Ajok – Women of Oz


My name is Ajok. I come from South Sudan (in 2005). Before I came from South Sudan, it was all Sudan, not separate. But we are separate now, we are South Sudan now. And when I came to Australia, I go to Khartoum first then to Egypt. And we do the process with my husband and my kids. I born two kids in Egypt, and we came to Australia.

How long did you have to spend in Egypt?

Three years. We do process three years in Egypt.

Was it dangerous leaving Sudan and can you describe the journey from Sudan to Egypt?

When we come from Sudan to Egypt we have war in Sudan. That’s why we come to Egypt, with my husband. Egypt is very good.



What was the hardest thing for you when you arrived ?

When we arrived here ( in Australia),  I don’t know the language very well. We have Dinka and we have Arabic in Sudan before. But when we come here, we don’t know English. I’m listening, but I didn’t talk. When I came here, I didn’t go to school. My husband went to school first and I stay with kids. It’s hard. When my husband go to school I will stay with my kids and when we don’t have something in my house, we wait until my husband coming back home.

You couldn’t go out and do the shopping?

Ah no. I have small kids, two or three, no-one with me. I’m waiting for my husband coming. My husband learn to drive and this is helping. We do everything together. And now we are happy. My husband finished school in 2010. When we coming from Sudan, he had three years in uni. And now he finished here – medical doctor. And now my children – the older one now is going to the uni, designer, and we are happy. And the second one now in year 11 and we are happy too. And the last one in year 1. I have six boys and one girl. And my husband and me we are happy in Australia.

Not all kids, but some kids, they don’t listen to us. They say these rules in Australia is good. But when they go out, they don’t do good things. Your Mum not there, your Dad not there, no older ones to say to you “Don’t do this, Don’t do this. ” That’s why they do crime, crime in the streets, crime everywhere. And then every white people they see black people and think they don’t do good things. But not all. This is not our culture. This is the rule for Australia culture.


Ajok in Wyndham Women of South Sudan 2017 calendar


How does it make you feel?

We feel no good. For us, when you see on the TV they say black people do this, they do this, you not feeling good. You feeling like tell your kid and your family to go back in your country. But not safe in our country. That’s why we are here. We don’t do anything.

When we come to Australia, the Australia rule say when your baby or child turning 18, they go out. But in our culture, no. You stay with your kid. Your boy – when they have married they stay in the house, not go outside. And girls too, when they are married they go with their husband (family). And here rule in Australia this is a bad rule in Australia, that when the kid is 18 and then they go out to take care of themselves.  This broke our hearts. And we sad for this one.

But now our kids not listen to us.

We want to talk with the Australian people. We are good people. We are not bad people. This is kids who take the rule here. This rule is not our rule.

This is my dream, I pray to God, all my kids to be good, not take the Australia rule and all this. They follow the school and they follow good things, not follow bad things. This is my dream.

Wyndham Women of South Sudan 2017 calendar


*The Wyndham Women of South Sudan group was set up to provide English literacy skills and to build a community. The English class produced a 2017 calendar which features some traditional Sudanese recipes.


Fatma – Women of Oz

My name is Fatma. I come from Sudan with my husband. We have eight kids, six boys and two girls.

Where did you come from in Sudan?

We come from Khartoum and then we are moving to Egypt and then we come here in  Australia 2004. We are happy in Australia. Just I’m sad, I didn’t have anyone here, no sister, no brother, no anyone.

You left family?

Yeah, all there.


About your journey, how did you travel?

From Sudan to Australia, I live in Egypt four years, and then we do the process to Australia. From Egypt to Australia by plane.

And from Sudan to Egypt?

From Sudan to Egypt by boat.

Can you describe the journey?

It was difficult. Me alone with the kids, four boys, it’s very hard for me. And every day I pray, Oh God help me with my kids, until we get to my husband and I’m very happy about it.

Was it a dangerous journey?

Yes, very dangerous, very scary. Some people stealing some things, some people steal kids. I’m scared, I say, Oh my God, me alone – no-one to help me. Just me with four boys and all just small. Then we are coming very good, nothing happen to us until we get to Egypt.

And was it dangerous for you to leave your hometown?

Yes, it’s dangerous. It’s very dangerous. The people just kill people and everyone is scared. My Mum died and I didn’t see her and then my Dad died  too.

What was happening in your hometown when you left?

Just rebels, they took people and there were some bad people.

Was there hunger then?

Yes. Until now, it’s not safe. Everybody’s scared.

When you first came to Australia, can you describe how you felt?

Yes. When I first come, it was very hard. In Sudan, I would just go to school with Arabic. English, it’s a bit harder. And then I know A,B,C….I know some stuff. And when I come here, I don’t know the money. My husband start work straight away, my husband good, he have full English.

I call him when we need to go shopping and ask what do we do? He say “ Just take the money and give to some person and then take the money back.” And then when I go to shop, every day I give fifty dollars. I was scared if I give small money, maybe they say,    Ay, this lady steal.

One day I tell my husband, “See, a lot of money I put in the bin.”

He say, “Why put this change in the bin? “

I say, “ Nothing you can do with it, all this small.”

He say, “ No, no, no. This a lot of money.” And then we go to the bank, and they count the money and  give us five hundred for (the coins). They say “ This is  a lot of money Fatma, don’t do that.”


Fatma in Wyndham Women of South Sudan 2017 calendar


All my English, I get in the group (Wyndham Women of South Sudan English classes*).  I didn’t study school when I come here. Always I have kids, I have kids, I have kids. Ah, I say when can I go to school?  When my kids come home hungry nothing can eat, I don’t want to go to school.  And then when I get the group like that, I start group until my English now is good. Yeah, I’m very happy.

You love coming to school?

Yes, yes. This time I have only one daughter, 3 years-old. I don’t want any child now for the moment. When I improve my English, I need to find a job.

What sort of job would you like?


A lot of people don’t know a lot about Sudanese women. What do you want to tell them about yourself?

We are Sudanese. We have full respect. We don’t like trouble. We don’t like someone just shouting like here. Some white people like shouting at people. We are Sudanese, we are scared. And then someone talk with you, you put your eyes down, and then the Australian, he doesn’t like that. When you put your eyes down, he say, “Ah those people, she didn’t have respect.” We have full respect.

We don’t know how to eat outside. Everything I do it at home – cooking, cleaning – everything. You do everything at home on time, and then when your husband coming, you     respect your husband, give him food, eat the food, and then you take the dishes, do for him some tea. Everything we are doing at home. No-one go out, say I go eat out today. No, we don’t have that. We have full respect. Here some people just forgot the respect.

For the kids, not hard. When we’re come here, they  all young. Now, all have full English. Sometimes, I want to speak my language, the little one, she didn’t understand and then I push them. I tell them don’t forget your culture, don’t forget your language. Yes, just like that, every day I tell them that.

Australia now is good. We are just scared about our kids when grow up – a lot of trouble. It’s very hard for us.

Now I understand everything, I know the rules, I’m driving the car. Everything is good.


Wyndham Women of South Sudan 2017 calendar


*The Wyndham Women of South Sudan group was set up to provide English literacy skills and to build a community. The English class produced a 2017 calendar which features some traditional Sudanese recipes.



In Praise of Solo Travel in Italy for Women

Solo Travel In Italy For Women

Italy is the perfect place for solo travel for women. But when I told people that I had recently travelled through Italy myself, they looked at me in disbelief and the usual response was — “ Well, that takes balls. I wouldn’t do that.”

But why not?

Travelling solo is a liberating and exhilarating experience. It fills us with a sense of adventure, opens our minds and relaxes the soul.

Interestingly, the majority of tourists that I saw in Italy were aged 40 plus. And the majority of those were women. But I rarely saw women in this age group travelling alone outside the major cities.  My first thought was – there must be a hell of a lot of women sitting at home because they couldn’t find anyone to travel with.

If you have someone that you enjoy travelling with, that’s great, but if you don’t, then it’s is not a reason for staying home.

But as women we are afraid to travel alone because of a bag full of fears that include:  fear of loneliness, fear for our safety, fear of the social stigma that brands an unattached woman, organisational fear – how will I be able to organise a whole trip by myself and how will I know where to go and what to see?

The first step is to decide – it’s my time now.

I get to choose where to go and what to see. That, in itself, is pure pleasure.

Italy is such a welcoming country and Italians are very gracious and courteous. I wasn’t hassled or made to feel uncomfortable or strange.  And whenever I asked for assistance or directions, no matter how busy the people were, they would always take the time to help me. Language is also not a problem as many people speak English.


There are times when you wish you could share your experiences with someone and that you feel lonely. No question. But Italy offers so many distractions and compensations. The first thing you can do is go out and buy yourself a gelato or some delicious street food. Then you take a walk down a medieval street, lose yourself in a busy market, gaze at glorious paintings and marvel at the magnificent buildings. Being filled with the beauty of Italy does wonders for loneliness.

Then you remind yourself that if you were with someone else, you would lose that most precious and rare pleasure – the freedom of not having to compromise. Not having to fit in with someone else’s plans. Not wasting time visiting monuments because that’s what the person you are with wants to do, when all you want to do is drive through hills covered in olive trees. You get to do exactly what you want and it is something you probably haven’t done in very long time.

Keeping a diary of your travels is an excellent way of dealing with loneliness. There is a joy in writing things down, capturing them. And that remains as something you can always refer to.

One of the most memorable days I had was sitting on a roof-top terrace gazing out over the boats in the harbour, the sun shining on the water and the bright red geraniums, drinking a cold beer and writing happily in my travel diary.

I also found that when you are travelling solo, people tend to strike up conversations with you more readily than if you are in the closed confines of a couple or a group. So you are always meeting people and chatting.


Italy is very safe for women travelling alone. I was able to walk around the streets, go to cafes or to dinner and return late at night and was not molested or bothered. Perhaps young girls might have to fend off advances, but for women over the age of 40, it’s just not a major issue. I had also been warned about pickpockets in Palermo, but had no trouble.

Social Stigma

Actually, no matter where I went in Italy, I never hesitated to go into restaurants to eat lunch or  dinner alone. To be asked in Italian by the waiter at the entrance if you are dining ‘solo’, doesn’t sound as pathetic as being asked – “Is it just you?”  as happens in Australia.

I have written about the problems of eating out alone in Australia in a previous blog. (https://womangoingplaces.com.au/women-dining-solo/ ‎). When overseas, it becomes much easier because you really don’t have to worry about what other diners think.       You are a tourist.

“ I’m having a great time – so who cares what people think!”  If at our age, we still don’t live our life the way we want to because we are afraid of what people will think, then perhaps it’s time to ditch this barrier.

Another blessing of overseas travel is anonymity. No one knows you, so you don’t have to live up to any image or expectation.

As to the question of where to eat?  You may have a good guide book, but  several thousand other people have that same guide. I find the most effective way is to brazenly, but politely go up to a local and ask them  “ Could you recommend a good place to eat around here?”  Italians know and love good food, so you can bet they have their favourite places. All the most sensational meals I had came about because I just asked the locals.

Organising The Trip

If you are unsure of how to go about it, then certainly get a travel agent.

You may also decide to spend part of your trip in an organised tour and the other part on your own. Another option is to take a short course as a way of connecting with other travellers. For example, there are Italian language and cooking courses available throughout Italy.

The internet has made organising your trip very feasible. It is however, time consuming. You need to start as far in advance as possible. Do the research and make the comparisons.

Finding hotels is made easy by websites such as TripAdvisor, Booking.com, or Trivago. One of the useful features on most of these hotel booking sites is that you can make a reservation on a room and not have to pay a cancellation fee until as little as two days in advance. This is great if you are not sure of your itinerary. It means you pay a little more for the room, but the flexibility is worth it. Just make sure to check the date by which you must actually pay for the room.

If you don’t mind taking chances, then there is usually some last minute availability on hotel rooms closer to the date because people cancel their reservations. The prices are usually also cheaper then. But it is a bit of a risk and not advisable if you like things organised in advance.

The major cities in Italy – Rome, Venice and Florence, need to be booked well in advance due to the very heavy demand in high season. If possible, it is generally advisable to avoid high season for any travel in Italy as that way you can avoid the crowds, queues and heat.

Knowing Where To Go

The advantage of tour groups is that they have experienced guides who take you around. But you can travel solo and organise your own guide. By googling for local guides, I hired a local guide in each of the major cities I visited. The 4 guides I found were outstanding. They were all women who were official Italian guides, had a breadth of knowledge, accommodated themselves to what I wanted to see, and were very pleasant. Their English was excellent. I will be giving the names of each of these guides when I publish the various posts about the cities I visited.

In addition, hotels and local tourist offices also offer lots of group tours that you can join for a day. And you can book these tours in Italy and not necessarily before you leave Australia.

When Things Go Wrong

Even with the best organisation, things can go wrong. For example, when Emirates kept all passengers on the tarmac for 6 hours because there was something wrong with the plane we were in, and consequently I missed my connecting flight; other flights were cancelled; the hotel which looked great on the website had a faulty sewer which caused the room to smell; my train to Florence was massively delayed by a fire on the line.   Being alone when these things happen may appear a challenge but in my experience, it wasn’t. Single status had no bearing on the re-arrangement of flights and the airlines’ responsibility. Rely on your own resourcefulness and often the kindness of strangers.

Getting Around

It is very easy and convenient to get around Italy using public transport. The train system offers high speed trains as well as slower ones, with good connections. The punctuality and frequency of the trains is usually reliable. Trenitalia (https://www.lefrecce.it/) is available for checking train timetables and booking tickets online. All this information is available in English if  you choose English in the top right-hand corner of their homepage You can even book from Australia and tickets booked in advance online are usually cheaper. This is a good a good idea as it avoids lengthy waits in queues.

You can also choose to fly instead of taking the train within Italy.

Unlike the rest of Italy, public transport in Sicily is bad. While there are lots of inexpensive flights to Sicily from the mainland, once you get there, there are few internal flights, poor train services, and the buses are very slow and often not available on Sundays. The only option for long distance travel there is with hired cars or taxis, and taxis can be very expensive. So instead of trying to  cover much of the island, you may choose a particular part and focus on that.  But don’t let that stop you from going there. Sicily is beautiful, as are the other places I visited in Italy.

The slideshow above gives you a glimpse of the places I visited  in Venice, Bologna, Cinque Terre, Florence and Sicily.




安娜·高兹沃斯 (Anna Goldsworthy) 最心仪的澳洲五大旅游胜地

安娜·高兹沃斯(Anna Goldsworthy)天赋秉异且一直致力于参加各种高难度的活动。今年她就参加了以下各种活动:舞台剧《钢琴课》(Piano Lessons) 巡演,她不仅参与演出而且还在其中演奏钢琴;作为天使三重奏(Seraphim Trio)组合一员共同演出贝多芬钢琴三重奏;还有她的卡巴莱演出《Cole》也将在阿德莱德卡巴莱节(Cabaret Festival)上进行首演。今年十月,她将第六次担任“神仙港春季音乐节”(Port Fairy Spring Music Festival)的艺术总监。

作为享有盛名的钢琴独奏家,安娜不仅在澳大利亚也在世界各地进行演出,范围之广,可见一斑。作为一名室内演奏家,她也是著名的天使三重奏(Seraphim Trio)组合一员。该组合成立至今已有二十一年,以首演澳大利亚作曲家作品而闻名。

安娜同时还以传记家、散文家、剧作家及剧本作者而闻名。2009年安娜出版了她的第一本书《钢琴课》,这本动人的自传描述了她成为音乐家的历程,也刻画了一名极富天赋的学生与其严格但富魅力的老师埃莉诺拉·斯万(Eleanora Sivan)之间的关系。这本畅销书被列入了众多奖项的候选名单并获得了“2010年澳大利亚图书行业新进者”(Australian Book Industry Newcomer of the Year)奖项。



照片由Nicholas Purcell提供

Flinders Ranges South Australia

Flinders Ranges
South Australia


Flinders Ranges


Melbourne, CBD

Melbourne, CBD




Port Fairy Victoria

Port Fairy


Port Fairy


Noosa Queensland


努萨 Noosa

自从我们有了小孩,度假的方式就变得不一样了。从前我从没有想过这里会是一个令人激动的度假胜地,但是在这度过的两个假期让我改变了想法,现在我们正在计划再去一次。去年我们去努萨的时候正好赶上当地的长周末节(Noosa Long Weekend Festival),我们非常享受那里的卡巴莱表演还有那里的海滩,真是一个两全其美的组合。

Epsom House Tasmania

Epsom House


Epsom House, Pontville, Tasmania

我们去爱普生小屋已经有很多年头了,并且非常享受在那里的宴会厅听音乐会,重新翻修过的小屋给人与世隔绝的纯净之感,里面还有全国最好的音响设备之一。这间小屋就像是一颗来自优雅年代的时间胶囊,前来的参观者无不感到内心的满足感,特别是现在小屋的所有者杰奎(Jacqui)和杰夫·罗伯森(Geoff Robertson)给这里新增了两个英式花园。






Legendary Stockman of the Australian Outback, Luke McCall


The drover, stockman or ‘ringer’ and he is called, is an iconic figure in Australia. He has been immortalized in poetry, songs, folklore, paintings and literature. But there are few real drovers and stockmen left. Nowadays, these men of the outback have been replaced with road trains and helicopters.

Luke McCall, who passed away on 9th November 2018 aged 88, was one of the last iconic drovers. For over half a century he crossed the vast length and breadth of Australia with thousands of head of cattle and horses. He loved the life and the stock and never saw it as a life of extreme physical hardship, danger and isolation. In this profile she has written for WomanGoingPlaces, Patricia McPherson describes her soulmate and friend of fifty years, Luke McCall as  ” a legendary stockman whose name stands high right across the north of Australia.”  Editor’s note


I met Luke on the airstrip the day he arrived at Fitzroy Crossing in the Western Australian Kimberley in 1967. I was working as an itinerant nurse for the Australian Inland Mission and was there to put an esky of medical specimens on the mail plane when this tall handsome man dressed entirely in black came down the steps nonchalantly carrying his saddle over his shoulder, much as a city guy would carry his sports coat.  I was a bit blown away I can tell you – he was a very romantic figure and I have fond memories of having many suppers in his stock camp beside the campfire under a million stars and listening to the music of horse bells.

Luke McCall was born into a stock riding family at Nebo over the range from Mackay in Queensland in 1932. Aged 15 he threw his swag and saddle on the mail train and headed out west where he picked up a job as a ‘ringer’ (stockman) on Lorraine Station way up north in the Gulf on the Leichardt River.

For over half a century, Luke would live the life of a drover and stockman in the Australian outback. Droving meant spending each and every day in the saddle – often for nine months in a row. The work began at dawn and frequently there were night watches as well. No days off or spells.


The working life of a stockman was seasonal. It started at the beginning of the Dry season in early April when the horses were mustered and broken in, more than a hundred on most stations. The head stockman would then allocate freshly employed stockmen their ‘plant’ – usually 10-12 mustering horses, some camp-draft horses and a night horse or two.

When all was ready, the stockcamp consisting of about 8-12 ringers, a cook, a horse tailer and the head stockman would ride out, accompanied by their pack horses and horse plant. This departing cavalcade was always an exciting sight.

They worked to a schedule in that they had to have x number of bullocks ready at such and such a spot on such and such a date ready for transport to the meatworks. These mustering rounds lasted about 3 months. Stock was mustered one day and ‘processed’ the next. Calves were roped and pulled up to the bronco panels and branded, ear marked, castrated, mothered up and let loose. Bullocks were drafted into a separate mob and held, fed and watered  until such time as they were picked up by the overland drovers or, since the 1960s, road trains. At the end of each mustering round the stockcamp would go back to the station for a brief break which usually coincided with the local rodeo or race meeting. By the end of the third round in late October it was far too hot to work cattle so the ringers rolled their swags and went south for the Wet season.

This was Luke’s way of life on several Gulf country stations; Kamileroi, Norfolk, Coolullah and Gleeson to name a few.

Overland Droving

Like most ringers he would take an occasional year off from the stockcamp to go overland droving. He made a number of droving trips from Camooweal to the Kimberley and back with the legendary packhorse drover Bruce Simpson with 1,500 head in hand.  These droving trips would cross 2000 kilometres of the harshest, hottest, most arid and most beautiful parts of Australia, from Western Australia to Queensland.

The droving life was almost sedentary compared to the thrills and spills of mustering wild cattle. It too started at first light when the mob slowly moved out along the stock route feeding all the way to ‘dinner camp’ where they were given a spell then a long drink of water and then moved out in late afternoon to settle down on good feed when it could be found.  The ringers, who had been in the saddle since dawn, took shifts in riding around the mob on night camp singing as they rode to settle the cattle.

There was always a risk that the mob could rush at night. In this case the night watch would be joined by the rest of the men who woken from their sleep, would grab their night horses which were always saddled and tethered nearby and ride to turn the lead back on itself to slow the mob down.

Indigenous Cattle Station

In the early 1970s, Luke was employed to set up a cattle station, Palumpa, 250 kilometres south-west of Darwin which was eventually to be run by the local aboriginal group. Starting from scratch this involved years of rough living camped on a waterhole until the homestead complex was eventually established. It involved catching and transporting wild bulls to the meat works for an initial cash flow and stocking the station with quieter cattle as well as horses. Luke made several trips to the Cloncurry horse sale where he would buy up to 100 horses at a time, dip them and truck them to Daly River, then drive them 120 kilometres to Palumpa single-handed. The ABC devoted a Big Country programme to the ‘Curry Sale’ which featured Luke.

Crocodile Dundee

This publicity was nothing compared to that which he received in 1977 when he rescued the man who was the real “Crocodile Dundee”. Rod Ansell had been stranded for eight weeks on the banks of the remote Fitzmaurice River after his fishing boat sank.  Ansell salvaged his two eight week-old bull terrier pups, a rifle, a knife and his swag and set up camp in the fork of a tree out of reach of giant saltwater crocodiles which threatened him and his pups. He shot those that attacked him.

Rod Ansell never counted on being rescued but Luke and his stockcamp made a once-in-a-lifetime visit to that area and found him.   When the story hit the press, Ansell was hailed a modern day Robinson Crusoe.  A book and a film To Fight the Wild followed. A subsequent Parkinson interview sparked the interest of Paul Hogan and led to the creation of Mick “Crocodile’ Dundee.


After his Palumpa years, Luke spent time working on Helen Springs and Wave Hill stations in the NT by which time stock work as he knew it was long gone and he was probably the last of the old time stockmen still standing. Jackeroos on quad bikes and helicopter mustering became the norm.

He retired in 1993 following a hip replacement and made a home for himself in Batlow in NSW. He turned his hand to writing a monograph, Before helicopters and road trains: What was expected of a stockman. It was printed by The Stockmen’s Hall of Fame in Longreach where it is still in print and remains a best seller. He has also written Stories from the Stockcamp which takes the point of view of stock that he has spent his life working with. In these stories, we meet a clean skin bull; Crooner the night horse; an outlaw bullock;  Ruadah a liver-coloured mule; Winnie a coaxer cow; Dove a breaking-in mare and Tarpot a bronco horse. As yet unpublished, these stories reveal his great feeling for and understanding of stock.

Drover’s Camp Festival

Each year Luke would look forward to the annual trip up north to the Drover’s Camp in Camooweal. He met up with old mates along the way from Wagga Wagga to Cloncurry where he was greeted with great affection by men he worked with and I dare say with great reverence by many whom he mentored when they were young. His name stands high right across the north – he is indeed a legendary stockman.

At one of these Drover’s Camps , a popular tribute was paid to Luke when Keith Douglas read out, in the best tradition of bush poetry, the poem he had written about Luke McCall:

Somewhere down near Brisbane
where too many people live
there’s an old retired drover
they don’t know who he is.
But up here on the northern runs
when your back’s against the wall
no better man you’d have beside you
than the legend Luke McCall.
From the Kimberley to the Curry
and all places north and south
he’s left his mark on many
 they all know without a doubt
the man who’s dressed in black
a red bandana ‘round his neck.
When it comes to clever bushmen
he’s up there with the best.
You’ll never hear him boast
or talk about himself
he’d just as soon have a yarn
and leave that stuff to someone else.
For he’s been and done those things
back in those other days
when a man was judged on what he’d done
not on what he had to say.
He’s so humble and well mannered
 shows respect to all he meets
a real man from a real land
 though now unsteady on his feet.
The bush has been his playground
his family and his home
when it comes to living legends
he’s a class act all his own.
Each year he travels back
to that sleepy border town
to meet old drovers gathered there
to pass some yarns around.
He joins in conversations
about cattle, mounts and miles
the memory of a life well lived
gives him reason now to smile.
With water in the government tank
and grass out on the plain
and big mobs on the stock route
that we’ll never see again.
But always in my memory
these old men will walk tall
and up there with the best of them
is the legend Luke McCall.


Vale Luke.

Read Patricia’s post in Woman In…Outback Australia: Camooweal, Queensland about the annual Drover’s Camp Festival that she and Luke would drive 7,000 kilometres to attend each year on the border between Queensland and the Northern Territory. This camp takes place in August and is open for all to attend.

Patricia McPherson is a retired nurse from Victoria. She worked as a nurse for years with the Australian Inland Mission at Fitzroy Crossing in the Western Australian Kimberley region in the 1960s and  regularly travels to the outback which she considers her ‘heart country’.  





Outback Australia in the Wet Season

My daughter Genevieve and I drove 4000 kilometres from Port Augusta in South Australia, to Darwin in the Northern Territory, in two weeks. The direct route is just over 2,700 kilometres. But we wanted to see the outback.

Genevieve shares my love of the Australian outback, the remote deserts, the unique heat, the waterways and the people. After completing a year of work in the Pilbara region of Western Australia she was to begin a new position in Darwin. This meant she needed to bring her car from Western Australia to Darwin. She had a month before beginning her new position, so I volunteered to accompany her on the drive between Port Augusta and Darwin. With two weeks to cover the distance, we decided to meander our way north detouring to our hearts’ content.

We drove for 3-4 hours each day with lunch and morning tea stops.

In February the temperature sits on 40º all day, and only after sunset, begins a slow, nonchalant descent to 27º, reached around three or four in the morning. After dawn the sun marches back into the day with gusto and the temperature peaks by 9am remaining there for the rest of the day. Due to the heat, our pattern was to drive during the middle of the day taking advantage of the car’s  air-conditioning, and arrive at camp in the late afternoon or early evening, allowing time to set up the tent and cook. We planned activities such as walking for the early morning, and were back on the road mid to late morning.

The Oodnadatta Track

Until now the Oodnadatta Track existed, for me, only through tales my father told me and stories in the books of my adolescence. It was a place remote and fearful, a desert highway for camels, telegraph linesmen and the legendary white Australians of cattle stations and homesteads; a place where the heat and dryness could kill.

Our journey along the Track started at William Creek. It wasn’t our intention to drive along the Oodnadatta, at least not as far as we did. It was only as my daughter and I drove further into remote South Australia that we grew more confident, and that the Track began to lose the unpredictable power my imagination had given it.

The Oodnadatta Track - photo Jacinta Agostinelli

The Oodnadatta Track – photo Jacinta Agostinelli

William Creek

We arrived at William Creek hot and dusty from Coober Pedy, passing only one other car in the three-hour drive. The desert we had driven through was either gibber plain or red sand, usually with low vegetation.

At William Creek there is a hotel with accommodation, an airstrip that crosses the track and a campground. No need to book in February but I would recommend booking in the more popular mid-year months. The town, once a stopover for the Ghan, now claims fame as having Australia’s most remote pub, and as a base for exploring Lake Eyre by plane, which we did.

The pub is a museum in itself. Made of timber with timber furniture, it holds a dusty collection of old photos, superseded farm tools and items from around the area. And it serves great dinners. We enjoyed a Thai curry and a ‘parma’, so large it curled over the edges of the plate. A sturdy wood heater in the centre of the room suggested night temperatures must, at some time, get very low.

    Lake Eyre

    Lake Eyre has water in it once every ten years, and I had read that this was one of those years. Rains up north in January meant there was water in February. And indeed, we are lucky.

    Before leaving Melbourne I booked a one-hour sunrise flight through Wrights Air. There are a number of flight itineraries available and a number of companies running them from various points of departure, so check which flight suits you best.

    The outback is beautiful from the air. As the squirming ball of sun climbs to the edge of the world before melting across the land, the rocky ridges and daubs of vegetation below change colour. The sky and the ground are every shade of pink, purple and red.

    Nothing can prepare you for the sight of Lake Eyre from above: not the tricky little lake we flew over earlier, nor the images in geography books. It is a huge expanse of water, as far as you can see. It is an eerie, rippled, wind-streaked blue as still as if painted onto the salt. We followed sweeping, salt-lined arcs in search of birds.

      The Painted Desert

      At Oodnadatta town we decided on a detour through the Painted Desert. We had needed to calculate whether this the detour, still considered a section of the Oodnadatta Track, was a safe option given the distance, the time, our diesel and water supplies.

      This section of the Track would have to be one of Australia’s most remote, dusty roads and this suited us. More like the driveway to a homestead than a road, it was in good condition but required attention to skirt a few deep wheel ruts and pot-holes. The Track wound around small hills and ridges and at about half way, passed through the Painted Desert.

      From the top of a viewing hill we looked over some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen: dry, sculptural and full of colour, yet still and silent. It was a huge watercolour landscape.

      At various junctions along the road a sign and a faded track indicated a station or homestead out there somewhere. It is easy to lose your sense of direction in the desert especially when tracks and signs have deteriorated and look the same. This happened to us when, thinking we might camp the night, we turned off towards a homestead. When attempting to join the main road again we were confused by the choice of three roads. We drove for an hour or so not knowing if we were heading in the right direction, and while this caused some anxiety, it was a part of the experience.

        The Mereenie Loop (Red Centre Way), West MacDonnell Ranges Northern Territory

        The Mereenie Loop is an unsealed four-wheel drive road between Uluru and Alice Springs. The section of the loop between Kings Canyon and Alice Springs is referred to as Namatjira Drive. It follows the West MacDonnell Ranges.

        The West MacDonnell Ranges are striking in the brooding light of the wet season. The skies sink towards earth with the weight of rain. Thunder tumbles around the rim of the ranges and sheet and fork lightening flash. But the sky holds onto most of the rain and the labouring storm takes a rest for a few hours, when the theatre begins again. Driving this loop is an experience I will not forget.

        There are a number of places to stop along the way to do a short walk, or to detour to a lookout. Do this, particularly after rain as the bush smells like I imagine heaven to smell. Bird life is also abundant after rain. In small, fluid and shifting shapes, flocks of coloured finches move from tree to tree. Willy Wagtails hop along disused stockyard and fencing posts, and according to aboriginal stories, alert the walker to the presence of another. We stopped at Gosse Bluff, (Tnorala conservation reserve), Redbank Gorge, Ormiston Gorge, the Ochre Pits, Serpentine Gorge and Ellery Creek Bighole, all easy walks.

        We bush camped and there are plenty of spots to do this. If you are after something more comfortable there is a welcoming and rustic hotel with rooms at Glen Helen Homestead Lodge. In February, the mosquitoes are very active after dusk and before sunrise. After sunrise the flies take over! We carried plenty of mosquito repellent and set up camp early enough to have finished dinner before sunset. For the flies we had hats with fly nets.

          Nyinkka Nyunyu, Tennant Creek

          Nyinkka Nyunyu is a very impressive art gallery, museum and cafe run fully by the aboriginal people from Tennant Creek. What we expected to be an hour’s stop became a three-hour exploration. The centre and tour we had were all engrossing and we had no sense of time passing. Because we were the only visitors it being out of season, the curator gave us a personalised, ‘story’ style tour.

          The curator was an aboriginal man who had experienced some of the history and happenings that were depicted in the exhibitions and storyboards. All aspects of aboriginal life and culture, as well as contact and relationships with the Europeans, were covered in the displays. The gallery walls were decorated with the work of many local artists, whom we met working in the studios incorporated into the building. There was so much art available for purchase that it was difficult to decide which to buy, and being a gardener with interest in bush foods and plants, I finally decided on a canvas called Bush tomatoes.

          In the absence of a personalised tour, visitors carry a player with numbered recordings that match numbered stations around the centre. We followed this in the garden, which has been planted with educational purposes in mind. It is well laid out and garden enthusiasts will love it. There is a kitchen garden with bush tucker to supply the café kitchen. The café was due to open a couple of weeks after our visit, however we got to meet the trainer from Charles Darwin University who had just arrived to train some young people to work in the kitchen. Next visit I will stop for lunch!

          When to go

          The ideal time to travel to the outback is in February. While it is very warm and possibly very wet in February, the roads and camping grounds are empty. Be aware however that if you do choose to travel at this time you will need to check in regularly with a government road report site such as the Northern Territory road report website (www.ntlis.nt.gov.au/roadreport), or a tourist information centre. We also asked the locals for their opinions on roads. Roads can become impassable in the wet season, or may be damaged after heavy rain. For travelling off the major highways a four-wheel drive vehicle is essential.


          Jacinta Agostinelli lives in Melbourne. She spends her time writing, caring for her grandchildren, developing and maintaining gardens using sustainable and organic methods, and is a director on the management committee of SPAN House in Thornbury, Melbourne. She enjoys spending time with her family and travelling near and far. 


          Photographs by Jacinta Agostinelli




          安妮·萨默斯最心仪的五大澳洲旅游胜地 Anne Summers – My Top 5 Places in Australia

          Anne Summers AO can be described as someone who is always in the vanguard as a feminist, journalist, author, editor and publisher.

          Anne has just published her new memoir Unfettered and Alive. Former Governor-General Quentin Bryce described the book as ‘Exhilarating and what storytelling!’ Anne tells her story of travelling around the world working in newspapers and magazines, advising prime ministers, leading feminist debates, writing memorable and influential books. It is the compelling story of Anne Summers’ extraordinary life.

          Forty one years ago, Anne Summers lead the charge into an abandoned building in Sydney and co-founded Elsie, the first women’s refuge in Australia.

          She again led the way in her revelatory and now classic book Damned Whores and God’s Police, which was published in 1975. It showed how the Madonna or Whore polarity in attitudes toward women, derived from Australia’s colonial past, had become entrenched and influenced Australia’s subsequent political and social culture.

          Anne was given an official leadership role when she ran the federal Office of the Status of Women (now Office for Women) from 1983 to 1986 when Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, and she was an advisor to Prime Minister Paul Keating.

          Anne Summers Australian Legends Stamp

          Anne Summers Australian Legends Stamp

          For her distinctive role in advancing women’s equality, she was presented with the Australian Legends Award for 2011 and joined the exclusive ranks of great Australians to appear on a special Post Office stamp.

          In 1989, Anne was made an Officer in the Order of Australia for her services to women and to journalism.

          As a journalist and columnist, her work included being Canberra bureau chief for the Australian Financial Review and the paper’s North American editor. She was editor-in-chief of Ms. magazine in New York in 1987. She now writes a regular opinion column for the Sydney Morning Herald.

          Three years ago, Anne created Anne Summers Reports www.annesummers.com.au. As its editor and publisher she is now part of a new trend of women publishing online magazines. ASR is a high quality digital magazine that covers a wide range of topics. The August issue highlighted the world-wide practice of female genital mutilation and Nimco Ali’s campaign against it.

          Anne is the author of 8 books. Her latest book The Misogyny Factor looks at the sexism and misogyny that continues to deny women inclusion, equality and respect. For her previous books see: www.annesummers.com.au/products/books/

          In September 2013 she began her series of very popular Anne Summers Conversations http://www.annesummers.com.au/conversations  with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard at sell-out events in the Sydney Opera House and the Melbourne Town Hall.


          Anne’s Top 5 Places:


          Bouddi National Park - Bulimah Spur track - photo John Yurasek

          Bouddi National Park – Bulimah Spur track – photo John Yurasek

          Wagstaffe and the Bouddi peninsula

          On the New South Wales Central Coast. A tiny laid back and undeveloped settlement with just a handful of houses looking out over the bay, with the Bouddi National Park for backdrop and birdlife like you’ve never seen. You want kookaburras to join you on the deck for cocktails? Just pop the cork.




          Palm Cove

          Palm Cove

          Palm Cove

          Situated about 30kms north of Cairns in Far North Queensland, Palm Cove is the kind of old-fashioned place that gives resorts a good name. A place where buildings are not allowed to be higher than the ancient Melaleucas which Captain Cook is supposed to have admired when he stopped their briefly to replenish his water supply. And it has city-quality restaurants (unfortunately with city level prices). You can’t swim most of the year because of the stingers but you can’t beat a walk on the beach at any time of the day or night.


          Sydney - photo Hamilton Lund

          Sydney – photo Hamilton Lund


          I first came to this dazzling city forty years ago and I kept coming back even after stints living in places like New York.  Sydney is a vibrant and physically stunning place with a diverse and (mostly) tolerant population where anything is possible. Bad stuff happens here (as in any big city) but the good far outweighs it. And physically it is unbeatable, with a surprising, and usually stunning, piece of landscape seemingly around every corner and over every horizon.


          Port Arthur guards 1866 - ALMFA,SLT

          Port Arthur guards 1866 – ALMFA,SLT

          Port Arthur

          The dark heart of our history, the site of an unimaginably cruel penal colony during the convict era and of Australia’s worse modern day mass shooting in 1996.  Much of the prison and its associated buildings, including the chilling prison chapel (designed so convicts could not look at each other during the service) are remarkably intact.




          Port Arthur, Tasmania - photo Giovanni Portelli

          Port Arthur, Tasmania – photo Giovanni Portelli

          Yet Port Arthur is also a remarkably beautiful, green and lush place, nestled beside tranquil water.  Nowhere else in Australia does the phrase ‘her beauty and her terror’ from Dorothea Mackellar’s My Country resonate in quite the way it does here.








          The Australian War Memorial

          The Australian War Memorial


          Our national capital, whose landscape is unlike that of any other Australian city,  and the home of our national monuments, Canberra is a very special place. At least once in their lives everyone should visit the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Library of Australia, the Museum of Australia, the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House and the Australian War Memorial. These are not just a bunch of stodgy institutions. Between them, they contain so much of our history and our culture that they are the very heart of our country.


          Travel tips:

          *  Always have a long and engrossing book in your bag as you never know when – or for how long – you might be delayed. And batteries don’t run out on books.

          *  Pack lightly.  You really don’t need many clothes when you travel and dragging heavy bags is a sure fire recipe for a bad back and an even worse temper. I once travelled round the world for three weeks with just a small carry on roller bag.

          *  Travel should be fun so don’t stress out. Get to the airport in time for a coffee or a cocktail.  And once you get out of Australia, airports in many cities are wonderful places to spend time in. Schiphol, Amsterdam’s airport, even has treasures from the RijksMuseum on display.

          *  Look like a jetsetter not a bogan.  Wear smart but comfortable clothes (no trackie dacks please) and even if you are in cattle class just remember that even a 24 hour flight is a helluva lot better than the months’ long sea voyages our ancestors had to endure to go anywhere.


          Esther aged 107 and Norma – Women of Oz

          WomanGoingPlaces interviewed Esther, aged 107, with her daughter Norma. Esther has lived in an aged care facility since she was 102. Prior to that she lived independently. Throughout her long life, she travelled extensively in Australia, especially in the family caravan, with her late husband and her daughters. These trips were a joyful and an important part of Esther’s family life. She and Norma share some of these memories.




          Esther:  Oh yeah there was always picnics.The picnics? We use to go in a horse and cart. That I remember. (See photo below)

          Rosalie:  Did it take long? You were in Elwood at that point?

          Esther: I don’t remember where we were living then.

          Augustine: How long did it take you to get to the beach in a horse and cart?

          Esther: Haha, a long time. Then I think we all must of had a little swim.

          Norma: Do you remember the bathers that you use to wear? That the men use to wear, from the neck to knees?

          Esther: Oh yes, and the ladies.

          Augustine: What sort of bathers did you wear?

          Esther: The same –  Neck-to-knees.

          Augustine: Did you enjoy being on the road?

          Esther: Yes, it wasn’t what it is now.  There were no idiots or drunks or drugs or anything like that.

          Norma: We could pull up and camp anywhere and nobody worried, and you weren’t worried about being robbed or anything.

          Esther: We camped one year I remember it was getting late, this was when the girls were with me in a caravan. I said “look we better go in here, its getting dark.” It was dark and we didn’t know where we were. We were at a cemetery. Do you remember that?

          Norma: I do remember, Dad always said you never know where you might wake up. It might be somewhere wonderful.  It’s an adventure.

          Esther: In a cemetery. That didn’t worry us.

          Norma: And you had a very good philosophy about it, and I do it now with my children and my grandchildren I tell them the same thing. When we got lost, remember what we use to say? You’d say “Oh it doesn’t matter. It’s just an adventure. Who knows where we’ll turn up?”

          Augustine: What holidays did you take when you were married?

          Esther: You want to know how I met my husband? Back then it use to be a Jewish dance every Sunday night. And this particular one I was in was a . . . what sort of a dance was it?

          Norma: Tap dance.

          Esther: And if you just got tapped on the shoulder they had to exchange partners. They just tapped you. Well actually they tap the man, so he had to go. And so that began our romance.

          Augustine: How long were you married?

          Esther: Oh God! Fifty-five years.

          1920 – Esther ( front row third from left) her family & their horse and buggy on a trip to Mordialloc Creek



          Augustine: Do you remember any other holidays, or trips or outings that you had when you were growing up, or when you were married?

          Esther: Oh, when we were married we went to many places. Especially school holidays. We had a caravan and we went here, there and everywhere.

          Norma: Remember when we woke up in the morning and what we saw way out in the sea? Whales! Dad said we’re lucky if we see whales and sure enough we woke up to this beautiful blue sea just beneath us, under the cliff and there were the whales. But the whale station wasn’t so nice, do you remember that? It stank to high heaven.

          Augustine: And how did you eat on the trips? Did you have a barbecue? Did you stop at places? How did you feed the family?

          Norma: We never went out for meals. Mum was a very, very good camper. We did a lot of camping as well. She was a very good camper. Remember what Dad – of course there was a little stove in the caravan – but do you remember the barbecue that Dad made. Remember the kerosene tin?

          Esther: Oh yes, yes. He made it into a barbecue and grilled the chops on the top.

          Norma: It was one of these um, an old kerosene tin. It was about that big and he cut a hole at the bottom, for the draft. And he made his own, he did his own wrought iron stuff. During the war he worked on aircraft or something. And um, he was pulled out of school because his Dad had a heart attack and he had to run the family business.

          Esther: When he was about 16

          Norma: And he had spent about 4 years in bed because of a congenital hip deformity so he didn’t have a lot of formal education but he was, he really thought outside of the square. But he made this sort of a grill thing that you put on top and we had the best barbecues. He’d put the potatoes in the, remember the ashes at the bottom wrapped in foil, the fish. He cooked the fish there and the toast, But mostly we had …

          Esther: I remember the toast yeah.

          Norma: …But mostly you cooked a bit in the caravan. But tell them about the other holidays we had. We had three different sorts of holidays, all wonderful. One was a camping trip, one school holidays. The other school holidays Dad gave you a break and what did we do? We went to the guest houses, Marysville and places like that.

          Yeah, there was Sherbrooke and Marysville. Each year we would do a camping trip and then Dad would say Mum needs a break, we’ll have a guest house holiday. Then the long summer holidays and every weekend, which is where we’re both keeping the skin doctors in business, was um in the family holiday house in Edithvale. But Mum said I don’t want that big house and garage. We’ll have the garage thank you, where they use to keep the horse and cart. And Dad made it into kind of a bungalow thing. And we had a boat shed and boat, so we spent our entire summer down at the beach, from breakfast till sunset, didn’t we?

          Esther: Oh we had the boat shed which was very convenient to sit on the beach and watch. Just sitting in the boat shed when it was too hot, you have your swim and come out and . . .

          Augustine: And where did you learn fishing? Where did you pick up your love of fishing?

          Esther: Fishing? From my late husband. He enjoyed it.

          Norma: Because of his hip abnormality … he was a real outdoors man wasn’t he? He couldn’t run so he took to the water. But they spent their life, we all spent our lives on Port Phillip Bay, and then the various rivers and oceans around and up the east coast.

          Esther: We camped on the river…Yes, it was the Murray. Oh and someone had left all their gear there for fishing which was very convenient for us. So he fixed it all, threw it in the water to catch a Murray cod. Well it started to rain cats and dogs so we had to leave it. We came back in the morning, the first thing he wants to see if he caught anything- Yes it was a set line, and “oh” he says “I think I got a horse on the reel.” He pulled it out and it was a Murray cod, forty-…

          Norma: Forty-six pounds.

          Esther: It was this big.

          Norma: No, it was this big, they could barely carry it. And then how was it cut up?

          Esther: It was put into a butcher’s refrigerator. He obliged us. And when we came back, the meat was still frozen. My late husband’s brother was a doctor and we invited him to come over and come and do something with the fish. He operated on the fish, cut it all up and of course the whole family got…

          Norma: …And all the neighbours and all the cousins and everyone we knew. And all their freezers were full.

          Esther: And nowadays, I don’t think you’re allowed to take them out of the sea.

          Norma: You’re probably not allowed to have set lines either.

          Esther: No, you wouldn’t have set lines now.

          Augustine: Why do you love the beach so much Esther?

          Esther: Oh… I don’t know. I wasn’t use to it before I met my husband. I remember him, where he bought a boat and he use to fish in it and I wouldn’t go on it. And he said “Oh come on, it’s flat, very flat and calm and when you want to stop and want to come in I’ll stop and take you in.” Well it was such a perfect day, that was the beginning, I didn’t want to go in.

          Norma: And then Mum use to drive the boat when Dad water-skied. Mum only learned to drive at about what? Your mid twenties? But then she was driving the speed boat all over Port Phillip Bay well into her late seventies.

          Esther: And now you’ve got to have licences and…

          Augustine: You mean you drove a speed boat around Port Phillip Bay without a licence?

          Norma:  No, but you didn’t have to have one then.

          Esther: No you didn’t have to have a licence.

          Norma: Mum’s a very good pennant bowler. How old were you Mum when you stopped bowling?

          Esther: Oh, ah, I’ve been an outdoor person all my life. I started when I was a teenager, playing basketball then I switched to tennis and then I . . . where did I go after tennis? Maybe there’s more in-between there. Anyway I played tennis till I was in my eighties and I couldn’t see the ball quick enough to hit, return it. So one of the girls said, who was a bowler also, said why don’t you come and play bowls and give it a try. Which I did, which I enjoyed very much. I played bowls until I was ninety-eight. Yeah, ninety-eight I played bowls. When I was ninety-two I bought a new car and they said “Oh, I’ve never sold a car to a ninety-two year old.”

          Augustine: I read in the article that you said the secret is just to keep going.

          Esther: That’s right.

          Norma: And forget your age.

          Esther: And forget your age.

          Augustine: And how do you deal with all the ups and downs in life and all the stress and all the worry.

          Esther: Oh, you try not to think about it.

          Norma: She’s pretty good at that. She’s been through quite a few things and she copes. She’s very sensible. Very, very sensible. Common sense.




          Did you know that women are the reason we have those iconic, brilliantly coloured bathing boxes on the beaches of the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria?

          At the end of the 19th Century and through the early 20th, the city fathers tried desperately to stave off the shocking prospect of uncovered female flesh. They feared that if women were allowed to undress and change into their neck-to-knee bathing suits on the beaches, public immorality would inevitably follow.

          The city fathers had already tried to divide some beaches into separate bathing areas for men and women following “indecent bathing during a heat wave”.

          Their battle for respectability and decorum succeeded to the extent that many boxes were in fact built.  Now only 1300 survive and no new boxes or boatsheds are allowed, with the exception of places such as Brighton Beach. For that reason their value has skyrocketed, in some instances fetching more than A$350,000. Tightly held, the families that own them often pass them down through the generations.

          Public morality no longer being of concern, they are now mostly used to have a good time at the beach. In summer, you will see owners sitting in the shade of the open box, deckchairs and tables arranged comfortably with food and cold drinks at hand, contemplating the sea only metres from their door. Or you will see them dragging their kayaks from the boxes, a few steps across the sand, and into the sparkling sea for a row along the bay. The owners are spared having to pack their equipment on cars and trailers to return home at the end of the day. But they do have to maintain the boxes in good order and pay fees for the privilege of owning a beach box.

          We can enjoy them too. They add a riot of colour and cheerfulness to the beach in any season. So take a stroll along any one of the 26 beautiful beaches of the Mornington Peninsula, from Mount Eliza to Portsea, where you can feast your eyes on these iconic structures.

          The guide below shows the places you can find these beach boxes and the number at each location.

          Take a look at the slideshow to see some of these beach boxes.

          Photographs and editing by Augustine Zycher

          HOW TO GET THERE

          The Mornington Peninsula is approximately an hour from Melbourne’s CBD and is easily accessible via the Peninsula Link freeway.



          View Larger Map




          Geisha in Kyoto, Japan


          Gion District – Geiko (Geisha) and Maiko (Geisha-in-training) in Kyoto

          Kyoto is  the centre of Japan’s Geisha culture. There are almost 200 Geiko, popularly known as a Geisha, in Kyoto, making it the largest concentration in Japan. Geisha in Japan are respected artists.

          They reside mainly in the charming Gion quarter, with its leafy narrow lanes lined with traditional wooden houses. It is located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west.

          It is here that girls and young women receive the rigorous training to a become a Geiko, and here that they entertain in Ochaya, the traditional tea houses.

          You may be fortunate, as we were, to see an exquisitely costumed Geiko walking along the narrow streets in the Gion district. If you do see a Geiko, which is not a common sight, it is considered very impolite to approach or try to speak with her.

          However, we were able to spend more time with a Maiko – a young woman serving an apprenticeship in order to become a Geiko.

          Meeting a Maiko

          Meeting a Maiko in Gion was one of the most memorable events of our time in Japan. We met her in the wooden Ochaya. It was a delight to see her serve tea and then to watch her dance. She then answered our many questions about Maiko and Geiko through an interpreter.

          What is a Geiko/Geisha?

          It is necessary to explain that contrary to popular belief, Maiko and Geiko are not sex workers. They are respected artists who undergo a course of 5 years apprenticeship in singing, dancing, playing instruments, calligraphy and traditional Japanese skills such as tea ceremonies before they are allowed to qualify. They are highly accomplished performers and social hostesses who are invaluable to the smooth and successful running of business or social gatherings.

          Nor can you simply book a Geiko to hostess or entertain at a function. They entertain only for guests known to their mother house who have been clients of at least three generations standing. New clients may be accepted only on recommendations from existing clients.

          The Discipline

          It is hard to find a Western equivalent for this exclusive profession. It combines the rigorous training and discipline of an elite ballet school and music academy, with the self-renunciation of a nunnery.

          The community of Geiko and Maiko residing in Gion is governed by the strictest and perhaps the most conservative rules of all. This unique art form developed over the generations is fading as fewer girls are prepared to undertake the arduous training and lifestyle.

          Few are accepted for training as a Maiko, and even fewer qualify as a Geiko after 5 years.

          A Maiko lives under the auspices of a Kami-san (Mother of the House) who is responsible for her training and accommodation. The House Mother also takes on a parenting role. The 18 year-old young woman we met chose to become a Maiko when she was 15. This meant that she not only left school at that age, but she also had to leave her family to come to Kyoto. She is only permitted to see her family a few times a year.

          Maiko in teahouse Kyoto Japan – womangoingplaces.com.au

          Each day, from morning until late afternoon, she receives instruction from teachers in singing, playing instruments, dancing and traditional Japanese arts including learning how to apply the striking makeup. Then from early evening until late at night she hosts guests in the traditional teahouses or at private functions. She dances and sings, accompanying herself with a range of Japanese musical instruments, pours tea and engages them in conversation.

          She wears gorgeous kimonos and her hair is impeccably swept up in the distinctive, glossy traditional style. Since it is so difficult and time-consuming to arrange this style, her hair is washed, styled and set once a week. To maintain it in place, she, like all the other Maiko and Geiko, have to sleep with their necks on hard wooden little platforms.

          During the 5-year training period she receives no pay for her work and studies. All her expenses are paid for by the Kami-san. If she wants to leave, she has to pay back all the expenses to the Kami-san.

          If she wants to marry, she is not allowed to remain in the profession.

          Remarkably, a Geiko’s skills and accomplishments as an artist, performer, conversationalist and hostess can survive the loss of her looks and her youth. There are even some Geiko in their 80’s still hosting guests.

          Public Geiko performances

          It has recently become possible to meet a Maiko as we did, through a tour company, through the internet or a local travel guide could arrange it.

          Kyoto’s Gion Kobu Geisha community puts on annual public shows which provide a rare opportunity for the public to see the geisha perform their arts. The most famous of these performances is the Miyako Odori  in which Geiko give several hour-long highly stylised dance performances each day for about 3 weeks in April.  See the official site Miyako Odori  to book tickets.



          Feature image of Geiko in Kyoto Japan by June Simpson

          Related posts:

          Our Top Places in Japan

          Ryokans in Japan

          Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

          Onsen in Japan

          Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

          Autumn in Japan

          Notes on Japan

          The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet

          Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan