Monday, 13 April 2009

Tribulations and Travels

I have given much thought to whether I should write this article and am in fact a little uncomfortable putting fingers’ to the keyboard.

The Ghan has left Station and is travelling through the suburbs and then outer suburbs of Adelaide. One thing that strikes me is the basic make up of suburbs in Australia’s major cities is pretty much the same. And yes, for the exercise I am classing Adelaide as a major city. The fact they host a UCI category 1 cycling race gives them that status as far as I’m concerned.

Australian backyards are also all pretty much the same and I wonder if this is the case in other countries.

On we roll and signs of suburbia disappear and there, not 50 metres from the train track is a kangaroo. Surprisingly and disappointingly, this is the only kangaroo I see for the entire journey and it was not one of the ‘big red’ variety I expected and wanted to see through the outback.

About 5 or so hours out of Adelaide we arrive at Port Augusta for a scheduled one hour stop and an opportunity to get out and walk around.

I spot a gateway to a park that has a sign saying “Matthew Flinders Memorial”. I vividly remember being enthralled in Primary School with the exploits of Flinders and Bass so it is with much enthusiasm and anticipation that I head for the park to see and read the memorial expecting a plague and perhaps a statue. It was only after entering and exploring the park that it occurred to me that the gateway to the park and the sign itself is actually the memorial. A city boy expecting more from a small country town, proud of its history

The facilities at the Port Augusta Station however were disappointing. The Ghan is promoted as being one of the World’s Great Train Journey’s and rightfully so. There was a shop at the station however, the coffee machine was not operating, the magazine rack was empty, there was hardly a can of soft drink in the fridge and no fruit juice at all. While I did not want to buy anything, it occurred to me this is not a particularly good impression to give overseas tourists who have been attracted to Adelaide by the lure of one of “The World’s Great Train Journey’s”. I felt we could do better. Over to you Mr. Rann.

Back on the train and rolling and before you know it all Gold and Platinum Class passengers (sorry, guests) were gathering for the welcome cocktail party. Now I haven’t so much as had a glass of Champagne (sorry sparkling white wine made methode champagne) in 18 months and here I am having my second, third and fourth in the space of a few hours.

Dinner followed (Tasmanian Salmon) and in no time a very full night’s sleep was disturbed at 6.30am with the delivery of a hot cup of tea. Thank you Penny, and made just as I requested the night before.

The view out the window was of dry scrub with a few trees dead and alive for variety. A couple of hours later, there was excitement in the lounge car – a dingo was spotted.

In conversation with an American lady, she mentioned her reason for doing the trip was to see Koala’s in the wild. She was most disturbed to learn that there are no Koala up through the centre.

The view out the window continued to be of bushy scrub sprinkled with trees. I was expecting to be seeing wide open spaces of red by now; maybe closer to Alice Springs; hopefully closer to Alice Springs.

Alice Springs came and went with a marvelous tour of the Desert Park, but more on this another time.

There was a common theme in discussion over pre dinner drinks and then dinner. Everyone was commenting on how beautiful the country is and how wonderful the scenery is we are passing through.

I just don’t get it.

Maybe I lack imagination, maybe I am not sufficiently romantic, maybe I have lived and spent too much time in big cities or perhaps I am actually un-Australian. Sure, the land is perhaps interesting and fascinating. I find it incredible that organisms live, survive and prosper in such a harsh environment and the evolution over time to adapt to the changing conditions is certainly amazing, but beautiful? I just don’t see it and it must be my problem.

I have this theory about Champagne that perhaps particularly applies to the baby boomer and builder generations more than the X’s and Y’s. My theory is that we were brought up believing that champagne was a special and wonderful drink that we should all love and enjoy when we get the chance too. It was almost required that we enjoy it and in many cases, I suspect most people don’t know if what they are drinking is any good and don’t particularly like it more than say a moderate red, but it is wrong to say anything against champagne so they don’t. Haven’t we all gagged on cheap so called champagne at a wedding or 21st birthday party?

I think something similar applies to much of the outback. We are brought up being told how beautiful it is and how its beauty has to be scene to be believed. The promotional material for The Ghan says as much.

I can see beauty in a beach scene, a rain forest, a water fall, a mountain range, snow capped mountains and passes. I can see beauty in a rising sun over the Brisbane River or the silhouette of the skyline against a setting sun. I cannot see it out the train window.

And it is my inability to see the landscape we travelled through to be beautiful that has made me a little un-comfortable writing about it.

Admittedly, I was looking forward to seeing red soil as far as the eye can see and now know we were not in such territory but it does exist.

But don’t get me wrong, I still loved the trip – all of it.

And Katherine and the Gorge are yet to come.

Finally, I was expressing my confusion about the beauty of the scenery on the Ghan trip to a friend over coffee this afternoon. She asked me if the outback or the part I witnessed had personality. My response was a resounding yes, it sure has personality.

She then drew on a different analogy to that of champagne. She suggested that not all people are beautiful to the eye but they have wonderful personalities and are beautiful people just the same.

I have given this some thought and decided the Outback I traveled through last week is indeed beautiful. Maybe I am Australian after all.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Travels and Tribulations

Courtesy of Qantas, I am sitting at approximately 40,000 feet in row 1E about an hour out of Darwin heading for Brisbane and reflecting on the last 4 days. Firstly, it doesn’t feel like only 4 days; it feels like a lot, lot longer but not in a bad way. Time has not dragged and it has not been boring, quite the opposite actually.

My first observation therefore is that perhaps distance travelled and the means of transport contribute to the whole “getting away” experience. I am feeling far more refreshed and invigorated from this 4 day journey covering half the breath and the entire length of the country than I normally do from a drive for a stay of twice the length at either of the holiday coasts that lie to the North and South of Brisbane.

Also, if not driving a few hours to a holiday destination, I generally insist on flying there, flying back and doing whatever it is you do in between depending on the destination you have travelled to. Eg Sydney equals Blue Mountains + harbour bridge walk (not climb) + Ferry to Manly + lunch at Watson’s Bay, +++ and always a beer at the Fortunes of War Hotel in the Rocks (Australia’s oldest continually licenced hotel and my favourite pub).

This was an altogether different and an outcome leaving me totally refreshed and relaxed.

Departure for Adelaide from Brisbane was on the Virgin Blue 5.55 am flight. On arriving in Adelaide it was the shuttle bus to the interstate rail terminal about 10 or so minutes away. It was about two and half hours until the scheduled departure of the famous Ghan Train for what is billed as one of the World’s Great Rail Journey’s through to Darwin.

Given it was early, there were not many people at the Train station. However, the gentlemen checking tickets and arranging bags was charming, informative, happy and genuinely helpful. A long chat with him about the station, The Ghan itself and some of the tours that were available in Alice Springs and Katherine followed. And this guy was just the ticket and baggage man. He then provided an introduction to the lady who looks after the tours. A cup of tea later, an email or 2 with the office, a twitter entry or 3 and then another chat to the Tours lady allowed fully informed decisions to be made about what to do in Alice Springs and Katherine

A walk of the length of the train and a stop to admire what were two very different looking carriages followed. Making an enquiry of a rail employer about 20 meters away, led to the discovery they are the Prince of Wales cars built in the 1920’s for the Prince of Wales tour of Australia. He offered a look inside and before you knew it, the world of luxury train travel, circa 1928 opened up, but with the modern bits now added such as air conditioning. The wood work was exquisite as was the dinning table in the private dining car.

The rail employee advised the cars hold up to 10 people. He also said that it is not that expensive on the basis of 10 people – “only a bit more than the normal price. It was later revealed that booking the Prince of Wales cars from Adelaide through to Darwin (or the other way) came at a cost of $40,000. So for 10 people that is $4000 a head and only around $1000 a head more than our Platinum Class fare for the same trip.

In no time, nearly 3 hours in an out of the way rail station with only a small souvenir shop and café for entertainment had passed and it was all aboard and into Platinum Carriage P2, room 7/8.

All was feeling and looking good when the delightful Penny, the carriage steward for the trip appeared and explained the working of the cabin, the safety procedures and itinerary details before producing a glass each of South Australia’s finest vintage sparkling white wine (read champagne).

It was time to roll and roll we did.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Monarchy, Gender and Religion

Let’s get this out of the way straight away.

I am not a monarchist.

That does not mean I don’t support the fundamentals of a Westminster system of Government because I do and also believe it has served us well.

I just don’t think our Head of State should be the Queen.

In short, I believe the Governor General should be our Head of State and he or she should be elected for a term of 7 years by a two thirds majority of both houses of the Federal Government.

Further, I think the State Governments should be responsible for nominating not more than one candidate each 7 years and that each nomination should be endorsed by a two thirds majority of both Houses of the State Parliaments (except for Queensland which does not have an Upper House)

But this is not the issue here.

I was surprised in a conversation in the office today when a 28 year old male member of staff declared himself to be a staunch Monarchist. I simply don’t know of many young people who hold such a view.

But it got me thinking maybe I am out of touch with the 20 something’s in our community.

Why shouldn’t people in their 20’s be Monarchists? After all, the surge in patriotism around such traditional historical events such as ANZAC day has been huge in recent years, and Long Tan day is starting to gain traction and will hopefully continue to grow.

Maybe the young adults in our community are also returning to King and Queen and Mother England.

Maybe I should re-consider the relevance of the Monarchy and challenge my own views as I may be badly out of touch.

That was at least until I turned on the radio an hour or so ago and decided not to challenge my anti Monarchist views.

The radio story surrounded a private members bill introduced into the Chamber of Commons to commence the process to change the rules of Monarchial succession.

The 300 year old succession rules are such that the first born male child of the ruling King or Queen assumes the Throne when the ruler passes away or abdicates. If there are no male children, the oldest daughter takes over the crown. If there are no children at all, there is a process to determine the next in line however in all cases, the males take precedence over the females.

Oh, and by the way, Roman Catholics are excluded completely. Male or Female.

The Private Members Bill was to change the succession rules to give Males and Females equal status.

Now how radical is the thought that Males and Females are equals. After all, we even allow females to vote and own land now a days.

But horror of horrors, the Bill went further than that and proposed allowing Roman Catholics to become King or Queen. Now that would never do.

Ok, I know the argument that only a Muslim would be allowed to be King of Saudi Arabia and no Women would ever be allowed the throne so why cannot we have similar rules. But Saudi Arabia and other such cultures are hardly the barometer by which we set our standards in society. Are they?

I should add, the Bill was defeated when the Brown Government refused to add its support. This was despite comprehensive polling that over 70% of Great Britain supports the changes.

Extraordinary – it is 2009 isn’t it?
I make no apologies for reaffirming my anti Monarchist views. In fact, I am now of the belief the Monarchy is also inappropriate under current rules for Great Britain whereas previously, I didn’t really give a toss what they did