Nothing to say, just the photo.
Today is a pretty special day in Australia. No it is not because Le Tour de France 2016 starts later tonight (that is a special day for the whole world, not just Australia). Today the whole of Australia voted in our national election to decide on the next government. Some people see this as a hassle, but I reckon it is pretty awesome. When I said the whole of Australia voted, I meant it. Australia is one of the few countries in the world where voting in the national election is compulsory. It means everybody has a say, and everyone’s vote matters. Obviously some votes matter more than others because people are located in seats that are considered “swing” seats.
But the reason why I think it is special is that there are so many things about the Australian democracy that we can be thankful for. Firstly, the elections are run professionally by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) in exactly the same way across every State and seat in the country. They are a totally independent body from the government of the day and run things pretty smoothly. If they get things wrong it is a national scandal, but they don’t really do that. The AEC do a very good job in making it easy to vote and removing any blockers for Australians to cast their vote. Probably the most important function of the AEC is that they are the ones who call the election – not some invariably biased news media company.
Second, our election day is always held on a Saturday so that nobody has to sacrifice their work time (unless they work weekends) to vote. Even if they do have work commitments on the day, they can vote early via postal or pre-polling booths. For this election over 2 million people have voted before election day, and it looks like that number will keep getting higher.
Third, our polling booths are safe. There is no heavy police presence at any of the booths, and for the most part the local community primary schools are the venues. There is no risk of people being attacked at the booth, no risk of a terrorist incident, and no need for an independent United Nations force to help ensure that the election is fair and free of corruption. More importantly there is no chance of me getting attacked because I vote for one party over another (a lesson that Mr Trump could learn).
Fourth, because the polling stations are held in central locations within our communities it is an opportunity to bump into local friends. While I voted this morning I bumped into three people I knew and had a good old chat. This community atmosphere is prevalent everywhere, where everybody acknowledges what we have come together to do. And people are patient too, as I found out this morning – my queue was longer than I have previously experienced, but there was no impatience as everybody understood that we were all “in the same boat”.
Fifth, many polling stations have a sausage sizzle! There is even a website that tells you which ones will have a sausage sizzle. Volunteers quite often man the grill, and the funds raised go to the local community facilities. I went early this morning so skipped the sausage sizzle, I will have to make up for it tomorrow at Bunnings Warehouse.
Sixth, we have more than just two parties putting their hand up to represent the people. While practically only one of two parties will be able to form government (Labor [left] or Liberal [right]), there are many viable alternatives that can represent the many walks of life within the electorate. There are some properly “bat shit” crazy parties on one policy platform positions but because everybody has to vote the well tuned Australian BS detector does its job. For the independents that do get up, they typically punch well above their weight and represent well their electorates.
Lastly, in the round up we know that whoever wins the election we will not wake up tomorrow with our country drifting towards a dictatorship or police state.
All up we are pretty lucky as Australians, in a free and liberal democracy with well established institutions of state that protect us all. This guy below is favoured to win as I write this post. Let’s hope for him that his fortunes change and the political comment in this photo does not ring true for the next term of government.
P.S. election out of the way, bring on Le Tour!
In Australia we celebrate the Queen’s birthday around the second weekend of June. It is the official start of the ski season in Australia, and we get a three day long weekend. Never mind the fact that Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday is on a different day. So I took the opportunity to take the family on a mini road-trip to Country NSW, South West of Canberra. My Uncle and Aunt in their retirement have just moved to a town called Cootamundra, so this is a perfect excuse to go for a trip and pay them a visit. Even better, we had a second excuse for a trip to visit my cousin (their son) who is doing his medical studies intern year at a town called Young, some 50km North of Cootamundra. If I was going to go on a road trip, I had to bring the bike.
The first stop on our trip was the major regional centre of Goulburn. We chose this town to break up the trip for the kids, and grabbed a bite to eat at the local Worker’s Club bistro. But I was also lining up a morning ride around the town the next morning. Little did I realise that this would be ill-fated. At 6am it was -2 degrees Celsius (28 degrees Fahrenheit) and foggy. This is the coldest weather that I had ever set out to ride in and the one thing that I don’t have in my kit bag is gloves for this temperature. I was wearing full-fingered gloves, but they were only temperature rated to 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit). I was struggling after 2km in, where an intense pain began attacking every single one of my fingers and thumbs. By 4km the pain was so intense that it felt like screws being driven into the bones in my fingertips. This is the first time I had to cut short my ride due to weather. I couldn’t even pull off my gloves and helmet when I got back to the motel after 9km. If only…
On to Cootamundra
The morning was not all lost, so after the kids took to the local park in Goulburn we headed off to Cootamundra. It is a couple of hours drive Southwest from Goulburn (which itself is a couple of hours drive Southwest of Sydney). The weather had warmed up to a beautiful bright sunny Winter’s day with a gentle breeze, topping out at 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit). After a hearty welcome from my Uncle and a tour of their new abodes in Cootamundra, I kitted up for round two for the day. No maps or planned routes, just the new Speed Steed and a couple of bidons. Off I set and it was glorious. First I headed Northwest, into a very light headwind. I hit a dead end at the foot of a small hill where the road had gone from paved to compacted dirt gravel road. Unfortunately my attempt at riding “Strade Bianche” style would have to wait for another date as this road continued onto private property.
I doubled back on my route, heading back into town. But the ride didn’t stop on my return, and I headed out again but this time West towards the town of Griffith. The road was nice and wide, with little to no traffic and no dead ends this time. Then about 4km out of town was an intersection where I saw a rider coming towards me from the right. The locals always know where to ride, so I turned right and headed out North nodding my thanks for guidance to the rider as he passed me. Ahead of my on the horizon I could see another rider probably about 2km in front of me. That is how straight the road was, I could see more than 2km ahead on the tarmac. More importantly, I had a target to catch. My Cervelo S3 responded and the I picked up the speed past 36 clicks. 10km later I caught my prey, who started struggling when the road picked up to over 5% gradient. As I overtook him, I gave him a shout and even though he didn’t have the legs that day it was clear he was enjoying his ride too. I climbed another hill a further 5km ahead and then judged that daylight was waning – time to turn around. But not before posing the bike against the beautiful countryside.
The return into town was great, and mostly downhill. I took the longer route back into town which landed me South of where I started. A few more detours with some short sharp hill climbs and it was time to wrap up the ride before sunset with the inevitable descent of winter night chill. That was not before I swung by the local bottleshop in the town centre to grab my Uncle and Aunt a nice bottle of Pinot Noir, which is the Australian version of the Burgundy drop.
I will definitely come out and ride here again, given that my relatives have set up base here. The roads are not perfect, but are decent enough to have a good spin with lots of different routes around and neighbouring towns within an 80km round trip. The day may have started with a painful abort, but finished with a beautiful winter day ride leaving me with a smile on my face.
Sydney Harbour is without a doubt beautiful. Us Sydneysiders are quite lucky to have at the heart of our city this maritime masterpiece. Multiple levels of government have been making quite a bit of effort over the last few years to make the harbour foreshore accessible to people. I think that there is also a master plan to connect a continuous stretch of foreshore from Woolloomooloo (East of the Opera House – and yes I spelt that suburb correctly) all the way through to Balmain. So when the plans to redevelop the Western maritime shoreline of the Sydney CBD began, the opportunity to redefine the shoreline and reconnect a previously inaccessible strip of land arose. This part of my city is named Barangaroo.
Barangaroo was the name of the wife of one of Australia’s most famous indigenous Australians – Bennelong. She was a powerful woman from the Aboriginal clan of Cammeraygal, being a key figure in the local community.
After decades of construction and harbour reclamation, the original shape of the shoreline had been lost to the square shape of concrete docks. The plan to introduce a public park on the Barangoo shoreline was opened up to a design competition, and the winning design was a beautiful landscape proposal that returns the shape of the original shoreline. The driving force for the introduction of this park was Australia’s greatest Prime Minister from the few decades – Paul Keating. And we can now enjoy the fruits of the labour of the architects, landscapers, and builders who gave us this new park – and cycleway too 🙂
C’mon, you knew that I would throw my two wheel endeavours into this.
So we took off on our bikes as a family, me riding alongside the Pok on his bike and my wife riding her bike with our Chariot trailer in tow shuttling Kiki. The distance from our place to the Barangaroo headland is just shy of 6km, a big distance for my little guy. But the reward was this:
The shoreline has been recreated with large hewn sandstone blocks. The stone that submerges with the tide has already taken to the green aquatic colours. There are two tracks the follow the shoreline. One which is composed of compacted earth for walkers, and a second asphalted path for two wheel steeds and runners. The views out over the harbour are great, and uninterrupted out to the inner West and the ANZAC Bridge.
The sandstone blocks are quite large, but not off-limits to walk on. Though the blocks do make you feel kinda small, but at the same time Balmain seems strangely within arms reach.
At the Northern most point of the headline was the opportune time for a refuelling pit-stop.
This gave me a chance to explore the park a bit more while the kids snacked. I rode up the hill to get a better view of the landscape of the park. The trees that have been planted have not matured yet, so hopefully in a few more years the shade will be more prominent.
My little Kiki was asleep the whole way to the park until we stopped. She was pleasantly surprised when we she woke up.
The view from the headland to the Sydney Harbour Bridge is pretty spectacular too, and the elevation provides a unique perspective. The short climb is fun to ride up.
The old maritime control tower which directed shipping is still in place and presides over the entire park.
Some of the sculpture pieces are pretty cool. This mini “stonehenge” from sandstone blocks was the site of a little game of hide and seek between The Pok, Kiki, and myself.
And I can never get enough of taking photos of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but it is the colours in the stone that are a highlight to me.
We took the opportunity to have a few race sprints between The Pok and myself. My little man is turning into a bit of a speed demon on the wheels, hitting over 20kph in a burst of speed. Not bad for a five year old. But all that energy output lead to more refueling for the boy – a hot chocolate did the trick.
All up a great family ride and what turned out to be the longest ride that my little man has done – 13km! He loved it as did my wife and little girl. And we are lucky to have a new addition to our harbour front.
Summer is in it’s final month here in Sydney. But being Summer it also means water and outdoors at night. One of our favourite things to try and do each year is to attend the Open Air Cinema between the Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. It is not cheap, but seeing at least one movie during the season has become a tradition of ours. The first time we went was to see the movie “Saving Grace” which turned out to be quite hilarious for two reasons. Firstly good movie, and secondly we watched the entire movie in a torrential downpour with ponchos on. I suppose a big part of what you pay for is the stunning location to watch the movie – here was our movie theatre for the evening.
For the uninitiated, you can get caught out with the way the whole thing works. There are no reserved seats, and one of the first things you have to do is lay claim to yours for the evening (not before grabbing a Lindor ball though – though no black or blue ones were on offer).
For the evening I was ‘Bill Collins’ of “Golden Years of Hollywood” fame (it’s an Aussie thing).
Once the seats are secured, then it is off to get fed and watered. This is the best way to catch dinner and a movie with a great view. Again, reserving your seats for the dining is essential to.
We went with friends this year, and managed to get tickets to the Christopher Nolan film – “Interstellar”. I was quite chuffed! It was the first time our mates had been to this Open Air Cinema – which for me was a real shock because they are proper movie buffs. Every year we try and go see anything, so long as we go. But it was a bonus to get tickets (and they sell out real fast!) to a movie that we both wanted to see. [side note – last year we saw “Anna Karenina”… nuff said about those two hours of my life lost forever]
So as the sun set on our meal which was watered with a couple of bottles of New Zealand’s finest, the pre-show experience begun. Lift the screen!
Yes, the screen is firmly planted within Sydney Harbour. Now the only gripe that I had about this year was that I missed out on the latest Peroni beer advert which is usually screened before the film. Apparently there was a minor firework display which was more important. [second side note – unless the fireworks display is great and loud, us Sydneysiders will be very critical. New Year’s Eve anyone?]
With all that harbour and skyline behind the screen you would think it would be a major distraction to watching the movie. Except, the sound is awesome! No chance of a directionally challenged fruit bat ruining the evening by crashing into the screen, its sonar is overpowered by the fantastic audio setup.
So we settled in to watch the movie, and had a good time interrupting our fellow movie patrons by discerning whether there were flaws in Hollywood science. The robots were cool, the spaceships were cool (not Rebel Alliance cool, but cool), and the story was cool.
[third and final side note – sorry ladies but I don’t know what the fuss about McConaughey is, he looked a bit ragged in this movie 😉 ]
While it is hard to get tickets, if you are in Sydney over the January / February period this is quite an experience. Our friends loved it and I think they will be return patrons. I definitely recommend it, and look forward to going again hopefully next year. Just be prepared with a poncho…
I have been long overdue for a blood donation at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. I was booked in for a donation this morning for a blood plasma, when I was asked if I could donate platelets instead. Apparently I have a high platelet count (for no other reason than I have), and some poor soul does not. He or She is in desperate need on a daily basis of platelet transfusions until they can find a suitable bone marrow donor – not an easy job. So my Friday Fone Foto is a simple one, a new blood sucking machine that I have become acquainted with. 🙂
I don’t like pushing my causes on others, but if you can donate then why not? The needle only tickles, the staff are always awesome, and plus they give you a free milkshake after your donation!
We were fortunate to have spent the weekend just past up in the New South Wales Hunter Valley – wine country! Of course with a drive of just over two hours it provided me the opportunity to pack my road bike steed on the roof and plan for a ride. I had never ridden up in the wine country before, but have driven through the valley on many occasions. What I recall is the poor quality of the roads up there in certain sections, and many of the smaller vineyards being access via unsealed roads. So to be honest, I was a bit nervous riding up there – particularly with the speed differential between me as a cyclist and the cars travelling at 80kph (50mph). And being wine country, I had noticed that many car drivers are a bit
tipsy wobbly behind the wheel. I planned two morning rides on the Saturday and the Sunday, but this trip is the only one where I prioritise the vine before the bike and I only managed to squeeze in a Saturday morning ride (I know that this breaks Rule #11 – I will pay penance at Velofix later this week).
I set off at 6:30 on Saturday morning, and what a glorious start to the day it was. The sun rising over the hills gradually illuminating the vineyards from long shadows. The air was fresh, wine country is farming country. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza, which provided me good access to high quality tarmac to roll on from the get go. The first part of my ride was up North through Lovedale.
The vineyards on some of the properties are quite close to the roads, and you get a real sense of what you are riding through. It kind of makes you thirsty…
The other non-wine farms are just as picturesque. This view of the rising sun through the eucalyptus trees created stunning shadows for many metres along the northern stretch of my route.
I was disappointed that there were no grapes on the vines, but it was the wrong time of the harvest season. Still, the weather has been pretty good, the vines looked healthy, so hopefully it will be a bumper year.
It was not flat on this ride, and as soon as you get off the main roads it becomes quite bumpy and gravelly. There was also a fair amount of roadwork going on that is not due to be completed until next year some time. For the stretches that were complete, the road was smooth as glass – the sort of road that cyclists dream about on a perfect ride. But it was far too bumpy for my liking through Pokolbin on 23mm tyres. It was so bumpy that as I headed back through the Eastern section of Pokolbin, the rattling shook my light completely out of its socket at 45kph. I had to slam on the brakes and backtrack to see if I could find where it had bounced off to. Fortunately it was still working and easily found, albeit with a few battle scars inflicted by some harsh gravel. While there I decided to ride up to Hope Estate winery, where I got married. It was surreal being in the saddle riding up the long driveway, knowing that my wife and two children were sleeping back at the hotel. Since we were married back in 2008 the property has changed significantly, not to mention the paving of the driveway.
As I was heading back, the wind was beginning to pick up quite strongly. Later that afternoon as we were driving from cellar door to door I noticed the wind was properly buffeting everything. By the time I headed back the morning had well and truly arrived, with the South Eastern part of the valley in full morning glow. Quite a sight.
I will definitely ride up here again, but now better prepared. Here are my tips for riding up in the Hunter Valley:
- Recon your route in the car properly (via a few cellar door tastings if you can). The conditions of many stretches of road were not what I remembered them to be. And for whatever reason, many of the roads are not very well maintained.
- Go early – the valley is practically asleep before 8am and the roads are only being traveled by sober drivers who are trying to go about their business. For this ride I only passed one other cyclists and perhaps was passed by 30 cars in total.
- Swap out your rubber to some wider and harder wearing tyres (28mm if you can). It was like riding pave or cyclocross in some sections. Which leads me to my next point…
- Consider riding a cyclocross or flat bar hybrid / mountain bike. While the road bike was good for riding on the good roads, there are many unsealed roads that are more akin to riding the Strade Bianche.
- If drinking copious amounts of wine the day/night before then hydrate up. I was parched before I had even started riding.
- Be prepared for the elements. It is windy and exposed through the valley, and the sun is quite strong.
- Enjoy the view! There is no point racing through this area, it is picturesque and beautiful. I made sure to take it in while in the saddle and I definitely noticed many different things riding than I have ever done behind the wheel of a car.
- Be self sufficient for the ride, nothing is open in the early morning. It would appear that the valley does not kick in until 10am, so sourcing any refills would have been a no go.
- Watch the speed difference between you and the cars. While most of the roads I rode on were marked at 80kph, I would not have been surprised many were travelling faster.
- Make sure you ride up there! I was contemplating leaving the bike behind, but it was a beautiful ride up there in the wine country.