Thursday, 30 July 2009

Christmas in July

A few months ago I said to K, ‘why don’t we have a few people round for some mulled wine and nibbles to do the whole “Christmas in July” thing?’ Christmas in July being an Australian tradition which must have been conjured up by European settlers who felt that, frankly, winter in Australia should be marked by some festivities involving lots of food and drink. Quite right too I reckon as Christmas here is completely wasted on summer – who on earth wants to have all that going on when it’s 35 degrees outside!

Anyway, as these things do, our ‘few drinks and nibbles’ turned into a feast fit for kings for 12 people (was meant to be 16 but we lost a few on the day to the ongoing lurgy striking people everywhere which may or may not be swine flu).

So last week I spent most of my evenings (when I wasn’t in Melbourne!) preparing mince pies, cooking a turkey, chopping veg and generally making lists of things we needed to buy (like plates and cutlery!)

Saturday itself was about 5 hours of prepping and cooking and making the flat look presentable, which was all good fun and very much worth it to have our first proper hosting in our flat since we moved in 9 months ago! The mulled wine went down a treat, as did all the grub, including some fab additions brought along by guests. I’m no domestic goddess but I was quite proud of my mince pies I must say!

Good chat, good fun and K did all the washing up – that’s what I call a successful evening! Oh yes and we’ve got more wine left over than we know what to do with thanks to the moderation of Aussies when it comes to drinking (seriously).

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Theatre, magicians & coffee!

This weekend has been packed with lots of lovely things. It began with dinner in the pub and a couple of glasses of red on Friday night, before a play (The Promise) at the Belvoir Street Theatre in Surry Hills. It’s a fairly funky theatre but unfortunately the play wasn’t up to much. Three acts, three people, lots of long, drawn-out script and just not a lot of anything to hold on to. It was set in Russia during & after the war and was all about a love triangle but don’t know what the end was because we gave up after the 2nd act! Bizarrely the female lead was played by the same actress who was the female lead in the last play we saw – I wonder if she’s been on Neighbours!!

After cleaning the flat and doing other Saturday things during the day, we then went out to the Opera House on Saturday evening. It’s a 7 minute ferry trip from our flat to there, which is especially beautiful to do at sunset. We had a pre-event glass of wine sitting outside watching the sun go down over the Harbour Bridge. Moments like that are when I really love living here.

Then it was into the event itself – a magic show!! 90 minutes of brilliant fun and really classic entertainment and I absolutely loved it!! (It was a surprise from K – he really is good to me). Couldn’t figure out how any of the tricks were being done, although after a few hours of post-event dissection, we reckon we’re onto most of them now – very, very good though and would recommend it to anyone (Holy Cow 2, global tour underway!).

As it was an early show and was finished by about 7.30, we then went for dinner at Waterfront, which as you might imagine, is on the waterfront…We used our new Entertainment Card (you pay about $50 and get a card that gives you discounts at hundreds of restaurants) so got one of our mains free; we had seafood and a bottle of verdelho and it was a definite 9 out of10. A few drinks after dinner, accompanied by lots of laughing at very pissed people (we were in The Rocks, the tourist district where every pub has its own bouncer), and then we taxied home.

This morning (Sunday) we were both up fairly bright and early (well, for us that is!) to go for a run as the “City to Surf” race is in 3 weeks and it’s 14km. Unfortunately K seems to have torn or pulled a muscle in his calf and looks to be out of it – he had to hobble home from the run this morning. Apart from the pain I think he may be secretly relieved that he doesn’t have to do any more training!

This afternoon we met up with some friends to sample the delights of the annual Sydney Coffee Festival, which was absolutely packed with thousands of people sampling coffees, teas, hot chocolates and snacks among the crowded streets of The Rocks (yes, we were back there again!).

It was an unseasonably warm day today, reaching 24 degrees at one point, so a very pleasant time was had by all and we pootled back on a ferry about 5pm, just in time to catch another beautiful pink and blue sunset sky.

Snapped this picture of the Opera House with shadows as we waited for ferry back. The apartment block at the left hand side is ours – so lucky!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Masterchef, Australia style

Water cooler TV in Australia at the moment is Masterchef. That probably seems a bit strange to those from the UK who have memories of Sunday evenings with Lloyd ‘cogitating, digesting, regurgitating or whatever’ Grossman. But the Oz series is completely different. It’s even completely different from the "sexy" new Masterchef on the BBC. It’s a 12 week ‘food idol’ type contest which has now reached finals week, with 6 finalists competing each day to avoid elimination and become the winner. This is the first time Australia has done Masterchef, which is odd considering how much of a foodie nation it is, and it’s taken the country by storm. The cynic in me would point out that as the general standard of TV here is utter crap, that it doesn’t take much, but I have to say, even though I’ve come to it late, it’s quite addictive.

Unlike most reality contests, the judges are constructive and helpful (instead of shouty and irritating like the current UK version), there aren’t too many overly prolonged silences at elimination point, the challenges that the amateur chefs have to do are interesting (2 pies in 2 hours today, one sweet and one savoury), and the dishes that people are coming up with are, quite simply, very very impressive and inspiring. And it’s winter here, so it’s proper comfort TV. (Australian version of Strictly Come Dancing just doesn’t cut it!)

The nation is hooked and like everyone else, I’ll be sad to see the series end this weekend

Sunshine Coast

Just back from a really lovely weekend on the Sunshine Coast, about an hour north of Brisbane, or Brisvegas as it’s more commonly referred to by Sydneysiders. Not entirely sure why and according to this from Wiki, it seems no-one else knows either!

For possibly the first time ever, this was a weekend away where we did pretty much nothing – no diving, no bushwalking, no packed programme of cultural activities, zip, nada, nothing. It was bliss! The weather is a good bit warmer in this part of the world than in Sydney and while not quite bikini and shorts, it was good to leave the woollies at home!

We arrived at our boutique resort, themed with buddhas and incense and the gentle lapping of water features, later than we’d hoped on Friday evening, thanks to the horrors of weekend traffic leaving Brisbane. Nearly 3 hours to cover what should be just over 1 hour – yuck. However we were soon revived by a good meal and a few glasses of red at Castro’s in nearby Coolum Beach, before returning to our huge suite, managing another glass of wine and promptly crashing out at about 10.30! K has had my lurgy and I’m still not totally over mine (thinking it maybe was swine flu actually!), so still feeing slightly lethargic and needing lots of sleep to feel half-human. This is our excuse anyway for not waking up for about 11 hours!!

After a late breakfast the next day, we drove up to Noosa which is the main beauty spot around here. It was indeed lovely but a bit over-developed for our liking – too many hotels right on the beach front, too many people chasing parking spaces, too little peace and quiet. I can see why it would be great for families but as we don’t have any ankle biters yet, generally prefer to avoid them!!

So we then drove the 20kms back to our little bit of nirvana and wandered down to the beach near our suite – about a 4 minute walk to emerge onto a deserted expanse of sand stretching out for a good few miles in either direction – much more like it!

Unfortunately the wind was a bit on the nippy side so after an hour or so of picnicking, strolling and watching the huge waves dumping and cross-currenting and generally looking ferocious, we headed back to our place and took advantage of our heated plunge pool, with the obligatory chilled glass of white to top it off – ah, the decadence!

Sat night was a bit like from the sublime to the ridiculous as we ended up having dinner and spending the evening in the local Surf Life Savers Club. If you’ve ever seen Home and Away, just think of Alf and the Surf Club and you’ll pretty much have the right mental image. Not quite the romantic dinner for two that we had in mind but it had the advantage (!) of coming with a free shuttle bus which meant that K could have a few drinks. Nights out in rural Queensland obviously don’t go on too late as we were on the last shuttle of the night at 10pm – along with a gaggle of eighteen year olds all quite a bit the worse for wear – the zoo bus, as the driver chuckled to us. Always good to experience local culture first-hand though!

A leisurely breakfast on Sunday, followed by more beach strolling and a much shorter return drive to the airport. All in all, a very relaxing and much welcome injection of winter sun.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Climbing Uluru (Ayers Rock)

There's a debate going on in Australia at the moment about whether to ban people from climbing Uluru (or Ayers Rock as it is sometimes known). It mirrors a recent debate that took place in my family when I was back home!

I'm not normally one for banning things but in this case I think the benefits in terms of respecting traditional culture and helping Australia move forward from its tainted history of exploitation of indigenous people, far outweigh the costs of reducing people's freedom to do something that is really not that big a deal.

Here's a well balanced article on the debate from the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Original here

"A proposed ban on climbing Uluru in Central Australia has sparked debate between tourists, traditional owners and political leaders.

A draft management plan for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was released today, recommending a ban for cultural and environmental reasons.

The plan could come into effect within 18 months, but must first go through a consultation process and be signed off by Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

The Northern Territory's Tourism Minister, Chris Burns, says the Territory Government does not back the proposal.

"We have never supported the full closure of the climb at Uluru and that remains our position," he said.

But a traditional owner of Uluru, Vince Forrester, says he is is relieved a ban on climbing the iconic rock is one step closer to becoming a reality.

He says the rock is sacred to the local Aboriginal people and traditional owners have wanted the climb closed since the park was handed back to them in 1985.

"You can't go climb on top of the Vatican, you can't go climb on top of the Buddhist temples and so on and so forth," he said.

"Obviously you have to respect our religious attachment to the land too, so we're saying please do not climb Uluru - we've said it in all languages."

Mr Forrester says tourism operators should not be concerned about the closure.

"The visitors will get more information by walking around the base of Uluru and getting told the stories which Aboriginal people are available to do," he said.

Mixed response

The 346-metre high rock is visited by about 350,000 people a year, about half of whom are from overseas. More than 100,000 people climb the rock against the wishes of the traditional owners.

More than 35 deaths have been recorded on the climb, which can be steep, slippery and extremely hot.

The draft management plan, which is open to public comment for the next two months, notes that recent surveys show 98 per cent of people would not be put off visiting the area if they were not allowed to climb the rock.

But members of the public writing to ABC News Online have had a mixed reaction to the proposed climbing ban.

"This is a secular country. Dictating access to a popular tourist destination based on religious beliefs is unacceptable," wrote one, called Jim.

"By all means close the rock to climbers in adverse weather conditions, but to permanently close it would a denial of the rights of all Australians," wrote Saint Mike.

"The decision to climb or not to climb should remain with the individual, not the park management (white or black)."

"I understand the opposition to people climbing it. But at this point, it is a pilgrimage to travel to Uluru and climb it. I suggest that it is as important to Australia in general as it is to the traditional owners, and that should be considered," said another, Si.

"It is not as if anyone built it. It was always there. Climb on it if you want. It is like saying you can't swim in Sydney harbour or walk around the Grand Canyon," wrote Ron Rat.

But others were more supportive of the ban.

"About time. We would be horrified if people were allowed to climb all over our churches or sacred sites," wrote Lilly.

"I think a ban would be great. We should all respect others' cultural and sacred areas," agreed Jenny.

"I have climbed the rock, but would never attempt it again out of respect for the owners," said one person, going by the nickname The Owl.

"When I view it now, it is similar, in a spiritual sense, to a church or mosque. Walking around the base is the most respectful method of experiencing the monolith.

"Land rights is not about legal ownership, it's a link with Mother Earth and our appreciation of the land. We can all enjoy it now, without possible desecration."


Most of those who had already visited the rock said they had not climbed it, or if they had, they said they would not do so again.

"I have just visited this magnificent region - both Kata Tjuta and Uluru. I loved it! I did not climb Uluru nor did I wish to - it is far more beautiful and mystical from a distance," wrote Anne-Marie.

"I've been there, and the walk around the rock is rewarding, probably just as rewarding as the climb up," agreed another.

"Our family has recently visited Uluru and gained an appreciation of this wonderful icon," wrote John.

"We were delighted to take the walk around the rock and gain some understanding as to why 'the rock' would have such cultural significance to the traditional owners.

"Uluru is far more impressive than I ever imagined. It is an experience every Australian should have and not climbing the rock is part of the experience."

But some who were planning to visit the national park said they would not be deterred from climbing the rock.

"I am a student in a rural area and I am expecting to go to Uluru next year - I want to be able to experience what other people have been allowed to! Nature is beautiful, let us see its beauty!" wrote a student.

"I would love to climb this spectacular part of our country. I would like my children to see the view from the top," wrote Barrie.

Two people said if the ban was imposed, they would not visit the national park."

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Only in Australia?

Sometimes there are news headlines here that I swear you could only get in Australia.

This week's classic, causing me to splutter over my coffee, was "Rugby player defecates in hotel room" - wha-a-a-a-at!?!?!

Anyone seen this in any other country?!

Doing business

One of the big challenges about uprooting yourself to a different country is adapting to differences in culture and what is seen as acceptable / standard / just the way things are.

There are lots of examples of cultural differences between Britain and Australia – even though they’re very similar in many ways, they’re also very different at times. A common way of describing it is that Australia is a bit like Britain of 30 years ago. As I was only a nipper then I can’t really comment on whether that’s true, but I can say that there are aspects of life here that seem stuck in a bit of a time warp to me and one of them is how business is done.

Business here is done almost entirely on the basis of relationships – it’s all about who you know, not what you know. There’s a huge number of private and quasi-private schools that churn out new additions to the old boys (and girls) network every year and it’s perfectly acceptable in Australia to get involved in mutual back-scratching without anyone blinking an eyelid. Huge numbers of jobs get filled based on someone who knows someone, rather than being openly advertised and recruited for.

Now, I don’t think this is all bad – contacts and networks are part of life and I’d hate to live in a world where everything was done through some kind of rigid hierarchy or dry policies and procedures. And I quite clearly have benefited from this myself in terms of my work, not to mention various job offers that I got early on here – all through contacts. But there’s no denying it’s an elitist, exclusivist way of working that doesn’t help to create opportunities for people from all kinds of backgrounds to get ahead – if you’re not in the ‘right’ networks, you’re stuffed basically.

I also find it really difficult that I’m expected to use personal contacts and relationships for my own (or my organisation’s) gain – the concept of ‘conflict of interest’ seems to be missing from the Australian mindset! It’s particularly difficult for me and K because we work in related organisations – I’ve been expected to exploit this on more than one occasion and have been treated with a combination of confusion and dislike when I’ve resisted. Of course all of this is particularly ‘ironic’ given I work in a sector that is supposed to be about breaking down barriers and enabling people from all backgrounds to have a fair chance in life.

Monday, 6 July 2009


This week is NAIDOC week, which stands for National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee. It’s an annual week of celebration of culture, history and achievements of Australia’s indigenous population, or First Australians as they are sometimes referred to.

However, it’s quite amazing to see how little awareness of this week exists in the population as a whole – no mention on TV, in newspapers, in general discussions. The indigenous flag has been raised on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and there are some flags flying in the city centre, but you really need to be looking out for those and there’s really just an overwhelming sense of apathy about the whole thing. Maybe that will change as the week goes by, but I doubt it.

It’s particularly strange (disturbing) as there has been a significant amount of news in the last few weeks about indigenous issues – all of it bad. The Productivity Commission, which is a bit Orwellian sounding, but is actually the Government’s independent research and advisory body, released a report last week showing that despite various policy initiatives and a whole heap of rhetoric, the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is growing rather than shrinking on a whole range of economic, social and health indicators.

There has also been a lot of news and discussion about whether or not the Government’s “Intervention” into indigenous communities in remote Australia has been a success or not. The Intervention was, and still is, a military-led campaign to go into a set of communities identified as needing an “emergency response” to their state of social and economic wellbeing. The Intervention was a response to a report (Little Children are Sacred) revealing widespread and alarming levels of child abuse in remote indigenous communities, linked to high levels of drinking and the breakdown of community norms and traditional culture. Measures included legislation exempting indigenous people from the Racial Discrimination Act (in order to quarantine their welfare payments aka “income management” – purely on the basis of their ethnicity), compulsory acquisitions of land, restrictions on alcohol sales, deployment of police to patrol communities and the promise of increased funds for new housing and community services. It was revealed today that no new houses have actually been built in the 2 years since the Intervention began.

The Intervention is controversial and has been both heavily criticized and strongly welcomed by indigenous community leaders. It only applies to a certain number of communities in very remote areas of Australia so to a large extent, it feels like it’s happening in a very different world to the one that most inhabitants of this island live in. What some people don’t realise is that there is a much higher population of indigenous people in urban centres than there is in remote areas – and they tend to have equally poor life chances compared to their non-indigenous counterparts.

I find it disappointing that NAIDOC week seems to be coming and going under the radar with only a few flags being waved, while there is very little interest in having an informed and intelligent debate about how indigenous and non-indigenous Australia can move forward from the current shocking statistics.

Sunday, 5 July 2009


This week has been a bit of a non-entity, mainly because I’ve been trying to get over a bug. Not a coughing and sneezing bug, but a sucking-all-the-life-force-out-of-me bug. Most annoying.

Anyway, in among the illness, I did manage a work trip to Canberra (kind of dull and also freezing!) so I’ve now only got Tasmania and the Northern Territory to visit and then I’ll have been to every state in Oz – not bad!

Felt quite a bit better by last night, which was good as K and I were invited round to some friends for pizza and Canada Day celebrations (J is Canadian). A lovely evening involving lots of good chat, excellent food and a few beers. It ended somewhat annoyingly with us being locked out of our flat after a breakdown in communication saw us both leave our keys inside (each thinking the other had theirs – oh yes, the comedy!). 40 minutes waiting for a locksmith and $190 later we got inside…grrr!

Today’s picture was taken on a late afternoon stroll yesterday, with the sun setting over Sydney Harbour. The man in the picture was doing stretches as he walked which was slightly bizarre!