Category Archives: Travel

Nicole and the Sunshine State of Mind

Going up to Queensland, for me, over the decades, has always meant a lightening of the spirit. I was usually the stereotypical Mexican heading north to escape a southern states’ winter, whether it be that life-defining cruise up its eastern seaboard or the frequent trips I’ve made to the Gold/Sunshine Coasts. Our most recent excursion also included Brisbane to that pair of destinations. I’ve grown to like the capital city over the years, watching it transform from an over-sized country-fied hicksville to a modern, diverse metropolis. But even now, after many visits, I still don’t feel I really know it. It doesn’t grab at you and demand attention in the manner of big brassy Sydney. Nor does it seep into your system with a more subdued attractiveness like the country’s most liveable major city – but nonetheless Brissy is a fine place to visit.

One of my favourite areas to wander around in is Southbank with its twin art galleries, museum and library. A few trips ago I’d discovered the latter’s excellent bookshop and cafe. I loved partaking of a coffee and a treat there; sitting, with my newspaper or book, at the al fresco tables, reading, slurping, nibbling and watching the passing parade. And I certainly did that this time. But the State Library of Queensland also had a couple of exhibitions on that caught my eye, so I took the elevator up to one of the higher floors to view them. One showing was on a number of the state’s offshore islands, looking at their chequered history. The other, though, was the more engrossing. Entitled ‘Lifestyle: a Sunshine State of Mind’, it kept me occupied for quite a while.


As is often the case with me, it was a photograph of a woman that attracted my attention and intrigued. It seems the organisers of the displays who put together this showing had some need for notables to act as ambassadors to promote it to the punters in the wider community. Their images were worthily on display at the entrance, accompanied by their potted biographies. But one, to me, seemed to be out of kilter with the rest. I was drawn to find out more about the young lady pictured:-

The depths of my pain became the force of my liberation.’

Part of the thinking behind ‘Lifestyle’ was, not only a desire to bring to the attention of the viewers as to ‘…what Queensland is all about…’, but to be a showcase that ‘… acknowledges…(its) diversity and (be one) that challenged stereotypes.’ Nicole Gibson’s story certainly did that.

With her cap on backwards she grinned down at me cheekily, like a happy bogan. Delve a bit deeper and that happiness has been hard won. You see, this youthfully talented performer and artist is a survivor of the ravages on mind and body of that most insidious of conditions, anorexia nervosa.

Today she’s our youngest ever National Mental Health Commissioner. Also, on her CV, are a Young Australian of the Year nomination and a listing as one of our country’s 100 most influential women. She is, outwardly okay and successful, but she had a teenagerhood that no one should have had to endure.


After she left secondary school to enter training in the dramatic arts field, she found herself in such a competitive environment she couldn’t cope. Her new world struck her that it was one where image supplanted talent. As a result she caved in to the degree that she became the victim of ‘… focusing on losing weight (which) was a good avenue for me to at least focus my energies on something…’ Focus became obsession. Her frame of mind became more and more negative as she attempted to starve herself to perfection. Then, what she describes as a ‘…divine energy flow.’ was extracted her from the depths – and in 2011 she formed the Rogue and Rouge Foundation, aimed at breaking down the mental health stigma for young people. Through seminars and in schools she is spreading the word about how to move from the darkness out into the light. She figures if she can do it, others can too. Her not for profit organisation is there ‘…for the individual to decide the way in which they feel (their) recovery should look.’


I have the utmost admiration for young people who can, through force of will or ‘divine energy’ or any which way, bring themselves, with or without assistance, from the clutches of the black dog back to something resembling normality. Maybe I should have, but I had never heard of the remarkable force of nature that is Gibson. Her photograph radiates lustre and light, but it made me realise that, even if the Mangoland sunshine makes me feel all blissful and positive, for many Queenslanders, many Australians, it’s just not that simple.


Her Foundation =

Just Maybe Life’s Still a Beach

Life can’t always be a beach. But for the last week, at time of writing, it has been. Shortly I am about to take a beloved canine, sadly not my own, out onto a beautiful strand – and whatever the load is that I carry, in these times of retirement, will lift off my shoulders. Between two capes, Table and Rocky, in North West Tasmania, at this time of year, on a week day, it is likely to be almost deserted. I may meet a fellow dog walker, maybe a perambulator or two, but now, before summer arrives, I’ll have it mostly to myself.


Contrast this serenity to another beach I visited a few weeks back – Australia’s most iconic. People had, that bright day, flocked to it for the annual arts project that is Sculpture by the Sea; because a prince and his missus were visiting and because a taste of summer was definitely in the air. For me it was an exhilarating experience. Acres of supine exposed flesh was on display – young and not so young ladies in barely anything at all. And there was a glorious track to walk along to Tamarama in search of photo opportunities. Perhaps, too, that was all tinged with a little sadness that my own basking days were over.


It’s beaches like the latter two that one of my heroes, Rennie Ellis, would parade up and down, capturing our country’s hot climate hedonism for posterity – and a fair few lovelies, unencumbered by bikini tops, as well. These days a man with a camera on a beach automatically causes suspicion, though mobile phone snapping barely raises an eyebrow. When I expose the former on the sand I’m very, very judicious.


Once upon a time the warmer weather in Tassie and trips to Mangoland had to include plenty of beach time. Looking back, it seems much of my childhood was spent on my home town’s sandy stretches or at friends’ shacks. That continued on into my teenage years – my first romantic kiss was on a sweaty day at Burnie’s West Beach. I ached to get to Surfers Paradise every couple of years – or Noosa; or Byron. And now I am discovering Sydney’s beaches.

But with age comes a change of focus. These days I wouldn’t swap all that heady relaxation and observation beside the briny in crowds of like-minded sun worshippers with my quiet walks with Sandy the Spoodle by Bass Strait in all its moods. There’s always a pause as we cross the little bridges over the creek; then usually more than one just to suck in the glory of the place and to relish that I am still around to savour it. Life’s not the beach it used to be, but I still can cherish blue skies and a sparkling sea. Now, though, for me beaches are for all seasons; ambling along them just bliss.

The article from Benjamin Law that inspired this piece =

Sydney Vignettes – Avoiding (or Not) Harry

Let me just make it clear from the get-go – I am not, never have been nor ever will be anything but a republican. Fervently anti-royalist me. I couldn’t care less about them. But during my time in Harbour City, they were difficult to avoid.

Day three of my stay would be the only one, according to the local forecasters, that would be suitable to travel from Coogee with my genial, accommodating host Chris, to view the wonders of Sculpture by the Sea, stretching from Bondi to Tamarama Beach. I was excited. I’d crossed that first iconic strand off my bucket list on my previous trip to stay with the ebullient Dutchman, but this occasion saw me time it to coincide with the artistic event. On a good day, with the blue Pacific behind the installations, it should be marvellous. We planned to be up and off early, but on overnight radio I heard the shattering news – a certain prince had also obviously spoken with the weather gods and was due to be pottering around Bondi on that very same morn. Imagine the crowds! Imagine the transport crush getting there! Sadly a planning reset was called for.


I’d read in the in-flight magazine, travelling over, that the State Library had some excellent new exhibitions available to the viewing public and it was decided to replace the Bondi experience with those. I was a tad down at the mouth that Bondi with Harry was a no go zone, but my demeanour improved once we reached our Macquarie Street destination. The two showings viewed were superbly interesting. Firstly there was the UNESCO Six with it’s first hand accounts of some seminal events in our nation’s history. The second, the one that really entranced me, was an intimate account, in snapshots, of a Sydney family, the Macphersons. entitled ‘Memories on Glass’. It featured images of everyday life, mainly from around the turn of last century. Just lovely, lovely evocative images of another time and place. The one that really caught my eye was of a young lass of the family on a crowded beach. She was looking up at the photographer, gifting him with a glorious smile, seemingly of recognition. Maybe there’s a story there, as there may also be with one of the recorders of our first settlement at Port Jackson I found in the first showcase. Imagine a first-fleeter born in Yankeeland, growing up to fight the British in the Revolutionary Wars who then finds himself on an enemy boat as a soldier bound for Botany Bay. Now that’s a tale! On my last morning in the Emerald City I was back at the Library to see what else it had behind its sandstone facade as I killed time waiting for the appointed hour to head off back to my home. ‘The Paintings from the Collection’, spread thickly around three rooms, was pure enchantment, especially the portrait section. It was so well organised and I found an extraordinarily poignant rendering of a colonial lady that entranced me. She had a connection with our island too – another source for a tale perhaps. Also, at this library, they were celebrating 100 years since the publication of Norman Lindsay’s ‘The Magic Pudding’. It was magic too seeing the artist’s original sketches. This august facility, like its Melbourne counterpart, will be a must on future trips.


All good things come to an end and after three nights it was time to leave Chris’ plush house-sit and move into my hotel accommodation in the city. I soon discovered Harry wasn’t finished with his disruptions yet. The Travelodge is opposite Hyde Park and he was due at some ceremony or other at the War Memorial. Policemen and women galore were in attendance, blocking off the street between me and my destination. There was a young mother standing on the path watching proceedings and I enquired how long it would be before the ranga prince’s arrival. ‘Not for another hour and a half’, was her response. Considering she had a babe in arms and a toddler by her side I thought to myself, ‘Goodluck with that.’ No way would I give that much time to such a frivolous event. No way in the wide world would I be sucked in by all the hype to do with Harry and Meagan. As it turned out, I found a way to my room on the seventh floor and was soon settling in, ready for more of what Sydney had to offer.


The first on my list of ‘to do in Sydney’ was a visit to the Art Gallery of NSW to see ‘Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage’ and ‘John Russell, Australia’s French Impressionist’. I’ve always been fascinated with the latter – born and raised here, but spending much of his adulthood in Europe becoming good mates with Van Gogh and Rodin. His story is just as fascinating as his array of works on display. And to think his name and paintings were almost lost to history. Of course, I am well-versed in the life-history of Brett Whiteley, but didn’t realise there was another collection of artists living close by his home at Lavender Bay on the North Shore. As you could imagine, it was party central at the Whiteley’s back in the day and the artist paid a heavy price for that in the long run. The Museum of Sydney’s exhibition, another destination, reminding us of it all was quite outstanding.

And it wouldn’t be a trip away if I didn’t encounter random people who, through a brief connection with me, gave it all extra lustre. Two lovely ladies walked up to me as I was strolling back to my hotel one morning asking if I knew of a cafe offering good coffee. Indeed I did, so I guided them to the Joe Black Cafe (27 Commonwealth Street and the best scrambled eggs in town). On entering they invited me to join them. It turns out, would you believe, that they were both originally from Tassie’s Sheffield, Ilse still living there. Even more unlikely was the fact that Ilse knew Leigh’s daughter Ilsa and hubby Keith, even having worked with the latter. Then, at a bus stop I got to talking to a rotund chap who, on discovering that I was Hobartian, happened to mention that he once worked in an Elizabeth Street tea-house in my city. That started bells ringing. The only one I knew of, now no longer there, was the one operated by Brian Ritchie, of Violent Femmes fame, together with Japanese wife Varuni. These days he is Mona’s David Walsh’s chief side-kick. Seems this guy is best mates with the renowned identity. Sadly my bus arrived before I could find out more. Two degrees of separation and all that.

But the chance encounter that I relished most was arranged for me by Virgin Airlines, for they placed me next to the gorgeous Cass. We started chatting about our respective books and soon she was telling me how she and her Brazilian partner were embarking on a new life down the Peninsula at Nubeena. He is employed as a diver and she plans to start a mushroom farm. They were now a couple of months into their sea change away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney. Why, Cass had even discovered one of my favourite hangouts, the State Cinema. We had much to talk about, but all too soon the plane landed and that was that. I wished her the best of luck on her new adventure on parting. Look out for Three Capes Mushrooms.

Yep, despite Harry, I eventually made it to Bondi and the sculptures on the afternoon of our intended day. And it was a glorious day too. With the azure sea behind them, I’m hoping my images of the pieces of artistic endeavour come up a treat. I was proud of myself for walking the distance to Tamarama and return (then back to Coogee) with out too much puffing.


Since his passing last year I’ve had the desire to track down old mates who were once, in our pomp, closely associated with both Nev and myself. One such was Ike – Andrew Ikin, now a resident of the Northern Beaches. And it was wonderful seeing him again. He took me on a ferry ride to Kirribilli, to the Fish Markets and to some upscale retail outlets around Westfield that were mind-blowingly over the top. I hasten to add he’s not a regular there. But the best part was the yarn-spinning we engaged in. We quickly discovered we both had an ear for the quirky, the unusual and the obscure, particularly to do with history. And if all that wasn’t enough, we were joined for part of the day by Anthony with whom I re-connected earlier in the year. Together they gave me a great, great day. Thank you fellas.

And the smiles. Sydney-siders are terrific smilers. Memorable were the two ladies who helped me out with my Opal card at Service NSW and Transport NSW. Both were a beautiful advertisement as to how to go about friendly customer service. Then Chris and I were lucky to be served by just the sweetest waitress at the State Library’s in-house cafe, right next to the repository of books’ shop where I was tempted to part with a goodly number of dollars. This girl went beyond the call of duty – again another whose cheeriness I’ll remember.

And it was on our way to that venue, I am sad to report, that it happened. A motorcycle cop came roaring up to the intersection we were about to cross, pulling to a sudden stop plumb in the middle. He was quickly followed by several others who followed his example. I was perplexed and looked at Chris. ‘Prince Harry?’ he offered. Then I spotted a flash car speedily approaching – and here it is, dear reader, here it is that it gets very, very hard to continue. You see I started waving like a mad thing. A mad thing! I glanced at the rear seat of the limousine as it passed and there he was, or at least his balding, ginger noggin was. He didn’t spot me so I received nothing in return. He was probably too busy whispering sweet nothings to Meagan or nibbling on her ear. But me, me – oh dear. I was behaving like an excitable teenage girl on the way to a boy band concert, you know the ad. I know, I know. I’m totally ashamed. My republican credentials are wrecked forever.

Mothers Day with Joe

Joe played his first test against the touring English and visited their shores four times. In all he played thirty-one tests against our old cricketing foe. He captained his country in eighteen of those. It took Bradman to lead the Australian XI more times to that point. He, Joe, was a thick set man in the Boon tradition and also mightily powerful with the bat. He was courageous against speed in those unhelmeted times, could defend with stoicism and build an innings by slow aggregation. He figured in some mighty stands. But, when it called for it, he could swashbuckle his way to a ton in the blink of an eye. He once held the record for the fastest century against the Poms. He also took on the South Africans once they came into the test fold.

My lovely Leigh and I, for various reasons, did not travel north this year to celebrate Mothers Day with our wonderful Mums, but nonetheless we wanted to do something to mark the day, something a little different perhaps – something we normally wouldn’t do. In the lead up to it Leigh saw an ad, I readily agreed and she made a booking.

Joe was born at Glen Ormond in South Australia, the son of a well-to-do merchant. He attended the Prince Alfred College in that state’s capital, quickly demonstrating his prowess with the willow. He once set a schoolboy record, scoring 252 against a neighbouring educational institution. He also was proficient at the native game, playing footy at a high level. After his school years he moved on to an agricultural college, before managing one of the family’s wheat farms. Later he returned to Adelaide to marry and open a sports store on Rundle Street. His father, John, saw his business potential and started to groom him to take over the family firm and was not happy when his son was selected to play his sport at the highest level for South Australia. Over time his wife, Alice, gave him ten sons and five daughters so Joe was soon to have trouble balancing his life between representative cricket, family and business. Could he make a go of it in all three arenas? Only time would tell.

The journey on that most recent of Mothers Days was only a short one, just into the nearby suburb of Claremont. The location of our repast was to be an elegant mansion that was once, before the area became built up, the most dominant feature on the landscape for miles. Now it is largely hidden from view of the major thoroughfares. A chocolate factory is now the feature most commonly associated with Claremont, but once upon a time it was this house. A recent benefactor had lovingly bought the building back to life as in previous decades it had fallen into decrepitude. It is now open to the public for tours, high teas and special occasion functions such as ours.

To start with his sporting passion won out for Joe, but the time away from family weighed heavily. Then his father pulled the mat right out from under him. John purchased a large property and informed his son he was to manage it. Joe retired from cricket and followed his old man’s orders. But his country needed him and he was soon back in whites, succumbing to pressure to take over the national side as captain. He tried to battle on in that role for a few more years, but age and weariness caught up with him. He was doing too much and had to slow down, seeing him give away the game at the highest level to return to his holdings and his ever growing family. Part of the trouble was where his father’s land was situated – almost in the middle of Tasmania, just outside Oatlands.

Claremont House was radiant in the dusk as we arrived. Entering, we were impressed by the capability of the restorers who had taken it back to something akin to how it must have looked in its heyday. On its originally prominent site it began life, around 1840, as a four-roomed Georgian home, gradually morphing into its present day form as a mansion in the Italianate style. The land it was established on was once owned by another iconic figure, one of the founders of Melbourne, John Pascoe Fawkner. He put it up for sale in 1826 for it to be purchased by another mover and shaker of those early days in the colony, Henry Bilton. He built the first structures on site, including the cottage, by 1840 transforming it into a substantial house of rendered brick. Fast forward to 1858 and Bilton had increased his land holdings around it to 350 acres. Being childless, on his death in 1889, the land was sub-divided and sold off. Parliamentarian Frank Bond became the new owner of the house itself, adding extra rooms to his Claremont edifice and constructing its tower. Twenty-one year old Kathleen Brook purchased the property in 1911and with her wealth it soon became a centre of the local social scene for the well-to-do.

Stuck in the middle of Tassie, Joe was far away from any substantial social scene, something Alice probably would have felt quite keenly. But being in that part of the world had some advantages for her husband. He found a new passion – politics, initially throwing himself into the various farming associations whose function it was to gain better deals for the man on the land. But Alice was hankering for a more urbane existence and it was her that saw an advertisement in the press for a substantial house to house a substantial family by the Derwent, not too far out of Hobart. It was also right on the road north to Stonehenge, their Midlands residence. Perfect. She quickly purchased it on Joe’s behalf and they moved in in 1920. And soon Joe started to set his sights on taking his political ambition one step further. He became the MLC for Cambridge in ’21 and served that electorate in the Legislative Council until 1941.

I wouldn’t rave about the tucker, but there was plenty of it, being a buffet – and it was palatable enough. But it was the plush surrounds, on that second Sunday in May, that really appealed. The food was being served in a large room dominated by an expansive billiard table. And on this was arranged all sorts of memorabilia that fascinated this diner, including from Joe’s tenure at the stately home. Amongst it was a plethora of photos from his time as a cricketer, including a snap of him arm in arm with the great WG, as well as one of the man he called his ‘white-haired boy’, Victor Trumper. I was so engaged I almost totally forgot about my stomach and the gorgeous date waiting for me back at our table. Also featured, from more recent times, was an image of the current owner with Dame Helen Mirren.

Along with politics the former cricketer was partial to automobiles, converting the coaching house to hold his collection of six expensive models. Sadly, though, time marches on and with his children grown up and largely dispersed, the place became too onerous for the ageing couple to manage. He sold it to the Red Cross in 1940 to be used as a convalescent home for the war wounded.

It was a delightful evening at Claremont House for Leigh and I, well worth the cost of the meal for all that history. My lady has vowed to return to partake of the tour and high tea and I would encourage any visitors to our fair city to do the same.

Joe Darling CBE saw his later years sadly mired in controversy as he dared to take on the might of the Forestry Department whose practices, back in the day, were every bit as dubious as they have been in a more recent era. He accused the minister and some officials of taking bribes and demanded a royal commission. The evidence he presented was so compelling that this was finally granted – something that did not earn him friends, but served to demonstrate the man himself hadn’t changed much from his days leading our nation on the cricketing fields of the world. He won out in the end, but did not live to see the outcome, passing on in 1946. He was the last surviving member of the soon to be federated nation’s touring party of 1896, dying only thirteen days later than fellow Tasmanian tourist of that team, mate and local parliamentarian CJ Eady. Joe is buried at Cornelian Bay. I wonder what the great man would have made of twenty/twenty, IPA and dare I say it, the current ball-tampering farce? I daresay he’d turn in his grave by the river.

Claremont House website =

Stephanie G

Melancholia. It’s not something I suffer from as a rule. But I had it that last morning in Sydney. And I really had no strong notion as to why. As I set out from my hotel I was flat as. The melancholia shouldn’t have been there. I’d had a marvellous time in Sydney. And at the same time I was also relishing getting back to our abode by the river in Hobs and catching up, after a week away, with my lovely lady. She’d been working assiduously to improve the décor of our little house and I was keen to get back and see the results. I should have been far more buoyant, but there it was, a malaise had come over me. Was it because summer was drawing to an end? That usually got to me once upon a time – but not during my retirement years. The skies over Harbour City were dank and gloomy for the only time during the visit. Perhaps that was it? Maybe it was because I had been anticipating this sojourn for a fair time and now it was drawing to an end. I couldn’t see it as all expectations had been met. It was a trip made partly in memory of a mate who had always planned to accompany me this particular time. I miss him. Could that be the source? Whatever the cause, I needed a lift in spirits before I headed home that afternoon.

The Rocks Market was my destination as I hopped on the train at the Museum Station, heading for Circular Quay. When I arrived the stallholders were still setting up so I had a bit of time to kill. I just wandered aimlessly around, pointing my camera here and there – something that usually has a positive effect on me, but not this time. It all felt somewhat desultory.

I like buying artisan greeting cards at markets, particularly ones created from the artworks or photography of those selling them. I’d also, during my days there been to the Manly and Paddington Markets as well, but the pickings at those outlets were slim. I did a preliminary circuit once back at this market and I could already feel myself lightening up. Now this was more like it.

I noticed her work offerings very early on in my rambling around the stalls and I was immediately back after I had completed my initial looksee. Her selling space was covered in cards featuring her quirky pen and water colour illustrations. I knew two beloved granddaughters who would especially appreciate them and I was soon absorbed in choosing.

And the first thing I noticed about Stephanie, their talented creator, was a gloriously welcoming smile as I handed over my selection for purchasing. I placed her vintage as being around late twenties and although I am notoriously bad with assessing the age of the opposite gender, I later discovered I was around about the mark. But no matter her years on the planet, she was radiant and as it turned out, she was up for a chat. I let her know I was from Hobart and that was a springboard for our conversation. She was familiar with my city, had visited Mona and as it happened, her parents had recently moved to somewhere around its outskirts. She was looking forward to visiting them in the little city under kunanyi. The English born beauty then confided that this was the first time in a while she’d been able to be present at the market as she had only just recently returned from the land of her birth. From there she explained she had in tow with her somebody very dear to introduce a life Down Under to. I sensed she was very excited about this prospect as her eyes were sparkling with joy. By now she had this old fella mesmerised in the best way possible.

But, sadly, I became aware, after five or ten minutes, that I’d already taken up too much of her time as others were now similarly engrossed in her wares. I had to force myself to say farewell and be on my way. Before I did so, though, she gave me her card and requested that I contact her with any suggestions I may have about how to spend one’s time in Hobart. In doing so I was graced with another beaming smile. I was cured. I was back to glass half full, the spring had returned to my step, I looking forward to, on my return to Tassie, fulfilling the task she had set me

Like all of the random people met during my travels it is unlikely our paths will cross again although, hopefully, that visit will not be my last to the Rocks Market, so you never know. I will remember the vivaciousness and charm of Stephanie Gray who, during our conversation, told me how she had her start in her artistic endeavours, a story she also told for the pages of the Daily Telegraph a little further down the track. Seems it all commenced by her designing a set of playing cards for her parents. Now that, in my view, has expanded into something quite special. Of course, once back in my abode by the river, I had taken to the ether to discover more about this person who lifted the gloom for me that day.

Her loveliness lit up the remaining hours till my flight and I returned to my very own vivacious and gorgeous lady without a blue feeling in the world. So thank you to Stephanie. There must be something in the name.

Stephanie’s website =

Daily Telegraph article =

Alone Again, Unnaturally

I am alone in my hotel room in Sydney. The day lies ahead and I know I’ll enjoy it very much, but I also know the joy will be tempered because she’s not with me. She adds to the lustre. Yep, it’s not ideal and sometimes, when I’m on my tod, I also get those feelings Wendy had about not leaving her hotel. But I do and I’m always glad I did. At least I’ll have something to report back when the nightly phone call goes south. It’s perfectly understandable. There are reasons such as work and family commitments, as well as climatic factors, that preclude her from sharing some of my travels. I just adore it, though, when she can.

There was a year I lost my mojo completely. She, for various reasons, wasn’t free to get away at all and I, always craving her company, thought ‘Bugger it, Hobs has plenty to offer year round so I’ll just stay put. At least I’ll save some dough.’ I did, but eventually my mojo came back and I regretted being so silly.

Being ‘alone again, unnaturally’ usually just means sojourns to the north or across to Melbourne – and now Sydney. Over the years I’ve managed to have interesting little adventures. I’ve had them this time too, here in Harbour City, which I daresay I will write up on my return, fodder for my scribblings.

They are very mini compared to Ms Squires’ encounters in Paris with drag queens, the Rajasthan wedding or the Osaka tour guide, but, nonetheless, there always seems to be something that lobs up unexpectantly to remove some of the nagging aloneness of being away from she who makes my life complete.

In recent times my attention has been drawn to Singapore where a combination of family and friends have reported that they had a magic time. They also reckoned I’d cope quite well on my own. But really that would start getting up there into Squires’ territory. Will I challenge myself to go that one step further in being ‘alone again, naturally’ on foreign soil? I’ll give it some serious bath time rumination.

Wendy Squires’ column =

My City

It was a random meeting in another city. She was beautiful. A card was exchanged with a request. To tell about my city for, you see, she was expecting to visit in the near future. So this is for that beautiful lady, for you as well, for anybody and everyone.

Of course I love my city. In my eyes it is perfect in every way, especially its size. From my abode by the river, on the outskirts, I can be in the city centre in about twenty minutes and out to the other side in around thirty.

I love its weather. The seasons are distinct, not blurred and from its CBD it is possible to see snow atop kunanyi at any time of year. What other capital can give one that?

I love the harbour or, as we say, the river. I love going to a place with a view across it, perhaps Wrest Point. There I can sit up in the Sportsman’s Bar, by its vast windows, whilst my lovely lady is having an occasional little flutter. With book or newspaper in hand I am totally at bliss, supping on an ale, as well as checking out the ever-changing aspect across the river. Further upstream, from our much smaller windows at home we can look across the same but very different river. It’s magic, a magnet for my eyes.

I love the vibrancy of my city’s arts scene. Mona has given it an amazing lift and in itself is amazing. But the TMAG (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery) is worth your attention as well. There are smaller galleries dotted about Salamanca and I particularly relish exhibitions at the Long Gallery in the arts centre there. I am a regular at MAC, the Moonah Arts Centre too. I know the local writing and music scene are on a roll as well.

And there are restaurants to love. I’ve read the talk of the town, at the moment, are the following – Dier Maker (123 Collins), Franklin (30 Argyle) and Etties (130 Elizabeth). Leigh and I are not talk of the town type of people, but we have our own favourites – the Roaring Grill (301 Elizabeth), the Italian Pantry (131-133 Murray St ) and Urban Greek (103 Murray). On the outskirts the Agrarian Kitchen (11A The Avenue, New Norfolk) recently received 4.5 stars from the Australian’s respected critic John Lethlean. In the same neck of the woods we delight in the Patchwork Cafe (15 George) at the Willow Court Complex. Check out the antique emporiums whilst you are in New Norfolk – they are fascinating. We also frequent 12 Stones at Pontville for special occasions. Immediately across the river from our home is the Stefano Lubiana Osteria for special wines and tucker, as well as spectacular views. If hamburgers are the go, we head to Burgerhaus in North Hobart (364A Elizabeth).

Love coffee? My lovely lady and I are happy enough with Coffee Club, Banjo’s and Hudsons, but here’s the hype. The best in the city, reportedly, has always been Villino (30 Criterion), but Pilgrim (48 Argyle) and Yellow Bernard (1/109 Collins) are snapping at its heels. If in Moonah, step into the Magnolia Cafe, on the main drag (73), for something a little different.

I love my city’s markets. Of course the Saturday one at Salamanca is the jewel in the crown, but I think there is an even better vibe at Sunday’s Farmgate in the CBD. If you’re in Richmond of a Saturday, go to its delightful village variety and for something completely rustic there’s Collinsvale, held monthly. Beautiful drive up behind kunanyi to it too. The Saturday High Street Market at New Norfolk is worth a visit as well.

Do you love just rambling around? I do too. Salamanca, Battery Point and dockside are ideal. At the latter slip into the Brooke Street Pier. It floats. The IXLside, opposite Salamanca and in the old disreputable part of town once called Wapping, is great for browsing. The Drunken Admiral with its famous seafood meals (17/19 Hunter) can be found here and if the nation’s oldest pub, the Hope and Anchor (65 Macquarie) is open, go in, have a bevy by all means, but be sure to check out upstairs. Daytrips to the Tasman Peninsula, detouring to the Sorell Berry Farm for some fruit picking in season, are popular. Take the Southern Expressway, too, up over Vince’s Saddle to the Huon gems of Cygnet and Franklin. Go the other way to Kettering and catch the ferry across to Bruny Island. It has oysters, cheese and it’s own brewery. What more could you want? Scenery? That’s stunning on the island too. Richmond is close by to Hobs and the trip in from Cambridge has multiple stopping off places for fine wine or some repast. Back in town, one of my favourite hang-outs is the State Cinema complex in North Hobart for mainstream and art house flicks, as well as its cafe and bookshop. Other esteemed retailers of the printed word are Fullers (131 Collins St) and the Hobart Bookshop in Salamanca. A great shop is Red Parka (22 Criterion) for something quite unique and across the road is Cool Wines (Shop 8, MidCity Arcade) boasting eclectic wines and beers.

If wine is indeed the go for you, around the outskirts are numerous cellar doors. Our fav is Puddle Duck (992 Richmond Rd ). A tour of the historic Cascade Brewery is very interesting, with Hobs also gaining a reputation for its craft brewers. We visit Shambles, 222 Elizabeth St, between the city and NoHo (North Hobart).

For history buffs the Female Factory is a must and then there are the festivals – the Taste of Tasmania around the new year, the amazing Dark MoFo at the height of winter and the biannual Wooden Boats.

So come to my city of Hobart, compact and small. It can no longer boast a rush minute rather than a rush hour, but the pace of life is certainly a tad slower than in the big boys on the island to the north. I am lucky enough to partake of some of the world’s freshest air and purest water each and every day as well. And our wine, beer and whiskey are top notch. I love it. You will too

Sydney – A Tale of Two Mates

He did, in totally non-salacious fashion, warn me; Chris did. But I didn’t expect it to be so in your face. Specifically, in my face, literally.

Chris was mates with my lovely Leigh before I came on the scene. Chris built houses, marvellous houses on the sides of mountains and in the Tassie bush. Chris is very clever, both with his hands and with his mind.

Our paths continued to cross at intervals, over the years, since those early days of my relationship with my wonderful partner-in-life. Chris has put down roots in various places, away from us, since then, only to uproot and move somewhere else. But these days he’s a cat/house sitter up and down the East Coast of Oz. On a recent visit to our abode by the river, in Hobs, he invited me to spend some time with him during his commitment in Sydney over the summer of ’18 – to stay a few days at Coogee by the sea.

So I rocked up to a small, but stunning, 1.8 million dollars worth of luxury pad there that he’s responsible for, caught a whiff of briny and settled in. After a while, in response to a query as to what I’d fancy doing, I replied a visit to a mecca of hedonism would be the bees’ knees. In my 66 years I have never had the pleasure of experiencing that mecca – Bondi Beach.

He did warn me that, although he himself was no great fan of that iconic strand of sand, there may be some eye-brow raising sights to be had in the environs of Bondi as far as the clothing choices were concerned, or lack thereof, from some libertine-like young ladies. Now that wouldn’t faze me, would it? After all my experiences of the French Riviera and local hot spots Noosa and Byron Bay in my lifetime, I’m a man of the world aren’t I? A parade of comely youthful flesh wouldn’t be a hassle, surely.

Now, contrary to Chris, I was just so impressed by the beach in question, scenically. Until the completion of our bus trip there the Sydney skies had been gloomy. But as soon as we alighted from our conveyance the sum broke forth and the golden sands were soon covered by an array of hedonists disporting themselves in supine fashion, or parading up and down. We soon joined the latter group, although I, at my age, have lost the ability to disport very much at all. I had my camera at the ready, but I was ultra-conservative in terms of where I chose to snap so as not to cause even the slightest hint of impropriety towards the sunworshippers. But on that Monday they, too, were being very conservative. There was nothing to get even the most prudish of onlooker excited. To me it didn’t matter a jot. I loved being there.

After our perambulations to both ends of Bondi we took to the local retail outlets. They were, with a couple of exceptions, nothing exceptional – generally dreary and predictable.

We then took the bus back up the hill where Chris’ intention was to do some grocery shopping at the Junction. He was quite excited about showing me Aldi and that was a revelation. Why haven’t we got it on our fair isle to give the big boys a run for their money? I’d doubt I’d ever go back to Woolies or Coles. And the world is a small place. We lined up behind an attractive woman and as there was a bit of a queue, we took to chatting with her. And would you believe it? Turns out she was Burnie born and bred. By this stage I had recovered from a sighting, in more ways than one, of the over-exposed skin Chis had originally cautioned me about. There was little of it where I expected it to be, but the ride from Bondi to Bondi Junction was a different matter.

The No.333, grinding its way up the incline, was extremely crowded, perhaps even dangerously so as the driver refused to take on passengers after we had left the shoreline terminus. Chris and I were quickly jostled apart and I was thinking I’d be standing the entire journey until a gorgeous Asian girl offered up her seat. I didn’t refuse. The seat proffered to me was quite low to the floor. That fact created the serious issue that was about to befall me. No sooner had I accepted it than the driver was yelling for all those upright to move towards the back of the vehicle. Shuffling followed, thus commencing my unsettling confrontation with a pair of sun-kissed bum cheeks.

She came towards me in reverse. The slim figure was attired entirely in denim blue. On her top was a singlet stretched over small shapely bosoms, but it was the bottom half that was coming increasingly closer to my face. This part of her shapely contours was wearing cut-off shorts – very, very cut-off denim shorts. Wholly the lower half of her tanned posterior was fully exposed and was reversing in a direct line to me. She was tall, with golden brown pins right up to her armpits it seemed. I feared a collision between that attractive, but way too close, part of her lower anatomy and my equally exposed face. I had no where to go as she manoeuvred ever closer and realistically, I had no where else to look except at that comely rear end an inch from my probiscus. Oh dear! Oh dear! Out of the corner of my eyes I could see a couple of fellow male passengers with bemused grins on their faces, obviously transfixed by my predicament, just waiting to see what the outcome would be. One possibility could be that any lurch by the bus and my nose would be embedded. Thankfully that never occurred and by the time the 333 had breasted the hill the crowding diminished and my non-cognizant tormentor at last removed her quite mesmerising buns away from any danger of direct contact. But it was a closely run thing.

Mate Chris was completely unaware of my situation when I related the tale to him later. But he recalled her and had had a view of the opposite side of the beauty and reckoned she was an out and out stunner. I was totally discombobulated by the whole affair. For poor me it was anything but sexy.

So, from a scantily clad maiden, let’s move on to those wearing no clothing at all. Chris did a great job showing me the sights of Sydney. I enjoyed visits to Paddy’s and Manly Market in his company. We had a tasty repast at the ever interesting Fish Markets. We wandered China Town and the Art Gallery of NSW impressed with a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition. And then we ferried to Watsons Bay.

It was a delightful journey out to the quiet hamlet nestled under South Head, home of the famous Doyle’s Seafood Restaurant. We had fish’n’chips at one of its various outlets. But this treat came after our hike up to the lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour. Now my friend had another warning. We would be passing by a nudist beach. After the Bondi incident I was very wary of what could befall me in doing so.

It was a delightful amble. I thoroughly enjoyed it and passing by Lady Jane Beach, yes, I espied a naked male wading around in the water. On the return journey the view of this little strip of sand was more revealing (hum). There was a dozen or so souls without a stitch covering their bits, but the aspect that shocked me was on the ledge immediately above them, almost within touching distance from all the nakedness. Squatting on the narrow precipice were a handful of men, not unclad at all, having an up close and personal gawp at the naturalists. I was appalled at this, but should I be surprised? At least there wasn’t a recording device to be seen.

It was terrific being at Chris’ temporary digs, but now it was time to move on. I had three more nights to put in at the Travelodge, Wentworth Avenue, in the city.

I was pacing. I found myself pacing on the platform. Clearly I was nervous. I only pace when I’m nervous. Yes, I had, for me, a complicated train trip to get right, but that wasn’t the reason. It was that I hadn’t seen Anthony for, I guess, close to three decades. Old uni buddies, we were being bought together in memory of another dear mutual mate. Just before Nev’s passing he’d gone to Sydney and reconnected with the third member of our close campus threesome when he was up there for drug treatment. But Neville H and I had always planned to venture north together. That, obviously, was now impossible, but I needed to do it because, well, you just never know. So I was nervous. At the end of this journey Anthony would be waiting for me.

I met him after alighting from the train at Pymble, his stomping ground. He’d changed. Of course he had, physically. But I had very much done so as well. But that was only the externals. I soon realised, as we began chatting, that the inner AJ was still very much present. My nerves dissipated as he drove me on a tour of the Northern Beaches – fresh and marvellous territory for me. We ended up at the Newport Arms, overlooking Pittwater. It was a massive eatery/watering hole and here we raised a glass of Kosciusko Pale Ale to Nev and all the magic memories he’d provided for us.. Red wine would have been more appropriate as that was his favourite tipple, but the day was hot and we were in need of something more quenching. Soon I was at Anthony’s home, meeting his gorgeous daughters and wife. And it all felt very right to me as we reminisced and caught up on respective life journeys during the long hiatus. And I discovered my old pal is a dab hand at, from scratch, making chai and with Thai cooking. I’m hoping there’ll be plenty more comings together between the two of us through the years ahead.

Sydney now seems more accessible to me these days after my two recent visits. I can now zip around the transport system with my reliable Opal card. There was a bus trip to Paddington Market and a meander amidst the ace terraced housing there. I boarded the light rail to take me to a photographic exhibition at the National Maritime Museum and the ferry took me across the harbour to Manly. I revisited the delightful art gallery there, taking in a showcase for the senior art students of the area and also a remarkable solo range of watery works from Martine Emdur. I also was drawn in by the police mug-shots on display at the Museum of Sydney from the days of Squizzy Taylor and the razor gangs. They operated in the underbelly of the metropolis in the twenties.

I had chats with random other people, as well as my two hosts. There was a very loud, almost deafeningly voiced American who told me how he’d just been to my city and was ‘totally blown away’ – his words, not mine – by Mona. There was the lovely lady Chris and I met whilst we lunched in Manly who was making her first foray to Tassie and wanted advice on what to see and do. And then there were smiles from the unknowns that lit up my days in our nation’s first city. There was the friendly lass who took my coffee order at the Art Gallery of NSW and the young lady, rapt in her job, at Harry Hartog Books, Bondi Junction. And I loved returning to breakfast again this trip at the Joe Black Cafe, a few doors up from my hostelry. The cheeriness of the waiting staff there and their scrambled eggs always got the day off to a positive start.

But it was Chis and Anthony who made this trip the joy it was. My thanks go to the both of you.

Coventry Street Love

I favour Coventry Street above all others. For me it’s the bee’s knees and always a must when I visit Yarra City. Here the shopping is easy and well suited to my tastes. It’s quite eclectic, with there being a plethora of cafes to choose from, for pit stops, as a bonus. Cafe Dre, The Goodegg and the Bunyip are all ones I have frequented. Sadly the revamped food court at the Markets themselves, for some strange reason, are not nearly as enticing for me as before their make-over, but I am a fan of the paella at Simply Spanish – to be found pavement-edge on the Cecil Street side of the Market. Of course, we’re talking of South Melbourne in all this. Its market, in my opinion, leaves the Victoria version for dead – at least in the latter’s present incarnation.

As for the Markets themselves, I cannot possibly outdo Mr Cameron’s evocation. I have my favourite sites, always ensuring I part with some dosh, there amidst the plentiful array of stalls. Being in the seafood, meat, chicken, and pasta sellers sections, as well as the various delis, craft alcohol outlets and all that fresh fruit and vegies, is one of the few times I ever wish I was a native Melburnian.

So next time you find yourself with half a day or so to spare in the city across the briny from us, hop on the No.96 heading to St Kilda from the CBD and alight at the South Melbourne stop. Proceeding up the embankment steps will bring you to within a few doors of the Markets and you are already on Coventry. When you can drag yourself away from its delights to wander further up the street, you will find a great bookshop. Further along is Paperpoint, specialising in stationery and cards and a little way up Union Street, running off Coventry, is Licorice Homewares (No.8), with its wonderful display of cheap wooden ducks. There’s arguably the best chocolate shop in the city in Bibelot (285-287) and for upmarket fashion, several Mr Darcys. If you’re feeling energetic and have more time, head down Claredon Street, away from the city, for more interesting outlets, including another of my favs in Made in Japan. This is down a lane-way (Wynyard Street). Several blocks further on the No.1 Tram runs back to the CBD. If you love art then there’s the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art en route to entice – a mini MONA-like experience.

But now, if you need more persuasion, it’s over to Anson :-


She came up to me and stood beside me at the open portal up on Deck 9. It was during that half hour or so, out there in Sydney, as the sun sets, when the cityscape is coated with that burnished glow so beloved of artists and camera pointers. She was slim, dressed in black leisure wear with a blonde bob – thirty to forty-ish I suspect. She asked if she could share the open window with me. I stepped back as she pointed her hand held device out of it, towards the towers surrounding Circular Quay, snapping away. She then turned and asked, ‘How good is this? How glorious is that sight out there?’ And, as she turned to leave me, she gave me a smile of such wattage it lit up her face to transform it into something as golden as the glow the sun was bequeathing to the Emerald city that evening. ‘You have a great cruise now,’ were her parting words.

I kept an eye out for her during the course of our eleven night sojourn across the South Pacific. We were off to an island country that once was a condominium, shared by the imperial powers of the UK and France, as well as to an island still officially part of the latter. I never spotted the lady at the portal again though. Perhaps, as dusk morphed into night on that first day, she really wasn’t there at all.

But I did. I had a great cruise. It wasn’t the life changing affair that 2011’s had been, with the Pacific Pearl, as the Carnival Spirit was a different beast entirely. It was bigger, noisier, with a decidedly more varied demographic than the more sedate, intimate and stress-killing affair that was the Pearl. But you couldn’t knock the plus features and experiences of the Spirit. It heralds itself, not as the ‘love boat’, but as the ‘fun boat’ and it delivered. On it too much occurred to write it all up in diary form, but stuff happens – so what follows are some snapshots of the good (by a mile in the majority) and the not so good of life afloat on our cruising city of a ship.

The Beautiful
I’d read that it was over-rated. I assure you, it isn’t. The Ile des Pins (Isle of Pines) is sublime. It was our first land destination since leaving Oz and it is a real show stopper. The second, Mystery Island, may be the stereotypical tropical paradise but, at the southern tip of New Caledonia, these pine clad islands floating in the azure are something else. You’ve probably seen the pictures, so I won’t set about describing their beauty here, but sailing in and actually landing on one beats all the net images hands down. And just possibly I do not have the words to conjure up a depiction of what I saw there to give them their due. They were beyond beautiful.

The Red Frog pub was one of my favourite places on board, particularly when the house bands were thumping out their classic beats to much gyrating and singing along. I really liked standing, for a seat was often hard to find, sipping on a generous ale and watching the dancers – and there were some great movers amongst them. Many were more vintage than I, but still put together some cool rock ‘n’ roll moves on the dance floor. There were some talented guys revving up the night in that venue, particularly a band from Manila and a Liverpudlian duo. On one night my lovely Leigh and her lovely Mum joined me at a hard won table. Before they arrived, I had noticed an elegant lady, possibly in her seventies, sitting alone nearby. In the breaks I was soon caught up in the doings of Leigh’s adventures that day, but when I turned back to to the septuagenarian across the way, I noticed that the woman had been joined by another – obviously her partner as his hand rested on hers. The music from the aforementioned pair from Liverpool cranked up again with a set of tunes from decades past – all well known by the punters who could well remember those same decades. At one stage they slowed it down and started harmonising on Elvis’ ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. I turned to the couple and observed them deep in a passionate kiss; a very, very deep pash. In their minds, no doubt, they had been taken back to when the King was at his peak and they were young and in love. Back then, they would have thought, like all of us, that they’d be forever young. And for a short time, in the Red Frog that night, they were. It was a beautiful thing to behold – discreetly.

On the big stage of Pharaoh’s Palace, the liner’s vast auditorium, the singer/dancers and dancer/singers performed most evenings. At a meet and greet session we learnt that nobody in the Carnival Company’s entertainment troupes could be just one or the other – they had to be skilled in both. They belted out tunes from pop history to flashy choreography and certainly were energetic even if, for some, their performances didn’t last long enough – generally because the masses watching were having such a good time with it all. I attended on several occasions and on the first I espied her. Now, just in case you think I am totally fixated on the fairer gender on board, just wait. She was perched on the edge of her seat, very erect, her brunette tresses piled on her head. She was dressed in slinky black, her gorgeous face heavily made up and she was mouthing the lyrics to every song. It seemed to me that, in her heavily mascaraed eyes, she was up there herself on that stage, being part of the show. I found she was almost as stimulating to look at as the dazzling scenes on said stage. The following night, to my delight, she was in the same row as my lady and I, just a few seats away. This time her lips were still violently rouged in red, but now her hair was down to her waist, covering an uncovered back. There was the same tense posture, the same mesmerised look as she she fully focused on the lads and lasses under the disco lights, frenetically entertaining us all. I gawped at her over and over as she, in turn, mesmerised me. But then, slowly, the realisation dawned. She wasn’t a she. She was a she/he. Waking up to this didn’t in any way shake me. It probably made her even more fascinating. I never saw her after that – perhaps during daylight hours she wandered the ship in her boy guise. Perhaps, like a wanton vampire, she only came out at night. She was beautiful – and that’s all that matters in the end.

Until this voyage I hadn’t experienced anything quite like it. Of course, over my long years, I’d observed many a sunset, but never one when the whole horizon was consumed by the briny meeting the sky. On the second eve of our travels afloat I watched one such vibrant display of nature from the balcony of our cabin. It seemed the blood red sun was being sucked down by the Pacific – right down into Davy Jones’ domain. Amongst my humble image making there are some sunset shots from later in the voyage. But neither I, nor, I suggest, even far more proficient camerasmiths would be capable of doing justice to those dazzlements. Nothing beats the naked eye. It was simply and marvellously beautiful.

There were many more beautiful moments. Take the drop-kick looking teen, all cap on backwards with long, stringy and greasy hair, who poked his acned face into the cruise-ship’s piano lounge, took a look at the chartreuse warbling there and was quickly on his way. Patently this was not his scene, or so it seemed. Surprisingly, he was back a few minutes later, his mother held by the hand. For the rest of the evening they were together, singing along to the songs they obviously both knew by heart.

But by far and away the most wonderful person on that boat sailing to and from the tropics was my beautiful Leigh. Many, many times during the voyage I was thankful that she was with me, enjoying what we saw. She is bliss to travel with. I hope I have many, many more years of doing so. She is just so giving towards those around her; just so understandingly generous towards me, the luckiest fella on the planet.

The Not So Beautiful
We’ll call them the entitled ones. The first dip-stick on the list we’ll call Basil. I kid you not, he, both in looks and demeanour, was the dead spit of John Cleese in ‘Fawlty Towers’ mode. Now I first encountered him in the Chippendale Library on Deck 3. This was one of the few places of refuge in a noisy environment, a haven I would go in the early mornings while Leigh and her Mum made ready for their day up in our well appointed cabin. I’d write, read or simply watch the sea passing by. I was always joined by other like-minded people – some doing as I, a few meditating and one guy worked hard most mornings on architectural plans. Now you’d think the words ‘library’ and ‘please be quiet’ would mean something. Not so for Basil. In he promenaded, his wife in trail, together with another couple. He strode to a sofa, the one that backed on to where I was engaged with my latest novel. He had decided this was the ideal place for a chat – but, as it turned out, he did most of the yakking as he was obviously the alpha-male. He pontificated on the weather, the cruise so far (mainly negative), his plans for the day and curiously, his admiration for Tom Gleeson’s new ABC show, Hard Quiz. I’d imagine he’d be a keen fan of Tom’s put-downs of the lesser mortals attempting to win the night’s cup. It was impossible to concentrate on anything but his booming voice. Despite the vast array of locations around the vessel, designed for the purpose, he and his acolytes were engaged in, it was where I was starting my day with hoped-for quietude he chose. In the end he won. I got up and left. You see, he’d paid his money and was entitled to sit anywhere he deemed appropriate.

I came across him later in the trip. Again I was reading, this time in the Fountain Lounge on Deck 2. Yes, now he chose well. It was a place for sitting and chewing the fat, but it was a quiet afternoon all the same. He sat down with his missus and proceeded to expound on all the inadequacies of, for him, this cruising life. His wife contributed very little. Along to the coffee bar opposite came a gaggle of teens to partake of some liquid sustenance. To say they were skylarking would be to overstate the case, but they were loudish. I noticed they ordered politely from the lovely baristas serving at the best place to go for coffee on the Spirit. But obviously they had interrupted Basil’s train of thought. He hadn’t paid his money for this. He was entitled to have a place where such interjection of clamour should not occur. He stood up, bellowed at the youngsters, screeching ‘Where do you lot think you are? You’re not in some suburban pub now you know.’ The kids turned, stunned expressions on their countenances, mouthing, ‘Who, us?’
‘Yes you lot.’ came the stentorian reply. ‘Now off you go, the lot of you.’
And go they did, their tails between their legs, their fun blunted. He sat down with a harrumph. He’d won again. His wife, though, promptly got up and left. Apart from glaring, at one stage, to a family nearby with an upset baby, he spent the rest of the time I was there staring into space. I wonder who had really won.

The tucker on board was plentiful, varied and tasty. For those that liked that sort of thing there was high end gourmand-style available for a fee, but the no excess charge formal dining room was there as well, vastly spread out over two levels. It even had a singing waiter on its staff, as we found out when we witnessed, along with hundreds of others, a proposal (she said yes – her beau must have been pretty certain given his audience). The waiter had an angelic voice. He would be very worthy of a gig on, well, ‘The Voice’. Breakfasts in the Empire Room were a joy – the salmon bagels, yum! But we mainly stuck to the array of food stations up on Deck 9. You could only call them modern day trenchers, the vast plates there with which we could could select and tuck into our selected grub – and there’s the rub. Because some felt they were entitled, as they had paid for the privilege, these peons would return to their tables with veritable pyramids of fare. Mostly it was far too much for the average human to consume in one sitting, nevertheless they shovelled it in. Most unedifying – and the wastage was phenomenal. It was not uncommon to find such gargantuan meals hardly touched. I can only imagine what the largely third world attendants must think of us, despite their smiles and graciousness.

Here’s one example. It may have been an emergency, but it sure didn’t look like it from where I was sitting. A family grouping of three had obviously been to the hamburger station, returning with the lot between their split buns, as well as a large array of sides. They sat down and had taken a mere nibble of each before a mobile summoned them to somewhere else. Off they trooped, leaving their meal on the tables. After all, they could come back at any time to replenish their appetites. They were entitled. They’d paid their dosh. The poor lass cleaning up the uneaten remains just sadly shook her head.

Trivia competitions were a load of fun, played out for laughs as much as anything. The ones to do with music were rollicking affairs, the participants joining in, chorusing along, with gusto and good humour. That is, except for the big ginger American guy and his small entourage. No, trivia events were not a matter to be trifled with. They were serious business. He was out to win and nothing would stand in his way. One of his colleagues had a trusty i-pad, or something similar, with her at all times and seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time during contests tapping away at it. Naturally he won gold – gold being a cheap medal on a ribbon – at most competitions – and he attended them all, four or five a day. He’d obnoxiously query the host’s answers, interrupt if he felt the questions weren’t precise enough and indulge in much fist pumping when he won through at the end. He did his level best to turn what should have been a fun interlude into something of Olympic proportions in which, yet again, Americans can show their superiority to all-comers. I was so proud of my beautiful Leigh in winning two gold against such a, excuse the language, dick.

It’s difficult to fault what we received for our money. The ship’s staff were delightful and it was fun for me checking out their country of origin and chatting with them. There were some who stood out, such as the vibrant Fillipino attendant who gave us the heads up about avoiding the duty free on board. Instead we should stock up, as many did big time, on shore. All the musicians and performers were approachable and our deck steward, I Made – yep, that’s his name – was just a joy. He’s Balinese so enough said – just a pity, as he says, that he cannot find work on his island so has to take such long contracts away from his family. We loved him – him and the towel animals he left in our cabin daily. I suppose the only real negative I found was, given that it was a cruise to tropical islands, why is it that the air conditioning on the public decks transformed them into a temperature akin what I had left behind in Hobs. I took several pairs of shorts along with me but only wore one sparingly such were the Arctic conditions. I also think it went in someway to contributing to the lurgie many picked up on board, including Leigh’s dear Mum. Not cool at all Carnival.

My Kind of Town
Now and again you just find a place that feels right – that you’d love to spend longer in. Perhaps, in your dreams, you may like a second home in. As much as I’m content being by the river, there are a few locations I’d consider. My second home in Bridport is one. So was Byron before it was ‘discovered’. Port Douglas, from the last cruise, is definitely a contender too, as was Ubud from our Bali sojourn. And now there’s Port Vila. I just felt at home in its laid-back vibe. We based ourselves at the Beach Shack, a local, island style. Here we supped on Vanuatu’s finest, Tusker beer, making regular forays out to the nearby shops. There were bargains to be had at the much recommended duty-free next door (Burnie’s Hellyer Road whiskey, around $90 a pop at home, here was a mere $32). There were the vivacious Vanuatuans around the streets, giving lovely smiles of welcome, saying hello. The shop assistants, when making a sale, were just wonderful. All in all it was bliss to be there. At one stage I took my beer out the back of the Shack to a small terrace overlooking the foreshore. I sat down and watched the passing parade of children, in their school uniforms, on their way home. Many yelled out a greeting to me or waved. Some laughed at the crazy tourists who were sitting inside drinking when they could be outside promenading, as they were. I took their advice myself and set off towards the town’s centre. En route I saw numerous kids in the water, enjoying the 28 degrees as I was. In a younger time I might have considered joining them, PV is the only world capital with coral in its port. Couples were taking the air, arm in arm, the women attired in tropical florals. When I reached the market I was amazed by the produce – the taro laid out on the ground, the brightly hued flowers for sale and the vast dining space at the rear. In it the customers were dining off big trenchers too, just as on the Spirit. Their fare was mainly vegetarian in nature, from what I could deduce, but I bet the hundreds of them under canvas that day wouldn’t have left a scrap. Port Vila is on my bucket list to return to.

I couldn’t believe it. A strident American female voice at the pizza station – ‘I’ll have a Hawaiian please, only hold the pineapple.’ Hawaiian. Without pineapple. What would be the point?
Three days in, up on Serenity, where the pods (private sunbathing baskets) were, a flustered twenty-ish lass goes rushing back to the one she and her mates were sharing. ‘Guess what guys? We’ve already spent all our money. All of it! I’ve just checked!‘ Howls of abject horror greeted her announcement. Of course cruising can be a trap for the unwary and how it can all mount up. The booze, the pokies, the shops. If you are not careful it might ruin the whole affair. One tip worth remembering is that the shops often have sales, with very generous markdowns, during the last days afloat.
Two admittedly quite plain (sorry) young ladies examining their photos by the franchise for taking of and developing them – ‘Geez Elaine, we’re not very photogenic, are we?’
‘No Doreen, we’re certainly not. And what’s worse is we are four days in and we haven’t hooked a gentleman yet?’ Maybe they did by cruise end. I hope so, anyway, if that was their aim.

Sydney On Return
There were highlights, too, on our return to our port of departure, although the start wasn’t all that auspicious. On arrival Leigh was informed that our booked hotel had no rooms awaiting us. There was a glitch in the way their website had been set up. They knew they had a problem with it but had done nothing about to remedy the fault so it cost us our accommodation. Thankfully the wonderful people at Travelodge rescued us and we were set up in style at their Wentworth Avenue (27-33) hostelry. It turned out we liked the position in Surrey Hills too, a few bocks from World Square and the Museum station, for the rail network, was a short walk away. Across the road from it was an amazing pub, at least when you went upstairs, where we dined out first night back. Hotel Harry (40-44 Wentworth Ave) is incredibly popular at weekends, but during the week is quieter and the upstairs dining rooms are real eye-openers – a different world in each. I had a most interesting time at the National Maritime Museum (Darling Harbour), wandering around its exhibits, including the warships out the front. The main reason for taking the light rail around there was to view ‘The Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016’ on show. On my last day I saw the local equivalent, ‘The Ausrtralian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year’ at our country’s oldest museum, the Australian (1 William Street). Both were totally worth it – a double whammy. I am a fan of the work of Margaret Preston and she was on show at the Art Gallery of NSW (Art Gallery Road), along with her contemporaries Grace Cossington Smith and Georgia O’Keeffe. It was a treat. Whilst there I also took in a retrospective of the work of Mervyn Bishop, our most prolific indigenous photographer, famous for that moment between Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari. Another delight was Jenny Watson’s oeuvre at the Museum of Contemporary Art (140 George Street), down in the Rocks. I bought up big on postcards of her rendering of a young Nick Cave. After all that I was in need of some liquid refreshment and I was lucky enough to score an outside table at the Endeavour Tap House (39-43 Argyle St, The Rocks) where the informative bar-tender told me I’d soon be partaking of a creamy American-style dark brewed on the premises. It was a delicious, much needed pick-me-up and the bar’s well worth a pit stop in that historic part of Sydney. And if you want a wild ride, take the Manly ferry on a rough day as I did. Exhilarating.

The Turnip Head Affair
That’s what she called me, my wonderful lady, in lovely, affectionate jest. I was making ready to go out with my usual lack of commitment to the finer details when Leigh spotted the unkempt nature of what remains of my my cranial thatch. She reckoned what it looked like reminded her of that much maligned vegetable and told me so. I attended to the problem and we were still laughing about the likeness of my noggin to the legume as we entered the elevator to take us down to the ground floor of our hotel and out into the night. In the lift was a young Sydney metro-sexual, very nattily attired, who seemed bemused by our hilarity. I informed him of the atrocious fun the love of my life was having at my expense and he cracked a wide smile. He gave my head the once over and informed the provider of the harsh judgement that he reckoned I still had a few worthy tufts on top. Well that caused my my beloved Leigh to further crack up. It was reflective of the good humour we met in Sydney. Another example was our welcoming host at Gazzi, a lunch venue for us on World Square (Shop 10.28), up for as much repartee as we could muster. There were two marvellous taxi drivers who transported us to the airport at various stages The first was a Ghanian who told us the giggle-inducing tale of how the coppers go about catching criminals in his homeland – by hiring taxis. We concluded that was a win-win situation for all concerned, except for the would-be felons, who were charged for the police transport as well as their crimes. Should be tried here I reckon. The black South African, of Scottish descent, who had my fare a few days later, engaged me with his philosophical views on life. From a doctor back in RSA to a taxi driver in Oz, he reckoned life couldn’t be better.

Memories – Yes, I retain many fine memories of my time on the Carnival Spirit in the company of Leigh, Pat, Phil and Julie whilst on the boat – and of my stay in our most populous city. But there was special one the Sunday morning before I was about to fly home. I was meandering around Hyde Park, snapping away when, up ahead, I espied the Shrine of Remembrance. I made my way inside this art deco edifice and faced the eternal flame. For a quiet moment or two I communed with my father – long gone but still missed. A perfect ending.

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