Archive for the ‘Canberra’ Category

I think that I shall never see…

April 15, 2017



Pause for Remembrance

October 26, 2015


When driving down to Canberra, I often like to pause at Rose Lagoon.  It’s a pleasant spot.  It would be even more pleasant if the highway were further away.


Carless to Canberra

March 13, 2014


Last weekend, still not having bought a car, I took the train to Canberra.

The above picture is not from that trip. It is of the light refreshment served in the Eurostar which I took from London to Brussels just after Christmas last year, from which I changed to an ICE to Stuttgart. Because it cost only 10 euros extra, I took that trip first class – hence the luxury. For the rest of my German jaunt I took trains of all sorts – ICEs on the longer inter-regional legs, and more local regional trains, as well as, of course S-Bahns, U-Bahns and (exotic for one from Sydney) trolley-buses and trams.

Before that, my last long-distance train trips were last July and August in China, on their high-speed network out of Shanghai and some rather slower and older sleepers in Yunnan province between Kunming and Lijiang.

It is a few years since I took the train to Canberra. When I moved there to be a public servant after I first graduated and in the first six months before I bought a car, I made a few weekend escapes back to civilization in Sydney.

That was the days of old-school rail travel. Sometimes there was a dining car and indeed I remember quite a civilized conversation with an English traveller as we looped around Bungendore to Goulburn at the beginning of an afternoon trip to Sydney. Even more memorable is one Easter-Tuesday trip back to Canberra, the train packed with standing passengers loaded up with Royal Easter Show souvenirs. There was no food for sale on the train which ran increasingly late. Somewhere after Goulburn the lights failed. I think I almost caused a riot in the crowded and moonlit (it was Easter) carriage, as, when the train stopped at Tarago (it is a single track: there was a procedure involving a kind of key which had to deployed here to prevent any chance of a collision) at about 1 am I opened my thermos which, before leaving Sydney, I had stocked with some hot tinned soup supplemented with a few sausages from the Central hot food bar.

In those days the trip regularly took about 5 and a half hours. Later, with the XPT, there were slightly quicker services. I caught these occasionally when, by then back in Sydney, I went to visit my father who had moved to Canberra.

Train travel in Europe is expensive. In Germany you can secure substantially cheaper tickets which are on sale up to 3 days before your date of travel and they can be even cheaper if you invest in a Bahncard (Deutsche Bahn routinely offers short term trial-offers which are worth taking up if you are a foreigner, though it is wise to inform them in time that you will not be taking the automatic conversion into an annual card). You can also travel more cheaply if you are able to or prepared to confine your travel to slower trains. Nevertheless, my poorer friends told me that the trains were too expensive and there the underclass is now relegated to long-distance buses.

In Australia, it is the other way round. A lot of that is because trains, rather than buses, offer the best concessions to welfare recipients including old age pensioners and seniors. That certainly accounted for most of my fellow travellers when I boarded the train at Central on Saturday morning, leavened by a few slightly ABC-audience types (amongst which I suppose I might count myself) and some overseas tourists who may have known no better.

After my European experience, the train was a shock. The XPT (I have now learnt) was replaced on the Canberra line in about 1990 and possibly I have even travelled in the Xplorer class train on this line before. They are a train where each carriage has a diesel engine.

Due to depart at 6.57, a few minutes later we crawled out of Central and were shortly after told this was because there was a problem with the brakes. We stopped for about 10 minutes at Eveleigh for the mechanics to attend to this. After a few slow test runs, we were on our way.

I ordered the most luxurious item on offer in the buffet car: a spinach frittata on bacon which we were told would take 40 minutes to prepare because it was cooked to order. As the meal other than the accompanying croissant arrived still wrapped in plastic, I’m still wondering why it needed so long. Alcohol was on display but any hope of a soothing ale was dashed: alcohol would not be sold until after noon. By then, hopefully, we would have arrived in Canberra.

Fortunately, the carriage was far from full, so I had two seats to make myself comfortable. Comfort was compromised by the extraordinarily noisy motor and the rough ride and carriage squeaks and shakes. I don’t know how much of this was the line and how much of it was the state of the rolling stock, but it brought me back from my European memories with a jolt. Later I was able to find a quieter spot further back in the carriage and further from the engines, but that quietness was only relative: I kept ear-plugs in.

The train split in two at Goulburn: the back half (also with its own buffet – talk about a loss-leader) headed off to the Riverina. By then the train had filled up a bit more with the Canberra-bound from country stations not served by the Canberra-Sydney buses.

We arrived about 20-minutes late. I boldly went out to catch a local bus in the general direction of Belconnen – that’s where it said it was going and my father’s, where I was headed, is at Belconnen’s western edge.

What a mistake. First of all, the bus stop at the railway station is utterly unprepared for any tourist visitors. No information is displayed; the driver spent about 10 minutes explaining to the woman at the head of the queue what bus she should take. Then he had to explain to a few others how they might get to the National Gallery. The options he suggested involved either about a 2km walk from his closest stop, or a trip into Civic and a bus back.

We finally set off on a route which took in practically every possible intervening suburb: a loop through Russell and Campbell, then through Civic, Braddon, Lyneham and over the ridge to Bruce, the National Hockey Stadium, Canberra University – you name it, we went there before I finally got off about 1.5 hours later at a stop with the glorious name “opposite Westfield.”

Public transport in Canberra on the weekend is dire. There are few services, and each service except for the main services between the various hubs (Belconnen-Civic-Woden, for example) is put on a circuitous route through every imaginable suburb to provide the maximum coverage. Unable to face the second leg of this, and mindful that I had only limited time to see my father before the evening routine would require I depart, I took a taxi for the last leg.

Door to door time = about 7.5 hours – it would have well been over 8 if I had waited for the bus.

Overnight I borrowed my father’s car to go to and from my motel.

On Sunday, I walked out of my father’s house (this felt odd), took the Canberra local bus to Civic (two buses took about an hour) and then a bus back to Sydney. I couldn’t face the train again and if you don’t have a car, Kingston, where the train goes from, is a decidedly out of the way place to get to. Door-to-door – about 6 hours.


December 28, 2009

To Canberra at Christmas with my sister (from afar) to see my father and stepmother. This is the former Hardy’s vineyard, with the Brindabellas in the distance, from just near their place.

Life in Canberra

November 8, 2008

This is (or at least will ultimately be) the fourth post in a series I’ve decided to do based on the homes/houses I have lived in.

In 198x, having finished my honours year at Sydney Uni, I went with JR to Canberra. She had a scholarship at ANU; I had a job in the public service.

For a few weeks we stayed in a hall of residence at ANU. We scouted around for a house, preferably in the inner north, as we didn’t have a car so would be reliant on bicycles or public transport.

We were pleasantly amazed at how cheap Canberra rents were (this has changed). We found a house in Shortland Crescent, North Ainslie for $60 a week. It had 3 bedrooms and was furnished, although there was somebody else (Christopher, who was a member of the then professional dance company in Canberra) living in the garage in the back yard. But the garden was basically ours, and in the end, one tenant later, the garage flat was empty.

Living in a group house in Surry Hills, I had learnt the first lessons of adult domesticity – that nobody owes you anything and that you need to pull your weight in a household that is not built on your parents’ support. Now I found myself plunged into a kind of quasi-matrimony. This wasn’t without its difficulties – we were both young and isolated in a new town, and we hadn’t really thought this out in advance in any particular way.

After about six months, I bought a car with a payout (I accepted the first offer) from a bicycle accident a couple of years before. With this we ranged far and wide over the hinterland of Canberra – I still have all the 1:25,000 maps. This is a view looking down to the Brindabella Valley:


The pictures of the house were taken on a recent trip to Canberra to visit my father and step-mother. Since I lived there, drought conditions have taken their toll, and the extensive front lawn has been tan-barked (on the property) and neglected (on the nature strip). The trees have also suffered something of a decline – I am sure there were more prunus trees on the driveway, including on what now appears to be an ad-hoc parking apron in front of the porch.

It is intriguing how consistently a “homing” psychology invests one’s home for the time being with a homelike attraction – even when, on first inspection, it had seemed totally unprepossessing. This must be something hard-wired.  So the street where I live now, which I remember feeling to be rather drab when, many years ago, I dropped off a friend then living there, now has that home-like aura.

But just as the aura can develop, apparently it can fade away.  While I was down in Canberra this time, I caught up with JR and Mkk, long married. In the intervening years, they have lived in Canberra, except for a short period away. In an odd twist of fate, they have bought a house which is just over the back fence from one they previously owned and lived in for some years. Mkk commented that he had found that he lacked any sentimental feelings about houses he had previously lived in. When Mkk said that, I inwardly demurred, so far as my own sentimentality is concerned. Now I’m beginning to think otherwise.  I find that my sentimental attachment to the house in Shortland Crescent, which persisted for many years, has almost faded away, though funnily enough, when giving JR and Mkk my current address – which starts with the same street number, I almost gave Shortland Crescent as the street.  I guess it was on my mind.

At the end of my first year in Canberra, JR went to the UK for research. In her absence, an old girlfriend of mine, UB, moved in to share the house. Whilst there she wrote what would ultimately be her second-published book and studied Hebrew with Canon Laurie Murchison – as well, that is, as working in the public service. After a few months she moved, to share a house with her father who had come to work in Canberra. I then shared the house then with MI, from Perth. I am still in touch with UB, but last saw MI in 1996. I’m not sure what it was that I said, though I am sure it was something.

In my second year I finished a part-time History Honours year with a first. Amongst other things, this entailed a lot of deep pondering of feminism:

Reading Simone

Studious and stupefied in Canberra

I confess that I took these pictures myself as a bit of a joke.   For the curious, that’s Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex that I’m reading in the first picture, and her Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter in the second, the score to “Symphony of Psalms” at my side, and bottles of Bushmills and Benadryl behind me.

I decided that the scholarship which that got me was my ticket out of Canberra.

Canberra – Remembrance Driveway and memory lane

January 31, 2008

 Road at Bull’s Head

For the Australia Day weekend, I travelled down to Canberra to see my father and stepmother.  If you follow this blog you will see that I don’t do this all that often.

I drove down on Friday afternoon and drove back on Monday afternoon.

The road to Canberra must be the road out of Sydney which I have driven the most.  Driving at this time of year south of Campbelltown I have a clear recollection of that fateful time when my father drove me and J (with whom I was to live) down to Canberra to take up respectively my job with the public service and her scholarship at the ANU. 

Other spots on the way also have numerous associations.  Two of my favourite resting spots are the rather fine stone bridge over Black Bob’s Creek, just south of Berrima (you have to drive in a little beyond the rest area for the bridge itself), and Rowes Lagoon, on the Federal Highway between Goulburn and Collector. 

Not that either of these places is so signposted any more – instead, in something which I take as symptomatic of the incipient militarisation of much of Australian life in the last 10 or so years (the Howard years, not entirely coincidentally) they have both been renamed after some VC or other as part of the beefing up of the “Remembrance Driveway”  (Rowes Lagoon is referred to on that map as Rose Lagoon – see comments and the link in them below – historically it seems to have been Tarago Lagoon or Rose’s Lagoon and was declared a bird sanctuary as early as 1932). It’s all of a piece with the ANZAC Bridge, the Light Horse and Roden Cutler Interchanges.  I really hate that.  I don’t want to appear ungrateful to our long and not-so-long dead and war heroes, but similarly to patriotism (best when kept under control and in the heart rather than on the sleeve), for my money militarism is at its best when it is confined to times of war.  This quasi-RSL nominal takeover reminds me of the proto-fascists of D H Lawrence’s Kangaroo – not so far removed from JWH’s dad’s ex-serviceman leg-up as a dummy rubber planter in the mandate territory of the former German New Guinea, by the way.  In any event, my patriotic loyalty is to Henry Bourne Higgins and the Harvester judgment rather than Billy Hughes, General Birdwood and Captain de Groot.

I lived in Canberra for two years (aetat 21-23).  That’s quite a long time ago now, and on every return I increasingly feel like Rip Van Winkle.  This time I saw that parts of the Benjamin Office Buildings in Belconnen are now being knocked down.  Already a number of the Cameron offices (which were the subject of a famous defamation suit) have been demolished: not greatly regretted, I am told, by anyone who worked in them, even if no-one has anything good to say for the modern cubes which are replacing them.  It may well be that the new buildings are now only leased by the Commonwealth: certainly, any pretensions to civic or public architecture have been well and truly abandoned.

About 6 months after I moved to Canberra, I bought one of the early Subaru 4-wheel-drive station wagons from an employee of the Canadian High Commission. With Captain [Marcellous] at the wheel, J and I made numerous expeditions to the Canberra hinterland.

I was young and foolhardy.  I blush to say that we assayed paths which we should have spared the impact of our wheels, and also, on at least 2 occasions, which were too much for us.  Once we had to walk out when the distributor became so fouled with dust that insufficient cylinders were firing to get us up a steep pinch.  On the second occasion, driving on the road to Mt Franklin with the intention of riding further on our bicycles past the terminal locked gate, we sustained first one then a second flat tyre, so that instead we ended up riding back for about 10km before we met a forestry truck whose occupants drove us back to the Uriarra Forestry Camp and arranged for an NRMA tow-truck to retrieve the vehicle.  By this time I had taken up a PhD scholarship myself, and in the light of the freedom that afforded me, dyed my hair a shade which I can best describe as Telefunken blue.  One of the forestry blokes good-humouredly asked me, “You  been struck by lightning, mate?”

In memory of these sallies, on Saturday I ventured past the Cotter Dam and out along the road which leads eventually to Mt Franklin or the Brindabella valley.

The country still shows signs of the devastating fire of 2003.  The Uriarra Forestry Camp was largely burnt down, and now appears to be being subdivided for sale.  Higher up on the range, a grey stubble of dead tree tops rose on every ridge line or ripple.  Closer up it looks like this from underneath:

Near Bull’s Head

A thunder storm cleared and the sun re-emerged. Coupled with the late afternoon, this provoked an outburst of birdsong.  Walking and then driving past Bull’s Head (about 4 km from Picadilly Circus, which is where the road to the Brindabella departs from the road to Mt Franklin) I actually sighted 4 lyre birds, including one male bird which, when it finally realised I was near, flew to a branch and then, after a final and admonitory whistling screech, away in an unlikely and loping flight.  I have never before seen even one lyre bird, as usually when you hear them you can never get up close enough before they rush away in the undergrowth, so to see four was quite a treat. 

On Sunday, I had dinner with my friend from many years ago, IB, and his family.  We decided it might have been 10 or even 11 years since we last saw each other, and it was good to catch up.  IB was an ARO (Assistant Research Officer) at the Department of Primary Industry when I was an ARO at the decidedly inglorious Department of Administrative Services, and we had met through a series of inservice courses which our respective departments sent their batches of AROs to in their first year of service.  He was a mature age ARO and about 10 years older than me, but it was still a sobering reminder of advancing age to learn that, following a crippling repetitive strain injury, he had been made redundant and is now a superannuant – the first person whom I think of as being a work contemporary who has emerged at the other side of the work-life experience. 

IB and I went canoeing on the Molonglo River at the head of Lake Burley-Griffin in a 2-seater canoe which he has just purchased and transported on the roof of the same VW Golf which he drove when I first knew him.  It was very pleasant: we paddled up close to two nests where (in one) a black cormorant and (in the other) a white cormorant tended to a brood of chicks.  That’s another wildlife first for me.  As IB said, this sort of thing is really what Canberra is about.

Otherwise, most of the weekend with my father and stepfather seems to have been spent reading.  I read Bevis Hillier’s biography of John Betjeman, Philip Ziegler’s biography of Rupert Hart-Davis (I’ve read his and Lyttleton’s letters before) and Michael Holroyd’s family memoir/autobiography Basil Street Blues.  All of these books are my step-mother’s.  You can see there is something of a common thread between them.  There are still many many volumes of and about James Lees-Milne to go.

Actually, when I say I read these, except for the Holroyd, this was mostly a re-reading held over from previous visits. I’ve also dipped into J L-M before but I’m not sure if I will ever be up to the complete body of work by or about him. And the more I read about Hart-Davis, the less attracted I am to him.  Class resentment has something to do with this, I am afraid.  For that matter, I started [re]reading the Betjeman volumes because I have recently been listening to a terrific song-setting by Madeleine Dring of his poem “Business Girls.”  This poem is a vision of a thousand single working women having baths in their flats in sub-divided large houses in Camden in London in the early post-war years.  It is often cited as a poem expressing sympathy for their lives, but I think you have to swallow a lot of class-spirit and forgive it in the face of the final stanza:

Rest you there, poor unbelov’d ones,
Lap your loneliness in heat.
All too soon the tiny breakfast,
Trolley-bus and windy street!

There is a fine line between sympathy and condescension and this crosses it. Who’s to say they are unbeloved? Is that just because they are not the sort of aristocratic gels that Betjeman fancied? On googling, I was gratified to have my further doubt about the scenario for this poem confirmed. It seemed fundamentally unlikely that the secretarial class would generally enjoy the luxury of a morning bath: only a poet accustomed to gentleman’s hours could have supposed so. As Terrence Kilmartin commented,

“It is a pity that most business girls, like my secretary…, have their baths in the evening – but I don’t think that matters much.”

I think it matters more than Kilmartin allowed.

Further in this vein, one thing which struck me about Michael Holroyd’s book was the way in which he approached what he evidently considered to be the long decline of his family’s fortunes over the twentieth-century and his parents’ and grandparents’ lives – a decline which appears to have been cushioned by a reasonably healthy opening balance, financially speaking, and apparently little necessity to earn a regular income as a result. Though Holroyd treats his family as failures, and affects even to include his own early career in this (on the grounds that until about 1977 his income as a writer only averaged ₤1500 a year) his career was actually enabled by the private income which they managed to provide him whilst he made his start. The extent to which literary and artistic achievement are underwritten (because they require time) by private income remains under-acknowledged.  Brett Whitely, Martin Sharp, Patrick White are just a few Australian examples.  Undoubtedly they were talented, but there must have been many others possibly equally so who never got the chance they had.

Holroyd has written a sequel, Mosaic, which I intend to search out. That book, in part, follows further the stories of two upwardly-mobile adventurers against whom the fortunes of his family, one way or another, foundered, and in particular the young woman whom his grandfather stopped to give a lift to in the general strike of 1926 and whom he was so taken by that he only returned home (considerably poorer) eight years later. Holroyd’s hostility to this fortune-eroder (subtext: gold-digger) is barely concealed in Basil Street Blues.

Driving back on Monday I made a detour to the Bungonia Gorge State Recreation Area, which includes a truly vertiginous “Look-Down.”

Bungonia Look down 

– Not that photos (or at least my photos) can ever really capture this sort of thing.

Bungonia itself is a curious backwater. I stopped and looked at the striking Anglican church, and only later learnt that the (not terribly prepossessing) Catholic church is apparently the oldest Catholic church building remaining on the mainland. 

A trip to Canberra

July 4, 2007

On Saturday, I received a call from my stepmother, who told me my father had been admitted to hospital on Friday.  She told me I need not be alarmed.  Nevertheless, both my sisters, who live further away than I do, were concerned.  I was in court on Monday and also had to fix something on my car.  So on Tuesday morning early I drove down to Canberra to see him.

I had arranged to stay with my step-brother. I asked him not to tell anyone that I was on my way,  so I was a bit miffed when it emerged that my cover had been blown.  I found my father recovering well, quite alert, and not particularly surprised to see me.

He was in the coronary care unit, but due to be transferred to a general ward.  When I was there a call came from the private ward which he was to be transferred to.  They asked to speak to a “family member.”  First I put my father on to take the call, but at their insistence I eventually took it.

It turned out the hospital had checked with his health fund, who told them that his insurance was only paid up until 23 June.  Of course, my father’s insurance is his own concern, but it is obviously in his interest to know what the position is before vouching his own credit for the not inconsiderable fees which the hospital charges (if also in the hospital’s as to whether they would accept it): if you go into a private ward, it is not just a question of the hospital fees – the whole structure of medical charges to which you are exposed takes a healthy hike upwards.

Under the guise of ducking out for a cigarette, I went outside and rang my stepmother.  My father’s health insurance premium is paid fortnightly by his superannuation fund.  My stepmother went straight to my father’s “superannuation” file and found that, some years ago there had been some mishap in payment.  It was entirely possible that something similar had happened again.  I suggested that she ring the superannuation fund first (because they might close down for lunch) and then ring the health fund (who have an army of call-centre staff) once she was armed with the information from the paying end.  At the worst, my father could have gone into a public ward, so it was nothing too dire.

Everything was straightened out, though not without a call back to the ward whilst I was still outside waiting to call my stepmother back, which probably made my father just a little more trepidatious.

I wasn’t going to trouble my father with the details, but he is not so sick as to have failed to pick up on the detail. He asked me what was the conversation that the hospital had wanted to have with the “family member.”  Obviously, he was worried it was something health-related that they didn’t want to tell him.  I told him the full story.

On reflection, I probably should have told him the full story straight away or at least as soon as everything was cleared up.  It wasn’t going to throw him into palpitations.  It’s just that sort of over-protectiveness which can madden the elderly.  Apart from secrets about myself (which I kept from him as much for my own protection as for his), this is probably the first time I have ever seen fit to shield my father from anything, which is a strange and slightly ominously portentous turning of the tables.

I stayed the night at my father’s house.  It is a very well-regulated household.  Organization has never been my strong point; I have never managed to reproduce in my own living such good order.  As I sat at my father’s desk, I glanced at the drawer of his filing cabinet which was still open from when my stepmother had gone to it to find the necessary information from the suspended file neatly labelled “Superannuation.”

If I were in a similar position, it would certainly not be so easy for anybody to put their finger on that sort of information for me.

I saw my father again today and drove back up to Sydney this afternoon.