – sunsetting and all that. But we will …

fire

And you know – Mum, Mary, Cate and Jackie – as I’ve sat here and written these words, the story of Mother Gulaga and her children seems so very very pertinent.  Even though Najanuba is the one sitting at Mother Gulaga’s feet – the obvious child who didn’t leave.  And even though the ocean has washed in and seemingly cut Mother Gulaga off from her other much loved, adventurous child – Mother Gulaga and Baranguba are inextricably bound.  He can still see her from where he lays in the ocean, admire her strength and beauty, and revel in the courage and love she shared with him as a child.  She too can see him – she knows that he is part of her, that he shares her history, that he reflects her beauty, courage and love.  That long cord that still holds them together will never, can never be truly broken.  Forests and farms may grow up between them.  Waves may crash around them.  Sometimes those dolphin songs may be a bit harder to hear.  But that long and ancient cord is incredibly strong and eternal – they will always be Mother and Child.

 

where peruvian wool, german woodruff and the norfolk pines of rainbow bay meet

Well in my mind’s eye of course!

It’s a busy and overflowing mind.  One which races with images, memories and voices, sounds, tastes and smells.  One that holds hundreds of lists.  One that plots out countless plans, dreams and conversations.  One that sometimes gets lost with longing for what I miss, rather than make the most of what I have.

Let me tell you, quietening this mind at night can be a challenge.

But every now and then, it makes wonderful connections.  Connections that draw the here and now towards the dearly held images and memories.  In a piece of floral fabric I see the curtains that once hung in Nanny and Grandad’s spare bedroom, or the covers of cushions on the their porch chairs.  Holding a vintage jug in an opshop reminds me of the jug Nanny served gravy in and I’m taken straight back to a giggly Christmas dinner where Aunty Jackie hoarded the custard, in its saucepan, on her lap.  In a dear little baby’s cardigan, I think of my old Nanny Dougall and her incredible attention to detail.  A jaunty children’s print takes me back to the family room of my childhood and I picture my Mum at the sewing machine, stitching up matching dresses for my sister and I.  Just the other day – a grey, drizzly, cold and lonely day – I found a vintage children’s beach towel that I swear Aunty Anne kept in her linen cupboard in the 1970s for when all the cousins came for the summer.  When I bring these things home to Bootville – when I add that fabric to a quilt, or stitch another piece into a skirt, when I serve Julian’s gravy in that jug, and fold that beach towel into a cushion cover, it feels so good.  My stitches and the time I devote to them, pull the web of my life closer and firmer, making it into a beautiful pattern that I can pull out and enjoy.

These poignant words, from the talented writer, knitter and sewist at Needle and Spindle (found via the lovely Kate Davies), sum it up perfectly …

“Hand made items preserve time in the same way that fruit is preserved as jam, not as the unchanged strawberry or plum fresh plucked, but as something cooked and processed to preserve the taste of summer.  Hand made items embody both the hours of making (time) and memories and feelings of people (the times) within the construction of the object…a true cultural artefact.”

Isn’t that so lovely!  And as batty as it might sound, it’s exactly what I felt when I found this gorgeous sock pattern, last Friday night, after coming back to Melbourne from my week’s trip to Brisbane to help care for family.  Those rich shades of green and blue, with their lovely straight lines and ordered branches/leaves, reminded me so much of the Norfolk Pines of Rainbow Bay, standing tall, elegant and timeless against the magnificent blue of the ocean, the brilliance of the sunlit sky, and the smudgy mist of the hinterland.   Sitting on the sofa in cold Melbourne, so far away, these socks made me feel closer to that which I love, and I knew I had to find me some wool and get knitting!

pattern

norfolk pines

I had spent Thursday afternoon at Rainbow Bay, with Mum, Aunty Anne and Aunty Cate.  In the very small and southern corner of Queensland, where it meets New South Wales.  Where I spent hundreds of weekends and summers as a child, a teenager, then as a mum with her own little girl. Oh it was so lovely.

We visited the Dbar cafe for lunch …

dbar

walked the cliff top path remembering the ships sunk off the coast of Australia during WW2 …

log

stopped at the rail and peered down into the rollings waves, hoping for surfing dolphins …

scanning for dolphins

followed the trail down the steep cliff to the tiny cove with its “frog”…

the frog

passed the old porpoise pools where the crazy folk stand out on the Point Danger rocks – Uncle Keith always declared every 7th wave would wash any fool who was standing there straight off – put us off for life …

surfer with wave

channel

Round to the surf life saving club – where my favourite beer billboard “From where you’d rather be” now adorns the clubhouse!

mum and cate

lifequard

from where you'd rather be

… and down to the water’s edge …

looking through the pandanus

down to the sea

leaves

Mum sat under the Norfolk Pines (just saying now, when we have our land in the Bega valley, I am planting a line of Norfolk Pines) – not the Pandanus ’cause they were heavy with their drupe (that’s the word for their huge heavy fruit – you learn something new everyday, huh)

pandanus

pandanus not

and I reckon had one of them fallen on her head she’d have known about it – and watched as Aunty Anne, Aunty Cate and I had a lovely long swim.

silvery

Oh, it was heaven.

grandads school

view from the classroom

greenmount

is grandad here

(I wonder if one of these little people standing “at ease” is Grandad!)

Then we hopped back in the car and drove up the hill to the little old school Grandad attended as a wee lad – he tells us all the time about sitting in the hot classroom with the boring school teachers looking north down to Kirra and longing to run away and go for a swim, then south up to Greenmount where he knew the Boicke brothers would be – one sitting on top of the hill watching for the shoals of fish, the rest in the pub down below.

This small corner has barely changed in 30 years.  There’s always combi vans parked alongside the park, their backs stuffed with mattresses and cheerful towels draped here and there to dry.  There’s always families with tired sandy children, and mums and dads with their arms full of towels and boards and umbrellas.  There’s always older folk walking slowly along the paths, looking out at the magnificent view, stopping now and then to sit on the park benches that are shaped like old wooden surboards.  There’s always teenage girls strutting along in their bikinis, and teenage boys with their board shorts and rashies, their surfboards tucked under their arms, their faces smeared with zinc.  The air is filled with the lovely roar of the ocean, and the occasional shriek of the seagulls.  And there’s that smell of salt and coconut oil.  Yes, coconut oil!

Isn’t that wonderful?  That time-stands-still quality.  Oh it melts my heart.  The joy is almost overwhelming and I am so very grateful for every moment I am there, filling my soul, replenishing my mind’s eye.

So when I gathered my supplies today – my pattern written by a Londoner, based on a plant that grows in Germany, knit in wool that came from Peru – and headed out into my sunlit, autumn Melbourne garden – that was a full 13 degrees celsius cooler than I had been last Thursday at Rainbow Bay – in a strange but lovely way, all those sights and sounds and stories and happiness  met me there in the little green and blue stitches I made on the thinnest needles I’ve ever knit with.

swift

wool winder

(Nanny’s old wool winder)

the start coraline lucy sunbaking

on the kneeprogress

And I dream that when I pull these socks on – hopefully before winter’s through! – I will know they belong to me because I’ll be wearing a little bit of Rainbow.

all that has happened

Oh my goodness … 2014, what a year you are shaping up to be!  Almost four months past and I’ve barely caught my breath.  Now tonight, here I sit in my layers of wool and sheepskin slippers.  The bed is laden with blankets and quilts.  The rain patters outside.  Summer has well and truly finished.  Autumn never really arrived … or if you caught glimpses, I must have been deep inside the emergency room of the children’s hospital and missed them completely … and now it’s almost gone.  And I’ve not popped my head in here for ages!

In fact, this is the third night I’ve sat down to write, but then I’ve thought … well, what on earth have I got to say?  I’ve been lurching from one chaotic period to another.  Nothing much has progressed on the crafty front.  No show and tells ready and prettily photographed  :sigh:

Then I decided to empty the camera card and what did I find?  Empty camera card? Evidence of chaos?  A visual reminder of what happens when you are frantically writing up one university assignment after another, whilst working full time in a completely new and unusual environment with a massive team of nurses and doctors that seem to completely change with each shift, accompanied by a husband who’s overseas working for a month, a wonderful Mummy who steps into the breach and keeps Bootville running, followed by a dear old grandad who suffers a terrible stroke and needs us by his side quickly and a darling old grandmother who doesn’t know what their life holds for them next?  Is that what’s on the camera card?

No, not really.  Instead, there are glimpses – here and there – some more weeks than others – of a life that is still being lived with good cheer.  There’s been lots of keeping close to the ones I love, birthdays celebrated, an endless appreciation for the old, battered and quirky, a never before experienced explosion of autumnal knitting, a coming together of quilts – old and new, a treasured opportunity to hold my Grandad’s hand whilst he rests in hospital, beautiful hours sitting with my Nanny whilst we knit together and ponder what may come next, a very special opportunity to rekindle a close relationship with a dear aunty, a much appreciated trip to a favourite beach, tablecloths turned into skirts, an adored friend visiting for Easter, wee dolls being needlefelted, moments of sunshine in the garden …

Yes … it would seem that whilst I have been away from here for a very long time – the longest ever I think! – and spent many, many hours at the early and late ends of the day caring for little people and their families; the spirit of Bootville lives on, and the goodness that makes up our crazy, busy, love-filled, creative lives gets squeezed into the corners no matter how fast the time flies.

table cloth borders sewn borders attached birthday quilts sewn quilting cocktails sipped newly thrifted shelves fabrics were played with dirty lamp fizzy clean lamp pea soup cardie dishcloths were knitted cardigans multiplied dirty sideboard clean sideboard mum visited ready for home nanny's knitting bag family rainbow dollls made friends came husbands relished autumn welcomed even more knitting

And that’s so good.  See you tomorrow – yes?

weekend drive :: crowdy bay & a wee lighthouse

A weekend with a little driving adventure is the best weekend of all – well, I think so :-)  But often, during these busy months of school and work and study and placement, it’s all we can do to keep everything running smoothly at home, let alone pack a yummy picnic and set off for a whole day.  Fortunately, the summer holidays provided plenty of opportunities for little – and big – driving adventures, so I’ve plenty to look back on over the next few months.  I thought I’d share some of them here –  this weekend, I bring you the little known, quiet hamlet of Crowdy Head.

Most of the beautiful bay, of which Crowdy Head is but the southern tip, is a National Park so the only access to the long beach is from this spot, or the northern tip – Diamond Head.  Originally, Captain Cook named this point “Indian Head”.  The Australian writer, poet, and social justice campaigner Kylie Tennant, suggested he may have named it so after catching sight of, through his spyglass, a group of the local Aborogines – the Birripi people (I think this is their name, but if I’m wrong, I do apologise and please let me know!).  Later it was renamed Diamond Head because of its abundance of sparkling quartz in the cliff faces.

kylie tennant's cottage(picture retrieved from:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/travel/a-writers-hut-among-the-old-gum-trees)

Kylie Tennant, whilst living in nearby Laurieton, with her husband (the local schoolmaster) and children, was so delighted with this beautiful spot, she built a wee shack for writing, watching the animals, escaping from it all … not much is known about her time here.  But her book “The Man on the Headland” provides an enchanting description of this place and its local “hermit” Ernie Metcalfe.

Despite my many, many trips to the southern tip as a child, we never ventured north, so the delights of Kylie’s Beach, the Diamond Head Walk, the Mermaid Walk, and the many picturesque cliffs, coves and inlets of this part of the park are unknown to me.  I intend to remedy this at the next opportunity!

But Crowdy Head – it is part of my childhood dreams and memories.  The hot and sticky drive, always accompanied by the incessant and fierce drone of cicadas, from Nanny and Poppy’s to the beach – that always seemed suuuuuuch a long way (only 7km actually!).  The beautiful little waves that were always perfect for my sister and I with our boogie boards  The wee fishing harbour where Poppy’s friends kept their trawlers.  The co-op where we’d buy freshly caught prawns for lunch.  The squat white lighthouse, that I imagined holidaying in and keeping an eye out for smugglers, just like Famous Five.

close into shore all the way to the edge the paddler the pebbles little lighthouse from the fence towards harrington swirly down below looking up looking back to the bay keepers cottage

(the site of the lighthouse keeper’s cottage – the Crowdy Head lighthouse was demanned in 1928, very early, so unlike most of its lighthouse cousins, there is no keeper’s cottage for holiday makers to stay – such a shame – the views are magnificent!)

pretty edges

When we last visited here (four years ago) it was looking very neglected and dingy – I stood here with Julian, dismayed and almost disbelieving, declaring that the REAL lighthouse must have been pulled down, such a sorry sight stood before me.  But this visit, the little lighthouse is looking splendid!  Thank goodness the Taree Shire Council saw fit to restore her to her former glory.  I especially loved this little insignia – painted by someone with a steady and quirky hand.

VR 1879

It’s charming naivete reminded me of a wonderful picture book Abby and I enjoyed when she was little.

loud emily waving her parents off title page

Don’t you think!  Oh I do have such a romantic and sentimental spot in my heart for the ocean and all the good bits that go along with it.

Hope you enjoyed your weekend adventure to Crowdy Bay!  I did.