Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

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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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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And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.
– Simon & Garfunkel, 1965

Boy, when the locals say The Berra empties over summer, they weren’t kidding.

I also joined the exodus for a period, visiting first the ancestral home deep in Melbourne’s burbs, followed by the obligitary stopover to some in-, uh, outlaws at the NSW mid-north coast hinterland, and then a couple of days’ relief in the wilds of the Barrington Tops with friends, where there were roos, wombats, quolls, wedgetails and water dragons to be seen on vast paddocks of cattle country freshly planted with eucalypts. I observed feral dog and razorback carcasses, climbed hills and forded streams, visited caves, abandoned quarries and old miner’s huts, drove quadbikes and shot at targets, and generally got in touch with my inner Sarah Palin. Yeeeeeeeee-HA.

Travelled back via the Central Coast (we spent NYE with some friends there, which was very pleasant in the way the evening should be, until 8 o’clock the next morning when the neighbour started up his lawnmower and proceeded to do his yard. On New Year’s Day – I shit you not). Bald Man and I got back in time to welcome our jazz officianado friends from Tamworth for a visit to Our National Capital.

They were here to tour a variety of the cultural institutions, which was great, as they were all open 9am-5pm every day. We whiled away some pleasant hours at the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the National Museum, old and new Parliament Houses. Both veteran musicians and accomplished composers, Lis is also a painter and John originally an American (a ‘septic’, as he’s been taught to say) so there was a lot of culture for them to enjoy.

Alas, the enjoyment largely stopped there. Everything else we tried to take them to was shut. A late lunch/early dinner at Tilly’s, for a taste of a Berran institution? Shut, at 5pm on Saturday no less. Parlour Bar, for a civised cocktail and tapas? Shut, for renovations. Silo? Shut. A series of favourite cafes in Civic, Ainslie, Braddon? Shut, shut, shut. My poor friends. They thought the Berra was a ghost town, a poor impression since they were considering moving onwards and upwards from the country to somewhere with a little more happening, like the Berra – I’m embarassed to think where else they’d rather go now.

The final indignity came after our friends had departed, when the Bald Man and I went in search of a takeaway. His favourite is pizza – the good kind, with which we were very spoiled by several excellent purveyors in Slobart. In the Berra I’m sorry to say we have not found a single decent pizza place. We opted therefore for one of the cheap local outlets, Zeffirelli, which at least has the decency not to skewer your wallet for their ordinary fare. And it was… you guessed it. Shut. For three whole weeks over summer. As shut as Caffe Ravello around the corner. And that pretty much exhausts any of the edible pizza options in the locale.

Thank goodness for the cheap and cheerful Chinese, which was open and doing a roaring trade. Duck and noodles at the Tak Kee Inn went down a treat.

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Keep on with the force
Don’t stop
Don’t stop ’til you get enough
– Michael Jackson, 1979

Being a Melburnian by birth and long residence, I’m well aware of how Melburnians crap on about their Cup, which they reckon is the Race That Stops A Nation.

“The Nation” bit may be an exaggeration, but now I know it’s the Race that at least Stops The Nation’s Capital.

The Berra literally does stop for the Melbourne Cup. It’s a public holiday. I’m writing this at home on a Tuesday in daylight hours, released from the tyrannical yoke of paid employ (and avoiding the never-ending torrent of housework).

I was having trouble comprehending why we have the day off, as the Cup is run in another state, and anyway it’s not even a standard holiday across Victoria. Well, it’s not strictly a holiday for the Cup. And interestingly, it turns out most local Berrans hate having the holiday.

Apparently the 1st Tuesday in November was gazetted as a day off only last year, and it’s nominally titled Family and Community Day – nothing to do with any silly horse race, thankyou. It was intended to replace the unions’ annual March Picnic Day which the Federal Government of the day forcibly removed. To quote a presser from the Territory ALP Government last year, “this day will enable workers to take a break from their hectic working lives and spend some quality time with their families and friends. This will go a small way to protecting that work-life balance which the Howard Government seems so intent on attacking.”

With a public holiday on the Tuesday, what seems like two-thirds of the Berra population has taken the Monday off to create a looong weekend and, in the local parlance, gorndownthecoast. And the city has ground to a halt. Yesterday I went to run a few errands at lunch and was disappointed on all fronts. The tailor where I’d left some pants to get taken up? Closed. The food co-op? Closed. The Chamber of Commerce just gives all its staff the Monday off and shuts its doors. And as for the public service, most ELs are rumoured to take the Monday off too, leaving junior staffers in a decision-paralysis, unable to hold meetings, refer up and otherwise get anything done. A one-day holiday leads to another day buggered up.

While it’s nice for some who can afford a break to spend quality time with family and friends, there’s a lot of us who still have to work. Most of the folk at my salt mine are engaged in a 24/7 industry and are over there now scratching together material for the [denuded] audience. And for those poor deskjockeys, they’ve now been robbed of the fun of Cup Day at work. With merely a skeleton staff there’s no office sweeps; no silly hats dragged out from under the desk where they were left last November; no glass of champagne while someone wheels in a trolley with the TV on it; no collegial cheering as we watch the horses run their magic mile. Everyone at work hates the holiday – it’s spoiled the race for them. And even those who get the day off say they miss Cup Day at work.

Anecdotally a number of businesses have seen sharp downturns on what used to be a very busy day for them – the caterers and roast chicken shops that serviced office parties and picnics, and also the local clubs where people used to pop over for half an hour for a bet and a drink before returning to work, to name just a few. With all this ill-feeling, it’s no wonder the newly reinstated Chief Minister says he’s rethinking the holiday for next year.

Maybe the spirit of the Family and Community Day holiday – to stop and take a bit of time for that ol’ work/life balance – is better captured by the guerrilla graffiti ghosts flitting around the Berra at the moment. They’ve been getting at the local Stop signs, adapting them to make them a little more, well, contemplative. Here’s a selection from around several inner-city suburbs (click on the thumbnail for a larger image):

I like these little signs, though they are distracting. Whenever I pass a stop sign facing away from me, I peer in the rear vision mirror trying to see if it has a new message for me, opening other motorists to the threat of being rear-ended by an absent-minded Volvo driver.

I wonder how long these graffitists will keep at it. I wish I knew who they were, because I can think of some some suggestions for them. Such as,
Stop whinging
Stop bolting down your food
Stop buying Top 40 RnB crap
Stop abusing apostrophe’s [sic]
Stop frowning
Stop criticising
Stop talking and listen

What would you like to see stopped?

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