This is the last journal before we set off on our trip around the north of Australia, and life seems to have been dominated by preparing for that.
First a word or two about where we'll be going. We're driving from here to Townsville in northern Queensland, where we'll pick up two friends who are out from the UK, Roddy Stansfield and Susie Wade. Then we head west. We've got a four-wheel drive and two tents and much of our trip will depend on where we find we enjoy. The few fixed points are going through Kakadu and Arnhem Land to the Coburg Peninsula north of Darwin; a three-day canoe trip down the Ord River (where we're assured the crocodiles are freshies and not salties!); and going up to Mitchell Falls in the north of the Kimberly. We'll end up in Broome on the west coast and then head south to Perth, getting there in late August.
I decided not to take my portable computer, partly in the interests of marital harmony but mainly because we'll mostly be camping in pretty remote places with no electricity or phone lines. So no more journals until September.
It's been quite hectic getting ready, buying all sorts of camping gear and spares for the car and fitting it out. And at the same time trying to clear my desk at work.
In the midst of all this has been the usual round of events. Soon after I got back from writing my last journal entry in Melboure, I had agreed to go to a conference and dinner on the UK's Science and Technology Foresight Programme--something in which I had an interest from having been in Number 10 when it was established in 1993/94. But I was somewhat taken aback when one of the UK speakers got mugged in London and I was asked to deliver his paper on his behalf. I said yes, only to discover subsequently that his "paper" was not a full text, but a series of slides he would use! With help from others here I fleshed it out, and it seemed to go OK--and I enjoyed the dinner, not just out of relief at getting through the speech but also because of the chance to meet a group of academics I hadn't previously had much contact with.
That weekend was the England/Australia rugby match at the new Olympic Stadium in Sydney. I'd only previously seen round it when it was empty, and it was sobering to see that an 80,000 crowd left some visible spaces. The game itself was frustrating. When England were 7-0 up I thought we might finally puncture the Aussie's smugness on the sporting field, but the Wallabies overcame what was nonetheless an impressive England performance.
Interspersed in this were dinners for our departing Air Adviser and Consul General in Sydney, as well as one for the visiting head of the FCO's Asia/Pacific Department. That looked at one stage as if it was going to be a nightmare, since the Deputy Prime Minister announced his retirement that afternoon, and various guests suddenly found themselves swept up in the aftermath. But in the event we had an interesting evening, testing the rather different perceptions of the region viewed from London and Australia.
The Finns took over the Presidency of the European Union on 1 July. Since the Australian Foreign Minister (Alexander Downer) comes from South Australia, they decided to hold their first meeting of EU ambassadors in Adelaide--amid much ribbing about outrageous sucking-up! But it coincided with an exhibition commemorating Finnish-owned windjammers involved in the grain trade between Australia and Europe, and we had a very jolly dinner with Alexander Downer and his wife at the Maritime Museum.
Briefly back to Canberra for the weekend, where Roddy and Susie were staying and getting their first look at the vehicle we will be inhabiting for the next six weeks. We invited a crowd of friends for dinner, and ended up watching the Wimbledon semi-finals until all hours.
It wasn't a good weekend for sleep, since after the Wimbledon finals the following night, I had to leave for Sydney at 5am for a naval seminar and exhibition to coincide with the visit of HMS Glasgow. It was spectacular winter weather--bright and mild, with the sun sparkling on the harbour. Then back for some frantic clearing of the desk here. Phew!
Next issue in September.
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