Musing on Melbourne Part Two

window dressing

Looking at a map of Melbourne’s city center, you see a mostly rectilinear geometry of parallel and perpendicular streets. Vintage maroon and green trams travel the City Circle route, which marks the boundary of the free tram zone. It is on foot, though, that you’ll find the wonder of this city. Step inside those straight lines and you’ll discover a magical universe where around every corner is another surprise.

The State Library, a popular place to congregate for an al fresco lunch.

Melbourne is a very youthful, hipster city. The first things I noticed were women wearing fashionable yet sensible shoes instead of the towering black ankle booties you find on every young woman in Sydney and the absence of prams.

As I discovered two years ago when we first moved to Australia, there is a rivalry of sorts between Sydney and Melbourne for who makes the best coffee. Don’t tell Sydney I said this, but so far the best coffee I’ve discovered was in Melbourne at Brother Baba Budan , part of the Seven Seeds family. It’s a tiny little place with more chairs hanging from the ceiling than sitting on the floor. At any time you’ll find it jam packed full of coffee lovers, and the coffee is well worth it. Pick up a packet of beans to brew at home. The Adado Gedeo Ethiopia was a revelation.

cocoa and fairy floss at Hash

Another unique, hot beverage experience awaits you at Hash Specialty Coffee & Roasters. It’s a thick, Italian style hot chocolate served in a beaker, which you then pour over the lofty mountain of fairy floss (cotton candy). Myself, I skipped the spun sugar and went straight for the pudding-like chocolate.

Spicy BBQ Pork Bowl at Paperboy Kitchen

Melbournians are spoiled for choice when it comes to food and drink, and we sampled as much as we could in a week. One night we met up with some American friends for pre-dinner drinks at the Gin Palace, a moody, speak-easy kinda joint, with intimate seating arrangements of low, plush couches, and novel length list of martini choices.

After that, we moved on to Meatmaiden, where, as you can guess from the name, they serve a lot of meat. The food was delicious and beautifully presented. One of the highlights of the visit had to be watching the tables full of very large and hungry footy players. They devoured an awful lot of food and, as we got there late, there was a lot of the menu missing. The chef was very kind and sent us some on-the-house goodies.

Another popular spot was Naked For Satan in Fitzroy, a suburb just northeast of the city center. Leon Satanovich ran a vodka still in this building during the Depression. Because of the blasting heat, he worked in his undies. Folks who came to taste his vodka used the code phrase “let’s get naked for Satan.”  We sat on the rooftop terrace, watched the sun go down and feasted on Basque inspired small plates.

On our last day, we had a farewell to Melbourne meal at Terra Rossa on Flinders Lane. We had the Margherita pizza with fior de latte. Mmmmm!

Wunderkammer

Between meals, Melbourne is a literal cabinet of curiosities, starting with Wunderkammer, which was exactly that. It was filled with skeletons, fossils and minerals, taxidermy, mounted insects and strange little contraptions.

l’uccello

My favorite find, the one I dream of, was l’uccello Vintage Haberdashery & Fancy Goods in the Cathedral Arcade. It was a textile artist’s heaven. Plus, I just like to say “haberdashery.”

l’uccello

It was overflowing with vintage ribbons and buttons, with silk embroidery floss, Liberty of London and French General fabric.

l’uccello

And the Holy Grail of textile arts, something I never expected to see in real life, Sophie Digard scarves and necklaces. I’m having to fan myself right now; I feel faint thinking of it.

As I left l’uccello, I wandered in another shop next door. Fascinated with the collection of objects and the fanciful curating, I was snapping photos and wondering why there was no proprietor. I was alone in the shop until a woman whispered past me and said, “I didn’t see that.” “Didn’t see what?” I asked. The photos. Apparently I wasn’t to be taking photos. It seems a few months back, some extremist Christians had been in, snapped photos and then publicly denounced the shop owner as a Satanist. I couldn’t see anything in the shop that would give someone that idea, but I put my camera down and followed the woman into her shop, the Muses of Mystery.

Muses of Mystery

I had to scratch my head, wondering why the other guy’s shop was targeted. I had a lovely chat with Vikkhi and an enjoyable wander around her shop.

Haunted Bookshop

Another place I found in a local guide and was keen to visit was the Haunted Bookshop. I’m pretty sure the fellow behind the counter is the resident haint. When I asked to see tarot cards he might as well have chased me out of the store rattling chains and howling for all the help he gave. He made it abundantly clear that I was not welcome there. Maybe it was the camera.

 

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Musing on Melbourne

National Gallery of Victoria

I struggle to breathe when I think of what tomorrow brings. I feel like all the oxygen has been sucked out of the air. I vacillate between wanting to bury myself in some activity that wipes out all other thought, and thinking, “no-no-no, I have to do SOMETHING!” Tomorrow I will do a thing, a starting point; I will go to the Women’s March in Sydney. I will dress in black to signify my state of mourning for my country of origin. For today, I will pretend that all is well, and I’ll go on a little mental journey to Melbourne.

I discovered Melbourne last June when I accompanied my husband on a business trip, and I fell in love immediately! I was enchanted with the old world charm, the colorful laneways, and all the twisty-turny places where you can discover delightful surprises.

Our adventure began at the Historic Port Authority Building, an example of Neo-Grec architecture, which was completed in 1931. The granite and marble-filled building is now an apartment space, where we enjoyed an Airbnb stay. I could have spent the day looking at each fine detail of this building, but the husband was doing a lot of heavy sighing, so we went out the door and into the city.

The Forum Theatre

The city center is laid out in a what’s known as the Hoddle Grid, oriented 70 degrees off from true north.  The main streets which run NE to SW and SE to NW are lined with stunning architecture.

Town Hall

Wandering off from those straight lines you’ll discover the laneways, little alleys that run between the main thoroughfares and sometimes veer off into dead ends.

I immediately lost my husband to the graffiti covered walls.

The street art is one of Melbourne’s main attractions.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Among the architectural highlights are the churches. I’m not a religious person, and yet I find myself fascinated by sacred architecture.

Go Go Bar

Our hosts were serious foodies and gave us many good suggestions for places to eat. Nearby was the popular Chin Chin. When we got there, the wait was only 15 minutes, so we went downstairs to the Go Go Bar and had an amazing espresso martini. By the time we were seated the line was snaking out the door, around the corner, down the laneway. The food was worthy of that line, but I am so glad we arrived when we did!

Walking down the sidewalk on the way to dinner, I caught a glimpse of glowing light through the stained glass of the Cathedral Arcade and had to duck in for a quick photo.

The Royal Arcade

The arcades are beautiful shopping centers dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

One of the selling points of this city, for me, is you can find a farmers market almost any day of the week. We hopped over to the Queen Victoria Market on Sunday. There we discovered the Brazilian Festival where they were smoking a lot of meat!

A lot of meat!

I spent a good few days wandering this beautiful city and really barely touched on it. What I did see is too much for one blog post. I’ll be back with some highlights of the amazing food, beverages, and some quirky little shops I found. In the meantime, I’m planning our next trip there, which will include revisiting some of my favorite spots!

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A South Coast Journey

A year ago, (Yes a year. I don’t procrastinate, not at all.) our friends were flying off to Perth for the holidays and insisted that while they were gone, we should take their car and go on a road trip. So Christmas day we packed up the car and pulled out onto the highway. They’d given Craig some driving-on-the-other-side-of-the-road lessons in the days previous, but he was still quite nervous. I wasn’t allowed to knit, as I had to be his second set of eyes to make sure he was doing it right. He didn’t really need my help, but it made him feel better.

We drove south on the A1, leaving the city behind. The freeway cuts through the wooded Royal National Park, then comes to the city of Wollongong on the other side. Keep going past the town and suddenly the landscape opens up and you’re surrounded by green rolling hills. The sheer expanse of space made me feel as if I’d just been released from a small closet where I’d been kept locked up for several months. At that moment I thought, “oh, I’m not going back.”

Soon we started seeing signs for kangaroo crossings. My main goal on this trip was to finally see a kangaroo! I hoped the first one I saw wasn’t roadkill. We drove through places with wonderful names like Jerrawangala and Ulladulla, words I want to repeat again and again just to feel the syllables roll around in my mouth.

southcoast-nsw-2-of-25In late afternoon we arrived at our Airbnb rental at Dolphin point. After meeting our host and having a short rest, we walked to the nearby beach, where the waters from Stony Creek River meet the ocean. We walked down the short beach, crossed a narrow inlet onto another large expanse of sand, and across that to the lagoon. The tide was coming in, so we left our belongings a good ways up on the sand, and waded into the water. There was a sandspit on the other side that we wanted to get to and look out on the ocean from there. The river was intent on making its way to the open sea, so we lifted our legs and let it carry us. Once to the other side, we discovered it was pretty much a straight vertical climb up, and it was all we could do to hold our ground and not be swept away.

southcoast-nsw-3-of-25Craig wanted to go ahead and follow the current around the spit and out to sea. That didn’t sound like a good idea to me. Aside from drowning, I was also worried about our cameras we’d left back on shore. A quick glance over told me we’d better hurry back. The water was close to lapping at our cameras now. Even swimming across the current rather than trying to swim against it was obviously going to take me far from where I was trying to go. We eventually made it, just in the nick of time. By this point, the “large expanse of sand” was a small island.

southcoast-nsw-5-of-25According to my itinerary, the next day was when I would finally see a kangaroo. We set off for Pebbly Beach, known for the abundant kangaroo population. The beach was mostly deserted except for other folks who read the same reviews of the beach that I did. On the way back from the loo, one went hopping by and was gone before I realized what was happening. I spoke to a local who told me that, indeed, it was a big kangaroo hot spot, but they usually show up for four o’clock happy hour. So we decided to continue our trek south to see what we could find.

gabe-the-wombatAt Batemans Bay we found Birdland Animal Park and my new boyfriend Gabe.

southcoast-nsw-6-of-25Craig found a different kind of friend.

southcoast-nsw-8-of-25And wallabies!

southcoast-nsw-9-of-25The next day we turned back north and drove to Jervis Bay to our next Airbnb. It was a just perfect size tiny cabin in our hosts’ backyard, surrounded by flowers and chickens. Our hosts recommended Orient Post Bakehouse for truly amazing fish and chips, and invited us by in the evening for a drink. That’s one of the things we appreciate about Airbnb, is the chance to meet people and make new friends. We ended up staying until midnight or later drinking wine and chatting with our hosts, two other Airbnb guests from Germany, staying in a caravan out front, plus two of the hosts’ friends from Ireland who were there visiting.

southcoast-nsw-11-of-25The next day we went to Hyams Beach, where it’s said to have the whitest sand around.  Hmmm. Not exactly white, but it was a gorgeous beach!  On the way to the beach, we stopped off at the Jervis Bay Maritime Museum in Huskisson. A year later I don’t remember everything that we saw, but I know I found it interesting and there were lots of things from boats and an old ferry.

For lunch we went to Greenwell Point for oysters. There are several stands were you can buy oysters shucked and served with lemon. And we’re told that there are people just on the side of the road selling them too. We did see some signs, but apparently they were sold out. It’s a popular attraction, so go early if you want oysters.

southcoast-nsw-17-of-25There are lots of fishing boats around, and that attracts one of my favorite birds. I got such a kick out of this greedy guy. All that mess he’s swallowing looks painful, doesn’t it?

southcoast-nsw-19-of-25Next up, we visited Currarong to find the shipwreck. At the beginning of the trail we found this obsidian black river. Somebody told us that it’s the tannin from the tea trees that turns the water black.

southcoast-nsw-21-of-25At the end of the trail we found the shipwreck. On a stormy night of March 27, 1928 the S.S. Merimbula ran aground at Whale Point. The next morning, the fourteen passengers and 35 crew members rowed safely ashore. These are the remains that have washed up here.

southcoast-nsw-23-of-25Following Lighthouse Road down to the southern tip of the Currarong peninsula we found Point Perpendicular Lightstation. For awhile we were the only people there. It was so quiet, the only sounds coming from the wind and sea and gulls. The late afternoon sun was glorious.

Finally, it was time to go search out some dinner. Nowra is the nearest town of any size and most likely to have a few restaurants to choose from. We learned something about Christmas week in Australia. Everything is closed. Well, not quite everything. We did find an Indian restaurant that hit the spot.

southcoast-nsw-25-of-25On the final day of our holiday, we thought we’d make one last side journey on our way home. We drove over the twisty windy roads of Cambewarra Range to arrive at Kangaroo Valley. We had brought along a little picnic and stopped to dine beside this peaceful river.

This Christmas, we’re heading south again. This time we’ll have home base at Batemans Bay, and take some short trips from there. I’ll try real hard not to wait another year before I post pics!

Happy holidays to all!

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Blue Mountains Road Trip

blue-mountains-2-of-20After almost two years down here in Australia, we finally made the very short trip to the amazingly beautiful Blue Mountains. What we were waiting for, I do not know. We set the tone for our holiday away by having a leisurely morning before we jumped in the vehicle and headed west.

Our first stop was in the village of Wentworth Falls. A friend had recommended that we absolutely needed to stop at Conditorei Patisserie Schwarz. Oh. My. Goodness. That was very good advice. We had a lovely lunch consisting of the Aussie staple food, meat pie, and Schwarz’s soup of the day, which was I believe Hungarian Goulash. I’m not certain, but I am certain it was all delicious. Before we left, of course, we had to buy pastries for the road!

Feeling chockers (very full!) we got back on the road, but not for long. We took a little jaunt to visit the actual water fall of Wentworth Falls. I’m not going to lie, I’ve seen bigger, much bigger waterfalls, but it was stunning scenery. I didn’t realize just how much I’ve missed the mountains.

blue-mountains-4-of-20The bird life in the Blue Mountains was extraordinary.

blue-mountains-5-of-20Continuing on, we came to the Three Sisters rock formation. According to a version of Aboriginal legend, the three sisters of the Katoomba tribe, living in this valley, fell in love with three brothers from the wrong tribe. A battle ensued and the girls were turned to stone for their protection. Unfortunately, the witchdoctor who did the deed died before he could turn them back into girls.

blue-mountains-9-of-20We found another glorious view at Govetts Leap near Blackheath. You can’t really tell from this photo… well maybe a little bit. Look over to the far left. See that bit of yellow? Great swaths of this color filled the valleys and hillsides. It was almost like taking an autumn leaf-peeping drive in Utah.

hedgehog-fabricI couldn’t resist stopping at Blackheath Haberdashery & Fabric. Really, I just love any place that has haberdashery in the name! I did find this super cute Japanese fabric by Sevenberry. I also took a quick peek in the House of Wool; they had a sweet collection of yarn.

blue-mountains-16-of-20As evening drew near, we arrived at our destination, Jenolan Caves and the Cave House hotel. The accommodation was built in 1897 by architect Walter Liberty Vernon, in Federation Arts and Crafts style. The simple, yet comfortable rooms are decorated to be reminiscent of the late Victorian, early Edwardian era. No TV. No wi-fi. It was wonderful. We had more delicious food in the grand dining room at Chisolm’s restaurant in the hotel.

blue-mountains-13-of-20After dinner, the young woman at the front desk urged us to walk down to the Blue Lake, so named because of the light refraction caused by dissolving particles of limestone. While strolling along we were treated with a sighting of the resident platypus. A perfect ending to a perfect day!

blue-mountains-19-of-20The next day we started off with more yummy food! The dining room served up a huge buffet, with sausages, bacon, beans and toast, yogurt, fruit, muslii, and of course coffee, tea, orange juice, and milk. Oh and there were even pastries, but I had been spoiled by Schwarz’s the day before.

After another lazy morning, we took our cave tour. They have several different caves you can tour, all for different fitness levels and adventure seeking levels. We viewed Chifley Cave, a very moderate choice.

blue-mountains-20-of-20My favorite formations in the cave were what they named “shawls”, these bits that look like fabric draped across the way. The other highlight for me was the precocious little boy who chatted up our guide and was full of witty remarks.

Apparently this is where I stopped taking photos, with the Nikon anyway. I was in such a state of relaxation, that it just did not occur to me. We left Jenolan and headed northwest to Bathurst to stock up on provisions for the rest of the weekend to be spent in a cozy little cabin that we found on AirBnB.

All in all it was a heavenly weekend full of rest, de-stressing, and reconnecting . And best of all, now that we know just how quick and easy a trip it is up to the Blue Mountains, our plan is to make many an escape up there on hot and humid summer weekends! There are so very many more sights to see and little villages to explore!

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Harvest Festival

As I sit bundled up under sweaters and knitted throws, looking out on a cold, grey sky, I’m calling up a warmer day last month when we journeyed out with our mates to experience the Autumn Harvest Festival at Rouse Hill House and Farm. The house and farm are part of Sydney Living Museums, a group of historic structures and gardens, such as Vaucluse House that I wrote about last year.

Rouse Hill House and Farm (2 of 27)I’m afraid I went with notions of the familiar American harvest festival, expecting big orange pumpkins, some hot apple cider, and maybe a hayride.

Rouse Hill House and Farm (1 of 27)We did get to eat scones with jam and fresh cream while sitting on hay bales! These were proper scones, not the fry bread that Utahns try to pass off as scones.

Rouse Hill House and Farm (6 of 27)And there was some beautiful harvest bounty.

Rouse Hill House and Farm (7 of 27)I sought out orange where I could find it. (over in the corner. the carrots)

Rouse Hill House and Farm (1 of 4)This looks more like spring! But I still have a lot to learn about planting and growing here.

Rouse Hill House and Farm (9 of 27)There were stalls with lots of yummy things to eat. Eat Me Chutneys rescues “unsold, wonky and bruised produce and convert it into epic chutneys.” We got some of the tamarind and fig. It was indeed epic!

Rouse Hill House and Farm (3 of 4)I found myself enchanted by the lovely displays. I’m a sucker for things in jars. So is my husband. Several jars followed us home.

Rouse Hill House and Farm (4 of 27)Things in beakers also win me over!

Rouse Hill House and Farm (11 of 27)I didn’t try Loli’s Organic Nut Butters, but they looked delicious.

Rouse Hill House and Farm (4 of 4)I can not tell you how badly I wanted to ring this bell in front of the old schoolhouse. If they hadn’t put that sign there, I wouldn’t have even considered it.

Rouse Hill House old photo (1 of 1)Rouse Hill House was constructed in the early 1800s. Six generations of the family lived there up until the late 1990s when it was opened as a museum.

Rouse Hill House and Farm (18 of 27)Today, the house on the hill is abuzz with visitors.

Rouse Hill House and Farm (21 of 27)The house and farm is built on the site of the Battle of Vinegar Hill, a convict uprising in 1804, led by Irish political prisoners and named for the battle that took place in Ireland in 1798 between the British Redcoats and Irish rebels. It was sobering to look out on the quiet open space and think of the strife that unraveled there so long ago.

Rouse Hill House and Farm (22 of 27)I find it quite thrilling to travel down these old roads to find the history there. There are many more Sydney Living Museum sites I hope to visit, including homes, a barracks, the mint, and more. I’ve learned that in some they have candle-lit tours available! Now that sounds fun!

 

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A Historical Walk Through Balmain

On a crisp, sunny day way last June, I set off on foot with the lovely Merrolee to do a walking tour of Balmain’s historical architecture. Balmain is full of old homes and buildings dating from the 1840s. On previous jaunts around town, I’d admired and wondered about the history of them, so was thrilled when Merrolee told me about the self-guided tours.

Balmain Historical Walk (2 of 27)Our journey began down by the wharf, with Bell’s Store which was built in 1888. It was originally a warehouse. That beautiful stepped gable was demolished by Fenwick’s tugboat company in order to provide a better view of the boating operations. It was restored in 2012 using old photographs as guides.

Balmain Historical Walk (1 of 27)The sandstone was likely quarried nearby. The arrangement of the blocks and the surface carving are examples of the style of the time. Mortar was made from burnt oyster shells from the harbour. I get a little thrill to see the marks made by hands from long ago, it makes the connection to that person a little more real.

Balmain Historical Walk (1 of 1)Just up the road a bit, is Waterman’s Cottage built in 1841 by stonemason John Cavill for McKenzie the Waterman who provided ferry service in and out of Balmain. Overland travel was still muddy and treacherous, so the ferry was an important service. Many of the older buildings in Balmain have these corner facing doors.

Balmain Historical Walk (3 of 27)Apparently, McKenzie meant to add a terrace here, but it was never finished.

Balmain Historical Walk (5 of 27)The Cahermore was one of the many original pubs built in Balmain.

Balmain Historical Walk (8 of 27)The Unity Hall was a hotel and a meeting place for a Friendly Society, Balmain Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows, an early form of insurance. It was also a drinking establishment.

Hotels in Australia are actually public houses, or pubs; places to eat and drink rather than bed down for the night, although in the early days, hotels were required to have at least two sleeping rooms suitable for accommodation.

This nomenclature was quite confusing to us in our early days in ‘Straya. And not just us apparently; one day we were having dinner at the East Village Hotel in Balmain, when a woman came strolling in pulling her suitcase behind her. She looked confused as well.

Balmain Historical Walk (12 of 27)
There was much more to see on the walk than just what was officially on the tour. We aren’t sure, but think this was what remains of the original dunny. Dunnies were similar to outhouses and provided sanitation until 1913 in Balmain. The dunny man would come along in the early hours or at night and collect the waste through the dunny door. This service could be had for 1 pound per annum.

Balmain Historical Walk (14 of 27)I had been fascinated with this house since our arrival in Balmain, and would pay to see the insides. I wish they did public open houses. It’s a private residence. Named Ewenton Mansion after one of its owners, it represents three separate phases of construction. First in 1854 Robert Blake, a former quartermaster turned civilian sheriff, built a single story house which he named Blake Vale. In 1856, Major Ewen Wallace Cameron bought it, named it after himself, and hired architect James MacDonald to add an entrance portico and the stone upper story. In 1872 the three story wing on the left was added to accommodate the growing family.

This is just a smattering of the interesting sights along the tour. One of my favorite things about living in Australia is the history that is close at hand in every direction. There are heaps of these types of self-guided walking tours as well as plenty of historical houses and gardens to visit like Vaucluse House , one of the Sydney Living Museums sites. I hope to visit more of these in the upcoming months!

 

 

 

The River City of Brisbane

Brisbane (5 of 30)Story Bridge

After two months shy of a year living in Sydney, we finally got to travel to another region of the country. True, Craig has been down to Melbourne on one occasion, but he was working, and didn’t see any of the city. This time, on another business trip, I tagged along for a visit to Brisbane. Why had no one told me about this gem?

Brisbane (1 of 2)The Old Windmill

Approaching Brisbane by air, I looked out to see vast swaths of green, forested areas, interrupted here and there with a small clearing containing a swimming pool. The blue-polka-dotted fabric of green made me laugh. As we stepped directly off the plane into Brisbane, the first impression was an oven blast of heat and humidity, but during a quick taxi ride to the hotel I already became enamored with the city. After depositing our bags, we set off to explore.

Brisbane (25 of 30)The ceiling of the Regent Theatre

The capital city of Queensland, Brisbane is nestled in the hills and valleys of the winding Brisbane River, named in 1823 after the governor of New South Wales, Thomas Brisbane. We hopped aboard the City Hopper, the free ferry that loops the river bends of the city. The site of today’s Brisbane began as a penal colony from 1824 to house the worst offenders of the Sydney convicts, until 1842 when the Moreton Bay area became a free settlement.

Brisbane (15 of 30)Air Raid Shelter

Aboard the ferry, on our way to a free concert at South Bank Parklands, we were waylaid by a big storm that came through. The ferry moored to wait it out and we enjoyed the light show and the cool wind. Later we heard that 100,000 lightning strikes were recorded by Energex, the local energy provider. The storm quieted and we disembarked at South Bank, too late and too wet for a concert. What I discovered there, though, was worth it. Epicurious Gardens is a gorgeous produce garden, dedicated to teaching the public what real food looks like. They even make the harvest available to the public. What thrilled me about this was being about to see what the new White’s Creek Community Food Forest and Orchard, that I wrote about a few months ago, will be once it is established.

Brisbane (2 of 2)South Bank Parklands

On Monday, I took advantage of the Brisbane Greeters program. It’s a free service in which a volunteer takes a group on a 2-4 hour tour of the city. Our volunteer tour guide, Coral, gave us a wonderful overview of what the city has to offer, from gardens to historical sites. She was a wealth of interesting information, and I made a list of places to return to for extended visits.

Brisbane (9 of 30)Splashing pools at South Bank

Back on South Bank, I visited Queensland Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, and the Gallery of Modern Art. I barely touched on any of them. There was so much to see, and I found myself frustrated with my lack of stamina. I wanted to keep going all day, to see every single exhibit.

Brisbane (12 of 30)Queensland Art Gallery

On our final day there, I visited the Roma Street Parklands, the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, the Regency Theatre, and City Hall. There was still so much more to see. The city is a beautiful blend of old and new, with new modern architecture built around the older stone buildings, and the very present history sitting side by side with the vibrance that is today’s Brisbane. I intend to go back!

Brisbane (3 of 6)City Hall
Brisbane (4 of 6)The former Regent Theatre, now the visitor center

Homeground

Homeground (3 of 6)After ten months with an Antipodean address, it feels like I’ve finally landed in Australia. Sydney is a city similar to so many other cities in the world. Much like airports, cities each have their flavor, but apart from the predominate language you hear, it’s hard to tell where you are in the world. All the cities have tall buildings, people rushing in a swift current down the sidewalks, bumper to bumper traffic honking like so many geese. For the moment, I am able to block out all that and focus on the mud stripes, the pale handprints on brown skin, and be transported to a time when what mattered was a people’s connection to the Earth, to nature and her rhythms.

Homeground (1 of 6)A line of men striped with mud paint, the colors of Earth, skin and soil (we all make up Earth in our varied palettes of brown) stand like a held breath, ready to leap into the sand circle. They are followed by the women draped in fur cloaks. Is that kangaroo? The low vibrating sounds of the didgeridoo call the Waang Djarii dancers forth, to dance the memories of the elders passed down over thousands of years. I’m at Homeground, a celebration of First Nations music and dance, taking place outside the Sydney Opera House. Five troupes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers have come to compete for a grand prize of $15,000.

At the start I am distracted, held back from flowing into the dance, by the negativity surrounding me in the present. To my left, a man is annoyed at being asked to move back from the circle, and by the invasion of his personal space by others who are stepping past him. To my right, a woman is angry at another who sat in front of her in the space where we were told not to sit. She is shooting nasty epithets under her breath and making threats. I want to reach over and wrap my arms around this woman, pull her close to me and coo in her ear, “there, there. It’s ok. Let it go.” I’m afraid of having her vitriol turned on me.

I imagine how the woman in front may feel. She’s thrilled to have scored a front row seat for herself and her daughter. Then, hearing the hate being spewed from behind her, she fills with doubt and unease, wondering if she’s committed a social faux pas but not exactly sure. If she were to get up now, that would create a commotion in itself, and she’d have to go to the far back, behind the crowd, where her little daughter would have no chance of seeing the dancers. Maybe there is a thread of ancestry there, an inheritance she wants to share with the girl, and so she chooses to block out the nastiness.

Homeground (2 of 6)As the Waang Djarii dance, the woman beside me quiets, turning her focus to the dancers. The women are waving branches of gum leaves, cleansing the space. As women it seems this is our sacred role through the ages. I’m not talking about housework, but of creating sacred space, in whatever form that may take. We do it as we nest and create homes and care for our families.

Homeground (1 of 7)The next group are the Djaadjawan dancers from Yuin Country. As these eight women dance their dance of healing, I continue to think of the connectedness of all humankind. I imagine their healing being channeled out to the wide world, to Paris, Beirut, and Nigeria, to the Syrian refugees and all those people so full of fear that they want to block their borders, and to the angry people on either side of me, afraid of people invading their space and taking what they believe is rightfully theirs.

Homeground (2 of 7)The women are beautiful, their faces, arms and legs, even their hair, striped in terra cotta and white mud. They are dancing the sacred feminine, they are the Wild Witch, the Blessed Mother, that same image that came to me on a mountain top in Utah, as we danced the Autumn Equinox, that petroglyph from the Fremont People, of the woman holding the spiral wheel. There was a time when all of our ancestors danced the spiral. The women before me now are dancing a continuous thread woven across the fabric of fifty thousand years. Me, I’m picking up dropped threads of an unraveled tapestry.

Homeground (3 of 7)Now Yuin Ghoodjarga from Koomurri Nation slither into the circle. Their bodies painted with red and white stripes snaking over their chests and circling their forearms and calves, the young men send their electric current into the crowd.

Homeground (5 of 7)The chanting voice at the microphone sings them through the metamorphosis from death adder, to kangaroo, to black duck.

Homeground (4 of 6)Thika Billa from the Wiradjuri region, with their scarified chests painted in traditional orange symbols leap into the circle. They become kangaroos, jumping, scratching, frolicking, and nibbling on gum leaves.

Homeground (6 of 7)The final group, Naygayiw Gigi from the Torres Strait Islands are a force of nature themselves.

Homeground (5 of 6)Grass skirted warriors blowing on conch shells, flourishing sticks and bows and arrows dominate the space with a sharp flick of their white feathered headdresses.

Homeground (6 of 6)The women then fill the circle with a joyous exuberance, wearing the same grass skirts, cowrie shells circling their heads, and carrying woven baskets that look like a summer handbag. This group steals the show with their spectacular performance, taking away the big check.

Watching these groups perform, even as my mind follows many threads of what our world is enduring today, I’m filled with hope for all of humanity. I feel a sense of awe at the power of human culture to endure. These people here today sharing their culture with us have held on to ancient traditions. They represent the oldest continuing, adaptive culture on earth. That is such an amazing and glorious thing! They have refused and still refuse to let their culture be killed off. They have survived the great white scourge. If they can do that, can’t we all together survive a handful of terrorists? I just keep thinking about how in the big scheme of things, we’re all in this together. We all belong to the human tribe. I wish we could all join the dance.

Hiding from the Heat and Dreaming of the Sea

A heat wave has hit, and I’m cowering in the shadows with the shades drawn, grateful that our home tends toward the cool.  I dislike hot weather, although I do handle it better than I did back when I had actual hormones coursing through my body, heating things up. I have to go start closing windows here, shortly, to hold back the heat. Air-conditioning is something we left behind in the U.S. Mostly it’s unnecessary. Perhaps even more than heat, I hate being closed up, so I don’t miss the A.C. too much. Yet.

After reading about how we just had the hottest October on record, worldwide, and 2015 looking to be the hottest year, I’m actually quite frightened. I lean more toward The Day After Tomorrow version of the end. You can always put on another sweater, but there are only so many clothes you can take off in public before getting arrested. Besides, I hear that hypothermia is one of the more pleasant ways to expire.

Even without the excess heat, it’s odd to see Christmas decorations and hear Frosty the Snowman playing in the Queen Victoria Building. We’re joining some other American immigrants next week for Thanksgiving dinner. I really hope it’s not too hot to bake the pies I’m in charge of. In a “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment, it finally occurred to me that my husband doesn’t automatically get next Thursday off.

~

I’ve fallen behind on beach photos, so here ya go!

Collins Flats (1 of 1)

Several weeks ago, we visited Collins Flat beach, over on the harbor side of Manly. I have to say, that while we did manage to have a relaxing afternoon, I wasn’t impressed. The beach was somewhat littered, and the water smelled like fuel from the boats. Hmmm.  Not what I want on my skin, thank you. There are also no restrooms here. I think that only encourages people to pee in the water, something else I don’t want on my skin.

Manly (6 of 56)It was fun to watch the ice cream boat come in! Perhaps it would have been even more fun to eat ice cream, but I think we were attempting to be healthy that day. It didn’t last long, if I remember right; I think we stopped for burgers and beer on our way back to the ferry.

Manly (5 of 56)It’s always fun to watch the little ones! They don’t have to worry about catastrophic climate change yet.

Manly (4 of 56)I couldn’t watch these guys, though. I was sure someone was going to break their neck.

Manly (3 of 56)Don’t you wonder what people’s stories are? I hope those bruises came from learning to surf or extreme tango.

Manly (1 of 56)I like rocks. Massive rocks that say, “I am the Earth! I am your mother! Why do you kids have to cause so much trouble? I brought you into this world and I’ll take you out.”

 

Warning: Some viewers may find the following post long and winding

Over the course of the past 9 months, I’ve gone back and forth about what I want this blog to be. Is it merely a travelogue? Is it about the everyday reality of ex-patting, a word one of my American friends used the other day? (I looked it up on Urban Dictionary. It’s a verb. “v: Expatting, to expat. The act of moving to another country for the purpose of building a better life or a more fulfilling career.”)

When writing a blog, there is a fine line between telling one’s truth and over-disclosing. I find I’ve been going in the far opposite direction, only choosing to show the pretty bits. But that is not an authentic representation of what this experience is. Living in Australia is not all beautiful beaches and interesting flora and fauna. There is a danger, I believe, in thinking that when you move to another country, everything is going to be wonderful. Logic mind may tell you otherwise, but that magical thinking part of the brain thinks logic mind is full of shit.

First there is the issue of “wherever you are, there you are”. Any personal issues you had in your home country are going to be part of the baggage you check. My own issues with depression, while they remained unpacked for awhile, have made an appearance. Being so far away from everything and everyone familiar has made dealing with the depression more of a challenge.

Aside from the personal baggage you bring, there are minor inconveniences and adjustments, things no one tells you about before you arrive. For instance, I really wish I’d gotten in better shape before coming. While I actually love not having to worry about a car or driving, the amount of walking I do in a day quadrupled upon arrival here. While the rest of my body adapted fairly quickly, my feet struggled with it, and still do occasionally. I had severe pain in my feet for the first couple months. I learned that a quality walking shoe was imperative, even if it wasn’t fashionable. As I watch the fashion plates that are young Aussie women running around the city center in their towering heels, I lament the probability that I’ll never again be able to wear heels. My feet have also increased in size since arriving. I don’t know if that’s all the walking made them spread, or they’re just always swollen.

Depending on public transport is, for the most part, a relief from driving and the costs and tedium involved in owning a car. It’s fairly dependable; still it’s always good to allow extra time for busses that never show up if you have an appointment. We can walk out our front door and get most anywhere we want to go. While it takes only a few minutes to get into the city center, whether by bus or ferry, it does take quite awhile to get to any other area. That’s mostly because of where we chose to live. If we were closer to a train station, it would be different. So that has been an adjustment. When I start to fret, I just remember that when I lived in Dallas a million years ago, it would take an hour to travel what should have taken twenty minutes without traffic. There are some places that public transport doesn’t go to, like the Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, and we can’t very well go looking for kangaroo from a bus.

The whole issue surrounding material objects has been a learning experience. Letting go of most of our belongings was hard. Still, now that I look around at what we brought, I wish we’d stored more of it at home. When we came, we didn’t have a good idea of how long we’d be here. Then, we were open to the idea of extending our visa, staying longer than three years, and so brought what we thought we might need. Now, when I contemplate replacing items we didn’t bring, I think of how I don’t want to pay to ship it back (because now I intend to go back sooner rather than later), and if it’s anything that runs on current, it will have to stay here.

Not having what I need at my fingertips has been a frustration. There are so many little things like gardening gloves or a box to mail something, that I used to have lying around. Now it’s not only an effort to go source these items, everything costs so much more than I expect. When we first arrived, and I had only had a quick look around, I thought prices were comparable. That was before I started trying to replace necessary items.

Quality is also hard to find. I went to the local craft store to find a plastic, compartmented box to hold my crafty supplies. They had one style and it cost $45 on sale. The lid wouldn’t stay on long enough to get to the bus stop. I debated taking it back, but knew that was about as good as I was going to find for less than $100, so decided to make do. That kind of sucks.

Language issues also pop up when I’m on the hunt for stuff. I went out the other day, looking for index cards. I’m in the process of writing a novel and want cards to keep track of notes and research. They aren’t called index cards here and I had no idea what they were called. Trying to explain what I wanted and why was an exercise in not losing my cool. You can’t just go to a grocery store and pick up a pack like you can in the U.S. The office supply store I went to didn’t even sell them. I had to go to a news agency, the place you buy magazines and newspapers.

Language can be fun, too. An electrician is a sparky. That just makes me happy for some reason. Tall, good looking sparkies make me happy too, but I can’t write that here in case my husband reads this.

Another adjustment comes in the form of customer service. The idea we have in the U.S. of “the customer is always right” doesn’t exist here. In most of the smaller shops I’ve had a wonderful experience; the people are lovely and so happy to have you in their shop. It’s in the bigger institutions that the trouble starts, specifically with rentals. Housing is so competitive here, that the property managers and owners pretty much have you over a barrel.

Since moving into our place, we’ve struggled with rain pouring down the walls, a horrific mold infestation, a random man that shows up in our locked courtyard once a week, and an ongoing, really frightening problem of experiencing an electric shock while showering. The property management’s response to all of this is, “it’s not happening. We’ve managed this property for twenty years and this has never been a problem before, therefore it must not be a problem now.”

When we first signed up for internet, the provider decided to change my husband’s name to Neil. They refused to change it to his correct name unless he brought his passport to the “customer service” department. After spending over an hour with them, trying to prove he was Craig, not Neil, they still didn’t change it. They kept mailing equipment to our house, but delivery required Neil’s signature and it had to be checked against his I.D.

The biggest issue I’ve faced in coming here has been isolation. Being a writer means I spend a lot of time alone, without the benefit of workmates, and making Aussie friends has proven to be difficult. When we first came, I purposely did not join any ex-pat groups. I didn’t want to isolate myself within the American ex-pat community; I wanted to assimilate. That’s a lot harder to do than you’d think. From what I’ve observed and from what I hear from the ex-pats I have gravitated to, it seems to be an issue of both culture and my age group.

Culturally, Australians tend toward a very friendly, gregarious personality, and socializing is a major past-time. They’ll strike up a conversation at the bus stop, and when we see familiar faces at the farmers market, they’re keen to chat, but more formal socializing is generally kept within an established group that they’ve known all their lives, and seems to be centered around family groups.

Age-wise, I’ve looked into various meet-up groups and they tend to be geared to or dominated by young people. There is a local community center that I thought might be an option. All the programming is for senior citizens. I feel lost and invisible in the middle of all this. I think it’s important to associate with people of all age groups, but I do want all the age groups represented. I think the young people would be just as uncomfortable with me there as I would be, and I don’t have the proper card yet to join the senior citizen groups.

The cost of everything adds to the isolation. It makes it hard to go places and see things. I end up feeling trapped at home, which in turn contributes to the depression. If I go back to that Urban dictionary definition – “The act of moving to another country for the purpose of building a better life” – from a financial aspect, our quality of life has decreased, especially since the Aussie dollar has dropped 30% since we came (it’s not our fault!)

If I look at life quality from a non-material point of view, it’s improved. I’m more active, partly out of necessity (no car) and also because there is so much to see and do. In the U.S. I didn’t feel an urgency to do touristy things, and as a result, I left there not ever having seen the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone Park, even though each were less than a nine hour drive away. Because I have a timeline here, I’m out exploring as much as I can on the budget. When we do go out to eat, there is more ready access to good food, and we have quick and easy access to natural places.

The second part of the definition, about building a more fulfilling career, definitely rings true. If not for this complete upset of the status quo, I don’t know if I would have been able to focus enough to build my writing career. Back in Utah, I was too distracted by my zillions of craft projects and the upkeep of house and garden; add in the bone deep inertia I’d cultivated, and I wasn’t ever going to succeed. Since being here, I’ve made great strides forward in both my freelance business and in my fiction writing.

Even through the tough parts, I do not regret coming here, and I am definitely not ready to go back just yet. Friend and family connections will eventually take me back to the U.S. and when I go, I’ll miss Australia and the friends I’ve made here. This place, for all its frustrating bits, is a beautiful and wild country, full of beautiful people, and I’m told there are even kangaroos.