Thursday, March 31, 2011

Another grand day out in Dullsville

Plenty of people round these parts refer to Perth as Dullsville.  I'm not sure where those people have been living and what they are comparing it to, but I'm picking its not where I've been living or where I live now.  I'm sure Perth does have its dull bits, as every city does, but we haven't been actively hunting out those bits.

Mandurah and the Peel region's latest tourism slogan is "An hour away, a world away" and is an attempt to attract visitors from Perth. This slogan is true, but the same can also be said for Perth from Mandurah. I do fully appreciate the benefits of living in a small city right on the coast, but up until recently Mandurah was just a sleepy holiday town and as such there are still so many things simply missing from this city.  Over time new businesses, events and organisations will no doubt spring up in Mandurah to meet the demands of the growing and changing population, but in the meantime I say YAY for Perth.  I do not call Perth Dullsville.

Our latest all-family outing to Perth was to see the seventh annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition at Cottesloe beach.

We went on the last Sunday the exhibition was on so shared our outing with many other people. 

We enjoyed the Sculpture Inside exhibition, then headed outdoors where we saw a huge assortment of great sculpture, in a beautiful setting, in glorious weather.

Afterwards we went to Fremantle and found a block of shops (open!  most of WA does not have Sunday shopping) with a couple of caf├ęs, several amazing antique shops, a designer clothing boutique and a cool interiors shop.  Woohoo, we don't have that fancy carry-on in Mandurah! 

Yet again our day out in Perth was certainly not what I consider dull.  The only way it could possibly have been better is if a friend had been exhibiting at Sculpture by the Sea and we'd spent the day with him and his family.  But there is always next year, isn't there Duncan.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Eyes on the road!

Today my morning walk slowed to a dawdle.  The first reason was because I was procrastinating over taking my still-busted computer back to the fixit shop. The second reason was because Mandurah has a junk and metals verge collection and it is on right now in my lively hood. 

For the purposes of this collection the city is divided into eleven areas and each area has a week during which all the tat is put out then collected.  Our suburb, Halls Head (which the NZ IRD rather fabulously calls Horsehead), is area seven so for the past six weeks I've had to concentrate extremely hard and remind myself "eyes on the road!" as I drive past enormous piles of tat heaped on verges all over town. 

The roads here are perplexingly narrow so it is tricky to pull over to investigate a tasty looking heap.  The only way to stop is to gut the underside of your car by driving up onto the kerb and verge - risking the wrath of the homeowner as they yell "Get your flipping car off my flipping retic!" (OK, lie.  "Flipping" isn't used much here.) - or pull into some stranger's driveway.  I've done a bit of both.  I don't recommend either, though last week I did get myself invited in to a lovely elderly couple's house, who were possibly a bit lonely.

So today I walked to investigate the junk and these pictures show what it looks like in my neighbourhood this week.

Sadly the pickings aren't anywhere near as rich as in Auckland's fantastic inorganic collections where I sourced many a mid-century delight.  Here it is mostly grim sofas, diseased-looking mattresses, collapsed three-year-old kitset furniture, deceased five-year-old whiteware and televisions so enormous that they cause my children to have laughing fits. 

Apparently you aren't allowed to actually take stuff from these piles and are up for a hefty fine if caught doing so.  I'm treating that piece of information as urban myth as I just can't believe anything so daft can be true in a city that doesn't have a dump shop (though they are working on it), where the opportunities for buying and selling secondhand stuff are seriously limited and that prides itself of being pretty with-it on sustainability issues. 

Obviously plenty of other people don't take the fine seriously either as there have been convoys of cars - some with trailers - cruising slowly around our neighbourhood all week.  Go them I say.

I have actually scored some stuff from the junk collection but I did it months ago by having a cup of tea with a textile artist then rummaging through the verge collection stockpile in her carport.  See those tiles I've tiled my blog with?  I've got box loads of those plus several hundred sixties and seventies numbers stockpiled in my garage.  They are waiting for when I finally find dream-home, which I'll "renovate" and probably make totally unsaleable.

By 10am it was too hot to be out dawdling around in the great outdoors so after having tea and cake in the home of some elderly strangers (true) I finally stopped procrastinating and went to the computer fixit shop.  As a result I now have one lonely piece of junk out on the roadside: my flipping deceased three-year-old computer monitor.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Trouble in paradise

Long time no speaks.  There are a couple of reasons for this.

The first is that the computer had a hissyfit and has been in the fixit shop for some time.  Given that everything here from swimming lessons to school stationery to groceries costs a number 150% to 200% more than I was used to paying in NZ, then I'm in no rush to ring and find out how much it will cost to fix it. So every few days I pop to the library to clear emails and today I have borrowed a computer.

The second reason is because I've gone a bit too far in collecting local souvenirs.  Happily I did finally find a cool dolphin thing and when I get my computer back I'll show you.  Sadly I also collected something Mandurah and the Peel region is somewhat infamous for.  I am a statistic.  I am one of the several hundred people to have contracted Ross River Virus here this summer.

Ross River Virus is spread by mosquitoes.  It makes you feel like a giant pile of stuff you don't want to find on your shoe.  Then it goes away.  Then it comes back.  Apparently this can go on for years.  On the upside it makes you save money as if you have even one drink you get a week-long hangover.  When my GP rang to tell me the news she said "You don't need this", as up until then she'd only met me as the partner of someone having major surgery and the mother of two children under ongoing specialist care.  She's right, but I can't think of anyone who does need this.

Mandurah is a mosquitoey place simply due to its geography and ecosystems.  Mosquitoes are far more prolific here in summer than other seasons. The council takes various measures to keep mosquito numbers under control but this year was a huge challenge as there have been a series of exceptionally high tides and these created ideal breeding conditions.  There is also an interesting article here implicating the man-made Dawesville Channel in exacerbating the problem.  So the council hugely ramped up their usual mosquito control measures but even so mosquito numbers have been spectacularly high, some saying at unprecedented levels. These are salt marsh mosquitoes which are particularly vicious and bite throughout the day.

I am a goody-two-shoes type person when it comes to public health warnings so religiously followed the council's advice to prevent being bitten.  I ditched my black clothes and wear long, loose-fitting, pale-coloured clothing (stop sniggering).  Every morning before getting dressed I douse myself in products labelled "WARNING: May be dangerous, particularly to children, if used in large amounts on the skin, clothes or on large areas of the body, especially if you keep using it for a long time".  (Makeup is an ancient memory.) Ironically, after spending many years cooking from scratch, no-spray gardening, and fastidiously reading labels in order to keep potentially harmful chemicals away from my children, I also douse my children in this toxic stuff.  We reapply it after a few hours, after swimming, sweating or after reapplying our sunscreen. We have been doing this for months.

Despite these efforts my son and I, who are both ridiculously attractive to mosquitoes, will each cop at least six new bites a day.  Now don't go thinking I'm doing anything sporty, "lifestyley" or am lurking in wetlands; I'm simply hanging out washing at midday in 35 degree sunshine, putting out the rubbish, collecting children from school, taking them to after school activities or walking our neighbour's dog.  During these activities I get bitten in the part of my hair, on the soles of my feet and palms of my hands, on my eyelids, up inside my loose-fitting clothing, and most insultingly of all, straight through two layers of clothing, one of which is Thunderpants. The children have asked me to make them netting "Bug Burqas" and when we do buy a house I plan to erect a circus-tent-sized mosquito net right over it.

How people live with this long-term and don't go mental is a complete mystery to me. There is so much to enjoy here and the natural environment really is gorgeous, but the mosquito problem puts a serious dampener on things.  Although I've met many locals who talk about "living in paradise", I'm not so sure.  Mandurah is one of the fastest growing cities in Australia, but I've met people who after this hideous summer have had enough and are moving away.

Now I've probably ruined all chance of enticing friends and family here in summer but heck, would I wish the way I'm feeling on any of my friends, family or their children?  Errrrr, no.  Come here in winter or spring or autumn instead.  And if you are over this way in summer, I'll meet you in King's Park in Perth where we enjoyed an entire evening summer Shakespeare performance without seeing a single mosquito.  Now that's my idea of paradise.

Pics are of artist Richard Tipping's work, from here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dare to hope, prepare to be disappointed

When we were planning to move here various friends wondered whether the climate here would be kinder to my daughter's painful arthritic condition.  For me it was a case of "dare to hope, but prepare to be disappointed".  Long story, details of which are not very interesting (are other people's medical dramas ever?), but the conclusion is a rather disappointing big, fat, stiff, sore, swollen, debilitating, screaming heap of no

This week my very brave daughter spent three days and one night at the children's hospital in Perth.  My son of course needed to keep attending school and normal life in Mandurah.  I've been doing so much driving between Mandurah and Perth that I'm in danger of getting pressure sores.  Oh and as is often the way, my partner was away for part of that time; he considered cancelling the trip, but didn't need to as I have finally learned from many years experience that if I actually take up people's kind offers of help then I can do quite tricky things.

Luckily my son has befriended a great boy.  Before I met him I asked my son what his friend was like and he replied "As nice as my NZ friends!" - high praise indeed.  The boy has an equally great mother and she has been a star this week.

Now my daughter is home and drugs are our friends again.  Things are looking up as she a) scoffed her favourite weekend breakfast with gusto this morning and b) can finally make a fist - useful!  Hopefully she'll soon be back throwing herself into things without a nasty accompanying sting.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Swimming with sharks

Many years ago I bought a pair of "Swimming with Sharks" shoes.  My daughter loved the brand name, kept the box and regularly mentioned that she'd love to go swimming with sharks.  While we do plan to go up to Ningaloo Reef to swim with the whale sharks at some stage, I suspect that my marine-biology-mad and scarily brave daughter is talking about something with a bit more bite.

In our time here we have however swum with all sorts of interesting creatures.  We regularly swim with "stingers" - both the sort that make you feel that you've got your finger in a power-socket for the next hour and the sort that leave you with an enormous red rash for a fortnight.  We don't recommend it. 

We often see rays below us when we swim in the estuary or snorkel in various bays.  When we do I have to calmly remind myself that they are beautiful creatures and try very hard not to squeal like a girl. 

Several times we've just gone out for a swim and suddenly found ourselves swimming with dolphins.  Recently I stood on the shore at the local beach and watched a baby seal swim around my children; I had a feeling that that might not end tidily then the next day read in the newspaper that you should get out of the water smartly if you see seals as sharks sometimes follow.  But as far as we know we still haven't actually been swimming with sharks.

Last week was my son's birthday.  To celebrate we went to AQWA which is the Aquarium of Western Australia in Perth.  It is absolutely amazing and we all had a fabulous time there.  I put it right at the very top of the Must-do list for any visitors to this region. All these photos were taken there, some by me on my clunky antique camera and some by the children using my son's sleek new underwater camera (which cost less than I spend on bananas each week).

Downstairs at AQWA there is a huge tank with a clear plastic tunnel through it.  From inside this tunnel you have an incredible view of a huge array of creatures including what I thought were quite big sharks and very big rays. We were there for feeding time.  Two tiny wet-suited children were lowered into the tank and proceeded to hand feed fish to the tank's inhabitants.  (My daughter's eyes lit up.) It took me quite some time to figure out that it was an optical illusion; the tiny children were of course normal sized adults, meaning that the big sharks were actually huge sharks and the big rays were actually enormous rays.

But that is just one of the many exhibits.  Western Australia's coastline is huge and ranges from tropical waters to far cooler southern waters and the many exhibits at AQWA reflect all of these.

The most exciting part of all however is that in only two and a half more years time I can front up to AQWA for my daughter's birthday, hand over a fist full of dollars and throw her into a tank full of sharks; yes, at AQWA you really can swim (and snorkel and dive) with sharks

Although I know she'll swim straight up to the plastic tunnel and give me a cheesy grin and a big thumbs up, I'm very pleased I've still got two and a half years to get my head around the idea.