Susannah and the Free Voice – now on video!

The first time I heard Susannah Lathlean sing I truly did feel an almost unbearable yearning for something I didn’t even know I’d lost.  Her voice does that to you – conjures up the passions of the past, hints at a sublime future, makes you feel…oh, I dunno! You have to hear her to understand what I mean. 

A great deal of expert training has turned a naturally beautiful voice into something special; she can range freely around an octave or two and at the same time knock your heart around.  And her repertoire is flexible – I have heard her sing traditional folk songs, gritty Leonard Cohen ballads, rock, blues and jazz.  Her rendering of the old torch classic Cry Me a River is the best I have EVER heard, by anyone, anywhere.  I used to sing this song myself, in a nightclub, but could never do it so well. 

For years now Susannah has been teaching singing in her own unique way and what she teaches goes way beyond singing; in her own words: 

“For me – and my clients – it’s about learning to connect and stand with yourself in a much deeper way than ever before. Singing in front of others brings up so much vulnerability, self-doubt and fear and I aim to help people acknowledge those feelings and not be held back by them. And to finally express what’s inside them in an authentic and heart-felt way. I truly believe everyone has a unique and beautiful sound and so much so much healing, joy and freedom happens when that sound is allowed to be fully expressed. Finding your voice while freeing yourself. 

 Hence the name of my business is Free Voice. “

Susannah holds in-person sessions on Tamborine Mountain, where she lives, and on the Gold Coast. And now she has a new website and is offering a free on-line mini course that anyone can sign up for. And she’ll also be offering remote one-on-one coaching sessions via live vide through the website, plus more in-depth courses and workshops.  

So wherever you live in the world, if you love to sing and yearn to do it to your fullest ability, you can share in Susannah’s unique approach to vocal development. 

This is not an ad! Susanah is a friend and I have other friends who have been taught by her to marvellous effect. I love her dedication and vision. As well as her voice.

Hilligei – the story of Hilda Geissmann-Curtis

Hilda Geissmann was an ordinary woman who, for a short period of time, lived an extraordinary life by becoming one of Australia’s first significant photographer/naturalists.

Descended from German immigrants, in the latter part of the 19th century Hilda moved with her parents and six siblings to Tamborine Mountain, then a remote and isolated rainforest plateau in south east Queensland. They were a hardworking pioneer family who built the mountain’s first guesthouse as well as a general store. These were managed by Hilda’s mother, the redoubtable Elfriede, because her father, Willem Felix Geissmann, soon departed for the ill-fated Cosme colony in Paraguay, never to return. Hilda and her sister worked in the guesthouse while her brothers felled the mighty rainforest trees and ran a timber mill, with one brother also operating a transport business to get visitors from Brisbane and the hot coastal plain up to the cool green heights of the mountain.

The Geissmann children soon learned the secret ways of the mountain, with its deep gorges, lush rainforest, waterfalls and steep cliff faces. Hilda, in particular, studied the habits of birds and plants until she got her first camera, a huge and cumbersome Thornton-Pickard with a wooden case and silver plates which had to be processed with the greatest finesse. Hilda first did this in the guesthouse bathroom until she received a darkroom as an engagement present from her husband-to-be, local farmer Herbert Curtis.

Hilda’s photographs and articles were soon published in various newspapers and magazines, earning her a modest fame which led to her being much in demand as a local guide to visiting naturalists from around the world. Her exquisite orchid studies were particularly prized and she corresponded regularly with orchidists and ornithologists of the day.

And then, she gave it all up! Nobody knows why, but she stopped taking photographs and seems to have maintained only a distant interest in natural history after World War 11, concentrating instead on her role as farmer’s wife and mother, growing cutflowers to make ends meet. Fortunately for birdwatchers, orchid lovers and rainforest enthusiasts her work lives on in her articles and photographs.

Hilligei tells Hilda’s story, using local history, family recollections, letters and articles to reveal what little we know about a modest woman whose achievements, though equally modest, were ahead of her time.

I was first introduced to Hilda by a friend who had known her in extreme old age and who thought her story deserved to be told. She was right. I was privileged to have access to a small collection of letters, photographs, diaries and writings as well as undertaking research in the Queensland State Library and the University of Queensland’s Fryer Library. I hope people who read this book will come to love her as much as I did!

Hilligei is available as an ebook on Amazon and in print form from Under the Greenwood Tree bookshop on Tamborine Mountain. All proceeds go to Tamborine Mountain Landcare, which I am sure is just the way Hilda would have wanted it.

HILLIGEI – My new book about the remarkable photographer-naturalist Hilda Geissmann-Curtis.

I have just published a book about Hilda Geissmann-Curtis, an ordinary woman who for a few short years became extraordinarily good at interpreting the mysterious rainforest world of Tamborine Mountain through her articles and remarkable photographs. This was in the early days of the last century when very few women ventured into the rainforest alone, never mind lugging a huge camera with them to record the secret ways of birds and plants. My biography of Hilda is of particular interest to birdwatchers, orchid-fanciers and all those with an interest in natural history. You can read all about it by going to “Books”, on the bar above.

To meet Hilda is to love her. I certainly do! In particular I came to admire not just her art but her cheerful stoicism in the face of hardship and loss.

No Christmas picnic at Cotton Tree

There will be no Goodlife Community Church Christmas Day picnic at Cotton Tree, Maroochydore this year.

In the December issue of Your Time magazine I wrote that the church would be holding the event this year as it did in former years. Alas, I was misinformed (and didn’t think to check with the Goodlife Community Church organisation) and the church is instead making dinners for about 150 needy and homeless people who would not be able to enjoy a traditional Christmas meal any other way.

There will still be plenty of other faith-based Christmas services and activities on the Sunshine Coast this year and up-to-date information is available on line – just be careful, though, that you check with the individual churches and not rely on social roundup-type sources.

Jedda turns 80

Jedda Van Os, dear to so many on Tamborine, turned 80 not long ago.  Although she now lives in the Netherlands she still comes back here every year at this time to see her son and grandson and re-connect with the many friends she made during her years here.

So on Sunday (November 24) we gathered under the Tamborine Mountain Showgrounds pavilion to make sure Jedda received her “OBE” in fine style.  Usually of course the showgrounds are lush and green but this year, thanks to the worst drought anyone living can remember up here, they were looking a bit tired and brown.  Still, under Vanessa’s baton we managed to make the scruffy underside of our otherwise attractive pavilion into a sufficiently attractive dining area – the pavilion is a good place for parties like this because even the rowdiest bunch can’t do much damage and there’s plenty of space for games, dancing and for kids to run around (fortunately we only had one of these on Sunday!).  Plus of course the adjacent kitchen and lots of chairs and tables.

First we gathered in the rotunda for drinks and then moved over to the dining area where all the bring-a-plate food was laid out, drinks were on ice, Vanessa’s punch (I cut up the fruit!!!) made an attractive centrepiece on the bar and various people had decorated tables in honour of the occasion – and the season.

Here’s the story in pictures:


Alas, our lovely showgrounds looked sadly dry and dusty…but still a good place for a party

This is a picture of my car There is no actual reason for including this except that I love my car and thought it looked nice under the trees!

Vanessa setting up the dining area

The main table set up elegantly in black and white by Jackie, for the guest-of-honour and family

This table was given a Christmassy touch to remind us that the festive season is not far away…party season starts at the end of this week!

Everyone’s favourite newspaper proprietor/editor Barbara decorated her table in an Aussie theme, complete with fake snake (Jedda loves snakes!).

…and soon enough the guest-of-honour arrived to be greeted by everyone with a lot of hugging and kissing and “glad you’re back in your TRUE home”!!! Here she is with Jackie who worked so hard to make the dining area look good. Including blowing up most of the balloons (I blew up two!)

We had to pose Jedda at our table because if you look hard it’s got all the Aussie animals she loves – including the bloody snake. When living here, trained by Vanessa, she was one of our local snakecatchers.

On our table, whatever it is Linda is saying it;s got Sandy praying! Possibly that she doesn’t break an ankle now she’s taken up tap dancing! Maybe Linda’s telling her she should stick to Linda’s own specialty, rock and roll!

Of course Barbara Proudman is also a dancer – in her case a former professional who danced all over the world and can tell you some good back stage stories. And as far as her media career is concerned, we learned on Sunday that she has gone from tea lady to editor!

One of my favourite couples – dear Barry and Linda. Rock and roll brought them together, mainly, and they are still rockin’ after all these years.

Some modest birthday formalities – Vanessa tells us how wonderful Jedda is (among other things) while Jedda (and her daughter-in-law) look on with amusement.

Crowd scene…

…another crowd scene…though some people seem to have wandered off. Must be at the food table.

Jedda gathers her breath before the candles are lit. Naturally Leo and Anne’s bakery made the cake. Keeping it all in the family!

No Vanessa isn’t drunk! Probably just exhausted after being the major organiser of the day. But that’s our Vanessa for you – party planner extraordinaire, snake catcher even more extraordinaire, tomato grower, former shire councillor and Deputy Mayor, former bakery owner, involved in so many community activities she hardly has time to draw breath. And, as befits a girl who was born in Kenya, looking very glamorous in pink. Pity she took her hat off – possibly because I asked whether she thought she was at the Melbourne Cup!

Jedda with her beloved grandson. Fake snake around her neck and Aussie akubra on her head. Son in the distant background.

A truly heavenly choir

My favourite choir, bathed in unearthly light


For all my adult life one of the treats at Christmas has been to watch, and of course listen to the carols from King’s – the choir of King’s College, Cambridge doing what in my opinion it does better than any other choir in the world.  I also love this choir playing its part in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, even though I am a non-theist who scorns all religions – because this is pure theatre.  And though the choristers change from year to year the lovely music does not.

Part of this is nostalgia is because  I was once a girl treble and for me the magic of Christmas is intrinsically linked to the singing of carols – in the traditional way and not the ghastly mess that American pop singers make when putting out the obligatory album of Christmas music!

Yet in all my years of admiring this choir I had never had the chance to see/hear it live until MusicaViva kindly brought the King’s touring ensemble to Australia once again in 2019 – and this time, a few weeks back, I got the chance I’d so long been waiting for.

The Queensland performance was held in Brisbane’s QPAC concert hall where the mighty organ, bathed in light, seems to hang over the stage like the very voice of some awe-inspiring deity. The King’s choristers are  a youthful group, blending the voices of young adult tenors and baritones with the sublime pipe of the boy trebles and on this trip Australian audiences had the pleasure of meeting the new and comparatively youthful  conductor, Daniel Hyde, musical academic and acclaimed organist, who has replaced much-loved King’s veteran Sir Stephen Cledbury who had held the position since 1982.

The program was the usual nice blend of mostly old with a spice of new – in this case the new being the premier of Australian composer Ross Edwards’ Singing the Love, written especially for the choristers of King’s.  The composer has described it as a celebration of the whole of life and it was commissioned by West Australian businesswoman and MusicaViva subscriber Jennifer Seabrook for her husband Ray Turner’s 75th birthday.    What a present!  And what a performance! It’s a tricky piece in parts, especially for the trebles, referencing the King James version of Psalm 100 among its sources of inspiration and sounding both playful and reflective.

Other works were more traditional, beginning with four short pieces by Purcell, a lovely rendition of Finzi’s Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice,  followed in turn by Wesley’s The Wilderness, Stanford’s For Lo, I Rise Up (it is almost obligatory to include Charles Villiers Stanford in such recitals because Cambridge University music owes so much to him), Lennox Berkeley’s version of The Lord is my Shepherd with a fine young soloist and, finally, Parry’s splendid I was Glad.

The two accompanying organists, Henry Websdale and Donal  McCann program also performed two fine solo pieces, J.S. Bach’s Kyrie, Gott heilinger Geist (Websdale) and Mendelssohn’s Sonata in A major (McCann).

The Choir of King’s College features 16 choristers, 14 choral scholars and two organ scholars and dates its origins to the reign of Henry V1 in the 15 century. The boy choristers are auditioned between the ages of six and nine and are educated at the Kings College School, close to the college.  Some of them become choral scholars in the choir when older. The choir remains firmly English in stance, dress and style and this blend of respected tradition and high musical standards developed over several centuries is what makes it unique.

Having said that, it was interesting to notice the number of people of obviously Asian origin in the audience – obviously English traditional music has a wide appeal.  And, considering the time of performance, on a week day, there was a notable number of young children there too, all very quiet and well-behaved.

I don’t know when MusicaViva plans to bring my favourite sacred music choir to Australia again.  I hope it’s soon.  And I hope those of my readers who can, will go to one of the performances.  It’s in some ways just so much more exciting than just seeing them on TV!