Dear Friends

 Is this a world record or what ????  Starting this year’s letter on January 11.  We fervently hope that it doesn’t match last years effort (it was actually 9 pages before we started mucking around with margins and font sizes to bring it back to 6 pages) in events that were worthy of recording.

 As I write this a week before the anniversary of last year’s devastating Canberra bushfires, I realise I didn’t mention last year the premonition I had.  A week before the fire, I was sitting in a car atop Red Hill watching the smoke from the fires burning in the Brindabella’s.  I had already had a fire fighting shift in the mountains and realised the fire had potential but I had such an incredibly strong feeling that my life was going to be impacted by not only the fires but that there were other events looming that would be life altering for me.  It’s hard to describe but I had such a sense of foreboding.

My work will be moving from its central location on Northbourne Avenue to a new location in Belconnen, on the University of Canberra campus.  That means about a 15.5 km ride as opposed to 11.0 km currently.  I went for a test ride and managed to get my bike up to 60kph, oh ok it was pretty downhill and a good tail wind but my legs were a pumping and it was pretty impressive nevertheless.  It doesn’t pay to thing about the reverse journey.  Oh well, we move there in May so I’m practicing taking the long way to work and trying to make sure I ride at least 100 k a week.

 To mark the 100 days of the passing of Pierre, we met up with his sister & family and a few of his Australian friends, hiked up Red Hill and planted a tree in a spot where Pierre had said he would like to live.  He had good taste, it’s a beautiful spot.

 Christmas in Fiji, well, if one is going to be depressed, I totally recommend Fiji as the place to be.  We drove to Sydney, early on Christmas day tried to leave the car in the airport long stay car park but it was full so we parked in the normal airport car park at the same rate, $99 for 2 weeks except it was much more convenient.  The airport was packed, lots of people flying on Christmas day.  Our apartment at Trend West resort was beachfront, probably the best in the entire resort.  We later found out from the sales person who was trying to get us to buy into the resort that they reserve the best apartments for such sale pitches.  Small world, she was also one of Pierre’s cousins who had also attended his funeral.  She didn’t try to sell too hard with us.

 I must say I was expecting to be knocked out by the heat and humidity.  It was really nice, just a few afternoon thunderstorms.  I found the swimming pool just a bit too warm but Kris loved the water temperature.  Pierre’s family spent some time with us at Trend West with their own apartment and also ended up bunking up with us for a couple of nights.  They took Michael with them to Suva and we hired a car the next day to visit them, Pierre’s grave and bring Michael back.  The family house is in a magnificent location, in a rain forest in the hills above Suva.  The Toyota Echo started out as a bit different to drive but the air con gave up the ghost on the return trip and we all suffered a bit.  Plenty of walks and rides during the 2 weeks.  Part of our ritual was the walk to the Sheraton’s in the afternoon where we purchase Ice Cream Magnums and walked back.  Had a few happy hour cocktails and the Friday night seafood buffet at the Sheraton was absolutely magnificent (and we really over did it).

 There were some loud obnoxious American tourists staying who had one day drunk the pool bar dry of Vodka before 1:00 pm.  They were quite amusing but very quiet the next day.  One day, a catamaran self launched and took off for Cairns by itself.  It was quite amazing and took the staff some time to organise a power boat to capture it.  I didn’t think I would mention Michael and Pierre’s brother Ben polishing off our supply of Duty Free vodka, ooops I did! (this part of the journal is being written in early March).

 I never thought I could be a “lie around the pool each day” sort of holidayer.  But around the Trend West pool (largest in the South Pacific), they have thatched shelters so one can be in the complete shade.  There are a few more resorts being built (Hilton, Novotel) on Denarau Island and we put some serious thought into whether they would be a good investment.  What they don’t have is a Westerly perspective so they miss out on the spectacular sun sets.

 One for the “Twilight Zone” fans amongst you.  After Pierre’s family stayed with us in our apartment, I was looking for something to read.  I had noticed Pierre’s father had been getting daily papers and found one on the TV.  I began reading it and noticed it was quite old news.  Had a closer look and noticed it was dated Aug 24.  It was in the early hours of Aug 24 that Pierre passed away.  We straight away assumed it must be Pierre’s family’s copy of the paper of the day that had such significance. When we saw them in Suva, they didn’t know what we were talking about.  They never got a paper on that day; they had other things on their minds.  Pierre once said to Alex, if he died he would play games.  Has the hair on the back of your neck stood up? 

 Michael and to a lesser extent Alex, got bad doses of flu/bug during the stay.  My superior healthy lifestyle saw my immune system, bolstered by a ready supply of Fiji Bitter stave off any attack of germs.  The 2 weeks passed quickly, it was wonderful but there were certainly moments of sadness for all of us.  I spent some quality time on actually planning and structuring my novel.  This was a watershed event and gave my novel writing a boost.  In the past, I was just thinking ahead a paragraph at a time; I can now actually see a path that might lead me to finishing it, maybe even this year (I can always edit this line out later) (err – don’t get your hopes up).  An uneventful return trip to Australia save for artic conditions experienced on the drive to Canberra (dreadful little cold snap), just after passing the bushfire on the side of the road.  Welcome to Australia. 

 2004 is a year of anniversaries for me.  My mind is still grappling with my experiences of the past 12 months and I am still in need of heavy duty nurturing.  So I’ve been off test-driving new cars.  Tip for buying new car…get down to a shortlist of at least 2 cars.  Using email, because you get a written reply and they can’t see your face, ask for the dealer’s best offer on a specifically equipped car.  They throw free stuff at you (I know, it’s built into the price anyway but you get a feeling that you have squeezed them for a good deal).  I’ll get to the point, Basil the Beemer (BMW X5, 3.0 Turbo Diesel is currently on a ship docking in Auckland tomorrow, sailing for Brisbane, Sydney the following day.  That…… is nurturing!

 The renovation – The family did a magnificent job on Scullin and the house in unrecognisable and on the market.  Some skills were learnt, tradesman were supervised, Real Estate companies were assessed.  Michael had managed just before Christmas to Stanley knife part of his leg off but that was all part of the learning process.  We keep getting false security alarm activations which necessitate a trip to Scullin to see what’s going on.  Of course, I wish Mum and Dad had lived in such comfort.  Now, I am yearning for closure on this episode in my life and hope for a quick sale.  Tax affairs and the rest of estate affairs should also be finalised in the next few weeks.

 Alex’s old VW beetle now has a new home, not far down the road in Yarralumla.  We see it regularly. 

 A friend came around on a Saturday with the offer of going down the lake to watch the sailing club activities (he has just bought a boat).  While we watched the boats being launched, a club official asked whether we would join him in the club rescue boat.  He didn’t need to ask twice.  For those out-of-towner readers, Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin does not allow power boating except for such club boats.  I couldn’t believe how much fun we had as we raced around the lake doing a number of rescues in the windy conditions.  I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have to pay someone for the privilege. One little girl who we pulled out of the water, took one look at the water in our boat and burst into tears.  She said her boat which was half sinking had less water in it. 

 Canberra finally lurched out of stage 3 water restrictions despite a dryer than normal February.  We have just about finalised the plans for our modest extension.  We will get internal access to our underneath garages, the laundry will also be moved downstairs, will get a new family/sun room which will have glass folding doors that can opened right up (we only have one living area which can be a bit tight with 2 adult children) and a new master bedroom/ensuite/walk in robe.  2 existing bedrooms will get new walk in robes as their old wardrobes become new corridor to the master bedroom.  We will probably knock out a wall between 2 existing small bedrooms ourselves to create a new more functional study.  The part that I most look forward to it is the new wardrobe.  I can’t wait for the day that I can hang a work shirt and not need to re-iron it when I retrieve it. 

 Just a matter of now getting those plans approved.  We will use a builder that comes highly recommended from a number of people Kris works with.  The best thing is, he only works on one house at a time which means no distractions and a reasonable work schedule.  (I just looked at my opening paragraph – 3 pages to cover the first sixth of the year.  Hmmmm not looking good for a streamlined tome!)

 With the destruction of Canberra’s pine forests last year, there is a massive wood chipping operation underway.  I spoke with the Dept of urban services and found that some of the piles were available for Public use.  So each weekend, you’ll find us filling up the trailer and trying to hide our nature strip under a pile of chip. It’s hot heavy work.  Other Canberrans are discretely emptying the non-public use ones which are much more accessible to the city.  I really think by the end of this year, this house will really be a functional home with a manageable garden.  Boy do we deserve it.

The Canberra Museum and Gallery currently has an exhibit relating to the 2003 bushfires.  I went for a peek and noticed they had a picture of all the River’s Brigade cars that were burnt, including our Saab.  Hanging near the picture is a quote of mine, taken from the bushfire book.  I almost feel like a celebrity.

 After hearing Alex tell Pierre’s family how much she loves children and would love to work with them, we took her aside and reflected the thoughts she has shared with so many along these lines.  She now is doing a traineeship with a Child care centre and is loving every minute.  She comes home each day with tales of how cute the kiddies.  Everyone should have a job they love so much.

 I have to report another passing.  After over 20 years of faithful support, my moustache was shaven.  All for a good cause, Shave for a Cure for Leukaemia.  A friend of mine, Alan also lost his moustache and a few colleagues shaved their heads and one other dyed his head bright pink.  We raised over $350 from quite a small organisation.  Will I grow it back?  Well, not after everyone keeps telling me it makes me look 10 years younger without it.

 This next bit is written late April.  This selling Real Estate is pretty pox !  We put Scullin on the market, first exhibition we get an offer that eventually gets up to quite close to what we are looking for.  By the time we were ready to accept, the buyers have moved on and bought elsewhere.  Within 2 weeks, we get another offer that eventually matches the first.  The buyers are in love with the house and want an early settlement which suits us.  They took forever to get their act together, a month passes and they still haven’t paid full deposit.  They then want to extend settlement by a month, they then want to extend a further month, they then would like to move in prior to settlement.  We sought legal advice and this gave us the impression that if we gave them occupancy but they still didn’t settle, it would become very messy and then if we tried to put the house back on the market, it would no longer be in new condition.  After weeks of being told they would “exchange” contracts with us tomorrow, they pulled the plug so we have wasted well over a month with these clowns.  Our agent was useless, never telling us what was going on so we now have a new agent and the process starts again.  Sigh.  I’m still not up to this.

 Basil has arrived and is beautiful and is a pleasure to drive. I’ve started a lengthy period of leave and have taken him on a few day trips in the region.  Since taking leave, I’ve had a decent cold and the flu so haven’t planned anything more substantial yet.

 Peter and Anna have had a baby boy, James.  He seems to have a lovely nature and his parents are particularly proud.

 Just before taking leave, I needed to make one last trip to Mount Macedon.  Kris drove down with me and we stayed at our favourite Hotel in Melbourne, “The Grand Hotel” which is in the old Railway building near Spencer St Station.  Kris caught up with an old friend during the day and we had a lovely dinner on Southbank, at a Wine Bar that had pretty incredible prices for its wine (we abstained) but the food was excellent and quite good value.  It was a pretty whirlwind-like trip with lots of driving and fairly intense work for me.  I picked Kris up from the CBD in the early afternoon and we joined the Easter/School Holiday exodus from Melbourne.  My few days of commuting from Melbourne CBD to Mount Macedon against the flow of peak hour traffic (I watched in awe the non-moving traffic on the other side of the freeway) made me again realise how good living in Canberra is.

 Michael turned 21. Gosh.  He had a joint party (not that type of joint) with a few of his friends who were also celebrating their 21st at a club and we also had a dinner for him at home.  For his birthday, he did a Tandem parachute jump, landing on the nearby Deakin oval.  He was absolutely wrapped and now wants to take skydiving up as a hobby.  Come and see the video!

 We are the first family in Canberra to “Adopt a Road”.  We have adopted the bushy part of Kent St after sort of taking part in Clean Up Australia Day.  The government has issued us with protective clothing and we have given an undertaking to 6 times a year, give Kent St a bit of spit and polish.  We are currently having a bit of a problem trying to get the government to actually take away the rubbish we have collected.

 Canberra is getting dryer and dryer yet the government has relaxed the water restrictions.  Gee, are we having an election later this year? Hmmm, just as I thought.  Kris wants to Project Manage our extension.  This means not actually paying a builder to do the coordination part of the construction.  This also means, if you want to find me, I’ll be hiding under my bed.

 So my leave and the journeying has started. To date, I have just done a number of day trips from Canberra through some pretty spectacular scenery.  First trip was taking the back road (old Bomboyan Rd) from Canberra to Adaminaby which winds through some lovely forests and is mainly dirt and coming back through Cooma.  I then did a back road to the Coast going down through Araluan and Deua National Park and coming out at Moruya then back up the Clyde.  I took the back road from Braidwood to Nowra via Nerriga.  That was very scenic and I took some time to rediscover Jervis Bay.  Came back through Kangaroo Valley.  Went back with Kris on a later weekend.  Fitzroy Falls was in a rain cloud and we could hardly see them.  Went on to Kiama and its Blow hole where we stocked up on really fresh fish, oysters and prawns (our cars are always equipped with cooler bags in case of such emergency purchases).  Came back via Minnimurra Rainforest Centre which has some lovely walks through rainforest.  We will go back and spend more time there.  The Southern Highlands were nice and green (it drizzled most of the day) and it made us a bit forlorn as Canberra is still so dry. The last trip was via Wee Jasper to Tumut, then Snowy Mountains Highway to Kiandra then took the Alpine Way loop road through Kosi National Park, Khancoban and Thredbo.  It was a solid day of driving and I was a bit tired by the end but Basil the Beemer was a pleasure on some of the less than perfect roads.

 One big trip during the break with Kris, apologies, some of you will have already read this.  Got away on a cold crisp Canberra Saturday morning, just after 9:00 am.  It was Basil, the Beemer’s first big trip and he proved to be great on the highway.  The newly acquired NAVMAN Satellite Navigation system for the iPAQ needed some constant attention by the enraptured new owner.  Its silky voice offering navigation directions was quickly named Hermenagilda.  The Turbo Diesel offered great fuel efficiency so there was no real need to stop at Albury except for the obligatory bladder break and snacking.  With my chief gourmet accessory sitting in the passenger seat, lunch was some delicious home made salad rolls as we sat by a scenic pond near Wodonga and tried to work out whether it was a pond or was a red gravel pit.  Closer inspection didn’t really help until we saw a duck doing laps on it.  Hermenagilda had a few problems getting us to our Hotel in Melbourne.  She insisted on one lap around the block but due to my wife’s leg crossed state, we had to ignore her and took a “short-cut” which saved us about 500m and my wife’s dignity.  We were staying in the CBD at a nice 4.5 star Hotel.  Our room seemed to be a mile from reception and we had to start to get used to canned air. Even expensive hotels come with a certain smell.  The good lady bought a suitable air freshener and we soon fixed that. We used our free drink voucher in the Hotel’s bar area where we really appreciated Canberra’s stricter non-smoking regulations.  We strolled to South Bank for dinner and then strolled back to the Hotel for an early night.  Kris’s cold was quite bad and with her congestion, neither of us slept well.

 We awoke to a drab looking day with quite a drab looking view from our Hotel window to the backside of an old office block, a lane’s width away.  We walked the city streets, patrolling for a suitable place for Breakfast.  We settled on a French café which did make nice coffee. Earlier plans for a morning at the zoo were put on hold due to the ordinary weather and my wife’s cold.  We fired up Hermenagilda and challenged her to take us to Melbourne’s factory outlet shopping precinct in Richmond.  She did this with style but we got there well before any of the shops were open. Kris was feeling worse so we headed back to the Hotel. We both had a nap in afternoon and then set off on a walk to see the Matinee performance of “The Producers”. As we walked, Kris spotted a cyclist tending to his broken bike on the pavement that looked liked someone we both worked with over 10 years ago.  We called his name but he didn’t look up.  We kept on walking but Kris was convinced Mark was Mark so we went back and tried again.  It was Mark and we agreed to have dinner with him after the show.  “The Producers” was very good but in our state, the hike to our seats took our breath away.  After the show, Hermenagilda took us directly to Mark’s front door in Melbourne’s Western suburbs.  Had a lovely dinner and a couple of glasses of wine at a local café then without any fanfare, Hermi took us back to our Hotel.

 A cooler windy morning greeted us on the Monday.  Breakfast at the same café as the day before and then we got away taking the Princess highway to Geelong.  Fuelled up at Geelong where I selfishly was grateful to see Diesel being cheaper than ULP.  As we had left Melbourne a bit late, we gave Queenscliff a miss and headed straight to Torquay and the start of the Great Ocean Road.  I was already in a bit of strife for not packing enough CD’s that passed the good ladies taste in music.  We stopped at Bells Beach where the strong winds almost blew the doors off Basil.  Watched the surfers in the perfect breaks for a while, as we ate our prepared rolls and then got onto the Ocean road.  It was quite spectacular to start with and we were particularly impressed with the look of Lorne.  After Apollo Bay, we thought about asking for our money back as the Great Ocean Road spent most of its time, nowhere near the ocean. We stopped at all the right bits along the way.   Unfortunately, it wasn’t until we got to the bottom of the Gibson Steps that I realized I had left the video in the car. Sigh. The Twelve Apostles had quite a crowd of spectators when we got there in the late afternoon.  It was still blowing a very cool breeze.  We were also fast running out of daylight.  At each of the scenic stops, we were beginning to recognize the faces of our fellow tourists.  We finally got to Warrnambool in the dark.  Hermi got the street numbering of our Motel a bit mixed up and I had to ask a lady walking her dog for directions. She had a quite surprised look on her face as she could hear Hermi politely insisting that I should be performing a legal U-Turn. Wonderful inventions those on/off switches.  After finding the Motel, we checked in, took advantage of our free drink voucher then hit down-town Warrnambool looking for vittles.  Found an interesting café after looking at an Asian Noodle bar that was staffed by a 15 year old Aussie lad.  We had earlier been studying the map and lamented that Warrnambool was not on the coast.  We were hungry for some fresh fish and chips.

 In the morning, as we drove looking for our breakfast provider, we found that Warrnambool was in fact on the coast.  Breakfast was a bit horrible with very bleary coffee. Kris’s pancakes were as if they had been scraped of the side of the road. Kris stared intently at a fellow diner before working out that it was a fellow Centrelink worker she had completed a course with last year.  We had finished with the Great Ocean Road and both agreed it should be called the “Great Ocean Road with bits of mediocre road that are nowhere near the ocean”.  We admired some of the power generating wind mills then headed off toward Mount Gambier and Robe in South Australia. A very wet drive where Basil’s rain sensing wipers were a dream.  My companion for most of the drive was a saw-mill masquerading as my wife. We got to Robe and were a little perturbed to find the Motel very “Psycho” -like. It was very musty smelling and the room was quite small and the ensuite even respectively smaller.  We went off exploring Robe which was pictureresque.  We bought a freshly cooked lobster, bottle of sparkling red and bought a few salad ingredients from the local corner shop and proceeded to have a feast by the beach.  Our only implement for breaking open the lobster was the small blade attached to our bottle opener.  Necessity is the mother of Invention, besides we were too hungry to go back to our room to get the Swiss Army Knife.  That night, we broke out the pack of cards and played a composite game of gin rummy utilizing the best of Kris and my rules from previous lives.  Managed to polish of another bottle of wine while nibbling nuts and other snacks.  The shower was very interesting with a shower curtain that was poised, waiting to wrap itself around any unsuspecting victims when they least expected it.

 It was still raining when we got up in the morning.  We had a nice breakfast in an old café that also served nice coffee. We headed off toward Adelaide and refuelled at Murray Bridge. Got about 965 km since last filling up at Geelong.  Forced to slum it and have lobster Sambos for lunch. Hermenagilda, who had been quite well behaved, pulled a little swifty.  We were on the freeway heading toward Adelaide with our first target for the afternoon being some wineries in the McLaren Vale region.  We asked politely for her to take us to the D’Arrenburg winery.  Well she took us of down some little country lanes, finally circling around Cemetery Road and a paddock in the middle of nowhere.  It was time to break out the map and work out our own way to the Vale.  Success as we pulled into the driveway of Rosemount Wines.  Despite both of us now struggling with a lurgy, we still managed to put some serious tasting in.  We then found D’Arrenburg which was perched in a lovely setting on top of some lovely lush-green rolling hills. There was constant drizzle but after coming from drought ravaged Canberra, we didn’t mind a bit.  We tentatively fired up Hermenagilda and asked whether she was up to finding Victor Harbour.  She agreed but we soon came to an intersection where she politely suggested we turn right but we could see a signpost for Victor pointing to the left.  I then thought I would permanently retire her but as we drove, I could see on her screen that we were parallel to a major trunk road she had been trying to get us to but the road we were on was tight and curvy and obviously the old road.  Hermi got us safely to the door of the Bed and Breakfast we had previously booked.  It was a French style abode, a little bit crammed and a whole lot kitsch.  We drove into the town proper and walked out over the causeway to Granite Island.  Had a look for any stray penguins or whales but they all must have been hiding.  We walked through the town looking at the pubs and settled into one for a counter meal.  The Noodle House Kris had spotted earlier wasn’t reopening until September. Went back to the B & B where the shower curtain in the ensuite was also waiting to attack.

 Our French breakfast in the morning was not that special, despite what we had been reading in the Visitor’s Book comments the night before.   We headed of to Cape Jervis where the Kangaroo Island ferry departs from, wondered why we had bothered, then headed north to Adelaide and Barossa for a 2 night stay. Hermi did well getting us through Adelaide.  We stopped at a new shopping centre near Elizabeth and did our usual self catered lunch deal.  Hermi then led us on to the Barossa but wanted to take us on a little boggy goat back-track once in the Barossa. The B&B was superb.  It was an artist studio perched on acreage on top of a hill with 360 degree views.  There was absolute privacy, a spa, fireplace and well equipped.  Bonus, it had a real nice 4 Wheel Drive track leading to it.  The only downer was that it was slightly infested with tons of harmless Portuguese millipedes.  We were off to the supermarket to stock up but the cottage was well stocked with most basic ingredients and complimentary port.  Did a few wineries that afternoon though again, we were both still struggling with our colds.  Cooked ourselves a beaut meal then treated ourselves to a spa bath with some Sparkling wine we had bought that day.  We lit the fire and had a magic night.

 Missed the sunrise because of the cloud cover. Discovered a hidden door in the cottage that on closer inspection, revealed a laundry.  Had a slap up cooked breakfast and headed out.  Our colds were worse. We started the day with a visit to the Whispering Wall, a dam that allows you to speak normally at one end and be heard perfectly clearly 140 metres away at the other end.  We were the only people there but I imagine it would be a little confusing on weekends when there are lots of other people there.  We were impressed with the Jacob’s Creek Wine Information Centre.  We ducked back to our retreat for lunch and then headed back out. By the end of the day, we were all tasted out.  Had leftovers for dinner, played some cards and sampled the port and used up most of the firewood.

 A beautiful sunrise the next morning that was visible from our bed. Pity one of us was in the shower.  Huge breakfast, trying to use up all of our consumables and headed off to Broken Hill.  The countryside got flatter but more interesting the further “outback” we got. It looked very “Western”. Had lunch at the small South Australian town of Yunta. Kris went to a local takeaway to purchase a plastic fork and was blown away by the small town friendliness. She wanted to also buy some stamps for our postcards, because every other Post Office we had seen had opening hours of about ½ an hour every occurrence of the transit of Venus.  The takeaway owner was prepared to give up his entire personal collection of stamps.   We got to the Hill around 4 in the afternoon. Broken Hill has a large number of first class galleries and this year’s Archibalds were on display at Town Hall.  Went to an outdoor sculpture park, 10k out of town.  Had to do a little hike up a hill to see it but there were many others doing the same.  It was beginning to get very cold but there was a surreal light that gave the landscape a real lunar feel as the sun was setting. Pizza from a café and the Motel warmed up some of our leftovers for dinner. We were surprised but we could certainly have spent more time in the Hill.

 It was going to be big drive day so we were up early.  Not many breakfast establishments were open early in Broken Hill on a Sunday. We were forced to give the Golden Arches a hit, at least they had brewed coffee.  Filled Basil and we were off. The empty flat, straight roads out that way just forced us to experiment with Basil’s performance capabilities.  Let’s just say very impressive so we don’t get booked (ok- over 195 kph before I chickened out) . The flat desert gave way to flat scrub. Out on those roads, on-coming drivers give each other a friendly wave. Stopped for lunch at Cobar and pushed onto Dubbo, arriving around 4:30.  A good 765 km day.  Remember Hermi? She got us to our Motel with ease which was clean and comfortable. Found a Thai takeaway and retreated back to our Motel for dinner.  After plundering the Barossa for suitable cellaring wines, we realized we hadn’t actually bought any quaffing wines and our need was immediate.  We raided the nearest Liquorland and were dismayed to see how much cheaper some of the wines we had purchased in the Barossa were.  Double sigh!  During the day as we covered the large distances, I realized how good my wife was at "I spy"! She does have a competitive nature and was declared winner. 

 Had our first Motel supplied breakfast.  They got the order wrong but we could live with that.  My wife had turned into a Macca’s fiend and we were forced to hunt the Golden Arches again for a little more breakfast and coffee.  Put some more diesel in Basil and before we headed of to Western Plains Zoo, we had to return to the Motel because bubby had forgotten to take her pillow!  The first exhibit we saw at the zoo was some Rhinos.  The second exhibit was some Rhino’s.  The next exhibit I think was also some Rhino’s.  Despite the expanse, some of the enclosures were still disappointingly small.  Most of the monkeys and apes were cute and full of vigour.  We were lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time to see the Galapagos Tortoises doing their best to become less in danger of extinction. We refrained from filming them. As we were leaving Dubbo, we spotted signs for Australia’s Best Pies.  They weren’t! Compared to the previous few days, it was a very short drive to Bathurst. The Motel room almost exhausted our supply of air freshener.  We headed of to the Bathurst Cemetery to find my Mother’s mother’s grave.  On the second attempt in fading light, we did find it.  I had Pizza Hut while Kris had some Oodles of Noodles for dinner. Kris was still very congested but she still managed to flog me at cards.

 Very cold overnight.  Once more Kris dragged me to Macca’s but the coffee was horrible and was probably our last visit there for a while.  I tried to talk Kris into going home as her cold was that bad.  We pushed on to Katoomba which was a very short drive away.  We parked at the Scenic railway and walked along the beautiful cliff edge path to Echo Point where one could view the 3 Sisters.  At Echo Point, we spotted our B&B which was practically falling onto Echo Point with magnificent views.  We walked back and got the car and checked in.  Lovely house, very ornately furnished but a bit too many rules for our liking such as taking off of our shoes before entering, no eating in rooms, and not much space to park Basil. We only saw the rule about not eating in rooms while we were chowing down on our lunch and champers.  After finishing lunch, we scraped the crumbs into the heating duct to destroy the evidence. It was our first real exercise day with a fair bit of walking.  Had one of our better dinners of the break at a café in town.  A lot of eating places were closed Monday and Tuesday.

 A leisurely start to the day.  When will I learn that complimentary port in rooms means headaches the next day? We spoke with the landlord about the pluses and minuses of running a B & B.  The breakfast was ok but it was blown away by our views out the dining room window.  Headed of to Sydney and skirted around its outskirts and set sail for the Gong.  Couldn’t find a place to eat so we headed to Kiama under Hermi’s careful guidance.  We were pleasantly surprised by the Motel.  Nice views and didn’t smell.  We went for walk through town, found Woolies, saw more examples of how much we were needlessly paying for wine at Barossa and freaked.  Got fish and chips take away and slept without heater for the first time on Holiday.  Kris beat me at cards on the last hand of the holiday.  Mutter mutter.

 The last morning’s breakfast was probably the best of the break.  The coffee certainly was.  We went for a drive through the town looking at some real estate.  Hermi is handy for finding any address basically anywhere in Australia.  Kiama has some incredibly steep hills on suburban streets.  I was amazed that people were parking there cars on them.  They were so steep, as it had begun to rain I was interested how Basil’s Hill Descent Control would go.  It clicked and whirred as it got us down the hill. We walked along the water’s edge, waiting for the fish markets to open at 10:30 so we could stock up on fresh fish and head for home.  We stopped in Kangaroo Valley for the world’s best pies, made locally in the general store and they are!  We hit Canberra at 2:00 in the afternoon.  Basil was suitably caked in mud in need of a good scrub.  He had behaved exemplary and is looking forward to its next trip.  Fuel consumption for the trip was 8.2 l/100k.

 While on the trip, my Mum’s only brother Leo passed away.  While a distance had grown between us, the man had many connections with me.

 The tenants of our investment property moved on.  We still had problems finding new tenants so the renovation rescue team moved in and updated the kitchen, got the floor boards polished and we now have the East Timorese ambassador as our long term tenant.  They might even put a flag pole up!

 Kris and myself completed a course in calm abiding meditation run by the Tibetan Buddhist community in Canberra.  We both got a lot out of it.  There was no pushing of Buddhism down our throats but we certainly got an appreciation of their philosophy.  The Lama who taught us continued to amuse us as he used to crack up at his only little jokes.

 So my leave finished, I was feeling very unsettled as I still struggle with what 2003 dumped on me.  The period of leave was good but I don’t think in itself, it fixed me.  An offer from a friend to work in another area of the Attorney General’s department was a timely intervention.  I’ll move there shortly.  It’s actually within walking distance (bout 4.8 km) of home.  On the 23rd of July, we finally settled on the sale of Scullin and I feel a great burden lifted from my shoulders.  I think the opportunity of a new job at this point of time is a great chance for a clean slate start.  I will miss the organisation I have been working with but I certainly won’t miss some aspects of the organisation.

 Michael got a casual weekend job at one of the bigger hardware shops in Canberra with good pay but he is in the outdoor builder’s yard all day.  He has also bought a season ski-lift ticket so every opportunity he and his friends get, they are off to the slopes.  It has been a good season so he is getting his money’s worth.

 David and Margaret had a baby boy Sean who is a spitting image of his Dad.

 August update.  I have just started the new job (day 2) so it is too early to tell but I have a feeling I’m going to love it.  It offers me a chance to do some things that I really enjoy doing, using my skills whilst developing others.  My old job did entail just a little too much fog sculpting.

 Michael has applied for and been accepted for 5 months seasonal snowfields work in Colorado (Copper Mt.).  He leaves in December.  Well, there goes our chief labourer for the extension.   Speaking of which, we have had preliminary talks to the planning authority re submitting our plans.  We have slightly changed the scope to include a new dining room/home theatre over a new third garage.  The new dining room is sort of desperately needed because we have taken delivery of our new dining room table, made from one piece of plantation teak.  It seats 16!  Yes, you did see 16.  It needs just about that many people to move it, it is rather heavy.  Chairs were obtained from a factory outlet in Sydney which meant Basil and trailer had to manoeuvre the city streets and loading docks.  I’ve told Kris in future, we pay for delivery.

 All firefighters that were operational during the 2003 Canberra fires have received a medal.  Whoever would have thought I would ever get a medal? I’m just a little bit proud of that.  For Father’s Day, my family got all of Dad’s war medals, polished them up and made a lovely presentation block to put them in.  Really special and made me very emotional.

 Pierre’s sister Tui announced she will be getting married to Aaron next year in Fiji.  We look forward to any excuse to visit Fiji but this is even more special.  We might stay a little longer and do some real exploring.

 I’ve settled into the new job and am quite enjoying it but the previous occupant of the job’s plans not to return have become a bit unstuck.  Technically, when she returns from maternity leave, she will return to the job.  That’s not until June, so I won’t worry about that just now.

 To lessen the angst of losing Michael for 5 months, a little Fijian escape was planned.

 Our extension plans have passed through the validation stage and are up for final approval.  I’m putting together a Project plan that says we should be finished by March.   Hmmmm, might need to revisit some of my calculations.

 I have reactivated my fire brigade membership but find it hard to get to training nights.  There is more formality with the training, now being competency based.  This is one of the outcomes from the fires of Jan 03.  When I look back at that, which I do often, I don’t think the fire fighters were anyway under-trained for what we went through.  It was a once in 500 years event and I think we did better than anyone could have expected. I still look back at the day, and revisit the two burn-overs our crew went through on the day and shake my head in amazement.

 Ok, thought we might wrap that up there but we have just returned from the Fijian escape.  The beginning part of the plan went off like clockwork, driving up to Sydney at dawn.  We left the car in the long term parking lot, settled in to Qantas club, had the celebratory drink, walked Michael and his travelling companion Ala to their departure gate, said our goodbyes and due to Michael’s plane delay, by the time we got back to Qantas club, our flight was being called. Kris had a really enjoyable flight, experimenting with all the cutlery to see which looked the best stuck in my hair.  We had Emergency exit seats so thankfully we had better legroom.

 It took a bit of a while to clear immigration at Nadi due to us being up the back of the plane.   We eventually got to the Sheraton Royal at Denarau Island where Pierre’s Mother Emi was waiting to greet us.  They were staying in the same Hotel that weekend for a conference that Isoa was attending.  Ok I’ll cut to the chase. Our week in Fiji basically revolved around picking which pool to lie around and trying to not to eat at the same place to often.  The Sheraton Royal is about to be updated but I hope they do that carefully as it currently has much charm which its newer Resort next door seems to miss out on. We actually ate mostly at the restaurant at the neighbouring TrendWest resort (where we were last Christmas), which had greater variety and better prices.  They had certainly picked up their socks to face the competition.  We suggested to the Sheraton that they take note and should also offer a more healthy selection.  The Fiji weather forecast each day in the Hotel newsletter was “warm and friendly”.   

 An uneventful return to Australia, we popped in and saw Hania before struggling through Sydney traffic and returning to Alex and Skye.  Got hit by a dreadful thunderstorm next to Lake George that did it’s best to fill the empty lake in one fell swoop. I met up with a bunch of people I have met through a 4WD orientated internet forum sponsored by “Overlander” magazine.  Took Basil up into the Brindabellas and did some serious four-wheel driving.  There will be pictures up shortly on our web site. (

 We do wish you and yours a relaxing, safe and rejuvenating Christmas period.