Broken Bay Writers – Stories of NSW Central Coast and beyond

Scribbles on life, the universe and everything… Woy Woy, Ettalong, Umina and teh Central Coast that is!

Tag Archives: Canada

That’s a First

How many times in your life have you uttered the words “that’s a first?” When one thinks back, there are so many firsts in our life that are a given, first steps, first day of school, first date, first love… The list goes on and on.

Some firsts are not much fun, first time falling, first car accident, first broken heart, first experience with a loved one dying, many firsts are ones that we would prefer to forget. But, the exciting firsts more than make up for it. Perhaps it is just a little first, or sometimes a big one such as first time married or first baby, what is stimulating is the knowledge that as you are experiencing this first, you are growing as a person.

The problem is that as we age, the firsts in our lives start are few and far between. I have the answer.

Move to another country, experience another culture no matter how subtle the difference. It has sure worked for me. I can’t believe how many “firsts” I have experienced since moving from Canada to Australia. This came to mind just today as I walked into a mall and was hit by the air conditioning. Being from British Columbia, I have never really specifically sought out air conditioning. Here in Australia it is summer right now. It is not necessarily hot. In fact many locals will tell you it is the worst summer in years because we haven’t had any prolonged heat waves. But it is humid!

For the first time in my life, I have had a really hard time sleeping for well over a week. A couple of weeks ago (on a Friday night), the temperature never dipped below 28 degrees celsius. Try sleeping in that! Impossible!

This humidity has driven me to seek air-conditioned places. In fact even Al was happy to spend the day in a shopping centre with me a week or so ago. It was just too hot to be outside! The shopping centre was packed with like-minded people. This was a first for me. I have never spent a whole day shopping just to get some relief from the heat!

Living in another country has afforded me many firsts in a very short period of time. I know moving to another country isn’t for everybody, but if any of you  have the urge to expand your life by embracing firsts, you don’t have to move to do it.

Try flying in a large plane for the first time which will allow you to visit another country (yes, Jackie this is aimed directly at you) or maybe it is something as simple as serving scrambled eggs for dinner instead of breakfast which is more likely a first Jackie will try!

What I am getting at is that when you are experiencing a first you are expanding your personal world. When you are expanding your personal world, you are learning. When you are learning, you are growing. Learning and growing is a life long process.

Don’t be afraid! Unless of course you are on the roads of Central Coast Australia. That is where you will find me driving a car on the right hand side of the road. It’s a first for me, and sometimes scary. It can also be funny. When you are in a right-handed car, everything is opposite including the windshield wipers and blinkers. This means that when I go to turn, I turn on the windshield wipers instead of the blinkers. leads to a very clean windshield! I get the last laugh though because our new car is a North American make (Jeep wrangler), which means it may be right hand drive, but the blinkers are on the correct side for me. This allows me to laugh at Ozzies who drive my car. They wash the windshield with the turn of every corner.

Experiencing “firsts” doesn’t have to be stressful. Embrace the change and have fun. It is worth it!

Water babies!

Summer in Australia produces a blend of beauty and terror in and around our beaches. Killer sharks, lethal jellyfish and the dangers of an environment that is now inhospitable to humans – perhaps we should never have left the sea in the first place.

Australian summer is a cocktail of a hot climate, beautiful beaches and warm, clear ocean waters. When the mercury climbs on a balmy antipodean summers day, there can only be one thought, “to the beach!” Well, and a cooling beverage, the occasional frothy, sparkling brown wine.

My lovely partner, Kitty, and I love the water. We both grew up with it. For Kitty, she would be in the water as often as possible. In the chilly waters of Canada, this was not always possible so she had to be content with holiday swims. However, she grew up in a place only accessible by water; being on and around the water was part of her daily life. I grew up south of Sydney, I was on and in the water constantly.

When Kitty moved to Australia, her one thought was to spend as much time in the water as possible. Despite her love of water, the risks of things that will kill you in Australia made her a little concerned. She read Bill Bryson‘s “A Sunburned Country” on the way over. Bryson’s famous quote “Australia harbors more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else” seemed to have an impact on her, as you would expect. I’m sure the first time I took her swimming in the ocean she was seeing the shadows of lethal mammals all around us.

More than two years since Kitty first visited downunder, she is now a devotee of the surf, swimming and now, since Santa gave her snorkeling gear, taking a look under the water. This too brings a renewal of concern of scary Aussies, other than those hanging outside the pub. Last week we went snorkelling at The Haven in Terrigal. We went right our along a rock reef and saw lots of things. One special moment was when a black stingray about one meter across gracefully flapped along the sandy bottom right below me.

Kitty is such a water person and I love our water adventures. I am so impressed with the way she has taken to our deadly seas. She shoots waves like a veteran, occasionally ending up staggering out of the water with her bikini top wrapped around her face. She goes snorkeling confidently, despite wallowing like a beached seal with flippers in the air (not quite like the woman in “Along came Polly“). Taking life by the horns and giving it a solid shake!

From hardy Canuck growing up in a remote and beautiful coastal settlement to Aussie beach babe and big city shopper! Thats my girl!

Home…Canada or Australia?

I have just returned from a trip to Canada. Being a Canadian now living in Australia people were interested in how I was doing.  The big question being either “how does it feel to be home” ? Or, “does Australia feel like home to you now”?  Both questions are really difficult to answer.

I was talking with a friend in Vancouver, she is Australian but has lived in Vancouver for many years and she put it best “It is an indescribable feeling going back to your birth country. It is home, but it isn’t”. She says you never get over it.

In some ways I did feel like I was going home when we arrived in Vancouver. It felt good to be there. We went to Regina to visit my daughter. I have never been to Regina before, but I felt very at home in my daughters house. Then we went to Vancouver Island (where I am from) and it felt like going home again. We traveled to the North Island where I was born and raised, once again it felt like I was going home. I experience a peacefulness, a connectedness with my surroundings, Or is it nostalgia?  The memories of good times and bad, of family and friends. Knowing what’s around the corner and being able to share all of this with Al (my Aussie partner). This allows me to show him who I am, glimpses into my past, places and people who are important to me.  By getting to know the place where I grew up and raised my family, he is getting to know me better.

Kitty 0n the Nanaimo Ferry

Kitty 0n the Nanaimo Ferry

Al on the Nanaimo Ferry.

Al on the Nanaimo Ferry.

Our Mustang sitting on the Nanaimo ferry.

Our Mustang sitting on the Nanaimo ferry.

Leaving Vancouver Island (on BC ferries, which for all Islanders is a love / hate relationship) left me feeling very nostalgic. In fact last time I left I cried, this time it was a little easier. I reminded myself that the Island will always be there, I will be back.

We arrived back in Australia, it felt like coming home. It is home. I was happy to be home. I guess this means that home really is where the heart is. Home is in Canada, in Regina where my daughter and her family are, in Vancouver with friends, in Nanaimo with friends, all the way up the Island with friends, in Port McNeill with friends and my son and his family, in Port Hardy with friends and family. I am a Canadian, I will always be a Canadian. But right now home is in Australia with Al. Home is where my heart is. I am home!

Visit to Regina... flat, wide open spaces!

Visit to Regina... flat, wide open spaces!

Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island.

Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island.

Nimpkish Lake, cold swimming in this glacier fed, stunning lake!

Nimpkish Lake, cold swimming in this glacier fed, stunning lake!

Lap Band Vacation!

Two weeks into visiting family and friends in Canada and I am down 1 pound! Not a big loss but I reckon there are a couple of factors here:

1. The Lap Band is still not fully in the sweet spot (so I eat a bit more), that should be changed next visit to get a needle in my abdomen.

2. More beer than my doctor would like, and lots of very fresh crab.

After country bars in Regina, Bushwacker’s pub and fabulous Dungarvan red beer, I am surprised things are not worse. Then I went to BC.. you know, salmon leaping, black bears dozing in the sun, impossibly beautiful forest…

… well I was out with my partner’s son, Jason, this morning. Way north on Vancouver Island, gliding across the glassy waters of the inside passage to empty the crab traps. We tracked a bald eagle just above our boat as a seal popped his head out of the water to see what the noise was. As I glanced to the horizon, huge mountains loomed above us, still covered with snow in mid summer.

Back to the dock, clean the crab and take it home to cook it. Jason insists his process for cooking crab is the only way and I have sampled enough batches to attest to the method. Perfect, fresh and tender crab every time.

So, if I can survive partying with my mates in Vancouver, golf on beautiful British Columbia courses and a little more of that sensational Canadian West Coast salmon, I might walk in the door at home in Sydney a pound down still 🙂

I’m Outta Here!

I was ready to pack up and go home! It was the worst day of my life and it got me thinking “maybe living in Australia is not for me!” What happened? Pretty much the worst that can happen to me occured, there was a really big (Al’s words, not mine) huntsman spider on my deck. My words to describe the spider would have been more like horrible, humungous, terrifying, not big! The worst thing is I have sat out on the deck to eat. I have sat out on that deck to drink. I have sat out on that deck in the sun with my eyes closed. I have sat out on that deck without looking under the table or chairs first. That trust is now gone. In the past, I viewed it as a “safe zone”, but from now on I will be on guard on my own deck.

I was told that the spider would have been looking to get out of the rain. If that is what it was looking for, it didn’t do very well because it ended up being flushed down the toilet! I had thought I was safe living on the 3rd floor. We haven’t had anything more than a few little house spiders show up in the past.

Huntsman Spider

Huntsman Spider

I thought I had been doing well to eat outside with big (my words now) cockroaches running up and down the side of the house while we ate. In fact it is the standing joke now because I shoo them away like they are cats or dogs. I clap my hands and chase them away. They react quite well to this and I hardly ever have to get my spider catcher (it’s a joke for catching spiders, the handle is about 10 feet to short) and scoop the ‘cocky’ up to throw over the balcony! Funny thing is they usually don’t fly when you do this, they land on the roof below with a thud. Maybe underneath all this niceness (my words again), I am truly a sick twisted person because it doesn’t bother me at all when I throw an insect over the ledge. Bombs away!

Australian Cockroach

Australian Cockroach

Apparently having a humungous $%#% (my words) huntsman spider on my deck is not enough to warrant leaving the man I love behind to move back to a country with normal (still very scary though) sized spiders. Fine! I will stay, but I think I should get to know the exterminator better, much better!

The Old Pacific Highway!

Kit Kat and I lay in bed on Sunday morning, gazing out the window. The weather looked cloudy but dry across Broken Bay and my sudden urge to fire up the Triumph broke our reverie. Half an hour later, we were cruising past the Easter Sunday crowds at the local Churches. I could not help a wry smile at the number of devoted devil dodgers who ardently flock to places of worship  for two events of the year… I guess people are just too busy for god the rest of the time.

We headed straight for the Old Pacific Highway. Until the opening of the F3 in the 80’s, this two lane, twisty scenic drive was the main arterial heading north of Sydney. My childhood memories include the “bumper to bumper” snake of cars slowly writhing along the beautiful strip adjacent to the mighty Hawkesbury River.

Since the opening of the F3 freeway, the Old Pacific Highway is a mecca for motorcyclists. Fifty kilometers of windy road with a reasonable surface and very few four wheeled cages to dodge makes this the promised land. Relics of the “old days” litter the route, abandoned service stations and old stores.

The Aussie scenery is beautiful here. The road winds through grand sandstone bluffs and crags resplendent in grey, orange, red and yellow. The tortured trunks of Eucalypts with leathery green leaves hanging lazily above the road. Exultant stands of Gymea Lily raise their scarlet beacons as an offering to the heavens. The shrub layer bursting with Wattle, Ti Tree, Banksia and a carpet of native grasses and sedges.

The Triumph performs faultlessly. The occasional thump in the back, reminds me not to let the Bonnie go too hard. The road is damp in patches in the mornings, catching the occasional flashy sports rider off guard. We cross the first bridge over the F3, the traffic is light on the northern route. A couple of sports bikes slip by going the other way. This bridge is a favourite for wheel standing – nothing like grandstanding for the bored F3 crowd.

The sparkling Hawkesbury materializes through the early morning mist and the lush coastal forest. The air is pungent with the smell of salt water. One last bust of acceleration through the twisties and we lunge over the old bridge across the river. Kit Kat has gone from assaulting my back to massaging it… I relax back onto her caressing palms. The sun is warm on my face and I savor the salt air in my lungs.

Brekky is at a cafe near the Hawkesbury River train station. We eat eggs, bacon, mushrooms and toast. Kitty sips on her Chai Tea Latte and I down a strong Cap. A guy on a Harley “sportie” has wandered over to chat about the Bonnie. Nice bloke. One of the great things about being a rider is the connection you have with other riders. There has always been a great bond between two wheel enthusiasts. It gets tarnished occasionally by the bad guys but it still is there.

I am reminded of my former life riding a Beemer in British Columbia, Canada. Bikes go to the front of the line up for the vehicle ferries there. Riders, waiting for the ferry to load, circle each others bikes, checking them out and making comments to each other. It is a great ice breaker. I always think it reminds me of dogs and their ritual of greeting. Thankfully, this is less personal.

Kit Kat and I have a look around Brooklyn, not much is open on Easter Sunday. We head home back up the Old Pacific Highway and via Peats Ridge. We pass motorbikes and fruit stalls as we wind our way back to the coast. It is half way through the day and we are feeling very fine. Brekky and a lazy 120 kilometer round trip have made the day.

This is the Best Place in the World!

This is the best country in the world! I have heard this statement several times in the last month or so. I have heard it said about a few countries which leads me to believe there can’t be any truth in the statement. How can more than one country be the best country in the world? What makes a country the best country in the world.

I am Canadian. I love Canada, so much so that I have a tattoo that states “made in Canada”. I decided to get this tattoo in 2002 before taking a trip to Uganda. The idea was that if something happened to me while in Uganda, they would know where to return the body. It didn’t bother me that the tattoo would be permanent because I am a patriotic Canadian. To me patriotic means a love of one’s country.

Canada has much to offer. We are known as a friendly, polite people who are quick to lend a helping hand. We are known for our multiculturalism, peacekeeping and ice hockey. We have great beer, cold weather, breathtaking mountains and amazing ski hills. We are home to the Canadian goose, the beaver, maple syrup and the most freshwater in the world.

I do love Canada, I am proud to be Canadian, but do I believe that Canada is the best country in the world? I would love to be able to say “yes”, but how can I when Canada allows the clubbing of baby seals over the head in a horrific way! To me the best country in the world would not kill an animal in such a barbaric way! Canada is an amazing place and has much to offer, but it also has it’s share of problems just like any other country.

I live in Australia. I moved to Australia to be with the man I love. Do I believe that Australia is the best country in the world? Their wine is wonderful, but Australia has to be best known for it’s sunny weather (also called drought), it’s kangaroo’s and other weird animals. I would be remiss in mentioning the deadly spiders and snakes.

Australia would also be known for it’s beaches, Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock (Uluru), beer (not so much the beer itself, but the ability to drink it), slang, vegemite sandwiches, shrimp on the barbie, the Outback, Crocodile Hunter and convicts. The people are also known to be laid back and most likely to include “G’day” and “mate” in their greeting.

Does this make “the land down under” the best country in the world? Australia has it’s issues. Among other things, the Australian Government jumped into bed with the Americans and participated in not only the Iraq war, but also in vietnam. That takes Australia out of the running for best country in my books.

I might be a little harsh here, but it seems to me that people jumping up to say “I live in the best country in the world” are being a bit pompous. What makes their country any better than other countries? Is it their country that makes them better or is it that they feel they themselves are better than people in other countries? And, what makes it “their” country in the first place. If you believe in a higher entity then you have to believe that we all came from Adam and Eve. If you believe in evolution, then you must believe that all known species are descended from a common ancestor. This means that we are all related, there is no better or worse, it shouldn’t matter what country you live in or are from.

I have done a bit of traveling in my time, but I have yet to find the best country in the world. In fact I have yet to find the best place to be in the world. I have found the best place to be at this moment in time, but nothing stays the same. The best place might be the best place today, but you can visit the same place tomorrow and have a totally different experience, Simply because it never was “the best place”, it was the best moment.

The best moment can happen any place and at any time. It is these best moments that leave us with lasting memories. Memories can take place in many countries. Which means there is no best place or country in the world, there are only best moments!

Super Sophie!

Quicker than an Oxford debater, she leaps tall(er) speakers with a single bound… Super Sophie!

Two years ago I met Sophie, she was not quite 13 years old. I had the privilege to coach her in public speaking for a competition. She is a pleasure to work with. At a tender age, Sophie is driven, intelligent and creative to a level that astounds me. Her writing is sublime! I was so moved by her prepared speech on the child soldier from Sierra Leone, Ishmael Beah.

We put in many hard hours and she produced the goods… she has won the Provincial (British Columbia) and Western Canada speaking and debating competitions. Sophie went on to compete with distinction against others several years older and more experienced. I am proud to say that Sophie has qualified to the World Championships in England in 2009.

Sophie is a powerful speaker at 14. The ability to debate sensibly and master public speaking is essential in many careers. It has stood me in great stead, I wish I had started earlier. I wish I had Sophie’s prodigious talent and drive. Sophie is not perfect, she is still a young girl in many ways. A young girl with some wonderful talent.

Super Sophie has made an astounding achievement by qualifing to the world championships. Any sucess from here is a bonus.

Good luck Sophie!

In the Shade

I love trees! I love the trees in Australia. Don’t get me wrong, I am from Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada where we have some of the most majestic species of Sitka Spruce and Douglas Fir (to name a few) that make up our diverse and beautiful coastal rainforest. If you haven’t visited Vancouver Island, it is a must see.

Australia forests are different and distinct. One of my favourites is Australia’s Eucalyptus. In fact, Australia is home to more than 700 species of Eucalypt. What a majestic, beautiful tree. Not just because you can crush the leathery leaves and fill your nostrils with the aroma of eucalyptus, but because of how they grow. The branches remind me of giant tendrils reaching out every which way with it’s strong boughs.

Australian Eucalypts are amongst the tallest trees in the world. The bark is sometimes stringy and is often peeled revealing a naked beautiful smooth tree trunk. The trunk can be tinged with greens, oranges, reds or sometimes a silvery white. At night you see the white tree trunk shimmering in the moonlight. It is magic!

Another tree I love is the Palm. In Australia, they have huge Palms trees, small Palm trees, Palm bushes, so many Palms. At times, driving along the road or hiking you can look down upon these giant tree Palms and it feels like you could jump and the canopy would envelop you with their mammoth palm fronds.

Being in Ettalong Beach with all of it’s Eucalyptus and Palms, I feel like I am living in a lush, tropical seaside haven. Oh, I forgot, I am! All I need is a pina colada in each hand, the shade of a good tree and a pool boy to keep me cool and offer refills as required!

A Canadian Living in Australia

Here I am on the other side of the world!

I didn’t come here for work or because I have always wanted to experience living in another country.  No, I came here because I fell in love with an Australian.

He had worked in Canada for over 3 years when I met him.  We met in May and started seeing each other in September.  He already knew he was going home next March.  We went into the relationship with the idea that it was going to be short term.  That didn’t last for long.
We spent all of our spare time together and when we couldn’t be together we spent the rest of the time on the phone or internet talking.
We were trying to live in a long distance relationship, but it wasn’t working.  We lived about 3 hours apart.  We took the plunge and essentially moved in together.  Although neither of us gave up our apartments, we stayed at each other’s place on alternating weekends.  The weekdays were taken up with work, although I sometimes worked from his place.
The stress on each of us and on the relationship was incredible.  As the date of his departure grew near, I talked him into staying another 4 months.  Not sure why or what I thought I would accomplish with 4 more months, but it worked out.
In that 4 months we grew together as a couple and knew beyond a doubt that we would be staying together.  This meant I was moving!
It was exciting, stressful exhilarating and gutsy for both of us.  We haven’t looked back!
We both arrived in Sydney July 2008, he was, we were, coming home…