EVERY now and then I am overcome by the notion that I just need to disappear off the face of the planet for a week or so. And I generally pick a destination or activity that is way beyond my comfort zone and/or level of ability (which, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, is somewhat limited to drinking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on my back deck while pondering the parlous state of the world). As is often the case when I make any major life decisions, my choices are based purely on how a place name sounds. Yes, you’ll find me in crazy Kazakhstan or yummy Yemen any day now. Iraq sounds quite harsh to the ear but Kabul itself somewhat intriguing. I’m the same when it comes to cooking or eating out. I’ll order Baba Ghanoush while imagining I’m in an exotic Arabian land, or buy all the ingredients to cook a big pot of Jambayla just for one, because I’m convinced someone has made a huge mistake and I’m actually a sexy Spaniard. Woy Woy – well I’ve toy toyed with a trip there too. And it was only last week when I found myself downward dog facing the jungles of Ubud at a yoga retreat that I realised just how out of sync my imagination is with my body.
Lured by this particular retreat’s name “Escape the World” I flew myself to Bali and trekked up to Ubud (by trekking, I mean being picked up in an air-conditioned vehicle by my own driver), and threw myself into this concept with gusto. What could be so hard about a total of 20 hours of yoga, a 22km bike ride, wanderings through the rice paddies, and, most interestingly, 24 hours of silence where it would just me and my mischievous monkey mind?
And I didn’t know it at the time of booking, but French Canadian Claude Chouinard runs Oneworld Retreats in partnership with two Ubud princes who happen to have their regal residences also on site. Unfortunately for me, both princes were also getting married the very day I arrived, but I remain convinced had they just waited another 24 hours, at least one of them would have fallen in love with me at first sight. I mean, what’s not to love about a bedraggled Brisbane girl, hair frizzing in the Indonesian humidity, coming off the effects of her usual red wine and Xanax flying combination, clutching her duty free stash of secret wine and gin in one hand, and a yoga mat in the other? There may also be that teeny tiny issue that I am not Balinese royalty, into which both boys also married, in what is said to be a bid to preserve the culture. And I’m not sure mentioning I’m The Global Goddess and practically Brisbane royalty has the same effect, but I was prepared to give it a shot.
On our first night, Claude reminds us that despite everyone around us seemingly being able to travel, we are only a small percentage of the world who is wealthy enough to do so. He encourages us to embrace our 24 hours of silence and see it for the gift that it is.
“For just one day you can consider this silence a form of torture or one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself,” he says.
“What we know as time is in fact an illusion. For human beings, time is limited to the moment we are born, to the moment we leave this planet, a very short journey considering the age of the universe.
“Live every day by the minute and enjoy as much as you possibly can…the illusion goes by quickly.”
At first I am afraid, I am Gloria Gaynor petrified. But then I discover while I’m not allowed to read, and am discouraged from making eye contact with my fellow retreat participants even when we are in yoga classes together, I am allowed to write. And if there’s anything I love more than talking, it’s writing. But it must be mindful, and we are encouraged to pen the things we really want out of this life, and those we wish to rid, which will be burned later in the week in a sacred Balinese ceremony. After yoga and breakfast on my private balcony, I scribble and scribble until my pen runs out of ink. Before I know it, it’s lunchtime, and the food (like everything else at this retreat) is no hardship. I lunch long and languidly on the typical Indonesian salad Gado Gado (again, savouring how the words swirl around my tongue) and there’s the delicious Dadar Gulung – an Indonesian coconut crepe – for dessert.
I have a massage after lunch, and determined not to sleep but remain “mindful” to my silence, I spend the afternoon painting. I end up finishing 6 paintings (3 of which are all words) and have almost convinced myself I have captured the spirit of the talented Ubud artists who inhabit this lovely land, before I realise my ego again, is outrunning my actual talent. A swim, another yoga session, and it’s dinner on my deck, the highlight of which is steamed prawns in banana leaf. I contemplate cracking open my duty free wine but a combination of wishing to remain mindful and the fact I have a sore throat prevents this digression. My yoga teacher later tells me my throat chakra is blocked because of my fear of the silence. A less enlightened version of myself would argue it’s because of his incessant incense burning.
Each day passes in a similar dreamy rhythm. Yoga in the morning with the affable Iyan Yaspriyana while the jungle around us awakens and the cicadas chant a chorus of encouragement from the forest. Iyan encourages us every day to “go deeper”, reminding us that the mind can sometimes trick the body that it can’t go further, when it can. Daily affirmations are left in our room (and in my case, a harmless tree snake which I embrace as a good sign), there’s a dawn yoga class at volcano Batur, an evening water purification ceremony at Tirta Empul, a Balinese offering class, lunch in the rice paddies, and a closing ceremony at the retreat’s temple in which we pause to give gratitude for our lives. And most of all, I learn to sit with myself, observe the demons, laugh at the monkey, and love myself just that little bit more. According to Baby Ram Das: “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” I can already hear the next exotic-sounding destination whispering my name.
The Global Goddess paid for her own flights to Bali and her Escape the World retreat with Oneworld in Ubud. To book your own escape, go to http://www.oneworldretreats.com
DEPENDING on how you view life, it is either a massive coincidence, or pure fate, that Julia Baker now lives in a street called Olympus, in Brisbane. For it has taken this 45-year-old a Herculean effort to get to this point. And if you wish to stretch the Greek mythology a little further, if you’d never met Julia before this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking she may look a little like Medusa, not because this softie would turn you to stone, but because of her love of snakes. In the Snakes and Ladders game of life, of one slither forward and two back, Julia is emerging triumphantly, as Brisbane’s very own Snake Sheila.
But it’s been quite the journey. Born in Australia to a German father and English mother, Julia spent her formative years in Europe, vacillating between England and Germany where at the age of 10 she moved with her family, learned the language and went to school until she dropped out at 16 to do a baker’s apprenticeship.
“I wanted to become an actress, but it wasn’t really a job back then,” Julia says, not knowing that one day, that dream would come true as well.
“The baking apprenticeship was the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life, lifting 50kg of flour and 2am starts.
“I still can’t believe I’d get up in the freezing cold and blizzards, but my dad never let me give up and I also completed a confectionary apprenticeship.”
But Julia’s birthplace beckoned and lured her towards an incredible life journey that would be peppered with both the bleak and beautiful.
“Everyone is besotted with Australia overseas, it is this mysterious country that has no neighbours. I used to dream about Australia all the time and wonder what it would be like if I lived there,” she says.
“I came over here with $2000 in my pocket but because I had such good qualifications I walked into the Hilton Sydney and got a job in a day.” Julia climbed her way up through the chef ranks, working for a number of big name hotel chains. She met husband and gave birth to two girls, before moving to Brisbane 15 years ago. And in the Snakes and Ladders game of life, her marriage broke down, sending her into a downward spiral of depression.
“I’d never really thought about what I wanted. You get married at a young age and you are never really allowed to dream. You do everything everyone else wants you to do,” she says.
“But you reach an age where you think ‘I’ve done everything everyone wanted me to do and it’s still a disaster’. I could see this pattern of pleasing everyone. I was attracting the wrong kind of people into my life. I looked at my two girls and didn’t think I was a good role model.
“When I split up from my husband I went through six months of depression. I thought I was a loser.” But Julia stumbled across a couple of self-help books and, while not academically minded, something resonated. And she began to dream.
About 10 years ago, dreaming and visualising her future, she went to Australia Zoo, saw a massive boa constrictor, and “fell in love with snakes”.
“I was watching all the people in the queue and they were carrying on like the snake was some kind of monster,” Julia says.
“I kinda felt that it was like me and they couldn’t see that underneath it had a really good heart. When they put it around my neck I almost cried.
“I thought ‘sod you, I’ll show you’. It just set me off and every time I’d go and see snakes I’d be drooling and I decided to get a pet snake.”
Julia now has not one but three pet snakes, two pet blue-tongued lizards and a frilly dragon. And then she met someone with a snake catching licence and decided to follow her passion, undertaking a snake-catching course and getting her own licence.
“I started to get call outs and before I knew it, I became the preferred catcher for the Brisbane City Council,” she says.
“I don’t claim to be the best. I have a massive passion for them and what makes me different is I really enjoy people and recognise that they have a fear. I understand them and I try to educate them.
“In the past five years I’ve had a real taste for feeling alive. (Julia also rides motor bikes, acts in plays, performs puppet shows and is a motivational speaker).”
Then, three years ago, with her life almost perfect, she sat down and wrote a list of her ideal man. Two weeks later, a Scotsman called John walked into her life.
“John is just perfect. He embraces me for being chaotic and worships every little bit about me,” she says.
“I can be me and I don’t have to apologise. On our second date I said to myself ‘he needs to be alright with snakes’ and I flung a snake around his neck while I went to answer a phone call.”
John is not only alright with snakes, he now also has his snake catcher licence.
Julia’s next big dream is to become an international speaker, and her Snakes and Ladders game continues on its upward trajectory. Brisbane-based documentary makers FlickChicks have just signed with a major international broadcaster for a 10-part series on the Snake Sheila, with filming slated to begin this August, just in time for snake season Down Under.
“My big vision is the TV show and the underlying message you can be in your 40s and get some passions in your life,” she says.
“I will not fit into what society wants me to do again.”
For more information on any element of Julia’s work, please contact her on 0400 140 800. To find out more about the Snake Sheila series, visit FlickChicks at http://www.flickchicks.com.au
I’VE known her since the day she was born. This feisty, fabulous female was always going to be a handful. She’s a lot like me. It’s the way we’re wired. A colicky baby, she fought and struggled to breastfeed. She cried a lot. Didn’t like to sleep much, still doesn’t, there’s too much life to be living. Around the age of 3 she insisted I make her a baby kangaroo out of play dough and threatened hell to break loose if a joey was not produced. She’d throw an almighty tantrum and scream at her mother “I’m not a naughty girl” before running out of the room. Even as a little kid, she had a taste for the absurd, able to eat exotic things and laugh at the ridiculous. As a teenager, on holidays, her in one single bed, me in the other, we’d laugh at our similar sleep patterns. She’s a worrier, too, and a lot of people think she looks so much like me, she could be my daughter.
But my niece, Cheneya Freese, was born with cattle breeding in her veins from both sides of the family. Now 17, this is a kid who has worked part-time after school and on weekends, saving her pennies, because she has a big dream. She wants to one day run her own cattle station. Some people would say she is mad, this teenager with this huge dream, in a country of droughts and flooding rains. Where the industry is dying a slow death. But not me. Because I know her. I’ve watched this kid with the fighting spirit from the get-go and know if anyone can do it, it’s her. Things don’t come easily to her, she’s the type of person who has to go and grab life by both hands. Give it a furious shake. Hope something drops from the tree. And just when she thinks it’s not going to happen, when she’s on the verge of quitting, she dusts the bullshit off her jeans and picks herself up.
So determined is Cheneya to realise her big dream, that since she started high school four years ago, she has been undertaking agriculture at school, working with her dad on his property – west of Brisbane – and attending as many local agricultural shows she can. That’s where she met Bevan and Dawn Voight from Warrill Creek. Cheneya was hell bent on breeding Murray Greys, until she met Bevan and Dawn, and discovered the interesting breed, Square Meters. She started building cattle yards, fences and troughs on the family property. Attended meetings with other Square Meaters, helped Bevan and Dawn show their cattle at local shows. And begged her father to let her buy some of her own cattle, and put them on the property.
In the meantime, she also established her own stud name and logo – Serenity Plains. With her savings she bought three cattle – Gone Forever, Ebony Eyes and Hosannah – from Bevan and Dawn. She’s registered her own brand. Bought a ute and got her driver’s licence. Last October, Serenity Plains welcomed its first calf – Jaala. Shortly after, on Boxing Day, another calf called Judge came into the stud. In less than six months, Cheneya’s herd of three increased to five.
But the story doesn’t end there. Last month, Cheneya decided to enter her cattle in the Toowoomba Show. It wasn’t an easy day. After recent rain, the humidity was stifling and the mud up to this young cattle woman’s thighs. One of her cattle was unsettled and as she walked and walked around the ring, tears fell from her eyes. But then, just as you’d think she’d give up, things did their last-minute turnaround for her. And she won Champion Senior Female and Grand Champion Female overall across her breed. Against all the other, older die-hard cattle men and women.
At the end of this year when she finishes school, Cheneya hopes to gain a traineeship within the beef production industry. She’s inching one step closer to that dream. And over the coming years there will be plenty of drought and flooding rains. There will be plenty of tears shed under the Akubra and moments when she’ll want to quit. But I’ve known this young woman since the day she was born. Her plans will tweak and change, but quitting, nah, it’s not an option.
For more information on Serenity Plains or the Square Meters breed, please contact Cheneya Freese on 0458 805 499 http://www.facebook.com.au/SerenityPlainsSquareMeters