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Australiana

Yesterday was unusually hot for a Spring day. I had good intentions for the afternoon, but gave in to drowsiness while trying to read, and had an afternoon nap. I was more than a nap. I was asleep for three hours and  kept busy with dreams.

In the last dream we were on holidays at a campsite in the country. The kind with old timber dormitories out in the Australian bushland. We were walking on a track in the bush when we noticed smoke in the air. We came upon a crew of firefighters. They were backburning in an attempt to cut off a fire nearby. They told us to get back to the campsite and pack, as the fire was coming close. We were being evacuated.

When I woke up my first thought was to check out the back windows. I expected to see smoke. The scent of burning bush was hanging in the air. This is what I saw:

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The low cloud in the distance is not cloud, but smoke coming from a fire in the southern highlands to the south of Sydney. I turned on the news, and heard that there were fires to the north, west and south of the city. Smoke from the west was blanketing much of Sydney. The line between dream and reality had blurred.

A quick look out the front revealed an ugly black carpet of smoke to the north. This explains the number of planes taking off over our part of the city – it was the only gap of clear sky between the smoke clouds.

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Its amazing the havoc created by one hot, dry, windy Spring day. There were 100 fires burning in the state, many of them out of control. Commuters who work in the city and live in the outlying areas were having difficulty getting home with roads and train lines cut.

I feel for the students finishing high school are who are in the middle of their final exams. They were being warned not to take risks to get to school, or to go to a different school. Thats pressure you don’t need!

From our high position the smoky sky created a dramatic sunset. Eerie to think that out there volunteer fire fighters are battling the blazes close up.

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We are fine here in the city, but thinking of friends with homes near fire outbreaks. Many homes were lost, and at least one man has died.

Bushfires are part and parcel of living in Australia, although they are not normally so early in the summer. So early in the summer that its still the middle of spring. Australian people are resiliant, and I have a feeling that this summer we will need to be.

Strange that I should dream about being evacuated from a bushfire, when around me other people  were being evacuated for real.

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Participating in an election campaign is a great way to learn about how the democratic process works. Despite all the silliness and tomfoolery that goes on in the media around election time I still feel very lucky to live in a country where the democratic process works well.

For democracy to be effective, everybody has to “play nice” which means respecting each others right to hold and express opinions different from your own. Political assassinations, kidnappings, beatings, tear gas attacks and worse are obviously NOT playing nice. Fortunately in Australia its safe to hand out How to Vote cards or post political views on Facebook without fear of reprisals. I wish others around the world had this opportunity.

Standing outside the Early Voting Centre and handing out How to Vote Flyers means entering a microcosm of the political landscape. At the Centre I have been attending the people representing the different parties help each other pack up and carry the placards and boxes of flyers upstairs. The Electoral Commission who run the election allow us to keep our materials stored in their foyer, so we don’t have to carry it all back and forth every day. They also allow all the candidates to leave How to Vote Materials on a table near where people are voting so that they can access the information they need.

This basic level of cooperation is possible because there is adequate trust between parties and a shared commitment to a fair process on all sides. There has been a problem in the past with people trying to vote but using the wrong numbering method, in which case their vote does not count. Giving them access on information about how to vote according the recommendations of their preferred party serves a useful purpose because helps people have their say with a valid vote.

Early voting runs for three weeks before the election day and manning the polling booth during this time is a big effort, especially when so many people can’t help because they are at work. Representatives from the two major parties are out in force, and smaller parties sometimes have someone there when resources permit. Because their time is more flexible, retirees and students play a big role in doing the footwork in the lead up to the actual election day.

Although there is a very slight frisson of tension in the air, on the whole I have found there to be a good atmosphere amongst the people handing out How to Votes for the different parties. I try to keep things friendly, respectful and upbeat. The unaccustomed heat of the warm spring weather is making everyone sweat, and the setting sun is glaring in everyones eyes, regardless of their political affiliation.

What a bunch of characters we are. Some of us want to talk politics and engage in good natured stirring. Mostly its given and and taken with a smile. Now and then some of us grow weary of the unrelenting youthful arrogance of one character who just won’t give it a rest.

When its quiet I get roped into interesting side conversations that accidentally veer onto controversial topics. I want to say “Keep your voice down!” when people start loudly bagging out the opposition during our private conversation which is being held at full volume on the public footpath. Even so, the side talk is valuable.  I learn things I don’t know from political long timers who are happy to share their story about why they are there.

My favourite moment was when I arrived at the Voting Centre in the late afternoon to help out for an hour before closing. A lady from the party that was the furtherest from mine in outlook came up to me, welcomed me with a smile, and introduced herself. In many respects her conservative values reflect a very different outlook to my more progressive views. But we agree on one thing. Treating other people with a basic level respect and acceptance is how democracy should be done.

Australian Language Notes:

To be roped in = to be engaged in an activity by someone else on the spur of the moment
Bagging Out = Criticising
Stirring = stirring the pot, teasing. A great Australian passtime.
Give it a rest = Shut up. Stop going on about it.

Notes on Australian Language Notes:

Rather than neutralise or Americanise my vocabulary my policy is to write as I speak in the Australian vernacular and explain any terms that might not be familiar. Having said that, I don’t always know what is uniquely Australian English or for that matter UK English so its going to be pot luck on the definitions.

Want to come for a walk? I’m here in North Sydney with time on hands before a meeting and I thought we could take a stroll towards the harbour. We might see the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the way.  Yeah, there it is. Let’s go down this way and take some photos.

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I’m not exactly sure where we are. I’m a southsider and this is the north side. I think we are heading towards Lavender Bay. This must be the entrance to artist Wendy Whitely’s Secret Garden. We won’t go in now, its getting dark.

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I wonder what would happen if we went down here. Yes, it is Lavender Bay. I hope this isn’t a dead end. It looks pretty, lets go through.

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There it is. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Luna Park too.

I don’t know how I am going with this low light photography. Its not my specialty. Well nothing is really. I just like to take photos to tell stories about a particular place or experience. Thats Milson’s Point on the left, you can see it has become very built up to take advantage of the harbour views. On the right is the Sydney Central Business District, known as “the city”. You can just see a tiny Centrepoint Tower.

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I’m pretty sure we can get around past Luna Park from here.

This is a great place for photos, but those joggers are a nuisance. They must be releasing them at 10 second intervals. Here I have done the right thing and set up the camera on a pylon to avoid camera shake. Then along comes a jogger on the wooden boardwalk. Boing, Boing, Boing. I bet Ansel Adams didn’t have this problem.

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Look in here, its North Sydney Pool. We can make out a train on the northern approach to the bridge at the top right of the picture. The smiling reflection of the Luna Park entrance looks sinister. Reminds me its nearly dinner time.

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OK, I can’t blame the joggers this time, as I am on dry, stable land again. Its just me. I don’t have a tripod and I’m getting hungry. Interesting perspective though.

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To hell with it. Lets blur the image on purpose. Sydney Harbour Bridge like you have never seen it before.

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I did manage to get some good shots along the way, but I thought it would be fun to tell a story through the out-takes. I will do a profile on Luna Park and the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the ImageChest Photography website when we get back from our virtual holiday down south on the Illawarra Coast.

Focus is a theme for me at the moment as some of my projects are not thriving and I need to consider where to put my efforts. The ImageChest Etsy Store is not going well and between you and me I am beginning to doubt whether someone in London England wants to buy a photographic greeting card featuring Paris France from someone in Sydney Australia. Given the cost of postage from Australia to the rest of the world, it would almost be cheaper for them to go there and take their own photos. Although I love travel photography, I wonder if it would be better to concentrate on telling my uniquely Australian story.

We regret any difficulties you may have had Starting Up

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The site was down for maintenance.

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These pictures are from a park in Sydney which looks like the Windows Start Up page, or Teletubby land. It makes me want to log on, or giggle stupidly. Sydneysiders may recognise it. Here is another clue.

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Its Sydney Park at St Peters, near the old Brick Pits.

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I think it has the bluest sky in Sydney.

I’d like to thank City Rail for letting me know that the trains are running late and out of timetable order this morning. I was planning to catch a train a few stops to go to a small business course today. It was very helpful to be notified that there was a problem before I even go out of bed.

Actually the announcement was not for me but it wasn’t on the TV or the radio that I heard it. The announcement was for “Customers on plaform 1” but due to the still weather I could hear the platform announcements from my bedroom nearly 1km away. One of the advantages of living up high above a valley I guess.

It was strange to get up knowing that there was a problem with the trains without having been told. I guess years of train travel and subliminal announcement deciphering have made me very attuned to what City Rail have to say. Maybe I have become a City Rail announcement sauvant (Rainman for train announcements). Luckily for me, I can now plan to catch two buses instead of the train if I want to.

Unlucky for you, I don’t have time to write the deep, meaningful and fascinatingly insightful post that I had in mind. Such is life!

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I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping planes,
Of rugged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.

I can’t help but think of these lines from the famous poem, My Country by Dorothea Mackeller in which she compares the extremes of her Australian home to woods and gardens of England. Its an old poem, old-fashioned in style, but her observations remain as true today as they were when she was writing. There is something quite stirring about her love for her country, despite her understanding of all that it can dish out.

The news this morning was dominated by the flooding rains in the north east, but there were also stories about the bushfires which continue to burn in the south. January is a  time of year that brings the extremes of heat from the desert, but also heavy rains from the tropical cyclones. This January will be remembered for both. The cyclone season has arrived in the north. Its late, but keen on making its mark. I feel for the people of Queensland who are facing more flooding so soon after the devastating floods of 2011.

As usual my little corner of the world is safe. High, if not exactly dry. The rain from the “former tropical cyclone” that has left havoc up north is making its way down the east coast, and likely to intensify the rain and winds in Sydney over the next 24 hours. I cancelled my visit to family on the other side of the city for fear of being stranded in a waterlogged train on the way home.

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Earlier a saw a Kookaburra sitting on electricity wires in the rain. I stretched my little camera to its capacity to give you a glimpse. You can’t quite see it, but he had water dripping of his beak and tail. I felt sorry for him, although he seemed to be exhibiting a calm acceptance. Later, during a break in the rain, I heard him sing out his famous kookaburra call.

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I worry for my sunburnt country, because I fear that the extremes that Dorothea Mackellar knew are going to become more intense and frequent as the worlds’ climate comes increasingly under pressure.  I imagine many of you feel the same for your own country, with its unique challenges of climate and geography. I am not particularly nationalistic in an overt kind of way, but I do think its only natural that our own land takes a special place in our hearts.

Core of my heart my country!
Land of the rainbow gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold.

It was a very strange day. I feel like I have been on a long journey, but made it back home safely. I got up early, knowing that the temperature forecast was 43 degrees celsius  which equates to about 110F. I wanted to finish my award acceptance post and sent out the notification emails before it became too hot to have the computer on.

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My focus for the day was dealing with the heat, and anything else that might come up as a result. I took an early morning photo; thinking there was a strong possibility that I would be taking pictures of bushfire smoke by the end of the day. The sky looked deceptively innocent, and I felt a sense of distrust at its naive promise of a lovely day.

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Before starting on my post, I went out to water the plants on the balcony. The garden sculpture community seemed to share my sense of foreboding. I don’t like extreme weather conditions. They make me nervous. Although my situation was very safe, there was a fire warning of “catastrophic” in place.

Early in the morning a few greyish clouds came across the sky and there was a coolish breeze. The temperature was about 27.5C (81.5F) which for the sake of this discussion we will call “pleasant”. I managed to get some useful things done in the morning – finishing the blog post, photographing some postcards and other computer work. I knew that I would not be able to use the computer once the heat started to build.

During the morning the temperature started to rise until midday when it was much hotter outside than inside. At midday I decided it was time to implement my heat management strategy . I put off the computer and closed the doors, windows and blinds. I put on the fan and retreated to the lounge. By 1pm it was 39C (102.2F) outside, but still only 28C (82.4F) inside.

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During the afternoon I stayed as quiet and inactive as possible. I did lot of reading on the iPad, had a sleep, and watched some TV. Throughout the afternoon and the evening the outside temperature rose gradually to a maximum of about 41C (105.8) while the inside rose gradually to almost 30C (86F). The significant difference between the inside and outside created a sense of being trapped by the heat. Although in reality the inside temperature had not risen a great deal, it was still quite warm and stuffy. But is was the threat of the outside heat that you could feel when walking past the window and glass doors that made it unpleasant. It was a choice of hot or hotter.

I made good use of the afternoon by sorting out out all the blogs saved as favourites before I worked out how to use readers. I put the TV news on for a while, and there were 130 fires burning, many out of control, although none any where near me. I didn’t watch for too long because I wanted to concentrate on managing my own situation.After dinner I decided to brave a trip to the letterbox. It was still unnervingly hot outside – about 37C (98.6F) but the burning sun had let up.  Had I not gone out, I wouldn’t have seen that there was a beautiful sunset.

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Normally on a hot day you can open the doors in the early evening, but I waited until 10pm because it was still so much hotter outside than inside. I knew a cool change was expected after midnight. These southerlies are the saving grace of the south east coast of Australia, bringing cold breezes from the colder southern regions. The sweep in with great force and drop the temperature drastically within about 10 minutes.

I fell asleep in the blanketing heat and woke at 2.30 am to a cool breeze coming in my window. In fact it was cold and amazingly I had to put the corner of a blanket over me.

As was expected, this morning it was about 27.5C (81.5F) inside, although its 20C (60F) outside. The situation has flipped and now the building is holding yesterdays heat, and the cool breeze is struggling to touch it.

On the TV weather they said the reason for the heat was that the tropical monsoon is late arriving in the north. As a consequence there is very little cloud cover over Australia, and the full force of the sun is heating the north and the desert areas. The temperatures inland are very high, persistent and unmitigated by the sea breezes we get in Sydney. The desert winds have moved south and east and caused prolonged heatwaves in the southern states, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania, where there have been extensive bushfires.

We have been very lucky in Sydney to only have a 1-Day Heatwave and the promise of quick relief. I coped well, and didn’t really suffer from the heat because I was very careful. The biggest issue was boredom and isolation. Its as if your whole life is on hold while you deal with this natural phenomena.