Sunday, February 29, 2004

Boredom envy

Hurtling past town houses in the city en route to yet another show, I heard the sound of a TV set and realised that there is another life. Some people are sitting around snug at home and not going anywhere. Comfortable lounges and cups of tea, feet up. Meals on time, too. I had not had time to eat that night. Throughout the festival meals are grabbed on the run at very odd hours. That night, as I recall, I took the rumble tum for a fast walk to a service station at interval. I bought a banana. Dinner was consumed hours later at home where the choices were not too thrilling. It was some bought pasta stodge devoured at 11.30 hunched over the laptop.
A night at home suddenly becomes the most delicious luxury at Festival time.
It is Sunday night and I have such a treat - the first since the arts orgy began. I did spend 5 hours in the office today catching up on reviews and columns - but I also managed to cook and clean the kitchen and water the garden. Chores become pleasures. How ironic. But at least the battery feels somewhat recharged and ready for the rest of the onslaught.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Shameless Overdosing

Four days and nine shows. The Festival is just begun. The Fringe, that is. The official Fester starts on Friday. And we have a lot to see before we turn our attention to the serious, high-budget international fare. Not that the Fringe is not international. I have already excoriated a very charming and large Canadian company, sniped fondly at some American "Fakespeareans" and picked a single favorite from among the British comics.
There have been some stunning shows and some disappointments. As always.
There are so many shows the we have to keep the reviews very short and concise. It is the only way to accommodate the volume of them - and our track record of covering everything.
The weather has cooled, which is sheer pleasure for us locals and is very disappointing for the overseas acts who have come from winters. But it beats sitting with a fan in a hot venue - which I have done too often at too many Fringes.
It is hard enough to sustain the stamina without battling heat as well.
And then there is illness - the terror of the critic on this sort of agenda. And those audiences are always littered with sick people. Why do they come out and spread their virulent viruses in enclosed spaces? I hate them with a vengeance - coughing and sneezing from behind me. There is always one there! Always.
So many perils in the arts, eh.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

The party has begun

A perfect, hot summer night. People five deep made snake formation through the city as they lined the route for the Fringe Festival opening parade. And what a beautiful parade it was, transluscent shimmering fantasy confections, stilt walkers in glitter, lights twinkling and myriad zany, colorful performers. Even a transluscent camel and a large grouping of Afghan refugees - a good political statement about detention centres for a people who helped to pioneer this country.
I could not stay for the whole parade - since it took 3/4 hour to pass a given point and I was scheduled to be in a theatre reviewing a Canadian musical production. Its promotional material bulged with radiant rave reviews. I'm afraid it did not get one from me.
After the show, Gawain and I meandered down to the Fringe Hub to check out the action. The place was jam-packed. Rock band in deep marquee under vivid lights and masses of people dancing. Lawns and grounds solid with people. Another sound stage with a DJ and music with a visceral beat. More lawns carpeted with people. Bars and food stands. In the cloisters, a zillion people, many in fantasy costumes, drinking and watching sequences of buskers. Much laughter and clapping. Beer bottles absolutely everywhere - which alarmed me until I discovered that they were all plastic. And everywhere, an easy-going happy mood. A lovely mood for such a massive crowd.
And the Fringe has begun.
The city is out at play.
And that is what makes it different from Fringes and festivals anywhere else. The size and the cohesion of the city makes it an event for all. Old and young. Conservative and playful. Adelaide is artsing and partying...and so it will go on until mid-March.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

On information overload

The coffee drips through the filter as I go out to reach under the car, which is where the newspaper delivery man always throws the paper. With first coffee it is the speed read of the paper accompanied by latest news on the radio. News on the radio in the car on the way to work with the head spinning ahead to the to-do list of the day. Then the phone messages from PR people, contacts, readers - all on different subjects. Deal with those, turn to the email. Same deal plus newsletters and headlines with added spam. Deal with those. Papers being delivered to desk. Mail. Try to get writing. Sink mind into the subject. Answer phone. Try to resume train of thought. Chat from fellow staff - comments on news or politics. Interrupted by phone. Try to resume train of thought. Boss wants something. Leave desk. May as well have coffee.
Back to desk. More phone messages. More email. Try to resume train of thought. A burst of productive writing. Section editor comes to ask for work for new pages. Discuss and agree. Try to resume train of thought. Another section editor with a request. Add to list. Phone request from associate editor. Chase up request. Try to resume train of thought. Person arrives downstairs for appointment. Go down and sign in. Bring up and deal with. Dispatch. Try to resume train of thought. Phone. Realise that hunger is gnawing. Go out and have quick lunch - special dish being assessed for food article. Very nice. Iced coffee. Back to work. A large burst of productive writing. Deadline met.
Change subject - next assignment.
And so it goes on...

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Some don't like it hot

There is a little coolth in the breeze. I am sitting on the balcony watching the soft pink and mauve sunset colors over the sea and little Seal Island. It is very quiet. People have come down to the water's edge to walk and paddle - seeking relief after the day's heat. They are subdued and glad to be outside. Glad to feel the soft, cool water and glad that the sun has gone away. It was 44 degrees down here - and hotter in the city. The hottest February day on record. Doing the morning shopping was slow. The heat seemed to sear the skin. Air conditioners laboured in the stores. By noon, most people had gone home to sit under fans or airconditioners. We did. Put the fans on full and lay about reading. Passive is the only way to go. But still the sweat poured from our bodies and, late afternoon, we decided to go and lie in the shallow waters of the reef. The water was not cold, but it was cooling. We wallowed happily like old seals. There were a couple of children squealing and playing at the water's edge - but otherwise the beach was deserted. No one fishing from the jetty, either. Just too hot for man and beast.
But now, with delicate pink streaks in the sky and a darkening blue beginning to merge with the hues of the sea, dogs are being walked and cars are coming to let their people out for the magic sea breeze. It's bedtime for the birds. Galahs and lorikeets are shrilling and squawking over their territory in the old Norfolk Island pines and everyone is glad that night, finally, has rescued us from the sun's brutal strength.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Making history across Australia

The huge train sat in three portions at different platforms. At 1.069 km, it
was too long for any one platform.
With bands playing and flags waving, we the lucky inaugural Ghan passengers
trundled our luggage to our cabin allocations, watched by the envious crowds
settled in camp chairs and picnicking under trees around Keswick railway

The place thrilled with a sense of history in the making.

And Great Southern Railways was making sure that it was properly celebrated
- so much so that every passenger was photographed for the record books
before boarding the train. Even the undercover police!

Each of us was given an Inaugural Ghan souvenir pack - a canvas tote bag
containing a framed commemorative certificate with our names in beautiful
calligraphy upon them, an Inaugural Ghan passenger trip medallion, badges
and a first day cover.
Our carriage stewards welcomed us aboard. In M carriage, Gold Kangaroo, my
man was Kurao (pronounced `Crow'), a Japanese-Australian whose bi-linguality
was invaluable for the Japanese film crew on board and whose calm efficiency
at the media bar kept all 45 national and international media travellers
extremely happy.

The cabins are not state of the art. They are the same as they have always
been - comfortable sleepers with compact little en suites. I had no
complaints. In fact I loved my little compartment with its large expanse of
Of course Gough and Margaret Whitlam had it rather more plush, albeit more
ancient. Theirs was the Prince of Wales carriage, an historic carriage of de
luxe suites which smelt of cedar polish. The Premier, Mike Rann, Governor
Marjorie Jackson-Nelson and NT Chief Minister Clare Martin had the
Chairman's carriage which had lovely double beds, a formal dining room and a
rather 60s armchair lounge room.
Generally, the sleeper carriages were interspersed with lounge and dining
cars - so there was a lot of convivialising.
Indeed, it was to the lounge cars we poured as the train heaved its way
slowly out of Keswick. And if we thought the send-off there was
enthusiastic, we had not bargained on the crowds which lined the track. Not
just through Adelaide, either. Out over the plains and clear up through the
Flinders people clustered at crossings, waved from hilltops, bridges,
roadsides, farmlands... Of course we had to wave back to them. In fact we
waved our way to Port Augusta.

That was the first stop and the first official function. There were buses to
ferry VIP passengers who had paid $12,000 for this voyage into history,
along with the huge gaggle of pollies who wanted to be part of the action 
but many chose to walk to the waterside marquee. They had to run the
gauntlet of anti detention centre protesters pointing out in banners that
the detainees were, after all, AfGHANs!
This stop was a chance for the first time to see the whole train - well,
almost. There were only a few moments on slow bends, for example, when one
could glimpse the incredible length of the Ghan - 45 carriages and two
bright red locomotives.
This also was a meeting with the original Ghan, now a Pitchi Ritchi steam
engine. The Pitchi boys had brought her up with passenger carriages and a
cargo of vintage cars to show the new Ghan passengers how things used to be.
The old engine was bedecked with gumleaves and looked divine. Everyone
wanted to be photographed with her. But few of the inaurugal Ghan passengers
realised the tenuous life of the old pioneer train - now run entirely by
devoted volunteers and at risk thanks to the exorbitance of public liability
insurance. Pitchi Ritchi had to pay $115,000 last year. When that policy
runs out in July they are not sure when they will stand. They hope for more
State government and regional local government support.
``We've managed to keep the trains running for 30 years, we will manage
somehow,'' said a sterling volunteer.
In Port Augusta there was another set of speeches from the pollies with
Mayor Joy Baluch throwing in her colorful twopence to the delight of the
local crowd.
And there was singing. James Blundell and Joe Camilleri were the train
troubadors seeming to enjoy every last moment of the experience.

Back on the Ghan it was wave, wave, wave again. In cars, on motorbikes, on
the back of utes the people were out there cheering the train's first
Astounding enthusiasm. All of us on board were touched by the scale of
public response.
The bar was open so long as the train was in progress and coffee machines in
the lounge cars availed all of chosen refreshments. But mealtimes were the
thing. The Ghan has made wining and dining the big ticket. Daybreak
breakfasts to the fresh morning light - fruits and cereals, eggs and
sausages, even coconut panckaes with banana and passionfruit syrup. Lunches
were substantial and aklways interesting - some lovely curries among the
selections and sinful desserts. The meals had names - Finke River lunch,
Davenport Range dinner, Katherine Gorge breakfast. But it was the sunset
dinners which blew the senses. Butternut pumpkin and Bunya nut soup with
sour cream and gremolata, followed by perhaps steamed kingfish with
lemongrass-coconut sauce or maybe herb-stuffed galantine of Barossa chicken
with roasted veggies and Chardonnay cream sauce... Oh yes, and a warm apple
and Munthari berry crumble tart with cinnamon creme anglaise. All this as
the sun softly sinks over the horizon and the dusty pinks transform into
ruddy streaks - with garish yellow, orange and reds giving a last-hurrah to
After the lingering dinner, passengers repaired to the lounge cars and a few
drinks. The train carried five dining cars and five lounge cars. We, the
media, had our own section and by night we could chew the fat and discuss
what angles we could find for the coming day. Between us we must have
interviewed every last soul on the train - well, with the exclusion of the
American Ambassador, perhaps. He proved elusive.
We were able to visit the VIPs up front and also the sit-up passengers down
the back. Between you and me, the sit-ups seemed to have the most fun. Old
and young, they bonded and joked and partied all the way.

At Alice Springs everyone was bussed off to a five star lunch on
entertainments in the new Convention Centre. No flies in the Alice when it
comes to turning on the ritz.
And then it was the really exciting part of the Ghan journey - the new $1.3
billion seamless track north to Darwin.
And no more did the train clack or give those lilttle forward lurches. Just
a slight sideways rock and a smooth whooshing sound on the rail.

The rich ochres and blue-green scrubland of the red heart softly easy into
tropical lushness - palmettos, magnetic ant hills and flood plains - as the
Ghan hummed sedately into brand new territory.
Through the picture windows the landscape passed like a living documentary
revealing wild escaprments, drive river beds, rocky hillsides, lonely
station outbuildings and dirt roads leading somewhere nowhere. We could only
wonder, for there is a lot of landscape out there and not too many signs of
human habitation. And yet, at surprising spots along the 2979 journey there
were gatherings of people, the outback dwellers who had driven who knows how
far to see the first Ghan passenger journey from coast to coast.

Tennant Creek was Aboriginal dances by night  and more speechs from the
Premier Mike Rann by this time was waxing lyrical. His journalistic
background sang forth as he spoke of dreams fulfilled, the true spirit of
Australia reaching out to the inland.

And there was plenty to bring out the poet in us all.
BY night, lying in one's bunk in the dark cabin, the moonlit landscape
purred past - silver silhouettes of trees and contoured landscape. An
endless shadowplay of natural wonder.

By Katherine, we had entered the tropics and the world was swampy and
Despite a sea of red mud, the townsfolk turned out en masse to greet the
trainsfolk - bringing displays of all their attractions and displays of
their accomplishments. Kids danced, stockmen whip cracked, air force dogs
leapt through hoops of fire, Rotary ladies made cups of tea, arts and crafts
were sold, Aboriginal performers did ceremonial dances, tourism people
showed photos and brochures - and the Katherine bookshop displayed an
impressive range of books about the area. Katherine, population 11,000, has
the highest per capita percentage of tertiary educated people in the NT.

With outback bods on horses and in their RMs and oilskins, with the standard
of the bookshop and tales of the hot springs of nearby Mataranka, I think I
fell in love with Katherine. I want to go back.

But it was away on the Ghan for the last leg - a last stunning repast, some
last interviews.
And the through the tropical deluge we hummed, getting dripped upon as we
moved from carriage to carriage. In some places flood lagoons were so great
it seemed as if we were driving through lakes.

And as we neared Darwin and the rain eased, the waving crowds grew thicker
and we felt obliged to interrupt our packing to wave back.
And suddenly there they were. The unnoffical Top End welcome - which was a
rear end display. A long line of bare buttocks! Hard to say how many -
between 40 and 60. A lot of bot. Many whoops and waves from the train. It
was not taken as offensive - just cheeky.
A true display of backs to the future.

At the end of the line there was a large marquee seom distance from the
platform - and the pollies were giving their speeches again.
We had come the historic 2979 kilometres from the south - but, oddly, there
were still 15 to go to get from the station at Palmerston into Darwin
We boarded a bus  and, for the first time in three days, we stopped waving.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Americans abroad

The fleet was in. There were sailors everywhere. Drunken. Letting off steam.
Some 5000 US marines were on R&R in the northern city of Darwin - and of course one got to speak to a few of them. They told me what a good leader was George Bush, winning a war. "We won a war. We kicked ass," they said. Not that these lads had seen action. But they were pumped up with the idea of it and ready to go anywhere to kick more ass. They said they were better prepared for it than the last lot - those ones with Gulf War syndrome. In fact there is no such thing, they said. Just weak men. Weak babyboomers. Pussycats who had had it soft and were not ready for anything tough. Couldn't take it. Just like those weak babyboomers in the Vietnam war.

Now I am all for toughening up servicemen - but filling them full of this sort of disrespectful propaganda is really beyond the pale.