Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And now I'm home, so this will be the last entry in this blog. I will, over the next few days, attempt to upload a bunch of photographs. I have taken many and will have to edit the number down considerably to enter them in this blog.

Saturday was to be the first day of my last antipodean workshop for this trip. Gill and I had a fairly leisurely breakfast, and then realized we were running late. In the dash to get everything loaded into the car, Gill was unable to find her car keys. We scrambled around and eventually had to take a second set to get to the workshop on time. We just made it. The workshop was being held at the Lake House Art Center on the North Shore of Auckland, and comprises a number of older buildings brought to the site and place there to make up the art center.

I was a little dismayed to find, when I arrived, that there were no walls on which I could tape the paper I needed for demonstration purposes. However, we were able to acquire a white board and used that, so things worked out well in the end. The workshop which the Auckland group had opted for was "Letters from Hell". The members of the workshop comprised ten members from Auckland plus three who had come up from Wellington, and who had been in my workshop there. They were: Daniel Reeve, Maggie Salter, and Kate Thurston.

I can't remember if I mentioned this previously, but it bears restating. This has been a trip of incredible coincidences, and another one was between Maggie Salter and me. On her resume for the Hutt Calligraphers, it noted that she had worked at a folk club in London in the sixties. Having sung at a number and even run four folk clubs I was eager to ask her which one she had worked at. It turned out that she had worked at Bunjie's in Litchfield Street, two or three years after I had run the club there with Bert Jansch. This was the first place that Bert had sung and played at after he came up to London from Edinburgh. Maggie and I had a fine old time reminiscing about the characters that had worked and played there.

The first day of the workshop we went through all of the minuscule letters, leaving the capitals for the following day. After the day was done, I had Gill run me into downtown to make a quick trip to buy a few presents for people, at a store that I'd visited the previous day with Bruce. It seems that that evening we sampled a few too many wines and some excellent Talisker single malt whisky!

Sunday dawned sunny but very windy and Bruce was hoping that I would get to hear a tui, an amazingly tuneful New Zealand songbird, but all to no avail. We arrived at the Lake House Center, and I proceeded to go through capital letters with everyone. I was intending to show some slides at the end of the workshop, thinking that we would have time between 4.00 and 5.30pm. Unfortunately, the room we were in had to be locked up at 4.30 and so I felt as though I had short changed the people in the workshop somewhat. We had a rather tearful parting, this being my last full day in New Zealand, but we finished with the hope that I would be able to return for another tour in the summer of 2011, and include the south island next time.

Monday, and my day of departure. My hosts, Bruce and Gill took me out for a Turkish breakfast at a garden center near them. The weather was quite threatening and very windy, and by the time we got out to Glover Park and the headland overlooking the whole harbor, the weather had closed right in and there was very little to be seen.

We went back to their house and packed my bags in the car and left for the airport. I said my farewells, and hoped that sometime, they would come to Arkansas (Bruce is American-born, so it would be a sort of homecoming for him).

Auckland is a strange airport. One has to sit in this rather large open area, where there is but one restaurant - Burger King! - and a coffee bar which does sandwiches. This in the international terminal. One sits in the hall until, ten minutes before boarding, there is an indication of which gate one's flight departs from.

Once on the plane, it was quite obvious that it was a little less than half full, and as soon as we had taken off, the stewardess showed me to a row of seats which I had all to myself for the twelve hour flight to Los Angeles. While I was able to spread out across the seats, i wasn't able to sleep.

Los Angeles has the reputation of being one of the worst airports on the planet, with good cause, the Bradley Building being tops! I think it has been under reconstruction ever since it was built and they still haven't got it right. I was quickly through customs and immigration but then, in trying to find the transfer desk so that I could check my bag through to Dallas/Ft. Worth, I eventually was accosted by a little man who showed me to a trolley, which turned out to be the "transfer desk".

I next went to stand on line for ten minutes, while a posse of people checked bags to see if they were too big for carry on. Once past there, I was directed to an escalator up to security which turned out to be blocked off with a sign telling me to go back to where I'd previously been. I went up the stairs to stand in a line of abut 400 people waiting to have their IDs checked. Once through there we found ourselves at the security checkpoint, where there was a shortage of bins in which to place computers, so we had another wait. So. What do we learn from this? AVOID LOS ANGELES LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

I eventually got onto my flight which was packed to the gunwhales and arrived in Dallas, having slept most of the way. The layout of DFW is really very clever. The baggage claim is right outside the gate and so the bags arrive quickly. That, however, was where the satisfaction ended. My brand new, indestructible, Samsonite, $360 suitcase was totally destroyed!! Smashed, bent up, whatever. The only thing which was remarkable, was that the locks were still working. Kudos to Samsonite, brickbats to American Airlines. They did, however, make amends, and a check for a new suitcase is in the mail as I write this.

Our flight was due to leave at 4.10pm for NorthWest Arkansas. We finally pushed off from the gate at 5.20 because of some fuelling error (I guess it's best to get that right!!). We arrived about an hour late, even though the sign on the baggage carousel said that we were "on time". I suppose if you say it enough, it has to be true!!

Sharon was waiting for me when I arrived, true to her word, and we hastened back to Eureka Springs for dinner at Local Flavor. While I have to admit to being tired, I was perked up by being home in this town which I love. My house was still standing (if a little "buggy" - wasps, flies and fleas had invaded in my absence), and my cup truly ran over when my friend Randal delivered Chloe back here. I missed her.

Although, there were one or two things which conspired to spoil my enjoyment of the trip, they all failed. It was a most wonderful experience and to everyone who made it possible, and helped out along the way, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. To all the people whom I saw that I knew from previous trips, I say how wonderful it was to renew old friendships. I hope to be back in 2011 and will do all I can to make that a reality.

So that's it! Now, after another couple of days recovery I must get back to work. There will be a brief hiatus over Thanksgiving, but I have two paintings which must be finished, and an article must be written for a magazine to be published next year. Thank you all for reading this. I hope I wasn't too boring. If you want to contact me, write to me at: I always do my best to reply!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Thursday morning, we awoke to find lowering skies and some rain. This was to be our last chance to see a some Maori craftsmanship in Rotorua, and after a breakfast in town, we drove down to the Faith Church, by the lake, which has remarkable decorative work by Maori craftsmen. There is no photography allowed in the church, but I have been able to photograph some Maori work in the Museum here in Auckland. I will upload all my photographs when I return home where I can figure out why I haven't been able to download much on the road.

After visiting the church we intended to go to Te Puia where they have a geyser which, apparently, can be induced to spout by tossing some soap into it. Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived there the skies opened and that was that. The rain continued from then on all the way through to Auckland. We decided to give Te Puia a miss and headed out on the road to Tauranga.

On the way, we passed what I thought were mile after mile of vineyards. It turned out that the trained "vines" were in fact field after field of kiwi fruit. I had never seen them growing before and was fascinated by them. Each field is separated by incredibly tall poplar trees which are trimmed very precisely, presumably to act as windbreaks.

We drove through Tauranga, which I believe is the second largest port in New Zealand, and made our way to Waihi (pronounced why-hee), where we eventually found somewhere to have lunch, and then pushed on towards Auckland. The weather by this time was quite dreadful - heavy rain and mist - and we had difficulty seeing all of one of New Zealand's most beautiful gorges, the Karangahake. There is a river running along the valley floor, a tributary of the Waihou River, with the road running down one side and what was the railroad, now a cycle track, down the other. It is quite spectacular.

The rest of the journey was through fairly flat country and into Auckland where we got to experience the traffic which is apparently a real problem here. There is only one bridge across the harbor and most of the traffic seems to be funnelled towards it!!

We found our way to Glenice and Alistair's house, where Maggie and David would be staying for the duration of the workshop, and where Gill Carlsson picked me up an hour later. We then set out to brave the traffic, coming back over the bridge from the North Shore, to Glencowie where I was to spend the next few days.

On Friday, there was to be a party at Gill and Bruce's house in the evening, so Gill wanted to get the place ready and suggested that Bruce and I go out and I could see something of the town. We went first to the Museum where I was able to take some terrific photographs, and then into downtown, where I could look for a few gifts.

The next stop was to head down to the ferry which we took over to Devonport. Auckland has a magnificent harbor, and a huge commercial port, where countless thousands of containers come in and out delivering most of the consumer goods required by New Zealand. We returned from Devonport after lunch and then headed to Mount Eden, where there is a wonderful 360º view over the city. Everywhere one looks, there are little pointed hills, and Bruce told me that Auckland is situated on and around 42 extinct volcanoes. Amazing!

We returned back to his house in time to find that Gill had everything prepared for the evening's festivities. Most of the people who were to be in the workshop managed to make it there and it was wonderful to meet everyone before the workshop and put faces to names before we were to start.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Before I begin Tuesday's story, I want to say a big "thank you" to all the people who have helped me or housed me, usually both. They would be: Linda Upfold in Sydney, Barb and Gus King in Perth, Greg Hanlon in Melbourne, Olive and Frank Bull in Launceston, Liz and Rory O'Leary, and Alison O'May in Hobart, Jill and John Robertson, and Tony and Angela Hillier in Canberra, Margo and Jim Irwin in Coomera, Gold Coast, and Peggy Robinson, and David and Maggie Salter in Wellington, and, in advance, Jill and Bruce Carlsson in Auckland. You have all been fabulous hosts and I shall be writing to each of you when personally when I return home. I certainly couldn't have managed all this without your help and support and I thank you all.

On Tuesday Morning, then, David (caterer immaculata) and Maggie Salter came round to Peggy's house to pick me up for the drive to Auckland, which we were going to do over three days. Our first leg would take us the appproximately 350kms to Lake Taupo and the town of the same name.

The landscape which we drove through was ever varying from the rugged hills in the south, through the central plains and back into more rolling countryside and finally into the desert of the beginning of the volcanic area and finally into Taupo itself. I had never been this close to active volcanoes before, and their grandeur was mesmerizing. They were snow-capped, the tallest one being over 9000 ft. There was no sign of their being active; no smoke or anything, but the way that they protrude from the landscape makes one realize how really insignificant we are!

On arriving in Taupo, we found our motel, and it was here that I discovered that this whole trip from south to northwas being paid for by the Wellington group and the Auckland group combined. I have no idea how I'm ever going to thank you all for your generosity. Suffice it to say that I was almost reduced to tears again. I shall treasure these memories all the more for this, and I do thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Once we were checked in we took off for one of the most incredible sights in the area: the Huka Falls. This is the start of another hydroelectric scheme which supplies some 15% of all New Zealand's electricity. The falls themselves are caused by the river being forced into a narrow channel, and while not high, they carry some 15 cubic meters of water per second. The sheer rugged power is a wonder to behold.

We returned to Taupo for dinner and then turned in fairly early with me looking forward to a new day, when we would get to see some more examples of the geothermal nature of this area. Everyone had warned me that the Rotorua area, our next destination, smelled very strongly of hydrogen sulphide from all the geothermal outlets - geysers, mudpools, vents and so on, and thus I was a little disappointed that it wasn't nearly so bad as I expected. I was expecting the whole area to be a natural "stinkbomb" and in fact, it does smell, but not nearly as badly as I had been led to anticipate.

The next morning, I awoke early, as I usually do and took a walk around the town for a couple of miles or so. It was very quiet and the skies were threatening. The volcanoes, which had been quite visible the previous evening were shrouded in cloud, and I wondered if we'd be able to see anything later on. I needn't have worried.

Our first port of call on the drive to Rotorua was the "Craters of the Moon" area. This is a large open area of vents, craters and mudpools, with a walkway which runs all around it. The walk takes about three quarters of an hour, and to be honest, we were all a little disappointed. I suppose we'd all expected something a little more spectacular.

However, we were not disappointed by our next place to visit. The place, which I'll call Orakei Korako until I can find something with the proper name on it, is a geothermal area which boasts of itself as the best naturally occurring site in the world, and I, for one, wouldn't gainsay it.

We were taken by boat across a lake and deposited at the bottom of a huge rock ledge where hot water runs down, and all sorts of colors are deposited on the rock from the dissolved salts. The walk around the area took about an hour and a half and was all up hill and down dale. I have absolutely no idea how many steps we climbed and descended, but they seemed innumerable.

It seemed as though every time we turned a corner there was something new to be seen. There were hot springs (and I mean HOT), geysers, mudpools, a cave with a warm lake in it, a rock shaped like an elephant's head. It was a true wonderland with colors which beggar description. I think we were all amazed and it more than made up for the disappontment we felt at the Craters of the Moon.

We drove on to Rotorua for lunch and tried to get a look at a working geyser (the geyser at OK is unpredictable), but were told we would have to buy a ticket even if we didn't want to see anything else. I was, by this time, pretty tired, and my knees were aching, and so we decided to go back to the motel and rest up for the evening's festivities.

David and Maggie had arranged for us to go to a Maori Cultural Evening at the Tamaki Maori Village on the outskirts of town. We were picked up at out motel and driven out to the village. On the way, the driver regaled us with all sorts of stuff and told us that each busload of people had to be represented by a chief. Somehow, because I had played rugby when I was at school, I was selected.

The three chefs, one from each bus, by sheer coincidence, all turned out to be British. One from west Wales, one from Luton, and me. We had to face the Haka, where warriors with fierce gestures and threatening moves, tried to intimidate us. We had been warned that we must keep eye contact and not smile. Once we were accepted as guests, then the people we represented would be welcome in the village.

We were entertained by people doing traditional village things such as carving and playing games, and then we were led into the dining hall for a meal cooked in the way of the Maori, underground. The evening's entertainment went on a little longer than expected, but was really quite exceptional.

On the way back, I was informed that I, as chief, had to sing a song. I had been warned that this might be the case, so I launched into "Five Nights Drunk" (what else?), which raised some laughter.

I have to admit that I had a certain trepidation about the evening, thinking that it might turn out to be really kitschy, but it was, in fact, thoroughly enjoyable. I'm not sure when I'll be able to upload this narrative, but it will probably be in Auckland. We shall be leaving for there in an hour or so, but before that, we shall take a further look at Rotorua.

Watch this space!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

However, before I finally quit Australian shores, it would be extremely remiss of me not to mention two people without whom this whole trip would have been impossible. First, Gemma Black. Gemma was the catalyst who first got my wishes to return to Australia across to the necessary people, namely Linda Upfold. It was wonderful to see Gemma in the Gold Coast. She is now living just north of Brisbane, and when she came to the class at Neranga it was wonderful to see how relaxed and content she seemed compared with when we had last met, in Chicago. Wherever her future journeys take her, I can only wish her continued success and buona fortuna. She is, indeed, a lovely lady.

And secondly, and certainly not least; how can I possibly thank Linda Upfold. She has spent interminable hours on my behalf, continually calling and emailing trying to get everything organized, and how well it HAS been organized. In spite of my little niggles, nothing whatever redounds to Linda's organizational acumen. Her arrangements on my behalf have been nothing short of perfect, and I thank you once again, Linda. I know no other way to express my gratitude than in public and this forum seems the best. I doubt that I can ever thank you enough for all your hard work.

And so now I'm in New Zealand.

My trip from Coomera to Wellington began with an alarm ringing at 4.07 am and me making the quick dash out of bed and into the shower, to be followed by packing, breakfast, short trip to the station, fond farewells to Jim and Margot and then hopping onto the 5.40 train to the airport.

The check in went smoothly enough, but I have to admit to not being prepared for the line to get through EXIT customs. In my experience, customs is there to check your coming in, not leaving! In the end, my departure took much longer than my arrival.

The flight across the Tasman Sea was uneventful and we arrived just about on time in Auckland. I have to admit that my arrival in New Zealand left a lot to be desired. Auckland airport is, to put it bluntly, auckward. After a twenty seven mile hike to reach customs and immigration, I got into the country with no problem, but try to find your way around the airport. Where there are signs, they're very confusing, and I have to wonder why, in the imes of the global village, we can't have standardized signage.

Anyway, I eventually found the Domestic Transfer desk and having checked in for the short flight to Wellington, then tried to find my way to the domestic terminal. I was told to catch the bus outside door number 6. Fine, I thought. Except that the doors don't have numbers!! Eventually I found the bus after asking several people and arrived at the gate with about five minutes to spare.

On reaching Wellington I was greeted by Peggy Robinson, who identified herself by holding a couple of my books. I was supposed to be on the same plane with another lady, a student in the class, but she had been delayed because her bags were lost in Sydney. She arrived about twenty minutes later, and we all set off for Wellington proper. To say that Wellington is beautiful and magnificent would be to do it an extreme disservice. The drive in from the airport simply took my breath away. High hills surrounding a natural harbor with house dotted all over, enough to put San Francisco to shame. I had always thought of it as being a dour, administrative center, but WOW! Anyone coming to this magnificent country must visit Wellington.

Peggy's house, where we went after dropping Cathy at the railway station, is a charming small house in Brooklyn, overlooking Oriental Bay and the whole sweep of the Wellington inlet. The view from up there, to repeat myself, took my breath away again. The house must be at least a thousand feet up which I can attest to, having walked up there a few days later!!

The following day, Saturday, was the first day of the "Pen Manipulation Techniques" workshop, which was being held up the coast at Ramaudi Beach, about a 45 minute drive from Wellington. The workshop was a joint venture between the Hutt Calligraphers and the Calligraphers of Kapiti. There were 18 people in the workshop which meant my work was going to be cut out for me. We'd had a little trouble getting paper, but in the end needn't have worried, because Daniel Reeve and Alison Furminger. Daniel, incidentally, is the man who did all the calligraphy for the "Lord of the Rings" movies.

The workshop went very well on the first day, and I have to say a special thanks to David _____ for handling all the food and refreshments for the workshop. After the workshop was over for the day, a gave a short illustrated talk about my work and then most of us headed to a Thai restaurant for dinner, which was superb, as was the company! We stayed the night at the Ramaudi Beach Resort, which was quite luxurious, and I was able to catch up on my email and this blog.

The next day, was the last day of the workshop, and I tried to get around to each person to do them an alphabet as a keepsake. I nearly made it!! At the conclusion, I was presented with a thank you card and an original piece by Lorraine Brady. It was quite beautiful, and I only hope that I can get it home in one piece without damaging it. Lorraine, I should tell you, is New Zealand's first, and so far, only, Fellow of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators, and an amazingly talented lady (as well as being quite hilarious!!).

Peggy and I returned to her house after dinner at the Fisherman's Table. I was quite exhausted, and soon after getting home, went straight to bed.

My last full day in Wellington, was spent relaxing. Peggy took me over to meet her son, Tom, where I was able to download the previous posting to my blog. We then took off to drive around the south shore, and see just how breathtakingly beautiful this area is. I was amazed that we could actually see the South Island from there. After a leisurely drive around the shore, we stopped for lunch in Courtney Place, the entertainment and eating section of town.

I wanted to walk down Lambton Quay, the shopping district, and try to sort out my cell phone. I'm currently in a Catch 22 situation, courtesy of Optus. I wanted to recharge my phone, but was told that my phone ID was switched off. In order to turn it on, I had to call Customer Service. Customer Service calls cost 27¢. I'm out of credit, so I can't call them, and I can't recharge the phone. Great!

And so to Tuesday and the start of another adventure. More of that next!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The road from Thredbo to Jindabyne winds though a beautiful valley which, though normally brown and sere was this time a beautiful emerald green thanks to the recent rains in the area. Though Australia has suffered through a ten year drought, it does look as though the land is beginning to receive some badly needed rain, and the earth is responding.

Just before we reached Jindabyne, Tony turned left and headed back towards the Kosciusko National Park so that he could show me another piece of the Snowy Hydro project which he had designed - the surge tank close by Lake Jindabyne. It is another marvel of engineering and basically protects much of the upper part of the system from a surge in water whenever the pumps are turned on. Not being an engineer, I will spare you my poor attempts to explain its workings, and if Tony happens to read this, perhaps he can add a note to explain more fully.

We lunched in Jindabyne and then began the journey back to Canberra. On the way, the discussion turned to railways. Tony hailed originally from Swindon in Wiltshire, a big railway town back in the day. He began telling me how his favorite line was along the north Somerset coast, and when I asked why, he said because that was where he used to go on holiday after the war. I asked him whereabouts and he said that it was a little town I would never have heard of. I suggested he try me whereupon he said: Blue Anchor. I said that we used to holiday there, too. That we stayed in these funny little chalets on the sea front. He said: Well, that's where we stayed, too. and they had no running water and we had to go get it in buckets or canvas bags. We further decided that we must have been there about the same time, certainly the same years!! It truly is a very small world!

On arriving back in Canberra, Tony dropped me at Jill and John's house, where we were to get ready quickly to go out to the Symphony. The music we heard was by an Australian composer, whose name, I regret to say, I've forgotten. an Elgar cello concerto, and Sibelius' Second Symphony. I have to say that I find the Sibelius rather "bitty" but the other two pieces were most enjoyable, although the sound balance in the Elgar concerto left something to be desired.

The following day, Friday, I had to spend out looking for a new suitcase, and finally found what I needed, but had to spend $360 for it. I hope that it will be the last one I ever have to buy! In the evening, the members of the Canberra workshop were invited to Tony and Angela Hillier's house for a potluck dinner and wine, so that we could all get to know each other before the workshop started. It was a most enjoyable end to the day.

Saturday morning was the beginning of the Canberra workshop, which was held in a very pleasant community hall about twenty minutes from where Jill and John lived. After a very kind introduction from Jill we got underway with "Pen Manipulation Techniques". There were 15 people in the class of varied experience and backgrounds, and we made great progress during the day. By the time the day was done, I was very tired and went to bed early.

On the Sunday, we went through manipulated capitals and then, in the afternoon, I gave them one of Arthur Baker's alphabets, and then went round to do an individual one for each student. At the end of the workshop, everyone gathered around and presented me with a letter done by each student with a little note on the back. The letters spelled out "Thank You Charles". I was very moved.

I had agreed to stay on one more day in Canberra and open their annual show, so during the day I got to see around Canberra. We went first to Mt Ainslie (?) where one has a magnificent view of the city. The original city was designed by an American, whose name, I'm sorry to say, escapes me (another senior moment). There was apparently a large international competition to design the city, and his concept won.It is a marvellous design, even if the politicians did jump in and change things, and which, knowing politicians, probably wasn't for the better!!

We were due to meet Tony and Angela and Barbara Pubal, a friend of Jen and Gemma Black, and whom I'd never met. We arrived a little early and were able, first, to look around an exhibit devoted to the design and founding of the city, and then to take a walk along the new R G Menzies path around the lake. It was very windy, so we curtailed our walk rather than doing the complete circuit. Barbara, when we met, turned out to be absolutely delightful and, a big surprise to me, is married to a man from Cleveland, Ohio, Brecksville to be more precise, where I spent twelve years of my life, most of the time working for American Greetings.

At the show opening later on in the evening, Jill had asked me if I would do a short slide presentation as part of the evening, which I was happy to do. People brought some potluck snacks, and Tony brought along some wine for our enjoyment. He and I had hoped to sneak out for a pint at a pub near there, but the evening ran on longer than expected and so we had to miss out on that!

The next day, I had to be up early to catch a flight to Sydney and then on to the Gold Coast. Queensland. I'm happy to report that Virgin Blue gave me no aggro this time and got me safe and sound to the Gold Coast, and much warmer climes, where I was duly met by the two Margarets, Sheekey and Hardie, the president and secretary of the Gold Coast Calligraphy Society. I regret to say that I know almost no surnames of the other people in the class, because I forgot to ask for a list, and will have to redress that oversight when I return to America.

It fell to Margaret Hardie to make the thirty minute drive up to Coomera to deposit me at my next homestay, which was to be with Margot and Jim Irwin. It was wonderful to see Margot again. We had last met at the workshop I taught in Brisbane in 1987! She hadn't changed a bit, the same as me!!! When I arrived Jim, who is now retired, was out at the Maritime Museum in Brisbane, where he seems to work harder than he did in his work life!! I had never met him before, but he proved to be the most affable of hosts and I was made to feel most welcome. Their house was designed by Jim and is absolutely fabulous. A beautiful structure down to the minutest detail, and right on the Coomera River, with mangrove swamps opposite. I delighted in seeing the birdlife, so different from what I'm used to. They have a fairly tame Butcher Bird who comes to visit for his breakfast every day. There are also Magpies, astounding for their beautiful song, Honey Dippers, Galahs, Lockateels(sp?), Ibises, Egrets and a whole host of others whose names I don't know.

Once arrived at Margot and Jim's, I realized that the prints which were coming from America and Randal Thompson, weren't there. I needed to have them that evening so that I could sign and bag them prior to the workshop. We made a quick phone call to Judy Kilburn and she, bless her, drove them up to Coomera and I was able to spend the evening getting them ready for the workshop the next day.

Wednesday began with Jim, Margo and I taking a little stroll (actually, it was more of a forced march!!!!) around the estate where they live. Jim and Margo are very fit and walk at a pace which left me gasping!! Where they live is truly beautiful, and makes good use of the waters of the river, without being too intrusive. I was delighted to see, for the first time, two koalas in the wild. I have to admit that they were rather high up in the gum tree, but at least I did see them!

The Gold Coast scribes had elected to have me teach "Letters From Hell", and Margot and I left in plenty of time for me to have three quarters of an hour setting up before the workshop began. Unfortunately, we drove slap into a huge traffic jam on the M1 which had us stuck for more than an hour, and we eventually arrived a little more than 15 minutes late. We had a frantic scramble to get everything started.

I was delighted to find Ruth Venner in the workshop. She and I had last met when she was the organizer of the calligraphy group in Adelaide in 1987. As it turned out, she was also going to be spending the night at Margot and Jim's house.

The workshop went fairly well with no-one being TOO confused with the manipulated Gothic letters, but by the time 4.30 came around, everyone was pretty tired. The workshop was being held at the Town and Country Motel, which is adapting itself to being something of a conference center. The motel is in Nerang and the staff bent over backwards to make sure that everything went smoothly. They laid on morning and afternoon coffee and tea, with edibles, as well as excellent light lunches. On that evening 25 of us sat down for dinner and it was really very fine food. I was further surprised and delighted to see Vi Wilson come in, whom I hadn't seen in some 18 years, when she and her husband Michael visited at my house on Staten Island, New York. Unfortunately, Michael couldn't join us; he was undergoing the joys of preparation for a colonoscopy the following morning!!

Breakfast on Thursday morning was a lovely relaxed time, with Ruth regaling us with some of her excellent poetry. One of her poems is about calligraphy and so moved me that I asked her if she would send me the poem so that I could, at some time, do a painting from it. I now have that in my possession and will attempt, at some time in the future, to do it justice. I have always had problems explaining what I do, and this poem does so beautifully. Thank you, Ruth!!

The workshop went very smoothly and at the end, Margaret Sheekey and the other members of the class presented me with an aboriginal print and a T-shirt. They were beautiful and I shall treasure them. Now that I can reflect from here in New Zealand, I can only say that I marvel at the generosity and kindness of all the Australian people I met on this trip. I had a truly fantastic time, and I look forward to the possibility of returning in 2011. I thank you all!!!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Oh dear! I've had a nine day hiatus and I feel so sorry for having left you in the lurch. The last time I wrote in this I was halfway through my trip through the Snowy Mountains with Tony Hillier.

After leaving Talbingo, we headed out for the short trip to Khancoban. Our first stop, however was to go back to the dam at Tumut 2 so that we could drive over the dam, the road having been built since Tony was involved in the project. It is an amazing earth and rock structure, absolutely massive. I think back to my days as a teenager and going out to Tittesworth Reservoir near Leek. That dam seemed huge but this one beggars description!

Once we left Talbingo behind we backtracked some way to near Kiandra, having a near miss with a wallaby on the way, and then turned off on the road which would lead us to Khancoban. We stopped for coffee at another new town, Cabramurra, which was built for the Snowy Hydro maintenance workers and their families, where there was an interesting display of photos of the whole project under construction.

We crossed the Tooma Reservoir dam, this one a concrete construction, and incredibly high, before striking off on the road to Khancoban. There was another very long descent into the valley where the town lay. The lakes and dams in this section are part of the Murray part of the Snowy Hydro, as opposed to the Tumut part which we'd seen earlier.

Again, all the power stations were closed to the public, we could only assume because of possible security problems. If there were any terrorist action against Snowy Hydro it would be disastrous to the Australian economy. We stopped for the night at the motel in Khancoban, a rather funky place, where we once again met up with a bunch of people who were visiting the area for the 60th anniversary of Snowy Hydro. They were all people who had worked on the original project.

Thursday saw us begin our return journey to Canberra, heading out of Khancoban on the Alpine Way starting the trip towards the Kosciusko National Park and Mt. Kosciusko, the highest mountain in Australia at some 7,500 feet. We passed the Murray 1 power station which was again closed, and headed up to a lookout at Scammell's Ridge which afforded spectacular views of the Kosciusko Range, all snow capped. We swept past Tom Groggins Corner and on to Thredbo, where we decided to stop and take the chairlift to the top of the Crackenback range.

The chairlift is intended primarily for skiers, obviously, but runs year-round and takes one up to about 6,500 feet with wonderful views across the country and down to Jindabyne, our next port of call. It was incredibly windy, although the temperature on top was 10ºC. We had coffee at the Eagle's Nest, a small restaurant at the top and then it had been our intention to walk towards Mt Kosciusko, but the wind was so strong we decided to head back down to Thredbo, and continue our drive towards Jindabyne.

Now it's time to do some teaching and I'll return to this later!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I have just returned to Canberra following a fantastic tour of the Snowy Mountains and the Snowy Mountain HydroElectric Scheme now called Snowy Hydro. My guide on this wonderful three day two night tour was Tony Hillier, who was himself, and engineer on the project and so was able to explain the whole project concept and make it make sense.

Tony came to Australia straight from the University of Southampton as a graduate of their Civil Engineering program. As he said, he flew out with his wife on the Thursday on Boeing 707 jet and started work here on the following Monday. I guess he was too young to have jetlag!! He eventually ended up in government. He was the Assistant Foreign Secretary with special responsibility for the establishment of Australian Embassies around the world, and finally finished his working life as a Deputy Foreign Secretary, which I believe is the highest rank one can achieve as a civil servant in a Ministry.

Suffice it to say that he and I hit it off immediately and we had great fun setting the world to rights (a new departure for me - not!!). We also discovered that our respective parents used to take us to the same little town in Somerset in England for our summer holidays, at about the same time, and we even stayed in the same chalets on the beach!! Amazing coincidence.

We left Canberra at about 10am on Tuesday and set out for Cooma, the town where Tony first began his life in Australia. It's a small town of about 7000 people, but when he was there it was the design headquarters for the whole Snowy Mountain Project, and as such was a very busy town with about 13,000 inhabitants. From there we made our way to Adaminaby, a new town which was built after the old town was flooded in the construction of Lake Eucumbene, one of the many lakes created for Snowy Hydro. It's a fairly unremarkable little town, but we could see that the lake itself was way down, maybe as much as fifty feet, because of the ten year drought which has affected much of Australia.

We went down to where the old town used to be and sure enough, the foundations of the old buildings were high and dry and quite visible. We then followed the road around until we arrived at the Providence Portal where water pours in from another lake in the system, Lake Tantangara, by way of an 11 km long tunnel.

After a short while we moved out of the forested areas and into an upland plain and to a place called Kiandra, where the wind always seems to howl. It was also the site for a short time in the middle of the nineteenth century, for a gold rush. Heaven knows how they survived while hunting the precious metal. Many of the gold-diggers were living in calico tents in deep snow with the howling winds!

From there, we continued along the Snowy Mountain Highway, past the Yarrangobilly Caves until we began our decsent into Talbingo where the Tumut 2 Power Station, the Talbingo Reservoir and Dam, and the Jounama Pondage are situated, and this was where we were going to stay for the night. Once we were checked in at the Country Club Motel, we decided to go check out the Tumut 2 Dam and Power Station which was just a couple of miles away. We were disappointed to learn that all of the power stations in the Snowy Hydro are now closed to the public, presumably because of the danger of terrorist action. As it happened, the Tumut 2 station is undergoing a massive upgrade which involves all of the turbines being replaced - a huge undertaking.

However, we were able to go and check out the dam and the spillway although we couldn't get close to the headrace. The headrace is the section where the massive pipes run from, down the hill and into the station to drive the turbines. The pipes are 18 feet in diameter and they were designed by Tony as one of the first things he did on arriving in Australia. They are big enough to run a double decker bus through!!