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. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Remembering is not just for one day. It's forever.

And so another ANZAC Day has been and gone.
The inevitable comments began on social media that day, followed by thinkpieces and columns the next.
Why is ANZAC Day for one day? Shouldn't we remember those who died for us, and those who still serve their countries, every single day?
Personally I believe that many Australians already do this.
Perhaps I'm naive.
I know many servicemen and women. Some are members of my family.
Others are friends or partners of friends or family.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of them or the sacrifices they made and are making.
Not to mention the sacrifices of those left at home.
Or the problems those who have served overseas live with once they have returned from their assignments, often traumatised by what they have seen and done, left to continue their lives with inadequate counselling and care.
I grew up looking at the photos of those who did not come back from wars and wondering what happened to them. Talking to widows who were mourning deaths or disappearances. Often there was no closure. Just photographs. Maybe some letters.
Of NOT hearing the stories of some who did return, because they did not want to talk about experiences, but reading into the silences and meaningful glances; the talk of nightmares, depression and inexplicable rage and grief.
I breathed in the poetry, the history, and the unbelievable stories of wrongs and hardships which occurred around the world because of war.
In my later years, I visited museums, places of war, photographed uniforms, bombs, machinery. Put on headphones and heard stories of those who had been there..
In my own family, I heard tales that were too unreal to be true. Close encounters and escapes. You could not make this stuff up.
I knew it must not happen again.
And today war. in various ways, continues.
Our servicemen and women are called on to keep the peace, save lives, and to clean up in the aftermath of many atrocities. They also help to restore order and rebuild after natural disasters.
They go through unbelievable hardships, away from their loved ones, from the comforts of home, to do what is right. They see things that should never be seen.
They try to sleep, sometimes on the floor, sometimes on cots; shower in contaminated water; survive on rations; have limited contact with their families; miss out on countless firsts and special events. At home, their partners or families keep the home life together.
As one of our South Burnett Regional Councillors Ros Heit said on April 25 2016, ANZAC Day isn't about celebrating war, but is about remembering the sacrifices of those who gave up their tomorrow so we could enjoy our today.
In modern times, it is also about honouring those who continue to put their lives at risk to do good both in Australia and New Zealand, and where they are needed around the World.
As some Australians celebrated at race days, sports games and concerts, and hashtagged their photos #ANZACS that day, I felt ashamed for our nation.
Was this all that ANZAC Day meant to some Aussies? But my heart also swelled with pride when I watched school children marching with their teachers. I held back tears as I watched veterans waving as they were pushed in wheelchairs by the younger generation.
An image remains in my mind of a strong-armed, straight-backed gent, carrying the Australian flag, not just throughout the march but in the hot sun for the entire ANZAC ceremony at my home town of Wondai. Without wavering.
My own Uncle Percy, a former Mayor, at 90 and sharp as a tack, who had been up for the dawn service playing in the Town Band, gave the keynote address for a later service and then fronted up for yet another service at a nearby town, all without missing a beat.
His speech included tales of his own father's experiences at Gallipoli, together with letters sent home from diggers from the region. He masterfully wove the meaning of these stories in with other wars, and with the significance of the horrors of modern warfare that going on today, including the evil of terrorism and ISIS.
I doubt any Australian politician could have given a better or more poignant speech. And, despite fighting his own invader (cancer) he also stood tall throughout.
Unlike politicians, Uncle Percy doesn't have speechwriters. He wrote it himself and it came from the heart. It was magnificent. He epitomises the Australian Spirit, and I don't mind admitting to getting a bit of water in my eyes at times.
During the ceremony, the plight of those who return home was mentioned often, as was that of those who remain here while their loved ones are away and also support them when they return. Never quite the same  And who need support as well.
Perhaps some people have forgotten about ANZAC Day until next year. However, I'll wager those are the same people who thought of the day as just another holiday. An excuse to get pissed at the races, see a sports game or a concert, and who who told people to 'Fuck Off' for posting too many tributes on social media.
The people who care will continue to remember those who have served us and continue to do so.
Lest we forget?
Not on our watch.

My great-nephews Jack and Connor Hyde, followed by their sister Elliana, with other students from St John's Lutheran School, Kingaroy. They were marching at the Wondai ANZAC parade as part of the St John's Wondai contingent.

My niece Sue Hyde, who attended St John's Lutheran School as a student and now teaches there, with children in the march

Some of the lovely marchers on wheels

The Wondai Town Band

Just some of the marchers

These guys. And the man with the flag.

Uncle Percy, delivering an incredible speech ...

Watched by South Burnett Regional Councillor Ros Heit

Still standing ... and speaking. At the age of 90 and despite an invader of his own. I salute you Uncle Percy.

The Wondai Town Band

Children pay their respects

St John's Lutheran School Captains

Lucy Jacobson plays The Last Post on a bugle that is more than 100 years old.

The human faces of war

Lest We Forget

My cousin Leah wore her late grandfather Percy's medals he was awarded after serving at Gallipolli and the Somme

You can't have ANZAC Day without a band. Or music!

Lest We Forget 

Legacy, the Walking Wounded, and RSL Clubs around Australia all support returned servicemen and women and their families.
For more details, go to,, or your nearest RSL club,