Canberra – August 2016

We left Melbourne early on a Monday morning.  Stealthily, we disguised ourselves as Northern Territorians for our visit to the nation’s capital.

Toilet stop in Benalla, where I took a photo of Lake Benalla looking nice and full.

Next piss-stop was Holbrook, NSW, a small country town in inland Australia where they have a submarine concreted into the town park.  Because of course they do.


Actually, it makes a bit of sense.  Not only is the town named after a celebrated submarine captain of WWI, it has a submarine museum and links to the Royal Australian Navy.  The HMAS Otway (for that is she) was built in Greenock, Scotland.


D and the conning tower…


While a submarine concreted into an inland country town in Australia appeals to my humour, so does this nice memorial Holbrook has to Australia’s submariners…


Straya.  Where we celebrate a submariner by not only not doing something water-based, nor even at ground-level.  Nuh – we shove him up in the air!  :D


Arrived in Canberra just after 3pm on Friday.  I never did go and investigate where this sign at our digs was pointing, but I can only assume a bank of treadwheels where lowly campers toiled for their lodging and kept the rest of the grounds bathed in artificial light and the telly in our heated cabin working.


After acquainting ourselves with our bush-adjoining digs, we ventured the extraordinary distance of 7km to the centre of Canberra.  Evening had fallen by now, so we had only a very quick drive around to orientate ourselves as best we could in the dark through drizzle and wet car windows (“All I can see is a big black nothing – must be the Lake!”).  And though I’ve never thought too much of the new Parliament House, I gotta say it cuts quite a dashing figure when it suddenly emerges from the gloom looking all bloody huge and floodlit and flagpole-y and vaguely Italian Fascist.  But that was to be the closest we got to it.  Food, and more importantly, beer beckoned.

Ate in a pub called The Moosehead, then adjourned to the Uni Pub where we met up with D’s cousin & her very-soon-to-be husband for a few hours of ales while watching the pouring rain falling sideways outside.


Saturday morning started with finding a) Chifley and b) A Bite To Eat for breakfast.  I had a breakfast curry!  It was fab.  We sat directly beneath their chockers pinboards – a map thereon helpfully showing us how we got there.


And D decided to add one of his business cards as evidence that we (or at least he) had been there.  Now the good people of Chifley have contact details for the Melbourne Swordplay Guild.


It’s the arse-end of winter, so plum blossoms.  Of course.


After brekkie we repaired to the Australian War Memorial in which we planned to spend most of the day.  And we did.  This is it from the side, where they have the 2/2 version of the lovely Weary Dunlop statue (Melbourne’s St Kilda Road has the 1/2).  I actually think the Memorial looks nicer from the side than the front because…


…the front kinda reminds me of a late 19th / early 20th century power station.  I mean, don’t get me wrong – turn of the century power stations had some thought go into them and most of them are pretty bloody beautiful, but still.


With your back to the (front of the) Memorial, this is the view out.  Old Parliament House being the white building in the mid-ground and (New)Parliament House to the rear.


D in the third section of the honour galleries.


We both really liked this statue of Victory in the museum.  But the information provided on her left us with so many questions.


It says she used to be on a 20foot high plinth in Marrickville.  So how did she get here?  What happened to her lower half?  What happened to the plinth?  Why did Marrickville say goodbye to her?  Questions questions questions!


This is George.  I was a just a tad excited to come face to face with an actual Lancaster bomber, I must say.  And they’re huge!  D mentioned it reminded him of standing in the skeleton of a sperm whale in the South Australian Museum in Adelaide back in 2002


For reference, here’s the photo I took in 2002 of D doing just that.  So yeah.  Lancaster bombers, sperm whales.  Remember that for your next pub argument.




D on the reconstructed bridge of HMAS Brisbane.  He was amused by a particular button he’d spotted among myriad banks of buttons…


…the all-important No button.  (Every warship needs one.)


This gallery was difficult to take photos in, so you’ll have to excuse these next two, but for history’s sake, I had to include them.  I’d never really thought about what must have happened to the Japanese midget submarines that attacked Sydney in 1942 (“They got blown up, maybe?”).  The War Memorial museum has one of them.  Or two of them, kinda.  It’s a composite craft, made from bits of two.


And yeah, they’d got blown up.  Quite sobering, actually, being able to stand right next to this vessel and think about what happened.


Weirdest. Footy field. Ever.  Ample opportunity for scoring points on both wings, and I think it’s a Super Goal if you can kick it through the triangular bit.


Sunday morning we went to Old Parliament House, which is very open to the public and contains the Museum of Australian Democracy.  Stood on the steps, in the spot where Gough Whitlam made his Dismissal Speech – and this is the view.  Mount Ainslie (I think), with the War Memorial in mid-ground.  To the left, the original Aboriginal Tent Embassy.  To the right, the new Tent Embassy.


Got D to stand in Gough’s spot, too.  “Stand there.  Right there.  Okay.  Now, look like you’ve just been sacked.”  But that just made him laugh.  :)


This is taken inside the Prime Ministerial Secretary’s office.  She had a peep-hole!  That is the best thing I’ve ever bloody seen.  :D  Every secretary’s office should have one.  It’d make life so much easier.


To demonstrate, here’s me standing in the Prime Minister’s Office.


The PM’s inner sanctum.  Only three PMs actually got to use this room before the new Parliament House was built.  So really, this is Whitlam’s, Fraser’s and Hawke’s office.  The windows look out on pretty much the same view as you saw from the top of the steps.  (“Why would he have his back permanently turned on the War Memorial?” D wanted to know.)  Beneath the clock, the 3rd shelf down (the larger one), see the tiny hole at the top of it?  PEEP-HOLE!!  Never gonna be over that.  Brilliant.


Me in the cabinet room.  “My fellow Australians…”  Haven’t included the shot that includes the door to this room, but jesus it’s like a bank vault – no eavesdropping at this room’s door.  (they leave that up to the ASIO bugs that are no doubt littered all about the place)


You know there’s only two copies of Magna Carta outside of England?  One’s in Washington D.C., the other lives in Canberra.  Unfortunately it’s held permanently in the new Parliament House (which okay, yeah, makes sense, I guess) so we didn’t get to see it.  But Old Parliament House has an entire hall devoted to it and includes a rather Star Trek-y zoomable display screen that lets you explore the digitised version of it.  A sound knowledge of medieval sword manuscripts means that D can actually read a goodly amount of this…


Outside, in front of and to the side a bit, there’s a statue of He-Man riding a hobby horse.


Okay, so it’s actually a statue in memory of George V, but seriously.  That horse ain’t walkin’ nowhere.  (A portion of the original Tent Embassy to the left there, too.)


Late Sunday arvo was D’s cousin’s wedding (the whole reason we were in Canberra, actually).  And first thing Monday morning we were back in the Northern Territorian car again and headed back home.  This is an uninteresting photo, but “Wide Open Road” by The Triffids had just come on the stereo as we crossed out of the ACT and into NSW and we had many hours driving ahead and it just seemed the right thing to do.


I would surmise from this photo that we were approximately 5miles from Gundagai.


Our stealth car in shot here.  Had a very nice breakfast at this Oliver’s place (approximately 5miles from Gundagai).  “It’s not a bear!”


Aaaaaaaaand home.  We are no longer disguised as Northern Territorians.


Grief & Heroes: 2nd of February, 2016

The first time I saw Star Wars was in 1977. It was a day of Firsts – the first Star Wars, the first time my brother Alan took me to the movies. We lived in the country and it was a long journey into the city (Melbourne) to visit a cinema, involving two different modes of transport – three, if you also hopped a tram at the other end. Going into the city was an event. Going to the cinema was an event. Going to see this Star Wars that was the biggest thing on the planet and certainly the biggest thing to have yet come along in my seven years of life thus far, was THE EVENT.

We sat down the front. Alan, who had already seen Star Wars thirteen times by that point, quoted bits of dialogue all the way through. You start off thinking “Wow, that’s a big spaceship”, only to see your first Star Destroyer blot out everything and you think “Nonono, I knew nothing of big spaceships until this moment”.

It was dark when we came out of the cinema (another first – the first time I recall being in the city at night) and nothing would ever be the same again. I now knew how big dreaming could be.

Inevitable, of course, but I became obsessed with Star Wars. Inevitable, too, that Alan was my chief enabler. He gave me his own copies of the novelisation and a collector’s magazine, kick-starting a rather nerdy collection, and imparted the wisdom of retaining original packaging.

That collector’s magazine. I can’t put my hand on it right this moment, so I can’t tell you what it was actually called, but there were images in there that lit up my imagination almost as much as Star Wars itself had. In examining the influences and aesthetics of Star Wars, it showed me Brigette Helm as the female robot in Metropolis, Basil Rathbone and Tyrone Power duelling in The Mark of Zorro, Gary Cooper in High Noon. It wasn’t just the world of that particular galaxy far, far away that Star Wars opened up for me, it was the entire world of cinema and genre story-telling.

Star Wars made me feel… smart. I don’t think “smart” was something I’d ever really contemplated before. But there I was, a seven-year-old who read adult science fiction novels and knew who Fritz Lang was. Star Wars gave me that. It was confidence-building.

And, of course, there was Han Solo.

Although I don’t think I developed a really serious crush on him until The Empire Strikes Back came out three years later (those trousers they poured Harrison Ford into held a lot more interest for a ten-year-old than a seven-year-old), Han and his co-pilot Chewbacca were my faves. (don’t ask me how many wookiees I own – even I don’t know) Well, Princess Leia was my fave as well, but that was more because I wanted to be her. Han and Chewie were the mates I wanted to knock about with.

But Han Solo wasn’t the only space-man who blew my world open in 1977. That year, as well as Star Wars being released, also saw the arrival of David Bowie’s “Heroes” album.

David Bowie had actually entered my family’s orbit the previous year, when my brother Alan met a girl at a party who was a Bowie fan. Eager to impress her, Alan fibbed and bluffed about the many Bowie records he didn’t, in fact, own. I don’t know if he ever even saw that girl again, but a few days after the party, Alan made a point of buying some of the Bowie records he’d lied about owning, perhaps to assuage his guilt. He may not have won the girl, but there was undoubtedly a new love in Alan’s life. In no time at all, Alan was the biggest Bowie fan on the planet. As with most things, it took me, running behind my big brother, a bit of time to catch up.

The first track on “Heroes” is Beauty & the Beast – that was it. That’s all it took. David Bowie’s voice and Robert Fripp’s guitar. That song was my In.

Suddenly, the world of music opened up just like genre story-telling had. Hell, the way Bowie went about music WAS genre story-telling.

It’s fair to say, I think, that David Bowie has been the number one musical influence of my life. Although really, it’s all down to Alan. Everything, really, comes from Alan’s influence. As I said, he was my chief enabler. The movies I watch, the music I listen to, the books I read, the comedy I laugh at, the art I appreciate, the people and styles I’m fascinated by – it’s all because of Alan.

Which is why, when Alan died – suddenly, accidentally – on the 2nd of February 2005, I couldn’t find comfort in any of my usual go-tos. I couldn’t comfort myself with any music or favourite movie because there was nothing that didn’t make Alan’s loss all the more acute, that wasn’t a terrible reminder.

I had thought, the previous year, when Bowie had his heart attack, how sad the day would be for Alan, the inevitable day when Bowie leaves us. It never occurred to me that Alan would leave us first.

In July 1992, our sister Norma had died after a long battle with breast cancer. Alan’s death was the other end of the scale – no warning, no time to grow accustomed to the idea, no opportunity to say goodbyes. Instead, a phonecall that wakes you up in the early hours of the morning and tells you a nightmare.

And me with no comforting “old friends” music or movie to take solace in.

Instead, I watched some movies I hadn’t seen before, that hadn’t come into my orbit via Alan’s influence. Alan Rickman movies. (his name helped) As 2005 progressed, Alan Rickman became my go-to guy, his art helped get me through a lot of the immediate grief.

Let’s skip ahead to now. To these past few weeks. Just before Christmas, Star Wars was back in cinemas! And unlike the prequel trilogy, this one actually FELT like Star Wars! Crah, Alan would’ve loved this movie. I teared up at the first blast of the fanfare. I was a kid again. It was a joyous experience. New characters to love and old friends to visit with again and winks and allusions to almost forty years’ worth of singular pop cultural iconography.

And, of course, there was Han Solo’s demise.

I didn’t cry at the very moment it happened, but tears have most definitely been shed for my oldest crush. I’m not rage-y about it, no feeling of how-could-they? how-dare-they? It was, as much as these things can be, a good death. He was a swashbuckling space-pirate who chose to fight the good fight against evil – we all knew that his end couldn’t come peacefully. And while it was certainly no “blaze of glory”, it was respectful of our hero. And goddamnit, Chewie provided the glorious blaze and blew that place to smithereens. It was… fitting.

But still. We lost Han Solo, and that’s no small thing.

I’ve been thinking back a bit to 1999, to the anticipation of the release of the first prequel (Star Wars was back in cinemas!) and the subsequent disappointment. There was a lot of talk at the time, a lot of us asking Was It Us? Was it just that we were adults now? Maybe Star Wars was always this bad and we just hadn’t realised because we were stupid little kids? We had so much love for this phenomenon that we were prepared to take the blame for the prequels ourselves!

The Force Awakens has put paid to that, though. All over the world, there’s mid-forties people like me feeling childish wonder and excitement again. Sorry, George, but it was you, not us.

And this time around, we’ve got the Internet. At seven, living in the country, in Australia, the only person I really had to talk to about Star Wars was my brother Alan (for a long time, he was the only other person I knew who’d even seen it). Now, there’s Tumblr. And nerd blogs. And GIFs. Oh boy, are there GIFs. And slash archives. Oh boys, are there slash archives. Star Wars fandom is more accessible and intimate than ever before. Carrie Fisher’s Twitter account is a thing of beauty.

But in the middle of this period of joyousness, running through it like the Grim Reaper on ice, has been death, death and more death.

Three days after Christmas – Lemmy. Rock god, gentleman, bass playing superstar, leader of Motorhead, and a former bassist for my favourite band of all time, The Damned. A man who lived his life with such authenticity and generosity, such largeness of spirit, that losing him feels like the heart has been ripped out of rock music. I once stood my ground at a Motorhead concert, covered in vomit courtesy of the drunken arsehole beside me, unable to run off to the toilets to clean myself due to the fact that LEMMY WAS ONSTAGE; I couldn’t even look away, much less walk away, no matter how disgusting the situation. He was lightning in a bourbon bottle. We should all endeavour to live even half as fiercely as Lemmy did.

Ten days into the new year, not anywhere near long enough for rock music to mourn its heart, we lost David Bowie. Rock music had lost its mind as well.

We all hoped it was a hoax. That first hour and a bit after the news fell, we were all willing it to be a very, very bad joke. David. Bowie. He couldn’t actually die, could he? He was an immortal! He was Ziggy Stardust! He was the Goblin King! He was David Jones from Bromley who turned the world on its head!

In a way, it was like losing Alan all over again. I couldn’t play any Bowie, I couldn’t bear to hear his music, his too-familiar voice. Everyone else wanted it though, of course. I had to turn off radios, walk away from Twitter for a while – I even sat at my writing desk literally with fingers in my ears while my partner played Space Oddity in another room. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

And just four days – four days! – into this abyss, Alan Rickman suddenly followed.

Han Solo, Lemmy, Bowie, Alan Rickman, all in under a month.

I think that maybe Bowie, and definitely my brother Alan, would get a chuckle out of the fact that the first Bowie song I ended up hearing after the tenth of January, was his Little Fat Man ditty in the episode of Extras he guest-starred in. It took well over a week, but I was able eventually to listen to him again. I’ve even made it through Heroes without sobbing a time or two.

I haven’t subjected myself to All The Young Dudes yet though. I don’t always have the emotional fortitude for that one these days anyway, as it was the song, at Alan’s funeral, that played as he was carried away from us.

The biggest comfort I’ve found in Bowie’s passing has been recognising fully his utter, utter commitment to his art. He turned his own death into art – there are precious few who have the will, let alone the opportunity, to do that. The sheer audaciousness of that act is just so… Bowie.

Today is the 2nd of February 2016. It is eleven years since my brother Alan died. He gave me the world (and a galaxy far, far away) in 1977, and I thank him every day for it. Along with missing him.

and the work-in-progress makes me feel about the same, too…

There’s a quote I picked up from someone, somewhere, years ago – “You want to know the state of my mind? Take a look at the state of my house”.

The move of our household from rented flat in the inner city to 3bedroom/large block in the boondocks is complete. But the transition of goods from Point A to Point B was only one battle. The war proper looks to be a long one, entrenched even. Our common enemy? STUFF.

We used to joke at the old flat that we had “3 bedrooms worth of stuff in a 2 bedroom flat”. Having moved said STUFF into an actual 3 bedroom house, I think I can safely say we underestimated our amount of STUFF.

In many partnerships, nature seems to hook folk up with roughly equilibrium-sustaining attitudes to STUFF. One often sees partnerships where one party is the “That’ll come in handy one day, can’t throw that out!” voice and the other party is the “Hope you’ve finished reading that ‘cos it’s recycling night tonight!”. Something went wrong with this equilibrium in our partnership.

We’re both packrats. The amount of empty boxes we possess, alone, is matter for concern. (They’re nice boxes, okay? Some are just really nifty design or others look too useful or more again we think we’ll need to re-pack things into when moving. You can see where the potential for serious hoarderism is a worry.)

So. We’re moved in. But we accept the fact that we need to pare down the sheer amount of STUFF we own. This means sorting through everything -everything!- and deciding on what to purge. It’s a daunting task, one that I started with a little motivation and more than a little over-optimism. One that I now just find myself bogged down in (entrenched, even).

Here’s one of the problems – sorting a large amount of STUFF requires space in which to do the sorting. But we currently don’t have that amount of space. Can you guess why? Yup. Because it’s full of STUFF that needs to be sorted.

This cycle is vicious.