29 February 2012

Prahran Mission

The Mission Cafe
We delivered a number of items to the Prahran Mission op shop, and took the opportunity to have lunch at The Mission Cafe.  This is the cafe fronting Chapel St, competing with all that Chapel St offers - and to our mind, doing it pretty well.
After lunch, we were pleased to see that some of our items were already on the shelves for sale - no, we didn't re-purchase anything!
There's an alternative to the cafe, known as Hartley's Community Dining Room.  It's down the corridor, but is open to all although it especially caters for the Mission's clients, with prices to match.  It was a toss-up, but this time we opted for the Cafe.
Hartley's Dining Room
Both these outlets provide training and work for people engaged in the Mission's programs, although they are just the tip of the iceberg, as we saw when we took a tour early last year.  Another program is an art workshop (I've heard that there will be an exhibition in a few weeks time, at Ewing Memorial UC).

 I should also mention that the Uniting Churches in Stonnington came together on 19 February to participate in a Commencement Service to commemorate the work of the four Uniting Church agencies (including Prahran Mission) that operate in Stonnington.  This was the first time that such a service had been held, but judging by its success in so many ways, hopefully it will be repeated in future years.

28 February 2012

Lillirie Garden

Lillirie Garden isn't far away, so when there was an Open Day there, we took the opportunity.  This is an older style garden, and so has a number of well-established trees, including an oak and a coral tree, both of which I liked.   However, the drought took its toll, and there are a number of newer plantings which seem to be doing well.   
The owner admits that she prefers to over-plant rather than to have any bare earth showing. A great number of different types of plants are represented, with many different foliages, including camellias, hibiscus, magnolias and others.
At the back, there's a big old loquat.   There's a pool in this area as well as room for children to play.   Vegetables are mainly limited to pots by the pool - but most of these seem to thrive in their sunny position and (we were told) daily watering.
On the side of the house, past a row of aspidistras, is a private courtyard, with a wisteria overhead.
I think one feature of this garden that I liked was the way in which the different spaces had been used:   the rather formal front area, the utilitarian back area and the secluded courtyard on one side the side of the house.

27 February 2012


If the interval at this MTC production had occurred earlier in the play, I would not have returned (which would have been a first-ever for me).  The first few scenes portray a seemingly dysfunctional family, complete with lots of politically incorrect prejudices and much obscene and offensive language (the latter being, to my mind, greatly overdone).  After this, the play greatly improved, perhaps reaching a particular high-point just before the interval.  No doubt the playwright intends to shock us, and my reaction is probably exactly as the playwright intended.

The play explores the way in which people with disabilities (in this case, deafness inparticular, but schizophrenia comes in as well) relate to society, that is, full integration vs a degree of separateness.   However, the play is full of other themes as well.  For example,  a family may appear dysfunctional, but when the really hard challenges arise, how does it cope?    The ability to communicate an array of emotions and messages using sign language is demonstrated (including by the use of surtitles), even though many of us might regard some of these concepts as only capable of being expressed verbally  (in short, they are expressed differently, but certainly adequately).    The feelings that are involved when a person is aware that they are becoming subject to a disability are exposed (not all that different to the aging process, I guess!)

On the whole, there is much in this play.  However, I remain of the view that the message in the first few scenes could have been communicated just as effectively - in fact, even more effectively - if less confrontational language was used.    In fact, if I recall correctly, there is a line in the play to the effect that a good author doesn't use underlining, as he ought to be able to communicate emphasis without resorting to external aids.  I think the same is probably true in this context.

26 February 2012

Срећан пут

Srećan put (Bon Voyage) to Father Naun as he returns to Serbia.  It was a privilege to meet him while he was visiting Australia, and we hope he got as much from his visit as did the people he met with.  We look forward to seeing him again soon, next time in Barajevo, Serbia. 

T-shirt worn by the sponsor family!

25 February 2012

A hot day on Metro

Yes, Metro gets the trains more-or-less right a lot of the time (once you understand the numerous quirks, such as which trains go through the Loop, and when).  But there are days when things just don't work.  Last Friday was one such day.  I went into the city twice, once during the day, and again  for the evening.  I wonder if the fact that it was a hot day had anything to do with the issues I encountered?

On the morning trip in, the train I planned to catch was cancelled and the next one was well over 5 minutes late.  Hence, a total delay of over 15 minutes.

Coming home in the afternoon, the trip was fine, but the driver forgot to stop at a station up the line.   At least he was very apologetic about it and it wasn't my station, so this wasn't a real problem.
Returning in the evening, the train was over 15 minutes late arriving at our station.  On top of this, we were waiting on the designated platform, but just before it arrived there was the customary automatic announcement about the next train - except it casually mentioned the fact that the train was departing from platform 3 (not platform 1).  Those of us who detected the anomaly made a hurried dash  over the bridge, just making it.  Why an earlier announcement couldn't have been made eludes me.   If the change of platform was to save a minute or 2, then it was to no avail - the trip between Richmond and Flinders St involved a couple of stops, one quite lengthy.
On arrival at Flinders St, it was difficult to exit the platform, because it was full of people expecting a train due to have left nearly 10 minutes earlier - who were frustrated that the train we arrived on was going out of service instead of taking them.
After all this, we came home by tram!

24 February 2012

Cucina Vostra

We had a family catch-up meal at local restaurant, Cucina Vostra.  It can get a bit noisy, but on a weeknight when the place isn't packed, it's not too bad - although even if the place had been full, the noise from the 6 of us may have overwhelmed the room.    It's just out of walking range, which these days is a  consideration (although minor) that we take into account, but the Italian-based menu offers a reasonable choice.  We shared a pizza for starters and then I went for the gnocchi.   I was happy with the food, as were the rest of us, I think.  And we definitely all enjoyed the deserts!

23 February 2012

A motorhome?

I have often said that a motorhome is not for us.    In spite of this, when I saw a book called "Explore Australia by Caravan and Motorhome" on the library shelf, I couldn't resist borrowing it.  I guess it's always useful to know how others live.
Some of the suggested routes were quite interesting, for example Melbourne to Rockhampton (via Dubbo, Goondiwindi and Miles) - useful, I suppose if you're heading north and don't want to go through the cities.  And Melbourne to Karumba (via Jerilderie, Barcaldine and Cloncurry) - not sure if anyone would travel this route in its entirety, but it is a way of describing a number of interesting sectors.

Other useful information contained in the book is a list of dog-friendly parks and numerous travel tips such as "If you have just arrived [in Tasmania], you may find that the mobile phone coverage throughout Tasmania is poor and in many places non-existent....".  Amongst other information, over 160 "public dump points" are marked on the maps (along with detail such as "rear of toilet block" and "at Gold Coast Sewerage Plant").  It's interesting that this feature is obscured by the library bar-code on the cover of the library copy.  But in any event, this is definitely in the TMI ("too much information") category so far as I am concerned! 

22 February 2012

Open Gardens

The post about the nearby vegetable garden that was open to the public reminded me of the "Open Gardens" day in Lucca.   I originally commented on this in my earlier Overseas blog, but this time I'll also post some pictures.
When we were in Lucca, our attention was caught by a garden that we passed, and we discovered that  very day was open gardens day in Lucca. Six historic and quite different private gardens around the town were open for inspection. A couple of these were close by, so we visited them.  There was no charge and volunteers were on duty (encouraging people to enter), all apparently in the interests of civic pride.

The first two were were amazing oasis's of green and order in private courtyards, surrounded by the narrow alleyways and buildings of the old town. One thing led to another, and before the afternoon was over we had visited all six gardens,  all  within the walls of the old town.   Many had histories extending over centuries, and one was quite large, with an expanse of lawn as well as hidden walkways through the bushes. One of them was said to have some unusual plants, which I think was intended to refer to the callistemon and grevilleas!   In the course of the day we walked for kilometres around town but it was worth it as we felt privileged to have had the opportunity to see a side of Lucca that we hadn't appreciated existed.

21 February 2012

The Food Sanctuary Garden

Chook pen (it extends behind the plants, too)

There was a sign on the fence of a nearby house that there was an "Open Garden" day.  The house was quite small, but once inside, the display was indeed impressive.   True, the yard was not large, but it was packed with plants.   The information stated that 90% of all the plants were edible.   There were passionfruit, a fig, various beans, corn, tomatoes and rhubarb, but in addition there were a number of plants not known to me (and, apparently, not often found in Melbourne).  These included Queensland Arrowroot, Taro, and New Zealand Yam.  Other plants included perennial capsicum, lemon grass, a couple of young grape vines and a little water garden.   

Mixed in with all this was an old Hills hoist and a chook pen with two bantams.

I enquired about the whereabouts of the irrigation system.  No, there's none!   The garden relies on rainfall and run off from the house (the garden slopes away from the house) - and LOTS of mulch.    However, during hot weather, apparently a lot of hosing goes on!
All this in a compact area, overlooked by the neighbours but a world apart from the busy street outside.

20 February 2012

The birthday

We had a great evening at W's big birthday.  The company was stimulating, the food was excellent and the wine was good.   The evening passed in a flash - I had no idea the time was approaching midnight until I looked at my watch.    We're still not quite sure why W and T took it on themselves to go to all the trouble that they did by having us all at their home for such an occasion (aren't birthdays occasions for not cooking?) but it was definitely a memorable night!

19 February 2012

The auction scene

It seems that the latest fad (or "business opportunity"?) is for the mobile coffee van to be vending its wares to the crowd attending the Saturday morning auction.   When I saw this, I rather hoped that it had been arranged by the auctioneer to get the crowd in a good mood, but, no, payment was required.    But the property was passed in, with just a single bid being made (in addition to the vendor bids).   Would it have been different had the coffee been "on the house"?   (Pity about the pun).

EDIT - I've since been told that some agents do in fact arrange for the coffee to be provided free of cost (free to the crowd - the agent or no doubt ultimately the property owner pays).   Note to self - choose auctions more carefully.
However, later in the day (some time after the van, and the crowd, had departed!), a "sold" sign appeared.

18 February 2012

The Entertainment Book

Together with two other couples, we buy an "Entertainment Book" each year.   Hence, when we go out to dinner with them, we use offers from the book.
Restaurants seems to have something of an ambivalent attitude to books of this nature.   Sometimes they give a slightly negative impression when you produce the card or voucher to pay for the meal.   This of course leads to the obvious response, at least to my mind:  why do they participate in the scheme if they're not keen on it?
I might add that, in may cases, the business they obtain from us via the Entertainment Book is often solely the result of the book, as these are venues that we would otherwise not have patronised.
All these thoughts came to mind one night recently.   Our group produced its cards at the end of the meal, to be met with the response that in two cases, the cards had already been used at that restaurant.  How could this possibly be, we asked?    But the staff were adamant - look, our number has clearly been marked off on your card.  There was a bit of a stand-off, and we were about to concede, when the couple on the next table over intervened.  The gentleman was very well informed about the issue.  He said that the number the restaurant was quoting as being "their" number was the page number of their entry in the Entertainment Book, not the card reference number!   The restaurant was sceptical: no, they said, our number has changed!   But then, lo and behold, the gentleman went to his car, produced the book, and the result was total vindication.  Somewhat sheepishly, the restaurant retracted and we got our discount in full.    However, the fact that the issue arose and the attitude displayed left a taste in our mouths that was only partly offset by little plate of chocolates produced by way of apology (which we shared with the adjoining table!).
To complete the story, the food was great.  However, that will be the subject of a separate comment on a restaurant review website.

17 February 2012


OK, call me a grumpy old self-funded (nearly) retiree.  However,   I was interested in the remarks of Ross Barker as reported in the Australian this week.  Ross Barker is the managing director of Australian Foundation Investment (a favourite of retirees!), and he said that BHP should have directed more of its bumper earnings in the past three years to shareholders.  At least Rio Tinto has lifted its dividend, but the yield on its shares is still only 2% - which is even worse than that of BHP (2.9%).   Compared to the market average of 5.4%, these figures are miserly.
Yes, it's true that these (and other mining companies, which have acted similarly) have committed to large amounts of capital investment.  But if this expenditure is intended to protect earnings in the future, it does seem that "tomorrow" never comes.    If the earnings over the past few years haven't been good enough to justify modest payouts in previous years, then what is?   So, we're with Ross Barker on this issue.

16 February 2012

A love affair with drains and gutters?

 Stonnington Council seems to just l-o-v-e digging up gutters and drains.    Not so long ago, they spent months doing just that in a couple of nearby streets.  Now their efforts are concentrated in Glenferrie Rd (yet again) and, as a separate job but at the same time, in nearby Winter St.    Perhaps to prolong the pleasure, these jobs seem to move at an extremely leisurely pace.   The work in Winter St (see images) has been in progress for weeks,  with works extending for quite a distance down the street, and for a significant portion, the diggings are on both sides of the street at the same time!     There don't seem to be many indications that things here will be completed any time soon!

15 February 2012

The Gang

We caught up with "The Gang" for a BBQ.  Food was great, and special thanks to I and J for their hospitality.    I guess we're all aging together, and so we still have lots of interests in common. But these interests seem to have changed with the passage of time, and now seem to be issues such as spending the kids' inheritance on travel, the state of our health and grandchildren!

14 February 2012

Vale Bruce McMullin

We attended the memorial service for Bruce McMullin recently.  Bruce was a true gentleman with deeply embedded values.   He was admired and respected in all of the many circles in which he moved, including the Presbyterian and later the Uniting Church, as a director of Spotless for many years (founded by Bruce and his brother Ian), as the head of a family of achievers and as member of a number of clubs and organisations (Athenaeum, Rostrum, Bowls - to mention just a few).    
The service was written up in the Financial Review, but no mention was made of the songs that Lesley (Bruce's wife for over 60 years) sang at the afternoon tea that followed the service, including "If you knew Brucie as I knew Brucie"! 

13 February 2012

Sisterhood of St John the Eleimon

We went to the picnic day at the Sisterhood of St John, at a pleasant rural locale near Bullengarook.
Just where the Sisters fit into the Orthodox hierarchy, and their history, are rather complex matters (and I'm not sure that I know all the details), so I won't go into them here.  Suffice to say that the Sisters are great supporters of charities, and they derive their extensive support mainly from the Greek and Serbian communities.   Even though the weather was wet on the day we attended, I estimated that over 300 people were there, all of whom were sheltered from the weather and provided with great quantities of food!
I took a lot of photos - but this was the day that the memory card in my camera packed up.   So, it looks as though we'll have to go to a future picnic (there are about 4 a year, I understand).  

12 February 2012

Memory Card error

"Memory card error" - that was the message on my camera screen after I'd taken a number of photos during the day.    It just happened:   I hadn't dropped the camera or done anything out of the ordinary.
When I got home, I found my computer couldn't access the photos I'd taken.   A quick Google search, and the solution seemed to be easy:   just download Recova or Zero Assumption Recovery, and all will be right, won't it?  
No, it's not as easy as that!    True, these programs get glowing reports in the forums, and I had no problems running them both, but they didn't find the photos.   Back to the forum, and lurking there was the comment:  often the problem is that the controller on the card is damaged. In this case, there is only one way to get the data back, unsolder the memory chip and directly access the raw data with a programmable chip reader. Software won't help, this is physical damage!
This is w-a-y beyond me, and another browse on the internet suggests that commercial data recovery services  don't come cheaply!  (I saw one quote for $150).
Morals from the story?   Yes, a few.   Don't ignore warning signs.  I've been told that you usually have warnings that a drive is on the way to failing, and I had been having minor glitches downloading from the camera.   Now I think I know why.
Think carefully before using generic devices for important functions such as memory.  Yes, the memory card I had been using was a generic one.   The replacement that I've now bought is branded! 
And, of course, back-up regularly, which in the context of cameras, means download the images regularly to the computer.   I admit that I'm not perfect in this regard, but fortunately in this instance I was up-to-date, so I only lost photos from one day.   This was troubling, but it could have been worse.

11 February 2012

A wine enthusiast?

Luke Slattery, in his column in the Australian a little while back, said -
"I am not, I like to think, a heavy drinker.   I am, rather, an enthusiastic one".
Must remember this description next time my doctor questions me about my consumption of alcohol!

10 February 2012

Edna Walling

We've stayed at the same house at Lorne for many years, but this year for the first time I noticed that one of the books on the shelves was A Gardner's Log, by Edna Walling. This was first published in 1948, and is a collection of her articles from Australian Home Beautiful. The edition here was actually published in 2003 with a number of fresh photographs (as well as photographs from the intermediate editions, especially the 1985 edition).
The book is blog-like!   Of course Edna Walling is from another era but many of her notes, made in the course of the seasons, are still of interest.   They include suggestions under heading such as “Plants for Rock Gardens and Other Places”, “Garden Steps”, “Plant Hunting”, "April in Victoria" and “Roadside Beauty”. However, under these various headings there is a wealth of information about various plants and associated matters.
Just a few quotes at random: “I …. always feel that the part of a garden near the entrance should give the first sensation of rest to those returning home to those returning home. There is nothing very restful about masses of annuals, conjuring up, as they do, hours of labour, and much expenditure on seed, fertilisers and water.” (These displays, she thinks, should be kept for the rear of the house).
“After the architect and the interior decorator have finished with the client, the garden designer starts the battle of trying to achieve a fitting garden with what is left. The client is still there, but the funds, alas!”
“How to become a Landscape Gardner – Walks into the country provide the best lessons on landscape gardening. Notice how the trees are naturally grouped, how the ground-covering plants grow in drifts of different species round their feet, how boulders help to make up the natural scene, and how little tracks, made by cattle perhaps, wander about in lines that are never straight.” 
"I decided this morning that as there is neither the time nor inclination to trot around holding the hands of those plants that look up at you and gasp. "Water! I can't stand this heat another minute", I would take an inventory of those ground-covering plants that can take it."
"...[Q]uite often ... owners  [of flowering climbers] are puzzled as to manner in which they should be pruned and trained.   It is all very simple, the general rule being the same as for flowering shrubs:   prune immediately after flowering."    

09 February 2012

Mt Ainslie

Towards Parliament House
I had a few minutes to spare while in Canberra, so I drove to the Mt Ainslie lookout. From here you get a panoramic view over Canberra and there are panels that remind us of Walter Burley Griffin's masterplan for Canberra (which, as the information at the lookout states, was actually devised in conjunction with his wife). Mt Ainslie is at the end of the War Memorial/Parliamentary axis, so the view along this is really good. There's not much apart from the view at the summit - except for an out-of-place ice cream van. 

I wonder what Griffin would have thought about the Gungahlin?    Perhaps he would have approved of the concept of the various satellite town centres (of which Gungahlin is the latest), but I think he might have despaired at the lack of imagination that's evident in the design of Gungahlin.
Towards Gungahlin - note intervening open space
Although I've previously commented on this, I now appreciate that the retail heart is designed to consist of 4 quadrants, with the "boring" stuff being outside these.   The streets appear unstructured, with the designers apparently not able to have been able to decide which streets should carry the main traffic burden and which should be limited to local access.   Perhaps a good start would have been a designated ring road?   Of course, I readily acknowledge that I'm not qualified to comment on these matters, but if even I can discern the if matters I've mentioned,  what would the experts say.

08 February 2012

Australian War Memorial

I hadn't been to the Australian War Memorial for a few years, so took the opportunity to visit it while we were in Canberra.
Obviously the War Memorial has a great deal of material, and the displays are certainly both moving and impressive.     These range from the dioramas (especially in the World War 1 section) through to the "sound and light" shows.    Overall, I thought that a reasonable balance was achieved as between the various issues that need to be covered.  That said, it's interesting that the arrangement is structured to lead most visitors first to the World War 1 display, and certainly on my visit more people were in this area than in any other area.
There were quite a number of visitors when I was there - many of whom were Asian (presumably visiting Australia).   There are no restrictions on photography, which is a welcome approach
Detail from one of the WW1 dioramas

One aspect that I thought was handled particularly well were the information panels on the underlying causes of many of the conflicts.   I had not previously appreciated the events that gave rise to the Boer War, but these seem to be summed up quite well.   The origins of World War 1 were, I thought, very effectively conveyed in just a few paragraphs.
At the time of my visit, there was a special exhibition on the role of nurses in various conflicts..

Plan of the Nui Dat base, Vietnam
It's natural, I guess, when one has had some personal involvement in an aspect covered in an exhibition such as this to look carefully at the treatment of that topic, but overall I thought the treatment of all the subject matter was dealt with reasonably well.  I suppose the one reflection I would make is that the impression given is that 'war' involves a lot of action, even if it is very dangerous and most unpleasant.   Yet the reality is that there's also a lot of waiting, inertia and boredom.

07 February 2012

National Portrait Gallery

I was glad I made time while in Canberra to visit this impressive collection!    There are many great portraits of varying styles.
The collection concentrates on portraits of Australians, but from all walks of life. The criteria for display appears to be primarily the quality of the portrait, not the importance of the person (although the portraits are all of persons of some significance).  A number of works are from the Historic Memorials Collection (which is a long-established collection of portraits of significant Australians, especially those associated with parliamentary history),  with the result that politicians are well represented.   Nevertheless, there are many prominent Australians (including politicians!) who are not represented.  Even so, I was a little surprised that I didn't notice even a single portrait of a religious figure.  Presumably this isn't as a result of any conscious policy decision?
I was pleased  that, although the style ranges from traditional to contemporary, there aren't too many really "modernistic" works!  Not too much Archibald Prize stuff here!
In addition to to paintings, there are a number of photos and busts.
The only portrait of English royalty is a massive portrait of Edward VII, but royalty is also represented by Princess Mary of Denmark (actually, this wasn't one of my favourite works).
I rather liked the self portrait of Alan Bond (painted while he was in prison). Other works of note included Dobell's portrait of Menzies (painted in 2 weeks for Time magazine to use on the cover) and Clifton Pugh's of Sir John Kerr and Barry Humphries.  For the record, there's also an interesting photo of Dame Edna!    However, it's really a little unfair single out particular works, as I found nearly everything to be of interest. 

06 February 2012

Yarra Valley and the Alpacas

View from the deck (winery is next door)
A group of us had a very pleasant BBQ in the Yarra Valley.     K and A run alpacas there.   We also get our free-range eggs from their hens!


We get chook eggs - but isn't that a couple of ducks?

05 February 2012

Church Council retreat

I attended the Church Council retreat, which was a day of reflection, worship and throwing around of issues/planning.   Although the Council consists of individuals with diverse outlooks and personalities, it functions really well. The day provided an opportunity to identify and think about a wide range of issues, under the inspirational leadership of our energetic Minister, Kylie.
The retreat took place at St Julian's Retreat Centre operated by the Community of the Holy Name at Cheltenham.   I was not previously aware of this community of Anglican Sisters, yet they have been living, praying and ministering in Melbourne for more than 125 years.   The centre is a lovely building containing an impressive chapel and other suitable amenities, situated in extensive and peaceful grounds.