Journal: 31 December 1999

This will be close to my final journal in Australia, written at a beach house we're renting on Pittwater, north of Sydney.

We decided to take a break over Christmas and New Year before I head back to the UK for my new job and Katie goes off to live at Tarago, north of Canberra. So we rented this house at Elvina Bay, right on the water and accessible only by boat - we've rented an aliminium runabout (a 'tinny' in Aussie parlance).

It's an idyllic spot, a converted boat house with its own jetty. Perfect for relaxing and watching life go by. There's quite a sense of community - some artists, some writers, some boat builders, some aging hippies, some Sydneysiders with weekend retreats. We drove down before Christmas and took about four boat trips to get all our toys across: surf-ski, windsurfer, guitar, mandolin etc etc, plus of course Holly and all her gear. Since then we haven't gone anywhere much.

Holly has mixed feelings about this place. She hates the tinny because she can't get a grip and slides around on it. And she's looks miserable when Katie insists on taking her paddling on the surf-ski. But chasing sticks into the shallows is much more her idea of fun.

Christmas Eve brought the annual Scotland Island to Church Point dog race . Holly wasn't entered but came to watch with us. The dogs get loaded onto a barge and taken to the start (about half a mile away from Church Point). At the starting gun, they are thrown off into the water, with their owners rowing, paddling or swimming with them to provide direction and encouragement. A large crowd had gathered at the finish (near the bottle shop), and someone was running a book on the race. Last year's winner, Diesel, was hot favourite - it was hard to tell whether his limp was designed to get his odds up or was a genuine handicap. He ended up beaten into second place by an outsider, and the bookie must have made a killing.

We went off afterwards for dinner with Katie's aunt and uncle who live nearby at Newport Beach. We got back late, and our boat engine spluttered to a stop as we were crossing the bay. I couldn't work out what was wrong, so we had to row home. Luckily it was a still night, and despite some weaving around the row didn't take too long. Katie then had to paddle across to Church Point on the surf-ski on Christmas Day to get bread and other supplies, until we finally discovered to our chagrin that all that was wrong with the boat was a twist in the fuel line.

Katie's mother, sister and brother-in-law and family came for Christmas Day. A good Aussie Christmas: prawns on the barbie and lots of champagne. The weather was overcast but not raining, and we set off for a walk after lunch. Very different from UK Christmas's where we used to walk across ploughed fields in the near-dark. Here, we were walking through almost bush that was almost tropical, with palm trees and ferns - and leeches as we soon discovered!

Since Christmas it's been very relaxing. Various friends and family have come over to visit us - it's a five minute boat trip to pick them up from Church Point, and we laze around on the jetty and eat and drink too much. Some sailing on a friend's Soling and on a wooden, gaff-rigged boat that we've borrowed. The weather's been mixed: some rain but some nice days - though not all that warm at 20-25 degrees. But listening to radio reports of gales in Europe as we sat in shorts and bare feet made this seem the right hemisphere to be in.

We've decided to stay here for New Year's Eve. The fireworks on Sydney Harbour would be fun, but we've quickly got into the relaxed lifestyle here that makes the thought of battling with the crowds unappealing. Instead, we'll sit on our jetty with some friends and watch the fireworks at the local yacht club across the bay.

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