Monday, January 30, 2006

Lime Green & Clickety

I have done my fair share of travelling by train around the world, it is after all my favourite way to travel. Four months around Europe and a few thousand k's between Norway and Hong Kong means that I have willingly heard plenty of clickety-clacks. But now there is one train trip in particular that my enthusiasm is starting to wane on - the one back home.

It is not because of the destination - I love seeing my family, once in a while at least. And it is not because of the time it takes - a couple of hours can be filled in with a newspaper, a book and some iPod action. I think perhaps it is more to do with the type of train. After all sitting in lime green vinyl seats for a couple of hours is about as thrilling as sitting in lime green vinyl seats for a couple of hours - the appeal diminishes.

The trains really are not so bad, of course not in the same league as European trains go - it ain't a TGV or Deutschbahn ICE for example, but then again we don't have the same user base as Europe, or train culture. The old NSW state rail Intercities are at least cheap and whenever I have used them reliable. And when you can't be bothered to buy a car, beggars can't be choosers.

But going back to my original enthusiasm for these double-deckers, it is just on the way out. Things start to grate after a while.

There is social spectrum element. To put it bluntly you get all sorts on these trains. The screaming kids with devil lungs. The nutters with extendable batons that once played with and become stuck in the whacking position need to be belted on the floor to retract. Or the hill-billy mullet sporting parents who scream and swear at their infant children in language brickie' labourers would shy away from. It is a colourful spectrum.

So I have been thinking again about putting an end to my seven year hiatus of non-car ownership and finding something I can head up and down the freeway in occasionally. But then I keep remembering there are other things I could spend that money on first, i.e. travelling on a train in a new country. It is a dilemma.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Patriotic .. Moi?

I am not particularly patriotic when it comes to Australia Day. Sure the patriotism is there - I swell up with pride at certain sporting occasions and like the fact we have so many big names in Hollywood now - but the overtly Australian parochialism and breast beating just doesn't cut my mustard. So for a day filled with flag waving yesterday, what did I end up doing? Head to an art gallery and see a French painter.

After the impressionism I took the complimentary Herald from the gallery, headed down to the park for a read of the Oz day coverage. Luckily they seemed to be more in step with my feeling with their UnAustralian of the Year awards.

I think half of my problem with the day is seeing everyone wrapped in the flag or it flying from every pole. I just don't like the flag. Not all of it, just one of the corners. Why do we have to have someone else's flag stuck on ours? We need to change it .. and while we are at it get rid of the Queen too.

The other day I met Fred from Perth in Hyde Park, who is travelling around the country with his own new design for a flag. I had a chat with him and discussed his design. (I actually don't mind it, turn it on its side and you have the bush, beach and stars). He is fund raising his own trip around the nation to get the flag issue back on the agenda. Good on him I say and I bought one of his stickers.

Yesterday for me wasn't completely unAussie, after my sitting in the park I went and grabbed a pie from Harry's, followed by some cricket on the box which then led into more cricket at the pub with a couple of schooners. Almost the same as last year in the end .. except no little fat politicians were around.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bar Views

Back in PNG .. not so long ago .. I used to head down to the bar at the Yacht Club .. on weeknights .. after work .. to enjoy the end of the day and have a good chat with the mates.

The view was good .. on the water .. over the marina .. watching the boats bob .. and the sky get darker.

Fast track forward to now and life is not so much different .. drinks after work .. over the water .. watching boats .. and cars .. and bridges .. and a hell of a lot of other things.

My life has changed dramatically in the last two months. I am back in a job .. back in routine .. just temporarily though for the next 6 weeks .. and I'm already making plans for things to do when the time is up .. itchy feet syndrome is hard to get rid of.

New views do await .. but in the meantime old views will have to suffice.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Under The Stars

Just a nice little picnic in the park last night.

With some friends and bubbly.

And a couple of hundred thousand other people.

Symphony in the Domain. It has been years since I did it last. And it was fantastic last night. Beautiful weather. Great company. Brilliant music. Gerswhin was the theme, so a 15 minute Rhapsody in Blue was the kick starter. But it finished in usual style with Tchaikovsky and the 1812 and fireworks off the top of Chifley Tower.

For me these free outdoor events are the highlight of the calendar in Sydney. I'm now just looking forward to that other outdoor one in the Domain, Tropfest in a few weeks time.

Friday, January 20, 2006

B-Grade Celebrity Spotter

Maybe it is where I live or where I walk to but I seem to keep on running into Aussie B-Grade celebs while being back in Sydney. Just this week I have rubbed shoulders (albeit against tiny little ones) at my local pub with that scary looking SBS weekend news reader Lee Lin Chin. Close up impressions .. she is tiny. Her head of hair is bigger than the width of her body.

And as to other people, today I saw David Koch from Sunrise tapping away into his mobile as he walked past .. probably checking out his stocks, which if anyone remembers is what he used to know all about before he reincarnated as the happy chappy on morning TV.

Later I also saw author and large wealthy woman, Colleen McCullough, coming out of DJs with her walking frame thing with wheels full of gourmet food .. perhaps for her cat(s)? She must be on holiday from her normal Norfolk Island abode.

Previously I once walked past grumpy old Labor stalwart, Bob Ellis, whereupon when I saw his grim face I gave him a "G'day Bob" and a thumbs up and managed to change his look to a big smile. It may have made his day.

I then have seen everywhere actor Bill Hunter in the pub across the road. I hear he lives somewhere nearby and obviously likes a beer or two. Another around this neck of the woods is that old dickhead John Laws who drives his Bentley around to and from the golden microphone.

And then moving on from the B-graders I have seen Law's neighbour, old Russ Crowe, a few times around, either out in his tracksuit keeping fit with Danielle or getting out of a prestige cab. I've been careful not to get him angry and make sure he hasn't had a phone in hand.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Pursuant of the Invisible

I was given a task recently. My former travel mate gave it to me a little while ago and I not being one to back down in a hurry accepted. She thought it would be up my alley due to my recent expounding on the topic and when I discovered what it was, I thought so too.

On the face of it the assignment doesn't sound too hard, but when you get down to the nitty gritty it is certainly more of a challenge. My just completed road trip north proved to be the perfect time to give it a go. I had all the tools; some wheels to get around, a map, and my Magellan Explorist 100 handheld GPS.

Using these tools the task was that I just then had to get to any point where the GPS tells me that I am at a convergence of a whole degree of latitude and longitude, i.e. with whole numbers for the degrees and only zeros for the minutes and seconds. Now after tripping across a state and a half I can safely say I have managed to get up close to two of them.

Before setting off on my trip I examined a NSW map and picked out any likely points on main roads that could easily be got to, and obviously on the way to where I was going. Luckily there were a few.

The trip north wasn't my main focus, despite noticing a couple of times that I wasn't very far away from a point I didn't bother to go and stop. It was a bit like "oh look I am only a couple of minutes away ... ahh it is behind me now .. forget it, let's keep going".

But on the trip back I had already highlighted a couple of spots and was keen to get to them. The first one (28° South and 152° East) was still inside Queensland south of Toowoomba, near the township of Allora on the New England Highway (for anyone reading this who knows Australian geography very well).

With me driving we approached it while passing through farmland. My mum in the passenger seat (who thought I was a bit mad, but got in on it) was holding the GPS and counting down to the zeros. The line for 28 degrees south came but we still had a few seconds to go for the 152 East. I spotted a side road up ahead heading that way and so we turned up it.

Now on the side road we came to the full line of longitude, 152, and stopped, the 28 south line of latitude was 20 seconds away to the north. I got out of the car and with my mum's "watch for the snakes" advice jumped over a barb wire fence and into a paddock. I was only about a hundred metres from the spot, before I thought, bugger it and just took a photo of the location from a distance and the GPS to say I was near to it.

There was a farm house and a ute in a neighboring paddock and I am sure those cranky Queenslanders don't take kindly to strangers ("git tha gun Ma, it's shootin' time"), so I hightailed it back to the car and took off.

Underneath the power poles somewhere is the spot

Only 16 seconds away

Further along the track, many hours later (ok over 8 to be precise .. it was a long day of travelling) we came to my next proposed location. We were now back in my home state of New South Wales and actually back in the Hunter Valley, and there was another spot to hit (32° South and 152° East) near the township of Gloucester.

We headed on the road out of town, this time with mum behind the wheel and with the GPS in my hand I watched the digits count along. We crossed over the latitude line and swung around on the road before we realised that weren't going to be able to get to it from this road. On the side was a lookout so we pulled in there.

From the lookout I could see another road down below which we had passed the turnoff to, so I jumped back in the car and headed along it slowly. Closing in on the spot I realised it was just off the road near a house so we drove up a tad further to see if anyone was home and then saw some cars and kids on bikes.

Turning around we headed as close as we could to the location, with-in a couple of seconds or about 50 metres away and I snapped a picture from the safety of the car. In hindsight I should have donned the fluro safety vest which was in the back of the car and strutted over to the spot looking like I knew what I was doing, i.e. being a surveyor, but instead I am ashamed to say I took off without a little bit of trespassing.

The spot, in paddock below the house

I was actually closer, but took this shot as the car was taking off so lost a little ground, and the shot was blurred

Later telling the news of my success to the original assignor of the task, I was informed that this is actually quite a hobby for some people. Not unlike the Geocaching thing (see previous post) I have now stumbled onto another rather nerdy thing people are doing with GPSs. There is a complete website set-up devoted just to this 'project' of reaching these points of 'confluence', as they are called, and the website goes along with catchy name of the Degree Confluence Project.

Unfortunately my two points, being rather easy to get to, have been hit before already, quite a few years ago (the write up for 28°S 152°E is here and 32°S 152°E here). Though it seems either my GPS is wrong or the guy who did the write up for the latter ones is. A close look at his photos seems to show he is on the other side of the road about 100 metres away from where I was.

One thought that I have now had after looking at this website, is that I find it refreshing that this project shows just how much of the world is off the beaten track. If you were one who was keen to get around and notch up a few of the locations you would see some very different places. I am also now a bit miffed that I didn't know about this while I was in PNG, I could have least tried to double the number of points that are hit there, from the 1 currently.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

One thing that is taking a little while to get used to, after living in PNG for 2 years, are the supermarkets. Specifically sights like this.

I am well aware that being in Lae I had quite a good range at the Food Mart in town, but there was never a whole wall just for milk. In fact again I was quite lucky to have fresh milk full stop. The only dairy in the country, the ECB mission at 6 Mile, made it so there was at least something other than UHT milk available.

Seeing this at Woolworths the other day in Toowoomba made me stop and remember just how good we do have it in Australia. Skim, Light, Full, Soy, yada, yada, yada.

And then afterwards I went to a Bunnings (for the foreigners, a massive hardware store) and had a head spin. It made old Brian Bell look a bit sad. But I couldn't find a bush knife in there though, so not everything is better. Lucky I brought mine home.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Road Tripping

Visiting more of Australia at the moment. Feeling like I am on a homecoming tour. Currently road tripping around north-west NSW seeing extended family members. The earth is flat and brown. The sky big and blue. It is good to be back. But can't help but think about PNG though and can't help but think how different this is to there. Off to Queensland tomorrow. More of the black ribbon of road. More of the horrendous heat outside. 40 apparently on the car's meter. Loving the A/C and the trip.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Not a Fair-Way

I was going to write up a bit of a moan about going to Cricket last week and how the enjoyment factor is slowing being ebbed away .. light beer only .. wrong! But instead I turn my attention to another sport .. Golf.

Usually I am loathe to talk about it. My cousins and uncles are well and truly into it and they bore me to tears every Christmas when they talk about the inanities of it and then they go and watch a game on the tv. It really is a boring game to watch, easily more so than even cricket, but having a hit out every once in a while is good fun.

And this is what I did recently out a bush course with my sort-of "brother-in-law". We were the only ones on the whole course .. which wasn't surprising as it was about 35 degrees in the middle of the day. And because of the heat we took plenty of liquid refreshment to keep us cool.

The refreshment didn't help my game though .. actually like my pool playing skills it was probably a dampener to have a few beers and then try and hit a little white ball successfully. This was confirmed by the tally of balls lost. Three over seven holes. And by my best effort on one of those holes, a 4 over par. Ordinary.

Typical effort on the black. Putts, it goes and it stops. I'm blaming the sandy surface.

Still my first game in many a year was good fun all up. Although we tired of it once the beer finished .. hence why only the seven holes.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I've been traipsing around the country recently and together with some mates we stumbled other this little curious object the other day.

An army green coloured metal tin box about the size of a shoebox. It is for something called Geo Caching but after just having a quick look at the website I am still none the wiser as to what all this is all about. Have I been out of the country for that long that these boxes are now turning up virtually every where? Or are they terrorist devices filled with a deadly biological agent?

Even though on the tin it said please do not disturb, our curiosity almost got the better of us when we attempted to open it up and check all the rattling contents out. Pulling up the handle and hearing the hiss of escaping air made me think twice in case a seal had been broken or those biological agents had now been released, but in the end I couldn't get it open anyway as the bloody lid wouldn't budge.

So if anyone can get me up to speed on what the go is with all this it will be muchly appreciated.