The House in My Dreams

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When I dream about a house it’s almost always the same one ~ the house I grew up in. A modest two bedroom fibro rental with a big backyard, it was plain and basic, and looked like all the houses in the street. So connected am I to the memories of it, I can barely remember living elsewhere. After moving around like gypsies during our first few years in Australia, it became our safe haven ~ the house which we made into a home, and where we lived until I was 18 years of age.  It’s where I started and finished school, where I found my first job and where I experienced all the significant events of childhood and young adulthood.

While the house may have been plain, it was very well dressed, especially on the inside. You see, my mother loved to decorate. It wasn’t unusual to come home to find our beds in another room, or the lounge suite recovered! She painted and wallpapered, and moved furniture from room to room regularly. When she got it into her mind that it had to be done, it was done! One day I came home from school to find her painting. Nothing unusual about that, except that on that particular day she was painting the kitchen ceiling. Barely five feet tall, she had created her own special painting platform ~ she’d placed a chair on the laminate table and on top of that there was a stool. And perched on top of that, was my little mother painting the ceiling watermelon pink! As a consequence the kitchen had the honour of being the most impressive room in the house for a couple of years.

Our Street

My brother on his scooter in our street

Even though our house was small, it was always bursting at the seams. The little room off the kitchen, which many years later I realised, was a dining room as it also had a door into the lounge which we blocked off with the piano, was our guest room. And it was always occupied, by either a full-time boarder or a friend in need. Mum, being who she was, opened her heart and door to them all, and they became part of our family.

The borders were generally lonely gents who drank just a little too much, and the friends in need nearly always outstayed their welcome. When my aunt and uncle moved in for a year with my two cousins the house was reorganised yet again. They occupied the guest room and the lounge room. Mum never turned anyone away.

A party at our house

A party at our house ~ Mum with Dad reclining in front are on the left, and I am on the far right.

Yes, it was a house full of people, but it was also a house full of parties. Having survived the war, my parents and their friends took every opportunity to enjoy life. A weekend rarely went by without the clinking of glasses, music, dancing, laughter and convivial conversation. Compared to our quiet Australian neighbours we made lots of noise, but that’s who we were ~ it was the sound of joy and gratitude.

My mother would be in the kitchen cooking up a storm, and my father would be enjoying time with his war mates, mostly single men who had been separated from their families during the war. They gravitated to us to be part of our family, to hear the sound of children and get a home cooked meal. On those party weekends, when we woke on a Sunday morning, we always seemed to have accumulated more people, and Mum, being the kind soul that she was, fed them yet again.

My sister's christening

My brother and I with our baby sister taken on her Christening Day. As always, Mum sewed our outfits and worked well into the night to get them finished.

Every event in our family was celebrated in a big way. The most impressive of all was my sister’s christening. Eighty people filled our little home. Furniture was crammed into the two small bedrooms and trestle tables with pristine white tablecloths were set up in the lounge and down the hallway. Mum cooked for days and did a wonderful job, but the pièce de résistance was the suckling pig which Dad roasted in the ovens at the local bakery where he worked. It was quite a party!

While we created many a good memory during our years there, the day came when it was time to leave. My parents were about to become home owners for the first time ~ a newly built house awaited us, and we were so excited. I said no sad goodbyes ~ not even to my friends. Our bright future was the only thing which filled our hearts and minds that day. There was however one heartbreaking moment which still tugs at my heart, and that was having to leave behind a little beagle. As with all the people who found their way to our door, he was welcomed with open arms. He had loving owners, but during the day they weren’t at home, and in search of company, one day he found us and fell in love with my baby sister. From that day on and for the next two years he spent every day with us, going home only in the evening. As animals do, on the day we left he sensed something was amiss. He watched us load up, and as we drove away he ran after our car. He finally gave up, and with tears in my eyes, I watched as he slowly disappeared into the distance.

So it was with sadness and joy that we moved on. The little beagle who loved us and the house which was our safe haven for so many years became part of our past, firmly locked in my heart, and in my dreams.

Inara Hawley © 2013

Clothes Do Not Maketh the Woman

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Inara HawleyI have never been a great follower of fashion. I buy what I like and what I need, and if I really like it, I often buy two of the same thing so I don’t have to shop again for a loooong time. That doesn’t mean I haven’t done the glamour thing or worn fabulous clothes. I have. I have even made the grand entrance wearing super long earrings and a low cut number, and I enjoyed every second of it. I looked fabulous, and it was loads of fun! But as far as fashion goes, the truth is I refuse to be a slave to it.

In the heady days of dinner parties (fortunately floaty caftans were all the rage so looking glam was very easy!), I recall a function with a group of women where one pouty beauty leaned in and asked me if what I was wearing was a ‘so and so label’. Well, stuffed if I knew ~ I hadn’t ever bothered to look at the label! Like all of my clothes, it was a department store purchase. But geez, it was a great feeling to know that I must have been wearing it so well that it elicited a comment! That being said, I have had my day buying up to my heart’s content in an exclusive boutique.

Like most girls when I was a young thing I loved my lippy, glossy nails, sassy clothes and had hair the colour of a flaming sunset one week and ruby highlights the next. I even used to paint my toenails, but oh how things have changed, and in looking back, it’s easy to see when and why they did. First to go was the makeup and nail polish ~ studying herbal medicine was more important but then I’ve always had good skin so it didn’t make much difference, then it was the sassy clothes ~ being a busy young Mum put paid to that and quite frankly I liked my hippy handmade clothes heaps better at the time, and then it was the hair ~ that was easy as I have no trouble cutting my own hair, and I’ve never been a big fan of going to the hairdresser!

So, as I walked my different paths I cared less and less about creating an impression with what I looked like and more and more with what I did … but back to my day in an exclusive boutique. In the early late 70’s and early 80’s Hubby and I travelled a great deal, and we would always stop over in Singapore on our way home for a bit of shopping ~ Hubby bought handmade shirts, and I bought shoes. On one such trip, which Hubby did alone, he rang from Sweden and in his expansive way, asked me to join him in Singapore for a week, but with one proviso ~ I was not to bring one item of old clothing with me … he wanted to see me in a whole new designer wardrobe!

Melbourne Cup OutfitYou see, it was a celebration as we had just sold a business and the trip was the handover, so I thought, right ~ I’m up for it! It’s something I’d never done before, but off I trotted to an exclusive boutique. And as was my way in those days, I got everything done in record time ~ I marched in and went to town! Everything, but everything I bought, was a designer label. And all of it was gorgeous! The sales girl couldn’t believe her luck … it was like the scene in Pretty Woman ~ I walked out with bags and bags of designer clothes.

It was the one and only time I ever did it, but I wore those clothes for years. It just goes to show, that well-made classic designs are forever, and really don’t have that much to do with what’s in fashion. And yes it was fun ~ all of it was fun. Even my hippy clothes were fun, and that’s what it’s really all about ~ enjoying yourself ~ something I’ve always seized with both hands and done with great gusto with all my heart, no matter what I was wearing!

Inara Hawley © 2013

The Best Years

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Today is my 37th Wedding Anniversary. It’s the second time around for Hubby. Not for me though, and while the research says that second marriages are more likely to fail, they obviously got it wrong when it came to us. Ours continues on in all its glory and bliss.

Our Wedding Day

Our Wedding Day in 1976

Like everyone, we’ve had our ups and downs and spits and spats, but the hard times, and there have been some very hard times, pale into insignificance when compared to the love, joy and happiness we’ve shared ~ it abounds and bounces around like glittery stars, and with each bounce creates more and more of the same!

So, after all these years how did we celebrate? Well, we did our favourite thing ~ we had a lovely breakfast followed by a quiet day in, enjoying each other’s company and reminiscing about what a fabulous life we’ve had. And we have! We’ve done so many things together ~ we’ve worked as partners in business from day one creating and building our best life, travelled the world enjoying fabulous moments and wonderful friends, and created an enduring family filled with love and joy. Not everyone could take being together 24/7, but for us it’s been easy! We knew from the very beginning we were a good team.

Words of thanks, especially those which are written, are a wonderful thing. Eleven years ago when Hubby celebrated a special birthday these are the words I wrote …

‘We have enjoyed 28 wonderful and eventful years together, 26 of them in a committed loving marriage. We have spoken many times of the gratitude we both feel to be so very blessed. Over the years we have not only been each other’s most important support, but we have given each other many special gifts of love, hope and joy. Before our beautiful child was born, our life was only about us. Now, having shared the joys of parenthood and the many paths travelled together I am cushioned by the wonderful memories of the past and the ones yet to come.

I look forward to every day with you. You light up my life. You are a rock and a comfort … my handsome everlasting love. Thank you for the romance, the nurturing, the spoiling, the wit, the humour, the fun, the good times, and also the hard. You have never wavered for a moment. You have always done your best with a kind and giving heart. And thank you for being so understanding, for loving me so completely and always allowing me the freedom to follow my own pursuits… and also, for sharing your sadness and your joy ~ for sharing the real you.

Oh how our life together has grown, only because we have been so united and so confident that it would. We have shared so much yet the time has been but a blink of an eye. But we have never, nor will we ever waste a moment. We will always fill our lives with laughter, joy and happiness. As always, my heart is full. I salute and serenade you with love, love, love.’

The Best Years

Hubby and I today!

Those words are just as true today. People often ask me, how is it that we have such a good marriage, and the answer is easy ~ we’re worth it! We respect and hold each other in very high esteem. We have never tried to outdo the other ~ competition has no place in a marriage ~ instead we always work to each other’s strengths. And we learn from each other too ~ impetuous me for instance, has learned to ‘sleep on it’ while Hubby has learned to slam a door! We laugh every day, especially at the things that annoy us, and we do ‘silly’ a lot. We spoil each other, we celebrate the special moments, we have loads of fun and most important of all ~ we play the mutual admiration game and trust each other completely. My marriage is the most comfortable place in the world. I am treated like a princess by the kindness, most caring, funniest and gorgeous bloke I know!

We’ve had 39 wonderful years together, and if you were to ask me which were the best? My answer would be: all of them and every single one yet to come! As I was writing this, Hubby came in, took my hand, kissed it and said, “We got it right!” Yes, we most certainly did!

Inara Hawley © 2013

The Path to Teaching

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In hindsight, the path leading to the important choices we make is usually very clear, even if the beginnings may appear to be somewhat tenuous and difficult. But sometimes, it’s precisely because those beginnings are difficult that a particular path is taken.

When I was five years old I started school, but because I couldn’t speak a word of English I walked into a very scary and confusing world. Had it not been for the little boy who lived next door taking me by the hand on that first day, I would have been totally lost. But the truth of it was, when it came to school, I was lost … for quite a long time.

4th Class School PhotoWhether it was the xenophobia which was rife in Australia in the 1950’s or the fact that I was so quiet no one noticed how much I was struggling, my early school life was a soul destroying experience. And because no one bothered to reach out, isolation and a lack of confidence became my daily school companions ~ quite a paradox for a child, who outside of school, was lively and confident, and gave piano recitals and ballet performances regularly. Of course by the time I was in second class I knew the drill ~ I was no longer confused, just isolated and afraid to speak up. That’s me above in the front row holding the board in my year five class photo.

It seemed that I could not touch the heart of any teacher until I was in the last year of primary, when low and behold, my teacher was not Australian, but Polish!  She not only noticed me, but praised me. And suddenly my world changed ~ I excelled, and I topped the year! I also found my first school friend that year, a German girl who, like me, had her own struggle ~ she had a debilitating stutter. For the year we were together we became firm friends and I was in heaven ~ a friend and a teacher who both cared. It was bliss!

During the years up until then I was very much alone, even in the playground. I was so reticent and shy I can’t ever remember playing with the other children. I guess it was because I was different, and of course I was! So I sat by myself in my short uniform ~ everyone else wore theirs below the knee, with my warm winter woolly undershorts ~ usually a nice bright colour knitted by my grandmother, eating my black bread sandwiches filled with either jam or liverwurst. While modern day bullying didn’t exist in the 1950’s, differences were not accepted as they are today. If you didn’t fit in you were not included, and I didn’t fit in simply because I didn’t know how to bridge the gap. I was too shy.

Path to Teaching - My Family in the 1950sApart from that last happy year, it’s hard to remember any really joyful events in primary school. Those happened at home with my family and the kids on our street with whom I played every day ~ I had no problem fitting in with them. It’s there that I felt confident, comfortable and happy ~ all the things I didn’t feel at school. Kindergarten for instance, was a nightmare. The teacher was a witch and in fact proved to be a very cruel individual. It would have been blatantly clear that I didn’t have the language skills to ask for anything, let alone wanting to use the toilet. The day came when I could hold it no longer, and as we all stood in line holding up our paintings, I felt the warm trickle of a puddle spreading at my feet. I not only had to clean it up, but that became my spot for the rest of the year! I was 5 years old, but even a 5 year old can feel overwhelmingly humiliated.

And there were lots of instructions which passed me by as well. There was the day I sat outside by myself while the whole school community was in the main hall enjoying a performance. I was sitting there alone because I had not paid my money. It’s not that I had forgotten … it’s that I had not understood I should bring it. I was only in 1st class. And then there was the day I fell ill. It was the middle of summer and very hot, but rather than telephone my mother to come fetch me, the school told me to go home. I had a raging temperature, but stoically started walking! By sheer coincidence my mother was on a bus going into town. Shocked to see her 7 year old daughter walking alone on the main street in searing heat, she jumped off the bus and reached me just in time. My legs buckled and I collapsed. She picked me up and carried me home.

With this level of incompetence and insensitivity, you would be right to wonder why my parents didn’t hit the roof. They did the best they could, but unfortunately they were having as much trouble as I was trying to integrate into the Australian way of life. As it was, by the time I was seven I spoke the best English in the house. And it was not the European way to let children sleep over or go off to someone’s house for the day without parents, nor was my mother comfortable with letting me go on school excursions. In those very raw years after the Second World War we were very protective of our own, particularly in a country where we were not openly accepted, so we kept to ourselves and created our own communities. While I became far more self-assured in high school, and my parents became more relaxed as well, a pattern had unfortunately been set and I found no joy in being at school or in learning ~ then friends and rebellion were more important, and my education fell by the wayside.

While this may sound like a sorry tale, it isn’t. It’s certainly a shameful tale about the school system at the time, but not about me. The education system may have failed me, but I didn’t fail myself. None of it made me crumble, and none of it made me feel like a victim either. It actually made me stronger and more determined to do well in life, which is exactly what I went on to do. In years to come I understood that being ‘me’ and having had ‘my’ experiences was my greatest strength. Even though at times I may have aspired to be ‘the same’, it was actually the fact that I was different which turned out to be one of my greatest inspirations ~ the memory of how difficult and lonely those early school days were inspired me, as a mature age student, to become a teacher. I wanted to make a difference, especially for those who struggled. And what I found was that I not only got the university education I didn’t pursue after leaving school, the children I taught satisfied a deep longing within me to see every child shine.

Without doubt teaching has a special place in my heart, but what is abundantly clear is that when we choose to use our challenges, past or present, as inspiration rather than allow them to defeat us ~ when we treat them as a launching pad, we ignite passion and fill our world with purpose. And we can make that choice at any time … about any challenge.

Inara Hawley © 2013

From Doing to Knowing

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Busy WorkingSometimes there are events in life which catapult us into a completely new reality. For me, becoming a mother was one such event. This of course is true for all new mothers ~ it’s a life changing experience, but the extent of that change depends on where you were before your bundle of joy enters the world. Prior to my daughter’s birth I was totally focused on work. Hubby and I had both been in empire-building mode for a number of years, and it took 100% of our time. I was in fact so busy ‘doing’ that I hadn’t really given much thought to what would happen when the baby arrived. To be honest I think my feeling was that I’d give birth in the tea break and carry on, but oh how wrong I was! Not only did my life and priorities change in an instant, my connection to ‘doing’ and ‘knowing’ as it was, changed dramatically as well.

It was late November, a hot and sticky time in Australia, and I was due any day. I’d given up going to the office the previous month to prepare for the birth, but instead of relaxing, in my organised way I spent most of my time cooking food and freezing it. Overall, it had not been an easy nine months ~ I was one of those pregnant women who had morning sickness the entire time, so let’s just say I didn’t bloom and I was well and truly ready to replace my baby bump with the real thing.

Early in the pregnancy I had a serious scare. In the moment when I realised I was in danger of losing the baby I instinctively sent out the strongest message to the little life within me to ‘hold on and stay’ … and she did. That should have been the first inkling of what was to come, but I didn’t connect to it just then. I spent ten very quiet and still days feeling anxious until the danger was over. And when it was, I went back to being busy and doing ~ so busy that I didn’t buy a thing for the baby till I was seven months pregnant. When I finally did launch into a shopping spree, like everything I did in those days, it was all purchased, delivered and assembled within two days!

So by the time I was full term, I had very little left to do. The bassinette and cot was organised, the baby clothes were washed and folded, the nappies were ready, the baby’s room was decorated and the house was in perfect order. So I decided to weed the garden … you know that burst of energy just before the baby is born? Well that was it. A few months earlier we’d moved into a lovely turn of the century house, and the garden was a work in progress, and I was full of energy. So, on my hands and knees in the shade of the Jacaranda tree, I pulled weeds for most of the day. When hubby came home, I made one of my cordon bleu dinners and we went to bed early to read. Half an hour later my water broke, and with bag in hand, we headed off to the hospital.

MotherhoodIt was a long night and an even longer day which followed. Suffice to say that by the time I’d been in the labour ward for a few hours, I was not only stroppy with hubby, but with everyone else who walked through the door. I will however be forever grateful to the intern who panted with me for hours! Having had an induction I was launching from one pain to the next without a break until suddenly … everything stopped. The labour ward was becalmed! After more than twenty one hours, for me it was a welcome relief. And for the next thirty minutes doctors and nurses leaned against the walls and chatted about their weekend plans!

Then all of a sudden, I felt an almighty thump from above. It hit my stomach with full force and without thinking I shouted, “It’s a girl”, and out she came! It was quite a moment, one which I have never questioned because I just knew. And there it was ~ all of a sudden I just ‘knew’. Giving birth switched on a light, and it was significant. My new awareness felt so alive and awake that it was almost as if my previous existence was a dream. There were many things I was to learn and experience in the years to come, and while my life was still filled with lots of doing, it was now quite different ~ the divine connection between mother and child had been forged and the door to the most wonderful and remarkable ‘knowing’ had opened.

Inara Hawley © 2013

Our Backyard

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How life has changed, and it seems to me it’s our backyards which reflect it the most. Not only are they smaller these days, houses are enormous and the backyard has become an outdoor room.

Now I’m all for a nice deck, a barbeque, lots of greenery and a bit of paving, but really, an outdoor room? Where is the expanse of grass? Where can the dog dig a hole? Where is the aviary or the chook pen? Where can the kids run through the sprinkler or play chasings? Where’s the mulberry tree, the passionfruit vine and the rhubarb? All disappeared to make space for the outdoor room. In my day it was a place exclusively for kids, not a group of allocated designer spaces. But alas, the backyard has gone the way of many things today ~ it’s small and compact, roughly one third of the size it was in the 1950’s. And as a result indoor and outdoor living spaces have become blurred, and the child-friendly, free spaces that once were backyards are not what they used to be.

Franjipani FlowersBut I’m one of the lucky ones. I grew up in the fifties, and my backyard was big and it belonged to me! There was no such thing as landscaping when I was a kid ~ our yard was filled with our life! We had a frangipani tree out the front which we were very proud of, hydrangeas along the side of the house which filled our vases with flowers, patches of freesias here and there which magically appeared, and out the back ~ paling fences covered with passionfruit, a neighbour’s overhanging fig tree laden with forbidden fruit, sunflowers which reached the sky, a veggie patch, aMagic Willow Tree bush just the right size to jump over, a rotary clothes line we swung on, a proper cubby, an aviary filled with finches, budgies and canaries, a sandpit, and if like me you were lucky, smack bang in the middle of the yard there was a magic willow tree to dream under. Our backyard was a safe wonderful place where we kids played, created make-believe worlds and had a heap of fun. The backyard was ours ~ all of it!

And it was not only us kids who enjoyed our backyard ~ all of our animals did as well! Over the years we had a menagerie that lived with us ~ chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and even a lamb. Dad, a farm boy, was very comfortable with all of it, and Mum, for a city girl, managed our menagerie amazingly well. When it came to the chickens it was our job to feed them and collect the eggs, but she cleaned their pen and hatched the new chicks, and that, was an amazing experience. She brought in the eggs that were ready, put them in a large box near the warmth of the gas oven and then we waited. When the chicks and ducklings popped out the kitchen became a madhouse, especially when they escaped, but it was great fun and we delighted in the wonder and joy of it all.

As for our dogs, all oPuppies of My Bed!f them were females, so we always had lots of puppies. One of them even had her pups on my bed! And any of our cats which were females, always managed to give birth in the wardrobes! We watched the babies being born, watched some of them die and watched with sad hearts when it came time for them to go to their new homes.

Our LambAnd then there was the lamb! He came to us via friends who found him wondering on the road. He occasionally snuck into the house as well, which was a riot. He stayed with us until his horns got so big that he started attacking anyone who wasn’t family … then it was time for him to go! Our backyard really was a farm yard ~ we even had a ring-in pet dog that fell in love with my baby sister and only went home for meals!

Of all the animals we had, the funniest was the flying duck. We had hilarious times watching him learn to fly ~ his take-offs were absolutely hysterical. We really loved him however, once he learned to fly, the neighbours didn’t! Come to think of it, I don’t blame them one bit ~ they were probably very sick of having to throw the rooster back over the fence every couple of days! So back to the flying duck, unbeknown to us children a decision was made that he would be fattened up for Christmas and so he was caged. Mum took pity on him a month or so later and let him out for a stroll. Freedom of course was just too tempting. He took off like a rocket and was never seen again! Secretly, I think Mum was very pleased.

So it was that our life was interwoven with our backyard. There was always something going on! It may have been very plain by today’s designer standards, but it was filled with everything you could ever want ~ fun, joy, and loads of love.

Inara Hawley © 2013

Weeping Willow photographed by (Christine Westerback) / CC BY-SA 2.0

When Fishing Becomes A Feast

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My father loved fishing. He was brought up by a river and I can’t remember a time during my childhood when fishing was not part of our life. We went fishing every single weekend ~ Dad, Mum my younger brother and me.

In the early days we had no car nor did we have the money to hire a motorboat. You see we were refugees, part of the intake by the Australian government after the Second World War to populate the country, and life was tough. Not only did we have no money, my parents were trying to fit into a country which at the time was very xenophobic. It was during this time that fishing became a crucial part of our life for it was what provided us with most of our food. There were many times when the fish we caught that day was our evening meal. So while fishing was Dad’s great love, it was also what sustained us.

Fishing Every Saturday Mum would pack the lunch, Dad, the bait and lines, and we’d head off to One Point at Georges River in Sydney. We’d then pile into our hired dinghy and Dad would row us out to the deep part of the river and let the boat slowly drift. He fished all day ~ from morning till sunset. To keep the fish fresh and alive, Dad hung a mesh bag over the side of the boat. In those days there was no law about throwing back the little ones so we kept and ate everything we caught. And if I remember rightly, the little ones were the most delicious!

Sometimes we pulled into a sandy inlet for lunch, but mostly we spent the day on the water. My brother and I sat in the open boat with wide brimmed hats, our fingers rippling through the shiny dark green water. They were quiet peaceful days, moving with the rise and fall of river as it gently lapped the side of the boat. Occasionally the silence was broken by the plopping sound of a leaping fish, and at other times we gazed in amazement as the river filled with jellyfish and surrounded our boat. When we got older my brother and I also fished. I caught a few, and my brother, two years younger, caught a few less than me. We really weren’t fisherman material. It was my sister, born some years later, who turned out to be a match for Dad.

A Feast of FishOf course, the best part of the day was the delicious feast back home, which my mother managed to produce with expert ease at the end of a long day of fishing. Dad did the scaling and gutting, and then Mum crumbed and fried our bounty on an old gas stove just the way Dad liked it. Then, as with everything she cooked, she served it on a big platter in the middle of the table. It was wonderful, and the fish were scrumptious! I can still taste the buttery sweet flakes. It truly was finger licking good!

While this may seem to be a simple story about fishing, it really is far from it. Fishing allowed us to experience the joy of a table laden with food. And food was very much part of celebrating life in our family. As I grew older I understood that these feasts symbolised a celebration of survival and freedom ~ they were the antithesis to the insanity of war, deprivation, fear and loss which my parents experienced. While life was not easy in a new country, we never took our circumstances or our new life for granted. Our bountiful table was a representation of all the good things we valued, and for us, every feast was without doubt a fortunate one.

Inara Hawley © 2013