— Movie & TV Awards (@MTVAwards) May 17, 2021
Two hours from Sydney in rolling hills of the Southern Highlands lies the tranquil area of Wilde’s Meadow. Tranquillity naturally includes the singing of birds, frogs croaking, and cows moo-ing. This sylvan paradise can be shaken awake though by one rogue sulphur-crested cockatoo flying across the paddock on the other side of the pond squawking with frustration on finding wire mesh on the wooden railings to prevent him from gnawing them to ruination, again.
Sitting-out on the terrace in the late afternoon, just shooting-the-breeze with a cup of tea and one of Robyn’s Christmassy mince tarts, provides the loveliest welcome. Plump silver perch swim around in the pond and the green hillside beyond is nearly obliterated in yellow of dandelions, right up to the nature reserve sheltering the wallabies. Over that side somewhere is the Henhouse Hilton where Robyn motors over to feed her ‘girls’ with the scraps, and to collect the new eggs, still warm.
Good rains have recently broken years of drought in outback New South Wales and Covid has changed our lives, forcing lockdowns. International travel plans have been put on hold for the foreseeable future.
Good weather forecasts for these next days is all I need to get going on a country road trip here in Australia. This also gives me the chance to give the car a long run and blow the carbon deposits out of the engine and improve the fuel consumption.
I’m sharing the driving with a good friend, Paul. We break the first leg of this country road trip for a pot of tea, hot scones, jam and cream at the famous Magpie Café in Berrima. It sets a mood. Getting out of the car, the smell of smoke from wood-burning fireplaces wafting from chimneys and birds singing is a joyous country welcome.Driving in the Canberra direction we turn-off at Lake George, and then head for the little village of Gundaroo in the Yass Valley for the first night. Here in beautiful countryside in the last days of winter, the light is softly pervasive – in the sky, the rocks, the trees. It even filters the shadows.
The colour yellow saturates the roadside with branches heavy in fluffy balls of Cootamundra wattle. It heralds the explosion of the coming spring. We see the early signs of the emerging spectrum of greens and a rush of pinks along blossoming boughs that will transform this landscape in captivating colours in the next days.
. . . Driving on through vineyards and orchards we reach the thriving regional centre and foodie paradise of Orange ‘at peak hour’. We’re spending the weekend with Andrew in his recently acquired new home. From the blooming daffodils and the white pebble formal layout at the front of the property, I get the immediate impression that his makeover of this 1875 property started with the gardens.
The inside is welcoming and warm but the whole place is still very much a ‘’work in progress. The kitchen is under restoration, and the 13-foot pressed metal ceiling in the dining room is still being patched. But, true to form, with no concern for pictures stacked against walls and boxes still to be unpacked, Andrew serves a ‘candlelight supper’ of roasted shoulder of Cowra lamb and vegetables on a properly set dining table.
We sailed up the river in the misty dawn this morning to anchor mid-river near the village of Syuru. Time for croissant and coffee on deck before going ashore.
In our zodiacs, we proceed in V-formation to meet an advancing party in Asmat warrior canoes that set-out from the shore to the beat of drums and much noise from all the villagers lining the river bank..
This South Papua province of Indonesia is one of the most remote and mysterious regions of the world. This Asmat region is the realm of headhunters and cannibals; and where Michael Rockefeller Jr disappeared, feared eaten, in the 50’s.
I feel incredibly privileged to have the opportunity, not only to witness a traditional welcome with Asmat warrior canoes rowing-out to greet us mid-river in our zodiacs, but also to walk among the people of Syuru village (in Indonesian West Papua) and feel so welcome.
A true National Geographic moment. Ponant is operating these cruises in conjunction with National Geographic. We are lucky enough to get to live the dream.
Another happy moment is seeing the captain take his own zodiac up to the village and invite children to come for a spin. (A ‘Pope Francis’ moment, albeit by a Frenchman in a zodiac?)
The affable Captain Michel Quioc is than more than happy to rub shoulders with the village Chiefs and pose for photographs.
Hope dawns in Yirrkala.
I share just a little of my experience here in Yirrkala in the hope that ‘the art of the possible’, a model of integration of first nations people, can be extended to include even more of Australia’s first nation communities. It’s always disheartening to read of so many people struggling to overcome disadvantage and rise above the poverty line.
Coming ashore again in zodiacs, there’s a relaxed tropical feel of wide-open spaces as we walk up from the beach along red sand paths into the township. We head for a seat in the shade of large trees surrounding a courtyard outside the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre.
“The feeling on your face as it is struck by the first rays of the sun” is an apt meaning for “Buku-Larrnggay”. And “Mulka” means “a sacred but public ceremony”. I can relate to these as I sit and wait.
A community leader welcomes us to Yirrkala explaining that “we are not like white man who tells the story of first nations peoples as if we are strangers”.
He goes on, “you are welcome to this place. You are a person and a friend.
He reminds us that Australia did not acknowledge aboriginal people in 1901, and they are still fighting for recognition:
“Aboriginal people still have a law and customs; they still own the land; we struggle; we still live; we want to share something that is really special; we want to share our culture so you can learn; tell your people. Thank you very much for coming.”
We start to hear singing coming down the street and see a huge crowd of women and children walking together towards us to join in the ceremonies. Rhythmic sounds of clap sticks and ‘yidaki’ (didgeridoo) alert us to the start of the ‘welcome to country’ and smoking ceremony.
A wiry old grandfather adorned in paint, armulets and feathers has such an aura about him – a spiritual figure from another age. He looks the part; he is the part. He‘s from another world.
As for us, we have one foot in two different worlds … Le Lapérouse and . . . Le Dreamtime.
Grandfather, singularly, assumes a rare and special role. He starts the welcome dance to the music of didgeridoo and clap sticks putting all he has in him into it. He exhausts himself, ending-up leaning, breathless and bowed, on the central ceremonial dance poles until assisted into the shade and given water.
The carved and painted poles represent each clan group. and have memorial and mourning ceremony applications. They are decorated with bands of ochre pigment, woven strings and feathers.
In this rare dance performance, we learn that the grandfather is passing-on identity and knowledge to his great grandson standing out here with others in this small community of first nation’s people dressed in a rainbow sash. He tells of ‘who we are’ and ‘where we come from’.
We are indeed honoured to be witness to this.
Grandfather is the figure head of the Galiwin’ku community on Elcho Island off the coast of East Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory.
The dancing that follows tells of the people’s spiritual journey; a journey starting with a God that comes from nothing and who is represented in the poles set up in the centre ground before us. The songs talk about the universe and creation from their view. Culture is presented in timelines. And the poles represent timelines of a different time.
We sit comfortably on chairs placed on mats laid over powdery red soil. Branches of eucalypt leaves on top of simple structures provide shade. Beyond the central open courtyard, the sea rolls in in gentle waves on a wide stretch of beach and breaks over large ochre boulders at each end. Shade trees line the shore. Last week, a crocodile took one of their dogs.
Song, didgeridoo and clap sticks herald the entrance of an enthused community, daubed with ash and white paint, branches waving in their hands, women and children included, circling around the poles dancing, stomping with clouds of fine red dust up their nostrils, unperturbed. (Our worlds are very far apart indeed.)
Rundale Palace, stands majestically in its yellow grandeur surrounded by apple orchards on the plains of southern Latvia. For all its majesty it now sits in the middle of nowhere. As we approach from Vilnius, wind gusts blow dust and dander up my nose, so I’m not inclined to hang around for long. And where is that much vaunted rose garden? In such absence, I tread warily squishing over fallen fruit under the trees in the apple orchard trying unsuccessfully to reach ripening red beauties on branches beyond my reach. I do gather some low hanging fruit in my arms to take back to Dominic because our driver that he can take home and pickle.
Popular classics performed beautifully by the Berlin chamber Orchestra, and some excellent soloists. I’m also a sucker for a Toccata and Fugue on the Schuke organ with its 63 registers and more than 5,000 pipes.
I was drawn more into the music tonight than listening in a concert hall or at home. The lady who sold me the ticket gave me the choice of being near the cello or amongst the violins. I chose the violins – the horse hair of the bow was swishing at such a pace across the strings I could almost feel the friction.
After a stoic battle with prostate cancer over more than ten years, my eldest brother Tony breathed his last this afternoon amongst his family at home.
We remaining siblings, Michael, Anne and Mark feel blessed to have had the opportunity to spend time with Tony as late as yesterday cheekily ‘jousting’ about many memories of good times past.
Rest in Peace Tony+
We visited the Railaco parish including surrounding villages in the mountains, as well as the Jesuit schools in Kasait.
The aim of the visit was to see the reality and the progress of the Railaco parish in the programs St Canice’s supports: feeding program, mobile clinic, NOSSEF high school, water project, and other projects of the Jesuit Social Services. . . . . .
This video is about Children eating tasty food brought by the Railaco Jesuit Mission in the remote sub-district Cocoa in East Timor.
It’s quite incredible that 100 children turn-up in the small sub-district of Cocoa outside Railaco today to greet us. Some are just babies carried in a sling by an older sibling, and others are nursed by their mothers. After announcing our arrival with the bagpipes, Khoda’s enthusiasm and passion sees him serving meals to the kids, and relating immediately to these youngsters through sparkling eyes, and the simple language of love.
Parishioners of St Canice’s Sydney initiated this children’s feeding program with Fr Bong of the Jesuit Railaco Mission way back in 2004, and they have been the main benefactor ever since. The sense of joy we take away is more than reward.
We leave a trail of happy kids following us in a cloud of dust.
Our Neighbours in Timorhe word neighbour derives from those near-by. When the neighbour is drawn into the exchange of kindnesses, our human-ness is enhanced by the enabling of goodness.
This is what the relationship between St Canice Elizabeth Bay parish and the Jesuit Mission in Railaco is all about – simply being neighbourly, the mutual comfort each of us derive from having good neighbours.
We are ambassadors of St Canice Parish in its long-time involvement with Railaco.
Our visit to Timor is an ‘immersion’ experience. As ordinary people, we go to Railaco to listen to the voices of others who speak of ordinary needs.
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Bermuda, is a British Overseas Territory UNESCO World Heritage municipality. We dock away from the capital on St. George’s Island, the territory’s first English settlement. Would I want to live here? No!
The homes are built in the Bermuda tradition and sit amongst trees and gardens on the side of hills dipping down into a green sea. All have a ridged white roof treated with lime and designed to capture rain water. The walls are painted in bright pastel colours and make for a quaint experience, but that’s where my fascination ends.
It was from here in Bermuda that in early 17th century that British colonists landed in Jamestown, Virginia, to help replenish the dwindling colonists. They provided the starving Jamestown folk with food brought from Bermuda and, via John Rolfe, one of the new arrivals from Bermuda, provided them with tobacco found growing in Bermuda which later became a major American industry.
The capital Hamilton, at the other end of the island is the financial hub. Most of the quaint buildings there have now been replaced by glass and steel.
My fellow sailors, Jim and Eddy have settled in to this lazy life at sea very easily.
Amex days on three continents hold many memories. But none so important as friendships forged. Leaving Hector and Dolores behind in Phoenix last weekend, I land in Miami to stay with old friend Edmundo. Perhaps it’s through the depth of his close friendships that I, in turn, have made so many good friends here over the years. One week is not enough.
And, this evening, two more Amex friends of nearly fifty years will come to dinner at Edmundo’s – Eddy from London and Jim from New York. We three ‘old farts’ are embarking on a two-week cruise across the Atlantic tomorrow on Ponant, the French shipping line – to Lisbon. First stop the Bahamas, where yet another Amex alma mater from London Days, Robert will entertain us.
Happy Easter to all!
REUNION OF FOUR WHO FAREWELLED AMEX IN THE 1990’S
Edmundo Perez-de Cobos hosted a wonderful dinner party this evening in his home in Coral Gables to mark a reunion of four old Amex friends, all of whom retired in the 90’s. Michael from Frankfurt; Eddy from London; Edmundo from Mexico City, and Jim from Moscow.
This ancient iconography is very profound; it encapsulates the true Easter message; death and resurrection; the gift of Christian Hope that all we baptised believe is ours forever, with Him, in heaven when we die.
Jesus descends into the underworld after his death. We see him surrounded by the key characters of the Old Testament – the royalty, the prophets and law-givers. Under him all the instruments of death are falling into the abyss with the bound-up Satan.
Yet his first task – quite phenomenologically – is to take Adam and Eve physically by the hand and to wrench their bodies from the grave.
My mother always told me that ‘we are on this earth for but a short time, on our way to our eternal reward’. As I head towards eighty, her words ring ever loudly.
Susan Kelley and I worked together in Amex New York back in 1975. We were both 34 when my mother Connie braved the journey on Pan Am all the way from Sydney to visit me; and Susan entertained us to Tea on the front terrace of her Gramercy Park Manhattan brownstone. (Mum was most pleased that I had met such a nice lady. The fact that Susan was married didn’t seem to come into the equation.)
Tonight, Edmundo Perez-de Cobos, my good friend and my host here in Miami, and I drive up to Miami Shores in his noisy new soft-top convertible red Fiat 500 to have drinks and dinner with Susan and Bill. Again, such welcoming hospitality with the many decades passed counting for nought.
Four ‘Scotties’s scurry to meet us but Cupcake and Winston insist on sitting on laps for a photo shoot.
Simple sightseeing pleasures made all the more pleasurable with simple home hospitality by Hector and Dolores at their home in Phoenix. How many years is it since we were working together in London, and eldest daughter Alexandra’s wedding in Madrid? Three decades and four grandchildren later, we are together again kicking-back with a coffee, stroking nuzzling dogs, and catching-up in the comfort of home as if it were yesterday.
Saturday morning, a walk down Main Street of old Scottsdale reminds me of my first visit to Arizona with Des Whelan while attending my first Amex ‘Outer Space’ Meeting in 1971. (From here we flew in light planes to the Grand Canyon and on to Las Vegas. I’m not sure whether this ‘boy from the bush’ (as Des would taunt me) truly understood how lucky he was to be doing things like at age 28, and every year till moving to the US to work five years later.)
Then, tacos in America had to be ticked off my list. That done, Hector and I drive out to the Desert Botanical Gardens to meet Dolores and go walk through the blooming cactus and other desert plants in colourful Spring bloom.
Driving home, and stopping-by their local Franciscan church, preparations are well under way for Palm Sunday services outdoors ‘on the grass’ in the shade of tall palm trees.
We skip this in favour of going to Mass in the morning, in Sedona, a couple of hours drive north. The ‘greeting’ from smiling ladies and gentlemen (who must have abandoned their walkers to get up and welcome us), and a well-meaning choir of white- haired songstresses make it a little difficult to concentrate on the Mass.
A road-trip to Monument Valley has always been on my ‘to do’ list, but I’m running out of years. The red in the mountains and rocky outcrops in mountains surrounding Sedona has more than satisfied my hankering. And to stop for lunch, at a restaurant, magically located right on a bluff with full view of the surrounding red mountains and outcrops, puts the icing on the cake. A few extra squeezes of fresh lime into my Margarita made for a grand welcome cocktail as we settle in to our prize dress-circle table and wait for lunch to be served.
CHERRY BLOSSOM TIME
Seeing cherry blossoms in bloom is the main focus of this, my first visit to Tokyo in 50+ years. And the sun is shining on a perfect blue-sky day.
My ‘tours by locals’ guide Hiroshi, a calm retired businessman, is somewhat non-plussed with the request, but with a little zigzagging around Tokyo in trains and taxis respectfully playing to my eccentricity, he delivers in spades (and blooming blossoms).
Walking through the fish market stalls, there is no cherry blossom; only fish. But a quick taxi ride away, and a walk in the park, I’m rewarded. Blossoms keep falling on my head in the cold gusts of wind, (even land on my lip as you’ll see in one of the photos). Trellises of budding wisteria around the lake trigger a momentary impulse to return in a month’s time for more joy and beauty. (“By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism,” so says Pope Francis in ‘Laudate Si’.)
A stop for a cup of the bitter ‘matcha’ green tea in a traditional Japanese teahouse on the lake presents an opportunity to know little more about the growth of Tokyo since my last visit. Away in the distance through today’s soaring skyscrapers is Tokyo Tower, the tallest building in all of Tokyo back in 1966, even taller than the Eifel Tower.
I am not expecting to see Mt Fuji, but Hiroshi knows just the 40th floor vantage point. The winds have blown all clouds away, and there it is in all its glory in the distance, beyond the glass, framed by Tokyo Tower and taller office buildings.
I wonder why most of the other diners in our stop for a Teppanyaki fish lunch are decidedly more elderly (and quieter) than the masses on the streets. Surely it couldn’t be the ten-dollar price tag? No, the owner once ran this as a leading seafood restaurant before the tall building was built, and older customers (including Hiroshi obviously) continue to patronise his establishment.
Seemingly half-way around Tokyo by train and we alight at Ueno Park with its five-storey Buddhist Pagoda and golden Shinto Toshogu shrine; in the gardens, giant peony blooms, sheltered from the sun under paper parasols, add the colour to replace the now fading cherry blossoms floating in the wind.
The cherry blossom was also important to the samurai of feudal Japan; it was their duty to simultaneously realise the inevitably to death and release any fear of it. Their lives, marked by battle and conflict, were often cut short, and the fallen cherry blossom became the symbol of that short life.