The COVID19 movement restrictions are being lifted in NSW and we are all getting outside more. Getting back to “normal” and exploring our still clean environment. I went out last weekend for my first photo safari for a very long time. I wandered along the shore of Lake Illawarra and took some rather nice portraits of pelicans.
Pelicans are lovely birds. Big and ungainly on land, but magnificent flyers. Their broad wings carrying their heavy bodies effortlessly.
They eyed off the human fisherman with cheeky stares.
Hello old friend we meet again. I’m sitting in the departures hall surrounded by people speaking languages I don’t understand. Happy travellers returning home or starting their next adventure?
Check in and security completed with a minimum of fuss, although note to self – the boots with the metal trims? Don’t wear them next time! Rooky error! I’ve streamlined my packing and look smuggly at those who are wrestling with their hand luggage to get out all the liquids while I pop my prepackaged plastic ziplock in the tray. Hazar! Travel Ninga status restored
I have 90 more minutes to waste and I’m wishing I hadn’t had that extra glass of cheap wine to help me sleep! My stomach is a little squeamish. Is that nerves or a hangover. Both, no doubt. I do hope it isn’t the slightly under heated lamb shank I had last night at the hotel.
How things have changed in the years since I took my first international flight. That flight, to Italy, was my first time ever on a plane. It was January 1982. After leaving Sydney we stopped in Melbourne then Perth then Singapore then Bahrain, and finally Rome. Mechanical repairs at Bahrain meant we sat on the tarmac for six hours, air con off, no food, no water. Thirty. six. hours. Thirty of those confined to a tiny seat. Thankfully I was small and could curl up cat-like. Thankfully, I was travelling with someone I could lounge against without concern. The invisible force field surrounding the chair could be extended – a little. The toilets became blocked. The plane remained in that state until we got off in Rome.
Back in those days international travel was a novelty. At least for my family and friends who hailed from more or less working class roots. My brother had been to London a couple of years before but unless you count Lord Howe Island, my parents had never left Australia. The ex’s dad worked for Qantas, so his family flew frequently on staff tickets. Cheap travel sure, but you didn’t count your chickens until the door was closed and cross checked because you could get off loaded if another paying passenger needed the seat.
“Seeing a friend off” was a social occasion. Your friendship group would drive you to the Airport and as payment, you would shout them a few drinks at the Airport Bar before racing to the gate. I don’t remember if there was any security screening but I do remember that your friends could come right up to the departure gate where there were many teary goodbyes.
In 1982 the decor vibe was timber paneling and 70’s orange. Since then, it’s undergone many, many renovations. Every time I come here there are hoardings covering up more promised improvements. It’s bright and airy with charging points and interesting seating nooks. Tom Hanks’ character could live here quite happily.
It’s beginning to brighten up outside as Sydney starts it’s day. Jets have started to leave as the curfew is lifted. Come on Iain, it’s time to move to the gate.
Somewhere between me being 45 and nearly 60, Wollongong’s nightlife has been through a metamorphosis. At one time, Wollongong had a reputation for being violent. Rolling brawls spilled out of places like the Glasshouse onto the streets and kept people like me at home. We didn’t feel comfortable sharing noisy venues with barely-clad chicky babes and young men whose sole goal was to get “maggoted”. My friends and I stayed at home and had civilised dinner parties, sometimes venturing out to the popular Little Prince* only to be disappointed because we couldn’t find a seat.
(*I’ll review the Littel Prince in another post)
More recently and I’m reticent to use the word “suddenly” because I’m sure it has not been sudden, there has been a torrent of small bars setting up shop. These places have style, the music is quieter, the seats more comfortable and the lighting more subdued.
It’s not so much a case of Wollongong changing from an ugly caterpillar into a butterfly, because some those rowdier places are still open for business. Rather, new classier blood has moved into the neighbourhood offering more choice to a broader range of patrons. In fact, we’re spoiled for choice at the moment!
My friends and I are not looking for somewhere to “hook up” or meet a date. We want a place where we can feel comfortable alone or with a group of friends for a chat. We enjoy good food and are fussy in our choice of drinks. We want background music that stays in the background and excellent amenities in terms of toilets, glassware and seating.
So which small bars are a good match for Old Chooks?
In the interests of research, I decided to hit the streets and review the boutique and small bar scene, systematically and scientifically. Armed with an online survey, I enlisted the help of some dedicated Old Chooks (Diane and Karen) to critically evaluate what was on offer.
So far, we have checked out six small bars over two nights in Febraury and March 2019. We will bravely venture out again to check out more bars in the coming months. Tough work but someone has to do it!
I must say we approached our task with enthusiasm, and frankly, I think we got a little overexcited. It was funny how having a purpose changed the dynamics of a night out, transforming it from a simple social get-together to a serious mission. It also meant we were more observant than we would have been otherwise. The methodology is simple. We each pick a bar, then work out the most efficient walking route between them. Once at the bar, we carefully check the food and drinks menu and the toilets. These are the deal breakers in our view! We try to engage the bar staff in conversation without giving our game away. We order a drink each and some food to share and then after an hour or so move onto the next bar.
Three bars, three drinks, three snacks.
In that hour, we are busy on our phones filling in the survey and discussing the lighting, the ambience, the crowd and the facilities. The survey is comprehensive, and each question is given a score. The scores are then added up to provide an overall rating. There are a few inherent biases in the method. The first bar on the list is reviewed early in the night, and it may not have yet reached its peak ambience. Another factor is that the third bar is considered after 2 drinks. Hopefully, we are not such cheap drunks that our focus is too frayed!
121 Keira Street, Wollongong
Juniper was our first review, and we started there at about 7:30 PM. There were plenty of available tables. The crowd was made up of three male/female couples and a group of eight 30-40-year-old females. Four men walked in, looked around and walked out. Perhaps it was a bit girly for their taste? The concrete walls were sponged with pastel tones, and there was no other decoration. The wooden tables were garnished with small candles and a bit of greenery in a recycled jar. The concrete floor and walls created a noisy vibe, and the music was too loud for easy conversation. There was a definite need for some soft surfaces to act as noise dampeners. The bar itself had a charming backlit display which was very interesting.
Juniper, as the name suggests, is a gin bar. There was an extensive selection of gin but little else besides. The printed menu was very informative and gave good descriptions of the gin varietals. They offered gin-based cocktails as well as straight nips and various tonic mixers. The drinks ranged in price from $11 – $19. The food menu was minimal (a choice a three) and there was no vegetarian option. We chose the drinks plate: a platter of cheese and meats with very crunchy toasted bread ~ $25. The two wait staff were friendly.
BEST: Excellent subdued lighting. The bar was nicely lit and looked very pretty.
WORST: Noise levels and food choices.
88 Kembla Street, Wollongong (behind the Creamies gelato shop)
I felt like a secret agent entering the Black Cockatoo with its hidden entry off an ice cream parlour. I wish you needed to give a secret handshake! Once inside the dark interior was reminiscent of an American bar. Booths lined the walls with a few standing tables as well as seats at the bar. It’s a small venue with a capacity for around 30. A large painted mural of a cockatoo and a few band posters were the only decorations. Still, it had a nice ambience tending to retro. Two 20-something men were serving. They were very casually dressed in long shorts and t-shirts. The food menu was again minimal and this time consisted of packet chips, sausage rolls and cheese and spinach pies. Don’t come here looking for a meal! The drinks menu was small and limited to canned beers, a few imported draft beers and a small selection of wine. Drink prices were reasonable, ranging from $6 up to $15.
When we arrived at 8:30, we were the only ones there for a few minutes, and the boys were happy to chat while not being obtrusive. With a very late licence, this would be the place for a late night meet-up, not an Old Chooks night out. There was one toilet which had no hand towels although it was tidy in other respects. The music was great, probably meant to be retro but it was all our era!
BEST: The secret agent feel and the music.
WORST: Food. Although, to be honest, if you were here late at night, a sausage roll might be perfect!
Births and Deaths.
2/74 Kembla St, Wollongong
Births and Deaths has had a fair bit of cash thrown at it. The black walls frame the $6000 -worth of Italian tiles that back the bar. There is one long re-manufactured stone table in the middle of the room which would comfortably seat 30 and cafe style seating around outside of the room as well as a few stools at the bar. The bar was half full, with an interesting mix of people. B&D offered table service, a nice touch. We chatted at length to one of the owners, Jared. He explained his philosophy which focused on sustainability. He said they reused as much as possible. The straws were metal, the coasters, washable fabric. The kitchen ran on the concept of minimising waste with the beetroot and pumpkin scraps leftover from the tasting plates used to make syrup for drinks. According to Jared of Births and Deaths, my friends and I are part of the targeted demographic boutique bars in Wollongong are looking for. Cashed up and older. Young folk, you see “pre-drink” and are stingy about buying food. Old Chooks like us, on the other hand, go out early, buy more expensive drinks and order lots of food. He is also part owner of the Howling Wolf and works in partnership with Cavaeu (a hatted restaurant nearby). He was very accommodating and chatty and talked to us about his plans and the issues of getting a licence and permission to operate.
B&D is also a gin bar but has a broader selection of wine and beers than Juniper. The food was unique, and while not vegetarian, was mostly plant-based. We tried a pumpkin plate which included morsels of pumpkin cooked a few different ways as well as some cheese and tomato toasties.
BEST: The food and the staff.
WORST: The toilet while not unisex, was not very private and it was easy to “disturb” the privacy of other patrons.
69 Crown St, Wollongong
The Night Parrot was our first stop on the second research night. The technical hitches we had with the online survey (Diane’s phone going flat and Karen using the wrong form) had been solved, so we were ready to go! A fourth researcher, Tanya, joined us. There were five other groups of people and seating was not a problem. The other patrons were well dressed and included a few couples. The decor was dark and classy with one wall lined with highly varnished wood panels. The remaining walls and ceiling were painted black and gave the place a cave-like feel. The Night Parrot is a wine bar and features a walk-in wine cabinet which takes up one of the on-street windows. The busy kitchen was visible from the bar and added significantly to the atmosphere with steam wafting up from the stoves. There was seating at the bar as well as open tables and three padded “booths” which seated three comfortably with the fourth at the other side of the table. There was table service, and it took a little longer than expected to give our orders. I had decided to do Feb-Fast and was not drinking alcohol, and while the others were quickly served their wine, I had to ask a second time for my soda water. The volume of the music created a pleasant, unobtrusive feel and allowed for easy conversation. The lighting was on the dark side. This along with the dark walls, gave it a cozy atmosphere. The bar area was brightly lit. The one toilet cubicle was unisex. It was large and spacious with plenty of extra rolls of paper, gentle soap and a blower dryer. The decor was eclectic with a large suspended branch acting as a chandelier.
A small selection of food was on offer. I had the dumplings which were tasty and good value at four pieces for $14. The wine selection was a mix of local and imported wines and over a wide price range. Both Diane and Tanya ($22) were pleased with their grenaches, one local ($14) one imported ($22).
BEST: The decor and the wine selection;
WORST: We thought that with the way the seating was arranged, it would be tough to feel comfortable as a solo visitor.
68 Crown St, Wollongong
Moominn is a quirky, warm, cozy place. It reminded me of someone’s Grandma’s lounge room. There is a mixture of seating from a few lounge chairs around a fireplace to kitchen tables with old lino chairs. Some seating at the bar is also available. There are all sorts of bits and pieces hanging from the ceiling. Baskets, flowers, light fittings, bottles, umbrellas etc. The walls are entirely covered with mismatched pictures which scream out OP SHOP find. A large blackboard shows the specials as well as a few witty quotes. They had flavoursome zero alcohol beer, and I would have had another if we were staying longer.
The others all had the same red wine and seemed satisfied with their choice. The drinks were served in very simple, practical glasses. The barkeeper was friendly and offered advice on what beer they had when I asked for no alcohol. The food was OK. I found it a bit oily although the others enjoyed the mix of deep fried mushrooms, cauliflower and cheese bites. A second plate with bread and meatballs was very garlicky. The two dishes were $50 in total. They were small servings, and this seemed expensive to me. The single well-lit toilet is out back through the kitchen. Quaint sayings are painted on the walls, and the jumbled, over-decorated theme continues here.
The music, while pleasant, was too loud. There was a good crowd of around 20 in attendance, We originally sat at the bar and swooped on a table when it was vacated. The partons were a very mixed group with a good spattering of older people. It would be easy to visit Mooninn as a solo traveller with the lounge chairs near the fire being cozy and private.
BEST: Quirky fun feel
WORST: Noise levels
2/88 Kembla St, Wollongong
The Throsby is one of the more established small bars in Wollongong and has been open for several years. I had been there before. The waitress seemed to be annoyed when we walked in, and her face showed it. It looked like we had crashed a private party. It was only 10:10 PM. The first thing she said was the kitchen has closed. Most of the tables were empty, and there were two other groups. A group of four young men at the table nearest the door and a group of six young people at the bar.
The decor is muted and sophisticated. You could describe it as Scandi with blond timber and fine lines. A petite arrangement of flowers/leaves was on each table. The light fittings were chic woven timber. Their glassware was elegant, and I had a tasty pink grapefruit-soda water mix. The music was bland but at a reasonable volume. The one toilet was a bit messy and smelly. It might have been OK at the beginning of the night but needed a clean at this time.
Karen and Tanya both commented that the wine was a bit acidic. We could not comment on the food as we did not see a menu. Although the vibe was quite pleasant, we did not interact with the wait staff at all beyond ordering our drinks. We did not score the Throsby well, and we perhaps were over critical because of our less than enthusiastic greeting.
BEST: decor and glassware:
WORST: Reception on arrival. If you’re not open for business, close the door!
And the winner (so far) is…
The graph below shows our overall scores for the six bars visited to date. Births and Deaths has come out as a clear winner for many reasons. Jared was a star. Friendly, knowledgeable and willing to spend time chatting with us telling us about his philosophy. This made all the difference.
The Royal Easter Show is THE biggest event in Australia. Held at Sydney Olympic Stadium over 12 days and with an average of over 850,000 tickets sold, it hums with activity. The show is run by the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW, and the first show was held in 1823. The RAS’ charter is to support the farmers by acting as
“… a not-for-profit organisation, …committed to supporting agricultural development and rural communities in Australia by generating revenue through its businesses which is ploughed back into agriculture.”
Over the years it has changed and, of course, become more commercial. Show bags used to be called sample bags and were free. These days you have to pay a pretty penny for a bag full of plastic junk.
Despite this, the essence has remained the same. “The Royal” is the culmination of local and district agricultural shows which happen at various times throughout the year in country towns around NSW (and Australia). Farmers bring their best chickens, pigs and cattle to show, while others cook and vie for the title of best fruit cake. Old crafts such as knitting, crochet and leather carving are appreciated and kept alive by healthy competition.
In the various arena and pavillions, we city folk can watch tent pegging, show jumping, rodeo, dog and cat shows, and feel connected to those who provide our food.
In sideshow alley kids of all ages can ride on the giant Ferris wheel, the giant slide and the other noisy rides that throw them in the air in an eruption of squeals and shrieks.
I’m not sure how often I have been to the Show, perhaps 10? I remember going with my mum on Good Fridays because it meant the crowd would be smaller as people observed that public holiday more piously 50 years ago. In those days, it was held at the Showgrounds in Moore Park, and we needed to catch two trains and a bus to get there.
I’ve been to the show three times in the last 6 years. It’s an excellent place for a photo safari and while I don’t look at everything I stick to the less commerical areas but make sure I check out the chickens!
The collages below show some of my shots from this year.
Junior Judges being judged judging sheep….
A little of sideshow alley
Tomorrow (23/4/19) is the last day for the 2019 show. It’s Children’s Day and there are special offers. If you are visiting Sydney in 2020, I’d recommend you add it to the calendar of events. The glorious autumn weather and the feel good vibe, are bound to impress.
I like to go on “photo safaris”. A photo safari is a planned excursion whose express purpose is to take photos, as opposed to me just taking photos of the place I happen to be at.
I ventured out on February the 1st to get some photos of the opening of Sydney’s Lunar Festival. The week leading up to the opening had been sunny, humid and fiercely hot. Typical Australian summer weather. And typically Australian, on Friday there was a “southerly”; a blustery cool change that brings rain, and thankfully, relief.
It did however rain on the lunar parade.
I was not prepared for rain. I had to buy a rain poncho but this did little to protect my camera. I had to call it quits before the planned fireworks because I was worried it was getting too wet.
“It’s too hot up here for White Pointers. They don’t like the hot water” Natalie said with the confidence of a local. She’s lived in North Queensland all her life so she should know. Guy laughed quietly as he continued to trim the greenery for a bouquet he was building.
“The winters here are stunning” he said. “The water is clear, the humidity is gone and there is less chance of stingers”
I’m here in mid-January and the temperature has hovered in the high 20’s dropping (!) to 23 overnight. The humidity remains a constant 69%. Summer was doing it’s tropical best! Water temperature averages out at 28C
Natalie says that anything under 20C and she has a jumper on! Natalie and Guy run the Floral Collection on Front Street and are just two of the friendly people willing to share their story with me as I went from shop to shop in Hamilton Island.
There are not many shops on Hamilton Island. The retail section runs along the Marina. There are a few restaurants/bars, the pub, a post office, an IGA supermarket, a pharmacy, the Bakery, a pizzeria, fish and chip shop, and four clothing boutiques, The dive shop, at least two art galleries, the souvenir shop, a real estate agent, marina admin, cruise office and water sport hire round it off. There is also a private College which seems a bit of an oddity. The resort hotel complex has a spa and another boutique/souvenir store as well. The prices are not too bad, considering. Considering it’s a captive audience and the lack of competition.
There are a few exclusive accomodation options that have there own restaurant but a school teacher has no business messing with those places!
Front Street is crowded with golf buggies, the only form of transport for hire. These electric buggies are limited to the Island’s maximum speed of 20kph. Their pace matches the pace of the people on the island. This is a holiday island not the place for an adventure! The surrounding landscapes are stunning and the tropical heat and humidity lull you into a lazy haze very quickly.
Over the last few days I have settled into the routine of an early morning coffee watching the busy-ness of the marina, while guarding my food from the clever birds who will swipe your banana bread as soon as look at you.
I watch as the early ferry drops off construction and resort workers coming in from the mainland. Then as the tourists begin to board for shore excursions to Airlie Beach or the Reef. I watch the yachties take their provisions for the week in little trolleys along the narrow docks. I watch the planes take off and land on the runway that seems too short. It’s quiet but not silent. The low hum of boats motoring out of the harbour and the flutter of helicopters an almost constant backdrop of sound broken occasionally by the buzzing of a reversing buggy.
Jarryd from the Marina Tavern told me most “hospo” workers live on the island in subsidised accommodation which on the whole is very comfortable depending on how much you want to spend. Jarryd has been on the Island for a few years and hales from the Albury-Wodonga area at the NSW-Victorian border. The Chef has been there for 5 years and loves Island living. The Island workers’ families can attend the State run primary school which has less than 60 students and 4 teachers. Secondary School students need to head off to the mainland to Proserpine High School.
I stopped to ask one of the HI-VIS clad workers about the best place to get a shot of a plane landing on that short runway. He’s been coming to the Island by ferry every work day since 1986. He’s seen a lot of changes since then. Originally a privately owned farm, Hamilton Island was developed by Keith Hamilton as a resort in 1975. It is now 100% owned by 21st Century Resort Holdings. In 2017,it was significantly damaged by Cyclone Debbie although there is little evidence of that now.
Don’t come for the extreme sports.
Don’t come to Hamilton Island if you are looking for an adventure packed itinerary. Come here if you are looking for a family friendly, high end resort holiday. Swimming (in the pool because of the risk of stingers in the sea), sailing, fishing, eating, drinking and resting. There are some opportunities for more active pursuits such as kart racing, jet ski hire and 4WD buggies. The island is small (5 x 3.5 km) but there are a few short walks that take you to some spectacular view points. I’d recommend the walk up to Passage Peak. There are lots of steps and according the information board it’s the most challenging walk on offer.The views make it worth it. At the very top you stand on a rocky granite outcrop which towers above the surrounding landscape. The breeze cools your sweaty body and as you turn slowly on your heel you can take in 360o of magic turquoise water studded with green islands.
Who comes to Hamilton Island?
The marina here is the largest in all of the Whitsunday group of islands so it’s a starting point for sailors and yachties. Boats come and go all day. Families with younger children and a few teenagers are the predominant group. Honeymooners and wedding parties also make up a significant chunk of the population. There are some international visitors but from my rough observations they are in the minority. Given it’s the long summer break from school here in Australia, that’s not surprising. The scales may be in the other direction in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer. It would be an great destination for a few days away for the “girl’s weekend” or a ‘significant” birthday. There are several flights in and out every day and the ferry crosses from Shute Harbour on the mainland several times a day. It’s clean, tidy and there is an overwhelming feeling of affluence. I am here on grandma duty so I can’t comment on the nightlife, but sunset cocktails at One Tree Hill is a family friendly experience not to be missed.
…And about those jellyfish…
Australia has its fair share of biting things that have the potential to kill you. It’s all about risk management. The likelihood is low but the consequence is extreme. Irukandji are small, transparent jellyfish that cause extremely painful and in some cases life threatening stings. They are cousins to the much larger, more deadly Box Jellyfish. Jellyfish are apparently more of a problem when there is a northerly wind blowing and after heavy rains when they are washed down into the ocean from the breeding grounds in the estuaries. The Island’s management recommend you wear a stinger suit which is essentially a very thin wetsuit if you want to swim in the ocean.
Taking the plunge…
As I sat on the back step of the catamaran, I surveyed the inviting blue water. There were five other boats moored in the same area off Whitehaven Beach. No-one else was swimming. What seemed like a good idea at the time, became to me, more and more risky the longer I sat there. The jellyfish were not going to be a problem as I was suited up, it was the idea of sharks that got me worried. Would a lone swimmer splashing about become a shark’s easy lunch? Be invincible not invisible I shouted in my own head. I dove into the water and adjusted my mask. I swam a few metres and floated awhile. The nearby fringe reef suddenly seemed much too far away. I had overcome my fear – I had done enough – I was wet! I could get out now!. I scrambled back on board, heart beating a little faster.
I should have spoken to Natalie before I went swimming! Let’s hope someone told the sharks to carry a thermometer!
You can find out more about the details of getting to Hamilton Island and where to stay on their excellent website.
I prepared this post on my IPad. I’m never happy with the image options on the app version of WordPress and will fix them up when I get back home!
This is my 100th post. A bit of a milestone really. Thank you to those of you who have taken the time to follow my quirky journey. I hope you will continue to do so and find some value in what I share.
It got me thinking about the concept of 100. It is celebrated as a milestone in many contexts.
Governments celebrate what they have achieved in their first 100 days in power.
When you turn 100 you can apply to get a telegram from the Queen. Perhaps she should be thinking about email these days!
The turn of the century is a big deal and centennials for various events are marked with great care.
Cricketers hold the bats aloft and bask in the applause of the crowd when they score a “ton”
One hundred years ago the world was a very different place. A quick review of Wikipedia throws up a few facts
There was an influenza pandemic which killed millions of people worldwide and an estimated 12,000 died in Australia
The zipper was only two years old
The first Archibald Prize was awarded in Australia. (a prestigious portrait prize)
The Smith brothers flew from Britain to Australia and won a competition
Troops continued to return to their various homes from the “Great War” in Europe
There were cars and telephones but no TV.
There were no nuclear bombs but there was chemical warfare.
Penicillin was still 10 years away and
Plastic was still a novelty
If I live to be 100 it will be 2061. I wonder if the earth will be burnt to a crisp? Will my coastal city of Wollongong be underwater due to rising sea levels?
In 100 days it will be Autumn in Australia.
In 100 weeks it will be December 2020.
In 100 months it will be May 2027 and hopefully I will be fit and well and retired from the day job.
100 months ago it was September 2010. I was living alone but not yet divorced.
Will I still be writing this blog for another 100 posts? I hope so. Like many who have written stories before me, my creativity ebbs and wanes. I am conscious that this blog is lapsing into a “Dear Diary” and that is not what I intended it to be. On the other hand, I am not keen to stick to a singular theme, which is apparently one of the keys to creating a successful blog. I do want to be able to write about a range of topics which catch my fancy. I want to inspire women like myself to go out and have a go!
Be quirky. Be brave. Be free.
So for the next 100 posts I guess I’ll stick to my themes of