Book Review – Down Under by Bill Bryson

I absolutely loved this book. I took loads of books away with me on the trip, mainly cricket related, and finished them all but this stands head and shoulders above the other books. Reading it was an absolute joy. I remember loving Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island” about his travels round the UK which I read this many moons ago and “Down Under” was no different. What made reading this book particularly timely for me was reading about Bryson’s travels round Australia after I had recently spent considerable time there myself. “Down Under” was published quite a few years ago in 2000 but I felt that many of his observations about places that I had also visited were similar to my own. Bryson is a fantastic storyteller and brings out some great humour into his writing. There were times I laughed out loud particularly when he told of his experience of getting terrible sunburn in Perth and how people reacted to him afterwards.

I think one place that Bryson really enjoyed that to some degree passed me by was Adelaide. I do not really think my time there did the place justice and next time I visit there I need to check out North Adelaide, the extensive parklands and some wineries. Australia is of course an unbelievably vast country and so much of it is still relatively unexplored. Bryson went to lots of places that I didn’t manage to get to such as Darwin and the Great Barrier Reef. If anything the book has made me more determined to go back to Australia and visit more of this fascinating country. Bryson spent some time travelling across Australia by train and this sounded a great way to see the country.

One area that Bryson explored in some detail was that of Aboriginal Australians. I encountered very few on my travels round Australia. The total Aboriginal population is around 700,000 or 3% of the total Australian population. However in the Northern Territory they are much more commonplace. I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that I found the episode of Australian history relating to colonisation and the treatment of the indigenous Australians very troubling. Bryson detailed massacres of Aborigines that took place in the years of colonisation and in particular the Myall Creek Massacre of 1838. This is notable not so much from the fact that there was terrible loss of life – 28 Aboriginal men, women and children were murdered – but that for the first time in Australian history the killers were brought to trial and hanged. After arriving in the new colony some of the early settlers pushed into inland Australia with the aim of seizing Aboriginal land which the indigenous population had looked after and had sustained them for tens of thousands of years. Of course the Aborginal population would not give up this land without a fight. The scale of the massacres which took place is shocking and perhaps has received relatively little publicity. The journalist John Pilger is quoted as saying “More first Australians were killed than Native Americans on the American frontier and Maoris in New Zealand. The state of Queensland was a slaughterhouse”.

I am left with the feeling that for the indigenous Australians the impact of the arrival of settlers into their world has been like a huge nightmare. Their whole world.was thrown upside down and they are still recovering from this. Bryson detailed his experience at Todd Street Mall in Alice Springs on a Saturday morning. “The people on the street were overwhelmingly white Australian but there were Aborigines about, too – not great numbers but always there, on the edges of the frame, unobtrusive, nearly always silent, peripheral. The white people never looked at the Aborigines, and the Aborigines never looked at the white people. The two races seemed to inhabit separate but parallel universes. I felt as if I was the only person who could see both races at first. It was very strange. A very high proportion of the Aborigines looked beaten up”. Having visited Alice Springs well over a decade later I can say that little has changed. The scene which Bryson witnessed was identical to my own experience. Bryson did say that ” The most ruined Aborigines are those you see in towns”. In Perth I saw a number of Aborigines hanging around on the streets and in one instance a couple of them being bundled into a police van in the main shopping mall late in the afternoon. So there is a big problem in Australia here that needs addressing but I fear the solution is very very difficult. I hope it is high on Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s priority list.

I can’t recommend Down Under more highly and it inspires me to check out more of Bryson’s work.

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Ashes 5th Test at Sydney – A 5 nil whitewash

The outcome of the 5th test was entirely predictable given the gulf between the two teams that I had witnessed in the earlier 4 fixtures. In fact the script could almost have been written before the match started.

So we saw 2 England batting collapses and in both innings they failed to score over 200 runs. A number of terrible shots were played often by England’s most experienced batsmen. It really looks like the intensity of this series has got to them. Decision making over which balls to play and which to leave is generally much much poorer than you would expect from players of this talent and experience. I think their brains have become scrambled meaning they can not think clearly out in the middle. The England tail yet again failed to score many meaningful runs when the top 5 had failed.

Yet again we saw England’s bowlers getting us into a good position. On day 1, after Alastair Cook won his first toss of the series and put Australia into bat on an overcast morning and with a green tinged pitch. just after lunch the Aussies were 97 for 5. Then we saw a combination of poor England bowling, they bowled too short after lunch, and another fantastic innings from Brad Haddin well supported by Steve Smith. So Australia are let off the hook and managed to compile a score of 326.

Michael Clarke departs the field after being out for 10 on the morning of day 1 with England on top

Michael Clarke departs the field after being out for 10 on the morning of day 1 with England on top

Broad bowls to Harris as England let a good position slip on day 1

Broad bowls to Harris as England let a good position slip on day 1

What was particularly galling about this defeat was that it happened in under 3 days. The England batting performance in the second innings was particularly pathetic. They were all out in only 31.4 overs. There was little fight and it looked like they couldn’t get out of the SCG quickly enough. Did they have a plane to catch?

England’s cricket supporters who have travelled to Australia at huge cost and in big numbers deserved far far better.

At the end of the game I did not linger for long. I watched the immediate celebrations of the Aussie team and headed out of there. I felt strangely emotional for a few seconds knowing this was my last day at the cricket on this trIp. In total over the last 7 weeks I have been to 20 days of ashes cricket and have only missed the last day in Perth and a couple of sessions in Melbourne. Although the results have been incredibly disappointing I have found much of the action compelling. The most memorable sessions have been the England batting collapses often when Mitchell Johnson was steaming in bowling at 145 km/h plus. He rightly was named man of the series. When England collapsed on day 2 at the Gabba amidst some incredibly hostile, fast and accurate bowling from Johnson the die was cast. Johnson had the X factor and England have no equivalent bowler. The speed of the bowling they faced unsettled the whole team and I don’t think they ever recovered from the shock of what happened on day 2 at Brisbane.

Oh dear!

Oh dear!

Boyd Rankin is out to confirm the 5-0 whitewash

Boyd Rankin is out to confirm the 5-0 whitewash

The Aussie players celebrate

The Aussie players celebrate

Jubilant scenes

Jubilant scenes

Steve Smith applauds the crowd

Steve Smith applauds the crowd

My last look at the SCG

My last look at the SCG

Whale Watching at Kaikoura

So I managed to escape watching the Aussies bowl England out on day 5 in Perth and reclaim the Ashes.

I flew east to Christchurch in New Zealand. This necessitated two flights each lasting just over 3 hours and a time zone change. New Zealand is 5 hours ahead of Perth. I arrived in my airport hotel in Christchurch just after midnight and crashed out.

The following day I picked up a hire car and headed off to go whale watching. It was a 2 and a half hour drive north east to Kaikoura. NZ is a great place to drive in with good quiet roads and stunning scenery. Close to Christchurch I passed through vineyards which form part of the Waipara wine region. The vista then changed and included vast open farmland with mountains in the distance in every direction.

Close to kaikoura I hit the coastline which was stunning and drove along it for around 10 miles.

Coastline near Kaikoura

Coastline near Kaikoura

I reached the whale watching station in plenty of time and checked in for my tour. There was a seasickness warning for my sailing. Remembering a recent experience when Mackerel fishing off Lyme Regis, I sought out a remedy…

Kaikoura is one of the best places to view whales in the world. This is due to the depth of the water very close to the coastline. It plunges to the depth of 3 Auckland skytowers – the highest building in the Southern Hemisphere. In addition there is a plentiful supply of sea life, particularly squid, for the whales to feed on.

After setting off in the boat, we were alongside a whale in around 15 minutes. It was a male sperm whale and was on the surface for around 10 minutes before diving to the depths. I got a great shot of the tail fin as it dived.

Whale no.1

Whale no.1

First whale diving

First whale diving

We headed off to find another whale and found one further out at sea. This one, another male sperm whale, was very subdued – apparently sleeping on the surface. We watched it for around half an hour before heading back to shore. We also saw fur seals, an albatross and Westland petrels.

The second whale

The second whale

The second whale apparently sleeping

The second whale apparently sleeping

All in all an amazing and unforgettable experience to get so close to these amazing creatures.

Third Ashes Test at Perth – Day 1

After checking out of the Novotel I headed off to the WACA. Just before you get to the ground there is a wonderful park to walk through. At 10am you could already feel the heat. A maximum temperature of 38 degrees C was forecast.

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I have to say that compared to the Gabba and Adelaide Oval, the WACA is a disappointmenf. It feels very out of date, there is little shade and facilities aren’t great. Long queues for drinks for example. The stands are a hotch potch and some are temporary. Surely it needs redeveloping?

The view from my seat

The view from my seat

I had a good view of the action but no shade until around 3.30 when the sun disappeared behind a floodlight. The sun and heat were relentless. I drank loads of water to keep hydrated. At times I felt seriously uncomfortable. At lunchtime I returned to the park to lay in shade under a tree. I saw people being treated by paramedics. Am not sure how the players kept going..

My seat is on an aisle and for most of the day the seat next to me was empty. Before lunch a guy called George appeared and sat next to me. He is an English guy who had flown in overnight from Singapore where he works recruiting commodities traders. He was alone as his mate was delayed on to a later flight as he had forgotten to sort out his Aussie visa. This illustrates how close Perth is to South East Asia. The flight from Singapore is around 5 hours. Later in the day I met another England cricket fan who had flown in from Singapore for the match.

On the pitch, Alastair Cook lost the toss again and Australia batted. There was one change for England with Bresnan coming in for Panesar. England got off to a decent start and soon after lunch the Aussies had lost 5 wickets and scored only 143 runs. The possibility of bowling Australia out for less than 200 seemed a distinct possibility. It should be pointed out that the wickets were due to bad batting much more than good bowling.

A stand between Haddin and Smith then developed. Haddin got another 50. His 4th consecutive half century in this series. He eventually was out for 55. Smith carried on and got his century. At stumps the score is 326-6. After that good start only one more wicket falls. England let the Aussies off the hook. We seem to have lost our ruthless streak. The bowling was not good today with too many short balls.

So the Aussies are on top after day 1. It wont be long until the ashes are back with them.

Freo, The Swan River and Rottnest Island

I have been keeping busy on the tourist trail in the build up to tomorrow’s 3rd test here in Perth.

Yesterday, after changing hotels I caught a train up to Fremantle. A few people have recommended Freo, as the locals call it, as a good place to visit. I arrived with little knowledge of the place so headed of to the tourist information for a bit of a low down.

Fremantle sits on the coast at the head of the Swan River. It is a city despite having a population of only 25,000. It’s where the first settlers in Western Australia landed in 1829. Fremantle is named after the British naval officer Charles Fremantle who first raised the British flag in Western Australia at the mouth of the Swan River. Originally Western Australia was going to be populated by free settlement along the lines of South Australia but after 20 years they decided progress was slow so the convicts arrived as a source of labour.

After lunching near Arthur Head I headed for the Round House. It’s Western Australia’s oldest building, a gaol, and was completed in 1831. It’s fairly small as this was the time before the convicts arrived…. After visiting here I headed for a microbrewery. Little Creatures had been recommended by my friend Dave and also the guy in Freo who served my lunch. It’s quite an enterprise with brewing going on in 2 separate buildings, a shop and a busy restaurant. It was buzzing and I was interested to learn the founders have sold out to the Japanese brewer, Kirin. I enjoyed a pint of their Bright Ale.

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The Round House gaol

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The little creatures microbrewery

After downing my pint I headed up to Fremantle Prison. It was built in the 1850’s by and for convict labour and replaced The Round House. It eventually became the main prison for the area and was only closed as recently as 1991. It was fascinating. We saw cells mocked up from different eras. The kitchens, the slopping out regime, the exercise yard and solitary confinement. There was the sanctuary of an Anglican Church within the prison which bizarrely gets lots of use as a wedding venue.. The tour finished in the room where 44 prisoners had been executed. The guide described in graphic detail the procedure. The gallows used is still there. Rather macabre..

Fremantle jail

Fremantle jail

One of the more modern cells

One of the more modern cells

Inside Fremantle jail

Inside Fremantle jail

After the prison I headed back to Perth on the train. It was packed with girls around the 12/13 age group dressed to the nines, with new hairdo’s and wearing make up. It turned out Taylor Swift was in town. I didn’t envy whoever out of Mum or Dad had drawn the short straw in accompanying daughter to listen to that!

The next day I headed for the Barrack Street jetty in Perth. I was going to Rottnest Island. A visit here was recommended by my sister Janette who had been there on her gap year, many moons ago…. after boarding the cruise boat we headed up the swan river. It was hot and sunny. The river shimmered but no sign of any of the black swans that the River is named after. We went past numerous yacht clubs and some absolutely amazing riverside properties. Some prime real estate here. On arriving in Fremantle I transferred to the Rottnest ferry. Rottnest is an island which is 11miles off the coast due west of Fremantle. It’s 7 miles long and 3 miles wide at its widest point. It’s stunningly beautiful. There are numerous beaches, the water is crystal clear and there are inland lakes. I hired a bike and explored the island. It had an Australian army base on it around the time of the second world war so it has a good infrastructure and excellent roads. It was a boiling hot day so after cycling round in 35 degrees plus temperatures I was dripping in sweat. Good exercise!

The beauty of  Rottnest Island

The beauty of Rottnest Island

A beach at rottnest island

A beach at rottnest island

Rottnest is one of the few places in Western Australia that you find Quokka’s. It’s a small marsupial in the same family as a kangaroo or wallaby. I saw around half a dozen as I cycled around. They resemble a very big rat and seem to frequent areas where they may get some free food (eg picnic tables).

A quokka

A quokka

I could have cycled round here for hours but it was time to catch the ferry back to Perth. A note for a future visit is that there is accommodation on the island. It would be a great place to stay for longer.

So tomorrow it’s back to the cricket. It’s going to be hard work watching in this heat. I don’t envy the cricketers playing in 35 degrees plus!

Flying to Perth with the England Cricket Team

Whilst checking my itinerary for Perth yesterday I noticed a potential issue. It showed my hotel in Perth being booked between 10th and 17th October! I got in touch with my travel agent to check whether this was just a typo. overnight they confirmed that there was a mistake and my room in Perth was booked for 2 months ago! They have managed to sort the issue, at their cost,  but due to limited accommodation in Perth I am staying in 2 different hotels and the one I am staying in tonight I check out of tomorrow and then back into on Friday! It’s not ideal but at least I have a bed. This was the first mini crisis of my trip but given the number of flights and hotels involved I guess something going awry was inevitable.

I checked out of my hotel In Adelaide and got to the airport around 12pm ahead of my 2 o’clock flight. As it turned out the England team were on the same flight…. whilst boarding from the economy queue  I observed them walking past me into business class. Were they ashen faced and quiet after the first 2 tests? Well my observation would be, far from it. They seemed quite upbeat with some banter flying around. Alastair Cook did not appear at all to be feeling the pressure although coaches Andy Flower and Graham Gooch seemed deep in thought. The players demeanour could mean one of two things:- 1. Team spirit and confidence is high; or 2. They are not that bothered how things are going…

As I entered the plane I saw the team settling into business class.  I do have some experience of engaging sporting celebrities in conversation which have ended in toe curling embarrassment… part of me felt like screaming to the group of them “for goodness sake sort it out chaps” or a more Yorkshire Anglo Saxon version…. But I decided that would be counter productive. I adopted a more constructive approach. As I walked through business class on my way to economy….

“good luck for Perth Jimmy”

“thanks”

“good luck for Perth KP”

“thanks mate”

That was the end of my encounter with the England cricket team. After landing in Perth there was no sign of them at the baggage carousel. I guess they have people that sort that out for them.

I got a taxi to my hotel in Perth and after checking in headed out to have a look around. I’m impressed! Hot and sunny, impressive buildings old and new, lots of shopping and restaurants closeby and last but not least the Swan River which is big and looked lovely with the sun shimmering on it. Lots of possibilities for boat trips in the next couple of days. So first impressions are great and I’m looking forward to spending time here.

The bell tower

The bell tower

The Supreme Court building

The Supreme Court building

View of the city

View of the city

The post office with fountains in front

The post office with fountains in front

The swan river

The swan river

Ashes Second Test Day 5 + touristy stuff…..

Overnight I received an email from Phil from Sheffield. He’s a guy I had met in Alice Springs who is following the England cricket team. He is a member of the South Australian Cricket Association. It’s a way he gets to watch the cricket at Adelaide from the best seats. He had a guest pass going for Day 5 with my name on it! There was a dress code – shirt with a collar, smart shorts which I passed. The facilities here for members are superb. A real cut above the bars and food outlets I had experienced for this test match. It also gave me the opportunity to see the cricket from a different vantage point. I joined Phil and his wife Rachel in the Sir Edwin Smith stand.

The view of the South Stand from the Sir Edwin Smith stand

The view of the South Stand from the Sir Edwin Smith stand

Despite it being very overcast and there being rain in Adelaide before play, the cricket started only 10 minutes late. Resuming overnight on 247-6 I had expected England to make the Aussies work really hard for their wickets. Instead England set off as if they had a really important lunch date! On the 3rd ball of the day, Broad hit Siddle for 6 over mid wicket. On the 4th ball he tried the same shot and got caught out. Another wicket given away! Will they never learn? The one plus point of the day is Matt Prior returning to form with a 50 but he also got out playing an unnecessary hook shot. In less than an hour England are all out for 312. The Aussies win by 218 runs and go 2 nil up in the series.

The scoreboard at the end of the second test....

The scoreboard at the end of the second test….

For England, another disappointing day, of a disappointing test, of a disappointing series. We have to play better in Perth, surely?

I have revisited the team I suggested for Perth in the aftermath of the capitulation to Mitchell Johnson on day 3. I have reprieved Root and Prior based on their much improved performances with the bat in the second innings. My team for Perth is Cook, Carberry, Root, Pietersen, Bell, Prior (wk), Stokes, Bresnan, Broad, Tremlett, Andersen. The only potential change to this is if England can find a genuinely quick fast bowler to rival Johnson. Finn and Rankin are in the squad but they didn’t impress when I saw them at Alice Springs. If one of them gets their act together then I would pick him ahead of Tremlett.

Given the game was over so quickly this gave me an opportunity to get down to the beach. A number of people had recommended Glenelg as being a good place to visit. I caught the tram from North Terrace. It was packed! I wasn’t the only cricket fan with this idea. On arrival at Glenelg I walked to the end of the jetty. It was really cold! It felt more like a summers day in the UK than Australia. The beach was deserted. Glenelg is a lovely place. It’s where the first settlers to South Australia landed in 1836. Unlike other parts of Australia, South Australia was not a convict colony and the locals are quick to tell you this! I visited the museum that told the story of the early days here. There was also a tribute to the Aussie flying ace Jimmy Melrose who was from Glenelg and died tragically at a very young age. When aged just 21, in 1935, he flew solo from Australia to London in 8 days. I walked along the marina which has lots of drinking and eating outlets.

The beach at Glenelg

The beach at Glenelg

Glenelg jetty. The original jetty was twice as long and was destroyed in a storm in 1948.

Glenelg jetty. The original jetty was twice as long and was destroyed in a storm in 1948.

Glenelg toen hall which houses the museum I visited

Glenelg toen hall which houses the museum I visited

Glenelg is on Holdfast Bay where the original settlers from England landed in 1836.

Glenelg is on Holdfast Bay where the original settlers from England landed in 1836.

Park in Glenelg named after flying ace Jimmy Melrose

Park in Glenelg named after flying ace Jimmy Melrose

Glenelg Marina

Glenelg Marina

After a couple of hours in Glenelg I caught the tram back to Adelaide. I have seen little of the city since arriving so this was a good opportunity to explore. I got off the tram at South Terrace and walked north up King William street. My general impression of Adelaide is that it’s very nice, very pleasant but lacking the wow factor that I found in Brisbane. It’s all laid out very symmetrically, there are some nice buildings and parks but I am not sure it will stick long in the memory. The most impressive structures are to be found at the Adelaide Oval which South Australians are rightly very proud of as the modernised stadium comes to fruition. I also like the Railway Station possibly because it’s a place I have spent quite a lot of time in….. I walked on Gouger Street which had been recommended to me as a good place to eat out. There is an impressive Chinatown area there.

Chinatown on Gouger Street

Chinatown on Gouger Street

Entrance for Adelaide railway station

Entrance for Adelaide railway station

Adelaide oval viewed from the other side of the River Torrens

Adelaide oval viewed from the other side of the River Torrens

So farewell to Adelaide, next Perth!!