Monday, 29 June 2009

Wed 24 June: State of Origin

Tonight K and I, along with a couple of friends from my office, went to an Australian institution – the State of Origin. State of Origin is a rugby league contest, consisting of three matches between New South Wales and Queensland. Normally the states don’t have teams or play each other – there are big rugby leagues but the teams are all cities or areas, rather than state-level. State of Origin is so called because the teams have to be made up of players who were born in the respective states, rather than where they grew up or where they currently play their rugby.

It’s billed as one of the great sporting events in the Australian sports calendar and this evening, we were part of an 80,000 strong crowd who turned up for the 2nd in this year’s series. Which makes it all the stranger that it was, to be honest, like watching it with the sound off – it’s hard to understand how 80,000 people can make so little noise!!! No chanting, no singing, no shouting and cheering, just a lot of people sitting making not much noise…so much for incredible atmosphere!!

Sat 27 June: Birthday paragliding & fireworks!

I celebrated my 31st birthday today in two parts, with another part to follow next weekend (trip to casino with $200 to gamble with from K – should be fun!)

Part 1 saw me paragliding on the South Coast of New South Wales, about an hour’s drive south of Sydney. This was me finally managing to use a ‘red balloon day’ voucher given to me for last year’s birthday by my pals. Although the wind conditions weren’t great, there was enough wind for me to do a short glide from a clifftop down to the beach (and I get to go back for a longer flight some time which is a bonus). There wasn’t much to learn – I was strapped in to a tandem harness with the instructor and told to “run towards that big cloud”, which I did and before I knew it my legs were in the air, the ground was disappearing underneath me and then I was floating out to sea. It was strangely peaceful and relaxing, not at all the adrenaline rush you might expect, and I could have stayed there all day really!

Click here for a link to the paragliding photos.

Part 2 of birthday treats was a meal out in Darling Harbour, the waterfront part of Sydney city centre. I’d chosen Jordon’s, a seafood restaurant. Quite randomly we were treated to a fireworks display on the water, part of the Sydney Winter Festival, which I thought was very nice of them to arrange just for my birthday, ha ha…

The meal was good but the service was very disappointing – we were seated for 20 mins before anyone came to take even a drinks order, and then we practically had to beg for our bill at the end of the meal as what seemed like hundreds of staff were busily buzzing around us while completely ignoring us at the same time. Given that it wasn’t the cheapest of places, it was a definite letdown and we filled our customer feedback form in accordingly! No tip for them…

After the meal we wandered along the harbourside in a pleasantly tipsy manner, and so to bed.

All in all, a lovely day.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Utes R Us

Only in Australia can you have "Utegate" - where the Aussie PM, Kevin Rudd, was given a free ute (that's utility truck to you non-Aussies) by a second hand car dealer to support his election campaign, and has since got into hot water after allegations that his government arranged for said car dealer to get special treatment.

Cue lots of outraged and self righteous denials from the PM, then various allegations that emails are in circulation that prove it all, then allegations that these emails have been made up, and now for some reason the civil servant at the heart of it all is being given police protection because he's so distressed - yikes!

Still, seems to have distracted everyone here from swine flu and impending economic doom. Minor fact of Iranian election protests and associated global ramifications is on page 8 of today's paper...

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Thoughts for Refugee Week - What Home Means

Recently I was contacted by the Scottish Refugee Council who asked if I would like to raise awareness of Refugee Week 2009.

The rules are quite simple:

1. Title your blog “What Does Home Mean to You?”
2. Think about what home means to you. Post three photos which represent “home” to you and write a little about each one.
3. Include a link to the Refugee Week website
4. Tag five others to do the same. That’s it.

Refugee Week runs between 15-21 June throughout the UK and aims to raise awareness of refugees’ contributions to our society through a wide range of cultural and educational programmes.

What does home mean to me?

Although I haven’t lived there for a couple of years (and I spent several years before that wanting to leave), Scotland, and more particularly, Edinburgh is where I really think of as home. I guess that’s because my parents are both there, and it’s where reunions of old friends and family gathering usually happen. It’s full of happy memories for me and it’s the place and the people I know I can always go back to, whatever happens in my life. It represents safety, comfort and warmth – it’s my cave – and while that’s fantastic to have, it’s also why I had to leave…if that makes any sense!

Having moved 15 times in the last 10 years (!) my possessions have ended up scattered in different places and I’m really looking forward to the day when all my books can be reunited in one bookcase! There’s no place I feel more at home than when I’m ensconced in a book, preferably when I’ve got a whole day to spend reading and particularly when I can spend that whole day in bed, only moving to get refills of tea and fresh supplies of toast! I don’t get to indulge in that too often but when I do, wow, it’s great. (The books pictured are not mine by the way!)

Now admittedly this picture was taken on a tropical holiday (which is why we look so happy!) but home wouldn’t be home for me without K around. He’ll probably be surprised to read that, me being the independent type and all that, and it’s true I do like my own space, but there’s no-one else I’d rather share my space with, and I’m really enjoying building my home with him, both here in Oz and wherever we end up after that.

I haven't tagged others here (breaking final rule) but encourage any readers with blogs to post something similar to help raise awareness of refugee week and how home is something so many of us take for granted - and how vulnerable it is for so many others.

More words

Some other recent new words, this time from range of UK sources:

Commentariat - from a report by the Work Foundation (left-leaning think tank), presumably referring to think thanks and the like

Travelista - from the "Spend it" section of the Financial Times (not a left-leaning think tank!), referring to travelling fashionistas

Glamping - from some glossy mag or another, referring to 'glamour camping', the art of paying thousands of pounds for a fluffy pillow and blanket and private portaloos at music festivals.

I know it's not fashionable but I quite like new words like this!

What's in a word?

Language is a funny thing. There are all kinds of odd phrases that I’ve encountered in Australia that I’d never come across before. For example,

“skin in the game” – means you have a real commitment to something because you have put either money or something else into it

“runs on the board” – means you’ve got some results

“the rubber has to hit the road” – means it’s time to stop talking and get some results (runs on the board) – apparently more likely to happen if you’ve got skin in the game!

“I’m over it” – means I’ve had enough!

Kevin Rudd, the Aussie PM, has been getting a bit of a hard time in the press recently for his inappropriate use of Aussie idioms. Most of the time he talks in bureaucratic techno-speak, giving the impression he’s regurgitated a public policy journal (e.g. “what drives our government is one central organising principle blah blah blah) But he peppers this with ‘everyday’ phrases, apparently designed to make him seem like an ordinary Aussie bloke (think Tony Blair clutching his mug of Tetley outside Downing St and dropping his t’s and you’ll get the picture).

On a recent appearance on Sunrise, Australia’s equivalent of GMTV (well, except it makes GMTV look like Newsnight), he said he wanted all Australians to have a “fair shake of the sauce bottle” three times and this has caused much hilarity in the media because (apparently) this is something that hasn’t been in popular speech since the 1970s (I have no idea what it’s supposed to refer to!)

Anyway, just a little flavour of Aussie lingo for you!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Going West

Some notes from our recent travels, to match the pictures posted below.

2 – 4 June, Perth

We had two nights in Perth before flying out early on Thursday morning to Exmouth, our jumping off point for the Ningaloo Reef. Both nights spent at Perth City YHA which was basic, clean but comfortable enough, apart from the unfortunate proximity of our room to the main train line!

Jetlagged and hungry after arrival we dined on a smorgasbord extravaganza at Miss Maud’s Swedish restaurant, the nearest place to the YHA, where we had all-we-could-eat of cold meats, salads, seafood, roast meats, breads, pickles and more, washed down by a beer. Then we promptly crashed out asleep by about 9pm. I slept for about 14 hours and felt much rested by the time I emerged (slept right through the trains!). Unfortunately Perth was cold, wet and a bit miserable so after some breakfast, we headed down to Fremantle, the old port city, hoping it would warm and brighten up. It did, briefly, so we walked around for a bit before it started to rain again. At this point we made our way to the Little Creatures Brewery and Pub, where giant metal vats lined the walls of a massive hall, brewing up a storm while we and others passed away the afternoon sampling their end products. Very good they were too. We emerged some time in the evening, caught the train back to the city and then had a bit of a sleepless night (thanks to oversleeping the previous night) before getting up in the wee small hours to catch the red-eye flight to Exmouth.

4 – 11 June, Ningaloo Reef / Cape Range National Park

Landed at Exmouth after a short flight (90 mins or so) which quickly took us out of Perth’s urban sprawl and over a vast red expanse of desert, wrinkled with humpy ranges of rounded cliffs and hills shaped like upturned Tupperware bowls.

Stepping off the plane was like stepping into a film scene – outback Australia just as you imagine it. Hot, dusty, dry and red.

Exmouth airport is pretty much a shed in the middle of nowhere, so we quickly picked up our hire car for the week, which was sturdy rather than new (10 years old and 145,000 kms on the clock!). Complete with fitted furry dashboard and steering wheel covers! Then it was a 150km drive from the airport to our home for a few days, Coral Bay.

Coral Bay only became a settlement in 1968 following the building of the Coral Bay Hotel – named after the, well, coral bay, that it sits on. It’s a one-street town in the middle of a reef-fringed desert, which takes a whole 5 minutes to walk through. The beach is gorgeous, with a quarter moon of white sand curving round the really calm, sheltered bay where you can simply walk out and go snorkelling whenever you feel like it. We spent a lot of time sitting there, particularly at sunset with a beer and a bag of crisps (oh yes, we know how to party!)

Our time in Coral Bay was mostly spent on the sea, with two full days of diving and snorkelling with manta rays – really fantastic experience – they have a 3 – 4 m wingspan and were within a couple of metres of us on the surface. Alien like but elegant. We also had a day on a whale shark spotting boat but sadly, despite a couple of very close calls, we didn’t actually see a whale shark, which was a disappointment but just one of those things. The ocean’s a big place and whale sharks can dive to depths of 150m which is just a wee bit out of our range!!! Whale sharks, for those not familiar with them, are the biggest fish known to exist, up to 12m and are 100% vegetarian despite the shark bit. They come to the Ningaloo Reef to feed as part of their annual migration and can be as close as 100m off shore. On the plus side, we did see humpback whales, dolphins, sea snakes, big seal-like things called dugongs, and huge loggerhead turtles – fab!

We also ate a LOT of seafood (I keep thinking that as a diver I shouldn’t really eat seafood but it’s just so tasty!!), drank some fine Western Australian wine and, all in all, had a very relaxing time.

After 5 nights of the above, we decided to make our way further north, back to Exmouth, where the delights of the Cape Range National Park awaited us. Exmouth, unfortunately, is a bit of dive so we were glad we only had a couple of nights there, but it was worth it to see the national park which was bleakly beautiful with the reef fringing right round its edges and the Cape Range hills rolling down to the beach. Dead kangaroos every hundred yards or so on the roadside which was a bit sad but other than that, a really awe-inspiring glimpse of the scale of the Aussie outback. Can’t really do it justice here, but the pics may help!

11 – 13 June, Perth again

After our week in the wilds, it was back to Perth for a couple of nights before returning to Sydney. Took a river boat down the Swan River, went up the Perth wheel, walked around a bit, nothing too exciting and to be honest, Perth’s got nothing on Sydney for cityscapes and city living - yes we have turned into proper Sydneysiders looking down on all other Aussie cities!

All in all, a great 10 days and felt like only a tiny taster of the often-neglected and generally forgotten about western half of this huge old place.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Western Australia photos - words to follow

Wow, it's been ages since I posted here, but not for lack of things happening!

Click here for a link to pictures of recent holiday in Western Australia,
which was absolutely fantastic1!

Words on this, and other events, to follow later this week...