Life lessons from a stint of house sitting


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I’ve just completed a stint of house-sitting duties. More accurately, I’ve completed stint of dog sitting duties. I had three long, glorious weeks of leisurely days in a lovely house looking after two gorgeous dogs in delightful Brisbane winter weather. It’s not a bad gig.

The dogs we were looking after belong to my daughter, who was on an international trip with hubs and bubs doing a big family reunion (on his side). Someone needed to look after them, and given the usual suspects were all travelling with her, we scored the vacant position.

At the end of the assignment, which was punctuated with many, many doggie walks and absorbing the perfect winter sun, here’s what I discovered, or perhaps have been reminded of.

Dogs are marvellous company

After my two old girls Mookie and Misty went to doggy Rainbow Bridge a couple of years ago, we haven’t (yet) got another. Our frequent travelling has made me delay bringing home another doggy family member, but I am reminded how much I love having a dog around and how much I miss their super-excited greetings when you come back home, even if it is after only 10 minutes. Nothing is more joyful than a dog when you return home.

Apart from a dog waiting for you to put the dinner bowl down. Or a dog going on a walk. Or a swim. Or getting a tummy scratch. Or lying in the sun. Basically, they’re usually pretty joyful creatures, which makes them entirely good company.

Picking the right breed of dog for your lifestyle is essential

I’m completely besotted with these two boys, but man – do they need a lot of exercise! For the few weeks I was up for it, but my vigilance would lapse if they were my own. If you don’t take them running or swimming regularly, at least once a day, usually twice a day, they get edgy and restless and start bouncing about and creating havoc in the house (a bit like kids in the witching hour when they start getting all hyped up). The boys are a Border Collie and an Australian Shepherd, both working dogs, so no surprise there. Luckily their mum and dad are busy busy busy and always exercising, so it works for them.

I’m constantly amazed though when people buy a dog breed that really doesn’t complement the way they live. If you’re lazy, do not get a working dog (like these, or a heeler or a kelpie). If you’re allergic to dog hair, don’t get a Golden Retriever. I personally think they’re worth the clean up, but crikey they give off a lot of hair. If you don’t like constant yapping, don’t get a Maltese. Research the breed and match it to your lifestyle. It’s not fair to the dog otherwise.

There were two dogs next door – a kelpie and a mixed breed – and the poor things never get taken out for a walk or exercise. So they spend a lot of time barking and even moaning when they’re alone. Irritating when it’s early in the morning, but terribly sad for the poor dogs who are obviously bored and sad and lonely. Wouldn’t they love a run.

Indoor mood lighting is wonderful

I forget to put on lamps and fairy lights when I’m at home, but I’m emulating my daughter while I’m here and putting on her soft pretty lights in the evening. It transforms the place and makes you feel like you’re somewhere special, or on holidays. Note to self: do this more when you get home.

Brisbane is the perfect place to be in winter

I adore my home town of Canberra and the winters there can be exceptionally pretty (see pretty pic below) but bloody cold sometimes to go with it. A mid-winter escape is the way to go. Shorts and sandals in winter – winning!


House sitting allow you to explore a new city at leisure

House or dog sitting provides an excellent for holidaying. It allows you to discover a different location at leisure without feeling you have to squeeze too much in because you’re paying expensive holiday accommodation and/or you’re only there for a short time.We explored and discovered lots of new things (like free walking tours!) but didn’t rush around like maniacs.

And of course, no surprise, Brisbane is full of marvellous places to go and delicious places to eat and drink.

I’ve been discovering some gems. More of those coming in another post.

It’s easy to be holier than thou when you cheat

When you flat out absolutely refuse to get Netflix yourself (I don’t care if it’s only $9 a week, or month or whatever, still not getting it) but you stay somewhere that has it already, there is an enormous opportunity to binge watch multiple series in a relatively short space of time. We got through four series with a few other bits and pieces, with a list that should last us another year or two.

And even though we don’t have Netflix, further suggestions are also welcome for future visiting spates. Here’s a few that we watched and enjoyed:

  • Collateral
  • The Bodyguard
  • Line of Duty

Overall I discovered the concept and reality of a spot of house sitting is rather good. I also discovered the concept and reality of a spot of house sitting in the middle of winter when it may have snowed just a tad where you live in Canberra is an even better idea.

I might have to dabble in this practice more often.

And now I am missing the boys and had to kidnap another dog for a while to alleviate the withdrawal.

What about you? Have you done any house or dog sitting?

On the road again – 100 years of Australian cars take to the track


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Ford Model TT 1924–26

Ford Model TT 1924–26 Photo: National Museum of Australia

Car enthusiasts, start your engines—and start heading towards Goulburn. Well,  not until Saturday, 17 August because that’s when the National Museum of Australia will be taking 12 historic vehicles from its car collection for a spin around the track at Wakefield Park Raceway near Goulburn.

‘A Chequered Past’ will cover a whole century of car history through the selected vehicles and will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see them in action. It’s the first time some of these cars have been on public display and the first time so many of the collection can be seen in one place.

The cars on display have done quite a bit of mileage: they’ve carried royalty, created racing history, transported adventurers around the country,  taken the prime minister to work, and got the nation singing .

The vehicles cover a lot of years and vehicle types, but they’ve also been chosen for the roles they’ve played in Australia’s history.

‘Each vehicle was collected for the range of stories they have to tell about industry, adventure, advertising, technology, passion and Australia’s connections to the world, not as an example of type,’ explains curator Laina Hall.

So it’s not just car buffs who will enjoy the days. It’s also a feast for anyone interested in Australia’s social history.

One of the heroes of the collection is the dark green 1967 Brabham Repco  1 V8 racing car, which was constructed and raced by Sir Jack Brabham,  legendary racing car driver and Formula One champion, and Ron Rauranac. The car recorded the fastest lap in the 1967 Tasman Series in New Zealand of one minute and 25 seconds, but although it retains some original components, I don’t think it will be going that fast on Saturday.

Brabham BT23A-1 Repco V8 1967 Photo: National Museum of Australia

Brabham BT23A-1 Repco V8 1967 Photo: National Museum of Australia

Those old enough may even remember the bright blue Model T- Ford that was used to promote Aeroplane Jelly from 1978 to 1988, pictured above. Even if you don’t remember the car, you’re probably singing the song right now.

There’s royalty among the cars  with a stately and carefully conserved Daimler landaulette, one of the most treasured cars in the museum’s collection, which was used by Queen Elizabeth II during her iconic tour of Australia in 1954, a tour which was met with wild excitement around the country. Almost as big as the Beatles.

Another vehicle used for Queen Elizabeth II for her royal tours in 1963, 1970 and 1977—a 1958  Landrover ‘Special 88’ SWB Utility— will also make the trip to Goulburn. Modifications were made to the vehicle, as suggested by the Queen, which included lowering the hand rails and adding a perspex windshield to protect her and her outfit from the wind while allowing a better view for the public. The Queen had requested an open top vehicle for better viewing and was quite prepared to use an umbrella if necessary. What a champ.

An S Series Bentley used by Sir Robert Menzies will be displayed, one of four luxurious Bentleys purchased by the Australian government in 1964 for ceremonial and VIP use. Menzies used to watch the football at the Carlton Football Club from the vehicle, on a specially built platform. He must have been very fond of his car and retained both the Bentley and its driver when he retired in 1966 until his death.

Bentley ‘S’ Series 3 1964

Bentley ‘S’ Series 3 1964 Photo: National Museum of Australia

Other vehicles include a Type C torpedo Citroen car (bright yellow!) driven around Australia in 1925, a Sundowner Bean 14 hp  driven by Francis Birtles on his record-breaking journey from London to Melbourne in 1927, a Wolseley 1500 saloon sedan and an FX Holden sedan, the first commercially sold Holden. More modern days will be represented by one of the last Holden Calais to be manufactured at the GM Holden factory in South Australia before its closure in 2017, marking the end of an era of Australian car manufacturing.

The vehicles will be on display between 10am and 3pm and will also do a number of laps around the track, both individually and in groups. That not only means great photo opps for car enthusiasts and photographers, but illustrates the important conservation work of the museum to maintain the vehicles in working order.

It won’t all be about the cars. Visitors will be able to make a day with it with food stalls on site and a range of activities for kids. The aptly named singer and entertainer Frankie J Holden will be MC on the day. I wonder if he’ll sing?

Car clubs are invited to take part in a “Show ‘n Shine” and members of the public are welcome to bring their own car treasures.

You can find more information about the event  and the stories behind the individual vehicles at the museum’s website, where you can also book tickets for the event.




Free walking tours in Brisbane: discovering hidden secrets with a local


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If you’re looking for a walking tour in Brisbane with a difference, you need to know about Brisbane Greeters, a group of dedicated and knowledgeable locals who take small groups on free walking tours of their town. I’m just going to say that again. Free walking tours! Two of my favourite things in one phrase.

There’s no better way to discover a neighbourhood than with a local—they know the nooks and crannies, the hidden secrets and the tales of things that have gone before. And given they live locally, they’re usually fans of the area, because why else would they live there? So this seemed like something not to miss.

So I didn’t. Mr T and I signed up and joined Sue, our lovely guide, on a terrific guided walking tour of the historic areas of Newstead, Tennerife and New Farm. Some of the areas we’d visited before, either driven through or even walked previously, but with a local guide to inform our visit, a whole new world of history and tidbits were revealed to us. How much we miss on a normal pass through.

The areas we visited were dripping in history. We started near the water and saw the spot named by Lieutenant John Oxley after he breakfasted there. He had proposed the area as a good site for settlement but an area further north was settled instead (see if you can work out the name of that creek now). We visited a 130 year old pub where they still serve beer from wooden barrels, heard tales of visits from Bert Hinkler, passed an air raid shelter from war days and spotted one of the only two American eagle memorials in Australia (the other is in my hometown of Canberra.) Wouldn’t have noticed any of the above had I been on my own. Well, I would have seen the pub.

Much of the area was a solid working class area with a lot of industry. It’s now the site of a lot of marvellous urban renewal, the first area in Brisbane to undergo such transformation. The rows of wool warehouses that once stood next to the rail lines and opposite the busy wharves have been transformed into an array of modern apartments while paying homage to their past. The old Powerhouse has been revitalised into a funky exhibition space and the sugar refinery now a most elegant suite of apartments. It’s brilliant.

The area is also rich in naval history as a stroll along the submarine memorial walk will reveal. In World War 2, the US navy took possession of New Farm Wharf and associated wool warehouses in 1942, as well as other buildings in the area. Moreton Bay was one of the largest US naval bases in the Southwest Pacific and operated over a period of three years. So much to learn of years gone by.

I absolutely loved our day discovering parts of Brisbane and the history that’s made it into the place it is today, and taking note of things you may have passed before without a second glance or thought. Discovering them with a local made it a bit more special too: like, ‘This 130 year old pub was my Dad’s “local”’, and ‘I grew up in that house on the hill over there.’ That sort of thing.

Tours are on foot and go for between two and four hours. They’re for small groups only and can be tailored to individual groups, though they will have some set areas they cover. The most popular one is one Brisbane city, which goes for about four hours, or there’s a selection of more tailored walks in the ‘burbs. You can even request a walk specially curated to your interests, but don’t forget to book in advance – at least a week.

And believe it or not, this is a completely free service! And I don’t mean one of those ‘free walking tours’ where you’re pretty well expected to tip in lieu of paying, so #freenotfree. The organisation has a strict policy of not accepting tips although they do welcome donations through their website to help offset the administration costs of running the program. Or you may be able to coerce the guide into joining you for a drink or a coffee. The volunteers do it because they love their home town and are pleased to showcase it to the world. Amazing! If you’re lucky, your guide might even play a spot of piano for you.

A guide from Brisbane Greeters playing one of the "Play Me" pianos on Brisbane streets

Brisbane Greeters is part of an international network, International Greeter Association, dedicated to welcoming visitors to their home towns and taking the on guided walking tours to show some highlights and hidden gems, places you wouldn’t discover by yourself and stories to go with it

The Brisbane group is supported by Brisbane City Council. Several cities in Australia also offer these tours (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Cairns). There are also branches in over 200 destinations all over the world, from Madagascar to Macedonia, Ghana to Germany, or Colombia to Croatia, and all the way in between.

If there’s not a Global Greeters network in your area, the organisation can help you set up your own. Now, there’s something to keep you busy!!

If you love walking tours, meeting new people, and discovering new places and hidden secrets, this could be for you.

I’ll be signing up again soon with Brisbane Greeters for another free walking tour of Brisbane to discover some of Paddington’s secrets.

Photo journalism and the World Press Photo Exhibition at the Powerhouse


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Have you heard of the World Press Photo Foundation? I hadn’t until this week. We became acquainted because I’m in Brisbane and there happens to be an exhibition on at the Powerhouse showcasing the recent work of the world’s top press photographers selected from nearly 80,000 entries.

The exhibition features a collection of award-winning press photography, with almost 150 of the most compelling and powerful examples of photojournalism taken during 2018 from all over the world. Such exhibitions have been running for more than 60 years, having started in 1955 when a group of Dutch photographers organised an international contest to show their work to the world. This year the exhibition will tour through 45 countries and will be seen by four million viewers.

The moving images depict stories from a range of categories including general news, the environment, sports and nature. So subjects like displacement, war, drug addiction, poaching and politics are included in the material, recording our social history as it happens and capturing moments and emotions.

image from the World Photo Exhibition at the Powerhouse in Brisbane

an image of a member of an all-female anti-poaching unit which protects animals in the Phundundu Wildlife Park, Zimbabwe, captured by Brent Stirton of Getty

I was shocked by some (of young Russian and US kids undergoing military-style training), interested in some, horrified by others and couldn’t really look at one. As miserable as some may be, these are stories that need to be told. And someone has to witness them and record them to do that, as tough or as heartbreaking as that may be.

Not all of it is pretty (fortunately some is!) and a lot of it is quite confronting. But it is real and it’s telling the stories of the world that are happening now. It’s not like wandering through a Monet exhibition, but it is like wandering through our world.

The Powerhouse building seems the perfect setting: a raw industrial building now rebirthed as an exhibition and performance space and which exudes the authencity and grit of a hard-lived life. It’s worth a trip just to see the building by itself. But that’s another story.

You can find more details on the Powerhouse website, but be super quick – it finishes on 4 August.


World Tiger Day


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I’ve always been enamoured with animals and wildlife, but my recent trip to Africa seeing and experiencing many species at close range has heightened my awe, and made me more aware of their plight and the dangers so many of them face in our world with people and animals grappling for space.

One animal particularly under threat is the tiger, the world’s biggest cat, and what better day to mention it than today – International Tiger Day.

Around 100 years ago, there may have been over 100,000 of these magnificent creatures roaming the earth, but now – according to World Wildlife Fund there are less than 4,000 tigers left in the world. That’s around a 95% reduction in numbers! This is due mainly to loss of habitat and poaching.

According to WWF, a number of governments in countries where tigers roam are on a mission to double the number of tigers in the wild. In 2010, the governments of 13 countries where wild tigers live decided that the business-as-usual approach was not enough, and they needed another plan.

‘They came together and committed to TX2 – the most ambitious conservation goal set for a single species – to double wild tigers by 2022, the next Chinese Year of the Tiger.’

Apart from being magnificent creatures, tigers also play an important role in their ecosystems. As top predators of the food chain, tigers keep populations of prey species in check which keeps the balance between herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed. Balanced ecosystems are not only important for wildlife, but for people too. People rely on forests in a range of ways, either directly for their livelihoods or indirectly for food and other products.

As the effects of climate change escalate, natural forests are becoming increasingly important; providing fresh water, clean air and regulating the climate to limit extreme weather, such as droughts and storms.

Tiger conservation is important because efforts to conserve them also assist the conservation of other species in the same area. By protecting tigers, we are protecting forests – something which ultimately benefits us all.

So, more than just beautiful to look at.

You can donate money to the cause, adopt your own tiger, spread the word and be more aware.

Tourism and travelling to places in Asia where tigers live naturally also has a positive impact on tiger conservation. The revenue generated by tiger tourism circulates in local economies and helps local communities and provides a living for many. In fact, wildlife tourism has turned about the economic fortunes of many areas in Africa as locals are involved in both protecting and monitoring wildlife.

But when you travel in Asia, be aware of places that promote tiger patting and tiger entertainment. Despite the claims of the operators, these animals are usually drugged and usually come from poachers and harsh treatment. Their lives are not easy ones. Surely a quick selfie-snap patting a docile tiger’s head to put on instagram for a few likes is not worth their lifelong misery?

Here’s an article if you want to know more about that growing trend.

I’m looking forward to photographing tigers in the wild one day. I hope they’ll still be there when I get a chance to do so.



Rethinking disposable plastics in Plastic Free July


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We’re two thirds the way through Plastic Free July already, but what the hell – I’m going to acknowledge it and write about it, because it’s an awesome concept, and I much prefer that concept to the Dry July idea (because Aperol Spritzes!).

So, what’s it all about? It’s a global movement and basically an excuse for us to think more about the amount of disposable plastic we wantonly churn through in our daily lives and try and reduce our consumption for a cleaner and better world. Going totally plastic free is a fair sort of challenge in our modern world but reducing our use of plastic is totally doable, and really easy.

But before we get into a few ideas for how to cut plastic waste, let’s consider why we’re actually doing this.

Here’s a couple of stats:

  • Australians use approx 1 billion disposable coffee cups each year. That’s about 2,700,000  cups coated with plastic and with plastic lids thrown out every day.
  • 16 billion disposable coffee cups are used each year globally.
  • Over half of the world’s plastic thrown out in 2015 was plastic packaging.
  • Eight million tonnes of plastics enter the oceans every year, much of which has accumulated in five giant garbage patches around the planet. The vast dump of plastic waste swirling in the Pacific ocean, just one of those spots, is now bigger than France, Germany and Spain combined—and is growing rapidly. That was from a a study published in 2018, so presumably it’s bigger now.

I could go on but the numbers are so large they become almost meaningless.

But here’s what it means in pictures.

It’s horrifying. It’s disgusting.

And we can’t rely on recycling. Apart from the fact we can’t recycle soft plastics, even processing and recycling facilities are under enormous pressure to cope with the amount we produce and use.

Essentially, we need to cut down our usage. The less plastic we all use, the better. Every little bit helps.

Welcome Plastic Free July!

Here are some of the main culprits:

  • disposable coffee cups
  • plastic drinking bottles
  • plastic bags
  • disposable straws and cutlery
  • excess packaging.

The Plastic Free July website has a heap of suggestions for how we can all cut down on our plastic use, at home, work, in schools or at events. It’s terrific.

Some of the easiest things to do are:

  • Avoid take away coffee in disposable cups – drink in or take your own cup (often cheaper!).
  • Say no to plastic bags when shopping and excess packaging – any sort of shopping, not just at the supermarket (interesting supermarkets are coming on board with reducing fruit and vege packaging after hearing the message from the public loud and clear).
  • Carry a drink bottle.
  • Reuse any plastic or other bags you have for garbage bags, doggy-do pick ups etc.
  • Talk to others about what you’re doing, especially little ones.
  • Support businesses taking a stand and don’t complain if you don’t get a plastic straw with your drink.
  • Think about it.

The tuckshop at my granddaughter’s school has just got rid of disposable cutlery. Great idea. Timely for us as it meant we found a ready home for my mother in law’s cutlery as she moved out of her home. Boom!

And we haven’t bought plastic bin liners for about 10 years – we recycle and compost, and put the remaining rubbish in whatever bags we’ve acquired, like bread bags.

Much of it really isn’t hard, it’s just a mindset and then it becomes a habit. And here’s some words I borrowed to show how silly this whole disposable plastic thing is:

Think about it. Why would you make something that you’re going to use for a few minutes out of a material that’s basically going to last forever, and you’re just going to throw it away. What’s up with that?

Jeb Berrier, BagIt movie

Are you joining in? Have you got any great suggestions for cutting plastic out of your life? I’d love your ideas.


Canberra’s role in transmitting the first pictures of man setting foot on the moon


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Space suit at Canberra Deep Space Station

To the moon and back – via Canberra

This article first appeared in HerCanberra, republished here with a few more bits and pieces.

It’s been 50 years since the immortal words ‘one small step’ were uttered by Neil Armstrong as his feet, the first ever feet, touched the surface of the Moon on 21 July 1969 AEST. Even if you weren’t around at the time, it’s a fair bet you’ve seen the grainy black and white images of those first steps and heard those crackling words many times over. It’s a standout moment of history and a triumph of human achievement.

We all know it was the American NASA program who won the ultimate space-race prize when they planted that red, white and blue flag up there on the Sea of Tranquillity. But did you know the images of that lauded ‘leap for mankind’, watched by nearly 600 million viewers around the world, a record at the time, were actually broadcast from Australia?

More precisely from just outside Canberra, from the now retired Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station.

For more than 60 years, Australia has played a vital role in space tracking owing to its geographic location and its technical know-how, but never was it more important than on that day. When Apollo 11 took off on its Moon mission, the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station and its 26-metre diameter tracking dish, purpose built for the Apollo mission, was part of an international network supporting NASA.  It was one of three major tracking stations spaced evenly around the globe capable of communicating with Apollo spacecraft on or near the Moon, making it possible to be in contact with the spacecraft at all times. The primary site was in Goldstone in California USA and the third was in Madrid in Spain.

Honeysuckle was closely supported in the ACT by its ‘wing’ facility, Tidbinbilla Tracking Station (now called the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex) and by the CSIRO’s 64-metre satellite dish at Parkes in New South Wales. It was originally planned that the Tidbinbilla Station would receive the signals of the moon landing, but a fire broke out there just days before the mission. Even though the damage was repaired within 12 hours, NASA was nervous so they swapped to Honeysuckle Creek as the main receiver and Tidbinbilla was relegated to back up.

The Parkes dish, built initially for radio astronomy, too was originally planned as a backup receiver for the Apollo mission but a change in the schedule two months out meant the Moonwalk would start when the Moon would be high overhead at Parkes. It would therefore in the best placed position around the world of the three major dishes to receive. Parkes was upgraded from backup to prime receiving station for the TV broadcast.

Timings changed even on the day and Neil Armstrong was keen to get out and about once they’d landed on the Moon, rather than rest for several hours as planned. But as it turned out those space suits take some hours to get into, and by the time the astronauts were ready to begin their Moon walk, the Moon had set at Goldstone and was just rising at Parkes, but not yet high enough to be in line with the main transmitter.

The satellite dish was tipped right over in readiness when it was suddenly hit by two powerful gusts of wind, experiencing wind force up to ten times greater than was considered safe. The wind alarm rang out in the control room and the tower shuddered and swayed. Just as the Moon rose into Parkes’ view, luckily the wind reduced. It was just then Buzz Aldrin flipped the switch on the TV camera and the broadcast began.

At this time, Goldstone, Honeysuckle and Parkes were all receiving signals. The Australian signals were sent to Sydney where a NASA officer chose the best between them and sent them to Houston. A controller there chose the best signals between those and the ones coming from Goldstone (which actually came in upside down because a switch wasn’t changed) and transmitted those to the rest of the world.

For almost the first nine minutes of the broadcast, NASA switched between signals from Goldstone and those from Honeysuckle Creek. It was Honeysuckle that captured the first footstep on the Moon. After that, the signals from Parkes’ main detector came through which were so good NASA stayed with them for the duration of the two-and-a-half-hour broadcast. The whole time, the wind remained high and gusts of wind up to 110km an hour threatened to rip the dish off its hinges. Almost the whole time the telescope operated outside its safety limits but a decision was made to keep going and the pictures were successfully delivered to the rest of the world, or at least the one fifth of it that watched the broadcast live.

The drama of the storm was made famous by the great Australian movie The Dish. It’s just that they lost a bit of historical accuracy in the creative making of the film and forgot to mention Honeysuckle Creeks’ role. Ooops.

For years after, there were arguments about where those initial images came from. Finally in 1993 a written agreement acknowledged they were in fact from the dish at Honeysuckle, and that dish, now happily retired, still lives here in Canberra.

If you want to relive the excitement of that great moment in history, and our role in it, Canberra is putting on a whole range of activities and exhibitions to get your Moon fix. You can even attend discussions and events and hear from some of the controllers and technicians who were there at the time and who helped bring those pictures to the world. They were a part of the huge world wide team of around 400,000 people who helped put man on the moon.

Discover more

If you want to read more, chase down the book written by one of those present on the day, Andrew Tink: Honeysuckle Creek: The Story of Tom Reid, a Little Dish and Neil Armstrong’s First Step.

The book is part history and part biography and ‘gives a gripping account of the role of its director Tom Reid and his colleagues in transmitting some of the most-watched images in human history as Neil Armstrong took his first step.’

If you live in Canberra, join in the moon fever and take your pick from these events:

  • Head out to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla, now part of the NASA Deep Space Network, to see the original satellite antenna and learn more about Australia’s role in the Moon landing and the role we still play in space exploration. The exhibition includes space craft models, memorabilia, a space suit, space food, and a piece of actual Moon rock billions of years old. Free entry, open 7 days. There’s a special open day on 21 July re-broadcasting the entire moon transmission timed to  be ‘live’ as it happened 50 years ago with the first step at 12.56pm.
  • The National Film and Sound Archives is presenting a series of Moon movies and documentaries exploring the impact of the Moon landing, including The Dish and First Man. Details and bookings on the NFSA website, 19 – 20 July, from $10
  • Sit back in Questacon’s new Moon gallery to gaze at the glowing details of a 7-metre scaled model of the Moon. The NASA imagery of the Moon’s surface lets you discover over 30,000 craters and where the Apollo missions landed.
  • Buy a set of commemorative coins from the Australian Mint, featuring two coins showing the lunar landing site and the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking station.
  • Visit the Promised the Moon art exhibition where 14 artists reflect on the first Moon landing and the Canberra’s role in it, ANU School of Design, 20 June to 26 July, attend a panel discussion or join the exhibition’s curator in conversation.
  • Learn about the power of science and mathematics through the Apollo program at Questacon’s Apollo 11-50th Anniversary Exhibition, 1 July to 30 November.
  • Visit the Tracking Apollo: 50 years since the Moon landing exhibition at the National Museum to see equipment from the Honeysuckle Creek station along with some commemorative memorabilia and a large console from the Orroral Valley tracking station. 1 July to 18 August.
  • The museum is also hosting a ticketed panel session on 19 July discussing how the tracking station on the outskirts of Canberra came to be involved in the mission and the challenges faced. The panel includes trackers and technicians from Honeysuckle Creek fifty years ago.
  • Join one of the Moon activities during the Moon-themed National Science Week from 10-18 August.
  • You can still visit the Honeysuckle Creek site and even camp out overnight even though the site closed in 1981 and the buildings and satellites have been removed,

Those outside Canberra can join in lots of events around the country as well.

Happy moon day!

Celebrating the 50 year anniversary of the Moon landing: to the Moon and back, via Canberra


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It’s been 50 years since Apollo 11 touched down on the moon and Commander Neil Armstrong set foot on the fine-grained lunar surface, a standout ‘first’ in the history of mankind. It was – and still is – a pinnacle of human achievement and one of those momentous life events that’s become permanently lodged in our memories, if you happened to be around at the time.

Do you remember where you were you when Neil Armstrong took that first bouncy step?

I was in Year 2, and remember it clearly. It was a pretty big day at school: classes combined to watch the event live as it happened in the early afternoon of 21 July. We had box of a television, sitting atop a tall, wheeled stand, which was pushed to the front left corner of the class. There were only two or three TVs in the school and they had to be wheeled from class to class to those who needed them, so on this day they had to be shared. The screen wasn’t that big and the image wasn’t that sharp, but I can picture the whole classroom scene with complete clarity.

We all cheered, of course, sitting squashed in our seats overloaded with visiting students from another class, with little comprehension of the complexities and challenges of making such an event occur. The old timber school desks we watched from had attached bench seats with wrought iron filigree decoration at the sides of the open desk shelves and a sunken inkwell at the top, furniture surely incongruous with this modern scientific feat, yet here we were watching it happen. Men arriving on the moon aided with computers far less powerful than the ones we now carry around in our pockets every day.

We watched that vision over and over for days and weeks afterwards, proud of this great achievement we had absolutely nothing to do with. And we waited with bated breath as the three astronauts – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins – made their way back to earth, another huge feat in itself. I know the dangers of that now that I’ve watched Tom Hanks in Apollo 13. The whole thing is fraught. I’m far more amazed now at the scientific achievement than I was capable of at the time.

I’m also amazed, looking back at the vision of the day, at how many men (many of whom bore a striking resemblance to Seventh Day Adventist street-walkers with their white shirt and thin black ties and thick rimmed glasses) smoked incessantly in those control rooms.

So now as we celebrate the anniversary of this remarkable scientific milestone 50 years later, I’m turning into a space nerd and have been devouring all the stories and reading all the things. We took the grandkids off to the Canberra Deep Space Station at Tidbinbilla to look at their fabulous space display—the space suits, the rockets, the fridge-sized computer. We had  good up-close look at the piece of actual-really-and-truly-from-the-moon rock and marvelled at the dreadful looking space food.  It was fantastic to hear Miss 5 ask where the girl astronauts were. Great question! Her mum was proud. Thankfully we found one to show her.

But of course it was the giant 46-metre satellite dish that was particularly worthy of note. This big dish built in the 60s, now retired and moved from its previous home at nearby Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, was the very one responsible for picking up and transmitting those very first black and white grainy images of the first steps on the moon and transmitted them to NASA where they were then sent to the rest of the world. On this side of the world we even got to see those images about a third of a second before the northern hemisphere.

If you want to know more about that big dish and the first few minutes of transmission from Canberra and next few hours from Parkes, take a look at the article I wrote for HerCanberra: How Canberra played a role in the 1969 Moon landing. It was a pretty exciting and ever changing day for those involved.

That article also gives a list of places in Canberra you can join in some of the celebrations of the 50 year anniversary and get a quick moon-fix. Some of the now elderly folk who were involved in the day as trackers and technicians are taking part in the celebrations and will be talking about the big event – what a remarkable day for them it must have been.

If you live outside Canberra, don’t panic—there are lots of events around the country as well so you can join in the moon obsession around Australia. Or have a look here:  You can also Join in one of the moon activities during moon-themed National Science Week from 10-18 August.

Do you remember where you were when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon?

How to celebrate Bastille Day in Canberra and beyond, even if you’re not French


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Bastille Day, the biggest day of celebration in France, is fast approaching. If you want to get into the spirit of things, dig out your red, white and blue, pop some champagne and join in the French parties.

Of course, if you were French you wouldn’t even be calling it Bastille Day. In France it’s known as ‘le 14 juillet (the 14th of July) or ‘la fete nationale’ (national holiday). Elsewhere the day has become known as Bastille Day because it was on that day in 1789 that the people of Paris stormed the Bastille, a prison where Louis XVI used to keep his opponents locked away, which marked the turning point of the French Revolution and eventually led to the downfall of the French monarchy.

I studied French at high school and fondly remember days of 14 July as that meant instead of learning conjugations and subjective tenses we got to cook French things in class instead, like crepe suzettes. Who remembers when they were a popular thing at fancy restaurants, the waiter with a mobile table sauntering up next to you to prepare your crepes with great fanfare and flame?

If you want to get into the French swing, there are French themed activities happening all around the country. Melbourne and Sydney have dedicated days of celebrations to the events. Melbourne has the innovatively titled Bastille Day French Festival Melbourne and Sydney’s going all out with four days of celebration.

If you’re at home or in the sticks, you could plan a day of French eating. Maybe  a croissant for breakfast, baguette and cheese for lunch, and a macaron for afternoon tea. Maybe just drink champagne all day.

But if you’re in Canberra, here are some ideas:

How to celebrate in Canberra

  • Join the Alliance Francaise for a French-Australian brunch with smoked salmon and blinis, croissants and, of course, champagne. $50 per head, less discount for members.
  • Head to Buvette restaurant to shout ‘Vive la France’ and enjoy a special Bastille Day Feast, with pastries (of course), charcuteries, cheeses and desserts. And apparently there is a pig carving station! $75 with a champers
  • Take part in Canberra Rep’s annual quiz night and warm ‘les conquilles’ on what’s likely to be a chilly evening in Canberra (because winter!) on Sunday night, 14 July. The quiz is even French-themed for the evening. I loved their touch of French marketing line so much I included them here. 6.30-9.30pm. It’s $5 a person! Bargain.
  • Pop out to Flute Bakery in Fyshwick or L’orange in Manuka and pick up a superb little tart or three.
  • Venture a little out of town to Bungendore for a leisurely French lunch at Le Tres Bon with classic choices including French onion soup, cassoulet and even those crepe suzzettes I mentioned above. You can even join Chef Christophe in singing the French National Anthem! $95 for 4 courses. If you miss the lunch, you can take part in French cooking classes at a later time to cook up your own storm or get the kids involved.

If you can’t find your own French place to celebrate, you could just say ‘Bonjour’ to everyone you come across during the day and wear a beret.


PS This post is not sponsored. I just like French food and celebrations.


Burnt Orange: relaxed dining on Sydney Harbour


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I’m constantly amazed that no matter how many times I go to Sydney, every time I do there’s a new little pocket to discover.

A recent discovery was Burnt Orange, a delightful restaurant and event venue just a couple of kilometres past Mosman but a world away from the hustle and bustle of a big city. It’s tucked away in a bit of bushland, just next to Middle Harbour National Park, in an area that’s been used by the military for decades.

The 1920s building was once the clubhouse of the Mosman Golf Club but was resumed by the government in 1940 during World War II and used for as a military base. The golfers had to move to nearby clubs. In later times the building housed two military families, so it’s large with lots of nooks and interesting spaces. There’s even space for a lovely gift shop – dining out and shopping in one place!

img_0182-1-e1562118172773.jpgThe real star is the huge timber wrap-around verandah which makes it feel very Australian and relaxed. In winter plastic sheeting keeps in the warm but allows for the view. And it’s a lovely view, looking out across the national park to the water of Sydney Harbour beyond.

There’s a lot of space but it’s busy with lots of diners, just about all ladies celebrating various birthdays and events the day we visited.

The food is good too. Nothing too fancy but beautifully prepared fresh food with great flavour combinations.


We went for fish: perfectly pan-fried schnapper, Jerusalem artichoke puree, parsnip chips and beads of black garlic washed down with a cheeky pinot gris, and life’s good. Left just enough room for this  mini bombe alaska, with coconut ice cream and citris zing, or the chocolate mousse square with berry on the side.


They also do breakfasts as well as high teas. They even have one especially for the kids.

We ran out of time but there’s much to see and do in the surrounding area of the national park and much history to learn—forts, tunnels, gun pits and more—with guided tours available from October to May. And lots more of those harbour view.

I’m definitely going back.