family history

family history love, loss & longing poetry transcending

Remembrance and unconditional love: thoughts on ANZAC Day

April 28, 2017

unconditional love

Anzac Day

25 April is ANZAC Day here in Australia. It’s a day of remembrance for those of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps who served and died in war and related activities including peacekeeping. And a day to remember those who serve now. Celebrated on the day of the Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915, the spirit of Anzac and its qualities of sacrifice, courage and mateship have immense meaning for Australians and New Zealanders around national identity, bravery and freedom.

For me, it’s always a very emotional day. As a Queen of Swords, INTJ, Virgo, (some might say ice maiden) type, it’s surprising how this day seems to touch me so deeply and I am in tears for much of it.

I don’t know exactly why but it’s the stories that touch me, the young men and what they went through in World War I and II and other conflicts. Stories we really can’t fathom or ever truly know. And our own personal connections with that through our family history or people that we know directly involved now.

It’s the families and loved ones left behind and impacted when they came back. It’s those who serve now and what they face and experience. The solitary courage of it, the fear, the silence of those who cannot or could not tell their stories. The inner strength they need to search for and the support of each other. It’s the sadness of it all, that it just should not happen, the unnecessary waste of life; that people should not have to go through all this and the aftermath of physical, mental and spiritual pain and suffering.

It’s also that we can be thankful that we have people who can be strong when it’s needed to do this work for the freedom, support and safety of others. Mostly men, mostly young, mostly strong but also vulnerable.

Postcards from the war

In the last few years, I received a box of memorabilia and photos that belonged to my great aunt, Vivie, who died in 1992. A strong woman who never married, she was a connector and recorder within the family, capturing daily life in photographs and keeping in touch with many in the extended family.

In this box was a beautifully embroidered postcard sent from the Western Front in France in 1916 by my great uncle Walter to Vivie, his sister back in Australia.

WWI postcard

The stitching, perfect and precise, must have caught Walter’s eye and he has written on the back of the postcard. It’s a message saying he is well and not really saying much more except that he will be in touch with other family members too. What could you say about those horrors of war except that I am here, standing now? And I am thinking of you and love you.

I knew a little about Walter’s war service but I looked into his war records on Anzac Day this year. Joining up with the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) on 1 February 1916 and leaving the country on 13 May that same year, he was on the Western Front in France in the 55th Battalion and saw active service amidst some of the most difficult conflicts of the war.

He served in the Anzac Light Rail as part of this, building and running light railways on the Western Front to provide transport through the difficult terrain. I cannot imagine how hard all of this work was and the terrible conditions in which it was carried out. He was discharged from the AIF on 16 July 1919.

Walter received a Military Medal in 1919 for:

“conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an attack on St Denis Wood Perone on 2/9/18. During the initial stages of the attack heavy machine gun fire was encountered. This man, noticing this with great courage and deliberation worked his way forward into a position from where, by sniping he was able to place an enemy machine gun out of action, not withstanding that he was under enemy observation and continually fired at the whole time. This soldier’s action in silencing the enemy machine gun enabled a Lewis Gun to be brought forward thereby greatly assisting the attack. The man’s courage and disregard for personal safety during the operation was most noticeable and his action through-out were a great incentive to his comrades.”[1]

This is not to condone violence or war in any way. Personally, I find violence in any form hard to contemplate or witness. But it happened and for Walter it was real. The postcard is a poignant reminder of the fragile and powerful connections with home in all of this – beauty amidst chaos and war; love of his sister and family sent from afar; such vulnerability and risk.

I cannot imagine how precious that card was once received in Newcastle in Australia on the other side of the word, in so few lines saying so much. Or hard it was for Walter to find words to say along the lines of “I am okay” when the reality was most likely far from that.

Closer to home

The other overlay of emotion for me on Anzac Day is about my brother. Martin served as an Australian Federal Police Officer in East Timor in 1999 as part of the United Nations peacekeeping effort and was awarded the Overseas Service Medal in 2003. Martin is no longer with us now, having passed away tragically in 2007.

The memory of Martin as an unarmed police officer who went to East Timor, now Timor Leste, to provide support, peace and justice to people in the most challenging of circumstances, fills me with pride and love. It symbolises the strong sense of justice and fairness that drove his passions and focus in his career and life.

Here he is in action in East Timor, featured at that time, in Time Magazine on 27 September 1999 and in Aussie Post Magazine in October 1999:

Martin Ryan

I don’t know what he saw there. I don’t know what he experienced there. Like many first responders and police officers, they cannot always talk about what they saw, experienced and felt. And whilst I am proud, I sense that the experiences in East Timor somehow had a deep impact on the sensitive soul that was and is my brother. How could they not.

A poem of remembrance and peace

So in the early hours of Anzac Day this year, these words come to me:

On Anzac Day

I lay a flower in the remembrance
of my heart,
wreathed there,
amidst the days, red poppy lights
flare occasionally,
lighting up your smile,
buried beneath granite, grass,
days of pain, cascading
hours of grief.

I lay a flower in the remembrance
of my heart,
at nearly dawn here,
for you, my own service,
my own dawn,
my own not forgetting
that war somehow
touched you
and led you down a path
I wish you had not gone.

I lay a flower in the remembrance
of my heart,
amidst tarot, words, books,
the morning’s nearly dawn,
the marching of feet,
to come,
the early days towards
ten years of remembering you,
to come.

I lay a flower in the remembrance of your heart.
I shift that stone of trauma laying there.
I hold the hands of our hearts in peace.

Rose, rosemary and remembrance

Shortly after on Anzac Day, in an Activate sessions with Amber Adrian, working with healing energies and guides, both rose and rosemary comes up as energies to work with, with remembrance as a strong message.

We are reminded to activate our inner love, work with remembrance and our true divine self, and to connect with that unconditional love that is our essence. We are reminded to work with protection techniques every day especially around protection of judgement of others and ourselves.

It’s an emotional day. You can see why the tears come.

Tears of memory, gratitude, appreciating sacrifice and remembrance. And the lessons I’m still learning of unconditional love.

Let us all keep focused on these immense qualities in moving forward:

  • focusing on the beauty in life
  • maintaining a passionate sense of fairness and justice in everything we do
  • and finding a love that can transcend every difficult moment.

And may we all be peacekeepers.


[1] Source: Australia, WWI Service Records, 1914-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: National Archives of Australia: B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920. Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.

The Rose of Unconditional Love in the featured photograph is from the beautiful Plant Ally Healing Cards deck by Lisa McLoughlin.

Thought pieces

Ask for help, talk to others

This was not an easy piece to write especially with regard to my dear brother. However, I felt it needed to be written as there is too much silence. I also want to highlight the power of remembrance and unconditional love in healing and moving towards peace.

I am aware it may not have been easy to read for some people. If anything I have written in this post triggers anything for you, I encourage you to reach out to others for support. Talk to a trusted family member or friend. Or contact organisations set up especially to provide support. In Australia our key organisations for support are Beyond Blue and Lifeline. International support organisations can all be found here.

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family history transcending

The journey back

October 7, 2012

To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.

Chinese proverb

It was a day when I felt a bit lost. For a number of reasons, I was drifting, moving between, floating, without roots, between one place and another, one state and another.

As a result, I ended up with one precious commodity – time – something that seems so scarce: some wide open, spaced and sacred time to fill. Though not in the best frame of mind, I set out to fill it in a meaningful and productive way. I was driving, heading west into the sunshine and mountains, music sustaining me and opening me up as it always does; Tom Petty singing:

It don’t really matter to me baby,
You believe what you want to believe,
You don’t have to live like a refugee.

And then Echo and the Bunnymen pumping out:

If I said I’d lost my way
Would you sympathise
Could you sympathise?
I’m jumbled up
Maybe I’m losing my touch
I’m jumbled up
Maybe I’m losing my touch
But you know I didn’t have it anyway

Won’t you come on down to my
Won’t you come on down to my rescue

Then Matchbox 20:

Baby, baby, baby
When all your love is gone
Who will save me
From all I’m up against out in this world

It was that sort of day, the music and lyrics exactly corresponding with my somewhat disconnected state; the sunshine somehow leading me along.

It felt like a day for investigation, with the gift of time to try to find an answer to a puzzle about one of my ancestors; it’s a branch of the family I am particularly drawn to, as if working to understand their story might help me with my own. They lived and worked and in some cases, died, in the country I was driving through so I took a detour to try to find them. I found the old graveyard I was looking for, hidden behind a high hedge,  so many souls buried in the sunshine, the stones standing still and quiet as if patiently waiting for my attention.

I wandered through the rows of washed out stones. There were so many of them I couldn’t read; they were covered with moss or lichen or the words had vanished, weathered and erased away, the story lost. I felt for the lost words with my fingers, trying to trace the story and bring it back. But sometimes there was simply nothing left except a rock, blank and weathered. And sometimes there was less, just a grass space, unmarked between other stones.

I found some connected relatives including my third great grand aunt, Ann Sweet nee Honeysett, who came out in 1839 on the same ship as her sister, my great, great, great grandmother, Jane Colbran nee Honeysett. I have chased their story to Herstmonceux in East Sussex from where they departed to Richmond in NSW where they ended up, carving a new existence in a new place. The enormity of their journey and the extent of the ties they severed never fails to amaze me.

I know much of Ann’s story, her leaving, her arriving, her new family, its background, her children, the sad events, the new beginnings. I know it better than my own great, great great grandmother’s story which still has huge gaps despite my searching. It was good to find Ann’s resting place, other members of the family close by, a part of the mystery I am trying to understand.

Whether it was the sunshine that bathed my pores as I walked around scouring the old stones, or the act of connecting with these souls and their history, I found myself strangely grounded, blossoming in the linkage, surrounded by the ones I seek but cannot exactly find the truth about. An invisible thread linking us, a few degrees of separation joined and resulting in a stitching of myself.

Australian actor, Vince Colosimo, in a recent ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ episode, talked of a sense of finding his team as he searches for his family background. I know this feeling. As I have lost people in my immediate family, the desire to know more about my broader family history and the qualities and experiences of my  ancestors has strengthened as I search to know the roots of my own journey. A sense of teamwork in getting me through much suffering has been part of this, as if they are somehow helping me along.

So less of a refugee, less in need of rescue, less in need of bright lights and touched by the sun, I climbed back into the car re-energised and continued on my drive with the sound of bell-birds, the lean of curves and the guidance of trees taking me back to my temporary home. It’s as if the act of remembering, the conscious act of seeking my ancestors, my silent team of supporters, cast something of a connecting spell on the present time and I was carried up and forward once again.

blogging family history writing


December 11, 2010

There has been something of a hiatus here. Not for lack of things happening. I have been incredibly busy and it’s a time of change. Something about the end of one year and the beginning of another always means being busy but this year has been an extra busy time with much transitioning.

I have been finalising a challenging work role that has been the focus of my energy for much of this year. I was heartened to read Danielle LaPorte’s recent post on entrepreneurial spirit inside and outside the 9 to 5. Whilst my job recently was much more than 9 to 5, it was very much carried out in the spirit of entrepreneurship, of change and of creativity in solving problems with heart and courage.

I read this year about being a linchpin and a career renegade; more about the art of non-conformity and about being a fire-starter whilst in this work role over the past nine months. This spirit very much pervaded the way I tackled some long-standing issues. The feedback was positive and I appreciate how much my reading and engagement with social entrepreneurship has guided my leadership work this year. In fact, I don’t know what I would have done without it at times. It was fascinating how many times I became stuck or was trying to solve a crucial problem when a critical post from Chris Guillebeau, Colleen Wainwright, Danielle LaPorte or Jonathan Field, amongst others, came through to light the way.

I have also been travelling and busy getting organised to leave a warm Sydney to visit a very cold UK and Europe. I have enjoyed again the feeling of transitioning across countries, being in the air suspended between and the arriving. I have been visiting East Sussex and the place where some of my ancestors lived for hundreds of years before part of the family broke itself off and moved to Australia for warmer climes and a new life of opportunity in the 1830s.

I am especially interested in one ancestor: my great, great, great grandmother, Jane Honeysett, and her journey. In the end, it was not a happy one but I am inspired by her transition, her hope, what she left behind, where she went and why and what it was like living in Sydney as an early woman settler. The female migration experience is not much written about it seems. I am keen to find her voice and that’s why I have been visiting East Sussex and listening to the voices and the accents; feeling the icy weather; walking around the church where she was married in 1825; driving through lanes with their high hedges, the worn and ancient stone homes with moss on the roof; and visiting the castles, inns and abbeys that were the centrepieces of life in East Sussex then and now.

I am also beginning to write that story now. That is my goal: to write a novel that is the story of Jane’s life and the female migration experience. Visiting the land of my ancestors seems to have enabled me to start to write finally, breaking through that invisible line of resistance. I am grateful for The Writers Cafe software by Dr Julian and Harriet Smart, which I found through Joanna Penn and her podcast conversation with Harriet. The software really is very good. After all my procrastinations about starting to write, it really was as simple as blocking out some scenes already lined up in my head and filling them out.

This transition to actually starting to write seemed to need to occur in the location. I’m not sure why but I had a keen sense in arriving of returning to the place where Jane could not return after she left. Maybe she is my guardian angel, some ancestral support, helping me. I know she could not read or write so maybe I am her voice, her writing, her words and her song and being in her birthplace and her home was a catalyst for beginning.

I have also been Unravelling this past few months, working through the online experience Susannah Conway creates that is very deep and unlocks so much.  Through creating a supportive environment focused on images and words and enabling an online network of participants, Susannah successfully creates connection between people and within souls that is magical. It’s hard to describe and the unravelling is still occurring, but I suspect this experience has also been the backbone of much of this transitioning. I’m comfortable in my own skin and its various guises of leader, researcher, writer, reader and blogger and enjoying the connections and cross-fertilisations this year has brought, most recently culminating in so much arrival.

What transitioning is happening for you at the end of this year?


family history reading notes

Reading Notes for Book Voyeurs #1

August 16, 2010

An occasional series on what I’m reading and why…

The Journal of Fletcher Christian, Together with the history of Henry Corkhill, Peter Corris, Vintage, 2005

I am an avid reader and read widely. I’m interested in what other people are reading and why they are reading it. I love photos of bookshelves and strain, often sideways, to see what titles are there and how they connect with my own interests and bookshelves. I very much connected with David Barnett’s thoughts in the Guardian:

‘I think it was Sarah Crown who first set me off. “Is it just me?” she asked (while accepting the cliche of that opening phrase), “is it just me, or are the contents of other people’s bookshelves/bedside tables/desks/whatever ALWAYS more interesting than your own?”

Well, is it just me, or … look, does anyone else have an unhealthy obsession not just with what people have on their bookshelves but what they’re actually reading right there and then? Does anyone else stare unashamedly at the paperback that is tucked under someone’s arm while they sort through their purse for change in the queue at Boots? Does anyone else have a better memory for the novel poking out of a new acquaintance’s pocket than that person’s face or name?’

That’s me: a ‘book voyeur’ apparently according to the article. Hopefully others out there have the same fascination with what other people are reading and why. In this spirit, I begin this series with my recent reading of Australian author, Peter Corris’ work, ‘The Journal of Fletcher Christian, Together with the journal of Henry Corkhill.’

Why am I reading this book?

Because I am interested in the genre of historical fiction and especially the place where fact and fiction come together. I am planning a novel based on the facts of the life of my great, great, great-grandmother. There will be some facts but much invention and creation based on intuition and research about times and contexts. I am interested in this nexus and keen to read in the genre I will be writing in. I also wish to understand what a sea voyage and journey to a new life was like at that time.

What was my reading experience like?

The Journal is based around the extended conceit of Corris, a historian and fiction writer, receiving a parcel in the mail with two journals enclosed, one being the journal of Henry Corkhill and the other being the journal of Fletcher Christian. Christian is well known as the mutineer of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ fame and the journal is the possible story of what really happened in the events leading up to the mutiny and the eventual beginning of the Pitcairn Island community.

I have to admit I was confused while I read about what was real and what was fiction.  The account of receiving the two journals is in the introduction to the book, a place where I would expect some truth from the author. But it seems that this is part of the conceit and the book is fiction. It was in the fiction section of my library, so this was a clue… Finally, I read this interview with Peter Corris which explains that it all was an elaborate conceit – a story within a story. Corris does have a distant family connection but the journals are fictional creations based on this link. I felt more comfortable once I understood this and it does work well as a literary device, if an unclear one for this reader at first.

I loved the writing, the era it evoked, the events and the characters’ psyches it unpacked, especially the clashing wills and personalities of Christian and Bligh. Being a historian as well as a novelist, Corris has created a world that is real and detailed, with the vernacular well captured. I especially loved the voice of the characters captured in the journals themselves. The journal of Henry Corkhill is equally engaging, a different voice to Christian’s and particularly eloquent and surprisingly tender in his accounts of his sexual experiences.

At other times, I found the misogyny difficult to read and hard to stomach, but I understand it was part of the times, with women being currency in the exchanges of men around land and rights. These are times that I will need to write about also and need to understand the dynamics of but the extent and ‘reality’ of it hit me very hard.

I was interested in the book because it was about sea voyages and ship life in the time my ancestor sailed to Australia. I was transported also to another time, another paradigm, to a story about two men who both seem unstable and mad but held the lives of so many in their hands. The interplay between them is compelling and a fascinating psychological insight into what might have happened and why.

I recommend it for anyone interested in the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty which I know has its own fascination and followers,  and for anyone interested in historical fiction, journals, family history, sea  journeys and the interplay between fact and fiction.

Other related reading:

Making true fiction – Shanna Germain

The lying art of historical fiction – James Forrester (Guardian)

Other reading blogs I enjoy:

Girls Just Reading

Bibliophile by the Sea

More about what others are reading:

The Book Depository Map: a boon for book voyeurs – David Barnett (Guardian)

Please send me any other links and leads in the book voyeur genre!

Image, 317/366 The Bountyby Magic Madzik from flickr and used under a Creative Commons license with thanks


family history love, loss & longing transcending writing

The healing power of family history

July 5, 2010


My family has had a traumatic time over the past years. My younger brother died very tragically in November 2007. It was the saddest day and life was never the same. My father then died suddenly in May, 2009 so another wave of loss ensued and my happy, stable family of four was halved. Like all people dealing with grief, I struggled to get through the days, the weeks, the months after each episode and still feel the deepest sense of loss. I connect to them, especially my brother, through music as I drive to work first through the bush and then through the traffic. Music is such a powerful source of memory and connection.

Another way I found myself managing these terrible waves of grief was through family history.  I had already begun my search before these events, tracking back like a detective through the generations following the links. With the separation and the trauma from the deaths of those so close to me, family history and  ‘looking back to look forward’  has become a link to my brother and my father. My extended family, also their family, the closest link.  I could find the line anchoring us. I could lose myself in the research and discovery about where we came from. And from that, the story of our history could emerge and connect us. New narratives could form; old buried stories could be brought alive. Christina Baldwin in Storycatcher (details below) talks about tending the fire, the responsibility of being a storycatcher and the power of story to connect, ‘heal, remind and guide us.’

It’s not the only answer but:

  • if moving through is having something to cling to that helps you think about the future, ironically by planting you firmly in the past….
  • if moving through is knowing more about where you came from and the shared history you take forward…
  • if moving through is finding stories that connect you, knowing more about the stories of your ancestors and finding those that resonate…
  • if healing is about losing yourself in something so you are not completely overwhelmed by thoughts of grief and moment to moment anguish…
  • if story helps anchor your creativity and move you forward into something new, to integration and resolution even if it’s all not perfect or ever the same as it was…

then family history offers a healing place, a space to learn and engage with your origins, as far as you can, to take you forward to help you face a new future.

I am not a therapist or an affiliate of any family history sites or the resources below. I speak from the experience of working through family history as part of a  personal healing journey over the past few years. For me, it has led to an immense inner resource of narrative that I wish to tell in other ways such as through the writing of novels based on the stories of my ancestors. I am researching and planning this work at present.

For some people, family history research may not be possible or easy for various reasons, but I encourage people to consider the value of story to help connect in whatever way possible. Our stories of being disconnected also need to be told. The story from my family history that is the most compelling is one of absolute disconnection and  it is demanding to be told.

Some resources I have found useful on this journey are:

Ancestry: Amazing site with so many electronic data bases of records and existing family histories. You need to join up for the full benefits but there is much to gain from this.

Storycatcher: making sense of our lives through the power and practice of story, Christina Baldwin: an excellent book on story and the value of narrative to help frame new worlds.

The pictures on this page are some of the relatives I have found out more about through my searches. The woman above is one of my great, great, great grandmothers, Susannah Morris ( nee Richardson). The man below is her husband, William Morris. Both were early Australian settlers. How these photos have survived from such an early time, I do not know. My thanks to extended family member, Allan Morris, for passing them onto  family member and fellow researcher, Alex McDonald and I. This is the other thing that happens – you find new family connections and forge new links that you never knew you had.

Do you have any stories to tell about the healing power of family history?




family history love, loss & longing poetry transcending writing

Welcome to ‘Transcending’

May 2, 2010

‘Transcending’ is an exploration of the ways that we rise, overcome, climb across and pass beyond.

It celebrates the extraordinary power of the ordinary self in creativity, writing, in love, in the workplace and in our family contexts, such as our family history and what it means. It is about  resilience, grief, love, loss, longing and the resonating shapes and forms we make to deal with this and move on and through. It’s about constructive approaches at work – strategies that cut through, synthesise and provide solutions. And it’s about images, structures, texts and ways of thinking that makes this possible.

This theme resonates and connects for me in all spheres of life and I hope connects and resonates with you also.

Join me in this journey as it unfolds. Some of the areas I hope to explore are:

  • writing as a way of transcending and moving through
  • my own creative journey as a writer
  • poetry and the shapes and structures we find to manage our emotions
  • music and images as vehicles for experiencing and managing feelings
  • family history and its stories of how we connect and experience life
  • constructive leadership behaviours and strategies
  • reading and reflections on transcending
  • connections with other writers and thinkers on this theme in all its guises

Keep in touch – sign up to receive your free e-book: ’36 Books that Shaped my Story’ + Quiet Writing Beach Notes, opportunities & inspirational resources!