Hello Again, Sydney

One Sydney-sider's experiences moving back to Sydney after a long absence overseas.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Goodbye again, Sydney

I guess I knew it was never going to work, not in the long run. Yet I still ask myself why...

You are beautiful, there's no denying that. I'll never forget those afternoons at the beach, with nothing except the sea, the sun, some uncomplicated food - sausage sandwiches maybe. Normally so pressed for time, we would practically laugh at the clock, watching the clouds turning pink and orange, the waves glittering silver before darkening into that deep, inscrutable blue. The salt would be dry on our skin as we reluctantly put our clothes back on. And there, stripped of all the distractions, I couldn't think of anywhere I'd rather be.

If only it had stopped there, we could have been so happy. Couldn't we?

But no. Practically before we'd caught our breath it was time to get dressed up and go out again. And as soon as we were on the street you'd be shrilling at me about the jeans I should be wearing, the car I should be driving, God, the house I should be living in. It was like you wanted me to feel bad about myself. I told myself that you would change eventually, that you'd see we didn't need all that stuff to be happy, that one day it wouldn't be a constant battle.

But you can't stay in a relationship believing that you can make the other person change. And I don't want to be with anyone who makes me feel the way you do.

The first time I left you I was mad, I'll admit it. I wanted to prove that, in fact, you were the one holding me back. This time it's different. I've accepted that we'll never love each other. We might spend time together again, perhaps we'll even become good friends. I hope so. But right now I have to go.

Maybe I'll fall in love with another city. Maybe I'll just sleep around a bit. The next time we speak it will be different. The barriers will be up, there will be that distance. And honestly, that's a healthy thing.

So goodbye again , Sydney. Until we meet again.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Our new Prime Minister

News from down under is that Julia Gillard has become the country's first female Prime Minister. Woohoo! Wooooohoooooooooo! Woooooooooooooooooooohoooooooooooooooo! At last we can cast off the reputation of being a conservative, chauvanistic society, and give ourselves a big pat on the back for electing a woman to-

Oh hello. Sorry I didn't see you there. What was that you said?

Yeah, okay, we didn't technically elect her - she was chosen by her party to replace the former PM, Kevin Rudd, but really, what does that matter? We would vote for her if we had a chance. I mean, look at her approval rating, shooting straight past that creepy-looking Tony Abbott. Woman's Day even brought out a special midweek edition to celebrate her appointment, that's how excited they were, and-

Yes, I know they were probably ordered by management to work overtime to put it out and that they did it to-

Well, "squeeze a couple of extra dollars out of readers" isn't the wording I would use. I'm sure they were excited about it - profit and pleasure are not mutually exclusive you know. Anyway, back on topic, this is just the tonic that-

If you'll let me finish, I was going to say "that Australian politics needs as we move into a new decade", not "that the Labor Party needs going into the next election". What are you insinuating anyway? That this is just some cheap PR stunt to produce an Obama-like feelgood effect among voters? Because that would be just the kind of thing I'd expect a man to say. You can't take the achievement away from Julia. You don't get to the top of the ALP tree without some serious drive and talent. Even if she was chosen because she would be popular, what's wrong with that? This is politics we're talking about. And now that it's a done deal, she's got the power, and she'll be the one making the decisions on policies and-

The mining tax? Well, that was Kevin Rudd's downfall wasn't it? You can't expect to take a chunk out of the big boys' profits and not cop a bit of retaliation, can you? Julie Gillard wouldn't be so stupid as to try that one on. She knows her place. I mean, she knows the place of politicians is to make sure the economy runs smoothly. For the good of every-

What was that? You've heard enough and have to go? No worries. You take it easy now...

Thank God he's gone. Honestly, the cheek of some people, trying to ruin a celebration like this. Bloody un-Australian! I'm off to read the latest Woman's Day cover story about our first couple: Tim Mathieson tells how he won Julia's heart.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Suburban scavenger

My idea for a Sydney food blog: meals prepared using ingredients found for free in the suburbs. I am more or less ripping this idea off from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; I'm also aware that what the world needs now is probably not another food blog. And to cap it all off, I'm not actually very committed to the idea. But if I did go for it, this would be my first entry...

Walking down to Coogee beach with my son and a couple of his friends, we stopped to investigate some fruit lying under a tree. My first reaction, of course, was "Don't put those in your mouths!". But when my wife and I looked closer, we realised with surprise - and joy - that the fruits were edible, and something we hadn't seen since leaving Colombia: feijoa.

The feijoa is about the size of a kiwifruit, but more elongated, smooth-skinned and firmer. Inside, the flesh is light green, sweet, and (I think) smells faintly of sherbert. In Colombia we used them for juice - just chuck a bunch of them in the blender with water, strain into a jug, then add sugar/water to taste. It's customary to have a glass of juice with your meal there, and it's something we really miss. In Bogota I'd go shopping at the markets at Palo Quemado, and buy a variety of fruit for juice throughout the week: maracuya, mora, guanabano, guayaba, coruba, lulo... and feijoa. The whole Boost thing - umpteen different fruits blended with frozen yoghurt and infusions of herbal benificence - leaves me unsatisfied. What's wrong with doing just one flavour, and doing it well?

As the feijoa we found under the tree were going to waste, we collected a few and took them home. Sadly, all but the very green ones were infested with grubs, but we still managed to get a decent juice out of those that were intact. I wonder if the person who owns the tree knows the fruits are edible. I also wonder why Australia doesn't grow them commercially. They're quite big in New Zealand, so the conditions here are obviously suitable. Wouldn't it be great, I thought, if you could get feijoa from the markets.

Be careful what you wish for. About a month later they were selling feijoa at our local fruit and veg shop. But at $2.50 each (!) you'd be paying around $10 for a glass of juice. I'll stick to getting them off the ground thankyouverymuch.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Karma wears a baggy green

For those who don't know, this is a baggy green - the cap a player gets when he makes the Australian test cricket team (which is kind of a big deal here). Not many of these hats get handed out and, as you can imagine, you don't find too many floating around on eBay.

I scored this one back in high school, courtesy of a friend's dad who used to pick up sporting memorabilia at charity auctions. Not sure why he gave it to me, but who was I to say no? I always imagined I'd hang it up in my games room one day, between the '80s pinball machine and tabletop Pacman game, or maybe next to the original framed and signed Judge Dredd artwork.

But lately I've begun to accept that I will probably never own said games room, or most of the items in it. And as resignation set in, I started glancing at the baggy green with a mixture of sadness and guilt. Sadness, because over the years it has looked more and more forlorn on my bookshelf - the hard material inside the peak has disintegrated, there's a cigarette burn on the top (wasn't me, honest!) and a layer of dust all over it; Guilt, because surely there's someone out there for whom it holds more significance - it almost feels like having someone else's war medal or something.

Each hat has a year on it, and is labelled with the player's name. This one is from 1964 and belonged to Neil Hawke. According to cricket historian Gideon Haigh, Neil bowled medium-fast with an "ungainly, asymmetrical action" and had a wicked slower ball. In 27 tests he took 91 wickets at an average of 29.41. And he played top-flight Aussie Rules before he switched to cricket, which is no mean feat. That's him on the left, after a match-turning partnership with Peter Burge at the Headingly test in 1964. Shame he wasn't wearing his baggy green in the photo!

Back when I got the hat, google wasn't a verb yet, so I'd never actually done any online research on Neil. When I finally did type his name into the magic box I found out that he died in 2000 and that before he passed away he suffered a shocking run of bad health. According to wikipedia, it was during this time that he had to sell most of his cricket memorabilia to pay doctors' bills. Sadly, the guy he'd entrusted with the gear did a runner. Result: no memorabilia and no money.

By now I'm thinking there's only thing to do with the hat, so I called Cricket Australia to see if they had a contact number for Neil's family. They passed me on to the players' association who transferred me to someone else. Everyone I spoke to was helpful, but special mention should go to Ken Horsnell, who exemplifies why cricket was once known as the gentleman's game. Turns out he and Neil once played on the same team, and he tracked down the number of Neil's family for me.

I felt pretty awkward at this point. Not that I had any doubts about what I was doing, but Neil's wife has remarried now, and I guess it was bound to stir up some strong memories. She was very grateful, however, and confirmed that yes, they had lost all Neil's cricketing gear when they'd tried to sell it. I posted the hat the next day, and she sent back a lovely letter saying that she'd passed it on to their grandson. During the online research I discovered that Neil wrote an autobiography, so I've ordered a copy and will use the letter as a bookmark (sure beats putting it in our "files"). I should add that there was talk about sending up some other memorabilia as a kind of thankyou, and after a couple of seconds thinking about where I could put it in the games room, I told her it really wasn't necessary.

I will, however, admit to walking around for a day or so wondering if karma might give me a little pat on the back, and I nearly bought a lottery ticket just in case. But that trick never works, does it? Mostly I feel like in a world where I often miss the chance to get things right, I've been able to hit a boundary for the good guys. Go team.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


This pic was taken at one of my favourite Sydney stomping/sploshing grounds, the beautiful Coogee beach. The beaches are possibly the best thing about this city. How lucky are we to be able to consume and pollute to our hearts' content, and then still stroll down the street to stretches of golden sand and crisp clear water? This is where we go to connect with the essential Australia - to get seriously laid-back and enjoy our home "girt by sea". Welcome to Sydney!

But, just before you kick off your thongs and rush out there, I will ask you to take a moment to read the rules and regulations:

Still feel like swimming? Perhaps, like me, you feel more like leaping into the waves and drowning yourself. As long as you do it between the flags, I don't think they've got a sign up for that one yet. And I'm not sure what gets to me more: the sheer negative weight of so many items with red lines through them, or being described as a "user of this facility". Dude, I thought we were just going to the beach. I recently read Death Sentence - Don Watson's lament on the state of public language in Australia - and this is precisely the kind of thing that would get him riled up.

I also wonder what chain of events led to the council putting up a little picture to prohibit the use of kites. Did someone get hit in the eye? Tangled in the string? Or was it just a case of locals who have nothing better to do than ring up and complain?

It makes me reminisce with fondness about the relative chaos we lived with in Colombia. In Cartagena, the way the buses veered towards the curb and the conductor gestured madly out the open door, trying to coax people onboard. A couple of times I was almost shocked into getting onto a bus going who knows where. It was comical, but here we have the other extreme - drivers won't let you on if you're not standing at the bus stop. One morning I saw a man sprinting towards the stop as the driver closed the doors and rolled the almost empty bus about five metres forward to a red light. The passenger mimed his pleas through the safety glass of the door, while the driver looked at something very interesting on the other side of the street. It's almost like they don't want you to get on. And why? I'm guessing, but I'd say it's because if they let you on somewhere other than the bus stop and you have an accident, State Transit becomes liable.

I still remember the little thrill and the frescura of jumping into the back seat of a taxi in Colombia and not putting on a seatbelt. Meanwhile, in Australia, my mother-in-law who is visiting at the moment is slowly learning to buckle up every time we go out in the car. "Nos pueden poner una multa", we explain to her ($253 dollars and 3 demerit points), more to poke fun at the way things are done here than to convince her. And obviously it's not about money, but safety. Still, it does raise the question of where basic common sense and self-preservation leaves off and legislation begins. At what point do you say that people are allowed to take acceptable risks, and are we starting to go overboard?

I could go on to talk about new laws on car child restraints and caesarean sections, but hey, it is a beautiful day out, and despite all those warning signs, the water is calling. And for the first time in quite a while, I'm actually starting to feel like there might be a viable middle way.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Flamin' galah!

Lately I've been thinking about how our wildlife informs our national character. A book I've just finished reading pointed out that one of humans' intrinsic tendencies is to imitate, whether it be parents, spouses, work colleagues, or even the natural environment. And I reckon the author is onto something.

There's a desert-like rawness about the Australian character. At times this manifests itself as a beautiful honesty and unaffected, easygoing charm. At other times it's a complete lack of grace. It is attractive, but not in the way that beauty is packaged by the world's largest and most dominant outlets (Hollywood for example). Aussies make good larrikins, good sportspeople and this is reinforced by what we call our tall-poppy syndrome - which at its worst is basically a preference for the mediocre tryer (read underdog) over the arrogant, beautiful genius.

So what does this have to do with wildlife? Not much, except that the animals here seem to have a similar kind of presence. Take the kookaburra: solid, pleasing to the eye, certainly not flashy. And that call - pure Australian.

Then there's the galah itself. Never seen one on fire, but flamin' may well refer to its plumage. It's a really attractive colour combo, too, but look into its eyes and honestly tell me if it's beautiful. It's not, is it? And that strut... not one for the fashion runway.

The cockatoo is next. The cries from these guys shred the air, and the way they swoop around in the sky and perch themselves brazenly on public monuments... could there be anything more like cheeky Aussie teens, or toey blokes with a few beers in them?

My favourite around our suburb is the black cockatoo. It has an unmistakable cry, harsh and plaintive at the same time - it's hard to know what it will break first: your heart or your eardrums. Here's one I caught on camera out the back of our house.

Even the coat of arms... the kangaroo and the emu. Neither winning Miss Animal Kingdom, both kind of cute, hardy, reliable. What is that if not the Australian character?

Friday, May 29, 2009

The hardest decision for a parent to make...

So, the little guy turned five a few weeks ago and we got the green light from Mum to watch... STAR WARS! Great news, but it left me with a difficult call: which order should we watch the films in: release order, or story order, or something else again?

I was about five when I saw the original Star Wars, and it took up a permanent place in my imagination. The Empire Strikes Back had just as big an impact, and Return Of The Jedi tied it all up nicely. Star Wars figures were the toys of choice back then and priced reasonably enough that you could amass a decent collection. My friends and I spent whole days making up scenarios with the figures in the backyard. On hot days we'd create whirlpools in the above-ground swimming pool, creating a whirlpool then chucking in the figures that floated to see who'd be the first to go around five times. One classic scenario took place at the incinerator. This was the large brick fireplace in most backyards where people could burn off their rubbish (outlawed in the early '80s I think). One day, when my friends' dad had just finished burning off, the snowspeeder "crashed" on the edge of this pit of smoldering ash and we had to quickly assemble a rescue squad to get them out. Thanks to some brave Star Wars figures, the snowspeeder and its crew were saved. But many characters suffered severe burns, and poor Greedo never made it out of the ashes. Lucky we had two of him.

My son will never know the joys of playing that close to an incinerator, and with the figures now going for about $30 a pop, he won't be collecting those any time soon. But his imagination may still yet be populated with Banthas and Jawas, X-Wings and AT-ATs, Gamorrean Guards and Mon Calamari.

I want my son to share the joy, but as you can see, it's also an opportunity to indulge in a second childhoood - why else do we have kids?. So, since I've never watched the films in storyline order, I decided we ought to do it now. The pause button got a major work-out, as I stopped mid-scene to answer all the questions and show off my useless knowledge of Star Wars characters ("That one is Nien Nunb") while my wife looked across at me as if to say "who is this person I married?".

After six weeks, we wrapped it up with Return Of The Jedi last night and I'd totally recommend doing the films in this order - for Star Wars newbies and old fans. It helps you forgive the naffness of the first film, and recognise the constraints George Lucas had, trying to construct a storyline with such a massive arc. Put together, the six films work as a surprisingly believable story of Annakin Skywalker/Darth Vader's turn to the dark side, and his return to the light.

The little guy's precis: It's a movie about real people who have sticks that is light, and there's a worm and bounty hunters. May have to work on the blurb-writing skills...