It’s been an amazing year of travel, visiting Darwin, Brisbane, Lismore, Tamworth, Newcastle, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, mostly for work. So you can thank the taxpayer for the assistance they have provided in putting together this, my very first “year in review”.
My biggest trip this year, was seven weeks away, working in Darwin. I also went there to escape Sydney’s winter, to clear my head, and to see my friend Penny. Penny has been living in Darwin for about seven years, and although she makes annual trips to Sydney, it was only my second trip to Darwin. When Damien and I visited her a couple of years ago she was living in a high-rise apartment block. Now, she lives with two other people in an older-style Darwin home (about 20 years old). Unlike some of the newer Darwin homes, this one has lots of windows and louvres (sp?), to allow the breeze to flow through. The garden, with a backyard pool, is filled with palm trees, making it lush, but requiring a lot of water during the dry season. Penny’s answer machine message says it all; “We aren’t home at the moment, although we might be downstairs by the pool enjoying the company of friends”. Penny’s house is in contrast with some of the newer style Darwin homes, which are characterised by lots of concrete, lots of steel, could be anywhere really. While I was there we had great times, culminating in my final week when we went out dancing and drinking every night, which we thought was quite an achievement!
While I was there, Kate also came up to visit me. The three of us had great fun together. Kate and I also visited one of the most-hyped, but least interesting events in Darwin. Located about thirty-five to forty minutes south of Darwin, we were assured the “Fred’s Pass Rural Show” was a “must-do”, and I’m sure, for some, it probably was, but I thought it was a bit dull. First of all, there were no giant pumpkins, instead, a small butternut pumpkin was the only entry in the competition. Craft? The winner of the Craft Competition was a homemade fishing lure. And the onstage entertainment consisted of a 14-year-old girl lip-synching to a Britney Spears song. If you ever go to Darwin, do not be fooled when they tell you “you must go to the Fred’s Pass Rural Show”.
However, do go to Litchfield, do go to Katherine and do go to Kakadu. Towards the end of my time there I had some time travelling in Kakadu, including two days with travel company, Aussie Adventures, and a further day, travelling with my friend and workmate, Rachael and her family. One of the highlights included swimming in a remote water hole which we were assured was crocodile free. Although we were told Saltwater Crocodiles are found all throughout Kakadu, and they make every effort to clear spots such as Maguk before the season is opened to tourists, we were all a little bit nervous about jumping in. All of us, bar one, swam over to the far end of the falls, which was pretty hard-going, given the strength of the current pushing back. I also had the opportunity to learn a little more about the Aboriginal history of the area. One of the interesting things that was explained to us was that each “dreamtime story” can have up to a dozen different layers that you learn at different times in your life and that almost all of the “dream time stories” we (Europeans) hear are the ones usually explained to children.
I loved my time in Darwin. I was seriously tempted for a while to apply for a job there and move, but at the end of the day, I just couldn’t bring myself to make such a big move.
I also made a couple of shorter work-related trips to Lismore (earlier in the year), Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth (later in the year). Speaking of Adelaide, I was amused a few months ago to see an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, where someone who obviously enjoyed South Australia as much as I did suggest they should put border guards at Broken Hill, Mount Gambier and Mildura to keep the South Australians in and to keep the rest of us out (although he suggested the Barossa Valley could be annexed to be part of the rest of Australia). It was very much in line with the theory I have a theory about South Australia that the whole place should be bulldozed and they should start over. Although South Australians pride themselves as being a former colony of “free settlers”, I think they really should have had a few convicts. The lack of a rogue element has created a beige state, a place where suburban mediocrity rules. A place where Sir Donald Bradman chose to settle. A place where John Howard would love to die. Although I used to think it was quite an exciting place (when I lived in Renmark), I now realise it’s not. It’s just plain boring.
As for Brisbane, it was really my first “proper” visit to Brisbane in fourteen years. I left Brisbane at the beginning of 1988, returned there briefly with work in winter later that year, and my visits to Brisbane since have been both sporadic and narrow. Narrow in the sense that I go to visit my sister Gloria and that’s all that really happens. Subsequently, I found myself a little disoriented and on a number of occasions actually found myself lost. The biggest change, without doubt, is what’s happened on Southbank. Suddenly, the city has symmetry. Suddenly, Griffith University has a presence that goes beyond bushland. Suddenly Brisbane also has a China town and Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley has turned into a mall. Despite these superficial changes, it seemed like the same old Brisbane to me. Despite assurances, it was now a multi-cultural city, Brisbane still seemed overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon. Nonetheless, I was told Queensland would soon overtake Victoria as Australia’s second-most populous state. I hope that the extra population will help the place I once called home to continue to grow. In the meantime, Sydney suits me fine.
My friend, Sue, was also in town. We met up on the Friday afternoon for a chat about life, the universe, Brisbane and everything, with both of us feeling that it was strange to be back there. We visited 136 Tarragindi Road where I used to live with Heather and Michelle and where Sue also lived briefly. The house looks the same – it hasn’t been painted – but next door looked quite different. Ah, memories… I also stayed with my sister Gloria. We talked about lots of family stuff and she showed me some photographs I had never seen before, including many baby photographs. This year I got to see Sue a number of times, as she has been undertaking a postgraduate degree through the University of Technology (Sydney).
I was lucky enough to renew some old friendships this year. In Darwin, for example, quite by accident I ran into an old friend from Bourke, Jenni Clement. Jacki Podd returned from overseas. John escaped from Wagga Wagga. The list goes on…
Yvette went to live in Sweden this year. When she left it was a teary occasion all round. It took a while to realise she would be gone for six months. At first, I thought, it’s too expensive, the time zones are wrong, and so I wouldn’t be able to ring her up at the drop of a hat and say, “did you just watch “The Secret Life Of Us”? But then I discovered it’s not that expensive to phone Sweden, especially if you call her at work and she calls you straight back! Oh and I think they have “Secret Life Of Us” on Swedish TV anyway since I know they have “Prisoner” and they have “McLeods Daughters” (described there as “another Australian masterpiece”).
Although Yvette is now “well and truly over” the sun rising at 9 am and setting at 3 pm – thus she leaves for and returns home from work in the dark – she has had some amazing experiences there, such as meeting Bjorn and Benny from ABBA. Having seen a report on ABBAMAIL, Björn and Benny were autographing copies of “Chess på svenska” at the Åhléns department store in Stockholm, I asked Yvette if she would see if she could get me an autographed CD. She said about 120 people were in the queue for autographs and that by and large people were moved through in an orderly fashion. Except for her. She said, “It was my one big chance, there’s no way I was going to be shuffled through”. She also said she had her mobile phone ready for either one of them to have a chat with me. What a great friend. D’oh! I was asleep! She said Benny, in particular, was very nice and chatted with her about being from Australia. And no, his hands didn’t shake (in ABBAFAN circles, it’s widely believed Benny has a drinking problem).
We had a few of our own ABBA-related events here in Sydney, such as the great Christmas Drinks we had at a club in Manly. We also the Sydney premiere of “Mamma Mia”, which I went to with Colin Anderson. It was the third time I’ve seen the musical (once in London and Opening Night in Melbourne), but I still really like it. The crowd was, at first, “very Sydney”: arms folded… sitting back… saying “come on, impress me!” By the end of the show, however, the crowd was won over (actually by halftime) and I didn’t hear a negative word about the show from anyone. People just knew it was a lightweight musical good fun and without any pretension. It was great fun with being Colin, as he knew quite a lot of the previous cast and those working behind the scenes. I thought there might have been a few more “celebrities” than they were, but having met Bjorn, and having decided “I only do international celebrities” now, that was okay. I would have liked to have gone to the “Cast Party”, but having organised tickets for four other people, tragedy struck when I realised I had, at some stage in the night, lost my own tickets. I smiled graciously, accepted it was all part of a greater plan and went home. And that was fine… AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!
In an effort to get a little more social, I accepted heaps of invitations this year and I started to attend Wednesday drinks at the Lewisham. I also developed a lovely online friendship this year with a few people, including a French ABBA fan, David Delcroix. Don’t you think his name sounds glamorous? David is an ABBA fan and we have some great online chats about ABBA and other assorted European songstresses.
This year, Kate invited me to join a group that she and a number of her family members have formed, the Hawkesbury Art Group. I guess in some ways it operates like an “Art Bank” – we each get to have some artwork on our walls on a rotational basis – but it’s also hopefully a way to encourage some new and interesting artists and to make some money in the longer-term. So far, we have purchased only two works so it will be a couple of years before we all get to have major work on our walls at each time, but when it happens it will be great. This particular work, by Adam Cullen, was our first purchase.
This year I have also developed an interest in cricket. This may surprise you as I have never really liked sport, because I have never really been very good at it, until now. Yes, now I have discovered a sport that I am good at… watching it. I really like having my lunch at home, grabbing the paper and going to the cricket. Sometimes it’s actually exciting to watch and when it’s not you can read the paper or have a beer.
One particular highlight was when I did a live broadcast from the NSW v England match at the SCG, though the NSW Blues had much of the strength of an Australian side, with the inclusion of people like Glenn McGrath, Steve Waugh. Michael Bevan and Brett Lee. At the last minute Michael Slater was also included, replacing Mark Waugh who had an injured groin, which, because he had been fighting bushfires, had not had time to heal.
It’s just as well Slater was included because he scored more than 100 and thus was an important figure in NSW’s defeat of England. But he made us wait for the century, scoring only 1 or 2 runs at a time in the run-up to the century. And so the crowd became bored, resorting to Mexican waves (everywhere except the Members Stand), and to collecting huge stacks of plastic cups, forming large plastic “slinkies”, which the police confiscated until the crowd embarked on a mass civil disobedience bypassing the cup stacks through the crowd as the police approached. Ok… non-sport-fans you can come back now.
One of the most unusual things I did this year was going to a heterosexual Singles Party. When we arrived at about 8.15 pm (it started at 7.30), there were probably about 100 people standing around the room mingling. As we entered we were given name tags and a “task” for the night. Some people had tasks such as “find someone with a nice smile”, while mine was “find a woman with the matching special symbol on her card”. How difficult was that? So I gave up… (surprised?) and had a few drinks instead. As the party was held poolside at the Novotel at Sydney’s Darling Harbour, the theme for the night was “Hawaiian Cocktail Party”, we had dressed with “Hawaiian Shirts”. Most people just dressed according to their tastes and age. One woman looked like Frida in the “Take A Chance On Me” video clip, complete with that frizzy hair of hers at the time. Another looked like Bob Hawke’s wife, Blanche d’Apulget. There were lots of young chicks in their 20s and 30s (many of whom were incredibly short) and there were lots of young blokes in their 20s, 30s, and 40s (many of whom were incredibly bald). So, for the first part of the night, we checked out the eye candy. In case you were wondering… no I’m not on the turn, I was there to support a friend of mine who is “exploring the heterosexual side of his sexuality”. As for me, I was more interested in the cute farm boy called Patrick. So, while my friend, “explored the heterosexual side of his sexuality”, I drank and ate spring rolls. Actually, I think the DJ may have thought I was the token homosexual there and was using the music in an effort to get me to “come out”. First, there was Kylie, then Madonna, Alcazar and finally, “you are the Dancing Queen, young and sweet only 17”. That was it, I was on the dance floor within seconds. Curiously enough, almost all of the straight men left the dance floor when it came on. Maybe they didn’t like ABBA? Overall it was a good fun night, good conversation, a lovely setting, a few drinks, a bit of a perve, lots of spring rolls, although I’m not sure if I’d ever do it again.
As a single person, once again (hmmm), I have ventured into a number of bars this year. In Darwin, there are two bars: one of them is just like any other nightclub in a medium-sized Australian city (boring), while the other is a converted tram. It was just as I remembered it with Damien a few years ago, except this time a couple of people actually spoke to me, albeit briefly. Graeme and I also went to the monthly dance put on by “Coastal Connections” at the Wyong Tennis Club on the NSW Central Coast. Although I thought it was good fun, Graeme thought his excursion into “regional Australia” was dismal.
Recently, Damien and I went to the opening of an exhibition at the Museum of Sydney. Unfortunately, although the exhibition was about a French explorer and it was opened by the French ambassador, there was not a drop of French champagne in sight. Hmmm. On arrival we were presented with a lei, in keeping with the South Pacific theme of the night. During the opening speeches, I was leaning against the wall, watching the proceedings when all of a sudden a face and voice appeared asking, “Do you mind if I borrow your wall”? It was Margaret Whitlam, the iconic wife of the former Australian Prime Minister. “If I don’t lean against a wall these days I fall over”, she said. When I replied, “Yes, I have the same problem”, she laughed. After a little while, someone asked Mrs Whitlam if she would like a chair and if she would like to sit with Mr Whitlam. She said something like, “Oh, I’ll have the chair, but I’ll be fine here thank you”. So we stood there with Margaret Whitlam on the chair in front of me. She became my new best friend with her witty remarks and wry observations about the ceremony underway. When a group of dancers came out with elaborate headgear, she commented, “Oh I wish they’d given us all those when we came in. Of course, you’d have difficulty keeping it on your head without sticking plaster”. During the kava-drinking ceremony, Mrs Whitlam observed that it “tastes like dirty dishwater” and thought it was hilarious when Mr Whitlam was given some to drink. “Dishwater”, she said. She was also amused to discover she had spent 30 years mispronouncing the name of a Tongan King and commented to the dancers and singers, “Look more West Samoan than Tongan”. After a while she and Mr Whitlam went to the book store, leaving her glass behind with a comment, “Can you look after that and make sure they fill it up by the time I get back”? I didn’t actually expect her to return, so I didn’t watch the glass, but when she did return she didn’t appear upset that I had neglected her wish. I asked her if she’d like some more and she replied, “Oh no, thank you… I’m fine”. At the end of the evening, she walked over to Mr Whitlam with the comment, “I’m just off to see what His Highness wants”. Shortly afterwards they left.
I may have set a record this year, as I attended a twenty-first, a fortieth, and a sixty-fifth birthday party. If my grandmother was still alive I could have attended her hundredth. The sixty-fifth was for Colin Anderson; the fortieth was for Ian Marks and the twenty-first was for Andrew, Sue’s son. Andrew co-incided his birthday well, as I had to come back to Sydney (from Darwin) that weekend for a work-related training course.
On another very sad note, however, this year, we lost one of the great people I met during my time in Wagga Wagga, Chris Jones. I first met Chris a couple of weeks after the first Gay & Lesbian Social & Support Group meeting was held at his farm, “Kyton” in 1992. I remember preparations for that event vividly: Colin, Richard, Peter… all the gang… mowing the grass, cleaning up the place, and the attendance of about 60 people. And over the next few years living in Wagga, I got to know Chris reasonably well. He died at the end of July in his sleep, with a heart-related condition. It was the first time I’ve been to a funeral since mum and dads. As I explained to Colin, “I don’t normally do funerals, but this one’s different”. The tributes paid to Chris were wonderful. After the funeral, we went to Silver Springs, the property near Wagga Wagga, where Chris lived. He was planning to build a house right on the top of the hill with spectacular 360-degree views. It was a great spot to sit, relax, and reflect.
It’s also been a pretty awful year for my family. My niece, Michelle, had a baby boy, Lachlan at the end of April. Unfortunately, due to complications at the birth, he has ended up with a severe disability. The first time I got to see him was when he was four months old. By that time he had already had pneumonia four times, had an inability to suck or swallow, and probably had only limited sight and hearing. But he’s a beautiful child and we had some lovely chats while I was there.
This year I also sponsored a child through the Christian Children’s Fund, having thought about it, but not having done anything about it for several years. It’s so hard to conceptualise that the money I piss up a wall on a regular basis can actually help someone so much more. His name is Nureden Hussen from Ethiopia. He comes from Kebet, a small village in Guraghe Administrative region.
According to the information they sent me, “He has siblings. Both his parents are alive and live together in a small hut. The family sustenance is depended (sic) on the father who is selling firewood for a living and the mother is a day labourer. However, what they get from the market is not enough to fulfil the family’s need satisfactorily. Considering the desperate situation of the family the committee referred this needy child to be helped. They are from Silti ethnic group. He is in preschool and he likes counting numbers and reading alphabets. Nureden is healthy and also likes playing with toys made of worn-out clothes”. I hope my small sacrifice can make a difference to him and his family’s life.
Hope I haven’t bored you with this. It’s actually been quite a momentous year. I started the year very depressed, due to my relationship breakup, but having travelled, thought about life, renewed friendships, and discovered new meaning – prayer and the Bible help, by the way – I’m feeling okay about things now. If I haven’t seen you for a while or if I haven’t been in touch, I apologise. I’m not just saying this, I genuinely will make more of an effort over the next few months.
This month, I was declared, ABBAMAIL’s Man Of The Month. James has been a big supporter of ABBAMAIL from the very beginning and has been on our mailing list for more years than he cares to remember. An all-round nice guy, James has impressed many fellow ABBA fans with his warmth, sincerity and down to earth sense of humour
And so I leave you, dear reader, I leave you with an example of that down to earth sense of humour and with one of my favourite stories of the year. A colleague from work, Cate, told me about her experiences when she was younger at a B&S Ball at Mungindi on the NSW/Queensland border. Although B&S Balls sound very old fashioned and proper to those who live in the city, at this particular ball, the blokes held a “vomiting contest”. Yes, that’s right, it was a contest to see who could vomit the longest distance”. If only rural Australia and urban Australia could be brought closer together… Still laughing about it now…