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Dear Friends,

Well, it finally happened. Having reached the age of 55, I’m old enough to move into a retirement village! What a ridiculous thought. I can remember when 30 seemed so old that it was difficult to imagine living that long! But the years march on. After a decade of stability, this year has been one of considerable change for me.

On the 10th of August, the news came that my mother, Cecilia, had died at the age of 91. Of course that final break was difficult but we were all pleased that she was no longer suffering. Cancer is an insidious disease and, finally, it defeated even my “indomitable” mother. It was difficult to watch her gradually become thinner and thinner over the last months. At the end, she was simply a bag of bones. On the positive side, she had a long and healthy life until about a year ago and enjoyed her retirement at Parkglen Retirement Community in Keysborough. In accordance with her wishes, her remains were donated to the Anatomy Department of the University of Melbourne and there was no funeral.

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My mother at her 90th birthday party, January, 2014.

Someone said to me, “It’s a funny feeling, being an orphan.” This is true. When one’s parent/s have been there for 55 years, it does feel odd. However, time marches on and there is nought that can be done about it.

As always, January was a month for “recharging the batteries” and enjoying life without the rigidity demanded by the school bell. It was a time for relaxation and just “being”.

By the beginning of February, I had already been back at school for three days and life was back to its usual routine. This year I had a new colleague to work with, Katherine Geake. She had been in my class last year as a student teacher - one of the best I have ever had. I made strong recommendations to the Principal that she should be employed and was delighted when she was given a job (having gone through all the usual interviews etc). I couldn’t have been happier when I found that she was to be in the class next door! She is a wonderful person to work with - supportive, optimistic, flexible, down to earth, sensible and has a great sense of humour! We are both happy that we will be working together in 2016 too. My class of 2015 was comprised of 21 students who were well-behaved (most of the time!) and the parents were supportive and friendly so it was a good year at work!

In March, there was an addition to our “family”. Min (the cat) always sleeps on my bed and always sits on my lap and I felt sorry for Satoshi. The search for a second cat began! After an unsuccessful visit to the RSPCA (who were particularly unhelpful and almost rude) we went down to the unpromising sounding “Save a Dog Scheme” in Glen Iris. The people there were most helpful and we were allowed to spend as much time as we wanted with any or all of the twenty or so kittens and cats available for adoption. After much deliberation, “Butterscotch” was chosen. We were somewhat concerned about Min’s reaction to a new member of the family and, sure enough, she was quite frosty at first. After a few weeks, everyone settled down and the two cats get on remarkably well. Unusually, for a ginger cat, Butterscotch is female.

Butterscotch

Butterscotch at the Save a Dog Scheme in Glen Iris

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Min and Butterscotch

In April, I attended a Christian Convention organised by Jenny’s and Darryl’s Church at Yellingbo (near Gembrook). As always, this was an enjoyable time of bible study, hymn singing, good food and fellowship. One afternoon, we enjoyed an exploratory drive around the nearby countryside. We returned to the oft-visited Kurth Kiln but we also found “Ship Rock” a very large rock with a small waterfall nearby. A sign on the road pointed to Beenak Cemetery. After what seemed like a very long trip down a dirt road, we came upon the only cemetery I have ever seen with a power point on one of the graves! It was clearly not connected to any power so its purpose remains a mystery. The afternoon also included a visit to Gembrook Station where we watched “Puffing Billy” depart. The following day, on the way home, we “chased” the train, stopping at as many level crossings on the way as we could, waving to the passengers. After a while, we found that many of them looked for us and waved back enthusiastically.

Ship Rock

Ship Rock. The size of the rock can be appreciated when comparing it to friend Ian Miller (to whom the arrow points).

Grave with Power Point

Not sure why this grave needs a power point!

On a very cold and somewhat wet day, later in the holidays, Satoshi and I visited Chesterfield Farm with Jenny, Darryl and a multitude of grandchildren. Although we almost froze to death, we had an enjoyable time at what is largely an oversized petting zoo. They have a range of farm animals which included free-range guinea pigs and, at the time of our visit, a large litter of days-old piglets. It was lovely to be able to hold/pat many of the creatures. There was also a milking demonstration and the children (and Satoshi) were able to experience this age-old occupation for themselves.

Feeding the Animals

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We were quite a group!

Another trip during this period was to Phillip Island. We went to the Wildlife Sanctuary and, in the evening, to the Penguin Parade (with thousands of other people). It has changed so much from my childhood when one just wandered down to the beach, completely free of charge. It is now run like a well-oiled machine and costs $24.50 for a basic viewing up to $79.90 for a VIP tour!

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An inhabitant of the Wildlife Park

Over the Anzac Day long weekend, we travelled to Bealiba where we participated in the Anzac Service. This was a very dignified event which included pipes and drums, interesting speeches and a magnificent country-style lunch provided by the CWA (Country Women's Association) for free! I thought it was a very fitting way of remembering the sacrifice of the soldiers at Gallipoli a hundred years ago. This trip also included dinner at my favourite restaurant “Caroline’s” in Carisbrook. As usual, we occupied three quarters of the motel at Carisbrook (three rooms)!

At Caroline's

At Caroline's Colonial Resuarant with owners, Sally and Mike.

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The Anzac Day Parade at Bealiba.

During the Term 2 holidays, the “six” (Jenny, Darryl, Joan, Russell, Satoshi and myself) stayed at Airey’s Inlet in the assistant lighthouse keepers’ cottages for a few days. Although under one roof, there were originally two homes in this building which has now been opened into one. There are, however, still two kitchens, not to mention four living areas and almost innumerable bedrooms! We had a very enjoyable stay which included spending some time with friends Jan and David Morris. Jan has a great interest in the history of the area and we had our own private visit to Anglesea Museum. Jan has an extensive knowledge of the exhibits and seemed to know every detail by heart! We also enjoyed an afternoon of hymn singing (an event organised by Jan!) at a local church. We were running a little late and were amazed to find that there were only a very few seats left in the church! Other activities during these holidays included a trip on Puffing Billy with Jenny and two of her grandchildren. This time it was Darryl who chased the train and we looked out for him at all the level crossings!

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Split Point Lighthouse at Airey's Inlet

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Our accommodation, taken from the balcony of the lighthouse. Can you spot Joan and Russell?

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Our accommodation was very comfortable and even included a library!

Each year, we have a day’s outing to celebrate each birthday of the “six”. For my birthday this year, we joined in “Melbourne Open House” which is a weekend where many buildings across greater Melbourne, which are not usually open to the public, are available for inspection. This is an increasingly popular event and it is necessary to choose carefully to avoid lengthy queues. I chose to visit the Swedish Church in Toorak, Como House (which has been closed to the public for some time until recently) and “Umina” an old mansion now used by the CWA as its Melbourne Headquarters and accommodation. All of these places were very interesting but it was the Swedish Church which was the most surprising. This buidling, built in 1849, was originally known as “Toorak House” and was the home of the first Governor of Victoria, Sir Charles Hotham, and remained the home of the Governors until 1876. The suburb of Toorak was named after this house. Many of its original features remain and we were able to climb up onto the top of the tower from which we had a commanding view all the way to the bay.

Toorak House

Toorak House

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The view from the tower of Toorak House

Joan, whose birthday is in May, had to wait until August for her celebration. Satoshi found a place called “The Garden Vineyard” in Moorooduc. This is a private residence with a large and magnificent garden. The owner was at pains to point out that the garden is not at its best in winter but we thought it was wonderful! A hot cup of coffee with home-made cake eaten next to the large open fire were also wonderful after an hour or so out in the cold!

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Flowering Gum with "gardener"

group in garden

goat

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I loved how the wattle had caught the water droplets.

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The month of August includes “Book Week” at school and there was the customary dress-up day. The three Year 3 teachers and my student teacher at the time decided to dress up as characters from Alice in Wonderland!

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Katherine (Alice), Miranda (Queen of Hearts), King of Hearts and the "ace" Melanie!

The beginning of September saw the other major change in my life this year. For 22 years I had been the Director of Music at St.Paul’s, East Kew. For about a year I had been feeling a bit stale and burnt out and hoped that the arrival of the new minister would give me renewed energy and excitement. He came highly-recommended and, as I was on the committee which appointed him, I was feeling confident. This hope and confidence quite rapidly evaporated. As the year progressed, he wanted to make more and more changes to the music and worship at the church and to move in directions in which I did not want to go. He was happy to “negotiate” but this generally took the form of (in brief):
“What do you think of changing (insert latest suggestion)?”
“I’d rather not.”
“Well, I’m in charge and we are going to do it!”
Tensions between Nick and myself increased until the only thing to do was for me to resign. All of this was very disappointing as he gave several undertakings before he he was appointed regarding the music at the church, all of which he went on to ignore. He has lost a third of the regular choir and most of the Occasional Choir were not even invited to be part of this year’s annual Carol Service. Sadly, he managed to decrease the number of people attending this event (which had been the most popular Service of the year, enjoyed by well over 100 people) by more than 50%. A remarkable “achievement”! Needless to say, I was very upset about all this and continue to move through a period of something akin to mourning. Unfortunately, the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne is littered with similar instances of wanton destruction by members of the clergy. No wonder there is a shortage of organists! When one has been associated with a group such as the congregation of a church for a long period of time, one builds up many friendships and it is a cause of much grief for me that many of these will be lost. On the positive side of all this, I have been far less stressed and have enjoyed the chance to visit a number of churches which still have good choirs. I’m certain God will have something new for me which will come in his own good time. In the meantime, I look forward to more relaxing weekends in 2016.

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The organ at St.Paul's East Kew - which I played for 22 years

Most of the third term holidays were spent in a leisurely drive from Goulburn to Melbourne via the coastal route. Joan and Russell attended a family wedding in Goulburn and Satoshi and I collected them from their motel the next day. We went to a number of towns we had not previously visited. The trip took us from Melbourne to Wangaratta, Rutherglen, Goulburn, Binda, Crookwell, Carcoar, Canowindra, Blayney, Orange, Bathurst, Leura, Katoomba, Kiama, Bateman's Bay, Mogo, Bermagui, Tilba Tilba, Candelo, Bega, Merimbula, Green Cape Lighthouse, Genoa, Sale, Bairnsdale and back home.

It is our habit to visit the churches in most of the country towns we travel through. On arrival in Crookwell, we drove around a little in search of the Anglican Church. When we found it, we were delighted to see that the door was open (sadly, not so often the case these days). It is unusual to come across even one other person at small country churches so you can imagine our surprise when a huge bus pulled up as we were crossing the road. The passengers got out of the bus and went into the church. We had arrived just in time for an organ recital! We found that St.Bartholomew’s, Crookwell, claims to house the largest digital organ in the southern hemisphere. It was installed by the organist himself at a cost of $60,000! We heard several pieces ranging in style from “The Phantom of the Opera” to Toccata in C minor by Boëllmann (one of my favourite organ pieces!). I was able to have a play of the organ too which was another unexpected bonus! Crookwell is also home to Lindner Socks. This is a well-known manufacturer which sends socks all over the world. We were shown the machines on which the socks are knitted - some of which are more than 50 years old and surprisingly noisy (the operator wears earmuffs).

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St.Bartholomew's, Crookwell

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Note the huge banks of speakers for the organ.

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The console of the organ - very impressive for a small town!

We went in search of Byng Uniting Church. "Siri" offered to take us there. As we travelled along a dirt road, there was no evidence of any houses, just farmland. As we went on the road became narrower and then almost non-existent. There were now sheep on the track and were were all telling "Siri" what we thought of her. But then we came upon the beautiful little church below. "Siri" had been right all along and we would never have found Byng Uniting Church without her!

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There is a lovely stone church at Bermagui which we have inspected several times. This time, we were there on a Sunday and attended a service. This church has a small pipe organ which I had been wanting to play for years so I was very pleased to be invited to do so after the Service. As there is no longer a full-time priest at the church, the Vicarage has been sold. The current owners have created a particularly beautiful garden which is open to the public. We heard that the garden had been included in an episode of “Gardening Australia” and had won an award as one of the best gardens in Australia. We spent a very enjoyable hour exploring this lovely place.

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All Saints', Bermagui

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The organ console in All Saints'.

Further highlights of this holiday included:
• the opportunity to play a number of pipe organs
• a ride on the scenic railway and cable cars at Katoomba

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The Scenic Railway at Katoomba has the steepest incline of any railway in the world!

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So that you can get an idea of the scale of things, the red arrow points to one of the cable cars and the blue arrow points to the bottom station of the scenic railway.
You can see the station at the top end of the railway near the top right of the photo.

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Close-up of the cable car above


Leuralla Mansion (which holds a large collection of toys, dolls and model railway displays and another beautiful garden)
The Australian Motorlife Museum at Wollongong (a huge collection of vintage cars)

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• the Kiama Blowholes

blowhole not working

blowhole


Mogo Zoo

tiger

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A Black-and-White Ruffled Lemur

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A rather damp meerkat on sentry duty

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This unsuspecting lady got more than she bargained for when she paid extra to enter the cage with the Bolivian Squirrel Monkeys!


Green Cape Lighthouse

Disaster Bay

Disaster Bay, close to Green Cape Lighthouse

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• Genoa Falls (where we were once again lucky enough to see some Eastern Water Dragons)

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This Eastern Water Dragon was about 1.5 metres in length (including the tail).

dragon close


The Den of Nargun (another item to cross off my “bucket” list)

I was fortunate enough to attend many concerts, organ recitals, musicals and other cultural delights during the year. There were two events which were particularly special. The first was a performance of Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah” sung by the Heidelberg Choral Society. I was pleased to attend in order to support friends Jacci and Chris Simpson who sang in the choir and I was rewarded by the best performance I have ever heard of this work. As it requires an orchestra, soloists and some of the choruses include eight choral parts, it is not an easy piece to “pull off” but all aspects of this performance were superb!

The second event of particular note was the “Masterpieces from the Hermitage Exhibition” at the National Gallery. The quality of the works of art collected by Catherine the Great of Russia is, quite simply, breathtaking. I am not an habitual visitor to the art exhibitions but I was so glad that I went to this one. It included hundreds of paintings - some very large, sculptures and jewellery. I was surprised to find that it was permissible to take photos and wished that I had taken my camera. My iPhone had to suffice but some of the photos turned out really well.

The year ended with a Carol Service (December 20) and Christmas Eve Service at Christ Church, South Yarra (where the choir is really excellent), the traditional Christmas Day lunch at my place (a sit-down meal for 20 people) and another Carol Service, held on Sunday, December 27th, at St.Peter’s, Eastern Hill. This was another musical event of very high quality and we were astounded to learn that the choir had only practised once - for an hour and a half before the Service!

Christmas Lunch

 

Satoshi is still at Wheelers Hill Primary School and will be teaching Grade 6 again next year. Although he still enjoys practising the skills of gymnastics and judges during competitions, he himself no longer competes. He continues to be a wonderful housemate and friend, putting up with all my foibles and shortcomings with patience and good grace.

I hope this finds you well and that you had a wonderful Christmas. I wish you a very happy, safe, healthy and successful 2016!

With love to you all,

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PS. You can read letters from previous years here.