Coast to Coast is the true story of one family’s incredible undertaking: to walk across India in order to help children living in the poorest parts of the world. We’re all in awe of the Petruccos for their generosity, tenacity and good humour. In her speech at the launch, Deb Kandelaars explained her own history with this incredible family …
We first met the Petruccos on the South Coast about 10 years’ ago now. It turned out that both our families had made a sea change from the city at around the same time and our kids were at the same school. We immediately became good friends. The Petruccos are a very warm and welcoming family. Our kids played together, and for Bec and I, our husbands were often away with work so we were great company for each other. Wednesday taco night became an institution.
Our friendship was cemented on one of these evenings when a horrible thing happened: a very pregnant Bec slipped and slid face-first down our long staircase, landing chin first at the bottom. She was taken by ambulance to South Coast Hospital and then by chopper to Flinders. It was a very dramatic and worrying night. Nick was on his way home from interstate, and the kids stayed at our place watching ‘The Simpsons’. I also remember uncharacteristically letting them have Coke at McDonalds at 10 o’clock at night. I think we were all a bit traumatised! Thankfully all was okay with Bec…and Bec and baby Gus both survived to tell the tale, but that terribly stressful night has become the stuff of legends – a kind of marker in our friendship.
We all eventually left the South Coast – Nick and Bec and family to Melbourne, Malaysia, Adelaide and Melbourne again…and us back to Adelaide. It was during a family trip to visit the Petruccos in Melbourne a few years’ ago that Nick brought up the idea of walking across India and raising money for Childfund. My first response was ‘Bloody hell, really?’ It was no surprise to me that Nick and Bec were looking to raise money for children in India. They’d previously spent time there, and had supported an orphanage for some time. Both of them had travelled and worked in India and they had a heartfelt connection with the place and the people. But to pack up the kids and actually walk across India – it rattled my neat city sensibility of life being predictable and in its place. That night we chatted about the plan and made a few jokes about Nick dressing in Gandhi-like white flowing apparel and walking with a large stick across India.
But when Nick has a dream – Nick really has a dream! And his patient, enthusiastic and seemingly tireless partner, Bec, was by his side. Before long they were organising a fundraising day in Melbourne and they pulled together an amazing range of inspirational speakers who donated their time… and they managed to sell hundreds of tickets, raising thousands of dollars for their cause. It really was a wonderful, inspiring day, and they were a little closer to realising Nick’s dream.
A few years’ ago, Nick and Bec set off with their family on a trip up the east coast of Australia. It was precious time out for all of them from work and school, and a chance to travel together. They bought a camper trailer and lived the dream for a few months. Just before they set off on their India trek, the beloved camper trailer was sold to help finance the journey.
So they set off to India with their kids… and their wonderfully supportive extended family and friends joined them along the way. I should mention that at this point in time, I was at home in Adelaide, in the comfort of our home…but to be fair, I did support them by posting ‘go team’ ‘yay, good on you’ ‘keep going’ messages.
As they travelled, Nick made regular blog posts about their journey – and, as you can imagine, it wasn’t always joyful. Like any good journey story, it contained magnificent highs and desperate lows, overcoming adversity and, finally, after a long and arduous journey, reaching their goal. The success of any one walking day was subject to the weather, extreme heat, rain, energy levels, and just generally trying to look after everyone’s needs. Sometimes they walked along incredibly busy roads with little room to spare; other times they were in peaceful rural settings stopping at a roadside coffee tent, and mingling with the locals.
I remember one of Nick’s stories about a particularly horrendous case of food poisoning where he was hallucinating and the hotel room was spinning. I think at this point, Nick was wondering what on earth he’d gotten them all into. Yet at other times, they found themselves surrounded by a throng of happy Indian children, as they handed over supplies and bikes for their school.
When the journey was over and Nick had turned his blogs into a manuscript, he asked me to read it for him. From the outset, I was right there on that journey with them in India. The locations are fascinating; the people are heart-warming. Within the walking group, there was a real sense of team work, unity and love. If the kids got tired, they could jump in the support car; if there was a medical dilemma, Bec (aka Nurse Ratchett) came to the rescue; Nick’s mum Jen was very supportive with the children and general morale; and Nick’s stepdad Nick (yes, you’re right, there are way too many Nicks in that sentence!) helped bolster the team’s spirits when they needed a lift. Nick’s sister, Kate, and her children, flew in to do part of the walk, and the cousins had a great time together on their family adventure. As I said, there were highs and there were lows – but all in all they achieved what they’d set out to do – to walk across India and raise money for children in need.
So congratulations to all of you who made the walk, and played your part in this special story. And particular congratulations to Nick for documenting it and bringing the story to life. I know this is something you’ve wanted to do for a long time and I’m really proud of you. And a special mention to Bec because she’s played an integral role in this journey and this book; and she is always there in the wings, ever-enthusiastic, loving, organised and supportive.
I urge you to buy a copy of Coast to Coast, not only because funds raised from the sale of the book will go to children in need; but also because it’s a wonderful story. Whether you take the journey via your armchair or perhaps it inspires you to do more, it’s a great read about an ordinary family doing something quite extraordinary.
In 2016 the Friends of the Barr Smith Library have teamed up with Wakefield Press to present a series of talks by Wakefield Press authors. On 21 April, renowned novelist Stephen Orr entertained the masses (despite attesting that he prefers to ‘terrify’) with an overview of his writing career, beginning with this fitting reflection on the Barr Smith itself.
You can listen to Stephen’s speech in its entirety here thanks to Radio Adelaide.
I first came to the Barr Smith twenty years ago. Sat in a corner, somewhere. Admired the spray-on concrete ceiling, the flickering lights, the books about mycology. Eventually, I sharpened my pencil and began. What might’ve been a career; although it’s mostly felt like a hobby; what might’ve been the Great Australian novel; although the remaindered fragments of the 2000 Vogel-runner-up, Attempts to Draw Jesus, are scattered far and wide. The pages yellow; the glue fails; the spine cracks. You find a copy (inscribed) at the Port Dock market. $3.00, or negotiable.
Point being. I was off and running. On a career that’s had more downs than ups, lows than highs, disappointments than vindications. Henry Lawson went through something similar. His advice to Australian writers was to ‘study elementary anatomy, especially as it applies to the cranium, and then shoot yourself carefully with the aid of a looking glass.’ Ninety years later, George Johnston felt the same way. Living on the Greek island of Hydra in 1958, he explained his and Charmaine Clift’s combined income of 125 pounds ‘comes from five books in circulation or accepted, two foreign translations, one sale of foreign serial rights, an earlier novel and certain magazine extracts. For this, and all the work it represents, the return…I’m sure you’ll agree is hardly worth while.’
Hardly worth while. But, he explained, ‘I have all sorts of writing plans and shall probably go on producing a novel a year for many years to come.’ This, as all writers know, is the curse of perpetual frustration. He explained it away by saying, ‘I have, you see, enough confidence in myself at least…’
Back to the Barr Smith; two levels below here. The terrazzo dunnies with their outstanding graffiti. Phil Grummet, a character in my second published book, Hill of Grace, studies pharmacology at Adelaide University, but he has a bent for other things (if you know what I mean). This includes perfecting his poetic gifts on the dunny walls (a sort of budget Mastersingers of Nuremburg). Someone drills holes in the walls. Just enough to cop an eyeful. But Phil writes messages like, Not Recommended for Children, or, Insert Here. He adds the predictable: Arts Degrees, please take a single sheet, above the bog paper, and tries some Eliot on the back of the door. We shall never cease from exploring. And he doesn’t. Ending up at Mt Crawford vomiting mushrooms he mistakes for the magic variety.
The Barr Smith has changed. I spent hours watching flies trying to escape from cobwebs, the spider emerging, the worst of natural selection as my fiction went unwritten. I wrote my first five books here. Longhand. Clearing my throat when people talked, and the librarians didn’t spring to life, jumping on the miscreants like an elite SS troop. Eventually I’d give up and move, throwing a angry glance, not that anyone cared. Silence, I think, is the most valuable thing of all. Up there with love, wisdom, an unexpected sunburst.
I loved the Barr Smith’s retro fifties feel, although it wasn’t actually retro. The desks, the chairs, the Khrushchev-era windows. The idea that a million people had written a million books about a million topics and, if I had the time, I could explore them all. That’s always what’s excited me. The potential to know. I could never understand sport. That only ever had the potential to kick a bit further, run a bit faster. So what? So I’d sit there for an hour after I’d finished writing. Looking through maths texts, wondering why I was looking through maths texts. Reading a history of sans serif types, or the Hitler Youth. The same thing I did as a kid, at school. The grass was always green, the sandwiches stale and sweaty. But if you were early enough, and got a copy of Asterix, your lunch would be bearable.
That’s why libraries matters. Why the Barr Smith matters. All of this knowledge is held in trust. For our great great grandkids. God knows they’ll have Weatherill’s plutonium to deal with, so we should leave them something they actually want. I hope the books remain. The heavy, smelly paper types. I hope someone doesn’t come in, digitise them, and then arrange a book burning on the Barr Smith lawns. Or maybe others have that in mind? The Advertiser. Winston Smith snipping away at the truth, producing a world view pleasing to the North Terrace mob. Bill and Ben, flower pot men. Praising ham strings and high octane stupidity in equal measure.
So, now you’re saying. My, he’s a bit angry, isn’t he? To which I reply: Moi? Problem being, speaking writers, it seems, are meant to entertain audiences these days. I prefer to terrify. And at this, Patrick White was the best. If I can share a selected quote: ‘The Bicentennial circus tends to hide from us the fact that we are no longer a democracy. We are a country run by and for millionaires and by a prime minister who toadies to them.’ Or: ‘In a society where there has been such a serious lapse in integrity, our politicians’ attitude to uranium isn’t surprising.’ Wonder what he’d make of Kimba, glowing with golden wheat, sheep, and other things?
Listen to the rest of Stephen’s speech here thanks to Radio Adelaide.