Yesterday it rained. Here in the Australian bush – tanks running dry, brown grass everywhere – it felt like a miracle.
On our farm we are not on mains water so we rely on a spring-fed dam. Every day it gets lower and lower. And it’s been boiling hot – midsummer temperatures at the start of spring. Apart from yesterday’s brief downpour, the spring storms haven’t materialised.
But it’s not the water and it’s not even the bush fires that concern me the most right now. It’s the creatures.
12 years ago I lived on this same farm. I got used to the spiders everywhere, the mice, the cockroaches, the beetles, the ants, the zillion bugs and mozzies filling the air… every day they were all there, buzzing and scurrying around.
When it rained the floor of our shack would be filled with frogs of all shapes and sizes. Every evening huge Huntsman spiders would be dangling from walls and mirrors.
Yesterday there were no frogs after the rain. Of all the other creatures that used to live with us, you see the odd beetle or bug here and there. A mouse or gecko or the occasional spider might appear in my yurt. But they are very few and far between.
The only creatures that seem to be doing well here now are the flies. Even the mozzies seem to be strangely absent. But the bellbirds are still singing in the wood next door so they must have something to eat.
As I write this, a small Huntsman spider has suddenly appeared high on the wall of my studio – the first I’ve seen in months. As if to say, we’re not done yet. I’m guessing that without us here polluting the world, nature would recover pretty quickly.
I never thought I would miss a cockroach or a March fly. But something is happening and it’s happening fast. In a country where the Prime Minister denies the existence of man-made climate change, it is terrifying.
Finally, after months of writing and arranging new songs, we started recording my new album yesterday. Our drummer Shane Nesic came up from Brisbane and Christian set up the big living room in our home Shaktu as a recording studio (Shaktu is shack no.2 on the farm). Despite the heat, we got drum and bass tracks for the first 3 songs done. Today we start on a song I only wrote a couple of weeks ago, so I guess the long wait to record has been a blessing in disguise. There’s another song too which has made the A-list which I wrote while I was in the UK a few weeks ago.
News from the farm… we now have a very cute baby goat called Sonny, the result of our buck Frankie’s Great Escape a few months ago (he leapt through a hole in his fence and then leapt on as many goats as he could). More kids are due to be born today so it’s possible Christian will have to go from being sound engineer to midwife at the drop of a hat. Frankie is very sweet-natured for a billy goat but I’ve been feeding him silver beet and cabbage leaves and so he now yells at me every time I go in the veggie garden.
It has been boiling hot – far too hot for spring. So hot in fact that I went swimming with snakes the other day (not bad for someone who used to have such a phobia I couldn’t even look at them on TV!). The veggies in my garden wilt in the midday sun but revive again as I spend an hour each afternoon watering them. Some days the air is hazy from smoke – there have been fires in the area and being surrounded by trees makes us vulnerable. We’ve talked through our fire plan – what we would take with us if we only had 5 minutes to get out.
But right now I’m not thinking about fires or snakes or even baby goats… I’m thinking about these new songs and how incredibly lucky I am to have Christian and Shane to help me record them. I’ll keep you posted on progress…
Today is World Mental Health Day.Yesterday I went with Christian to Brisbane and sang some of my songs for the young people on the mental health ward at Queensland Children’s Hospital.
We performed outside in a rooftop garden with a big colourful mural on one of the walls and views of the city all around.It made me think of the mental health unit in the south-west of England I played in where the garden was a bare patch of dusty brown grass with a high wall and not a plant in sight.
People here tell me mental health services in Australia are not good but from what I’ve seen so far they are a lot better than the UK.Here you get referred to a psychologist and psychiatrist without having to have reached the point of being either suicidal or psychotic before you get any help.
For someone like me living with bipolar disorder where the chemical imbalance in my brain sometimes feels like I’m walking a tightrope over a canyon, that early support from a mental health team can mean the difference between a blip and a full-blown crisis.
Yesterday’s gig was my first mental health hospital gig in Australia, the first of many I hope.
My new obsession with growing things… as well as our veggie garden in this video, out the back of the shack I’m also growing sweet potato, watercress, basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, pumpkin, watermelon, rock melon, red peppers, garlic chives, lemongrass, sage, rosemary and lavender. One of the good things about being bipolar is you don’t do things by halves :).
On Saturday I played Maleny Music Festival, my first festival since moving back to Australia and our first gig back together with drummer Shane Nesic in 12 years (you can see a clip below). We really enjoyed it – thanks to everyone who came to see us. Christian and I also performed the next day in the songs for social conscience slot where I sang ‘For Free’ and ‘Woke Up’, the song Greenpeace used for their 2009 Copenhagen climate change campaign. We also performed ‘Over The Waterfall’ and ‘Start Over Again’ at the festival finale.
Spring is here and yesterday I was back in our huge veggie garden. It now takes over half an hour to water all the beds. We had Christian’s 90-year-old uncle Barney staying who took over the watering while he was here and did a proper job of it so it’s all burgeoning like mad now. I am particularly excited about my snow peas – mange tout in UK-speak – which won’t ever make it into the kitchen as I can’t stop eating them in the garden!
We’re doing a few local gigs with Shane while we’re working on the new album – Maleny Youth Festival in a couple of weeks, then a charity fundraiser for Save The Rivers, a campaign to support Urannah, part of the original homelands of the Wiri and Birri peoples of the Birri Gaba nation. At the end of September we’re doing a very special gig on the deck at Crystal Waters, a lovely permaculture commune near Conondale, and then in October performing at the Eudlo Music Nights festival. Details of all these gigs can be found on my website.
It’s early morning and the kookaburras are laughing in the trees. After the plague of white cockatoos we now have black cockatoos which usually means rain which would save me a lot of time in the garden. But for now, the sun is shining…
I can hear nothing but the birds. A small pink cloud hangs in the sky from the sun that has just gone down. Today on the farm we made 33 jars of marmalade from the oranges in the orchard. My arms ache from all the hours of stirring. Then back to the string arrangement I started at 6am this morning and have now nearly finished. It’s for a song very close to my heart – so close in fact it made me a bit teary just now.
The days and weeks are flying by. We’ve been back in the bush nearly 6 months now and it’s been one of the happiest, most creative times of my life. I’ve written string parts, guitar parts, keyboard parts and backing vocals for 24 songs. It will be hard, if not slightly heartbreaking, to choose which ones will make my next album. But at least the other arrangements are done and saved for someday in the future.
Our veggie garden is blooming despite the fact that it’s the middle of winter here. I’ve planted lettuces, pak choi, onions, leeks, cabbages, cauliflower, shallots, beetroot, carrots, silver beet, snow peas, rocket and spinach. I’m slightly concerned at how excited I was to be given a worm farm this week. The fact that I used to consider worms as miniature snakes to be avoided at all costs shows how far I’ve come since moving to Australia.
Christian has been baking the most amazing sourdough bread and I’ve started making cakes for the first time in my life. The chickens are still molting so they’re not laying that much but we usually get a couple of eggs a day. The orchard is still full of fruit, which the goats love to guzzle at the end of the day. The idea of being self-sufficient is quite addictive.
One thing that made me chuckle the other day was finding out my very soft acoustic guitar ballad ‘Start Over Again’ is being used in a Hollywood horror film. You never know where songs will end up but I didn’t see that coming!
I can’t wait for you to hear these new songs and to perform them for you. I’ll keep you posted on progress…
It’s the end of autumn here in the Obi Obi valley – the nights are drawing in and I’ve started wearing a hat and jumper. We’ve just discovered we have a rather large snake living in our ceiling, but hopefully it should be going to sleep soon for winter. I’m a bit worried it might be female and we’ll have lots of baby pythons slithering around the shack come the spring.
The seedlings in our huge veggie garden are starting to appear. We’ve only planted 3 beds for now but there are 21 other beds that need weeding and manuring with all the wonderful goat poo from the paddock. The veggie garden is about 8 times the size of our flat in Bath. The citrus orchard is full of ripe oranges, grapefruit, mandarins, kumquats, and limes. The macadamia nut trees that line the driveway have also produced a bumper harvest so we now have a large flock of very noisy white cockatoos munching away.
We’ve been working on the songs for my next album. I’ve been in my element writing string arrangements – one of my favourite things – and recording backing vocals, most of which feature a squawk from a passing white cockatoo. I have my studio in the back room where I do my meditation practice and where I can see the forest through one window and the verandah view across the valley from the other.
This weekend we are doing our first Australian gig, opening for Irish singer-songwriter Enda Kenny. The gig will be the first outing for Christian’s beautiful old double bass which we picked up in Sydney (a 14 hour drive each way).
I can’t wait for you to hear all these new songs, half of which I’ve written since we arrived here. I’ll keep you posted on the album’s progress…
At first we thought we were lucky – beautiful white cockatoos flying overhead and settling in the trees that surround our goat farm. But then they discovered our macadamia trees and the thousands of nuts on the ground. Word got round and soon we were counting fifty white cockatoos happily munching away on our driveway. The screeching and squawking starts at 5.30 in the morning and carries on until sundown. We are trying to be Buddhist about it of course but without much success. I guess patience you can only learn the hard way! They will move on eventually…
On the positive side, our shipment finally arrived having been thoroughly quarantined by Australian Customs. Having only had my acoustic guitar with me for the past 3 months, I was so delighted to have my keyboard back I immediately wrote a new song. I’m really happy with it. The trouble is my song list for my next album is getting longer and longer by the day and I don’t want to let go of any of them. Another Buddhist practice then!
Christian has now set up his studio and so once we can record something without deafening backing vocals from white cockatoos we will get to work on my new album. New songs have been pouring out of my head since we arrived in Australia and six of them will be on it. I can’t wait for you to hear them.
To celebrate World Bipolar Day, I’ve been sharing the video for ‘Over The Waterfall‘, my song about being bipolar, which I performed in Sydney last week at the awards ceremony of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders.
I wrote this song after being referred to mental health services during a severe depressive episode in 2012. When I first heard this version of the song, created by producer Nigel Butler for my album ‘Bird Inside A Cage‘, it was a turning point and I began to recover. The album was released in 2013. The video for ‘Over The Waterfall’ was made by my partner and bass player Christian Dunham. It has been shared across the world.
Just back from Sydney where I received an award for public service and advocacy from the International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD) and performed at their awards dinner cruise in Sydney Harbour. Thank goodness for sea-sickness pills (I am Piscean but hopeless on boats!). It was wonderful meeting so many people who work in psychiatry all around the world to help people who are bipolar like me. Thanks to Marylou Selo for the photo of me performing on the boat with my partner Christian Dunham. My award is a massive block of glass with a chunk of lithium suspended in it which thankfully I managed to get past Virgin Australia’s hand-baggage weight check.
Now after the hustle and bustle of Sydney we’re back in our ‘real world’ of trees, cattle, horses, wallabies and bellbirds up in the hills behind the Sunshine Coast. Amazing how quickly you lose your immunity to the city. It was fun but I’m so glad to be home…