Horses, dogs and children… Sage Advice from an Australian Jackaroo

Silhouette of a Cowboy

My primary school in Wubin had a program that linked you with a “pen friend”. This was sort of like an old fashioned “facebook friend”.

My pen friend was called Michael Boladaris and he lived on Wonganoo station that was miles out of Wiluna in the Western Desert.

We sent letters to each other for many years all the way through primary and high school. At the Wiluna gymkhana we would meet and hang out together.

Going outback to the gymkhana was a once a year adventure where we would drive into the desert for hours and hours often not seeing another car for up to half a day.

We would drive by soft yellow sand plain with a mad profusion of crazy coloured wildflowers, and then into the red dirt and dust that got up your nose, in your ears and every crevice of of your body and vehicle.

Beautiful red dirt with a pristine blue sky.

We would stop along the way in deserted gold mining towns and we children would fossick for junk.

Desert finds. In the past there were many gold mining towns near the roads filled with artefacts.

Finally we would be in Wiluna and camp in the bush as there were no caravan parks.

No showers or toilets for camping in those days. We would just camp somewhere flat — every couple of days use the showers provided at the gymkhana and when we felt the need we grabbed a shovel and squatted behind a bush.

Families  would cook on an open fire and after dinner we would sit around  and gaze into the fire or someone would grab a guitar and sing.

Fire gazing — the original TV

We would all be so exhausted from the gymkhana that as soon as it was really dark we would sleep in our swags under a pitch black sky with a myriad of diamond like stars above us.

I would watch for satellites — they were really infrequent then, and then I would go to sleep with the sound of the wind, cicadas and night birds.

One night just as twilight was occurring and dinner was cooking on the open fire an old guy was sitting with my family around the campfire.

Open fire cooking makes the food taste better — sort of smoky and crispy.

I remember that the bush had that soft orange glow that it gets as the last rays of sun hit the tops of the low bushes and reflects from the gum leaves.

There was a quietness in that evening where sound carried for a long distance.

This man was probably somewhere between 25 – 30 years old and seemed so old to the young eight or nine year old me. He was dressed in jeans, high heeled cowboy boots, and a check shirt. His body was lean and muscular with skin that was thickened and dark from the sun. Around his eyes were smile wrinkles with white in the crinkles where the sun didn’t tan due to his habit of smiling.

He gently cajoled me aside from my family through the scrub and away from the fire in that beautiful early evening. I clearly remember the beauty of that soft light on the bushes, and the quiet of the evening.

I was a shy farm child but he felt OK and he worked hard at overcoming my shyness until he really had me on my own and had my total attention.

He then gently and repeatedly told me some of the best advice I have ever been given in my life and it was:

“Never go with a man who is not kind to horses, dogs and children.

If they are not kind to horses, dogs and children they will not be kind to you.”

In other words check  out how people treat their dogs, horses and children and that is how they will treat you.

He asked me to repeat it for him to show that I understood. He then lead me back to the fire.

In my life, I have noticed that this advice is true for both men and women — if they are not kind to animals or children then I know not to give them much attention — to leave them alone.

The times I have not used this advice I have always regretted it.

I have never forgotten that man and I wish I could thank him.

Snakes as pets…

My father collected poisonous snakes for the Perth museums stuffed animal collection — this was back in the 1960’s when it was a preeminent thing to do. At that time most people didn’t think about extinction and animal rights. It was a time where there was still plenty of wildlife around.

There were oysters growing on the back islands at Jurien Bay that I loved to pick off with a screwdriver and eat.

There were plagues of emus piling up on the rabbit proof fence during times of drought.

Snakes were commonly seen both on our farm and at our Jurien Bay holiday home. As a child I felt connected to all that is— to all of nature and all that was natural—the human world seemed strange to me less pure, less honest.

I lived on a wheat and sheep farm that had its own petrol pump so that we had over sixty forty four gallon drums all stacked neatly up on a high platform.

On slow summer evenings the 44 gallon drums would herald the cool evening air with deep “boinging” drum like sounds as they cooled down — that was one of those sounds of my childhood…

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When they grew old some of the drums were used for BBQ’s others for foundations filled with concrete and others were used for snake “homes”.

When my father caught a snake he would remove the top from a drum and that would become the snakes home until it was time for the trip to Perth for the “freeze alive” position they would maintain in death with the help of taxidermy at the Perth Museum.

These snake homes were housed in our old garage where we fed the snakes and gazed down at them as they waited their fate.

My father didn’t only collect snakes he also collected marsupial mice, and other strange animals.

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His passion for animals exposed us to wild goats, a wild horse called Zany who was tamed and trained to be Polo cross player, mountain devils, echidnas and I remember once climbing a tree with my father, brother and the Barnes family to peer into a Wedge tale eagles nest. It was huge — all thick sticks — and a small area in the middle where the chicks would have lived.

At Jurien Bay we children would shake out seaweed rolls and collect the tiny blue ringed octopi and put them in a bucket and watch the blue become iridescent when they became overly stimulated.

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We had been told by our parents that they were deadly so we were very careful. In retrospect it must have been risky to pick up a seaweed roll to shake out.

I can only remember my parents saying that we had to put them back in the sea because they didn’t deserve to live in a bucket plus we didn’t know what to feed them.

My parents expected us to do as they told us — this was to respect wild life and respect out own lives.

My father was the animal person and my mother was a wildflower person — that is whole other story.

However, my father really had an attraction to snakes. He had learnt how to handle them and I remember that when he was catching a snake he would give us a running commentary.

First he would run after a great poisonous snake deftly lay a stick over the back of the snake’s head so that he could reach the tail without the snake striking.

He would be saying to us as though instructing us on “snake catching:”—“Put the stick close to the head then you have no chance of being bitten, now grab the tail like this!” — he would reach down to the squirming tail and adroitly grab it.

He would then release the head while saying “you have to be quick” and he would swing the snake around in a slow circle so that the momentum prevented it from reaching up to bite him.

Sometimes he would stop the swing and show us how the snake would start to bend upwards to try and strike his hand.

He would then calmly instruct us “Grab that wheat bag and open it”. Then he would bring the swinging snake over and somehow stop the swing and for a very quick moment hold it still over the opening of the sack — then drop it in the bag. The snake’s head was really close to us as we held the bag open — it was scary for us!

Quickly closing the bag the job would be done — another snake captured.

Other times he would lay the stick against the back of a snake’s head and then simply grasp the snake there. The snake would then wrap itself around his arm so that he had a sort of tourniquet around his lower arm. This was no problem with smaller snakes as they weren’t strong enough.

One day at Wubin Rocks he caught a huge black tiger snake and did the grab behind the head thing. The snake started to wrap around his arm and he realised that the snake was too strong so he squeezed the “throat” of the snake so hard that it died. I remember the limp and flaccid snake after this had occurred and thinking how quickly life could be completely erased.

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I have been around snakes since I was really young, and I remember an incident at home when I was a very young child.

Our farmhouse had a well-watered bright green lawn enclosed with a brick fence and this was a “safe” place for us to play. When I was about three years old and my brother Kim was about one a big black tiger snake came thought the opening in the fence onto the lawn we were playing on. I remember that we were both dressed the same — simply in a pair of underpants — Kim was curious and started to toddle over to the snake. I remember calmly leading him away. I called and my mother came out from the kitchen. She asked us to go inside and stay there. We went inside but could see her and the snake from the windows.

Mum got an axe and a stick and tried to whip it with the stick to break its back and then axe the head off.

I was really disappointed that I couldn’t be out there with her having all that action and excitement. She was balancing on top of the low verandah wall with her axe and stick as she tried to kill it.

We were calling out “Please can we come out now—we can’t see!” She was screaming “No!” I felt incensed that she would not let us out — it seems so unfair at the time.

Once she had killed it and removed the head we were allowed to play with the body to feel what a snake felt like, it was cool and smooth beyond imagining. When we asked my parents if we could play with its head my father did the commentary thing.; “Never play with a dead snakehead. The teeth could still release poison or have poison on them even although it is dead.

When I was in Grade one at Wubin primary school I took a whip snake in for show and tell. I had caught the whip snake on the verandah and put it in a glass jar with holes in the lid.

whip snake

A whip snake I had been informed by my father was poisonous but not enough to kill a child. This obviously made the snake “safe” enough to catch and I know that my parents would have helped me with the holes in the lid of the jar so they must have supported my show and tell snake.

A fellow school student reminded me of my show and tell snake in my adulthood and until that moment I had not realized how unusual it was for a five-year-old child to take a poisonous snake in a glass jar on the school bus.

My parents simply trusted their children to follow their strict rules for the handling of snakes, guns and cars and we did.

After show and tell the objects were placed on a shelf in the classroom until the end of the day when they were taken home (again on the school bus).

The whip snake sat there on the shelf until a curious class mate opened the jar and it got out and started to slither around the classroom of thirty-two young students aged between five and seven.

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I remember being a tad confused about what to do. This was because there was an adult in the room and adults usually did the “catch the snake” thing. I had only caught the whip snake when the adults weren’t present. I then noticed that my teacher — Miss Irvine — a 22-year-old Perth girl didn’t know what to do!

I caught it and put it back in the jar. I thought nothing of it until I was reminded of this much later in my life.

This story is actually about a special snake called George and a teacher and the feeling of unrequited revenge.

When I was about eight years old we were off on one of our yearly Christmas school holiday trips to Jurien Bay.

We had the second house ever built in Jurien Bay and went there for the whole of the Christmas holidays, Easter and often at other times. It was our second home away from the farm.

The drive was long because the roads were gravel and on the last couple of sand hills the road was a sandy track and we sometimes got bogged.

On a gravel road somewhere out from Eneabba where the trees and bushes were crowding in on the road a large snake slithered across in front of our car leaving that sinusoidal track behind it. Dad came to a quick halt jumped out of the car and chased it — grabbing a stick on the way. This was a “normal” occurrence when we spotted a snake or unusual animal.

He did the “trap head thing” then the “grab tail thing” and then the “swinging snake thing” and then came to a complete conundrum, as we didn’t have a wheat bag in which to put the snake.

My parents loved holidays — the longer the better — so they had picked us up directly from school. My plastic school bag was the next best thing to a hessian wheat bag.

We emptied out the uneaten rotting school lunches, schoolbooks, used tissues and other detritus that I had kept in it for the whole year.

Dad then dropped the six-foot long snake into the bag. Zipping it up was a tad tricky but it was managed.

So, the school bag with snake was on my lap for the rest of the long trip.

By the time we got to Jurien Bay we had named the snake George, and he needed a much better home than my school bag.

A very large glass jar was found and he was coiled into that and that is where he lived for the time he was “on holidays” with us. The metal lid had breathing holes punched in it.

He had been carsick in my school bag. I remember being a really upset because my school bag already had a disgusting smell — this was why I couldn’t eat my school lunches and now it was even worse. Maybe he was car sick because of the smell?


George lived in his jar in the middle of the dining room table of our beach house for the whole of the school holidays. My father informed us that snakes respond to vibration so to keep him happy we talked and sang to him and we figured the more thumping of cards the better. “Snap”, “Galloping demons” and “Whist” were his daily entertainment. This was a time when playing cards, reading books and cooking were the things to do when not at the beach or riding our bikes.

We had an ancient dancing doll music box from my mother’s mother and we would wind it up and play it him endlessly.

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 09.46.05We would introduce him to the friends who came to visit and wonder why they seemed a bit put out.

My father didn’t know what sort of snake he was so when we did the yearly Perth trip, George came along to be identified.

The Perth museum staff let us know that he was a non-poisonous Children’s Python. They didn’t need another specimen so George’s life was saved. With that information my father decided that he would become our new pet. While in Perth he purchased a breeding pair of mice and a home for them so that we could feed him. We then all went back from Perth to Jurien Bay.

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George displayed supreme patience in his glass jar. He really had no choice — for the rest of the holidays he continued to be entertained with our card, music, talking “vibrations”.

My father would take him out and play with him. He was tame by this time and would slither around my father and easily go back into the jar.

At the end of the holidays we all went home with George and he was given a beautiful snake home — a large box and the front glass was one half of a windscreen from a 1950’s car from our prolific rubbish dump that had many ancient harvesters, trucks and cars.

George became a part of our normal life.

On one occasion George slithered up a chair and then balanced on his tail up the side of a doorframe. He then poked around at the top of the door slowly manipulating it until it opened. He went over the top and dropped himself into the next room. If I hadn’t seen this with my own eyes I would have thought it impossible. I became to believe that snakes are very intelligent and able to sneak into the most difficult places.

Once a year in the August school holidays we would go to Carnarvon to visit our family from the Quan Sing clan. On the way home we would drop in to friends in places like Geraldton and Northampton. One family we visited had photographs of a little girl of about four all over the walls. We were later told that the farmhouse had a sleep-out where the four children slept. One night the young daughter had a temperature and was crying — she started to be really ill so they rushed her to the Doctor. She died without them knowing why. When they came back home they stripped the bed and there was a poisonous snake still in the bed. Only then did they find the tiny bite marks on her legs. The snake had managed to get into the sleep-out.

Infrequently we fed George baby mice and watched as he swallowed them alive and whole. We played with him and daily enjoyed his company—he was our pet.

One time when my father and we three children playing with him on the lawn a cat came close. Cats kill snakes so George had every reason to be scared and he was acting jumpy. I touched his tail and he must have thought that I was a cat — he flipped most of his body around and stuck at me. I did a summersault backwards and luckily missed a bite.

George had been scared before and had bitten my father. While my father was prizing George off this arm he did the commentary thing to educate us. He explained calmly that a snakes teeth angle backwards so that in order to get George off this arm he had to push his head towards his arm and then lift him off taking the angle of the teeth into account. I am guessing that he told us this just incase we ever needed to do that when he was not there.

George and my father became great friends to the point where George would slither into my father’s shirt and fall asleep around his waist and my father would forget that he was there.

I have come to believe that a kind and caring bond between people and animals is part of the evolution of the both parties. It seems to me that when animals are bonded to people who are loving both parties are uplifted and this is what I believe happened with George and my father.

Wubin at the time had this schoolteacher called Mr. Flynn. He had red hair and a famous temper.

He caned both the boys and the girls and even caned the child called Gordon who we had been told was spastic (Cerebral Palsy). Of course the cane would stimulate Gordon into a frenzy of spasm — such cruelty. Humans in the “good old days” were often not kind — it was the culture to not mention abuse or not act when abuse was noticed.

I remember the huge purple welts I would get when he caned my lower legs for being too loud when emptying the bins…

I was helping and I got the cane!

My parents dismissed my welts by saying I must have deserved it.

These were parents who didn’t hit their children, and yet they allowed this teacher to cane me. Like I said; abuse was not acknowledged for what it was.

I could never figure out adults when I was a child. Although my parents were intelligent and stimulating they seemed so devoid of joy and understanding. I still can’t figure most of them out — most seem to just be like robots doing what everyone is brainwashed to do, on their march towards the grave.

Mr. Flynn was a cruel man; yet it seemed to me that my parents were oblivious to his cruelty. I am guessing that when he first arrived he was OK but his cruelty built up over time?

When he went over to the teacher’s house for lunch we would often hear him shouting at his children and wife.

My parents would invite him and his poor bullied family out for dinner a couple of times a year and on one of these occasions the men needed more beer.

My father got into our Studebaker car and Mr. Flynn got into the passenger seat. I was in the back seat.

George was asleep inside my father’s shirt and as my father leaned back in the seat George woke up — by this stage the car was doing 60 miles per hour that is 110 kilometres per hour in today’s language.

George popped his head with his flickering tongue out between the button- holes of my father’s shirt and then started to look left and right as more of him came out.

The fantastic bit of this story for my nine-year-old self was that Mr. Flynn was petrified!

He opened the door to jump out of the car — it was a gravel road and the noise when a car door is opened at that speed was really something!

Dust; gravel, loud rattling noise; teacher panicking; me delighted!  Inside my head I was praying that he would jump!

Such is the mind of a child.

Unfortunately that was not to be because my father casually grabbed George and moved him away from Mr. Flynn and drove on.

The Doctor who confused arms with legs!

It was 3.15 am and I was in a taxi speeding towards my daughters home in Melbourne.

I had been in Melbourne for a couple of days catching up with Kia and had a wonderful time with her showing me around her favourite spots.

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I had seen Victoria night markets,


seen quirky fashion and even bought a real 1960’s pair of bathers for summer. We had eaten interesting food seen crazy dogs


and people plus enjoyed streets of cafes and bars and even Daiso!


Back to the taxi ride, the taxi driver was asking me about what I was doing so early in the morning. I told him my 21 year old daughter Kia had moved from WA to Melbourne a few months ago and I was visiting. I told him how she had just phoned saying that she had been vomiting without stop since 10pm and needed help. Lucky I was in the city really…

The Sirian taxi driver told me that all his children stayed at home until they were married, some at 34 and one as late as 39 years old. He had five sons and a daughter. He wasn’t judgmental that my daughter had left home so early — just observing difference. He said that he couldn’t understand why a person would leave a loving family to move in with strangers.

I was wondering about our Western need to have independent young adults. I had left home at twelve for boarding school and was living with a girlfriend from school at seventeen. I thought nothing of the fact that Kia was off in the great wide world living life at twenty-one.

A small part of me just wanted to protect her and keep her close and make sure she was safe —my heart remembers her as the vulnerable baby and toddler. In times of stress my heart retreats to the past to those wonderful times— reminiscing the time where I could fix most things for her easily.

The taxi sped the wrong way down Kia’s empty one-way street where she was waiting at the door with a large bowl. After a “U’ie” we were whisked off to the famous St Vincent’s hospital emergency department.

It was really quiet in there with two people in the waiting room—both were sleeping on the chairs and one was snoring loudly.

We booked in and waited, Kia noisily vomiting every few seconds, and crying in pain so much so that she awoke the other two “waiters” in the waiting room.

After half an hour she was given an injection to stop the stomach cramps and she too lay down on the seats getting up every five to ten minutes for another spasmodic emptying.

By 5.30am all three of the emergency patients were still in place in the waiting room. Apparently they had been busy with severely injured ambulance clients.

Kia decided that she had been there long enough and wanted to go home. She got up went outside and I followed. She then had a semi collapse in the street—so back to the waiting room. By this time the drug had worn off so she crying in pain and vomiting her heart out.

At about 6.30am she was shown a bed and after half an hour the nurse gave her some medication and things settled down a bit.

Again she was left until the medication wore off. At this stage she was making such a noise retching and crying in pain that a Doctor finally came to see her.

At about 8.30 am a smiling rounded young Doctor came and in his lilting accent asked her to move her arms straight whilst grabbing her legs and pushing down on them.

Kia was a bit confused and straightened her arms but he insisted that she moved her arms straight and again pushed down on her legs.

Kia asked; “Do you mean my legs?” He responded; “Yes, your arms” and pushed some more. When she straightened her legs he said; “That’s right”.

Now this Doctor who didn’t know the difference between arms and legs was a bit of a worry!

He seemed to know his drugs—even if he didn’t know her body parts!

He gave her some morphine and when that didn’t really work — some more morphine. Finally the pattern of spasm, pain and vomiting stopped. He ordered a battery of blood tests, ultrasound and lots of poking and prodding. He seemed to know that bit of his work and I found out that his accent was Romanian so forgave his ever so slight misdemeanour about arms and legs after a frantic night for him in ED.


At about 2pm she was discharged with more drugs and no diagnosis. All is quiet finally.

How I met Joe Danau — Artist

Art, writing and music have always held my heart. Yet, somehow when I went to university I got myself a science degree. My creative side was relegated to gardening, playing the piano and renovating houses. In my 20’s I was still “getting over” my university education so didn’t give my creative side much attention. I simply didn’t appreciate the qualities it bought to my life.

I chose house paint colours, renovated antique furniture, did tie dyeing, dress making, I spray-painted rainbows on my clothing, played the piano daily and built pergolas but didn’t see this as important and worse I didn’t appreciate how much joy this side of my life gave me.

One day in my 30’s I visited a very dear friend of mine called Phil. I had been married to him in my early 20’s so that he would travel with me.

He said he wouldn’t travel with me to India without a marriage certificate, as it was too dangerous. kia and Phil 1

Me and my “husband”

When I decided that travelling was more important than an idealogical aversion to marriage I asked him “Do you want to change your name to Schulze?”

He said “No”

I told him. “You don’t HAVE to.”

So we married.

Mind you; he looks as good as the photo above now. He is the most wonderful soul — all of these decades later.


I wanted to go to India with him and even although I believed that marriage was simply rich white guys in the church/government giving the OK that you could “legally” have sex – I married him.

A trip to India and Nepal was just too much of an enticement.

I left him in my mid 20’s because he told me that we were not going to travel that year.

This whole conversation was rather silly of him really. He so didn’t understand how I would respond to this news. I immediately booked myself a two-week skiing tour without him in Falls Creek. I went and had a wonderful time and that was the end of that.

At the time I was not really interested in the whole marriage thing I had no interest in having children or the longevity of relationships, I was simply exploring the boundaries of what I wanted and what I didn’t want.

My heart screamed at me that I didn’t want to be told by another adult what I could or couldn’t do.

Many years later I discovered a word in English that explained my hearts desire, it is eleutheromaina — an intense and irresistible desire for freedom.

I love the freedom of doing things my own unique way — I would translate elutheromania as;  an insatiable lust for freedom.

Eleuthermomania should have been my name instead of Wendy. This has been the theme of my life.

You can’t change your dreaming — you are who you are…

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Joes Painting – You can’t change your dreaming — you are who you are…

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 10.09.05 PM I guess every relationship has times of misunderstanding, boredom and confusion. When this occurred with this wonderful man I simply left.

I have not regretted it as when we were together I was 100% there and when that wasn’t the case I was then 100% doing things differently.

My heart was broken, I couldn’t imagine why my loved partner would want to “tell me what to do” and try and treat me as though I was a child.

I couldn’t get my head around that idea so it was very confronting, confusing and distressing.

I remember that he didn’t really want a divorce, yet I thought that it would help him move on as I had. Therefore I organised the legal side of the paperwork and paid for it upfront.

Eventually the divorce was official and I got some papers in the mail.

Phil didn’t know that our divorce was official as he hadn’t really been a willing party and he somehow didn’t get any official notification.

At that time I would have any excuse for a party so I organised a “divorce” party at my home without telling anyone the reason. It was a large casual party with people coming and going all day. Of course I invited Phil as he was my closest friend.  When the party was at the zenith I jumped onto a table and asked Phil to come over. I then announced that the party was in honor of our divorce. On top of this wonderful news I said that I would marry myself and I would partner myself for the rest of my life. No more marriage for me. After this wonderful divorce event Phil and I visited each other often and shared really good times together.

My wedding ring from me to me.

We remained very close and loving friends. He was still a major part of my life for twelve years after our divorce.

He had lots of girlfriends and eventually he found one he was really into.

She found our closeness confusing and I don’t blame her. I backed off so that they could get together.

I really loved and cared for him and wanted only the best for him. I understood that he was a traditional and steady man and required a more traditional and steady partner to be really happy.

I don’t really understand the whole “to death do us part” social consciousness. I have always lived for the now and in the now.

Eleutheromania — this is the way I am — no apologies.

It was the late 1980’s when we were still in contact told me he wanted to show me something. When I arrived at his home he led me to his fireplace and with sparkling eyes showed me his latest acquisition that was hanging in pride of place. He appeared excited by this new gift for himself and seemed to want to know what I thought.

I was stopped in my tracks. The work had an immediate emotional impact on me — it spoke of dreams undreamed, realities not explored and I begged him to take me to the gallery so I could see the rest of the collection.

He took me to the “A” shed in Fremantle. The spirit and the beauty of that artists works hooked me. Immediately I bought a piece and asked the gallery owners Valerie and George if they would let me know when Joe Danau ever had another exhibition.

FIRST PICTURE This is the first painting I purchased

This was the 1980’s and although I was by then in my 30’s I was a teenager in spirit. I spent my time working at a job I loved, windsurfing, hitchhiking around in third world places and simply having fun. Art was a wonderful diversion as was sport, travel, adrenaline laced fear, food and friends.

Every now and again Valerie or George the business owners of the “A” Shed would let me know when Joe was having another exhibition and I would go and buy a piece.


At each exhibition I would be eager to  get exactly the piece I wanted.


Money was no problem and in my life beauty has always been senselessly important.

Joe’s art was one of those senselessly beautiful things that I included in my life.

One day Valerie gave me Joe’s telephone number as he had asked to speak to me and I rang him and arranged to meet him. I had no idea what it was about. I was simply happy to meet “the artist”.

When I met Joe I was a single parent of one child, and as Joe had been a builder in his life before being an artist he asked if he could help me around the house.

mother and child
Mother and Child

Joe reeled me in with gentle words and kindness. So, in the end I agreed to his help in my garden and small building jobs in the house.

As a struggling single parent with a house to run, two businesses and a crazed chaotic controlling father of my child. I had very little kindness and support in my life. I was focusing on getting through each day in a sane way that supported my child…

I easily accepted Joe’s offer, so, every second week-end when my daughter was with her father.  Joe and I would work together in the garden. While we were working he would open up about his experiences in life and “teach” me what he had learned.

The teaching was osmotic, it seeped into my being and I was nurtured by the stories.

Spirit of the trees
Old man (seated) singing up the spirit of the trees…

Amazingly enough I had already been to many of the desert places he told me about and so I was able to visualize his travels and stories in the outback of Australia. Often when he was telling me a story as we were mixing concrete together I would lift out of my body and be in that place watching it with my inner eyes as he spoke.

After some time he told me that I had consistently purchased the “key” painting of every exhibition that he had held. He saw this as a “sign” that he had to meet me and this is how our relationship started.

Over time Joe became my art teacher and we continue as close friends to this day.

If you want to know more about Joe Danau, here is the link to his life story.


My Nanna Ethel

This is my grandmother Ethel from my fathers side. She was born in Leister shire in England and emigrated when she was a teenager with her parents, she was an only child.

My Nanna – Ethel Sampson

I just loved her so much. I remember when I was at uni I would visit her most days and had my own key. I would let myself in and go straight to the fridge where she would have a fresh trifle with whipped cream or some other wonderful thing for me to enjoy! Thus happily aware of her latest kindness I would then seek her out to give her a hug and kiss.

She was always so kind and generous with my sister and I. She smelt of kindness plain soap and 4711 perfume. Her skin felt really soft and smooth and I would love to touch her. Ethel had refined tastes in furniture, clothing and in the way she conducted herself. She was incredible with my teenager vanity and selfishness, I never felt judged and at times my sister and I must have really shocked her with our antics such as going bra less when wearing diaphanous cheesecloth clothing which was the thing to do in the 1970’s!

During the war she was the manager of a café in Northbridge that had sixteen staff. She told me that sometimes she would walk from Mt Lawley to and from work.

During this time the love of her life was “missing in action” finally after a couple of years it became known that he was dead. In the 1980’s when she showed me his letters in a beautiful pale green folder tied with a pink ribbon she was still grieving.

When the war finished she had to leave her job so that a returning soldier could work. This meant that she had to get married quickly. Her marriage to poor grandpa was a definitely a desperate action on her part. They took up land in Wubin where she lived in a unlined corrugated iron shed made from saplings that was boiling in the summer and freezing in the winter.

This shed still stands on the farm in Wubin it would have been bleak home, it had a dirt floor and only two rooms. One had only three walls with the forth wall missing so that the animals such as snakes could come in when ever they wanted. The “bedroom” had four walls with one window that had no glass it was just a hinged corrugated iron opening that when open would have let in some light plus the flies and dust.
She was use to the brick housing with running water, floorboards and bathrooms and kitchens in England and Mt Lawley.
Her family belonged to a Spiritualist church in England and she was psychic.

She told me was that she had a vivid dream about a family in the Wubin district. In the dream the family had a car accident after football at a particular corner and the father of the family would die. The dream was so intense that she told her family about it at breakfast. When she was helping with the afternoon tea at football she quietly told a couple of people including the mother of the family. She asked the mother of that family to be very careful at that corner on the way home.

After the football that family had the accident where she said and the father died.

After this incident many religious people in Wubin avoided her and this was really difficult because Wubin was such a small town.

At one stage of her life she believed that my grandfather was feeding her crushed glass, and trying to kill her. One day she woke up and realised that the only person who could make her choose life and make her happy was herself so she just stopped believing that fantasy and recovered to become accepting and happy with her lot in life.

I was too young to realise what an amazing thing it was for her to recover from a mental illness like that.

She was a remarkable woman.