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.


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. 🙂

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

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.

Green genes

I’m a casual dabbler in family history research. It’s an ongoing project, tending to the branches of my family tree and identifying as many leaves as possible. Ancestry is an infinite jigsaw puzzle, and there is pleasure, pride and great satisfaction in solving each piece. The research appeals to my meticulous nature and exercises problem-solving muscles. Each uncovered nugget of information is a new colour for the palette, enabling the researcher to paint a more detailed family picture. And it’s nice to learn more about who I am, deep in my bones. Because as any Arian will attest, at the end of the day, it’s all about me.

Research roadblocks are inevitable though. I understand a bit about the who, what and where of the Hardimans who arrived here in Victoria in 1854, ex-Galway. Beyond that, it’s murky. I haven’t been able to dig up any relevant Galway church records or birth certificates, so have no leads on the generation prior. Was our crew made up of authentic, hard core, centuries-old Irish stock, or were they just gypsies passing through? It’s possible the spelling of our name was inadvertently changed way back when, not an uncommon occurrence, given limited education and rudimentary record keeping practices. This then casts doubt on any potential ancestry links. (The very idea that I could be sashaying about with a misspelt surname pains me. A wry irony for a proofreader and pedant).

Last year, whilst casually dabbling on, I saw an ad for a DNA test kit. There was a discounted price for a limited time. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse* and my kit arrived soon after. I filled the little vial with saliva, packed it up and sent it off to some DNA boffins in the U.S. About 6 weeks later I received my results. The reading matter was careful to point out that results weren’t iron clad, but were strong indicators, given the size of their database, integrity of testing, yada yada yada…

I was pleasantly surprised that my DNA analysis indicated 64% Irish. Approximate estimate. 64%! A healthy percentage. That’s no guesstimate. That’s not a wild stab. That’s a wilful, premeditated, just-bought-myself-a-big-sharp-garden-implement-at-Bunnings stab. One could safely deduce that not only were several ancestors on my paternal side Irish, but many on my mother’s side also.

This was the result I’d hoped for. Yes, I’m essentially a British melting pot (like so many 4th or 5th generation white Australians) but I wanted one nationality to be dominant. Somehow this would mean something, I reasoned. I wasn’t interested in evenly-split heritage, a Brit bitsa (Britsa?) mongrel with a blurred makeup lacking identity. And I didn’t want the chief nationality to be English. Too vanilla. Yawn.

Ireland evokes a special emerald-tinted je ne sais quoi. There’s a magic in its rugged beauty, its tradition and the sing-songy lilt of the language. It has great humour and heart. Ireland feels cheeky, roguish, fiery and rebellious, but romantic too. It’s a land of poets. (Limerick – need I say more?)

Today I embark on a month-long overseas trip, first stop Dublin. This is my first visit to Ireland. I want to feel a connection, a familiarity. I want to love it. The expectations are high – approximately 64% – but I’ll give it a craic.

*No horses were harmed in the adaptation of this quote.

Age of precarious

I was mildly apprehensive about turning 40. Ageing, alas, is an inescapable truth of life. Maturing is optional – thank goodness – but these scary ‘zero’ birthdays come knocking and we must bravely open the door and face the terrifying Bernard Herrmann-style music. (That reference is a fond tribute to Mr McLean and Year 12 Media Studies class).

Exiting the safe haven of my thirties, I crossed into unknown quadragenarian territory in April. One month on, it’s now broken in and feels surprisingly comfortable. 40 is an OK fit, although a little short in the sleeves, as is customary for one with disproportionately long arms. Sigh. (#simianchic is definitely not a thing… yet. These ape-y appendages will be en vogue one day, and soon. Watch this space. Orang-utan is the new black…)

And 40 is the new 30, or so they say. But “they” are probably panic-stricken 49 year olds, desperately clinging onto the hope that 50 is the new anything-sub-50.

Milestone birthdays seem to hold such gravity, and can strike fear into the most pragmatic humans. These birthday “celebrations” are unwelcome (yet potentially invaluable) reminders of our mortality. And they have a curious power for forcing us to self-assess. What have I achieved? Is this where I thought I’d be now? Am I winning? Am I even in the race, or better still, at the right stadium? There might be an element of external pressure, perceived societal expectations that we measure against. Sometimes the most damaging though is the pressure we place on ourselves.

Adulting, as it has been recently coined, challenges each of us in a myriad of ways. The road is indeterminate. Life doesn’t come with a manual, and age is not a One Size Fits All. (Or even a One Size Fits Most. How infuriating is that expression?!) At 40, I am genuinely happily single, and contentedly childless. I do like this road of mine. Life is good. No, f&%k it, life is great. I have no pangs of FOMO, no metaphoric pot-holes of concern. That’s all folks. Nothing up my sleeve. Just make that sleeve an inch longer. Please.