Saturday, 15 January 2011


“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade.  It's amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.” - D.H. Lawrence

A routine Saturday at home – and how much I appreciated that! The ordinary things in life, the routine, the tiresome little nothings, the chores, the things that we do many times grudgingly, we tend to brush under the carpet and we so often bemoan them. However, it is only in adversity, when we lose them that we really appreciate them. All of these sweet little nothings make our everyday life what it is and it is those little routines, which can irritate us, that are the richness of which we are robbed when disaster strikes.

As Brisbane and Queensland take stock of the damage and clean up, I am sure they would rather have had a routine Saturday like me, full its little annoying chores and everyday tasks, the nothings that make us feel at home.

Here is a beautiful Adagio by Greek Composer Eleni Karaïndrou, well known for many of the wonderful film scores she has composed.

Friday, 14 January 2011


“If a man love the labour of any trade apart from any question of success or fame, the gods have called him.” - Robert Louis Stevenson

I was in Canberra today for work. I’ve had two very productive and successful meetings, but it’s been very much a “fly-in; meet; fly-out” type of day! Canberra must be one of the most ‘interesting’ national capitals in the world, being very small, very utilitarian and completely artificial. As a consequence, not many Australians choose to live there if they can help it, including many of the politicians who come in do their bit of governing and then fly back to their preferred place of residence. It is very much a city of public servants, and its atmosphere as well as its everyday life is rather pedestrian. Definitely not cosmopolitan (despite the foreign presence of the embassies) and definitely not buzzing with life and excitement (despite its ‘capital’ status)!

Canberra has been the capital of Australia since parliament moved there in 1927. It is a city of about 350,000 people and is geographically 150 km from the ocean and 281km SW from Sydney. Canberra is thought to be an Australian Aboriginal name meaning “meeting place” from the Aboriginal word Kamberra. The site of Canberra was chosen as Australia’s capital city in 1908. In 1912, an international architectural design competition was held to design Canberra’s urban living space. Chicago architect, Sir Walter Burley Griffin won the competition.

His vision was to build a city that blended into the bushland and which was designed around several monumental ‘circuits’ with magnificent avenues and vistas allowing for uninterrupted views for kilometres on end. It is a very ‘natural’ city with quite a lot of vegetation, but most international visitors we have take there are rather disappointed, as the bushland is typically Australian and in summer especially, it can look very drab and khaki-coloured. Europeans and Americans are used to the deep green verdant shades of their forests and countryside – not so in Canberra! However, in Spring the city’s parks are transformed into blooming bulb flower gardens and the “Floriade” festival ensures that there are many visitors to enjoy these displays.

In 1963, the Molonglo River was dammed to create a vast artificial lake in the centre of Canberra, aptly named Lake Burley Griffin, in tribute to Canberra’s architect. This lake transformed the landscape and provided a focal point around key structures of the city. It is also a venue for recreational activities such as sailing and looks good in this inland (sometimes very hot!) city. The watersprout is a Canberra landmark as is the Carillon, which is situated on the lakefront and was donated to the people of Australia by Great Britain and dedicated in 1970.

One of the most important and iconic landmarks of the Capital is the Australian War Memorial ( It is a majestic building that looks like a cathedral, a temple, a museum, a mausoleum and a massive cenotaph all rolled into one (see picture above). Visiting this is quite an emotional experience as thousands of dead Australian soldiers are honoured within its shrine. Australia has fought bravely in many wars in distant countries and the toll has been a heavy one for such a fledgling nation. The War Memorial reserves a special place in every Australian’s heart.

The National Parliament (both old and new buildings) is also in Canberra and the new Parliament House is a highly controversial building. It was designed by Mitchell/Giurgola Architects and opened on 9 May 1988 by Elizabeth II, ‘Queen of Australia’. When it was constructed, it was the most expensive building in the Southern Hemisphere and cost over AU$1.1 billion to build. It has 4,700 rooms with many areas are open to the public. The House of Representatives chamber is decorated in green while the Senate chamber is decorated in red. Separating the two chambers is the Members’ Hall, which has a water feature and is not open to the public. The Ministerial Wing houses the office of the Prime Minister and other Ministers. It is definitely worth a visit.

One of my meetings today was a working lunch, which took place in the Verve Café and Bar in Manuka (read “Maá-naa-ka”), an inner suburb of Canberra. I had a chicken Caesar Salad, while my companion had the pumpkin risotto. The latter was apparently very good but the Caesar was definitely not up to Melbourne standards! The lettuce, dressing, ‘bacon’ (=strips of ham!) and croutons left much to be desired, while at least the chicken and the… egg were very nice. I did not mind overly much as the meeting went very well, as did my morning and afternoon meetings!

Nevertheless, it’s so good to be home for the weekend!

Thursday, 13 January 2011


“Adversity is like a strong wind.  It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” - Arthur Golden

The situation in Brisbane, Ipswich and Toowoomba is simply heartbreaking. The images and stories that are coming through are sad, distressing, moving, dismal. The plight of thousands of people who have lost everything is devastating. As most of these people have no flood insurance (most insurance companies not offering this type of cover for their properties – or having premiums that are exorbitant), they have literally lost everything. There are stories of people escaping with their lives and the clothes on their back, fullstop… All else was lost.

However, these are the fortunate ones. The official death toll now stands at 15 with 61 people still unaccounted for. There are grave fears held for the 12 people who were washed out of their homes when they were hit by a wall of water in the Lockyer Valley. This is a massive natural disaster and unfortunately, the death toll will climb further as the flood waters recede. A long and arduous clean-up and recovery process will take months, if not years. About 60,000 homes across southeast Queensland are still without power, and an emergency shelter has been set up in the RNA Stadium in Brisbane for people who have had to leave their homes because of the flood.

I am aware of three of our staff who have lost their homes to flood waters, and no doubt as communication channels are re-established there will be more sad stories from our extended family at my workplace. We already had the first donation round at our Melbourne campus where people put money in an envelope for an immediate donation. I am sure that other staff, similar to myself, have made personal donations also. We are also considering a fund raising event for February, which should raise some tens of thousands of dollars, as we raised for the Victorian Bushfire appeal.

As if all that weren’t enough, the Brazilian floods are another tragic occurrence that has claimed hundreds of lives and has caused massive devastation in Rio and São Paulo. Sri Lanka is also experiencing severe flooding and I have just heard on the news that flash flooding is also occurring in the northeastern part of our state, Victoria. It seems that there is “…water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink”! I say that because as the floodwaters recede, a filthy, sewage contaminated sludge is left behind. This not only stinks to high heaven, but also carries billions of bacteria and other pathogens that could cause serious disease in individuals or even the break out of epidemics.

The community spirit and the unity that has been shown buy Queenslanders has been extraordinary and in this they are being ably led by Anna Bligh, the Queensland Premier. Ms Bligh has shown tremendous leadership during the adverse times that her state is going through and with her coal-face approach, good communication strategy, genuine concern and empathy for the tragedy her fellow-Queenslanders are suffering, she is winning friends and providing much-needed support for all those who are going through some very tough times.

Word for the day today is:
adversity |adˈvərsitē| noun ( pl. -ties)
Difficulties; misfortune: Resilience in the face of adversity | She overcame many adversities.
ORIGIN Middle English: From Old French adversite, from Latin adversitas, from advertere ‘turn toward.’

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


“Are you upset little friend? Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, don’t worry... I’m here. The floodwaters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you.” - Charlie Brown to Snoopy

The flood situation in Brisbane is getting worse and most of today I spent communicating with our staff there, organising and strategising, developing all sorts of contingency plans, ensuring staff were contactable through alternative emails and personal phone numbers. Also,  overseeing our Melbourne staff to see that they were coping with our Brisbane phone calls and enquiries, as all of the phone lines from Brisbane had been routed to Melbourne from earlier this morning.

Fortunately it all went well, but unfortunately, the worse is yet to come. The flood waters are expected to peak in Brisbane by tomorrow afternoon and many more people will have to abandon their homes and possessions. I only hope that we do not have any more deaths. The graphic images of people stranded on top of cars and being swept away by floodwaters is enough to haunt even the most hardened amongst us.

The Watery Grave

And as the clouds gathered,
And as the lightning flashed,
As thunder roared,
The rains came…

The watery curtains cascaded down,
The rivers flowed and overflowed,
Became torrents; creeks turned to rivers
And the floods came…

And as the waters rushed,
And as the dams gushed,
The deluge broke the barriers
And the spate came…

The water covered all
In dirty brown slough;
Making lake of land
But the rains still came…

The might of surging waters
Overwhelmed man and beast,
Dragged down buildings, destroyed;
And death came…

Now as the waters still swell,
As displaced people shiver
From shock, fear, frustration,
Grim realisation came…

Silent, sunken, submerged,
What once was dry land and
Homes, cars, gardens, dreams,
All lie under a watery grave.

My thoughts and prayers with the people of Brisbane tonight, while here we are privileged enough to enjoy a warm dry bed.

Please help if you can: Donate your time, some spare much-needed goods or some money…

Monday, 10 January 2011


“In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends” - John Churton Collins

The flood crisis in Queensland has worsened in the last 24 hours with many flash floods affecting more areas of Queensland that are already suffering, but also now causing havoc in Brisbane, a city with a population of two million. This afternoon we had to close our Brisbane Campus as a precautionary measure. There was no public transport, chaos on the roads, incessant rain, lightning, thunder, and many low-lying areas of the City near the river, already underwater. All the staff and students were sent home in view of the increasing risks, as well as the potential of flooding affecting the campus.

At this stage, nine people are dead and 66 still missing as a result of the flash floods that affected Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley. In the Brisbane CBD, the overflowing Brisbane River is in the process of converting some of the city streets to canals and residents are fleeing in a panic. The situation in Brisbane and Ipswich is very serious and residents are now facing their greatest threat and toughest test in more than 35 years. This is the worst flooding since both of these cities were devastated again in 1974. The Brisbane City Council predicted 6500 homes and businesses across 80 suburbs will be inundated over the next few days, and about 16,000 properties will be partially affected by floodwaters. Brisbane’s main dam, which had so far protected the city from flooding, was full and authorities now had to release water, which would send even more flood waters into Brisbane.

Rockhampton in the North of the State (about 612 km north of Brisbane) has already been hard hit, with flood waters having reached their peak about a week ago. The Fitzroy river that was slowly submerging the town peaked at just under 10 metres above its normal level, having inundated up to 40% of the town. This is the worst flood in the state of Queensland in 50 years, with floodwaters covering total areas equivalent to the areas of France and Germany together!

As Queensland is one of Australia’s prime exporters of coal and the floods have seriously hampered the operation of the coal mines, the Australian dollar has fallen to tits lowest level in the last few weeks, as there is expectation that the Australian economy will take a hiding and will require months to return to normal. Billions of dollars damage has already been caused by the floods and there is more damage expected.

The rest of the East coast of the country is also experiencing wet conditions and even here in Melbourne we have had rain, which will continue for the next few days. La Niña has a definitely hold over weather conditions in the Pacific rim. It seem strange than not too long ago we were suffering from the deadly bushfires here in Victoria and now in Queensland we have floods of biblical proportions.

Once again the Australian spirit has risen to the occasion and helping hands are being extended to the stricken areas from all over the country. Emergency services, volunteers, donations, industry support and neighbours helping each other in communities are all rising to the aid of affected people and doing the best a community can do in critical situations like this. Adversity generally brings out the best in people and here in Australia we are used to seeing great self-sacrifice, a soaring community spirit, altruism, charity, support and cooperation. One feels proud in moments like these to belong to a community such as this where the best of what being a human is being displayed.

Perhaps it is also apt at this stage to say “Thank you” to all of the volunteers and emergency personnel who are doing so much to help the affected areas and people. This is in keeping with “International Thank You Day” today.

If you wish to help the flood-ravaged communities please donate!


“It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves - in finding themselves.” – André Gide

We had the opportunity to sit and watch Ridley Scott’s 2010 version of “Robin Hood” at the weekend. I hadn’t heard much about this film, but I rather winced when we sat to watch it, as I thought to myself: “Oh, no, not another ‘Robin Hood’ film!”. However, when I read the DVD jacket, I was interested. Firstly, the cast was rather stellar with Russell Crowe in the title role, Cate Blanchett as Marian, Max von Sydow as a Lord of the Realm, William Hurt as the King’s adviser and Mark Strong as the bad guy (no, not the Sheriff even though a weasely sheriff is well played in a minor role by Matthew Macfadyen!). Good actors do not necessarily make a good film, although they can salvage a mediocre one. The other thing that interested me was that this seemed to give a completely different slant to the Robin Hood legend (as perhaps best illustrated in the classic Errol Flynn film of 1938 “The Adventures of Robin Hood”).

The movie was definitely not disappointing and if you like big Hollywood epics in the mould of “Braveheart”, “Rob Roy”, “The New World”, etc, you will enjoy this movie. It is quite formulaic in many ways, but it done well in that genre, and I guess Ridley Scott’s direction is important in that respect. In period movies like this, I always look for details that will either make the look and feel of the movie convincing or not. For example, looking at the hands of people who are meant to be farmers – yes they are dirty and gnarled with broken, dirty fingernails; looking at the architectural and decoration details – farmhouses having trodden earth floors with no reeds strewn on, while a castle having flagstone-paved floors that are strewn with reeds or sweet flag; fabrics – no they did not have lurex in the middle ages!

The film is very much a prequel and this is immediately obvious form the very first few bits of introductory on-screen blurb. We are told in no uncertain terms that we will see how the legend of Robin Hood began. King Richard dies in a battle in France, and archer Robin Longstride, along with Will Scarlett, Alan-a-Dale and Little John, all make their way to England. They encounter the dying Robert of Locksley, whose party was ambushed by treacherous Godfrey, who hopes to lead a French invasion of England. Robin promises the dying knight he will return his sword to his father Walter in Nottingham. When Robin meets Walter and delivers his son’s sword, Lord Walter encourages him to impersonate his dead son to prevent his land being confiscated by the crown, and he finds himself with Marian, a ready-made wife. The evil Godfrey worms his way into the king’s service as Earl Marshal of England and brutally invades towns under the pretext of collecting Royal taxes. Robin is embroiled in curbing this treacherous plot and leading the defence against the French invasion.

Yes, it is all stirring stuff, but there is humour in it as well, and some pathos, as well as an interesting subplot concerning a group of poaching children living in Sherwood forest off the land and through petty theft (they reminded me of “The Lord of the Flies” somewhat). We liked the cinematography, the music and general look of the film. Blanchett did a good job of playing Marian, while Russell Crowe was a very earthy Robin Hood. An excellent performance by veteran Max von Sydow as the blind father-in-law of Marian.

The film has prepared the way for a sequel with the “proper” adventures of Robin Hood this time round. There are unsettled accounts between Robin and the Sheriff of Nottingham and there are also some loose ends left from this film to be resolved in the sequel. Overall, we enjoyed it and we recommend it as a good Saturday afternoon matinee movie!

Sunday, 9 January 2011


“An artist never really finishes his work; he merely abandons it.” - Paul Valéry

Something unusual for Art Sunday today. An artist who creates ephemeral art on the sandy beaches of New Zealand. Part of the appeal is the extremely transient nature of his art, but also the way that he creates these graceful sand pictures. When the Sunday morning tide goes out, Peter Donnelly cycles down to the beach below New Brighton pier, and with a rake and stick for paintbrushes, sets about transferring his imagination’s vision onto the sand. Elaborate patterns integrate seamlessly with recognisable representational forms of faces, plants and objects as Donnelly’s works materialize beneath his seemingly dancing feet and the masterly strokes of his rake and stick.

The artist and “Sand Dancer”, Peter Donnelly, makes sand paintings at low tide most weekends. This is a piece of his in New Brighton beach near the pier, in the South Island City of Christchurch in New Zealand. His work can take four hours or more, and a piece of art that looks as though it might have taken days to create is there for all to see, before the tide rolls in and the work is destroyed. For Peter Donnelly, this is an essential part of the process: An ephemeral moment in which a gift is given, to himself, the onlookers, the sun and sand and the boundless ocean.

More about his work here: