I met Miss Moyes on my first day of school as an exchange student at Hobart College. I was touring the campus, learning the accessible routes between buildings (or blocks as they were called), trying to keep everyone’s name straight in my head. The music building, B Block, was the last stop of the day. I waited for the elevator, or lift as I quickly learned to say, not knowing I would spend more time stuck inside that lift over the next ten months than waiting outside for it to arrive. As I stood by the door, leaning on the push handles of my wheelchair for support, a woman wearing a gray sweater and a kind smile came into the building and noticed me. “Have you been waiting a long time? I’ll go up and make sure those boys don’t have it locked while they unload the timpani.”
Miss Moyes, who insists I now call her Philippa, always looked out for me in the music building. She was the instructor for my music theory and history class. I had taken the subject back home and was eager to join music students in my new school. The Australian school year begins in February, so my arrival in August meant I was walking into a class which had already bonded. I was worried about whether I knew enough to keep up or if I would be out of my league. I also worried if I would be talented enough to join any of the performance groups.
Philippa made the transition to a new musical home easy and smooth. She encouraged me to become involved in the chorus and let me join the string ensemble. They were playing Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony, which I knew from my former string quartet back home. The music theory and history class welcomed me with open arms. The other students in the class became some of my best friends at school. In Philippa’s class, we listened to great music and practiced dictation. Thanks to her, I learned that when garbage trucks sound their reverse warning (those loud “beeps” to tell you they are backing up), they reverse in the key of B-flat. I know this because one day as she finished playing the scale for a dictation exercise in the key of B, the truck outside our classroom began reversing and in unison all of us yelled, “B FLAT!” When she stopped laughing, she played the scale once more for us.
When I left Tasmania to return home, we swapped addresses and promised to keep in touch. While I am not always good at maintaining the connection, we have kept in touch on and off for the past twenty five years. Now that we have email, it is easier to send a note and read about what we are up to in our respective lives.
Philippa is a busy woman, but both times I have returned to Australia she has made time to give me unique opportunities. During my visit in 1996, Philippa offered to take me up to the Steppes Stones outdoor sculpture garden featuring the work of Stephen Walker. The artwork was fantastic, but that is not what I remember most from that day. What I remember are the sheep.
Driving up through the central part of Tasmania, we encountered farmers who were moving their herd of sheep through the village of Bothwell. Seeing the sheep coming at us on the road, Philippa slowed the car and asked the shepherd if we needed to pull completely off the road. “Nah – you’ll be right mate! Just give us a mo and we’ll be out of your way.”
Then came the sheep. Hundreds and hundreds of sheep. Philippa and I laughed as they kept coming and coming. “A mo” turned into half an hour of a parade of sheep. We pulled out our cameras and captured some great photos – pictures I still use when I give speeches about the lessons learned from my exchange student experience.
I had the pleasure of meeting Philippa in New York City in 2011 when she came at the invitation of a friend who was involved with the staging of The Diary of a Madman at Brooklyn Academy of Music. We spent a chilly winter day playing tourists, wandering in and out of boutiques. We “oohed” and “aahed” over the counters in Tiffany’s, deciding the monkey straws in sterling silver were cute, but really weren’t worth all the fuss. We gabbed over brunch and then sat peacefully in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was an honor to be the one able to offer Philippa unique experiences to remember.
Once I had confirmed my travel dates for my most recent trip to Australia, I sent a note asking if Philippa would be available for a visit during my stay. Again, Philippa managed to arrange a spectacular opportunity. She invited us to attend an event being held at Mawson’s Huts Replica Museum in Hobart. I wrote about that fantastic morning in this blog post. Thanks to Philippa I learned more about Douglas Mawson and the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE), listened to her play the organ her great uncle took with him to Antarctica back in 1911, and met Sir Peter Cosgrove, the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia. Yes, it really happened. Read the post if you don’t believe me.
I am currently reading Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration by David Roberts. This book, which tells the tale of of the AAE and Mawson’s incredible time alone in the Antarctic wilderness, is more memorable because I have been inside the replica hut and seen what conditions were like. Even though I know the end of the story, I am drawn in by the drama. Thank you Philippa for giving me this experience.
Philippa is now back to her usual activities. She is active in the Friendship Force of Hobart and is currently President. 2017 will mark the bicentenary of the laying of the foundation stone of St. David’s Cathedral in Hobart and Philippa is helping to coordinate activities and a performance to commemorate this occasion. But I know if I were to contact her again, she would make time for a visit with me.
Philippa – thank you for your years of friendship. You continue to teach me new lessons each time we are together and I am a better person because of your influence. Whenever I listen to a piece of music we studied in your class (usually Sibelius), I hear you reminding us to notice what is happening next. You have given me unique memories which continue to make me laugh when I share them with others. I appreciate you including me in the book launch and then attending the Rotary meeting. I hope we have the chance to make more memories together again!