Saturday, January 28, 2017

Message To My Son - The 2017 Edition

Dear Chase,

How in the world did 16 years just fly by? Suddenly, I have a young man in my life! You really are The Man Of The House.

Don't get me wrong. I've loved every minute I've spent with you. Well, except for the parts when I've nagged you to get ready for school, to do your chores, and to PLEASE put your socks on! And maybe those meltdowns when you were younger. (I'm not sure if mine or yours were worse!)

When you and your sister came back to live with me last year, it was as if all my birthdays and Christmases had come at once. And it was proof, to me at least, that dreams came true.

But, writing this post while you're still sleeping, as I did last year's birthday post, I can remember the day you came into the world as if it were yesterday. And I still can't believe that the years have gone so fast.

Since that day, we've shared so much, and you are growing into a wonderful young man who I not just admire, but I enjoy being with. That's quite a gift you know. Not all families enjoy being together. I couldn't have wished to have played a part in creating a nicer human being.
You make me prouder every single day, as you take on more responsibilities. Juggling high school with a part-time job, and volunteer work. Helping care for me when I was recovering from surgery recently. Being kind to your grandparents. Carrying home the groceries when I couldn't drive (and continuing to help out whenever we need to shop), mowing the lawn, doing All The Things without complaint. (Okay, sometimes with a few grumbles).

You don't ask for much - well, except maybe for food! But you're a good cook who doesn't mind helping out, so I figure it balances out.

For this year's birthday post, rather than giving advice, which I know I dole out ad nauseum, I thought I'd share some memories from throughout the years that you may have forgotten.

I know you are camera-shy now but it wasn't always the case!

Celebrating my birthday at one of our favourite local restaurants, Cassis at Booie, South Burnett. Not the best pic, but one of the few I have of the three of us together recently. Thanks to Uncle Owen and Aunty Leanne for taking us out that day.

Flexing your muscles by spearing and de-husking coconuts at the kids club at Samoa when you were still an ankle-biter. They gave you a lot of freedom there, and while I was initially a bit horrified at the sight of you thrusting coconuts onto spears, I soon embraced it with the same enthusiasm you did.

Living the high life, ordering coloured lemonades at the swim-up bar at The Warwick Fiji, many years ago.

And always trying something new. Lunch at a village on the Coral Coast, Fiji. Where we ate locally-grown foods with our hands.

Loving our jetboat ride on the Sigatoka River, Fiji.

 Ice-skating with Harmonie at the temporary winter wonderland in Brisbane a few years ago. Just before she slipped and had several hunky men, sorry First Responders, tending to her. (She was fine.) 

Diving into the chocolate dolphins waiting in our room at Sea World Resort one Easter. I don't think I even got to taste one!

Always a fan of cooking, you often posed with chefs whose food you admired. This dude was the fantastic teppanyaki chef at the Japanese restaurant at Sea World Resort when we stayed there. You once included 'cooking with Matt Preston' on your Bucket List. I think the choice of chef has changed. No offence Matt. 

Feigning exhaustion at Wet 'N' Wild, Qld.

Cooking dinner at home,with a taste-tester at hand. 

Waiting for lunch at the Novotel Darwin Atrium (hosted event) another Easter holidays. With the help of our little green friend Kermit.

You're so great with kids. Baby-sitting one of our neighbour's kids, who all feel like family to us.

One of the highlights of our year was attending Oz Comic-Con (PR event). Harmonie and I giggled at the sign at entry which prohibited 'no annoying loud things', and wondered if you should be banned. You took our naughtiness with good humour.

Oz Comic-Con was so cool, but despite my begging, you wouldn't dance. Nor would you allow me to! 

Catching a crab a few years ago on the Tweed Coast, NSW, when I was on assignment for a story. The crab was later cooked on board the boat, and as Harmonie doesn't like seafood, you and I got to share it. It tasted amazing, and I seem to remember you wishing for more!

On theme, catching a prawn in your mouth at the teppanyaki restaurant at Sea World Resort. Always up for new experiences!

Finding your zen with Harmonie in Canberra. You were only tiny then.

At one of your favourite restaurants when we lived in Brisbane, Yum Yum Peking Duck, Darra.

Reeling in another fish at The Ledge Beach, WA. One of the many special experiences we've had with Uncle Stuart and family. We've spent great times with Uncle Dar and Bel too, but I couldn't quickly find a pic for this post.

At The Italian Festival, held at the school you attended when we lived in New Zealand, Freeman's Bay. I love this one, because of the body language between you and your sister. You weren't getting along that day. And that's okay, because brothers and sisters don't always have to get along, as long as you make up eventually!

And another from the 'life isn't always perfect' files. Throwing up with your sister after one too many rides at the Lantern Festival at Darra, Qld, many years ago. It actually looks like you are being sick on her head, but I swear that was not the case!

And happier times! Joy with your sister as you jump into the pool at Jupiters Casino on the Gold Coast, when we took a last-minute break there. Later we went to a magic show, when you asked the magician how to make your sister disappear! Jupiters was not an obvious choice to take then tweens to, but it was off-season, well-priced. and we had the pool to ourselves. I'm not a gambler so didn't need to go the casino, and we just enjoyed the room, the pool, the show, and access to nearby Broadbeach. You and your sister completely blissed out

Taking in the Brisbane River from the Executive Lounge at the Brisbane Marriott, where we spent your birthday last year. This year's was a bit quieter, as it fell during the school week. Though being an Australia Day baby, you still had a day off!

Ready to swim with sharks and manta rays at Shark Bay, Sea World, on the Gold Coast. You'd been begging for years, and the moment you were old enough, we did it. I know you dearly want to do it again, and I hope we can soon.

Milking a fake cow at the Royal Auckland Show, New Zealand. It had fake udders and produced 'real' milk, which was all kinds of weird, but we ran with it

Making friends with all the orphaned kittens, at Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey's Resort. Don't know who that is behind you ... Cough!

Wiped out after a busy day at Auckland's Sky Tower. It's okay, you were only a youngster then, so you were allowed to have cuddle toys!

Happy times. We were living overseas then and visited the South Burnett only on holidays. Here you are helping Pa-Pa dig for potatoes. Harmonie is cranky because you are doing the digging. If looks could kill ...

Playing cricket with Allan Border (I won't mention that I had to tell you who he was on the way there!) We also had afternoon tea and a BBQ dinner with him and some of his friends.Thanks for being willing to tag along for some of my writing stuff.

I'd love to share some of the latest pics of you, but I respect that you'd rather keep your privacy these days. But I hope you enjoy revisiting these moments as much as I have.

That's why I keep taking photos, even though I don't share them. Because in the future, they might remind us of times that we might otherwise forget. And making memories is important. May we make many more.

And may you enjoy many more sunsets like these. (This one was closer to home, at Mt Wooroolin, Kingaroy)

You have the world ahead of you my son.

Happy birthday baby.

Love Mum xx

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Country Road To Rio

Taliqua Clancy. Image: Australian Olympics Team Media

Dreams do come true.
Just ask Kingaroy’s own Taliqua Clancy, who will join her on-court partner and mentor, Olympics veteran Louise Bawden, at her first Games in Rio on Sunday.
Taliqua, 24, is Australia’s first indigenous beach volleyball competitor in an Olympic competition.
And, as with many Olympians, her story is one of luck, determination, hard work, and great financial, family, and personal sacrifice.
Taliqua laughs when I ask how a Kingaroy girl made it to famous Copacabana Beach as one of Australia’s trending athletes on social media at this year’s games.
“We hardly even went to the beach when I was a kid,” she admits. “You know what it’s like growing up in Kingaroy. The beach is a few hours’ drive away, and we didn’t have a lot of money. What we had usually went on sport. Occasionally we went to the Sunny Coast or Hervey Bay, and that was nice, but I wasn't a beach bum. I never even played beach volleyball until I was 16.”
However, her Olympic dream started much earlier.
“I had always been this lanky, crazy kid; running around and in love with sport,” she recalls. “But it wasn’t until the Sydney Olympics that I realized how far I could take it.
 “I remember sitting in the lounge room at home in Kingaroy and watching Cathy Freeman carrying the torch in the Sydney Olympics. At the time, I didn’t realise the significance. But from that moment, there was never a doubt in my mind that one day I would be at the Olympics too.”
And although Taliqua is proud to be the first Indigenous Australian to represent her country in beach volleyball on the world stage, it’s more about that for her.
“I’m proud for sure, but I want to show Aussie kids that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what colour you are. If you have a dream and you work hard, you can make anything happen.
"I’m proud to be an Aboriginal athlete, but I’m also proud to be representing the South Burnett, and single parent families and rural Australia. It’s about so many things for me.”
One of the most important elements is teamwork, and Taliqua pays tribute to her partner Lou and their coaches.

Lou Bawden and Taliqua are perfectly in sync. Image: Australian Olympic Team Media

“I was lucky that someone with Lou’s experience took an interest in me and saw some talent and strength in me,” she says. “She never made me feel like I was the young one or had lots to learn.”
Without giving away secrets, Taliqua says the pair can read each other’s body language, an integral part of their sporting success. As an added bonus, they ‘balance each other out’, and like any good partnership, the 11-year age difference, is not a problem.
“We travel with each other, train with each other, there are no secrets,” Taliqua laughs. “It’s not to say everything is always perfect, but we are there for each other. I wouldn't be here without her.”

Two women: One goal. Image: Lou Bawden

When Taliqua and Lou compete in their first Rio Olympics competition at 1 am on August 7 AEST time, the former Kingaroy girl will be playing, not just for her country, but for her family, particularly Mum Shannon,  and grandparents Joceyln and Robert.
Shannon was a single Mum, who had Taliqua when she was still a teenager. Jocelyn and Robert moved to the South Burnett to support their daughter and grand-daughter, and the family lived together. Taliqua thinks of her grandparents as ‘second parents’, and her auntie Kathleen, who grew up with her, like a sister. She feels the same way about her auntie/sister Roberta. 
All of them are in Rio, cheering her on, except for Robert, who was struck down by illness a few weeks ago, Joceyln telling me: "We've been saving for years for this. We all knew she would make it."
Taliqua was running, jumping, kicking and throwing balls from the moment she could walk.
“I played a lot of sport from as long as I can remember,” Taliqua says. “Financially it was a drain. Mum struggled for sure, and I wouldn’t even know the extent of what she sacrificed for me.
“She worked several jobs, and never complained. We were always in the car on the weekends, driving to competitions, and my grandparents helped too.
“Mum is really strong and she never showed me her struggles. There were times when people told her I wouldn’t go far, because I wasn’t very good at schoolwork. But she shook it off and never told me. Some people looked down on us because she was a single mum and we didn’t have our own home.
“I never felt disadvantaged though.  I felt lucky to have a family who supported me, to live with my wise grandparents and an auntie who is like my sister. The one trait I got from my family was to keep working hard to get what you want. You never stop. You never quit.
"I had no doubt that one day I would show the people who picked on us what the Clancy family could do."
She hastens to add that she loves the South Burnett, and that the critics were always in the minority.
“If I can be a role model to my people and the country kids from there, that makes me so proud,” she says. “People don’t know how much harder it is to play sport and succeed when you live outside of the cities.”
One of Taliqua’s earliest memories is Shannon telling her they couldn’t afford to pay for soccer anymore.
“Soccer was the first sport I got into. Mum was upset, but even though I was little, I understood. Soccer was expensive, and as long as I could still play some kind of sport, I was okay.”
Perhaps it was fate, because Taliqua was an all-rounder, playing any and excelling at any sport she was offered a chance at trying. Funnily enough, she was a natural at netball and volleyball, and was able to play the sports through school, which made them more affordable.

It's a long way from the South Burnett to Rio. Photo: Bronwyn Marquardt, at The Bunya Mountains 

As her star rose, her teachers at Kingaroy State High School were supportive, accommodating her heavy training and competition schedule. But it meant long drives to the city or other areas every weekend, usually with Shannon behind the wheel. A return trip to Brisbane from Kingaroy is around five-seven hours, give or take the traffic, and which part of the city you have to get to. And then the exhausted teen would have to front up to school the next day, and her Mum to work.
“Kingaroy High was a very sporty school and I had every opportunity to represent the South Burnett at a regional level and develop my skills,” she says.
It was at a high school sporting competition that Taliqua’s talent was spotted by a now Australian Institute of Sport scout, and she was invited to participate at training camps in Brisbane. A scholarship in Brisbane at 16 quickly followed, which was when Taliqua played her first beach volleyball game.
“I had to decide between netball and beach volleyball, and beach volleyball won,” she says. “It was fun, I could travel with it, and the best thing was, it was an Olympic sport!”
The teen moved to Brisbane and then to Adelaide, a year later, which is still her training base. While Shannon moved to both cities to support her, the cold temperatures of the latter city eventually got to her mum, and she was forced to move to a warmer climate.
It must have been a big ask for a 17-year-old to leave her family and friends behind I suggest, especially when Shannon moved, and she shyly agrees. Despite her international success, the unassuming country girl is still a part of her. She doesn't like to talk herself up, or make a fuss. 
“I think people think beach volleyball is all partying and sunshine,” she says. “But it’s training and having a good diet, being healthy, and playing in ice, rain, sleet and snow as well. We don't just play beach volleyball on beaches, we play it in the Swiss Alps. It’s still hard work.”
Asked if her father was ever in the picture, Taliqua answers shortly: ‘No,' and we move on.
 “Money and travel was always an issue growing up, and I think that’s something  Australians who live in cities don’t realise,” says Taliqua.
“Even if you have talent, when you live in regional or rural Australia, you often have to travel for hours to compete. If you don’t have a supportive family, or some kind of funding, you just can’t do it. It's even harder for disadvantaged families like many Indigenous Australians or kids with single parents who are doing it tough. For me, it was a family effort.
“It makes me sad when I hear of kids who live in the bush who don’t play sport because their parents can’t afford it, or who don’t get to compete in competitions on the weekends because their parents are too busy. Who knows what they could do if they were given a chance?”

Could your child be a future Olympian? Source: Australian Olympic Team Media

If Taliqua has one message for Aussie kids, watching the Olympics this year, as she did when she was a youngster, it’s this: 
“If you enjoy sport and you love it, just keep doing it. Ask your parents to take you to training and to competitions.”
And for parents? "Get out of bed and take them to sport on the weekends. Tell them they can do it. My Mum and grandparents told me I could do anything as long as I worked hard and I never doubted them."
After all, who would have thought a kid from Kingaroy, who lived hours from the beach, would grow up to represent Australia in beach volleyball at the Olympics?
Hmm. I'm thinking maybe Taliqua Clancy. And her family. 

Dreams do come true! Image: Australian Olympic Team Media

Taliqua Clancy and Louise Bawden play their preliminary round of competition  at 1 AM AEST on August 7. To send Taliqua a message of support, go to
To find a full schedule of events (beach volleyball strangely seems to have been left off some Queensland guides) go straight to the official site. As you follow the events, this will also keep you up to date with results as well.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

How Do You Like It? I'll Take Mine Straight, No Chaser!

PR Event*

Not many people realise that when I started studying my Bachelor of Arts, my major was initially going to be music.
I finished my grade eight AMEB piano at the same time as I finished my highschool Grade 12, and music was a major part of my life.
But I'd always loved to write, so I chose literature and journalism as well. Later, I had to narrow that done, so my BA became a double major in journalism and music.
Whether it was because I never had enough faith in myself to make a living as a musician or a writer, or the fact that something about journalism sucked me in, journalism won me over.
But music was always there too.

Goody two-shoes choir girl, as part of the Darling Downs Singers. Don't blame me for the outfit. That was the uniform. The hair is my own doing. We even did a capella. 

I remember as a young pianist, my first, very wise teacher, explaining that there would be some pieces I would not be able to play convincingly until I had 'life experience'. She was right.
As I gained that experience (and then some), I honed my skills in piano, theory, choir, musical theatre and more. Occasional back-up singing for rock bands. (Yes, those who think I am quiet don't know me quite as well as you thought you did, do you?)  Providing background music in restaurants and on award nights.
And for fun, (and on special occasions), karoake.
I've dragged a family piano with me everywhere since I relocated to Australia, pretty much full-time, some years ago. In fact, I just had it tuned!
Though I'm rusty, my kids seem to have a natural talent for music, and in recent years, Mr 15, has shown a particular interest.
So I was thrilled when I was asked to help promote the I'll Take Another ... World Tour for the American a capella band Straight No Chaser.

This group is awesome. (Easy on the eye too. Just saying.)

If you love the Pitch Perfect flicks, you've seen nothing yet. And I say this with the greatest of respect.
This male a capella band is as far away from cliched college performances as you can get.
Although the group was originally formed by 10 guys who loved to sing at Indiana University, Straight No Chaser have grown far beyond that.
With more than 20 million YouTube views, too many public and private appearances to count, and a worldwide fanbase, they are bringing their I'll Take Another ... Tour to Australia, with the endearing subtitle The New Old-Fashioned Tour.

Who wouldn't want to see them?

Seriously the kids and I enjoy so many of the Straight No Chaser performances and, can't even choose a favourite.
I'll share a few here, but I seriously could go on and on.
And SNC, as their fans call them, are a capella, they do sometimes add in backing. And there is always humour and fun.
In the meantime we do have a double pass to giveaway to Straight No Chaser New Old Fashioned Concert in the Australian City of Your Choice.
Tour details are:

July 13 Perth, Australia, Astor Theatre
July 15 Brisbane, Australia, The Tivoli
July 16 Sydney, Australia, York Theatre
July 17 Southbank, Australia, The Palms at Crown in Melbourne

To enter, please state which city you are entering for, and your favourite Straight No Chaser song.
And in the meantime, sit back and enjoy a few of our favourite SNC music.

Straight No Chaser: Can't Feel My Face

Straight No Chaser: Creep

Straight No Chaser: Uptown Funk

And that's just a taste of what you're in for at a Straight No Chaser concert. Straight Up!

Entries are for Australian residents only or foreign residents who can make it to the concert of their choice. Entries close at 5 pm AEST on July 8, 2016, but please ensure you check back in to see if you have won and/or are easy to contact. MIA makes every effort to contact winners, but if they cannot be contacted within 24 hours in the case of timely events, reserves the right to award tickets to the runner-up. You can learn more about Straight No Chaser and their tour here

* Maid In Australia has been given a double pass to give away, as well as a pass for myself and my children to attend the Brisbane show as a thank-you for writing this post. Excuse me while I fan myself ...

The competition has now closed and the winner was Carolyn. Carolyn please get in touch so we can organise for you to receive your double pass. Thanks for entering.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Win Tickets To Oz Comic-Con

It's here again!

The most awesome event for anyone who loves cosplay, anime, gaming, sci-fi, TV, film, comics and basically all things fun: Oz Comic-Con.

Last year's event in Brisbane was my first time and it was freaking awesome. And I don't even consider myself a real fan.

But my teens are, and I'd hoped to take them (unfortunately a clash of interstate school holidays meant that didn't work out), so I went with a loved one as part of a birthday treat for him instead.

I had no idea how huge the whole cosplay, anime and gaming scene was until we approached the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre and saw the scores of impeccably dressed people making their way to the event.

But I had an inkling the day before at Comics Etc, where a couple of Cosplayers, still in costume, dropped by after a very busy day.

"You'll have the best time," said one. "Get there early and take plenty of water," advised another.

When we walked in, I was both devastated and kind of relieved my kids weren't able to come. Devastated, because they would have loved it. But in a way I was grateful because I don't think we ever would have made it out of there, and I think I would have spent a small fortune on all the cool merchandise for sale. There was so many cool things to buy, much of it limited edition or rare, that I was overwhelmed and didn't know what to choose for them.

Yay for us that this year we all can go!

Oz Comic-Con has already attracted huge crowds and rave reviews in Perth and Adelaide and is on this weekend (June 11-12) at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre.

Guests in Melbourne include Robert Patrick, Callum Blue, Ivy Doomkitty, Lucy Lawless, Jake Abel and Samuel Anderson. Also attending is Rose McIver, whose career highlights include iZombie. Unfortunately she's only appearing in Melbourne, much to my teens' disappointment. (It is one of our favourite shows).

Oz Comic-Con will also run in Sydney (September 10-11 at the Sydney Exhibition Centre, Glebe Island), and Brisbane (September 17-18, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre). 

Kermit will be mixing it up Oz Comic-Con this year.

Read on for more details (including how to win a family pass to an Oz Comic-Con weekend).

And to give you an idea of what Oz Comic-Con is like, here are some photos I took from last year's event in Brisbane. This year's theme is 'Unleash Your Inner Geek' but I thought everyone who attended last year was pretty cool. 

Avenue Q - a very naughty puppet show for adults (and kids who had their parents' permission to attend)

Avenue Q was just one of the many shows included in the ticket price, on one of several stages. Performances are held throughout the weekend, so it's important to plan which shows and discussions you want to watch

They walk among us - some of the many colourful attendees

Some cute costumes. There are Cosplay championships and parades

Oz Comic-Con includes gaming areas, anime stations, family rooms, and chill-out areas

Last year there were free samples of energy drinks to help keep you going

They were kept pretty busy

More gaming, plus colouring in, and Dragonball Z

The youngest Wonder Woman I've ever met - and her Super Dad

Chilling out

I was pretty sure my son would have liked this shirt but wasn't sure if it was appropriate ... 

A posy of princesses take time for lunch

One of the many discussions. This one on a different stage

Furries and friends put their feet up

My only regret about last year's Oz Comic-Con is that we couldn't stay longer and see more shows and discussions. But, living in the country, we had a long drive home and work the next day. This year, I'll probably try to see it over two days rather than a few rushed hours.

'That Lola Bunny', also known as Variable is attending all shows, as is Jason Palmer, while Amanda Tapping is attending Brisbane and Sydney. Australian comic book artist Nicola Scott, who is huge in America, will be in Brisbane. More guests will be announced soon. 

Thanks to Oz Comic-Con, Maid In Australia has a family pass to giveaway to either Melbourne, Sydney or the Brisbane event. 

To enter, simply leave a comment on who your favourite character is, whether they be in a book, comic, on TV, film or in a game. Please also let me know which Oz Comic-Con event you would like to attend - Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane.

The winner will be chosen at 5 pm AEST on Friday June 10, 2016. Please do check in, especially if you are intending to attend the Melbourne event. I always make every effort to contact winners,and announce them here and on Facebook and Twitter, but sometimes it isn't easy tracking winners down!

Good luck.

Disclaimer: Maid In Australia has received two family passes to Oz Comic-Con as a thank you from the organisers for writing this post. One is for my family and one is to giveaway to my followers. I have received no financial compensation for writing this post, and my opinion of last year's post is entirely my own. 

The competition has closed and the winner is Dee Potter, whose offer to show off her Warrior cry pushed her over the edge. Please contact me so I can organise for you to receive your pass.