Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Monday, October 22, 2018

Book Reviews October 2018

Mike Carlton is well known media personality and author in Australia. He is a few months older than I am and we have pretty much the same outlook on life as well as similar political leanings.
He is the son of a protestant mother and a catholic priest (yes really!) and was, at a very young age, a correspondent for our national broadcaster, the ABC, in Indonesia and twice in Vietnam during that war.
He moved onto commercial radio both in Sydney and eventually London and later wrote provocative columns for the local press until he fell foul of the Jewish lobby for his criticisms of Israel's policy in Palestine. He then quit and retired to write Australian naval history.

On Air is an autobiography which covers his parents romance and his early childhood, his overseas adventures, the trials and tribulations of being a famous media personality as well as many anecdotes on the various good and bad people in the public eye, both media and politics, we in Australia all know.
It is a witty and informative read but maybe really only one for those who know of him.
For me a 'couldn't put down' and read in three days.
The Long Paddock was a freebie on Amazon. The synopsis gave the impression it was a mostly about small Australian town country and life on the land.

In reality it was a long drawn out 'will they or won't they' romantic novel with a rural sub plot.
Chicklit I think they call it.
I finished it to its inevitable happy ending....but only just.
The Greenland shark lives in Arctic regional waters at great depths (1200-1500m) and can live for up to 500 years.
As an adaptation to living at depth, it has a high concentration of trimethylamine N-oxide in its tissues, which causes the meat to be toxic. This toxicity causes the consumer to appear drunk.
Shark Drunk is a translation from the Norwegian. The author and his artist friend Hugo Aasjord set out over a number of seasons in a small rubber IRB in the Lofoten Islands region of Norway to catch one.
But this book is more than a simple fishing trip saga.

The author sets out to understand the ocean from every possible angle, drawing on poetry, science, history, ecology and mythology.
It is also a history of Norway's northern region, its fishing industry and the lives of the people who populate the small isolated villages dotted along the spectacular coastline.
I really liked this book but be warned, it is extremely long.
Highly recommended.
The author of Love and Other U-Turns, Louisa Deasey is the daughter of Australian literary figure Denison Deasey (more about him in the last review). She has worked as a free lance magazine journalist, editor, copywriter and now author.
This book tells the story of her giving up a stable but unfulfilled city life, selling all her possessions, for adventure on the road, living out of a car, with an itinerant comedian, Jim, with whom she has fallen in love.
This book documents that journey.
Jim is well educated and comes from a good family but has decided that life on the road in country Australia is for him. His humor is very crude (so crude he is banned from most city venues) so he finds his audience in pubs and bars in country Australia mainly in the mining towns and the outback.
Paradoxically he is also a clown and performs for kids at country schools.
The couple travel the length and breadth of Australia sometimes driving many hundreds of km without a break.They stay at some of the most awful accommodation in some of the most confronting places in the country eg. Kalgoorlie, while meeting some of the strangest, roughest and fascinating characters who inhabit these places.
And all the time Louisa keeps in touch with her literary world eking out a living via her trusty lap top and not so trusty rural Australian internet connections.
Does she and the relationship survive? Read it to find out.
There was some eye opening stuff in this book, even for this Australian.
If you want to know about parts of the country that are not in the travel brochures this one is for you.
Denison Deasey died when Louisa was nearly seven. He was the father she never knew.
Her mother had little to say about him and her godmother (bizarrely her father's first wife) had lost contact.
He had been characterized by some as a failure or a dilettante, who squandered money and failed to finish anything he started. In love with life but unable to benefit from it in any conventionally constructive way.
A casually dismissive reference to him from his elite school says: ‘What Geelong Grammar–educated man drives taxis?’
But a Letter from Paris with a mysterious reference to a relationship her father had with a young French au pair in post war London encourages Louisa to find out more about him.

This book documents her journey of discovery, filling in the gaps of her father's life, loves, travels and achievements.
She spends hours in the nation's libraries searching through their badly organized archived files slowly piecing together a portrait of this man.
Then she literally follows in his footsteps travelling to France to meet people who were associated with her father and his work.
He turns out to be a great deal more than 'just a taxi driver'!
A really fascinating story, well written with passion that jumps out at you from the pages.
Please read this book!

Friday, September 14, 2018

A Short Trip to the Southern Highlands

The daughter’s grandma died so she made a quick trip ‘home’ from New York and stayed with her mother on the Southern Highlands.
We went up that way to see her and catch up over lunch.
View from Cambewarra Mountain Outlook

We drove to the small historic village of Burrawang from Nowra on the coast via the Cambewarra Mountain pass into the Kangaroo Valley and then up the Barrengarry Mountain pass to the Southern Highlands.
Both passes are narrow and winding with many hairpin bends and are quite steep in places. It can be a bit of a challenging drive but not too much if you take it easy.
Kangaroo Valley Suspension Bridge (1898)

A 10℃ lower temperature at 700m above sea level on the highlands made for a pleasant change from a very unseasonably hot day at home.
The Burrawang village hotel has been refurbished and it serves great food in its lovely back garden.

We spent the night in Bowral, one of the main towns in the region. The area is a popular weekend getaway for Sydneysiders. Being at altitude and experiencing relatively cold winters they are able to grow lots of exotic cold climate plants like bulbs. Bowral is famous for its tulip festival. Plenty of daffodils were already in flower.

The co driver did some quilt store shopping before we headed out to eat. We came across, by chance, the Eccetera Trattoria and Pizzeria.
Wow! What a find!
For entree I had marinated fried sardine fillets Sicilian style served with lemon and aioli and the co driver beef fillet carpaccio, rocket, apple, balsamic, parmesan and crostini.
For a main we shared a delicious pizza washed down with an Italian Pinot Grigio.

Some of the best Italian food we have had in Australia.
Next morning we found the Gumnut Patisserie for breakfast. Pastries to die for and great coffee.
After a walk around town to shed the kilojoules, we headed a few km down the road to Berrima to a quilt store well known to the co-driver.
Berrima was established in the 1830s and is widely recognized today as one of the best preserved examples of a Georgian village on the Australian mainland.

The sandstone gaol, recently reopened for low security inmates, and courthouse are significant historic buildings.
Then it was time for the return journey.
We decided on a different way stopping at Robertson to see the Big Potato.
Now, some Australian towns build 'big things' their areas are famous for as tourist attractions. These include a merino ram, prawn, lobster, banana, pineapple. You can see a selection here.

The Robertson one has to be the worst. Despite all efforts to have it removed the locals want it to remain. Its alternative name is the Big Turd for obvious reasons.
Then it was down to the coast via the Jambaroo Pass, another winding and much narrower road than the one up. Trucks and long vehicles are banned from using the road. Thankfully there was little traffic and the trip through the dense temperate rain forest on the eastern side of the escarpment was wonderful.

The road eventually ended up at Kiama on the coast and from there the highway south to home is very familiar territory.
A nice night away. Great to see the daughter and we will catch up again in New York mid next next year.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Willinga Park / Sculpure on the Clyde / Part 1

Willinga Park is an 800 ha (2000 acre) property behind Bawley Point that has been turned from a run down cattle farm into a state of the art equestrian centre.
Not everyone welcomed this development and there was considerable disruption to the amenity of the area during its construction, which continues, as well as on event days.
But it has provided a much needed boost to employment in the area and seems to be a little more tolerated as time goes on.
For the last week they have had on display the outdoor work in the Sculpture on the Clyde exhibition. The indoor work is in Batemans Bay, a 25 minute drive to the south.
We went along on the first day of spring which turned out to be a warm sunny day.
Much of the area has been beautifully landscaped with numerous native plants and trees as well as a water features. As with all properties in our region the drought has taken its toll on the pasture areas which are sadly very brown.

Coffee, picnic hampers and blueberry ice cream from the Clyde River Berry Farm were available. We spent two hours walking the suggested route which had a total of 53 works on display and then stopped in the shade of some huge spotted gums for our soft serve fix.
As with all sculpture, some resonated and others didn’t.
Work ran the gambit of abstract to quirky, examples of which are shown below.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Another Winter Bushfire

On Saturday I noticed on the ‘Fires Near Me” app (an essential for rural living) there was a bush fire to the north and west of us in the foothills of the Budawang Ranges. It was in  rugged but not inaccessible country and both National Park and RFS firees were there. The word was the fire was ‘under control’.
On Tuesday night however the wind got up and by the next morning it was gale force from the north west gusting between 60 and 100km/hr.

The Mt. Kingiman Fire (as it became known) came howling out of the mountains towards the town of Ulladulla and its southern suburbs.
We could see smoke to our north but thankfully we were not in the direct path of the fire.
An emergency situation was declared and rural properties to our west plus the suburbs of Kings Point and Burrill Lake were ordered to evacuate. The fire was spotting kilometers ahead of itself into those suburbs. The town was filled with smoke.

So water bombing helicopters were in the air (how difficult flying conditions were in that wind?) and hundreds of Rural Fire Service volunteers were on the ground.
It was a nerve racking day.
By nightfall 1500ha (3750acres) had been burnt but there had been no loss of life or property. The RFS as usual did an amazing job.
The wind dropped overnight and allowed some containment.

But today winds are predicted to be moderate so some flare ups can be expected.
The drought has made New South Wales a tinderbox. The fire map shows how many are burning along the entire coast line.
The Mt. Kingiman Fire                             NSW Fire Map                                  

No rain is predicted for the near future so we will have to be continually on alert.
Update: 19/08/18
For two days the winds dropped which allowed firefighters to contain the fire and back burn.
However yesterday the winds got up again and we went into another emergency status.
The fire broke through containment lines and continued its journey to the coast.
Somehow it was again contained by the efforts of those on the ground and in the air.
But it came at a cost. Sadly one of the helicopters crashed killing the very experienced pilot.
Today is also predicted to be windy.
Unless we get rain soon then I think this will be the daily pattern.
So far the fire has burnt out 2200ha (5500 acres).
Exhausted Firefighter         Photo: J.Hanscombe, Milton Ulladulla Times

Update: 2/09/18
The fire is still smouldering but under control. The forecasted rain that would put the fire out has not materialised. Light ineffective showers have been the order of the day. The bushfire season has been officially declared a month early.
This summer could be nasty.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Canberra Quilt Show 2018

click on any pic to enlarge

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Trip to the Canberra Quilt Show

Once again we travelled up over the Great Dividing Range and headed for Canberra and their annual Quilt Show (pics in upcoming post).
The drought is much worse on the highlands. Not a green blade of grass to be seen and dams dry. Roadkill, while normally bad on the Braidwood to Queanbeyan stretch, is now in plague proportions. Wombat and kangaroo carcasses litter the verge. The wild life are desperate for water too. You would have to be crazy to drive this road from dusk to dawn when those animals are active.
The show itself was well organised as usual with some very impressive work on display.
The co driver won a third prize in the open art quilt section.

I left her to her wanderings and headed to the Australian War Memorial.
I had found a World War 1 service medal in my mothers belongings with her mother’s brothers name inscribed on it and thought it a good idea to try and trace his history.
The AWM combines a shrine and a world-class museum.

The two rolls of honour walls in the cloisters, either side of the pool. contain the names of over 102000 who have lost their lives in the service of their country. The entire west wall lists the 66000 killed during WW1 so it was a daunting task to find his name as they are listed by battalion. A lady docent with an iPad with all the records asked if she could help and we soon located him.

Robert S. Spiller killed in action in France in 30th September 1918 a mere 6 weeks before the armistice and buried at the Bellicourt British Cemetery, Bellicourt, Picardie, France.

The roll shows the names only, not rank or other awards, as "all men are equal in death". Visiting relatives and friends insert poppies in the gaps between the bronze plaques, beside the names of those they wish to honour.
For Australia, the First World War remains the costliest conflict in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom 66000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.
After checking in at the Adina we met up with a friend for dinner at the Malaysian Rasa Sayang in suburban Dickson, Canberra’s Asian restaurant hub.
It was a great meal as usual. After some spring roll, curry puff and dim sim starters we got serious with beef rendang, pork baba, nasi goreng and har chong chicken.
Next morning the city was enveloped in dense fog (and -2C temp) so we took our time over breakfast before heading out. Bright sunshine finally welcomed us in Queanbeyan a few kilometres out of the capital.

We were soon back in Braidwood for a coffee and to purchase the world’s best lamingtons at the bakery.
Then it was back down the Clyde Mountain pass and home.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

A Day of Excitement

It started out as a normal day.
Weather was very windy as predicted. This plus the extreme dry caused by the drought meant a bad fire day.
No one would be so stupid as to start a so called controlled burn would they?
Yes, the farmer a few blocks behind us did.
He was the one who caused the big bush fire we had in 2009.
We could see smoke rising over us but someone had already reported it.
This is never a good thing to see in our area.
The local rural fire brigade was soon on the job and had a couple of trucks up there to put the runaway fire out.
I talked to the fire chief on his way out. What he said about our neighbour is unprintable.
He is apparently an annual problem for them and being the descendant of one of the pioneer families in the area doesn’t think the law applies to him.
So settling down to an early bottle of wine to steady the nerves, I got a call from my adjoining neighbour.

Our cows were acting funny, had something surrounded, were very agitated and making lots of noise.
I went to investigate.
When they saw me, they came charging up and then turned and ran back to the original spot as much as to say “here, here!
There I found a very young, tiny and frightened baby kangaroo (a joey) trying to hide in the grass. It had obviously been abandoned by its mother.
So I wrapped it up in my jacket and brought it up to the house.
She (as it turned out to be) was a quivering wreck but after a hour’s nursing she quietened down.
Once a father, always a father!
The co driver called the native animal rescue service, WIRES, and they came a few hours later to pick her up.
The kangaroos are suffering from a lack of feed caused by the drought and have ‘invaded’ the more populated areas.
What happened to the mother we will never know but ‘our girl’ is now in safe hands.
She will be reared by the carer to a stage when she can be released back into the wild.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

An Overnight Trip to Sydney

I had an early afternoon specialist doctor's appointment on the north side of Sydney so we decided to spend the night rather than drive home the same day. Its a 4+ hour drive each way from the south coast.
It turned out to be a foodie and quilt shop couple of days.
On the way up we stopped off at our favourite cafe, The Emporium, in Berry for coffee. Berry has been bypassed by a new highway section in the last few months and what a difference that has made. The town is much more relaxed with no trucks rumbling down the main street. Business people have not noticed any drop in clientele which is also good.

We lunched at Bloom in Mosman near the doctor's office. They had a new menu and for once I tried a vegetarian bowl which was excellent.

After the appointment, we drove through what seemed 500 sets of traffic lights to the northern beach suburb of Mona Vale. 
Traffic in Sydney and suburbs is horrendous!  
There is a quilt store there which the co driver had been told about and she was very happy with what she found.
Then it was back to North Sydney and our hotel, The McLaren. 
North Sydney is a business area over the harbour bridge from the Sydney CBD (downtown). It used to be full of grand houses, many of which have been knocked down and replaced by the Warringah Freeway and glass and metal skyscrapers. Luckily a few have been spared, our hotel being one, in street where there were many 'survivors'.

The hotel is a mixture of olde worlde charm and modern convenience. Rates are half that of those across the harbour. The co driver was put onto this place when travelling to Sydney with her quilt group. We got upgraded due to her patronage,
Dinner was at the Sakura which was excellent.
We like Japanese food and this menu had many new things to try.
We have tentative plans to visit Japan in January 2020 for the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival so are looking forward to immersing ourselves more in their food then. 

The next morning we headed back into the business district with throngs of people making their way to work and found a place for breakfast.
The Garage served great food and coffee and obviously catered for the business crowd.
The service was fast and efficient. 
We noticed that people in the city walked twice as fast as us and most had heads down looking at phones or are tuning out the world with headphones. 
Nobody smiles much in contrast to those in our little town. Makes us glad we live where we live
Then it was home, again via Berry where we shopped for wine, books and more quilt stuff.
Hopefully we don't have to go to Sydney again until next year when we head to the airport for our USA trip.
Great to be back!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Book Reviews July 2018

I noticed there have been no book reviews on my blog for over a year.
This doesn’t mean I have stopped reading, just slowed down a little.
But we had a recent week’s Internet outage (thanks a lot, Telstra!) and quite a few hours sitting in airports which ramped up the reading activity considerably.
Here are a few of the recent reads, a few of which had been added to our Kindle list by the co driver.
The Finding Billy Battles trilogy continues with the second installment, The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles.
It's 1894 and Billy, mourning the loss of his wife, has left the USA and is heading for the Far East.
After visiting Hawaii, fending off pirates and meeting a very mysterious German baroness who subsequently becomes part of his life, he gets involved in the beginnings of the French Indochina conflict (that decades later would become the Vietnam War), fights in the Spanish-American War in the Philippines and the resultant Philippine-American War when the USA refused to recognize the nascent First Philippine Republic.
Then in Europe with 'his' baroness, he becomes involved in the German plot to invade the USA.

I like historical fiction novels especially those written about events that I know very little about.
This is one.
Written in a rollicking and at times humorous style this is a 'can't put down' read especially if one suspends reality for a while.
I am really looking forward to Part 3 which has already been published.
Highly recommended!
The Passage of Love by award winning Australian author Alex Miller falls into the autofiction genre ie. a memoir written in the style of a novel.
This is the story of Robert Crofts (Miller) who moves from a northern Queensland cattle station to 1950s Melbourne (my home town in that era) with desire to become a writer. Here he experiences all the pitfalls of an innocent in a big city and ends up marrying a complete mismatch in Lena.
With things not working out for them, their solution seems to be to move.
And they do. Often!

From suburban Melbourne to a sterile Canberra, to London, to pre-gentrified Leichhardt an inner suburb of Sydney and finally to a remote run down farm outside Braidwood (just up the road from where we live.)
Miller has said “The book is about a tormented relationship, magnified by the bonds of marriage, that neither of us understood. Friendship suited us better."
I found this an enjoyable read (despite the 600 pages) about complex relationships which was enhanced by knowing so many of the places where the story took place.
Fire and Fury really needs no introduction.
It was probably the first book about the Trump White House and was the subject of many interviews, TV news show discussions and literary critiques.

All I can say is if only 50% of what is written here is true, then the groundwork for 4 years of chaos has been laid.
How the USA could have elected a lying, incompetent, misogynistic, sexist, racist and six times bankrupt buffoon as President is beyond me.
But sadly for the world it did.
Much of this book is now old news but it is still compulsive reading. Whether or not you want to throw the book at a wall more often than not probably depends your political leanings.
Luckily I had the Kindle edition so the wall was spared.
Hopefully Robert Mueller will be able to stop all this nonsense sooner rather than later.
The Secret Wife is another historical fiction.
This one is about the Russian Revolution and the demise of the Romanovs and the rise of Lenin and communism.
However in this story it wasn't Anastasia who survived the royal family's massacre as is regularly suggested (she didn't), it was another daughter of Czar Nicholas, Tatiana.
She is the secret wife married to cavalry officer Dimitri who manages to extricate her from her fate then loses her.

This is a well written story that melds the fiction and fact seamlessly while at the same time giving a great insight into how and why the Revolution evolved and the horror that the royal family must have gone through while in captivity.
The hero is more than convincing.
The modern day tie in on how this story is uncovered by Dimitri's great grand daughter is a little flaky but doesn't distract too much from the tale.
I liked it.
Reckoning: A Memoir is by Australia's beloved TV and screen actress Magda Szubanski (she was Esme Hoggett in the movie Babe).
Born in the UK to a well off Polish father and poor Scottish mother, the family migrated to Australia where she grew up in outer suburban Melbourne.
The memoir centers on her relationship with her father. But this man who mowed the lawn, joined the local tennis club, wore shorts and long socks, wasn't your regular suburbanite.
He had been an assassin for the Polish resistance against the German occupation during WW11.

She also had to deal with her secret awareness of her sexuality at a very early age at a time when 'coming out' was always fraught with danger on personal relationship as well as career levels.
This is a very honest, open and, at times, moving autobiography even more so for many of us who only knew her as the affable 'clown' who appeared on our TV screens in classic comedies like Kath and Kim or who recently became a very public face of the Yes Campaign during the Same Sex Marriage debate.
One review I read said "a heartbreaking, joyous, traumatic, intimate and revelatory story".
Indeed it is!