The bonds and blessings of family at Xmas

My father Frank with one of his three great grandsons, my grandson Zachary.

My father Frank with one of his three great grandsons, my grandson Zachary.

Our Christmas celebrations are an expression of our family tradition, our fondness for food and our faith.  It all began on Monday when my son Tyson and I visited my 96-year-old father in his residential facility. He was too frail to attend his family event in the evening, so he met my grandson Zachary for the first time.  So, I begin with poignant photographs of my blind father meeting Zachary for the first time. He knows who we all are, but has little to say anymore – the quiet stilling of what was his great blessing – a vibrant, joyful and gentle personality. The other photograph I am delighted to share is of four of the young mothers – my daughter-in-law Vanessa, nieces Sonya and Katie  and my niece-in-law Rhianna – and their offspring. The second cousins, even the eight-month-old babies, played happily with each other throughout the night.  Their happiness abides with the sadness we still feel for their cousin and sister, Chelsea, whose first baby was stillborn two months ago. The event must have been very difficult for her.  My daughters did not travel to Adelaide this Christmas.

The young mothers of our family.

The young mothers of our family.

Our family is blessed with 13 cousins and seven cousins-in-law, so we do not give gifts anymore, but this will be the first of many happy events as the children grow and more babies are born into our fold.




Our Christmas celebrations are an expression of our family tradition, our love of food and our faith and I hope you enjoy these photographs which capture special moments.  This year, for the first time, our father, Frank was too frail to attend the big family party, so we took my son’s family, here from Melbourne, to dad’s residential facility to meet his great grandson, eight-month-old Zachary for the first time. Dad is blind and virtually deaf and it was a poignant meeting because dad has deteriorated in the past year. However, the first of our collection of photographs reflects that moment when the very old meeting the very new member of dad’s lineage – all four generations.

The other photograph, which captures how blessed we are as a family is of the young mothers – cousins and cousins-in-law with their children and babies.  My daughter-in-law Vanessa is the only mother with two children and she is joined by my niece-in-law Rhianna Otto with Theo and nieces Sonya Micelli with Luca and Katie Reynolds with Lilly. Their happiness of these second cousins does not hide the sadness we all feel for my niece, Chelsea, who lost her first baby, Hayden, who was stillborn two months ago.   A few of the lovely  nest generation of our family are absent. Katie’s sister, Aimee, who lives interstate and my two daughters, Serena and Felicia, who live interstate did not come to Adelaide this year either.  Serena’s three children, Samuel, Angus and Josephine, add up to eight second cousins.  Already in 2015, we can look forward to at least two more babies as Rhianna and Katie are both pregnant.


La France strengthens ties with Down Under

French president, Francois Hollande became the first chef of La France to visit Down Under when he stepped onto Australian soil for the world leaders’ meeting,G20 summit held in Brisbane last month .

Although his visit did not attract the same headlines as our vital Asian trading partners, India, China and Japan or Russian President Putin, President Holland snared publicity on a number of strategic occasions.

Hollande and host Prime Minister Tony Abbott conducted a solemn wreath-laying ceremony in Canberra to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I battles in France during 1914-1918 which was covered extensively by the media.

Australia’s French-speaking school in Canberra was also honoured with a visit from the president, who asked if anyone could speak French to see the whole classroom shoot up their hands.  However, what became painfully obvious during his visit to Tasmania, was that President Hollande could not speak English – an embarrassing fact for a leader of a major European country.

However, Australias- French-Australian business community embraced the visit of Hollande was accompanied by a delegation of French officials including Laurent Fabius, Minister for foreign affairs and CEOs of the top listed company representatives in France such as Safran, Thales, Servier and  DCNS.  One pf the major achievements of Hollande’s post G20 tour was when French-Australian business leaders officially presented La France Down Under a strategic document  to President Holland and Prime Minister Tony Abbott on November 19.

This event- the official welcome dinner for the French president, was attended by representatives of the French-Australian business community and was once again an occasion to discuss ways to further promote French investment in Australia and to raise awareness of Australian market opportunities for French companies. Special South Australian guests invited to the dinner were  South Australia’s honourary French Consul,  Mme Sue  Crafter.


Meanwhile, Merci Down Under has been officially launched with a VIP cocktail night in Perth at the Ballroom of the Governor’s House on Saturday 29 November, with its Patron, the international singing star Tina Arena, well known to audiences in France, leading a musical tribute to Australian servicemen and women.

Tina Arena travelled especially to Perth to attend this event. The performance launched a series of ‘Merci Down Under’ events – an expression of gratitude by the people of France for Australia’s efforts during the war…

A Holy Metamorphosis for former premier

Could it be called a Holy metamorphosis when former South Australian premier, Lynn Arnold was ordained an Anglican priest earlier this month.

He,  who presided over SA Cabinet ministers from September 1992 to December 1993, will preside over a parish and minister to the spiritual needs of his flock as the Reverend Lynn Arnold.

His ordination as a deacon last year was an important first step, but it was at a grand ceremony at St Peter’s Cathedral where he was ordained as a priest.  Mr Arnold is now authorised to perform all the sacraments of the church. These include conducting baptisms, Holy Communion, pronouncing God’s forgiveness after confession and giving the Benediction.

It is a bold step for someone who – at 65 – is at the age of retirement. However, he left his job as chief executive officer of Anglicare in early 2012 in answer to a strong “call’’ to take up theological studies. He says “nothing can be more relevant to this life than a faith that understands eternity’’.


My sister Anne and her husband, Ken Otto, the managing director of Otto and Co., recently starred in a great double-page spread in the Sunday Mail’s Insight section.

The striking heading “The Otto Men – Empire”” told the story of the multi-generational timber merchants, now run by founder Ben Otto’s third-generation grandson Ken.

The business today is behind a group of shops at Magill Road, off Ann Street, Stepney and the original Otto and Co Timber Company sign, still stands atop the buildings.

When my sister was only 16 she began working at the original hardware store  as an junior clerk and went to work in the building which now forms one wall of the courtyard of Friends of Louis coffee shop. She married the boss’s son four years later in 1980.

Today, Anne is the general manager of Otto’s Timber, Joinery and Hardware, and their sons, my nephews, Jason and Nathan, are also in the business.

There was a little mistake in the story – Ken began working at the age of 12, “cleaning bricks day after day’’ for 20 cents an hour pocket-money, not as reported as his “wage’’ at age 21.

I have been blessed to have such a talented brother-in-law. For one of my big birthdays, he crafted a spiral hallstand of Nyatoh, a rare South African timber. I spied another big “gift’’ while enjoying that sweet smell of sawdust in the Mill. There was a handsome Jarrah kitchen top propped up in a forgotten corner.  With another birthday approaching, the 2.7 metre piece of timber, became the hearth in our new home.  Ken’s handiwork can also be admired at the Port Dock Hotel, where he designed and crafted the magnificent bar in the shape of a boat.

However, there is another  misdeed – the headline of the article – which I want to correct.  The Otto Empire today has been a partnership between sister Anne and Ken, their marriage and their business relationship. Anne has worked very hard in the business as well as raising the sons and daughters. So, their success is “The Otto Men’’, as the headline stated, but also a powerful woman – my sister –  who, after more than 30 years’ involvement –  also steers the good timber ship Otto into the future.





Trusty Xmas treat for time-poor ladies

My friend Helen's pavlova

My friend Helen’s pavlova

We women have always been great at multi-tasking, so it seemed natural that at the end of a consultation, my local GP, Dr Helen Roxburgh, flashed her iphone to show a quick Christmas dessert, which she whipped up recently for a family event after a heavy day at the surgery.

The base of this delicious treat is an ordinary Aussie pavlova – and there are supermarket products for women who are really time poor (but Helen made hers) – and then she decorated it with assorted berries and some sprigs of real holly.

With very little effort, she produced a stunning, in-season dessert and she wanted to pass it on to me – and I am passing it on to anyone who feel they can’t quite cope with that request – from out of the blue – “can you please bring dessert”.

Valerie strips French president “naked”.

Valerie Trierweiler

Valerie Trierweiler

That adage “Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned’’ must have lodged into the mind of French president Francois Hollande since  “Merci Pour Ce Moment’’ the memoir of  his jilted girlfriend hit book shelves.

Valerie Trierweiler, who was the first lady of France, for 18 months, has vented her rage and aired her humiliation into the book, the sales of which have turned her into a millionaire overnight


One wonders why sales now stand at almost 700,000 when Trieweiler claims she has not divulged either state secrets or details of her sex life with the French president, who clearly hides his surprising sex appeal behind an almost nerdish, bespeckled,, balding persona.


The 320-page expose, described by French magazine, Paris Match as her “cry of love and slow descent into hell’’,  is believed to have earned her about 2 million euros or A$2.8 million.

Valerie Trierweiler has never been a popular figure in the eyes of the French public. While she claims Hollande seduced her away from her husband and her three sons,  Hollande’s long-term partner and former French presidential candidate Segolene Royale has the opposite spin on the beginnings of the affair.  Even Trierweiler admits in the book that Royale telephoned her twice warning her to stay away from the father of her four children (when Trierweiler conveniently claimed her innocence). In desperation, Royale finally  gave her wayward common law husband an ultimatum in the middle of her presidential campaign – that classic   “Her or Me’’.

Segolene Royal, ex long-time partner of French president Francois Hollande

Segolene Royal, ex long-time partner of French president Francois Hollande

Actually,Trierweiler had been on the scene as the mistress  for eight years before Hollande  was elected president and Royale lost to Sarkozy who was elected president of France seven years ago. Facts do speak, Valerie.

So this woman scorned has whitewashed her own role as seductress as if she innocently succumbed to Hollande in that two-star hotel in Limoges right back in 2004.

“He was impossible to resist,’’ she writes.


After the May 2012 French election when Hollande swept into power, he moved into the Elysee Palace and so did she.  He announced her as  “First Lady” and  Mademoiselle Trierweiler soon had  a personal staff of five, at a cost to French taxpayers of €20,000 (£16,400) a month. Her existence riled the public who carried a sense of injustice for Segolene, who, with Francois, had been socialist royalty for 24 years.  In a country where the existence of mistresses is  far more commonplace, there is still heightened bitterness towards “the other woman’’.


Another reason for Trierweiler’s unpopularity is that she has scandalised the Palace with the juiciest scandal to hit politics since Clinton-Lewinsky in the US.  And hung all the dirty linen in public.

Media attention to top public figures’ love lives has long been taboo in France, with most media abiding by the unwritten rule that disclosure stops at the bedroom door.

Such rules were torn up by Trierweiler, a journalist, as the book reveals jealousy, love and despair at the Elysee palace and, at the same time, takes political swipes at the socialist leader who is portrayed as an indecisive man who hates the poor. But Hollande was definite in his midnight trysts with French actress/comedienne Julie Guyet, sneaking to her apartment on a motor cycle like a million other Parisians.

One French literary critic condemned  the memoir was akin to “sentimental pornography”.

Secret Life of France. author Lucy Wadham,  says on The Guardian’s website that Trierweiler is even more unpopular than the president – and that is certainly claiming something.

“She’s being attacked on all sides –by left and right, male and female. Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, called her book “indecent” and “a dishonour to France”,’’ she writes of Hollande’s rival political leader.

“ Female Le Monde columnists Françoise Fressoz and Pascale Robert-Diard were no less punishing: “Valérie Trierweiler is trying with this book to repair her image… as the hysteric, the husband thief, the vengeful woman’’, she quotes.

Adding to any woes she might be experiencing as the money rolls in at her feet, Trierweiler’s book has been banned by booksellers across France. But,  Amazon sales usurped Fifty Shades of Grey’s five year best-selling run in a few days.

Rather than a plethora of interviews and excerpts, the French media has boycotted the publication..

How to explain the vehemence of these attacks? Trierweiler has broken a fundamental principle of French political life, an unwritten law inherited from the Ancien Régime and perpetuated by France’s revolutionary nomenklatura, that the private life – and that generally  means sex life – of a public figure must remain inviolable. Nor are the French people concerned by presidential infidelity.  They have come to expect a certain faithlessness in their presidents, considering them of the ilk of the Louis Kings. Sexual prowess is akin to powerful politics. In fact, whenever a president of France has been caught with his pants down, his approval rating has shot up. This is why Hollande believed he had nothing to lose when his affair with actress/comedian Julie Gayet was made public through Closer magazine.  He further thought that he could brazenly despatch Trierweiler with his statement “I am making it known that I have put an end to my relationship with Valerie Trierweiler.’’

French actress, Julie Gayet

French actress, Julie Gayet

But things have gone terribly awry for the President. As Bruno Roger-Petit, political columnist for the left-leaning Le Nouvel Observateur, pointed out last week, with Trierweiler’s book: “The president has been stripped naked. Naked as no president has been before him. The king’s body has been profaned.”

There’s “neither bomb, nor scandal” in Trierweiller’s book, said Le Monde‘s review, so why haven’t all these outraged commentators rallied round their “desacralised” president? And why have his approval ratings, already catastrophic, dropped even further since the publication of the book?

Because embedded in this otherwise innocuous kiss-and-tell is a devastating revelation about Hollande: “He presented himself,” writes Trierweiler, “as the man who doesn’t like the rich. In reality, the president doesn’t like the poor”. More than any revelation about his philandering, this aspersion cast on his left-wing credentials could bring down the president.

Unlike in the past where presidents have not bothered with sexual scandal, Hollande has been trying desperately to down-cry and deny Trierweiler’s accusations.

The nation can be assured that Hollande deeply regrets that night in the two-star hotel in Limoges. His dalance has cost him dearly and Trierweiler may yet inflict the shocking revenge – Hollande losing the presidency, perhaps even before the next election.