Saturday, 29 November 2008

Looking inwards

This week’s news provided another example of Australian insularity. I imagine that the Mumbai bombings were covered in depth in the UK, regardless of the number of British nationals that were affected by them. Here, the bombings were only mentioned in connection with the Australians that were either killed or injured, and even then, they were given a short mention before the news moved on to much more important things like who won the cricket.

The quality of life here is good (for anyone descended from the Commonwealth anyway) but it is incredibly superficial and incredibly Australian-centric. I feel sometimes like I’m living in a parallel universe. I know there are a whole stack of global issues out there, but I have to go actively searching for reminders of them, and if I didn’t have live connections with the UK, I’m not sure I would really have a clue about anything beyond local sports and self-congratulatory jingoistic Aussie crap. And that’s not to mention the blinkers that most Australians seem to have about the indigenous population.

I find myself censoring my comments to Aussies about all of this because I realise how much I sound like a stereotypical snooty Brit! And it’s not fair to generalise about all Aussies – I’ve met a lot of individuals who are just as scathing about their own culture – but it is definitely a different culture to the UK, and I have to be honest, not one that appeals to me as a long-term home.

Work and more work!

As you can tell from the lack of posting here, I've been a bit busy the last few weeks and I was shocked to see that it's been nearly a fortnight since I last posted. I'm now desperately trying to think of interesting things I've been doing but struggling! Here are some things to give a flavour of life recently...

Leaky roof - yes, it's all glamour here! Our kitchen ceiling has had water dripping through it recently so I've had the usual nightmare of trying to get rental agents to do anything other than take money and deliver no service. In the end it wasn't too tricky and the leak has stopped - just need to get the ceiling repainted now...hmmm!

Two jobs, no life - this week in particular has been full-on with work - I was pretty much in social enterprise mode from Sunday evening to Thursday evening with only breaks for sleep. I was in Melbourne for a) two day conference b) meeting the guys who run one of the businesses I'm supporting c) an intensive session with a group of colleagues for my main job. I was pretty whacked by Friday and glad to get the chance to recharge this weekend.

Photography - today was the last session of the photography course I've been doing - you can see some of the results on Picasa ( and the picture at the top of this page is the latest in the 'fabulous view from our flat' series :-)

It's been great fun and I've learned a lot about how to get more out of my 'point and shoot' camera. I'm getting tempted by an SLR but I'm going to wait and see how much more I can get out of what I've already got. Highlights of the course included doing a portrait shoot with a live model in Darling Harbour, chasing cloud patterns and looking for new angles in Watson's Bay and today's 'street photography' session learning how to inconspicuously snap people going about their daily business!

Biatholonning! - Last week I ran and swam a mini-biathlon which was more fun than it sounds, honest! The 4k run was a course with views of the harbour and Opera House, and the 300m swim was in a warm outdoor pool, so really it was nice!! The running side of it was fine and my pace was pretty much in line with what I expected (about 18min30s for 4k) but the swim was another story altogether - Aussies are all uber-swimmers and I've never experienced being overtaken by a thundering group of swimmers before - trust me, it's scary! Combined with the fact that I was pretty out of breath after the run, it took me about 150m to get into any kind of rhythm and to actually remember to breathe and not just inhale all the time! The swim took me 9 minutes - for 6 lengths of a 50m pool - Stephanie Rice ain't exactly quaking in her flip flops!! Anyway, they have a 20 week series of these events, and I've got a few former colleagues who are planning to join in for the next one, so will be interesting to see if I can get any quicker!

Silly season preparations - the financial doom and gloom is still skirting around the edges of life here, but Sydney seems to be gearing up for the Christmas season which as far as I can tell involves lots of drinking in the sun - never a good combination! I've got three parties to go to so far, plus a birthday party, plus a pre-xmas dinner, plus we've been invited round to a friend's house for xmas day itself, so it's safe to say we won't be lonely! I really can't get my head round it being nearly December which means I'm going to be in big trouble in terms of presents and cards and all that - maybe I'll start tomorrow (!)

Monday, 17 November 2008

A pool with a view

This weekend has been a veritable feast of catching up with people from home. On Friday night, after a remarkably long 3-day week at work, I headed out for beers with some folks from my last job, plus an old pal from many years ago when I worked at Community Fund. Kathleen has spent a lot of time in recent years based in war zones (Afghanistan, Iraq), so it was good to see her looking alive and healthy, and enjoying an extended period of leave. Friday was one of those nights where a few beers became more beers which became a taxi ride home at 11pm, followed by crashing on the couch to watch some random TV (Andy Murray vs Roger Federer in this case!) before falling asleep and having to be put to bed by K when he came in – some things never change, no matter what the hemisphere!

On Saturday I had the latest practical session of my photography course, which involved a couple of hours of doing an outdoors shoot with a model. It was good fun and apparently I’m a natural at directing models (!) I think I’m just naturally bossy! Then K and I met up and headed over to Coogee where we met up with pals Sam & Lyndsey and their little boy, Addie, who were over here on holiday from their usual abode in France. Great to see them and catch up.

Sunday was a day of culture and sport, including a very good portrait photography exhibition called Wisdom, featuring lots of head and shoulders shots of over 65s, accompanied by their thoughts on life. Now that I know about things like lighting and composition, it was fascinating to look at photos in a more informed way than I normally do! We were going to go and see a Monet and the Impressionists exhibition, but it’s such big news to have something like that here, that there were massive queues so we’ll go another time.

Then it was off to the North Sydney pool for my third swim of the week. The 50m pool there is outdoors and is chlorinated salt water, so much more pleasant to swim in than just plain old chlorine. The water is pretty warm and the whole place is clean, uncrowded and just really rather pleasant! It’s also nestled right at the foot of the Harbour Bridge, so you get amazing views of the bridge as you swim. It's got the feel of an old fashioned swimming baths and is one of my favourite things about Sydney so far. See pic for why!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Words to go with pics

This is a bit of an out of date report on last weekend’s road-tripping adventures, but I’ll try to make sense of my scribbled notes…

We’d decided to try and get some diving under our belts and had identified the Solitary Islands further up the coast from Sydney as a good target. As they’re about 600km away, we decided to make a long weekend of it, joined a car pool, booked “Karen the Yaris” as our trusty steed, got lots of hints and tips for things to break up the journey from various colleagues and set off on our merry way last Friday pm. Unfortunately due to the faff factor that pervades our lives whenever we’re trying to do anything, we didn’t get away as early as planned and ended up caught in the dreaded Friday afternoon mass exodus from Sydney which meant frustratingly slow progress out of Sydney’s sprawling suburbs until we got clear of Newcastle, about 100km north.

But within a few more hours we’d reached Port Stephens, our destination for Friday night and having wandered around a tiny place called Shoal Bay for a bit, enjoying the views of Shark Island and the balmy 25 degree early evening temperature, we tried to find some accommodation. An unfortunate encounter with a particularly rude room-owner ensued which included him losing us as potential customers and me telling him exactly what I thought of him by text message (!) We settled, instead, on some ‘rustic cabins’ which sounded cheap and cheerful and had a friendly owner when we phoned. Booked beds under our belts, we then enjoyed a pre-dinner drink watching the sunset go down at a seaside bar, followed by a fine meal at Gianni’s, a bustling taverna with only one pavement table left, just nicely sized for us. Then the fun and games started…

We had directions to our rustic cabins, but we hadn’t factored in the fact that everything looked decidedly different in the dark…so we ended up driving around a little bit lost for quite a while and then ended up on one of those spooky tree-lined stretches of road where you can almost hear the serial killer music playing in the background. And then we saw a girl, maybe late teens, walking along barefoot and a bit worse for wear. We thought we’d better see if she was ok so swung the car around, pulled over and asked her if she wanted a lift. She was adamant that she didn’t, but we were a bit worried she’d get run over so were trying to persuade her to get in the car, when out of the rear mirror we saw a big SUV-type car pulling up behind us. This turned out to be her boyfriend, who started yelling at her to get in the car, which she did, and they sped off. It all happened a bit quickly and was a bit on the unsettling side, but we couldn’t do much except continue on our way and try to find these bloomin’ rustic cabins!!

We eventually found them, and very lovely they were too. The place was run by a couple called Mick and Michelle (tee hee) who were fond of handrearing various animals injured by cars including kangaroos and birds. “Josephine” was the latest ‘roo to have been nurtured and was often to be seen wandering around the site. Our cabin was clean, comfortable and just what we needed after a long drive. We shared the last of a bottle of wine that we’d taken from the restaurant, then hit the sack. We’d been warned about the strange noises we’d hear in the night – possums jumping on the roof, that kind of thing – and there were quite a few, but they all sort of merged into my dreams and I felt very refreshed the next morning.

We were up fairly early and went for a stroll on nearby One Mile beach, which was a pretty deserted strip of white sand, with only a few surfers in the sea and a group of kids learning how to stand on their boards. Then we headed to another beach nearby for breakfast at the outdoor kiosk we’d been told about, where we watched considerably more surfers and wondered about the point of the camels we could see nearby the huge sand dunes in the distance – presumably for camel-riding!?

With food in our bellies and provisions for the rest of the journey, we continued on to Port Macquarie where we stopped for an hour or so to take in a coastal walk along the headlands, before the final few hours of driving which took us to our final destination, Coffs Harbour. Some more navigational challenges had to be overcome before we found our youth hostel (thanks to the vagaries of Lonely Planet who seem to be fond of telling you places are in completely different locations to their real ones). It’s been a few years since I stayed in a youth hostel, and I’ve never done anything but dorm bunks. But I’d heard that double rooms in hostels were pretty good value, and this was definitely the case in Coffs. Our room was great – ensuite, big and cheap. And the hostel was clean, friendly and comfortable, as well as being really close to where we were diving, and all the local restaurants etc.

We had a big seafood dinner that night (bruschetta and whole snapper for me, mmmm) followed by a few drinks in a nearby bar where K discovered Sardinian beer called Ismus (or something like that) and I had a nice South Australian white wine.

When Sunday morning came around, our alarms went off at 6.45am to get us up for a 7.30am rendezvous at the dive centre. Sadly, however, we got a message from them to say that the weather out at sea was too rough for the boat to go out, so the diving was cancelled for the day. Obviously a bit disappointing, but we still held out hope for the next day (false hope as it turned out!), and the upside was that we got to sleep in a bit! Then once we were up and about, fortified by another big cafĂ© breakfast (one of my favourite things about Oz is the breakfasts here!), I navigated us to a nearby national park, which looked like it might be good for doing some walking. And indeed it was. There was a circular loop through rainforest, passing by waterfalls and with some fabulous views at a couple of points, which was a satisfying way to spend a couple of hours. As we got to the end, we could see rain beginning to roll in across the forest, which was an incredible sight, and even more incredible to be underneath as it rolled overhead!! We made it back to the car only slightly soaked and very thankful that we hadn’t got caught earlier!

The drive from Coffs to Doringo (where the walk was) had been spectacular on the way in – hundreds of lilac-flowered jacaranda trees lining the roads, rolling green hills and gorgeous panoramas as we climbed to 800m altitude. The drive back in the thundering rain was equally spectacular as we drove through rain clouds rolling along the roads.

The following day and, as mentioned above, our hopes of diving were dashed once more. Sad, but not the end of the world as we will have lots more opportunities to dive here, and it was good to get away and see a bit more of Australia than just Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge!

We ended up doing the whole drive back that day, which took about 10 hours including breaks for lunch and a short walk, and detours off the highway to take in some of the more scenic routes. It was a bit of a monster to do, but we figured we might as well save the money on accommodation and have the benefit of a day off in Sydney. Along the way we saw storks, hawks, huge lakes, a 360 degree panorama at the top of a walk in the Booti Booti national park, and very little other traffic on the roads – a very pleasant way to spend a day really.

And so ended our first Ozzie road trip adventure! The next big one will probably be in January, when we’re flying down to Melbourne, then driving to Adelaide on the coastal road (about 1000km), hopefully taking in diving (!), vineyards and walking along the way!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Link now works

I've fixed the link to the pictures in the post below - it now works

Link now works

I've fixed the link below - it now works

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Coffs Harbour trip

Not had time to do any words to accompany these (to follow) but here are some photos from a good little road trip that we took last weekend. The point was to go diving, but unfortunately the sea was too choppy for the dive boat, so we ended up going walking instead - a happy plan B as it turned out!

Monday, 3 November 2008

The spare room has been used!

Suddenly it’s Monday evening again and another week has whirled by. This week has been a special week though, thanks to a relatively impromptu, fairly whirlwind and very lovely visit from my mum. Somehow she pulled off an amazing feat of sticking to UK time for her trip here, which meant sleep during the day while I was at work, then evenings of sightseeing and nighttimes of reading and observing the ‘things that go bump in the night’ in our street!!

Particular highlights were the champagne cocktails at the Shangri-La with panoramic views across Sydney Harbour and a beautiful orangey-gold sunset. All too soon it was back to the airport though, and I was definitely a bit misty-eyed…

Drinks that evening with folks from work followed and sitting around sharing beers, good chat and a very balmy Friday evening was a good way to perk myself up. After a few fairly cold days, Friday was hot and humid (36 degrees at one point). But, as is the way here, the weather turned in a flash about 8pm Fri night as a cold southerly wind blew in and the temperature dropped a good ten degrees in ten minutes. It’s quite a phenomenon to experience.

Saturday was spent not doing too much, although we went to the local cinema in the evening to see Body of Lies with Leonardo di Caprio and Russell Crowe. It was okay but pretty forgettable with both actors playing versions of previous characters from previous films and a fairly dodgy plot centred around the CIA, the Middle East and a love interest. Predictable. There was also a gruesome torture scene!

The local cinema is quite fun though – it’s an old art deco place with old fashioned seats and furnishings, and a live organist (!)

Sunday was swimming, a meal out in China Town and then a trip to the Metro Theatre to see The Vines, supported by The Wa-has (teenagers with tight jeans, bad hair and lyrics no more imaginative than “Satan come home” repeated ad infinitum). Don’t really know The Vines stuff that well, they were okay but I wasn’t massively inspired to get to know their stuff any more, and I found myself mostly fascinated by watching the light tech at work, which probably isn’t the kind of review most bands want to get…

And so back to work today. This is my last week of doing my current two jobs. I start my main job properly next week (Mission Australia) after a long weekend away with K when we plan to go diving and driving. It will be good to get into a longer term challenge – it’s been fun doing shorter term stuff but my brain is itching to get stuck into new things!