Thursday, 15 September 2022

My Australian Outback Adventure

Finally, finally, finally... our long-planned trip to outback Australia became a reality. After postponing our trip to Uluru back in April, it turned out that nothing quite beats the chill of the desert air in September. For a first-time visitor to Australia's red centre, the cold mornings and evenings were something that my wife Denise and I weren't expecting. The upside however, was a fresh earthern smell that lingered in your nostrils long after the sun came up. That's me above at sunset however. Just in case you go getting the wrong idea that I'm an early morning drinker!

Nothing beats a desert sunrise. Just look how big the sun looks as it crests the horizon!

For us, the trip to Uluru was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that we initially booked to celebrate our... (or perhaps I should just say my) 50th Birthday, but the first half of the year brought change in the form of study commitments and also saw us relocating back to Brisbane. A busy year called for the trip to be postponed until after our daughter's wedding in August. After flying into Ayers Rock International Airport for a 5 night stay at the wonderful Ayers Rock Resort, we were actually closer to our 30th Wedding Anniversary than our birthdays! So the trip became a celebration of both.

Sunrise at Uluru (formerly called Ayers Rock). It's one of those places you just have to see in person.

Being a special occasion holiday, there was no roughing-it or self-drive car rental. We wanted everything taken care of from the moment we touched down. So our first morning, and first true view of Uluru, was on a pre-dawn AAT Kings coach tour for a sunrise coffee and bickies at the viewing area they call Talinguru Nyakunytjaku (talin-guru nuh-kun-ja-koo). I tried to practise pronouncing every Aboriginal word we encountered, but the easiest and most lovely word I picked up was palya (pahl-ya) meaning 'hello, welcome, all is well.' It was spelt out in giant letters at the resort, and apart from making a must-get photo opportunity for the tourists, it's a word I'll now associate with Central Australia in much the same way that you immediately picture Hawaii when you hear Aloha.

But there's no palm trees out in Yulara, (the nearest and only town in the vicinity of Uluru), just a lot of spinifex grass and struggling Desert Oak (wrongly named for they're actually trees from the Acacia family), and surprisingly not a lot of wildlife.

Not far away from 'the rock' is Kata Tjuta, once known as The Olgas. It's really like a scene on Mars!

Next stop on our morning tour was at Kata Tjuta (cat-a joo-ta) where the selfie-stick got another work-out! I'm glad I brought it along, for by now I was getting quite good at making it look like someone else was taking our photos. But with both our kids now grown and married, this was our Mum-and-Dad only, much anticipated coming of life adventure. I'm so glad my troublesome knee held-up to the hour long hike up into Walpa Gorge. If we had made this trip a year ago, I probably would have just sat at the viewing area by the car park rather than experiencing it close up. The ground was rocky, uneven and resembled the surface of Mars. And if you think Uluru is big at 348 metres above sea level, Kata Tjuta is actually 546 metres high, only it doesn't look anything more than a small bumpy ridge when viewed from the distance.

The great thing about experiencing a place as amazing as this, is being able to talk about the highlights over dinner. Which we did each and every night of our stay, whether it was the Pioneer Outback Pub in Yulara, or one of the fine restaurants at Ayers Rock Resort. The resort town of Yulara is spaced out between each of the different accommodations, and a free shuttle bus runs loops of the town every 20 minutes leaving you free to hop from one spot to the next. The night we chose to celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary (even though it was a couple of months early), we dined at the Arnguli Grill where we were staying at the Desert Gardens Hotel. Let me just say that I absolutely loved the menu being influenced with Indigenous flavours, from the entree to mains and even dessert. Food has become one of the highlights when we holiday, and both the Arnguli Grill and the adjoining Mangata Bistro at the Desrt Gardens were superb.

Aww! Happy (early) 30th Anniversary babe. Don't we look gorgeous?

Mutitjulu Waterhole at the base of Uluru when filled with water.

Not content with already having pushed my knee to the limit, the next day we took the Uluru shuttle bus tour to the base of the rock, and had them drop us off at the start of the walking track to Mutitjulu Waterhole, (mu-ti-joo-loo). The track at the base of the rock is flat, and the guide said to allow 2 hrs 15 minutes to do the walk from the waterhole to the main visitor car park at Mala on the other side where the bus would meet us 3 hours later. With the base being 10 kilometres around, not only did we walk 1/3 of the way around the base of Uluru to the Mala car park, but still had enough time for me to hobble a little further to Kantju Gorge (can't-ja) to view some of the Aboriginal cave paintings on the way, and still make it back to the meeting point for our shuttle bus before it returned to pick us up.

There are signed areas outlining where photography is prohibited as the path passes by some sacred sites. So although I'm able to share the amazing sight of Mutitjulu Waterhole being full of water, (as it had rained on the day we flew in), let me just say that each twist, turn, crack and line on the rock tells a story to the Aboriginal people. The most recent line added to this ancient story is the two white lines caused from the footprints of tourists who up until 2019 were able to shuffle single file to the top of the rock. Today it is prohibited to climb on the rock, but there are two white lines leading to the top that are clearly visible from a distance, as though white man's arrival has been added to the ongoing story. My knee is such today, that I dread climbing even a flight of stairs. Yet even if my knee was it's 20 year-old self once more, out of respect I wouldn't contemplate climbing the rock. But still, as a poet and writer... those two white lines are resonating inside me. I'm sure that something creative will come from it once the idea has fully grown.

And perhaps the best way to see Uluru.. on a camel safari!

And if two consecutive days of hiking wasn't taxing enough on my knee, climbing up on a camel the next day for a camel safari along with my wife was enough adreneline and adventure for this trip! After seeing how friendly the camel behind us was, Denise opted to ride up front leaving me to enjoy the gastronomical sounds and smell of a very friendly camel who just wanted to get up close to my arm for a pat. The girth of a camel's belly is such that my legs have never felt so wide apart. My knees, hips and butt were all sore the next morning, and I don't know how those early camalier explorers managed to ride these ships of the desert any longer than our 90 minute safari. Still, for me it was one of the absolute highlights of our trip! And I'd do it all again tomorrow if I could. Seeing Uluru from atop a camel in outback Australia? Just amazing!

'Mind if a take a selfie with you mate?' Says the camel, 'no worries. Cheese!'

And although we were booked to dine under the stars on our final night with an experience called the Sounds of Silence, an afternoon thunderstorm had other plans and we ultimately missed out. So I'll show this last photo out of sequence from a night earlier, as it literally became our last sunset on our outback adventure.

The Field of Lights Star Pass. One of the most visually amazing experiences I've seen.

The attraction is called the Field of Lights, and is a visual art installation by a man by the name of Bruce Munro. Just outside of Yulara on private property overlooking Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, is a solar-powered light installation the size of four football fields containing 50,000 colour changing lights. We pre-booked the popular Star Pass a year before making this trip, and were not disappointed! A coach picks you up from the Hotel reception and takes you to this secret viewing deck atop a sand dune overlooking Uluru. That view in itself is fantastic, sipping wine from an unlimited bar as the sun sets and you watch the colour of the rock darken and fade into the night sky. You almost forget that you've come to see the lights.

Then gradually the grassland in front of you begins to twinkle, as one by one the lights come to life. The sun sets and the field before you turns into a sea of illuminated flowers that change colour in gentle waves. Not only is the sight an incredible contrast to such an ancient landscape, but as last drinks are called at the bar, you get the opportunity to walk down into the field and follow the illuminated path that winds through an immersive work of art. It kind of surprises you with a child-like moment of feeling that the changing colours are actually interacting with you. I liked getting lost in that moment.

And 48 hours later it was over, we were checking out and boarding a coach transfer to an airport that is perhaps the most remote commercial airport in the world. I came to experience an ancient landscape, and left feeling more comfortable with my place in it. Inspired you could say, to be an Australian. The middle of our outback adventure was also the moment we heard that Queen Elizabeth II had passed away. For us it was like two cultures, worlds apart, that in one moment collided. I've come to appreciate the significance of both cultures, and I hope that the future of our country is a fusion of the positive and good in both.

You visit a place like Uluru wanting to come away with a better understand of its' cultural history, and instead come away with it writing a story upon you. It's a beautifully enriching experience. Maybe that's just the writer in me. This is my story. Hope you liked it, till next time...

Monday, 8 August 2022

My Sunshine Coast Finale

After fourteen years, six months and twelve days... it seems that my time on the Sunshine Coast is now officially over. The big seachange of 2008 that was supposedly going to herald the makings of a full-time writing career after moving from Brisbane to Caloundra (picture above of one of many glorious sunrises over Caloundra's Happy Valley that have inspired me), has ultimately resulted in my being settled back in Brisbane once more.

Early morning wedding preparations are well underway in the Glasshouse Mountains for the wedding of our daughter Melody to Colin.

The finale for such an amazing milestone, was the recent marriage of our daughter Melody to our newly acquired son-in-law Colin. Walking my daughter down the aisle will be one of those moments that will stay with me forever, and I couldn't have hoped for a better man to be waiting for her at the end of that short but sweet walk. Despite having moved south to Brisbane a little over two months ago, the long-planned wedding in the heart of the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland's Sunshine Coast Hinterland, was the one lingering emotion that left me still feeling connected to the Coast. Only instead of driving the short distance from the Coast to the Hinterland for the occassion, we rented a house for a weekend that will go down as one of the highlights of my life. Like all weddings however, a year of meticulous planning is over in an afternoon/evening, and before you know it everybody checks out the next morning and goes their separate ways home. It's that word home that I'll get to in a moment.

My love of doing Dad things saw me volunteer to drive them to the airport once the weekend was over, so they could catch their early morning flight for their honeymoon. But as I weaved my way into the passenger drop-off zone at Brisbane Airport, the sky was lit up magnificently in the orange glow of a new dawn, and I remember thinking... that's it. It's over. The wedding, and my life on the Sunshine Coast already felt like yesterday. The weekend was certainly a lot to mull over on that quiet, solitary drive back home... to our apartment in the city.

While life might not always be pineapples and palm trees, the heartwarming part is that our children have both found love and married wonderful partners. Whatever challenges life throws at them, I at least know my daughter Melody, and son Brandon are both equipped to handle it with the amazing people at their side. My job as a Father now seems complete.

Our first brunch by the Brisbane River as empty-nesters... and we spend it planning when we can invite our kids and their partners to join us!

I guess that's what the move back to Brisbane signifies. Our time of raising children, and having watched them grow into adults during the years we lived on the Coast, is now over. Sure there have been some happy tears that have caught me off gaurd these past 48 hours, just as my son's wedding had 18 months earlier, but I'm ready to embrace this new beginning.

In the fourteen years we lived in Caloundra, Denise and I had negotiated the pitfalls of building a large family home, sold said home when it later became a bit too much for us, taught two children how to drive, helped them with their first car and guided them into University study. We then started a small business from scratch, worked alongside each other for over six years and ultimately moved-on after a back injury, depleted business and spiralling rent on the Sunshine Coast sucked the last bit of fun out of living there. We may have left the Coast with less money than when we arrived, but we left all the more richer from it. I'll always have memories from those years of some of the best holidays with our kids that we could ever have wished for. We also got to enjoy having our son Brandon and his wife Riley live with us for the past 3 years while they saved for a place of their own. I'll always be ready to go back to visit them, but its their town now. Our time is over.

Brisbane City by night... looking towards Roma Street Station. It sure has grown in the past 32 years!

Which brings me back to Brisbane, the city to which I first moved almost 32 years ago when I left home as an innocent-eyed young bloke. The things I know now, and the knowledge of where I would have invested if I was young man again, are as useless to me now as a tray of expired meat! However, all these years later I find myself better equipped at recognising the other things in life that matter more than the size of a mortgage. I've also somehow landed in the position of being a full-time writer-come-modeller, thanks largely to having persevered for so long in the face of all of the above. My 18th book release is on its way from the publisher, which in itself is a testament to bouncing around from novelist, to railway adventurer, to poet, photographer and model railway how-to author, purely because it is what I've always wanted to do.

Ready for a new chapter back in Brisbane... almost 32 years after I moved here to be with Denise.

So the challenge is now to recognise this moment for what it is. It's like I've always told my kids; "it's not forever, it's just for now." That applies to the good in life as well as the bad. I'm just so mindful to not be the sort of person who is that hung up about what may have gone wrong in the past, that they don't recognise when the good moments finally arrive. For us, that moment is here, and I just want to be able to enjoy it, and still be productive through it with my time. The same time that I've found so hard to come by in the past. There's going to be more highlights that will follow. More moments that I'm sure I will mull over and ultimately gain an even deeper perspective on this ride called life. For now I'm still basking in the early morning light of that new day, and so glad that love is alive and flourishing in the honeymoon of a new story.

Thursday, 3 February 2022

Bookshelf Layout Video Review

Australian Model Railway News January 2022

Huge thanks go out to Will James for covering my latest release Build a Bookshelf Layout in the January 2022 edition of his popular YouTube Show Australian Model Railway News. With almost 3,500 subscribers, his show which opens with a review of my book was seen by over 2,000 viewers in the first 24 hours! If you haven't seen Will's show before, then watch the YouTube clip above to see why its so popular.

Monday, 3 January 2022

Build A Bookshelf Layout

Another New Year... and another new book project!

It's hard to believe another year has gone past. It's 2022 and the world is still showing no signs of recovery from a Global Pandemic such as COVID. Perhaps it is timely that my latest book, and my first ever Arts & Crafts non-fiction book, takes root from my personal hobby that has kept me occupied through periods of lockdowns and restrictions here in Australia. It's also a hobby that I can now boast having over 40 years experience with. Welcome to my world of model trains, and my new book Build A Bookshelf Layout.

In the midst of a busy Christmas Holiday Down Under, the courier dropped my box of advance release copies of the new book at my door on Christmas Eve. But with Christmas, a short camping trip, New Years Eve, our Wedding Anniversary and my wife's 50th Birthday all condensed into 11 days of celebrations, I think I can be excused from making any announcement until now.

So, armed with a small platter of olives, cheeses and sun-dried tomatoes, and an absolutely exquisite bottle of Chandon bubbly courtesy of my niece Eleisha, I thinks its a safe time to set my next book project loose into the world.

Five years in the making, this 72 page colour instructional book is a great starting place for newcomers and old-head model railroaders alike to read before constructing their next model railway project layout. A good finish begins at the start, and I've often found that overseas books offer little beyond a trackplan and some diagrams that leave you floundering to work out why your finished layout doesn't resemble the masterpiece shown on the cover. This book is the opposite! Its' hands-on, step-by-step approach is designed to fast-track your skills and enjoyment, without learning what works, and what doesn't, the hard way!

There's over 40 years experience laid-out inside, more than 70 photos and enough informative text that will talk you through what you need to consider on the way to constructing an enjoyable small model railway layout. The book covers the planning process, benchwork construction, painting and layout presentation, lighting and basic track laying skills that all result in a rewarding model railway experince.

Two more books covering scenery secrets and trackside tips will also be available in 2022. Build a Bookshelf Layout is to the best of my knowledge, the first Australian model railway how-to book to hit the market.

Books are also available to download as eBooks direct through Blurb or the Apple store.


While my model railway hobby can now boast gracing the cover of Australian Model Railway Magazine and appearing in 8 different model train exhibitions Down Under, seeing my handiwork now spawning a short series of books brings me the uppermost delight. The models and modelling examples you see on the cover of Build A Bookshelf Layout have now all moved on, replaced with a new and bigger project that is taking shape above my desk. Its a hobby that is continually evolving, and one that has now rendered the instructional books of the 1970's that I read as a young child obsolete.

So here's to the next generation of modellers. May this book serve you well as an example of how to fast-track your modelling skills and get a lifetime of enjoyment out of the world's greatest hobby.

Phill O

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

#21 Twenty Twenty Twenty One!

The above photo of grey skies prowling the morning horizon beyond the boardwalk at Happy Valley in my hometown of Caloundra, Australia, does a good job of summing up the past two years. Just when you think tomorrow is about to usher in a brighter day, a storm of some form seems to come along and swallow it up.

Worldwide, 2020-2021 has been a testing time for everyone, and it seems that no-one on earth has been spared from the grip of a seemingly never-ending pandemic. Just when you think we're over the numbers and new cases, another wave of COVID-19 comes along, and like cyclones, they now seem to give each outbreak names. While 2020 saw Australians adopt some strange new habits such as wearing face masks and toilet paper hoarding, as 2021 draws to a close, it worries me that the Australia I grew up in has changed as a result. Everyone I talk to seems to think the same thing. We can't wait for life to return to normal. We just don't know what the new normal is going to look like.

It's been a while since I last tagged a post under the banner of 'Positively Phill'. Three years to be honest, and without sounding pessimistic this will definitely be the last one! Not just because the world has changed, but over the course of the  past 10 years I've been blogging, I guess I have too.

I developed a habit throughout my decade of blogging, of always trying to share some positive inspiration and information, be it on writing, life or travel, beyond the guise of simply self-promoting my own books. For the large part it just went unnoticed, as thoughts on writing and tricks on how to handle yourself as a writer, transitioned from well written text entries on writer's pages, to a bunch of infographics and power words on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. It was something I already shared back in January 2018, 'Is blogging still relevant?' and something that seems to have gone further down the toilet in the years since as positivity was replaced by marketability.

And call me old-fashioned... but rattling off a bunch of power words such as...





...does sweet stuff-all to improve my life or the lives of those around me. So how do you actually stay positive?

As a new era of acceptance sweeps through society, the broom of cancel-culture seems to be following right behind. When it comes to sharing views on how to survive and stay strong in a pandemic, I'm finding it's becoming increasingly harder to have simple conversations with friends and family, without first needing to gauge their stance on matters such as COVID vacination, gender issues, Faith and real estate! Our so called accepting world seems more devisive than ever.

Sunshine always breaks through. Shelley Beach sunrise, Caloundra, Australia.

It's something I've been thinking about more and more while our country has waded through border closures, hotel quarantines, lockdowns, home schooling and the oxymoronic social distancing rule. I've never had such mixed feelings about the state of our country. From panic buying toilet paper in 2020, to panic buying property in 2021. I've never seen greed played out on such a scale in the Australian psyche.

Having called the Sunshine Coast home for the past 14 years, a mass influx of people moving north to escape Victoria and New South Wales has driven local prices up, and the last of my friends away. You can't blame people for thinking that a move north to Queensland sounds like a good idea, and you can't blame locals for accepting offers $200K over what their asking price was. But when houses are being snapped up only to be demolished, as compared to Sydney prices it is still a cheap block of land close to the beach, you know the playing field has changed. Property values go up, and I know of cases where landlords have increased their rent by $200 per week just because they can. If you can't afford it, there's a waiting list of families in Sydney who can. Beyond the inconvenience of a Pandemic, there's now a Pandemic-led geographical redistribution of finances in play.

I find myself somewhere in the middle of all this. Having run a small cleaning business with my wife for the past 6 years, we've had to negotiate the initial COVID-19 panic and work-from-home practices that saw us lose a large portion of our clients, the stress of keeping the business afloat with the Federal Government Jobkeeper Assistance package, and dealing with having my wife no longer able to work after injuring her back. Finally, just when the economy is supposed to be recovering and I'm running the business on my own, I tear the meniscus in my knee and was told I'd need 8 to 12 weeks off work. Like that was going to happen! And all the while I'm trying to continue with several book projects I have underway. Something has to give.

So let's finish this with the positive. There's only two choices you have whenever something goes wrong. You can either let it defeat you on any level of your choosing. Or, rise above it and find a way around the problem. Sometimes finding a way around a problem is simply accepting what you can no longer do.

The key part of the problem seems to be that the world has changed. I'm also getting older, and have to realise that I can no longer work as hard as I have in the past under the false assumption that I'm getting ahead. With business earnings down, expenses up, and general pain and discomfort with my knee on the increase, 2022 will be a year of change.

Here's hoping for brighter days like this in 2022. With my wife at Caloundra boardwalk.

There's a lot of positives to look forward to next year, starting with my wife and I both turning 50. Trusting that all the State border restriction nonsense will be over with, we've booked a holiday to the red centre as our gift to each other, and will (touch wood) be flying to spend 5 nights at Uluru. Come August, our Daughter will be marrying, making Denise and I true empty-nesters. We'll then kick off 2023 by celebrating our 30th Wedding Anniversary. They're all big milestones that have taken a lot of work to get to! And with all of these milestones marked firmly on the calendar, its also exciting to be working around them as to when we wind up our cleaning business on the Sunshine Coast, put everything into storage, and head off on a working holiday around Australia.

It's something I've always longed to do, but something we've had to put off until our children were both grown, married and in a place of their own. If we don't do it now, there will be Grandkids in the coming years that will prevent us from being away, and who knows if we will both physically be up to the challenge when we retire? Who knows if the average Australian will still be able to afford to retire? It scares me the level of financial stress the next generation has inherited with University HEC Debts and astronomical real estate prices, but at least I know my two are equipped to navigate it.

For a writer who has relied solely on running a cleaning business to earn an income rather than the 16 books I have released to date, the pressure is now on to finish all of my current book projects by mid next year! I want a clean slate in front of me to start a new project on the road, with whatever my camera lens takes a liking to. Heading off after August will give us time to be properly prepared. The alternative... keep doing the same things but having to work harder to make someone else rich, doesn't sit right with me. If that's the game, someone else can play it.

They say change is inevitable, and I agree. But when change comes, you always have the option to change with it, or let it change you. 2022... I'm ready to see what life changes there are!

Positively Phill... Over and out!

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! Wherever you are, may 2022 be better for everyone.