Snapshots from Wollongong – Cringila

Train cars in Cringilla

C is for Cringila

My Snapshot series has forced me to go out and do some research in my home town, venturing into some unknown places. This Photo Safari took me to Cringila about 8 km from my home.  As I parked my car on the main street to begin my reconnaissance a smartly dressed older man said “hello!” He looked at me intently, waiting for my answer. I said hello back. He said, hello again. It went on for a few more hellos on his side and when he seemed, satisfied, he moved on. I watched him walk down the hill and my eyes were drawn to the contrast of the suburban red-tiled rooves against the backdrop of a massive steelworks. The plumes of steam emanating from the tall stacks filling the already smoky sky with white clouds.  The sound of a  relentless flow of traffic drifted up towards me from Five Islands Road.   The sky was smoky, not due to the smoke from the stacks,  but rather from bushfires that had been burning for the previous week in Newcastle some 240 km away.  It gave my expedition a suitably gloomy flavour.

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Cringila, a small suburb made up of only eighteen streets, is surrounded by heavy industry. The Steelworks in Port Kembla is literally across the road and is connected to Cringila by a few footbridges that lead directly into the steelworks itself. The houses are older but substantial, their tiled rooves capping external walls clad with aluminium siding or fibro. While I did not wander into the suburban depths of Cringila, it was evident that the properties here are “fixer-uppers” on big blocks. A first home buyers paradise.

The town started off as Steeltown and rose up in direct response to the steelworks. Its original inhabitants pitching their tents and building shacks on the boundaries. Despite being surrounded by industry a substantial portion of the suburb is green open space. (Open as it turns out due to it being contaminated with waste from previous industrial dumping and therefore unfit for use)

Cringila’s numbers

At one time Cringila had an interesting claim to fame. This suburb topped the charts for the highest number of non-English speaking migrants of any place in Australia. It still holds that title for Wollongong. Only 25% of people who live in Cringila have both parents who were born in Australia and 48% of all residents were born out of Australia. Macedonian and Lebanese families represent 15% and 11% of the population, respectively.

Cringila

The small shopping centre has an odd assortment of shops including three (very busy) barbers, a pharmacist, newsagents, a florist, dog groomers, two old fashioned mixed business grocery style shops, the ubiquitous bottl-o (bottle shop aka liquor store), a community centre and two burek shops. There are two mosques and a small public primary school. The local football club, the Cringilla Lions,  is very important to the community.

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I didn’t get the courage to go into the Cringila Pub, I was turned off by its reputation for having topless waitresses. They did have a very funny sign out the front a few years ago, advertising itself as a  “husband day-care service”. Now their website says “Just your true South Coast local – Beer n Boobs”

Classy!

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The two burek shops both claimed to sell the best burek. I had never had burek before but I can tell you I’ll be having it again! I bought a piece (? or are they slices?)  from Bitola Burek for $6. The woman who served me brought out the burek in a flat circular tin and tipped it onto a hot plate. We chatted as she flipped it a few times to crispen it up.

She cut the large 30 cm round into quarters and wrapped up my quarter in white paper. I intended on taking it home and eating it later but as I carried it to the car the smell was irresistible, so I broke off a chunk to taste! Devine! The golden, flaky pastry was simultaneously crunchy and chewy while the filling was a tasty mass of gooey cheese with a flavour similar to feta but milder and stretchier.  (According to a recipe I just googled it is a mix of feta and mozzarella… or the Macedonian versions thereof)  $6 worth was enough for me for two meals.  I’ll have to go back and try the other shop to compare!

 

 

Illawarra Festival Of Wood

“Every tree tells a story”.

I am always astounded by the diversity of things you can do in a small city like Wollongong. Sure, it’s not as exciting as the forever-awake New York, but it has its charms and enchantments!

A case in point is the Illawarra Festival Of Wood. The Festival is in its third year and offers the community a chance to see fine artisans at work, try out some woodworking skills, keep the kids entertained (under 12’s enter free)  and eat some great food. All of this, in a country fair atmosphere at the Bulli Showground. What more could you ask for on a sunny Sunday?

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Happy memories of crafting

I jumped at the opportunity to act as a guest photographer at the Festival because frankly, I love wood and the idea of working with wood to produce beautiful warm and peaceful objects brings back happy memories of my grandfather Colin. Papa, as we called him, was always busy creating something. Sometimes from wood, other times from metal, stone or leather. Although retired, he was never idle and the big shed he had in the backyard in Hurstville,  was filled, literally to the rafters, with materials all waiting to be turned into something useful.

Papa made simple jewellery and sturdy furniture. All the family had/have something made by Papa. There was a graduated and scheduled procession of gifts;  a leather belt in early teenage years, then an ornate wallet and later for the girls, at 18, a carved handbag. Grandma kept a little book of who had what and when the next item was due.

When I was first married, I happened to live a few streets away from Papa and Grandma. It became my habit to visit on Saturday afternoons, have a cup of tea and a few biscuits in the cosy kitchen and then head to the shed with Papa to make something. He taught me how to use a lathe and make enamel necklaces. We would tumble rocks for weeks on end in jars of sand. The coarse sand replaced incrementally by finer and finer grains as the stones began to gleam and round out. The transformation of rocks to polished jewellery was slow and laborious.

I enjoyed this time with my Grandfather and now reminiscing as I write, I realise that this must be where I developed my love of crafting and the desire to create simple things with my own hands. One of the items on my 60 for 60 list is to do a woodworking course, so the Festival made me as happy as a lark while I  snapped away amongst the sappy sweet smells oozing from the resiny slices.

Surprising Health Benefits of Wood

Real wood went out of fashion for a while with wood panelling and furniture replaced by slick, sleek plastic laminates. These materials might be easier to clean, but science shows that timber, real timber, offers many health benefits. It can lower blood pressure, increase levels of well being and improve a person’s emotional state and creativity. Housing Health and Humanity is a comprehensive, evidence-based report that sets out these benefits. Wood interiors and wooden furniture, to some extent, bring the outdoors inside and create a health-giving bond with nature.

Combine these latent health benefits with the practice of creating and keeping old crafts alive, and you have a winning formula for a great weekend.

Master artisans.

These values are easy to see in the craftspeople and stallholders at the IFoW.  A small band of wood enthusiasts organises the Festival; Suzanne and Stuart Montague along with another couple Christian and Tomiko Timbs, who own and operate Japanese Tools. Suzanne and Stuart also own the Illawarra Woodwork School and run top-rated courses in furniture making. The courses sell-out fast, so you need to get in quick to grab a space. The class schedule on the website is currently not up-to-date, so it would be worthwhile emailing them if you want to sign up.

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Suzanne with her trusty clipboard

 

Suzanne buzzed around all day solving the sorts of logistical problems that often arise in these sorts of events from not having enough garbage bins, making sure there is enough power leads right through to the threat of inclement weather that could spoil everything in one big downpour.

Where can you find the Festival?

The Festival runs over two days in mid-October and is timed to coincide with the last weekend of the Spring school holidays. Workshops are aimed at different skill levels. You’ll find plenty of beautiful slabs of timber for sale as well as tools, furniture and homewares on offer from more than 70 stallholders. A wide range of food vendors will ensure you don’t go hungry.

Bulli is one of Wollongong’s northern suburbs and is about 90 minutes drive south of  Sydney, The Showground is on the Old Princes Highway just south of the Primary School but before the pub. You can easily walk from Bulli Railway Station, although you should check the timetable carefully as trains are few and far between on the weekends. On-site parking is available for a gold coin donation.

Ticket prices for the 2019 Festival were $15 for single-day entry and  $25 for both days. Workshop fees varied depending on their complexity (some of the more complex ones spanning the two days) and include the entry fee. Children’s workshops range from $60-80.

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If you want to make a full day of it the beach is only a short distance away. The Wood Festival is on the same weekend as the very popular and successful Scarborough Art Show held at Scarborough Primary School from Friday night.

It’s too late for this year, but you could organise a lovely weekend away in the sunny city of Wollongong for 2020!

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Snapshots from Wollongong – G and K

K is for Keiraville and G is for Gwynneville

This post gives the profile for two adjoining suburbs, that while small in area, pack a lot of punch in the facilities they offer.

These two small villages are well-established suburbs which have been part of Wollongong more or less since land grants were made in the area. Once again the Spearing family were the first to own a parcel of land here. Keiraville is named after Mt Keira which rises above it at the end of Gipps Road. Gwynneville is named after John Gwynne, a farmer who lived in the area in the late 1880s.

The small commercial centres for both Kieraville and Gywnneville run off Gipps Road.

G is for Gwynneville

Gwynnevilleinfo

For a small place, there is a lot happening here! Gwynneville offers some major sporting venues. Firstly, Beaton Park Leisure Centre which has a 25m indoor heated pool as well as a well-equipped gym. The gym is owned and operated by the Wollongong City Council. There are lots of group exercise classes plus the regular gym weights and machines. A full-size basketball court is also used by local clubs for badminton and other sports. In case you pull a muscle, there is a Sports Medicine clinic in the grounds too.

Beaton Park Gym
Beaton Park Gym

Within the same complex is the Kerryn McCann Athletics Centre which has an 8 lane running track, long jump and pole vaulting facilities as well as a shot put and discus areas.  Members of the gym can use the running track when it is not being used by the Athletics Club. Nearby and sharing the same car park, is Wollongong Tennis Club which has 14 full-size courts (10 synthetic and 4 clay) and 8 mini-courts for kids. The Clubhouse is licensed, and they serve drinks and meals most days. It is closed on Mondays and only open every second Sunday. Just across the little stormwater drain is the Snakepit Basketball Stadium, which is the home of Illawarra Basketball. The major league’s games are not played here anymore as they moved to the bigger Wollongong Entertainment Centre.

We are not done yet.

Across the road from the  Beaton Park cluster is Wisemans Park Bowling Club which has three greens and a large licensed club. Next door to the Bowling Club, is a  cricket oval. There is a second cricket oval adjacent to the Kerryn McCann track which is used for soccer in the winter.

The small shopping centre has a pharmacy, a mixed business which doubles as the Post Office, a greengrocer, a chicken and chips place, two cafes, one of which includes a boutique, a bakery which also has a cafe,  an Asian grocery store, a Turkish takeaway and pizza place and a Chinese take-away. There is also a petrol station, a small community theatre company, Senior Citizens Centre, a beautician and hairdressers!

Another feature is the Omar Mosque, one of three mosques in Wollongong.

There is a public primary school as well as a catholic primary school. The designated high school is Wollongong High School of Performing Arts which takes local students and students by audition for its performance program.

All this, within walking distance of the main town of Wollongong and the University, make it a very desirable place to live. It is well serviced by buses, and North Wollongong station is very closeby. It should be noted that Gwynneville is dissected by the Princes Motorway, a 4 lane highway with lots of traffic!

 

K is for Keiraville

Keiraville

A little further up the hill towards Mt Keira, you’ll find Keiraville. This pleasant suburb also has lots to offer. It has two of the city’s big guns: the University of Wollongong and the Wollongong Botanic Gardens.

The Wollongong Botanic Gardens is one of my go-to places when I am looking for a little photography inspiration. While only small, it has an impressive collection and I especially love the succulent and cactus collections. My grandson loves to feed the ducks (as do most of the toddlers in Wollongong.) There is a coffee van, which at the time of writing is open 7 days a week, where you can get snacks as well as tea or coffee while browsing the street library collection. There is an enclosed playground for kids and plenty of lawns and delightful nooks for big family gatherings or romantic picnics.

On the high side of the Gardens and up the grassy hill is Gleniffer Brae, a heritage-listed residence that now houses the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music. Built in 1937-39.  It is described as being a Tudor Revival style. There has been some controversy in recent years about its use and redevelopment.

Keiraville also has a  small shopping centre with three cafes, a pharmacy and petrol station, a bottle shop, a small supermarket, a post office, a travel agent and a homewares/clothing boutique. An alternate medicine/clinic offering “new age” treatments as well as a physiotherapist has also opened up in the last year. There is also a small Polish Museum.

Keiraville Primary School which opened in 1891, is a quaint collection of weatherboard buildings.  The local designated high school is Wollongong School of Performing Arts.

 

Parking near Wollongong University.

Since both Keiraville and Gwynneville are close to the University, parking is an issue. There are clearly marked parking bays on the residential streets surrounding the Uni. While the Uni and the Council have done their best to make public transport an attractive option by providing a free bus that loops around the central Wollongong area and a free shuttle bus from North Wollongong station, plenty of students still drive. Parking in the Uni is probably beyond the financial resources of students.

Snapshots from Wollongong – Woonona

W is for Woonona

Wollongong has more than its fair share of suburbs starting with W. There is Wollongong itself, Woonona, Windang, Warrawong and Wombarra.

 

Woonona (including Woonona East) is in the “northern” suburbs. Here, the coastal strip is narrow, and the escarpment rises sharply only 3 kilometres beyond the beach. The suburb is divided by the Princes Highway and the railway line. East Woonona is east of the railway, and while not officially its own suburb, there is a significant demarcation in terms of house prices once you go across those tracks.

Woonona’s Numbers.

Woonona Infographic

Cook’s foiled landing attempt in Woonona.

Woonona has a big claim to fame in that it was the place where Captain Cook first attempted to land on Australian soil. Rough seas prevented the landing party coming to shore, and they continued to head north to Botany Bay.

 

Sea birds at Woonona Beach
Taken at Collin’s Point, Woonona

 

Woonona’s retail sector.

There is a small shopping area at “the Circle” at East Woonona where there is a newsagent, a bottle shop (AKA liquor store), a couple of fish and chip shops, a bakery and a small supermarket. There is (was)  also a hair salon.

Woonona itself has a largish shopping precinct with an IGA Supermarket, a McDonalds,  a very large RSL Club which includes a gym and many speciality shops. This shopping centre runs along both sides of the Highway and parking can be a bother. There is a car park in the street that runs parallel to the Highway on the eastern side.

It is well serviced by restaurants, and Samara’s (a Lebanese restaurant) is one of my favourites. They serve great food, and there is an amiable vibe. There is also a very good Thai place and terrific sushi place – Moon Sushi a bit further north.

If you are looking for coffee close to the beach, there is a cafe at 1 Park Road which has gone through a few iterations. Right now it’s called North Break Cafe.

Beach Fishig at Woonona

Woonona has two public primary schools and a High School. Woonona Primary opened in 1885, and some of the original buildings are still on site. The High School opened in 1964.

If you are looking for interesting architecture, the Woonona Co-operative Building in Ball Street is a bit of a standout. Built in the Spanish Mission Style in 1928 it was first a bakery (the largest on the south coast) and later a department store. It is now home to a pizza parlour and a self-storage business.

Flooding in Woonona

Because of the geography with the narrow coastal strip, the steep escarpment and small creek systems, the northern suburbs including Woonona are subject to flash flooding. In 1998 one person was killed and hundreds of homes damaged when 314mm (more than 12 inches) of rain fell in 6 hours.

Angels singing at Woonona Beach

 

Woonona Beach

The Woonona Beach is well known as a good surfing beach, and there is an ocean pool and changing rooms at its northern end. Like Bellambi, the cycleway runs right past the beach, and there is a series of sports’ ovals and a childrens’ park which has excellent views. If you had a mind to, you could walk from Wollongong to Woonona and beyond along the beach with the headlands being easy to scramble over in low tides.

 

 

Ocean Pool, Woonona
Woonona’s Ocean Pool at night.

 

I used to live in Woonona and hence have a bit of a soft spot for it and quite a few photos in my archives!

 

 

My 200th Post

WOW! This is my 200th post. I chalked up the 100th post on January 1 2019.  So it’s been a busy year, and I am not quite at the end yet.

Although not as eventful as previous years, I have still been trying new things and keeping my mind active.

Including

  • Travelling to Scotland
  • Two courses with the Australian Radio Film and Television School; one on documentary making and the other on mobile video content creation.
  • A jewellery making course with a local Illawarra designer
  • Completing an online SEO course which will hopefully boost visits to this blog.

I have continued running and entered into 3 x 10km events.

I remain proud of the fact that I have posted at least once every week and recently twice a week with the introduction of my Photo Of the Week challenge.

Thank you to those who visit frequently and take the time to like and comment. It’s always nice to know there is someone out there. I think my 60 for 60 goal of 1000 followers is a pie in the sky, but you never know!

 

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The Scottish Fishing Industry.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Fraserburgh, a fishing town on the northeast coast of Scotland. You can tell it was once a prosperous and thriving community by the size and grandeur of its public buildings. These days it’s a bit tattered at the edges, but as I said in my previous post, there are some good people there. Nearly everyone I had an extended conversation with was very keen to know what I thought of Brexit. Almost as keen as I was to avoid the topic! I didn’t know enough about it to make a sensible statement, and I could tell it was a loaded question. It got me into a bit of an internet vortex trying to find information about how many people were involved in fishing in these towns and what affect the EU had had on them.

Fishing Industry Studies

The opening statement of a 2004 report by the Royal Society of Edinburgh Inquiry into the Future of the Scottish Fishing Industry, does not beat around the bush

The Scottish fishing industry has been managed under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) of the European Union for the last thirty years. The policy has failed to achieve adequate conservation of certain key fish stocks so that an important part of the industry and the livelihoods of many in Scotland’s fishing communities are now under threat.

Changes to the European fishing industry have had a more significant effect on Scotland than elsewhere in the UK because Scotland has always depended more heavily on fishing. While less than 9% of the UK’s population lives in Scotland, around 60% of the fisheries catch is landed there. Many of the fishing communities are in small, relatively remote villages. Fraserburgh and Peterhead, by contrast, are large port towns which account for the majority of fishing employment in the district. Fraserburgh is an important port for shellfish.

Total allowable catch?

The introduction of quotas imposed when the UK joined the EU, drastically reduced the total allowable catch.  I was told by fisher folk in Fraserburgh that a lot of caught fish are dumped at sea. It would seem the amount of fish caught has not been reduced just the amount of fish brought to shore. The quotas have reduced the profitability drastically by taking away some economies of scale. Employment in the industry fell by 40% in the ten years from 1994 – 2004.

Scottish Fishihg Trawler

Twenty years ago, nearly 60% of the population of Fraserburgh was in some way linked to employment in the fish industry. These days it is much less. A report published in 2016 states that there were 780 fishermen (interesting it used that term… are there no women?) on a fleet of  207 active vessels. This is eclipsed by 208 vessels in Stornaway, Harris.

According to this same report, things are looking up for Fraserburgh and other fishing towns. The once dire situation for cod and haddock is improving. No longer at the brink of virtual extinction through overfishing, stocks are increasing.

Will Brexit make a difference for the people of Fraserburgh? Or will it be too late? Will the family businesses last or will the owner-skippers be bought out by huge corporations who can ride the up and downs more easily? Will the small vessels be replaced by supertanker size rigs? Will the charm of a salty Scottish fishing village be lost forever?

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Disclaimer: This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive analysis of the Scottish Fishing Industry, just my personal interpretation after reading a few reports.

I used the following sources when putting this post together.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/aug/18/where-did-all-the-cod-go-fish-chips-north-sea-sustainable-stocks

https://www.rse.org.uk/inquiries/the-scottish-fishing-industry/

Aberdeenshire Sea Fisheries Statistics. 2016.

A chat with a nice fellow at the fish markets.

 

First responder.

A traffic accident on Harris Island, Scotland.

June 2019

I am still not sure what made me look up at that particular moment. I guess something must have caught my eye. With more than 40 years driving experience under your seat belt,  you remain alert even when you are admiring the broad, rugged landscapes of Harris Island.

But look up, I did. Just in time to see the large white SUV, which was the second car behind me, pull out onto the other side of the road to overtake. At the same moment, the car directly behind me also pulled out and accelerated rapidly.

“No! Mate! No!” I shouted at the silver car “Don’t!”

The small silver car slammed into the side of the larger, white car, and became airborne sailing over the top of the white car, rolling over and over again. It dropped into a gully next to the road. I didn’t see it hit the ground, but when I did see where it had come to rest, I could tell from the dug-up field, that it had skated on its roof across the rock-studded grass. The white car spun on its wheels and ended up facing the right way in the correct lane, front tyre punctured, passenger side caved in, airbags fully deployed

It all happened in a fraction of a second, but as people say, it seemed as if it was in slow motion. Every nanosecond etched on my mind.

I pulled over to the shoulder of the road and grabbed my phone from the charger. I opened the boot of the car and fished out my first kit. The one I had brought in case I sprained my ankle while hiking.

As I jabbed 999 on the phone’s keyboard,  I thought to myself “I don’t have enough Bandaids for this accident. Those people are dead for sure.”

“Ambulance, Fire or Police?” the calm female voice said at the other end of the line.

“Ambulance and Police,” I said, already fumbling with my phone to put it on loudspeaker, so I could use the Emergency App to give my location.

 

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These are the emergency contacts for NSW, Australia, I don’t remember if it gave the 999 number in Scotland. I think I just remembered it from TV shows!

“Which one first?”

“Ambulance, I would say. I have just witnessed a serious road crash. My location is XYZ”, and I gave my coordinates, reading from the screen.

I ran down the hill, the tiny first aid kit tucked under my arm.

I got to the white car first.

“Are you hurt? Any injuries?”

“No,” they both said, “We are OK, just a bit shaky.”

“Stay in the car,” I said, “I have called an ambulance.”

I turned to see a young man and woman crawling out of the silver car and watched incredulously, as they scrambled up the embankment.

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“Come! Sit!” I said, sizing up their injuries. Scratched hands from the broken glass. A large graze on his temple. Cuts to her shins and shredded tights. Both had dilated pupils and were rambling on about what had happened.

“I just didn’t see him!” the young man said.

They were in shock.

I passed my assessment on to the calm lady who was still on the other end of the phone.

“I’ll send two ambulances,” she said. “it will be a while.”

I pulled out a gauze pad from my kit and told the girl to hold it on the largest cut on her shin. The blood flowing freely from the cut, making it look more gruesome than it was.

“Press  hard with this,” I said, “what’s your name?”

“Joanna”

“Where are you hurt, Joanna? Is it ok if I touch you to see if you have any injuries?

“My back and neck are really sore.”

“I imagine they are! Can you just stay really still for me?” I draped my one, silver blanket over her shaking body and asked her to breathe with me. “Nice deep breaths Joanna… Slow down, slow down… you’ll be Ok. The ambulance is on its way.”

By this stage, some other people had begun to pull up.

“Do you need help?”

“Yes, I do! Do you have a blanket?

The Dutchman nods.

“Get it, and wrap this fellow up. He needs to stay warm.”

“What’s your name, mate?” I asked the dazed man.

“John”

“You’ve got a bit of a bump on your head there John! Can I have a look at it?”

I took another piece of gauze from the meagre first aid kit and pressed it against his bleeding head.

“Can I help? another voice said from the crowd. “I am a navy medic.”

“Take over here, mate, you can do a better job than me!”

“No, you seem to have it under control.” He walked away and melted back into the crowd.

“HANG ON!!” I thought, “Is there no one here better equipped than me to deal with this? Here I am on the other side of the world in a foreign country being a very bossy Australian telling Scottish people what to do?? Is there no-one?”

It would seem I was it.

The Uncle of the White Car Man (who I now knew was Alex) turned up at my side. They had called him straight after the crash.

“You need help,” he said. Not a question but a statement.

“Yes, mate!”

Thank god, another person willing to lead.  “Can you stop the traffic up there. We don’t want to get run over ourselves.”

There was no verge, and we were sitting right on the road.

The traffic was calm and patient. A few people got out to look at what was happening and then returned to their cars. There were offers of food and water for the injured.

“No,” I said “You don’t know if they are going to need surgery. Let’s wait for the ambo’s”.

The quizzical looks reminded me that abbreviating a word and adding an O was a uniquely Australian practice.

We waited. I checked on the two in the SUV again. They were still shaky but definitely uninjured.

My phone rang.

“Yes?”

“Harris Police here, can you tell me what has happened?”

“Road crash at (co-ordinates).  No major injuries. The traffic is building up.”

All matter of fact, as if I do this every day.

“We’ll be there as soon as we can, but we are already dealing with another matter at the other end of the island.”

It seemed like an episode of Shetland. The majestic scenery was laid out before me. The rocky outcrops, the soaring birds, the inquisitive bystanders. The grey, scudding clouds.

More time elapsed.  perhaps 30 minutes, and then the welcome wail of a siren. One ambulance had arrived.

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“Ok,” the green-clad fellow said, “What’s going on here?”

“Traffic accident, four people involved the two in the white car are a bit shaky but otherwise appear to be OK. These two, John and Joanna, crawled out of that car (the ambo lets out a long low whistle) and up the hill. They have some superficial injuries (pointing to their legs and hands)  but are both complaining of headache, backache and a sore neck. They have been conscious and lucid the whole time. Their breathing has steadied, and they seem to be able to move freely, but I have asked them to stay still. Joanna is the most distressed, but I am concerned about his contusion on John’s forehead.”

“Ah hah…” he said slowly as he put on his gloves.

Shit! No gloves! I forgot to put mine on!!

“How long ago?”

“About 40 minutes?

“Hmm ok. Can you just hold John’s head still while I have a look.”

I cradled John’s head in the way I had been shown in the advanced first aid course I had done.

The paramedic looked at me and said: “Hmmm you know what to do… are you a first responder?”

First responder? I smiled and as a million thoughts went through my head as to how an Australian holidaying in Scotland had taken charge of a traffic accident, was well, not a first responder per se, but certainly a well trained NSW SES volunteer.  How do you describe what the NSW SES is? Tick tock tick tock …it all flicked through my mind, and I decided on

“Well, no, not exactly. I am a volunteer in the emergency services in Australia. I have had some advanced training in this sort of thing.”

That would do for the time being. Another ambulance crew turned up. The paramedics decided to treat John and Joanna as having potential spinal injuries, which meant very cautious handling. I helped them strap the two onto spinal boards, and lift them onto the ambulance.

As they departed, I looked at the long, long queues of traffic stretching back on both sides of the road. The white car was still in the middle of the lane, immobile, blocking the traffic.  The once patient drivers beginning to get impatient as the ambulance vanished over the hill. To me, it seemed like another accident waiting to happen, as people began to pull out willy-nilly, trying to get past.

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In rapid-fire, I said to the Uncle “Contra-flow traffic, ten cars each way. You let ten cars past and then stop them, and then I‘ll let ten go from my end. Do that until we finish. Hold up your hand like this (the stop signal) and raise your other hand to me when you are ready to change over,”  I demonstrated a beckoning signal.

I went up the road and waved the first car on. It didn’t move. An older woman in the driver’s seat was slumped over the wheel.

“Oh my god,” I thought, “don’t tell me she’s had a heart attack while we’ve been waiting? And the ambulance has just left!”

I walked gingerly up to her car and tapped on the window. She woke up, startled. I let out the breath I hadn’t realised I had been holding.

“Move on please ma’am.”

For the next 15 minutes, we directed the traffic. I cursed the fact that I was dressed all in black and had no hi-vis, no glowing traffic wand. Not like in the training I had done.

The police rang again. They’d be there soon.

After 2 hours, they did finally arrive. The queues of traffic had gone, the ambulance had taken John and Joanna away. Alex (the driver of the white car) had calmed down, and his Aunty was now just plain angry that the police had taken so long to get there. The Uncle and I were congratulating each other on what a fantastic job we had done with the traffic. It seemed so peaceful.

The police officer began to get my details.

“Hang on a minute,” she said. “I just have to check on my colleague”. He was striding down the road, fishing something out of his pocket.

“It was his first day yesterday.”  Eye roll  “I just have to make sure he does not breathalyse them without me as a witness.”

She came back to me 20 minutes later and started to retake my statement.

It was cold. The wind had picked up, and I was busting to go to the toilet. While caught up in the middle of the emergency, I had stayed calm and in control. The only thing I could think of now was not wetting my pants in front of this police officer.

I told her I needed to go.

“Go down the road to the Youth Centre. It’s just around the bend here. Tell them the Police sent you. They’ll let you use their loo. Wait for us there.”

“Right yeah sure,” I thought. But sure enough I said the police had sent me, they let me use their loo and now more comfortable, I sat on the car bonnet and waited. Another 15 minutes later, the Police pulled up at the Youth Centre, and I  gave them my statement.

It was now three and a half hours since I had looked in that rear-view mirror and I  was finally on my way again. Cold, hungry and thirsty. However, my overwhelming emotion was pride! I had done good! I had stayed calm. I had been useful! I had used the training I had been given through the NSW State Emergency Service to render first aid and direct traffic. I might be a bossy Aussie, but who bloody cares! On this day, at that moment, I was the right person at the right time, and I helped people. Really, really helped them.

Punch the air,  Old Chook! Today you were truly invincible and very visible!


The NSW SES is a volunteer organisation which has jurisdiction over storm and flood events in New South Wales, Australia. In some rural units, they also look after road crashes. I have been an SES member for nearly 5 years. I have been trained in many aspects of emergency management. You can read about the SES here. It’s a government-funded body and one of the things I really love about Australia. We look after each other!

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Travel Mascots Part 4

The return of Iain

Several weeks ago, I reported that I had very carelessly lost Iain, my wee travel companion. I surmised that I had perhaps left him on the rooftop of my car while I packed my things or that I had simply left him on the rocks at Salen Jetty.

 

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The last known sighting of Iain

 

While devastated by his loss, I found another travel companion, Iain mac Iain. His black watch kilt and shawl at odds with the Royal Stewart tartan of his “father”. But hey, you have to make do with what you have, and I had a very generous donation of black watch tweed from my Airbnb host in Lewis.

Iain mac Iain was a valiant replacement. Forever seeking out his father, befriending other seemingly lost or abandoned travel mascots, he made it home safely to Australia after spending the better part of a month in Scotland. He had some grand adventures and has appeared in many unknown facebook posts as he was included in other people’s family snaps.

I sought the help of the good people of Salen Jetty. I messaged the shop as soon as I realised he was missing. We stayed in contact and finally the day after I flew back into Australia an Iain- sighting was made on Facebook! True to his armoury loving-self he was found sitting on top of a canon! My Salen Jetty shop contacts were quick to claim on my behalf.

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Now, three weeks after that first sighting he is here with me in Wollongong, Australia having a grand reunion with his dad! After an awkward handshake and a few minutes of small talk, it was man hugs all round!

 

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Dad!

 

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come here, Son!

Thanks to the power of the interwebs and the friendliness of a small community, we have been reunited! If you are ever in Salen Jetty, please drop in on these good folks, tell them you read the story of Iain and thank them on my behalf!

Thank you also to my friends who have joined in on Iain and Iain’s journeys, we’ve had some fun!

 

Two years old!

Happy second birthday, Old Chook Enterprises!

My blog is two years old today! Well, not ‘today’ today because I wrote this in May and the second birthday happens in July but I’m publishing it on the second anniversary of my first post! Now that’s not confusing, is it?

I am celebrating because unless something tragic has happened in the last few days, I have posted consistently every week for two years. Sometimes more than one post a week but at least every week!  I am proud of myself for doing that.

In the time leading up to this post, I will have been chronicling my trip around Scotland. This particular piece I wrote in the comfort of my home on May 16th, 2019. A little “here’s one I prepared earlier” post.

I still have a way to go till I hit my goal of 1000 followers, but my “followship” (is that a word?) has been steadily increasing. Sadly extrapolating from my current growth rate, it will be about 2027 before I hit that mark. I need some exponential growth!

My most viewed post to date is No day shall erase you from the memory of time which was featured by WordPress as an Editors’ Pick. This post looked back at my visit to the 9/11 Memorial in New York and still gets a few views every week.

A few of my own favourite posts are

RAOK – (Random Acts of Kindness) about a magical few minutes on a train when everyone was kind to each other.

Pandora’s Box about the briefcase full of letters between my ex and I.

It’s not been hard work but sometimes a bit stressful when I have has no posts up my sleeve, and it’s Thursday night. Every photo and video has been my own (unless I say otherwise and it’s only a few). I have not reblogged anyone else’s work. Not once. Not ever.

My original goal for starting the blog was to find a place for a side hustle in writing and creativity. That hasn’t panned out yet. It still costs me more to run than I have made. My obvious talents (sic) are still underappreciated.

But nonetheless, I’ll keep going. I still enjoy writing. My friends IRL seem to enjoy my candid posts. This Old Chook still feels like she has things to say.


When I get home from Scotland, I will be updating my theme to give my blog a fresh new look. I hope you’ll stick around!

This reel is me over the last 10 years.

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