Year in Review – 2004

It’s late in the afternoon on New Years Eve and I’m listening to the radio, which obviously means I’m still at work! Not! I’ve been starting early the last few days, which has actually meant I’ve come home mid-afternoon most days this week which has been great. The truth be told, I’ve just woken up from a nap.

But the last few days have been more than just work and naps. On Wednesday night, Damien and I went out for dinner at Marque Restaurant, which we both found a little disappointing. As Damien observed,

Don’t get me wrong, the food was delicious. Excellent, even. But every sentence I began when thinking about the meal ended in a criticism. In essence the problem is that technical excellence is a given at the top level. Creativity, flair and honesty are the hallmarks of the best restaurants, and sadly Marque failed to deliver on these counts.

Still, the food was good and we had a nice evening. Perhaps, given the restaurant’s reputation, we just expected a little more?

I also rated a mention in today’s Daily Telegraph. As I mentioned the other week, I went to see the latest Max Gillies show at the Opera House. I wrote to Sydney Confidential, mentioning something I noticed on the night and, unexpectedly – it must be a quiet news day – it was published.

AFTER spending much of the year living in Perth, reader James O’Brien recently returned to the harbour city but says he couldn’t be sure he was really back on home turf until he says he witnessed this “quintessential Sydney moment” – Bob Ellis reading a Gore Vidal book during intermission at Max Gillies’ show The Big Con at the Sydney Opera House.

But here it is, New Years Eve 2005… and it’s a time of reflection. What has happened in my life in the last year? Have things improved? Am I a better person? How much more do I understand about life? Hmmm… let me see?

What’s happened this year? Well, I started off 2004 in Lismore. New Years Eve 2004? I spent that watching television – “Absolutely Fabulous” and “Gimme Gimme Gimme” were screening on ABC-TV which made for a very nice and relaxed way to see out the new year. I watched the Sydney fireworks on television and felt, briefly, that perhaps I should have gone back to Sydney. Perhaps my mind was telling me, subconsciously, that Sydney was now home… a realisation I came to after a year in Perth.

I travelled quite a bit throughout the year, both personally and professionally. My first trip out of Sydney was to Tamworth which in hindsight, I guess, was somewhat of a professional swan-song. I really love the Country Music Festival because, if you bother to go beyond the main street of Tamworth, you’ll find a plethora of country music performers – some good, some bad – working in what is essentially a cottage-based industry: singers who write their own songs, take their own photographs, press their own CDs, book their own venues and promote their own shows. The first shows start at breakfast time and go well through into the night, allowing you to be as flexible as you want to be during the week. Woke up early, feel like seeing a show? There’s bound to be one. Too hot? Go and have an afternoon nap or a swim. This is a “no pressure festival”.

I also travelled a fair bit around Western Australia. My first trip out of Perth was to Geraldton, which was surprisingly good. Geraldton was a real surprise. Although I’d been told it was a pretty ugly town, due to its status as a major port in Western Australia, I thought it was actually quite nice. The water in the harbour is a spectacular aqua colour. When I mentioned this to one of the local staff members there, they said, “Yes, it is beautiful, but it’s actually an environmental disaster. It’s that colour because all the seagrass has been killed off”.

With work, I also travelled to Walpole, which is a small community of about 300 people located about 120km west of Albany on the south coast of Western Australia. The highlight of the trip was, without doubt, the treetop walk. On undertaking the walk, I was almost lost for words. In addition to the sheer beauty of the trees, there is the added factor of a swaying structure. At times I felt a little scared, but never really petrified! It was a heart-stopping moment… quite literally… as someone I know had a mini-heart attack doing the walk. If you’re at all scared of heights, avoid the walk as you will feel scared… but if you’re not, it’s one of life’s great moments that should not be avoided.

Closer to Perth, I travelled to Rottnest Island and The Pinnacles. I thought Rottnest was one of those places where you can do whatever you want and have no regrets that you’ve wasted a holiday or that you’ve done too much. You can do whatever you want to. The trip to the Pinnacles, however, was quite bizarre.

When I was picked by the driver and the Japanese interpreter she informed me there would be quite a few Japanese people on the tour and that she would be both a guide and a translator. She wasn’t wrong, as most of the commentary was done in Japanese.

I also really enjoyed New Norcia, which I travelled to with Sue. New Norcia is unique in Australia: it’s a village founded and mostly inhabited by a group of Benedictine Monks. Yes, Benedictine Monks, who settled the community in 1846. Overall, it’s a terrific place to visit. Highly recommended.

My favourite place in WA, however, was Broome which was really spectacular. Damien came over for the trip there. He and I stayed at Cable Beach Club Resort which was terrific. Our room was about a five minute stroll to Cable Beach which we visited on many occasions. Cable Beach was really spectacular, despite the cliched camel rides, ocean sunsets and so on, reaffirming my belief that many places are tourist attractions for a good reason. Cable Beach was, however, at its best late in the afternoon or early in the morning, due to the heat. In the midst of daytime sun we spent a lot of time by one of the resort’s two main pools which were mostly fairly quiet.

The town itself has a unique beauty. Unlike many other similarly sized towns, which have become consumed by “shopping mall architecture”, Broome maintains a sense of history. Although Broome has shopping malls, the corrugated iron construction of the main streets dominates and prompted Damien to comment “it’s more of a frontier town that I expected”. I think my favourite building was the old Sun Pictures building in Carnarvon Street. Built in 1916, it’s thought to be the oldest open air cinema in the world. I loved the deck chairs and I loved the corrugated iron.

The corrugated iron, however, also highlights the impermanence of the place: with a big cyclone, the place could be blown off the map. But with an annual population growth rate of about four percent, a large area of scrub between Broome township and Cable Beach is being currently being cleared for a major housing development. In the midst of the red soil, suburbia is emergening with a more upmarket – though still constructed with corrogated iron – style of housing. Although I have never been to Port Douglas, I’d imagine this is what Broome might be on the verge of becoming.

Karratha, on the other hand, was very unatttactive.

But my trip to Perth was, of course all about work. I read or heard somewhere that the big decisions in life are often made without much deliberation. I think that’s true of my time in Perth… I didn’t think much about it, really. I just kind of “agreed”. It’s probably too soon after the event, though, to know whether or not it was a good decision. I’m pretty sure it was… but I’m not willing to make the call yet.

And here it is, December 31 and I’ve ended the year back where I started from, living in Sydney, but in a slightly new location workwise. Going for the job I now have was one of the most significant things I’ve done in my life. Probably as significant as the decision I made all those years ago to travel to Western NSW and start my radio career. It’s been a year of professional growth. And some personal growth too, brought about by the people I worked with in Perth. As a thank you for my time in Perth I received some wonderful gifts – all carefully chosen – as well as thanks and good luck. My lunchtime farewell from the team in Perth was welcome and heartfelt. I really love them… well, most of them. I still check the ABC Perth website daily. Good people.

My family remains well, despite a few health problems. I didn’t go home for Christmas this year, but I’ll go up there in January and hopefully for a longer period at Easter.

Unfortunately, due to the distance involved, I only made it home to Lismore once this year, for a School Reunion which had a number of highlights. One one day, in particular, a group of us returned to Richmond River High School for a Careers Day in which we discussed life after high school with some of the current students. Although some obviously thought we were too old to be interesting, most seemed truly interested in what we had to say. They also enjoyed a few of our anecdotes about current teachers at the school who were there when we went to school. Another highlight was on the Friday night before the reunion when a group of us met at The Left Bank where we ate, drank and were merry, before finally heading off to Mary Gilhooley’s. The oddest thing, I think about attending this event prior to a school reunion was that a couple of us found ourselves at the Tropical Fruits Dance Party, being held in the nightclub at Mary Gilhooley’s. We danced and were merry. I also ran into a couple of friends, including Phil from Wollongong and Scottie from Wagga Wagga. We also saw a legendary female figure from Lismore dressed up as a drag queen for a show presented that night. Truly surreal.

It was also a little hard to maintain friendships this year, due to the time zone difference, especially when there’s a three hour gap. I didn’t think it would be a problem, until I realised that when I arrived home for work and wanted a chat, they’d be contemplating bed. But I’m now, and that’s a good thing.

So how do I feel about the year? Well, I feel more grown up now… I mean, I finally feel grown up now and that’s a good thing. Although I often measure the chronology of my life in terms of what I’ve done with work, it’s family and friends that are the measure of my feelings about myself and whether or not I’m a good person. Looking back on those earlier questions I have to see yes to most of them. Have things improved? Yes. Am I a better person? I think so. How much more do I understand about life? A lot more… I think I’m in a better state of being than at the same time last year, though I guess you can never be sure.

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