Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012 Christmas Column

The magical day of Christmas is almost upon us for another year and so long as tomorrow’s forecast Mayan apocalypse doesn’t eventuate many of us will be mingling with family and/or friends next Tuesday. Just to be on the safe side, the boys and I will be doing our “Christmas Lights Tour of Barham and Koondrook” tonight.

At the risk of sounding like the Grinch who stole Christmas, with each passing year I seem to be looking forward to Christmas less and less. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas lights, mince pies, ham and eggs, excited children, my mother’s traditional Christmas dinner with all the family and mixing a glass of Pimms No.1 Cup around 10am on Christmas morning… it’s the obligatory retail shopping lead-up to Christmas that gets me down.

Christmas for me now feels less and less about love and more and more about spending money on nonessential items that will be discarded or broken before the Christmas decorations are dismantled. I hate that.

Shopping is not one of my favourite pastimes; it causes me a considerable amount of stress. The reason behind this stress is decision making (another little thing I’m not particularly fond of) and shopping is non-stop decision making. Not only do we have to decide what we want, we have to decide on all the specifications that go with what we want e.g.: brand, colour, style, size, cost etc… and then when it’s gift shopping, we wonder if the recipient of our gifts will even like or appreciate them. Shopping is exhausting, not because you might spend hours walking around the streets or those huge shopping centres if you’re in the city but because of all that deciding you have to do.

The retailers have caught on to all this shopping angst and delivered us the “gift card” so we, the gift buyers still spend money at their shops without having to make any major decisions. Clever, very clever…

Back in the good old days when choices were limited and gifts only arrived twice a year on Christmas morning and birthdays, I imagine the lead-up to Christmas was far less stressful and a lot more enjoyable. These days we live in a world of hyper-consumerism and instant gratification, to say we are spoilt for choice is an understatement.

Yes, it’s enough to make one just want to book in for a full one hour massage and feel all that tension and stress melt away… did I mention I sell gift vouchers?

Regardless of where you are, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Behind the Barr in 2012 and wish all of you a very happy and joy-filled Christmas and a new year of magical moments and excellent adventures in 2013.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Australia's 2nd biggest killer

A couple of Fridays ago my parents, Farmer Bill & Granny were enjoying morning tea at the Riverside Café with me before they headed north to their home at Red Hill Station… a few short hours later I was on the phone to Triple O requesting an ambulance to meet my brother, Tom, who was rushing Farmer Bill back to Barham. Out of the blue my fit, healthy and lively father had suffered a stroke.

Several times during the Triple O phone call I had to stop and take a deep breath to calm the feeling of panic that was ballooning rapidly inside me. My voice waivered badly as I explained to the operator where to send the ambulance and the condition my father was in.

A medical emergency is a frightening experience no matter where you are but more so in rural Australia where medical help may be hours away. Red Hill Station is 160km north east of Barham between Moulamein and Hay. We made the decision to bring Dad to Barham Hospital even though it was considerably further than the Hay Hospital due to Hay’s current medical crisis.

For some time now the $15 million Hay Hospital has been without a doctor. The two doctors in the town do not have Visiting Medical Officer (VMO) status and as such, are unable to access the hospital. This leaves the local paramedics with the job of transferring all medical emergencies to Griffith, a further 160km east of Hay (215km from Red Hill Station).

Our family is feeling extremely grateful for the high standard of medical services that were available to us. The ambulance and paramedics met up with my brother and Farmer Bill just south of Moulamein. He was given oxygen and transferred to the Barham Hospital where he was attended to by our very capable nursing staff and excellent local doctor, Michael Clarke, before being transferred by ambulance to Bendigo for further treatment.

In Farmer Bill’s case, his heart (for reasons best known to itself) went into atrial fibrillation (AF), where the heart’s normal rhythm becomes irregular. This caused a blood clot to form in the heart which then travelled to his brain. Although he was able to walk, lift both arms and speak without slurring, he spoke very quietly, was having trouble finding the right words to say and some of what he was saying wasn’t making sense. His left eye was slightly drooped but otherwise he just felt very tired.

My Dad has been extremely lucky and his sense of humour is intact. The stroke affected his speech and some of his memory. While he knows exactly what he wants to say, Dad has trouble finding the correct words. He has also found it harder to recognise casual acquaintances and remember in what context he knows them.

These symptoms are diminishing with his speech and memory now improving on a daily basis thanks to neuroplasticity; the human brain’s amazing ability to build new connections to compensate for injury or disease. With practice, patience and perseverance, Dad is hoping to make a full recovery.

Strokes can occur at any age, it is the second biggest killer of Australians and a major cause of disability; it is caused by one of two ways. The main cause of stroke is blood supply to the brain being interrupted either from a blood clot travelling to the brain or arteries to the brain becoming blocked. The other cause of stroke is bleeding within the brain from a burst blood vessel.

When it comes to strokes, time is critical. It is important that people learn how to recognise signs of stroke. The acronym is FAST.

FACE – has their mouth drooped?
ARMS – can they lift both arms?
SPEECH – is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
TIME – is critical. If you see any of these signs or in any way suspect a stroke call 000 immediately.

The signs of stroke may occur alone or in combination and can last a few seconds or up to 24 hours and then disappear. So remember the FAST Test and act when necessary, it can save a life.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Surviving a heatwave in style

Summer arrived two days ahead of schedule last week with temperatures soaring to between forty-three and forty-four degrees around Barham and district by Thursday afternoon. After our very enjoyable but out of character, cool spring, it was a shock to the system I tell you.

Throwing fiscal caution and power bills to the wind, I turned on the air-conditioner and every ceiling fan in the house for about thirty-six hours. At least our heat out here is usually a dry one, like strolling around in a fan-forced oven as opposed to the energy sapping humid heat of the tropics and other places.

As luck would have it the boys and I were dining with the lovely Jo and Don Hearn out at their Restdown Winery on Thursday night. Jo had telephoned late in the afternoon to warn me that their temperamental air-conditioning unit appeared to have a forty-two degree cut-out switch… and had cut-out for the day.

Not willing to concede defeat, Jo and Don had an excellent Plan B: move dinner from the house to the winery.

For those of you who have yet to visit the Restdown Winery (just over half an hour’s drive from Barham), it is an ingenious design of concrete tilt panels. Jo and Don were first inspired by the residents of Coober Pedy, the South Australian outback town 846km north of Adelaide, where an estimated fifty percent of the town’s population live underground in “dugouts” to minimise the harsh extremes of their local climate.

Further viticultural research took the Hearns to Europe where they were impressed by the French technique of using underground tunnels to store their wine and champagne and thereby minimising temperature fluctuations.

In 2002 with the idea of minimising ongoing heating and cooling costs, Jo and Don built their winery. The concrete walls are 200mm thick and the concrete ceiling is 250mm thick with two Whirly Bird Spin Aways in the roof for ventilation. The building is embedded into the side of a sandhill and covered with over a metre of dirt. Native plants growing in the dirt add extra shade and also soak up any rain. The cellar door and only uncovered wall of the winery, faces to the east and limits the amount of sun contact to the building.

The concrete, dirt and plants insulate the winery without the need for powered heating or cooling. During the coldest of winter nights when the outside temperature drops into the minuses, the winery is still fifteen or sixteen degrees. Likewise, during the hottest of summer days when the outside temperature is well into the forties (like last Thursday), the winery remains at a very comfortable twenty-four degrees.

The cellar (where all their delicious Restdown Wines are stored) is at the back end of the building for the best insulation. The front half of the building is where the wine is made; crushing, pressing and fermenting etc…

So there we were last Thursday evening, surrounded by wine bottles and a balmy twenty four degrees, enjoying our sumptuous dinner of roast chicken (locally grown “Chooks for Cooks” from Mardie and Glen Gray’s Little Forest Produce) and a salad, accompanied by a glass of the award-winning Restdown 2011 Semillon and my new favourite non-alcoholic drink for summer – Restdown Verjus and soda. The meal concluded with bowls of (slightly melted) ice cream and fresh mangoes – all in all the perfect remedy for heatwaves! 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Discovering the Backroads Trail

This Sunday from 10am until 5pm Australia’s newest tourism region and gourmet food trail, the Backroads Trail is inviting locals and visitors to the inaugural open day. Officially launched in early October, the Backroads Trail is now open for business.

Stretching from Echuca-Moama, up through Mathoura and along the north side of the Murray River to Barham-Koondrook and everywhere in between including Womboota, Bunnaloo and Caldwell, the Backroads Trail has been five years in the making.

Don and Jo Hearn from the award winning Restdown Winery were the driving forces behind the establishment of the trail.

This weekend people have the opportunity to visit some or all of the fifteen or more small businesses along the trail that are opening their doors on Sunday. Near Moama, people can visit Pacdon Park and sample their gourmet British Smallgoods; Sevilo Grove for farm tours and olive oil; Bright on the Murray Bed and Breakfast, a 120 year old homestead on the bank of the Murray River.

Heading west along the Perricoota Road is the impressive Perricoota Station available for accommodation and functions. Further towards Barham and Caldwell on Jungle Lane is Restdown Wines with their underground cellar door and picturesque 1.4km wetlands walking trail.

The Old School Winery and Meadery (honey wines) near Womboota offers cellar door sales, a mead-mulling demonstration as well as pottery and art studios.
Around Bunnaloo you can purchase cold-extracted high quality honey from the Bassett Family Apiaries and enjoy a farm tour at Graythorn Poll Dorsets.

Mathoura on the eastern edge of the Backroads Trail is home to the delicious seedless Imperial mandarins and other seasonal local produce at Mathoura Mandarins.

Local Barham small businesses included on the Trail are; the Kurrnung Citrus Honesty Box filled with a variety of seasonal oranges and grapefruit in Lilford Lane; Norm and Jan Thomas’ Hill House Farmstay; Bundarra Berkshires Free Range Pork on East Barham Road; Border Packers just over the bridge in Koondrook for locally grown citrus; Ash and Linda Williams’ Barham River Cruises aboard “The Matilda” and the Myers Family Barham Avocados at Horseshoe Bend out on the Gonn Road.

Along the way you are encouraged to stop and read any of the nineteen interpretive panels at twelve different sign-posted sites as they explain the history of the region from the geological formation of the natural landscape through to the modern day sustainable farming practices.

Rural art and history is well represented on the Backroads Trail with the Farmgate Sculptures made from recycled farm machinery (and a creative sense of humour) at the entrance of a number of properties along the trail.
The redgum chainsaw sculpture trail along the banks of the Murray River at Barham and Koondrook provides a short history of the area’s pioneers and local wildlife.

Local museum the Border Flywheelers in Jamieson Avenue has an extensive collection of tractors, machinery and other artefacts used by the farming communities of the Murray Darling Basin. Art galleries include Grant’s in Mellool Street, Barham; an open artist studio displaying Grant Walker’s fine pen and ink rural landscapes as well as work by other local artists.

If you’re heading out along the Backroads Trail for a Sunday drive this weekend (or any other day) brochures and maps can be picked up from the Wakool Shire Office in Murray Street Barham, local visitor information centres in the region or downloaded straight from the website:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Camping in the Grampians

Last week the House of Barr expanded to include Grandma and Pampa Barr for their annual grandparent visit. This year’s trip was at short notice so I hadn’t pre-planned an excellent adventure to anywhere and already had work booked in. Not to be deterred, I quickly did some reorganising and then pondered where to go for a shortish week or longish weekend of “me” time.

As usual numerous ideas popped into my head… I phoned Tasmania to see if there was any chance of joining the four-day Bay of Fires Walk at short notice (alas, no); I googled airfares to Exmouth in Western Australia to see Ningaloo Reef (more planning needed); I checked out the likelihood of sighting a great white shark off Port Lincoln in a shark cage in November (January seemed better); I contemplated road trips (in no particular order) to, Byron Bay, Batemans Bay or the Flinders Ranges and then crossed them off as too far in too short a time and really, road trips are a lot more fun with a travel buddy.

In the end I decided to catch up with Victorian friends at Terang and Hamilton and then spend a few days camping with my Tarptent, swag and a good book at Halls Gap in the Grampians National Park, a mere three and a bit hours from Barham.

After reading numerous travel reviews, I chose the Lakeside Tourist Park a few kilometres south of town and pitched my tent on soft green grass in amongst some shady trees that looked out to an open grassy area filled with kangaroos, emus and deer.
That first evening I sat out on my deckchair with a glass of wine and a packet of kettle chips to share with about twenty very friendly sulphur-crested cockatoos.

As they said in The Castle, I could feel the serenity.

When it comes to relaxing, a few days camping in the Australian bush is hard to beat… especially when the weather is in the mid twenties and flushing toilets and hot showers are a short walk away at the immaculate Lakeside Tourist Park amenities block.

The Grampians are a series of imposing ancient sandstone mountain ranges formed some 380 million years ago. While the Grampians have been attracting bushwalkers since the 1890s, human habitation in the area dates from about 17,000 BC. The first Europeans to the area were Scottish born explorer, Thomas Mitchell and his exploration party in 1836; he named the Grampians after the Scottish mountain range of the same name.

Tempting though it was to spend my days relaxing on my swag reading Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel “The Help” about African American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s… the weather was too perfect not to get out and enjoy some of the walks readily accessible in the area.

Driving out to the Wonderland car park, I walked through Victoria’s version of the Grand Canyon and then along the Stony Creek to Turret Falls, where I admired the wildflowers and filled up my drink bottle.

The next day I headed back to the Wonderland car park and again walked through the Grand Canyon before continuing further up over rocks and the well-maintained track through areas of relatively thick bush to The Pinnacle (about an hour’s walk from the carpark). Looking out from The Pinnacle I was rewarded with a magnificent view across the Fyans Valley with Halls Gap at the bottom and further out to the various lakes on the eastern side of the Grampians.

Driving further along the road from the Wonderland car park heading towards Horsham, I came to the MacKenzie Falls. Situated on the MacKenzie River they are Victoria’s largest waterfalls and located about half an hour’s drive from Halls Gap. I opted for the relatively easy Bluff Walk, which gave me a spectacular view of the MacKenzie River Gorge and waterfalls.

Back in Halls Gap I discovered some excellent coffee at the Livefast Café and an even more excellent chocolate, macadamia nut and coconut slice. The perfect place to sit and write this week’s column…

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at mathematics

Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at mathematics.

There’s nothing like the prospect of an enormous lotto win to draw out our inner gambler. Like this week’s solar eclipse at Cairns, it felt as though the planets had aligned last week for the gods of gambling. Not only was it the first Tuesday in November; Melbourne Cup Day… it was coinciding with the drawing of Australia’s biggest ever lottery.

Like (I suspect), many other Australians last Tuesday, I rolled out of bed feeling lucky. I had a one in twenty four chance of randomly picking the winning horse in the Melbourne Cup and even more appealing in my mind was the thought that I might buy the winning ticket in the $112 Million Oz Lotto that night. I was not the least deterred that my lotto chances were in excess of one in 45,379,000. Mathematics is not one of my strong points.

Fortunately for me, I do have friends who are good at mathematics and they have at least convinced me now, that buying more than a single ticket is statistically speaking, a waste of good money. You just have to be in it to win it.

Imagining what I would do with a multimillion dollar lotto win is a happy little daydream I like to indulge in every now and then. Even more infrequently I buy a ticket… usually when the jackpot has become so huge every man and his dog has also bought a ticket and by comparison, making my odds of being eaten by a shark a frightening possibility.

Still, my optimism knows no bounds, life is filled with serendipitous moments and amazing coincidences so surely it wasn’t too much to expect a windfall last Tuesday?

I called into the Barham Newsagency early Tuesday morning and bought the morning paper, a single Oz Lotto quick pick ticket for $4.80 and two entries in Tish’s Melbourne Cup sweep (nothing like really stacking the odds in my favour). After breakfast the boys and I had a rushed window of opportunity to study the form guide and pick our horses for the Melbourne Cup before school.

Dressed by my personal stylist (thank you Jenny Cox), I swanned off to join friends at the Barham Hotel at midday for a delicious Melbourne Cup buffet lunch, placed our bets at the TAB and entered yet another sweep.

As it turned out, it was lucky I did enter that final sweep because I had absolutely no luck in my or the boys’ TAB horse choices or my other sweep entries. I pulled out the Irish bred horse and eventual winner, Green Moon, winning myself $60 for the afternoon and making up for the previous $47 worth of totally useless betting and sweep outlays for the day.

By Wednesday morning my fantasy of winning the big one in Oz Lotto had burst (for another week), Australia’s newest multi-millionaires had been found and I wasn’t one of them. Perhaps lotto is just a tax on the poor mathematicians of the world but it’s wrapped up in hope and optimism and that happy little daydream of one day winning and becoming financially carefree for the rest of your life… I love daydreams.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Parenting and underage drinking

Fact: One young Australian aged between 14 and 17 years old dies every weekend due to alcohol.

Underage drinking is an issue that has been in my “Column Ideas” folder for quite some time but I felt at a loss on how to discuss the subject. It can be a prickly topic for both parents and teenagers and one that I find hard to negotiate because as an adult, I like to and do, drink alcohol in social situations.

Drinking is part of our Australian culture and possibly more so in rural areas where the local pub or football club may be one of the few options for socialising. As a parent and community member, I want to encourage our children to delay drinking alcohol, to do their developing brains a favour and to build confidence in themselves without using alcohol.

My parents encouraged responsible drinking but as a teenager at home, I wasn’t above surreptitiously swigging a few mouthfuls of rosé straight from the cask in the cool-room or sampling the various liqueurs out of the cupboard in the dining room. In my teenage years I was desperate to join the adult world, get on with my own life and not have to answer to anyone. On illegal outings from boarding school when I was sixteen, I would buy alcohol in an ill thought out attempt to prove I was ready to leave my childhood behind.

My concern today is the level of drinking amongst some of our teenagers. It’s not having a laugh and a couple of beers with your mates; it’s drinking straight spirits like vodka until you vomit and/or pass out.

What is driving this behaviour? How can we help our children to develop self-confidence, communication skills and strength of character so they don’t resort to abusing alcohol, cigarettes or drugs?

The teenage years are a minefield; surging hormones contribute to extreme emotional highs and lows. One minute you’re high on life, and then the next a pimple or a flippant remark from a friend signals the end of the world. It sounds trivial but it’s not. It is a time when we really struggle to work out our place in the world and how to cross that precarious bridge from childhood to adulthood.

Up until the age of twenty-five, our brains are still developing. Research in the last ten years shows a strong, clear link between alcohol and its effect on young minds. For teenagers and in particular young teenagers, misusing alcohol will stunt both their intellectual and emotional growth and increase their likelihood of drug and alcohol dependence later on.

Recently one of my sons was seen drinking excessively and smoking at a local eighteenth birthday party, my son is fourteen. I was under the mistaken belief he was having a sleepover at a friend’s house so it was quite a shock to be taken aside by one of our local police officers five days later and told the truth.

I felt a range of emotions including parental guilt for not knowing what my son was up to.  I felt angry that my son was allowed to attend the party and that other adults had seen or knew he was there and hadn’t told me.

Eighteenth birthday parties are a time of celebration for young people entering the adult world and it is also the time they are legally able to buy and consume alcohol. An eighteenth birthday party logically would have a few seventeen year olds in attendance (immediate friends who have yet to turn eighteen) but is it the place for younger teenagers or children if responsible adult supervision is minimal or nonexistent?

Our small community means age groups tend to mix and get along well. This is usually great for a community except where parties with alcohol are concerned.

Yes, I was extremely disappointed in my son’s behaviour, my son who I’m immensely proud of 99% of the time. I find him so grown up; mature and capable in so many ways but here he was smoking and drinking to the point of being very drunk at fourteen years of age. The fact that he had lied to me and broken my trust in him (giving me a good insight to how my parents must have felt all those years ago) hurt me more than anything. Rebuilding that trust will take time and a concerted effort from both of us.

Shortly after the police spoke to me, a number of friends confided that they also knew about the incident but had been unsure how to tell me or they wanted to wait a bit until they thought it would be a better time to tell me. They also mentioned other underage teenagers who they have observed either drinking or being drunk locally on a number of occasions.

While I can understand my friends and their reluctance to broach an uncomfortable topic and I appreciate their intention was not to hurt me or add to my stress levels; not broaching it doesn’t help me as a parent and it sure as hell doesn’t help our kids.

Being part of a small community means people observe and talk about what happens, i.e. you can’t do anything without people finding out. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, sometimes it’s misconstrued but in the case of underage drinking, it is a good thing. It enables us to look out for all children, not just our own.

I like and believe the African proverb - “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Shyness and social anxiety

“Nerves and butterflies are fine - they're a physical sign that you're mentally ready and eager.  You have to get the butterflies to fly in formation, that's the trick.”  ~Steve Bull

Last Saturday morning I knew my body’s fight or flight response had headed into overdrive as I woke up feeling nauseous at 4am with a little too much adrenalin coursing through my bloodstream. The day of the Red Carpet Evening’s Dancing with the Stars had arrived.

Shyness or social anxiety is something I’ve struggled with since 1978; the year I started attending primary school. Growing up in splendid isolation at Red Hill Station 55km from Hay, the first two years of my schooling were completed at home via correspondence school. My mother taught me and my brothers and my sister to read and write and then in grade two and for the rest of our primary school years, we caught the school bus into town and attended the Hay Public School.

Suddenly confronted with a large group of strangers, I felt painfully shy and self-conscious. Did I look like them? Did I look okay? Would the other children talk to me? Would they want to include me in their games? Would I be any good at playing those games?

Everyone wants to feel that sense of belonging, to feel wanted and included but I found it hard to initiate conversations and mostly waited until someone spoke to me.

Social anxiety is the fear of evaluation or judgment in social or performance situations. In a one on one situation at work or around people I know well, I’m relaxed and can be quite extraverted but with a group of people I don’t know or don’t know well, I am usually quiet and aloof and I feel socially awkward and nervous.

Meanwhile back to last Saturday… there’s nothing like having your hair done for boosting a girl’s self-esteem so off to visit the lovely Natalie at Scissors Hair Salon I went. For the very first time in my life I had my hair curled and set, and to complete the look I had booked in to visit future makeup-artist-to-the-stars, Ruby Oster.

At nine years of age, young Ruby has a far better idea on how to put on makeup and does a far better job of it than me and not only that, Ruby has a far more extensive collection of makeup. My makeup routine consists of using a basic moisturiser/sunscreen, occasionally dying my eyebrows and lashes, lipstick and nothing else (much to my mother’s despair). Ruby’s collection included eye-shadow of every shade under the sun, foundation, concealer (I was hoping for a Harry Potter invisibility cloak but I digress… ), blusher, eye-liner, mascara, false eyelashes, powder and sparkily stuff.

Roll on to last Saturday night; by the time I was frocked up, with my hair and makeup done and covered in sparkily stuff, I was starting to feel like a true glamazon. Even so, the first thing I wanted to do upon arrival at the Golf Club was head straight to the bar for a glass of rum and coke (so I did). Bearing in mind that as an adult, I find a couple of alcoholic drinks calms my fear and helps me to relax… too many would have had the exact opposite effect and would certainly not have been conducive to my salsa routine.

Once Courtney had introduced us and the music started, I felt as though I had those butterflies flying in formation. It also helped that I was wearing professional high-heeled dancing shoes on loan to me from last year’s Dancing With the Stars, Dancing Queen, Vicky Lowry from Wakool.

The crowd seemed to fade into the background and rather miraculously Shane and I managed to (pretty much) remember our steps for the routine.

My fear of falling over and/or completely stuffing up our routine (and publicly humiliating myself) never eventuated, the dance was all over in a few short minutes and we had a lot of fun being participants in the competition. Once again the Barham and District Medical Centre put on an excellent and entertaining evening all round. Thanks to the donations of many people from both our local community and further afield, the Barham and District Medical Centre raised an impressive $14,000 to put towards replacing the heavy doors of the medical centre with automatic ones – Well Done!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cosmic energy and the importance of Vitamin D

When it comes to improving my mood and sense of wellbeing, nothing works quite so easily as spending some time outdoors, soaking up a spot of cosmic energy in the form of sunshine. Either walking around the Barham Lake, digging in the vegetable garden, kayaking down the river or just sitting outside on my deckchair eating lunch, I find time outside is time well spent.

Last weekend’s beautiful weather along with our annual Barham Koondrook Show on Friday evening and all day Saturday and the monthly Koondrook Barham Farmers Market on the bank of the Murray River Sunday morning, proved a magnificent combination and a good excuse to get out into the fresh air.

After decades of being warned how bad the sun was for us and how we must “slip, slop, slap” we are now being warned of the dangers of vitamin D deficiency, of covering up too much and wearing excessive amounts sunscreen.

Vitamin D combined with calcium and exercise is essential for strong healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Calcium cannot be fully absorbed by the body without vitamin D. With many Australians these days spending more time inside than out, our overall levels of vitamin D have fallen to such a degree that a Deakin University study involving 11,000 people from around Australia, indicated nearly one third of the population may be suffering from vitamin D deficiency.

Bone and muscle pain, weak bones (osteoporosis), and a compromised immune system leading to an increased risk of some cancers, heart disease, type two diabetes, infections and depression are all possible outcomes of vitamin D deficiency. Not good news for our aging population residing inside nursing homes, the large percentage of the workforce who spend their entire working day indoors or our computer and electrical gadget addicted children (playing an Xbox will not increase your vitamin D levels…)

Vitamin D is found in small quantities in a few foods (eg fatty fish - salmon, herring, mackerel, liver, eggs, fortified foods). However adequate vitamin D levels are unlikely to be achieved through diet alone.

Luckily, for most of us it is relatively easy to obtain an ample amount of vitamin D by exposing our skin to sunlight while maintaining a sensible balance between sun exposure and protection against skin cancer. We just need to make it a regular habit.

During summer months when the UV radiation is highest, a mere five to ten minutes a day of sunshine on our bare un-sunscreened arms, hands and face (around 15% of our body’s surface), is enough. When UV radiation is lower during the winter months you need longer in the sun (as do people with darker skins) but even then, a quick ten to fifteen minutes each day or thirty minutes three times a week, will stand you in good stead.

Daily outdoor exercise (as well as my personal favourite: al fresco dining) can assist with the body’s production of vitamin D… bring on summer and the backyard barbeque I say.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The up side of change

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.” – Sydney J. Harris (1917 -1986)

When I read this quote by the late American journalist and columnist, Sydney J. Harris, I felt as though it had been personally written for me. My resistance to change is a source of amusement for my family and friends. Just last week my Tuesday night dinner buddy, Emma turned up with a bottle of wine, an apologetic look on her face… and an iPhone in her hand.

Prior to Tuesday last week Emma and I had prided ourselves with our resistance to “smart phones”, clinging faithfully to our identical Nokia 6120 mobile phones. They made phone calls and sent text messages and in our opinion had a better range than any of the newer mobile phones, so why change?

The week before I was due to fly to England my little Nokia 6120 started making buzzy static-y noises when I was speaking to people and then switching itself off at random moments during the day – not a good thing when it’s your work phone and you run your own business. The thought of buying a new phone and having to learn how to use it, days before flying away on an excellent adventure filled me with dread.

Very quickly I found a solution that would involve minimal change. Another friend (also named Em) had already crossed over to the dark side; she’d bought an iPhone a few months earlier but still held a significant collection of Nokia 6120s. By that evening I had my new secondhand Nokia and spent nearly an hour or so transferring all the contacts, wallpaper and even my Creedence Clearwater Revival ringtone from my old phone to the new one.

You have no idea how relieved I was to have my almost identical replacement phone to accompany me to England… they say a change is as good as a holiday but I say, a holiday is preferable to a change.

Like everyone else since the dawn of time, my life is constantly filled with change. Many changes are subtle and happen almost subconsciously with minimal resistance on my part. Big life changes that feel forced upon me out of left field are the ones I resist the most; a battle of wills I inevitably lose.

Paradoxically these big life changes that feel out of my control, are often the ones that in retrospect have propelled my life forward and opened up incredible opportunities and experiences I hadn’t dreamt of. They have, (dare I say it?), made my life better.

Change is scary; it involves leaving what you know and what feels safe, for the unknown. In my experience, when I want to move forward and have a richer, more interesting life, then I need to push the boundaries and spend at least some of my time outside my comfort zone.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Red Carpet Evening 2012

Not all that long ago I read an interesting bit of trivia that said many people fear public speaking more than death itself. How ridiculous I thought… but then I discovered something I feared more than death itself or public speaking. Dancing in public.

What seemed like a fun idea and noble cause back in early September is now looming as my greatest fear to date (excluding snakes; I hate snakes).

Slipping down the street after work one day, I had headed into Purple Patch Skate and Surf to see Sharon and purchase some new school shoes for Sam. We chatted while I paid for the shoes and then Sharon asked me if I would agree to be one of the dancers for the Red Carpet Evening.

The major fundraiser for the Barham and District Medical Centre, the annual Red Carpet Evening is an excellent evening out at clubBarham Golf and Sports. The evening includes the hotly contested Dancing with the Stars, a dance competition where four couples battle it out on the dance floor for the ultimate prize… the mirror ball trophy.

Having absolutely no experience whatsoever when it comes to dancing, I suggested Sharon ask someone else. Unfortunately she already had but was still one dancer short. With the official practice due to start the following night the clock was ticking. Reluctantly I agreed, comforted by the fact that there was still eight weeks until Saturday 27th October; plenty of time for dancing practice and miracles I hoped.

Dancing is definitely not my forté. When it comes to dancing, coordination and rhythm you’ve either got it or you haven’t and sadly, I haven’t. Although our talented and lovely dance instructor, Courtney praises us with words of encouragement each week and my fellow dancers all seem to be improving rapidly, I remain dubious of my actual progress.

As the days and weeks evaporate my anxiety levels have increased to the point I have now commenced Operation Desperation otherwise known as the “Look Like a Salsa Goddess by the 27th October” Diet and Exercise Plan. My self-styled regime includes making healthy food choices, increasing my fruit and vegetable juice intake, minimizing adult drink consumption and attending Ilka’s Enthusio Fitness classes in a last ditch effort to attain some level of coordination.

Previously I had shunned all forms of gym workouts and anything remotely resembling a fitness class. It wasn’t my “thing” and why would anyone ever want to do that? I had wondered. I am pleased to report I now have a few classes under my belt and I’m loving my morning Enthusio sessions. Namely because my fellow Enthusio devotees are all shapes and sizes, all levels of fitness and all have an excellent sense of humour. My coordination still has a long way to go but at least I’m having fun, laughing and getting a lot fitter.

One other key component of the Dancing With the Stars competition is the money jars that can be found at various locations around the town. One dollar equals one vote and the most votes per couple is a significant factor in deciding the overall winner, even despite their dancing ability on the night (a small fact that is giving me a lot of comfort).

So in a blatant example of self-promotion, please find the tins that have Shane Ricketts from Murray River Meats and Annie Barr from Rosedale Health and Wellbeing on or visit and donate to us! …Or better still, support our Barham and District Medical Centre; buy a ticket for Saturday 27th October and come along in two week’s time for an evening of fashion, food, excellent company and questionable dancing.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Deni Ute Muster 2012

Early last Friday the boys and I set out on an excellent (mini) adventure for the school holidays. Curiosity had finally got the better of me; I wanted to find out why thousands of people converge on Deniliquin every year for the Deni Ute Muster.

What began as an idea in 1999 to hold the world record for the largest parade of legally registered utes in one location has grown into a huge two-day event that injects a serious amount of money into the Deniliquin local economy.

We teamed up with experienced Deni Ute Muster attendees Leanne and Danny Gleeson and their family to camp at this year’s Muster. With our trusty Nissan packed to the hilt with swags, a couple of tents, eskys and other camping essentials, we convoyed over to Deniliquin.

The weather deteriorated as we approached the town and by the time we’d entered the family camping area at the Deni Ute Muster site the temperature had plummeted, the winds had become cyclonic and rain was forecast.  

The boys had brought Henry’s new tent he’d been given for his birthday and I was looking forward to testing out my little Tarptent that I had recently purchased.

The Tarptent lived up to its reviews that suggested I could safely pitch it on the side of a mountain during a blizzard. Standing firm despite the gale force winds that were blowing… sadly we couldn’t say the same for the boys’ tent. Within a matter of moments it was reduced to a twisted mess of shattered fibreglass poles and ripped fabric. Luckily the forecasted rain didn’t eventuate and they all enjoyed sleeping out under the stars in their swags. (Henry hedged his bets by rolling out his swag under the Nissan.)

There was certainly no shortage of entertainment for our two days of camping at the Muster. The bands and singers included amongst others: The Living End, John Williamson, Lee Kernaghan, Daryl Braithwaite, McAlister Kemp, The McClymonts, Travis Collins, US country music star Joe Nichols and former American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson was the headline act.

Dust and nostalgia washed over me as we sat watching the Australian National Circle Work Championships and I thought fondly of my first vehicle; a 1979 HZ V8 Kingswood ute with its twin exhausts and extractors that I’d told my Dad were for fuel efficiency… (sigh) I loved that ute.

The overall winner and crowd favourite in both the circle work and ute barrel racing was a plain, little yellow Datsun 1200 ute. It seemed quite comical next to the B&S styled utes that were adorned with five post roo bars, numerous aerials, roll bars, spotlights and stickers.

Besides music and circle work, we also enjoyed watching the rodeo with its bull riding; ventured out into the ute section (known as the feral area) to watch the tractor pull; admired the spectacular aerobatics display by the ShowTime FMX motorcross bike riders; watched the ute barrel racing competition; enjoyed a glass of Don and Jo Hearn’s medal winning Semillon at the Restdown Wine Bar; Tom, Sam and Henry joined the blue singlet brigade for the official blue singlet count (1667 this year); watched the AFL Grand Final on the big screen near the huge main stage; Justin from Port Fairy bet Henry five dollars that he couldn’t ride the mechanical bull for the full eight seconds… Henry lasted for twelve seconds and collected his money; toasted marshmallows on the campfire after dinner each evening and generally had a great time. 

The Deni Ute Muster’s biggest year to date was 2010 when Australian rock legends Cold Chisel were the headline act. That year the number of utes totalled 10,152 with over 25,000 people in attendance.

This year numbers were down and no doubt the weather kept some people away, still there was an impressive total of 5,015 utes gathered in the ute paddock and we along with 15,000 other people enjoyed a fantastic weekend.

Friday, September 28, 2012

AFL and loving country footy

In 2010 as we entered our second year in Barham, Sam announced he’d like to have a go at playing AFL for the Koondrook Barham River Raiders Under 11s. Apart from a few Friday night Auskick sessions in Hay when he was small, Sam hadn’t much experience with football.

Previously the only football I’d ever taken any interest in was rugby union… possibly a genetic thing as my mother is a New Zealander. Up at Hay we enjoyed the Saturday afternoon rugby union and followed local club, the Hay Cutters.

I encouraged Sam to attend the training on a Wednesday night in Barham but I am slightly embarrassed to say that I was not so secretly hoping he wouldn’t want to play on a Saturday… I didn’t think weekend sport commitments would be my “thing” so to speak. Nevertheless after a mere two training nights Sam had me handing over his registration money, friends had given him some hand-me-down boots and I was headed to C and Gs for the obligatory footy shorts and socks.

Not long after this was “Jumper Presentation Night” where the players were presented with their team jumpers. I heard, “Sam Barr, number twenty eight.”

“Twenty eight?!” I thought, “Poor kid, he must be on the bench.”

In rugby union the number on the back of the jumper corresponds with a position on the field, ie: number one is loosehead prop in the front row and number fifteen is fullback. I had wrongly assumed it would be the same in AFL so I was quite happy when a fellow parent later informed me that the numbers just identified the player and were irrelevant with regard to their position on the field.

Before long I was loving Saturday morning football as much as the boys, even though I had no idea of the rules and used to come home and “Google” every position Sam played, hoping to have a better idea by the following week. By the end of Sam’s first season with the Raiders Under 11s he’d won the Most Improved trophy and I was missing our Saturday morning outings and wished there’d been another month of games to watch.

These days I have both Sam and Henry strapping on their boots for the Raiders and Max is easing into the idea by training with the Under 15s on a Wednesday night.

Last Saturday was the first day of the September school holidays. With Max and his fellow cattle enthusiasts from Barham High down at the Melbourne Show; Sam, Henry and I decided to head over to Swan Hill and watch both the Raiders Under 17s and Under 15s in their respective grand finals.

Driving over on our own, I hoped we wouldn’t have any trouble locating where to go once we got to the oval… I needn’t have worried. All we could see upon arrival was a massive crowd in front of the grandstand in the Raiders colours of blue, red and gold, waving huge Raiders flags. It seemed to me that over half the population of our little towns of Barham and Koondrook had made the eighty odd kilometre trip to support the boys. The atmosphere was incredible and it was a very impressive example of the Barham Koondrook community spirit at work.

For two hours we yelled “GO RAIDERS!” and watched the likes of Wazza Lolicato (the human equivalent of an M4 Sherman Tank) demolish the Kerang opposition in the Under 17s grand final. The hard fought and exciting game ended with the Raiders victorious taking home the flag and back to back wins, having won the grand final against Lake Boga in 2011.

We then shifted to the next oval to cheer on the Under 15s. Despite having a minimum sized team all year and only one extra player for the bench, they still made it to the grand final. The younger Raiders put in a mighty effort but went down to a much larger Cohuna team who enjoyed the luxury of an additional seven players on their bench. Regardless of the end result, it was still a great experience for the boys to play in a grand final.

Country footy, you’ve got to love it – GO RAIDERS!

Friday, September 21, 2012

R U OK Day and suicide

“A conversation could change a life.” – R U OK? Day

Last Thursday (13th September) was the fourth annual R U OK? Day. Launched in 2009, the day aims to reduce social isolation and the incidence of suicide in our society. Held nationally on the second Thursday in September, R U OK? Day was the brainchild of the late marketing executive Gavin Larkin (1968-2011) who sadly died of cancer only two short years after launching R U OK? Day and television producer Janina Nearn.

In 1995 Gavin’s father committed suicide; it had a devastating effect on his family and everyone who knew him. A highly intelligent, successful businessman, Barry had a wife and three sons and everything to live for.

Years later, Gavin found himself heading into the darkness that is depression. Outwardly successful with family, friends and a thriving career, he was confused as to why he felt so empty inside. At a friend’s suggestion he attended a self-improvement communications course and found it very beneficial. Part of the course was to develop a project that inspired him and also benefited his community. Gavin chose suicide prevention.

A great many people are directly affected by suicide through the death of a family member, friend or acquaintance. They are left shattered, bewildered and wondering what went wrong and what they could have done to help that person. You cannot step into someone else’s mind and see what is going on but you can reach out and ask them how they are going? Are they okay?

Most people don’t openly share their feelings, particularly if they’re struggling. A friend or acquaintance asking a well-timed question such as “Are you okay?” can make all the difference.
Life is constantly changing; it is filled with emotional ups and downs. These ups and downs are a normal part of everyone’s life no matter what age we are or who we are. We rile against the down times and can sometimes feel as though we are not normal, that we are the only person who isn’t coping and that these dark feelings and thoughts will go on forever. They don’t.

When life or circumstances seem overwhelming it can be helpful to remind yourself that any challenge no matter how big or difficult it may seem, can be broken into tiny manageable sections and tackled one step at a time or even one hour at a time.

R U OK? Day is a brilliant marketing campaign and an excellent way to raise the public’s awareness for suicide prevention and reducing social isolation but don’t just wait for that 2nd Thursday in September. By regularly reaching out to one another and having open and honest conversations, we can all help build a more connected community and reduce our country’s suicide rate.

Suicide is an uncomfortable and difficult topic and one that I feel strongly about. I really struggled to write about it and somewhat ironically I found myself in a ball of anxiety, wondering if my “R U OK? Day” column was in fact, okay?

The best thing we can all do, is regularly talk to the people we care about - regardless of whether they are at risk - because connection is good for us all. For people who are struggling with their emotions and feel unable or unwilling to talk with their family or friends, sometimes talking with a stranger such as a trained counselor can be very beneficial.

For help or information for young people aged between 5 and 25 visit or call Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800. For adults check out or call Lifeline on 131 114.