Karen Andersen: Fraser Coast fine artist

I’ve become a big fan of Instagram. Sadly I remain exceedingly unartistic myself when it comes to photography and visual art, but I’m discovering some fabulous business and personal accounts on Instagram and – more importantly – some very talented people!

I don’t even know how I stumbled across Maryborough’s Karen M Andersen but I was immediately taken with her art and started planning my eventual purchase of one of her pieces.

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Karen’s gorgeous Instagram feed

Karen’s refreshingly honest online (you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram or check out her website) about her experiences with depression and anxiety. And she openly talks about the benefits of using art as an outlet for her emotions and creative energy.

I had the opportunity recently to meet her and talk about her work.

As Karen notes on her website, she’s always loved art but grew up in the era when it wasn’t really seen as a ‘vocation’. It was a hobby, not something to pursue career-wise. Fortunately Karen was also passionate about biology and science and left her hometown of Maryborough to study at Rockhampton’s Central Queensland University in 1993.

It didn’t entirely work out for Karen and ended up being the first time she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Karen says there was still a lot of stigma around mental illness in the 1990s and anyone over 30 or so will certainly agree that it’s taken a loooong time to recognise its debilitating effects, and the importance of appropriate treatment.

In the meantime Karen started a family (her two children are in their mid teens) and although she continued to pursue her creative interests (drawing and art journalling) during this time, it still wasn’t something she saw as anything other than a hobby.

In 2016 Karen travelled to Rockhampton to a Ken Done exhibition. Inspired she signed up for a Masterclass run by Done – which was the first the popular artist had conducted.

Karen came away from that with a renewed passion for her art and a confidence which surprised her.

“I don’t know where that determination came from,” she said.

Since then Karen’s more vigorously pursued her art (she works with acrylics on canvas and, as a non-artist, I was surprised at the complexities of surfaces, primers, textures and hues).

Karen now sells her magnificent abstract work via her website.

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I admired a piece of Karen’s work recently (via Instagram) but she responded that it was not yet ‘finished’. I was intrigued and wondered how one knows it’s finished? (Did I mention my ignorance when it comes to ‘all things art’?) Is there a temptation to edit and edit and edit – which is something many of us who write struggle with, I asked.

Karen agrees that’s certainly the case. She says she still experiences doubt sometimes, but she heeds Ken Done’s advice that there’s nothing that a bit of white paint can’t fix.

Karen said her confidence in terms of her art has grown in recent times and she’s far less likely to ‘overwork’ her pieces. She also keeps a sketch book to document her ideas and things that inspire her – and it doesn’t allow her to erase any of her work. (Kinda like journalling I realise!)

Though she hasn’t been putting herself or her work ‘out there’ for long, her talent is already starting to be recognised. She recently won second place at the Hervey Bay Regional Gallery’s Hidden Wonders Art Exhibition and her work has been selected for future exhibitions.

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I love that she continues to be inspired by her surrounds – our beaches, rainforests and reefs. And she finds painting therapeutic and a way to express and explore her emotions.

I again confessed my artistic ignorance to Karen in admitting that I just love the colours of her work. I’m not a particularly visual person but even I can tell that Karen adding a patch of white to a vibrant piece somehow improved on what I thought was already finished.

I’d suggest following Karen on social media or checking out her website if you appreciate beautiful things, love colour and take inspiration from other’s creativity and talent.

I look forward to seeing more of Karen’s work on display around the Fraser Coast and beyond.

For more information on Karen or to buy her work, check out her site: Karen M Andersen.

** Big thanks to Karen for her time and letting me pick her brain. **

Pictures all from Karen's Instagram account.
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Fraser Coast Instagrammers / Social Media Users meet-up

This week I got my social networking groove on and posted this:

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It came about for a few reasons….

Late last year I was at a kids’ sporting function with a friend. I turned around at one point to see someone behind me and – without thinking – blurted, “Oh hello, I follow you on Instagram!”

The lovely person in question smiled politely but looked a little worried nonetheless. I attempted to reassure her that I wasn’t a weird stalker but just recognised her from her online pictures. So no… not weird at all. 😉

Fast forward a few months and I was commenting on someone’s Instagram picture… and discovered we were both off to a morning tea with a visiting author the next day. We decided it would be lovely to finally meet but as my friend and I kept an eye out at the event, I realised I’d really only seen a postage-stamp sized picture of the person and their face wasn’t fully visible.

And last weekend friends and I were out having drinks when I saw someone else I recognised from Instagram… and given that all three of us posted pictures of our drinks (yes, we’re walking clichés!) I knew that person would see our pics and know we were there.

“I’ve been thinking we should have an Instagrammer or social media users-meet up,” I said when she came over.

We discussed the fact that sometimes feel as if we know these people – where they eat, what they do and so forth – although we may not have met in real life (IRL).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for a bunch of new besties, but it’d be nice to recognise a few familiar faces when I’m out and about… not to mention knowing whose pictures I’m seeing or commenting on, online.

So… I posted the invitation on Instagram.

Sadly I wasn’t overwhelmed with offers to organise a gathering, but someone messaged me and offered to talk to a venue suggested as a potential meeting place. So I randomly suggested a time and date and voilà ! We have our first meet-up all organised. Kinda.

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I’ve tried to reassure potential attendees that this is very informal. It’s merely the opportunity for people to catch up and discover each other. I AM going to take along sticky labels so people can add their names and social media ‘handles’ so they’re identifiable. I learned that lesson the hard way after going to something when I had my first Twitter account with the handle of @rockafellaskank (long story, don’t ask!).

So even though I’m @debbish on most social media platforms, I’m actually Deborah. In case you were wondering.

The aim of the gathering is just to meet like-minded people, rather than promote businesses and the like. It’s purely social. We’ll set up a spot for kids and – though I’ve not been there – I hear The Front Room has some fabulous healthy food, which will be available for purchase on the day.

If you’re shy, never fear… I’m an introvert but rabid networker so will come and say hello if you’re hanging back. And I’m pretty sure the group will be a friendly and welcoming bunch.

Feel free to just drop in at some point during the afternoon. RSVPs aren’t necessary though we may be in trouble if hundreds of people turn up!

WHEN: 1 – 3pm SATURDAY 25th MARCH 2017
WHERE: THE FRONT ROOM, 399 ESPLANADE, TORQUAY (HERVEY BAY)

Floating on the Fraser Coast

Over a decade ago I experienced a flotation tank for the first time. And despite fraying togs (aka: bathers, swimmers, trunks, costume) I was hooked and became a regular at a Float Centre I found in Brisbane.

And then I moved to Hervey Bay and – despite a lot of googling – no float centres miraculously appeared on the Fraser Coast.

Until now.

My work colleagues heard a rare spark of excitement from me last week as I discovered via the local newspaper that the new Mind Body and Soul store and cafe, which has opened in Torquay, has a float tank!

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And given my tendency towards instant gratification, it was a relief I was able to schedule a float at the opening special rate ($55 for one hour) after my Monday morning yoga session at (neighbouring) Ocean Tree Yoga studio.

As it had been a few years since my last float I was a little nervous, but it was like riding a bike. Or you know, floating in a sealed pod…

I was impressed at the quality of the new Hervey Bay facility. There’s just the one tank but it’s a state of the art unit with its own filtration system – for those worried about germs and stuff.

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For those not in the know, you can check out my post on my other blog about the experience (well, MY first – fraying togs and all), or get more info from this video which Mind Body & Soul has been sharing on Facebook.

Essentially you lie (ie. float) in an epsom salt filled enclosure – ideally – with no external stimuli… which is why they’re sometimes called isolation tanks or sensory deprivation tanks.

There are a stack of physical and mental benefits documented and this article in Discover Magazine links to a few. Minimal googling / research however will uncover just some, including: aiding healing through increased circulation of oxygen and nutrients; and releasing endorphins, reducing cortisol and stress hormones. Importantly it helps achieve mental stillness and promotes a more relaxed state of mind.

I still remember someone telling me that an hour in a float tank is the equivalent to an entire night’s sleep. And I’m sure I didn’t make that up.

Mind Body and Soul requires ‘floaters’ to have a shower before and after. Believe me, you’ll want to have one after as you’re covered in a layer of salt, and they have soap free washes and conditioner and shampoo as well as robes and towels. The facility is new so everything is in great condition and feels very luscious and pampering.

Things you need to know:

  1. You cannot drown (mum!). The water in the tank is not deep (mum)!
  2. You will float. I’m no lightweight and the huge amount of salt in the tank will allow you to float.
  3. There’s a handle on the inside of the pod you use to lift the lid, so you can’t get locked inside. Indeed, if you’re worried you could even leave the lid open at first.
  4. If you like you can put a dim light on inside the pod (I didn’t, as I was going for the full sensory deprivation thing).
  5. The light switch (a button) is inside the pod, as well as an emergency button if you need it.
  6. You can have music playing throughout the entire float; complete silence; or as I chose, 10mins of music in the beginning and 5mins at the end (so I knew it was time to get out).
  7. You’ll need to cover any scratches or cuts or they will sting. Vaseline is provided for this purpose.
  8. You’ll need to shower before and after.
  9. You cannot wear anything into the tank. (See my earlier comment about togs disintegrating. The same goes for jewellery etc.)
  10. Earplugs are handy if you (like me) are prone to ear problems (see below).
  11. You’ll fill in a form and disclaimer before you start as is often the case with anything health / wellbeing related.
  12. There’s a toilet next door if you need to get out part way through.
  13. You CAN get out part-way through. You can lift the lid and get out at any time.

Trevor, the owner had a quick chat to me afterwards to get my feedback. I did comment on the lack of earplugs, as a previous float centre I’d been to provided free cheap foam earplugs, and he mentioned he’s getting some at a low cost to customers – or of course – you’re welcome to bring your own and I’ll definitely remember to do so next time.

Mind Body and Soul will soon have a massage therapist starting and – down the track – will be offering package deals which is something I’m looking forward to.

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I should mention that the store also has a Sauna for those not happy with our 35C summer temperatures and the store itself stocks some great stuff. The cafe also seems to have some healthy and interesting food on offer, but I was too full from my earlier chocolate and diet coke breakfast to partake. #justkidding #kinda

Mind Body and Soul is located at 415 Esplanade, Torquay, Hervey Bay (near the Post Office) and you can contact them on (07) 4125 2583.

Check out their Facebook page for more information. Bookings can be made from the page, but you’ll need to telephone / contact them in person to take them up on their opening specials.

* This post was not sponsored and I paid $55 for my hour-long float. 

Have you ever tried a float tank? Would you?

The Hervey Bay Guide to Whale Watching

picToday I’m thrilled to welcome Jacinta Padgett, an environmental scientist with a passion for environmental education.

Jacinta’s recently started blogging at  Diary of an Eco Traveller and is here to talk all-things-whale-watching!

If you ever get the chance to go whale watching, the one place you definitely need to be is Hervey Bay. Located approximately 300 km north of the Queensland capital, Brisbane, Hervey Bay hasn’t earned the reputation for being the whale watch capital of the world for nothing.

Every year, between July and November, thousands of humpback whales make their way into the calm, protected waters on the western side of Fraser Island known as Platypus Bay. This is where the whales stay and play on their way back to Antarctica, after spending the winter months up north to mate and give birth to their calves. This is also where the most amazing wildlife encounter you may ever possibly have in your life will happen. I know that’s a big call, but it’s true.

Imagine a fully grown humpback whale sidling up to your boat, rolling over and looking you straight in the eye! Or being so close that you feel as though you can virtually reach out and touch them (you’re not allowed to do that, by the way).

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I’ve been whale watching plenty of times before – in fact I still can’t believe that I used to get paid to do it – and I still get a rush of adrenaline each and every time I see them. It’s a fantastic experience, and one that keeps me (and plenty of others) going back again and again.

Whale watching in Hervey Bay is unlike anywhere else, and it is certainly something you will undoubtedly remember for a very long time. Before you head off on your adventure though, there are a few things you need to know. With that in mind, here is Hervey Bay’s comprehensive guide to whale watching:

1. You need to leave your inhibitions on the mainland
Humpback whales are curious creatures. To draw their attention you need to make yourself interesting to them. What does that mean, I hear you ask. Well, basically you need to wave your arms around like your life depends on it and make lots of noise. They love that.

If you are a bit shy and reserved, just remember that you will more than likely never see the people you are on the boat with again. If you make a fool of yourself in front of them will it really matter? No, it won’t and you’ll have a much better time for it. And they’ll all be doing exactly the same thing anyway.

2. You should wear a good pair of walking / running shoes
You will do A LOT of moving around the boat, and will more than likely engage in a game of what I like to call humpback hide-and-seek! If you are not familiar with the rules of this game, they go something like this: the whale swims under the boat, everyone on board hurries across the deck to the other side waiting for it to appear. The whale briefly comes up for air, then dives down again and swims back under the boat, popping up on the other side.

Everyone dashes across to see it. The whale then dives down and swims underneath the boat … and so on and so forth. I’m sure you get the picture.

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3. You may get mugged
The whales will often approach vessels and stay close, interacting with the people on board for significant periods of time (see previous point re: humpback hide-and-seek). This thrilling behaviour is known as ‘mugging’.

Who would have thought you could be mugged by a whale! And enjoy it!

4. The whales will be watching you, as much as you are watching them
Anecdotal evidence suggests that over the past few decades whale behaviour around boats within Hervey Bay has changed. During the early days of whale watching, whales would shy away from vessels. Females in particular would put themselves between the vessel and her calf. Now the story is completely different.

Indeed, it is often a case of ‘who is watching who’.

Females will now push their calves toward excited whale watchers. Having a 40 tonne whale showing you her calf is certainly awe-inspiring, and something you will remember for a long time to come.

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5. You may get covered in whale snot!
It is not pleasant, but it makes for a great story to tell your friends and family.

The ‘blow’ is usually the first thing whale watchers see. It is the exhalation of air, mucous and carbon dioxide from the whale’s lungs. As it is released, water vapour condenses and forms a misty spray.

While the whales are swimming alongside your boat they will be constantly coming to the surface to breathe. If you are unfortunate enough to be leaning over the side of the boat when they do just that, you will end up with a face full of whale snot! I speak from experience when I say it is disgusting and smelly if it happens to you. But is absolutely hilarious if it happens to someone else!

Regardless of whether or not you follow the suggestions I’ve outlined you will no doubt have a fantastic time with the whales, and will walk away with wonderful memories of some absolutely amazing animals.

I highly recommend spending time with them. It is something you will not regret. I promise.

Ed. For details of whale watching tours check out… Visit Fraser Coast.

Local profile – Mary Ryan’s Hervey Bay

As an avid reader and lover of books it’s a no-brainer that I adore bookshops. I particularly love that they’ve morphed over the years and become so much more than places you buy books. Not only can you enjoy coffee and snacks, but many create a wonderful sense of community and promote a love of reading and books to future generations.

Mary Ryan’s Hervey Bay (MRHB) does exactly that. I first met owner Cate Akaveka when I attended an author event not long after she purchased the store and was impressed with her obvious love of reading and passion for sharing that with others.

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Cate and her husband moved to Hervey Bay from Sydney in 2001. Her oldest (of two boys) was a baby and they were keen to move out of the city and try a different lifestyle.

Cate bought Mary Ryan’s in August 2013 after leaving the state government. She was keen to invest in something which would keep her employed and when she found out that Mary Ryan’s was for sale she knew it was karma. Or kismet. Or similar. 😉

“I knew right away that it was the right business for me and I can’t imagine doing anything else now. I think I love pretty much everything about owning a bookstore.”

Cate really liked the staff and was very happy when they all agreed to stay on after she purchased the business.

Cate says she’s always been a passionate reader and still has a lot of books from her childhood.

“My mother said she always knew what I was reading because I would become the lead character. I guess I was Anne of Green Gables for a significant amount of my childhood!”

I follow the MRHB Facebook page and am often agog and the myriad of activities on offer.

They have a couple of book clubs—including one for teenagers—which meet monthly. There’s a French conversation group that meets one Saturday each month. And on the first Saturday of each month, there’s a get-together called Coffee, Tea, Philosophy.

It’s a group Cate started because she really wanted to have some meaningful and thought-provoking discussions about things that matter. Fortunately, a few other people felt the same way and this group has now been meeting for over 12 months. Newcomers are always welcome, so it’s something I’m pencilling into my diary!

On top of all of the regular activities I also love the author events on offer.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve had some great authors at the shop including Brooke Davis, Inga Simpson and Josephine Moon. My favourite author event was with William McInnes last December. People are still talking about it!”

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Cate says these events are her favourite part of the job.

“I like to see Mary Ryan’s as more than a retail outlet, but rather an integral part of the community. I think it works because a lot of our customers feel like family and seem to enjoy a ‘sense of belonging’ when they come in.”

MRHB’s cafe is always busy and Cate suggests the that’s because the food and service are consistent and the staff have been there for a long time. In fact Café Manager, Chris, was actually on board before the café even opened.

Cate also thinks customers enjoy the ambience… that the book / coffee combo creates a homely and welcoming feel.

The store doesn’t have a full kitchen so focuses on light lunches, cakes etc.

“Our most popular dishes are the ones that are home-made. Chris’ cheesecakes have become quite famous and we have a number of customers who phone us to hold some for them.”

Not having a set menu means the MRHB team can mix it up a little. In winter (generally May to September) the store offers home-made soups and in summer, pasta and salads.

And something I didn’t know… was that from 2-3pm on weekdays, they have a happy hour with half-price tea and coffee.

But back to books… Cate loves some quirk and names Tom Robbins as her favourite author. And her favourite genre? Literary fiction—books she describes as well written and featuring words in a way that make her want to read them over and over again. She picks Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie as the best book she’s ever read with Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North coming a close second.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for the team at MRHB will order it in for you, or they can help suggest some options. Cate laughed when I asked her about making recommendations and said they’re occasionally surprised. As much as they think they know what titles particular customers will enjoy, there are always some that come completely out of left field which (she thinks) is a good lesson in not making assumptions… or judging a book by its cover! #sorrynotsorry

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Pop into Mary Ryan’s Hervey Bay and say hi to Cate and the team. You can find them at shop 5, 15 Central Avenue, Urraween (opposite Stockland Shopping Centre). Telephone: (07) 4194 2111.  Follow them on Facebook to keep up-to-date with their latest activities! 

Check out Cate’s recent interview about the closure of ABC Bookshops and any impact it may have on Mary Ryan’s Hervey Bay.

Upcoming events (check FB for details):
  1 August - Chris Collin (author of the Funky Chicken)
  8 August - Tara Moss
  8 August - National Bookshop Day
 18 August - The Reading Hour
 3 September - Indigenous Literacy Day

**Pics all from MRHB FB page**