My Villagio

Once you go through that whole process of the growing and the getting out of a baby, you’re then expected to rear it. Oh, look, I’m what’s called a mother…!

Amidst copious other advice, you will hear, often, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Usually at this point in the diatribe I was either taking a secret micro-nap, or I would hear “blah blah blah blah”.

The Village was something that probably happened in another part of the world – the Villagio.

I did not have myself a circle of women who sat cross-legged on the dirt in the centre of our village of huts, just waiting to change my baby’s nappy. There were not 50 over-experienced great, great aunts at my disposal, nor a specified nursing mother who would feed my baby if I couldn’t be bothered, not even a witch doctor to make the little turkey sleep. No army of womanhood hovering in wait.

“Is that a sleep potion you’re making? Please?”

Of course, my babies have a wonderful family network, but they have full and fantastic lives of their own. And I never wished that bond to be stretched – my hope was that it was about loving the time spent together, not life-sucking chores.

So, “blah, blah, blah”, some out-of-date concept, Villagio schmillagio.

I’m past the baby phase so I haven’t thought of this sprouting of wisdom for a longtime.

Until recently. 

And now I think I understand:  The Villagio is not that circle of women chanting “ohm” whilst sitting on the soil in a round. It might be just one person, who is worthy of my child’s admiration.

Let’s take a recent example of a woman, let’s call her Queen of Soccer, who stood, alone (no circle), on some nice clean grass (no dirt), and hollered “kick the ball” (not “ohm”), to my children. Not a hut in sight, just some goal posts.

“A right royal boot on her, she has”

She was teaching them football. In this village, there was kindness, boundaries, support and telling them it how it is. Her goal posts never moved – she was consistent.  She gave my little boy who was lacking in confidence, his confidence back, by encouraging and inspiring him to pump out the hard work.  Their training with the Queen of Soccer is finished for now, but the kids continue to think about her, and pumping out the hard work remains, as do all the lessons she gave them. She holds a place in their hearts, so that village is not gone.

In actual fact, the Villagio that helps raise your children, is not exactly about the physical help, as I thought, but the emotional guidance. It is not a place where barefoot women carry your child on their stomach for the first five formative years for you; It is a place where your child’s emotions feel safe, where they are built up in grounded confidence and inspired in life. A place where they grow, in the right direction.

So, now I have this definition, who else is in my village?  Well, my fabulously busy family are of course – there is no safer – or fun – place. Nanny’s funny friend, who only likes to talk about bodily gases. A dance teacher. The family you only see once a year but who fill your cup to overflow. Your own closest friend. My little man’s Kindy teacher. (Don’t all Kindy teachers hold a special place in our hearts? Mine still does). In fact, teachers, coaches, club or church leaders should probably be on the To-Do list for the making of your Villagio. They are inspiring in your kids skills for life.  

At some point, when our children disappear and re-emerge as spotty, hairy, nearly-adult’s, I suppose they begin to choose their own village – wisely, we would hope. Perhaps, if we’ve set up a good example of our Villagio, they might find the same qualities in their own.

So now if you say ‘Village’ to me (although Villagio sounds far more exotic – like it might throw the odd Carnivalé party after tea time), I won’t nap or hear “blah blah blah”.  I will think about who I have chosen to care for and inspire my kids.  It’s actually quite a big deal.

Because a village is, in fact, not about the mother at all.

Although if you look after my children, you look after me.  


The Marvellous Mammogram

The marvellous mammogram, I had one today

Here’s my assessment, which way will YOU sway?

It squashes a boob, this way and that

To stop The Big C from having a crack

I’d heard that it’s painful and awful and crude

That your nipple is pinched, you’re stark bollucky nude

No wait – that is breastfeeding, for the very first time

A mammogram’s joyful, compared to that crime

So my chest bits were mashed, in all funny shapes

And you are a bit nude, so don’t stack up on cakes

I think that it helped, when squeezed by these traps

To have a history of babies who’d drained the ole baps

They were flat as pancetta, malleable as dough

For once there’s a positive, to boobs that hang low

Hurt? Not a bit – not a bit nor a bob

And certainly not like a mastectomy op

So come on my ladies, trip off to BreastScreen

And have you a mammogram, to keep your boobs clean.

Renovator’s Dream

house 4


Renovating: Along with death and divorce it is touted as one of the most stressful things you can do. I think I agree. Here are some things I’ve learnt over the last 8 years of renovating our house:

  1. We survived. Like Stuart Diver, buried under 3,500 tonnes of rock and mud, we survived.
  2. We stayed married. And, no animals or humans were harmed in the making of this house. Just.
  3. Finishing is better than Christmas as a 4 year old.
  4. Communication: Building companies – please use this tool. It is more important than your nail gun – a gun which, when you finally turned up months late, I was perhaps tempted to see in a new light…
  5. Music: Builders, choose it wisely. Triple M is no good when there is enough banging going on already. Kyle Sandipants is banned. In fact, the best move is to ask ME what I want to listen to you sing to. And maybe the rest of the neighbourhood.
  6. If you turn up, I will give you unlimited tea and coffee and Tim Tams and the odd sausage sanga. If you don’t, I will serve you tears with a large dash of PMS.
  7. A good tradie is Heaven-sent. A bad one is quite sadly the joke of the building site.
  8. What you see on The Block is all a lie. Carpet Court will not lay your carpet in 48 hours because you are in a challenge. In fact, general rule of thumb to go by is that they like to cause a challenge, not help in one.
  9. If you want to start up an ethical swimming pool building company, you will be the world’s first, and, once word gets around, a multi-squillion gazillionaire.
  10. Choose nice people to work on your house wherever you can. They move in. You need to like them.
  11. Choose a paint colour and walk away. It will be fine. I’m sure “Dulux” means ‘Confuse the pants of you’ in some language. 
  12. Be black and white and brave in your conversations with everyone building your house. However, make sure you leave your tradie talk at home – it doesn’t work with, say, frail great aunt Nelly or the highly sensitive neighbour (and it’s likely your fault the neighbour is highly sensitive now anyway). house 6
  13. When you’re so buried in boxes you have to pole vault out of bed; when there are 10 different trades with difficult questions at your door at 6.45am and you’re in your dressing gown with the flu; when your kitchen ceilihouse 1ng leaks and bulges with rain water like a pregnant belly for months; when you have a set of gumboots outside every exit because you are surrounded by a mud moat, my advice is this: Finish one little thing. Paint the architrave in the laundry and close the door. When every single other part of your house has a bloke with his noise and dust in it, go into your laundry, sit on the floor and meditate with your gorgeous architrave. 
  14. Always say thank you (except maybe to pool builders – feel free to acquire a nail gun in this case). You may have waited 20 months for a roofer to show up, but when you sit in your kitchen in torrential rain and thunder and lightning, you will appreciate him. Building a house is no mean feat, it involves many coming together to meet your sometimes incredibly picky, individual wishes, and, they may not be able to sing, but I do believe they are proud of the work they do for you.  Plus, you want them to show up the next day.    
  1. And finally, try and enjoy it where you can. We loved finding old bits of newspaper in the walls, the pages of which were selling 1920’s Buicks. And one of the first Australian Women’s Weekly’s rolled up in the floor – amazing to think I would work for this magazine 40 years later. Restoring the original features of the house, like our hard wood French doors and a pressed metal ceiling, was an artistic endeavour, and are now thoroughly enjoyable to live with. Add your own flare and be courageous with it. It is a stressful time, but try and have a laugh with those blokes and your husband and kids while you’re all living through it, it creates good memories to go with your beautiful, finished new home.

 house 3

Curing the Kids: The Woodstock Country Show

 If you ask me would I like to trap four whingeing children in a long car trip, my answer would be “Thank you, but I’ll take the Chinese water torture”.

However, last weekend we did just that. As we left Sydney it didn’t take long for apparent third world-type starvation and cries of persecution about no devices allowed, to kick in. But as we drove into the beauty of a setting sun over rolling fields of cattle and sheep and the space opened up, so too did our excitement at our weekend ahead. We were off to the Woodstock Country Show.

We all breathed in a deep breath of healthy lifestyle as we arrived at Woodstock – a pretty, spotless village of 250 people. There is a post office, butcher, a whole lot of friendly people and the Hotel we stayed in. After a pub dinner we bumbled off to our toasty warm beds and settled in for a really good night’s sleep.

Next morning, we followed the publican to the Showground to drop off our children’s art for the Show competition.IMG_3275

We met up with our old friends – the reason we came – and we also made new ones. “Go kids, you can run around, it’s very safe” said our friend, and they were gone, meeting new people and enjoying space without noise restrictions. That statement was cause to relax: It’s safe for my kids, no need for that undercurrent of worry I seem to have in Sydney.

Sunday was the Show. We paid our $10 each adult and the kids were all free. We walked in past the rumble of V8 cars and utes mustering and horses so beautiful they took your breath away entering the ring, and we went to get Pippy the pet sheep off the truck for the “Guess How Much Pippy Weighs?” Competition. 

IMG_4917 (2)
“Does my bum look big in this?” — Pippy The Sheep
(Incidentally, she was not the same weight as me, like my 10-year-old guessed – she was 105 kilo’s).

There was stuff to see and do everywhere we looked – face painting, a magic show and a pony ride for my little girl; wood chopping for dad; a whip-cracking competition and traditional Blacksmith working for the 10-year-old, and some good old grunt and noise in the chainsaw racing for me. 

“In my world, everyone’s a pony and they all eat rainbows and poop butterflies!” — Dr Seuss.
 The toddler was all over absolutely everything – climbing on tractors, fascinated by the speed shearing, talking to all the animals, and patting the “unicorn”.  

Our eldest son was glued to Rob Bast the chainsaw sculptor.  Now that is a thing to behold – he carved the finest feathers of a Wedge-tailed Eagle with a roaring brute of a machine, and made a Kelpie dog from a hunk of Cypress Pine that you could mistake for a real one. People were riveted to it.

Rob Bast Chainsaw Sculptor
As we wandered around there was not an “I don’t like this” nor a “he did this to me” squabbly fighting noise to be heard from our kids. At times they would wander off, so engrossed in something new and exciting that they wouldn’t realise we too had wandered off just as engrossed in something else. “Look at that horse mum, that’s beautiful!” came tumbling out of Master 10’s mouth without thought, about a magnificent looking working horse.

This is someone’s happy place
Tractor pulling – who’d have thought all six of us would love such a thing so much?  We stood in the dust and diesel and noise and cheered on rusty old pieces of machinery that didn’t look as if they worked at all, let alone could pull a weighted sled as far as they could to win the greatest distance. “Come on, you can do it!” screamed….well, maybe me… IMG_4970

As the day came to a close we went into the Walli Pavilion to collect the kids art and see the fresh produce, fairy gardens, cooking, flowers, photography and other pieces of beautiful art. “Your daughter got Champion!” said a friendly face we’d met the day before. “It’s so exciting!” We wandered over to the Children’s art section: All of them had won a prize, firsts and highly commended, and sure enough, there it was – Champion of the Show for my little 7-year-old girl, who sometimes gets lost in the mass of boys in our home, but definitely not today.

Tired, dusty, with a wallet not empty, belly’s full of sausage sandwiches and the most incredible memories in our minds, we got all those kids back in that car and looked down the barrel of that long drive home. Immediately the chorus began…

Thanks so much mum and dad – that was so much fun, that was THE BEST! Can we come back next year?

Yes, we most certainly can.









Today, 20 years ago, Princess Diana stopped me in the midst of a furious time to teach me a lesson. I was creating high pressure on everyone near to me, as I worked on an entry for some international fashion awards and putting too many hours into a job writing about clothes. It was all so important, you know.  I had a self-indulgent mini breakdown about it all, which would see my competition fashion piece hurled out of the garage where I sewed, and past my mum who’d been helping me thread beads and pacifying me with cups of tea. But death stops the clock in more ways than one.

I remembered skin so finely velvet in texture and softly feminine in colour that I almost reached out my 6 year old hand and touched it when Diana and Charles (no desire for touching there) came out to Bayview. DianaWe queued and got squashed and it was worth every second we did. I had seen a real-life Princess with my own eyes, a vision I still remember as clearly as if it were this morning.

I felt utter sadness at the waste of a seemingly beautiful human being, that day I heard the radio splutter out the news. After my girlhood wonder, I watched that impossibly perfect peaches and cream skin make sick African kids smile, walk through landmines, and provide the world with a perfect example of what it means to love one another. The perfect definition of the word Princess, in my young impressionable mind. If only it were people like this our current society idolised, instead of Krappy Kardashians.

I remember the next day going to work at the paper and hearing talk of the media being reported as her murderers, and whether or not our paper should run the story on the front page, or not to show our respect.

Then I remember those little boys, a similar age to my kids right now, having to walk behind the coffin of their mother in full view of the world. I felt it mean and heartless that they had to endure that. I felt like I shouldn’t watch; I cried some of my first relentless tears. I wondered if it was the fault of the Royal Family making them do it, or the media for showing their too-suddenly mature little faces in full screen, or even my very own personal fault because I was gawping at it all.

But oh how Diana’s legacy has lived on in those little boys. What a woman to have raised such strong individual’s, even without being able to finish the job. Now, as a mother myself, to me the vision of those boys and now highly respected men, tells me it is worth the exhausting work and choosing hard but right roads parenting requires. And I am happy that Diana’s little Princes now provide the same inspiration to my children as their mother did to me – true Princes of heart, courage and wisdom. I think as a family we will delve into all they do in their work more, glean inspiration in their work, rather than celebrity or meme’s.

Today, on this anniversary, let us take a little of their lesson. Let’s not throw our fashion toys out of the cot (or the garage), no matter how much we might feel like doing it.  Let’s love one another, even those we have to be brave to do so. Let’s try our hardest to walk tall with respect, courage and wisdom.  Because, after 20 years, a legacy as strong as Diana’s is not one to be ignored.

Camp cramps

There are all sort of parents in this world, and you see them at the school camp drop off.

Those who are whooping their way out of that bag drop, punching the air and screaming “Look out silence, HERE I COME!”  They wave enthusiastically at a tinted window their child could be behind (but who would know), knowing everyone is going to love this little break.  As they smile kindly at a tearful mother and feel they should place a gentle arm around her shoulder, they are trying really hard to think as quietly as they can – “YES! SLEEP IN’S, WINE FOR DINNER, NO WEE ON THE TOILET SEAT, BED AT 6PM, AND NO SOCCER PRACTICE WOOHOO!!!”

There are those who are late for the bus – and they are the ones who are never, ever late, apart from this day. Somehow in the lead up, whilst packing for an 11 year old on a commando course (because we do that all the time),

commando outfit
“I think this outfit is perfect for a commando course”

trying to think of how to combat travel sickness in absentia, trying to teach them about the importance of a shower – with soap, or teeth brushing – at all, packing 5 lots of thermals in case it’s cold in Coffs Harbour, and then implementing the crash course in karate should anyone be mean to them, school camp for these parents is the final tug of the lace bringing everything unravelling. Nerves – 1, Mum – none.  They are running to roll call, they are sitting three abreast on the bag to try squaaaaash it in on top of 100 other suitcases, sleeping bags, pillows, back packs and giant teddy’s. They reach up a hand with a kiss on it to a disappearing cheek up the bus steps, and they say “I love you darling!” to the closing doors.  

Then there is me. We have been packed for weeks, so I didn’t have any callouts for new trakkies at 10pm last night – or that’s what I’m telling you, anyway.  We have had conversations, trying to be casual and not frightening, about safety – of friendships, of personal stuff, of health, and of looking after the precious person that is you, my child. We have talked about whether, because “Undies” is not on the packing list it means they are not needed.  We have worn in the “old shoes” we had to buy. We have discussed what you can eat if the bus stops at McDonalds (as all our parental fear-mongering about the place comes back to bite us on the bum).  And we have planted spy’s in Coffs Harbour with fresh fruit, vitamin C tablets, his bedtime teddy’s, a nice fluffy doonah and perhaps, just maybe, a getaway car.

I don’t take lightly to my child being away from me. For a week (yes, four days is a week). On the other side of the country. You are very well taking my heart right out of my chest and driving it away on Forest Coachlines.  

You are very well taking my heart right out of my chest and driving it away on Forest Coachlines.

I do know he’s going to have an amazing time. I do know this year 6 camp is the “coming of age” camp.  But am I ready for him to come of age? No. He is just fine as a not-teenager. So, bring him back. I can just see his beautiful face as he goes into the indigenous preschool with all the gorgeous little kids – I know already this bit will touch his gentle, gentle heart and change him for the absolute better. But he is the BEST already, so, bring him back.  I can hear him, as he rock climbs, bushwalks and surfs, laughing confidently with friends – a place he has worked hard to get to. He is confident now, so, bring him back.

Because until you bring him back, I am half a person here.

But I know if you do, he will be the half a person. I have to let him grow up. Little by little, I have to let him go.

Fairy Sparkle


There is a woman walking around in this world, and specifically on our great barbequed continent, who has earned herself an Order of Australia Medal for making people feel happy.  In this day and age of the overwhelming sadness which is a suicide epidemic, of people with their faces stuck to the unreal, animated screen of a phone every second of the day and addicted to the weird act of the selfie, doesn’t that seem a very opposite thing to do?

I thought she be worthy of a story!

The woman’s name is Fairy Sparkle. She lives in a gypsy caravan, and dresses in silvery fairy wings, a gorgeous shimmering crown, a fluffy puffy fairy gown and wanders the café cultures of Sydney with loud bells tinkling. She cares not what people think of her living her life, no lapses, as a real fairy.  Here she is. FairySparkle

Now, everyone is worthy of a dose of happiness, and of someone helping them to get it if they’re having trouble with the job. I reckon that’s the way God designed us – to be happy and to make others feel the same. But we tend to get too busy and can’t fit it in. Or too wrapped up in trying our hardest to grasp happiness for ourselves – no brain space to work it out for others.

But there is a little pocket of the world whom I believe are the most deserving – kids. Born naturally happy – unless you’re a terrible two when you’re sometimes happy sometimes completely psycho – kids should not feel that deep sadness some adults feel because experience has bitten off a bit of their happiness. But some children do unfortunately. You can find them in Children’s Hospitals.

These dark places hold children who are dying. Children who are suffering, severely, and know they might have a lifetime of it. Not happy Jan.

But, Ms Sparkle has changed that. In 1991 she worked in IT – she was a suit! She decided to leave that job (phew), change her name by deed poll to Fairy Sparkle and became a full-time volunteer at the Children’s Hospital in Randwick. Of this, she says: “I followed my passion, I just love it. This is my life’s work.” She sold everything and is homeless, travelling in her silver VW beetle, and sleeping in her little silver “fairy pod” caravan which sparkles all over inside like the night-sky.  She says: “I don’t see it as giving anything up really, because what I’ve gained is far more real to me, than what I gave up.”

“First you have to choose to be happy, and then, just turn up!” Fairy Sparkle OAM.

As well as spreading her love and happiness to sick children and their families, Fairy Sparkle has taken it up as her mission to create fairy gardens at hospitals. If you’ve ever stayed for more than a few days in a hospital you will know how important this is – somewhere you can get fresh air, somewhere you can see the sky, somewhere you can explore, sit, chat, eat, and somewhere you can forget about the terrible world you’ve been ensconced in on the dark inside for such a long time. The first garden was built in 1999 at Randwick, now there are twelve gardens dotted around NSW, from Orange to the North Shore of Sydney, touched by Ms Sparkle’s very own hands, and many more across the country who have taken up her idea for their own space.

I met her when I was in hospital with my little baby Molly for a couple of months, and we found the magic of peace during turmoil in her garden. Fairy Sparkle’s bells tinkling down the corridor would make the weakest, sickest kids sit up, ramrod straight, in bed in anticipation. Her smiling sparkling laughter and down to earth voice captivated their little faces for the entire time she was present. She knew all the right things to say – a very difficult job when it’s a sick and dying child, for what do you say about that?

Parents behaved the same. In fact, they are more happy to see Fairy Sparkle than their kids. Because, if someone makes your child happy, it makes you happy. But when you have a sick child, and someone makes them forget their situation for a short while, well, you want to kiss her bejangled, silvery glittery-shoed feet.

In 2014 she received her OAM. I wish I could have been the responsible person giving it to her – to thank her for the miniscule but permanently impressed joy it gave us all those years ago, would have made me feel so happy… oh! there she goes again. For the future, thank goodness, she says: “There’s a big wand I’ve got to wave and I’m enrolling all sorts of people to help me do it!” The magic will continue to grow.

I have a character based on Fairy Sparkle in my Miss Molly book. The world needs to know about this amazing Fairy.  She is utterly inspiring. And perhaps we could even take up a small part of her cause ourselves. Perhaps, over the weekend, we might walk out into the world and make a big effort to make someone we don’t know, happy.  Spread a little sparkle, you know.

 “I think real magic, the real magic, is when you can’t explain what is happening but the effect is undeniable.” Fairy Sparkle OAM.

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