Thanks for Asking

MARCELLE MANSOUR OAM

Thanks for Asking: As a visual artist, in January 2020 I was trying to prepare for a new exhibition for the year 2021. When the pandemic hit the world, I became stressed out and my thoughts and feelings were very disturbed. During the months of March and April people around the globe and Australia witnessed an unprecedented time during the coronavirus lockdown. Churches are an essential part of life for many Australians. My community people of Christian Eastern Orthodox in Sydney were all praying from their homes during Easter time. It was also sad watching online the “Holy Fire” ceremony held in the empty Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem because of the coronavirus pandemic.

I was constantly following the daily news and I thought to make a quick series of digital art that relates to the theme of “Art Saves Humanity” online exhibition in New York City. My purpose has no intention to make masterpieces or to win awards, rather to raise an awareness of how to save lives. Therefore, I created work relatively connected to the global issue of the Coronavirus Crisis. I was able to capture some moments as fast as I could and finished my work at the end of April, focussing on sharing my perspective on the human condition to highlight the importance of abiding by new health restrictions and safety rules to stop the infectious disease pandemic and to save human lives.

We all try to comply with the recommendations to use facemasks, practice “social distancing” and “stay at home” as required to control the spread of Covid-19. My work aims to heal physically and to inspire spiritually. It encourages people to be considerate about adherence to the health guidelines to protect themselves and others. Meanwhile, my work concentrates on helping people who are experiencing emotional distress, concerns, and anxiety. At the end of April I submitted a few pieces of my work that were exposed online on social media, on my website and on Instagram.

Hopefully, things will improve even more, soon. Thank you so much to the Australian Government including the Prime Minister and all the Premiers and policy experts. Thank you to the Australian people who listen and follow the rules. Thank you to the dedication and commitment of our heroes, the healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, immunologists, scientists, mathematicians, public servants and the many support workers. We are so lucky and proud to be Australians. My artworks of Art Saves Humanity can be seen on my website link under Digital Art and on my Instagram.

https://marcellemansour.com.au/digital-art/
https://www.instagram.com/artserveshumanity/

ZARA BLACKMORE, OAA NSW YOUTH COMMUNITY SERVICE AWARDEE

Only Here Because Teachers Helped Me
When depressed and anxious teen Zara Blackmore was in a dark place, she just wanted a teacher to listen. Luckily a teacher did exactly that, helping refer the year 9 student into comprehensive mental health services.

“That teacher was someone I could really talk to and really trusted; she was always hearing me and would do whatever she could to help”, she said. She was not trying to just fix things. I had experience with other people who wanted to just fix things (eg. make study plans). I just needed to be heard. She had mental health first aid training and said that all teachers at the school had also done that”. Ms Blackmore went through Year 12 at an independent school in regional NSW. She made it through by managing her depression and anxiety via a school nurse, teachers who were aware of her condition and mental health care outside the school.

She shared her story with the whole school during her final year, an event which culminated in her becoming an advocate for youth mental health organisation batyr. (https://batyr.com is a for purpose preventative mental health organisation, created and driven by young people, for young people). She said the current crop of Year 12 students are having to battle incredibly difficult situations, resulting in some students deciding to take their own lives. “We have got young people dying when they do not have to”, she said. “If they can just make it through this, they will be able to live whatever life they want to live”.

The above story, paraphrased from an article published in the Sunday Telegraph on September 27, belies the fact that while struggling with mental health issues, Zara made an incredibly selfless contribution to a broad community during her final school year. This was recognised by the award of the Youth Community Service Award conducted annually by the NSW Branch of the Order of Australia Association. The Award was personally presented to Zara by the Governor of NSW, Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AO QC at NSW Government House on September 20, 2019.

Zara’s service to community is summarised in her Award citation:

“Zara Blackmore is a respected member of the NEGS (New England Girls School) and Armidale community who is currently Chair of the Armidale Regional Youth Advisory Committee, which focuses on youth involvement and alerting local government to any concerns. She achieved the “Commitment and Perseverance “award at the Armidale Regional Youth Awards. Zara mentors the education of disadvantaged children through the St Vincent de Paul Homework Club and also actively sources donations of food, furniture and household goods to assist Yazidi refugees resettling in Armidale, while also tutoring them in English to enhance their integration. She provides a young person’s perspective to the Tamworth Headspace Youth Reference Group on mental health issues, policy, advertising and community engagement activities. A passion to improve the community led her in 2017 to co-found the adolescent engagement and activist group Female and Fierce, a registered Not-For-Profit organisation to promote youth engagement and to support women at all levels – local to international. Activities include an international Mother’s Day dinner and fund-raising for the Armidale Women’s Refuge and UN Women Australia”.

Now 19 and in her first year at Macquarie University, Zara has recently become involved in the Youth Community Service Award Alumni Ltd, a registered company formed to promote and engage the commitment, energy and drive of Award Alumni in their further pursuit of community service initiatives. Zara was appointed as Coordinator of Mental Health to lead an Alumni group pursuing project opportunities for community improvement in this critical area.

From Greg Blaze OAM

The Time of Covid can be tough for all, but there are also some opportunities. The inability to travel has assisted me in being able to achieve a goal that I have had for over twelve months. I have used the time to complete writing a book, following a stint that I recently did working as a consulting engineer with the United Nations in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. My role there was assisting engineers and procurement specialists to develop their systems to construct schools and hospitals in the West Bank. It was a fascinating time, with remarkable people in a very interesting place.

The Book is titled “There Are No Waves in Palestine” – the true story of an Aussie in Jerusalem, the holiest city on earth.

Working with the Palestinians and living with the Jews, during my time there I was able to develop a unique perspective of a variety of players in this decades long Arab-Israeli conflict. The book presents ‘warts and all’ observations of discord in the Holy Land, where the three main religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity collide in a collective scramble for relevance and space in this wondrous historical land. I was able to interview locals of all persuasions and their collective answers display the fractured nature of thinking from opposite groups, and the massive hurdles still to be overcome if there is ever to be peace in the Middle East. And yet the area has so much to offer, history, culture, conflict and physical beauty.

If any of the members are interested in reading about this wonderful place, they can check out the website www.nowavesinpalestine.com or contact me by email. There is still plenty of work to do over there.
Cheers
Greg Blaze OAM
gregblaze1@hotmail.com


Nicholas Harsas

I have read now a few times of requests of OAA members’ stories about how we are coping during this time of pandemic. On two occasions I have been asked by local newspapers for my thoughts on this very topic. I have included the link to one of the features and also a snippet from another. You may, or may not, want to use some of the attached for the ongoing “Thanks for Asking” columns.

With best wishes, and thanks for your work in the OAA.
Nicholas Harsas

https://www.liverpoolchampion.com.au/story/6727343/qa-brother-nicholas-harsas-how-i-am-handling-coronavirus-lockdown/
How challenging has the COVID pandemic been for teachers and students?

COVID-19 has been a very challenging time for teachers and students, but also for parents. Thrust upon us without much warning or time we entered a new era of remote learning that necessitated all stakeholders embracing technology in ways we were not expecting. Parents were great in their support of their children and of the work of teachers. The teachers were simply amazing in what they were doing, often on the spot, to assist their students and the parents.

Brother Nicholas Harsas, fsp OAM
Principal, Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School
Carnes Hill, NSW


John Howells OAM RFD

“I am writing following the invite by Peter Falk OAM to say what is happening due to the COVID Pandemic.
As most (by no means all) of what I contribute as a volunteer is on the IT side, it has been a busy time. A few notes about a couple of the organisations I volunteer for.

The New South Wales Lancers Memorial Museum
The Museum at Lancer Barracks, Parramatta had to go into lockdown in mid-March. Our AGM scheduled for 26 March was held online; a great success, as were the next couple of committee meetings.

Mid May saw the Department of Defence on whose land the Museum stands allowing volunteers back on site to deal with key maintenance issues. No public access.

To keep up public interest we made and published a couple of videos of the work being done (https://lancers.org.au/site/Lockdown_Video.php) and put work into our Soldier Stories on the Museum Website (https://lancers.org.au/site/Lancers.php).

Come early July, we received word from the Department of Defence that the Museum could re-open provided we reached COVID-SAFE status. This meant quite a few hours work preparing the necessary paperwork and putting the measures in place. We were able to open to the public on 5 July and continue to open every Sunday and for booked tours at other times.
(https://lancers.org.au/Governance/NSWLmuspostCOVID19.pdf)

The Royal United Service Institute of NSW
The RUSI NSW operates a prestigious military reference public library and hosts monthly presentations by noted experts at the ANZAC Memorial Sydney. The lectures are published in the Institute’s quarterly journal, and in video form on the institute’s website and YouTube channel. COVID-19 has been a challenge. Due to the advanced age of the volunteer corps that staff the library, it has had to remain closed. The pandemic has not stopped the lectures or the Journal. The lectures organised by Ken Broadhead OAM RFD have happened online (https://www.rusinsw.org.au/site/Videos.php). The journal edited by David Leece AM PSM RFD ED has still been able to be assembled (https://www.rusinsw.org.au/Papers/2020W.pdf) and published; David going above and beyond in one case scripting the paper from the online presentation when the presenter was overwhelmed with work and unable to help.

Yours sincerely
John Howells OAM RFD

David Parkinson OAM
“Hello Louise, thought you might like this story which is obviously ongoing.

My story is more about being locked up at home and being an ‘old codger’ I had spent time running a men’s club for the local neighbourhood centre. It was good fun and the stories that emerged were many, some hilarious. The shutdown put a stop to our activities but recently we have been allowed to start again observing the distance and numbers rule.

So, all our members get a chance to attend we ran a ballot and that has gone well. Last week a member rang me to say how much he appreciated the opportunity to attend and I questioned him on why he had been so quiet during the meeting and his reply made me realise just how important our meetings are.

He said that because he lived alone, he had seemed to have lost the art of communication. I intend on taking this bloke out for coffee in the future and hope bring him back to enjoying life again.

Good wishes to all and if you know of anybody like my mate then offer them a hand, you will be surprised at the response like I was.

Regards
David Parkinson OAM

I would like to commend David for his suggestion. This is something we should all try to do more often.

Do send more of your uplifting stories, and stay safe and well.

In the meantime, here is a link to a wonderful virtual concert “Keeping the Curtain Up” at The Arts Centre Melbourne, supporting the Actors Benevolent Fund, kindly sent to us by one of our Members, Jon Nicholls OAM. I hope you enjoy it.

http://archive.skem1.com/csb/Public/show/aqya-26pyzb–qx0ec-19uktc28

Peter Falk OAM
The Order of Australia Association NSW
Branch Chairman

MARGARET HAMILTON A.M. Blackheath.

‘During the coronavirus crisis someone recommended we keep a journal. So I began writing around mid-April, but additions to it were very spasmodic. I either forgot to add news or was too busy to think about it. We feel very fortunate to live in Blackheath in the Blue Mountains. We have two acres here, with lots of trees and fresh air. I wouldn’t like to spend this isolation period in a tiny apartment in the city.

My husband Max and I officially retired from our publishing company, Margaret Hamilton Books, in 2001. We were living in Sydney at the time but he wanted to come to the Blue Mountains to retire. So we bought this property and set about ‘retirement’. This was not to be of course. Judy Dench says you shouldn’t fall off the radar and I’m very conscious of that. I’ve worked in publishing children’s books for many decades, so when Max had finished building a new house, I turned the existing fibro cottage into my children’s book centre. I received my Order of Australia in 2008 for my contribution to Australian publishing, ‘for service to the arts through the promotion of children’s literature and literacy and through support for authors and illustrators’. I find here in Blackheath ‘retirement’ is a bit of a joke as I run my centre for children’s books, I present one-day courses on creating picture books and I have illustrators in residence, who I give daily mentorship to. As my eightieth birthday looms next year, I don’t have any plans to slow down. I do enjoy very much passing on my knowledge and expertise and using it to help others who are passionate about getting a book published. I don’t know what I’d do if I ‘retired’.

We had an extraordinary summer here in the Blue Mountains. Firstly, there was a terrible drought when so much of the vegetation died. Then came the devastating bushfires and the tension in Blackheath was palpable, with so much natural bushland destroyed and so many native animals killed. Our property wasn’t directly threatened but we had a friend and her two cats here for two nights while her husband and his friends saved their house. We belong to a neighbourhood group who have our own community fire unit. We’ve done training and practise regularly. So, we were called upon to look after our local fire station while the brave firefighters were out working. After the fires came torrential rain. On the top of the mountains we weren’t threatened by floods but we did have a lot of soil washed away.

Just when we thought life was returning to normal along came the coronavirus crisis. This has been a time that none of us has experienced in our lifetime. Isolation has been challenging. We’ve realised that my husband is fairly introverted and doesn’t mind at all being home all the time. But I’m fairly extroverted and enjoy seeing friends and interacting with other people. We had several Zoom meetings with friends. These included a lunch where we all had our own food and talked about what we were eating and drinking. At other times we had ‘drink parties’ and shared stories. Otherwise, we went for walks regularly and read more books. I had to cancel some events here and had Zoom meetings and talks with children’s book authors. Isolation has certainly sorted out the introverts from the extroverts!

The big event on the horizon is our daughter’s wedding, which she wants to have here at our property. She’s set the date for 17 October, so we think we’ll be okay by then. It’s all very exciting and it’s giving us a lot to think about and look forward to. We’ve also got a long list of jobs to do around the property before the wedding. So that’s also kept us busy during isolation.
When this crisis is finally over and there’s a vaccine developed, I wonder what will be next. I feel like I’ve been part of a B-grade disaster movie with one crisis after another and wondering what will be next. Someone said we should turn 2020 off and start it again. We certainly went into the new decade with lots of optimism so let’s hope we’ll be able to resurrect that feeling and continue life with health and safety.’

Thank you. Margaret Hamilton AM

Margie Beck AM

‘I live and work in East Timor for most of the year. This year I was due back to have a couple of weeks to spend with family and friends. On arriving in Sydney, I went straight into isolation for two weeks, only to be evicted after one week because the hotel was taken over by NSW Health for new returning travellers.

So, another week in another hotel in total isolation while my family was busy finding me somewhere to live. Because of my age and the age of my grandchildren I could not stay with them. I moved into a delightful apartment in the inner city with only light summer clothing. My priority was to get and keep warm to simply survive the weather that was much colder than what I am used to. That continues until today.

More than three months later, I am still waiting to return to Timor. All documents are completed to be given permission to return, but I wait for the formal letter to help me get there, before contacting Australian Border Control.

I am working as ‘usual’ using my phone, teaching my classes with WhatsApp and consulting and supervising my post graduate students. It is truly wonderful that life can continue despite the difficulties facing so many.

The sadness at seeing the global rise of covid19 has been offset somewhat by the time I have had to spend with my family. They haven’t spent so much time with me for many years!’

Maggie Beck AM

Patricia Slattery OAM in Ettalong, Jennifer Butt OAM in Moruya Heads, and Dr Sophie Masson AM, in New England

PAT SLATTERY OAM, Ettalong

I am 83 and live at Ettalong on the Central Coast of NSW. Until the government restrictions I was fully involved in volunteering in my area. I am now a stay at home much to the delight of my very large family. It feels very similar to when I first retired especially the first few days watching how slowly the time was going. Fortunately, I have family who do any shopping I need. Also, phone calls and FaceTime’s. Not a great watcher of TV but that has changed as the weeks passed.  I am an avid reader and having lived in my home for over 60 years maybe I’ll finally de clutter (though that’s always a gunna).

So, I’m ok.  However, my worries are for those I was interacting with before the restrictions. As a Vinnies conference member, we responded to people in need, did home visits, listened and helped with cards for food, electricity etc. We can’t do that now.   The same with Mary Mac’s for the homeless.  The lonely and disadvantaged were usually offered a cafe style 2 course hot meal.  The food was important, but more especially a place to meet and socialise.  Our church has been closed.  The monthly elderly lunch we provided, where our clients are picked up and collected stopped, as was the Saturday Breakfast for the Homeless.

So really, I am doing fine but I am praying that all this disruption will be over soon and that we can return to our more “normal” way of living in our communities and helping others.

Pat Slattery OAM

 JENNIFER BUTT OAM, Moruya Heads

I have since New Year’s Eve 2019 been home as much as I can, I think that maybe only twice in that time I have been to the shop for Coles Click & Collect at Batemans Bay and a visit to the pharmacy for scripts. I live at Moruya Heads on the Far South Coast of NSW and because of where I live with a one-way in-out road situation due to the bushfires, I was not confident in leaving my home. I live at the top of a gully on the ridge and National Park around us everywhere. To leave my home with fire around the Shire was not an option for me as at any time our area could have been on fire. If this had happened, I would have not been able to get home to protect my home and pets.

This constant fear that was living in everyone in my immediate area had consumed our life and even at night we were not able to relax to sleep.  I found that we were always on guard. We had both our cars packed with precious things that could not be replaced.  Our cars stayed packed for two and a half months ready to leave seven times. The bushfires changed our lives and the hope that a normal life again looked possible once the rain came.  Yes, wonderful rain started.  It washed

the horrid ash from the air we were breathing but it didn’t know how to stop. It rained for days and was undoing the good that WIRE carers were doing with supporting what wildlife was left in our bush.  The water was stained with ash and the animals would not drink it. All the pellets turned to mash and the animals walked away.

The sound of the aircraft that was fighting the fires, the smell of smoke, and the blood-red sun that made the sky look like it was on fire had begun to return to normal.  Then we heard that people were rushing supermarkets buying toilet rolls. This was baffling.  What was happening and was there going to be a shortage of toilet rolls?

Next there were shortages of tissues, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, baby wipes, rice, flour pasta, mincemeat. Then we heard on the news and read on social media that a virus had spread in China killing people and not able to be stopped. I thought to myself was this why they are buying toilet rolls because China supplied them?  Other countries started to report that toilet rolls were being cleared off the shelves and supermarkets couldn’t meet the demand.

The coronavirus the media first called it, had spread to Italy, Spain, and a few smaller countries and thousands of people were dying in their homes and on the streets. The President of the United States of America was on the media telling everyone not to worry that it was no worse than a cold.  We now know America has had thousands die from the virus and it is not under control. Then we heard that Prince Charles in the United Kingdom had contracted it and he was in isolation. My heart sank and my fear was that the Queen and Prince Phillip would be next. As it turned out the British Prime Minister contracted the virus and was in self-isolation. He took a turn for the worst towards the end of his isolation and was rushed to hospital and put in intensive care.

The number of people dying from the virus throughout the world with no promise of a cure or vaccine made you feel very vulnerable and staying inside was not an option as far as I was concerned. We applied for Woolworths home deliveries because of our age group over 70 and shopped online. Even with the home delivery when it was delivered, we stood way back from the delivery man, picked the bags of groceries up with wire hooks. We filled a small container with a bleach water wash and put on our gloves. We wiped everything over and let it dry on the verandah before we brought it inside. We are still cleaning, wiping with bleach water any packets that are delivered by the post and still shopping online to spend the stimulus money given to us to help the economy.

We gave to our friends at Mogo (who lost their honey business) anything in our home that they thought would help establish the business again.  We sold things that we had no use for in an online garage sale to raise funds to help those who suffered great losses in the bushfires and were living in tents and mud at Nerrigundah. We also made donations to wildlife carers who needed equipment in their homes to care for Kangaroos, Wombats and Bats who had been burnt in the fires. We gave donations to the Koala Sanctuary in Port Macquarie as well as a sanctuary in Tasmania who rescue animals that have been miss treated and abandoned. There was an Owl Rescue Sanctuary in America that needed help to buy food, and money was sent to some Narrowboat people who live on the canals in the UK.  They wanted to buy simple things like biscuits and pies from the bakehouse which they were doing without since the isolation.

So, our government stimulus has gone a long way and has done some good to those who are more in need than we are.

I am sure that we will get through this virus but our greatest fear is that the summer will be here again this year, and since we live in the 20% of the Eurobodalla Shire that has not burnt, we will be in danger again from fire as nothing around us has changed.  Still far too much undergrowth in the National Parks and since there is no fire station where we live the smell of smoke again will terrify me more than Covid-19.

Jennifer Butt OAM

DR SOPHIE MASSON AM, New England 

Even before I was published, writing, which to me has always been about the weaving of stories for other people, has been part of the very fabric of my life and my being.  Since my first book was published, thirty years ago precisely, I have felt lucky, indeed, blessed, to earn my living doing what I’ve always felt I was born to do. Aside from my public work, working emotions out through writing them down in journals and diaries has always helped put things into perspective in times of personal crisis.

Two horrors happened in quick succession where we live last year: severe drought and wildfires. In an earlier Writer Unboxed post, What Do You Save? I wrote a bit about that—the first time I’d been able to write anything public about what it felt like, despite having written a fair bit about it in my journals. It had taken months to process those feelings into anything properly coherent, and during that time I also turned to a childhood love, painting. The feel of the paint on the paper, the sweep of the brush, was a calming and helpful thing, and as non-public as the journal writing. Then the fires stopped and the rains came, ending the drought. Everything turned green, gloriously green, and the joy of it ran in my writing veins like that life-giving water. It didn’t last long, that joyful respite. All around the world humans are facing another kind of horror, invisible this time, but more dangerous, unpredictable and baffling. Strangely, it’s reversed the previous situation for us here in one way: drought and fires made our home feel unsafe; now the pandemic can make our home feel like the only safe place.

Like most writers, I’ve always worked from home, at my messy desk in the lounge room. I have never had any problem with disciplining myself, or had writer’s block, though there are times when I’ve written more than others, or less, depending on what else was going on. Flexibility has always been part of my modus operandi. When working from home is no longer a choice for you but an absolutely must, and your family scattered far and wide, your friends, and indeed everyone else you know must do the same, even if they normally go to offices or other separate worksites, then it changes the story. Played out within a wider global plot-line of nightmarish intensity and bizarre, surreal twists, and against personal worries for the safety, health and economic well-being of loved ones, friends, neighbours and local communities, this story of a writing life transformed might seem little. It is the one I know best, though, and certainly the only one I feel qualified to expand on publicly. Here are some of the impacts that these singular times have had on my own writing life, and how I’ve tried to deal with it. I offer this in the hope it might help other writers struggling with similar things.

*A sense of irrelevance and purposelessness led to the novel I’d almost finished coming to a stuttering halt seven weeks ago. Its setting and theme suddenly seemed of another time. How on earth was I going to end it in the all’s-well-that-ends-well mode that I’d planned. Should I change that, or somehow fold in a mention of the pandemic? Wouldn’t that be an ignoble cashing-in? For almost six weeks, it stayed in total limbo—and I only restarted it a week or so ago. I think I’ve found a solution—but I’m not sure yet. I’m advancing cautiously, painfully slowly. But at least I’m advancing again. Before the pandemic I would have felt impatient about it; now I’ve accepted it, because I’ve allowed myself to understand that it’s okay to press ‘pause’ in a time that is so very far from normal.

*After a couple of weeks of finding I couldn’t bring myself to write in my normal journals (a family-centered one, and a books-centered one) I decided to start a specific journal, a kind of ‘journal of the plague year’. This one’s specifically about my personal experience of the present situation, and for it I used a special journal I’d been given a few years ago by a publisher, which ironically enough I’d always kept ‘for a special purpose.’ I’ve gone back to my childhood love of scrapbooks with it, and so it’s got all sorts of bits and pieces stuck in it too, as well as writing. At the beginning, I needed to write in it practically every day, to try and exorcise the bad feelings and highlight small moments of beauty and grace. Now I am much more relaxed about it, and I often miss days at a time, then go back to it, and it feels easier to write in it. I can now also write in the other journals without feeling obscurely guilty…

*The novel might have been set aside for a while, but a sense of urgency overtook me, not only around possibilities for my own work, but also the situation for parents suddenly having to home-school. This led to me turning into reality some ideas that had been knocking around in my head for a while: such as producing, in collaboration with an illustrator friend, creative activity packs available online, and recording an illustrated talk about the inspiration and process around several of my picture books. I worked on these over several weeks and that helped to start up the stalled novel again. They were fun and creative to do, and while working on them I was in that other world, not thinking about the pandemic. Collaborating with Kathy on the creative activity packs was truly an uplifting thing for both of us, and so was the warm, positive response from people who accessed them. Though it took a lot of time and wasn’t paid work, it was a worthwhile investment of time in terms of potential new paid gigs.

*A sense of sympathy for authors and illustrators whose new books came out during this period of shrinking publicity opportunities and closed bookshops, as well as for those who, like me, were trying to reinvent ourselves in various ways, led me to reach out in a few ways. I offered guest post spots on my blog to authors with new books, and made directory listings for the creative activities and resources other people promoted. I’m very much a book-buyer in normal times, but right now I’m buying even more books. This supports authors and our wonderful local bookstore which, despite closing its physical doors, has innovated in delightful ways, such as free local delivery to my mailbox. It’s quite an event in these stay-at-home-times, to see their orange and white Kombi drawing up at my door and finding the beautifully wrapped book parcel in my mailbox! An added pleasure is that I’ve been making moments of book-parcel-joy myself for the dear little people in our lives, who are far away from us in Sydney.

*A sense of needing another creative outlet led me to not only continuing the experiments in painting I’d started back when drought and bush-fires were the horrors haunting us, but also creating little objects such as eccentric painted postcards to send to family and friends, making models out of Sculpey clay (inspired by the activities created by my friend and collaborator Kathy Creamer), and other bits and bobs. That was fun, pure play, without any pressure to be anything else at all. It’s what I do on the weekends now, along with reading, walking around our neighbourhood with my husband, and talking to family and friends on the phone or on Zoom. For too long as a full-time writer I’ve allowed the weekend to simply be rolled into my work-from-home schedule; now, suddenly, that’s changed. And that’s definitely something for the better, as is the sense that I’m rediscovering certain things from childhood: like the scrapbook-making, and the enjoyment of creative play, and deep-dive reading, and the anticipatory joy of the mailbox. Small things, perhaps, but a comfort.    Dr Sophie Masson AM

9th May 2019

Dr Sundar OAM, Bella Vista, Professor Shirley Randell AO, Sydney and Mrs Maria Hitchcock OAM, Armidale.

1) Dr Sundar OAM
The restrictions are really good for not spreading the Corona viral infection in the community. It has a very mild impact on my routine life. Of course, I need to watch everywhere I go and am unable to meet my colleague’s friends and Family in person.
I find it is easy to contact our friends on Whats app, Instagram, Facebook, Mobile phones etc. I use Zoom on my mobile and chat with all my family members and Friends.

When the restrictions are lifted, first thing I will do is to meet my daughters, sons and grandchildren. Go for walks, eat at places I used to go with the family. Meet my colleagues.

Activities for our OAA members? I suggest we could use Whats App to share our ideas, some cooking recipes; share jokes, share photos; and maybe raise money on members birthdays on Face book for worthwhile charities. Dr Sundar OAM

2) Professor Shirley Randell AO, Sydney
I didn’t think it would be so dark. And I was quite right. At first the comments everyone was making, and I was reading about – the darkness of being in isolation for maybe six months, perhaps longer – seemed daunting. My own experience however has been illuminating.

There is a particular Biblical verse that has surfaced in my memory from my religious teenage years, and has been reinforced by the Seekers song I tune into on Spotify while in isolation in my apartment in Sydney: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”. I am seizing an opportunity that does not come by often, a time of large-scale, forced reduction of activity and I am so appreciating the breaks this has given me.

It has been a time to return to some essential things I have neglected for so long given my hectic lifestyle, like concentrating on my living space. I put the blinds up as soon as I get out of bed and they stay up all day, unless the sun demands two or three hours of protection in the afternoon. Now I enjoy frequent glances at the trees and green grass and gardens of Hyde Park during the day, the sunsets in the evening, the lights of the war memorial and even the lit-up buildings that surround the Park at night.
I have made time to tidy cupboards and drawers that have been an unholy mess for many months. I have even cleared my study desk, unable for so long to be used for its purpose, covered with photos, papers, pens, jewellery. Ah jewellery! – some pieces were in their proper home in the cupboard, some loose on shelves, some still in the travel container that I took to Rwanda, the unpacked box from Geneva on my desk. I learned one of my neighbours on the same floor is a jewellery expert and we have spent some happy hours sorting, cleaning, repairing, placing earrings and bracelets on their stands, badges in a separate box, necklaces in their home but this time separated by colour and country. No longer now the hectic hunt for the right coloured necklace, earrings, bracelet in the rush before leaving home too late for an appointment. Today I was ready for a Rotary Anzac Day Zoom meeting in a few seconds, going straight to the right containers for my Rotary badges, necklace and matching earrings. If I ever travel abroad again, I have separate containers for Rwanda, Bangladesh, PNG and Pacific jewellery that can be packed in an instant.

Having time for sorting the medicine cupboard has produced another significant achievement. I have had a thermometer on order for the last month and discovered I already have not only one but two in two different places that I had not seen since settling back into my Sydney apartment three years ago.

This has been a time for pruning, for removing the things that are a distraction or a misuse of my time and energy (I need to work more on that!), a time for change, for growth, for doing something new, even for prevarication. Making time to listen to music, watch television, extend social media contacts, try something new, like continuing all my board, committee, social meetings by Zoom.

As sunlight streams into my home this beautiful Autumn afternoon, I take time again for voice connection, telephoning a grandchild in Townsville, a niece in Pakenham and a colleague in Perth, interrupted by a welcome catch-up call to me from a former workmate now in Cairns. I have already talked with each of my four children this morning about their 6am remembrances and shared the excitement of my two-little candle-carrying grandchildren in Canberra on FaceTime.

I have been so encouraged by the stories I am hearing from around the world and here in Australia about how people are looking out for their neighbours, how communities are gathering (often virtually) to stay connected and uplifted. To see how people are maintaining connection in spite of distance and separation. So, while being physically isolated from family and friends and in what could be quite dark times for some, perhaps really dark for many, there is light for me that brings joy and gives me hope. For me, working at home in isolation has not been so dark at all.

PS My Iranian friend on the 15th floor cooks a stew for me at least once a week. My Italian jeweller friend has declared herself my ‘carer’ and both shops, cooks and shares wine with me. So does my one daughter in Sydney, who brings me fruit and vegetables every week from Leichhardt. How could I possibly think it would be dark?

Thanks for Asking, Shirley Randell AO, Sydney.

3) Maria Hitchcock OAM
Here’s another story for your collection.

My husband and I are basically hermits at heart so we are actually enjoying the lockdown. We live on 8 acres west of Armidale NSW where I run an online native plants nursery called “Cool Natives’. Online business has boomed so much I am spending a lot of time in the nursery. I envy those people who have had time to clean out cupboards. My son urged me to grow winter vegetable seedlings and these are selling well. I go downtown once a week to do my posting, deliveries and shopping. Australia Post has been a big problem with parcels arriving very late which is bad for sending live plants. Australia Post only refunds the cost of postage not contents. I’ve had to eliminate parcel post and now just use a courier or express satchels.

I tried going to Woollies early in the morning to shop but nothing else is open at that time so I won’t be doing that again except to get toilet paper which is still in short supply on our shelves. We’ve only had 4 cases of Covid19 in our area but most older people are cautious. I get my flu shot today and it will be at a clinic held in the park across the road from the surgery. A lot of businesses in my area are still operating in some kind of manner but I think our local rural economy will be hard hit. The garbage is still being collected thank goodness. We have our own water and solar panels so are fairly self-sufficient. Being country people, we’ve always had a good stock of dry and freezer food so the shortages didn’t affect us much.

My husband tutors Mathematics to students of his former private school. He’s had to switch to online tutoring but the school situation is so chaotic he doesn’t know how it will go this term and he may lose a lot of students. My grandchildren live in WA and I believe they may be going back to school soon. I offered to help with reading etc. if necessary. We usually communicate by Skype. I try to keep in touch with friends by phone and I am involved in a Think Tank which meets online once a fortnight and puts out a regular media release. Lately we’ve been involved in a big online protest about a local issue which happily ended with Councillors voting it down.

I’m growing my hair but have an appointment with the foot clinic next week and hope that is open. It’s a very strange time for all of us – a time to take stock of what is really important. I suspect overseas travel will be out until we get a vaccine. That might be good for the country as people will take domestic holidays and help restore some of those communities devastated by drought, fire and flood. We might also be able to swap tourism with NZ which would be good. NZ is a spectacular country with so much to offer. They have almost eliminated the virus which would make it a safe place to visit. People are already talking about reviving manufacturing and building our economy in a different way. I hope that involves reducing inequality which has been allowed to worsen over the past 20 years and seen a lot more people living in poverty. We have also seen who are the truly essential workers in our economy – the health workers, carers, supermarket people, chemists, truckies, police, teachers, public servants and a myriad of others behind the scenes who are often not well paid. I think this pandemic has been a big wake-up call.

I hope all our members are safe and secure and managing to fill their days with stimulating activities.
Maria Hitchcock OAM.


1) Suzanne Medway AM and Patrick Medway AM, Sydney.
We decided to self-isolate in mid-March, and only venture out of our house for a half-hour walk each day. We shop via Coles Online and have found the service to be excellent. We have been able to obtain most of the items we need. We took the advice of NSW Health and went to our local doctor to receive the flu vaccine.

With our volunteer work, we are on the board of the Australian Wildlife Society and have been able to have daily contact with the lady who runs the national office, so the administration of the Society is proceeding as usual. At our February board meeting, our financial advisor recommended that we consolidate our investments under one investment, and luckily, we followed his advice. He cashed in the Society’s investments from the market and was a little worried about the world situation so held the funds in cash. Consequently, we haven’t lost any funds from our investments. The only question now is when do we reinvest?

The Society held its March board meeting via Teams through Microsoft 365. We all agreed that this worked fine, and will be holding our “virtual” board meetings each month for the foreseeable future.

On a personal front, Suzanne has a half-hour video catch up chat with a group of 12 friends that used to attend the gym together. They drink their morning coffee and chat about what has happened over the proceeding 24 hours. In the afternoon Suzanne has a video chat with her three sisters, and then in the early evening a video chat with the grandchildren. In this way, she is keeping in touch with friends and relatives. She also enjoys Facebook and has contact with lots of overseas friends and family.

Patrick tends to keep in contact via the mobile phone but has been holding video meetings with his RSL board and his Lodge members.
We are tending to eat more, unfortunately, but have been enjoying our evening glass of wine and cheese and biscuits.

Suzanne Medway AM & Patrick Medway AM

2) Nancy Serg (nee Borg) OAM
As seniors (74-75yo) my husband and I have been in Lockdown at our house since mid-March. We are physically restricted in what we can do for others due to this. We miss shopping and a coffee at the shops. We miss visiting our families. Doctors have cancelled some appointments. We had to cut our own hair, with ok results. Getting roof quotes another issue. At least the plumber came with good results.

Here are some activities that have kept us fully occupied. Our focus has been firstly on our immediate large families and friends.

To lessen the isolation of us all, we keep in touch with family and friends in Australia and overseas with emails, Facebook, Skype, What’s App, Messenger, Viber etc and lately ZOOM meetings organised by our daughter Jeannette James. It is soul satisfying and heartening to see our 3 children and 8 grandchildren all together on Zoom etc, they want to come and play, have semolina and home -made chick pea patties etc. I sent them some.

I viber’d my 101-1/4yo mother Agnese Borg via my sister’s iPhone. Mum has dementia, lives at her own house, cared for by my sister Mariza. Mum wanted to know why we don’t visit any more. But we made her laugh and that’s what mattered.

My sister sent a Facebook video of Mum pushing her wheelchair determinedly in front of her. Her attitude brightened and she became her usual jovial self. So heartening to see and watch. Sitting in front of the TV all day is not conducive to this mother of 10 children, 21 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.

We felt better for having watched the Good Friday Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on TV via iPhone chrome. We intend to follow Easter Sunday celebrations in the same way. I sent notices of this to family and elderly friends to ease their loneliness. Making Easter cookies, we will leave them behind the front door to be collected by our children.

We have been catching up on house, garden and shed clearances. Clothes wardrobes too, sending clothes to St Vinnies etc. My husband made extra shelves for the laundry and he is working on other projects. The sewing machine was oiled. I cut long school trousers into shorts for the grandchildren. My daughter gave me an Art Inspiration book and to my surprise I sat 2-1/2hrs and finished a drawing she said it was beautiful….I was so proud.

When restrictions are lifted, we will go to Sunday Mass and Thank God. Visit our 3 daughters. Catch up with shopping, Doctors’ appointments etc, Invite our children and grandchildren over. Help our daughters with childminding when required. Bake a cake with an Aussie Flag on top of the icing. Visit my mother at St Clair NSW. Catch up with my siblings. Organise a picnic at a park for whoever can make it to celebrate our freedom. Go for a walk at our nearby lovely and peaceful Crestwood Park. Catch up Ladies meetings. Debrief Lockdown and Corona sagas out of our systems. Go to movies, re-book cancelled tickets to Opera, Ballet and local Theatre Plays etc. Practise singing and catch up with choir when practical. Go for a long drive up the coast – I miss the smell of the sea. Book a short break to a country homestay to support the farmers etc.

The OAA NSW could consider holding on line meetings, organised by a tech savvy person or a forum for seniors at home whilst in lockdown. This would certainly help isolation, foster friendships, sharing of ideas which will benefit us and the community.

Nancy Serg nee Borg OAM

3) Wendy Marlene Borchers AM
My name is Wendy Marlene Borchers AM and I live on the mid-north coast of NSW at Tuncurry. We are extremely fortunate to live in such a pristine environment where our apartment overlooks the azure waters of Wallis Lake, where the estuary meets the Tasman Sea. This morning I watched pelicans lazily soaring on a thermal and our local bottle-nosed dolphins searching for their breakfast. This, as I’m sure you can imagine, is extremely hard to take.

All activities in which I am involved as a volunteer have been cancelled: A History Group; the Forster & District Combined Probus Club (I am the Speaker Convenor this year); the inaugural Pacific Palms Writer’s Festival, June 26-28 next (on which I am co-convenor); our fortnightly gatherings of mahjong players; all Marine Rescue events, except for surveillance in the Tower, obviously mandatory duty. This, of course, has left a huge gap in our daily routine but my husband Max and I are practicing self-isolation and keeping in touch with friends via e-mail and the old-fashioned telephone. Both of us have visited supermarket stores on the early hours dedicated to Seniors, on separate occasions, only to find frayed tempers and empty shelves, so we probably won’t do that again but will revert to shopping for fruit and vegetables at a splendid greengrocer in Forster’s main street, along with meat from our butcher there.

I received my AM in 2015: “For significant service to the film and television industry as a researcher, producer, archivist and to the preservation of Indigenous heritage.” When I finally retired from the ABC, after 40 years’ service, my supervisor honoured me by transferring all my files to my home computer. Once upon a time I was enthusiastic about seeing some of the Treasures of ABC Archives given another run and was given a couple of months to work on the idea. It eventually evolved in a series called ‘The Way We Were’ with Mark Trevorrow, not quite what I had in mind but I loved it anyway. There is a movement afoot to give this project new life. Just imagine how cricket tragics’ would leap at being able to view footage of West Indies Tests of 1961 once again, in these uncertain times. We believe there is an audience out there who would love to see some of these shows again and it would assist in promoting the true value of the ABC to Australians. I hope this comes to fruition.

I’m also enjoying our enforced isolation in that it’s just great to be able to read a book, without feeling I should be doing something more constructive.

Thank you for the opportunity to voice my opinion during these weird and amazing times.
Wendy Borchers AM, Tuncurry, NSW

Best wishes to all of our Members,

Peter Falk OAM
Branch Chairman
The Order of Australia Association NSW
pfalk@bigpond.com