Monday, November 5, 2012


With Summer weather hitting the Australian shores, there are plenty of ex-pats heading home, along with the regular influx of welcome visitors from the colder climates. When travelling as a tourist, plenty of time is spent planning the visit to ensure the best parts of the city are experienced. Here are some of my favourites:

There are a couple of free walking tours that you can take around Sydney. This is a great way to learn about the history and haunts of this city, given by long-time Sydneysiders, or stay-too-long visitors who want to share their experiences with fellow travellers. Each tour runs for at least two hours and stops at most of the sites that are worth visiting, or re-visiting at length later. Take your pick of: or

The guides are paid via tips, so please be generous.

Sydney Buses operates a free shuttle bus service in the central business district (CBD), running in a loop to make it easier for people to get from one end of their CBD location to the other, and in between. You can board these high frequency buses from any bus stop marked with the green shuttle logo. Each bus is an accessible bus that can be used by people in wheelchairs or with other accessibility requirements, and parents or carers with prams.  Called Route 555, the free Sydney CBD Shuttle runs every 10 minutes. The service operates in both directions on a loop from Central Station to Circular Quay via Elizabeth and George Streets. Hours of operation are:
Weekdays: 9.30am to 3.30pm, with a late finish of 9pm on Thursday evenings.
Weekends: 9.30am to 6.00pm.
Here’s a map of the route.

While a walk across the arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a spectacular experience, it can be a budget breaking exercise for the thrifty traveller (if you can afford Bridgeclimb, do it!), but there is no cost to take a walk along the deck of the bridge via the pedestrian access way. The most spectacular route is from the northern end (alight from the train at Milsons Point) and then head back into the CBD. You’ll experience the most amazing views down the harbour, watch the commuter ferries criss-cross from Circular Quay and see the Sydney Opera House from a spectacular perspective. As you reach your destination, for just a few dollars, you can climb the southern pylon, which has quite a good museum, and will take you almost as high as the Bridgeclimbers, offering an even greater photo-opportunity.

Sydney has an amazing array of beaches that are free to visit and enjoy, some very accessible from the city. While for many tourists, a trip to iconic Bondi is a priority (take the train to Bondi Junction, and a bus will take you the rest of the way), a visit to Manly beach will probably be more fulfilling, as many professional surfboard riders prefer this beach to Bondi. From Circular Quay, take a 30 minute ferry ride to Manly Wharf (a wonderful experience in itself). From there, walk along The Corso, a pedestrian precinct lined with shops, which leads to one of the best beaches in Sydney. Be careful not to mistake the bay at Manly Wharf for the main beach. Although it does resemble a Mediterranean-type beach, it is the ocean beach at the other end of The Corso that is famous with surfers worldwide. 

Darling Harbour is a tourist precinct with plenty of shops, bars, restaurants and an Imax cinema, but there is also a comprehensive children’s play area with water games, climbing ropes, swings, slides, and a flying fox (what we Aussies call a Zip Line). It will keep the kids entertained for hours for free, and there’s plenty of sophisticated distractions in the area to keep the grown-ups entertained as well. On most Saturday evenings, there is a free fireworks display launched from barges on Cockle Bay, just a 2 minute walk from the playground. The fireworks are synchronised to music, and prove to be very popular with families all year round. 


While not exactly free, if you are with children under the age of 16, Sunday is the cheapest day to travel around Sydney for just $2.50 per person. This ticket allows you to travel all day on Ferries, Buses and Trains on the Sydney network, North to Newcastle, West to Lithgow and South to Wollongong. It’s amazing value, and a great way to see loads of sights around Sydney (and further) at very little cost.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Time Machine at Old 505 Theatre

I have to admit I do love the works of H.G Wells. Without dwelling on his literacy catalogue too much here, the vision in the writings of the man astound even today. When it comes to his work: The Time Machine, I am a sucker. The 1960’s movie starring Australian Rod Taylor is one of my favourites (it won an Oscar for best special effects), and the more recent film incarnation featuring (another Aussie) Guy Pearce is worth the nod, notwithstanding the obvious deviation from the original plot.

Perhaps lesser known, but no less compelling is Mark Lee’s one man performance of The Time Machine (adapted by Frank Gauntlett ), in no way under described as a tour-de-force.  The current season running at the Old 505 Theatre at Surry Hills, is not Lee’s first in the role, which he debuted in 2000, but the performance is no less compelling, enthralling and engaging. Over 90 minutes, Lee plays The Traveller, recounting the story of his 8 days in the future to members of the audience who are drawn into the performance as if they were visitors to the traveller’s own living room at the turn of the 20th Century.

With a minimum of props, but accompanied by dramatic lighting, Lee propels himself through the gamut of emotions ranging from love, despair and sometimes madness. Mark Lee is a technically fine actor, to the point where watching him makes you wonder where the man ends and the character begins.

To start the performance, the traveller appears regaled in fine late nineteenth century garb, immaculately groomed and confident. Disappearing back stage for 90 seconds, the traveller reappears, dishevelled, shaken and apprehensive about the ordeal he is about to recount.

This is beyond theatre of the mind, and is telling of Sydney’s theatre heart that is often missed or overlooked by the mainstream audience. The journey actually starts, not when the actor first appears on stage, but when first arriving at the venue. Anyone aware of Hibernian House near Sydney’s Central railway station might be aware of its grand façade, but it houses what must be Sydney’s most eclectic collection of fringe artists and creative thinkers. An unassuming doorway, missed by the quick walker along Elizabeth Street, leads to the building’s foyer, ravaged by free thinking urban art (read: Graffiti). It is confronting to the unexpectant visitor. 

Wandering along the hall, the interior of the lift to level 5 (where the theatre is located) is similarly violated.  Pushing aside thoughts of this being a slum, following the signs to the theatre, you could be forgiven of thinking you are in the wrong place. The common property is not salubrious, not maintained as one might expect.

But this is the realm of performance and art. Common concepts are put aside in this landscape where journeys only ever begin and never end.

The Time Machine performed by Mark Lee reminds us about human nature, about segregation and about how times have never really changed since Wells put pen to paper (nor in the future) when it comes to how human beings view each other and their order in life.  Apart from witnessing a superb performance, you come away reflecting on society today, which is exactly what Wells intended.

The Time Machine
Directed by Gareth Boylan

Starring Mark Lee

Old 505 Theatre-

505, 342 Elizabeth St Surry Hills

Wednesday 20- Saturday 23 June, 8pm

Sunday 24 June, 7pm
Wednesday 27- Saturday 30 June, 8pm
Sunday 1 July, 7pm

Tickets: $25/15 available via Moshtix.

Doors: open 1/2 hour prior to performance

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


If you are planning a visit to Australia, live in Australia, or just want to understand how the country came to be as it is, watching a collection of Australian movies might prove to be an interesting insight. In no particular order (and for various particular reasons) here's a list of 10 Australian films that you must see.

Breaker Morant (1980)
During the Boer War, Australian soldiers served under British sovereignty, and followed orders that led to their execution. This film tells the story of those soldiers, of whom lawyers today still feel should be pardoned.


During World War 1, Australian soldiers served under British sovereignty, and followed orders that led to their massacre (see a pattern emerging..??). This film tells the story of those soldiers.

Mad Max
(1, 2 and others, 1979 onwards).

Post apocalyptic yarn that rev-heads love and which captures the vast expanse of Australian cinematography. Mel Gibson's watershed role (Aussie accents were dubbed over by US performers for the initial US per this video:).

Evil Angels
(aka a Cry in The Dark) 1989.

What did happen to little Azaria Chamberlain in Outback Australia? Perhaps Meryl Streep has the answer.

Oranges and Sunshine

British politicians thought it a good idea to export unfortunate kids to Australia after World War II. It will make you angry.

Crocodile Dundee

For no other reason apart from what it did for Australia...and Paul Hogan.


When Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, a group of Aussie journalists were captured and killed. Official explanations indicate they were caught in the crossfire. This films depicts the events as most Australian's believe them: that they were victims of war crimes. Tensions between Indonesia and Australia remain over these events.


A Baz Luhrmann film starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman. If nothing else, it will give you a history lesson.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

We've never really treated indigenous Australians very well.

The Dish

An internationally successful film which presents a somewhat humorous account of an Australian observatory's role in the Apollo 11 moon landing.

For a comprehensive list of Aussie films visit:

Sunday, February 5, 2012

If only the Killing Fields were just a memory.

The recent sentencing of Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch, to life imprisonment for crimes he committed during the regime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, is a reminder of this sickening era of human history and the foul nature that some men can inflict on their fellow brothers.

From 1976 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge, lead by Pol Pot, forced Cambodians out of the cities and into the fields to live a virtual subsistence existence, while decimating nearly a quarter of the country’s population through starvation, overwork and execution. Kaing Guek Eav was sentenced for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and over the torture and deaths of thousands of people at the notorious S-21 prison. Al Jazeera's Stephanie Scawen, reporting from outside the court in Phnom Penh, described some of the atrocities committed: "Bloodletting was quite common... Others had their hands tied behind their backs and were strung up on exercise bars. When they went unconscious they would be dunked in water, and the process was started again. It was a horrendous regime.”

While it’s unfathomable to imagine the full extent of the circumstances suffered by the population, it’s not hard to find documentation and evidence of the disregard and contempt that people like Pol Pot, Duch and others, such as Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary had for their fellow citizens.

One day, if you take a trip to Cambodia, you’ll be confronted by the history of that country’s “Killing Fields”. A 1984 British film of the same name is one of the best known movies that depicts the story of two journalists, Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg who were working in Phnom Penh at the time. Historical and biographical as it is, it is truly a horror film. The role of Dith Pran was played by a survivor of the regime, a doctor named Haing S Ngor. His own account of those years was penned in his book “Surviving the Killing Fields”, a compelling read. In it he describes how he pretended to be a taxi driver when the Khmer Rouge swept to power after a civil war, as being an educated man made him an enemy of the state. Having won an Oscar for his portrayal of Dith Pran, his first acting role, I met Haing a number of times during his promotional visits to Australia. Ironically, after surviving the Killing Fields, he was shot dead in Los Angeles by a street gang. I was gutted to learn of his death.

Beyond the violation committed against the population at the time, a number of foreigners also underwent torture and death, sometimes for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time. New Zealander Kerry Hamill was a yachtsman sailing in the Gulf of Thailand in 1978, along with buddies Canadian Stuart Glass and Englishman John Dewhirst,

They anchored at Koh Tang Island to shelter from a storm (Kerry’s girlfriend Gail had recently left the yacht to visit family in Hawai’i). Unbeknownst to them they had entered ‘Kampuchean’ waters. Neither did they know of the horror story that was unfolding on the mainland.

Along with John Dewhirst, Kerry was seized and tortured for two months at S-21. After signing confessions taken under duress that “admitted” CIA affiliations, they were executed on Comrade Duch’s orders. Their third companion, Stuart Glass was shot and killed when the boat was initially captured.

Kerry’s younger brother, Rob Hamill, an Olympic and Trans-Atlantic champion rower, has travelled to Cambodia and elsewhere to retrace the steps taken by his brother and John Dewhirst, speaking to eyewitnesses, perpetrators and survivors. His documentary, Brother Number One, is a retrospectively haunting tale that tells the story from another deeply personal perspective, made no less incisive by the passing of years.

After the genocide of Jews attempted by the German Nazis in World War II, it’s staggering to consider how something so similar could occur a mere 30 years later. But then, occurring again with the conflict in Bosnia 1992 – 1995, and in Rwanda in 1994, where another similar fate befell 800,000 souls.

It’s a lesson that never seems to be learnt.

If only it were true that history never repeats.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bring back Chicken Maryland

It’s time to talk turkey. Actually, no. I’m more wanting to talk about Chicken Maryland. It means a few different things in various countries, but in Australia in the 1970’s it was a staple menu item in some (most?) restaurants and eateries, generally attached to various community and service clubs. In this country, the Returned Servicemen’s League (RSL), established clubs that welcomed ex-military personnel and their families for evenings of camaraderie, a few drinks, and eventual eats in the dining room that were (and still are) convenient and great value.

But of concern is the departure from history that the menus of these establishments have undergone. Today, some have entirely become ‘Thai’ or ‘Chinese’ or in earlier years ‘Italian’. It seems that when the 1970’s moved on, menus had to become more ‘continental’, more savvy, more chic.

Now, apart from the demise of Chicken Maryland (which I remember was a pan or deep fried chicken leg or thigh, along with a deep fried banana and pineapple ring), Chicken in a Basket is also gone (roast chicken on a bed of potato chips…gravy optional)! Thankfully, the Prawn Cocktail entrée can still sometimes be discovered, although these days it resembles something more glamorous like ‘tapas’ but without a brown bread triangle in sight. At least the sauce tastes familiar.

This is a calamity. Waning popularity of these dishes is a national disgrace. How hard is it really? Make the choice: A roast chicken leg donned with a little chef’s hat, or Chicken Tikka Masala? Foie Gras-Banana Bread Terrine or the Roast of the Day (go for the lamb), with extra chips?

So popular were these ‘old fashioned’ dishes with the customers, individuals would often remain loyal to one dish only, ordering “the usual” everytime. “I only have the cauliflower mornay…”, “…the kidneys in wine...”, “…chicken a la king…”. Saying “I only ever have the Carbonnade Flamande,” was considered very exotic indeed.

It’s time to resurrect the Chicken Maryland and its menu cousins. Write to your local club, your corner restaurant, your local member of parliament and have this iconic dish returned to the tables of Australia
Thank you, and enjoy your After Dinner Mint.