Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

I love the way the Aussies call the north this. The specific part of The Top End I visited was the area of the Northern Territory around its capital Darwin. The whole territory has only 250,000 people, half of whom live in Darwin. You’d never guess that at 7am in the morning when they all appear to be on the road. It’s a half-hour behind neighbouring states but it was 20c hotter when I arrived from Melbourne – and very very humid.

Darwin was a base for the area’s chief natural attractions around it. It was heavily bombed in the second world war and devastated by cyclone Tracy in 1974, so its very much a modern city with little visible past. It sits on an enormous harbour, with fencing around it because of the salt water crocodiles lurking in it. It’s two unmissable attractions were the excellent museum, focusing on indiginous art, cyclone Tracy and the area’s wildlife, and an unfeasibly large but distinctive parliament which you are allowed to wander around at leisure. The afternoon of my arrival and the morning of my departure were enough!

My two-day trip into Kakadu was wonderful. The timing was perfect, with the rainy season ending three weeks before, leaving enough water for the wetlands to be lush and teeming with wildlife. On the first day, we visited the rock art of Nourlangie, which varied in age up to 50,000 years; it’s fascinating trying to interpret these ancient visual stories. We followed this with a terrific cruise on the Yellow Water billabong (my new favourite word!) and into the South Alligator river (named like two others by an Englishman who couldn’t tell his crocodiles from his alligators, which don’t exist here). We came across four crocs – one lady with her gaping mouth giving the boys the come-on, one unusually prostrate on a log, one chilling after a night on the razzle and the scariest who was huge and apppeared to be stalking us. The wonderful birdlife and wetland flora and fauna managed to get a look-in too. I ended the day flying over the vastness of it all in an 8-seater light plane. The ignominy of having to be weighed was compensated for by sitting up front with the pilot (resisting temptation to touch the pedals at my feet or the wheel moving of its own accord in front of me). The huge escarpment between Kakadu and Arnhem Land dominated the views, the tree cover seemed total from the air, but there were a few waterfalls, lots of streams rivers and billabongs(!!!) visible and we could see the fires that were part of the intentional burn-off of dry grasses.

Day Two started early with even more spectacular rock art at Ubirr and a challenging climb up through the rocks, rewarded by spectacular views across the wetlands and over the trees to the escarpment. We followed this with another cruise, this time on the East Alligator river, which forms the border with Arnhem Land at this point. The river crossing (no bridge!) had just opened after the rainy season so fully laden trucks were crossing the river as we set off with our aboriginal guides who explained how they used the nature around them in everyday life. This was more of a cultural cruise (though we saw another croc) and being accompanied by people who lived there we were able to set foot on Arnhem Land without permits. This was a terrific trip and Kakadu is like nowhere else I’ve ever visited.

It was probably impossible for the next two days to live up to that and indeed it was. Katherine Gorge is in fact thirteen gorges carved out by the river of the same name as it travels from Arnhem Land to the Timor Sea. Cruising through two of them was spectacular, but it was a very long journey to get there. The next day to Litchfield NP involved a much shorter journey. The tableland is almost completely wooded, with more termite mounds that you’re likley to see anywhere else. It’s hard to grasp the scale of it, though it made more sense when we stopped at the third of three picturesque waterfalls. This was livestock country, some of which has been given over to the park.

A hot and sweaty but scenically spectacular visit unlike the other three stops or indeed anywhere else. Time to return to Sydney, probably the only other city in the world I could live in – but will I still feel the same after my third visit?…..

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Contemporary Music

Billy Bragg is the antidote to people who don’t give a shit and his value-for-money (£22, half price for the over 60’s!) 2.5 hours set was passionate, covering his whole career but majoring on the excellent new album Tooth & Nail. The new band sounded great and there was a mini-set of solo stuff too. There are few singers or bands left with this much integrity and respect for their audience and we repaid it in quiet engagement and warm response. Kim Churchill, a barefoot man from SE Australia with hair that looked like a straw hat, played an excellent set in support. He told us that he’s been busking around the world for four years when he got a gig at a festival in Canada and needed a lift for the 45-min drive from the hotel to the venue. Billy came to the rescue and there he was nervous but elated on the RFH stage. Dreams come true, it seems.

The Albion Band‘s Christmas concert at Kings Place was a bit of a punt that turned out to be a delight. A combination of songs, carols and readings, with an egg dance thrown in for good measure, it was a charming combination made into an occasion by the presentation of the English Folk Song & Dance Society’s Gold Badge to band founder Ashley Hutchings.

Seeing The Bootleg Beatles in Nottingham was a surprise until an hour or so before and it was a huge treat. They split the show into two halves, each with two sections, so we got the moptops, film period, psychedelia and the endgame. The resemblances and mannerisms were uncanny, but it was the brilliantly played songs that sweep you away, roll back the years and get you singing along, with the occasional dad dance (well, uncle dance in my case). Brilliant.


How the Whale Became at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio is an opera for children, particularly those whose parents prefer to take theirs to the politically correct rather than to the panto. With music by Julian Phillips and a libretto by Edward Kemp, it’s based on Ted Hughes stories about the creation of animals by god. It’s not the easiest musical ride (particularly for children) but the production is very inventive and the performers (and musicians) very engaging. A worthy attempt rather than a full-on hit, I think.

Classical Music

The Britten Sinfonia with the Choir of Kings College Cambridge provided my penultimate Britten Centenary event at the Barbican. The timely Ceremony of Carols, just boy’s choir and harp, sounded lovely and Saint Nicholas provided a more rousing second half. As much as I approve of audience participation, I have to confess I didn’t really appreciate the audience drowning out the beautiful choirs during the two hymns for audience participation! I’d never heard Arvo Part’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten and it proved to be the perfect opener, with John Tavener’s The Lamb also a timely opening to part two and a taster for my Tavener weekend in January.

I’d never heard Britten’s three Cello Suites so it was nice to end my centenary with something new to me. They are more to be admired for their virtuosity than aural beauty and they were played with extraordinary skill by Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey, who gave each one in an informative, charming and entertaining illustrated introduction.


A few hours on the South Bank delivered a bumper crop of exhibitions. First up was Go Away Closer, Dayanita Singh’s B&W photos of India presented in books and museum panels. I loved both the material and the presentation. Downstairs at the Hayward Gallery, Ana Mendieta’s Traces was harder to swallow until her obsession with making ‘art’ using her own body gave way to using the environment instead / as well; a bit too conceptual for me. In the project space, a small exhibition of protest art was nostalgically enthralling – all those anti-war posters and copies of IT. Finally, in the RFH, the annual exhibition of art by offenders, secure patients and detainees (the tile gets longer every year) called The Strength & Vulnerability Bunker was as awe-inspiring as ever; it was the last day, so most of those for sale had gone otherwise there were a number I would have happily bought and hung on my walls.

I adored both Australia and Daumier (1808-79): Visions of Paris at the Royal Academy. The former was a 13-room, 200-year review of the art of a whole country, and I only knew one of the artists! From aboriginal art through colonial landscapes to wonderful Australian impressionists to the present day, this was a real feast. The latter was pretty revelatory too, containing his trademark caricatures but also very high quality paintings and sketches. The two together constituted one of the most enjoyable visits to the RA in a while.

At The Photographers’ Gallery, Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood & Identity wasn’t the easiest exhibition to view, but given that it sets out to challenge the sentimental view of motherhood, that’s not a surprise. The quality of the photography, rather than the subject matter, is what I enjoyed most. At the same gallery, the 1920’s B&W photos of French amateur photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue were charmingly homespun but technically accomplished. I have to confess I enjoyed it more.

The latest Curve installation at the Barbican, Intervals by Ayse Erkman, is a series of theatrical backdrops which you have to navigate as you walk through the gallery whilst they rise and fall. Even though it only takes 10 minutes to get through, the fact you are occasionally trapped means it irritates (well, impatient me, anyway). It is a very original idea, though and another great use of this space.

A Sunday afternoon in Trafalgar Square was a feast of art, starting with Facing the Modern: the Portrait in Vienna 1900 at the National Gallery, a great taster for my Christmas trip to that very city. Wonderful works by Schiele and Klimt plus lots of artists new to me. I went to the NPG for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition, as wonderful as ever, and Elizabeth I & her People, which was a whole lot more interesting than I was expecting, but there were rich pickings in the displays too. Passable portrait sketches by Bob Dylan, Benjamin Britten’s life in photos, William Morris’ wife and Pre-Raphaelite muse Janey, Michael Peto photos of famous people of the late 20th century, Vivien Leigh photos and film posters, terrific Jonathan Yeo paintings and the imaginary portraits of Derek Bashir!!! Room 31 (post-war Brits) may be my favourite room in any gallery anywhere and the NPG my favourite gallery!

It’s extraordinary how quickly erotica can become dull. The 17th-20th century Japanese pictures in Shunga at the British Museum are technically accomplished and often beautifully coloured, but ever so samey. I’m afraid I became bored ever so quickly. Fortunately, the gold and ceramic pieces from ancient Colombia in Beyond Eldorado at the same venue made up for it. This was a beautifully curated exhibition packed full of fascinating items which told a stories of ancient civilizations.

A couple of hours between kids opera and kids theatre enabled me to catch London Transport Museum’s celebration of 150 years of tube posters and it was a real treat, with lots I’d never seen before. The range of reasons for and themes of posters was extraordinary. The space was too cramped but thankfully there weren’t many people. Just as cramped as the space in Somerset House that I then ventured to in order to see Stanley Spencer’s Heaven in a Hell of War, on a short tour from Sandham Chapel during restoration. They are wonderful and I now can’t wait to see them back in the chapel with the three they couldn’t remove without damaging them.


The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug was a lot better than the first installment, visually stunning with terrific 3D, but it’s a still just a journey drawn out to three films – albeit an exciting journey (mostly).

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