Monthly Archives: January 2011

TREKKING NEPAL – simply the best


It’s pretty simple really. Lots of places have great hiking, but Nepal has the greatest treks of them all. I was privileged to be invited on this trip, and ‘voluntourism’ was an excellent way to start. I can’t gush about this enough!

As we gasp for breath in the thin air above his village, Ang Tshering Sherpa tells us a story. When he was a little boy, his mother sent him up this mountain to tend the family yak. It was cold, so Ang sneaked some matches and lit a fire to keep warm. But the wind sent the blaze racing out of control, burning the whole hillside and bringing all the neighbours running to save their livestock.

Thirty years later, Ang has more than repaid his village for the trouble he caused them. At thirteen he became a mountain guide. Then when a grateful Australian client asked what his village most needed, Ang explained that the nearest medical help for many Sherpas was a gruelling 2-day walk away. Not only are there no roads here, there are no wheels. Sick or injured patients have to be carried on the back of man or beast.

Kushudebu Medical Centre. Photo - Rebecca Thornton

So funds were raised, and in 2006 the Kushudebu Medical Centre opened, with Ang Tshering as its president, and support from organisations including Australian schools, travel company World Expeditions and many individuals. It now treats over 10,000 patients a year, and pays for the medical training of young Nepalis who will be its future staff. We’ve just visited it, and we’re starting to realise we’re in an extraordinary place with a remarkable man.

Ten Australians and three Britons have come to Nepal to work on Ang Tshering’s next initiative, building incinerators to dispose of the garbage polluting land and waterways. Then he’s taking us on a nine-day trek. Continue reading

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JUST HOW DANGEROUS IS A SHARK? – Sydney Maritime Museum

We’re trying to broaden the grandchildren’s interests from tyrannosaurus rexes to other creatures with big teeth, so we took them to the shark exhibition at Sydney’s Maritime Museum. They liked the life-like models, the films, the photos of bloody flesh torn from soft pink bodies, the skulls with rows of fangs…

Meanwhile my attention was caught by film footage of terrified swimmers scooting out of the water, fleeing from a gently drifting toaster. The caption read: People killed last year by faulty toasters – 791. People killed by sharks – 4. The film went on to compare annual deaths caused by chairs (652) and kites (about 370 if memory serves) with those 4 shark-related ones. Continue reading

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A NEW AUSTRALIAN FLAG – my two bob’s worth

After all the flag-waving of Australia Day, we turn our minds to that annual bone of contention – how soon can we get a new Australian flag?

Yes, the diggers fought under the one we’re using now, and let’s not forget they fought under the Union Jack before that. And God Save the Old Girl and long may she reign, because, as the barmy army of English cricket fans have been taunting us, (sung to the tune of Yellow Submarine), ‘Your next queen is Camilla Parker-Bowles, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Camilla Parker-Bowles!’ I’m sure Camilla is a lovely person, and she and Prince Charles are welcome out here any time they care to buy air tickets, but I don’t want to foot the bill for any more official royal visits.

That Union Jack in the corner isn’t the only outdated part of the current design. Due to light pollution we can’t see little Southern Cross star Epsilon without a telescope now, and the ACT and Northern Territory both deserve their own points on the Commonwealth star.

It’s been time for a change for a very long time. Continue reading

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SYDNEY’S AUSTRALIA DAY PARTY – hot, hoppy and happy

Darling Harbour, Sydney. Rick Everett (kangaroo on right) has plenty of spring left, even after all the energy he put into Snow on Mars. But a good party needs good bouncers.

I took the bike for a loop around Sydney on Australia Day – through the kids’ concert at Darling Harbour, past the Opera House where the ferries were churning the water, up to the picnics at Hyde Park, and finally back to Enmore Park for the citizenship ceremony and the food fair. Not a hint of trouble anywhere – everybody busy and happy, though the temperature was over 40 degrees. Continue reading

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AUSTRALIA DAY – a festival for racist yobs?

From Sydney Morning Herald. Artist Cathy Wilcox.

January 26th is Australia Day, and as I was trawling cyberspace in search of interesting things to do on a midweek holiday in Sydney, I came across a disturbing discussion on Twitter.

‘Like most women in headscarves I stay at home on Australia Day. Take a wild stab as to why,’ somebody tweeted.

‘Just pragmatism,’ it went on. ‘Last thing I want to deal with is drunks draped in the flag treating me like shit.’

I can’t judge whether the threat is real or imagined, but has our day of national celebration really come to this? How can it be that people fear harassment from fellow citizens who regard themselves as proud ‘real Australians’?

My most memorable Australia Day was some years ago when Mevrouw T and I attended her citizenship ceremony. We weren’t taking it very seriously. Mevrouw T will always feel more Dutch than Australian, though she’s been a resident here for years. Having an Australian passport would simply mean spending less time in immigration queues at Sydney Airport. To our surprise, a number of our friends insisted on coming along to the ceremony, to be held outdoors in Enmore Park, Marrickville. Our New Zealand-born friend Euan made us a plate of lamingtons with little Aussie flags stuck in them. It turned out to be a wonderful party.

Unforgettable was the large African family seated behind us. All were taking their citizenship together and their joy and excitement was obvious. We never found out their story, but it was wonderful to see them cheered by the crowd as they almost danced their way to the stage. They were delighted at what they obviously saw to be the start of a new and happy phase in their lives.

As people who spend a large proportion of our lives overseas, we’re not particularly nationalistic. Why should we or anyone else feel pride in simply being Australian or Dutch? Nationality is an accident of birth and history, not a personal achievement. Those treacherous boundary lines drawn on a map can be the cause of as many wars, distrust and human misery as differences of race or religion.

I cheer for Australians when they’re kicking or hitting a ball around, but I take it no more seriously than supporting Essendon AFL Football Club. It’s just a game, and if we lose, at least it will make some New Zealanders happy.

Let’s by all means feel pride in our nation when we get together with other Australians and do something worthwhile, preferably sacrificing some of our personal and national interest for the sake of other human beings with whom we share the planet. Like perhaps taking action on climate change even if others are hanging back, or welcoming an African family into our country.

On Australia Day I plan to get out and look for good things happening. I think Enmore Park, Marrickville would be an interesting place to start.

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SYDNEY FESTIVAL, MIRAZOZO – inflated expectations

Mirazozo, Sydney Opera House forecourt.


There’s always something worth seeing on the forecourt of the Opera House during the Sydney Festival. The inflatable sculpture Mirazozo was ‘inspired by nature, geometry and islamic architecture’ says the information board. Were the creators, Architects of Air, too shy to mention its resemblance to parts of the female anatomy?

Waiting in the entrance queue for an hour (our own silly fault for not buying advance tickets online) gave us plenty of time to admire that other great sculpture that dominates the harbour.

It also gave me time to think up all sorts of headlines about ‘overblown art’, ‘so much hot air’…etc…

…and to read the program notes several times. This work from Nottingham has all been made by hand, it’s travelled to 38 countries and been seen by more than two million visitors. It’s a ‘luminarium’, a sculpture people enter to be bathed in radiant light and colour.

At last we were at the front of the queue, where we parked the strollers, took off our shoes, reminded the grandchildren that there are no toilets inside a luminarium and stepped in through the plastic flap. We were warned we should only stay twenty minutes, because others were waiting. It’s great that it’s so popular.

The ceiling is impressive...


...and we're encouraged to relax and listen to the new age music.

I like it, but 20 minutes of this will be sufficient.


It does make for interesting photography, even if you don't know what you're doing.

So, our verdict? It was impressive on the outside, though dwarfed by the Opera House itself, and a bit predictable on the inside. I would have liked to have seen more variety in the various internal spaces. The one area with a pillar inside it (pictured) was a welcome break, but when the vents pumping in cool air are highlights, as they were for many children, it suggests that more thought could go into constructing different events, textures and sounds inside the inflatable sculpture. But these are quibbles. I’m glad we waited so patiently.

NOTES: Entry to Mirazozo costs $10, or $8.50 per person for a group of four or more.

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ROYAL NATIONAL PARK, SYDNEY – too hot, too dry, too steep…for me, this time.

There's nowhere to hide on the climb between Audley and Loftus

The wonderful Tour Down Under was on TV during the week, inspiring me to get out on the bike. I need to do some serious training for big organised rides I’ve signed up for in March. So yet again I rode from Sydney’s Inner West down to Cronulla. It’s a favourite ride of mine. I’ve done it at least a hundred times, and I confess that although it’s always pleasant pedalling along the Cook’s River, around the beaches at Brighton-le-Sands and Ramsgate, then along the mangrove walk/cycle path to a coffee stop facing North Cronulla Beach, it always seems duller riding back home again.

So this time I decided to live a little and do something new, exciting and different. I took the short ferry trip from Cronulla across to the Royal National Park. It’s the oldest nature reserve in Australia, established in 1879. America’s Yellowstone National Park is the only older one in the world. The RNP is a jewel just 32km south of central Sydney, with wild beaches, stands of spectacular forest…and many kilometres of undulating bitumen.
Continue reading

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