Sunday 1 January 2017

Our history with Sydney fireworks is mixed.

Sydney Olympics 2000: Andrew and I waited patiently at Circular Quay for the closing fireworks from around 2 or 3pm, initially sitting mostly with bored families. I remember watching a kid teach another Towers of Hanoi. Later in the evening, as more and more people flowed in, it was standing room only, and eventually there were waves of pushing and stumbling in the crowd as people cried in fear and sick people were crowdsurfed out. I’ve never seen fireworks from the main foreshore since although it seems like their crowd control is more intense now. I think it was that time too that we queued in crowds for about an hour for a train home from Central.

I also remember how odd and stuffy talks of counterterrorism preparations seemed at the time.

New Year’s Eve 2000: we met friends at Balls Head around midday, and after securing a mediocre spot, found a rock platform to clamber down onto so that it was just us and the fireworks. Andrew and I had brought bikes to the park and rode them home; hairy across the Bridge as drunken people partied on it and through the city amidst taxis and unpredictable traffic, after that it was a

New Year’s Eve 2003 and 2004 we were living in North Sydney with a good view of the Bridge and Opera House. We hosted mediocre parties both years. I started 2005 by being hit on the head with a falling bottle dropped off the roof of our building onto our balcony. Living there, we found that there are a lot of fireworks on the harbour all through the year; Lucy Turnbull was the Lord Mayor of Sydney during this period and was quoted saying that being tired of fireworks was like being tired of life, and I did wonder if my soul had vanished. Half the joy of New Years Eve there was seeing waves of people flowing down the hill to McMahons Point all afternoon and evening and not having to be among them. I clearly passed my twenties in style.

In 2005 we moved away from the harbour and away from doing much on New Years Eve, especially once V was born in 2010. We’ve had a tradition since around 2001 of making pancakes on New Years Day, which has gradually evolved somehow into specifically pancakes, mango smoothies, and lounge music. We used to invite other people to it but haven’t for a few years now.

Google lets employees watch the fireworks from their offices. We watched the 9pm family fireworks with V on New Years Eve 2012 and 2013. 2013 was a struggle for us all; I was almost 42 weeks pregnant with A, it was an unexpectedly cold night, and V had a toddler’s hatred of cold winds and whinged inside the whole evening. Then we uncomfortably stuffed ourselves on the light rail home. Those years we watched the midnight fireworks from the partial view our balcony had, and in 2014 we had a friend over for the evening and did the same. Last year we’d moved to somewhere without a view and I fell asleep before midnight in any case.

But like the rest of Sydney, I have to try and try again. One of my new colleagues has a good view of the Bridge from Kings Cross, so we took the kids there for the 9pm fireworks last night. We expected transport to be hell but it was very smooth in both directions. The train and bus after the children’s fireworks are much less hellish than the light rail, it seems. Town Hall station was clearly prepped for 12:30am with barriers to herd the public out of the station, and groups of police but V must think we are panic merchants after being carefully prepped for body-to-body crowds and finding himself led carefully through a brief twenty person halt. The kids got really worked up staying up late for the fireworks, so thank goodness for 9pm fireworks and a quick retreat home. They really enjoyed them though. For 2017 or 2018 we’re considering camping at Cockatoo Island over New Years and maybe then our Sydney fireworks story will be complete.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Truly it is a year of changes; I’m growing my hair long again. It’s shoulder length now, past my chin for the first time since 2002 or 2003. It’s very strange to have an extra bit of me that I catch sight of spread out over a pillow or shifting in the corner of my eye. I tied it back yesterday and A was distressed: “Mama hair-ya? Mama hair-ya?” I haven’t decided where to stop yet; I thought shoulder length but it’s too short to braid yet, and braiding would go more easily with all the hats I wear. So perhaps my shoulder blades. It used to be nearly waist-length before I had it cut short, more because I lacked the money for hairdressers than because of an active choice. Likewise, part of my resistance to wearing it long since has been that I used to spend an hour every couple of days combing it out after washing, but it occurs to me that I also lacked the money for good conditioners at the time.

Truly it is a year of everything proceeding exactly as foreseen; I just returned from two weeks in San Francisco. Last time I missed V’s birthday, this time I missed both my wedding anniversary and Mother’s Day. It’s partly unfortunate that every significant anniversary in our family occurs between January and early May; it’s partly that I travel too much. In the last thirteen months, I have spent ten weeks in the United States. I never imagined that something I’d have to do as an adult was get our international work travel under control, but Andrew travelled around four weeks a year for six or seven years, and as his has slowed down to two to three weeks a year, mine has ballooned to replace it. I hope that getting it down to four weeks a year is reasonable; it may mean facing doing single week trips, which I loathe because of the proportion of time spent in the plane, but which is always how Andrew has dealt with it.

Parts of San Francisco are something like home now. I can walk around the Mission and never mix up north and south. I know which Walgreens to go to to get reasonable emergency sushi late at night. I have a Clipper card. I walk around and around Dolores Park if I have no plans for the evening. I can sometimes pick the meeting spot for friends. I want to move there much less than I used to though; I think because I don’t have any desire to be single or childless, and in San Francisco I am always single and childless. And because, of the tough times I’ve had in the last 18 months, most of them have involved being alone, uncomfortable, jetlagged, and grieving, in a room in San Francisco.

Getting home is always a shock to the system though. Especially children’s TV. I’d love to be one of those parents who write that they parent in the moment and never look forward in time, but a day is coming when I will never hear the squeakety squeak of adults voicing child characters on children’s TV ever again, and I cannot wait for that day.

Likewise a day is coming when A does not take a lengthy middle of the day nap any more, and we don’t have to plan our day out in two halves with a three hour stay at home across lunch and that too will be a grand day. Yesterday we did our annual walk around Clarkes Point Reserve where we were married — we’ve never been there at sunset before, two separate sunset weddings were happening — and ended up at the Woolwich Pier Hotel too early for dinner, and all I could think about was next year, next year. In May next year, A will be nearly 3½. Next year she won’t be taking a midday nap every day. She will walk reasonable distances on her own and we won’t have to carry her down and up that hill. We will be able to have simple conversations about the future and the past. And unlike the last time I had a 3 year old child, all that freedom won’t be spoiled by being pregnant and tired and slow. Next year I am done with parenting toddlers.

Next year is our tenth wedding anniversary, too, and probably Andrew and I will go away for the weekend by ourselves. But we’ll keep visiting Clarkes Point Reserve with the kids, I hope. I like having a number of traditions to follow through the year. Dinner with Andrew March-ish to celebrate our mutual birthdays. Eurovision, tonight as it happens. Snow sports. Carols in Leichhardt, before we know it. Counting down time and building it up. Without toddlers.

What should I do in Sydney?

Leigh advises if you tell a story three times, blog it. My version is “if you give advice three times…” I tend to assume that Sydney advice is fairly easy to find for visitors, but sometimes it’s better from someone you know! I’ve given advice to three separate first-time travellers to Sydney in two months, and am accordingly freeing it for you, my reading audience.

The Harbour Bridge and Opera House viewed from the north east
Sydney at night by Nigel Howe

What sort of advice is this anyway?

I’ve lived in Sydney for 17 years this year, my entire adult life. My Sydney biases: I like walking and exploring ourdoors. I like things that can be done during the day and ideally that you can take children to. I like dining out including fine dining. I’ve spent the vast bulk of my time in Sydney living without a car and tend to recommend things accessible via public transport.

There are some things I can’t help you with: I’ve never spent much time in pubs and clubs and in any case I’ve had children for more than six years so my already limited partying knowledge is pretty well atrophied now. I’m also not a serious outdoor sports person: I know you can kayak and ocean swim in Sydney but I can’t tell you where or how better than the Internet can.

Where to stay

Unless you have some reason to stay in some particular part of Sydney, stay near Circular Quay or Wynyard train stations for access to the most public transport. If you’re visiting almost entirely for the beaches, stay in Bondi or Manly.

What to do

Walk from Circular Quay past (or into) the Opera House and through the Botanical Gardens. The Opera House has performances in many genres if opera isn’t your thing.

Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. The ferry trip alone is worth it; it is one of the longer ones and you will see much of the eastern harbour. Manly is a beach suburb; you can swim at a harbour or ocean or sheltered ocean beach, do the Manly to Fairlight penguin walk or go to the aquarium.

Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island. Cockatoo Island used to be a island-sized shipyard and is now an island-sized museum of ex-shipyarding. You can ramble through giant sheds and along catwalks and so on. There’s on-island camping and glamping, the only harbour island that allows overnight stays. If an island picnic is more your thing, there are also private ferries from Circular Quay to Shark Island, which is more like a large park.

Shed interior, Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island by Chris Marchant, edited by Mary Gardiner

Visit the Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour. Their permanent exhibits include decommissioned naval vessels and a submarine. Have a look at the current exhibits at the Powerhouse Museum for science and technology possibilities.

Head to the beach. As above, Manly is a good choice, and in the eastern suburbs Bondi is famous and has fairly good transport. It’s also a starting point for the beautiful Bondi to Bronte coastal walk. Coogee is the beach with perhaps the next best transport options. Clovelly is a long inlet and thus very calm. Most beaches, including Bondi, Coogee, and Manly have an ocean bath – a pool filled with seawater – if you’re not up for swimming in the ocean.

Swimmer in Coogee ocean bath
Swimmer in Coogee ocean bath by Tim Gillin, edited by Mary Gardiner

The art gallery I like best is the Museum of Contemporary Art right at Circular Quay. The huge mural at the entrance is re-commissioned and painted over once a year or so, so look at the current one whenever you go. The cafe at the top has an excellent view.

I’m not done with ferries yet, you can also catch Circular Quay ferries to Luna Park, a harbourside amusement park, and to Taronga Zoo, Sydney’s best known zoo. The Gunner’s Barracks in the vicinity of the zoo is a great ramble but harder to reach from the south side of the harbour.

Luna Park ferris wheel framed against the Harbour Bridge
Luna Park,by Simon Clancy, edits by Mary Gardiner

Great walks include the Bondi to Bronte walk mentioned above, the Glebe foreshore walk and the Harbour Bridge to Manly walk (or the Spit Bridge to Manly half depending on your walking distance and available time).

The water park Wet n Wild may be more of an acquired taste, but I keep wanting to take visitors there. You don’t need to be an especially strong swimmer but a love of rollercoasters might help.

Seasonal things to look out for include the yearly Sydney Festival and Vivid festivals in summer and winter respectively. Vivid includes large light installations around the harbour and other parts of the city. There’s Sculpture By the Sea exhibits on the Bondi to Bronte walk in spring. The film festival is in June and the comedy festival in April and May.

The Museum of Contemporary Art covered in a red snake pattern
Museum of Contemporary Art lit for Vivid by MD111, edits by Mary Gardiner, CC BY-SA. Light show inspired by Jess Johnson, artist unknown.

Where to eat

Fine dining is often in flux, check recent restaurant reviews. The Boathouse at Glebe is the closest to a regular we have; it specialises in seafood. Cafe Sydney is my preferred place with a view.

For cafes and gastro pub-style eating, head to Surry Hills; bills is the best known cafe. Haymarket is the centre of Chinese food, and the other side of George Street has some great Thai places including Chat Thai.

If despite my protestations of ignorance someone insisted I choose the bar, for visitors I’d go with the Opera Bar on the lower level of the approach to the Opera House, or try out Blu Bar at the top of the Shangri-La if everyone was willing to primp for it. If your motivation is cocktails alone, the Different Drummer in Glebe is good.

Out of town

The Blue Mountains to the west are reachable as a day trip on public transport; head to Katoomba and to the Echo Point lookout.

Jervis Bay to the south is a good weekend away; you’ll likely want to drive. If you want to do some kayaking without having to deal with the boat traffic in Sydney Harbour this and several other places on the coast are good alternatives.

Image credits

Sydney by Nigel Howe.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney by Chris Marchant, cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner.

Coogee beach, Sydney pool by Tim Gillin, rotated, cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner.

Luna Park Sydney by Simon Clancy, cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner.

Vivid Sydney 2014 by MD111, rotated cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner, availabe as Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike. The Museum of Contemporary Art light show in 2014 was inspired by artist Jess Johnson, but artist unknown and copyright presumably all rights reserved.

Photo circle shots

I recently ran a “photo circle”, consisting of a small group of people sending prints of their own photographs to each other. It was a fun way to prod myself to take non-kid photos.

My four photos were:

Photo circle: sun in the eucalypts

I took Sun in the eucalypts in the late afternoon of Easter Sunday, as the sun was sinking behind the eucalypts at Centennial Park’s children’s bike track. I tried to take one with the sun shining through the trees but didn’t get the lens flare right. I like the contrast between the sunlit tree and the dark tree in this one. It feels springlike, for an autumn scene.

The other three are a very different type of weather shot, taken during Sydney’s extreme rainfall of late April and very early May:

Photo circle: rainstorm

This one has the most post-processing by far: it was originally shot in portrait and in colour. I was messing around with either fast or slow shutter speeds while it poured with rain at my house; I have a number of similar photos where spheres of water are suspended in the air. None of them quite work but I will continue to play with photographing rain with a fast shutter speed. In the meantime, the slow shutter speed here works well. I made the image monochrome in order to make the rain stand out more. In the original image the green tree and the rich brown fencing and brick rather detract from showing exactly how rainy it was.

Photo circle: Sydney rain storm

This was shot from Gunners’ Barracks in Mosman (a historical barracks, not an active one) as a sudden rainstorm rolled over Sydney Harbour. The view was good enough, but my lens not wide enough, to see it raining on parts of the harbour and not on other parts. All the obscurity of the city skyline in this shot is due to rain, not fog.

Photo circle: ferry in the rain

This is the same rainstorm as the above shot; they were taken very close together. It may not be immediately obvious, but the saturation on this shot is close to maximum in order to make the colours of the ferry come up at all. I was the most worried about this shot on the camera, it was very dim. It comes up better in print than on screen, too. The obscurity is again entirely due to the rain, and results in the illusion that there is only one vessel on Sydney Harbour. Even in weather like this, that’s far from true. I felt very lucky to capture this just before the ferry vanished into the rain too.

Storm over Sydney

It stormed every day for a few weeks in December, and I kept missing it: either it didn’t hit my suburb or (on more than one occasion) I was taking a nap. But I finally managed to get some photos:

Storm cell over Rozelle

Storm heads east over Haymarket

Full set here.

The right to forget, or, that one terrible road stop

I predict that soon the conversation will turn from the right to be forgotten to the right to forget.

Why so? Well, now Google Maps now tries to remember places I’ve been and include them in the maps it shows me. The trouble with this (ignoring any petty privacy, commercialisation, misc concerns you may be about to mention to me) is that there are some places that should be forgotten. In particular, all of Western Sydney’s commerce is now represented to me by one service station that we stopped at on a family trip because someone needed to use the loo, but couldn’t, because its loo was splattered with largely unspecified bodily fluids.

Get it together Google! This is even worse than the way my Youtube suggestions are now and forever filled with Thomas the Tank Engine videos because of an unfortunate and lengthy phase my son went through. I insist on not navigating Sydney in future primarily in terms of which horrible public toilet I am nearest.

 

Product review updates: Shoeboxed & GoGet

I had some success in 2012 at subscribing to things that made my life a bit easier to organise, so, a couple of updated reviews.

Shoeboxed (original review)

What: a service where you package up a bundle of papers to be scanned, and they scan them, do some basic data entry (vendor, date, total amount, total GST) and store them on their website for you.

Current impressions: it’s still a pretty good fit for our needs: whenever a piece of paper enters our house that we have any belief we may need to access for paperwork purposes, we ship it off to them for scanning, data entry and shredding. The big test was doing our 2011/2012 taxes, and it was great to just enter a search term and have the document we needed show up among the top hits. We’ll keep using it for the foreseeable future. We don’t even really need the numerical amounts entered, since we don’t do personal bookkeeping at anything like that level.

I’ve also started forwarding them PDF receipts I get in the mail, and those work well: the PDF is pulled out and added to the data entry queue the vast bulk of the time. They’re much less good with HTML/text email receipts; it’s a harder problem though.

The major downside that has emerged is the length of time the processing takes, at least on the entry-level plan that we are on. It takes about two weeks from popping the envelope into the mail to the scans being available, and the delay is the scanning itself, not the data entry, so we can’t even access the raw images during this period. (There’s two ways to tell: one is that data entry for documents we upload in electronic form is usually complete within hours, the other is that the scans eventually show up in our “uploaded documents” queue waiting for their own data entry, and that happens about 24 hours before we get the “envelope processing now complete!” email.)

This is slower than the pricing plan states. It is mostly annoying for my business receipts: I do do double-entry bookkeeping for those, and in order to stay on top of things I like to do bank reconciliations sooner than 2 to 3 weeks after spending the money. I expect though that most businesses would subscribe to one of the higher volume plans (ours is 50 scans a month) which also have faster turnaround times.

GoGet car sharing (original review)

This has been a great replacement for car ownership, for us. Neither of us commutes by car (it would be a thoroughly silly way to pay for a regular commute), and we don’t even use cars every single weekend. But we do travel a lot to places where it is either essential or nice to have a car for the weekend, and make shorter trips to places that are a pain to wrangle a young child, associated supplies, and ourselves to on public transport (eg, Sydney’s beaches).

It’s also nice to have access to the vans. I’ve only done amateur furniture removal once this way, but they’re nice and roomy (we got two couches and a double mattress into one trip) without being as difficult to drive as the trucks one gets from rental companies. Also potentially much cheaper for small things, to be hiring by the hour!

For whatever reason, the contention for them has not been as bad since around about April. We can almost always get our first or second choice of car with as little as an hours’ notice. This is excepting the local iMax (8-seater) which you have to book up to 6 weeks in advance, but we very rarely need an 8-seater, luckily. We also regularly are later than we planned to be, and only once have I had to hurry back because someone else had booked the car for the next hour: every single other time we’ve been able to extend the booking into the free next hour. Several more cars have been added to the neighbourhood since around then.

We’re getting used to the child car-seat issue. It helps a lot that one of the nearby cars now has a car seat in it. We still often have to fit or re-fit the seat; I now believe the commonly cited statistic that around about 70% of self-fittings are incorrect. Ours definitely aren’t as tight as a professional fit sadly, but at least unlike everyone else we don’t have the back of the child’s belts wrapped around the adult belt that holds the seat itself. However, fitting a seat is a lot less onerous than carrying a seat to the car (while persuading a toddler to walk with us) and then fitting it! It will be good to have him in a booster though.

It’s not especially cheap: our monthly spend is somewhere between $200 and $500 (the high end in months like December and January, with multiple visits to different family in different cities). And we’re definitely using cars more often than we would if we had to sort out an entire car hire from scratch from a daily company every single time.

If there was one feature I really wish they’d add, it would be the ability to conditionally cancel a booking. The present situation is this: if you cancel with 48 hours before the start of the booking, it’s cancelled and you do not pay anything and the car is available for someone else to re-book. After that, you simply cannot cancel (not even any portion of your booking that is more than 48 hours in the future). What I’d like is the ability to do something like cancel at any time, thereby having the car available for booking by someone else, and, if there was less than 48 hours’ notice, incur the difference between my original hourly fee and any hourly fees they were able to get from any new bookings for that car. Then they have the same situation as now with regard to not losing my booking fee, but the neighbourhood is not locked out of the unused car for the duration of my abandoned booking. We felt this keenly when we had to walk away from our entire Easter weekend trip at the last minute due to acute illness.

We don’t intend to purchase a car again any time soon.

Book Week: Looking For Alibrandi

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

This is part of Tansy Rayner Roberts’s Blog Book Week challenge, about favourite childhood reading, how we read these books, and why we remember them.

I haven’t forgotten that I promised to do Ruth Park’s My Sister Sif and I still intend to, but while I’m tracking it down for a re-read, I’ve another Sydney novel in the interim: Melina Marchetta’s Looking For Alibrandi.

Spoilers for Looking For Alibrandi abound!

Warning: self-harm is a plot element in this novel, and it’s discussed in this entry.

Background/plot summary: Looking For Alibrandi is a 1992 young adult book by Australian author Melina Marchetta. Seventeen year old Josephine Alibrandi is in her final year of a expensive private Catholic high school, preparing for the HSC (the Higher School Certificate, which is the statewide final school exams in NSW). She is a scholarship student, the daughter of Christina Alibrandi, a single mother who had a child at sixteen and was exiled from her Italian-Australian family until her father died, in the recent past from the novel’s point of view.

Christina insists that Josie has a relationship with Christina’s mother, Josie’s Nonna Katia, but Christina’s own relationship with Katia is strained due to their long estrangement and Katia’s coolness to her throughout her childhood. At the beginning of the novel Josie is more concerned with school problems in any case: her quartet of outsider friends fight for recognition in their upper class Anglo-dominated school. Josie is school vice-captain to her mortal enemy, perfect blond Ivy, daughter of a wealthy surgeon, as captain.

But Josie’s home life suddenly undergoes another change. Josie’s father, Michael Andretti — son of Christina’s childhood next door neighbours, now a barrister — moves back to Sydney for a year to be welcomed briefly into unknowing Katia’s home as one of the family. Josie confronts him and they agree to have no contact, only to ring him from school frantically to extricate herself from a legal threat by a classmate’s father. After this they have an initially uneasy but gradually warmer relationship. In the meantime, Katia begins telling Josie stories of her immigration to Australia and her married life in rural Queensland in total social isolation, until the arrival of her sister from Sicily. Josie begins to see Katia as more of a person and less of an oppressively tradition-bound stereotypical grandmother.

Events at school also demonstrate to Josie that she’s not as much of a complete outsider as she thought, including a revelation by the principal after some irresponsibility towards younger students on Josie’s part that she was in fact voted school captain at the beginning of the year but that it was awarded to Ivy, who the principal felt was more responsible. While at the beginning of the novel Josie wants nothing more than a relationship with John Barton, her solidly upper-class debating friend, she ends up with Jacob Coote, captain of a nearby public school, as a boyfriend, and has to navigate being middle class to his working class.

It eventually becomes clear to Josie as Katia’s stories of her past continue that Katia’s Anglo-Australian friend Marcus Sandford was in love with her, and eventually Katia slips up and Josie works out her grandmother’s secret: Marcus and Katia were lovers and Marcus was in fact Christina’s biological father, which accounted both for Christina’s father’s loathing of her and of his swift condemnation of her when she became pregnant as a teenager.

Josie very briefly reaches a feeling of peace with herself and her story before her tranquillity is suddenly destroyed again: her friend John Barton commits suicide the night before the HSC exams begin, and she is told this by Ivy, who was even closer to John, crying out the front of the school. In the aftermath of this Jacob Coote breaks up with Josie, not sure what he wants from his future himself in the wake of knowing Josie’s relative class privilege and John’s death in spite of his class privilege. The novel ends with Josie about to find out her university entrance ranking, still relatively at peace with herself, but less sure of her place in the world and her ambitions.


Photograph of Martin Place in Sydney, looking west
Martin Place by Alpha, CC BY-SA

I think I read Looking For Alibrandi a couple of years after it was published: definitely when I was in high school. I recall it being a book that you had to wait some time for at the school library. (It gets assigned as an English text now, but I never read it in that context.) It has crushes and alcohol and uneasy relationships with friends and a pretty intent focus on high school academic achievement, all of which were pretty familiar to me, even if the rich competitive Sydney folk weren’t so much. (At some point John Barton despairs over his poor ranking in a mathematics competition compared to Sydney Grammar, a reference I understood better when I knew former Maths Olympians from Grammar while at uni!)

Again, it’s very evocative of Sydney: I in fact live now pretty close to where Christina and Josie lived in Sydney. There’s a speech day in Martin Place, truanting at the Sebel and a few other landmarks although it’s not quite as firmly inner west as Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son (the latter of which is about twentysomethings, and with which I identify even more closely as someone who went to Sydney Uni).

To be honest, as a result of this book I even have a sneaking fascination with Stanmore Maccas, where Josie gets a part-time job briefly, and I felt rather betrayed when the movie version changed it to Oporto!

John Barton’s death was “that bit” in the book, as in “have you got to that bit yet? Oh, you’ll know what I mean when you get to it.” It was my main frame of reference in the aftermath of the actual suicide of someone I knew at school, while of course not fitting exactly.


Again with the fanon style questions: this is the twentieth anniversary of Looking For Alibrandi‘s publication. If we took 1992 as the year Josie was seventeen, she is now thirty-seven. Did she end up doing a law degree like her father, but which she had begun to doubt she was as interested in as she’d thought? Did Christina and Michael reunite, as the novel implies they are considering? Did Josie and Ivy end up with an unexpected friendship, as they are stumbling towards? Did Josie, who would have won Least Likely To Leave Well Enough Alone if Australian schools did yearbooks, attempt to track down Marcus Sandford?

I don’t have as strong a fanon in my head for this as for Playing Beatie Bow but if I had to guess, Josie did Arts/Law and dropped out after the Arts component (quite a lot of people in combined law degrees do this). I have no idea what she’d do instead though. I think there’s too much hurt between Christina and Michael to reunite, although probably Josie and Katia both pushed strongly for it. I don’t know what to make of Josie and Ivy! And I would put money on Josie telling herself that she doesn’t mean anything by nosing around in the S section of the phonebook and so on, and of course meaning something by it, finding out that, as always, people’s lives aren’t as simple as she thought.

Book Week: Playing Beatie Bow

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

This is part of Tansy Rayner Roberts’s Blog Book Week challenge, about favourite childhood reading, how we read these books, and why we remember them.

I’m going to write about two Ruth Park books this week, Playing Beatie Bow and My Sister Sif.

Spoilers for Playing Beatie Bow ahoy!

Background/plot summary: Playing Beatie Bow is a 1980 older children’s book by New Zealand/Australian author Ruth Park. In it, fourteen year old Abigail sees a strange young girl (thin, wearing odd clothes, “furry” shorn head) watching her babysitting charges play, especially when they play “Beatie Bow”, a ghost game. One day she gives chase to the girl and finds herself in Sydney in the same area, only in 1873. She quickly incurs a head injury after being knocked down in the street by Samuel Bow, a war veteran who himself has a brain injury and “takes spells” (flashbacks) as a result. It emerges that the strange girl is his daughter, Beatie, who had found herself several times in the twentieth century watching a game featuring her own ghost.

Photograph of a street in The Rocks, Sydney, circa 1900
The Rocks, circa 1900, State Records NSW, CC BY

While both parties hide their knowledge from each other for a while, the Bow and Tallisker (Beatie’s mother’s name) families who share a house in the Rocks know that Abigail is from a different time and will not help her return to the twentieth century. It emerges that some of the women in their family have a psychic Gift as a result of their Orkney heritage, and that every fifth generation it is imperiled, with a prophecy that of the adults in that generation, one is to be barren and one to die, risking there not being another generation. When this happens, the family is visited across time by The Stranger, in this case Abigail, who is destined to save enough of them to continue the Gift. The family has recently had scarlet fever and only a few members of the fifth generation survive: Beatie; her older brother Jonah; and her younger brother, Gilbert, yet to recover his health after the fever; and their cousin Dorcas (“Dovey”). Abigail is initially desperate to return home, but falls in love with Jonah, a sailor, when he has shore leave, and is more conflicted, especially since Jonah is betrothed to Dovey.

Eventually Samuel Bow causes a house fire, from which Abigail saves Dovey and Gilbert. She returns to the twentieth century that same day, under the care of Beatie, still cross with Abigail for pursuing Jonah. Shortly after returning she researches the family history in the newspapers, which suggests that Jonah probably died at sea shortly after she left. She then has a vision which shows that Beatie became a scholar, and that Jonah married Dovey but indeed died young at sea. She tries and fails to warn the family across time. Abigail is overwhelmed with grief that she cannot speak of.

Before long her own parents reunite after years of separation and move with her to Norway. In the final pages of the novel, she returns to Sydney five years later to discover by chance that the Crowns, her former babysitting charges, are descendants of Gilbert Bow through their mother, and (it is heavily implied) Abigail begins a relationship with their uncle Robert Bow after the novel ends. She realises that instead of her role as The Stranger being to save Dovey from the fire for Jonah as the family had believed, it was to save Gilbert.


I think I received Playing Beatie Bow as a gift from a book-loving relative. I wasn’t born when it was written, and probably read it in about 1992 or a bit later, when I was slightly younger than Abigail is for most of the novel. I remember finding the twentieth century portions rather strange for a while: this relative was in the habit of giving me high quality very recent books, and I didn’t realise for a while that the book was more than a decade old and the portrayals of Abigail’s high school experience (secondhand, as she thinks of them with contempt over summer) were using slang and events from the late 1970s! At the time I knew almost nothing about the 1970s, so it sounded rather as if Park had made up a bunch of plausible sounding teenage slang.

Photograph of George Street, The Rocks, at night, showing mostly well-kept pubs and restaurants
The Rocks in 2009, by Richard Taylor, CC BY

Abigail’s teenage alienation was a bit of a foreign country to me at the time. The novel begins with her spending the summer being angry about all sorts of things: her father leaving her mother for another woman, which has alienated Abigail so much she has changed her given name to one that isn’t connected with her father’s affection; her peers at school and their teenage crushes; her mother’s decision to re-partner with her father after his long-lived relationship with another woman. Interestingly, a big part of the novel is Abigail, via falling in love with someone else’s fiancé, coming to a realisation that there’s more going on with love than people falling in love to spite her. The coda at the end in which Abigail has demonstrably grown up emotionally in her nine-odd months in 1873 and then her five years in Norway was also important to me: the Norway part of the arc, being realism, maybe more important than the time-travelling.

It was probably also one of the first encounters I had with a critique of the idea that history is a uniform progression from worse conditions to better conditions (yeah I know, a pretty obvious misconception in hindsight): this critique is put into the mouth of Jonah who is utterly uninterested in the magic that awaits his world in the twentieth century.

Sydney always makes novels memorable for me, too. I didn’t grow up in Sydney, but rather in regional NSW, and as a teenager it tended to signify freedom to me. I was always very excited to have a book with a strong Sydney-centric sense of place: besides Playing Beatie Bow I think only Melina Marchetta’s novels were as evocative for me. (Only Looking For Alibrandi was actually published when I was a child, I was 22 and already lived in Sydney when she published Saving Francesca, and a new mother in my late twenties when The Piper’s Son came out.) Playing Beatie Bow is very thoroughly set in The Rocks around Argyle Street, and grounded in the local geography to the point where I believe it’s possible to identify the set of stairs that led Beatie into the twentieth century and Abigail into 1873.


Fan service insight for other dedicated Beatie Bow readers: there’s very brief speculation by Robert Bow at the end of the novel that his niece Natalie Crown, Abigail’s former babysitting charge and the only other person who could see Beatie watching them play, has the Gift, but otherwise the form the Gift takes in Gilbert’s descendants and what it means to have it with very little cultural connection to the Orkneys and its supernatural origins there, is totally unexplored.

I worked this over several times when I was younger: if I was counting the generations correctly, the fifth generation of Talliskers/Bows/Crowns after Gilbert ought to be Natalie and her brother Vincent, which should make them subject to the “one to be barren, one to die” curse (by the way, the inevitable “cursedness” of being childless is called out in the novel, by Beatie who deeply wants to be, and ends up being, the childfree one). If Abigail and Robert had children, the fifth generation would contain their children also. This last is of course a stretch given that about the first week of Abigail and Robert’s relationship is shown in the novel, but hey, fanon calling.

In addition, in the novel, Granny Tallisker, who had the strongest Gift, spends some time trying and failing to work out why on earth Abigail is their Stranger, since they expected someone with a family relationship. Neither of them at that point knows about the relationship with the Crown children, or for that matter that Gilbert is to live. But if a family relationship is required, Abigail doesn’t have this it unless she goes on to partner with Robert Bow.

In any event, whatever happens to Robert and Abigail, it seems that the Crowns are due a Stranger at some point in their lives. I was always surprised that Park didn’t write a sequel, given this (although as an adult, I can see why it would be difficult to preserve the tone with one novel set in 1873 and the other in the late twentieth century). In my fanon, a somewhat older Beatie ends up being their Stranger, in a reciprocal relationship to that Abigail had with her family.

Product review: GoGet carsharing

We’ve been non-car owners again for a few weeks and members of GoGet car sharing for a month or so. These are my initial impressions.

This is against a background of our car being primarily used for occasional errands, and weekend excursions either locally (to the beach etc) or to regional cities. We also used to use our car for our son’s daily childcare run, but since we moved, his new childcare is in walking distance. I wouldn’t recommend GoGet to anyone who has a daily errand, this review is largely comparing it to having an occasional-use personal car.

Good things compared to car ownership:

  1. most areas where there is a car at all, there’s more than one. An out-of-action car does not mean “no car use at all until car repaired”
  2. they take care of on-road costs and insurance. Of course, this is bundled into subscriber fees, but it both flattens them over the year and works out cheaper for our usage. I think in theory they aim for a car for every 10 subscribers or so? We’re on the Frequent member plan, so I guess you could say our on-road costs are $360 a year.
  3. they take care of repairs. Again, bundled in, but flattened and so on.
  4. they take care of having a free parking spot by paying the council for guaranteed spots.
  5. (maybe arguably good) they turn the fleet over far more often than most people I know replace their cars.

Good things compared to car rental:

  1. the cars are just sitting there, in our case quite close by. You just get online, book, and walk up and take one. You only sign away your life in triplicate once. You don’t have to budget in a trip to the car rental place, a wait in a queue, a briefing on the terms and conditions and an inspection of the car.
  2. the insurance is reasonable rather than the typical car rental deal with a $3500+ excess unless you pay them 1/2 the rental cost again. With GoGet, if you can wear a $1500 excess it’s built in to the base pricing, or you can pay about $18 per day to bring it down to $300.
  3. you have to return the car with at least 1/4 of a tank of fuel, which is a lot easier to achieve than the full tank rental companies require.
  4. both the possibility of hourly bookings and the hour saving in pickup time make them way more useful for errands and so on.
  5. close to instantaneous bookings, subject to availability, whereas rental companies often struggle with sub-24-hours-notice requests

Bad things:

  1. Bookings start and finish on the hour. In pathological cases (say you need a car from 1245 to 1315) you pay for two or three hours of use in order to use the car for an hour or so.
  2. They’re for-profit, presumably this could be done cheaper not-for-profit. This is a bad thing-asterisk though: as I know very well, NFPs don’t magically appear out of thin air. Someone would still have to set up an entire car sharing company except with only a salary to motivate them.
  3. GoGet’s big thing is “we pay for fuel”. And they do pay in the sense of providing fuel cards, but they also have a 39c per kilometre usage charge for bookings that aren’t a day long booking. 40c per kilometre adds up fast!
    In theory the day booking rate (24 hours and 150km free for $68) kicks in as soon as your per-hour spend exceeds the day rate, for most cross-metro trips you’re probably going to nearly hit that.
  4. (potentially) GoGet does not accept any member who has a major traffic offence in the last 10 years of driving, and all applications for membership are at the discretion of their insurer. This contributes to the cheaper insurance compared to car rental, but it obviously disadvantages people who do have a traffic record or a history of at-fault accidents.
  5. not an enormous amount of choice wrt make and model, less than many larger rental centres. Really your choice boils down to little-medium-big in whichever make and model are nearby. (For us little == Toyota Yaris, medium == Hyundai i30s and i30 wagons, and big == Hyundai iMax.)
  6. some contention for them. Our experience is that with weekends, we really need to plan our trip the day before to have a good chance of a single car in Glebe being free over the entire block of time we need, and it’s probably worse in suburbs with less cars (Glebe has at least 10, and Pyrmont and Ultimo another 15 or so). Long weekends are worse because people take them away, and the iMaxes get booked really early most weekends.
  7. lack of flexibility with end time. That is, if we want to go somewhere and book a car accordingly but then someone invites us to dinner or whatever, we may not be able to stay because the car needs to be back. We haven’t had to try for last-minute use extensions yet, so we don’t know how often we will find that the car has 3 hours free just after our booking.
  8. if something goes wrong with your booking, they give you a $25 credit on your account, which unless the error is very minor is really not enough. To be fair, they do shift the booking to another car if they can, but on weekends this would be hard, see 6.
  9. fitting children’s car seats is a pain in the neck.
  10. their setup has an annoying feature whereby if it is the very first time that you in particular have used a given car in the fleet, the booking needs to take place about 15 minutes before your slot, so that the car can download your access data. Less important once you’ve used the car nearest to you for the first time.

In the medium term, this is likely to be a sufficiently good replacement for our occasional-use car.