“Surfing as a Dance: How one woman found grace in and out of the water”

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It’s over two years since my first book “the dharma of surfing: wisdom from the water for life” was published and I’m thrilled to announce that my second book will be released in early December 2018.

“Surfing as a Dance: How one woman found grace in and out of the water” is a memoir about my unlikely surfing life and reinvention as a surfing, yoga and fitness instructor at the age of 50. But it’s more than a story about surfing and reinvention … it’s a love letter describing how I came to find joy, delight and meaning in life.

This is a beautiful book crafted collaboratively with photographer Alison Gowland (Currumbin Ali), designer Ingrid Schroder and editor Dianna Timmins. There are 21 stories and poems included alongside an array of dreamscape ocean and surfing photographs in a gorgeously designed grown-up storybook.

Here is our book trailer.

The book is in full colour, it’s hardback and is 20cm x 20cm – a perfect companion book. In fact, it’s a sister book to “dharma” and we hope it will become like a dear friend to our readers – a book that speaks with compassion and wisdom about the journeys and stories we all share.

“Surfing as a Dance” will be officially launched on December 8 2018 at Currumbin on Queensland’s Gold Coast. It will available direct from me, Sally MacKinnon or online at Amazon and other book retailers from this date.

During Summer 2018, Sally will be hosting a series of Summer Story Sessions for “Surfing as a Dance” across the Gold Coast and Northern NSW where we will share our stories of love for the sea. Please contact Sally if you’re interested in attending or hosting a Summer Story Session – writer’s groups, book clubs, surf clubs, community libraries, cafes and surf shops are particularly welcome to be in touch about hosting a session.

four weeks to the day

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It’s a beautiful morning. Soft. Calm. The hobo dog is asleep at the end of the bed. It’s exactly four weeks to the day that our big-sky mountain-world was turned on its head; tilted and toppled from its axis and everything changed.

Exactly four weeks ago the air was charged with smoke.

Out by the bird bath as I filled it for the neighborhood animals that had been drinking there more and more often as the moisture in the atmosphere disappeared during the last week of Winter, a single flake of black ash lazily drifted out of the sky.

I caught it between two fingers and deep in thought, rubbed it into a smudge.

Then I climbed the long ladder onto the roof and crawled around cleaning out every gutter of leaves and twigs. Something felt terribly wrong.

By dusk that Friday, September 6 2019, every single resident of the Summit and Timbarra neighborhoods at Binna Burra had left. Evacuated, often with teary hugs, by our local firies.

I heard later how eerie it felt for them during their patrols through our empty streets, keeping watch over our empty homes. Bless them a million times over.

Binna Burra Lodge, the old heritage-listed guest house founded in 1933, was empty of guests and staff too.

Our mountain stood poised upon its cliff edge. Waiting.

Overnight it came.

A 10km long, 2km wide wildfire spotting ahead of itself by 4km.

Through the unique, world-renowned, world-revered subtropical rainforest of Lamington National Park – home of Jurassic era plants and rare, vulnerable and endangered species of life – it roared.

As our local ranger said this week, it came so hard and fast it left a cascade of death in its wake…so many animals gone, too slow to escape. So many plants and ferns and mosses and trees gone when that beast roared through this protected and passionately-loved place.

When it hit our ridge, the cliffs below our neighborhoods held it back for a while and it crawled around the base of those blessed rocks.

In our first sleepless night of displacement, scattered between the Beechmont roundabout and Bangalow, we hung onto every morsel of news from our firie friends. We imagined those fingers of flame seeking purchase across the cliffs while fire trucks and quiet heroes prepared for the onslaught above; like an old-fashioned battle of David and Goliath proportions.

We will never know exactly how desperate it must have felt when the westerly wind whipped up to 60-70km and hurled a firestorm of embers and flames over our homes.

We do know at one stage the Rurals retreated because their equipment wasn’t built to cope with that level of ferocity.

We do know the Urbans stepped in with all they had but even so, endured at least one burn-over where they were forced into their shuttered trucks to survive.

We do know that some eight homes in Timbarra burned to the ground. One still partly stands as an eerie skeleton, some are piles of tin and twisted metal, some have been cleared already and all that is left to show of the years, the decades of life and love are split concrete slabs.

Numerous sheds and outhouses burned.

On Mount Roberts just up the road, Binna Burra Lodge, the former manager’s house and the Groom family home “Alcheringa” are ashes.

And my sister’s home, intact from the outside, was gutted and everything lost internally from an ember attack.

Our neighborhood lookouts and ridge, where so many of us found silence and solitude on golden afternoons, is scorched earth and an agony of fallen trees.

My god.

Slowly, very very slowly over this past week, we have begun to ever so tentatively, ever so tenderly, reach out and connect as new and old neighbors and friends.

This catastrophe has burned us all up emotionally and we know we will never be the same again.

Our two small neighborhoods of perhaps just over 100 homes overlooking Lamington, has been brutally thrust into the frontline of climate collapse in a country governed by Pentecostal climate-change-deniers.

We are in deep shock and deep grief.

We are only now, finding the wherewithal to look for the methods, the processes, the practices that might begin to heal us.

We feel so very raw but we are trying things like deep breathing, acupuncture, afternoon tea, counselling, information sharing, shy hugs, bear hugs, house cleaning, video storytelling, social media-ing, painting, research, walking, music, bits of work and study if our minds allow it, and of course, the practicalities of rainwater tank testing and insurance-driven demolition, rebuilding, renovation.

Small and big things that help us take one breath, one step. One breath, one step.

This week I burst into tears at Spec-Savers when the nice young assistant there asked for my address.

I’ve spoken my address so many times this past few weeks as a place of household carnage, that this time, sitting in the brightly-lit store in the home of mega-consumerism that is Robina Shopping Town, I was tipped over the edge. Our family property, our spiritual home feels contaminated right now with so much sorrow and grief. At the moment just the hobo dog and I live here and it feels ever so lonely.

So here we are, four weeks on to the day, from that fateful day.

The “deer in the headlights” trauma has left my body this week thanks to Wim Hof breathing and acupuncture.

I’ve had three decent nights’ sleep in a row – a miracle of epic proportions.

I’m writing again and preparing to return to a full load of work next week.

My family is alive and well. This past week there’s been a wedding and news of a healthy, happy, planned pregnancy. I am, as of this week, a sister-in-law and Nana Sal in-waiting.

In amongst this slow, tender recovery there are signs of life, like the tiniest bright green grasslings appearing out of the scorched soil. I feel myself returning to life; a new life that holds the deepest sorrow and the deepest soulfulness at its core, alongside the potential return of joy.

It’s a beautiful morning. Soft. Calm. The hobo dog is asleep at the end of the bed. It’s exactly four weeks to the day that our big-sky mountain-world was turned on its head, tilted and toppled from its axis and everything changed.

how will i ever return? 22/9/19

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I wonder how I will ever return to everyday life after this time of rainforest wildfires and their aftermath?

I wonder if those beautiful practices that held me so steady every day before the fires, will be do-able in the same way?

I haven’t done them in their order, with devotion, for over two weeks now and life feels like it has fundamentally shifted on its axis.

I’m still a committed Zen practitioner, mindfulness practitioner, yoga and qi gong practitioner. Oh, and a writer too (thank god the writing began again yesterday and is running into today as well).

Do I need to change when or how I practice these things though; because I am no longer the same person?

There’s a fierceness and white-hot clarity about what’s important, that’s easy to access now.

There’s a real sense that I’ll call bullshit for what it is now; especially with people who have agendas that are self-serving and not for the good of all.

There’s a brokenness and extreme vulnerability that comes from experiencing something that is entirely beyond human control (let alone my control).

Sometimes those IAA warnings during the firestorm times still haunt me: “…if you haven’t left by now you must seek shelter. Firefighters may not be able to help you…” or similar.

Fuck. We’ve NEVER seen warnings like that at Beechmont-Binna Burra. With an inferno upon you and all roads closed and impassable, where do you seek shelter? In your burning home? In your rainwater tank? We have no experience of such life-threatening emergencies – we are rainforest people.

The helplessness. The hauntedness of leaving home knowing you may never see it again.

It’s not just “stuff” in there. It’s stories of my life in concert with everyone I love.

Dave Groom’s first-ever oil painting – of Fraser Island. His William Robinson-inspired rainforest triptych that I paid off on the occasion of David’s and my engagement.

Cal’s portrait of Clancy’s coming of age. Her Circus Diary photograph that I love so much. Her rare paintings.

Huon’s oboe.

Gifts. Knick-knacks collected over a lifetime – mine and my forebears.

The whole freak’n house that I’ve been sanding and painting and restoring by hand for almost three years.

It’s not “stuff” by any stretch of the imagination.

And then there’s the heartbrokenness of all the decades of all the research of all the work of all the warnings of all the grief of all the hope – all that activism which in itself broke me and that fell on deaf ears.

The worst possible climate collapse scenario is now coming to pass in our very own backyard. In my sweet, awake, engaged community that values peace and sanctuary and connection and Mother Earth over all else.

I am heartbroken. I am fucking furious.

As my time in Bruns comes to an end, I am wondering how I will walk back into my old life and carry on?

heartbroken. 21/9/19

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Heartbroken.

Today in a flash of delayed insight, I realised I am heartbroken and have been since about 3.30pm Friday 6 September. That’s when I stepped out of the carpark at the Tugun Fruit Market and saw a massive black groundswell of smoke roll across our mountain.

Right there and then my heart broke because the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the impossible happened.

Wildfire began its surge across Binna Burra with the Timbarra and Summit neighbourhoods of about 100 homes, right in its path. Mt Roberts and Binna Burra Lodge too. Lamington National Park alight.

When my sister Cal called that afternoon and said the Beechmont Firies were running down our driveway crying and hugging her, telling she and her partner Adi they had to leave now; my heart broke again.

It broke for a third time when, on Sunday 8 September, Cal and I approached her still-standing home, saw the smashed and stained front doors swinging agape in the westerly wind, and Cal slumped as she stepped across the threshold into the charred ruins of her house, all the life-energy for a moment, free-falling out of her.

After laughing hysterically at the intact book of poetry lying by the front door, the mysterious “Ashes and Bones” that nobody owns; I fell mute.

I haven’t written a thing since the 6th except for a climate strike speech which seemed to channel my whole community’s grief and anguish into a 12-minute warrior-roar at Broadbeach on 20 September, two weeks after that black cloud engulfed our community.

I lost my words.

I lost my capacity to engage with people except those in my immediate family and neighbourhoods.

Then, after Cal found her desolate home, I could only engage with immediate family, sticking like emotional glue to my sister, Adi and my mum Joss. Not even the closest of Beechmont friends could entice me out.

Five days and nights displaced but safe, in a blessed caravan in the backyard of a friend’s Palm Beach cottage (yes, there are still a few cottages left in Palm Beach).

Forays to community disaster meetings at Canungra with other haunted neighbours.

Long daily walks with Sherlock the hobo dog along the beach, so very very thankful to craft and cling to one daily routine like a life raft.

Mute.

Frozen.

Sleepless.

When we were allowed home on the fifth day, home was guarded by a roadblock of diligent cops. We showed our driver’s licences and were waved through, over and over again.

The air was stuffed with smoke and barely breathable. Sirens punctuated our little country road with emergencies and choppers filled our skies.

Through it all we met with kind-efficient insurance assessors and entered, re-entered, re-entered, re-entered Cal’s toxic, frightening, burned-out home, gave our details and made grateful-stilted small talk.

In between the long stretches of hell, we laughed in snorts at the black humour surrounding us. Cal’s undies charred and melted, dripping like a Salvador Dali masterpiece on the indoor drying rack upstairs at her place.

“Do you think they’re dry yet?” she asked and we fell about until our bellies ached.

Then I set out for a few days with my surfing tribe to the legendary beaches near Yamba. It was a leap of faith to go – mute and broken – for who wants a refugee housemate and hobo dog in a ‘no pets’ holiday home?

But this tribe rallied like no other.

They had my back, my front, my sides, my heart and they lifted me to the water to surf and rediscover the healing properties of the ocean and communal life. I returned from those precious days allowing myself to feel joy again.

And now here, with Mum at Bruns; in a sweet white onsite mobile home – her home until she has a mountain home to return to.

Long walks morning, noon and dusk. The sound of tent pegs being hammered into dry earth as school holiday-makers land.

I watched the first arrivals last night and remembered how much I love the feel of holidays; but this time feels grey.

And then, in a flash of delayed insight I see, I feel my broken heart.

Now the words return.

The Path to Wonder Retreat

It’s with great excitement that my dear friend Nadia Sunde (performer, musician and comedienne) are hosting our first creativity retreat called “The Path to Wonder” on Sunday June 30 2019 at a storybook cottage in the mountains of Binna Burra behind the Gold Coast. We both live wonderfully creative lives and invite others who do too, or who feel called to explore creativity in their own lives to join us for this gorgeous day. In a  short 3-minute video below, Nadia and I chat about creativity in our lives and our intentions for this retreat. Below the video you’ll find a 3-page flier describing the retreat in a little more detail.

We’d love you to join us for The Path to Wonder, especially if you live in South East Qld or Northern NSW. We promise this special retreat will nourish your heart, spirit and creativity in so many ways. If you’d like to know more or book your place, please email Sally: sally@bigpond.com

 

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the primal drive to write

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The rain taps its watery fingers across the roof of the van. The hobo dog and I are curled and cocooned deep inside doonas and pillows though our ears do turn to catch the wind direction and ponder the swell. Around us the campsite is coming to life.

We are here, at a nameless oasis on the NSW coastline exactly a year after the surf trip that birthed ‘the book’, a memoir of my unlikely, late-blooming surfing life.

While I write at home – disciplined, daily journals and poems that sneak past the gatekeeper at 4am – I realise it is here, alone with the dog on salty days that stretch between the heavenly silvers and pinks of dawn and dusk, that I really write.

Here, without the ticking eyes of work and watches and mobile phones with their infinite distractions, I remember my saltwater heritage and reclaim my selkie skin to swim.

Modern life asks us to commit to its daily chatter for how else would we eat? But what is it in the writer’s DNA that demands so much space it can only be satiated alone? In a world of family, lovers, couples, community, business and so much more roiling humanity, why does a writing life plead for these ties to be loosened so much that sometimes they fly off over the horizon like untethered kites in a robust westerly?

Here I treasure silence and the watery conversation between me and the sea.

Here I hoard a solitude that exhumes the ancient expressions of nature buried deep inside my creaking wellspring.

The truth is I’m probably not even very good at writing in a world where comparison and competition rule.

In so many ways though, it’s not about ‘public’ writing. It’s about survival.

It’s about seeking and supporting the primal, hard-wired creativity of cave paintings and spoken-word stories around the campfire; and thus, finding a place in this world, in these times of chaos and control, that is creative. That pries open the heart again and again to breathe.

Tea time

After the groundswell and vigorous beach breaks,

the sweet southerly tiptoed toward the point.

She tilted her head and

peeking around the corner

decided the coast was clear enough to

set her table for tea with a crocheted cloth and

lace runners for longboards to delicately step upon.

Make no sudden moves

or your rails will dig and

your nose will dive;

This is a dance for those with the lightest of touches and

a kindness of spirit;

who lift the tiny tea cup between finger and thumb

little pinky extended for style and balance.

Below, a rocky reef rises as the tide falls.

We glimpse green glints when the sunlight blinks and

the octopus’ garden – stuffed with screeds of seaweed – inhales,

exhales, expands towards the surface.

We slide with wide eyes and shrinking fins.

As dusk draws down

the offshore cumulous ignite like skyward tea roses,

petals exploding in a profusion of pink.

The sinking sun and the rising moon

high five, and

before the light yawns its full-bodied yawn

we turn towards bed and blessed sleep.

upcoming events

Fun times are afoot as “Surfing as a Dance: How one woman found grace in and out of the water” and I are invited to be part of various surfing gatherings.

The first is the Byron Surf Festival on Saturday 23 February in a gorgeous gathering led by Lauren Hill and Dave Rastovich to launch their Waterpeople Podcast. They are hosting a storytelling session around the theme “Overcoming” and I’m feeling humbled and stoked to be telling my 8-minute story alongside other surfing storytellers Tim Baker, Chrystal Dawn and Chip Richards. It will be a heartfelt occasion indeed…and all are welcome to join us.

Here’s the little promo video:

 

On Thursday 21 March at 6pm, Surf World at Currumbin is hosting a stellar gathering that’s all about Women in the Waves. Former world champions Pam Burridge, Pauline Menczer and Phyllis O’Donnell are coming along as is indigenous surfer from Fingal Jalaan Slab. I’m thrilled and honoured to be presenting and signing “Surfing as a Dance: How one woman found grace in and out of the water” at this gathering alongside photographer Alison Gowland (Currumbin Ali). Come along and join us if you’re from the Goldy!

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“Surfing as a dance” is launched at Currumbin

With a crew of about 70 friends, family, surfers and other supporters, “Surfing as a dance: How one woman found grace in and out of the water” was officially launched into the world on Saturday December 8, 2018 at Devocean Surf-Cafe in Currumbin.

What a gorgeous gathering it was; designed to celebrate our community, the ocean and our love of life here in South East Queensland.

Thank you to Nigel and Liz from Devocean for enabling us to gather at your beautiful shop. Thanks to my sister Cal for the fabulous speech. Thanks to everyone involved in bringing this book to life – especially Alison Goward (Currumbin Ali) for her glorious photographs, Ingrid Schroder for her inspired design, and Diana Timmins for her fearless editing.

“Surfing as a dance” is available for purchase (with a personal message and author signature) in the bookshop on this website. It’s also available from Devocean at Currumbin, Surf Easy Surf School at Currumbin Alley, Artisans Bookstore at Canungra, and from the main online bookstores including Amazon and the Book Depository.

Here are some photos from the launch…

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the long way home

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I left town in a leap of faith.

White van packed to the gunnels with surfboards and wetsuits. My journal and notebook standing ready to receive stories delivered by hand in the elaborate Queensland state school cursive script I still write with.

Sherlock the dog is at my side. He is my scruffy wingman who looks like a hobo but (mostly) behaves like a gentleman. He laps up a good road trip but I don’t know how he’ll cope with camping. When he’s not behaving like a gentleman he can live up to the neuroses of his namesake and frankly, be much too high maintenance for a dog that looks like he came from the wrong side of the pound.

When we get to the Yuraygir National Park turnoff I check the pencil-drawn scrap of map that has been tucked in the passenger seat pocket for years.

Half of it has worn off, rubbed itself out as the paper aged; but this is the turn I know it in my guts. This is where we came four years ago with a group of women surfers when the northerly blew so hard the ocean turned into a giant washing machine and the beach exploded in a desert storm.

We swing right then left onto the rutted dirt track that winds through dust and stubby coastal regrowth towards the mythical surf breaks that hug Angourie Point.

On and off these breathtaking beaches have spawned snarling surf rage and a type of testosterone-fuelled tribalism that is the polar opposite of the ancient dolphin blessing of the Yaegl women. This is Yaegl land – always has been, always will be.

I see no evidence of ugly-bloke-syndrome this time and dolphins are abundant.

When we play in those waters with our sticks of fiberglass and resin today I sense only respect and laughter echoes through the ages and the dunes.

My three-week campsite is nearby on a riverine island; one of 53 in this place.

I confound everyone there with my prayer flags and fairy lights, spindly camp tables set with rose crockery and candles, and my open-air living in this community of rough diamonds.

This is not a glamping place.

By week’s end though, I’ve become part of the furniture and the weathered itinerants who call it home reveal their tender hearts by sharing homegrown bananas and their love stories of the river.

The mountains that run in my blood from Wollumbin’s caldera seem to shrink south of Byron Bay. Here it is flatlands, lowlands and stumpy hillocks.

The full-bodied moon rises over canefields.

Dawn breaks open when the sun climbs the sky over canefields.

The emerald and sapphire river signals blink between fishing shacks and tinnies that dot the island road running the gauntlet of canefields; but nothing here is sugar-coated.

Two huge fish carcasses are strung up from branches.

I stagger in disbelief when I see them, reeling back in shock then realise – hope – that this is brutal fisherman efficiency. Why feed the bull sharks by chucking the dead into the river when birds and insects can feast for weeks? Any other explanation is too terrible to contemplate.

Each night in Yaegl country, held in the arms of the matriarchal line, the river of stars whispers through the She Oaks in the dark. They spin and twist in serpentine swathes, in time to the heartbeat of the mighty Clarence.

This river is a light-catcher, a bewitcher. This river has stolen my heart, especially at sunset when the colours of romance breathe love into liquid light.

Here is the largest river delta in Australia. It is so wide she transports me to the heat and the sweat of Mississippi.

I entice butterflies to land on my shoulders and free-dive to the ocean floor, writing out my stories of an unlikely soulful surfing life.

The weather is kind.

The surf (mostly) pumps except the day after I wail for the long fluffy right handers of home. In an overreaction of epic proportions the swell plummets overnight from a clean six foot into a lake. We are left stranded, staring with wonder at a Back Beach and Point so flat that I can safely paddle my longboard right around the rocky outcrop from one side to the other.

The hobo dog and I walk long beaches every day and our smiles stretch along the sand. He turns into a coastal creature and bathes daily in the shallows then rolls with abandon in softly grained sand.

Work blows away in the westerly wind. So do regrets.

I am emptied of opinion and shame; complicated no more by worry, guilt or suffering.

I stand on the bank like a She Oak that tangles the Milky Way in her hair and whispers love songs to the river.

upwelling

upwelling

Georgie’s frangipani tree is budding.
Baby leaves peek from the tips of each branch,
tiny halos signalling the end of the Spring drought.
This day is mist.
A soft blanket of grey with the rain playing across the tin roof;
A blessing of cloudfall that has washed ashore on the northerlies.
I sit like a mountain and breathe,
watching the ragged prayer flags whisper their
sutras around the house,
hearing the cottage garden stretch and smile
turning itself from a patch of brown sticks into
colour again.
The mountain sighs.

When winds blow across
the top of the ocean they
push waves away,
allowing the cold, dark, deep water
to rise to the surface
in an overturning process called upwelling.
And so it has been in my life this year.
Layers of warmth upended by wind and
replaced for a time by fertile shadows
that broke me open to tenderness.

I am revising history now
from the perspective of the beloved Alley ospreys
that wheel above Currumbin Rock,
the place we call our temple.
As age and time weather away the layers
a miracle of understanding and compassion arise:
We all did the best we could with what we had back then.
Families fractured across generations across time and space but
somehow most of us lived on and found other paths and ways.
The wind whispers forgiveness and I inhale
folding it into every cell and atom of this body.
Exhaling, the ocean rolls and
we paddle our surfboards out across crystal sky on a mid-October morning
that feels like summer holidays because
the water is so warm and light plays through the lineup.

Georgie’s frangipani tree rises.
Six years she stands in the soil of love and longing
blossoming every November to remind us that beauty endures.
The mountain rests.