Keep your Vegemite in the fridge

THERE were frogs in the pond, pigs in a blanket, a gaggle of geese and a gargle of girlfriends. White cockatoos sat at arm’s length over the back fence and Joe the dog slouched under the table, barely able to conceal his bemusement.

We arrived in the one-horse, one-pub Queensland country town in the height of the noon-day sun. The girl we like to call Jodi (who has insisted her friends stop naming her in blogs, so for the sake of this story let’s call her Clarky) had packed ice blocks for the 45 minute drive west of Brisbane. Things were going swimmingly, until I drove the wrong way into the town’s drive thru bottle-o. Clarky swore she heard a banjo play somewhere in the distance and I thought I saw a tumbleweed blow past, until I realised it was just Corina stumbling out of the bottle-o with some lemonade. We kept the engine running…just in case.

It was Retro Sunday lunch at Dame Alison’s where a mob of top sheilas, six of us in all aged between 39 and 72, gathered on the verandah for a good old chinwag and some fine food. Except this year the food wasn’t so much fine but funky. We harked back to the 70s, clutching at the recipes of our mothers and grandmothers. I pulled out old faithful: my spinach cob loaf and some sausage rolls. Mr Lee brought cheer and cheerios. Clarky baked some chooks, Heaney tossed a salad, and Alison, a Shepherd’s pie which mysteriously contained no lamb.

But the piece-de-resistance was Corina’s nana’s jelly salad. Imagine, if you possibly can, yellow jelly, carrot shreds and, wait for it… mustard, and you’ve got the salad. Unfortunately for me, who’d spent the week suffering from a gastro virus, it too closely resembled what I’d been trying to keep down and from the looks of the others, they were about to join me as fellow passengers on the proverbial porcelain bus. Nana would have be turning in her grave if she could have heard our comments, that is, if she wasn’t so preserved from all the mustard she used to consume.

 But it wasn’t so much about the food, as friendship. Feisty femme fatales dining on the deck to swap stories and secrets, swatting flies and egos. There’s no bullshit with Brisbane women – they’ll slap you down if you get too big for your boots, but are the first to pick you up when you break a heel. That’s what I love.

As the perfect Pimms afternoon wore on, we braved the gamut of conversations. Should Vegemite be kept in the fridge? Would you look after your cheating ex-husband if he was dying of a terminal illness? We spoke of death and dating (sometimes, for me, in the same sentence). Three of us had boyfriends, three of us didn’t. Those of you who remember the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era will enjoy the irony of a group of journalists and PRs standing, side-by-side in the back yard, feeding the chooks. We collected fresh eggs from the chook pen to take home.

We spoke of sex, travel and work. That’s another thing I love. In a town like Brisbane where you have to compete furiously for the work, our foes are our friends. There’s no room in this river city for small-minded competitiveness. What goes around, comes around. And so it is with these girls.

They keep me honest, they rough me up, but they are the first to be there when I need it. A group of us were recently up in Lombok for our annual travel writer’s conference. Someone from Sydney paid us one of the nicest compliments we’d ever heard. “You Brisbane girls are just so friendly and fun. You’re down-to-earth. You’re earthy.”

 And she hadn’t even seen Nana’s jelly salad.


In search of a world vision

I’VE always suspected I’d make a pretty ordinary mother, as while I am huge on passion, I possess very little patience. I can be loads of fun, but also fiery, not, I imagine, mother-of-the-year qualities. But even I was surprised when I discovered recently that I’d been dumped…by my World Vision child.

Yes, the child to whom I’ve been paying a paltry $43 a month to assist in survival has somehow found wealth, health and happiness, according to World Vision, and no longer needs me. To say I’m a little devastated is a bit of an understatement.

Let me take you back to the beginning. I’d first elected to support a World Vision child around five years ago, after a niggling feeling for many years that I needed to do something to give back to the planet that had been so generous to me, particular as a travel writer.

I decided I would choose to support a young girl, as, despite so many boys also being disadvantaged in this world, I hold, maybe mistakenly, a belief that females have an even harder time, particularly in developing nations. Certainly, there’s plenty of research to support this.

And so I chose to support Mely, who was three years old at the time. It was an uncomfortable process, effectively “shopping” for a child online which raised all sorts of moral issues. Was I choosing this child because she was cuter, younger, prettier than other children? Why this child? How could I only choose one child when so many were needing assistance? Should I support an Australian child? Why support one from the other side of the world? The list of quandries was endless.

Eventually, I set all those issues aside and simply chose to support Mely, from Peru, because I felt she needed my help. She wore a flopping pink beanie and liked playing with dolls. That’s pretty much all I knew. And there was something in her eyes. That’s it. Flimsy rationale, at best, I know, but why do we do anything important? Gut feeling or something more rational?

Over the next three years I wrote letters to her, sending her simple gifts suggested by World Vision such as stickers and postcards. Receiving updates on her progress and that of her village. Photos which I proudly displayed on my fridge and when anyone came to my house asking about the girl in the photos, I’d puff out my chest and say “that’s my daughter”..

And so my delusions of grandeur grew. Not only was I going to commit to supporting this child until she was 18, but I was going to trek up the mountains of Peru in the not-too-distant future to meet her and her village. Who, in my truly crazy moments, I had single-handedly saved with my $43 a month. My delusion of grandeur also involved visions of me on the back of a Yak, dressed in a crisp, white linen blouse and some beige jodhpurs carrying aid parcels.

And that’s where it becomes interesting. Not for the poor people on the planet – of which they are many – but for the fortunate, such as myself. Much has been written about the concept of altruism and whether it actually exists. Do we assist people because it is a good thing to do, or because it makes us feel good? Or both? I’d like to think it’s a bit of both.

When Misery Guts and I divorced, I was the one who kept Mely. He took a bottle of four-year-old Bacardi Rum which he claimed he “loved”, but never mentioned the three-year-old World Vision Child. Which was fine by me. I’d seen plenty of “single mothers” do a fine job of raising children, and I was happy to do this on my own.

Until she dumped me. It was a simple letter from World Vision which advised me Mely had moved on and in her place, they’d selected another child, a boy, from a country whose name I still don’t know.

 Now, this raised a whole heap of other questions within me, some of which I didn’t like about myself. Such as “but I wanted a girl!” and “I wanted to trek up some mountain in  Peru and be worshipped for being such a great ‘mother.”

And with that, I had my answer. I still don’t know my new World Vision child’s name or where he is from. But I know he needs my help. There will be no white, linen blouses, Yaks or trekking and no extreme acts of valour on my behalf. Just a simple $43 a month which, hopefully, makes a difference to someone’s life. Someone I’ve never met.

So, if you can, give. Live. Love. Learn. And expect nothing in return. I wish Mely all the best for a bright future. When you think of it, isn’t that the aim, after all?

To donate to World Vision or investigate sponsoring a child in need, simply go to

To Sue, with love

IT’S a grey, old Saturday, in every sense of the word when I find out about the death of a dear friend. Worse, she’s been dead a month, and I’ve only just discovered the news. We first met 12 years ago, when, encouraged by my general practitioner and following a lifetime of panic attacks and anxiety, I finally succumbed to the idea of a therapist.

She was 64 back then, full of life, huge of heart, and big on no nonsense. I’m sure if there exists the ideal counsellor/patient relationship, we came pretty close, both of us passionate women not afraid to stand up for our beliefs. We debated, argued, laughed and cried. I’m certain there were plenty of times we crossed the line between patient and therapist, but we always found our way back. That’s what made it real. Plausible. She knew I was a no bullshit kind of girl.

A former nurse, she’d been married three times and had children and grandchildren of which she was extremely proud. She knew about life, love and loss. Some days we simply spoke about politics, travel and the parlous state of the world. Others, we delved deep, and she pushed me until it hurt. We lanced more than our fair share of life’s boils.

When I lost my job, she opened a bottle of champagne. And then rang me at home to make sure that one glass didn’t push me over the limit. She struggled with technology, often asking me questions at the end of a session about sending or saving emails. Showed me photos of her grandkids. Worried about her weight.

She had a library full of self-help books, my favourite of which has always been Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. I still have her copy today. I tucked it into my suitcase on the day of my wedding, afraid, again, of my own self. Plagued by self doubt and anxiety.


Our real test came when the love of my life woke up one morning after 22 years and decided he suddenly no longer loved me. She was among the first people I rang. She cried down the line with me, prayed for me during those dark, terrible months, and called me every day to see that I was OK. My friends and I secretly referred to her as The Incredible Shrinking Woman. She was so incredible, I had friends begging me for her number.

She rode the heady years when I fell off the rails, fuelled by grief, bad boys and booze. She tolerated my antics because she knew they were a necessary part of my journey. She held my hand when my anxiety finally succumbed to deep depression. And she smiled knowingly when I eventually emerged from my stupor: “You’re entering the age of the wise woman,” she told me not so long ago.

We swapped small gifts and secrets. Our friendship blooming under the guise of therapy. Increasingly, over the years, I came to view her as a tribal elder. That missing link in our supposedly civilised society. This woman had lived and she was imparting her knowledge on me. It was an amazing gift and privilege.


“I’m always here if you need me darl,” she’d say.

And she was. When I lived overseas for a year, she was only a Skype call or an email away. She’d always return a phone call, so it was with mounting concern this week when she failed to return several of my messages. I’d last seen her on September 1. The first day of Spring. We’d had another enjoyable session which ended in her usual bear hug and words of encouragement. I’d just bought a new car and she rushed out like a proud parent to see it, waving and smiling at me as I drove off.

I was meant to meet her again on October 1, but she cancelled as she had pneumonia, telling me, “I’ll give you a call when the doctor gives me the all clear.” I was only mildly worried. She’d suffered from chest problems for years. And then I went overseas for work.

I returned this week and thought it was far time I’d heard from her. I called her phone number today, but it was disconnected. So I drove to her house and a sign on her door confirmed my worst fears. I rang her partner, Keith, 84, who told me she had died last month, October 5, when pneumonia had turned into an infection which had attacked her body. She was 76 years old.

On this grey Saturday I don’t know where to shove my grief. There’s guilt and bewilderment at her passing which occurred without me knowing. A little dollop of anger. Shouldn’t the universe have sent me a sign? How can we be so connected to someone, only to have them pass quietly from our lives? Selfishly, I want to shake my fist at the world: “But I wasn’t fixed yet!”

Instead, today, I clutch at the only thing I know. I write. She would have liked that. “Turn it on its head, darl,” she’d tell me often. She would have told me to “just sit with your grief”. She’d smile at my frustration at the world being beyond my control. She’d be cranky as all get out if I let her passing consume and unravel me. We’d come too far for that.

And so, Sue Cameron, I bid you a fond farewell. You may be gone, but you will never, ever be forgotten.