Whenever I walk through Sydney Hyde Park, past the Archibald Fountain,  along Art Gallery Road, and up to the steps of the Art Gallery of NSW, I remember our six-year-old son, Joel, asking why the names of the Ninja Turtles were displayed at the top of the facade.  He'd just had a six-year-old Teenage Mutant Ninja birthday party with green costume and a turtle birthday cake. It was difficult to explain that Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello were the names of very famous Italian Renaissance artists.

[caption id="attachment_14463" align="alignleft" width="400"]greek-cafes-&-milk-bars Cover Photo: the Popular Café Cootamundra 1952[/caption] A recently published book by two researchers into the role of Greek families in the cultural history of Australia, got me thinking back to my childhood in the Clarence Valley of the forties and fifties. Effie Alexakis and Leonard Janiszewski have been researching this topic for decades. They now work at the Macquarie University in Sydney. In the early 20th century, many migrants from Greece emigrated to Australia, often to escape war and its aftermath, and to find economic salvation. Some of the milk bar and café owners who came to Grafton, my place of birth, were from the island of Kythera, lying opposite the south-eastern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula.  Their descendants back home, called Australia “Big Kythera”, and even today,  the islanders often speak English with an Aussie twang.

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is part of the Great Barrier Reef.  Just outside our unit is a marked underwater reef that one can follow, either with a snorkel or by renting a  flat board, to view the coral. The island is shaped like an equilateral triangle. Each side of the triangle is 11 kilometres in length. The edges are scalloped by numerous inlets or bays, with sandy beaches where you can swim during the "safe" season. Magnetic Island is a suburb of Townsville, which is only a 20 minute, 8 kilometre ferry ride away.  A very independent and environmentally aware population of 2,000, resides on the island.  The council has erected a large solar panel, which enables the island to supply 40% of their electricity needs, given that they are blessed with over 300 days of fine weather. It's part of the "dry tropics" with rain falling only in summer.  The guide who drove a group of us around the island has brought up his young family here and is passionate about it.

 From the Hall of Fame at the North Sydney Pool:

"The North Sydney Pool was, in its heyday, one of the most advanced olympic facilities in the world".

"It was designed by the architectural firm Rudder and Grout in a style of art deco that has been termed "stripped classical". A great deal of attention was paid to detailing: the choice of tiles, the polychromatic brick work, and the plaster decorations. The most obvious references to classical form were in the stylised column capitals and the original pool tiles, which evoked the Roman bath house."

[caption id="attachment_13539" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]the-pool-and-the-bridge The Bridge Towers Above[/caption]

WHERE IS VACY?

Vacy is in the Dungog Shire, not far from Paterson in the Lower Hunter Valley. It's a 197 km drive north and then north-west from Sydney. Or you can catch the train to Maitland and be picked up by a family member from there. Country living is much cheaper than renting or buying in the city. This young family spent their first few years renting in picturesque Paterson. Then they decided to build a house in nearby Vacy. How to do it? All you need is a two-acre block of land in the bush. And a kit home ready to install. In this case, one with many bedrooms. Five children and a dog came along as well. Help from a live-in granny was essential, also. She has her own unit at one end of the building.

aanne-entrance-giles-baths

We live at the northern end of the beach in Coogee. This was once the "poor cousin" side of Coogee Bay, with dilapidated buildings and a rusting dome on top of the Coogee Palace. It's now a favorite place to dip and swim for young and old alike. At high tide on these early summer mornings, the smell and taste of salty sea and brine is as invigorating as the fresh feel of the 21 degree waters on the skin. For a long while these baths were privately owned as part of a men's only baths. We downsized from a house to an apartment in 2011, after our children had grown up and left home. Moving into a smaller space without storage was difficult, but we'd found a flat in walking distance to the sands of Coogee Beach. My husband likes pointing out the little bit of our building that he can see through the trees, when he is in the ocean. He has decided that this will be where he has his ashes scattered—in the sea—after his passing. I find it hard to think forward to the next cup of tea. But I love this place too.   The Gateway to Giles Baths giles-baths-entrance The arch by which you once entered the original baths building has been retained by the council. On the wall inside this arced structure is a sombre list of the names of Coogee residents who were killed in the Bali Bombings of 2002. Eighty-eight Australians were killed, out of a total of 200, including twenty from Sydney's Eastern suburbs. Five of them belonged to an amateur rugby league team called "The Dolphins", who were celebrating the end of the footy season. The young women in the photo at Giles Baths (above) are reading the names of those killed in the Bali Bombings. Giles is now  unenclosed and open to all today. Surprisingly, there are "women only" baths on the southern side of Coogee Bay, next to the larger "Wylies" public baths.

We live near the beach at Coogee, so we are fortunate enough to get a fairly constant sea breeze.  But other areas in Western Sydney and in the Western plains were not so lucky. Residents of Richmond on the north-west fringe of Sydney saw the mercury climb to 47 degrees on Saturday, placing the town within less than a degree of the title of global hot spot. Tamworth reached 44C and Moree 46C, while Walgett and Bourke were heading towards a sweltering 47C. 2016-fires-nsw As soon as you leave the eastern seaboard, temperatures soar in summer. And it's getting worse. My husband travels by train to Lidcombe to go to work, and he feels the difference as he nears the far western suburbs of Sydney. We were warned that this weekend past was going to break records. I'd joined a long queue in Harvey Norman store on Friday to purchase an electrical fan for our daughter and her two young boys; most of the inexpensive electric fans in the district were already sold out. The woman in front of me in the queue was buying the same fan—along with dozens of other women—for her daughter.

Like for most things, you can only understand the strong emotions grandparents feel  towards their grandchildren once you've experienced it.

Some live only for their children and grandchildren. I cannot imagine this. I feel so lucky and priviliged to have my twin passions, my family AND my writing. I've reconnected recently with people from my past, one who told me that he is bored with his life.  What about the joys of learning new things, of travel, exploring different places, cultures and scenery? How can anyone be bored when there is so much to do and to see, even in one's own country, not to mention other places on planet earth?