Get your Vivid on

Last Festival before Winter in Sydney

At times we like to pretend that it’s always summer in Sydney, but when winter is rolling around, we are lucky to get the bright colourful warm-up of the Vivid Light Festival.

For 18 days, the Opera House sails are dressed in colourful light designs, historic buildings bloom bright flowers and fantasy lands and light art and sculpture pops up in unexpected places. No matter how chilly it gets, when the lights come on at 6pm it is impossible to not smile and enjoy. Hopefully this gallery will make you smile too.

So did you get your Vivid on?

Sculpture Garden in the Hunter Valley

Sculpture garden and wine-tasting in the Hunter Valley

It’s a no-brainer to visit a vineyard cellar door for some wine tasting. It becomes much more unique when it is surrounded by a sculpture garden, and also has a art gallery in its wine tasting area. Mistletoe Winery on Hermitage Rd is all of that, and is proudly local, boutique, and family run as well. A stroll through the outdoor sculpture garden on a sunny day is a great refresher in the middle of vineyard visits.

Where have you found surprising art or sculpture in your travels?

City2Surf in Sydney, not just for runners

London marathon, New York marathon, Sydney’s City2Surf, fun runs in just about every major city in the world – these are iconic events which tens of thousands of people compete in every year, and which I have never, ever, aspired to do. Until this year!

I’m not a runner, and I don’t enjoy running – for me it’s all about walking and I currently walk around 40 kms a week. And I live in Bondi, which is where the 14 km City2Surf race finishes on the beach every August – it is billed as the world’s largest race and regularly has 80,000+ entrants. I’m a big fan of the sausage bbq on the beach at the end, which is just as much appreciated by the spectators as the participants. But this year, completely out of character, I decided I wanted to actually enter the City2Surf, and one of my friends , who has run it before, agreed to join me in the walkers group.

One of the great characteristics about the City2Surf is that it is both competitive and egalitarian (a good reflection of the national character perhaps). The 85,000 entrants this year included some of the worlds best runners at this distance, plenty of serious runners, lots of fun runners, a surprising number wearing superhero and animal costumes, and around 20,000 walkers as well. The start groups for the City2Surf are split by speed, starting with invitation-only seeded and preferred runner groups, followed by runners with previous race times under 70 minutes, runners with previous race times under 90 minutes, an open entry running group, an open entry jogging group, and finally an open entry “Back of the Pack” group for walking, using a wheelchair or pushing child strollers.

Yes, it was definitely the back of the pack group that attracted me, and because the race is so large, we snake along amongst a huge crowd for the whole 14 kms, which is quite awe-insipring every time we breach another hill and see the size of the crowd in front and behind. Of the 85,000 entrants this year, around 70,000 actually turn up on the day and finish the course. In addition, another 120,000 spectators plus dozens of bands and DJ’s line the entire course, and it is quite surreal (and awesome) being cheered on from the sidelines for the whole race. The sun is shining, the views are sparkling, the participants are all friendly and positive, it’s a real feel-good factor event. Now that I am a convert I would say that everyone should give it a go, at least once! We aimed to walk it at a fast pace, with a fair bit of ducking and diving to overtake through the crowds, and ended up finishing in 2 hrs 27 minutes, beating 11,000 other walkers and a fair few stray joggers who ran out of puff. The race winner did it in 41 minutes and the average runner took about 1 hr 30m so we’re very pleased with that. And then we retire to a bar overlooking the beach for a cold bevy and some yummy fried foods. I think I may just have to do it again next year – who’s going to join me?

Sun + Convertible + Grand Pacific Drive + 5m swells + burger on the beach = Bliss

Day tripping from Sydney through the National Park and down the Grand Pacific Drive via the Sea Cliff bridge is a wonderful thing to do on a sunny day with the top down on the convertible.

Cliff Bridge

great food stop: the Beach Shack, Austinmer

coastline from Bald Hill:

Have you checked out Bondi’s Sculpture by the Sea yet?

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!img_5931_800

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.

Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi, Sydney 2010
Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi, Sydney 2010

It’s so good it has now spread to WA (Cottesloe Beach) and Aarhus in Denmark.

Weekend Warning.

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.

Parent Warning.

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.

Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi, Sydney 2010
Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi, Sydney 2010

So just one question then – have you walked the Sculptures yet?

The Bondi Beach Drag (Queen) Races


2010 Bondi Beach Drag Queen races hosted by Vanessa Wagner
2010 Bondi Beach Drag Queen races hosted by Vanessa Wagner

In a sea of bright spandex and stiletto heels, the competitors prepare for the main events of the afternoon – the handbag discus, the 3-legged stiletto race, the feminine posing section, and then the big finale (for any contestants that haven’t already twisted their ankles wearing stiletto’s in wet sand) the Dainty Dune Dash.

The Sydney Mardi Gras reintroduced the Drag Queen Races for 2010, and a crowd has gathered to cheer on their favourites. Unusually for this summer’s day on Bondi Beach, the grey clouds have rolled in and it has started to rain, which may make a mess of the carefully applied makeup. I can’t help but think that running in stiletto’s in wet sand must be even more difficult than in dry powdery sand, not that I am likely to try either. But these are professionals, and they are not going to let the weather interfere with their plans to outlast their competitors.

It looks like the contestants’ favourite event is the feminine posing, as they each get their 60 seconds of fame in the spotlight, posing and voguing as only Madonna fans can. So who ended up winning? I have  no idea, as the skies opened and the mild rain turned into a torrential downpour, the audience sprinted for shelter and the contestants sprinted for the after-party.

Sydney Biennale -brilliant or bore?

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.


  1. 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

  2. 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.
  3. 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.


  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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

    Sydney Biennale, Cockatoo Island, Daniel Crooks
    Sydney Biennale, Cockatoo Island, Daniel Crooks
  10. 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.