by Tilly Smith Dix

It is said there is a price for living in beauty. Well, after my experience of last week, the price for living in a beautiful region could be exorbitant.

At first, after watching the news, on which the goddess-like blonde weather lady on Channel 7 advised us of the strong winds to be expected from Gippsland, I thought it just another storm in a teacup. After all, the weatherwoman seemed so cheerful during her seemingly delighted delivery of this expected weather event!

Having experienced three big storms, in which one of my trees landed on a neighbour’s roof, trees fell in my garden and even bigger trees fell on my road and surrounds, I became concerned when that quietly ominous wind started its sweeping carnage.

You see, we’d had a lot of rain as winter is our wet season here in the beautiful Hills, the gateway to the Yarra Valley, which leads to the Victorian high country, where the ski slopes beckon.

Why does the rain worry me in the eye of a storm? The eucalyptus trees, whilst growing impressively enormous, have a shallow root system. This results in these giants toppling so much easier when the ground is wet. Imagine sweeping hills and valleys, and you get the picture, trees falling downhill and wreaking havoc with powerlines, roads, houses, vehicles…

This storm, the worst in 40 years, the news anchor said, was different and far more forceful than its predecessors. It started off quietly, but determinedly. Then it built up to a crescendo, which sounded like a large plane flying around and over the house, non-stop, for approximately eight hours. It may have been seven, but I lost track of time.

The first loud bang, like a gunshot, went off behind the bedroom wall, where the cat and I were holed up under the covers. That was the power, gone. I looked through the window and saw a tree on fire. The tree that hit the powerline. I saw my neighbour running around his garden with a torch. I called him on the phone as we would not be able to converse in the noise outside and I was not going out there! I wanted him to get out of harm’s way! He wanted me to know he was calling SES – State Emergency Services.

Luckily, because of all the rain earlier, the tree hanging on the powerline did not burn for long but the damage was done.

Then there was another loud bang, this time, the powerline on the corner of my road, outside a neighbour’s house, exploded. A massive tree branch hit that one. The entire village was now in darkness.

I must have drifted off into some kind of slumber, or trance, and awakened sometime later, when it felt like the earth moved. Still, that drone of a Boeing flying around the house continued but it was no plane, it was the wind, now coming from the south.

This time, I grabbed the torch next to the bed as I heard voices and heard my name, when someone said, “it’s Tilly’s!” I thought perhaps my car had been overturned in the driveway. I stumbled to the lounge, to see what the commotion was through the large windows. Then I realised the view, albeit in darkness, was different. Why? Then it struck me, the massive tree outside my kitchen, where I have spent many happy hours observing and photographing the daily steady stream of prolific birdlife, was no longer there!

Pictured above, the devastation of a storm – in my garden and my neighbours’ home. Then the beautiful, unapologetic sky after…

I again became aware of my neighbours with torches, yelling in the wind, which was travelling at 125km an hour, still. What I saw in their collective torchlight clarified the panic in their voices, the canopy of that enormous tree had smashed through my neighbour’s roof. I was frozen. I could not move. I could not scream.

Finally, I called my neighbour again on his mobile and he confirmed the worst but, at least, nobody was injured. They were simply trying to move their furniture out of the rain pouring through the gaping hole that was their roof no more.

They could seek shelter elsewhere in their house and at least had gas for cooking. However, they now had no water. None of us had power.

They could stay with relatives the next day and their insurance company has put them up in a hotel since then. They remain sanguine throughout. Respect.

The unspeakable damage to homes, cars, powerlines, roads, not to mention the trauma suffered by everyone, not forgetting their animals and the wildlife, is heartbreaking. It will take weeks for folks closer to Mount Dandenong, nearby, to get power back on. As for rebuilding homes and overcoming the emotional shocks, those will take much longer.

A few days later, I received a call from a man named David. He is an arborist and heard about my tree and the neighbour’s damage. He clears trees at no cost for people in difficulty. There are angels on this planet.

After a discussion with my neighbour, we agreed, there are folks in peril who need this Good Samaritan’s services far more than we do at present. We have insurance. Many don’t.

If anything, in the eye of a devastating storm, the light shines bright on these beautiful souls, whilst resilience remains key.

As for that blonde operational meteorologist on TV, she honestly needs to take a turn in a drama school to fine-tune her news delivery style. Just saying.

Winter warmers

Winter is a celebration of whatever warms the soul, in my book anyway. If it warms the cockles of the heart binging on good movies, just do it. Love good music? Turn it up and dance as if nobody’s watching! Curling up with a good read and be transported into another life, go to it. Prefer to travel if you’re allowed and go on a gin tasting safari? Go!

If this past year and the pesky pandemic have taught us anything, it’s an appreciation for special moments, folks, and the good stuff that make us happy and grateful.

From spectacular sunrises to our faithful pets and the abundance of nature around us, life ain’t half bad.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to attend a ‘special persons day’ at my little prince’s kinder. Seeing life through the eyes of a 3.5-year-old, him showing me all the amenities and serving me banana muffins baked by the teachers and parents, like a little gentleman, was a delight. Nothing melts the heart faster than the sound of children singing. I realised he might become an actor or performer as simply singing with the rest was not for him. While singing, he moved around, owning his space. Adorable.

Afterwards, I took him to his favourite café, set in parkland, which houses a petting farm, where children are allowed to feed chooks and goats at Edendale Community Environment Farm in Eltham. My little man Ashton was such a joy, and I was grateful for spending this quality time with him. These are the things one appreciates so much more now. Last year I missed so much of his and his two equally delightful sisters’ development during lengthy lockdowns. Carpe Diem.

What’s your poison

I saw a social media post recently that resonated with me, deeply. As a result of our personal experiences and horror stories from women we know, and the news, a new ugly monster has reared its multi-faceted head, namely, man-bashing.

The moment someone writes about the bad behaviour of a man, or men, many women hop on that noisy wagon, adding poison to the ghastly wound. This often is a result of their own, or someone close to them, having been treated badly by a man. We found our voice and we are using it.

I do believe, at times, I’ve been guilty of that too. A little wiser now, and less inclined to believe that every male is a bullying, misogynistic narcissist, this is a shoutout to GOOD men. They deserve to be celebrated, respected, and adored. And, yes, they DO exist. I know several and have seen others with my own eyes and it is always heartening to see how those men’s partners flourish in their caring lovelight.

Long may they live, and it is our job to shine a light on their kindness and pure, old-fashioned respect for women.  I remember manners being drilled into our minds, as children. My late dad was a stickler for handling others with respect, especially women. He instilled such behaviour in my brothers too, starting during their formative years. And, if dad was at work, Mom made sure the mutual respect between the sexes were adhered to in the household. Simple rules.

The fact that some men are rotten and think it their satanic duty to abuse and stalk women, even on the internet, where they believe we position ourselves purely for their sick pleasure, cannot be denied. However, we cannot, in our hurt and annoyance, allow these vile bottom-feeders to blind us to the goodness of other men. Cheers to all the good men. And to the rotten apples, take a moment to learn from these gods. Oh, and advertising the size of your manhood or what you would like to do to us does NOT impress.  If that is your poison, scoot over to dial-a-tart-dot-com to find your own kind. Leave the decent women alone. Voetsek – it’s in the dictionary…

Gin’s the word

Armchair travel is my thing for now and, frankly, I’m deeply green with envy as my halcyon day memories of luxe safaris in South Africa are plentiful and everlasting. So, discovering that South Africans are travelling locally at highly reduced rates to five-star safari lodges, such as Tau Game Lodge in the Madikwe Reserve, stoked my enthusiasm!

Gin tasting and winter specials abound at five-star Tau Game Lodge in South Africa.

Having visited that gem, where the game wanders free and the humans are safely contained within the lodge camp, Tau’s June special for gin tasting, overlooking that verdant waterhole, where the magical wild things gather for their own tasting 24/7, is pure safari heaven. Go to www.taugamelodge.co.za to go gin-gin! Out of Africa does not get better…

Staying close to home here in beautiful Victoria near Melbourne, I’ve not been short of delicious food and bubbles either. Lockdown is easing, and I’m off to support my local restaurants, cafes and wineries as we speak…

Pictured above, a typical Maling Road schene; below, left to right, winter street scene; egg, smoked salmon and avocado on sourdough at BetweenUs; new developments depicting the old facades on Maling Road.

So many delightful eateries, where service is friendly and efficient, the food delicious, the local wine pure nectar of the gods. Locations, from scenic city to panoramic Yarra Valley or picturesque Mornington Peninsula scapes, we are simply spoiled for choice.

My local dining maatjie (mate, great friend), and I have explored and often been pleasantly surprised. After an expedition of my surreptitiously looking at properties for sale, my current obsession, we met up for a quick, casual bite in Frankston, at Frankston Waterfront restaurant overlooking Kananook Creek.

The proprietor was about to close for a break before the dinner session but kindly served us anyway, and promptly, as we were ravenous. The crisp, golden crumbed calamari was tender and sweet, attractively plated with fresh, peppery baby rocket, drizzled generously with olive oil, and complemented by plenty aioli and fresh lemon slices. The local bubbles proved a perfect tipple and we promised, like Arnie, to be back, soon! Check them out, you won’t regret it.

Another favourite eating haunt, closer to the city, is Maling Road. I’ve written about the food often but strolling along that delightful community, where the vibe is happy and old world, I was particularly chuffed when I saw newly built office and apartment blocks reflecting the historical façade of most of the older buildings along that road! Hats off to the developers for paying homage to the old, yet, celebrating the new, with updated, gorgeous spaces.

Sofa binge

Filthy Rich, streaming on 7+ with Kim Cattrall. New Orleans. Christian Television network and all the drama and billions attached. Sadly cancelled after one season due to Covid restrictions and production costs. Hope it gets picked up again later by Fox. True escapism. Kim is sensational. Charismatic evangelism at its OTT best!

One of my many passions includes ballet, and the transforming music of composers focused on dance, such as Tchaikovsky. Years ago, I worked with dancers, musicians, actors, and opera stars. I savoured every nuance of their respective crafts. The dancers I particularly enjoyed interacting with at the time, included two highly acclaimed stars, then dancing in New York, Natalia Makarova, who had defected from Russia, and Ivan Nagy, who escaped from Hungary. Sadly, Nagy is no longer with us, and I now discover he retired from dance aged only 35, subsequently directing film and television, including episodes of CHiPs. He was married to Australian ballerina Marilyn Burr when he died. With a riveting noble stage presence, he was one of America’s most highly acclaimed dancers. He had, in fact, danced with Dame Margot Fonteyn as well.

Natalia Makarova was tiny, beautiful and frankly, born to dance as she floated across the stage like a gossamer butterfly as you could not hear her touch the stage floor! As we had similar measurements at the time, I did the preliminary fittings for her costumes, designed by my friend, sadly also no longer with us, Dicky Longhurst, who became a successful fashion designer.

Makarova and Nagy came to dance a world premiere of Swan Lake in South Africa. I was in dance heaven. Her performances set new standards of artistry in the West. Still beautiful at 80, I believe she still choreographs her passion, ballet.

A few years after working with them, they returned to South Africa and whilst I did not work with them at that time, I managed to say ‘hi’ at a favourite eatery on the Sea Point waterfront, La Perla, and I was immensely flattered they remembered me! Well, I guess you don’t forget a company manager (just an assistant PR making sure the stars are happy and arrive at rehearsals on time in those days), who took them gliding for entertainment! We all sang or whistled Windmills of Your Mind, during that quiet flight. If you are old enough to remember the original Thomas Crown Affair, starring Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen, you’ll get my drift.

These vivid, magical memories came flooding back when I watched a documentary on Netflix of the magnificent Rudolph Nureyev. Seeing him described, at that time, as a dancer with animalistic charisma, does not surprise me. Beautiful, poised, and with a dark side stemming probably from beatings by his cruel Tartar father and the tough life they had when captured by Russia. I believe his emotional traumas inspired much of his relentless dance techniques, and an ability to embrace the art as a virtuoso as well as classical dance god.

I highly recommend this riveting documentary. His personal relationship with Dame Margot Fonteyn is not depicted in depth, mostly in dance, but there is an indication they loved each other deeply. Kindred spirits in dance, which in the artistic world often leads to romance. Such relationships are complex but I do have a deep understanding thereof. They were, indeed, magic on stage and his respect for her never dwindled, even when she left the stage to take care of her womanising husband, Tito,  Roberto Arias, when he became disabled. She died in Panama in 1991.

Another binge includes the finale, Season 3, of The Kominsky Method, starring Michael Douglas. He has aged like a fox and frankly, I enjoy his work more now that he is a silver fox. Sensitive, funny, poignant, this final series had me glued to the sofa for the weekend! Prepare to laugh, be outraged, and cry like a girl. I did.

Spotlight on style

Fashionistas abound and nobody could be more thrilled with the feminine, gossamer, floaty designs, reappearing in our midst, reminiscent of the Halston era, than me. Pure mastery, it was, except for his JC Penny era…

Watching all five episodes about this iconic fashion designer, who’s life sadly spiralled out of control because of drugs, drink and fast living, was riveting. Brilliantly cast and directed, the series on Netflix had me spellbound.

Ewan McGregor nails it in the title role, whilst Krista Rodriguez as Liza Minnelli, Rebecca Dayan as Elsa Peretti, Bill Pullman as David Mahoney, Gian Franco Rodriquez as Victor Hugo, and Rory Culkin as Joel Schumacher were all brilliant.

The fashion and elegance of the era, where plenty hedonistic action took place at Studio 54, currently a Broadway theatre in New York, which I spotted on my last visit to New York. Gosh, it was certainly an eyeopener what went on in that club – since 1927! I remember seeing pictures, in my early twenties, of Bianca Jagger riding a white horse into the Club on her birthday! This was a typical Halston era moment, I’d say.

My older sister, 16 years my senior, was a tall, movie-star model beauty, who always looked elegant. Some of my earliest memories of style and grace are of the cool elegance of Rina. She would have been a perfect Halston model. She is still a beauty.

A kind friend, returning from the US, brought me a frothy evening dress, designed by Halston in the late 70s, as well as the perfume. I felt like the queen of style, dancing at Raffles in Cape Town back in the day. I was invincible in that creation and the scent of a woman lingers on…

Now in the chilly throes of winter here in panoramic Victoria, I’m loving the feather-soft, snuggle-friendly mohair, alpaca-merino wool blends and cosy comfort of being wrapped in luxe coats from my vintage closet. As for hats, any excuse, especially when it’s raining, and a bad hair day is threatening to overthrow any serious attempts at looking respectable in the hair department. A hat, a wise person once said, is making a statement without saying a word. Not talking hats with corks to keep flies at bay. Not all of us wear those here in Aussie…especially not in winter, when the flies head to warmer pastures, perhaps Queensland, as everybody seems to be ducking off in that direction, chuckle…

Here’s a taste of some of the current trends I’ve been featuring on my fashion page on Instagram – for more detail, pop to Sixty_is_the_new_40 for some winter style inspiration. While you are there, take a peep at some of my spectacular followers – those gals know how to shine their light on style, all over this fabulous fashion world of ours…from spring to summer, fall to winter, every season offers new beginnings and ways to refresh an ageless wardrobe…I call it therapy! They are also incredibly supportive of each other. A magical tribe.

Cheers to a good life, choose joy, gratitude, and stay safe…

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