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.

 

Back to school – Term 3

It was back to school for Dani yesterday. After over three weeks off and plenty of adventures he happily trotted in through the school gates. Like he had never been away. I guess we are lucky that he still enjoys going to school. He is probably as sick of his parents’ company as we are of his. Only joking. Well, half joking. It was nice to have some free time to do my own things.

Planning the next holiday…

Term 3 will last for ten weeks (the first one being a short week in Dani’s school). That is not stopping Dani planning our next holiday. He wants to go to Darwin – way up in the Northern Territory. More on that to come however. Suffice to say that is a fly-drive holiday not a place you would want to drive to unless you were on a full Oz road trip. It’s about 4,000 km via the inland A2 and is estimated at 42 hours of driving without traffic jams and stops. That drive alone would take up most of the days of the holiday! It would be interesting though I am sure.
But no. We will fly to Darwin and hire a car. That’s if he still wants to go there. Hopefully he will, as he has now got me keen on seeing the Northern Territory.

Cinemas are open

It took a little longer than the pubs and restaurants but finally the cinemas are open again. In fact I have booked to go and see a film which was in the cinema just before the “lock down” occurred. The film title is ‘The Gentlemen’. If I feel it is worth a mention I will do a short review before the end of the week.
Most of the films on offer are new however. That is to say, that they were not showing just prior to the coronavirus nonsense. Hopefully I can get to see a few over the coming weeks.

A Lighthouse, a Couple of Beaches and a Farm

A lighthouse, another couple of beaches and a farm trip. All in a busy day’s work when on holiday.

Lighthouse Walk

One of the most popular walks in the Byron Bay area is undoubtedly the coastal path from the town to the lighthouse. The route takes you up and down and through forested areas as well as right alongside part of the main town beach. The final climb up to the headland peak is also a great spot for land-based whale watchers.

Final ascent to lighthouse

Sadly the classically built lighthouse was surrounded by fences as there was some kind of maintenance work going on. This meant that we couldn’t get a proper view of the building. But they can’t take away the sights out to sea. You can clearly see whales along this walk. Some playing in the distance but some also surprisingly close to the shore.

Lighthouse viewed from inland

Cape Byron Lighthouse

Tallow Beach

Only just the other side of the Cape Byron headland to the south of the lighthouse is Tallow Beach. Over 3km long and almost deserted. Incredible for such a busy town – despite this being the middle of winter. The southern suburbs of Byron Bay seem quite salubrious. More so than the area north of town between the centre and our caravan park. The streets of houses are separated from the beach by the Arakwal National Park and other dense areas of rain forest. There is certainly no shortage of trees in this part of the world. And no sign of the ‘total destruction’ we (in the northern hemisphere) were led to believe had taken place during the summer fires.

Tallow Beach – Wild and Deserted

While the “Main beach” right off the town centre is quite sheltered in parts, Tallow beach is wide open to the ocean and fairly wild. Fewer surfers seem to go out in these waves. Definitely not for beginners.

Calmer waters to the north of the headland

Byron Bay

Calm area of beach known as The Pass

The Farm

‘The Farm’ was a fairly well known Liverpool band from the late 80s/early 90s.  It is also the name of a place near Byron Bay for kids to meet farm animals close up. The place also grows a lot of organic food and has a restaurant called the Three Blue Ducks. Perfect organic meals freshly prepared with their own produce and also from the surrounding area. We did the little walk around the site and booked an evening meal for the Friday night.

Aberdeen Angus at The Farm

Careful!

This place even has nut trees where you can pick and crack your own macadamia nuts. This rural tourist trap is certainly very popular.

Macadamia nuts. In the husk on the left and shell centre.

Belongil Beach

In between our camp site and the “Main Beach” is Belongil Beach. Another fantastic stretch of fine white sand. Also another great suburb with a mix of residential and motel/rented properties as well as cafes and restaurants.

Belongil Beach looking north.

Dani lost on the huge almost empty beach

Belongil Beach looking to Byron Bay centre

Even though these were taken on a weekend day the beach seemed almost empty. Fantastic.

Whale Watching

Whale Watching in Byron Bay

We only told Dani it was a boat trip. Thinking he would be too excited if we told him what we might see. It turns out we could have just told him straight. He took it all in his stride.

Whale Watching Trips

There are plenty of places along the east coast of Australia where you can go whale watching. Ever year from June to August, thousands of Humpback whales migrate from their summer feeding grounds in the Antarctic waters, up the east coast to the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef .We didn’t have to come this far north to do this but it seemed like a great place to give it a go. And we weren’t disappointed.

There were seven tourists on the boat plus three crew. A small rigged dinghy that can easily get as close to the whales as you are officially allowed – which is 100 metres by law. But nobody can stop the whales from getting closer if they are inquisitive enough.

Spotting them…

The tours give a whale sighting guarantee but I thought that may mean only seeing them from far off. Sure enough, at first, we saw them only from a distance. The blow holes creating a puff of water is usually the first sign of their presence in the distance. Then you see their bodies rising in and out of the water. After a few breathing manoeuvres you can see the famous tail flip up as they dive under. It’s something I had seen a thousand times on wild-life programmes on TV and there it was, right in front of our eyes. But still fairly distant. I was beginning to think the “whale guarantee” was not all it seemed.

Then it went quiet for a while. The whales move northward so it is not worth following them too far from the tour zone. Soon enough – if you are lucky – more will come from the south. And sure enough they did. With a bit of quick boat handling we were close to another group, and then another. Then it was quiet again.

Classic tail flip

And another…but still fairly distant

And another…this time a little closer.

Breaching Whales

One of the other eagle-eyed passengers spotted a whale right ahead about 200 metres or so. The captain hit the gas and after a choppy little ride getting covered in seawater spray, we hit the jackpot. There were three of them and they were playing.

The sight everyone wants to see is when the whale launches itself out of the water to come crashing back down with an almighty splash. ‘Breaching’ is the technical term. But you can call it jumping or whatever you want it really doesn’t matter. Because seeing it right in front of you is just incredible.

Whale starts to breach

Rising out of the water

The breaching whale starts to fall back into the sea

Then crashes back into the sea

Pectoral fins

Another classic sight most people will have seen on TV is the whale raising one of their pectoral fins and slapping it on the surface. They duly obliged, just like in the movies (so to speak).

Pectoral fin wave

Pectoral fin splash

Following Us

At one point a couple of whales were right behind the boat and followed us for a short time.

Two whales following the boat

Then came alongside…

For a short period one whale decided to have a look at us. A close up of the same whale’s upper body reveals many scratches and scars. In fact the only thing we never got to do was touch one, which can happen if the whale is curious enough to come right up to the boat.

Keeping an eye on us…

Scars on back of whale

The whole trip lasted about two and a half hours. The kid loved it. And so did Dani. He wants to do it again. I would recommend this kind of trip to anyone who is in New South Wales during the winter.

I do wonder now; what will Dani want to do over the next few years? After about 40 years or more of wanting to see this wildlife spectacle it finally happened for me. My son got to do it in only his 7th year.

Record Numbers

I also read recently that there have been record numbers of whales spotted on the migration route this year. Their numbers are certainly increasing which is great news of course. That got me thinking about their destination – Hervey Bay in Queensland. The sea in that area must be bubbling with whales? Like boiling water. That could be another great trip in the future…