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Bondi Open Air cinema screen

Bondi Open Air cinema screen

Yesterday was opening night of Bondi Open Air cinema 2012.

Held on a grassy bank overlooking the beach, the Open Air cinema is scheduled through until early March, taking advantage of the warm summer evenings and everyone’s inclination to get outside as much as possible.

We watched Bill Cunningham New York, the story of New York Times fashion photographer Bill and the life he has dedicated to his work. It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen; I knew nothing of Bill before I sat down to watch the film last night and left feeling like I’d known him for years and heart-warmed by the passion he has for what he does.

Ben and Jerry's ice cream, a picnic blanket and biscuits...

Ben and Jerry's ice cream, a picnic blanket and biscuits...

We were given free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for the movie, along with a goodie bag to take away filled with Sonoma muesli, Aesop body balm and the latest Time Out Sydney magazine. Not bad for a $12 ticket!

There was also live music prior to the film and a random magician act which was a bit pointless as by the time he came on it was dark and no one could see anything!

Okay, there were a few technical hitches with the sound and the lighting, but there’s plenty of time for this to all be ironed out over the next few weeks.

It’s a different story for the wet weather Sydney is currently experiencing as this now looks set to play havoc with the success of the Open Air cinema. Even last night, a few people left the film because of the blowing wind, before crowds got up to exit several minutes before the end when the rain did finally come. Films will go ahead in the rain, so it’s best to be prepared unless you’re happy to leave without a refund.

By the time summer is over I will have experienced all three of the main Sydney outdoor cinemas: this one at Bondi, along with the Moonlight Cinema in Centennial Park and finally the most popular – St George Open Air cinema in the Domain where the screen rises from the water and the audience overlooks the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. What better way to watch a film!

I love Australia!

I love Australia!

For most of Australia, yesterday’s public holiday was just an extra day off work.

Enjoy the sun, have a few drinks and a bbq and spend time with family and friends.

Then the Prime Minister lost her shoe and not only this country, but the world was once again distracted by the uncomfortable history that surrounds 26 January in Australia.

Because ‘Australia Day’ will never be just another public holiday. Created as a way to mark the anniversary of the arrival of the first convict boats, it will forever be also known as ‘Invasion Day’.

There is nothing Australia can do to change its past. Of course it must recognise the struggle of the indigenous people of Australia and apologise to the descendants of the Aboriginal people who were treated without respect by those who arrived here. It can continue to acknowledge that Australia is Aboriginal first. Australia can continue to give Aboriginal people, as well as everyone who lives here, a voice in the future of the country.

Because Australia should belong to everyone now. We should celebrate what it means to be Australian no matter what background you are from or who was here first. Let’s enjoy Australia Day today and look forward to its future. Celebrate the fact that people from hundreds of different backgrounds now live here and call it their home. That I can be one of those millions who came to live here and feels a part of the nation.

Yes, there is still work to do to give indigenous people a proper and rightful place in this country. And as a Brit, my experience of finding my way was always going to be easy. But don’t let the world only hear about the protests, the disagreements and that lost shoe.

Let’s share the positives of Australia Day. The traditions of communities coming together all across Australia for events and good times.

As the official Australia Day slogan summed up so well this year ‘Celebrate what’s great.’

As 2012 begins, so will my second full year in this country. I reckon this one will be even better than the first.

Arriving from England back in late 2010, I can look back now and admit how hard I found my first year in Sydney.

I never expected the culture shock I got when I moved to Sydney. This blog has been one way to cope with that. Writing about some of the peculiar things I’ve observed has helped to understand it in my own mind.

Surely Australia would just be England with sunshine I thought? No, not at all. From the serious matters, such as Australia’s uneasy history with the Aboriginal people of this country, through to the silly – like the sight of kangaroos hopping down the streets in Victoria. Every day has shown me something new.

It’s taken me over 12 months to adjust to having so much sunshine for a start. Being able to explore far flung beaches, go kayaking, walk along the coastline on weekends. Instead of arranging afternoons that actually avoid going outside in the rain like I was doing in the UK.

My diet has changed. I was used to casseroles and pastas. But here, year-round we eat barbecued meat or fresh fish from the market and salads almost every evening. I’ve never eaten so much Sushi or Thai food or Banana Bread either.

I’ve stopped complaining too much about the price of everything. Though I still feel like I’m being robbed every time a can of soup costs me $4, or a bottle of water on the street $3.

My dad told me last week my accent was changing. He hates it when I go up at the end of every sentence, Aussie-style. It’ll go I said, ‘No worries mate.’

I know not to get offended when I see ‘Coon’ written on a packet of cheese, or hear Wog used in the workplace. I know my Rangas from my Bogans. I still call my ‘thongs’ ‘flip-flops.’

I’ve met some great Australian friends now, not just ex-pats. People who’ve lived in Sydney their whole lives and with whom I can have a conversation without talking about what we miss from home.

Yes, I still shop for clothes online at Dorothy Perkins, but I also find a lot I like in Marcs, and Myer and Sportsgirl.

I’ve experimented with the sunrise exercise routine, getting up at 5.30am in the mornings, when the heat is just bearable in the summer. I’ve still felt inferior to the gorgeous Aussie girls who just seem so lean and glamourous and blonde.

I don’t really miss Eastenders or Strictly Come Dancing anymore. But I’d recognise Dani and Hayden from Australian Masterchef in the street.

I check smh.com.au in the mornings now, instead of bbc.co.uk. I subscribe to Mumbrella for my media news. We’ve got the Gruen Transfer boxset.

I can get stopped on the street and offer a tourist directions. I can tell you where to get the best cup of coffee on George Street and where serves the best Mojito (not too sweet, not too sour).

I keep my mosquito repellent at the side of my bed, and I make sure I’ve got my Factor 30 on for the morning walk to work.

I can tell you that it’s a nightmare trying to catch a bus home from Bondi on a busy Saturday…but the North end of the beach is your best bet.

I’ll know where’s best to stand for a good view at the Chinese New Year parade. I can tell you not to forget to arrange a meeting place for your friends at Future Music Festival. I can tell you what radio station to listen to on Australia Day.

I know my NRL from my AFL. My CBD and my QVB. My capsicum from my eggplant. I remember to ask for no beetroot on my burger. 

I know that I would have known none of the above without living in this country.

Am I changing? Am I losing the person I was when I arrived here?

I hope not. I think for the first time since I arrived here I’m finally feeling like I belong in this city. Not feeling like some outsider visiting for my holidays, not really ‘getting it’. But a true resident, like I’ve turned it from my house to my home, like I’ve been invited into the party.

Yes, it’s great to do new things and discover new adventures each and every day.

But I reckon there’s also a lot to be said for doing things the second time around too…..

One of the best parts of a trip back to London is a chance to go on a shopping spree to the famous British high street and pick up some bargains in Topshop, New Look or Primark.

So I should be really excited that Topshop opened its doors to the Australian public in Melbourne last month. And I should be even more happy that later this year, a second store will open here in Sydney.

Right? Wrong.

I think the decision to allow Topshop to open up shop in Australia was a big mistake.

Here’s why:

1)    It will undermine the Topshop brand

Australians love Topshop. They are crazy for it. You’ve only got to read about how hundreds camped out overnight for the Melbourne opening to realise this. And tell any female Australian between the age of 13 – 35 years old that you’re from England and I guarantee that shortly afterwards she’ll ask you about Topshop.

But the point is, Australians love Topshop because they can’t shop there. It’s seen as this magical shopping haven, a dreamy place that is so amazing, precisely because so few of them have ever been or ever owned anything from there.

Compare this to the UK, where you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t own something from Topshop. It’s just doesn’t stay exciting after that.

Topshop is the epitome of the British High Street, by making it more accessible to the worldwide market it will lose its desirability as a brand and the exclusivity that comes with having to go all the way to England to buy from it. It may sound an exaggeration, but Topshop also plays its part in Brand Britain, a ‘must-do’ on the list of every female from Oz who has ever managed to make the trip overseas. So it won’t just be Topshop that suffers.

2)    It won’t be as good as Topshop

Australia faces huge challenges in shipping and distribution due to its size and distance between major cities (and the rest of the world). Prices are high here because it costs so much to get anything sent here.

One of the signature appeals of Topshop is that the stock changes weekly, daily sometimes, to keep fashion forward and relevant. Topshop Australia just won’t be able to compete with the low prices, turnover of stock and varied selection that is available in Europe. With just two outlets in Oz, and several continents away from the remainder of the chain, I really doubt we will be able to buy much of the range that is advertised on the UK website.

3)    It will ruin Australian retailers

Even if Topshop can keep its prices cheap, why is that a good thing? It will undercut much of the Australian high street (where prices are notoriously high) and be a stab in the back to Australian homegrown retailers. Sydney high streets should be occupied by Australian designers, a signal of support to Australian brands and a chance for further growth. Why bring in Topshop to lure the dollars from the purse of teenagers and young women. We’ve already had Zara opening in Sydney and Melbourne late last year and now Topshop, where will it end?  It’s well publicised that whilst the Australian economy is thriving, Aussie high street retailers are not. Sales are down, stores are closing and we need to give them all the support we can to help them to survive. Not plunge in amongst them unfair competition of cheap clothing to replace them.

4)    We need to protect Australia from disposable fashion

Australia should be proud of the fact it hasn’t succumbed to the world of disposable fashion like Britain has. There is nothing comparable to the likes of Primark here, and long may that last. Women here still choose style and quality over a cheap piece of fabric that they will wear once then throw away.

5)    Our High Streets will all look the same

This is the one I’m most sad about. Topshop Sydney will be located in the old Gowings building (old Supre store) on George Street. It’s a landmark location and one of the busiest intersections in the city. Deadset in the centre of the city on probably the most famous street in Sydney. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s because it’s nearly identical in spec to that of Topshop on Oxford Street. But imitating the original will only encourage comparisons. The British tourist arriving in Sydney later this year will just see a high street that is disappointingly similar to that which they’ve just left at home. And what’s the appeal then?

What do you think? Is Topshop a good addition to the British High Street?

picture of rain

Is this all we have to look forward to this weekend in Sydney?

It’s December in Sydney and the sun should be shining!

But sadly, our plans for the beach, barbecues and outdoor beers are on hold as the rain is predicted to set in for the second weekend in a row.

So, what to do? Here’s my top five suggestions for making the best out of the miserable weather this weekend:

1)      Sushi and songs

For the perfect all-in-one dinner/drinks/late-night entertainment venue that saves you having to bar-hop through the rain, head to Mizuya on George Street. This underground restaurant serves up delicious, fresh sushi in cozy surroundings, far away from the disappointing weatheroutside. The hot pot with wagyu beef is a favourite of mine, and the various meat and fish skewers are addictive. Better still, you get to order your dinner on a touch screen at your table, meaning you can keep going back for more until you’re stuffed!

Oh, and once you’re full of sushi and sake, simply head down the corridor to the real reason Mizuya was created – karaoke booths where you can gather all your mates into a sealed room, belt out your favourite songs until the early hours and even order more sushi if you wish!

2)      Head to an Irish Bar

That’s right, what better way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon, than settled down in a traditional Irish Pub with some hearty grub, a live band or two and perhaps a pint of Guinness. There’s plenty of options in central Sydney including PJ O’Brien’s, Durty Nelly’s, Scruffy Murphy’s and Paddy Maguires.

For the ultimate Irish experience however – and a venue I can’t recommend enough – head to Mulligan’s restaurant in Chippendale. You’ll enjoy the best comfort food in Sydney, in surroundings which feel like you’re in the living room of a cuddly older relative.

3)      Pretend you’re in the UK

For an ex-pat, Christmas in Australia has meant swapping many of the traditional wintry fayre for light, summery bites in reflection of the warmer weather. So this weekend, why not head to Lindt Cafe at Darling Harbour and indulge with a warming hot chocolate and marshmallows, or snuggle up at home with a hot mince pie, brandy butter and your favourite Greatest Hits Xmas CD.

4)      Get cultural

Time to explore all the museums, art galleries and other interesting parts of Sydney that it just seems wrong to visit when the sun is shining. First stop could be the new Picasso exhibition now open at Art Gallery New South Wales where you’ll get to see more than 150 pieces of his work.

5)      Get out of Sydney and catch a flight to Melbourne

Four words that need no further explanation: Topshop is now open. What better reason do we need to escape Sydney for the weekend than a chance to explore one of the UK’s most successful fashion chains now open at its first location in Australia. Prepare yourself for chaos and queues, but it’ll be worth it when you get to swan into work on Monday in your brand new Topshop clothes.

Who needs sunshine!

What are your weekend plans?

The long road to Broken Hill

An epic road trip to Broken Hill

Anyone would think I was going to the moon.

That would explain the general reaction of disbelief from friends and work colleagues when I mentioned that I was going to the Outback city of Broken Hill last weekend.

Could it really be that bad?

Broken Hill sits in the very west of New South Wales, around a 12 hour drive from Sydney or a six hour drive from Adelaide.

We take the second option and as we leave the city behind, realise there is little to hold us up on the journey, no other cars, no other towns – Broken Hill really is in the middle of nowhere.

The motorways out of Adelaide soon turn to single lane country roads. Then the hilly landscape flattens and finally all flora and fauna disappears. Everywhere you look, in whatever direction you look in, there is just nothing. Dry, red and dusty land – utterly untouched – except for this road, our car and the odd tin can flung from a weary traveller, now rusting in its resting place.

This massive, empty beast of a country is sweltering in desert-like temperatures. And then us, slicing through it like we’re the very first.

I thought to myself, this might as well be the moon.

The road to Broken Hill

The road to Broken Hill

Out of nowhere, after six long hours, four Mars Bars and 500km of empty earth, there appears Broken Hill:

Broken Hill blue sky

A beautiful bright sky in Broken Hill. This looks out to the south of the city, where you can see just desert in the background

We check-in to our clean, modern motel in the centre of town, then lunch at Broken Earth, an imposing restaurant built on the top of the remnants of the mines and which overlooks the City. From up here you can see exactly where the borders of Broken Hill begin and end. It’s a grid-like formation, not sprawling, but quite compact. The architecture is quite impressive, dated but grand, and the wide open streets give a calm and elegant feel to the centre of town. Argent Street, the main street, forms the hub for the 20,000 locals who all live within 20 or so streets away.

Broken Earth restaurant from Broken Hill

The imposing Broken Earth restaurant as seen from Broken Hill

 
Broken Hill

You can see the edges of Broken Hill from the Broken Earth restaurant

Broken Hill

A close-up of one of the main streets in Broken Hill with the cathedral in the background

Later that night we decide to do a bar crawl, to get a feel for the town. Half a dozen pubs later, we’ve exhausted all our options (including two pubs we didn’t even bother going into) and feel utterly downcast.

We’re off to our final pub of the night – it’s a little off the beaten track even for Broken Hill – yet we’re assured this is where the party is at!

It’s empty. Not just not busy, not just quiet, but stone. Cold. Empty. We are the only two people in one of the most recommended bars in Broken Hill. And it’s 10pm on a Friday night.

At least we get a bit of chat out of the barmaid, a lovely local women who’s lived in the area all her life. For not the first time on our trip, she tells us ‘you need at least a week’ here. We smile and nod.

As we’re about to ask her about her top recommendations the door swings open and a group of nine enter the pub to join us.

“Game On” shouts the barmaid, clapping her hand. Never have we been more pleased to see a small group of randoms.

Young people are noticeably absent in Broken Hill. The city was created after the discovery of ore, and as a result most of the population have some sort of connection to mining employment. Ex-miners, the retired and visiting business or tourists make up the rest. Many of the young people are sent to Sydney or Adelaide for boarding school, a chance to discover the world out there. They don’t come back.

For the teenagers that haven’t been sent away to school, sitting in an empty Hungry Jacks outlet on a Saturday afternoon seems the best option when there is little else to do.

The high street is a ghost town by 4pm on a weekend afternoon because the few shops there have closed.

And later that night we discover the one bar open past midnight is little more than a converted community centre with a canteen in the corner of the room.

Anyway, back to those randoms we met in the pub. It turned out they were actually journalists from the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph, in town to record the visit of Princess Mary to the Royal Flying Doctor Service that morning.

Yes, the biggest day for Broken Hill since Fergie visited in 1990 and we missed it.

But it did put Broken Hill on the map for one day and gave credit to the importance of the Flying Doctor Service to isolated communities like Broken Hill.

To be fair, Broken Hill does get its fair share of visitors. It’s billed as ‘the accessible Outback’, and is a stopping point on the transnational Indian Pacific rail line. Tourists jump off for a few days, or fly in from Sydney, or drive in from Adelaide as we did. There’s over 30 galleries within Broken Hill and plenty of filmakers were inspired to shoot across the backdrop of this jaw-droppingly isolated location. You can see ‘the biggest canvas painting in the world’,  find out about mining history at the city museums, and even get to visit the locations for the filming of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Mad Max 2. Both shot locally.

Photos of Mad Max 2

Images from Mad Max II, filmed near Broken Hill adorn the walls of the local pub

Setting for Mad Max II

The setting for Mad Max II, with souvenir shop for the tourists

 

But it is the mining which is the heart and soul of this town. It gave the city its fascinating history, dating back to the 1880s when the area was discovered. Broken Hill has provided the largest single source of silver, lead and zinc ore ever discovered on earth. The grand palatial buildings we see on the high street were founded on mining wealth and in the 1970s the draw of employment helped the population to peak at 30,000.

The Darling Hotel

The Darling Hotel - one of many of the large pubs on the main street

We visit the last remaining remnant of the biggest mining giant there is. BHP Billiton – which stands for Broken Hill Proprietry Ltd. BHP helped create this city and drew in the people by offer of work, which lit the economy and put Broken Hill on the map.

BHP has all but left the area now – gone as soon as the ore was – leaving just the chimney from its office as a reminder of the days gone by.

All that is left of the BHP chimney

This is all that is left of the headquarters of BHP - the company which first began mining in Broken Hill

mine machinery

Mine machinery on display at Broken Hill

And I think that’s what gets me in Broken Hill. Everything is a reminder of days gone by. It has a history and it seems that nothing has come to replace that history or to help it to thrive once more. The huge drive-thru fast food restaurants stick out as an awkward jump to the real world happening six hours away in the city of Adelaide.

The population has dwindled as the young leave the for work in the City and now sits at about 20,000.

“The Government want it to go down even more, to about 18,000 would suit them because then they can take away the infrastructure,” explained local businessman Tex.

“See that there,” he points, “that’s our hospital, it used to have hundreds of beds then they knocked it down, told us they were going to rebuild it, but it’s little more than a first aid unit now with just 70 beds.”

Broken Hill needs another boost, and soon.

I will never understand the desire to live in a place like Broken Hill. I couldn’t deal with the remoteness, the lack of choice that we take so for granted nowadays, the absence of people and the hustle and bustle that makes life.

But one conversation I had got me thinking that maybe, that works vice versa as well.

“I went to Sydney once,” said the man from Broken Hill we met over a cold beer in the local Hotel.

“Didn’t like it. Anywhere you have to wait at traffic lights behind more than three cars I don’t like.”

Maybe. Maybe he’s right.

 

Visit Broken Hill?

Do it! For one of the most thought-provoking, fascinating insights into what it’s like to live in the Australian Outback, give Broken Hill a go. It’s a weekend you’ll never forget….

For more information on Broken Hill, check out the Visit NSW site or this dedicated Broken Hill website.
Although in NSW, remember Broken Hill follows South Australia time, setting clocks half an hour earlier.

To eat and drink:

Eating options are fairly limited. We were disappointed by the food (and particularly the service) at Broken Earth, but very impressed with the food at The Astra.
Argent Street has the most food options (where The Astra is located), or you could eat in the restaurant of your Motel, which generally will offer a pretty good standard of food too.

Broken Earth Café and Restaurant
Astra
Mario’s Palace

dinner at the astra

Fine dining at The Astra, Broken Hill

To see:

I wouldn’t say there’s enough to keep you in Broken Hill for a week, but if you like art galleries, sculpture and museums and you are interested in the history of mining, then at least a weekend is good. Here’s a few of the options:

Line of Lode hilltop lookout
Silver City Mint & Art Centre (the main attratction here is the biggest canvas painting in the world: The Big Picture)
Silverton Hotel (setting for Mad Max 2) Note: Do not eat the ‘famous’ hotdogs!!
Royal Flying Doctor Service

The view from the Line of Lode overlooking Broken Hill

A proper Outback pub - The Silverton, around 20kms from Broken Hill

To stay:

Broken Hill now has lots of recently renovated motels to choose from, all within easy reach of the main centre of the city.

Old Willyama Motor Inn (where we stayed, very clean, modern and close to town)
All Seasons

Dragon boat racing at Darling Harbour

Our Dragon Boat race (I'm seated, third from back)

It’s not every day that you get to paddle across one of the most beautiful harbours in the world and raise money for breast cancer in the process.

That’s why I volunteered straight away for the 2011 Dragons Abreast Festival as part of the corporate team for NRMA.

Early last Sunday morning, just as revellers from Halloween parties across the city were getting to bed, I arrived at Darling Harbour ready battle it out with 20 corporate teams from Sydney.

The water was still, the sky was breaking to blue and we were pumped and ready for action. Teams and supporters lined the harbourside, dressed head to toe in their matching team colours.

 For those not familiar with Dragon boat racing, here’s a rundown on what the race entailed:

 –          Teams of 20 to each boat –  no more than ten men per team

–          Race runs from Pyrmont Bridge towards the inside of Darling Harbour

–          Approximate 90 second stretch (doesn’t sound much does it!)

And that’s pretty much it! We’d had two training sessions prior to the event, which had really kicked into gear the muscles on my back and in my arms. But, the key to Dragon boat racing is the timing. With 20 people per team, and less than a metre separating you from the person in front, one wrong move can result in bashed elbows, grazed knuckles and clashing oars.

Not to mention a bad result in the competition.

Which is exactly what happened to us. The whistle blew, our team set off and…..we didn’t really get anywhere very fast. A time on the first race of one minute 21 seconds was enough for us to finish in 4th place – out of five! We managed to pull this back on the second race to a more respectable one minute 17 seconds. But by the third race we knew we didn’t have a hope of making the finals and a disastrous finish of last place and one minute 26 seconds saw us all collapsing in laughter towards the finish line.

We were pretty bad. We didn’t win. But I loved it.

And what a great way to raise money for charity.

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