Thursday, May 29, 2014

#Human Brochure - Museum of Australian Democracy

John and Janette Howard looked down at me from their portrait hung in the oak paneled lobby of Old Parliament House. John with his fluffy eyebrows, uncomfortably clutching his wife, with the beauty of Kirribilli house gardens behind them. John was never much of a fan of Canberra which is why he was happy to spend so much time of his Prime Ministership in Sydney. It was strange for me then to see him here.

When a man as outstandingly colourless as John Howard turns his nose up at a place, you know it must be worth a look,” American Author Bill Bryson once wrote on Canberra.

And so it was I found myself in Old Parliament House now metamorphosed from the daily hang out of politicians to the Museum of Australian Democracy - a museum which describes their antics. I wonder what Honest John would make of it all.

The building held the Australian Parliament from 1927-1988, designed by John Smith Murdoch as the 'temporary' home for the Australian Government it was designed to be stripped back and basic so as to reduce costs.  

In this endevour the architect failed significantly - the building is a nationally-listed heritage building containing precious furniture and beautiful artwork (the 'beauty' perhaps excluding the subject matter of John Howard). Yes, the building is simple - a long way perhaps from Rome's famous "wedding cake" building of Altare della Patria, but certainly still making quite a nice 101st birthday cake for Canberra.

Separated at birth?
I was a guest virtue of being one of the "101 Humans" chosen to learn more about what Canberra has to offer tourists through a series of VIP events of which this was the first. I felt privileged to be one of the chosen few.

It was great to mingle with the others - an eclectic but friendly bunch - all of us with a couple of things in common - the pride of being chosen and our unified love of Canberra!

We were treated to incredible hors d'ouvres - beetroot and goats cheese marshmallows - delicious cocktails topped all topped off with prawn dogs. All of it accompanied by cool mood music from a live band. It was well and truly red-carpet treatment.

I was lucky enough to attend a session with Geoff Pryor former cartoonist at the Canberra Times and now practicing his art at the Saturday Paper. Others went to mix cocktails and see the incredible kitchens in the building.

Geoff Pryor's story was fascinating - his stories of life in the press gallery watching journos painfully spending days frantically tapping away on typewriters, while he sat back contemplating his one big idea which would take pride of place in the following day's paper.

Geoff explained that his working day was typically divided in two parts - "BI" and "AI" - 'before idea' and 'after idea'. He said the pressure existed as if he didn't produce the goods then there would be a blank space in tomorrow's paper, the "BI" something that the journos he sat with, didn't need to contend with. Cartoonists seem to be a special breed; able to blend astute analysis of the days news with a graphic sensibility. 

A picture really does speak a thousand words - although that said, I could have listened to Geoff speak all evening.

Afterwards there was more time to meet our fellow Humans. We dined on eclairs and other goodies while two other talented cartoonists drew portraits of us.

It was a wonderful night out and fantastically showcased all that the Museum of Democracy had to offer. Thanks so much MoAD - I love you even more today than yesterday!

photo by Mark Nolan
That's me on the right

a great memento from the evening

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dickson Community Garden

On Sunday, we were invited along to a Permaculture Exchange/Urban Agriculture Australia event at a community garden (allotments) in Dickson. It involved planting mostly native plants in preparedness for a display which will be at next Spring's 'Floriade'.

The kids really enjoyed it and we had a nice afternoon in the sun.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Flip Out

We had new carpets fitted in the kids' rooms in the week and the guy who came to fit it (Tim) told me about a great new place which had opened in Hume, on the outskirts of Canberra called 'Flip Out'. It's based on trampolining with masses of trampolines and foam pits on the walls and floors - there's a smaller kids area as well as a huge bigger kids area as well.

Audrey, Eli and I tripped along there on Sunday, meeting up with Tim and his son Jake and also ran into one of Audrey's teachers! The place was swarming with kids and we enjoyed an hour variously bouncing and jumping into foam pits.

The kids loved it and have already asked when we're going back, which I'm sure we will. I still haven't mastered my front flip (my New Year's resolution of 2013) but I'm sure I will before too long!

Bike Riding

I picked up a bargain bike for Eli from the local Salvos store - a practically new 'Giant' bike - a snip at $10. We took it for its first run out at the local basket ball courts - it runs really well and is a much better fit than his old bike which he was starting to outgrow.

Eli with his new wheels


Audrey and Eli had some friends (Abbey and Will) over for a sleep-over on Friday night.

It was mercifully easy and all of the kids got along fabulously, spending the evening watching 'Planes' while eating pizza.

It did mean a late night - they didn't get to sleep until after 9pm and we were awoken early (5am) but the kids loved the company and a chance to share their toys with their mates.

pizza, a film, Bob the Builder and Dora blankets - does life get any better than this?


Audrey does 'topic talks' at school and chose this week to discuss why the days of the week are so called.

Some are fairly obvious when you think about it - Sunday - named after the sun, Saturday - named after Saturn and Monday - 'moon' day - named after the moon.

Rather less obvious are the other ones and we enjoyed spending time researching (o.k wikipedia-ing) how the others got their names and Audrey drew some really nice pictures to accompany her talk.

Wednesday is named after Woden - a Germanic/Norse deity - a pretty big figure from the 6th to 16th centuries. It's also the name of our local shopping centre.

Describing Norse mythology all came a bit heavy and so Audrey's presentation ended up with this as an explanation for how Wednesday got it's name - who'd have thought...

Razzamataz in Queanbeyan

We received free tickets for a touring show called Razzamatz featuring Jonas Jost and Marty Putz. We didn't know much about the show other than it was for kids and we ventured along not knowing whether it would be singing, dancing or some kind of play. 

As it turned out the show was a mixture of magic (Jonas Jost) and kid's entertainment (Marty Putz). Both of them were accomplished performers and all the kids in the audience lapped up the show. Audrey appeared on stage after volunteering to help out with a trick and it was great to see the kids reaction to the magic.

It's amazing how dispassionate and hardened you get to entertainment like this. On the TV I've seen gazillions of doves appear/disappear into sleeves, ribbons and hats - David Blane has almost de-sensitized me to magic tricks and I'm not even that impressed if David Copperfield can make a plane disappear or saw a lady in half. It IS great watching kids see magic for the first time though. Audrey couldn't believe they were real doves which Jonas Jost produced - she's seen me do 10c disappearing tricks with my own version of close hand magic but this was a different league altogether!

The two performers hung back at the end of the show to meet everyone. It was a great afternoon and the kids talked about it for a few days afterwards.

Audrey with Marty and Jonas

Eli performs his funny eye trick

AIS Swimming Grand Prix

I heard on the radio about a swimming event taking place at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) in Canberra. 80 of Australia's top swimmers were competing in a swimming competition as preparation for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The event was free, and was pretty poorly publicised but I thought the kids would enjoy the spectacle.

I'd hoped for a bit of an atmosphere (which there wasn't as the crowd probably numbered less than a 100) but all the big names of Australian swimming were there - James Magnussen and Christian Sprenger as well as gold medal winners Ashley Callus and Cate Campbell.

What made the event good was that being so low key you virtually sat shoulder to shoulder with the olympians and the swimmers changed by the side of the pool using the usual towel-jiggling-to-preserve-your-vanity expertise usually reserved for the beach.

Amy and I forecast that the kids would be bored after 30 minutes, but we ended up staying for most of the afternoon as the shorter races were pretty exciting. We weren't sure if the brush with fame paid off but Eli swam incredibly well at his next swimming lesson so perhaps he did take some inspiration!

Little Ted came along to support

James Magnussen gets into the water (third from left!)

Amy and Eli with the team behind them

100 metres back stroke

Autumn in Canberra

The Autumn colours of Canberra are always spectacular. Sometimes it looks like a rainbow has burst and has dripped over the landscape.

The kids love kicking leaves on their walk home from school and we've had a fortnight of warm days without any sense of the bitterly cold wind that sometimes comes to Canberra when the snow arrives on the mountains in July and August.  Here's a couple of portraits of the kids enjoying the Autumn sun.

I didn't take this picture, but you get the idea of what things look like...


Over the last couple of weeks the kids have been playing with my old Scalextric which my brother Graham had kindly posted out from the UK.

I hadn't set it up since it arrived in Canberra figuring that the kids would need to be a year or two older before they'd fully appreciate it, but it seems whizzing Scalextric cars round a track and careering them off at corners (to disappear under the sofa) is appealing at any age.

Amy's been incredibly patient with the three of us as to get maximum use of the track I've had to push back the sofa and run the track part way up our hall. I've got a LOT of old track and a guy at the (highly recommended toy shop) Super Toy World pointed me in the right direction for things to restore tracks and cars meaning the Scalextric runs as well as it did when I was 13!

Here's a couple of short videos of the kids and I racing cars round the living room!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Morris Dancing in Canberra

Last weekend we spotted the 'Surly Griffins' Canberra's very own Morris Dancing troupe! Of all the things to export from England I would have thought Morris Dancing would have been a fair way down the list (probably bottom in fact) but it's made it here!

In fairness they were a pretty accomplished group (no fingers were broken by the sticks) and the kids were kept entertained by the bells and accordion playing, but I couldn't help thinking that Morris Dancing really lends itself far more to sunny afternoons outside of country real-ale pubs than Belconnen Markets.

Audrey's Assembly

Audrey did a really nice assembly on the theme of Celebrations. At the end the kids played as a xylophone orchestra. Hope you enjoy the video (it's a bit long, but then I am a proud Dad) - sorry that it's a bit shaky - it's hard to zoom in without a tripod.

Audrey waiting for her cue!

Making gingerbread feet with Eli

Eli and I cooking up a storm in the kitchen!

Mother's Day Classic

We assembled early at this year's Mother's Day Classic. Amy had been appointed (anointed?) as an Ambassador for the event this year and in doing so had managed to raise $3,800 in less than a fortnight. If you're one of the kind people who supported her effort, thank you so much.

The reason for our early start was to allow Amy to say a few words in the lead up to the one minutes silence - Eli joined her on stage and it was a poignant minute while we remembered people lost to the horrible disease that is cancer.

We had a chat with our new found friend, Philip Clark from ABC radio and then wandered down to the starting line.

The Mother's Day classic is a 10k run or a 5k walk. One year I'll do the 10k run, but this year accompanied by Barb, Simon and their boy Jack we were once again doing the 5k walk.

The walk takes you round Lake Burley Griffin (bridge-to-bridge as locals describe the route). Canberra is full of Autumnal beauty at the moment - the trees around the lake a pallet of red and orange hues and the weather was pretty warm.

We had a couple of breaks during our walk - one for the kids to take ice cream on board! but Audrey, Eli and Jack all coped with the walk pretty well - in fact I think they ran most of it.

We finished the walk in 1 hour 40 minutes - 20 minutes quicker than last year and enjoyed our free bananas and medals. Here's some pictures;

Amy with ABC's Philip Clark

Our first stop (after about 500 metres)

The kids being bribed with jelly snakes

crossing the lake

A break for ice cream

Autumnal colours in Canberra

Amy with Audrey

Smashing our PB! 1 hour 40 minutes!

Our Mother's Day Classic Team

Monday, May 12, 2014

Anzac Day in Canberra

Anzac Day was pretty special this year as Canberra played host to Prince William and Princess Catherine who were concluding their short 10 day visit to Australia.

Audrey's fascination with Princess Catherine has waned a bit since the birth of Prince George but she was still keen to go and see if we could spot her at the Anzac ceremony.

It was the first time we had gone to see the Anzac National March, where ex and serving service men and women march (in Canberra on Anzac parade) and people recognise their contribution across a number of conflicts. There are people of all ages from 0-100 and the weather was pretty kind to the crowds.

Unfortunately we didn't get very close - the crowds were 10 deep - there was a big screen which we spotted the Royal couple and we did see the back of Prince William's head, but it was nothing like as personal as when Amy and the kids had met Princess Mary a couple of years ago.

At the end of the ceremony there was a (small) protest from aboriginal representatives trying to highlight the number of indigenous Australians killed in conflicts within Australia. Their path to the Royals was blocked by the police. It didn't turn nasty, but we figured it was a good point to leave things for the day.

Prince William and the Governor General are in there (if you have a magnifying glass)

Aboriginal protest

Grow your own stir-fry!

Our raised veggie beds are starting to really produce the goods. Last week we picked the following vegetables for a wholesome stir fry - bok choi, capsicum/peppers, white onions, carrots and silver beet.

What makes them notable is that we've fertilised them with alpaca poo!

I've been particularly pleased with the carrots which we grew from seed and seem to have cropped really well inhibited only by my reluctance to properly thin them out. Eli loves nothing more than crunching on a carrot after school. Last week he said carrots were his favourite food (after chocolate) so that's not too bad a thing..

fresh veggies
a post-school carrot!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Amy in the Canberra Weekly

The Canberra Weekly published a really nice article about Amy this week, in the lead up to next weekend's "Mother's Day Classic". Amy's also featuring on a radio interview on local ABC radio on Wednesday - she's becoming quite the media star! (click on the article to enlarge it).