35 days on the chemin
In May and June this year I spent nine weeks on a wonderful adventure in Europe – the first 35 days walking the Chemin de St Jacques through Southern France followed by three weeks on a singing tour through Greece with our Aquapella choir. The chemin is one of the feeders to the well known pilgrimage Camino de Santiago in Spain.
Last year I had booked a place on the Greek tour and I was discussing a possible trip with our daughter Lana before our time in Greece. Lana suggested we walk some of the Spanish camino together and after some research we settled on a walk in France – the chemin Voie du Puy which commences at Le Puy en Velay and finishes at St Jean Pied de Port. Lana wanted to walk ten days – I liked the idea of a longer walk so decided for the full 35 days.
In early May, three of us – Lana, my cousin Stephen and I – met in the French city of Lyon and travelled to Le Puy en Velay. Usually around 200 people set out each day but on the day we started walking there were only 60. Next day we discovered why – there was heavy snow overnight and it continued for four days.
(Surprised by “la neige” – Selfie in the snow)
The French people walking with us were upset by the snow but coming from Australia we thought it was magic. The first morning I ran around the hostel calling out “Joyeux Noel, Joyeux Noel” and they all thought I was crazy.
After ten days Lana headed back to Australia and Stephen went to Portugal to meet his daughter. I continued on alone and it was the most amazing experience. Unseasonal snow in the first week and record rain and floods in the last week. I did less that I planned – walking a total of 600km not 720km – but I will go back in 2020 to complete my walk and possibly walk some of the Spanish camino.
(Images from the chemin – the way, the people and the places)
Singing our way through Greece
Our tour of Greece was also very special. The Aquapella choir brings together singers from Townsville and Magnetic Island separated by – you guessed it – Aqua – and we sing acapella. Our tour commenced with five days in Athens featuring visits to many of the well known archaeological sites and our first concert at the International School of Athens.
(First concert of the tour at the International School of Athens)
From Athens we went to the Greek islands of Syros and Tinos where we performed in concerts hosted by local choirs. We returned to the mainland and journeyed to Nauplion on the Peleponnese Peninsula where we performed in a joint concert with the Mixed Polyphonic Choir of Nauplion. We sang in the building that housed the first Parliament of Greece following independence from the Ottoman Turks in 1830.
On the way to Nauplion we stopped at Epidauras, a theatre that is 2500 years old and is still used today for classical performances. The theatre seats audiences of 15000 with no sound amplification required. We were allowed to sing two songs in the amphitheatre and found out later how lucky we had been. No commercial performances are allowed and recently Nana Maskouri had been not allowed to sing there as she was considered by theatre management to be a”pop singer”.
(Aquapella sing the Russian Orthodox hymn Tebe Poem in the 2500 y.o. amphitheatre)
From Nauplion which is on the Greek Peleponnese Peninsula we journeyed to Patros, Volos and Meteora before our tour finished in Thessaloniki. There were so many highlights of the tour – concerts with local choirs, swimming in the crystal clear waters around the Greek islands, wonderful hospitable people, great travelling companions…
Working for human rights
In May I became President of the Amnesty International Australia Queensland Northern NSW Branch. This is my second term – I had been President from 2005-2008 which seems a long time ago now. The photo below was taken at the AGM of Amnesty International Australia (AIA) held in Sydney in October.
(Participants at the AGM take part in Write for Rights action)
Our local action group has continued to work tirelessly for Human Rights in 2018 and my favorite project has been our Amnesty Human Rights Ambassador (HRA) Program. We recruited students from James Cook University as HRAs to take the human rights message into the JCU community and to local high schools. The photo below was taken at our end of year gathering.
(2018 Human Rights Ambassadors: Andrea, Marisa, Dulce, Sharon, Jacky, Andile, Lisa and Denise)
Where is our humanity?
The Australian Government continues to trample on the human rights of those most vulnerable – the people on Manus and Nauru, and the 20,000 people seeking asylum in Australia who live here on temporary visas with the the ever-present threat of being sent back to face persecution and possible death. The case of Priya, Nades and their two daughters pictured below who face deportation in six weeks illustrates how inhumane our policies have become.
Passing of an icon
On Tuesday 16th October 2018, Margaret Thorsborne, one of Queensland’s most revered and beloved champions of our wildlife and natural heritage passed away. There was a wonderful celebration of Margaret’s life held at the House of Prayer and Spirituality in November.
One of the tributes read out at the celebration came from Ngawang Tenzin, now a teacher of Buddhism living in Melbourne.
He wrote: “Margaret remains for me a sort of guiding light; for her selfless and tireless devotion to conservation in the far north, but also the simple generosity with which she shared that warmth and energy, even to idealistic and impatient PhD students who turned up to her beautiful little cabin in Edmund Kennedy N.P, to drink tea and pester her about cassowaries.
I remember clearly the picture she had on her wall of the Dalai Lama. I also remember times sitting drinking tea and eating cake on her leafy verandah, surrounded by the forest filled with bird song, and the light and love she had in her eyes when she related stories of visits to her house by the local cassowaries and all sorts of other wildlife, which came and went through her open doors and windows as they pleased. I remember being amazed at hearing stories of how, frail as she seemed, she would still put on her cassowary suit and visit school children to share with them her knowledge and concern for those ancient and magnificent birds.
I am sure she was a Bodhisattva, a being who had awakened not for her own benefit, but for the love of others, especially those beings without a voice of their own; the wild creatures and forests of the far north. She will stay in my heart always.”
One in a Billion!
While in Sydney for the Amnesty AGM I visited Bondi Sculpture by the Sea. Townsville’s version of Sculpture by the Sea is our biennial Strand Ephemera. On the plane home I came up with an idea for the 2019 Strand Ephemera – a giant 3 metre high takeaway coffee cup. This is to highlight the fact that every year Australians use then discard over one billion coffee cups!
Together with three others we submitted our plans for our installation entitled “One in a Billion”. On 14 December we received the exciting news that we have been successful – more than 100 applications for 28 places and we got one!
(“One in a Billion” – look out for our entry in the 2019 Strand Ephemera)
Mum doing well at 94
My mother was living in a granny flat under our house but in August had a fall and broke her hip. For a while after the operation it was touch and go – but she rallied and has recovered reasonably well.
She is no longer able to live independently and in October moved to the Good Shepherd Nursing Home which is around one kilometre from where we live. She has settled in pretty well, all things considering, and is taking full advantage of the wide range of activities available there.
(Mum, Lana and I at our place on Christmas Day)