My Australian Life

She surfs, she draws, she paints, she dresses her husband up as a bird, she makes picture books and a she writes for Rabbits Foot Minstrels. Meet fellow blogger down-under Hannah Joy Orrock. She lives with her husband close to the ocean in a place called Rainbow Beach and I love reading her blog, its a lot of fun. Come and find out more about her life amongst the waves and getting bumped by a shark.

Hannah Joy Orrock

hey who are you?

It’s difficult to say, sometimes I’m not sure and I disappear into my girl-cave to have a girl-think (this is a small shed in the backyard full of gardening implements and an elephant graveyard of old surfboards that I will definitely get around to painting one of these days).

I’m 25 and I’ve been married for one year and two weeks. I love writing and illustrating children’s books but I have yet to try getting published. I am a trained paediatric nurse. My best moment was painting a mural on the ward I was working on. The kids were very impressed and almost forgave me for all the injections and nasty medicine I had to give them.

Stop and Shop general store

 Where do you live? 

A place called Rainbow Beach which is about five hours drive north of Sydney. Sometimes there really are rainbows and dolphins out in the waves as well. Someone got a finger bitten off by a bull shark a few months back, but we don’t dwell on it. I’m shacked up near the beach with Wazza (my best mate/surf buddy/husband).

Lansdowne General Store

Tell me a bit about it…do you see Kangaroos and Koalas regularly? How about Wombats?

“He wants me to fight a kangaroo -for money!”

“You’ll get yer head smashed off!” –The Mighty Boosh, Killeroo

Yes I almost hit a kangaroo when I was driving last night. Captain Cook’s naturalist buddy Joseph Banks thought that kangaroos looked like giant mice -they don’t. Apparently in prehistoric times there were giant kangaroos and wombats: the stuff of nightmares! When I was a young snapper I was out in the bush, holding a sandwich. A small kangaroo hopped over to me. It wanted the sandwich. I got kicked in the stomach and landed flat on my back. Ouch.

Koalas are just like the pictures: so cute you feel like grabbing their fluffy ears, until you see their claws. We live close to a koala ‘hospital’ where injured or sick animals are cared for and then released.

Wombats are amazing and even more elusive than the koalas. They rumble around at night, plowing through fences, chewing up doormats and causing general mayhem on people’s farms. They are like miniature furry tanks trundling through the bush.

 Did you grow up there?

I grew up in Sydney, near the ocean at a place called Maroubra Beach. There’s good surf with some gnarly locals and a bad reputation for localism and violence mixed in. Maroubra is close to Botany Bay and the area has been home to the Dharawhal people for thousands of years, and they’re still living there to this day. Our football (rugby) team: the mighty ‘Rabbitohs’; are winning at the moment. This makes my family very, very happy.

This-Time-Tomorrow-Portland

 When did you learn to surf and who taught you?

I’ve loved the water ever since I can remember. Dad took me fishing out in the boat when I was two and I jumped over the side. Wherever there was water I would try to hop in. I learnt about rips (strong current heading out to sea) when I was six and I was showing off, clowning around on a sandbar. I stepped off the edge and got pulled into the current. Dad grabbed my hair and hauled me back to safety. I learnt to respect the ocean that day.

First I learnt to bodysurf with mum and dad, then my sisters and I were given some old bodyboards (shark biscuits!) and that was fun but I was always trying to stand up on them (without success).

Our next door neighbour was a rambunctious communist with a Jackson single fin (an old-school board from Cronulla, her local beach) that she let me borrow. She was a great surfer and always taught me never to let the guys psych you out or steal your waves. You do get hassled out in the lineup and it’s got to be water off a duck’s back. If you stop surfing because the boys pay you out, you’re the only one that suffers. You have to be tough and know that you have as much right to be out there as they do.

 Do you surf daily/weekly?

I try to go out there every day but of course sometimes it’s flat or out of control. The last two days have been stormy as. I start getting a bit crazy if I haven’t been in the water for a while. I feel shrivelled up and trapped, like a kid in a shopping centre.

Have you ever seen a shark?

I have seen lots of sharks in my time but usually when I’m snorkelling, not surfing. I know they’re out there, doing their thing. You can’t let the fears of what could happen stop you from living. I loved sharks when I was a kid. I had a plastic great white shark that I held with me at night while I slept. I loved reading books about them. They seem so mysterious and unknowable.

There is a shark colony near the beach where I grew up and I always used to see a lot of Port Jackson sharks when I was snorkelling. These sharks only get to be about 1.5 metres long and they are inquisitive and affectionate, kind of like dogs. They swim up to you to see what you’re about. They love being rubbed under the chin. They have skin like sandpaper and they lay amazing leathery spiral eggs. The empty egg cases wash up on the beach every year.

Every surfer has a blood-curdling shark story. Down in the south and west of Australia, in the cold water, the Great Whites/White Pointer and Tiger sharks grow massive and they eat people. It’s scary and you’d be stupid not to be scared, but they are animals in their natural habitat, doing what their instinct tells them to do. If you get munched down by a shark, it’s nothing personal. They’re not being malicious or vindictive. It would still suck though.

 What are surfers taught to do if they see a shark?!

When most surfers see a shark they let everyone else know and then paddle in. I got bumped from underneath once and I paddled like hell up onto the sand like a baby turtle.

If you fight back and punch and kick out at a shark, they might get the idea and potter away to look for some easier prey. Or they might not.

You need to be smart and avoid sharky places (seal colonies, river mouths, shoals of fish) and be aware of the time of day. Sharks have bad eyesight. Surfers wear black wetsuits that make them look like seals. A lot of attacks happen at dawn or dusk.

Sometimes you feel like a place is ‘sharky’. I might be sitting out the back with Wazza and we’ll both know. When the water is murky, especially after rain, it feels really sketchy and one of us might say

“It feels heaps sharky ay!”

Rabbitsfootminstrels

 What is the op-shop? 

Op shop is short for ‘opportunity shop’ -it’s where everyone takes all the clothes, books, toys, furniture and other assorted things they don’t want. Then people like me come and fossick around looking for treasures. Everything is cheap, so it’s what my family and I have always done. I love it because it’s recycling, you end up with something unique and the money goes to charities. I never have to buy new clothes.

Describe your top three finds from the op-shop.

  1. When I was 9, my best friend Alice and I saw it at the same time: a purple/blue satin cocktail dress from the 70’s with massive shoulder pads and pearly bobbly things around the neck and sleeves. Alice graciously let me have it and it was a favourite dress-up for many years. Now my friend Charms has it and she wears it on stage when she is playing keyboards.
  2. A cherry red Vivienne Westwood cardigan! I never thought I’d own anything by my favourite designer. I was super stoked!
  3. An old 1980’s neon pink and purple springy (wetsuit with short sleeves/legs). No shark will mistake me for a seal anytime soon.
Zaida shorts by Tigerlily

Zaida shorts by Tigerlily

Its Spring, nearly Summer over here. Do you have any swimwear style tips for us ladies?

There are some absolutely stunning swimwear designs around these days. We have some top notch local labels (have a look at Tigerlily, Tallow and Muther of All Things). Can you ever have too many bikinis? The answer is no. Unfortunately for me, whenever I try surfing in a bikini it never seems to stand up to being drilled by a massive wave. No-one likes paddling around in their birthday suit, surrounded by men (read the Lonely Planet Australia travel guide article on Australian men in the ‘dangers and annoyances’ section).

Geometric patterns and tribal/ethnic inspired details seem to be the go this year. Remember there is a different shape and style to suit everyone. My great-grandmother used to knit her own swimming costumes back in the day and she thought she looked pretty awesome. She said she went swimming with her brothers every day when they were growing up in Ireland. I imagine that the water there is cold enough to put hair on your chest, but she lived to be 94.

North Haven

 What is the weather like over there right now?

It’s the end of autumn and the water is a warm 20 degrees! It will cool down by spring when the whales start heading back down to Antarctica. It’s usually sunny here which is good. I am a wimp when it comes to cold weather. There are bushfires and floods and droughts which remind us that we’re not in control of nature.

 Huge spiders, do you love or loathe them? Do you see them often?

Funnily enough, a red-back spider scuttled towards me while I was writing this. Not impressed! I don’t mind the big spiders living in our house because they eat all the flies and mosquitoes. Funnel webs and red backs are another matter.

I see you draw, paint, make, write. Tell me a bit more about your creative pursuits…

I love children’s books. Mum used to help me make up my own stories and draw the pictures. I’ve been making books for my friends and their children for a long time now. I also love painting on old skateboards and surfboards. I’m planning to paint my car with some of the things I love: waves, rabbits and Moomins from the Moomintroll books by Tove Jansson. My favourite book is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. I’m halfway through a bunch of illustrations for this book. I learnt dressmaking from my auntie and sometimes I dabble with sewing my own clothes, but I’m very impatient. I have a lot of crazy dreams of projects I would like to do in the future.

Hannah Joy Orrock

What are you up to right now?

I’m planning to scrape together a portfolio to send to children’s publishers so that I can get some freelance illustration work. Nursing is my back-up plan. I do some shifts at a local nursing home. I like old people: they have great stories and a lot of wisdom.

I’m contemplating finishing up my arts degree so that I can become an art teacher; but I didn’t go to school much so I’m not sure whether I’d enjoy working in one. I was fortunate enough to do my school work at the beach (home-schooled!).

 Do you plan for the future or take each day as it comes?

I write crazy to-do lists: must save up to go travelling again, must clean house, weed the vegie patch, de-flea the cat and so on and so on. I’m really keen to get some money together so that I can hop on a plane and visit a little girl in Haiti who I sponsor and write letters to, and I’d also love to visit Morocco where a friend of ours recently got a job instructing at a surf camp.

I like to remember this quote from the film Kung-Fu Panda: “Yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery, today’s a gift: that’s why it’s called the present”.

For a good dose of fun, surf, wildlife  and art take a look at Rabbits Foot Minstrels.

If you live in the UK find out more about Australia tonight at 9.30pm on BBC2 with the second part of Simon Reeve’s brilliant travel documentary Australia.

All photos courtesy of Rabbits Foot Minstrels.

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