Tuesday, December 28, 2010


One of the many Old Man Banksias (Banksia serrata) near the house has produced a mass of new flowers. But only one - the vagaries of plant fertility escape me. It just looks too obvious to call them our Christmas candles, but they do, don't they?

These are the summer-flowering Banksias (the others - B. spinulosa, marginata, integrifolia -flower from autumn, through the winter and into spring). Last years flowers, and years before as well, sit alongside. 'As I am so shall you be' my father would have said, as is being proven increasingly to be the case.

Not that the young ones need much attention. A closer look suggests the silvery cream new flowers are themselves more than well organised.

It's the old dried flowers, with their variably gawping seed pods, patriaching (or matriaching, anyones guess) over the juveniles, that earned these stay-arounds the title of Big Bad Banksia Men in the May Gibbs comics. What's a comic without bad men intent on abducting innocents.

The man behind the (genus) name is the underestimated (by many Australians at least) Sir Joseph Banks. Most will associate him with botany and James Cook, captain and commander. As it turns out, he had garnered significant influence in scientific circles in London and access to the Crown, and was in all probability one of the most coercive in the establishment of the colony. So much so that we were nearly named BANKSIA. We'd have been Banksians! I'm working on the anthem at the moment.

Early portraits suggest a man of rackish charm.

I rather like the look of him. And the Old Bad Men. In fact, there's a bowl of them on the table in the hall.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Back in the highlands, the contrast with Christmas couldn't be greater. No wonder ...

(Storm front meets leader of Sydney Hobart yacht race on Boxing Day - from The Australian, photo AP)

The southerly blew through here last evening. The temperature plummeted, a heavy fog suddenly appeared as it does when the temperature drops and the humidity is high, wrapping itself around everything, and it rained steadily overnight.

What really caught my eye in the light morning drizzle was a silver aura around the Hakea teretifolia (Dagger Hakea) , whose sharp acicular leaves give it its name. The laminae are so reduced in surface area (an adaptation reducing evaporative loss and so increasing drought tolerance) that the leaves are fine stiff needles, and with nasty sharp points. Beware. I've planted them as a bird refuge.

The lovely shimmer was lots of little rain droplets giving a strange chandelier effect over the whole bush. It seems incongruous that the leaves without laminae were actually hanging onto the most water, by some sort of capillary action I suppose.

Similarly the terete leaves of the Petrophile pedunculata (Stalked Conesticks) glistened with rain drops.

The lovely Baeckae virgata (Twiggy Heath-Myrtle) gets heavy with its summer flowers at the best of times, but after rain it droops into a gently swaying white willow echo.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


(Bondi on Christmas morning, taken with K's iphone - there's Santa standing next to the coloured umbrella near the blue shelter - you'll need a few clicks)

It has been years since I've been in the sea. We were in the city for Christmas and woke early - early enough to give the dogs a long run in the park and the streets still looked deserted as we cruised around looking for a decent cup of coffee. The air was hardly moving but quite clean and the warmth of the sun was palpable, and yet it wasn't really hot. Some days the early heat betrays what the day will be like and that's too hot, too burning to stay outside. But today there was a welcoming seductive warmth and we found ourselves, almost magnetically, driving down Bondi Road. Lets check the beach K had said as the car was already well on its way there.

There's that sweep left at the end of the road as the sea comes into view and the sky meets the horizon, electric sky blue over deep green sea. And the sand glares white at you. Bondi doesn't look half bad. The parade is dressed with an impressive line of palms, the grassy slopes are still nicely green and the height restrictions have worked - not only are there no tall blocks, but the buildings that are there are the ones that have always been there. Stunted as if by the salt spray. Everything the same, without much grunge, shining in the morning sun.

It was meant to be a drive by, except we found a park in the spot where we always used to park, had rummaged through the boot for togs and towels, and were leaning on the promenade rail in minutes. It was absolutely stunning in every sense - sight of course, but the sound of the waves and the smell in your nose and the feel of the concrete and grit under your feet before they sink into the finest sand in the world. It's the sand at Bondi alone that elevates it into a class of its own.

Whether Christmas morning or not, there was goodwill about. Happy happy. Families, singles, couples, tourists, all ages, all sizes and all colours. And far from crowded, at least not yet. We dropped our things near the red and yellow sufboard and walked through that strange mix at the water's edge - some going in, slowly; some running out, hair wet, cosies clinging, faces beaming; some standing ankle deep talking; some walking; the odd careful jogger; children sitting beneath parents in the wet sand - until you felt that first sting of wet cold on your legs.

I takes me about five waves to make it in - no, I'm not a runner diver. You just have to keep going, turning sideways into each wave, and by wave four I'm wet waist down and wanting to leave, until wave five leaves no option but to dive under it. You're in. Tingling all over. Foam is all around, bubbling frothy salty foam which dissolves and clears and now you can see how green and clear the water is. Look sideways, left right, look back to shore, see who's out further, get ready here it comes, dive under again, come up through the foam, look sideways....

And again there's that wonderful feeling of being together with all these people you don't know but with whom you are now sharing one of life's greatest pleasures - going back to the sea.


Here's the late great Stunning One lighting up the sky with a feverish expectant joyous (and all but incomprehensible) rendition of one of the favorites, the words no matter. She is both crystalline and diamond brilliant yet with a warm soft vibrato, a tremor of excitement. The message all in the delivery. I love the acceleration, and the last comet blazes forth with an attack of such confidence and sustained with such support as to convince the biggest sceptic that greatness is at hand.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Everything is late this year. But just in time for Christmas there is a nice flush of golden yellow kangaroo paw along the path out to the little lookout over the gully.

And the flannel flowers are at the end of their short life - they go for five years at best, so the stragglers will be pulled out in Autumn. I'll replant more, if not in the large numbers we've been growing. Like a lot of things, you don't really appreciate them till they've gone.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Our last Sydney Symphony concert for the year was the Tchaikovsky Spectacular, which actually started with Sibelius'(s)- it all gets a bit littthpy - Finlandia. I'm not complaining. In fact the reason I was there was for the Finlandia. I'm a bit of a Sibelius nutter, and here finally was the chance to hear it live. It's been avoiding me. And Mr Ashkenazy is a Sibelius man.

Nationalism and music, well nationalism and anything, is something of ambivalence to me. If unison is a good thing, with the absolute unison of all as the ultimate highest state, then where lies Nationalism, both uniting and dividing, uniting the 'us' against the 'them'. Nationalist music is about the only nationalism that gets to me. Other arenas - sport, chest beating, flags, and shockingly wars - are the stuff of dismay. But plug me into Nationalist music and away I go. Mostly. The obvious is that nationalist music as the voice of oppression is tolerable if not embraced or inspirational, while Nationalism as the boot of the oppressor is to be despised on all counts. Add human voices to the music of the oppressed, and another almost irresistable dimension again is added.

Finland in the late 19th C was suffering increasing loss of autonomy at the hands of the Russian empire. Finlandia originated from the finale (Finland Awakes) of a series of patriotic pieces Sibelius premiered in 1899. It closes with a stirring hymn-like section for which words were written in 1941. The hymn is often sung separately but rarely as far as I know is the Finlandia concert piece performed with a choir. Perhaps in Finland.

Here is a hybrid version with male choir, with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lief Segerstam. My favorite is still the Vänskä, who by the way is coming next year but not for Sibelius, more's the pity ... well, as well as.

But what a difference the voice makes.

And speaking of Nationalism, the winner is:

Thursday, December 16, 2010


(photo ABC News)

If you didn't know the Oprah Roadshow has been through town, you're dead. Whatever else you think of it, her, them, us, as a tourism marketing awareness campaign it is genius. Not surprisingly, in the swamping with all things native, she was given a here-hold-these bunch of flowers for her press conference.

Close inspection reveals not only was she exposed to and exposing some of the charms of Annandale, but what's more, there's the rarely seen Dorrigo Waratah (Alloxylon pinnatum) on her bosom.

And as it turns out, this year we are picking them for the Sydney markets (and for the market's major native flower wholesaler) instead of for Tokyo, what with the dollar high and other matters.

They are a fabulous Christmas flower, a Santa red with a cyanotic blush unfurling on top of vibrant green glossy leaves.

Could I have picked it for Oprah? O the celebrity of it all.

(Yes, yes, I know, there's really only one Big O)

Sunday, December 12, 2010


While I haven't ever been one for little, I must say he's a good dog, has settled in well, and is quite the little man about the house. Orphan no longer, he knows this is home.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


At this time of year, especially after the rains and with the sandy soil nice and moist, the forest floor is dotted with purple.

The tiniest flower is that of the Bauera (River Rose, Dog Rose) family. They have shy little lampshade bell-like flowers on a scrambling low shrub.

The three leaved Patersonia (Native Iris) is more confident, its conspicuous violet petals outstretched on an upright stem.

The slender stalked Scaevola (Fan-flower) keeps its wiry spreading branches close to the ground.

And the last one is a bit of a floozie, with a conspicuous fringe and extra makeup. Its the Fringe Lily from the Thysanotus family.

(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


The Kangaroo Paws are out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


There's a misconception that natives don't like water. It's wet feet from poor drainage that they don't like. Drought tolerant? - yes. They can wait, sometime years, waiting and just staying alive conserving what water they get.

But when the rains come, off they go, off they grow.

These photos (taken on the same day) are from several different but closely related Banksia species.

The Banksia serrata (Old Man Banksia) grows freely around here and is a soil moisture marker, the first to brown off and die in a prolonged dry. But now they are bursting with luxurious new soft lush tender growth, later to harden into the tough serrated adult leaves.

There's more rain yet. The ants know.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Truth be told, it was all about Lilli. For me I mean.

Last week the Sydney Symphony Orchestra clocked up Mahler's Third in their Mahler journey, which finishes at the end of next year with the Second, again with Lilli Passikivi, of course, thank goodness. So they began with the First and finish with the Second. I need to think about the sequencing some more, but the Second is definitely the one to wrap it up.

It was another full house, although I suspect not completely full of Mahler tragics. The coughing was pretty bad, and most likely there was a fair smattering of children's parents. Shouldn't complain though - no parents, no children, no Bimm Bamm (which is when they stopped coughing).

The start was fantastic with a thrilling call to march from the horns. Things sagged a bit in the long middle, and Mahler does tend to sag when he gets into 'what's going on in the world' mode. I think I like my Mahler on the faster side of very slow.

Enter Lilli. I love her voice. It's rich and warm and caressing and very reassuring, which I think is what Mahler needed, reassurance that is, don't we all. Maybe I'd forgotten, but she sounded fuller and richer and the voice perfectly centred for the Midnight Song. And how could I have forgotten how she sings (in recital) with her whole body.

The big finale got a few to their feet, led in fact by a certain past prime minister, who jumped up like the old days in question time. It was good. In fact K particularly liked it, despite his criticism of poor dynamic balance, perhaps related to where we sit. It was a change from the last time we heard it (LSO Barbican) when I was quite transported and he was completely unmoved - we had a rare domestic because the tube station was closed and I couldn't care less about going anywhere let alone back to the hotel. I ended up walking across London (to Berkeley Square) -- on my own.

If you can't hear Lilli, then this should make up. It's the fabulous and commanding contralto Norma Procter on the Horenstein LSO 1970 recording which I'd been listening to in readiness.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

PETER HOFFMAN 1944 - 2010

If you, like me, spent hours riveted in front of the TV in the early 1980s, stunned by the Centenary Patrice Chéreau / Pierre Boulez Bayreuth Ring (first staged 1976, filmed 1980) running week after week as the complete cycle went to air, then there's no forgetting the German tenor Peter Hoffman. He was the beautifully cast handsome, sexy, curly haired Siegmund, Volsung twin to Jeannine Altmeyer's Sieglinde, with more than enough heroic tenor and good looks for any sister, and any Wagnerite, to be left swooning. It was a defining moment in my Ring addiction.

He died aged 66 on the 29th November, apparently from pneumonia complicating Parkinson's Disease, another dreadful disease trapping a mind in a crippling body. It's been reported that it was the early onset of Parkinson's that was responsible for his premature move in the 80s away from opera into rock and finally ~ Phantom of the Opera ~ in Germany. He spent a lot of time dealing with the disease and helping its sufferers.

So much to hear and see here - just the way he lifts her up and leads, escorts, delivers her to the light, so upright, so masculine, so sensitive, so right ...

Listen for the collapsing gasp from Sieglinde as Notung finds its intended... in his hands...wouldn't you!

Pneumonia is considered a peaceful way to go, 'old man's friend' we call it. I find it a struggle now to look at Siegmund's death at the hands of Matti Salminen's brutal Hunding.

December 8 -
The Independent's obituary is quite detailed about his operatic, essentially Wagnerian, career. Read it here.