Are we there yet?

The other day I packed the car to drive back to Sydney, and as I packed, I thought back to my childhood and how simple it was when going away.

All mines in Broken Hill would close for the month of December; then Broken Hill up and moved to Adelaide.

For those working at the Zinc and NBHC mines, there was a special summer holiday camp similar to those in the Carry On movies.

The North Mines employees moved to Glenelg and into every available boarding house. When walking down Jetty Road, it was just like walking down the main street of Broken Hill.

My mother would build up the back of the car so my brother and I would have a bed to sleep on, seatbelts were not even a consideration.   Dad would finish work and be home on the dot of twenty past four.  Mum would have filled the car with petrol; the Thermos would be in the picnic basket, and she would have collected the game cards called ‘Spotto’ from the BP garage. My brother and I would get a few games in before dark and then down to sleep for the rest of the journey.

I suffered terribly from car sickness, and so the first stop would be a hotel along the way where Mum would buy a brandy and soda for me to sip.  Now to all those throwing their hands up in horror at the thought of giving an eight-year-old alcohol, that was the norm, and I am pleased to say I do not like the taste of alcohol, argh bring back the parenting of the 50’s and 60’s. At the end of the month, everyone would make the return trip to Broken Hill and go back to work only to make the round trip again the following year.

What forced me to think about the simplicity back in the day?

Well as I was packing for the drive, I scouted around for my fast charger for iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch and laptop. Finally had everything together and packed in the car.  So go to drive off, and the GPS asks me if I want to add a destination and would I like to add waypoints, the screen then asks me if I wish to pair my phone via Bluetooth and I must search for USB cable to enable power. Then the radio needs to be tuned.  I was driving down the road stopping and starting, and I think it had taken a good twenty minutes before I had all my disruptive technology enabled and ready for the drive. While I complain, it is only for a moment as I do love the fact that the GPS takes me straight to my final destination without fuss or bother and I can sing my heart out to the old favourites that would have been playing in the car with Mum and Dad.

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Connectivity in Rural and Remote Areas – by Fiona, Guest Blogger

Guest Blog – Fiona Luckhurst

Writing this article has been a great example of connectivity issues in rural areas. My internet isn’t working so I can’t email it!! I will have to drive 100 km to get my laptop looked at to see if it is the problem as Telstra says it is not theirs! One positive example of connectivity though is that I read about the Dunedoo CWA in our local paper, the Coolah Diary, which does a great job of connecting local people to broader issues, events and services. So old fashioned paper and print wins over the worldwide web in this case.

Contemplating connectivity in the bush I thought first of mobile phone reception. Telstra and Government agencies ask for black spots to be reported in their coverage. Well I have renamed black spots black holes … they can hardly be called ‘spots’ when the lack of coverage area extends for vast areas of rural Australia, especially hilly areas. Telstra markets its coverage saying it covers 99% of the Australian population. However, the coverage for the non-coastal fringe dwellers … those in the bush, is well under this. I would say in my area, once you get out of town it is rare to have mobile phone coverage. Telstra, which is the only provider in my area offers specialised Yagi aerials and Smart Antennas to increase mobile signal at homes, however these are expensive (about $1,000) and no guarantee they will work. I have a Yagi aerial at home which I have to plug my mobile phone into … it works well, however, there is an issue that the aerial connecting plug doesn’t fit well into the aerial socket and so the adapter in the phone breaks after about twelve months of use, requiring me to purchase a new phone. There is only one smart phone available in Australia with an aerial socket, the infamous Telstra Dave phone which has numerous software issues and instabilities.

So when my phone is working I can use the phone as a wifi hot spot, except now, because it’s not working with my laptop … and … it is expensive to use internet in this manner with data costing $10 per Gigabyte. My other alternatives for broadband at home are the Telstra Wireless unit which was installed but failed consistently and again was expensive as it charged mobile data rates … or the new NBN broadband. This seems to be working well for people at the moment but I wonder if the satellite has the capacity once more people connect to it in their internet deprived glee of downloading and surfing where previously there was sinking sinking in slow slow not even speeds. Even the mobile phone network doesn’t seem to have enough capacity at times.

I am very appreciative the local library has free wifi so even though the library opening hours are limited, I can use their hotspot.

Other connectivity, hmmm, TV – I don’t have TV reception at home. My house in Coolah had poor reception for digital TV even with a booster. Guess I could get satellite TV… more cost, more objects on my small roof which already has two aerials and solar panels. If only I had good, cheap, unlimited broadband like my friends in the city and regional towns I could watch online TV. I am only 20 km from town …

Radio, yes, before digital radio there was radio reception at home, now it is poor and requires an aerial to access only two radio stations – 3 rivers FM and JJJ. Neither of which I would listen to if I had a choice.

Well I guess that leaves me with Face to Face connectivity. It’s a pity my road only gets graded every three years due to Council budget limitations. I have just had to spend more money on getting my car repaired due to the bad condition of the road and I fear my new tyres won’t last long. The wildlife hazard on the road has increased with the rain – last night in the 6 km of my dirt road I came across one wombat, seven kangaroos, several wallabies, a rabbit and two separate herds of feral pigs. Luckily I did not connect with any of them!

When I got home I had a warm soy milk. Home is a pleasant place, free from the incursions of the rest of the world through phone, TV adverts, radio, internet. I am the only person living on my road. My closest neighbours are 6 km away. Except the Jehovah’s Witness that managed to find me here, and, surprisingly the census collector, the only other incursions are from the illegal hunters who think it’s OK to shoot on private roads and even spotlight and shoot on my property. Unfortunately this issue is not addressed in any real, meaningful way by either police or Local Land Services.

Luckily if I do get accidentally shot by illegal hunters we have a great ambulance service which can transport me 150 km to the closest full hospital. Gosh, here in Coolah we are so grateful for the limited health and other services (oh, that’s right we don’t have a bank, Centrelink, Medicare, youth services, disability services, government offices, court house … but we do have part time dentist, counsellor, RMS office … and a few other services, of which we are very grateful).

Three weeks ago the water pump on my bore broke. I am not on town water. It is expensive to get someone out here to fix the pump. I can live without running water at the house for a while, but it is rather inconvenient. Maybe being connected to town water (if it was possible) would be cheaper and more reliable, but the nearest water pipe is a long way off. Same with power. I installed off grid solar here as even though the house is 100 years old there has never been electricity. When it goes bung the closest registered solar electrician is one and a half hours away. Again, I can live without power, but it is inconvenient … and I can’t charge my phone!!!! So, I need to solve the problems myself, and feel grateful for the initiative and resilience this kind of problem gives me the opportunity to develop.

Well, according to my brother, a senior executive in the public service in Canberra, I should never whinge about the difficulties of living in the country because I chose to live here. So true. So even with all my seeming whinge over lack of connectivity, I am still here, and choose to be here. But I can’t say the ongoing  issues outlined above about connectivity – phone, internet, power, water, road funding, lack of health and other services – are likely to attract people to live in the bush, or to encourage young families or youth to stay in the bush.

I wonder where our food will be grown in the future if the population continues to decline? It will be harder to keep coal mines and gas explorers out of good farming land soon. These money grabbers don’t have what most people here have and what keeps them here – a strong connection to the land, a caring for the land, this land that provides our food, textiles and oxygen we breathe. Surely the contribution made by rural people in producing the food and materials other folk need is valuable enough to throw some dollars into supporting basic connectivity of people on the land to the rest of the world – services, roads, telecommunications, radio. It is hard to run a business with poor internet, let alone do your personal banking, find out important information and function in an internet centric world.

Connectivity in the bush is not just about personal issues, it’s about people contributing to society, accessing services, earning a living and being active informed citizens of our nation.

'Can you hear me now?'

Sharon Maree

Monday night was a rather long night with my grandson being taken to hospital in an ambulance with Croup. As always when I am on ‘Granny duty’ I don’t like to sleep on the job so try to stay awake as long as possible. I eventually succumb and easily drift off to the land of nod, but while I find it really easy to visit, the hard part for me is actually staying there … but today  it’s 5.44 am and I have slept in. I can tell you I would really love to go back to sleep.

What I want to share with you in today’s blog is an issue that faces many people and their families. The sad journey of watching a loved one tackle Dementia.

In 1955 my mother-in-law, father-in-law and son Barry (my husband) adopted a baby girl called Sharon Maree and welcomed her into their lives. Sharon was 17 months old when  they were told “rather brutally” that Sharon suffered from Down Syndrome. Up until this point they had no idea and were in total shock when the Doctor, who assumed they knew, pointed out her disability.

Due to how little was known at the time about Down Syndrome, or Trisomy 21, my mother in law decided to search high and low and look for a ‘cure’ for Sharon. During this search she went back to the adoption agency to request some family history and was given the offer of returning Sharon and being given a replacement. Luckily for all of us this horrified the family. They refused the offer and kept our darling Sharon who has become such a vital member of our family.

While Sharon spent her early childhood living on my in law’s sheep station 300 kms NE of Broken Hill, it was decided that she should be sent somewhere she could be provided with some extra stimulation to help with her delayed learning. Despite Doctors advising that she wouldn’t have any quality of life and was unlikely to live past 14 years of age, she proved them wrong by learning to walk and talk and even taught herself how to swim just by watching her brother!

So in 1960 when Sharon was five years old, she moved to Broken Hill to board with the Sisters of Mercy at the Home of Compassion. Sharon still talks incessantly about Sister Malachy who taught her to iron, many of the other Nuns and teachers and, most lovingly, her boarding friends from Wilcannia.

For me personally, Sharon came into my life 43 years ago when I met her big brother Barry. Originally when Barry and I married and had our first baby, Sharon had decided she wanted to get married and have a baby too. She soon changed her mind and exclaimed that men and babies were “too much work” and instead opted for the role of Aunty. Sharon really has been the most kind, caring and dedicated Aunty and now Great Aunty.

In 2011 Sharon’s father passed away and Barry as eldest sibling took on the responsibility of looking after Sharon. It was her wish to live independently in her beautiful new house her father had built for her in Broken Hill. With the aid of the many wonderful services available to her, Sharon was able to achieve her wish of staying alone in her house and living independently. She began to take control of her life and make all her own decisions. They weren’t always agreed with, like the time she decided to dye her hair bright red and black which nearly gave her brother a heart attack!

In November last year her independence came to a halt. Sharon had wandered out and become lost in 40 degree heat resulting in a trip to the Emergency Department with dehydration. We received a phone call at 10.30 pm from the Broken Hill Hospital telling us Sharon was being discharged and we needed to pick her up.

When we travelled to Broken Hill the next day and met with her care workers they relayed events from the last two months and it was clear she was beginning to suffer from confusion and memory loss. We had realised there was some decline in her cognitive function but she had managed to hide from us how fast she was deteriorating.

While we knew she would no longer be able to live independently and care for herself, the decision of moving into shared living accommodation ultimately lay with Sharon and she made it clear this wasn’t going to happen. She agreed to at least come and stay with us over the Christmas break whilst we discussed her options.

Sharon decided after Christmas, while her day program was on holiday, that she would like to travel with us to Sydney to visit our daughter, son in law and grandchildren. On arriving at the house she walked around admiring everything and announced she wanted to live there. My daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren welcomed Sharon into their lives and began the process of setting up a new life for her in Sydney.

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So the next and potentially final chapter of her life began in Sydney about six months ago. We were told her descent in dementia would be very rapid as this is a characteristic of people who have Trisomy 21. While she did begin to slightly improve over the last six months, and we saw glimpses of the old beautiful Sharon, it became increasingly apparent that it was not as permanent as we would have loved and she is once again beginning to descend into the darkness of dementia.

Due to the commotion surrounding my grandson’s trip to hospital, she wandered around totally confused as to what was going on, not knowing whether she should be getting up and joining us or going to bed as we kept telling her. This went on until 1.00 am when I finally went into her bedroom and managed to convince her it was the middle of the night and she really needed to get some sleep for the party we were planning for her the next day. With the promise of party and cake she happily went to bed after a high five and a big loud kiss!

For me this is the hardest part of this awful, brutal disease. Watching a loved one begin to lose their sense of the world and slowly lose the ability to understand, remember and communicate. To sit and watch the look of confusion and sadness that comes over Sharon’s face when she thinks no one is looking is a truly heartbreaking experience.

Sharon Maree I am so sad for you. I can’t help but wonder what is to come and how we will all cope. I know that while you were blessed to have been brought into the Turner family and given such a great opportunity in life, we have been even more blessed to have had you in ours. I don’t think anyone could ever have  imagined 61 years ago what an integral part of our family you would be.

Every day you teach us the values of loyalty and unconditional love. Your innocence and sense of humour has made us laugh many times, your optimism and effervescence are truly humbling and your dance moves are amazing! Ever the Diplomat and hardworking to a fault! It is well known throughout the family that your parents couldn’t have survived the droughts without your help.

So many people love you and I cannot take a walk around Broken Hill without being stopped many times by people who know and love you. You have touched the lives of so many people so effortlessly by just being your beautiful self.

I am already missing our long road trips where we sing at the top of our voices for thousands of kms and my journeys will never be the same without you sitting beside me playing your Air Guitar. You have given your great nephews and niece such a wonderful gift by opening them up to your world and allowing them in. I love that they know all the words to Annie and The Sound of Music and that they think Charlie Chaplin is hilarious. I am grateful that this next Generation of Turners have been able to spend this time with you and get to know how amazing you are.

Finally, I think about the mother out there who made a huge sacrifice 61 years ago and gave her daughter up for adoption. She probably does not know her daughter has Down Syndrome or how and where she lived her life.

Sharon will never be able to contact you and relate her life story as is the right of other adoptees. I wish you could know we think of you and thank you for the wonderful gift that has been our Sharon Maree Turner.