“I’m not sure I can make it all the way to the midnight fireworks”, I said to my friend Kate, as we spoke earlier today about plans for New Year’s Eve in Sydney, where we have tickets to the celebration at Barrangaroo. “Don’t worry”, she said, “I’ll bring a blanket, and if we need to, we can have a little nap”.
In some ways, that whole conversation was emblematic of where I find myself at the end of 2017. I’m not the “young man” who started this blog almost sixteen years ago. That said, “there’s plenty of life in the old girl yet”. But I am ending the year in a reflective mode, thinking about where I am right now, and where I’ll be for the “later years” of my life.
I’m back in Sydney after a few days in Lismore, visiting my family. And part of this “end of year reflection” relates to the trip home, as family members are getting older and older. I’m not sure how long some of them will be around for. I love them all very much (except for my nephew, who continues to cause my family grief), but I’m not quite ready to “return home” just yet. I still feel like Sydney is the place for me to be.
I doubt I’ll retire in Sydney (I don’t think I can afford it), and I doubt I’ll retire in a small country town (lacking some of the creature comforts of city-life I’ve become used to), so maybe it’s somewhere in between. Maybe it’s Newcastle? Maybe it’s Canberra? Could it be Hobart? Maybe it’s Lismore?
One thing I’m sure of, is that if I do retire in Lismore, it will be somewhere “on the hill”.
“The further up the hill you lived, the more money you had; the better school you went to; and the less you had to worry about floods…”, was how I once described to a colleague the “class system” in Lismore (my hometown in Northern NSW). She, too, had grown up during the 60s and 70s in a working-class Catholic family, albeit in Brisbane, but agreed, “Yes Catholics spend their entire lives trying to make it to the top of the hill”.
I wrote a few days ago.
And this year, it became very evident to me with the floods in Lismore which reached the top steps, and into the homes of a number of family members. As I wrote at the time:
“Yeah the river’s up, but it’s nothing to worry about”, I’ve often said to my family previously. They usually rely on me for forecasts, interpretations from the SES/Weather Bureau etc. And for the most part, I tell them not to worry. But this time around. when it was clear about how bad things could be, I told them to worry. I was especially concerned for my older family members. They might have lived through floods in 1954 and 1974, and it was all okay, but this time around, they’re in their 60s and 70s, and no longer as able to move around as much.
In explaining my own feelings, I went part of the way on the radio show I present, Editor’s Choice, introducing some interviews from some people from home.
This time a week ago my members of my family were surrounded by about six feet of water. It was, literally, lapping their floor boards. They live in South Lismore, and that’s where I grew up, too.
One of my earliest childhood memories is of the 1974 flood. I remember. It was Sunday night, I was 8 years old, and my dad and I went down the backyard, and knowing a flood was on the way, we went under the house to secure the washing machine in case it floated away, and next door, to secure our car on what we thought was higher ground. We went upstairs, watched the Wonderful World Of Disney, and by the time, the show was over, our house too was surrounded by water.
Before that, my mum and dad told me stories of the 1954 flood, of living in a low-set house, where the water reached the top of the windows, and they lived in the rooftop for four or five days. Mum, dad, my four sisters, my granny, and my uncle. This was the days before the State Emergency Service, when hundreds of people in the area died from drowning.
And now it’s happened again, as Lismore, and many other parts of Australia have either experienced major floods, or have succumbed to Cyclone Debbie. We start this week’s Editor’s Choice, with some of the experiences of the people of just one town, my home town, South Lismore, in these recordings from Samantha Turnbull from ABC Radio in Lismore.
I even went on the radio as an “emergency broadcaster” As the team at ABC Radio in Lismore took a break “before the worst of it”, I filled in, remotely from Sydney. Because I know the area very well, and because I know what it’s like to live through a flood, I did the late shift from 11pm to 2am, when they took over again. There was a moment of complete realisation for me, as I spoke to the bloke from the SES who told me how serious the problem was.
But in the midst of it all, there was also a moment of joy, as a former school teacher, Barbara Kearney called in to say “hello”.
The floods, and the risk to family, affected me very deeply, in a way I didn’t expect.
In stark contrast, it’s also been a terrific year for overseas holidays.
In May I went to Stockholm again. It was my sixth trip to Stockholm in less than ten years, to a city I love very much. And if the ABC ever kicked me out with a golden handshake, I’d be there in “two shakes of a lambs tail”, as my dad used to say.
It was a really wonderful holiday, and I especially enjoyed the times I caught with people I have come to know there, and a real deepening of our friendships.
And then In October, Sue and I also travelled overseas, to Spain.
Currently, I have two overseas holidays in mind for next year: my friend Sandra is one of the organisers of the Stockholm Writers Festival, and my friend Kate is holding an exhibition in China. I’m not sure I’ll make it to Sweden, but the trip to China is definitely on my agenda, with cheap flights and accommodation making it a viable option.
This year I’ve also travelled a bit with work, with extended stays in Canberra and Hobart. Both visits involved time for reflection about life outside of Sydney.
“Please don’t tell me you’re going to go and live in Hobart?”, a friend said to me, jokingly, over dinner the other night, adding “Everyone I know says they want to live in Hobart”. “I don’t think so”, I told her, “but I wouldn’t rule it out”. A nice combination of the two “worlds” of my life: that of living in a big city like Sydney, as well as a series of smaller country towns in my earlier life.
As I reflect back on 2017, one of the most fantastic things I’ve been involved in this year has been a story-telling project called Surry Hills & Valleys. As I wrote previously…
A few months ago a friend and I got together over dinner at a restaurant in Surry Hills. Compared with many, I’m a long-term local, whereas she is a reasonably new arrival, but with a passion for the suburb in which we live. And a common concern, that as Surry Hills goes through the latest transformation, some sense of “community” may be lost along the way.
As we spoke, we became consciously aware that many of the “stories” of Surry Hills go back to the days of Ruth Park novels, and 1930s gangsters. What about life now? We discussed the idea of story-telling as a way to unite the community in a modern way. There are so many interesting people living here today, and we thought it would be great to capture their stories. Along the way, we’ve enlisted some others with a similar passion. We “launched” at the end of August, and largely due to the very hard work of Karina and Tim, we now have close to thirty profiles of people who live locally. (I have contributed a couple of ideas, but mostly I’m the web guy). I love reading the stories, and hope you might also check them out also.
Since launching, a few of our profiles have also appeared in Urban Village, our local newspaper. We’ve also discussed ways in which these stories might also be more widely shared. Stay tuned! Please take a look, follow/subscribe etc at https://surryhillsandvalleys.com/
Throughout the year, it was lovely to catch up with my friends and family here, as well as interstate and overseas friends, including Sandra and Robert, Nikki and Roger, and Mattias (Sweden), to finally meet Matthew (Melbourne), and to catch up with my old university friend, Cathy, who haven’t seen in “donkeys years”.
Though it seems not as many people blog these days, I really love reading the stories of people online. As I wrote in May, on the occasion of my fifteenth anniversary of this blog…
Over the years, I’ve watched bloggers come and go, and have been grateful to have been given an insight into their lives. From the early days, I think Carol is the only one still consistently blogging. We actually met “in real life” a few years ago in unexpected circumstances, attending the same work-related event. In real life, I talk to Redsultana a few times every week. Through this blog I’ve also met Sandra, who I will be seeing her in Stockholm in a few weeks, and have introduced her to three of my real life friends also. I enjoy reading the regular postings of Victor, Neil and Andrew (though I sometimes skim some of his posts when he gets a little “grumpy old man”). I mean that in a nice way, Andrew, by the way. From early Blog meetups WittyKnitter and I occasionally swap tweets, though I’ve almost completely lost touch with Papertrap, whose blog no longer exists. Peter from Amsterdam has also stopped blogging, though I have fond memories of meeting him there a few years ago. I could go on, though of course, I’d miss mentioning someone, one of my “imaginary internet friends” (as Carol calls them), and I wouldn’t want to do so. They’ve all shared bits and pieces of their lives with me over the years.
So in short, I’m ending 2017 feeling okay about where I am in life, though somewhat reflective, and wondering about where I’ll be, and what I’ll be doing in 2027.