Live to work or work to live?

While I have encountered la few live-to-workers in my time (a scary breed), I’m definitely in the work to live camp. My work has been pretty busy recently and some of the living seems to have been squeezed out, but even during the frantic periods, there have been moments of joy, beauty, learning and a few treats along the way.

At the end of June, I went to Adelaide on a Sunday night ready to run a workshop with my boss on the Monday. We had a good social chat over a delicious dinner in a Greek restaurant (the fried saganaki with preserved figs was particularly tasty) and then repaired to our rather stylish hotel. The rooms were super spacious with electric blankets on the beds and sliding Japanese screens in the bathroom. What a shame, I thought, as I soaked in the bath, that there was no one to play peek-a-boo. Something about those screens brought out my inner child.

The following Sunday I went to Canberra, my first visit to the Civic City since I backpacked around Australia in 1995. This time, at the recommendation of a friend, I stayed in an Art Deco hotel, the Kurrajong, which opened in 1926. As their website so accurately says, the place ‘combines old world charm with a stylish and contemporary twist’. Right up my street.

The Kurrajong is conveniently located for the art galleries, Old Parliament House and Parliament House. I spent a few enjoyable hours at the National Portrait Gallery in the afternoon, focussing on portraits of the first and second wave of European settlers, those early colonialists who made their mark either politically, socially or culturally. Among them were: David Jones (1793-1873), founder not only of Australia’s oldest department store, but the oldest department store in the world still trading under its original name; James Reading Fairfax (1834-1919) son of the founder of the Sydney Morning Herald; Caroline Chisholm (1808-1877) – her portrait used to be on five-dollar bill – an English-born philanthropist and activist who worked tirelessly to improve conditions for immigrants; Miss C H Spence (1825-1910) a writer and reformer who stood as Australia’s first female political candidate in the Federal Convention elections in 1897; and Irish-born Lola Montez (1818-1861), a dancer who came to Australia on her travels. Remarkable in a very different way to Caroline Chisholm, she led a scandalous life, had lots of lovers including King Ludwig of Bavaria (not the so-called mad one) and died of syphilis-related symptoms aged 42. Trivia quiz fans take note off all these useful snippets!

That night I dined in and enjoyed a perfectly cooked steak in Chifley’s Bar and Grill, named after Australia’s 16th Prime Minister Ben Chifley, who lived at the hotel for 11 years until his death from a fatal heart attack in 1951. Rumour has it that the hotel is haunted but, thankfully, I didn’t hear anything go bump in the night.

John Curtin and Ben Chifley, 14th and 16th Prime Ministers of Australia respectively

John Curtin and Ben Chifley, 14th and 16th Prime Ministers of Australia respectively

Then a few weekends ago a friend and I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne, where the Australian Garden is planted up with a staggering 170,000 species of native plants set in a contemporary landscape – the gardens only opened in 2006 – of water, rocks, dessert, dunes and more. One of the most impressive features comprises 86 (if I remember rightly) narrow strips of land planted with indigenous plants representing all the different bioregions in Australia. I was reminded that Australia has an incredible diversity of beautiful trees and plants – from tiny, brightly coloured heathland plants to beautiful banksias and flowering eucalypts.

Last weekend was the ultimate treat; a whole weekend away. The dog child and I went down to my brother’s beach house in Anglesea for the first time in over a year. From the minute I got out of the car, I felt myself unwinding. There’s something incredibly restorative about being away in a list-free, desk-free zone with no WIFI, and slowing down to the sound of the wind, the waves, the birds and the spaciousness of it all. On Sunday the weather was glorious and I drove to Lorne where I walked Bertie on the beach and savoured a pot of chai at a cafe overlooking the water which sparkled in the winter sun.


Then it was on up the hill through tree ferns and gum trees and past rolling green hills dotted with sheep to the Deans Marsh, where friends have a weekend house. Perched on a hill with nothing but garden, orchard, paddocks, dams and trees all around, the house is an attractive mix of timber and corrugated iron with an open fire and cosy sofas inside and a veranda wrapping around the front and to one side. After a week of arctic weather, it was warm enough to eat outside. Bertie ran around in the garden with their dog Boston and the kookaburras did their mirthful routine up in the trees while we enjoyed delicious roast beef and veggies. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a Sunday roast al fresco but it was all the more delicious. I definitely work to live!



Surfing through home renovations

I went back to my house on Wednesday for the first time since I handed over the keys to the builder and escaped to my brother’s beach house two weeks ago.

It’s just as well that I’m project managing from afar. There’s no way I could have worked from a building site with no bathroom or workable kitchen and where every available space is stacked with furniture or soon-to-be-installed bathroom fittings. In fact, there’s not much room to swing a proverbial cat, let alone play ball with Bertie dog.

No room to swing a cat...

No room to swing a cat…

Incidentally, he turns one in two weeks’ time which means he is no longer a puppy but a juvenile. And a naughty one at that! I left him in the kitchen this morning while I showered, and within ten minutes he had pinched the towel off the rail, pulled down the rubber gloves from the sink and was tucking into a packed of bread. Anyway, back to the renovations.

I never stole any bread. Look, I've been fast asleep all the time...

I never stole any bread. Look, I’ve been fast asleep all the time…

“You’ve no idea what’s been going on,” said my long-suffering neighbour. He wasn’t complaining – well not directly anyway – just pointing out that there’d been trucks going up and down the driveway, lots of noise, disruption, bashing, breaking, splitting, dragging, scraping – the whole shebang. I asked him if he’d had a look round – would he like a tour of the rotten bathroom floor and wood borer infestation? And did he know they’d found asbestos in the bathroom? No, but he would willingly swap places with me in my coastal hideaway, he said, somewhat wistfully.

Out with the old!

Out with the old!

I’m happy to say the asbestos has been taken away – at a price – of course. Rule number one of home renovations is that they always go over budget. So you have to budget to go over budget and a bit more. But at least I haven’t got to strip off all the plaster and get the wood borer treated. For all of half a day, I thought we might have to knock down the house and start again. My builder called in a specialist and, as far as I understand it, wood borer attack freshly cut timber (is that the same thing as sapwood?!) but do not re-infest dry timber. So whatever damage is done is done and won’t get any worse. Mind you, it’s quite extensive; some of the wood that came out of the bathroom literally crumbled into dust. They’re very skilled nibblers, those pesky beetles. So I do hope that we got the correct advice. The whole point of this home makeover exercise is so I can more comfortably rent out a room. I don’t want to have to advertise a gorgeous two-bed, two-bath unit complete with adorable cocker spaniel, resident beetle population and structurally weakened timbers.

Wood thoroughly bored by wood borers

Wood thoroughly bored by wood borers

The demolition phase – one bathroom, one laundry and one powder room – took about two days apparently. That’s the easy bit. It’s going to take a while for them to fill in all the gaps and create my en-suite, the tiny guest bathroom (think train compartment) and the new laundry. And there’s work happening in the kitchen and living room too. As you can imagine, the whole place is covered in dust and debris. My neighbour is right: I am very lucky to be enjoying a temporary sea change down in Anglesea.

Guest bathroom in the making. Size doesn't have to matter.

Guest bathroom in the making. Size doesn’t have to matter.

The house is one street back from the ‘back beach’ where the waves pound and roar (you can hear the sea lying in bed) and the light shifts and changes minute by minute. But, bliss comes with caveats or I am being Goldlockian again? When I was clearing out my house and running up and down stepladders all day long, I longed for the peace and quiet of Anglesea. But when I finally got here, I didn’t quite know what to do with. I had a dose of the post-adrenal blues. I was tired and fidgety and instead of going flop for a few days, only gave myself one day off. Maybe it was because it was so quiet that I felt I had to fill in the gaps. And, just to keep me on my toes, I got two writing commissions, one on Indigenous Health and one on Corporate Volunteering. Both are right up my alley but pinning down willing interviewees proved less easy, so I become even more fidgety.

But then, thank Goodness, something shifted when I returned from my 24-hour trip to Melbourne. I realised that it’s simply a case of allowing myself to make the most of the less hectic pace here and to re-charge my batteries. Because once I return to my house, I am going to need lots of energy to clean up and put it all back together.

So, yesterday, I ditched the keyboard, had a cup of chai latte in a cafe and then walked Bertie by the river. After a day of non-stop rain the sun came out as did the birds and the butterflies. And the air had that wonderful post-rain woodiness and freshness. I noticed the quiet flow of the river compared to the pounding of the ocean. It was as soothing as the cup of chai latte.

I’ve got friends coming to stay this weekend and we’re going to Lorne to check out the Sculpture Biennale, where more than 40 works of sculpture are dotted along the shoreline from Lorne Pier to the Erskine River. What’s more we can take Bertie – it’ll be good for him to discover his inner artiste rather than his innate glutton!

There are lots of delights down here – and I haven’t even started on my favourite cafes or the fabulous book shop at Aireys Inlet. I’ll leave those for another blog post. Meanwhile – and wish me luck – I have signed up to a Zumba class on Wednesday night. I thought it would be a good way to meet the locals and have a laugh. Or discover I have two left feet. Time will tell.