Ethiopia 2020 – A land of Mystery

Eye of the needle

Coming out of the Eye of the Needle in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is an ancient land with a mysterious history that has created exciting riddles in the present.

Ethiopia has its own calendar, time, script, language and religion.

Coming out of HellComing out of Hell — a long dark underground tunnel with many obstacles on the left of the tunnel and a clear passage on the right.

Calendar and Time? Seriously, when you get a airline ticket it actually states  Please note: “International time and date.” I was super confused when people told me the time until I worked out the 6 hour time difference to the International Time on my phone. I would be expected to arrive at work at 2 — this would mean 8 o’clock in the morning…

To make things more difficult for the traveler Ethiopia also has its own unique Script,  language and Religion.

All of these differences makes for an individual, proud culture.

My homonid ancestor Lucy

Lucy an ancient hominoid

What is there to see in Ethiopia you may wonder?

I found there were Ancient Palaces and Churches, wild animals, vast mountainous landscapes, the lowest place on Earth, a fresh water lake that looks like an ocean, ceremonies that mobilize the whole population, a fasting culture where they vegan fast for over 2/3rd of the year and then eat raw meat the rest of the time, ancient archaeology  discovering ancient hominoids plus historical stories that include The Queen of Sheba and the Knights Templar.

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Wild Gibbons in the Simian Mountains that were so placid you are allowed to come within one meter of them
King Queen love seats Palace
Ancient King and Queen love seat

Ethiopia is a Fresh Water Paradise

Ethiopia is known in the rest of the world for droughts and famine. Unknown to most of us is that Ethiopia is a land of highlands and an extremely prolific rainfall.

Night lake
One of hundreds of large fresh water lakes

There is a  massive lake — Lake Tana — that is like an inland sea, it fills over 2000 square kilometers. This lake drains into the Nile and waters Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

Simian mountains
Simian Mountains

In the South of Ethiopia is the Danakil desert — the lowest place on Earth — this small area of the country is where they get famines that we hear about in the West.

Unique Ethiopian Religion

The Arc of the Covenant is an ancient relic from the Old Testament that was originally created by Moses with the help of God. It was a box covered in Gold with long handles to carry it on the shoulders of people. In it were two stone tablets inscribed by God.

Worshipping children in trees
Outdoor Church gathering worshiping in a grove of trees – Note children in the trees

It was taken around the desert and used for various things such as winning wars and killing people who didn’t do as Moses and its later owners wanted.

After many years in the desert being housed in a Tent, the Jewish people who owned it was decided to build the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, to house it. It stayed there for some time until it “disappeared”.

All the texts of the time simply stopped mentioning it.

A great mystery surrounds what happened to the Arc of the Covenant.

The Ethiopians don’t join us in the conundrum, they know where it is and who is looking after it.

They say that they hold the Arc of the Covenant in the St Mary’s Church in Axum.

Door way st marys church

Every church has a Tabot

Each church of the Ethiopian Orthodox has a symbolic Arc of the Covenant. A stone or wood Tabot. This Jewish pre-Christian symbol is a large part of their worship.

One church that is housed in a large cave is called the Yemrehana Krestos Church has been used daily for a 1000 years and still has the original wooden doors and windows. The wood  being most effectively preserved with butter. 

1000 year old church
Yemrehana Krestos Church – 1000 years old in daily use. Note the the different crosses.

These ancient churches have nine different crosses used in the decoration. This shows that 1000 years ago the Ethiopians were in contact with all the different cultures so that they could include their symbols in their churches.

St Georges Chruch roof 2

The roof of St Geroge’s Church is level with the ground.

You can see the Swastika, Jewish, Coptic, Knights Templar, Maltese plus many other crosses carved into the windows and doors of the churches.

Other churches are only 800 -900 years old — also having been used daily.

St Georges church man
St Georges Church entry

I saw some churches hewn from the soft rocky ground where the roofs were at ground level.

St Georges Church is a picturesque example — although there are many others.

St Geroges church three stories
St Georges Church

The Origin of Coffee

When I travel anywhere in the world I find the coffee well below the standards we have in Australia.

I learned that the origin of coffee is Ethiopia from an area called Kaffa — pronounced Cafe.

Coffee is revered in Ethiopia and the standard is excellent. They have coffee ceremonies, in homes and in public places likes hotels, restaurants and schools.

Sr Ababa coffee ceremony
Sister Ababa holding a home coffee ceremony

Coffee ceremony

 The beautiful Arigash holding a Coffee Ceremony for me at the School of St Yarad’s

The Rastafarian’s of Ethiopia

A large group of Rastafarian’s live in and south of Addis Ababa. This is a most curious story about how Jamacians ended up in Ethiopia.

Marcus Garvey of the Rastafarian’s said; “Look to Africa where a black King shall be crowned, he shall be the Redeemer”. Soon after this Haile Selassie became the Emperor of Ethiopia. He was then considered by the Rastafarian’s as that redeemer. Interestingly enough Halle Selassie didn’t consider this of himself.

Dreadlock king
Statue of a King/Priest with Dreadlocks

The colors of the Rastifarians are the colors of the Ethiopian flag.

The dreadlocks come from Ethiopian Jewish roots. Ancient Jewish priests had dreadlocks.

Many Ethiopian Kings in the past were both Priests with dreadlocks and Kings. This means that dreadlocks are seriously old School.

Ethiopian “Black” Jews

Another mystery of Ethiopia is the so called “Black” Jews.

There is/was a sect of Jewish people in Ethiopia who had beliefs and behaviors that pre dated current Jewish culture.

Roses and strewn grass is a thing in Ethiopia as though they bring the grove of trees worship inside nowdays

The Ethiopian Jews still practiced sacrifice plus worshiping in groves of trees. They also had places of worship outside on the tops of hills.

Worshiping in a grove of trees.

All of these behaviors were outdated from Jewish people in the rest of the world. This suggests that these Jewish people came to Ethiopia in the very distant past — perhaps bringing with them the Arc of the Covenant?

Most of these people have now emigrated to Israel so there are very few left.

The School of St Yarad – Ethiopia

I was in Ethiopia to volunteer at The School of St Yarad’s. I was doing some staff training and Physiotherapy for the parents of the students.

Hope for chidren sign

Hope for Children Australia started and supports this school that educates children who live in severe poverty.

It has a wonderful outcome as it is known as one of the best schools in Addis Ababa.

I noticed the respect and happiness of the children in the playground — they seemed to love The School of St Yarad’s.

After visiting a home of one of these children I understood that the large gardens, cleanliness and kindness at the school must have been a haven.

Although inside the tiny home was very clean; the yard was a crowded shared with many other families and a wet, dirty place with nowhere to play safely.

My Physiotherapy work was challenging as the only tools I possessed were my hands, acupuncture needles and my mind.

20200205_083241The people who came to me had very severe and chronic conditions. HIV+ clients were not uncommon.

To my surprise I had miraculous results using the methods I learned from my time with “The Iceman” – Wim — controlled hyperventilation being a part of this approach.

I also used the “You are Placebo” methods of Dr Joe Dispenza. This is consciously enhancing the ability to create a Placebo event.

Client treated
Acupuncture – The Placebo Effect – Controlled Hyperventilation Breathing. Note the facial tattoos

We had many instant healings of pain and disability and I have continued this approach back in Australia with similar results.

This school supports not only the children but also the parents. They educate the parents in child rearing plus they support them if they require it.

I really admire this holistic approach to education and the wonderful Sister Ababa of the school walks the talk to such an extent that in my opinion she is a “Saint”.

Client with Sister Ababa

While I was in Ethiopia Sister Ababa organised a seminar for parents and invited government and medical officials to teach the parents about HIV, contraception and other major health issues that plague their community.

Sister Ababa goes out into the community and explains to the parents how to resolve conflict plus how to support the children to learn. The children feel safe enough to tell her their most intimate concerns. Sister Ababa then visits the family and supports them to change.

This approach is encouraged by the school culture and the children are thriving as a result.

If you want to know more about the school or sponsor a child, here is the website.

Flirting – Do the Italians get it right?


IMG_6622It seems impossible that three and a half decades have passed since I was last in Italy. My life has been slipping by as I have been busy living it.

This time in Italy I learned the strange fact that the Italians have found that sacred middle path when it comes to flirting.

On the recent visit the smells, sounds and sights triggered me into the past and frequently I felt like I was living in two time zones at once.

My mind switched from present time to the past and then I’m would be lost in the feelings of that younger raw me.

When I gently came back to the present I would feel so grateful that the I and the world has changed.

Has the world around me changed because I have, or is it the other way around? I don’t know the answer to this, and will probably ponder that question for eternity.

Thirty-five years ago I travelled alone to Rome and then southern Italy wandering around by train and bus passing my days in museums, art galleries, places of antiquities and the beach.

All of these experiences are caught on camera and now every-day street events are the things that trigger me back into the past.

For example; Italian tobacco has a particular fragrance and when the smoke wafts past me, the corners of my mouth involuntarily lift — I’m back in a smoky cafe or restaurant exploring for the first time the authentic regional Italian food.

Back then the streets were different for women — I remember the time when using the streets felt like more of a challenge than a right.

During that time the Italian men would make a point of jostling past and then at the last minute they would pinch my bum or fondle my breasts.

When I was fondled — if I was quick enough —I would slap or kick the men who touched me.

When the men too far way they would yell and shout their “appreciation” at me. Groups of men expressing their lust was intimidating to my young self. I noticed that when I pretended to ignore them it seems to encourage louder and more abrasive shouts. I remember steeling myself to stand tall — all of my 5 foot 4 inches — and actively seek the alpha male of the group and look him directly in the eyes, I had worked out that this would stop the escalation.

I use to dream of a time where I could walk the streets and go to clubs without any of this sort of stuff and those wishes that I could be treated equally to men and feeling safe in the streets have manifested.

Amazing when I think about it — in my 20’s it seemed as though the inequality between the sexes was endless and insurmountable. 

In Australia at that time strange men fondled your body in crowded night clubs and at the Sunday Session but not in the streets. I would force myself to be on guard in these places. I would get a good punch or slap in — if I knew who did it. Sometimes, it annoyed me so much that I simply slapped a few in the direction of the pinch for good measure.

I was super determined not to allow sexism to stop me living my life; my way. I told myself that I too was entitled to travel alone, start a business and do whatever I wanted to do. It was a constant “stress” in my life to have the same rights as the male 47% of the population.

When people tried to stop me from living my life my way I ruthlessly bullied them back — that was all I knew to do — and in retrospect I realise that this was much better than being a victim.

Reliving that hyper-vigilant angry younger me in some ways was excruciatingly jarring. All of that nervous, energy willing myself  to be strong so that I could have the rights that the men took for granted.

I felt that I had to fight for my rights. This was when I didn’t understand that the men were suffering as much as the women.

I now realise that they had to put on the show of bravado just as women were expected to be “nice and compliant.”

Nice and compliant was not my thing, and so I chose be was abrasive and dogmatic as the abusive men.

I feel both sad and proud reminiscing my youth with all of that frustration causing a driven aliveness — wonderful really.

In my opinion, the big elephant in the room of this world is not racism, transgender rights and the rest — it is sexism.

Sexism involves 100% of the population and all of those groups. When men can be men and women can be women that is the big issue for both genders. Maybe one day we will be open to accepting our differences/similarities and the energy of unfairness will fade away?

The media keeps us focusing on these other issues so that we remain blind to the real issue. Sometime the obvious is too simple to contemplate.

Recently I was listening to the ABC radio and a man from the Australian Bureau of Statistics was being interviewed. He was saying that in the last 15 years in Australia death by violence; plus all other violent acts have decreased by 50%. Stephen Pinker also confirms this for the Western World in his book “Better Angels of our Nature.”

I can feel this change in the streets, and it is reflected in the way that people behave towards each other.

Sure, we humans — men and women —  have a very long way to go. This is confirmed by the fact that in Australia two women a week are killed by their partners. That means that two men a week have been so hurt that they are incapacitated in their ability to love. They believe they have the right to kill their partners.

Both males and females in this situation are victims.

However, two deaths a week is much better than four as week as it was fifteen years ago.

Which brings me back to fifteen years ago. This was the last time I was fondled by a strange man. I was having a cup of tea at intermission at the ballet at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth. An old man who was dressed like a lawyer pinched me on the bum as he walked by. At the time I didn’t know if I should be flattered or offended. To be honest I felt a little sorry for the old bloke — such a relic.

In Australia over the last couple of decades I have not noticed a strange man look at me in the streets in “that particular way” or make an appreciative comment.

Before coming to Italy I would have said that it was a fantastic thing. However, the reason I travel is to gain perspective.

I now feel that Australia has gone from the one extreme to the other when it comes to appreciation between the sexes. That spark of appreciation or chemistry is no longer there.

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In my opinion the people of Italy have found that elusive middle path. The Italian men have honed the appreciation of women down to very fine art — most appreciated by me.

I have enjoyed being looked at as though I am the most beautiful person that a man has seen today.

IMG_6866When I am close enough to hear, I smile to myself when I hear their whispers of “Bella” or “Ella” or other such sweet nothings or even a very quiet whistle.

Believe me — the middle path is sweet.

Love & Kindness — A Diamond in the Rough.

I am addicted to the remotely located Ningaloo coral reef at Cape Range National Park.

It is the worlds longest onshore reef. Grab your snorkel, goggles and flippers walk off the shore and you are immediately in the wonderland of coral and sea creatures.

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The best bit about this obsession is that it is only twelve hours drive away from my home.

This part of the North West of Australia  has a harsh climate with extremely high summer temperatures, dangerous animals, droughts, cyclones, lack of water and very long distances between towns.

The adversity of living in this part of the world can create deeply authentic people who have had to connect to make things work.

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Advice for cycling this path. Packs of dingo’s are known to bite bicycle tyres. This sign tells you to stand as tall as you can, face the pack of dingo’s (as they circle around you?). Plus if you are with someone stand back to back, look the dingo’s in the eye. Stay close to children and small teenagers, etc. A person needs to be tough to live here.

At the National Park camp grounds the only facilities are  picnic tables with seating, drop toilets and rubbish bins.

No mobile phone service, wifi, fresh water, shops or anything else. For that you have to drive an hour away to the town of Exmouth.

After staying at the remote park, I go to Exmouth to re-civilise myself. After a week or more of only salt water touching my skin, my  hair will be standing on end and so congealed with salt that I can’t get a brush though it.

I take my salty self into town to have a wash before I travel on.

After days of camping my habit is to have dinner cooked for me at the restaurant in the caravan park where I stay before heading south and back home.

The last time I was there I wandered over to the Potshot pub for a pre-dinner drink and a quiet read before heading to the restaurant for dinner.

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The Potshot Hotel

I’m a people watcher so when I heard lots of loud talk and laughter at a nearby table I noticed a very tall man — he appeared to be about fifty or sixty years of age —  it was hard to tell. His hair was dark without any grey and his body was shaped like a modern day Chinese Wealth God.

This mans huge girth was swaddled in a bright blue “T” shirt. He moved lightly on his feet for such a heavy man so I imagined that imperceptibly over time he had swapped his six pack for a keg.

Mr “Blue” as I named him had large black heavy framed glasses with coke bottle lenses that slid down his nose. When he chose to see he tipped his head back and looked down from his great height.

His skin was the red of a European who had —over the decades — been so sun burnt that his skin had given up and was perpetually a deep crimson. As he laughed loudly I noticed a gap in his teeth.

Blue walked lightly and quickly but with the waddle of a heavily pregnant woman. I noticed that he was talking to a couple of young women and that a loving engaged energy wafted over the group. They seemed to be excited to be together. There was a visible pinkish glow over these people and they had easy familiarity and respect that made me curious.

I then reminded myself that it was madness to assume anything about anyone or anything in life so I went back to my book.

Later I wandered back to the caravan park and restaurant.

In the dark on the excellent bike paths of Exmouth I felt safe because the paths were filled with cyclists, runners and dog walkers enjoying the cool evening air.

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Emu warning signs

The only unsafe part was the emus who are known to be aggressive at times.

Over the last couple of years I have been invited to join people at their table in this restaurant. I guess because it is too embarrassing for some people to see a single woman eating alone? I’m not sure really why this happens but it does.

I had forgotten this quirk in the fabric of the universe so excitedly entered the restaurant thinking about the next chapter of my book.

A very tall backpacker waiter with a strong accent — I couldn’t place — hovered over me as he showed me my table.

As he bent over the top of me and bumped me as he gave me the menu, this was distracting me so I didn’t notice the people around me.

However, my mind finally registered the words; “Come and sit here!”  from a man at the next table who was inviting me to join them.

It is the larger than life “Blue” mountain of a man from the pub and he was there with the four younger people.

Resigned that this is the way of it in this restaurant in Exmouth — I do.

I notice a couple of grey nomads who are about my vintage sitting at the table behind “Blue” and they take a lively vicarious interest in what is happening. It is easy for them to follow the theme as “Blue” is joyous, loud and open with his speech.

Upon sitting down I learn that “Blue’s” name is Walsey — this is because he comes from Wales.

He is excited to have me at the table because he had noticed me reading at the pub.

Walsey emanates smiles. He is loud and funny and seems out of place with the other occupants of the table. Yet;  they sit there with a sense of protection and caring.

I’m introduced; First to a German couple both slender, refined, beautiful and quiet. Their  eyes were intelligently taking in the play of words as they wash over the table. This quiet couple chip in occasionally and thoughtfully speak. I learn that they have opened an amazing business in Exmouth called Social Society where they serve delicious organic food and sustainable clothing.

At the other end of the table are a married couple. The woman is Korean with a round face, easy smile and lots of dead pan jokes. Her newly minted husband is from Ireland. These two are fun, they have twinkles in their eyes and a ready humour. They work from Perth in the fly-in/fly-out mining industry. They are a joy to be around because they keep the conversation flowing — no matter what Walsey says.

I am the only Australian born person at the table and I recognize that this has been the familiar experience all my life. I am constantly exposed to a soup of different cultural perspectives and ideas without having to travel overseas —I well up with the feeling of luck and gratitude.

Curious; I ask what brings them together and the story unfolds.

During the boom time in Western Australia the Korean woman and German couple were in Exmouth working in hospitality. They couldn’t  afford the extremely high cost of accommodation in town, so they camped in the bush out of town. They had no facilities — no water, toilets, rubbish collection or electricity.

Sort of like being at Cape Range National Park however, without the toilets, camp sites or rubbish collection.

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The bush around Exmouth is harsh and dry not an easy place to camp or live.

The bush here is hot, dusty, full of insects that bite, plants that sting, snakes, and other poisonous creepy things.

There are very few trees around Exmouth and the few that do get to survive are stunted and provide little shade.

I imagined that their tent would have been hellish. After a shift they would have had to cook and clean for themselves, cart in their own water, food and everything else and only God knows what they did for a toilet.

These people were from Korea and Germany where they have every facility imaginable so they probably would have been exposed to extreme culture shock.

Their story is told in snippets between jokes, rude comments and various other stories.

At one time Walsey relays that he thought that the Korean woman would never get married because he thought she was a lesbian.

At another time he says he knows that his twenty-three year old Australian daughter is a virgin — for sure.  

He then relates how he behaved when he met the only boyfriend she ever let him near.

We then totally understand why he thinks that she doesn’t have boyfriends — she knows how to evade her fathers ideas.

Then he questions me. “Where do you live?”

When I answer he loudly asks “What is the value of your home?” His friends cringe but remain quiet.

To which I reply; “Way more than you can imagine, I’m a purse.”

I then say to the table “I’m a total nurse and a purse — I understand this is a real turn on for men.”

They cringe again and at the same time look amused.

His next question is; “What type of car do you drive?” 

I am ecstatic at this situation how amazing to be asked such things!

The grey nomads who are watching are also excited to see how this all unfolds.

In answer I slap my keys on the table. When he sees it is a Mercedes he looks happy.

The two couples wince again and then protectively try to say something to ameliorate his crash-bang queries.

I am in a place of joy, such open gall and innocence all mixed up together in a fully grown man.

At the end of the meal he whips out his credit card and pays for everyone including me.

Back to the story of why they were all together.

This is how I heard their story — I am not really sure if I have it exactly right.

Walsey noticed their situation, and he was living in Exmouth with all the facilities of modern life.  He invited them to live with or maybe around him camping in his garden.

These back packers moved out of the bush and they all lived as a community protected by this big Boomer of a man and for this they love and respect him.

At the end of the evening Walsey turns to me.

Much to the delight of the grey nomad couple who are still closely following the hilarity of our table  — he says; “Come back to my place.”

By this stage my love for this kind bumbling man knows no bounds — He is a fine soul and I respect him. I let him down gently. I say; “Thanks so much but I have a long drive tomorrow so — no.”

When he insists I gently say;

“Walsey, I don’t want to drink anything more tonight so thanks so much for inviting me but no.”

He has had a few too many wines so asks a few more times until he finally gets the “No” in good humour.

The grey nomads are hysterical, I feel joyed out.

Kind, generous and genuine people come in many guises.

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.

Unofficial Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb in the mid 80’s

In the 1980’s life was a little more simple. Perhaps it was that I was more relaxed and less fearful of doing silly things?

I was in Sydney visiting a friend who I will call Harry. We were sitting around in Ugg boots and Lycra having dinner at his house in Paddington.

I spent the whole of the 1980’s in designer Lycra. I hand spray painted and had elaborate designs stitched onto my tracksuits and other stretchy exercise clothing that I wore all the time. I remember once voting in Cottesloe in a pair of bikinis as though that was the most normal thing to do. My memories of the 1980’s was that it was a chilled time of extreme exercise and physically comfortable clothing.

Just as we were finishing dinner he said to me “Would you like to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge?”

Well… as a very fit and healthy person I was up for any fun so said “Yes”.

There was no official bridge climb at that time. The bridge climb came almost a decade and a half later in 1998. In the 1980’s the only people who climbed the bridge were people who looked after it in some way — or people like Harry and myself.

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Harry had been told how to access the bridge to climb it, so we jumped into his car and drove to the area at the base of the pylons. On the picture above it is that area where there are the upright brick structures. Harry had bought some carpet along so that we could climb over the barbed wire fence.

Once we got there I found out that before the barbed wire bit was a bit of an obstacle course. First we had to scale a very steep wall with the carpet. On the top of the wall was a six foot high fence and on the top of the fence was the barbed wire.

Being athletic and strong that was the least of our problems. The first problem was to find a time span between the security vehicles so that we would not be caught. We waited in the car until a police car came and just as it left around a corner we got into action. We quickly scaled the wall and then the fence, immediately pulling the carpet into the opening at the side of the brick structure where we could enter the bridge struts. Adrenaline pumping stuff! We were both panting and sweating by the time we were secreted way in the dark of the entrance to the bridge.

We went up some stairs and eventually we found the opening where you could climb within the metal spans. Each metal span seemed a bit wider than I was and higher than it was wider.

Here is an old photograph showing a span that we climbed within.

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An old photograph showing one of the spans. We climbed within one of the upper spans.

The slope upwards was really steep and there were large smooth bolts and metal lips at very regular intervals all the way up. It was like climbing within a slippery metal cave. We climbed and at intervals there were openings in the top where you could push back a metal plate and look out.

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The bridge is covered in smooth metal bolts.

My main problem was the Ugg boots as they were not the least bit useful for gripping on to the smooth iron base of the column. After some time we came to the place where it flattened out where we were going to  look out at the very top. As far as we could tell it was the top because there is little slope at the top. To our great disappointment the lookout slot had been fixed shut. I am guessing that this was because the bridge people wanted to dissuade people like ourselves from climbing.

We then retraced our steps slipping and sliding our way downwards again to get to the bottom and back to our piece of carpet. Anxiously we waited for ages for the next security patrol and when it left we quickly threw the carpet over the barbed wire, scaled the fence and then thundered down the sloped wall to be back in the car again after our adventure.

In 2010 I was in Sydney and decided to climb the bridge the official way.

It was such a let down — the original climb was so much more interesting and fun — and it was free. I don’t mean free in cost as the cost was reasonable, I mean free in spirit.

The official bridge climb required enough equipment —the cost of which would probably to keep a whole third world family in food and education for a year. It was slooowwwwww… as slow as the most unfit of humanity.  So slow I could have fallen asleep at any time during the climb. I couldn’t help thinking “Wendy you are spending your life one moment at a time. Is this experience worth it?”

However I have to admit the views were much better.

Harlem – New York

Some places have a vibe and others are more worldly and therefore average. For example much of Manhattan is just like other places in the world – cute bars, restaurants, boutique businesses plus grunge places being upgraded with plants. I am sure that many of these ideas probably came from places like New York, however, we have this sort of thing in Perth.

This world of ours is a global place and we are getting more and more homogenous in ways.

Manhattan – New York— unlike other Western cities I have seen — appeared to me to be a mixture of first world and  third world  scenes. There are neon screens in Times Square along with lots of beggars. There are piles of rubbish on the streets and the majority of vehicles driving past are expensive. The large number of poverty stricken street people are juxtaposed by the people rushing past them who are wearing Rolex watches, Armani or holding Gucci bags.

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Rubbish collection New York style. This man was on a bike at Central Park.

Other places are just unashamedly themselves and one of these places is Harlem. Harlem does grunge and cool better than any other place I have noticed on this planet so far.

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Harlem street shops on a usual day.

It is a mish-mash of races mostly of the brownish variety as there seems to be a fair amount of “great big melting pot” stuff happening. The major race is African American however there are Hispanic, Asian, Caucasians, Jamaicans, African/Africans and all the rest socialising and doing commerce together. I felt that everyone was casually OK to be hanging out in the streets I would recommend Harlem as the place to stay when in New York. Providing that you don’t frequent the streets too much late at night.

africa shop
Most people wear hats so there are lots of hat shops

I have to be racist here — and to be racist is not a popular thing — However, it appeared to me that the African and African American people are the people who make this place great, cool and give it the vibe of difference and aliveness.

Blue on blue
Blue on blue

For starters many of these young women are statuesque with braided hair that went below their tiny waists. They are elegantly thin and strong looking. Their elongated bodies not only have petite waists but this is enhanced by rounded butts that sway along with their braided hair when they walk — all very alluring. To make the whole look even more appealing they wear long tight dresses that hug every curve and it appears that there is little underwear worn as there are not bra or pant line to be seen.

typical hair style
“Out there” braids and florals for all and sundry, Harlem has its’ own style.

Many of the young men are pristine, coiffured within an inch of their lives and their clothing — no matter what their style — is exact and they look like they have just come from a modelling job.

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Mens style – they actually buy and wear this sort of clothing.

Their fit healthy strong bodies are shown off to perfection. Drool…

Harlem dress
A typical young mum…

Then there are the children — most of the little African American girls have their hair braided in cornrow braids, with colourful beads on the end so that when they walk they make a soft sound as they clank together. Others have ribbons or other random stuff stuck amongst the cacophony of their hair styles.

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The children are beautifully dressed with braided hair.
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Close up of the hair and clothing

Every day the parents here can be seen walking their children home after school holding their hands. The children have to run at times to keep up with their tall strong healthy looking “cool” parents.

The little boys also have their hair styled — they are like mini adults with beautifully exact shaved stars, stripes or other shapes. Or they have elaborately stylised shapes on top of their heads. Only African hair could take this sort of styling. The rest of the world of hair would simply flop!

children in Harlem
Kindy kids and their hair

Now I will speak of the elderly — these people are the coolest of the lot. They wear whatever they like. Some of the men wear suits with matching shoes, tie, shirt and hat. The suit could be say cream and the shoes, tie shirt and hat could be green or yellow or orange —the whole outfit is wondrous to behold.

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All ages have their own style.

The more casual look is jeans “T” shirt and shoes all one colour. I have seen white, orange, brown, black, blue and green so far.

all red dude
Even the shoes are red.

When I say green here I am talking about lime green, and when I say yellow it is canary yellow. Orange is bright iridescent orange. Pink is of the lollie pink variety. Clothing here is always the brightest colour of the pallet.

canary yellow
Canary Yellow!

Then there are the African people both the men and women who were born in Africa. They wear those wonderful African clothes with the bright geometrically designed flowing floor length dresses with wrapped turban, shawl and all the rest … Brightening up the street for as far as the eye can see.

The Caucasians, Asians and Hispanic people are pale and bland and difficult to notice even although they are there.

The other thing about Harlem is the fact that the Avenues are very wide with wide footpaths and in summer the people bring out their chairs and tables and sit on the street in the sun.

cool dood in suit
Street life, look at the old guys clothing!

Discussing life at full volume — intimate details — at super loud volume, with comments like “this is so personal” “I don’t tell anyone but you this…” Not only do they discuss amongst themselves they call out to people walking along. I have been told : You are in great shape Miss” and that “I love your hat”. It is all very friendly and neighbourly this street hanging out.

dresses for sale
Primary colours for clothing

Just as every culture has some sides that are not so easy to be around Harlem is the same.

Some of the people also have their domestic tiffs right out loud in the street in front of everyone including their children. Here it is not “behind closed doors” it is in your face right out loud and open to the world, sort of dysfunctionally and unconsciously honest when I think about it.

The liquor stores where you can buy wine are like glass boxes where the wine and shop assistants are encased in a glass box. You point at your wine and the assistant gets it for you and then you play using a box where you deposit the money and ID and swing the thing around. They put the wine and change on it and swing it back.

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Wine and spirits lock down!
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How to get your purchase and pay. You need ID.

Personally I don’t actually understand this system because you can actually buy wine and beer at the local deli and supermarket.

I am sure that many of the churches here are wonderful places that are inclusive etc. However, they also have the opposite who seem to find difference and inclusion WRONG.

toxic church words
It reads; “WE WILL TAKE HARLEM BACK FROM THE PINCH NOSE NEGROS AND THE DEMONIC HOMOS NEXT MEETING 23RD JUNE 2014”. I’m not sure that this would be allowed in Australia it would probably break our discrimination laws.

Then there are the parks. In one travel advisor site it said to visit Marcus Garvey park so I did. What I found was the trees and grass fenced in. Large piles of human faeces on the stairs on the walk up the the summit of the hill. There is so little open space in Harlem so I was shocked to see it so neglected.

Locking the trees in
They fence in the trees and grass at the main park in Harem.

There are also some ideas that are so fantastic such as the solar mobile phone charging stations in the park.

phone chargng in park
Solar iPad and mobile phone charging station in the park. It included all the cables required so that you didn’t even need your own cable.

Then there was the man who was using the traffic island and traffic lights as his gym.

Street gym - you don't need money to get buff in Harlem
This man was exercising on a traffic island – He was using the signage as his gym. He was really buff, proves you don’t need money to look fantastic!

One afternoon as group of about 20 or 30 “bikies” were doing wheelies up and down the street I was living on. They were so loud you couldn’t continue a conversation. The children of the area would wait at the traffic lights and join in with the motor bikes as they went past so there were kids doing wheelies on bicycles and all types of motor bikes doing wheelies with them.  Some of the bikies had four wheel bikes with two people standing on them as they went along on the two back wheels.

Lastly there was the gun shots at night on the street to which I simply retired to the back room of the apartment and went to bed.

I loved Harlem and so when you come to New York don’t miss it!

Officious Officials USA style

Every country has a different way of handling officialdom.

In some Asian countries the officials have the power to do whatever they like — some are corrupt — so I have learned to keep a low profile so that I am not singled out.

I remember last time I was in Malaysia. I was going through customs in transit and an official simply stole my toothpaste — a new unopened tube of expensive stuff. Immediately a hawker kept badgering me to buy some from her — I repeat — this was in the customs hall during transit! The customs official seemed to be OK with the hawker — perhaps he took a commission? It took me some time to work out what was happening and to keep myself safe.

In northern Europe the officials I have encountered are simply like another human — they don’t seem to have any need to do the “power” thing, they talk to you like another intelligent adult and seem to allow a smooth easy flow of information.

Most Australian officials are friendly and helpful however when we get an ornery one they are passive aggressive. They simply make things difficult without saying much. I have learned to get around them with syrupy sweetness so they don’t affect me too much.

In the USA the officials such as customs, train conductors, or anyone working in an official way are like something out of a bad sitcom. My daughter streams those American sitcoms where they scream abuse at each other and it is meant to be funny I think that the officials are like that but due to the power they hold over you it is simply not funny.

They speak really loudly using commands — to put it plainly — they talk down to you. They command to see ID, command people to do things a particular way and their demeanor is as though they are the parent and you are their slightly dim whited child.

This takes some getting use to.

I have tried to be polite to them but they don’t crack a smile or show any sign of friendliness—they just keep on LOUDLY telling me and others what to do.

I tried to crack the code of how to respond but maybe there is no code and we civilians simply need to move along as commanded?

I found customs in Dallas particularly amusing as they officials “told off” person after person for not being able to guess the next step of a complicated security procedure. You are expected to know the procedure and if you don’t guess it right you get ridiculed or told off!

Kansas City Amtrak station
Kansas City Amtrak station — simply beautiful architecture

When I was in Kansas City Amtrak station they called for people to board the train 30 minutes before leaving time.

There were crowds of people around the exit towards the train. I thought they were queuing for that train.

Anyway to make sure I was doing the right thing I showed my ticket to the official there. He loudly laughed at me and made a joke about how stupid I was for not going directly to the train as requested by the intercom. All the people queuing around joined in with the joke laughing at his words…

Silly me!

No need to be polite here and queue!

Just get on that dang train ASAP as you have been commanded and all will be well.

Joe Danau — Spiritual Artist / Builder


Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 8.23.30 PM“When in the bush at first it seems like there is nothing there. After some time the land get’s you then you become part of the land. Then when you lift a rock or look up you notice that the world is teaming with life. Everything is living—the air, everything… This is what I try to put in my paintings—the things that you don’t necessarily see.” Joe Danau

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Joe Danau – Australian Builder and Artist


Joe Danau found his artistic inspiration and enlightenment from the most unlikely of circumstances.

It is as though Joe has had a few lives in this one lifetime. He began his life in Belgium and his childhood was deeply affected by the war. When peace came he migrated to Australia. He then became a very successful tradie, then builder and businessman with his own sub-contracting company. Unexpectedly he was influenced by a most ‘out of this world’ unusual friendship, to finally find his way back to his original childhood intention of becoming an artist.

This is Joes life story so far.

Joe was born in Belgium in 1935 and the first five years were wonderful years where the people of Belgium couldn’t spend all of their money. Food was plentiful, there was laughing, dancing the Charleston and life was plentiful. His mother owned a cafe in Brussels where beer and food was sold and the cafe seemed to be one constant party for the young Joe.

 Joes childhood

Joes older brother (left) and little Joe in their woollen pants

When he was about five the war arrived in Belgium and Joe he remembers going by horse and cart down the main road out of Brussels with a man who owned the horse, his mother and brother.

Joe’s Mother had decided to take an open horse and cart away from the invasion—it was a quick decision in the heat of the moment.

They were part of a mass exodus and the road was packed with people and their belongings. After one day of walking down the road the old horse was exhausted so they pulled off the road beside a big warehouse. Very soon after they pulled off they heard the sound of German airplanes as they came over machine gunning, shooting and dropping small bombs onto the road and down the side of the road that was full of people. If they had not pulled off when they did they may have been killed.

Soon after that some Germans soldiers drove down the road and pulled over to the warehouse and broke in. They found that it was full of food—biscuits and jam. One solider gave Joe an open tin of jam and he remembers sitting on the stairs and eating from the big can with his fingers.

His mother decided it was really unsafe to stay or go further down the road away from Brussels and so asked his brother to get Joe so that they could return to Brussels. Unknown to the mother his brother couldn’t find Joe and simply jumped back on the cart without him.  They started back down the road without Joe. Luckily for Joe when this was discovered they came back and found him on the stairs with the jam.

On the way back the stench on the road was horrific. There was blood, body parts and guts everywhere. The horse was as spooked as were the humans.  It was very slow going with fear their constant companion.

At this stage a row of German tanks came out from Brussels. The first tank had a big blade on it that clearing everything off the road.

When they eventually got back to the café they found that people had broken in to the café stolen the beer and used the bed as a toilet.

During the war his mother had to run the café to survive. Joe’s father was initially a POW. He had been rescued by the Swiss Red Cross from a camp. He spent his time in an infirmary recovering from a severely infected head injury that was inflicted by a rifle butt while he was a POW.

 Joes childhood 1

Joe on his bike — in front of his mother’s café.

His grandfather thought that the boys would be safer and better cared for in a Catholic boarding school so as a little mite of seven years old Joe went to live in the strict surroundings of a convent for boys.

Joe escaped the brutality of the boarding school by spending much of his time reading.

He became a choirboy so at times would sing in the Cathedral. This was his first introduction to art because the works of Rubens and many other Flemish Masters were hidden away from the eyes of the invader in the back of the Cathedral. The young Joe loved those paintings and vowed that someday he would become an artist.

Joe painted at this time and the walls of his mother’s café were covered with his works.

When Joe left boarding school he was 12 and when 13 Joe was invited to learn at the Institute of Art in Construction. Everyone else in the class was over 20 years old and some were 30 however, this didn’t worry him at all. He was an immediate success as he had been reading books his whole life so won first prize for the theory and was advanced immediately to the second level.

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The certificate from the Belgium Institute of Art and Construction

The day he turned fourteen his father put him to work and Joe started digging trenches for foundations. At the same time he continued with his studies at night school and learned all about stone masonry, and other artistic aspects of building. At his fathers work he advanced to brick laying.

 Joes childhood 2

Joe the apprentice builder at 14 years old

When peace came the Danau family reunited but the friction between the allied troops and the Russians horrified Joe’s father who had spent three years in hospital recovering. He was filled with trepidation and declared: “We’re not going to be caught again… we must get out of Europe.”

In 1951 the family migrated to Western Australia and bought a farm in Donnybrook.

Country life was not to the liking of 16 year old Joe so he moved up to Fremantle.

Joe’s first work in Belgium had been as a stonemason therefore it was natural that he entered the building trades. Quickly he graduated from bricky’s laborer to a full time bricklayer.

Soon after his 17th birthday he met an Australian girl who had two children and they settled in Fremantle. When he was 20 they were married, as he felt very protective of her and her children particularly as she was mentally unwell. They had two more children making a family of three girls and one boy. This marriage lasted fifty-three years and ended with her death at a ripe old age.

In the late 1960’s the building trade slumped and Joe accepted a job at the isolated Catholic Lombardina Mission staffed by Germans in Beagle Bay. Beagle Bay is 125 kilometres north of the pearling centre of Broome in the North West of Western Australia.

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The famous Beagle Bay Pearl Shell Church

Joe had no idea that this would change his life forever and he would return to his original childhood dream of becoming an artist.

Joe became well known to the local Aboriginal people as he was building for their community, in particular an old bloke who was an elder became a regular friend.

The elder was respected and a tad feared as he had flashlight eyes, with a light that smoldered behind them.  His very presence demanded respect. He rarely spoke and when he did he was quiet and of few words. Many people found him intimidating and the Mission locals mainly avoided him.

Joe found that the elder’s beliefs and physicality different — powerful and pure.  Joe understood that the elders way of living was beyond anything that was currently held as possible by most people.

He was not just an elder but also a “Medicine Man” who had walked from the Northwest down a song-line via Uluru to Adelaide and up to Queensland at least twice. Along the way he would perform ancient traditional Medicine Man initiation rituals.

As there were so many languages along the way, the old bloke would have to learn each language. This man was extremely educated and spoke all the languages. At each language group they would pick up a new person and drop off the person who had been picked up when they last visited. This ensured that each language group had a few people who understood all of the languages along that song line.

The elder was from a time when his teachers had little or no contact with white people so his education was purely traditional. His way was often diametrically opposed to the ways of the Christian raised Aboriginals of the mission. Joe noticed that he was feared and ostracized for his traditional Aboriginal beliefs therefore he had few friends and Joe and he struck up a strong bond.

Joe felt that the elder knew what he was doing all the time—it was like he was a fully conscious human being.

Joe reminisces what happened when they went net fishing. When a big fish was caught in the net the old bloke would jump in and disappear below the water for up to two minutes. Then Joe would see a hand with a huge one meter long fish slowly rise up above the water. The fish would be dead. The old man had killed it with his teeth. Joe has many stories of this mans exquisite control and use of his body and understanding of the landscape and animals.

The local mission people had fear around this elder’s ability so avoided him and thus his knowledge. The elder found this to be very heartbreaking but after some attempts to pass on the knowledge and artifacts he gave up.

He told Joe that Christianity and alcohol affected the next generation —he gave special totem objects to relatives as required by law and his people sold them for alcohol in Broome. These artifacts were ancient and powerful and the Christian raised family members simply didn’t grasp the cultural significance of the objects.

The old bloke then realized that respect for the traditional Aboriginal culture was usurped by “white mans ways” even by his blood brothers and sisters. He came to the conclusion that there was no one that he could trust to pass his ancient knowledge onto so he stopped. He told Joe that the original Aboriginal culture would be gone once his generation was gone.

Joe 6

Cooking lunch on the Beach

No work on Sunday was a Mission rule so Joe would often take a truckload of men, women and children and their dogs to fishing spots or picnics.

Joe 4Successful fishing

On one of these fishing trips Joe was standing in a small river about knee deep in the water with his fishing rod. The children all started yelling “snake, snake” and a couple of them ran over to Joe and climbed on him literally rooting him to the spot.

Two black snakes swam down the river towards him and they circled him then swam through his legs and swam off.

The elder was watching and interpreted it as a sign.

One day the elder asked Joe on walkabout. Joe accepted thinking that the trip would be pleasurable just like the ones they had done so far—maybe a few days or a week at the most. He had been on many walks with the elder and thought nothing of it.

“I’m just going back to where I came from” explained the elder.

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Self portrait – Fishing at Beagle Bay

Joe had no idea that before him was a walk from Beagle Bay to the Mitchell Plateau in the extreme north of Western Australia. Over 1,000 kilometers of terrible terrain and that this walk would take between three to four months to complete.

Joe remembers…

“There was the elder, two of his nephews, one wife. some children and me. The day we left the Mission we simply collected our hunting gear—I had my own spear and woomera—and we went bush.”

“After two weeks of walking and living off the land and whatever water was offering I was well and truly ready to toss it all in and head for home. But as I had no idea where we were, I had to keep going. My survival was entirely in the hands of the elder.”

“Along the way we met various tribes and mates of the elder and we would stop for about a week. Ceremonies would be held and although I was not formally initiated I was permitted to watch the dancing, singing and the corroboree’s.”

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Joes painting – The spirit of the elder . This is not an exact depiction as culturally the elder would not have wanted that.

“I only had the clothes I was wearing and after some time the cloth became weak and worn until it simply rotted away and I was left without much on. The same happened with my shoes. I was not used to going bare foot so the elder made me some shoes out of bark.”

“I was so dependant on him for everything. We ate what the land provided. We ate little but the foods was so nutritious that just a little seemed well and truly enough.”

“Although I was totally dependant on him at no time did I feel insecure.”

“A couple of times due to the situation I was placed in — my mind would become different — and I became the land and the land became me.  I was floating around in it all wrapped in the blackness of the night.”

“After a few days this feeling would subside and I felt totally at peace. I was filled with a new wisdom and understanding of myself and my fellow human beings and our mutual relationship to ‘our land’.”

“I had become, in fact, a totally different person. The combination of the dancing, the chanting and the elder’s magnetic personality had affected me deeply. Our close human contact while travelling together in the wilderness had given me a deep appreciation of ‘simplicity’—we revealed ourselves to each other without pretence or deceit of any kind. For me this was the first time I had seen human beings acting in complete honesty.”

They eventually reached the elders “place” and a great reunion ensued.

Joe had to return to work at the Mission so a vehicle was found to take him down the tracks via the legendary Fitzroy Crossing, back to Broome and out to Beagle Bay.

On his return home to Fremantle Joe found his had no desire to continue many aspects of his former lifestyle. Once a ‘regular’ at the pub, he gave up drinking entirely, and smoking, and also lost interest in the more material aspects of ‘civilization’.

He gave up building and enrolled at Claremont School of Art where he won many awards over the five years that he was there.

He is known for painting, ceramics as well as sculpture.

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Two years running he won the sculpture award.

Today he owns no car and is happy with just the ‘simple things’.

Joe 2

Joe 9

Joe 1


Examples of Joes sculptures

Joe describes himself as an Australian Artist with his unique and unusual techniques that he has developed over the years.

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Joes art techniques are uniquely developed over the years.

Joe 3

Honey ant people


Joe with a couple of large paintings


Joes current art and sculpture

IMG_3181More current paintings 

Joes website is:

Cycling in Hirafu – Japan

Japan cycling is the best!
Cycling in Japan

I have found that life always presents wonderful opportunities and if you don’t grasp them immediately they fade away as thought they were never there.

One of these opportunities came for me when one of my Australian friends got a job in Japan. I asked if I could visit. The answer was “yes’ so with that said this is how I came to travel in Japan when I was actually planning to go to Laos.

I was craving a holiday where I could be alone and able to “tune in” to my own inner essence, that part of me that is wise and kind and very, very quiet. It whispers to me and if I am too busy or have too many people around I really get to miss it. It is like missing a lover, a deep ache inside that can’t be placated.

I schedule a long trip every year that involves me being alone so that I can just be with no distractions. People call it meditation but I think that being is more than that—it is getting back to that inner truth where the meaning of life is revealed 24/7.

The first time I really connected to that part of me was on my trip to Sri Lanka and I have taken time like this since. Once a year I give myself a week of silence or what I call “not doing”.

After visiting my friends I decided that cycling in Japan would be the thing to do and Hokkaido would be the place. I read that Hokkaido was mainly forrest and had a very low population density. That sounded perfect.

The time I spent in Yokohama with my friends it was simply amazing. A cooking class, the expats club, wonderful shrines and parks. We actually climbed Mt Fuji in one day that started at 3 am and finished at about 7 pm — five hours up and three hours down with about one hour the whole day to stop. The rest of the time was getting there and back.

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On top of Fuji with Jane

I do recommend some training before doing such a climb, a tad silly to climb it without any prior conditioning.

This  is meant to be about cycling so I will get on with it.

I took the Shinkansen bullet train to northern Honshu and over a week finally made my way up to Hokkaido. I was “feeling out” Japan trying to work out where to go to get my cycling trip. Every cycle shop I visited was either absent even although they were on the map, or the bikes were rickety and slow. I hired an ancient bike in Aomori and peddled around with the fast traffic and no map, I got lost a number of times and forever thank Google Maps— paid for by a Japanese phone company—not Telstra thank the stars! Last year I had used Google maps with Telstra for a few hours in Portugal. The bill was $1500AUD so I didn’t make that mistake again.

Sapporo had only rickety bikes in the hire places I found. Finally I gave up on my cycling trip and just decided to walk up mountains instead. I booked myself into a small Japanese place called “Ramina” in the town of Hirafu in the Niseko onsen and ski area.

Beautiful quiet and convenient Japanese home stay.
A lovely place to stay for a week.

It was summer but most places were booked out, I was lucky to get a room.

I took the local clackerty clack train to Kutchan and was picked up by the host of the Ramina and taken up into the mountains to the little village of Hirafu.

Hirafu has already been discovered by Australians and the locals seem happy with that. There is a good amount of “great big melting pot” stuff happening with many little  Euro/Japanese children around.

The guest house was exquisite, the food was top quality authentic Japanese.

Hirafu has a cycling shop called Rhythm cycles  I think it is owned by an Aussie or two, I didn’t quite work out who was the boss. Joe who was my main contact there spoke excellent English and he was one of those melting pot people half Japanese and half Swedish.

Here I am unfashionably dressed in-front of the Rhythm Cycles store with my bike.

Joe hired me a brand new road bike for approximately $45.00 a day and absolute bargain for the milage I got from this wonderful machine. It was an Allez bike now as I know nothing about bikes and don’t really care too much about the details. I sort of fell in love with this bike. I have a much more expensive Scott bike at home but this bike beat it hands down. It was stable and light and the gears were always just right. I guess some machines just connect with your body and some don’t?

The Allez road bike

I am not really a cyclist as such, sure I cycle and most times I get the right cycling clothing on but I am not serious about it. I simply love to move. I find that if I don’t move I can’t sleep well. Therefore cycling is a fun way to move and that is why I do it. I know nothing about bikes except that they have wheels and gears and I still don’t understand which gears are “high” and which ones are “low”.

OK I have just googled that. “High” gear is for going down low and “low” gear is for going up high. I guess that must make sense (?)

Andy another guy at Rhythm cycles gave me a small map and this was by guide. Another thing I am not particularly good at is following maps when I am on holidays. When I am at home and I have a time schedule I am excellent at following maps. To get lost or find a new way is not on the agenda I simply don’t have time for that.

Inside the cycling store

On holidays I go into another time zone and I tend to just play around and find my own way. This proved to be very good for my health because daily I would add another 7 or 12 kilometres to my ride because I simply missed a turn or was having so much fun zooming downhill that I would just not be thinking of where I was meant to be going.

The Rhythm Cycle – Cycling map

I love to get lost and found again – interesting experiences occur when you allow yourself to “not know” what you are doing or where you are going.

The first day I cycled around the base of a mountain called Mt Yotei. I didn’t read all about how far it was or anything like that I simply saw there was a cycle around the base and thought that it would be pretty thing to do on such a lovely sunny day.

Mt Yotei

It was is a 59.4 kilometre cycle around the base of this mountain, by the time I limped back up to Hirafu my quadriceps were complaining. This cycle can be a tourist cycle with lots of stops as there are shrines, a organic tofu making place, a National Park and all sorts of restaurants along the way.

I went back another day, here the local collect fresh mountain drinking water, they back their cars and vans up and fill containers full.
Fresh mountain water directly from the “gods of the mountain”.
It was freezing cold and delicious.

I simply got on the bike and did it I stopped for the odd photograph and once again when I got a puncture. Murray an Aussie  from Rhythm cycles came out and fixed the puncture for me. Mobile phones are just so useful on a trip like this and a hire bike that gets fixed by using a phone is just the thing.

Japan has smooooooth wide roads. The drivers are respectful and calm  they leave lots of room so I didn’t feel any danger, I actually got a surprise at the difference between cycling in Japan compared to Australia. I didn’t realise how much stress I felt in Australia where I am constantly feeling as though drivers are too close and much too fast. I only realised it when I didn’t feel the stress here!

The sides of the roads often have a lane that is wide and smooth, however you have to keep your wits about you if you use it because it often peters out or there are huge drains.

The drains often mess up the side of the road “cycle way”

They are not a cycle lanes but often you can use them like that in places. To top off the amazing cycling Hokkaido is not very populated so there is hardly any traffic.

Smooth wide roads

The second day I cycled what they call the Goshiki Loop. Again I didn’t really take much notice of the map and of course I got lost and did an extra 12 kilometres. The Goshiki Loop is meant to be a 43.3 kilometre loop around another mountain called Annuputi.

What I didn’t realise was that the ride was up for 16 kilometres you get to the top and then the rest of the ride is down. 16 kilometres up and 16 kilometres down with a few kms getting to the up bit and after the down bit.

I started this ride in a wonderful blissful state as I don’t know what I was in for.

Then the road went up and up and up. At one stage it sort of levelled off a bit and it looked like the road was going down. So, I changed in to my big gear thing on the front and decided to coast. Now that caused me to come to a complete stop and I just about started to roll backwards! Back into the little front geary thing and keep peddling hard! It had been so steep that a gentle rise looked like going down, an illusion.

At first I thought “just around this corner it will go down”, and then “just around this next corner it will go down”…however after a long time of that I simply peddled and stayed in the moment listening to the trees,birds and insects looking at the view and enjoying the slow burn of muscles.

At one stage I had to ride thought a tunnel.

As I was cycling up other cyclists were coming down and talk about respect! Each person who passed nodded at me as they went by. Even the Westerners. Mind you there were not many cyclists doing this silly mountain. Finally I reached the top and then had this terrifying feeling that going down was going to be as difficult as coming up. I am not a star at going fast down hill.

On top of the Goshiki ride.

I spent the whole time cruising down being very careful to keep my speed in check and finally made it to the flat bits of the land and then I was completely lost.

Anyway, finally after some faffing around I found my way home.

When I got back to Rhythm Cycles they told me that the other direction was the best way to go for various biking reasons that I failed to listen to.

Therefore, I did the whole thing another day the other way around. Guess what? I got lost again. I simply don’t switch my serious “business woman” brain on during holidays.

I think that Japan must be one of the worlds best places to come to cycle. Give it a go and if you ever get up this way Hirafu has the best food and accommodation as well.

Garbage in Japan – an art and a science.

I was in Japan visiting my Aussie friends Jane and Tony. One morning I found Jane sitting with her cup of tea catatonic with “post-traumatic rubbish disorder”

I will explain.

Last Thursday morning Jane thought that it was “bottle day” for the rubbish collection. In the searing heat and high humidity she took four bags full of bottles and cans and clanked her way up hills and down stairs only to find that the wire cages that were meant to take them were all collapsed. She wandered the streets looking for other cages that were yet to be emptied… no luck so she clanked her way back home feeling frustrated and very hot.

Much later I went for a walk and found many cages with “bottle and can” rubbish neatly stacked in them. I then assumed that these cages were still “open for the business of collecting rubbish” so, helpfully — in the searing heat and humidity — I too clank down to the collection point with their rubbish and disposed of it.

 Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 8.07.32 PMThe collapsible rubbish collection points.

The next day we go past the collection point and our rubbish has not been collected. Jane decides to take it back to the house rather than “break the rules”. We take it out and take it back home, Jane is concerned about the “rubbish police” and rightly so!

Some of their expat friends had trouble learning the system. Every time they took the rubbish to the collection point the locals would yell at them for doing it wrong. In the end the woman of the house simply refused to take the rubbish out, so her partner was the one who had to suffer the abuse. Eventually, they had a visit from the “rubbish police” and we are waiting for the next exciting episode on that recalcitrant household.

Easy peasy it is all carefully explained for you on the top!

Today Jane has frantically and neatly packed their “cardboard” rubbish. Cardboard rubbish is totally different rubbish to the “bottles and cans” variety and it has a different day. At the final minute Tony has taken it down to the rubbish place.

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Jane’s cardboard origami rubbish

Neat as, the cartons washed, dried, cut up neatly, stacked and then tied together as the diagrams in the rubbish manual show you how to prepare your rubbish.

They have to get there before 8 am when it is picked up. They have missed the “cardboard rubbish” for about two months.

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More origami

They arrived back elated with the news that “bottle day” has changed and it is now today! They have also missed “bottle and can” day for a while so this is a very happy event.

 Let’s hope they make it back with their bottles before the cages collapse and they have to wait another fortnight!

So, again they rush outside with all the bottles and cans they have used for the last month.

How lucky! They get there in time and even luckier because at the collection point a Japanese neighbour gave Tony a huge Golfing book.

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You can give and receive rubbish – all in a day of rubbish news.

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Some of these books were collectable

Apparently on cardboard day you also bring out old books and magazines.

One day recently Tony staggered home with a pile of Japanese motorcycle magazines about half a meter high from the “cardboard” day. Much to Jane’s chagrin!

The Actual System explained

Japan has recycling at its’ best it is exciting stuff and the source of much conversation and stress here for a new arrival.

They take recycling very seriously and this is a great thing, however, it is extremely difficult to learn because it is a detailed and exacting science, with very little room for error.

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The cages are meant to stop the crows from getting at the burnable rubbish.

There are eleven different rubbish types and each has a different day to dispose and a different method for handling it before it is disposed.

In order to learn the system you are given a fifteen page A4 booklet in both Japanese and English. Plus you can look up a website called MIctionary.

Here are the different grades of rubbish.

  1. Burnable garbage – this is kitchen scraps, cooking oil, nappies, garden waste (neatly tied and bundles no longer than 50 cm) – plastic items that don’t have a special logo on it. Yes, they burn kitchen scraps and some plastic.
  2. Plastic containers and packaging – this is all plastics that have a special logo on it. This is not “cans, bottles and PET bottles” these are at point 6 of this list.
  3. Dry Cell Batteries
  4. Spray cans
  5. Non-burnable garbage. This must be wrapped and labeled for example fluorescent lights or glass
  6. Cans, bottles and PET bottles
  7. Small metal items such as bottle tops, aluminium foil and perhaps saucepans?

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    Small metal items?
  8. Paper
  9. Used cloth and clothing
  10. Oversized garbage
  11. Dead pets – yep! You read it — dead pets.

You must dispose of the correct type of garbage on the correct collection day before 8 am. I am yet to discover what you do with your dead pet before the collection day — the freezer perhaps?

No leaving it overnight! Get up early and put it in the mesh container before eight.

That means lots of mornings a week taking a different type of garbage to the collection point on the correct day.

If you ever live in Japan you will need this blog!