Sunday, December 28, 2014


Before we went to Darwin we went to Switzerland. Which was a bit easier because it wasn't cowbell land but the new play by Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith (who in that link gives her insights into the writing passion and in a few sentences unravels some of the complexities of the play's subject matter - Patricia Highsmith) co-commisioned by the Sydney Theatre Company and Geffen Theatre Los Angeles.

Continuing on their brilliant marketing campaign, after I became a new subscriber there came an email from Sydney Theatre Company welcoming me, thanking me, and rewarding me with two tickets to their new production: Switzerland. 'Must be crap, they're giving them away' I said to K. Well no. Wrong again. It opened to great reviews on every level - script, actors, set, production - with talk of Broadway and the like down the track.

Patricia Highsmith - the aggressively eccentric homosexual who would take hundreds of snails in her bag to a party to ensure she would have decent company, who spent her last years firing off racist letters to whomever would or wouldn't publish them, who morphed love and death and was said to be unloving and unlovable but certainly mortal, and who is probably most recognised for her Mr Ripley novels.

If I'd seen the name I hadn't remembered it and I'd certainly not read her, respected in Europe as a fine and psychologically probing writer while held at some distance in her native USA as a (mere) crime novelist. So much the better perhaps, for this fictional account dealing with her last years secluded in her own prison in Switzerland was probably all the more unpredictable, and thrilling, and chilling.

I thought the set brilliant, as disturbing as Michael Scott-Mitchell intended, angular, claustrophobic, uncomfortably comfortable. (For those less familiar, he did the astounding fire from water Olympic Flame set for Sydney 2000)

The wonderful veteran Sarah Peirse transforms herself into this creature, brilliantly directed by Sarah Goodes with Murray-Smith's dialogue playing off against a rivetting (for me at least) performance of the intruder by the outrageously talented and charismatic Eamon Farren. He made my hair stand on end with just one entrance.

                                                   (Production photos Brett Boardman)

As soon as we were back in the country we watched The Talented Mr Ripley again, just sitting in the stack of DVDs it happened to be. I didn't enjoy it much the first time despite an array of A-listers (Damon, Law, Paltrow, Blanchett, Seymour Hoffman, Minghella) and liked it even less the second now that I had some insights into what Highsmith was on about. It was for me simply overdrawn, something that can't be said about this brilliant new play.

I think I said brilliant three times already.


Boxing Day in Sydney means the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. It's a big deal. Lots of money, big boys with big toys, lots of serious yachties, small yachts and keen sailors, and lots of risk. Six sailors died in the 1998 race.

This year we were hosting a visitor from Holland and so it was back to South Head again on a spectacular summer day to watch the start and see them sail out the heads.

It was crowded but friendly.

The start line is back down the harbour with spectator craft lined up forming a channel to the first mark and ready to follow them out to sea. The crowd is peering, helicopters buzzing, then there's a ten minute gun, a five minute gun, and then they're racing.

The American supermaxi Comanche flew away. Even from where we were the speed of this boat tightly trimmed with a brisk southerly behind was quite thrilling. And the crowd gasped as it looked like she might tip right over as she came close to the first mark where they turn to head out the Heads

And in no time the leaders are through and rounding the second mark to head south.

A huge fleet of spectator follow alongside as the main field rounds the first mark.

On shore, things are a bit calmer and safer.

And then they are gone.

Like others, we lingered to let the crowds thin out and had a picnic looking at a now all but empty harbour with a southerly on its way thrrough.

Thursday, December 25, 2014


                                                                                (St Klara Kirche, Nuremburg)

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I will meet you there" (Rumi)

These beautiful words from Rumi were on the front page of the order of service of the funeral of Tori Johnson.

Monday, December 22, 2014


We went to Darwin last weekend for a birthday party.

It's a strange place to classify and come to grips with as it celebrates being so named after you-know-who when the Beagle sailed in from the Timor Sea 175 years ago. It just sits there as a defence against whoever it is above us (and that's just about everyone), a trading port, and a Government town for the 'Top End', sweltering in the start of the wet season, the storms building up and the humidity heavy, a small outpost of a place on a stump in a multi-fingered harbour of low lying swamps.

It is Larrakia People's place, the sign in the harbour-side park off The Esplanade tells you. Saltwater People.

From the park there's a steep walk down under dense tropical growth to a beach where nothing seems  changed from when HMS Beagle arrived, except for some navy ships mooching about. We passed some Swiss tourists who spoke no English as we climbed back up. But no one else. It was still early morning and the heat was building up.

No Saltwater People by the water, spears at the ready. If one word comes to mind about the Saltwater People, it is displaced. It's the word with all aboriginal people. They are displaced. In their own land but not. Match sticked legged with an aimless gait. I don't think I've ever seen one walking with what seems like purpose. And congregating under trees, dark shadows of a people and a past.

This Port Darwin looks prosperous. There's money from shipping Kimberley gas, coming via massive pipelines, out to China, and the Americans are here - that's the odd tourist, and the several hundred military. It's closer to Asia than the rest of Australia. The Parap Markets on Saturday morning felt like old Malaya - toothless old Malay women grinding something with pestles, young families meeting up, kids running about, wonderful fruits and greens, fabulous coffee, and very hot Laksa for breakfast when more sweating is the last thing needed.

Heavily bombed by the Japanese in WW2, then smashed to smithereens by Cyclone Tracey, there's little evidence of old Darwin (and what there is is charming), and new Darwin isn't especially typical of anything except modern and clean.

Cyclone Tracey was 40 years ago this Christmas. The place was destroyed and evacuated by the military. I was at Royal North Shore and because we were major spinal unit were took most of the spinal injuries. I cared for a young woman who was an acute paraplegic. She spoke of the noise. She clutched her child in her arms. The child was ripped out of them by the wind. That's all she knew.

At Covent Garden a month later, in the wee small hours after midnight, they held a Concert for Darwin. Joan sang. She would have done it most willingly. I was at a fund raiser in Sydney years later when famous women walked a Cat Walk modelling clothes raising money for Children's Cancer Research. Joan was there. Modelling! To strains of Norma. For Darwin, here she disposes of Nella Pace del Mesto Riposo with her usual magisterial efficiency, and with a cold by the sound of it. Vintage Joan.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


                                                            I'LL RIDE WITH YOU

You could say Martin Place is the heart of the city, anchored by The Cenotaph, the empty tomb, sitting outside the once General Post Office with its one hundred metres of golden sandstone colonnade where all the mail, when all there was was mail, came and went - city, suburbs, county, interstate and overseas. It was under these arches we as young medical students chose to do our silly Commemoration Day stunt to maximise our exposure.

The empty tomb is where the city grieves for its war dead on the one and only day of the year which has garnered significance: Anzac Day.

Rising slowly up to the east, Martin Place is now a pedestrian plaza flanked by the grand buildings of the old banks and insurance companies and at its crest meets the city's only boulevarde with the country's oldest hospital, Sydney Hospital, looking across and back down the slope.

We were in town today for a lunch, and encouraged by others, went to see. I'm glad we did. I was struck by bonds of it-could-have-been-anyone-of-us, and that they were one of us, and the importance of public grieving.

There was a steady stream, and endless stream, of people quietly and slowly arriving with flowers. Most were on their own and most were young. There was a calm. There was respect.

A unobtrusive man with a vest marked CHAPLIN mingled. There was time: time stilled, time taken and time lost. A group of religious clerics of all faiths stood in silent prayer before some lowered a flower into the sea.

Above, the Sydney sky was its usual brilliant blue, a flag at half mast.

The Lindt cafe beyond with its shattered glass secrets was secured by a black shroud.

Later that evening in the hazy light of the day's end, we watched a cruise ship sail away, another one about to arrive.

Monday, November 24, 2014


I don't really want to get into politics too much. There's enough already. But in scrolling around looking for stuff on the Williamson play 'Rupert' which is about to open in Sydney, I found this interview with the brilliant Dennis Potter made in his last months.

20 years ago.

         "..... the very antithesis of discovering something you didn't know....."

It's not too hard to hypothesise that the defunding of the ABC on top of the closure of the Australia Asia Network smacks not only of payback for daring to be anything but a conservative cheer squad but of rewarding the man who relentlessly and ruthlessly destroyed the previous government and installed the stifling idiocy now in charge.

Not to mention that he, who canvassed sanctity in the river Jordan was probably the only person with the power to stop the lunacy of the US led invasion of Iraq instead using it to vigorously prosecute it

Quentin Dempster didn't hold back either.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


These tiny grass finches (Emblema temporalis) are some of the smallest birds around here. Not much bigger than a gum leaf! 

They like country with grassy areas surrounded by shrubs and trees (yes, that's us) and feed in small groups. They are tame enough to risk the open grasses close to the house, but alert enough that even the slightest movement inside a window sends them scattering. They have strong partner bonds, and it's wonderful to see pairs together in the larger flock.

It's taken ages to get these photos. They arrive in late spring / early summer when the grass is seeding (their preferred food, along with small insect and berries) and so it was a matter on lying on the bed (not too difficult) with the camera waiting in the late afternoon.

I'm wondering if one keeps lookout. 

The photos haven't been adjusted other than being cropped zoom shots which exaggerate the impact of the brilliant red markings. In the field, they are so small that the red isn't that obvious and the overall colours of grey-olive make a perfect disguise against predators.


Coming soon to a Sydney Opera House near you:  Colin Currie percussion soloist in the Australian premier of 'Sieidi' - Percussion Concerto which was written for him by Kalevi Aho. Osmo Vänskä conducts.

Sieidi means ancient cult place, and the work has shamanistic 'tendencies'. Sounds good to me.


Monday, November 10, 2014


Most people I meet at work are apprehensive and anxious. Not everyone, but most. They are after all at best committing their welfare to another or at worst, flirting with death. Toward the end of the pre-anaesthetic consultation I routinely ask the question: Are there any special worries or fears we haven't talked about?

Or something like that, depending on how it is going.

On Friday, I got an answer that was a first, delivered with considerable assurance.

"No. I have a peaceful mind."


"Not exactly. Years ago I decided to write down at the end of each day everything good or beautiful that happened during the day."

"Like an act of kindness, or lovely rose?"

"Yes, or a successful business outcome. The more I did this, the longer the list became till I had to stop* "

As things evolved, I was left with little doubt this was a mind at peace with itself and its situation and not some lolly-gobble-bliss-bomb state of denial.

*writing them down, not being aware

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Sydney University reflects on its famous alumnus, fare-welled today in an emotional State Memorial Service at the Town Hall.

He was undoubtedly the great Australian of my time. Within days of election he stopped conscription and ended our involvement in the Vietnam War. A war this conscript vehemently and uncomfortably opposed. But much much more was to come.

I choked hearing Noel Pearson, with belief in the continuity of spirit, call him still 'the old man' and refer to 'when he breathed' in his eulogy of heart wrenching sincerity and insights, and pointed indictment of today's regressive regimes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


On his second visit (I must have missed the first, surely not forgotten it), Jonathon Nott conducted a very fine concert of the, at first glance, unusual pairing of Poulenc's Organ Concerto and Mahler's 7th.

I've been mad about the Poulenc since this early 60's release which I bought for the fabulous Gloria with the fabulous Rosanna Carteri. The Organ Concerto is for organ, strings and tympani and there's only one winner here, and it's not the strings. It's very French, and very organ-y and the rarely heard Opera House organ was at full throttle, as already noted.

The Mahler 7 needs, like most things Mahler, to be nudging excellence to work; nearly just doesn't cut it and risks Mahler Soup. It is long and demands attention and audience commitment till it finally plows to a halt in a cow paddock. They played brilliantly and all credit to the elegant Mr Nott whose attention to detail, while never at the expense of the big picture, was exemplary.

Now, only for the story telling, it happened that just as silence fell over the hall as the baton was raised at the start of the Poulenc, a muffled something, like a child talking (which I think was the case), came from the circle. TURN THAT PHONE OFF came a call in an English accent I thought and then I thought: oh, that was Mr Nott. Although K assures me he thought it was some other patron also in the circle. Whatever happened thereafter, the organ took care of.

A second reminder to turn of phones came after interval. I don't think I've ever heard a mobile go off during a SSO concert. It is generally a good audience. That said, it is a tourist venue, and there are considerable attendees who are there for the building as much as the music, especially in summer.

Anyway, all was quiet, not a sound in the house, not even a mouse, till the end of the first movement. Thankfully no clapping (which Mr Robertson seems to encourage) but there was the sound of hurried footsteps as (and I turned to have a sticky) someone literally ran to the door. Bravo them for holding on, thought I. There was a sense of tension in the house. But still still as a mouse, till the end of the third, whence came the unbelievable clatter of high heels, a phalanx by the sound, echoing through the stillness. I turned to see two young women making their way down from rear circle to better seats in one of the side boxes, at the same time as Mr Nott turned and if looks could kill, then these girls were toast.

It must be hard, and stressful on the performers, although I reiterate, this (Friday) audience was immaculately behaved during performance, and if people have needs, and wait till breaks, then who's to criticise.

Lately, the rear seats / choir stalls have been completely empty, presumably either unsold or reallocated. Some conductors find patrons there can be distracting, without or with coughing.

Anyway, all that nonsense aside, now that Mr Nott is music director of Tokyo Symphony Orchestra and Tokyo really isn't that far away, and -2 time zone, might we be so lucky.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Yesterday morning an early mist hung around the Federation Monument in Centennial Park as the first dog walkers arrived, moi aussie.

Friday, October 31, 2014


Belvoir's Wild Duck (after Ibsen) is garnering praise and more praise in London, not exactly an easy gig.

It played here a few years ago, and we missed it. I was determined not to let the also much admired new production of The Glass Menagerie slip through our fingers, and fortunately scored some great seats in the centre block, not yet mindful that the side seats have some restrictions.

We saw a thing of delicate and fragile beauty, almost transparent with wafting gauze, wisps of smoke, shadows and corners, windows and curtains, in subdued colours and with monochrome video projections onto side screens where close ups and lingering moments of exquisite beauty added a dimension of almost hypnotic quality as illusion's truth was increasingly exposed. It's like watching a beautifully shot 40's black and white film while the live version is slowly played out on a soundstage which itself could all but disappear with the next thunderclap, and everyone with it.

The lovely thing for me about this production (and we were both seeing the play for the first time, really) was the love that somehow was managed to be infused into the characters whose sometimes achingly sad inadequacies were nonetheless driven by what was thought in another's best interest. No freaks here; just frail humans.

I especially liked Rose Riley's Laura/ Rose.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


We go to the theatre on and off, mostly picking the eyes of a season for the big names, or plays of particular interest. I've only intermittently subscribed, and then to Belvoir and Sydney Theatre Company. We struggle with so much on (town and country, two orchestra subs, big Hayes Theatre fans, this and that, travel and work, at home and not). And I am on mailing lists of many theatres and companies (Seymour, State, and Carriageworks all doing really interesting stuff).

So, here's how to get it right, and in this instance I'm talking about Sydney Theatre Company.

First, send an email with the season details announcing renewals, dates etc noting New (non-renewing) Season ticket sales commence Oct 14

Next, have a good season ~~

     *  at The Wharf, The Opera House, The Sydney Theatre 

      * with names like Robyn Nevin, Cate Blanchett, Jaqueline Mckensie, Richard Roxborough, Hugo Weaving, Susie Porter, Geoffrey Rush (with Neil Armfield)

      * with playwrights like Chekhov, Tennesee Williams, Beckett, Chekov, Dorfman, Shaw, Woolf, Shakespeare

      * and the hapless non-subscriber just knows waiting till next year means missing out or poor seats or inertia taking over

Then, send a second email announcing that starting at 0900 the next day the recipient will be able to get priority season tickets a week in advance of the public, and that at 0900 tomorrow morning you will get another email which will allow access to early bookings. And telling you to get ready and think about what and when. Which you do. 

Come the morning, the email arrives. You're ready with diary marked to avoid clashes and busy weeks with other subscriptions. But the worry is that you'll get lousy seats and off nights, or something beyond your control as you get sucked into the system, or mystery seats which will arrive next January months after they've got the money.

Have a waiting room, a holding page which will let anxious finger tips stay on the website when it is busy then let you into the booking pages when they free up. Which I didn't need cos I took the dog for a walk and cooled my heels.

Let it flow and be obvious, such that the season is before you, and so you give it a go, only to find out that for each selected play, you can choose any night, AND SELECT SEATS FOR EACH PERFORMANCE, and easily navigate from night to night looking at seating, and once chosen, move onto your next choice, nights and seating again all self-select and on, and on, six times (the minimum for a sub and the maximum for us). And, did you know that:

You get an hour to do all this, everything saved, step by step, nothing crashed, nothing lost, and you think this is

Easy, easy as, because two days ago it was too hard, and now you have good seats for great shows on nights which work, except that you have to pay, but wait, there's

Pay in installments - four installments with a single $10 installment charge. 

Well, you got me Sydney Theatre Company. Well done.


The Wood Ducks (Chenometta jubata) are mating.

Australian Wood ducks are dabblers, not divers  - spending the day mostly pottering around and the nights feeding on crops and grasses. They're more than satisfied with a small water resource, like our little dam. While essentially herbivores, I have read they are good value as spider eaters.

Coupling is thought to be permanent and both male and female care for the ducklings.

Mr Duck is slightly larger (appearances otherwise are zoom or cropping artifact), with a handsome bronzy brown head and neck, a speckled breast and wonderful black stripes down a soft grey body.

Mrs Duck gives a more general speckled appearance with the head and neck the same soft grey as the main body, with just blushes of brown. Again, there are distinctive back stripes though the contrast is lessened by the slightly darker body.

The happy couple are never far apart.

(click to enlarge)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Now that the camera was out, I took it for a walk. I'm becoming more aware of a liking for loosing the background. If that's a metaphor for being in the here and now, then I'm trying. Though it's not easy; not like the photos - just a wide open aperture and zoom.

Here's a Grevillea against the morning sky; a little day lily on the forest floor; and an unfolding Waratah, a mystery unto itself.

                                                                 (click to enlarge)