Sunday, December 31, 2017

Big Splash!

We had a fun New Years eve (day) trip to nearby Big Splash. Big Splash is Canberra's only waterpark and apart from a short trip a few years ago we'd never been there - which I guess indicates just how much there is to see and do in the rest of Canberra!

Typically on hot days like today I've preferred the picturesque Cotter river to the waterpark, but together with some friends we went along. It was actually pretty good timing as a lot of people leave town at this time of year to head inter-state to see family or to Sydney for the fireworks. It meant that the park wasn't crowded, queues for rides were tiny and we all had a fair share on numerous rides.

The park is actually pretty good - they advertise that they have nine slides - which is a bit of a stretch as some of them are really only for tots, but on the whole it's a really nice set up and the big rides that they do have were now perfectly suited to an 8 and 10 year old. We spent a lot of the day there - armed with our new $30 'no' pro which I think takes pretty decent pics given its cost.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Short break to Marlo

Weather wise Canberra, being inland, heats up in the summer while coastal towns including Sydney tend to remain at lower (and often more bearable) temperatures. In the winter the reverse happens.

As a result the majority of Canberra's population heads south east during the summer to the beaches of Batemans Bay - encountering the Kings Highway which has precarious twists and turns and usually has at least half a dozen fatalities a year as people rush to and fro from the beaches.

Similarly while Melbournian's do head East they often end at Lakes Entrance (a spot probably 300km from the centre of Melbourne) and most likely holiday far closer to home.

Recently we've discovered Marlo - a small town situated about 4 hours directly south of Canberra and east of Lakes Entrance. It's in, what one of our friends described as, a bit of a 'tourist shadow'.  It's a further (but less difficult) drive than Batemans Bay (and probably adds about an hour to the journey) but is an attractive little place - being built on the outlet where the Snowy River meets the Sea.

That in itself probably causes the place some issues (there are pictures online of floods which have happened at various points) but for the majority of the time it is a quiet and picturesque place with pelicans and a small friendly local population. There is a lovely pub which looks out to the estuary and affords beautiful sunsets each evening. Some of the beaches nearby are so unspoilt - we walked to Salmon Rocks one morning - a long stretch of incredibly beautiful beach with great waves.

Nearby Orbost is the 'centre' of things with a couple of schools and a supermarket. Orbost has a busy and thriving highstreet - but even that though looks like it's been pretty unchanged over the last 50 years or so.

We headed down to Marlo a couple of nights. In the end the kids decided that we should stay longer, so two nights become three, which in turn became four. Living is easy in that part of the world, we had a morning fishing (Audrey caught 4 fish, Eli 2 and me nothing!) and a couple of days on the beach and in the river, so we were sad when we finally did head back home.

Waiting for the sunset in the pub
Beautiful Marlo sunset

Beach selfie

Audrey and I made a driftwood campsite! (Eli conked out and slept on the beach)

Youngs Creek Waterfall (a really tranquil spot) - we were the only ones there all morning

Audrey showing her fishing skills

Eli with a salmon

Eating our catch!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Canberra's Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights on peoples' houses grow increasingly more and more spectacular every year. We spent a couple of evenings touring round various suburbs. Some of the lights are so huge that the roads require traffic calming measures. It's all good fun and with the advent of LED lights, I guess not as expensive as it used to be. Probably top of the list was a house in Bonner (in Canberra's north) who had a co-ordinated display together with a smoke machine, a snow maker and a bubble machine.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Kata tournament

The kids took part in a Kata tournament at the weekend. It's held in the north of the city at the 'sister' dojo. In all about 40 kids took part. In their classification, Eli finished 2nd and Audrey 3rd, which was a pretty good result.

Christmas Biscuits

I found some Christmas cookie-cutters in the cupboard this morning which turned out to provide us with entertainment for a fair amount of a sunny Sunday afternoon.

There were a whole array of shapes - from trees, to stars, to snowflakes and the kids loved (and were pretty meticulous) decorating and icing them.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Rabbit Proof Fence

Canberra is lucky to be home to the National Film and Sound Archive - a veritable treasure trove of film and music resources dating back many years. The Archive holds over 2 million items all of them accessible by the public.

Currently the Archive is running a series of Australian films under the banner of 'Starstuck'. One of the films on offer was Rabbit-Proof Fence the story of three aboriginal girls taken from their mother in Western Australia, sent to a church mission and tells how they found their way home and back to their family by using the immensely long fence of the title (which runs across Australia). In many ways the film is successful as it personifies the terrible issue of Australia's 'stolen generation' of 'half-caste' Aboriginals taken from their families (and mostly used as cheap labour). Tens of thousands of Aboriginal Australians have been affected by the stolen generation and the perverse decisions of the Australian authorities of the time.

I took Eli and Audrey along for the showing after school. I was worried that a) I couldn't remember if the film was 'age appropriate' or if there was a horrific scene somewhere in the middle of it! and b) whether they'd actually 'get' what the film was about.

As it turned out I needn't have worried. The film was introduced by its Producer (David Eflick) and he described some of the finer points of the film and the casting of the three wonderful actors.

What I found fascinating was just how both Audrey and Eli related to the characters (the three girls, Molly, Daisy and Gracie) as they were similar ages to themselves (8.10 and 14). The film is both thought provoking, sad but also exciting as the girls struggle to avoid re-capture by authorities.

We had a really good conversation on the way home - the kids couldn't understand how you could discriminate against someone because of the colour of their skin and we discussed the stolen generation and its awful impact on Aboriginal communities. I was so proud of A&E - I'd gone to the film with some trepidation, but came home knowing that they'd 'got' it.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Peter and the Wolf

We went along to see a rendition of Peter and the Wolf by Canberra's Philharmonic Orchestra. It took place in the Albert Hall (a building significantly smaller than its London namesake). The kids really enjoyed it, but the building was packed to the rafters as the tickets were really cheap and it had been well promoted.

(Eli with his mate Hamish)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Eli pays a visit to his mates

Eli has a good buddy Aidan who changed Primary schools last year. Eli still misses him a fair bit and the two are ever so close. Eli was delighted on Sunday to have a play-date and the chance to spend much of the day with his friend.

Here's a photo

Friday, December 1, 2017

Choosing our Christmas Tree

For the (nearly 10) years we've lived in Australia we've always chosen to have a 'real' Christmas tree. It's a bit crazy really as Canberra's often very hot summers usually wilt the thing within a few days leaving a floppy and often grey looking tree up the corner of your living room for a month.

Still, we persist with our 'tradition'. Some friends have bought me a tree for the last couple of years direct from a grower in Gundaroo. This year Audrey and I went with them and had fun choosing our tree (from a field containing probably thousands of beautifully trimmed trees). Audrey had ambitions on enormous trees (some which wouldn't have looked out of place in Trafalgar Square) but I talked her down into one which fit nicely in our living room.

I'd managed to buy some decorations at heavily reduced prices in the January (2017) sales and so we
had fun decorating it when we got home.

Choosing our tree

Christmas selfie
In all its glory

Happy Christmas from the Hickmans!




Monday, November 27, 2017

Sunday afternoon at the zoo

Eli was invited to a friend's birthday party on Sunday which left Audrey and I free to explore. We rode our bikes to the zoo and had a fun afternoon looking at the baby meerkats and (very cute) baby zebra.

The zoo had three baby meerkats on display and was running a competition to name them. (two boys and a girl). The names had to begin with an 'S'. I chose 'Solomon' and 'Sid' Audrey (more intellectually) chose 'Savanna' for the girl. We'll find out in December if we win!

Here's some pics of our Eli-free afternoon!

Cute baby zebra

Not a very good picture of a peacock

Australia says 'Yes'

For the last few months a fairly pointless debate has been raging in Australia concerning marriage equality. Essentially Australia is/was one of the last few remaining parts of the western world which failed to recognise same-sex marriages. The government was unable (too chicken) to come to a consensus and were unwilling to vote on the matter.

As a result a postal 'plebiscite' was announced costing over $122 million to administer. For the uninitiated (and I was one) a plebiscite differs to a referendum in that the result is not legally binding. It ultimately gives the government a 'get out' clause if things don't go their way. Really the UK should have had a plebiscite rather than the ridiculous Brexit referendum which will throw development of the country back a few generations. Similarly if the Australian government had had any balls they'd have just been able to vote on the matter and we could have all moved on $122 million better off.

I've got into a few discussions with people about the terminology of 'marriage' and whether it should be kept separate to 'same sex union' or somesuch. There are legal differences (mostly to do with end of life stuff like inheritance, access to estates etc and power of attorney) If you're really interested then look it up for yourself. Ultimately though I believe that if two people love each other then it doesn't really matter their gender or sexual persuasion and they should be able to get married same as anyone else. I don't buy the religious/moral argument either - especially when 70% of the country gets married outside of church and most of the remainder probably only get married in a church because the building has a nice stained glass window which will look good as a back-drop for wedding photos.

I was frustrated by the ongoing debate as a) it gave bigots the opportunity to publicly voice their opinion and b) the whole thing seemed like a complete waste of time and money when it was just essentially a fundamental human right that was being withheld from people and really politicians, the media et al should be talking about something which actually drives the economy, creates jobs, improves healthcare, helps refugees, stops a dirty big mine being built which will destroy the Great Barrier reef etc etc.

In the end the plebiscite (which is really just a glorified opinion poll) fell on the side of the 'Yes' vote (62% v 38% if you're interested) the ACT proudly led the way 74% v 26%. Our gay (and sadly fairly ineffective) chief minister Andrew Barr was unsurprisingly over the moon about the result.

Various ramifications and debates now have to be gone through by federal parliament but hopefully the result gives enough of a mandate to allow marriage equality to be passed into law and agreed by the end of this year.

Canberra threw an impromptu street party - again the cynic in me wondered if there were some undertones of the Chief Minister pushing his personal agenda, but what the heck it was a nice sunny evening and the street in question has a great ice cream shop on it so we all went along after school to celebrate marriage equality!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Otis Night for Nights

I was asked to speak at the Otis ball in Melbourne. I've been a supporter of the Otis charity since Amy and I stayed at one of their properties in Thredbo.
I agreed months ago and as the calendar ticked ever closer I became ever so slightly nervous!
When the weekend itself arrived I was lucky enough to be able to leave the kids with some kind friends and head to Melbourne.
The dinner was enormous! 840 people - far larger than any charity ball I'd ever been to. It was really glamorous as well and the night was full of incredible performers, a DJ and....before I went on stage a guy who had previously won the Australian Voice (a singing talent competition!). He was so talented and certainly a tough act to follow - I felt like I was next into bat after Don Bradman.
Anyway, it all went well and the whole night was a spectacular success. When I left the event had raised $540k which is just wonderful.
I've made a bit of a commitment to raising more cash for Otis in the future, so I've got my thinking cap on at the moment about things we (I'd drag the kids into it) could do :)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Touch rugby

Eli's mate (Noah) and his family are moving to Sydney, so they threw and impromptu party after touch rugby on Thursday. Eli scored four tries in the match (one where he ran the length of the pitch) :)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


While Audrey was coding Eli and I baked a loaf of bread. It was good fun and he really got into the kneading. We were both chuffed with the outcome, but I'm not sure how much A&E really enjoyed it as it was quite a heavy dough and so took more chewing than the factory produced wholemeal bread they're used to. Still, it was a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon together.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Coding for Girls

I found out on the grapevine that there was a 'coding for girls' workshop being run at one of the local secondary schools for girls aged 10 and above, it was run for a whole day on a Sunday.

Both the kids have done a bit of computer coding in the school holidays and really enjoyed it. The day was run by the Department of Defence and was entirely free (including lunch) so I signed Audrey up.

The kids programmed in 'Sketch' and wrote routines to either light up a set of diodes on a circuit board or write code which made words appear onto a scrolling LCD display. Adults were excluded from the room(!) but I was able to see what Audrey had done at the end of the day.

Audrey really loved it and her code was pretty impressive. It reminded me of my ZX Spectrum days (pouring over a home computer trying to key in code from a magazine to make a fairly rubbishy pac-man game). By way of comparison Amy won prizes for her coding at University (far more impressive!) so I guess nerdy computer coding runs in the family a certain amount. It appeared to be a fun and well run day.

Audrey with her circuit board

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Eli's second try of the game

Playing touch football at Deakin Oval #livingvicariouslythroughmychildren

Monday, October 30, 2017


Tim Winton is an Australian author and was one of Amy's favourite writers. She was halfway through one of his books when she died and it still sits unfinished by the side of the bed. I'm determined to read and finish it one day. Amy was the reader, not me.

Recently Eli excitedly told me about a book he was reading at school called Blueback. When I looked it up I saw that Tim Winton had written the book (along with another small handful of other children's books). It was a difficult realisation  - was it nature or nurture that had made the book appeal to my little boy?

It's a beautiful book, about a boy (Abel Jackson) who lives by the coast with his Mum (Dora). The boy's best friend is a blue fish who lives in Longboat bay and the short story chronicles both the growing up to adulthood of the boy and the fragile beauty of the seas, which come under pressure from developers, greedy fishermen and pollution. It's wonderfully written and I was so grateful to Eli for sharing it with me.

My throat caught a few times while we were reading it together as when I read the evocative words, I knew with 100% assurity that Amy would have loved the book too.

Solar Vehicles

Another day, another school project...

Monday, October 23, 2017

Ivory Billed Woodpecker

Eli had a school assembly where he needed to dress up as an Ivory Billed Woodpecker!

Of course I could have fashioned something out of coloured paper, but I recently saw a demonstration of mask making using expandable foam (the sort plumbers use to hold pipes in place). When it's hard (it hardens overnight) it carves really well and is easy to paint. Thus Eli and I made a gigantic ivory billed woodpecker head for his performance. He delivered his lines really well as well.

The making of an ivory billed woodpecker head!

Dance Central - Believe

On Friday and Saturday, Audrey took part in Dance Central's dance spectacular - this year called 'Believe'. It's a huge show which they run every year at the Canberra Theatre and something which Audrey looks forward to with considerable delight and anticipation.
The production seems to grow larger each year. This year necessitated a day off school and work so the dancers could rehearse and prepare for two shows - one on Friday, mostly attended by parents and a Saturday matinee mostly frequented by the many Grandparents who hold an active interest in their grandchildren.
Audrey's been learning 'Contemporary' dance for the last couple of years. She still loves ballet, but the hook of the more modern music and costumes offered by contemporary dance (as well as a much older/teen group of dancers) means that she looks forward to her classes each week.
The show was fabulous and a real great advertisement for the school. Friday night's show overran (until around 10.40pm) so I had a very tired daughter on Sunday and Monday.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Indoor football starts again...

A summer awaits of indoor football - I think they play 14 games in all. Here's a photo following Thunder and Lightning's first game..

Canberra Capitals

Canberra Capitals are Canberra's female basket ball side. They've enjoyed success in the WNBL having won the Premiership no less than seven times. Unfortunately the last of those wins was in 2010 and the last few years following the retirement of super-star Lauren Jackson have been a bit barren.

Sporting attention in Australia's capital city often turns towards the Canberra Raiders (rugby league) or the occasional Aussie Rules (AFL) game at Manuka. Of course there's also two or three decent games of cricket a year. In that respect the Capitals are a bit of a niche market. We'd seen them play probably four or five times at their old home of the AIS (though they also played a few games at Tuggeranong in Canberra's South).

For this season though the games are being held at Canberra's Convention Centre in the centre of town. The idea appears to be to build interest by having a sporting code in Canberra's centre - a precursor to the stadium that may or may not be built nearby in the space currently occupied by the somewhat ancient 'Olympic' pool.

Being predominantly set up for concerts makes the venue a bit odd. Seating is all on one side of the court, though in fairness the seats (being concert seats) are quite probably the comfiest (and cheapest) I've sat in for any sport, anywhere!

In the game we went to Canberra played Melbourne (and sadly lost by 29 points) so the game was all a bit one-sided. I took Audrey along with one of her friends and the two girls enjoyed the spectacle. Canberra have some good players, including captain Natalie Hurst who never stopped running. It was a nice afternoon out and they do their best to build an atmosphere. I hope the team continues to improve, it would be good to see their success return to the Capitals.
Managed to capture a three pointer on its way in!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Walking to school

When I was about Audrey's age I used to walk to Warstones, my primary school in Wolverhampton. It's probably a similar distance from our current house to the kids school - a ten minute walk. For the last couple of weeks I've been encouraging A&E to walk on their own but they've been reluctant preferring either to jump in our car or ride/walk with me. They've never actually walked on their own until today, but this morning was beautifully sunny and seemed ideal.

I offered to take A&E's bags in the car while they walked and I could then drop their bags with them when they arrived (I could then drive on to work).

They set off towards school. I got caught up in a few of the mundane chores that fill my life. I had a shower, put some washing out, tidied away the breakfast things and loaded the dishwasher. In all I probably took 25 minutes or so. I suddenly felt guilty as I'd promised to drop the school bags and I imagined A&E waiting impatiently for me in the playground.

Quickly, I chucked their bags in the car and set off. About 2/3rds of the way to school I spotted two little figures. They were strolling along, Eli studying the fencepost, Audrey tugging on her brother's hat. They were chatting and laughing as they walked.

It was impossible to get cross with them. Somehow they'd extended the length of their walk - they were certainly in no hurry. They'd successfully navigated the zebra crossing and were basically enjoying the sunny morning.

I waited in the school carpark and they spotted me and ran the rest of the way to join me. I gave them their bags and they headed into school. Crazy (but beautiful) children. It reminded me how hurried my life is and how I cajole them to keep up when we're walking anywhere. No wonder they complain having seen their 'natural' pace!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Audrey with Holly

Here's a picture of Audrey with Holly - the biggest horse at her riding school. Holly is a Clydesdale and absolutely massive (no I don't know how many hands) Audrey hasn't ridden her (yet!) but she's a really beautiful horse.

Wish you were here

Eli played touch rugby last week. He's suddenly got so tall and gangly. I watched him play with the biggest lump in my throat as I know his Mum would have loved to have seen him. Audrey has a big dance performance this weekend and I know I'll end up in tears for the same reason.

#Stop Adani

Australia looks set to build what will be the country's largest mine in Carmichael in Queensland. The mine is being developed by an Indian organisation called Adani and will provide coal to India to generate electricity. The mine comprises five underground mines and six open-cut pits.
The good news is that the mine will provide up to 1,500 Australian jobs and will seemingly boost the economy as the coal is dug up, processed and transported overseas. 
The bad news is that Adani has a history (in Africa) of numerous environmental breaches. It's an absolutely huge mine and situated right alongside Australia's Great Barrier reef. The reef is already in trouble with rising sea temperatures and so becoming neighbour to a vast coal mine isn't exactly going to help its future.
Part of the complexity is that a large train line (about 160km) is required to move the coal and (fortunately) the cost of financing that is slowing the project.
Having grown up in Thatcher's Britain and watching (and supporting) coal miners fighting for their jobs and communities I find myself sometimes at odds with myself arguing that a coal mine which will bring economic advantage to the people who live nearby should not be built.
The world HAS moved on though. Sustainable energies are becoming cheaper and much more viable and the initiative behind the mine seems more about winning local votes that boosting the Australian economy.
Added to that having lived in Australia for nearly a decade I see just how beautiful (and yet fragile) the country's natural resources are. Australians who have never left Australia's shores seem somehow blind to that. The benefit of creating jobs always seems to outweigh the permanent destruction of nature. The Green party is margalised and people who have concerns for the environment are frowned upon.
What makes me perhaps sadder is that in a recent survey 25% of Australians hadn't even heard of Adani and the Carmichael coal mine. A Murdoch dominated media has left them ill informed and so the mine potentially could be built by stealth with the population ignorant of the environmental effects of it potentially until it is too late.
The barrier-reef is a truly beautiful place. I'd like it to be there not only for my children but for generations to come. That's not meant to be a trite and throw away statement either. The Adani mine if built will only have a life span of 60 years but it's legacy will last for hundreds of years. I'm puzzled why something would be built that would wipe out one of the Earth's natural wonders for such short term benefit.
We took part in a march to protest. Even if the damn thing does end up being built I want my kids to know that they (through me) fought against it and understood the consequences.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Short break to Dandenong Ranges

The Dandenong Ranges is an area just east of Melbourne, made up of low mountain ranges and rolling countryside. It's very picturesque and at this time of year (Spring) quite green.
I had a couple of days leave booked during the school holidays and had originally planned to go further to the Mornington Peninsula, but someone at work recommended that the Dandenong's which, as well as being a couple of hours closer to Canberra probably had more on offer for the kids.
Nevertheless it was still a fair drive. We headed down the highway and after a long lunch and meander in Albury as well as a couple of other toilet breaks we reached our destination mid-afternoon after probably around 9 or 10 hours in the car. The kids were excellent passengers and we variously listened to audio books or chatted.
Our first couple of nights were spent in a slightly dodgy motel in Belgrave. It was clean, but fairly ancient. The kids laughed at the TV - Audrey remarking that the tele was older than her (which in truth it probably was).
On our first full morning, we caught the famed 'Puffing Billy' steam train from Belgrave through to our destination (Lakeside). Lakeside boasts a (huge) model train exhibition which was situated in a nearby shed/warehouse building near to the (full size) Puffing Billy station. The model train has apparently been there for 30 years. The owners were fastidious in their attention to detail and the model had everything from airports to hot air balloons. The kids loved the eye-spy they'd set up and delighted in spotting things.
We returned to Belgrave by the Puffing Billy and then rushed to Healsville, a sanctuary focusing on Austalian fauna. Incredibly the place was free for kids during the holidays. Often parks like this are fairly mediocre - a few moth-eared koalas and bored kangaroos, but Healsville was wonderfully set up with great enclosures and loads to see and do. I wish we'd actually given it a lot longer than the short afternoon we did.
The next day we headed to Trees Adventure park, a park which offers a series of obstacles/zip lines traversing the trunks and branches across quite a large area of woodland. Visitors are given a harness and instruction and then essentially set-loose to choose their own route and challenge. Everything was colour coded to cater for under 7s right up to adults.
The kids took to it immediately. They were both more flexible (and probably stronger) than me and certainly less worried about the prospect of crashing through the canopy en route to the floor. We were allotted two hours, but in truth I think we probably stayed four.
Afterwards we left Dandenong and drove to the coast - stopping first in a lovely (almost isolated) spot called Golden Beach where we stayed in a beach hut - a lovely family hosted us (they stayed next door) and then from there drove another four hours or so to Marlo (again a beautiful and very relaxed spot) where we stayed in a spacious motel and feasted on local fish and chips.
Eventually we headed for home. A straight drive north through Cooma. We covered 1600km in five days so it was quite a trip, but really good fun and nice to explore a bit of a different part of the world.

On board the Puffing Billy
The HUGE model village at Lakeside

Treetop Adventures

Audrey flicking her hair in the sea at Marlo!

The sun sets in Marlo (a pelican perched on a telegraph pole)