Chinese Garden of Friendship – Sydney

In the middle of Sydney’s loud and lavish CBD lies a delightfully tranquil sanctuary. In Tumbalong Park, a stone’s throw from the milling touristy crowds of Darling Harbour, you’ll find the Chinese Garden of Friendship, nonchalantly tucked away behind a couple of high walls.

In celebration of the long association of the Chinese community in Australia, this beautiful garden was conceived and created in the 1980s, a gift to Sydney from the city of Guangzhou (southern China).

The garden adheres to the Taoist principles of Yin-Yang, with the five opposite elements represented – earth, fire, water, metal and wood – for balance, and ‘Qi’, the circulating force of life and energy.

Plants aren’t intended to pull focus or dominate the scene, but rather integrate with the natural flow of the landscape. The result is a gently winding, relaxing space that provides a sense of harmony. It’s serene and green, and in springtime, punctuated with tiny bursts of blushing colour. There are birds by the pagodas, fish in the ponds, and perhaps surprisingly, several sunbathing Eastern Water Dragons, who prove to be popular photography subjects. (I’m guilty of course. Who doesn’t love lizards?)

I’ve visited this place four times, and I’m always staggered by how quiet it is. The low roar of the relentless traffic, elsewhere in the CBD inescapable, here seems so distant. And despite the imposing backdrop of hotels and shiny office complexes, it somehow still feels like an escape. A peaceful place offering refuge from the noise and bustle of the metropolis. For the most part, all you can hear is the soft waterfall, and the occasional scampering of a camera-shy amphibian.

I recommend you visit. There’s charm in the calm. It’s good for the soul. And at just $6 entry, in a city that typically commands a hefty price tag, it’s easy on your pocket too.

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Flippin’ awesome

Penguins fascinate me. Flightless, skilled swimmers, they are an oddity of the animal kingdom. Fish out of water, or rather, birds out of sky. I admire their resilience, adaptability and noble sense of duty in the face of adversity. Out there in nature, survival is not assured for the entire black and white army – it is only for the fittest and luckiest of its soldiers. These guys live in harsh environments and face prey at sea as well as on land. I can’t bring myself to watch wildlife documentaries, it’s too much reality. Ignorance is bliss – as is a leisurely hour observing and appreciating these beautiful creatures at Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium.

I like to wander through Melbourne’s world-class aquarium every year or so. Sea Life is home to an impressive array of marine life, with the King and Gentoo penguins the star attractions. There are beautiful displays of jellyfish, seahorses, fish and coral, rockpools offering touchy-feely experiences, and the somewhat scarier resident sharks, crocodiles and stingrays safely out of reach. (You can opt to get up close and personal, if that’s your thing).

There are fewer than 20 known species of penguins in the world today. All bar one species is found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere. My favourite is the Little Blue, formerly called the Fairy Penguin, which live in colonies on the coastlines of New Zealand and southeast Australia. I’m a big fan of the Antarctic long-tailed Gentoo as well. These guys have huge personalities and are fun to watch. (Not unusual for me to kill 2hrs+ viewing them at Sea Life, much to the supposed amusement of staff… promise I’m not casing the joint! Nothing suss here. No feathered, flippered souvenirs in my backpack).

At this time of the year you can watch the engrossing ‘nest’ building ritual in action. The Gentoo penguins construct mounds of small rocks or pebbles, which will serve as nests for the upcoming egg laying. Courtship begins with the offering of a single rock. (Ladies, who doesn’t love a rock?!) If it’s accepted, the couple then set about building as big a nest as possible, even if this means sneakily thieving from their negligent neighbours’ stash. One stands guard on the nest while the other goes pebble-hunting. The stealing back and forth is relentless. These are smooth criminals, committing instinctive crimes of passion.

The King penguin is a stunning bird, proud and regal, with highlights of gold adorning his elegant tuxedo. By contrast, their chicks are fluff balls, dressed in thick brown fur coats. It’s not fur of course, just lots and lots of tiny feathers. It’s so odd to see parent and young side by side, they appear to be completely different breeds. As the chick matures it will moult, with the vanishing fluff revealing the suave Bond-like ensemble underneath.

Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium is open every day of the year, for your penguin-viewing pleasure. Go! And enjoy. 🙂

State Library of Victoria

The winter sunshine was beautiful in Marvellous Melbourne yesterday. I was in the CBD, among the bustling weekend throng, with the bluest of blue skies above. I voluntarily removed myself from the lovely outdoors and headed indoors, to one of my favourite city sights – the State Library of Victoria.

Established in 1854 as the Melbourne Public Library, it is Australia’s oldest library, (and if you have faith in the Gospel According to Wikipedia, it was one of the first free libraries in the world).

I visit this grand old dame occasionally. I love that it’s a quiet haven in the middle of a noisy city. More than this, I love it because 1. It houses soooooo many books – over two million of them – along with thousands of other publications, and 2. It boasts an impressive Ned Kelly collection, and 3. The Dome.

Infamous Victorian bushranger Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly holds a fascination for many people, almost 140 years after his capture and subsequent execution. I am a Ned enthusiast – and sympathiser, to a large extent – and relish any opportunity to view items of Kelly Gang significance. While many Kelly articles rightfully remain in central Victoria (the scenes of his various misdemeanours), the Library has curated a magnificent collection of Gang items, featured in a permanent exhibition on Level 5.

A set of authentic Kelly ‘armour’ is a drawcard, along with pages from the ‘Jerilderie Letter’, dictated to Gang member Joe Byrne by Ned, and a detailed account of his confessed crimes, in addition to accusations of police corruption. Ned Kelly’s death mask is also displayed. (Death masks were fleeting in popularity, produced to assist in the study of phrenology).

The Kelly items are part of The Changing Face of Victoria exhibition, a huge collection of photographs and souvenirs of the identities and events that have shaped the state. It’s well worth a look. Book lovers would also appreciate the exhibition on Level 4, The World of Book. It covers (ha!) the history of manuscript content, design and production, with articles dating from 2050 BC. You can keep your fancy Kindles. This stuff is awesome. (The World of Book is on display until 31st Dec.)

The Dome Reading Room is the architectual highlight of the building, and a must-see if in Melbourne. Take the lift up to Level 6 for a great vantage point.

There are other Reading Rooms within the Library, some with specific interest areas, including art, family history, newspapers, even chess. One room is named after colonial judge Sir Redmond Barry. He is also honoured with a bust, and a statue at the front of the Library entrance. Coincidentally, Barry was the judge who sentenced Ned Kelly to death by hanging in 1880. Am I the only one who finds that a bit strange? That the two can co-exist ‘in memoriam’ within the same grounds? Such is Melbourne.

Song Lyric Sunday – Street Of Love

This blogging caper has introduced me to a fun little music challenge, Song Lyric Sunday, initiated by Helen of This Thing Called Life One Word At A Time. (Check it out for more info! And thanks for spreading the word, Simone!) Today’s Song Lyric Sunday theme is street.

Three ‘street’ songs came to mind. Dancing In The Street (Martha and the Vandellas) is a cracking track synonymous with the swinging 60s and Motown genre. I’m also quite fond of Icehouse’s Street Café. Ahhh, my beloved Iva… no bias there at all. 🙂

My favourite ‘street’ song though is (Beggar On The) Street Of Love. Penned by the legendary Australian songwriter/musician Paul Kelly, it’s the cover by Kiwi Jenny Morris that I prefer. Her 1989 album Shiver (produced by Andrew Farriss of INXS) contained many treats, including Little Little, Self Deceiver and the Top 5 Aussie hit She Has To Be Loved. But I love her take on Street Of Love.

Lazy rhymes often infuriate me however I actually like the awkward pairing of honey/rainy here. It’s clumsy but cute. I think it makes it more heartfelt somehow.

In my time I have been
A rich girl giving favours
All the world at my feet
And its many different flavours
I sucked it all dry
Now I realise
I’m a beggar on the street of love
I’m a beggar on the street of love
All the rest have no charm
There is nothing they can give me
What I want makes me poor
In this great big world of plenty
I’m holding out my cup
Only you can fill it up
I’m a beggar on the street of love
I’m a beggar on the street of love
I’m a beggar on the street of love
I’m a beggar on the street of love
In the rain I’m standing
Trying to see
And my heart keeps calling
Calling out for you to see
You look right through me and you pass me by
Take my hand, lead me to
Your loving milk and honey
Lay me down, keep me from
The night so cold and rainy
Please, please, I’m down on my knees
I’m a beggar on the street of love
I’m a beggar on the street of love
I’m a beggar on the street of love
I’m a beggar on the street of love

Lyrics: Paul Kelly

Rhyme and reason

I am a logophile. I love words and the quiet power they wield. I spent my primary school years reading as much as I could (even sneakily with a torch in bed after ‘lights out’) and my high school years developing my own writing techniques and individual style.

Poetry is a creative form that I particularly enjoy (and caution: will likely feature in future blog posts). Rhymes, especially silly rhymes, tend to come easily to me, perhaps an effect of a healthy consumption of Roald Dahl in my youth.

Limericks are a fun form of verse but can be challenging to craft. I am prone to waffle, and the rigid limerick structure curbs this tendency. My freestyle prose can easily stretch a verse (or four) too far, with my inner editor failing to recognise the prime point at which to cap the Bic. With just five lines to tell the (often humorous) tale, word choice is paramount for a limerick to be effective. It’s forced ruthlessness.

The limerick has a rhyme scheme of AABBA, with the first, second and fifth lines sharing a rhyme, while the third and fourth lines are shorter and share a different rhyme. It’s traditional for the first line to introduce a person and place, with the place name establishing the rhyme for the second and last lines. Those familiar with the form may be able to predict the punchline from early in a stanza. (‘There was a young girl from Nantucket’ rather sets you on a narrow course.)

My recent tour of Ireland didn’t include Limerick, the city on its itinerary. We just missed it by a few measly miles. Pity. The tour however did feature limericks, the poetry. We had a friendly little limerick-writing contest, and as the trip drew to its close, the competition had grown fierce. Our scribblings were submitted, and our lovely tour director read them aloud to the captive coach audience. There were plenty of giggles and some big laughs. Feeling inspired and creatively juicy in the Emerald Isle, I’d put forward four limericks of my own. This one proved most popular:

Mick, a nudist from Kildare

Was famed for his cute derriere

When he’d stop and bend down

In the middle of town

The craic was sensational there

It had humour, Irish references, it had double entendre – I’d nailed it. And yet… The winning limerick was drawn from a hat. How had this become a game of chance? Nothing against the (unlikely) victor, but come on! Did his even get a laugh?! A creative writing competition should and could only be won through SKILL!

Competitive much? To be sure, to be sure.

Fair wuther friends

Eyebrows are seldom raised in Fitzroy. It’s a case of anything goes and one should expect the unexpected. This quirkily cool suburb of Melbourne is home to an arty breed of boho folk. Think retro chic. Think vegan artisans with purple pigtails in hemp skirts on unicycles. (And that’s the blokes). Anything goes. But one event on Saturday garnered many bemused double-takes, as a flock of scarlet-clad Kate Bushes descended upon the Edinburgh Gardens.

The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever is an annual celebration of the Kate Bush 1978 classic. First held in 2016, cities around the globe host the as-synchronised-as-time-zones-allow event, with attendees performing the choreography from that sublime video clip. This year marked the 40th anniversary of the song’s release, and being ’78 vintage myself, I wasn’t about to miss the Most Wuthering en masse majesty. The clip also happens to be one of my earliest music memories. It was strikingly different to other music videos at the time. It was elegant, ethereal… building to its very splendid waving/vanishing crescendo. I was hooked. Plus, Kate looked a lot like my Auntie Brenda.

I first ‘wuthered’ in 2016, and was really taken with the event. I wasn’t the only one – Melbourne’s inaugural turn-out was massive, with 1000+ “Cathys” in attendance, making it the biggest gathering worldwide. (Melbourne’s brilliant like that – we’ll turn up to anything really… arts, sport, comedy, the opening of an avocado…) Still hugely popular in its third year, it makes an entertaining if somewhat surprising spectacle for passers-by. Vixens in vermilion, of various shapes and sizes (and genders), with brunette manes flowing, recreating all those graceful (ahem) ballet moves. Burly, bearded Cathys, junior Cathys, even canine Cathys – all frolicking in the glorious winter sunshine. A community effort! Everyone’s welcome to “roll and fall in green” (BUT in red only. Them’s the rules). The event also raises funds for women’s health & services, with Melbourne’s Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre and the Alannah and Madeline Foundation benefitting. Yay us!

It’s liberating and empowering, but the overarching emotion is pure euphoria. It warms your heart and is just so much fun, it’s difficult to convey to the uninitiated. This year I enjoyed the company of old high school buddy and fellow blogger Sim (check out her wonderfully warm words – Simone: By The River). She was a TMWHDE debutante and I was thrilled (and relieved!) that she relished the beautiful experience as much as I do. Being part of the whirling, twirling sea of red revellers is inexplicably joyous. And addictive! I am a committed, seasoned wutherer now.

Check out some past gatherings on Youtube, and whet your appetite for the next wuther!

It’s a curious equation that defies logic. Who would have thought…
Red dress + red tights + green eyeshadow x 400 or so = infinite fun?!

If only Emily Bronte could see us now.

Corio Oval

I have created a new blog category today, and will endeavour to unearth some of the lost golden nuggets of Geelong, and in due course pay homage to some of the region’s more interesting and/or forgotten historical figures. The hidden gems of G-Town, if you will.

For the uninitiated, Geelong is the 2nd-largest city in the Australian state of Victoria. Situated on Corio Bay, it is 75 kilometres (47 miles) southwest of the state capital Melbourne. This port city was named in 1827, a derivative of the local Wathaurong Aboriginal name for the area, Djillong. Geelong is sometimes referred to as a ‘gateway city’, being centrally located to popular Victorian regions including the surf coast and Great Ocean Road, the famed 1850s gold rush city Ballarat, and Melbourne. With a population today in excess of 220,000 it offers the benefits of both a small metropolis and a large township. City and country. Beach and ‘burbs. It is in many ways idyllic.

I am a proud Geelong person. I am also a proud Geelong Football Club supporter, and a proud descendant of four of the club’s past players. The GFC is a professional Australian Rules football club, and is one of 18 teams in the AFL (Australian Football League, and pre-1990, Victorian Football League). Established in 1859, the club is the 2nd oldest in the AFL, and one of the oldest football clubs in the world. (Internationally renowned football (or soccer) clubs are younger – Manchester United (est. 1878), Liverpool (1892), Real Madrid (1902)… Quite remarkable really!) Known since the 1920s as the ‘Cats’, the GFC was previously nicknamed the ‘Pivotonians’ and the ‘Seagulls’, with these monikers referencing the city’s early industry and its seaside location.

The Cats host AFL matches at GMHBA Stadium, part of a sports complex called Kardinia Park. Prior to this, for the period 1878-1940, the club’s home ground was Corio Oval, located in East Geelong. The oval was used by the Army as a military training camp during World War II, which prompted the club relocation.

I wonder how many Geelong Cats supporters or life-long Geelong residents would know about this? Or indeed, how many might have discovered this inconspicuous commemorative plaque, signifying the old Corio Oval location in Eastern Park? Weekend joggers or dog walkers may stumble across it occasionally. A conference centre stands on the edge of the space today, neighbouring parkland. It’s hard to imagine a footy oval and packed grandstand there, with crowds of around 20,000+ witness to the fierce rivalries of the era. Geelong versus Melbourne, Geelong versus Collingwood, Geelong versus Richmond… And grandfather Hardiman versus anyone who dared to offer him a deft clip… or so the legend goes.