Yoni and the smelly underpants

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Once again I was standing in a snake-y queue. This time in Sydney, waiting to board the American Express SkyTrain at Taronga Park Zoo as part of Vivid, Sydney. It would take ten to fifteen minutes to get to the front to the line. The family ahead of me was having a great time.

“Ok one… two.. three… say Yoni has smelly underpants” the young man said to the two boys in matching beanies. They giggled and smiled and the young man snapped away with his phone. I turned around and realized, too late, that I was photobombing their family moment.

“You photobombed our family photo!” the young man exclaimed in a theatrical style. He showed me the screen and there I was in the middle of everything. We bantered back and forward.

“Well since you are going to be on our fridge, what’s your name?

“Robyn – and since you are going to be in my blog – what’s yours?”

“Yoni”

“Ahhh ….the one with the smelly undies”

“Yes that’s me!”

As we twisted around another loop he asked “So what do you blog about?”

“Travel, mostly and …and stuff like this” as I waved my hand over his family.

“So you’re a writer then?”

“Mostly a photographer… but I want to write. I’m a teacher.”

“Teachers are awesome. Our mum’s a teacher” Yoni said.

So it’s Uncle Yoni I thought. Finally, we got to the top of the queue. I said goodbye and giggled to myself. Yoni and the smelly underpants.

The cable car door closed behind me and I was launched into the blackness and then the lights started.

The lights of Vivid…

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Australia, land of beaches and sunshine. Hot sun …babes in bikinis… beer in the sun.

That’s the image that comes to mind, even as locals. It’s not always beach weather and we do in fact, have a winter. Compared to the Northern Hemisphere, it’s not much of a winter, but heh… sometimes it can get as cold as 6oC in Sydney! That’s COLD! Tourists come in droves in the summer to sit on our sandy beaches, slap shrimp on the barbie and enjoy our great outdoors but their numbers drop in our winter.

This is (apparently) a marketing tragedy.

Back in 2009, the NSW government decided to try capture more of the winter tourist market. They created Vivid – a winter festival. It started small in the area round Circular Quay. It’s now a huge success. Locals and tourists flock to Vivid in the last weeks of May and early June. In 2017, over 2 million people visited Vivid!

Vivid is now an interactive collection of light, music and ideas. Over the years it has spread out to include more and more of Sydney, Darling Harbour, Walsh Bay and the Zoo. You can find more information here www.vividsydney.com/

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The highlights include the images  cast up on the Sydney Opera House and Customs House as well as the lights on Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Zoo Light Walk is amazing! The ferry ride across the Harbour gives you a great view of the skyline and all its brilliance. I might be a bit biased, but an already beautiful harbour comes to life during Vivid. Sparkling cold water, bright lights and friendly crowds all enjoying a mystical musical wonderland. While Vivid is over for another year, make sure sure you pencil it in for 2019, just pack a beanie and a scarf.

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PS: Yoni, I hope you enjoyed Vivid with your nephews! Good luck in your life. Stay fun! Stay friendly! You gave this old chook something to smile about! If you ever read this please, share my photobombing snap in the comments!

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The Sad Case of the Vanished Cracker Night.

Australia is a constitutional monarchy. The Queen of Australia – Queen Elizabeth the 1st (She is Elizabeth the 2nd in the UK but only the first Elizabeth we have had) has very little sway these days in terms of our laws, the parliament and that sort of thing but we still get a public holiday to celebrate her birthday. Even though her actual birthday is in April we celebrate it on the second Monday of June. It’s a welcome holiday. By the time June has come around, winter has usually hit and the Indian summer of May has ended with a bang. It’s probably raining and it will be cold(ish) It’s a perfect weekend for inland retreats at wineries or being indoors with a book and a fire and catching up with friends.

When I was a kid, Saturday of the Queen’s Birthday weekend was Cracker Night. There would be bonfires, pretty fireworks and explosive crackers in nearly every backyard. My favourite was the Catherine Wheel which would be nailed to the fence. It would spin around as jets of coloured sparks shot out the sides. The neighbourhood would be shrouded in smoke and the poor dogs would be going crazy.

You could buy crackers at any corner store, regardless of your age. My dad used to blow up our home made letter box every year. He’d fill it with bungers and attach a long wick and then run. The wooden box would get shattered into thousands of sharp, splintery missiles and we would squeal with glee from our hiding spots.

My family must have been a bit more careful than other families. I don’t remember any one getting hurt although my hair did catch on fire once when an ember jumped out of the bonfire. Despite our own personal luck, because in retrospect, I think it was good luck rather than good management, every year you would hear of a another 10 year old boy who had blown his hand off or blinded himself or suffered some other horrific injury because they had taped a few large bungers together or had tried to build a bigger, better explosive.

It became (sensibly) more difficult to buy crackers. You had to be 18. Then it become illegal to sell them in NSW. You could still buy them in the Australian Capital Territory, so people would take the drive down there to stock up for an illicit cracker night party. The firework shops were cheek-by-jowl with the porn shops (Canberra, incidentally also being the only place you could buy X rated movies!).

Many community groups had public firework displays which varied in quality. Over the years, these have petered out too. I guess the expense got too much. Perhaps, the audience got too used to the HUGE New Year’s Eve Fireworks that light up Sydney Harbour. What community groups could afford were fizzlers in comparison.

Last Saturday night would have been cracker night but I didn’t hear one. Not a single one. It’s a shame. Another fun, old tradition that has gone by the wayside.

It made me think, what will today’s kids remember? Oh wow I sat indoors all day playing Total Domination against some random in the US? It was like… So totally awesome!!

…somehow I don’t think so. Will their memories be totally devoid of the types of rich stories that made up my childhood and adolescence?

This year, my Queen’s Birthday Weekend was filled with reminiscences of other kinds. A weekend full of “remember whens” at a 40th high school reunion. Unfortunately, it was only a small gathering. We danced to old 70s and 80s tunes. We argued who was the bigger loss to the world – Lennon or Bowie? We talked about old teachers chasing the girls who were smoking in the playground (not me!!) We talked about those who had not come to join in the party.

Only 10 of us made the journey

Those who had left before the HSC (the NSW matriculation qualification) and had gone into more manual labouring jobs complained that their bodies were beginning to give out. We all complained about our failing eyesight. We compared photos of our adult kids and for some of us, our grandkids. We settled into an easy rekindling of old friendships and lamented that so few had made the journey to Old Bar, NSW.

This one from Primary School

As we tried to put names to all the faces in the old school photos, there was one girl, at the end of a row of the 1C photo that no-one could remember. I’d hate to be that girl. Why did no one know her? We had no special story for her. That made me sad and I wondered if there were other people looking at other class photos who wondered who I was? If there were some people I had never made an impression on? In my own Robyn-centric world I find that hard to believe but I guess I was not the centre of everyone’s universe!

I don’t know if we will have 50th reunion. By then I will be 67. I hope I will continue to enjoy the same good health I have now. I hope I will tick off some more of those bucket list items. But most of all, I hope I can contribute some good memories to the students I teach.

In 2038, I hope some kid says at their reunion, “Do you remember that old chook Ms Lang? She was a bit crazy!” and smile.

Tall tales and true! (Mark and Craig both school buddies since kinder!)

A run in the Park.

The “Park Run” is a free event that happens in lots of different places world-wide on Saturday mornings. It’s a 5km timed run/walk organised by volunteers. There are three park runs near where I live in Wollongong, but strangely there wasn’t one in New York.

This weekend I am in Old Bar on the Mid North Coast of NSW, Australia for a 40th School Reunion. That in itself is a scary concept which I will write more about later for my regular Friday post.

In the meantime here is a little CHOOKUMENTARY about the Park Run in Taree. Today I ran the course in just over 27 minutes. The course is relatively flat and follows along a footpath on the foreshore of the Manning River.

Check out Park Run’s Website for more information. This link is for their Australian chapter but there are others in other countries. Park Run Australia

Wollongong Snapshot 3: The Active ‘Gong – a few free, fun outdoor activities when you visit Wollongong.

There’s plenty to see and do in my home town. People come here for holidays! You can easily fill up a weekend with active fun and fab food with very little effort. This post is about some free things you can do to keep active while spending time in Wollongong. I am not going to say much about accommodation or cafes etc. I will keep that for a separate post. This is certainly not an exhaustive guide but gives you a bit of an idea of things to do.

  1. Like swimming but not sand? Head down to the Continental Pools just on the other side of the breakwater from Belmore Basin.

    There are two 50 m pools side by side. They are filled with the sea water but not tidal and the bright blue pool shell makes them look like a regular chlorine pool. Entry is free! This blog post gives some more information about the pool. http://oceanpoolsnsw.net.au/continental-baths-wollongong-nsw-2529/ . The Wollongong Council website also has information about opening times. http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/facilities/beachespools/Pages/pools.aspx#gref

  2. Like swimming and don’t mind the sand? Wollongong has more sandy beaches than you can poke a boogie board at! From Stanwell Park in the north to “Farm” down at Killalea State Park there are all sorts of beaches.
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    Woonona Beach

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    Bulli Beach Sea Pool

    If you are in the CBD, you can easily walk to City Beach or North Beach. The Bathing Pavilion at North Beach has been renovated and has good change rooms and showers and there are some cafes there too.

    You can walk along the Blue Mile and around the lighthouses to get from one beach to the other. City Beach and North Beach are patrolled (by life guards) in season and you should swim between the flags. Belmore Basin is a small sandy beach on Wollongong Harbour. This is a great place for little kids and swimmers who don’t like waves. If you are a surfer have a look at this site for a few suggestions. http://www.backpackaround.com/things-to-do/destinations/new-south-wales/wollongong/wollongong-surfing.html

  3. Bushwalking. There are some very fine bushwalks in the Illawarra area.
  • Sublime Point Walk. If you are a bit of an extreme exercise enthusiast, you might like to try the Sublime Point Walk. It’s short (less than a kilometre one way) but it’s straight up (more or less) the escarpment. Lots of people try to beat their own personal best and get it done one way in less than 30 minutes. That’s easy if you come down the track but not so much if you start at Austinmer and go up. The National Parks website tells you how to get there and where to park. You can take the train and get off at Austinmer. This is also uphill and will take about 20 – 25 minutes. Take water and snacks. There is a café at the top but it is not open 24/7. Apart from trying to beat the speed record lots of people aim to get to the top by sunrise, so many start the walk in the near dark. Please note: the local residents will get VERY narky if you park in their driveway so play nice if you drive. You should be fit to do this walk – it’s a hard slog and will be tough on your knees. You need to be comfortable climbing ladders and there are lots of stairs. But the view!! The view is amazing!

http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/sublime-point-walking-track

 

  1. The Park Run: The Park Run is a global volunteer-organised running club. There are three places you can do the Park Run in the Illawarra if you are a registered member. One in Sandon Pont, another that starts from Fairy Meadow Surf Club and then down south in Shellharbour. These 5 km timed runs are all in great locations and attract lots of locals and travellers. http://www.parkrun.com.au/northwollongong/ . Links to the Sandon Point and Shellharbour runs are on this page. The runs are held on Saturday mornings.

 

  1. Bike riding: Fancy a long ride along the beach? There is a bike/walk path that goes from the just south of the city up to Thirroul in the North – around 10 km all up. You will wind your way past several beaches, Bellambi Lagoon and some urban areas. You can also ride around Lake Illawarra (about 31 km) http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/facilities/sportrec/Pages/CyclingGuide.aspx
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The Seacliff Bridge

In the future it will be possible to walk/ride from Stanwell Park in the north right down to Lake Illawarra.  http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/services/majorprojects/Pages/grandpacificwalk.asp Some sections are completed but it is not yet possible unless you ride on the road. You can walk/ride across the iconic Seacliff Bridge which features in lots of car ads. The bridge is on Lawrence Hargrave Drive.

6.  Wollongong Botanic Gardens. For those who prefer a more gentle walk the WBG are a real treat. Both Native and exotic plants are on display with picnic areas and secret trails. http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/botanicgarden/Pages/default.aspx. They also host a Sunset Cinema in summer (which is not free). You could also duck across the road and have a wander through the University of Wollongong’s grounds.

Need a rest?

The following ideas, while not active may also be of interest to round out your weekend!

  1. Feeling Spiritual? Australia is a secular country but there are several large temples and churches in the Illawarra area that are interesting to visit.
  • Nan Tien Temple. The Nan Tien Temple is a huge Buddhist Temple and conference centre. It has beautiful gardens and you can wander around and look at the interesting buildings, gong the peace bell and sit in on the free lectures about Buddhism. There is a very good vegan café. This page has information on how to get there and what to wear http://www.nantien.org.au/en/visitor-info/directions-and-dress-code
  • Sri Venkateswara Temple. This Hindu temple is in the northern most suburb of Wollongong; Helensburgh. While accessible by public transport and a 4 km walk, a car would make it much easier! It is closed between 12 – 4pm on week days. Once again you can buy vegetarian food here. Find more information here

 http://www.svtsydney.org/contactus.html

  1. Museums and Art Galleries:
  • Wollongong Art Gallery: There is a small regional art gallery in Wollongong’s city centre. It has a permanent collection as well as several exhibitions each year. It would be a great way to spend an hour or so on a very hot or wet day! http://www.wollongongartgallery.com/gallery/Pages/default.aspx
  • Illawarra Museum: This cute little museum which is run by the Illawarra Historical Society is right on the beach and in the old court building. It’s free to enter but they can use a donation if you would like to contribute. See their website for more http://www.illawarramuseum.com/

 

NOT FREE!

 

[1] This is for the full track – there are several paces to start so you can cut it down to 6 km one way if you wish.

Wonderwalls Festival – Wollongong Snapshot 2

I live in the regional city of Wollongong which is around 90 km south of Sydney. These days, not much divides the sprawling southern suburbs of Sydney and the northern suburbs of Wollongong. Once home to Aunty Jack[1] a 1970’s TV comedy, the cultural landscape is now much more diverse[2].

A recent addition has been the Wonder Walls Festival which is held in the last weekend of November. Our council invites[3] local and international artists to brighten up the walls around the city’s CBD.

After three consecutive years you can really notice the difference and the vibrant atmosphere this project is bringing to town.

Some of the works are very small scale and others are truly majestic. I hope it’s a tradition that is set to stay.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Aunty_Jack_Show

[2] See my other recent post https://wordpress.com/post/oldchookenterprises.com/1625

 

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-23/wolllongong-wonderwalls-street-art-festival-2016/8049488

Critters in Bellingen, NSW.

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Goanna

My mum lives on a 2.8 hectare (7 acre) rural-residential property near Bellingen on the Mid-north coast of NSW, Australia. Perched on a hill, her home for last 31 years, is surrounded by beef and dairy farms and lots of hobby farmers growing “herbs” of various kinds. Mum’s property is not much use as a farm as it is essentially just a big hill but it makes a damn fine place to visit for lazy holidays and to live a relatively peaceful life in the country.

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It is certainly not a “pristine” environment as the area has been farmed for well over a hundred years after being cleared of cedar back in the 1840’s. Despite this, I am always amazed at the amount of wildlife that turns up in her “backyard”. Mum has allowed the bush to grow back over the years and the critters love it. These photos show some of the wildlife you can see from her verandahs.

Not seen here are the eagles and hawks which soar overhead, black cockatoos signaling the coming of rain and kookaburras sharing their jokes with the warbling magpies.

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Regent Bowerbird

Frogs live in the toilet, lurking under the rim of the bowl. Snakes hibernate in the roof space. Spiders take over the smoke detector rousing the whole house with false alarms. And cicadas send us deaf in the summer time.

Wollongong – Part 1. The first snapshot of many.

P1510989-1I love my home town – Wollongong. Pronounced Wool-on-gong NOT Wal-on-gong even though it’s got two L’s and one O. But don’t get me started on how to pronounce names down here. Some of our suburbs’ names are easy to say and very descriptive:

Fairy Meadow, Figtree, Fernhill, and Coalcliff

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Woonona Beach

Others, are a bit tricky and prove you are an outsider if you can’t pronounce them properly:

Woonona – Woo-noo-nah

Towradgi – Toe-rod-gee

Unanderra – You-nan-derra

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Anyways, the ‘Gong is about 90 kilometres south of Sydney. It’s on the coast with a narrow strip of land before you get to a cliff face called “The Escarpment”. By European or American standards, it’s a hill really, but for us, that 500-odd metres is a mighty barrier. A barrier to Sydney. A barrier to the Westies and a barrier that keeps us a parochial region.

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Street Art from the Annual Wonderwalls Project

There is a lot to love about it. You should come visit!

Here are a few examples. A little while ago, I went to the Innovation Campus of the University of Wollongong to listen to an Australian Academy of Science talk about nanoparticles, bioactive polymers and the 3D printing of body parts. There were about 150 people there, eating some nice canapes and drinking some fine Australian wine.

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The Little Lighthouse

The following night, I went to the program launch of the Wollongong Writers’ Festival which is held in November. A different audience, but we still sipped on some fine Australian wine and ate some very nice canapes. All this, within walking distance of my home. (As a small observation, the scientist’s wine outranked the writers but the writers had better food!)

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My point is, though, that I can do these amazing things without going very far. Without having to battle traffic. Wollongong is large enough to attract interesting events but small enough to feel like a country town. We have a world class university and our natural resources make it a great place for industry and tourism. I can have it all here. I work nine kilometres from where I live and if I want to spend a day in the “Big Smoke” of Sydney, I can – it’s only 90 minutes on the train.

In future posts, which will appear on an ad hoc basis, I will show you around my little city but for now here are a few photos of local scenes to whet your appetite.