Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 7: Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast, Queensland

This is the seventh in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In our November 2019 visit, we found Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary just a short walk around the corner from our accommodation at Currumbin Sandcastles, Gold Coast. The sanctuary is popular with families and has many attractions for young children including a ‘Meet the Gruffalo‘ area – though we didn’t include that on our day’s itinerary.

There is plenty to fascinate visitors of all ages with a wide variety of birds and animals to delight and amaze, along with an Aboriginal Culture Show. The sanctuary also enchants visitors with its magnificent rainforest landscaping, boardwalks and waterfalls.

The sanctuary is famous for its lorikeet feeding opportunity, and on my past visits here I’ve experienced thousands of these exquisite birds swooping down to feed from the dishes of honey held by visitors. Sadly, on this occasion, we noticed a much smaller number of lorikeets; whatever the reasons for this, we felt sad to see the reduction in numbers.

Like Australia Zoo, the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary offers many opportunities to learn about wildlife, and on this visit we were captivated by the Crocodile Behaviours Show. Here we learned intriguing things about the large crocodile in the enclosure. He had been relocated from his previous environment, where he had proved a danger to local livestock and had finally sealed his fate (not such a bad one) by preying on an expensive prize bull.

We learned that crocodiles have inbuilt ear-plugs and nose-clippers, and can stay immersed and invisible in muddy water using their nostrils as snorkels. So they can drown their vicitims whilst avoiding drowning themselves in the process. Another fascinating fact about crocodiles is that they can live for up to a year without eating anything.

However, that day, the crocodile was clearly in the mood for a snack because the keeper fed him on a chicken dangled from a line on a rod; and he was happy to eat it.

If you visit the Gold Coast, do include a visit to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on your itinerary.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available for pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 6: Australia Zoo

This is the sixth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

Australia Zoo is one of the jewels of Queensland; I’ve visited it a number of times during different periods of time spent in Australia. Not only is it a shining example of animal conservation, and of education about respect for and protection of wildlife, but it is also a superlative tourist attraction.

I believe that one of its strongest attributes is the personal nature of the organisation, owned by the Irwin family. Some may even view the prominence of the family members as a little like a ‘personality cult’. And yet the emphasis upon Steve Irwin and the work he did, and now upon his window Terri, daughter Bindi, her fiance Chandler, and her photographer brother Robert, only serves to enhance the profile of the zoo and the profoundly important work it does.

When you visit Australia Zoo, not only are you guaranteed a good day out, and the chance to see and admire a magnificent collection of wild animals, but you also learn about how to interact with wild creatures in a more respectful, understanding and compassionate way. The famous Crocoseum performance always includes a teaching element, especially about how to deal with snake encounters.

This is of course more likely to be relevant for Australians than for those living in the UK. And yet, it becomes relevant the more you travel around the world. Interestingly enough, the correct way for us to behave towards snakes is often counter-intuitive. If you meet a snake across your path, stop, turn, and walk very slowly and calmly away. If you get a snakebite, remain still, (assuming you have someone who can call for help). The more you move around and panic, the more easily the poison can move through your system.

If you visit Queensland, do include a visit to Australia Zoo on your itinerary.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available for pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 5: Brisbane, Queensland: Cloverlea Cottage, Mount Glorious

This is the fifth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019. From now on I’ll be posting twice weekly on this blog: on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

The restaurant at Cloverlea Cottage may be found on Mount Glorious, a short drive up into the mountains behind Brisbane’s western suburbs. It’s very close to Westridge Outlook, the subject of my blog post published on 31st December 2019.

Cloverlea Cottage is not only a delightful restaurant with sublime views across the mountains, but also a meeting point for a variety of native birds, some of whom are keen to perform reception duties, as was the case with this king parrot.

King parrot on reception duty at Cloverlea Cottage restaurant, Mount Glorious, Brisbane, Queensland

As you can see from the photos, the mountain air was cool when we visited – and blankets were provided, to drape over our shoulders during our time there. If you visit Brisbane, do include a trip up Mount Glorious; and make sure you drop into Cloverlea Cottage for lunch, where you may relax over a delicious meal, and soak in the panoramic views whilst meeting the king parrots, magpies, and kookaburras.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available for pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 4: Brisbane, Queensland: Phoenix Sculpture Garden, Mount Glorious

Here at the beginning of 2020, I open my new year of blog posts with the fourth in a series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019. From now on I’ll be posting twice weekly on this blog: on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

Phoenix Sculpture Garden may be found on Mount Glorious, a short drive up into the mountains behind Brisbane’s western suburbs.

These gardens were created through a wonderful initiative by sculptor Graham Radcliffe and his wife Margit in 1987. The gardens are reached along a narrow lane off the main road into the mountains, and they not only provide an enchanting environment to wander through in this lofty location, but also act as a showcase for Graham’s sculptures in bronze, marble and onyx.

This is truly an inspiring place to visit, interspersing the beauty of the natural surroundings, the skill and vision of landscape gardening, and the wonder of human creativity. At the highest point, as you will see in the pictures, the garden opens out onto sublime views into the far distance.

The garden also acts as a perfect setting for retreats, by special arrangement with Graham and Margit.

If you plan to visit when you’re in Brisbane, do look up Graham’s website, to discover the opening times.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 3: Brisbane Forest Park, Queensland: Westridge Outlook

This is the third in a series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

My second post was about Jolly’s Lookout in Brisbane Forest Park, Queensland, in the mountains to the west of Brisbane. Further up the road from Jolly’s Lookout towards Mount Glorious, we find another glorious viewpoint, called Westridge Outlook.

Here as the name suggests you may gaze out to the western plains. These views, to my mind, encompass the best that Australia has to offer, in terms of majestic landscape.

You will see breathtaking, sublime views like this elsewhere on this continent, of course, but here in Brisbane Forest Park, it is encapsulated at a location only forty minutes drive from Brisbane city centre. The provision of boardwalks, walking tracks and information signage is excellent, opening the area up to visitors, and I feel that the park management is of the highest standard.

Here are a few photos of this lovely place.

Views across the western plains from Westridge Outlook, Brisbane Forest Park.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 2: Brisbane Forest Park, Queensland: Jolly’s Lookout

This is the second in a series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

Today’s post is about a high place in Brisbane Forest Park, Queensland, which is very dear to my heart. During the time I lived in Australia, from 1986 to 1990, I often visited this lovely lookout, and gazed at the view across Samford Valley toward the Glasshouse Mountains in the distance.

On each visit I would meet several kookaburras, along with the goanas and possums. This time however I found the lookout very dry, and no kookaburras in sight. The region has been suffering from drought, and this was very much in evidence in the bushland of Brisbane Forest Park, where signs warned of a high risk of bushfires and a total fire ban.

However, at the time of writing, I understand there have been heavy rainstorms in Brisbane. But the people of New South Wales still long for those rains to come as they continue to suffer severe drought with dried up grassland and tragic bushfires.

Here are a few photos of this special place.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 1: Brisbane, Queensland: Roma Street Parklands

This is the first in a series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

First I visited Australia, where my travels took me to Brisbane, Queensland, and along the coast through New South Wales, during a time when that region was suffering severe drought with dried up grassland and tragic bushfires. Later I spent twelve days in the north island of New Zealand where a cooler, more temperate climate ensures a landscape clothed in rich green.

Jacaranda tree in Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane

My first few posts in this series will take us through Queensland and New South Wales. I last visited Brisbane in 2009 and much has changed in the city and suburbs since then: considerable development means that I was unable to recognise many of the areas from my previous times spent here.

One place I enjoyed walking around when I lived in Australia from 1986 to 1990 was the area of parkland near Wickham Terrace not far from Roma Street Station. I was delighted to find that the changes here are uplifting: for the parkland has been greatly extended and enhanced.

This is a new development that gives nothing but pleasure, for the former railyard has been transformed into a glorious series of gardens, and the genius of the landscapers and garden designers is seen here in abundance. Despite the drought, colourful subtropical flowers and trees give joy to all who wander through the parklands.

view of Brisbane City from Roma Street Parklands
Festival in Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane
Fountain in Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane
Flowers and trees in Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

Book Review: Out of the Forest by Gregory P. Smith

Over Christmas a biography came to me which is one of the most compelling and moving accounts I have ever read. Out of the Forest by Gregory P Smith with Craig HendersonOut of the Forest (published by Penguin Australia) is the memoir of a man who spent ten years living as an alcoholic drug-crazed recluse high in the New South Wales forest, (with occasional forays down the mountain to the local hippy community to sell his crop of marijuana, and spend his income on  alcohol).

This man now holds a PhD and is an academic at the Southern Cross University at their Lismore campus in New South Wales, where he teaches Social Sciences. His name is Dr Gregory Peel Smith, and his story takes him from a severely abusive childhood and period of torment in a Catholic orphanage, through years of mental suffering, self-destructive behaviour, alcoholism and drug addiction and self-imposed isolation, to his present life.

Partly because I know the area Gregory is writing about (having lived in Brisbane for four and a half years myself, and having visited the areas of the New South Wales coastline, and spent time in the very mountains of which he speaks) I read this account with intense interest. But as Gregory describes his journey through the depths of human anguish, into self-imposed exile from human society, and all the gruesome details of what it takes to survive in isolation in the wild, I was totally captivated. This book has a strong spiritual character, despite Gregory’s disavowal of the Christian religion (not surprising when you read of the physical and spiritual and psychological abuse he received from the Catholic nuns in the orphanage.)

And the way in which Gregory rehabilitates himself, upon emerging from ten years in the forest, is deeply moving and inspiring. Although later on he is greatly helped by certain individuals whom he identifies as angels, in the early stages he transforms his life solely through his own inner resources. He describes in detail his method for “mounting a mental counter-insurgency” against his inner demons which I believe would be immensely helpful for anyone who has gone through any experience approximating to his kind of mental suffering and turmoil. Though his case was extreme I believe it will be of great value to many, and not only those who have been through comparable extreme experiences.

Naturally I highly recommend this book, and not only to a general readership but to those interested or engaged in psychotherapy and personal spiritual transformation.

What do the Secrets of the Australian Swagman Have to Say to Creative Writers?

“Ashes are much hotter than flames”.Picture of an Australian swagman by George Washington Lambert - Sheoak Sam, 1898This is an observation I heard online a few months ago, and you’d think, OK, what does that have to do with creative writers?  Well, let me take you to the Australian Outback to explain.

The ‘swagman’ of Waltzing Matilda fame traditionally goes walkabout through the Outback of Australia with only 3 basic foodstuffs in his tucker bag: onions, flour and golden syrup.  That’s so he can bake the essential carbs portion of his diet, damper, in the ashes of his fire, (to eat later with syrup) and also the onion, an indispensable companion to the ‘jumbuck’ that he’s poached from whichever sheep-station he happens to be passing through.

Here is the process of making damper, demonstrated by a honorary ‘bushman’ / exponent of bush-craft (alias a friend of my sister’s then living in a caravan in Stanthorpe, Queensland), a process which my daughter Abigail photographed while we were in Australia in 2007:

So what does this have to say to creative writers?

Simply this: writing a novel can be like making damper from scratch in the Australian bush. You gather together your basic requirements; wood for a fire, pot to make your damper in, flour and water, and off you go.  Your fire must be just right; no more flames, but nice hot ashes, ready for the cooking. The pan is placed on the ashes and heated up ready to take the mixture, and for the lid to go on. Then the pan is covered with hot ashes and left to cook. the hot ashes are later swept away with a sprig of greenery. Every stage of the process requires careful attendance and skill. And finally you have your delicious result, ready to be devoured. But first you make it more palatable by putting golden syrup on it.IMGP0807 eat and enjoy!

Just so do you gather your raw material for a novel in your mind, your life experiences and observations, your characters, their life-histories, your plot, your skill with words, and then you go about mixing them all together, through several drafts, each stage  carefully attended to, so that your end result is just golden brown, and not burnt nor soggy. And then even when it’s perfect, it may be it needs that extra touch, with the syrup on top ie. the final polish.

 

 

 

A Passionate Spirit and The Cult That Stole Children

A couple of years after I left university, whilst on a spiritual search, I went to a lecture at the Royal Overseas League in London, met, chatted to and  became captivated by an inspirational speaker: a Physics professor who wrote spiritual books. His name was Dr Raynor Johnson.

a-pool-of-reflections-by-dr-raynor-johnsonSubsequently I read and loved all his books, beginning with his latest: “A Pool of Reflection”. I later wrote him a letter, to which he responded with a very kind and encouraging reply from his home at Santiniketan, Ferny Creek, Melbourne Australia.

Santiniketan later became notorious as the first premises Raynor Johnson made available for the use of the then beautiful and charismatic  Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the cult leader, and where she gave her spiritual talks, and started to gather her followers.  At the time, of course, I had no knowledge of this.

I wrote about him and about the cult with which his name has now become ineradicably linked in this blog post: The Curious Case of the Kindly Professor and the Cunning Cult Leader. I also used the story of the cult in my novel  A Passionate Spirit (pub. Matador 2015).

This cult is particularly relevant to my interests in writing A Passionate Spirit, because of the way in which the cult leader uses beauty and charisma to win devoted followers, whom she then indoctrinates with her teachings; and the cult preys upon the young and the vulnerable.  In addition the cult won the support of many intellectuals and people occupying high professional positions. It is a case which is of vital fascination to a writer of psychological thrillers and suspense.

Later I was contacted by journalist Chris Johnston, who has published articles about the cult in  The Age, Melbourne and in the Sydney Morning Herald. He wanted to make reference to my experiences, and to quote from my blog post, in a book he was writing about the cult.

You can watch the story of this cult on BBC TV tonight Tuesday 29 November 2016 in a documentary called:  “Storyville: The Cult That Stole Children.” It is being broadcast at 9pm.

M paranormal thriller novel A Passionate Spirit inspired these remarks from a Net Galley reviewer, CE Gray:  “as Natasha and James started to take hold of both the centre, and the people within it, the story picked up pace and for me became a page turner. I needed to know, were there supernatural forces at work? Was Zoe imagining it? Were Natasha and James just fraudsters? Was this a story about a cult?

I was pulled in, hook, line and sinker, picking up my kindle at every opportunity to find out what happened next and the end was not disappointing.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone interested in cults, the supernatural and thrillers in general.

What I especially loved were the author’s notes at the end, talking about her inspirations for the novel, including the Australian cult, The Family, which sent me scurrying off to the google for an hour after I’d finished the book. A great read.

A Passionate Spirit is available to buy online and in bookshops.