So my sister emails this from Brisbane saying “Thought you guys would love to see the new Aussie pet in our complex – this was taken on Wednesday in Sue’s garden.”
What I want to know is “if that was Wednesday, where is it NOW?”. Oh, and I am never visiting you in Brisbane again. I know this country is full of snakes, I just don’t want any proof, ever, not even the non-poisonous ones! Snakephobia rules.
It only lasts for a quick two weeks, it’s already half over for this year, and it is a highlight of Bondi that I look forward to every year. It brings out the crowds – even with all the rain this year. Today it is glorious sunshine, and it’s a Sunday, so it is really, really packed – not surprising when you think that approx 400,000 people visit it every year, over 16 days!
Why do I like it so much? – well it’s partly the location – a stunning seaside walk around headlands and bays, with the ocean as a backdrop to the sculptures – that is pretty amazing. And then there are the many dozens of sculptures, in a huge array of styles and sizes – although ‘big’ always looks good in this environment! Everyone will have their own favourites, there are plenty to go around. Oh, and it’s free – can’t get much better then that. (but programs cost $10 if you want to know what it is you are looking at). And then there are the many Bondi cafes and bars for a restorative bite or drink at the end.
It’s so good it has now spread to WA (Cottesloe Beach) and Aarhus in Denmark.
If you have a choice, try and visit on a week day. Early in the morning or later in the evening are both particularly good if you want to maximise the amount of open space around each sculpture – sneak out of work a bit early and you can have an hour or two to wander before it gets too dark. I want to say that even on the crowded weekends it’s still well worth a visit, but I am struggling to! If you must come on the weekend, bring a water supply and lots of patience.
If you are bringing your young kids with you, (and you should, they’ll enjoy it), keep an eye out for signs on some of the sculptures asking us not to touch them, climb in or on them etc. The majority of the sculptures are robust and touchable, but some are not, or may be dangerous to play on. I am amazed at the number of parents who read the signs out or point them out to each other – and then send their kids off to play on them anyway, or to pose on them for the “perfect” photo. Theres a playground in Marks Park as well, so no excuses.
So just one question then – have you walked the Sculptures yet?
I love the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition in October every year, with the sculptures all displayed along the Bondi to Bronte cliff walk, with the gorgeous ocean as the backdrop. This sculpture from 2006 was one of my favourites.
This will be my last blog for a few weeks, I am off to Tanzania, including parts without wifi and internet access!
Meter maids in gold bikini’s, schoolies on drinking binges, leather skinned woman of a certain age in tight white jeans, plastic surgery outcomes on display everywhere – the tacky glitz and glam is something you either love or hate. But is there more to the Gold Coast than it’s popular image?
I didn’t think so but this weekend has convinced me that there is another Gold Coast and it’s one I like. My sister and I spend the weekend visiting our very charming cousins, Jill and Ernie. They have a house on the canals just ten minutes inland from Broadbeach on the Gold Coast. It is huge and modern and spacious with a gorgeous swimming pool in a tranquil river corner setting. Apart from wandering through the tropical botanical gardens just five minutes away, it would be easy to just stay here in on the loungers in the sun, especially as Ernie is such a great cook! But we drag ourselves out for some sightseeing.
Gold Coast – the northern end.
At the northern end of the Gold Coast is The Spit – a 5km stretch of almost undeveloped beach, very popular with surfers, picnickers and dogs. At the very northern end is the Seaway entrance, where a seawall provides a protected entrance from and to the rivers and canals to the open sea. A walk out along the seawall gives a fantastic view all the way down the gold coast. Near the seawall is a jetty extending almost half a kilometre out into the ocean, part of the sand bypass process that recycles sand back to the beaches as the sea washes it away. Walk out along the top of the wooden jetty until you are 450metres out to sea and feel the wind on your face and the giant swells making the jetty supports tremble (or maybe that is just my knees). From here I can see the beach stretch out straight for thirty six kms and then curve around to Coolangatta at the southern end of the Gold Coast. In the middle I can see the mass of glitzy highrises of Main beach and Broadbeach.
Gold Coast – the southern end.
Towards the southern end of the beach, the long white strip of sand finally starts breaking up into smaller bays and headlands. The first is at Burleigh Heads, an iconic surf spot. And just a little bit further south is Coolangatta, and finally Rainbow Bay and the famous surf of Snapper Rocks. Here is the perfect sunset spot. The glorious old Rainbow Bay surf lifesaving club is a two storey building with a large balcony running all the way around, a genuine spot that hasn’t been ruined by a flashy makeover. The perfect spot to pull up a chair, grab a cold beer and look back up all those thirty six kms of Gold Coast curling across in front of me on the horizon. Below me the surfers are out in force as dusk falls, and I am starting to wonder where I can find some fish and chips for dinner.
Gold Coast – the markets.
The Carrera Markets are another slice of Gold Coast without a flashy makeover. These hugely popular markets are open 7am to 4pm every Saturday and Sunday, spread over vast fields and have an incredibly diverse range of tack and treasure. Looking for bargains on novelty electronic items and kids toys? Tick. Looking for bargains on summer beachwear and footwear? Tick. How about garden furniture and plants, new pets and pet accessories? Tick. Can I find Emu Oil, hair accessories, crystals, handbags, jewellery? Tick again. And plenty of food stores and fresh fruit and vege stands to boot. We buy the largest, melt-in-the-mouth strawberries, the sweetest I have tasted in years. It may not be the trendiest or the artiest, but it is a giant flea market with something for everyone.
Yes, there is a softer, gentler, more relaxing, low key Gold Coast after all. Who’d have believed it?
At first I don’t see it – although it is big, it is very well camoflaged, lying motionless and sun-dappled in the mud, in the mangroves on the edge of the small stream. It’s length is more than twice my height, and longer then the little three metre tinny with outboard motor that we are putting along in. Our guide kills the engine, and we float in place, watching (and photographing) this crocodile who doesn’t move, although his eye seems focused on us unblinkingly as we slowly cruise by.
He is only about ten metres away from us, and we are sitting about a foot above water level. “Do they ever attack boats” I ask the guide, “given that he is almost bigger than our boat?” “Yes, not often but sometimes that happens if he thinks you are a threat, we’ve known them to come in and bump the boat, try and take a bite out of it.” No doubt seeing the look on my face, the guide adds “But see how his legs are stretched out behind him like that, that means he’s relaxed, if he starts pulling them forward and up, to position them to give himself a powerful push-off to launch at something, thats when you want to get out of there.” He still hasn’t moved a muscle, but I am happy when the guide decides its time to restart the outboard and chug a bit further along the riverbank.
The remote Coburg Peninsula, far north Australia
We are in the tidal estuaries, on the northernmost edge of Australia, the Coburg peninsula, looking north over the Arafura sea towards Indonesia. To get here I took a small plane ride from Darwin for forty five minutes to a tiny airstrip, where I am picked up in a jeep and driven through to Seven Spirit Bay Resort, an amazing luxury eco-resort in an almost completely unpopulated remote tropical area.
On the first evening, I am sitting on a bench on the top of a small cliff, watching the sunset over the sea with a glass of champagne in my hand, watching three shark fins circle in the bay below, near the large crocodile track where a local inhabitant supposedly drags himself in and out of the sea. So no beach walking or swimming for me then! – this is a national park in Far North Australia and there’s a lot more danger in the water here than there is on Bondi.
So a couple of days later I find myself drifting through the mangroves in this little tinny, looking for big crocs. Its only when we find them that I start to realise how much I don’t like them close up, all that prehistoric power is quite a chilling thing to see when its not behind a fence in a zoo. A hundred metres past the big motionless one we find a couple more, one even larger and older, sunbaking on the bank.
When one of them slides forward into the water and starts to head toward us quite quickly, I am glad that the guide moves us out of there, and also glad that the river is a lot wider here as it starts to merge into the sea. The bit I like the least is when the one in the water sinks completely below the surface while heading towards us, so I know he’s under there somewhere but we cant see him. I don’t completely relax until back at the lodge enjoying a degustation dinner under the stars.
The Sydney Biennale is on again, but what is it and should I bother? You’ve maybe seen the features in the newspapers but still not sure exactly what it is? Well I went and checked out the core part of it, the art walk, to help make your decision easier. So cutting to the chase, what is my conclusion? It’s BRILLIANT! And here’s some of the reasons why.
10 reasons to go do the Sydney Biennale art walk -even if you are completely uninterested in art.
The Free Hop-on Hop-off Ferry trip. It’s free, it uses three lovely old restored deck timber vessels, it’s on beautiful Sydney harbour, and it runs in continuous circles around three stops. Even if you hate art, its worth it for this alone. Leave from Circular Quay at a special spot just in front of the MCA, see the opera house on your right and then pass under the harbour bridge and cruise past lovely harbourside suburbs to Cockatoo Island and disembark at it’s delightful wharf building. When ready, reboard and continue to the second stop at the historic old pier 2/3 in Walsh Bay, a burgeoning area of renovated historic finger wharves and an ever improving food and cafe scene. From here take the ferry for the final leg back under the harbour bridge and return to the starting point, or alternatively it’s a ten minute walk with great views around the point, under the bridge and into The Rocks
- The Sydney Weather. A chilly winter day with clear blue skies – this is the perfect time to explore Cockatoo Island, just rug up and go. The biennale runs til 1st August so you still have one more month to get there.
- Cockatoo Island. If you haven’t visited this gem in the middle of Sydney harbor yet, this is just another reason to do so. This is no pretty beach island, this is grittily industrial and seeped in its history as a former imperial prison, an industrial school, a reformatory and a gaol. It was also the site of one of Australia’s biggest shipyards during the twentieth century. So we have a mix of dozens of art installations scattered around and in tunnels under the hill, old warehouses and remnants of old machinery. And all for free.
- The cafe on Cockatoo Island. As well as great coffee you can get fare as good as any sydney cafe – including gourmet pies through to intriguing and healthy salads and treats for the sweet tooth – I am very impressed with how good a range of food they have in such an out of the way place.
- The MCA Biennale exhibition. If on the other hand you are here for the art, then don’t miss the MCA as well, where the majority of the space is turned over to about 48 different artists. You will have your own favourites. I was fascinated by the work of Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, who paired photos of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong with their backs to the camera, with a photo of their place of work – and had the workers insert a toy grenade into the photo of the house where they worked as well. Intimate and impersonal at the same time. I found the life and death masks of Fiona Pardington haunting, and the photos of stunning small Greenland villages by Tiina Itkonen made me put Qaanaaq and Kullorsuaq on my travel to-do list. And thats just a tiny taste of the volume and variety of work here.
- The AES+F russian collective’s large scale digital video installation on Cockatoo Island. I walk into one of the exhibit spaces in an old warehouse, blacked out, and sit back with others on a large circular sofa in the middle of the room. Its mesmerising. In a circle around us is a circle of nine giant screens, three sets of three. Each of the three sets are showing a different film, but all part of the same story. And each of the three screens in any one set are showing three different views of the same story thread. In the words of the program, “with panoramic, immersive, sumptuous colour and a loud symphonic soundtrack, this depicts an orgy of consumerism reflecting on the contemporary state of the world”. Your teenager will be besotted by it, and you will be too, the hyper-real colour and shine is addictive.
- If you like bright shiny lights and fireworks, and who doesn’t, then you’ll enjoy the Cai Guo-Qiang work, also on Cockatoo Island. Bodies of identical old cars are hung throughout a hangar sized building in a sequence depicting the sequence of an explosion, named as detonation, blast, launch, tumbling, gravitational return, and rest. Each car is pierced with rods through which light pulses and fades with the imagined explosion sequence. Its eye catching and on a spectacular scale.
- I am not normally a big fan of digital and video art but there are a few such installations on Cockatoo Island that hook me in. Another one was the work of Isaac Julien. This time I ascended a staircase into another blacked out floor, find myself a seat on one of the many stools scattered around the floor, and then watch a beautiful film that entwines historic and modern china. The twist is that the film is played across another ten or so screens scattered around the space, but with a different perspective of the scene showing on each screen, and each view flicking around from one screen to another. So you could follow the main theme on one screen while there might be a closeup of a character’s shoe on a second screen, a view of the background behind the character on a third, and so on. Yes, hooked again.
- Also on Cockatoo Island, in another small blacked out room, is an unusual film of an old man performing tai chi, but the film-maker has morphed this into a stretched version where all the consecutive movements have flowed together as occur at the same time. It hard to describe but beautiful to watch
- The Royal Botanic gardens. Its always a beautiful walk on a sunny day from the opera house, around the harbour and through the gardens. This time I have a further reason for wandering, as I try and find the two installations in the park. I find these are not as well sign posted as the other areas, but maybe that’s the plan, as it succeeded in making me wander through many paths and gardens trying to find the right spots. It is well worth the effort, particularly Janet Laurence’s ethereal piece.
Nursing a broken toe means a fair bit of limping so I haven’t yet completed the entire walk. But i have plans to go back to the bits I missed, at the Opera House, the NSW Art Gallery, and the Artspace set up in Woolloomooloo on the other side of the botanical gardens. The Artspace, in addition to its gallery, has a big programme of live performances from around the world every night, as well as movies, talks and anything else that takes their fancy. So if you prefer your art to include a late night bar and lounge, this may be the part for you.
And don’t forget pretty much everything is free, except your food and drink – now thats a pretty good deal. I can’t think of any reason not to go and enjoy it.