bush fire

Rise up

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.

volunteering

Many hands

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. 

Many hands

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:

How to help the bushfire recovery effort

Environment and Wildlife recovery

Helping families rebuild

A very Canberra weekend

Floriade

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.

war memorial

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.

Lakeside

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.

commonwealth country flags

Question time

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. 

floriade

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.

tulips

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;

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.

Vineyard

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.

Old tools

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!

Daimler Tour Barossa Valley

Want to find out about more of Australia’s wine country getaways? Click here to explore Hunter Valley.

This is a guest post.

Almost every purchase we make forces us to choose between convenience and doing the right thing – for animals, ourselves and future generations. If you’ve lost makeup while travelling or just forgot to replenish and found yourself in a hurry, you can almost guarantee to find cruelty-free, environmentally friendly makeup will be tougher than dropping the cheaper, and far less ethical, alternative in your basket. 

Maybe you’re lucky enough to find cosmetics that aren’t just packaged to look cruelty-free – they actually have the certifications to back up them up. Then you spot that it’s surrounded by non-recyclable packaging; you might have saved animals from the laboratory, but not necessarily conserved the environment for them to return to.

There’s no doubt that making ethical purchasing decisions can be downright inconvenient. But the more of us who buy right, the more pressure will be applied to companies to do the right thing too. https://www.groupon.com.au/vouchers/adore-beauty. More than a third of women</a> may be insisting on purchasing cruelty-free cosmetics right now. Theirs and our choices will already be applying pressure on cosmetics companies to change their practices, and prioritise using the https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/alternatives-animal-tests more than 50 safe, cruelty-free testing alternatives to put their products on shelves.  As if that wasn’t motivation enough, making ethical choices right now has real health benefits for you too – here’s why.

It can improve your mental health 

Speak to any mental health professional or wellness expert and I can guarantee they will agree on at least one thing: our everyday decisions, even the ones we don’t think about, have a bigger impact on our mental health and wellbeing that we probably realise. 

If you’ve meant to decrease your meat consumption or switch exclusively to cruelty-free beauty but haven’t got around to it yet, how fulfilled, satisfied or excited do you imagine you would feel if you made the change today? 

The link between your mental and physical health is both well documented and profound – and you don’t need to be experiencing mental illness to improve your mental wellbeing. Just like your diet and cardiovascular health, your mind can always be healthier – and making more ethical choices could make a big difference to your happiness and self-esteem. 

It can stop your skin absorbing concerning additives

Buying from companies that are good for animals is often better for you too. Manufacturers rely on additives and chemicals they think require animal testing because it makes bringing products to market faster, and therefore cheaper. Choosing products that don’t contain these ingredients won’t only push corporations to adopt a cruelty-free approach – it will keep nasties out of your skin.

Here’s just one example. Parabens are the most common preservative you can find in beauty products – and they wouldn’t have been used as widely without animal testing. Despite parabens not causing immediate problems like rashes or skin irritation in most people, there is genuine concern about a potential link between products containing parabens and breast cancer.

Ethical brands are less likely to contain concerning ingredients like parabens – and cut out the number of chemicals we’re putting in our bodies.

It can create a better, safer world around you

Purchasing more cruelty-free products will force companies to innovate more with natural ingredients available to them, not exclusively, but certainly more. And that will create a cleaner world around you – and better health for all of us.

If cosmetic industries were forced to include more natural ingredients like almond butter and coconut oil – and these two alone have dozens of amazing properties between them – then environmentally harmful factories and laboratories would close, and planet-improving agriculture would increase. That would mean cleaner air to breathe and safer water to drink, across the world.

Some people when they’re turning 50, climb Mt Everest. Me? I’ll be lucky to climb out of bed. We’ve all been there, that 4.45am wakeup, a deep grumbling of anxiety churning through us in waves. I used to worry about things that were happening a week from now, until the list of things that I worried about grew so long, I had no choice but to take things one day at a time. Which has worked out well really, because living in the moment is about all I can deal with.

I have lines, I’m chubby (sounds cuter than it looks) and my hair is greying. I haven’t had it coloured for over a year because there’s a part of me trying to embrace aging gracefully. Plus, I cannot bear the affront on my youth when they pull out the colour chart and try to match my layers to a drab tone of sepia. My wild russet auburn hair had been my trademark for years before it slowly turned blonde, or grey or just dull. And I can’t find anything graceful either about the onset of menopause staging an all-out attack; ghost period pains, phantom cramping, palpitations, flushes and indigestion. Am I what you call a hot-mess? 

Along with fine lines and scars of the heart, vulnerability is something that’s crept up on me too. Far from the years wearing next to nothing in the middle of winter, immune to both the cold and criticism, there’s been too many days where I’ve felt the ground shift and the earth sink away. On some days I don’t know where to place my feet or in which direction they should tread and what seem like easy steps for other to take, feel like icebreaker ships to me. My mid-life crisis has been more of a crisis in faith, in humanity, in myself. 

I’ve been judged, had abuse hurled at me and misunderstood like nobody’s business. Well, it really is nobody’s business, but what hurts more is being ignored by people who I thought mattered. People may know of an action we take, but with their most imaginative thinking caps on sitting in a google inspired think tank, could never conceive of the reasons that drive us there. The blade of the daggers have been no less sharp just because they’re being thrown from the sidelines. If the litany would have been heard, maybe the tide would have turned and I might have had a sea of support, not a tidal wave of obtuse, ill-informed judgments. Maybe everybody’s just chasing headlines.

So, I dabbled in some feel-good cosmic energy boosters to even things out. I found an Aveda calming spray meant to pacify my chakras. Day one, squirts in eye. The calming aps on my phone worked only until I turned them off or fell asleep. I ran through a morning routine of self-talk, packing into my daily affirmations a wish list including year-long holidays and weekly lotto wins. I even attended a 2 day happiness conference. Yes, an entire corporate event with “happiness and its causes” front and centre. I soon worked out it was a kindred gathering of other women turning 50, collectively trying to handle anxiety, too much chocolate and cramps. It was enlightening though and I loved the energy in the room. Turns out that happiness is just the in between bits of everybody’s anxiety and trauma. But we might be onto something if we can learn to be less unhappy. 

As a mum, I hear myself telling my son stories of when I was a kid, comparing the cataclysmic differences that defined my younger years. I’ve started to tell him about the road trips we took as kids. If the absence of a screen wasn’t bombshell enough wait ‘til I tell him about the time we went for a day trip bushwalking…in the bush without swings and slides, treats and hot chocolate.

Instead we thumbed the leaves, dragged sticks through the mud to make tracks and entertained ourselves with made-up singalongs. I don’t recall once ever being bored but I do remember the fresh smell of tea tree and eucalypt that filled the bush air. The real jolt came when I told him that that as kids, staying at our Grandmother’s beach shack, going to the loo in the night meant we peed in a pot that slid under the bed. It was the late 70’s. No, not the 1870’s, but like much that characterised my childhood, feels like a world ago.

Apart from that and the fact that all of sudden my mother’s advice makes sense, there are other reminders that I’m edging towards turning 50. I was in a hip Asian restaurant the other night but for the noodles tossing in the open kitchen, our table could have been plonked in the centre of a dance floor. Beautiful atmosphere, but I could hardly hear myself order and they must have thought I’d asked for a shot of merlot not a glass. But I’m grateful they took our order at all, rather than us surfing a menu tablet sitting on the table. I’m still not sure why everything but the rice could be doggie bagged, something about a health risk. What was left made it to a plastic container (thumbs down) but I didn’t have to pay extra for it (thumbs up).

Tolerance builds with age. The snappy energy you have as a thirty-something year old slowly mellows. As you fall in and out of so many experiences, it finally sinks in that we’re all mostly dealing with the same stuff and playing on the same side is a far gentler way to live. Except that I have so much less tolerance with everything, from big egos to small talk. That makes getting older something to leap towards, finding the emotional and metal clarity that stops you tripping over your own emotional baggage. Though the stakes are higher and there’s more to worry about, the little threads of self-assuredness you gather along the way help build a safety net.

I still feel like the sands are shifting, I can’t predict what next year or even next week might look like. Heck, at this rate I don’t even know what I’ll look like next. I grabbed a tea after the morning school run yesterday, and in an effort to make small talk the server asked if I was on my way home from night shift. And here I was feeling refreshed! No response could have been a better measure than my outburst of laughter.  If there’s one theme that’s woven its way through everything so far, it’s the ability to find, grasp and hold on to a sense of humour and a good dose of positivity. 

Life seems to come in a series of episodes, maybe that’s why Netflix is so popular. As each new episode plays out, I often feel that in many ways the previous one hasn’t taught me much at all; I seem ill-equipped to handle the latest emotional ambush and I have no more mindfulness techniques than I ever did to stop me from slipping. I’m no Sasha Fierce, but I do know this, I get through. The slight tattoo I saw imprinted on a colleague’s wrist the other day that read “this too shall pass” is the only flag I know how to wave, but maybe that’s enough.

There’s a lot we pick up on the way in addition to the years and experiences; important things like self-worth, self-love, self-acceptance and of course love itself. I understand now what it all means. I get that when you judge you become part of the story that tears someone down and that’s not a nice place to be. I think I finally understand why the things that matter most are the people we love and how much our everyday wellness, in every sense, is key. I get why authenticity and belief in yourself is enough and how the practice of gratitude gives you more. I know that there is always so much to be thankful for.

And though turning 50 was far more complicated than I thought, it turned out to be quite a simple mantra in the end; cut the bullshit, don’t let anything scare you, honour your heart, put yourself first and love in abundance! At 20 I would have thought these words were nonsense, at 30 I would have thought them selfish, at 40, a few randomly inspired wordporn quotes but now maybe, just maybe, they’re the words that will carry me the rest of the way there…

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