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Hunter Writers Centre

Let’s Go Sailing

By | Sailing in the Hunter

By Megan Buxton

There’s nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats said Ratty in The Wind in the Willows.And Alyn and Danielle Ovenden, who have spent a large part of their lives doing just that, would agree with him. 
         Messing about in boats requires resourcefulness. Alyn, at twenty years old, had been sailing for a year when he set his sights on an A Class catamaran – a new and exciting design that promised good sailing.  These boats were, however, expensive and Alyn and his friends were ‘as poor as church mice.’ 
          What do you do when you want a new boat and you have no money? Simple, according to Alyn; you build your own. He and two friends did just that – constructing three A Class boats from scratch. It was an impressive achievement but the boats lacked buoyancy forward in the hull.  A nosedive when sailing downwind was always on the cards. If that happened the sailor was likely to be flung forward and off.
           Wisely, Alyn gave up on that boat and built himself another. This one, a Unicorn A Class, proved to be much more buoyant – so much so that Alyn won the 1966 NSW Championships sailing it.
           Messing about in boats also creates life-long friendships. Alyn spent many years sailing 505s with his friend Peter Hewson, known to everyone as Wally. They had begun sailing together when Wally was a boy of ten. Wally steered then and has been steering Alyn’s boats for the last fifty years.  They have travelled the world together competing in World Championships in Germany, Japan, Canada and the USA. In every contest Alyn and Wally finished in the top ten boats in the world.
            Inspired by their successes Alyn and Wally even thought that they might try to qualify to represent Australia in sailing at the Olympics. They joined a gymnasium so they could ‘get buffed’ but decided that they lacked interest in the gym and, besides, there were more interesting pursuits to be had. Alyn says, ‘The world was populated by women and we were trying to get to know every one of them.’
             In 1989 Alyn decided that he would like to mess about in a yacht. His search for the right boat took him to Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast where he found Valkyrie, a fully –fitted out yacht built in 1986. The first decision after buying the boat was what to name her.
             ‘I was a pushy sort of a prick,’ says Alyn. ‘One of the things I said all the time was “C’mon. Let’s go!”’ Someone suggested that they should call the yacht Let’s Go. It was a fitting name, given Alyn’s energy and his intention to sail the world, so Valkyrie became Let’s Go.
Let’s Go
 had been bought for cruising, but Alyn and his crew, feeling ‘the need for speed’ decided to race her. She was an old-fashioned boat and, at first, couldn’t deliver the success they were used to. Alyn jokes that they’d been used to winning and ‘there’s nothing worse than not being able to get to the bar first’, so some radical changes were needed, especially to Let’s Go’s keel. It took one year and many thousands of dollars but Alyn was confident that the changes would be worthwhile.
           They were. In their first race, at Belmont, after the modifications Let’s Go flew past the brand-new, very flash boat that had previously been considered the fastest.
            ‘Jesus, Alyn,’ said one of the crewmen, ‘we’ve built a rocket ship.’
            Let’s Go remained the top boat at Belmont, winning the most races and having the highest point scores for the next five years.
Alyn entered Let’s Go, sailing as Collex Onyx, in the iconic Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race in 1992 and again in 1993. The 1993 race is recognised as one of the hardest in recent history. One hundred and four boats started the race but severe weather conditions, with winds of eighty-four kilometres an hour, struck the fleet as it entered Bass Strait at night. The attrition rate was enormous and only thirty-eight boats finished. Not only was Let’s Go one of the thirty-eight but she crossed the line in ninth place.
             The fiftieth Sydney to Hobart in 1994 was to be Alyn’s last. A record three hundred and seventy-one boats entered and Let’s Go was twenty-seventh across the line and second in her division on handicap. It was a great result but Alyn’s priorities had changed.
‘I was chasing after a beautiful woman,’ he says. ‘Luckily enough, she had an eye defect and agreed to marry me.’
              That beautiful woman was Danielle.
               Danielle had only been messing about on boats for about six weeks, mostly on Let’s Go, when she entered a nationwide competition: Why I’d Like to Win a Trip to Hobart. She wrote a poem, made a video and found herself one of six finalists on an orientation cruise around Sydney Harbour.
               While the other finalists sipped champagne Danielle pitched in to help the crew. Her efforts impressed the boat’s owner and, ten weeks after starting her sailing life, she found herself heading out of Sydney Heads on Future Shock. The boat ran into problems and was forced to withdraw from the race but, she says, they beat Let’s Go out of the heads and she ‘has the photo to prove it.’
               No-one in Danielle’s family had ever sailed but Danielle had become addicted to messing about on boats. Throughout the late nineties as well as their club racing Danielle and Alyn competed successfully in long-distance ocean races such as the Gosford to Lord Howe Island race, the inaugural Brisbane to Solomon Islands race, Sydney to Southport and Pittwater to Coffs Harbour.
              Only their decision to concentrate on building a business from scratch slowed down their racing commitments. Alyn had always wanted to start a yabby farm (either that or a ‘good brothel’); Danielle didn’t even know what a yabby was. ‘I must have been the only person in Australia who didn’t know,’ she says. She soon learned and the farming enterprise was under way. Life was hectic. They ran the farm, worked at other jobs as well and even managed to fit in their wedding in 2004. Messing about on boats took a back seat; In 2002 Let’s Go had been lifted from the water and she didn’t get her keel wet again until 2009 when Alyn and Danielle began the process of selling the farm.
In autumn of 2010 they set off, with their border collie, Connie, to begin a life of full-time messing about on boats.
               Let’s Go sailed first to the beautiful Louisiades, an archipelago off Papua New Guinea. They sailed to many of the islands, and at each one were treated to feasting and celebrations. There was more to this trip, however, than just messing around in boats; their passion for sailing allowed them to help others. Alyn and Danielle were part of a fleet of around eighteen other yachts raising funds and delivering medical supplies and other goods to a clinic on one of the islands.
                On Boxing Day 2011 they set off again, this time for four months circumnavigating Tasmania, visiting places like the inaccessible Port Davey.  Sailing has allowed Alyn and Danielle to experience the beauty of the Tasmanian wilderness in ways that most land-bound travellers never do.
               Heading home to Port Stephens in 2012 they learned that the sale of the yabby farm was complete – their dream of sailing around the world was another step closer.
There were one or two ‘must-dos’ here in Australia first. Alyn and Danielle had long planned to travel along the Murray – Darling River system so, in 2013, they swapped messing about on sailing boats for messing about in a twelve foot tinny. They launched it near the Queensland border and for three months travelled the Darling and Murray rivers camping on the river banks each night.
Twenty-fourteen marked the seventieth Sydney to Hobart race.  Alyn was not keen to compete. ‘I decided I didn’t like being cold and wet,’ he says, but Danielle didn’t want to miss the opportunity of competing in such a milestone raceThey worked hard to return the boat to race- readiness, stripping back the external cruising gear to make her lighter and faster. One thing Danielle would not consider leaving behind was the ashes of their beloved dog, Connie, who had died from leukaemia not long after their return from Tasmania.
                 Finally, in May 2015, they set out to fulfil their dream, sailing north towards Cairns with the plan of visiting the Kimberleys before setting out across the Indian Ocean. The first hitch in their plans came when Alyn began to fell ill. When they reached Cairns he was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix.
                 Many weeks later they set sail again, rounding Cape York and headed for Darwin – three months of sailing west, into the sun, and watching the ‘green flash’. Each evening at the moment the sun disappears behind the horizon a fluorescent green streak flashes across the water. It is the kind of special moment that only comes to those who mess about on boats.
                  Hitch number two came in Darwin. Let’s Go had been slipped to repair a minor problem. As she was being returned to the water the slings holding her broke and she fell, damaging the rudder. More delays followed while the rudder was repaired.
                  They set off for the Cocos Islands, 2,000 miles west of Darwin and their first big passage on their own. The islands were idyllic.
                  ‘Paradise,’ says Danielle. ‘Exactly what you imagine when you imagine a deserted island.’ Despite the beauty they were concerned that they would be too late to cross the Indian Ocean before the cyclone season but, at the yacht mooring on the island they met up with a group of international yachts halfway through their circumnavigation. Alyn and Danielle joined them – the last group of yachts to cross before the season. Surely, they thought, there could be no more disasters.
                  But disasters come in threes and much worse lay ahead. Over the next few weeks they made their way across the Indian Ocean, stopping at Mauritius and Reunion islands, rounding the Cape of Good Hope and visiting St Helena before deciding to head straight to Barbados. They were to get no further.
                   Alyn had just finished fixing the boat’s fridge when he complained of a dreadful headache. An aneurism in his brain had burst; he was functioning but in great pain. Danielle, unaided, put him into the rubber ducky and raced him two miles to shore. Brain scans at Queen Elizabeth hospital revealed the extent of the problem; Alyn would die in twenty-four hours without an operation and the operation would have to be performed in Barbados. It was good fortune that the hospital he was admitted to had the only neuro-surgeon in the whole of the Caribbean and that it had not happened a day later when they would have been on their way to an island with no medical facilities.
                   Complications from Alyn’s surgery meant he was in intensive care for over two weeks. Wally and some other life-long friends from the sailing fraternity arrived to help Danielle deal with the task of moving the boat somewhere safe from cyclones, finding somewhere to live while Alyn recuperated and coming up with the large sums of money needed to pay for his treatment.
                    It was almost two months before Alyn was given clearance to fly. They made the long trip home in stages, stopping first at Grenada, where Let’s Go had been lifted from the water, so Alyn could reassure himself that all was well with the yacht.  The first port of call in Australia was Toronto Yacht Club so his friends could be reassured that Alyn was okay.
                     He was not quite finished with hospitals and doctors just yet, however. A precautionary brain scan before a hip replacement revealed another aneurism, requiring another round of brain surgery. Both it and the hip replacement were successful. 
                     ​When they left Australia in 2015 the Ovendens had planned to be away for ten years so as soon as they knew that Alyn was well enough they returned to Let’s Go.  Danielle raced the whole of the Caribbean season on a local yacht, they have been in Antigua and are now on their way to Bermuda. Despite all the hardship and tribulation they had faced they did not abandon their dream because, for Alyn and Danielle there’s nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

Cloud Chaser

By | Sailing in the Hunter
By Peter J Wells
Every sport has its elite.  Those who take on the biggest challenges their sport has to offer.  Stories about these people are told in awed tones, often with a degree of romance.   To others within their sport, they are the ‘rock stars’.  In sailing, there is no doubt that the ‘rock stars’ are off-shore sailors. 
           To understand why, try to imagine you are on the deck of a 70 foot racing yacht sailing somewhere below South America.  Out here there is nothing but sea and steel blue sky; and your hands and feet feel the cold.  This boat is big and heavy, the spinnaker alone weighs 300kg and takes up to eight of you to handle; this boat is a highly loaded piece of precision engineering, it is designed to go fast, in fact you are travelling at 20 knots.  You look around and realise you are on the crest of a wave, it appears to be the size of a large hill, at least 200 metres across its crest.  You look into the ocean and see a Fin Whale, for the next five minutes it swims alongside then, with no show of exertion; it accelerates and leaves you in its wake.  This is another day at the office for the off-shore sailor.
             Tom Addis, who these days calls Lake Macquarie home, is a full time professional sailor who has raced off-shore since 2004.  He has participated in three Volvo round the world races and eight Sydney to Hobart races (winning six times and twice breaking the race record), as well as numerous other races around the world.  In a busy year Tom is away from home for 230 days of the year, “there’s always racing going on in the world, most of my work is overseas, mostly in America and Europe…  it’s all about managing your calendar.”  
              Tom is a specialist Navigator.  In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the job of the Navigator was to understand the current location of their boat and how fast the boat is travelling.  Tom likes to think about the sea skills these navigators used; “it involved dead reckoning, compass headings, correcting for currents; if you had clear sky’s you could get the sextant out and take sun sights to find where you were, that was plus or minus 5 miles… it involved a lot of skill, time and technique.  Nowadays knowing where you are is simple, these days the job of the Navigator is all about positioning the boat to take advantage of the weather and currents.”
               These days a boat’s location is continuously available, as are detailed forecasts of weather and tides.  The job of the navigator is to interpret this mass of data, and to observe how these mathematical models interact with the real world around them.  Unlike in-shore racing, the navigator has a critical role to play.  Tom says “we live in a world with more computing power, races are won and lost on much smaller details – tacking now rather than five minutes time to get this side of the cloud – understanding why that clouds there and what that means the breeze is doing.”
                 Tom grew up sailing boats on Sydney Harbour.  Both of his parent’s came from sailing families, his father owned a Puffin Pacer, not the fastest of boats – Tom soon owned his own Flying 11.  He understands why sailing is often a family pursuit; without the encouragement of a parent or family member, many people give up after one of the inevitable set-backs sailors will experience.  When something goes wrong out on the water, there is no one else to help.
                  Despite his enjoyment of sailing, when he reached 15 Tom decided to focus on his studies, and went to the University of New South Wales to study Mechanical Engineering.  He qualified with Class 1 honours but he soon realised a desk wasn’t for him, and began to work toward a professional career in sailing.   “I was working as an engineer and decided I needed a bit of a career change…  I’m not a very good political player and I really enjoy the way natural systems work, so I took myself back to Uni.”   This meant studying mathematics and climatology.  After three years Tom graduated with a Master’s in computational mathematics, with a focus on atmospheric weather modelling. 
                  Back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when there was money to be made from a fast passage, skippers would look out for storms and clouds, as these would indicate a strong sailing wind.  It’s easy to see Tom as a modern day cloud chaser, “there’s a categorisation for clouds; cumulus clouds with flat bottoms, air cooling as it rises, vaporises when it reaches a certain temperature, a sign of circulation which can drive a sea breeze; certain clouds show convergence lines, which can be good to sail in and you may need to be on a particular side… the wind is moving 5, 10, 15 degrees constantly.  When you’re racing these are the things you’re interested in. Most people don’t understand the wind moves in three dimensions, not two.    I’m keen on treating every situation on its merits, sailing is a sport with so many variables, and not many people understand it.  I’m always scared of giving myself rules, which goes back to my technical nature – every bit of wind or soft patch is there for a reason, the key is to understand why it is there, I really enjoy that.”
                  It wasn’t until the age of 25 that Tom returned to sailing, this time in Moths, and he travelled the country sailing.  His first international job was on Team NZ in the America’s Cup.  That year Team NZ won the challenger series but lost the Louis Vuitton trophy to the Spanish team by five races to two. “Back then it was very different to America’s Cup now, with version 5 boats, heavy monohulls, and a large crew of 18 people.  It was all about trying to predict the first shift.  If you could predict which way the breeze would go you could win the race.”  Tom says the team had “various computers generating forecasts, we had three weather boats out on the course looking for cloud and weather patterns and I developed gadgets which used various inputs and mathematical models to try and learn patterns in the breeze… these races were won or lost on tiny little details…  every summer for years before the race you’d be on weather boats collecting information…  all grist for the mill…  data for your neural networks and modelling.”   
                  Tom says that “for me personally as a sailor, off-shore is where I am most comfortable.”  In 2008 he raced in his first ‘Volvo’ round-the-world race.  “I got an offer to jump on the boat; I joined them in India… I enjoy the longer races, you get into a rhythm, bits break and you’ve got to fix them and you have to eat and drink and I really enjoy that.”  In his second leg the boat broke a forestay.   Tom says “a seventy foot boat sounds big but your actual living space is the size of a small kitchen.”  While the crew kept the boat stable, they couldn’t hoist jibs and were reduced to 4 or 5 knots rather than 10 or 12 knots.  It took 42 days to finish that leg, which was “too long for everyone.”

The small township on Tristan Da Cunha – https://labandfield.wordpress.com/category/field/

​Tom’s next Volvo race was on Puma, and it was another race, another gear failure – this time a broken mast.  The crew realised they must make landfall to repair the mast.   They managed to get a freighter to stop and give them fuel for their emergency motor.  Since it was dangerous to tie up alongside a boat of this size, they set up a rope system and received the precious jerry cans by flying fox.   With the diesel on board they limped to the tiny Island of Tristan Da Cunha, which describes itself as the most remote island in the South Atlantic.  The island is named for the Portuguese explorer who discovered it in the 1500’s. However it stayed uninhabited until the early nineteenth century, when the British got wind of a French plan to rescue Napoleon.  After the military left, people stayed behind.  The sparse population was later supplemented by a group of ship wrecked Italians.   Tom found his enforced island stay fascinating and is still in touch with the islanders.   “It looks like a cone, it’s a volcano, six miles across and 1 mile high, there’s one flattish area where the township is, the island is very steep…  they have their own species of lobster, that’s their industry, they export the lobster.  Though there is a general store each family has a veggie patch and a limited number of cows and sheep.” 

Perpetual Loyal racing to Hobart [http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-28/sydney-to-hobart-perpetual-loyal-takes-line-honours-race-record/8149904]

​                  Of course any conversation about Australian off-shore racing inevitably turns to the Sydney to Hobart Race.  This race has captured public imagination in a way other races have not. Tom says “I think I’ve done eight or nine Hobart’s, and I’ve been lucky enough to win six of them.  I’ve never done the race in anything smaller than a 50 footer.” 
                  Among the highlights, Tom talks about an American boat called Rose Bud, “a 65 footer, the first American boat to win race since ’75, and then Alfa Romeo in 2009, sister ship to Wild Oats… I was involved with Wild Oats for a couple of wins.”  But the highlight must be Perpetual Loyal in 2016.  “We finished the race in just over a day and beat the previous race record by almost five hours – in Wild Oats we only beat it by 15 minutes; that boat goes well in specific conditions with very minimal time of upwind, we got a lot of it in this race, a lot of reaches, we had a full day of reaching and the boats behind were also good reaching boats, it’s a record that could stand for a while.”   Owner Anthony Bell only decided to enter Perpetual Loyal in the September before the race.  It had sustained serious damage in the previous two Hobart races and Tom says “it was a sad sight laid up in Newcastle Harbour.” Bell managed to assemble a very experienced crew, which was one reason Tom was keen to join.  After the race Bell said of Tom “our navigator did an awesome job. He picked everything.”
                   This is the sort of praise Tom enjoys.  He says of himself; “I’m very self-contained, I get internal satisfaction, I know if I’ve done a good job, I can be happy to finish forth if I’ve done a good job.  The team works nice, I’ve started to enjoy more and more, I’m a very introverted person. I’ve been lucky to have high quality jobs and high quality wins.”
                   Tom is keen for his kids to learn sailing.  He believes sailing teaches you to be responsible for yourself “you’re on a floating object in the middle of the ocean.  You’ve got to sort it out.  That’s why I want my kids to sail, not to win races or anything like that – it’s just being able to cope with a bit of adversity and come up with a solution yourself – ego’s got no place, that’s why I enjoy working with the weather, all that stuff is stripped out, it’s basic principles.  The people are simple wholesome principled people -that’s how I see it anyway.”
​                    When it comes to elite professional sportsman, Tom Addis is not your typical ‘rock star’.  Introverted by nature, he does not live for the winner’s podium, but finds satisfaction in doing his job well and working with good people.  He appreciates living on the water at Lake Macquarie and says “it’s incredibly special to be on the lake, I’m at my happiest when I’m on the lake on my own in my dingy.”

Winds of Change

By | Sailing in the Hunter

By Maree Gallop

In 1850, a man and his family stood on the deck of the La Rochelle awash with sea and salt. The ocean swelled with mystery and secrets as the man looked through the misty air with apprehension. He gripped the ship’s rails and stumbled along the gangway on sea legs created from the deep stretch of ocean traversed from Germany. Staring into the blinding sun, what seemed like a visionary delusion in the far distance was an Australian Flag being raised. The man could never have predicted the future of one of his descendants, an Australian man who married a spirited Kiwi. They had a baby girl in Brisbane. She was named six weeks later, Liesl.
              Liesl spent the first three months of life in Brisbane, then New Zealand. When she was seven her family returned to Australia. At Coal Point on the shores of Lake Macquarie, the water glistened and waves lapped at an old boatshed. In the afternoons, weekends and school holidays, Liesl dragged an old windsurfer with rig known as a wishbone, into the lake. Wind blew through her hair as she bounced over whitecaps and salt sprayed her face. She got a taste of the ocean that lay beyond the lake.
               The lake was a playground to Liesl and other neighbourhood children. Liesl’s neighbour, Robyn, often arrived home from work to a house with the doors wide open and her three children missing. She’d peer through binoculars at her children sailing over the choppy waves wearing bright yellow lifejackets, then focus her attention on Liesl, her babysitter, sailing an old wooden Moth and wearing a cheap jumper that clung to her small body like a wetsuit. Liesl would throw back her head and call into the wind, her voice floating back to shore. Robyn would set down her binoculars, kick off her nurses’ shoes and plonk herself on the lounge, confident that Liesl would guide everyone home.
                 In the evening, Liesl dragged the sailboats ashore and delivered the neighbourhood kids home safely. She padded home on water logged feet in time to hear familiar voices over the ABC News that flickered on the television. Her parents and sister greeted her with a welcoming smile.
                 As Liesl settled into the normal thrum of life in Newcastle, nobody heard the ocean mulling over its deep secrets. The surface was smooth. But as Liesl plunged into teenage life with friends and university, an undercurrent was about to drag her in a different direction.
                  In 1988, Liesl set down her pen on top of her completed exam and walked from the room. She waved goodbye to the solid brick building, and Newcastle University for another year as she breathed holiday air, sweet and full of promise. A couple of days later, Liesl’s strong athletic legs pumped the pedals of her bicycle as she rode from a girlfriend’s house in the midday sun. Thoughts swam through her mind. The beach, the smell of coconut oil, surfers riding the waves and the yearly contest that was Surfest. A plastic bag swung from the handlebars of her bike, weighted with shoes worn the night before. The road ahead was clear. But the bike swerved. The gutter rushed up to meet her. Her trajectory changed. She somersaulted over the handlebars onto a concrete driveway below.
                ‘Is there any tingling in your hands or feet?’
                Liesl tried to focus on the lady’s voice that carried the knowledge of a nurse. Beside her an elderly woman watched on. Concerned.
                ‘Yes,’ Liesl moaned.
                Sirens pierced the air. Later, the thump of a helicopter.
Liesl’s Mum sat at Liesl’s bedside, comforting her with warm hands. The chaos of life and Sydney traffic buzzed just beyond the hospital doors. The thought of home, university and work were a distant memory for her and her mum. Whilst lying in a dim room the doctor delivered words as sharp as the fragments of bone that were removed from her broken back.
             Spinal cord injury – Lie on your back – Two months – Hospital – Six months – Never walk again – Paraplegia.
             The words turned and clunked in Liesl’s nineteen-year-old mind, spinning her and her world around. But as her mind and body slowed and rested, the bruising and swelling on her spinal cord reduced. Liesl felt some sensation in her legs. After six weeks, the edge of the doctor’s words softened. Incomplete paraplegia.
             ‘I will walk.’
At Toronto High School, Liesl had studied books, played basketball, ran cross-country and sailed on Lake Macquarie for sport. She absorbed everything. She couldn’t have known then that her knowledge and ability to read the wind and water would flow through her life. She understood changing weather patterns and how to respond to make her boat sail faster. Now, from her hospital bed, Liesl had to draw on that knowledge and respond to the changing conditions of her life.
            During hospital rehabilitation, a physiotherapist took Liesl to Mt. Druitt to a basketball stadium full of sweat, strength, competition and wheelchairs. She met people who worked, drove cars and lead valuable lives. Liesl found a way to respond. She already knew the rules of the game. She already had the skills to play. Liesl propelled herself home to Newcastle.
             The buildings at Newcastle University were the same as the day she’d left, but looked different from a new angle, in her wheelchair. The basketball stadium carried the smell of life and identity. Liesl rolled through her studies of human and physical geography and a diploma of education, all to the rhythm of a bouncing basketball, and in an environment that had not yet embraced the diversity which she was about to impress on the world.
In 1990 Liesl ventured across the ocean, spinning wheels of opportunity. The Woman’s World Basketball Championships in France presented new beginnings and possibilities. In the years that followed she became a teacher of geography at Brisbane Water Senior College and played Paralympic basketball with the Gliders, representing Australia in Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996). But in 2000, Sydney hosted the Paralympics. On home soil, Liesl wheeled out in front of family and friends. Her school students poured from buses and waved with inclusive hands as they embraced the Paralympians that created magic. A silver medal around Liesl’s neck shone into the eyes of the world and whole communities became alive with ability and change.

Later, in 2009, the direction of the wind changed. A strong gust pushed Liesl onto a 54-foot yacht bound for Hobart. Her wheelchair clunked as she rolled down the wharf toward the Kale but as Liesl sailed on Sydney Harbour and through the Heads, the briny ocean and the wind rushed through her mind. She was captivated by the beauty of the water. A mirage for the intense race that lay ahead. Sydney to Hobart. Blue water roared as it swamped the deck amid a mass of quivering rigs and thrashing sails. The ocean slapped her face and her hands and mind worked the intricate strings of the Kale. Liesl was where she belonged.
                 Aboard the Kale, Liesl was inspired by the courage of Sailors with disABILITIES. She harnessed the wind, fell in love with sailing again and met her partner, Mark, a boatbuilder who understood her thirst for knowledge. Her voice developed a new accent of adventure and confidence. It rode the peaks and troughs of the ocean as her ancestors did and ricocheted around the world. An Australian sailor with Olympian qualities by the name of Daniel Fitzgibbon watched Liesl Tesch on television. A five time Paralympian basketballer, sailing on a yacht. Dan had a sharp eye and a passion for sailing. He recognised something special and sensed success and tracked Liesl down.
                Boxing day, 2010. Liesl googled “SKUD 18” and read a book on “how to trim the gib” and she met Dan for the first time. Liesl offered her hand to shake Dan’s, but he couldn’t reciprocate due to his quadriplegia. Liesl looked at the mainsail and contemplated on how much more she needed to learn. Out on the water, the mast tipped sideways and the sail swept the surface of the water as the boat breached twice. Dan showed Liesl what he was capable of. Liesl had the time of her life.
                ‘Do you want to sail in Miami next week?’ He asked.
                Liesl debated in her mind for a moment, thinking about Mark. I have got a new partner. But he is offshore. ‘Yes!’
                A week later Liesl and Dan were in Miami sailing in a nifty 18-foot sports boat with a weighted keel. Dan sat strapped at the back in a seat like that in a racing car with two straps diagonally across his chest. He steered the boat like a genius and canted from side to side in his seat by sucking and blowing on a tube connected to a battery. Liesl was strapped in the front. She worked 17 ropes, trimming the sails, wearing a life jacket and carrying a knife, in case they capsized.
                 As they sailed on water as smooth as glass, the conditions changed quickly. In a heart-beat, a gust of wind came down across the water, toward them.  Wind slapped the sails with a deafening force. Liesl and Dan were in survival mode, they couldn’t hear each other speak. But the gust passed as quickly as it came and they sailed on to win. They won their first three regattas. Liesl found the water beautiful in its ability to change. The reflection of the water was about to be mirrored in her life. She was about to leave the basketball stadium behind.


The London Paralympics beckoned. Liesl and Dan practiced as much as possible in Pittwater and Weymouth. Her life became a whirlwind, sailing in the two-week school holiday breaks. A plane ride to England followed by a bus, train, cab, sailing, and then in reverse, to arrive home in time to teach a class on Monday morning. They developed a powerful partnership. A combination of astute tactics, advanced communication and natural instincts led them to the race of their lives in the London Paralympics 2012. But Liesl’s human skills and emotions were put to the toughest of tests. On the first day of racing Liesl entered a room and received the news that her mother had died from bone cancer. A lady handed her a scarf that belonged to Princess Sophie. Liesl clung to the scarf, and her mother’s dreams, “mum’s just want the best for their kids.” She found an inner strength and sailed with a dream, and professional finesse. She and Dan made no mistakes and secured an unassailable lead to win gold at London. On the podium at Weymouth they were presented with their medals. Amid a moment of pride and joy, Liesl searched the crowd. Her partner, Mark, her neighbour Robyn, from Coal Point and a group of supportive friends were there. Her thoughts were with her mum.
                Liesl accepted the unpredictability of nature’s course of events and sailed into Rio Paralympics 2016. The challenge of the race in Rio meant everything. The future of Paralympic sailing beyond Rio had changed. New boat classes were to be introduced, none of which would accommodate Dan’s ability. The deafening news from the official committee had surfaced in Miami, on a gust as unexpected as the one they’d sailed in there.
                 In Rio, Liesl and Dan faced the most complex conditions in the massive mouth of a bay six times the size of Sydney Harbour. Her knowledge of geography was worth its weight in gold. They studied the tactics of their opponents, the overlay of the wind and the underwater topography. Currents moved around according to the shape of the bay, incredible tides ebbed and flowed and meteorologist’s reported adiabatic lapse phases that only her old climatology lecturer could explain.
​                  Liesl’s mind was filled with wind and water. She and Dan sailed into history together on a two-person SKUD 18, “a beautiful fast glamor boat with an Australian Flag spinnaker hanging out the front.” In a moment of incomprehensible joy, beneath an ancient mountain known as Sugarloaf, Liesl stepped onto the podium in stylish custom made boots, adorned in green and gold. Her hair flowed freely as a gold medal was placed around her neck. Her face reflected a pride foreign to anything she’d previously known. And from a vision created long ago, a dream became a reality. The Australian flag was raised.

Champion Cubed

By | Sailing in the Hunter

A Fighting Spirit

By | The Valley


Elizabeth peered through the grimy car windows at a woman, a man and three children crammed amongst crumpled laundry, shoes, books, pillows and other household items. She listened to the stranger’s story – how her family had led a comfortable life until her husband was made redundant, triggering a previous mental illness, and she suffered a heart attack. They were depleted of all personal resources and now living in their car.
    The woman held Elizabeth’s hand and walked with her on a journey that changed both their lives. The children were enrolled in the school and Elizabeth used her knowledge and connections to house the family who regained a meaningful life in the community where they belonged.

Elizabeth has heard many similar stories since then. At an age of retirement, when most people think about relaxing, Elizabeth shares her skills and wisdom through a charitable organisation she initiated. She creatively helps others obtain fundamental human rights: water, food, shelter and a home, by leasing old hotels (with the generous help of others).
    In an old pub in Maitland known as Darcy’s Place, there’s the bang of a hammer, the whir of a drill and the smell of roast beef cooking in the oven. Men and couples, once homeless, work together, honing skills and building a comfortable home environment, and a sense of purpose and worth. They model the fighting spirit of Maitland hero and Australian Boxer, Les Darcy, who fought all his fights in the pub’s back yard. There’s a vegetable garden in the shape of a boxing ring as a reminder that we can all fight and champion our own cause.
    On the surface, the story of a school counsellor/social worker helping others sounds reasonable. Christian values certainly play a part in Elizabeth’s mission, but her own story of homelessness may be a vital ingredient in the home grown recipe that she brings to the table when considering the needs of others.
    When Elizabeth was a child she was raised in a family with a father on sickness benefits and a mother who didn’t work. Her father gambled what money they had on poker machines. They relocated to Newcastle and lived in a shed on a friend’s farm with no help from the government. Elizabeth recalls, “there was nothing around in those days,” save the generosity and kindness of family and friends.
    At the age of twenty-one, Elizabeth was married to a violent man. “He beat the shit out of me. Broke teeth, ribs, cigarette burns . . . .” When the relationship ended, she turned her back on bitterness and chose to give love to the community instead.
    “I can connect with people doing it tough. I’ll act as a mentor. I don’t believe in taking all my skills to the dirt.”
    There’s something visceral in Elizabeth’s voice. The knowledge she carries goes beyond the academic and theoretical; her personal experience is woven through the fabric of her being and guides her vision and actions.
    Some argue that Elizabeth’s approach to providing dormitory style accommodation is out-dated but she’s sceptical about the current housing solutions supported by governments and other agencies. She’s seen governments come and go, projects fizzle and money dry up. Her faith remains in restoring old hotels with a dream to lease five across the Hunter, located on the train line to ensure access to services.
    Elizabeth knows first-hand the barriers to accessing services and the risk of isolation. Her plan to bring free services together in one place and provide creative spaces for activities such as yoga, exercise, parenting programmes, cooking, shared meals, computer lessons, legal and medical services, all promote a holistic approach.
    Whilst Elizabeth’s vision to help many groups of people who are homeless may seem grandiose, she believes, “given the opportunity, most people will do the right thing. Everything in the Maitland hotel is donated … money, a commercial kitchen, pots and pans, crockery, tables, chairs, coffee machine, shipping container, refrigeration, six computers …”.
Elizabeth’s mission continues in the knowledge that “the poor will always be with us”, but “there’s more than enough for us all to share. We can do the most compassionate thing We can! In any moment, if your heart gets twanged, let it sing. We all get the call but not all of us act.”

Mother Earth is my home,

By | The Suburbs

By Black Crow Walking

Homelessness is not who I am;
it’s just what I’m doing right now, to evolve.
I look with sad eyes, knowing the truth.
I wallow in the illusion of my patterning.
The conditioning learned from people who fear.

What makes me homeless
when I have the stars for my ceiling
and you have to use galaxy glow stickers for yours?
If I am not at home inside myself,
I’ve no place to belong.

The uncomfortable feeling of not wanting to be here.
The dread of going home, the internal groan.
The butterfly stomach of fear.
That tiny thread of hope,
that dangles a carrot inside my mind.

Somewhere inside my past
I watched the battle rage,
perpetrator against victim,
thinking it was normal.
We need each other in this addiction to pain,

I forgot what it was like to be happy.
To know the truth of my real self.
The authentic self that smiles at life.
There are bits covered in bullshit,
stopping me from seeing my freedom, happiness and peace.

Struggle catches me in its tangled web, the fairy-tale.
I reach out for the elusive happy ending.
I was born into violence
with parents who never learnt how to love.
They knew struggle and survival, abandonment and rejection.

Homelessness is a state of mind.
Deep inside myself.
Riddled with fear, I’m fleeing.
I long to wake up and see, truly see,
how beautiful those stars are.

When I couch surf I’m in a home,
the home of a friend who shows me care.
I want to explore self-care.
When I bunk down in a refuge, that’s a home.
Maybe a home for this moment but none the less a home.

A place to lay my head on a cold night.
A safe place.
A place that will put into action from their resources, what it is I need.
A chance to awaken my own resources and reach out to receive help.
To look beyond my pain

To look past my story
to see myself in the story of others.
That I may piece the puzzle of my innocence back together and find myself.
Like Bone Woman singing to the bones of her children,
calling them back to her.

I am designed to co-create and this is what I’m doing.
Each time I make a choice to stay and get hurt
I have invited fear to dine with me.
It eats me up inside, till I’m lost and believe I deserve it.
‘I can’t change him, only he can change for himself.’

I thought if I loved him enough he would change,
but oddly enough it was me who changed
but only when I’d had enough.
How bad does it have to be,
before I flee from his violence?

I fled in the middle of the night,
in just a see-through nightie.
Swollen black eyes
tears, enough to fill a bucket
and nothing to call my own.

That desperate, haunting moment,
when I know he stayed too long at the pub,
enough to tip him over the edge
and hunt me down,
like a wolf.

It was the hunting that was the worst.
Nowhere to hide in my own home,
the terrible fear that predicts his every movement.
The holding of the breath, the shutdown heart.
The face that holds no feeling.

I stayed hoping it would be different this time.
Wanting the fairy tale,
wanting the kiss to wake me up from the dream.
Yet I kept that poisoned apple in my apron pocket,
needing the pain to feel alive, to feed my addiction.

It’s scary being happy, it doesn’t feel right.
To be happy, makes me want to make better choices.
It cuts through the illusion that I need someone else to look after me.
That I have a duty to put up with it
because I took a marriage vow and had his children.

It’s too hard to stay and too hard to leave.
Someone rushed in to rescue me.
Enfolding me and my little ones in their own limited space.
But he’s found me and he was sorry and wants me back.
Promises it will be better this time.

I fondle the poisonous apple in my pocket
wanting the fairy tale once more.
Needing the pain, I return,
And someone shakes their head,
not understanding,

I’m not ready to surrender the apple yet.
That I didn’t ask for help in my whingeing.
That I can’t feed their ego
to satisfy their role of hero,
just yet.

The honeymoon phase begins again
and lasts a week this time.
Until he is gone too long
and the anxiety begins to build again,
and I know what’s coming, don’t I?

I pretend to be light and happy
because he mirrors my mood.
Remembering that safe bed I slept in last week                                                                                            I
I dine with shame and failure,
feeding the victim. My choice.

My body and mind yearn for his kindness.
Yearn for the man he is
when he’s not drunk.
I still love him
but I don’t love what he does to me.

I always have a choice.
I don’t do anything I haven’t chosen.
I choose to behave that way to meet a need,
my need is for the fairy tale.
For the pain.

Rapunzel, trapped in story
the tower of my making.
Yes, my mother gave me the apple of blame.
I took it, like it was important,
a family tradition to follow, my lot in life.

I need to free my mind of suffering,
my impulse to act following my old patterns.
Willing myself to stay.
He threw me against the wall
and put his fist through the pantry cupboard.

I wasn’t conscious, I wasn’t awake.
I was the princess who pricked her finger on the spinning wheel
and fell asleep, waiting for the prince to rescue me.
By making a conscious choice, and owning my addiction,
I reclaim my power

So, I reach out to me,
through my innocent four-year-old child
who was so much wiser and discerning.
She took my hand and said Mummy lets go now.
I left for her and I left for me.

I found all the refuges full
and no place to go with two little children, one in nappies.
I packed odd shoes, summer clothes in winter,
whatever I could find to push into a small bag for the three of us
and headed to the bus stop.

A friend came and got me and took me to his sister’s home.
A month going from friend to friend
until compassion and kindness
found their way into my heart.
I suddenly saw myself as the one to give kindness to.

Yes, he was sorry, always sorry,
a very sorry person.
But he found his next victim in his son.
I stayed for too long
to protect children that weren’t mine.

I found a house,
a happy place,
with a view of Lake Macquarie.
I sat on my veranda every day for four months
and grieved out my pain, rocking, staring

At first, I felt nothing, felt numb.
Then the tears came and I let them silently fall.
I let my death-state return to the earth
seeing only the lake.
Ancient Mother held me, healed me

I watched the stars over my head at night
and they shone so brightly inside me.
I felt as if I could breathe them in.
I began to look forward to my view,
it became my meditation,

Then I noticed it… I was happy.
It was such a precious moment,
I felt I had to defend it.
I had stopped telling the story over and over again in my head
and to anyone that would listen.

I let it go back into the earth and went for a swim
to make sure it was all gone.
Happiness is a small packet of seeds
waiting to be planted in bits of me.
The fertile land of self.

The silence helped me hear myself,
I heard my breath and my own heartbeat.
Stillness settled me deeply into the my essence of self,
and I found value and self-worth.
I was fascinated.

Mother Earth is my home, rich and abundant with life.
I shall never be homeless.
Gravity holds me to her breast.
I drink from her streams and warm myself at her sacred fires.
I am not afraid when I lie down in the grass and she holds me.

Spending time in Nature
opens my mind to my own limitlessness.
Discovering self-care as I learn to sleep without fear.
I Accept my freedom like a fragile bird,
Wanting it to stay, feeding it.

Discovering that we are all extraordinary beings.
I’m no longer stuck in a state of mind that doesn’t serve me
Change came and I welcomed it.
Sweeping out the old patterns 
I observe my evolution.

She’s Reading

By | The Lake

By Anne Walsh


She’s reading the biography of raindrops illuminated past 3 AM by the monk

streetlight through her friend’s living room window. How the lantern inside the drops

translates now – sleeping on someone else’s couch at fifty – into an ancient wonder. 

How it words this first night of homelessness into Christmas when she was six. 

Memories are a liquid wall of shimmer on the verge of streets.

                                                                    It looks like Christmas Eve.

These days light is her house. 

Light houses her.

No forms to fill out.

In the light inside of rain, in the glow part of the sound of it.

                                                                  For a second she is who she used to be. 


Light can make a sweet dream of homelessness. 


And she’s loved again.

And feels what it must be like

                                                                (she doesn’t remember it).


But most times there is no light and she prefers it that way.  

The sun is the worst lack of light there is. 

Searing, prying. The sun is a bully.  The rain,  her best friend. 

Strange how everyone wants to help the homeless under two conditions:

  1. That they don’t know them.
  2. Only when they’re cold.

Not when they’re burning, which is always.  

Lack of love is a worse fire than love. It razes homes

(just look at where hers used to be) and the kindling of mistrust

grows by the fire of lack of love in the winter of every second.

                                                                 The wick of alone is long. 

Everyone who sees with two eyes can see

almost gleefully how she’s not who she was.

But they’re lackeys of the kingpin sun,

the dumb ones caught with the gun.

Who breathe in shallows and cling to surface lives

only slightly more gratefully

having viewed what they perceive she’s lost.

                                                              But they can’t see hope

is hadopelagic.

How she,

monkfish on her friend’s couch

(not more than one night because homeless people must be strangers),

                                                             creates her own light.

Sun puts a knife in the back pocket of her thought of homeless days.

But the monk rain refuses to illuminate what won’t light her

tonight the red-tape of proving she’s as poor as she is is a Tiffany’s bauble

                                                             on the evergreen storm through the window.

A mom’s years of raising gorgeous-as-wild-ermine

empathetic kids, her volunteering for literacy  and library at their primary

school her degree in History, her executive management  in Sydney,

her having owned anything jointly, on the rental market,

without a man now – who must’ve been the real owner –

to guarantee it, mean nothing.

Realtors smell something unprofessional about motherhood.

Single motherhood especially.

They smell risk in eleven magic ermine years at home.

And a husband’s lawyer loves to continue the abuse.

                                                                   Of a lawyer-less wife.

But her homelessness houses a sacred codex: her.

In the gift of drops, in the bestiary rain, dear,

indomitable mom of three, poet: her.

Rain monk scribing god-talk under streetlights.

Centrelink forms shadowed by her giant elk antlers,

her archangel-owl wings silent

except for the speech of everything,

                                                                 her un-catchable flight.

The Poet.

No one can own.

Wild grief signing over her home.

For her new, ancient and only once love.

Someone else’s lawyer waiting to gloat,

“giving” her, as if ownership were a gift of men to women,

a minute where she raised her kids.

Her body then matching her forever half-soul in flight after,

                                                                  through the door ajar with years.

But still her boreal wild.

How it lands on the roof.

How the men can’t fix her in their lack of sights.

But still, how could she have only until

                                                                   Saturday night

though memory won’t budge,

to leave where she raised her three babies?

How she sang them to sleep in the hall, way

of worlds,  Irish sea songs and the Fox

that Went Out on a Chilly Night

and Take Me Home, Country Roads.

How she read Seamus Heaney

and Jack London to them.

Wells and wild dogs.

                                                                     Oh, how she fed them!

And she texts the one she left All the abuse, but never her kids, for

as she closes the door

that’s impossible to close.

Just to have his pic back at the top of her one-name un-contactable list.

Soulbreak of an angeltree, her home on the market overlooking the Sea.

On the market love herself.

                                                                      And she’s the currency.

The salmon silver of her.  Her bear copper.  Dead in the woods.

Killed in hibernation with new legislation

by men who call that sport. 

A trophy hunt for wolves.

Means Spring will not wake up.

                                                                      Her mom is gone.

But right now she’s celebrating six year old Christmas at fifty on a friend’s couch.

She and the rain filthy, rich though their pockets are turned out.  But this Alpha is a mom.  

She knows how she is, to three, a home. To four, including her own

only-one-of-her-kind wolf self.

And she knows how this home she is will never again be owned.

How her not having one is of far lesser consequence

to the welfare of Everyone than her without hope,

than her not creating her own light that everyone can read that hope by

in whatever darkness they find themselves.

                                                                        In whatever kind of night.






A Young Person’s View

By | The Lake

by Carol

My mum was the only parent I knew. She worked part-time in a factory and some nights she would get dressed up to go out and come back early the next morning. After those nights, Mum always let us buy something from the shops and we got a choice of food for dinner.
    Mum always had a long shower and slept the next day so whatever she did was hard work.
    Sometimes I would see a man, different ones, sometimes leaving the house when I was on my way home from school. I never knew who they were or why they were there. They never spoke to me.
    I never met my father. Mum told me he was sick and couldn’t look after himself which meant he couldn’t look after us. Years later I found out Mum never knew who he was.
    Our house was an average house. We had food, toys and clothes. Mum used to get really angry about bills and I never knew why or what a bill was; I just remember when she would yell at us for leaving a light on of the water running.

Years later, I was told that my mother was a “working girl”, I didn’t know that meant more than she worked in a factory. My mum did what she could and I loved her and never knew just how poor we really were or that my mother was a prostitute. I didn’t know and, if I knew, I don’t think I cared because I was loved. And I still don’t care.

Brigitte – A caseworker’s story

By | The Lake

By ???

She was 14 when I met her. I had returned from leave and was working the overnight shift. The other workers said she had not come out of her room. One midnight she asked to speak to me.
    She told me she watched her father kill her little brother and described it to me in graphic detail. She was placed into foster care when her parents were put into jail. Her foster father sexually assaulted her from the age 6 to 13. He was found guilty and jailed, the foster mother told her it was all her fault and she didn’t want her any more. She self harmed and was bulimic. She was always told she would never amount to anything. With support, understanding and kindness I watched her grow and blossom.
    Four years later she sent me photos of her year 12 formal.
    But her story doesn’t end there. She sent me an email to tell me she was studying Design at university.

Bec’s Story

By | The Lake

We were living in the garage at Nan and Pop’s place: Mum, Dad, my brother and me. Dad was never there much, he spent any time that he wasn’t working at the pub. He used to play a game where they’d spin a bottle around on a map then drive, drunk, wherever it pointed. Sometimes we wouldn’t see him for days. When he tells those stories now, he says it like it was cool. Cool for who, though?
    There wasn’t much room but we managed okay and we could play outside as long as we wanted. The worst bit was the bit of floor that was broken near the door. If you timed your step up too short you’d end up with bleeding toes or worse.
    I always knew when dad was home because he snored. Really loud. To this day, snoring brings me comfort and balances my fear of abandonment.
    Mum always did her best. Married to an alcoholic and part time drug addict, two kids, living in her parents shed. Thank God Nan could cook, because Mum wasn’t great at it. But she made sure of everything else.