30 Days of Thanks Day 15 – Philippa

Photo of two women in front of a podium with a sign which read's Mawson Huts Foundation. The woman on the left is seated in a red power wheelchair and is wearing a blue dress with silver shoes and a black sweater. The woman on the right is standing and is wearing a white shirt and black pants.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.”

A herd of sheep, about 10 animals wide, surrounding a car. One jumbuck has jumped above the others.
This jumbuck made us laugh as he kept popping up above the others.

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.

View looking at thousands of sheep from the rear as they are herded up a village street.
Looking out the back window of Philippa’s car. Zoom in – the sheep fill the road past the bridge!

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!

Day 10 – A Surprise Encounter and Kingston Rotary

I started writing this post on Tuesday. Then, I gave up trying to finish it because I was too busy having fun. And as I wrote last week – people are more important than writing.

But now I’m home so I am catching up on writing. Here is the complete piece. I will catch up on the rest very soon!

When we returned home from the Rotary District Conference on Sunday (March 22), there was a message from my friend and former music teacher Philippa. She invited us to attend an event being held on Monday morning at Mawson’s Huts Replica Museum in Hobart.

Douglas Mawson led the Australasian Antarctic expedition from 1911-1914.  He and his men established a settlement at Cape Denison in 1912. They established a radio connection with Macquarie Island and further explored the region. Philippa’s grand-uncle was one of the men on the Western Expedition team. He brought an organ to Antarctica – an organ!

The Mawson’s Huts Foundation was established in 1997 to conserve Mawson’s huts on Cape Denison. In 2013, they opened the replica museum in Hobart. The hut is a faithful replica of the actual hut on Cape Denison. The Foundation recently acquired the organ originally played by Philippa’s grand-uncle. You can hear Philippa play the organ and learn more about it from this news story.

Phillipa playing the organ in the replica hut.
Phillipa playing her grand-uncle’s organ in the replica hut.

Monday morning, we were fortunate to hear Philippa play the organ as part of the festivities surrounding a book launch for Mawson’s Remarkable Men, the new book written by David Jensen, Chairman and CEO of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation.

As we gathered in Mawson’s Pavilion for the speeches, a kind gentleman came over to say hello and shake my hand. He smiled at me and said, “Are you one of the descendants of Mawson’s men?” I laughed, and answered that I was just a friend of a descendant. He replied with a “Good on ya! Thank you for your support.” And that was my exchange with Sir Peter Cosgrove, the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Sir Peter Cosgrove
Sir Peter Cosgrove, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia

Just in case you don’t know, here are some trivial facts about the Governor-General. The Governor-General is appointed by The Queen (as in Elizabeth II) on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Governor-General is the Queen’s representative to the Commonwealth. The Governor-General has certain ceremonial and constitutional responsibilities. In doing some research, I found this helpful page detailing the roles and responsibilities of the Governor-General. Does this chance encounter mean I am only two degrees of separation away from Queen Elizabeth?!

Malcolm and Rae’s younger son, Simon, works just up the street from Mawson’s Pavilion at Parliament House. Parliament was not sitting on Monday, so Simon was able to join us for a quick coffee in Hobart.

Australians have an interesting coffee culture. Australians may be laid back about many things, but coffee is not one of them. You can order a flat white, a piccolo, a macchiatto, or a cappuccino. You can get a tall black or a short black. But don’t waste time looking for regular drip coffee. So far, I have only had black drip coffee once since my arrival in Australia. Kelly and I are getting spoiled by our morning cappuccino. She is looking to order a milk frother for back home.

The skies were clearing when we got in the car, so we decided to risk a drive up kunanyi / Mount Wellington. The mountain is west of Hobart and is located within Wellington Park. There is a narrow road leading to the pinnacle and on clear days you can see for miles and miles when you get to the top. Although the skies were clear when we started, by the time we reached the summit we were blanketed by fog, wind and rain. We waited for a bit to see if it would blow over, but eventually decided it would be best to just drive back down. Sure enough, the skies cleared and we were able to capture a photo from a lower observation turn off.

The clouds cleared as we came down the mountain.
The clouds cleared as we came down the mountain. Looking east over the city of Hobart towards the Tasman Peninsula.

Monday night I was the guest speaker at Kingston Rotary Club. The Club invited special guests and I was thrilled my friend Phillipa could attend dinner. I was also excited to see Audrey, who was my third host mother during my exchange year. Audrey was visiting her daughter last week so I was not able to see her with my other friends on Wednesday.

I was humbled and honored to speak to the group which gave me the opportunity of a Rotary exchange experience. Kingston Rotary took it upon themselves to offer me a chance to have the best year of my young life. When I arrived in Tasmania back in 1990, I was greeted by my host father, and Kingston Rotarian, Gerry Verdouw who said, “There’s our gal!” I have always felt like I was Kingston’s gal, and I have done my best to always make them proud to have me as their representative. You can find wonderful Rotarians throughout the world, but you will have difficulty finding a group more fun, kind, or generous as the wonderful men and women from Kingston Rotary.

Twenty five years ago, Kingston Rotarians invited me to join them and shared with me their homes and their hearts. They welcomed me back, and generously provided my cousin and I with transportation and housing for this stay in Tasmania. Their continued belief in my abilities has strengthened my confidence. I express myself with words but I often find myself stumped when I try to find words to adequately express how much I appreciate all they have given me and taught me. I did my best to express it to the Club at the meeting and while the words may not have been everything I meant to say, the sincerity was genuine.

**This post was brought to you by Aunt Joan. She may not be my actual aunt, but she is still an inspiration in strength and determination. I appreciate your support and belief in me, and I am grateful for your assistance!

All photos used with permission from Malcolm W.