Category Archives: My Story

A country welcome for same-sex couples

THE northern NSW town of Tenterfield is opening its heart to four same-sex couples for an affordable and unique pop-up wedding event in September.

‘One of many rural electorates that voted in favour of altering the Australian Marriage Act to allow equal access to same-sex couples.’

To celebrate the arrival of marriage equality in Australia, a group of local businesspeople has created a fun, intimate wedding experience in this colourful corner of the New England country region.

Say I Do in Tenterfield is an initiative of Amanda Rudge, Sharon Julius, Desley Roos, Kim Thompson and Wendy Roots.

According to the group, the pop-up wedding concept was inspired by locals noticing a trend, but also a major shift in national politics.

“In the past 12 months our town has become a very popular wedding destination for city and coastal brides and grooms seeking to have their wedding in a beautiful, relaxed country town,” the group said in a statement.

BOY’S BIOG The definitive biography of Peter Allen.

“As 2017 rolled to a close, Australia voted yes for marriage equality! The group of experts behind Say I Do in Tenterfield wanted to celebrate, so we’ve teamed up with the 2018 Peter Allen Festival to launch something special.”

Immortalised as the birthplace of Grammy-nominated and Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Peter Allen in his single ‘Tenterfield Saddler’, the town is an LGBTIQ-friendly destination.

Tenterfield is situated in one of many rural electorates that voted in favour of altering the Australian Marriage Act to allow equal access to same-sex couples, and local LGBTIQ have been taking their vows ever since.

Constituents in this region didn’t have much leadership on the issue. Held by the National Party at federal level by the staunchly anti-marriage equality Barnaby Joyce MP, assisted by the similarly opposed Senator John ‘Wacka’ Williams, the wider community rallied during the marriage equality survey to show how out of touch its Canberra representatives are on LGBTIQ equality.

Michael Burge and Richard Moon outside the Tenterfield Saddlery.

I should know, because it was here that I finally got to marry my long-term partner,  silversmith Richard Moon. We tied the knot in the New England in May this year, after more than a decade of pushing for a change in the law.

I was born at nearby Inverell, and after living and working throughout the world in the four decades since I left, it was a touching experience to be able to marry in the place which has become my homeland once again.

Richard was born at nearby Toowoomba, so these two country boys have been able to come home and get married in the border country where we hale from.

And since moving to the region from southeast Queensland in 2017, we have found the New England community very LGBTIQ-friendly. We know of two lesbian weddings in the New England region this year, in fact Richard created the wedding rings for one couple.

Better than Eloping

According to the Say I Do in Tenterfield team, their pop-up wedding event will be “better than eloping”.

“If you’ve always wanted to get married but you don’t want to deal with all the fuss and fluff, let us take care of it and create an intimate wedding for you to enjoy!”

The group underlined that the Say I Do in Tenterfield consortium has all bases covered for stress-free and affordable nuptials, without putting couples through a media circus.

“From published photographers and first-class stylists, to a world-renowned wedding cake creator, let us take care of the lot for under $10,000!”

COLOURFUL COUNTRY Tenterfield is known for its seasonal beauty. (Photo: Tenterfield Tourism)

The Say I Do team includes Amanda Rudge, co-owner and manager of Tenterfield’s Our Place Wine and Espresso Bar; Sharon Julies and Desley Roos, business partners of Inspired By You wedding style and hire; Kim Thompson, owner of The Bungalow and Ivy Leaf Chapel and Tenterfield Topiary Hire, and Wendy Roots, owner of Tenterfield Weddings.

“We look forward to holding more themed pop-up weddings and renewals in the very near future,” the group said in a statement.

“Our aim is to include as many local and regional businesses, services and products as we can.

“Come and experience first-hand what other brides and grooms have already experienced and loved! Taste, smell, see and feel our exceptional regionally-produced products, services and our soulful town.

“Tenterfield has so much history: beautiful old buildings, picturesque landscapes and is central for wedding guests to meet.”

According to the Say I Do in Tenterfield team, the cost of a wedding in the country is considerably less than city prices, and much more stress-free.

“Couples can’t believe the value you get for your money, and how relaxed and easy it is to deal with our local businesses and services, with nothing too hard to put together,” they said.

“You can make your wedding rings in one day with Richard Moon; have a private Yogalates session for you and your family and friends; get gourmet picnic packs sent out with you as you explore our magical national parks, and there’s many more little secrets to come!”

If you’re interested in being one of the four couples at this pop-up wedding email idotenterfield@outlook.com.au or go to the Say I Do in Tenterfield Facebook page.

Searching for signatures in the dark

IF YOU’VE ever been caving, even one of those walk-in-walk-out tours where you don’t have to get your feet too dirty, you’ll know the experience does something to the soul.

“I was about to turn back as my light passed over a patch of stone higher up when I thought I spotted a cursive ‘F’.”

Perhaps it’s primal, a DNA memory from millennia ago when our ancestors found shelter underground? Perhaps it’s all those fairy tales reminding us that once upon a time there might have been something more in the dark than our elders were letting on?

It’s a frisson that people across the globe subject ourselves to daily, as tourism cave operators everywhere will tell you.

I had the chance to work at a cave system, one of the world’s largest, when I was a cave guide at NSW’s Jenolan Caves. Taking people into the dark recesses of the mountain was always a thrill, and I was lucky enough to be guided on a very special tour recently that was a real highlight.

Jenolan’s Arch Cave has been closed to the public since the 1930s, but late in 2017 I was granted access during a scientific inspection in order to find one name written on the cave wall in the 19th century.

Finding J. Falls

As a guide, the most intriguing stories I came across in my time at Jenolan are those that tell the tales of the people who went into the dark long ago.

SIGNATURE SPOTTING Dr Anne Musser, paleontologist and Jenolan guide, reading names on the crystal.

The first people of the area, the Gundungurra and Dharug, had long traversed the passageways and underground rivers, and their Dreamtime mythology included several of the cave systems in the NSW Central West.

By the middle of the 1800s, local settlers were regularly visiting the caves under the guidance of the local Whalan family, whose property at Oberon was one of the closest ‘gateways’ to the valley. They started the tradition of leaving names to record visitation, and, on occasion, the discovery of caves.

Most of what Jenolan guides related at the time I worked there came from the surviving oral traditions handed down by generations of guides before them, and one of the strongest stories concerned the discovery of a major section of the cave system by a local woman, Katie Webb.

I explored as much of her story as I could find, but there was another name that interested me, that of Jane Falls, whose legend at Jenolan include the possibility that she was one of the explorers to discover the system’s largest publicly open cave, the world-famous Lucas Cave, in around 1860.

The name Jane Falls polarises Jenolan guides. I’m not going to beat around the bush, it’s been bit of a male-dominated place in its time. Women have only been officially guiding tours since the 1980s, and between Katie Webb’s exploration in the 1880s and the next discovery of a cave by a woman there is a gap of more than a century.

The very idea that a woman might have discovered the Lucas Cave is confronting for some, which is one reason I suspect the issue of where Jane Falls’s signatures are remains a bit of a muddle.

‘J. Falls’ is credited as being one of the first European visitors to enter the Lucas Cave in newspaper reports from January 1860, but if that was Jane, she presents a conundrum for researchers. As was common practice, many of the signatures on Jenolan’s walls are initials only, so any appearance of ‘J. Falls’ could be one of three people: Jane Falls, her mother (also Jane), or Jane’s brother James, all Irish emigrants in the 1850s.

Nevertheless, a former colleague came across one trace of the Falls family in the Arch Cave, and so we went to see it for ourselves.

Graffiti

What became quickly apparent in the Arch Cave is that it’s a signature-rich chamber. Situated high in the Jenolan limestone, it was one of the earliest caves entered by European settlers, since it was easily accessed from the surface.

Like all caves, the major formations were named. By the time we were standing at the Assyrian Lion, identified as such for its similarity to those in the British Museum, we were looking at signatures scrawled in every direction, on walls, on crystal, and on the ceiling.

People left their mark using graphite pencil, or charcoal, or even the smoke from their candle, and in some places the names have quickly deteriorated.

I was struck by the possibility that we’d never find Jane’s name in this mass of graffiti!

A couple of side chambers required us to squeeze through into a narrower space where 19th century explorers had gone before, and I immediately saw the name ‘Edwin Whalan’ written boldly on a promontory of rock.

It made me chuckle. The Whalans earned their place in Jenolan lore, no doubt, but compared to some tiny signatures, the size and passion of this lustily scrawled Whalan moniker smacked of ownership.

A sweep of the torch above revealed other familiar names, but once again there were just so many. The Arch is a small cave but even so it would take hours and hours to search them all.

Some visitors had inscribed more than just names, also. Short poems, or expressions of how they felt, were touching reminders of the mysteries of the underworld, begging that question again, about why we come to gather in the dark and remember those who were here before us?

Curlicues

I was about to turn back as my light passed over a patch of stone higher up when I thought I spotted a cursive ‘F’. I stepped up for a closer look, and a shadowy word came into sharper focus. Most definitely ‘Falls’… my heart thumped. Most definitely a ‘J’ and an ‘A’. This was it! But standing there in wonder I had to admit immediately, this could be ‘Jane’ or ‘James’ Falls.

JANE’S NAME? The elusive signature of Jane or James Falls in Jenolan’s Arch Cave.

I grumbled at myself, and at poor handwriting, and the passage of time, then got a bit hopeful at the possibility of another name starting with ‘J’ and ‘A’ slightly above. Could this be Jane and James Falls, siblings on an expedition?

We took plenty of pictures and mused over the curlicues of the Falls signature. Nobody wanted to dash my hopes, but as our tour concluded and we journeyed out, I had to admit that it was not a conclusive sighting of Jane, not yet.

My search for her goes on, and will feature in plenty of writing to come, but to have stood in the dark where the Falls name was written, I feel closer than ever.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

 

Capturing the colours of Ngarabal country

“It was the myriad of colours of semi-rural landscapes that captured my imagination.”

THIS writer and artist has been neglecting his blog. I’ve got a decent excuse, however: I’ve moved.

After five years living on Coochiemudlo Island in South East Queensland, my husband and I have returned to live in the NSW Northern Tablelands.

This place is border country, a series of high-altitude tablelands just south of the notional line on the map that separates Queensland from NSW.

COUNTRY COLOURS The views between Deepwater and Tenterfield in the NSW Northern Tablelands.

While living on an island in Queensland’s Moreton Bay, we met many of the Quandamooka people, particularly artists. Here, in Ngarabal country, we’re aware of living close to one of the largest Koori language groups in this state: the Kamilaroi, and it’s been great meeting Kamilaroi people and their neighbours in nearby Ngarabal traditional lands.

Two years ago we attended the Myall Creek Massacre memorial, which commemorates one of the worst atrocities against Indigenous Australians.

That trip back to the place I was born inspired, in part, our recent move. The taste of the high country inspired several other trips, which became property and house-hunting expeditions from the Granite Belt to the New England region.

We saw some incredible landscapes, often bursting with wildlife. We encountered places where some big dreams had been broken over the years, and where people have found opportunities to make homes in all kinds of situations, many of them quite unconventional.

Often, I was reminded of Germaine Greer’s reforestation of a former dairy farm, also in the border country.

British novelist E. M. Forster’s sense of place often crossed my mind, also, particularly his unexpected acquisition of a woodland adjacent to his home at Abinger Hammer, not far from London.

VIEWS FOREVER Country west of Stanthorpe in Queensland.

We considered buying a five-acre block of forest so close to the border you could throw a stone interstate. We got very serious about an 80-acre lot of land in the western slopes, where emu walked on the horizon and people had come looking for gold, but found nothing.

The day we extended our search into the upland valley of Deepwater in NSW was crisp. It was July and there was frost on the car when we left the motel at Tenterfield to head into the old tin mining country of Stannum. A property we were shown there had character, but with all its living spaces on the shady south side, it was not a wise choice for life at a thousand metres above sea level.

Before lunch we found our way into the open land south of the Deepwater River, where an old railway property had been on the market for a couple of years. A former gatekeeper’s cottage, this 1885 double-brick dwelling had been lovingly restored and extended in the decades since the railway service north of Armidale had ceased.

GOING DEEP The Deepwater River in Ngarabal Country.

The nearby New England Highway had long since been rerouted, leaving this place and all its secrets in a world of its own, nestled between state habitat reserve and grazing property.

We loved it before we even stepped through the door, where the passive solar nature of brick houses meant the place was warm without even having the fire on.

Within weeks of arrival I was inspired to paint. The broad vistas of Moreton Bay were left far behind, and it was the myriad of colours of semi-rural landscapes that captured my imagination.

I’d spent a significant proportion of my childhood absorbing these lands, and after spending time driving between Tablelands’ towns, the work flowed as quickly as paint blended with water on canvas.

It’s sometimes confronting being back. My family left this place on the back of several broken dreams of our own, but the landscape of this place is an incredible consolation.

Check out my online gallery.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.