I was born in Addis Ababa and lived there for six years before moving to the inner western suburbs of Sydney in the early 80s to join my mother and father. I have fragmented memories of Ethiopia where I grew up in the care of my grandmother. The greater portion of my childhood in Sydney was marked mostly by dysfunctional family dynamics, the inevitable clash of cultures, and an unwelcoming outer world in a very different Australia to the one we know now. Aside from my family, there were only a handful of Ethiopians in Australia, much less Sydney, and not many from other parts of Africa either, until the early 90s. Children at school were cruel, but teasing and taunts were not confined to the schoolyard, passing motorists would yell ‘Go back home’ or ‘something, something, something, blackie’ as I walked to or from school. I used to dread being stuck waiting to cross a road, hoping for the green man to save me from the yelling of white men zooming past. Not everyone was mean though, and I had no trouble making friends, but constant reminders of being ‘different’ and a compartmentalising of home and school life meant I spent much of my childhood feeling un-integrated and misunderstood. Fortunately, I found a home in the world of books and libraries have been a lifelong sanctuary- one of the first things I do when I move town is to join the local library.
Growing up in Sydney was not entirely negative. The best part was also related to my experience of cultures. Save for the absence of black faces, my surroundings were a huge melting pot, particularly in high school, making me privy to all kinds of traditions, cuisines and curse words. Interestingly, when I returned to Ethiopia, I was struck by the sense that I didn’t fit in there either, and gained a great appreciation for the diversity and certain freedoms that my Australian life offers. Returning to Ethiopia for the first (and so far only) time in 2008 as a cigarette smoking, loc-wearing woman accustomed to life in an individualist culture meant I copped a lot of abuse, usually from strangers, and again mainly men yelling from cowardly vantage points (passing cars or shouting out from the street at me while I smoked on a balcony).
I wanted to be an artist. I loved drawing, starting with an obsession drawing horses, then moving on to attempts at realist portraits of people. This morphed into more pragmatic dreams of fashion or graphic design, but ultimately I caved to parental expectations that were intensified by the migrant experience and chose to make use of my strengths in math, chemistry and physics, relegating art to a sometime hobby.
I have an honours degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Sydney. I have had all kinds of professional jobs over the years, including work as a process engineer, design engineer, consultant, hydrologist, and water accountant to name a few, across a range of sectors- building materials, environmental services, and water. While in the water sector, I spent lots of time (let’s say shit loads) at sewage treatment plants. Most recently, I have worked at a water utility and am currently employed by the Australian Public Service as a Senior Hydrologist.
Other work which doesn’t feature in my CV includes research and development on pet shampoos, cutting fabric, checkout chic at a supermarket in Paris, waitress at Starbucks in Warrington, and a very short-lived stint at Darrel Lea in a fancy arcade in the Sydney CBD, where I had to wear a ridiculous supersized pink bow. The smell of licorice traumatises me to this day (says a lot considering my subsequent experience in sewage treatment). Nerves at the register led to mental arithmetic failures (but happy customers who got more money in change than they gave me) and I eventually got fired, just as well since I never could get the hang of all the smiling expected of me.
Before moving here, I was living in one of the gateway suburbs to the Goldfields, Clifton Hill. I really loved the vibe in this part of the world when my then partner and I were searching for a home between Daylesford and Tooborac. The creative energy, space, rugged landscape, vibrant community and housing affordability were all draw cards. We bought our place in January 2014 and moved here in July when our son was 3 weeks old. First impressions after the move were clouded by sleeplessness but were generally great. I enjoyed becoming a part of the community and having a newborn meant immediate entry into a tribe via our parents’ group where I met amazing mammas, a lot of whom I am still friends with, sharing a special bond as we navigate similar stages in our lives.
There have been obvious changes such as cafés and restaurants opening and closing; people coming and going; the need for expansion of parking at the train station, indicative of the growing number of commuters; the Mill going from a sprawl of disused buildings to a sprawl of all kinds of creative enterprise; and, the speed limit on the Midland Highway dropping from 100 to 80km/h (I still struggle with that change). The largest change I’ve experienced though is a shift in my perception of the area, with my experiences and interactions having greater depth, making me feel less like a tourist/*soy-flat-white-with-chocolate-on-top sipping blow-in. I saw a framed quote at the entrance of CASPA the other day that had more than a touch of truth: “Welcome to Castlemaine! Relocate, Renovate, Procreate, Separate, Find another mate – by then you’re a local!” I think the tree change experience is essentially a human experience once the façade of an idyllic life is chipped away- it is then that community has even greater importance.
*not to be confused with a cappuccino, thanks!
10000hoursleft is my blog. The name references Gladwell’s theory about the number of hours of practice it takes to master something, but with those hours still being ‘left’, I’m implying that there is always room to work on the craft, you never just stop once you reach some arbitrary number of hours. I started the blog when my son was about a month old and it became a great way to retain some of the old ‘me’ while immersed in new motherhood. I started off with a 30-day challenge with just one participant (me), writing and posting daily using a range of online prompts. I quickly began to connect with other WordPress bloggers and found a really supportive space to practice the craft and give and receive feedback. The habit of regular blogging helped to propel my work in progress (a novel) as it has been a great place to test ideas, gain confidence and find my voice. There is a great sense of vulnerability in putting work out there for the world to see, but it is also enriching and inspiring and has given me the courage to call myself a writer. Another reason for blogging which was not my intention at the outset is that I have captured memories of my experiences of motherhood and the love I feel for my son which will be a gift to him (and me) one day, but it is definitely not a 'mummy blog'.
Just before my writing petered out to nothing, I had been working intensely on an online writing course (third draft novel writing with the Writers’ Studio) and was completely spent trying to keep up with the course work (finally writing chapters, a change from the in-depth planning of the first two drafting courses). While undertaking the course, I was also working 4 days a week, attempting to be a conscious and present parent, and dealing with health and relationship issues. Something had to give, and my focus shifted to upping self-care and allowing myself to just do nothing in spare windows of ‘me’ time, which I struggled with initially as I have a perfectionist, competitive streak where I always need to be improving, producing, learning. Doing nothing didn’t last too long though, and it feels like I spent a solid 6 months last year preparing endless pages of internal job applications that consumed my commute time, which is when I have the most time to write.
I commute two days a week and it is such a good uninterrupted period of focus, particularly when the quiet carriage is quiet. Self-care is paying off, and I am now in a good space to recommit to my writing and my blog (I even invested in an upgrade which means no more ads!) and have returned to writing on the train once more. Creativity begets creativity, and I feel really inspired at the moment, so to harness that, I decided to start a regular blog feature to give me a sustainable goal and also some accountability. My weekly feature is called V/Line Vignettes, and I'll publish one or more stories from that week’s commute. If I don’t deliver, I can always just borrow the tired old line the conductors use: ‘On behalf of V/Line, I’d like to apologise…’
I’m inspired by anything and everything that makes me look at the world around me in a different way or reveals truth and beauty in unexpected ways, or sometimes even things that don’t do any of that, but have a certain something about them. Seeing friends and strangers who live their truth, lyrics of songs, hearing stories of others (my unintentional superpower is compelling strangers to share their life stories), exploring seemingly familiar places but finding something new, travel, patterns in nature, reading (fiction and non-fiction across many genres), the list is endless.
Favourite things to do in the area: Yesterday was perfect for a snapshot of some of my favourite things. I started with a swim at the indoor pool in Castlemaine, then wandered up to Fig Cafe for breakfast with a friend but had to change plans as it was closed. We moved on to Origini which was not a bad consolation for the possibility of being called ‘bella’ by Luca (it never gets old). After breakfast, I bumped into more friends outside the café and chatted for a bit, moved my car (avoiding parking tickets is a favourite thing), wandered to Stoneman’s Book Room and bought Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter on a whim, then hit the op shops, my favourite being the incredible top-end Salvos where I manifested exactly what I was looking for, for a performance at Castlemaine Pride. Later in the day, I watched a film at the Theatre Royal, with the $10 Tuesday ticket meaning I could splash out on a delicious salted caramel slice and a chai latte. I can’t wait to go back to the Theatre later this week to see Kurt Vile, and still can’t ever get over seeing Mulatu Astatke there earlier this year.
On days when I'm not flying solo, there is still a lot of coffee consumed as well as hangs at the Botanical Gardens or the skate park, relaxed fruit and veg shopping at Harvest, take-away from Super Hero Banh Mi, storytime at the library, bike rides on the trails, and social Saturday mornings at Wesley Hill markets. Closer to home, my boy and I have braved trail 1 of La Larr Ba Gauwa and we’re always up for wanders in the oak forest.
My tip for those considering the move is don't over think it! Chances are 'community' is one of the reasons you want to move, so once you've made the move, reach out and be a part of it, and for a richer, more attuned connection with your new home, get to know the culture and history of the Dja Dja Wurrung people on whose land you'll live/work/play/grow.
Photo by Penny Ryan Photography