Mad Woman Rocking

Hidden Treasure

It has been a long journey to get here. A long journey to find this hidden treasure. 

I have had a love affair with writing, for as long as I can remember. The first poem I ever wrote was on an ordinary day, out the farm while Mum and Dad milked the cows, scribbled on a spew bag that I then hid under the seat of the car. It was after my great-grandmother, Nanna Brown died. Today is her birthday, she’d be 109. I think I was around 8 or 9 when I wrote this first poem. My Mum found it, this hidden treasure, she flattened it out and helped fix all the spelling mistakes and it was printed on the booklet at the funeral. My writing came from that place of sadness, from grappling with death and guilt.  Mad Woman Rocking was written from that same place. Throughout my life, I have always journaled and written poetry that I’d store in boxes. Hidden away. Hidden treasure. Hidden away, just for me, no one else needing to see it. 

When I was 13, I broke my leg. This was also the time when I found the first book, I ever loved, The Outsiders read to us in class by Mr Crees. He taught me two important lessons about writing. One was that Shakespeare couldn’t spell, so it’s not that important and the other was that words are a writer’s tools, to be a good writer, you need to know as many words as you can. This was the time that I began to read, to read a lot and I began to learn as many words as I could. I filled books with words I studied. Seeking hidden treasure in everything I read or heard. 

I had to endure a lot at a young age. It has been both a blessing and a curse. Throughout the times of trauma in my life I would always write. Boxes of paper, stored away, for maybe one day. There was tragedy I had to endure with the death of my best friend Stacey, then my boyfriend Kalon and my housemate Couttie. I was changed forever. On this journey, there was addiction, mental illness, hospitalisation, medication, therapy, university and teaching. There was travel, marriage, cars and a house. I found God and a school. A tough journey, seeking hidden treasure. 

The writing of this book felt at times like something out of my control. The universe conspired and I had no choice but to go to that place, that place deep inside, where the hidden treasure resides and simply write.  

In 2016, I gave birth to my son, Beau. Like death, birth changes you forever. I had never faced a greater challenge. I had never experienced a love or fear of such intensity before. I suffered post-natal depression. I remember an ordinary day, in the study of my house in Melbourne, I was in a dressing gown, sleep deprived, crying and at breaking point. Looking at my son, the most beautiful, precious thing, I’d ever seen; whilst simultaneously questioning my life. I took a box of writing from out of the cupboard and I searched. Reading poetry, letters and journals. I searched for the hidden treasure. I was thinking. How did I get here? I have everything I have ever wanted, a house, career, marriage and a perfect son. Why am I so unhappy? Where do I go from here? I continued on this journey. Seeking answers. Seeking hidden treasure. 

I battled crippling depression and anxiety for the first twelve months of Beau’s life. During this time, I was sober and I began reading. Reading a lot and I returned to studying words. Collecting, writing, seeking. One ordinary day, under the shade of the silver birch tree in our back yard in Melbourne, while Beau played in the sand pit, a clumsy, active toddler. I read my friend Gina’s copy of Big Magic. I felt my life changing. This burning desire. To create. To write. I started to think, maybe this will be where the treasure is hidden. 

In 2017, when Beau was one year old, my grandmother, Ger died. This shattered our lives in many different ways. For two years we embarked on a quest to buy the farm. The farm that had been in our family for now, 7 generations. My dad, had inherited one eighth and he needed to buy the rest from his siblings. At this time, I was listening to podcasts and I heard about The Alchemist. While visiting Gina, I saw it on her book shelf, sitting there waiting for me. I borrowed it and read it. A story about a boy, on a journey seeking hidden treasure. More answers were revealing themselves. I bought a copy and sent it to my dad, which he read. We started to believe in the power of dreams and a destiny. 

One ordinary day, I was walking through an Op Shop in Cranbourne. Sitting on a shelf, as though placed there just for me, was a book. I read the title from a distance, it said Towong Hill. As I got closer, I realised it was the place I knew by our acclaimed local author, Elyne Mitchell. I bought it for two dollars and went on my way. I loved this book. It was about a place that I knew and loved. The same mountains I admired. The same valleys I grew up in. It was about a strong woman I admired, reflecting on her life and her journey. As I read it, I constantly thought about Ger and the farm. The grandmother I had lost. The farm I wasn’t sure we could keep. This all coalesced. The universe conspired. Birth, death, sadness, inspiration and fear. I wrote a short story. I shared it with Gina and she asked to know more. Then I wrote another chapter. Then another season. Then I wrote the manuscript. I found this love affair with words, with writing again. Sitting up late into the night, up early in the morning, while Beau and my husband were sleeping. A secret love affair. Something just for me. A hidden treasure. 

As I was writing, I was discovering a desire for a new life. A new path. A new journey. I dreamt of a home on the mountain. A cabin, solar power and a big water tank. In 2018, when Beau was two years old, I left my marriage, my house and my job and we moved home. While in my old bedroom, painted with words, poetry and art, looking at pictures from my youth, I edited and proof read and drafted this manuscript. I kept it hidden away. My own hidden treasure. 

Then I decided to share the story with a few friends and family. My two soul sisters, Gina and Em, read early drafts, giving me courage to continue. Helping me dare to dream that my story was worth developing and sharing. Then my sister, Emily read it, loved it and pointed out, like only a sister probably can, gaps that I needed to fill. I did another edit, another draft. I sent it off into the universe. As you’d expect, I received many rejections. I was seeking that hidden treasure, many times I thought I would never find it. 

Then one ordinary day, as I was on the mountain, on the farm that my dad now owns, admiring my solar powered cabin, sitting next to my big water tank, enjoying the sunshine, content, I opened up my emails. There it was, the hidden treasure, I had been searching for, on this long journey. An email from Natasha Gilmore, at the kind press. It was an offer to publish my book. 

Now I am embarking on a new journey. A journey to take this hidden treasure and share it with the world. My love affair, no longer secret.  

The further I trek on this publishing journey the more I realize the value of the treasure I already had. The feel of wet grass on my feet, the beauty of a sunset and the warm embrace from my sweet boy with sparkling eyes and golden curls. I am filled with an abundance of gratitude. 

Mad Woman Rocking now has wings. I feel both fear and inspiration. Fear that people won’t like it. But also, a secret hope. A desire for my words to make you feel. Make you imagine, laugh even cry. I dare to dream that my book, my story, can be loved like the books and stories that I have loved. That my words could give hope, and maybe even inspire you to dare to dream. To write your own story, buy a farm, climb a mountain, fulfil your heart’s desire. 

I wish for us all, to find our hidden treasure.  

By Farrah B. Mandala

I am Farrah B. Mandala, the author of Mad Woman Rocking. I live in an off-grid, eco cabin in the Australian bush, on my family’s dairy farm at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. I am an English Teacher and live with my 5 year old son.

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