On my return from Toowoomba, I call in for tea with Alastair and Caroline Pickering. Eleven acres of rolling paddocks grazed by ponies for the disabled, and a spacious house overlooking wild forest land, with farms way down the valley. The colonial-style bungalow allows plenty of room for visiting family and friends, but they have no animals. It seems strange. It is so like a Kenya house that I half-expect to see several dogs lounging on the veranda. However, they decided against having animals. It would be too much of a tie when there’s no “Njeroge” to look after them. How spoilt we were in Africa. Instead, colourful parrots flit fearlessly in and out of the veranda, purple swamp hens pick at the lawns, and kookaburras laugh raucously close by. It is great exchanging Kenya news.
It takes me a while to decide how to get from Brisbane to Sydney. I want to see a bit more of the country so eventually opt for a coach ride However, I might just as well have taken to the skies, as time constraints force me to travel overnight. We pass through the Gold Coast before sunset, but spend hours crawling in the traffic behind tall temporary barriers erected for some sort of festivity. We look out on the myriad of people returning to their hotels, footsore and tired, as they weave between the stagnant traffic.The remainder of the long journey is dreary and sleepless.
In Sydney, I meet up with Kathy who arrived on the “milk run” from Perth, so, after a desultory wander through a shopping complex near our hotel, she curls up on her bed and is out for the count. Armed with a rough sketch map of the area, and my binoculars bumping round my neck, I find some nearby wetlands.
Kathy and I spend a day at the Australian National Dressage Championships in their International Equestrian Centre. We watch Prix St. George and Medium tests outside, and sit through the evening display: Intermediate and Grand Prix Freestyle (Kur) to music. What an experience – passage and piaffe, flying single changes and pirouettes. All in their magnificent arched indoor arena, which gives such a feel of light airiness.
The following day another friend from bygone days picks me up from Central Station and drives me round Sydney’s high spots. Roy and I met Doug and his son Greg on our “Flight of the Angels” at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe sixteen years before.
Sydney is a truly beautiful city with its blue river, pleasure boats, ferries, yachts, and of course the Opera House and spectacular harbour bridge. We take advantage of the peaceful aftermath of an annual marathon to drive along the main streets of the city. Tiny glimpses of the river through tree-lined streets; quaint old buildings nestle between towering new ones. We cross the Bridge. The suburban houses on the north side are closer together in narrow streets.The homes in this older part of the city are very much sought after because of its spectacular view of the city, with the Opera House showing beneath the Harbour Bridge. Deep purple Jacaranda flowers and shocking red and orange bougainvillea give a dash of foreground colour to the scene.
We drive northwards to Newport, through villages running into each other. We wind through varied bush and forestland, with glimpses of the sea and surf beaches as we top the gentle rises. It is Sunday, daylight saving, and the people are not quite comfortable with the new timing; few are out and about and the roads are empty.
We go to Avalon and a delve into a tiny bookshop. Shelves are overcrowded, people squat on the floor to browse, reading newspapers and thumbing through magazines; a cramped cafe at the back, where we enjoy a delicious capuccino each; unhurried, casual; a “Thanks for coming in” from the proprietor as we depart, battling our way through the readers among the narrow shelves.
Then a feel with my toes in the smooth brown sands of Bilgola Beach, before going back to their new double-storey house among dozens of others on a crowded hillside. Irene dishes up a delicious chicken ginger dish for supper that night.
Later in the week, Greg and his family invite Colin, Kathy and myself to a barbecue in their small North Bank home and Phil comes round to share his photographs of us all picnicking above the dry white soda flats at Lake Magadi. I have to see these to be reminded of their visit to Kenya thirteen years ago and wonder how many unrecorded incidences have slipped my mind. As I get older, it is quite frightening.
Then it is two days of intense sightseeing with Colin and Kathy. Manly beach, lunches, shopping and more shopping (mainly Kathy: I am sticking to my resolution to resist – my suitcase is already brimful). The “Tales of Hoffman” at the Opera House is disappointing, although it is wonderful to hear “Barcarole” in its true setting.
When Kathy leaves, Col and I catch the ferry to Darling Harbour. We see the Shackleton film on IMAX (a “first” for Colin), wander round the Maritime Museum, experience the destroyer and submarine first-hand, and then visit the Aquarium. We finish up with a sit and a stroll in the Botanical Gardens before catching the bus to our sedate digs at the women’s halls of residence in Sydney University. Sydney is well organised for tourists and their $13 dollar a day deal for unlimited use of trains, buses and ferries is good value.
We go to the Olympic Village by Rivercat – a sleek vessel that races silently and almost without a wake through the water – and tour the Stadium, which is undergoing noisy alterations. It feels eerie without the masses, and is also very hot.
Then we lounge on grassy banks in Sydney’s botanical gardens, watching for birds and catching up with each other. I value this leisurely period with my twins, one after the other, pleasantly intimate and with no distractions from spouses or children.