About Me

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Queensland, Australia
I'm an Australian author of Contemporary Romance, Romantic Action/Adventure, and Historical fiction. I live in Queensland, Australia. www.noelleclark.net

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Look out November - NaNoWriMo will own me

I've signed up to NaNoWriMo!!

For those of you who know me well, you will realise that I will need to be given a wide berth in the month of November, as I have signed up for the world-wide National Novel Writing Month competition. 

It means that I have to write 50,000 words from 1st November until 30th November!  That is a LOT of writing, considering I still have to fit in a full time, full on job, and also participate in my family life consisting of three generations in one small home - three adults, a four year old, a five month old, two cats and a dog.

So, fair warning to everyone, give me some SPACE in November!  And I will reward you with a fantastic novel full of adventure, laughter, heartache.  A damn good read!

Wish me luck!  I will post my progress and thoughts - dark and light - on this blog during the month of November.

Oh, and if you want to go through this rather unusual form of masochism yourself, visit the NaNoWriMo website at http://nanowrimo.org/ and good luck.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On Writing

"A great source of calamity lies in regret and anticipation; therefore a person is wise who thinks of the present alone, regardless of the past or future." - Oliver Goldsmith

I am finding myself living dual lives at the moment.  One is the workaday world of the present, where I commute to work, where I live within a family group of three generations, and am happy to be travelling this path through life at the moment.

My other life is immersed in the past.  My China story is taking shape, and my characters have all of a sudden sprung to life.  I can hear my Nana's voice, see her smile, feel her papery thin skin that used to dangle from her arms.  I remember touching this soft, soft skin and loving it's warmth and silkiness, and remember being surprised when my Nana got slightly annoyed by the attention I gave it.  I am infatuated, once again, by my Nana, more than forty years since she died. She was a big part of my childhood, living with us, playing with us, telling us about her life in China and how she lost the love of her life in such a tragic way. 

I did not intend to start writing yet, as I still have so much research to do, but I just cannot help myself.  When I am at work, my mind keeps pulling me away from my tasks to hear my Nana's voice and urging me to write down everything she is saying.  I reluctantly have to resist and set my mind once again to what I have to do.  So pleasurable does it feel to be so close to Nana that I would gladly give up sleep to keep writing her story.

Whilst I am enjoying the anticipation of writing, my Nana, in my book, is currently dealing with anticipation (and no doubt a little trepidation), as she is about to board a five thousand ton steamship and travel for many, many weeks to an exotic and foreign land.  My Nana is made of stern stuff, she is a much stronger woman than I am, so she is determined to put the sadness of leaving her past happy life behind her, to not fret too much about what the future may hold, but to enjoy to the utmost, the present.  I can just hear my Nana shouting to the wind and waves - "Bring it on!!".  Her wide smile would be plastered across her lovely warm face.  Bon Voyage, Nana.

About their voyage from Brisbane to China:
The Brisbane Courier  Shipping Lists told me that on Saturday 20th June 1914, my Grandmother, Gladys Houston, and my Aunty Anne (Anne Houston), left the Port of Brisbane on the KPM Line ship Tasman, bound for Batavia (now Jakarta), and from thence on to Hong Kong.  I am yet to track down whether or not they stayed on the Tasman from Hong Kong to Shanghai.  The newspaper shows that the ship had travelled from Sydney to Brisbane and was steered by Captain Lucardie.

The Tasman was 5023 tons - relatively small when compared with the likes of the Orient Line ships which were three or four times the size and were luxury liners.  My research shows that the Tasman that my ladies sailed on was version number 2 and built in 1913 by Earle's Shipbuilding  Engineering Company Ltd., Hull, England. In 1918 it was confiscated by the British Government, torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U46 in the Atlantic Ocean.

So, it was a brand new steam ship with a buff funnel with a black stripe around the top.  I am still searching for a photo of it but have managed to find some interior photos of a very glamourous sister ship, the Niew Holland which was about 12,000 tons and luxury in the extreme (and more than twice the size of the Tasman.  I also discovered that any passenger ships leaving ports (particularly in Sydney) were sent off in gala style, with brass and pipe bands and masses of coloured paper streamers linked between ship and shore.  Remember, there were no aeroplanes yet, only sea travel.

Friday, August 19, 2011

On Writing

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail" - Benjamin Franklin

After some years of thinking about this project, mulling it over, researching, planning various attack routes, I have finally come up with a chapter outline for my based-on-fact fictional story of several generations of strong women who soar to unimaginable happiness, who overcome serious adversity, who live lives in exotic, wild and turbulent places, coping with all that fate throws at them.

This story has metamorphosed from what was originally going to be a family memoir cum travel story, to a historical fiction novel, and now, in its present guise, will be a family saga full of adventure, romance, excitement, violence, sex, angst, loss, happiness and sadness, all set against an exotic eastern backdrop that still holds, even in this world of fast and cheap transport to anywhere, a lot of mystery and inscrutability.

It will be a roller coaster ride of emotions. It will be uplifting and empowering, with heroines who will inspire other women to take a leap of faith.

Stay tuned as this story evolves.

Below is a picture of the Tivoli Theatre in Brisbane, circa 1918, on the site of the current King George Square, opposite the Brisbane City Hall.  In the background, you can see the Albert Street Uniting Church.  My Nana and Aunty Anne had an employment agency office inside one of the buildings adjacent to theTivoli Theatre building, which began construction in 1914 (the year the girls left for China), and finished in 1918.  It was built on the site of the old Turkish Baths.

Countries I have visited

Visited Countries

Visited Countries Map from TravelBlog

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fremantle, Western Australia

Freo.        “Rio?”    –   “Not Rio dummy, Freo, Freo de Jennero”
It was a lovely sunny, winters day in Perth so I decided to catch the train from Perth Central down to Fremantle for the day. The locals call it “Freo”. I love that quality in all Aussies to shorten names, making them sound more like mates than cities or towns. For instance, Brisbane is Brissy; Alice Springs is ‘the Alice’; Kaimkillenbun is ‘the Bun’, Toowoomba is ‘T-Bar’, and hence, Fremantle is ‘Freo’. Not Rio, as in Mike Nesmith’s sensational sixties hit ‘Rio’, but ‘Freo’ dummy - Freo de Jennero. Ha ha.
For a mere $3.80 I was able to buy a one way ticket on the suburban train and arrived in the port city of Fremantle about a half hour later. I strolled through the streets of the city centre, admiring the colonial architecture of this maritime town which dates back to the early 1800s.  Narrow lanes cross the major streets and the town has a major campus of Notre Dame University, mostly catering to maritime studies and arts. I enjoyed browsing through the bookstores (some good quality second hand bookshops too), and picked up a couple of bargains.

At the end of High Street is the Round House, once the first prison in Western Australia. It has a curious tunnel carved right through the rock and out to the beach. This was carved through the yellow sandstone to allow the whalers to haul their hideous victims up to the street for eventual flensing and carving up.  An upside to this place is that the tunnel opens out onto Bathers Beach, a small crescent of white sandy beach lapped by soft and gentle waves creeping in from the Indian Ocean.

From here I could see Rottnest Island, a rugged and windswept isle about an hour's launch trip from Fremantle docks.  I have been told that Rottnest Island is now the number one destination for ‘Schoolies’, that horrid group of school leavers who descend upon places where they can be obnoxious and drink without their parents for the first time.  So I decided not to go there but instead to invest my time into another wine trip which I would take the next day, to the Swan Valley.

I strolled down towards the Maritime Museum, a fine looking sandstone colonial style building which charts the history of this important port, as well as the numerous shipwrecks that have occurred on this coast. It is also home to the first Australian yacht to win the America's Cup, the 'Australia II'. I remember that day back in1982 when skipper John Bertrand triumphantly beat the opposition and sent the entire  nation into a long, exuberant party the likes of which have never been seen since.  I also remember our then Prime Minister, Bob Hawk, declaring that any employer who docked pay from an employee who didn’t turn up to work on this auspicious day was indeed ‘a bum’.  I bet he lived to regret that one!  Ha ha.
I found myself at the lovely fishing marina, a complex of big, family style restaurants, that specialise in fresh, sumptuous seafood meals at a reasonable cost.  The tables out on the boardwalk were the best, overlooking the fishing boats at anchor in the deep harbour.  I ordered the barbecued lobster with salad.  Very nice, low calorie, and tasty.  Naturally, I had to wash it down with a cold Corona.  Aaah. The harbour area is lovely, with lots of boardwalks to stroll along and lovely views of harbour life to be had from every angle.

After lunch, I went to the Cat bus stop, a free, commuter bus service that primarily caters for locals but is a total boon to day trippers like myself who wish to gain a look at the real city of Fremantle, and to get their bearings on the layout of the city.  There is no commentary, but there is really no necessity to have one.

After doing a few loops of the different Cat bus routes, I walked out to the O’Connor Jetty and bought a ticket for a boat trip with Captain Cook boat tours back to Perth.  Unfortunately I mistimed my boat and had to wait over an hour for my trip back.  There are some basic amenities at the wharf such as a café and toilet facilities, but not much else, but as it is a reasonable walk back to town, I spent the time waiting for my boat by watching the incredibly busy shipping traffic on the river.

The shipping activity in the river is awesome.  The harbour has recently been dredged to a depth of 80m and caters to ships of awesome size.  I saw massive container carriers being guided by tugs both upstream and downstream.  Quite an impressive sight.
At last my boat arrived and I boarded a lovely cruiser to take me back to Barrack Street Jetty in the heart of Perth CBD.  It was a lovely, comfortable craft, with free wine tasting aboard – so who was I to argue with that??  The trip cost $25 but was, I thought, good value for a one and a quarter hour, relaxing cruise with stunning scenery and commentary (but not too much commentary which was good).
Until now, I had thought that Sydney Harbour had the best inner city harbour or waterside situation of any place I had seen in the world.  Seeing the lovely, voluptuous Swan River, as she snaked her way seductively upstream towards Perth, I have now changed my mind.  This river swells out into magnificent, um, I don’t know what to call them, but shall I say ‘significantly large areas’, so that it seems like you are on Sydney Harbour, complete with sail boats, and every other conceivable type of craft.

The free wine tasting (amounts not monitored), the gorgeous sunny, winter afternoon, calm conditions, all contributed to my sense of wellbeing and happiness.  I loved my cruise back to Perth, and was transfixed by the mansions and expensive river-side homes that lavishly lapped the edge where water met land.

It was a beautiful cruise, which ended at the Barrack Street Jetty, home to the Perth Bell Tower which is a stunning piece of modern architecture in an otherwise pretty conservative Aussie city.

After disembarking the boat, I walked along the river embankment taking in the view, the peace, and taking numerous photos of the sunset on the Bell Tower behind me.
A lovely day in Freo.   No, not Rio, dummy!!   Freo!  Freo de JENNero!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cape to Cape - exploring south-west WA

Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste

Visiting the southwest corner of Western Australia is like having, as Forrest Gump would say, a veritable box of chocolates. So many choices, all delicious, all beautiful, all enchanting.

From the famous wineries (with over one hundred cellar doors to visit for free tastings), to chocolate factories, boutique breweries, small family owned cheese makers, olive farms, berry farms and jam, relish and sauce makers, to the sumptuous feast of the magnificent scenery.

White sandy beaches with rolling surf, unspoilt ocean foreshores without buildings and only the windswept bushes and grasses as decoration, to haunting stands of giant karri trees reaching majestically up into the sky. From the underground labyrinth of dozens of caves displaying real gems of amethyst, of limestone stalactites and stalagmites that rival any cave system in the world for beauty and awe, to the inspiring twin lighthouses on each cape, Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste.

Phew, that all sounds over the top, but believe me, this small area of this massive continent has it all, plus some. And the funny thing is, it is all do-able in just a few days, or even a weekend if you pushed it.

We started our self-drive journey at the seaside town of Busselton, famous for its two kilometre long wooden piled jetty, the longest of its type in the world. Its quaint little buildings, pretty little beach, and 1950s feel, makes Busselton a very pleasant stop for an ice cream or lunch, and a walk or miniature train ride out to the end of the jetty.

Weather permitting, there is also an underwater observatory under the jetty which apparently allows visitors to view sharks, fish and anything else that might be lurking in the waters of the Indian Ocean at Busselton. Unfortunately although a fine day when we visited, the observatory was closed because of the choppy swell and high wind.

Back on the road south and we soon found ourselves smack in the wine area, with dozens of wineries and cellars tempting us to stop and sample, but we chose to keep going. We passed through the little hamlets of Carbunup River and Cowaramup and after about forty-five minutes, we entered the township of Margaret River, the central hub of this region that produces only 4% of Australia’s wines, yet supplies over 20% of the award winning wines.

We could see straight away that the town was quaint, cute, pretty, and had no traffic lights or McDonalds. We decided that this would be a great place to stay for a week and chill out from the hustle and bustle of city life, and write or paint. Or taste wines.

Further south from Margaret River township is the little village of Witchcliffe, which is surrounded by more wineries. The lush greenness of the surrounding bushland was most enjoyable and we were driving through the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park so it was comforting to know that this lovely area will remain unspoilt for many generations to come.

Karridale was a tiny little village which once was the most important town in the area and the first area settled. As the logging of the giant Karri trees was phased out to allow the area to remain a National Park, most residents moved and formed the other towns in the area where more sustainable work could be found.

We were now heading to the southern-most town of Augusta, a fishing port which marks the spot where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean meet, providing a little cove of protection in a blustery and windswept landscape. Augusta has always had a seafaring life, with little beach shacks, nets laid out to dry, boats pulled up from the water’s edge, and little shopfronts offering the freshest seafood one could ever hope to buy.

Augusta overlooks isolated Flinders Bay, a totally unspoilt crescent of white beach with some little rocky headlands jutting out and being pelted by the big green waves which rolled in and smashed themselves on the rock in a plume of white froth and spray. The sea smelt oh so salty here, much more salty that I had ever encountered anywhere else. But the best chocolate in the box was called Flinders Bay, because just out in front of us we were gob smacked to see a pod of big whales breaching, their big, dark, cumbersome torsos rolling and ducking up out of the water, then diving back down again. Up again, a squirt of water as they exhaled through their nose holes, then a glimpse of a giant tail flying up into the air, then smacking down into the water with a big splash.

We had pulled over at Flinders Bay to admire the view. We stood on that bitterly cold, windswept beach for ages just watching in awe as nature provided us with a very precious gift. This moment surpassed even the best chardonnay and viognier we had tried at all the wineries! Seriously, it was a wonderful sight and we knew that we were truly blessed to have witnessed this.

Reluctantly we climbed back into the car to continue the short drive up to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, the saviour of many a ship which has come too close to the treacherous coastline on this, the most south-westerly point of Australia. Built in 1895, this lighthouse protects one of Australia’s busiest seaways, is Australia’s tallest lighthouse, and its beam can be seen up to 47 kilometres away.

We retraced the road back into Augusta, then took the Cave Road tourist route which hugs the beautiful coastline as we headed north, although with the dunes and the lovely bush, we could not see the coast. There are, however, numerous signposts signalling the turn off to beaches such as Hamelin Bay, Prevelly Park and Gracetown.

At one point, we stopped the car to breath in the majesty of a giant karri forest which was obviously hundreds of years old. So quiet, so peaceful here. A great photo opportunity of the handsome eucalypts which are unique to this part of Australia, and whose trunks grow straight and tall up to 90 metres in height. The wood of the karri is very sought after for building, particularly for roofs, as the long, straight, knot-free timber is ideal.

The Caves Road wound its way north through lovely pockets of bushland, dairy, goat and sheep farms, wine estates, and meadows. A lovely drive indeed and a good road too. Just after we passed through the town of Yallingup, we turned into another seaside town called Dunsborough which marks the end of the Caves Road and brought us to the top part of the south-west corner, near another famous lighthouse at Cape Naturaliste.

We drove the fifteen minutes or so out to the lighthouse and enjoyed some of the many walking tracks that are wheelchair friendly and which wind their way up the cape to the lighthouse itself. The view from the top is magnificent as it looks southwards along the beaches and down to Cape Leeuwin in the far distance.

There is a walking track called the Cape to Cape Walking Track and it takes five days to traverse the often rugged coastline from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin. It is one of the most popular walking tracks in the world and devotees undertake this hike with great relish.

We finished our Cape to Cape drive of this lovely area by heading back to Busselton. We felt extremely satisfied that we had enjoyed one of the country’s most beautiful areas, almost a microcosm of natural and man-made jewels, just like luscious chocolates in a satin box. The trouble was, what to stop at and what to bypass. This area could well do with a longer holiday so that all its wonders can be explored properly.

Map courtesy www.margaretriver.com
Whale pic courtesy www.westernaustralia.com

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Margaret River Wine Region

Day tour of Margaret River wineries

Mandy from http://www.margaretrivertours.com/ picked us up from our motel and so began a wonderful day of wine, cheese and chocolate tasting in the famous Margaret River wine region in the south west corner of Western Australia.

Margaret River wine region only produces 4% of Australia’s wine, however wins over 20% of the gold medals, so the local vintners say that they go for quality, not quantity. The first vines were planted in the region in 1974 and so this is still a young wine growing region, producing excellent Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon blends. They also make great blends incorporating Semillon, Viognier and Sangiovese grapes, which we tasted for the first time and discovered a whole new taste experience from these blends.

We picked up one more passenger, Julian, a cop from Perth, and our first winery was Stella Bella, a modern, sassy, young winery with very nice wines. We liked Skuttlebut and bought some of their Savvy Sauvignon Blanc 2010 to take home. The Savvy Sauvignon Blanc is a sweet, half fermented Moscato style wine (Moscato being the process, sauvignon blanc being the grape varieties used). These wines are only available at the cellar door. We really loved the 2008 Stella Bella Sangiovese Cabernet, and their other sauvignon blanc and Semillon blends were lovely too.

Next winery was Leeuwin Estate, a magnificent place with a restaurant and tasting room at their cellar. Their roaring log fire was welcome as it was a cold day of only 13 degrees and windy with intermittent showers. I personally love to do wine tasting when it is cold. Leeuwin Estate’s Chardonnay was the best wine I tasted all day. Absolutely the most lovely chardy ever, but at $89 a bottle, I was unable to take one with me.

A visit to Watershed wines estate showed us a modern complex with a nice variety of wines. The lovely view over the vineyards and lake was a great photo opportunity. Matt particularly liked their 2010 Shades Rosé and their Viognier was very nice too.
Our lunch stop was at Voyager Estate, a simply magnificent place with manicured gardens and wonderful architecture in the old French style. This place is owned by Michael Wright, son of Peter Wright who, along with Lang Hancock and Tom Price, were pioneers in the development of Western Australia mainly in the fields of mining and industy.  Voyager Estate produces many internationally award winning wines and can be found in five star restaurants around the world. We had lunch here in their restaurant. The three of us had, respectively, spatchcock, pan fried salmon steak, and venison osso bucco for our meals, and I can say that all three of us were extremely happy with our meals. They also gave us freshly baked bread with olive oil and dukkha for dipping. We also drank complimentary wine of a very high standard. A lovely place, and we had plenty of time to explore the gardens, bracing ourselves against the cold wind, but enjoying it all.

Mandy, our driver, had picked up five more passengers for the afternoon part of the tour. We visited the famous Vasse Felix estate, site of the first grapes planted in the Margaret River region and currently owned by the Homes à Court family. Sir Robert Homes à Court’s son Peter is now the hands on owner and director of the estate, and his mother, Janet Homes à Court, indulges her love of art here by having massive works placed throughout the stunning lawns and gardens.

The story of Vasse Felix is interesting.  A surgeon from Perth, Doctor Tom Cullity, had some soil tests done in the region and they matched with the soils of the Bordeaux region in France. He then became a weekend farmer, planting grapes on his property (Vasse Felix), and a Monday to Friday surgeon. Although it is now owned by the Homes à Court family, Tom Cullity’s brother still lives on the property although well in his eighties.

The wines here were lovely, very expensive, but lovely. We bought some very nice dessert wine called Cane Cut, so called because of the way they cut the grapes from the canes before they are fully ripe, then the bunches are left to dry thus concentrating the flavour and sugar. The pressed juice is fermented in oak and results in a truly lovely, silky dessert wine.

Next winery was Moss Brothers, a great example of a small, family owned winery and along with Stella Bella, a nice contrast to the vast and wealthy estates of Vasse Felix, Voyager and Leeuwin. They had a stunning fortified drop in an oak barrel on the bar called Snake Wine. Can I just say, sensational on a cold, wet and blustery day.

I never thought I would ever find myself all wine-tasted out, but we had tasted so many, mostly lovely wines that by the end of the day we were ready for a break. Mandy provided us with a big basket of goodies to snack on in the tour bus – local cheeses, grapes, cold meats. Very nice.

We stopped at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory and entered the largest, most stunning chocolate store I have ever seen. Generous amounts of free tastings were provided and I admit to buying some really nice liqueur chocolates.

Our last stop was at the Margaret River Cheese Factory. I can recommend their Garlic and Herb Fetta, but their range is quite large and all were very nice. They even make their own yoghurts which were also very nice.

Mandy dropped us back at our accommodation, and for $125 including a sumptuous lunch at Voyagers Estate, was a good value, enjoyable tour, and really is the only way to enjoy wine tasting in a region with over one hundred cellar doors. A great day.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Journey to a place I've never been - Perth

Perth, Western Australia

Perth, the capital city of Western Australia, is beckoning. It is always an exciting feeling to travel to somewhere that you have never been. I travel a lot with work, and am looking forward to trips to Mt Isa, Canberra and the Gold Coast in the next couple of months, courtesy of work. But I have been to those cities before and whilst I always find something new to enjoy in every place, it’s not quite the same as breaking new ground.

My son Matt is currently working in Perth, so the irresistible pull to see my first born (not to mention the free inner city accommodation) is too much and so I find myself aboard flight QF651 winging my way 4000 kilometres across this vast continent of Australia, swinging down low from Brisbane, flying just south of Adelaide, and across the vast and treacherous seas of the Great Australian Bight, to swing up near Esperance, and then to Perth.

It is a long flight, five and a half hours, and reminds me of long haul overseas flights. As I approach Perth, I think of our plans for the next week – visiting the famous wine districts of Margaret River and the Swan Valley, of visiting Rottnest Island, cruising up the Swan River, and exploring the beaches and nearby towns of this remote city.

Perth lays claim to being the most geographically remote capital city in the world. The waters of the Indian Ocean lap upon the suburban city beaches, a little further south is the great Southern Ocean, and further south beyond the horizon is Antarctica. Nothing in between. If I look hard enough across the horizon from Perth, I might see the amazing continent of Africa. Looking north east, I might see Asia and India. But the most amazing site would be if I peered not so hard eastward and northward, as I would definitely see the amazing deserts and ironstone mountain ranges of the great Australian outback, West Aussie style.

This state is rich in natural minerals, and iron ore, gold, and diamonds are mined here to great effect. The southwest corner, where Perth is situated, is fertile and apart from wines, is famous for producing wonderful cheeses. During the next week, I am sure I will discover what other delights this region produces.

But for now, I arrive at Matt’s apartment and guess what? He has a lovely bottle of Evans & Tate Margaret River chardonnay chilled for us to drink, and Robyn has supplied some lovely Lindt chocolates.

So, welcome to Perth, Western Australia!! Welcome to a place I’ve never been!!