Journal: 23 December

Happy Christmas to all my readers, as they say!

I left off last time just before the annual dinner of the Australia-Britain Society. I used that speech partly to tell some anecdotes of life in Number 10 but also partly to talk about "Britishness." I used Gordon Brown's Spectator Lecture last year - and I think many of the audience were surprised at his views. Most would have known about his Scottishness but not about his belief in combining that with Britishness too. I was confident no one would have heard of Gordon Brown's speech since it took me huge efforts to find it! I had to get a copy e-mailed direct from the Treasury.

Then a rather mixed week - not untypical. A lunch with Telstra (BT equivalent), a dinner with the Danish Foreign Minister who was visiting, a trip to Sydney where Sir Ralph Robbins (head of Rolls Royce) was making a speech in his role as one of the 'ambassadors for British business', the opening night of a play, a reception for the Royal Commonwealth Society, a Thanksgiving Dinner with the Americans, and a trip to a St Andrews Day dinner in Melbourne.

The Melbourne Scots dinner was interesting: it attracted a large crowd (350 or so) with two Australian Ministers on the top table. It was in some ways more Scottish than the Scots, complete with pipers at every opportunity. It is much more fashionable to acknowledge Scottish or Irish roots than English or British ones - a point I had made at the Australia Britain Society. I wasn't required to speak on this occasion - but it was made clear I was expected to do so next time.

Into December, with the English cricket team already struggling. We hosted a reception to launch an expanded scheme for young Australian politicians to visit Britain. We had invited all the new MPs, plus quite a lot of others, but were unsure who would turn up given the vagaries of Parliamentary business. For five minutes after the scheduled start-time we had no one, and I was getting worried: perhaps none would turn up? But then people arrived in a rush and we had a good evening - though trying to remember who was who was taxing since I'd hardly seem any of them before.

Katie had a private view of her Western Sight and her Gardens portfolios, plus some of her own work, in the gallery where her studio is. Lots of interest and she sold quite a bit. She's continuing work on her new 'dam' series and planning for her residency in March next year on the Shoalhaven River where Arthur Boyd used to live, when she hopes to get a lot of new work done.

The off to Northern Tasmania. We flew to Launceston and spent the night in a B&B before I paid some official calls the next day. Tasmania suffers from a slowly declining population and a problem attracting new industry, though tourism and aquaculture offer potential. In the afternoon we drove slowly along the coast to Devonport for the next night and then on to Stanley on Saturday morning. The coast is stunning, and with wonderful gardens since Tasmania has a more temperate climate than the mainland. Our main reason for going was the 200th anniversary of Bass and Flinders circumnavigating Tasmania and proving it was an island. We had been invited to the commemorations at Circular Head, a spectacular headland that they'd seen and named in 1798 - Stanley is a small town that nestles at the base.

We went first to the Stanley agricultural show. Fun seeing all the sheep and cattle, but the highlight was the wood-chopping. Tasmanians and Kiwis always seem take out the prizes at the Sydney show and there's quite a tradition. It always amazes me to see how quickly they can chop or saw through massive tree-trunks - it makes me tired just to watch it! The weather wasn't great, with a biting south-westerly from the Antarctic and occasional rain - Katie had to buy a sweater. Then a concert in the town hall in the evening, with naval brass bands and singers from Sydney, followed by jazz in the pub. Very different from Canberra.

Sunday saw the main commemorations. We were staying at a B&B out on the peninsular - the old cable station in fact. Very friendly. We had a wild walk along the beach in the morning - a shame we couldn't have brought Holly. We then had a chance to look round Stanley. It's very small (500 odd population, though swelled considerably for the occasion) and picturesque. But it has the same problems of many other small communities in Australia of keeping services like banks or shops. I climbed Circular Head, which provided some spectacular views, and did a radio interview with the local ABC station who was broadcasting live from Stanley. There were various events on - and we met up with a local wood-worker who made fantastic tables, which gave us ideas!

In the evening we drove back to Launceston (about 2 hours) and then took a dawn flight back to Canberra via Melbourne. As always at that time, the Melbourne airport lounge was full of politicians returning to Canberra for the Parliamentary week, so I had some rather bleary-eyed conversations.

Quite a lot to do in Canberra in the run-up to Christmas, but fairly bitty and not worth recording in detail. A big lunch for the visiting Italian President at which I sat next to Kim Beazely - in good form but looking forward to the Christmas break (likely to be disrupted by the puppy they were picking up from Sydney and taking to Perth).

Off on Friday to the first day of the Adelaide Test Match - on the same plane as lots of MPs who had just finished the Parliamentary session and were returning home. It was 42 degrees (108 degrees Fahrenheit) in Adelaide - definitely a day to bat not field. I had to go out on the pitch to hand Mark Taylor the coin to toss, and sadly Alec Stewart called wrong. England didn't do badly in holding Australia to about 260-4, but it must have been really draining. As it happened, the English team were staying at the same hotel, and I met up with some of them in the pool that evening - needing to cool down.

Back to the cricket on Saturday. I was getting into the rhythm - it's very relaxing to sit watching the cricket and chatting to whoever you're sitting next to. It was an up-and-down day on the field, with England getting wickets, then letting the Australian tail score too many runs, losing some early wickets themselves but then fighting back. Sadly, it was a different story after I headed back to Canberra and England lost and went 2-0 down in the series.

The week was spent getting tidying things up before Christmas - and reacting to the US and British bombing raids on Iraq. The England cricket team were in Canberra for a match against the Prime Minister's XI, something John Howard takes a personal interest in. He hosted a reception at The Lodge (his residence in Canberra) for both teams the night before the match - with Katie getting a call on her mobile during it from the American ambassador's husband saying we must come to the Beach Boys' concert that night. So we dashed off after the reception rather over-dressed. My expectations weren't that high - the last time I had seen the Beach Boys their singing was poor. But this time they had ten in the band and eight who sang, so all the high harmonies were there.

The next day was the PM's XI match, and the start of the bombing of Iraq. I rang Number 10 to get an update, which worked well since I was sitting next to John Howard for the first part of the match, before he went off to do a press conference. (When I got back to the office, we had a telegram instructing us to make various points "at the highest level" - I was able to reply saying "already done that!"). We had Michael (Lord) Levy coming to stay that night, so I went and picked him up and brought him to the cricket, where he had a chance to speak to the Prime Minister after lunch - John Howard seemed at his most relaxed, and must be heading off for Christmas feeling that things could hardly have gone better for him over the past three months. I took Michael Levy home and he thrashed me at tennis.

We had a barbecue that evening for some of the English management and team - very relaxed and informal, with as much of the conversation being about horse-racing as about cricket (our horse Avvocato flattered only to deceive, winning a maiden at Goulburn but then coming near-last in three races since then).

Last weekend was the High Commission staff Christmas party here - another barbecue but this time for about 120 people plus 30 children. We put on a sketch with me playing the butler, our driver playing the High Commissioner, the housekeeper playing Katie and Katie playing a kangaroo!

After finishing things off in the office we're now off to Sydney to see Katie's family, then back to Goulburn for Christmas Day with cousins, then to Melbourne for the Test, then back here, then to Katie's mother at West Wyalong, then to Sydney for the Test, then back here - then we'll need a holiday!

Once again Happy Christmas and New Year to everyone. 

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