I started writing this post at the weekend sitting outside on the deck surrounded by subtropical rainforest with a soundtrack of bellbirds, whip birds, scrub wrens, finches, kookaburras, catbirds and yellow-tailed black cockatoos echoing around me. I was staying with my friend Nicki, who moved from Melbourne to the New South Wales (NSW) Central Coast earlier this year, for the Australia Day weekend.
Having been in Melbourne all over Christmas and New Year I was more than ready to get away, and NSW very much delivered. Nicki had an unexpected family commitment in Sydney on my first day and offered me the choice of staying home with her delightfully playful and engaging young cat, Maya, or catching a ride into the city. I decided to go into Sydney but wasn’t up for touristy stuff, crowds, shopping centres or sightseeing.
I just wanted wander without any fixed agenda. Nicki used to live in Balmain and suggested that it could be a good place to nose around. It sounded suitably village-y so I took the ferry (‘ticking off’ – from the relaxed distance of the boat – a few of Sydney’s iconic landmarks on the way) and got off at East Balmain.
I’d only walked a short distance up Darling Street when I found a small shop called Home Industry selling vintage items, linens, glassware, china, soft furnishings and cotton reels in jars. I bought a non-vintage, but charming, small white bowl with an embossed dragonfly on the rim – it’s already in use as a butter dish – and got chatting to the two sisters who run the business about cushion cover sizes. As you do…
Further up the hill I came to St. Andrew’s Church where there’s a weekly market. I browsed bric-a-brac and jewellery and then spotted a Chinese massage stall. Something to do with the early start the day before and Jetstar failing to get my luggage on the right plane had left me with a cracking headache. I negotiated $15 for a head and shoulders massage and the guy worked wonders, pinpointing the areas of tension and hammering away at the knots.
Feeling clearer and lighter I walked on to a café where I enjoyed an extended cup of tea and the papers. I got chatting to a few people, even a good-looking man, but it started to spit with rain (it’s hair-curlingly damp in NSW this summer) so it was time to move on. Part of the fun of hanging out in an unknown area is observing people, their houses, gardens, kids and everyday comings and goings.
Balmain was once a working class suburb and home to coal mines, shipbuilding, metal foundries, boiler making and soap factories. The tiny cottages lining many of the streets were originally built for the workers. Now, of course, it’s undergone a process of gentrification – hence the smartly groomed samoyeds and standard poodles walking head-in-the-air with their owners and the boutique-style shops, but I’m happy to say that it’s retained its soul and character.
I browsed a few shops and ended up buying a hand-made damask duvet cover with matching pillow cases in a knock-down sale in a pop-up shop. At only $70 including postage to Melbourne, it was an irresistible bargain. In a men’s clothing store, I got some ‘designer’ shaving balm as a birthday present for my brother, and then met Nicki for lunch at a wholefood emporium called About Life, a wonderfully earthy place with a sustainable/paleo focus. We had planned to visit the Brett Whiteley studios in Surry Hills but it got too late. Next time. Less is more.
We picked Sunday, the only totally rain-free day of the four days, to go to Pearl Beach. We walked from one end of the beach to the other looking out over northern Sydney and Pittwater Basin. We tapped back into that slow, leisurely holiday vibe and swam, sunbathed and read the papers watching pelicans flying overhead.
Dodging the rain, we managed a couple of bushwalks over the weekend too. We got a bit lost on one of them and negotiated a steep slope by slithering down on our bottoms, collecting a few leeches in the process. Like sticky, super-glue sticky slugs, leeches cling to your skin or shoes and take some prizing off. Yuk! On another walk we laughed at a laryngitic-sounding kookaburra surveying his territory, as we enjoyed views out over Brisbane Water.
In between bushwalks and outings I enjoyed reading on the deck with Maya cuddled up close by. I started Ruby Wax’s A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled while, for once, feeling anything but. In her inimitable humour and with soul-baring honesty she explains really clearly what mindless rushing around and constant multi-tasking does to our bodies, brains and neural pathways. I decided to follow her 6-week program and started then and there by attuning all my senses to the birdsong on Nicki’s deck. Let’s see what happens when life speeds up again back in the Metropolis and world of work!