Wednesday, May 23, 2012

24 May 2012 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, Sydney, NSW

This afternoon it is raining and has been since midday. According to the forecast it will continue until tomorrow early afternoon, all of which suits us well. Saturday morning, if the gods are smiling upon us, we should be able to walk to the station to begin our rather convoluted journey to New Zealand. Our older two children who have travelled two or three times as much as we had at that age, are concerned for our wellbeing, flying Air Argentina. We on the other hand are totally fatalistic about these matters.

This morning we drove out to Kurnell after crawling around the suburb of Sylvania Waters just north of our camp. If for nothing else, Sylvania Waters is famous for the family who foolishly exposed their lives to the world in a reality television show, and found their lives were never the same again, to their detriment. It is a lovely suburb with many beautiful homes adjacent to manmade canals in Gwarley Bay, one of the bays tucked away on the greater Botany Bay.

When we were here last year, we caught the train through from Lane Cove, through the city and down to Cronulla, then a bus out to Sutherland Point where Captain Cook landed  at Botany Bay. I remember the day as dull, and the vista across Botany Bay as a dreary view of port and industry, mangroves and swamp. Today, from the vehicle, Kurnell didn’t offer a whole lot more but we are both very impressed with the upper harbour. These parts of South Sydney should not be sniffed at.

We hopped out to find something to go with our rather scant cut lunch, but only found the cold wind and no inclination to take advantage of the excellent walking paths around the Botany Bay National Park.

Instead we retreated to Cronulla, found some excellent calorie loaded extras and a park to consume all. It was then the rain began so we finished our day tripping somewhat prematurely after driving westward to explore Lilli Pilli and the lovely suburbs all around, all situated on the north side of Port Hacking, the third coastal indent of greater Sydney (Port Jackson aka Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay and Port Hacking)

Our travel exploits will now go on hold until we return from catching up with all our family and meeting the youngest new edition, Aurelia Rose Frances. So as they say, hasta huego or à bientôt until the end of June.

23 May 2012 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, Sydney, NSW

The last few days have drifted along wonderfully. The weather improved by Monday and has held out in the intervening days. On Sunday afternoon we did our dummy run to the airport and found out that while the route there is straightforward, there is a gate fee to pay when entering or leaving the airport via the rail port; $12 for an adult and $8.60 for a Senior.

That afternoon we went on into the city and wandered about Circular Quay taking in the atmosphere and the crowds. We wandered up Pitt Street to Martin Place, and then caught the train back to camp.

The following day we travelled once more to the city by train, this time with the intention of taking part in a tour of Government House, only to find that tours are run only on Friday through to Sundays. We popped into the State Parliament to check out tours and sitting times, then popped into the State Library where there is currently an exhibition of works by John Lewin titled Wild Art. This artist / botanist came out to Australia in 1800 at the age of thirty and spent the rest of his days recording the flora and fauna of this wild land. He also documented the landscapes of expeditions he joined and while his work can hardly be included amongst the greats of the age, it was he who was the first to publish an illustrated book in Australia and his portfolio is important as part of the history of this country. The exhibition was not memorable but a still a pleasant distraction as we aimlessly moved about the city.

As one wanders through history and art, it is a delight to discover little gems and the jewel of the day were the words used to describe a friend of John Lewin; John Grant who was described as “an unstable gentleman convict”. This, I imagine, would have described my great great uncle George Bevege as he pursued his commercial interests in Tamworth here in New South Wales.

We wandered up Pitt Street into the mall that had so enthralled me last year, but found it busy but not buzzing as it had been then. We found our way underground and then up through the Queen Victoria Building to the Town Hall Railway Station where we caught the train to Circular Quay, then jumped on the ferry and travelled across to Mahons Point, Balmain and disembarked at Darling Harbour. We wandered up past the quayside restaurants and through the throngs of tourists enjoying the sights and the sun in Cockle Bay, and paused at the Scottish Restaurant for ice-creams and shared a space just inside the door with the resident ibis. Then we walked on up through Tumbalong Park, past the Exhibition Centre, through Chinatown to Central Station where we headed home on the train, changing at Sutherland.

Yesterday we made our leisurely way once more into the city, disembarking at Town Hall then wandered along George Street, drawn into St Andrew’s Cathedral by the amazing architecture. Building started in 1837 but was not completed until 1868. The gold rush intervened and most of the able bodied men rushed off into the gold fields. Eventually they returned realising they were more likely to make their fortunes using their trade skills rather than digging for gold. The cathedral is Australia’s oldest and is very beautiful. I don’t know how we missed it last year; it proved a bonus today. As we entered the foyer, one of the two elderly hosts cornered us and filled us in with much of the building’s history. Ray is of the old school and is not too keen on the more modern evangelical ways of the current leaders, a fact he discreetly imparted. His colleague, not too much younger, apparently delights in the renewed vitality of the services and probably claps and dances in the aisles with the rest.

Ray drew our attention to a very old Bible lying in a glass case. This magnificent manuscript dates from 1540, being the third printing of that printed under Henry VIII’s reign. This alone was worth the detour off the street.

We made our way up to Hyde Park and sat in the sun, shared our lunch with bold pigeons and  listening to a classical guitarist set up in front of the fountain. His amplifier was directed toward the boulevard flanked by grand old trees, and the acoustics as we walked toward the music was just wonderful.

Finally it was time to make our way along to the State Parliament. We wandered about this lovely old building, patched together over the centuries and then between 1974 and 1985, renovated, restored and added to. The library and halls are decorated with artworks and panels describing the history of this parliament. We spent a little under an hour exploring these and then were taken into the Legislative Assembly chambers. This is far less grand but much more intimate than the chambers we have been to in Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide. The restoration has been tastefully done, and so one feels transported back in time.

The parliamentarians in Question Time were en forme, noisy, garrulous, naughty; everything and more that the representatives in the Victoria Parliament had been. While the Speaker of the House, a large woman with an authoritive voice, put many members on notice, none were actually thrown out. 

We sat beside a charming Mexican young woman and instructed her on the operation of the House. When we all left, we were surprised to learn that she had found it most interesting and was keen to experience it all again. We explained that there was Question Time every day that parliament was sitting and she should find out sitting dates on line to find out when she could return for more of the naughty school classroom scene. Interestingly, when we had told an elderly woman on the train earlier in the day where we were going, she was totally unaware that the public were free to attend sessions, and she was a true blue Aussie.

On the return train journey we discovered in the MX (the afternoon freebie paper handed out to commuters in both Melbourne and here in Sydney) that the airport rail line is to be closed next weekend, to coincide with our need to use it.

The MX newspaper is targeted at the younger set, and none so much as those commuting in Sydney. There are several regular columns, reports of  tweets and texts on subject matter that shock  stuff-shirts such as me and hidden amongst the debris, news items for the discerning, Sudoko and crossword puzzles and important advice about such matters as closed commuter routes. I would never pay for it but it makes for light entertainment during a three quarter journey.

This morning after I had done a load of washing and spent time conversing with an interesting Cairo born man of Austrian and French heritage in the laundry, we headed off once more into the city. It should be noted that most of the contact I have with other people, particularly on my own, is with those whom I meet in laundries or doing laundry related tasks. This evening was yet another such occasion when I was delayed by a cigarette smoking chap who wandered over from his motorhome to chat while I was groping in the dark for the washing.

We left the train at Wolli Creek to suss out where the replacement bus would be leaving from on Saturday, and were met by a posse of policemen at the exit. They were seemingly checking for rail tickets however I suspect they had an ulterior motive. The stations out on the extremity of the rail lines have no barriers and it would be quite possible to travel without a valid ticket for part of those lines providing no inspectors checked. This was the second time within these last few days we have had to produce our tickets so I would caution against cheating the system. I will take this opportunity to mention ticket prices, or at least those used by us this week. We purchased a week long multi ticket for me which allows me to use the ferries, trains and busses within two zones of the city centre; this cost $51. Chris however buys his Senior ticket for $2.50 each day which allows the same flexibility as mine, but for just the one day. We consider this excellent value and are making the most of it all while we can.

When we resumed our trip and disembarked at the Central Station, we discovered an airport shuttle bus operating from that station for a fair $12 per head. Chris was keen for us to do this on Saturday however he is pessimistically expecting the worst of weather for that day and does not want to arrive like a drowned rat at the airport. I, on the other hand, am optimistic about the weather and am looking for the quickest trip, which admittedly may expose us to the elements. Alas the preparations for the impending trip away become more complicated by the day.

After a visit to Paddy’s Market, we made our way back up to Hyde Park and ate our lunch once more serenaded by the classical guitarist. From there we walked to the State Library  and spent nearly three hours in front of a microfiche reader. Well, at least I did, and Chris wandered about tolerantly waiting for me, while I undertook a fruitless search through three years editions (1843 – 1845) of the Parramatta Chronicle & Cumberland General Advertiser looking for evidence of one of my great great grandfather’s fame. As a result of this wasted effort, we were late taking the rail ride home and the night was black as pitch by the time we walked back to camp from Miranda.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

20 May 2012 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, Sydney, NSW

We spent Thursday winding up in Canberra. This included a brief trip to National Archives of Australia despite previous dismissals, and a return to the National Capital Exhibition where aside from reviewing some of the pertinent facts and displays about the genesis of Canberra, we decided that this really was a perfect spot, apart from the elevated mountain and tower lookouts, to look out over the Griffin-inspired capital city of Canberra.

On the return to camp we dismantled our awning “porch” to avoid the dew and frost that was bound to be present the next morning. We had spent some time before venturing out in the morning watching a fellow camper ponder over his very frozen stiff water hose; this was an entertainment that delighted us in the most evil manner because of his inability to arrive at any solution.

Yesterday morning dawned as cold a morning as we had experienced. There was no fog immediately about, in fact the sky looked promising; just streaks of cloud across a pale blue un-Australian sky.  I had not been as diligent in the exercising of the plumbing during the night, but after five minutes of trickle, the force of the water won out and we were able to enjoy the wonders of running water. Even the toothpaste had started to freeze and as I assisted Chris to pack up the last of the outdoor bits and pieces, my hands became so cold I felt quite nauseous. We had woken on daybreak and would have broken camp earlier had the ice on the rig melted sooner.

As we hit the highway heading north, I was overcome by a great sense of freedom; back on the road again. This is not to decry the wonders of Canberra but it is always so invigorating to be out travelling through bush clad hills and not absolutely sure where the wheels will be resting that night. As old friends, were the many wombats and foxes, lying road killed beside the highway. How weird is that!?

By 9.19 am we had crossed the border, once more in New South Wales and soon passing Lake George, a disappearing lake of some twenty five by ten kilometres in a good year. It has little catchment and no outflow so relies mainly on rain for inflow and evaporation for outflow. As a result it is one of the saltiest lakes in New South Wales. Fortunately for us, after several years of good rain, it was visible from the road as a water filled lake, as we travelled for some kilometres up the western shore.

Goulburn's Courthouse
Soon we arrived at the exit for Goulburn and left the highway to stop long enough to say we had been there. The southern end of the town, or rather city of over 20,000 people, is graced with large industrial buildings, a massive concrete merino sheep and a MacDonalds with an excellent large car park. We pulled in to use the facilities and enjoy a cup of coffee, then checked out the Bakery just down the street. The bakery doubles as a café and has a wonderful array of bread products, all at ridiculously exorbitant prices. Perhaps we would have enjoyed our coffee more there in front of the big open fire had we not already taken advantage of our complimentary Senior coffee up the road at MacDonalds. Instead we left in disgust and drove further on in to the city. The residences which Chris unfairly described as “not very salubrious” soon gave way to a bustling centre full of wonderful old brick and stone buildings. One would not expect too much of a sheep farming service centre on a Saturday morning however Goulburn was buzzing. We walked up through the central park adorned with exotic trees dressed in autumn colours and filled with families taking the air and exercising their tots, past the Italianate styled courthouse, and along the street to the supermarket where we picked up some wonderful bread rolls and the Weekend Australian.We then drove on out fully aware that we had not done Goulburn justice; perhaps some other time?

The highway became a freeway, but did not alter much in the name change and we drove on over the Great Dividing Range joining the increasing traffic. Twice we stopped at a layby to telephone the caravan park we were hoping to stay in and twice left messages on the answerphone and twice I berated Chris for not agreeing to my emailing them earlier in the week.

Finally we reached the outskirts of south Sydney, proceeded on to the toll road then turned on to the Sydney city streets that Chris had not enjoyed driving when we were here early last year. Alas no miracle of change has occurred in the meantime however the good news was that it was Saturday afternoon as opposed to the busy weekday when we had towed the caravan out of the city last year.

When we arrived here in the camp, we found the office unmanned but a telephone number to call. This time there was someone at the end of the line and we were directed to a site with the promise of personal contact tomorrow.

So here we are at the Sydney Tourist Park, a place which has improved with further investigation. Firstly it is a delight to enjoy warmer temperatures albeit right now 23 degrees midmorning with the heater on. Flanking our very narrow drive-through site are cane palms. Beyond, near the boundary, are banana palms and the resident kookaburras, cockatoos and myriad of other birdlife are undeterred by the fact that we are in the middle of Australia’s largest metropolis.

We touched base with the owner this morning and have agreed between ourselves that this park will serve us well for the week leading up to our departure for New Zealand and more importantly, will be a good place to store the rig for the duration of our absence.

Yesterday afternoon we walked up to Miranda central to find the railway station; it took us under fifteen minutes. We also found there is an excellent Westfield shopping centre there on the hill so we will be well served by the suburb. This afternoon we hope the rain will clear a little and we will undertake a recci rail trip to the airport. We understand we will have to change trains at Wolli Creek. Once we have done this we will be satisfied all practical preparations are in place for The Trip. Then we shall simply take advantage of the intervening days and check out some of the wonderful treats that Sydney has to offer.

Based on our experience so far, would we recommend this as the caravan park to stay in Sydney? No, we will always recommend the Lane Cove National Park as being the superior place to stay. It is cheaper, closer to the rail and bus stations, is far more attractive and has better amenities. The amenities here are like those I imagine to be on mining sites in the distant outback; temporary sheds functionally sound but little else. But they are clean and will do in the interim. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

17 May 2012 - Exhibition Park Camping Ground, Canberra, ACT

Despite the fact the thermometer was near -4 degrees this morning, the caravan plumbing had not frozen up; perhaps that had something to do with the cunning plan we have been operating over the past few days. Whenever we get up in the night to attend to the call of nature, we turn the tap on until the water in the relative warmth of the ground has come through. This fairly regularly exercised flow seems to keep the ice at bay. There is a positive to getting old after all!

We had a list of attractions yet to be visited; Royal Australian Mint, National Archives of Australia, Australian Institute of Sport and the Bradman Museum of Cricket. We checked out the cost of each of these, finding the last two were not free. I was not mad about either of them and suggested that I take a good book while Chris indulge himself or rather immerse himself in one of his favourite pastimes; an interest in sport. Checking on the address of the Bradman Museum, I discovered that it was situated in Bowral, way to the east and not too far off our planned route to Sydney, not Canberra at all, despite the fact we had picked up the brochure in the Canberra Information Centre.

We decided to head for the Mint, and then see what followed. As we crossed Lake Burley Griffin, the ornamental trees with their deep red brown leaves were perfectly reflected in the waters. Such scenes help one forgive the sub-zero temperatures. Such scenes belong to autumn.

Surprisingly we managed to fill nearly two hours at the Royal Australian Mint. The Mint is situated in the suburb of Deacon at an unnumbered address. It superseded the mints in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, opening in 1965, just in time to produce the new coinage for the changeover to decimal coinage in February 1966.

The Mint here in Canberra serves primarily to manufacture Australia’s legal coin currency. Note currency is still manufactured in Melbourne. The Mint here also produces medals for both military and civilian honours, as well as tokens for commercial organisations such as casinos, car washes, et cetera. Coins have also been manufactured for several Asian and South Pacific nations including New Zealand. Forty four gallon drums full of coins ready for striking for the Solomon Islands stood on the floor as evidence of the varied commissions the Mint receives.

Naturally security is tight for staff but for us who were kept in visitor areas behind great glass windows, not so. The interpretative panels and exhibits of failed strikes, the shop full of uncirculated collection coins and other tourist paraphernalia, all caught our attention.

It was interesting to learn that the bronze medals produced for the 2000 Olympic Games were made from recycled one and two cents taken out of circulation. We also learned that the old coins to be replaced with freshly minted ones are taken under guard to an undisclosed destination in Queensland and smelted down, to be returned for recycling.

Robots and automated machinery do much of the work, staff having been replaced for the altruistic purpose of reducing pollution from the diesel powered forklifts and other machinery. Whatever happened to machinery driven by electricity? I am sure that the robots do not complain about the working conditions or threaten strikes or request maternity leave. Titan, one of these treasures, is touted to be one of the strongest robot in the world, can lift 1000 kg. Today as he lifted a drum of coins weighing 750 kg, he bowed as he is programmed to do, but was not worthy of applause; he had carelessly spilt a number of the coins onto the floor.

I learned from one of the new guides, an ex-teacher now engaged to take the school tours through the Mint, that Year 6 school children, aged about 12 or 13, from all over Australia are encouraged to visit Canberra, to take in the War Memorial, the Parliament, the Museum and one other, which generally includes the Institute of Sport or the Royal Australian Mint. There are apparently financial carrots handed out to schools or the pupils (I am not sure which) for them to do so. The level of funding obviously is reflected in the distance from the county’s capital. This accounts for the many hundreds of school children we have encountered as we have toured about these places of interest ourselves.

After leaving the Mint, we stopped at Yarralumla Bay and walked across the parkland crunching the dead leaves and acorns beneath our feet to a table on the lakeside, where we ate our lunch in the company of a large crow and the inevitable magpies.

After discussing the National Archives centre and finding that neither of us felt it was a must-do, we headed for the Canberra Museum & Gallery back across the lake in the centre of the city.

The Canberra Museum & Gallery is not that easy to find but is worth the bother. There is a small gallery with exhibitions celebrating the social history of the city since its establishment and in the ACT area before then. It was interesting to learn here that the Territory border which zigzags in a rather weird shape about the city, sometimes quite distant and others hugging the edge, was established to encompass the water catchment of the Cotter River which rises in the Tidbinilla Ranges in the west.

There was also an exhibit containing maps and tourist information from the very early 1970s. This was when Chris was here and it would have been interesting to compare it all with the mass of literature we picked up from the Information Centre on arrival.

The Gallery section of this attraction incorporates a collection of Sidney Nolan’s artwork, donated by the artist himself to ensure his fame, I am sure. It was no surprise that there was yet another series about Ned Kelly, a few from his Burke & Wills collection, some inspired from Marcus Clark’s The Term of His Natural Life and a collection inspired from his relationship with Rimbaud, Verlaine and Verlaine’s wife, in which I found nothing to like . The only paintings I actually liked were from none of these, but a couple of paintings of birds and a couple of a dead cattle carcass. What does this say about me? Goodness knows!

There was also a delightful exhibition of illustrations from children’s books titled Look! The Art of Australian Picture Books Today and another titles Mirror by Jeannie Baker; both worth the fuss of searching for a park and hunting down the gallery.

Back at camp we found the ebb and flow of occupancy was on the rise. There are several campers  who have been here longer than us so must be nearing the end of their twenty eight day allowance. We may even beat them out of here. Two more nights and we will be gone.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

16 May 2012 - Exhibition Park Camping Ground, Canberra, ACT

Tonight we were able to cross off a further two attractions off our to-do list: the Museum of Australia and the Australian War Memorial.  We returned to the Museum this morning and spent a couple of hours there before lunch. Chris did a rush through of galleries he had not visited and I reviewed areas that had caught my fancy.

I did mention a couple of days ago doubt and ignorance as to any influence the Makassans might have had on the Australian aboriginal people in the north during their two centuries of sea slug harvesting. Today I managed to discover that the Makassans had made their mark after all; they passed on the habit of tobacco pipe smoking and left dugout canoes, the former, nothing to be too proud of, and the latter which never really caught on.

After lunch we returned for the last time to the War Memorial where I returned to the Colonial gallery to swat up on the contribution Australian troops made to the Boer War. Unlike Chris who had far more of the gallery to speed view, I had time and the desire to understand this part of history better than the vague overview gained from reading James Michener’s The Covenant about twenty or thirty years ago. It was interesting to learn the how’s and why’s and the ultimate disgust many outside Britain ultimately felt for this war; an invasion of foreign lands to gain control of diamond mines. It was also appalling to be reminded how hideously the British and their supporters (including Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders) treated the Boer women and children they rounded up from their farms into concentration camps.

I returned to the Hall of Memory and stood looking up into the beautifully designed high domed ceiling, and at the lovely stained glass windows. There were other tourists there, one a small tour party and the murmuring of hushed commentary added to the ambience. I stood near the door and read the speech that Paul Keating made when the Unknown Soldier was laid to rest here in 1993, and was very moved, so moved I record it below here, for my own reference. Australia can be replaced with New Zealand, or Turkey or any other country where lives have been lost in war.

We do not know this Australian's name and we never will.
We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, nor precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in Australia he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe. We do not know his age or his circumstances – whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them. We will never know who this Australian was.
Yet he has always been among those whom we have honoured. We know that he was one of the 45,000 Australians who died on the Western Front. One of the 416,000 Australians who volunteered for service in the First World War. One of the 324,000 Australians who served overseas in that war and one of the 60,000 Australians who died on foreign soil. One of the 100,000 Australians who have died in wars this century.
He is all of them. And he is one of us.
This Australia and the Australia he knew are like foreign countries. The tide of events since he died has been so dramatic, so vast and all – consuming, a world has been created beyond the reach of his imagination.
He may have been one of those who believed that the Great War would be an adventure too grand to miss. He may have felt that he would never live down the shame of not going. But the chances are he went for no other reason than that he believed it was the duty he owed his country and his King.
Because the Great War was a mad, brutal, awful struggle, distinguished more often than not by military and political incompetence; because the waste of human life was so terrible that some said victory was scarcely discernible from defeat; and because the war which was supposed to end all wars in fact sowed the seeds of a second even more terrible war – we might think this Unknown Soldier died in vain.
But, in honouring our war dead, as we always have and as we do today, we declare that this is not true. For out of the war came a lesson which transcended the horror and tragedy and the inexcusable folly. It was a lesson about ordinary people – and the lesson was that they were not ordinary. On all sides they were the heroes of that war; not the generals and the politicians but the soldiers and sailors and nurses – those who taught us to endure hardship, to show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together.
The Unknown Australian Soldier whom we are interring today was one of those who, by his deeds, proved that real nobility and grandeur belongs, not to empires and nations, but to the people on whom they, in the last resort, always depend.
That is surely at the heart of the ANZAC story, the Australian legend which emerged from the war. It is a legend not of sweeping military victories so much as triumphs against the odds, of courage and ingenuity in adversity. It is a legend of free and independent spirits whose discipline derived less from military formalities and customs than from the bonds of mateship and the demands of necessity. It is a democratic tradition, the tradition in which Australians have gone to war ever since.
This Unknown Australian is not interred here to glorify war over peace; or to assert a soldier's character above a civilian's; or one race or one nation or one religion above another; or men above women; or the war in which he fought and died above any other war; or one generation above any that has been or will come later.
The Unknown Soldier honours the memory of all those men and women who laid down their lives for Australia. His tomb is a reminder of what we have lost in war and what we have gained.
We have lost more than 100,000 lives, and with them all their love of this country and all their hope and energy.
We have gained a legend: a story of bravery and sacrifice and, with it, a deeper faith in ourselves and our democracy, and a deeper understanding of what it means to be Australian.
It is not too much to hope, therefore, that this Unknown Australian Soldier might continue to serve his country - he might enshrine a nation's love of peace and remind us that, in the sacrifice of the men and women whose names are recorded here, there is faith enough for all of us.

It was about 3 pm when we left the Memorial; we both agreed that we had given this and the Museum our best shot, but could, and would, return to these places again if and when we next visited Canberra.

On our way back to camp, we popped into the Woolworths store in Dickson to top up with fruit and vegetables. We stood in a check out queue far too long; the woman in front of us had bought her plastic bags along inside yet another plastic bag, and each of the bags inside had been carefully and neatly rolled up to minimise space. As a result the checkout operator had to sort, shake and unravel each bag. The customer also requested that the bags were not loaded up too much so the whole process took a very long time. Here in Canberra, as in South Australia, plastic bags are taboo and customers are encouraged to bring their own “green” bags. Personally I find this very annoying because we re-use our supermarket bags for rubbish wrapping and other practical purposes. We do now of course have our own stock of “green” bags and try to remember to take them with us. Our bags were all purchased from Coles and while they don’t all have that supermarket’s name emblazoned across them, the logo is known to belong to Coles. This is therefore interesting to think about when one fills them with purchases from Woolworths. How does that work with marketing? 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

15 May 2012 - Exhibition Park Camping Ground, Canberra, ACT

It is hard to believe that tonight will be the last of the three weeks we have paid for in this camp. How the time has flown! We will extend a few more days, but we are now rationing our activities as our departure day draws nearer.

The morning started as slothfully as the day before, however I have to confess that this is also partly due to the fact that the Tour of California, one of the main international cycle races, is currently under way and the last fifty or less kilometres of each day’s race is being televised live, at a time we would normally be rising and breakfasting. Needless to say, road cycle racing is in danger of interfering with our own great Australia tour.

By the time we had called into the Dickson shopping centre for a few provisions and the daily newspaper, it was close to midday, so again we parked in our regular place by the lake, made a start on the newspaper and then had an early lunch before returning yet again to the Museum.

Today I started on the Gallery of the First Australians. Since arriving here fifteen months or so ago, and being regular museum goers, we have seen so much about aboriginal culture, the lost children, the establishments of land rights, and acknowledgement that these were citizens of Australia no less than anyone else, to be counted in the national census and with a right to vote. As avid newspaper readers we have also absorbed the negative commentaries about the aboriginal people in Alice Springs and other remote places. As travellers we have seen the drunks in the dry river beds and the listless aimless groups under the trees in public places. From this one arrives at a particular conclusion, which is prejudiced and tunnel viewed; for that I apologise but ask how can I not arrive at this?

Today in this excellent gallery, much of what I have read about was duplicated, and I learned too of the stories of terrible massacres of aboriginals through the centuries after white men arrived, and the brave rebellious battles the first Australians engaged in with the settlors. As a foreigner, albeit from only across the ditch, I was ignorant of these matters. In New Zealand, we had the Maori Wars and there is no secret about these. Such matters here are no longer hidden away, but they are not advertised either.

On a positive note, I was encouraged to see scores of photos and stories of folk, some with rather small amounts of aboriginal blood, but all claiming First Australian heritage, as successful functioning articulate members of society. There is one exhibition celebrating the history and the success of the aboriginal led radio station in Broome (in Western Australia) that is now an equally successful television station, dabbling in function organisation and media training services. I came away with a more balanced view of the problems of the aboriginal people, however cannot see too many others being as cheered as I was until these people embrace education and shed their victim mentality.

Chris and I met up mid-afternoon and took in the special exhibition currently on here in the Museum of Australia; Travelling the Silk Road, Ancient Pathway to the Modern World. There is a charge for this, however I felt this was well justified given the cost of bringing it here to Canberra. The exhibition takes the visitor one thousand years back in time to experience the sights, sounds and stories of the greatest route in history. Four cities on the route are described; Xi’an, in China during the Tang era highlighting silk, Turfan  (now known as Turpan), also in China, then home to the Sogdian merchants, a thriving oasis and market centre,  Samarkand , today the second largest city in Uzbekistan, highlighting papermaking, and finally Bagdad in Iran, a great centre of scholarly learning and commerce. The exhibition is beautifully done offering a wealth of visual, audio and sensual exhibits; colourful and informative. I was certainly glad we bothered to stray from the many free attractions that abound in this wonderful city.

Monday, May 14, 2012

14 May 2012 - Exhibition Park Camping Ground, Canberra, ACT

This morning saw the first in a series of -3 degree mornings forecasted. It was the first dawn I have woken and considered the transfer of Chris’s night-cap beanie to my own head. The water pipes in the caravan were all frozen and did not thaw enough for use until nearly ten o’clock when we were ready to head out.

We spent the rest of the morning in Canberra Central, the lovely big shopping centre in, of course, Canberra’s centre. Chris needed a few more winter clothing bits and pieces, all found conveniently at Target.

We drove over toward the museum, parked up by the lake, read the newspaper for a little while then lunched, before relocating ourselves in the museum.

Walking into toward the museum, we got caught up with another couple sporting a Queensland number plate and spent some time sharing travel experiences. They told us about the Very Best Spot on the coast in Western Australia, a place we have heard about a couple of times before so we will have to check it out for ourselves when we finally get there.

Once back in the museum, we resumed our tour of Old New Land gallery where we schooled up on the evolution of wool and grain, interesting stories partially investigated in our last visit. Here in this museum the guides do not stand around in obvious places pretending to be security guards and otherwise only there to take your questions; they are pro-active in accosting tourists and explaining in long detail any tiny artefact you may have just walked past not noticing how significant it might be. (I would hate to read their blogs!) The gallery of Landmarks explores Australian history since European settlement, through stories of Australian places from across the continent. It was here we were first “attacked” by Vicky who kept us captured for more than half an hour educating us and discussing the current political dilemma in Greece. Then suddenly there was her replacement for a handover and he kept us for a further half an hour offering tit bits of fascinating information. 

We finally broke free and set off to spend an hour by ourselves; a rewarding exercise however we still had not progressed more than half way through the museum when it was time to get back to camp and rescue the washing from the line before the dew fell. The museum will have to be returned to yet again. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

13 May 2012 - Exhibition Park Camping Ground, Canberra, ACT

Today is Mother’s Day here in Australia and New Zealand. Shame on me – I did not remember until I overheard some people about midday when we were out and about, then tried to send well-wishes to my mother by text on Chris’s cellphone. I hate using his phone! In the end, I gave up and left it until we had arrived home and sent it on mine, which of course was tucked away in its usual place, rarely with me.

We rose disgustingly late and it had nothing to do with the fact that temperatures had plummetted again to zero and we were being lashed by Antarctic winds. The Giro d’Italia has now moved back to Italy and is being televised live, courtsesy of SBS, in the middle of the night our time. Needless to say it was a long night for Chris, and for me who sat up until 11 pm to keep him company in the build up. It is a hard life being a sportsman, he says. I say, thank goodness for television head phones or I would have cycling nightmares all night!

Scupltured raptor sharing the viewpoint
By the time we were ready to hit the tourist trail, the weather had cleared and it seemed a good day to do a self-drive tour. Our first stop was the National Arboretum which we had viewed from the lakeside a week or so ago, however today it was open to the public. We drove up into the park to the temporary visitors’ centre which is eagerly manned by the parks Friends. From here we could see all the way back down the lake to the city and the parliament, and appreciate the plans underway. There is to be an open air ampitheatre, restaurants, a conference centre and a shop in the middle of this collection of forests. When we quizzed one of the Friends about the oddity of having so many forests of like trees as opposed to a forest of varied trees, she told us it was a first for the world. Here one could stand in the middle of any one of the forests and inhale the purity of the one variety as opposed to being assaulted by all flora at one. We drove on further to a higher lookout and had to agree that the arboretum when complete will be quite wonderful. And even in the interim with it unfinished, it is better to be seen on an open day than viewed and criticised from afar.

From here we drove south of the lake to Woden, the centre of the satellite district of Woden Valley. Appart from several government type office buildings, there is little here but a large bus terminal, a deserted town square and Westfield Woden, previously known as Woden Plaza. We struggled to find free parking, even on this, a Sunday. Once parked we walked back through these deserted areas, seeing for the first time in Canberra, graffitti and abandoned shopping trolleys. Once inside the shopping centre however, we were pleased to find it clean, modern, well patronised and well populated by all the shops that one finds in Australian shopping malls such as this.

Leaving Woden we returned to Canberra centre on a more direct route, and spent some time meandering around the suburbs of Deakin, Forrest and Manuka, admiring all the embassies, the High Commissions and the smart houses of the rich and/or famous. What a superb area this is and I have to agree with Chris who said this was the most beautiful residential area he had ever driven about. We were particularly taken with the diplomatic residences of South Africa, the United States of America and China. We found the New Zealand High Commission not too far away, marked out by the three corrugated cows standing on the front lawn. I have to admit to feeling the cringe factor; but then Shepparton has dozens of plaster cows on their council green, so…. If they can do it, why not the Kiwis?

We parked near the Lodge, the residence of the Prime Minister and walked about the perimetre. The high hedges and fences preclude much of a view, however what we could see was most impressive. The house was built ready for the prime minister of the day back in 1927 and would easily accommodate a large family such as was common in those times. The gardens are expansive although very private. It really is wasted on Julia and “her boyfriend” (as the elderly gentlemen sitting next to me in Question Time the other day described him). I understand they have a dog who probably does enjoy the garden but I do imagine they would be better accomodated in a two bedroom appartment in the parliamentary buildings, if such accomodation should exist.

The Lodge is about to undergo extensive alterations, despite the fact that it is heritage listed. Thinking about that, it is hard to see how the design and project management alone could cost $750,000. A new roof, modern cabling, a new toilet and vanity, redo the kitchen – I am up to no more than $100,000. Add the admin fee of $650,000 and you have a fair drag on tax payers funds. No wonder they wanted a budget surplus!

We drove up to the top of  Red Hill from where one has a lovely view over areas seen from other vantage points, as well as south over Woden Valley. It was cold at the top and we could see rain approaching from the south east. We then drove the circuit route which hugs the parliament buildings and did so very slowly since the traffic was almost non-existant, and then came on home. As we neared camp, rain drops started to fall. Now we are tucked up inside for the rest of the afternoon, pleased to be alone on our row so we will not have to consider any drag on the electricty as we run the heater at full capacity and heat the remainder of last night’s meatloaf  in the microwave.

12 May 2012 - Exhibition Park Camping Ground, Canberra, ACT

It rained the following night and again briefly in the morning, but by the time we were ready to head out, the sun had claimed the day and the dark clouds blown away beyond the horizon. We drove to Gungahlin and shopped at Coles for provisions, returned to camp and stowed everything away then sat about reading the paper until lunchtime.

After lunch we headed cack to the War Memorial but this time to walk up and down Anzac Parade, the wide boulevard with the central band of red gravel. I learned today that the gravel was sourced from the crushed bricks from Canberra homes. Why the homes had to give up their bricks, I have yet to discover. Australian towns are particularly noted for their wide streets, some wider than others, but none surpass or even match those here in Canberra, and Anzac Parade must be king of them all.

Eleven memorials flank this stretch with spaces left for more to be built in the years ahead, and each is impressive and worthy of a visit. For us, some stood out, notably:

·         The Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial: Three massive concrete walls rise from a shallow moat forming a central space where one can stand and read the inscriptions, a series of quotations intended to recall events of military, political and emotional importance. The photograph etched into the rear wall shows soldiers waiting to be airlifted to their base. A suspended granite ring contains a scroll bearing the names of the Australians who died in the conflict. Apart from being a poignant reminder of this war, it is a magnificent piece of art.

·         The Australian National Korean War Memorial: Here granite and gravel have been used to mimic the harsh climate, and a forest of stainless steel poles surrounding a boulder from the battlefield, symbolise those who dies. Like the memorial for the war in Vietnam, this has a twofold effect.
·         The Australian Services Nurses National Memorial: A timeline sequence is etched and cast into glass walls, portraying the history and contributions of the Australian Nurses. For me, it symbolised both the fragility yet strength of courageous women, and none so great as those who were there close to the front to witness the horror of  war.

As I examined all these memorials, I thought how their pristine state would be short lived in New Zealand. Vandalism would reduce them to eyesores in no short time at all. Here in Australia there seems to be greater respect accorded monuments and the like, and there are certainly many. On every country road, one passes a monument to the women of the district, the pioneers of the district, the miners of the district; in fact anyone who paused long enough to be acknowledged.

I was particularly touched by the New Zealand Memorial; a pair of “flax” kete handles in bronze, one each side of the parade and set at the base, the interpretation of a traditional Maori proverb, translated “each of us at a handle of the basket”. Both flags were flying high, side by side, just as Chris and I, citizens from each country.

The National Carillon
When we reached the bottom of the slope, we walked on down to the lake and along the shore, toward the carillon. Of course we had listened to the ringing of the bells, both to mark time and to entertain, the first weekend of our stay here in Canberra. Here we had a close up view of this fifty metre tower situated on the small island of Aspen, across the lake from the parliamentary precinct, accessed by a footbridge. With fifty five bells, the National Carillon is large by world standards. The bells were cast in England and the carillon was a gift from the British Government to the people of Australia to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the national capital.
We walked around the tiny island, watching a small yacht tack across the lake in the breeze, and then, surprisingly, sail on up under the road bridge and on up toward the yacht club. By now the sun was shining in a wintery kind of way and the breeze, although quite strong, was not cold at all. Perhaps we had seen the end of the very cold snap?

Here on the edge of the lake, we learned that Prime Minister Robert Menzies was  instrumental in the early 1950’s in pushing progress along here in Canberra. He changed his earlier view of the capital city as a place of exile and isolation, a view held by many fellow Australians of the time, to one of being an opportunity to do something. Canberra was unkindly labelled by some as “a cemetery with lights”, “the ruin of a good sheep station” and “six suburbs in search of a city”. The walkway around the lake is one of the many projects Menzies put into action and we certainly enjoyed that today.

One of the very few remaining buildings of pre-Griffin Canberra is situated here on the lake edge. Blundell Cottage, a five roomed stone cottage, was built in about 1858 and occupied by a tenant farmer until about 1933. There is a rather sad story told on the interpretative board about one of the Blundell daughters; Florrie, the oldest child, died at the tender age of sixteen after catching fire while ironing. This would never occur now; sixteen year old girls today just don’t bother to iron.The cottage is open to the public, but not on Friday’s.

Blundell Cottage
Back up at the War Memorial, after taking in the last of the memorials, the Kemal Ataturk Memorial, we wandered about the gardens. Kemal Ataturk is of course one of Turkey’s great leaders, commander of the Turkish Forces who defeated the allied forces at Gallipoli in 1915. He went on to be the first president of modern Turkey and is best remembered here as a gracious and generous victor. His famous words are repeated on the memorial, and here below:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours…you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have  become our sons as well.”

We had yet to complete our visit to the War Memorial; we just hoped we had enough days left to squeeze a last couple of hours in. The days are passing so quickly.

It was colder this morning but still no forecasted rain. The road in and out of the camp was busy with market traffic however this did nothing to lure us to revisit. At the other end of the exhibition park, the Erotica Lifestyles Expo, was well underway for the weekend, but again we were not tempted to even investigate the entry fee. Erotica Expos are just not on my bucket list.

We headed off back once more to the National War Memorial because I had discovered our preferred destination for the day, the museum, was not open until midday on weekends. And so we spent a further hour and three quarters taking in areas of the museum yet explored, and I took the opportunity to return to the Korean Way gallery to get more of a handle on the concise history of the war. I have found this gallery to be most enlightening on many subjects but particularly so as regards the Korean War. My father served in this war and has never being particularly forthcoming. Perhaps that is an unfair comment; rather the fact that daughters are not normally receptive to the details of war service. Now with a greater understanding of both the intricacies of the history and geography, I will be able to target my curiosity more specifically.

The following is recorded for my own benefit, as a quick summary of the War’s history:

Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910, and remained part of the Japanese empire until 1945. After the Second World War the peninsula was crudely divided along the 38th Parallel into a Soviet-controlled communist north (the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea) and the US backed pro-Western Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south. By 1949 both the United States and the Soviet Union had formally withdrawn. But tensions between the two halves remained high, with UN observers obliged to monitor the border. In 1950 these tensions erupted into war, when on 25 June, the Soviet-backed North Korea invaded South Korea. The UN Security demanded the North Koreans withdraw. When they refused, the United Nations intervened. Led by the United States, twenty countries, including Australia, eventually responded to the UN appeal. No one realised the war would last for three years and that occupation forces would be required for some years after.

June – September 1950:                                                                                                         
Even the arrival of US troops could not prevent North Korean forces from over-running most of the south. By August only a small enclave surrounding the southern port of Pusan remained under UN control.

September – October 1950: United Nations Advance:
On 15 September the commander of UN forces in Korea, US General Douglas MacArthur, made a daring amphibious landing near Inchon, to the south-west of Seoul, the South Korean capital. It was a masterstroke and instantly turned the war around. When UN forces broke out of the Pusan Perimeter a week later, the North Koreans were forced into a rapid retreat. After reaching the 38th Parallel, MacArthur continued the pursuit, though many at the United Nations and elsewhere questioned this decision. The UN advance pushed northwards and on 19th October Pyongyang, the North Korean capital was captured. As the UN troops approached the Yalu River, which marked the border between Korea and China, the new communist Chinese government became deeply concerned. Secretly it began to send troops onto North Korea.

November 1950 – April 1951: Chinese Advance and UN Counter-offensive:
After an initial attack at the beginning of November, the Chinese launched a massive offensive against the UN Command towards the end of the month. With the balance of power reversed, UN troops began another chaotic withdrawal south, hampered by the difficult conditions caused by a heavy winter. By the start of January 1951 Seoul had fallen for the second time and the Chinese were advancing into South Korea. In the New Year, a series of methodical attacks by the UN forces recaptured Seoul and pushed the Chinese back towards the 38th Parallel. By April the lines were close to the positions that had been held when the war started. MacArthur remained ken to pursue a vigorous offensive against the communists. But the US government now wanted simply to re-establish a secure South Korea. On 11 April MacArthur was removed from command.

April 1951-July 1953 Attack and Counter-Attack turns into Static Warfare:
On 22 April 1951 the Chinese launched another major offensive. It was blunted by major actions on the Imjin River and at Kapyong. After falling back a short distance the UN forces turned north once again in May. They advanced through a succession of fortified lines until October. The following month they switched to active defence along these positions. In July 1951 the two sides started negotiations to end the war. It took two years to reach an agreement. Throughout this time, the lines were a static battleground of patrolling and local domination. Based on these fiercely contested positions, a demarcation line was agreed. In an armistice signed on 27 July 1953, a Demilitarised Zone was created to protect the demarcation line. It remains in place today, unchanged more than half a century later.

I was also surprised to learn in the Boer War gallery that 6,500 New Zealand soldiers had taken part in that theatre of war. Australia sent 16,000.

Chris and I met up in the foyer at our agreed time and returned to the land cruiser, then drove over to the Action Peninsula where the National Museum is situated. There we sat beside the lake, watching a small paddle steamer chug up and down the lake while we dined on our sandwiches and the delicacy picked up at the bakery in Dickson. We have been negligent in avoiding bakeries so I have instead reduced our sandwich intake.

The National Museum labels itself as representing “Land, Nation, People”; a social history museum of Australia. We took advantage of the introductory film experience, a small revolving theatre giving an over view of Australia’s history using a wealth of photos dragged up from the archives.

The first gallery within the museum is one that tells of unwelcome immigrants; prickly pears, foxes, rabbits and some more welcome but at odds with the indigenous flora and fauna, and all with the very best intentions. For the pleasure and delight of the new white immigrants, 100,000 salmon and 1,000 European brown trout eggs were imported and released into rivers in Victoria and Tasmania. Honey bees and blackbirds were introduced to make everyone feel more at home. Buffaloes were introduced from Timor in 1824 and 1827 for meat and by 1874 there were 20,000 buffalo on the Coburg Peninsula alone. (Note that this peninsula is 350 kilometres east of Darwin). Camels came to assist with transport in desert conditions and they and horses went feral as have dozens of other species.

Further through the gallery there was a section on agricultural development; how both grains and wool have been modified over the centuries to produce strains that prosper in Australia’s unique climate.

Close by there was a large section of fire, spelling out the horror and the practical applications of this natural phenomin. Here was an opportunity to detail statistics of loss in Great Fires marked down in history, and more specifically the fires in January 2003 which swept through Canberra with the loss of four lives and over 500 residential properties.

Beyond this section we came upon a huge area about people, some famous and some just average people who had left a mark in a small way. One of the more famous was Charles Sturt who has popped up all alone our way. On one of his trips into the interior of this land he set off well equipped complete with “15 men, 4 drays, 1 light cart, 11 horses, 6 dogs, 30 bullocks, 200 sheep and a whaleboat”. Needless to say the whaleboat proved to be superfluous to requirements.

Here too was mention of the people from Suawesi in Indonesi, the Makassans, who visited the northern coast of Australia for four months or so every year to harvest trepang, or sea cucumbers or as I knew them from Vanuatu, beche de mer. This went on from at least as far back as 1720 through to 1907. Now I would have thought that nearly two hundred years of contact from people who in turn traded with the Chinese who had a very advanced civilisation, would have changed the culture of the aboriginals very significantly. While the exhibition in the museum and Wikipedia says that “these visits had a profound impact on the Aboriginals of northern Australia – in language, art, economy and even genetics”, I would say I have yet to learn myself that this is true. But then, I have yet been to visit the north west of this country, so what would I know. I look forward to being amazed!