Volunteering

Posted in Australia, Musings on April 20, 2015 by Chris

I’ve just had a very busy weekend (which is not so strange – every weekend is busy, being days off work when you can catch up on life). I participated in a concert commemorating the centenary of ANZAC on Saturday night.  One hundred years of an important cultural event is certainly worth celebrating, so the evening’s concert included a multitude of artists, a cast of thousands. A 30-piece brass band, a 70-voice children’s choir and a 50-voice adult choir, a 15-piece vocal harmony group, and many individual artists performing over three hours.

We began setting up the auditorium early on Friday morning, and had to vacate the stage immediately following the concert. Two very long days, which were also the only rehearsal time we had to check sound, lights, staging, and logistics. The organisers had planned for months, but it all came down to those two days to get it right.

And it was right on the night, at least for the patrons who were in the audience. Of course, they weren’t aware of the pandemonium backstage, the crowded wings and constant shuffling of performers in and out of the backstage door. We tend to take for granted that these things just happen, and we enjoy being entertained by musicians and dancers but we don’t see the effort that goes into staging such a concert. It requires good preparation, patience, cooperation, and sheer determination to commit to an outcome and work to carry it out.

Like anything in life, you get out what you put in. For me, it was just thrilling to be part of the community, doing something alongside others to present a show that had meaning.

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Nobody’s Perfect

Posted in Musings on April 14, 2015 by Chris

My reading choices of late have been biographies – people’s stories of their lives and experiences. I get to know the person without ever actually meeting them. The most recent was “Pushing the Limits” written by Australian wheelchair athlete and Paralympian gold medalist Kurt Fearnley. Born without a spine in his lower back, Kurt says that his life was set on the right track from birth when his family didn’t treat him any differently from his able-bodied siblings, right from the moment when the doctors advised his parents not to take their new-born son home because he needed to stay in an institution. His parent’s brave stand gave the young Kurt just what he needed to become an independent person and an aspiring athlete.

He went on to win gold medals in several Paralympic Games and did marathons around the world, but perhaps his most remarkable feat was crawling the Kokoda Track in Papua/New Guinea in 2009. The rough mountainous trail and rugged terrain made wheelchairs useless, and crawling the 95 kilometers on his arms and backside must have tested his endurance and mental strength. His life motto is “Never give up!” Good advice indeed, although not always easy to stick to.

Sadly, people like Kurt Fearnley still come up against ignorant and arrogant folk who make his life difficult, as if it wasn’t difficult enough. He’s actually no different to anyone else. We’ve all got some kind of disability, whether it be physical, mental or emotional. Nobody’s perfect. And we should all test ourselves to crawl our own Kokoda Track, some sort of challenge that is self imposed that we should never give up on.

Kurt, thanks mate. I owe you a beer for your insights on life.

It’s been too long

Posted in Musings on February 22, 2015 by Chris

I recently visited my own blog site, and started reading. Did I really write that? It has been too long since I last posted. Life gets away from me. Time is the ever-present constant, like one of those moving walkways at the airport. Once you dare to step onto it, you’re trapped until you reach the end.

Hang on, that’s rubbish. I should dictate how I spend my time. Granted, I do have responsibilities to my job and my home and my role as a father and husband. The problem is that there are only 24 hours in a day. A certain number of those hours are assigned to essentials such as sleeping, eating, reading the newspaper and watching the TV news, pulling weeds, mowing lawns, checking on family and friends, reading books, drinking wine, etc, etc. Writing to a blog must surely be so far down the list that it lies at the outer reaches of the universe that is my life.

I saw a shop sign the other day that said “Open 24 Hours”, but I thought that that’s no good to me because I don’t have that much time. Perhaps the most precious resource is time. Albert Einstein (now there was a clever guy) once said “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once”. If all of the essentials in my day did happen at once, I’d then have more time to do things like write to a blog, or learn the guitar, or sort through my photos, or get fit, or take note of the world around me.

The clock has been ticking away as I’ve been writing this; the hands have moved forward like a relentless tide at the beach. I love spending time on a beach. As time marches on, my memories go in the other direction.

I wish I could save time in a bottle.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dO1rMeYnOmM

Woodstock, 45 Years On

Posted in Classic rock, Travel on August 22, 2014 by Chris

Another extract from the travel blog, New York, July 2014

Our first full day in New York was actually spent out of New York City. By complete chance, our visit coincided with a concert by Crosby, Stills and Nash at an outdoor amphitheatre at the Bethel Woods Centre for the Arts, a two-hour drive from New York City. Why would we want to go to the trouble to travel so far? Bethel Woods Centre of the Arts was built on the site of the Woodstock Music Festival of 1969, and this place was another item on my Bucket List. We were able to easily catch a bus from the city to the venue, although the return journey proved to be much more difficult. Thank goodness Dayna decided to stay in New York City and let the “olds” indulge themselves in their nostalgic pilgrimage. She had to rescue us in a hire-car after midnight when our return bus did not eventuate. We certainly saw New York City’s 4am nightlife first-hand after a long day.
The Bethel Woods setting was idyllic – pasture and farmland surrounded by thick forest and serene lakes. P7052026_3234Before the concert, we ambled a short way down a country road to where a plaque commemorates the famous concert that helped characterise the ideals of the hippy generation. While standing at that farm fence, I could’ve been looking over a wide open grassy paddock anywhere in the world, except that 45 years ago this particular paddock was covered with four hundred thousand people, making it the third largest city in New York State for those three days. I have listened to the Woodstock soundtrack and watched the movie many times, and standing there looking at that empty paddock gave me goose bumps.I could still hear echoes of Cocker doing “With a Little Help from my Friends” and Hendrix doing “Star Spangled Banner”. I spent much of the afternoon talking to a guy who was in the audience that weekend. He hadn’t returned to the site for thirty years, and I could see the passion in his eyes as the memories came flooding back. He talked about the performances and the tranquil feeling of peace and togetherness of the event.
The Arts Centre at the top of the hill had a museum with Woodstock memorabilia, and it was all a fascinating snapshot in time – a time when the world was rapidly changing. Oh, and the Crosby Stills Nash concert that night was good too.
The soundtrack to this short film on Woodstock is “Wooden Ships”, by Jefferson Airplane, originally performed by Crosby, Stills & Nash.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wyx053CNMag

Pompeii

Posted in Classic rock, Travel on June 21, 2014 by Chris

Extract from my travel blog, Italy, June 2014 ….

On this particular day we entered our own Time Machine, and crossed off one of the reasons we had ventured to Sorrento in the south of Italy in the first place – Pompeii. With advice from our helpful Sorrento landlady, we hired our own personal guide, a charming man called Raphaelle. His welcoming smile and suntanned face made us instantly like him, and his local knowledge made our investment worthwhile. He advised us to head to the archaeological site early to beat the crowds. As we walked through the entrance gate at 9am,  it seemed as if we had the entire site to ourselves, and we could see why an early start was so important. Ominous dark black clouds hung overhead and the smell of rain was in the air.
Raphaelle took us on what would’ve been a typical day in Pompeii; home life, eating, shopping, politics, markets, church. Not long into our tour, however, the rain started. The showers became heavier, turning into a torrential downpour, and Raphaelle quickly sheltered us in someone’s house. Of course there was no-one home, because they had left abruptly on the morning of 24th August in 79AD when the mighty Mt Vesuvious  erupted and destroyed their city, burying it under 6 metres of ash. The weight of that settling ash caused every roof in the city to collapse, but fortunately this particular house had recently had its roof restored, providing us with shelter from the ferocious storm. The lightning and the thunder spoke in unison, so the storm must have been directly overhead. The light show was spectacular, the thunder was deafening, louder than any rock concert I’d ever experienced. It was a surreal moment, stuck in someone’s home from two thousand years ago, watching nature’s most spectacular show of force.
When the rain eventually stopped, we continued our tour through the stone remains of houses, shops, baths, council chambers, even a brothel that still had paintings depicting their services on the wall. By midday our tour guide had completed his contract, and he left us to continue exploring this fascinating place on our own. Unfortunately by this time the crowds were gathering in their numbers, seemingly the same ten thousand people that we had encountered at Florence’s David, and Pisa’s Leaning Tower. I think I recognised every one of them – Allison comented that they must be following us.
I still had  one last Pompeii attraction to satisfy the aging hippie in me. The amphitheatre in Pompeii is a large oval-shaped arena, completely empty and surrounded by stone seating. You enter the arena through a long arched tunnel, and walking into the stadium invokes a sense of the thousands of spectactors attending the Roman gladitorial games. In October 1971, however, this was the venue for a unique rock concert, when Pink Floyd played live for no-one other than a few sound crew and cameramen . The concert was filmed and released as “Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii”, and it became legendary as a snapshot of the famous band before “Dark Side of the Moon” was released in 1973. I felt a strange connection with history, from both 40 years ago and 2000 years ago.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnC7TdkRnP4

Travellin’

Posted in Family, Travel on June 2, 2014 by Chris

I think I have the Travel Bug, and I just can’t get rid of it. I just love to travel, whether it’s by pushbike to the next town or by airplane to another country. The best travel accessory is someone you love, and soon I’ll be travelling with two of my most precious loved ones – my wife and my sister. I feel so excited about the coming weeks, and I only wish my daughter could come too – she couldn’t get holidays.

I sometimes wonder what my motivation is for travel. It’s certainly not being imprisoned for a day in a metallic tube hurtling at 1,000 kilometers an hour and ten kilometers high. It’s a requirement, however, to get from Australia to anywhere else in the world. One of the consequences of living down under, I suppose, and the cramped conditions in cattle class is part of the journey. In fact, it should all be about the journey, not the destination. Robert Louis Stevenson once said “I travel not to go anywhere, but just to go.” Harry Chapin once sang “It’s the going, not the getting there, that’s good”.

Travel usually means holidays, unless you’re lucky enough to be able to combine work with travel (sigh, I wish). Holidays mean time away from the tedium of the daily work routine. Of course it’s that very same job that provides the means by which the travel is possible in the first place (insert another sigh).

Does travel really broaden the mind? Yes, definitely. It makes me realise what I have, and how lucky I am to live where I live. It makes me tolerant of other people’s beliefs and way of life. Sadly, there’s too many people still cocooned in their own little world, oblivious of what’s really happening around them. Problems and conflicts are just news stories on the box to them, when in actual fact all of humanity look up at the same sun and breathe the same air (to quote John Fitzgerald Kennedy).

This Buzzfeed video might provide some clues as to the diagnosis of my ailment.

Too Old to Rock n Roll?

Posted in Classic rock, Music, Musings with tags , on May 13, 2014 by Chris

I went to a concert the other night. The music was loud, with a spectacular light show, energetic rock ‘n’ roll, and fantastic individual performances. It was a collaboration between four rock stars – Russell Morris, Joe Camillieri, Richard Clapton and Leo Sayer, each of them aged in their mid-60s after a forty-year career in writing, recording and playing their own music. It was an awesome night and I got home after midnight, followed by an early morning struggle to work after too little sleep and ringing in my ears. Perhaps I’m getting too old for this. Twenty years ago I would’ve bounced off the late night to surge headlong into the next day.

The artists may have been of retirement age, but they didn’t act it, quite the opposite in fact. They sang with gusto and pranced about the stage like 20 year olds, clearly having fun. That fun was infectious. They didn’t dress flamboyantly, with some receding hairlines (“my deciduous brothers” as Russell called his fellow bald band mates). They would’ve passed for ordinary people if spotted walking down the street. The focus of the evening was their music, and the nostalgia it created was palpable.

As I listened, I marveled at the creative process that made this music and how it still moved me. How hard the musicians must’ve worked to learn each other’s songs to play them onstage. And then, after the show, they’d pack it all up and set up in another town, playing for another audience. This was their job, as I would head to my job the following day. We all need to work to make a living, and the world keeps on turning. While I could only dream of living a life of a professional musician, getting paid to do something I love doing, these guys probably envy me to have a home to go to at the end of every working day.

No, I am not too old to do anything I want. I think this song of Leo’s has a beautiful sentiment of a youth spent learning about life. I can relate to being just a boy once, giving it all away, and yet I can look back on a youth spent listening to songs that made me think, reflect and dream. I think Leo and I have a lot more in common than just our surname.

Anzac Day

Posted in Australia, Family, Musings, Travel on May 2, 2014 by Chris

I guess every country has a day set aside to honour its fallen in times of war.  In Australia it’s the 25th April, the anniversary of the 1915 allied landing on the shores of Gallipoli in Turkey. Australian and New Zealand forces stormed the beaches as the sun rose in that far-off place, only to be mercilessly cut down by Turkish soldiers waiting in the hills above the beach. This year’s Anzac Day, as in the past, I joined my wife and daughter at the traditional dawn service. The rising sun cast an eerie light over the thousands of people assembled around the cenotaph.

 

Where these men really fighting for our freedom? Turkey was not a threat to Australia at the time, and yet our young soldiers were at the behest of British politicians who saw the control of the Black Sea so vitally important. The Australian nation was only 14 years old at the time. Some of these soldiers were only a few years older. Our enemy in 1915 is now our friend, but we still have the British emblem on our flag, as our allegiance to the Union Jack was why so many Anzacs paid the ultimate sacrifice at Gallipoli. Why must I still produce my passport when I enter Great Britain, as though I am as much a foreigner as visiting Turkey?

 

Each year more young Australians make their way to Gallipoli, almost as if it’s a pilgrimage, a rite of passage to being Australian. I stood on that beach in Turkey five years ago, on a day when only a handful of people were there, unlike the ten thousand people crammed into that small but idyllic place on any Anzac Day. A busload of young Turkish military cadets soon arrived. One such cadet approached me and asked where I was from. On hearing “Australia” he put down his rifle, grabbed me by both shoulders, and planted a kiss on both of my cheeks. He then picked up his gun and walked away. His lack of English had him convey his thoughts in the only way he knew how, and left me with an enduring memory of Turkey.

 

Every Australian town has a centotaph that provides a focal point on Anzac Day. Instead of an inanimate object sitting in a park, I’d like to think that the youth of this country, my children included, are evidence to the real meaning of Anzac Day. Living monuments to what it means to be Australian: compassionate, cheerful, tolerant, and free.

 

Here’s the best song about Anzac Day, written by an Irishman over 40 years ago.

One-in-a-million photo

Posted in Travel, Wildlife with tags , , on April 23, 2014 by Chris

It’s been a while since I last posted, but life goes on while you’re feeling contrite for not having contributed to the blog. Last weekend was Easter, and we ventured to the east coast of Tasmania for the long Long Weekend that only Easter offers. I came away after those four days thinking that the best things in life are not free. “Free” in this context does not mean “at no cost”, but rather it refers to getting something fabulous from no effort at all. You’ve really got to earn it, in some way or another.

I went for a couple of walks in Freycinet National Park – one day visiting a remote beach after a three hour trudge through the bush, and another day was a two hour climb up a rocky mountain, which was probably just a large hill by Himalayan standards. Both undertakings required effort, testing my fitness (or lack of).Dolphins

It rained on our way to the beach. Although wet through, I sensed something unique about walking through the bush in the rain. A different type of silence; raindrops quietly falling on a million leaves lending a background chorus to the bird calls. Emerging from the forest and striding onto the white sand of Wineglass Bay, I was greeted by a welcoming party as a pod of dolphins frolicked offshore. I had never seen dolphins in the wild before, a fact that reminds me how many things I need to experience before I die – I must get on with it. Of the forty-plus photos I took, one came out brilliantly as three dolphins leaped from the water to allow my camera to freeze them in time. A one-in-a-million- shot.

Mt AmosBoth expeditions rewarded me with magnificent views and unforgettable landscapes. The view from the top of Mt Amos was majestic. I’m grateful to be adequately able-bodied to get myself to see these places. The strenuous exercise had its rewards. You must journey to experience the world around you. There is life outside your front door.

A Neighbourly Farewell

Posted in Family, Musings with tags on December 5, 2013 by Chris

Jack was my nextdoor neighbour throughout my childhood and teenage years, and he passed away last night. He was in his mid-80s, and had lived in the same house since before I was born. My sister still lives in my family home, so I’ve had regular contact with Jack and his wife Flo even though I’d moved out of home over 30 years ago.

I have fond memories of Jack and Flo when I was a kid. Jack was a wonderful gardener. He was also a travel agent and was frequently away, travelling to exotic places that I could have only had dreamed about. Tales of their journeys simply inspired me to travel myself, a yearning that I still have today.

When they were away, I had the job of watering their garden, and my sister would collect their mail. I loved exploring Jack’s garden, it was like entering another world. It had so many nooks and crannies, places to hide, little enclaves that revealed a flowering plant or provided a seat to rest and observe. I still don’t know how he could fit so much into such a small space. I remember pretending that I was somewhere else – exploring a jungle in some far-off foreign land.

Life can be quite unpleasant if you don’t get on with your neighbour. It can be sublime if you do. Neighbours are such an understated part of our suburban community. My parents were friendly, caring and sharing people, and I consider myself lucky to have lived next to others who were equally friendly, caring and sharing. As a child growing into adulthood, you couldn’t ask for more.

Jack – farewell my old friend, you will not be forgotten. Sorry for all the times we hit the ball over your fence. If only you knew the number of times I crept under your kitchen window to retrieve it.