Story telling from Australia
I wasn’t looking forward to this week. Next-door’s house was scheduled for demolition so the two-day trip to Taree for an International Women’s Day speaking engagement barely got a look-in until we set off.
That trip eclipsed everything.
Trish Webber had invited me to speak months ago. Taree is a four-hour drive from Sydney but they were raising money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, so of course I said yes.
Two days after I accepted the invitation I had an email from Trish. She had waved a copy of Love in the Outback at their monthly meeting and announced I would be the speaker at their International Women’s Day dinner. One of the longstanding members of Taree Quota Club raised her hand.
‘May I say something?’
Trish told me later she thought Lilian was about to object.
‘I know something about that story. My husband, Harvey, is the pilot who found Deb’s partner after his accident.’
In 1966 – fifty years ago this year – Clyde was in a helicopter crash. He lay in remote bush land with third degree burns to 60 per cent of his body for 24 hours, while rescuers searched in vain. He wouldn’t be alive today if Harvey Else hadn’t found him.
We stayed with Harvey and his wife Lilian while we were in Taree. I didn’t quite know what to say to Harvey. ‘Thank you,’ didn’t seem enough. It sounded so paltry. I chatted instead to Lilian and admired her talent for art and needlework. I have never seen such exquisitely fine work.
Lilian grew up on a dairy farm. She didn’t get her first pair of shoes until she went to school and no one taught her to sew, she just picked up a needle at the age of 11.
‘My great grandmother was a seamstress for Queen Victoria,’ she admitted shyly.
I still hadn’t said much to Harvey. So that night, standing in front of an audience of 100 women and girls – and a handful of men, including Harvey, Clyde and the Federal Member of Parliament, Dr David Gillespie – I publicly acknowledged what Harvey had done. I said thank you.
No one mentioned the long pause and the emotion I couldn’t hide, they just came up after and said it was an inspiring talk.
That night in Taree showed me how powerful two simple words can be.
It was a special night in so many ways. I got to meet inspiring women, both young and old, including the girls from Wingham High who all embody the spirit of their school motto ‘I endeavour’. Phelina wants to be a teacher, Caitlyn is thinking of joining the army, Jannah will study sports science and Neisha plans to study civil engineering. Go girls!
I’ve talked many times over the past three years, in front of audiences large and small, but none will stay in my mind like that night in Taree.
So thank you to all the organisers – especially Trish and Christine and Debbie – to all the wonderful women and girls who came up afterwards, and of course thank you Lilian and Harvey for your generous hospital.
And thank you, again, Harvey.