“Seeing my designs on the runway will drive me to do it again.”- Cooma’s Charly Thorn

Charly Thorn, back home in Cooma. Photo: Ian Campbell
Charly Thorn, back home in Cooma. Photo: Ian Campbell

Cooma fashion designer Charly Thorn says she is happy to be sleeping in her own bed again after plying an international catwalk but is hungry for more.

India is the next stop for this ambitious 18-year-old.

The opportunity to leave her Snowy Monaro home was forged at FashFest in Canberra this time last year, an industry scout spotted Charly’s talent and offered her a spot at Vancouver Fashion Week in Canada – if she could raise the money to get there and create a spring/summer collection.

Cooma turned out to make sure the opportunity didn’t pass her by with a fashion show fundraiser held earlier this year to supplement Charly’s savings while working at the town’s Thai restaurant and at the online fashion house Birdsnest.

Part of Charly's Vancouver collection, the teal top is Merino wool, the skirt is made of silk. Photo: Robyn Damianos Photography
Part of Charly’s Vancouver collection, the teal top is Merino wool, the skirt is made of silk. See the full collection HERE. Photo: Robyn Damianos Photography

In Vancouver, Charly’s designs were the first to stride out before an audience of media and international buyers – Charly was the opening event.

“It was such a thrill, seeing my creations walk down a runway together as a collection,” she says.

“It was exhilarating after all that work to get there.”

New York was added to the travel schedule, her youth and ability the ticket.

“I grabbed an awesome opportunity in New York, there was a day at Parsons School for Design, which is where I have always wanted to go, my dream school,” Charly says.

The collection Charly presented in Canada was a mix of her two homes – Hamilton Island off Queensland’s tropical coast and Cooma, a stone throw from Australia’s highest peak and coldest temperatures.

Since she was a baby, Charly’s year has been split between the families snow business – Village Ski Hire in Cooma during winter and another life and business on Hamilton Island in the warmer months.

It’s a lifestyle that gave birth to, until now, an unlikely connection – holiday time resort wear meets Merino wool, an idea that attracted positive coverage from fashion bible Vogue.

“It was a real contrast for people and challenged what they think of when they think wool – lots of beachwear, very floaty – a juxtaposition that puts wool on the beach or beside the pool,” Charly says.

“It works though, wool is so breathable, it’s really nice to wear, and at the end of its life when you throw it out it’s not going to hurt the environment.

“To be able to showcase Australian wool, alongside other natural fibres like linen and silk, on an international stage is awesome,” Charly says.

Part of Charly's Vancouver collection, featuring linen printed in Sydney. Photo: Robyn Damianos Photography
Part of Charly’s Vancouver collection, featuring linen printed in Sydney. See the full collection HERE.  Photo: Robyn Damianos Photography

The colour and cut of the cloth wasn’t the only point of interest in Charly’s travels, the 18-year-old’s passion for the Monaro’s fibre lead to conversations at Parsons around the marketing and production of wool.

“It was really interesting to see the comparison between the Australian wool industry and what America wants to make of their wool industry.”

“America is talking about localising wool, not just production on local farms but also the milling, dyeing, and manufacturing side of the business in local factories.

“I really hope Australia follows that trend, because at the moment once wool leaves Australian farms it goes to China to be dyed and go through a fabric mill, and then we buy it back from them for manufacturing,” Charly explains.

“It’s really tricky to track wool once it leaves the farm.

“Food has already done it, people want to know where their products come from,” Charly says.

Still coming down off her high, Charly is considering her next move.

“To be in the middle of all those creatives is what I live for,” Charly says.

“So I’ve applied for a couple of international scholarships, and to colleges and universities here, I am just waiting to hear back.”

In the meantime, work as a trainee at Birdsnest has opened a door to travel to India in December.

“Every year they visit their suppliers and I just said can I come with you? I’ll pay my way, I just want to come and watch,” Charly says.

The experience in Vancouver and New York has left her hungry for more and it’s impossible not to believe 2018 will be the start of so much more for Charly Thorn and her homespun unique inspirations.

“Seeing my designs come to life on the runway will drive me to do it again and again.”

*About Regional content happens because of the contributions of members including – Tathra Beach House Appartments, Four Winds Bermagui, Kate Liston-Mills, Kym Mogeridge, Pam Murray, Jo Saccomani, and Doug Reckord. Thank you!

Bega’s Spiral Gallery goes to the dogs!

Duke Campbell - bins and balls are his life. Phone Ian Campbell
Duke Campbell – bins and balls are his life. Phone Ian Campbell

Entries are now open for the “Year of the Dog” Open Art Prize at Bega’s Spiral Gallery.

Works representing cavorting canines, pampered pooches, faithful friends, and wonderful working dogs are all expected to mark their territory in the renowned Church Street art space between February 16 and March 14.

There is a maximum of two works per artist with an entry fee of $30 per work. Anyone can enter, even if you don’t consider yourself ‘arty’, works in any medium and at any level of practice are encouraged.

There are great prizes to be won! First prize will receive $800 cash plus a $200 accommodation voucher from Tathra Beachside. Plus there are prizes for Runner-up, the Encouragement Award, and the People’s Choice Award.

Sponsors include – Candelo General Store and Café, Wild Rye’s Baking Company, Pambula Boarding Kennels and Outasite Storage, Tathra Tyre and Auto Service, Tathra Beachside, Bermagui Veterinary Clinic, Candelo Books, Bega Garden Nursery, Tathra Beach Tapas and Bega Cheese.

Entry Forms are available now from Spiral Gallery on Church St, Bega and from the Spiral Gallery website

Keith can help with questions and more info on 0429 932 529 or email – spiral.yearofdog@gmail.com

Entries close 4pm on Friday, December 8.

Cooma MotorFest shines bright on a HUGE weekend

My car sits in the driveway at home covered by dust day in day out, rain is the only thing that gets my Subaru sparkling. A couple of hours at Cooma MotorFest on Saturday (Nov 4) is not going to change that but it has left its mark.

Brilliant blue Monaro skies backed the hard work of the Cooma Car Club and other local service groups; it was a magic day, not just for rev heads but for anyone that appreciates hard work, style, colour, and nostalgia.

This bi-annual event raises money for local charities and draws around 3000 people to Cooma Showground, not to mention car, truck, and machinery clubs from Canberra, the Far South Coast, and southern Monaro.

MotorFest is one of the anchor events for Cooma’s biggest weekend of the year – a weekend that also incorporates The Australian National Busking Championships and The Snowy Ride for the Steven Walter Foundation.

Cooma has extra buzz about it on the first weekend in November.

Capturing the hundreds of cars, trucks, and machines lined up on Cooma’s lush exhibition space is impossible, you’ll have to make sure you come along next time and see it all for yourself.

A few of my favourites were the Monaro, the “32 CDAN” and a hot red Mustang – any memories here for you?

How great that men, women, and families hang on to and protect this social history.

Cooma MotorFest is so much more than a “show’n’shine”.

Hope you enjoy the pics, more to come.

It wouldn't be a car show in Cooma without a Monaro! This 1969 Holden Monaro GTS was a crowd pleaser. Photo: Ian Campbell
It wouldn’t be a car show on the Monaro without a Monaro! This 1969 Holden Monaro HT GTS was a crowd pleaser. The car and the region are pronounced differently however. Monaro is said to be the Aboriginal word for ‘high plateau’ or ‘high plain’ or ‘treeless plain’. Photo: Ian Campbell
The HT Monaro marked the phasing out of the 5.0-litre Chevrolet V8 that featured in earlier models, and the introduction of Holden's own locally made V8 engines. Photo: Ian Campbell
The HT Monaro marked the phasing out of the 5.0-litre Chevrolet V8 that featured in earlier models, and the introduction of Holden’s own locally made V8 engines. Photo: Ian Campbell
According to Monaro car enthusiast Greg Wapling, a member of Holden's desugn team named the Monaro. "Noel Bedford, was driving through Cooma on holiday when a sign on the council offices took his eye. "It said Monaro County Council, n western-type lettering that reminded him of 'Marlboro Country', and fitted with the cars American styling and image. The car and the region are pronounced differently however. Monaro' is said to be the Aboriginal word for 'high plateau' or 'high plain' or 'treeless plain'. Photo: Ian Campbell
According to Monaro car enthusiast Greg Wapling, it was a member of Holden’s design team named the Monaro. Noel Bedford, was driving through Cooma on holiday when a sign on the council offices took his eye. It said Monaro County Council, in western-type lettering that reminded him of ‘Marlboro Country’, and fitted with the cars American styling and image.  Photo: Ian Campbell
Greg Wapling writes, in 1969, the Holden Dealer Team Monaro's came first (Bond/Roberts) and third (West/Brock) in the Bathurst 500. Photo: Ian Campbell
Greg Wapling writes, that in 1969, the Holden Dealer Team’s Monaros came first (Bond/Roberts) and third (West/Brock) in the Bathurst 500. Photo: Ian Campbell

This 1932 Ford Tudor was the jewel in the crowd at Cooma Showground for MotorFest 2017. Photo: Ian Campbell
This 1932 Ford Tudor was the jewel in the crown at Cooma Showground for MotorFest 2017. Photo: Ian Campbell
Look but don't touch! A sunny day showed this one off beautifully.Photo: Ian Campbell
Look but don’t touch! A sunny day showed this one off beautifully. Photo: Ian Campbell
The workmanship inside and out is jaw dropping. Photo: Ian Campbell
The workmanship inside and out is jaw-dropping. Photo: Ian Campbell
When first released in 1932, prices ranged between $495U.S and $650U.S, these days - priceless. Photo: Ian Campbell
When first released in 1932, prices ranged between $495U.S and $650U.S, these days – priceless. Photo: Ian Campbell

Ford released it's Mustang concept car in 1963, it was released on to the market in 1964. The original shape, style, and attitude continues to inspire the Mustang of today. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Ford released its Mustang concept car in 1963, it was released on to the market in 1964. The original shape, style, and attitude continues to inspire the Mustang of today. Photo: Ian Campbell.
The care and attention to detail the owners of these cars display is mind blowing. Photo: Ian Campbell
The care and attention to detail the owners of these cars display is mind-blowing. Photo: Ian Campbell
Wouldn't you just love to!? Photo: Ian Campbell
Wouldn’t you just love to!? Photo: Ian Campbell
How do you do that? Make a car engine shine and sparkle? Photo: Ian Campbell
How do you do that? Make a car engine shine and sparkle? Photo: Ian Campbell

*About Regional content is supported by the contributions of members, thank you to – Kiah Wilderness Tours, Alexandra Mayers, Amanda Stroud, Olwen Morris, Deborah Dixon, and Maria Linkenbagh.

 

“I am a wealthy man Ian, my family stuck together” – Bombala’s Ron Milliner.

Ron and Lexie Milliner - solid gold people. Photo: Ian Campbell
Ron and Lexie Milliner – solid gold people. Photo: Ian Campbell

Bombala’s Ron and Lexie Milliner have worked hard, smart and with passion all their lives, they are now moving towards a kind of retirement that will keep them busy, but see them enjoying the spoils of their labour.

Six months ago they all but wound up their long-running earth moving business.

“We wanted to dismantle things while we still had our marbles, although some say I lost them a long time ago,” Ron laughs.

Negotiations continue around the sale of their beloved “Crystal View”, which had been HQ for the family and the business. Most of the trucks and machines that were once parked on the property on Gunningrah Road are gone, sold at auction back in May.

“We built the business up to a point where we had just over 60 registrations – trucks, trailers, utes, and machines, and now after the sale, we are down to about 10,” Ron says.

“I’ve still got a granite rock quarry and I make road base and sell all sizes of granite stone -from 20mm to rocks as big as this lounge we are sitting on.

“We are hoping to expand and sell wall and landscaping rock to the coast.”

It’s hard to imagine Ron not driving trucks and machinery, it’s his boyhood dream – trucks and music.

“When I was a little kid I wanted to own trucks and bulldozers and play Slim Dusty music,” the 71-year old says.

“And to a certain degree, I’ve managed to do that.”

Ron beams as he talks about his two and half-year-old great-grandson playing in the Milliner quarry.

“He’s doin the same thing I used to do as a little kid – load little rocks into his little dump truck,” Ron says.

Married for 53 years, Ron and Lexie have three children, seven grandkids, two great-grandsons, and another two due in January.

The pair met while working at the old Harold Golberg department store in Bombala.

“Lexie worked upstairs in the accounts department,” Ron remembers.

As a founding member of the “Bombala Knit and Knatter Group”, Lexie has been busy knitting baby blankets for the new arrivals on top of her regular crafty generosity.

The Knit and Knatter girls get together often at Bombala’s famous Cosmo Cafe, making woolen blankets for the charity Wrap With Love.

“We sent 100 wraps away in August, I’ve lost count how many we’ve done over the last eight years,” Lexie says.

Some of the wraps, Wrap With Love send around Australia and around the globe to people needing care and comfort. Photo: Carlingford Uniting Church
Some of the wraps, Wrap With Love send around Australia and around the globe to people needing care and comfort. Photo: Carlingford Uniting Church

Apart from keeping the home fires burning, Lexie has been key to the businesses success, often called on in the early days to move a truck when Ron needed an extra pair of hands.

Both fondly remember family barbeques in the bush when their children were young. Precious family time while Ron was working a 13 day fortnight harvesting and carting logs, building up the business.

At aged 25, it was the forestry industry that gave the Milliner’s their break in the 1970’s.

“We had no money when we got that first contract, and I remember getting that first cheque from the Eden Chip Mill for $6500, I’d never seen so much money,” Ron says.

“We built the business up from there, trading up to new machinery, three steps forward and 2.99 back.

“But as we were going along we could see we were losing more and more forestry areas to National Parks.

“There were about 40 contractors in those days,” he says.

Recognising the decline in forestry, Ron and Lexie started to diversify their business and moved into earth moving.

In 1992 they took over the local concrete plant from the cash-strapped Bombala Council.

“Forestry started pulling names out of a hat and I didn’t want to go like that or get to that stage so I took a small package from the government and that helped us move on.”

Logging, earth moving, and concrete were all part of the business for a few years before the Milliners finally got out of forestry in 1995.

Bombala, on the southern Monaro. Photo: Google Maps
Bombala, on the southern Monaro. Photo: Google Maps

“It was important to have a diverse business so that we could cope with the rise and fall, there was something going all the time,” Ron says.

Milliner machines have worked on some to the region’s big projects.

“But nothing was too small for us,” Ron smiles.

Reflecting on his 50-year career, this boy from Mount Darrah who trapped rabbits and sold turnips as a lad points to Bombala’s new softwood processing plant as one of his biggest jobs.

“On one day alone we did 75 truck and trailer loads,” he said.

“We worked on the Eastern Gas Pipeline that came through in 2000, we did clearing work out on the Hume Highway in the nineties getting it ready for the road to go through, and more recently we worked on the big new electricity substation at Cooma – some interesting jobs.”

In winding up the business at Crystal View, Ron and Lexie considered moving to the coast for their retirement years but instead, they opted to become “townies” building a new home in the community Lexie was born and breed in.

“Ron was too frightened a tsunami would get him, so he said – I am staying on top of the mountain,” Lexie chuckles.

Family and friends invited to Crystal View will be familiar with the large performance space Ron had created to share his love and skill for music. Lexie’s warmth, humour, and hospitality an important ingredient to the party.

“In a smaller way we’ll still do it here in the new shed,” Ron suggests.

“We could hold 6o or 70 people at Crystal View, here we might be able to fit 20 or 30.

“The last concert we had out there, there were a few tears, but nothing lasts forever, everything comes to an end Ian,” Ron says.

With self-funded recordings to his name and countless gigs in dozens of country halls with his family band, Ron still has musical ambitions and a need to celebrate music and its influence on people.

“I’ve got an old peddle steel guitar, its about 30 years since I’ve played it, so I am going to try and get that cranked up,” he says.

Ron and Lexie say there have been many sleepless nights during the history of their business as they managed the various twists and turns but more so in the last 12 months as they worried about the fate of the dozen or so employees that were part of the business.

“Everyone of those people now has a job,” Ron says with relief.

“We’ve had some good men over the years, one of the things I am happiest about is that we gave dozens and dozens of young fellows their start.”

Ron, Lexie and I chat at the end of a long day, Ron is dirty, bleeding and in bright orange hi-viz having just knocked off. If he wasn’t chatting to me he’d be having a beer – I am regrettably polite and knocked back the earlier invitation to have one.

Lexie is surrounded in cream and orange wool finishing another wrap, comfortable in her deserved new home, talking of perhaps taking a bus trip holiday.

Their daughter Leanda has just left and promised to return for coffee in the morning.

This is a rich family, but not because they have just cashed in their life’s work.

“I am a wealthy man Ian, my family stuck together, the business and our music is a big part of that,” Ron says.

*About Regional content happens because of the support of members – thank you to the Bega Valley Regional Learning Centre, Doug Reckord, Wendy and Pete Gorton, Bronnie Taylor, Amanda Dalziel, and Tabitha Bilaniwsky-Zarins.

Postcard 5 from Timor Leste – Natarbora to Dili and home. By Tim Holt

Timor Leste's national symbol is trouble! Photo: Tim Holt
Timor Leste’s national symbol is trouble! Photo: Tim Holt

After two days in Natarbora we’re once again on the road, and pass a sign that is a reminder of Timor Leste’s national symbol and why it’s unwise to swim in the ocean or the coastal streams and waterways.

Our troopcarrier is fully laden for the long journey, luggage for the four of us, Dave’s travelling guitar, three bags of the local specialty – Natarbora popping corn, and a surprise passenger that I don’t discover until we are halfway to Dili.

Along the way there are strange squeaking noises every time I adjust my position in the back of the carrier. Somewhere before Maubisse though, from behind the bags of corn emerged a chook destined for Natarbora.

Our return to Dili will take us along the coast to Betano, a significant site in Australian and Timor Leste shared history.

HMAS Voyager became grounded in the bay at Betano after offloading the 2/4th Independent Company on 25 September 1942.

The ship was blown up and scuttled after it could not be refloated. On December 1 1942, HMAS Armidale was sunk by 13 Japanese aircraft here while attempting to evacuate Australian and Dutch soldiers and deliver a relief contingent.

There is no memorial, no plaque, no monument, nothing that gives an inkling of the events that took place here in WW2, only the rusting remains of HMAS Voyager.

The ruins of a Portuguese Fort are a crumbling reminder of the occupations Timor Leste has endured, survived, and risen above.

It is only when we visit the memorial at Dare on Sunday, the day before we leave Timor that the impact of the events here at Betano hit home.

Nature has taken over the old Portuguese Fort at Betano. Photo: Tim Holt
Nature has taken over the old Portuguese Fort at Betano. Photo: Tim Holt

Check out the remarkable story of the evacuation of Sparrow Force at Betano.

The remains of HMAS Voyager at Betano. Photo: Tim Holt
The remains of HMAS Voyager at Betano. Photo: Tim Holt

As we leave Betano and the coast and head through the mountains to Dili via Same, Maubiisse, and Aileu, we pass one of the country’s three main electricity generation plants.

Large diesel generation power stations supply the electricity for Timor, just why diesel was chosen considering the potential for gas and hydro is hard to understand. The cost in economic terms alone is unsustainable.

The diesel power plant at Betano. Photo: Tim Holt
The diesel power plant at Betano. Photo: Tim Holt

From Betano to Dili the roads represent the best and worst you can imagine.

Between Maubisse and Aileu the recently sealed sections are as good as any in Australia, and the scenery is spectacular. There is no doubt this place will be seen as a mecca for motorcycle touring and cycling enthusiasts in years to come. For the latter though you will need to be very fit!

The tourist potential is yet to be realised, however, it could well secure the economic future well beyond any gas and oil income.

The challenge will be to see that “development” be in keeping with the environment and culture of the Timorese people, and have the ownership of local communities.

Overlooking Maubisse - could be the Bega Valley. Photo: Tim Holt
Overlooking Maubisse – could be the Bega Valley. Photo: Tim Holt

Late afternoon and we stop for coffee at Aileu, the renowned Maubisse coffee, and it is good. We are now 2-3 hours from Dili, taking a new section of road that will take us out of the mountains alongside the Comoro River.

Once completed, like much of the road network it will be fantastic, but not now.

We arrive in Dili a little after 6pm and spend the evening with Jose, his family and good friend Carlos.

Some welcome relaxation after hours on the road, with food song and wine. I had almost expected our “surprise passenger” to make an appearance as part of the evening meal, but our feathered friend was perhaps destined for a long and productive life in a backyard henhouse.

Carlos works on an oil platform in the Timor Sea and shares songs in Tetun and stories of life on the platform with us. He earns good money in Timorese terms and has taken on board Jose’s philosophy of sharing his good fortune in helping others.

After a night of merriment and reflection of our time in Natarbora it’s back to Fatuhada for some well-earned rest.

A stark contrast to the grandeur of the buildings along the harbour. Photo: Tim Holt
A stark contrast to the grandeur of the buildings along the harbour. Photo: Tim Holt

It’s Sunday, and Dave and I walk to Dili Harbour via the back lanes.

The streets have been swept, but the acrid smell from wood smoke cooking and the odour of the grey water that runs in open drains lingers.

Across the harbour the smoke haze blurs the horizon to the north, east and west along the coast.

An elderly man is sifting thru the piles of garbage carrying a bag of plastic detritus, a broken pushbike wheel his prize.

The main drag along the harbour here is lined with official buildings embassies, residences, and tourist accommodation, their grandeur stands in stark contrast to the homes and conditions in much of the Comoro district and the poorer suburbs of Dili.

Dave walking the backstreets of Dili. Photo: Tim Holt
Dave walking the backstreets of Dili. Photo: Tim Holt

Back at Fatuhada there’s been some concreting work underway to repair the carpark at the convent. A crew of about eight or so young fellas assisted by some of the trainee Sisters are spreading a thin layer over already broken concrete and rumble.

They had poured some narrow strips the day before to act as a level and rough formwork and were now filling in between.

It is hot, humid, tough, heavy work for the young Sisters carrying buckets of stones.

As an old concreter, I haven’t the heart to tell them that their all hard work is unlikely to be a success.

The concreting crew at Fatuhada. Photo: Tim Holt
The concreting crew at Fatuhada. Photo: Tim Holt

Lunch is another feast with the Sisters, chicken, steamed greens with chilli and spices, rice and noodles followed by those delicious little sweet bananas, mango, and pawpaw.

After lunch, Jose takes us to Dare where the Timorese-Australian memorial is sited overlooking Dili, the harbour and to the western headland which is dominated the statue of Cristo Rei – Christ the King.

Located on the original site of the 1969 memorial, the refurbished Fatunaba Memorial School was officially opened along with the Dare Museum and Cafe on Anzac Day 2009.

A place to reflect on our shared history, at Fatunaba Memorial School in Dare. Photo: Tim Holt
A place to reflect on our shared history, at Fatunaba Memorial School in Dare. Photo: Tim Holt

The view is spectacular, but we are not here for that. For me it is deeply emotional. The sacrifice and bravery of the Australian and Timorese during the invasion and occupation by the Japanese is palpable here.

Forty thousand Timorese lost their lives after the Australian troops were evacuated in 1942. Forty thousand killed by the Japanese troops as retribution for helping the Aussies.

Tears fall, I weep unashamedly.

Both anger and shame for our failure throughout the 25 years of the Indonesian invasion and occupation to return the care our countrymen were shown in WW2 and our more recent greed as a nation over oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

We owe these people a great debt.

"We owe these people a great debt." At the Fatunaba Memorial School in Dare. Photo: Tim Holt
“We owe these people a great debt.” At the Fatunaba Memorial School in Dare. Photo: Tim Holt

So it is with it is with a heavy heart that we wind our way back to Dili to visit the Santa Cruz cemetery and the grave of the resistance leader Sebastião Gomes. He was executed on October 28, 1991, by the Indonesians.

A memorial service details the circumstances, “On 28 October, Indonesian troops had located a group of resistance members in Dili’s Motael Church.

“A confrontation ensued between pro-integration activists and those in the church; when it was over, one man on each side was dead.

“Sebastião Gomes, a supporter of independence for East Timor, was taken out of the church and shot by Indonesian troops, and integration activist Afonso Henriques was stabbed and killed during the fight.

“Several thousand men, women, and children walked from the Motael Church to the nearby Santa Cruz cemetery.”

"At least 250 East Timorese pro-independence demonstrators were shot and killed by Indonesian troops at the Santa Cruz Cemetery." Photo: Tim Holt
“At least 250 East Timorese pro-independence demonstrators were shot and killed by Indonesian troops at the Santa Cruz Cemetery.” Photo: Tim Holt

At least 250 East Timorese pro-independence demonstrators were shot and killed by Indonesian troops at the Santa Cruz Cemetery.

This was the Santa Cruz Massacre, it is also known as the Dili Massacre.

Our last night in Dili is here and we’ve been invited to spend the evening with Lorenzo and family at their home in the Comoro district. It is another wonderful gathering with of food, song and conversation.

We had met Lorenzo on our first afternoon in Dili and after the events of today, it was a delight to meet again.

After dinner, I had the opportunity for a long conversation with Anderius Tani.

Dinner at the home Lorenzo and family with Anderius and Jose. Photo: supplied
Dinner at the home Lorenzo and family with Anderius and Jose. Photo: Supplied

Anderius grew up in the East Timorese enclave of Oecusse in West Timor, the eldest of five sisters and two brothers. His parents are subsistence farmers, surviving only on what corn, rice, and livestock they grow.

The only way to pay school fees for their large family was to sell livestock, beef, chicken or cows.

Growing up during the Indonesian occupation school was compulsory, and Anderius says they received a good education. He completed his senior secondary school during the UN transition. In 2001 Anderius had to leave his family and community in Oecusse and move to Dili to further his studies, and it was here that he and a number of other young students were supported by Jose.

Anderius and Jose had grown up in the same village and that friendship and support made all the difference while studying at the University of Timor Leste in Dili far from home.

The same is true for the many others Jose continues to support today.

Jose Da Costa. Photo: Tim Holt
Jose Da Costa. Photo: Tim Holt

Despite the challenges of those years, Anderius graduated in 2007 with a Diploma of Electrical Engineering, and in the years since then, he returned to study public policy and management. A scholarship saw him spend three years in New Zealand graduating with a Bachelor of Development Studies and International Relations in 2015.

In between work and study Anderius married and has a young family to support. Those years in New Zealand away from family were hard and lonely for him.

It is a remarkable achievement coming from such humble beginnings, Anderius talks of achieving what his family had hoped for. They are undoubtedly a very proud family.

After returning from NZ he worked for the UN on development programs but has since branched out into consultancy.

Currently, he is working on the Dili to Ainaro road project.

For Jose, the education Anderius and Lorenzo (studying engineering) have received is the key to his country’s future and they are all passionate about nurturing and supporting others to achieve the same goals.

Before our evening together ends the conversation turns to the challenges ahead from Timor Leste.

Timor is a patriarchal society and that can be confronting, when experiencing the depth of that tradition for the first time.

Anderius though is passionate that it must change. He says the older generation has to accept that young women need the same education and opportunity.

That change is underway with such a young and increasingly educated population. Many marry and have children at a very young age, however, restricting that potential.

Health, education, water, sanitation, unemployment – there are many, many issues.

Dave and I talk of our experiences on the roads, noting our concern that the road improvements underway might lead to rising speeds, coupled with the lack of seatbelts and the use of mobile phones that the country might see fatalities and spiraling injuries in road accidents.

Monday and our final breakfast with the Sisters at Fatuhada. Delphina has given us several kilos of coffee beans from her home district of Maubisse to deliver to friends she made in Tathra during her stay earlier in the year.

With our bags packed we load them for the last time into the Toyota and say farewell to the Sisters.

We still have quite a day ahead of us before catching the late afternoon flight to Darwin.

First is a visit to the Timorese Resistance Archive and Museum, but we are to be disappointed, it is not open today!

However, there is still much to do as we have a meeting with Ego Lemos at the Permatil Office to discuss the Permatil schools camp to be held towards the end of October 2018 in Maubisse, and arrangements for Ego’s visit to Australia for the Cobargo Folk Festival, now likely to be a tour of some several months taking in the Permaculture Convergence, and of course more discussion around the formation of the Timorese choir to visit here in 2020.

It is also a chance to tell Ego about our visit to the school gardens in Manatuto and Natarbora. Ego’s passion is to see agriculture across Timor Leste based on Permaculture, and that is no pipe dream. The traditional farming practices are already in tune with those principals and the landscape is certainly not readily suitable for broadacre agriculture.

A coffee stop in Aileu. Photo: Tim Holt
A coffee stop in Aileu. Photo: Tim Holt

A final meal on the waterfront with Jose and Augus, and an hour or two at Jose’s home before we drive to the airport.

Jose talks about education and for Jose education is number one. It is the key for such a young country. Yet there are difficulties that are hard to imagine in a country like Australia.

Language is one.

The textbooks and curriculum have been written in Portuguese, yet only 45% of the population speak Portuguese. Despite that it was declared the official language following independence.

So, the difficulty for teachers is trying to teach students in a language neither understands.

Tetun is the indigenous language that everyone speaks, though there are many dialects, Bahasa Indonesian is also widely spoken, and English is also in favour. Portuguese is not, certainly among the young and increasingly educated.

However, textbooks are being translated into Tetun, but it will take time for that to work its way through the education system.

Anderius says for his generation and those following Portuguese is dead.

Tetun, Bahasa and English are the languages of choice. So, this is a people that will be fluent in three languages, perhaps some lessons there for Australia!

Mid-afternoon and it’s hot and muggy, and it’s time to head to Dili Airport for the long flight home, a final journey through Comoro and a farewell to friends well made.

We check our baggage in, our paperwork is stamped for departure, we sit outside the airport with Jose and Augus for the last time.

If our plans fall into place Dave and I will return next year, for the moment I watch a group of young Timorese men resplendent in red shirts and caps emblazoned with the Timor Leste flag heading to Australia as part of a training program.

We share our flight home with a group of young Timorese heading to Australia. Photo: Tim Holt
We share our flight home with a group of young Timorese heading to Australia. Photo: Tim Holt

The Airnorth flight takes off just after five, heading south to Darwin over the island nation.

The skies are clear, unlike our arrival eight days ago, and the spectacular beauty of Timor Leste is revealed below framed by blue skies and a setting sun.

We land in Darwin around eight in the evening and meet an old acquaintance of Dave’s.

In 2014 Rob Wesley-Smith and his brothers received Timor Leste’s highest honour, The Order of Timor Leste, in recognition of their efforts to help the country after the Indonesian army invaded in 1975.

Rob was meeting another long-time aid worker returning from Timor Leste, Ros Dunlop.

Ros is one of Australia’s leading clarinettists/bass clarinettists, and along with Martin Wesley-Smith, one of Australia’s leading composers and long-time supporter of East Timor, both toured and performed in East Timor in 2002.

Ros Dunlop is the author of Lian Husi Klamar ~ Sounds of the Soul: The Traditional Music of Timor-Leste.

We shared a pleasant warm and balmy evening together on the now tourist wharf at Darwin Harbour, with memories of 1975 and the long struggle for Timor Leste since.

With a beer or two, the traditional Aussie fair of fish and chips (Barramundi), there’s another surprise for us when long-time Bega Valley identities and founders of Magpie Music, Tony and Marianne Haid spotted us. They were in Darwin on a road trip around the top end.

Back to the airport for the red eye flight (12.45 am) to Sydney arriving at Mascot around 6.30am.

After breakfast and coffee at around 8.30, we board the flight to Canberra. What a chilly welcome that was too our nation’s capital – grey suits, white shirts, worn out faces and laptops, chillier than the -3 degrees we were told it was.

Another three hours and we’re back home in the Bega Valley. Familiar faces and warm embraces and a very excitable black dog welcome.

Catch up on Tim’s earlier postcards:

Postcard 1, Postcard 2, Postcard 3, Postcard 4.

 

Tourism showcase highlights local landmarks to global travel agents

Overseas travel agents dining at Fat Tony's Tathra. Photo: Gang Gang Tours
Overseas travel agents dining at Fat Tony’s Tathra. Photo: Gang Gang Tours

Foreign travel agents have just experienced a free Eurobodalla and Bega Valley holiday – all in the name of research for their customers back home.

Not a bad gig!

NSW Tourism Minister, Adam Marshall says, “We want to ensure that international travel agents are well informed about Australia’s number one state for tourism.”

“Helping put money into local pockets and boosting local economies,” Mr Marshall says.

Called familiarisation tours within the tourism trade or “famils”, three parties of 31 agents from America, the United Kingdom, Italy, and France have just sampled, South Coast Sea Planes, Montague Island Discovery Tours, Ngaran Ngaran Cultural Tours, Bodalla Dairy Shed, Drift Eden, and Tathra Beach House Apartments – among a host of other local attractions.

“These groups are specialist travel salespeople who will now understand our region better, this experience will help them sell our region,” says Anthony Osborne, Executive Officer of Sapphire Coast Tourism.

The three local famils hosted by Destination Southern NSW were part of a group of six tours that sprung from a trade event on the Gold Coast run by Tourism Australia, and follow on from famils to the Snowy Mountains in May and June with 26 participants.

Sea kayaking with Region X at Batemans Bay. Photo: Kerrie-Anne Benton
Sea kayaking with Region X at Batemans Bay. Photo: Josh Waterson 

“Two of the groups travelled to the South Coast from Sydney, the other from Canberra,” Mr Osborne says.

Eurobodalla Tourism Marketing Coordinator, Kerrie-Anne Benton, says the agents loved their South Coast experience.

“Nature, nature, and more nature, that’s why the Sapphire and Eurobodalla Coasts were selected for these familiarisations,” Ms Benton says.

“And with flights into and out of Canberra and Singapore now, a gateway for travel has emerged connecting our region to the world.”

The Jindabyne based, Gang Gang Tours acted as chaperones on two of the three local tours.

“I had eight lovely ladies from the USA, front-line travel agents who will take this experience home,” says Gang Gang owner, Janine Becker.

“Out of the eight, seven hadn’t been to Australia before,” Ms Becker says.

“One of the agents told me people are wanting to get off the tourist trail, which is our region’s big selling point.”

Happy travellers at Glass House Rocks Narooma. Photo: Gang Gang Tours
Happy travellers at Glass House Rocks Narooma. Photo: Gang Gang Tours

Aside from teaching them about us, these opportunities also serve as a learning experience for local tourism bosses and operators.

“It was interesting to hear about travel patterns in other countries,” Ms Becker says.

“Workers in the U.S only get two paid weeks of leave a year, which means the average holiday runs seven to ten days.

“European countries tend to get four weeks paid leave, so they have longer holidays and have a great opportunity to travel to regional areas overseas,” she says.

Ms Becker doesn’t think the international market will be the biggest part of the Gang Gang business model, but she is keen to grow its influence.

“This experience will help us target our marketing better,” Ms Becker says.

The other point that emerged was that in most cases, international markets travel outside Australia’s peak periods and in some cases in the heart of our off-peak season.

In the year ending June 2016, the Eurobodalla welcomed 28,000 international visitors – 20% from the U.K, 15% Germany, and 11% from the U.S.A

Kerrie-Anne Benton thinks it makes business sense to target overseas holidaymakers.

“Australia is a finite market whereas there is massive potential for international travel growth,” she says.

“Canberra has opened up new opportunities for the South Coast and we need to encourage more tourism businesses to be international ready and have options ready for travellers.”

Captain Sponge Bob at Pambula talking oysters. Photo: Gang Gang Tours
Talking oysters at Pambula with Captain Sponge’s  Magical Oyster Tours: Photo: Gang Gang Tours

Further south in the Bega Valley, Anthony Osborne is nodding.

“Australia continues to see growth in international visits while the domestic market is static, it’s a no-brainer for us to focus some resources on building this market, and we have extra funding this year from Bega Valley Shire Council to tackle that challenge,” Mr Osborne says.

“We need to develop more experiences around our unique selling points. Nature and the coast are the number one reasons international travellers come to Australia and we have that in spades.”

*About Regional content is made with the backing of members, people, and businesses supporting local storytelling. Thank you – Sprout Cafe and Local Produce in Eden, Shan Watts, Robyn Amair, Gabrielle Powell, and Phil Martin.

*Author is part-time media officer for Bega Valley Shire Council

Historic Bombala school given a future as part of the community

Bombala Infants School, ready for new energy. Photo: Ian Campbell
Bombala Infants School, ready for new energy. Photo: Ian Campbell

Plans are underway to turn the Bombala Infants School into a place of learning again, with a safety net in place guaranteeing a positive outcome for the community.

Locals were taken by surprise when an auction sign went up on the school’s fence back in June.

The site overlooking the town first opened as a place of learning in 1863. James Poulton, the school’s first teacher had 75 kids to mark off his role on day one.

As an aside, school fees amounted to ninepence per week for the two eldest children in each family and sixpence per week for each additional child.

Solid as a rock. Photo: Ian Campbell
Solid as a rock. Photo: Ian Campbell

In the mid-1990’s the school was closed and childhood education in Bombala consolidated on the Bombala High School site.

TAFE moved into the space for a period of time offering a range of vocational and special interest subjects, however changes within TAFE and the opening of the Trade Training Centre at Bombala High took momentum and opportunities away from the historic site.

With the State-owned building empty and unused its future was put out to the market, swift community action halted the sale with the Member for Monaro, Nationals Leader, and Deputy Premier John Barilaro gifting the building to Snowy Monaro Regional Council.

Not much has changed since kids last played here. Photo: Ian Campbell
Not much has changed since kids last played here. Photo: Ian Campbell

The group that formed to stop the sale is now looking at its next step and a new chapter in the buildings 144-year-old story.

Sue Haslingden from the Bombala and Delegate Region Arts and Culture Advisory Committee says with the new Council in place it’s time to get going.

“My three children went to school here, a lot of families have incredible ties with this beautiful old building, ” Sue says.

Sue is a former Bombala Shire councilor and has just been elected to the merged Snowy Monaro Regional Council, she also remembers taking part in art and photography classes at the old school under TAFE.

“Once the art classes stopped we just found rooms here there and everywhere and applied for arts funding to bring instructors in a few times a year,” Sue says.

“We approached TAFE about using this space, but it would have been at a commercial hire rate, so it just wasn’t viable for us.”

Sue Haslingden, part of the Bombala and Delegate Region Arts and Culture Advisory Committee. Photo: Ian Campbell
Sue Haslingden, part of the Bombala and Delegate Region Arts and Culture Advisory Committee. Photo: Ian Campbell

A resumption of arts and cultural activities is seen as part of the old school’s future.

“Over the years we’ve lost Ando Public School, Bibbenluke has just gone, this building is such a part of Bombala,” Sue says.

“This building was put here by the community, the building itself was funded through fundraising and back in the early days even the teacher was funded by community efforts.”

The thought of the building being sold and the proceeds deposited into the combined TAFE coffers was a ‘red flag to the community’ Sue says.

“It was a real concern that the money from the sale wouldn’t be turned back into our community,” she explains.

The building is home to two vast learning spaces. Photo: Ian Campbell
The building is home to two vast learning spaces. Photo: Ian Campbell

With a business plan already in place through the gifting arrangements between State and Local Government,  the Arts and Culture Advisory Committee is now waiting to get the keys and put the plan into action.

“We would like to see this place as the home of a local progress association, as a place for tourist and cultural events, and as a community meeting place for a range of interests and groups,” Sue says.

Appointing a project officer to activate and manage the space is one of the first steps to drive the idea forward.

“The town needs a place for a range of groups to call home, this will be a hub for the Bombala community,” Sue says.

An exit clause has been negotiated that guarantees funds from any future sale of the building would be returned to Bombala.

“So if our business plan doesn’t work, and we find we can’t maintain it or it’s not viable, in three years time we can sell it and the money stays in the community,” Sue says.

With plans for an opening event growing, Sue says, “Watch this space!”

Anyone for cricket? Photo: Ian Campbell
Anyone for cricket? Photo: Ian Campbell

About Regional content is supported by the contributions of members – thank you! People and businesses like Patrick and Meagan O’Halloran, Patrick Reubinson, Kym Mogridge, Danielle Humphries, and 2pi Software.

Eurobodalla and Bega Valley locals say “Stop Adani”

Eurobodalla locals gather on Congo Beach near Moruya. Photo: supplied
Eurobodalla locals gather on Congo Beach near Moruya. Photo: supplied

South East locals have been part of national protest action against the Adani coal mine proposed for North Queensland.

Protesters turned out in forty-five locations from Adelaide to Bondi to Bunbury over the weekend.

Locally, Eurobodalla 350 estimates around 250 people attended their protest at Congo Beach on Saturday, holding placards to spell out #STOP ADANI.

“We demand the federal government halt Adani’s enormous proposed coal mine,” spokesperson Allan Rees says.

In Bega, a colourful group marched through town on Friday and gathered in Littleton Gardens.

Organiser Sue Andrew sees the Adani mine as a litmus paper issue for a globe preparing for a climate change future.

“I feel now more than ever we have to unite to stand up against the fossil fuel industries and other extractive industries if we are serious about addressing climate change,” Ms Andrew says.

The Indian based Adani is seeking a billion dollar government loan to build a railway line linking its proposed Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin to the Abbot Point coal port on the Great Barrier Reef.

Once complete, Carmichael would be Australia’s largest coal mine, with six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines, with a lifespan of between 25 and 60 years.

Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the ABC the project will bring new jobs to communities like Rockhampton, Towsnville, Charters Towers, Mackay, and Claremont.

“You only have to travel to regional Queensland to understand what this project means to thousands of families out there that will be employed through this project,” she told the ABC

The Queensland Premier is also confident environmental concerns have been heard.

“At the end of the day we have the toughest environmental conditions attached to that mine,” she said.

Allan Rees says those that gathered at Congo on Saturday are angry that taxpayer dollars might be used to subsidise something “so destructive”.

“Adani’s mine may be far away, but the Eurobodalla can’t escape the climate change caused by burning that coal,” Mr Rees says.

“Australia has enormous reserves of coal which we must keep in the ground if we are to halt climate change.

“Climate change is here and is harming our agriculture and fishing.

“Beekeepers tell us how gum trees are blossoming at the wrong time, orchardists have lost trees from extreme heat, graziers and fishing people tell us how the climate is changing and harming their livelihoods,” Mr Rees says.

Bega locals march thorugh town with their marine puppets. Photo: Ian Campbell
Bega locals march through town with their marine puppets. Photo: Ian Campbell

Local fears also extend to the future of the Great Barrier Reef itself if the mine goes ahead with Bega protesters carrying a series of handmade marine creatures along Carp Street and into the town’s civic space.

“We know the Great Barrier Reef is highly endangered already and any further development or shipping would only increase the destruction of this incredible ecosystem,” Sue Andrew believes.

The exact number of jobs the $22 billion Adani investment will create is disputed, Adani claims 10,000 however the Land Court of Queensland has put the number at closer to 2,600.

That same court deemed the development could go ahead but added a number of new environmental safeguards.

While accepting new jobs are important for regional communities Allan Rees suggests the jobs created by the mine are floored and points to new jobs in greener industries.

“We have to support communities which currently rely on coal to have new industries to employ people,” he says.

“State and federal governments must develop programs to change to wind and solar, batteries and hydro, as well as energy efficiency.

“Australia has to give up coal mining and change to a renewable energy economy,” Mr Rees says.

“We should be retrofitting homes and businesses with insulation and using better designs for new buildings.”

Debate has been renewed on the back of a Four Corners investigation that aired last week on ABC TV.

“Adani has been exposed on the ABC’s Four Corners program as damaging people’s health, the livelihoods of farmers and fishing people and the environment in India,” Mr Rees says.

“Adani is using foreign tax havens and has a corporate structure that would allow them to minimise tax paid in Australia.

“The former Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said that it was almost beyond belief that the Australian Government would look to provide concessional loans and other taxpayer support to facilitate Adani Group’s coal mining project,” he says.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sees huge potential in the mine going forward – should it be built.

“It will generate, over the course of its life, an enormous amount in taxes and in royalties, revenues for state and federal ­governments,” he told The Australian back in April.

Adani has suggested it will break ground on the mine site before the end of this month with the first coal produced in early 2020.

The billion dollar loan from the Federal Government’s National Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) remains undetermined.

However, News Limited has reported comments by Adani chairman Gautam Adani saying, “The project will be funded by internal accruals, NAIF and foreign banks.”

Bega’s Sue Andrew is positive people power will prevail.

“There is so much opposition. It is not viable; economically, ethically, or environmentally,” she says.

It is really a no-brainer, why not spend the proposed billion dollars from NAIF on building renewable energy infrastructure and thousands of sustainable jobs and show our commitment to our children’s future?”

Those behind the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley protests are committed to further action.

 

About Regional content is supported by the contributions of members. Thank you to Julie Klugman, Cathy Griff, Kate Liston-Mills, Shane O’Leary, Jenny Anderson, and Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui.

Time shift: the wonder of Kosciuszko’s caves. By Kate Burke

Jersey Cave, Yarrangobilly, Kosciuszko National Park. Image: Kate Burke
Jersey Cave, Yarrangobilly, Kosciuszko National Park. Image: Kate Burke

In an already diverse landscape, Yarrangobilly Caves adds an x-factor to South East NSW that is rare and special.

Despite being brought up Catholic, I haven’t had religion for a long while. Still, I remember fondly the time spent in old, cool churches – the smell of stone, the peace, the sense of endless time.

The late folk singer Michael Kennedy described how nature’s beauty can evoke a spiritual response – “Ceiling clouds swirl, aisles of bloom curl round the wild cathedral.”

Natural spaces, like places of worship, can provide sanctuary and help us connect with who we really are.

During the recent school holidays, my family and I visited Yarrangobilly Caves in Kosciuszko National Park.

On the way from Cooma we drove through the epic and faltering landscape of Adaminaby and Kiandra, old goldfields with diggings and ditches full of snow.

Brumbies wander this country with majesty and bouncy playfulness. Their colours blend with the patchy wild scrub; despite being equine intruders, left over from last century and stranded in the wrong land, they’re elegant.

We paid our cave entry fees, and did a tour of Yarrangobilly’s Jersey Cave, which takes about an hour and half.

Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by limstone dams. Image: Kare Burke
Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by rimstone dams. Image: Kare Burke

I hadn’t been underground for years.

I used to do it a lot, at Wee Jasper and Wyanbene and Cooleman, as a teenage scamp who liked to wriggle through crawl spaces. This was much tamer, but an incredible experience nonetheless.

Caves are like slow, slow gardens.

It’s springtime, and I’ve been watching my sunflowers shoot up over the last few days. They manage a centimetre overnight, no worries.

The “cave straws” that reach down from the cave ceilings of Yarrangobilly – which look as you’d imagine – like straws, take 100 years to grow a single centimetre.

Many of the cave straws at Yarrangobilly are much longer – 20 or 30 centimetres; 2000 or 3000 years old.

My kids are 6 and 4, and they are surprisingly quiet and attentive (when they’re not wrestling each other for the torch).

They seem to understand the fragility of the formations. They know that the oil from their fingertips could stop them forming, and don’t reach for them. It’s surprising.

The names of cave formations are evocative – flowstones, shawls, pillars.

They’re all incomprehensibly ancient, but look like they could have grown through winter, like icicles or frozen waterfalls.

I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Image: Kate Burke
I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Image: Kate Burke

Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by rimstone dams and grow dogtooth spars – angular, squat crystals that cluster. These pools are otherworldly.

Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettuccine, cascading over metres.

All have formed as the fossil-rich limestone of the valley is dissolved by acidic rainwater, and redeposited as calcite.

According to National Parks, local Wolgalu people didn’t enter the caves much at all – formations survived thousands of years of indigenous custodianship.

But like so many caves, Jersey Cave was raided for souvenirs over the last 150 years. The cave is still stunning, but some caverns are stained darkly by the smoke from bygone kerosene lamps.

I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Or that, at least, they can tell us something important about ourselves.

They tell us that we are small, transient, destructive, and peace-loving.

Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettucine, cascading over metres. Image: Kate Burke
Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettuccine, cascading over metres. Image: Kate Burke

We’re a confused bunch, and caves can provide a beautiful space to meditate and contemplate.

Perhaps we’ll always feel like impostors in such spaces. But thankfully these caves are now protected, and we can continue to visit and appreciate their lasting beauty.

Yarrangobilly Caves are open daily for you to explore and ‘feel’ for yourself.

Ranger talks really add to the experience as does a swim in the thermal pool!

Click here for more details

Kate Burke is a sought-after vocalist and musician based in Candelo and is completing her Masters in Science Communication at the Australian National University. This article originally appeared on ‘Raisin – Regional Science and Innovation’

Merimbula twins to stage ‘Oprah the Opera’ in San Francisco

David and Geoff Willis, natural showmen.
David and Geoff Willis, natural showmen.

Twin brothers from Merimbula have crafted a musical about one of the best-known and most influential women in the world, but its just one of a number of productions launching in 2018 for the Willis boys.

Oprah the Opera‘ will open in San Francisco during the second half of 2018 and charts the life of America media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, philanthropist – Oprah Winfrey.

Geoff and David Willis have been making music together for decades.

Their partnership with New Zealand performer Kathy Blain won the 1978 Grand Final of Bert Newton’s ‘New Faces’ TV talent show.

The decision to write a musical about Oprah came over a cup of coffee, buoyed by completing their first musical “The Great Houdini’ six years ago.

“Oprah is a one-woman show with a band and gospel choir,” David says.

The brother’s work is a true collaboration, Geoff writes the music and lyrics, David writes the script.

“She [Oprah] has opened up her life in a huge way, from abuse as a child to the most successful woman in America,” David says.

“There is so much there, a lot of comedy, a lot of heartaches, it’s a really entertaining show and people really love it when they’ve read the script.”

Click play to hear the full conversation with Geoff and David Willis…

 

Initial planning for the show is underway now, including casting.

Starting out in 1000 seat theatres in San Fransico, David and Geoff are creative consultants to musical director Gregory Cole and will relocate to the U.S closer to showtime.

“We’re excited because it will be an all-black cast and it will be a gospel choir of 50 or 60,” Geoff explains.

“There aren’t a lot of shows that are written for African Americans [cast members].”

The twins aren’t sure if the lady herself knows about the show yet, they have only been able to get as close to Oprah as her personal assistant, but she will be receiving an invite to opening night in July/August next year.

Oprah the Opera, opens in July/August 2018. Source: http://www.oprahtheopera.com/
Oprah the Opera, opens in July/August 2018. Source: http://www.oprahtheopera.com/

Both David and Geoff are natural showmen and play a range of musical instruments as well as sing. They are well known for pulling a crowd whether it’s on one of their regular cruise ship tours of the Pacific or Atlantic or in the many concert halls that dot the hills around their hometown of Merimbula.

Their signature tune ‘Me and My Shadow’ is always a hit.

“Being twins, we understand each other very well,” Geoff says.

In shaping their music the pair will often work apart in order to challenge their creativity.

“When we wrote ‘The Great Houdini‘, I actually went to the Gold Coast and spent a few years there,” David says.

“We thought it was a good idea to be away from each other, but it’s amazing how things tied up.

“He [Geoff] would write a song and we wouldn’t discuss it, I would write the script, and the words in the song and the script tied in,” David smiles.

“It’s a twin thing!”

The Great Houdini was the first musical the pair worked on – 16 years in the making, hard work that is now paying off.

“It’s a huge show to put on, we have just met with producers in New York and London, and we are looking at staging that later next year,” Geoff says.

The Great Houdini, talks are underway with producers in New York and London. Source: http://www.thegreathoudinimusical.com/
The Great Houdini, talks are underway with producers in New York and London. Source: http://www.thegreathoudinimusical.com/

The pair became mesmerised by the legend of the great magician as 10-year-olds after seeing ‘Houdini’ the movie starring Tony Curtis, twenty years later they felt compelled to write a musical about their idol.

“Dave wrote the script over a 16 year period, and I wrote 60 musical pieces for the show,” Geoff says.

“It had to be perfect,” he says.

The story starts in modern day New York at a Houdini exhibition and works backwards.

“Dave describes it really well as – music, magic and mystery,” Geoff says.

In trying to explain why it is that two Merimbula creatives have stage shows launching a million miles from home, David and Geoff believe there is a sense of confidence missing from the Australian entertainment industry.

“There is a bit of frustration that we are not being accepted by Australian producers,” David says.

“We’ve been to producers in Australia about our shows, and [the impression we’ve been given is that] if it is a success overseas they would probably say, we’ll do it here,” he says.

There is one success closer to home the Willis boys can crow about, and one their Bega Valley fan base can travel to easily.

Billie and the Dinosaurs‘ launched in Sydney last week to sell out shows at the Australian Museum.

Next April the production steps up a notch and will take to the stage in Canberra at Llewellyn Hall featuring the Canberra Youth Orchestra.

It’s a narrated children’s story in the style of ‘Peter and the Wolf’.

David and Geoff have worked with well-known funny man, Tim Ferguson, of Doug Anthony All Stars fame.

David, Tim Ferguson and Geoff Willis, part of the creative team behind 'Billie and the Dinosaurs'. Source: Facebook
David, Tim Ferguson and Geoff Willis, part of the creative team behind ‘Billie and the Dinosaurs’. Source: Facebook

“Tim is the writer and has worked very hard on the script and he is the narrator, he is a lovely person to work with,” Geoff says.

“The Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras are also interested.”

Geoff has composed all 27 orchestral pieces, while David has prepared all the educational material for the production.

The show tells the story of a 10-year-old girl called Billie who makes friends with real live Australian dinosaurs and together they defeat school bullies.

Despite their growing success far from the shores of Merimbula Lake, both men seem to relish and value their stage work at home.

“We live in a beautiful town, and we are very much appreciated by the people here,” David says.

“I was the conductor of the Sapphire Coast Concert Band and Geoff was the conductor of the Big Band and we only gave that up at the end of last year because of these other projects.

“And of course recently we did a show with Frankie J Holden and Michelle Pettigrove, which was a huge success and raised money for raked seating in the new Twyford Theatre.

“We are happy being here, we love living here,” David says.

David and Geoff Willis and the Sapphire Coast Concert Band. Source: Facebook
David and Geoff Willis and the Sapphire Coast Big Band. Source: Facebook

About Regional, is a new place for the stories of South East NSW, made possible by the contributions of members, including – Sprout Cafe Eden, Kaye Johnston, Nigel Catchlove, Therese and Denis Wheatley – thank you!