The Day The World Came To Town by Jim Defede

When I announced to the daughters that I was heading off to Melbourne my youngest, the one who was a showgirl in a previous life, immediately told me that I must organise tickets for the musical Come From Away. Didn’t happen because I was too busy with Handel’s Messiah and other things.

Waiting for me on my return home was a copy of Jim Defede’s The Day The World Came To Town, the book on which the musical is based.

It recounts the real-life events that took place in Gander, Newfoundland, in the hours and days immediately following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Hundreds of passenger planes were en route to the United States when the first of the Twin Towers went down that day. When the US Government closed the country’s airspace, those planes were diverted. Many were sent back to Europe, others to Canada. Gander, a town of around 8,000 people, took in 38 flights carrying 6,000 passengers and crew in the 24 hours immediately after the attack.

Gander’s population almost doubled overnight following one of the worst tragedies the world had ever seen.

Defede, a journalist, profiled passengers and pilots from several planes diverted to Gander. In doing so, we learn about the town mayor who declared a state of emergency, of the air traffic controllers and customs officials who safely brought in the most traffic the airport had seen in 40 years, and of all the citizens of Gander who donated clothes, toys and bedding to make the passengers feel safe and welcome. Residents found 4000 toothbrushes, clean towells, hot meals, and made the showers in their homes available to the influx of visitors who were unable to access their luggage.

In amongst the cargo were nine dogs, ten cats, and a pair of rare monkeys earmarked for a zoo also requiring constant attention. The local vet and a band of volunteers can most certainly hold their heads up high for their achievements over this period.

What a heart warming little book and a timely reminder of all that is good.

With the east coast of Australia deemed  to be in “catastrophic fire danger” today my thoughts are with the many, both in flight and in the fight. If its not drought, it’s flames, and in some of our country towns there is not enough water to even fight the fires. The air in Sydney and Brisbane is poorer in quality than in Beijing thanks to the smoke.

This morning I walked along the edge of the koala corridor just as the sun was arising. It was just wonderful to see how many of my neighbours have taken to putting bowls of water and bird feeders out for the wildlife. 

I’de love to comment on the bum fight currently happening between our pollies, scientists and the greenies, but the lesson to take from Gander is to take care of the people (and animals) first.

Hope the show comes to Brisi……

Villers-Bretonneux, #kindjuly and nuts.

I’ve just booked into an Author-In-Action presentation at the local Library. Can’t wait to learn more about Vicki Bennett’s children’s book, Two Pennies.

In April, 1918 the village of Villers-Bretonneux in France was the scene of the world’s first tank battle between British and German troops which the Germans would win, occupying the township.

The Ecole de Garcons (Boys School) was destroyed along with much of the town on the 25th April 1918 when the Australian 13th and 15th Brigades recaptured it from the Germans in a battle in which over 1,200 Australian soldiers were killed.

The school was rebuilt with donations from Australia. School children and their teachers helped the effort by asking for pennies- in what became known as the Penny Drive -while the Victorian Department of Education contributed 12,000 pounds to the War Relief Fund. The school was appropriately renamed ‘Victoria’. The inauguration of the new school occurred on ANZAC Day in 1927. “N’oublions jamais l’Australie“ (Never forget Australia) is inscribed in the school hall.

The Rugrats have just returned to school after a fortnight of holidays here in Queensland.

The Little Community Library proved a huge success with the generous addition of CDs, DVDs and books for the older kiddies to ease them through the break.

A fellow Little Library Custodian shared with me that it was #kindjuly. Did you know this? (Marketing gurus: aren’t they precious…..)

Kind July – Stay Kind
If every Australian did one act of kindness a day for the month of July, that would be 775 million acts of kindness in Kind July (and 9.3 billion acts of kindness every year).

And I’m off for a dose of Community Theatre tonight : My Husbands Nuts. Honestly, I’m too intimidated to add an apostrophe in case I get it wrong.

Happy Trails:)

A Bonnet For Eliza and Hobart, Tasmania.

The Perchance Performers are a newly formed community theatre group that recently performed A Bonnet For Eliza at the local museum. The ticket price included a Devonshire Tea. Think I’de miss an opportunity like that?

25,566 female convicts were transported to Australia between 1788 and 1853. They faced tough lives and uncertain futures at the various convict female factories and until relatively recently, their history was largely unseen and unknown.

In 2007 Dr Christina Henri began a project to commemorate all those women by inviting people to make a bonnet embroidered with the name of a female convict, the name of the ship she arrived on and the date she started her life as a convict on the other side of the world.

Bonnets were made in Workshops across the country under the umbrella the Roses From The Heart Project. In a Workshop in Brisbane in 2010, the great great granddaughter of one such convict woman shared the history of her relative, Eliza Davis, an Irish woman who was to be hanged for the alleged murder of her baby till her sentence was commuted to life in Van Diemen’s Land. She arrived in Australia in 1845. Unable to read or write, she nevertheless proved to be a resilient woman who made a decent and useful life for herself and the nine children she gave birth to in this country.

Another attendee at that Workshop was so taken with the tale that she debuted as a playwright with A Bonnet For Eliza.

Van Diemen’s Land, now known as Tasmania, our island State with the capital city of Hobart, is a beautiful town with its sandstone warehouses, galleries and culinary temptations. From 1803 to 1853, almost 13,000 convict women together with 2,000 children arrived in Hobart and were imprisoned at the Cascades Female Factory (which is still open for tours).

When I visited Hobart last year three women and two children had been immortalised in bronze sculptures on Hobart’s Macquarie Wharf — the arrival point for the convicts. This was undertaken as part of Footsteps Towards Freedom Project by Irish sculptor, Roman Gillespie.  

These monuments are extremely sobering, especially in this very swank area of Hobart Harbour where I could only afford a Devonshire Tea!

( If you’re up for something really swank I’de recommend the MQ1 Hotel which has rooms that each tell a different Tasmanian story. Personally, I’m more for some of the old seaman’s haunts on the waterfront and a crisp vino and a seafood chowder sitting on one of the trawlers in the harbour).

The One Day Of The Year

One of the great benefits of retirement is the accessibility to theatrical performances. No longer am I confined to attending the more popular weekend shows where you run the risk of being allocated seats in the nose bleed section, especially if, like me, you get peeved about having to fork out for tickets 9 months before the event. ( I have a tirade down pat about this but won’t bore you here).

More free time also allows you to experiment with different kinds of performance art at less conventional theatre spaces. This year I’ve already visited three theatres that I didn’t even know existed! It’s been great fun, and you know what? Theatre can be as cheap as chips. No, I’m not getting any Seniors or Pensioner discounts to reduce ticket prices – if you hunt around some of these lesser known venues charge between $20 or $25 for an evening of great entertainment.

Next month Brisbane is hosting its annual Theatre Anywhere Festival, with over 400 performances happening in parks, garden nurseries, on buses, and shopping centre car parks. If you’re local look up Anywhere.Is. Last year I attended a show underground in what used to serve as a water reservoir in colonial days. The building was as interesting as the play.

Next week I am off to the local Community Theatre’s Rehearsal Night (fundraiser) for The One Day Of The Year. Written by Australian lan Seymour in 1958, this was compulsory school curriculum reading. At 14 I hated it. And Chaucer. What sane person didn’t?

Alf’s son Hughie and his girlfriend Jan plan to document Anzac Day for the university newspaper, focusing on the drinking on Anzac Day. For the first time in his life Hughie refuses to attend the dawn service with Alf. When he watches the march on television at home with his mother and Wacka, he is torn between outrage at the display and love for his father

I’ve always enjoyed theatre and once played D’Artgnan in a high school French class production. A friend asked me to join a theatrical group earlier in the year which I declined though I am attending a fortnightly group which includes a local playwright specialising in convict Australia, and an eccentric 80 year old screenwriter for the BBC. We clicked straight away – he carries a torch for Hedy Lamar and my notebooks are covered in photos of you-know-who.

Who has time to work?