En route to Christmas

I am currently sitting on the couch at my sister’s place in Melbourne. It’s been a hot day and the night is balmy and warm meaning that we have every possible window and door open in an effort to catch the breeze. It’s my bi-annual pilgrimage Down Under for a family Christmas, it’s day number two and with Christmas Day looking like a scorcher, I couldn’t be much further away from the chill of a London winter.

It’s a long way so as is my usual habit, I paused for a week on the way through to soak up some sun, read lots of books and enjoy some amazing food. This time the pause was in Hua Hin in Thailand at the gorgeous Anantara Resort.

I had a room overlooking the pool…

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After a ‘busy’ day poolside, I would spend a couple of hours curled up on this comfortable couch before heading out for dinner.

…and there was a lovely message from Dow, my room housekeeper, on my pillow every evening.

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Speaking of locals, there were elephants everywhere – this cutie was my favourite…

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A welcoming hello at the entrance, just one of the Elephant Parade installation scattered throughout the grounds.

…and Alex, the resident blue and green macaw, was a colourful sight around the resort.

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Apparently Alex is bi-lingual (English and Thai in case you were wondering)

All up nature was at her best whether big and breathtaking…

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View from the beach bar at the Anantara Hua Hin resort…it’s a tough life for some.

…small and delicate…

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There are orchids of all sorts everywhere. I passed this one every day on the way to breakfast.

…or there for just a moment.

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This water lily had blossomed overnight so I got this shot on the way to breakfast in the morning – the flower had drooped by mid afternoon and was gone by the evening.

The food was delicious..

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A traditional Thai appetiser. Take a leaf and add a bit of everything – peanuts, dried shrimp, dried coconut, shallot, garlic, lime, chilli and palm sugar paste. Wrap up the little parcel and pop it in your mouth. Delicious!

…and the cocktails many and varied across the balmy evenings…

…but in the main, I lay by the pool – cooling off with a dip in the water every so often – and read.

I devoured four magazines (two Vanity Fair and one each of Raconteur and The Economist’s 1843) and five books: Emma Donoghue’s absorbing The Wonder, Jeffrey Archer’s sixth in The Clifton Chronicles (Cometh the Hour) and the eighth novel in Bernard Cornwell’s Viking series (The Empty Throne), a light and fluffy Lift and Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein and the utterly gripping How I Lost You from Jenny Blackhurst. I was also halfway through Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings when I left.

It was such a blissfully solitary and self-indulgent week. Reading is my favourite thing to do and is exactly what I book the holiday for (as well as a much-needed dose of sun). It also stands me in good stead for the next phase of my trip – a little me-time before the hustle and bustle of Christmas and the inevitable flurry of activity with family and friends.

Which brings me back to where I started – a balmy night in the Melbourne suburbs on the night before Christmas. So before I embark on the various opporunities for festive cheer scheduled in the days ahead, all that remains for me to do is wish you a happy holiday season however and wherever you are spending it.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Has Our Luck Run Out?

The results are in and Australia has a new Prime Minister.

Yes, another one. Our third this year.

And I cannot believe this man has been chosen by ‘the people’ to represent them.

Or has he?

When I moved to the UK almost ten years ago, I added myself to the UK’s electoral roll (as an Australian, I can do that here). There are many places in the world where having your say is not an option so I appreciate the privilege of living in a society that allows me to do this, whatever the mechanism.

At the same time, I removed myself from the Australian electoral roll, figuring that if I make my home elsewhere, it is not for me to have a say in the lives of those who still live in Australia. That is their privilege – albeit a compulsory one. But I remain staunchly Australian, carrying my native twang, laconic style and direct approach with pride and  hoping to be a good ambassador for my homeland wherever I go.

The outcome of this weekend’s election Down Under has left me stunned. I can find absolutely nothing to recommend Tony Abbott and as far as I’m concerned, he is an incredibly poor representative of the Australian people. And unusually – I move in opinionated and voluble circles – I haven’t come across anyone with a different point of view. No-one.

Pundits talk about a long election campaign (seven months) riddled with ‘reality stunts’ as opposed to committed and thoughtful politics; a circus of name-calling and sniping that perhaps voters just wanted to be done with. And given the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd tug of war within the Labor Party, perhaps people voted for the leader with a semblance of alignment behind him.

So what did happen? Is it a result of apathy or is there really something worthwhile under all of the surface nastiness and sniping? I’d be genuinely interested to hear any views that explain Abbott and the coalition’s policies, if only to understand what the future looks like over the next four years for Australia.

 

Australia continues to hold the rest of the world in its ‘lucky country’ thrall and with a pretty buoyant economy (by global standards) and four cities in the world’s top ten most liveable cities, this perception seems warranted.

But after this weekend, I’m left wondering whether our luck’s about to run out.

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Here we are at the first day of September. Summer has ended (although it’s rather sunshine-y at Gidday HQ today) and Autumn will start its annual pilgrimage across the northern hemisphere, creeping in with nippy mornings and shorter days. The leaves will…

…hang on. Stop right there. This is not meant to be a post about Autumn!

Take 2:

Here we are at the first day of September. And today is Father’s Day in Australia.

So in honour of celebrating the man that is my Dad and warm the cockles of your hearts, I though it was time to do a little roasting….Gidday-style.

Let’s start at…well, the start.  Here’s where it all began for us…

There’s an ‘okay now what do I do with this?’ look here.

But soon he got into the swing of things…blowing out candles (an important life skill even today)…

…and giving fatherly advice (while I practise my ‘whatever’ look).

The decades flashed by and a few years ago, Dad swapped the city for a life roaming around the countryside.

This was taken in New Zealand but I have seen many a similar picture of Dad-and-Stepmum in Down Under’s very own great outdoors.

His days now consist of travelling to outback properties and national parks around Australia, ‘homestead-sitting’, painting, mending fences – generally lending a hand wherever needed – and visiting family and friends, whether they may be other itinerants or those of more fixed abode. Dad even put his new-found construction skills to work at Christmas, stepping up to the challenge of making this for our Christmas Day host…

…and seemed rather pleased to consider some liquid refreshment after the big unveiling.

Dad’s also become quite the photographer and newsletters are often filled with amazing pictures of the local flora and fauna he finds on their travels. But it’s a dangerous job you know – not at all for the faint-hearted…
And nor has it been to have two rather independent and opinionated daughters living a few hours flight away for most of our lives. Which is why our recent frolicking about in old Melbourne Town last December was such a great testament to the passing of the years and the changes in our relationship…
…because growing up, I would never have credited Dad with photobombing! (By the way, that’s me on the left with Lil Chicky and the old man.)

So there’s only one thing left to do and that is to say Happy Father’s Day to my old man.

May you keep finding ways to surprise us all.

Proud To Be Australian?

In the absence of any stimulating TV last night, I watched an Australian documentary series by Joe Hildebrand exploring the reputation of Australians overseas. Hildebrand is a journalist for The Daily Telegraph in Sydney and appears on a variety of TV programs sparking much controversy and debate with his outspoken and provocative views.

Prior to yesterday, I’d never heard of him. But I was catching up with a friend I have not seen since high school and over a glass of wine and a bowl of pasta, we were talking about how Australia has ‘changed’ and more specifically about the ‘race riots’ in Cronulla (which are still so viceral in the minds of Australians that when my friend mentioned them, I thought there had been something more recent than 2005).

Anyway the series, called Dumb, Drunk and Racist, follows the experiences of four Indians invited to take a road trip with Hildebrand to experience the best and worst of Australia. 


The prevailing view in India is that Australians are rude, racist, dumb and drunk to the point of embarrassment, irresponsibility and violence. So Gurmeet (a journalist/ newreader), Radhika (an education advisor), Amer (a law student) and Mahima (a call centre worker) all agreed to face their preconceptions and, for some, fear of visiting the Land Down Under and to share their views on what they experience .

Warrning: Before you play this, much to my embarrassment you should know there’s some shocking language in this trailer.

If you think this trailer is bad, the series is worse. And in some ways better as the generous foursome end the series with a much improved view of Australians having witnessed the hard-working, warm and generous people who are at the heart of Australian communities, both in suburbia and in outback towns. But more often than not, I cringed as I watched, horrified at the boorish, narrow-minded Australians that have become the basis of our reputation in the wider world.

While I don’t believe that the majority of Aussies behave like this, the behaviour of a few is tainting the perception of the whole and I am concerned that Australia, with its ‘she’ll be right’ mentality and sense of entitlement to a land we took from others in the first place, will not really address this.

Our lucky country has never dealt with terrorism, attack or even real economic crisis when compared with the rest of the world so as a nation, we’ve never had to fight for or fear very much.  Maybe our literal isolation from the rest of the world (and from each other – Australia is a spacious place by anyone’s definition) creates a feeling of safe-ness, the urgency of doing anything dissipating in the absence of any trouble on our doorstep. We have a view of our laid back attitude as rather lovable and fun but perhaps it actually hides an unwillingness to step up, ‘rock the boat’ and demand change.

In saying all of that, it was heart-warming to see the surprise and delight of the four travellers at the Australian sense of fun and open-ness – there’s a really gorgeous moment between Mahima and a local when, obviously quite taken with her, he follows ‘pleased to meet ya’ with ‘would ya like a beer?’ and then proceeds to order her purple PomPom drinks, to her absolute delight.

The spirit of community that emerges in our country towns and our tolerance for lifestyle choices taboo in India is also lauded and in spite of the nastiness throughout the six episodes, I found a lot to be proud of.  But it was still hard for me to watch these gentle and intelligent people being abused by foul-mouthed locals. That we are not the only nation facing these kinds of challenges matters little.  For all our easy-going tolerance, there comes a time when a line needs to be drawn.

And the time is now.

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Most of the series is available on youtube if you are outside Australia and cannot access ABC2.

A Symbol Of Freedom And Light…

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was great debate about whether Australia should become a republic. A survey was created (called a referendum) and all of the people in the land were invited to participate. The results revealed a nation divided with the vote to maintain Australia’s colonial status quo snatching victory from the republicans  55/45.

But there was outcry. Some of the people suggested that the questions did not really present a clear choice between Republican-ism and Colonial-ism. And so while the Colonialists won the battle in 1999, the undercurrent of discontent around the Great Republican Question bubbled on.

And in the midst of this, there remained another question – the question of the flag and whether it was really fitting for our modern and multicultural nation.

I love the Australian flag.

I love how it celebrates our southern location and open skies with the Southern Cross constellation.

I love how it honours our Federation with the seven pointed Commonwealth Star – with six points representing the six previously self-governing states and one point representing the territories and any future states.

And I love that it also gives a nod to the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 to make the first modern settlement in Australia, 16 years after pioneering Englishman Captain James Cook sailed along Australia’s eastern coastline.

But like most things in life, this is not a simple fairytale and our nation is still on its journey to find a happy ending. Does our flag reflect the indigenous, the discoveries of the Dutch (through explorers Willem Janszoon and Abel Tasman) and the emergence of a multicultural nation inspired by new horizons, the prospect of success borne of hard work and not least, the hopeful opportunity of the Gold Rush.

Is it really a reflection of our modern nation, whether it be colonial or republic?

And then earlier this week, I opened an email from Mum to find a poem that was given to her in the late 1970s by an ex-servicewoman she knew in Cairns. As I read it, I felt proud that our flag held such patriotism and passion in its thrall and my fierce republican heart couldn’t help but recognise the validity – and poignancy – of her words.

 
KEEP THE FLAG
Our flag bears the stars that blaze at night
In the Southern sky of blue
And a little old flag in the corner
That’s part of our heritage too.
 
It’s for the English, the Scots and the Irish
Who were sent to the ends of the earth.
The rogues and schemers, the doers and dreamers
Who gave modern Australia birth.
 
And you who are shouting to change
You don’t seem to understand
It’s the flag of our law and our language
Not the flag of a faraway land.
 
Though there are plenty of people who’ll tell you
How, when Europe was plunged into night
That little old flag in the corner
Was their symbol of freedom and light.
 
It doesn’t mean we owe allegiance
To a long forgotten imperial dream
We’ve the stars to show where we’re going
And the old flag to show where we’ve been.


Out with the old and in with new? Suddenly it’s not such a simple question.

Boats And Bridges…

Being part of a somewhat caring and supportive family, Lil Chicky and I decided that it was time that we do a little window shopping to find the next lucky man in my life. Fortunately, the family had decided to take a ferry ride over to Williamstown yesterday so at 12.30 the family Hamer (including those with a myriad of other names) gathered at Southbank, boarded our ship of dreams and set sail.
 
The one hour cruise took us along the Yarra River and out through The Docklands which has developed significantly since I last lived Down Under – there are lots of interesting buildings to ooh and aah at on the way but for now, let’s maintain some focus on the purpose of this post and leave architectural meanderings for another time.

The title promises bridges and we headed under many of them – here are my top three:

The Bolte Bridge, named for Henry Bolte who remains the longest serving Victorian State Premier (17 years from 1955). The bridge was opened in August 1999) and also forms an integral part of the entrance into Melbourne by car from the airport. The view of the City from here always feels like a big ‘welcome back’ to me. 
This bridge is a new one since my departure – it was difficult to capture the whole bridge but I loved this side, looking like one of those hooped underskirts from yesteryear.
The clean lines of this bridge and the Australian flag fluttering in the breeze typifies the clean, stark lines of the Australian landscape for me – no idea what this bridge is called either but I loved it all the same.
The weather was gorgeous – a pleasant mid 25C – and a gentle breeze cooled our sun-kissed noses and cheeks as we motored along. There were many boats out of all shapes and sizes, some puttering along at a more sedate pace…

Before we knew it, we had arrived at Williamstown Pier so it was off the boat for a stretch of the legs, something to eat and a hearty discussion about our plan of attack (which mainly revolved around ice-cream).
 
Docking at Williamtown foreshore…yes, that bright shiny object is the sun…
One of the great things about Williamtown (apart from the ice cream) is the fantastic view of the City of Melbourne so here’s the shot, complete with the millionaire shopping arcade boats in the foreground… 

After a pleasant few hours we decided to head back but finding a millionaire/boat had not gone so successfully so we decided to keep our eyes peeled on the way back. A single girl’s work is never done, you know…

As with some of my past experiences with you critters from Mars, this one seemed to over promise (Global Dream? Really?) and under deliver. I know it’s a working boat and all but a lick of paint wouldn’t have gone astray. There’s always something to be said for making an effort.
Now this is more my style: Sleek and white and celebratory even in name. Unfortunately a small child appeared as we chugged past which is just going a bit overboard (pardon the pun) with the accessories I feel….
This one has a spot in the boot for one’s jet ski. Very handy!
Suddenly the Bolte Bridge loomed above us again, signalling that our sea adventure (well the combined waterways of the Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay in any case) would soon be over…
The Bolte Bridge with the bright shiny sun-thing again…
So that was the Day of the Family Hamer, seven intrepid wanderers out to see the world of Williamstown and conquer it with ice cream.
 
Which brings me (not so neatly) to the end of this post, my last for 2012. And all that remains is to wish you a Happy New Year wherever you are and however you choose to celebrate it.
 
There’s one ‘sleep’ left peeps – let’s show 2013 we mean business!

The Heat Is On…

Some of you may know that I have ventured Down Under for the festive season this year. Well Christmas has been done, with many a cold cut and cooling beverage and much SPF30 application. Yes folks, it’s warm!

Since my arrival on Sunday in 38.3C, I have been marvelling at how poorly I handle the heat now, particularly when I must do more than lie by the pool and read. But I will do my best to aclimatise so that I can return to the UK glorious and glowing…so that I can rub your noses in it cover it all up with winter woollies.

We’ve been out and about a bit with a Boxing Day trip down to my old stomping ground, Frankston, to see the Sand Sculptures again (more on this in a later post peeps). Suffice to say everything and nothing has changed since I lived there almost 20 years ago…

Frankston Pier hasn’t changed a bit and I remember many a walk along it as a teenager at the end of a day at the beach with friends. It looks empty here but it was buzzing with people about an hour later.
Kananook Creek has had a real makeover with picnic spots and a boardwalk up to the beach. It was not so nice when I was living here.
Boating is big here and in my youth there was many a day spent water-ski-ing or fishing (well that’s the boys fishing and me lying on the front bit of the boat getting a tan).

And under yesterday’s summery skies, there was nothing for it but to have some fish and chips under a shady tree for lunch.
 

 That’s a nice piece of blue grenadier nestled against a yummy corn jack and scrumptious chips. And in the background, that’s a can of Creaming Soda, not really to my taste but I’ve been on an Australian foodie nostalgia trip – aka ‘oooh I haven’t had that for yeeeeeears!’ – since I arrived.

Lil Chicky has just arrived and we are off for a day of pampering and relaxing together so hope your Christmas has been a good one and you are making the most of whatever the season has to offer wherever you are.

A Hard-Earned Thirst…

I read this week that alcohol consumption in Australia will reach its lowest point in 10 years this year.

I know. I couldn’t believe it either.

Yet the Age newspaper has reported that a 2.4% drop means that Aussies will down just 9.8L per capita in 2012. This is ahead of our US compatriots (8.61L) but well-behind the Brits at 11.75L.

So what’s the deal?

Well I’d first like to say that the badge of hard-drinking Aussie is pinned to the proud chest of the nation that gave the world Foster’s…and kept the best beer (and wine for that matter) for itself.

 


Yes, Australia was not built on hard graft alone. Good call….

The second point I’d like to make is that this dubious honour is bestowed rapidly upon any colonial and then put to the test with considerable alacrity…and mixed results. At one after-work drinks sesh shortly after I landed on England’s green shores (actually I fell in the snow and broke my elbow but that’s another story), I found myself hard-pressed to keep pace with pint after pint downed by my workmates in the space of an hour. Brits can drink!

Interesting to note though that this decline Down Under has occurred in the time since I departed. So it appears to me that whoever my ‘replacement’ is (the population has grown to over 21 million since 2004 so someone is standing in my thongs flip flops shoes) is not pulling their weight. So there’s nothing for it but for me to get down to Melbourne town and support my countrymen and women in their endeavours to regain their crown.

The Big Wine Cask is at Buronga, NSW just over the border from Mildura in country Victoria.


So to all you Aussie blokes and sheilas down under, don’t despair – I’ll be there in just 43 sleeps, drinking boots at the ready.

And I could really do with a nice Shiraz or two…

The Race That Stops A Nation…

It’s a horse race deemed the richest ‘two mile’ handicap in the world for two dozen 3-year-old thoroughbreds over 3.2km. A race that literally stops a nation.  The Melbourne Cup.


The Melbourne Cup Carnival runs over a week in November each year and comprises 4 race days – Derby Day (Sat), Melbourne Cup Day (Tue), Oaks Day (Thu) and Stakes Day (Sat) – at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. It forms the centrepiece of the Spring Racing Carnival, filling the state of Victoria with prime equine specimens and department stores with hats and headpieces as far as the eye can see.

The first Tuesday in November (this year falling on November 6th) holds a special place in Aussie hearts. Melburnians get a day off and the entire nation – well the majority who are not at the course itself – manages its day around being in front of a telly at 3pm. There are BBQs, office ‘sweeps’ and much discussion around water coolers, coffee machines or over the bar about the chances of the 24 runners – yes, everyone’s a tipster on Melbourne Cup Day. And there are a myriad of opportunities to ‘put your money where your mouth is’.

Being at the race itself is an extraordinary experience (I’ve been 3 times, twice in the posh corporate bit). Melbourne Cup Day often begins with a champagne breakfast in your Cup Day finery in the Racecourse Car Park. For some it’s an opportunity to dust off your headwear, don your gladrags and totter down to the mounting yard. For others, it’s an opportunity to dress down and enjoy the atmosphere. Picnics abound and the bookies are kept busy particularly leading up to the big race.

Melbourne Cup punters – celebrating a win perhaps?

As the horses and their riders make their way around the mounting yard, down the track and into the starting gate, the excitement is palpable and experts and amateur punters alike jockey for position along the final straight and at the finish line. And as the starter’s orders sound out across the course and the gates snap open, the thundering hooves of 24 of the world’s best are overshadowed by the roar of the crowd.

Just over 3 minutes later, the winner crosses the finish line in front of more than 100,000 screaming punters.

It is, quite simply, electric.

This year’s field, confirmed after today’s Victoria Derby, features both the home-grown and the foreign and with a purse of $6.2million up for grabs, only time will tell whether current favourites and past winners Americain (2010) or Dunaden (2011) can join the exalted ranks of multiple winners. Winners like the prolific Makybe Diva, whose dominance in 2003, 2004 and 2005 remains unmatched, and Archer who won the inaugural race in 1861 then followed it up with another win the following year.

3 time winner Makybe Diva

And who’s my money on? Well that’d be telling and to be honest, I haven’t really checked out the runners. Suffice to say I’m off to read the form guide. After all, you can take the girl out of Melbourne but you can’t take Melbourne out of the girl.

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This post also forms part of the November edition of Post Of The Month Club.

I Come From A Land Down Under…

With the Olympics going on here in London, I’ve read/seen a lot of stuff about Australia and sporting heroes.

Just last night, in the midst of profile after profile on Team GB (as is the perogative of the Host City), Cathy Freeman featured in a montage about ‘The Face of the Games’ for her star turn (both on and off the track) at the Olympics in Sydney in 2000 and legendary Aussie swimmer Ian Thorpe has been a key part of the commentary team at the Aquatics Centre for the swimming events.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing like a sporting great or two to bring out a bit of proud Aussie patriotism.

Today I was reading a post by Aussie-in-Doha, Kirsty Rice called The Fine Print In Your Passport. Just as the company you work for tells you that you are a representative of that company and are expected to conduct yourself as such, Kirsty reveals that same admonishment exists in the pages of your Australian passport. (For those of you that have one that is – the rest of you should check your own fine print.)

For many years, Australian airline QANTAS has run an overseas television campaign featuring Peter Allen’s I Still Call Australia Home, the unofficial anthem for any self-respecting Aussie expat. The line ‘no matter how far or how wide I roam, I still call Australia home’ has always moved me (and most other Australians I know) and reminds me of the enormous pride I feel in being an Aussie amid the eclectic cultural melting pot of London.

But today Kirsty’s post unearthed a new gem and for me, an absolute pearler that covers the two places I’m lucky enough to call home.

So just you remember, I come from a land down under…

…you’d better run, you’d better take cover.