Reflections on a wet September, Lake Wendouree

Spring clouds over the lake.

Spring clouds over the lake.

Winter still has its wet, icy hands on Ballaratia (September was our wettest one yet), but there have been a few days when spring’s been in the air: cherry blossoms have been and gone, trees are showing their shoots, cygnets are on the water. The botanical gardens and the Lake Wendouree shore opposite have become valued places of peace and fresh air — with bonus Pokemon. But mostly a tranquil stroll with seasonal reflections. Here’s a few shots snapped on the hoof when the sun’s been out. As Eric said, it can’t rain all the time.

Cygnets, Lake Wendouree

Cygnets, Lake Wendouree

Walkway cut by the overflowing lake.

Walkway cut by the overflowing lake.

Flowers in the gardens.

Flowers in the gardens.

Spring statue, botanical gardens.

Spring statue, botanical gardens.

Marooned bench.

Marooned bench.

More pictures


Getting crafty at the biennale

Photographic exhibit by Vanessa Brady

Photographic exhibit by Vanessa Brady

Wendouree circuit of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale has been achieved — with added craft!

First stop was breakfast at one of our favourite cafes, Eclectic Tastes, which is hosting a small group exhibit. Then:

  • chic French cafe Eau Verte for Nina O’Brien’s black and whites of kids being kids;
  • road kill at the Wendouree Performing Arts Centre — a few victims were missing (an aside: there are a couple of wonderful works by Aboriginal artists — curse me for not getting proper details — in the foyer, a feature of which is a hanging Marc Rogerson sculpture reflected in mirrors);
  • wildlife and landscapes on canvas at the Lake View Hotel (a woman with blurred face in a forest, kind of Blair Witchy, was my pick) — sadly, still running on the big brekkie so couldn’t snaffle a $15 lunch special;
  • Oodles of wunnerful black and whites ’80s concert photos by Jeremy Bannister, including — gasp — Sisters of Mercy! at Racers (hard to get up close to, though, in the busy cafe);
  • cool landscapes set against star fields by Matt Thomson at the Ballaarat Yacht Club (old spelling of Ballarat reflects the club’s founding in 1877);
  • close-ups of flowers at the Statuary Pavilion at the Botanic Gardens;
  • and finally, probably the day’s highlight, rural landscapes from Vanessa Brady on show at the Robert Clark Conservatory in the gardens. Brady also has some wildlife pictures, and also in the conservatory are sculptures by Kim Percy.

    A morning well spent, with plenty of variation and an admirable matching in most instances of theme to venue.

    Adam Lindsay Gordon Craft Cottage

    Adam Lindsay Gordon Craft Cottage

    Also in the Botanic Gardens is the Adam Lindsay Gordon Craft Cottage, a store run by the Crafts Council of Ballarat occupying the relocated home of the intriguing poet (1833-1870). A wide selection of handmade giftware is on offer, including exquisite timber pepper grinders and cute door stoppers.

    The biennale runs until 20 September 2015. The cottage is open daily September-mid June, otherwise at weekends and public and school holidays.

  • Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB): a quick snap

    Home by Nightfall, by Angela Bacon-Kidwell

    Home by Nightfall, by Angela Bacon-Kidwell

    The Ballarat International Foto Biennale officially opened on Saturday night — pizza, wine (Langi Ghiran, no less! oh so noms) and a whole lotta people checking out the exhibits in the Mining Exchange.

    We managed to roll two other venues on Saturday — one before and one after. The first was Stacey Moll‘s ‘Frankenstein Atomic Frontier’ at wonderful comic shop Heroes HQ (darn, the latest Saga trade isn’t out yet) — I particularly like a gloomy alley shot of a woman with book, like an urban mage with grimoire. The second was ‘Silver’, by a collective of non-digital aficionados, which included some nice black-and-white industrial decay, hosted at Sebastiaans, the cafe, which included a pretty decent fisherman’s basket.

    There are about 80 venues this year, many of them eateries — you could easily put together a food tour based on the exhibits.

    My favourite so far, at the Mining Exchange: ‘Home by Nightfall’, an exquisite narrative of dust, sunlight and birds from Texan artist Angela Bacon-Kidwell, in which she reflects on her emotional journey during her father’s fatal illness. Also striking, some of the refugee photos from Maltese news photographer Darrin Zammit Lupi — incredible captures, brimming with emotion.

    We moved to Ballarat in time for the previous biennale, and found it an intriguing way to explore the town. We hope to spend a few more days this time around. Sadly, we missed out on participating in the ‘Ballarat Through My Eyes’ contest, because it runs in the lead-up to the biennale itself. The event asks photographers to present photos in three categories taken in the Rat — bit of a treasure hunt! Maybe next time.

    The biennale goes until 20 September 2015. Look for the biennale lens logo outside venues, or check the website for who’s got what. Amazingly, most of the exhibitions, as was the opening-night shindig, are free.

    Flocking to Grants Picnic Ground, the Dandenongs

    grants picnic ground

    Grants Picnic Ground, the Dandenongs

    To start the week on a high, here’s a picture from a recent drive to Grants Picnic Ground near Kallista in the Dandenongs. The picnic ground offers a couple of walking tracks. I chose it with my father in mind, because one track is specifically built for people with limited mobility — it’s about 300m of flat track through the ferns and ash trees if I remember the sign rightly.

    More Dandenong pictures

    A bonus is the cafe serving coffee and scones, and across the road, the bird-feeding area where you can buy seed for the cockatoos, galahs and other parrots who flock to the tucker. The national parks in the Dandenongs are a spectacular getaway close to the eastern outskirts of the city, and sometimes you really need that breath of fresh air, eh?

    cockatoos in treeking parrot feeding

    Johnette Napolitano at the Spiegeltent: night 3

    johnette napolitano at melbourne's spiegeltent

    Johnette Napolitano during her Night 3 performance at the Spiegeltent. Picture: Kirstyn McDermott

    The final night of Johnette Napolitano’s stint at the Spiegeltent in Melbourne, and as with the previous two nights, it was an outstanding hour.

    Napolitano, in her top hat and be-ribboned home-made dress worn over trousers, had anecdotes aplenty, starting with a ‘frog on a log’ song she wrote at age 12 — her first — to entertain a sick sister. Marc Moreland (of Wall of Voodoo, and Napolitano collaboration Pretty & Twisted with Danny Montgomery; he died in March 10 years ago) and ‘Joey’ featured. A superbly delivered poem from her Rough Mix book that had her harking back to the Rat Pack and the Hollywood of her youth. Those interjections within songs: priceless.

    The Spiegeltent encourages that lounge room conversation atmosphere and this was a very comfortable house party indeed.

    I’ve not heard versions of ‘Joey’ and ‘Tomorrow, Wendy’ (by Wall of Voodoo’s Andy Prieboy) more impressive than tonight’s renditions. Quite remarkable, given the guitarist has fractures in both hands.

    Again, though the songs were much the same as previously, the order was changed around and each was given its own treatment. Finale ‘Bloodletting’ was more comical — Napolitano has a wonderfully expressive face; ‘I Don’t Need a Hero’ rang heavy with emotion — I suspect there were ghosts in the house, haunting those lyrics, as one might expect from a gig with an autobiographical intention.

    Johnette Napolitano 2002 interview

    The audience, as last night, provided the rhythm section for ‘Roses Grow’, and how Napolitano can hold a note… I can’t even hold my breath that long, and she’s got a good 10 years on me. The sell-out crowd again got to put their hands together to bolster the encore, a cappella ‘Mercedes Benz’.

    Other songs included ‘Don’t Take Me Down’ with Napolitano on piano — man, it ripped — ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, ‘the Wedding Theme from Candy‘, ‘Rosalie‘, ‘New Orleans Ain’t the Same’ (so gorgeous, a favourite for this French Quarter tragic) and “Take Me Home/Rehab’.

    On Thursday night we had the rain, and last night there was a woman in the audience, apparently on her way to a party, dressed as Marilyn Monroe, which was the perfect window dressing for ‘Roses Grow’ (which references the actor). No such ‘extras’ tonight*, just honest, at times affectingly raw, music, that drew a standing ovation.

    I hope her hands heal soon, that she continues to make wonderful music and lets us experience it in person like this. I saw Concrete Blonde twice on 2010’s Bloodletting tour (Melbourne and Brisbane) and they totally tore it up, but this series was something else again. Bravo; fucking bravo!

    johnette napolitano at the spiegeltent

    Pic: K McD

    * Addendum: There was an inopportune low-flying helicopter that leant itself to a joke about being on the run, like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas was it, that totally cracked Napolitano up.

    Johnette Napolitano at the Spiegeltent: night 2

    johnette napolitano at the spiegeltent, night 3

    Johnette Napolitano on the third night of her Melbourne Spiegeltent run. Picture: Kirstyn McDermott

    After breaking the ice last night, Johnette Napolitano presented a more relaxed figure at her Spiegeltent gig in Melbourne tonight. Still humbled by the full house, but a little stumble-fingers too, stalling two songs — ‘how do you fuck up ‘Joey’?, she asked at one stage with an endearing chuckle — and tumbling her wine glass.

    Thing is, when you’re personable and natural, you can get away with the odd fumble. It’s refreshing to be reminded that not everyone has to be polished and Photoshopped to the sheen of ceramic in order to entertain. Cracks are allowed. Crack-ups are divine; Napolitano’s humour won through. ‘I’m a mess,’ she said; ‘thanks for your patience’. Pshaw. When you can bring tears to the eyes with a rendition of ‘New Orleans Ain’t the Same (Since You’ve Been Gone)’, you get all the patience you need.

    The set list was tweaked from the previous, again opening with ‘Rosalie’, and finishing early with the a cappella ‘Mercedes Benz’ before an encore of ‘Roses Grow’ to the accompaniment of audience percussion, ‘(You’re the Only One) Can Make Me Cry’ and the finale, ‘Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)’.

    Napolitano, in hat and ankle-length sleeveless black dress, was in good spirits, wisecracking, rendering slightly different takes on some songs, making each one fresh within its moment. The set list also included ‘Tomorrow, Wendy’, ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, ‘(You’re the Only One) Can Make Me Cry’ with a snatch of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’, ‘Don’t Take Me Down’ on the piano and ‘the wedding theme from Candy‘.

    There were anecdotes of Wall of Voodoo’s Marc Moreland and Melbourne (the inspiration for the hit ‘Joey’), of overflowing bath tubs and nanna naps, references to being old belied by a voice that took us far, far away from the canvas and mirrors of the elegant Spiegeltent. Great sound, too.

    Napolitano is donating all proceeds of merch sales to the Lost Dogs Home, with one more night to run in her three-night appearance.

  • Night 3 review
  • Out and about in Auckland

    The combination of ridiculously cheap airfares to New Zealand and a gig by bucket list rockers Sisters of Mercy, then not having announced sideshows to their Soundwave appearance, resulted in a three-night stay in Auckland last month.

    Waitomo caves

    The weather was forecast to be rainy for the duration, so our first outing was to Waitomo to take in some of the caves there — at least we’d have a roof over our heads.

    The caves were a picturesque 90 minutes’ drive or so to the south, the road narrowing from two lanes to one and twisting in part alongside a river. Cicadas interrupted the drive with bursts of chittering as we passed clumps of vegetation. There were, surprisingly, more dairy cattle than sheep. A brunch stop was more than pleasant and the coffee of uniformly good quality across our stay. Big tick, NZ!

    waitomo glow worm cave stalactites

    Waitomo stalactites

    Waitomo Glowworm Cave was the first stop. The building is an impressive piece of timber architecture set in hilly farmland with walking tracks all around. One led through a swatch of rainforest, a very pleasant stretch of the legs before going underground.

    The caves have been well set up with smooth floors and atmospheric lighting. The highlight is at the river level, where we bundled onto a tinnie and floated out, our guide using overhead ropes to control our direction, into darkness. As our eyes adjusted, more and more glow worms appeared overhead, their starry glimmer reflecting in the still water.

    The next cave, a short drive away, was Aranui. The entrance was in a forested hillside, and it was a lot drier than the glowworm cave, but possibly featured more spectacular formations, with many melted-wax style formations and plentiful variations of stalactites and stalagmites, and a monstrous cathedral.

    More cave pictures

    Then it was back into Waitomo to catch a bus to Ruakuri cave. The entrance was an SF spectacle, a spiralling ramp some 40m deep with a stone formation under dripping water at its base. The ritual for entering and leaving was to at least wet one’s hands, purifying on entering, washing away any spirits on exiting. Part of the cave is sacred to the local Maori and off-limits — hence this spectacular piece of engineering.

    Down in the dripping cave, the sound of rushing water never far away due to the underground river that carved out this complex, the lighting is set on timers to follow the visitors so as to minimise impact in this dark environment. Duckboards keep our feet out of the puddles and there are some spectacular formations and rock falls. At one point, it’s lights out, hands on shoulders single-file into the dark, to take in the beauty of glow worms close up. Seeing the incredible sticky tendrils the worms use to trap their prey was most impressive.

    auckland from rangitoto island

    Rainy Auckland skyline dominated by SkyCity needle behind island, seen from Rangitoto Island

    Rangitoto Island

    On our second full day in Auckland, under threat of clouds, we embarked on a catamaran for a 45-minute voyage to Rangitoto Island. The island is a dormant volcanic cone, an intriguing environment of tossed black stone and rainforest vegatation. At the dock, the narrow, rather rough beach is dotted with holiday cabins called bachs — some have been removed, their location marked with plaques.

    We tromped up the uneven black soil and stone path that winds up the slope to the crater rim, completely forested over. There’s a duckboarded platform at the crest where a former military observation post and wireless room still stand watch over the waterways, Auckland’s skyline hazy on the horizon. Also of interest are some lava tubes, small and cramped, and a duckboard area in the mangroves.

    More Rangitoto Island pictures

    The strata of vegetation, from the sparse seaside flats to the forested slopes, make a fascinating ecology seemingly ruled by birdlife.

    The island has been linked to another by a bridge, but we didn’t have time to check that out. One day is simply not enough to appreciate the Rangitoto landscape.

    rangitoto island walking path

    Rangitoto Island

    Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Adventure

    This Auckland landmark was a good place to kill a few hours between hotel checkout and airline check-in, but it’s showing its age. I got totally saturated in the rainy sprint from the car to the entrance, but the line-up — there’s a single ticket booth handling both prepaid and on-the-day tickets — took so long to run in that I had stopped dripping once we got inside.

    There, observation windows in the entrance hall reveal two species of penguins; there’s a mock-up of Scott’s Antarctic hut with heaps of period artefacts and documentation about the explorer; and there’s an extensive children’s educational play area.

    Penguins are otherwise viewed from a ‘snow mobile’ people mover that jolts around the enclosure at a fast walking pace while recorded information plays through the speakers. We’d aimed to be there for penguin feeding but been foiled by the long line-up, but we went on the snow mobile several times to get our fill, and were rewarded with three penguin chicks looking cute and fluffy at their parents’ feet.

    Elsewhere, a limited cafeteria with even more limited space serves the worst coffee we had, but hey, when you’re drenched, you’ll take it.

    There’s a pool in which some massive rays are fed — very cool — and a walk-through glass exhibit showing off numerous fish types. Another walk-through reveals several species of shark — you can scuba with them, or simply stand in a cage with a snorkel. Another series of aquariums houses numerous types of sea life, including star fish, an octopus and moray eels, and many more fish. A special section houses a series of seahorse tanks.

    There’s a bit of a mixed message in the shark area — info boards exhort an end to fin farming (and rightly so) and educate about how sharks aren’t the fearsome critters we’ve been led to believe, and yet, it’s the danger of diving with the sharks that’s emphasised in the brochures, and the Jaws soundtrack plays in the area.

    Still, getting up close with marine life is a delight and the complex is a remarkable example of retooling — the original structure was a sewage works — made somewhat poignant by the life story of Tarlton himself, who comes across as a bit of a Harry Butler or Steve Irwin of the seafaring world. Sadly, he died only months after the complex opened.


    It’s worth noting that Auckland has superb food. We splurged on the revolving restaurant, Orbit at SkyCity, and found that it wasn’t that big a splurge at all. It was very neat knocking back the three-course special while watching the city lights slide past. The value was enhanced by having the observation deck included in the price, normally $28 a head.

    We also ate at Princes Wharf, a yuppie area being gentrified by the look, with an array of cafes and restaurants offering a range of menu prices roughly indicated by not only the dress code of the patrons but the quality of the table cloths. The highlight was a superb seafood basket at Y-Not, and a full-bodied pinot noir to wash it down.

    All in all, a most enjoyable sojourn, so close to home but yet so delightfully different.