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.