Sunday, 26 January 2014

Australia Day in Sydney

The HMAS Bounty.
Does my make-up look ok?
Australia Day is a day that the Nation celebrates on the 26th of January. It is a proud day, a day when everyone gets together to celebrate the things that make up this wonderful country. Multiculturalism, diversity, culture, and of course the beautiful and unique landscape of Australia. Although it should be a day of celebration for everyone, it was marred this year by some racist and cowardly graffiti in Melbourne as well as Botany Bay in Sydney. I won't waste time on these events, as they are truly low and not worth mentioning again.

Tall ships in the harbour.
Waking up this morning, knowing what day it was and how much I wanted to be a part of it, still didn't make it easy getting out of bed. It wasn't the fact that I was out till 3:30am at a friends birthday, but more to do with the weather - it was grey, a little chilly, and threatening to rain. It only happens once a year, and considering I haven't been in the country to celebrate it for 7 years, I headed out into the city despite my initial hesitation.

Happy Australia Day!
There was something to be thankful for regarding the weather - the foreshore didn't have it's usual festival 'sardine can' feel about it. People were out and about, dressed in Ozzie flags and temporary tattoos in place, but there just weren't that many of them. The few that were there were rugged up and bravely facing the weather - reminding me of the English at 'the seaside' - too cold and windy to be doing it, but it's summer, and that's what you do in summer! I managed to get a good front-row position under the bridge for the Sydney ferry race. The fire boat started the race, kind of like the lap car in a motor race, but spraying huge jets of water into the air, and nearly making itself disappear it it's own mist. The ferrys were all the same, apart from the sponsor's logos all over them, but it was fun to watch.

A young Ozzie.
An older Ozzie.
Apart from the Harbour activities, there was plenty more going on today. Unfortunately I didn't have the stamina to do an all-dayer in this weather, so I left it on a high note. I did see people with paint still on them from the 5km 'fun-run' Colour Dash through the city. Participants start the 'race' with a complementary white t-shirt, and as they pass through different colour stages, volunteers through paint balls at them. After 5 kms of this, you can imagine the state you end up in! All in good fun, and raising money for MS (Multiple Sclerosis).

People watching the ferry boat race.
It was a good half-day out, and it has been a pleasure to be a (small) part of Australia Day at home. I have spent many Australia Days in different parts of the world, and you wouldn't even know it from a normal working day. Here, there is something happening all the time, all day. It is also the only day of the year that the game 'Two-up' is allowed to be played and bet on.

2 blokes getting into the spirit of it!
An aboriginal dance being performed.
We're all Australian!!
 To finish off, I would like to say something on a very touchy subject. To some people, it is not 'Australia Day,' but 'Invasion Day.' On this day, in 1788, the First Fleet arrived in Sydney harbour and raised the British Flag, claiming New Holland in the name of King George. From that point, the native people of Australia were mistreated, killed and had their children stolen, just to name a few injustices. Australia has had it fair share of internal conflict, wrongs, and mistakes, but a huge step was made in 2008 when the then Prime Minsiter Kevin Rudd said the all important words "I'm sorry" for the Government and the Nation as a whole. Whatever happened in the past, there comes a time to forgive the past, reconcile, and move on together. Australia Day is a day for ALL Australians, no matter where they were born or grew up, but consider this country their own.

If only more strangers hugged each other, we would have less problems in the world! Great work!!


Monday, 13 January 2014

South Coast NYE

Amazing display of fireworks - or waste of millions of dollars... you decide!
New Year's Eve in Sydney is something to behold. If you haven't joined the millions of people who cram the foreshore every year to see the New Year brought in with the most expensive and elaborate display of pyrotechnics, then you are missing out! You need to do it - at least once, and once is probably enough. I have done it a few times, and although the human congestion is relieved slight after the kids display at 9pm, it only gets drunker and crazier at midnight... then there is getting home! The trip home at this hour is filled with adventure (so it seems when you're drunk and high on NYE kisses), glass bottles and rubbish everywhere, 2 million other drunk revellers trying to get home, and of course the Old Bill desperately trying to keep some sort of order.

Packed up and ready to go! An old Morgan in Bowral.
As I have done in the past, I sought to get away from the city and it's millions firework-watchers. Sometimes up the coast, sometimes at friend's places with a few people. This time it was down the South Coast. We snuck away on the 30th, as the days following Christmas are a nightmare on any road leading out of Sydney. We headed down towards Mittagong and Bowral for lunch, before staying in the country town of Goulburn for a Jazz concert.

The fire rating system in the country - starting at Low, then jumping to High!
Marry Poppins.
Bowral Oval - home of Sir Donald Bradman.
Country New South Wales is beautiful and vast. Paddocks, rolling hills, eucalypt and quiet country towns are what you get here. Bowral is one such town. Founded in 1861, it served mainly as a rural retreat for Sydneysiders. Now is it quite a busy place, with 12,000 inhabitants. Cafes and cake shops, parks and antique shops, Bowral is a lovely little town to stop for lunch, enjoy a coffee on the main drag and watch the weekend traffic go by. But, if you're a cricket buff, Bowral was where the greatest cricket player of all time was born and raised - Sir Don Bradman. Boral oval is a 5 minute walk from the main road, and boasts the Don Bradman museum, his childhood home (just a short boundry away... sorry!), as well as a white-picketed cricket pitch which is lovingly maintained. Bowral is also famous (for a small town in the country) for the author of Mary Poppins. That's right, P.L. Travers (pen name), lived in Bowral from 1907 till 1917. She migrated to England in 1924, and eventually wrote the first of the Marry Poppins series of books (7 books, the last one published in 1989) in 1934.


Look out for those curves!
Can you tell what it is yet?
Noteworthy on the trip is Wombeyan Caves. Only 170kms south of Sydney, they are close yet far away due to the 30kms of dusty unpaved roads that takes an hour to do. When I say 'cave,' I'm not talking about a small opening in the rock, just large enough for a few Neanderthals to hang out, but a huge network of underground stalagmites and stalactites. There are a few caves you can visit, but we chose the self-guided tour of Fig Tree Cave. The caves were discovered in 1828 by the famous explorers John Oxley and John McArthur, by accident on the search for good grazing land for cattle. The commentary during the tour is quite cool - set off by motion as you move along the path, lights come on, and the voice describes the history and geography of the cave, and points out the shapes that you can see. I didn't see any that he described, but I saw one of my own!

Hampden Bridge in Kangaroo Valley, completed in 1899.
"I'm the only pub in the village!"
The Pub's fireworks display.
After the caves, we headed down towards to coast but decided to drop into Kangaroo Valley for New Years Eve. We had some family staying there at the campsite, and while visiting, discovered that the pub in town (the ONLY pub in town) was putting on a firework display. Awesome! Although nowhere near the money spent as Sydney, the size couldn't compare, and there was no harbour, the atmosphere was bigger than the sum of the people there! The back paddock of the pub was packed with adults, kids and even a few dogs, all settled in with their drinks and glow sticks at 9pm to watch the fireworks supervised by the NSW Rural Fire Service. After all that excitement, I watched the Sydney fireworks at Midnight on the box, finished off the bottle of wine I had been sipping on for the last 3 hours, and hit the hay. The pub kept going till 3am, but not me.

Kiama harbour.
Beautiful Kiama!
Last stop on our little 3-day getaway was Kiama. 120kms south of Sydney, it's a wonderful stop along the coast for a few hours. A nice walk along the coast, take a couple of pics of the Blowhole (that always waits till your finger is off the button to blow!), or even feed the always-hungry pelicans at the harbour take-away chippie. If you've never been before, it is worth it - and you can see that on the weekend when all the Sydneysiders pop down for the day. Apart from the occasional crowds, it is a pleasant place. Just north of Kiama there is the the Nan Tien Buddhist temple, which is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere - quite a beautiful sight! From Kiama we headed back to Sydney along the Scenic Drive, a road that comes out over the Pacific Ocean and follows the cliff from 50 metres out. A definite favourite of mine is the South Coast, right up there with the Blue Mountains.

Oh well, it's back to reality!

The Nuria Valley

Hot Air Balloons over Vic. The hike to Nuria. The mountains are calling! Christmas in Sydney was lovely, a chance to go home af...