“No,” I replied.
“Oh…well, there’s a great community choir in Coolum, if you’re interested. It’s a good way to make new friends.”
“Thanks, I’ll think about it.”
Although I didn’t know anyone up here, I treated myself to various outings, so I didn’t just stay home all the time. It was Marlene who invited me to come along to the choir.
Two weeks later I tentatively walked into the local hall where a large group of people were laughing, chatting, hugging and kissing. Then they warmed up with some shoulder massages and jaw exercises… (gulp)
Despite my early trepidations about singing in public, I've had lots of fun singing world music and performing at community events. I’ve been a member for two-and-a-half years now, but it feels like I’ve been there forever.
And while I enjoy the anonymity of being in a choir, I still prefer to speak in public.
The first task on my list when I relocated here in early 2009 was to visit the local Toastmasters clubs, as I’d been a member in Sydney.
During those first few weeks I rotated between the Noosa, Coolum and Maroochydore clubs and invited myself to an advanced club which met monthly around the Sunshine Coast.
My circle of Toastmasters friends grew exponentially through regular club meetings, training days and conferences.
My second step into community affairs was prompted by an ad in the local paper, calling for volunteers to join the 2009 Coolum Kite Festival committee. In the lead up to this major event, I noticed I also made lots of friends along the way.
Between Toastmasters, the choir, kite festival activities and several networking events, I quickly developed a hectic social life, which made it easy to integrate into the Sunshine Coast community.
My first job as a newspaper journalist was in the small town of Goulburn, about 200km south west of Sydney, on the road to Canberra.
I took up hockey, joined the local community radio station, State Emergency Services and Rural Bushfire Brigade.
Although I grew up in Sydney, I enjoyed being part of a "country" community - my volunteer activities benefited from my journalism skills, while my job benefited from my community interactions.
I missed that sense of community when I started travelling overseas, frequently changing homes and jobs over the past 20+ years; but I was notably distracted by memorable adventures and babysitting duties.
How to make instant friends
1. Join Toastmasters
During my five-month extended holiday in New Zealand in 2008, I regularly visited a club in Auckland, where I continued giving speeches and actively participated in club meetings. Clubs on the Sunshine Coast were – and still are - equally friendly.
2. Join a community choir
I picked up another 50 friends through the Cool Harmonies choir. Our weekly vocal sessions continue to feature much raucous laughter, luscious melodies, community performances and regular coffee chats. Oh, and I enjoy singing (almost as much as public speaking).
“You sound like you know what you’re talking about,” said Betty, turning to face me. “I nominate Hari for president.”
“I second that,” said Pam, stepping down from her presidential chair. “You can now take over the remainder of the meeting.”
I'd been sitting quietly at the Sunshine Coast Literary Association’s AGM, but somehow got elected president after I made a suggestion during the general business session… and did I mention that I also ended up with some good friends!
In the short time I've been living on the Coast, I feel like I belong to a community again.
What does community mean to you?