Monday, January 26, 2015


                                    (Banksia serrata in the hall for 'Australia Day')

January 26 1788. Very likely hot and humid. The First Fleet has moved into Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) with the French not far behind and replacing it in Botany Bay. The Union Jack is planted ashore. Possession is declared and established by whatever it takes. It begins.

I'd recommend Thomas Keneally's The Commonwealth of Thieves to anyone interested in this extraordinary establishment of a far off colony (equivalent to putting a colony on the moon these days some have said). Keneally recreates the first four years of settlement, the Philip years. Here's Kate Grenville's review, and she'd know a thing or two, she who wrote the marvellous The Secret River.

So, we are stuck with what was once Foundation Day now being Australia Day and my sentiments are exactly these. If we must have a national day, then one day may it be Republic Day.

Down here, I've doused the house in Banksias (such exotica that would take his name Sir Joseph wouldn't have found on the moon) and have decked one table with bark from the Scribbly Gums.

Scribbly Gums are things of wonder. They are Eucalypts. There's several varieties and particularly common are E haemastoma and E sclerophylla. I've planted heaps (I'm told by recent guests from NL that using this word collectively like this is an Australian pecularity, so on this day etc) of E sclerophylla.

The scribbles are the wiggly lines remaining in the creamy white trunk when the bark peals off and these beautifully etched tracks are the paths taken by the larvae of the scribbly gum moth burrowing away under the bark wandering back and forth getting wider and wider from laid egg till pupation.

My Scribblies would be five or six years old now and just this last month have been shedding heaps of bark. I'd thought it might be the weather - hot with some heavy rains - but I suspect it is an age thing. An adolescence.

The markings are on both the bark and the trunk, and when you find a piece of marked bark, it is such a lovely thing that you think you might get it framed, or at least post it twice.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


There was a yellow breasted robin flitting about the roof beams in the shed when I was feeding the dog yesterday at last light. I think the flitting started when we arrived but nonetheless it seemed in no mood to be shooed out either.

They tend to fly into the darkening space as the day wanes and have sometimes built nests, wonderful little clay cups with bits if sticks in them, in the rafters. They're tiny. But I have to discourage them for there might be days, and more days, when I'm away and they'd be locked in and unable to feed.

Perched high and happy and, as I said, with a look of this will do very nicely if only you'd go, he (I can't sex robins, sorry) watched as we left and closed up. And when I opened the door first thing this morning sure enough there he was sitting on the edge of a red bucket on the long bench facing a window. Looking out.

After a quick look around it flew straight out the door onto the roof rack of the ute parked just outside. Within seconds, and I mean seconds, from nowhere a second appeared and they sat side by side, centimeters apart, before the outsider made a quick dart towards the night resident - a c'mon lets go kind of dart - and off they winged, together.

I felt all warm and fuzzy inside.

Friday, January 16, 2015


There were three laughing their heads off when K arrived midweek for a few days. He never comes down midweek. Now, that's hardly ever.

The one on the/our left looks like a baby. And there's lots of baby black cockatoos around by the sound of the open throated pleading calls coming in the evenings from the giant gum poking up from the gully. 

I wasn't certain what that call was, and even thought it might be mating. Then a few weeks ago I found myself walking in Centennial Park with a bird-feeder of a certain eccentricity. She shamelessly carried a bag of raw mince meat which she dispensed to Magpie families with mutual familiarity. 'This one's got two' she would say as a Magpie would hop over to her and take a big lump of mince in its beak and toddle back to two open throated young making that call. 'This one's got one' got a lesser ration.

So, here we are midweek, babies and all. The rain has cleared and the skies are brilliant. I can't find the comet that's meant to below Orion.

While I cooked we listened to a 1947 recording of Tennesse Williams camping it up with Pancho and then ate watching La Dolce Vita. The phenomenal Anita Ekberg has just died. There's the legendary Trevi Fountain scene of course :

I wish I could find the surreal hospital sequence which edges dangerously close to a boundary as the still clothed overdosed fiancée lies unconscious splayed on a stainless steel trolley, legs slightly askew, in a vast and otherwise empty sterile emergency room. Or is it a mortuary.

Lighter in tone is the deliciously subversive ascent to the top of St Peter's :

There's a wonderful seance as the rich and beautiful slip beyond amused indulgence into the realms of vulnerability and higher powers. The sequence where the blond bombshell ends up sensuously collapsed on the table, breasts up of course, is nowhere to be found in youtube land. Sadly.

But there is this brilliant spoof from Toto, Peppino e ... la dolce vita :

Come the morning.

There's jobs to be done. A hundred eucalypts planted. A hundred grasses to go. Tomorrow. Is this what retirement might look like. Tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


I've been down in the bush for a few days now and there's been lovely steady rain and some big downpours. Everything is soaked through. Everything is happy. 

As usual the ants were ready.

With humidity high, there's a light mist lingering day and night. A scrim.

The dog pulled a fat leach off her foot as she preened and dried herself on the doona, leaving a trail of blood, and washing. I got the bugger outside still sucking itself tight onto a bit of paper.

Weird fungi have emerged from the surface litter.

Large swathes of bark are flailed about like seaweed.

And last night there was a frog on a window like an embryo desperate to be somewhere else. It was all but transparent. Not yet alive almost and so vulnerable and fragile.


Down here, we are suffocating under a thuggish prime minister, a practising Catholic who dabbled with ministry and who, amongst a litany of things he'd swore he never do but is doing and doing and grinning and grinning and telling us it is good for us like some wicked priest spewing his guilt from the pulpit, is in the process of radically defunding of our public broadcaster (there's always Foxnews), downgrading our internet aspirations such that we are now 44th in the world for internet speeds (there's always Foxtel cable), dismantling our national health system (there's always suffering), and who spruikes that climate change is crap and that coal is good for humanity.

And who, it must be appended, under a brutish 'deeply Christian' minister for immigration, has stopped the boats by making the nightmare detention product worse than the refugees original plight (there's always if Jesus wanted you to live here you wouldn't have been born there).

It's all wrapped up in the need to balance the books and live within our means. Nothing to do with getting rid of a big revenue raising carbon tax which went all but unnoticed on introduction but saw an immediate drop in green house gas release. Nothing to do with willful refusal to address rampant tax concessions at the top end of town. Nothing to do with doing Murdoch's bidding.

For all this treachery, for all the suffering imposed, nothing comes close to the climate issue. It is the moral issue of our times as the hapless Kevin Rudd said only to be shouted down by shock jocks and murdochs and liars and miners and he crumbled and blew away in a bitter puff of defeated dust.

But there is goodness beyond the little men and women who slog it out each day looking after themselves and their neighbours, immediate and far. Who worry about the planet. Who worry about their grandchildren. Who worry about the poor. There's a Holy Man. A Voice. A Holy Spirit.

And he's about to make life very uncomfortable for our Mr Abbott. And Murdoch who just tweeted that it's cold in the UK so how can there be climate change. Who can't yet distinguish between weather and climate; well, yes he can, but can't. Who took to the River Jordan in white robes and garlands to  baptise some off-spring with Blair as the earth-god.

You've met your Man guys. He walks among you. And 2015 is the year.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


In the city it's all been a bit of a whirl. Gorgeous summery beachy swimmy weather with some exciting thunderstorms and heavy downpours enough to keep the parks and gardens happy.

We escaped to the Blue Mountains for a birthday dinner at The Carrington in Katoomba.

They aren't mountains. You are at 1000 metres atop a massive sandstone plateau peering down into fractures dense with eucalypts; great scars of the battle between the half fish half reptile Dreamtime creatures Mirigan and Garangatch.

But they are blue, these not really mountains. The colour varies with the time of day, the light and the humidity and at best the whole vista will shimmer in an ever-increasing-the-further-you-look smokey blue haze. It's the oils from the gums in the air, scattering the ultraviolet radiation.

A landmark right at the railway station, The Carrington (1883) has scrubbed up well, if perhaps veering towards over coloured, retaining much charm and modernised where it matters most - the bathrooms, the huge flat screen TV for starters. And absolutely the most genuinely pleasant staff.

Early the next morning we headed off down the main street, past a mishmash of old houses, hotels and motels, and joined a smattering of tourists at Echo Point, the great look-out over the Jamison Valley. I couldn't go the edge as a child, and still can't. If you didn't know what the Three Sisters are, now you do.

A little further west along the highway, at Medlow Bath, just finished (and all but inaccessible and therefore unfriendly) after a massive big bucks reno is the hotel of our long past family holidays, The Hydro Majestic, perched on the edge of the Megalong Valley which though less dramatic than its Katoomba fellow, is impressive in its immediacy.

First impressions count, and first impressions of The Hydro (as it was known and always will be) were not good - a hideous tourist restaurant building of staggeringly poor ascetic and insensitivity plonked there waiting for buses and hordes.

The renovated hotel adjoined, but for the life of us we couldn't find the (or even an) entrance. It all looked handsome but cold, even a bit forbidding.

We eventually snuck into the only door we could find that opened, past the resident only sign, and found ourselves in a breakfast room which could have been in Tokyo or Hamburg. Super smart and self conscious black and white furnishings and an uncomfortable feeling that despite lots of everything there was an emptiness.

But the big windows were still there, and the valley there to be glimpsed, as ever. Magic.

Around the back between the Belgravia (the once posh wing) and the tennis courts, the old stone steps leading down to the valley walks were reassuringly still there.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


One last post on good opera in 2014.

In Kasper Holten's production of Eugene Onegin, a coproduction with the ROH, I loved the overlaying of time and the emphasis on the (for me) truism that time isn't necessarily sequential but a selection of options all of which are available in the great hologram of existence. Unlike the SSO's Elektra (don't mistake me - the Elektra was the highlight of the year), the use of dance here was at times sublimely successful, adding great depth.

Nicole Car had a deserved triumph

The other interesting work was from Sydney Chamber Opera, a bold company doing bold work like their Owen Wingrave which I thought I had blogged on about but can't find in the rush of this moment. In 2014 it was Mayakovsky, music by Sydney's Michael Smetanin and libretto by Melbourne's Alison Croggon. And it sold out.

At the very least I learnt something about the revolutionary Russian poet, Stalin's man.


I'd always held reservations about Opera Australia's outdoor Opera-on-the-Harbour as being a populist event more about the numbers of bums on pretty expensive seats and the Sydney experience than about thoughtful insights into tragedy with music and voice.

What a thrill therefore to be proven wrong with last summer's Madama Butterfly which, in a complete contrast to the SSO's Elektra, left musical values to be squeaked out of some wholly inadequate speakers into the wide night air (I remember this sound I thought recalling our radiogram in the sitting room in the 60s) but completely had me undone by wonderful production values and the unimaginable moving effect of real space time.

It happened that a country sister was organising a big family night out and we happily accepted the invitation with the tickets on her and the transport and dining on us. It is what these big events are about I suppose: a big night out in a big city bringing everyone together.

The set up is impressive. Elevated platforms and walk ways wound their way through the trees and rocks, that is to say nature, at one end of the Botanic Gardens before dropping you down to the temporary but very solid well raked seating spanning way beyond the sides on a vast floating stage. Japanese style lighting and the nod to Japan in the menu needed to be taken with the best of intentions and the good humour of the occassion. It is, as you have heard a million times, a spectacular setting.

(The lighting rig and cranes are over the stage of which you can see the edge of a large grassy hill at the bottom right of the picture)

Nightfall changed the focus as the mechanics disappear and the Act 1 set of a mysterious bamboo forest atop a lovely grassy hill slope starts to transform perspective and expectations. The spell was working on me.

While the orchestra sound was pretty tiny, acceptance is a marvellous thing, and it was soon enough just to hear the tunes. Who would have thought. Voices were better miked and mixed and generally had effective, mostly good and occasionally thrilling impact.

Why did it work so well? Alex Olle and La Fura dels Baus team. From an ambrosial first Act the idyllic setting changes to the rape of the landscape by ruthless (American) property developers, Butterfly joining the squatters in all but squalid survival as she waits, in vain.

There were three heart stopping and tear jerking moments :

Butterfly's entrance out of the bamboo slowly and hesitatingly down the slope in real time and real space, swathed in soft white crysalid gauze, was just incredibly beautiful and moving theatre

Buttterfly's response to hearing the boat canon announcing its arrival, scampering up a lighting rig to impossible dizzying heights, peering out over the night black harbour, bursting with vocal anticipation (brilliant singing here)

The abduction of Trouble, as he is bundled into the back of a taxi and driven away slowly, his pitiful little face peering out the rear window looking for his mother, the cab disappearing into the blackness of the night.

It was a triumph really, of successful communication, of a reshifting of the usual balance of music and make believe, and getting to the core of the matter - emotion.


There were four as yet unmentioned operas I saw in 2014 which we quite memorable in one way or another.

First and foremost was the Sydney Symphony Orchestra / Robertson's semi-staged Elektra. The work itself was enough for enormous satisfaction especially in such good hands.

Staging: The concept was to augment emotion and the final dance of death with the Sydney Dance Company. Strauss doesn't need his emotions to be underlined and this soon devolved into more is less. It's all in the music; enough already. Not only that, it now meant the need for a purpose built dance area which ended up being behind the orchestra, as I best recall, built as an elevated platform above the main concert platform, with the 100 plus musician pushed out into the front stalls. And this meant the acoustic was strangely altered and a very dominant score was even more in-your-face. And maybe this alone, or a combination of very exposed orchestral forces in a hall where some, or perhaps all, of the cast voices would struggle to get across, meant that the performance was 'semi-miked'. And by this I mean there were four microphones across the front of the stage to which singers could variably engage to boost their volume. The effect was as weird as it was exciting.

This rehearsal pic is from Ms Goerke's twitter feed and you can see the orchestra protruding out into the hall and the dance platform performance space behind them. Who wants to sing Elektra from behind a fully exposed orchestra?

Cast: The sheer amplitude of Christine Goerke was thrilling. She seemed the least in need of finding a microphone and was therefore the more liberated in moving around the performance space, aided and abetted by the force of her personality. And she got into it. On the second night as she wound herself up into the final frenzy, legs and feet running amok, she caught the hem of her dress with her foot and came a heavy cropper where she continued her act of crazy big girl from the fallen position. It looked rather impressive.

The return of Liza Gasteen was good casting. She was a stately and steely Klytemnestra. Cheryl Barker was (sensibly) microphone focused and therefore limited in her organic interaction with her horrible big sister. For my taste, Peter Coleman-Wright didn't muster the gravitas necessary for Orestes - the fulcrum of the piece. Kim Begley's Aegisthus was a marvellous slippery bit of evil whose Herod I'd very much like to hear.