I am writing this on an evening when Katie is away printing (with Max and Janie Miller, who have a house and studio at East Kangaloon, a couple of hours drive away). So I've had a free evening to update my web site.
We haven't had many free evenings recently. I guess the recent flurry started a couple of weeks ago with another bus trip to Sydney...
To explain that, I have to go back a bit. For the first six months of this year Britain holds the presidency of the European Union, and I have to hold meetings of EU ambassadors. Katie had separately discovered that none of the EU ambassadors or their wives (the ambassadors are in fact all male) had ever been to the Royal Easter Show in Sydney. So we hit upon the idea of taking them all in a bus to Sydney, holding a meeting of ambassadors in a room at the show, and then providing opportunities for them and their wives to see a bit more about Australian agriculture.
This went well, and attracted some press interest given the suspicion there is in Australia about EU agricultural policies. I got photographed with a large Merino ram--which led to ribald comments about the best caption for the photo when it appeared in the next day's papers. The show was the first at the new site at Homebush, alongside where the Olympics will be held. Pretty impressive, with big cattle pavilions and large crowds: as usual, the woodchopping competitions were one of the highlights. The bus trip back as high-spirited, with Katie leading the singing.
The purpose of that introduction is to explain why the Austrian ambassador (who takes over the EU presidency in July) decided to hire a bus to take ambassadors and wives to Sydney for the opening of an exhibition of Austrian armour at the Powerhouse Museum a couple of weeks ago. Katie and I decided to go on that--and it was an enjoyable evening. But whereas others stayed the night, we had to drive back after dinner (three and a half hours) since we were off to Perth the following day--which itself is a long trip since there are no direct flights from Canberra.
We have managed to get to Perth quite a lot, and this time I had arranged to see Pearce RAAF base and Sterling naval base, as well as opening an exhibition. The naval base was fascinating: it's on Garden Island, a bit to the south of Fremantle, which is itself full of protected flora and fauna. So there was the contrast of seeing round one of the new Collins-class submarines and then being shown the ranger's hut, complete with Tammars (a small species of kangaroo), pythons, tiger snakes (very vicious) and even a large turtle that had been washed ashore upside down but seemed none the worse for wear. The exhibition I opened was of Convict Love Tokens: convicts waiting to be transported to Australia used to engrave messages to their loved ones on burnished pennies: some pretty heart-rending tales of young men (boys really) in their teens being transported for stealing hankerchiefs or similar minor offences. One had sent a love token to two different women!
We spent the weekend in Perth, which was a chance to catch up with some friends. I went bicycling with the RSBCA, which demonstrated that I'm not getting enough exercise: I struggled to keep up.
We flew back to Melbourne, where I stayed on for the Australia Summit, while Katie came on back to Canberra. The Summit had some interesting speakers: it's focus was on the Asian financial crisis, with the World Bank's regional director giving a very gloomy presentation. The Governor's reception on the opening night was disrupted by protestors about East Timor: we stood in the cold outside the gates for about three quarters of an hour, chatting amicably to the protestors (some Indonesian, mostly Australian). While the conference itself was about the economy in Asia and elsewhere, the talk in the margins was all about the implications of Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party for both the timing and outcome of the federal election.
I stayed up one night in Melbourne to watch England beating Tunisia at the World Cup: the matches mostly kick off at either 2.30am or 5am, so there are lots of sleepy-looking people in the office. I decided not to stay up for the Scotland match--and was rather glad to have missed it.
When I got back to Canberra I did a speech on Northern Ireland to the National Press Club. I have posted that on this site separately. There were a fair number of questions from journalists afterwards. Some, inevitably, about Pauline Hanson and the strong showing of the One Nation Party in the Queensland elections. I was at my most diplomatic in replying to that. I was also asked about Australians having to queue at the "non-EU nationals" desks for immigration in the UK. I was able to draw on personal experience and say that the baggage handling is what determines how quickly you get out of Heathrow: Katie has to join the non-EU queue when we go through Heathrow, but has always got through and joined me before our baggage has arrived on the carousel. That went down much better than a defensive justification!
Over the weekend, we went to Cootamundra (about 2 hours' drive away) to play in a bridge congress. We did what we have done before, which is make some appalling mistakes during the qualifying round and fail to qualify for the final; but then play much better in the rest of the event and we won the plate. We stayed that night with friends on a nearby property: still suffering from drought, though it was raining lightly while we were there.
We drove back to Canberra the next day to watch 'our' horse running (we have a small share in a syndicate). It came last. Katie charitably thinks he should run in blinkers since his stable is at the start of the straight and so he wants to stop there. Let's hope she's right.
This week has been quite busy at the office, and a number of official functions in the evenings. On Monday, the (British) Select Committee on Health were visiting Canberra, as part of their investigation into child migrants. This is a pretty ghastly saga, of children who were orphans or who were given for adoption or fostering and were sent to Australia (and some other countries). In some cases they were badly abused in institutions where they were placed in Australia, and in others they were told their parents were dead, only to discover years later this wasn't true. The Select Committee have been very sympathetic in hearing some harrowing stories and in piecing together the background. We hosted a dinner for them to meet the Immigration Minister and Family Services Minister, as well as a number of other Parliamentarians and officials.
On Tuesday, we held a farewell dinner for two of the High Commission staff, one of whom ran the defence sales effort (very succesfully) and his wife who worked in our information section. Wednesday was speaking to MPs about Northern Ireland in a double-act with the Irish Ambassador, followed by a lunch and a dinner with Leon Brittan who's over here for EU/Australian talks. It was good to catch up with him, and Katie took his wife Diana on a garden visit--a common passion, we found.
After all that, it's a relief to have a quiet evening.
The Westminster House menagerie is growing. From none at all when we arrived, there's now two cocker spaniels, one cat and five chooks (chickens)--with more to come. I was reading in an Australian paper today about a journalist in Japan who has a pet wombat. Well ...
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