jenn jay tales

Jennifer Johnston shares her travel tales; life adventures; observations, photos and random thoughts


Renovation – the home run

Don’t dream it’s over

Love that the Crowded House song and thankfully I’m not dreaming, the (BIG) reno project is almost over! All that is left is the waft of paint fumes and clutter of painter’s trestles and paraphernalia as the painters finish the outside. A few walls are showing one of the fifty shades of grey I chose as my house colour! It won’t be long and I can remove the project manager hat. Hard to believe after 18 months the project is almost complete. I say almost as the external house paint is work in progress. The start date for that was delayed but I’ve learnt over the course of this project you just roll with delays.  Landscaping, some storage stuff to sort and the left over stainless steel security grills and old pool fencing lying around the spare block are still to be dealt with.  Next year (ha ha which is tomorrow!)

Oh and then there’s the spare block to develop. One of the major reasons I went down the renovation path on my old house, was to create a block of land to sell at a later stage.  There is still the registering of the title, the connection of utilities – including the big job of sewerage connections – and the clearing of “all encumbrances.” This involves removing the remaining slab and retaining walls!  A wee excavation project in a few year’s time, provided I can get the extension on the DA (development application) to allow me a bit of breathing space.

the spare block - the next project!

the spare block – the next project!

So what’s happened since my last blog post?

June 2016

June 2016

The downstairs areas became more than a skeleton. Walls and floorboards were added.  Decisions had to be made fast on the width of the downstairs bathroom and whether to add a bath or not. Thanks to a persistent friend (Kelie – yes you) the bath was ordered. Rather than going into the boy’s bathroom downstairs, the new free-standing bath was added to my en-suite.  There is hope I will have time to “enjoy” baths in the future. I’ve not been one for luxuriating in a bath tub unless it’s in a ****hotel room. It was fun testing baths for suitability. (If I was to be installing a bath it was going to be the right “fit!”) Continue reading


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East German mis-adventure – a Travel story

The Berlin Wall near Checkpint Charlie

The Berlin Wall near Checkpoint Charlie

A travel memory shared on my travel blog – an East Germany adventure while backpacking (only a few decades ago!)  Wondering why we did these things – probably being young and feeling ten foot tall!

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Renovation jitters – the next phase

Renovation phase three

You’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t been exposed to stories about renovations. They’re everywhere. Magazines and blogs share renovation yarns. Reality TV shows like the Block and House Rules allow viewers to gain an insight into the tension a renovation project incurs. As both a reader and a viewer – none of these prepare you for what reno stress actually FEELS like, until you undertake a renovation yourself. Continue reading


Sharks and how Aussies manage them

Two laid back Aussies

I watched one of the funniest clips I’ve seen in a while on Channel Ten’s Project last night. The segment was following up the incredible photo moment captured by Nathan McLaren of a shark leaping from the water near surfer Daniel Caban. The incident occurred the day before, around 2pm at the southern end of Caves Beach near Port Macquarie, New South Wales.

shark image

McLaren was on shore taking photos of two surfers when he captured the shark breaching.  As with many moments like this when it involves one of nature’s creatures, it all happened so fast, others on the beach with McLaren asked if that really happened. McLaren checked through his photos and saw that it was in fact a BIG shark – approximately 3.5m long.

Being a little concerned Caban and another surfer were in the water with such a large shark – it appeared Caban was oblivious to what had just occurred – McLaren did what he could to get their attention. Maybe it’s just me, but Nathan McLaren’s description of what he did next was priceless. “I put a trusty red flannelette shirt on a crutch and started waving it like a lunatic,” said McLaren. “The guys thought it was another wave coming and started heading back out while I’m frantic up on the shore.”

Listening to this, Project guest host Tommy Little followed with a quick come back. “Well the good news is that with your look going on there Nathan, it would have looked like a homeless man ranting from the shore with no shirt on.”

What followed was lots of laughter by these two laid back dudes basking in their five minutes of fame. Not missing a beat, Nathan responded “Yeah I get that a bit, yeah.”

What a low key larrikin Aussie. What a character. What delivery!

“They may be two of my favourite people on the show,” Carrie Bickmore said closing the segment.

Couldn’t agree more Carrie! And Caban who remains totally unfazed by the danger lurking below the water shows Aussie surfers, well….. they’re a special breed.

Daniel Caban and Nathan McLaren / Picture: Troy Snook Herald Sun

Daniel Caban and Nathan McLaren / Picture: Troy Snook / Herald Sun

Here’s the three minute clip if you want to smile at these totally chilled couple of Aussies.


Mosquitoes and soft tofu – another side to Vietnam

Vietnam so many highlights – what about the lowlights?  Here’s my travel story  with a few of both Mosquitoes and soft tofu – another side to Vietnam

mekong river dwellers 2

Transport styles

Transport styles


So the reno begins

Renovation update

This blog post has been written / not published / added to but now its time to publish and update as the reno project finally takes BIG shape!

To recap

The renovation madness upped its pace significantly last month. All was under control. I was working towards a start date in 8 weeks. But a phone call from the builder about 6 weeks ago asking how I was going with finding rental accommodation changed all that. He wanted to start a month earlier!  I know – unheard of in the building game – right?!

My to do list became very pressing:

  1. find rental accommodation
  2. pack up my house

The shipping container arrives

Part way through planning the project I thought about organising a shipping container which could sit on the (to be) spare block and allow me to store some of my furniture.  Sound like a good idea? Well it was until 2 tonnes of steel in the form of a 20 foot shipping container turned up at my place early one Friday morning.  Issue one was going to be the council tree on the footpath – right in the centre of where the truck needed to reverse.  The tree had been reported to council about four weeks earlier BUT despite it being declared “R” for removal – this can take up to 6 weeks. Of course it was still on the footpath the day the driver arrived.  So he planned a different path onto my sloping site. There was a stage where I thought two tonnes of steel and a large truck were going to flip sideways – such was the angle the poor guy had to get his tilt tray in to the space.

Yikes not an easy delivery

Yikes not an easy delivery

Anyways thanks to the persistence of the driver – and 45 minutes of manoeuvring his truck inch by inch,  he managed to place the container on site – maybe a little closer to the boundary than I wanted but it was there. Lesson to me – maybe I shouldn’t be on site watching things like this – my heart skipped many beats that morning!

installed one container

installed one container

I also thought I could try and sell my existing kitchen so that was out of the house before the builder started the partial demolition. That was another hopeful – later turning into a bit of a saga. It’s thankfully behind me now and I don’t wish to re-visit that part of my reno process – just enjoy the empty space that was my kitchen!

Kitchen before

Kitchen before

kitchen goneski

kitchen goneski

And I may never advertise items like that on gumtree ever again – but ……. let’s get on.



Certification Red Tape

My next step: check with my certifier what was required to tick all those red tape boxes so the reno work could commence.  When you make a decision to save on Project Management fees and do it yourself you know you are in for a steep learning curve.  Just how steep is the question. Terms that come into your world previously you’ve never heard of. My certifier enlightened me on a few. I needed a soil and sediment report? What? An Earthworks Management plan? What’s that and why?

Many phone calls and emails later – I discovered because my block of land is high set, it could be classed as a hazard when the excavation works begins. In heavy rain “silt” could run off and down the road upsetting the neighbours and those who use the road.  We don’t want that!  I express some of my frustrations to my certifier – so much red tape, “welcome to my world,” he responds.  I was starting to wonder whether taking on the Project Management role was such a good idea! Trying to save $10k was my motivation but the stress levels were rising.

I needed an engineer a RPEQ (a Registered Practising Engineer.) Also I learn good old hay bales and silt barriers prevent soil erosion. The learning curve is ongoing. Thankfully my laid back structural engineer is also a RPEQ and was able to do the required report at the 11th hour to complete the soil and sediment report as part of the compliance to allow the builders to commence the demolition on site.

The builder and engineer discuss my steel issues

The builder and engineer discuss my steel issues

I’ve realised I like working with lists. Via email I asked my certifier to list what specifically I need to obtain and then try and get my ignorant head around what everything means. “I have checked the conditions of the development permit that was issued by Brisbane City Council, you will need to have the following items/documents prepared to satisfy the condition of the approval, these items are not conditioned to be undertaken prior to me issuing the building approval but will need to be undertaken prior to the start of on-site works,” emails my patient certifier. This is how I work best. A background in human resources and currently as a writer means I naturally ask questions, when I don’t know what I’m talking about (which in this project has been often!) The reports were done in time and the building project has begun.

Packing up and moving

And then the joys of packing a house you’ve lived in for 15.5 years. How do we accumulate so much stuff!?  Because the build was brought forward, I had less time to de-clutter so in the end I moved more stuff than I thought as I ran out of time to deal with the extra. A few facebook friends were amused that despite my youngest is 12 years of age – I listed a porta cot and baby toys on a buy / swap / sell site.  It’s a case of you have the storage space – you store (in my situation!) The shipping container is actually the equivalent of a three bedroomed house.  And I was moving to a three bedroomed house. I calculated that must mean the container will not be filled – wrong!

The move was completed and I spent much of Easter filling my little Golf vehicle with all the excess stuff that didn’t make it into the removalist’s van!  I really don’t wish to ever move again – but my reality is when the house is ready – I’ll be moving baaack!  With less “stuff” I hope – as I’m trying to offload excess at this end!  Marie Kondo – de-clutter guru – applying her principle of what does not give me “joy” must go!  Easier said than done.

The partial demolition

It’s been four weeks now and the demo works that went on over the first two weeks was startling. Probably was always going to be the case when walls are smashed and removed. And of course my three boys wanted to be involved in the smashing of walls. (Just NOT the removal of it!) Fraser had much fun getting stuck into his walls!

Fraser the destructor

Destructor Fraser

The demo lads take a "V" breather

The real demo lads take a “V” breather

I would check on the demo lads progress at the end of each day. With sledgehammers, saws, drills and determination – they quickly removed much of my house. Skip bins were filled and emptied and re-filled, then emptied.

House profile before

House profile before

House profile after the back has been removed

House profile after the back has been removed

The skips came and went

The skips came and went

Recyclers – its best not to think about what went out of my house into fill somewhere – I saved what I could – but some things just disappeared.  I have a couple of neighbours keen on recycling and site visits would often include them updating me on what they have removed to “use” again down the track.  I’ve never conversed with my neighbours as much as I am now!

Its been a nervous few weeks. I decided to make an 11th hour bid to re-gain some of my city glimpses back by going up another half metre in height.  Watching the reno work on the house in front – I realised (a little late maybe) I should consider raising my house to the full height allowed under Council regulation (9.5metres.)  Great idea until my certifier pointed out my Development Application had only been approved to 9.0 metres.

City glimpses before

City glimpses before

Neighbours house raise meant bye to those city glimpses

Neighbours house raise meant bye to those city glimpses

One last minute approval

My certifier had to submit a siting variation application to Council to go up an extra half a metre.  We put the house raisers off and hoped to have approval by the time the date came round for them to start. Each day I was told “hopefully” tomorrow. Additional steel was ordered for the added height – punting on getting approval.

Last Friday the approval came through – 13 days after submission. Guess 13 was my lucky number!

This week the big event is due to begin: the house move and raise. Watch this space. I’ve left the builder with a few headaches which involves a few variations.  But nothing is really ever meant to be smooth sailing with renovations – is it?

More exciting times ahead.


Lest we forget

A war medal finds it way back to family

A story about Family / tragedy / intrigue / mystery and relevance for ANZAC day

Digging in his Tarragindi side garden, Mat Schliebs discovered a piece of metal. “Initially I thought it was part of a child’s toy or a piece of scrap metal,” said Mat. “It was buried almost 30cm deep.” He showed it to the rest of the family. They cleaned the dirt off and to their surprise discovered it was actually a war medal. Engraved on the back was an inscription: DS Parkinson service number QX13579.

The Pacific Star Medal (photo: courtesy Courier Mail)

The Pacific Star Medal (photo: courtesy Courier Mail)

Mat’s 8yo son Flynn suggested they should try and find a family relative of DS Parkinson and return the medal to them. “My mum and I looked up DS Parkinson’s family tree and information about him on WWII, which said he was captured by the Japanese and he died in prison during the war,” says Flynn. “ We cleaned and polished the medal and we wanted to find who it belonged to.”

Flynn emailed Brisbane’s Courier Mail newspaper to ask if they could help find the family of this soldier. This story was published on Thursday 7th April calling for any family or relatives to come forward.

The family connection

My mother phoned me on the afternoon of Thursday 7th April, to say she had a bit of news to share. A medal belonging to her Uncle Des had been found. Mum was excited and surprised. I couldn’t believe it either! She was having difficulty contacting the family, so I located the story on-line and contacted the journalist Trenton Akers who wrote the story for the Courier Mail. He co-ordinated contacting Megan Schliebs – Flynn’s mother. I let Megan know Des’ niece Nanette Johnston (my mother) – was still alive and co-incidentally lives in Tarragindi.

Des Parkinson his story

Desmond Stanley Parkinson was born on the 30th October 1910 in Woolloongabba (now Buranda) Brisbane. He was the youngest of four children, with one older sister Vera and two older brothers Frank and Arthur.

baby Des Parkinson

baby Des Parkinson

Des started primary school as a 6yo at the Dunellen Provisional School, which later became the Greenslopes State School.  In July 1925 Des attended the Church of England Grammar school (Churchie.) He represented Churchie in the A cricket team in 1927-28 and in rugby in 1927.

1927 - Churchie and the A Grade cricket team (Des 2nd from right front row)

1927 – Churchie and the A Grade cricket team

1927 Churchie first XIII (Des 1st from left front row)

1927 Churchie first thirteen

Leaving school at the age of 18, Des worked for the Queensland Trustees, until he enlisted in the Australian army in July 1940.  Corporal Des Parkinson was sent to Singapore in August 1941. He was immediately promoted to Sergeant and sent to Malaya where troops trained to fight against the Japanese.  The family received correspondence from Des during his time serving in Singapore.

Des Parkinson WWII ready for war

Des Parkinson WWII ready for war

But the Australian and British forces surrendered to Japan on the 15th February 1942 and all Commonwealth soldiers became Prisoners of War. This is when the correspondence from Des became erratic.

My mother has actively researched the history of the event surrounding Sandakan and Des’ fate as a prisoner of war. Over the years she read many books and has been involved with the Sandakan memorial foundation. The following information about her Uncle Des is sourced from her research.

Many of the prisoners of War were sent to Changi prison in Singapore, but due to overcrowding in this prison, large numbers were sent to Sandakan. On 7 July 1942, “B” Force, including Des sailed from Singapore on the Japanese ship “Yubi Maru” for Sandakan, Borneo, arriving at Sandakan 11 days later. In total, 2,750 prisoners of war comprised of the Australian 8th Division and remnants of various British units were moved to Sandakan. By September 1944, the numbers had fallen to 1767 Australian and 641 British.


POW Number 312.

As far as we know, Des remained at Sandakan until he was sent on the 1st Death March to Ranau. By the end of 1944 when allied forces were within striking distance of Sandakan the Japanese command ordered the prisoners be removed inland to Ranau, (256 kilometres) west. These became known as the “infamous” Death Marches.  In January 1945, 470 prisoners guarded by 500 Japanese were forced to march through almost impenetrable jungle along narrow tracks of mud, through swamps and over treacherous mountains. Many of the prisoners were suffering from advanced stages of diseases and malnutrition but were still forced to march through miles of some of the most difficult country in Borneo, terminating at Ranau on the foot of Mt Kinabalu.

The second march comprising 532 prisoners left Sandakan on 29 May 1945. 183 arrived at Ranau on 26 June to find only eight survivors from the first march. Of the 288 prisoners left at Sandakan, none survived to the end of the war. The Japanese said no prisoners should live to testify what had gone on in the years they were prisoners of war.  Sadly despite receiving official news of surrender, the remaining 33 surviving prisoners at Ranau were killed by the Japanese.

In a book written by Lynette Silver (Sandakan – A Conspiracy of Silence, published 1998) it is recorded Des reached Ranau but died a few days later on the 19th February 1945. He was buried at Ranau 1A. The cause of death recorded was malaria / acute enteritis. Of the 1,800 Australians sent to Sandakan, only six survived – because they escaped. In total, 2,428 Australian and British prisoners of war died on the Sandakan to Ranau Death Marches during World War II.

Sandakan camp

Sandakan camp

The family is notified

Des’ surviving sister Vera (my grandmother) was notified of Des’ death in October, 1945 – eight months after his actual death. They then had the unenviable task of telling Des’ mother he’d died. At the end of the WWII Ettie Parkinson had prepared Des’ room, cleaned his shoes, anticipating his return. According to my mother, she was devastated about Des’ death and never recovered from the terrible news. Ettie died a few months later, on 12th February, 1946 (aged 73 and a half.) It was said she died of a broken heart, caused by the news of Des’ death.

1922 Desmond and his mother Ettie Parkinson

1922 Desmond and his mother Ettie Parkinson

“I only knew Des for a few short years, as I was only nine years old when he left Australia, never to return, but I still have some vivid memories of him and happy times,” says Nanette. “He was my favourite Uncle, and he will remain in my memory forever.”


The War Medals

In 1951 the Australian Government posthumously awarded Des Parkinson four military medals. With the exception of the Australian War Medal, they were sent to the Queensland Trustees. The family has correspondence from the Central Army Records Office of this. From here there is no knowledge of where the medals were sent. Unfortunately due to a family rift which occurred when Des was serving his country overseas, there was no contact among Vera Lavis and her surviving older brothers Frank and Arthur Parkinson (who both went to war in WWI).  No one (on our side of the family) is really sure why the family divided but it was after their father, Frank Comer Parkinson died (13th April 1941.) My grandmother never cared to discuss the family division – asking her about it caused her grief.

My mother nor her brother Alan Lavis knows how Des’ Pacific Star medal ended up in the Tarragindi garden bed, until Liesl Harrold, filled in a vital missing piece. A third generation family historian with specialist skills in built heritage and statistical research, Liesl read the article in the Courier Mail and saw an opportunity to  test her genealogy skills to help in some way. “Having relatives of my own who served their country during the World Wars, I can appreciate how much a missing medal can mean to a family especially with ANZAC day being fairly close,” says Liesl.

Liesl’s research revealed the house once belonged to Errol Parkinson, the son of Arthur Harold Parkinson, one of Des’ older brothers. There is no information about how the medal came to be buried or whether there is only one.  Could there be more? Errol Parkinson passed away in 2010. It appears the Queensland Trustees may have passed the medal (s) to Arthur Parkinson and then to Errol. Without contact with any side of his family no one is sure.  But to be certain there are no further medals buried, we’re organising a metal detector to check the garden bed before it is filled in.

Medal Presentation

As a special tribute Megan Schliebs contacted Weller’s Hill Primary school’s principal John Webster to ask if the missing medal could be returned to my mother in their annual ANZAC ceremony. This took place in a moving ceremony on Friday April 22nd. My mother was presented with the medal by RAF Wing Commander Merilyn White with Ivy and Flynn from the Schliebs family.


Nanette Johnston and Wing Commander Merilyn White

Nanette Johnston and Wing Commander Merilyn White

Nanette Johnston and her brother Alan Lavis have never sighted any of Des’ war medals and are delighted one has been found. They’re grateful to the Schliebs family for retrieving such a treasure.  “To see and hold one of Uncle Des’ medals for the first time is very special,” said Nanette. “I’m very grateful to the Schliebs family and to the school for their involvement. This is a very special ANZAC ceremony.”  The generous way the Schliebs have handled this has touched all of our family – including my cousins and we can’t thank them enough for the special part they have played in this story.

The Schliebs family and mum

The Schliebs family and mum

Des Parkinson is my great Uncle. His is one story among millions. On ANZAC Day we remember – those who have fallen and have given their lives in the various wars over the years. So many family members are affected by war and the impact of loss continues to be felt many generations later.

Lest we forget.