act of contrition

beneath the white sails, setting the record straight

good news, australia! forty-nine years after the opening of danish architect jorn utzon’s sydney opera house, the final touches are in place to make it possibly the finest facility of its kind.

utzon, who won an international design competition in 1957 with his vision of white sails billowing over the opera house, was sacked in 1966, after nine years of agonizing labor that had transformed a rocky point overlooking the city’s harbor into an architectural wonder.

a helicopter hovers over one of the eggshell “sails”, composed of perfectly geometrically aligned tiles

when utzon departed australia, never to return again, he left unfinished the nuts-and-bolts work needed to make the insides of the eggshells sing like the magnificent exterior he had so painstakingly constructed. after he left, the job was handed over to a three-man committee. in helen pitt’s comprehensive history of the controversial construction, entitled “the house”, she says it was like “asking three men to finish a rembrandt”.

the result left room for improvement. for more than forty years, performers and audiences whispered about the sound quality at the grand concert hall. it just wasn’t utzon.

no longer! as the opera house prepares for its fiftieth anniversary next year, jorn utzon’s vision is complete. opera house c.e.o. louise herron, who spearheaded the upgrade, invited more than three-thousand faithful for a black-tie gala on july 21, 2022 for the grand reopening of the newly refurbished concert hall. she revealed in her program notes that, “the muller-b.b.m. acousticians, who worked on the philharmonie berlin and other fine concert halls throughout the world, regard this as their finest achievement.”

a packed house witnessed the opening performance at the newly refurbisheed grand concert hall

it shows!! the grand reopening featured the sydney symphony orchestra fittingly performing mahler’s “resurrection” symphony. it was preceded by a concerto written for the occasion by indigenous composer william barton, who incidentally is also australia’s leading didgeredoo player.

mahler’s “resurrection” is challenging music. under the baton of newly-appointed permanent conductor simone young, the orchestra shook the hall to its pre-fab concrete foundation in an epic performance. the capacity crowd rose to its feet in a roar of approval. the sydney opera house is now the global benchmark for excellence, inside as well as out.

a standing ovation from the packed hall

it was an evening that reflected australia’s growing self-esteem and stature. denmark’s ambassador to australia, pernille dahler kardel, was a special guest for the occasion. this was a night of righting the wrongs of history, in much the same way aussies have been doing with their aboriginal predecessors. jorn utzon, who died in 2008 at his home in denmark, was probably smiling from heaven.

the danish ambassador, flanked by opera house c.e.o. louise herron and new south wales arts and culture minister ben franklin.


g-r-r to the kim-bird-ley

impropa geese and propa ganda

sign in front of parry’s farm, the best birdwatching spot in the kimberley

we’d heard all the b.s. (bird stories) about the aussie outback. but our arrival in australia’s great northwest was delayed several months by the avian flu scare (aka covid). now, however, the scare is over (not covid, only the scare) and everyone in oz is emu-nized. so pernille’s off work for a change and the trip is on

two weeks chasing ravens, rocks and rivulets in the kimberley! ravens were scarce, but oy! the bodacious badlands! the wondrous wetlands! until recently every aussie school kid was weaned on stories of hardy drovers marching cattle across vast stretches of parched red earth through the kimberley to the west coast. now we know. they’re just stories.

even so, coverage maps of mobile phone service show a huge blank spot encompassing most of australia’s northwest coastal region. an area larger than many countries. that’s no yoke. it’s terra incognita for cell phones.

the travel agents we booked with don’t have an office in the kimberley. they’re not bird-brains. they’re safely in adelaide, half the continent away.

on the agent’s recommendation, we hire a “high clearance” four wheel drive toyota s.u.v. in broome, the jumping off point for our adventure. we’re advised to carry two spare tires. one is often not enough. that’ll be an additional $22.50, thank you. per day.

then legend meets realit

every empty nester in australia must be exploring the kimberley this season. with the covid scare officially in the rear view mirror, it seems all the country’s elderly have flown the coop. retirement communities have been emptied out, their inmates loaded into “high clearance four wheel drive” busses and carted off to the tropics by fly-by-night tour operators. some of these old folks may even still remember the historiography they learned in school, half a century ago. but if those yarns were ever true, they’re hyperbole today. toyota has tamed the outback and every cattle station in the kimberley employs a chef serving five-star fare, including vegan and lactose free options.

truth to tell , the clientele for the kimberley is the aussie version of my generation. baby boomers. camping is out; “glamping” is in.

june is the dry. tropically wintry. heavenly days, deliciously cool nights. few birds (by comparison to the wet). for twitchers like us, the place for acclimating to the region is broome, on the western edge of the wilds. for our three-day introductory, there’s not a cloud in the sky, an unkind puff of wind, nor an intemperate u.v. rating. only winged creatures. and sunsets to set the sky on fire.

we can handle broome, a seaside town of 16,000 hardy souls who survive the summer sauna, guarding their precious cable beach. the population balloons to 50,000 in winter as the town becomes a tourist mecca. it’s a lark.

two intrepid souls sharing a beer at sunset on cable beach

in search of a perch for our twitching (birdwatching), we’ve sought out the broome bird observatory. the birds may be free; the observatory is not. we’re paying for the privilege of traveling on these lands, which are under control of the traditional owners and used only by permission. we suck it up and take out a second mortgage for an officially sanctioned tour of the lakes. it was more than worth it.

happy hunting with the boys

some assembly is required, and a group of seven assembles at the observatory headquarters at sunup on the appointed day; three young guides, ben, max and patrick, (ben’s at the top of the pecking order). there’s also another couple who’ve signed up for the ride, chris and kerry. i’m seated next to kerry in the land cruiser we’re traveling in, and i ask what they do for a living. “chris is an ornithologist,” she replies. ooooh! they’re not just “another couple”.

a paperbark flycatcher lounging at parry’s farm nature reserve

later, back in our b&b, we refer to the reference book for all birdly things in the kimberley, and there’s chris, with thankful tributes to him from the authors. he’s not AN ornithologist, he’s THE top ornithological authority in this part of the world. chris hassell is with us.

our land cruiser is stuffed with gear, including five professional birding telescopes. each of us also has a pair of multi-thousand dollar binoculars. and the birds are in full wing. as frank sinatra might have sung, ‘egrets, we had a few’, (actually lots), and brolgas galore, a black bittern, finches, hooded robins, bee eaters, species so numerous pernille missed a few because she was so busy writing down everything she saw.

max advises pernille

the grand total for the day was more than 80. even chris was clucking.

yes, we had our egrets.

after three days, we swept out of broome and hung our hats in derby, an unremarkable community at the western terminus of the teeth-chattering gibb river road, the g.r.r.. the most remarkable thing about derby was the one hour and 45 minute wait we endured for our dinner order. but we didn’t get g-r-r-umpy.

the gibb, as it’s known, is mostly g-r-r-eat. it winds through gulleys and gorges along towering cliffs to kununurra, nearly 700 km to the east. it’s not that the surface is rocky, no. but dentists are doing land-office business repairing loose fillings at either end of the corrugated gravel trail. (that’s a yoke)

full moon rising over the trees at mt. elizabeth (there’s no mt.)

with eyes to the skies, we did catch a full moon rising over mt. elizabeth, a rustic cattle station at about the halfway point of the gibb.

amid the flora and fauna, boab trees are a distinguishing feature of the countryside. they practically beg photographers for a click in passing.

boabs hog the spotlight

for the birders among us, the hidden crown jewel, the g.r.r.eatest part of the gibb experience is parry’s farm lagoon, which is actually past the official east end of the gibb. a twitcher’s delight. g-r-reat food, too at the farmhouse cafe next to the swimming pool.

last stop – the bungles. no, not a mistake, but a geological wonder. getting to bungle bungles (in purnululu national park) requires a 100km round trip over the g-r-r-umpiest stretch of the road in the region. they’re a gem, though. worth the effort.

toward the east end of the gibb, around the el questro wilderness park, the dusty corrugated trail gives way to modern paved bitumen (bitty) highway, a hint of what the kimberley may look like in another few years as road construction crews have their way. it’s progress.

“bitty” road at el questro, the disneyland of the g-r-r

for now, the last vestiges of the hard, good life are still there for the taking, but you’ll have to share them with the retirement crowd.

a brood of “road killers” guarding the gibb river road entrance. no worries, they’re friendly

in the end we got away without a tire puncture. only a dental exam. next time we’ll have our heads examined.


henry and margaret

a peek into the past, and maybe the future

henry reynolds

henry reynolds could be australia’s most prolific, most heralded, and least heeded historian. he has written and lectured widely in his career, and has been elected one of the country’s living national treasures. now in his eighties, henry sits comfortably next to his wife, former senator margaret reynolds in their colonial era home on the outskirts of tasmania’s capital, hobart, as he recalls their years on the front lines of australia’s fight for historical accountability.

“i’ve been accused of disloyalty, of irresponsible troublemaking, and of hating my country, he writes in his latest book, “truth telling”. ” i was often denounced as a communist.”

photo from

the reynolds’ home is a museum in the making. nicknamed ‘tasmania’s history house’, it sits prominently across from the entrance to richmond’s st. luke’s anglican cemetery, down by the coal river that once separated the catholic and protestant sections of the village. it was one of the first places the english settled when they arrived and one of the last places a tourist might think to visit. the two-story brick house now sits as a testament to two lives spent on the front lines of the struggle to bring aussies face to face with the sins of their forebears.

the walls are choc-a-bloc with memorabilia from events in the reynolds’s story. among the prominent displays is a larger than life campaign photo of their younger dauhter, anna reynolds, who followed her mother into politics and is now hobart’s lord mayor.

there’s a montage of the covers of reynolds’s books as of a few years ago. he’s since added a half dozen more titles, including “truth telling”, which is proving to be possibly the most controversial among his deliberately provocative histories.

henry’s first fifteen

“i was teaching at a college in rural queensland,” henry recalls wistfully the origin of their involvement in the movement to recognize the accomplishments of the continent’s ‘first peoples’. “i went through the history textbooks and discovered there was virtually no mention of the aboriginal people. it was as if the entire continent had been vacant before the arrival of europeans.”

on one level, the reynolds’ story is one of triumph. in the more than half a century since henry’s discovery, aboriginals have gone from sub-human status in australia to being celebrated as its “first peoples”, the custodians of the land. prime ministers have issued apologies for the behavior of the european settler (now commonly referred to as invaders), days of remembrance and reconciliation are observed each year, and schools teach aboriginal culture.

but henry’s books are like lightning flashes, initially appreciated, then quickly forgotten. aussie history can be compared to a partially developed polaroid photograph. it is hard to imagine what the picture will finally turn out to be.

margaret reynolds

margaret reynolds holds her age well. she’s a veteran of the legislative wars that surrounded the question of what to do about australia’s shameful past. she’s also a cheshire cat. her husband puts his findings into print, where they languish in university libraries. what may have transpired in parliament’s proverbial smoke filled rooms during her years in the senate may forever be shrouded by a thick gray cloud.

history evolves. who can predict the future evolutionary process of evaluating the european settlers’ treatment of the continent’s first peoples? after all, who’d a thunk, as recently as ten years ago, that mainstream u.s. scholars could be persuaded that america’s history began in 1619, not 1776, when the declaration of independence was signed. is a similar phenomenon possible in oz?

henry reynolds, in the conclusion of “truth telling”, notes that the long-term political impact of the skeletons in australia’s historical closet is “yet to be determined”. he argues the country will have to “persist with two separate stories of war. the inescapable implication is that the nation is deeply divided, its soul bifurcated and located in different places.” however, he offers two possible paths forward. one is that, in his words, ‘the time may come when the australian state needs the first nations as much as the first nations need the state”. the second is — and this is what really worries reynolds — “the first nations will become alienated from the domestic political system and increasingly look overseas in their search for both justice and respect”.

“and what of truth telling?” he asks in the book’s introduction. “is there an appetite for it in contemporary australia? or is the need for comforting national stories too compelling?” only time will tell.

btw, it is still possible to get a look at tasmania’s history house and its unique occupants. time will surely erase henry and margaret reynolds’s insights eventually, even those preserved in libraries. if you’re interested in this limited time offer, go south in australia into the colonial period about as far as it’s possible to go, then go a little further. it’s just down the road. a warm welcome awaits.

year two– detouring

stops in places we wouldn’t have guessed

stroke. it’s not the headline visit that was planned, but canberra hospital was the first major destination of 2022. stroke ward, seventh floor. only afterward did we hear that this facility isn’t on the “best in oz” list. or even the “best in canberra” list. but it was top of the “closest to home” list, and it did the job. stroke done.

stroke rehab has delayed the restart of the travel sked.

in the meantime, we did enjoy a visit from our old friend vincent, (sans covid mask. readers may remember him from the blog’s cover page.

the van gogh exhibit dropped into canberra!! what an experience!. every other art exhibition in the future will be measured against this one. an entire building in the capital’s parliamentary district was outfitted with massive screens for a powerful sensory experience. kudos to toyota and everyone associated this multi-mass media show, which wowed audiences during a months-long run in the aussie capital.

photographs don’t do justice to the immersive experience of this exhibit. it’s probably been done better in other cities with more suitable facilities, but even in “lil ol” canberra, the sense of being surrounded by the artist in all his genius and insanity was unforgettable. and now….

7/11, meet your nemesis.

australia’s apple growing region, the snowy valley, gets a shoutout for its innovative sculpture trail, bringing the works of noted sculptors from oz, denmark, and new zealand to the neighborhoods of everyday aussies. in the spirit of the festivities, they’re “rotten to the core”.

the town of batlow, possibly australia’s apple capital, hosted a weekend sculpture celebration in conjunction with its annual fall harvest. a few mini-batlowans were selected for “juicy” roles in the festivities.

a few “bad apples” recruited from the local school

the danish ambassador (the apple of my eye), the czech consul general, and a passel of local and regional dignitaries descended on batlow on may 7th to inaugurate the trail, which runs across seven towns over 100km through the snowy valley, in the mountains west of canberra.

sculpture trail founder and c.e.o. david handley was master of ceremonies for the inaugural

so with apples harvested, (even the bad ones), sculpture trail blazed, and stroke rehab on track, it’s exploration time. anchors aweigh!!

a tassie love story – part two–telegenic tassie and wombat wonders

my thoughts? don’t have any.

not that heinlein

tassie’s glamorous. did we mention amorous? showing off for cell phone cameras.

cradle mountain at dusk

cradle mountain is a scenic masterpiece, enchanting visitors with glacier-sculpted sawtooth peaks piercing the sky. it is a rock of ten-thousand faces, changing every minute from an infinite number of angles and weathers; bathed in the rich hues of summer or crystalline winter white, shrouded in morning fog or glimmering under the silken rays of a newly risen moon.

and if it’s been there for hundreds of millions of years, as the pleistocenes would have us believe, it’s also been the subject of hundreds of millions of photos, most of them taken since the advent of the cellphone. (i took nearly a hundred myself)

the “pano” feature on the phone camera helps capture the immensity of the 360 degree landscapes.

cradle mountain – lake st. clair national park was our mid-island stopover as we…

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