New York Reflections

This isn’t my first trip to New York.  I started visiting in the 1980’s, thanks to the fact that the man I was living with in London had a sister and niece in NYC. The man is long, long gone but not so his sister and niece, who have come to be considered family – infrequently seen but much loved; the ex outlaws as we call each other.  And, they are the reason for this visit, just to spend time in their beloved company. This is just some random reflections and travel notes from that trip.

The Subway

I haven’t been back to New York for probably 12 years, so it is both familiar and unfamiliar – I have to relearn the subway for a start, those multi coloured arteries that link the different neighbourhoods of this endlessly fascinating city. Being from Australia I envy any city with an underground train system. Sure, it might be a bit grimy down there, but my goodness it is a great way to get around.  I think I cover off a good section of the alphabet this stay. As I am staying in Brooklyn,  the R line is my main focus, but it is the slow boat to China, stopping at all stations and often delayed – or in fact, stopping at only a few stations on the weekends. I learn to leap out and dash across the platform to catch an Express train, hoping like hell I’ve leapt on the right one, but realising that even if I haven’t, as long as I don’t pop my head up gopher like out the subway hole, my Seniors Return fare ticket ($2.75 US)  is good to get me to where I eventually want to go if I need to retrace my steps.

I give up trying to understand what the driver is saying over the intercom. In fact, right from catching the taxi at the airport I have submitted myself to the knowledge that any one involved in transport in this city is virtually unintelligible, at least to me. A fact that results in a couple of embarrassing, on my part, exchanges with people behind glass at ticket counters; and has me studying the subway map clutched in my hand intently as I tick off the stops, as there is not a chance in hell I’m going to understand the verbal recitation of the stops.

I get great pleasure from the busking travelling minstrels on the train, and insist on giving them money, much to the disapproval of my ‘family’. In the course of just a few rides I encounter a mariachi band, a trio of soul singers and a Chinese opera violinist. All bring a smile to the face; well maybe not the Chinese violinist.

The Museums

This city has a museum for everything, and this visit I return to some well loved ones , plus experience some new to me. I start with the Museum of Modern Art; fitting given that our very own NGV has just opened a major exhibition of loaned works from MoMA. This has been achieved in part because MoMA is going through a major renovation and construction to expand the gallery space, which may explain why my visit is not as exciting as others I see this trip. However, I did discover a photographer, Stephen Shore, whom I now Follow in Instagram.

The Guggenheim is virtually closed as they bump in a new exhibition, but the side wing is open and I do a quick whip around a children’s art exhibition and a small exhibition of major pieces from the collection. A warm up to the Met just down the road.

I feel a bit like Hansel & Gretel in The Met, wishing I had breadcrumbs to spread behind me to ensure I actually make it out again. The place is huge. But, my focus is the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibition. The exhibition features “the work of designers who for the most part were raised in the Roman Catholic tradition ……….. most acknowledge its enduring influence on their imaginations”. Cleverly, the garments are displayed throughout the Medieval and Byzantine Art galleries, so you are both forced to reflect on the influence of religious art on the fashion, and to look at items in the collection, not just the garments. All the while, hypnotic music is pulsing through the gallery. Unfortunately I don’t make it uptown to see the the display in the Met Cloisters, but thoroughly enjoy what I do see on Fifth Avenue.

I am eager to see the new Whitney building, a museum that has always held a special place in my heart as it was where I discovered the marvellous Edward Hopper. The Whitney is devoted solely to American art, and there are two highlights here today for me. The first is the exhibition of Grant Wood works. Who I hear you say? Well, you will all know him because he is the artist who painted the iconic American Gothic painting.  But, there is so much more to the man than this work, and I discover that I am a great fan. The second highlight was the small collection of Jacob Lawrence war paintings within the An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection 1940-2017 exhibition.

I have a brief but interesting visit to the National Museum of the American Indian, down in the financial district, but it was my last museum visit that was a particular revelation –  the Museum of Art & Design (MAD). A relatively small space, on Columbus Circle, but a real delight (and I gather the restaurant on the top floor is very good also). It is here I discover the work of pioneering feminist artist Miriam Schapiro, whose aim was to spotlight the artistic merit of the so-called female domestic crafts. She pioneered a painting collage hybrid she called femmage, and they are beautiful.  On the next floor I am introduced to the Negro Motorist Green Book, which was an annual guidebook published between 1936-1967, listing businesses across America that were sympathetic to African American motorists and travellers, thus helping (and hoping) to make their travels safer. The artist Derrick Adams used the Green Book as the inspiration for his work in this exhibition. Fascinating.


I had two walks on my Must Do This Visit List – the Highline, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

No visit to New York is complete without a walk along the Highline. What a truly brilliant idea this was – a terrific example of innovative urban landscaping that in turn has completely revitalised a once down at heel area. The architecture going up is amazing, and the place buzzes. I walk the length of it (2.3 km or 1.45 miles in their money), starting at the Whitney, and then back again.  As I walk the drizzle stops and the sun comes out, thus the crowds slowly build. I stop half way to enjoy a very yummy panini from one of the food carts, followed a bit further by a magnificent ice cream sandwich to reward my efforts.

We tackled the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn side, struggling against the steady flow of walkers doing it in reverse. But, the view is so much better our way, as you are walking towards that famous skyline. A word of warning: whichever way you walk it, the path is also a bike path and the local bikers get very very cross at oblivious tourists intent on taking selfies and ignoring the faded lines delineating the bike lane. If you want to avoid an earful, stick to the pedestrian side.

We continued our walk to the site of the World Trade Centre and were unexpectedly moved by the fountain memorial, which captures so much in its simplicity.


My morning ritual always includes indulging in a decent coffee in a cafe, and being in New York is no exception however proves trickier to achieve than here in Melbourne (which is, as I instruct mine hosts, the coffee capital of the world).  The search for a good coffee starts each days outing, with mixed success.  I Google Australian cafes in New York, and there are quite a few, especially in Brooklyn but unfortunately not in my end of Brooklyn. Bluestone Lane is one of the originals to conquer NYC, and there are numerous outposts now, including one just near The Guggenheim so I pop in on my Guggenheim Met day, only to see a queue of people waiting to get in. So, I opt for a take away coffee and prop myself up on the bench outside the neighbouring church and people watch. But, I have to admit the coffee was somewhat disappointing – success gone to their heads maybe?

However, I do come to realise over the course of my coffee journey that Americans seem to like a more bitter coffee flavour, or is it a stronger aftertaste, than we are used to in Melbourne. Maybe it is because they have grown up on that stewed bottomless stuff that passes for coffee there.

I find three brands that hit the spot. Gorilla Coffee, an independently owned micro roaster in Brooklyn (472 Bergen St, Brooklyn). Blue Bottle  is a small chain started in the early 2000s in Oakland California – they were purchased by Nestlé in 2017 but still manage to turn out a good brew, despite the rather soulless environment I find in the Park Slope store (although the brown molasses cookie was delicious and still occupies a corner of my taste bud memories). But both were surpassed by my find on my second last day, Birch Coffee, which has 10 outlets in Manhattan. The one I find is a hole in the wall at 884 Ninth Avenue – I managed to secure a stool, and was a very happy girl.  An honorary mention can also go to FIKA, a Swedish brand with outlets across Manhattan – although it was their chocolate rum ball type thing that really got my attention.

But, whist on coffee I couldn’t help but notice just how much plastic and disposable cups are consumed. Even if you are drinking the coffee in you are often given it in a take away cup. Why???  And then there are all the iced tea, smoothie, frappe and whatever else they drink plastic cups – all with straws. My head was filled with images of the landfill that must be generated by this alone. The keep cup concept hasn’t seemed to have caught on yet, but boy does it need to.


Unfortunately I don’t make it to any shows, but we do manage to see three movies which are yet to make an appearance in Australia. The first was a documentary about the amazing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was before this film unknown to me, but I am now a member of her Fan Club. RBG, as she is fondly known, is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and a truly formidable woman who fights fiercely and intelligently for the rights of the American citizen. She is the voice of sense on what is becoming an increasingly right wing court – which will become more so if she dies and Trump is able to make another appointment. Given she is 85 and has had several brushes with cancer, her ongoing health is of concern to all liberal thinkers.

I followed this with another film about a formidable woman, the fading actress Irina Arkadina, played by the wonderful Annette Benning, in The Seagull. In fact everyone in this film of the play was terrific, with a cast including Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss, Brian Dennehy and Billy Howle. A must see when it comes here.

My last film was not so successful, despite its all star female cast of Dianne Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen. The latter was wonderful, and provided the only laughs. Without her the film would have been completely woeful. Called The Bookclub – predictable cliché ridden waste of talent.


Friendship is what brought me to New York this time, and it is what I leave thinking about. The people we meet along our way; the people we keep. I haven’t seen this lot for maybe 8 years, but I slip back through the crack in time and take up my place within the comfort of their beating family heart. My visit is full of dinners around the kitchen table; of school music recitals; of walking the crazy family dog around the local park whilst admiring the Chinese exercise classes; of getting to know the (grand)kids; of errands and doctors visits. And, I couldn’t be happier. The ties that bind are invisible but strong.

And, I have an added bonus in my two Aussie friends who moved to the Big Apple 14 years ago, and have made a hugely successful life for themselves there. I stay the night in their groovy apartment in the financial district and enjoy dinner at a local institution followed by an amazing milk punch (and no, it wasn’t the warmed milk drink I was imaging but instead a highly lethal but delicious cocktail made with clarified milk among other things). A quick coffee and a final hug on my last day sends me on my way.

Hopefully my next visit will not be so many years away.


Marimekko and more

The Bendigo Art Gallery is definitely a jewel in Bendigo’s crown, and provides us with a perfect excuse for a mini break in Regional Victoria. We are the intrepid threesome of Hazel, Kitta and Deb; determined to make the most of our 48 hours out of Melbourne. The raison d’être for our trip is to visit the Marimekko exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery, but we of course have to add food, shopping and exploring as added extras.


First stop in our tour is Moto Cafe in Malmsbury for some seriously good coffee. They roast their own beans; who would have thought that would be happening in this sleepy village bypassed by the highway, and have created a welcoming space in which to enjoy it on this somewhat chilly morning. Next time we will also try something from the menu as it sounded very tempting, but for now it is coffee only to get us up and on our way to the gallery.


We probably should have eaten in Malmsbury, as by the time we reach the Gallery we are ravenous so stampede into the Gallery café without a glance either left or right. The café is full of like minded ladies, all chattering at full strength. The wait staff rush around the space, ferrying plates and glasses at an amazing speed.


Hunger satiated we are then able to retrace our steps, purchase a ticket for the exhibition and enter the realm of bold colours and simple, striking designs. Even if you think you don’t know Marimekko I’m sure as soon as you see some of their designs you will recognise them. The company was founded in 1951 in Helsinki, Finland and earned international fame in the 60s, when even Jacqui Kennedy wore their designs. Despite its iconic status the brand fell on hard times in the 80s but was rescued in the early 90s by an ex advertising executive who knew a good thing when he saw it and revived and revitalised the famous brand, bringing back some of the old designs as well as nurturing new designers.

The exhibition showcases Marimekko’s designs and designers from the 1950s to the present day through clothing, homewares, and fabrics. You get to see some of the original  art work for the designs, plus the range of colour ways used.  It is fascinating to see a paper design transformed into a fabric swatch and a garment, but we felt the exhibition missed the opportunity to show this progression in more detail – it didn’t successfully bring to life how a design idea, drawn onto a piece of paper, then becomes a printed fabric, nor how the garment designers work with the designs and fabrics to create the clothing. We left lusting to be owners and wearers of Marimekko, but wanting more from the exhibition.

Before exiting the building we had a quick look at the New Histories exhibition, but were left rather scratching our heads with this one. Great idea though – 10 contemporary artists were asked to reimagine  “through the lens of contemporary culture” ten 19th and early 20th centuries works from the collection. Reimagine they certainly did.

Back into the car and a retracing of our steps down the freeway, as far as Kyneton where we had booked an Airbnb for the night. Cowen House proved to be a newly renovated, charming 3 bedroom cottage with comfortable beds, crisp linen and fortunately an efficient central heating system.

We toasted a successful day with rosé and Hazel’s homemade savoury mini scones, before venturing out into the chill night air for dinner at one hatted Source Dining.  As we tumbled through the door, eager to escape the cold, we were warmly greeted by the young man behind the bar – but his charm was the last we were to see. Whilst the room itself was warm and thawed us out, the staff waiting the table set the temperature plummeting. Nary a smile nor friendly word to be seen or heard. I felt I needed to sit up straight, and eat all my greens!  We started with a slice of house baked bread (from a 5 year old starter we are pompously informed), which was delicious – accompanied as it was by some whipped butter – and we would have enjoyed a second slice but that was never going to happen as once entree was finished the bread & butter plates were immediately whisked away.  The meal itself was very pleasant, and excellent value being Thursday Locals’ Night (main, dessert and a generous glass of wine for $49) but marred by the lack of engagement from the people serving it. We are unlikely to return.


Next morning we browse the shops and enjoy a coffee at Little Swallow Café (again, the food looked excellent, but we had already eaten the continental breakfast supplied by Cowen House), before heading off to Ballan.

Our goal here is the Millrose Quilting Store, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of jewel like fabrics. I wander the shelves, desperately wishing I could sew. Kitta is our quilter, and we happily pour over fabrics helping her to choose just the right shade of background fabric.  It is amazing to find such a treasure trove in Ballan of all places, but word is obviously out amongst quilters as they come to the store from far and wide. Next door is the Millrose Café, and as it had been at least 4 hours since we last ate we felt obliged to step inside.

Fed, watered and stocked up with gorgeous fabrics it is time to hit the road for home. And, time to plan our next adventure.



Culture in Canberra

Who would have thought that I would visit Canberra, the never missed home of my youth, not once but twice in 12 months (and, have plans to visit again later in the year). Wonders will never cease, but then Canberra today bears little resemblance to the place I grew up in. Nowadays there is a good café on almost every corner, terrific restaurants and fabulous exhibitions to explore. It is the latter that brings me to Canberra once more.

I had managed to spy, via my incessant social media trawling, an article about the Seven Sisters Songlines exhibition at the National Museum of Australia – and had noticed, to my horror, that it had been running since September but only had a few weeks remaining. This amazing exhibition did not get the publicity it deserved – certainly , the advertising for it came no where near the saturation heights of say the (over rated) Versailles exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia last year, or have I just been living under a rock for the past few months?

Seven Sisters Exhibition ad

Never mind. I had seen the article and quickly organised a short break to our nation’s capital. And am I glad I did. The exhibition was wonderful. I am constantly humbled at the richness of the Indigenous culture, and equally cross that their stories and art are not an integral part of our education system. Australia is definitely the poorer for not embracing and revelling in all that our Indigenous people can offer us.

I knew about the Songlines, thanks to the beautiful book (written in 1987) of the same name by the legendary Bruce Chatwin. A songline is a path across the land (or sky) taken by “creator beings”. The songlines are recorded in art, song, dance and stories. Armed with the songline, a person can navigate this land as the words of the song describe landmarks, waterholes, food sources. Australia has a network of songlines that traverse different mobs and hence different languages, but the rhythm of the song is the same. As the exhibition notes explain: “Like the epic poems of the great oral traditions, songlines are a way of holding and passing on knowledge.”  How lovely is that.



This exhibition tells the songline of the Seven Sisters, a bawdy tale about seven sisters who are fleeing across the country, escaping the licentious interest of  Wati Nyiru and his special companion, a super sized penis. Some things never change, across cultures.

The Seven Sisters tale is told in the exhibition through paintings, weavings, pottery and very clever use of audio visual technology. For us, it was a 3 hour immersion in a major story about our land. Exhausting but exhilarating and I am so grateful to have experienced it. The exhibition finishes on February 25th – so get to Canberra quickly.

We had walked to the Museum from our hotel (The Burbury, in Barton) and there is no doubt that Canberra is a beautiful city – orderly, ringed by the Brindabellas, crammed with trees, anchored by Lake Burley Griffin.  The National Museum of Australia sits perched at the end of the Acton Peninsula, overlooking Commonwealth Bridge and the lake.  The day is hot, our feet are tired and our minds full of all that we have seen, so we quickly make our escape to the nearby Hotel Hotel and its dark but cool (in more ways than one) bar, where we collapse on a couch and order a cold drink and share a sandwich to restore ourselves.

Fortified we Uber it to the National Gallery of Australia, where we are able to squeeze in a quick hour before closing time seeing the HyperReality exhibition – beautiful in parts, weird in others, and occasionally poignant.


As an old Canberra girl it continues to surprise me that our capital city is no longer the culinary wasteland it once was. In fact, quite the opposite as there is a plethora of good restaurants to choose from – just not on Sunday and Monday nights, which of course is when we are there. However, we had managed to find a couple of places open, and had enjoyed our meal at Agostinis (situated underneath the East hotel in Kingston) on our first night.

Tonight we were again in Kingston, this time at Otis Dining Hall, where my yellowfin tuna and compressed watermelon entree (whatever that is, tasted pretty much like normal watermelon) was both beautiful to look at and gorgeous to eat. And, the Braidwood lamb to follow was also darn good.  Good thing we were walking back to the hotel!

Next morning we returned to Maple + Clove for a scrumptious breakfast, followed by coffee at Hideout which touted itself as the best coffee in Canberra. I’m afraid we disagree – in fact, we both left our coffee sitting on the table unfinished. However, it is certainly a popular spot – with 5 barristers pumping it out, and what I’m sure was an out of work actor calling the names of the take away punters as he had the most fabulous voice, which he was putting to great use. Fascinating to watch.


Not quite properly caffeinated we then set off to walk to the Australian War Memorial, admiring the various memorials adorning ANZAC Parade leading up to the Museum. Looking through the museum can be a daunting task as it is huge, so we decided to join a tour of the WW2 section, taken by one of the voluntary guides. Apart from the exhibits there is an amazing archive of information held at the War Memorial, which allows people to trace and track their serving family members. All in all it was a sobering experience.


For a complete change of scene we then took ourselves to the National Portrait Gallery to see the excellent Starstruck exhibition – an exhibition of still photographs from the Australian movie industry. Not only were the photographs terrific, but it was grand reliving all the movies we have seen over the years.


We then hightailed it back to the hotel for a much needed drink, before dining at Lilotang, one of two restaurants downstairs at The Burbury – delicious and different Japanese food.

Once again, a very successful sojourn in our nation’s capital, with body and soul well satisfied and replete. I shall return.


Windy Wellington

Flying into Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, can be a pretty hair raising affair as the plane skims across the often white capped water, squeezing between the hills surrounding the airstrip suspended in the strait. The slight anxiety was not helped by Pete’s dentist telling him the day before our flight that Wellington is one of the more dangerous airfields for landings due to the vagaries of the crosswinds. But, all’s well. Our only issue now is to front up to Customs with our hiking boots and poles, as all hiking/camping equipment needs to be inspected. My shoes are whisked off to be washed, and we are then cleared to go.

I am always charmed by this city, with its eclectic mix of architecture, and the homes strung around the coastline, all jostling for a Bay view. The lovely gothic wooden homes remind me of San Francisco, but many of the modern buildings are not to my taste. Currently several of the newer CBD buildings are covered in scaffolding, or in some cases, abandoned, thanks to last year’s earthquake, which definitely rattled the rafters.


We are staying with friends in the Aro Valley, an easy 20 minute walk to the quay area, and just around the corner from buzzing Cuba Street. We celebrate our arrival with a couple of glasses of local wines before heading up the street to Rita , a new eatery in Aro Street that is already packing in the punters.

  • This is the place for the decision challenged as there is almost no choice. You are told what you will be eating, but you can add an extra starter and/or a pasta between entree and main and/or extra vegetables. The basic 3 course meal is $65, then you add the rest. Tonight we have kahawai (which is a New Zealand fish) with the freshest peas I have ever tasted, followed by lamb (and we added in a cos lettuce side) and finished with rum baba for dessert.


The food is simple, with super fresh produce and beautifully cooked. The only downside is the noise, which is close to deafening. A small space, wooden floors, packed with happy customers. Bursting out into the street brings blessed relief to the ears, but we were certainly well fed.

Fall into bed, it’s been a long day.

We ease into Saturday; venturing forth after a leisurely breakfast. Cuba Street is our first destination, with its vintage shops and cafes. Thought this suit at Hunters and Collectors would be perfect for Pete.


Time for coffee, so we head into Memphis Belle, where the young man persuades me to try their soy milk with the promise that if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t pay. And he’s right – the first soy outside of Bonsoy that doesn’t overpower the coffee. But, it is all the way from Denmark, or was it Norway – hardly good food miles. We rock along to Bye Bye Miss American pie whilst we sip away.

Wandering the laneways, full of street art, is reminiscent of Melbourne. As are all the cafés- Wellingtonians like their food, and coffee, as much as we do.

We spy an artisan chocolate factory and detour for a quick taste, and of course some buying – purely for emergency hiking supplies of course.

Then its down to the quay for a wander before hopping into the car for an explore of some of the Wellington coastline.


Shelly Bay, with its views back to the city, and its array of old warehouses, is currently in hot dispute as to its future. Needless to say the developers have their beady eyes on it, but currently artists are happy to call the old sheds home. There is also a bustling seafood cafe, Chocolate Fish, famous for its fish sandwiches. After a poke around a couple of galleries and a chat to one of the charming resident artists, we find a table out of the wind to sample the fare. And, the grilled fish sandwiched between fresh white bread is surprisingly good, but perhaps my hunger helped.

Back into the car for more sightseeing, ending up on top of Mt Victoria for a quick overview of the city. The brisk wind makes this a short visit, but it’s time now to buy dinner supplies. We head into Moore Wilson’s and my heart skips a beat – what a fabulous food store, bursting with an amazing array of goodies. I could stay in there forever. Instead, we load the basket with wines, cheese, salmon and asparagus and head home for a feast.

Sunday has been earmarked for a visit to Te Papa but first we stop for a coffee, this time at Midnight Expresso, and a mosey through the Cuba Street shops.

Te Papa has a very moving exhibition about Gallipoli; the highlight being giant sized but incredibly realistic models of various soldiers, and one nurse, together with their stories. The conditions these men fought in, and the human carnage, is difficult to comprehend, no matter how many times you hear the story. Such a terrible waste of, usually young, lives. How terrified they must have been. Heartbreaking.


Time for lunch. On a recommendation we seek out Charley Noble, only to find it closed tight. Not open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Go figure. But, rescue is at hand with, also recommended (thank you Clare), Shed 5. We make ourselves comfortable and watch the constant parade of passing people, whilst we enjoy the wine and food.

A quick pop into the Wellington Museum to check out their artisan’s market – nothing here to make us linger – then on to see the remains of  Plimmer’s Ark, a 150 year old wooden sailing ship that was discovered during the renovations of the Old Bank Arcade.

Followed by a meander through a few more shops as we wend our way back to Aro Street, where we have a cleansing ale at the local brew house, Garage Project. Wellington is awash with coffee shops and craft breweries; both very popular pursuits with locals and tourists alike. The small Garage Project Bar is pumping. We squeeze in and make our choice from the array of beers on offer – White Mischief for him, Petit Mort for me.


Refreshed, it is a short walk back to ‘home’, and we end our stay with yet another beautiful meal cooked by Rochelle and Dean, washed down with more lovely NZ wines.

The night ends with a very Wellington experience – a 4.5 earthquake rattle, which wakes us with a start in the small hours of the morning. It is the loud noise that startles us more than the movement. Luckily Rochelle had warned us, so we knew what it was. Didn’t last longer than a minute, with some small shudders to follow. Talk about finishing our visit with a bang, but no damage done.

Thankyou Wellington, it’s been grand.



Dark Mofo 2017

We all know about The Guggenheim Effect, and how an outstanding piece of architecture, housing an amazing array of art, managed to transform a once struggling industrial town in the Basque Country into an international tourist destination. Here in Australia we have the MONA Effect. The vision of David Walsh and his team of curators has managed to put Hobart front and centre on the cultural tourist map of every Mainlander. 

To spread the joy across the Year, we also have MONA FOMA (Museum of Old and New Art:Festival of Music and Art), held in summer – which has become more fondly known as MOFO – and Dark Mofo, which is the reason I find myself in Hobart this June.

Dark Mofo is Hobart and MONA’s celebration of the winter solstice and all things dark, and light. This is its fifth year, and its growing popularity is evident in the packed flight heading out of Melbourne, as why else would you be going to chilly Hobart in the middle of Winter?!

We are eight, eager to experience as much as we can over our 3 days. Our Airbnb house is perfectly located within easy walking distance to all the action. The only drawback being the fact that it sits right on Davey Street, the main drag in town – and even though this is a small city it would seem that the total population of Hobart likes to spend their time driving up Davey Street. The constant sound of traffic roaring past is not exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep.  But, this is only a small dampener on our enjoyment of the festivities.

We ease into our stay with a delicious dinner at Peacock & Jones, admiring the Dark Mofo red light theme as we walk along the harbourside.

Friday morning we wander down to Salamanca Place in search of breakfast, and settle on Tricycle Cafe in the Salamanca Arts Centre, blending in with the locals who favour this quaint little spot. Browsing in the shops and galleries that line the precinct finishes off the morning.

Come afternoon we toy with the idea of walking up Mt Wellington, but quickly banish the thought when we actually look at the mountain, and hop into the car instead. And wouldn’t you know it, the cloud descends just as we reach the top. We linger in the chill long enough for a brief parting, enough to get an idea of how magnificent the view could be.

We have a date that night with Paul Kelly and the very sexy Camille O’Sullivan in their show Ancient Rain, but first we must eat, so walk down to Princes Wharf, which has been transformed into the Winter Feast site. Shooting flames and a light forest beckon you into a wharf shed packed with food and drink stalls, and lots of very jolly people enjoying a veritable cornucopia of choice.

In fact, the people you encounter are one of the joys of Dark Mofo. Tasmanians are an extremely friendly bunch anyway.  Add into the mix visitors all there for the same reason, determined to enjoy themselves, and you have the right ingredients for goodwill to all. Strangers happily sit cheek by jowl, striking up conversations about all manner of things (next day we meet one young Sydneysider who had us in hysterics with her dating stories). It is at the Winter Feast that we meet a couple (who we find out met 7 years ago at the Melbourne Cup) who tell us about a fab little cafe, Small Fry,  that we visit later in our stay. The mood at Winter Feast is upbeat despite, and perhaps because of, the crowds. And the food on offer is terrific. 

The Federation Concert Hall is heaving with people. Ancient Rain does not appeal to all. Given it is based on Irish poems and letters, it is hardly surprising that the overall mood is fairly dour (let’s face it, they are not the cheeriest bunch), but Camille O’Sullivan sings like an angel and she draws me into her world – I emerge blinking in the light, slightly in love.

We devote Saturday to MONA, and the opening of its latest exhibition by the Museum of Everything but first a visit to the Salamanca Market, held every Saturday morning. We have great fun browsing the stalls, chatting to stall holders and shoppers alike. 

Catching the ferry to MONA is a great way to start an amazing visit – excitement and anticipation builds as you travel up the beautiful Derwent River.

To quote the MONA brochure: From June 2017, MONA will be crammed to the hilt with an astonishing assortment of artworks from The Museum of Everything: the world’s first and only wandering institution for the untrained, unintentional, undiscovered and unclassifiable artists of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. It certainly was crammed – we spent about 2 hours just in the Museum of Everything, some of it wonderful, some of it not. But, it was fascinating, and I am intrigued as to how and where they discovered this stuff.

We were on the 11am ferry there and the 5pm ferry back – it is so easy to spend a whole day at MONA, particularly on opening day when there is a passing parade of entertainment thrown into the mix. We need a hot whisky punch to revive us before climbing aboard the Mona Roamer ferry back to Constitution Dock.

Straight off the ferry and into the Winter Feast shed, along with everyone else. Food, drink and a singalong round the fire. 

We could have lingered longer, but Dark Park beckons, so off we trot to admire the laser light show, and enjoy a whisky tasting in the shed.

Sunday morning we head off to the Farm Gate Market in Bathurst Street, via an excellent take away coffee at Small Fry – where we drooled over the menu, and admired the focus and care of the chef in the tiny kitchen.

The market was full of very yummy things – so, we bought most of our evening meal requirements: veggies, fruit pies, cheeses, cream.

Then, down to Consitution Dock to buy the fish:

And, a quick admire of the sculptures at the Dock:

before dumping our bounty to undertake a brisk walk, under grey skies, through Battery Point to the Wrest Point Casino and back. At the Casino we are delighted to see a seal doing a solo swim, just for us.

A quick change and off to the Theatre Royal to see Sleeping Beauty, a collaboration between Victoria Opera and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. I am definitely not an opera fan, but this production is lots of fun – telling the story of Sleeping Beauty via puppets, and singing of course. 

Home then, red wine and our wonderful home cooked meal of local Tassie produce. A very fitting way to end our Dark Mofo experience, as we fly home tomorrow (an experience marred by the Jetstar flight being delayed by 2 hours).

Thank you Hobart, Dark Mofo and MONA for a terrific long weekend. A bientôt.

Canberra Revisited

Late last year one of our Library Club gals had the bright idea of a group excursion to Canberra to see the Versailles exhibition. I joined in the affirmative chorus, whilst inwardly quaking. Canberra is the home of my youth – a place I fled from the minute I finished my Arts degree at the wonderful ANU. Canberra represented to me a boring, monochromatic township, full of public servants and absolutely nothing resembling a beating heart. But, in the interests of group solidarity I girded my loins and found myself boarding an early morning flight to our nation’s capital last Friday.

We had decided to stay at the renovated, and heritage listed, Hotel Kurrajong – walking distance to the lake, the Gallery and Parliament House (old & new). Given its proximity to Old Parliament House, it was not surprising to hear that in its heyday the hotel had a strong political association. Most notable being that it was the residence of Ben Chifley – in fact, he suffered his fatal heart attack in Room 205. The only thing that died during our visit was the wedding band on Saturday night, who for some reason thought that “I will Survive” was a suitable song with which to end the night! 

All eight finally assembled, our first act for the day was coffee and brunch. Local knowledge was thoroughly tapped as part of the pre trip research, so it was with confidence that we set off to the Kingston Foreshore development. This was my first hint that my Canberra of old might have changed, as here was something more akin to Melbourne’s Docklands – fancy apartments overlooking the lake; boat moorings; and a whole array of cafes and restaurants facing the water. Oh la la, very fancy, Canberra.

Our inside knowledge directed us to Local Press, a funky, waterside cafe serving good coffee and very yummy food. We settled into an outside table and enjoyed what remained of the morning. 

Refreshed and refuelled, we ambled beside the lake to the Australian National Gallery, admiring the views and trees along the way. There is certainly an abundance of greenery in Canberra, even if the roads are relatively deserted.

Whilst the Versailles exhibition was the trigger for our visit, it proved to be but a small part of our overall Canberra experience. All credit to the Gallery in trying to create some of the mood and feel of the palace, with the highlight being the recreation of the famous Latona fountain, complete with water sounds and cascading water imagery. So peaceful that one of our party actually fell asleep momentarily in the room. But, overall I am not a huge fan of Baroque art  – too fussy for me. In fact, the most fascinating aspect of the exhibition was the story of the engineering feats involved in getting water to the grounds to make all the fountains work. 

Emerging from the exhibition we did a quick tour around the rest of the Gallery, admiring the eclectic range of art on display.

Sensory overload and fatigue was taking its toll, so the vote was for a wander back to the hotel for some R & R, before heading out for drinks and dinner. Our original plan had been to wander around the Night Market near Hotel Realm before dinner, but to our dismay, we discovered the market had been cancelled – lack of interest maybe? No matter. We grabbed a table and a bottle of bubbles from the bar and toasted a successful first day in Canberra. And finished off the evening with a meal at the famous Ottoman Cuisine restaurant – all within easy walking distance of Hotel Kurrajong. It was a happy and tired group of women whose heads hit the pillow that night.

Day 2 arrived with overcast skies and the threat of rain. Our day started with a walk around the lake (or run for two of our hardier members). Even I, the great Canberra detractor, have to admit that the natural setting for our capital is beautiful – trees and parkland abound; and the varying blue hues of the surrounding Brindabella mountains make a glorious backdrop. The 6km walk around the water’s edge, looping over King’s Ave bridge and across to Commonwealth Ave bridge, provides a visual check list of Canberra’s major institutions: the Carillon, Captain Cook’s Memorial jet, the National Museum of Australia, the National Library, the High Court, Old & New Parliament House, and the National Gallery. Not to mention a sighting of Robert Menzies along the way.

Our walk had worked up an appetite, so we headed to another terrific café, Maple and Clove (, for a delicious brunch and truly excellent coffee. Happy ladies.

To give those unfamiliar with Canberra more of an understanding of the layout of the city we headed off to the National Arboretum, which was planted in 2005 after the devastating bushfires of 2001 and 2003 burnt out much of the forest and  radiata pine plantations in the area. The idea for an arboretum dates back to Walter Burley Griffin’s plans for Canberra – the fires provided the catalyst for turning the idea into a reality. The site covers some 250 hectares and the idea is to plant 100 forests and 100 gardens featuring endangered, rare and symbolic trees from around the world. Plus, it provides beautiful views across Canberra (well, it would have if the rain had not arrived just as we did).

Next stop was the ANU Drill Hall Gallery ( , a gorgeous and little known space tucked away on campus beside Toad Hall. The building itself is beautiful, with its polished boards and sinuous curved brick walls.

The Gallery was showing a retrospective of Elisabeth Cummings, a graduate of the National Art School in Sydney in the 1950s and founding member of the Wedderburn, NSW group of artists. Now, this is more my sort of art – the colours are glorious, and make the heart sing.

The Drill Hall is also the permanent home of Sidney Nolan’s magnificent Riverbend series – a 9 panel work (1.5 x 10m overall) depicting the banks of a river in the Victorian bush, complete with outlaws and bushrangers. Beautiful.

It was then on to Art of a different nature – the art works and cocktails at the newish, and very funky, Hotel Hotel in New Acton ( A reviving drink was enjoyed whilst we admired the ambiance and tried to blend in with the hip and happening younger things of Canberra.

Exhausted yet? We almost were, but had one more stop to make before heading back to our hotel – the National Portrait Gallery. Boy, is that one impressive building, but the collection on display was smaller than the Gallery size suggests. However, an extra treat was in store for us as we stumbled into a recital by Clarion, a local vocal quartet. So calming and uplifting.

Then it was back to the hotel for a much needed rest, a cup of tea and a read of the Saturday paper before heading out into the night for dinner. We headed back to the Kingston Foreshore, and discovered where all the Canberrans were hiding. The place was teeming with people, and it was hand to hand combat in the parking lot. Luckily we had the foresight to have booked a table at Morks, a popular (and therefore noisy) Modern Thai restaurant. Day 2 was then done & dusted.

Our final morning we woke to clear blue skies and a predicted high of 28 degrees. We check out and leave the bags in the hotel’s care before walking across to the Kingston shops and breakfast at another recommended café (thank you Virginia), Penny University.

Again, an interesting and different menu. Boy, has the food scene in Canberra made a drastic change from my Uni days in the mid 70s – I still recall the dancing in the streets when Gus’ Cafe in Garema Place put tables outside! Now, Canberra is worth a visit just to eat.

Food and coffee needs satisfied, we amble down to the Foreshore yet again, but this time to wander through the Old Bus Depot market, which is largely a lot of tat if truth be known, but some cash was exchanged by our party of 8. Spotted this lovely old factory on the way:

Back to the hotel to collect the cars and a drive to the Botanic Gardens, where the rainforest gully provides a welcome respite from the heat before we venture into the Red Centre garden.

We drive to the airport via a stop off to visit groovy Lonsdale Street, Braddon where boutiques jostle with cafes, all in a street that used to be home to mechanics and car repair shops in my day. We discover Frugii Dessert Laboratory ( ), selling some of the yummiest ice cream I’ve had in a long while. That took care of the heat exhaustion.

Our 3 days in Canberra have come to an end. Thank you to my lovely travelling companions who provided many a laugh.  I have been forced to reappraise my image of my old home town. I still wouldn’t want to live there, but would be happy to visit again. So, I’ll be seeing ya Canberra.

The Art of Banksy

Who would have thought that an English street artist would become a household name? A guerrilla artist with the intriguing allure of anonymity – the Elena Ferrante of the art world. An artist whose subversive wit drives his appeal. So, it was with great excitement that we awaited the arrival of The Art of Banksy exhibition in Melbourne.

Actually finding it is your first challenge as it is tucked away in a circus tent behind the car park at Federation Square. Walk along the Yarra until you get to the back of the car park and then follow the signs.

Once there you are greeted by a phalanx of t-shirted security guards, somewhat disconcerting. The works on display are mainly from the private collection of Steve Lazarides, Banky’s former agent and a pioneering champion of street art and street artists.  Lazarides and Banksy have famously fallen out, and this exhibition is brought to us without the artist’s sanction. Not that he is above displaying his works in galleries, nor is this the first time his “indoor” work has been exhibited gallery style. I guess it is just the blatant commercialism of this exhibition that sits uncomfortably with me.

From the security guards to the large indoor outdoor bar, this is obviously an ‘event’, where they are hoping you will linger longer, and spend more money. This may well appeal to the young people who were attending the exhibition at the same time as we Seniors (drastically skewing the average demographic I must admit), but leaves somewhat of a funny taste for us. And, is it irony on display that you exit via the (heavily stocked) gift shop?? Mind you, it is pretty good merch. Combine all this with the hefty entrance price of $30 (plus booking fee – don’t get me started on booking fees, bane of my life) and you can but look at Banksy’s images skewering commercialism and laugh.

Is it worth the price? Hmm, the jury is out on that one. There is no doubt that this is a seriously talented man with a ferocious sense of humour – some of the work makes you laugh out loud. And, it is good to be able to see so many of them on display. But, who is exploiting who here? 

Every Quilt Tells a Story

There are many ways to tell a story but one of the more beautiful, to my mind, is through a hand made quilt. The pattern, the fabrics, the stitches and most importantly, the stitcher, all combine to weave together a story of life as it was then. The current exhibition at the NGVAustralia, Making the Australian Quilt: 1800-1950 , is a beautiful example of the stories quilts hold within them.

We can see how fashion changed from rather dour colours to a greater vibrancy as we move further away from the days of Queen Victoria; from serviceable cottons to flouncy chintz and sultry silk. 

The shift away from the home country to a burgeoning pride in the new country is charted through the quilts. As is the increasing influence of American culture as our womenfolk became exposed, through travel and magazines, to the more intricate patterning used by American quilters.

The effects of deprivation, either through the War years or the Great Depression, are made tangible by the materials used in the quilts, especially the waggas – utilitarian rugs or quilts, made from the likes of suiting samples, or scraps from old clothes, and often lined with remnants from hessian bags.

Using whatever materials are at hand is gloriously shown in the quilt made from the golden slips of fabric that were used to wrap cigars, how ingenious was this sewer:

Quilts can show us snapshots of daily life, or a family’s personal story. Quilts often give a physical presence to a mother’s, grandmother’s or sister’s love. We can chart the trajectory of a life by reading the stories embroidered onto a quilt.

Nor is the art of quilting confined to women – the exhibition contains two stunning quilts made with care and skill by men, one a POW who used the quilt to tell the story of his war, the other a sailor with plenty of time on his hands and the skill of sailmaking as his launchpad into quilting.

One of the centrepieces of the exhibition is the beautiful Rajah Quilt, created in 1841 by the 180 female prisoners on board the Rajah. The quilt comes out of the initiatives undertaken by Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker who was concerned about the plight of female prisoners. She formed the British Ladies Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners, which in turn provided sewing supplies to female prisoners, both incarcerated and being transported to the colonies. The sewing talents of the 180 prisoners varied but the outcome is beautiful.

There are more than 80 quilts in the exhibition, all of them asking you to stop and ponder their story. The exhibition finishes on Sunday, so hurry in to make sure you listen to what they have to tell us. 

Frida and Diego, Kitta and Deb.

The new Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW was our excuse to fly up to Sydney for a few days this week, but of course we had to do some shopping, eating and sightseeing as well to justify the trip.

The “we” in this instance is my good friend Kitta. We organise to meet at T4 (we were travelling Jetstar) on Monday morning, which we duly do. Chat, chat, chat until we hear the Gate announcement, at which point we wander off to the loo and then head towards the gate. I happened to glance up, only to see to my shock and horror that we had 7 minutes until Boarding closed!  Our speed picked up as we careened down what seemed like an endless empty concourse. I swear it must have been over a kilometre until we reached the gate, watching the minutes tick down on the boarding announcement. All I could think of was, how to explain to Pete I missed the flight despite having been at the airport for 1 hour and 40 minutes before departure (I caught the airport bus you see)! However, we arrived with 2 minutes to spare, out of breath and slightly embarrassed.

Our arrival at Sydney airport was much more civilised as our B&B, Tara Guesthouse (, offers a free pick up service, and sure enough, there was the immaculately attired Julian to collect us and drive us the short distance to their charming guesthouse in Enmore.

Our hosts, Julian and Brom – and the gorgeous Oscar, a very cheeky and indulged border collie – welcome guests into their eclectically decorated home, and you are part of their daily life (so, this is not accommodation for shy and reclusive types).  Julian is an avid art collector, and delights in showing off his pieces – and, is determined to feed you an amazing breakfast that will leave you bursting at the seams. He considers he has failed at his task if you need to eat lunch.

The rooms are huge. Mine is at the front, looking into the jacaranda tree, with an extremely comfortable 4 poster bed that invites reclining – and on this occasion, snuggling, as it was freezing cold in Sydney for our arrival.

But, I resisted, and we hit Enmore Street for an explore. And, what a funky street it is, with an array of different architectural styles, places to eat and interesting shops. The Marie-Louise salon is in fact a restaurant, called stanbuli, but the facade is protected – fabulous. The next picture shows a hair salon – retro is definitely in in Enmore. And of course the deco Enmore Theatre (where the Rolling Stones once performed).

 However, a word of advice – do not visit on a Monday (or before 11 on any other day) as just about everything is closed. Quite a surprise for us Melburnites. So, all my Googling about where to eat and where to have coffee was all in vain – every single one of them was closed. You can imagine my sad face.

We eventually found the Shenkin Kitchen, which turned out to be a great little Israeli cafe. Yummy food, and warm greetings on a chilly day.

After lunch we kept walking, turning right down King Street. More interesting shops (some open, some not), like the fabulous button shop and the spectacles made from recycled plastic.

And, lots and lots of vibrant street art:

Back up King Street, heading into the Newtown part, we spot a huddle of people outside

So we wander over to investigate. In the interests of research we share a slice of Strawberry Watermelon cake, for which they are apparently famous. And rightly so as we discover.

Darkness is beginning to descend and the wind chill is increasing, so we grab a bottle of red and retire to the warmth  of the Guesthouse for refreshment before heading out for a bowl of pasta in one of the only places open on Monday (with me still looking mournfully at the tightly shut Stanbuli, Hartsyard, Osteria Di Russo and Russo, and The Stinking Bishop, all of which sound fabulous – we will have to come again).

Next morning the sun is shining, hurrah, although still quite chilly. We have a ticket for the 11.30 entrance into the exhibition, and there is a long queue waiting to enter when we get there (Frida is a very popular lass). I have to admit however to being somewhat disappointed, as we almost spent as long queuing as we did looking at the exhibition – it is smaller than either of us expected. Only 2 rooms, with 33 artworks done by both Frida and Diego, many of them drawings, plus photographs of the pair and some letters (which are not overly interesting). But, her self portraits are the highlights for me:

We spent some time checking out the rest of the exhibition spaces of the Gallery (which seems a lot smaller than NGVI or NGVA) before wandering out into the sunshine for a walk through the Botanic Gardens and heading around, past the Opera House, to Circular Quay. We decide to hop on a ferry, so choose the soon to depart ferry to Watsons Bay – staying on for the almost hour long round trip. It is a beautiful harbour.

Upon our return to Circular Quay we continue our cultural enlightenment with a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art – mainly to use the loo, but we become captivated by a exhibition entitled “Telling Tales – Excursions in Narrative Form”, especially a piece that consists of maps projected onto a screen and a hand drawing the journey taken by the refugee, accompanied by their sub titled story. So very poignant. The museum closes before we are finished.

It is now 5pm, cold and darkening, so off we go to one of the bars in The Establishment hotel for a glass of bubbles to restore our tired spirits, before meeting Kitta’s nephew for dinner  at nearby Mr Wong.
Mr Wong is hopping, even at 6pm on a Tuesday night. It takes time to read through the impressive wine list before I even start on the food menu. Our selections finally made, and praised by the waiter!, we settle back to take in the venue. Very cool.

And duck is obviously a very popular menu item as their plucked carcasses are lined up in their dozens waiting for the treatment.

We are done and dusted and on the bus back ‘home’ by 8.30. Excellent!

Wednesday morning we again work our way through the formidable array of breakfast goodies before mooching down Enmore Road for an excellent coffee, in a beautiful cup, at Black Market Roasters, sitting soaking up the sun.

Julian then drives us to the airport, regaling us with stories on the way. It has been a delightful sojourn. Until next time.

Gorgeous Frocks, Hats and more

Back when the movie came out I said that the frocks were really the star of the film, and seeing them in the material confirms that opinion – they are indeed gorgeous, which you can see for yourself at The Dressmaker exhibition at Rippon Lea House (until 31 July).

The costumes were largely designed by Marion Boyce, who is also the costume designer for the Phyrne Fisher television series. As with those costumes, the joy is in the details – the swing of a jacket; the shape of a collar; the buttons and button holes; the contrasts of fabrics and colours; the marvellous use of colour. And then there are the accessories – the period jewellery; the glorious hats; the handbags. Marion must be the ultimate bower bird, collecting such beautiful things from around the world and hoarding them until the right ensemble emerges.

The other costume designer involved is Margot Wilson, whose credentials include a host of great movies – Bran Nue Dae, The Road, Jindabyne, The Proposition, Lantana to name a few. Margot designed the wonderfully seductive outfits worn by Tilly (Kate Winslet) – my favourite being this one:

The audience was 100% female, all oohing and aahing over these glorious creations. You could tell the dressmakers amongst them as they inspect each garment in minute detail and can be heard muttering to each other about the stitching, the drape of a skirt, the fabric.

If you love a good frock, and appreciate the transformative power of clothing, don’t miss this exhibition.