Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Australia — the Rest of the Story


For reasons which I’ll explain in my next post (and which are alluded to in the last one), I haven’t had much internet access, and thus much opportunity to blog, since coming home from Australia early Tuesday morning.

In fact, I haven’t really had an opportunity to update since starting the working part of the trip at Perth. From that point on I was kept very busy, with minimal chance to check emails and none for luxuries like blogging.

The purpose of my trip, and the reason I got to go to Australia at all, was to teach a series of writing workshops sponsored by Signs Publishing, the Seventh-day Adventist publishing house in Australia. Nathan Brown, a magazine and book editor there and a writer whose thought-provoking editorial pieces have inspired me for years, had run into me a few times around the blogosphere and completely shocked me one day last year by asking me if I’d like to come to Australia.

Of course I said yes at once, without giving a whole lot of thought to what I’d be asked to do there. Teach writing workshops? Heck, I teach writing for a living — I can do that! The weeks before we left were so packed with things that had to be done that I didn’t really do a huge amount of preparation for my teaching and speaking gigs in Australia until I was actually there, on the other side of the world.

But once I got to Perth, vacation time was definitely over and serious work time had begun. Fortunately, serious work-time was just as enjoyable as vacation time, though much less relaxing.

At Perth, my seminar (presented in two parts over two days) was part of Campmeeting, and as I’ve already reported, I was kept very busy there. Besides the workshops, I spoke once to the Lower Primaries (5-6 year olds) and twice to the Juniors (10-12 year olds). Although the writing workshop was great, with a wonderful diverse bunch of writers and wanna-be writings, my favourite gig was the Juniors, I think. It’s so easy to be a hit with 10 year old boys if you’re not their mom!!

I did get to do a bit of touristy stuff in Perth: one morning Nathan took me to see the Indian Ocean (another whole ocean! and I got wet in it!) and fulfilled my desire to find the Peter Pan statue in Perth which is an exact copy of the one we have here in Bowring Park. There are seven worldwide and now I’ve seen three of them — just four to go! Nathan also thoughtfully gave me an opportunity to see what it’s like being pulled over by the police in Australia after running a red light — truly a full-service tour!

From Perth I flew with Nathan back to Sydney, where we met up with Jason and the kids. They had had a wonderful weekend at Manly Beach, going surfing, renting scooters, and making sand sculpture that were so impressive, some other tourists told them they should pass a hat to collect money! We all piled in to a rental car and Nathan drove us to Avondale College, the Adventist college in Australia.

The car-driving portion of the journey was probably the least enjoyable thing about the trip to Australia. Our kids are generally as good in a car as they are on planes or trains, but being a confined space for many, many hours did begin to wear on us all. There were many repetitions of “Are we there yet?” and I’m fairly sure that Nathan, who doesn’t have children, will not be in a hurry to procreate anytime soon after this experience!

The Avondale event was a two-day writers’ workshop for which about 25-30 people had come from the surrounding area. I gave the keynote address, which I called “Why Stories Matter,” and then taught my two-part seminar in the morning and afternoon of the first day. On the second day I did an informal, question-and-answer kind of thing along with Nathan and the other presenter, Allan Steele. Then I did the presentation I was most nervous about: the Colloquium at Avondale, which was attended by some faculty and staff as well as our workshop attendees and was supposed to be a bit scholarly. As you all know I’m not much of an academic so I was a bit worried I’d be out of my depth, but I pulled together a passable presentation called “Lost Voices: Reclaiming and Recreating Women’s Stories through Historical Fiction” and the response was quite positive.

Then it was back to the road trip on our way up to Brisbane. The trip was punctuated by an overnight stay at Coff’s Harbour (home of the Big Banana — do check out our Flickr pics if you haven’t already so you can see some of these amazing sights). We also livened up the agenda with a trip to Byron Bay, Australia’s most easterly point and thus their version of our Cape Spear, and by a fun interlude in which Christopher threw up all over the back of the rental car (there are no Flickr pics of that).

Eventually we got to Toowoomba, where I got to preach the sermon on Sabbath morning and give a women’s ministries presentation (also attended by several men) in the afternoon. I haven’t explained yet how tiring I found all this — not physically, but kind of mentally tiring from having to get up and talk so many times in such quick succession. Speaking and leading workshops really are fairly high-energy activities, and I was surprised, since I don’t usually do them often in such a short period of time, to find how draining they were. For the afternoon presentation at Toowoomba, I spoke a little about Bible women and then had the people attending break up into small discussion groups because I simply didn’t have enough steam to talk for another hour! The Toowoomba church was very friendly and treated us to a potluck lunch, and the kids got to meet and talk to some other children, so it was a successful day.

Our last stop was at the Adventist campgrounds in Brisbane, where there was not a camp going on, but once again we ran our writers’ seminar as a stand-alone event. This time it was a one-day thing and I reprised the workshop a third time (the time allotted was slightly different each time we did it so I was always making adjustments to the schedule — although it was good there was some variation because I was tired of all my own comments, illustrations and anecdotes by the third time and had to keep reminding myself that these particular people hadn’t heard it before!)

In every place the writers were interested, interactive, and very positive about the whole experience, and it was great getting to know people — so different from the typical tourist experience, because I got to meet and talk with so many “real Australians.” It was a wonderful way to get a free trip to the other side of the world and although I certainly did work for my passage, it was well worth it! I’d do it again — but maybe not in Australia anytime soon, since I don’t know if I can ever face that plane ride again!


4 thoughts on “Australia — the Rest of the Story

  1. What a great experience…for you and the people you spoke to and worked with! In the “small world” category: Allen Steele’s wife was my 6th grade teacher!

  2. Oh, the pictures are gorgeous! I love the pic of the two kids in the concrete tunnel. And you in the ocean. And the difference in weather between St. John and Sydney. And you and children in the boat with the Sydney Opera House in the background. And all the sand sculptures! I cannot imagine creating something that adorable from sand.

    Where are the four Pans you haven’t seen yet?

    Sounds like your writing workshops went really well too.

  3. How exciting! I’m glad you had such a wonderful time. So…will there be a short story that’ll come out of this experience?

  4. Rondi, it really is a small world when it comes to the SDA church. In Perth I shared a room at camp with a woman from ADRA whose cousin I taught in high school back in Canada!

    Katrina, my husband is very artistic — with sand as well as other media!! The other three Peters Pan are in Brussels, Camden New Jersey, Toronto, and Liverpool England (but the Liverpool one is in storage because it’s been so badly vandalized). It’s my new travel goal to see as many as possible!!

    Julius, I don’t know if I’ll write anything about the experience of travelling through Australia — you never know — but I did write a surprising amount while I was IN Australia. I had the surreal experience of writing about people on a road trip through the US .. .while I was on a road trip through Australia. But more on that in a future post…

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