Sailing South Australia

Growing up in Adelaide, I learned to sail off Adelaide’s beaches, and also down around Goolwa, mostly in the 14′ dinghy Dad built in the backyard.

Reading Swallows & Amazons books also made Goolwa a perfect real-life backdrop for my imagination.

In recent years I’ve returned to Adelaide to be with my Dad around Anzac Day. This year, he didn’t make it, because he was crook with another serious bout of cancer, this time in his throat. So over Easter (which coincided with Anzac Day this year), we took our Hartley 18, Woody, with us to Adelaide and even though Dad was too crook to come out with us, I hoped for a few sailing adventures that I could then record for prosperity, and also for my son Max’s future memories.

And it was perfect in so many ways. The water had returned to The Coorong, and for the first time in my life, I sailed through the barrage and down the Coorong.

Max was asleep down below, but the only sounds were the chuckling of waves under the bow of Woody, the occasional rush of the wind over the water and through the rigging of the boat coming off the dunes and the sea, and calls and cries flocks of different sea birds arcing out to us from the sky and sandbanks and reeds.

Later, sailing off Adelaide’s West Beach, wallowing downwind over a Gulf St Vincent swell, we sailed over the dark green and azure blue sea occasionally in company with a pod of dolphins.

I hope you enjoy the home movie.


Friday night fish & chips


Roughly 40 years ago, as a kid growing up in Adelaide, Friday night was fish and chips night. Always from the same fish and chippery on Unley Road. And Dad would get ‘two suitably chilled Southwark Bitter’ from the Cremorne Hotel on the way home with the fish and chips.

Now, 40 years later, I’m getting fish and chips on a Friday night from the same shop. I’ve just got off the train from Melbourne, unloaded my Xtracycle from the luggage van, and ridden over to Unley Road. Phone orders were taken from my elder siblings who have returned to the family home to look after my 94 year old Dad, who is seriously crook with cancer.

This time, there’s no Southwark Bitter for Dad, and no fish and chips either. All his nutrition is taken in prescribed liquid form, straight into his stomach, via a parental feeding tube.
The fish and chips kinda tasted all right, but it wasn’t the same really.

Such is life.

Cancer Day

I’ve been over in Adelaide for almost 2 weeks now, assisting my older siblings with home care to my Dad, who is in the middle of a course of radiotherapy for cancer in his tongue.

I’m a trained nurse, and have had a lot of experience looking after people in all sorts of situations, including cancer, but it’s when cancer is in the family that all my professional expertise is called upon.

Because it isn’t professional knowledge that’s required, even though my family asks for professional advice from me most of the time – it’s personal advice they and I need. Which off course is nothing new, because cancer is an unknown. Every individual course of the disease is different, and most of all, the prognosis can only be guessed at.

So what do you do?

Find the daily routine that helps the patient (my Dad) the best, according to what he wants and needs.

And by the end of the day after – a quick ‘bird bath’, oral hygiene, a swill of oral anaesthetic, 3 feeds through his stomach Peg, skin care around the radiation site, more oral care, more oral anaesthetic – the one thing Dad wants and needs by the end of the day is a game of Scrabble.


And it’s very satisfying for all of us involved – we can forget for just 1 hour what’s happening, and Dad goes to bed relaxed.

When I’m home with my own family, it’s what we do with our kids – ‘quiet time’ before bed. Everything else has been taken care of, tummies are full, jarmies are on, and teeth have been cleaned.

It helps. We give our brains time to clean out the day, and go to bed somewhat relaxed.

In my Dad’s final time, it’s as good as anything any health professional can prescribe.

Cancer is really a bugger

If you fear it, that is.

The fundamental fear (my fundamental fear) comes from feeling that cancer is a monster that will just materialise overnight and take over my life. It’s irrational, I know.

I think I’ve read somewhere that the body produces cancer cells all the time, but most times the body’s self-defence mechanisms are able to kill off the cancer, before it’s out of control. Well that’s good. Good on ya body!

But I’ve read a couple of books by Sherwin Nuland, an American MD, whose prose on the mystery of the body is not only informative, but elegant, and very understandable; and he’s illustrated what happens (in his book How We Die) when cancer gets out of control, and most importantly what can be done about it.

In lots of ways, I can’t stop it happening – my body will do it’s best – but it’s how I confront cancer that will make the difference. And confronting it is what I need to do. I always take measures, such as sun protection cream, and a hat, and eating plenty of fruit and veg, and getting daily exercise, and having regular appointments with my dermatologist, and so on, and so forth.

Cancer is a bugger if I let it. Dealing with it is being matter of fact. And people who have the resilience to cope with serious change in their lives tackle the change in a matter of fact way. “OK, shit has happened, what do I need to do now, how can you help me deal with this?” And don’t forget the life that’s going on around you as well. I am more than the sum of woes, difficulties, and ailments I am experiencing.

So, sometime in the next couple of weeks I’m going to have a conversation with my Dad about palliative care; not mine, it’s for him.

He’s at the crossroads with the treatment he’s having for throat cancer, go on with it, or change tack, that is the question.

I’ll keep you posted.

>The inspiration of this woman who rides


Photo courtesy Louise Bricknall

I’m currently researching a piece for Australian Cyclist magazine on women in cycling. It had always been my intent to profile ordinary women who are involved in cycling in everyday ways, from mechanics, to educators, commuters, track cyclists, and shop owners.

Listening to their individual stories has been inspiring, and at times, sobering. Cycling, for all it’s booming popularity, is still a marginalised activity in the minds of the majority of Australians, unfortunately. But, even more unfortunately, considering their demographic status as making up half Australia’s current population by sex, women are a marginalised subset of that group.

And then, one woman’s story left me lost for words.

Hillary is an older woman who lives with her husband in an outer suburb of Melbourne.

A couple of years ago she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer for women, after breast cancer and it is the most frequently occurring cancer in Australia. After surgery, and six months of chemotherapy – “six months of poison” – Hillary called it, she was confident from all the results that she was in the clear.

To celebrate a new lease of life, she decided to embark on a physical challenge, to prove to herself she was fit and sound, and not about to go early. So she enrolled in a cycle skill course at Bike Beyond with her sister.

And then to signify the milestone of achieving new-found confidence on her bike, she registered – again with her sister – for last year’s Around The Bay In A Day 100km challenge.

Now look again at the photo of her and her sister above: that’s Hillary on the right. Beaming with confidence, almost glowing with pride, the photo was taken by her Bike Beyond teacher, Louise Bricknall, at the last drink station before completing the full 100km. It’d be easy to think Hillary had climbed her mountains, and she could then rest easy with what she had achieved.

And yet, just 3 weeks before completing her 100km challenge she had been diagnosed again with cancer, this time in her liver. Before she even started treatment she decided to complete the event. “I thought oh well, what do you do?”, and with that, she did what she set out to do.

After a significant operation – “cutting me open from my sternum all the way down, and across to the right hand side of my abdomen” – she’s now back on her bike, and giggling about wearing her new cleated bike shoes.

This is what cycling does for Hillary: “Cycling gives me a child-like thrill being out on a bike…it’s a carefree feeling. From the age of fifty onwards does one really care what one looks like? The fitter you become, and the more you are in tune with your bike, you want to put on lycra, you feel almost good about it.”

Go Hillary!