Classic women

Life in transition – classic women’s stories of transition

Wikipedia defines ‘classic’ (adjective) as: judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind. Its synonyms are ‘definitive’, ‘authoritative’.

On this page, I will share my story and the stories of generous women who have agreed to share their stories of transtion.

The value of telling your story: your turn to tap at the keyboard and share

Calling Classic Women  – you know who you are! Come and share your stories.

So many women believe their story is not interesting to others and this is frankly untrue.

The value of sharing our story is immense. Do you remember a time when you were perhaps struggling with raising a teenager, training a new puppy, cranking up a new business, settling into a blended family?  These were typically times of transition and change for you. And do you remember the relief you felt when you heard about others who were dealing with similar challenges? Yes, you felt more ‘normal’, perhaps less alone.

This is something we can do for each other. We can share and we can listen, and sometimes we can offer support or advice. It all costs nothing.

So many platforms…

Today, more than ever, we have many ways to connect – social media has given our stories wings. We can share through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. We can talk through the ubiquitous mobile phone, even see each other while we chat across Facetime or Skype.

I believe there is still a place for tales and I offer this platform for you to share your story beyond a quick post or tweet or snap.

So what’s involved?

Yes, I hear you! Where to start?

Some of us are natural storytellers and it’s easy to sit and share with others or perhaps jot down some ideas. I love these people and naturally defer to them relating a story because I know they’ll do it more justice than my potted version.

If this is you, please send me your story!


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Some of us like to be guided through a discussion with some careful and thoughtful prompts to expand (that’s me!)

If this is you, please contact me and let’s get going!

Some people are most comfortable with an outline, a framework, an agreement of what it’s okay to ask about and what needs to be left alone.

If this is you, please contact me and we can develop a plan!

My story (1): the birth of the Classic Women blog

A big thank you to the of you who have followed Classic Women since its first, shaky steps. In January 2017, I took a trial break from my paid job. I launched the blog, Classic Women. My qualification??? I love writing. I know about being a 50+-year-old woman. I have experienced lots of personal transitions. So I focussed on what I consider to be useful information:
  • tips about how to form post-workforce relationships
  • solutions for maintaining fitness and health
  • inspiring stories about women who daily balance their roles as mother, daughter, grandmother, partner, friend and volunteer
  • the perplexing financial challenges of older women.
During the same period, I wrote a piece about my recent ‘transition’. Through social media giant, Facebook, I was introduced (by someone living in the UK) to the (Victorian-based) editor of online Broad Magazine. Editor Casey invited me to submit my story, and to my absolute ecstasy, I was published!!!!

Cherie’s story

I met Cherie Bombell through workaround fourteen years ago. She was born and grew up in America and has been married to Australian Ron for forty years. Cherie and I grew closer following her Sudden Arrhythmia  Death in 2005. She was unable to drive for a period and I would swing by on my way to work to give her a lift. As you would expect, we got chatting. We discovered we shared some fundamental values about social justice, human rights and equality of opportunity. I have come to know Cherie as an inquisitive and deep thinker, a strong friend and a sensitive listener. She left our workplace about 18 months ago and in 2017, I asked her if she would like to share her post-paid-employment journey.

Introducing classic woman Cherie Bombell

Thank you for agreeing to chat with me, Cherie. We’ve known each other for many years now. After meeting at work, we became friendly, sharing very similar values and interests. About two years ago you started talking about maybe leaving work, or retirement. What started that thinking in your mind?

I didn’t really think about it. I was about to turn 68, I was really, really tired. Mum had moved in with us, and I just couldn’t maintain the pace. Working, looking after Mum, five kids, six grandkids ….

Leaving work – more a resignation than a retirement

I recall you being very firm that this was not retirement, more a resignation from work. Do you remember that? Would you like to say anything about why you were adamant that this was not retirement?

It wasn’t planned – it was a sudden decision. Probably part of it was that I wasn’t mentally prepared for retirement, and retirement seemed so final, like ‘the end’, there’s no turning back, there’s just forward and what does that mean? You stop being ambitious and using your creativity.

When you were preparing for retirement/resignation, what steps did you take?

I could isolate five steps, which took two only working days to enact! I’m usually a planner, but not for this. It was the right decision. The way it happened for me was the way it had to happen for me.

Did you have some preconceived notion of what this resignation from work would be like?

I expected to have a lot more time because I was giving up a big chunk of my week to paid work. I was hoping to have free time to write or be involved in other activities. Even before that, when I went part-time, I didn’t tell a lot of [non-work] people, because I was afraid that my time would get swallowed up if people knew that I wasn’t working. I was very protective of this time, because I didn’t want to get filled up by other people, and I didn’t want to be judged by that.

I remember how important it was for your work friends and colleagues to give you a loving farewell and how touched you were when so many people filled the room to say goodbye. What do you recall about that event? How did you feel at the time?

I remembered feeling very, very loved, accepted, appreciated and also very uncomfortable. Even though I talk a lot, I don’t like being the centre of attention. My team put on a whole stage show! All the people that were attending were sitting behind me and I couldn’t see them all. I wanted to be able to touch base with everyone and thank them for being a part of it – my co-workers, people from non-government organisations, even people I have had a challenging relationship with in the past. They even produced a ‘This is your Life’ book!

2005 – a life-changing experience

I know you are very curious about genetics. Would you like to say a little about how you participated in some genetic screening in the past?

Yes. Ron and I participated in some genetic tracking conducted by National Geographic that placed Ron very firmly with his Italian heritage. Mine was northern Europe. The most recent testing was prompted by a Sudden Arrhythmia Death (SAD event), twelve years ago, when my heart just stopped beating. They can’t find any medical cause for it but I do have some relatives who suddenly died in their 50s. So they’re testing to see if there is a chromosomal link, which I feel is important for my children to know.

After your cardiac arrest, there would have been a big adjustment for you and your family.

It was a pretty traumatic time for Ron, who found me on the floor, and for the kids, who resuscitated me. The SAD event didn’t screw with my brain too much. But when I was shocked unnecessarily, repeatedly, by the implantable defibrillator wired to my heart – it was like torture. I never knew when it was going to go off. I wasn’t afraid of dying so much – more of being hurt if this thing went off unexpectedly. 180 volts to your heart is pretty freaky!

June joins Cherie and Ron

Your mum, June,  is in her 90s and I remember you used to go and visit her at her home after work each day to see if she was okay. I remember thinking how amazing you were. Since leaving work, your mum has sold her home and is now living with you and Ron. I recall she is about 94 now and while you honour and encourage her independence, you have assumed more of a caring role.

I was going there every day to see if she was okay, and then I’d see something that needed to be done and another hour would go.

Mum used to spend a lot of time in bed when she was in her own home – I figured she didn’t have a reason to get up. She still stays in bed a lot. I think having her with me means I’m conscious of her all the time and I worry about her all the time and I check on her.

Then there’s the complexity of this being Ron’s home too. Mum’s dog came with her. When she lived alone, it was reassuring for Mum when Suzie would bark. But now Ron might be on a late shift and catching up on some sleep during the day when someone comes. Suzie barks, and he’s woken up.

Other new things we’ve had to adapt to include having a range of new people coming to the house – Mum’s therapists, the hairdresser, her friends. We’ve had to have some difficult discussions. Also, we needed to remember that Mum had lost her home, and there’s grieving in that. Plus lots of additional ‘things’ in our house that she brought with her. Then she has special diets, so the way we would normally cook had had to change. They’re all little bumps along the way.

And there’s different family cultures, including notions of humour. Ron’s Dad lived with us for many years and I had to get used to his quirks. Now Ron sometimes thinks my Mum’s being serious when I know she’s not!

‘With babies, life makes sense’

Since leaving work, your son and his wife have had their first child – your first biologically-connected grandbaby, even though you’ve been Nan to several other grandchildren. Would you like to share a little about what it means to you to spend time with Bonnie?

photo of Cherie, her son, her mother and her baby gran daughter
Four generations of Bombells. (Pic: Stacey Keating)

It feels great. Bonnie’s middle name is June, in honour of Mum, which is wonderful – it shows the continuity of love in our family. When we’re looking after Bonnie, we need to keep a lookout both ways. Since Bonnie became mobile, we’ve been careful with Mum’s medication; on the other hand, there can be toys on the ground that Mum might not see.

Spending so much time with my mother and seeing her decline is balanced out by seeing Bonnie growing and discovering. I realized that with babies, life makes sense.  I see Bonnie’s curiosity and willingness to engage with people as a reflection of Mum who still has a zest for life when she can.

With Bonnie, I see myself; I see the generations that came before me, and the generations yet to come. It’s a bond, an invisible connecting thread, that can never be broken – that blood bond.

photo of June, Bonnie and Cherie
Bonnie was leaning over to put her arm around great-grandma June in this pic

So you have a blood connection with Bonnie. You have a much longer connection with your other grandchildren.

Yes, and I think that my special connection with the step-grandchildren is that I see them as a biological extension of Ron, and I love Ron. I don’t think that love is something that is quantitative. Love is love and it’s there for all the grandchildren.

World travel triggers an emerging novelist

You and Ron have always loved to travel to other countries.  I remember you taking Spanish lessons prior to your last trip to South America. Probably the most memorable souvenir you have brought home is the commitment to re-telling the story of some people you met overseas and you have committed to writing a book. Would you like to talk a little about that?

We met ‘E’ who told me a story about her first husband, now deceased and his survival in a Jewish ghetto during the Holocaust. He went to Dachau and then subsequently to a Displaced Persons’ Camp and eventually to Australia by way of Israel. It’s an incredible story of survival that you wouldn’t believe, but also about coincidence in life. They say that truth is stranger than fiction. How people can have some sort of fleeting contact and then twenty years later have another contact and not even know there was already another connection that’s so remarkable and so absurd that you’d think it had been made up. So it’s a story that really needs to be told. E had never told her story and I hope to represent it with respect.

And you have a passion for oral history?

Yes.  I tried to do that with Mum, but it has been a struggle as she tires so easily. Mum’s going to a respite centre next week and I’ve asked them if they have volunteers who might help her tell her story. She might be inclined to show a bit more stamina if she’s talking to a volunteer.

The book-group ‘tribe’

I know you as an avid reader, and along with four other lovely friends, we have come together for breakfast over the years to discuss which books to read and review them. Well, ostensibly, we meet to review them, but we’re not always 100 percent committed to sticking to the topic! What gets you excited about meeting up with the book group?

Photo of six women who form the book group Cherie belongs to.
Cherie and her book group friends – a special tribe!

Oh so much. I love the diversity of the group; every woman is different, in age, or sense of humour or wittiness. We have different cultural backgrounds too. I feel honoured to belong to the group  – they are so intelligent and creative. We have seen each other branching off and doing new things with our lives – travel, public speaking, developing an online business, studying…It’s inspiring to see people evolve. We’ve been through a lot together without being too intimate with each other – we give each other space, but we’re still there.

The busy-ness of retirement

So you’re on the precipice now of downsizing – selling your house, and all the organisation that goes with that; you’re trying to write; you’re caring for your Mum; you’re caring for your grandchildren. So this leaving 40 hrs a week work so you can have some free time – it hasn’t quite worked out that way, has it? I don’t think I’ve ever known you so busy.

It’s true. Busy-ness is okay. The hard part is not sleeping and its possible effect on my health.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Final advice: 

In my twenties, I was getting ready to move to Aspen. I had to save money and I had to be disciplined to have the freedom to take off. I wrote this in my diary –  ‘to be truly free, strict discipline is required.’ 

Are you feeling that way now?

Sadly I’m not as disciplined as I’d like – some things are out of your control!

Thank you Cherie for sharing your story and inspiring the readers of Classic Women!

Robina, Gold Coast, April 2017

My story (2) – classic women, classic books

Classic book group

I belong to a book group – no, not a book club. We are a group. We came together based on our love of reading which became evident around the release of the Harry Potter books. Such shared joy led to a regular coming together to rave about Harry and other brilliant publications. We usually meet over breakfast and then disperse in our various directions – work, home, baby-sitting, workouts etc.

I have to confess that I entered this group under slightly fraudulent circumstances – I hadn’t actually read the HP series. Oh, I started the first book several times, but along with Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, I never really got past the first 100 pages! But once I was in, and showed off my clever insights into other literary works, the other members let me stay.

Our group has survived almost ten years, and I can’t recall how many books we’ve read. Admittedly, our attention has occasionally been diverted away from actually discussing books. Oh come on, I’m sure that’s representative of many book groups. Mind you, there’s a book group in Tacoma, called the  Classics Book Club who are absolute show-offs – they can list every book they’ve read per month since 1994!

FaceBook reading/writing ideas

There is a plethora of reading/writing sites on FaceBook – just do a search. I belong to a few. For example, one FB group, called Have Your Book Reviewed, is a platform for new authors to make their works available for a short period for free in return for members reading them and then posting their reviews. Also in the Gold Coast, we have Book Appreciation and Recommendation group, Let’s Talk Writing,  and Inspiring Authors and Motivating Speakers (,  Bookworms Bookclub, and GC Wrimos ( Of course, I should include

Classic reads

Anyway, in preparing my next Classic Women blog post, I started researching books written by, and about, classic women – what a Pandora’s box! Not sure if I should cheer at my findings or apologise for putting pressure on you!

I came across and instantly loved this article, which starts, “The one struggle of being a woman who reads is that you want to read everything.”  Here are the Huff Post’s recommendations of 21 books women should read

Then, I found a piece by Arianna Rebolini who offers a selection of 102 (!) books that were written by women.

Back to the Huff and I read about 11 classic novels featuring women who rebelled against their times and conditions.

I also discovered an article about a feminist bookstore in Chicago that promotes writers who are women and/or socially marginalised. Women & Children First began in a modest storefront in 1979, which strives “to offer a place where everyone can find  books reflecting their lives and interests in an atmosphere in which they are respected, valued, and well-served.”

My findings

I have to admit, the list of books I should read before I die, as directed by my search in Mr Google, is extremely long and somewhat overwhelming. When I browse through the recommendations of classics, I can confidently say I’ve read a few of them – usually because they were “set” texts at school or uni.

I will continue to draw on the wise recommendations of my book group buddies – we haven’t had too many disastrous reads (except for my choice of classic, Moby Dick – oh no, what a difficult read!) We’ve had some ripper reads –  older (classic) books as well as modern books that will deserve to join the esteemed field of classics in future years.

Lisa’s story: a woman in transition

I met Lisa at the women’s gym we both attended. I was drawn to her honest, humble outlook on life and deep care for others.

Introducing classic woman, Lisa and her transition to retirement. Lisa is having fun experimenting with a range of past times. She has many interests, and is open to exploring more. I hope her story inspires you to be open to all types of post-work avenues.

Lisa and I met through our yoga practice at the local fitness club.

Lady on a yoga mat holding a pose
Yoga practice

I used to watch how Lisa interacted with other members of our yoga group and soon came to view her as a very empathic and caring person, always ready to listen and to help others. We got chatting. Lisa said that she was working part-time, transitioning to retirement, and exploring the range of recreational and learning opportunities in the local area. I told Lisa I was keen to chat with her about how she thought she would adjust to retirement after a long career in health care. She invited me to her home for a chat, and here is a little of our catch-up in May.

The working Lisa

Graphic of nurse's uniformLisa, a Taswegian, now lives in the Gold Coast. As a nurse of over 30 years, including work in the intensive care department of a local hospital, she specialised in the care of patients receiving renal dialysis for 14 years. I could see the passion in Lisa as her face softened when she spoke about interacting with the people on dialysis, how they were dealing with their kidney disease, and how debilitating and controlling it can be for a person to be reliant on specialised medical treatment three times a week.

What happens in a dialysis unit?

I asked Lisa to describe her role and she gave me a ‘cook’s tour’ of what happens in a dialysis unit. I had imagined that people visited the unit, were ‘plugged in’, dialysed for a few hours and then unplugged. But as Lisa explained some of the intricacies and complexities of the process, I became aware of my ignorance and I was impressed by the both technicality and the immense responsibility of her role . The process she described is individualised, requiring a full assessment at every visit – an analysis of the person’s weight, their diet, general health, medication regime. These patients, who usually attend dialysis three days a week, are sitting with the machine for up to five hours.

Additional stressors on the dialysis unit

As the population ages, and public expectations shift, dialysis nurses are  treating much older people, sometimes in their 90s, and sometimes people living with dementia and kidney disease. Nurses, already squeezing in long days, also  have to fit in online professional development into their already pressured schedules.

So about five years ago, Lisa started to reduce her nursing hours. During this period, she did some causal agency nursing work, including two five-week stretches in the bush – at Fitzroy Crossing and Yuendemu – working with indigenous patients.

The transitioning Lisa

Two months ago, Lisa took the plunge and separated from her government position. We talked about how women who have been in the workforce can sometimes feel a bit lost in the post-work years. We have been identified by what-we-do. Lisa says she now tells people, “I am retired, but not from life!” You will be fascinated by the different roads she has travelled, and I hope a little inspired.

Transition idea – wearing the gold and red uniform

Photo of red and yellow SLS flag on beach

Lisa had a go at becoming a lifeguard on one of the Gold Coast’s most beautiful beaches – Tallebudgera. This meant preparing for and passing the Bronze Certificate in swimming. She loved the concept of volunteering at the beach, but felt a bit under-engaged, waiting for someone to need assistance. This is when she realized she is very much a ‘doing’ person and moved on to explore other opportunities.

M Braining, or multiple brain integration technique

M Braining logoLisa was looking for ways to identify goals in her new phase of life,  and attended a presentation run by author and local Master mBIT (multiple Brain Integration Technique) trainer, Bill Lee-Emery.

‘The mBIT process can help people establish deeper more intimate relationships with their 3 brains (head, heart and gut) and that can send ripples throughout their lives, families and communities. The intention is that their lives continually evolve to higher levels of awareness and consciousness.’

Lisa told me, “I think I am now more aware of how I make decisions; instead of leaping in, I am now more likely to step back, sit, and just think about things for a while. It’s a whole wellness principle.”

Transition idea – Reiki practice and meditating

Image for reiki

Lisa took up the opportunity to do a one-day introduction to Reiki. She came away really excited about her new experience, saying it aligns well with her focus on wellness for herself and others.

“I ‘ve discovered I’m looking for something in the wellness field rather than the acute health care system.”

She is planning to do a follow-up Reiki workshop. She meditates each morning, using an app on her phone to take her away to a quiet place, saying, “it’s all part of the journey.”

Travel, languages, bike riding

Lisa and her husband enjoy overseas travel . They were totally enthralled by the story of a gentleman who had toured the Moselle region of Germany – “he showed us such enthusiasm that we were inspired to go to Europe.” Before heading off, Lisa took German language lessons from a local lady at the Currumbin Eco Village coffee shop every Sunday morning.

Photo of Lisa standing at a lookout way up above the Danube River.
Looking out to the Danube.

This photo was taken in September 2016, on Lisa and Dennis’s last trip to Europe…where they biked 1200kms along the Danube River from Donaueschingen to Budapest. During the section from Passau to Vienna, they climbed up to this amazing lookout over the Donau, way above the valley floor. “You can tell by my apparel..its not as warm as it looks!” Lisa recalled.

Later this year, Later this year, Lisa and her husband are heading off to Europe where they will participate in a various bike rides through Germany and the Netherlands.  Lisa and Dennis are regular cyclists, joining in the Bicycle Queensland 550km rides in the country region. When I asked Lisa how often she cycles, she said ideally three times a week, “but I wouldn’t call myself a lycra lizard!”

Photo of Lisa and her bike with ocean in the background
Cycling in the Netherlands, 2016
Lisa on her bike on a track in New Zealand
On the road again!
Lisa and her bike
New Zealand, 2016

Transition idea – Toastmasters

Lisa is an active member of the local Toastmasters group. She invited me to a meeting to see if I might like to join. At that point, I perceived Lisa as a quiet achiever;  I couldn’t picture her standing before a group in a formal role.  The Lisa I saw at the Toastmaster’s meeting was a confident, smooth and warm presenter. (

Entrepreneurial bent

When Lisa first conceived of retiring, she looked around for ways that she could keep active in her community and help others while also bringing in a small income. She had been visiting her mother in a retirement village and noticed that some local villagers struggled to get broken appliances repaired or replaced. Lisa conceived a brilliant idea to help them. So she took her laptop with Internet connectivity to the villagers and assisted them to select and order replacement appliances. Unfortunately for the retirement village residents, she didn’t pursue this enterprise.  She was concerned about building the business, and then leaving people high and dry when she and Dennis were overseas.

Lisa conceived another creative idea from looking around the local ‘op shops’ . She had a go at re-purposing some of the donated garments with a bit of creative TLC. Creating this clothing line is still developing, pending a Lisa arranging a dedicated space to set up her sewing machine.

Ride-sharing (aka Uber)

While seeking a way to bring in a little money while allowing her freedom to travel , she decided to find out about Uber ride-sharing and has gone through a long process to become registered as a commercial driver. She will soon embark on this new venture. When I asked Lisa if she feared for her safety, she explained that she had looked into it carefully. This a safer option than taxi driving:

  • No cash changes hands.
  • Riders and drivers rate each other.
  • Uber monitors the time on the road .
  • Drivers can refuse a ride if they have concerns about people they are picking up.

Lisa loves to drive and enjoys chatting with people. “Nobody should be taken at face value because we all have something interesting to share.”

Wouldn’t you love to share a ride with Lisa?


When I asked Lisa to sum up her approach to transitioning from working to retirement, she described it as “moving with the flow – being open to new opportunities”.

After years of caring for others, she is finding out more about how to help others be well.

One of the goals of this evolving blog, Classic Women, is to share the stories of how women handle periods of transition in their lives. I believe there is great value in storytelling and that we can learn from the experience of others. 

My story (3): mortality, legacy and family history

In July 2017, I wrote about my own transition to retirement and the associated challenges I faced when I left the “me” defined by work to become the new me. Many readers have asked for some more personal information, so here are some musings about mortality, legacy and family history.


Have you noticed that the older we get, the more interested we become in our past? I guess it’s because we start to realise the ephemeral nature of our body. Understanding and accepting that I won’t be around forever is slowly dawning on me. When I hear radio announcers talk about the long term implications of global warming, I think of it in terms of my children and their children. I recently heard some people talking about planning for 2050. I’ll be 95!!! So I do care about the future, but perhaps more in a legacy way than ever.


So that gets me thinking about what I will leave behind. What will I be remembered for? I have lived through staggering changes in technology and if those advances continue, then even this blog will be a microdot in the greater seed bank of e-storage.

I enjoy writing. Should I write a book? Should I research my family history so my children have a starting point for their older-person-urge to encapsulate their “I was here” experience

Art textile villageI enjoy creating with yarn. Should I capture my life in a stitched picture?

I can’t paint or draw, so that’s out. But I can read aloud very well – should I make an audio recording? Oh, and what audio format will survive?

Perhaps I’ll start with a little chunk of immediate family history.


As one of three children, I grew up as an only child.

“Che?” I hear you ask. Well, I was the centre of my parents’ universe for about 16 years. I often mused about what it would be like to have a sister or brother. Then, one night, while standing at the sink drying the dishes that my father was washing,  my father told me that my “aunty” Anita was actually my half-sister. Born in the UK, I had spent my first nine years thinking she was my aunty – she wasn’t much older than me, but she seemed so much more grown-up. I would spend time with her when we visited my father’s parents in Sheffield and she and I would play dress-ups. Turns out that my father’s parents raised her after his first marriage collapsed. So to find out in my teens (now living thousands of miles away in Australia) that this girl was really my father’s other daughter was amazing and I was really cross with him for not letting me know earlier. Now, in 2017, she is living in the US, and while we correspond around Christmas each year, it’s not really like getting to know her.

Then…..when I left home and moved to a job in Melbourne, my mother visited me and announced that she had been contacted by her first-born through the Jigsaw organisation! What? Yes, she had been pregnant when she met my father, in the UK. My father married her, but she was not able to keep her baby. Oh there was so much that she wanted me to say, and I know I disappointed her with my reaction, but I couldn’t get my head around it – why had she waited so long to tell me????? Again, I was cross and felt I had missed an opportunity to connect with a biological sibling. I met him once, in Australia, under my mother’s very stringent controls.  David and I now connect via FaceBook, but again, it’s not the real deal!

So, as an only child who longed for company, it turned out I had not one, but two siblings.Sketch of tree with (family) faces


So how can I ensure that these precious people are not lost in my history? A family tree perhaps? Both parents have passed now and taken a heap of information with them. I have dabbled in online family research but have not been very successful.

MY FAMILY HISTORY – 50% straightforward; 50% mysterious

My mother, Mollie, descended from a long line of English, Scottish and Irish ancestors. Most remarkable was that she was the second-born (her older brother died at birth) of a second-born daughter (Alice’s older brother also died at birth). Then, as it turns out, I was also the second girl-child following the birth of my brother.

On the other hand, my dad, Robert,  was the youngest of five boys and was born in India where his father was an officer in the British Army. Bobbie (as my grandmother used to refer to him) grew up in the care of house staff and when he relocated to the UK at age 17, he carried with him an interesting accent – a little colonial with an Indian lilt at times. I recall my grandmother as a stern-looking woman who had a large oval birthmark on her cheek. As a little girl, I was reminded not to stare, but it was so hard to look at her and not focus on the large mark. (UPDATE February 2018 – I came across a photo of my grandmother and have to say that the little-girl me was wrong – the mark on my grandmother’s face was really small – isn’t it interesting how our young minds work?)

We would visit my grandparents in Sheffield for Sunday lunch, which was invariably hot, hot curry. My memories are a bit faded but I do recall that the house emanated a rich, spicy odour, which turned my stomach because I dreaded the reaction when I was unable to  I eat the spicy food. I recall my grandmother’s look of disapproval as I was excused from the table, having eaten a tiny bit of dhal; she would mutter under her breath with a thick Anglo-Indian accent that I was hard-pressed to understand – but I know it wasn’t complimentary.

I recall my grandfather as a very tall man, with rigid bearing and a tiny moustache. Not sure we ever exchanged any words!

On a good Sunday, my cousins would also be there. They were all boys, much older than me, with really dark skin and thick black hair. Two of them loved to design very complicated “things” which they constructed with Meccano sets. I was in awe of them and just a little bit shy in their presence. They were so confident and clearly favoured by my grandparents. My uncles (my father’s four brothers) were variously black or grey-haired, with again very tanned faces and hands. Their wives were all English women. (UPDATE February 2018 – have just completed a course dealing with family history and I now suspect these aunties may have not been English – at least one uncle married while still in India!)

The only bright spot of the weekend visit was when Anita was there and she and I would go into the toy cupboard and emerge in all sorts of dress-up gear. She insisted I be the bride or the princess, and somewhere I have a photo of us in our get-up. (Note to self: find this photo for the kids).


So how to trace these genes? My father used to muse that his mother, Edna,  was the daughter of a rich Indian doctor who married an English girl. (UPDATE February 2018 – looks as though this was not correct. While the records confirm that Edna’s father was an assistant surgeon in the army, his beautiful wife Adeliza was in fact from a Bengal family). I have been told that, back in the day, people of Anglo-Indian descent were regarded as less equal than the Brits; so we didn’t discuss her background.  I have a photograph of my grandmother and her brother as children sitting with some rather beautiful Egyptian-looking adults. Such a mystery! Apparently Edna’s husband, my grandfather, Karl, also had a secret heritage. With a German surname, Langner, there were mutterings that he may have been a Jewish refugee. (UPDATE February 2018 – there are so many ‘Langner’ men in family records, but my research is suggesting it’s likely he was born in Poland. So, how did he get to India?) While we were still living in England, Karl died of a heart attack in the shower. I remember visualising him falling over stark naked and thinking this was really funny – ah the imagination of a five-year-old. At his funeral, my father broke down and sobbed – it was the only time I ever saw my father lose his poise and I felt a bit frightened.

My mother’s lineage is much simpler – she was the daughter of a Yorkshire coal miner, Wilf, who I recall very vaguely. Wilf climbed the company ladder and retired as a respected supervisor “in’t pit”. He also died when I was five – he had devastating lung cancer. My grandmother, Alice, was a resilient Yorkshire woman who later in life remarried and migrated to Australia. She died in her nineties from old age. Her second husband, George, followed soon after, succumbing to cancer.

So I have siblings, both of whom are about a year older than me. Rob fathered Anita. I don’t know who Anita’s mother was. Mollie mothered David. I do know the name of David’s father. Perhaps I need to ask them if they have done any familial digging. What do you think?

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Classic Woman Barb Meynell

Barb, Psychic Medium – part one

An amazing story of transition from public servant to psychic medium.

Barb and I have known each other for more than 15 years. At one point in her life, she thought she would never retire – partly because of the financial security she needed but also because she had only ever seen herself in the role of full-time worker – working long hours for someone else. Now she is a leading and respected psychic medium, running her own business.

New transition

I knew Barb as a colleague through our work in human services with a Queensland Government department. Then she mooted a possible change of direction and a few months ago, Barb left our office to pursue another stage of her life. I asked her if she would be willing to share her story with readers of Classic Women. She graciously accepted and we caught up in May, shared a cuppa and a fascinating tale.


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Barb, Psychic Medium

Several careers

Barb originally trained as a darkroom technician and then worked in the fields of drug and alcohol rehabilitation, disability services and domestic violence (women’s refuge). Barb is certain her rich and varied life and work experiences have assisted her readings.

I started by asking Barb to tell me about discovering her psychic abilities.

‘Look, I stumbled into this. Looking back now, I am aware that I had a gift, but I thought everyone had it. Everyone is born with it – it just depends on whether you want to use it or not.’

Barb shared some stories about times when she followed her intuition where listening to her inner voice led to good outcomes for her family.

Reaching out to the Universe

One day, Barb was prompted by a friend to visit a psychic, and during that meeting, Barb mentioned she was thinking about how to start up a home business. Her children had moved out of home, husband Bernie often worked shifts, and she had some space in her life to explore other interests. The psychic suggested Barb might like to attend some psychic development classes that she was offering. Barb went home and mentioned it to husband Bernie and he was immediately positive. Barb explained to me that when she originally met Bernie, he had been travelling his own spiritual journey for many years, and had connections in several spiritual churches. However, when he sensed Barb didn’t have similar leanings, he moved away from those communities and chose to prioritise his relationship with her. Naturally, when Barb met her spiritual guides, Bernie was delighted and very supportive.

‘It’s got me into a new community, and Bernie loves it too.’

The course took about three months and Barb loved it. She thought about using one of the now-free bedrooms to create a place to perhaps do an occasional reading. She set it up as a peaceful, private place and Bernie found her a ‘conversation table’ on eBay.

Early readings

Barb started out by offering free readings to about a dozen people – not people who knew her.

Bronze statue of Buddha
Statue of Buddha

‘I did the first ten readings for free and even when I started charging, I set a really low fee.’

She wanted to test her talents and asked her initiates for honest feedback, which was really positive and helped to build her confidence.

Barb started noticing themes across the people she read for. For example, there was a group of people where the theme of disability was a common link; later, she encountered a number of individuals, each of whom had been affected by a of reportable write-offs (cars that have been written off and are uninsurable). She explained that she discussed this with her fellow-psychics and it turns out that this happens also for others.

Coming out at work

I remember this period in Barb’s life. She was very private about her new-found interest in the spiritual world. She explained to me that she was concerned about her reputation at her workplace, where she prided herself on being a solid, reliable worker who got things done.

‘To go into this industry when 99% of the people out there don’t believe in it, I felt as though I was going against the grain. This is why it took some time to come out at work – I didn’t want people to think I’m a nutter.’

Barb ‘outed’ herself accidentally one day at work while attending an emergency meeting concerning a new client who was in critical need. Only one participant in the meeting knew the client’s name and as she was struggling to pronounce it, Barb spontaneously said the person’s surname – it seemed to just come from nowhere. Of course, the group queried as to how she knew it.

‘They were floored and asked how I knew that. I said, “you don’t want to know”.’

They pressed her for an explanation and she told them that it was a chain of events: during the meeting, Barb’s hair fell forward; she thought of her hairdresser who works at Sorrento; she saw an image of her mum; her mum used to live in the street whose name corresponded to the client’s surname! They were amazed until one of her colleagues said, ‘well you do know she’s psychic’. Barb said it became easier from that point on.

 Family support

Bernie continued to be a strong advocate for Barb’s growth as a psychic, then more support came from other family members – her niece was visiting, and Barb was tentatively mentioning she had started to do readings. On the spot, her niece grabbed her phone and set up a webpage for Barb, even naming it herself – ‘Barb’s Psychic Readings’.

Business name sorted! Website en route!

Flyer showing Barb's contact details
Contact Barb

‘My daughters were really supportive, and I’ve read for their partners who were shocked at some of the things I described! For example, I described an office in a  building that one of them subsequently came across and rented.’

I asked Barb if there were any rules about doing readings for family members.

‘No, not really. I did a couple of readings for my younger daughter about two years ago, and she recalls that I picked the date and year that her baby girl was subsequently born. I don’t remember that.’

Working two jobs

I recall Barb working long hours, holding down a full-time job while building Barb’s Psychic Readings. She committed to building her profile through social media, developing her website, using Facebook to its full potential, building her clientele. On some Mondays, I knew that she had spent most of her weekend working in her business as well as on her business. She experimented with a range of platforms such as regional show days, psychic fairs, etc.

‘I worked very hard on my website; then I was doing one or two readings a week; it grew to about four, and then I’d do a show. We were doing about 15 show days a year. Around this time, a workmate put me on to a TAFE course on business planning which helped me to develop a 5 year business plan. This gave me some direction and I was so excited when I exceeded the three-year mark only 12 months after I started!  By the time I left work, six months after the TAFE course, I’d hit my five-year target.’

Barb engaged a wonderful web designer who improved her web page and added an automated booking system, which has freed up much time.

So many ways to reach out to people

As well as speaking to groups at spiritual church meetings, Barb conducts one to one readings.

Logo for Night Quarter

‘I do readings at the Helensvale Night Quarter, and radio interviews. Bernie and I travel to regional expos – we have 70 this year! I write e-Magazine articles and was invited to write for the Spiritual Event Directory. I also write for UK magazines – they set the theme and I write about my experiences and discuss strategies that people can use, such as the 3 Cs – cleansing, clearing and channeling.’

Barb does readings for business people and this year even attended a Children’s Expo.

‘We did a kids’ expo recently – I was flat-out, 18 to 20 readings a day! Not the children and parents – it was the other stall holders! I expect this at Psychic Fairs, but not at a kids’ expo’.

Her phone readings are about to expand because Barb has just been accepted to work on an international psychic line. She explained that it is very competitive to be accepted and not many people are chosen. After two rigorous phone readings/interviews, the selectors liked her style and chose her.

‘I’ve been doing phone readings for a while…For people in the US, the peak time is our 11am-5pm.’

She expanded her reach through 21st-century technology … Skype and Facebook Live.Out of curiosity, I watched one of Barb’s Facebook Live sessions. I saw a different Barb, somehow detached and, well, spiritual. She exuded calm and peace, totally focused and in a zone. I asked if this had been an easy step for her.

‘It has had its challenges. For example, I am 20 seconds in front of everyone, and the delay can be disconcerting. I set a theme and start talking, and then the questions fly through! I see a question come up, and stop to respond to it, then move onto the next one. People ackno

wledge my readings, by sending replies, but it all moves so fast that I might not see their responses until it’s all over!’

Pic of spiritual cards and crystal ball
Spiritual cards

I mentioned I wondered why Barb augments the live reading by using spiritual cards.

‘Yes, people like to see something. I do psychic parties too  – get people to put flowers or jewellery into a paper bag they’ve touched – I pull one out and then start a reading. That’s fun – people like it – it’s cold turkey stuff that a lot of psychics avoid.’

Are people wary of her because they are fearful of her engaging her psychic abilities when talking to them?

‘There can be a stigma about saying you’re a psychic in some places. People say “what are you seeing?”  But unless they’ve asked me to do a reading, I don’t have permission. Technically I could, ethically I won’t. I have strong ethics behind me.’

Advice to women in transition

I encouraged Barb to tell me what she would say to other women who are contemplating following their heart to pursue a venture outside of their regular routine.

‘I acknowledge people being scared about retirement, however I believe there’s so many ways to approach it! It took about six months after leaving full time work for me to not feel guilty about not being at work.’

Next week, Barb describes what it is like to be a psychic medium and how she helps herself develop professionally.

Classic Woman Barb part 2

Barb, Psychic Medium – final

An amazing story of transition from public servant to a psychic medium.

In the last episode, I shared a fascinating story with you about Barb Meynell who, as a mature woman, realised she had gifts that would change her life. She tentatively started doing some readings while maintaining her full time public sector role. She came to understand that there was another calling that she needed to pursue. Many people are very appreciative that she did. Read on to see how Barb describes what it is like to be a psychic medium and how she helps herself develop professionally.

The nitty-gritty of how it all works

 When I asked her to describe what it is like to deliver the readings, and if she recalls them after it’s over, she said,

Yes, I hear things, picture things, feel things. I don’t remember the readings afterwards. It’s like you channel. Sometimes, before a reading, I experience some preliminary messages or images.

Does she have any no-go zones?

She explained, she hadn’t really been too challenged, although, ‘I have heard some unusual stories that have me taking a deep breath.’

Does she ever draw a blank?

No. I just turn up to a reading or a party – I can’t pre-empt the questions.

It took a while for Barb to deal with critics and sceptics. Now she just accepts that there are disbelievers and tells them this is fine.

It’s funny, I’ve had that scepticism at shows, then after a 15 minute read, they ask for my card and book a reading!

Are people wary of her because they are fearful of her engaging her psychic abilities when talking to them?

There can be a stigma about saying you’re a psychic in some places. People say “what are you seeing?”  But unless they’ve asked me to do a reading, I don’t have permission. Technically I could, ethically I won’t. I have strong ethics behind me.

 Professional development for psychics

A couple of years ago, Barb travelled to the UK to seek her own spiritual development and will go again in 2017. She attends a course at the Arthur Findlay College, a learning centre of spiritualism and psychic sciences, often affectionately referred to as Hogwarts. She’s there again right now!

Photo of Arthur Findlay College
Arthur Findlay College

She describes the course as:

two weeks thrown in the deep end. They really push you and you have to just channel. Last trip, I eagerly jumped up on stage and then was asked to bring a loved one through for someone who was sitting in the audience. I stepped on stage and when I lost my spiritual connection, I was rescued by the tutors, many of whom are in their 80s and have been mediums all their lives. They helped me re-connect with the spirit, telling me to physically step back into her on the stage.

I felt myself shift into the spirit and could describe even what she was wearing. As I was describing what I was feeling and seeing, a lady up the back raised her hand saying, “I think that’s my aunty!” This time, I know what I am up against this time.  There will be two groups of 30 participants. I’m attending an advanced course where you practise for 3 weeks, 7 days, 9am-9pm every day! 

Next steps – perhaps this is for you too?

Flyer advertising Barb's classes in psychic development
You can book in to Barb’s classes in psychic development

I asked Barb if she has plans beyond her trip to the UK. She explained that husband Bernie is helping to set up space where she can do some teaching; she might even run online courses and giant Skypes. Here is a brochure showing ow you can contact Barb for more information.

I coaxed Barb to share some final words:

I started off on this journey accidentally and was a bit scared of it – not old enough to get the Aged Pension, I knew I had to do something, and wanted to do something I love that doesn’t cost money. I’ve found something to do that’s a hobby. I can do this from anywhere at any time! I feel like I’ve gone round the world in a night when I’ve talked to someone in the UK and America. 

Because of my own personal journey, I now believe there’s an afterlife; I can’t deny it. I always sort of believed in reincarnation but now I just can’t deny it – it’s great to bring that relief to people, which is why I enjoy what I do.

There are so many ways in life to spend your time. I’m having an amazing time and I know I’m in a lucky spot. I am grateful; it’s fun.  I also thrive on seeing other people having success around me.

 Advice to women in transition

I encouraged Barb to tell me what she would say to other women who are contemplating following their heart to pursue a venture outside of their regular routine.

I acknowledge people being scared about retirement, however I believe there’s so many ways to approach it! It took about six months after leaving full time work for me to not feel guilty about not being at work.

I encourage people to recognise that the transition into retirement is a journey in itself. You think you’ve had a journey in life getting to this point, but every transition is a new journey.

 Thanks so much for your story Barb Meynell, from darkroom technician to enlightened spiritual guide.

The Impossibility of Downsizing

by guest blogger, Cherie Bombell

old photos in a box  Downsizing. A wretched word. It’s like fitting an acre of wheat into a breadbox; days of grinding down, sifting and getting rid of the chaff yet it will never fit into the breadbox. Diminishing a five-bedroom home into a two-bedroom apartment, if one possesses a soul, is impossible!

“Sorry, nobody wants your parents’ stuff.” Forbes Magazine heralds. People will advise, “Be ruthless! Get a rubbish skip and fill it up with anything you haven’t used in a year.”

Sure, easy for you to say.

If objects were truly inanimate, and disuse were the only measure, it could be done, but those ‘things’ possess memories and family history. Great Auntie Vi’s silver teapot sparks a story from my mum and introduces her beloved aunt to me. She’s the woman who spent her life moving around the world (with her piano) because she lived on almost nothing to save every penny for her adventures. She also outlived three husbands who tumble into Mum’s story with their own escapades.

The delicate but cracked pink, scalloped saucer sitting beneath a matching, tiny jug speaks to the kindness of my grandmother’s friend who broke up her china set to bestow these precious pieces on my mother 70 years ago.

The silver Champagne bucket my grandfather brought home to celebrate my mother’s birth more than 95 years ago reawakens the joy he felt that day.

Many of the treasures I’m encouraged to be rid of connect me to my heritage. When I hear stories about Auntie Vi, I better understand myself. I recognise the DNA my daughter and I have inherited that gives us wanderlust. I feel the kindness of a friend and I picture the grandfather I never met as a cheerful, generous man. These ‘things’ colour my own story with empathy and belonging.

Great Auntie Glad was hearing and speech impaired but a gift from a suitor, a silver art deco shoehorn engraved with her name, tells me she was more than a woman with a disability; she was a woman whose heart was to be won.

A couple of my great aunts were spiritualists. One would wake in the middle of the night and commune with the hereafter in a handwriting not her own. From their story, I appreciate my episodes of spiritual ‘knowing’ and understand myself better.

So I skip the skip and wrap up my treasured memories so that one day, I may be connected to my offspring generations down the line. With every layer of bubble wrap, I hope I prove Forbes wrong, and children will again cherish the gems their grandparents once held dear. And, possibly, I will bond with mine across the decades through a simple silver teapot. If not, I will return to haunt them…Great Auntie Dolly spoke to the spirits. I’m sure I inherited a part of her DNA too.

My story (4): 2018 creative highlight

2018 was my first year of not being a paid employee and someone recently asked me to list the highlight. Having retired from over thirty-five years of full-time work, I was exploring different horizons – craft, writing, editing, exercising, volunteering. Much of this required me to step away from my natural inclination for solitude- perhaps I should produce a retirement for introverts guide.

Anyway, I’d like to share this particular highlight with you.

Contributing to a community art installation

The 2018 Commonwealth Games came to the Gold Coast, my home of the past twenty years. A friend-of-a-friend encouraged me to apply to be part of a community artwork – Urchins in Australia. The application process was quite a serious affair and I wondered if perhaps I was aiming far higher than my crochet skills would allow.

When I was selected, I was delirious with excitement and pride. I trotted down to the local café, temporary home of the project curators. Here, I collected two large spools of 3mm white, double-braided polyester cord and a pattern which was described in text and accompanied by a chart with hieroglyphs that I had seen in crochet pattern books and dismissed as ‘all too hard’ for me! All I needed, I was advised, was a 5mm crochet hook and my crochet skills.

Doubt clouds my confidence

I got stuck into the project immediately and soon became overwhelmed by pangs of doubt and inadequacy. The cord was thick and awkward to handle; the hook didn’t seem large enough for the job. Where I had imagined delicate, lacy motifs, the patterns represented huge, forty cm pieces!  I crocheted, unpicked it, crocheted, unpicked it, over and over. I just couldn’t achieve anything like the design on the chart! I needed help, but this would mean I had to ‘fess up that I wasn’t the skilled artisan I had professed to be. Swallowing my pride, I contacted the curators who kindly provided me with phone numbers for others who were creating the same shapes, as well as the link for a Facebook page.


This was the start of some beautiful online relationships – turns out I wasn’t the only one having issues – what a relief! The support of my fellow volunteers was amazing. One lady invited me to her weekly craft group where I could sit and talk through the pattern interpretation; another posted photos of the piece as she completed each section; one person humorously posted a pic of her crochet hook – end broken off from the intense pulling and twisting; another complained of the blisters on her hands. The feeling of support though social media was amazing.

In the pic below, you can see some of us in front of one of the urchins. Each Urchin is 5 metres wide and 3.3 metres tall, made from 17,000m of white polyester rope.

It was pretty special to see how each of our parts formed a beautiful mobile sculpture. If you would like to read about the technicalities of the project, please have a look at the article below.

Some volunteers at Appel Park

Story adapted from ‘Urchins in Australia’:

The Urchins in Australia are a newly commissioned super-scaled crochet artwork with crochet patterns made for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, Festival 2018.  Creator Jin Choi borrowed from the cultural and natural elements found in Queensland to design the lace patterns. Motifs represented the state’s ubiquitous Flying Foxes, indigenous Lace Monitor Lizards, black and white Nerite Sea Shells in Bargara, and combine these unique natural elements with visual symbols from the Commonwealth.

Volunteer local community residents of Gold Coast and Queensland created and assembled the motifs and patterns created by Choi+Shine.


The Urchins, with their diaphanous lace form and alluring formation, celebrate the spirit of the city during this exciting time. The project is a community artwork that engages local volunteers who crochet motifs according to the same patterns.  This community engagement ensured the artwork became as meaningful and significant.

The Urchins interact with natural light during the day, and glow when illuminated at night. With penetrating low sun at dusk, the lace appears to be glowing while the long, while elongated shadows are ever-changing with the wind.  The kinetic nature of the Urchins allows for flowing and rhythmic movement throughout the day reminiscent of the endless waves of the ocean. The lace filters the beautiful sunset at Appel park while the dappled light from the water surface reflects onto the glistening lace. At night, the mysteriously hovering and glowing large Urchins create a sense of magic as if time has stopped.


The Urchins are made of a hand crochet fabric shell held in tension over a metal frame that is suspended from Dyneema cables, fastened to steel trusses hold the Urchins in place.  Because the structure is lightweight, the suspending cables are thin, and barely visible during the day.

The crochet fabric shell is illuminated by multiple white spotlights, creating the illusion of an evenly glowing structure. Each Urchin’s membrane uses about 17,000 metres of polyester cord, with each Urchin weighing about 110kg.

Jin designed the Urchins for simple installation. The 20 segmented panels come together with a series of metal ribs at ground level at the site; later they are suspended and anchored to a top and bottom ring.

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