Category Archives: Australia

Notes from my extremely glamorous life, It’s Nearly Christmas edition

I keep getting “It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas” stuck in my head, except that line is literally the only line in the song that I know, and I’m not entirely sure of the melody.


 

I’m in Perth now. Overheard a guy telling his mates as I got off the plane yesterday, “It’s 38 degrees outside they reckon, if I were youse I’d take my jumper off now.” I can’t decide whether the heat is making it feel like Christmas. Certainly, the winter made it feel like Advent back in Torino, which it never used to. Am I shifting my cultural expectations? But I still can’t imagine it feeling properly like Christmas in the cold and dark.


 

You can tell I grew up Anglican because I think it’s perfectly reasonable to listen to an Advent carol that exhorts people to rejoice in a minor key, which, how is that even supposed to work?

 


 

Found myself in charge of decorations for a Christmas dinner last week. This is an odd choice of job for someone who used to live in a sharehouse where we celebrated Christmas by taking turns to wear the grinch hat — a Santa hat but black instead of red, and with “Bah Humbug” printed on the rim — and complain about the festive season.

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Totally buying myself one for next Christmas.

“Whatever, I’ll just buy some cheap tinsel, throw it around the room, call it done.”  Well, I’m sure somewhere in Turin sells tinsel, but I still haven’t worked out where it is. We ended up with bunting. Which, in the end, why not? It’s festive. At least I didn’t buy the bunting that said “happy birthday”.

Meanwhile, A. and A. thought the lack of a Christmas tree was too much, and painstakingly taped ribon to the walls in the shape of a tree. With branches. And a star on top. Yup, they’re getting the “organize decorations” job next year.


I decided to play up my Antipodean-ness (Antipodeanity?) and made a pavlova for that Christmas party. I am a terrible blogger and didn’t take a photo of it, but you’ll have to believe me that it was a popular success, and not just because there was only one other person there who knew how pavlova “should” be.

Feeling flushed with success, I made another pavlova today to take to a party tonight. I can hear the meringue base cracking under the weight of the cream and fruit. I’m 90% certain it will be served up as Eton Mess. Bad blogger or not, I’m not taking a photo of this one, either.

And that is why sensible people stick to Christmas desserts that don’t have engineering considerations.

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A perfect Perth winter day, in Torino

Winter barefoot walks FTW!
Photo credit: “Winter barefoot walks FTW!” by Simon Wright, via Flickr

Today was one of those Torino autumn days that felt like a perfect Perth winter day — blue skies, chilly in the morning, but warm enough under the midday sun eat lunch outside and not need a jacket. In Perth, I’d have gone for a walk on the beach on a day like today, and come away with wild hair from the buffeting wind. Here, I caught glimpses of the sun setting behind the mountains as I walked through the meadows in Parco Colletta, and got grass seeds stuck in my socks.

It occurs to me I haven’t been in Perth in winter for 5 years now, and on days like today that feels like a long time. I miss Perth. Not just the people, who I miss frequently (and do a terrible job of keeping in touch with!) But the geography, too. The open space and wide empty streets, single-storey houses on quater-acre blocks. The way the city is flat, until you notice the undulations of the sand dunes it’s built upon. The route from my old place to work, cycling through bushland just a couple of kilometres from the city centre. The Swan River, or rather, just “the river”, as if you needed any other rivers in the world.

And other days I miss Glasgow, and other days I miss the tiny wheat and sheep farming town I lived in as a kid, and other days I miss the months I spent in Florence. Probably one day I’ll be living somewhere else again, and missing Torino.

We were talking over dinner the other night about the idea of being “from” somewhere. Like, can you be from somewhere if your parents weren’t from there? In Australia, yes, but that’s not universal. And I was thinking afterwards about how I’d never thought about being from somewhere until I lived in Glasgow for a year and realized that Britishness was something I recognized if I squinted and held my head at a funny angle, but it wasn’t my culture, and the city was lively and Scotland was beautiful, but it wasn’t my place.

Because my culture is Australian, and my place is Perth.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Zoe, from Australia.”
“Oh? Where in Australia are you from?”
“Perth, it’s on the west coast.”
(That last statement delivered almost as a question, because I will never completely lose my Australian habit of upward inflection.)

Anzac day: it’s complicated.

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Dawn service gnangarra 03” by Photographs by Gnangarra…commons.wikimedia.org. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 au via Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday was Anzac day, and like most Australian public holidays it’s interesting to explain to people here. It seems the explanation has to either be very short, or very long. Continue reading

Australia: sometimes I have no idea what to do.

Here’s a question I’ve been pondering this week, and I’d love input from other people living away from their “home” country: How involved are you in your home country’s politics? How involved should you be? I mean politics here in the broadest sense, not just elections and governments but social issues generally. How closely do you follow the news? Do you keep giving money to causes you supported previously? If you’re allowed to vote, do you? Should you?

What prompted all this was a friend here asking me how I felt about Australia’s refugee policies. For years now, governments from both sides of politics have had policies of mandatory offshore detention for anyone coming to Australia by boat. The stated goal of this is to undermine the business model of people smugglers, apparently by trying to make coming to Australia even less appealing than, y’know, for example, getting killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The detention camps are squalid and mental illness and sexual abuse are reportedly endemic. Whatever the solution is to people smugglers preying on the desperate, torturing the same desperate people is surely not it.

This sums it up.

This sums it up. (From the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre.)

So my answer to my friend’s question was: I am appallled. My country is literally trying to be more unattractive than the Iranian government, warlords in Afghanistan and human rights abusers in Sri Lanka. And just the other week, our Prime Minster said he felt no guilt “whatsoever” about the situation. (Oh, my blood pressure after I read that…)

So yeah, I’m angry. I’m also sad. And I feel guilty.

Guilty because this is being done in my name as an Australian, and what am I doing to stop it? Or even to register my disapproval?

Which brings me back to my opening question. What can I do? What should I do?

It’s tempting to say: not my problem, what happens in Australia now has nothing to do with me. Maybe I should even butt out, after all, do I want to become one of those meddling foreigners who has a vague connection to a country and therefore feels qualified to lecture it on how to conduct its affairs?

But that doesn’t sit right with me, to say “whew, glad I’ll never be a refugee” and to get on with more pressing concerns like, “what’s for lunch?” And anyway, I’ve been asked about Australian politics often enough that I don’t think people around me are going to let me shrug it off any time soon.

So, what to do?

Australia lets you stay on the electoral roll and vote for several years after you leave the country, and I did vote in the last federal election. But so did 94% of voters (and we all tutted about low turnout — that’s compulsory voting for you!) and we still wound up with a government that seemingly no-one is happy with at the moment.

I can write emails to politicians. Does that do anything? Here is the frustration of being abroad — I’ve heard that in-person visits are really the way to go if you want to be heard, but that option is out for me. I can post things on facebook — I can barely type that with a straight face, has anything in the world ever changed because someone posted something on facebook? (Besides your friend count, as people decide you’re “that person”?)

As a Christian, I do believe that I can pray. But I also believe God usually answers prayers through peoples’ actions rather than thunderbolt or angelic visitation, so sitting here piously praying without also doing what I can feels false to me. (Like the apostle James says: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”)

Any better ideas? Thoughts about political involvement generally?

PS: I still miss Australia. I mean, look at this:

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Mandurah foreshore, Australia

Continuing the great Aussie road trip tradition. Also, a jigsaw puzzle museum.

Taking a road trip has become something of a Christmas/New Year in Perth tradition for me. Never anything too ambitious, just get together with friends, pick a spot a few hours away where we can stay cheaply, pack a car, and get out of town for a couple of days.

I think the low-key expectations are important here. It’s easy to imagine some kind of movie scene, with the open road, perfect weather, background music exactly matched to the emotional tone of our conversations. Of course, the actual experience is more like mad traffic on the freeway, stonking hot weather and a broken car stereo.

Or, in the case of 2013’s trip, a 5-hour BONUS PICNIC STOP when we broke down 10 km from the nearest town and about 150 km from the nearest tow-truck operator open December 30th. Fortunately, we had a shady spot to wait on the side of the road, an esky full of food, and the people in the house up the hill brought us cool drinks and made sure we were ok. Unfortunately, there was some kind of decomposing animal in the gully just behind us and every time the wind came from the north, we got a good whiff of it. Also, by the 2 hour mark we’d exhausted most of the possibilities of “I spy” and couldn’t think of any other games. (“I spy” only made it to the 2 hour mark because “star picket” took a very long time, since there was only one of them visible in the whole area and it was halfway behind a tree.)

RIP, B.'s mazda :( You were great until your head gasket blew and cost too much to repair.

Turns out cars need functioning head gaskets to go anywhere.

This year, between “I’ve been there twice in the past 6 months” considerations, “I don’t want to drive that far” considerations and “I don’t want to camp but we need to stay cheap” considerations and the general unavailability of places that met those contraints, we wound up staying in a cottage on a property not far from where last year’s breakdown happened. Fortunately, Donnybrook is much nicer if you’re staying there deliberately.

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Our digs. 5000% better than sitting on the side of the road.

In fact, we seemed to avoid mishaps entirely. The biggest problem we encountered was that at our designated leaving time I was still at the bank trying to sort out access to my money. My card had been reissued 6 months prior and because I’d never used the new PIN, I’d forgotten it. And then they wouldn’t let me change the PIN in person, I had to get them to mail a new one to me. Which they did, except to my Italian address. Let’s just say my bank genuinely tries to have good customer service and I would recommend them to anyone based in Australia, but they are not set up for expats.

In the end I borrowed some money from my parents (want to feel decades younger? hit up your parents for cash) and we were off. And the late start gave us an excuse to stop for lunch in Mandurah, which has an unreasonably nice foreshore. (Am I allowed to say that if I’m from Perth?)

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Too bad no-one can afford to buy property here any more.

Once we arrived, a lot of our time was spent hanging around playing cards and admiring the local wildlife. By which I mean my friend A. — who is very much a city person — valiantly survived her fears about the numerous spiders, moths, large ants and small lizards to be found in rural Australia. We did also see a kangaroo. This did not make up for the other animals.

But a road trip isn’t a road trip without some oddball attractions, so the next day we went out for lunch (and some post-lunch cider tasting) and then wound up in the Bridgetown Jigsaw Puzzle Museum.

Worth it for the carpet alone.

Worth it for the carpet alone.

Those pictures on the walls? Are all jigsaw puzzles.

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One of the less intricate ones.

Look, I’m not saying you should travel all the way to Australia to visit the Bridgetown Jigsaw Puzzle Museum, but I am going to point out that it’s entry by donation and it kept us occupied for far longer than you’d expect. Which is more or less the opposite of most world-famous museums, where you pony up 15 euro and get bored after 20 minutes. Just saying.

On our drive back to Perth the next day we detoured to the coast at Busselton, a town with an amazing beach and an amazing lack of a good route into/out of town. Well, it’s probably fine most days, but none of the roads are designed to take a lot of traffic and on New Year’s Eve it seemed everyone in the south west wanted to be in Busso. We got stuck in the only traffic jam of our trip, complete with people driving on the footpath to get into the turning lane (WHO EVEN DOES THAT?), but it was worth it for this:

Good spot for lunch on New Year's Eve.

Look I know there’s only, like, 5 people on this entire beach but there really was a traffic jam to get there. Australian beaches are just magically empty.

Aw yes.

Practical info for future reference: We stayed here and would definitely recommend it as a quiet getaway spot. (Power comes from solar only, so be prepared to go low-tech!) Beds were comfy and the kitchen was well-equipped. Also, a road trip tip from my sister: if your car has a cd player, whenever you’re at an opshop (thrift store/charity shop), keep an eye out for 90’s hits going super cheap. No road trip can’t be improved by Backstreet Boys.

Les Miserables ticket

Les Miserables at the Crown Theatre: Review

I’ve been wracking my brains and I honestly think this is the first musical I’ve ever seen live. Heck, I think the last time I went to the theatre might have been a highschool excursion. I know I’ve seen a couple of operas in my life — Madame Butterfly in a free concert on the Perth foreshore several years ago, and another I can’t remember anything about except that it was in an actual theatre. (Maybe I dreamed it?) At any rate, I am in no way qualified to say anything about the show. But lack of qualifications never stopped me from blogging…

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I did actually buy a ticket and not sneak in. Which is a pity, because sneaking in would have made a better story for the blog.

The short version of this review is: So! Much! Fun! If you’re in Perth and were wondering if you should get tickets, then this non musical theatre person says, do it. Well, I imagine tickets are sold out by now. But you should have done it. The singing and orchestra were very good, the set was cool, it was worth seeing just for the innkeeper’s wife. 100% serious, I would pay money to see a musical that’s just the innkeeper and his wife getting up to shenanigans.

My biggest annoyance was that the woman playing Cosette simply couldn’t act. Which is awkward when she’s a central character.

Of course, she’s not helped by the plot, which has her and Marius seeing each other for the first time and then 1 minute later singing a bunch of ridiculous songs about how in love they are. Unromantic grumps that we are, my friend B. and I giggled through that entire section. Can people really fall in love so fast? sings Cosette. Nah love, that’s just your hormones.

And can I add: Poor Eponine. If, like I was until recently, you’re unfamiliar with the story: Eponine is in a love triangle with Marius and Cosette and apparently the only way for this to be resolved is for her to die. I mean, death is probably better than being stuck with that drip Marius, but still. Add to my musical theatre wishlist: a musical in which Eponine tells Marius to go jump in a lake and then goes on to lead the student rebellion to glorious victory. Again, 100% serious that I would pay money to see this.

In summary, I would give this 5 stars if it were a completely different musical (get writing, musical theatre people!) and/or if Cosette could act well enough for me to care about her. So I guess 4 stars it is.

Finally, I promise I will never shoe-blog ever again, but I have to show these off. Going to the theatre gave me the chance to wear these for about the 3rd time in 3 years, but considering I got them for $10 from the opshop, the cost per wear is pretty decent.

Much more walkable than you'd think.

Much more walkable than you’d think.

Perth, Australia, from the air

Coming and going and the annual Perth trip.

I’m writing this from Perth, where a cloudless day has turned into a breezy summer’s evening. I’m listening to the neighbour’s windchimes and the rustle of leaves. I’ve traded my winter coat and thick socks for a tshirt and skirt. This morning, I did a load of laundry and it dried within an hour or two of me hanging it outside. Earlier this evening I sat around with my family drinking Spritz Aperol.

Sorry (not sorry) to my Northern Hemisphere readers for telling you all this.

A hastily-taken plane window shot -- it gives the general impression at least.

A hastily-taken plane window shot — it gives the general impression at least.

I always find landing in Perth a surreal experience. I’m sure it’s partly the sleep deprivation — this year, I had Christmas in Munich with extended family which was super-fun but not sleep-conducive, then a day-long stopover in Dusseldorf on Boxing Day (more on that in another post), then Dusseldorf-Beijing-Singapore-Perth1.

Perth doesn't have sheep grazing on the banks of its river. Dusseldorf does.

Perth doesn’t have sheep grazing on the banks of its river. Dusseldorf does.

But landing in Perth is also weird because it has become something that marks the turning of the year, a point where time folds in on itself. Every year, I have a head-spinning moment of wondering if I’d ever really been away or if my life is Perth in late December/early January and everything else is a dream.

Yes ok, the sleep deprivation definitely contributes to the literal dizziness of that feeling. But the annual cycle is real. Except it’s not quite a cycle. People have gone on living a year here while I’ve been living a year elsewhere. Friendships evolve. Places change. New buildings go up, others get knocked down. And even after living in Perth for years and years, and visiting regularly, there are still things I notice for the first time when I arrive again. This time, it was the smell. A warm dirt and eucalyptus smell, a smell which I instantly recognized as “Perth smell” even if I’d never realized it before.

So for now, this coming and going is part of my life. I like it, even if it does make things more complicated. Like the immigration entry form. I am yet to decide whether I’m a “visitor from overseas, country of residence: Italy” or an “Australian returning to Australia”. Can I be both?


[1] Pro-tip for anyone attempting a similarly stupid-but-cheap itinerary: in Beijing, you have to line up to get your passport stamped even if you’re transferring from one international flight to another and don’t leave the airport. It’s a long queue, maybe have a snack on hand? But don’t get caught out like the people ahead of me in line did — they got almost to the front of the hour-long queue before they discovered that since their connecting flight had a stopover in Shanghai, it was actually a domestic flight and they had to go to a completely different desk to get a Chinese entry stamp.