Journal: 5 May 1999

I'm embarrassed it's been so long since I updated this journal. No real excuse, I just never seemed to get down to it. A quiet evening at home--rare--with Katie away teaching art in Young gives me an opportunity.

I left off my last journal just before I delivered an updated speech on the Euro in Melbourne. Katie and I met up again at the airport and flew back to Canberra together. The following week we hosted a couple of receptions, one for a group that has recently been formed called "The English in Australia"--or TEA for short! The founder, Claire Haines, felt that there were organisations for Scots, Welsh and Irish but nothing for the English living here. She seems to have tapped a nerve, getting a lot of publicity last year and attracting a membership who mostly have not been members of other groups with links to Britain. We were lucky with a warm night and had the reception out on the terrace, and it was striking how often people came up to me and said they had been in Canberra for years but had never previously had any contact with the High Commission.

Otherwise a week filled with the sorts of things we seem to do when in Canberra, including hosting a dinner for the visiting head of GCHQ and awarding a scholarship to an ABC journalist to study environmental policy in the UK.

That weekend we went to Pittwater near Sydney for the annual general meeting of the Woody Point Yacht Club, whose commodore owned the boat I had nearly sunk in January--now thankfully back on the water. I accepted the General Belgrano trophy with (I hope) good grace, and we had a very relaxed evening by the water. On Sunday, "our" racehorse trainer John Morrish was hosting a buffet lunch at his stables at Randwick Racecourse. I say "our" since we own a small share in a filly he is training, though she suffered a knock in training and hasn't raced yet. We live and hope.

Then it was goodbye to Katie, who was off to do a three-week residency at Arthur Boyd's property on the Shoalhaven River that he has given to the nation. I seemed to fill up the days (and nights) while she was away--perhaps accepting rather more invitations out to dinner than I would normally do!

I went to see Katie the next weekend. I drove down one evening, through thick fog and rain down the hairpin bends into Kangaroo Valley. It was wonderful to wake up the next morning and see the Shoalhaven River and the hills the other side, familiar from Arthur Boyd's paintings. Where Katie was staying was a property called Riversdale, where Boyd had lived and had his studio. Katie was actually living and working in his studio, built a few yards away from the house. There's recently been an education centre constructed in the grounds, to a striking design, but otherwise it's a wholly rural setting. It was Easter, so there was no one else there at all--except for the odd boat on the river and a few campers a mile or so away on the other bank. Katie was alone with the wombats--of whom there seemed to be dozens--and a huge variety of birds.

We went for a walk up the hill through thick bush. Arthur Boyd's painting were mostly done in the 1970s and early 1980s and show a landscape much starker than it seems today. That is partly because he was painting in harsh light in the summer, but mainly I think because there had been many more fires through in those days. There's much more vegetation today, which softens the lines of the hills.

We then drove to a house owned by a schoolfriend of Katie's up the coast a bit (I had brought Holly and she wasn't really supposed to be at Riversdale/Bundanon). A very lush green cattle property, looking out across the coast--though it was pretty wet and we got soaked when exploring. I drove back to Canberra the following evening, for another week of accepting invitations out to dinner, and walking Holly morning and evening.

Katie came back to Canberra for a night the following weekend, and we had friends from Sydney for a barbecue--luckily the weather had warmed up. She had been very productive during her residency--there was not a lot else to do in the evenings but to continue working on the sketches she had done in the landscape during the day.

The next week I left Holly and went to Queensland. A day in Bundaberg, a short flight north of Brisbane, seeing the sugar and rum operations owned by Tate and Lyle. A fascinating history of rum production there, including some spectacular fires when river of burning rum ran down to the river and the locals were able to pick up freshly flambéed fish! Then back to Brisbane where I gave another speech on the Euro to the Economic Society there. I vary my text a bit, but one advantage of the distances in Australia is that I can be confident that no one in Brisbane will have heard my speech in Melbourne (unless they have stumbled on this web site). A series of meetings the next day and then a flight down to Newcastle in northern New South Wales, where British Aerospace will be building the new Hawk lead-in fighters that the Royal Australian Air Force have bought.

I met up with two of our defence team in Newcastle, but the others who were due to fly up from Sydney hadn't arrived by the time we went to bed. There was a spectacular thunderstorm that night, but I didn't put two and two together. It was only when they appeared at breakfast the next morning that we learnt about the hail storm that had hit parts of Sydney, including the airport. There had been hailstones the size of cricket balls that had caused extensive damage to roofs not far from the airport, and they had been rather relieved when the flight was cancelled. They had had to hire a car to get to Newcastle, and every single hire-car had hail damage to some extent. Many had windscreens smashed, but they had found that was just badly dented.

The Prime Minister opened the Hawk facility, which was a huge gleaming hangar with workshops nearby--hard to imagine it assembling aircraft since it was so spotlessly clean. Lunch in the officers mess at the nearby airforce base and then a flight back to Canberra, where Katie had got back herself that day. We drove off to Katie's cousins near Goulburn that weekend and I took the opportunity to bicycle most of the way there and back in an effort to get fitter: very hilly!

I had a brief visit to Perth the next week--without Katie who felt she needed to catch up with things in Canberra. There was a big oil and gas exhibition and conference, with a lot of British firms attending. I and the Consul General hosted a reception, and we had a pretty informal dinner at his house afterwards. The Premier opened the exhibition the following day, and I had an opportunity to pay a few calls in Perth before catching the midnight flight back East--and a chance to have supper with some of our chums in Freo.

That Friday we drove to the outskirts of Sydney to open an exhibition at the Campbelltown Art Gallery, and had dinner afterwards with the local councilors. Good to get out of the centre, and to get a different perspective from that of the inner-city. Campbelltown has a much younger population-mix (because of cheaper housing), with some problems of youth unemployment. Then a relaxing Saturday in Sydney looking round art galleries and seeing Katie's sister before going out to dinner with the Solicitor General (very entertaining company). We had to be back in Canberra for the Anzac Parade the following morning (when I lay a wreath), so it was up at crack of dawn for the three hour drive: we both slept soundly in the back of the new Jaguar. There had been an overnight frost in Canberra but it was a beautiful sunny day by the time of the parade at 10.30. A large turnout, both of veterans and of spectators.

Another day in Sydney the following week--last week--but otherwise not hugely busy. We even had a chance to play an evening's bridge. Science Week and the Canberra Science Festival was launched on Friday, and we went to see the start of the solar-powered boat race on Saturday. It was another beautiful sunny autumn day, and a fascinating mix of sophisticated and amateur boats. None sank, at least while we were there.

I'm doing a bicycle trip to the Snowy Mountains next week, so I've been putting in some training. Mostly in the early mornings in minus 1 or 2 degrees (which is when Katie has been rowing too). But on Saturday I thought I'd better try a longer ride. So Katie's brother-in-law and I set off on a circuit to a local nature reserve at Tidbinbilla. It is beautiful country, but turned out to be rather longer than I calculated, and I don't think Alan blesses me when we finally got home with 75k on the clock.

This week has been full of variety. A dinner on Monday for the UK anti-drugs coordinator, Keith Hellawell, who's visiting Australia. A concert here at our house on Tuesday with a British violinist out here as part of the Chamber Music Festival. Lunch today at the Press Club for a speech by Douglas Adams who's over here for the Science Festival (his book, Last Chance To See, is one I keep recommending and giving away, so I never keep a copy for long). Then I gave a speech myself on constitutional reform this afternoon. Tomorrow off to Sydney for a meeting with the Prime Minister when he sees Keith Hellawell. Then flying back here to host a reception for the Lords Taverners. And a science forum on Friday with Douglas Adams, Peter Garrett and others.

Next week in the Snowy's will be quite a change!

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