Monthly Archives: October 2013

Australia: Interval at the Sydney Opera House

One of the most intoxicating views of Sydney Harbour at night is from the northern foyer of the Opera House.

a view from every angle

a view from every angle

As the orchestra breaks for its mid-concert interval, the audience flows to the foyers within this graceful ivory sail.

My exit door is nearest the northern foyer. I sidle along the crimson seats, squeezing past the fat knees of patrons wishing to stay seated. While many line up at the bar for refreshments, I join the throng who gravitate to the topaz glass wing that suspends us towards the harbour. We are a tumble of furs and jeans, bubbly and beer.

the northern foyer waits for sunset

the northern foyer waits for sunset

Below us, on the path lit by sea-misted lamps, a large heart has been fashioned out of tea lights. The inside is bedded with red rose petals. As if on cue, a young man, hand in hand with his girlfriend, walks towards it. He lifts her into its refuge. Presenting a bouquet, he goes on bended knee and proposes.

The back-dropped harbour celebrates as its lights slide and riff across the pewter-stippled water. The Bridge, like the Colossus of Rhodes, straddles the two shorelines. A chain of climbers, headlamps flickering like fireflies, makes its way up the arch. On top, the red light nicknamed Blinky Bill, winks between the dual flags while the water-rippled pylons guard the harbour like golden sphinx of ancient times.


Across the harbour, Luna Park laughs; its yellow hair spikes and recedes. Within the fun park’s kaleidoscope of colours, the ferris wheel spins like a giant red chocolate wheel.

The harbour is in its evening ritual, its unique version of la passeggiata. Party boats parade their electric light shows. An eerily rigged tall ship glides. Red-lit water taxis flit and flirt with lumbering, ghost-windowed ferries as they chug towards their dark destinations.

Fort Denison sits like a giant plug in the centre of the harbour. One pull and you imagine the water spiralling clockwise to the centre of the earth giving off its final glug as the chill night air is sucked into its eddy.

fort denison

Opposite the Opera House, the Overseas Passenger Terminal awaits its next arrival in spangled colour. Around the curve of Circular Quay the ferry wharves underpin festooned city skyscrapers whose primary colours waver through the water like the tresses of Medusa.

I gaze towards the darkened north shore of Milsons Point and Kirribilli and think of Kenneth Slessor’s 1930s elegy Five Bells where the poet looked “in the dark at waves with diamond quills and combs of light.” Slessor describes the drowning of his friend, Joe Lynch, who fell from a ferry; the pockets of his tattered raincoat chocked with beer bottles. As Lynch struck out for Milsons Point he vanished in the moonlight, “sucked away, in mud.” I watch the lines of longitudinal swells rippling towards the far shore and wonder where beneath is Joe, “long dead who lives between the bells.” Are his bones scattered among other antediluvian secrets in the sediment of this drowned river valley?

Kenneth Slessor's plaque on the Writers Walk at Circular Quay

Kenneth Slessor’s plaque on the Writers Walk at Circular Quay

The bell tolls for the end of interval and I turn with the human tide and return to my seat. Stretching the length of the facing wall is the panoramic depiction of the harbour’s underbelly in John Olsen’s water mural, Salute to Five Bells. It’s an ultramarine manuscript of shifting notations, its lyrical stave blobbed with psychedelic sea creatures descending with Joe Lynch, as he becomes part of the mythology of the bottom of the harbour.

Salute to Five Bells

Salute to Five Bells

Musings aside, I am back within the mellow light of the concert hall for the second half of the program. I’m again ensconced within this majestic ship’s ribs. Although anchored physically to Bennelong Point, as the orchestra crescendos, my imagination sets sail for foreign landscapes, with bowing strings, lilting flutes and floating bells.

Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow,  That I shall say good night till it be morrow. (Juliet to Romeo)

Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow. (Juliet to Romeo)

Australia: Tall ships and tempest on Sydney Harbour

Had I been around a hundred years ago I would have been standing on the bounds of Sydney Harbour watching Australia’s first Royal Navy Fleet sailing through the heads.

A century later I am standing on the harbour’s bounds as part of the celebration of the International Fleet Review. Today will see the coming together of the biggest fleet of tall ships in the Southern Hemisphere.

I’ve long been a lover of tall ships with their sailing grace, cusps of timber and adventurous sailors. Not wanting to miss the opportunity of joining them in spirit, I hop aboard a train to Milson’s Point where I can wander down the hill to Kirribilli, stand in the lee of the Harbour Bridge, look across to the Opera House and watch the flotilla sail by.

Sydney has barely seen rain for the past few months, but today, on October 3, the weather gods have changed the game plan.

As my train nears The Bridge, not only is rain bleating down, but hail as well.


Inadequately dressed, I fight my way downhill against the bluster. I could have turned around and caught the warm, misty-windowed train back home, but where’s the fun and adventure in that.

Besides, the Harbour Bridge is a HUGE umbrella. Wrong. As I stand beneath its massive, masculine road span for shelter, I may as well be standing beneath a colander. Not only is the rain horizontally shooting in, it’s falling in long vertical lines from above. People are huddled against the pylons seeking shelter, kids are jumping up and down trying to keep warm. Families who had brought in rubber-backed picnic rugs are wrapped in them like tartan presents.



There are kids everywhere in plastic ponchos and there’s even a man wearing a folding chair on his head as as rather large sou’wester. Kids huddle under golf umbrellas as if they’re teepees.


“Makes it rather authentic don’t you think, like being in a squall at sea,” I comment to a lady standing beside me. She looks at me with my dripping hair flailing my face, my umbrella flipping in and out like some kind of purple semaphore. She just shakes her head.


As I’m waiting for the tall ships to arrive, I think of all the ways I could have stayed dry. An unlimited ferry ride would have seen me zigzagging the harbour in relative comfort. Or what about the giant ferris wheel at Luna Park with its bird’s-eye view.

And then, with the rain pelting and the wind whipping there’s a hoot of joy from a bunch of kids. There’s a flyover of helicopters, and a fire boat shooting plumes of water rounds the bend. Behind it are the first tall ships, the Young Endeavour and the replica of Captain Cook’s HM Bark Endeavour. “Do you think Captain Jack Sparrow’s on board?” an excited boy looks up at me wide-eyed. A canon booms and rocks the shore and kids cheer oblivious to the raging tempest.


More tall ships appear, some with sails and some without. My soaked admirers and I watch the sixteen proud ships sail under the Harbour Bridge towards their berths at Darling Harbour. The Bark Europa has taken eight months to sail here. On the Soren Larsen men stand tall along the yards and up in the crows nest. It’s blustery on land let alone up where they are.


It’s romance and reality in this flotilla. Wood and canvas sail beneath the rush of wheels and steel on the bridge above.


But wait. There’s one more bedraggled ship. It’s the Wreck of the Hesperus. Or is it the tempest-tossed me.

The ibis are waiting for the Wreck of the Hesperus.

The ibis are waiting for the Wreck of the Hesperus.

Book Review : The Floods – Bewitched

The Floods – Bewitched by Colin Thompson (Random House Australia)

PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781742755304
Also available as an ebook

ISBN 9781742755311
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Take a cauldron and simmer the usual suspects: blood, boils, bile, bedlam and, of course, bacon. Stir in a healthy dose of puns and drink in Colin Thompson’s 12th book, Bewitched, in his hilarious, The Floods, series.

The setting is Transylvania Waters and King Nerlin is going the way of all good monarchs. He’s going Doolally. ‘Things like Alzheimer’s disease and general Doolallyness weren’t supposed to happen to witches and wizards, they were the sorts of things humans got.’

As Nerlin’s mind slowly wanders off to Planet Janet, Queen Mordonna gathers their children and utters what all children dread to hear, ‘we have to do something about your father …’

Mordonna gets Nerlin his own personal manservant called Bacstairs, as Nerlin falls further under the spell of his imaginary friend, Geoffrey-Geoffrey.

But, as the title suggests, Nerlin may just be Bewitched! The Floods seek help from the old crones and ride their talking donkeys high up into the mountains, where ‘baggy knickers flapped like Buddhist flags’. They ride through the Masking Clouds (that keep things invisible) to the Impossible Waterfall, where water falls from thin air.

Nerlin is indeed bewitched as he loses control of his vowels and has to wear Incompetence Underpants until his vowels work again.

Thompson is a master of plopping in the puns. As with his previous Floods’ titles (that also pun the Soapies): Survivor, The Great Outdoors, Top Gear and Home and Away, Bewitched is bristling with them. There’s imaginary friend, Geoffrey-Geoffrey, the son of the Hearse Whisperer; the Floods ‘pop into Burnings, the famous Transylvania Waters hardware story’, and they even get caffe lattes from Scarebutts, where a wPhone is an iPhone for wizards.

There is also a parallel plot involving Geoffrey-Geoffrey; he is not all he seems to be.

So, is King Nerlin spiralling into Doolallyness or are the old crones able to cure him? All those children out there who are 8+ and who want to be in on the adventure, you’ll just have to read on.

Colin Thompson has more than 65 books published. He has won multiple awards, including a CBCA Picture Book of the Year, a CBCA Honour Book and was shortlisted for the Astrid Lindgren Award – the most prestigious children’s literature prize in the world. Let’s hope he never goes Doolally!