Page 139: horsham
     
  Today I met an angel  
 

The last place you'd expect to meet an angel would be at a Country Music Festival. The angel to which I refer is Moira Kelly. Not the American actress but our very own, very special Moira Kelly, Order of Australia.

Very briefly, Moira was born in 1964 and from a very young age has a history of selfless contributions to the less fortunate. She left home at age 20 to work with Aboriginal children in W.A. At age 22 she worked alongside Mother Theresa in Calcutta. When she returned to Australia she worked with AIDS sufferers. She left Australia again at age 26 to work with the Kalahari bushmen on a self help project. She then travelled to Johannesburg and then New York. Whilst overseas, Moira worked with some of the world's least fortunate people. She has carried out large-scale humanitarian projects and has been there to assist desperate and sick individuals in Johannesburg, the Bronx (USA), Romania, Bosnia and Albania. She has set up soup kitchens, refugee camps, dental clinics, schools, managed an AIDS hospital and adult education programs.

Along the way Moira has been given very many awards, both national and international. I could go on and on but it's all on the 'net if you wish to read it. Here I want to describe a more personal experience.

In 1998 Moira found two toddlers, Ahmed and Emmanuelle, in a Baghdad orphanage. They were both born with severe disabilities having little more than stumps for arms and legs. One baby had been dumped in a box in a street, the other on the front door of the orphanage itself. They had no future other than begging on the streets.

Moira fought the Saddam Hussein regime for two years before she was allowed to bring the boys to Australia. In the nine years since, they have endured operation after operation. Ahmed, now eighteen, has artificial legs and can walk almost normally but has no arms.  Emmanuelle, sixteen, had more for the surgeons to work with. He gets around on one shortened and disfigured leg and an artificial one. He had no hands but the surgeons have fashioned one on his right arm.

With Moira as their legal guardian, they are well adjusted young men - articulate and chatty with a remarkably positive outlook on life and impeccable manners. Emmanuelle has a beautiful voice. He sings at wedding, funerals and functions. Eighteen-year-old Ahmed played football for his local team and school, before setting Australian records for disabled swimming.

More recently, Moira has been the driving force behind getting Bangladeshi Siamese (conjoined) twins, Krishna & Trishna brought to Australia for ground-breaking surgery undertaken at the Royal Children’s Hospital. The children were joined at the head and this success story captured the hearts and minds of the entire Australian population. But Moira didn't just battle to get the twins here, she became their full-time mother until such time that they are able to return to their birth parents. Moira: ''I just know that my life isn't the same because of them … They will always be a part of my life, whatever happens.''

The Kelly family was at the Horsham Country Music Festival because Emmanuelle was launching his first CD and was singing some of the songs that he's recorded. To my shame I had no idea who any of them were until two members of the audience asked me to take a photograph of the twins for them. I approached Moira and asked her permission. Very apologetically she explained that they had a policy of not allowing the little girls to be photographed. I assured her that that wasn't a problem and she was embarrassingly grateful. The twins looked like perfectly ordinary three-year-olds, toddling around with black, curly hair. Ahmed and Emmanuelle are very protective of them.

 
     
   
  Emmanuelle and Moira on the stage at the Horsham Country Music Festival. Moira is holding Emmanuelle's first CD.  
     
 

By the time Emmanuelle took to the stage, every member of the audience was aware of his background. As he sang a total silence fell. Nobody moved; you could have heard a pin drop. It's giving me shivers down my spine even now, writing about it. I don't think I've ever experienced an atmosphere so charged with emotion. His performance ended to tumultuous applause and immediately a queue formed to purchase his CD.

Have four children ever had such terrible fortune to be born so disfigured and disabled, yet at the same time have four children ever had such wonderful fortune to be rescued by Moira Kelly, an angel if ever there was one.

 
     
   
  Moira seemed a little overcome by the magnitude of the day for Emmanuelle.  
     
 

A quote from a web site makes a fitting ending to this section: It's a ripper Aussie yarn, a tribute to the courage and grit of these outstanding boys, to the determination of Moira Kelly and also to the opportunities afforded by this great country.

Ahmed and Emmanuelle are so proud to be Australians. As Australians we should be so proud to have them.

 
     
  Other stars at the Festival  
 

For Pam and I there's only one real star at any festival which features Michelle Little, a greatly under-rated singer. On Saturday evening she asked the audience, "Are Pete and Pam out there?" Naturally we yelled, yes we were. She told the audience about how we came to be her "official stalkers" some years ago in Tamworth, then she dedicated a song to us. The lyrics are about a couple who, having retired, hitch up their caravan and set off around Australia. The title is "More living to do."

Since she was scheduled late in the programme on Sunday - which was devoted to gospel music - she found that other singers had already used the material that she had selected. She decided to take a risk. Though not a Catholic herself, she teaches music in a Catholic school in Sydney. Michelle sang Ave Maria in Latin without accompaniment. It was breathtaking . . . quite awesome!

Another singer that was very popular, especially with Johnny Cash fans, was Dale Hooper. Some of his songs were so reminiscent of the late, great Johnny Cash that we hard pressed to tell them apart.

 
     
   
  Left: Michelle Little, a lovely person and a superb singer.                             Right: Dale Hooper does a 'mean' Johnny Cash.  
     
   
  Pam with Dale Hooper.  
     
  Of course, there were many other singers besides Emmanuelle, Michelle and Dale but those were the notable ones. As always there were several children there and they loved playing on the dance area between the stage and audience. One in particular was soon familiar to the audience, a little girl with 'attitude' who seemed oblivious of all the people watching her. Other little girls and one little boy soon latched on to her and added to the entertainment.  
     
   
  Just once in a while the kids would sit still and watch the official entertainers. Yes, that's Miss Attitude on the left.  
     
   
  Left: This is how we saw them most of the time - where do they get the energy?
Right: Although some soon bored of playing girls games and got fed up.
 
     
   
  Having fallen off her chair, Pam decided she would entertain the crowd some more.
Why the rug? We froze on Friday evening so came prepared on Saturday wearing two of everything and a rug.
 
     
   
  The audience's view of the sound man. He did a first class job, the entertainers said.  
     
  A change of plan  
 

While at Horsham we learned that Dawn, wife of Phil, resident of Mildura and very good friend of ours was very ill in hospital after contracting an infection during surgery. We decided to head directly to Mildura. There was nothing practical we could do to help other than be there for them. So that's what we did.

Fortunately the news was better when we arrived so we decided to stay on in Mildura for a few days then - all being well - rejoin our original programme at Castlemaine having given Halls Gap a miss.

 
     
  Castlemaine  
 

With Dawn thankfully on the mend we left Mildura and drove to Castlemaine, and what a bitch of a road that is. In many places there is flood damage but worse were the undulations which made the car behave like a rocking horse and the caravan, without suspension damping, behave like a plastic duck in the surf. We came across a section of the planned route that was closed due, we surmised, to flood damage. Whatever the cause, we were forced to take the scenic route, stretching the journey to 450 kilometres and delaying our arrival until early dusk. Grumpy is how I'd describe us.

We then found that the 'flat' site promised to us sloped steeply right to left and front to rear. Our ramps, carried for this very reason, were not high enough to raise the left side of the caravan sufficiently so we put wooden blocks under the ramps and that levelled us, left to right. Front to rear is never a problem unless the 'van is still not level with the drawbar on the ground.

By the time we were level with power and water connected it was nearly dark. 'Grumpy' would no longer adequately describe us. However, once in the caravan we took our evening medication from the green bottle and relaxed.

Castlemaine, pronounced with the emphasis on the 'maine', seems a nice town but the weather, so glorious in Mildura, has turned sullen.

I have occupied some of my time by cleaning up the car's headlights. The 'glass' had become very patchy and almost opaque in places. I don't know why, nobody else seems to have this problem. My previous attempts to clean them with polishes and solvents only made them worse and replacing both headlamps would cost a horrific amount. I resorted, not without some trepidation, to a technique used on glider cockpit canopies when they become damaged by grit blasted back by the tug aircraft's propeller during the take-off run.

I first repeatedly rubbed back the Plexiglas with wet 800 grade carborundum paper leaving the material milky and opaque. I then repeated the procedure with 1200 grade carborundum paper. Next was a 3M fibreglass cleaner and polish, then a 3M fibreglass fine polish and finally a boat polish containing Teflon. Believe it or not, the headlights look like new. If my arm aches, my wallet certainly doesn't as I already had the necessary materials.

 
     
  Maldon  
 

Using Castlemaine as a base we drove out to Maldon where a steam train runs twice a week between Castlemaine and Maldon. If you're a 'steam head' there's not a lot to be gained by riding on such a train, the engine is what you want to see and this engine was oil fired. No, not a conversion; half the J Class locos ever built were oil fired to defeat the coal miners who were using the railway's reliance on coal as a lever, thus making coal supplies unreliable.

Ignoring "Stay Out Or You'll Be Shot" signs I boldly walked up to Workshop Supervisor, Mick Compagnoni, and asked him where I could best photograph his train returning to Castlemaine that afternoon. What a true gentleman he is, he couldn't do enough to help. I wanted the train climbing an incline with a bush background, black smoke belching from the funnel. Mick showed an ideal spot on a map and gave me simple directions how to get there. Below is the result.

 
     
Victorian Goldfields Railway's J541 climbing a gradient out of Maldon hauling period coaches filled with tourists. Check out that track!
     
J541 again. I doubt if many will have noticed that blue and yellow abomination behind the real loco but if you do, say nothing. Had Mick Compagnoni
known the load that J541 was to haul he would have fired up another 'J' steamer to double head. His greatest ambition is to triple head a train with three
J Class locos. Mick has previously triple headed two J Class and a K Class. Three J Class has never, ever, been done in the world. Yet! Go Mick.
     
We photographed them, they photographed us photographing them, we all waved and then they were gone.
     
 

Having photographed the train we returned to Maldon town for a better look around. In many ways the town hasn't changed a lot since its gold rush days. If rust and peeling paint give a place an appearence of authenticity, then Maldon really looks authentic. Here are some pictures.