"Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. Unto you is born this day a saviour, Christ the Lord."
I'll begin this letter with the end! The end of December, 2001, was filled with the usual Christmas things. The Carol Service at St.Paul's was a wonderful occasion. Those who attended had many words of praise and all of us who had been preparing and practising the music for the previous two months felt that our efforts had been worth it!
Christmas Day was spent at home. We had Christmas lunch in Joan's and Russell's unit which adjoins our living quarters and it was indeed a feast! We managed to seat everyone (20+) around one table and we had a wonderful time together. As usual, I attended the Carol Service at St.Peter's, Eastern Hill, on the Sunday after Christmas. After having the responsibility of providing music for the services at my own Church, I always appreciate being able to sit back and enjoy someone else's Carol Service!
In January, I went to Tasmania with Satoshi. We travelled by plane and arrived in Hobart on January 5th. We hired a campervan and thoroughly enjoyed travelling around the island for the next five days. On the first day of Christmas our trip, we visited the Transport Museum in Hobart and then travelled to Tahune (about 70 minutes south east of Hobart) where we experienced one of the highlights of the holiday &endash; the Airwalk. This is a walkway through the Tahune Forest Reserve. The special thing about it is that it is constructed between 25 and 45 metres above the ground. As you meander along the more than half a kilometre walk, you find yourself within the magnificent forest canopy, with splendid views of the surrounding environment. If you visit Tasmania, you must include a visit to the Airwalk in your itinerary!
The next day we headed off to Port Arthur, via the historic town of Richmond, where we took the obligatory photos of Australia's oldest bridge (constructed from 1823 - 1825). At Port Arthur, we visited the Bush Mill (a re-creation of a timber mill, including a working steam train) and, of course, the ruins of the convict settlement, even more eerie since the tragic killings that took place there in 1996. As we arrived late in the day, they let us in free! Later that evening, we joined a night tour during which we heard many stories of ghosts!
On Monday morning, as we left, there was torrential rain. It rained and rained and rained. But, as we got closer to Launceston, it began to stop. Cataract Gorge in Launceston has the world's longest single span chairlift (308m) and it is a peaceful, tranquil journey across, high above the river. We went for a long walk downstream to the site of an old hydro-electricity generator. The plant was set quite a way above the river and we were amazed to find that much of it had been washed away in a flood.
Tuesday began with a ride on a cable glider. This was a somewhat less tranquil journey than the ride on the chairlift! A cable glider is basically a hang glider on a cable. The cable at Cataract Gorge goes right over a quarry. Strapped into the harness, it was exhilarating (ok, I was petrified!) to zoom out over the quarry! After touring Penny Royal (a re-creation of a 19th century English gunpowder factory and a working corn mill) we headed off to Cradle Mountain. Despite the fact that we had come prepared with warm coats, it was freezing, but the sight of the peak of the mountain appearing through the mist was well worth the cold.
Mt.Field National Park was our destination on Wednesday. This park has the spectacular Russell Falls, glow worms, and a wide range of fauna, beautiful ferns and some of the tallest trees in the world. We would have loved to spend more than one day there. Thursday saw us heading back towards Hobart for our flight home. Tasmania is a beautiful place and I certainly hope to visit the "Apple Isle" again.
Later in January we headed off to Lorne for our annual camp. With the assistance of Jenny, Darryl, Val, Iain and Satoshi, the camp went very well and the 24 children enjoyed a week of swimming, hiking, games and really good food! We all agreed that this was one of our best camps.
On the last day of January, Russell and I went to "Bugs Bunny on Broadway". This was a show at the Melbourne Concert Hall during which they screened some of the most famous (and funniest!) Bugs Bunny cartoons to the accompaniment of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra playing the original scores. Russell and I are both big Bugs Bunny fans so we enjoyed it all immensely.
The end of January saw the return to school. As the principal had decided to downgrade the Teacher Librarian position to part time, I was placed in a class. I continued to have responsibility for the school's 100+ computers (including oversight of the two technicians), provide support for members of staff, get tenders for the installation of a new computer network and write curriculum documents. Despite all these responsibilities, I was given no more preparation time than those teachers whose task it was only to teach a class. As I hinted in last year's letter, I had not been happy at Chatham since the arrival of the new principal. The situation went from bad to worse and became very unpleasant. After two weeks of stress leave, I decided (on the advice of the Teacher Union which I had joined for the first time!) to seek leave without pay from Chatham. This I did. For the rest of the year, I have taken on Casual Relief Teaching (taking classes for teachers who are sick or at inservice etc. ). I enjoy the challenges that this brings and the freedom from school politics. Of course, the downside to this is that the financial side of things is not so good, especially considering the fact that there is no income at all during holiday periods but, you can't have everything!
Jenny, Darryl and I went to Cape Patterson for the long weekend in March. We enjoyed the beautiful sunny weather and the peaceful surroundings. A long-standing friend, Prue, has a holiday house at Cape Patterson so we met for dinner one night. The next day we had a fascinating tour of the old Wonthaggi Coal mine. Mining is always a dangerous business and we heard many stories of hardship and tragedy.
After Easter, Satoshi and I went to Phillip Island for a few days. We stayed in an older style motel which had its own tennis court. The surface was so uneven that it was almost impossible to predict where the ball would end up, making our games much more affairs of luck than skill (a huge bonus for me!!). We took our bicycles with us so that we could ride the "rail trail" from Anderson to Wonthaggi. The ride follows the route of the old railway which serviced the coal mines at Wonthaggi. It had been a long time since I had been on a bike ride of any distance and many parts of my anatomy were complaining quite strongly but it was a very enjoyable ride, nonetheless. A highlight was riding over the bridge at Kilcunda, a small settlement on the coast. There was a wonderful view of the ocean.
During April, Jenny and Darryl had a friend staying from England. Jim is 86 years old but is still very active (both physically and mentally!). He had never been camping so we set off to Currawong Bush Park one Friday. We had BBQ meals, sang around the campfire and slept in tents. Jim had a really great time, enjoying everything to the full. Friends Maverick and Ricky joined us for the Friday night. Lynne, Linton, Emily and Benjamin joined us on the Saturday as did Joan and Russell and the Priem family. Currawong Bush Park is only a twenty minute drive from home but it felt like we could have been in the middle of the bush, miles from anywhere.
I was fortunate enough to attend several concerts during the year. Highlights were Mozart's "Mass in C minor", Orff's "Carmina Burana" and, in particular, a performance given by the pianist David Helfgott (of the movie "Shine"). This was an uplifting, heart-warming experience that I will remember for a long time. I was especially happy to be able to be in the audience one night for probably my favourite musical, "Oliver!", which is currently on at the Regent Theatre. It is a stunning production with good singing, clear diction, excellent choreography and brilliant, seamless changes of scenery. (You could say I liked it!) A friend, Linda, was in a production of the "Sound of Music" down at Mornington. The quality of this production was also high and we enjoyed seeing Linda as a Nun!
Jenny, Darryl, Joan, Russell, Satoshi and I visited Echuca over the Queen's Birthday weekend. The highlight of this trip was a visit to the annual Steam Rally. There were all manner of steam traction engines, steam driven cars and trucks, vintage cars, country-cooked food and interesting displays. We also enjoyed a trip on a steam train, travelling in old-fashioned wooden carriages.
For my birthday in July, we travelled on Puffing Billy to Gembrook. As is often the case in July, it was absolutely freezing! This did not stop Jenny, Linton, Satoshi and even Emily travelling in an open carriage where you can "hang out" the side. Those of us with a taste for more luxurious travel chose an enclosed carriage with comfortable seats! When we got home, we enjoyed an evening of games, including "Pictionary". This is a game which requires the participants to draw. Since many of us can't draw, we always end up in fits of laughter. I can't think of a better way to celebrate a birthday!
Jenny had long service leave for almost three months. One day during this time, she and I decided to go for a drive up to the hills. We did not have detailed plans, we just went! A highlight of this day was a visit to a daffodil farm. I did not know there were so many varieties of daffodil - literally hundreds! Later, we found ourselves at Gembrook Station so we went in and had a look around. Jenny, of course, was buying things, so I was looking at the brochures. There was one about Gilwell Park which caught my eye. Satoshi's 21st birthday was near and we had been searching for a suitable venue for the party. Gilwell Park sounded just the place so we headed up there. The park ranger was very helpful and patiently told us about all the facilities available. When it was time to leave, my car would not start! Considering that I had only picked it up that morning after it had been "repaired", this was more than a little annoying. The RACV very promptly came to the rescue. The mechanic told us not to stop the engine until we got home. Jenny and I, being intrepid adventurers and risk-takers, decided not to go straight home but to head deeper into the Bunyip State Forest. Although we did not stop the engine, as per instruction, it decided to conk out on us anyway. This time, we had to wait over two hours before the RACV mechanic found us, and it was dark!
Of course, the car went back to the repairer but he could find nothing wrong with it. Several days later, it stopped again (on the way to a funeral for which I had to play the organ - fortunately, Kathryn Barres was able to come to my rescue!). Still the repairer could not find the fault. He had replaced the fuel pump in the car with a new one. In desperation, he replaced that pump with another new fuel pump and there has not been a problem since.
For the September holidays, we travelled to King Island. We flew in a small plane which left from Moorabbin Airport. Our accommodation was in a house called "St.Andrew's" because it overlooked the golf course. It also had spectacular ocean views. Jenny, Darryl, Joan, Russell and I enjoyed a very relaxing week. As we toured around in our hire car, we saw some of the most rugged coastline we had ever seen. Small wonder the island was the scene of many shipwrecks. Many of these occurred because captains mistook the King Island lighthouse for the Cape Otway light house and sailed straight onto the rocks. The wrecking of the "Cataraqui" in 1845 remains Australia's worst maritime disaster during peace time. Four hundred emigrants drowned (including 186 children) when the ship struck rocks just a hundred metres offshore on the west coast of the island. As we stood on the shore at the site of the wreck, we could not begin to imagine how awful it would have been.
The island is the site of an old scheelite mine. The town "Grassy" was built to house the miners but, when the mine closed more than ten years ago, it quickly became practically a ghost town. It was an eerie experience to wander through many of the old houses which are home now only to birds. The island is also home to the famous "King Island Dairy" and we enjoyed sampling the many varieties of cheese available (and purchasing some too). We also saw many of the wild peacocks, turkeys and pheasants which inhabit the island. I can thoroughly recommend a trip to King Island if your idea of a holiday is to relax in a place with few cars, friendly people and some of the freshest, purest air anywhere in the world.
At the end of October, we had Satoshi's 21st birthday. He wanted a party which included physical activities so we decided to hold it at Gilwell Park Scout Camp. Satoshi and many of his friends seemed to enjoy the "commando" course which required them to get covered in mud! Each to their own, I guess! Satoshi's family decorated the hall, Joan and Russell were in charge of the BBQ, Darryl supervised the outdoor activities, Jenny and Junko (Satoshi's mum) worked in the kitchen and, all in all, it was a very happy and successful event.
The Cumberland River, near Lorne, was our destination for the Cup Day weekend. It was perfect to be camped within sight of the river and close enough to the ocean to hear the sound of the waves crashing onto the shore. Jenny, Darryl, Satoshi and I enjoyed several bush walks over the four days and just time relaxing together before the busy days of the pre-Christmas season.
This year has not been easy for me on many counts but it has also been a year of many blessings. I am so privileged and thankful to have such wonderful friends who put up with all my shortcomings and peculiarities and I wish you all a joyous Christmas and a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.