Sunday, January 25, 2015

Australia day

I'll be honest, I don't like celebrating Australia Day on the 26th January.  It's a pretty shameful thing really to celebrate that day in 1788 that Governor Phillip let his convict cargo loose on the shores of Port Jackson (Sydney), raised the British flag and claimed possession of "terra nullius" (despite the presence of the traditional custodians of the land, watching the new arrivals with some (justifiable) wariness), as the defining moment in our nation's history!!

When will we be grown up enough as a nation to have a sensible conversation about this??

We are among the most fortunate group of people in Australia - able to take advantage of good public education (and free tertiary education in our day!!!), excellent health care, a strong economy and a high standard of living in one of the best environments on the planet. That doesn't stop me thinking though, about how lucky we've been, while others haven't been so lucky, and being very concerned about the level of government debate at the moment about our country's future.

But to keep me focussed in the moment..I just have to look at Ella and Abi, enjoying their wonderful beautiful, well resourced Canberra.

They had a sleepover with us this week. We took them to a special exhibition (and creative activities) at the National Portrait Gallery and then a few hours at the fabulous new Boundless Playground in King's Park near the Carillon. Boundless was built with the donations of Canberra public servants to commemorate Canberra's centenary last year. It is their gift to Canberra  and the Nation's children - an all abilities playground accessible by everyone.

Ella and Abi gave it the thumb's up! - especially the water play area which they LOVED. They got absolutely soaked.

It was a lot of fun having them over for dinner afterwards and then a raucous sleep over - Dinner was all their choice: spaghetti Bolognaise and crepes for dessert. We probably tolerated a lot more fun and games over dinner than their Mummy and Daddy would.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Thredbo Blues

Thredbo/Charlotte Pass has been our favourite mid January destination for a couple of years now - a perfect time of the year and a perfect place for bush walking in this unique alpine environment and enjoying the company of good friends (and family).

This year we decided to sign up for the Thredbo Blues Festival events too.  The fun started with our now customary lunch at Wild Brumby on Friday, settling into Christiana Lodge on Bobuck Lane in Thredbo Village afterwards  then a round trip on the chairlift up to Eagles Nest and back (free chairlift rides ALL weekend with our Blues Festival tickets!) before heading out to the night's entertainment. Sugarcane Collins in the Lounge Bar, Mal Eastick (in the Kosciuszko Room), Kashmere Club and Swamphouse (in the Keller Bar) all proved to be good choices on Friday night, although many of us were concerned about how our hearing might survive the weekend with the volume levels set VERY HIGH!

Sugarcane Collins and Swamphouse were my favourite acts of the night.

Saturday morning we got going reasonably early, determined to do the Dead Horse Gap - Thredbo River walk (just under 10klm) before settling in for more music.

It was extremely windy - so much so that they stopped the chairlift soon after our ride so a lot of people got stranded on top of the mountain for quite a few hours.  Our chairlift ride was pretty rocky - no wonder they stopped it for a few hours until conditions were safer.

It was a battle to take this shot below at the start of our walk. Unless you concentrated all your efforts on staying upright it felt like the wind could blow you right off balance. I'd say it was blowing consistently at 30 - 40 klms per hour but with much stronger gusts when you least expected it!

 But, nevertheless, the mountains looked beautiful today - as they always do...

 These wisps of cloud were just racing across the sky, buffeted by the wind.

Judy was taking some stunning shots with her brand new iPhone 6 (Plus) this weekend. We're all very impressed...

 Just look at this beautiful shot below!........... (thank you Judy L and the iPhone 6 (plus)).

We realised from the growth pattern of the trees that these strong winds from the West are very common around here.

Starting the descent from Dead Horse Gap we saw up close the devastating impact of the 2003 fires on the mountain forests.  The regrowth is very slow under these harsh alpine conditions.

The further down the mountain we walked the wind started to ease and temperatures rose. The walk back to the Village along Thredbo River gave us lots of opportunities to crisscross the riverbed and admire it from lots of different angles.

 ..and admire the alpine wild flowers..

Some of us were in a bit of pain by the end - that's hard on the knees walking rough paths downhill for that distance. We needed to break open the Majella and Rob's birthday cake pretty early that afternoon before we felt we could take on an evening of the Blues.

We came good though, in time to catch the Harry Brus Band (NOT the Bruce Harris Band, Judy P!), Russell Morris, and the Bondi Cigars. The highlight of the evening was the Russell Morris performance: a good hour and a half of great new material and a reprise of some of our favourites from the late sixties and seventies (remember the Real Thing everybody?).

Sunday was a cruisey day for us - a very late start; chairlift ride up to Eagles Nest Cafe (Australia' s highest cafe/restaurant) for a beer/coffee and then back to the Village for lunch...

 at Brown Bear Inn..which surprised us all with the high quality of the food, wine, service, views....

 and great entertainment (the very talented Brody Young). The Fig Pudding dessert special was unbelievably good too.

The afternoon program was: George Washingmachine (as talented a dilettente as he ever was), a repeat performance by Russell Morris - this time poolside, in the warm afternoon sun...........

 ..rounded off by a solo show by young Shaun Kirk, a mind blowingly energetic performance by an extremely talented one man band of a musician - who blew everyones' socks off and ended up exhausting us.  We were finished off by his show - only capable of drinking wine and chilling out back at the Lodge afterwards.

It was a fabulous weekend though - one we hope to do again - and a great one to share with good friends and family. Lucky us!

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Honk! festivals started 9 years ago in Somerville Massachusetts. They've since spread to Seattle and Austen Texas and, as of this weekend, Wollongong (the 'Gong) Australia!

Honk! bands are colourful, acoustic, mobile, inclusive, community minded and even a bit political. A Honk! band draws on a diverse set of music traditions: Klezmer, New Orleans jazz, Balkan and Romani music, Samba, jazz, funk and pop. Honk! bands perform to celebrate, to protest, to proclaim - but all of them play to have fun.

We loved our first Honk! Oz Fiesta this weekend in the 'Gong!  Our friends David and Lotte were the driving force behind the festival and had drawn in a great line up of Honk! bands from OS (the US mainly) and from interstate.

Our experience of Honk! started Friday afternoon in the 'Gong's Arts Precinct. Bands performed with amazing wild energy, crazy outfits and made magical music in the process. Performers had been in workshops together since Thursday so were all really comfortable improvising and creating magic in all different combinations of instruments - but working together. It was a complete eye opener, quite anarchic and fantastic fun!

The bands had great names. Some of our favourites were:Brassholes, Junkadelics, Purple Tusks, Havana Palava, Red Brigade, Underscore Orkestra, EE Band (Environmental Encroachment Band).

David is the director of the "Con Artists" the Wollongong Conservatorium's all ages community band combining up and coming Con students, adult community musicians and some folk musicians.

Their playing is amazing but their outfits were a bit more restrained than some of the other bands in the Festival. We loved seeing David playing with his two older boys, Miles and Marley, in the Con Artists. They are already amazing musicians (aged 16 and 14 years respectively)

Although this amazing musician (a member of the Con Artists) showed everyone how to dress for a Honk! Fest.

It was a wonderful treat to hear Lotte singing with the Con Artists - the Italian song Bella Ciao

Friday evening there was a lantern parade (and more music) around the Arts Precinct.

 ..and a Honk! after dark program hosted by some of the 'Gong's groovier clubs.
Saturday morning started with a Honk! street march through the central shopping mall - which must have left some of the locals feeling a bit non plussed - but not too alarmed it seemed to me...New Orleans Carnivale comes to Wollongong!

There were hours more music on Saturday following the parade and then everything moved to Centro CBD for jam sessions, a Band Slam and a lively session of Balkan inspired music and dance - but very funky!

The energy of Honk! Fest was amazing. I've never seen so many people, so alive, so tuned into music over such a long period. It made the National Folk Festival in Canberra look like an afternoon singalong!

As the weather turned hazy and increasingly stormy in the evening we sought out a quiet drink and something to eat as we gazed out on the steel grey seas off Wollongong city beach and reflected on what we'd loved about Honk! Oz. I hope David and Lotte can do it all again next year.