Home' Aurora : Aurora November 2013 Contents The BBC documentary, Land of the
Northern Lights, tells the story of Joanna
Lumley's realisation of her long-held dream
to witness Aurora Borealis, the Northern
Lights. Lumley reveals the source of the
dream, a children's story about Ponny the
Penguin. "I suppose you always want what
you've never had and the Northern Lights
hung in my mind as something I thought
I would never see and yet, as I got older,
longed to see with all my heart."
Helen Russell of Largs also nurtured a
dream for most of her life, one no less dear
to her heart and at times, as elusive as
Lumley's northern hope. Her dream was
also inspired by an image in a book: "We
had a text book and I remember vividly a
picture of a man floating in the Dead Sea
with umbrella in one hand and a book
being read in the other. This gave birth to
my dream to travel to places very different
"It was really Josephite Sr Irenaeus, who
taught us at St Joseph's, Largs, who was
the instigator of the dream. She was a
brilliant teacher and she made everything
so interesting; you always wanted to know
more and she showed you how to extend
Central to Helen's dream was sailing the
Suez and Panama Canals, subject of
one of Sr Irenaeus'
this year, and some
55 years after the ori
inspiration, Helen rea
her life-long dream a
loved every minute of it, not
least because she had invested it with so
much hope; love actually.
Helen had also dreamed of being a doctor,
and while her Leaving Certificate results
allowed that, family circumstances and a
desire not to leave home, saw her take a
path back to the classroom after studying
at Newcastle Teachers' College.
For almost 25 years, Helen taught science
in local state schools. Early in her career,
she decided to enrol at the University
of Newcastle, part-time, to complete a
science degree. Nine years later, she
graduated, and she still says that "passing
Physics I" was a highlight. In addition to
the love of knowledge and the advent of
the Wyndham Scheme, she was motivated
by a colleague who told her, "A female
couldn't do a science degree part-time."
Teaching full-time and studying part-time
wasn't easy, but Helen was determined
and he was proven wrong.
Midway through her career, Helen was
invited to take a position at St Peter's
With a drea
in her heart
BY TRACEY EDSTEIN
Helen Russell and the long-awaited Panama Canal.
High School, Maitland, and remained in
diocesan schools until retirement. She
has many happy memories of teaching,
particularly the people she encountered.
"Being able to resolve difficulties with
students and work together afterwards
has always been important to me. I said to
students, 'Please remember Biology with a
smile in your heart' and I really meant that."
During these years, the dream of the
canals remained. Helen had developed a
strong interest in genealogy and was keen
to visit places significant in her family's
story -- Ireland, Germany and France. A
plan formed and in May, Helen sailed from
Sydney on the "Sea Princess", bound for
many ports, but notably the Suez and
She says simply, "It was just wonderful."
Rising at 3am so as not to miss anything,
and relying on the lights from a nearby
town, Helen relished the ship's progress
through the Panama Canal and marvelled
at the system of locks which makes it all
possible. With the Suez Canal, the land
on one side was totally green, while on
the other was just sand. "The difference
in vegetation in that short distance was
unbelievable, to see the effect of the
waters of the Nile." While sailing the canals
may not have been the childhood dream
of anyone else on board, there was great
interest among the passengers and Helen
was not disappointed.
There were of course other highlights. "In
Dublin I was able to walk down Rainsford
Street where my convict ancestor Judith
Cuffe had lived. My grandfather had
fought in the Somme in France in the First
World War; fortunately he came back, but
a great-uncle died there, so seeing the
battlefields was a great thing, and I'd like to
return to see more."
I'm sure Helen would concur with Joanna
Lumley's sentiment: "The canals hung in
my mind as something I thought I would
never see and yet, as I got older, longed to
see with all my heart."
www.mn.catholic.org.au Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
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