Art in the Cemetery

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Rookwood Cemetery is amazing to behold. Located in Lidcombe, historic Rookwood is the oldest and largest cemetery operating in Australia today. The cemetery was founded in 1867 as “The Necropolis at Haslem’s Creek”. Today it covers over 314 hectares and is the resting place of over a million people from 90 different religious and cultural groups.

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In the early days, the local residents of Haslem didn’t appreciate their suburb being so closely associated with the cemetery, so petitioned to change their name. According to the website, in 1878 the residents settled on the name Rookwood, for the many crows in the neighborhood. By 1913, the cemetery had once again adopted the name of the suburb where it lay, so the suburb name was changed to Lidcombe.  Rookwood stuck.

rookwood-cemetery-2-of-3           Rachel Sheree Peace in Death

Each spring, HIDDEN – A Rookwood Sculpture Walk is held at the cemetery, an opportunity for the public to experience the beauty and cultural significance of a historic site that they might not visit otherwise. The thought of the late afternoon sun falling over artwork tucked in among the gravestones being too much to resist, I grabbed my camera and took an excursion out west.

rookwood-cemetery-13-of-33George Catsi & Anne Kwasner Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

While for the most part I’ve appreciated the ease of traveling around Sydney on public transport, there are some places that are a bit more difficult to get to. What would have been a 20 minute drive (on the left side of the road; something that still gives me a lot of anxiety) took over an hour plus three modes of transport: light rail, train, bus. Four actually, if I include the 9K I put on my feet with all my wandering from here to there. The closest bus stop was still a few blocks from the cemetery. Feeling cocky about my adventure as I hopped off the bus, I soon found myself having to backtrack almost a full lap around the block when I came up against a cement barrier blocking my access over the A3.

rookwood-cemetery-22-of-33Michael Garth Expiry Date

I was still feeling pretty jaunty when I walked through the gate and saw the big sign pointing the way toward the general office, where I was headed first to pick up my map of the art exhibit. Apparently, I hadn’t studied the website close enough, and Google maps didn’t show the “general” office, just some other buildings that I guessed were the right place and weren’t. I walked in the direction of the arrow (the direction I thought it was pointing; now I’m wondering…), until I came upon a building I hoped was the office. It was an office, a closed office and not the one I wanted. I pulled out Google maps again, hoping, and reoriented toward a different wrong building. Did I mention this cemetery is over 314 hectares? Just when I’d about given up hope of getting a map I saw another “general office” sign pointing the same way as the signs for HIDDEN. I went thataway.

rookwood-cemetery-20-of-33Adam Galea Speak with Dead

I saw the first installation and near it another camera-wielding visitor. When I inquired about the whereabouts of the general office, she pointed up the road another 200 meters, shaking her head and looking at her watch. It was five minutes past closing. This very kind woman told me she was just finishing and offered me her map. I am forever grateful to her, because I would still be wandering around lost in there, trying to find the art.

rookwood-cemetery-16-of-33Linde lvimey Bella Donna, (Deadly Night Shade)

She pointed out the section where I’d find most of the artworks, in the oldest part of the cemetery. I thanked her for her kindness and trundled off. Hot, irritable, thirsty, needing to pee, and already so very tired of walking, I juggled my camera, map, and a heavy bag slung over my shoulder. Each time I lifted the camera to take a photo, the wind blew my hair and the map into the frame. I was really wondering if any of this was worth the effort and thinking that perhaps photography isn’t my thing. I was ready to say, “fuck it” and call an Uber.

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Then the wind blew again and the spirits whispered, “no, stay.” The light was starting to take on that golden glow and was playing hide-and-seek with the shadows around the worn and crumbling graves. The tall grasses and wild flowers growing in this unkempt section of the cemetery convinced me to stop, take a breath, and continue my adventure. I had all the time in the world now. Well, until they locked the gate with me inside. Keeping that in mind, I located the next artwork.

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Making my way deeper into the quiet, forgotten areas, I felt more at peace myself. This portion of the cemetery stood in stark contrast to the gleaming granite, manicured lawns, and oft-frequented area where I had entered the grounds. Here nature was given free rein, the ravens, magpies, and butterflies the only other visitors. Now and then I’d come upon a withered bouquet left on a timeworn grave, and wonder who it was honoring their long dead ancestor. Or was it someone who pities the forgotten ones, and transplants bouquets from other areas of the necropolis?

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I wanted to sit and contemplate the artwork, the leaning headstones and toppled angels. There were no benches to sit on and I hadn’t thought to bring a blanket. I didn’t dare rest my derriere on a tumbling grave, for fear I’d tip it clean over. Or, those spirits I felt on the wind might whip through my hair, knock me down, take my breath and follow me home for interrupting their repose.

rookwood-cemetery-5-of-33Robert Hawkins The End of the Conversation

Having come to the final artwork, I decided, since I was halfway there, to continue to make my way overland to the far side of the cemetery and catch the train instead of going back to the bus. In the distance I could see a tall fence around the perimeter. Another thing I hadn’t reckoned on. Was there a gate on that side? It was getting late; I didn’t know how long it would take me to trek back to the east entrance, and my feet were starting to cry. I was beginning to feel a little panicky; I do have a fear of being locked inside creepy places, like that time at Gilgal Sculpture Garden in Salt Lake City.  My phone battery was dying, I wasn’t sure an Uber could get to this section of the cemetery, and I knew I couldn’t scale that fence, even if I wasn’t wearing a dress. I asked the local spirits to puh-leeese let me out! I’ve never been so happy to see the other side of a fence in my life.

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The HIDDEN Sculpture Walk ends on Sunday, but even without the art this cemetery is a beautiful place to visit. When I grow a pair of ovaries I’ll drive back out there, leave my camera at home, and just visit the residents.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

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.

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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.

Wandering Sydney CBD

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (10 of 11)Often on a Friday afternoon, I like to journey into the city for a shot of vitality. Sydney’s personality is vivacious; you can feel the energy flow up and down the sidewalks with the rush of people. It’s a bit of caffeine for my soul. And the tall buildings give me the same grounded feeling that I got from mountains in the western U.S.

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (4 of 11)I met up with a photographer friend. She had some specific shots she needed, so we headed over to the Rockpool Bar & Grill for a glass of wine. I thought, bar and grill, ok, that probably fits my budget.

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (3 of 11)Upon entering, it was immediately obvious that I was not in my element. I felt really out of place in my $3 off-the-sale-rack Kohl’s dress, as all the other women were wearing the Sydney uniform of black dress with black high heeled ankle booties.

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (1 of 11)They have rules for behavior in the front of the menu book. Luckily, since I’m not a gentleman, I didn’t feel the need to behave.

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (2 of 11)These chicken wings were icky, but I don’t like chicken wings, so my opinion doesn’t count there. The ginger sauce on them smelled good. The wine was $16 for the cheapest glass. I checked, and that’s about what a bottle of the same wine would have cost at the bottle shop. I guess I’m just not an uptown girl!

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (1 of 2)The building itself and the decor was exquisite.

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (6 of 11)The restaurant is housed in the City Mutual Building, built in 1936, and designed by architect Emil Sodersten. It is heritage listed because of it’s art deco style, and when constructed, was the city’s tallest skyscraper.

The beauty of the architecture helped me to forget my discomfort at being under-dressed. I enjoyed the wine and the company. All in all, it was a good visit to the city.

 

Say Yes to Life

cooks river greenway birds freelance writer (28 of 31)I’ve enjoyed writing for local Ciao Magazine, because it gets me out seeing places and meeting people that I never would otherwise. Last week, I was working on a piece about bicycle paths in the Inner West. I needed to go take photos, but was really not motivated to do it. I had a cold, I’d recently hurt my back, and all I really wanted to do was curl up with an ice pack and a glass of bourbon. Instead, I grabbed my camera and hopped on the bus. I’m so glad I did.

cooks river greenway birds freelance writer (2 of 31)My first stop was at a section of the GreenWay, a green corridor from Iron Cove down to Cooks River, where there are some existing bike paths, and the local councils are working on putting in more. I didn’t see a single bike rider here, but I did see drunk Santa passed out under a tree! I never would have got to see that if I’d stayed home!

cooks river greenway birds freelance writer (14 of 31)My next stop was Cooks River.  I was wandering down the path waiting for cyclists to go by, when I spotted something up ahead in the distance. Birds! More specifically, Great Cormorants.

plastic covered cormorant (1 of 1)It wasn’t until I was home and looking at my photos, that I saw this poor guy covered in plastic. I had noticed an incredible amount of garbage floating in the river. I called the wildlife rescue for that area, and they said they’d send somebody over to look.  I hope they were able to help him. I never did hear anything back.

cooks river greenway birds freelance writer (6 of 8)Continuing my bicycle-turned-bird walk, I came across something that did make me squeal out loud. I’m glad there weren’t many people out that day. This is my first ever sighting of a Royal Spoonbill! I’m going back with my telephoto lens to get some better pics. Maybe I’ll drag the husband along, too.

cooks river greenway birds freelance writer (8 of 8)I stalked this Australian Pelican for quite a way down the river, until he got weary of me and flew off. I was fiddling with my camera settings and completely missed him swallowing a mouthful of fish.

cooks river greenway birds freelance writer (7 of 31)This is a Purple Swamphen. I never knew there was such a thing.

bike ride freelance writer (3 of 4)Later in the week, in the course of an interview, I was asked to go on a bike ride. I’ve been on a bike only once in the last 21 years, and that was two years ago when Salt Lake blocked off downtown streets for their Open Streets event. The thought of riding in Sydney scared the crap out of me, so at first I gave excuses of why I couldn’t do it. I don’t have a bike; I’m on deadline. Well, she had an extra bike. Something inside me sparked and said, “say yes to life!” I took her up on her offer.  That is definitely something I would not have done if not for that assignment. What started out as research for an article, turned out to be a chance for me to overcome fear, and I felt like superwoman afterwards!

Festival of the Winds – Let’s Go Fly a Kite at the Beach

Festival of the Winds (1 of 13)The sun is out, the days are warm, and the time has come to shed the shackles of winter. Sydney turned out in droves – droves I say! – for the Festival of the Winds at Bondi Beach on Sunday. We traveled to Bondi Junction by bus and train.  At the train station, the line for the bus on to the beach was an hour or more wait, so we gave up and took a taxi.  With all the traffic, it still took over 30 minutes to drive 4 kilometers.

Festival of the Winds (9 of 13)It was worth it though, because the primary reason for our excursion, aside from serious cabin fever, was to meet our new friends from the U.S., Tami, Jeff, Lexy, and Austin.  They arrived in Sydney just a few days ago, to make Australia their home.

Festival of the Winds (7 of 13)The kites were fantastic.

Festival of the Winds (11 of 13) I’ve never in my life seen so many kites in one place.

Festival of the Winds (4 of 13)There were dragons, sea animals, a pirate ship, and endless more variety. This appears to be a rite of spring here in Sydney; it’s been going on for over 35 years.

Festival of the Winds (2 of 2)Some people would have been better off watching the kites instead of sleeping!

Festival of the Winds (13 of 13)When’s the last time you flew a kite?

Visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney

RoyalBotanicGardens (3 of 23)September 1st is considered the first day of spring down here in Australia. In celebration, I wandered over to the Royal Botanic Gardens, where the new season was certainly putting on a show.  I’m making an effort to take myself on a field trip each week and write about it here. One of my biggest fears is that our time here will come to a close and we’ll not have really experienced the place.

RoyalBotanicGardens (18 of 23)I chose the gardens this week as I’m trying to connect physically with Australia, and understand the cycle of nature here. I’ve found in the past that I do form a better connection with a locality once I am familiar with the natural environment. I didn’t grow to love Utah until I read Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge, and made that journey out to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge myself.

RoyalBotanicGardens (9 of 23)The seasons are still really confusing to me. I keep thinking it’s April.

RoyalBotanicGardens (5 of 23)I’m curious to learn about the native Australian plants, and what blooms when. At the Gardens, there is a mixture of native and imported plants, and not all of the plants have identifying markers. I did find it curious that I’m so focused on knowing which ones are natives, because most of the plants I’ve always associated with spring, were not native to the U.S., but rather Europe and Asia. I guess it’s part of wanting to understand the natural environment, the real Australia before Europeans showed up.

RoyalBotanicGardens (4 of 23)Prior to 1788 when the First Fleet arrived in Australia, the land where the Royal Botanic Gardens are now, was used as a ceremonial ground by the Cadigal people. They held initiation ceremonies to mark the coming of age of their young men. When the British arrived they cleared the land to make way for their social experiment, killed kangaroos, and by August had almost depleted fish from the harbor. Farm Cove was planted and houses built up around the area.

RoyalBotanicGardens (20 of 23)In 1807, Governor Bligh had the houses removed, and then when Governor Macquarie and his wife came along, they began building walls and making a private English parkland type area, only available to what he referred to as the respectable class of inhabitants of the area. The Botanic Garden was established by 1816,

RoyalBotanicGardens (16 of 23)The botanist Charles Fraser was appointed Government Colonial Botanist in 1821. After Fraser’s death in 1831, it seems that there was a string of short lived Colonial Botanist assignments. Richard Cunningham was clubbed to death in 1835 after serving for two years. Allen Cunningham lasted less than a year, being appointed Colonial Botanist and Superintendent in February and resigning in December, and died soon after. Then came James Anderson as Superintendent in 1838, until he died in 1842. Nasmith Robertson was superintendent from 1842-1844 when he…wait for it!… died. Is it just me, or does this position seem cursed?

RoyalBotanicGardens (22 of 23)Charles Moore came on as director in 1848. He lasted several years. He also introduced regulations prohibiting, according to the RBG website, “all persons of reputed bad character…persons who are not cleanly and decently dressed…. and all young persons not accompanied by some respectable adult.” It sounds an awful lot like Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

RoyalBotanicGardens (23 of 23)Over the years, many varieties of plants were imported from Europe. The gardens saw an herbarium, an aviary, a zoo, and an insectarium all added to the grounds. The zoo and aviary are long gone. Many of these Moreton Bay Figs remain, which are over 100 years old.

RoyalBotanicGardens (2 of 5)When I saw this statue out of the corner of my eye, I had to laugh when I realized that the first thought that registered was that he was checking his phone.

RoyalBotanicGardens (7 of 23)I only touched on a portion of the gardens, completely missing the Cadi Jam Ora, or First Encounters garden walk, where I would have learned about those native species I was looking for. I also didn’t have time to view the herb garden. The Royal Botanic Gardens are free to visit and are open year-round. A variety of events take place in the gardens, and there are free and for-a-fee tours that you can join. There is a lovely gift shop where you can buy Australian native seeds. The park boasts a cafe and a restaurant, and the Growing Friends propagate plants for sale. I’ll be going back for sure!