No woman is ordinary...and neither is her story.

The Secret Life of Shirley Sullivan


November 20

My darling Lou,

Greetings from Gum Bend Lake!

I’ll bet this is a surprise – a bona fide handwritten letter. I’m writing to you from a lakeside camping ground near Condobolin.  The facilities here are fabulous (they even have hot showers!) but this place is really remote and I have no internet access, so I thought I’d put pen to paper instead of emailing.

I’m still having a ball exploring this wide wonderful land of ours. I know your mother thought I’d get sick of travelling alone – and maybe I will eventually – but so far, I’m having the time of my life. Truth be told, I’m enjoying my own company for the most part and when I do feel like companionship there’s no shortage of fellow explorers to choose from. There are all sorts of people out here on the road – young, old and everything in between. I’ve met backpackers from Europe, grey nomads from all over Australia, honeymooners from America and China, and a gorgeous couple, Hiroto and Nishi, who I’ve just spent the past week travelling in tandem with.

I met my new friends in the camp kitchen at Lake Somerset. I was feeling a bit down that night, to be honest. I’d just come from Caloundra, where I’d planned to spend a week, but it was hard being back there without Aunty Rita. After a couple of nights, I decided I needed to move on and I headed off without much of a plan. I stopped for fuel at a lovely little town called Kilcoy and asked about nearby camping spots, which is how I found out about the park at Lake Somerset.

It’s funny how God (or fate as Aunty Rita would say) puts the right people in our path just when we need them. Hiro and Nashi were struggling to understand the instructions for the barbecue – they both have reasonable spoken English, but reading is a bit trickier for them – and I asked if I could help. We ended up sharing a meal and our friendship took off from there.

After a few days they asked me where I was headed after Lake Somerset and I said I didn’t know. That’s when they suggested I follow them here to Gum Bend Lake, and I thought to myself, why the heck not?

 It’s taken us a week to get here. We had an overnight stop at Goondiwindi and then headed to Narrabri for a few days, where we did a little exploring and stumbled upon the artesian baths. Exciting! From Narrabri we went to Dubbo and had a couple of nights there. Hiro and Nashi just loved the zoo. I remember us all going there when you kids were little. Maybe we should think about having another family holiday like that.

Anyway, now we’ve arrived at Gum Bend Lake and it’s very peaceful. Hiro is quite the fisherman – hence all the lakeside camping spots – but Nashi can’t swim so she prefers more land-based activities. I’ve taught her a little bit about the native flora and fauna on our hikes together. I’ve also been helping her extend her English vocabulary and in return she’s trying her hardest to teach me to speak Japanese. I think I might sign up for an online course to speed things along a little because Nashi and Hiro have invited me to visit them when they get home to Japan. I wonder what your grandfather would make of that. He’d probably have a fit! Nevertheless, I think I’d love to go to see the cherry blossoms, so I’m going to seriously consider booking a trip sometime next year.

But enough about me. How are you, my love? By now your uni exams should be just about over. I’m know you will have blitzed them. You’ll be relieved to have some time to relax, I’m sure.

How’s work? Was the café owner okay with you having time off over Christmas? I know you said you were keen to head back to Geelong on Boxing Day, but your mum really misses you, Lou. I think she’d love having you home for a week or two if you can possibly swing it. Charlie and Brianna have offered to house sit, so there will be someone there to water our garden and look after all those stray cats you insist on feeding. (Aunty Rita would be so proud of you!)

If you need an extra incentive to stay in Sydney for a bit longer, you might be interested to know that I’ll be at your mum and dad’s place from Christmas eve for at least a week. I’m really looking forward to spending time with the whole family and seeing some of my friends too.

Guess what? Your mum was kind enough to allow me to invite Ollie to join us for Christmas lunch. He’s seemed a bit down since he broke up with his girlfriend last month and he’s got no family to speak of. I hated the thought of him being on his own for Christmas. When I said as much to your mother, she said any friend of mine was a friend of hers, and he was welcome to join us.  (Perhaps don’t mention anything about his criminal record – what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her!) I can’t wait for you to meet Ollie, Lou. You two actually have quite a lot in common.

After Christmas, I’m going to wind my way down the south coast for a few weeks. I want to revisit some of the places I went with Papa. It’ll be a lot more comfortable doing it in the RV than it was in the Kombi! I know taking that trip with him was a tiny bit crazy, but I have no regrets. I like to think Papa left this life a contented man and that brings me great comfort. I’ll take my time and enjoy each place and hopefully catch up with a few Sherbies along the way. I’ve been in touch with Sophie already and we have plans to get together when I hit Narooma.

Well, that’s all my news, my love. Hope you are well and happy and have lots of interesting news to tell me when next we speak. (Which will probably be before this letter arrives!)

Love you always,

Nan xx

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