Posts Tagged ‘Canberra’

Some sights of Canberra

May 21, 2014

We are used to seeing the beautiful side of Canberra.  Of course, there is another side right next door which is either dark, or incongruous, or both. But always interesting and sometimes charming.

Big trucks - more like the US than like Britain.

Big trucks – more like the US than like Britain.

We parked in Fyshwick – Canberra’s industrial suburb, where you go for computer repairs, car wreckers and such like.  For knitting wool, though, you go to Spotlight, over the border in Queanbeyan.  (That’s in the foreign border territory of New South Wales.)

Annabel has wonderful local knowledge.  She knows, for example, that there is a great coffee shop in Fyshwick:  Dream Cuisine.

luxurious lunches

luxurious lunches and pastries

Koala Tea blog has reviewed the tea.

It is thriving – local workers pop in for lunch, but so do the cognoscenti of Canberra.

glowing pastries - always different

glowing pastries – always different

And it has been written up in the papers:

in the paper - it won't be a secret for long!

in the paper – it won’t be a secret for long!

Opposite, however, is a symbol of how Australians perceive their economy.

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And a thought-provoking name for a business:


‘Trojan Hospitality’ it said – a bit hard to see here, but the red lettering stood out in real life.

It should be reassuring, as long as you remember that the Trojans were disastrously hospitable towards the horse the Greeks sent them.  But we do tend to think that  the Trojan Horse  represents betrayal.  (Would you stay at the Dunsinane Bed and Breakfast, run by Mr and Mrs Macbeth?  Then again, Leamington boasts a street called Banquo Approach.  It’s a more desirable address than you might expect.)

On another day we went to visit Brian, who lives on a farm with his three dogs.  He showed us a trick in which they jump into his bed.

into, onto - happy dogs.

into, onto – happy dogs.

A real farm, but just not his.

a puzzling sign in Adelaide

a shiny tractor and lovely pigs – like illustrations in a kiddies’ book

Canberra’s Cockatoos

May 14, 2014

I wanted a good photo of a cockatoo.  They are almost my favourite birds – especially in Canberra.  When I say that, I am reminded of a lecturer at the University of Warwick who began every seminar with: ‘Ahh. [name of play for that week] My favourite play!’  It took some months for us to tumble to him, but it was an excellent way to start a seminar.  So – cockatoos are my favourite birds.  And magpies.  And kurrawongs. And of course kookaburras.  Let’s not forget crows, either:  they are really wonderful.

Oh heck!  shall I start again?  I wanted  a  photo of a cockie – I just did.  OK?

It should be easy in Canberra, where they flock by the score and salute the evening with raucous joy.  Maybe in my next life I can be a cockatoo: I could float through Canberra, screaming greetings, and perching in the tall trees with all the roosting crowd.

Captain Cook Crescent was overcast and grey, darkening already towards four-thirty in the afternoon.  I would have to be quick to get a photo.

Captain Cook Crescent leads out of Manuka

Captain Cook Crescent leads out of Manuka

The birds had gone quiet.  Oddly, today there were  few cockies around.  One or two scudded away from high in the tall trees.

This one was moving off rapidly to the north – towards wherever the sun might have gone.

flying alone

flying alone

The light darkened unnaturally quickly.  My eyesight felt dim and the air dense: somehow curdling not just in the sky, but all around me.

another loner

another loner

Actually, I think this one might be a photo of a cockie that has moved briskly out of shot. Wow! I thought.  I’d forgotten how early it gets dark in Canberra in the Autumn. Winter will be here soon.  I may have to try tomorrow, a bit earlier in the day.

dusk, and the grey darkens

dusk, and the grey darkens


Fed up with impossible cockies, what is there left to photograph?  My first ever selfie?

They are really hard – you can’t just point and click. I tried smiling.

worse and worse

worse and worse

I look like my father – and this is the better of the two.

I’d given up on the cockatoos by now and was just photographing any old thing that came along. Here’s a doggo – the only one available on my walk.

Just after I took the photo he decided to do his duty and bark at me.

Just after I took the photo he decided to do his duty and bark at me.

A thriving protea loomed out of the dimness.

A thriving protea loomed out of the dimness.

Then: a clear view of a cockatoo perched in a tree, in the middle of the central reservation.  Relief for me, but quite far up and still a dimmish shot against the slurry of grey.

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Are two poor photos twice as good as one, or just twice as bad?


It lingered there long enough for me to get a second poor photo.

It lingered there long enough for me to get a second poor photo.


Finally – back to Annabel’s charming house.  In the gathering dusk of my point-and-click even this looks somehow sinister and buried in the wood, like a cottage in a fairy tale.

A classic early Canberran build - originally for a civil servant - and largely unchanged over the years.

A classic early Canberran build – originally for a civil servant – and largely unchanged over the years.


Annabel arrived a while later, after dark.  I was chopping up vegetables for ratatouille (my signature safe dish when cooking for a host).

“Did you see the eclipse?” she asked. “About four thirty?”

a bit more of Canberra

May 8, 2014

Some random images, but not much text.  Go for it!!

I couldn’t upload pictures earlier, but now I can (via Dropbox – thank you Val).  Here is the photo to go with the ‘MyCafe in Manuka’ comments.

Towards the end of the afternoon – this counts as ‘not many’ cakes.

The remains of the fabulous cheesecake are up there, second from the right.  It was the classic plain baked cheesecake.  After I had mine I think a few other people had some too, and all that was left looked lonely on its plate, so they wedged it in with something marginally less popular – perhaps the white chocolate cheesecake.

Here is a cat in a cage.  It’s not a proper cage, as the cat goes in and out, freely making its own choices.

Mayhem in his cage.

At least I think it’s Mayhem, and not his brother, Mischief.  I think the cage was originally a bird-protecting device, with a cage-tunnel access from the house, but circumstances changed all that.  Even so, I’ve never seen a dead bird in the cage, so maybe it works.


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The cat has noticed the photographer.


On another day, in another part of the city . . . .

the bridge over Sullivan's Creek

the bridge over Sullivan’s Creek

There are so very many beautiful photos of Canberra.  This is a picture of one of Canberra’s major defects: the huge wide roads that whizz the inhabitants (efficiently enough) from one outlying suburb to another.  It feels slightly sci-fi and futuristic, in a fifties sci-fi kind of way.  I remember Sullivan’s Creek as a little brook through the University grounds, that one could jump over on the way to classes.

For people who walk rather than driving, the bridge is in between lovely stretches of the lake.  I walked down to the lake path from the Botanical Gardens, then to Black Mountain Peninsula and back around to the Museum.

Looking across Lake Burley Griffin from the footpath to the mountains beyond

Looking across Lake Burley Griffin from the footpath to the mountains beyond

It was one of those moments when your heart rises and dilates in pure delight, and your mind is filled with wordless joy.  I wondered if the Burley Griffins could possibly have anticipated that their design might create such overwhelming pleasure.

Poplars do very well in Canberra and this year the colours were pure and intense.

Poplars do very well in Canberra and this year the colours are pure and intense.

late summer was unusually rainy - perhaps that explains it?

Late summer was unusually rainy – perhaps that explains it?

I was walking across the Sullivan’s Creek bridge to get to the Museum, and see their fabulous display of aboriginal bark paintings (‘Old Masters’), with its detailed and erudite commentary.


The sculpture above the museum: visible from miles around.  I would love to see the kite-flying that goes on there sometimes.  There is a glass-walled coffee shop with the most stunning view – straight onto the lake, and over to the fine white fluted lines of the National Library.

This photo of the cup of tea was taken in honour of Val – a Canberran whose Koala Tea Blog  is a source of endless interest.

a cup of tea at the NMA (National Museum of Australia)

a cup of tea at the NMA (National Museum of Australia)


In the evening, another extraordinary sight: the thin new moon, holding the ghost of the old moon, was setting over Black Mountain, with the red lights of the Tower next to it.  – Such complexity would be a challenge to any photographer, I think, and I and my phone were not really up to it.  You have to imagine that all the fuzziness around the lights is focussed down  tightly, and clearly defined.  The line of the moon was actually thin, thin, tiny and incandescent as a bright gold thread.

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In the foreground, University House decorates its frontage with rich bright blue

In the foreground, University House decorates its frontage with rich bright blue

If you look, you can see  Black Mountain Tower, and the moon glowing, just above the roof line

Why was I there?  I was off to enjoy Pie Night at University House with Annabel, followed by a hearty sing of the Brahms Requiem.

And thus the day closed . . . .

animals in public life

November 14, 2010

A friend’s blog post mentioning the Lake George zebras made me think of various other animal installations that I have encountered.  (It is    So far I know of the travelling cows that went through various European cities in 2006, and the toads in Hull this year.  I would love to hear of more. 

I am calling them ‘installations’ because they are not quite sculptures: they don’t have that feeling of permanence and marmoreality.  Instead they are engaged with reality in a different way – they address our experience of the animal, and our human myth-making about the animal.  Often, too, they are playful, but not in a naff or whimsical way – once one gets into the kittens-and-puppies-and-pink-bows area, one has left this category far behind.  On the other hand, not everyone has a taste for this kind of art.  The zebras, after all, attracted vandalism of a quite nasty nature, reminiscent of the attacks on horses in Peter Shaffer’s Equus. 

Here are the fibreglass zebras in their original habitat:

Zebras and cloud at Lake George

The toads in Hull were rather different – very much an official civic installation, celebrating Hull’s famous citizen and poet, Philip Larkin. 

Summary toad

Psychedelic toad

There is a marvellously detailed description, with pictures of the toads and their locations, at:

 But isn’t there something quietly ironic taking place when the Council uses an image from a disgruntled, rebellious and ultimately rather sadly resigned poem?  As so often, only the first two lines are widely known, and they certainly sound strong and angry enough to give any city mayor pause.  Nevertheless, perhaps we should admire their courage –

Why should I let the toad work
  Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
  And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
  With its sickening poison –
Just for paying a few bills!
  That’s out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
  Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
  They don’t end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
  With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
  they seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
  Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets – and yet
  No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough
  To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
  That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
  Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
  And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
  My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
  All at one sitting.

I don’t say, one bodies the other
  One’s spiritual truth;
But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
  When you have both.


The first time I saw one of these animal installations was in Budapest, in 2006.  There, the city of Pest was dotted with large – full-size, really – statues of cows.  Each one was differently painted and I think some had rather different stances.  They were enchanting and enigmatic, just standing on pavements here and there throughout the city, surprising and challenging interpretation.  It turned out that they were a travelling show – being moved from one city in Europe to another throughout the summer – and so there was also some kind of statement about pan-Europeanism to be found in their presence.  They had a past, and a vagabond-like casualness, that their clean obstinacy of form quite hid. Also, each cow would seem differrent in different locations (or at least I suspect so).  A mad desire to follow them around from country to country swept into my mind.  Alas – impossible – but Pest was amply enough, really.

cow near the Danube 2006

same cow - front view


More pictures can be seen at: and in looking for those, I’ve just found an explanation of the whole deal.  If you would rather not see a slightly mundane/worthy website, avoid this one, but if you are curious, here it is: 

Just to finish off, here is Big Blue – yet another clever, fine piece that causes art and humour to teeter into a complex alignment.  I love the way the smooth curves of the animal blur the sharp almost cruel linearity of the building:

a bear in Denver, USA

promming: the end of the story

August 17, 2010

 Interval, and I found a glass of wine in time to drink it by being just a little assertive at the bar.  The time passed very pleasantly in unmemorable conversation with a white-haired chap, who seemed glad to go when the interval was over. 

I had asked the beekeepers whether you are allowed to move around (my dream of a promenading prom) – ‘Oh no.  Something would quickly be said if people tried to move forward,’ they assured me, with that gloriously depersonalising usage of the passive voice so beloved of a particular caste of the middle classes.  Most of the conventions they articulated proved to be a little less than rigid.  This time, as the audience was re-settling themselves, the eagle man picked his way back to his seat a few feet away on my right, leading by the hand a slender crop-haired woman in a bright red dress and a sleeveless denim jacket.  Perhaps the amorous eagle wasn’t after young men at all – throughout the second half he distractingly caressed the woman’s hips through her slippery silky dress.  She seemed entirely unmoved – neither welcoming nor rejecting. 

Nicola Benedetti played ‘The Lark Ascending’ with an icy abstraction which felt utterly beautiful.  The Guardian’s critic (writing in next day’s paper) disliked the effect, but I found it intensely moving, as if the lark had risen to some heavenly sphere, beyond all earthly concerns.  For the first time ever I heard Vaughan Williams showing us not just a lark, but Keats’s skylark speaking through this music ‘from heaven or near it’.  It is so unusual to hear a crowd-pleasing classic as if for the first time – and for that experience I would willingly walk miles, queue for hours and spend a small fortune on taxi fares.

After that, the Elgar sounded mechanical to me, like a formal exercise in composition, yet people around me looked intent and blissed out.  The amorous eagle was conducting with his head, anticipating the high points with rhythmic nods, and jerking his shoulders, while the beekeepers had their eyes closed.  The concert ended with raptures from all.

A man came up to me asking ‘How early do you have to be to get a chair?’  ‘I’ve left my wife’, he proceeded ‘and I’m bringing my first internet date here next week.’  I felt a little amazed – it’s not obviously a risk-free first choice for a more-or-less blind date.  Was he chatting me up, I wondered, as he escorted me to my bus. ‘I’m asking everybody this: which is more important, duty or living your own life?’ 
‘Some would say that you have a duty to live your own life.’
‘So you’re a philosopher too.’
‘As well as what?’  I was feeling quite confident and bolshy by then.

Catching the right complex of buses back to Marylebone in time for the 10.50 train was my project, and he seemed to detect that my heart wasn’t in the conversation.  The wonderful Season Ticket holders on the bus were endlessly helpful, and saw me on my way in the right direction, as if I was one of them, while chatting amongst themselves.  There’s something rather awe-inspiring about being helped to find my way home by a blind person, who hopped off with me at Marylebone, saying ‘Run for it now, I can catch any of these trains.’ 

And so, pelting and awkward in my flapping sandals I lurched into the station, checked the board, and found . . . . that there was no 10.50.  Madness. Insanity. Rage.  What is going on?  I railed against the online timetable, spoke to a friendly station official in a bright yellow vis jacket, and identified an 11.20 for Birmingham that would do.  And so, with time to spare, we chatted about – I forget what – but it turned into a conversation about being an expatriate (again).  ‘You play cricket?  Well, who do you support?’  ‘Pakistan against England, always Pakistan.’  ‘But what if it’s England against India or England against Australia?’  ‘Hmm.  Well I support the side that plays best.  If they are rubbish they don’t deserve my support.  If they play badly – noooo.’  I considered putting the case for supporting the underdog, but conversation had swept on.  He was telling me about the cricket team he plays for.  ‘Batsman?’ I asked, trying to work out what his slight physique might best qualify him for.  ‘No. Bowler. I used to be a fast bowler, but now I bowl spinners.’  I hmmed sympathetically – my husband tried to make the same paradigm-shift, but could never resist flinging one down really hard, and wrecking his shoulder all over again.  This guy was perhaps more canny.  We got on like a house on fire.  He showed me his card, and told me his best bowling figures.  And gradually the conversation ended, as all conversations must.  I looked at the board for my train and almost howled with rage: that 11.20 was on the Arrivals board.  There really was no train home.

Partial solutions rushed through my brain: phone my daughter and sleep at her place? (but she would be long asleep, and anyway I didn’t want to reveal myself as less than competent) catch the train up to Oxford and stay with my son? – (but no – those trains go from Paddington, and the same issues apply.)  So I angrily bought myself an unnecessary panini and a coffee, burnt my mouth and, full of doubt and anxiety, grimly took the 11.38, terminating in Banbury.  Did my home-based son have a friend who could drive down to Banbury and collect me? (No problem in that age group about driving about in the middle of the night, and no shame attached to being in an undignified situation.  But no – friend with car has gone on holiday.) I was going to arrive in Banbury after one in the morning, and would have to go to a B&B or else get a taxi home (if there were any taxis at that hour).  The train wore its way, creaking, through many, many small commuter stations, and I was filled with boredom and tiredness.  The number of passengers fell off by ones and twos, leaving the sour-smelling carriage as a Sartrean blankness rattling through its eternal night.

Banbury however rose brilliantly to the occasion.  There were rows of taxis, bright lights, and a welcoming driver who quoted me £40 to drive to Leamington.  Such relief – it was possible, even normal, to do a twenty-mile trip at that ridiculous hour of night.  And it was cheap, compared with my private estimate of fifty quid.  ‘Do you take cards?’ ‘No, but we can go round by a cash point.’  The man was all heart, and he knows Leamington well because his in-laws live there, so can easily find a cashpoint.  We negotiate the route and I explain that I have driven it to Oxford often, so I know the road.  (He’s not going by any silly long routes, I think.)  And we chat in the luxurious warmth of the car.  ‘My son is waiting up for me.  These students don’t mind sitting up late.’  ‘What is he studying?’  ‘Philosophy.  Not very practical,’ I apologise.  ‘Oh no.  In my family we don’t believe that study should be practical.’  I am amazed.  He tells me at some length about his father who has an MA in Econometrics, and his brother with the MA in something else.  So finally I find a way of asking how come he’s driving a cab (How did I ask that tactfully?  ‘Are you the failure of the family?’ surely not.)  He too has an MA, in computing: was a computer programmer until he got RSI in the shoulder.  ‘But surely steering must make that worse?’  ‘Oh no.  It is good to keep it moving.’  Another expatriate – and we talked about living so far from home.  ‘Did all your family come out here together?’  ‘No – I am the only one here.’  His father is still in Pakistan, his brother lives in Australia.  ‘Which city?’  The inevitable question, but a surprise response: ‘Canberra.’  I am struck with the delight of the unexpected: ‘I know Canberra well.  I was at University there.’  I feel warmly towards him, for having a brother in Canberra, for living calmly in England, for taking life easily.  ‘But don’t you miss your brother?’  ‘Oh no.  We all meet in Pakistan for big family get-togethers.’  And so at length we reached the cash machine, and then my home, where the outside light was on for me and my son was still up.  The meter said £43.50 – ‘Just forty will be fine,’ he said.  He told me his name – Abdul – and we shook hands.  It’s not every day that the taxi-driver gives you a tip.

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