Walks and Thoughts

of Michael Simes

An old Man's Tale:



West Vale

Clay House


Cragg Vale



Pecket Well

Luddenden Dean

Jerusalem Farm

Catherine Slack

Stone Chair

It's Just Like Home:

Hong Kong





Marlborough Sounds


Milford Sound



Blue Mountains

Northern Beaches


A City Of Revolution:




Notre Dame

Discovering Australia

Travelling Round Sydney Sightseeing and Exploring

Northern Beaches

A day of retirement, retreat and heritage. It’s the start of Australia Day. Festivities all weekend. Temperatures are storming towards 40°C. Extreme heat buckles the body. One hundred metres stretches to a marathon and recovery driven to seek shaded retreat. Mopping the brow an habitual defence.

Morning fixed run return with dripping shirt and slithering skin. No need for food, water expressed instantly as cooling perspiration. Two hours in bed to aid recuperation. Air conditioning never rests.

Strolling to New South Wales library through the Domain in short bursts with water and benches. Air conditioned staff complain of heat. No success in further traces of grandad.

Bank Holiday Sydney is quietest we’ve seen. Cafes, bars and streets abandoned. Aussies hide and wait for the storm. Breeze is a heated desert wind offering no respite. Cold ornamental stream becomes coolant for Chinese children.

We buy stores of water, pop and orange juice for our apartment. Slept for two more recovery hours. Body’s taking a pounding.

Visit to Maritime Museum for application to enter Norman Aubrey on the Welcome Wall in Darling Harbour for $105. A bronzed engraving tribute to migrants and voyagers to Australia.

Cramp is never far away. TV news highlight is the weather. The hottest day in Sydney for over three years.

Sir John Mortimer died aged eighty five. A knighted socialist who remained one of us. Creator of Rumpole, defender of the indefensible. Age wearied everything except his mind. He has exited for the last time. A tender friend, unknown to him.

TV reports symphony crowds in Domain celebrating winds whipping in cooling breeze. Decide to join them with a picnic immersed in Australian culture. Sydney a haven away from sandflies and mozzies. Is there nothing to bite? You can relax and focus on your activity. Dramatic reduction in temperature as evening monsoon wind kicks in. God has brought the air conditioning out in the open. Thousands of Sydneysiders amidst swirling leaves and branches.

Discordant music orchestrates the hordes of flying bats trailing over the Domain in their ordained flight path to Centennial Park. Steak and onions in Turkish roll with dips on a park bench. We could be watching Superman III on television. Sydney symphony is technically proficient but don’t overcome dislocation with their open air audience. I should be impressed, to be cultured. A sort of pleasant drone appreciated as you do washing up. The new and olde world feature in the itinerary.

Our John

Wheezing around Darling Harbour this morning. Return for rest and await telephone call from John on holiday in San Francisco. Sudden knock on the door reveals backpacker John on the doorstep. Shock wave releases squeals of delight and piercing screams “it’s John, it’s John, he doesn’t belong here, he’s in San Francisco”. Catching us unprepared it’s surreal and astonishing. A startling visit concealed in its application. He had changed holiday arrangements to astound us via a week in Hong Kong. John will guide us round his favourite Sydney for a few days. After -shock subsides as we walk the quay to settle him into his hotel.

Now it’s a threesome its best to put John in charge. Ferry trip to Watson’s Bay to choose between Sydney skyline or the Pacific over the ridge. World famous fish and chips at Doyles. Here’s a busy place with cheap transport for Sunday families. Weather settled into cloudy high twenties. Shared holiday tales and Sydney impressions. Last ferry at 7:05pm so bussed back to Great George Street. With John’s help reviewed CD photographs on television screen.

We planned our itinerary for tomorrow’s Australia Day. Startle fades as we sink into joy with our delightful kindred spirit. Proof positive of the contraction of the world.

Australia Day

Australia Day begins with the welcome ceremony at 8:00am in the Botanical Gardens. It’s the traditional meeting place of the Aborigine. Auntie Pansy kicks us off “don’t lock us out, don’t lock us out. Australia day is not for us, it celebrates the invasion. It is racism. Every place is Aborigine land. Can you paint us as a rainbow? We hope our grandchildren can celebrate as one people. This land is our land.”

A song, dance and smoking ritual. A didgeridoo to calm the mind and clean the spirit. “We are still here, we are still black, we are still strong.” Martin Luther King was a wonderful man. He had a dream, all have a dream. It’s Australia Day, the Empire strikes back. They didn’t know racism until Americans showed black to the future. Performance was rap, protest and polemics.

Met John for breakfast at our favourite shoreside café at Circular quay. It’s a young country but Aborigines have been here forty thousand years. The land owns them but Brits gave it to themselves. We used to have common land until it was enclosed and enforced. How can they fence our land?

Thousands line boundary of Opera House catching sight of the annual ferrython. Ferries decked in their own regalia chugging across the harbour to finishing line under the bridge. You could tell Donald Duck would steal it.

It’s like Empire Day, patriotism as mass entertainment. We should picket and protest. All nations celebrate but there’s a few scoundrels.

Flotillas of decorated boats, yachts and cruising round harbour with BBQ and beer on board. Sea Kings and divers audition their rescue exercises.

We walk on bridge for fly past, parachutes and red arrows. I’m still clinging on as Carolyn and John hold their relaxed view. Huge crowds milling in the street drawing in communal atmosphere. Airforce and parachutes do not appear without warning, as cloud refuses to be lifted.

Delicious Italian pasta on harbourside. You queue to get into any restaurant. Staff friendly, efficient and unflappable even in face of drunken conflicts. Upstairs Italian charging a minimum of $150 each on Australia Day. We left a tip, not as generous as Marcel Proust. He would pay ten francs for a meal and leave twenty for a tip. It’s a kind of empathy. In my culinary training I had perfect results, a mixture of shame and pride.

Drizzle rain did not spoil the crowd or spectacular fireworks in Cockle Bay. Sydney can do firework displays. Sydney should belong to everyone. Chinese joined in their New Year. A striking pyrotechnic event to the haunting didgeridoo.

Palm Beach

Scheduled bus to Palm Beach. It takes 1 ½ hours and costs $6 single. Set off with coats and umbrellas but sun timed with arrival. We walk from The Wharf to Palm Beach of Home and Away fame.

Lovely beach, vast expanse and largely deserted. Dangerous currents forbid swimming. Large rock pool remains inviting at the crescent. Paddled along beach seeking lunch, it filled a hole.

Clambered up to Barren Joey lighthouse, named after an infertile kangaroo. Sand, rock and stepped in a steep ascent in mid-day heat. Shirt sweat soaked and dripping as body overtimes on natural coolant. Carolyn’s brain and legs have gone. Rest at summit with peeled shirt, heavy breathing and shaded round foot of Barren Joey. Your vision stretches beyond sides of peninsula to enclose alternative bays and mountains. A beautiful place, more impressive than Bondi and Manly. Not yet discovered. We recover in the yacht club at ocean’s edge with pots of tea, cold drinks and ice cream. Greedily replacing lost liquid. Now I have two walking partners. John’s a professional walker and explorer, I’m pushed even harder.

Bus to Manly to catch ferry and stroll home. A twelve hour shift. You’re always on the go with John.

Ravishing Italian pasta overseeing Manly beach. It’s better for the knowing, we could adopt Manly.


A laying in to recuperate. John struck off on his own on the Manly Scenic Walk onto Balmoral. We replenished provisions and aching limbs. Frustrating morning being passed from bus to post in forlorn attempt to get to Balmoral. Gave up and headed for ferry at Circular Quay. For the first time we got good advice from a freshly laundered Captain Cook at quayside. He had an Aussie accent and we reminisced about Staithes.

Ferried to Taronga Zoo to catch Balmoral bus. Met up with John who’d done the eight mile stretch from Manly. Attractive beach with netted pool. No further news of shark infested waters. Refreshing swim in the sea hawk-eyed for sharks, tickling fish and rip. Vista over to Manly, Sydney Head and crossing Manly ferries. Government seeking to privatise, announcing it’s inefficient. Ferries move millions safely, cheaply and on time. The cherry picking season is over.

Balmoral’s been promenading since 1930s. There’s no commercialism on the front. “It’s not a bad part of the world”.

Royal names prominent but labourism and unionism have a distinguished history. We’ve not heard mention of the crown. “Poms are no good at cricket”.

Sea swimming cleanses and invigorates, a mood altering substance. “We’re going like England – multi culturalism”. Oneness has no boundaries. Cramp in calves shock into hardness. Overdose on orange, salt crisps and bananas. Accumulated sweat takes its toll.

The world views us as pensionable while our esteem and self image stuck around thirty. The universal mirror will win out. Noddy will be 60 this year. He’s not changed much. He has acquired hovercraft, chopper and submarine. Its incongruous now, he should have a banker as mate. I like Big Ears, he was a kindly soul. Noddy was my only childhood book. Protectively taken to bed but enuresis soiled it. Shamefully it was a library book and never recovered. He was always a bit wet. My adult recompense was voraciously reading the complete works of world literature.


John’s last day with us in Sydney. He booked night bridge climb when he returns from a week in Tasmania. Washed and dried his clothes in our laundry. Bought himself a replacement camera. Lunch at Greek café served by man from Corinth Canal. Sat in breezy shade in Hyde Park with Carolyn reading me Proust aloud. Local bus to Bronte to walk coastal path to Coogee for seaside fish.

Australian Open too hot to handle, courts shut down as temperatures roar to 43°C. Serena has out of body experience in winning her match. Dokic confides her depression after exit. She has the haunted, suspicious look of the early traumatised. They decide to shut the roof.

Final itinerary being considered for our last two days in Sydney. Carolyn injured her shoulder in sculling in Balmoral sea. Therapeutic massage and relief from rucksack at least for a day. My arthritic toes, back, shoulder, arm and propensity to calves cramp does not justify exclusion.

Man in tuxedo and dickie bow relaxes with his paper in the park. Dirty, smell prone destitute, gargling phlegm without inhibition, disturbs his reverie. Tuxedo man slopes off, head bowed. Creative juices squeezed out by too much activity. Activity wards off the depressive. The elderly have time to make their mark.

Bus steaming in the heat. Where are all the air conditioned coaches? Outpourings congeal with sweat stained clothes. A cool wind would be welcomed. Gentle coastal walk to Coogee via the cemetery on the hill and Clovelly.

Coogee busy with evening swimmers and bronzers. Again there’s a lack of commercial development. The bordering beach is designated National Park protected.

Paddling in ocean to cool. Coogee is just “like a transported English seaside resort”. Walk becomes more strenuous and longer than led to believe. Ordered risotto at the blustery, windswept Zagora restaurant al fresco. Busy twilight bus back to Hyde Park. Moving farewell to John as he continues his journey to Tasmania and San Francisco. He shared Sydney as a surprising place.

Germaine Greer is a crotchety 70 today. Born in Melbourne, a female eunuch in her own time. Educated in a convent and part of the Sydney Push. A PhD at Cambridge in 1967. What it is for women to grow old published as The Change in 1991. Creditability questioned in selling herself to Big Brother. She’s still going strong at seventy.

The Passage

Now we wallow in a different pace. John drove us everywhere. He likes to keep moving, he doesn’t stall. Deprived and lost we fill the day.

Walked to Circular Quay at 9:00am. Spent all day walking and returned shattered and burned at 7pm. Our siestas never materialise.

Another family heritage day studying microfiche shipping lists at the State Records Office. Discovered Norman Aubrey left London on the ship Oronsay at the age of thirty three and arrived Sydney on 17 March 1927. He travelled alone and registered himself as a single person, denying his status. The ship belonged to Glasgow and the steamship Orient Line. His wife travelled as a married housewife with their two children, Patricia, two years and John aged one year. They travelled on Mamiluis, registered in Liverpool and run by the Aberdeen Line. They had nearly four months all together before Norman Aubrey died in September. The family lived at Mavalanor, 72 Upper Pitt Street. North Shore. A house owned and held in trust by Soloman Cohen.

Discovering written documentation of their passage evokes sadness at the practical knowledge of tragedies that awaited them. A whisker away from living an Aussie clan. We’re retreading an earlier pilgrimage.

Evening spent with a Turkish take-away Pizza watching day/night cricket and tennis. Roger could do it in the Open tomorrow, if the roof is closed. They all seem nice boys to me, except that Andy Murray who does not convince. Should have accepted a coffee and hand clasp with David Campesi at his shop in the Rocks. Rumours have it that he’s an arrogant legend.

Today is tenth anniversary of Mother’s death in hospital. A child’s life known only as maternal care until I was fifty. Parents have had a life of their own. A lost world bereft of Mothers.

Another day of ancestors. Rookwood Cemetery confirmed Norman Aubrey cremated in 1927. Mysteriously his ashes collected three years later and buried. Who was it? and why?

Call in Maritime Museum to pay for grandfather’s name engraved in Memory Wall.

Walked on bridge footpath to the Pylon Museum. Pylons are sentinels to guard the bridge. Largely decorative rising to 134 metres above the sea. Hundreds of steps strain cramped calves.

Bridge known at the Iron Lung as it breathed work into The Depression. The dogman, boiler maker, riveter, rigger and tin hares laboured a special camaraderie. They went on the bridge not knowing if they’d come down. Crocodile Dundee was a rigger here. It was Sydney’s first world class artefact. Roosevelt declared the story of the bridge was the story of civilisation. You can have a film show.

Pylon top offers walk round panoramic views of Sydney opening out to the sea. You can almost touch the bridge climbers. Queasy and nauseous, no need to prolong the look-out. Shop and toilet available.

Siesta for first time in weeks. This was our daily strategy for living with tropical heat.

Evening ferry to witness the sunset. Walk through park past bridge and Opera House on way to Domain for opera in the park. Dramatic and enjoyable for two minutes. A sort of walk on part of opera appreciation. There’s a sorrow in departing Sydney. Leaving behind genes, losses, tragedies and unfinished engagement. We could be honorary Sydneysiders.

Arias interrupted for Asthma foundation appeal. If you had a seat you could drift. Armchairs with crankshaft for champagne. Not sure of the charity, bit of a vice really. Opera converts bring their own chair, sparkling flutes and rugs, many seem rather large.

Back to the Tennis for a bit of grunting. Nadal has been impressive. Rod Laver was the man. New South Wales health service in crisis, unable to pay staff or stock painkillers, antibiotics and basic equipment. Neo-liberals have pushed us along this path. A first day away from a ritualistic anniversary.