The Rolls is no more. Well, to be more accurate, the Rolls is in fine shape but we've returned it to Rolls Royce in Sydney at the end of its lease and taken delivery of a Jaguar instead. The Rolls had been all round Australia with my predecessor and we decided it was time for a switch to another fine British car.
Canberra has been full of balloons for the past week or so, as part of the Canberra Festival. Up to fifty balloons take off each morning around 7am from the lawns in front of Old Parliament House. It's quite a sight as they drift slowly over the lake, past Black Mountain - or wherever the wind takes them. None have so far landed on our lawn.
There are quite a few British balloonists and--as last year--we hosted a reception for them and others involved. We turned on the good weather and had everyone in the garden watching the sunset over the Brindabellas. Lots of offers to go up for flights. So both Katie and I had rides (separately) as did Rachel and Agnes who work at Westminster House. Katie had a long flight ending up miles to the north west. The day I went up was very still. Barry (a Cathay Pacific pilot who was flying me) though it was a bit boring, but I enjoyed the peaceful drift over the various embassies until we just got down onto a primary school oval. Many others had trouble finding places to land: one of the staff at the High Commission was rather disconcerted to be driving to work and see a balloon land on the road in front of her.
In between all this I spent a day in Adelaide to deliver a speech to the Australia Britain Chamber of Commerce in Adelaide. I managed also to get in an interesting visit to the airport management--Adelaide Airport was recently privatised and is now run by Laing's and Serco.
The next day was the opening by the Prime Minister of the new galleries at the Australian War Memorial. Completely new displays, particularly of Second World War history, though inevitably there wasn't much time at the reception to see round in detail.
Then our second outdoor charity concert at Westminster House. The weather had been fine all week, but the forecast was dodgy. On the morning itself, a huge thunderstorm approached from the south--but passed by safely to one side of us. We were beginning to breathe a little easier when, just as the first guests were arriving, heavy showers started. We delayed a decision until the last moment, but finally had to move the Hall Village Brass Band to the Girls' School next door. No sooner had we done this than the sun came out! The audience split, some walking to the school to see the band and some staying picnicking on our lawns. Luckily it stayed fine after that, so we moved everyone back. It was quite an evening. We had an acoustic string band playing on the back lawn, a jazz quartet on the balcony, and a Latin band on the front lawn--who got everyone up and dancing. Phew!
In retrospect, it's been a lot of work, especially for Katie. But she's had terrific support from all sorts of people. And she's raised much more money than we did last year through more formal dinners, as well as involving a lot more people and raising the profile of the High Commission.
We had to catch a 6am flight to Perth the morning after the concert. We're getting a bit blasť about how quickly you can get from our house to the airport and this time cut it a bit fine: the flight was boarding as we arrived. But we just managed to get on.
Our first task in Perth was a joint one. Katie was judging and I was opening the Art Award commemorating the centenary of the West Australian Fire Board. It was held at the Fire Service Museum, which has lots of links back to the UK. The first fire pump used in WA was there, manufactured in London in 1855; it took 16 people, 8 each side, to pump it, with lots of volunteers needed to provide relief at the promise of free beer. And brass firemen's helmets made in the UK up to the Second World War, with a note on the design that said the lip at the back was designed to stop molten lead running down the back of your neck!
The WA Minister for Police and Emergency Service was there, having just come back from the UK. He'd had an interesting visit to Strathclyde Police, where they'd been keen to quiz him on how it worked to have a State Minister of Police rather than a Federal one!
A series of meetings the next day. I had lunch with Geoff Gallop, the Leader of the Opposition, who's also just been to the UK, staying with the Blairs in Downing Street (he's a friend from university days in Oxford). He said he'd wondered what to put as his address in the UK when coming through immigration, and decided it was safer to use a friend's address rather than risk the reaction if he'd put "10 Downing Street"! The West Australian papers had picked up what must have been a diary piece in the UK when he escorted Cherie to the opera and people starting asking who this mysterious oriental-looking gentleman was.
There are a number of contentious issues in Western Australia, including native (ie aboriginal) land title and logging in Jarra and Karri forests. I went to see the Chamber of Mines to get their side of the native title issue--what's really hurting them is the continuing uncertainties. I also met Cheryl Edwardes, the Minister for the Environment and Labour Relations, who's having to deal with entrenched views on both sides of the logging debate. A real political hot potato. She's also responsible for State Parks etc and gave me some useful tips and contacts when we drive around the north of WA in July/August.
That evening we had dinner with Nigel and Therese Lawson, at a beach-front restaurant in Cottesloe--with a beautiful sunset out to sea. Nigel was out to speak at a Gold Conference in Perth and then another conference in Melbourne. He's looking really well--Therese gave us a copy of her new cookbook following up his diet book--and we had a good evening catching up.
As it was a lovely warm night, Katie and I decided to go down for a walk along the beach after the Lawsons had gone. Katie tried to take off her shoes as she was walking down the steps and tripped head over heels and managed to crack three ribs (as she discovered when she went to the hospital for an X-ray the next morning). Very sore. To cap it all off, when we got home she went to get some ice from the fridge to put on her bruises, found the ice-box frozen up, attacked it with a knife and managed to spear a Coke can, which then sprayed her and the kitchen at full force! Not funny at the time, but she is beginning to feel better provided she doesn't cough or laugh.
The next few days were spent in further visits and briefings, at Jervoise Bay just south of Fremantle where an extensive marine construction facility is planned, and in Bunbury about 100 miles south of Perth. I hadn't been there since 1984, and it's been transformed since then with lots of new housing and commercial developments. It's still relatively small (30,000 population) but is the centre of a range of industries in the region, including mining, tourism, timber and agriculture. It's a lovely spot and I regretted not being able to stay down and accept invitations to go twilight racing on one of my hosts' yacht.
This is written in Melbourne. I flew in from Perth today and am due to give a speech tomorrow to a conference on the Euro. Then, finally, back to Canberra again.
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