Wednesday, February 27, 2013

28 February 2013 - Capital Country Holiday Village, Sutton, NSW

The end of the month already! And according to a school boy voice I heard far too early this morning, the last day of summer. I don’t know about that however it has been a very wet day and is a mere 18 degrees, forecasted to drop to 10 degrees overnight. A very different kettle of fish from the temperatures we have experienced over the past week or so, all in the twenties whether night or day.

We spent the day entirely indoors except for the time spent walking to and from the venues of our entertainment. The traffic through the centre of Canberra was little better than yesterday despite our slightly later travel. Obviously commuters here are having a worse time of it than they were ten months ago.

We found one of the last car parks around the back of the National Gallery of Australia and joined the throngs queuing for opening time. The drawcard for the mostly aged crowd was the current special exhibition titled Toulouse – Lautrec: Paris & the Moulin Rouge, a collection of over one hundred paintings, drawings, posters and prints drawn from thirty major international collectors, both private and public galleries and museums. The works trace the artist’s career from his earliest work to his depictions of the Paris social scene of the late 1800s; the famous dance halls such as Moulin Rouge, the cafĂ©-concerts, theatres and brothels.

After paying the entry fee, thankful again for Chris’s Senior card, we joined the free tour about the exhibition which took nearly an hour and then spent the same amount of time making our own way back around. Obviously we loved it or we would not have hung about so long. It is an excellent exhibition and we were well pleased to have shouted ourselves this indulgence.

After lunch we returned to the parliament to attend Question Time in the Senate yet again, the last for the week and perhaps the last we will ever attend here in Australia. Again the scene was like an out-of-control classroom with the President a bit like an ineffectual parent who threatens and repeats and never follows up. Sound familiar?

We did not hang about too long after that wound up but headed back out into the rain and came on home. I have pulled the heater out from under the bed; we just might need it later this evening.

27 February 2013 - Capital Country Holiday Village, Sutton, NSW

How wonderful it is to be back “on the road” even though we are still here just north of Canberra! It does make one wonder how we will cope with a sedentary retirement when the time eventually comes, however we shall not worry about that now.

I woke early to the premature song of the magpies, premature because the songsters were soon shut up by their feathered cousins telling them it was still too early. A family of Eastern Grey kangaroos grazed peacefully out from our kitchen window until a throng of twelve year old boys were let loose from their cabins. Even the galahs who had roosted over night in the gum at the edge of our site and left their calling cards all over the landcruiser, made a hasty retreat.

After a prompt breakfast, we found ourselves in the thick of Canberra traffic and were glad we had set off so very early. Normally we don’t leave camp until after nine, in an attempt to miss the commuting workers and students. This morning we arrived at the Belgian Embassy with oodles of time up our sleeve, met with the ambassador, a jolly sort in more ways than one, and signed the papers required for our grandchildren to be registered as Europeans. This will hopefully give them an edge in life; a legacy from their deceased grandfather.

By 10.30 am we were parked close to the parliament and soon checking out the sitting schedule for the Senate. Unfortunately the Representatives are not sitting this week and so the Senate would have to suffice. Bookings for Question Time were not necessary; there is not as much interest in the senator’s version of the daily circus.

From this grand structure on the hill, we walked down past the Old Parliament and on down to the Portrait Gallery with the main intention of catching the exhibition “First Ladies: Significant Australian Women”. This excellent collection of twenty six portraits celebrates the diversity of the depth and achievements of Australian women over the past 100 years. All but Julia Gillard, the current prime minister and Gail Kelly, the CEO of Westpac Bank, are Australian born. These two were born in Wales and South Africa respectively.

It is appropriate here to mention that Canberra is celebrating one hundred years of its existence as Canberra, the county’s capital, this year and there are a myriad of exhibitions and events on this year to celebrate that fact. No doubt we will happen upon some more of these during the next couple of days.

After enjoying this special portrait exhibition, we wandered through a few of the other galleries and were delighted to find yet another jewel; a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II celebrating her diamond jubilee  The portrait by Australian born artist, Ralph Heimans, has her standing in Westminster Abbey, the scene of her coronation, still robed and crowned, thick and matronly with maturity, revealing the fatigue and burden of her position and the passing of the years. It is a wonderful work and the light upon the scene in the otherwise dreary cathedral is quite beautiful.

After lunch we walked back up to the parliament and joined a tour. We did one of these tours when we were here about ten months ago and enjoyed it immensely. There is only so much info one can retain at a time so we were keen to do it all again and of course, a different guide offers a different perspective to the experience. The tour wound up outside the Senate chamber just in time for us to check in our bags and umbrellas and seat ourselves before the bun fight began. It was a full house of politicians and every bit as wild and demented as Question Time in the House of Representatives. Actually we were quite appalled at how little control the President had over the house. It was as bad as any bad film you have seen of an ineffective teacher controlling a wayward  class of ten year olds. We were quite delighted to find how many politicians we could identify, although it was disappointing to find they were as naughty or out of control as the worst. Alas standards always seem to fall to the lowest common denominator.

After an hour’s entertaining, all but about four senators and the President remained in the chamber beside the few spectators  two journalists and a couple of busloads of children in the galleries. We stayed to hear three of the senators, women, screech across the house at one another before electing to come home to the preferable screech of the cockatoos here at the camping ground.

I was pleased to catch up with Olly and our Belgian grandsons on Skype tonight; alas the little one’s had to be satisfied with us telling them about our visiting roos; there were none to show them out the windows tonight. The school boys were screaming around like a swarm of bees and no other wildlife in sight.

Monday, February 25, 2013

26 February 2013 - Capital Country Holiday Village, Sutton, NSW

It almost seems too good to be true, to have left Sydney at last after two and a half weeks twiddling our thumbs and here we are within a bull’s roar of Canberra.

Chris had the landcruiser around at the garage as they opened their doors at 7.30 am and back with the checked over vehicle and a paid invoice before 8.30. By that time I had done the housework, packed away the water and sewage hoses and was ready for us to hook up. With such efficiency all around, we were out into the city traffic by 9 am, on to the toll road by 9.20 and off again by 9.40. Such efficiency after so much inefficiency, such a delight!

Of course we had travelled this road through to Canberra back at the end of May last year, but in reverse, and a road travelled in the opposite direction is an entirely new experience. I was surprised how much farmland was visible from the highway between Sydney and Goulburn; I had only noticed the bushlands from the other side. I was also surprised to see so many wind farms west of Collector and along the eastern shore of Lake George.

It was on the shore of this mostly dry lake that we stopped for lunch and were able to contact the Belgian Embassy to make an appointment, the whole purpose of us detouring so strangely from our trip to Darwin. This is set for tomorrow morning which means we need only be two days in Canberra. Instead we have decided to spend an extra two to take in some of the special exhibitions on offer in the capital.

Finding accommodation was a mission and as you can see by the address, we have had to back track into New South Wales. It was not until lunchtime when I checked out Camps 6 to remind myself of the tariff payable at the Exhibition Centre, I discovered that this wonderful facility is closed to campers from mid-February to the beginning of March as well as a couple of other times slots, including Easter. Chris reminded me of the cost of making calls on our prepay cellphones and said he preferred to drive to the alternative camping grounds and check them out in person.  So be it, I thought.

We drove to one in the suburb of O’Connor in Canberra and found it full so decided to call into the Visitors Centre and check out other camping grounds from there. The friendly staff recommended several camps, this one gently thrust forward ahead of others and even though we balked at the distance back out of Canberra, were encouraged to try it. A quick call by the Centre staff secured us a booking and so we drove back the eighteen kilometres or so.

This camp, happily a member of the Family Parks group hence discounted for us, is also quite full, particularly with school groups doing their compulsory Canberra trip. As I write this, they have yet to return. Learning this, I had wondered if we had chosen well, however as it has turned out, we had little choice. Soon after arriving I found myself in conversation with a couple of other women who had also arrived today. They reported that both caravan parks in Queanbeyan and the one at Eaglehawk are all booked out. We are in fact most fortunate to have found ourselves a space anywhere, even this far from the centre of Canberra and out of state.

Rain has threatened but not yet arrived. Thunderstroms are forecasted but these are nothing compared to the cyclone that is now poised over the Pilbara on the west coast ready to decimate all in its path. And poor Bundeburg up on the east coast is bracing itself for yet another round of rain.

Our camp site is roomy and shared with a million ants and a charming group of superb blue wrens. Crows are also announcing their presence and I am sure we will hear many more birds before nightfall. A small welcome gift of roo poo sits on the edge of our concrete pad; perhaps we will see the donors later on the grassy patch below our camp spot?

25 February 2013 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

As I start this, there is much activity all about the camp. An elderly couple have taken nearly half an hour to reverse into the site next to us, just about taking out the hedge and fence. Truth be told, the caravan rig was brought in from the wrong direction and the angle he had to manoevre would have been a trial for even the best of drivers. Activities like these are such an entertainment in a caravan park, especially for those with little to do but sit about under their awnings and observe the passing of life. I am sure we have provided much entertainment for others during the past two years of travel.

And speaking of two years, while I was pegging out the washing on the communal line this morning and in conversation with a rather paunchy chap doing the same, he told me that he was from the Sunshine Coast and took to the road for six months at a time. He expressed wonder when I told him that we had been on the road for just over two years; he said that he would have no marriage at all if he were to suggest a similar lifestyle to his wife. I shall take that as a rather back handed compliment, that Chris and I are such compatible travellers and share the same eccentricities. (I am not sure he would agree with eccentricity bit)

I do believe that I said sometime in the last week that we had completed our film going excursions, and have at least once put lie to that? And so we did yet again this morning when we headed up to Miranda to see Argo. As I looked around the twenty or so fellow cinema goers, they all appeared to be candidates for the likes of Quartet rather than the film we were about to be presented with. No doubt they, like us, had seen the publicity on the morning television regarding the likelihood of Argo winning Best Picture at the Oscars today and thought they’d better see what the all the hype was about. Both Chris and I enjoyed the movie, but we both agreed we would put others ahead of this as a winner and that it would not top the list of those we have seen over the past two and a half months.

We were quite horrified to learn the extent of the storm damage up and down this eastern seaboard, mostly north of Sydney but also hurricane style damage suffered south at Kiama where we had spent some days prior to reaching Sydney in December. I also learned that our friends visited in Port Macquarie mid-2012 had been evacuated a couple of days ago but were now home safe again with only their motorbike having been lost. It is poor consolation perhaps to say that it was only a motorbike, but said in the same vein as when we lost our own landcruiser in the 2011 Brisbane flood; it was after all only a vehicle. It could have been so much more.

Chris had phoned Maurie the Mechanic after breakfast for an update and been told there was every likelihood of us being able to pick the vehicle up before the end of the day.

The day passed in this sedentary manner, later learning that Argo did indeed win the Best Picture award and that a State of Emergency had also been awarded to locations severely effected by the weather. The good news of the day is that we now have our landcruiser back after almost two weeks without. We were there at the garage before closing time to collect it, irritating as customers can possibly be, but then would you be any better? Maurie said he would prefer to have the reassembled vehicle for testing before we headed off and more importantly, I believe, he had yet to make up the dreaded invoice.

We took it shopping so we were able to stock up large, something we have been unable to do since Day Two of our return. We have pulled the awning down yet again and packed all our paraphernalia into the landcruiser. The alarm is set for an hour far earlier than our normal waking time and Chris will have the vehicle back around at Beekman Automotive for final tests before 8 am. I shall complete packing up and all being well, we will be off out of Sydney and on the road to Canberra before midday. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

24 February 2013 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

Heavy rain pounding on the roof woke us soon after midnight. What a deluge! According to Chris, we have experienced rain like that before however my memory is poor these days. I expected to find my plastic campground clogs gone when I poked my head out the door, washed away in great torrents, down the street all the way to Botony Bay. Surprisingly they were still there, along with Chris’s, just as we had left them, but full of water.

When we turned the television on over breakfast, we learned that there were emergency evacuations in place for Kempsy, the lower parts of Port Macquarie on the Hastings River, Cuddleton near Taree, parts of Grafton and a few parts of Sydney, to name but a few, and all places we have passed through or stayed at not that long ago. Despite the fact the storm had passed, the rivers and creeks are on the rise and in some places already greater than they were in floods of the 1970s. Bellingen, where the showgrounds were a bog and closed to campers last year, was on alert. A news story  showed the causeway already well under water.

Throughout the populated parts of this country the emergency services are having to cope with both fire and flood events; such a country of extremes and drama.

Once the awning was out once more and the wet clothes of yesterday’s excursion hung to dry, we decided to venture out again rather than sit about waiting and waiting for both the weather and mechanical resolution. We caught the train at Miranda and travelled in with the Sunday family crowds to Central Station. From there we made our way to Paddy’s Market and spent a couple of hours mozzying around buying nothing but a Bok Choy cabbage and some capsicums from the Chinese vendors, and then walked up George Street to Town Hall Station where we joined the crowds heading home again on the southbound train once more.

There have been some showers but we have managed to avoid them all today. In fact as I write this, the sun is shining and out of the gusts of wind it is very warm; a balmy 27 degrees of so. Another day closer to leaving and back on the road.

23 February 2013 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

The rain has arrived as forecasted but not, for us, in disastrous quantities. We even managed to venture out this morning for the newspaper, hoping that the service station just a few metres up the road might sell The Australian. Alas not, so it was up the hill to Miranda and returning with rain sodden clothes despite the rain coats and umbrellas.

The day was subsequently spent indoors, challenging each other at Sudokos, reading the weekend paper and watching television. We are the lucky ones. In the camp area sat a small group of tourists travelling in a car, the vehicle backed in and their very wet tents and all related paraphernalia hanging from the rafters in an attempt to dry them before enduring another night camped out in the storm. Perhaps they will sleep on the dining tables tonight at least under a solid roof. Behind us I could hear the pitter patter of little feet as the little solo mum coped with caravan-bound children. Girls would be happy colouring in; little boys drive you spare on such days.

Friday, February 22, 2013

22 February 2013 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

Today we went to Como. Now isn't that a more positive note to start this posting ? Como and the shoreline of the George River/Botany Bay, so celebrated in the paintings we saw at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery a few days ago, have until today only been glimpsed from the train windows as we have sped past on our way into the city.

Como and the other small station of Janelli are frequently missed on the tight commuter schedule and so we were aware that transport to the former could be problematic. However with use of the appropriate timetable, we found ourselves on the station platform before midday and set off toward the shoreline along the charming residential streets of Como. We walked on passed the famous Como Hotel , one of the oldest buildings in the Shire. The hotel began its life as a German club in 1878, used by the Germans constructing the railway in this part of the city. Henry Lawson, one of Australia’s great writers and a favourite of mine, lived at Como West in the last few years before his death in 1922 and is believed to have been a frequent visitor to the hotel. I noticed an article the other day in the local freebie community newspaper about the upcoming sale or auction of the hotel. Hopefully any future owner will take great care of this very elegant building.

I decided I would photograph the hotel from down at the water’s edge, however we became side tracked by a path that led off toward the rail bridge which spans the harbour, and soon found ourselves on the Como – Oatley Walkway. The walkway was opened in 2006 and is quite popular if today’s walkers and runners are any indication. We passed through corridors of lantana and ladder ferns, high above the harbour now screened by a mass of trees. We stopped a group of women to ask where the path went, having found ourselves so randomly there. Oatley, they explained. Turn this way, and then that and you will find yourself in Oatley township. And so we did; a charming village surrounded by many lovely retirement units and great swathes of green park. We soon found the railway station but had to wait for a train bothered to stop; most sped past to more important stations.

We alighted at Sutherland as I was keen to check out the Boatshed at Woronora, marked on the map as being south west of Sutherland on the Wononora River and location for yet another art exhibition to commence this weekend. With an inadequate map, we headed off on foot in the general direction, found a pathway through Prince Edward Park, past the cemetery and steeply down through rocky bushland that had seen fire in the not too distant past. While the wildlife was limited to a few peewee and a languid kookaburra, I had the sensation of being back out in the bush; a great delight. Down and down we went, Chris concerned about the steep return, not for his own sake but for mine. I assured him we would probably get a bus back however we were walking blind and as we neared the water level, I doubted the existence of any public transport within cooee.

We had come down to the Woronora River, surrounded in wooded hills and with charming residences right on the river with their own wharves. We did not find the Boatshed, but did see a group of canoeists which turned into the Forbes Creek to end their adventure. A school trip perhaps? We checked our map again and found that the only way out was the way we had come or a very very long walk up hill and down dale along a maze of sealed roads. Then we saw a bus go by, the wrong way.  Checking the map yet again, we figured that the bus would have to come back the same way soon, and sure enough, a few more minutes and we were able to hail the bus, which duly wound its way back up the steep streets to Sutherland. Chris said, “That was jammy!” That was a new expression on me. I thought we had been rather tinny to have caught a bus that passes only every hour.

From here it was a simple matter of catching one of the many trains heading for Cronulla and thus hopping off at Miranda and making our way back down the hill to this Tourist Park. A delightful outing for the day. And I never did take any photos.

Once home we checked our emails to see if there was a response to the stern wordy email we had sent off after breakfast to the warranty company expressing a mass of negativity. Obviously they were taken aback by the whole matter and are taking the weekend to think on it all. Maybe?

In the meantime, mechanical matters are progressing, a fact confirmed by Maurie this afternoon. The car should be ready on Monday. For him this whole matter will turn out well; he will receive payment from us on collection of the vehicle whereas he would have otherwise had to wait until the 20th of the following month.

Tonight we have heeded the weather warnings; wild winds, wilder surf and torrential rain moving quickly down from the more northern parts of the New South Wales coast. Today Ballina and Coffs Harbour have been badly effected, particularly as they are still recovering from the last round of bad weather. Our awning is now down and our outdoor furniture is stowed under the caravan given that we do not have the landcruiser which normally  doubles as our storage shed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

21 February 2013 Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

The night had not passed in any better manner than the previous for my husband, who woke unrested and no happier with life. He was now convinced that Maurie was a fraudster and that there was some sort of conspiracy going on. I will not bother with the detail of that theory here and anyway matters have since taken a different turn, not necessarily for the better.

We set off soon after breakfast for the garage, myself reluctantly in tow; reluctant to be party to any confrontation. I don’t do confrontation well. By the time we arrived, my husband was in a rational state of mind and refrained from any attack, verbal or otherwise.

Maurie went to great lengths to explain that he was still waiting for the subcontracting garage to get back to him. When we reminded him that he had advised us that this process would be completed in two days and it was now over a week, he assured us that this was a firm he had dealt with for eighteen years and that they were reputable and obviously overloaded with work. He also lamented that our vehicle was taking up valuable space in his garage so he was keen to see the end of the business himself. We asked that he chase the reconditioner man again and tell him that there was mad women threatening all sorts of crazy action if there was no immediate resolution. Maurie confessed that he had already used that story but would try more embellishment.

We left him to it; I still convinced that Maurie was genuine and Chris having adjusted his conspiracy theory to something that was more believable, but still unlikely. We walked onto Southgate at Sylvania, purchased Vietnamese rolls again although I no longer had faith in their cheering power, and the day’s newspaper which turned out to have lots of interesting and distracting articles.

After lunch we headed up to Miranda and watched Silver Linings Playbook, a comedy about mental illness; an excellent movie which has received eight Oscar nominations. On our return we found the cellphone, left on and under the bedcover, had a message. We were to ring Maurie. We did and were advised that the overdue report had now been sent through to National Insurance. Even imagining swift action by all concerned we could not imagine how the vehicle would be ready before Monday and so Chris went to see the ever efficient Brigitte, paid for the last week and booked for another.

While attending to payment, the phone rang again, this time the warranty company to advise the claim had been denied! This was merely wear and tear and thus not covered. Given that the diesel pump is specifically listed in the warranty booklet, apart from a car crash, when it would all be covered under the normal motor vehicle insurance, how else would work on the diesel pump be required?

When Maurie rang soon after this happy news, Chris conveyed this and many more thoughts as well, and instructed him to proceed with the work. I, in the meantime, have emailed a request to the warranty company for copies of all reports and correspondence. We may have a legal battle on our hands. Just what we need!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

20 February 2013 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

It was not the rain that had woken my husband so early this morning, nor that which kept him awake for the hours that followed. Nor worry, when quizzed; it was “anger” he said, which did not bode well for a happy day. He suggested that our landcruiser might be destined for years in the garage as those we see stories of on TV reality programmes such as New Zealand’s “Fair Go”. I could see straight off that I would have to work hard at keeping everyone jolly for the day. Such is the role of a wife, especially for the wife of a curmudgeon.

After breakfast and pegging a large load of washing on the line, we took a brisk walk up to Miranda for the daily newspaper and some fresh Vietnamese rolls which always go down a treat. As we browsed the newspaper, the scent of the fresh bread kept our focus on lunch rather than the gloom which was hovering above the day, ready to drop on a whim.

A phone call! From the warranty company telling us that they were waiting for a detailed report from the mechanic or more specifically from the reconditioner laboratory. Maurie was to then contact us; this should happen very soon.

Lunch was consumed with relish finished with ripe Australian pears, but still no call from Maurie. The washing had all dried and the forecasted rain not arrived; so far so good.

I suggested several outing options: another film, a train trip to Cronulla to maybe catch a glimpse of the trawler which ran aground there yesterday morning or a walk to the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery in Gymea. The art gallery was the preferred destination so we set off, me dorkily under a rain umbrella in an effort to avoid further sunburn. The route was all uphill although pleasant enough along the wide streets passing quite attractive housing, most adorned with equally attractive gardens.

Today at the gallery we were treated to an exhibition of small seascape paintings titled Shorelines by Peter Simpson, most of the area around Como, where we just might head tomorrow if we need such distraction. The main exhibition on at the moment is titled ArtExpress, the annual showcase of art by 2012 High School students from around New South Wales. As we have travelled about the country, we have so often encountered such exhibitions and each time we have been mightily impressed with the calibre of young artists coming through the ranks, and today was no exception.

Our return was quicker than the going up, still taking about forty minutes and we were still back before the weather changed. In fact the rest of the working day came and went before any rain or any call from Maurie the Mechanic.

I wonder if the warranty company pay out compensation for stress? Alas, I think not.

19 February 2013 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

I sat up late last night dabbling in my genealogy, delighted to find a like minded acquaintance of mine in Germany had been delving further into families of his particular region of that country. It is official; I am without doubt one quarter German. Interestingly this side of the family spent much energy over many decades suggesting we were of Dutch origin. Such was the desire to embrace our Germanic origins.

Although it rained yet again through the night, the sun was shining when we ventured out. Perhaps today was to be the last full day in which we were absolutely not going to be called to deal with the vehicle saga? Soon after 9 am we were on the train into the city, switched at Town Hall and emerged at Circular Quay. Another huge cruise ship was docked at the terminal and the tourist numbers were boosted accordingly.

We did not have to wait long before catching the ferry to Watson’s Bay, a place we had been before, when we had instead caught the train to Bondi Junction, walked through to Bondi Beach then caught a bus through to The Gap, high above Watson’s Bay. Today we knew exactly where we were heading; along the walking track past H.M.A.S. Watson Naval Base, through to the Sydney Harbour National Park. The track passes above the charming Lady Bay where nudity is welcome, a fact clearly spelled out on an official sign. From the lookout platforms above the beach, instead of looking out for turtles and dugongs, one can spot middle aged gay men lounging about in the sun or wading about in hip high water. Most are bronzed and toasted ready for the cancer clinics. We could not avoid the sight of metal glistening in the sun; a sunseeker with hardware threaded through bits that need not be named here in this post. All too much; we hastened away to instead enjoy the birds in the bushes and the exquisite views out across the entrance to the harbour and across to the suburbs spread across the northern shores.

The lighthouse at South Head
Here at South Head there is a memorial to the Dunbar,which went down in 1853 with all crew and passengers. A lighthouse was soon constructed and still operates today, the second oldest remaining harbour light in New South Wales. It is a delightful spot and we shared this pleasure with many others who had chosen to take advantage of the weather as we had.

We made our way back toward  Watson’s Bay, this time following the coastline to Camp Cove, today a popular place for swimmers and sunbathers who chose not to visit Lady Bay. It was here at Camp Cove that Captain Phillips landed first in Sydney Harbour in 1788 and there is a memorial to mark the event. It really is a delightful spot and we enjoyed making our way barefooted along the golden sands.

Back at Watson’s Bay, the famous Doyles restaurant was quickly filling and did look very tempting, the tables set and glasses placed just so, ready to be filled. However we had our sandwiches and apples in the backpack and were happy to find a shady spot under the wonderful fig trees in the park adjacent to the wharf.

We caught the next ferry and headed across the harbour toward the city. As we pulled into Garden Island, we decided, on impulse, to jump ship and see what there was to see.

Views back to the city from Garden Island
Garden Island is the site of the Fleet Base East of the Royal Australian Navy and much of the area is fenced off from the public. It was originally an island, but extension of the base and the construction of the dry dock in the channel between the island and the mainland have resulted in its connection to the mainland shore at Potts Point from the 1940s, which in turn is just down the road from Kings Cross.

Aside from lovely parklike grounds over the hill and up to the Signal Building, from where one has superb views over the harbour, particularly back to the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, the public is welcome, in fact encouraged, to visit the RAN Heritage Centre, ostensibly a Navy museum. The centre was opened in 2005 in two renovated National Estate listed buildings, the Gun Mounting Workshop and the Boastshed, constructed in 1922 and 1890 respectively. The exhibits are well presented however I have to admit that the museum did not really grab me. We felt that the $5 entry charge was too much, however had we been passionate about naval memorabilia and history, perhaps we would have felt very differently.

We did not have to wait very long for another ferry back to Circular Quay where we caught trains back to Town Hall and so back to Miranda. We had so enjoyed our day’s expedition and exploration of new sights, genital jewellery not withstanding. Needless to say, there have been no calls from Maurie the Mechanic or the warranty company. We will get back on their case tomorrow. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

18 February 2013 Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

As we sit waiting here in Sydney, great swathes of bush in Victoria’s Grampians and Alps have been consumed by fire. I could simply look on the bright side and say how lucky we are to have seen these wonderful areas before they are so spoiled and be glad we are in a safe haven, but alas I feel greatly saddened that people have lost their lives and homes in these infernos. The war in Syria seems to have taken a back seat to other news and yet I believe it goes on unrelenting; people have simply become bored by the whole affair. The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has announced the date for the Federal election and so the political argie bargie continues here and continues to entertain. The Dutch Queen is abdicating  and the Pope has taken the hint to follow suit. Alas not the Prime Minister in Canberra.

The first day of the new week may have heralded an end to our mechanical woes, or so Chris hoped. He was averse to us heading too far away and so we hung about in the hope for that miraculous phone call.

The morning was partly whiled away with a walk up to Miranda and back, and then after lunch, Chris took it upon himself to ring the garage. Maurie was out but would call. Two Sudokos later and still no call, but the afternoon halfway gone, we decided to take a walk north to the Southgate Shopping Centre at Sylvania and call in to the garage in person on the way back.

Maurie had not returned our call because he had little to report. Certainly the outwork is being undertaken somewhere in the city but progress regarding who will pay for what, is still undetermined; the warranty company are dragging their toes. We left the garage understanding that we would not be moving out of Sydney until Wednesday at the very earliest. Chris, lacking my optimism, suggests next week.

On our return to camp, we spent time chatting with the couple camped opposite us who are packing up ready to leave tomorrow. They have been here at the Sydney Tourist Park for three weeks and on the road for six years. They were also full of travel tips about the West however they travel with a dog and prefer not to free camp. All advice is gladly received and I jotted pencil notes on my map for future reference.

The park is home, either temporary or permanent to hundreds; in essence a good representation of  society with a notable absence of the rich. There are long legged bronzed blond tourists camped in small campervans, a derelict bent old man beaten by life who does not meet your eye on greeting, a vibrant diminutive solo-mum with two little boys who remind me of our Charlie and Matthew who cheerfully battles her lot against the odds, several workers for Downers in temporary accommodation  a dozen folk like us of similar age and similar pursuit, and so on. Fragrant hedges and beautiful melaleucas create screens of privacy, acres of concrete save the Maori groundsman mowing and the pre-fab buildings function adequately as amenities blocks. I could almost become saddened at the thought of leaving. Or not.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

17 February 2013 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

More rain fell in the night and was still falling as we contemplated our plans for the day. We were pleased that we did not have to move to another site. Brigette, the very prim camp administration manager, had surprised us again with her efficiency and compassion, by juggling booked campers onto other sites thus leaving us in situ. And so, with no need to be dismantling and resetting camp, we viewed the day as a blank page, albeit it possibly a wet one.

Chris suggested we visit the Brett Whiteley Studio; we had attempted this once before but realised half way there we were on the wrong day. (We do this so often!) We have come upon this famous Australian’s work in galleries across the nation during our travels, and more recently at the Hazelhurst Regional Art Gallery where there was an excellent exhibition of his Bondi  work and some of his sculptural work. It was here we had been alerted to the existence of his gallery open to the public almost as a shrine.

The gallery at 2 Raper Street, Surrey Hills is where the artist actually lived and worked from 1988 through to 1992 when he died. I was a little disappointed at the paucity of work displayed, having seen so much more at the Sutherland gallery, but enjoyed immensely a DVD  about the artist titled Difficult Pleasure. I also enjoyed being in his studio and mess of work just as he had left it.  The main feature of the downstairs studio is one of Brett Whiteley’s more disturbing compositions, Alchemy; a huge multi panelled work taking up most of two walls; a surreal kaleidoscope of colour and content reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch’s work, the product of a very screwed mind. I do love most of Whiteley’s work and it was a real pleasure to spend more than an hour and a half there at the studio.

We returned to Central Station after pausing to eat our lunch in a park on Devonshire Street, a street full of delightful terraced houses, and caught the train on to Martin’s Place. Now the sun was shining, we hoped to find Pitt Street Mall buzzing with buskers and shoppers, and so we did although nearly every busker seemed to spend more time getting ready for their act rather than actually performing. We walked on through the crowds to the Town Hall Station, caught the train in the bowels of the underground and came on home.

Once back at Miranda, we walked across to the Coles supermarket, shopped and carried our bags of groceries back to camp along the streets lined with flowering frangipani and hibiscus. The day had turned out well; weather wise, entertainment wise and from a practical aspect as well. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

16 February 2013 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

It is very satisfying to have made the most of the day, even if, as so oft happens, the day was not quite to plan.

It had been raining every time I woke through the night and was not much better over breakfast. We checked the forecast online; it promised a little better than a visual check outside so we decided to set off anyway. With a lunch packed, we caught the train to Circular Quay, changing at Town Hall and emerged into a torrential downpour. We and a thousand other tourists, most off the rather impressive cruise ship docked at the International Wharf, crowded under the limited shelter afforded by the railway structure at the quay.

It had been our plan to catch the ferry to Watson Bay and walk to the end of South Head. We had attempted this once before but found ourselves blocked by Defense Department security fencing. Retreating to the wharf, we had seen, all too late, that there was a shoreline path skirting around the forbidden precinct  but the day was fading and the last ferry due. Now we had time and opportunity to make good our omission  But this morning with the rain pelting down and the harbour looking a little wild, we decided to put it on the back burner yet again.

So instead we headed for the Museum of Contempory Art, last visited in mid-March 2011. Since then the gallery has undergone extensive renovations and we were interested to see the improvements and to revisit the works held.

Currently there is an exhibition of works by Anish Kapoor, probably the only reason one should bother with the gallery, in our opinion. We had not found the gallery particularly exciting when we visited last and alas, were not impressed this time either. However, as I have said so often, we are ignorant of art and only know what we like.

There is also a free exhibition titled “Taboo” on at the moment and we did spend some time wandering about this. The name reveals the nature of the exhibition; a collection of films, books, paintings, cartoons and other bits and pieces exposing matters that are today labelled politically incorrect, racist or pornographic. The exhibition certainly titillates debate and interest, however for myself, not at all a prude, I would be no worse off for not having attended.

We lunched under a wonderfully big fig tree on the quay as we watched the many cruise ship tourists wandered to and fro, then we ourselves wandered up into The Rocks, today the venue of a wonderful market. As so often happens when we find ourselves at a quality market, we regret we have not space to accumulate such lovely treasures. We lingered for some time, so long that it was soon time to start the journey home; we caught the train at Circular Quay and changed at Redfern and Sutherland, making the last leg of the journey on foot without the use of umbrellas.

Perhaps tomorrow there will be less rain and we can be a little more adventurous?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

15 February 2013 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

Early this morning we received a call from Maurie, the Mechanic; he had the fuel pump out and it was off to the “lab” for reconditioning. Still no definite response from the warranty company so we did mental  calculations in our heads to prepare ourselves for our cost share of the work; most likely 100% despite the numerous calls to and from National Insurance. It was now clear that we would be without a vehicle until at least Tuesday next week so we could apply ourselves to pursuits beyond mechanical woes. I suggested that I pack our lunch and we catch the train to Hurstville.

Hurstville, up until now just one of the many stations on the way into the city centre, is the commercial capital of St George, a region here in the southern part of greater Sydney boasting more than 220,000 people. It is bounded in the south by the Georges River and the east by Botony Bay and is a community of diverse cultures. At least that is what the tourist brochures say. We found ourselves teleported into a small city in China, fortunately one sympathetic to western reading requirements. Those same brochures expound the wonders of the Asian cuisine in Forest Road, and we certainly enjoyed the array of providors of Asian ingredients if not the restaurants themselves; a great assortment of duck parts, marvelously priced fruit and vegetables and very well priced regular meat cuts. There was however no horse meat in sight; this comment will only have relevance to those who may read this in early 2013.

We made our way to the small but interesting St George Regional Museum and learned about the very early settlement of the area. It was interesting to read of the demise of the aboriginal people of the area, so much so that there is no surety as to what tribe the original inhabitants may have belonged to, and to learn of the “dregs” of European society that came to settle through the  19th century; hardy folk who could withstand the remoteness and the terrible conditions of the place. Interestingly when Captain Cook landed in Botony Bay, he had expounded the virtues of this fabulous land so perfect for settlement, a sentiment that had been rubbished by Phillips and those in the First Fleet who abandoned any such plan and headed into Sydney Harbour instead. Those hardy souls who did take up settlement in Botony Bay later ground out a living farming oysters, burning lime gathered from aboriginal shell middens for building material in Sydney and charcoal for the firing of kilns. Boat building and furniture making followed but it would seem it was such a hell hole that even the missionaries and educators gave it a wide berth for some time.

The railway opened in 1884, eight years after the first school. The municipality was incorporated in 1887 and in 1988, Hurstville was declared a city.

There is little in the museum to explain why the Asians have taken over the centre of Hurstville, however it takes little imagination to understand that Asians are hard working, enterprising people who would surely be most comfortable working and living among their own kind. Of course there are pockets all over the country, indeed the world, of ethnic groups doing the same. I imagine there was a time when residences were affordable here, hence the drawcard for new immigrants. But today as we browsed the real estate windows we could see that it is no longer a place for the poor to invest. Hopefully those immigrants of more recent years have done well; no doubt they deserve the fruits of their labour.

We found the museum worth the visit and it doubled as a refuge from a heavy shower of rain. We took lunch in the more conventional Westfield Shopping Centre where we found a better indication of Sydney’s population mix, although window shopping up and down Forest Road had been far more entertaining.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

14 February 2013 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

The past few days seem to have whizzed by despite the fact we have achieved very little. The landcruiser remains in the custody of Beekman Motors, one of the warranty approved fixit folk who have no doubt been as frustrated by all the bureaucracy as we have been. We understand that the practical work has commenced this afternoon however will not get too carried away with excitement until all is completed. Needless to say the Boss here has been even more irritated than anyone and so I have been setting time-filling activities such as eight kilometre walks and movies.

We have walked to Sylvania, to Taren Point, to Caringbah and back to Miranda. We have been to see “Lincoln” and “Safe Haven” just adding to the list of movies we have seen this past couple of months, a list which includes “Les Miserables”, “Quartet”, “The Hobbit” and “Hitchcock”. This overload of cinematic entertainment should satisfy us for the many months ahead where there are unlikely to be any such friviolities on offer.

We have pulled the maps and Bibles out and begun to pour over them, planning the route ahead. As I write this we are thinking we will head north west via Cowra, Parkes, Nyngan, Bourke, Cunnamulla, Charleville, Barcaldine, Longreach, Cloncurry and so on up to Darwin. While some of these places have been visited before, I have planned as many new routes as possible, in many cases intersecting those already travelled. This is all very prescriptive and may be considered out of character, given our travelling history so far, however we could yet turn this all on its head and head for Perth via a southern route instead. All we have actually agreed on is that we will head for Canberra as soon as we can leave here; we have an errand to attend to on behalf of one of our sons.

So in the meantime, we ensure our cellphone is accessible and turned on and stay close by camp which in turn is within walking distance of the garage, or at least in the Shire, not to be confused by the Hobbit’s shire . Our departure date is uncertain although should the car not be ready by Friday, we will have to enlist the help of another to move the rig across to another site, and you may have guessed by now that we are averse to imposing upon others.

Monday, February 11, 2013

11 February 2013 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

I cannot deny that it is absolutely wonderful to be back in Australia and (almost) ready to continue with our travels of this amazing continent. We have spent the past two months experiencing the myriad of emotions one deals with when catching up with aging parents and children, all pursuing their own agendas which do not necessarily fit with the paths of parents’ expectations. And when there are melded families, one should always expect wild cards.

We spent our sojourn in our aging motorhome and pursuing a medley of wishlist modifications, many of which we enjoy here in Australia. Some of these we may follow through when we next return to New Zealand, but for now will simply appreciate that we have the benefits of solar power and the like here in Australia.

We camped on shorelines reserved for seabirds and those who could quietly remain unobtrusive observers, such as ourselves. We camped under puriri trees, were early enough to catch the blooming of the pohutakawa and jacaranda trees and on the whole, enjoyed excellent weather. We spent some days camping in rural landscapes with coastal backdrops and  in the company of scores of comical pukekos and flocks of mixed mongrel sheep. We managed to grab just a day sampling one of the new cycle ways constructed since the Prime Minister tagged this as an employment initiative, and were delighted to find we could still stay upright on our rather neglected bikes and I, to find that my Sarah Ulmer bike-pants still could be dragged up onto the lately expanding middle aged female flesh due to the excesses of food and once self-banned alcoholic delights.

We were also eternally grateful for the timing of our absence from Australia, missing the horror and grief of the summer infernos through the more southern states and the flooding of towns in Queensland and northern New South Wales, particularly Bundaberg, Gladstone, Gympie and Grafton, all of which we had stayed in and enjoyed in better times. While we did loose our first landcruiser in those Brisbane floods of early 2011, we are eternally grateful that we have, to this point, avoided disasters and loss, perhaps  more from good luck than good management.

We flew back into Sydney in the cramped quarters of a Jetsar aircraft, just as we had left two months ago but this time in the company of numerous families. (Perhaps there is a toddlers convention on somewhere here in Sydney this week?) This trip we were better prepared for the budget service and went with Subway rolls and a bottle for water, rather than pay out large sums of money for less than basic fare on board. Mentally prepared, we avoided the angst and frustration of having chosen a budget option, and would be pleased to recommend this simple service airline, especially to the backpacker brigade even allowing for the company of so many small people.

Again we were pleased to have a relatively hassle free transport corridor back to the Tourist Park, now familiar with the train service in this part of Sydney however we did find on arrival that the airport rail link was closed for maintenance and we were taken on a complimentary bus to the station at Wolli Creek as we had been once before. We had intended to complete the last part of our journey on foot however the heavy cloud cover had turned to heavy rain, punctuated with great sheets of lightning and thunder, a feature that Sydney is apparently well know for. After finding that we were too late to catch the supermarkets at Miranda’s Westfield, we stood in partial shelter waiting for a taxi to arrive. The trees between the rail station and the shopping centre are home to a thousand or more roosting lorikeets, and it was such a joy to watch and listen to them, over the sound of the battling sky. Oh Australia! How I love the birds!

Our travelling rig was as we had left it although by now surrounded in pools of rain water. We had shifted our possessions that normally ride in the landcruiser, into the caravan during our absence and so had to transfer all of this back into the vehicle before we could move across to our allocated site in the park. It was pitch black by the time we had completed setting up and we could peel our saturated clothing off. However despite all of this, I was delighted to be back.

We had been pleased to find the landcruiser started immediately last night, and found the same this morning which all adds to the frustration of intermittent mechanical problems. We drove up to the centre of Miranda this morning, visited the Telstra store where a delightful young man reinstated my Australian internet system and the local Coles supermarket where we stocked up from scratch with perishables. We had been appalled in New Zealand every time we shopped at the supermarket; prices are so much higher than they are here if you simply consider the dollars of equal value. Needless to say, it was a pleasure to find we still could receive good value for our dollar here.

The afternoon was spent travelling through to more northern suburbs to consult a Toyota service agent who just might be able to help us, on the phone to the warranty company and to more local garages, none of whom have been able to offer complete solutions. Tomorrow morning, there will be more of the same. In the meantime we have booked for a week and are enjoying the heavy scent of the jasmine and the abundant bird life in this surprisingly pleasant and very convenient caravan park.