Looking into the blue

The water is lapping away underneath your chin and sometimes the wake from the nearby boat causes it to wash over your face. But you have a buoyancy suit on, so you know you won’t sink. Its beautiful in. The waters of Lake Mulwala have been kissed by the sun’s heat which vacuums up any humidity in the air. It’s so hot that even the flies seem to be taking a breather. A hawk is gliding across the big blue; searching for breakfast. Perhaps a hapless field mouse or a rogue rabbit that is late home from its night’s work. The magnificence of this country is that it encourages one to look up. We don’t do enough of that anymore. When we look up we see endless possibility.


Your feet are inserted into rubber bindings that attach to two planks of wood. They are heavy and awkward, especially in the topsy turvy water. They are impossible to control.


“Keep your skis steady Kate!” is the instruction coming from the boat. But that’s like asking a shark to stop swimming. You’ve received lots of instructions: keep your knees bent and your arms straight. Don’t look down at your feet when the boat pulls you out of the water. Lean back slightly, don’t bend forward. Relax. Let the boat do all the work, don’t fight it. Oh, and keep your arms straight.


“Go!” you yell from the water. The boat bursts forward, the rope pulls on your arms. You bend your arms and straighten your legs. You look down and not up. You lean forward and face plant into the rushing water. The skis fall off. Start again. You’ve been at this for over 40 minutes and the strain is starting to tell in your tiring arms. But you SO want to be able to ski. Imagine what your friends would think!


“One more try please,” you say to the boat driver as the it comes around to deliver the ski rope again.


“No worries,” says Darren. He is a man of infinite patience. One more, you say to yourself.


Over the last few days you’ve been watching everyone ski from the banks of the lake. It looks so much fun. Clare whizzes along behind the boat on one ski, swishing from side to side, carving the water into giant dove tails of spray as she cuts the angles and pulls on the rope to build momentum. Its graceful and beautiful and effortless. Mum does the same. She skis so well that she hardly gets her hair wet. There is balance and strength and poise. And other kids are so good at it too. Why can’t you do it?


Mum and Dad have always been a bit apprehensive about you skiing. Firstly, they worry about your ears. After about 12 months of visits to Dr Briggs and surgery on your ear drum they think skiing is a bit crazy. Then there are the usual issues with your back and knees and neck. People with Down Syndrome are susceptible to loose ligaments and weak bone joints. A big stack at speed behind a boat is probably not a great idea. But you really want to have a go so they let you, albeit with about 400 instructions and non-spoken “be carefuls”. Your ears are plugged up like a Christmas turkey, a cap is put on your head. Prayers are muttered. All systems go.


Dad helps you in the water at the start. He shows you how to put the skis on whilst floating in an almost weightless environment. You struggle to slip you feet into the bindings. You fall sideways and get a mouthful of water. Yuck! Then you tumble the other way. Yuck again! The skis won’t stay upright and straight. You bob about in the water and the skis wobble from this side to that. Dad holds you by the back of the buoyancy suit as the rope pulls taut and the boat gently drags you through the water.


“Keep your arms straight Katie girl,” he whispers in your ear.


Mum and Clare are in the boat. They will be the instructors and the motivators. Mum knows how to do this. And Clare? Well she is your big sister and just knows what makes you tick.


“Go!” you yell and the boat surges into life. You leave Dad behind bouncing in your wake as the water rushes into your face and the skis refuse to cooperate. Instead of staying straight they splay. You’re up and out of the water. Wow! Then you’re not. Crash! Who said this was easy? All that effort and you’ve only travelled about 15 metres. But that was attempt number one, 40 minutes ago.


You’ve made progress since then, but maybe this is just beyond you. Too many things to think about. Arms, legs, head position, skis straight. Way too hard. You think of all the things that could go wrong. The water is colder out here in the deep. The dead trees that populate the lake circle you like menacing soldiers protecting their turf. They’re grey and lifeless and a bit spooky. The wash of the boat topples you over as it passes you for another go. More water up the nose. You find the bindings with your feet under the murky surface and slip your feet in. The skis are really heavy now, like bricks dangling off the end of your toes.


“You can do it Katie!” yells Clare.


“Come on Katie girl!” yells Mum.


Darren putts the boat around behind you. He is an old hand at this. He has an idea.


“Kate,” he says, “forget about all the instructions, just think of one thing.”


“What?” you ask.


“Just keep your arms straight. That’s all. Just that one thing.”


There is a commotion in the sky. Birds take flight. You look up. It is endless up there. The big blue is a friendly place. Like a huge smiley face. Cool against the sun’s harsh yellow.


“Go!” you yell.


And this is what happens…………..





About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. What a beautiful summer story (and image) to start my day and week with. Go Kate!

    As a relative newcomer to Almanac (thanks to Tess and John,) I’m now a huge fan who wises I had more time to spend with the many wonderful posts.

    Well done to all and keep up the great work.

  2. Jennifer Muirden says

    Oh Dips, what a truly beautiful piece! I have tears in my eyes having just watched the punchline video of your beautiful daughter Kate successfully navigating her way through the waters of Lake Mulwala. No doubt you, your wife and Clare are all immensely proud of Katie’s triumphant time during your recent family holiday. Moreover, I’m sure Kate is pleased as punch and has been telling all her friends about the day that she learned to stop overthinking everything and simply kept her arms straight. Bravo Kate…you are a star in my books!!!

    Dips, this is a very powerful piece and has moved me very deeply. Kate and Clare are so very fortunate to have such an engaged, encouraging and ever present father.

    Finally, I totally resonated with the potent last three sentences of the first paragraph, “The magnificence of this country is that it encourages one to look up. We don’t do enough of that anymore. When we look up we see endless possibility.” Never have truer words been spoken.

    You are an exceptionally eloquent writer, Dips. I very much look forward to hearing more stories about Kate down the track.

  3. Beautifully told Dips and loved the video. What an accomplishment for Kate, she must have been so happy after that fantastic effort. I’ve always wanted to have a go at water skiing myself but have not had the opportunity.

  4. Magnificently told, old mucker.
    What a superb effort by Katie. Patience personified!
    And well played, the O’Donnell family.

    Reading this was a great way to start off the week!

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Dips absolutely superb as always,Kate’s adventures and stories are a true almanac highlight lots of hidden messages in this article as well.LOVE the vision go,Kate !

  6. Thanks for the comments. Appreciate it.

    Kate is really starting to build up a fair portfolio of adventures. She is a very interesting character. Water skiing is quite difficult at the best of times. And the best part is she got out unscathed! But we can’t and won’t ever wrap her in cotton wool. No doubt she’ll want another crack when we get back to Yarrawonga again.

  7. Neil Anderson says

    Wow! What a kid! What a back-up family team to make it all happen. Go Team-Kate!

  8. Yvette Wroby says

    Love this family O’Donnell. Well done all.

  9. Well done all. What a great day on the water.

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Well done Kate! Beautifully written Dips.

  11. Mark Duffett says

    The water in my eyes must have been from some stray spray. Nice one.

  12. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Wonderful Dips and bravo Kate!
    I love that you can’t and won’t wrap Kate in cotton wool (despite every cell of love possibly making you want to …)
    I love that you look up.
    I love that Darren boiled it down to one thing.
    Have you read Anne Lamott’s book on writing and instructions for life? It’s called … Bird by Bird?
    Thanks for sharing these tales Dips. xx

  13. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Marvellous you O’Donnells, bloody marvellous.

    I have to ask, did Kate go back for even more?

  14. I tried water skiing with mates for 40 minutes on the River Murray at Renmark 40 years ago.
    Kate 1; PB 0.
    I’m glad there weren’t video cams in the 70’s.
    Marvellous that…….

  15. Mathilde – I have heard of that book. Haven’t read it. So will look it up. Thanks.

    PB my ski learning classes (which occurred some years ago now) were the Funniest Home Videos. I spent a lot of time face planting.

    Swish – we didn’t get the right water for her to have another go this time around. But we’ll be back in March and I’m sure she’ll want another go. But after skiing attempts she did go on the knee board a few times. She loves that too. Its a lot easier for her to handle.

  16. Yes, Dips, there’s a lot to like in your story.
    Well done Kate.
    And your observations, the things you remember and then share, are pretty telling.
    Well played, everyone. What a life this is (can be).

  17. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Beautifully written Dips. Looking up into the big blue at infinite possibilities is worth exploring. I find myself looking at the stars at night recently. Even picked two (Dad and Uncle) to greet whenever I go out for a smoke. It gives me comfort, hope.

    Good on you Kate for always having a crack and mum and dad for the encouragement. Cheers

  18. Great words, Dips. I feel like I know Kate a little more beyond our lunch chats & am all the richer for it.

    Thanks for the heads up too, Jen!

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