10 PICS FROM THE STICKS PART IX: ROAD TRIP TO NEWCASTLE

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Karen overlooking the sea on Flagstaff Hill. I like how this photo echoes the Romanticism period of art. Copyright Lloyd Marken

I was married the 10th of September, 2011. The following week as newlyweds my wife and I stole away for 3 days up in Maleny where we had spent our first holiday as a couple three years earlier. We both came down sick by the second day, that was six years ago. We’ve had nights away, gone to many events and driven out of town for a day. In late 2012 I drove to Port Macquarie to see my best friend while Karen worked. We had dinner and played board games and drove back home the next day. But for me my honeymoon was my last holiday for six years until this October. This October I threw caution and savings to the wind and drove down to Newcastle. We set off early morning on a Saturday, driving from the north side of Brisbane to the Gold Coast and finally crossing the border and going past Coolangatta. These are familiar sights and places often visited so it was not until getting into New South Wales that the journey begins to feel adventurous and new. These are still roads I’ve travelled before but less so. The coastal area of New South Wales is beautiful and for me there is something that you get out of road trip that a plane flight can’t replicate. Driving really makes you feel like you’re getting to escape and you have wrested control of your destiny. All bullshit of course, the tedium of driving back is never far from your mind but still there is something beautiful in the lie as you grip the leather steering wheel of your 2003 Toyota Camry Sportivo and the horizon lays off in the distance.

We stopped at Ballina for breakfast to catch a glimpse of the Big Prawn. Travelling down the coast from say Brisbane to Adelaide or Brisbane to Sydney certain stops are well established due to distance from each other. Ballina is such a place, we parked at the latest Bunnings Store which now stands next to the Big Prawn. When last here in 2012 the Big Prawn of my childhood was in bad shape, a pale pink due to neglect it now stood proudly repainted and hovering above the parking lot. I assume that Bunnings paid for it and restored it but who knows. It is near a roundabout and a set of shops and petrol stations where often people will stop, refuel, grab a bit and leave. Given that Bunnings often have sausages on the barbie for various community organisations raising money I’d say the Big Prawn can only help to entice customers. Karen and I though walked off to the shops darting through thick traffic with no lights nearby to slow them. We stopped in a local bakery and ate egg and lettuce sandwiches the way they used to make them. As a kid travelling around on school excursions or holidays I lost count of the number of times I ate egg and lettuce sandwiches but these days people put too much mayo in the egg and it’s not the same. At this little bakery they were perfect. Perked up by our coffee we made our way back to the car and continued driving.

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Just after breakfast walking back to the car at Ballina with the Big Prawn in the background. Karen kindly posed. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

The next stop people will often head to at this point is Coffs Harbour and we were no exception parking at a massive shopping mall just down from The Big Banana. The Big Banana and The Big Prawn are representative of novelty landmarks that became popular in the 1980s for enticing business to small towns along the way of road tripping families. The Big Banana though is an actual tourist attraction where bananas are farmed, it serves as an “educational showcase” and a fun park. As a kid I went there in 1992 and quite enjoyed it. This time I drove past and stopped in at the mall to get KFC for lunch. I try to avoid fast food these days so maybe it was time passing but I found the KFC at Coffs Harbour better than most of the stuff I’ve tasted in recent times of my local area. As mentioned there is something beautiful about the NSW coastal area and I continued on without stopping for the rest of the day. As night time neared our petrol tank started to get close to empty. We live near the Brisbane airport which has several hotels nearby. It feels off by itself but not yet isolated from the places in town you want to get to. I booked late and didn’t have a lot of options and so picked the Mercure at Newcastle airport hoping it would be a similar thing. As we turned off the main highway the sign said Williamtown and I realised we were headed to a military community. RAAF Williamtown was obviously close to Newcastle airport, a massive four wheel drive on a two lane road came up behind me sitting on my arse as I drove the speed limit exactly. Terrific I thought we’ll be surrounded by hyper aggression our whole stay but of course I know military people better than that. We found the gas station and just down the road the Mercure hotel. The staff were excellent, the lobby had a few people that looked either military or ex-military. Next to the car park were buildings fro Boeing and other defence contractors. We were obviously staying in the same place they would for business trips. We went down and ate in the hotel restaurant and then went back to our room and caught some shut eye.

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The view from our hotel, we were facing away from the airport and had gorgeous countryside. We got there obviously just before sunset. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

The next day on Sunday we set out for Newcastle. Newcastle is host to many a fine thing, it still exports coal to the rest of the world, historically it was a major steel producing town and boasts some beautiful beaches. I travelled through there as a kid but had no real memories of it. It is also to home to Fort Scratchley. I was interested in Newcastle for a few reasons, it was in range of our three day trip but would mean I had driven further than I ever had before (Port Macquarie) and with Fort Scratchley I had a place to go to that would take no more than a day to visit and take in. The stage was set, Fort Scratchley features the only land based guns in Australian history to have fired in anger.

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The guns that fired at the Japanese submarine I-21. A part of Australian military history. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

Original construction completed in 1882 the Fort was intended to protect against a possible Russian attack. Instead the Fort would see action during the shelling of Newcastle sixty years later. Rather than a gung-ho recap of the incident the Historical Society reflect on both perspectives. The Japanese did their job, positioning themselves well and getting off 25 shells before managing to escape successfully. When the guns at Fort Scratchley bracketed them, they left and the shelling stopped. After the war it was home to the 113 Coastal Battery Royal Australian Artillery which was a unit of the National Service Scheme. The Army left the site in 1972 and the it now functions as a Museum since 2008 with a great deal of support from the Fort Scratchley Historial Society  who have made it into a first rate place to visit. These volunteers are always happy to give you space or alternately inform you of any part of the site’s history. Additionally they man the guns that are still fired for ceremonial purposes. The two 6-inch Breech Loading Mark VII guns still get fired by them, these were the guns that were used by the Fort from 1911 to the Shelling of Newcastle and after until about 1962 when the Fort switched to Bofors AA guns. Additionally they also fire 80 pounder gun in its underground casemate and a Nordenfelt 1.5inch gun which may be the only working example left in the world. They also fire a Two Pounder Time Gun most days at 1pm which we were lucky to see on the day we were there.

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The Volunteer Staff about to fire the 2inch Time Gun at 1pm. In the background as pointed out by another volunteer staff member is a coal carrier making its way out to sea. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

If you have no interest in military matters the Fort is still high up on a hill with panaromic shots of Newcastle and is just a nice place to visit. Some things may surprise, in addition to the various displays of medals and small arms there are stories that move. A radio plays war time messages from the Australian Prime Minister metres away from a piece of shrapnel that tore through a young boy’s bed after his mother took him out of his room during the shelling minutes earlier. Alongside medals are a German helmet that had a bullet go through it fully implicating the horrors of war. Simple mementoes sent to home or from home from people facing death and missing their loves ones. Badges given to widows and mothers of slain young men never to come home. Peace time memories too of men who made a career out of the military either part time or full. Building the fort or upgrading it but always focussed on the men under their command. Treasured gifts given to them upon retirement handed over to the museum from families who know they will be valued here.

In addition the Fort is part of the history of the Australian Women’s Army Service during World War II, where several female soldiers learnt to operate searchlights, anti-aircraft equipment as part of the nearby 18th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery. This would have been an opportunity for these women to learn a trade and be at the sharp end of a service that had to fight so hard to even get sent overseas. These opportunities were only made possible by the increasingly shortage of available manpower and we owe these women a debt of gratitude for leading the way. Over 30 women served at Fort Scratchley during the war mostly as radar operators.

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Artsy Fartsy Shot? From Darling Harbour. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

We bid farewell to Fort Scratchley mid-afternoon as I made the decision to head to Sydney. Karen’s family lived in Sydney for year when she was 8 and so we headed off to there. Coming into Sydney there are so many beautiful mountains and the freeway travels over many valleys. When we got to where Karen grew up all the houses had been renovated and it felt unfamiliar to her twenty nine years on from where she was last there. It has often been a running gag for me that she missed World Expo 88 in Brisbane as part of the bicentennial celebrations. Between Expo and the Commonwealth Games of 1982, Brisbane went from being a “town” to a “city”. Often I will remark that the First Fleet Re-enactment in Sydney in 1988 was “a couple of tinnies in the harbour.” I’m trying to funny but Expo was a big deal and I’m sad that she missed it. Travelling to where she lived during that year though allowed me to have a sense of why she has fond memories of it and how much fun it would have been for a kid. On a whim we drove around looking for the nearby corner shops. When we parked in them and she saw they had barely changed she was thrilled and I will remember that moment with affection.

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Driving over Sydney Harbour Bridge. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

The day was Grand Final Weekend in Sydney for the National Rugby League, not knowing how traffic would be in town I decided to head towards Darling Harbour for dinner. I think I had an idea of going to the Casino but we never made it. Following directions as best we could the traffic proved not too hair raising and we found ourselves on track to drive over the Sydney Harbour Bridge which was a secret thrill for me. I can still remember my Dad taking us over it on rainy Sydney day in 1989. We made it to Darling Harbour but kept on getting lost and finding ourselves back in the tunnel crossing back to the other side. When we returned to Darling Harbour I spotted the car park area for the Sydney Convention Centre. Karen was none too pleased at the going $29.00 rate to which I replied “Honey we’re here.” Coming out of the car park I stood in the square and saw Centrepoint Tower.

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Sydney just outside the Convention Centre. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

We were here indeed. It had been nine years since I’d been to Sydney just before I met Karen and for a tank of gas I could’ve come here all along. In that moment the world became a little bit more full of possibilities. I told myself that while I still have things to save up for I am not much closer to them now than I have ever been and maybe six years between holidays is far too long especially if you don’t get to reach your other goals. We wandered down along Darling Harbour and eventually found ourselves a restaurant with staff who were very kind and the food was good too. We would’ve liked to stay but the long journey back to Williamtown beckoned and it was almost 9pm.

 

Sydney traffic proved to be light and easy to get through but as we came out of the citybounds onto the freeway that snaked through all those cliffs and over deep valleys there were few street lights. I flicked my high beams on where I could but often there were cars in front. Sometimes it was comforting to just park behind them and follow along but sometimes they went too slow and I decided to be a bit brave and strike out on my own. Cars came the other way not switching off their high beams and the road swerved on tilts as the darkness was ever present. More aggressive drivers went past. As time went on I could use my highbeams more and eventually the road levelled out to flat countryside for miles. The rest of the journey passed in relative peace despite remaining darkly lit but I will not lie that I had been tense there for a bit. If one of our tyres had gotten flat I would’ve had my wife stranded in the countryside for a few minutes while I changed it late on a Sunday night. I had been somewhat reckless but we had come through the other side getting to see Sydney as well. Perhaps sometimes you have to make a play for it all, we did. We drove through Newcastle well past midnight with young people out about making their way from night club to night club, some heading home. We drove down deserted roads and past orange lights and back across Stockton Bridge passing all the industry of Kooragang Island. It was quite a sight to see and share with Karen, just being somewhere I hadn’t been before, seeing something I hadn’t seen before. Needless to say I went straight to bed when we got to the Mercure.

It had been tempting to stop in at Fighter World near RAAF Williamtown on the way out where many former RAAF planes including CAC Sabre, F-111, Mirage 3, MIG-21, Hunter, Meteor, Vampire, Fokker Triplane and replicas of Spitfires and Bf 109s. A friend of mine who served at RAAF Williamtown advised me the café was nice. Alas we had a long drive ahead of us and I was feeling it. Monday was a public holiday but I planned to be back at work the next day. Fighter World will have to wait. Instead we ate breakfast at the hotel like we had the day before, an extra expense I felt well worth it as it allowed us to fuel up and get underway with full bellies and minimal hassle.

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The Historic Courthouse at Port Macquarie. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

The trip back, as they often are, was more tedious, I wanted to show Karen Port Macquarie since she missed out in 2012. It was raining and would remain raining for the rest of the day. Driving to Port Macquarie would take us off the freeway and take up time but we stopped for lunch there and I showed her the Historic Courthouse that still stands in the town. We headed back to Brisbane shortly after where I stopped at Grafton to fuel up. It was now coming up to 5pm and the sun was setting shortly after we passed Ballina. It continued to rain, the road stretched out into the darkness again but now in the wet. I turned my high beams on and concentrated. We got past Bryon Bay and as we neared Coolangatta and the Gold Coast the roads became well lit but the rain came down heavier decreasing visibility. Most slowed down, water piled up on the road, hydroplaning was a possibility. Some drove aggressively but most wanted to get home in one piece. How ironic I thought if something bad happened while we were now back in familiar surroundings. Just short of 9pm though we pulled up in our driveway with Red Rooster and concluded our first holiday together in 6 years having driven 1897 kilometres since leaving our driveway on Saturday morning. I felt very grateful for the holiday and reflected that not everybody gets to have them which makes me only more grateful. I hope you’ve enjoyed this recap and a shout out to the Fort Scratchley Historical Society and the excellent work that they do.

-Lloyd Marken

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This tickled me pink on our way to Fort Scratchley so just had to share. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

 

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10 PICS FROM THE STICKS PART VIII: GOMA UPLATE MARVEL EXHIBIT

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The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art opened in Brisbane on the 2nd of December, 2006. Often my friends and I have gone to it and the Queensland Museum and the Queensland Art Gallery for various exhibits over the years. Between all 3 there has been an Andy Warhol exhibit, a David Lynch exhibit, an exhibit of 20th Century art and architecture and a retrospective collection of Valentino’s collection. There has also been an Exhibit about lingerie which was just the best! But we’re not here to talk about that today, we’re here to talk about the recent Marvel exhibit.

There is a program called GOMA Uplate which my gang regularly attend where the Gallery will be open on a Friday night and have entertainment and booze. I enjoy these because often the exhibits as less crowded than during the day on weekends and there is a different vibe in the air. Can still get pretty busy.

20170811_201159Throughout last year filming of Thor: Ragnarok took place in my home state of Queensland mostly at the Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast but also for a few days in the Brisbane CBD. People from London, New York, L.A., Chicago and Toronto will attest what a pain in the arse this can be for locals. I was working out in the burbs at the time and felt a little sad to miss the commotion. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston went and greeted crowds warmly on the streets where production had closed off traffic. Later they went in costume to the Children’s hospitals to spend time with sick kids. I can agree with cynics that this is good PR that would have melted any curmudgeon’s complaints about traffic issues but anybody who has spent time around sick children will tell you there’s no way in hell Hemsworth and Hiddleston didn’t genuinely enjoy giving something back and I think there can’t be enough of such things being done. This follows Johnny Depp and Christian Bale doing similar things and the value it will bring to a child’s joy you can’t put a price on.

The scenes shot in Brisbane are standing in for New York city and I chuckled when I saw the film. I don’t care how many New York yellow cabs drive by in the background, I know those pavements and what a thrill to see them on the big screen. 750 Queenslanders were employed in the making of Thor: Ragnarok. I don’t know how much this played into GOMA getting the Marvel exhibit which featured so many props and costumes from other Marvel movies but it was real joy to have it at Brisbane.

Ten Pics from the Sticks has traditionally been about hiking but we’re branching out with this and maybe subsequent entries which may make the title a little odd but so be it.

Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe Exhibit ran from the 27th of May to the 3rd of September, 2017. It featured various props from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, certain classic comic book issues in glass shelves (this included the first Spider-Man comic from 1962 and I believe the first Captain America comic book from 1942), a lot of costumes and pre-production artwork. This included concept art of the Guardians of the Galaxy that was shown at San Diego Comic Con. 20170811_201902People forget how Guardians of the Galaxy was seen as a risk because it was such an unknown title at the time. That concept art which looks quite a bit different from the eventual look of the team is what sold me on the idea. When the teaser trailer came much later I was all in telling friends this could be the Star Wars of a whole new generation. So I got a picture of me with the concept art. One exhibit showed the artwork, the storyboarding, the pre-viz animation and then the finished product. Another part played a scene where you could dial up or down various sounds effects and music to see how all of those things are layered onto the final soundtrack and how each component plays a vital part. Other areas allowed patrons to stands on mats and appear on screens as various Marvel characters controlling their movements although this was a bit wonky in its execution. Guardians Karen and LloydOne part that I got a real thrill out of was dressing up in props and appearing in front of a green screen where we were overlaid one of the movie posters. We got a really fun group shot of us as the Avengers but out of deference to my friend’s privacy I won’t post this on a public forum. We also ate some snazzy meals down at the Café. While I didn’t take part there was a place for people to draw their own comic books.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

There are usually speakers at GOMA Uplate and our night was no exception.  Local artist and scenic painter Camille Serisier did her talk titled ‘All In The Details’. Some speakers had worked on Thor: Ragnarok and some had not, Camille being one of the latter but she had done for the Australian ballet and various other productions. Her talk took place in the Asgard throne room area of the exhibition (which sounds dodgier than it was – get your minds out of the gutter people) and pointed out various things. She talked about a lacquer of props to make them appear aged, the throne itself was made out of wood but a lot of other elements were plaster applied over Styrofoam blocks. She also talked about the themes of stories and how production design can support this. It was very interesting to hear her speak and I found myself nodding in agreement at some of her insights. I had just come from my interview with Palace CEO Benjamin Zeccola for the Italian Film Festival and was on such a high from that I uncharacteristically approached her after the talk to ask one further question or too. She was lovely to speak to.

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You can see much better pictures of the Exhibit form QAGOMA’s website here https://blog.qagoma.qld.gov.au/tag/marvel-creating-the-cinematic-universe/https://blog.qagoma.qld.gov.au/tag/marvel-creating-the-cinematic-universe/

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Having worked on smaller scale film productions I was not surprised to find this out but everything you see on film looks vastly different in real life than it does in the movies. Unlike say the dresses from Valentino which looked gorgeous in real life the costumes for films even ones as expensive as this are made with functionality always in mind. How they look under lights, how they will appear in close-up, how the stunt man can do his work in them is always of high priority. That’s why multiple versions of each costume are made for different purposes. Amazingly through the power of movies you often don’t notice these things even when you know about such tricks. That’s not to say these costumes and sets are not made by artists far from it. The level of thought and creativity that goes into this work is really moving. 20170811_203100It was also neat to see the original costumes worn by such stars as Hayley Atwell and Scarlett Johanson and also um gee what are their names uh Greg Evans, uh Greg Humpdump, Joey Rendering, um Bobby Down Senior and Mick Buffaolo. I don’t know I mean Hayley Atwell is the big star I remember. It was also quite a thrill to see so many props form the film Thor: Ragnarok which had not yet opened in cinemas worldwide at the time. This included various weapons, Hulk’s bed from the movie and as a centrepiece the Throneroom from Asgard.

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After our tour through the giftshop where I will rue not getting a door mat that said “I Am Groot’ on it with a picture of Baby Groot I caught up with my friends who were observing the live band performing that night. A Melbourne duo called Habits had a certain group rocking away to electronica. My friends and I kept our distance from the gender fluidly dressed boy and girl who conveyed such raw sensuality. Nothing made me feel more 36 then my lack of free spiritedness compared to these youngsters but the truth is this wasn’t my bag when I was 17. When I was 17 Billy Joel hadn’t released an album in 4 years and he was my favourite while others rocked out to Frenzal Rhomb etc. They may not have been my bag but they were talented as fuck, absolute jets playing their instruments and working the crowd. Something else too, they were appreciative of the audience and engaged with them, the lead singer going down into the crowd and writing on the floor provocatively. There was an older man getting into it and I couldn’t help but admire them for their joy in the music and their commitment to be themselves.

That about wrapped it up for us as we stole away into the night having had a wonderful night with cherished friends at a rare movie themed exhibit in my hometown.

-Lloyd Marken

Captain America Karen and Lloyd