Embracing Community and the Kindness of Strangers

As I approach the final furlong of my Sea Change in Anglesea (for new readers, my Melbourne house is having a bit of a makeover), I’m really getting into life down here. As a not-for-profit grant-writer, I often talk about promoting or creating community connectedness and a sense of belonging. Well, recently, I’ve had the good fortune to experience both.

Last Friday, I joined in a monthly ‘Big Sing’ in a local township – well more like a hamlet actually. I was welcomed with open arms and felt instantly at ease to join in the warm-ups which, a bit like at my Melbourne-based choir, require a total absence of inhibition – blowing out your lips like a horse, wailing like a siren and generally waving your arms around. We then sang in canon using the words of a GPS navigator to the tune of London Bridge. After a few gospel numbers, a Maori song to mark Anzac Day and an Aboriginal Stolen Generations song, it was time for supper. With candles dotted around and gum tree leaves decking the walls of the community hall, we tucked into home-made soup and crusty bread. This was definitely choir Country Style.

Then on the weekend I went to the Lighthouse Literary Fest at nearby Fairhaven. I had booked back in February (just as well as it sold out fast) and knew I would need to find childcare for Bertie; I couldn’t leave him in solitary confinement in the laundry for two days running. Nearer the time, something or somebody would turn up I told myself. But the dog-sitter I left him with on a return trip to Melbourne was booked up, my neighbours were going off to Hawaii and I couldn’t really ask 89-year-old Dolly over the road. As it was, Bertie had already barked imperiously at her when she put her bins out.


Early on in the piece, a lovely woman, Pauline, came up and admired Bertie when we were sitting outside a cafe. We got chatting and she told me her daughter had a cocker spaniel called Theodore aka Teddy. So when I bumped into her again several weeks later (she runs one of the thrift shops here), I mentioned that I was looking for a dog-sitter over Anzac weekend and wondered if one of her children might be able to help. It turned out that her kids were busy but, sure enough, Pauline and her husband Andrew volunteered. What’s more they refused to take any payment.

What I find so wonderful and generous about their gesture is that they hardly know me and yet they were happy to spend their weekend minding Bertie. Needless to say they fell in love with my boy who had – excuse the terrible pun – a ball. They took him to church, out to lunch, lavished him with cuddles, treated him to few choice snacks and several walk, and on the Saturday, invited Teddy down from Melbourne to keep him company.

All the while I was free to immerse myself in two days of cultural nourishment and stimulation. Much as I have loved all the beach and river walks, prolific bird life, friendly cafes and charity shop fossicking, I was ready for a bit of bookiness and bookish company. From the venue – a newly built Surf Life Saving Club with big ship-like timber beams overlooking the ocean to yummy paper bag lunches and a program of talks and panel discussions with actors, ABC radio presenters, journalists, film directors, emerging and established authors –it was a treat from beginning to end.

One of the discussions look at health and what makes us sick. Much of the discussion revolved around the corporatisation of food and the inability of those who are socially and economically disadvantaged to make healthy choices. We learnt about fast food producers and doctors being in cahoots on corporate boards and that wherever Coca Cola features on the world map, there’s obesity.

Other sessions explored memoir writing: how do we write about friends and people we know – do we disguise them (change their hair colour, sex and geography), do we write about them as they are and get their permission, or do we ultimately betray them? And how do we tackle writing about parents, whether dead or alive? Then there’s the dilemma of self-exposure for those that have written memoirs. Are we introverts (shrinking violets), extroverts (show-offs) or what American writer Susan Cain refers to as ambiverts, a mix of both?!

At the end of each session a musical double act, Nice Work, performed a song with a ukulele accompaniment. A bit like a sorbet cleanses the palate during a rich meal, the two young men (pretty much boys really) provided the ideal inter session refreshment.

The festival ended with a fascinating and humorous presentation by screenwriter David Roach in conversation with Graeme Simsion (of The Rosie Project fame). A chance meeting with a Master of Wine on a plane was the genesis of the documentary, Red Obsession, about China’s voracious appetite for wines produced by the great chateaux in Bordeaux. We saw clips of the film, one of my favourites featuring the owner of one of the big name chateaux (I forget which) in Bordeaux. He said it all came down to love (or lurv in his French accent) – loving the wine, loving drinking it and loving the cultivation of it grape by grape. He should know; he’d drunk something like a couple of bottles with lunch day.

Coming back to the kindness of strangers, I gave Pauline and Andrew a bottle of local Shiraz as a thank-you for looking after Bertie. Not quite in the same league as the top notch Bordeaux wines the Chinese are buying for up to $250,000 a bottle, but a token of appreciation nevertheless. I’m going to miss my new coastal community.

Seaside Sculpture and beachside books

When is a polar bear not a polar bear? When it’s upside-down, seven-foot tall and made of fibreglass. The Wild Card #6 (polar) by Louise Paramor was this year’s winner at the Lorne Sculpture Biennale. It probably wouldn’t have got my vote, but it was fun and eye-catching, and I liked the playful juxtaposition of an Arctic mammal with a banana sun lounger framed by the Pier and the beach.


With 40 sculptures all along the shoreline from the Pier up to the Swing Bridge it was a leisurely stroll through an al fresco gallery of works in all shapes and size crafted from materials ranging from pressed tin to metal, steel, mattress springs, rope, wood, chrome, stone, cloth and even bedding plants. Some works, like the polar bear, were playful, some purely aesthetic and some conveyed a more serious message or meaning.



One of the most powerful was Richard Savage’s Terror Australis. Inspired by a photo taken in Roebourne Gaol in 1896, the sculpture is of a group of nine aboriginal figures constructed from rusted chains and all joined together by padlocked neck chains. It’s a work that embodies subjugation, enslavement, inhumanity and domination. And, of course, the title is a brilliant play on words. Here’s the author’s statement from the exhibition catalogue:

“Aborigines have been treated like animals or worse since White Occupation. They have been murdered, removed from their lands and have had their children taken from them. No humiliation was too much: chaining Aborigines, guilty or innocent, allowed pastoralists, miners and other white interests to take Aboriginal land with impunity. This is European justice: really it’s no justice at all.”

“ My sculpture is based on a photo taken outside Roebourne Gaol in 1896. Its smiling constables reminded me of the Abu Ghraib photos from the Iraq War”


This was coastal art at its best without all the hubbub, traffic, parking hassles and general hiatus that comes with city living. There is of course plenty of culture outside the city. My first weekend down here, there was an Open Mic Music Festival in nearby Aireys Inlet. It was pretty impressive with over 160 performances across nine different stages, and it was all FREE! Excellent for a Home Renovating Sea Changer! One of the acts I enjoyed most was a female duo called Bush and Bird. They did a wonderfully earthy rendition of Dolly Parton’s Jolene followed by Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walkin’. Another highlight was a young male singer performing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

The next big cultural event in my calendar is the Lighthouse Literary Fest, also at Aireys Inlet, over Anzac Weekend. Being the forward-planning type I bought a weekend pass back in February and I’m glad I did as tickets sold out by the end of February. It’s going to be held at the newly renovated Fairhaven Surf Life Saving Club so it really will be books by the beach. The event has attracted some big names including Robert Drewe, Martin Flanagan, Bruce Pascoe, Sigrid Thornton and many more, and the sessions are sure to be thought-provoking:(Writing About Parents, Between Fact & Fiction, The Treacherous Writer (would you risk a friendship for a story?) and Shy People & Show-offs (all about memoir writing). Can’t wait!

I won’t be able to take Bertie along to the writers’ festival so might ask my lovely beachside neighbours to look after him for two half days. That was the lovely thing about Lorne. Bertie came with us and sniffed his way along the trail. I recently purchased a ‘Gentle Leader’ harness and it’s changed my life; I can now take him for walks on the leash without him pulling my shoulders out of their sockets.

Bertie sporting his new harness

Bertie sporting his new harness

The day was all the more pleasurable as I was with my friend Nicki, who is Bertie’s godmother (yes, he is her one and only godspaniel), and his new honorary godfather Graeme. And Bertie did indeed find his inner artiste. He dug like mad and created a very unique sand sculpture. He’s very talented is my boy. Even if I say so myself.

Sculpture Spanealis...

Sculpture Spanealis…