Merry Christmas

Have you noticed that Christmas is upon us? Really, how could you miss it, there are reminders everywhere. As a result, I have been thinking a lot about Christmas lately and seeing all the hype and “joy” about, promoting happy families and good times it had me wondering how it affects people and how they celebrate (or not). The northern hemisphere celebrates a wintery Christmas, quite different to the summer Christmas the southern hemisphere experiences. I sort of envy the northern hemisphere where it’s chilly and white – a picture, postcard traditional Christmas. However, Christmas in the south can still be wonderful. You can sometimes even find Santa on the beach!
Xmas_noelLights

What does Christmas mean for you?
Is Christmas the season of cheer, merriment, fun, silliness with friends and family? Or is it a time of loneliness or sadness? It is easy to forget that for some, Christmas is a difficult time of year, whether they are alone, suffering illness, mourning the absence of a loved one or are missing family who are in another time zone; there are countless reasons really.

NYC_Christmas_NutcrackerI am one that finds Christmas a difficult time of year. I have not been fortunate enough to have my own children, so don’t have my own little family Christmas that most people enjoy. I have fantasized about having a full on Christmas, with a huge tree, presents all around, all the decorations, a big table beautifully set for a wonderful lunch with family. But that will never happen for me. At one point, I actually started trying to ignore Christmas; I didn’t decorate or put up a tree. However, I have come to realize, there really are no rules for Christmas; it can be whatever you want it to make it. So at Christmas, I swallow my sadness, put on a brave face and try to enjoy what I have; because even though it’s not what I would wish for, I am still grateful (honestly), for what I have. Last year we went to New York City to celebrate and the year before that we were in Cairns and spent the day snorkeling on The Great Barrier Reef. Pretty good really!

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This year things are a little different.  When I was still in the US, I was looking forward to another northern hemisphere Christmas this year – I even bought decorations and was ready to decorate for the season. However, since our stay in the US was unexpectedly cut short and we returned to a hot Australian summer, Christmas seems to have lost a little of it’s sparkle this year and it just doesn’t feel like Christmas ought to. Maybe it has something to do with not being in our own home and still not having our goods with us, with them all still being in transit or in storage. Anyway, I am looking forward to a better Christmas next year, without the stresses that recent events have brought us this year. And I hope that your Christmas is everything you want it to be!

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I hope everyone has a wonderful, happy Christmas and that 2016 brings all that you desire! free-vintage-santa-clipart-jolly-with-holly

 

Wandering can be a great distraction!

This is a quick wrap up of our quick visit to the Mid North Coast and Northern Rivers area of NSW for a few days late last week.

While I am waiting to go back to work (administrative issues have prevented me from returning as soon as I would have liked) we thought we might take a few days away from the dramas of an international relocation, not having our own home to live in and camping with the in-laws, and waiting for our delayed and much travelled goods shipment (it went via Dubai from the USA on it’s way to Sydney) and get away from it all for a while.

We wandered up the coast of NSW, exploring some towns we haven’t been to before, as well as investigating possible job opportunities (Andrew still needs to find a job).

On our first day we drove up the coast along the much improved, but always under construction, Pacific Highway (now known as the M1 or A1, depending on where you are). After about 5 ½ hours driving, we landed in the NSW country town of Grafton; a place I had never visited before. It’s worth a look.

GraftonClocktower

Grafton Clocktower and one of the many pubs in the background

JacarandasEstablished in 1851, Grafton sits alongside the Clarence River and is home to jacaranda tree-lined streets (the jacarandas were originally planted in the 1870s by a local seed merchant). In spring the town puts on a spectacular display when the trees erupt in masses of mauve blossoms. During the last weekend in October and the first weekend in November Grafton hosts its famous Jacaranda Festival (Australia’s longest running floral festival); I’d love to check this out some time (we were too late in the season this visit, as the jacarandas, although still in bloom, were well past their best).

From Grafton we drove north through Broadwater, sweet town that it is – it’s home to a large sugar mill and is the center of the region’s sugar industry (lots of sugar cane growing in the Northern Rivers area) and then on to Ballina.

I’ve heard a lot about Ballina – it’s a coastal town and well known for its relaxed lifestyle, beaches, seafood, fishing and other water sports. Ballina is also home to the Big Prawn:

BigPrawn

Australia has a fascination with BIG things – besides the prawn, we have the Big Merino (Goulbourn, NSW), Big Pineapple (Nambour, Qld), Big Guitar (Tamworth, NSW), Big Galah (Kimba, SA), Big Lobster (Kingston, SA) and the Big Banana, which we drove past at Coffs Harbour (always a family favourite), just to name but a few!

BigBanana

Our last stop was Port Macquarie – this is a place I definitely want to return to for a stay of at least a few days, maybe a week! Established in 1821, Port Macquarie, like Newcastle, was founded as a penal settlement, replacing Newcastle as the destination for convicts who had committed secondary crimes in New South Wales.

Port Macquarie is an idyllic spot, sitting on the NSW mid north coast at the mouth of the Hastings River. It is home to some wonderful beaches and also to the Billabong Koala Park (I didn’t get to visit, but maybe next time), and the Koala Preservation Society’s Koala Hospital. There are also about 75 koala sculptures around the town – all uniquely decorated – fun!: PortMacKoala

StrawberriesGrowingJust outside of Port Macquarie is Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberry farm. This is definitely worth the visit (and a great family activity if you have kids in tow). There is a little café where you can grab some lunch and also pick up some of Ricardoes own produce: rich red tangy Tomato Relish (I got some of that), delectable rich tomato Pasta Sauce and unique Strawberry Conserve, and other local products including preserved olives and olive oils, and locally-grown macadamia nuts, honey and eggs.

Besides all of this, you get to pick your own fresh strawberries – yum!:

Strawberry – it was great fun!

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Newcastle – my hometown!

This post has been a while in coming (and I apologise for that – settling back into life in Aus is taking some time) and this is a little longer than normal, but I encourage you to read to the end. 🙂

After being away for 19 months living in, and exploring the United States, I returned to the city of my birth and thought I would share something of my hometown for those who don’t know it (particularly my American friends).

Newcastle is generally much underrated; being relatively close to Sydney, it is often overlooked as a tourist destination. But let me assure you Newcastle has much to offer.

Newcastle Beach

Newcastle Beach

CargoShipNewcastle actually made Lonely Planets top 10 cities to visit in 2011 (the first Australian city to do so). It is a vibrant city, with a working harbour and some of the best beaches you will visit! The city is undergoing a bit of a rebirth at the moment; like many cities around the world it has had to reinvent itself in the face of economic changes.

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Newcastle is probably most famous for it’s coal. It is because of coal, that Newcastle was first settled. Whilst searching for escaped convicts, Lt John Shortland discovered the river (which he named the Hunter River), a deep harbour and an abundance of coal in the area. As a result Newcastle was established as a penal settlement – with convicts mining the coal – and gained a reputation as a “hellhole” – this was the place where the most dangerous convicts were sent, to dig in the coal mines as punishment for their crimes. Newcastle was built on the backs of convict labor and remained a penal settlement until 1822.

In later years, Newcastle’s backbone was the BHP steelworks, which operated in the area for 84 years (the steelworks closed in 1999 – marking a significant turning point in the city’s history). There is also a great interactive display at Newcastle Museum about BHP – check it out if you can. I think nearly everyone living in Newcastle either worked at BHP, or knew someone who did (both my parents and my husband worked for BHP in Newcastle). As a result Newcastle had the reputation as the Steel City – a very industrial city, and consequently, was looked down upon.

NewcaslteHarbour_towardNobbysIt has taken many years for Newcastle to emerge from the shadows of that dark reputation, but I think it is continuing to develop and reinvent itself and has emerged as a cultural, cosmopolitan place to live and visit. The historic wharf area and railroad workshops have been transformed; areas by the harbour are no longer dirty, industrial or rundown, but are vibrant and alive with new residential buildings, hotels, pubs, restaurants and public pathways and parklands. From where I lived it was a quick 2-minute walk to harbourside restaurants and a pleasant 15-20minute walk along the harbour foreshore to the beaches.

Here’s a quote from Lonely Planet that sums up Newcastle:

Newcastle may be one-tenth the size of Sydney, but Australia‘s second-oldest city is punching well above its weight. Superb surf beaches, historical architecture and a sun-drenched climate are only part of the city’s charms. There is fine dining, hip bars, quirky boutiques, and a diverse arts scene. And did we mention the laid-back attitude? Yes, Newcastle is definitely worth a day or two of your time.

With a wrap like that, why not come see for yourself and come visit me?

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And just to finish up, here are some interesting facts about Newcastle:

  •  Founded in 1797, Newcastle is the second-oldest city in Australia.
  • It was a penal settlement until 1822
  • Awabakal is the name of the Aboriginal Indigenous tribe that lived on the banks of the Coquon (Hunter) River which flows past Newcastle (Muloobinba – place of the edible sea fern) on its journey to the sea.
  • Locals are referred to as Novocastrians
  • Newcastle is often colloquially referred to as “Newie” or “Newy” by locals
  • Newcastle Port is the world’s largest coal exporting port.
  • In 1989, Newcastle was rocked by a 5.5 magnitude earthquake, which became Australia’s worst natural disaster.
  • In June 2007 in the midst of a terrific storm, the bulk carrier ship, MV Pasha Bulker, ran aground at Nobby’s Beach after it failed to heed warnings to move offshore.
  • In 1911, BHP chose the city as the site for its steelworks due to the abundance of coal and opened in 1915
  • Stockton Beach is the largest moving coastal sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Sand from Stockton Sand Dunes is exported to Hawaii.
  • Newcastle’s ‘Bogey Hole’ is one of the oldest ocean baths in Australia and was built around 1820 by convicts for the personal use of Commandant Morriset. The name Bogey Hole is derived from an aboriginal term meaning ‘to bathe’.
  • There are 6 beaches within 5 minutes drive of the Newcastle CBD.Nobby's-beach
  • Merewether Baths is the largest ocean baths in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Arnott's Biscuits - A Famous Australian brand - founded in the Newcastle regionIconic Australian biscuit manufacturer Arnott’s traces its humble beginnings back to Newcastle when a small bakery was opened by William Arnott in 1865.
  • 2004 Miss Universe, Jennifer Hawkins, once a Newcastle Knights cheerleader, still calls Newcastle home.
  • Current population of the Newcastle LGA is around 555,000, with the city itself having a population of about 155,000

Some Historical firsts:

  • Australia’s First Export was a shipment of coal from Newcastle in 1799
  • In 1801 Australia’s first coal mine was established under the present site of Fort Scratchley using convict labour. The entrances were sealed in 1885 when Fort Scratchley was built.
  • The first and only time that Australian Guns have fired on an enemy vessel during war was when Fort Scratchley’s 6-inch guns fired on a Japanese submarine during World War II.
  • Newcastle was home to the first ‘lighthouse’ on the east coast – a coal-fired beacon at Colliers Point which opened in 1804. The famous Nobbys Lighthouse was turned on in January of 1858.Nobby's-Lighthouse
  • Newcastle East Public School, established in 1816, by school teacher Henry Wrensford and seventeen convict children aged 3 – 13 years, is the oldest continuously run school in Australia.
  • Joy Cummings was Australia’s first female Lord Mayor and the Lord Mayor of Newcastle from 1974 – 1984.

 

Here are some links with more information about Newcastle if you’d like to learn more:

Visit Newcastle

Wikipedia – Newcastle

Hunter Valley Wine Country

More historical facts

I would liked to have added some more/better photographs, but most are on my desktop computer which is still on it’s way to me from America; so, sorry for the ordinary (and lack of accompanying) pictures.