Turns out I didn’t see Manda, Graham, Sefton, and Keir after all. They were picked up from the airport by Graham’s uncle, and taken to his place in Cronulla, down south, whereupon he decided he’d had enough of Sydney traffic for one day, and the sightseeing tour was off. That scrubbed lunch at my place right off the list. Unfortunately due to one thing or another, Manda wasn’t able to make contact with me until 1pm. That is, lunch time. Lunch kept until dinner, but unfortunately I couldn’t set out for Cronulla because I was working all day around the lunch plans. From home, yes, but working nonetheless. So…BUMMER! We’ll just have to wait until they’re returning from South Africa in March and see how we go then!
Which, recalling yesterday’s promise, brings me to a very Sydney thing I HAVE done, and done often. It’s an extremely authentic Sydney experience, not to be missed by any discerning visitor who really wants to sample the REAL Sydney. It is, generally speaking, something only locals can do with any degree of success. Of course, I’m talking about using our confounding public transport network. I have actually attempted navigating my way around this place on public transport alone. Yes, it’s true. I don’t drive (I am “a learner,” which so far has amounted to being “a non-driver”), so for most of the time, I just don’t have any choice. And what I can tell you is that you can do it, but it takes HOURS. Hours. And quite frankly after that kind of time investment, I’d want to be somewhere else. A little further away, to legitimise all my minutes down the drain. Somewhere like Perth. Fraser Island. Halfway to Bermuda. At a guess, I think that all told it would have taken me three hours to reach Manda in Cronulla yesterday. And that’s not even thinking about trying to get back. I would have been able to spend a grand total of, say, twenty minutes with her, precious minutes I can picture clearly in my mind. There we are, sitting tensed around the kitchen table at Graham’s uncle’s house, poring over his local bus timetable. There I am, hunched over, defeated, sweat on my brow, a panicky, sick feeling inside, wondering how to get home again.
It’s just not fun. It’s no fun for anyone. I think any combination of MODES is the killer. There’s no love heading your way if you try and combine bus, rail, and ferry travel in this town. Maybe some rail rage. A bit of ferry fever. Definitely a dose of bus ballistics. But no love, no sir. Wherever possible, I restrict myself to one mode, two at the absolute highest peak of my endurance, and then I walk the difference. Walking is a great way to see Sydney, and I should know.
Some New Zealand friends of mine and their kids are in Sydney for the day today. Sydney is just a brief stop on the way to their next big adventure, but I’m glad for any time at all with them because I haven’t seen them since my wedding. This is entirely my fault, because I promised them and two other Kiwi friends that we would head their way post haste. Nearly two years later, and I have over-promised and woefully under-delivered. 2007 must change all this. New Zealand, here we come!
At any rate, Manda and Graham’s one day visit, combined with Erin’s invitation to Carols by Candlelight in the Domain, has made me pause and see Sydney from a slightly different angle. I guess having been born and raised here, it’s hard for me to see it from the point of view of a tourist. It’s always been home. But I think this familiarity makes me a little slack about, ironically, getting to know it better. There are so many ‘Sydney Things to Do’ that I have never, ever done.
One of them is go to Carols by Candlelight. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a heathen, so all that nativity narrativising can start to wear me down. It’s got ‘Bad Musical’ overtones about it, too, but in its favour, I do very much like candles. And I guess under the stars and the moon it would probably all be quite hypnotic (all part of a cunning conversion plan, no doubt), but for my sense that if I went, it would almost certainly be the night the Domain flooded with rain. I think it’s one of those great calendar events you start to really pay attention to once you have kids… I’m happy to talk about it then.
But there are so many OTHER things I haven’t done that I BET Lonely Planet tells everyone that any visitor to Sydney MUST do. I haven’t been to the weekend growers’ market at Fox Studios (and for a big foodie, this really is appalling). I haven’t caught the train out to Cabramatta for a famous lunchtime taste of Vietnam in Sydney (something we’ve talked about doing for years – how hard can it be, why don’t we just do it??!). I haven’t done the Harbour Bridge Climb (although I have walked and run across the bridge many, many times). I haven’t been to the Hyde Park Barracks Museum. I haven’t been to the Mint. I haven’t been to the Australian National Maritime Museum. I’ve walked around the outside looking in, but I have never done the tour inside Government House. I’ve never taken a surfing lesson, no kidding, even though I have lived right by different Sydney beaches for years.
So I am going to start doing these things, one by one, in my city. And revisiting some of the others, too, like the Powerhouse Museum and Taronga Zoo, that I haven’t visited since I was a child. And maybe tomorrow I’ll tell you about all the things I HAVE done in Sydney, because even looking at that long list, I’m suddenly feeling pretty confident that I’m doing okay. Sydney and I, we go way back.
Llew and I got our holiday snaps back on Friday night (thank you, Flic!). To be honest, I was a little worried about them. Llew became a snap-happy, possessed demon throughout Italy, and we have a film camera, a Leica, that we love deeply but don’t understand (it reminds us of each other). The combined result was 14 rolls – yes, 14 – of film that might have all completely sucked. I could hardly bear to look down once Flic placed those six kilos of photos in my arms like I’d delivered a hefty new born baby.
Some very pleasant surprises. It seems sometimes we do the right thing, and sometimes we do not. If I only knew what it was we did sometimes and not others, then all those blurry, out of focus images would be a thing of the past. Unfortunately the most common scenario for a dodgy shot is when we try and get in the photo ourselves. It doesn’t seem to matter who’s taking it. Llew, myself, Kate, Stuart, a complete stranger, a child, or the automatic timer, it really doesn’t matter. They’re all blurred.
Or they’re missing. Llew swears he saw – “I’m telling you I SAW IT WITH MY OWN TWO EYES!!!” – the one and only photo we had taken of us leaning against our rented Alpha Romeo in Positano on the Amalfi Coast. He says he saw it among the photos on Friday night, and I say don’t forget it was in Positano that you had your eyes tested. He now wears glasses. Who would you believe? I certainly didn’t see it Friday night, or Saturday morning when I sat in bed glutting myself on them all over again. I love photos, it doesn’t even matter whose they are or what they’re of, and having so many of this last trip is actually pretty cool. If you’re going to go photo mad, you could do a lot worse than unleashing the beast in Italy.
We took a gondola ride with Kate and Stuart in Venezia, and it was like a mini photo shoot, with both couples posing and swapping and posing again. Everyone took a turn with the camera. It was a flash frenzy. And do you think there’s a single photo of Llew and me on the gondola together? Just one, blurred or otherwise? Nooooooo. No, of course not. They’re just gone. I know the photos were taken, but apparently none of them made it out alive. So now we have lots of romantic photos of Kate and Stuart, which is absolutely lovely, but also a little odd.
Tokyo? Best we don’t mention the Tokyo photos. Whatever skills we picked up in Italy we clearly left on the plane. The Tokyo photos are, like the three days we spent there, a complete blur. It’s a shame, because you can tell that had they been in focus, some of the tuna auction shots at the fish markets would have been awesome. Would have been, could have been, should have been. But not. Oh well, we’ll just have to go back and try again…
Mr Beazley had a far worse day yesterday than I’d imagined. I’ve just belatedly been reading up on what else happened yesterday, and I understand his brother, David, died suddenly around the same time as the leadership ballot was taking place. It seems too cruel indeed. Whilst all this personal and professional loss was marking yesterday as one of Kim Beazley’s worst, I was taking my 83 year old Nana to lunch for her birthday. We talked politics together for the first time ever. We both remarked what a decent chap Kim Beazley seems to be, and what a shame it is that it just hasn’t happened for him. I understand now that he is in fact retiring from political life – who can blame him? – I’m sorry for that, but not half as sorry as I am to hear about the sudden death of his brother.
The skies are full of cheer again…Yes, m’ man K-Rud won the leadership ballot. I toasted his victory (no reason not to warm up now for the next one) last night with friends, and I felt optimistic about the next election for the first time since…oh, the last one. I also felt genuinely bad for Kim Beazley, who just can’t win a trick (or, crucially, an election). He must be so bloody disappointed. I actually got a lump in my throat thinking about him just after I heard the news yesterday. As Llew said, he may well be the best prime minister this country never has. But it was never going to happen, and if he really wants to see his party win the next election, then I hope he finds some comfort – maybe not today, but eventually – in the idea that he has helped that outcome along. I hope he remains on the front bench – it would be a loss to the cabinet if he bowed out to lick his by now considerable wounds.
I just hope Labor can get over their crushing factionalism. It is so unhelpful and beside the point and puerile. I just can’t bear it. It renders them so ineffectual, and completely preoccupied at a time when they should be at their most effective. That idiot Tanya Plibersek recklessly slagged off the Rudd challenge in time for the weekend papers – and to what end? The challenge was mounted, the ballot went ahead Monday, and Beazley lost. All she succeeded in doing was laying out for all the media outlets in big fat capital letters the bickering divisiveness of the party – nice job, Tanya. Say what you like behind closed doors in a party meeting, I really don’t care, but please, please exercise just a fraction of common sense beyond your own limited and selfish agenda and think about how that kind of outburst affects your party. You know, the party that hasn’t been in power for over a decade? The party that keeps losing elections that can’t be lost? Yeah, that one. Maybe we should rename Labor the Titanic party, so they might at least start learning some of the bloody lessons of their history. Tanya Loudmouth Plibersek should not have come out swinging at Kevin Rudd and his supporters. Not to the media, anyway. Again, if she’s got grievances, air them within the party meetings, not by blah-blah-blah-ing inter-party insults to the press. Not if she’s a member of the Labor party, anyway. Because stupid, ill-conceived antics like that play right into the hands of the bad man. It hurts their chances, and finally they’ve actually got one. Now, let’s see what they do. Julia Gillard was quoted in Saturday’s SMH saying “the Australian people are actually crying out for a new style of leadership.” Well, she’s got that right – now let’s see what they can do about it.
Last week at book club, a (caucasian) pregnant friend told us how she’d asked her (caucasian) husband “What would you do if we had a little black baby?” We all erupted in loud laughter, and she looked around the group and said, in earnest, “You hear of that happening sometimes, don’t you?” Through my by now virtually uncontrollable laughter, I managed to choke out something like “In very specific circumstances, yes!” Then she said she’d gone on to ask him if he’d want a paternity test if they did in fact have a black baby. By now we were all on the floor, exchanging variations of “Honey, should we get little Leroy tested?” and “Who do you think he looks like?” through peals and peals of laughter. What was funniest was the fact that she was completely and utterly sincere, and it made me recall a few gaffs I’ve either made or been witness to in the past. Here’s a few off the top of my head:
When we got back from Italy, and I was telling a journalist friend about Tokyo, she leaned in and said to me, in all seriousness, “Is that in Japan…?”
Surveying Nelson’s Column for the first time in Trafalgar Square, Llew looked it up and down, wrinkled his nose, and said “What’s a statue of Napoleon doing here?”
Enchanted by the tiny red vans with ROYAL MAIL emblazoned down the side that stream constantly through the streets of London, I said in the same early days, “How cute! The Queen has her own mail vans!”
There are so, so many more, and I daresay you can think of a few, too. It’s good to make an embarrassing gaffs in public sometimes, I think, if for no other reason than it’s good for a big belly laugh, and you can never have too many of those.
The best news I have had in ages is that earlier today, Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley called Kevin Rudd to a leadership challenge. Yippee!! The leadership ballot takes place on Monday, and my money (although I am not a gambling woman) is on Mr Rudd, or K-Rud, if you like, a man with a much brighter future and no doubt more singing talent than the erstwhile K-Fed.
It’s not that I have anything against ‘ole Bomber Beazley. It’s just that I don’t believe he’ll beat John Howard. He’s already proven he can’t. Twice. And beat John Howard Labor absolutely must, if they are to rescue this country from the iron grip of that arch-conservative madman. I’ll give Howard top marks for shrewd politicking, but I’d rather pluck out my eyes than see him win another election. He does not represent me, as I have said before, and I do not share his vision for this country and its rather confused, apathetic people. I think most Australians feel so jaded about politicians they just don’t give a damn anymore. But they should care, we should all care, because little by little Howard is eroding the small l liberalism that has long underpinned the national character.
I think we’re basically decent, as a nation. I think we’re basically welcoming of difference. I think we’re basically fair-minded. But we’ve been so lazy, too, about protecting those values, and we’ve done sweet bugger all to stop that man from pushing his nasty little agenda right through our homes and schools.
Well, this is it. I believe Kevin Rudd is the best chance for Labor to end Howard’s reign. I believe there are many Australians like myself who are searching for a genuine alternative. It’s a real shame Cheryl Kernot jumped ship on the Democrats because they were that alternative for a shining moment, and then she shagged Gareth Evans and joined the Labor Party and her party tanked. Such a shame. So whilst I have some fairly major issues with the Labor Party, what I will say is they’re all I’ve got right now when I look around desperately for someone, anyone, to stop the cultural transformation Howard is so busily undertaking. And I do believe Kevin Rudd is the man for the job. I think I’d be inclined to vote for him whatever party he was in, because let’s face it, it’s not Labor and Liberal these days so much as moderates and neo-cons. Give me the moderates ANY DAY, and get me off this ride before I’m sick.
GOOD LUCK, KEVIN RUDD.
This morning, Llew got home from surfboat rowing and said to me gravely, “I’ve got some bad news for you.” I looked at him and said “What? What’s happened?” And he said “Someone speared a dolphin, and it washed up dead onshore. It just washed up on the beach where we went rowing.”
I love dolphins. They’re my favourite creature of the sea by so far that it’s vaguely embarrassing. It’s not that I have some bizarre, creepy collection of porcelain dolphins, it’s just that I like the real ones, just as they are. I get as excited as a small child whenever I see them, and I am fortunate enough to see quite a lot of them. At Bronwyn and Matt’s reception at a Newcastle surf club on the weekend, I was the dolphin whisperer who spotted them off in the distance. Letting out an almighty “DOLPHINS!!!!!” I charged across the room and out onto the surf club deck, very nearly taking out Bronwyn’s elderly grandmother in my rush to get out there. Naturally the entire wedding party followed, because dolphins have that kind of effect on people. Everyone crushed up against the railing, pointing and crying out with pleasure every time they did their distinctive roll across the surface of the water. Llew and I had a playful pod turn up at our own wedding, right in the middle of Llew’s speech, and they caught waves right in front of everyone as the sun went down. They are just lovely creatures, and they seem to me a very happy omen indeed at a wedding.
Some IDIOT speared that poor dolphin and then pulled out their spear, dragging out its entrails as they went. Why would you spear a DOLPHIN? They come up to PLAY with you, they’re curious, friendly, intelligent, and beautiful. I know, let’s take a spear gun to the lot of ’em. Yes, that’s JUST what I think whenever I see a dolphin up close: let’s kill ‘im. You have to be pretty close to successfully use a spear gun, too, so there’s basically no chance of this being a case of mistaken identity a la “I thought my life was in danger. I could’ve sworn it was JAWS.” No, this is just some absolute TOOL getting his jollies (sorry, boys, but this smacks of some dull-witted man – it seems vastly unlikely to me intuitively that this was the handiwork of a female, but I appreciate the legitimacy of a backlash against such a generalised and patently sexist statement) or amusing his mates by killing a dolphin. You legend.
Maybe it’s the same courageous hunter who deposited a dead baby penguin in Tara and Tom’s letter box on Wednesday morning. Yes, the calling card of a real hero. You’d really have to be a big, brave stud to kill a baby penguin – they’re so…MENACING, so…FIERCE…Yes, a dull blow to the head is really the only way to calm down those vicious creatures.
Llew said there was a little girl about five years old standing over the dolphin in her little swimming outfit, complete with tiny goggles. She looked up and down the length of the dolphin, and then looked at all the grown ups. “But I don’t understand,” she said. Close to tears, staring first at the dolphin and then at the adults, she just kept saying, “I don’t understand.” Well, honey, neither do I.