Journal: 17 September

Life is hotting up, though the weather isn't.

I pick up the tale the beginning of September, following the Keene's visit and our trip to Cape Otway. The next week we both went to Sydney, though for different events. I went to a Yorkshire dinner (lots of roast beef and Theakstone's Old Peculiar) while Katie went to a Bob Dylan concert - excellent by all accounts. Then a long drive to West Wyalong to stay with Katie's mother for the bridge congress she was organising. We started very well and were leading into the last round (playing in a team of four with a pair from Cootamundra). But we failed to hold on. I think we might time our travels next year to enable us to play in a few attractive tournaments around Australia (Cairns?!).

On the Monday, we went to hear Mary MacAleese, the Irish President, who was in Canberra as part of her State visit to Australia: the Government gave a lunch and she hosted a reception in the evening. It was a pause from Election campaigning for both John Howard and Kim Beazeley - though not for long.

The campaign, though, has been strangely low-key so far. The Government seemed to get the better of the first week, but the Labour Party has since come back. The polls show it as an even contest, though the bookies have odds on the Government being returned. Pauline Hanson's One Nation campaign is not going well: she is now subject to much more critical media scrutiny.

Then off to Brisbane, with the rain following me. One of the days was down on the Gold Coast to see the facilities being set up for the British Olympic team to do pre-Olympic training away from the hurly-burly of Sydney. We were supposed to go up in a helicopter but the visibility was near zero. Disappointing, but there may be another opportunity when Steven Redgrave is out here later in the year.

A fairly busy time in Brisbane, with a round of calls on businessmen and politicians. Both the new Premier, Peter Beatty, and his predecessor, Rob Borbidge, seemed remarkably bullish: Beatty because he is clearly relishing taking up the reins of Government; and Borbidge because of the possibility that the new (minority) Government might not be able to continue to maintain a majority in the Parliament.

Also an opportunity to see some of the British-Council-sponsored events at the Brisbane Festival. The Sixteen doing Handel's 'Alexander's Feast' was high quality. But what I really enjoyed was seeing Thomas Ades's opera "Powder Her Face", about the scandals surrounding the Duchess of Argyle, with the composer conducting. A wonderful: I haven't been so enthused about a new opera for years. Katie had been due to come up to Brisbane for the Book Fair (which had a focus on artists' books), but she wasn't well and had to cancel.

Then back to Sydney to meet up with Patricia Hewitt, the new Economic Secretary to the Treasury - who's originally from Canberra: her father was a distinguished public servant and is still going strong in his 80s. An opportunity for calls with her on Ian MacFarlane (the Governor of the Reserve Bank - who gave a very impressive analysis of the Asian crisis), as well as the Premier and Treasurer of New South Wales. The big issue in Sydney at the moment is bugs in the drinking water. As we found in Downing Street, handling health scares is extraordinarily difficult, especially when scientists disagree. And in Sydney there've been so many different explanations about why the level of cryptosporidium is periodically very high (bats, dogs, humans, rain, measurement errors) that people have lost trust in official pronouncements. The irony is that very few if any people have actually been taken ill (touch wood: I keep brushing my teeth in tap water, forgetting the advice that you shouldn't).

Over the weekend we went to a matinee of "The Winslow Boy" at the Canberra Rep: great fun. Then I went down to Melbourne on Sunday for a lunch with the Lord Chancellor,. Lord Irvine, and flew back to Canberra with him and his wife. Their trip had been planned before the Election was called, and we'd had to rejig things at the last minute, since Government Ministers and Opposition MPs were all on the campaign trail. When we got to Canberra we all watched the TV election debate between John Howard and Kim Beazeley that evening: neither really landed a knock-out blow. One of the points that struck everyone watching was the way so much of the debate focussed on the relatively narrow issue of tax reform, though that has been true of the campaign more generally.

Lord and Lady Irvine were the first guests to see the new paintings and prints that the Government Art Collection had kindly sent out from the UK for us. Our house now looks great, with pride of place going to a big Hockey print over the mantelpiece and a large John Hoyland painting on the stairs.

After a day of mainly legal calls and a dinner that evening, the Lord Chancellor flew down to Sydney and I joined him there the following day. He saw Alexander Downer, the Foreign Minister - who seem very relaxed despite the rigours of fighting an election campaign all around Australia. Then a lunch with the Chief Justice and all the Justices of the High Court (who are normally based in Canberra but happened to be sitting in Sydney): a very lively affair.

I peeled off from the Lord Chancellor's programme to meet up with Katie at the Cruising Yacht Club in Rushcutter's Bay where the pre-Olympic sailing regatta is being held (Bill Edgerton is the keelboat coach and a good friend). It all seemed to be going smoothly, though Sydney in September is notorious for fluky winds.

It was a busy time in Sydney, since it was also the start of the Biennale, with 8 or so British artists exhibiting. Jim Potts, who runs the British Council operations in Sydney, hosted a reception for them and others from the art world. It looked like it was developing into quite a party when I left to join a dinner for the Lord Chancellor - Katie stayed on and returned late and a little the worse for wear!

Today we again parted ways, with Katie flying back to Canberra and me flying to Melbourne where I had to make a speech about the Euro to a lunch organised by the Australian Council for Europe. And another speech tomorrow to a group of businessmen in Melbourne, before flying back to Canberra again.

The weather is in fact getting a bit more spring-like again. Early morning bike rides and tennis may start to look more attractive. I certainly need that after all these lunches and dinners.


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