Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Blue Mountains

Taking advantage of the long Christmas holiday weekend, K and I took a trip to the Blue Mountains on Saturday & Sunday. The Blue Mountains are much-vaunted as the beautiful, spectacular, magnificent, [insert your own superlative here] place where Sydneysiders go to get away from it all, get off the beaten track and escape from the humid heat of the Sydney summer. So we had high hopes and expectations for some excellent walking and breathtaking scenery.

We drove along the Great Western Highway from Sydney on Saturday morning and after a small delay thanks to roadworks (these things are the same the world over!) we arrived in Wentworth Falls late morning. We’d packed a picnic lunch so we fortified ourselves with sandwiches and fruit and then set off on our chosen walk, the National Pass, taking in Wentworth Falls themselves. We’d read that this walk was popular and although graded ‘medium-hard’ because of the level of ascent and descent (about 250m), the track was very easy to walk along – steps and wooden platforms in a lot of places and not a bit of scrambling needed. Some of the views were pretty nice but all in all, it was just a bit too sanitised and busy with other people for me – I like to feel a bit more isolated when I’m walking!

However, our Sunday walk was much more like I was hoping for. The track was much more overgrown and wild and we only saw a few other people along the 7.5km circuit we’d chosen. This one was the Popes Glen Creek, Govett’s Leap and Braeside Track which looped around the side of Horseshoe Falls and Govett’s Lookout. The scenery was much more spectacular and gave a really good sense of the scale and immenseness of the mountains. They’re not mountains as we’d recognise them in the UK – they’re much flatter and more table-like rather than pointy and jaggy. I think this is because they’ve come about as a result of erosion of sandstone, rather than volcanic or plate-crashing activity (but my geology fails me at points so I can’t be sure!) They have a bit of a canyon-type appearance and the reason they’re called the Blue Mountains is because they are carpeted by a thick bush of eucalyptus or gum trees, which diffuse droplets of gum oil into the air, causing light to be refracted in a particular way which gives the mountains a blueish haze. So there you go! Picture above hopefully gives some idea.

All in all, I think we’ll definitely go back – although we’ll pick our routes carefully to avoid the tourist traps and we’ll also take on some more challenging routes. We’ll also avoid the overnight stay as this was quite disappointing. We’d booked into a guesthouse in Katoomba, which is supposed to be a quaint mountain town with a traditional feel about it. But it just reminded me of any other small town with nothing to do and nowhere to go. And the guesthouse, while ok, wasn’t really anything to write home about. So from now on it’ll be early morning drives to longer mountain walks!!

Proud granddaughter

A lot of people who know me probably don’t realise that the ultrasound pictures that were taken of them when they weren’t even born yet, can be traced back to my grandpa, Tom Brown.

He was a lynchpin of the invention of ultrasound technology way back and was recently recognised by way of an honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (hope I’ve got that right!).

Today he’s still busy trying to improve the use of ultrasound, this time by way of addressing problems with the sonography equipment used by the people who do the actual scanning.

Here’s a link to a recent article in the Sunday Times. (Please excuse my indulgence in showing off my genetic lineage!)

Friday, 26 December 2008


It’s 9pm on Boxing Day but apart from the fact that there’s yet another James Bond film on TV and I’ve got slightly restless legs from lack of doing much over the last few days, it really doesn’t feel like Boxing Day! It’s been in the late 20s, if not higher, for most of today and although there’s a cool wind building up outside, it’s still pretty sticky and, well, summery,

Yesterday we were adopted by a friend and made very welcome as part of their extended family gathering for Christmas lunch. It seemed to be a fairly typical Aussie family Christmas with a cold meat & salad spread at lunchtime, followed by Christmas pudding and mince pies, plus plenty of wine and beer to wash it all down. There was some swimming in their pool but no beach as they live out in the suburbs a bit. And, of course, the obligatory number of small children getting very excited about bits of wrapping paper while ignoring the actual presents contained within!

Lovely as it was to be included and to avoid the alternative of K and I sitting about wondering what to eat on Christmas day, it really didn’t feel like Christmas – it’s just not the same in the sun! And other people’s families aren’t nearly as entertaining as your own! So maybe next year we’ll just go on holiday or something – my favourite Christmas memory in recent years remains being out off mobile phone contact, on a dive boat in the middle of the Andaman sea off the Thai coast! Doing two dives before most people have even put the turkey in the oven was pretty special!

Anyway, today was good fun as it was the annual Sydney – Hobart yacht race which, for the winners, takes a couple of days, and for the stragglers can take several days! Watching the start is a big thing to do on Boxing Day, so along with thousands of other Sydneysiders, we headed to one of the ‘heads’ around the Harbour (big jutting out bits of land with high viewing points) and managed to find ourselves a nice spot in the shade to watch the start. I’ll put pictures up in a few days as it’s hard to describe – basically a couple of hundred big yachts (like, twenty people in the crew), with two lines of ‘spectator vessels’ lined up either side of them – everything from big ferries commissioned for the day to private yachts to little power boats to canoeists!! As the racing yachts start and get into jostling for position, the spectator armada follows them a-pace – it’s quite a sight!

Once that was done, we headed back into the city and decided to go for lunch at one of our old haunts in Surry Hills. I miss Surry Hills and its so-called ‘edginess’ (i.e. not everyone is white and middle class) but today it was a changed place – it was completely deserted so I guess most people must be out of town. We just missed lunch hours at the Crown, so ended up staying for a few beers and then having an early dinner when the kitchen reopened!

(An aside – something has bitten me and it is bloomin’ itchy – grrr!!!!)

Tomorrow we’re off to the Blue Mountains for an overnight trip, hopefully doing a couple of decent walks in the process. The Blue Mountains are about 3 hours drive west of Sydney so we’ll make a fairly early start and get a good walk in before dark. The temperature should be several degrees cooler up there and the scenery is meant to be spectacular – watch this space!!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Tis the season to be partied out

It’s 4pm on Sunday right now and I feel about 75% recharged from this week’s adventures. We’ve got Christmas drinks & nibbles with our neighbours at 5, and then might wander over to the foot of the Harbour Bridge for a twilight carol service (not cos I particularly want to celebrate Christmas but I do like some of the tunes!)

Monday – Milk Crate Theatre Christmas extravaganza – it’s a theatre company made up of homeless people and a few professional actors – pretty soul-warming, affirming stuff.

Tuesday – Kylie concert! Not something I’d normally do, but when in Rome… Very pop-tastic and full of lots of screaming young girls and gay men – entertainment in itself!

Wednesday – dinner out with K and his boss, followed by a few drinks in our local – lovely but an impromptu evening out when I should have been doing my laundry or something!

Thursday – Christmas party with my former colleagues from my temp job with the State Govt. Typically all the Aussies left fairly early and from over 100 people at the beginning, there were three of us left by 11pm – me, an English bloke and an Irish-Australian. Good night of playing pool, drinking beer and catching up.

Friday – K’s work’s Christmas party, at their CEO’s place out in the ‘burbs. Barbecue, beer, wine, summer’s day. Pretty nice. Almost the last ones to leave (again!) by about 7pm, got takeaway pizza and headed home. We both fell asleep on the couch by 10.15!!!

So yesterday, after a good sleep and a fairly early start, I did very little apart from things like read the weekend paper, take part in my brother’s study on psychosis (as you do!) try to fix my printer (failed), book accommodation / travel / research options for various trips we’ve got coming up over next few months and watch back episodes of Sex & the City! Today has been much the same although on a more active note we’ve just been swimming, which was lovely – 20 lengths of the outdoor 50m pool nearby which is clean, uncrowded and has spectacular views.

Most of Australia seems to finish up for Christmas early and the tradition is for the holiday season to last right through until Australia Day on 25th January. We’re bucking the trend and we’re both working right through to Christmas, and in between Christmas / New Year. We’re then going on holiday after Australia Day for about 10 days – it’s good to be different, especially as it means we avoid the school holidays!

All in all I’m finding this time of year really disorientating (or is it disorienting, I never know!). Although it’s lovely to have such an extended summer, and to not have the usual misery of 3pm sunsets, freezing cold mornings and general doom & gloom of a UK winter, in a weird way I miss all of that. My body is really confused by it and I’m a lot more knackered than I normally am – K’s the same – so our theory is that our bodies are suffering from not having the usual excuse to hibernate, eat lots of chocolate and generally get away with slouching in front of the TV without feeling like we should be out ‘doing something’ and ‘making the most of summer’. We both had tons of energy when we first got here and were zipping about merrily at the weekends, going to the gym lots and were generally full of beans. Now it’s a definite struggle to keep up!! I’m sure there are lots of theories to explain this – biorhythms, need for a holiday, natural consequence of a busy year involving a move halfway across the world, change of jobs and related stresses and strains. But whatever it is, I’m hoping a few long weekends over the festive season, followed by a longer break in January, will see us back to our more sprightly selves – just in time for winter here!?!!?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Sugar-coated Australia

Not sure how Baz Luhrman’s latest “epic” has been received in the UK, but over here / down under, it’s not exactly packing out the stalls. K and I toddled along to see Australia on Sat eve, in Sydney’s biggest cinema, where just a few weeks ago, the red carpet premiere was packed with all the stars (it’s just round the corner from my office).

The reviews here have been lukewarm so we didn’t have high expectations – and to be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, as long as you take it for what it is.

Despite the general vilification of Nicole Kidman, I thought she was quite good (apart from a few cringy scenes at the beginning) and Hugh Jackman is likeable enough (again, apart from a few gratuitous ‘pec shots’). And Brandon Walters, the child non-actor in the central role, was entrancing. And as a love poem to the beauty of the country, it did a great job. The plot was holier than a pack of nuns and the ‘baddies’ were so bad they were comical, but probably the most important thing for me was that it actually raised some realities about the experiences of indigenous Australians not so long ago. Interestingly the reviews here have barely mentioned the fairly central plot around the Stolen Generations (children of mixed race who were forcibly removed from their indigenous families ostensibly for ‘protection’ but more often than not, because of racism and a desire to ‘breed out the blacks’). Yes it was sugar-coated for the masses, with a nice happy ending and a love story to make it all seem less hideous, but far better for the masses to get a sugar-coated version than no version at all - I think.

Sea dragons and seventeen degrees

At last!! Months after arriving here, and nearly 5 months since we last went diving, K and I finally got to go sub aqua at the weekend. We’ve joined our local diving club and on Saturday morning, we were up for a nice 9am start getting kitted up and briefed, then driven to the dive site (Bear Island) where we did a gentle, relaxing dive down to about 13 metres, for about 50 mins. The water temperature here is significantly colder than you might imagine – it was only around 17 degrees, which is pretty cold. I’m used to diving in 28 degrees plus, in tropical waters, so it was a bit of an experience. Obviously you wear a thicker wetsuit etc, but even so, I was cold!!

The underwater life was quite different too. No tropical fish and no coral reef, but a massive wrasse (with teeth I’m sure!) and a couple of beautiful sea dragons – like sea horses but bigger and very delicate looking (pic above - not mine!)

The club arranges all kinds of diving so hopefully this will become a regular thing – it’s such a good way to unwind and such a good reminder of why we came to Australia in the first place – beautiful!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

I'm too old for this!

This weekend has been a bit of a write-off in terms of doing anything productive - it was my Christmas night out with work on Friday, which began at midday with about 40 of us and ended with only me and two Irish girls left at midnight - hmmm!

Some pictures are here.

Yesterday was spent recovering and then last night we went out to the suburbs for a friend's 50th birthday party, which was much less raucous than Friday but still involved a bottle of wine. I woke up feeling "rough as guts" as they say out here - not really hungover just like I've got alcohol oozing out of my pores (my skin is dreadful and my hair feels greasy even though I've washed it!) So today I am detoxing and trying to do something vaguely useful like write my Christmas cards and upload pictures etc.

Some sunset pictures from in and around our local area are here.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Today I was in Nowra, which is one of the areas of New South Wales with the highest levels of unemployment and related problems. It’s the location of one of the businesses I’m working with – I’m helping them to make the transition to becoming a social enterprise by proactively recruiting and supporting long-term unemployed people into their workforce.

Nowra is around 2.5 hours from Sydney by car, so it was an early start (6am) and a longish day altogether. It was fascinating to get into regional New South Wales and see a different side to life in Australia. Nowra is a town of about 30,000 people with a range of villages surrounding it, each of about 3-4,000 people. There are big levels of public housing in the area which in Australia, means something quite different to our concept of public housing in the UK. Forget high rises, multi-storey blocks and stone terraces. Think bungalows with little gardens out front and wooden porches. By Australian standards the housing is poor, but compared to the type of huge housing schemes or even smaller estates I’m used to, it’s pretty nice!

Having said that, despite the quality or otherwise of the housing, there are a lot of social problems in the area and part of today was about getting a sense of the challenges that are likely to come up as the business moves towards a model where they go out of their way to employ people that other businesses don’t want to employ – interesting!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Summer starts here!

Today is the first official day of summer here and the weather agreed to co-operate. 31 degrees on the mercury today - hot, hot, hot!