It’s day one of remote learning, or what I like to think of as home schooling, mid-west style. I’ll flit from baking, to plucking seasonal herbs to helping with algebra and by 4.00pm we’ll be done, just in time for The Bold. There we were this morning at the dining room table, my 9 year old and I, eagerly awaiting the remote learning portal to unlock at 9am and for today’s lessons to be shared. Logins successful, welcome video from teacher aptly amusing and first writing task outlined. If only I could get my kid out of pj’s and off that damned device! Probably too early for freddo frogs. By 9.20am I ask him what he’s writing about. He’s staring into space but I choose to think he’s exploring a highly imaginative theme for his persuasive text. Not so. After some time he realises he’s not sure of the topic so decides it’s time for a nap. It’s 9.40.
We move onto maths, but not before I get asked if tomorrow he could take a day off school. By now I’m picking myself (and the laundry) up off the floor. He thinks this home routine is way too imposing and deserves a break. Quite right. Thankfully for me, today’s maths looks like something I can handle; coordinates. Like most gals, my map reading skills are faultless so I think I’ve got this in the bag. Except I’ve just remembered I have a job too and my email starts pinging. Then, blaring through the apartment speakers, the fire alarm sounds as the building tests their evacuation drills. I’ve never seen anyone close a lap top as quickly as my son and prepare to escape. He’s taking this test very seriously and frightfully disappointed that we’re not going anywhere. And nor is this lesson to locate pineapples on a grid. I want to know if it’s recess yet.
In truth though, I am relishing every moment of watching him read and understand, hesitate and question, stop and start. And because (as anyone who knows me knows) I don’t see anything wrong with leaping into an impromptu dance number, we do that too. He’s asked me for a two hour lunch break. I’ve given him a hug instead and he’s equally thrilled. I’ve secretly always wanted his childhood to slow down a little and maybe this is not far off…because on days like this I get to see more, watch more and share more. And while my fifth grader is navigating his way around his online learning, uploading like a pro and putting my computer skills to shame, I wonder if pressing the reset button on life as we’ve all had to do for the moment, is maybe the best lesson we’ve had in a while.
The world still looks so pretty. There’s a broad blue sky, swept with strands of autumn clouds sitting above the harbour. The tree tops are like sprigs of fresh mint from last weeks rain. The air is breezy and fresh. And yet this could have been a photograph, for the way the world has changed. For the first time, in my lifetime at least, I feel I may not live forever. There’s an impending sense of the unknown and though the world may look the same, it’s not as we know it.
I wonder if social media existed at the time of the Great Depression, or the Great Leap Forward, or any of one of human kinds’ greatest tragedies, might it look something like this. Are we living through what history will one day recall, as the greatest global tragedy of our century? Probably. Sadly. I want to say I’m scared, but then we all are.
The collective, social distancing hug we are all giving each other is lifting the vibration into one of hope. And that’s what we must turn to in our moments of fear and anxiousness. We don’t even have to be unwell, or know someone who is, for this insidious sickness to throw our lives into chaos. Everything we have worked towards, wrestled with, fought for may all come to nothing, needing to be built again. For many of us, this feels like the Great leveller.
What would it be like for the rug to be swept from under our feet? For all those decisions we struggled so hard to make, for that ideal lifestyle we pursued so hard, for the familiarity of routine we centred our lives around, to be trumped in a single moment. This is the fear we feel. Without our health, we have nothing, without our wellbeing we have nothing, without each other we have nothing.
But here’s what we do have; a sense that we’re not in this alone, a community of aspiration, a collective consciousness that says, thankfully, it’s ok to be scared, the best minds in the world striving for a cure and a humanitarian shift in what the really important stuff in life is. You. Me. We. Us. Everybody. Everywhere. Because when this passes, and it will, nothing else will matter.
Today, in cities and townships across Australia women and men are taking care of foster children they barely know, they are packing second hand books and toys for school children they’ll never meet and are spending the endless days sweeping away the ashes and clearing the charred bracken of lives burnt to the ground in the bushfires this summer. Time poor as we may be, as highly strung as life on the run makes us, as bound by schedule as we are, Australian’s are giving more of themselves to the cause of volunteering than ever before. It’s fast becoming the happiness spark we hanker for and the sense of connected purpose at the core of who we are.
Australia’s response to the bushfire crisis, indeed the world’s, has been unprecedented. We watched our TV screen’s ablaze with crimson smoke clouds and red-yellow flames while emergency crews darted through the fires tirelessly to save whatever was in their path. As the winds changed and the flames calmed, we saw farms, homesteads and neighborhoods scorched and the slow rebuilding of lives begin. Shattered by tragedy, we heard stories of hardship and hope. But when the camera’s turn away, there are still teams of volunteer’s quietly helping put the pieces together again.
Crossing the Rubicon
A life of service in the armed forces is a valiant pursuit, but when these same people choose to volunteer as veterans and become first respondents to emergencies, you know you’ve got some pretty special people on your side. Team Rubicon Australia was the brainchild of two Aussie guys, keen to adopt the model of disaster response and veteran reintegration pioneered by Team Rubicon US. Three years ago, in 2017, they grew into a fully operational entity with a mission to “shift the paradigm of disaster response in the Pacific Rim and change the narrative around veterans in Australia.” Their responses to crisis’ in the region has, as expected, been operationally astute and with teams sweeping across our bushfire affected communities, Team Rubicon is doing more than their fair share in the effort to rebuild.
A day in the life
For the next two months, the grey t-shirts of Team Rubicon have been deployed in the Cobargo region, NSW. They’re long grueling days that start at daybreakand close well after the sun has dipped behind the bushland hills. This is journal excerpt from a volunteer helping in the bushfire clean-up.
“As I stepped onto the bus with a group of very fit Norwegians who by looking at them you wouldn’t have guessed they’d been travelling for the last 63 hrs, I wondered if I had made the right decision. The drive to Cobargo took us about 8 hrs from Sydney, with a couple of stops. The travellers kept us entertained trying to spot kangaroos. The temperature outside was 42 degrees and the bus was pretty much the same as we didn’t have air con.”
“We reached the camp site and were ready to stretch our legs. With a long week ahead of us, we were greeted by the team handing over to us. Our brief was to help the local community devastated by the bush fires. We had no idea what we needed to do but we were all in. On our feet at 6.30am, we made breakfast, and were ready by 7:30am for the days briefing. The first job was helping a farmer clear out all the burnt trees from his extensive property. The strike teams got their tools and safety gear, first aid kids, wheel barrow, shovels and a few rakes and loaded them on to the Ute’s. It was already looking about Australian as you can get.”
“As the resident photographer, my job was to document the work of the team and I started clicking and circling through everyone but I couldn’t help but down my camera and help the team move stuff around. The chain saws are whizzing through fallen trees, someone needed to remove them, so I chipped in and together we got the job done. Three sweaty hours later, the owners came and hugged us all. What a nice feeling, we hardly felt the strain on muscles.”
“The next day we went to an elderly couples house, or what remained of it. Their home, yards, trees, cars, work shed, everything was destroyed except for a small out room where they made their makeshift home. The lady of the house showed me some of her grandmothers silverware, now all welded together. Nothings else remained. There were a few burnt out trees standing close to the little room that needed clearing. While we were chopping and collecting the trunks and piles of charred debris, the couple came out to give us a hand. They had been watching us, eager to show their gratitude and invited us into the room for tea. They seemed so happy to have people to talk to, people who could share in the gravity of their loss, people who understood them. The next day they visited us at camp for a coffee.”
“Each evening, we reflected on the day. We talked about how we made people feel, how we think we helped or how we felt about the work we had done. And while the stories were different every day, there were always tears at the end of it. During the day we were so busy doing the job, focused only on the outcome, it wasn’t until evening when we stopped to talk about what these communities had gone through. As exhausted as we were, our sense of achievement trumped that. Nothing compared to the trauma, the heartbreak, the sudden destruction these people endured. Just seeing a family smile, the thanks we got from the community and the hugs after a job well done showed us where humanity stands in the face of crisis; right on top.”
Sign up for a cause
The Australian Bushfires have generated a shared purpose, to save and rebuild the homes and habitats of families and wildlife. There’s been so many layers to the collective rebuilding effort that celebs and locals have all chipped in. And while the scale of the devastation gave these efforts a profile, we can’t overlook the energy that everyday people give to keep life moving. We know it makes us feel good, because helping is the natural condition of what drives us. Service to others, we know, is the highest calling of all.
Click through to these sites if you’re keen to see how you can connect and register to become a volunteer:
Driving around Canberra, the tree lined streets look like a colonial watercolour. Clusters of snow gums and eucalypts, with their soft shades of sandy bark and teal green leaves brush across the landscape. As Australia’s capital, it’s a sentimental view to take of the city, whose skyline is centered around the soaring pinnacles of Parliament House. There’s plenty to do in this city of national treasures, so with just a weekend ahead of you, here’s our quick guide to Canberra and seeing the best the city has to offer.
Art of war
The tributes to Australia’s war efforts starts on the grand drive to the steps of the memorial. In a truly beautiful display, the horses of the Boer War trot down the grassy embankment towards the roadside. The halo floating above the names of the Vietnam war soldiers enshrines them in eternity. These are the statues, carved into memory, that line the road towards the Australian War Memorial. Welcomed by warm and knowledgeable guides, the experience of the AWM is more than a walk through a museum, it’s a delicately treated journey through time, artistically capturing the scale of war and the sentimental stories of those left behind to tell them.
Canberra falls on two sides of Lake Burley Griffin. The southern side is flanked with a line of international flags that on a crisp clear day, are a stately display of colorful unity. Open green spaces line the lake with roller bladers, segways and cyclists zipping along the walkway. You can walk across the bridge and get close to the fountain shooting from the lakes’ centre. Restaurants, the occasional coffee bar or a boat ride make this the natural tourist hub of the city. It’s just a short stroll from here to the Galleries, the National Library, Questacon, the High Court and National Archives. From these adjoining buildings you can walk to the grounds of Old Parliament House, making Canberra an easy city to see on foot.
The people’s gallery
If you’re being selective about which of these national treasures you’ll visit, both the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery are a must. With international exhibitions regularly on display, you’ll get up close and personal with some of the world’s most illustrious classic and contemporary artists. On any given day, the Portrait Gallery is an intimate portrayal of some of Australia’s best loved characters and the photographs and paintings are the work of masters. Next, the National Gallery hosts the Matisse and Picasso exhibition from December 13th2019 – April 13th2020.
While the big questions are being posed on Capital Hill, for the kids, a couple of hours at Questacon will spark their curiosity. As the National Science and Technology Centre, this is the go-to spot for everybody interested in the world we live in. Here, you can immerse yourself in hands- on exhibitions. Discover interesting science phenomena, understand the interplay between humans and machines, see the moon up close and walk through the science garden. Or simply let the kids become mini scientists exploring the world through their eyes.
Festival of flowers
With its leafy streets lined with English firs and Australian natives, the cooler climate creates an abundance of evergreen and springtime foliage. There are established gardens like Lennox Gardens and the Nara Peace Park but once a year, Canberra bursts with a dazzling pop of springtime tulips for Floriade. Blooming beneath parkland trees, the vibrant patchwork of chilli red, tangerine, plumb and buttercup yellow flowers awe visitors. Floriade is on from mid-September to mid-October each year and makes early Spring a wonderful time to visit.
Getting out and about is easy in Canberra, with broad streets and oversized roundabouts. The best spots for a generous breakfast or corner pub meal are Braddon and Kingston but great cafes are found in most tourist spots. Everything is open every day, except Christmas Day and though we haven’t specifically mentioned Parliament House, judging by the steady flow of crowds, it’s first on everyone’s must see list. Canberra is a bit of a foodie city too; Gourmet Traveller’s guide will help you sample the best of its tastes and flavours.
Check out more great weekend escapes in Australia here.
I think we took a wrong turn, because I was sure that the drive into the Barossa Valley wasn’t meant to be along a dry, one lane dirt road that crunched beneath the tyres. As the car rose and dipped across its uncertain track, it clocked towards sunset; getting lost in wine country was meant to be proverbial. Along a convex ridge of vineyards, our wrong turn happened to give us a most unencumbered and unexpected view of the setting sun, piercing bright into the lines of grapevines. Just a few minutes in and we could already tell that no one was overselling the Barossa. Here’s our tips to discover the best of Barossa Valley;
The big, bold and beautiful
A fitting description for both the warm reds and the open landscape. Within a day of sampling vineyards across the valley, you’ll have joined the dots to the larger of the quaint villages. Tanunda is the largest and most central and with all the charm of its heritage, plays contemporary host to travellers with its swish corner wine bars and artisan cafes. On the eastern edge where the Barossa skirts into Eden Valley, is the township with the rather brut name of Angaston. Nothing else reminds you of of cows, except perhaps the Barossa Cheese Shop, but the leafy streets and settlers architecture carry all the historic charm of this pretty town situated at the highest point of the Barossa. Tanunda, deriving its name from the aboriginal word meaning water hole, is placed between here and Lyndoch.
“Barossa-Deutsche”, yes it’s a language!
Angaston was once named German Pass and like much of the Barossa, the Germanic influence is not just tasted in the wines, but seen and felt in the stone castle wineries and the town names. The villages of Bethany, Langmeil and Krondorf were laid out in a style used for centuries in the colonial lands of eastern Germany, and Barossa’s landscape is still distinguished by many Lutheran church steeples. It was the Lutheran’s who came in search of religious freedom in the 1830’s and settled on South Australia as their heartland. Almost the very next day they started planting vineyards and drinking mulled wine. No one has ever looked back.
Give yourself time
Wine has been a way of life in the Barossa for almost 2 centuries. It’s no surprise then that the valley has yielded some of the world’s best loved wines, splashing around awards like world’s best shiraz, best winery in the southern-hemisphere and top point scoring full bodied reds. With over 170 wineries and some of them multi-generations, it can be tricky to map out where to savour the best Barossa experience. Local winemakers will tell you that around every bend you’ll find at least 3 wineries, so with that in mind, giving yourself time to meander down roads you might otherwise pass, landing you at some of the most curious cellar front doors.
Lost in Barossa
Baroque castle-inspired wineries like Chateau Yaldara, Yalumba and Tanunda are a great start to experience the grandeur of an industry hallmarked by time. The gardens are immaculate and playful, a thousand shades of green, cultivated by European and native plants against a skyline of Eucalypts. There’s the ivy covered sandstone walls, cool brick cellars and warm tasting rooms of Seppetfields, the open fireplace and warm conversation at Kaesler and the rustic charm of Kellermeister. The history though long, is on the tips of everyone’s lips; people love chatting about how the winery owners have been growing and tilling on the same plot for 100 years, how the nephew is the chief winemaker and why the Barossa has all the wonderful characters found in an old eccentric, aristocratic family.
Alive with history
Stop by Maggie Beer’s farm shop where her generous love of food is felt in the handwritten quotes on the wall and the afternoon tea. Wine tasting tours abound for couples and groups but if you’re flitting from one wine tasting to another, stretching your legs in a 1962 Daimler with a guided tour by your driver, rounds out the experience. Short chopper rides are readily available and champagne breakfast following a slow and gentle balloon flight, riding the drifts across the valley.
Mottled winter shades of burgundy and gold, lime green leaves and stretches of olive groves and palm trees are a road-trippers delight. The Barossa is a guidebook to nature trails, cycling paths, handmade chocolates and freshly churned cheeses, it’s also a menu for cafes, restaurants and locally grown produce and a wine list straight out of the pages of Australia’s finest. Prost!
Want to find out about more of Australia’s wine country getaways? Click here to explore Hunter Valley.