Tag Archives: family holidays

Byron Bay: Australia’s Alternative Paradise.

As  soon as you exit the Pacific Highway and take the Byron Bay exit, throw your watch out the window and prepare to slow down. You’re now on Byron Bay time. Not only that, you’re about to enter another world where it’s more or less assumed that you’re at least somewhat lateral, alternative, creatively inspired or just plain mad. Well, not quite everyone. Byron Bay is no longer the hippy mecca it once was but despite the yuppie blow-ins, it’s retained much of it’s original character. You might just need to look further afield to find it.

Byron is all about taking the road less traveled...the alternative route. Check out my kids exploring the grass off the well-beaten track.

Byron is all about taking the road less traveled…the alternative route. Check out my kids exploring the grass off the well-beaten track.

Dolphins viewed from Cape Byron Lighthouse.

Dolphins viewed from Cape Byron Lighthouse.

Whale Spout near Julian Rocks, Byron Bay.

Whale Spout near Julian Rocks, Byron Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

As we have family living in the Byron Bay hinterland, we tend to head up to Byron at least once a year and Cape Byron Lighthouse has become something of a yardstick of our kids’ growth over the years as I force them through another round of photos against it’s glowing white fascade. You really do need a good pair of sunnies out there.

Family Photo 2nd July 2010 outside Byron Bay Lighthouse

Family Photo 2nd July 2010 outside Byron Bay Lighthouse

Determination!

Determination!

We always stop for an ice cream at the lighthouse and it's always a race to see whether the kids can finish it before it melts.

We always stop for an ice cream at the lighthouse and it’s always a race to see whether the kids can finish it before it melts.

 

Of

Byron Bay looking North to Mt Warning.

Byron Bay looking North to Mt Warning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of  course, Byron i also renowned for it’s many gorgeous beaches and great surf. However, rather than giving you a picture postcard view of Byron Bay, in keeping with the spirit of Byron, I thought I’d share some of the ephemeral sights we’ve uncovered over the years. You see, when it comes to Byron Bay, anything is possible and you certainly don’t need a permit to be a little different.

Starting off at the beach, we came across a sand sculptor who was building the most amazing creations in the sand. He created this fire breathing dragon, which I’ve photographed here. You’ll notice he’s having a cup of tea and that’s my Royal Albert teacup which I photographed around Byron Bay on a few visits. I’m not ashamed of stepping out beyon dthe flow myself.

 

We met a guy who is a world class sandcastle builder and I offered his dragon a cup of tea.

We met a guy who is a world class sandcastle builder and I offered his dragon a cup of tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also stumbled across this medley of musos and dancers who met up around sunset each evening just as the Rainbow Lorrikeets were churping away in the Norfolk Pine Trees beside the beach.  They sure showed me you’re never too old to boogie!

We stumbled across this random group of whatsy-me-call-its: dancers, musos and hangers on which meets around sunset at the Northern end of the beach. They sure showed me you're never too old to boogie!

Musicians and dancers, Byron Bay at sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

Crepes at the Beach: January, 2011.

Crepes at the Beach: January, 2011.

In January 2011, we had a wonderful surprise when a  group of French backpackers set themselves up just off the beach doing a roaring trade selling crepes…just like you’d see on a footpath in Paris. We felt absolutely spoilt indulging in scrumptious Nutella crepes or lemon and sugar after emerging from the surf. As you could imagine, this thriving little enterprise was operating without Council approval or any form of insurance. That is Byron Bay.

As much as we love the beach, the sun demands respect and so we stay off the beach much of the day. One of our other favourite hangouts in Byron Bay is the park beside the railway. This park has the most fabulous climbing tree, which is a type of fig. It got damaged in a storm I believe and it’s fallen over and now grows along the ground like a caterpillar. This makes for fabulous climbing, especially for really little kids who can reach the branches.

This tree has become something of a magic wishing tree and every time we go there, somebody has stuck something different in the branches and we can’t wait to see what’s there. We’re only talking about simple things like ribbons tied in the branches, a milk crate suspended by a rope but on one visit we came across a very touching artistic tribute by a grieving mother whose son had died in the park and she wants to help young people feel good about htemselves and help all of us feel more love.

Mister in our climbing tree in the Railway Park. Every time we go there, something else is hanging there or decorating the tree. It seems like a magic wishing tree although there's a rough side to the park here with drinking etc. We need to choose our moments wisely when we take the kids.

Mister in our climbing tree in the Railway Park. Every time we go there, something else is hanging there or decorating the tree. It seems like a magic wishing tree although there’s a rough side to the park here with drinking etc. We need to choose our moments wisely when we take the kids.

She decorated the climbing tree with bright yellow flowers and painted the park benches with all sorts of messgaes and graphics. I was still wandering around with my tea cup and photographed it wioth her artworks.

 

Tea Cup in the Railway Park, 2011.

Tea Cup in the Railway Park, 2011.

A heart broken mother whose son died in this park wrote these messages on the park benches.

 

Unfortunately, even paradise has it’s underbelly and Byron Bay is no exception. Unfortunately, our beloved park attracts some heavy drinkers who can get quite narky and obviously, this isn’t a suitable environment for the kids. I’ve also heard that there are quite a few rapes.

Thje photo below was taken at the old railway station where I’ve sure homeless people must doss down. Sadly, Byron Bay isn’t just all beautiful beaches, peace, love and serenity.

Sadly, Byron Bay isn't just all beautiful beaches, peace, love and serenity.

On a more poitive note, of course, no tour of Byron Bay is complete without going Kombi spotting. Back in the day, Kombis were all lined up prked along the beachfront with boards on their backs. You can still spot Kombis around town these days but they are obviously thinning out. Here’s one I spotted by the railway station:

In it's heyday, Byron Bay was Kombi paradise with rows of Kombis parked beside the each with boards on top.

In it’s heyday, Byron Bay was Kombi paradise with rows of Kombis parked beside the each with boards on top.

This is by no means a comprehenive tour of Byron Bay. I haven’t evn covered Byron Bay’s famous markets, which sell the very best chocolate donuts that ever walked this planet. They’re more of a cross between a jam donut and a chocolate croissant and just thinking about them is making me feel like getting in the car and driving  North.

While it’s a bit of a thing to climb Mt Warning or to the lighthouse to watch the sunrise, we are better equiped for watching the sunset and this is the prfect way to exit Byron Bay.

The Sun Set Byron Bay

The Sun Set Byron Bay

This is my second contribution to the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Bis for Byron Bay.

xx Rowena

I am participating in the A-Z Challenge.

I am participating in the A-Z Challenge.

 

Funny Friday: An Afternoon With Australian Actor-Author William McInnes

Last Friday, I was booked into an author talk with two-times Logie-winning Australian actor and author, William McInnes. However, after a huge day on Thursday, I wasn’t quite sure whether I’d make it. There was the trip down to Sydney and the emotionally confronting brain MRI but 5 minutes before my MRI, I also heard the dreadful news that Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes had passed away. Having survived brain surgery myself in the past, his death was pretty confronting. I wasn’t in good shape after all of this and more in the mood for deep hibernation. Yet, I was particularly keen to meet William McInnes and hear his story. There are many, many layers to this man.

Exhausted, sombre and dazed, I arrived at Woy Woy Library and sat in the front row where I could literally reach out and touch him. This was a delightfully small and intimate venue where you’re really up close and personal with the author. I was in seventh heaven!! Here I was inhaling the same air as William McInnes for a precious few hours and you never know quite what impact that will have. If you’ve heard his wild and wacky stories, you’ll know what I mean.

Fisherman's Wharf, Woy Woy, North of Sydney. The pelican perch on the roof waiting for fish from any possible source.

Fisherman’s Wharf, Woy Woy, North of Sydney. The pelican perch on the roof waiting for fish from any possible source.

Fisherman's Wharf, Woy Woy.

Fisherman’s Wharf, Woy Woy.

If you’re not Australian, you might not realise that Woy Woy is a bit of an unlikely location for an author talk of any sort let alone by a two-times Logie-winning actor and best-selling author. Although Graeme Simsion author of the Rosie Project recently spoke up here, Woy Woy is better known as being home to Spike Milligan’s Mum, having the best fish & chips and for its flocks of hungry, aggressive pelicans self-educated in the fine art of food theft. They’ll snatch your bag of fish & chips straight out of your hand without so much as an apology. That said, there has been quite an influx of refugees from Sydney and Woy Woy is becoming more eclectic.

It is no understatement that McInnes literally burst into the room converting this humble space into a stage…his stage. This man has presence…serious presence. There was gag after gag after gag.

William McInnes in uniform in the hit Australian TV series Blue Heelers.

William McInnes in uniform in the hit Australian TV series Blue Heelers.

After watching McInnes for years on the hit TV cop series, Blue Heelers, I at least thought I knew how he looked. However, the man who entered the room didn’t match up. His reddish hair was grey. He was exceptionally tall and he was casually dressed. I think I’m used to seeing him in uniform. Police uniform, that is. While he cracked jokes about his middle-aged spread, he still has the physique of the male lead and has been cast opposite glamorous beauties including actresses Sigrid Thornton and Claudia Karvan.

Actor and author William McInnes.

Actor and author William McInnes.

McInnes was there to promote his new book Holidays. I was there not only because of his professional credentials but also because he has publicly spoken and written about his wife, Sarah Watts’ heroic battle with breast cancer, which finally claimed her life around 3 years ago. They co-wrote a book: Worse Things Happen At Sea. I haven’t read this book yet because I needed a bit of a laugh after the last few weeks. Instead, I’m reading: A Man’s Got to Have A Hobby. I was told this book was hilarious, as is McInnes.

Indeed, I found him too funny. We all know about the clown and the tear and I’ve noticed in my own writing that the worse it gets, the funnier I become. When someone is exceptionally funny, I think you’re almost obligated to look for the scar tissue. More than likely, it won’t even be concealed beneath the surface. You’ll see it. Hear it. Even feel its pulse.

However, according to his wife, McInnes has always had a gift for comedy and after seeing him in action, I have no doubt that he’d even do well in that bear pit of stand-up.

While some author talks can get a little dry, McInnes rolled off tale after hilarious tale about his childhood growing up in Queensland’s Redcliffe, a popular beach suburb and on various family holidays. Much of this humour revolves around his father who makes your average embarrassing Dad look like a boring pussy cat.

1970s Barber shop: home of the short back and sides.

1970s Barber shop: home of the short back and sides.

One of my favourite stories was about when he went to get a haircut which, of course, turned out to be no ordinary haircut. If you lived through the 70s, you’ll know that the generational gap wasn’t just about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. It was also about hair. Usually his mum gave him a haircut but she was busy so she sent him down to the local barber’s with the presumption that he’d return with the usual mandatory, short back and sides. However, it transpired that the barber shop had recently been re-birthed as a unisex hair salon, a new and intriguing development back in the 1970s when getting your haircut was like going to the toilet. There was the men’s, the ladies’ and nothing in between. Definitely no fraternization!

Anyway, McInnes goes into the salon and spots this hot girl he’d seen at the local rollerskating rink. At this point, all sense and reason evaporate and he’s putty in her precious, manicured hands. “Would you like a perm?” She asks. Being a little naive and nothing of a fashion plate, McInnes didn’t know what a perm was but swooning in her orbit, he agrees. Looking something like Goldilocks, with fear and trepidation, he headed home.

Now, you can just imagine how his father, who is renowned for his colourful vernacular, responds to this development. A WWII ex-serviceman, he was far from impressed. He tells him: “When I was your age, I was jumping out of planes chasing Germans”. The kids at school screamed: “Let’s get Horshack” (a character from this his 1970s series Welcome Back Cotter with an afro) There was also a hilarious run in with one of his school priests which I can’t even begin to relate. A bloke having a perm was beyond the pale! The whole experience was even too weird for McInnes. He soon shaved it off and his Dad was happy: “That’s a real man’s haircut”.

His memoir: A Man’s Got to Have A Hobby is full of such stories. The funniest I’ve come across so far, relates about  when he needed to go to the toilet on the way to his football match. They pulled into the service station and Dad reminds him to watch his mouth. After all, back in the day, it wasn’t polite to say you needed to go to the toilet. Oh no! Like many families, they used a swag of euphemisms instead. Out of respect to his mother’s sensitivities, at home they called it: “going goggers”, which in the great tradition of Australian speech, was abbreviated to: “I go gogg goggs.” You can just imagine why the poor petrol station attendant was so confused! He continues:

“Dad must have seen me having trouble from the lime-green ute and flung open the door. He tried to make things clearer. “For Christ’s sake…the boy wants to go goggers.. Goggers…gog…gogs…”

Still no comprehension from the attendant… ‘Listen, chief, the boy has to back out a mullet…Oh, Jesus wept, he wants to strangle one’…Still the attendant stared, …I whispered, ‘I have to poo. Can I use your toilet, please?’My father poked me with a finger. The attendant gave me a key. Dad growled. ‘Don’t let your mother hear you talk like that.”[1]

Let me reassure you that this is not how the average Australian speaks. We usually ask for “the throne” although we’re quite capable of using the word “toilet” in public these days. After all, it’s only natural!

As you can imagine, after all these laughs, I was not longer feeling lugubrious and had cheered up. Humour really does work magic.

While it really is impossible to separate William McInnes actor and author from the William McInnes husband and father who lost his wife,  this journey requires further work and consideration. I don’t want to do a rush job but give their story the time it deserves. It is a journey that our family is potentially walking although I seem to have more lives than a proverbial cat. I seem to be doing pretty well.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

xx Rowena

[1] McInnes, William; A Man’s Got to Have A Hobby, Hodder Australia, Sydney, 2006 pp 38-39.

Mutiny on the Kayak

There is something so gloriously serene about kayaking across a beautiful diamond carpet of almost still water on a glorious, Spring morning. You’re almost inhaling all those positive ions and good vibes and feeling absolutely on top of the world. It’s just you and the sea and you’re floating along so effortlessly, almost levitating on a magnificent sea of calm absorbing all that superlative beauty.

However…

Add two reluctant kids to the mix, not unsurprisingly, the experience can quickly turn on its head. Instead of everybody moving in sync, we ended up with Mutiny on the Yellow kayak…especially when two dogs decide to do a bit of kayak bombing!

Here's Bilbo our Border Collie swimming out towards our kayak. This was a huge step forward for scaredy-dog although not such a good move for Mister in the pink single kayak.

Here’s Bilbo our Border Collie swimming out towards our kayak. This was a huge step forward for scaredy-dog although not such a good move for Mister in the pink single kayak.

Welcome to my nightmare. Trying to set off on a simple kayaking expedition with my kids in Careel Bay, just off Palm Beach in Sydney. To put you in the picture, this is right near where they film the Australian drama series Home & Away except we’re on the Pittwater side which is just perfect for all sorts of water sports (other than surfing, of course).

I don’t know what it is with my kids. Why they don’t jump at the chance to get out there onto the water and carpe diem seize the day? Why do they prefer virtual living to the real thing? By virtual living, I’m of course, referring to playing x-box and Minecraft and all those electronic gadgets too much. At least, I’m blaming the gadgets.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to go to the beach. Get into the sand. Go outside. The only time we ever stayed inside was when it was pelting down with rain and my parents practically had to bolt down the doors to keep us in. There was also the odd bout of sunburn which put us out of action as well. Instead of the parents hassling the kids to get out, it was the other way round. “Come on, Mum! Dad!” I remember a particular beach holiday when my Dad locked himself up with a very, very large doorstop of a novel called Shogun and that was the end of him for the holiday although he might have taken us fishing. We were trying to drag Dad out into the water. It certainly wasn’t the other way round.

Times have changed. Now, it’s me the parent doing the dragging or should I say still doing the dragging. Doesn’t anybody else want to get out there? My husband certainly does. He might not be the original Solo Man but he has kayaked down the Tasmanian rapids which Grant Kenny traversed in the commercial. My husband had a real thirst for adrenalin and loved pushing himself hard before he was consumed by the rat race.

Miss and I in the kayak with Lady.

Miss and I in the kayak with Lady.

Although my kids are in the sea scouts and seem to be happy enough out on the water there, for some reason our daughter is often terrified of going kayaking with me and today is no exception. She brought up almost each and every fear known to man and although there was a bit of wind out there she wasn’t going to drown in knee-deep tidal water especially when she was wearing a life-jacket. She wasn’t going to get killed by stingrays either, which seem to scare her more than sharks but then again there is what happened to Steve Irwin. That certainly added stingrays to the Deadly 60. Last but certainly not least on her list despite their size, was the vast army of soldier crabs which were hiding in their crab holes underwater. They were all about to come out to get her. With all these worries being brought up while she begged me to turn back, it was like she had swallowed the DSM manual. You know the great book the psychological professionals use to classify and define all your weird and wonderful idiosyncrasies. She was absolutely gripped with fear and all teary but her wretched mother kept going because if you keep avoiding fear, you never develop the neuropathways to overcome it.

I know I’m hardly Robinson Crusoe with my lifelong phobia of false teeth and the incredible fear of dogs which I had growing up but other people’s unrealistic fears always look much more surmountable than your own.

Anyway, as you can appreciate, Miss really, really didn’t want to go kayaking.

While Miss and I were in the yellow double kayak, Mister was on his own in the single kayak. These kayaks had been left behind by the previous owners. They’re certainly not the latest and greatest craft and do have a certain bathtub look about them but we love them and they have taken us on some fabulous adventures. We’ve explored the mangroves. We’ve also paddled back and forth across the bay trying to catch glimpses of the great giant flathead and the amazing flying mullet. Of course, their mythical proportions rival the likes of Nessy[1] but you know how kids can turn hyperbole into fact. Mister’s been out there very determined with his net but the giants of the deep have eluded him and retained their precious secrets. I have also been on a number of very serene solo expeditions and it’s so relaxing just to float on the water and drift. Simply drift.

So Miss and I are paddling along. There’s a strong headwind and so we’re not moving very quickly and I’m talking her through her fears and encouraging her when I notice Lady, one of our dogs, has just launched off the boat ramp and is paddling out to join us. We’ve only had Lady two weeks and we’re still getting to know her. She’s two years old and she comes from a farm and is quite a bundle of surprises. Yesterday, she leaped up off the beach and successfully landed on top of a 3 metre high retaining wall. She really does make anything look possible and is quite a gutsy, spirited dog.

While you could wonder about the logistics of having a dog in a kayak, I thought Lady would be okay. I haven’t weighed her but she’d probably weigh something like 10-20 kilos. I certainly have no trouble lifting her up. Consequently, when she decided to “kayak bomb” us, I didn’t really hesitate to pick her up and help her into the kayak. Geoff and I have been sailing on the little Laser with Bilbo onboard before so I though Lady would be fine and she was. She sat on the front of the kayak in front of me as I awkwardly paddled around her.

Mister kayaking along with all 40+ kilos of Bilbo our Border Collie...the calm before the splash.

Mister kayaking along with all 40+ kilos of Bilbo our Border Collie…the calm before the splash.

Meanwhile, when Bilbo saw Lady kayaking with us, he somehow overcame his huge fear of even getting his paws wet and launched himself into the water. I saw him wading out with all his fur billowing out. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him swim before except for the time he fell in the swimming pool chasing his tennis ball. Even for a Border Collie, Bilbo is a big dog and dry he weighs around 40 kilos so with his very thick woolly coat soaking up all that sea water, he was getting very heavy indeed. Well, he ended up on the single kayak with Mister who also weighs around 40 kilos. Mister is quite good on the kayak but not unsurprisingly Bilbo managed to capsize them and dog and boy were in the water. Bilbo managed to scratch Mister on the way out and apparently also tried to grab hold of him. It was only shallow water where at least we could all stand up so there was no risk of anyone drowning but there was certainly plenty of pandemonium.

I decided that this was also a good time to get Lady back on terra firma. The novelty of trying to paddle around the dog was wearing off, especially given my daughter’s catalogue of fears and I didn’t even want to consider how she’d react if Lady capsized our kayak. Needless to say, Geoff put the dogs back behind the fence before he headed out for a paddle.

As much as I enjoy a relaxing, solo paddle soaking up all that serenity, there was definitely a certain “je ne sais quoi” with this mad scramble of kids, paws, paddles and of course avoiding the huge ginormous Giant Stingray which is out there somewhere lurking in the very shallow depths.

It’s crazy experiences like these that become the great family legends. I can already hear everyone gathered around the family table laughing about the time Bilbo jumped in the kayak with Mister and they capsized and everyone roars laughing.

So much for peace and tranquility but as Helen Keller said: “Life is either a daring adventure or it’s nothing.”

I’d love to hear of any of your family adventures, especially family holiday antics!

Xx Rowena

PS Kids still aren’t seeing the funny side of things yet. Miss just told me: How would you like it if you capsized and the dog scratched you with its claws? Mister was also fairly gloomy about the experience as well. It seems there is a fine line between humour and trauma that we still need to work on. After all, your disasters always make the best stories.

[1] The Loch Ness Monster.