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Posts Tagged ‘celebrity’

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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