Port Arthur 2020

I’m writing this on March 23rd, ten weeks after my cruise call to Hobart. How the world has changed! Then the news was dominated by bushfires, whilst millions of us enjoyed the carefree life of an ocean cruise. Now the ships are moored and idle, the crews who looked after us so well stood down. Ten days ago our railway museum was still open, Sunday a week ago I was in church (now livestreamed to our homes). On the Monday, UK relatives arrived, only to have to cut their Australia visit short and get on the next available flight to UK. But we were able to visit Sovereign Hill and eat at local restaurants – all now closed.

With this in mind, let me briefly return to happier times. After visiting Adelaide we were meant to have a day on Kangaroo Island, but due to the fires we had to give KI a miss and made straight for Hobart. As I’d visited Hobart before, I decided to go on the full day excursion to Port Arthur, named after George Arthur, the lieutenant governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).

Knowing a little of its history and reputation, I went with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension. I knew of Port Arthur’s reputation for brutality, and how the only access was guarded by a line of chained dogs. Perhaps not too surprising given that from 1833 until 1853, it was the destination for the hardest of convicted British criminals, those who were secondary offenders having reoffended after their arrival in Australia. Port Arthur’s use as a prison ended in 1877 after which the buildings were left to decay, before being resurrected as a tourist attraction.

After disembarking, and a 90-minute coach trip we were at the site. First a guided walking tour to get our bearings, then a boat cruise, and we free to explore at our leisure.

Port Arthur Penetentiary

Port Arthur Penetentiary

The most prominent structure is the remains of the penitentiary, built as a flour mill and granary in 1845, then converted into convict accommodation: 136 separate cells on the lower two floors and a dormitory for 348 on the top floor. The building was burnt out in 1897.

Port Arthur hospital

Port Arthur hospital

On the hill is the hospital, accommodating 80 patients, also burnt out in the 1890s.

Port Arthur’s regime was tough, but less so in the physical sense as compared to earlier prison regimes. The hard corporal punishment, such as whippings, used elsewhere was now thought to harden criminals, doing nothing to turn them from their immoral ways.

Port Arthur Separate Prison

Port Arthur Separate Prison

Instead in Port Arthur’s silent prison (1849) newer inmates were kept in complete and anonymous solitude and silence at all times. They were not to speak, sing, whistle or communicate in any way except when they needed to pass essential information to a guard or when singing in chapel. When outside their cells they wore masks to prevent recognition by other inmates. 

Port Arthur asylum

Port Arthur asylum

Not too surprisingly, many prisoners lost their minds, thus the need for the next door asylum (1868), the last major penal structure to be constructed, now the restaurant and museum where we repaired to for a welcome lunch. Due to the age of the remaining convicts on site, the authorities were forced to employ building tradesmen to assist with the asylum’s construction.

Port Arthur Church

Port Arthur Church

After lunch, increasing rain prompted a hasty retreat to the gift ship but I did get to see the remains of one more  burnt out building, the church, built 1836-7 and destroyed 1884. It could accommodate 1000 worshippers: convicts seated on benches whilst 200 free settlers had pews that had been produced by the Point Puer (boys prison) boys.

Then back to the ship for dinner and the homeward sail to Melbourne.

 

Adelaide 2020

As outlined in my last post, my 2020 cruise’s first port of call was Adelaide. I’d been there four times before so with no pressure to do anything in particular. I decided to revisit the National Rail Museum (NRM) and make a first-time visit to the South Australian Aviation Museum. Both these, along with the South Australian Maritime Museum, which I’d visited before, are at Port Adelaide, an 11-stop 10.2km train ride from Outer Harbour, where we were docked (the train station is conveniently next to the cruise terminal).

As a volunteer at the Melbourne Newport Railway Museum, railway museums now have a special interest to me, and on this second visit to the NRM I was able to see a number of exhibits with fresh eyes.

National Rail Museum Loco 504

National Rail Museum Loco 504

A great find last year was the book, ‘Kings of the Iron Horse’, the story of two of Australia’s greatest railway engineers, Alf Smith and Fred Shea. Shea was Chief Mechanical Engineer (1923-39) of the South Australian Railways (SAR). Working with William Webb, Chief Commissioner, he oversaw a massive re-equipping of the SAR during the 1920s. The 500 class, built by Armstrong Whitworth UK, was over twice the size of the biggest pre-Webb engine, and was the most powerful locomotive in Australia. 504, seen here was in service from 1926-1962.

National Rail Museum Clyde GM2 loco

National Rail Museum Clyde GM2 loco

One of Australia’s big mistakes was not building its railways to one gauge – South Australia has all three: 3’6” narrow gauge, 4’8½” standard gauge and 5’3” Irish or broad gauge.

Over time standard gauge interstate lines were constructed. Finally on 23 February 1970, just 50 years ago, the first Indian Pacific service left Sydney for Perth, becoming the first direct train to cross the Australian continent. GM2, here, built 1951, hauled the train from Port Pirie to Kalgoorlie, a distance of nearly 1800km.

Fokker F27, South Australian Aviation Museum

South Australian Aviation Museum

These are but two highlights of the NRM and by the time I’d dragged myself away I only had an hour for the Aviation Museum. Lots of to see and all very well arranged and signed. This Fokker Friendship was used for scientific research.

Then back to the Queen Elizabeth and on to Hobart.

2020 cruise – back on the Queen Elizabeth

2020’s cruise was my fifth and longest so far: seven nights from Melbourne to Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and Hobart, then home. After last year’s Queen Elizabeth cruise to Brisbane I was really looking forward to being back on board.

No upgrade this year! After two out of two Cunard upgrades it would have been a bit much to expect another one. A couple of days before departure my heart leapt on seeing an email titled ATTN: Anthony Bryer – Upgrade Notice but it was merely notifying me that I’d been moved from a cabin on Deck 8 to a very similar one (grade BB to grade BA) on Deck 6. It suited me well – deck plans

Queen Elizabeth Britannia restaurant

Queen Elizabeth Britannia restaurant

With no upgrade, boarding meant joining an unnecessarily long queue (it would have been a lot shorter had people not been allowed to join it until their allotted time) and each night turning up promptly for dinner in the Britannia Room at 5.45p.m. (I chose early dining) rather than any time dining. As on previous cruises, I was very fortunate in my table companions, especially 93-year old Patricia, still enjoying life to the full. Excellent food and top-notch service.

Not surprisingly soon after sailing we were told that we would skip Kangaroo Island because of the bushfires, with an extra day at sea being substituted. All us passengers felt for the people of eastern Kangaroo Island who weren’t in the immediate fire zone but lost out on thousands of money-spending cruise visitors – we were one of several cruise ships whose planned visits were cancelled.

But the extra sea day was fine by me: there’s never enough time to do everything on the daily entertainments programme. On this cruise one of the guest lecturers was Dr Richard Harris, a key member of the Thailand cave rescue diver team. Unfortunately due to a programme clash I had to miss his main talk, but his Q&A session gave us all an insight into the massive responsibility he and his colleagues had shouldered, knowing that it could all have ended in tragedy. His recognition as joint Australian of the Year last weekend was all too well deserved.

Afternoon tea in the Queens Room

Afternoon tea in the Queens Room

For the first time, I joined the solo traveller group – ‘solo’ not be confused with ‘single’, since some solos may well have left partners at home. On sea days social host Cordelia did a brilliant job organising coffee mornings, a couple of lunches and reserved tables at afternoon tea. Like my dinner table, good company, much enjoyed.

Finally the other first-time experience was to go on the behind the scenes tour, not cheap but a great experience. I’d love to post some pics but it was strictly no cameras, no phones. The tour included going backstage in the theatre, meeting a couple of the ‘Top Hat’ cast, the medical centre, winch room, massive food stores, print shop, galley and, the high spot, meeting the captain on the bridge.

All in all, a brilliant cruise. Coming soon, my day in Port Adelaide.

2019 – Good memories

Another year ends and the 20s are about to begin. I can look back on 2019 with almost unalloyed satisfaction. High spots of the year:

  • A two-night mini break by rail to Warrnambool.
  • Seeing our church continue to grow, with the opening of a new service in Docklands.
  • Being headhunted to help with our church ‘mums and bubs’ midweek meeting creche. For some reason this old single guy seems to be quite good at looking after little people!
  • A four-night cruise, Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane, on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, made even more special by being upgraded to a suite. No upgrade for my 2020 cruise though!
  • Visiting Brisbane for the first time.
  • Through the year working as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, building homes in Yea.
  • Visiting friends and family in the UK – when I emigrated I promised to go back and visit them each year, a promise I had to break in 2018 following surgery, and taking a first-time stopover in Singapore on the way home, something I will do again
  • Through the year working as a volunteer guide at the Newport Railway Museum, also joining the works team.
  • Taking a winter holiday in Port Hedland – seeing big boys toys close up.
  • I only got to see one musical but it was a superb one, ‘Come from away’, the remarkable true story of thousands passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them in the aftermath of 9/11
  • And continuing to run my software business, which celebrated its 30th birthday in April and once again reached my annual sales target (just).

So why has my church grown so much?

‘My’ church (OK, it’s God’s church), City on a Hill, started with in 2007 as Docklands Church, meeting at the James Squire Brewhouse in Melbourne Docklands. When I moved to Melbourne we’d been meeting for a year and numbered around a hundred people. Not too long after we started an evening service to take the pressure off the morning service (both, now all, our services are virtually identical, so you go to whichever suits you best).

By 2010 we could not accommodate everyone who wanted to come and with no suitable affordable space available in Docklands the decision was made to relocate to Hoyts cinema, Melbourne Central, at which point we changed our name to City on a Hill. Taking 130 people to a 400-seat cinema seemed (in ‘Yes Minister’ speak) a brave decision but before too long we were at capacity so moved to holding two morning services. In 2014 we started a Melbourne West congregation, and in 2017 a Melbourne East congregation. In September 2019 the continuing pressure on numbers led to us starting a Docklands service at the new Hoyts complex.

What a difference to my experience in the UK where the Congregational/United Reformed church of which I was part has been in decline for a hundred years. Why? What’s the secret

Inspired leadership must be the big one: more than a few church (and business) leaders have excelled in the one-person startup stage but have then come unstuck when it comes to building a team. We are blessed with a wonderful leadership team that has grown with the church.

Great teaching: Week after week our pastors serve up great messages that take a Bible passage and show us its application to our lives. In a digital age will people listen to 40-minute sermons?. Yes, they’re a key reason why people (nearly all in their 20s and 30s) come. Check out COAH podcasts

Consistency: I came from a church that for 30+ years had a half-time (shared) minister, with church members or visiting preachers conducting the other services, each bringing their own gifts to the pulpit. In addition we had a good number of special services. As a regular attender I really appreciated the variety. At COAH virtually every service follows much the same pattern: worship (possibly including a short interview), Bible reading, sermon, closing worship. But the big plus of this is that if you invite a friend, you know what will be served up. And people bring friends who very often stay.

Culture: The downside of this is a largely monocultural church, nearly all (not me!) being young professionals. You’d struggle to find a retired person in our number! One of our leaders once admitted: “There’s no way I’d bring my parents here: they’d hate it!”. ‘it’ probably referring to the music type and volume. This challenges me: I spent decades believing in a ‘something for everyone’ church, but perhaps having a number of complementary churches with their own distinct way of being church is better?

Governance: My previous UK church held to its Congregational roots, in that the ultimate decision making body was the church members meeting and I found it challenging to move to a church with top-down decision making – it being announced on a Sunday that ….. Both have their advantages and disadvantages – consensus and wider ownership of decisions v. being able to make quick decisions and not being held back by the inertia of some.

Buildings: Having studied building at university it was all but inevitable that I would 30+ years as a member of our church building committee, working to keep our mid-Victorian buildings in order. Now we meet in cinema and instead of endlessly grappling with heating, cleaning, leaking gutters etc etc, we just pay rent. So liberating, though it must be admitted that the setup and teardown each Sunday involves a lot of volunteer effort.

But with all this said, the key thing is that it’s God who gives (or withholds) the growth:

  • Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain (Psalm 127, 1)
  • I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Cor. 3, 6-7)

Or as Arthur Campbell Ainger put it in a hymn I love well:

  • All that we do is nothing worth, unless God blesses the deed;
    vainly we hope for the harvest-tide, till God gives life to the seed;

Thankfully, in our case he has. May this continue.

My church is 12!

Last Sunday my church – City on a Hill – celebrated its twelfth birthday. In person I’ve been part of the church for eleven of these twelve years but was in the loop from the beginning.

Our name, City on a Hill, comes from Matthew’s Gospel , chapter 5 verse 14: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” [ESV]. We started off as Docklands Church: St James Old Cathedral and St Jude’s Church had the vision of planting a church in Docklands, which then had a population of around 5,000 – it’s probably now three times that. Guy Mason was chosen to head up this project; we first met when I was visiting Melbourne in Easter 2007 and he’d just been appointed. Over coffee he outlined his vision, which was then light on detail but over the next six months a plan came together and on 28th October 2007 regular Sunday services began at the James Squire Brewhouse, kindly placed at our disposal by the then owners.

A year later I moved to Docklands. There was no doubt as to which church I would join. On my first Sunday I met lots of new people – the church had grown to around 100 – many names recognised from the emails I’d read over the months. Before long I’d been enlisted for setup – rearranging all the furniture for our service, then the mad scramble afterwards to make the pub ready for the lunch trade.

So why are we now City on a Hill? Word of this new church spread and our numbers increased to such a degree that we could not accommodate everyone. There was no suitable venue in Docklands so we had to move out, thus the need for a new name. On 9th May 2010 we held our first service at Hoyts Cinema, Melbourne Central. Taking over a 400-seat cinema when we had around 130 people looked (in ‘Yes Minister’ parlance) a courageous step but before too long we had to move to having two morning services, at 0900 and 1030 as well as our 1800 evening service.

And that was only the beginning: in addition to Melbourne Central we now have Melbourne West, Melbourne East, Geelong and Brisbane congregations, with Surf Coast and Gold Coast coming soon. And, coming full circle, we started a 1030 Docklands service at the new Hoyts Cinema this September. In total, several thousand people. Our stated vision is fifty churches in ten cities. Wait and see.

In my next piece I’ll venture a few thoughts as to why we’ve grown as we have.

Port Hedland winter holiday

With my annual visit to family in the UK trip being earlier this year, a space was left for a short winter break. Seeking somewhere warm, I decided on Port Hedland. Half my Australian friends looked blank when I told them of my plans: “where?”; a few in the know responded with “why would you want to go there? The only things to see are ships and trains”. Quite so, and that’s why I went there! In August the temperature gets up to about 30C, falling to the mid-teens overnight. The record summer high is 49C!

Winning Universe ore carrier

Winning Universe ore carrier

Port Hedland is up on the north coast of Western Australia, almost as far from Melbourne as you can go on the Australian mainland – about 2,000mi/3,200km as the crow flies. To get there took me a four-hour flight to Perth, then a further two-hour flight to Port Hedland. Port Hedland is the port from which most of Australia’s iron ore is exported, currently around 1.5m tonnes a day.

On day one (Sunday) I was made very welcome at St Matthew’s Church, then spent the rest of the day getting my bearings. I stayed at the Hospitality Inn motel, just across the road from the beach where I enjoyed peaceful early morning and evening strolls.

Mariners waiting for the launch

Waiting for the Mission’s launch

Day two was taken up with the first two of four tours. If you’re visiting Port Hedland do take these tours or you’ll miss out on a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise see.

In morning I joined the Mission to Seafarers harbour tour. After a talk on the port and the work of the mission we all went aboard the Mission’s launch for its trip round the harbour collecting seafarers who had been given shore leave – in most cases their berths don’t allow landside access. Back at the Seafarers Centre they have access to food, recreational activities, a shuttle bus to the local shops and, most prized of all, free wi-fi.

Port Hedland salt stacks

Port Hedland salt stacks

After lunch I was back on another minibus for the Eco Salt tour – the giant salt stacks on the outskirts of Port Hedland are the final stage of the salt production process. It starts with seawater being drawn into the first of eight concentration ponds, 7800ha in total. As the water evaporates under the hot sun, the remaining water is moved from pond to pond as it gets saltier and saltier.

For day three, realising that I wasn’t going to see much without a car, I went back to the airport to hire one. In contrast to some of the ‘phantom damage’ car hire ripoffs seen in UK, Avis’s policy shows a refreshing appreciation of driving in the Pilbara:
Please note our Fair Wear and Tear Guidelines are below. If there is damage to the vehicle that falls within these guidelines, we do not consider this chargeable damage.
– Stone Chips 25mm diameter without denting
– Scratches less than 25mm that have not penetrated the paint
– Dents less than 25mm in diameter and 2mm deep without paint cracking or flaking
– Wheel scuffs without cracking or gouging
– Minor scruffs that can be polished out
– Scuff/scrape marks under lower bumper

Day four, Wednesday, was largely filled with my last two tours. The first, run by the Seafarers Centre took us into Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) facility. Kudos to FMG for allowing the Centre to operate this tour as a way of raising funds. It was a enthralling experience to drive past the massive trains, loaders, conveyors and then along the quayside next to a ship about to be loaded.

Sunset

Sunset from Finucane Island

After lunch, taken in a 1930s US stainless steel dining railway carriage, my last tour: the Twilight Industry tour. This tour looked in on all the mining company sites from public roads finishing up with a drink watching the sun go down – which it does very quickly in the tropics. This and the Eco Salt tour only started this year, so I chose the right time to visit.

My trip to Port Hedland was all but over. I wish I’d stayed a little longer, but I went not knowing what to expect. Perhaps at some point I’ll go back, but there’s a lot of Australia I’ve yet to visit once.

Singapore Stopover Part 2

Singapore Maritime Gallery

Singapore Maritime Gallery

After a good sleep and late start I headed off on the Red Line to Marina South Pier so as to visit the Maritime Gallery, a small museum telling Singapore’s maritime story from the 13th century to today. There was lots to hold my attention so I ended up spending the rest of the morning there.

Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer

Then back one stop for a second, daytime, trip to Marina Bay for lunch, much less interesting than day one’s hawker stalls. I didn’t have enough time to visit the adjacent Science Museum and Gardens by the Bay – next year perhaps.
Instead I took a leisurely stroll (too hot to rush!) to the Singapore Flyer, and a chance to see Singapore from above – it was the world’s highest ferris wheel when opened (2008: 165m/541ft). Needless to say I enjoyed this very much.
It’s interesting to note how ferris wheels fell out of favour – the Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna, was the world’s tallest from 1920-1985 – only to be rediscovered in recent years: I can see the (poorly situated) Melbourne Star from my window.

Pasir Ris Park

Pasir Ris Park

Back at the hotel I took a needed shower and change and headed east to Pasir Ris to meet up with Kate and see where she lives. Pre-visit my expectation was that Singapore would be wall to wall high-rises, but not here. The norm seemed to be blocks of around twelve storeys set in secure compounds containing various resort-style amenties  – pools, picnic areas, tennis courts etc – as compensation for a very small (by my standards) apartment. And, again not what I expected, a large park nearby.

Dinner over, we went our separate ways. The next morning I was back on a plane, looking forward (not) to the Melbourne winter. It was my first stopover, but won’t be my last. I enjoyed the change of scene and had none of the usual jetlag on my return home.

Singapore Stopover Part 1

Back when I lived in London I visited Melbourne 13 times; since moving to Melbourne I have made the return trip a similar number of times. With a few exceptions I have always flown via Singapore – there’s no better airport than Changi for a transit stop. Until this year, though, I’d never set foot outside the airport.

Why change now? In late 2017 a good friend, Kate, got a posting to Singapore and I promised to visit her on my next trip. A further incentive was that I always suffer more from jet lag when returning home, so the hope was that the break of journey would reduce this (it did!).

So for once my case left LHR with a tag saying SIN instead of the usual SIN|MEL. 13 hours later I’m queueing up at Changi’s immigration counter – slow and not what I expected. And then on to the train. Those of us who live in Melbourne, where an airport rail link is just a dream, are regularly reminded that every city of note except us has a fast airport-city rail link. Singapore does have a rail link: to get to my city centre pad (Hotel Jen, Orchard Road) meant two stops on the green line to Tanah Merah, then nine to City Hall, and two more on the red line to Somerset, about half an hour. Far from fast. Next time I’ll try and find a hotel on the green line.

Lau Pa Sat hawker centre

Lau Pa Sat hawker centre

But once checked in I was keen to explore. The time shift meant I was wide awake although it was now dark. I’d been told to go to local hawker stalls, not restaurants. Good advice – I ate well for a few dollars. Back at the hotel I enjoyed a late-night swim in the rooftop pool.

Off to bed, and I didn’t wake until about 9.00. I deliberately didn’t set an alarm so as to take some sleep. It was raining hard so I took myself off to the famous Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre. More good food. Not so a coffee, costing more than a decent meal.

National Museum of Singapore (1887)

National Museum of Singapore

As it was still tipping down, off to the Singapore Museum, housed in a fine building opened by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1887 where I spent several educational and enjoyable hours. I’d always wondered why Malaysia had allowed Singapore its independence, given its prosperity. I was surprised to learn that at the time of independence it was viewed as something of a basket case and best got rid of. Now, of course, it’s anything but, home to arguably the world’s best airline and a massive trading and financial centre.

Then back to the hotel for a shower and change, ready to meet up with Kate for an enjoyable reunion over dinner. My first 24 hours in Singapore were over.

Brooklands London bus rally 23rd June 2019

Ian Allan London Buses

I had one of these!

Back in my mid-teenage days I was an avid collector of London bus numbers. I don’t how I got started but it might be that I was given a copy of the Ian Allan London Transport buses and coaches book which listed every PSV in the LT fleet.

I got started while nearly all LT buses belonged to the RT family (RT/RTL/RTW), RM family (RM/RML/RMC/RCL) or were RF single deckers, though my bus number collecting coincided with the introduction of a number of new one man operated types – principally the central London Red Arrows and Swifts. On a good few occasions in school holidays I bought a Rover ticket and took myself off to new places to collect numbers of buses which would probably never visit SW London.

Bus rally long view

Just some of the buses on display

I was able to relive some of my past enthusiasm when, happily, my 2019 visit to my family in UK coincided with the annual Brooklands London Bus Rally – since 2011 Brooklands has been home to the London Bus Museum. If you’re ever in this part of the world (NE Surrey)  a visit to Brooklands is highly recommended whether there’s a special event on or not.

Many of the museum’s own vehicles were out on display, some running, and, bringing the story up to date, several operators sent along current models including a ‘Boris Bus’ and several hybrids including this very impressive 100-seat (+30 standing) Enviro400XLB hybrid tri-axle bus currently being trialled (too many post-1960s buses haven’t been properly evaluated in London conditions).

London buses RTW185 and RT113

RTW185 (1949) and RT113 (1939), both privately owned

But a special mention belongs to the many privately owned buses whose preservation depends on the huge amount of work and money expended on them by their owners. Thank you.

These two fine examples are just the sorts of bus I was chasing after 50 years ago!