Back to Croatia


Gorgeous colours

Cavtat Harbour

I’m off for the northern hemisphere once again in two weeks’ time.  Beautiful Croatia is our host country once more.  We’ll stay at the same Hotel Croatia, built during Tito’s reign on the edge of the Adriatic at Cavtat. From the sea, it is reminiscent of a boat, not at all like some of the ugly Soviet buildings of the era.

Hotel Croatia

Hotel Croatia

The waters of the Adriatic here are advertised as “the Mediterranean like it used to be.” It’s a village-like atmosphere in the town, with cobbled streets winding upwards from the harbour.  I intend riding a bicycle around the peninsula, stopping to view Roman ruins, taste local cuisine, visit museums and swim. and artwork by notable artists which would be worth your time to see.  The Church of St Nicholas has Icons of the  saint, an alabaster relief from the 15th century, works by Benedetto Genarri, and paintings by Sicilian painters.


In The Village


Ancient Church

The Church









You can catch ferries to one of the many peaceful islands, or visit the bustling walled city of Dubrovnik,  a favourite haunt for tourists.






The Village of Cavtat on the Bay

Source: Listen to this organ in Croatia that uses the sea to make hauntingly beautiful music.

(in Zadar)

Flame Trees … Cold Chisel

“Flame Trees” was sung by Jimmy Barnes to commemorate Australia Day on 26th January this year (2016). The song depicts the two sides of Grafton, its  polarities, in a creative way. This town is the setting for my memoir “River Girl” that I intend to  publish in the near future. We lived outside the main town at a place called Waterview. Being surrounded by nature was the positive side of my childhood when I was growing up.

Grafton and South Grafton

I was born and grew up in the far north coast town of Grafton in NSW, Australia. Actually, it was on the “poor cousin” South Grafton on the Clarence River at a place called Waterview. There’s a crooked bridge joining the two sides of the river.  We lived on a block of land in a weatherboard cottage, a bit of a dump, really. Dad didn’t mind, so long as he was away from the town “rubber necks”.  Mum hankered after mod cons and pretty things. Dad wanted only land, gum trees and bullocks.

There was an avenue of jacaranda trees, which marked the end of the township of South Grafton, and the start of the Gwydir Highway that we lived next to, one mile out from the town boundary. Continue reading

High Flights: Beginnings and Endings

free [ics

Lines from the poem, “High Flight” slipped into my mind, while I was flying over the  Channel on the way to Heathrow Airport. That last line was a douzy! Mark and I were returning home from Paris via London and Dubai. This was only the first short leg of the journey. We’d left the same way, en route to Roma, ten days earlier. The clouds below formed a landscape of ridges and rivers, that seemed familiar to me, an Aussie voyager, but was constructed out of fairy floss. I could only imagine the rich French countryside, and the Manche far below, hidden by the snowy screen.

It was a perfect one-hour flight. Very few bumps. The plane had risen above the bad weather in Paris. I brushed away a tear at the thought of the Latin Quarter far away down below. I’d fallen in love with it half a century ago. Rose twilight bands tinted the horizons on both sides of the plane. I glimpsed the silvery half-moon, looking quietly down on the plane, and thought of my young grandson, also named Mark, about to have his fourth birthday party the next day back home. We had thirty hours of travel ahead of us yet. Why oh why was our beloved country so far away from everywhere else that beckoned us?

High Flight
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr

On the third of September in 1941, eighteen year old John Gillespie Magee was flying at 30,000 feet in a test flight of the Spitfire V.  As he climbed up above the clouds, he was inspired to write a poem, describing feelings of awe that overcame him when he flew  into a realm of strange beauty far above the earth. Once back on the ground, he wrote a letter to his parents. in which he enclosed a copy of the poem.

Flying fighter sweeps over France and air defense over England against the German Luftwaffe, he rose to the rank of Pilot Officer.

Just three months later, on the eleventh of December 1941 (and only three days after the US entered the war), Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., was killed, when the Spitfire V he was flying, collided with another plane over England.  He was only nineteen years old.

A Bird’s Eye View

A city of wonders

View from our window

A city of wonders

A small bridge behind our hotel

The amazing piazza San Marco

Mark in front of San Marco

We’re heading for the air space over la Belle Paris, where we will spend such a memorable few days, meeting up with Véronique and Thierry, and Manya and Hakeem. You can tell it’s France down below from the beautifully sculpted blocks of land, some tilled, others awaiting cultivation: the richness of the French agricultural tradition.

Whereas Venice will be a feast for the eyes, Paris is style, fresh food in street markets, wonderful cuisine and products in delis, and interesting, generous people. Admittedly, there’s also a creeping sense of depression there, as the young abandon ship and take off for richer pastures further afield: New York, Sydney, Berlin…anywhere they can find work. But things augure well for the future, so long as its large youth population returns once the economy recuperates.

Mark had one day working hard in Paris teaching the Lidcombe Program. He was exhausted afterwards, but we were served dinner: ‘foie gras d’oie’—home-made by Thierry!—and baked lamb with vegetables and sauce and lots of red wine!  It was a real feast, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience like staying in the Presidential Suite in Cavtat. But I must admit to suffering from ‘mal au foie’ the next day. Continue reading

Why You Must Visit Sicily

It’s been on my bucket list, ever since hearing about its marvels and beauty from my Italian hairdresser. Over the years I’ve explored the north, middle and south of Italy, but never ventured down as far as Sicily. Following are some reasons I’ve gathered together for visiting this gorgeous island.

Pleasing to the Eye

Colourful Sicily…Public Domain Photo …  1533574

Sicily is one of Italy’s most alluring destinations, with mesmerizing landscapes, delicious food and a mix of cultures that, over the centuries, has left a mixture of architectural styles throughout the region.

Sicilia, as it’s called in Italian, is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea sitting off the toe of Italy. “Italy is a popular destination for Australian travellers. In a way, Sicily can feel more off the beaten track, which is perhaps part of its charm,” said Dean Van Es of  Fast Cover Travel Insurance.

Other reasons for visiting this island, apart from its beauty are:

  1. The Food

It is perfectly acceptable to arrive home from Sicily with a bit more girth than when you left. If you haven’t then perhaps you haven’t taken full advantage of the fantastic foods you will find in Sicily! Of course there are the expected Italian dishes to try, including various pizzas and pastas. But you should also try the oranges and other citrus fruits, almonds, pistachios and olives which grow in abundance. You can indulge in delicious arancine, which are balls of saffron rice with meat and cheese, as well as panelle, a popular street food option made from fried chickpea flour. There is also fresh ricotta to try, along with fried ricotta, cannoli, tricotta and cassata.

  1. Palermo

The capital of the island, Palermo is brimming with history and culture. Days can be spent wandering through the city and absorbing the stunning architecture including Piazza Pretoria, the Quattro Canti, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Zisa, the Palace of the Normans and the Capuchin Catacombs. And that’s just naming a few! After a day exploring you can unwind in one of the many boutique hotels.

You can get a sense of Sicilian life in Palermo with a trip to the markets. Shop for fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and delicious breads and cheeses along one of the main market streets such as Ballarò or il Capo.

Cefalu in the province of Palermo

Cefalu in Palermo

  1. Syracuse

Syracuse (or Siracusa in Italian), in the southeast corner of Sicily, is a hub of historic sites with ruins dating back to the sixth century. It’s an absolute must-see for anyone interested in Greek history and culture. Here you can see the ruins of the Temple of Athena and walk between the various sites in Ortigia including the fountain of Arethusa and the Piazza del Duomo.

More history

Ear of Dionysius, Syracuse

  1. Mount Etna

Mount Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe and just one of Sicily’s six UNESCO sites. You can explore around the volcano and come across stunning panorama views. Seeing ash shoot up from the volcano is a sight you won’t forget.

Spectacular scenery

Mount Etna

  1. The Aeolian Islands

The Aeolian Islands consist of seven main islands, all notable for their picturesque views, rugged coast and sandy beaches. If you have time between exploring Sicily’s historical sites, relaxing on one of the beaches in the Italian sun is a perfect way to spend a day.


Anyone been to Sicily who’d like to tell us more?




Adriatic Romance … Rijeka to Titograd

My Travel Journal 2

the italian boys

Camp Borik

My journey from Paris towards Russia continueswith entry into our first Communist country, Yugoslavia, and the drive along the spectacular coastline there.  Once again we are delayed by car troubles, this time a forced stopover at Camp Borik, a beautiful lakeside camping ground near Zadar, where we meet up with young Italian men, who take us dancing and romancing. Pulling ourselves away, with regret, we continue ever onwards towards Dubrovnik, Titograd and Kaselin

The 4th Day, July: The Adriatic Coastline in Italy

The romance of the Adriatic coastline!  It had captivated us from Venice onwards. We’d made good headway and reached Trieste—beautiful Trieste—on the rocky Adriatic seashore at 8.30. The sun had gone down; the sky was pink. We passed along the cliff road leading around the city.  The youth hostel was marvellous, like a palace set in trees at the foot of the hills, overlooking the sea.  We were given the last beds.  I took a cold shower and changed into my one sun dress.  We rushed out with little over half-an-hour to eat and return to the hostel.  Luckily, we found a tiny bar, where we were served pizza and gelato very quickly and sat there, marvelling at this beautiful Italian environment. We recognized other Australian voices as we went in to sleep at the hostel. Liz moved out on to the balcony. We slept well. Continue reading

From Paris to Russia and Back

Travel Journal 1

The Italy Leg


I set out from Paris, with two girlfriends, Liz and Kay, from Melbourne in the summer of 1968. We were studying at university and working at the Air Attachée in Paris, which is where I met Liz. The trip stand out in my memory as one of the high points of my life.

The Italy leg would set the tone for the whole trip: exciting, adventurous, frustrating, exhilirating, with breakdowns and meetings with mechanics (machina caput!) in every country.

July, 1968: Paris

It hardly seems credible now, when I think back on this time. I was young, naiive, and looking for adventure. I’d just lived through the student and workers’ strike in France, which ended in a near revolution. The fear at the time was that General de Gaulle might send in troops to break the stand-off between police and radical students in the Boulevard Saint Michel.

I’d spent the previous twelve months in Paris, working as a clerk at the Australian Embassy, the Air Attaché section; handling secret files labelled “Mirage Jets” or some such. It was boring work, but I’d earned enough money to move on to a more interesting job as a teacher’s assistant in a provincial high school. I was also enrolled in the first year of an Arts degree. During my time at the Embassy, I’d made some good friends, in particular, two girls from Melbourne. Liz was studying Linguistics at the Sorbonne, while Kay was writing a thesis on Jean-Paul Sartre; me, an ex-primary school teacher with no degree under my belt at all. At the end of the twelve-month Embassy position, instead of saving my money, I’d acted impulsively, as usual, and lashed out on a second-hand car. Continue reading

Ukraine Adventure in 1968


My Travel Journal Continued: the Russia Leg

on our tour

The Red University

Saturday  24th August, 1968 (Day 55 of our journey)

I awoke feeling sick on our 5th day in Russia.  So Liz drove us into the Intourist Centre where  we asked for a guide, who was sent for immediately.  Kiev was a very beautiful city  with wide streets,  huge buildings,  many shops and more western-looking than Odessa. Our chubby, round-faced guide, who said he was not Ukrainian but of Tartar origin, attempted to amuse us with an American-style accent. He was an extremely good guide, and told us many interesting facts about each monument.  As if in passing, he also announced the news that Russian troops were currently occupying Czechoslovakia, and said it was to stop Czechoslovakia from moving towards capitalism.  We saw the statue of St Vladimir the Grand Duke,  who  brought Christianity to Kiev: it overlooked the River Dnieper and showed a fine view of the city. Continue reading

Delphi and its Sacred Ways


The Sacred Way

I have a connection with Delphi going back to my Armidale Teachers College days.

Ancient Greece gave such a lot to the world, including architecture, philosophy and theatre. I thought about this when I visited Greece with two friends  in the late sixties. Stories of Delphi  and the oracle had enthralled me when I was studying at Teachers College a few years previous to this.

Beautiful Ruins

The Mamaria Temple

Miss Margaret Mackie, my Philosophy teacher at Armidale Teachers’ College in 1961-62, regaled us with stories of the Delphic Oracle, and of Plato and Socrates; we studied parts of The Republic by Plato in detail, and I came to idealise these great thinkers of ancient times. A few years later, I revelled in the chance to visit these magical places that my teacher had opened up for me. This was in 1969, when I travelled from France to Greece with two girlfriends from Melbourne, whom I had met while working at the Australian Embassy in Paris.

Beautiful Scenery

Mount Parnassus








Temple to Apollo









More recently I saw a play, “The Pride”, which was a comment on society’s changing attitudes to our LGBT) communities. The playwright, Alexi Kaye Campbell, was born in Athens to a Greek father and an English mother.


More recently I saw a play, “The Pride”, which was a comment on society’s changing attitudes to our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities. The playwright, Alexi Kaye Campbell, was born in Athens to a Greek father and an English mother.

Campbell calls on the beauty and mystery of Mount Parnassus to portray one of the main character’s epiphany, prophesying a better future for LGBT people. I must add, too, that my cousin’s daughter, Geraldine Hakewill, played the only female role alongside the two male actors. To add further to the synchronicity, at least for me, I watched the play at the Eternity Playhouse, a modern theatre in a restored heritage listed, 129 year-old building in Sydney.

Matt Minto, Geraldine Hakewill, Simon London (c) Helen White

The Pride







Around the same time, I saw an episode of the British television documentary Great Continental Railway Journeys, presented by Michael Portillo, who visits Delphi, and reveals some of the theories to do with the identity of the oracle.

We learnt that the name “Pythia” is derived from Pytho, the original mythical name of Delphi. Pythia was also the House of Snakes. The modern theory is that the Pythia (oracle) spoke gibberish while in a frenzied state induced by vapours rising from a chasm in the rocks at the site. Priests interpreted the woman’s ravings as the enigmatic prophecies preserved in Greek literature.

Continue reading

My 1968 Travel Journal: a metaphor

I’m grouping together here several posts on my travels during the sixties when  I was studying and  working in France.
I found it difficult, almost impossible, to work at a full-time job and to write creatively at the same time. My first writings were straight journal entries.  While travelling around Europe in the sixties,  my journal entries ended up being novel length, but would have required skillful editing to be publishable. I lacked the time and know-how to be able to do this back then. I have copies of these writings now, but still haven’t put in the time needed to restructure  them.  A small, recently edited segment follows.

From Paris to Russia and Back
I was living in Amiens, in the north of France at the time. I’d spent the previous twelve months in Paris, working as a clerk at the Australian Embassy, the Air Attaché section, handling secret files labelled “Mirage Jets”. It was boring work, but I’d earned enough money to move on to a more interesting job as a teacher’s assistant in a provincial  lycée for primary school teachers. I was also enrolled in the university there: first year of an Arts degree. During my time at the Embassy, I’d made some good friends, in particular, two girls from Melbourne. Liz was studying Linguistics at the Sorbonne, while Kay was writing a thesis on Jean-Paul Sartre. I was an ex-primary school teacher from Sydney with no degree under my belt. At the end of the twelve month Embassy position, instead of saving my money, I’d acted impulsively, as usual, and lashed out on a second-hand car.

It was the start of the summer vacation. I’d just lived through the student and workers’ strike in France, which turned into a near-revolution, with the threat of General de Gaulle’s troops hanging over our heads.

We three friends decided, over a map and a bottle of rough red Moroccan wine, to leave on a voyage in my car, setting out from Paris and heading for Northern Italy, thence southward to the warm Mediterranean countries, then eastward as far as Turkey, and onwards to the Ukraine, behind the Iron Curtain. It was the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Luckily, Liz spoke a spattering of Russian and we were French/Australians, not Americans. We would travel in a 1960 model French Citroen—a “deux chevaux” (two horse-power) car—through fifteen countries, and get caught up in Soviet troops en route to Prague to quell the uprising there. The car looked like a battered jam tin on wheels, until it moved into action, when it ressembled a dazed beetle with the hiccups. It bumped and tottered along. This was the first car I had ever owned.

The First Day
Left on trip at 1.30 p.m. We travelled practically non-stop, without eating, until midnight, when we arrived at Pontarlier, near the Swiss border in France, and were directed to the Youth Hostel. The woman kindly let us in. It was wonderful to wash and collapse on to our bunks.

The Second Day
We set off fairly early, after coffee at a terrace café, and crossed the Swiss border about lunch time. It was exciting to be in our first foreign country, after France, and we noticed the signs in different languages, Italian, German and French. By then, well into mountainous countryside. We were following the route to Lausanne, and the scenery was charming, but the going became harder and harder, the car straining in first gear. Driving along Lake Leman was breathtaking. We stopped about 4p.m. in “Heidi, Girl of the Alps” countryside, flowery and hilly, to give the car a rest; and we drank freezing water from a flowing stream. I picked some flowers and put them in a book. After more climbing and dust, it was like a magic moment to hear the melodious Italian voice at the border, and to find that the mountainous road was over. We made very good time once on the autostrada and were in Milan and at my Sydney friend, Julie’s place by 11p.m. We had to ring for the concierge to let us in, but soon we were in the apartment, talking, eating Italian fruit cake and drinking champagne… That night, we three interlopers slept seven storeys above Milan on a small balcony, side by side in our sleeping bags. I dozed off with the worrying idea that I might sleep-walk, but slept like a log.

My writing development has been a weird ride, not a linear arc at all. In the sixties and seventies, I found little time to write, apart from in journals. I had no idea about genre, apart from “short story”, “novel”, and “autobiography”.  I’d read the great classics in English and French, with the omniscient narrator,  all-knowing, standing back from the characters and from the reader.

On returning to Australia, I was still carrying emotional baggage from the past that I wanted to exorcise.  Pouring out my feelings on the page was one of the methods I used for this.  Apart from depth therapy, that is.  I began  by spewing out bittersweet memories of an emotionally  underprivileged childhood. It didn’t matter that no-one else could access my writing.  It was something I needed to do at the time. Later on,  I was seduced by the aesthetics underpinning creative writing. I wanted to learn more, to become better at it. This would become an obsession for me.

In the eighties, starting a family put paid to  any ambitions of mine.  My desire to be a good parent, to nurture emotional intelligence in my children, something I felt that I had missed out on andlacked, took precedence over the other “selfish” passion of writing.

I joined a Life Story Writing class in the early nineties, when my children were a little older. The first time I read from my therapeutic outpourings in class, it ended in tears.  I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was too close to the writing.

My first attempt at what I thought was a novel, “Frogs and Other Creatures”,  based on childhood memories, was little different from the journal writing.  I was still just narrating events, rather than dramatising them.  And it was structured like a collection of short stories, with titles at the head of each chapter.  It didn’t matter that my classmates were enthralled by some of the stories, the manuscript didn’t fit into any genre, and I was dissatisfied with it.  Publishers and booksellers hate these hybrid genres, as they don’t know where to place them. I was beginning to want more from my writing.

Studying writing at the UTS, Sydney, in the late nineties helped me get a handle on the features of creative writing, and to gain valuable feedback from classmates and tutors. I started learning about, and practising, narrative form through writing short stories, which is a great way to gain knowledge of structure in general. We read “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”. I began to think more and more about structure.

When I retired in 2008, I had more time to practise writing. By that time, I’d learnt about the relatively modern genre of “memoir”. This is defined as “a part of a life”, as distinct from autobiography. At its best, it utilises the same features as fiction, including sequence of events, structure, characterisation and dialogue.  Unlike fiction, the main requirement is to pare back the complexity of events in a life through finding a relatively narrow focus.

We drove through 15 countries

The Deux Chevaux