SEPTEMBER 2006 - AUSTRALIA!

7 September 2006

Here we are in cool, rainy Adelaide, South Australia. We arrived two days ago from Darwin, where the temperature was 20 degrees warmer. Tonight we'll be singing for the South Australia Quilt Guild for the second time.

Our visit to Australia is only a week old, but we have already crammed in many things.  We landed in Sydney after an uneventful (but long) flight, and spent the night with our friends Pat and Carol Drummond in Medlow Bath, the Blue Mountains.  It is the end of winter here, and the weather is cool in the south, with some rain.  Rain in Australia, of course, is always welcome, since it is the driest continent. We spent an enjoyable evening with Pat, discussing the current events of the Australian music scene.

We caught the flight to Darwin the next day. We lived in Darwin in 1999-2000, and I wrote the songs for "One Stitch at a Time" there. We have a great many friends still living there. During the next 6 days we tried to see them all. Our favourite restaurants were waiting for our return, and we enjoyed sunset at the Sailing Club, and a huge party at Fanny Bay Pizza (partly with our table, and partly with Father's Day celebrants). We ended the evening with a jam session that pretty much cleared out the restaurant (were we THAT bad?) Here's a picture of Fritz that evening, with his "friend".

John got a chance to see some of his old work-mates, thanks to Graham Bailey organizing a breakfast one morning. Because it is still the Dry Season in Darwin, we were able to take in one of the outdoor markets, where we ate interesting food from the vendors (mostly Indonesian and Chinese) and shopped for local crafts. At the Parap Market, we also visited Frangipani Fabrics, one of the best places to find Aboriginal fabrics. Alas, Ann is closing shop in Darwin and moving to Tasmania at the end of the month. Sad for Darwin, but Tassie's gain. I did find a copy of the book "Fat Quarter Frenzy" in the shop - a book written by my very good friends (and cruise buddies) Susan Purney-Mark and Daphne Greig. It's a small world!

Our two concerts in Darwin went very well. The one for the folk music societywas at the Groove in Nightcliff, and we enjoyed the open air experience. Only in the tropics do they have restaurants without walls!  We also sang for the Darwin Patchworkers and Quilters meeting - first visit there since we left  in 2000. It was great to sing again in the room where so many of the songs on "One Stitch at a Time" were inspired.

The humidity was just starting before we left Darwin -- time to leave! It's during the Build-Up (as the high-humidity time before the tropical rains start is called) that Darwinians either go on vacation somewhere else, or go "Troppo" - as the unbroken heat and dampness tends to drive people a bit crazy.

 

November 27, 2006

Okay, okay I KNOW I'm tardy in this next installment of the travelogue.  It's been a busy time! 

We left Darwin's heat and were greeted a few hours later by rain and cooooool temperatures in Adelaide.  It was the day that Steve Irwin ("The Crocodile Hunter") tragically died (September 5th), and the sense of loss was huge in Australia (although everybody we spoke to thought Americans would feel his death more keenly, as a result of his TV exposure). We stayed with our good friends Robyn and Paul in Aldgate in the beautiful Adelaide hills. Just north of there is the famous wine-region, the Barossa Valley. Needless to say, we felt obligated to sample some of the local wares! John used to live and work in Adelaide, and was invited to another work-related event: this time, lunch with former Pak-Poy  mates. We sang at the South Australia Quilters' Guild for the third time. 

We didn't spend much time in Adelaide, unfortunately, as we left the next day to drive to Mildura, in the fruit growing area of Victoria.   This was the day the race car driver Peter Brock died tragically in a car crash. It was a bad week for Australians.

We stopped by Bendigo on our way to Melbourne to see our friend Mary-anne Rooney (of "One Stitch at a Time" fame). They are in the middle of a 100 year drought, and are on the highest water restrictions. Australia is known as the driest continent, and right now it's very dry. Mary-anne and Dick cannot water anything outside. The way they keep their flowers alive (forget about grass there) is by re-using their shower and laundry water. And yet, Bendigo is still building houses so more people can live there. 

Before we left Bendigo, we stopped by the Golden Dragon museum.  Thanks to the goldfields, there were and still are a lot of Chinese people who live in the area. They have kept their culture, including an annual Easter ceremony that features a long-tailed dragon in parade down main street.  When he is not being "awakened", he sleeps in the museum. At 100 metres, this is the longest dragon in the world (carried by many helpers during the parade), and is very beautiful. This is just his head - the rest of him is stretched around the ramp circling the inside of the building.

 

 

We are always busy when we get near the Melbourne area. This time, we had quite a few performances, including Mt. Eliza, Geelong (3rd time there!), Surrey Hills, Waverley, and Carrum Downs. After we sang for the Mornington Peninsula Patchworkers in Mt. Eliza, we needed to make another stop. I had neglected to pack my Fairy Penguin (wearing a snazzy sweater/jumper) to display when I sang "Sweaters for Penguins", and there was only one place to go to find another.  We drove down to Philip Island, where the Penguin Parade happens nightly at dusk. This was the place where the idea was "hatched" of using little knitted sweaters to keep penguins warm and prevent them from preening while they were covered in oil. The volunteers at Philip Island would capture them, put the sweaters on them and keep them overnight until the morning, when the sweaters were cut off and they were individually washed.  I did not write this song, but I had been in touch with Marg Healey who had the great idea in the first place.  We had never met Marg, and this was my chance, as well as to get a "brother" for my penguin at home! Here's a photo of Marg, and her work-mate Ros, both of whom work at the Nature Centre. We did see a few real nesting penguins, which was lucky since it was still early in the season.


Ros, Cathy (and penguin) and Marg Healey at Philip Island

We returned to Melbourne, staying with our friends Sandy and Andy. For a second time, they invited us to speak to their Rotarian dinner, and it was lovely to update them on our travels and stories. They still don't quite believe what we do for a living, I think!

We reconnected with lots of friends in the Melbourne area, including Jo Botherway, Judy Anderson, Pat Whitford, Virginia Leacy, Deb Layt and Michelle Aitken. We're very happy to say that Michelle, as well as Judy (of "Punch with Judy"), and Shoestring Records will be distributing our CDs across Australia from now on.

After the Geelong meeting we spent the night with Margaret Drayton in Anglesea, one of the more beautiful places we've seen. She is a wonderful quilter, and several of her quilts were very inspiring. Before we left Geelong, we stopped by the Wool Museum. This is a terrific place to find out about the Australian wool industry, and see how it gets from the sheep to the cloth. They had an antique tapestry machine there making their famous Manor House rugs using the old punch-card style of manufacturing. It was a beautiful design - does it look like a quilt to you?


Manor House Rug from Geelong Wool Museum

From Melbourne, we drove to Canberra, stopping at the famous Niagara Cafe in Gundagai. Lots of politicians have eaten there, partly because of its location (perfect dinner distance from Melbourne) and partly because it's pretty good diner food. Also, Gundagai is famous because of the well-known Aussie poem called "Road to Gundagai". Don't Australian place names just cry out to be spoken in poetry or sung in song?

We love Canberra (despite what Bill Bryson may say about it). It's a wonderful city, meticulously laid out in the centre with roads like spokes from several wheels, pointing to the various areas of town. It is the capital of Australia, of course, so the Parliament House dominates.  There is a new National Museum there, too, which we visited. It is beautiful!  Seeing the building itself was worth the cost of entry.

You may have heard me talk about "SCQuilters", or read about songs that this group inspired.  This is the 2000+ member on-line quilting group in Australia and New Zealand to which I belong. At a SCQuilters dinner one night in Canberra, we got to see several good friends: Kathryn Hailey and Donna Sunderland (who helped me get inspired to write "Star and Plume" on "A Quilter's World" cd), Michelle Law (who organized the event) and Bernadette Thomas. Usually, we only get to talk via email, so it was nice to spend an evening with them.

One of the things we do as SCQuilters is something called "Healing Hearts". If one of our members is going through a difficult time, has an illness, or death in the family, other members of the group send them 6 1/2" squares of white with hearts on them. They are usually appliqued and come in many colours. A few months ago we all sent hearts to Jenny Bowker (Australian quilter extraordinaire) on behalf of her daughter. At the Canberra Quilter's Guild meeting I got to see that quilt (all green hearts) just before it was sent to Kim. Here it is - it turned out beautifully!


Kim's Healing Hearts quilt


After Canberra, we headed down the coast to Merimbula, where long-time friends of John's live.  Jim and Sandra have a glorious home there, on top of a hill, surrounded by bellbirds. These are small unremarkable birds with a song like a small chime. There are thousands of them in the trees, but we've never seen one.  There are also all kinds of parrots - the beautiful green King parrots, the snowy white Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, the feisty and aggressive Rainbow Lorikeets (smaller than their fellows, but far more likely to get the food). And sneaking onto the bird feeder when these others have had their fill: the firetail finches: active and bright little birds, grabbing the food while they can. Australia has turned me into a birder!

Before we left Merimbula, we took a walk along the Boardwalk. It is a 2km long walkway built over the mangroves in the bay. There are lots of oyster farms there, pelicans and cormorants. John caught sight of a small stingray near the shore. It was magic. Here are some images from Merimbula:

 
Rainbow lorikeets in Merimbula                                                                John on Merimbula Boardwalk

People are awfully nice to us when we travel, and it makes a huge difference in our enjoyment of the trip. We left Merimbula to go to our next gig in Bairnsdale, an area where we hadn't performed before. We stayed with Ula and Ken Sheather for two nights, quickly becoming good friends. They have a lovely rural spot with a huge and wonderful garden, and cows next door.  The Riviera Quilters treated us extremely well and made sure we not only enjoyed ourselves, but also learned a bit about the area. At the end of our performance, we were invited by Barb and Ian Slater to Raymond Island, a small heavily populated island accessible by a very short ferry ride. They promised us koalas in the wild, and we were not disappointed. We found them in the trees, and even saw a mom with baby. It's a lovely island, especially at this time of the year with the tulips and bottlebrush blooming, and the purple wisteria cascading over fences and roofs.

 

        We had two more gigs in the Melbourne area before we flew to
        Brisbane.  Waverley Patchworkers was celebrating its 25th Anniversary,
        complete with banquet. It was an honour to be there and help them celebrate.
        And the cake was a work of art!

 

        Our last gig in Melbourne was also among friends: the Carrum Downs
        Victoria SCQuilters group. It was a wonderful morning, with a few tears
        shed, but mostly laughter.

 

 

 

Then, on to Queensland!  Our first stop was at the home of Rod Lanham.  I wrote the "Healing Hearts" song about his wife Jenny, and as a result, we became very good friends. Sadly, Jenny lost her life to cancer a month before we arrived. She has passed the quilting mantel along to her daughter, Rachel, who has organized her mom's stash, and completed Jenny's second Healing Hearts quilt. Now Rod has taken up quilting, too, at least a little bit. He made a block for a "bloke's quilt" to raise fund for breast cancer. We saw the quilt in Toowoomba and it was impressive. It even won a special mention. While we visited Rod, we were also able to see our favourite kookaburra, known as "Jack". He's a regular visitor to Rod and Jenny's house, probably because of the free handouts he gets there!


Cathy and Jack

While in Eatons Hill, we sang for some forty quilters in a vacant shop down the row from Claudia's shop, Quiltessentials. It's amazing how a few quilts can transform a room from plain concrete walls to a homely, comfortable room.

Then it was a two-hour drive out to Toowoomba for Quiltfest. This is an annual quilting retreat, with lots of fun, run by Pauline and Joy at Country Fabrics and Quilters. Each year they also organize an "outback tour" and it seems that there's even more fun there. I hope one day we can tag along with them. One of the highlights of our short visit there was meeting American quilter Patty McCormick. Patty was the quilting consultant for the Hollywood movie "How to Make an American Quilt", and she had some hilarious stories about her experiences working in Hollywood.  She taught the actresses how to quilt, made the quilts used in the movie, and even organized for her and her friends to be "stunt quilters" for closeups! 

Our tour was nearing the end when we hopped on the plane to Perth, Western Australia. We had never sung there before, and were looking forward to it, and to seeing friends. We had been to Perth on my first trip to Australia, when John and I drove a campervan for 10 weeks around most of Australia (except for Queensland). From Port Augusta west, we felt we'd really entered the Outback, and there seemed to be nothing for days except sagebrush and heat and bush flies and dead kangaroos on the road (thanks to the huge "road trains" - trucks - that sped through the nights).  But every once in a while, there'd be a road off south, where we could look over the Great Australian Bight and think we were on the edge of the earth.  Flying over it eight years later was a revelation. We had a perfectly clear day, and could appreciate the beauty of this extreme and austere land. From afar. And in an hour, we flew over the distance that had taken us a full day to drive.

We had lots of friends to see in Perth. Some of our friends from Darwin had moved here after we left, and there was much news to catch up on. We were able to see Andrea and Chris, Vicki and Andy, Kim Ellwood, and Don and Joan McDonald.  We also spent a day with Peter and Jenny Fry, with whom I had corresponded in 2000 while writing the first quilting CD, but had never met.

Peter is a great-great-grandson of Elizabeth Fry (of Rajah quilt fame). His arm of the family had built a house just south of Perth to which Elizabeth had planned to retire back in the 1800s, but she died before she could relocate. It would have been quite a huge move back then, from England to quite a remote and challenging Western Australia. The house is still there, and Peter and Jenny took us to see it. It is solid and not at all rough, although it would have been far out in the country back then before the town was very large.


Upton House, Australind WA, built 1844

 

We saw Peter and Jenny in the last few days of our trip, and realized this was the last chance to see any typical Australian wildlife. Jenny promised that kangaroos always frequented one paddock nearby, and she wasn't wrong.

 

My theory about flying to Australia from Canada is this: you should stay long enough so you forget how long the trip was on the way.  We had spent 6 weeks there, done 15 shows, visited with many, many friends, seen koalas, kangaroos, parrots, one emu and one echidna, and traveled to all states except Tasmania.  It was time to fly home.   33+ hours later, we fell into our own bed, exhausted, and a little sad to have left what  feels like our second home. We are planning to return in 2008, and perhaps stay a bit longer.

And that's the end of our Australian trip!