The Promise

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Recently I was asked by Queensland RSL News to write an overview about a children’s book I’ve written, The Promise, and they have kindly published this in Edition 4 of their magazine.

During World War II, Papua New Guinea nurse Maiogaru Taulebona hid a wounded Australian airman in a cave, deep in the jungle near Milne Bay. With two words, “I promise”, she was bound to the task of saving his life.

WORLD War II was in its third year, and the Battle of Milne Bay was raging in Papua New Guinea. On the night of 25 August 1942, Japanese soldiers landed between Waga Waga and Wandula, on the northern coast of Milne Bay. The intention was to seize Milne Bay in preparation for landing in Port Moresby, their final destination.

It was during this time of carnage and confusion that an Australian airman, John Donegan, was fished out of Milne Bay by local fisherman Kidilon Luka. He pulled him into his canoe and took him to a mission nurse, Maiogaru Taulebona, who hid him deep in a shadowy cave so that enemy soldiers could not find him. It was then that she made a promise to protect him and take him to safety.

Maiogaru treated his wounds, wrapping them in banana leaves, and stayed with him until he was well enough to move. Determined to fulfil her promise, Maiogaru placed him in a canoe, concealed under a pile of vegetables, and paddled him through the night to a hospital on the other side of the Island.

Maiogaru one of the brave locals who took an enormous risk by helping injured soldiers in WWII. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) thanked Maiogaru for saving the life of an airman, and she was awarded the Loyal Service Medal.

This is my second book written about a nurse in Papua New Guinea during WWII. The Flying Angels, published in 2021, was my first. The Flying Angels revealed the story of a group of RAAF nurses who were handpicked to rescue injured soldiers from the frontline of Papua New Guinea.

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At the launch of The Flying Angel, a friend placed a Kina in my hand as a gentle reminder of the local Papua New Guinea people who also assisted and helped Australian soldiers in WWII. It was my friend’s passion for PNG’s unsung heroes that encouraged me to start my journey to find this amazing story about Maiogaru Taulebona.

The Promise is a story of courage, resilience, kindness and hope, which celebrates the bond between the people of Australia and Papua New Guinea. It is also a personal story for me as my father, Henry George McGregor, was stationed in PNG during WWII in the Signals Corp. He told me that he would not have survived without the help of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, as they were fondly called at the time. With care and love, these PNG natives became the Australian soldiers’ unsung heroes, rescuing injured Australian soldiers and taking them to safety.

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On the 80th anniversary of the battle of Milne Bay, Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Robert Chipman AM CSC presented copies of The Promise during his official visit to Milne Bay. Nurse Maiogaru’s family and local primary schools were very proud to receive these books. The Chief of Air Force recognises the significance of this story in connecting children in both Australia and PNG, and the significance of their shared history.

This book is a valuable resource for children to learn about their ancestors and how this conflict significantly shaped our history. The Promise also speaks of the bravery of women in the community. I believe there is a great need for authentic stories of local PNG heroes to be heard, and these ancestors will reach out to young PNG and Australian children to show them the way forward with clarity, courage, and hope.

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I enjoy telling little-told Australian stories of WWI and WWII and am available to talk at schools and events about these and other ANZAC stories. vicki@vickibennnett.com.au

Published by Boolarong Press, The Promise is available in bookstores and at www.boolarongpress.com.au or www.vickibennett.com.au

LAUNCH OF CHARLIE’S WAR

I was thrilled to launch my latest book, Charlie’s War at the Queensland State Library last night, here is what I had to say:

I’d like to talk about breadcrumbs … All of us have been handed little breadcrumbs as stories from our families, or ancestors, at some point in our lives. Small fragments of information, or sometimes large pieces of a puzzle.

And you may not have picked up those potential diamonds as yet, or done anything with them, but they are waiting to be discovered, so you can to leave them as a trail for others who come after you. My granddaughter Ruby recently reminded me of the importance of storytelling in families. I was recounting a story to her, about my childhood dog, and as I was leaving, she said, ‘Could you tell me more stories when I come over on Sunday?’

Your children or your grandchildren may not be interested right now, but someday your great-grandchildren, and their children’s children, will come looking to find out where they’ve come from, so they might understand themselves better.

I began my extensive journey to Charlie Bird’s story through a breadcrumb my father, George told me many times throughout my life. George’s story is about how as a little boy, between World War I and WW II, he and his friends at the Middle Park State School in Melbourne, used their pocket money to help rebuild the Victoria School, in Villers Bretonneux in France.

 This narrative ignited a fascination within me, leading to the creation of five ANZAC children’s picture books,

  • Following Two Pennies I found the story of The Little Stowaway, where a little French orphan was saved from the battlefields of France in WW1, then hidden in an oat sack, and brought him to his new home to Jandowae, Queensland.
  • Next came The Flying Angel – where agroup of handpicked nurses rescued injured soldiers from the frontline of Papua New Guinea WW2, and brought them safely back home to Australia.
  • The Promise, another children’s picture book, is also set in Milne Bay Papua New Guinea in WW2, where a local mission nurse cared for a wounded Australian airman and brought him to safety.
  • And now this book, Charlie’s War.

All of these books tell stories of determination, love, courage, kindness, compassion, and showcase how one persons’ action can make a profound difference.

My next step with these stories began when I wrote and co-produced a documentary, Never Forget Australia. This film sheds light on seven lesser known, yet poignant stories which emerged from World War 1, and reminds us of how Australian soldiers stayed to help rebuild villages in France after WW1 and as a result, the love and affection which grew between these two countries, Australian and France.

One of the significant chapters in this documentary unveils the stories of Australian Aboriginal soldiers who enlisted in this war, and through my research, I had the privilege of meeting Des Crump, and interviewed him for this documentary.

It was then that Des told me about a welcome home ceremony that was given to Charlie Bird, and George Bennett, and held at the Euraba Aboriginal settlement on the Queensland-NSW Border. He said it was one of the few welcome home ceremonies for aboriginal soldiers after The Great War. Charlie’s experience stuck with me, and together with Des, we crafted Charlie’s War, this amazing story of hope, resilience and community.

My personal connection with WWI began when I was a little girl sitting in my grandfather’s vegetable garden. Grandpa William McCauley, told me about a friendship forged in the trenches between him, and an aboriginal solider who fought alongside him in the Somme.

So when Des first told me about his Uncle Charlie, I wanted to think that Charlie Bird and William McCauley may have met somewhere on those battlefields of France, and we were connected somehow through our ancestors, unfortunately that was not to be. This story is a tribute to the 1,250 aboriginal soldiers who fought in The Great War.

Gratitude

Gratitude 

I walk in gratitude every day. By that I mean I am thankful for everything I have, do, create and experience. I don’t wait for greatness to happen before I’m grateful, I’m happy for the smallest things: sunshine, my morning chai, the way my legs move when I get out of bed, my family, hot water. You can see where I’m going with this. 

Making the effort to frequently experience gratitude balances out negativity and cultivates awareness of what we want in our lives, not focusing on what we don’t want. I’m not saying that we should ignore problems or be superficial about the challenges of life, but our spirit is enriched by feelings of gratitude, and good memories are formed by focusing on what’s working and what we are grateful for. 

Gratitude is an instant mood booster. When we consciously shift our attention to what’s thriving in our lives, our need for safety, satisfaction and connection is met. Activating gratitude tones down the alarm system of the brain (the amygdala) and reduces the stress response. Practising gratitude reduces levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body and releases dopamine, the natural feel-good chemical in the brain, which supports more focused attention. 

  • Slow everything down by walking in gratitude; appreciate your surroundings. 
  • Soften towards your family, friends and colleagues. 
  • Thank others for the smallest kindness. 
  • Forgive yourself, be gentle on yourself.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt; don’t take things personally. 
  • Actively notice new things to feel grateful about. 
  • Show compassion to self and others. 

Love is a skill-set

I interviewed hundreds of people for my latest book 100 keys to Love and found that we are not alone, each one of us is searching for love and self-discovery. Many people I spoke with are over-achievers in their work but have felt frustrated about how to find love and happiness in their personal lives. 

Life is challenging. We are expected to work, be perfect mothers and fathers, friends and lovers. Calmly juggling everything, balancing our lives, whilst looking fabulous and buying just the right gift for St Valentine’s Day. 

But when it comes to love, we struggle to find it, express it, keep it, or untangle from it.

Kind and gentle self-care is essential when falling in love. Nurturing yourself. Think about what you want and how you feel. Do not let your thoughts and actions about another person pull you ahead of getting to know yourself first. The more you know and like yourself, the more chance your relationship has of success. Care about yourself as much as you care about the other person, then falling in love can happen more naturally and sustainably.

Love is a skill-set that includes care, honesty, respect, affection – physical, emotional and mental. Open, honest and direct communication and personal responsibility are our agency.

There are times when you may not feel loving at all towards others but still choose loving actions because that is what love is.

“If you inherently long for something, become it first. If you want gardens, become the gardener. If you want love, embody love. If you want mental stimulation, change the conversation. If you want peace, exude calmness. If you want to fill your world with artists, begin to paint. If you want to be valued, respect your own time. If you want to live ecstatically, find the ecstasy within yourself. This is how to draw it in, day by day, inch by inch.”
― Victoria Erickson

Hope is optimism in action

When my publisher asked me to write a book encapsulating everything about living a hope-filled life, I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. Thrilled to be sharing my ideas but terrified that by opening up, I would be forced to navigate deeper levels of my understandings of anxiety. Why poke the sleeping bear?

As an adult, I’ve struggled with being enough. Overachievement and the need for approval have always driven me, often to the high end of anxiety and, when I was younger, to depression. Like many others, I have had lots of counselling to help pinpoint where my anxiety started, and this exploration has helped me to live a life of curiosity, love and passion. That’s why I decided that The Book of Hope – Antidote for Anxiety would be a handbook based on what I’ve learned about handling the ups and downs in life. 

The book was published in February 2020. Little did I know when I was writing it, that the looming worldwide pandemic would turn our lives upside down. 

Over 2 million Australians suffer from anxiety. Research suggests that 45% of Australians are expected to experience some form of mental health issue in their lifetime. These staggering numbers are growing in our 21st-century living. When we add the level of anxiety and stress created by COVID-19 there seems little opportunity for peace.

We are becoming increasingly anxious, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed, but let’s not kid ourselves; we were already anxious, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed before COVID-19. 

Human evolution relied on fear as a critical response to physical threat, our in-built mechanism of fight-flight-freeze is how we survived as a species. If we didn’t feel fear, we couldn’t protect ourselves. But now our survival-based fear has evolved into overwhelming anxiety, which we accommodate by soothing, avoiding, or numbing it down. 

What kept our ancestors alive is killing us slowly. 

Our ancestors were able to put aside their anxiety, to rest until the next battle or event. Our fast-paced technology, TV, social media, and texting drives us to feel like we are never quite free of pressure. Anxiety has become our new normal, and high levels of anxiety can smother hope in a heartbeat.

Recognizing anxiety is the first step. Identify when cortisol and adrenaline are activated; when our mind starts to race, hands tremble or there’s a shaking sensation in the chest. When you feel anxiety, sit quietly and breathe into that feeling, resist attaching a story of ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘who’ to the feeling. Don’t argue with yourself about it; don’t try to blame, shame, or guilt the feeling away. That’s never worked. Identify the anxiety as early as possible and breathe through it until it lets go of you. 

A pioneer of dealing with anxiety Dr. Claire Weekes wrote, “To recover, we must know how to face and accept panic; to go through panic until it no longer matters … Recovery is in our own hands, not in drugs, not in the avoidance of panic, not in ‘getting used to’ difficult situations. Permanent recovery lies in the patient’s ability to know how to accept the panic until they no longer fear it.”

We may not be able to control the outer circumstances of our lives. However, by identifying and taking notice of what’s happening within, we can develop resistance by taking small moments of mindfulness, awareness, and being in the current moment. 

My definition of hope is optimism in action. Hope won’t stop the challenging things from happening, it just helps us to understand that they are transitory.

We need to create new neural pathways in our brain – those stimulated by gratitude, kindness, optimism, cheerfulness, buoyancy, and hope. When we think more hopeful thoughts, our bodies release dopamine and serotonin, two types of neurotransmitters that relax the nervous system. Both of these chemicals are linked with happiness. 

Stop constantly accessing the news or having it on as background noise; at least take it down a couple of notches. Being hammered with the same event over and over again is not healthy. 

Spend time in the outdoors, read more, meditate, experience art, literature and music, these are the things that nurture our hearts and make us more peaceful and wise. 

As a small child, I remember the excitement of saying goodbye to my favourite aunt as she boarded a luxury liner from Sydney Harbour, heading to Southampton. She threw a yellow streamer from the upper deck and I eagerly caught it and held on tight, smiling and waving with my other hand. This encounter left an indelible mark on my imagination. Now as an adult, hope for me is the streamer between the ocean liner and the dock. Between me and my future. 

This article first apeared in Your Life Choices on 1st October 2020.  https://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/health/your-health/anxiety-is-killing-us-slowly

Navigating Madness

If we thought the world was mad before, COVID-19 has bought us to a new level of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, overload and what sometimes looks like madness. Lack of certainty and the consequences of fear have engulfed us worldwide. But don’t underestimate the importance of this time for affecting change.

We are tested daily by not understanding or knowing what the outcome of this pandemic and its ramifications will look like. Our collective anxiety around health, economics and survival is skyrocketing. Uncertainty about when the pandemic is going to stop and what we will be left with when it’s over. And on a very personal level, the safety of Aged Care facilities, concern about economic survival, including our investments and our fears for our children’s and grandchildren’s futures. 

Constant uncertainty feeds anxiety. But we still wake up every day and steer our way through what’s in front of us. Let’s not underestimate our individual strength and courage and our collective strength and influence. 

How can we connect to a hopeful future? How can we tune into confidence for the future? How can we collectively ride the wave through this? 

We need to become more resilient and hopeful. Now is the time for radical hopefulness. Hope is the ability to believe in the possibility of a better future. Hope is optimism and action engaged. Optimism on its own won’t cut it, we need to do something with our optimism. 

Many people are helping others in this time of pandemic, reaching out and speaking up more clearly about what they want from the world in the future. One where we can care for each other, look after our community and care lovingly for ourselves.

Our action can be a subtle or as big as we are comfortable with, but each of us can find more ways to be resilient and hopeful. Every little bit of caring for our community, our environment, and our families helps. 

Think big but start small.

This article first appeared in Your Life Choices, Friday 4th September, 2020.