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Posts Tagged ‘Events’

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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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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