Author Archives: Laina Earl

About Laina Earl

Freelance Journalist for Midweek and Regional Messenger, amateur Photographer, Outdoor enthusiast, wife and mother of 3!

The Tradesman

The closest I’ve come to working in a coal mine is helping my mother sort tweezers and mines rescue props in her nurses station, climb all over the giant mining equipment, probably sat the lap of a few operators and helped drive a haul truck or a drag line, and planted trees on the reclaim. This was all as a child of course. Sitting on operators laps would certainly be frowned upon these days.

But though I have no personal experience, people I love, men that I love, do.

And through these men, and women, I’ve come to know the value of a good Tradesman.

Back in the old days, an apprenticeship was a golden ticket.

It was the aspiration of every young man in town. And it wasn’t about money. It was about experience, & learning.

Thrown in the deep end like a kid starting pre-school. Uniform too big. Helmet looking all wobbly on your teenage head. Getting tsk-ed at by 4th years, and given the shit jobs by supervisors & formen.

Having your locker glued shut, or stuffed with snakes or feral cats (happened), and just generally having the piss taken out of you on a regular basis.

The first stages of apprenticeships are tough.

But then, out of the coal dusty distance appears your Tradesman.

Tradesmen of yesterday were something else.

They start out a regular tradey for sure, teaching you everything you need to know. Letting you make mistakes to learn, & having your back when the shit went down.

Then next thing you know, they morph into a Tradesfriend.

You meet up with them for beers, most likely rums, most likely in jam jars.

Your learning from them at work, and getting to know them in town.

Tradesfriend becomes Tradesmate.

Your going for BBQ’s at their house, and playing golf with the Snakes.

You know their kids well enough to get a hug when you go round, & he and his wife know the full ins & outs of your social & love life. And tease you like only mates can.

Learning still, at work & play.

Tradesmate become a Tradesfather.

His family are your family, and his wife is giving you and your scared to death girlfriend life advice on starting your family.

Tradesfather is there to help wet your new babies head, and his wife there to take care of your drunken arse, and let your girlfriend know how & where you are.

His babies are taking turns carrying around your baby.

Still teaching you everything at work.

Your Tradesman, turned Tradesfriend, Tradesmate & Tradesfather, probably has no idea, that he is teaching you so very much about life.

The apprenticeship is eventually over.

Work comrades are now forever family.

You change jobs & move towns, move on, but never lose touch.

Every day on the job, you use tricks & skills he taught you, try to be a Tradey like him, to have the kind of influence he had.

Every day at home you aspire to be the type of man he is.

You and your wife fully acknowledge, and often toast to the fact that your Tradey, and his family have very much shaped your lives as they are today.

Now that’s a Tradesman.

That’s Karl.

Karl, I wish that I had let you know just how much of an influence you have been on our lives. You were an amazing Tradey for Dan, turned into an amazing mate. I know we wouldn’t be here today without you. You gave Dan the foot in the door needed for his first permanent gig. And you as a person, were someone we both looked up to so much.

You were like a Dad when I needed one, always so free with support and love.

And your family is what I have always aspired for our family to be like. Our kids have a lot to thank you for.

I know you know we love you.

I just wish we’d told you thank you.


It’s gunna be ok!

Wholey, Moley!

What a day!

Yesterday we hung out at the Rocks. Again!

Had beers a random historically significant bars. Again!

Then mosied our way along Darling Harbour Wharf, drinking beers, watching city people, attempting to eat a share plate (our first actual dinner) & making ourselves ridiculously full, and generally enjoying the city & each other’s company!

Oh yeah, & I did a NUDE SWIM!


Over 1500 swimmers, in 14 waves.

Since I started Open Water swimming, (after reading a Women’s Health magazine with an OW feature in 2012), I’ve researched all the different swims in Qld, AUS & abroad.

I’ve seen the nude swims pop up and give. It thought, then dismiss it just as quick.

Until a few years ago.

I started to think. Why not?

Swimming is not the issue, as I know I can do that. But the nakedness.

There lies the issue.

I hate nude.

I dodge the mirror for god’s sake, & only the quickest of glances will catch me in togs.

But as my girls grew older, & I grew wiser, I realised that this was not only something I could do, but something I had to do.

And how was it?

It was great!

It was a very supportive crowd and atmosphere, and the range of people was as diverse as Sydney itself.

No surprise that there was a bit of a trek down a steep trail to get to the beach. Always climbing and descending in Sydney!

You could catch glimpses of the harbour, the gorgeous water, and the swimmers heading around the buoys, from breaks in the trees.

But even cooler was the little signs hanging on branches along the way. “Growing older is a privilege, not an expectation”, “I am perfection”, “flabulous” etc.

It was nice seeing groups of friends excitedly chatting and giggling.

They ran through a little induction just before the beach, and then it’s past the first aid & music tent, and your there!

I had imagined a bit more of a private affair for the women’s only wave, however the beach was strewn with naked bodies of all sorts, catching some sun and catching up with friends after their waves.

I’ll admit I did hang out till late to disrobe, making a little small talk and spraying some suncream on another ladies behind.

Then it was time.

You’d be surprised the amount of comfort one can garner from a pair of goggles.

“I’ve got my goggles, got my goggles, I’m fine, everything’s fine. Oh my gosh except I’m nude!! No your not, you’ve got your goggles!”

Running into the cold Sydney water was exhilarating.

Scrambling over rocks and trying desperately not to touch anyone was slightly stressful, however once out deeper it was beautiful.

I don’t even remember the water temperature of the other 2 swims.

I did put it in for the 1st wave, and for the Sprint, the last big lap though, the Party, all in wave, I just cruised.

Looked to the left at the harbour and the hundreds of sail boats, looked to the right at the rock faces and national park. (You don’t really want descriptions of what I seen under the water)

I eat my hat at my Sydney ocean assumptions. Seems Nemo stretches the truth a bit. The water was a beautiful turquoise green, with great visibility. Though I only seen 1 fish, right at the beach.

But I was more distracted trying to make sure I got a sarong ASAP!

I’ve never been more nervous about the end of a swim!

But standing around on the beach, between waves, and looking around, it was all just people. There was nothing scandalous, nothing obscene. Just people.

I envy the confidence of those just happily strolling about, or tanning, or wading in the shallows. I was so awkward out the water.

I guess I’m more mermaid than I thought!

Dan has that confidence though. (Might have nearly talked him into doing the swim next year!)

He can walk in anywhere like he belongs.

I just can’t. I can fake it. But I don’t feel it.

And I’d love to say that this swim has changed me! I’m no longer anxious or awkward! I adore my body and I’m going to strut from here on out.

But that’s not true.

What this has done, is to reaffirm for me the fact that courage trumps all.

It’s just a cold, hard fact, that I am able to put anything aside, any insecurities, and negativity, any self or outside criticism or doubt, and just do it.

I hope I’m the little nude tattooed angel on the shoulder of my girls. That when they lack confidence in anything, in any area of life, that little angel with the skewed halo can give them a flick on the ear and say “hey, what are you thinking! Don’t you ever forget that your prude of a mother got nude in Sydney, with 1500 strangers. Scared to death and feeling more vulnerable than you can imagine. And she gave it all she had. If she can do that, then you, my princess, can do absolutely anything”.

I hope that in life, they can always draw on their fathers confidence and inappropriate humour, you’ve never seen anyone giggle as hard as when the announcer at the swim called out that sausage sandwiches were available at the bbq, and on my courage.

I’d call our Sydney honeymoon a success.

I know we’ll always have things to talk about when we’re old.

I keep dreaming up crazy adventures, and he keeps backing me.

How can we ever go wrong!

Sydney, the naked truth.

My name is Alaina, and I’m a bit of a prude.

I was raised a prude, odd as that is, given my mother is a nurse. You’d think we would have been throwing around anatomically correct terminology like confetti.

Middle sister used to baby sit the local Drs gorgeous little boys, and they had zero qualms about telling you that you were a girl therefore you had a vagina. They would also find creative ways to slip these terms into any circumstance. ABCDEFG, HIJK, LMNO Peniiiissssss! I’ve never been able to sing the alphabet without thinking of these kids!

Not so for us. I recall perhaps a brief talk on periods, but everything else about the birds & the bees I learnt from mates, or was told by a giraffe, in a darkened, blessedly air conditioned van, with really comfy carpet and stars on the roof!(Anyone other than a qld kid will find that really weird!)

I spent our school sex Ed classes drawing up incredibly detailed cartoons featuring a yin yang styled egg, pretty bow and long lashes, and a handsome sperm, top hat, usually carrying flowers, and their progression from dating, to marriage. Boating down the birth canal, hand & hand in love.

Yeah. I was that kid.

I’ve talked about the horror of stumbling upon a nudist beach as a kid, and the relief of birthing girls so I didn’t have to deal with bits that I had no idea of!

So I’m a prude, who, as most have, has struggled with self image, and also suffers social anxiety.

What does all this have in common you ask?

Well, what would be the very last thing on earth, that you would expect a prude, with body hang ups, and a fear of people to do for fun?

If your answer was the Sydney Skinny, a mass skinny dip in one of Australia’s largest cities, then you would be correct.

I’ll let you climb back on your chair Mum.


Mouth closed?


This is why Dan & I have come to Sydney. And was a secret only the girls and us knew. It’s for an awesome cause, the Charlie Theo foundation, and Mumma I know your proud of that part! So much so that she has been telling everyone that’s where I’m going, not realizing the naked truth of the swim! She almost had it announced at a women’s lunch! “No no no, I don’t need to tell anyone mum” aka, I DO NOT want anyone googling this swim and revealing my secret!

It’s not that I’m ashamed, quite the opposite, my inner prude just could not field the questions.

So yes, that’s today’s agenda! An 900m ocean swim, followed by another 900m ocean swim, then a 50m ocean swim-sprint.

All with no kit, and no inhibitions, and hundreds of people.

I am nervous as heck!

Terrified, and doing it anyway.

Because I am courageous, and I want to plant courageousness so deeply in my girls, that they will never, ever let insecurity stop them from doing something amazing.

Courage is being afraid, but doing it anyway.

I’ll report back this evening.

Here goes nothing!!!!

Hope your still proud Mumma!!

Stairs, stairs, stairs

Sydney town.

City of stairs. And fruity craft beer. And inconvenient opening hours. And a night life that makes my little country eyes go wide with a mix of fear and amazement.

But home of the Rocks, so I love you!

I wish we had of brought pedometers on this trip! And joggers, but hey, lessons learned.

Another big day on foot, leaving us both feeling like 80 year old tourists. Cranky at young people, slow walking, bearing pain in legs & feet, from traipsing cobbled paths, totally over the day & ordering in.

It’s a funny old place here. We were up early and headed down to Circular Quay (just try saying that without James Reyne signing it, I dare you), hoping for 5 minutes of fame and breakfast on the way. But like a zombie film, there were next to no people anywhere! No cafes open. Nothing!

What the heck?

Undeterred we trudged on, and I am very happy to report that Dan managed to get himself on Sunrise morning news, for about 10 seconds!

I text the kids to be sure they were watching, and had a reply an hour later. So the sleepy monkeys missed it, but we’ve had reports that others seen him!

Hehe, awesome!

The city finally buzzed to life around 9, and we breakfasted at Circular Quay (James Reyne), watching yet another cruise ship!

We trekked over to the beautiful Opera House, climbing the stairs where Hugh Jackman once fell off a zip line, and accidentally bombed hundreds of Asian tourists holiday snaps.

Back to the Rocks to explore it in daylight, and visit the Museum before meeting up with a long lost Capella High friend and her beautiful family!

Off to Darling Harbour then, a few pub stops, and over to the Australian Tattoo Convention.


So many people!

Stalls were awesome, and it was really very cool!

The hum of tattoo guns, smell of disinfectant and tattoo after care filled the hall, and tempting as it was, we didn’t get anything.

But stacks of people were!

Blank canvases everywhere! From arms, to calves, to full bodies! People were baring all for a fresh tat!

We late lunches at Hard Rock Cafe, and next thing the afternoon had sucked away and we high tailed it across the Harbour to the Lyric Theatre!

Yes! Our first ever big theatre experience!

And it was freakin awesome! If you ever get the chance to see The Book of Mormon, please do so!

G2 &G3 you would have been horrified with my laughing out loudness! Having said that, there’s no way I would let you watch it!

Not sure if Dan enjoyed it as much as I did, or was just happy to sit down for a few hours!

Anyway, we’re back home, plotting tomorrow and eating pizza, as all the restaurants we’d earmarked for for dinner, morphed into night clubs while we were being theatre snobs!

Who knows what will tomorrow bring? I’m guessing stairs.

Ghosts of Sydney Town!

P1. Such a funny feeling coming into a city. Particularly a big city. Like Sydney.

Anxiety is twisting in my chest like an slimy eel caught on a fishing line.

It’ll settle no doubt, once we’re at our accommodation and organised. But now, in a taxi, as the anxiety eel contorts back over itself in an endless struggle, I’m reminded that my roots are firmly planted in country soil.

Despite all this, I still love the city.

A lover of all things shiny and twinkly, city nights are really something else!

And the non stop activity is captivating!

When we were kids we would holiday on the NSW North Coast every Christmas, camping at the quiet sleepy riverside town of Pottsville.

We’d go into Surfers Paradise to shop and gawp at the city madness!

The tolls were a nightmare, and there would be a guaranteed argument between driver and passengers, but it was magic!

The utter highlight was the bridges, and changing signs!

You know the ones!

Like vertical Venetian blinds!

One minute they’re advertising coke, next thing (if your lucky enough, and the traffic is slow enough) you see it magically change to a Jupiters casino ad!


Told you, magic

The good old days.

Now cities change way faster than magic signs. But the traffic is just as slow!

P2. Parked up at our apartment, happy, blistered feet, Dan on the “balcony”, the sounds of the city (Friday night mind you) blaring through the open door!

Anxiety eel is long gone, and I officially love the rocks.

G1, G2, G3, you’re probably glad your not here because I would have been at my best “my god just look at that wall! Look at it! Look at that arch way! Touch that brick! Do you comprehend the history behind that brick” etc, etc.

the history is so freakin amazing!

The people are stupidly busy, pushy and terrifying, and the stairs and hills are doing my knees no favours, but the history! Sigh!

I love it!!

We had a small wander about after arriving, then headed to the Rocks for an impromptu pub crawl while awaited our ghost tour.

Very pleased to have thrown a few back in Sydney’s oldest pub (4x golds too mind you)! Then sat and ogled the Queen Mary 2 before teaming up with our Rocks Ghost host James, and 21 other tourists!

We spent 2 hours exploring the Rocks, entering buildings off limits to mere mortals, and hearing sad tales of convicts, murders, heartbreak, cruelty and a bizarre tale of a self dismembered penis.

Just as weird as it sounds.

It was a super cool tour! And I look forward to wandering back to a few places in daylight as they’re just so beautiful!

We rounded off the evening with a few more beers at a few more Rocks pubs, and pizza, and now, after being reassured all is well at home, are plotting Saturday’s Sydney agenda!

Note to self- wear sensible shoes from here on out.

The winner is…

Years ago, when the girls were little, Dan and I would get away, pretty much yearly, for a weekend together, just the 2 of us. It would usually coincide with a tattoo appointment for myself, but was also a chance to see shiny city lights, eat food I hadn’t had to shop for & prepare, and to ensure that we could happily hang out together as a couple, and not just as parents. You know, for when the kids are grown and gone, and we’re sitting on the porch, clearing our throats and talking about the weather.

“How bout that rain.”


“Sure is wet”

*more crickets*

Well the trips were mostly about tattoos.

But the other stuff was cool too!

Now it’s been a good few years since we’ve done that.

I found a tattooist I love only 2 hours drive away, and life’s just been far too busy for honeymoons away.

Until now!

Tomorrow, we fly to….Sydney!

I hope that was read in the Olympic announcement style.

Yes, Sydney!

Aside from an afternoon during a barefoot nationals, many, many moons ago, and 2 hour stints at the airport to-ing & fro-ing over seas, I’ve never been!

I am super dooper excited!

I have such a huge list of personal “Must See’s”, but sadly not the funds to back it, nor the time to do it all.

So I’ve summarised & culled, and have compromised with Dan down to an affordable, achievable list!

I’ll let y’all live it through me as we go, but must say I’m super looking forward to seeing G1’s namesake, the Rocks!!

What I’m not looking forward to is leaving G1 home in charge of G2 & G3.

As my mum has told me “oh for gods sake Alaina, I was out working and left home at G2’s age”. “After spending the winters riding a pony through the driving snow, over treacherous mountain ranges to a school we had to build ourselves with slate and chisels, whilst fending off bears and wolves”. Well maybe not that last part. Jokes Mumma!

Anyway, anyone who has teenage daughters can absolutely relate to my fears, mostly involving returning home to find someone wore someones shirt and consequently had an eyeball scratched out, or someone walked in someone’s room uninvited and ended up with their head shaved while they slept.

Think I’m exaggerating?

It was not that long ago there was a full on punch up over a hair straightener. It was insane.

And a windex spray to the face followed by a broom bashing over a bitchy face pull.

And just a few days ago a stomach punch after someone drank the cold water from someone else’s water bottle.

It’s like the arrow spins and lands on someone new each day.

The antagonist and the peace keeper. The irritated and the irritator. You just never know who’ll be who! Or what teeny insignificant thing will be the catalyst to disaster!

Girls can be meanies! Unpredictable meanies!

And petty.

Petty. As. Heck.

So yeah. I’m concerned.

But I know they’ll be fine.

They will be.

Won’t they?

They have to be.

Besides, it will nice to have them see just what I do round here darn it.

G1 has promised to be patient, and not to buy takeaway for them every meal, and G2 has promised to let G1 be the boss. G3, I have half hearted promises, so I guess we’ll see.

I’ve hidden all the windex just in case.

They’ll be fine!

To Sydney!!!!!

The sarong and the revelation

We have 2 budgies. Petrie and Pew.

Names you may recognise from such 80’s classics as, “The land before time”, and “Footrot Flats”.

Awesome movies!

They’re lovely little things, though they’ll avoid contact with us at all costs, and they’re budgie chatter makes for a beautiful background noise at home, and at the hut, and camping, and in the car. 


But they can get sooooooo loud.

So, so loud.

Just ask Dan.

Our secret weapon for when the “crazy” chatter is on top volume, is a sarong.

Just pop that bad boy over the cage with a “shhhhhh, its night time”, and you’re met with blessed silence.

It works.

Every time.

I recently had a bit of a revelation about the sarong, and the revelation was that I have one too! A metaphorical one. For when the chatter in my head becomes too relentless.

This came on the back of a far bigger revelation, the revelation that I was grieving.

With the recent death of a friend, I found myself really struggling. Like all the great poets and musicians have written about forever, it was like a great heavy cloud had gathered over me, on me, and I could not shake the sadness.

This in turn made me sadder, and annoyed at myself that I couldn’t lift out of this fog. What on earth was wrong with me?

Then one little message from a friend threw my lightbulb on. I mentioned that I was feeling pretty rubbish, and she said something to the effect of “Well that’s what happens when we grieve I guess”.


This statement blew my mind!

I was grieving!

I know that this sounds ridiculous, of course I was. But for me, for the last 37 years, I had always associated grieving exclusively with the loss of a family member. Grieving is what happens when a parent dies, grieving is what happens when a sibling dies, grieving is what happens when a grandparent dies.

How foolish was I, to not realise, that grieving is simply what happens when someone, anyone you care about, dies, or even goes away?

This shines a great light on my broken heart from the passing of friends, and even the farewelling of pets.

Grief isn’t exclusive.

You can grieve a person, a pet, a place, a thing, a time.

Who knew!

I felt like Oprah, throwing confetti into the abyss of my brain yelling, you get to grieve, you get to grieve, you all get to grieve!!!

I regained my focus and worked through my sadness in the only way I know how. 

I swam, I painted, I listened to music and I rationalised with myself.

Like my beautiful budgies, my head can get pretty noisy sometimes. While most times this is very helpful, sometimes it’s heavy with sadness. 


And so my second realisation, was that I have an inner sarong! 

I can quiet those bad days, those sad days, by throwing my metaphorical weaving of all the things that I love, over the top! “Shhhhh, it’s night time.”

Swimming, spinning, walking with my girls and playing with my pups, skiing. 

Staring at the sky, clouds and stars alike.

Reading, getting back to one of the 10 odd books that I started and then got too busy for.

Painting, ahhh, getting that image from my head to paper then to canvas. Getting lost in acrylic paints and imagination.

Music. No explanation necessary.

Hugging. An instant fix. And my crew are great huggers.

My mind still chatters, I still think. 

During all these activities I think, but I’m rational, and kind, and wise in these spaces.

I cannot tell you the problems I’ve worked through and overcome, the ideas I’ve sprung, while swimming up and down our town pool. 

And I don’t know if this is just me. 

I think some people probably don’t have loud heads! So they don’t need a sarong.

Some people have terribly loud heads, but no sarong.

Some people haven’t found their sarong.

Some people don’t think they need a sarong.

But it’s so valuable to have.

Trust me. 

I now know I have one, I’ve always had one.

And it works. 

Every time.

“Shhhhhhh, its night time.”