This metal version of the Nativity hangs on the wall in the lounge room during Christmas.
Nativity scene at St.John's, East Malvern
What was that that just rushed past in a blur of speed?
Oh! It was 2018!
As usual, we saw the year in with a special group of friends at home. After some games and nibbles, we got out the champagne just in time to watch the countdown on TV to the beginning of 2018 and the fireworks which followed. Although proud and happy to be a Melburnian, we can't match the Sydney fireworks - no Harbour Bridge for a start!
We were a bit behind with birthday celebrations from 2017 so it was not until the 3rd of January that we had a trip to the Melbourne Zoo to celebrate Satoshi's birthday. We had a very happy day out with the six and Jenny's and Darryl's niece, Jordan.
January also saw my annual visit to Prue Field's holiday house at Cape Paterson with Chris Hepworth and, this time, Barbara McSkimming. Satoshi and I also took Joan and Russell down to Jenny's and Darryl's campsite at Barwon Heads for a day.
February, of course, meant back to school. I was quite apprehensive about this as my class consisted of 29 children (8 more than the previous year) and I knew that one child had parents with the reputation of being extremely difficult. Another unknown was our new principal. These fears proved to be unfounded. The class (although very large) was fairly easy to manage, the parents I was concerned about were supportive and happy with my teaching and the new principal, Shirley Allison, was friendly, encouraging and appreciative of the work done by all our members of staff. Sadly, Shirley was given a very hard time by a small group of unempathetic, self-centred parents who were unhappy with her appointment and she has decided to accept a job offered to her by the Department of Education in 2019. The Department will be placing a principal in the school for the first term and then the normal appointment process will take place. I am very disappointed about the loss of Shirley and will miss her greatly but, on the positive side, I will be working with my colleague and friend Chiara in Year 3 again in 2019 and we will be be back to smaller grades (21) which will make life much easier. One would be hard-pressed to find a more accommodating, professional, supportive and fun person with whom to work than Chiara. Our skills are very much complimentary - for example, I teach both grades computers and technology and she takes them for Yoga. Can you picture me teaching Yoga and demonstrating all the various moves? I don't think so!!
Chiara and me - the things one does as a teacher!
I have continued to worship at St. John's Anglican, East Malvern where the liturgy and music are a good fit for me. Throughout the year, the standard of the choir has been outstanding. I am now playing the organ for one Sunday every month or so. The old saying "use it or lose it" is very true in relation to playing an instrument and I am glad of the opportunity to "use it". The pipe organ is quite large (two manuals, pedals, 37 speaking stops) and is a delight to play.
The console of the organ: 2 manuals of 61 notes and the pedals with 32 notes
The display pipes of the organ
The two photos above show some of the pipes and workings inside the organ. It takes up about the same amount of space as a medium-sized room.
Apart from playing the organ, I am still involved in the Friends of Anglican Music. This is a group of about 120 people who are interested in Anglican music, particularly that which is sung at Evensong. Regular music nights at which we sing some hymns, entertain each other with items such as poems, readings and songs, and enjoy a dinner together, and then sing a variety of old English music such as "Come into the Garden, Maud" (as long as we can refrain from laughing at the quaint lyrics!). I have maintained my subscription to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and enjoyed about a dozen concerts throughout the year. Highlights were the "Last Night of the Proms", the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony (featured in the film "Babe") and a wonderful performance of Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms". The MSO is also running a series of concerts in which films from the "Harry Potter" series or the "Star Wars" series are shown and the orchestra plays the music - a very complicated technical achievement! Thanks to the great generosity of my friend Anne Geddes; Jenny, Clare, Colin, Satoshi, Anne and I attended an André Rieu concert at the Rod Laver arena in November. The concert was a great experience - Rieu is a consummate showman!
All dressed up with somewhere to go!
We were not alone at the concert!
Evensong is sung at St.John's on the first Sunday of the month. In April, this fell on Easter Day and the regular choir had been given the night off after all their hard work in singing for the other Easter services. I organised a "fill in" choir which I conducted. It was a very successful venture. In the back row are: Jenny Roe, Tim Clarke, Anna Butt, Emily Roe, Janice Barton, Alan Dilnot, Linton Roe and Barry Barton. In the front row are: Rosemary McKelvie, Anne Geddes, Clare Rush, Rick Burman, Satoshi Okita and Colin Rush. It was special to work with some choristers who have been in choirs of mine for many years, some from St.John's, and some from St.Paul's, East Kew. In particular, Alan Dilnot joined the choir at St.Mary's, East Chadstone soon after I started it in 1978 (forty years ago!) and moved with me to St.John's in 1989 where he has only recently retired from the regular choir.
In the April holidays, I spent a few days at Lorne with Jenny, Darryl, Joan, Russell and Satoshi. We stayed in an AirBnB house which had lovely views and resident wildlife.
It was a hard job but someone had to do it!
As one gets older, various issues begin to arise with one's body. I knew that my eyesight was not what it had been but, on a visit to the Eye Doctor, it was a bit of a shock to be advised that I needed to have cataracts removed or I would be legally ineligible to drive! Despite assurances from others who had gone before, let's say that I was not completely happy as I entered the surgery. I could not believe how simple, painless and wonderful the procedure was. After another operation (on the second eye), I now have much better vision. There's always a downside to these things - now I can see ALL the wrinkles when I look in the mirror!
We celebrated Joan's birthday with a visit to the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden (probably more-helpfully formerly-known as the National Rhododendron Garden). There was abundant colour and many interesting plants to enjoy.
This flower made me think of washing hanging on the clothes line!
Flowers were not the only things to be seen in the garden.
During the Queen's Birthday Long Weekend, Satoshi and I went on a Steamrail trip which took us to Bendigo, Swan Hill and Echuca. It was quite an adventure, particularly when the power failed in our carriage! The trip included visits to places of interest such as Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement, the annual Echuca/Moama Steam Rally, the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum, and several cruises on paddle boats. Some meals were included, the best of which was aboard the paddlesteamer PS Emmylou. Our compartment was located above the generator in our carriage. This was very loud and made sleeping difficult but, all things considered, it was a great weekend!
Not many steam engines are seen at Southern Cross Station these days!
There are many things about modern medicine these days for which we should be most grateful, not least the field of dentistry! (A display at Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement)
"Black Bess" - a traction engine from 1920
The "Catalina" flying boat on display at the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum
When I was a child, we had a lantern and stove almost exactly the same as these for use when camping. It makes one feel REALLY old when seeing them in a museum! The lantern is a Tilley Lamp. It was lit by the use of methylated spirits in a little dish just below the mantle. The light was kept going by pressurised kerosene (achieved by pumping the lever on the right - quite a procedure).
The Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement has a sound and light show. Images are shone from the far side of the river onto a screen of water. It was something different and quite effective!
The Echuca Steam Rally includes vintage cars as well as working steam exhibits.
The PS Etona was stuck on the bank and using a lot of steam to try to get off.
We were glad to see it back in the water a little later during our cruise.
At Echuca, the border between Victoria and NSW is officially the southern bank of the Murray River. It is, therefore, possible to stand with a foot in both states at once!
The trip gave ample photo opportunities as the engine shunted around the carriages a number of times.
Throughout the year, I enjoyed a number of live shows including "The Wizard of Oz", "Oklahoma!", "The Boy from Oz", Oscar Wilde's play "An Ideal Husband", "A Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder", "Peter Pan Goes Wrong!" (a comedy similar to "The Play That Goes Wrong"), and an excellent production of "Evita".
During the July holidays, Satoshi and I took Joan and Russell to Echuca. Although we saw some of the same things we saw in June, we also did some other things. Highlights included a cruise down a secluded section of the Murray at the Barmah National Park, a visit to the unpromising-sounding "Great Aussie Beer Shed" (which turned out to be a huge museum including almost everything!), a cruise on the PS Canberra (during which Russell sat on a plate of scones with jam and cream - much to the amusement of everyone except Russell) and the National Holden Motor Museum.
The view from our cabin at a caravan park in Moama (across the river from Echuca)
The boat on which we travelled down the Murray at Barmah
What a wonderful old tree! We were not sure how it stayed vertical!
The PS Canberra
The engine of the PS Canberra
On the way home, we went through Rochester where these silos have recently been painted. It must have been very difficult to paint on such a large, curved surface!
Later in the same holidays, we drove Jenny, Joan and Russell up to Goulburn to see Jenny's nephew, his wife and their new baby. As part of that trip, we went to the old railway roundhouse at Junee. At its peak, the building could house 42 steam engines!
Satoshi with one of the lambs on the property near Goulburn belonging to Alan Collins (Jenny's brother)
Part of the roundhouse at Junee. There is a turntable in the middle so that any engine can be taken out onto the tracks.
Many exhibits had stairs allowing access.
What a pity the engine isn't going anywhere!
The main line has been diverted away from the station at Barnawartha. It is sad that so many fine old stations have been left to rot like this.
They don't build them like this anymore!
The interior of the station building. I won't tell you what I would like to do with the mindless vandals who cause damage such as this - you might be shocked!
We stopped at Chiltern on the way home. The township has many unspoiled original buildings - well worth a visit. The secondhand shop contained some more memories.
Ice cream used to be sold in tins like this. One of my earliest memories is covering a tin exactly like this with wallpaper at kindergarten. It was a present for my mother. I think I remember it because I didn't want to cover up the elephant!
We had exactly the same lights as this in our lounge room in my childhood home!
Soon after the holidays, it was time for the school concert "The Pirates of the Curry Bean". My job was to control the special effects and music from the booth at the back of the Besen Centre Theatre. A scary job - if you make a mistake, EVERYONE knows! It was a good vantage point to take some photos too. The standard of the entertaining presentation was very high.
Joan gave us all a scare in August. She was suddenly taken ill and rushed off to hospital. Her blood pressure kept going down and she very nearly died in intensive care. As I mentioned above, we are so fortunate to live in a time where we have access to such wonderful medical assistance. Joan rallied and, although it took several months, is now almost back to normal. Joan and Russell have now been married for seventy years and Joan was let out of hospital in order to attend the big event which had been organised to celebrate their platinum anniversary. We are all so happy to have Joan still with us!
St.John's is going through the process of finding a new priest. Part of this exercise is to have a meeting of all parishioners so that everyone can have a say. This meeting took place right in the middle of the September school holidays which was really annoying! As we both felt it important to attend the meeting, we decided to have two shorter trips. The first was to Pambula and the second to Walhalla. We enjoyed both trips and, as usual, found plenty of interesting things to do.
On the way to Pambula, we stayed the night in a very comfortable two-bedroom unit at Lakes Entrance.
As you can see by the length of our shadows, it was quite late in the day when we walked across the bridge to the ocean beach.
This huge trestle bridge, (the largest in the southern hemisphere) near Nowa Nowa was built in 1916. To get an understanding of its size, you may be able to see the people in the centre-right of the photo. When I first visited this bridge 30 years ago, it was possible to walk over it. Sadly, it is far too dilapidated to do that now.
Costick's Weir is located only about 1km further down the road which leads to the bridge. It is a haven for Eastern Water Dragons. This one was about a metre in length.
This bridge over Wairewa Rd is only a little distance further down the Princes Highway towards Pambula. There is a rail trail which follows the old railway line.
Genoa Falls is usually a good place to see Eastern Water Dragons but there were none to be found on this day. It wasn't sunny and warm enough for them to be coaxed from their hiding places.
We stopped at the very small township of Genoa to explore the old road bridge. I was very pleased with this image of a bell miner (bellbird) as they are usually very difficult to photograph.
Bellbirds are not the only ones who like to swing around a bit!
Our accommodation was comfortable and roomy.
As always at Pambula Beach Caravan Park, we shared our habitation with some wildlife. Note the joey in the pouch!
There is a new bird sanctuary near Tathra called (rather cleverly, I thought) "On the Perch". The best thing about this place is that almost all the birds reside in walk-through aviaries so one can easily take photos and I took hundreds! A lot of time was involved in deciding which ones to include here!
What amazing camouflage these Tawny Frogmouths have, if you were walking down a track in the bush, you would almost certainly not notice them!
Probably the main highlight of the holiday was a whale-watching cruise out on the Tasman Sea when we actually saw some whales. They came up very close (within a few metres) of the boat and put on quite a show. It is not an easy task to take photos when on a boat which is going up and down (a lot!) but these are some that came out OK.
Another highlight was a ninety-minute horse ride.
I did feel a bit sorry for my horse but it seemed to manage ok!
Potoroo Palace is another wildlife sanctuary. This one is located near Merimbula. Can you see the echidna's tongue?
Boyd's Forest Dragon
One of the residents tried to escape by hitching a ride with me. Its plan failed!
The rainbow lorikeets did not appear to mind the close proximity of the emu.
The caravan park includes a swimming pool and this wonderful water play area for kids. The bucket at the top slowly fills with water and then tips over, drenching anyone standing underneath!
It was hard to leave such a beautiful place when we had stayed only a few days.
The second part of our holiday was to Walhalla. It was too expensive to stay in the actual town so we opted for accommodation in Rawson, a nearby town. It was a VERY quiet place - for most of the time we appeared to be the only guests. Our cabin was old but quite comfortable - until the hot water failed. The manager moved us into the place next door so all was well.
The view from our cabin included a tree and the neighbours.
This bandstand is often photographed. Can you see the soloist on it?
Note the very good taste they had in crockery in the museum! (I own a very similar set of "Willow Pattern".)
This set of shelves is called a "What Not". It was made by a twelve-year-old boy in 1876. He included 152 cotton reels!
Walhalla Station has been rebuilt to match the original style and the railway has been restored as far as Thompson.
Although the train is not pulled by a steam engine, the short ride is picturesque.
The road bridge over the Thompson River.
Approaching the site of Happy Creek Station
Although the restored section of track is quite short, several bridges had to be rebuilt.
A view of the train from the road
A short walk is required to get from the carpark to the Horseshoe Bend Tunnel. On the path, we came upon this ant. Seeing what it had done to its fellow creature, we were grateful that it was only about an inch long!
In 1911, at Horseshoe Bend, a tunnel was dug to divert the river so that the miners could get easy access to the alluvial gold along the river's original course. You can see something very similar at Pound Bend near Warrandyte.
We drove up to Mt Erica in order to experience the Beech Gully Forest Walk. This was about half an hour of meandering along a very pretty path with lots of different rocks, trees and mosses.
They have taken a lot of trouble to construct boardwalks and steps (which was lucky as the track was very wet and muddy!).
The water was clear, cold and lovely to drink.
We had an interesting tour of the Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine.
The miners followed this vein of quartz hoping to find gold (which they did).
This drill, known as the "Widow Maker", caused a lot of dust as it drilled into the rock. The dust entered the miners' lungs with devastating effect. It was rare for a miner to reach forty years old.
The lunchroom. It didn't even have a toilet!
Contrary to a myth stating otherwise, although it is very steep, people were not buried upright in the Walhalla Cemetery!
On the way home, Satoshi wanted to see what was left of the railway line which went from Traralgon to Stratford. The Gippsland Plains Rail Trail follows the route. At times, there was something of interest to look at.
At other times there was just a bit of rail stuck in the road!
This was someone's dream house once. Sad really.
Satoshi's birthday was celebrated in October. I organised a visit from Wild Action. This company operates a private zoo near Macedon and brings animals to schools, businesses and birthday parties. A variety of reptiles, birds and mammals arrived at Jenny's and Darryl's place together with all of Satoshi's family and many friends. As a special favour, they even brought a quoll (Satoshi's favourite animal). Not many people can claim to have cuddled a koala in their own home but Jenny, Darryl, Joan and Russell can now declare that they have! The animal handler was very professional, ensuring that the animals were safe and happy, that the children in the group were behaving appropriately, and that we all got the most out of the experience. I can highly recommend the company if you are looking for something different at your next party!
A Stumpy-Tailed Lizard. This was not the first time that such a lizard was in the house. Jenny and Darryl had one as a pet - it used to live under the fridge!
That's a lot of python!
Satoshi's father, Kazuto, with a Tawny Frogmouth
Satoshi's nephew, Jerry, with a possum
The all-important quoll!
Of course, no birthday is complete without the cake!
During the latter half of November and into December, I was quite unwell with a nasty chest infection. I missed almost two weeks of school (unheard of) and was really pretty much out of action for a month. This left me very behind at school, particularly in relation to writing reports. Those in authority were very understanding and I did manage to get them done, albeit only the day before they were due to be handed out! It also meant I had very little time for Christmas shopping. These are very small things when compared with my generally-good health.
We had the usual gathering of many friends on Christmas Day at lunch time. Everything went well and we all had a very happy, celebratory time together. I have been hosting this celebration for over twenty years and, as people keep coming back (some for all those years), I must be doing something right! Although it is a lot of work moving furniture, setting the table, cooking the meat and cleaning up afterwards, I really enjoy it and look forward to it every year (and I do get a lot of help from others, especially Satoshi!)
Writing this letter gives me the opportunity to reflect on the year just gone and to consider how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful friends with whom to share a variety of experiences, good health, stable employment; and a patient, supportive and caring housemate and friend in Satoshi!
I wish you all the blessings of the Christmas Season, relaxing and refreshing holidays, and a happy, healthy and successful 2019!
PS: Letters from previous years can be accessed here.