Friday 23 November 2012

A Glimpse of Melbourne

One Melbourne attraction often overlooked by travellers is its vibrant independent theatre scene.

The big musical theatre productions are easy to find, courtesy of their plentiful publicity and grand 19th century theatres.

Similarly, the state-owned Arts Centre on the south bank of the Yarra River is a tourist drawcard, staging drama, opera and concerts.

Independent theatre companies have less money for promotion, and their venues are often tucked away in compact premises outside the city centre.

But their productions, often freshly-minted works from local playwrights, can be the most stimulating live fare in town.

One of the the most accessible indie venues is Fortyfivedownstairs, situated inside an multi-level brick commercial building in the central business district's southeast corner. Below its art galleries, the theatre is a large airy space with much flexibility for the staging of live works.

Last week, Narrelle and I saw Glimpse there. Devised by the newly formed Kin Collective company and directed by Laura Maitland and Noni Hazlehurst, Glimpse explores the chance interactions of everyday life which sometimes go nowhere, but which are often significant.

The work is presented as a series of discrete scenes, each focusing on a particular interaction. The first is between two homeless men; another between two nurses; another between argumentative siblings; and so on.

As the work progresses, we see characters recur. One of the homeless men shows up in a church, mourning his long-lost son, for example. In another scene, one of the nurses talks to her lover in a laundromat. There are connections between them, we realise, and start to trace the threads.

A particularly touching scene for me as a frequent traveller, was the brief interaction between one of the siblings bursting into tears at an airport, and a woman who tries to comfort him without being able to speak his language. It's a glimpse of the famous "kindness of strangers" which we rely on more than we realise.

It's a uniformly good cast, with well-defined characters and effective delivery. A standout as the teacher is Marg Downey, best known for her TV comedy work but here a convincing dramatic actor.

There are some excellent design elements in Glimpse. Simple but intriguing are the shades of red and grey which recur in the actors' costumes, a hint perhaps of the extremes of warmth and coldness in human interaction.

Projected onto the wall behind the actors are illustrations neatly depicting the location of each scene, drawn by cartoonist Jason Chatfield, best known as the current artist on the Ginger Meggs comic strip. There's even a dash of animation in some of them, such as revolving bundles of laundry in the laundromat setting.

Glimpse is a fine work, ably illustrating the connections and misconnections which are triggered by human contact. It's well worth seeing if you're in Melbourne over the next week or so.

Glimpse runs until 2 December 2012 at Fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne. Bookings via 03 9662 9966 or the venue's website.

[And with this 50th post for the year, Aerohaveno is taking a break until January 2013. See you then... and happy travels in the meantime!]

Friday 16 November 2012

Life's a Beach (Part 2)

Little Parakeet Bay, Rottnest Island
Last post I shared five great Asia-Pacific and Australian beaches from an article I wrote for the inflight magazine of a now-extinct airline. 

Here are the final six top places to enjoy sand and surf...

Family Beach: St Kilda Beach, Melbourne

From the moment an 1841 party of picnickers named St Kilda after the offshore schooner Lady of St Kilda, the Melbourne bayside suburb has been a place devoted to fun.

Between the century-old Luna Park funfair and the renovated St Kilda Sea Baths is sandy St Kilda Beach. Its sands are backed up by a boardwalk and a path dedicated to cyclists and inline skaters.

As the water is relatively shallow until you’re a fair way out into the bay, it’s a safe place for kids to have a paddle, and there’s a broad grass area behind the beach for ball games and frisbee tossing. A little further along the shore is Catani Gardens, a great location for a picnic after a swim.

Party Beach: Patong Beach, Phuket

If you’re after a place to relax in peace and quiet, don’t head to Patong Beach. If, however, you’re looking for a party zone, you’re in the right place. The most well-known of Phuket’s beaches, Patong has over 3 kilometres of sand. It’s even more famous for the numerous bars and nightclubs centred on nearby Bangla Road and the laneways leading off it.

Some of these side streets, such as Soi Tiger and Soi Seadragon, are completely roofed, so are good places to dodge any downpours. The Aussie Bar is the best family-friendly place along this strip, and the spot to catch sporting events on its big screens.

Secluded Beach: Dream Beach, Bali

Believe it or not, it is possible to escape the holidaying crowds on ever-popular Bali. Just 12 kilometres off the southeast coast of the island is Nusa Lembongan, a much smaller island. Its secluded gem is Dream Beach, a beautiful stretch of white sand with very few touts and plenty of space to relax. The surf is generally too strong for swimming, but it’s a fine place to sunbathe.

Above the beach is the Dream Beach Huts accommodation, which operates a cafe-bar with a view of the sea. You can get to Dream Beach via regular boat services from Sanur Beach on Bali.

Small Beach: Little Parakeet Bay, Rottnest Island, off Perth

In the Indian Ocean a 30 minute cruise from Perth’s port Fremantle, Rottnest Island has long been a special place of relaxation for Western Australians. As cars are restricted on the island, the pace is set by foot or bicycle, and the local bus which does the rounds of the island’s bays.

There are places to eat and drink in The Settlement at Thomson Bay, but the real attraction of Rotto is its natural beauty and wildlife. There are many beaches dotted around the island’s circumference, but one of the best is at Little Parakeet Bay, a small but beautiful stretch of white sand surrounded by rocky outcrops.

Uncrowded Beach: Eighty Mile Beach, Port Hedland to Broome

The lengthy Eighty Mile Beach stretches between Port Hedland and Broome in Western Australia. Given its sprawl, you can always find an uncrowded spot. It’s visited by an astounding number of migratory birds each year, and is also a popular fishing destination. A secluded accommodation option is the Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park, located about halfway along its length.

Really-getting-away-from-it-all beach: Buccaneer Archipelago, Derby

If you want a beach that’s really remote, you could do worse than hire a boat to take you to the Buccaneer Archipelago in the Indian Ocean off Derby in Western Australia. This collection of hundreds of uninhabited islands is dotted with beautiful unspoiled beaches. Be aware though, that there’s no one to help you out if you strike trouble, so check your boat’s radio gear and first aid supplies before sailing.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Life's a Beach (Part 1)

Streets Beach, Brisbane
Last year I was commissioned to write an article for the inflight magazine of Air Australia, a budget airline which offered flights to leisure destinations. A year later the airline went into liquidation, but luckily I'd been paid by then.

As the airline has departed this mortal coil and its inflight mag is but a fading memory, I thought you might enjoy the piece I wrote for it, featuring beaches across its then network. So sit back, relax, and think of sandy shores...

“All the world’s a stage,” wrote William Shakespeare, but he might as well have said “All the world’s a beach.”

Through Asia, Australia and the Pacific there are beaches of every type, hosting every attraction. Whether you’re after a rest, a meal, a party or a spot of retail action, there’s a sandy shore out there for you. Here’s a selection of the best.

Shopping Beach: Seminyak Beach, Bali

There’s a reason Redgum wrote their famous song I’ve Been to Bali Too back in 1984 - even then, the Indonesian island’s Kuta Beach was a magnet for tourists. But just a little further along the same stretch of coast is Seminyak Beach. It’s not as crowded and beats Kuta hand over fist in one particular area: shopping.

A few hundred metres back from the beach you’ll find Jalan Raya Seminyak, with interesting shops selling clothing and accessories. Some places worth checking out are Biasa for cutting-edge clothing (Jl Raya Seminyak 36), Body & Soul for cool fashion and swimwear (Jl Raya Seminyak 11), and Mario Silver for jewellery (Jl Raya Seminyak 19).

Romantic Beach: Kahala Beach, Hawaii

An alternative to Hawaii’s famous Waikiki Beach is nearby Kahala Beach, in a beautiful location with views of sand, surf, palm trees and a mountainous backdrop. As a popular wedding venue, it’s common to see at least one or two couples tying the knot here over the course of a few hours.

It’s a public beach, but as it’s near the Kahala Hotel & Resort you can dine quite close to the sands. The resort also contains the popular Dolphin Quest attraction, allowing visitors to swim with the dolphins.

City Beach: Streets Beach, Brisbane

Directly across the Brisbane River from the city’s central business district is Southbank, a pleasant zone of culture and public gardens. An unconventional highlight here is Streets Beach. This artificial swimming spot, with its imported sand and lifesavers in red and yellow, is a touch of light-hearted fun in the heart of Brisbane.

Its human-crafted lagoon and sandy shores are generally packed with people enjoying the novelty of being at a riverside beach in the inland capital of a state famous for its coastal beaches. And it has an impressive view of the glass and steel towers soaring above the mangroves on the opposite shoreline.

Surf Beach: Sunset Beach, Hawaii

If you’re a surfer and you’re up for a challenge, head to Sunset Beach on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. One of the world’s great surf beaches, it’s the home of such great competitions as the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing. Winter is the best time for waves, though surfing its mighty breaks is not recommended for inexperienced board riders.

Even without a board, its wide stretch of sand is a great place to sunbathe, and people also snorkel, bodysurf and bodyboard here. And as you’ve guessed, it’s a top spot from which to view a glorious sunset.

Dining Beach: Surin Beach, Phuket

If you’re feeling a bit exhausted by the hawkers and lively activity of most Thai beaches, Surin may be the cure. It’s more secluded than other beaches on Phuket, so is much favoured by local millionaires and visiting celebrities. It’s a pretty beach with white sand and clear water, but one of the best things to do here is eat at its long strip of Thai restaurants.

Three to look out for are Mr Crab (specialising, unsurprisingly, in crab), Twin Brothers, serving international dishes including popular pizzas, and Patcharin Seafood. Further south off Kamala Beach within the Andara Resort is the upmarket Silk, serving Thai dishes in classy premises.

Next post: A party beach, a secluded beach and a really-getting-away-from-it-all beach; but sadly no Gangnam-style beach...

Saturday 3 November 2012

Parramatta Dreaming

I'm in Sydney this weekend - more specifically in Parramatta, researching a travel article about the western suburb. Almost everyone I've mentioned this to says something like "Parramatta! Good god. Why?".

It seems that Parra has a bad reputation, and people know it only as bland or dangerous. Having lobbed in yesterday from Melbourne by plane and train, however, I've been pleasantly surprised.

It's true that there's still a bit of, ahem, edginess about the place, complete with - how shall I put this? - colourful characters idling on park benches or complaining to invisible strangers.

But there's also a lot of colour in the streetscapes and the random art, new and old, found along them. Here are a few examples I spotted on a sunny Friday...

1. Three Ropes Espresso. In an alley off a slightly dodgy street running parallel to the railway line is this new cafe, borrowing a leaf from Melbourne's alleyway cool. The graffiti-esque bird is by a Sydney artist, and the two guys running the place are entertainment in themselves. 

If you drop into the cafe in Darcy Lane, ask Andy to tell you the gruesome story behind the place's name, involving a convict they tried to hang three times...

 2. Church of the Ages. This is the remarkable St John's Church, in a broad square off the Church Street shopping strip. I say remarkable because of its interesting chronology. The original brick church building was constructed in 1803, with its twin towers and steeples not completed until 1819.

A few decades on, however, the original building was demolished and replaced with a stone church completed in 1855. The new church, however, retained the 1819 towers, as you can see here. Reminds me of the axe which had its handle replaced, then its head; was it still the same axe?

 3. The Statue Aquatic. This curious 1983 work by Richard Goodwin outside the old Town Hall reminded Narrelle and I obscurely of rubber-suited monsters we'd seen in old Doctor Who episodes.

An arts brochure from the Discover Parramatta website takes a more sensible view, describing it as "Three figures represent humanity striving against resistance. They are not completely beaten; one is winning his struggle. The water represents the source of life, the Parramatta River." Gloomy or optimistic? Your call.

 4. From One Hundred to Beyond. I was quite delighted to find this outlandish 19th century folly further along Church Street. It was erected in 1888 to mark the centenary of Parramatta's founding, which happened just months after that of Sydney.

To my (twisted?) mind, these Victorian-era monuments look like steampunk space rockets about to lift off for Queen and Empire...

 5. Horses for Courses. This horse was one of two spotted on a commercial building near the monument. There was no explanatory detail to be spotted, but I wouldn't mind betting it used to be a pub...

 6. Eels Above. Further north along Church Street was this striking piece of art, suspended above the centre of the street. The conical shapes represent the eel traps which the local Aboriginal people, the Burramatta, once used to trap the local eels:

 7. Paint Box. And finally, this was a junction box (I assume) on the side of the street. On it was a simple piece of art, easily overlooked, but it transformed a bland everyday thing into a treat for the eye. Which hopefully is the current trajectory for the much maligned Parramatta...

Disclosure time... on this trip I was hosted by the Mantra Parramatta.