Good barometer for confidence

The world is a small place these days; very similar problems and concerns here in Australia as in Europe. New car sales (always a good barometer for consumer wealth and confidence), is dipping quite badly with a record low for Holden (Australian made cars) last month and indeed it’s traditional rival the Ford Falcon, with other locally manufactured cars by Toyota affected. Just five years ago, 10,000 motorists bought a locally manufactured car in January, this year it was down to 3,000.

Global Corporations are under pressure over taxes in Australia just as they are in the UK and are being told to declare how much tax they pay as government work on a plan to name and shame. There are worries about high salt content of ready-meals and convenient foods, (although not !00% horsemeat!), but many of the manufacturers claim in their defence, that a huge proportion of these are specific cuisine such as Indian and Thai which often have higher sodium content due to the use of authentic ingredients.

Government under pressure; a sure sign of that is when its own back-bench MP’s are the most disgruntled, making more trouble than the opposition parties (UK not immune!), with strengthening rumours in the media here that Kevin Rudd (the old leader who was ousted after losing the election but now suddenly more popular with many within the Labour Party) is preparing to challenge the Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Gillard seems like a female version of John Major!

Reading the papers, the Australian government at this point is akin to the Danish television series ‘Borgen’, where an embattled lady PM is in a weak position, surrounded by all sorts of Machiavellian intrigue and plotting; having to occasionally sacrifice one of her core beliefs in the name of politics (staying in power). This should not be mistaken with Nick Clegg’s position in the UK; breaking manifesto promises and sacrificing all principles in order to hang on to the coat tails of power at any cost, pretending that it is ‘for the good of the country’.

Another story which chimed with a similar incident in London recently, involving the ‘Cenotaph’, and a history student who did not know what it was he was vandalising (!); a French student defiling the war memorial in Sydney. He was suitably repentant the following day, but a Frenchman of all people; his nation twice saved by the voluntary actions and huge suffering of Australian soldiers ‘The Diggers’ during two World Wars. Shame on him indeed. The weather has been amazing over the past week, beautiful blue skies, bright sunshine, lovely and warm from first thing in the morning to balmy evenings. I gather more snow is forecasted at home, but the lads seem quite happy; could it be that my absence may have something to do with that? Gwenan tells me that her old ewe had triplets, two born alive, but then a fox took one of the survivors within hours.

The only slight disappointment of the first half of the holiday was that Elin’s ‘Citizenship Ceremony’ did not take place whilst we were here to attend, but it was a long shot really. It would have been nice to witness first hand the fact that she now as two passports, and is a fully fledged Australian citizen.

We went to a film premier the other night at the Royal Botanic Gardens, down by the harbour, where a gigantic cinema screen slowly lifted itself high above the full house (several hundred, many of whom had been making use of the restaurant) waiting to see ‘The Sweeney’, a good all action, over the top affair, with plenty of amusing moments in between the carnage and car chases. The atmosphere of a ‘moon-light’ cinema with the water, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House; the City and Lunar Park skyscrapers all lit up, made for a breathtaking background.

This weather invites one to take a pick-nick lunch and enjoy places such as Nielson’s park down by the harbour, watching the yachts, ferries and large ships on Sydney Harbour’s main channel; sea-plane rides overhead and thrill seeking individuals who pay to be taken in a high-speed boat which seems to spend most of its time trying to flip itself over! Must be a Kiwi at the helm? There are interesting short walks through unspoilt bush, and the sandstone built Greycliffe House (Neo Gothic style1852), built for the daughter of William Charles Wentworth, who married John Reeve a wealthy migrant from England. Reeve never lived in the house, preferring to travel to England with his family, and renting Greycliffe to prominent Sydneyites, before it become a hospital for mothers and babies. It now belongs to Sydney Harbour National Park.

We have walked miles around Sydney, visited many of its sights, beaches and restaurants. Shopping for food reveals an abundance of incredible fresh fruit, some of which I had not seen before. Dairy foods are so much better here, full fat yoghurts and flavoured milks which put us to shame with our poor texture and disappointing low-fat offering in the UK. We could learn a lot from the Australian dairy counter, and with all the running and sport played over here, it seems to do them nothing but the power of good! Alcohol on the other hand has to be bought in a brown paper bag; it is illegal to carry it in the street unless it is in a bag. I have never seen so many people running, find one of the plentiful long steps in Sydney, and there will be young people running up and down them until it makes one feel dizzy. Sydney Opera house steps?

A place to put ‘boot-camp’ office folk through their paces, before running off in search of another park to carry out ‘push-ups’; finding a steep hill or more steps. All this at 30 degrees full on summer weather!

Elin rented a house overlooking Palm Beach (hour and a half driving north of Sydney) and invited friends to join us for the weekend. The beaches are wonderful, and the activity on the water is breathtaking, with kite-surfers being the highlight. Chatting to one of the most proficient who made it look so easy as he sped at very high speed across the water (and often 20ft in the air!), he told me he had been doing it for 3 years. Strapped in a ‘saddle’, one cannot let go of the enormous kite, so controlling it is the key (to survival), but just like the hang-gliders who are almost stationary above the house as they ride on the warm air riding up the cliff, it looks amazing fun. Down by the coffee shop there are very expensive bikes outside (10,000 dollars or so a piece), but I am reliably told that these are not ridden by fit young people; these are owned and ridden by ‘mammals’; middle aged men in lycra! Apparently, they ride down to the coffee shop in all their brightly coloured ‘gear’ and after a very long coffee (and some posturing), ride back home again. I do like these Australian put-downs. Chatting to someone in the service industry the other day, where without prompting she drew comparisons between the courtesy of ‘old money’ and the awful behaviour of new money or ‘trash with cash’! Not known for their subtlety the Australians.

Gwyn Jones