NZ MTB trip 2014

Given my last post on mountain biking on this blog was about a mishap, I figured it’s well past time to post a more positive (and constructive) post about why I’m hooked!

Just over a week ago I flew back into Australia after a two-week mountain biking holiday in the north island of New Zealand. (I joked^ with Ang that I returned from the land of the great white cloud to the land of the great white Australia policy, but I digress…)

I was originally booked on the NZ Epic tour with Wild Horizons, but unfortunately they were unable to secure sufficient numbers to run the tour. Given my experience over there, this is a total shame—I really hope next year’s tour runs!! (But again I digress…)

For a bit of a taste of what was on offer, check out this vid from Australian Mountain Bike magazine:

Tempted by this, and with flights and annual leave already booked I decided to press ahead and see what I could arrange travelling solo. I used the Wild Horizons tour itinerary as a starting point and started to make enquiries as to what might be possible.

Over the next few posts I’ll share what I learnt in each space with a few pics (on occasion). I really wanted to blog as I went, but I deliberately left my laptop in AU, and wasn’t all that enamoured with using the iPad and/or iPhone I took to do anything too heavy in terms of blogging. But I did keep notes as I went, some of which I hope to share in each instalment.

^ I use the word “joked” for effect here, but the matter is obviously quite serious and no laughing matter. “Deplorable” is a word that comes to mind…

Bass inspiration (in unexpected places)

I was listening to some LPs the other night, and was reminded of some inspiring bass players that had a big influence on me as I was learning to play, especially through my teenage years. Some of them are quite well known amongst my musician friends (not just other bass players)—people like Flea, Jaco Pastorius, John Pattitucci—these are the players likely to end up on the cover of Bass Player magazine. But it struck me that some of these players are probably far less well known. So I thought I’d like to put forward a few of their names here, paying my respects to their influence and inspiration.

Guy Pratt

I first became aware of Guy’s playing on Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder tour. My friend Ashley and I used to watch this ad-nauseum when we came home from school (on good old fashioned VHS video). I was completely blown away by Guy’s playing—grooves, fills, attitude (see Guy’s dual vocal on Run Like Hell, for example)—loved it all. I recently re-listened to this album (on iTunes) and noticed just how well Guy holds the grooves together even in spots where the drums aren’t quite as great as I remembered them being! Really made that rhythm section work I think. The groove on Money was a great take on this 7/4 gem, really updating it to the time. And I can still (almost) sing along to Guy’s solo—the melodic sensibility to it was so strong, and made such an impression, that I can still remember the key phrasing years later.

As I dug deeper into Guy’s background I discovered he was also responsible for the bottom end on early albums from another of my favourite bands growing up—Icehouse. And also for a number of tracks on Madonna’s Like a Prayer. Listen to the title track from the second chorus—despite the synth-like effect on the bass sound there are some tell-tale Guy Pratt licks and fills in there suggesting that it’s his handiwork. Some great groove work as the mood shifts to a more gospel-inspired lines. (And proves you can find bass inspiration in some unlikely places!)

Curt Smith

Curt is one half of Tears for Fears, as well as a solo artist nowadays. While I got into Tears for Fears’ hit tracks when I was very young (I remember listening to my brother’s copy of Songs from the Big Chair in a hotel room in Hong Kong when he bought our family’s first CD player on holiday when I was about 10 years old), it was the bass playing on The Seeds of Love that really blew me away. I note that Pino Palladino is co-credited with bass playing duties on this album—but I have a live DVD where Curt plays pretty much every cut on the album with great confidence and skill. The phat grooves on tracks like Woman in Chains and Badman’s Song, or the sublime fills in Standing on the Corner of the Third World—gives me goosebumps thinking about them!

Nick Seymour

If you’re anything like me, you may not overtly notice Nick Seymour’s understated playing in Crowded House’s catalogue. But the minute you scratch beneath the surface it becomes apparent how integral his parts and playing are to the success of that band. The melodicism of Nick’s playing is just wonderful—there’s rarely a “straight” groove in amongst those songs, even when it would be easy to fall into one. There’s always a twist and a quirk, and the interplay with Neil Finn’s vocal melodies is always a delight.

Joe Creighton

Joe Creighton played bass for John Farnham for many years both in his touring and recording band. (Yes, I was a fan of John Farnham when I was younger…) I probably need to credit Joe as being a key inspiration in picking up the bass in the first place—I distinctly remember watching one of Farnham’s massive tours in the late 80s/early 90s and hearing Reasons come across the TV and seeing Joe on stage and thinking “That’s what I want to do!” (I have since, of course, worked out that it was David Hirschfelder who was responsible for that line, which is predominantly synth bass, but that’s by the by.) There’s some great playing on Farnham’s album (especially once he got beyond the synth-driven tracks). I had the pleasure of sitting in on a master class with Joe when I was at uni, and he was such a humble voice, wonderful musician and very generous with his knowledge from years of playing. So on a personal level, even just that one meeting had a big influence on me also.

Lloyd Swanton

I heard Lloyd’s playing for the first time on a late night ABC gig with Vince Jones. I don’t know the name of the show, where it was (I recall it being the Basement, but my memory ain’t all that great for such things). He pulled out a solo on one of the tracks that night that had me completely enthralled. Another of those moments where I thought “That’s what I want to do!”, though this time wanting to get more into upright bass playing (which I did a bit of at uni, but still have that same feeling “I want to do more of that…” but never seem to actually do). Lloyd was another person I got to see in a masterclass session at uni when he was touring with his band The Catholics. Another down-to-earth, very generous player. In hindsight, I think I aspired more to the ideal/idea of being a player like Lloyd, an ideal that I’d built up in my head—the mystique of that gig on ABC TV, the Basement etc. It did spur me to get a copy of It All Ends up in Tears (featuring Steve Hadley on bass) which included the track Jettison—which would have to be one of my top 5 favourite tracks of all time.

Pino Palladino

Pino Palladino has actually appeared on the cover of Bass Player, and is pretty well known in bass circles at least. But I feel it worth mentioning him because he’s not really a “household name”, as it were.

Pino is a leading session musician and probably appears on more tracks than I actually realise (including his surprising appearance on Nine Inch Nails’ latest, Hesitation Marks). But it was his wonderful fretless playing with Paul Young that first caught my ear. He’s also co-credited on The Seeds of Love by Tears for Fears, so there’s a very high likelihood that some of the passages I love from that album came via Pino’s hands.

I was a fretless player for many years—I had a fretless electric bass as my primary instrument through the latter part of high school and early university—so I was totally inspired by the lyricism of Pino’s playing and the interplay between the low-end melodies he put together in support of great vocalists.

Sting

Sting, of course, is probably a household name in many parts, but is mostly renowned as a vocalist and songwriter (perhaps his last few albums notwithstanding :\). Of course, as the bass player with the Police, he was also responsible for some of the most iconic basslines of the late 70s and 80s. From the reggae-inspired Walking on the Moon to the grounding rising chordal outline that introduced Every Little Thing She Does is Magic. It is this combination of bass in support of the song—in some cases it is the song—that was most influential on me. How a simple shift in the root note underneath a guitar part utterly transforms the mood and intent. I really dug this “driving from the back seat” approach.

Sting handed over bass playing duties to the ever capable Darryl Jones for his first two solo efforts, but picked up the instrument again for Soul Cages and beyond. To me, the standout album for his bass playing is Ten Summoners Tales where he paired up with the monstrous Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Check out their rock-solid interplay on the odd time signature Love is Stronger than Justice (The Munificent Seven) for just one example.

Paul McCartney

Another famous singer-songwriter, of course Paul McCartney was also an accomplished bass player. I can’t tell you one track that really inspired or influenced me directly. But the number of times someone has commented to me over the years that “You must really be into McCartney?”, in reference to the melodic aspects of my playing in particular, he has to have had a big influence. If only indirectly through all of the players he has inspired that in turn have inspired me. A common thread through all of the players above is a melodicism on the bass—this is no doubt a result of the effect McCartney’s playing has had on musicians across the decades since the Beatles first took off.

Robots at TED

Anyone that’s gotten to know me reasonably well is aware of my love of robots. There’s been a feast of stuff on TED recently on the topic—below are two standouts for me.

Raffaello D’Andrea: The astounding athletic power of quadcopters

I love the way they use the metaphor of athleticism to create some new ways of looking at how these robots work. Some really impressive work, esp. the adaptation to losing two working rotors!

Rodney Brooks: Why we will rely on robots

I’m not sure I’m totally sold on the idea of a heavily robotic supported future, but this is definitely food for thought.

The day I became “that guy” you see on the news…

I’ve often seen news reports on TV about someone who got caught out on a bush walk and ended up needing to be rescued by helicopter, sometimes after days in the bush. I now have a new appreciation for how it is all too easy to end up in that type of situation, even if you think you’re adequately prepared. I wanted to share my experience so that other MTBers might think through their own circumstances and perhaps avoid the mistakes I made in a recent ride.

I ride in the Blue Mountains area—so typically along fire trails in bushland. I’d read about an track that was “well sign-posted”. For an average rider, the “mostly single-track” loop would take about 45 mins to complete a circuit. And you’re never too far from the car should you get into trouble. I’ve ridden the Oaks, McMahon’s Lookout, Wombat (VIC) and Quarry Road fire trail near the recently opened MTB track at Hornsby. Suffice to say, I figured that I had sufficient experience to tackle the course unassisted.

I arrived at the trail head and started down through the fire trail and true to the description I came across a small section of sign-posted single track, only to emerge at another fire trail with no signposts. I rode out and back a few kms along the firetrail and eventually found some single track a bit further on. Excited to get into a bit of single track (finally) I followed some other riders along for a period, before they pulled over at the next, un-signposted, juncture. They seemed like they weren’t sure which way to go either, so I decided to press on, picking what looked like an interesting path. The maps I had used to evaluate the trail indicated a simple loop, so I assumed, incorrectly it turns out, that the trail would loop back and I’d be on my way back to the car before long.

After one or two further un-signposted junctures, I found the single track looking was more like walking track… then more like water trail (i.e. the remnants of a creek or water run-off channel). Before long, any sense of “track” had completely disappeared.

Thinking I had my bearings, and convincing myself that I could see a walking track a bit further down the hill, I set off across some light scrubland. Before long I’d lost all sense of the trail I had left. I’d stopped RunKeeper by this point and had scant mobile reception so was finding it difficult to determine my bearings and location.

I kept walking, (thankfully) found some decent mobile phone reception, and using Google Maps on my iPhone determined the direction of my entry point to the reserve in which the trail was located. I started off in that direction only to find a creek that I didn’t remember crossing, and that the terrain was becoming increasingly difficult to traverse, especially with a mountain bike in tow. After a few more minutes of this, I had to concede that I was lost, with no sense of where my original trail had left off and where I was heading.

So I called 000 for assistance. My iPhone GPS co-ordinates proved less than helpful, but about 3 hours later, after dark, two Police rescue personnel were standing in front of me, after receiving some helicopter support. I feel terrible that I caused such a fuss and the resources that were mobilised to find me.

I’m not a person to take the risks of mountain biking lightly. I’ve read many articles highlighting the value of preparation. I had decked out my hydration pack with a first aid kit and bike repair tools. I ensured that I had a fully-charged phone, that I’d told my partner and friends where I was heading. But even with this, I found myself terribly under-prepared.

Mostly, I was totally sideswiped by how much of a mess I ended up in for what should have been a totally innocuous ride—what was supposed to be a quick and easy 45 minute circuit. I would feel less embarrassed if I was attempting a multi-day ride through a forest or something. I think this demonstrates that even a seeming simple ride can go wrong all too easily.

Experienced riders may scoff or write-off my experience as me being a dumb-ass, or not taking the dangers seriously and being ill-prepared. And in hindsight I can think of a hundred things I would/should/could have done differently. But in the moment, when panic starts to set in (even a light panic really degrades your ability to think clearly, I discovered), all of that was pretty meaningless.

My hope in sharing this sorry (and embarrassing) tale is in the hope that others can learn from my mistakes. While I was waiting for the Police to arrive—and having done some serious reflecting since—I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I’d do differently, and what I need to do in future. The Police also had some tips and advice to share on the drive back to the trail head.

From that, here’s what I would suggest:

Pause, breathe, and retrace

If you find yourself “off the beaten track”, stop and retrace your steps to your last known good area of track, rather than trying to press forward, even if you think you know where you need to go. If you’re tracking your ride using a tool like RunKeeper (and you have adequate reception) use that to help you work out where you need to go to get back to the track you left.

A phone is not enough

The GPS co-ordinates reported by my phone were way off. Google Maps simply put me in a “sea of green”, with no indication of trail locations. I expected that being in an area with reasonable reception I’d be ok with just the phone, but this clearly isn’t the case. (And friends have highlighted that I was lucky to get reception in that area.) That said, I was able to call the Police, communicate with friends (via SMS), use my flashlight app as a signalling device. I will be packing a battery extender (like the Mophie juice pack) for future trips, as my battery hit 20% capacity just as the Police arrived.

Ensure your emergency kit is well stocked

My standard emergency kit was totally inadequate. I didn’t have a thermal blanket. I didn’t have salt or matches/lighter to fend off leaches. I didn’t have my wet weather jacket (which I lamented when it started to rain, thankfully only briefly). I didn’t have a mirror for signalling. I didn’t have a torch. The list goes on… I was going on a short 45 min circuit and never imagined I’d need such things—but I would have benefited from them all.

I’d recommend chatting to a mountaineering store for advice, and adapting as required for your circumstances. I’ve since done so and received great advice a number of options that will be finding their way into my standard pack before I tackle a new trail.

Do new trails with a buddy

Make your first ride of a new course or trail with a riding buddy that knows the area and the terrain. Connect with a local club, or online forum (e.g. in my case SydneyCyclist, local riding groups like BMORC etc.). Having an experienced riding buddy can help make the process much more enjoyable, and safe. I’ve just recently benefited from this riding some lovely, local single-track and receiving useful advice from local riders.

Get a beacon

You can get a free “hire” emergency beacon from the Police before a ride, where you can also register (unfortunately only by fax or in-person) where you’re heading in case something untoward happens. I’ve chosen to purchase an InReach beacon (the Spot is another, cheaper, option) from my local mountaineering store (and signed up for the ongoing service). These commercial units enable SMS messaging even when your phone is out of range, as well as being more accurate and enabling an “SOS” signal to be sent. The InReach also supports a smartphone-based mapping application that uses the GPS from the unit for positioning (and provides more detailed maps). While these are an expensive addition to your kit, considering the value of one of these units vs. a dropper post or that you-beaut saddle/sunglasses/etc. in an emergency situation (as I had occasion to do while I waited for the rescue party)… well, I think you get the picture.

What’s in my pack

For what it’s worth, my pack now includes:

  • First aid kit
  • Spare tube
  • Tire repair kit
  • Tire levers
  • CO2 pump canister and adaptor
  • Allen key multi-tool
  • Leatherman (pliers, knife etc.)
  • Spare brake pads
  • Sunscreen
  • Duct tape
  • Salt
  • Waterproof matches, fire starters and a lighter (in a waterproof pack)
  • Thermal blanket/bag
  • Mirror (for signalling)
  • Emergency GPS beacon
  • Micro-size high-power/long life LED light
  • Spare batteries (for beacon + LED light)
  • Battery extender for phone

All of this fits snuggly into a CamelBak and is quite reasonable in terms of weight. This all might seem like overkill to some, but as I hope my experience demonstrates, it is worth the little bit of extra prep + weight for peace of mind.

I’d be interested in what others think of these suggestions and any other tips that might be beneficial.

2012 = Big year

2012 was a pretty massive year, not that you’d be able to tell from searching the archives here… The year kicked off with Angela and I finally finding a place to live, with us (eventually) moving to Katoomba the Blue Mountains in March. Then towards the middle of the year I took a change of direction with work, moving back to Saasu as Chief Design Officer. There were a variety of reasons, some of which I’ve outlined over at the Zumio blog. Shortly after starting at Saasu I also began tutoring at the University of Western Sydney, working with undergraduate students in the application of design research techniques. Then a trip to New Zealand, shortly followed by my graduation—having completed my Masters studies at RMIT.

With uni now done (and a break between tutoring stints), I suspect that I’ll be writing a bit more for personal benefit and pleasure, which is likely to fall over to this blog. I’ve also been writing a bit about my work over at the Saasu blog too.

In any case, it’s taken me a bit of time to clear the detritus that had built up in amongst all the busy-ness—a backlog of emails and mini-projects and just bits and pieces left undone. But it’s starting to feel like I’m ready to get into the new year. And it only took me a month!? :\

One of those projects that’s just kicking off is a little project/blog called Socoloco. The first cab-off-the-rank is Seasonal Saturday. The site has more about the background and intent of the project.

I’ve also been chatting with the folks at the Open Food Web Foundation about potentially assisting there. (I’m noticing a theme across those projects ;)) I’ve also joined a volunteer group to look at how the Winter Magic festival might be operated more sustainably. I’m looking forward to this not only from an intellectual/problem-solving perspective, but also as an opportunity to become more grounded in my (new) local community.

While there’s already a lot underway, a key goal for 2013 is to keep things a little bit more sane in terms of workload and lifestyle. I’m looking forward to more time to work on our new house, among other things. And to explore my new-found passion for mountain bike riding. And to get back to playing a bit more music, both personally, and with my good friend Kristian Jackson. We both have EPs in mind for this year. For mine, I’m not putting a date on—it’ll be ready when it’s ready. But I have already started working on some material left over from the Fuzu days that never got recorded.

Never a dull moment eh? :)

More on folding bikes

A friend of mine asked me recently about any tips I might have on folding (and/or electric) bikes. I emailed a response that I thought presented a useful round-up of my learnings, and thought it worth sharing here (slightly modified as well.

The 4 main folding bike systems/manufacturers I recall that produced bikes with wheels the right spec for Cityrail are:

The specs for Cityrail are:

Folding bikes are permitted on trains free of charge at any time, provided the bike is folded and carried in a bag before boarding. The bike (in its bag) must not exceed these dimensions: 82cm length x 69cm height x 39cm width with a maximum wheel rim diameter of 51cm. Free travel does not apply to CityRail bus services, including trackwork or NightRide buses.

There are a couple of other systems I’ve seen, the notable ones are:

Tern are a spin-off from Dahon. They have the same folding mechanism and are run by one half of the family that owned Dahon. The split tainted the Dahon brand fairly significantly in my opinion, as it seems that the folks behind Tern were a bit more entrepreneurial and innovative, leaving Dahon primarily as a manufacturer (rather than design-led) [Update 1-Feb-2012: See comments for response from Dahon]. I put my money on Tern—I have a Link P24h with electric conversion from Sydney Electric Bikes. (I’ve written about my experience before). If I were to do it over, I’d probably get the Link P9 (http://www.ternbicycles.com/au/bikes/link-p9), as the in-hub gear on the P24h has proven to be a bit of a pain in terms of maintenance, and in practice I never use it.

The Brompton is a neat folding mechanism that is very compact, but I think it would probably be too small for folks of my height (6″+). I’m personally not a fan of the Birdie’s design. The larger Montague’s are awesome, but fall foul of Cityrail’s guidelines.

If I were buying today, I’d be seriously considering the Conscious Commuter electric, as the weight reduction and inbuilt battery are significantly better than what I’ve got. Though they still seem to pretty much be in “Kickstarter” mode, and are an unknown quantity in relation to quality/durability etc.

Illegal acts: boat people vs. the Australian Government

I was unfortunately travelling interstate when the latest series of Go Back to Where You Came From was on free to air on SBS. The last season was excellent, so we recorded it and last night Ang and I just started watching the series (we’re watching one episode a week.)

One of the myths that was repeated by a number of the participants in the program was that asylum seekers that enter Australia by boat (by illegal means) are breaking the law, therefore they are criminals. This is plainly false, here’s why:

Australia is signatory to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (commonly referred to as the “Refugee Convention.”) This international legal instrument, to which we’re bound, clearly states on page 3 of its introduction (emphasis mine):

Convention provisions, for example, are to be applied without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin. Developments in international human rights law also reinforce the principle that the Convention be applied without discrimination as to sex, age, disability, sexuality, or other prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules.

Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum."

What this means is that, contrary to this popular myth, asylum seekers are not breaking the law in attempting entry to Australia. In fact, quite the opposite is true — the criminal act, according to international law, is being perpetrated by our Government. The bolded points in the passage above are all penalties that the Government has illegally introduced, in addition to striking certain islands literally off the map when it comes to immigration law.

Refugees from specific regions have been discriminated against, with asylum seekers from some regions being automatically refused refugee status, regardless of their case. All asylum seekers entering by boat are arbitrarily detained. During the Howard Government people that were found to be refugees were granted only Temporary Protection Visas, which restricted the rights and support that they received. In my view, this can only be viewed as a “penalty” for the method of entry.

If we could remove set aside the emotion that the issue of refugees seems to engender in this country, and focus instead on the rule of law, there are few things that are plain and (should be) self-evident.

If you agree that the Government should commit to international laws (such as trade agreements and other treaties), you must accept that we need to act in accordance with the laws we have agreed to be bound by.

And if you accept that Australia should be a signatory to the Refugee Convention, you must accept that we are bound to its provisions. If you don’t, you should be asking the Government to withdraw its support for the Refugee Convention. Or if you disagree with just these provisions, you should be advocating action being taken by the Australian Government to address these issues through the appropriate channels — that is through the mechanisms of the United Nations — rather than “jumping the queue” (to steal another myth/misnomer) and implementing measures that are illegal under international law. And until such time that those provisions are in place, we should be upholding the laws which we have signed.

Tern P24h electric conversion

In about a week’s time, Angela and I will be moving to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. We’re really looking forward to the shift (more on that another time perhaps), but as I’ll be commuting around 3 days a week I wanted to find a way to reduce the time it takes to get to and from the train station at either end (about 15 mins walk each end — so an hour a day).

Some time ago I started looking into a fold-up bike for work, in part inspired by Digital Eskimo’s “bike fleet” for staff. But also a reflection of the increase in my monthly expenditure on taxis since moving to our shared office at Redfern from the CBD. My friend Miream had also suggested I look into electric-powered bikes/conversion kits.

So I did a bit of digging and found two Sydney suppliers of electric bikes. After chatting to Jake at Sydney Electric Bikes (SEB) and trying out a folding Apollo Stowaway 2.0 at the store, I was excited by the idea.

SEB allows you to hire out an electric bike to “try before you buy” — so I hired the Apollo for a few days to see how it would work in practice. I had it over a weekend and used it to nip across to Parramatta from Merrylands, and then on the Monday I used it to travel from Redfern to Bondi for a client meeting. On both occasions there was a good mix of flats and hills, and at the end of the ride (about 10 mins to Parramatta and 15–20 mins to Bondi) I was quite comfortable — no overly sweaty — about the equivalent of a brisk walk.

While I was sold on the concept, I wasn’t sold on the actual bike. I stand at 185cm tall, and the Stowaway’s ride height was just too low for me. Also, the 8 speed gear set on the Apollo was too low also — once on a hill I was “freewheeling” which I find extremely disconcerting, especially in city traffic.

I’ve had my eyes on Tern folders for some time. They seem to be the natural successor to Dahon, who were leaders in fold-up technology until recently (there’s a lot of politics behind Tern/Dahon, but I’ll save you the details). I learnt from Jake at SEB that Tern are only distributing 4 models in Australia, the Link P9, Link P24h, Link C7 and Verge P18.

Fortuitously, Jake was able to arrange a demo bike, fitted with a rear motor, of the P24h. I tried out the bike and it was a much better fit. But unfortunately the rear mounted engine system left a lot to be desired (the Apollo was fitted with a front-wheel mounted motor). The Tern bikes’ front forks are too narrow for a front-mounted motor, but Jake and the crew started to explore options for how we might solve the problem.

It turns out that the Apollo front forks and stem are suitable to retrofit on the Tern, so that’s what we did. And after using the bike for the last week, I have to say the end result was worth the effort.

Tern P24h converted electric folding bike

The Tern is a terrific bike — I’m really enjoying riding it. The gearing and ride height are perfect for me. The 8 speed external and 3 speed internal hub gear set combination provides an excellent gear range, and I’ve been able to reach just under 50km an hour downhill on the bike, which is very zippy for a folder. The Tern’s folding mechanism is smooth and very easy to understand and use. I did a demo for some of the folks at work yesterday and they were very impressed with how quickly it packed down.

It’s perfect for the train trip in — I’ve stowed it a number of times this week on both the Blue Mountains trains (which have areas in the entrance to the cabin for bikes and luggage) and standard CityRail metro trains. The folding mechanism is important for train riding, as CityRail charge a child fare for non-folding bikes taken onto trains during peak hour.

I rode from Redfern to Gardeners Road in Alexandria (about a 5km ride) for a business meeting the other day (in my suit), and again the bike did the job beautifully, with only light exertion equivalent of a walk of similar length. The only (minor) thing I’m not 100% sold on are the pedals. The Apollo’s pedals seemed a better bit of kit to me.

I have to say, too, that I’ve been thoroughly impressed with SEB’s work. The ability to hire before you buy, and the extensive effort they’ve put into this conversion (being the first Tern they’ve converted there was a lot of trial and error) has made me a fan.

Jake is still looking into suitable front forks that may allow us to restore the Tern front stem, as the folding mechanism is smoother than the Apollo’s. But even if what I’ve got is what we end up going with, I think I’m going to be a very happy commuter.

Celebrating Australia Day

As Australia Day rolls around again we’re encouraged to celebrate the nation’s official birthday. I’ve mentioned before my agitation about “celebrating” the invasion and near genocide of another people that this day represents.

Since writing that post, I’ve had the thought that if we are to continue celebrating on this date, that the celebration should be something akin to the sentiment engendered in ANZAC day. While a celebratory event, ANZAC day begins with a solemn reflection on lives lost and the cost of war. As the day progresses it transforms into a celebration of the human spirit — of overcoming and moving on from hard times, of friends and family, of sacrifice and valour.

Perhaps if Australia Day was practiced in this manner, I could support it. Imagine if at the beginning of the day we acknowledged the First Australians and the terrible wrongs wrought upon them in the foundation of the English phase of this nation? That we acknowledged and reflected on the lives lost, on the traditions ignored and broken. Then, perhaps, after this solemn expression we could begin to celebrate recent achievements and a vision for the future.

This is highly unlikely to happen, of course. This nation has been built upon a racist foundation — from terra nullius to the stolen generation to the White Australia policy. And that foundation still manifests in so many ways — from the relatively silent (for example, the Northern Territory “intervention” which is barely discussed) to the more vocal, such as the so-called “debate” on refugee policy. I put “debate” in quotation marks, because it is not. It is a race to the bottom as political parties and the media1 clamour for the most headline-catching (and usually inhumane) way to “manage” distraught and desperate people trying to flee war and persecution. All fuelled by a public sentiment that is so fearful of “the other” and an ignorance of the beauty and benefits of other cultures.

The only glimmer of hope I see in this discourse comes from SBS, with a string of excellent documentary series that aim to bring to light alternative perspectives on the race and immigration debate. From First Australians to Immigration Nation to Go Back to Where You Came From to the most recently aired Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta, SBS seems to be the only (relatively) mainstream media entity willing to actually tackle the issue with any degree of respect and balance.

Contrast that collection of works with the jingoistic nationalist tripe that gets rolled out annually across the commercial networks. Until the types of stories that appear on SBS are being told regularly on Sixty Minutes and Today Tonight, we have a long way to go before we can truly come to grips with our past, reconcile with our indigenous and immigrant brothers and sisters, and truly celebrate our nation moving forward.

I love a good BBQ. I drink beer with my mates and celebrate “mateship”. I believe in this supposed Australian tradition of a “fair go”. I am a fervent NRL fan and love heading down the pub to watch the grand final with the rest of the rabble. I’ll cheer Lleyton and Bernard, or Clarkey and the team. I’ll gladly give some good-humoured stick to the Kiwi’s or the Poms when we get up in the union, cricket, rugby (or anything really).

I celebrate and enjoy these traditions. But I can’t bring myself to celebrate this day. I find it a sad shame that when I see people displaying an Australian flag (on a temporary tattoo or on their car or in their window) that I can’t help but think there’s a racist “go home” intent.

All that said, I will appreciate Australia Day, in all of its complexity, in solemn reflection and respect. I hope you do too…

  1. The only time I’ve seen the Daily Telegraph display a pro-refugee headline was when it was an opportunity to beat up on the Gillard Government’s policies (or, more to the point, a beat up on “Julia”). As an aside, is there any male Prime Minister where it was ok to reference them by their first name so readily? I don’t remember Kevin or John or Paul being bandied about quite so freely in the press and public discourse. But I digress…

Just don’t call him an environmentalist

I was recently in Queensland visiting family and caught up with my Dad and step-mum for a few days. My Dad’s a straight-talking feller. He’ll tell you in no short terms that he doesn’t agree with those environmentalists and greenies. He doesn’t really like them much…

While we were there he reminded me how the three large water tanks they have on site provide all the water they need, year round pretty much. He complained that he was still having to pay council for “the pipes that run past my front door”, as he’s now off the grid for water supply.

Whenever we go fishing he’s very careful to make sure our catch meets the size limits set by government. If something is even close to undersize, it goes back in. He laments the big fishers’ impact on his local fishing grounds, and gets antsy when he spots local fisherman flaunting the rules. He’s friendly with the local patrols, while quietly cursing the Government for introducing Marine Protected Areas.

He’ll often suggest we go for a drive in his Toyota 4WD (on it’s third engine rebuild) around the local area (the Redlands Shire) and talk us through the changes he’s seen as this once rural farming area, with rich, volcanic red soil, is converted into suburban estates, townhouses and apartments. He’ll tell you about the farmers of the area, past and present, and how this productive, now peri-urban, land is being lost to developers. (He’ll also quip that they can’t afford to run the car as much as they used too…)

We’ll walk around his property and he’ll show us with (justifiable) pride the vegetable plot, the fruit trees, the mangoes coming into season, the massive avocado trees, the pineapples, the strawberries. Each season he notes he doesn’t have enough friends with which to share the abundant produce that comes off the land. (Thinking about this I’m lamenting not taking more photos when we were there…)

He shares an anecdote about how a friend got the water in the local creek, which runs through the bushland to the back of his property, tested for pollution and sent the results to his local member. He’ll mention how the recently released government report failed to mention his creek in it’s “report card” and how he and his friend took it to the local media resulting in pressure being applied and the figures being followed up by the local member.

While we’re sitting watching (his 80″ LCD behemoth1 of a) TV he’ll explain how they turn everything off of standby using a remote switch device, and explain with pride how efficient the consultant found their kettle. He explains how they’ve saved a lot on their energy bill (which is about 1/3rd what is being touted in the mainstream press as an “average” bill).

He demonstrated the in-home energy monitor that helps them to work out where their energy usage has gone. He’ll lament how the compact fluoros he installed don’t dim, and how the Government’s impending ban on new electric hot water heaters has forced him to go out and buy one now for when this one reaches its end of life. And don’t get him started on that carbon tax.

My life partner Angela ascribes many of my aspirations and environmental awareness to my Dad’s influence. I have to agree (and something that I’m proud to say). My Dad has more “environmentally friendly” features to his property than I could even dream of achieving. And, as is probably apparent, he’s full of contradictions (as we all are).

Just don’t call him an environmentalist. Or a greenie. He just wouldn’t stand for it…

  1. I actually don’t know what size it is, but it’s bloody huge…