This is the twelfth of my Highlights: a visit to the mountain eyrie of Binna Burra, location of the heritage-listed lodge where I have in the past spent happy days and weekends.
Binna Burra occupies a lofty peak in the Gold Coast hinterland with panoramic views of Lamington National Park and it fell victim to the wildfires that engulfed the surrounding forest in September 2019.
So this was a very poignant visit to the mountain top : the views as beautiful as ever but all around the evidence of trees consumed by the flames.
Now on the site of the former lodge we found a temporary marquee.
Further down the path we found a very moving and informative exhibition about the wildfires, about how human beings respond to disasters and how hope can arise from despair. What you read here is of vital importance because even now as I write this blog post, due to worldwide government inaction, it may already be too late to avert irreversible climate tipping points leading the planet to catastrophe.
After viewing this exhibition we moved off down the path and across to the area near the campsite where the Binna Burra Tea House has been beautifully refurbished and extended: and indeed the interior did remind me of the communal room in the former heritage-listed lodge that has now been lost.
Finally we walked along the rainforest circuit with its abundant strangler figs, buttress roots, and its twisty whirligig branches and vines. Even a walk here shows you life and death in the rainforest. That is nature: life and death working together in a symbiotic relationship. Perhaps we can take heart from that.
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This is the eleventh highlight: the Tweed Regional Art Gallery was an enchanting discovery set in the idyllic landscape of the Tweed Valley.
The Gallery showcased the work of Margaret Olley, Australia’s most celebrated painter of still life and interiors.
What I learned of Margaret Olley fascinated me. She lived alone in a corner house in Murwullimbah where she packed every room full of objects and vases of flowers and furniture and art materials: every part of the house was her art studio including her green kitchen. She died at the age of 88 and was hugely prolific and passionate about her art. She didn’t believe in house cleaning and if she saw dust her solution was to add another vase of flowers. I loved her!
Finally, outside the gallery we gazed at the most gorgeous landscape, a painting in itself.
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This is my tenth Highlight; we have arrived in the beautiful town of Leura, full of quirky shops, white blossom trees, pretty houses and cafes. Here we stayed for two nights.
We were now in the Blue Mountains, with majestic views of cliffs and rainforest canopy.
At the lookouts – Echo Lookout and Sublime Point – I couldn’t help imagining how it must have been for the indigenous people of these mountains before British settlement of Australia. How beautiful to be sitting by a campfire or participating in a corroboree on one of these lookouts and to know all that you see is your land and all part of Dreamtime.
Today we may find ingenious use of the region at Scenic World which enables visitors to fully explore the mountains above and below with The Skyway (cable car) and the Scenic Cableway (the train), plus walkways and lookouts. Visitors may view the spectacular Katoomba Falls and the Three Sisters by gliding past on the cable-car; gaze from the highest lookout: and plunge to the floor of the ravine, then walk through the lush rainforest.
The ride on the cable-car with views of the Three Sisters and the Katoomba Falls was awe-inspiring.
The plunge to the canyon floor on the train proved just as thrilling!
Later we walked along to the highest point of the Katoomba Falls.
Our first destination upon leaving Leura the next day was the historic gold-mining town of Sofala. We journeyed over the Victoria Pass down through a wide panorama of pastoral land, thickly forested hills, gentle green undulating slopes in the foreground interspersed with homesteads and farms.
We arrived in Sofala: I was fascinated by this little town: it is Australia’s oldest gold-mining town, and as far as possible it is kept in a state close to how it would have been in the 1800s. We had coffee in the Rustic Cafe.
The town represented Living History. Full of atmosphere, it felt as if time had stood still. With rusty tin roofs and vehicles and historic gold-miners’ cottages, it almost seemed like a filmset. As we wandered through, I found myself imagining the hope and excitement and frenzy of those gold miners, who lived lives of poverty but dreamt of the wealth that may await them as they panned for gold in the river.
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This is the ninth of my Highlights and includes some of the most outstanding experiences of my Australian trip.
First, Kiama, which is down the coast south of Sydney. This was a base from which we planned to visit the Illawarra Film Festival in the Phoenix Theatre, Coniston. We were there because my daughter Abigail Robinson’s 10 minute documentary ‘Ghosts of the Outback’ was one of the films chosen for the Festival. We were looking forward to seeing it for the 1st time on the big screen!
There is a very good reason however, to visit Kiama for its own sake alone: for it presents a spectacular natural phenomenon which enchants and amazes all those who gather to watch – the blowholes! Waves surge into a chamber below the surface of the sea pressure builds up, and the blowholes enable this dramatic uprush of water, rocketing high into the air.
Kiama itself is a lovely town which, as it first appeared to us reminded me of Polzeath in Cornwall, UK. White houses arranged across the slope down to the sea made a very picturesque scene. Kiama the town has much to offer but there’s no doubt about the main attraction for visitors, which gives all the watching tourists such fun and excitement. But of course – it’s not a good idea to venture onto the rocks and find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time!
The following day we drove to Coniston which is in Wollongong. There we found the Phoenix Theatre where the Illawarra Film Festival was to take place.
I loved the decor in the bar.
The Festival consisted of 19 Australian films of which Abigail’s was the first. Her short documentary came over extremely well on the big screen and was hugely atmospheric. Several indigenous people describe their experience of the Min Min lights in the Queensland Outback. You can see a trailer for the film if you follow the Facebook Page ‘Ghosts of the Outback.’
After the interval during which hot savouries were served, there followed 4 international and 6 Illawarra films. I loved the diversity of the films: we all voted for our favourite and then handed in our ballot slips for later assessment. Of course I voted Abigail’s film as number 1!
The next day we travelled on to Leura in the Blue Mountains. Our journey took us past sublime distant views of Lake Illawarra, climbing up between massive subtropical rainforest trees, close beside a mighty rock face to our right, past giant tree ferns, creepers, vines, tangled roots. We passed a forest of white ghost gums, their branches reaching out in different directions, as if will-o-the-wisps were dancing between them.
We drove on up the highway and crossed a steep gorge, later passing through Camden near the Australian Botanic Gardens, and green velvet hills. I noticed signs saying ‘Arcadian Hills’ pointing us to ‘Kenilworth Falls’ and ‘Three Sisters’. We arrived at the Norman Lindsay Gallery at 12.50pm.
What an amazing place this is. Owned and managed by the National Trust of New South Wales it celebrates the life and astonishing creativity of the man who lived there. Norman Lindsay lived from 1879 to 1969. He was a poet, children’s writer, illustrator, cartoonist, painter, sculptor: he even created wartime propaganda posters. To me he is the creator of ‘The Magic Pudding’ one of my most-loved books as a child. I bought the 100th birthday edition at the gallery and read it again on the flight back to Heathrow!
His home and garden and studio is a place of enchantment. All the sculptures are his, and so too is the colonnade on the verandah and the garden design.
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This is the eighth in my Highlights series. It opens in Manly, lively, buzzing beachside suburb of northern Sydney, where we stayed in the Quest Apartments overlooking the Harbour.
Taking the boat from Manly to Circular Quay was delightful and although I have visited Sydney a few times before in the past this time I felt such a thrill as we approached the Opera House across the harbour. It was wonderful to see it for the first time in this way.
I had a special reason for wanting to inspect the tourist shops as I have written a short story in which my main character visits Sydney and he arrives at Circular Quay. I make reference to a certain item of quintessentially Aussie headwear he buys (overseas tourists think it absolutely sums up Australia – Australians themselves might disagree).I’m glad to report the shops are still selling them!
I loved walking round the Opera House. Which newly arrived visitor can resist the allure of walking right up to one of those sails and touching it?
Later we took the harbour ferry to The Australian Maritime Museum where we found a magnificent replica of Captain Cook’s ship The Endeavour. Whatever you might think of his ‘discovery’ of this great southern landmass later claimed by the British to be ‘terra nullius’ before the subsequent colonisation of the land, nevertheless he is an iconic figure for Australia.
In the Maritime Museum we found a dazzling variety of different galleries filled with exhibitions on the marine environment, ecological challenges facing us and much more. I was fascinated by a presentation on the big screen of what Sydney looked like before British settlement – groups of indigenous adults and children playing on Bennelong Point around their campfire where the Opera House now stands. Everywhere around the harbour, rich dense forest where now glittering towers rise.
Our next destination was a truly magical place across the harbour behind Luna Park in Lavender Bay.
It was Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden, created by Wendy the wife of renowned Australian artist Brett Whiteley, on a steep abandoned harbourside site owned by the railways. The land is close to the home which she shared with Brett and with their daughter Arkie before each of them – at different times – died tragically. Wendy assuaged her grief by creating this phenomenal tropical garden. Lush, rich and abundant it frames so many astonishing views of harbour and bridge.
Lastly in this Sydney experience we visited a beautiful Chinese inspired tea room and art gallery in the area of Chippendale.
There we enjoyed Chinese dumplings, scones jam and cream, and lotus blossom tea. Afterwards we browsed the shop full of curious, fanciful and quirky gift items before visiting the exceptional art gallery in the same building which showcased contemporary Chinese art.
Finally we explored Spice Alley nearby. A quixotic, colourful street market and cafe area: a true delight to taste another unexpected facet of the multi-dimensional and wonderful city of Sydney.
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This is the seventh post in my Highlights series. Today we begin our exploration of New South Wales, from Boonah in Queensland, through the Border Ranges National Park on the Lions Road, passing through Kyogle, Casino, Coffs Harbour and staying our first night at Sawtell. Then on the next day heading to the city of Newcastle via Nambucca Heads and Camden Haven.
Sunset at Newcastle, New South Wales
The city of Newcastle was for me an amazing surprise: full of elegant, beautiful architecture, buildings grand and modern, historical and art deco, and Norfolk palms along the lovely esplanade. Christ Church Cathedral was full of light, colour and beauty. The lighthouse at the end of Macquarie Pier on Nobby’s Beach was spectacular: glorious beach and dramatic ocean views. As I gazed around me, the following places came to mind: Napier in New Zealand; Cardiff in Wales, UK; St Tropez; Monte Carlo; Raffles Singapore.
There are many artistically designed buildings with art deco ornamentation in appealing colours such as soft ochre, charcoal grey, creamy pink coral, taupe, and forest green, with much iron lace and exquisite detailing.
I learned that Newcastle suffered an earthquake in 1989 so it seems that this city, like Napier, chose to rebuild in a harmonious and creative way.
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The Continued Times of Isabella M Smugge was published by Instant Apostle on 29th October 2022. This is the best book Ruth Leigh has written so far: it is sharp, witty, fluent, and incredibly discerning about human psychology and relationships, and about the English class system together with all its attitudes.
Isabella herself, the privileged, snooty social media influencer, has developed enormously since she was first introduced to us: in this book I found myself totally on Isabella’s side as I watched her navigate her increasingly chaotic home situation. The reader feels Issy is real; we can believe in her and care about her; and we can see and feel we are in the lovely Georgian rectory where she strives to maintain a sense of control over her life.
Isabella is obsessed with control, perfection and success: we see clearly that this preoccupation has come from her mother, and from past tragic events. Isabella is undergoing profound inner changes; nevertheless – and this is very astute observation of human behaviour – she does still frequently switch back to her ‘everything must be perfect’ mode, when she becomes absorbed once again, for a brief period, in her old, false, artificial values. Then she re-emerges with a new family crisis, a new emotional challenge.
I loved watching how she grows through the frequent agonising dilemmas presented by Johnnie, her coercive, manipulating, philandering husband: and also, how she finally recognises the truth about his character. Highlights include Isabella’s application of ‘Tony the counsellor’s technique’ – very funny to read about and very effective. What does matter in the end is love, compassion and caring, and accepting people for who they are: and this is a lesson Johnnie still has to learn.
We watch Issy’s interactions with friends, family, and enemies/ ‘frenemies’ as they all play their part in her transformation. One of the friends I particularly like is Leanne, because she ‘says it like it is’. There are, too, a number of times in the story where I identify closely with Issy on a personal level, and on a couple of these occasions I realised I’d experienced this myself and had even dealt with it in the same way Issy does! – not of course, I hasten to add, because I am a privileged social influencer descended from aristocracy living in a beautiful Georgian rectory etc…
Read all the Isabella M Smugge books for acute psychological and social observation by the author, and lots of laughs and recognisable moments. Then delight in this one: the best Isabella book yet.
This is the sixth part of my Highlights. I love mangrove swamps: and enjoyed exploring those on the Boardwalk at Nudgee Beach on the shoreline of Moreton Bay, and also the swamps along the riverside walk at the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens.
Mangroves play a vital ecological role: they help to stabilize shorelines and reduce the devastating impact of natural disasters such as tsunamis and hurricanes. They also serve as breeding and nursing grounds for marine fish and shellfish species. I find them particularly beautiful at the late afternoon high tide: dark mysterious mud, the bright gleam of water through the trees, the deep rich salty odour of the swamp.
The riverside path through the City Botanic Gardens is also a place of deep contentment: that exquisite, cool, organic odour of shadowed waters lapping against drenched mangrove timber beneath the over-arching leafy canopy. You’ll recognise this same smell in rockpools on the English coast: rich, secret, mysterious.
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This is the fifth post in my Highlights. Today, we travel to Australia Zoo: always such a joy to explore and to enjoy the lush landscaping and the vast variety of animals, both from Australia and around the world, including those who are endangered and who are at the forefront of conservation efforts.
Located in Beerwah near Landsborough, an hour’s drive north of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast, the zoo always gives me a buzz when I visit. It does have, of course, a strong commercial element, with the shops, Crickey Cafe, crocodile and dinosaur models and the show in the Crocoseum, not to mention the new upmarket accommodation Crocodile Hunter Lodge; but this is all vitally important to draw in the widest possible range of visitors and to ensure funding for the hugely important animal conservation work done by Australia Zoo.
I loved Bindi’s Tree House among the gorgeous landscaping, a profusion of palms and other subtropical trees and shrubs. The animals are of course the main attraction and this time I was particularly delighted by the red pandas being hand-fed by a devoted keeper.
Here is a selection of photos from around the parkland, giving a flavour of our latest visit to this captivating zoo.
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Today I am delighted to be sharing with you my review of an advance copy of a new collection of poems, photography and flash fiction by fellow author MJ Mallon. The book is due out on Kindle on 25th November 2022, and the paperback will follow in due course.
I’ve read this author’s work before: young adult novels, poetry and flash fiction, and I love her imaginative handling of the magical, the phantasmagorical and surreal. This short book is no exception to the quality of MJ Mallon’s output. I found the exploration of her past life captivating.
Here are MJ Mallon’s books of poetry and flash fiction so far published:
These are her volumes of YA fiction:
We may consider that the inclusion of often very personal material in a compilation such as ‘Do What You Love’ would make it difficult for the outside reader to find a way in. This is not true at all of MJ Mallon’s poetry and prose: in many places, I related so much to what she writes, especially about a daughter ‘flying the nest’ to a faraway country. I particularly loved the device MJ Mallon uses to draw all this together: she presents it as a conversation with Atropos, one of the three Fates in Greek mythology: the Morai.
Atropos presides over the past. I thought this worked extremely well as a central metaphor. It had me googling the three Fates, and reading all about them: Clotho, who spins the threads of life, guardian of the present; Lachesis, who measures the length of life with her measuring rod, and is guardian of the future: and Atropos, who is the guardian of fate and destiny, and who chooses the manner of death by snipping the threads of an individual’s life. The close relationship between these three Greek supernatural beings and the Three Norns in Norse mythology, also intrigued me. Anyone who loves Wagner’s operas The Ring Cycle will be familiar with the Three Norns who weave the threads of fate; they certainly spend a long time singing about it!
MJ Mallon has had a fascinating and varied life history: born in Singapore, she spent her childhood in Hong Kong and her teens in Edinburgh. She lived in Cambridge for a while, and she now spends some time in Scotland with family, some in Cambridge with friends, and the rest of her time in Portugal where she is about to take up residency. With every culture and environment she has lived in, she has absorbed so much which has influenced her imagination, her interests and her approach as a writer. In this book, we find a compilation of words and images which draws us in: poignant, sensitive, delicate, playful, as she opens up for us her past and present relationships, the places she has loved and spent time in, and her thoughts and feelings about it all.
A highly recommended book for you.
Do What You Love Fragility of Your Flame Poems, Photography & Flash Fiction is a personal poetry collection celebrating how the fates may have a part in all that we do.
With special poems and short reflective moments inspired by family, flowers and nature, love, scrumptious morsels, places I’ve visited, lived and intend to live in, the friendships and hopes I have for the future.
The overarching theme is to live a life well lived… And to do what you love.
float along with me
create clouds of sweetest joy
to do what you love
hold fate’s hand as we venture
near and far on life’s journey
Release Date: 25th November 2022, able to preorder via the following links.
M J Mallon was born in Lion city Singapore, a passionate Scorpio with the Chinese Zodiac sign of a lucky rabbit. She spent her early childhood in Hong Kong. During her teen years, she returned to her father’s childhood home, Edinburgh where she spent many happy years, entertained and enthralled by her parents’ vivid stories of living and working abroad. Perhaps it was during these formative years that her love of storytelling began bolstered by these vivid raconteurs. She counts herself lucky to have travelled to many far-flung destinations and this early wanderlust has fuelled her present desire to emigrate abroad. Until that wondrous moment, it’s rumoured that she lives sometimes in the UK, and often times in Portugal.. Her two enchanting daughters have flown the nest but often return with a cheery smile to greet her.
Her motto is to always do what you love, stay true to your heart’s desires, and inspire others to do so too.