It was like a very quiet ambulance. The siren finally caught my attention and I realised that it had been there in the background. My phones lay on the desk, and I wondered which of them was demanding attention. My constant battles with technology predisposed me to ignoring anything that didn’t need me immediately, but this was insistent. Sigh. Was it the Blackberry or the Nokia?
The Nokia was mine, with its clear icons and simplicity. How I fought against the idea of owning a mobile phone, the hassle of keeping it with me in my handbag and being pressured to answer it whenever it rang. Too much bother! As for charging it constantly – there were already enough routines in my life. So my husband went out and bought the lime green phone and presented it to me, saying I would get used to it.
Gradually it became part of my life. I enjoyed the quick chats with my family in stolen moments at work down on the Peninsula and being able to make last minute arrangements. Text messages became my new language. My learning, however, was on a need-to-know basis. Like when the phone rang while my husband was preaching a sermon and I couldn’t mute it…
And then the Blackberry landed on my desk at work, a gift from the Business Manager. This was to be my work device from now on, said the memo. Oh goodness, how would I keep two devices going? Two networks, two chargers and two ring tones. Now my work emails were immediately visible and I could not escape.
Two tribal clans, the Yorta Yorta and the Dja Dja Wurrung lived along the grassy waterways of this region to hunt, fish and gather food across territory defined by tribal language, and bounded by geographical features such as forests, rivers and creeks.
The Yorta Yorta people occupy a unique stretch of forest-wetlands that are located in what is now known as the central Murray – Goulburn region.
We have chosen three very different areas for our road trip. After the majestic Gariwerd, then the expansive plains south of Bendigo, it is a dramatic change of scenery to arrive at the mighty Murray river, which is also our winding state border. Only 1.5 hours to get here, plus the usual leisurely morning tea break in Rochester.
A text tells us that our cabin by the water is ready early, so we gratefully arrive at Merool on Murray holiday park. What a spot! They seem to own this entire bend in the river, and the little wooden cabins stretch all the way. Our cabin is basic, but we paid for a river view, and the two way vista from the bend is beautiful from the balcony. Coming from an entire Airbnb house with every convenience to a small ‘studio’ with bare cupboards is a little challenging but we arrange our gear with some creativity and feel content. It’s a good base.
Our stay begins with some drama when the maintenance man who came to change a globe over the stove electrocutes himself, is thrown across the room and causes a total power outage! Not feeling too encouraged, we opt to eat dinner at the RSL down the road. The roast of the day with a background of bingo seems safer somehow.
We take an exploratory drive around the twin towns divided by the Murray; our accommodation is actually in NSW. Thank goodness there are no more pandemic border issues! The region centres around the gum-lined river, iconic paddle steamers, growing numbers of wineries and a rich history. We don’t however, have to leave our private balcony just to watch the gentle river traffic go by.
The old paddle steamers chug up to our bend and then return and the regular cruises and houseboats leave in the morning and return at sunset with a low hum – the pleasant sounds of people having a good time on the water. The haunting sound of the steamer whistles is reminiscent of another era. Occasionally a jet-ski or power boat hoon breaks the peace and leaves a rippling wake.
The bird songs are deafening at times and we see lorikeets, galahs and magpies flitting between the gum trunks and exploring the knots in the wood. Best of all, three kookaburras land on our deck, obviously expecting a reward. We feed them a little ham, and watch them ‘kill’ the meat by bashing it, which is what they do to snakes they catch. I have never been so close to the exquisite birds with their duck egg blue spots on the wings and their quizzical looks.
We sleep deeply and Peter gets up to see the sun rise; he shows me a photo because I am too snug to get up with him. It is a perfect, still morning and it seems that everyone has started slowly.
Bendigo and surrounds was known as Jaffa country and owned by the Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung clans a long time ago.
We are reluctant to leave behind the majestic mountains of Gariwerd, and this second week takes us to a very different area. Only a couple of hours to the north-east, Bendigo became the world’s richest city as a result of the gold rush in the 1850s. That is part of the defining history of the area, and the number of banking buildings in the centre evidences the boom of the gold era.
We have plenty of time to wander across the country and pass the time in the car reading aloud the daily Lenten reflection. Our stop for morning tea by the road near Stawell looked peaceful but we were beseiged by flies. Lunch is in a park in the historic gold town of Maldon. Sitting under a spreading elm tree pulling apart a roast chicken, I can’t imagine a more pleasant spot. It’s a warm day, but a breeze springs up, and Peter snoozes on the bench while I tackle Wordle and Semantle for stimulation – and solve both. No one knows where we are, we have nothing we have to do, and plenty of time to go where we are headed. Bliss.
It is so booked out in Bendigo that we have had to settle for accommodation out of town in Lockwood South, which is not even a village. Post pandemic, people are on the move and enjoying local travel – like us. I am happy for local businesses making a comeback.
The Airbnb cottage is delightfully named Mulberry Place and we are warmly welcomed by our host. She has thought of everything, even messaging us to ask our milk and bread preferences. There are generous breakfast provisions and Easter eggs hidden everywhere. Next to their home, but separate from it, we look out through the roses and crepe myrtles to a dam. More serenity!
The region has been home to the Djab Wurrung and Jardwardjali people for 20,000 years and contains the densest concentration of rock art paintings and the largest assemblage of Aboriginal art motifs in Victoria.
The region was named The Grampians in connection with another mountain range in Scotland.
There was a niggling feeling of uncertainty right until departure, and we could hardly believe that we were travelling at last. I packed a couple of boxes of RATs, but we didn’t need to use them, even with Covid in our wider family. We pulled out most of the end of season veggies, watered deeply, put the tender plants in the bathroom, cooked up lots of pasta sauce and left the garden to survive. Free to go!
In the last week before this trip I received an invitation to promote and celebrate my book, Living for Shalom: the Story of Ross Langmead. So we waited a couple of days and stayed in Carlton so that I could attend the Whitley College Publication Celebration, which was a heart-warming event. I met people for the first time who had contributed to the book or featured in it, and was surprised at the emotional response from the audience.
Zagame’s House in Lygon Street is a wonderful city stay, with ultra modern decor, helpful staff and everything digitally controlled. When we tried to go sleep, however, there were stand-by lights, LED readouts and switches all round the room, so we had to hang undies and socks over the coloured glows to make it dark. Lygon Street is a dazzling array of eating places and for people like us from out of town, the choice was overwhelming. Looking out the window, we saw ILoveIstanbul restaurant just across the intersection and that settled it. In a very short time, we had the most appetising kebab platter, with lamb, rice, salad, dips and bread. It was so generous that it did us for two meals.
It is such a delight to head off over the Westgate Bridge in our new car that we have had for months but gone nowhere. Enjoying the smooth ride, the vista opened up and we see the wide horizon and expansive paddocks, I breathe more deeply and want to let the wind blow through. It is fun to open the roof in our Mazda for the first time; now we really feel in a holiday mood.
We have driven to Adelaide many times, but this time we turn off to the south of the Western Highway at Ararat and immediately Gariwerd looms up as we drive. End of summer dry grass and paddocks, iconic scrubby bush and cerulean blue skies stretch out before us and the bush does its magic, reminiscent of The Dry, which we watched a few days before.
I haven’t been to Hall’s Gap since 1968 when I was a young teacher in the Western District and visited the annual wildflower show. Although the little town has changed a lot in 50 years (where did that time go?) the dramatic, ridged mountain range has not. It is a first visit for Peter. The town sits in the valley between the ridges, down from the dammed Bellfield reservoir above it. The Grampians Chalets is our destination, and the rustic but tidy cabins are nestled around a dam and under the shadow of eucalypts.
Our lodge, called Boronia, has all we need and it is a relief to spread out and empty our cases. We turn around at a thumping sound and see kangaroos bouncing past the front door. They seem to live at the nearby oval and come through the grounds as a short cut.
Unlike for our European travel adventures, we haven’t researched much and follow our mood each day. It is perfect autumn weather, conducive to drives and walks and leisurely picnic stops. I know from experience to take some photos on the first day while impressions are fresh, so we meander up through the surrounding range, pulling in often to the frequent safe spots at the side of the road to gaze and breathe and recover perspective. There is nothing like looking down from a massive mountain range to give you a different view of the world; I enjoy the sensation of shrinking into the scenery and feeling overawed. My sense of God as creator is strong.
Magnificent views from Reed Lookout (or Reid, or Reid’s, depending on which map or signpost you believe), and Boroka Lookout, with its classic rock ledge that people are tempted to climb onto. I am not tempted!
Mackenzie Falls are famous and one of the largest in Victoria. I take the gentle path to Broken Falls and Peter does a further walk. My knee is restricting me but I do better than I expected. There is a wonderful anticipation as the sound of falling water becomes louder and finally you catch the first glimpse, and the sound, sight and fresh smell become one in a dramatic view. The fly in the ointment is the literal March fly and I feel a few stings before Peter goes back for the repellent.
Another outing is to Bellfield Reservoir – still and sparkling behind the dam that doesn’t look big enough to hold back all that water just above the town. Drowned trees are evidence of how it was filled, and we smile wryly and say, ‘Oh the serenity’, referencing The Castle, as we often do. Nearby is Silverband Falls, where Peter walks while I relax, but see none of the promised wildlife.
In no time we slip comfortably into holiday routine: slow breakfast with the news, head out late morning with our ham and cheese sandwiches and a thermos, back mid afternoon for a snooze and a decision about dinner. Peter cooks a wonderful stir-fry, but as the cottage has no oven we can’t heat up the frozen pizza or pie we brought for convenience, so will just have to eat out! TV reception is dodgy too, so more reading and puzzles. Holiday mode forces itself on us and we unwind on the inside too. We are both enjoying the Lenten reflections from Biola University that we receive by email. Beautiful meditations with art, poetry, music and Scripture reflections.
It takes Peter a few days to work up to a solid walk, but he eventually heads for the Pinnacles, an optimistic Grade 3 rating. It is supposed to take 2.5 hours but I reckon it will be longer, especially if talks to everyone on the track and gets their life stories! Occasional text messages reach me with stunning photos – thousands of steps and scrambling up rock stairs. He is struggling but I tell him he can make it hoping he isn’t pushing too hard. Finally he is heading down, with screaming calves and knees! The greater the pain, the greater the sense of achievement; he is glowing with satisfaction and a bit of sun.
The local food offerings are varied, so we opt for Vietnamese, and I salivate thinking about the wonton soup. When we phone to order, however, we are told that the wait is so long it won’t be worth it! Apparently Hall’s Gap is full on this Saturday night, and the hospitality sector is struggling for staff, so we won’t be getting anything tonight. Devastated, we raid the store box of canned food and manage a cup of soup. There is a can of herrings, but it turns out to be ‘mango curry and pineapple’ flavoured – something only Peter would eat. Cheese on toast and some gourmet ice cream has to do us for now. I think of people in Ukraine and I have no complaints.
Our next goal is some exploration of indigenous history. The local information centre has a little, but the rundown cultural centre is being renovated – don’t expect it any time soon, according to the enterprising cafe owner, who also owns the gelato joint, the fish and chip shop and a cafe in town. There is already $5 million set aside in funding, but it seems that the local tribes can’t yet agree on what to do with it.
We come away armed with maps that show where the rock art is to be found. Gariwerd has the most and some of the best in SE Australia so we fuel ourselves up with a strawberry milkshake in a mason jar that tastes like the flavour of children’s medicine.
All up, we cover over 100km to get to the two most accessible sites. The first is Bunjil Shelter in the Black Mountains. Bunjil is the creator and leading figure in indigenous stories, and this is the only drawing still extant. Extraordinary. I stand there trying to connect with people who sat there probably 22,000 years ago and mixed ochre to paint.
The only other person we see is a lady on her own. We chat and when I ask where she is from, she tells me that she has no home and lives in her car. I was struck speechless, not wanting to pry. She is well dressed and quietly spoken, and leaves me to find some shade to meditate. I think about her for a while, and when Peter and I talk about her later, wish we had put some cash under her windscreen wiper. Meanwhile Peter has disappeared through a gap in the rocks, waving like Miranda in Picnic at Hanging Rock, who was never seen again…
Ngamadjidj is a challenging drive on unmade roads to the Wartook Valley. It is a 750m circuit to walk to the cave, beautifully signed and cared for, complete with brand new eco toilet block. In contrast to our European trip experiences, we are always amazed at how well kept our tourist sites are.
We are completely alone and it is not hard to imagine what it was like so long ago. These drawings are faint, but are the only ones depicting white men, set underneath a magnificent overhanging rock. Just awesome. We wonder whether anything we create will be seen by anyone in 20,000 years’ time. The terrain is scrubby with extraordinary rock formations and colours and we keep saying, ‘Wow!’ Peter starts to talk about painting and I know it is inspiring him. Dramatic black, charred tree stumps tell of serious fires, and we read about how since 2018, fire management techniques have included indigenous wisdom. About time!
The drive home takes us through the spectacular scenery we saw on the first expedition, and we relax and enjoy it again in the perfect autumn weather. Tonight, our last night, we are ordering Vietnamese food as soon as they open!
One of Ross Langmead’s songs is called The Pilgrim Song. It is a favourite for many because the lyrics reflect what all of us feel: life is not always easy. Ross was a man of faith and is remembered by his friends as cheerful and encouraging. Yet he had his struggles, as do we all while we are still on earth. He reminds us in this song that we sometimes are so bowed down by the rain that we miss the rainbow above. He drew on his faith and the strength of community to help him lift his eyes.
Listen to the song and if you would like to order a USB with Ross’s and Daddy’s Friends’ digitised music on it ($10), please use the contact form on this website.
It’s not easy to walk in the rain, and I walk with my eyes to the ground,
And I often ignore the rainbow above, and the coming of the sun.
V 3 There’ve been times of heavy weather when I’ve thought of giving up
And questioned whether anyone has made it through.
But i stake my life on what I know of Jesus and his love
And see the rainbow as my sign that it is true.
And see the power which comes from sharing all the power that we have
And the glimpse of peace and justice on the way
Is enough to make me lift my eyes and take another arm,
We had two attempts to launch “Living for Shalom: the Story of Ross Langmead”: one by Zoom and one in-person event. Both were cancelled in these uncertain times, and the event probably won’t be recovered. Although book launches are a good way to sell books, the greater loss was the gathering of friends and family to celebrate the subject of the biography: my brother, Ross.
The book was to be launched by the Rev Dr Jason Goroncy, Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology at Whitley College, University of Divinity. Jason was a colleague and friend of Ross, an author in his own right and a member of Westgate Baptist Community. His speech was not given, but he has shared it for us on his blog. You can read it here: https://jasongoroncy.com/2022/01/14/on-living-for-shalom-the-story-of-ross-langmead/
I had also drafted my speech before we cancelled, and have been asked to share it:
The author’s speech for the launch of “Living for Shalom”
We thought this day would not happen! (And it didn’t…) A book launch is rather like a christening, or dedication of a baby. This baby was born in September, 2021, but a launch is finally the day when we give thanks and celebrate together.
For a sister to embark on writing the story of her brother is always going to be a delicate exercise. I used to say, ‘Someone should write Ross’s story.’ It was my encouraging husband who said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I listed all the reasons why I would not be the best person, starting with, ‘It needs to be someone who knew him better as an adult, as well as when he was a child,’ and finishing with, ‘It would need other people’s perspectives’.
The thought, however, rolled around in my mind and incubated. I had finished writing my first published book and with my newly honed research skills, wondered what to write next. I knew it would be a commitment, and that not many people are in a position to give several years to a project. Apart from our family origin, I also shared many aspects of life with Ross – my faith, being an educator and studying theology. On what would have been Ross’s seventieth birthday, I wrote to Ross’s wife, Alison, and made a tentative offer. And here we are! It was two years from that offer to publication, and the book took seven intensive months of writing.
I glanced at the young lady beside me. She was at least eight months pregnant and looked as though she would topple over if she leaned too far towards the sea. I was wandering along the foreshore at Hastings—my favourite place to think or just to be. Past the Shed and onto the jetty. The tide was as low as I had ever seen it, the beach a wide strip of pock-marked mud that attracted seagulls frantically searching for extra bounty in the wet sand. Mangroves and their exposed suckers glistened in the sun on the other side of the pier and a couple of lone pelicans perched on the bollards.
I held my grandson’s hand tightly; it always made me nervous to venture out on the jetty with an impetuous and active child who could run faster than I can now. What if he tripped and plunged over the edge? The swimming and lifesaving ability of my youth has evaporated and I would be lucky to save myself now, let alone a small child who fell into the sea. I edged to the the railings and tried to keep Jake on the safe side. Age has made me more risk-averse than when I was a young mum. How did I survive birthing and rearing my children in a remote town in a third world country? How did I even go there to live! No roads, no electricity, no running water, no phone, no family.
We walked slowly behind the young woman. Soon her baby would arrive, making her a mum, maybe for the first time. She straightened her back and steadied her pregnant waddle, her face to the sun, soaking up the extra vitamin D. Sun exposure: my generation put their babies outside for sun-kicks—how things have changed! Sleep on the tummy or on the back? Expose to allergens early or avoid? A couple of generations later, I don’t feel so wise. Fortunately, my kids survived to adulthood.
Jake is the youngest son of my youngest son. At eight months pregnant with my grandson’s father, I was living in West Papua. No ultra-sounds, just check-ups by shortwave radio. I trusted that all would go as well as my first two births did; I refused to contemplate complications. When they knew I was pregnant, the women whom I counted as friends in our remote village had said,
‘If you have a baby in Papua, you will always be one of us.’ Their little sayings and observations were insightful. Most of them had never been to school and had no concept of a university or my other life. I was their first and only Western friend.
They were right, and through the birth of my son in Papua, I am forever connected to them in the fellowship of mummas. There were times when I wondered if I would ever really fit into the primitive culture, based on bamboo houses on stilts over the sea with barely a stick of furniture apart from the Singer treadle sewing machine they all used. Half a metre taller than most local females, this pale-skinned Australian towered above them and politely refused the cigarettes and betel nut that they generously offered to accompany the sweet, black tea served in their best glasses when I visited their homes.
Children were the centre of their world and defined even the way they addressed each other. I was called Carly punya mama, or ‘Carly has a mum’. Our house was referred to as ‘Carly has a mum has a house’. Everything revolved around relationships. Everyone had their place in the community. I had much to learn from them, despite my university degrees.
When my baby was born with a birth weight nearly twice that of their average baby, they touched his light skin and cuddled him with delight and curiosity and called him anak Papua – child of Papua. Now I belonged. Astounded that a white woman would breastfeed her baby, they watched my every move and tried as hard to be like me as I wanted to be like them. I accustomed myself to letting my boobs hang out for feeds and allowing my friends to exclaim with wonder over my nursing bras—my house-helper took her friends on tours of our washing line to see these western miracles. For my part, I learnt to tie my baby on securely with a sling. They even ignored tribal food taboos when I explained to them how important their diet was to breast-feeding and the baby’s health.
I wondered if this local mum-to-be on the jetty had a community around her. Would her baby be brought up by a village? Mine was—literally. He is middle-aged now and losing his hair; proud of his birthplace and growing family. He wants to go back one day and see where his life began. I gripped his son’s little hand tightly as we walked the length of the jetty behind the lady who triggered my memories.
We reached the end and I held Jake’s feet firmly as he lay down on the knotted wood to look at the water below. Papuan toddlers ran around on the bamboo gangways without falling in, and, to my horror, they were thrown in the sea as babies so that they would learn to swim. Probably not something to try with this child.
Jake was up and heading off. Time to move!
‘Come on, Grandma!’
Snack time. Feed the seagulls. A trip to the toilet. Focus on now!
She was proud of her bulge, which was not concealed in a loose smock like mine was. I do not know her, but I know what it feels like to be pregnant. As she returned to her car, I silently wished her all the best for the journey ahead.
Jake cuddled up on the bench as we ate our snacks.
‘Grandma, tell me a story about when Dad was little’.
Since Living for Shalom was released, many have been reminded of the era of Daddy’s Friends. Some remember hearing the folk gospel group in the seventies, while others still have recordings. Living for Shalom: the Story of Ross Langmead, which has now been released, includes the history of this group.
An excerpt from Chapter 4:
. . . Daddy’s Friends took off and was in high demand in Christian as well as secular venues. They were promoted as “Victoria’s most sought after evangelical musical group—young Baptist university graduates who will thrill you for two hours and keep you singing for two weeks later”, stated a poster for a Sydney event. Designated “folk gospel”, they combined their vocal talent with three acoustic instruments and the piano, writing much of their own music. They believed that they needed to share as people on the stage, earn the right to be listened to, and not be regarded just as performers.
Each member of Daddy’s Friends was highly accomplished and educated. Jill was a music teacher with degrees in arts, education, and music, and played percussion, blues harp and piano as well as singing. Peter was an articled clerk with distinguished results in his law degree and played twelve-stringed guitar along with singing bass vocals. Alan was an accountancy student with his own business enterprises who worked part-time in schools for Scripture Union. He played the signature bass and piano as well as singing. Ross was completing his MEd while teaching maths; he played guitar and blues harp, and sang and composed. Quite a multi-talented line-up! Mark Garner joined them sometimes and performed skits, and Alan was the cartoon artist who could illustrate talks and jokes . . .
Did you ever hear Daddy’s Friends or do you still have records and cassettes made by the group? Perhaps you were on a Theo’s team with them?
A visual artist can probably bring an idea to fruition more quickly than others: a painting or drawing may be completed in hours, but often it takes much longer. But then there is the puzzle of how to share the piece with others; unless they view or buy it, the appreciation is fleeting and perhaps never to be repeated. It may end up being relegated to the back of a studio.
Performance arts involve long periods of planning and rehearsal, then culminate in one or several performances. Those who watch and enjoy have to carry the memory and images of these occasions and the feelings they evoke, but the actual events may never be repeated. Months of work is over in a few hours.
A writer faces a long period of gestation. Longer than a pregnancy, probably. Anything from months to years, with no guarantees that anyone will ever see this embryonic manuscript. It may take some time before the words even begin to appear on the screen. Some books involve massive research while others are inspired cameos written in notebooks, devices on the run or the back of a paper napkin.
My books spawn many sticky notes, shifted endlessly around on an empty wall. The chapters jostle for their order and some are deleted in rash moments, only to be dug out from computer trash and restored to dignity somewhere else in the evolving story. Ideas that seemed brilliant at the start are left sitting on the languishing list of thoughts, some never make it to the written word.
As a writer of biography, I have had to consider the effects of a person’s upbringing on the direction of their life. It is the traditional way to begin a life story: birth and ancestry, childhood years, parents and siblings, childhood homes, education and locations. Milton expresses poetically what we all know – that adults are not formed in a void and the imprint of their early days often becomes clear as they mature.
The Jesuits have famously expressed it this way in their maxim: “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.” Anyone who has watched the film series “Seven Up” would surely agree that there seems to be truth in that observation.
As a teacher for many years, I would say that children often show their personality, character and gifts when quite young. I am constantly delighted to hear news of ex-students who have progressed to all sorts of achievements as adults, most of which do not surprise me.
If this were universally true, however, we would have to subscribe to a fatalistic view of learning and development, and as a teacher, I am equally amazed at the transformation over the years of students who did not show ability or perseverance at school. Maturity, the input of friends and mentors and just serendipitous circumstances can all play a part in surprising trajectories; thank goodness for that! Children can also rise up out of challenging homes and situations to beat the odds and throw off their childhood influences. Equally, we all know of wonderful families with children who have not thrived despite having many positive and protective factors in their lives.