Motorsport

In another era of my life, I was an avid V8 Supercars fan. I knew all the drivers and their cars, I was visibly upset when Craig Lowndes switched the Ford (not sure I’ve actually forgiven him) and I insisted on doing a whole research assignment on Peter Brock when I was in primary school. In our house, almost an entire day was blocked out for Bathurst each year and it was a crime to walk in front of the television.

Gradually, I seemed to have lost interest (maybe due to the gaping Lowndes wound in my heart) and I haven’t actually engaged in the sport for years. This month, however, I was given the opportunity to take some of my students to Albert Park in the days leading up the Melbourne Grand Prix.

The Grand Prix street circuit runs through Albert Park which is a suburb and an actual park so there is a lake and large fields surrounding the track. These field are set up with grandstands, merchandise stores, food trucks, sponsor displays, and an “Industry and Innovation Precinct”. It was under this pretence that schools are able to make an ‘educational experience’ out of going to watch racing cars. The displays were actually quite good – RMIT demonstrated some research into heat-proof clothing, drones, and 3D printing, Swinburne brought their Formula SAE team, and the Defence Force showed off a few of their vehicles. Students were able to attend short seminars explaining various engineering and technology advances in Formula 1.

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RMIT Technology Displays

On the other side of the track was the Fan Zone where various sponsors had set up displays and experiences such as the pit stop challenge where people were able to test their tyre changing abilities against the clock. A stage was set up for autograph sessions with drivers and people were lining up to meet them. We only had a few hours so our group avoided the huge lines. My colleague and I did manage to spot Australia’s favourite son, Daniel Ricciardo walking back from his autograph session though. Beyond the lake was the Kids Zone which sounded like stacks of fun. I personally couldn’t be bothered walking that far though so I will have to leave that to the imagination. Some students also found the V8 Supercar Paddock and saw some of the drivers there. I couldn’t figure out how to get there so I was a little jealous to have missed it.

Most students did a quick tour of the precinct and fan areas, but really, we were here for the track action. Since it was only Thursday, we didn’t get to see any practice sessions for Formula 1 cars. Instead, we were first treated to an historic Formula 1 demonstration with cars from past eras and their owners. Then the Shannons Australian GT Qualifying practice session started up. We’d been given ear plugs on entry, but this was the first time I actually wanted to use them. A few of us were sitting across from pit lane at this stage, with the permanent structure above it. I think all that extra concrete and glass amplified the sound! We got to watch the Porsche Carrera Cup practice session from a different part of the track and saw a driver lock up his breaks coming into a corner and slide into the gravel pit.

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Track side.
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This was a bit loud.

The main event for me, though, was definitely the Coates Hire Supercars Challenge practice session. While Albert Park wasn’t a points round for the main championship, the drivers didn’t hold back. I had watched a lot of races on television but this was the first time I’d seen V8s in full force in real life. What a thrill! Again, it was pretty noisy but a much more deep, rumbling tone rather than the high pitch of the GTs. It definitely got my heart racing and I began to remember why I liked Supercars so much! We were standing towards the end of the straight after pit lane so they were belting past us pretty fast. I took some video on my phone and the frame rate could barely keep up with them – they look like they jump from frame to frame. This was the last thing we got to see and we were supposed to be rounding up the students to start heading home. It was a bit of a struggle to pull myself away from the track!

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Supercars!

Once again, I am reminded how incredibly lucky I am to live in the sporting capital of Australia where we get to jump on a train mid-week and experience world-class events like the Grand Prix. I’ve lived here for years and never really considered going to the event, but I would like to go back another time now that I have. On the Sunday, I was in the South Melbourne and saw part of the fighter jet display as they flew back and forward over Albert Park. That would have been an awesome sight from the Grand Prix venue. The whole experience was definitely worth it; we didn’t even feel like we had missed out having not seen the Formula 1 sessions. I probably don’t have the time or energy to return to my former days in the V8 Supercar fandom but my love for motorsport was definitely reignited.

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Nieces and Nephews

Among my group of friends, I have long been referred to as “Aunty Dales”. From what I can remember, it started back when I offered to buy everyone dinner when they were a bit short on cash. I’m not sure why it stuck so well but it is a pretty pervasive moniker, even now. A few years ago, however, I officially lived up to the name and became an aunt to my sister’s son. Since my first nephew was born, four more nieces and nephews have been added to the crew by various siblings. And they’re all so cute!

All my siblings live in another state and it pains me to live so far away from everyone. As everyone says, kids grow up so quickly but it seems even more so when you only see them a few times a year. I fully intend, however, to embrace my role as the interstate aunt who periodically shows up and spoils everyone with presents and attention. The gift buying got a little out of hand this year and took up about 70% of my luggage. With five kids under four, the unwrapping of those gifts quickly descended into chaos.

I got to spend a few more weeks with them after Christmas as well, so I got in some quality play time and plenty of hugs. And, me being me, I also took a lot of photos…

Mr J (3 years old)

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Traditional Christmas Lion.

The oldest cousin and also the most talkative. He has boundless energy and runs straight at my camera whenever I tried to get a shot! Consequently, most of his photos are out of focus. His love for motorbikes is strongly encouraged in our family and we could hardly get him off the quad once Grandpa had taken him for a ride. Also has exceptional bubble blowing skills for a three year old.

Mr Z (nearly 3 years old)

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So much excitement in one expression.

Starting to form coherent sentences that were mainly about ‘rah-rahs’ (anything that roars but mainly dinosaurs) and ‘car cars’ which are his favourite things. I woke many mornings to dinosaurs on my bed or cars driving on my pillow. He is the first toddler I’ve seen ride up and down ramps at the skate park and has a motorbike with training wheels. He’s probably already a better rider than me. Obsessed with the frogs that visit on the verandah at night.

Miss A (1 and a bit years old)

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Such cuteness…

Adventurous and brave, she isn’t afraid of a bit of rough and tumble and she knows what she wants. She particularly liked the little cubby house she found hidden near the trees. I feel like she and Miss H grow up so much since I saw them. I don’t think they were even sitting up and now she’s running around. This little face will melt your heart.

Miss H (1 and a little bit less years old)

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Beach lover!

I think we took her on her first beach trip and I am proud to say, she loved it! We could hardly stop her from running straight into the waves. She also loved all the dogs at the farm, except for that one time one of them barked right in her face and she got a huge fright. Then there were tears. Her contribution to the family water fight was to drink all the water out of her water pistol.

Miss K (just over 6 months old)

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Aunty Mandy takes a lot of photos. Get used to it!

She is a big baby. We stood her up next to Miss H and she was nearly as tall as her. She eats all day and sleeps most of the night. Always smiling and tries to give kisses by just planting her wide open mouth on your cheek. I spent a lot of time making her watch the cricket and telling her how much she loves it (they’ve got to start somewhere, right?).

I took so many photos, I can hardly find enough places to post them without spamming all my social media accounts. They’re all just too cute! Attention Siblings: Please feel free to add more to the troupe. Love, Aunty Mandy xx

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Snowboarding

It cuts against the grain of this blog to mention that I hate winter. I really do. I can’t stand being cold and struggle more than most to get warm. Fortunately, I have lived most of my life in climates that suited my preferences. Since it is situated in a desert, Alice Springs can pull together a few bitterly cold days but these are usually accompanied by clear skies and rarely last for more than a few weeks. Central Queensland was comparatively mild. Neither of those places quite prepared me for what Melbourne had in store. There is no exaggeration in the claim that Melbourne can see four seasons in one day – I remember multiple times it blew a gale, hailed, rained and then cleared to sunny skies within the duration of a few hours. The unpredictability is one thing, but the endless grey, dreary, damp, miserable days in winter are enough to have this northerner wondering why she ever moved here. It certainly wasn’t for the weather.

Still, in an effort the make the most of my surroundings, I decided I may as well find a reason to appreciate the cold weather and take up a hobby that I would never have dreamed of in my previous locations: snowboarding. I had never even seen snow in real life until I made a trip to New Zealand in my twenties. Even then, the weather was so adverse that we couldn’t actually make it up any mountains to get amongst it and I had to satisfy myself with some dirty, melting blobs on the side of Desert Rd. It wasn’t until later that year I joined my colleagues’ annual, weekend ski trip and finally discovered some snow!

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Braving the cold.

An overwhelming majority of people I spoke to recommended that I learn to snowboard rather than ski. They say skiing is easier to pick up but snowboarding is easier to master. I took their word for it and while I never tried skiing, it’s safe to say I found another one of my favourite things to do. It may seem a little crazy for someone who so vehemently avoids being cold but with all the snow gear and intense physical activity, it’s really not so bad. I now go out of my way to spend at least one weekend a year ‘hitting the slopes’ at Mount Buller. By the end of the day, as I watch the skiers hobble around the village, I also appreciate that I’m wearing snowboarding boots instead of ski boots.

There are a few advantages of having a little group of snowboarding buddies too. Sometimes we hire a house together half way up the mountain and stay for a few nights. It is a relatively easy day trip from Melbourne though so sometimes we just go up as early as we can manage and head home once the ski lifts stop running. We also bought a lot of our gear in bulk from America and had it shipped over. I managed to get a board, bindings and boots for just over $300. Our order was so large that it attracted the attention of customs and we ended up having to pay some extra taxes but it still worked out cheaper than buying it here. It was worth it to not have to hire the equipment every time we head up to the mountain.

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Snowboarding buddy.

Recently, I had another, more successful snow trip in New Zealand. I travelled through Wanaka to Queenstown and decided to give Cardrona a go. It was an interesting drive up the unsealed road with no barriers between us and the side of the mountain. Visibility was so low that a lot of people had already given up and were heading back down the mountain by the time we were heading up. In fact, a lasting memory was a family driving down the side of the mountain with the kids in the back of the ute. You’re crazy, New Zealand. I could hardly see the chair in front of us going up the lift or the ground at my feet while boarding. Still, I made the most of it and got a few runs in for the afternoon.

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Road to Cardrona.
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Low visibility.

Snowboarding in and of itself is fun, regardless of visibility. Once you get the hang of it (and don’t fall over every few metres) and you gain a bit of speed, it’s quite exhilarating. However, I think one of my favourite parts is sitting on the snow, on top of a mountain, looking out across the ranges and valleys. There is such a stillness and serenity to taking in the beauty of snow capped mountains. I don’t even mind a long chair lift ride when it affords a better view of the landscape. You really do get the sense that you’re ‘on top of the world’.

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On top of the world.

I also love the atmosphere in the village, especially at Mount Buller. There is always such buzz around the Village Square with people everywhere, ranging from sight-seers to beginner skiers to seasoned snowboarders. You can leave your gear in the racks outside the cafés without fear of anyone else touching it. There is aroma of hot donuts coming from a little stand tuck away beneath some stairs. Kids are dragging toboggans over to the family play area. Sometimes there is even live music playing from a stage in the middle of the square. It’s such a special little community of snow-seekers.

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In the village.

So while the winter weather can sometimes get me down in every day life, I am thankful it creates the opportunity to enjoy one of my new favourite pastimes. Hopefully in the next few seasons we’ll get to try some other slopes.  My local friends plan to make the slightly longer journey to Mount Hotham soon and my cousin in Queenstown wants me to join her at The Remarkables. Eventually, I’d love to visit my friend in Switzerland and try some “real” ski runs. Apparently they will ruin me for our little Aussie slopes forever.

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Blue Mountains

Having seen a lot of Australia, I have to confess I hadn’t really done much exploring in New South Wales. So when I was looking to take a group of girls camping, I was searching for something appropriate in the Blue Mountains National Park. We ended up at Turon Gates, which was about an hour away and I thought I would use the proximity to do a little day trip to Katoomba.

My parents had met in Katoomba and spent a few years there studying at bible college. Dad especially is a prolific story teller and therefore we heard plenty of Katoomba-based stories while growing up. I did manage to find one of the places they lived at and we spent a few hours wandering around the main street. It was an interesting place. My mum later described it as full of rich, old people and hippies. Obviously there were a lot of tourists there but the locals still found our little crew a curiosity. I spend a fair amount of time with these girls out and about in Melbourne and never before have we attracted so much unsolicited attention. Nothing harmful, thankfully, but the number of people who felt the need to comment on “what beautiful ladies they are,” call out similar sentiments on the street or interrogate us about where we were from, took me by surprise. The girls were endlessly amused when I quickly responded, “Melbourne,” much to the questioner’s chagrin.

The main reason we had headed to Katoomba was to see the Three Sisters. This is one of the most recognised (and easily accessible) parts of the Blue Mountains. We drove to Echo Point, and then drove a few blocks away from Echo Point to get affordable parking. There are a few paved walkways and stone steps to various lookouts and even down to one of the rock formations. Foot traffic was pretty high so while the walks were quite short, it was a bit slow going at a few bottle necks. We took a few photos from the lookout, checked out the souvenir shop before heading off to find some lunch.

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Playing tourist.
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Echo Point Lookout.

After lunch (and some of those awkward conversations with locals) we went off in search of waterfalls. Tourist traffic was markedly reduced around the Katoomba Falls area. We spent more time here than Echo Point. My mum is originally from Perth and this was the first place she lived outside of Western Australia. She recalls being overwhelmed that any place could be so green and spending many hours wandering around the waterfalls. As residents of Victoria we encounter a lot more foliage, however we still spent plenty of time exploring the temperate rain forest and taking in the tranquility of the waterfalls.

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Album dropping soon…
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Water falling.

It was all I could do to drag the girls back up all those stairs so we could return to our campsite before it was dark. Needless to say, the little that I got to see of the Blue Mountains and Katoomba did not disappoint. Maybe one day I’ll get to explore a little deeper into the national park.

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Hidden Treasure

Every opportunity I can, I try to get out of the suburban hustle and go camping. Some of the teenagers I work with had never been camping so I set about finding somewhere really special to introduce them to one of my favourite past times. Eventually, I stumbled upon such a place – Turon Gates, NSW. I almost don’t want to share that in the off-chance that someone is actually reading these and word gets out about how amazing it is. I asked the proprietors if we were likely to get a campsite since they didn’t take bookings and they assured me it would be fine. So we packed my little Astra to the roof and squeezed four of us in and drove the 9 hours to the little farm. We took a few interesting back roads and had to stop off at a small sheep farm with some breathtaking views.

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Back road highlights.

We slowly picked our way through the back roads (suitable for 4WD only, oops!) and began to wonder if we had taken a wrong turn as it began to grow dark. Finally, we came to a gate signed “Turon Gates” and we came upon our little treasure hidden in the hills of Turon National Park.

In the dark and racing the oncoming shower, we set up camp and gather firewood to make some dinner. The managers were right, there were a few families scattered along the creek near a large, grassy field and only one other lot of campers near the bathroom facility (which I thought weird). We set up behind a little rise which hid us from the rest of the world with a short walk to the bathroom and an even shorter walk to the creek

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Camp site set up.

Our camp kitchen was pretty basic but we managed to pull of some pretty impressive meals nonetheless. Probably one of the favourites was our take on an Ethiopian dish – Doro Wat. Normally we make it in a slow cooker but we took it back to basics and made it over the fire in our dutch oven. Essentially, the dish is chicken slow-cooked with berbere spices, honey wine and a few other ingredients. We set it up around lunch time and left it to cook for a few hours while we explored the surroundings. It’s served with boiled eggs and usually injera (fermented flat bread). We didn’t bring any injera this time but enjoyed our Doro immensely. Some other hits included lamb skewers grilled on the hotplate and chicken and vegetables wrapped in foil and cooked on the coals.

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Doro Wat cooking over the fire.

While the Doro was cooking we hired one of the on-site canoe. There was a little miscommunication about that. There was a canoe near the deeper part of the creek and a canoe in the shallow part for the kids. We though that we were going to the canoe near the deep part. We struggled a lot with the rocks and could hardly imagine just how shallow the shallow part must be. It turns out that’s where we were after all. Later on in our exploring we found the deeper part and the canoe chained up near the tree. The girls were a little dirty on the managers for pointing us in the wrong direction but we had a bit of fun anyway.

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Dodging rocks in canoes.

One of the girls was on her learners so I let her have a little driving practice on the dirt roads and we went to check out some other parts of the property. The creek winds its way through the farm and there is a stretch a few kilometres long where camping is allowed. Closer to the main road (on the way to Capertee) there are cabins tucked away in the bush. There were a few families staying in these that were fishing near the causeway. We pulled over and worked our way through the bushes and hopped over rocks in the creek before deciding we better head back home and start making dinner. Two of the girls were feeling extra adventurous and walked back to the campsite while our learner drove. Perhaps that inspired their adventurous spirit! I told them just to stick to the creek and they would be fine since our tent was barely ten metres from the edge of the creek. I was beginning to get a little worried as it got closer and closer to sun down but they eventually emerged from the bush safe and sound!

Another day had us exploring in the other direction and farther off the track – on horseback! This was another first for the most of the girls so the quiet, experienced trail-riding horses kept on the property were just right. We took on up the track that had been used decades ago to move sheep from the property to be sold in town. It felt like it was straight up the mountain. We had started walking up that track looking for firewood previously and it was tough work! We were extremely glad that the horses were doing all that work for us this time. A slow paced horse ride is such a nice way to take in the scenery.

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Straight up hill.

The water in the creek was mountain fresh and very cold! But it meant that the water was drinkable. At least that’s what we were told. It amused the girls greatly that the brochure provided to us invited us to drink the water, claiming it was perfectly safe since, “we drink it and we’re still here.” The girls weren’t convinced that good enough reason but we stuck to our adventurous guns and drank it anyway.

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Mountain fresh drinking water.

As I said, I don’t want everyone finding out about our little hidden treasure of a campsite. It was so peaceful and quiet and I can’t wait to find an excuse to go back, even though it was quite a long drive. We did have another “little” side excursion while we were up there so close to the Blue Mountains but I will save that for another post. Instead, I’ll leave you with a few of our favourite photos from Turon Gates.

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Rugby League

Sometimes I wonder if I live in the wrong city. Melburnians, in general, are quite passionate about sport and, in particular, AFL which they feel an ownership over. Having been raised a Queenslander and indoctrinated from a young age in the superiority of Rugby League I have sometimes struggled to find like-minded friends. In fact, not only do I encounter apathetic attitudes towards NRL amongst the locals but I am often surprised by the aggressive nature of their disdain for the game. Although, in all fairness, I am apathetic towards AFL. One of the most frequently asked questions in Melbourne is, “Which team do you follow?” I can’t even truthfully say it’s the Brisbane Lions. I can watch a game of AFL every now and then but I don’t care who wins. I just doesn’t have my heart.

See, I love Rugby League. I’ve given up social commitments and organised interstate holidays to fit around opportunities to go to Rugby League games. I’ve screamed and yelled at the television, jumped up and down and thrown (soft) objects around the room in excitement. It physically pains my heart to hear my students taunt me that the, “Broncos are going to lose the State of Origin tonight,” because they clearly have no idea what they’re talking about.

Living ‘below the border’ (‘behind enemy lines’?) has actually afforded me more opportunities than I’d had in my previous locations to witness one of the greatest sporting spectacles available: The State of Origin. State of Origin is like always having your team in the grand final, and then playing that grand final three times a year. As mentioned several times already, being a Queenslander is no small part of my identity (somehow still even after living over half of my life elsewhere) so the rivalry between Queensland and New South Wales runs strong in my veins. Since it is nearly that time of year again, where mate plays against mate, I thought I would reminisce some of the games I got to spectate last year. Game II was played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. My parents were coming from interstate just to watch (and to see me I suppose). At the last minute, my mum couldn’t come so I invited a rare, Rugby-watching friend to join us.

The MCG truly is one of the best sporting grounds in Australia and to see it bathed in maroon and blue light warmed my heart. We had only just held on by the skin our teeth in Game I and even after so many Queensland victories in recent years, the hunger to beat the Baby Blues was still strong. Melbourne has no real vested interest in the traditional Origin rivalry, however, it does have its own rivalry with Sydney which extends to almost all facets of life. Hence, the Victorian crowds tend to heavily favour the Queenslanders, if only out of pure spite for New South Wales. The trip from Sydney to Melbourne is short enough that many Blues supporters deigned the trip down for the game, and many Queenslanders had also traveled considerable distance to attend. So despite the event lacking the home ground advantage for both teams, blue and maroon clad supporters were in abundance.

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State of Origin Opening.
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Colourful supporters.

An almost sold-out crowd filling the MCG is an impressive sight to behold and is quite entertaining in itself. Indeed, the game had the highest ever State of Origin attendance of 91,513 people. However, the entertainment didn’t stop there. The game was well fought out (literally fought out in some moments) with plenty of scoring opportunities. At half time, the scores were close (NSW 14 – 10 QLD). We were behind the in-goal of NSW for the first half of the game so we were hoping to see a second half, Maroon come-back from the perfect vantage point. Unfortunately, there was only one more try scored by Queensland in the second half. While we enjoyed it immensely, it was not enough to get us the win. New South Wales won the game and levelled the series with 26 points to Queensland’s 18.

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Try celebrations as the decision is sent ‘upstairs’.

Luckily, Queensland did comprehensively win the next game and consequently the State of Origin trophy, once again. And it felt just as good as every other time. I love sport. Here’s to another cracking series in 2016.

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Dance

When I was young, I had to quit dance classes. We lived out of town and the more you advanced in dance class, the later the classes were, which was difficult for our family to arrange. My mother pulled the pin when I was about 9. The next year, I (unwisely?) went to watch all my friends perform in the annual concert our dance school put on and I bawled my way through the entire thing. I was so heartbroken not to be a part of it.

Fast forward about 11 years when I moved to Melbourne and someone caught me watching a dance rehearsal with longing eyes. After a brief discussion, he marched me up to the choreographer and signed me up for her beginner Jazz class. It wasn’t long before I ended up joining the Adult Hip Hop class. You know, since I’m so gangster…

Actually, once I got over how lanky and awkward I felt, I really enjoyed Hip Hop. I’m not exactly a prodigious talent or anything, but I am pretty faithful (committed? stubborn?) so I kept at it ever since. I was eventually invited to be a part of the performance team for our church. We get the incredible privilege of dancing in front of thousands of people at Planetshakers events which is way beyond what I ever imagined doing when I was younger. 

What a crew.
 Recently, we opened for the TGIF event which combined all of the high school and university aged students from all our campuses on a Friday night. We pulled dancers from both those areas and trained for the weeks leading up. We had three choreographers and dancers of varying experience and skill so it made for a crazy few weeks. To be honest, that’s where most of the fun is had. As exciting as being on stage can be, it’s over in a flash. The hours that go into it all beforehand are where you make friendships and memories that last for a lifetime. 

Rehearsal time
 That’s not to say performing isn’t also quite fun. This time, we had about 1600 teenagers and young adults packed into the auditorium. We got to go on first to set up the atmosphere for the rest of the night. When the band got up and started playing, we stayed on stage to help lead the praise party. That was a solid 15 minutes of dancing around on the stage. Needless to say, we were pretty exhausted by the time we got off, but it was all worth it! 

Watch us whip!
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Music

Living in Melbourne has some strong benefits. As mentioned previously, one of them is the overload of opportunities we have to go to my favourite sporting events. Another is being able to indulge my preference for live music. Perhaps it is the atmosphere (as with the sporting events) but I’ve always thought that live shows are so much better than recordings. Recently, I was able to finally go to a Brooke Fraser gig. Last time Brooke was here, we missed out on tickets. The first show sold out before we had a chance to buy them, then they put on a second show which we couldn’t go to due to prior commitments. Then, just before the first show, someone offered me a ticket that they didn’t need any more but my brother was visiting from out of town by that stage and I had to turn it down! So when we heard she was coming again, we made sure we bought the tickets as soon as possible!

Consequently, we made our way to The Forum on a cold Sunday night to partake in the Brutal Romantic tour. Fans of Brooke would obviously have noticed a departure from the style of her previous albums which were a lot more acoustic and earthy. The Brutal Romantic album was a completely different tone with more synthesised sounds, allowing Brooke’s vocals to explore new territory. We were expecting nothing less when she opened the set with Psychosocial, the first track on the album. All my favourite tracks from the album were played with Brooke jumping between instruments and telling us random, amusing stories that may or may not have been associated with the songs. We were pretty content with the set as it was. Then they added a few tracks from the back catalogue that had been revamped to match the sound of the newer songs which took it to another level again! Once again, I was lamenting my lack of zoom lens (it’s on my to-buy list before I go to New Zealand, never fear!) but since we were quite close to the front I managed some half decent pictures.

Brooke Fraser
Brooke Fraser

The icing on the cake was getting to go back stage to meet Brooke after the show. Those of us who were subscribers to her app were offered the opportunity to meet her simply by RSVP-ing before the event. There was probably about 12 people who had taken up that offer and we were marched through to the back stage area after the rest of the crowd had been ushered outside. Brooke chatted and posed for photos with each of us one by one. I was at the back of the line, so I probably got a few extra moments than the rest. We talked about a few random things, whether or not I’d had my dress made for me. The dress I was wearing does garner a lot of appreciation. I bought it off the rack at COS in Melbourne’s CBD but it fits perfectly and everyone feels the need to comment on it whenever I wear it. I’ve even had students request that I wear it to work (weird?). We got a few photos since her tour manager was excited I’d handed her a real camera instead of an iPhone so she snapped away while we chatted. I’ve always loved Brooke’s music and I was glad to find out she was as lovely in person as I had imagined.

Comparing outfits with Brooke Fraser.
Comparing outfits with Brooke Fraser.

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Outlander

When it comes to a good book, I have zero self control. There are sleepless nights, unfinished household chores and shunned social engagements. So when I stumbled onto the Outlander series this summer, I was lost to the world for a good two months. Yes, two months is all it took to, I think it’s fair to say, devour the entire Diana Gabaldon series (eight books so far) and if you’ve seen those hefty books you’ll appreciate that for the feat that it is. I’ve even read a few of the associated books from the Lord John series and bought the graphic novel, “The Exile” in an attempt to satisfy my cravings.

Having a particular penchant for costume dramas (Austenland would be high on my to-do list), I own a fair catalogue of BBC mini-series. Outlander had caught my eye a few times on iTunes (Apple TV is brilliant) but I had never heard of it and wasn’t sure I was ready to invest myself in an unknown. My friends and I often lament that Americans always manage to ruin things like this (sorry, Diana). Oh, the ignorance! One fateful afternoon, iTunes offered the first episode for free. I binge watched the first half of the season and nearly burst when I reached the cliff-hanger of the mid-season finale. I needed to find the source material and fast! Consequently, I found myself reading Cross Stitch for the first time. It very rapidly became one of my favourite things.

I’m not going to give you a synopsis – read it yourself and then watch the show. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably want to watch it with the remote handy to fast forward through some of the more gorey/intimate scenes but you will be hooked. And not just because Jamie Fraser is the “King of Men”, which he is. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say he has edged Mr Darcy out from his No. 1 ranking on my list. It is important to note that Mr Darcy’s characterisation is almost shallow when compared to the treatment Laird Broch Tuarach receives by the end of the eight books. It’s probably not fair to even compare the two really, but I did anyway. 

Copyright 2014 Sony Pictures Television Inc.
James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser (Sam Heughan)
Speaking of comparisons, perhaps this is a little weird considering the ranking I just gave him but, Jamie constantly reminds me of my father. I’ve always held that our idea of what makes a “real” man is largely shaped by those we grow up with so the capable, tall, strong, country bloke fit most of my conceptions. In fact, I kept a mental list as I was reading that went something like this…

Reasons Jamie Fraser reminds me of my Dad:

  • known by a variation of James (Jamie/Jim)
  • for all intents and purposes, grew up in another century (my dad’s not that old but his family pioneered a farm from scratch so they started off without water, electricity, housing, and he road a horse to school…)
  • therefore has no grasp on any modern cultural references
  • he’s a farmer
  • good with horses
  • wouldn’t let a little thing like a severe shoulder injury keep him from getting the job done (dad has a wonky collarbone since he wouldn’t stop long enough for it to set properly)
  • has a comprehensive knowledge of his huge extended family history and will happily spend hours explaining it to you
  • taps his fingers on the table all the time
  • has a good head for business
  • honey is his weakness
  • first names are reserved for special occassions (we all have multiple nicknames and “Sassenach” would not be the most creative amongst them)
  • he’s a handy hunter
  • loves telling stories
  • has a collection of random things he “has uses for”
  • strong believer in the virtues of corporal punishment
  • I can only remember him giving his wife flowers once
  • always ends up in charge/leading others without intending to
  • has some serious scars, some unavoidable, others not so much
  • spent some time living in the city but never really content unless he’s out in the open country
  • has terrible hand writing
  • has a strong sense of what it means to be a “man”
  • has faith in God and biblical values
  • not so concerned about the laws of the land…

The list goes on. While there are plenty of differences as well, it makes me think that part of the reason I was so attached to Jamie’s character so quickly was how familiar he was. He would definitely fit right in with my family.

In contrast, Dad is infinitely happier to travel by boat. And less likely to wear a kilt.
What is even more attractive than Mr Fraser (hard to believe anything falls into that category) is Mr and Mrs Fraser. Claire and Jamie are better together, and that’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it? I’ve heard the author mention that so often the bulk of a romantic plot is spent in the “courtship” phase and the climax is the characters finally getting together. Gabaldon seems to set out not just to write about a wedding, but a marriage, including all of its ups and downs (which is gives Jamie’s character time to be shown in so much more detail than Mr Darcy ever had). She has done that masterfully and I appreciate it. In the interests of minimising spoilers, you’ll have to discover the rest on your own. 

Copyright 2014 Sony Pictures Television Inc.
“Is it usual, what it is between us?” (Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe)
The constant immersion in 18th Century Scotland left me pining for the simple life I’d known as a child on our farm. Living off the land, away from the hustle and bustle of the city is a total gear shift from my current lifestyle and I think sooner or later, I will find my way back there. Maybe a strapping, young, kilted, red-headed Highlander will be waiting for me. Maybe.

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