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Posts Tagged ‘australia’

It was time to get away from the city – and time to get a little off the beaten track: no more Mornington, Great Ocean Road, Yarra Valley or the Dandenongs.

90 Mile Beach, on Victoria’s south coast beyond Sale and towards Lake Entrance, seemed to fit the bill: hardly anyone had been there and there was little written about it online (what comments there were tended to be of the “It’s our secret, we don’t want lots of people coming” variety).

Bruce and Fran had a new tent to try out before the music festival season kicked off (yes, this is being written several months after the fact; see below) and Parks Victoria operated 20 free campsites on a stretch of the beach, itself a long (90 miles long apparently), straight strip (a spit perhaps?) lined with sand dunes, that encases an inland waterway.

Ninety Mile Beach

The township of Seaspray sits at one end with Paradise Beach marking the eastern end of the free camping area (although the beach continues some distance beyond there). Neither appear to have much going on, although being five days before Christmas, it probably wasn’t peak season. Still, peaceful serenity was the aim of the trip.

Unfortunately peaceful serenity was the last thing on Fran’s mind once the Hoonmobile began swinging through the free campsites. Perhaps it was the terrifying experience of stopping off in Traralgon for supplies – more fast food joints than brain cells and enough potential Biggest Loser winners to keep Channel Ten execs decked out in gold chains well into their retirement – that had her feeling all Wolf Creek. Or perhaps it was the fact that every campsite appeared to be populated entirely by Ute-driving men with mean-looking facial hair wearing lumberjack shirts, heavy boots and meaner glares.

“Can’t we just go and try the one at Paradise Beach?” she asked after the sixth of 20 had been searched, revealing the only pitch far enough from anyone else to be full of mosquitos and post-wipe tissue paper.

It was a fruitless request: Paradise was full to bursting with men of similar appearance, but this time they’d brought their trucks and what appeared to be armour-plated buses. Given the Australian surf fishing championships take place here every January they were all probably there to get in a little practice (either that or it was the Australian Bear Association’s pre-Chrimbo hugging convention). Still, the Hoonmobile was turned around and pointed back to Seaspray.

Fran’s courage pricked by the fact that none of the sites they’d visited earlier contained trucks, they returned to the earlier campsites with a fresh determination. This determination drove Bruce to believe the Hoonmobile had enough floor clearance to drive over a sawn off tree in the middle of the soft, sandy ground. He was wrong. Neither forward nor reverse would shift the car. It took Fran hopping into the driver’s seat and Bruce recalling his days as a prop forward to get it moving – even then with an unhealthy farting noise from the exhaust.

Eventually they settled, finding a quiet spot 100 yards from the sea’s edge and a short walk from the toilet. Tent erection in comparison to what went before was a breeze – aided by the opening of a Cooper’s Pale or two – and soon they were on the beach.

Talk about getting away from it: in the two days they were there, no more than a dozen people could be spotted within 10km in either direction on the beach – and no one ventured down there after dark (either the men were eating the day’s catch or hugging manfully), making every crash of the waves on the shore their own. Saturday’s weather was good enough for a spot of sunbathing, the water almost warm enough for a swim (well, a jump given the ferocity of the waves) and a smorgasbord of dazzling shells lined the water’s edge (and now a bathroom in Collingwood).

A well-stocked esky, a box of red as good as boxes of red can be, portable Ipod speakers and a pair of folding chairs made for comfortable star-gazing (and the glowing cocktail glasses from Wicked! made up for the torch dying). They even got deep, concluding something along the lines of:

“Even though the sun gives the Earth its energy, perhaps it’s actually there to keep us stupid, to keep us from being too ambitious. After all, it’s only when the light has disappeared from the sky that you get to see the sky as it really is and realise what is out there. The blue sky of the day is like a blanket hiding us from reality, like in The Truman Show.”

And so on…

They even saw a UFO on the second night. Both spotted a particularly bright flashing light that hadn’t been there the day before or indeed a few minutes earlier. It wasn’t moving like a satellite. Then, after a few seconds, it started moving rapidly away, heading diagonally eastwards and upwards until it disappeared.

“Did you see that too?” they asked each other, later recounting the moment excitedly to their neighbour, himself not averse to spaced-out nights on the beach, who rather mundanely pointed out that it wasn’t so much a UFO as an O: apparently satellites do move like that sometimes.

Appeal letter two in the mail

Appeal letter two in the mail

By that point they were home and about to discover that the damage to the exhaust was going to cost $350 to repair. They’ve just had a bill through from Vic Police to say they used a stretch of the Eastlink getting there, haven’t paid the toll and now owe a further $113. Some free camping trip.

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It’s been too easy to ask the question: “How many people currently have normal flu at the moment?” although the well-intentioned glibness of such a comment is tempered by an almost complete lack of knowledge of the N1H1 virus, so… shut up, Bruce.

Anyway, reports this morning that the number of swine flu cases in Australia is rising rapidly – more than 150 now when there was none not too long ago – brought to mind the first TV interview Bruce witnessed with a senior Government official a few weeks back when the virus had reached around 15 countries but not Australia. The identity of the interviewee has been forgotten but the gist of the interview has not. Essentially, it went:

Nicely made up, big-haired Channel 7 / 9 /10 interviewer*: “What are you doing to prevent swine flu entering Australia?”

Government official: “We have procedures in place to deal with this that have been worked on over the past few months.”

It went on for about five minutes but, essentially, that was it. Never once was he asked what those procedures were, who had drawn them up, what steps people could take as preventatives, whether certain sections of the population should be especially aware, when such “procedures” might be put into place and so on. No, there was a five minute merry-go-round that, like all merry-go-rounds, ultimately went nowhere and left the passenger begging for more.

Now, it’s probably harsh to criticise someone employed to smile nicely and have big hair for not acting like a journalist (at least the muppets doing the advertorials are given a script – this poor thing was up against a man with years of experience at deflecting awkward questions, who here deflected them before they even had the chance to get near her mindspace) but it left the distinct impression that really the Government wasn’t prepared, was hoping swine flu wouldn’t make it to Australia and would try and wing it if it did arrive.

Allowing people who admitted to feeling ill off a cruise liner to then wait in airports for flights and re-enter the wider public suggests they weren’t prepared, their hopes have been dashed and they’re not very good at winging it.

[* Is there a difference?]

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While you face accusations of disloyalty – of being a plastic fan – when leaving a stadium early when your team is being hammered with only minutes to go there are faintly justifiable excuses: the result isn’t going to change; avoiding the traffic; getting back to the baby-sitter.

But is there any justification for leaving a gig early? Bruce couldn’t think of one on Friday night:

“That’s right, guys. He’s saved all his worst songs for last,” he suggested to the trickle of people abandoning ship midway through the encore.

Still, it was a mere bagatelle for in those previous two hours the Aussie Bob Dylan had delivered a masterful run through his back catalogue. Initial fears that the $80 tickets had bought an evening of muffled sound in the Palais’ upper deck proved unfounded once the fug of Nothing On My Mind cleared and the band’s sound crystallised.

Set among the opulence of the old theatre, Paul Kelly’s restrained set up – the only nod to extravagance the rug on which he alternately meandered, swung his guitar and indulged in bouts of dad-dancing – allowed the music to take centre stage.

“We’re going all over the place tonight,” he annouced early on.

With a canon that switched from some of Australia’s best loved pop songs to moments of tender country heartbreak, it’s a promise he can easily keep. Dumb Things is dropped early in the set, encouraging the first audience roar of the night and much foot-tapping, before the pace slows for When I First Met Your Ma.

What is soon apparent is not just the quality of the songwriting, but the strength of his voice; often employed simply as a spoken word tool, it’s in a live arena – especially one of this scale – that his power to soar is revealed. Complemented by a tight band and his impeccable harmonica skills the music switches from gentle picking through blues and gospel to iconic singles such as Before Too Long and To Her Door. His innate humility even allows Kelly to get away with the likes of You’re 39, You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine, a song one could easily imagine being sung – and massacred – by Chris De Burgh.

There are two moments of pure spine-tingling magic, when the stage is cleared to allow perfect, stripped down renditions of If I Could Start Today Again and, in particular, They Thought I Was Asleep. Not a sound was heard from the spellbound sellout crowd through either.

Running them close was Everything’s Turned To White, the story of the fishermen and the dead woman’s body. Written from a woman’s perspective, here it was also sung by a woman, with Kelly’s co-vocalist’s powerful rendition allowing Bruce to overlook the fact it looked like she had just wandered in from an early 80s aerobics class for roly-polys.

There was no room for From Little Things, Big Things Grow (so thanks to Kev Carmody for performing it at the Corner two weeks earlier) but Leaps and Bounds made an unexpected appearance in the first encore before Winter Coat brought the second encore to an epic close. Throughout there was a feeling of timelessness; by never following, mimicking or succumbing to trends he remains always outside of them.

All that remained was for the final encore and From St Kilda To King’s Cross. Bruce, Fran and friends had even braved the cold for a bottle of wine outside on the (finally constructed) promenade before heading to the Palais purely in preparation for this moment. But it never came. The lights went up, Kelly was gone and it was up to Fran to perform the song herself as she left the theatre.

It was a shame, but it’s OK: he probably wanted to avoid the traffic or had a babysitter on overtime.

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Oh my! What happened to the past six weeks? Oops.

Well, Fran has departed for the UK and minus 10C so Bruce is here to man the fort alone and fill in the lengthy gaps of the past few weeks – watching the Milky Way on isolated beaches, spotting 60 wild kangas roaming above Bells Beach, a ripper Aussie Christmas, Fran learning who Don Bradman is and much, much more.

For now, though, the Falls Festival, as told to Clash Magazine in the UK. Sadly, there was no room for Fran’s spaced out conversation with a friendly kookaburra, DJ Eddie’s backstage Guilty Pleasures (“They’re not guilty pleasures, they’re great songs”), Bruce and Fran’s mate’s scattergun attack on various low-level celebs, the licking of emo nipples, the Balls of Falls contest or the embarrassing moment Bruce realised the girl who’d been inquiring as to why he wanted to beat Tom Gray of Gomez to a pulp was actually a friend of the band…

Anyway, it was grand. Roll on Golden Plains.

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A Ripper Aussie Christmas

So, Christmas 2008: Bruce and Fran’s first Down Under.

The Pope hates gays, Cheney’s still denying any wrongdoing over torture, the Congo is in turmoil, the world’s economy is in the tank, Vidic is going to miss at least one leg of the match against Inter Milan and our parents are 10,000 miles away.

It’s 23C outside at 11.35am with nary a cloud in the sky. Beach or walk by the river after lunch?

We’re easy.

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Stepping back in time

There’s no denying that Australia is behind the times compared to the mother country in many areas: internet provision, supermarket layout (Fran’s suggestion, that one), racial equality.

But there’s one area in which it is trails the UK by a country mile and Bruce is absolutely delighted: petrol prices.

Today, the Hoonmobile was topped up for 102.9 cents per litre – 44.36p at today’s exchange rate. Last time it was that price in the UK Bruce wasn’t even a spark in Bruce Snr’s eyes and Hovis bread was still delivered up steep hills by young Northerners on bikes.*

What a daft time to have bought a bike.**

(* This timeline is based on no research whatsoever)

(** Not true, eco-warriors, there’s never a bad time to buy a bike, is there?)

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He was doing so well he was making Bruce feel like a man who should go and listen to REM’s New Test Leper on repeat for a while. The initial belching had ceased and he was now regaling a group of American retirees in true Aussie style.

When the first of them had trouble understanding his vernacular (due to a hearing aid as much as the accent) the railroad worker, fresh from a stint out east and still in his dusty boots and orange jacket, found common ground thanks to his father’s own need for an aid. That obstacle overcome, it was straight into family histories and an impromptu guide to where the group of brothers and their wives should head.

“Ha! The more he talks the better I understand him,” said Yank number one with a gleeful smile.

‘Good old Aussies,’ thought Bruce.

The workman was doing such a good job he made a fine advertisement for Young & Jackson’s, a pub that might be good for a pint before heading to the G on match days with its wide range of tipples on tap (Bruce even spotted Bill Hunter resplendent in wide-brimmed hate before the Hawks – Doggies final), but in which at other times you were as likely to be accosted by a beggar on meth after your dollar (daytime), a pilled and coked-up middle aged sleaze (nights, mainly at weekends) or a drunken Irish backpacker (any time). Bruce could almost ignore the fetid smell rising from the carpet.

There were warning signs, such as when he announced with a hint of pride that his home town of Caroline Springs as a place where you’re likely to lose your kneecaps at the pub. But, as he switched smoothly from discussions on US politics to the nuances of cricket and baseball (statistically wise it’s awesome, apparently, although if you watch it drinking water you’d get bored out of your mind).

“He’s a dinky dye Aussie tradesman,” said Yank number two. “A straight shooter, little bit dodgy,” he added, running through a list of stereotypes that made Bruce feel a little better about his snapshot judgement earlier.

Just before the Americans got up to leave, said tradesman revealed that he’d only recently become a manual worker. Turns out he used to work in immigration, as an agent, working in an office. After 20 years, he’d got bored of office life and fancied a change of scenery: fresh air; working with his hands; no work to take home at the end of the day.

‘Marvellous,’ thought Bruce.

“Well, the other problem was,” he continued, “I could see how many Asians and that lot were coming in. Too many. I didn’t want anything to do with it.”

Bugger. I was right after all. Belching racist. Bet he was drinking Carlton Draught too.

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