**A very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone! I trust that you all had a fabulous**
**festive season and I hope that all your dreams for 2011 come true!!**

10th January 2010

Australian word of the day: Duna – Duvet

I admit that Australia has never featured particularly high on my list of the 195 countries to visit in this great and glorious world. In fact, at the risk of insulting any Aussies in my audience, it was pretty low down. So, why did we decide to spend four weeks on this utterly ginormous island? Our reasoning was two fold:

1. To spend time with my brother and sister-in-law, and my uncle and aunt
2. To see what all the fuss was about.

Our visit was successful on both fronts. Spending days lounging with family – catching up, reacquainting or meeting for the first time, was time enjoyably and invaluably spent. I shall refrain from recounting those days here for the eyes of those to whom my family is of little interest, but be assured it was wonderful.

We arrived in Sydney to the enthusiastic toots and hails from by brother and his new wife (by ‘new’, I of course mean that they are relatively newly wed, not that my brother regularly frequents the registry office and has a long line of ‘old’ wives. Or perhaps he does and we have all been duped…I digress). So yes, we arrive and the city of Sydney prepared to violently hurl us, doe-eyed, from the castaway island lifestyle back into the commercial whirlpool. We traipsed the city streets, window-shopped, gorged on flat-whites, explored the ‘iconic views’ and ticked the tourist ‘things to see’ boxes. We ooed, ahhed and awwed at the critters in Taronga Zoo; I swore at the dark tank in which there was ‘allegedly’ a duck-billed platypus, decided that I needed a pet echidna and that I wanted to be a koala, whilst Chris exclaimed at the Sumatran tigers and compared himself to bears. We dallied on ferries across Sydney harbour, lazed in the sun at Bondi Beach and attempted to squeeze, with perfect British politeness, past sweaty teenage girls shopping in their bikinis (well, I did, I can’t vouch for Chris on that one).

Pebbly Beach - New South Wales, Australia



Pebby Beach

On Christmas day my brother, his wife, Chris and I began, what was to be, a long journey North up the coast to Byron Bay with the intention of spending New Year’s Eve in the hippie surf capital of the world. After two days of ambling and camping, it became apparent that the heavy rain had soaked the ground to such an extent that camping was not going to be effortlessly enjoyable. A few days later, we returned to Sydney, defeated by the weather pattern which very soon became responsible for the serious flooding further up in Queensland. But, every cloud has a silver lining and no Byron Bay for NYE meant that we were able to experience one of those check-points on the ‘bucket list’; to see-in the New Year in the heart of Sydney watching one of the greatest firework displays in the world.

I must admit that I had been somewhat disappointed by the Sydney Opera House. It’s iconic image is touted and paraded to such an extent that I already felt familiar with the building before I had even seen it in the flesh. When I finally found myself standing at the foot of this architectural celebrity I found it to not be the smooth, fluid creation that I had thought it was but instead found it a crude formation of naked concrete and tiling sculpted into sweeping domes perched awkwardly atop a blocky, unattractive pedestal that seemed to devour it. That said, as I stood watching 2010 morph into 2011 to the sound and colour of tarted-up explosives, I did saw beauty in the Opera House and warmed to it.

‘Warming to it’ is perhaps the mantra to our time in Australia. In fact, we warmed to it so much that we found we really quite liked it. It is, however, a fashion and historical culture wasteland and for me, this would ordinarily be a big problem. To describe the atmosphere, or lack of, is difficult. The city of Sydney doesn’t feel like a city, or not in the European sense. It is spacious, sprawling, calm and laid-back. Public transport is good, traffic is good (despite what the locals think), and you’re only 15-30mins away from a nature reserve teeming with wildlife or the beach teeming with the other kind of wildlife or beaches with no one on them but you. The lifestyle seems fantastic, particularly for children and teens; shopping and surf. Outdoor life is mandatory with any sport or activity available including, my favourite, chilling out on a beach watching the human menagerie. And of course, the coffee is amazing (although we were hard-pushed to find a cafe who’s coffee even came close to my brother’s). The countryside and culture are familiar enough to a European that it’s easy to feel at home and you could travel only in Australia and still see extreme diversity in the natural surroundings, and not forgetting that South East Asia and the Islands of the South Pacific are on your doorstep.

Sumatran Tiger

So in all, Sydney is certainly somewhere we would consider living, in fact, it makes practical sense in so many ways that we are finding it hard to discover reasons not to re-locate.

Thank you to Toby and Jade, Rory and Marieta for your generous hospitality, it was magical spending time with you. I am sad that my family is so spread but feel so lucky to have been able to see your world. Thank you Ed and Faith for sparing the time to see us, it was great catching up. And to our baby-docs from Santo, it was lovely to see you and I hope you didn’t get your heads shrunk in Papua.