Wednesday 29 March 2017

Wandering Australia, Part 1

Greetings from a very soggy Brisbane! Southeast Queensland is being deluged by the tail end of Tropical Cyclone Debbie, which hit northeastern Queensland very hard on Tuesday and Wednesday. Bill and I were going to visit the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art today, but they're closed because of the storm. State employees have been sent home early, and public transit is free. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

We had a fine trip from Toronto to Vancouver to Brisbane. We lost a day when crossing the International Date Line, so we arrived in Brisbane early on Thursday morning. The Air Canada flight from Vancouver took about 15 hours and proved the wisdom of Bill’s booking bulkhead seats for us - we had all kinds of legroom and could stretch out for miles. Often, these seats are booked by people travelling with babies - and certainly that’s what Bill had been hoping for. Alas, there were no babies in our row, but there were two very well behaved babies nearby, so at least we could oooh and ahhh when the babies came out to play near us. The plane was barely half-full (unusual for this flight, we were told), so people could get up and wander more than usual. It was easy to spot the Australians on board - they were dressed ready for hot, muggy Brisbane, while I was dressed for late-March Belleville. I knew I was overdressed as soon as I saw several young men get on board the plane dressed in shorts, tee-shirts, and flip-flops!

Fifteen hours on a plane…what to do? Well, for me, it meant playing solitaire and Scrabble on my iPad, sleeping, eating, and watching several movies on the Dreamliner’s sophisticated entertainment system. My movies included Arrival (****), Inferno (***), Allied (****), Independence Day/Resurgence (1/2 *), and a documentary about Castle Howard. It was a bit like attending Belleville’s Downtown DocFest, but without having to get off my butt. I was also kept busy closing the door of the nearby washroom. It kept popping open when no one was using it, giving me an excellent view of the throne.

Landing in Brisbane brought the usual lines for luggage, passports and customs, but most of the process was handled without human intervention - just being photographed automatically to compare our passport photos with our actual mugs. About the only official human being we met was the woman who took our Australian information cards (“Have you been on a farm recently?”, etc.) and simply waved us through without a luggage check.

Once cleared by officialdom, we bought a Vodafone data plan for my iPad - $30 for 8 gigs. We hope it will last the 30 days we’ll be in Australia, but we can easily buy more data online. Much less expensive than what Bell offers in Canada. We also said good-bye to Robyn, Bill’s quilting friend from Picton, who was on the same flight. She was born in Australia and was returning to visit relatives north of Brisbane.

Then we caught the train into South Brisbane, followed by a muggy walk to our Airbnb. If it weren’t raining so hard, we’d be out exploring the area today - it’s the heart of the theatre/gallery/cafe district and is usually bursting with energy…just not today. We especially wanted to explore the nearby Queensland Performing Arts Centre (aka, QPAC), where Kate used to work when she and Tim were living in the area. At some point, we have to brave the elements to buy some food for dinner. Motivation can be a powerful thing!

Tomorrow, the weather is calling for much calmer conditions. Our plan is to return to the airport to pick up our car rental and head south to Coff’s Harbour, about a five-hour drive. That’s where Tim’s parents live. We plan to spend Friday and Saturday night with them before heading south to Sydney on Sunday.

Hope you enjoyed reading my first Australian report! 

Dawn over the Pacific, approaching Queensland

Bill across the aisle from me. Look how much leg room we've got!

Entrance to Brisbane International

Airtrain Station at Brisbane International

Airtrain, operated by Queensland Rail, heading to central Brisbane.

Our Air Canada Boeing Dreamliner.

Friday 24 March 2017

Girt By Sea...

Advance Australia Fair

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history's page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

This, my friends, is the first verse of Advance Australia Fair, the Australian national anthem. (Listen to it here.) My Australian friends tell me that it is the only national anthem in the world that contains the word “girt” (from the same root as girdle). I have heard it sung many times, both beautifully and wretchedly, much like Oh Canada. However, Advance Australia Fair just doesn’t work for me. Give me a stirring rendition of Waltzing Matilda. (Here.) Or even better, I Still Call Australia Home. (Over-the-top Oprah version, but it always leaves me in tears. Here.Here.)

One of the formative experiences of my life was the year I spent teaching in Australia in the early 1970s. Had my life zigged rather than zagged, I would still be there – and happily so. I have returned as often as my bank account has allowed over the years. I shared it twice with Spencer, and next week I will be sharing it with Bill. Let me count the blessings that make this possible.

I am an avid student of Australian history, politics, and culture. I can talk for hours about Australia’s problems, challenges, idiocies, blood-lust politics, and unforgivable treatment of the Aboriginal people who lived on the continent for 40,000 years before European contact. But I can also talk for even more hours about how much I love this land, its people, and its beauty. And prop me up with a bottle of Moo Brew, my favourite Tasmanian Pilsner, and I can talk endlessly about the design and building of the Sydney Opera House.

One of my favourite aspects of Australian life is its wonderfully quirky sense of humour. Here’s one printable example: one night many years ago, I was listening to the live radio proceedings of the Australian Parliament (I know – I needed to get out more.) Australian politics are brutish and nasty, so I wasn’t surprised when one member declared, “The honourable member from Gundagai has got the brains of a sheep.” The chamber erupted into braying chaos, and the Speaker demanded that the remark be withdrawn, to which the instant response was, “All right – I’ll withdraw my remark. The honourable member from Gundagai HASN’T got the brains of a sheep.”

Well, you get the drift.

During my month in Australia with Bill, I will be posting to Facebook, Twitter, and this blog. In anticipation, I’ve posted photos below from previous visits. I hope they will whet your appetite for the photos I plan to post in the weeks ahead.

Enjoy...and g’day!

Landing in Sydney.

The famous 'coat hanger' - The Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Yes, you can walk to the top of the bridge. Thanks, but no thanks.

And another view.

And another.

The Sydney Opera House, facing north.

Seagulls at one of the outdoor cafes beside the Opera House.

The Rocks, Sydney

Hyde Park, Sydney.

Martin Place, Sydney.

10 Tryon Street, Chatswood, where I used to live on Sydney's North Shore.

Entrance, Luna Park (Sydney).

Luna Park ferris wheel with the Harbour Bridge.

Ummm...well, what can I say?

The Lady Northcott leaving from Circular Quay.

Spencer on the Lady Northcott.

Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney.

Taronga Park Zoo, with elephant and Tayler.

Spencer and I with bronze koalas.

Flinder's Street Station, Melbourne.

Federation Square, Melbourne.

Inside Federation Square.

Federation Square.

Glass ceiling of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Luna Park (Melbourne) entrance.

Melbourne alley.

Christmas in July, Ballarat. Beautiful singing. Fake snow.

QANTAS = Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service.

Saturday 18 March 2017

Photography as Listening

“To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior 
stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches,
 arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no 
longer have an inner need to make their presence known. 
They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.”

- Henri Nouwen, Dutch Catholic Theologian, 1932-1996

My dear friend Barbara, an American Quaker from Minneapolis, is a supporter of the Compassionate Listening Project (link). The project is dedicated to listening to people tell their stories as a way of healing the planet. Or, as my late partner would put it, “Listening people into existence.” It’s an approach to peace making – and living – that resonates strongly with me.

Barbara recently posted the above quotation by Henri Nouwen to Facebook as an excellent summary of the Compassionate Listening Project’s philosophy. When I read it, I was immediately struck by the similarity between listening and photography, or at least the kind of photography that has taken root in my soul.

Consider this reframing of Nouwen’s words:

...To photograph is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True photographers no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept...

Photography as listening – and witnessing – is an idea I want to explore further in this blog. Meanwhile, I’ll let it percolate away in my mind over the coming weeks as Bill and I travel in Australia.

Here are images from previous trips to Australia, humbly offered as acts of listening and witnessing. Enjoy.

Luna Park, Sydney

Therapeutic Clowns, Sydney Children's Hospital.
Alas, I've lost their names.

Near Martin Place, Sydney

Construction Hoarding, Melbourne

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and photographer

Puppet Shop, The Rocks, Sydney

Rob's bus crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Canada Day, 2013

Spencer in the entrance of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

St. Kilda Beach, Melbourne

Tim Burton display, Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI),
Federation Square, Melbourne

Unknown colonial governor, Sydney.

Luna Park, Sydney