posted in: country living, The Outback | 2
#doitfordolly has flooded my social media feeds the past week or two. I didn’t know Dolly. I don’t know her family. But people I care about do, and they are hurting. Hard.
Dolly took her own life last week. She was 14 years old, and the way some people spoke about her, hurt her so profoundly, she found death held more hope than continuing to live. There’s been a flood of calls to deal with bullying in the wake of her death. Which is, of course, the right thing to demand from our educators, from our communities, from one another.
As a writer, I know how much words matter. The right words here, or the wrong word there, can change the intention, the power and meaning of my writing. The words we speak are no different. They have the power to slice deep, wounding in ways we cannot see. When enough of those wounds land on a heart it can be shredded beyond repair.
There are some young women (and possibly young men) out there right now, whose words sliced through Dolly’s heart. They’ve been called bullies, which, by definition, is correct. But, would they recognise the bully in themselves? Will the people who love them recognise them as bullies? Or will they believe their words were only empty sounds, tipped out in an effort to make themselves feel superior? Perhaps they believe the old adage: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. But they can. They do. They did.
I’ve been thinking about this thing we call bullying a lot these past few days. I’ve thought about the way people comment on social media with cruel putdowns, ugly names and hateful words. About how we live in an era where all the opinion we see is carefully curated to be the same opinion as our own. We ‘follow’ people whose opinions, lifestyles, politics and experiences are the same as ours, and when we stumble upon an opposing view, many are quick to call it wrong, or stupid, without taking a moment to dig a little deeper – to try to understand – or at the very least accept that different views and opinions and experiences are all valid, all real. That those views belong to human beings just like us who have fascinating stories and history, and hearts as tender and vulnerable as our own.
I’ve thought about the times I have carelessly said words that weren’t a true reflection of what was in my heart, words that have stung – or perhaps worse. About how easy, tempting even, it is to jump to self righteous indignation when others are ‘wrong’ and we know we are ‘right’. But what is the cost? What damage are we causing others – whose stories we don’t begin to understand – to reassure ourselves we are ‘right’? How much richness and wonder do we miss out on, when we hold tight to our beliefs and leave no space to discover other points of view?
Perhaps as well as demanding that our law makers and educators do something about bullying, we can start with ourselves. Can we choose curiosity over judgement? Can we model open mindedness and acceptance to our kids and all the people watching and listening to us? Can we choose open hearted caring over gossip? Can we remember the power of our words, and choose them with care, with kindness? I’m going to start there, to #doitfordolly.

Learning the Hard Way

Say Hello to Casper. He’s an old man now – by cat standards, at least. Well into his sixteenth year, he – along with his brother Garfield – has been part of our lives for over half of our kids lives. He’s an introvert. He hates lots of people, and new people freak him out so much, he’s been known to quietly disappear to the shed when visitors arrive, only to return after three or four weeks living on mice and sleeping in the hay when he’s sure the intruders have departed. Unlike Garfield, he is NOT fond of cuddles (or BBQ chips, but that’s another story for another day), and might choose to come and sit close beside you if it’s cold; or, if you’re trying to perform a task which is made much more difficult by the appearance of a cat under your arm!
Casper pretty much does his own thing- as is the want of most felines – and provided he is fed frequently (he isn’t actually all that good at catching mice) mostly keeps to himself and out of my way. Most of the time…
Which brings me to this:
This is my Peerless Watercolour Palette. See how the left side is all crisp and white looking? And how muddied and watery and splotchy looking it gets towards the left side? I guess it’s my own fault, but, is the weird green pond water in my paintbrush water jar really more appealing than the fresh, clean water in your cat bowl, Casper? Apparently. So much more appealing in fact, that he not only drinks out of it, but knocks it over, all over the studio bench, drenching my journal, causing pages to run, and – most alarmingly – drowning my favourite watercolour palette and discharging all that delicious colour. 
As you might have guessed, I was pretty bummed about this. Actually, “bummed’ doesn’t put near a fine enough point on it, but it’s somewhat unladylike and undignified to swear about it and put into print the words I uttered at the time. 
Casper has done this before – numerous times, but, I’d been lucky that nothing got damaged – usually just a puddle of nasty greeny looking water on the bench, and me muttering to myself that I need to learn not to leave the water jar full when I’m done in the studio, before the spill wreaks havoc with something special. 
Sometimes, we seem to have to learn things the hard way. Reminds me of that John Wayne quote. 
“Life is tough. It’s tougher if you’re stupid.”
I’m off right now to empty that bloody brush water jar, before Casper decides he’s a feline Michelangelo.

A Watery Challenge

Have you ever really thought about how remarkable water is? Being a farmers wife, I’ve always known how important it is – without water there is no life. So, it’s utterly essential. But, I have to confess, it wasn’t until I started this Photo A Day Challenge with ABC Open that I’ve ever explored just what water is really capable of. Never really spent much time contemplating the many possible faces, facets and characters of water.
It can be peaceful, serene and soothing; as it appears here at sunset over Bell Lagoon Dam. This dam has featured here before – it is frequently the home to a pair of black swans, a pod of pelicans, or a raft of ducks – do yourself a favour and do a google search for the names of groups of things – fascinating stuff! Did you know that a group of Owls is called a Parliament? 
Water can also be dynamic and exciting – filling a balloon with water and bursting it, trying to catch the explosion of water, requires a very willing, waterproof helper; at least 6 water filled balloons ready to go; a camera set on continuous shooting and a good dash of persistence. The result, though, when you finally nail it, is thrilling. Or is that just because it started to thunder and pour rain right as we stuck the pin in the last full balloon, thus adding to the sense of urgency?

Water can also gush, as it does here, out of the hose off the water tanker that my baby (OK..so he’s 23, but still, he’s my baby!) uses when he’s spraying crops. He’s not into wasting water though, and this is just the bit of water held in the hose after the taps are turned off. I had to be really quick to catch this one – though he did kindly help me out by pressing down quickly on the hose to push the last bit out in a gush.

All this attention to water has reminded me of the importance of attention, of noticing, of really seeing. It’s also given my creativity a much needed kick in the butt. Spending a little time each day contemplating how to make something as mundane as water coming out of a hose look interesting and visually appealing, while at the same time considering the technical requirements of actually getting the photo, has been surprisingly challenging and stimulating. 
The biggest challenge so far though, was “A fish swimming in water”. I have no fish. I live a long way from anyone with fish. Short of dumping a frozen fillet of flounder into a bucket of water, I was stumped. I was discussing my dilemma with my girls (they’re my sons wives, technically, but they’re still ‘my’ girls) and Leah quickly had a solution. Little Payton has a pair of floaties with an inflatable fish on top – terrible floaties for a small person, but you can cut the fish off, and send him swimming! Crisis averted. Not sure it will win any prizes for creative photography…but it kind of makes me smile.
There’s still a few days to go – and a quick look at the topics for each day reveal some more challenges ahead. Do you suppose cleaning the shower counts as “water sports”?

A Tale of Three Art Journal Pages

Just One Heart Art Journal Page
© 2014 Tracey Hewitt
One way and another, the art has been struggling for attention lately. What with plotting ways to spoil a new grandbaby, end of financial year, and a tiny change in our farm business structure (how is it that a tiny change necessitates a thousand phone calls, pieces of paper, and forms to fill in? It will forever remain a mystery…) just to name a few; the time available for creativity has been limited.
There are, thankfully, Art Journals. Smeared with paint, spattered with ink, heavy with bits and bobs glued in, and carrying no pressure to come up with anything special – just to pick up a brush, pencil or scrap of paper and slap something on a page. Aaahh…. balm for a careworn soul.
As I’m writing this, looking at Just One Heart up there, I realise there should be a comma after the word blooming. Oops! (As a self confessed grammar Nazi, that’s going to bug me quite a bit!) The page was created with Dylusions Ink sprays, assorted stencils, a few bits of paper, coloured pencils, stamps and marker pens. The Art of Whimsical Lettering by Joanne Sharp delivered the inspiration to have a crack at some fancy lettering – which was tremendous fun!
Worry Art Journal Page
© 2014 Tracey Hewitt

So much fun, in fact, that there was more on the next journal page. Worry is a Misuse of your Imagination. I need this tattooed inside my eyelids! Not only a misuse, but probably a terrible waste of imagination as well. Constructed in a quite similar fashion to the first page, with acrylic paints instead of ink sprays, and a hand cut stencil. Manilla folders are infinitely more interesting used to cut a stencil than they could ever hope to be in my office.
Ink Calf Art Journal Page
© 2014 Tracey Hewitt

As life’s path seemed to be walking me more and more towards cows and tractors (which I shouldn’t complain about – that enterprise kind of keep us fed and clothed), and further away from the studio, I engaged that imagination, and decided to try bringing the farm to the journal. This little guy is brushed in Sumi ink (my current infatuation) over a stencilled, ink sprayed, and scrap paper collaged background. He’s funky, but I think I love him.
A little story, for your information: I often add links to products, books, artists, places – pretty much anything that I think is great. Only because I use it, love it, just plain cannot live without it; and to make it easier for you to find more info about the things I’m waffling on about. No one pays me to give them a plug – it’s all about the love!

Art Journaling – It Feels A Bit Like Therapy

Does this pile of luscious goodness look like fun to you?
How about all this snowy, fresh paper and clean brushes?

Wheel that trolley out onto my back verandah and into a gorgeous autumn afternoon, and the stage is set for some serious Art Journaling fun.
A while back, I sent out feelers to see if maybe one or two people might be keen to spend a bit of time here exploring a few art techniques and materials in the safety of their very own Art Journal. While I love where I live, it is a small community, and I thought I might be lucky if I could find any takers. To my surprise and delight – there were nine! All keen to excavate the creativity they hoped was buried in them someplace. 

Over the course of three hours, they were introduced to Dyelusions Sprays, Distress Stains, stamps, stencils and all kinds of markers and pens, which they used to create some really fun backgrounds and play with lettering styles. Of course, many of them (OK – most of them) looked a little horrified when I suggested it was time they write – in their own handwriting – in their journals. When I asked how many of them hated their own writing – hands went up all around the table. What I told them in essence, was this:
 Every mark we make, every word we write, comes from us. Is us. Our essence cant help but show up in everything we do. Hating our handwriting (substitute voice, thighs, drawing, tummy, crows feet, toes, teeth…. you get the idea) is to hate a unique and authentic part of ourselves.
I know we all do it (I am guilty of it often!) But, I’m coming to believe that we have more to give when we give ourselves a break. When we are OK with ourselves and our efforts.
I reckon they all found the tip of their creative icebergs. Which makes me really excited for next week, when we’ll have a play with acrylic paints, try drawing faces and dedicate a page to our Inner Critics. I’ve named mine “Muriel” (apologies to any wonderful and beautiful Muriel’s out there…) and she can be a real shrew. Should be fun to share our stories and see the portraits these great girls create of their own versions of Muriel.

A Tale of Two Paintings

Farmers Fortune
43cm x 53 cm Acrylic on watercolour paper ©2013 Tracey Hewitt

Let me tell you a story about these paintings. Our local ambulance officer is a beautiful lady who grew up in Tonga. (her name is Sela, and she has the most dazzling smile I think I have ever seen). She was visiting our local exhibition last year, and admired Farmers Fortune very much, but wished it had a thatch hut and a palm tree instead of a house and a windmill. For me, this painting speaks of hot dry days, and the relative harshness of this life on the land, as well as the breathtaking beauty of sunsets and open spaces. A farmers fortune seems to be paradoxical – harsh, tough and frustrating, while at the same time full of beauty, awe and connection to the earth. Sela, saw something else. She saw the skies, seas and sunsets of her birthplace. A kind of magic danced in eyes as she stood and looked at it. Seeing her respond and relate to it so strongly is the kind of connection we artists hope for – a deeply satisfying experience.

A delightful conversation later, she commissioned me to create her vision on a large canvas (the piece I painted for her is roughly twice the size of the original).

Now, I tried earnestly to convince Mission Control that I needed to visit Tonga so as to bring a level of great authenticity to this piece. Thank goodness for Google Image searches! While restful hours on a Tongan beach remain beyond my reach for the time being, it has, in the course of creating this piece, made it’s way onto my Bucket List – the more you learn about a place, it’s appeal grows infinitely greater.

Tongan Treasures
105cm x 75cm Acrylic on canvas  ©2014 Tracey Hewitt 
 Sela took delivery of Tongan Treasures, with it’s thatched palm hut and pair of palm trees – to represent her and her husband – last week; a gift to herself for one of those birthdays with a zero on the end.

To say it was a pleasure to create for her is an understatement – creating a piece with a specific person in mind is possibly one of my favourite things to do, and Sela’s enthusiasm for it when it was delivered was infectious and delightful.

In the meantime, Farmers Fortune is still quietly and patiently waiting for the person to whom its story whispers to come along and give it a home. I’d love to know what story it tells you?

The Bear Grills of the Jack Russell World – A Story of Survival

See this cute, peaceful, quiet, little Jack Russell Puppy? He’s a bit of a legend around here.
We’ve had so many litters of puppies here over the years, that I couldn’t begin to guess at just how many babies we have raised. As they grow, we find them new homes with their forever humans, and much joy is spread in the world. In all the years, and through all those puppies, we’ve never had any ‘go missing’. But, the last litter:
all cute little pumpkins, were another story. They took it in turns to disappear, and no amount of walking and calling, and looking in sheds, and under buildings and in holes in the paddock could uncover them. Ten thousand acres of backyard makes it kind of tricky to know where to look. 
Each, in turn, went missing. Legend here, was the first. A full scale search found no trace. We suspected a wedge tail eagle might have swooped down and helped himself to a free meal (a thoroughly disturbing prospect). Two days and many fruitless hours of searching later, his sister disappeared. Back to full scale search mode. And guess what? I found him, hanging out beside a cattle grid, not far from the house. After two nights in the big bad world all on his own, he was very happy to see me, and very hungry. His sister remained elusive, making her reappearance the next morning, unscathed and keeping tight lipped about where she’d been. This just kept on happening! One would disappear, only to show up hours later; a day or two later another would do a vanishing act. We had no idea where they were sneaking off to, and began to suspect the existence of some puppy destination akin to Batman’s  Bat Cave.
 The time came to send two of them off to their new homes (which involved a 3 drive to catch a plane at 8 am – you can figure out what time we had to get out of bed for that!) All present and accounted for at 10am the day before departure. At 10.30am – two missing. 2pm a big thunder storm rolls through, dropping a good shower of rain. Full scale search launched. 4pm a second storm rolls in. Full scale search resumes. Then, it gets dark. No sign of missing two. Give up and go to bed, wondering how to tell a little family in Adelaide that they wont be getting a puppy tomorrow, because he’s gone missing in action. 4am, Pa gets himself up for another search (he has a touch of tracker in him, but the lack of useful daylight, and our growing conviction that the Puppy Bat Cave was a real thing, was something of a barrier to any useful progress.) We left home, then turned around and raced back after a call to tell us one pup had appeared. Wrong pup. Took him anyway. Adelaide family happy to be getting a puppy, even if it’s not the one they chose. Feeling broken hearted about the missing one – but he did survive 2 nights on his own a couple of weeks earlier….maybe he’ll show up? As one day slid into another and then another, after 4 days there was a heavy storm, and we resigned ourselves to thinking he probably was no longer for this world, and gave up looking.
Then, 8 nights – yes, I said eight nights after he vanished, he reappeared! Trotting along beside his Mama like he’d never been away – except of course he was very skinny looking, and my word, he was famished!
We will never know where he was hanging out, how he survived (it was pretty hot) or how and why he made his way back. He has now gone to live with his new family – leaving us with lots of questions and not a single answer.

“Worthy…Of Love and Belonging”

Worthy… of Love and Belonging
hand felted panels on paper
© 2011 Tracey Hewitt
A while back, I was commissioned to create a piece of work for our local doctor and his wife, as a gift from his staff, in honour of their 30 years of service to our little community. It was a special opportunity to pour a little of my own heart into a piece that, as well as honouring his dedication to this community, felt like a personal thank you note. Doctor Bruce – as he is fondly called (technically he is Dr A.B.Chater) – has delivered babies, counselled troubled souls, mended broken bones, stitched open wounds, fished metal fragments out of eyes, removed injured or diseased toe and fingernails, dealt with 
anaphylactic shock, torn ligaments, bad backs and more – and that’s just for my immediate family! He’s a very busy man.

Yet, when the tricky things happen – and, for some reason, they have happened often around here over the years – he’s there with a smile and a reassuring voice, and immense skill, to put the pieces back together again (A bit like all the King’s horses and all the King’s men really!)

So, “Worthy… of Love and Belonging” came into being. A series of hand felted panels, embellished with turquoise chips, beads, hand stitching and even some recycled, re purposed beer bottle caps attached; mounted onto watercolour paper.

Here’s an excerpt from the artists statement that went with the piece:
The felt panels – to me – represent diversity. The diversity of characters in the patients you care for; of the illnesses and accidents you minister to; and of the medical services you offer at Theodore Medical. All three categories broad, extensive and varied. The panel concept started in my mind as felt banners, or pennants – like the sports pennants of our schooldays – representing achievements. There are no doubt nowhere near enough here to honour all your achievements, but hopefully the whole is greater than the sum of its parts!
The turquoise band represents the Dawson River. An integral part of your lives, and the life of our whole community, and – like the Dawson – it binds the elements together. I chose turquoise gemstone chips as a reference to the belief of many ancient cultures that turquoise holds great powers for healing.
You’ll notice the repetition of some elements four times on some of the panels – recognizing your four sons who call Theodore home.
Worthy…of Love and Belonging was mounted on white matt board and framed in a simple white frame. (which isn’t in these photos, because I am far from having mastered the art of  photographing art work under glass. I’m sure there must be a way….have you got any tips for me?) 
Thanks to the staff at Theodore Medical for giving me the opportunity – and having the faith in me – to create this piece. I loved every minute of it!

A Quick Lesson in the Art of Calf Weaning

posted in: country living, Horses | 0
It’s weaning time. Weaning is really quite important in the life of a cattleman… not to mention in the life of the weaners!
Weaners, for those of you who are wondering, are young cattle – they were baby calves last Spring, and for the last couple of months the ‘boys’ here have been working their way through separating them all from their mamas and teaching them to eat hay and behave like good boys and girls. (Or steers and heifers – to be bovinely correct….and, yes, I did just make that word up!) This teaching – or educating, as it’s called in these parts – is what’s important to the humans in the equation. Every morning and evening for at least a couple of weeks, the weaners are moved in and out of the stock yards overnight, to get them very accustomed to being handled by people on horseback, and cattle dogs. Well educated weaners = much less stress for me soothing jangled and frustrated men if the mustering goes bad due to uneducated cattle racing all over the place!
Their days are spent in a large yard, with big, tasty bales of hay….which they munch on happily…. until a strange creature comes to the fence….

then they need to investigate.
“What are you, and will you bring more hay?”

“Or, is it time to go to bed?”

“Oh, OK, this dude on the horse is here to tuck us in.”
Seems that this educating thing works pretty well… Alan has just come through the gate (down the fence there) and these babies are already making their way to the stockyard… Or perhaps they just got bored with looking at the odd creature standing on the rail, taking their picture.
*It would be a terrible thing if I gave the impression that the work of a cattleman is only done by men! Some of the best cattlemen I know are women! It just happens, that around here, there are a lot of men who love cows, and while I love them too, my skills are put to better use doing other things!

Inspiration In Your Own Back Yard…Literally

I happened across this collection of photos today, while I was looking for something completely different (does that happen to you too?). They were taken a few months ago now, on an afternoon that was gravely lacking anything that resembled inspiration, if I correctly recall.
Wandering around the backyard, snapping a bunch of random things that are under my nose all the time – things I take for granted, things that seem terribly ordinary to me, was a pleasant enough diversion; but didn’t seem to generate anything much in the way of inspiration.
Henrietta Hen, Percy Possum, Beryl and Bazza, the kookaburras….all beginning to show the wear and tear from a life in our garden with nine hundred dogs (OK – so maybe it’s only fourteen*, but when they get busy it seems like nine hundred!)
Yet, I’m kind of attached to them all.
The photos have languished in a folder, untouched, unviewed, and unconsidered ever since.

When I flicked it open today, I was kind of struck by how lovely they are…

How this little collection gives a pretty representative idea of our backyard (oh, and believe me – it is a backyard, not a garden! I believe the term garden implies that someone gets out there and weeds, and mulches, and prunes, and plants, and whispers encouragement to tiny green tendrils…so not happening in my backyard! It gets a reasonably regular mow, an epic clean up once every couple of  years, and most spring times, for approximately one week, I am moved to plant a few new things. That’s pretty much it.)

Today though, the colours and textures of this group of images have pleased me, and reminded me that I am so very fortunate to have a backyard full of such small delights. Or big ones – as is the case with this ancient corn crusher….There are some benefits to inheriting sheds that haven’t been cleaned out in over fifty years! Not many, I have to say – but this baby is certainly one of them.
What are the places in your life you take for granted; the spots you have stopped really ‘seeing’? I’d love to know – because I really hope I’m not the only one who sometimes forgets that beauty is right under our noses, if only we choose to look.

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