Video by Miho Watanabe

On the eve of my visit to Tokyo to see my family for the first time since my breast cancer diagnosis, dancer Tess De Quincey helped me organise a toro-nagashi on Tarban Creek, which flows behind her home in Hunters Hill. Toro-nagashi is a Japanese ceremony in which participants float paper lanterns down a river. It is traditionally performed during the O-bon Festival in the belief that it will help to guide the souls of the departed to the spirit world. Outside Japan, toro-nagashi is closely associated with images of commemorative services, such as the of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, or more recently, that of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.

Paper with my hair by Zela

It took me several of days to make our toro-nagashi lanterns, helped and guided by my friend and artist Miho Watanabe , who designed biodegradable lanterns, using paper made by Queensland artist and relative Zela, using my fallen hair from chemo therapy, and later the hair shaven during my danpatsu-shiki or the hair cutting ceremony.

The paper lanterns flowed down the creek and out to sea, or so I would like to write. But in reality they bumped into each other in the current, their candles blown out by the wind, and we ended up fishing them out of Tarban Creek before they reached Sydney Harbour. Never mind. It was still a beautiful evening when some of my very close friends who were there for me during my breast cancer treatment, including artist Vic McEwan, my collaborator for this project I Just Can’t Say That Word, and photographer Michele Mossop, who had been documenting my experiences with her camera, gathered to help me release my past: the soul of my departed long black hair, which had given me a strong sense of self-identity for a very long time.

We all sat around the table in Tess’s home and ate together afterwards.