Remember how I said I was going to start travel writing?

And how I’m interested in meeting people of all kinds so I can interview them for my articles? Well, this weekend I met an incredible couple who have such an amazing story to tell that I think I could write it six – eight different ways and sell it to that many magazines too (at least).


These are the ‘Salt of the Earth’ people that I’m talking about. People that have battled so much adversity in their lives that you wonder how they are still even standing upright. But they don’t talk about that much. No, at their home you are made to feel part of the family (it makes my place seem quiet) and there is so much warmth and laughter ringing out that you never want to leave.

Margaret wrapped me into her warm embrace the moment I stepped out of my car. What a relief; this is the first time I have ever ventured away from home on my own (my children are all still in shock) for a whole weekend and, even though it is only an hour from home, all kinds of fears were creeping in. What if they are axe murderers or they try to drug me or worse still, they just don’t like me (it does happen from time to time :)) and then I’m left with crippling anxiety in my room on my own for a whole 30 hours. What if, what if, what if… damn the what ifs, it’s time for change !

In a previous life Margaret was a school principal and Tom was in construction and building surveying. They bought this land here in Alexandra, Victoria,  Australia back in ’98 with the intention of building a B ‘n B but, well, one thing led to another and here they are all of these years later with a country haven called Fawcett Farmstay which does a massive turnover of guests who get to stay in one of the three charming cottages they have built (or in the main house like me).

Margaret and Tom were married in 1966 (do the math, it’s a long time) and have endured intolerable obstacles that make your toes curl – you come away wondering how two people can be so giving, sharing, positive and humorous after what they have been through.  Chief among the difficulties is Tom’s health; he has been told to say goodbye to his family and enjoy his last days more than once by the medical profession and so, as you can imagine, they have both learnt to grab each and every moment of their lives and live it to the fullest without reservation. Tom jokes that the first time he was told of his impending death the first cottage was delivered to the new land in Alexandra and he decided that he just didn’t  have time to die! The next time he was told to say goodbye his first grandchild was born and he promised the tiny newborn (photos to follow) that he would be sticking around for a while yet and be the best grandfather yet.

Margaret had to learn to embrace her almost-widowhood as well and built up a big network. She has friends she has met in Alex that visit virtually every day to check in on her. She calls them her ‘Guardian Angels’ as they often help her to get the cottages ready for new guests. But the truth is that Fawcett Farmstay is actually a veritable Half-Way House. It has an ‘open door’ philosophy and there is a constant coming and going of people from all over the world. Some come to help and some come to be helped.

Margaret and Tom have fostered children for 16 years (sigh, I know, they really are that incredible) and I had the privilege of meeting their foster son who they have parented full time for the entire 16 years – as well as their own two boys.  You see, Tom comes from a family of 22 siblings. Yes, you read that right! When asked if they were Irish catholic he jokingly replies, “no, just sloppy Protestants.” And Margaret comes from a family of six kids, two of which were adopted, so it seemed only natural that they would want to increase their family size. She also talks of being a ‘problem solver,’ and there may also be, mixed in there somewhere, a philosophy of wanting to pay-it-forward.

Over the 16 years that they have been on this land they have hosted over 600 backpackers. I met two of them when I was there who are working toward getting their second year visas. They are French and unfortunately the language barrier meant that I couldn’t glean as much information from them as I would have liked but still, it was lovely to listen to their beautiful accents, even if understanding what was being said was sketchy. Margaret and Tom have so many stories to tell about the backpackers that they have hosted that it took up virtually the whole evening I was there, while dining on roast pork in front of the roaring coonara (fireplace). They search for helpers via Workaway and HelpX which are two websites that can take you all over the world and indeed Workaway is how I came to find about this Farmstay.

There are many articles I would like to write about this couple and their experiences and I have a feeling I may be going back there very soon. I asked them if I could come back seasonally as well to re-photograph the changing landscape and of course the response was a resounding yes.

Margaret emailed me last night to ask if I got home ok. That’s why I call people like this ‘Salt of the Earth’ people; they are decent, country people who care about other people and just keep on smiling no matter what life throws at them. True role models for all of us.

I have to admit, I did get a bit carried away with my edit program with this new lot of photos :)
I have to admit, I did get a bit carried away with my edit program with this new lot of photos

2014-08-23 22.09.142014-08-23 15.19.182014-08-23 16.47.492014-08-23 22.49.362014-08-23 16.54.13Foster son Dylan (top left) and first grandson and parents.

Foster son Dylan (top left) and first grandson and parents.

2014-08-23 22.11.282014-08-23 22.12.4820140823_11360520140823_113631When the women gather in the kitchen all kinds of secrets are told some of which I was privy too: forbidden babies raised as parents own children or adopted, nursing training and shananigans that took place decades ago between friends since kindergarten.

When the women gather in the kitchen all kinds of secrets are told some of which I was privy too: forbidden babies raised as parents own children or adopted, nursing training and shananigans that took place decades ago between women that have been friends since kindergarten.

This sewing corner has seen dozens of quilts made over the years by Margaret herself.
This sewing corner has seen dozens of quilts made over the years by Margaret herself.

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The charming country lounge room.

The charming country lounge room.

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Jenny the dog.
Jenny the dog

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No really, this was the first time I had seen pigs up close and personal and guess what, they really are very muddy creatures just like to books portray :)
No really, this was the first time I had seen pigs up close and personal and guess what, they really are very muddy creatures just like to books portray :)

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Remember the old washing machines? Everything is used for plants here.
Remember the old washing machines? Everything is used for plants here.

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My fave photo of all time.
My fave photo of all time.

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Tom's parents (step mother) and 22 siblings.
Tom’s parents (step mother) and 22 siblings.
French backpackers always have a ready smile.
French backpackers always have a ready smile.

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Spring blossoms
Spring blossoms

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The property keeps them very busy.
The property keeps them very busy.
Tom is very active despite his health problems. "Suck it up Princess," is what you might hear him say if you complain of a simple headache.
Tom is very active despite his health problems. “Suck it up Princess,” is what you might hear him say if you complain of a simple headache.
Tom is very good at explaining to the backpackers exactly how to get things done.
Tom is very good at explaining to the backpackers exactly how to get things done.


The Blue Mountain Torrent:

By Wang Wei  (AD 699 – 759)

From The Strathvea Music Festival – Musica Poetica;


It is said that those who make for the Yellow Flower River,


Must pursue this mountain stream,


And follow a myriad twists and turns among the hill ravines,


Although as the crow flies the distance is less than one hundred miles,


The stream bickers among the pebbles and,


(Under) the deep tranquil green of the pines,


Here broadening out to all the water chestnut,


And water gentian to float on its surface,


And there glistening deep and bright among reeds and rushes,


I am by temperament indolent and slothful,


And how much more by this restful clear stream,


Leave me to ponder on the hermit’s rock,


For there dangling a fishing rod I am entirely content.


river silent thoughts mona


I went to a poetry reading today at Strathvea Guest House here in the Yarra Valley. I knew the poems were to be read by John Wood (an award winning actor here in Australia) but I had no idea they were going to be backed up by the breathtaking, whimsical and sometimes haunting music of Hadyn, Bach and Mozart played by the Australian Haydn Quartet.

I attended the wedding of someone who was married here at Strathvea back in 1996. When asked about the experience she commented that it was “one of those strange, summer days where the sky was overcast and it was quite cold. But, as soon as we all came together under the massive oak in the gardens the sun started to shine and it didn’t stop until vowells and rings were exchanged.” It was a wonderful day and the couple enjoyed a two night’s stay in the accommodation which gave them plenty of time to relax and enjoy the sumptious food and magnificently maintained gardens.

Fast forward 18 years to another day, but this one with a complete set of strangers The present owners of the Guesthouse, Dianne and Toby Eccles, are into the third year of their Music and Poetry Festival that they hold every winter.  Beautiful memories flashed through my mind as I wound my way up the dirt road to the Guesthouse which, in a stroke of either good luck or genius has remained almost completely unchanged. I made myself comfortable in the Library of the Guesthouse in front of a roaring fire while my eyes hungrily drank in every single title on every single shelf (there were a lot of books). And then I found the children’s collection and my heart sang. Every magnificently illustrated fairytale book that a children’s author could ever hope to find in one place. Oh joy! I resisted the urge to jot down titles and authors or take photos of covers for later reference. No, my shelves at home are already overflowing…

A lovely Spanish boy is staying at Strathvea. He has only been in Australia one month and barely knows the language so I found myself giving him English lessons :)
A lovely Spanish boy is staying at Strathvea. He has only been in Australia one month and barely knows the language so I found myself giving him English lessons :)

You can imagine my surprise and delight when we were called into the dining/ ballroom with the words, “they’re ready for you now” and then upon entering found a lovely looking quartet setting up. Most of the poems were centuries old (I’ll be placing my favourites here on my blog as the next days unfold) and I hadn’t heard of them before but, backed up by the music – which was perfectly matched – the words were brought to life in a way that’s difficult to describe. I was completely transported to another place and time.

I had that sinking feeling when it all came to an end after two hours. I wanted more. It was then that one of the violinists stood up and asked for the members of the audience to ‘like’ their Facebook page as they were still unable to afford a Publicist. I saw my chance. I put my Freelancer hat on (for the first official time) and, in spite of nerves that were making my knees shake (I’m usually an in-the-background type of person), I came right out and asked if I could photograph all of them and write an article for my blog. I think they were quite pleased actually and, even with enormous fame and talent under their belts, were more than happy to oblige.

This was one of those afternoons that is life changing and will never be forgotten. If you ever have a chance to see John Wood act (he’s currently working on a play) or the Australian Haydn Quartet play, you will not be disappointed. It was truly inspiring and I came away with itchy palms that just wanted to pick up a pen and write poetry until the cows come home 🙂

John Wood is an award winning actor here in Australia.
John Wood is an award winning actor here in Australia.  20140817_161856 20140817_161811 20140817_161710




We breathe again:

There was once a house that housed many tiny babies,

The babies grew up and brought home friends and partners,

And then the boarders came and strangers became friends,

The house groans every morning as we wait for,

The last car to drive out,

The last person to click the garden gate,

And join the busy throng on the pavement outside,

We sigh as the last person departs,

Because for six whole hours we are alone,

For six whole hours I can do whatever I want,

Be whatever I want, write whatever I want,

We sigh and breathe again.

girl pensive

Twenty surefire ways to tell you’re dating a user:

We all have our masks that we wear when we are out and about and putting our best foot forward, especially when it comes to meeting new people. And sometimes it can take a while for those masks to start to come off when you’re in a new relationship: you seem to spend a long time feeling quite elated (thanks to those ‘falling in love’ hormones) and even if you do notice things that seem a little odd you’ll probably just brush it aside as an eccentricity and carry on staring starry eyed at the object of your affection.

My girlfriends and I have all been there and together we came up with this little list of things to watch out for. It can also apply to ‘takers,’ psychic vampires, narcissists and also people with addiction problems who are just hoping to be ‘saved’ (with your money, time and energy)!

The dating game changes when you have assets and children who you plan to accommodate through inheritance. It’s all very well to want to remain the Utopian Idealist who sees all people as equal but the stark reality is that there are a lot of people out there – often good looking and charming – who, for whatever reason, through laziness, addictions or a lack of work ethic are quite broke and looking for a meal ticket. They can be extremely hard to spot as they can be quite convincing but there are always subtle clues that will give them away.

1) They spend a lot of time complaining about their financial situation and probably wouldn’t object to you offering them a loan or even giving them cash. They will keep complaining in the hope that they are wearing you down.

2) They seem to have a lot of excuses as to why they are in that financial position and don’t seem to realise the obvious eg: that gambling and drinking vast amounts of alcohol is expensive. They are unable to budget their money.

3) They look worried or confused when you complain that you are having cash flow problems and if you ask them to pick up the tab they may make an excuse or do it begrudgingly. They may then avoid going out with you in case you ask again.

4) If you continue to talk about your cash flow problems you may notice them becoming more scarce and making excuses to avoid contact with you (if they disappear for days at a time it’s probably because they are out ‘playing the field’ hoping to find another, better option than you).

5) They will enthusiastically and repeatedly bring up the notion that selling assets is the best way to be rid of debt instead of adjusting their lifestyle and they may enquire as to when you are planning on selling too.

6) When you bring up the subject of a pre-nup you will notice a mood change, there may be withholding of affection and/or sex.

7) If you mention the future or try to plan for the following weekend they may look worried and distant especially if their plan to manipulate and control you is not working.

8) You may speak of falling in love with them and the associated moods and feelings involved but the same is not returned. There’s a sense of  them holding back or not letting you in.

9) The charming and romantic text messages and murmurings in your ear may dissipate as the days turn into weeks and they realise you are not going to be a push-over.

10) Declarations of love may be held back too: a person in love will see you as the most beautiful person on the planet and worship the ground you walk on. It’s a hard act to follow for someone who’s faking it and you’ll notice the difference.

11) You have an uneasy feeling, like a woman’s intuition that something’s ‘just not right.’ It may be something small like seeing a pile of dating service emails in his inbox or the way he talks about a previous lover as though she is somehow better than you. You sometimes feel uncomfortable, untrusting, or lonely in this person’s presence, especially if you are at their house with no way home except for them to drive you.

12) He often talks about his own physique and physical appearance and the supposed impact he thinks he has on women but seems to not ever notice or comment on how good you look some days – just too wrapped up in himself.

13)  He still insists on going out to ‘pick up’ joints without you: people in love are NOT interested in going out without their partner – they want to spend all of their time together. People in new relationships that are thriving are NOT interested in being around lots of members of the opposite sex that will flatter and proposition them or dance with them. That’s the last thing on their mind. He’s either an egoist, a player or the alchohol saturated environment feeds their addiction.

14) If your birthday has come and gone and he’s still talking about that present he’s been looking for, for you, and yet he continues to waste money on addictions, um, sorry – alarm bells should be ringing by now!

15) If you ask him to help with projects at home (you’ll probably have to pay cold, hard cash because that’s his only language) eg: home maintenance, but the job never gets done or finished properly you can be sure there is no work ethic or that he got a better offer.

16) Listen to your friends: it’s hard for you to be objective because this is your new guy after all but if they are saying things like, “so what’s he going to do once he has sold all of his assets and has run out of money?” “Where are you guys going to live if he’s broke?” “How are you guys going to manage now that he’s not working?” or looking generally hazy or worried for you in any form, take the hint, leave the loser!

17) Introduce a gorgeous new housemate to your home and watch his reaction. Does he withdraw affection when she comes into the room? Does he behave territorily when another male gives her attention? Does he shamelessly flirt with her right in front of you in an effort to charm her and in complete indifference to your feelings. People that are in love only have eyes for their loved one.

18) Does he act jealously and possessively of you? It may feel like he is trying to separate you from everyone you love, even your children. There’s an interrogation every time you talk to another man and a hissy fit when you spend any time with anyone else. And yet the same rules don’t apply in the reverse: he can do whatever he wants. He sees other people as threats to his claim on your assets!

19) There seems to always be an excuse to avoid getting a job or working too hard and they find it impossible to pay the rent/mortgage because they would rather spend their money on luxury items like aftershave, sex toys, alcohol, cigarettes etc.

20) Once you’ve caught them at their game and confronted them you will never hear from them again. Be certain they are back out there looking for their next victim and wondering how you ever worked it out.

masked mona                   This article is protected by copyright. Please ask permission before using any part of my article.


She wanted to be someone different for this new guy.  She wanted to be the kind of woman that would appeal. You know, the kind that walks into a bar at four in the afternoon on a weekday, pulling off her bike helmet and tossing it carelessly on the floor against the bar, perhaps cracking it, perhaps not. She would ease out of her jacket revealing an enormous tattoo on her shoulder under the black, slinky singlet. It’s just popping out of her skin for all of the world to see, instantly drawing attention to her (as was designed). No-one can quite make out what it is because it’s so dense and there’s so much detail but they all know – all of the other people in the bar who are mainly men – that there’s a story behind that tattoo and probably a very interesting one.

She orders a whiskey on ice, pulls her cigarettes out of her jacket pocket and lights one up. The whiskey goes straight down the hatch and she orders another. It’s giving her the encouragement she needs and she starts to laugh too loudly, too abrasively at all of the bartender’s jokes. She leans back on the bar with her elbow and takes a quick surveillance of the room. The others get to see that once, a long time ago she would have been quite beautiful, it’s still there in her eyes a little but now – at this age – because of the hard lifestyle her complexion is quite haggard and her teeth are stained. These days she’s referred to as ‘skanky.’  But she just doesn’t care and in fact wears it as a badge of honour. She’s kept her figure, even if she is a little gaunt, too skinny but that’s the way she (he) likes it.

She tosses back her head and lets out her hyena laugh again and the bartender eyes her warily: had he said something funny? Maybe she was having her own private joke. But none of the men are taking any notice of her now, in fact they are very careful not to make any eye contact with her at all, and there’s a very good reason for that. They continue to ignore her.

She glances at her watch. Her kids would be making their way home from school now or would they be at their dads? Who knew from one day to the next, wasn’t her problem. She gave birth to them didn’t she? She’d done her job. Things were getting boring in here anyway. Might have to throw back a few more whiskeys, stroll over to the music machine and put on her favourite tune and then grab one of the guys for a dirty dance …

She knows she’s losing him and she knows there’s nothing she can do about it. She’s too soft, too accommodating, too bookish, too hermit-like, a homebody. And she loves her children and always puts them first. A tear slips down her cheek as she thinks of him and how difficult it will be to say goodbye because she really loved him; he had changed her life in every way. But she could never be what he wanted.

She marks the page with her Paris bookmark and then closes the biography of Virginia Woolf’s life. She’ll go to Paris one day, when the children are grown and she has her money to herself again. And who knew, maybe she would be just like Virginia Woolf one day. Maybe her writing would be looked at all around the world and make her famous.

She glances at the clock. It’s 2.15pm and it’s Tuesday. It’s been a tradition in her house to bake cupcakes for her kids every Tuesday for 20 years but today she toyed with the idea of not baking cupcakes. The fact was that the kids were getting older and sometimes the cupcakes wouldn’t get eaten what with their extra-curricular activities, busy social lives and fitness regimes. She glanced at the clock. It was 2.30pm. She could just pick up the book and keep reading for another hour or so. She bites her lip. It’s 2.35 and time to get on with it. She just knows in her bones that today the cupcakes will be needed.

The first child arrives home. She flings down her bag, swipes at the bench collecting a cupcake on the way, tells her mum she would like to start singing lessons and could they afford $25.00 a week and then rushes into her room to get onto her computer and talk to her Facebook friends. She’d always wanted her little girl to have singing lessons so somehow she will make the budget work. Her son rings to say he’ll be home at dinnertime.

But then the front door opens again and her 18 year old daughter bursts into the room. Her face is swollen and blotchy from crying.

“Oh my God mum, you’ll never guess what happened today!”

“Sit down darling and tell me all about it,” she says offering the plate of cupcakes to the distraught child.

“Oh mum, thank God for your cupcakes,” the daughter says and – it seems to her anyway – is completely healed now. It’s a thing called ‘cupcake healing,’ a phrase she had coined herself. She beams with pride as she watches her infant daughter devour her creation, getting the sticky, white frosting all over her fingers before reaching for another one.

“Oh boy mum,” she mumbles, between mouthfuls of cake, “you’ll just never guess what happened to me today.”

“Spill, darling – I’m all ears.”


book girl ron