You’re in Perth, you have 16 hours before your flight and your original plans are no longer: what you gonna do?

The conundrum in the title of this post is what befell me today: having planned to be in Perth today for the 5th day of the Australia v South Africa cricket test match at the WACA I was left at a loose end given the early end of the test match before I arrived. I did not have a flexible flight so my only option was to come up with a way to entertain myself in a city I had never been to before.

As my brain is still on Brisbane time despite having been in Western Australia since Friday I awoke at 4am feeling more than a bit unwell. All the warning signs of a migraine hit me, most ominously my right eye was blurry, but the combination of drugs and a little more sleep seemed to work and by 7am I was wondering what I was going to do for the day. I basically had 16 hours before my flight and nothing to do.

Going against my usual policy, I first decided to spend as much time as I could in my hotel room before check out. If I had not have had some work to do I would have watched a movie but having work to do meant that it was not until 9:50am that I was ready to leave. I had already chewed up 3 hours of time and despite some serious negativity about the remainder of my day I sent off into a hot Perth day to eek out another 13 hours of fun before heading home.

My first thought was to head to the WACA and check out the very good cricket museum there as well as take the ground tour. Only a 500m walk from my hotel it was an easy stroll down Hay Street to the ground. Unfortunately, the museum was closed today and the tours unavailable seemingly because the WACA authorities decided to have a day off. I was irritated but I will say when I come back to Perth I will definitely do this tour.

Queens Gardens is just next door to the WACA ground and with its green grass luring me having spent four days in the red dirt of Port Hedland, I decided that I would spend my first couple of hours in my quest to fill time just sitting in the park. Basically alone the whole time, and taking the opportunity to call a dear friend I had not spoken to for some time, time flew by and I left the park feeling relaxed and with a plan in the back of my mind for the rest of the day.

What I did not know about Perth before ringing my parents to whinge about my predicament today was the free bus service around the city. The Cat service that encompasses three routes and arrives at the bus stop every 5 minutes during the week is easily the best way to get around town and seems, from my limited knowledge, to cover just about every place one would want to go on a lazy day in Perth.

My plan for the rest of the day was simple: I was going to walk around the shops for a while and then head down to the Barracks St Jetty and get on the ferry to Fremantle (another parental recommendation). My walk around the shops started at the Miller Street Mall and wound its way around St George’s Terrace until I was back at a bus stop and ready for my trip to Fremantle. For those noting the time, it was now 1pm and my time to be filled had dropped to 10 hours.

I had some time to kill before my 2:15pm trip along the Swan River to Fremantle and stopped in a cafe for a drink and got to work on a couple of blogs whilst answering some work emails. The Riverside Cafe was a great spot to stop and relax but I will say a smidgen expensive.

The ferry to Fremantle one way will cost you $25 and if nothing else will chew up 75 minutes on our quest to get to the 16 hour mark. However, to consider it a time filler does it zero justice: the scenery is breathtaking in some places and the guide gives you just enough information to let you know what you are seeing. If I had one criticism it is that they only opened one bar and as it was on a different level of the boat than me I decided to not risk loosing my window seat by leaving it to get a beverage. It frankly would not have taken much to open that bar given that they had a staff member restocking it basically the whole trip.

Fremantle is a very nice harbour town that has as its highlight for nerds like me an excellent Maritime Museum. Now I concede that I love going to museums whenever I travel but again if you are looking at burning up time there are few better ways of doing that than wandering around a museum. You can spend as long you want in the museum until it shuts and the air conditioning gets you out of the intense Perth heat. That said, the Maritime Museum at Fremantle is an absolute ripper: great exhibits, great cafe and a great gift shop. I could have spent hours there by knowing that it shut at 5pm I decided to leave at 4:45pm and head to the train station to travel back to Perth.

I have to say I was very impressed with the train service from Fremantle to Perth. It was cheap ($4) and the carriages were clean and well air conditioned. It being peak hour my carriage did get a little full but it was not long before I was back at Perth Central station.

Another walk around the shops and another bus ride saw me back at my hotel from last night (Comfort Inn on Hay Street) where I had been storing my bags by 7pm. Now I concede as I write this that I have not completely filled the 16 hours I have spare before my flight leaves however there are only 4 hours left to go and as I see it there are only really two ways to spend them. If you are a member of the Qantas Club, one could collect their bags and head to the airport to bunker down and eat the free food and drink the free drink while reading a book. The other alternative is that you can just sit in the hotel lobby, as I am doing right now rest ones weary legs from doing a lot of walking today whilst charging ones phone. This option appealed to me as, having baggage I am going check at the airport I wanted to change clothes and have a quick wash (which I have done) and my phone was completely dead. I will have a meal in the hotel restaurant shortly (it is the least I can do as I have been lazing around the lobby) and I will then head to the airport with an hour or so to go before my plane.

So there you have it: if you are in Perth and you have time to burn before the red eye flight home do not despair because even a novice like me can find enough things to do to keep the mind occupied during a day when plans go awry. You never know, you might like the place so much that you decided you need to come back to properly check out the place like I have.

Travellers on a budget should note that excluding food today cost me a grand total of $39: not bad if funds are tight and you still want to see part of the city of Perth.

Port Hedland: Family, flies and four wheel drives

It is been a while since my last blog, most obviously because I have been to Port Hedland to see my sister Kate and the family.

Followers of my twitter and tumblr feeds will know how much I love my family, how much I have been looking forward to my time in Port Hedland with them and, from the photos I have posted, how good a time I have had with them.

Simply put, I just had the best time with my family in their new house in South Hedland and, despite nearly being folded up with the fold out bed on night one, I am already trying to work out when I will come back again. To say I was little bit down as the family saw me off at the airport yesterday would be an understatement particularly given that it is my oldest nephew Jack’s birthday next weekend.

It has taken me a long time just to realise how important family is and, selfishly, how important time spent with family is for my mental health. The effect that the smiles on the faces of my nephews, Jack and Cooper, and new niece, Abbey, had on me alone on this trip has been profound.

But that is enough about family for this blog, as this trip was also my first opportunity to travel to the western part of Australia and, more particularly, to Port Hedland. Whilst I was only there for four days some key themes from my experience are worth noting.

First and foremost, if you are coming to Port Hedland expecting anything other than a mining town then you are sorely mistaken. From the marking of just about every major piece of public works with the branding of BHP or FMG to the large “salt mountain” of Dampier Salt on the way to town it is clear that mining drives the town and its people. This is never more apparent than when the BHP headquarters reveal themselves along the highway to town as the vast expanses of red dirt give way to manicured gardens and green grass.

If you intend to drive around Port Hedland it is also important to note that just about every car on the road is a four wheel drive and the bulk of them are workmen’s vehicles. I have never seen more four wheel drives in one space at one time so if you are shaky driving one I would suggest finding an alternate mode of transport. The other thing that can catch unsuspecting drivers unaware is getting caught at a railway crossing when the self proclaimed “longest trains in the world” are shunting past. My sister described us being lucky when we got to one such crossing as the gates descended because “it is only a short one”, after 10 minutes I was somewhat unsure how lucky we in fact were.

It goes without saying as well that Port Hedland is hot, very hot, and with heat comes flies. I am not sure I would have ever gotten used to the standard fly around my mouth or eyes on the occasions we went out no matter how long we went out for during this trip. My brother-in-law claims that you do get used to them after a while and maybe next time I have over hopefully in the “cooler” months I will be able to test whether the flies are less irritating.

I say none of this to be negative about Port Hedland. I am glad it is another place in Australia that I wanted to see that I have now seen. Before my sister and brother-in-law decided to go on this adventure they are presently on I am unsure that I would ever have headed over to that part of the world. I am unsure as to whether, without my family being over there, that I would be intending to come back. However, if you want to see one of the real nerve centres of Australia’s economy at work and have some spare time while you are in the West, it is definitely worth the 2 hour flight up for a look around in my opinion.

Shumpty’s Favourite Places: a cricket field … any cricket field

I know I committed a while ago to writing about my favourite places on this blog and it has been remiss of me to keep up this part of the blog.

I was asked today by one of my friends to name the places where I am most at ease.  Bizarrely, my immediate thought was that I was most at ease on the cricket field when I was playing.  That got me thinking about some of the places I had played the game and it made me realise that a cricket field, any cricket field, is one of my favourite places.

Cricket is a game that I revere: I have played it, coached it, umpired it, watched it, studied it and written at about and a cricket ground is the church as which I worship the game that I love.

When I was playing the game the first thing I did every time I got to a ground was take a walk around the boundary and take in the surrounds, then I would walk out to the pitch and get a sighter of the conditions.  The smells of a cricket field were a comfort for me and relaxed me before crossing the boundary rope to play: the freshly cut grass, the white paint used to mark the creases and the mixed aroma of suncream, “deep heat” and Juicy Fruit all combined to make me feel like I was at home.

One of the best places on earth: a cricket field (Allan Border Field)

I was fortunate enough as a player to have the opportunity to travel up and down the coast of Queensland, through New South Wales and to New Zealand to play cricket and all of those aromas and sites were essentially the same.  It would be fair to say that one of the great allures of cricket grounds for me and one of the reasons I was always at ease was that consistency.

I associate some of my fondest memories of childhood with time spent on cricket grounds. I remember fondly (among other memories):

  1. My first six at Ivor Marsden 2 in Ipswich off an off spin bowler called Doyle in Under 16’s (I was a late bloomer) and my dad yelling from the side line to “get my head down” … I got out next ball.
  2. Captaining the Booval Cricket Club Under 14s to victory in a final against the North’s team led by one of my best mates John Ruscoe on the old concrete pitch at Timothy Maloney Park in Ipswich.
  3.  Taking 5 for 5 in a game in Toowoomba at the Downlands School as part of the Ipswich Grammar School under 16Bs and then spending two hours waiting for the bus to take us home to Ipswich because the game was over within the first hour.
  4. The first time I ever cramped up after playing a game of cricket in Cairns after opening the bowling for South East Queensland in an under 14 state title and having a laugh with my team mates when I had to be carried back to the team bus.

My favourite field to play on was the old Ipswich Grammar School No 1 Oval.  I did not get to play there much as the season I was in grade 12; the confluence of a wet Queensland summer and a 1st XI coach who did not think I was any good (he may or may not have been correct) meant that I can only recall playing there twice but to this day I don’t believe I have played anywhere better.  Surrounded by a white picket fence with turf nets and gardens at one end and over looked by one of the school’s two boarding towers and the music school with an amphitheatre of stairs on which viewers could sit I remember it being just the best place to play cricket I could think of.  The grass was like carpet, the pitch was always true and you could sit right being the bowler’s arm and watch the play.  I loved the joint and wish I had have played there more.  I also loved sitting around and talking to the other guys in the team.  It will not surprise that I was far from the most popular guy at school and it was only during those times watching, training and playing cricket on No 1 Oval that I felt like I was “part of the gang”.

Aside from the odd comeback here and there to play with mates, I have not played competitive organised cricket since I hurt my back as a 19 year old.  I have compensated for that by becoming a vociferous watcher of the game.  Be it an international game, a state game or a local club game I try to sit myself behind the bowlers arm and watch the play.

I have not missed the first day of the Brisbane test match since 1999 and if I have my way I will never miss one till I die.  I often try to go to Queensland Bulls Sheffield Shield games on a Sunday and just watch the play for hours and if the stars align and I am in Ipswich on a Saturday I try to find out where my old club is playing and go along for a look.

To this day, the ‘Gabba is my favourite ground to watch cricket.  It was my favourite ground back when the dog track still ran around it and it is my favourite ground now.  I remember being on the hill when Carl Rackemann took the catch that won Queensland its first Sheffield Shield in 1995 (to this day my parents think I was at Uni) and I was there for Steve Harmison’s first ball to second slip in the 2006.  There is no better place to watch cricket in my view that high in the stand at either end of the ground behind the bowler’s arm.  I could, and have, sat there for hours just watching the game.

A cricket field, any cricket field, is one of my favourite places, not just because I love cricket but because at a cricket ground I feel completely at home.  Now all I have to do is bide my time until September, for cricket season to start so I can get back to one of my favourite places.

My favourite places: Rainbow Bay

This is my second post on the issue of my favourite places.  Rainbow Bay is indeed one of those places.

For those who don’t know where Rainbow Bay is it is on the border of Queensland and New South Wales on the northern side of Point Danger between Coolangatta Beach and Duranbah Beach.  To say I have spent a lot of time in this place would be an understatement.  As a family, the Humphreys’ have spent all but five of our Christmases (if my memory serves me correctly) down at this paradise on the coast.

Initial holidays were spent in the caravan park with my grandparents Allan (who I have already written about in this blog) and Elaine.  To say I loved the times spent in the caravan park on holiday would be an understatement.  I vividly remember hitting the beach from 7am until lunch time and then playing in the park next door to the caravan until sun down.  Friendships were formed over games of cricket or kicks of the soccer ball which ended at the end of the holiday only to recommence the next time one hit the caravan park.

Even in these early years of my life down at Rainbow Bay life was about routine: breakfast, beach, chip sandwiches, play in the park, wait for granddad to return from the pub, dinner at the Club and then games of Uno around the dinner table.  Christmas days were spent in the annex of the caravan.  Our holiday routine was shattered by events out of our control when I was 11: the caravan park was shut and then my grandparents moved to the north coast.

That did not stop the family Humphreys trekking to Rainbow Bay for school holidays and most importantly Christmas however. The only difference between our caravan holidays and those spent in holiday units was the lack of mucking around in the park.  Before I could drink the routine remanded the same: beach, walk, beach, walk, cricket on TV, dinner at the club.  One of the great things about holidays at Rainbow is (well was then) that at Christmas time the place becomes “Little Ipswich” and being that Ipswich is where I am from there were always friends from school or just the next street to knock around with.

As time has moved on all that has really changed, having reached the heady age of 18, is that the routine has now become walk, breakfast, beach, cricket on the TV, chip sandwiches on fresh bread, Twin Towns RSL for a few XXXX Golds and then dinner at the Club.  This routine is repeated save for on golf days.

I have spoken a lot about routine in this post and that is one of the things I love about my yearly sojourns to Rainbow Bay: not only does the place not really change all that much but the routine does not change all that much either.  On holiday, that is often all I want: to descend back into the sameness of routine as a way to relax.

It is the sameness that keeps me coming back (now that it is a personal choice rather than by parental decree): the fact that chicken parmagiana at the Rainbow Bay Surf Life Saving Club is always of the highest quality, the beer in the Sportsman’s Bar of Twin Towns is always at genuine 1970s prices, the chips at Dee and Paul’s Cafe are always crisp and go perfectly on fresh white bread and one can walk to anywhere one wants to go.

I hope some of the traditions that have started up down at Rainbow Bay every Christmas such as the Ipswich Old Boys bowls day which was started by my grandfathers and their mates some 30 odd years ago and now attended by my dad and I in their honour and the Boxing Day punters club at the RSL never change and I know I will be there again this year to keep the traditions going.

Now that we have all gotten a bit older, Rainbow Bay has become a place that my nephews now love and look forward to going to every year.  They are experiencing the caravan holiday with their grandparents (my parents) just like I did and I envy them that they have years ahead of them to discover the delights of this haven.

“Let’s dig a hole Uncle Steve”

Rainbow Bay has played such a big part in my life, it will always be one of my favourite places.

Shumpty’s Favourite Places: Washington

The genesis of this blog, as early readers will recall was my recent trip to New Zealand.  Whilst I would not say I am a worldly traveller I have been lucky enough over the years to experience and photograph some places that have had a massive influence on my life.

On Thursday’s for the next period I will be writing a series of blogs called “Shumpty’s Favourite Places” in which I will write about places that I have loved visiting or that have been important to me (or both) over the years.  In starting this series there is not better place to start than Washington.

I wish I could visit Washington every time I travel somewhere such is the excellent time I had there some 16 months ago.

I know I am a nerd but the history of the place just screams out to be enjoyed and celebrated.  The monuments are awe inspiring and yet I found them also to be solemn places it which it was apposite to reflect on not only the effect that the parties celebrated in the monuments have had on the world that we live in but also on the awe with which our American cousins lionise their former leaders.

My favourite monument is the Lincoln Memorial.  Of course I had seen it on TV and in movies and, as is my usual style, I had done some research before I arrived there but the thing that struck me was just the size of the memorial.  It is a massive footprint and is cavernous inside whilst being imposing outside.

Any trip to Washington is not complete without a visit to the White House.  Converse to the Lincoln Memorial I was shocked a little at the lack of size of the place.  Compared again to what I had seen and my perception it struck me as a diminutive structure compared to the ornate and behemoth like buildings that surround it.

I saw a great many of wonderful things in Washington and those who know me will know that there was no way, for example, that I could resist going to the Supreme Court of the United States.  For me, this was law nerd heaven which only was heightened when I was able to watch an argument session in two cases that were before the Court on the day I was there.  I have been fortunate in my time to argue applications before the Supreme Courts of Queensland and New South Wales and the Federal Court of Australia but all of that paled into insignificance with the chill I got up my spine when I heard Chief Justice Roberts call the first case of the day.

Having waxed lyrical about my visit to the Court, you will probably be surprised that it was actually not the highlight of my trip.  That slot is reserved for the four of eleven (in Washington) Smithsonian Institute museums I visited during my stay.  Most particularly I will maintain till the day that I die that the best thing I saw in Washington was the National Air and Space Museum.  I loved it so much I went back for a second look.  From the Wright Flyer, through aviation using the World Wars into the exploration of Space it feels like the sum total of aviation history is all in one place.  It is hard to pick out any particular exhibit that I favoured over the rest: they all were just so good.  I really could have spent at least another day in just this one museum to make sure I did not miss anything.

I would happily go back to Washington again and I would love to live there some day.  As a naive traveller immensely out of his depth in the early days of my first real overseas trip, I found Washington an easy place to get around and the subway the best way to get around it. I have no doubt my next “big” overseas trip will include a Washington component, if only so I can tick a few more of the Smithsonian Institute’s museums of my list of places to see.

I leave you with an image of Washington that to this day is tattooed on my brain.  I took this photo on dusk in the National Mall: the modern day represented by the cars and the history of the Washington Memorial is just the right mix of the day to day hustle and bustle of America’s capital and its history to show the true essence this great city.  This is the image of Washington I will always remember.