Dale Jacobsen: writer, musician and lover of Antarctica!

Nov 12, 2018 | Features

By Gay Liddington

Dale Jacobsen was a highly regarded HT feature writer for five years. She gathered the stories of our locals and now, we have the privilege of glimpsing into Dale’s world: one of challenges, adventure, music and inspiration.

by Gay Liddington

Dale Jacobsen was born in Brisbane in the late ‘40s and lived in Weller’s Hill in a little worker’s cottage. “As a kid, Bribie Island was my holiday refuge. My sister and I had the run of the bush.”

In part, Dale was shaped by strong women. Early influences came from her mother, aunt and older sister. She speaks of a time when a teacher inspired her vision.

“I’ve always been a bit of a loner and always loved remote, wild places. When I was eight years old, I had a teacher, a young man obsessed with Antarctica.

“In 1955, in the lead up to the International Geophysical Year, once a week, throughout the year, he would have a little story about Antarctica and the progress being made from Australia to send a team down.”

Enclosed in a classroom, this child discovered a continent of mountains, ice and snow – no people, and decided it was her place.

“We had chooks and concrete tubs in the backyard. So, in the morning, particularly in winter, to go and feed the chooks, I’d wash my face in the cold water at the tubs, let it dry in the cold wind and pretend I was in Antarctica.”

In tandem with Dale fantasising about the Antarctic, was a budding writer whose hero was Uncle Shawn – journalist, poet, author and war correspondent.

“When I was about ten years old, I had this exercise book that I covered in brown paper, ironed flat, then decorated it and started writing a story. I imagined what it would be like holding my first published book.

“And, when I finally got to hold that first book Union Jack published in 2011, it was every bit as thrilling as that ten-year-old knew it would be.”

Like many girls in the early ‘60s, directed by the expectations of parents and society, Dale studied commercial and home science subjects at high school.

“Marriage and three children in my mid-twenties, I lived the life of a mother but also did things like study at home for my real estate practice exams and lots of research about Antarctica.” 

When Dale’s children were young teenagers, there was a defining moment when she knew her life had changed. A corkscrew type roller coaster ride at a theme park was key.

“The spirit of adventure that had been in my mind all that time was suddenly released into my body and I knew if I was brave enough to do that, I could do anything.

“So, from that moment, my life blossomed but my marriage declined. It was sad in many ways because until then I was like the bird in the gilded cage but all of a sudden that cage door opened.”

Time out with two suitcases and two guitars in remote, mid-winter Tasmania, Dale isolated herself and wrote out her internal struggle. A journey of self-discovery that led Dale to university.

Being a musician with classical guitar training to sixth grade shaped an idea that the conservatorium was the answer. However, science won out over music and, at the age of 42, Dale Jacobsen graduated Griffith University with a degree: Bachelor of Science – Australian Environmental Studies.

“In the meantime, I went to an instrument-making display, saw an Appalachian Dulcimer and wanted to make one. I was invited to the workshop where my tutor was Doug.”  

(For those who may not of heard of one, an Appalachian Dulcimer is a stringed folk instrument.)

Meeting luthier, Doug Eaton, led to an enduring partnership. Dale then decided she wanted to be an instrument maker. She made 20 trapezoid Cimbalom Dulcimers and was one of three people selected to attend a congress at the Cimbalom World Association in Belarus, Russia.

On her return home to Maleny, Dale set about to design and make ‘the perfect dulcimer’ subsequently named Aurora.

Dale’s love of music led to her playing and singing in bands. They could always be seen at Maleny’s Celtic Tearooms on Sunday afternoons and at themed concerts, usually Scottish based.

“I played music and made dulcimers for years but the tug to write was always there. Then, one night I had a dream. I was sitting at my computer writing a book…

“Not long after, we were at a folk festival viewing a display of railway history. They had a huge photo of a railway camp tent with a family outside. The light went on. This is my story, of my grandfather, his railway and union days.

“I knew little of my grandfather. Four years of spending many days in the musty railway union office going through 100-year old records then suddenly, I came across my grandfather’s signature, signing as Secretary and I cried.”

The research for what became Dale’s first book Union Jack was intense. She spent days at the John Oxley Library immersed in railway history. Ten years of research and writing brought her grandfather’s story to life.

Dale had written a short story about a woman in a retirement village in 2005. She says the story was ‘given’ to her and remains the best writing she’s ever done. It won the ABC short story award, was professionally recorded and read on the ABC.

“That gave me confidence. I had written Union Jack but hadn’t actually sent it off to any publishers. It was a turning point.

“The second novel presented itself because I was a member of the Kosciuszko Huts Association (KHA).”  

KHA is a voluntary association formed in 1971 to assist with the conservation, management and reconstruction of huts, homesteads and surrounds within Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) in southern NSW.

“We were down at a work party and I came across this story of a woman buried in a grave up in the hills. Her story got to me and so, I spent another ten years researching and writing Yenohan’s Legacy published in 2013. Then Lucy Strobridge came into my life.

“We were in Victoria with KHA when I visited the hut of this reclusive woman. She had died five years before, aged 80, but her spirit was absolutely still there. I came home but when I went back to do in-depth research, she wasn’t in the hut anymore. She was here with me.”

Original members of ‘Hammer On!’ band in the 1990s, John McGregor, Dale Jacobsen, John Wright


Read Part 2 of Dale’s story in the December edition of HT: A child’s dream finally realised in a 32-day Antarctic adventure, a legacy left by her mother. Kayaking among icebergs, visiting the huts of her heroes and writing about the great continent – a life changing experience.



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