Our Coffs Harbour Adventure by Colleen Keating


Our Coffs Harbour Adventure

Coffs Harbour is a jewel on the east Pacific Coast of Australia 5 hours north of Sydney, and we are blessed to have some of our children and hence grandchildren living in this picturesque town.  

We are calling this time in Coffs an adventure, as it included Michael and I having a Van-life Experience –  yes living in a van nearly as romantically as portrayed in the movie when a van is a fun thing and not permanent!

Unfortunately it was not the time or  space to dwell on the simplicity, the freedom, and the fun of Nomad life.

It was not the time or space for re-discovering ourselves on the road.

It was not the once-in a lifetime adventure longed for, by many city people locked in  their routine.  

For we were here  to support our four and a half year old gorgeous little one get ready for school.

However it was in a wonderful  HAWK van that Jessica and Nathan have invested in, that they set it up in a gorgeous resort in Coffs near the beach, with pools and gardens, shady trees  and a haven I called a bird sanctuary every morning as I woke to  the most wonderful canticle of bird song. 

We had two experiences of accomodation. The first was minding a very beautiful home of neighbours of our family, while they were travelling, and that was luxury. Then back to Sydney for awhile to fulfil obligations .

It had been an exciting week in Sydney  with my writing awards at the Gala Luncheon and we returned to Coffs on a high.

And our van venture began. With Jessica and family it was our first time to take stock and realise what a wonderful fulfilling writing year it had been

We opened a bottle of champas and toasted another successfully year.  My Highly Commended Award for a Poetry Book 2022 with Olive Muriel Pink and the Highly Commended Certificate and a few hundred dollars (which will go towards my new computer next year) in the National Writing Award (poetry) was lovely to celebrate with Jessica  and family especially Jessica, who keeps saying how proud she is of me . 


Our first celebration after the Gala Luncheon and Award Ceremony in Coffs with Jessica.


It has been a lot of fun spending time with our grandsons in Coffs Harbour.

The main purpose for the month here has been to assist in getting 4 year old  Darcy ready for big school next year. This has entailed taking him to orientation days at big school and shortening his days at child care to help calm, reinforce some expected preschool knowledge.  . . . .spending some quality time with him in preparation.  

We have worked the time to give us some quality time with his 9 year old brother, Edison. We were firstly lucky to be here for St. Augustans Grandparents Day and so we could spend time in his classroom see his very talented art  – see below his self -portrait for The Archy  


Picking him up from his bus,  listening to his music, going to his cricket on Saturdays,  which was very exciting. At one stage holding our breath hoping he would get a hat trick and having to share the out field with a Kangaroo.  We enjoyed his company when they came to have tea with us, watching him  in the pool, on the jumping pillow, playing basket ball  shots  with Pa and family cricket.  We have been very proud of his Merit Awards leading up to  his second Principal Award. 

                                                                 Note:  the big Grey Kangaroo in the out-field.

Our two older grandsons Lachlan and Doc Cameron are out of town but we had a great Saturday barbecue with them and a full day on Sunday of helping 12 year old Lachlan create his project for Year 7 on planning an ecological and sustainable village for a population of  20.000 . What a project!  It took him a lot of brainstorming with everyone and then a lot of butcher-paper planning and a final drawing to scale on some good white cardboard Michael and I bought on our way to their place.  We are awaiting on our result . . . . Hoping for, expecting an A+


Our Leisure time

 In  between times Michael and I have enjoyed some lovely experiences.

Of course it included poetry readings, walks, sunsets, picnics . Note in photo below I cannot go very far without my bibles of Mary Oliver and Rumi.

1. Watching the sunset each evening with a relaxing glass of Shiraz

2. Our drive to see the Jacarandas in their full glory in Grafton. Unfortunately it was a Saturday of the Jacaranda Festival so was a bit too crowded for us but still a very special experience to be part of.  And we did finally find a seat for our thermos picnic in the shade of a jacaranda tree so purple petals could rain down in us


3. Our long coastal walk from our van, out onto the beach and then a walk to Mutton Bird Island, out to its far headland on the edge of the Pacific.

4. Picnic lunch at the Botanic Garden .  Observed the whole courtship dance and song of the Blue Satin Bower Bird.  Had two very close encounters with a swooping kookaburra which got part of Michaels chicken sandwich  and part of my less tasty cheese and corn thins .and enjoyed a wonderful display with the Scrub Wren the fairy blue and  his harem of brown wrens all flitting about and then noticed the small red Finches also in the same area. 

5 Visited the Coffs Harbour  Fish Markets  on the Mariner and bought wonderful freshly cooked fish and chips  – snapper and salmon. and had a lunch picnic in a shady sea scape spot.

6.  Enjoyed a leisurely drive home with a little stress to get back to our world in Sydney. We tried to remember it was the journey not the destination.   We took the Waterfall Way over the Mountain Range and had our picnic brunch at Ebor Falls, one of our special vortex places.

We had a lovely visit  in Scone with my dear friend Sharon.

She had prepared a yummy lunch from her garden. 

We never stopped chatting and laughing and amazing how we can not see each other for months at a time and pick up where we left off last visit. Her garden struggles with drought and flood and high wind of country but she perserveres.

Because of the land slides on the mountains and the flood damage and road works on the New England Highway, it was a slow journey and we arrived home late and tired.


Fun things we did with the boys

Beach walk to be the first to spot the full moon.  A bit windy and the moon snuck up without us seeing it. 

BBQs here in the park and playing cricket.  

Bird watching. Lots of wonderful bird song especially in the mornings. brush turkey, Ibis, yellow-winged black cockatoos, seagulls, top knot pigeon, koels,  magpies,  plovers, galahs .

Here in our park playing on the jumping pillow, basketball, climbing frames, cricket,  and swimming pool, water slides and spurting water fun.


Playing bingo and cards with Pa: painting and magnetic sand play with Grandma.

Bush walks  to the nearby green koala corridor and Botanic Gardens.

Reading stories 

Kicking the ball with Pa  and listening to and identifying local birds. 

The greatest of these discoveries was observing two Yellow winged black cockatoos and the Blue Satin Bower Bird.


  Our little Pikachu




Highly Commended in The National Writing Competition for her Poem, ‘petal by petal’

It is a feeling of affirmation to be awarded second place, highly commended  in poetry  in the National Writing Competition “Giving Women Writers a Voice” 2022.  My poem ‘petal by petal’  written from  loss, grief  and deep love, over several months  earlier in the year, is very special and gives me validation in my creative life. Thank you to all  involved.

The Society of Women Writers NSW Inc

National Writing Competition
We are delighted to announce the winners of the National Writing Competition 2022. Congratulations to the authors and thank you to our judges.
Short Story Fiction – judged by Jenny Strachan
Winner – Alexandra Dunn ♦ Violet
Highly commended – Paulette Gittins ♦ Forget it Jake
Commended – Julie Howard ♦ Recipes for Sisters and Wives
Short Story Non-fiction – judged by Paula McLean
Winner – Carmel Bendon ♦ Birds of a Feather
Highly commended – Judy Rowley ♦ The Only Way
Commended – Gwen Wilson ♦ Loving in the Shadow of Tito
Poetry – judged by Eileen Chong
Winner – Josephine Shevchenko ♦ Undying the Sea
Highly commended – Colleen Keating ♦ petal by petal
Commended – Mocco Wallert ♦ A Stranger in my house
May be an image of text

Olive Muriel Pink by Colleen Keating, runner up and Highly Commended in SWW competition

At the SWW Gala Luncheon  on Wednesday I was  thrilled to receive two highly commended awards.

The first for my book Olive Muriel Pink, awarded the Highly Commended in the Society of Women Writers Poetry Award 2022

The second is a Highly Commended Award for my poem in the National Womens Writers Competition for Poetry. Giving Women Writers a Voice




After so much research, reflection, writing, editing and critiquing with my poetry groups and later with the publisher Ginninderra Press to bring my epic poem Olive Muriel Pink to the world it has finally been given the Highly Commended Award in the Society of Women Writers Poetry Award: a prestigious award and no small feat as it was up against many deserving books Short Listed.

Congratulations to all who made the short list , and especially big congratulations to the winner, my poet friend Pip Griffin for her well deserved book, The Secret Diaries . Virginia and Katherine.

It is a long lonely journey to get a literary work to this point and everyone deserves the recognition that comes their way this day at this rewarding and affirming Gala Luncheon

A great turnout of many amazing fellow female writers for the Gala Luncheon with the key note address given by researcher and writer Anne Summers. A sobering address in which Anne gave us much of the detail of a recent research paper she has researched and written on  Domestic Violence titled,

≠ Violence or Poverty;

The dire choice faced by nearly half a million women




The  Society of Women Writers NSW   Biennial Poetry Book Awards 2022 

 Highly Commended

Colleen Keating’s Olive Muriel Pink: her radical and Idealistic life.

A poetic journey transforms meticulous research into vivid images 

and crisp, engaging writing, bring to light an extraordinary pioneering 

Australian woman’s life and achievements in this substantial 

biographical poem. 

Colleen Keating’s biographical poem brings to fresh attention, and in a new form the life and work of an extraordinary Australian, an anthropologist, committed to working with and bringing to the awareness of colonial Australia, the deep knowledge and connection to the land of the Warlpiri & Arrernte peoples. During her life, Olive Oink worked to disturb the ‘Great Australian Silence’ about the Aboriginal people and Keating’s engaging work restates and re-envisage this important work for modern day Australians.

This biographical poem is a sustained accomplishment. It is a complete narrative, rich in detail and authenticity that captures not only the board and more nuanced details of Olive Pink’s life, but also the landscapes and people in which /with whom she moved. In addition, the poem is a skilful evocation of the times (including both world wars), of loss, of prejudice, of misogyny, of dedication to a cause /a belief. Always lucid in detail, at times the blank verse lines are like sketches and paintings that Pink loved – accurate, but sparse like the arid desert in which she moved – and imbued with the vivacity and splashes of colour that characterise Australia’s land/outback.

Thank you, Colleen, for the opportunity thread your poetry .It was a privilege. Best wishes with your work in the future.

Dr. Carmel Bendon

Dr. Carmel Bendon is a writer and presenter  on  “all things medieval, “ lives in sydney, Australia. She has a 
phD in MedievalLiterature and lectures in English  literature, Medieval Studies and Spiritual. She is ye author of Mysticism and Space , Grasping at Water and more recently  The Mystics Who Came to Dinner.



Flannel Flower Heaven by Colleen Keating

Flannel Flower Heaven


Here’s me in Flannel Flower heaven. 

In Wyrrabalong National Park North . 

It is along  the Coast Walk from Crackneck Lookout to  the Trig Station. 

This is now a pilgrimage experience for me ( i will explain later)  

This pocket of  White Flannel Flowers  attracts many walkers each October. 

The walk includes wonderful ocean vistas and a few vegetation environ-changes

along the way. 

The show of flannel flowers begins slowly, and in the early stages can be easily missed . . . one here, one there,  and suddenly once you have seen these few you begin to see them everywhere.. . . .their presence, breath-taking. 

They clump gracefully together and move gently in the breeze. 

They cluster in masses growing from unobtrusive grey furry wavy leaves.

Stems grow  up and buds appear and then the flowers emerge and blossom.

Ten star petals velvety to the touch each with a delicate pointed tip, exposes a downy pin cushion centre conducive to  bees, butterflies, beetles to land for a feed.

Viewing these plants leaves me with a visceral sense of joy and satisfaction . 

I felt bewildered last year when I snuck along this track during lockdown  (in my 5 km permission radius) to find it had had a back burn, I guess to clear the bush  against fire for the houses further down the hill.  

Now I felt uplifted  this year, 2022, that I had returned with hope for this Flannel Flower Pilgrimage. 

This is not an illusory emotional response but a physiological one

triggered  by the sense in my brain of well being,   

given by the release of neuro-chemicals, endorphins and dopamine.

I wanted more.   I could not get enough.

Every corner I turned and I was not disappointed.

A walk in this Wyrraablong National Park with its Spotted Gums, its few old river Gums (one i take my grandchildren to, for it has the most generous arms for climbing and holding little kiddies,)   for the its banksias, Acacias and wattles and for its Flannel Flowers this week

is one of the places, 

special places for Michael and I, 

that encourages ‘Forest breathing:’  the Western term

for what Japanese call ‘shinrin yoku’. 

This is the practice of  walking and being mindful of the surroundings, letting your senses take in the sights, sounds, smells ,tastes and feel of the forest and bushland.

The health and well-being benefits of ‘forest bathing’ are well documented. There are good research  articles about this.  Today  walking here, reminding each other to be aware is enough, to be very present . The small white nodding heads of the flowers seem to be speaking to us.

They take us out of ourselves and for an uplifting and refreshing time,

we are with them in the world of nature.  

Of course we do not need this marvellous stand of Flannel Flowers or even a forest or the bush to  find ourselves immersed in ‘forest breathing’. 

The mystic and Abbess, Hildegard of Bingen said as far back as the 12th century,  that nature and the green colour in our eyes is very healing.  She was speaking well before modern medicine and she found this way for women who came to her for help. She would say to those feeling depressed, feeling down, feeling overwhelmed:

“Go out into nature ,  find the green: into a park, a paddock, even to a tree  . . .
Feast your eyes on the green, the thousand shades of green.

for its healing powers.  and now japanese Doctors even prescibe a wlk in a forest for healing and for well being. 

(The story for those who have read to the end of this.. . )

My mother loved the sea: my father preferred the hills and bush and so they bought a weekender near both, as the saying goes ‘where the forest meets the sea’.

When Mum went off with the family to the beach it turns out my quiet Dad would put our dog, Skipper in the car and drive to Kincumber Mountain.

He told me once that was his favourite place. 

My father  died  suddenly one day while mowing the lawn and he died young. It was a tragedy in our family life. 

Later as healing of loss and grief progressed I decided to visit Kincumber Mountain to help me find something. . . maybe lost . . . I knew not what. . . 

It was a late spring balmy evening,  I got out of the car and found myself immersed in a forest of flannel flowers and my father was there  .  . .we were there together .  His presence filled me mayup for the lostness in spirit we were talking.   it was  i understand an out of mind experience. It might have been a second, a minute or an hour . I do not know but we walked together. Michael came later and took a photo of me in those wild flannel flowers  nearly as tall as me and I seem lost in them and in that photo I feel my father is there. 

When I started my healing business  ‘Touchstone’ that flannel flower photo was one of my motivating photos . . .maybe about the mystery, or the more then . . but it stayed on my self all the years of my work inspiring me.)

Many years later when I was facilitating a retreat, over lunch with a friend who was Artist-in-Residence and one who understood these things, I shared my Flannel Flower experience with my father.  He listened with joy  and understanding . . .and I felt heard.

  He arrived the next day with  a framed painting of his, saying:

I have always wanted a good home for this painting and I now know where it belongs. He presented one of his signature paintings of flannel flowers.

 It was an amazing generous gift I have always treasured.

So this is the explanation why Flannel Flowers are my spiritual flower. 

PS. I have never gone back to Kincumber Mountain. I never wanted to spoil that moment and today I don’t need to go there.  But this walk along the Coast track is a beautiful reminder.