Archive for the Category »Novocastrian Thinks «


OK – in case it isn’t already glaringly obvious, I’m no photographer. So I am trying to distract from how terrible my photography is by prattling on.

Yesterday’s Photo a Day challenge was “Skyline”. I was out and about with my Dad yesterday, and didn’t really get a lot of opportunities to take photos of a skyline. Well, that’s not entirely true. There were probably several decent moments when I could have snapped a shot while we were driving, but when I’m a passenger in my Dad’s car I am generally trying to ensure he knows where we are going and we are not running into a bus to really pay much attention to the horizon.
So I snapped this pic when we were back on terra firma in a Westfield food court.

It’s kind of suburbia at its worst I suppose – overlooking a Maccas carpark with a stretch of “homemaker centre” behind. But you know what? I don’t actually mind it here, as much as I joke about ‘brick veneer land’ with my friends. I live in the western suburbs of Newcastle – which is getting a lot of attention lately for being a pretty cool place. Hell yeah! Newy is a great town, both to visit and live. Of course, the part where I live is not shown in the Lonely Planet guide – we have no hip cafes or funky boutiques. No nightlife other than the local tavern. No picturesque vistas over beaches and rivers. But there’s a lot of heart out here in the “bogan outskirts” (to quote an infamous bus), which belies the portrait painted of suburbia in the media. There’s community spirit, excellent public amenities and friendly neighbours. Not everybody is a kindred spirit, but people are more open-minded than you might think. No better or worse than anywhere else, I reckon.

Plus we have parrots and possums and eels and dragons in our backyard. Dragons!

Oh – and since I am posting a day late, here is Day 3: something you wore today. $3 Big W Thongs. Oh yeah, I’m classy.

Nathan Tinkler – Sponsor Me!

For readers outside the Newcastle area, and non-followers of Rugby League in general, this post may not make a lot of sense. So a quick recap of recent events: Nathan Tinkler (local bloke made good super-awesome in the mining business) bought local football (aka soccer) team, the Newcastle Jets last year. They had been struggling with finances, having trouble drawing crowds and well, just not winning. Thanks to his investment, not only did the players get paid (seems like a major oversight on the previous administration’s behalf), the club also brought the supporters back with some great ticketing schemes and then in a masterstroke that was reported all over the country, invited superstar David Beckham and his LA Galaxy to play an exhibition match to a packed crowd.

Now Mr Tinkler has won his bid to takeover Newcastle’s number one rugby league team, the Newcastle Knights. And the first sign that he means business – übercoach Wayne Bennett is heading here next year.

This is all very well and good if you are a fanatical sports fan. I did take advantage of the cheap tickets to get along to some Jets games over summer. But on the whole, while it’s nice to get some positive news out of Newy, I’m a bit meh on the league, so Tinkler’s not really doing much for me right now.

So here’s my plan: Nathan Tinkler – how would you like to sponsor a Newcastle family? Both my husband and son were born and bred here. My daughter headed up the F3 when she was just 5 days old and never went back. In fact, she was born in Kogarah, in St George Hospital so that’s one more Dragons supporter stolen from the heartland. I started out life on the South Coast myself, but have lived here pretty much full-time since I was 9, and also bear the Novocastrian mantle with pride.

As for return for your investment – well, we would be happy to wear Tinkler sponsorship logos on all our clothes. Paint your name on our roof. Do you have a family crest? If you don’t, I’ll get my 10 year old son to design one for you (you OK with ninjas and jedi?) and we’ll fly it from a flagpole in our front yard. I’ll even plant hedges and fashion them into topiary likenesses of your good self, if you so choose.You may need to provide a landscape gardener to assist, as I have a brown thumb.

My husband can fix your computer. This is a skill obviously highly in demand, considering the amount of calls he gets from family and friends. You could have a 24-hour hotline, directly to his yacht (oh, we would need a yacht, that OK?) for those moments when your printer wont work, you need a DVD player installed or your TV reception is fuzzy. Apparently working in IT makes him the electronics-whisperer. We gripe about it when family does it, but for you, Nathan, it’s all good.

My daughter (she’s 12) would like to be a zookeeper. Forget Australia Zoo – with the right training and funding she could set up Tinkler Zoo right here in Tinklertown, I mean Newcastle. Imagine it – your face emblazoned on all merchandise plus your name huge in wildlife conservation circles would kind of make up for all the mining. And you’d get to be responsible for seeing a kid live out her dream. Not all of us want to be footballers, you know, Nathan.

The boy actually aspires to be a game developer. Now there’s an opportunity for you. Resident Tinkler! Little Big Tinkler! Super Tinkler Kart! It’s a competitive field to get into, but he’s smart and keen. All he needs is the right qualifications (MIT would probably do), and maybe a small startup company to get things rolling. All the latest consoles between now and University would probably suffice to keep him interested in the interim. You can throw in an iPad2 for me, if you like.

We’ll shave your name into our dog. We’ll emblazon your name on the Captiva  – or perhaps you’d rather see it on a Mercedes or Jag, it’s your call. We’ll change our cat’s name from TomSelleck to NathanTinkler – oh yeah, cos you’re more awesome than Magnum himself.

Think about it, Nathan. The possibilities are endless.



So What IS Happening to Our Girls?

girls socksLast Friday night I attended a talk by Maggie Hamilton, author of What’s Happening to Our Girls, subtitled “Too Much Too Soon, how our kids are overstimulated, oversold and oversexed”. Basically the book covers the range of influences on our children, and the issues they are facing – particularly girls – from early marketing to infants through to low self esteem, “sexy” images and sexualisation, materialism, body image, pornography and the evils of cyberspace.

Today I talked to Carol Duncan on our local ABC 1233 in Newcastle about the book, the talk and how I personally feel about the issues our girls are facing –  accompanied by the wonderful Jayne Kearney (editor of Sunny Days magazine) and my mate Susan from Reading Upside Down. We all attended the talk and all have daughters not yet in their teens.

Both the book and the talk painted a pretty grim portrait about the world our girls are growing up in – complete with images from pro-anorexia sites, children modelling adult clothes, high heels for babies etc. It was shocking stuff. Lots of audience members gasped at times. And while I make jokes about women clutching their pearls, the images and information presented was disturbing. Rightfully so.

But are all our girls in trouble? I look around at my 11 year old daughter’s peers and I see kids not that dissimilar from myself at that age. They know all the words to the latest pop songs playing on the radio, they want to wear the latest fashions, they are smitten with cute boys in the playground but still would rather giggle with their girlfriends. Sure the scary wide world of web is out there now, but I like to think I’m pretty savvy when it comes to stuff that is online. I keep myself informed (and I am hugely curious) so I’ve seen or at least heard of most of the explicit and/or risky things that Maggie Hamilton mentioned in “What’s Happening to Our Girls?”

So here’s the thing – I don’t believe that the next six years or so are all doom and gloom for my daughter. I think I am doing a good job of showing her a taste of what real life is all about while still letting her be a child. I hope she will continue to come to me with her problems, and also continue to surround herself with other good people that she can turn to when Mum isn’t enough – because I wont always be enough.

I am also not blinkered enough to think that every girl is like my daughter. There will be girls who slip through the cracks, girls with low self-esteem who fall prey to some of the worst life experiences that are out there. Girls who have not been given the opportunity to be children, who see far too much of real life from far too young an age. So after Maggie’s talk and after my discussions with Carol, Susan and Jayne today I have been wondering what I can do to help them.

Barnados is one foundation that comes to mind.  So is Stewart House. Both can always use the support of the community at large to help them continue helping our children in need. I am going to do something positive to help and am calling on all my readers to look for ways to do the same.  Even just a small contribution has to make more of a difference than just pearl clutching and being afraid.

Tell me what you think – what are the biggest issues facing girls today, and can you think of any other positive ways that we can help?

Take a Walk on the Wild Side!

Both Meredith and I have recently had our kids (and ourselves) entertained at local shopping centres by Croc Stars, a mobile reptile display business based on the Central Coast.

Croc Stars at Newcastle MallAfter seeing Derek and Karen Ingham and their pets at the Newcastle Mall a few months ago, I booked them to come and entertain the kids at my son’s tenth birthday party. I figured I could use the threat of feeding any troublemakers to the crocodile as a crowd control technique.

Derek managed to keep 15 kids, mostly 10 year old boys, still and quiet for an hour while he showed them a variety of reptiles and explained about each animal, how to care for it as a pet and what to do if you find one in the wild. The kids also got to touch each animal.

I love that the show wasn’t just a lights and whistles presentation of exotic animals. Most of the reptiles they were shown, with the obvious exception of the crocodile, were ones that the kids could quite possibly find in their own yards. Derek’s presentation took away any fear factor but also reminded the kids to treat these amazing and potentially dangerous animals with respect.

We have some incredible native animals in Australia including some really fascinating reptiles and I love that the Croc Stars display offers the kids a chance to learn about how to protect and care for these animals as well as giving them a chance to touch them and ask questions.

Croc Stars is an authorised performance within the Performances for Schools Programme managed through the NSW Croc Stars at Newcastle MallDepartment of Education and Training. Derek and Karen have extensive experience with these animals and they are both extremely friendly and entertaining with a wealth of fascinating facts and stories about their own experiences with reptiles to share.

The kids loved the Croc Stars display at the party and it would also be ideal for a youth group or school fair. The website below contains contact and booking information as well as free downloadable reptile fact sheets that are ideal for school assignments and links to reptile related websites.

Croc Stars Mobile Reptile Display
Derek & Karen Ingham
Address: PO Box 243, The Entrance, NSW  2261
P: 02 4388 3055
E: [email protected]

Underground, Overground, Climbling Free

Susan and I discovered a fun new activity while strolling through the large fig trees in Civic Park, Newcastle last week – CLIMBLING!  climbing1
OK – that’s obviously a typo, but it was on every sign, and we love it. Like ambling and climbing combined – casual climbing! Say it out loud – climbling – doesn’t it just roll off the tongue.

For Whom the Bell TollsWhat the climblers do (sorry, I can’t help myself) is like an obstacle course on high. They have to scamper about the branches of enormous trees accomplishing all sorts of tasks, like using pole pruners and handsaws or ringing a precariously placed bell.

climbing2Now before you scoff at grown men and women scarpering about like monkeys, the International Society of Arboriculture says that these competitions are all about promoting safe working practices, demonstrating improvements through equipment and techniques and providing industry recognition to the public. Susan compared it to sheepdog trials being all about honing the skills of the dogs. Not sure if the arborists would like being compared to Lassie, but it kind of fits.

So all you parents who can’t keep your kids out of the branches, take heart. There is both a career path and an international sport awaiting them. CLIMBLING!

A Day at Edgeworth Trains

When you start looking into it, there are a surprising number of activities, venues and events related to trains and railways. How do I know this? Having a train-obsessed son might have something to do with it.

When train-boy’s birthday fell on the last Sunday of the month, which just happens to be the day that the Lake Macquarie Live Steam Locomotive Society run their model trains at Edgeworth, it was like a sign from above. We organised a party at the park where the trains run, invited a few families to join us and set out for an afternoon of train fun and frivolity.Model Train Engine

With 3, 5 and 7.25 inch gauge tracks, children and adults can ride on a variety of trains pulled by both model steam and diesel engines.

An afternoon at Edgeworth trains is a great way for families to spend some time together. We had 15 adults and 21 children aged from 10 days to 13 years with our group. Admittedly Lola, the baby, didn’t show much enthusiasm, but everyone else seemed to only return to the picnic blanket to grab a drink and something to eat before heading back for another ride. I actually had to bribe train-boy to come back to blow out the candles on his cake.

The kids are just fascinated by the trains and I always find it amazing that they wait so patiently in line, sometimes for 15 minutes or more, to get have their turn only to rush to the end of the line again once they get off.  Each ride lasts for around 7 minutes. You must be wearing enclosed shoes to ride on the trains. There are no exceptions to this rule, so if you want to avoid tears of frustration (and that’s just from the adults) then make sure that everyone is wearing suitable footwear.

It is absolutely amazing in this day and age, but the very generous members of the LMLSLS run their trains for free for the general public on the last Sunday afternoon of each month. Donation tins at the site allow people to contribute towards the maintenance of the grounds and costs associatRiding the Trained with running the trains for the public, but the majority of expenses are covered by the LMLSLS members themselves.

The model trains are Edgeworth are one of Newcastle’s hidden treasures – a wonderful and inexpensive way for the family to relax and have fun together. Mark their run days on your calendar and remember to take along a picnic lunch and a donation to help support this wonderful service to the community.

As for me, I’m just counting the days until train-boy realises that he could build one of the engines himself and join the LMLSLS. I’m sure he would look quite dashing in the black T-shirt with the LMLSLS logo. I wonder how old you need to be before they let you drive a train…

Location: off Velinda St, Edgeworth with limited off-street parking.

Run Times: Last Sunday of the month (except December). Trains run between 1 – 4 pm, with a brief break for the drivers at 2.30pm.

Parking: A reasonable amount of off-street parking is available, however this fills up fast so it is best to arrive well before lunch to ensure a parking space in the car park.

BBQs – wood burning barbecues only. Wood is provided.

Contact details:
Lake Macquarie Live Steam Locomotive Society website
Postal Address: P O Box 4040, Edgeworth NSW 2285
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 02 4958 7171

Easter Saturday Breakfast at Murray’s Beach

Murray's Beach jetty, Lake MacquarieDespite my natural tendency to avoid all activities that involve spending time outdoors, I was somehow convinced by my sister-in-law that having breakfast at Murray’s Beach on Easter Saturday was a wonderful idea.

So instead of a a Saturday morning sleep-in, we found ourselves arriving at Murray’s Beach on the eastern side of Lake Macquarie at 8.30am, ready for a healthy and nutritious breakfast of bacon, eggs and sausages cooked on the barbecue. (If I have to travel to breakfast, it certainly isn’t going to happen for a bowl of All-Bran and a cup of green tea.)

I’ve never been to Murray’s Beach before and it was a lovely spot for a relaxing morning with the family. We had Murray's Beach Barbecue areaplenty of space to spread out on an undercover picnic table. The adults prepared breakfast and chatted over coffee while the kids happily rode their bikes on the bike paths and played in the small playground area.

With new homes gradually being completed near the waterfront, no doubt it will soon become busier. There is currently a small kiosk near the jetty with toilet facilities in addition to a larger cafe/restaurant only a few minutes walk from the waters’ edge. By the time we were leaving, parking had spilled from the car park area into the nearby street.

Murray's Beach PlaygroundAfter breakfast, we were kindly offered the use of a canoe to take the kids out onto the Lake for a few minutes then we grabbed some fishing gear and spent an hour or so feeding the fish off the jetty. The kids did manage to catch a few fish, but returned them all to the Lake once they had been sufficiently praised and admired.

There aren’t really any large areas of open space near the waterfront that I noticed, so the area really isn’t suited to large gatherings where someone might want to start up a friendly game of touch football or cricket. There is, however, plenty of room for picnic blankets in addition to several covered barbecue areas and separate seated picnic tables.

Murray’s Beach is on the Wallarah Peninsula between Swansea and Cams Wharf. Rather than follow my directions, which would most likely lead you anywhere but Murray’s Beach, check out this Google Map to find out how to get there.

Pants Optional?

Sad thing is Donald Duck still wouldn't be allowed in, because he doesn't wear shoes.

Found this at Erina Fair Shopping Centre. I took the photo for the dress code, but have since noticed that they also don’t allow “offensive languages”. I wonder which languages they consider offensive. I’ve always found Dutch a little hard on the ears.

Early Childhood Music Classes at Newcastle Conservatorium

Ever been 9 months pregnant and asked to jump about like the Easter Bunny? Surely I’m not the only person. Okay, I confess that the music teacher allowed me to just do the bunny ear movements while everyone else had to jump, but for a moment there I thought he was going to make me join in. Such are the joys of music class.

Now that my youngest has moved into the 5 year old class of the preschool Early Childhood Music Program, I no longer face the scary prospect of having to walk like a lizard, fly like a pink fairy or skip and jump in hula hoop puddles. I kind of miss being part of the class, but only because watching a group of 4 year old boys try to skip is about the funniest thing you’ll ever see.

For the past 8 years at least one, and for a few years all three, of my children have attended the Early Childhood Music Program at the Newcastle Conservatorium. They started at the age of 2 and progressed through to the school-aged program. I can’t speak highly enough of the quality of the teachers and the amazing program that they put together. music

This isn’t about teaching children to play an instrument, but rather about introducing them to the wonders of music – tempo, rhythm, pitch, volume and a wonderful range of instruments. The children get to play a variety of percussion instruments at different times during classes and each term a different family of orchestral instruments is demonstrated – strings, brass, woodwind and percussion.

Thanks to my many years of music class experience I now know what an ocarina is, can sing a variety of songs about fishing, falling out of boats, catching trains and being a pony and can wave a scarf in the air like nobody’s business. My kids seem to have enjoyed themselves too.

My oldest is now learning the saxophone and has progressed quickly in his lessons thanks to the grounding he received in his music classes. My daughter wants to start learning the piano and my youngest, never one to be outdone by anyone, thinks that the bassoon is where his talents lie. Fortunately he needs to be 12 before tackling this instrument, which gives us 8 years to save up to buy one – it might just be long enough.

If you want to help your children develop an appreciation for music and allow them to experience music in a variety of forms facilitated by gifted and dedicated teachers, I strongly recommend getting more information about the ECM classes at The Con.

Contact details:
The University of Newcastle School of Drama, Fine Art and Music (incorporating the Conservatorium)
Cnr Auckland & Gibson Sts, Newcastle

Ph: 02 4921 8900 (office hours: 9am – 5pm, Mon – Fri)

Are the kids climbing the walls?

A couple of weeks ago my daughter was invited to a birthday party at Fair Play Cafe , a new play centre at Gateshead. It was a wet, miserable weekend, so she was keen to be going somewhere that she could use up some energy. I think tiring the girls out may have actually been part of the plan of the mum of the birthday girl, as she was taking the four girls back to her place for a sleepover once the party was over.

s101fpc1The play centre only opened in December 2008 and I hadn’t had a chance to visit yet, so I was curious to see what it was like. The business is the idea of two local mothers, Yvonne and Kerry, who wanted to create a place where families would feel welcome and everyone would be able to find something to keep them entertained.

For the little ones under three there is an enclosed play area with a small slide, some climbing blocks and a few other toys. There is a three-storey play structure in bright pink, purple, aqua and yellow with slides, a ball pit and various tunnels. Children aged five and over can try out the 6m climbing wall with self-belaying harnesses. There is also a play station room.

For the parents (this is the good bit) there are two chefs on staff who prepare a selection of cafe-style meals, cakes and treats as well as coffee, tea, hot chocolate and a variety of cold drinks. There are hot chips and other standard “kids meal” options available, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to waste time on those when there were so many other yummy things on the menu. For those with a sweet-tooth, there were amazing cupcakes with bright coloured frosting piled high topped with pieces of jersey caramel and other lollies.

We’re now keen to plan an Extreme Climbing party for a 10th birthday party later in the year.
Play Fair Cafe – 3/5-7 Pacific Hwy, Gateshead (near Charlie the Chook)
Ph: 4943 7754
PS – It’s air-conditioned, there is no charge for adults and kids need to be wearing socks to go on the play equipment.