Friday, 23 March 2007

Travellin mama cracks the shits

“One gets tired of the role critics are supposed to have in this culture: It's like being the piano player in a whorehouse; you don't have any control over the action going on upstairs.” - Robert Hughes, author and critic

By way of explanation, cracking the shits is the Aussie equivalent of taking your bat and ball and going home.

One can handle only so much rejection from publishers who LOVE (!!) the book idea but can’t see their way to selling it because I’M NOT FAMOUS. (Well, duhhhh, of course I’m not famous. I’m busy having fun!!) Or because they see the market for it but it doesn’t fit their current list. Or because it’s kind of interesting but they’re not really interested themselves. Or because who do I think I am to imagine other parents want to take their kids travelling?!!

On the up side, I did read somewhere that every good writer gets a squillion rejections – even guys like Ernest Hemingway - so I suppose I'll press on.

Just not right now.

Because now I’m taking my proverbial bat and ball and getting on a plane with Doog and the girls to the far north of Australia where I will dig my toes into the red earth, camp under the stars (hopefully not too close to the crocs) and then fly to Queensland to see a whole lotta colour on the Great Barrier Reef and drink a whole lotta colourful drinks whilst lounging around in a hammock. No computer access = no new rejection letters to read. Yeah!

I'll be back online in three or four weeks... until then, thanks for logging on.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Fluff from the Fluffmeister

I could fill an entire chapter with quotable quotes from my Molly, aka Fluffy Farquhar. She's just that kind of kid. Here are some of my favourites:

Molly (while settling down to sleep in the tent): "Mom, is your butt crack a really important part of your body?"

Molly: "Mom, when your boss is teaching you all that stuff, do you sit around in a circle on the carpet?"

Molly (on getting off the Manitoulin Island ferry in southern Ontario): "Mom, are we still in Canada or is this Saskatchewan now?"

Molly: "Mom, I can't wait to be a mom too."
Me: "Why's that, honey?"
Molly: "So I can sit around and drink Diet Coke and read the newsaper all day too."

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Everybody needs a SuperGramma

Kilometres from home: 16, 300

Months away: Seven

Value of care package from SuperGramma: Priceless

Monday, 19 March 2007

For the term of your natural life

“I can personally affirm that to stand before an audience of beaming Australians and make even the mildest quip about a convict past is to feel the feel the air conditioning immediately elevated.”
- Bill Bryson, American travel writer

I'm looking out towards Tasmania - Australia's answer to our own quirky Newfoundland - and although we won't get there on this trip, it's a place I highly recommend ... not least because of its convict past and the fascinating window it opens to the Aussie character.

As an outsider, I find it ironic that the national day of celebration – appropriately named Australia Day ‑ commemorates the first landing of white settlers here, as if the arrival of a bedraggled group of unfortunates, thieves and conmen was something of which to be proud. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm just saying, is all.)

People here generally don’t make much of a conscious connection to their convict heritage but it’s still worth noting how white Australia came to be. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the Aussies’ near-mythical reputation as a laidback, she’ll-be-right nation is due in large part to the attitude of the convict "settlers" who came here in misery, worked in misery and lived out their lives in misery while managing to form lasting bonds of mateship and getting on with the job of building a colony with a minimum of fuss.

So how did it all happen?

Part of the enormous upheaval of the late 18th-century industrial revolution in Britain was the creation of an underclass of poor who sought work in the cities and then turned to crime to stay alive. Once overflowing prisons became a problem too large to ignore, administrators seized upon “transportation” as a solution, even though the final destination - the virtually unknown Botany Bay, near modern-day Sydney ‑ was a whopping 24,000 kilometres and eight months away by sea.

Between 1788 and 1868, 165,000 British and Irish convicts, most no worse than petty thieves, were brought here in the most of horrific conditions. Disease, overcrowding and scurvy were rife, and for the first 20 years of transportation, prisoners were chained for the entire hellish journey. Those who did make it ‑ by 1800 one in 10 died en route – were forced into hard work in unyielding conditions that were hardly inspiring.

Pity even more those unco-operative ones who got sent to the worst penal colonies such as Tasmania's Port Arthur. Years after visiting that place, I still can't shake the haunting.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Speak Aussie, mate

“One of the strongest prejudices that one has to overcome when one visits Australia is that created by the weird jargon that passes for English in this country.” – Valerie Desmond

The best part about having to take public transport to the CBD every day - more than an hour and a half each way (ugghh) - is that I get to drive Sylvia to the train station. The next best part is soaking up the Aussie slang ...

Here on the Frankston to Melbourne line, you will learn that budgie smugglers is a generic term for a man’s Speedo bathing suit and that if he cracks a fat in it, he’ll be in some serious trouble. You'll find that if the guy beside you were to come the raw prawn, he'd be bullshitting about something, to which you could say pig’s arse! (I don’t believe you!). He might then reply fair dinkum which means yes, it’s really true! Chances are, though, he has a couple of kangaroos loose in the top paddock, ESPECIALLY on this particular train line.

You'll learn that a bludger is a lazy person while a bogan is a slacker who takes little pride in his/her appearance and spends his/her days getting pissed. A cockie is a farmer but also, curiously, a cockatoo parrot and a cockroach. Then there are drongos and dropkicks, who are stupid people, and dags who are usually loveable but goofy.

A slapper is a girl who comes across as slutty and desperate. A Bondi cigar is a turd in the sea where you're swimming. When you’re out camping you’ve got the bush telly (a campfire) and your bushman’s hanky (holding one nostril and blowing the other out onto the ground) whereas somebody new to surfing is a shark biscuit.

Pretty much every Aussie word is something that can be shortened, leaving with you little nuggets like cozzie (swimsuit), barbie (barbecue), bizzo (as in mind your own bizzo), blowie (blowfly), ambo (ambulance driver), chewie (chewing gum), chokkie (chocolate), Chrissie (Christmas), mozzie (mosquito), kindie (kindergarten), postie, (mailman) oldies (parents), and sickie, as in let’s chuck a sickie (take a day off work).

And not only is their slang fantastic, their sense of humour is awesome, if a bit warped. Only Australians, I'm sure, would name a community pool after a dead prime minister – that would be Harold Holt - who drowned in the ocean, while he was the prime minister.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Every drop counts

Australia may be in the grip of the worst drought in recorded history but thanks to expert management and efficient irrigation, Melbourne's spectacular Royal Botanic Gardens has found ways to beat the big dry.

Recognised as one of the world's top three botanic gardens, this is a wonderful place to while away the hours. Lucky for me, this 38-hectare CBD paradise is right across the street from my office, so no matter how highly over-rated work may be, spending one's lunch hour in such a place is at least some compensation.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Gawking at the Apostles

Down here at the magnificent Twelve Apostles, one of Australia's most beloved natural wonders, there's nothing between you and Antartica but the mighty Southern Ocean, a vast expanse of frigid water, a bunch of great white sharks and hundreds and hundreds of shipwrecks.
The Apostles, about four hours' west of Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road, formed as the limestone cliffs eroded to form caves which in turn became arches until they collapsed to create what is now one of the most breathtaking views in the country.
The drive is a bit like the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island: best to be a passenger rather than a driver, so you can gawk to your heart's content.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Shark tales

The last time I bought the girls a blow-up beach croc, it fizzled out before they could even get it in the water - something about me having had a few too many drinkies and putting one too many sparklers on the cake at Doog’s citizenship party last summer - but we have no such worries this time. If it weren't for that niggling little film Open Water, about the headcount gone wrong that left two divers for dead on the Great Barrier Reef, SIXTY KILOMETRES (!!) offshore, you could even say I'm relaxed out here.

(Apparently, the great white sharks don't come this far into Port Phillip Bay, but I know they're out there, and that's enough to make my stomach turn to mush. )

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Cute one day, deadly the next

It's comforting to know that in a country with a staggering number of killer creatures, there are also plenty of cute, cuddly marsupials and lots of chirpy little types like these wild rosella parrots, which had a snack courtesy of Annie a while back.

It makes me nuts that there are spiders big enough to eat birds here – how INSANE is that? - and that nine of the 10 most venomous snakes in the world will bite the life out of you faster than you can say “Crikey!”

So I fear I must always watch my back. Even the spiders IN MY HOUSE can grow as big as the palm of my hand ... and if that's not heart attack-inducing stuff, I don't know what is.

Soon we will be going to the top end of Oz, where the animals are much deadlier than they are down here in Victoria. So if I find myself at the business end of a saltwater crocodile, for example, or a stonefish, which is the deadliest fish in the world, or a box jellyfish ‑ which has the deadliest venom of any species anywhere in the world and kills more people in Australia than snakes, sharks and crocs combined – I will surely pray for a quick end, for surely there is little hope of seeing another sunset.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Deliver us, dear postie

More posing, but this time they don't seem to mind 'cause they LOVE their new school uniforms and they love collecting the mail at our little pad in Mornington (hint, hint!)

Monday, 5 March 2007

Must we always strike a pose?

I think the expressions on their faces say it all: "We are so OVER posing for your dumb pictures, Mom!"

But still, I cannot resist. This is our beach and we come to it almost every day. Must have a record of these things.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Hot in the city

“I give you all of Sydney Harbour
All that land and all that water
For that one sweet promenade.”
‑ Australian folk legend Paul Kelly, pining for his beloved Melbourne

A woeful lack of international flights means too many visitors leave Melbourne off their itinerary in favour of the well-worn tourist path of Sydney, Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock), Kakadu National Park and the Great Barrier Reef. But if you’re willing, you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s why:

Aussie-rules football: Melbourne is home to the Australian game, and Melburnians are fanatical about it. And ladies … the BODIES on these guys must be seen to be believed.

· Cafe society: Sydney is tourist-heavy and in-your-face. Melbourne, on the other hand, is subtle, refined and quietly cool. Melburnians don't have to try that hard. They know their coffee and their alcohol ‑ and they know how to enjoy it right.

· Fashion: Even the world’s top dogs decided Melbourne was the place to set up shop, including haute couture stars Donna Karan, Armani and Versace. Homegrown designers are becoming big names, and the Melbourne Fashion Festival, on next month, is a huge draw.

· Sport: Melbourne's got the tennis (Australian Open), the Formula One (Grand Prix), the best two-mile gallopers in the world (Melbourne Cup), a burgeoning soccer and rugby league scene, international cricket and, of course, Aussie rules.

· Food: Melbourne is the undisputed champion here. The restaurants are world leaders and you can eat your way around the globe without ever leaving the city.

· Old money versus new: Melburnians prefer the understated elegance of suburbs like Toorak and Brighton. Sydney's brash harboursiders look at life from way up on high.

· Culture: Melbourne is definitely Australia's cultural capital. It's got the best art gallery in the Southern Hemisphere and more performance venues than any similar-sized city outside New York.

· Weather: Melbourne may have brisk winters and a reputation for four seasons in one day. But the truth is, Sydney generally gets more rain.

· Festivals: Melbourne's got the hugely popular International Comedy Festival, Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, Moomba (a sort of mishmash that's very popular with the locals) and the International Film Festival and the Queer Festival.

· The look: OK, OK, so Sydney Harbour is hard to beat for looks. But get to Melbourne for views of another sort: watch the sun go down in St. Kilda, wander the brilliant Royal Botanical Gardens (among the world's best), stroll around Albert Park (a city park with a man-made lake and a great round-trip drive that doubles as the F1 race track), get out on Port Phillip Bay (where dolphins delight), float down the Yarra River, catch some rays on Brighton Beach (with its photogenic bathing boxes), and ply the city streets by old-fashioned tram.