Tag Archives: Australia

The Future’s Bright…?

28 Apr

When you are married to the military, events such as Anzac Day suddenly hold much more significance than they once did. When you become a mother, especially to a son, they become more poignant still.

Examining one of dad's medals

Examining one of Dad’s medals

I admit, before moving to Australia I knew little of Anzac Day and the horrors of Gallipoli, but  you cannot but feel moved at the thought of those thousands of young men, boys, who ran head on into a dawn bloodbath, some, no older than fourteen, many never to see their home again; most, never stood a chance.

Anzac Biscuits

Homemade Anzac Biscuits

You can read a little more of what Anzac Day commemorates here. It was the first year that I have not attended a dawn service or watched the parade in the city but with sleep a precious commodity right now, I decided against waking a sleeping a baby at 4am to venture out on a chilly Autumn morning.

This year I found myself not just sparing a thought for the dead and the atrocities of the past, but of the world we live in now, wondering if despite the nature of war having changed, whether we have learnt anything from the sacrifices of our ancestors. I found myself asking what sort of world I have brought a child into: where battles still rage, where people still need to flee for their lives, where people still need to escape the daily threat of bombings, beatings, rape, torture; where people still live in fear for their existence. And it is not just in war-torn Gaza or Afghanistan, it is not just in Syria or Iraq; it is everywhere to a greater or lesser extent. It is in a New York skyscraper, a London bus, a Pakistani school, an African village, a Parisian office, a Sydney cafe…

And for those who do flee and seek a better life for themselves and their own children, are they welcomed across borders and embraced by their fellow humans or are they challenged each step of the way, punished for the sheer misfortune of birthplace and geography, then locked away for ‘processing’ until bureaucracy catches up on its agenda?

My sleep-deprived and baby-addled brain cannot eloquently express my point but really it is nothing more than a mother looking at the world and wondering what my son will make of it and whether this new generation can bring about any changes and learn to live with a greater tolerance and compassion. When you hear of children younger than ten being groomed to continue certain fights in the name of religion, I fear, to use the word again, that in some cases, it is already too late.

Cheeky smiles

Cheeky smiles

I write this as I scratch a remnant of pear puree from my ear lobe, which a seven-month old has splattered with his spoon and I am reminded of his little round face, smeared with sweet potato, and the impish look he gave me just before scuttling off to explore new territory in an undiscovered corner of the room, and I look at him now, curled up asleep, oblivious to all that I have just mentioned, and the world does not seem such a dark place after all.

Times to smile about

Times to smile about

Muse in Melbourne

9 Dec

The first time I saw Muse live they had just released their third studio album and were playing an intimate venue in Nagoya, Japan. I was front row standing just beneath the stage and could have reached out to touch the feet of Christopher Wolstenholme on bass.  Lighting was moody and there were a few projections on to the back of the stage. It was quite raw and quite brilliant. What a difference nearly ten years makes. Sat near the back of the 15,000 capacity Rod Lavner Arena in Melbourne, we watched the band members emerge on to stage under a pyramid of HD screens, lasers and smoke jets. Fifteen million albums, a Mercury Prize, Brit Awards, a Grammy, several NME awards and numerous Q awards, including “Best Act in the World Today” last year, the band have retained their slightly melancholic but stirring sound and are just as brilliant and importantly, just as humble. Themes from their albums have ranged from the usual relationship angst to, more recently, political outrage, greed and the economy.

They talked little and played their music, for that is what people had paid to hear. It was an energetic performance of many of their hits from The 2nd Law as well as a few favourites from past albums such as Plug In Baby.

This was a birthday present to both of us from both of us and it was worth the extra dollars we ended up having to fork out for a flight to Melbourne when we realised we still hadn’t booked less than a week until the concert. (A clear sign of the amount of work and planning we have had to fit in recently.)

Birds of Tokyo were supporting and were a brilliant warm up act and complemented the progressive, and at times, aggressive, sound that Muse produce. Despite being rock musicians, there are classical undertones to many of their numbers and Matthew Bellamy’s voice can be at once powerful and haunting.

Muse in Melbourne

Muse in Melbourne

Muse: Unsustainable Tour

Muse: Unsustainable Tour

We left on a high. It was a fantastic way to end our working week in Australia and begin the holiday that takes us on our own world tour.

Melbourne's Laneways

Melbourne’s Laneways

 

Taking Command

30 Jun

I thought I’d give Louise a break from the blogging and write a post myself.  It has been quite a while since I wrote anything here and, to be honest, Louise is such a good writer that I feel that anything I write will pale into insignificance against the hundred or so other entries to this site.

Life has been hectic for us over the last few months; we have had to move home and I have been very busy with work, which has taken me to HMAS Cerberus in Victoria for the past 3 weeks and then I am off to San Diego in a week for just under a month.  We have a week’s leave booked for the end of August and we are both looking forward to a break.

My work has been interesting; I accompanied 27 student warfare officers down to West Head Gunnery Range where they were put through their paces in the art of Naval gunnery.  The range is located on a cliff top near the picturesque township of Flinders and provides an excellent training opportunity as we are allowed to fire live rounds out to sea.  Not sure I would wish to live close by as it makes quite a racket!

Our great friends Will and Isa, along with their two children, live nearby to HMAS Cerberus in Mt Martha and it was wonderful to catch up with them whilst I was down there.  Will is fast becoming a craft beer aficionado and is actually getting quite a good reputation as an online blogger on this increasingly popular interest in good beer. Check him out here: http://vonschlapper.wordpress.com/author/vonschlapper/

Yesterday I received some exciting news.  The RAN have selected me to command one of their patrol boats based in Cairns.  Command of a warship is a goal that I have been dreaming of achieving since I was a junior officer and it is a wonderful feeling to have been nominated.  I do not take up the position for another year, so there will be 6 more months of my role in training warfare officers here in Sydney before I embark on a 5 month course which will tell me of the many ways in which I must try to avoid getting into trouble.  The prospect of command is both exciting and a little intimidating as I will be responsible for everything that goes on in that Ship, including the welfare and safety of my crew – a daunting task but one that I feel honoured to tackle.

The job of the patrol boats is to protect the maritime approaches to Australia.  In this current climate of mass people migration from parts of the world  where people are desperate to escape tyranny and conflict for a better life this task will be a significant challenge both physically and morally.  The timing could not be more apt with the newly re-instated Prime Minister of Australia making incendiary comments with regard to Indonesia and immigration.  Who knows what the situation will be like in 12 months time, but one thing is for sure there will still be people taking great risks to get to these shores.

In many ways I have been preparing for command since the day I joined the RN in 1997, in the early years I didn’t realise this and there were times when if I am honest I wasn’t even sure that I actually wanted it.  An institution such as the Navy has ways to school its officers in preparation for this important job that have been honed through many years of war and peace.  Other organisations have great ways of preparing their people for leadership positions and an entire industry has sprung up touting the answer to leadership excellence, but I believe in the tried and tested methods of the Armed forces in which I am honoured to serve.

I will not actually command my own Ship, instead I will be the Commanding Officer of one of 6 crews based in Cairns where we will man four Armidale Class Patrol Boats (ACPBs), each crew rotates through the different ships.

English: The Australian patrol boat HMAS Child...

The Australian patrol boat HMAS Childers (and others) berthed at HMAS Cairns in Cairns, Queensland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: HMAS Broome (ACPB 90) in Darwin Harbour

HMAS Broome (ACPB 90) in Darwin Harbour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our plan as it stands is for Louise to stay in Sydney where we have friends and a support network, I will then either fly down or Louise will come up when I am not on patrol.  Hopefully this arrangement will work and it means we keep ourselves in the new unit in Sydney.  Having just moved, the prospect of moving again in 12 months is not an appealing one!

Sydney through a lens

31 May

How do you walk for miles and actually not go very far? Don’t worry, I’m not challenging you to a riddle. I discovered the answer on Wednesday when I walked ten miles (about 16km) yet never left Sydney. It was me, a friend, our cameras and a whole day taking hundreds of photographs. She was doing a project for school and I had been asked to help her.

We’ve got to know her family pretty well over the past few months. A fellow Navy family, they shared our leech walk, (James and Rob shared a little more), we have had barbecues and dinners at each other’s houses and we have been a source of mutual support for one another since they are also RN transfers. However, I was still surprised when asked to help out their daughter, mainly because I am not an expert photographer and I hardly felt qualified. Still, I was happy to help in any way I could and that is how we came to walk for seven hours straight from Sydney’s Circular Quay and back again via the CBD, Botanical Gardens, Hyde Park, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, many alleyways, and Darling Harbour.

Her aim was to produce a final project called ‘Sydney at Work’. My aim was to supervise, give her any pointers, any advice or suggestions and be a bit of a guide. In the meantime: have camera; will shoot. It was actually great fun for me too.

There was a real atmosphere that morning with a low fog suspended over the city, seeming to render it mute and deserted. Boats and ferries emerged, ghost-like, from the mist, the wharves were silent and the tips of buildings faded into the clouds with an ethereal quality. We snapped away and set off for our day, unsure of what we would find and how successful we would be.

In the centre, the morning coffee rush proved a good source of shots of waiters, baristas and business suits. Construction sites and road works dotted around the city suddenly became interesting, and window shopping became window shooting. People seemed very accommodating that day; the kiosk vendors, buskers and workmen all seemed happy to have their pictures snapped and even a couple of chefs, spotted through the swinging door of their back-alley kitchen, posed for a shot. I was not there to take pictures of working people but if I saw something that caught my eye, I clicked. So, here is a selection of my shots: Sydney Glimpses.

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Lest We Forget

26 Apr

As the dawn broke over the cliffs of Gallipoli ninety-eight years a go, it saw the dawning of a political and military disaster for the Allies in World War I.  It was the moment hundreds upon hundreds of young Australians and New Zealanders were sent, mostly unprepared, with instructions to secure the Turkish peninsular and sent ultimately, to their deaths. This day, April 25th, is now commemorated as ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) Day and marked with dawn services around the world. It marks the occasion young men landed on the beaches of Gallipoli full of courage, fighting for their lives and fighting for each other in a battle they were never going to win. Young men who fought with bravery, persevered with determination and buried their dead with compassion: values which have come to be known as epitomising the ANZAC spirit.

As Ruth Pollard, who was present for the dawn service at the since-named Anzac Cove at Gallipoli, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, the headstones of those who lost their lives during the campaign also reflect the spirit and laid-back nature of the ANZACs. The headstone of ‘Trooper E.W. Lowndes of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade reads simply: “Well done Ted”.’

It was at a very poignant and moving dawn service at Bondi Beach, at the same moment that the ANZACs landed, that we were described the horrors that awaited those young men: ‘a maelstrom of bullets and blood’ and we were asked to turn and look out to the beach and try to imagine it without the shops, cafes and houses and instead the grizzly scenes which would have met the soldiers; a stark contrast to the calm and serenity of Bondi that morning. The guest speaker gave a powerful reminder of why we were there: to honour those who fell, those like many of the young men stood in the crowd amongst us. More than 11,000 lives were lost in that one failed campaign and the statistic, which resonated with many of us today: in the Australia of just 5 million people, 300,000 joined up to fight, the equivalent of 1.4 million young men doing so today.

Thousands of people gathered to attend the dawn service, an apparently growing trend, and made the occasion all the more special as there were so many children in the crowd as well – a point which I have noticed here is that the younger generations seem to mark the day and are encouraged to continue the tradition and commemoration more so than for Remembrance Day in the UK (this may have changed a little due to the recent war in Afghanistan and it may help that it is a public holiday in Australia.) An estimated 20,000 people paid their respects at the cenotaph in St,Martin’s Place, Sydney and over 3,000 stood silently at the North Bondi RSL. Current and former servicemen and women decorated with medals, stood with ordinary members of the public, some of whom were also wearing the military medals of their ancestors or carrying a photograph of loved ones who had been killed in action. Particularly poignant was the laying of wreaths by the parents of two young combat engineers who lost their lives in Afghanistan, the most recent having been killed in October last year, aged 24.

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Thousands at Bondi RSL ANZAC dawn service

Dawn over Bondi beach

The sun rising over Bondi was a more cheering sight after a 5am wake up and so it was on to breakfast and then into the city to watch the parade. My friend and neighbour, Katie and I watched proudly as all the Navy marched first. Both of our respective partners were parading and it was particularly touching to see how much applause there was and how many cheers erupted from the crowds, particularly as the veterans walked or were wheeled past.

Veterans ANZAC 2013

Paratroopers Sydney parade

ANZAC Day 2013: Sydney parade

HMAS Watson parade ANZAC Day 2013

SYdney parade ANZAC Day 2013

Marching band: ANZAC Day 2013

Support for the troops

ANZAC Day 2013: Sydney veteran

The sombre and ceremonial aspect of ANZAC Day is countered with a much more celebratory but none the less important part of the day as well. Following the parade, it is a chance for serving members (and the public) to enjoy a few beers. A chance for some to get as drunk as possible in one afternoon but generally, a chance to let the hair down, relax with colleagues and comrades and a moment to feel very proud of the uniform they wear.

ANZAC Day celebrations James said the whole experience of ANZAC Day, from the words spoken at the dawns service, to the obvious support from the crowds, gave him a feeling he wishes he could bottle to bring out during challenging times at work, those moments when motivation may be at a lower ebb.

James at Rose Bay

For those who use the public holiday as an opportunity for a lie-in and a booze in the sunshine, I would ask that although you don’t need to attend a dawn service, or even support the troops in a parade, at least spare a thought for the reason why you are having fun in the sun, for the men and women who have paid with their  lives to let you enjoy those beers, for that is the real reason behind ANZAC Day. A day on which many Australians and New Zealanders do reflect on the ultimate sacrifice so many made to protect their way of life, a day on which they do spare a thought for those past and present in the armed forces, a day on which they remember three words with a very significant meaning: Lest We Forget.

Sunset over Sydney

Full Circle

29 Aug

It was only a few weeks a go that we were celebrating our first wedding anniversary but today marks another milestone for it was a year a go that we landed in Australia and woke up to that glorious day, walking through Sydney, roaming through the Botanical Gardens and catching (for me) the first ever glimpse of that most iconic of scenes: the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Now they are two landmarks, which we see on a weekly, if not daily basis but they are never the less impressive for it.

Our year in Australia has to be one of the most memorable ever, having seen so much, travelled to many new places, made some great friends and of course, there have been the inevitable bumps along the way: those moments when you miss friends and family in the UK so much, when things haven’t gone quite so well and you wonder if you made the right decision. It has been a year of frustrations, sadness and scary moments but more importantly one of adventures, excitement, new discoveries and lots of laughs; the good times have certainly outweighed the bad and we have got through it together.

The time has gone so quickly as we remember so vividly that first day in our ‘new home’ but then looking back to that day in the airport, saying our farewells to family, it really feels as if a lifetime of things have changed and happened.

James has started his new job, encountered the expected obstacles and frustrations of transitioning to a new way of doing things but has also achieved a huge amount and been given opportunities, which will stand him in good stead for the future. We have moved into our new home, started up from scratch and (finally) we unpacked all those dozens of boxes and found a home for all those military books! We have been to five of the Australian states together, camped around New Zealand and also enjoyed hosting our own visitors. We made a fantastic group of new friends, who have also been a big support during moments of homesickness and also there to celebrate the birthdays, successes and difficult decisions. I started doing something I always thought would be a pipe dream and have now written over 70,000 words of a novel and we have got through the biggest test: the months of James being deployed and the weeks of him being away at sea.

On the day we arrived, it was 22 degrees and the end of Winter, today, the sun is shining and the high is 24 degrees. Spring has definitely sprung in the last few days and we find ourselves ready to start our second year here and begin the cycle again – not from a hotel room, living out of a suitcase, but from the comfort of our home, feeling quite settled but still wondering what this next year may bring.

First Anniversary

8 Aug

Celebrating a first anniversary is always special and a time to reflect on that momentous day, one year a go, when you said ‘I do’ and comment on how quickly time has passed. Monday 6th August 2012 was no exception for us when we remembered celebrating our wedding back in the UK with family and friends.

So, it was an apt reminder of not just that day but of but a time to reflect on quite how much has changed since then.We certainly have a lot to look back on: From a wedding in rural England to now living in Sydney suburbia and everything else in between; the honeymoon, the Singapore stopover, the transition to new jobs, homes, lifestyles and the new friends and acquaintances along the way.

We had no big plans for the day. It was enough that James was actually home for the event and so as Sydney basked in its hottest weekend since April, we decided to head three hours North and drive to the Hunter Valley wine region.

I made a picnic and we sat by the Hunter Valley Gardens with our plastic champagne glasses and made a toast to us and our future.

The gardens are beautiful, even in Winter when the trees are mostly bare. As much as we enjoyed walking around, admiring the colours, the views and waterfall, the children’s Storybook Garden was a highlight! You can probably work out which books and nursery rhymes these are:


From children’s stories to more adult pursuits, we went to Krinklebottom winery, recommended by a friend. It is a boutique business, set in stunning countryside and after working our way through the wine list (spitting out of course) we made our way home.

On the Monday, more champagne was drunk, but this time we swapped the plastic glasses and cutlery for Michelin-starred surroundings as I took James for a surprise dinner to Catalina, overlooking Rose Bay. Having walked past it many a time, we finally got to go in and sample its food for ourselves.

It was a perfect way to celebrate, in our new home ground and while the views have certainly changed over the past twelve months, our first anniversary was not just about celebrating a very happy year of marriage but to recognise that as much as our surroundings and lifestyles have altered dramatically, we are still very much the same people, who left London eleven months a go.

Chasing Rainbows

25 Jul

We had a touch of summer last week with temperatures in the 20s, sunny days and even the flip flops getting an airing from the back of the wardrobe.

On the days it rains, however, it is usually torrential and last weekend was one such day. We had just set out to go and visit some of Sydney’s Northern beaches and have a bit of an explore, having only gone as far as Manly before. The first massive blobs of rain fell and we decided to carry on going anyway, although by the time we reached the harbour bridge the windscreen wipers were on full force and we were thinking a day in with a DVD might have been a better plan.

This combination of bright sunshine and rain showers at the moment has one very beautiful outcome: rainbows. We simply wanted to share the pictures because we have never seen so many and certainly none as vivid as the rainbows we are seeing over here.

Our first glimpse of the rainbow was from Palm Beach and then a second appeared, even brighter and we drove down to a lookout point to get a better view. Usually when I have seen a rainbow, it has been a faint arc, partly obscured by phone wires and roof tops. I certainly have never seen one out at sea.

The first glimpse from Palm Beach:

A few days a go, this was the sight over Sydney harbour as I left Watson Bay:

And of course, we can’t forget the one, which we saw at the end of our New Zealand trip:

Maybe I’m still getting used to the novelty of seeing so many rainbows or perhaps I’m forgetting that they were just as frequent and as bright in the UK but whatever the reason, there is no denying that they are a wonderful sight, certainly with Sydney’s harbour and beaches as a backdrop. I just wish I’d had more than a mobile phone to take some of the pictures.

Aside from rainbows, the journey North was fairly uneventful, apart from lunch. I wouldn’t usually bother to mention somewhere we stopped for a brief lunch break but La Banette is worthy of a mention. We had driven past Manly, up through Dee Why, Narrabeen and Mona Vale and eventually came to Avalon. We had heard it was a really lovely area with a village-like atmosphere and situated between the ocean and Pittwater, it is a great place for surfers and those who prefer the still water as well. By the time we arrived, the sun had started to come out again and so we stopped for a bite to eat. That is when we discovered Avalon is also home to the most amazing bakery serving fresh breads, quiches, sausage rolls, cakes, pastries and tarts. The ratatouille quiche and beef and burgundy pie were delicious. We had to order quickly – the man in front of us in the queue ordered eight of the beauties!

La Banette

One thing we have come to appreciate over here is how many small, independent shops still exist, having not been replaced (yet) by the large out of town supermarkets.

Avalaon’s beach would have been nice in warmer weather but we decided to carry on as the rain was threatening again and we were only a short drive from Palm Beach, the last of the Northern Beaches on the headland. If you recognise it, it may be because it appears on TV screens almost daily in the most Aussie of soaps (only bettered by Neighbours), Home And Away.

We did not get a glimpse of Home And Away’s Alf, cursing the ‘flaming galahs’ so we headed back, but as it had turned into quite a nice afternoon, we stopped in Mosman on Sydney’s north shore and had a walk down to Chowder Bay. From there you can see our own suburb of Rose Bay across the water.

Houses, horses and Happy Christmas

20 Jul

Seeing as Christmas falls in the Summer over here when hot turkey, roast potatoes and mulled wine are not very appealing in thirty degrees, a few Aussies and ex-pats alike, like to have a Christmas in July: basically an excuse to have a second Christmas dinner, drink and play games. When the weather gets colder and the days shorter, the idea of a cosy Christmas is suddenly more appealing and up until a couple of weeks a go, we were definitely having colder weather. The week we decide to have ‘Christmas’ there was a bright blue sky, sunshine and it’s 20 degrees… It seems we’re destined to have Christmas in the sun over here. We went ahead anyway, of course.

Our usual group of friends came over and everyone chipped in, preparing a different part of the meal, although at this time of year, turkey had to be substituted for two chickens and there were no mince pies to be found so we settled for cheesecake and trifle. James made the mulled wine and this time it was delicious (sugar quantities reduced accordingly after last year’s syrup!) and in Shan’s words, he had “the cinnamon levels just perfect.”

To top it off, we even had a $10 secret santa and James obligingly did the honours by playing the part.

The gifts had to be something you could ‘put on’, hence the range of head and facial gear… And handcuffs!

The previous weekend, as soon as James was mobile enough, we went out to the countryside to visit his dad’s cousin  (or James’ first cousin once removed if you want to start getting technical). Ibby lives out in Sackville, North West of Sydney on the Hawkesbury River. We have been out to see her before but we thought we would go out and see her again and this time spend the weekend, seeing a bit more of the area, near the towns of Windsor and Richmond.

Ibby has a wonderful place, set in 24 acres of land, most of which is bushland, including an old Aboriginal cave and the rest, garden and paddocks for the miniature Shetland ponies. In fact, she shares the property with around seven horses, two dogs, a cat, a rooster and several hens (and in summer, the occasional snake, which likes to hang around.)

As Ibby is moving out by mid December we met up with her at an Open House in Windsor, to look round a property she is thinking of buying. A few other family members and friends were there so we had lunch with them afterwards. Windsor is quite a pretty town and was one of the oldest British settlements in Australia, named after (would you believe) Windsor in England.

Ibby’s house, is a short drive from there, set up on higher ground, which has saved it from the Hawkesbury flooding a few times. I went down to help her feed the ponies that evening as by this time, James’ knee had had enough excitement for one day and he was said he had to keep the cat entertained:

Then it was time to put blankets on, wrap the dogs up in their blankets and make sure the ‘chooks’ were safe for the night! One of the best bits – the log fire in the house, we have never been so warm this Winter! We all went down to feed the horses the following morning though and it was very amusing to see the horses with their short little legs, trotting about excitedly as they sensed food was on the way.

I was told to ‘stop fussing’ when I asked if James’ knee was ‘up to it’ when we had to scramble uphill to the cave through the bush at the back of the house, so now I know: his knee is definitely on the mend (and on that note, he has been swimming every day for the past week, which is great, and I will remind him of this next time he uses his knee as an excuse to get out of something!)

Naval Gazing

26 Apr

Yesterday I was shown Australia can do pomp and ceremony just as well as the English. ANZAC Day commemorates the anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops in Gallipoli in 1915 – part of the Allied expedition in the First World War. Over 8,000 of their forces died and April 25 became the day to remember the sacrifice they made. Today it goes beyond just the anniversary; it is the day Australians and New Zealanders remember the contribution and sacrifice of all their servicemen and women in military operations and they do so with a great deal of pride and patriotism. The day is very similar to Remembrance Day but seems to bear much more relevance to young Australians, continuing to have meaning for their sense of national identity. It was plain to see as crowds of thousands braved the morning chill to wave flags and applaud current and former members of the armed forces and emergency services while bands from local communities, scout groups, schools and universities all joined in the parade. It was a real family event, with young and old turning out to honour the veterans and marching side by side.

James is away in Auckland, so at least is in a country where Anzac Day is recognised and got to experience the national celebration, including the traditional dawn service at 4.30 am. This is usually followed by the parade and breakfast washed down with plenty of beers to soften the blow. I was not up for the dawn service but did decide to head into the city for the Sydney Anzac parade to show my commitment as a Navy wife! I ended up going alone as nobody was too keen to get up before 8am on a national holiday, especially considering it suddenly turned cold for a day (top of 19 degrees – Autumn is definitely here and I am clearly acclimatising.) However, it stayed dry, sunny and crisp so, wearing a coat for the first time since we arrived, I found a place at the start of the marching route to watch the parade. After the most frail of the veterans were driven by in a convoy of taxis, men and women from ships, regiments and squadrons marched by to much clapping and flag-waving. It was quite a moving scene, particularly seeing young Australians marching with photographs of their grandparents and relatives who have died in action.

The other tradition, which has become as much a part of Anzac celebrations as the parade itself, is a game of Two-up in the pub. I met up with a group of friends for some drinks and we went over the road to their local pub to watch Two-up in action. None of us were feeling too flush to gamble away much money. When I left, Matt was $5 down, Nicky $5 up and I sadly left $5 down but decided to cut my losses before I gambled away all our money! Two-up (or should that be five-down) is a very simple game of heads and tails, played by as many people as want to participate. You place a bet by waving your money in the air and yelling whether you want heads or tails and hope someone will match you to bet the opposite.

Then the coin tossing begins. A lot of pressure on the spinner, as they’re known.

Everyone watches for how the coins land and once both land with the same side down, the winning better keeps the money so you end up double or nothing. There are always some happy punters with people sometimes winning hundreds of dollars.

This is definitely the rowdier side of Anzac Day for people getting steadily more drunk and willing to gamble increasing amounts of money. The other thing to note is that technically it is the only day of the year you can legally play the game . Glad I made the most of that one opportunity for the year.

On the subject of Anzac and therefore all things military, I thought, for those of you haven’t heard from James recently, a little update might be appreciated. Currently, they are alongside in Auckland and he is enjoying a slightly more relaxed pace after a very hectic few weeks in the run up to Easter. He was conscious of having to make a good impression and prove himself during this first job at sea and he has certainly worked hard to do that, particularly as he was largely responsible for a big anti-submarine warfare exercise off Western Australia. After weeks of planning, meetings and presentations, the exercise was a huge success and James in particular was singled out for playing a significant role in what was achieved. He said it was a big learning curve for him but a very rewarding experience. It seems he has impressed the bigwigs and managed to establish himself not ‘just another Pom joining the RAN for some sun.’

The other issues, for both of us, have been not knowing what comes next. For a few months now we’ve not known whether James was going to have to do another course after this trip, be sent back to sea and if so, to which ship or whether he’d be staying put or given a shore job. In between these options were several others as well, with other jobs and ships presenting themselves as possibilities. It can be stressful for both of us as you’re never sure whether you’ll be spending time together or whether you have to prepare yourself for months apart again. There was a lot of email to-ing and fro-ing, discussing what was going to be best career-wise, best from a home point of view and for us as a couple. There was also the other (but no less significant) issue of James’ broken knee cap and when that would get fixed! There was the concern that trying to get time off for a knee operation and be unseaworthy so soon after joining the RAN, would not go down well and maybe hinder him and his ambitions to be selected for command of a ship. But it seems James has impressed enough on this last job not to need to do a successive job at sea and finally, we know he has been given a shore posting at Watson, just up the road, which is fantastic news. It gives us both some stability and knowledge that he won’t be disappearing for six months to the Gulf.

Finally, on the subject of the sea, Sydney endured nearly 72 hours of continuous rain last week. When it rains here, it doesn’t do it by halves. Torrential downpours for nearly three days and nights and when it stops, the sun comes out as if nothing ever happened and it’s 25 degrees again. The storm meant the sea was pretty big over the weekend and walking along the coast, south from Bondi, there were some huge waves crashing on to the rocks.

They may be good for surfing – but not so much for Naval officers bobbing about on the ocean in pretty stormy conditions. Fortunately James doesn’t get sea sick but I think he was grateful for some time on dry land in New Zealand. Anzac celebrations were a certainly a good welcome ashore.

W.eekend A.way

11 Apr

Easter was not about chocolate eggs this year but we did still get to spend it with each other. I flew to Perth in Western Australia (WA) to meet up with James and then we borrowed his friend’s car to travel down to Margaret River for the Easter weekend.

I’d heard that the beaches over in WA are some of the best in Australia and James remembered them from his first journey to Australia as an Officer Cadet many many years a go! The coastline was certainly beautiful, the sea was a really vivid blue/green and where there was vegetation, it provided a really scenic backdrop but unfortunately we hadn’t counted on the impact last year’s bush fires would still have. The fires tore right through the Margaret River wine region from around the end of November and the charred remains of bushes and trees were evident right down to the coast, which meant the sand wasn’t as white or soft as it usually is on the West coast. Having said that, we have been a bit spoilt with beaches over here and a few of the less affected ones were…. Well, we couldn’t complain:

The first night we stayed in a town called Busselton on Geographe Bay, home to the longest timber jetty in the southern hemisphere.

Then it was on to the Margaret River area where we stayed for a couple of nights. The town itself is not on the coast but slightly inland and on a river. Called Margaret. There’s a real bohemian character to the place, a colourful mixture of surfers, hippies and artists among the tourist crowds. Throughout the whole region there are dozens of art galleries and artisan workshops. Of course, we had to stop in at one of the handcrafted furniture shops so James could see if his skills were up to scratch! I think he’s considering taking it up again after realising you can sell a table for $25,000 and he reckons all he needs is a good supply of sand paper. There were more arts and crafts on display at the handmade market, although this was probably more my thing: handmade cushions, candles and jewellery. There were some  wooden bowls to keep James happy too.  That morning we’d gone to the farmers market, which served us our second breakfast; loads of cheeses, chutneys, fruits and chocolate to sample.

We are really starting to feel the temperatures cool off and evenings are becoming a lot chillier, although we still had sunshine everyday. Having said that, it still peaked at 29 while we were in WA and we spent one morning down at the beach. The thing you get a lot of in that part of Australia are waves: massive waves. There were always plenty of surfers out on the ocean and it was amazing to watch the sheer size of the waves rolling in.

We ended up driving all the way down to the other end of the peninsular, passing some beautiful countryside, and forests and eventually to Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, the most south-westerly point in Australia and where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. Quite bleak and very windy.

We couldn’t come to this area of Australia without visiting at least one winery. It is what the region is famous for after all. One of the most prestigious wineries is Leeuwin Estate, where we went first for a quick tasting. It was set in really stunning grounds and although we’re about as far from having sommelier palates as you could get, their Art Series Chardonnay at around $90.00 a bottle went down a treat. We also popped into the oldest winery in the region, Vasse Felix, which was the first to establish in MArgaret River in 1967. We didn’t do any tasting there but it was good just to see the estate.

Our final day we spent in Perth, wandering around the city but for our last evening we drove to Cottesloe, on the outskirts of Perth to watch the sun set. If you live in Sydney and want to see the sunset over the ocean in Australia, you do have to fly the 5 hours to other side of the country. I think it was worth it.

(I have put an album of the WA trip in the photogallery.)

26 weeks later

2 Mar

We’ve been here six months. It seems longer to be honest.

Although my parents commented that it ‘seems only yesterday’ that we were having the wedding, I suppose so much has happened, so much has changed and James and I have packed so much into the last few months that it feels as if we have been here a lot longer than a mere 26 weeks.

On the subject of changes, James has now set sail for nearly three months and my parents came, saw, but did not quite conquer Australia. In fact, they left on a flight this morning.

Indeed if I was going to make reference to any other film title in this entry, recently, it seems ‘The Long Goodbye’ might also be suitable for sadly I had to say goodbye my to my Gran at the end of January, we waved goodbye to James and watched his ship leave Sydney on Monday, my parents left a few days later and now the sunshine has gone too (and I’m not just being metaphorical) as the rain has started again. I suppose it is now Autumn after all.

My parents saw out the end of Summer here and fortunately got to experience a real Summer with glorious sunshine for the majority of the time with just a couple of rainy days. For them, it was hopefully a memorable holiday with a good balance of beach relaxing, city sightseeing and various modes of traveling: a car journey to Jervis Bay, coach trip to the Blue Mountains and flights to Melbourne. It was brilliant to see them and share our experiences and show them a snapshot of our life out here. Unlike our time in Australia, their visit seemed to pass quite quickly so here is a snapshot of a few of the highlights we shared:

Women On Wheels

9 Nov

‘G’day – so what can I do for you?’

‘I’m not sure… My husband says the car’s making a funny noise.’

Incredulous stare.

‘OK. Any particular noise?’

‘There’s this clicking sound when we turn the car.’

(I detect slight eye roll, intake of breath)

‘OK. Everytime you turn the car?’

‘No, just on a hard right lock’

‘Right, ok. I think I know what that is.’

‘Oh – what’s that?’

(Are you seriously going to understand look)

‘Well, it sounds like the constant-velocity joint is damaged.’

‘Ah’ (Knowing nod) ‘A small job?’

‘Actually, quite a big one. But we can have it done by the end of the day.’

‘Oh. Thanks’

‘Just sign this form here… Oh and you may want to take one of these’

As I go to leave, I get handed a flyer.

The gist of it was: ‘Know b****r all about cars… Come to one of our FREE workshops’.

It struck me that with the distances required to get just from one town to the next in Australia, James away quite a bit and perhaps, just the nature of my driving and general ignorance, I should probably give it a go. Besides, it was free.

That is how I ended up at a Women On Wheels workshop last night.

I also roped in my friend, Sophie, who seemed a lot more knowledgeable than me (she has changed a tyre before).

Two hours later, I had had a go at jacking up a car, taking a tyre off, putting a new one on, checking the tyre pressure, learnt how to jump start a car, and looked at the underbelly of a ute.

I don’t know if the latter will ever be useful to me but don’t try and engage me in conversation about differentials, shock absorbers or cooling systems any more, or you may not hear the end of it!

As for those CV joints – just hand me the drive shaft, show me the stub shaft and call me Jeremy Clarkson.

Christening the barbie

23 Oct

Saturday was a big day at the new pad and a day of firsts. It was the day the first picture was hung (and subsequently fell down), the first guests arrived and the first barbecue was lit –  and with that came a few other firsts: the dining table used for the first time, the fridge full of beer for the first time and most importantly – James’ cooking skills tested for the (very) first time!

With the apartment now unpacked, put away and tidy, it was ready to receive guests; six others to be precise: Pete, Sophie, Andy, Shannon, Nicky and Matt. The latter couple we had never met before but in a parallel situation find themselves newly moved over due to Matt’s job, having just found somewhere to live with Nicky looking for work and awaiting their sea freight, we were able to fully empathise with their situation. As friends of the others – a really good group we have got to know over the past few weeks and can now call friends – the house was full and it was time to get the barbie going.

In order to christen the flat and the new barbecue, we had two butterflied legs of lamb, salads, breads, booze – and plenty of it. It wasn’t quite ‘shrimps on the barbie’ but it was edible and no one got sick (we haven’t heard any reports otherwise so far!) and within half an hour of grilling, two wonderfully cooked pieces of lamb were produced, much to our delight – and James’ relief!

It was a lovely feeling, having our new home ready to be lived in, enjoying the outside space and finally settling into Aussie life. Suddenly it really did feel as if we had a home.

Judging by the time everyone left and the amount consumed we can call it a success and hopefully the first of many.

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