Thursday, 29 October 2009

Campion on the road

Here at Campion we have a new College mini-bus, appropriately decorated with images of our first Graduating Year together with the central, leafy, College entrance. If you see us out and about on the road, give us a supporting salute!

Monday, 26 October 2009

New England all the way

The final segment of my trip to Brisbane was the return drive down the New England Highway. I set out to drive the 1000 kms between Brisbane and Sydney over two days. Having driven on both the Pacific and New England Highways during this trip, my clear preference now is for the New England. It has much less traffic and takes you through, arguably, finer scenery, climbing up to the tablelands of south Queeensland and into the pastures of New England around Armidale, which reminded me of the rugged terrain of Avila Province in Spain. The road takes you through a number of small country towns, such as Uralla (pictured)- my first real sight of the rural interior of this vast land and its open Bushland.

I stopped overnight in Tamworth, from there the New England drops down into the glorious wine region of the Hunter Valley, and so onto Sydney.
I also saw my first wild Kangaroos, big greys - some of them very big - and lots of them. I was amazed to see how many kangaroo carcasses lay by the side of the road, presumably having been hit by passing vehicles. Some of them were enormous; I wonder what damage they did to the cars that hit them! There was probably a carcass for every kilometre I drove, and yet I imagine that this doesn't make the slightest dint in their population.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

First encounter

In Brisbane I stayed with some friends and on my first evening stepped out onto their veranda and straight into the path of a seven foot snake. Having never encountered a seven foot snake before at such close quarters I was somewhat concerned. But recovering from the shock I intuited that it was not a fast-moving variety of snake, and secondly that it was in fact a Carpet Python (which are non-venemous). I ventured to touch it; cold and clamy is how I would describe it. It reacted very little to my presence as it was obvioulsy keen to investigate the interior of a large planter which was on the veranda. Eventually, it took the whole of itself inside and curled up at the bottom for a good nights sleep. We all peered down in amazement at its fat and silent coils.
What was, perhaps, more alarming is that twenty minutes earlier I had been out on the veranda and had been drawn by a sort of coughing noise to look down into this planter where I beheld a whole family of possums. What had become of them was not at all clear!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Continuing the Brisbane visit

On my first day in Brisbane a friend showed me round some of the city. Nestling in the heart of the CBD is the Catholic Cathedral and, next to it, the tiny chapel of St Stephen. How graciously providence has situated the presence of the Church within this city. But inside, oh dear!

The Blessed Sacrament chapel in what was the apse: very worrying! Yes, that is the tabernacle on four spindly legs.

The statue of Blessed Mary McKillop in the small St Stephen's chapel - sinister rather than loveable. What is it that has overtaken the Church here, I ask?

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Back on tour

During the past two weeks John Pridmore has been on a speaking tour in and around Sydney. Last year, I welcomed John to Campion College on my second day in Australia; what an unexpected joy then to welcome him here again. As part of his tour, John spoke to four hundred young people at "Theology on Tap" in Parramatta and visited Campion College twice. He is pictured below with a group of Campion students after speaking to them about being open to God's Holy Spirit.
Whislt making the distance between the UK and Oz seem, for me, shorter, John's visit was received with evident enthusiasm by all those he encountered. The style of John's message, given through his testimony and personal witness to Christ, is possibly quite innovative in the Catholic world out here. However, young people, as well as the not so young, flocked to hear him at the various venues he spoke at, and his message opened up many hearts.
Finally, following a tradition indicated in his book "From Gangland to Promised Land", I was able to offer suitable hospitality and make John another fine meal.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The glistening city

The Pacific Highway takes you all the way to Brisbane and, after taking you through long stretches of suburbia, the Freeway turns and you see the shimmering heart of the city - a Manhatton of the southern hemisphere. The CBD is built as on a peninsula, for the Brisbane river bends and coils, offering the traveller some magnificent views. Brisbane is a magnificent city and next time I come I shall take the CityCat all the way. (The CityCat is a bus, by way of a boat, that takes you from one end of the city to the other, and back, whilst making convenient stops along the way.) The river was lined with blossoming Jacaranda trees and there is a pervading sense that here is a city that knows how to live and work in a relaxed sort of way. I visited the University of Queensland, built in a quiet suburb of the city next to a bend in the river; its main golden sandstone buildings, majestic, colonnaded and set in their own parkland - what a place to study in - possibly the finest University Campus I have ever seen.
It is shame that after visiting Brisbane twice, I do not know the city better - but hopefully that will be resolved on my next visit.

Dylan sings Latin

"Venite adoremus" - probably the most well known Christmas Carol chorus, performed in his own inimitable fashion on the new album "Christmas in the heart". Today is the release date for Bob Dylan's latest album, so I called into the music shop in the Burwood Westfield to get a copy, casually enquiring if anyone else had bought a copy there today. No, I was the first. Having heard the album through, I was put in mind of the new generation of animated children's movies such as "Shrek" and "Finding Nemo", and I thought how well Dylan's voice might fit an elderly animated walrus, singing Christmas tunes to himself on an ice flow. This album sadly doesn't have the extraordinary complementarity of the "All the tired horses" et al songs, but represents shallow and commercial Christmas culture. Still, who would ever have thought that we would hear Dylan singing in Latin!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Moving up north

Continuing my drive north after a lovely stay at Port Macquarie I stopped briefly at another lively coastal port: Coffs Harbour. From there I headed up the Pacific Highway stopping at a delightful small town called Lennox Head. Here I parked up again and, taking off my shoes and socks, went for a long walk at the water's edge on 'Seven Mile Beach'. What a lovely treat my feet had and what a lovely beach for the people of Lennox Head to have on their doorstep.

Moving on up the coast, I made a final stop before Brisbane at the coastal 'resort' of Surfers Paradise. This place with its languid and baking beach, its towering appartment blocks and its bars put me in mind of the Industrial Revolution, but in the sun. I think that this is the most unpleasant place I have encountered yet in Australia.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Tales from a Billabong

My entry into Australia has allowed me to see animals which I have never seen before in my life. Just outside Port Macquarie is a small animal park called The Billabong, so on my second morning in the Port I ventured out to see more of the strange fauna of this continent.
Of course there were the ubiquitous and half-intoxicated Koala. I patted and stroked one which seemed to be on a Bromide 'high' and then photographed this mother with her beautiful baby.

We also got a chance to pat and stroke Dingos. I was surprised how small these dogs are - about the size of a fox (and as cunning). As the dingos were receiving the attention of the visitors I made my way to the reptile house, and there, peering at me was a crocodile. It's better to be attacked by a shark than a croc, becuase if one of these gets hold of you there's no coming back! It waited patiently while I photographed the rest of it, under water.

Amongst Australia's huge variety of native snakes is the Taipan - probably the most poisenous snake in the world. And here he is, looking for all the world like a rubber toy!

Finally, after trying to get a good view of the Cassowary I discovered, after exiting the park, that I could get close up to one through a break in the fencing.
The Cassowary is an Emu-type bird that lives exclusively on a peninsula in northern Queensland. As you can see, it is very 'Jurrasic Park' looking, and here's a glimpse of its toes - known for their eviscerating capabilities. This is not a bird that you would want to stumble upon in the jungle.

The one animal which The Billabong did not have was the Platypus - an animal which I will be very interested to see one day.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

But for whales

On my drive north to Brisbane, during the mid-semester break, I took the Pacific Highway and stopped off first at the endearing coastal town of Port Macquarie. This town began life in 1820 as a thriving gaol and, for about thirty years had a convict population of some 300 men. Today, Port Macquarie is a free town; some of the old buildings remain such as the Royal Hotel (below) but the street plan itself has changed.
Such was the engaging nature of this little town with its shallow harbour that I stayed here three nights. On the first morning I arose and walked over to the harbour to find a Rib just ready to set off with a small complement of tourists and go to see whales. I have never seen whales before, so I paid the money and stepped on board.

The morning was idyllic: bright sun, scarely a breeze and a very light swell. The two 200hp engines took us briskly out and, about a mile from harbour we encountered some whales - an adult and a juvenile. I imagine that they saw and heard us before we saw their 'spouts'. They rose and dived, circling the boat and, nodoubt, wondering who these beings with digital cameras and life-jackets were.

We were told that mother whales bring their young in close to shore so as to escape shark attacks. Sharks, as you know, hunt in deep water, spying their prey above and then charging upwards from the depths to take a chunk. In the more shallow waters off the beaches, they cannot do this.
We were thrilled to see the whales so close to our Rib, and how lovely it was to be out on the peaceful Pacific in the early morning sun.

Monday, 5 October 2009

I'm back

Apologies for the blog-gap, but I went up north during the mid-term break. I drove up to Brisbane, a mere thousand kilometers (each way); my first road trip in Oz since I arrived here. I do like Brisbane; this is my second visit, and the drive was thoroughly engaging. I shall post on my travels in due course. Meanwhile feast your eyes on this little stick insect which we found loitering on Campus at the end of last term. Even the sparrows have to watch where they tread!