In Search of Koalas

Back to our Holidays…

Just an hour drive inland from Byron Bay is the university town of Lismore. The area is known as a good place to spot koalas. If you don’t see them in the wild there is also a kind of ‘hospital’ for rescued koalas in the area. We thought that Dani would at least see some behind bars. Not ideal, but he has never seen one apart from on TV and in books.

Koala Trail

We headed off armed with a pamphlet from the tourist information in Byron Bay that suggested a few places to spot the furry creatures. After two of the recommended sites – and no luck – we headed for the koala rescue centre. And would you believe it? The place was closed to visitors due to that bloody virus! Will it never end? But I digress…

Next to the rescue centre was a small park area with plenty of trees. Just the sort of trees that koalas like to eat and sleep in. So, we walked around the immediate area, seemingly only guaranteed a stiff neck. Then out of nowhere a couple turned up, one of them pointing up into a tree. Amazingly she had spotted a koala in a tree while driving past. With eyesight that good she should be working for the CIA or some similar organisation. I was very impressed.

When your neck gets tired of looking up things like the roots of a tree can even catch your eye. The way some of these trees take root around here never ceases to amaze me.

Hard to spot in all the leaves and branches eh?
Goin’ back to my roots

Sure enough there was a koala just waking from a sleep and about to start eating.

 Can you spot the koala?

After a little more walking around looking up at the tree tops Dani’s mum spotted another one. By this time I had run back to the car for the camera with a telephoto lens. Photos with the phone camera just aren’t good enough. Look at this as an example. Can you spot the koala?

Try to spot the koala in this ‘human’s eye view’ photo

There is one there. The classic silhouette just about visible on the mobile phone photo…

Here he is. Or is it a she? Now that would be good eyesight!
That classic koala side on pose
Getting to the leaves
Koala showing their useful claw skills
Look! No Hands

Koala Numbers?

Probably the last two koalas in the wild? That is if you believe half of the rubbish spouted by news outlets in Europe during the fires in Australia last summer. They would have had you believe that the koala population was almost wiped out by fires. They may be hard to spot but it seems they are not exactly in danger of extinction. Just yet. All around this area there are warning signs on the roads advising drivers that there may be koalas crossing. There is so much natural habitat with huge forest areas almost everywhere. It seems there may be more than two of these funny creatures left in their natural habitat. That’s not to say we should take them for granted of course…

Another successful day of wildlife spotting and the little boy was happy. I wonder if this kid realises how lucky he is?

More pictures…

Here are a couple more photos of the koalas we spotted. (03 July 2020)

 

Yulefest Evening

After the toy museum it was time for a quick walk in the mountains before getting ready for a Christmas celebration. “Yulefest” they have called it. Well they could have called it Mule-fest as far as I am concerned because it did not live up to expectations. Still, I should have sen it coming.

Hotel – the Birth of “Yulefest”

Apparently this celebrating Christmas in July thing started in 1980 when a group of homesick Irish people sat by the hotel fire on a cold and frosty July day. One of them said something along the lines of how spending Christmas in the southern hemisphere’s December heat just didn’t seem right. While they talked about it the then owner of the hotel listened carefully. He thought it would be good to offer them a similar experience of a cold day for celebrating Christmas in July and they made plans for such a day. Hanging Christmas decorations etc… Soon the word spread and other interested groups got in touch and the rest (as they say) is history. Christmas in July became a bit of a thing… They now do it in many different hotels in the area.

Then along came Covid19(84)

So this year there was no choir singing carols by the hotel fire and alongside the piano player  in the restaurant. Apparently the covid19(84) restrictions prevent that. Can’t have people wailing away their breath in the general direction of others now can we?

There was no solo singer for the same reasons. They usually have a guy playing guitar and singing popular songs etc…

Not even an appearance by Santa FFS! Now it comes to something when some place can stage an event like this then not have Santa turn up. We were not told this when we booked it. Otherwise we may have had second thoughts. Still we booked and went along in good faith. It would be a bit of fun. Santa will turn up etc…. And just in case, we bought a couple of little presents, wrapped them up so Dani would have something if Santa never handed out presents. Well, not only did he not hand out any presents, he never even bloody turned up…

Posing with the reindeer in the bar area
At least they made a bit of an effort with the decor

Looking for positives…

There were other kids there although it was mostly adults. The piano player was a nice touch and the food was actually good. Very good. As was the wine – although that cost extra. Usually they only do it in July but this year they have had so many extra enquiries that they had set an extra evening on August 1st. Also I think Dani still enjoyed it, even of he felt a little ‘short-changed’.

The man on the front desk actually tried to explain to Dani why Santa couldn’t come because of this Covid19(84) crap! That was more surreal than trying to celebrate Christmas in the  middle of the year.

“Ah well” I said, “you never know he may be able to make it to our room”
“Really?”
“Well just because he can’t come where there is a big crowd doesn’t mean he can’t come to one room at a time does it?”

Dani is still a ‘believer,’ in case you didn’t know… And I think he bought it. At least we had a nice time at the toy museum followed by some time in the mountains. Any excuse to get to see that wonderful scenery.

Garden opposite the toy museum…and then the mountain range
Who could get tired of these views?

Santa turned up, Kind of, Later…

So when he went to sleep I put the presents on his bed so he would find them when he woke up. He was actually very excited. “Santa’s been” he shouted, a little too early for my liking. So that part went well in the end. He still believes.

Overall the whole thing was just about OK. However, I would advise when booking anything during this covid crap to check if everything they say in their websites is actually still current. I should have known better

But… now there is another problem

The problem now is that he may mention it to his classmates in school. Some of them have older brothers and sisters so I am a bit worried that his little heart will be temporarily broken. If he mentions a visit from Santa some of them are sure to laugh at him. And, well, you can guess the rest.

A similar thing happened recently when he was in a group in class with two girls and the teacher talking about diamonds being the hardest thing on earth. Dani insisted it was vibranium because that is what Captain America’s shield was made from. And his dad had told him so. Which of course I did. What else could I say? I love the Marvel comics as much as anyone.

He asked me about it one day after school and was upset. Why did I not tell him that it wasn’t real? He had a point. He had been made to look  bit of a fool. I just fear a similar thing is coming soon. With Santa being the topic. What should we do? Tell him? Or just let it happen?

Nah! I think I will let it happen. It is all part of growing up isn’t it? Que será será as they say in Spain.. What will be will be…

While we are on that subject… I wonder if the runners on Santa’s sleigh are made of vibranium? Anybody know? Best not bring that one up when the time comes.

Best Toy Museum I Have Seen

This weekend we headed up to the Blue Mountains for a “Yulefest” celebration in Katoomba. Before that however we visited a toy museum in the next-door town of Leura and I think it definitely deserves its own post.

Leura Toy and Train Museum

In as picturesque a setting as you could wish for the Leuralla Toy and Train Museum is in a beautiful house (called Leuralla), first completed around 1909 and was burned down in bush fires. It was rebuilt just before the start of World War One in 1914.

The house is built on the outskirts of the village of Leura very close to some of the many famous, steep Blue Mountains cliffs.

Old Favourites

There are heaps of toys of all the old favourites from Popeye, Barbie, Tin-Tin, Dr. Who and James Bond, right through to more recent characters like Harry Potter.

It was nice to see Enid Blyton being well represented. One of her character’s Noddy made a few notable appearances.

Classic Noddy literature
Noddy Theatre: Noddy and all his mates.
The boy himself. Noddy in his iconic car.
1980s Singer Jimmy Somerville with a white dog? Not sure what he was doing in a toy museum…. Or was it Tin Tin? I never could tell.

Enough Trains for Everyone

There were plenty of model trains. Enough to keep any train enthusiast happy. This included parts of real old station buildings and some working model sets in the gardens.  The operational sets only work when you put money in a slot. Typical! But of course we did… Still a bargain excursion and well worth the money.

It will be hard telling Dani to tidy his room after seeing this place…
So many toys…
Some toys more creepy than others…. What do people see in these life-like dolls?
Full size train in gardens?

A Surprising Collection of Soldiers…

My brother and I used to buy boxes of plastic soldiers and a few tiny tins of paint to make them look more realistic. Then we would play war – as all  boys used to do back in the day. We had armies of German, Japanese, British and American troops and regularly battled it out like some second world war movie set. But I had never seen anything like what they had in this museum.

Fantastically preserved German/Nazi army and political figures from the time. All set up against realistic backdrops. I was amazed they even had these, never mind had the balls to display them. I have been to quite a few toy museums in the past and never seen anything like this. A truly amazing collection and incredible displays. But…they did have to do this…

Same scene as above with the Disclaimer

I guess in these modern times where people are over sensitive to anything, they had to do this. Personally I think these things are historical and should be seen by anyone with an interest in history. Do they really need to produce and display this full disclaimer?  – (see below and zoom in if interested). It’s a museum for crying out loud! There will be things that we no longer make or have. There will be displays of things that happened or existed that are not considered OK these days. It’s called “history” folks! But I do understand that these places need to do such things because there are some idiots out there who just take offence for a living (or hobby)…

Full Disclaimer

Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler?

I thought it was a little bit funny. After all, we won. Didn’t we? Full battle scenes set up with some key characters for all to see…

Battle reenactment. Hitler is seen bottom centre, just before we kicked his arse.

And it wasn’t just toy soldiers that were being sold to kids in Germany at that time. I thought that these dolls were just spooky. And that was before I noticed the Nazi insignia armbands.

Creepy looking “Nazi” dolls
Historical and very detailed toys.

Missed Displays

We did miss out on a couple of things I later read about. It seems they had toys re-enacting other historical scenes. Like one that supposedly led to the start of the first world war.  Models of that Serbian guy – Gavrilo Princip – shooting Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Who says you can’t get a quick history lesson on an Old Dad blog?

The other one that we missed was a set of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  There are so many things to look at it, believe me, it is easy to miss a few toy-soldier-sized scenes. Shame really, as I may have been able to see who was at the grassy knoll when Kennedy was shot… Maybe next time.

For various reasons this is the best toy museum I have seen and I thoroughly recommend it.

Here is a link to their website: https://www.toyandrailwaymuseum.com.au/

 

A Day North of the Hawkesbury with a Reminder of a 1980s Band

Yeah. Long title for a blog post, I know. But couldn’t think what to call it so that’s it.

Last weekend we took the relatively short trip up the coast to the start of what is called ‘The Central Coast’. Basically north of Sydney but south of Newcastle. We stopped in a place called Umina Beach which is part of quite a large urban residential area that just seems to have grown in the middle of nowhere with no real industry or major sources of employment around. Yet thousands of houses. Look at it on google maps and you will see what I mean.

Will be nice when the weather picks up…

It is only about 40 kilometres from Sydney as the crow flies. But to get there by road takes about an hour and a half as there is no straight run. Fortunately almost all the buildings are no more than two storeys high so it is quite a pleasant little area. There are other little places not far from the urban sprawl that is Woy Woy, Blackwall, Umina Beach and Ettalong Beach. (Basically all one stretch of residential housing with a few high streets thrown in here and there.) Like Pearl Beach and Patonga Beach for example. Again look them up on google maps.

View from inland
Umina Beach to the left…

This area is built on the north side of the mouth of the Hawkesbury River inlet. On the south side of the inlet is the Barrenjoey Lighthouse and Palm Beach area that we visited a while back (the setting for the Aussie soap opera ‘Home and Away’). This whole area is not unlike Sydney Harbour (or Port Jackson, to give it its proper name) in its geographical layout. Plenty of little coves, some off of other coves and green lush hillsides. Of course most of Sydney is built up so not so lush any more. It is quite a pleasant little enclave, although the weather was fairly bleak. Grey mostly and plenty of rain over the weekend.

The quay at Patonga Beach
Pelicans relaxing in the bay
Patonga Beach
Great little hotel and restaurant in Patonga Beach

I definitely want to take a boat ride up the Hawkesbury River when the weather gets a little better and the days longer.

Barrenjoey Lighthouse is on that hilltop near centre of picture

Highlight – The Teardrop Explodes in Umina

While walking around Umina Beach town centre I spotted an interesting shop on a side street. The sign read: Shop 55 Vintage Clothing Boutique. So I walked in and there was indeed some interesting looking clobber on display.

No sooner had I started rummaging through the racks of clothes than the guy behind the counter asked me to use the hand sanitiser before touching anything. I detected a familiar accent. Well, at least more familiar than I was used to hearing this past six months. I asked him where he was from and he told me. London. So we had a good old chat.

It turns out that he is a well known bass guitarist and former member of (among others) a band from the early 80s called ‘The Teardrop Explodes’. I remember them well and have their most famous album ‘Kilimanjaro’ – almost certainly in my mum’s attic still. But I did not know his name. Probably because most people – me included- only recall the band’s front-man, Julian Cope; so often the way with these things. Also he was not a founder member.
Note: Actually I think The Teardrop Explodes started off in the (very) late 70s but hey…

Anyway, just to set the record straight, his name is Ronnie François. He has been in Australia for some 20 years having toured all over the world with various bands. We had a good old chin-wag – about a few things including the old music scene – and it kind of made my day.

$500 for the Whole Cinema? Just turn up instead.

When I went to the cinema the other day (to see The Gentlemen – see my review here) I signed up to one of those online cinema club things. It meant that I got a cheaper ticket. But now they also send me emails – which can be a little bit annoying.

This email I received today, I thought was quite funny. After advertising a few upcoming movies they had an advert saying this:

A WHOLE CINEMA JUST FOR YOU.
OFFER EXTENDED UNTIL 14th AUGUST.

Plus 19 friends that is. For a limited time only, you can book your own cinema for just $500*, with our special private booking package, which includes:
• A private cinema for up to 20 people.

Who are they kidding?

It made me laugh. Why pay $500? Just turn up and watch a film. Any film. And the chances are that you will have the whole theatre to yourself. I did!
Thanks to this coronavirus thing scaring the shit out of people, NOBODY is going to the cinema. But hurry. This won’t last. Before too long some people might just wake up and smell the coffee. i.e. Realise that all this coronavirus stuff is one big hoax.

I bet there’s a great film in all this though in the near future. For any film-maker brave enough to make it…

Susana’s Seventh Birthday.

Today it is Dani’s cousin’s birthday. Susana is seven years old and I think that Dani is a little upset that he can not be there to celebrate with her.

Birthdays and mid-year “Christmas”

I think Dani will miss being there. Especially after we have made a video call to say happy birthday. He has already said that he doesn’t want to spend his own birthday down in Australia with nobody to celebrate it with him. So much for his mum and me then eh? But I understand what he means. It will probably hit him harder after speaking to his cousin and wishing her a happy birthday.

Hopefully this weekend will soften the blow a little. We are off to the Blue Mountains (again) for a mid-year “Yulefest”. As it is winter here in Australia various places in the mountains put on a kind of Christmas celebration. Usually in July but they had so many bookings the one we booked on runs into August. Of course the real Christmas is in the height of the southern hemisphere summer and is well known for being celebrated with a dip in the ocean and a day at the beach. So to get that winter wonderland Christmas feeling they have Christmas meals complete with entertainment and carol singing – but in the Aussie winter.

They call it a “Yulefest” and depending how cold the winter is they can even have snow. But not this coming weekend. At least not according to the weather forecast. Still, it should be fun.

Letter from Madrid – Great Timing

Yesterday we arrived back from school to find a letter in the post box from Madrid. The post mark said 1st July, so it took our full weeks to get here but at least arrived just before her birthday. Along with a hand written letter from Susana were some photographs of the birthday girl and her little brother Roberto plus a couple of us holding Roberto not long after he was born.

In the letter Susana says that when this coronavirus thing is over she wants to make a film. Ambition is a great thing eh? Let’s hope she does it. If we can help, then we will.

Even in this age of easy computer and mobile phone video calls it is always nice to receive a handwritten letter. Perhaps even more so now than it used to be…

Old phone

Coincidentally I managed to get some old photos off an old phone today. Dani and Susana appeared on most of them as you might expect. Here are a couple…

Piano Duet, April 2015.
Susana working on a movie script? (26th Dec. 2014)

Bellingen and Bongil Bongil

After a few different posts, and a rant about the name of a cheese, let’s return to what we got up to in the north of New South Wales on our holidays…

Bellingen

On the way up to the Dorrigo National Park along the aptly named ‘Waterfall Way’ we spotted the small town of Bellingen. On the way back down to the coast we stopped there. The area was once covered with giant red cedar trees. The timber was cut from the 1840s up to about 1900 when the cedar supply was more or less depleted. In 1865 part of the area was set aside for the town of Bellingen. There was already a farming industry in the area and that continues today.

A very famous cricketer from Bellingen
Bellingen original Post Office
Federal Hotel and Pub

I love towns like this. They are classic original Australian towns with many examples of the early architecture. So much better than Sydney. There is a great example of an early department store. It still sells a lot of different goods. Even the brass plates below the windows are still in place.

Hammond & Wheatley Department Store

Like a trip back in time – the original department brass plates
Original department brass plates
Department Store form across street.

The towns bus station – really just a bus stop had a mural painted on the wall. With a great little reminder as to where you are stood.

Bellingen Bus Station
Part of a mural on the bus stop wall

One of several older buildings in the town was the Memorial Hall.

Bellingen Memorial Hall

After some food and a visit to the tourist information office we left to get back to the coast. The lady at the tourist office suggested a good place to spot koalas, so that’s where we went…

Bongil Bongil

When it was time to return to our short-term base, we stopped off at the Bongil Bongil National Park. This is basically another rain forest sandwiched between the Pacific Highway and some very long beaches. Just south of Coffs Harbour. It covers quite a large area but we only saw a small part of it. We had been told that this park may be the best place to spot koalas. But after walking around mostly looking upwards all we got was a stiff neck. Meanwhile Dani should have had a sore throat as he never stopped talking all the way round. It was worth a try and it is another densely forested area worth seeing.

Dani doing a “Tarzan” on the hanging vines

More rain forest but no koalas… Maybe later in the holidays…

Bongil Bongil Rain Forest – right beside the sea.

The Coon Cheese Saga

Well hardly a saga. But as part of the black lives matter “protests” a dairy company here in Australia has decided to rename one of its oldest brands of cheese.

History

They have been making and selling a brand of cheese called ‘Coon Cheese’ since 1888 (or something like that). So why change now?. We are told,  they have been put under pressure to change its name because… well you can probably guess. There will be no end to this now.

The “Offensive” Cheese.

The cheese is actually named after the man who first made it. American Edward William Coon who, according to their website, patented a unique ripening process that was used to manufacture their original cheese. It’s the guy’s surname for crying out loud!

The brand of cheese is owned by a company called Saputo Dairy Australia.The company has caved in to the noisy mob. The noisy minority. Meanwhile the silent majority either already know and understand that the name of the cheese is and never was meant to be offensive. Or they just don’t care because it is only the name of a cheese anyway. Either way I believe they are now alienating far more people than if they just continued with their well-established product name.

Pathetic and Bullying

The problem with things like this is that these idiots just come after you (and others) for more. Every time they are handed a “victory” like this one they will not stop. This is pathetic. If you are like me you will no longer buy their newly named product. At best this is a sad time.

You know when you try to explain bullying to your kids? You know how you try to tell your kids how to deal with bullies and not let them win? Well while companies like this are caving in to these bullies you can forget all that crap can’t you? Just tell your kids to do exactly what the bullies want for fuck sake! This shit just makes me very angry. Grrr… (As you can probably tell.)

 

Six Months Up

We have been in Australia for six months now so I thought it was a good time for a little reflection on the past six months. In fact yesterday marked the six month period. We had our first full day here on January 25th.

I have just checked by reading the blog posts and noticed that only a few days later they were talking about quarantining items being shipped into the country and stopping flights etc… The panic part of this ‘planned-demic’ was just about to kick off.

We were lucky we came when we did. Or should that be unlucky? It depends which way you look at it. It’s a double edged sword that one. IT has certainly been a very odd period in everyone’s lives and even in history.

Six of one…

On the one hand we seem to have a much easier “lockdown” time of it over here. Much better than Spain or UK. Australia never really had a proper lockdown as I have pointed out in the past. In fact this country has had no pandemic or even a bad flu season out of this corona crap. Again, I have pointed that one out a few times too.

We have still managed to get out and about quite a lot – considering. Anyone who regularly reads these blog posts will know that we – and Dani in particular – have been able to see and do lots of things; which was one of the main reasons for coming over here.

Half a dozen of the other…

If we had stayed in Europe we could have at least been in the same town and country and friends and family. But would we have been able to see them that much? Initially during the lock-downs it seems not. 
On the other hand we are kind of stuck in Australia. That may not be viewed as a bad thing of course. But what it really means is that if we leave to visit family – say over Christmas – then we will not be allowed to re-enter Australia because they are (supposedly) only allowing Australian citizens to enter. Basically we are allowed to leave but not re-enter. It also means that none of our family or friends can come over and visit. It would be nice to have that choice. Both form our point of view and anyone who wants to come over here to visit. Sadly at the moment we do not have those freedoms.

The authorities seem to be dragging this thing out don’t they? There is no telling when all of this is going to come to an end either. Or is there?… 

Prediction…
I think I can see when this will really end. I am going to make a bold prediction about all this at the end of the week so stay tuned…

The Gentlemen – Film Review

“The Gentlemen” Movie…

Under normal circumstances this film would have run its course at the cinemas in Australia and would now be available in DVD at the local supermarket. But these are not normal circumstances. Thanks to that bloody coronavirus this film never quite ran its allotted time before the dreaded “lockdown”. Now the cinemas are open again this film is getting a final few showings. Also thanks to that virus, I had the cinema to myself. Like a private showing. Yes! Perfect. So here is my private showing critique…

Basic Plot

The Gentlemen is a crime-comedy with all the usual farcical elements you would expect from a Guy Ritchie London based caper. The lead role, played by Matthew McConaughey, is a marijuana baron by the name of Mickey Pearson.

Pearson is looking to get out of the business but as always such exits never run smoothly. There are too many interested parties. One is “Big” Dave a newspaper baron who is looking for dirt on Pearson. He employs an investigative journalist named Fletcher, played by Hugh Grant to find enough detail on Pearson’s activities to finish the crime boss. Now I am not a fan of Grant but this is one of his more acceptable film roles – even if he seems to be doing an impression of Ricky Gervais (who I can only assume also screen tested for the role just prior to Grant?). But let’s get back on track…

Fletcher thinks it will be more profitable to blackmail Pearson and visits Pearson’s right hand man Raymond Smith. By telling Raymond everything he knows about Pearson and his attempts to leave the drug world Fletcher sets up the majority of the story for the viewer.  There are parties interested in buying Pearson’s drug business but only after trying to drive down its worth. There are those who want to take it over – like the Chinese gang whose leader is played by Henry Golding. Suffice to say things get very messy and there are more twists and turns than an old cork-screw.

Other Cast

Pearson’s right hand man Raymond is played by Charlie Hunnam. Now, despite successfully playing a California based Hell’s Angel in the ‘Sons of Anarchy’ series, Hunnam still managed to let his (natural) Geordie accent slip out while trying to portray a London based gangster. I couldn’t quite work out whether he was supposed to be a cockney or just trying to play an accent-less English bloke.

Add to the mix Colin Farrell, playing a character known only as “Coach” and his wayward bunch of trainee mixed martial arts fighters – who just happen to be street smart and internet savvy scally-wags. Then you have enough to be going on with. I will not be spoiling the plot for you if I say that the Coach’s kids make a couple of videos which are used on social media as part of the story.

Criticisms

There is a sub plot of a rich family’s daughter running off with some drug addicts and being hunted down to a London council estate flat which seems to be partly taken from the movie ‘Layer Cake’ (as does the use of a freezer for storing the resulting body – you will get it when you see the movie). Also part of the ending is definitely taken from that great British movie ‘The Long Good Friday’. Come on Mr. Ritchie! There are some of us old enough to know and love that movie. Do you seriously think we wouldn’t notice? Although it is not the real and complete ending. There is yet another twist.

There are the usual messages that cannabis is not really a bad drug but heroin is. Plus of course plenty of glamorised violence – although mostly for comic effect. Oh, and then there are the Russians. Aren’t there always Russians involved in these things these days? How did the crime world ever manage without them? There were already enough stereotypes in this film…

Conclusion

Aside from the above minor criticism – and it is minor – the film was very good. It is slick, funny at times and not too heavy on the violence. Just enough when it was required. The pace is classic Guy Ritchie. Just fast enough (or slow – depending on which way you see it) to keep you very interested, if not (almost) on the edge of your seat. In other words; perfectly paced.

Somehow Pearson manages to stay one step ahead of all the supposed antagonists thanks largely to his wing-man Raymond. Until the end; which by that time you kind of see it coming… Or do you?

The Old Dad highly recommends “The Gentlemen” movie.