Sydney to Canberra - 04-18/02/15

Sydney sunset from Watsons Bay.

We were welcomed in Sydney by Alison Pert and Rod Sims.  Alison came to Goroka from England while we were there as a volunteer lawyer, then moved to Port Moresby, where she met Rod, who at that time worked for the World Bank, and later they were married.  He's worked in various high powered jobs since and she teaches at Sydney University and we had a lovely few days staying with them and their elderly, rather poorly, but very affectionate cat, Smokey. 

They live in beautiful part of Sydney called Vaucluse, a bus journey from the city, with lovely walks in the  park and along the harbour foreshore.  Alison and Rod were extremely busy during the day, so I enjoyed the walks, while Martin went to the city for more museum perusal and we spent the evenings catching up with all the news.  On Saturday evening they took us to Doyle's, in Watsons Bay, which is a world-famous seafood restaurant right on the beach.  The view is spectacular (the food's pretty good, too), directly west towards the city.  On a fine night, the setting sun creates the sort of picture you thought only existed on a postcard- and it was a very fine night.  After dinner, a short stroll takes you to The Gap, where the view is in the opposite direction, over the ocean.  By this time, the moon was rising....idyllic.

The next day we took a trip on the ferry up the river to Parramatta, where the early governors of the colony had their home and built an experimental farm, as the first settlers quickly found out that not much grows in the sandy soil where they had landed.  Only 20 km up the river we were travelling through mangrove swamps, and although we knew that the suburbs were just beyond the trees, it was hard to believe we were still in the Sydney area!  We enjoyed a virtually private tour of Old Government House, then sailed back down the river to Rod's excellent cooking.

Next day, we set out for Thirlmere, south-west of Sydney and the home of Liz's nephew, Adam.  For those who don't know, Liz had a brother, Alan, who emigrated (£10 Pom) to Australia in the early 1960s, married Daphne, had two sons, Adam and Simon, then sadly died at the age of 37.  We maintained contact for some time, but this has slipped in recent years and we hadn't seen either of the boys as adults.  It's really thanks to Sonya, Simon's wife, that we are all coming together again.  Liz's other brother, Peter, has already been out to Australia and met everyone a couple of years ago.  Now it was our turn.  Adam is married to Peta and they have two little girls, Rose and Abigail.  Adam is a senior detective sergeant in Sydney, but was on leave when we visited, so we had plenty of time to get to know him and the family (not forgetting Dudley, the aging bulldog and Milly, the cheeky kitten!) and what a joy it was.  There was so much to say, both about our current lives and about Alan, and our different memories of him. This part of the trip is very much about Liz re-connecting with this part of the family, so it is quite an emotional time, but also extremely rewarding.

There was an added bonus to our visit to Thirlmere.  Those of you who know Martin well can imagine his excitement when, as we approached the small town, we came across a sign for a Railway Museum!  Nobody had told us about this, but it turned out that almost opposite Adam's house (an old railway worker's cottage), is an absolutely magnificent venue which tells the history of New South Wales railways in a most imaginative, interactive, lively and entertaining way.  How could we not have known it was there?  We gave it a thorough inspection on the morning of our departure, then headed back towards the coast and our next destination, Moruya.

Our friends in Moruya Heads, also from Goroka days, are Brian and Gretta Beveridge, who taught with Liz in the International School and have since pursued various careers in education and skills development, particularly among Aboriginal people - most recently in Kununurra, Western Australia.  They were able to offer a very interesting, if not entirely optimistic, perspective on the state of Australia today.  They have a lovely home with views across the river towards the distant hills.  Much of the time we were there the weather was quite threatening and there were some spectacular cloud formations to admire, especially the day we walked with their beautiful dogs along the huge, white beach. Far in the distance we could see a couple of people digging for bait, otherwise, we had the beach to ourselves.  There is nowhere like this in England, but of course, it's not as inviting as it looks.  You have to know what you are doing.  Otherwise, if the sharks don't get you, the rips and the jellyfish will!  The relatively poor weather gave us a good excuse to sit in Brian and Gretta's house reading, talking and relaxing, until it was time to hit the road again, back inland towards Canberra.

Before we did that, we spent a day just a few km further down the coast at Narooma, where Alan had lived and where he is now buried.  Narooma is a holiday resort and fishing centre, in a fabulously beautiful setting at the mouth of a river and the cemetery is on top of a cliff just outside town.  As a place to reflect and remember people you have loved, it can't have many equals in the world!  Alan, who was a great personality, and much loved and respected in Narooma, has a memorial stone in the Apex Park (Apex is like Rotary), a beautifully kept leisure area on the bay.  It's always a joy to go there and be reminded how well thought of he was, as when he left us in England he was just a half-formed lad - funny and charming, but not very responsible!  We had lunch with Daphne and recemented more of those family links.

And so to Canberra, to stay with Alan's other son, Simon, his partner Sonya and their two daughters, Ruby and Lily.  We should probably stop being surprised by the warmth of the welcomes and the generous hospitality - sometimes from people we've never even met - but it takes us aback every time.  As in Adam's house, the girls had given up their bedroom for us.  As Ruby and Lily are teenagers, one might have expected a tiny bit of moodiness, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Simon asked me one evening what were the highlights of our trip so far.  It's a hard question, because we are doing such varied things, but at the end of it all, I know that one of the main highlights will be this re-connection with the Australian branch of the family.  Now that I have met them properly, I am very proud of my nephews, their partners and my four delightful great-nieces.  Martin thinks so too!

Canberra is an extraordinary city, carefully planned and arranged around the man-made Lake Burley Griffin, with all the important bits clustered near the centre and suburbs spreading gradually away, but it's really like one enormous park with some buildings in it. There are practically no high-rise buildings of any great size and everywhere you go there are stunning vistas back to the focal points of the Parliamentary Triangle and the Australian War Memorial.  Simon and Lily came with us on our visit to the War Memorial, which is the equivalent of our Imperial War Museum and Westminster Abbey with the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, with excellent displays telling the story of Australia's participation in various theatres of war.  We were interested to see the New Guinea section, explaining a part of the war not much known in England, but important in the story of WW2 if you live on this side of the world.  But this year, the focus here is all on Gallipolli, and the whole of the WW1 section of the museum has been revamped in honour of the centenary of that misguided and abortive campaign in which so many Australians were sacrificed. Australians make much more of Anzac Day, which commemmorates Gallipolli, than they do of Armistice Day, and this year will be very poignant indeed.

At The Gap - South Head, Sydney Harbour - before dinner!

With Alison and Rod at Doyle's restaurant, Watsons Bay.

The old favourite - en route to Parramatta.

Not for the faint-hearted - aka Martin!

Only 20km from Sydney CBD. Parramatta River ferry docking yards from mangrove swamps.

Old Government House, Parramatta.

With Adam, Peta, Rose, Abigail and Milly at Thirlmere. Dudley was having a lie down!

An unexpected bonus! Thirlmere Railway Museum!!

One of Narooma's beaches - all very "Home & Away"!

Alan's memorial stone in Apex Park, Narooma.

Liz and Aussie sister-in-law, Daphne, at Narooma.

With Gretta, Brian, Sky and Nyx at Moruya Heads.

View from the Australian War Memorial along Anzac Parade towards Old Parliament House and Parliament House.

Australian War Memorial.

Museum of Australia and Rainbow Serpent sculpture.

With Simon, Sonya, Lily, Rose and Snoops in Canberra.