Oct 22

Helen Edwards June 18th 1960 to October 19th 2010

I was standing in the office at the Charman Road shop when my sister Angela called me. I’d had an early start to my Monday and had a full day planned.

The minute she said hello I knew that this was a difficult conversation for us. All she said was that Helen was in hospital in intensive care. Without thinking I said I’d be right there – there was no need to ask or to elaborate, it was perfectly clear to me that Helen had reached a point of no return and Angela didn’t want to do this bit alone.

I picked her up and we drove to Ballarat, straight to the hospital. We were a bit before visiting hours, so we found something to eat and returned. Helen’s husband Rod came down and escorted us up to ICU.

Helen was sitting up in bed, she had various tubes and pipes attached, but still quite lucid and able to chat. Alas, she had lost her voice so was just whispering to us. She was alert and engaging, asking all the questions about my family and what was happening. She chastised us for being there, gave us a scowl.

We stayed awhile before heading back to town. We promised Rod we’d visit again the next day.

First thing next morning Angela rang me again, Helen wasn’t well again. We jumped in the car, knowing that this time it was more serious, this time we understood that death wasn’t far away.

When we arrived Helen was on her bed, back on the ward and was very clearly in a great deal of discomfort. Rod and the children, Melissa and Daniel where there and they all were very clearly distressed. The staff had given Helen something for the pain and slowly her breathing calmed and she seemed better. She was sleeping.

My brother Shane arrived and we sat in the room, mostly in silence. Helen continued to rest. One by one we each spent a few minutes alone with her, able to speak just one on one. It was a very emotional time.

Angela and I stayed til about 6.00 p.m. and as Helen appeared to be stable, we decided it would be ok to go home and return in the morning.

At 11.00 p.m. Angela called me to tell me that Helen had died.

My family of 11, 7 boys and 4 girls was now 10.

I was driving home from dinner.

I stopped on the side of the road. With a family this large we have to split up responsibilities. I again made the rounds of ringing my list of siblings to deliver the news. In between calls liaising with Shane and Angela to make sure we had everyone covered.

It was difficult.

Angela called to tell me about the last moments for Helen. Rod, Melissa and Daniel had returned to the hospital after taking some time to shower and freshen up. They where keen to get back in time for ‘trolley time’ when the hospital supplies some wine or beer to patients. They where laughing and joking with each other. Remembering the times when Helen had to go to hospital, they always joked about making it in time for the trolley. Gathered around my sister, in this moment of light hearted humour, Helen passed away.

What a way to go.

I’ve been on the side lines in all of this. I wanted to support Angela, make sure that she’s ok. For her this has been an incredible roller-coaster and I’m glad I’ve been able to stand beside her and just be there. I admire her for her courage and unconditional love for her sister. Angela extends that love and concern to Helen’s children, Rod and then to others in our family. It’s an amazing thing to watch and I stand in awe.

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Sep 25

Billy Lucas killed himself1.  He was bullied at school for being different.  He took himself off to the barn and hanged himself.

Game over.

But it’s not a game.

This is real life.

There is no magic reset button.

It’s 2010 and yet bullying still happens.  Teachers and friends allow it to happen.

Dan Savage was moved enough to start a YouTube channel – It Get’s Better.

You’ll find a contribution from me there, and one from my partner – Michael.

Perhaps you’d like to make a contribution too.

  1. Read the news report here
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Apr 21

Today Michael and I got registered.  That’s how we do it in Victoria.  The Australian Government won’t let us get married, and we don’t want to do that anyway, but we did need to be registered so that our legal status is clear.  You know, next of kin, powers of attorney and all that sort of stuff.

It’s a straight forward process, and is in fact similar to what you do when you register your marriage.  You just don’t get the “I now pronounce you Man and Man”.

When I look at it that way, what we did seemed like an everyday event, there were no magic words, it was rather like applying to get your drivers license, or as some suggest, registering your dog.  You take a number, line up at the counter with your proof of identity and someone takes photo copies, punches it all into a computer and that’s it.  You walk out registered.

Apart from this legal stuff, we don’t need registration to know how we feel about each other.  We don’t need a big ceremony to mark the occasion, we don’t need to gather all our friends, unwanted family and official wedding junkies together to stand in front of them and make a public declaration of our undying love and devotion to each other.  We do have a commitment to each other, it’s been ‘organic’ and it’s ongoing.

In the end, isn’t that what marriage is all about?  It’s the about  a commitment between two people.  All the other stuff is just bloatware1.

Sure, we can have a big party, but rather than that, and at any time, why not congratulate people you see together as partners.  They obviously have a commitment to each other, and it’s ongoing.  That deserves a smile and a wink.  Why do we only tell people how great it is to be in a relationship when they front up to get married?

For the record, our wedding reception was baked beans on toast, a fruit salad and two cups of coffee.  We kissed.

  1. Unrequired information SOURCE
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Apr 10

Marriage is indeed one of the ancient ceremonies that marks our passage through life.  It’s up there with birth and death.  It’s so important that a whole department of government is devoted to it. Birth Deaths and Marriages.1  (What we like to refer to as hatches matches and dispatches)

Today was a marriage day for our family.  Michael’s cousin.  It was a good day of celebration as two people commit to each other.

Weddings always bring into stark reality the standing of my citizenship in Australia.  I’ve been married, recently divorced.   For most of my marriage I was happy, and Jennie and I enjoy the good times, struggled with the bad times but got through it, still the best of friends.  I find myself, now,  in a very natural relationship that actually makes me happy.  Happier than I have ever been.  I feel I’m personally thriving in a loving relationship with a man who’s company I crave and enjoy.

I’ve seen both sides of this love thing.  I recognise the feelings and sensations of being in love.  I’m not sure what it actually means and I probably can’t articulate this myself.  At times I think it’s more about how I feel when my partner is not about, how much I would miss the contact if he wasn’t in my life.  It really was the same when I was madly in love with Jennie.  It hurt for a long time when that finally came to an end.  I admit however, that I chose to be heterosexual, and that somewhat tainted the feelings I had.  Nonetheless, I was in love.

Having been on both sides of this, I can see a big difference between my now relationship and my then relationship.  Whereas is was quite common to ask about my wife and how she was doing by friends and colleagues, I rarely get that about Michael.  (He’s fine – thanks for asking)

Once the talk about weekends and holidays was about what you did with your family, it’s now often a question of “Did Michael go with you” – well of course he did, that’s why we’re in a relationship.  (Although I won’t go to a dance party!).

The waffle is about perception.  I feel, right within me, deep down, where it matters, at the grass roots, and so on, that this relationship is every bit as important, if not more so, than my heterosexual relationship to me.

I don’t need a government to tell me that I’m a second class citizen.  I don’t need John Howard’s words of marriage being between one man and one woman.  That is just bollocks.  The withholding of marriage from same sex couples isn’t needed.

Michael and Gregory at the registry office

At the registry office - could we actually get married one day?

As I stood in the registry office yesterday, and heard the celebrant chant the John Howard mantra – Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life – it became apparent to me how much those words create a divide between us.  It reaffirms my status as second class citizen.  A status that I don’t deserve.

But, to be clear, I don’t want to be married again.  I don’t need that formal process to give my relationship any extra value.  What I do want is to be treated equally.  I want my relationship to be acknowledged by the society in which I live.  I am as much a part of my community as any married person. Why should my relationship be considered as anything other than equal?

Allowing ‘gay marriage’ won’t change the world.  Same-sex relationships will continue to exist regardless of the law.  Actually recognising those relationships as marriage won’t change the way marriage is viewed.  It won’t sustain any damage – it won’t increase the divorce rate, it won’t decrease children born out of wedlock, it won’t bring the wrath of any supernatural beings upon us.  What it will do is say to everyone, yes, we as a society recognise the value of being in a stable committed relationship based on love and mutual respect for each other.

That to me sounds like a value worth upholding, and a value that all Australians can share.

Next time you are at a marriage ceremony, as you chomp your way through the cake, as you take away the bay widening2 items – think about those who can’t share in that same joy because of the way society restricts membership to the club.

And as to the newly married couple – my very best wishes to you, may your exclusion of all others be long and happy.

  1. Why in Victoria, when same-sex couples can register their relationship is the registry place called Birth Deaths and Marriages, surely Birth Deaths and Relationships would be better
  2. Cheap shit from China SOURCE
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Mar 09

Michael had looked at the weather forecast for the week and today looks like the best day for a mountain climb. Fifteen years ago Michael had attempted to climb Mt Amos, but didn’t get to the top.
Before attempting that we had to purchase a day pass to the park. $24.00. We then drove to the car park, passing at the base of The Hazards, huge rocky granite outcrops with brilliant colours and sheer sides. This is what I have agreed to climb. Our small backpacks on with ample water supplies, camera and binoculars, off we went. Like so many of the worlds greatest walks, they start off very gently, it’s a way of leading you into the agony that is about to be inflicted upon you. The gentle rise in altitude was met by the not so gentle rise in my heart rate. The calves began to scream at me and I found my initial spritely pace unsustainable. We stopped. Admired the elevated view of Coles Bay, sent a tweet or two and resumed our walk. Well, that was the easy part! A sign appeared on the track. It said ‘abandon all hope ye that enter’.


Beware ye all who enter!

And the onslaught began. The lovely gravel track gave way to a slippery granite rock, the trees that gave us something to grip on to had gone and instead we had smooth rockfaces with fucking painted yellow arrows taking us right up the centre. If I thought my calf muscles were upset before… and yet this was still the warm up. The angle of the rock face meant I was able to scramble up by having my weight on my toes and doing a little dance, Michael was a lot more cautious as he scrambled up.
We came across our first set of fellow hikers who where coming down the mountain. They looked very fit and healthy! They told us that we weren’t to far away from the top, however if we thought it was tough up to this point… One of them was doing the track in bare feet, he said he’s shoes had exploded yesterday. The ground is so rocky and rough I don’t understand how his feet survived!

And true to the word of BareFoot Hiker, the track did become harder.  The rocks were either smooth and slippery or spikey!  I had to place my hands on the rock face to ensure I didn’t topple over and become a rolling body heading down the mountain, my palms red and sore from the rough surface.  The scenery as we ascend is stunning, the rocks and the colours are quite beautiful, we are surround by plenty of bushes, trees and flowers, it’s great to be out amongst it!

As we continue up we stop regularly for a photo stop, which was actually just an excuse to stop.  My heart is pounding so much that my teeth are rattling in time with my pulse.  I’m out of breath and sweating, lots.

Here I am.  Climbing a mountain. Back six months ago I would not have been able to do this.  I haven’t been fit enough to even think about this for some years.  I thought I would never again climb anything!  Yet, here I am.  Climbing.  Loving it.  It has been an ambition of my recent get fit campaign, and a goal in my life.  Tick that one off.

Finally Michael put his camera away and we both started the final climb up the mountain, and climb we did, almost on all fours at times as we stretched and pushed our bodies up sheer granite rock faces.  At last, the top could be seen and I knew we weren’t far away.   Fifteen years ago Michael had tried and failed to get to this point, so I stopped and let him overtake me so that he could be the first to the top.

Wineglass Bay

Wineglass Bay

It was one of those moments in life, as you reach the top of the mountain, the view on the other side appears and you suddenly realise just why you bother to do this.  All of it becomes worthwhile.  We stood on top and our eyes drank in the beautiful stunning scene of Wineglass Bay below us.

The day was clear and warm, a breeze coming across the sea and we sat and looked at the beauty before us.

I’ve climbed to the top of many peaks over the years, and this is the third time in my life I’ve gasped and used numerous expletives as I see the view beneath me.  (That’d be the Major Mitchell Plateau in the Grampians, Half Dome in Yosemite National Park and Wineglass Bay)

We sat and ate and drank some water, taking it all in, snapping a few photos before turning around and heading back down.  We watched as the clouds rolled in from the west, dragging themselves across the mountains.  We admired the few boats bobbing on the water in the bay far below, we saw people walking along the pristine beach.  We wondered at the poor sods on the other tourist track who didn’t get to seen the bay in all it’s glory.

If I’d thought that going up was hard work, nothing could prepare me for the going down.  I was glad I only had a small light backpack on!

Now instead of scrambling on all fours, I’m sliding on my arse, using my feet as brakes and my hands as anchors.   The granite was now pulling at the soles of my hiking boots, and the rubber was coming loose, leaving little bits on the mountain side.  I wasn’t sure whether I’d have any boots left by the time I got to the bottom.

My boot- fell apart!

Going down is always quicker than going up, but still seemed to take forever, finally the rocky track gave way to gravel and a made path and we arrived at the car park.

That was something worth doing.  Be sure to check out Michael’s Picasa gallery, he has a really good eye and is quite the artist when taking photos.

So… what’s next?

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Feb 06

Doesn’t happen every day. But one day your children become adults. One of mine just did.

18 years is a bit of a stint really, to be a parent.  I think it’s been my aim to get my children to this point, and then say “My work here is done”.    I’ve been trying to help and encourage them to grow into independent adults that can look after themselves, make a contribution to the world they live in and be happy people.

I think I’ve succeeded.   I’m sure there is still some way to go on some things but mostly done.  Of course, how Caitlin sees it may be a different matter, but then, that’s her matter.

We went for a Mexican feed on the night of her 18th, that’d be a family event, Michael, Tomas, Caitlin and myself.  Oh, and her mother, Jennie.  I really just wrote it like that because I know it will wrangle Jennie.  I could not have done this alone, Jennie has been an important part of Caitlin’s life and has provided those things that I either don’t know how to do or didn’t want to do.  Jennie and Caitlin have a wonderful relationship which warms the cockles of my heart.

The restaurant wasn’t great.  Service was slow, food was sloppy, I found it generally unappealing.   Company was good though.

Caitlins Party Invite

The next night was the big party.  Caitlin had decided on a theme of the Emerald City from the Wizard of Oz.  We’d spent months gathering green things for the event.  I took the day off work and we started decorating the house.  We had even created a yellow brick road for the porch area, a piece of plastic tablecloth, about three metres long, we had spent some hours creating bricks on it using masking tape and several cans of yellow spray paint, and I must say it did come up very well.  We covered the wall just inside the front door with some green cellophane and Caitlin stuck some of her childhood photos all over it, then inside on our big old toy box she put some of those important objects that parents tend to keep, kinder photo albums, her first work of art, certificates and so on.  On the opposite wall was a ‘mural’ with a few images from the Wizard of Oz film, and then on the only remaining space we cut out love hearts from green paper, and as the night progressed asked people to write a message to Caitlin on a heart.  I’m going to put them into a book for her.

With the help of my sister Angela, we put up lots of green tinsel and decorations, balloons – even some helium filled ones and streamers.  Half way through the set up my brother David arrived.  He was down from Queensland and it must be ten years since I’d seen him at my house!  That was a treat.  He stayed and helped set up and then later made himself useful by taking charge of the BBQ! The house was done.  Next job, us.  Off to the costume shop.  Caitlin was Dorthy, of course, Tomas was the tin man and I came as the Wizard.  Costumes on and back home to wait for the guests to arrive.

A variety of people in costumes started rolling in the door.  There were witches and the strawman, a rainbow, a few Dorothys and even the Emerald City itself.  All truly fabulous!

The Wizard, The Tinman, The Rainbow and Dorothy

There were speeches and food.  Music and laughter.  All in all a really good night.  Again I reveled in setting up the house for a party, going to a bit of trouble to make it look just right.  I think we have had just about every birthday at home and since primary school have had a theme.  It’s fun.  A bit of work, but really good fun.

One down one to go.

[Michael’s photos of the big event]

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Jan 10

The Monash Gallery of Art is a small but very pleasant gallery. Even the cafe is nice!

Just been out there today to view the Seidler Dupain “Building as muse” exhibition. Harry Seidler designed well over 180 buildings in Australia and is quite well known for them, and Max Dupain is a renowned Australian photographer.

Seilder designed the buildings and Dupain took the photos, and its a combination that worked quite well, in fact the blurb at the exhibition said that they had a close working relationship, resulting in some stunning images.

Australia Square Sydney

Australia Square Sydney - not a photo by Max Dupain

There were some very interesting images of buildings from the 1950’s onwards, not just the buildings but the furniture and knick knacks in the houses from years gone past.  The photos were quite exquiste, not that I’m much of an expert mind you.  The thumbnail opposite (click to see the full image) is on display – well not that one as the original image is so much better, the framing of the building in the ‘tear drop’ which is possibly a window or a door, was clever, as was the image of the Sydney Harbour bridge from the inside of one of Seidlers Buildings in Sydney.

There are three exhibitions on at the moment.  Paul Dunn has an exhibition on “Imagined Communities” where he has taken photographs of billboards depicting new housing estate developments and show what life ‘will’ be like once the development is all done.  Of course, we all know that images of happy families riding bicycles and young beautiful couples cuddling by the lake are not the reality; the reality is more likely to be parents yelling at their kids to keep off the road and couples swigging a few beers by the lake while lobbing the empties at the ducks.  Once I understood what the artist was attempting to do I walked around the images again and took note of the ‘concept’ and then thought about the reality of housing estates, how they isolate people, are removed from public transport and other facilities and how they encourage us to travel by car more, to work or even the super market.

The final exhibition was by Robert Ashton, “Photographs from the Edge” and again a stunning collection of images from a variety of places around the edge of the Australian continent.  I took delight at seeing so many images of the water and sky, my favourite being a wet shaggy dog jumping through the water.  View the images from the exhibition here and “Into the void” a happy dog here.  Michael quite liked “The Beast“.

We then had a toasted sandwich at the gallery cafe, which was pleasant enough.  The gallery is out on Ferntree Gully Road in Wheelers Hill, its a small gallery but was well worth an hour of my time to just wander around and enjoy the exhibitions.

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Jan 09

It’s been years since I’ve been here. I love the Otways, not as much as the Grampians mind you.  It was a spur of the moment decision.  Somehow in the car Michael and I got to talking about glow worms and we decided it’d be good to go and seem them.  It was already 3 in the afternoon and at least a two hour drive to the mountains, but as the glow worms only glow at night we had plenty of time!

A change of plans – a quick zip home to pick up supplies, then off we went.

First stop was Triplet Falls, once through Geelong and Colac we got to the Otways, as we drove along Philips Track I was surrounded by tall trees and tree ferns. Ancient rainforest.

Mountain Ash Tree

Mountain Ash Tree (Photo by Michael Barnett)

We parked in the car park (as you do) and made our way to the Triplet Falls. We descended into a quiet, damp place. The mountain ash trees grew tall above us and all manner of trees, moss and bushes grew around. I was taken away to another place as I admired a mountain ash with another single leaf plant growing along its branches.
I had stepped back to a primeval time with nothing but nature and me. Finally we stumbled into a clearing and the Triplet Falls gushed before us. There had been a bit of rain the night before, so there was a fair amount of water flowing over the falls. There wasn’t a triple stream as such today, just two main falls. We stood and admired the falls,

Triplet Falls

Triplet Falls (Photo by Michael Barnett)

Michael took plenty of photos, but alas, the light was fading so we bounded back up the track to finish the circuit back at the car park.

Once there we got out the little stove and heated up our dinner (steak left over from the BBQ on New Years Eve) and had that in a roll. Did some coffee too. Sitting in the car park at dusk, listening to the wind in the trees and smelling the fresh air, serenaded by nothing but the call of the Australian Raven (farrrrk, farrrk).

Once dinner was done, back in the car and out to the main road, through Lavers Hill and onto Melba Gully State Park. It wasn’t quite dark when we got there, we put our raincoats and beanies on and headed into the bush along the Marsden track with our little torches. At first the only glow worms we saw where two or three here and there, but as it got darker and we walked further into the forest plenty more appeared, until we reached a viewing deck overlooking a creek. Here we saw hundreds of small pin pricks of light glowing in front of us. A remarkable sight.

We looked in awe for at least 40 minutes before turning and heading back to the car.  Along the way, with our torches, we saw plenty of other insect life, spiders, worms, bugs. Lots of fun for everyone.

Along the trip home, we stopped to look at the moonbeams coming through the clouds. It was a near full moon and low in the sky, the effect was quite stunning. Michael took some fantastic shots of the moonbeams, the clouds and the nearby stars.

We got home at about 2.00 a.m.

Images:  Photos taken by Michael Barnett, click the image to visit his Picasa Gallery where more great photos can be seen!

(Jan 2nd & 3rd 2010)

View A trip to the Otways in a larger map

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Jan 01

I’ve been blogging for a few years now as, and I wanted a place to start my personal blog.

This blog then will be for me to talk about some personal stuff, a place for me to document that stuff for my own records.  I’ll give it a go and see how it progresses or whether or not I’ll just get bored with it.

I’ve added a few items that I’ve written, and backdated them to the date they were published.

The blog will be found at http://gps.storer.net.au/.

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