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Remembering my childhood and how Cyclone Tracy shaped it.

I will state here and now I was not in cyclone Tracy. I wasn’t even born when it hit. I was born in Darwin two years later and have strong memories of growing up in a town, in an environment, that was slowly recovering from that horrific event.

This blog post is more about how cyclone Tracy shaped my early life and therefore shaped who I am. Even two years after it happened it was changing people, shaping our lives. Actually, it was doing that for many years after it happened. For the first five or so years of my life, people lived in real fear of each and every cyclone that hit. For those who had been in Darwin for Tracy, the memories were still raw and the fear still so real and fresh. For those who had moved into the wreckage, the desolation, the landscape stripped bare by the giant storm, they too were afraid of each new cyclone in case it showed them what it had been like to be in that nightmare.

For those of you reading this and having no idea what I’m talking about, cyclone Tracy was a category four cyclone that hit Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australian on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 1974. It was a huge storm, like a hurricane but spinning in the opposite direction, and it destroyed the town. Wiped basically everything out, houses, trees, planes, boats and people. Sixty six people in all died. Fifty three on the land and thirteen at sea. Horribly, most of the fatalities were children… in some cases smothered to death by parents protecting them from the fierce winds and flying debris.

For more factual information on this massive storm, please visit the National Archives of Australia’s official page on the event. As my post isn’t about retelling the horror of an event I wasn’t even there for. It’s about how the recovering Darwin shaped me. Actually, writing this I’ve found some very fascinating blogs and sites that recount Darwin, the cyclone and the rebuild. I highly recommend anyone interested in learning more to google the topic and start reading. There’s some great stuff out there!

So, I was born in Darwin two years after the cyclone that destroyed over seventy percent of the buildings. A lot had changed by then, new buildings had been built, some of the older buildings had been restored and most of the storm debris was removed. I mean, there was still the twisted “three girders” from a house that later became a monument. There were still the trees with parts of people’s roofs embedded in them. Actually, those trees and their shrapnel were still around well into my adult life. They might even still be there, I don’t know, I moved away from Darwin nearly twenty years ago as it had changed from the one I had loved growing up.

And I don’t mean that in a completely negative way… not really. It was inevitable that Darwin would change because the one I grew up in was more a stop gap measure to most, than an actual city. With the threat of another cyclone still red raw in their memories, the houses were built like concrete bunkers ensuring they would survive another onslaught. The landscape was new and barren. Stripped bare by the winds and destruction, I remember Darwin growing up as being a near treeless place. Lots of bare earth and the ability to watch my father drive home from the university (then Community College) from about the half way point as there was no real foliage in between. Being in the tropics that barren earth soon turned green and was swallowed up by fast growing trees like African mahogany and black wattles. But I still remember it.

Cyclone Tracy shaped where I went to school. As the school chosen for my older siblings and therefore me was one of the first schools restored and accepting students when it was time for my sister to go. It shaped how I played at school as I still have memories of the playground the army had built for the children. It was a lot of wooden structures and netting (think army obstacle course) and I still remember burning my bottom on the searing hot slippery dip (slide) as I studied its construction… being made out of forty four gallon drums beaten flat and then welded together. I can’t see my children being allowed to play on such equipment these days, but this was the late 70’s and early 80’s and kids were different back then. 😉

In a lot of ways Cyclone Tracy even shaped my after school care and activities. As some of this time I spent in good old Building eighteen and the then Darwin Community College. My father worked there and was part of the department that tested blends of concrete and other building materials to ensure they were strong enough to meet the new building codes. The building codes introduced after Tracy. Building eighteen was the science building and so my early childhood was one of science and learning the different things like biology, botany, engineering, geology, entomology and all the other “the study of” sciences there. These were people brought to the north to study Darwin after the cyclone. To see how the plants, animals and insects were doing after such a massive shock to the natural world too.

An example of this people may not believe is when green ants came back to Darwin. Yes, green ants! This happened in my life time! This shaped my upbringing too. See, we used to have a Poinciana tree in our front yard and every year it would be decimated by a type of caterpillar we called a looper. I really don’t remember it’s actual name, they were just loopers as they looped along… a bit like the images I’ve seen of an inchworm. So, these loopers would appear in plague proportions every year and wipe out all the Poinciana trees in the neighbourhood. They would get everywhere and were a real pest. Then one year we noticed this strange orange ant with a green bum. We’d never seen one before and they were new to Darwin in the eyes of we new residents in this ever recovering city. They were the green ants. A native ant that had been in that part of Australia for longer than any of us. But I had never seen one because cyclone Tracy had decimated their population so much they had disappeared. This ‘new’ ant had travelled a long way to this lush new world to replace its dead relatives. They had marched north to discover no other tree dwelling ant in their road and they took over. They weren’t a pest, despite our hatred of their giant leafy nests in our road, they were back where they belonged. It had taken them almost ten years, but the green ants returned to Darwin. We didn’t have much of a problem with the loopers after that and our Poinciana even flowered and had a seed pod it recovered so well! Another momentous moment, seeing a Poinciana flower… as it wasn’t something I’d seen before thanks to the hungry loopers.

Having entomologists setting insect traps in your yard and getting excited over discovering a new bug or moth is another memory. Their fascination on life returning rubbed off on me. I think that’s why the little things in life still fascinate me so much. The miracles of nature most people walk blindly past that bring a smile to my face for witnessing.

For people bored of this blog and not getting the point, let me try and explain it better. I grew up in this new, growing and recovering environment. It was the only life I ever knew. As far as I was concerned this was how life was. Buildings the same age, or younger, than yourself. Panic at the first sign of a cyclone. That siren warning to let you know it’s time to go home and buckle down as another cyclone was about to hit. To me, this was normal. Didn’t everyone grow up in science labs, play on old army equipment and watch trees and buildings grow with them? Discover new animals in their yards and watch life explode into existence from a desolate and dirty barren waste land?

The first time I saw a building that was fifty years old – while visiting family interstate – I was in awe. Real, everyday people got to live in such old buildings? Weren’t old building just special places the rich lived in? Or the Government? Yes, fifty years old was old to me! Buildings in my life were the same age as me. You should have seen my reaction the first time I came face to face with stone statues that were over seven hundred years old! Awe was an understatement. Old things were alien to me, as old meant the same age you were… didn’t it?

And so cyclone Tracy shaped my fascination in old manmade creations. From art and architecture through to books and literature… life existed before cyclone Tracy and not everyone lived in a place as old as them with belongings of the same age. Some were lucky enough to live in places decades older than themselves. Centuries even! How lucky were they? And yet they didn’t even seem to realise this.Yes, I was a child and so my views on the world were limited to what I understood, but I hope you can understand it all the same.

Growing up in Darwin itself also shaped me. What I deemed ‘normal’ others see as rather over the top and in some cases insane. A place that had no rain and bushfires for eight months of the year and then four months of cyclones, mild flooding and near constant rain… that’s normal. What do you mean we’re meant to have four seasons? Two is all we needed. Cold, what was cold? Wasn’t that a stuffed up nose that got you off school for a few days? Of course all the food is in the fridge or freezer or tinned and dehydrated. It would go off otherwise! Nah mate, that was just a python, not anything to be afraid of. Yes it was a snake… but there’s a difference between a venomous one and just a python. Yes, termites fly and the air is filled with them at the first rains of the season. Try and not inhale them. That thing on the wall? It’s just a gecko… no, don’t pick it up by its tail! There’s mould on your leather shoes? I hate to break it to you, but it’s March and there’s mould on everything right now, including you! Hell yes the soil can even kill you, there’s a bacteria in it that comes up with the water table in the wet and I really don’t think you should go walking in it in bare feet with that cut you’ve got there.

No, I’m not making any of that up… I really have said it to strangers to the north over my life time. 🙂

And so, realising cyclone Tracy was forty years ago this Christmas… I started to wonder exactly how many people still in Darwin remember it the same way I do. I know of a few, as I still have friends and family there. But when Darwin lost its fear of cyclones and people from the south moved up there, turned their noses up at what the tropics were like and pulled it all down and put up their view of what the tropics should be like… I had to leave. I’d lost my Darwin and an even newer one had been put in its place.

So as much as I love my Darwin… it doesn’t exist anymore. I still call it my hometown, even if the one I remember is no longer there. You can never go home, but it continues you shape you throughout your life and you need to acknowledge your past, embrace the present and enjoy the prospect of the future. My Darwin has changed and gone, but the one that is there now is just as important and I hope they’re never put through another cyclone like Tracy.

Not exactly the sort of Christmas post people usually send out… but cyclone Tracy shaped Christmas for me too… doesn’t everyone have tape on their windows at that time of year? You mean it’s not part of the decorations? 😉

Be safe, remind your friends and family how awesome they are and how loved they are and realise we don’t all see the world the same way as we didn’t all have the same childhood as you. Or even look on the same environment we were growing up in in the same way you did.

Until next time,

Janis XXOO.

Three Twistered House Girders

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2014 in More pep talk than writing, Writing

 

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Week One of NaNoWriMo over, how did you do?

So that’s week one done and dusted, how did you do? Did you make your goal or pledged amount of words? Did you start out well, plough on come hump day and then end the week playing solitaire with the “I’ll get back to my manuscript as soon as I win this game…” mantra?

Most importantly – Did you have fun? As quite honestly I really don’t care about the rest as long as you nailed this last one. 🙂

Me? Well, I started out shaky as I got back into the mindset to write as Stephanie in There’s no place like Hell, and then I had to push through the mental blocks that have been stopping me from writing all these months. I averaged around 1,500 words on the first few days. Not the desired 5,000 words but better than the 0 I had been managing for so long.

I then had an epiphany around Wednesday and got past the final mental block! The Ankou was working with a tribe of Impa Shilup – of course! And all the words just poured out. I was up until just after 1AM getting the Ankou and a demon out of my house before I could go to bed. I only managed 3,600 words or so – but I achieved so much I didn’t care I didn’t make my goal.

NaNoWriMo moment - finally getting to bed at 1AM.

NaNoWriMo moment – finally getting to bed at 1AM.

 

I was then stuck at home with a sick child for the rest of the week and, quite frankly, I could not write more than a few hundred words a day. If he wasn’t sick and needed cuddles, he was talking the legs of a donkey through wet cement. Not the ideal writing environment. :-/

And by the end of the week, as I’d been working hard on Haus Frauing as well as Authoring, I was at my wits end this morning. So escaped for some ME time at one of my favourite chocolatier cafes – Red Cacao.

I spent my quarterly royalties on the following – spiced carrot and date loaf drizzled with warm honey and served with natural yoghurt. Plus the all-important MUG of salted caramel hot chocolate. Inner peace gained, pat on the back for selling ten copies of my books last quarter and some much needed ME time taken to remind myself of the good things that come from writing.

 

Red Cacao spiced carrot and date loaf drizzled with warm honey and served with fresh strawberries and natural yoghurt.

Red Cacao spiced carrot and date loaf drizzled with warm honey and served with fresh strawberries and natural yoghurt.

 

Now that I’m home again I am rejuvenated and plan on ignoring my family for the rest of the day and just writing as that’s what it’s all about.

Yes I’m not that famous (I’m famous in my own backyard as I put it) and I don’t earn buckets of money… but you know what? I’m averaging 4.5 out of 5 stars for my reviews, people who are buying my books are loving them and I got a bloody good hot chocolate and scrummy cake out of it. I am a winner. This is what NaNoWriMo is all about – being a Writer, being an Author and simply enjoying it for what it is and celebrating every small achievement.

My well earned royalties payments spent the best way I know how. Thank you for buying my books - this is thanks to you. :-)

My well earned royalties payments spent the best way I know how. Thank you for buying my books – this is thanks to you. 🙂

 

So in week two of NaNoWriMo, keep this in mind. Are you writing to keep up with everyone else? Are you in a race to write the most words no matter what the quality? Are you, like me, using it to inspire yourself into finishing a manuscript? Or are you just jumping in and enjoying being part of this big, wide world of Authors and Writers celebrating our love of the written word this November?

Although you can write for a competition, the writing itself is not a competition. Don’t just be filling up the page if you’re not feeling the story. Don’t feel pressured by NaNoWroMo, it doesn’t own you, it’s not going to hunt you down and rip your arms off if you don’t follow the rules or pledges you’ve made. It’s there to inspire you, not stress you. And if there are people out there making it stress you, go find new people as they’re not worth it. Easier said than done by a loner who can interact with others but is simply fine singing her own praises. 😉

Okay, here comes week two of NaNoWriMo – let’s jump on board, write our hearts out, laugh at our outrageously silly typos, encourage others no matter how much or how little they write and just high five all the other Writers out there. We may not all be Authors, and if we are we may not even be successful ones. But we’re having a good time doing what we love best – writing.

And some of us are making the most of it with spiced carrot and date loaf with a salted caramel hot chocolate. 😉

 

Red Cacao salted caramel hot chocolate. You add the hot caramel yourself - yum!

Red Cacao salted caramel hot chocolate. You add the hot caramel yourself – yum!

 

Until next time,

Janis. XXOO

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2014 in Writing

 

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Friends of writers know we’re weird, but love us all the same.

This week I’ve picked up various social media types, what I call ‘follower fodder’. As in companies/people/ spambots that hook on to something you’ve said, referenced or inferred to somewhere within social media (blog, Twitter, Facebook, you know – that stuff) and basically follow you in the vain hope you’re gullible enough to not only follow them back but buy whatever it is they’re selling (which is usually not much to nothing at all but now they have your money they don’t care).

So I thought of doing a blog post on how sick I am of such people, who take on the belief that everyone who uses the internet is gullible, stupid and has enough money to hand out to anyone who asks for it. I wanted to point out that not everyone who uses the internet is an imbecile and how I wish people would stop approaching me as if I was… and then I spent some time on social media sights this afternoon and read over comments and posts by perfect strangers out there voicing their own opinions on things and well… decided to let that sleeping dog lie. Not only did I not want to waste my precious weekly blog on a rather boring and froth at the mouth rant, I also didn’t want it to look like a snippet of some latest piece of fiction I am dealing with. 😉

As I have mentioned in other blog posts – It is better the remain silent and be thought an idiot than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt… or something like that. In other words, I didn’t want to become another spouty all-knowing god of knowledge and come across an ever bigger idiot than I started out as by acknowledging I had been reading some of the tripe I had indeed been reading. 😀

And so instead, I thought I’d dedicate this post to letting you all know what I’ve been up to in the writing world. Yes, if you’re inwardly or outwardly groaning over how dull a topic this sounds, now’s the time to stop reading and go off and get on with your life. Byie!

For the rest of you, I’ll start by explaining the title of this blog. It came from a conversation I was having with a few friends via one of those notorious social media sites the other day. When asked what I was up to (meaning writing wise) I explained that I had had to redo my zombies, was thinking of doing something with Tasmania, was a little closer to killing my artist, hadn’t yet gotten to hell and was still uncertain whether dragons could be used to explain the true depths of mathematics. So… the usual.

They took this in their stride and wished me well and asked me questions about it, but a friend new to the conversation had to ask if this was all in the one book as it sounded complicated. To which another friend said ‘No, just in her head. She’s weird because she’s a writer, but we love her all the same.’ And yes, yes I did take that as the compliment it was meant to be. I have always relished in being weird, whether hidden in ‘normal people’ clothing (think wolf in sheep’s clothing) or just letting my weirdness show through wearing happy pants and odd (unmatched) fluro coloured socks. And the fact that friends accepted it, enjoyed it, understood it and proudly told me so was just the icing on the cake.

And no, that wasn’t all in the one book. I am a good writer and would never go that nutso crazy in the one book. 😉

In fact it was two short stories, two separate book sequels and my first attempt at a cosy crime fiction. Can you tell which was which? Do you feel I should stick my cliché of ‘being yourself’ in here somewhere?

No, I won’t put it in, but I will brag a bit about my writing projects. I just wanted to start it by mentioning my friends and their kind words when it comes to dealing with me having one foot in reality with them and the other dancing about in various worlds. Creative Hokey Pokey?

So, writing and what I am doing right now. Well, I’ve written a short story titled The last tenant of Adelaide set here in Adelaide of course, but after the all too popular zombie apocalypse everyone appears to be prepping for. I will admit here and now that short story writing isn’t my strong point, in fact the whole story is about as many words as I tend to spend on a chapter… so it was hard and I did have to do a re-write (rare for me). All the same, it has tentatively been accepted for an eBook anthology of short stories that are set in Australia. For more information on this eBook idea I strongly suggest you visit the blog of Samantha Stacey Bond where she explains it a bit better.

And, after chatting with Samantha, I got thinking about whether or not to try and do a short story set in each and every state and territory of Australia. So, that’s South Australia down and after a news article I read the other day about an exploration to Tasmania to see if they could find any more Tasmanian tigers… well, now I’m working on one for Tasmania too. Speaking to another writer, Leonie Rogers, about what it’s like growing up in the red earth of the north (her in Western Australia while I was in the Northern Territory) has had me start thinking of a story for my ‘home’ next. Just the simple comment from Leonie of ‘It’s the red dirt running in our veins’ has of course got those creative juices boiling over with ideas of where to take such a brilliant line. She knows I’m going to do it too!

Short stories aside, I think I may have mentioned I had started on a sequel to Isis, Vampires and Ghosts – Oh My!? And if I haven’t, I’m mentioning it now. The sequel is titled There’s no place like Hell. Yes, I’m sticking to the Wizard of Oz quotes and loving it. Basically my lovely and sarcastic Stephanie, who you will meet through IVG-OM! next year, has to save the soul of someone from her past… and to do so has to go to hell to do it. I won’t say too much as it won’t make sense if you’ve not read the first… but it involves the usual demons, Isis stuff, ghosts of a sort and further ‘Other World’ type fun being beaten into submission by her sarcastic but gentle touch. Well, not too gentle a touch really, but hey!

The other sequel is merely an idea for now and would follow on from Bonnie’s Story – A Blonde’s Guide to Mathematics. Basically I feel there are some loose ends to be tied up in the first story… plus a little ‘What if’ scenario I would like to play with. This ‘What if’ was shared on Bonnie’s Facebook page last week. Besides tying up the loose ends, I just want to know how far down I want to delve into maths and physics to show the true origin of magic. And the reason magic is no longer used in our world is because… well, it actually is, if you know the right sums and equations. Who knows, this one is just a backburner thought for now. 😉

And finally, the cosy crime attempt – Mount Loxley Murder Mysteries and me bumping off the Autumnal Artist to kick this alphabetical series off. I’m almost there too! Just hired the artist… now just have to get her back to her place and bump her off in that locked room I keep talking about. Yes, this one leads back to my friends loving my weirdness and I have actually been asked ‘How are you, have you killed her yet?’ by those near and dear to me. Often daily. 😉

So, are you still awake? As that’s pretty much everything I am writing right now… or not writing as the case may be. As I am currently trying to get back on top of all the Haus Frauing and gardening that needs to be done around here as well as get back to full health. Plus with the summer Solstice coming, shortly followed by Christmas (and horde holidays)… I have a lot of other things to rudely get in the road of my writing. But still, school holidays can be a bonus as it means I can sit up until 3 in the morning writing and be able to ignore the world in my own zombie state the next day as long as I remember to provide enough food and water for the kids… and remember how many kids I am meant to have in my care that day. 😉

I hope this blog post has helped inspire you to do some writing of your own. For someone who dislikes short stories so much, I’ve actually become quite addicted to the concept of them and have even entered some of my shorter stuff into competitions. As they say, you have to be in it to show you tried, even if you still fail. The fact you tried still counts!

So go out there, blog, write, enjoy being a writer and possibly in being weird. Don’t just sit and sigh and want to waffle over the imbeciles on the internet and those who prey on them. Go make your own fun instead!

Until next time,

Janis. XXOO

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Writing

 

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