Julie Bishop pictured at Lone Pine Sanctuary in 2015. Picture: Jack Tran/The Courier Mail
Julie Bishop pictured at Lone Pine Sanctuary in 2015. Picture: Jack Tran/The Courier Mail

You can’t recreate the past, but I’m giving it a shot

Is it some sort of miracle that the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane's western suburbs still exists and where it was originally established to boot?

That somehow land developers - who must surely wash their hands with invisible soap while drooling Homer Simpson-style at the prospect of getting their hands on it - continue to be denied the opportunity to carve up and sell off, this prime, pretty, undulating peninsula on a bend in the Brisbane River.

But this, for once at least in our growth and development-mad society and our own consequentially endlessly and stressfully changing lives, is surely as it should be as Lone Pine, established in 1927, is where generations of us spent happy hours as children. It's also where, as grown-ups, we continue to take our own children and grandchildren, along with visitors from interstate and overseas who also want to marvel at and get up close and cuddly with koalas, kangaroos and all our other fabulous and unique Australian wildlife.

I was mulling this over last Saturday on the short drive to Lone Pine, with No. 1 grandson, strapped happily in the back. No. 1 is only three and, while I'm pretty certain he's exhibiting all the signs of genius, I'm fairly sure the finer points of my out aloud musings about the comfort afforded by the odd island of sameness in our often storm-tossed sea of existence, went over his little head.

In short I found I was childishly excited about taking No. 1 - first and only grandchild so far, though there's another on the way - to Lone Pine where, as an animal loving child, I'd spent so many happy hours, with and without my parents (we lived just a short bus ride away). In fact, I'd sometimes spend nearly a whole Saturday there with an equally animal loving best friend, Robyn. This was back in the day when visitors to the sanctuary arriving by ferry from the city would be greeted by a koala rocking along on the back of a German Shepherd dog - remember?

Margaret Wenham at age 11 with some chums at Loan Pine Koala Sanctuary.
Margaret Wenham at age 11 with some chums at Loan Pine Koala Sanctuary.

No. 1 and I had a lovely time. In the animal barn, he held a tiny chick, fed a sheep and tickled a guinea pig. He was engrossed by the working sheep dogs and grossed out by an owl eating a mouse. He saw more koalas than you could poke a stick at and stroked some kangaroos. For ages, we watched a little platypus swimming about. The only thing No. 1 took issue with me about was when I said the alligator, with its slightly curled mouth as it sunned itself on a log, was smiling at him while thinking "delicious".

I've bought yearly passes for No. 1 and me and I'm thinking we could go a few times and make going there with nana a bit of a comfortable tradition for him, as much as it is keeps a little, special bit of the past alive for me.

I think it's easy to underestimate the value of and discard, because of busy lives, tradition. But maybe it's more important these hectic days than ever.

"We try to cope by bringing a semblance of order and predictability to our existence - even some serenity if possible," says psychiatrist and author, Saul Levine, writing for Psychology Today. "This is seldom an easy task, but it's especially challenging when in addition to personal problems, our world appears to be in uncomfortable turmoil."

Traditions, he says, help bring us together, providing us with "experiences of shared values and mutual comfort". They offer "time for reflection and relaxation" and when they "bring predictability and constancy to our lives" helping to "remove us, even for a little while, from the cacophony of the outside world".

"Non-conformist" was a label frequently applied by my father during my bolshie teenage years, when I bucked just about every system in the household and on the planet.

But for some reason that mulishness never interfered with family traditions into which I'd throw myself as much as the next rellie, even if I did think the rellie next to me was a pompous, social climbing pain in the cracker or that Dad's friend, Uncle Bob, was a disgusting sleaze of heroic proportions, which he was.

Chinese tourists Ma Shuo and her daughter Shang You Ya at Lone Pine Koala. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen/The Australian
Chinese tourists Ma Shuo and her daughter Shang You Ya at Lone Pine Koala. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen/The Australian

In particular, I've always cherished my childhood memories of traditional Christmas Day's - in England when I was young and later here - with Mum and Dad often hosts to others. The tree was always "up" and the house decorated. Records of carols and Bing, of course, played. A big turkey with all the trimmings was the order of Christmas lunch - "Can I help anyone to more brussels sprouts?" - and a huge trifle would complement the steaming calico-wrapped pudding with brandy custard, which would complement the stilton, which complemented the home-decorated cake. And all of that would be complemented by lashings of cheer-inducing champagne and wine and, later, liqueurs.

Back in the UK, we'd all be smartly dressed, something aspired to with the move back to Australia. But we do have photos of one particularly hot Christmas Day here when mum - a solid woman in her heyday - served the lunchtime, roasting hot bird wearing togs.

As the afternoons turned to evening, Mum would bang out the favourites on the piano and, later, the furniture would be pushed back and foxtrotting couples circled the lounge to Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and more Bing, with Dad joining in the crooning.

I miss those Christmases of my childhood and youth and I've always tried to make it a special time for my kids - certainly one of family getting together.

Of course, we can never recreate the past exactly but trying to give to your kids and grandkids something akin to the good stuff you enjoyed as a child can only be good for them and you, couldn't it?

Tradition, you might say, demands it.

Margaret Wenham is a Courier-Mail columnist.

And her No. 1 grandson at age 3 doing the same.
And her No. 1 grandson at age 3 doing the same.

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