Away from APEC

 Callington Mill

As foreshadowed, I escaped the APEC brouhaha and spent an extra- long weekend in Tasmania.

D and I flew to Hobart on Thursday afternoon. 

We sat next to a nicely spoken young man of Indian extraction.  He told us he had participated in the APEC youth forum (he had a bag to prove it).  I chided him mildly for participating in such window-dressing (and particularly, window-dressing directed towards Mr Howard’s reelection campaign).  He almost returned a plate of fruit given to him pursuant to his mother’s usual preference (the flight was booked with her points) until I suggested to him that he could keep the fruit and have the normal “light refreshment.”  Later, he warmed to this sort of thing, and seems to have spent the latter part of the flight chatting up the flight attendants and getting extra meals from them for later consumption.  He took lots of pictures: of his meal; of the view out the window.  I guess that is what it means to be young.  There was just a little comedy when we got off the plane when he spotted the quarantine dog and had to disclose all to them.  Not all of the food needed to be abandoned. 

We drove as far as we could until nightfall and spent the night at Oatlands.  After dinner, we walked to the drought-depleted (and arguably former, notwithstanding partial replenishment) Lake Dulverton and gazed into the moonless sky at the never-seen-in-Sydney Milky Way.

The morning dawned unseasonably fine.  A total stranger exclaimed to me that you could get sunburnt.  We climbed the partially restored windmill, before driving on to the pretty and prettified Ross, where we sampled the famous Tasmanian scallop pie. Then to Campbell Town, Lake Leake (disappointing encounter with the Tasmanian shack phenomenon), Cole Bay and Cape Tourville lighthouse in Freycinet National Park.  After an overpriced snack from Swansea, we spent the night in Orford.  Of Orford, little to relate here, save for another moonless moment on the beach taking in the Milky Way which made me think of Matthew Arnold, though without quite the same post-Hellenic second-generation romanticism-tinged-with-Weltschmerz.

On Saturday morning, again sunny, we drove to Hobart, where we lodged with Rz.  With Rz we walked to see what he assured me was Paul Keating’s favourite Australian building.

Later, we walked  across town to the acoustically unsatisfactory Federation Hall to a concert given by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

Tasmanians are fiercely proud of the TSO, or so I am told.  Yet, all-too-typically, this does not translate into very much actual attendance at the TSO’s concerts.  I estimate the house at 60%.

The program was:

Bizet, L’Arlésienne Suite No 2
Saint-Saens, Piano Concerto No 5 (Egyptien)
Mozart, Symphony No 38 (Prague)

I will defer more detailed appraisal of the TSO until their three Sydney concerts in October.  Suffice it to say that the Saint-Saens (which had occasioned my trip to Tasmania) was the highlight of the program, notwithstanding a shocker of a chord from the woodwind right at the beginning.  As an encore, Stephen Hough played his own slow-waltz arrangement of Waltzing Matilda which I imagine will also feature as an encore to the second-half of waltzes which he is playing in his recital tour of Australia this month

After dinner we went on a sad search for a gay bar. Though there was no moon, no milky way was to be seen.

On Sunday we drove south and finished the day at sunset on Mt Wellington (eery).  We popped into St David’s Cathedral (spoken evensong in a side chapel, viewed from the west door).  Later, we dined with Rz on Tasmanian fish.  Still later, Rz demonstrated to us the joys of cable TV (Die Meistersinger, which, under pressure from me, we watched for the second half of Act III Scene i), before switching to something lighter.  In passing, Rz offered the opinion that, despite his often-mentioned Mahler fetish, Keating is really more of a Richard Strauss type of person.

I don’t mean to suggest that Rz harped on about Paul Keating.  Any particular fascination which might be responsible for giving that impression is entirely mine.  Our talk was wide-ranging. 

Rz and I started uni together.  He was one of those who had the incredible historical good luck of taking a Department of Education teaching scholarship (not, I am sure, from any economic want: he grew up in Mosman).  This was good luck because it provided a non-means-tested living living allowance but by the time he graduated there was a surfeit of teachers and (albeit having endured the pain of a Dip Ed year) he was released from the concomitant bond, so long the bane of many young teachers. 

Later, we were postgraduate students in the same department.  I was on the rebound from Canberra, whereas after he finished he was Canberra-bound.  There he very quickly (and somewhat surprisingly to me, though not, I hasten to add, because of any reservations I ever had about his ability) shot up the greasy pole.  Just now he is tending his garden in Hobart.

So we had a lot to talk about, including undergraduate and postgraduate contemporaries, as well as Canberra circles which he joined a few years after I had left them.

I doubt if Rz would think of himself as having been the hand that signed the paper, but he was often the man who wrote the minute and I am sure he signed plenty of pieces of paper consequent to such minutes.

What struck me in the course of our conversations was something which I would compendiously describe as Rz’s toughness of spirit. If you are a senior bureaucrat, you make or help make and carry out, decisions which affect many people. Some favourably, and some adversely. There is a kind of necessary hardening of heart to individual hardship. Rules are there to be enforced.

This is quite different from the lawyer’s approach, which is always tender to the hardship caused by rules adverse to the interests of one’s client, and endeavouring to use rules to bring about a favourable outcome for the client. Of course, there is still a necessary toughness to the plight of one’s client’s opponent or anybody else whose interests get in the way.

The night was again moonless, at least while I was still awake.

We flew home on Monday morning. In the afternoon I was back at work, preparing for a work-related trip to Orange on Tuesday. Casually picking up the newspaper in the foyer, I discovered that, unawares, I had just returned from a minor brush with fame. Staring out from the opinion page was a picture of our nice young neighbour of Thursday’s flight, identified as Vikram Joshi, “the school captain of Sydney Grammar School” [possibly they meant senior prefect: I understand these to be distinct offices at SGS].  His piece, about young voters and the impending election, seems to say not very much rather elegantly – he is a debater and English Speaking Union prize-winner, after all. Towards the end, he says:

“I’m not sure who I’ll choose for prime minister. Instead, I may just play up the stereotype and in typical teenager fashion, vote for myself.”

If I’d known this on the plane going down, I would certainly have bent his ear about whom to vote against and why.

5 Responses to “Away from APEC”

  1. The Rabbit Says:

    You are an exceptional writer, I think.

  2. Jim Belshaw Says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I love Tasmania, so it was interesting to see your perspective. And Neil would have enjoyed the twist at the end.

  3. ninglun Says:

    Hi did. :)

  4. Robbeh Says:

    Link to related article:

    He’s a great guy, I put money he’ll have his own Wikipedia article within a decade. ;)

  5. Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in Sydney « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] chief conductor, Sebastian Lang-Lessing, than they had in the Federation Hall in Hobart back in September, and the acoustic was incomparably better.  What I particularly liked was the opportunity that […]

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