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Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

We’re the last to leave the party
The first to ask for more
– The Choirboys, 1987

It was at Woolies in Dickson that I first realised Summernats 23 was here.

Wednesday afternoon and more than the usual quota of feral children were being dragged through the vegetable section by hatchet-faced women. The deli was three-deep with blokes in thongs, shorts, tats and stubble. At the checkouts, Woolies staff were actually working as traffic control, waving customers towards the least lengthy lines. In the carpark there were a lot of 80s-model Commodores with mags.

Summernats has undergone a makeover in the last 12 months according to organisers. Founder and roughnut raconteur Chic Henry sold the festival to Australia Day Concert producer Andy Lopez, who this week pledged to make the festival more “family friendly” (though he stopped short of making it an actual family event, saying “It’s not meant to be like a day out with Humphrey B Bear”). In addition to the usual burnout competitions and street machine parades, the program offered highlights including fireworks and the Choirboys. The ACT Government offered free chlamydia tests.

Thursday evening and green lights on Northbourne Avenue were met with squeals as clutches dropped. Arms dangled out windows, holding stubbies. The Bald Man and I were driving across town when a bunch of blue lights caught our attention. A group several hundred strong were converged on a servo in Braddon, along with several dozen police. It was unclear what was going on, but there didn’t seem to be much action so we rolled on. What was clear was that for those who didn’t fancy heading out to EPIC showgrounds and paying a fat fee to get through the gates, a kind of mini-Summernats parade was happening downtown.


So Friday evening we made a special trip back to see it for ourselves. Although it was still light when we arrived at Braddon, hundreds of spectators were already lined up on the footpaths to watch the passing parade of cars. Many had folding chairs and eskies to ensure comfort. And surprisingly, it was a family event. Along with the many (bearded and bellied) blokes, there were a lot of children (with extraordinary mullets), women (with hard, hard faces) and teenagers (with tattoos and muffintops). We stationed ourselves diagonally opposite the Debacle and breathed deeply of the petrol fumes.

Bald Man is an unreconstructed petrolhead, so he had quite a good time looking at the cars and crowds. Frankly the informal parade was pretty motley, but there were a few gems amongst both cars and drivers. The highlight was Roger, a genial local bloke with a genuine GTHO which he bought from the original owner right here in The Berra a decade ago for a tenth of what it’s worth now.

I soaked up the atmosphere, of which there was plenty. For a start, the landmark Mandalay was actually open for business, the first time I’ve ever seen it so since moving here. It was so remarkable I felt we had to buy and eat something from it, which turned out to be a Canberra Dog for Bald Man and a Dagwood dog for me, and no, I am not ashamed. It was all part of the experience. Walking down Lonsdale St one admired cars parked in little family groups: XYs, Celicas, Toranas, Monaros, Mustangs and so on.

At some point in the evening a roar went up from the servo across from us. A meathead decked out in white trackpants and bling had pulled up in a hotted up Mazda RX3 and was revving the engine when some rozzers snuck up behind him and ordered him and his mates out of the vehicle. The police then wheeled out an RTA inspector, who started to go over the car, and then it began to escalate. A crowd gathered, first dozens and then hundreds. More police arrived, and then more – no less than eight cars and more than 30 uniformed bods.

It was a very long half hour while the car owner argued aggressively, various cops stared back at him impassively and the crowd hooted and jeered. Finally they let him go without a canary, but looking at the width of those tyres it was probably a close thing. Had they been the fashion police though, this bloke and his mates would have got life.

Perhaps what’s so fascinating about the Summernats is the side of Canberra it brings out. Most of the cars doing laps of Braddon were local. A friend commented over dinner on Saturday night that a bogan car show wasn’t the kind of thing you’d expect to see in the Berra, which did take me aback. Summernats shouldn’t be a surprise at all, for like every other Australian city the Berra has plenty of outer suburbs where bogan culture thrives, and the layout of this town actively supports a strong car focus. But there is definitely a so-called-cultured and affluent middle class here that has no idea or interest in what goes on beyond the Parliamentary triangle and inner suburbs, and that’s not healthy. Boganism may not be in good taste, but willful ignorance is inexcusable.

Finally after a few hours we had had enough. We attracted only a few jibes as we hopped on our bicycles and rode away.

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When I die I don’t want no coffin
I thought about it all too often
Just strap me in behind the wheel
And bury me with my automobile
– James Taylor, 1977

The old Volvo got Berra numberplates today. Suppose that means I’m really here now.

numberplateI took the Tasnarnian ones in to Territory & Municipal Services and sighed a little as I handed them over. I’ll miss the slogan, Tasmania – Your Natural State; it’s suspect on so many levels. The bloke at TAMS then requested a sum that would have been funny if it wasn’t true, and after I stopped choking and handed over a credit card, he handed over new plates with a slogan pointing to the ACT Centenary in 2013. At least other drivers will no longer curse me for a “bloody Tasmanian Volvo driver”.

The Berra is a city of cars and driving. Almost nowhere is walking distance, and that includes from one end of Garema Place (the main mall in the CBD) to the other. True, there’s not a lot of traffic most of the time so nowhere is very far away – if you have a car. Before re-registering the Ovlov, we had decided to become a one-car household, which would have been manageable if at times inconvenient. As it turned out the car market isn’t quite depressed enough for our wallets just yet, so that project is on hold.

But all the research did make me think about how many people in the Berra feel about cars. They loooooove them.

In the Berra, you can pick where the party is by the dozens of vehicles parked outside, littering the naturestrip. Colleagues with teenage children routinely moan about how many cars they have to maintain, just so their kids can drive themselves to their a part-time job. One of the most bitter arguments fought by Berran couples is over whose turn it is to be the designated driver, because unless you’ve saved for a month for the taxi fare, you need a designated driver. The house across the road from us has three adults, but seven vehicles (okay, two are up on blocks. But still.) Large tracts of open land in the busiest suburbs that would have developers elsewhere tearing each other’s limbs off to acquire are in the Berra tarred and used for carparks. There is almost no incentive to give up one’s car, apart from the punishing registration fees. Public transport buses are universally inconvenient and you can’t walk anywhere.

For someone who didn’t feel the need to get a driver’s license until I was 24, this motor-centric way of life seems dreadfully indulgent. I hear many people say they’d rather not drive all the time, but there’s a deep apathy towards transport reform in the Berra too; everyone seems to be waiting for someone else to do something. And no-one wants to refuse their employment-packaged car.

While we’re talking about what the Berra is (and isn’t), as someone said to me recently the Berra is a city of clubs. (It’s certainly not a city of pubs, to my lasting disappointment.) It’s been fascinating to watch the slow disintegration of the Cronulla Sharks Club in Sin City in recent weeks, as it crumbles under the weight of its amassed, generational block-headedness. I’m unaccustomed to this club culture that pervades NSW and the ACT as it doesn’t exist in the Australian suburbs where I grew up, yet barely 12 months in the Berra and I am a member of no less than three clubs. I think my memberships are mostly about food (yum cha and seafood feasts) but for most locals they’re about sports, or gambling and inexpensive drinks.

Anyway, just days before that 4 Corners story aired, I found myself at the Berra’s night-of-nights for clubs, their annual Awards for Excellence. Wow, a chance to glimpse the inner workings of this juggernaut that involves so many Berrans. It was no small matter. There were more than 700 people glammed up and crammed in to the Southern Cross Club, one of two giant club edifices perched on the edge of the Woden shopping centre precinct. As you might expect, it was cheesy but pleasant. The night was 60s-themed, with waitstaff dressed in retro gear and a Beatles cover band on the stage. The people on my table, a mix of local pollies, sportspeople and club people, were really lovely. The food was good, you didn’t want for a drink, the assembled crowd of men and women of all ages were having a good time. It was clear that for many the club can be a lifetime commitment; from the time you pull on your boots aged five, through your job, your family’s social life, a career path in multi-million dollar hospitality management for your daughter, to your post-retirement hub of activity, the club is there. These were all elements of stories told through the awards.

dancerBut there were two things that bothered me about the night. The first was the pair of cages at the sides of the stage, in which danced two girls; weird, but perhaps it was something to do with the theme, I thought. Then, at a point later in the presentation, the MC jock paused to chat with a sponsor about the women in low-cut dresses who were handing awards to the recipients.

“I understand you provided the girls for this evening,” said the jock to the sponsor. “Very nice. Very tasty.” The sponsor laughed.

He used just the tone two blokes might use to discuss meat, or similar bought object or commodity. This was all on the main stage, through microphones, before an assembled crowd of 700 which included smart, switched-on women and their husbands, brothers and fathers.

I nearly fell off my chair. “Did I really hear that?” I said, very loudly, to my colleague. No-one else on that table of 10, men and women alike, paid me any mind.

Which strikes me, now, as exactly the kind of attitudinal rope by which the Cronulla Sharks are now hanging themselves.

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Well the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak
I ran for the trench but I had no time to speak
My heart said yes but my head said no
When the English colonel said, “It’s time to go.”
He said, “What’s a few men?”
– Mark Seymour, 1987

Here I am, sitting at home at the end of a long weekend. Today, Monday, is a public holiday in lieu of ANZAC Day falling on a Saturday this year and observed only in the ACT and WA. I’m okay about the public holiday falling on the 25th not being observed on another day; in my view, a holiday is not required to remember. Perhaps the karma for this thought is that I’ve ended up doing some work on all three days this weekend.

It’s also been a weekend on which I enjoyed some particularly Berran experiences.

Most importantly, all local wisdom says that after ANZAC Day it’s time to turn on your heater and get out the flannelette sheets.

ANZAC Day dawned grey and soggy-sleety, officially 11.6 degrees but feeling more like 6.5 degrees at 6am according to the Bureau of Meteorology. In fact by 6am I was heading home. The Bald Man and I got up to attend the Dawn Service; it was our first ANZAC Day in the Berra, and this national service at the Australian War Memorial is one of the local landmark events. We have a work presence there each year that I was keen to see. And although the vile weather meant the assembled crowd was down by a third on last year, the Dawn Service still attracted some 20,000 people.

I have to confess a whole host of reservations and anxieties around events like ANZAC Day, mostly to do with ethnic background (mine) and ignorant bigots (others), and so I’ve stayed away from dawn services until now. This Dawn Service laid some of those fears to rest. The service itself was brief at half an hour, simple and humble. There was no glorification of war, though I found it moving and important to be reminded that at this time of day 94 years ago men were preparing to get on the boats and make that run at that beach, hence the significance of gathering at dawn. The part that made the biggest impression on me were the prayers. The priest acknowledged not everyone was Christian or indeed religious before he offered four prayers: one for all service men and women past and present, one for those who don’t fight but whose efforts are at home, one for those left behind to wait and grieve, and one for all the people who work for peace. That covers just about all of us, doesn’t it? Inclusive, not exclusive.

The whole tone was humble, thoughtful; there was no arrogance and no misplaced, boorish displays of so-called nationalism. It was an arresting sight, 20,000 people gathered on the parade ground before the War Memorial, holding candles and remembering, in the dark before the dawn. A fitting remembrance for those who fight and die. (I also have to admit to being weirded out by the Lord’s Prayer said in the modern parlance; I was incapable of saying “who is in heaven” and “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”, and no doubt looked to my neighbours like a time-warped lapsed Catholic, which isn’t true but isn’t miles away either.)

I was glad to have attended the National Dawn Service, and will probably go again.

I’ll write about the rest of the weekend when I can summon the strength.

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If you sing me a song, you know that I’ll come running
Whistle me that tune that brings a tear to my eye
– The Go Set, 2004

dust21There’s a pall hanging over The Berra this afternoon. A furious windstorm has dragged in a massive dust cloud from somewhere way out west; driving around earlier, everything was quite indistinct, even the Tamil protesters camped en masse outside The Lodge, and their police minders. So much for the washing, of which there’s quite a bit, after a weekend at a shack up in the Barrington Tops.

It was nice to get away, after working on Good Friday. The OB was a success, great news for both our first foray into live broadcast of a new medium, and for a new community partnership. And what, you ask, would I be working at on Good Friday, doing all those things? It was the National Folk Festival.

When we first started getting our crap together for this year’s activity some months ago, I immediately began to wonder how much it might be like the Country Music Festival at Tamworth. I’ve covered six of those, replete with large hats, chaps (the leather kind), linedancing, and buskers of wildly varying quality. Back in the old days, I even covered the first six Big Day Outs (or should the plural be, Big Days Out?) I was looking forward to covering a whole new festival. Indeed, I was looking forward to adding to my collection of stubbie holders from unusual festivals, amongst which my CMF ones are dearly loved.

I was also a bit worried about having to learn a whole new set of eccentricities in order not to draw undue attention to myself, or commit some fatal faux pas. It took some time, but I learned that country music is a serious business. For example: at the CMF, it’s important to know you can laugh with those in country music costume, but not at them; not at the elderly lady in the leather fringed vest without a shirt under it, not at the feral ute driven by that large fellow in the even larger black hat, and certainly not at the bloke playing guitar with the chicken on his head (I’m not making these up). Folk music lovers are preceded by their own special stereotypes: freaky folkies, feral folkies, beardy weirdies, flutes ‘n’ fiddles, twangy-twangy, fiddle-de-fiddle-de-fiddle-o. You know. (It also brought to mind words uttered by Mick Thomas at a particularly feral Tasnarnian gig, “I’m your worst fucking nightmare, mate. I’m gunna play folk music all night.”)

And it’s no small deal, this National Folk Festival. Five days, 22 venues at the Berra’s EPIC showgrounds (it’s a ticketed event), hundreds of performers, thousands of campers on site, and some 50,000 patrons through the gates overall.

So, what was it like?

Well, overall it was a very civilised affair. A family festival. Calm, well mannered, pleasant; some stereotypes were borne out, and some were exploded.

instrument1There were a surprising number of teenagers there without parents, well behaved (if a little prone to wearing long velvet capes) and having a good time. There was no conspicuous drinking or drunkenness (unlike the CMF, in which drinking to excess is an integral part of the festival for many); and so, sadly, there were no NFF stubbie holders; I only twice caught a whiff of wacky tobaccy. The music was quite good, a little broader-appeal than what you might expect, and yes it was taken seriously. Trad-folk, folk from non-Anglo traditions, local and overseas performers, protest music, contemporary and loud music, comedy, and even a spooky men’s choir, it was all there. There were men with beards (who had the good grace to laugh at themselves at our OB) and some really crusty old Deadhead-types. There were certainly weird (if beautifully crafted) instruments; over in the instrument-makers’ tent there were arrays of expensive wood-whistles, handmade harps, medieval dulcimers, mountain mandolins (I am not making these up) and a number of contraptions that didn’t seem to be related to normal instruments but evidently made music, somehow.

mulledwineThere were pantomimes and poets, most of which seemed to have strong left leaning, anti-establishment themes (I spotted a brace of children gathered around a man with a guitar conversing in parable-style with another man dressed as a tree about the importance of trade unions in democracies) (I’m not making that up, either). There was a yurt. Amongst the many venues there was actually one called Flute & Fiddle. And for a festival with definite alternative-left socio-political tendancies, there was a lot of commerce. Many stall names sported bad puns, and most touted some sort of perceived virtue (organic, eco, fair trade, hemp, hand-crafted, recycled, vegetarian, etc.) but it was still dirty, profit-making commerce. This kind of tension makes for interesting business and goods for sale. Two eye-catchers were an organic-halal gelato (I don’t know why, it was a very anglo crowd) and a fast-food stall called Voodoo Hamburgers (the logo was a smiling skull). There were vendors of goods you might not expect to see at a folk festival, including a broom maker. I heard one borderline feral mum saying to her 8-year old, “I’ve already bought you a firestick, I’m not going to buy you a puppet head too. I don’t care if it’s hand-made hemp.” Of course I was pleased to see mulled wine, though being at work I opted for the mulled and spiced orange juice.

mugsThe thing I liked best was only a little thing, but it summed up so much about the NFF: what it is, what drives it, and what it strives to be. Almost all the drinks on site were sold in sturdy plastic mugs. When you finished your drink, you dropped your mug in one of the many wire-cage mug collection points. Volunteers (the ‘mug jugglers’) regularly emptied out the cages, took the mugs away, washed them, delivered them back to the stalls, and the cycle began anew.

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I pray that sense and reason brings us in
Who’s gonna save me?
– Midnight Oil, 1990

We did not hear US Forces.
We did not hear Short Memory.

We DID hear Beds Are Burning, Best of Both Worlds, and Dream World, all with the BRASS SECTION.

Let me be clear about what I went for and what I did not go for when I saw Midnight Oil at the Canberra Entertainment Centre tonight.

I didn’t go to contemplate Peter Garrett’s political career. Others can and do freely accuse him of being a traitor to his class, his art, his audience, his causes. Others can and do freely defend his choices. I’m sure you have your own deeply held conviction in this area… or else you don’t give a toss.

There were five blokes on stage this evening, four of whom are still making music for a living, and five of whom were performing with passion and clearly having a bloody great time.

I went this evening for the music.

oils1smlThe last Oils gig I saw was at the University of New England. I must have been pushing 30 at the time and was therefore still relatively full of beans, not to mention still appropriately aged for a loud gig. This evening, a great many years later, as I pulled on the old Blundstones I confess I felt old. But standing in the foyer of the Entertainment Centre, it became evident I was at the younger end of the demographic. Bald Man, Caro, Ricky and I tried to spot someone under 25. There was one girl, accompanying an older boyfriend, who could have qualified. And then there were about half a dozen kids roughly 11 years old, attending with either dad, or mum, or both. Oh dear. Bald Man spotted Glen A. Baker (looking quite svelte, but still bearded and wearing a silly hat) lining up at the box office to collect his ticket.

This gig was not as rowdy as that UNE gig either; at that one I lost a couple of handfuls of hair but gained one of Rob Hirst’s drumsticks (he threw them into the crowd and I took a lucky catch). This time around the ageing Gen Xers and pretty decrepit younger baby boomers posed no kind of physical threat, though perhaps being more concerned with real estate they were much better at hanging onto their gig floor turf; very few drunken upstarts got through to the mosh pit. Of the 3000, about a third hung about in the standing room, while two thirds opted for the seating. Wusses.

oils2smlThe band opened with Redneck Wonderland, and it took them about 3 songs to find the magic. When they did, it was all go. They played a host of great classics, including When The Generals Talk, One Country, The Dead Heart, Blue Sky Mine, Truganini, Best of Both Worlds, Power And The Passion, Read About It… in fact, with two encores the gig went a good two hours. The sets were structured so that groups of more energetic songs were paced with slower tempo ones – not just for the middle-aged audience, I’m sure, but also for the middle-aged band. The one decoration on the stage was a small, old corrugated iron water tank, on which Hirsty stood up and played a percussion solo. The brass section was an unexpected treat, and received a huge roar from the crowd. (That really shows up the recent Saints reunion gigs, which did not feature a brass section and so the band didn’t play Know Your Product, a disappointment to quite a few I hear.)

Only Peter Garrett spoke in between songs, and mostly he talked about how good it was to be doing something they all loved to help raise money for the bushfire-affected; he also welcomed old friends and new, including visitors from interstate, overseas and Parliament. There was a curious moment during the second encore though when he said a few words about not always being able to win, but having to hang in there just the same. I’m sure those were not his exact words, but that was the sentiment as I heard it. Then the band moved into Sometimes – an interesting segue – and then that was the end, my friends.

oilsgigsml1I only got one stitch from jumping about too much, and didn’t lose any hair this time. Ah well. It was still a good gig. Clearly the gathered audience have missed the Oils a great deal, and were glad to welcome them back if only for a short time. It’s been a long time between gigs, but those years have not been forgotten years.

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Let’s all celebrate and have a good time.
– Kool & the Gang, 1980

Happy Straya Day! Happy Chinky* New Year! Both good reasons for a knees-up, in my humble opinion, and here in the Berra we did it with gusto.

There’s no doubt that in the Berra, the national version of Straya Day is taken very seriously. As a former high level public servant reminded me as we stood in the VIP area of Australia Day Live 2009, we have John Howard to thank for that; he centralised celebrations here in the Berra, putting an end to the motley roadshow that went to a different state capital each year, only to do battle with local celebrations. Since then the Day has gone from strength to strength. But I’m getting the bragging out of order here.

Sunday morning started out by having to regretfully decline an opportunity to tear down 20km of fire trail on a mountain bike in 35 degrees. I’m reliably told by the Bald Man that the event host’s description of it as ‘an easy ride’ was a gross exaggeration. Since the host, a very experienced rider, fell off his bike twice (very heavily) I’m glad I said no; I’d doubtless have spread myself across the scenery.

Instead I primped and preened to make myself presentable for an Australia Day luncheon hosted by the Governor General at Government House, Yarralumla. The luncheon was in honour of the state finalists in the 4 Australia Day Awards categories and their partners; since I was neither, I gather I was there to help with the honouring. In all seriousness, that wasn’t hard. Without exception, each of the finalists was remarkable in their (often multiple) fields of endeavour. It’s a joy to see such people recognised, so I was glad to spend time with them.

gussied-up jam sponge - our national cake for our national day

gussied-up jam sponge - our national cake for our national day

Naturally I also spent time honouring the buffet. The food was, well, worthy of a head of state, in both quality (outstanding) and quantity (lavish). It ensured the patrons (both the honourable and the hangers-on) had their mouths stuffed and could therefore listen to the speeches in silence. Her Excellency the G-G was gracious, and newly appointed chair of the Australia Day Council Adam Gilchrist was well-spoken and amusingly self-deprecating. Both were mercifully brief. Otherwise, we had time to enjoy each other’s company, admire the view of Lake Curly-Gherkin from our marquee on the Yarralumla front lawn, and nick into the loos for a peek at the interior of Government House (it was a strangely charming sort of landed-gentry time warp.) Dessert was announced as Australia Day cake – we all looked at each other in anticipation, and were rewarded with pieces of extremely fancy jam sponge. How very Strayan. I guess it could only have been bettered by an enormous pavlova.

The afternoon saw everyone transported to Australia Day Live, an event held on the enormous nature strip thingy that sits between the two roads connecting Old Parliament House and Parliament House. Really, it’s the Australia Day Awards presentation, followed by a concert, but since it’s all broadcast on a commercial TV station I suppose it needed a catchy name.

As we approached the VIP enclosure, a few people were gathering on the lawned area. A group of boofheads were playing a version of backyard cricket, and despite their obnoxious dress-ups (straight out of the Aldi catalogue) they showed some wit by having their outfield populated by blow-up kangaroos. We passed another silly bugger in stubbies and a blue singlet standing before a barbecue he’d brought along and fired up, tending snags. How very Strayan.

The Awards would have been stirring, but for the frequent breaks in proceedings to allow for commercials. The network even managed to shoehorn one in after announcing Professor Mick Dodson as the Australian of the Year, but before he could even give his speech. It was odious.

that's me in the corner, and KRudd in the spotlight behind me

VIP enclosure: that's me in the corner, and KRudd in the spotlight behind me

The crowd started to gather in earnest as dusk fell, and the concert got underway. The musical lineup was not to my taste, but it was only a backdrop for the hors d’oeuvers in the VIP enclosure. If ‘enclosure’ sounds vaguely zoo-like, well it was; inside was the usual exotic mix of folk one sees at Berra events, from diverse backgrounds and walks of life, scoffing nosh like feeding time. Outside? It was pretty mono-cultural. Not sure who was on display, and who were the animals? As I wondered, the Bald Man ate about a dozen lamingtons for dinner.

the New Year lion sizing up a red package

the New Year lion sizing up a red package

Monday, Straya Day proper, was also Chinese New Year. It was actually celebrated in the Berra, a vast improvement on Slobart where it was so mono-cultural the date always passed unremarked. On the previous Saturday evening, dropping in at the Dickson video shop, we spotted a troupe of lion dancers doing the rounds of the restaurants in the Asian quarter, scaring away evil spirits with the loud drums and extorting their annual protection-money bonus. Actually, that’s a terrible slur, at least on the Berran troupe, who looked pretty clean-living (unlike, allegedly, their Sydney counterparts). In typical Berran fashion, one lion was even operated by a young anglo fellow (gasp) and a woman (GASP!). How very post-modern.

On Monday, as we returned the video, a very shiny and tinted p-plated ute adorned with two enormous Australian flags was slowly cruising the Dickson Asian restaurant strip. When we came out, it was doing yet another slow lap of the block. It was a little early for public holiday trading hours, and there were plenty of parking spots, so I’m not sure what the driver was doing circling, circling, circling. Anyway, about then a police patrol car arrived and also began circling, circling, circling, and the ute eventually went away. How very post-Cronulla.

After an afternoon spent at the Canberra Yacht Club (yes there is one! on the shores of the lake) we gathered up our friends Caro, Ricky & Dom and trekked back to Dickson to see in the Year of the Ox over a sav blanc and mountains of barbecued duck, pork and fried octopus. We totally missed the state-sponsored fireworks. There was an episode later that involved a trip to the supermarket, the purchase of a 20-serve pavlova (this is not an exaggeration), cream and fruit; let me spare you the details and just say that on Wednesday we’re still eating the results. How very Australia in 2009.

* Please don’t take offence; it’s a term of endearment. I’m half Chinky, ok?

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I said, beautiful people,
You know they’re going out tonight to get their Bombay Rocks off.
– Australian Crawl, 1980

As a former Tasnarnian colleague would have said, “je sui arrive” – I have arrived.

My Canberra experience is truly consolidated. I have attended an embassy function and a gala opening. No really, this important stuff in the national capital of Oz. It’s what all the locals seem to do.

The embassy function happened some weeks ago. Colleague Caro and I both received invitations to the Finnish Embassy – to attend a jazz recital. Upon reading this I thought I was hallucinating, but I placed a strategic call to some jazz aficionado friends who assured me that Finland had a quite respectable contemporary jazz scene. Who would have thought.

The Finnish Embassy is all about angles

The Finnish Embassy is all about angles

The interior of the Finnish Embassy was most impressive. The Bald Man slavered over the clean Nordic lines, strange protruding walls and upper floors, and shiny contemporary sculptural pieces. Caro and I were agog at the sculptural nature of the hairdos worn by some of the better class of mature lady in attendance.

The jazz was, well, jazz. That is to say, I have no idea if it was good or not. But I enjoyed it, even if it was clearly wasted on me.

The gala opening occurred last night – the formal launch of the new National Portrait Gallery, which had been most recently shoehorned into the Old Parliament House – not always a comfortable fit for either party.

Anyway, the evening was a balmy Canberra summer one, and so I dragged out one of my better frocks. I have to say the standard of frock amongst the other guests made me look like I was wearing a gunny sack, but there you go. It was a gala event, after all, and gala is not my natural state.

It was interesting to note that for a function advised as ‘6 for 6.30’, there were a lot of people there well beforehand. By about 5.40 there were already several hundred guests milling about and hooking into the refreshments. This was confusing to me, a former southerner; in Melbourne ‘6 for 6.30’ means no earlier than 6.45 for the diligent and well after 9 for the fashionable. Being there early to visit the work OB, I got a good look at the name tags on the VIP seats, enjoyed a few of the A-class canapes, and set myself up to people-watch.

Included in the more than 900 attendees there was a brace of current and former politicians, including PM Kevin Rudd and Therese Rein, Peter Garrett, Malcolm & Lucy Turnbull, John & Janette Howard, Peter Reith and Tom Uren (seen looking at his own portrait). Amongst the many beautiful people I personally spotted Janet Holmes a Court, Margaret Olley, Lowitja O’Donohue, William Wang (taking photos), one of the Sass & Bide pair (I can’t tell them apart), the newly crowned -second favourite Australian Peter Cundall, a 6’6″ bloke wearing a skirt and jackboots, and Rolf Harris (I’d met Rolf much earlier in the day. He tickled me in the ribs, twice. Don’t ask).

Me and a colleague in the crowd. If you squint, you can see the back of KRudd's head in the scrum behind us. Really.

Me and a colleague in the crowd. If you squint, you can see the back of KRudd's head in the scrum behind us. Really.

Sometimes politics and celebrity is a less than happy mix. One of the more entertaining moments occurred in the entrance foyer just as KRudd entered and shook hands with Johnny H, unaware that Terry Hicks (father of David) was just metres away. The blanket of suited security heavies, wearing curly thingumies in their ears and talking into their hands, were too intent on whatever they were doing and Terry slipped neatly under their cordon for a few words with the former PM. The massed media scrum were ecstatic – they’ll have some good shots stashed away for a rainy day.

It was certainly an event rather than an opportunity to see the gallery or view the collection past the maddening crowds. By this part of the evening it was becoming clear I had worn the wrong shoes for KRudd’s speech (it had multiple opportunities for early outs that weren’t used), and was suffering the consequences. Time to hobble back to the car and head home; I’ll have to go back another day for a proper look.

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