A childhood memory*

I don’t know how my mum found out about it. I guess she saw me from the lounge room window as she scanned the front yard for her youngest born. She would have checked the backyard first. Why would I be in the front yard? That was not somewhere I was meant to be. At any rate, by the time she saw me I had reached top base. She might have seen my feet dangling, perhaps spied my golden curls through the foliage, several metres off the ground. Our front yard tree, which overlooked the next door neighbour’s driveway was split into three bases: Third, second, and first, or bottom, middle and top. I was the youngest of three and each base could barely hold a child’s body comfortably, especially my brother’s – he was 5 years older than me.

I think I was 4 when I climbed to top base, without my mother knowing. Unfortunately I don’t remember the climb or the view that day. Just my mother telling me off in front of the kitchen sink, as her friend who was around for a cuppa watched on. See, we were always climbing trees, and my brother would sit at top base, my sister at the middle, and I would always be at third – barely a hop off the ground. I don’t remember my motivation for reaching the top, I’m sure I just saw the way was clear, and thought I would.

My mother didn’t smack me or anything. She didn’t even yell. But her face, level at mine, was struck with worry but tinged with relief. But what if you had fallen? I remember her asking me. But I didn’t, I say.

The big old tree was cut back to bottom base when the neighbours wanted to build a garage. That time that led to my mum holding me close in the kitchen, lovingly chastising me, was the only time I was able to climb to the top of the old tree in the front yard.


*may not be accurate; I’m sure Mum will let me know.



An open letter to Bill Shorten

Dear Mr Shorten,

I have been a supporter of you for some time, and wish you all the best for the coming election.

I was, however, very disappointed by your recent declaration that Labour would not be removing the GST from sanitary items should you form government. I am equally disappointed in the Coalition who have remained silent on the issue despite the former treasurer Hockey stating that the tax would go.

I understand that a government cannot “tell everyone what they want to hear” and comply with every societal groups’ wants when it comes to the Budget. But, please take a step back from this issue economically for a moment and consider the personal  ramifications and implications of this tax.

You are taxing women – only women – for their bodily processes. The bodily processes that create life. Women who use sanitary items are at the most vulnerable times of their lives: menstruating, or bleeding due to miscarriage or childbirth. Periods can debilitate women. But we do not complain despite the painful, tiresome and annoying week per month where we bleed. We continue to work, continue to care for our families, continue to compete as elite athletes, continue to attend to our study, and continue to go through life. Sufferers of Endometriosis often suffer in silence – undiagnosed or not even realising that their pain is so much worse than others’. For a moment think of women suffering financial hardship and especially homeless women – many cannot afford to buy sanitary items which becomes a horrifyingly unhealthy and uncomfortable situation for them to find themselves in. But it is certainly not their fault for being women, is it?

I had a miscarriage last year. It broke my body as well as my heart. Whilst still in the throes of contractions, sitting in the passenger seat of the car, my partner ran into the local milk bar to buy me pads. He came back with Tena pads for incontinence. Despite the pain coursing through my body, I laughed at him “those are for women who can’t control their BLADDERS!!!” He ran back in and changed them.

The comparison here is ridiculous. Pads for incontinence do not attract the GST. But pads for me, as I lose the baby my body and mind has begun to make a dedicated space for, attracts a 10% tax. Deemed not essential. Deemed a luxury. Are you serious?

Women who give birth can bleed for weeks. I don’t really think I need to explain to you the importance of childbirth to the human race or Australian society. But please explain – why should women be taxed for dealing with this wonderful, but often traumatic event?

You often speak of – and many of your proposed policies are based on – respect for women and a wish for real equality in this country. If you cannot put in the effort to remove a tax that only affects women at the most vulnerable times of their lives, then you are NOT respecting the rights of women, nor showing you care about equal treatment of the sexes. You are using us as a means of raising revenue.

My body SHOULD NOT BE a tool for raising revenue. It is as simple as that.

I urge you to stop pandering to the Budget bottom line and DO what you SAY you do best – put people first.

Wising you all the best for the weekend,



Smile at a Stranger Day – Sound Stupid? Only if you Say So.

There was a lot of good will going around today!

First there was the very patient ticket inspector on my City bound train who was dealing with an intellectually handicapped man, who was very unaware of the usual power situation between the two, demanding the inspector to “stop being a ding-dong!” and saying “look, let me tell you how it is…” The inspector stayed calm and cool, as his two women colleagues stood and watched, one prone to giggling throughout the interchange, and pointing out the smell emanating from the man after he left.

Second there was the woman singing loudly out her open window in Northcote, followed closely by the loudly humming school student who passed me (with no headphones, he was just REALLY happy). After this, two young girls frantically yelled and waved to get the attention of young down-syndrome girl who was singing to herself with her headphones in, and she excitedly waved back when she noticed their efforts and called back Hi.

Then there was another ticket inspector who made me smile. Taking on a tram full of school students, this big, undercover inspector found a young man who was travelling without his concession card, but on a concession ticket (his new one was coming in the mail). The rather dramatic inspector, with his jovial ethnic accent told the student that he would be facing a fine just because he didn’t pay an extra $2.60 for the full fare. He was firm, and the student looked genuinely concerned that he was going home with a fine. Instead, he got “Listen mate, you can just buy the right ticket now, you got $2.60?” The kid patted his pockets “No, I don’t have any money.” “You got a friend mate?” The inspector asked. “Ah yeah,” the kid points to the other student who had been next to him the whole time. “Him.” “Does HE have $2.60?…” And the story ended happily, and I don’t think that student will ever travel with the wrong ticket again.

After this, the supermarket held more good will: a tough looking man in front of me in the queue ran off down the adjacent isle to rescue a child’s toy that had been thrown from a pram without the parents noticing. He gave me a glowing smile as he jumped back into his spot.

On the way home I could see a man trying to hold up an older, physically handicapped man, and stand up a bike that was crumpled on the road. A car quickly pulled over in front and a couple jumped out to see if the men were okay. The man was on his bike and all was fine, and the couple returned to their car.

Don’t be scared of helping a random, cracking a joke, smiling at a stranger… it’s what makes humans, well, human.

La Ramblas, AKA The Camino Frances

Fabrizio (the Veteran) likened the Camino de Santiago in peak season to La Ramblas, that crazy street in Barcelona that never sleeps.

Our scenic, and quite relaxing walk along the Camino Primitivo, ended when the route joined the Camino Frances at Melide, less than 100km from Santiago de Compostela. The end of the Frances route is where two of the other Ways converge, the Primitivo, and the Northern Route, and right at the end, the English and the Portuguese.

The problem with the Camino, is that you only have to complete 100km of any route to obtain your Compostela, and therefore, many a pilgrim begin precisely at the 100km marker. Many of these hoards of people are the dreaded ‘mini-mochilla’ tour groups, hundreds of walkers wearing small backpacks, who stay in hotels, have their luggage couriered to their next stop and walk in large noisy packs. I don’t consider them true pilgrims, and so I don’t appreciate them negating the peace from my Camino that I have been walking for 800km already, quite happily.

At Melide, we checked into our pilgrim hostel which was capable of holding 130 people. There were pilgrims everywhere. As their friends entered the hostel, they cheered and screamed, hugged and kissed. We saw one couple we knew from the Primitivo.

The last 100km of the Camino, along the Frances, was a noisy blur of people, noise, and vandalized way markers and signs. Whilst the track is very beautiful, rarely near the main road, and through beautiful Eucalypt forests, there are bins every 200m, and each and every sign, milestone, bin, and sometimes the odd tree and rock have been written all over with in-jokes of groups, messages of love, friendship, and sometimes complete utter nonsense for posterity or particular pilgrims who would later pass.

(Some of these messages are really quite lovely, but when they appear on the wall of a townhouse belonging to a Spanish local, I cannot condone or appreciate them.)

I walk along, angrily, ruing the explosion in popularity in this amazing pilgrimage. When I completed the Frances in 2007, there was no graffiti, no bins every few steps, and not as many ‘tourists’ rather than pilgrims. The route still seemed respected and loved. Even those who were not walking for any religious reason, still respected the sacredness of the Camino, which has been walked for 1000 years.

So, we walk the last 100kms behind groups of ‘mini-mochilla’ carriers, missing the peace and tranquility of the Northern and Primitivo route, where we knew everyone walking, and every sign or way marker was intact, untouched, and as it should be.

I thoroughly encourage future pilgrims to consider the Northern or alternative routes for their first Camino, but pray that any rise in popularity on these will not lead them to go the way of the Frances.

The Kindness of Strangers #3 – and a New Albergue

I nearly caused a monumental stuff up. We decided – for no real reason – to stay at a new private albergue in San Roman de Retorta. We were enticed by the cheap dinner menu offered, and the idea of our own room, complete with bathroom, rather than the cramped municipal facility which was basically full.

Lucky we made this decision. As the man was stamping our ‘pilgrim passport’ (credentiale) he noted that we didn’t have a stamp from Lugo, where we had stayed the previous two nights. We didn’t get a stamp because of the following reasons: a) I was too lazy to go to the Cathedral and get one, b) due to my OCD need to have our credentiale stamped neatly, I didn’t want to get stamps because it would mean that we would have to turn over the page and stamp the back (where stamps aren’t meant to go) and c) I didn’t want to get the stamp from the hotel where we stayed because it was a hotel, not a pilgrim hostel, so I thought it wouldn’t be very attractive.

So, the man looked at our stamps, and at the fact that we had walked from Irun (on the border of France, some 700kms up the road), and looked at us, concerned.

“You don’t have a stamp from Lugo… You can’t get your Compostela if you cannot prove that you have walked the last 100km of the Camino!” At this point he looked at our passports and said regretfully, almost to himself “and you’ve come all the way from Australia…”

Lugo is 101km from the end of the Camino, so loads of pilgrims start the Camino there, and still get their Compostela, upon arriving in Santiago de Compostela. The Compostela is a certificate basically. It’s pretty to look at, and has your name printed in Latin for a real archaic effect. To me, it is more than just a piece of paper saying you’ve walked 100km, and over the last 1000 years it has been a very important piece of paper, to all sorts of people. Some people believed it would absolve them of their sins, some were forced to obtain one as punishment for their crimes, and more recently, it is a symbol of overcoming a great challenge, of your perseverance and physical endurance, and mental and emotional strength. And, as with any great award, people have tried for centuries to get one ‘the easy way’. Pseudo-pilgrims have been known to catch buses or taxis from town to town, collecting stamps in their credentiale, and deceitfully receive their Compostela.

So, now the Compostela-giving office in Santiago is strict. It has to be clear that you have walked or ridden from Lugo, and now, it seems that to easily prove this, you should in fact collect two stamps for each day within the last 100km of the Camino.

With no Lugo stamp – CAMINO FAIL. And all my fault.

We were saved by the albergue owner. Now this place was not nice. There were no sheets on the bed (they gave us disposable ones), there were no doors between the bathroom and the bedroom, and no door or curtain on the ‘public’ bathroom, which basically, if you sat on the toilet, anyone walking down the hallway would see you sitting there. The food was brought by car in aluminium containers, and most of the building was still being renovated, so there were parts of the ceiling missing, lots of dirt inside, not to mention spiders, spiders everywhere!

But the lovely lady who ran this place with her son, said “Don’t worry – I will get you a Lugo stamp by tonight.”

Thank the Gods. I was picturing us catching the bus back to Lugo to get the stamp. (I sure as hell was not going to walk over 800km and not get my certificate.)

When our food was brought from town with her son, he brought a stamp from Lugo – possibly from the family business in the city – and I was so happy, and grateful.

After dinner we played cards on the grass and chatted to the son-owner of the hostel. He admitted that at the moment, the albergue was not very good. I asked him how long it had been open as we had not heard that there was a new hostel (which was why we were planning to go on further that day), and he said, “Not even a month. 15 days!” We then all understood why the building was ‘a work-in-progress’.

The son brought us another bottle of wine for our card game, and gave all the pilgrims as many cups of coffee as they liked. In the morning when I asked about pharmacies that we might pass to get some more Ibuprofen for Troy’s foot, he replied that there were no pharmacies for miles and miles, and promptly found me some tablets, giving me a whole sheet for Troy to use over the next few days.

Every time an unexpected opportunity presents itself we tend to pay it close attention, because more often than not, it seems to have fatefully provided us with good luck, a good feed, or at least a good time. When the new hostel owner stopped his car next to us on our way to this small village and handed us his flier for the rooms and dinner, we figured, “why not?” In the end, because we stayed in the new, dodgy, work-in-progress hostel, we saved our Compostela, got a great feed and lots of wine, some more anti-inflammatory tablets for Troy’s foot, and most importantly, a load of love and kindness.

And the spider in my boot? That was a bonus.

A Dark Day

I cannot put a finger on what makes me feel down. Today, I did not get out of ‘the wrong side of the bunk’, nor was I hormonally emotional, or have any logical reason for not feeling happy. I had a good sleep, but I certainly think that I was zapped after our big day yesterday over the windy ‘hospitales’ route.

We set out, and my legs were not good. But they were definitely fine enough to walk. I plugged in my ReginaPod and even she wasn’t lifting my spirits. She made me feel worse. Jamiroquai didn’t work either, not even Coldplay’s Viva la Vida made me feel any better. I couldn’t smile. I walked along, thinking of how nice it would be to crawl into a cave and lie in the foetal position for a while. Sometimes I whacked my walking stick into trees, or smashed pinecones as far as I could down the mountain.

Who knows why people have days like this? I wondered if it was due to the big dinner I had had the night before, or dairy products, or the few glasses of wine I had drunk before bed. I had a mild headache – could that be linked? Who knows?

We struggled today to cover the kilometres. It took us 5 hours to walk 10km (other days, we walk this in 2 hours). The road was steep and difficult, up and down, and with our dodgy legs still recovering from yesterday, we went very slowly. But we plodded along, took photos, and stopped to take in the views. It was really a very beautiful leg of the journey.

I don’t think it’s easy to explain depression – or just the feeling of being ‘down’. Today I was down, but tomorrow I will most probably be back to my chirpy, happy self. This Camino has uplifted me, with the exercise, the forever changing scenery and fun people we meet along the way, and the exhilaration of always going somewhere, always achieving something. I have had a string of weeks of only feeling good. No dark days.

But how do you explain to your partner, mum or friend, that today, you just don’t feel yourself? How will it not be taken as a complaint, a whinge, a sook? Physically, you might feel quite fine – but the inside of your head feels like it has been covered with a dark blanket. Saying you feel ‘down’ can make people think you are being melodramatic or making light of people who suffer from chronic depression, and saying you need a hug makes you seem emotional or soft.

So you keep it inside to avoid the trouble of all of the above, and decide to deal with it yourself, but knowing that the people you love might think you’re ‘in a mood’.

Now I sleep – and hopefully – blanket on, blanket off.

Day 6: Deba to Markina

The Slovakian Flute as a Staff man is walking with us today. Before last night, we had not seen him since before San Sebastian, and he arrived at the Pilgrim Hostel in Deba, and seemed excited to see us. He told us then that he had continued walking with the German group – which contained Chain Smoking Drunk Pilgrim – but he had to leave them because they were drinking all day, and were slowing him down. “I couldn’t believe them!” he said with great exasperation, “we did not start walking until 10, and then at lunch they drank two bottles of wine, and then in the afternoon, they were still drinking, and we got lost and couldn’t find the arrows, and I just had to leave them because I thought, I will never get to Santiago!”

(The Drunkermans – as I am now calling them, arrived last night at about 9pm – Chain Smoking Drunk Man gave everyone a wave, lit up a smoke and babbled away drunkenly about the day they had had. It should also be noted that Germans on the Camino have quite a bad rep – and these sorts of pilgrims seem to be the cause. We often get mistaken for Alamein? and we quickly say, “No, no, we’re from Australia.”)

So today the Slovakian walks with us – we quickly realise that he is not the best arrow finder (we are lucky to have two sets of eyes), and we help lead him out of the city, and so continue on together. Our walking is always fast when we have someone to chat with, and find him an interesting acquaintance – well-travelled and well-read – he is a good change from us whinging to each other about blisters and pain.

We obtain a good Spanish guide book from the Gay Couple with the Dogs – they have left it on the path leaning against a rock – and I also find a great walking stick. (You need a good stick on the Camino, for all sorts of things.) When we pass the Korean girl and another pilgrim who have stopped for a rest, the Slovakian plays a short tune to pep them up and we continue up the gradually ascending path.

We glimpse B1 and B2 walking behind us – the Snoring Belgians – but keep up our pace as we know they are slower than us. However, later, I fall back to walk with B1 who is really struggling with his feet today. He approaches behind me as I am using my stick to try to impossibly pull some good looking berries within reaching distance, and easily grabs them for me. “I picked some for you – ” he says to Troy 50m up, who is waiting for me, “ – but I ate them all!” He says he was walking behind me, always keeping me in eyesight so he wouldn’t be left behind. B2 is well ahead of him.

Today is a hard day – because there is nothing for around 20km – so you have to make the distance, or have nowhere to sleep. All the pilgrims know this, and have left before sun up, and even though we pass or fall behind each other all through the day, we keep in mind who is behind and who is ahead, and at the albergue that evening, have a mental note of who is there, and who is yet to arrive. It is beautiful – arriving at the albergue and having a group of people, who don’t know your name, smile and applaud purely because you are there, safe and well.

The Slovakian Flute Player leaves us behind as I struggle up the hills, but we see him later on that evening, and he worries that we were upset that he left us. It’s just the way of the Way – always passing each other, but never forgetting, or stopping worrying about how everyone is travelling.