On The Road, New South Wales/Queensland

Journal

2014 ROAD TRIP TO QUEENSLAND

DAY 1
Monday 7 July 2014
Eltham to FINLEY,NSW

It was a cold morning and a late 10.30am start before we finally left Eltham on our road trip to visit my cousin Aprile in Queensland and begin a painting trip with our camper trailer. We headed out towards Shepparton and had a couple of stops to the Subaru shop for some rubber floor matts and across the road to a 4×4 store to have our trailer hitch sorted out. We are wondering about the weight of the car/trailer ratio. We are being reassured its ok, but to look at the way the weight is hanging on the back tyres makes us wonder if indeed we will see any wild back Qld country.

The days are cold and short and of course the sun sets early. We had very little daylight time left before we headed into a camping ground for the first erecting of our new camper trailer. It wasn’t all that difficult; second time around. And for $20 a night very reasonable for a powered site. Not that we needed power – we had our own battery pack and nothing with a power plug; thought I did use it to charge my phone. This was the first night for setting up the bed. It was an incredibly warm and comfortable night, under the doona – the air outside was somewhere around freezing.

DAY TWO
Tuesday, 8 July 14
FINLEY TO DUBBO

About twenty minutes to fold up the camper. There is a lot of mucking around with all of the gear and getting things in and out of the trailer.

There seems to be a bit of heavy weather heading our way from the north west. the weather report on the TV news seemed to confirm that too. Of course rain will put a damper on any camping. Snow down to low levels!! At least for now we are in the hotel and that will help. Tomorrow we just keep on pushing up north.

Not much to report about the days activities – road, trucks, trucks, caravans and more trucks. Stands of grey box trees, Murray pines and iron barks.

Passed through the town of Jerilderie NSW where my father was born and had a look at the very old school my father must have attended. He was born in 1903 and the school build the century before…

Decided it was best to try and hurry up and get to Ipswich as fast as possible and not spend too much time setting up the trailer and its cold and winter is not the best time to be camping.

Took a motel at Dubbo for the night – in the morning there was a thick white frost covering everything and we had to scrape the ice off the windscreen when we finally got away.

DAY THREE
Wednesday 9 July 14
Sheepyard (Near Lightning Ridge, NSW)

Heading towards Ipswich and saw a sign to Walgett. I had often wondered what had become of Walgett. Many years ago I spent some time in Walgett with an Biggibilla, an Aboriginal friend and an artist Jenni Roe. We were travelling with Biggibilla with the task of meeting the Aboriginal community and setting up an art school. I was to teach painting, Jenny ceramics and Biggibilla to teach the local youth about their culture. Biggi was an elder from the region; he had told us. Jenny and I were to return to Melbourne and put together the funding proposals for a three month stink in the community. We spend a fortnight putting together details papers about the cost of art materials and all sorts of bits as well as some funding for ourselves. Never heard a word about our submissions. Much later we heard that the manager had taken off with the funding… Was this true? Who knows. It’s more than 30 years ago now and I wanted to go and have another look at Walgett as we were so close. So we department from our first task and headed north west instead.

My memory of Walgett was of buildings boarded up with steel grills over the doors and windows and it being an unsafe place to wander at night. At least Biggi had Jenny and I pretty nervous. Sure enough, the shop fronts were still pretty dismal looking with wire grills and steel doors. We found a lovely café run by a community for the disabled. It was very clean and the food good and simple. Paintings and carvings were also part of the show. There is a art community now. Clearly something must have happened during the years.

Leaving town we saw a sign to Lightening Ridge. It was also out of our immediate route. But oh so close and once more I had always wanted to visit the opal mining town. So now we are completely off track and heading to Lightening Ridge.

The country is very dry now and the green has all gone from the landscape. We are in quite rugged country with Bulloke and desert trees.

We see a turnoff to Sheepyard and other opal communities. We keep on to Lightening Ridge and call into the tourist centre. I found the chaos and business of the town a little too much. Where to camp for the night? Everything seems so full of people. Tourist information says to head back to Sheepyard if we are really interested in looking for opal and no you do not need a permit to fossick. It you did go for a permit you need to also complete a safety program. It was 75 ks back to Sheepyard. What to do? We were loosing light. OK, lets go. We take the drive back towards Walgett and turn right to Sheepyard. It’s a dry looking country now. Plenty of sheep on the road looking for a feed and far too many colourful wild goats on the way. The road was also littered with dead roo carcasses and sheep that had been hit.

As we entered into the opal mining sites the country became rougher. White mounts of stones from exploration sites littered scrub. The landscape seemed generally grey; grey trees, grey earth grey road; with areas of red sand. The opal mining dumps grew bigger and soon all sorts of rough tin humpies appeared. It is a real hill billy community. Bush humour abounds with signs nailed to trees that read ‘cars with brakes give way’ and this way to the Hilton and so forth. Tin sculptures litter the community – bits of car bodies and broken vehicles everywhere. Mine shafts that are left dangerously unprotected that are too deep for snakes and other wild animals to crawl out of. Abandoned equipment and dreams that are made and broken everywhere. Sheepyard is a pub with a generator and old buses and huge dumps of underground earth piles everywhere.

The publican says we can pitch our camper just by the old bus. We do and find some colour and potch in the mullock heap first up. Beginners luck! And then we see much potch in the tailing. We were told there was not much around – all been picked over. There is soooo much tailing everywhere and there must be so much opal in these mounds. Its easy to see how opal fever begins. We set up the trailer and cook a sort of stir fry with some of the fresh food we have. I didn’t want to go to the pub – beginning to crave the sense of outback and getting away from people. As soon as the sun goes down the temperature drops quickly. Soon it’s cold and time for bed. There has been a strong wind all day and lighting a fire seems out of the question and its now too dark to really get a feel for our surrounds. We heat up the hot water bottles and what a difference it makes. We sleep well.

DAY FOUR
Thursday 10 July 14
Sheepyard (Near Lightening Ridge, NSW)

Cold morning… I wear leggings under my jeans. Take a stroll down a wash away creek in the hope I am avoiding wandering onto any opal claims. There is evidence of claims everywhere and not a good idea to step onto another person’s patch. Fossicking is considered OK around these parts as long as its not on a lease. Pretty soon I am finding potch and little bits of colour and pleased with my find along the dry sandy creek bed. It seems to me a good place to begin as surely the water that washes off the mullock heaps into the creek would wash the dust off the stones. The such a find dust the white clay like rock; its into everything.

Meanwhile Mervyn has been talking to the lady at the pub and she has suggested we go and fossick on the nearby tailing dumps – where all of the new tailings go and where most people fossick. We drive back and have a look and my god – there is just so much to look at it seems impossible to know where to begin. and its so fresh I cannot imagine looking through all the stuff. We look for a while and give up and think the old mullock heaps seems simpler. Even if they have been over many times they are weathered and to my mind easier.

We drove around and looked at the other communities in the district and at all of the old make do bits of equipment strewn through the scrub. This area is what Lightening Ridge used to look like – a back block hill billy wild west place. The residents live in make do humpies, though some even have bricks and motor and cactus gardens. Most humpies have tin and poles and not much else; perhaps a few old car bodies for parts. Most cars are in need of panels; though there are quite a few new looking 4 x 4 vehicles; perhaps the more successful miners. Deep shafts litter the place; some with pieces of tin over them and others with a star picket fence and barbed wire. There is not much to prevent falls if you were not careful.

The people are mostly wiry with long grey beards and its obvious water is scare. The dam where the washing of the rocks takes place through old cement mixers is also dry.

Called into a community shop that is also an art gallery. Mostly knitted and crocheted goods from locals. There were small vials of opal and two jars of colour stones that I admired.

Overnight I thought about those stones and whether they would be a good buy or not; given we were going onto Queensland back to Lightening Ridge the next day. I did not buy them…

Made a fire in the mullock heap next to the camper and cooked vegetables in the camp oven. A pretty little black and white flycatcher hung around. I made a pastel of the quickly changing pink mauve sky over the tailing piles. Mervyn did two small pastels while I was stone hunting earlier in the day.

DAY FIVE
Friday, 11 July 14
St. George, Queensland

Woke to ice inside the tent… Thought it was very cold overnight. Extra Cold. Unbelievable. Mervyn got out of bed and made a fire. Even our gas stove didn’t want to work it was so cold. Have taken to wearing thermals to bed; under the pyjamas.

Most of the time in leaving camp is about how much time it takes to pack the boxes away; not how much time to set up and pack up the camper. That’s now the quick bit…

It was past midday by the time we left Sheepyard and drove back past the other communities. Called into the Art shop for another look at the coloured stones. Had thought about them during the night. They were really lovely and I bought both jars for a good price…

Back in Lightning Ridge I knew I had got a bargain when I looked at the range and price of the opals on offer in the store. There surely were some beautiful stones for sale; but the price… I think I saw the best and most vivid black opals I have ever seen today in the shops in Lightening Ridge. For sale also was a stunning large piece of polished Labarordite that had come from Canada. It would have looked good in my showcase…

There was not much daylight left by the time we left The Ridge and actually crossed the border. Parts of the countryside are so dry and any stock we saw was sadly thin and close to the road. It breaks my heart to see cattle sitting by the road; I can still see them in my minds eye.

Leopardwood Trees and Quantong trees, Bulloke and other desert trees give character to this corner of the country. The flat dry gave way to some grassier pastures as we headed back east towards St. George. We deliberated as to whether to keep driving – or stay at St. George. It’s just that the sun goes down so early and there is not much time to drive in daylight. Seems too dangerous to drive at night judging by the carcasses lining the roads. We really only came a couple of hundred kilometres today.

There is a noise that appears to be coming from the wheels when we make a turn. Must be all of the fine white dust we are carrying in everything – opal dust.

We decide to stay at St. George. This is new country for me. The largest town in this part of the state. Several motels and warm showers. Time to stop off for a good shower and a meal in town. A night or two of camping and the odd motel – and maybe we will get to sit under a tree and camp for a few days in one place… I wonder.

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THE LATE WINTER SHOW – OPENING SOON!

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THE LATE WINTER SHOW opens Sunday 4 July @ 2.00pm. 

Come and join us in the gallery for the opening and share a drink and nibbles. 

The Late Winter Show includes several large landscape paintings and a series of small recent still life works using fruits from the orchard garden. Works from a Coastal Norway Snow Shower, the Fiery Sky of a Western Victorian Sunset and a Heavy Mt. Buller Cloudstudy.  There are pastel works from Mervyn Hannan depicting the Flinders Ranges and the Digby Cottage. Still Life from Hilary Jackman and Bush Studies from Piers Bateman. 

Works by Retro Eltham artists include Grace Mitchell, Alan Martin, Sonia Skipper, Leslie Sinclair and others. 

From our recent visit to Dili, Timor Leste we have brought back some traditional textile including  Tias weavings. We are hoping to help support the community we stayed with through some gallery sales. 

 

PAINTING CLASSES have recommenced for the term with regular classes being held Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 

 

 

 

 

Timor Leste

Timor Journal – 2 july 2013

This is the first opportunity I have had to post a story to the blog as the power blacks out without notice and it’s taken a while to sort out the telephone technology and yeah, I am using my phone’s hot sport to write.  I have purchased a local sim card for $50 so we can keep in touch with the other members of our rotary team, and I wonder how long that amount of money will last. Perhaps not so long if I use it for computer work.

Anyway; it’s been an interesting few days. The flight from Melbourne was through the dark hours of the night. Mervyn and I had a sort of upgrade – we had the number one seats in the jetstar plane. Thinking this was pretty cool it was in fact perhaps something I would not jump at again. Cool was the description. There seemed to be an icy breeze coming from the door. We had the door and in case of emergency had to ‘assist’ other passengers. Yes, sure we can help if the plane nose dives into the ocean beneath us. We had lots of leg room, the front toilet and the cold. Jet Star cuts costs on entertainment – there was none. We bought a toasted ham & cheese sandwich for dinner. It was heated up in the plastic bag and toasted yes, but still ‘white’. Must remember to eat ‘before’ boarding the next Jet Star plane.

Arrived at Darwin airport around 1.30am. Next plane to Timor Leste left at 6.30am. We were grateful for the little piece of carpet outside the loos we found, amongst the many other traveller to lay our heads down. We formed a  circle of our group.

We are travelling as the first head group to set up the volunteers. We have as our chief leader Rotarian retired army Major Ian Toohill, builder and shire councillor for Macedon Ranges, Bob, or was it Graham. He is also former army. Then there is Chris, the nurse and Mervyn and myself. We are getting to know each other on the trip; though I have known Ian for many years and ran out of excuses to say No to this journey, with Mervyn.

We boarded a full plane for Timor Leste in the early hours and landed at Timor Leste to a wall of wet humid heat, around 7.30am. First impressions? GREEN everywhere. Mountains, green, sea green. Tropical palms; coconuts, bananas, cocao and trees I have never seen before. I guess i have never really been to the tropics. I have always managed the dry climates of the polar arctic ice and deserts of of Australia and Mongolia.

We were all pretty tired. Through customs; $30 cash American for a passport and then bags fed through customs and we were out amongst the heat and myriad cars and people meeting family and friends. We were met by one of the sisters and a driver who took away our luggage and put us on a bus. Strange feeling to see your bags disappear down the back of a truck by total strangers and there is nothing you can do about it.

The bus dropped us off at a hotel with other visitors. Not like the hotels we are used to at home. This was a collection of detached colourful buildings. From here we hired a troupe carrier. While Ian did the paper work we stayed out and noted the locals and numbers of roosters and chickens wandering the camp. A lady was propped against the front fence selling strings of tiny sweet bananas. I wandered over to some guards and began photographing the beautifully coloured game rooster. They laughed at me as it began stalking me. They shouted at the rooster to leave me along. Of course in this country one of the most revered sports is cock fighting. I believe it’s illegal here but common.

We were settled in nearby to the convent across the road. The Sisters of Dominican Mission. It is located down a narrow street at the end of a community. Green everywhere. And the orchids! Striking orchids of many colours were handing from trees. Carefully cultivated garden and green. Two white dogs also greeted us. We felt quite at home among the garden and dogs.

The sisters showed us to our rooms. The boys, Ian and Graham have their own rooms, with a toilet and running water. Mervyn and I are sharing our room with Chris. This is a turn around as we were originally having ‘a married couple room’ where I could work without disturbing others late into the night. It’s all sort of working out.

Conditions are not as we know at home. The ‘shower’ block consists of three cubicles for showers; with shower heads and a cold tap – and a bucket and dish. It looks as if there has never been any water connected to the showers. To bathe one has to pour cold water onto the body after filling the pail with the cold water. Just as well it is so hot and sticky. It’s actually quite a relief to pour cold water over the body, several times a day. Have to remember to take a glass of bottle water to the shower room for cleaning teeth. We are not to drink the water. There are three toilet cubicles. Again, the water is connected but the cisterns do not flush. After using the toilet you need to fill up a bucket and return to the toilet and pour quickly. This is what the nuns and novices live with. It would be great if rotary or others could send in a plumber to make these women’s lives a little more comfortable.

But then, if you look across the fence and into the homes of the community; this is a palace. Next door and many of the neighbours live in houses with wooden frames and hessian. Coconut leaves and banana palms form the roof. The constant sound of roosters, chickens and pigs is a pleasant change from the Eltham traffic. There are even bird sounds and the occasional singing of girls from the convent.

The nuns are beautiful people, permanently gracious and smiling. They are not complaining about the heat and yet if you ask, yes, it is extraordinarily humid for them too.

At the Convent – 2 July 2013

I can see it’s going to be difficult getting a journal out. With the constant black outs – or brown outs as the nuns refer  to the frequent daily power failure – things to do and slow internet only available through my phone ‘hotspot’…

I will try to catch up on the activities of the recent days – but to begin from this morning…

The morning meditation bell is sounded around 5.00am. It is still dark but at least a little cooler. The overhead fan is on all night, as the two small fans – as much to keep the mosquitoes away as anything else.

I was up for a bucket wash in the shower cubicle this morning and just as I was half dressed the bagging began. The bagging of the motor of the mosquito spraying machine. It was so loud. The sisters had called the spray man because two of the residents, one sister and one novice have contracted dengi fever. The girls have been washing the floors in kerosine for the past two days. The place stinks of petrochemical.

As I hurried to dry myself and put on some clothes to the loud pump noise I began to see a fog coming through the wooden louvers of the shower block. I quietly began to panic as the stench reached my nose to the loud banging sound. It was too much as half naked I started out along the corridor for my shared room. I could not see in front of me for the fog mist of the insecticide spray. Open my room and Mervyn and Chris were also cowering from the fumes. It was so thick we could not see each other. I held my skirt to my face and closed my eyes. Then I noticed Mervyn had gone. Sat on the bed with the cloth across my face and after a few minutes Mervyn came back and said we needed to get outside. i had thought that would have been worse. At the back of the convent the spray had begin to dissipate and we sat there coughing and choking into the stench. Soon the air cleared a little – like a fog rising from the early morning dew. We tiptoed through the mist back to our room and opened the door; but it was still too thick in our room and returned outside and waited.

Even now, several hours later I am in my room writing to the smell that will be here for some time; I think. I have a little bottle of lavender oil and have sprinkled that onto our beds to cover up the smell.

It was time for breakfast which we had with the sisters and novices. There are 11 people living in the convent full time and several others coming and going. Always active; visitors and members of the order passing through.

After breakfast I was to bake a cake and work with the children. But first; needed to go with sister and Mervyn to buy more plumbing needs and building materials from the highway. Mervyn has now become the convent driver. He is also the supervisor for the construction and repair of the library and other outbuildings. He says he is not a plumber and would rather take orders; but he is now plumber, builder and painter; driver…

Yesterday I worked with the 4 and 5 year olds. There are 75 pupils for the community attending the school. The families pay $10 a month which covers the cost of the oil to cook the children’s lunches. The rest of the teaching costs and food are paid by the convent. There are 20 children paid for by scholarship from an Australian church parish. The cost to the parishioners is $20 a month. That’s about a cafe latte a week. Maybe more of us could spend a coffee  a week on sending a child to school. Being here has shown me just what is needed and how the poorest of the Timor Leste people live. The convent is situated in the poorest part of town. I will post photographs as I can. And maybe not until I return to my first world computer desk and fast network to make it happen.

This morning a group of visiting Australian students passed through led by a Catholic church volunteer. Mervyn is out there alone trying to fix the shed and the sisters are concerned there is no one to help him. I suggested to the visitors that one of their strong men could assist Mervyn. The answer was ‘Oh no, couldn’t allow our visiting Australians to do more than look. Work safe and heath thingo’s back home wouldn’t allow the school children to touch anything…’ They can look and go back home and share the problem. Form what I can see from here we need more than that.

a little later…

I’ve come in from teaching the young students again. Today we walked around the garden and chose a leaf to bring in and put on the table while observing the difference in colour and shape. I then demonstrated how I would draw and paint the leaf and then one by one they came to try for the first time my brushes and how to hold the brush. Thought this would be first way of teaching how to hold and put brush on paper.

Last night Sister showed me the bags the women have been making from the outer community. They are like lined shopping bags and beautifully sewn by hand decorations. I have bought a number of them for the gallery.

Sister asked one of the local youth to climb up the coconut tree to pick coconut. Unfortunately when he was up in the high branches of the tree he was stung by a bee and it was very painful for him. I had some anti-histime pills and gave him one. So what happens at other times? He was quite distressed. And yet he shot up that tree like a monkey. Many of the community come to the convent during the day. It is like an oasis among the hessian and concrete homes. Some whitewash would be great here too. Some people are managing to build homes from concrete blocks and it is possible to see the beginnings of a loved abode.

Last night Ian had arranged a dinner for the new tribe of Rotarians that arrived the night before. We had promised Sister to take her to the market along the beach. We missed the dinner but instead had a great experience of shopping Timor style. The beach is lined with stalls where the locals come to sell their produce. I hope I can find time to return to photograph. Stalls with taro, pumpkin, bananas, greens I do not know, cocos; all beautifully displayed. The prices were varied and bargaining was not successful. Sister tried to bring prices down but the stall owners held their own.A pineapple was $3,50 – $5.00 and water melon $7.00; and that’s for a small one only.

We had a lovely drive out to the other mission a couple of days ago – up high along a dangerous mountain road. Perhaps more dangerous the way Ian drives; though he has tried to convince us he has been driving and avoiding events for many years. He is a good guide for certain bits of history – anything to do with the unrest and the Australian Peace keeping forces. He has been here many times over the past few years, firstly as a army major and now as a rotarian bring teams like us along.

He has quite a job on his hand keeping the three convent sites repairs flowing. Getting anything here is difficult; though I think not as difficult as Mongolia! It’s about the time and process of driving.

Yesterday there was a killing. A Timor Leste student who had attended the St  Dominican convent as a student was killed for visiting West Timor. He was studying the language and the local killed him for being perhaps in their eyes a traitor. He was from this community. I am unsure of anymore details other than we heard many sirens in the streets yesterday and they seemed to go forever. There was retribution. So the tension is still here, barely beneath the surface.

On our first night one of the sisters; Helen, visiting from the highlands had warned us to not run over any dogs. What did she do the next night but run over and kill a neighbours dog. That was bad enough but she didn’t stop. We are wall warned about being out at night alone and for a sister to get out of her car in the dark is considered dangerous; so she kept coming to convent. The dog owners were furious and in general terms to run over a dog will cost $50. They came to the convent and tried to negotiate $500. The farce ended up at the police station. The dog owners said it was their special guard dog who protects their shop. All at the convent were nervous because of the short fuses of the local and it does not take a lot for the unrest and frequent stonings to begin. They threatened to destroy sister Helen’s car.

will write some more later.

Timor Leste – St Dominics Missionary Convent

4 July 2013

It has been a couple of days since I wrote and things happens quickly at a slow pace. There  is much activity over three locations that the Rotary  project is involved with here.

I have been stationed at the St. Dominics convent along with Mervyn and two school girls from Montmorency High and Steven. The others, Ian, Graham and Chris have gone to the orphanage to stay for now. Ian spends most of his time in driving between the three locations as site manager. They are all spread across Dili – and through the treacherous traffic. It’s not the cars you need be concerned so much as the many hundreds of small bikes. Some bikes have whole families aboard – these are generally the ones that don’t wear helmets because they would not all fit with the head wear. Some bike drivers even have a liscence. It costs $30 I understand for a liscence and that is quite steep for here.

My task has so far been working in the classrooms with the young children; showing them how to hold a paint brush and use colour. Yesterday I had the young children and asked for more paint from the school. I was able to put on tables little dishes of red and yellow ochre poster paint. Fortunately I am carrying my own pack of sets of watercolours, pastels and pencils. So anyone out there – we need more coloured poster paints; and preferably of some quality that has more pigment that jelly filler. I had also collected a handful of brushes from my studio as I left Eltham – and these too have come in useful as it’s difficult to find brushes in the classrooms.

Yesterday I thought it would be a good idea if I set up some sort of fund from our gallery; and perhaps in my mother’s name to fund children. Have I mentioned it only costs $7 a month to support a child here. I spoke to Sister about it and she and I will sort some ‘legal’ kind of ongoing support. They would like the support money as an annual donation – and if possible an extra $10 for the uniform. A donation of $100 once a year would see one of these beautiful children given a years education and a clean uniform; along with one meal a day. We would use Sister’s plan to insist on attendance from the child and that the parents of the community also become involved and help with the cleaning and maintenance of the mission. Each morning many parents stand at the gate to see their child stand to the flag and do their dancing. It’s a form of aerobics.

It is delightful to see the young children run through the gates to the school. When you see the houses in the community it is not so difficult to understand why. The mission is indeed a green oasis among the people. The mission garden is watered each night and has green grass, a garden planted by the sisters full of the most wonderful orchids and other flowers that Sister has brought from her homeland in the Philippines. There are two or three mission dogs – white dingo looking dogs and a couple of cats. The dogs and cats are allowed to wander through the mission, the classrooms, kitchen and are greatly loved. There is Snowy and Whitey. Sometimes Snowy is changed up because he likes to get out and chat with the neighboring dogs.

This morning I went with Sister Elsie to visit one of the local Private Schools. There are more than 3,000 students from infants to 16 year olds. Sister will be taking some classes with the young ladies and teaching them about sexuality and other related topics. When we arrived the head of the school was reprimanding a group of young girls. Their punishment: they were confined to their dormitory for two weeks. Their dresses had been too short.

Most of the students come to Dili from the mountains. The Rotary Club has given the school a lot of funding and therefore they are able to have a good media department and work with the local TV. There is no art department.

The students had to climb very steep steps to the third floor for the meeting with Sister. The conditions in this very fine Dili school would not come close to meeting Australian standards. Nor would very much else that is in Dili. Can see there is hope for the future as work is being done. As you drive around there are men mixing holes in the roads and up poles attending to the electrics of the city. We have not had any blackout in the last few days.

Sunday, July 21, 13

A Timor Reflection…

Timor Leste is behind me now and I am spending a few days in Digby with Mervyn before re-opening the gallery and resuming paintings classes in Eltham. We returned from Timor Leste last Sunday night and spent a few days in Darwin prior to flying back to Melbourne. This was my first time in Darwin and I wanted to have a look around while the opportunity was there.

Timor Leste. What an experience. I am sitting here trying to reflect on the past weeks spent in Dili. I am not feeling all that well either. Have a dull headache and still have some stomach issues left over from Dili. Four of our colleague volunteers have been hospitalized since returning to Melbourne. Dengue Fever. Dengue was common in Dili. Two of the nuns from St. Dominic’s convent where we stayed had contracted Dengue and another nun to our knowledge was hospitalized in Dili from the city orphanage. Dengue, I understand is a mosquito born disease from mosquitoes breeding in fresh water. Malaria, on the other hand I understand is from mosquitoes bred in unclean water. There is no cure and no preventative vaccination for dengue – and it can kill. These are the risks we take when travelling to remote and third world tropical locations.

It’s a mixed blessing returning to the Melbourne chill. I am not one for tropical steamy conditions. This time of year was supposed to be the cool (er) time of year and the dry in Timor. It was in the high thirties every day and humid. Mervyn and I shared a single bed in the convent and slept end to end with the fan on all night. When the fan was facing away it felt as if the heater had been turned on. So to feel the cool of the Melbourne and Digby chill is refreshing.  And Digby is so cosy with the wood fired stove alight and some bread in the oven. These small and simple pleasures make living in Melbourne special. I am looking out across the paddocks to Pauls cows and the sun is dancing a patchwork on the green grass along the creek.

The green is something Digby has in common with Timor Leste. The green is the colour that strikes when the plan begins the long decent across the over side of the Timor Sea. The tall mountains are covered in green vegetation and large rivers can be seen cutting swales across the valleys  and the tiniest of villages can just be made out through the dense cover.

When the plan flew along the coast coming in to land the enormity of tall coconut and banana trees was apparent. The intensity of the green. The brilliance of the sun against the azure of the sea, the strip of beach and long fronds of leaves was exciting. Landing in a tropical forest for the first time; I knew I was going to enjoy the days ahead.

We embarked from the plane and followed the dotted line along the runway to the casual entry into Timor Leste. A show of passports, payment of ten dollars US for a visa and luggage viewed through the xray machine. Simple enough. We were in and being greeted by the lovely sisters of the St. Dominic’s convent. No sooner had we been greeted our luggage was taken away and stowed on the back of a ute and we watched as our belongings were driven off into the day. That was a bit strange. We were then boarding a bus and dropped off at a camping ground hotel where Ian went in to hire our Land cruiser vehicle. This seemed to take forever. I spent the time photographing the numerous roosters and hens roaming freely throughout the grounds. A number of security guards sat at the entrance to the compound. Razor wire was everywhere. Impressions – bikes, traffic, bikes, bikes with two, three passengers; without helmets. A lady selling bananas outside the compound gate from a small stall under the sun. Water laying around from recent rain. Steamy conditions and a desire to stay in the shade.

Timor Journal – 2 july 2013

This is the first opportunity I have had to post a story to the blog as the power blacks out without notice and it’s taken a while to sort out the telephone technology and yeah, I am using my phone’s hot sport to write.  I have purchased a local sim card for $50 so we can keep in touch with the other members of our rotary team, and I wonder how long that amount of money will last. Perhaps not so long if I use it for computer work.

Anyway; it’s been an interesting few days. The flight from Melbourne was through the dark hours of the night. Mervyn and I had a sort of upgrade – we had the number one seats in the jetstar plane. Thinking this was pretty cool it was in fact perhaps something I would not jump at again. Cool was the description. There seemed to be an icy breeze coming from the door. We had the door and in case of emergency had to ‘assist’ other passengers. Yes, sure we can help if the plane nose dives into the ocean beneath us. We had lots of leg room, the front toilet and the cold. Jet Star cuts costs on entertainment – there was none. We bought a toasted ham & cheese sandwich for dinner. It was heated up in the plastic bag and toasted yes, but still ‘white’. Must remember to eat ‘before’ boarding the next Jet Star plane.

Arrived at Darwin airport around 1.30am. Next plane to Timor Leste left at 6.30am. We were grateful for the little piece of carpet outside the loos we found, amongst the many other traveller to lay our heads down. We formed a  circle of our group.

We are travelling as the first head group to set up the volunteers. We have as our chief leader Rotarian retired army Major Ian Toohill, builder and shire councillor for Macedon Ranges, Bob, or was it Graham. He is also former army. Then there is Chris, the nurse and Mervyn and myself. We are getting to know each other on the trip; though I have known Ian for many years and ran out of excuses to say No to this journey, with Mervyn.

We boarded a full plane for Timor Leste in the early hours and landed at Timor Leste to a wall of wet humid heat, around 7.30am. First impressions? GREEN everywhere. Mountains, green, sea green. Tropical palms; coconuts, bananas, cocao and trees I have never seen before. I guess i have never really been to the tropics. I have always managed the dry climates of the polar arctic ice and deserts of of Australia and Mongolia.

We were all pretty tired. Through customs; $30 cash American for a passport and then bags fed through customs and we were out amongst the heat and myriad cars and people meeting family and friends. We were met by one of the sisters and a driver who took away our luggage and put us on a bus. Strange feeling to see your bags disappear down the back of a truck by total strangers and there is nothing you can do about it.

The bus dropped us off at a hotel with other visitors. Not like the hotels we are used to at home. This was a collection of detached colourful buildings. From here we hired a troupe carrier. While Ian did the paper work we stayed out and noted the locals and numbers of roosters and chickens wandering the camp. A lady was propped against the front fence selling strings of tiny sweet bananas. I wandered over to some guards and began photographing the beautifully coloured game rooster. They laughed at me as it began stalking me. They shouted at the rooster to leave me along. Of course in this country one of the most revered sports is cock fighting. I believe it’s illegal here but common.

We were settled in nearby to the convent across the road. The Sisters of Dominican Mission. It is located down a narrow street at the end of a community. Green everywhere. And the orchids! Striking orchids of many colours were handing from trees. Carefully cultivated garden and green. Two white dogs also greeted us. We felt quite at home among the garden and dogs.

The sisters showed us to our rooms. The boys, Ian and Graham have their own rooms, with a toilet and running water. Mervyn and I are sharing our room with Chris. This is a turn around as we were originally having ‘a married couple room’ where I could work without disturbing others late into the night. It’s all sort of working out.

Conditions are not as we know at home. The ‘shower’ block consists of three cubicles for showers; with shower heads and a cold tap – and a bucket and dish. It looks as if there has never been any water connected to the showers. To bathe one has to pour cold water onto the body after filling the pail with the cold water. Just as well it is so hot and sticky. It’s actually quite a relief to pour cold water over the body, several times a day. Have to remember to take a glass of bottle water to the shower room for cleaning teeth. We are not to drink the water. There are three toilet cubicles. Again, the water is connected but the cisterns do not flush. After using the toilet you need to fill up a bucket and return to the toilet and pour quickly. This is what the nuns and novices live with. It would be great if rotary or others could send in a plumber to make these women’s lives a little more comfortable.

But then, if you look across the fence and into the homes of the community; this is a palace. Next door and many of the neighbours live in houses with wooden frames and hessian. Coconut leaves and banana palms form the roof. The constant sound of roosters, chickens and pigs is a pleasant change from the Eltham traffic. There are even bird sounds and the occasional singing of girls from the convent.

The nuns are beautiful people, permanently gracious and smiling. They are not complaining about the heat and yet if you ask, yes, it is extraordinarily humid for them too.

At the Convent – 2 July 2013

I can see it’s going to be difficult getting a journal out. With the constant black outs – or brown outs as the nuns refer  to the frequent daily power failure – things to do and slow internet only available through my phone ‘hotspot’…

I will try to catch up on the activities of the recent days – but to begin from this morning…

The morning meditation bell is sounded around 5.00am. It is still dark but at least a little cooler. The overhead fan is on all night, as the two small fans – as much to keep the mosquitoes away as anything else.

I was up for a bucket wash in the shower cubicle this morning and just as I was half dressed the bagging began. The bagging of the motor of the mosquito spraying machine. It was so loud. The sisters had called the spray man because two of the residents, one sister and one novice have contracted dengi fever. The girls have been washing the floors in kerosine for the past two days. The place stinks of petrochemical.

As I hurried to dry myself and put on some clothes to the loud pump noise I began to see a fog coming through the wooden louvers of the shower block. I quietly began to panic as the stench reached my nose to the loud banging sound. It was too much as half naked I started out along the corridor for my shared room. I could not see in front of me for the fog mist of the insecticide spray. Open my room and Mervyn and Chris were also cowering from the fumes. It was so thick we could not see each other. I held my skirt to my face and closed my eyes. Then I noticed Mervyn had gone. Sat on the bed with the cloth across my face and after a few minutes Mervyn came back and said we needed to get outside. i had thought that would have been worse. At the back of the convent the spray had begin to dissipate and we sat there coughing and choking into the stench. Soon the air cleared a little – like a fog rising from the early morning dew. We tiptoed through the mist back to our room and opened the door; but it was still too thick in our room and returned outside and waited.

Even now, several hours later I am in my room writing to the smell that will be here for some time; I think. I have a little bottle of lavender oil and have sprinkled that onto our beds to cover up the smell.

It was time for breakfast which we had with the sisters and novices. There are 11 people living in the convent full time and several others coming and going. Always active; visitors and members of the order passing through.

After breakfast I was to bake a cake and work with the children. But first; needed to go with sister and Mervyn to buy more plumbing needs and building materials from the highway. Mervyn has now become the convent driver. He is also the supervisor for the construction and repair of the library and other outbuildings. He says he is not a plumber and would rather take orders; but he is now plumber, builder and painter; driver…

Yesterday I worked with the 4 and 5 year olds. There are 75 pupils for the community attending the school. The families pay $10 a month which covers the cost of the oil to cook the children’s lunches. The rest of the teaching costs and food are paid by the convent. There are 20 children paid for by scholarship from an Australian church parish. The cost to the parishioners is $20 a month. That’s about a cafe latte a week. Maybe more of us could spend a coffee  a week on sending a child to school. Being here has shown me just what is needed and how the poorest of the Timor Leste people live. The convent is situated in the poorest part of town. I will post photographs as I can. And maybe not until I return to my first world computer desk and fast network to make it happen.

This morning a group of visiting Australian students passed through led by a Catholic church volunteer. Mervyn is out there alone trying to fix the shed and the sisters are concerned there is no one to help him. I suggested to the visitors that one of their strong men could assist Mervyn. The answer was ‘Oh no, couldn’t allow our visiting Australians to do more than look. Work safe and heath thingo’s back home wouldn’t allow the school children to touch anything…’ They can look and go back home and share the problem. Form what I can see from here we need more than that.

a little later…

I’ve come in from teaching the young students again. Today we walked around the garden and chose a leaf to bring in and put on the table while observing the difference in colour and shape. I then demonstrated how I would draw and paint the leaf and then one by one they came to try for the first time my brushes and how to hold the brush. Thought this would be first way of teaching how to hold and put brush on paper.

Last night Sister showed me the bags the women have been making from the outer community. They are like lined shopping bags and beautifully sewn by hand decorations. I have bought a number of them for the gallery.

Sister asked one of the local youth to climb up the coconut tree to pick coconut. Unfortunately when he was up in the high branches of the tree he was stung by a bee and it was very painful for him. I had some anti-histime pills and gave him one. So what happens at other times? He was quite distressed. And yet he shot up that tree like a monkey. Many of the community come to the convent during the day. It is like an oasis among the hessian and concrete homes. Some whitewash would be great here too. Some people are managing to build homes from concrete blocks and it is possible to see the beginnings of a loved abode.

Last night Ian had arranged a dinner for the new tribe of Rotarians that arrived the night before. We had promised Sister to take her to the market along the beach. We missed the dinner but instead had a great experience of shopping Timor style. The beach is lined with stalls where the locals come to sell their produce. I hope I can find time to return to photograph. Stalls with taro, pumpkin, bananas, greens I do not know, cocos; all beautifully displayed. The prices were varied and bargaining was not successful. Sister tried to bring prices down but the stall owners held their own.A pineapple was $3,50 – $5.00 and water melon $7.00; and that’s for a small one only.

We had a lovely drive out to the other mission a couple of days ago – up high along a dangerous mountain road. Perhaps more dangerous the way Ian drives; though he has tried to convince us he has been driving and avoiding events for many years. He is a good guide for certain bits of history – anything to do with the unrest and the Australian Peace keeping forces. He has been here many times over the past few years, firstly as a army major and now as a rotarian bring teams like us along.

He has quite a job on his hand keeping the three convent sites repairs flowing. Getting anything here is difficult; though I think not as difficult as Mongolia! It’s about the time and process of driving.

Yesterday there was a killing. A Timor Leste student who had attended the St  Dominican convent as a student was killed for visiting West Timor. He was studying the language and the local killed him for being perhaps in their eyes a traitor. He was from this community. I am unsure of anymore details other than we heard many sirens in the streets yesterday and they seemed to go forever. There was retribution. So the tension is still here, barely beneath the surface.

On our first night one of the sisters; Helen, visiting from the highlands had warned us to not run over any dogs. What did she do the next night but run over and kill a neighbours dog. That was bad enough but she didn’t stop. We are wall warned about being out at night alone and for a sister to get out of her car in the dark is considered dangerous; so she kept coming to convent. The dog owners were furious and in general terms to run over a dog will cost $50. They came to the convent and tried to negotiate $500. The farce ended up at the police station. The dog owners said it was their special guard dog who protects their shop. All at the convent were nervous because of the short fuses of the local and it does not take a lot for the unrest and frequent stonings to begin. They threatened to destroy sister Helen’s car.

will write some more later.

Timor Leste – St Dominics Missionary Convent

4 July 2013

It has been a couple of days since I wrote and things happens quickly at a slow pace. There  is much activity over three locations that the Rotary  project is involved with here.

I have been stationed at the St. Dominics convent along with Mervyn and two school girls from Montmorency High and Steven. The others, Ian, Graham and Chris have gone to the orphanage to stay for now. Ian spends most of his time in driving between the three locations as site manager. They are all spread across Dili – and through the treacherous traffic. It’s not the cars you need be concerned so much as the many hundreds of small bikes. Some bikes have whole families aboard – these are generally the ones that don’t wear helmets because they would not all fit with the head wear. Some bike drivers even have a liscence. It costs $30 I understand for a liscence and that is quite steep for here.

My task has so far been working in the classrooms with the young children; showing them how to hold a paint brush and use colour. Yesterday I had the young children and asked for more paint from the school. I was able to put on tables little dishes of red and yellow ochre poster paint. Fortunately I am carrying my own pack of sets of watercolours, pastels and pencils. So anyone out there – we need more coloured poster paints; and preferably of some quality that has more pigment that jelly filler. I had also collected a handful of brushes from my studio as I left Eltham – and these too have come in useful as it’s difficult to find brushes in the classrooms.

Yesterday I thought it would be a good idea if I set up some sort of fund from our gallery; and perhaps in my mother’s name to fund children. Have I mentioned it only costs $7 a month to support a child here. I spoke to Sister about it and she and I will sort some ‘legal’ kind of ongoing support. They would like the support money as an annual donation – and if possible an extra $10 for the uniform. A donation of $100 once a year would see one of these beautiful children given a years education and a clean uniform; along with one meal a day. We would use Sister’s plan to insist on attendance from the child and that the parents of the community also become involved and help with the cleaning and maintenance of the mission. Each morning many parents stand at the gate to see their child stand to the flag and do their dancing. It’s a form of aerobics.

It is delightful to see the young children run through the gates to the school. When you see the houses in the community it is not so difficult to understand why. The mission is indeed a green oasis among the people. The mission garden is watered each night and has green grass, a garden planted by the sisters full of the most wonderful orchids and other flowers that Sister has brought from her homeland in the Philippines. There are two or three mission dogs – white dingo looking dogs and a couple of cats. The dogs and cats are allowed to wander through the mission, the classrooms, kitchen and are greatly loved. There is Snowy and Whitey. Sometimes Snowy is changed up because he likes to get out and chat with the neighboring dogs.

This morning I went with Sister Elsie to visit one of the local Private Schools. There are more than 3,000 students from infants to 16 year olds. Sister will be taking some classes with the young ladies and teaching them about sexuality and other related topics. When we arrived the head of the school was reprimanding a group of young girls. Their punishment: they were confined to their dormitory for two weeks. Their dresses had been too short.

Most of the students come to Dili from the mountains. The Rotary Club has given the school a lot of funding and therefore they are able to have a good media department and work with the local TV. There is no art department.

The students had to climb very steep steps to the third floor for the meeting with Sister. The conditions in this very fine Dili school would not come close to meeting Australian standards. Nor would very much else that is in Dili. Can see there is hope for the future as work is being done. As you drive around there are men mixing holes in the roads and up poles attending to the electrics of the city. We have not had any blackout in the last few days.

Sunday, July 21, 13

A Timor Reflection…

Timor Leste is behind me now and I am spending a few days in Digby with Mervyn before re-opening the gallery and resuming paintings classes in Eltham. We returned from Timor Leste last Sunday night and spent a few days in Darwin prior to flying back to Melbourne. This was my first time in Darwin and I wanted to have a look around while the opportunity was there.

Timor Leste. What an experience. I am sitting here trying to reflect on the past weeks spent in Dili. I am not feeling all that well either. Have a dull headache and still have some stomach issues left over from Dili. Four of our colleague volunteers have been hospitalized since returning to Melbourne. Dengue Fever. Dengue was common in Dili. Two of the nuns from St. Dominic’s convent where we stayed had contracted Dengue and another nun to our knowledge was hospitalized in Dili from the city orphanage. Dengue, I understand is a mosquito born disease from mosquitoes breeding in fresh water. Malaria, on the other hand I understand is from mosquitoes bred in unclean water. There is no cure and no preventative vaccination for dengue – and it can kill. These are the risks we take when travelling to remote and third world tropical locations.

It’s a mixed blessing returning to the Melbourne chill. I am not one for tropical steamy conditions. This time of year was supposed to be the cool (er) time of year and the dry in Timor. It was in the high thirties every day and humid. Mervyn and I shared a single bed in the convent and slept end to end with the fan on all night. When the fan was facing away it felt as if the heater had been turned on. So to feel the cool of the Melbourne and Digby chill is refreshing.  And Digby is so cosy with the wood fired stove alight and some bread in the oven. These small and simple pleasures make living in Melbourne special. I am looking out across the paddocks to Pauls cows and the sun is dancing a patchwork on the green grass along the creek.

The green is something Digby has in common with Timor Leste. The green is the colour that strikes when the plan begins the long decent across the over side of the Timor Sea. The tall mountains are covered in green vegetation and large rivers can be seen cutting swales across the valleys  and the tiniest of villages can just be made out through the dense cover.

When the plan flew along the coast coming in to land the enormity of tall coconut and banana trees was apparent. The intensity of the green. The brilliance of the sun against the azure of the sea, the strip of beach and long fronds of leaves was exciting. Landing in a tropical forest for the first time; I knew I was going to enjoy the days ahead.

We embarked from the plane and followed the dotted line along the runway to the casual entry into Timor Leste. A show of passports, payment of ten dollars US for a visa and luggage viewed through the xray machine. Simple enough. We were in and being greeted by the lovely sisters of the St. Dominic’s convent. No sooner had we been greeted our luggage was taken away and stowed on the back of a ute and we watched as our belongings were driven off into the day. That was a bit strange. We were then boarding a bus and dropped off at a camping ground hotel where Ian went in to hire our Land cruiser vehicle. This seemed to take forever. I spent the time photographing the numerous roosters and hens roaming freely throughout the grounds. A number of security guards sat at the entrance to the compound. Razor wire was everywhere. Impressions – bikes, traffic, bikes, bikes with two, three passengers; without helmets. A lady selling bananas outside the compound gate from a small stall under the sun. Water laying around from recent rain. Steamy conditions and a desire to stay in the shade.

The Sisters of Dominican Convent – Tuesday 2 July

At the Convent – 2 July 2013

I can see it’s going to be difficult getting a journal out. With the constant black outs – or brown outs as the nuns refer  to the frequent daily power failure – things to do and slow internet only available through my phone ‘hotspot’…

I will try to catch up on the activities of the recent days – but to begin from this morning…

The morning meditation bell is sounded around 5.00am. It is still dark but at least a little cooler. The overhead fan is on all night, as the two small fans – as much to keep the mosquitoes away as anything else.

I was up for a bucket wash in the shower cubicle this morning and just as I was half dressed the bagging began. The bagging of the motor of the mosquito spraying machine. It was so loud. The sisters had called the spray man because two of the residents, one sister and one novice have contracted dengi fever. The girls have been washing the floors in kerosine for the past two days. The place stinks of petrochemical.

As I hurried to dry myself and put on some clothes to the loud pump noise I began to see a fog coming through the wooden louvers of the shower block. I quietly began to panic as the stench reached my nose to the loud banging sound. It was too much as half naked I started out along the corridor for my shared room. I could not see in front of me for the fog mist of the insecticide spray. Open my room and Mervyn and Chris were also cowering from the fumes. It was so thick we could not see each other. I held my skirt to my face and closed my eyes. Then I noticed Mervyn had gone. Sat on the bed with the cloth across my face and after a few minutes Mervyn came back and said we needed to get outside. i had thought that would have been worse. At the back of the convent the spray had begin to dissipate and we sat there coughing and choking into the stench. Soon the air cleared a little – like a fog rising from the early morning dew. We tiptoed through the mist back to our room and opened the door; but it was still too thick in our room and returned outside and waited.

Even now, several hours later I am in my room writing to the smell that will be here for some time; I think. I have a little bottle of lavender oil and have sprinkled that onto our beds to cover up the smell.

It was time for breakfast which we had with the sisters and novices. There are 11 people living in the convent full time and several others coming and going. Always active; visitors and members of the order passing through.

After breakfast I was to bake a cake and work with the children. But first; needed to go with sister and Mervyn to buy more plumbing needs and building materials from the highway. Mervyn has now become the convent driver. He is also the supervisor for the construction and repair of the library and other outbuildings. He says he is not a plumber and would rather take orders; but he is now plumber, builder and painter; driver…

Yesterday I worked with the 4 and 5 year olds. There are 75 pupils for the community attending the school. The families pay $10 a month which covers the cost of the oil to cook the children’s lunches. The rest of the teaching costs and food are paid by the convent. There are 20 children paid for by scholarship from an Australian church parish. The cost to the parishioners is $20 a month. That’s about a cafe latte a week. Maybe more of us could spend a coffee  a week on sending a child to school. Being here has shown me just what is needed and how the poorest of the Timor Leste people live. The convent is situated in the poorest part of town. I will post photographs as I can. And maybe not until I return to my first world computer desk and fast network to make it happen.

This morning a group of visiting Australian students passed through led by a Catholic church volunteer. Mervyn is out there alone trying to fix the shed and the sisters are concerned there is no one to help him. I suggested to the visitors that one of their strong men could assist Mervyn. The answer was ‘Oh no, couldn’t allow our visiting Australians to do more than look. Work safe and heath thingo’s back home wouldn’t allow the school children to touch anything…’ They can look and go back home and share the problem. Form what I can see from here we need more than that.

a little later…

I’ve come in from teaching the young students again. Today we walked around the garden and chose a leaf to bring in and put on the table while observing the difference in colour and shape. I then demonstrated how I would draw and paint the leaf and then one by one they came to try for the first time my brushes and how to hold the brush. Thought this would be first way of teaching how to hold and put brush on paper.

Last night Sister showed me the bags the women have been making from the outer community. They are like lined shopping bags and beautifully sewn by hand decorations. I have bought a number of them for the gallery.

Sister asked one of the local youth to climb up the coconut tree to pick coconut. Unfortunately when he was up in the high branches of the tree he was stung by a bee and it was very painful for him. I had some anti-histime pills and gave him one. So what happens at other times? He was quite distressed. And yet he shot up that tree like a monkey. Many of the community come to the convent during the day. It is like an oasis among the hessian and concrete homes. Some whitewash would be great here too. Some people are managing to build homes from concrete blocks and it is possible to see the beginnings of a loved abode.

Last night Ian had arranged a dinner for the new tribe of Rotarians that arrived the night before. We had promised Sister to take her to the market along the beach. We missed the dinner but instead had a great experience of shopping Timor style. The beach is lined with stalls where the locals come to sell their produce. I hope I can find time to return to photograph. Stalls with taro, pumpkin, bananas, greens I do not know, cocos; all beautifully displayed. The prices were varied and bargaining was not successful. Sister tried to bring prices down but the stall owners held their own.A pineapple was $3,50 – $5.00 and water melon $7.00; and that’s for a small one only.

We had a lovely drive out to the other mission a couple of days ago – up high along a dangerous mountain road. Perhaps more dangerous the way Ian drives; though he has tried to convince us he has been driving and avoiding events for many years. He is a good guide for certain bits of history – anything to do with the unrest and the Australian Peace keeping forces. He has been here many times over the past few years, firstly as a army major and now as a rotarian bring teams like us along.

He has quite a job on his hand keeping the three convent sites repairs flowing. Getting anything here is difficult; though I think not as difficult as Mongolia! It’s about the time and process of driving.

Yesterday there was a killing. A Timor Leste student who had attended the St  Dominican convent as a student was killed for visiting West Timor. He was studying the language and the local killed him for being perhaps in their eyes a traitor. He was from this community. I am unsure of anymore details other than we heard many sirens in the streets yesterday and they seemed to go forever. There was retribution. So the tension is still here, barely beneath the surface.

On our first night one of the sisters; Helen, visiting from the highlands had warned us to not run over any dogs. What did she do the next night but run over and kill a neighbours dog. That was bad enough but she didn’t stop. We are wall warned about being out at night alone and for a sister to get out of her car in the dark is considered dangerous; so she kept coming to convent. The dog owners were furious and in general terms to run over a dog will cost $50. They came to the convent and tried to negotiate $500. The farce ended up at the police station. The dog owners said it was their special guard dog who protects their shop. All at the convent were nervous because of the short fuses of the local and it does not take a lot for the unrest and frequent stonings to begin. They threatened to destroy sister Helen’s car.

will write some more later.

The Sisters of Dominican Mission – Timor Leste

This is the first opportunity I have had to post a story to the blog as the power blacks out without notice and it’s taken a while to sort out the telephone technology and yeah, I am using my phone’s hot sport to write.  I have purchased a local sim card for $50 so we can keep in touch with the other members of our rotary team, and I wonder how long that amount of money will last. Perhaps not so long if I use it for computer work.

Anyway; it’s been an interesting few days. The flight from Melbourne was through the dark hours of the night. Mervyn and I had a sort of upgrade – we had the number one seats in the jetstar plane. Thinking this was pretty cool it was in fact perhaps something I would not jump at again. Cool was the description. There seemed to be an icy breeze coming from the door. We had the door and in case of emergency had to ‘assist’ other passengers. Yes, sure we can help if the plane nose dives into the ocean beneath us. We had lots of leg room, the front toilet and the cold. Jet Star cuts costs on entertainment – there was none. We bought a toasted ham & cheese sandwich for dinner. It was heated up in the plastic bag and toasted yes, but still ‘white’. Must remember to eat ‘before’ boarding the next Jet Star plane.

Arrived at Darwin airport around 1.30am. Next plane to Timor Leste left at 6.30am. We were grateful for the little piece of carpet outside the loos we found, amongst the many other traveller to lay our heads down. We formed a  circle of our group.

We are travelling as the first head group to set up the volunteers. We have as our chief leader Rotarian retired army Major Ian Toohill, builder and shire councillor for Macedon Ranges, Bob, or was it Graham. He is also former army. Then there is Chris, the nurse and Mervyn and myself. We are getting to know each other on the trip; though I have known Ian for many years and ran out of excuses to say No to this journey, with Mervyn.

We boarded a full plane for Timor Leste in the early hours and landed at Timor Leste to a wall of wet humid heat, around 7.30am. First impressions? GREEN everywhere. Mountains, green, sea green. Tropical palms; coconuts, bananas, cocao and trees I have never seen before. I guess i have never really been to the tropics. I have always managed the dry climates of the polar arctic ice and deserts of of Australia and Mongolia.

We were all pretty tired. Through customs; $30 cash American for a passport and then bags fed through customs and we were out amongst the heat and myriad cars and people meeting family and friends. We were met by one of the sisters and a driver who took away our luggage and put us on a bus. Strange feeling to see your bags disappear down the back of a truck by total strangers and there is nothing you can do about it.

The bus dropped us off at a hotel with other visitors. Not like the hotels we are used to at home. This was a collection of detached colourful buildings. From here we hired a troupe carrier. While Ian did the paper work we stayed out and noted the locals and numbers of roosters and chickens wandering the camp. A lady was propped against the front fence selling strings of tiny sweet bananas. I wandered over to some guards and began photographing the beautifully coloured game rooster. They laughed at me as it began stalking me. They shouted at the rooster to leave me along. Of course in this country one of the most revered sports is cock fighting. I believe it’s illegal here but common.

We were settled in nearby to the convent across the road. The Sisters of Dominican Mission. It is located down a narrow street at the end of a community. Green everywhere. And the orchids! Striking orchids of many colours were handing from trees. Carefully cultivated garden and green. Two white dogs also greeted us. We felt quite at home among the garden and dogs.

The sisters showed us to our rooms. The boys, Ian and Graham have their own rooms, with a toilet and running water. Mervyn and I are sharing our room with Chris. This is a turn around as we were originally having ‘a married couple room’ where I could work without disturbing others late into the night. It’s all sort of working out.

Conditions are not as we know at home. The ‘shower’ block consists of three cubicles for showers; with shower heads and a cold tap – and a bucket and dish. It looks as if there has never been any water connected to the showers. To bathe one has to pour cold water onto the body after filling the pail with the cold water. Just as well it is so hot and sticky. It’s actually quite a relief to pour cold water over the body, several times a day. Have to remember to take a glass of bottle water to the shower room for cleaning teeth. We are not to drink the water. There are three toilet cubicles. Again, the water is connected but the cisterns do not flush. After using the toilet you need to fill up a bucket and return to the toilet and pour quickly. This is what the nuns and novices live with. It would be great if rotary or others could send in a plumber to make these women’s lives a little more comfortable.

But then, if you look across the fence and into the homes of the community; this is a palace. Next door and many of the neighbours live in houses with wooden frames and hessian. Coconut leaves and banana palms form the roof. The constant sound of roosters, chickens and pigs is a pleasant change from the Eltham traffic. There are even bird sounds and the occasional singing of girls from the convent.

The nuns are beautiful people, permanently gracious and smiling. They are not complaining about the heat and yet if you ask, yes, it is as unseasonably humid for them.

 

Two more sleeps until we leave for Timor Leste, and still packing.

And tonight Ian has rung to ask us if we could fit computers and sewing machines into our luggage as they have been donated to the orphanage. It’s hard enough fitting our camera gear, art materials, anti-maleria meds and battery chargers below the baggage weight.

I am ticking off items on my many lists and before bed tonight should be pretty much under control. Mervyn has to pack heavy boots too – working on the building sites and I am supposed to have boots to film on the site – and at 30c and humid … I am packing a few mosquito coils, lots of rid and sunscreen.  We begin taking Doxycycline antibiotic medication tomorrow to help prevent malaria. We need to take it for four weeks on return. I guess we will be new blood for the mosquito. How do the local become immune? I would have thought once bitten by a malaria carrying mosquito was once too often.

Today we bought extra art materials to share with the children at the orphanage.

Preparations for Timor Leste

Much time has been spent contemplating the ‘right’ materials to take, the camera gear and speculating as to the conditions ahead of us for our three weeks in Timor. Each journey is different and requires a focused preparation. It’s not as if we can just throw a few clothes together and jump on a plane.

There have been inoculations – many of our previous inoculations have served well for this trip already. This time we have had three lots of ‘rabies’ vaccinations – and even then in the unlucky event of being bitten by an animal we need to be rushed to hospital and then on the first plane back to Darwin; because there will unlikely be any meds to treat a bite. The hospital situation we understand in Timor is far from what we know and are used to in Australia. We have to carry our own ’emergency’ kits and medications. A web site praising the new hospital in Dili explains the most common meds given are panadol. Anything else is in pretty short supply – and that’s antibiotics and pain medication.

We expect temperatures to be around 30C. Packing on these chilly days with a view to the tropics and not putting in warm clothing seems odd.

Then there are the art materials to consider – what can I take with a view to space and protection? Probably I will take gouache, pastel and watercolour. No point even considering oil. Acrylic too seems a bit bulky in this event.

The most important equipment for this trip will be my camera and video camera. My job will be to document the activities of the rotary members and work on a combined film with Ian Toohil who wants to produce a film Rotary can use. I have my own agenda; to meet the artists and in particular women weavers and document them at work. Contacts have been a little illusive so I plan on making my own introductions and hoping for a welcome.

It would be lovely to make some contact and friendship between Eltham and the Timorese artists. We have much to give, but even more to learn from meeting the people and artists who have gone through difficulties we (I) cannot understand. We (I) come from a society that does not know war or true community unrest. The most unrest an Elthamite like me has had to contend with on a personal level is the local political environmental and artistic spates. This compared to the places we (I) have travelled seems very petty.

Enough contemplating for now – on with the packing.