Marvellous

Late Friday afternoon on the road between Braidwood and Bungendore and the wind is buffeting my car as it trundles into the sleety clouds of winter. I’m returning from the coast, where two hours before I was eating lunch on a sheltered cove saturated in warm sunshine. It’s a slightly weary drive and, for some reason, I decide to play The Lightning Seeds for probably the first time in twenty years.

After several jaunty, scousish ditties that sound identical, the sage words of Alan Hansen and Jimmy Hill emerge as the infectious, glorious, deprecating anthem that is Three Lions blares out. I cannot listen to this without bobbing my head a little, chanting, smiling like a Cheshire Cat. As much as you might try. It’s Coming Home! At least I hope so, in light of the possible blizzard up ahead.

It’s Coming Home. Euro 96. An era that now feels halcyon, days when the Donald and BJ were still complete dicks but at least not complete dicks inexplicably leading disunited states and precarious kingdoms. Back in 1996, John Major was trundling his way towards the end of years of Tory rule, a regime which now somehow seems sane and reasonable. The Spice Girls were zig-a-zag-ahing and both Mitchells were polishing their heads behind the bar of the Queen Vic. I was completing my first year of university, undistracted by a phone, immune from the ranting coalescence of conspiracy lunatics on the internet.

I don’t remember that much about my university course (who does?), but in a convoluted way which coincidentally brings us back to the present I suppose it led me to be in the South Coast NSW town of Narooma on a mild, golden evening in August 2019. I studied, I got a job, I travelled, I went back to that job, I transferred to Australia with that job and I ended up on a boardwalk meandering past calm and clear waters toward the ocean.

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nar02Did I ever imagine back in 1996 that I would be gazing out to the Pacific hoping to sight a whale? Meandering downhill alongside gardens strewn with exotic plants and colourful birds? Wandering past parks dotted with electric barbecues and sinks for dealing with the entrails of fish? Who would have thought I would have previously parred the treacherous Bogey Hole of that golf course wedged between the town and the plunging cliffs of the coastline? Certainly not me, or anyone else, which is why I bring it up again.

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Even with its ageing hackers, Narooma is a pretty quiet kind of place, especially in a midweek in winter when the temperature has dipped to something around nineteen degrees. It’s tough going, having to put a light jumper on as the sun disappears behind Gulaga, pondering whether to have fish and chips for dinner or wait until tomorrow.

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While I know Narooma pretty well, the first night in a strange place always seems to lead to a fitful sleep, even when you’ve opted to forego fish and chips. Waking too early the next day, the murmurings of RN Breakfast do little to inspire or send me back to doze, so I head out into the dark. I love this time of day, especially beside the ocean; facing east as the black fades to blue and grey and red and yellow, and shafts of sunlight glitter off the sea. The sun kisses the layers of morning cloud, spreading to the tops of trees, and illuminating the coffee shop on the hill. A beacon which makes the reward of an early start in Australia all the better.

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With plenty of the day still ahead I took the car for a little explore south of Narooma, stopping first in the so-good-they-named-it-twice hamlet of Tilba Tilba before heading on to the relative bustle of Central Tilba. This is a corner of the county oozing genuine charm, with plenty of tin roofs and lacework awnings, flower-filled yards and rustic leftovers. By Australian standards it’s usually a green and lush place as well, which is great for local dairy products; but even here the drought looked to be taking its yellowing toll.

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Given my early start it was probably pushing it to head to the bakery in Central Tilba for local produce straight away, so I took a gentle amble along the track which eventually leads to the top of Gulaga, the dominant, forest-clad peak of the area, spiritually significant to the local Yuin people. You can walk to the top, but I wasn’t really in the mood and I heard that summit views were lacking. The valley was perfectly happy enough.

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Did I mention dairy products? One of my favourite topics which, back in 1996, probably didn’t come with any moral distaste from ethically sourced eco-vegan leftists typing away on their not-so-pure iPhones. I guess at a philosophical level, there is valid debate as to whether we can still have our cake and eat it? At an individual level, the answer was a resounding yes. Not only in Tilba, home to Jersey Cows and related outputs. But also in Bodalla, a pitstop on my journey into and out of Narooma and for all journeys this way in the future. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

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South of Tilba, the main highway veers off towards Bermagui, along a splendid road of eucalyptus forest and the shores of Wallaga Lake. The maps indicate a few coastal rock formations here, names suggesting a likeness to horses and camels which enticed me to explore with the hope of discovering an Australian Durdle Door or Bedruthan Step. While there was not quite the same grandeur, the coastal scenery, now bathed in warm sunshine, proved a tonic after that massive apple turnover.

It was pleasing to discover I was on part of the ‘Great South Coast Walk’ according to a few signposts. This doesn’t appear to be an official trail but may yet develop into something more formal. One of my bugbears with Australia is that it doesn’t seem to have the same right to roam philosophy as the UK. Huge tracts of land are locked up in private hands or just downright inaccessible unless you have Ray Mears on hand with a machete and / or a big gas guzzling ute. Being able to just rock up anywhere on the coast and walk has an appeal unmatched. See, for example, South West Coast Path.

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It was along this walk, overlooking the expanse of Wallaga Lake, that I learnt of another resemblance in the landscape around here. Gulaga is a pregnant woman, partly explaining its significance to the Yuin people who were here well, well before 1996. Today, its fertility abounds as a cluster of whales drift down the coast, mother and calf distant white caps sporadically splashing in the rich waters.

I probably wouldn’t have spotted the whales if it wasn’t for a couple of retired locals staked out on a headland near Horse Head Rock. For me, this is usually the most successful method of spotting wildlife. If you’re driving in country Australia and a cluster of people have pulled over to look up at a tree, there’s a fair chance you’ll get to see a koala. The other way you tend to discover local wildlife is when you nearly run it over. Beware Wombats.

nar11Spurred on by earlier whale sightings I ended the day back up near Narooma, taking a scenic coastal drive alongside Dalmeny and Kianga which boasts several panoramic viewing platforms along the way. The platforms are sited in between yet more pristine bays that you can have all to yourself. It was at the last of these points that I glanced a surfing dolphin, followed by a few more and a few more still. Passing below, there must have been around twenty dolphins, tracking north on a feeding mission. A whole two football teams.

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I doubt I would have seen dolphins in 1996. Nor would I be questioning the prospect of snow in August, even counting for British weather. Today, this was a possibility heading back to Canberra thanks to a vigorous succession of cold fronts coming from the Antarctic. My solution was to linger down on the coast for as long as possible.

It was undoubtedly windy, but the skies were blue and with a little shelter you could sit comfortably in a light sweater or even T-shirt. Neither of which were really possible in the blustery settings of Cullendulla Creek and the nearby Eurobodalla Botanic Gardens, but these were attractive diversions nonetheless. At the gardens, the stronger gusts were a tad alarming and it felt only a matter of time before a branch would fall on my head. Mercifully it didn’t, and the march towards Spring carried on.

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Just north of Batemans Bay – and the road junction back to Canberra – the graceful, tall spotted eucalypts of Murramarang National Park were probably less appealing to walk through today. Especially when picking a walk that follows a ridgeline facing the bay, directly exposed to the strong southwesterlies. The crashing chaos, the constant buffeting, the noise and fury do not entice a pause to look up and marvel. Impulsion instead for a brisk pace and the hope of respite on the other side. And what gentle and idyllic contrast this proves.

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A bay with no-one and nothing. Nothing but calm clear waters, untouched sand and the backing of a gently whispering bush. A driftwood log, downed in some other storm and also finding its way to this paradise, is now a perfect setting for a late lunch. The breathlessness is not only in the air, the warmth not only on the outside. Perhaps even in 2019, these are still the days, this is still the life.

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Australia Food & Drink Green Bogey Photography Walking

Casual traveller

There are qualidays and there are qualidays. One can involve a dull drive to Wagga to hang out in a beige-infested meeting room, the other can take you to Far North Queensland in June. In June. When frostiness infiltrates the Australian Capital Territory with much the same frequency as declarations of mostly sunny skies and twenty-seven degrees in Cairns. Okay, maybe around eighteen degrees at dawn, but pleasant enough to embrace the Esplanade and marvel. I could have turned around there and then and been content with this trip.

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However, when in Far North Queensland in June it would be rude not to tack on a few extra days in which shorts and sandals can make a comeback. And so suitably attired, I slowly drove north from Cairns towards Port Douglas, stopping along the way for bouts of note-writing and email attending; coffee and lunch, on beachside benches and surrounded by sand and palm trees. Trinity Beach proved a quiet little delight among Cairns’ Northern Beaches, while Palm Cove turned out to be a popular spot where people come to jaunt in chilled-back decadence. As long as they can find a place to park.

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From here the road becomes a scenic gem, hugging the shoreline between the tropical seas and steep-sided rainforest. Sandy coves and mangrove mudflats compete for attention with the jagged green tops marking the northern outpost of the Great Dividing Range, as omnipresent as the prospect of a saltwater crocodile possibly being in that creek you just passed. Let’s not linger long for snapshots.

Nearing Port Douglas, fields of sugar cane squeeze their way into the flatlands between sea and slope. More than human high, much awaits harvest and eventual transformation into cakes which will probably end up in my mouth. Occasionally, narrow gauge cane trains can be sighted fulfilling this prophecy, carriages packed with shredded green stalks, trundling at snail’s pace on the first stages of this complex journey.

Coming here from Canberra is more than about a change in the weather, but a transformation in the very essence of my surroundings. In some ways, driving through this scene feels more of a shock to the system than making the switch from Australia to Europe. A more alien land in the very same country. Not that I’m complaining as this totally tropical vibe sustains through a Port Douglas dusk.

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Some interesting facts about Port Douglas that I learned: the original settlement – already dwindling thanks to a railway connection between Cairns and the prosperous tablelands – got practically wiped out in a cyclone in 1911 and was essentially a ghost town until the late 1970s. Then someone saw an opportunity, silver boats quickly whisked people to the Great Barrier Reef and became the omnipresent Quicksilver operation, a resort popped up with the largest pool in the southern hemisphere and became a Sheraton and – from there – the rest was history. Today, the town retains its resort-heavy heritage but seems to have diversified to the extent that it attracts everyone from the scuzziest backpacker to the most ostentatious billionaire boatperson.

Somewhere along the lower end of that continuum I found myself strolling along the main street early on a Saturday heading to Four Mile Beach. You see, while Cairns may have a railway and a fabulous sunrise, it doesn’t have a beach in the centre of town, let alone a stretch of whiteish sand littered with coconuts reaching towards pristine rainforest ranges. Often on a Saturday morning I find myself ticking off a little exercise around the bushland suburbia of Woden; this weekend things were a little different striding along a beach and a climbing up to Flagstaff Hill. Either way, I was suitably self-satisfied.

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Self-satisfaction continued with the excitement of finishing off some more work with a coffee and World Cup highlights by lunchtime. I celebrated this fact by booking myself on a late afternoon cruise, in which I was hoping to see a nice sunset but really hoping much, much more to see a croc. Three crocs later, the sunset was pleasant enough but – as was to be the fate for the rest of this trip – no Cairns. But the crocs were beauties, at more than arm’s length.

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One final enjoyable aspect of this sunset croc cruise down Dickson Inlet was the complimentary cold beer provided upon departure. A warm breeze, a fading sun, sardonic commentary, three mother fucking crocodiles that would eat your arms off and a Great Northern. Can there be anything more quintessentially Australian? At this rate, I was getting pumped for the Socceroos. Crocs v Frogs, surely no contest.

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Pre-game, the one beer lured me to another back at the marina and this was actually far, far better. The rise in small, local breweries is truly one of the blessings of our age, a price worth paying for excessive beardiness and an inevitably jingly jangly smug git with a guitar singing a pared back rendition of something by Bruno Mars. So if you find yourself in Port Douglas, I can recommend the Doug’s Courage at Hemingway’s Brewery, at a safe distance from croc-infested waters and beard-ridden singers.

Sunday came after the frogs somehow defeated the crocs and things were a little subdued in the streets of Port Douglas that morning…I suspect less to do with soccerballing disappointment and more to do with the efforts of Hemingway’s and others. It was eerily quiet as I checked out the weekly Port Douglas markets which were everything I expected, unfortunately. Seriously lacking in terms of food temptation and offering more than enough tie-dyed hippy shit and rainforest possum poo face balm or whatever. I’m full of incredulity, get me out of here.

What better jungle to escape to than that around Mossman Gorge, within the World Heritage Daintree Rainforest. This is special land, iconic even. Southerners shivering in the cold will have a spark ignited in their eyes upon mention of the Daintree. There are more dramatic gorges, there are more scenic forests, there are more powerful rivers. But there probably isn’t a spirit, an essence, an unfathomable sanctity that can make even tie-dyed hippy-shit haters like me get a little carried away. In the Australian soul, the Daintree is up there with Uluru.

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I find rainforests a contradiction of exquisite beauty and foreboding dread. They are amazing, living things, jam-packed with anything and everything that can claim a foothold in a spare millimetre of earth or air. Ferns eclipse ferns, trees envelop trees, fungus flourishes among decaying hollows, leaves expand to gargantuan heights. Older than the dinosaurs, unchanged in mass but everchanging in make-up. It’s this density, this proliferation of life that can begin to overwhelm; the moody subdued light, the lack of a sky, the oppressive air, the constant soundtrack of insects waiting to bite you. The competing sound of the Mossman River is a salvation, an opening, a way out. As are its creeks and pools which proffer sublime sanctuary among the jungle.

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Leaving the rainforest content, I spent the rest of my time ambling and chilling around Port Douglas and – to be honest – was ready to leave as Monday morning came around. Not because I was desperate to wear four layers of clothing and scrape ice from my car, but I feel I had ‘done’ Port Douglas to death, several times over. It’s not the largest place and time and again I found myself ambling along Four Mile Beach, or heading to the wharf, or seeking out ice cream. Such a challenge to endure!

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FNQ11I took one final coffee and stroll on the beach before embarking on the drive back south, which had a fair share of roadworks interspersed with spectacular scenery. Pausing around Ellis Beach, in this snatch of tropical palm-fringed cliché, it was again hard to fathom that I would be in a different world, in the same country, in a few hours. My poor shorts would be tucked away out of sight again.

This contrast was highlighted by a final, bonus-because-something-else-got-cancelled detour to Cairns Botanic Gardens. Again, so much green, so much life and proliferation of alien, oversized plants, saturated with texture and patterns and colours and shine. It surprised me that I had never been to the excellent botanic gardens here, for such places are a frequent haunt of mine during both holidays and qualidays. Places where you can quickly capture the essence of a region through its unique flora. Places within the middle of a nondescript town or city that can mark it as different, as exotic. And nowhere seems quite as different, as exotic as the warming airs and flourishing lands of Far North Queensland in June.

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Australia Driving Green Bogey Photography

East to West

ew00In 2013 it took me – alongside one of my favourite travel buddies Jill – a good solid couple of months to travel from the east coast of Australia to the west. I remember watching the sun go down over the Indian Ocean somewhere around Yallingup, in the beautiful Margaret River region of Western Australia. It was a touch symbolic, a satisfactory “we have made it” amidst the golden ambience; despite the fact that the engine of the car had knowingly decided to overheat earlier that day.

Four years later and I was crossing the continent again, only this time solo, facing regular interruptions for work, and ably assisted by Qantas, Jetstar and FlyPelican. But along the way there would be opportunities to revisit a few memories (mostly food related), let sand mingle with toes, and watch the sun sink into the Indian Ocean once more.

It all started in Newcastle. Well Canberra then onto Newcastle, in that tiny but very handy plane again. Having been there so recently it was no great loss that there was little time to dawdle, facing a frantic trip to Officeworks and late night leftover sandwiches. Bookending a restless night was an early flight to Adelaide. But for about half an hour from around 6am, there was good coffee – located courtesy of previous investigations – and the sun rising majestically over the surf of Nobby’s Beach.

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ew03Just to ensure I clocked off five states and territories on this trip, my route to Adelaide incurred a brief stopover at Melbourne Airport. I had a bit more time on my hands in Adelaide but, barring an hour over lunchtime, the weather was mostly imitating England; cool, cloudy, drizzle interspersed with more frantic spots of rain. I ducked for cover in Rundle St Mall, and lingered in the Central Markets. I called in at Haighs, lured by giant displays of Rocky Road, and ambled under leaden skies through the ring of Parklands encircling the city.

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ew05For all its charm and grace, I had seen better days in Adelaide. But at least the rain had stopped by the time I found myself on the tram to Glenelg late Friday afternoon. I was hoping for sunset, but I was guaranteed kebab. Just catching up on another feast down memory lane, and, unlike the sunset, it didn’t disappoint.

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ew05bThe next day, in a swish of a jet engine I was whisked back to summer, crossing the seas and striking landfall near Esperance. I swear, 30,000 feet below, I could just make out a tiny piece of my heart deposited in the white sands of Twilight Beach. The Wheatbelt passed in considerably less time than the twelve hour drive, and then, before you knew it, Perth hills tumbling down to an archetypal Australian suburbia. Hello Perth! Hello 27 degrees!

I decided to spend the weekend staying in Fremantle, Perth’s port town, where there are plenty of shipping containers but an almost equal number of cafes and pubs and places to eat by the water. I really, really like Fremantle and enjoyed feeling slightly like a local, desperately praying the British accents in every cafe were not intent on making my flat white. They seem to be everywhere these Poms! I can understand this, because only Fremantle can offer the strong and stable leadership that is necessary in these times of smashed avocado goji berries and beards.

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In fact Freo definitely meets the mark for the classic “I could live here” award. I think – in Australian terms – it must have the greatest concentration of fine Victorian and Georgian buildings, elegance established from the wealth of shipping Vegemite and DVDs of A Country Practice to the globe. There are facially hairy signs that hipsters have taken over, but Freo’s the liberal kind of place where you can let that go and sup on a pint of Little Creatures with the smell of the hops in the air and the sun sinking into the ocean. Before doing what everyone does in Freo and eating fish and chips (with malt vinegar…thank the lord for those fleeing Poms)!

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On top of soaking up Fremantle I was keen to use my spare time in Perth to revisit some favourite old haunts and lingering places. The first was City Beach and nearby Floreat Beach, partly for food but also for, well, the dazzling light of that sand and sea and surf that is unendingly uplifting. It was more of an ordeal than previous trundles in the Subaru, but a train to West Leederville and bus through Wembley and Floreat to the coast offered more proof that my memory was still reasonably intact: look, there’s that petrol station on the corner! Behind there is an IGA where I bought a Chunky Kit Kat! Oh, Bold Park, that hill and lookout!

ew08At City Beach I didn’t remember those rather fancy looking eateries and yet another pristinely positioned surf club in Australia. Some money had come into here, but from lord knows where. Perth has slumped somewhat since the state reaped lots of cash from rocks in the ground and lazily rolled about in its lucre. Still, I guess the new restaurants were an investment and they looked pretty busy. I opted for an original: my favourite calamari and chips at Floreat Beach Kiosk, worth the train and bus journey alone.

Being in these parts it would be criminal not to head to Cottesloe Beach and join the gathering masses for sundown. For some reason, the sun going about its natural business every day is an invitation to incessantly drum bongoes and get tangled in tie-dyed sarongs as if having some slow motion convulsion on a Eurovision stage. Head closer to the water and the sounds of the ocean drown it out. Cherish the sand and water and light and see the sun vanish behind that invisible strip of cloud that is almost always on the horizon.

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Possibly just as famous as a Cottesloe sunset are the lorikeets in the Norfolk Pines, putting the bongo boys and girls to shame as soon as the sun has gone. In their thousands and purely deafening, this and the chill now hitting bare legs impels you to hot foot it back to the train station, goals ticked.

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Compared with the Western beaches of Perth, Rottnest Island provides a more challenging task for my memory. I came here in 2003 and recall jumping on a bus to a beach for a while and walking up to the lighthouse. There was a quokka somewhere, and probably an ice cream. My hair was black, in contrast to those white, white beaches.

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On a Monday in 2017, having achieved what I needed to in a work capacity (lest you think this is all one big jolly), I took the ferry over to Rotto and – like many on board – hired a lame red bike. Being a car free island, this is the best way to see the place, on roads that are occasionally lumpy and into the wind and may harbour the odd snake which you need to swerve to avoid running over. Yes, that happened to me #thisisaustralia.

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ew12There is not much more to say about Rotto, apart from glorious beaches and amazingly vivid waters and wonderful sands and beautiful bays and crystal coves. There are some sea-sculpted rock formations in between and – inland – a few smelly stagnant lakes, snake-housing scrub, and one bigger hill on which a lighthouse sits. Around the quay a touch of civility in the form of cafes and shops makes the whole place entirely tolerable as the temperature hovers around a pleasant twenty-six degrees.

ew13The other main feature of Rottnest Island are the quokkas, who are generally very cute, incredibly tame, and quite keen to get a lick of your ice cream. The main goal of many visitors to the island these days seems to be to achieve the perfect quokka selfie and #quokkaselfie. Seriously, view that hashtag and see what you come across!

You know what I did though? At one bay where a cluster of identical red bikes sat in racks and quokkas attempted to steal picnics and people gathered round them with phones, I walked to the far end of the beach, across a brief mound of dunes and grass, and discovered perfection was waiting there… #notaquokkainsight #alltomyself #mumlookawaynow

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The day trip to Rottnest was the obvious pinnacle of this trip and I will garner no sympathy at all for saying it was back to work after that. I was staying around Kings Park and commuting to nearby Subiaco, which had handy breakfast and coffee possibilities. The weather was still mid twenties, although cooling off in the nights.

ew15Essentially, I managed a jaunt into Kings Park one late afternoon, which is undoubtedly one of the biggest assets outside of the beaches that Perth has to offer. It is scenic and sprawling and accessible and full of all those variants and species that are unique to small corners of Western Australia. It’s a reminder of how isolated, how individual, this place is. Yes, there may be Hungry Jacks down the road and Home and Away showing on TV, but there is also a Banksia that only grows on one or two of those giant bluffs of the Stirling Ranges.

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The bonus with Kings Park is that it is also the place to capture city views, complete with the hum of traffic moving along its freeways and crossing the Swan River. From here, on my last night, the sinking sun illuminates its skyline, reflecting gold off the glass and steel structures. The distant Perth Hills turn fiery red before disappearing into shadow. And out across the Swan, down towards Cottesloe and Fremantle, bongoes sound and hippies gather. The sun that has crossed the country says its goodbyes, leaving Australia for a few hours before it gathers again in the morning and pierces the surf of Nobby’s Beach in a happily circular manner in which to join things together and tie things up. East to West.

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Australia Food & Drink Green Bogey Photography

With age goes wisdom

If you haven’t got anything nice to say don’t say anything at all, said like no politician in the history of the world ever. This becomes apparent in the brief snatches of news footage or articles I have intermittently stumbled across in relation to the UK election. So, from what I can make out, some commie wonk stumbled when feeding a shiny-faced posh man a bacon sandwich, who choked upon hearing Scotland are going to build a big high speed rail bridge bypassing England to Europe, but turned up to the NHS only to find it riddled with BBC bias and a wealthy man of the people chuffing a cigar hand-crafted by Romanians he secretly keeps in his shed. Meanwhile, some woman had a baby, which like happens every minute of every day of every year. Oh Britain, how I miss you.

All this leads me to say that I don’t have much to say; not because there is nothing nice to say, but really since things (unlike Election 2015, oh yes!) are fairly mundane. The biggest event was having all four wisdom teeth – intricately shaped at angles in the kind of x-ray you see in medical journals – extracted. Convalescence was aided by frozen peas, warm soup, and gentle walks around the leafy, crunchy, rainbow suburban streets.

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apr07Like Batman getting my powers back, things progressed at a steady pace: work was sadly possible but also happily income-giving; hills could be walked up; soup became mashed potato became fish curry became shepherd’s pie…until finally I could mercifully manage a bacon sandwich. The bike could be pedalled, when the variable weather was having a good day. And wine could be safely drunk, useful when on a charming tour of Lerida Estate two weeks post-wisdom.

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ANZAC day came and went with its usual amalgamation of touching remembrance, freedom- embracing alcoholism, and political posturing. This year, one hundred years after Gallipoli, there were more TV dramatisations and politicians posturing than ever. I spotted in Target the day before that you could buy a ‘Camp Gallipoli’ swag. Yes, you too can sleep out like the ANZACS, though I presume without the cloying mud, stench of death, and general sense of imperial-driven futility.

The dawn service – a genuinely poignant and worthy lamentation for the death and sacrifice of war – was attended by something like 120,000 people. Too late to the party, I stood alone, upon a nearby hill, the sun rising above the early mist of dawn as magpies uttered melodies, and the shadow of gums were given new life. Standing to see the sun, lucky.

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And with that I really can’t think of anything else to be said.

Australia Green Bogey Photography Walking

Capitalising

march02Change is in the air. After a more than generous period of retirement, I am on the precipice of embarking on a spell of significant work again. The Treasurer will be happy, though it’s not like I stopped being a consumer. Despite recently spending extortionate amounts on dental treatment (not covered by the much-revered Medicare of course), and purchasing coffee (and sometimes cake) to break up the days a little, the economy is still heading towards possible Armageddon. So the prospect of work lies ahead of me like the Nullarbor, stretching out in hazy uniformity for the rest of my life, only to finally end up at Norseman, which is possibly even worse.

march01Change of a more subtle variety is also noticeable around the neighbourhood. The summer storms appear to have dissipated and – for now at least – Canberra has settled into a golden period of warm days, pleasantly refreshing nights, and big blue skies seemingly typical of March. Leaves are largely unturned, but there is a soft wilting and readiness to transform. Mornings are lighter later, but the wattlebird still manages to indulge in its annoying calls outside my window really early every morning without fail. Meanwhile, the cockatoos are even more voraciously attacking the acorns and itchy-bombs, causing overhead hazards on walks in this suburban wilderness.

Aligned with the glorious prospect of seasonal transformation is a final, lingering dose of Canberra activity. Enlighten, which appears more popular as the years pass (I was one of those stoic first year visitors before the advent of hipster-conducive noodle markets), always seems to coincide with the finest of nights. Each year brings a new stab at illuminative inventiveness, although one which is usurped this year by that going on within the National Gallery. To stand within an artwork in daggy little protective feet covers and be simultaneously disoriented, uncomfortable and exhilarated by light and space is just a tad different to giant projections of political cartoons on Old Parliament House. Maybe James Turrell can design all of Enlighten next year?

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Whatever, the natural light and space of Canberra can be every bit as magical all year round, though there seems increasing clarity and depth as the sun shifts lower on the horizon. Rising early to see the annual balloon extravaganza is a reminder of that hallowed time of the morning before day breaks. The wattlebird may have been carping on for half an hour already, but the indigo sky is only slowly softening, the glow on the eastern horizon building until the first rays of sun blind the eyes, redden the white bark of the gums, and silhouette the parade of tripods seeking to capture it beside the lake. Hundreds of cameras redirected because the balloons are tethered, unable to take off because of too much or too little or too much and too little wind.

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Not strong enough wind there is or wind too much in gusts of the force” mutters the giant Yoda balloon. I would trust his wisdom (certainly more than an angry bird or dodo), and thus they remain a picture lingering upon the lawns, surrounded by an always surprisingly large mass for so early in the morning.

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Further round the lake, distant in the west, several balloons have made it into the air. I guess wind conditions are more favourable away from a parliamentary area that usually generates a lot of unnecessary hot air. Hot air that has, I guess, indirectly contributed to my own forthcoming increased income tax contribution to save the economy. Hot air piped out of the giant flagpole that will mix with cooler and colder and – eventually – perishing air as the months progress. It was good while it lasted!

Australia Green Bogey Photography

Dawn

The dark cloak of night was yet to loosen itself from the town of Santander as I crept up from a creaky bed onto the creaky floorboards of a creaky guesthouse. Desperately trying not to disturb sleeping parents next door – clearly not helped by the creakiness of this particular guesthouse – I gathered the only set of keys and my camera and set out to surreptitiously escape the building and head towards the sea. If you cannot sleep, why not watch the world wake up.

Emerging into the refreshingly cool and breezy air – a pleasant change from the pungent heat of a Spanish summer – the sea was barely visible, merely a rhythmic thrash of water hitting the shore somewhere distant. To the east, the sky was only just beginning to soften to indigo, the change marked by the silhouettes of gulls rising in the distance, their shrills increasing in tempo and building in volume. Elsewhere, further occasional signs of life…eager fishermen setting out, unseen shutters rolling up, street sweepers marking a clean slate. The final blinking of a distant lighthouse extinguished as the horizon turns deep blue and a thin strip of orange light flashes across that steadfast line between sea and sky.

Now, a red sidelight flickers across the whitecaps of surf, as rocky outcrops transform from black and white to heavily contrasted greys and greens. With light, sand becomes copper, every little rock and patch of seaweed casting a long shadow across the grainy canvas. Footprints are embossed alongside the water’s edge, as the first joggers, amblers, dog walkers and sleepless tourists break the surface. More gulls gather on the beach, more shutters are heard rising; more vehicles make their way along the coast road in a subdued early morning hush. The sun glides quickly higher into the sky and the moment is gone – for another day.

D_Santander

The world may now be awake but the parents still seem to be snoring. It was a long drive the previous day, from south to north across Spain. Through the dusty nothingness of the interior and over the greener, damper northern ranges, we reached Santander after dark and pretty much flopped out in our hastily picked guesthouse. I was surprised to awaken and watch the light introduce a different Spain, with surf cleansing the broad golden sands and scouring craggy rock platforms in between. A verdant headland of cypress pine and she-oak marked the entrance to a snaking, shallow estuary [1], peppered with sandy coves and treacherous currents. Beyond, the backdrop of forested mountains, lined at their base by popular coastal towns and expensive waterfront properties. For one moment I thought I had woken up on the south coast of New South Wales again.

D_Santander2

I shared some of this world in full daylight with Mum, heading off for a little walk once everyone had arisen and dressed and drunk several cups of tea before checking out. They hadn’t even realised I had been out in the morning, such was my obvious stealth and their obvious talent at sleeping in. Outside, we found that the headland was indeed a pleasant spot, the array of trees now offering useful shade for the sun spanning overhead. In fact it would have been a good spot for a little doze, especially if you happened to have been up and out when it was still dark that morning [2]. However, we had a ferry to queue for to take us through to the following dawn.

In between one whole revolution of the earth there was still some time to fill. This involved a lot of sitting around. First for coffee and some local food that I cannot remember other than it being deep fried and delicious. Then, once over the international barrier and beyond the spell of the salty streets of Santander, the most mind-numbing wait to board the ferry, sat in a car in the heat of the day while the Spanish operators have a siesta or go on strike or something. And further, once finally on the ferry, the futile task of finding something to do, other than sit down and have a drink.

To be fair there were at least, oh, 3o minutes worth of exciting ferry activities: walking the upper deck via a maze of secret stairwells; perusing every item in detail in the gift shop and working out whether it is cheaper to buy in Euros or Pounds; wondering do they actually sell those giant M&M characters and comedy oversize Toblerone bars anywhere else; and, importantly, noting the location of every toilet accessible once rolling about in the Bay of Biscay. So it turns out that the sitting down with a drink option is by far the best, a chance to farewell the Spanish sun that I greeted many, many hours ago.

I should note that, amusement-wise, there was also the excitement of the little cabin we had booked for the overnight trip. Here, an air of childlike wonder in discovering clever folding beds and storage spaces, incredulity at how they managed to fit a toilet and sink and shower in a tiny cupboard, bemusement with ever so miniscule space-saving gadgets and fittings. And, despite effectively being a pimped up prison cell, an astonishing sense of light and space. It’s like the Tardis, only marginally less scientific and with fewer smartass actors and delightfully ridiculous storylines.

To be honest, I could have done with an interruption from Daleks, perhaps emerging literally out of the woodwork, stealthily disguised as the bin and composite parts of the sink unit. At least I think their grating warnings of impending extermination may have woken up Mum and Dad and given me a break from their snoring symphony. So in sync that when one stops the other starts, building to a wave of crescendos where all components of the orchestra are at full blast, ending with a huge crash of drums and cymbals. Then just a brief intermission before the next number. Their melody in tune with the rocking and rolling of the sea, a sea which mercifully calms midway through the night, unlike the music.

With no natural light and a regular swaying movement the cabin proved quite disorientating on the senses but somehow with all this going on I believe I did sleep (and probably bolstered the orchestra in the process). And with that came morning, or at least the clock said it was approaching morning for all that you could tell inside. A trip out on deck confirmed this, while the temperature confirmed that we had definitely left Spain and were approaching England. Another day, another dawn, this one inevitably shrouded in grey on the eastern horizon, but a clear softening in the light marking the transition from one state to the other. The period of transition which makes dawn so special, so magical, so hopeful [3].

With reassuring inevitability the sun eventually emerged above the solid brush of low cloud and timed itself with a majestic arrival into Plymouth Sound. The pleasing site of land, and not just any old land but my land, inching nearer and becoming a reality at Rame Head, its patchwork of bracken and gorse a khaki camouflage rising out of the blue sea. To the east, rays of sun glowing godlike through clouds over Mountbatten, angling towards the west and lighting up the cosy cove of Cawsand. And directly ahead, a glimmer of red and white standing erect on the foreshore, a beacon to Janners worldwide: Smeaton’s Tower.

D_Rame Head D_Plymouth Hoe

A perfect combination of movement and light heralded me into the arms of Plymouth, the ferry gliding serenely through the water, the low projection of light colouring and highlighting the ultimate goal. Rather like some kind of tractor beam from an alien spaceship, dragging me towards it, resistance futile and probing likely. It was the first time I had been back in a little while and arriving by sea in the first sunlight of the day made it seem like some exciting new place, exotic and far away [4]. The anticipation building as the port came closer and closer. The freshness in the air added to a sense of rejuvenation. It truly was a new dawn, a new day, and I was feeling good.

Can there be any better time of the day than dawn? Sunset is an obvious rival, with both dawn and dusk offering subtle changes that equate to a dramatic whole. The inevitability of both being a reminder that humans remain immaterial, the world carries on spinning, regardless of what we do. Wherever you are, whatever you are up to, there will be a dawn and a dusk, in which the skies will transform, clouds will burn like flame, and light will glow and fade on the landscape. Dawn is extra special in that it requires a little extra effort, rising at unnatural hours, skipping breakfast, embracing the cold. Anyone can see a sunset. Only the committed or narcoleptic may see a dawn. And for this effort you will often be rewarded with peace, solitude, tranquility, a calmness which exacerbates the spirit of rejuvenation and hope that emerges with a new dawn.


[1] I may be factually incorrect with the tree types, but don’t quote me on it

[2] I believe, looking back at Google Maps, this headland is the Peninsula y Palacio de La Magdalena

[3] I hope my friend Dawn happens to read this, for surely there are significant brownie points available.

[4] In fact, when ashore I noted the rather peculiar, distinct language of the local population. Then joined in.

Links

Santander Tourist Information: http://www.spain.info/en/ven/otros-destinos/santander.html

Palacio de La Magdalena: http://www.centenariopalaciomagdalena.com/es/

Brittany Ferries: http://www.brittanyferries.com/

Smeaton’s Tower: http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/homepage/creativityandculture/museums/museumsmeatonstower.htm

Driving me in Spain: http://neiliogb.blogspot.com.au/2010/10/youre-driving-me-in-spain.html

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