Patricia McPherson – Becoming Sister Pat (Part 2)

By the mid-1960s, Patricia McPherson had been working for two years as a nurse at the severely under-resourced AIM (Australian Inland Mission) Hospital at Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. (See ‘Sister Pat – A Legend of a Nurse’ Part 1)

Pat and her fellow AIM nurse Gloria (Nat) Natoli were deeply affected by the repeated experience of watching Aboriginal babies die despite their best efforts to save them. 

“After our arrival in Fitzroy Crossing, we soon experienced the first of many major gastroenteritis epidemics. We admitted 20 dehydrated babies, who despite our 24-hour nursing care, nearly all died because they came to us too late. This was to be the pattern of our next two years. 

My strongest memory is of working night after night on moribund babies; of watching them die. Of wrapping little bodies in a blanket and leaving them in the engine shed for the Missioner to pick up and bury the next morning. Of the mothers wailing and hitting their heads with stones in their sorrow. Of walking up to the police station in the middle of the night to report the death/s to the policeman. Of being told off for waking him up (despite this being his requirement). Of biting my tongue when he invariably asked if the death was caused by a spear or other suspicious circumstances. Of always replying “No, just a preventable disease”. 

I would often say “If only we could get out into the camps and pick them up in the early stages, before it was too late”. If only! 

The opportunity to do just this came my way in 1966 with the commencement of an itinerant child care service as an outreach of our traditional hospital service.” 

AIM Hospital Fitzroy Crossing circa 1963 when Pat arrived


In 1966, Dr. Davidson, the Commissioner of Public Health in Western Australia asked the AIM to find a way to reduce the exceptionally high infant mortality rate and the number of hospital admissions of the Indigenous peoples in the Fitzroy Crossing area which were the highest in the state. The AIM accepted and handed the challenge to Patricia McPherson. 

Pat was eager to take up a task she had long felt was necessary – treating and getting the sick children to the hospital in the early stages of illness before it was too late.  In taking on the task, Pat McPherson pioneered and established the Itinerant Child Care Service in the West Kimberley.

She created and developed an accessible, unique system of routine preventative treatment and holistic healthcare education that was available to the Indigenous population where they lived and worked. Pat’s project would save lives, reduce infant mortality to almost none, and raise the standard of child care in areas where people lived at subsistence levels. It would also usher in a new public health nursing service to remote areas of Western Australia.

Pat began her task by routinely driving in her donated Land Rover in the cooler hours of the very early mornings to the Aboriginal camps that were attached to 4 stations in her region of the Kimberley – GoGo, Brooking Springs, Fossil Downs and Jubilee Station.  Using the tailgate of the Land Rover, she set up a mobile clinic in whatever shade and circumstances that these impoverished camps could provide. Pat did not see her role as simply dispensing medicines.  She recognised that the illnesses prevalent in the communities she was tasked to serve arose from the powerlessness, abject poverty, and filth in which the people in the camps were forced to live, circumstances that were far removed from their traditional way of life and culture.

Pat’s tailgate antenatal clinic


Pat approached her work by first observing the situation in each camp and grew familiar with the people and culture of the place. She wrote:

The Aborigines lived in small, overcrowded camps on million-acre cattle stations (privately owned ranches) and formed part of the feudal society which a cattle station was in those days. They had no rights. Furthermore, if they left the station they would be turned back by all the other stations and have no hope of employment or livelihood anywhere else. 

The camps are usually built on high bore ground within calling distance of the homesteads.

They consist of rows of small tin huts, the ubiquitous bough sheds and a washhouse-cum-ablution block, usually communal and detached. A perimeter is formed of old cans, bags and general rubbish and the old bones and hooves of many ‘killers’ – leftovers of the camp’s meat supply.

Goats, cats and pigs stroll around unconcernedly and dogs bark and fight and sleep as one with the inhabitants.

A few trees struggle for life in the rocky ground and the white cockatoos screech and wheel and settle on them.

From the shade of the huts, the people sit and watch. Overall, is the ever-present heat and dust and smell of old bones. The people lived at subsistence level.”



“The original aims were to cut down the infant mortality rate and hospital admissions by raising the standard of child care.

My initial health assessment of the Aboriginal people showed that there was over 60% trachoma; one in 12 had leprosy; about 10% suffered from diabetes; at least three-quarters of the population had chronic anaemia; 27% of the babies and pre-schoolers had chronic ear infections with one or two perforated ear drums; about one-third of the group exhibited signs of deafness; 25% had suppurating sores; and nearly all carried a heavy bowel parasite load. Upper respiratory tract infection was rife and gastroenteritis was endemic and very often terminal. No comprehensive immunisation program had ever been carried out; and no ante-natal care was sought by the pregnant women who usually delivered in a creek bed and only presented at the hospital if something was wrong. Sub-nutrition was a way of life and no child under the age of two could be safely expected to last the distance, and most didn’t.

My area covered six such camps within a 30-mile radius of Fitzroy Crossing in which seven hundred Aborigines lived. I drove to each camp twice a week thinking at first that all I had to do was to pick up the sick children early and take them to the AIM hospital. My thinking proved very wrong.”

Thoughtful and analytical, Pat expanded the scope of her service to include a crucial component – health education that involved the participation of the entire community. She methodically worked with the people of the camps to bring changes that would bring a measurable improvement to the health of adults and particularly, their children. 

Health education program

HEALTH EDUCATION – Expanding Scope of the Service

“My area originally covered ‘GoGo’ station and Brooking Springs station, the United Aborigines Mission camps and Aboriginal families with children who camped and worked at three of the houses and at the pub in the town of Fitzroy Crossing. I extended it to include Jubilee Downs and Fossil Downs stations.

“Getting sick children to hospital early did become part of my work, along with medical checks, minor treatments, antenatal care, trachoma and anaemia treatments, immunisations and leprosy checks. This was my ‘hospital half hour’, conducted from the tailboard of my Land Rover, before my major work for the day – health education. 

The nurse became a teacher of: 

Child Care with emphasis on adequate and appropriate food and water, hygiene, clothing and care of it.

Environmental Care  with emphasis on rubbish disposal, camp cleaning, housekeeping and vegetable growing. 

First Aid with emphasis on self-reliance. I taught the mothers how to care for their children’s sores, treat their infected ears, and administer treatment for their anaemia on an on-going basis.”


“A normal working week consisted of five days in the camps. Trachoma treatments were carried out at dawn and at dusk for maximum cover when the people were either getting out of, or getting into, their swags. Then I’d conduct my ‘Hospital Half Hour’, routinely checking the health of babies and preschoolers and seeing anyone else who was sick or pregnant. Then I’d carry out my various health education programs. 

After lunch I’d go to a second camp and repeat the process there, returning at sundown to the camp receiving the trachoma treatment that week to administer the oily Achromycin eye drops. This treatment had to be administered morning and evening, for six months to each patient.

On Saturdays, I did all my writing up for the week in comprehensive records that I’d established for each child, as well as the graphs and the action research data that I happened to be working on at the time. On Sundays, I cleaned my Land Rover and gear and washed my clothes, which were always filthy. I played tennis on a Sunday afternoon at the AIM Hospital tennis court. After two years I had a holiday. “

In 1966, at the end of the first year of the project, she wrote:

“I have now worked for a full seven months in the Aboriginal camps and have driven 13,532 miles. An average of 1,933 miles each month and roughly 86 miles each working day.”

Ear examination ‘Hospital Half Hour’


Pat researched the causes of the illnesses prevalent amongst children in the camps, especially anaemia and gastroenteritis. She reached the fundamental conclusion that “our greatest weapon is to implement a full-scale teaching programme with more Aboriginal participation.”  


“On each station I visit, the first thing I do is to quickly do a routine check on all babies and pre-schoolers. This means that each week I do 274 checks on the 128 children in the camps in my area.”


“I followed a six-point plan for babies’ daily needs – bath, clean clothes, milk, solids, water and sleep.

The first step was to get the mothers to clean their children up a bit, so I spent time observing their facilities and watching their own efforts, and gradually improved on them with what was available. Demonstration baths were done in wash troughs, old coppers, buckets, camp ovens, drums, the guttering in a shower room floor and in an old horse trough on another station.

Clean clothes were a problem at first as most mothers did not have many at all but this was overcome when the AIM Sisters at Fitzroy and the nuns at Derby Native Hospital started issuing layettes to all babies they delivered. These were supplied by the Native Welfare Department and purchased with money from the baby bonus.

The conventional wisdom in the Kimberley was that Aborigines successfully breast-fed their children for two years. Of course, I knew from my hospital experiences that this was not so because most children reached a low ebb at 9–10 months and died from either gastroenteritis or broncho-pneumonia, a complication of their poor general condition. In the camps, my research showed that the breast milk supply began declining after 4 months. I came to believe that in order for Aboriginal children to survive, they had to bridge the nutritional gap between breast and solids.

The aim was to ensure that the baby was well established on an alternative food source when the breast milk supply eased off at four months and mostly petered out at ten months.

As the only alternative food available was damper dipped in tea this raised a host of issues about sourcing a supply of complementary food (baby tucker) and feeding utensils and their storage and preparation. 

The implications of these findings for the Aboriginal women were great. There were no problems about breast-feeding, that was traditional, but they had to grapple with and ultimately accept the difficult notion of the introduction of food and water (of all things) at a time when breast milk was available and at a time when the baby least appeared to need it. 

Bridging the gap proved simple when their weight charts showed periods of decline at 4 and 10 months and I discovered their motor ability was far more advanced at three months than that of a white child. So, I started the early introduction of solids in the form of pre-cooked cereal and water to drink. With almost constant supervision and practice, by four months, they were on to three meals a day with a pannikin of milk to follow and water in between times, and I found they thrived and never really looked back. Their diet then increased, depending on what was made available to them on the various stations and from the store in Fitzroy – whether it was kitchen tucker of porridge, bread and milk, or soup and stew, or tins of baby food and cereal.


Regular health checks


On the GoGo Station where the endowment money is pooled and food and clothing are issued from the station store, I received a weekly supply from the Manager and issued it and supervised feedings three times a week and just before the ‘wet’, the mothers knew exactly the weekly requirements for the babies; they then went to the station store each Sunday to ask specifically for the various items they had been handling all year – and I had worked myself out of a job!

On Brooking Springs Station, where the Aborigines are supplied with food for the babies from the kitchen and keep their own endowment money and buy from the Fitzroy store, I tried to change their ‘biscuit and cool drink’ mentality. With the co-operation of the local storekeeper, I gathered a crate of ‘good’ food on endowment and pay days and I myself peddled it to the mothers – the bonnet of the Land Rover looked like a self-service grocery store on these occasions and I had great difficulty working out change in (the recently introduced) decimal currency but fortunately, some of the young Aboriginal girls fresh from school could help me out! Eventually, I came to realise that it was easy for the mothers to have money available on these two days so I started taking the goodies out every week and this became a regular thing and slowly the mothers started keeping some money for next week so that the tucker box wasn’t completely bare always.

One thought I had in the back of my mind was to make them familiar with that which was good food value so that when they went into town to do their own shopping and were confronted by a range in the local store (which was made self-service this year), they would see something familiar on the shelves. 

Lately, I have stopped taking food to Brooking Springs and tend to run a delivery service instead. The mothers give me money and tell me what to buy and I take it out next visit. They themselves do most of their own buying now – true, they still buy biscuits, lollies and cool drink but they also buy Weeties, milk, tins of fruit juice and packets of dried fruit.

A slow change has started but whether it will gain impetus I cannot tell.”

Sterile drinking water for babies


A critical component of Pat’s 6-Point plan to reduce the very high mortality rate was the early introduction for babies of plenty of boiled and cooled, sterile drinking water. Babies who weren’t doing well were put onto water from a bottle to complement their waning breast milk supply.

“Water became my private obsession although I fully realise it is a national one too and this proved to be the most beneficial, yet most difficult, to introduce as Aboriginal mothers just did not give their babies water to drink at all and it wasn’t until the kids were old enough to dip their heads into the billycans themselves that they began to get an adequate intake.

Eventually, all this changed. I found myself constantly reiterating ‘water to drink’, ‘water to drink’ and slowly established a pattern. New babies were put onto a bottle straight away. The first step was to show the mothers how to make a billycan out of a milk tin which was not to be used for any other purpose. When the bottle was cleaned and boiled it was left in the billy, covered with a net and hung up to cool. This was done after a drink so that there was always a supply of cool, boiled, sterile water whenever the baby was thirsty.

When they started drinking from a pannikin at six months, I took the bottle away and the baby’s billy then went into general circulation.

My final aim in this total child care programme was to extend the care from camp to wherever they journeyed and I had the ‘wet’ season walkabout in mind. I had to get the mothers to take food and water for the babies with them wherever they went – and finally settled on the idea of a ‘Walkabout Bag’ fashioned on the principle of the ‘rabbiting bag’ my brothers and I made when we were younger. It is a flour bag with a piece of rope tied to one corner and finishing with a noose around the neck, and both of these are available on any station. This is then carried over the shoulder and rests on the back. Into this went the cereal and tinned milk, tin opener, plate, spoon, pannikin and a bottle of water.

These things were stored in the bag always, and this kept them out of the dirt, and, when they left camp, this was automatically shouldered and the needs of the babies could then always be met, whether they were in Fitzroy for the day or out on the tractor or on their ‘wet’ season walkabout, and this caught on. So much so, that on one station the mothers themselves went one step better. They chose to cover the water bottle with hessian extending into a handle and this they kept wet from time to time to cool by evaporation, and carried it by hand.

After this huge initiative, health education continued to environmental care such as rubbish disposal and housekeeping, teaching mothers personal care and eventually growing a vegetable garden.

This then, is my health education programme. Not a great contribution and, perhaps, of doubtful benefit but time alone will put it into perspective and reveal its worth, if any.”

Tending Veggie Patch


Time did indeed reveal the worth of Pat McPherson’s initiatives.  Three years into her work, the benefits were evident and dramatic. Fitzroy Crossing had held the record for the highest infant mortality rate and number of hospital admissions in Western Australia. But by 1968, Pat recorded that:

“At the end of three years, the infant mortality rate at Fitzroy Crossing had dropped dramatically; my records indicated only one infant death in that time. Gastroenteritis was episodic rather than endemic. The gap between breastfeeding and solids, a critical factor in Aboriginal child rearing had been bridged. Complete immunisation cover for the community, (Aboriginal and white) had been achieved, including direct BCG at birth, which in those days, was considered to be a preventative measure against leprosy.”

“It took over two years for my health and education program to be translated into routine behaviour. However, with the health of the babies and pre-schoolers under control in 1968, I spread the work from a child oriented service to a more public health oriented one to cover the family unit. This involved the introduction of school medical examinations and more emphasis on the care of the mother, especially during the critical phases within her reproductive life cycle. 


The success of Pat’s program and pioneering work led to the decision by the West Australian Health Minister and the Commissioner of Public Health to appoint other itinerant AIM nurses based in Halls Creek, Kununurra, Derby, Wyndham and Broome.

The success of these pioneering efforts would subsequently lead to the establishment of a new branch within the Western Australian Health Department in 1972, called the Community Health Services. The enabling Act of Parliament established the infrastructure to carry a statewide public health nursing service, which was called the Community Nursing Service.” 

In 1970, Patricia McPherson received the British Empire Medal for her pioneering work in the Fitzroy River region. Sister Pat had become a legend of a nurse.






Patricia McPherson – ‘Sister Pat’ A Legend Of A Nurse

In 1963, 25 year-old Patricia McPherson crossed Australia’s vast continent from her home in pastoral Gippsland in Victoria to arrive at Fitzroy Crossing, a tiny remote settlement in the centre of Western Australia’s rugged Kimberley region.There she would begin work as a nursing sister at the Australian Inland Mission (AIM) hospital. By the time she left her work with AIM some ten years later, she had made an extraordinary and indelible impact on the health and well-being of hundreds of people in her region, and by extension, in other remote regions of Western Australia.

Nurse McPherson became ‘Sister Pat’ a legend of a nurse who transformed the delivery of health services to a vast region of Australia’s outback and set the template for public health nursing that was adopted statewide. In acknowledgment of this work, Pat McPherson received the British Empire Medal in 1970. 

Pat McPherson’s story is one of exceptional service and far-reaching achievements.

But it’s also a story of great adventure. It is a remarkable Australian story.

Pat is now 86 years old and lives in Victoria. Pat McPherson’s own words best tell her extraordinary and heretofore not generally known story. WomanGoingPlaces is therefore presenting in several instalments, some excerpts of her diaries, letters and interviews from her time in the Kimberley. 


Pat became a nurse because she wanted to work  with the AIM in the Outback.

“I took the right subjects at high school to gain the right entrance qualifications to a nursing school. I sought and undertook the most comprehensive nurse training available to me at the time and I undertook further training as a midwife. And I didn’t only learn to pass exams. At every stage of learning during these years of training I extrapolated from The Royal Melbourne Hospital and The Royal North Shore Hospital to the bush. I’d say to myself, ‘If this or that happened in the bush and I was IT, what would I do?’ or ‘If I had to do this or that procedure in the bush and I didn’t have all the equipment, how could it be done?’ And so, I asked questions of nurse tutors, doctors, my senior nurses and became a bit of a pest. I also read widely and pursued some ad hoc preparation like learning to pull teeth, to suture wounds, to make bread, and to do a grease and oil change on an engine.

So, armed with these impeccable credentials and a sound Presbyterian background, I volunteered for the inland service with the AIM and, accompanied by another young volunteer nurse, Nat (Gloria Natoli), I arrived at Fitzroy Crossing at the beginning of the Wet season in 1963.”


“Fitzroy Crossing was a small, isolated trading post in the heart of the Kimberley cattle country, an area where white settlement was only 80 years old. It consisted of six buildings – post office, police station, AIM hospital, United Aborigines Mission, state school, and pub/general store. These buildings were widely separated from one another along two miles (approximately 2.25 km) of the banks of the Fitzroy River. In the winter (the Dry), the river was a dry gully. In the summer (the Wet), it was about 36 feet (11 metres) high and spread across the flood plain for 30 miles. The town was isolated for 3 months”.



“Besides we two nurses there were three other single people employed by the pub. Fitzroy Crossing’s other residents were couples at the post office, a police station, school, hotel and the United Aborigines Mission. There were no children in any of these households.

We were totally unprepared for Fitzroy Crossing. We found ourselves in a society that had a different value system to ours. People went to the session at the pub on Sundays and, whenever the Lord’s name was mentioned, it was used as a blasphemy. The other people in town – the postmaster, the policeman, the school teacher and the publican – were there for either promotion or money, or both.”

“There is no real community spirit in this small town of 23 whites. We have no one to turn to for help. There is absolutely no maintenance done here (at the hospital) other than what we do ourselves. We have had to mend doors and fences, prop up the bough shed when it sags, mend toilets and fix the engines. We couldn’t even get anyone to chop our wood for us when the Aboriginal helpers were sick so we did that too.  The partnership (2 families) running the pub has crashed and has split the town.  One family doesn’t even speak to the other. There is friction between the 2 policemen, but they still speak to each other, which is their saving grace.  The postmaster who is a recluse and uncooperative, won’t speak to anyone, and the mission folk hold themselves apart and have nothing to do with the community.  So is it any wonder that our friends and interests are the station people.  We only see them occasionally, but these meetings are full of pleasure for them as well as us, and are free of petty gossip and back biting.”

Sister Pat’s Bush Clinic at Brooking Springs station camp 1969


Sixteen stations within an 80 -100 mile (129 – 161 km) radius of Fitzroy Crossing were served by the AIM hospital. Almost a thousand Aboriginal people lived and worked on these stations and fewer than two hundred white people.  

The stations in the area primarily covered by Pat were: Gogo Station, Brooking Springs Station, Jubilee Station and Fossil Downs Station, all in the country of the Walmatjarri, Bunuba and Gooniyandi peoples.

The station people looked to the Hospital for something else. Very few sought medical help other than in an emergency such as a suicide, burns and mustering or a motor vehicle accident. The white station community saw the hospital as their social centre. Whenever they were in town, they came to the hospital. They came for a cup of tea or a meal or just to talk and relax or to wait for the mail plane. We saw this as a very important part of our work and are pushing ahead with our policy to try and consolidate this place a social centre as well as a hospital.  We are getting to know a lot more station folk now and they show us appreciation and great respect.



“The Hospital was a shock. It was built in 1939 of unlined tin. It had cement floors, fly wire ‘windows’ and tin shutters which had to be closed when it rained, thus excluding both air and light. It had a wood stove and a kerosene refrigerator. There was no hot water system. We boiled a copper for the washing water. There was a 240KVA Southern Cross lighting plant and a water pump. We generated our own power and pumped our own water. There were two wards: a ‘native’ ward (the gauzed-in verandah) which had eight camp stretchers and a ‘whites’ ward which had two hospital beds. A divided bed in the corridor next to the lavatory served as the labour ward. 

Our nearest doctor was the Flying Doctor (Royal Flying Doctor Service) at Derby two hundred miles (322 km) away with whom we were in radio contact each day and who held a clinic at our hospital once a fortnight.

Despite my well-thought-out preparation, I wasn’t really prepared for bush nursing. The day we arrived the lighting plant wasn’t working and the kerosene fridge was smoking and the water pump wasn’t pumping. Within an hour of our arrival we set to and had fixed the lot of them. 

It was a tremendously busy hospital. We had a daily bed average of eight in-patients, all Aboriginal. They presented with anything and everything, mostly caused by infectious diseases or trauma. Most of the patients were children under the age of two with gastroenteritis. Because they were breast-fed, their mothers stayed too and camped in the shed. During some gastro epidemics, we nursed up to 22  babies, in the passageway and on the verandah, in potato crates, cardboard cartons and even in the wheelbarrow.”


“Nat and I took turns sharing the work. For one week, one of us was the nurse and the other was the cook. 

The nurse looked after the in-patients and did the out-patients’ clinics every morning and did all the radio work ( communication with the Derby Hospital doctors, the RFDS, the stations etc.). One rarely slept for the whole seven days when one was on nursing duties. My main recollection is working night after night with desperately ill babies, getting some through and watching many others die. 

But there was another part of the work. On the week when one was cook, one cooked meals for about 20 people each day – the patients, the breast-feeding mothers, 3 Aboriginal staff and ourselves, and baked the bread every second day (6 high tins). One also supervised the cleaning of the hospital; did the washing and ironing; looked after the chooks; grew the vegetable garden in the Dry season; organised the huge bi-yearly orders for supplies from Perth; entertained the station visitors, and looked after the lighting plant and water pump. In the Wet season, one measured the river height twice a day and reported it on the Royal Flying Doctor radio to station people downstream.”


Pat’s bi-weekly clinic from tailgate of Land Rover Gogo station camp 1966. Photo by Hamilton Aitken.


Patricia McPherson pioneered itinerant public health nursing in the Kimberley. Before she came to Fitzroy Crossing, the established practice was that people needing medical attention were expected to make the arduous journey of miles, to the AIM hospital in Fitzroy Crossing. Pat changed all that. 

Pat travelled hundreds of miles to introduce a comprehensive immunisation program to the whole community; Aboriginal and white. She administered all the childhood immunisations and those against other common diseases of the region such as Tetanus and Measles, as well as the Sabin oral vaccine against Polio. Pat immunised everyone and went everywhere, wherever people happened to be – in the Aboriginal communities, the stations, the cattle camps, at work on the roads, in the hotel bar and the local gaol.

In a pivotal departure from past practice, she went out to treat the Indigenous people in the camps on the million acre cattle stations where they lived and worked. She did it by driving miles every day and working from the tailgate of her donated Land Rover while battling considerable odds – environmental, bureaucratic, human and cultural.

“As God’s people, we recognise social injustice and, in the name of Christ, we move to correct it. Therefore, after years of watching Aboriginal babies die (at the hospital), I responded immediately to the opportunity to do something about the infant mortality rate in Fitzroy Crossing which was the highest in the State when the Commissioner of Public Health in Western Australia  (who had long wanted preventative health work there) asked the AIM if they would provide this service. The AIM agreed and offered me the challenge. 

I was in Perth at the time completing my Infant Welfare training. So in early 1966, armed with my Third Certificate, I set off in a short wheel based Land Rover equipped as a functional clinic and a two-way radio, a swag, and a tucker box, to become AIM’s first Itinerant Child Care Sister in the region.” 



“The trouble-free performance of my vehicle has been a great joy and I have a great affection for the ‘Gypsy’ which is my second home. At first, there was no-one available locally to do the grease and oil changes every thousand miles. After I had done one myself and bungled it somewhat, I was very glad when the new mechanic on Brooking Springs Station took over this task for me every month. I now take it into Derby for the major checks about every three months after the Mechanical and Plant Engineers (a W.A. Government workshop) who had heard about my pioneering efforts kindly offered to do the work on it.

Pat in ‘Gypsy’ Rover in radio contact with Royal Flying Doctor Service.


I have enrolled to do a course on Motor Maintenance by correspondence this wet season and this should enable me to do minor repairs myself and give me a working knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the vehicle. The mileage meter at the end of my first year (1966) reads 17,748 and the tyres are 50% new.”

Pat changing flat tyre on ‘Gypsy’


Pat realised that she had to expand the traditional role of nurse if she was to make any difference to the lives and welfare of the people in her care. First, she carefully observed life in the camps attached to the stations and kept meticulous records of all the infants and children. 

She researched the causes of illnesses such as anaemia, broncho-pneumonia and gastroenteritis, prevalent amongst children in the camps, and stemmed the epidemic of gastroenteritis through early detection and treatment. 

From her observations she created a new holistic program of care that engaged and paid respect to the people and their culture, especially that of the women whose cooperation was vital to its success. 

Pat also introduced antenatal care for Aboriginal mothers.

Pat’s holistic program almost completely eliminated infant mortality and morbidity rates in Aboriginal communities in her area. These rates had been exceptionally high. In three years, Pat’s program reduced the number to two deaths and cut hospital admissions by 50%.

“My instructions were to reduce the infant mortality and morbidity rate and hospital admissions by raising the standard of child care in the Aboriginal camps. My area covered six such camps in a thirty-mile radius of Fitzroy Crossing, in which 700 Aboriginal people lived – Gogo, Brooking Springs, Fossil Downs and Jubilee Stations all in the country of the Walmatjarri, Bunuba and Gooniyandi peoples.

I drove to each camp twice a week thinking, at first, that all one had to do was pick up the sick children and bring them into town for early hospital care. My thinking proved very wrong. This did become part of my work, along with daily medical checks, antenatal care, trachoma and anaemia treatments, leprosy checks, minor treatments, immunisations and perhaps our greatest role, health education.”

Routine baby check on tailgate at the start of each visit UAM 1967


This was a rare approach at that time. Education in hygiene, nutrition, hydration, child and infant care were all key to her belief in the crucial role of preventative care to lessen the need for symptomatic or curative treatment of preventable illnesses. Her program was comprehensive. It also led to working together to clean up the living environment and planting vegetable gardens to enhance nutrition.

“The nurse became a teacher – of child care, hygiene, care of clothes, budgeting, toilet training, housekeeping, rubbish disposal and growing vegetables. One also had to teach the mothers to care for their children’s sores; treat their infected ears; give medicines, trachoma and anaemia treatments; and postural drainage and percussion – all from the tailboard of my Land Rover.”


Pat extended her concept of care to set up kindergartens to stimulate the toddlers. They were very successful and became known in the communities as Sister Pat’s School for Little Kids.

“Towards the end of my third year (1968) when this ( the health care program) had become more or less routine, one had to ask, ‘for what have I helped rear these children? Do I now abandon them because they are past the danger period health-wise?’  To me, the answer was no, so I took the next natural step and commenced pre-school play and kindergarten – this time in the shade of my Land Rover. I asked the teachers at the Gogo Station and Fitzroy Crossing schools  to help me develop this programme because the rationale was to bridge the gap between camp and school.”  

Fundamental to all her activities was Pat’s view, rare at the time, of how Indigenous people should be regarded and treated. She believed in the necessity of understanding the values and social relationships in these communities. 

“Concern for the health of Aborigines must be supplemented by increased interest in their view of life, and cultural issues surrounding health practices.”


Sister Pat’s school for little kids 1968


Pat advocated for a dramatic re-definition of Public Health, to locate it within the context and conditions of a community and maintained that the “diseases of a community – endemic infections, sub-nutrition, anaemia, growth retardation, maternal stress etc were all as destructive as tuberculosis and leprosy.” 

She pointed out that “Poverty is a disease of the community. So too is ignorance. Until the notion of Public Health is re-defined, we will continue to concentrate on infectious diseases and leave these equally pernicious situations untouched.”

“With the health of the baby and pre-schooler under fair control, the work then spread from a child-oriented service to a more public health oriented one to cover the total family unit. I introduced school medical examinations, and a more direct attack on leprosy in the adults.

At the end of three years the Aboriginal infant mortality and morbidity rate in the Fitzroy Crossing area was less dramatic and life would never be the same again for these people. 

The Public Health Department of the Western Australia Government evaluated this experiment and made a decision to spread this work to other areas where large numbers of Aboriginal peoples lived at subsistence level. 

This was a real breakthrough – Government recognition that we had delivered what the Commissioner had wanted, so we rejoiced when the Government appointed their own nurses whom they called Public Health Nurses, to work out of the hospitals in the three government towns in the Kimberley – first Derby, then subsequently Broome and Wyndham.

In order to take the work out of the Kimberley, in 1971, I myself went to Roebourne in the Pilbara, 1,000 miles south of Fitzroy Crossing. This was  iron ore country and the construction of a massive new mining facility there was rubbing off in a disastrous way on the Aboriginal community. Soon after, the Government appointed their own Public Health nurse to spread the service to a second area in the Pilbara – Port Hedland. 

They continued to do this until 1972 when an Act of Parliament was passed in the Western Australia Parliament which set up the Community Health Nursing Service. This Act set up the infrastructure to carry the development of the work to all areas of the State where people lived in low socio-economic circumstances.

We had pioneered a new service – two actually, for the pre-school work in the camps led to mobile AIM pre-schools staffed by pre-school teachers. Subsequently the WA Education Department set up pre-schools in the Kimberley towns.

It was a time of great rejoicing.”


Sister Pat introducing Sabin polio vaccine Fossil Downs station stock camp 1967


Patricia McPherson subsequently continued her innovative work in community nursing after her return to Victoria when she worked for twenty-five years for the Royal District Nursing Service in management, service planning and the policy sector. During these years she also did an Arts degree in Sociology and Politics and achieved a Masters Degree in Nursing Studies. 

In 2001, as part of Australia’s Centenary of Federation celebrations, Patricia McPherson received the special honour of being included on the inaugural Victorian Honour Role of Women – Women Shaping the Nation. She was one of 250 Australian women who were honoured because they made key and enduring contributions to Victoria and the Nation.


Patricia McPherson’s story to be continued in the next instalment.



WomanGoingPlaces interviews Professor Kim Rubenstein

Professor Kim Rubenstein has become a popular guest on programs such as Q&A because she clearly articulates how the Australian Constitution impacts on the most important issues we face as a nation and as individuals.

So when she announced in August the she had formed Kim For Canberra, her own independent political party, and would run for the Senate in the coming federal election, many welcomed her candidacy.

Professor Rubenstein currently holds the position of Co-Director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra, having formerly been Director of the Centre for International and Public Law at the ANU from 2006-15. She is recognised as a constitutional and citizenship expert. Professor Rubenstein wrote the leading book on citizenship, Australian Citizenship Law in Context, and was involved in drafting the Australian Citizenship Act and reviewing the Citizenship Test. Her support for gender equality led to her becoming the Inaugural Convenor of the ANU Gender Institute.  

WomanGoingPlaces has a special interest in spotlighting the stories of Australian women aged 50+ and so we interviewed Professor Rubenstein recently on her candidacy, goals and vision.



Q: Professor Rubenstein, why are you standing for Parliament?

I have spent the last 25 plus years teaching the next generation about law, citizenship, rights, gender equality and the Constitution. Throughout my professional life I have been keen to make sure that what I have been doing in academia reaches into the public policy field.

In the last 18 months with Covid-19, there has been an amplification of the issues central to what I do on citizenship and gender. But no matter how convincing and evidence-based your arguments, if the people in Parliament don’t want it or care, then it just doesn’t go anywhere.

So that made me think that if that is the case, let’s see if I can have a go doing this stuff inside Parliament rather than outside.


Q: What is your purpose?

To use my skills set as part of the Senate’s role of reviewing legislation and contributing to public policy discussion. It’s rare for a Government to have a majority in the Senate, so I could have real influence over the areas that I’m really keen to progress. These fall into 3 categories:

1. Being a Senator for Canberra.

Canberra has always had a Labour and a Liberal representative and both are caught in the framework of their party’s policies in terms of progressing anything specific to Canberra. They have been deliberately stymied in some respects.

Unlike the rest of country, Canberra is a Territory. The Commonwealth has the capacity to override the legislation in Canberra and this has happened on a couple of occasions. That is not good for Canberrans in terms of their democratic rights being curtailed. So I would be a direct voice that is not bound or prevented from pushing as hard as it can and standing up for Canberra.

2. Making Parliament a more representative body.

There has been a politicisation of really important issues such as climate change, gender equality and refugee policy. The parties have come to the point where they are the blockages on these issues. There are groups within parties that are committed to good policies, but are being stymied by the party system which is so set on making sure they win rather than staying committed to the policies they represent. As an independent I could bring out the best in the parties, and not as we are seeing, the worst. I would contribute to improving the quality of policy discussion in Parliament.

We are waiting on Kate Jenkins’ Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces as safe and equal workplaces. I really want to push for those recommendations to be seriously engaged with. As an independent voice I want to ensure Parliament really scrutinises those recommendations and endorses where appropriate. Having an independent voice is crucial to making Parliament work for the people and not parties.

3. Changing the Constitution.

I have a life-long passion around Constitutional change and bringing Australia into the 21st Century. It’s about recognising that our Constitutional structure was written in the1890s, and realising that Australia of the 21st Century is a very different and much more mature entity.

Three things need changing in this order:

The first is regarding the Uluru Statement from the Heart and Australia becoming reconciled with its Indigenous people. The First Nations people went through a process of getting to the Uluru Statement by meeting with people around the whole country and inspiring active citizenship. This is what all Australians should be doing in engaging with their Constitution.

In Parliament I would really push for a referendum on a Voice to Parliament and I feel really positive that the work First Nations people have been doing as a community around this will lead to successful referendum change. Once that happens it will remind people that we can actually change the Constitution.  

The second change is regarding our multi-cultural society. Section 44 of the Constitution prevents dual citizens from being members of Parliament. This has been a real hurdle for our multicultural society being properly represented in Parliament because you presently have to renounce the other citizenship in order to nominate, whether you win or not. So it’s a real negative block on dual citizens from being MPs. If you think about it, if our Parliament had had more dual citizens, it would have been much more proactive about setting up quarantine stations to enable people who have family overseas to connect with family, without undermining our health security. The fact that they dragged their heels over it is because they weren’t responsive enough to this. Almost 49% of Australians have a parent born overseas or were born overseas, so changing that in our Constitution would lead to a more representative democracy.

The third change is regarding the move towards a republic. I have been involved since 1998, when the Constitutional Convention was held, in advising and supporting Constitutional change to reflect the reality of our 21st Century.  With an Australian as a Head of State, and secure in our own independence, we could still be part of the Commonwealth. But we don’t need to have the Queen of England acting as the Queen of Australia.   

Q: How do you think the sentiment is on that now?

If you have really positive leadership which shows the community what the vision is and the capacity we have of doing this to bolster our own identity, people will respond positively. People are looking for leadership. We haven’t had a vision for Australia. We’ve had marketing for Australia.  Which is not doing much for social cohesion or a sense of optimism for the future.



Q: Why stand as an independent? And if elected, how will you deal with what you described as a toxic boys’ club and party machines?

It was a very clear decision to run as an independent primarily because none of the parties fully reflect my views. I would prefer to do that directly in Parliament. I have been approached by parties before but I chose not to. 

I would be putting all my energies into changing the Party rather than the nation.

Secondly, parties are structures that are outdated and I would actually have more power from the outside rather than from within. Parties have good people in them, but they haven’t been able to shift those structures. Having independents in Parliament who reflect the will of the people, will help parties to change.

This is the contribution that the independents have been able to make outside the party system. Kerryn Phelps and her Medevac bill, Zali Steggall’s bill on climate change, and Helen Haine’s bill to establish the Australian Federal Integrity Commission.  All of these things are so fundamental to the health of our democracy but none of the parties have made moves on them. And yet each of these independent women is able to pull the parties along. Independents have a greater positive influence on our system and can improve the parties.



Q: Women aged over 50 find themselves becoming invisible or are encouraged to become invisible. And yet you are going in the other direction. Why?

My capacity has been enhanced rather than reduced by being a woman over 50.  

It is interesting to reflect on the capacity of women to enter political life.

All the public policy work that I did over the last 25 years I was able to do in a way to balance work and family. Academia and public commentary was consistent with an equal role with my husband in raising a family. It would have been a real strain on that capacity to have done it earlier. 

I’m now at an age when my kids are adults and are keen to be involved in my standing for Parliament so this will be a combined family and professional exercise. In my 50s I’m liberated to do it.

I want to change things in Parliament to enable younger people with younger children to be involved without being compromised. That includes thinking through opportunities that Covid19 has provided. With Zoom, parliamentarians are not necessarily having to come to Canberra for every sitting. Also, changes in parental leave so it is seen by more men as the norm for them to be involved with their partners. So the balance of work and family can be done in a way that enables both to contribute more in the political sphere if they want.

I would be advocating for policy transparency, so that there is gender responsive budgeting and broader policy frameworks that Governments can incorporate into their thinking.

Q: But actually for most women over 50 in Australia, opportunities are not enhanced. Older women have been forgotten by the Government. Ageism is more prevalent that racism or sexism in Australia. What do you plan on doing about women over 50 and what issues do you see as needing to be addressed? 

First of all, all strength to you in bringing attention to this issue. I think that it is really fundamental.

There is a range of issues about older people and the specific impact on older women compared to men that need to be looked at. If I am in Parliament I would be very attentive and responsive about policies that could be developed to focus on that.

It speaks to the lived experience that is needed in Parliament to better reflect the needs of the community. Parliament is not diverse enough.

So if I get into Parliament as a woman whose first entry into Parliament is as a women over 50, that will be a really positive role modelling for the nation. That we should not be ignored. 

Then there is the bias that people hold broadly that we need to make more transparent  and unpack. I think a lot of it is about calling out people’s often unconscious assumptions and then working with people against those assumptions. For example, job applications for women over 50.  Whether we can require private business sector and gender equality agencies to use gender blind and age blind CVs. I am certainly keen to support your work in this. These are things that I’m passionate about in terms of supporting equity in our society.



Q: Your ancestor, a Jewish convict by the name of Henry Cohen, came to Australia in 1833. And now 6 generations later you are Australia’s  foremost expert on citizenship and a Constitutional law authority. History is having a bit of a giggle. But also what does it say about Australian citizenship? 

It does show the potential for Jewish Australians to feel confident about wanting to even run as Parliamentarians. We have several at the moment, and Kerryn Phelps was there briefly. I think it’s exciting for the community generally that a descendant of a convict who throughout the family history has maintained our Jewish identity. It is really a testament to Australia  multiculturalism and the experience of settlement.

I say that conscious of the Indigenous Australian experience. Even though I wasn’t personally touched by the Holocaust, I know of the power of the state to exercise its brute force over communities, as Nazi Germany did against the Jewish community. The desire to assist indigenous Australians in terms of the Uluru Statement is motivated both by my strong sense of citizenship in Australia as a legal concept, and by their always having been formally members of the community but constitutionally seen as the other.


Q: You were saying that we are not ready of the 21st century and one of the most outstanding examples of that is climate change.

Having an independent voice in Parliament will help with the deadlock that the big parties are in.

Part of the reason we are in this terrible scenario is because our political system is not really open to engaging with policy rather than with the politics. But secondly, I want to model a commitment to good climate change action. I’m going to be running a carbon neutral campaign and I have some experts helping me how to do that.

We all have a role to play and I want to model that we all should be thinking about this. And then it’s really about the science showing us what we need to do. We can be buoyed by renewable energies and investing in renewable energies, but ultimately the specifics will depend on the advice I get from experts. But I am totally committed to coming up with policies to ensure that as a country we are doing what we can to respond to the really urgent scenario that we are in and working towards a future where our children can survive and can develop in a healthy environment



Q: What’s your vision of where we should be and what we should be doing?

That vision links in that 21st Century vision of a nation reconciled with its Indigenous population, that affirms and enhances its multicultural identity, that is secure in its own independence as a republic, and that is an inclusive society that errs on the side of inclusion over exclusion, that is enabling of all its citizenry and all its residents, that they have a place and that they can all contribute as active citizens.

Michelle Garnaut – My Top 5 Places in Australia

For centuries, empires, governments and global companies have vied with each other in displays of wealth, grandeur and power along the Bund in Shanghai. For close to a quarter of a century, one Australian woman has maintained her position on the Bund with no power other than the power of her reputation.

Michelle Garnaut AO, the CEO of the M Restaurant Group, has established restaurants and lounges that have pioneered independent fine dining in both China and Hong Kong.

M on the Bund, the restaurant she opened in 1999, has won numerous awards and was named one of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World by Conde Nast Traveler. Michelle herself has garnered Australian and international recognition. This year, she was awarded an AO for distinguished service to Australia-China relations as a restauranteur and entrepreneur, and for her support of literary and cultural programs.

In 2009 Michelle opened Capital M in Beijing with its breathtaking terrace overlooking Tiananmen Square. And in 2016 she added Glam, a dining lounge and bar in Shanghai.

Her clientele includes royalty, government and business leaders, diplomats, celebrities and the media.

As an entrepreneur, Michelle has had the daring, skill and tenacity to successfully establish and sustain several enterprises in China – a feat that has defeated many foreign companies seeking to do business in China.


View from the terrace M on the Bund

M on the Bund

When Michelle began looking for a place in Shanghai to open her first restaurant in China, the Bund in the 1990s was not the glamorous, glitzy and spectacular strip it is today.

“The Bund was shabby then. Everyone told me to open in the French Concession, the more fashionable area of Shanghai where all the 5-star restaurants and bars were,”  remembers Michelle.

Nevertheless, she went against conventional wisdom and made what looked like a crazy investment in taking a 15-year lease on the 7th floor of a 1930’s Art Deco building on the Bund, overlooking the Huangpu river. This view would later be described by her diners as “ the most amazing skyline in the world.”

M on the Bund was Shanghai’s first independent, international standard restaurant, and it was an immediate hit. Michelle created her own niche with her distinctive combination of ambience, decor, and contemporary cuisine, including some Australian favourites such as M’s Very Famous Pavlova.

“We were in the right place at the right time with the right thing.”

Glam M Restaurants

Starting Out

Michelle Garnaut became a chef and restauranteur almost by accident. She had grown up in Melbourne, gone to Elwood High School, dropped out of Uni and headed off to Greece, because it was the cheapest ticket she could afford. She went by herself “ because I had no-one to go with.” After a year there she returned to Melbourne.

While flipping through a William Angliss Institute handbook, trying to find something to do, she spotted a course for a diploma in catering, cooking and hospitality. She and her 80-year old aunt, whom she describes as her role model, decided to do the course together. Surprisingly, she discovered “ I actually really liked cooking. And they said “you’ve got talent.”

But after completing the course it  was very hard to break into the profession in Australia. Women were not allowed to work in kitchens in many hotels and restaurants at that time. “Women had to fight much more back then. Today women feel they have the right and that is progress,” says Michelle.

Michelle Garnaut with staff of M on the Bund


Hong Kong

In 1984 she flew to Hong Kong. When she arrived she had no connections, she did not speak Chinese, and she was a woman  in a field overwhelmingly dominated by men. Yet by 1989, after working as a dishwasher, waitress, chef and caterer, she borrowed money and opened her first restaurant – M on the Fringe.

Here too she took a risk and went against conventional wisdom.

“When we opened in 1989 we had a new concept- a new style of restaurant. We opened in a nightclub area instead of the usual fuddy-duddy hotel area, and it was very successful “ says Michelle.

“When I opened the restaurant in Hong Kong I decided I didn’t want to be the chef. I could either be managing the business and dealing with customers or running the kitchen. I couldn’t do both. I did cook in the beginning because we were short-staffed. But I needed to be in charge,” she said.

Michelle developed her signature style of good food, chic and comfort in M on the Fringe and it remained one of Hong Kong’s best loved restaurants for 20 years, closing in 2009. Capital M in Beijing which had become a favourite destination, had to close this year, unable to cope with the restrictions placed on its location overlooking Tiananmen Square. It will be moving to another location in the capital.

Cultural & Artistic Hubs

Chamber Music at M Glam June 2017

Alongside running the M Restaurant Group, Michelle has vigorously supported the arts, the community and the empowerment of women.

Michelle opened up the M venues to function as cultural and artistic hubs.

She initiated the Shanghai International Literary Arts Festival, now in its 16th year. Over 1,000 of the world’s leading writers and thinkers have held talks and salons in her venues in Shanghai and Beijing. M on the Bund will host the 2018 Shanghai International Literary Arts Festival in March. The Festival will include Stella Prize winners and other leading Australian authors including Alexis Wright, Charlotte Wood, Fiona Wright and Richard Flanagan.

Michelle also sponsors the M Literary Residency Program that has provided residency in China and India for writers.

The M venues also host the Shanghai Chamber Music Festival and Competition that gives music students an invaluable opportunity to perform before discerning audiences, and provides a platform for chamber music in the city.

Village People Project

Far from Shanghai, along the old Silk Road in the arid, remote villages of Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, is where Michelle has set up projects with the local communities.

“Living and working in China I wanted to do something that was not just restaurants. There is enormous rural poverty and I wanted to work with women and children there. The lack of access to bathing facilities in poor rural areas leads to great physical and mental problems,“ says Michelle.

Michelle was a founder of the Village People Project, dedicated to building solar-powered bathhouses that are then run as businesses by local families. Four bathhouses have been opened.

Now the Village People Project is working to install bathrooms with solar-powered water heaters in the homes of more than 2,000 families in Qinghai Province.

“We want to provide solar panels to everyone in the village and help individuals to build their own household bathroom. It is a communal project with 3 out of the 5 committee members being women. It empowers the local women,” says Michelle.

Her commitment to empower women has also been behind her support of two other projects.

Mentor Walks

Michelle spearheaded  Mentor Walks in Shanghai and Beijing and they have now spread to Australia in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and even Wagga Wagga.

Once a month, women Mentors from a range of professions, take a walk with women starting out in business and the professions. Each Mentor, with 3-4 mentees in tow walks, chats and answers any questions they may have. Michelle was inspired to set up these walks because she heard from women that they remembered snippets of advice she had given them over the years.

“You get snippets that resonate with you and stay with you,” says Michelle. “I think it’s very important for all women to encourage and mentor the next generation. I laid the groundwork in my industry and I’m happy to share that with anyone who wants to learn from it.”

Participant in Educating Girls of Rural China program

Educating Girls In Rural China

Mentor Walks raises money for important project for girls and young women in China called Educating Girls of Rural China . Traditional attitudes valuing boys over girls still prevail in these areas and consequently, many families only educate the boys.

EGRC supports girls from impoverished rural regions in Western China to attend high school and get university education by providing financial sponsorship, personal support and mentorship.

To date, 842 girls from the poorest regions of China have been supported to attend high school and university with a 99% graduation rate.

Work & Happiness

“To be happy you must have 2 of 3 things — passion, prestige or payment,” advises Michelle.

“If you want to start a business, work is your life. You have to love your work and live your life in it.  All of that has made my life interesting,” says Michelle.

“You gotta keep doing things. Gotta keep making things happen. You have to be determined.”


Michelle’s Top 5 Places


Sydney N.S.W

Sydney Harbour

Sydney is so beautiful!  It’s the water and the hills. And the flora.

I was 19 when I first went. It’s wilder than Melbourne. Rocks with houses built on top, glimpses of beauty wherever you look. Always glimpses of the beautiful harbour.

I live in Hong Kong and that’s what I love – those flashes of beauty.


Mornington Peninsula Victoria

Mornington Peninsula –

I’ve lived in cities all my life. When I was growing up in Melbourne I had friends with a holiday house at Balnarring beach. It was half-wild but also half-tame there.

I find the parts of Australia that are half-wild, half-tame enormously appealing. There are parts where you’re coming through a dark forest and then it opens on to a view of the beach.

The Mornington Peninsula is so dramatically beautiful. And now there are the vineyards and the food there.


Jervis Bay N.S.W

Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay NSW –

I stayed with a friend who has a house in Hyams Beach. There are spectacular cliffs on the other side of Jervis bay with walking trails. I love walking, but not climbing mountains. We walked along the cliffs and came down to the beach, did yoga and then found coffee.

I haven’t lived in Oz for 40 years, so when I am back it’s a mad, frantic visit to the cities to catch up with people, with some visits to beautiful places like Hyams.


Melbourne Victoria

Melbourne skyline – David Zycher

Melbourne to me is a place of family, of memories. It is a complex place. It also has a darker side, compared to Sydney which is a lighter city.

I left Melbourne in 1978 because I felt closed in. I went back for a year ( to do the hospitality course) and then left again.

But Melbourne has changed since I went to Elwood High School.

It has changed as dramatically as China has.

It is staggeringly beautiful and has amazing culture. It has all the variety of a big city. Its true multi-culturalism is fantastic.

I like the cultural side, the theatre and the food. But Melbourne is snobby about food.


Train journey across the Nullarbor Plain from South Australia to Western Australia

Indian Pacific 2 crossing Nullarbor Plain –

In 2000, I took the train tip across the Nullarbor Plain by myself and it was incredible!

It took 2 nights and 3 days. I ended up in Perth.

There is a common myth of that the Nullarbor plain is flat and boring.

Yes, it’s flat, but fantastic and fascinating. There is this vastness.

You don’t  get bored – yes, it’s the same scrub land, but you don’t get bored.

Before the train trip, I drove from Adelaide to Ceduna in South Australia which is the last town on the border before the Nullarbor Plain. I had a good friend there who was doing an enormous cooking performance as part of the Adelaide Festival. I helped out.

We were doing oysters on the beach and feeding 1500 people.

You can fly into Ceduna to get to Streaky Bay where you can eat Streaky Bay oysters – absolutely fantastic!




Rosie Batty AO – My Top 5 Places in Australia

Rosie Batty made Australia listen.

Her son, Luke aged 11, was with his father playing cricket in the park when his father walked over to him and killed him. Speaking quietly from the depths of her horror, Rosie said “ No matter how nice your house is, how intelligent you are, it can happen to anyone – and everyone.”

In expressing her personal grief, Rosie compelled us to see that family violence was our business. She made us see that the plight of thousands of women and children could one day be our plight, or that of someone close to us.

The numbers are indeed frightening: in Australia, two women are killed every week on average; almost 1,000 cases of child abuse are reported every day; one woman is hospitalised every 3 hours; and one in 3 women have experience physical and/or sexual violence.

Rosie has described family violence as an “epidemic”.

On what would have been his 13th birthday on 20 June, 2015, Rosie established the Luke Batty Never Alone Foundation to raise awareness, improve crisis services and advocate on behalf of the victims.

Since then she has been a tireless advocate for women in situations of domestic violence.

She was awarded an AO in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in recognition for her leadership role on this issue.

Rosie joined the Aboriginal Alice Springs Town Camp in their Women’s March Against Domestic Violence.  “I’m very keen to support this group of women who are working in their community and ensuring the voices of Aboriginal women are heard.”

Rosie has spearheaded a public campaign and presented the Prime Minister, lawmakers, the police and judiciary with tens of thousands of signatures urging fundamental change in the way the system responds to family violence.

“The conversations around family violence are definitely occurring now, compared with previous generations. Those women had no-one to talk to or lean on. The attitude was ‘ you made your bed, now lie in it’. There is still much misunderstanding and victim blaming, but I am being told by women that they have more confidence to come forward,” said Rosie. “It will take time but I see it as the kind of generational change we need.”

Rosie worked closely with Fiona Richardson the first Victorian Minister for Family Violence Prevention, on the Royal Commission into Family Violence which delivered its report on March 2016. Ms. Richardson died recently and Rosie paid tribute to her as both a mentor and a friend.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now without her love and belief in me. And I wouldn’t have been able to do what I have been able to do without the practical support she made available to me in so many ways.”

Rosie & Luke Batty

In 2015, Rosie Batty was recognised as Australian of the Year.

“If I can be seen as a leader of women, even if I don’t feel it myself, as someone who can create change in their mid-50s, it’s what I want to do,” says Rosie.

In July this year, she delivered a statement to a parliamentary inquiry into family law and family violence. Her statement, which received 11,000 signatures in 7 days, decried the federal family law system for endangering children in particular.

“The family law system is another avenue for the abuse to continue,” insists Rosie. She condemns the practice of the courts to grant abusive parents access to the children. “The children are absolutely forced to have access visits and forced to continue relationships. Their mothers have to drag them to the car where they self harm and are suicidal. And the mother is threatened that if she doesn’t allow it she will lose (custody of) the child.…So she has to give them up and hope that each weekend they come home safe and are not killed like my son was.” [See the full video below of Rosie Batty’s appearance before the parliamentary inquiry].

Rosie came to Australia from England 30 years ago, not expecting to stay. She was shy and alone and she wanted to challenge herself through travel. One of her earliest memories is of being 16 and not wanting to get to 80 with regret for not doing things and “not pushing myself out of my comfort zone”.

Her grandmother, an incredibly strong woman who lived to 100, was her role model.

Rosie stayed in Australia after Luke’s death because “Australia has been supportive and kind to me.”

She is determined not to just sit and exist. Her mindset is to “live life to the fullest. There is still that sense of adventure and the unexpected ahead of me and I will keep doing that as long as I can.”

See Rosie’s choices of her favourite destinations in Australia.

Rosie’s Top 5 Places


Cape Tribulation, Queensland

Cape Tribulation Queensland

I was 24 years old when I first arrived in Australia from England. I back-packed up the east coast. When I got to Cape Tribulation, I worked as a cleaner in a hostel. Coming from England I couldn’t believe how remote and isolated it was. Really remote. It’s where unique, ancient rainforest meets reef. It’s difficult to find somewhere else in the world as stunningly beautiful as it is.

There were crocodiles and jellyfish, and you couldn’t put a toe in the water.

There were no sealed roads then, and 4-wheel drives and the ferry were the only way in or out. You didn’t have the comforts you take for granted, no electricity, just a generator.

It was incredibly humid. But if you go July – September it is the most beautiful weather – very comfortable, not humid. Even though the roads are sealed now, it is still remote.

I like lots of different types of holidays – the hustle and bustle of cities but also to be far away in nature, remote, tuned out, embracing the beauty.

Australia is incomparable in beauty and still so remote.

Larapinta Trail, Northern Territory

Larapinta Trail trek with Rosie Batty

In August, I led a dozen supporters on a six-day fundraising walk for the Luke Batty Never Alone Foundation, along Australia’s most iconic desert trek, the Larapinta Trail.  Already one of the 7 Great Walks of Australia, the Larapinta Trail recently joined the ranks of the top 10 walks in the entire world.

I think that the Australian Outback is quintessentially Australian in a way suburban and metro areas aren’t. It is amazing and beautiful. We live in a large continent and don’t take the time to explore and appreciate its beauty. It is so evident how old Australia is when you see the rocks. You get transported back in time.

I didn’t realise it until we started the Larapinta walk, but all the participants were all living with the impact of family violence – whether it was a family member, a friend, or their own personal experience. It was a deeply moving realisation. We felt confident to share our experiences and it was comforting.

The purpose of the walk was both to raise money for the Foundation and to give these people an opportunity to do something physically challenging, and something for themselves – to take time out to sit under the stars. I have done several treks, others on the walk hadn’t and it was very challenging.

The Larapinta walk came close to raising $30,000 for the Luke Batty Foundation and that’s a significant achievement.

Broome, West Australia

Cape Leveque Western Australia

Broome is a long way away, but you’re not doing it tough when you get there.

The restaurants and resorts are stunning, and I had some of the best meals I have ever tasted. You can sit having a drink while watching the sunset and the camels coming back along the beach. While there, I was shown footprints of dinosaurs.

Looking down from plane on the way to Cape Leveque  you see a vast expanse of untamed beaches. You see crocodiles, but you see no-one, just a beautiful uninhabited place, remote and untouched. You have to understand the terrain, it’s risks and dangers.

Compared to England which is small with nothing dangerous, and where you are always surrounded by people, in Australia everything is big and dangerous. You have a pioneering feeling, a feeling of adventure.

I love that in Australia we can go to so many vast places and have limited contact with people, where you are not queuing up, not milling around and surrounded.


Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria

Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria

My greatest memory was of spending a week there with my brother.

We camped and went on long walks every day, stunning walks. I love walking. We saw everything, stingrays, koalas, wombats, kangaroos.

If you go at dusk you are guaranteed to see as many kangaroos as you ever could see. And stunning beaches – it’s just such a beautiful place, one of those gems. And not too far from Melbourne.


Sydney, NSW

Sydney is a fabulous city – so vibrant and beautiful. On a sunny day, with blue skies and views of Sydney harbour and Opera House, it is hard to find a better or more stunning city. I have climbed the bridge 3 times. I always take relatives and visitors from overseas to Sydney. It’s just vibrant and busy – lots of lovely restaurants with harbour views. I love the Rocks, the setting is lovely.

Sydney Opera House and Harbour



Rosie Batty’s statement to a parliamentary inquiry into family law and family violence – July 24th 2017




Maureen Wheeler – My Top 5 Places In Australia

Maureen Wheeler AO is a pioneer of landmark enterprises in both travel and in the cultural life of Melbourne.

She was the co-founder, with her husband Tony, of Lonely Planet books – guides as indispensable to travellers as their backpacks and suitcases. Lonely Planet volumes, translated into many languages, significantly contributed to the popularisation of travel worldwide.

Maureen was also the co-founder of the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. This centre for books, writing and ideas played a critical role in Melbourne achieving its status as a UNESCO designated City of Literature in 2008. And in less than a decade since it was established, the Wheeler Centre has become one of the most dynamic features of this city.

“We wanted to create something that didn’t exist before. We came up with the idea of lectures, talks, big events, most of it free,” says Maureen. Their endowment makes much of it free to the public. Acknowledging its staff Maureen says, “The Wheeler Centre really delivers for Melbourne. It’s like you filled a hole that you didn’t know existed.”

Lonely Planet 1975 South-East Asia on a Shoestring

Lonely Planet Publications began in the 1970s because Maureen and Tony, as a young couple, loved to travel but could not afford it. In working out ingenious ways of seeing the world on a shoestring, they built a publishing empire. Lonely Planet reached its apogee 40 years later when it had become the world’s largest independent guidebook publisher and was sold in 2011 to the BBC for $224 million.

Maureen, who was originally from Belfast, Ireland, says that when Lonely Planet started “it was like a hobby. We would travel and do a book, sell it, then travel and do another book. It was just Tony and I for the first 9 years. We worked out of our house. We did everything. So we learnt on the job. How to put a book together, how to sell it, invoice it, how to pack it and how to take it down to the docks and put it on the ships. I used to drive around town in a station wagon dropping off books in bookstores.”


The Wheelers travelled with their children Tashi and Kieran when they were small, but once they started school, Tony continued to travel while Maureen stayed with them and managed the business.  “By the time I realised I was a businesswoman, I had been one for a very long time. It’s a big learning process. It isn’t always that you get it right. You make mistakes. You work it out somehow.”

Lonely Planet grew very slowly in the 80s and that is when it went from being a hobby to being a business. “But it took another 10 years. In 1984 we had about 12 people. We moved to the United States and set up an office there which was an incredibly bold things to do because various Australian publishers had tried to make it in America but had failed. No one believed that a company with 12 people would succeed. And it was hard for a couple of years.” Then an office was opened in France and partnerships were developed around the world in different languages. By the 1990s, they had more than 700 staff around the world.

With the growing success of Lonely Planet, Maureen and Tony set up the Lonely Planet Foundation in 1987 to give 10% of their profits to NGOs in famine relief, maternal and child welfare, micro-financing for women’s groups, education, clean water and hospitals. Maureen ran the Foundation for 20 years until they sold Lonely Planet books. Then the Foundation became the Planet Wheeler Foundation. Her daughter Tashi has taken over day-to-day involvement with the projects, but Maureen still gets monthly reports and is involved in decision-making on which projects to fund.

Maureen is now in her second year as Chair of the Melbourne Festival. Planning the Festival presents a challenge because Melbourne has so many cultural events. “The idea is not to compete, but to bring things to Melbourne that are amazing, incredibly exciting and that people wouldn’t get to see otherwise. So it’s about finding those events that people will go ‘Wow’ and talk about years later,” she says.

The Melbourne Theatre Company, the Malthouse Theatre, and opera also occupy a lot of her time. And in addition, she and Tony continue to be involved in publishing as partners in award-winning Text Publishing, a Melbourne-based independent publisher.

In 2014, Maureen and Tony Wheeler were awarded the Order of Australia.


Maureen’s Top Places

When I think about what’s really special about Australia, I think of these three regions:

The Kimberley

Kimberely Coastal Camp

I love the Kimberley region. It’s not a particular place in the Kimberley region. I love that area, I think it’s beyond beautiful.

There’s a place up there, the Kimberley Coastal Camp which I love. The Kimberley region is quite large and you’re either driving, camping or flying, and staying in really lovely places. Not a lot of places to stay. I do like Broome. Broome’s rather an interesting town. The Kimberley area is so stunningly beautiful. The colour is amazing. There is amazing rock art. I feel stunned by the beauty.

Dinosaur Footprints Broome WA –


The Northern Territory

I like the Northern Territory. I was on the (NT Tourism) Board up there for a couple of years and I got to travel around quite a lot, and there are some amazing things to see there. There’s a place out of Katherine,  canyons, and you can’t get there except by helicopter, and it has the most amazing rock art. It’s a fascinating area.

Aboriginal rock art sites in Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory – Tony Wheeler


Turtles & Fish Aboriginal rock art sites in Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory – Tony Wheeler

The Northern Territory is a really interesting place. I’ve seen Darwin change over the years. It’s not an Australian town, it’s a Pacific town. It reminds me of all the towns on the Pacific islands, it’s got that feel to it. It doesn’t feel as if it belongs to the rest of Australia. It’s quite diverse. It’s been interesting over the years to see the diversity of the population increase. When I first went up there were nearly all white people and now there are a lot of Chinese and Indians, backpackers going through from everywhere. So Darwin is an interesting city and what interested me was that it was the wild frontier for quite a while.

The Northern Territory has the most stunning colour. It’s very vivid, very red. The Kimberley is more blues and greys and greens. And the Northern Territory is very stark, very red, very blue skies and so much emptiness. You feel that it’s empty. And of course it extends down to Alice Springs and Uluru and up towards Katherine. Kakadu in the wet season is just wonderful, it’s beautiful. So again its scenery, the landscape is fantastic.

Beswick Falls, Katherine, NT –



I love Tasmania. I first went to Tasmania back in the 70s, and we drove around. I was also on the Tasmanian (Tourist) Board for six years in the 90s. I went down seven times a year, and I got to see an awful lot of Tasmania. And then I kept going back. I love Tasmania, I think it’s fabulous. I even love flying in. It reminds me a bit of Ireland. I love travelling around Tasmania. It’s so beautiful and there is so much to see, and now that they’ve got MONA in Hobart, that’s even better. I love Stanley, a beautiful little village on the north-west. I’ve been there quite a few times.

Stanley Tasmania –


I like the walks – I’ve done the Bay of Fires, and I’ve done the Overland Trek, and I’ve done the Maria Island Trek, and I’ve done the Freycinet Trek. And the area around Coles Bay is absolutely gorgeous. And I love Hobart, I think it’s a great little town. Out of Hobart you’ve got places like Richmond, it’s just very pretty. And I love Bruny Island, That’s a great place to really get away.  Tasmania has changed over the years but it hasn’t changed so much, and places like Hobart have changed for the better. I think it’s fabulous, just a great little island with everything. It’s pretty, nice little villages, wonderful walks, a very interesting town Hobart and the history too.

Richmond Tasmania –



Melbourne is great. Sydney is very lovely, but Melbourne is probably much more dynamic than Sydney in terms of what’s offered culturally.

Melbourne skyline – David Zycher


Tips for Travellers:

Take very little luggage and a large credit card.




Maestro Simone Young – My Top 5 Places in Australia

Maestro Simone Young AM was appointed Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in July 2022. She is considered one of the world’s great opera and concert orchestra conductors. She has been called a ‘superconductor’, a conductor whose elegance and power, strength and sensitivity on the podium inspire her orchestra. She is a highly esteemed interpreter of the works of Wagner and Strauss, Mahler, Bruckner and Brahms, as well as those of contemporary composers.

It is easy to recall images of famous conductors, many of them legendary figures idolised by the public. But there were few women conductors in this array. When Simone Young took her place at the podium on the international stage “she forged a path where there was no path,” says Alondra de la Parra, one of a handful of rising women conductors.

Born in Sydney to what Simone Young describes as a non-musical family, the girl who “grew up on the beach in Manly ” was invited to conduct the most prestigious orchestras in the world and became an internationally acclaimed conductor.

Maestro Young’s accomplishments are extraordinary regardless of gender.

She studied composition at the Sydney Conservatorium at a time when she was the only woman in that faculty and made her conducting debut at the Sydney Opera House at the age of 24. By 25, she was conducting assistant to James Conlon at the Cologne Opera House and then became an assistant to Daniel Barenboim at the Berlin Opera and the Bayreuth Festival. Since then, she has conducted at all the world’s leading opera houses, including at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, and the Opera National de Paris.

She was the first woman to conduct Wagner’s full Ring cycle. Her first full Ring was in Vienna in 1999, followed some years later by her own Ring cycle in Hamburg.

She was Artistic Director and Music Director of the Australian Opera from 2001 to 2003.

Maestro Simone Young - photo Klaus Lefebvre

Maestro Simone Young – photo Klaus Lefebvre

On the concert stage, Simone Young has conducted the world’s leading orchestras including the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Philharmonic.

Last year, Maestro Young completed a 10-year engagement at the helm of one of Germany’s pre-eminent cultural institutions where Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Klemperer had conducted. She held the dual appointment Artistic and Music Director of both the Hamburg State Opera and the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra where she was responsible for 500 performances conducted in the Opera house, 50 new productions, and more than 30 different operas performed each year. She oversaw a workforce of 700 people, including an orchestra of 128 musicians, a 70-voice chorus, and an ensemble of 20 full-time singers plus guest artists. She was one of the longest serving directors of the 333 year-old organisation in the past century.

For Maestro Young, the issue of gender, of being a woman in the traditionally male preserve of conducting, was not decisive. It was only one of many challenges that face the “musician whose instrument is the entire orchestra.”

She believes that artistry, not gender is the key.  A conductor as an artist must be both strong and sensitive, and neither attribute should be assigned a gender. She prefers to see it as a union between the left and right sides of the brain.

“Gender, nationality, upbringing, sexual orientation, shoe size, are all completely immaterial – it’s all about music-making.”

“I don’t think my professional qualifications and achievements are in any way revalued because of my gender.

Maestro Young has built her career by focusing always on the music and not on the obstacles. “ If your assumption is that this is going to be so much harder for me, then it will be harder for you,” she said. “ If your assumption is that this is a great piece of music, and what a privilege it is now to be able to conduct this, you and the people you’re working with will have a good time.”

And she credits growing up in Australia with giving her the freedom to avoid the more stultifying aspects of European music culture – and for a spirit that dares to overcome conventional stereotypes.

Maestro Simone Young

Maestro Simone Young

Simone Young’s  husband, Greg Condon, a teacher and literary expert and her two daughters moved with her as she took up conducting engagements with different orchestras throughout Europe. She credits the full support of her husband and children for enabling her to manage an overwhelming schedule.

She is the recipient of many awards and honours since she won the Young Australian of the Year Award in 1986. These include a Member of the Order (AM), honorary doctorates from the University of New South Wales, Griffith University Queensland and Monash University Victoria, the French Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, and the German Goethe Medal.


Simone’s Top 5 Places:


Anyone who knows me well, knows that I can’t stay away from water. I am drawn to the ocean, to rivers, to lakes in a way that can only be explained by a childhood in Manly. Picnics at Clontarf, walks along the Esplanade, paddling in the Queenscliff lagoon across from my grandparents’ home, secretly munching on fish cocktails (little pieces of battered fish for non-Sydney-siders) while waiting for piano lessons, and catching the ferry home from meeting my Dad in the city after school and lessons at the Conservatorium – this was my childhood, and how lucky and blessed I now know that it was!

I recently came to the shocking realisation that I have now lived more of my life in Europe than in Australia. I think such a moment is a turning point for us expats; I have yet to meet an Australian overseas who doesn’t want to go home “some time in the future”, but after more than half a lifetime away, I have now officially joined the ranks of the gypsies who have lives and families in two countries (or more) and who will never feel really whole in either one again. I fly to Oz as often as I can – a colleague recently suggested I just ask the orchestras I work with to transfer my fees to Qantas directly rather than to my bank account! – and when I do, there are always some must-see places that I try to visit, to find that sought-after feeling of “home”.


Manly beach, Sydney -

Manly beach, Sydney –

Manly Beach

I just love it. It’s sometimes down-at-heel, looks unloved in the rain, can be a bit dodgy late on a Saturday night, but when the sun’s out and there’s a light breeze over the beach, it is truly wonderful!

I recently arrived on a flight from Europe at a ridiculously early hour (all the passengers had that charming grey-tinge to their skin-colour that only 24hours on a plane can achieve!) and rather than wake up my elderly mother, I asked the driver to take me to Manly Beach. It was even too early for the café that caters to the early-morning swimmers, but just watching the sun slowly rise over the horizon, I found that my breathing relaxed, the stress and fatigue fell away and a meditative calm came over me. Soon the café was open, with obviously a faithful clientele of slightly shivering and surprisingly older surfers, who slung L.A-Story–style coffee orders around (just what exactly is a double skinny piccolo?), the day swung into life. The joggers gave way to business folk, running just that little bit late for the ferry and to school kids, jostling and comparing the latest instagrams, and I promised myself to return the next day to do the magical walk from South Steyne around to Fairy Bower. If you do it, don’t forget to look for the tiny metal figures of the local wildlife set into the rocks. Or better still, get your snorkelling gear on and go and look at some yourself! And after that exercise, fish and chips sitting on the beach wall, dangling your legs over the side, is the only way to go – but watch out for those seagulls, they’ll steal the chips out of your fingers!


Ningaloo Reef Western Australia

Ningaloo Reef Western Australia – womangoingplaces

Ningaloo Reef  Western Australia

The beach theme continues, but this time in a very different environment. It had been a tough season, encompassing many performances, almost as many farewell dinners (I was leaving Hamburg after 10 years running the opera and the philharmonic there) and then a massive move of the household from north Germany to the UK. If a teacher’s weakness is books (and my husband Greg was a teacher for more than 30 years) a musician’s is scores and CDs (and of course some old vinyl that I just couldn’t get rid of!) – oh, and a grand piano, a harp, violins in various sizes, a couple of flutes, guitars, etc – and then the rest of the household. I was in great need of some serious R & R before the annual tour of the Australian orchestras began, less than two weeks after the big move.

Where could I find beach, sun, some solitary, reflective time and a proximity to nature? I’ve had many wonderful holidays on the east coast of Australia, from the Whitsundays up to Port Douglas, and just about everywhere in between, but now it was the far less-known and wilder West Australian coast that caught my attention. I flew into Exmouth, smiling broadly at the tiny airport, climbed into my rental car, called ahead to my eco-camp/hotel and set off. Very soon I was in the only car I could see, the houses gave way to scrub and the welcome and familiar dry landscape opened out. Once in the national park, (entrance paid into an “honesty box” – another smile!) the only pedestrians were the odd kangaroo or pair of emus, until I arrived at my destination. Bags dropped, I was in the water in a matter of minutes, and already marvelling at the coral and marine life.

Whale Shark Ningaloo - australiancoralcoast

Whale Shark Ningaloo – australiancoralcoast

And yes, I swam with a whale-shark – an extraordinary experience that I will never forget. Swimming (quite vigorously – you’re on the open sea) next to one of these gentle giants of the sea is exhilarating and humbling.

I love the Great Barrier Reef, but Ningaloo is rather a hidden gem!





Bundanoon, Southern Highlands, NSW

Bundanoon, Southern Highlands, NSW –

Bundanoon New South Wales

Ok, I must move away from the beach for a bit. In the early days of my marriage, when we were living in Sydney and a holiday meant throwing everything you might need in the car and just setting off west, we visited some wonderful places. Most of them have long been on my list to revisit, but I have rarely been able to do so. One place that I would love to see again, and is so close to Sydney as to be almost a day trip, is lovely Bundanoon.  Next time, I’ll do it in style, staying in one of the charming hotels with big open fires and gloriously indulgent menus. Last time, we did it as you do when young – we stayed at the YMCA and explored the National Park on a bicycle built for two. Very romantic.

The whole area of the Southern Highlands has a great deal to offer  – and the drive from Bowral to Kangaroo Valley is one of the loveliest I know – just look out for the speed cameras……


West region of NSW - David Gordon

West region of NSW – David Gordon

The West (of NSW, that is!)

My Dad was a teacher in his early years, and his first postings were to one-teacher schools in small towns in the West of NSW. As kids, we often piled into the old 1964 Ford and we would all set off towards “the West”. There was almost always a breakdown on the road up the Blue Mountains, and we had a number of near-misses on winding and steep dirt roads, but a love of the “dry country”, the gums and the wild flowers, was instilled in me for life. With the luxury of the beaches on our home doorstep near Manly, the wide horizons and constantly changing colours of the countryside beyond the tablelands was another kind of exoticism….. and the birdsong at dawn charmed my ears and engaged my developing musical mind.

Like a lot of girls of my generation, I married a man who greatly resembled my Dad – Greg was born in “the Bush”, moved to the Big Smoke at 8, and like my Dad, struck out for the dusty west at every opportunity. He prided himself at one point of having driven over every mapped road in the state – and I’ll swear we drove over plenty that weren’t mapped.



But it is the wildflower season, and the wattle in particular, that always grabbed us and made us come back again and again. There’s a stretch of dirt road (well, it was in 1982!!) between Yeoval and Cumnock where the wattles were astonishing. But if you don’t want to be laughed at by the locals, check the pronunciation of the local town names – Greg’s family still gives me a hard time about Ardlethan – which I mangled, not to mention the trouble you can get into with Tibbooburra……


Lavender Bay Ferry Wharf -

Lavender Bay Ferry Wharf –

Sydney NSW

Back to the water and back to Sydney – and to one of my favourite spots – McMahons Point. A place to be avoided at NYE or at any time when there’s an event on the harbour – but at all other times one of the best spots for looking at the magnificent view that is the Bridge and the Opera House.  I will often take a detour, when heading north over the Bridge from the City and just stop for a few minutes in the parking bay at the point, to take in that majestic sight. My daughters list it as one of their favourite places for munching on a steak sandwich, drinking a milkshake and watching the life on the Harbour. And if there’s no pressing appointment waiting, then a little meander around the tiny streets in the area, marvelling at the charming, historic houses that stand so close together here, does the soul good!  Or park somewhere and go for a walk down to the ferry wharf at Lavender Bay and picnic on the grass or on the wharf itself. Very busy during the day, it’s magic in the early evening, when the air is soft and the bells in the moored boats there in the Bay ring slowly as the tide moves them gently. Ah, I’m feeling homesick already……


Travel tips:

*  I always travel with my noise-reducing headphones – listening to classical music without them on a plane is almost impossible. I’m not a very social animal on long flights – my headphones, a couple of Sudoku puzzles or a cryptic crossword and a good book, and I’m set for the trip.

*  I invariably get to the airport way too early – but I’d rather work a bit airside than stress about getting through the ever-growing queues at security….

*  Everything I need for my first day’s work is in my hand-luggage – thank goodness they don’t usually weigh it! Added to a few toiletries and the obligatory spare undies are my laptop and a couple of orchestral scores and a long, narrow case with batons in it – which often leads to some amusing conversations at the security check-points….

*  I try to smile every time a passport officer reads “conductor” on my visa/entry card and says “Ha ha, on the buses, love?”. After nearly 30 years, it’s hard to make it look as though I’m hearing that joke for the first time…………..


For more information about Maestro Young and upcoming performances see




Olivia Newton-John – My Top 5 Places in Australia

We mourn the passing of Olivia. She was a personal friend. She was a great Australian.

Her talent made her an international star. Her character and humanity transformed her personal suffering into pioneering work to ease the suffering and improve the health of thousands of women with breast cancer.

Australians have a special and enduring affection for Olivia not only for her talent, but also for her courage, commitment and generosity.

Her extraordinary career as a singer, songwriter and actor spanned several decades. She sold 100 million records, topped the record charts multiple times, garnered four Grammy awards and starred in one of the most successful musical films of all time – Grease.

Alongside her career, Olivia  championed environmental issues and animal rights, raised funds for humanitarian causes, and actively promoted health awareness. Since her diagnosis for breast cancer in 1992, she played a prominent role in encouraging women in the early detection of breast cancer.

In Australia, she partnered with Austin Health and successfully raised millions of dollars to build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne which opened in June 2012. As part of her fundraising, she led a team of fellow cancer survivors, celebrities and Olympians on a three-week, 228 km. walk along the Great Wall of China. The Centre provides a comprehensive range of services and facilities for cancer treatment, education, training and research including a wellness center for the mind, body and spirit.

This holistic approach was also behind the multi award-winning Gaia Retreat and Spa in Byron Bay in New South Wales which she co-owned.

Olivia was inducted into the prestigious Australian Music Hall Of Fame. And in 2010, she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia from Governor General Quentin Bryce.

Below is Olivia’s response when we asked her to name her top 5 favourite places in Australia.


To read more about Olivia go to her website:

For more information on the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre go to:

For information on the Gaia Retreat and Spa go to:


Olivia’s Top 5 Places:

Asking me to name my top 5 favorite places to visit in Australia is difficult as I love so many!

Gaia Retreat & Spa New South Wales

Gaia Retreat & Spa
New South Wales

Gaia Retreat & Spa

I have to say my number one favorite is Gaia Retreat and Spa – an amazing healing property in the hinterland of Byron Bay, of which I am a very proud co-owner. When I spend five or more days there with nurturing treatments, relaxation and great food, I feel completely restored. Five days there is equivalent to a month off! I am able to find my perfect balance and re-centre myself, especially during my busy touring schedules.


Mullock Heaps, Coober Pedy South Australia

Mullock Heaps, Coober Pedy
South Australia

Coober Pedy

Many years ago I did a TV special, filming all around Australia. One of the places that fascinated me and I really loved was Coober Pedy.  It is a unique and quirky place with many colourful characters, that are hard to forget.


Bondi to Bronte Walk Sydney

Bondi to Bronte Walk

Bondi to Bronte Walk

I absolutely love the Bondi to Bronte walk – it is simply stunning. I feel like a world away there. It has a great combination of beaches, parks and spectacular views which makes it one of my favorite walks along Australia’s coastline, another being Tallow Beach – Byron Bay.





My old home town Melbourne, still holds many fond memories for me especially as my mum lived there and most of my family still live there. I stay at the gorgeous Lyall Hotel, a warm cosy boutique hotel which is privately owned and offers grand hotel service and facilities on an intimate and personal scale.


Lizard Island Queensland

Lizard Island

Lizard Island

Last but not least is the tranquil Lizard Island in north Queensland right on the Great Barrier Reef.  It is one of my most cherished little Aussie islands, boasting powdery white beaches, and amazing snorkeling on beautiful fringe reefs. I can’t wait to take my husband John there, as it has all the elements he loves: stunning nature and Australia’s amazing botanicals, all surrounded by ocean.


Travel Tips:

* Moisturise and drink water often! Travel can dehydrate you inside and out – Gaia’s hydrating “Mist Refresh” from their certified organic skin care range “Retreatment” is a must!!

*I always have a warm scarf with me to keep my neck and chest warm and to cover my eyes in the plane for sleep.




Professor Marcia Langton AO – My Top 5 Places in Australia

Professor Marcia Langton AO a descendent of the fighting Yiman of Queensland, has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia for her distinguished service to tertiary education and her unwavering commitment to achieve justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Professor Langton is an anthropologist and geographer. She has held the Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne since 2000.  In 2016 she became Distinguished Professor and in 2017, Associate Provost at Melbourne University.

She is a speaker and writer who has produced a large body of knowledge in the areas of political and legal anthropology, Indigenous agreements with the mining industry, and Indigenous culture and art.

Marcia Langton shapes the public debate on Indigenous affairs by challenging entrenched views. She is a powerful activist who lobbies and works with governments and mining companies to change the economic and legal discrimination governing the lives of Aborigines.

There are approximately 600,000 Indigenous people in Australia and 50% of them are young. In public forums, Professor Langton warns of an “impending tragedy” when those quarter of a million young Indigenous Australians will need jobs. Most are not trained, literate or numerate. The rising number of youth suicides and incarcerations show that “ we have no time for cowardice or compromise.”

Marcia Langton 1982 - National Portrait Gallery -photo Juno Gemes

Marcia Langton 1982 – National Portrait Gallery -photo Juno Gemes

Professor Langton identifies the twin problems of poverty and economic exclusion as being at the heart of all the health and socio-economic disadvantage of the indigenous population.

She created a flurry in the media when she advocated the need for Indigenous Australians to compete in the meritocracy and in the economy in the same way white Australians do. Disadvantage needs to be addressed in a more rigorous way, she argues, with properly targeted programs that meet needs, “ without trapping Indigenous people in the welfare ghetto.”

Professor Langton has been forthright in her support of Indigenous agreements with mining companies as a vital way of creating economic opportunities. She authored a book called ‘The Quiet Revolution: Indigenous People and the Resources Boom’.

She recalls that in a meeting she attended with Rio Tinto in 2001, it was argued that the company could not employ Aboriginal men because they had problems with alcohol and the police. She told them to employ Aboriginal women. They did. In the last decade, mining companies and ancillary services have employed Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, men and women, in larger numbers than ever before in Australian history.

The Mabo case, the Native Title Act and engagement with the mining industry “ catapulted Aboriginal people engaged in the mining industry into the mainstream economy. I have worked at mine sites and witnessed this extraordinary change.” she says.

Professor Langton is one of the leaders in the campaign for Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous people. In October 1999 she was one of five Indigenous leaders who were granted an audience with the Queen in Buckingham Palace to discuss Recognition.

She also served with Noel Pearson on the  Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians set up by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The Panel made recommendations for Constitutional Recognition and the abolition of the race provisions.

“The most crucial matter to understand about the Constitution is that when it was drafted in the 19th Century, it specifically excluded the Aboriginal people on grounds of race and it is this exclusion that lies at the heart of the state authorised discrimination that continues to this day.”

She argues that “ the Constitutional tradition of treating Aborigines as a race must be replaced with the idea of First Peoples.”

Professor Langton wrote Marcia Langton’s Welcome to Country a Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia Welcome to Country in 2018.

MARCIA LANGTON’S WELCOME TO COUNTRY A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia


Marcia’s Top 5 Places:


MONA, Tasmania

I have been twice, once during construction and once after it opened. This is one of the best art galleries in the world. The architecture is stunning. I don’t want to say much because the Museum of Old and New Art, the private gallery owned by David Walsh, is such a surprise. No spoilers.


The Great Barrier Reef, Queensland
Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

The Great Barrier Reef is the most beautiful place in the world. However, the Reef is too big as a place – at over 2,000 kilometres long – to suggest as one place to visit: it is many. Unfortunately for travellers, it can be very expensive to see the most beautiful and biodiversity rich parts of the reef and the least expensive and accessible areas are impacted by too many visitors. That said, I have visited the reef at several places and the coral reef and its many life forms are always stunning and unforgettable. Green Island is easily accessible from Cairns, as are several other areas. I have also toured parts of the reef departing by boat or yacht from Townsville. I would love to visit Lizard Island.


The Daintree Rainforest, North Queensland
Daintree Rainforest, Queensland

Daintree Rainforest, Queensland

The rainforest covered mountains of north Queensland are heritage listed and there are many places to visit. The Daintree Rainforest is the most famous and because the rainforest meets the sea along this stretch of coastline, this area is magical. I have camped at Thornton’s Beach (many years ago) and, sitting on the beach, watched the ocean traffic in wonder. Pilot whales, dugong, schools of fish, and stingray passed by, while the beach itself is a peaceful and beautiful place to rest. The fire flies come out in the evening here, and the animals that create irridescent clouds float on the waves. A full moon night is the best time to sit on the beach here.


 Gariwerd, The Grampians, western Victoria
The Balconies, Grampians National Park, Victoria

The Balconies, Grampians National Park, Victoria

The ancient landforms in the Gariwerd Grampians National Park date from the Gondwana period and it shows. These mountains and valleys feel old. And they are old: hundreds of millions of years old. This is a unique place because of its geological history but it is rich in Aboriginal history and culture. I always go to the Brambuk Cultural Centre before heading off on a walk or a swim in a lake. The waterfalls are beautiful after rain. The forests and vegetation are endlessly fascinating and full of birdlife.


The Ian Potter Centre National Gallery of Victoria

The Ian Potter Centre
National Gallery of Victoria

The NGVA and NGVI on opposite sides of the Yarra River in Melbourne CBD are my favourite home town haunts. These art galleries have great collections and the staff are friendly and accommodating. The restaurant and cafes are delightful. Parking is easy at the Federation Square parking station, but it’s an uphill walk to Collins Street to look in the designer shops. Fortunately, Movida is across the road and I can stop there for a wine and tapas.








Kathy Lette – My Top 5 Places In Australia

Kathy Lette epitomizes smart and sassy. Her razor sharp wit and incisive observations as a writer and commentator delight her many readers and admirers.

As a writer, her talent has been not only to amuse, but also to use humour and her ribald take on life to deal with subjects that seriously affect the lives of women. Kathy is the author of 20 books, the latest of which is best-seller ‘HRT – Husband Replacement Therapy.’  Kathy uses humour as a weapon because “poetic justice is a form of justice that is available to women — you can always impale enemies on the end of your pen.”  For example, her  novel Courting Trouble uses humour to talk about sexual violence, in particular the outrageous treatment the court system metes out to rape victims in Britain (and elsewhere).

Her brilliant career began with co-authoring the cult classic novel Puberty Blues at the age of 17. Puberty Blues was subsequently made into a film and most recently, into a successful TV mini-series. She later worked as a newspaper columnist and television sitcom writer for Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles before writing international bestsellers including Foetal Attraction, Mad Cows, which was made into a film starring Joanna Lumley and Anna Friel, Nip ‘n’ Tuck, and How to Kill Your Husband and Other Handy Household Hints, from which an opera was adapted and premiered by the Victorian Opera, Australia. In The Boy Who Fell To Earth, a novel inspired by her son Julius, Kathy created a funny and moving account of bringing up a child with Asperger syndrome. Her books have been translated into 17 languages.

Kathy writes for the print media and also appears on television in both Britain and Australia.

As a feminist and champion of women’s issues, she is also an ambassador for Women and Children First, Plan International and the White Ribbon Alliance.

To learn more about her and for a full list of Kathy’s books go to her website or follow her on Twitter @kathylette.


Kathy’s Top 5 Places:

The joy of living in London is its proximity to everywhere else. What with book tours and travel pieces, I’ve been lucky enough to explore everywhere from Moscow to the Maldives. (Place-dropping, a new art form!) But of course, my favourite destination is a cosy little spot which goes by the name of “G”. But obviously I can’t give too many details about who takes me there and how often!

Kathy Lette & her sisters enjoying Gerringong

Kathy Lette & her sisters Jenny, Carolyn and Elizabeth enjoying Gerringong


South Coast of NSW

But my happiest holidays took place in my childhood , in my grandma’s beach side shack in Gerringong, a little town south of  Sydney. (Like many Australian place names, Gerringong is Aboriginal for “get lost white ratbags.”) Every school holiday my family would snake our way down the coast in our over-laden Chevy. Oh the joy we’d feel as we rounded the final bend and looked down at that sapphire blue lagoon and golden arc of sand, bookended by grassy headlands. My three sisters and I would explode from the car like champagne from a shaken bottle, squealing with delight as we raced for that beautiful beach.

As toddlers we lolled about in the lagoon, attempting to bridge the yawning chasm between us and buoyancy. Later, Dad taught us to body surf. The first time I followed my father into the swell the waves slapped my face repeatedly. I felt I was being interrogated by the Nazis. As a sheer cliff of green water reared up, (what my sisters and I called a “vomit comet”) I began to realize that “body surfing” is just a euphemism for “organ donor.” But my father simply picked me up and hurled me like a human javelin towards shore.  Before I had time to have a heart attack, I realised I was actually aloft on the crest. I kicked, arched, threw my arms in front, dug into the water and skittered down the face of the wave, whooping. It would have been a total triumph… if only my bikini bottoms hadn’t caught a different wave altogether.

At the end of each sun-drenched day, it was off to the fish and chip shop. We ate so many battered savs and pluto pups it’s a wonder Greenpeace didn’t mistake us for whales and push us back into the briny. With salt-encrusted eyebrows, we’d then play on the swings outside the pub while our parents had a leisurely pint.

Now that my sisters and I have children of our own, Gerringong is still our favourite destination. Every December for  26 years, I’ve uprooted my family and dragged them to the other side of the world, blinking like field mice as we emerge into the searing sunshine at Mascot. We then head straight down the coast. My English friends are only slightly more active than a pot plant. They get winded licking a stamp. But at Gerringong my sisters and I ride boogie boards all day, holding hand as we surf to shore like deranged Gidgets. We go rock-pooling and bush walking with the kids and eat mangos so succulent you have to be hosed down afterwards, then play charades all night. It’s hilarious, chaotic, sunburnt bliss and I wouldn’t miss it for the world


Bin along Bay, Tasmania

Binalong Bay, Tasmania


Tasmania is an ancient wilderness with unique and exotic wild life. (Errol Flynn was born here, after all.) The “Map of Tassie” is Oz slang for the female pudenda, because of its triangular shape. And if so, it’s totally unwaxed. Over 50% of Tassie is designated national park, meaning that there are  more animals than people.

Tasmania is the world’s best walking destination. There are over 1,200 miles of tracks in 18 national parks , through Jurassic Park-like forests and along pristine white beaches. Giant eucalyptus trees tower over platypuses playing in clear creeks where 10 foot tree ferns burst from a  bush teeming with pygmy possums, parakeets, quolls, wombats and wallabies.

Take the six hour hike around the Bay of Fires, named for the flint-sparked Aboriginal campfires spotted by the first Europeans to brave this isolated coastline. It’s an arduous walk, your kit on your back. As my attitude to exercise is “no pain, no pain”, I was sure I would lose the will to live by the first beach crescent (Come eco touring. Give morticians more employment!) But the Bay of Fires is so breathtakingly beautiful, I hardly noticed the distance. The wooded slopes and craggy cliffs, the lunar landscape of granite boulders, Jackson-Pollocked with orange, red and yellow lichens,  the rolling surf hissing onto your shoes, your only company the nonchalant kangaroos grazing amid the middens of oyster shells, discarded through thousands of years of Aboriginal feasts  – you begin to think Homo sapiens the endangered species.


Bowen, Whitsundays Photo courtesy of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Bowen, Whitsundays
Photo courtesy of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

The Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Passage

Queensland’s Whitsunday Passage was named by Captain James Cook as he nosed his ship the Endeavour through it’s azure waters and coral reefs on Whit Sunday 1770.

The 74 Whitsunday islands are a national park, teeming with rainbow lorikeets, cockatoos, kookaburras, kingfishers, blue tiger butterflies and rock wallabies. When you first arrive, you find yourself talking in exclamation marks. “Wow! Amazing! This whole empty silica sanded beach is really all mine?!!!!!!!!”

My only rules re sport are – nothing involving water, balls, feet leaving the earth, or sweat. My preferred activity is reading, in which there is not much potential for death. If God had meant us to swim in the ocean, he would have given us shark proof metal cages. I mean, there must be a reason fish never look truly relaxed…. Could it be because something much, much bigger is always trying to devour them? But you simply cannot come to the Great Barrier Reef and not go into the water.

Coral Gardens - photo courtesy of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Coral Gardens, Great Barrier Reef – photo courtesy of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

From the Whitsundays its only 15 minutes by boat to the Great Barrier Reef, the eighth wonder of the world. This 2,500 km coral ribbon, with its 600 atolls, islets and coral cays, 25 million years in the making and visible from outer space, is the largest living thing on the planet…besides Donald Trump’s ego. You enter a world that is hallucinogenic, kaleidoscopic, and completely enthralling, teeming as it is, with over 15,000 species of marine life.

And in the winter, it’s the perfect place to go whale watching. The sheltered Whitsunday waters are a favourite place for the humpbacks to give birth. Cruising about in a little boat, I was within patting distance of newly born calves frolicking with their barnacled parents in the briny. Heaven.


Kalgoorlie Super-Pit

Kalgoorlie Super-Pit

Kalgoorlie, West Australia

This mining town in WA is so hot the trees are positively whistling for dogs and the chooks lay hard-boiled eggs.  The “super pit” seems as vast and deep as the Grand Canyon. Gargantuan trucks, each wheel the size of a seaside bungalow,  labour, ant like, up and down the red earth slopes day in, day out. The seam of gold they mine is called “The Body” – conjuring up images  of a geological Elle McPherson, crawling with men. And, in a town with one female to every four blokes, it’s surely the women who are “sitting on a goldmine.”

But it’s full of characters and colourful stories. Make sure you visit the town’s most famous brothel,  “Langtrees” which runs family friendly “brothel tours” enabling tourists not to walk, but TIPTOE on the wild side. Although tough and rough, the town is surprisingly beautiful in many ways. The wide, expansive streets, built to accommodate a full bullock dray as it turned; the veranda-ed  pubs, fringed with iron lace….its Russell Drysdale, without the angst and poverty (apart from the dismal Aboriginal settlements, situated between two pits, the Super and the sewage.)  With the earth so red and sky so blue – it’s positively Dali-esque. You keep glancing around the landscape for a dripping clock on stilts.


Uluru (Ayers Rock) Australia -

Uluru (Ayers Rock) Australia –


AND you must visit Uluru – Australia’s giant geological belly button smack bang in the middle of the continent.









(For more about Uluru read the WomanGoingPlaces  feature “Uluru – Overlooked Icon of Australia” )

Travel Tips:

* Never eat anything from a road-side stand.

* When visiting the tropics, take a solar powered vibrator.

* And the best travelling companion? Books. No matter where you are, no matter how uncomfortable, you can always slip between the covers of something scintillating. (I highly recommend my latest novel, Courting Trouble, she says, modestly. Dropping your own name, now there’s an art form!)