Passport to nowhere?

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

Given I’m lucky to get out of the state let alone travel abroad, posing for my photo for a replacement passport seemed such a frivolous thing to be doing during a COVID Pandemic. Today, my shiny new document arrived with what I consider the world’s worst passport photo but hey aren’t they all? Now I have a very expensive book with several blank pages that need filling.

I lovingly look at my old passports with pages of stamps of foreign places I have visited and the memories come flooding back. First time backpacker adventures, island escapes to the sun, trips to visit family and a three-month honeymoon on bicycle.

My new passport is good for the next 10 years so I’m hoping to get some good use out of it! Here’s to happy travels post pandemic!

Frenzied February!

It seems in an eye blink this month has flown with March snapping at my heels already. I guess life is like that especially when you have a diary full of activities and trips away. I started the month with a 46 degrees Celsius heatwave followed by a 22-hour power outage due to a severe storm. This did not bode well for local businesses already suffering from the economic downturn from the January fires.

Despite the heat I headed off on a mini road trip to Hay, NSW on the first weekend of February to catch up with my Mum and enjoy Tom Curtain’s “We’re Still Here” show. Air-conditioned cars and motel rooms certainly help one survive the sweltering hot weather out on the vast, flat, salt-bush plains. Although I love my home in the high country of Victoria, I have a great affection for the sweeping flat country that meets the sky on the horizon wherever you gaze. As a young girl we lived at Deniliquin about 100 kms from Hay on similar country. My big skewbald gelding Patch disappeared one day and was found on a large property several miles away a week later. I remember riding him back home on open flat country with wide roadside verges and a full-moon beaming down on us. I was only 12 but that memory is one of my favourites.

The heat was certainly intense and I felt like I was the only person travelling on the roads on my drive over to Hay. It was a thrill for me to be part of such an isolated landscape and to escape the confines of more urban areas. I came across a large herd of cattle enjoying a green pick by the edges of the large irrigation canal. This part of Australia is struggling with drought conditions. Signs on fences “water = life” and “stock needs water” emphasises the water management issues and lack of rain.

On arrival in Hay, one could be forgiven for thinking it was a ghost town. Even some of the popular tourist attractions such as Shear Outback and Bishops Court were closed. No doubt when the mercury gets into the high 40s, volunteers can’t be expected to work in those conditions. My Mum and I found an oasis being the Riverine Hotel in the main street where we drank some beers in air-conditioned comfort with many others with the same idea. The main street was empty except for the occasional B-double truck passing through with donated round bales of hay to help out those struggling to feed stock. That night the local take away was flat out with many opting out of cooking at home.

Thankfully, early next morning some rain did arrive and cooled things down considerably. That night was a pleasant temperature in the Hay Park to watch Tom and his team treat us to music, horsemanship skills, dog handling, audience participation with the young children, and a couple of goats even mingled with the crowd!

Earlier in the day Mum and I drove out to the One Tree Plain Hotel, once a staging post for the Cobb & Co drivers and horses. The rustic building is not open to the public and is now used for special events. Back in town we checked out the old Hay Gaol which also houses many historical items. The gaol in 1961 became an institution for young girls and was quite grim.

The next day Mum I fitted in checking out the local op shops and I found a couple of bargains. A coffee and toasted sandwich at newly opened café called The Black Sheep which was a cute eatery afterwards and said our goodbyes. The trip home was an easy run and I managed to fit in a side trip nearer Benalla, in Victoria’s North East to see the silo art installation at in the quaint village of Devenish, which commemorates our First World War involvement. Beautifully done. Another example of the value of public artworks.

Back home to my committee commitments. To make life more interesting my husband and I auditioned for a new local theatre group production late last year and rehearsals began in earnest this month with three sessions per week. “The Kastle” is an original stage show which carries on from where the much loved Aussie movie “The Castle” left off. The next generation of Kerrigans recreate the struggle between the ordinary working class person and beaucracy. The castle in dispute is their home. Lots of pub choir music and crazy dialogue guarantees a fun-filled performance.

However, we take our leave from rehearsals for a week so I can travel to Perth, Western Australia for my graduation ceremony. After five challenging years of studying part time via distance learning, I received my Bachelor of Arts degree. My husband Bolly and I thought it was a good reason to fly to the other side of the country and enjoy a break away at the same time. We chose a hotel in the centre of Perth which was a perfect base for lots of outings. The graduation ceremony was held outside at Murdoch University and more than 350 students were there to collect their awards. It was a special night.

Loved our time in Perth. Discovered lots of street art, good bars and eateries, and enjoyed a lively time at the Irish pub around the corner. Managed a day trip to Rottnest Island where we hired bicycles and swam at the most gorgeous beaches. Will need to do another post about our trip.

We fly back home in time for the two of us to do bar duties for the Mansfield “We’re Still Here” tour gig by Tom Curtain. It was great to catch up with Tom and the team so soon after his Hay show. Good night had by all.

Since then we have managed to fit in some cycling with our social group. We have helped friends net their grape vines to protect the fruit from the birds. Makes one appreciate the end product in a bottle even more!

This week we had an overnight trip to Melbourne for the Australian premiere of the documentary film directed by my friend Mark Street “William Kelly’s Big Picture – Can Art Stop a Bullet?” at the Nova Cinema in Carlton. This is a really thought provoking film and the artist himself was there for Q&A afterwards. The power of art for good is a strong message in this film. Please check out the website for more information about William Kelly and screenings.

https://www.kellysbigpicture.com/

Now we are back home to our country retreat to recharge for the coming month which should coincide with the start of autumn but Mother Nature may have other plans!

Dili, gateway to Timor Leste

A comfortable one-hour flight from Darwin, in the Northern Territory, will have you in Dili, the capital of Timor Leste, one of the newest nations on earth,  and leaving behind many of the comforts of home. Tourism is a fledgling industry here but it is a country where one is so warmly welcomed and the people give much of themselves to visitors.

A small, basic building serves as the international airport and is a far cry from the slick commercial ones we are used to. The local yellow cabs look like duct tape is used to keep them together. They are a reminder we are in a third-world country. The shattered windscreen and scraping mudguards accompanied by plumes of exhaust fumes do little to instil confidence that these vehicles can make the trip into the centre of Dili. Car ownership and even motor bikes or scooters, are beyond the reach of most East Timorese. Other than taxis, there is the local Mikrolet, a mini-bus used by most to travel around town or to the more remote parts of the country. Colourful and noisy, they remind one of public transport in India. For other people, walking long distances is common.

The taxi ride from the airport is an experience. Our laden suitcases tax the suspension of our hire car. We are carrying extra luggage because we have special supplies for the village of Venilale, with which we have a partnership with back in Australia. The boot of the car where our suitcases are stowed, is also home to a rather large black box which amplifies the rather loud, grating music for our driver’s entertainment. Obviously, proud of his sound system, for me in the back seat my poor ear drums were under assault. We politely requested that it be turned off!

We spent our first three nights in Dili at the Hotel Esplanda, with comfortable western-style accommodation. The up-stairs restaurant overlooks the sea which provides a cooling breeze and respite from the humidity. The southern Australian winter months is a recommended time to visit East Timor.

 

 

 

When in Dili there are some essential places to visit to get a feel for the country,  its people, history and Timorese culture.  If you are keen to buy some authentic souvenirs from Timor Leste, then the Tais Market, is a must. Here you can choose from several different stalls hand-crafted items utilising this traditional woven fabric which is often used as part of their national dress. It is a great opportunity to see local women operating the hand-looms up close. There may be some bargaining but it tends to fairly low-key and not as aggressive as you find in other Asian countries.

One aspect of travel in East Timor, is using American dollars as the local currency, which seems strange at first, given how far away America is. Also be prepared to carry plenty of cash because credit card facilities are not common at many of the markets or retail shops run by local Timorese. Most items are not particularly expensive compared to back home. Grab a hand of bananas from a street vendor for $1US for a quick cheap snack!

Other places of interest with powerful stories to share are the Santa Cruz Cemetery, and Chega, the truth and reconciliation museum. I wrote about Chega in an earlier post The importance of storytelling beyond once upon a time… if you would like to read  more about why recording people’s stories is paramount to the healing process.

Preceding the violent events of 1999 when East Timor’s fight to become an independent nation was international news was the Santa Cruz Massacre on November 12, 1991. On that morning  the Indonesian security forces violently suppressed a peaceful procession of some 3,000 Timorese people to Dili’s Santa Cruz cemetery.  This led to the deaths of 271 East Timorese, 382 wounded and 250 reported missing afterwards according to local accounts (Braithwaite, Charlesworth and Soares 2012). To better understand the events leading up to the Indonesians opening fire on those present, I would recommend the reference link below to the ANU (Australian National University) publication.

This was my first trip to East Timor and in all my travels I had never encountered a graveyard like this one. Bearing in mind the horrific event of 1991, the place has a surreal feel  with its ramshackle collection of monuments and tombs to honour the dead. Unlike our orderly English-style cemeteries, with footpaths and signs, Santa Cruz, requires scrabbling over graves to get anywhere. I found myself constantly apologising to those below for stepping on their final resting places. Shrines celebrating the dominant Catholic religion of many East Timorese and a legacy of 400-years of Portuguese colonisation, are plentiful and varied in their design. Mini-church buildings and praying hands are among the more unusual decorations.  On my way out of the cemetery, I found a dead cat lying on top of a grave, looking as if it had been placed there intentionally.  As, I said, it was a surreal feeling.

Another popular tourist attraction for both locals and foreigners, is the sunset walk (or run for others!) to the Cristo Rei statue via a 590-steps stairway passing stations of the cross.  The 27 metre high structure stands with the arms of Jesus stretched out to welcome us. Ironically, it was a present from one of the most Muslim populated countries in the world to the  predominately Christian country in 1996. Indonesian President Suharto used it to mark  the 20th anniversary of Indonesia annexing East Timor as a token gesture to please the Catholic majority (atlasobscurra website). This failed to stop East Timor’s fight for independence which escalated in 1999.

Another place worth checking out while in Dili, is Arte Moris a centre for fine arts established in 2003 and described by Lonely Planet Guide as “quirky”. It provides an outlet for the youth of Timor Leste to express themselves through various artistic mediums of contemporary and traditional forms. The place has a real reggae feel and features dark and humorous pieces.  The building with its broken ceilings and run-down surrounds are due to lack of money for such things and believed to send a political message by the artists about the lack funding for the arts (Yin Hooi 2017). In a country still dealing with the trauma of the past, here is somewhere to create with the future in mind. If you are interested in buying any of the works, a phone call is made to the individual artist to negotiate  a price.

Dili, is a fascinating city with much to offer but for its people there is much work to do to improve the lives of everyday Timorese and build a stronger, positive future for all. The nation’s capital makes a great start to any travels beyond Dili. But be prepared for the roads leading out…

References:

Braithwaite, John, Charlesworth, Hilary and Soares, Adérito (2012), Chapter 6, Santa Cruz Massacre, 1991,  Networked Governance of Freedom and Tyranny: Peace in Timor-Leste,  by ANU E Press, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p174961/pdf/ch061.pdf

Ying Hooi, Khoo (2017), How arts heal and galvanise the youth of Timor Leste, Myanmar Times, 14th June, 2017.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/cristo-rei

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/timor-leste/dili/attractions/arte-moris/a/poi-sig/427823/356192