Behind the scenes Mardi Gras

Tall, lithe and toned, adorned in gold and glitter, parading like a Demi God in slow deliberate steps, he stretched his long limbs through the crowd. Expressionless and yet full of statement, everyone stopped and turned.

There is little to say about this statuesque, impressive icon of Mardi Gras. I’m still a little lost for words, except to say that this man embodied sheer perfection in stardust. I’m sure people were praying. It is possible he could have sparked a revolution. And isn’t that the point? Mardi Gras is an inspiration, and an invitation really, for everybody to live their most flamboyant lives. Certainly their best ones. And here was the beacon; in the words of lady liberty, “Give me your tired, your weary…yearning to breathe free.”

From behind the scenes, some of the impromptu and surprise moments best capture the spirit of the Sydney Mardi Gras 2019.

Let the parade begin!

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Bondi

As widely loved as it is, Bondi is not Sydney’s favourite beach. Most famous yes, but not the favourite. Locals often escape the cities’ fringe beaches and zip north or south to the wider coastal retreats. But for backpackers, tourists and day-trippers alike, Bondi is it. And with good reason.

Lined deep with organic juice bars, beachside beer cafes and burger joints, Bondi Beach is tagged as much as a foodie precinct as a beach hangout. But the real zeal of Bondi is in the snapshots of freedom and expression. The drawcard is less for the sea and more for what you can see in the crowds of travellers and revellers.

With iconic Icebergs (the original winter swimmers club) perched on the peak overlooking sweeping views of the beach, it marks the beginning of the Bondi to Bronte walk. Taking in Tamarama Beach, McKenzies Bay and Waverly Cemetery, this stretch of coast makes it Sydney’s most spectacular walk. Or, with time on your side, you can simply people watch.

Bondi’s anything goes attitude gives it a bold look and quirky energy. In the Art Deco architecture you can see Bondi’s post war flair; on the boulevard the pep of party-goers, and between the flags, memories made for a lifetime. I can’t think of a tourist who wouldn’t make Bondi their first stop, but as a local, if you haven’t let Bondi’s breezy style brush over you in a while, maybe its time to see what keeps people coming back.

Read more about Sydney’s favourite beach hideaways.

Rookwood
Rookwood cemetery

Why do we sweat the small stuff? We grumble and complain our way through the list of things we don’t agree with, capriciously casting opinions and rationalising the let downs. We are fierce protectors of our sensitivities and sometimes I wonder if harmony comes naturally at all. But time waters it all down and I for one, hardly remember the detail of many a life changing moment. When we’re all going to one day lay silent in the ground, why do not laugh through life and take it all a little less seriously? The first of many thoughts I kept mulling over as we wandered through the scattered headstones at Rookwood Cemetery. An entire life, every word, every touch, every wild moment, etched in the few letters of a name and surrendered to stone.

It’s good to visit the dead. Unless you’ve had the heartache of burying someone, there’s probably little reason to spend an afternoon walking through a cemetery. And yet, the cemetery at Rookwood in Sydney, is somewhat of an incredible experience, for the eyes and the spirit. From the glazed charcoal ornate Russian Orthodox headstones embedded with portraits and carefully placed beer bottles, to the old small crested headstones popping out of the grassy slopes, every cluster of graves is the story of generations. Thick granite blocks with Chinese family names in magenta, black and grey line the curve of the road opposite the names of those lost in war. Different lives, different deaths, living under the same sun and now laying under the same earth. 

In death there is quiet, a light hush in the breezy air and a sober respect. I wonder at how terrible we are at respecting life and often the people who create our world, and yet we step foot in a cemetery and we feel an ethereal sort of grace for all who have passed. And I think that’s beautiful; it makes the passing of life something honorable and pure. We have come from energy and like a whisper, we disappear, falling back into the energy of the universe. Stopping to read the inscriptions on mottled stone and standing in the middle of a stranger’s family history, I think that maybe life could be honored the same way. 

Remembrance wall

Rookwood Cemetery is the world’s largest operating cemetery from the Victorian era and the largest in the southern hemisphere. Right on the brink of Sydney’s western suburbs, 314 hectares of expansive garden grounds are the resting place for almost 1 million souls from all denominations. That in itself makes for moments of reflection and wonder. It was just over 200 years ago that the first burial ground in Sydney was established that would evolve into Rookwood Cemetery. Who could have imagined then, when Governor Macquarie set aside some land near the Colonial brickworks that prayers would one day be whispered for the Armenians, the Indochinese and Italians together? It’s hopeful and uplifting.

One patch of Victorian headstones, weathered by time and perhaps with no one left to care for them, have overgrown with tall grass and dandelions. Loose soil and wind have let them collapse against each other. With the smell of eucalypts all around and branches falling across the gravestones, I saw a small stone arch and though the date was hard to read, I saw the words “beloved” carved at the centre. Nothing may be known today about the woman laid to rest there, where she was born or how she died, but someone simply wanted her to be remembered forever for what she was most; loved. Seems to me that’s the last prayer for us all. 

Photography inspirations

photography inspirations

Delhi doesn’t inspire me. As a photographer my eyes are always searching for something different to shoot. That’s why I love urban photography so much. You only have to stand on a street corner for life to tumble by in the most unpredictable of expressions. But in India, where I’ve grown up with gypsies bathing their children in tubs on the street, kids performing roadside acrobatics and grubby smiling faces pushing balloons for sale on the corners, the streets of Delhi have become sadly predictable. And yet, every now and then, like today, the spontaneous, vibrant and spirited side of the city gives you a taste of something more.

As a street photographer the energy that pulses through Delhi brings a diverse and fragmented culture, as best told by the kids on the street. Many live in backstreet villages and these were the photographs I was eager to take. Within moments of finding my way down the narrow laneways of Bhatti village, one by one, the kids curiously peeled away from their games and started inquiring why I was shooting. I’m used to being asked why I’m taking photos on the streets and I’ve learnt that people don’t object when I tell them the photos are a part of my college work. Within moments they wanted me to click their pictures and in chasing their smiles, I was meandering deeper into the village to high pitched cheers and yelps.

Soon the kids grew in number and quickly became my guides. They took me to the houses of Aunts and Uncles to take their photos. Simple two roomed mud huts with charpoy’s sitting lopsided at the front doorways. They offered me fresh chai. They warned me away from one particular alleyway for the pack of wild dogs known to fight in the dusty, forgotten lane. I managed to get a selfie surrounded by their warm, open faces. One young boy even asked me to photograph his chickens. This is the thing about village life; despite its perils, their hearts are big and bountiful.

I felt like the Pied Piper. A band of kids streamed alongside me as I kept taking pictures. They told me of the monkey menace causing disruption and I offered some advice. With all the usual rush and urgency of combing ponytails and collecting books their mothers were calling them for afternoon school. I went to the local store, bought them a few packets of biscuits, said my goodbye’s urging them to stay on at school and study hard. As I drove away, I caught a glimpse in the rear view mirror of the kids smiling and waving behind me. I clicked over 100 snaps that afternoon but I cherish that selfie the most. Delhi does not inspire me, but these smiling faces do.

The great ocean road

It’s hard to turn away from the seascape on The Great Ocean Road journey, but the hinterland that winds towards the Grampians Mountain range compensates with an ocean of green. In the heart of the Grampians National Park is the tiny township of Halls Gap. When we arrived it was late at night, the rain was splashing hard on our windscreen and if not for our 80’s playlist, we would have felt quite alone on a road so empty and dark that even the broad mottled tree trunks and overhanging branches had a ghostly feel. But when you awake to the chatter of native birds and find yourself at the foot of a sunlit escarpment, the morning views make the drive worth it.

Breathe in the mountain air

Halls Gap is the well known gateway to the Grampians National Park and a central spot for exploring the broader region. The Grampians mountain range is rich in indigenous rock art sites and is renown for sandstone escarpments, patches of wildflowers and an abundance of wildlife. Be careful though, at the first sign warning us of wallabies crossing, it was by a breath that one hopped across the road in front of us and escaped. Throughout the park, bush trails lead to gushing waterfalls like towering Mackenzie Falls and slender Silverband Falls.

Room with a view

The flat rock of The Balconies lookout offers views of the Victoria Range, while Boroka Lookout reveals glimpses of Lake Bellfield. A relaxed morning meandering through grassy hilltops, vineyards and sheep farms, the Grampian region is a world away from the coast. The soft grey open sky, rolling countryside, the earthiness of hand picking grapes and artisan cafes, make the region so vastly different as a weekend getaway.

Turn back time

The Ballarat cafe we found ourselves in was styled with old typewriters, classic novels with well-worn pages, tarnished maps and a re-run of settler’s life screened on the wall above the fireplace. It was partly due to being 3.00pm on a Saturday with little else open that we found ourselves there, but as a testament to the heritage of the town, the Turn Back Time café turned out to be an ideal setting for a walk through Victoria’s history.

It’s about a 90-minute drive and 150 years away from Melbourne CBD; that’s what it feels like walking through Sovereign Hill, the open-air museum helping travellers relive the ambitious gold rush period. The mid 1800’s were shaped by the rush of immigrants grappling for riches in the Goldfields on the outskirts of Ballarat marking a boom in prosperity and population in the south-eastern corner of Victoria.

In review

Serene bushland lookouts, wine-tasting, adventure or marvelling at nature’s wonders, the bushland drive, inland from The Great Ocean Road is an explorer’s wonderland. The surprising part is that it can all be experienced on one weekend trip. Fair to say it’s a lot of driving and trekking but the mountain villages, indigenous history, seafaring stories and remarkable natural wonders are waiting to be discovered and retold. It’s all the diversity of Australia bundled together in one glorious corner.

Twelve Apostles

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