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Guest blogger: Liz Harris

2 November 2014

Oh, Australia!

A Western HeartWhen I volunteered to do a blog post, I was planning on talking about A Western Heart, a 30,000-word novella published by Choc Lit as an ebook earlier this year.

Set in Wyoming 1880, Will Hyde and Rose McKinley, the older son and the older daughter of successful neighbouring ranches, have grown up like brother and sister, knowing that one day they’ll marry. Their families and friends know this, too, and impatient to see the marriage take place, they’re now wondering aloud with increasing frequency why the engagement hasn’t yet been announced.

Rose, too, has started to wonder why. She knows Will loves her and she knows she loves him, so there’s nothing can stop them marrying. Or is there?

I thought that people who love novels set in rural Australia, as I do, might enjoy this, and I’d intended to talk about writing a novella as opposed to a full-length novel.

BUT I’d reckoned without THE AUSTRALIA EFFECT.

Two weeks ago, I returned from my first visit to Australia. I LOVED every minute of it. I’m not even bothering to convert my remaining Australian dollars back into sterling as I want to go there again as soon as possible.

So, change of plan for today–I intend to indulge myself by going down recent-memory lane and writing about my visit.

Owing to a massive error when booking the flight to Sydney for my son’s wedding in the Royal Botanic Gardens, my stay was much shorter than intended. I’d originally wanted to visit other places in Australia, but that was now impossible. Instead, I made the most of every minute in Sydney, surely one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with the nicest of people.

The first place I went to was Sydney Opera House. I can’t tell you how excited I felt when I reached the bottom of Macquarie Street and saw the Harbour Bridge and the iconic Opera House. It’s a stunning building.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

Later in the week I went to dinner and a show there, and discovered it had the best loos I’ve ever seen in a theatre. Our National Theatre would do well to pay a visit (so to speak) to the facilities there, and copy them.

A day was spent in the fabulous Taronga Zoo, and a day in the Blue Mountains, where I stood at Echo Point and stared in wonder at the view of The Three Sisters and the beautiful mountains around, their wooded slopes hazed in blue. I went on everything there–cable car, sky train, you name it.

Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains

I went as far south of Sydney as Wollongong, and as far north as stunning Palm Beach. On the way home from Palm Beach, I drove across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. That was really something.

Me (left) on Palm Beach with a friend

Me (left) on Palm Beach with a friend

On different days, I walked all the way round The Rocks and then Circular Quay, which has a real buzz to it, spent a lovely couple of hours in Dymocks bookshop, and went to Manly on the ferry–of course–where I had a dish of excellent fish and chips before strolling along the beautiful beach

On the subject of coffee: Australians certainly like their coffee, and each café clearly prided itself on the coffee it served, and with good reason.

Sydney Opera House - in the evening, with food

Sydney Opera House – in the evening, with food

We ate in loads of different places. From a BBQ in Centennial Park, hosted by our new Australian family; to pies from Harry’s Café de Wheels; to Aria on Macquarie Street; to the Opera House; to a Chinatown restaurant, where we ate far too much, having failed to realise that Australian portions would be larger than British ones; to the range of fabulous restaurants on Finger Wharf, near where we were staying.

Finger Wharf, Woolloomooloo

Finger Wharf, Woolloomooloo

There was time for one museum only so I chose the Australia Museum. The Surviving Australia section was fascinating. Three of the many things I learned there are:

1. When magpies breed in September, they’ll go for the face and eyes of anyone who goes too close, so locals wear hats with eyes painted on the back.

2. Koalas aren’t sleepy because they’re drunk on eucalyptus leaves – it’s because their diet is low on nutrition, and they have a low metabolic rate and body temperature. With only six hours of energy a day, they must conserve that energy.

3. Kangaroos used not to be able to hop. Thousands of years ago, they were arboreal and lived in the extensive forests which covered most of Australia. The forests gradually receded, leaving vast areas of open land where once there’d been trees, and kangaroos evolved into animals with the ability to hop in order to cover great open distances at speed.

My final photo is the reason we went to Sydney on our first, but not last, visit to Australia.

My son and his wife at Lion Gate Lodge

My son and his wife at Lion Gate Lodge

Thank you enormously, ARRA, for letting me talk to you today. It was brilliant to have an excuse to return mentally to Australia. I can’t wait for the day when I can do so physically, too.

You can find Liz Harris here: website | blog | Facebook | Twitter

  1. 3 November 2014 9:44 pm

    Next time you come over, you must let me know, Barbara. I’d love to meet up with you. 🙂

  2. 3 November 2014 8:46 pm

    Yes Liz … it would be lovely to meet up with you …. I had a day in Oxford sightseeing on the hop on/off bus in July…. DH and I were back in England June/July visiting friends and family basing ourselves in Kenilworth with DH’s brother and his wife

  3. 3 November 2014 3:23 am

    Many thanks for your comments, Berni and Anne. 🙂

    Your lucky son, Berni. What a place to go for a gap year. My older son was equally lucky – he went there between Law School and starting in Chambers, and he absolutely loved it, too.

    I didn’t stop off at all, Anne, although we got off the plane and stayed in the airport for a few hours. I wasn’t particularly keen on seeing the stop-over place, and as the stay was going to be shorter than I’d wanted, I was anxious not to waste any time in Sydney by being jet-lagged, and I thought jet lag might be avoided by flying straight through. It worked. An hour and a half after reaching Sydney, I’d unpacked, hung up my clothes, showered and gone out to explore the city.

  4. 3 November 2014 2:40 am

    Fantastic blog! Liz, it brought back so many many memories of the one and only time I went there in 1998 – a retirement present to myself. Alas, I don’t think I could face that journey again even though I stopped off in Singapore both ways.

  5. bernimoonhouse1620 permalink
    3 November 2014 12:35 am

    Fabulous post, Liz. It shows what a wonderful time you had. My son went to Australia on his gap year, and loved it too. (Apart from the lack of affordable veggie food!) Thank you for sharing your visit with us. xx

  6. 3 November 2014 12:34 am

    Thank you, Clare. The setting for the wedding was perfect. I have photos of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, seen above the trees, which I took at Lion Gate Lodge, the wedding venue. It was the prettiest of locations. The same flowers that grew in the garden were used for the bridal bouquet and for the flowers carried by the flower children. *big sigh*

  7. 2 November 2014 11:50 pm

    Wonderful photos and descriptions, Liz – I’m definitely envious, and plan to start saving now! And the wedding photograph is beautiful.

  8. 2 November 2014 11:49 pm

    I’d definitely advise you to go ahead and visit, Margaret. You won’t regret it for a single minute. 🙂

  9. 2 November 2014 11:20 pm

    I’ve always wanted to go to Australia, Liz and it sounds as if was a wonderful experience.

  10. 2 November 2014 10:19 pm

    I can’t imagine anyone not loving, Sydney, Bren. It’s not just the beauty of the place, the people there are so nice, too. My husband isn’t the keenest of travellers, but he really enjoyed the trip, so hopefully, your husband will pick up his positive vibes! Good luck!

  11. Bren permalink
    2 November 2014 10:01 pm

    I’ve visited several places in Australia, Sydney is my favourite. Your blog has reminded me of how much I loved Sydney and how much I’d love to go back. I’m trying to persuade my husband to go with me, he’s a reluctant traveller, but I don’t fancy doing the trip on my own once more. Thanks for sharing your memories 🙂

  12. 2 November 2014 9:57 pm

    Many thanks, Jane. I’ve been told that February is a glorious month in which to visit, and I’ll shall aim for close to that time of year when next I go. Your lucky, lucky daughter.

    How big did you say her suitcase was?

  13. janelovering permalink
    2 November 2014 9:23 pm

    Coincidentally my daughter has just booked tickets to fly to Australia in February! I’ll show her your blog to give her a few ideas of places to visit – it all looks so lovely I really wish I could go too now. Wonderful post, Liz.

  14. 2 November 2014 9:13 pm

    Once you get in the air, Liv, you don’t even realise you’re a long way up. You can read, watch the TV, eat, drink, eat, drink, read, type – it’s bliss. One day, take a giant calming pill and try it. You’ll never look back!

    Beverley – I would have seen more places, but for my error when booking the flights. There will be another visit, though!! The Australian dollars I brought back are tucked away, ready for my next trip there.

    Margaret and Sue – many thanks for reading the blog. Margaret – you MUST go there, and Sue, too, if you haven’t already been.

    Many thanks for commenting on my posting, Liv, Beverley, Sue and Margaret. 🙂

  15. 2 November 2014 9:03 pm

    Really great trip!

  16. Margaret James permalink
    2 November 2014 9:01 pm

    Fabulous! I want to go there myself now!

  17. beverleyeikli permalink
    2 November 2014 8:43 pm

    You obviously had a fantastic visit, Liz, and your blog made lovely reading. I wish you had had time to visit us in Melbourne. Sydney is beautiful but so is Melbourne. Next time you’ll have to come for longer 🙂

  18. Liv permalink
    2 November 2014 8:38 pm

    Am so envious, Liz – I’m likely never to see Australia unless someone can cure me of my flying phobia! So glad it was all you hoped for and more.

  19. 2 November 2014 8:33 pm

    Chris – will you save enough to take me along with you as your secretary when you go? Pretty please.

    That’s it for offspring, Zana, I’m afraid. But I shall soon – within the month – have a grandchild,thanks to my firstborn son. Maybe 30 odd years is a little too long to wait to visit NZ, though. I shall have to see if I can do it sooner. maybe next time I go to Australia …

    Add wine (preferably red) to that coffee and food, Jeanie, and it’s a deal. I have relatives in Perth, and a good writing friend lives in Perth – Anna Jacobs. Yes, that bus was a super idea, and the headphones on it, too.

    Many thanks for your comments, Chris, Zana and Jeanie. 🙂

  20. Jeanie M permalink
    2 November 2014 8:14 pm

    I’m so glad you enjoyed Australia Liz! Next time come West and us Perth ladies will show you lots (plus we’re nearly up there for coffee and food too!)
    I loved the hop on-hop off bus in Sydney – got to some great places and knew a bus would come by soon to take me to another!

  21. Zana permalink
    2 November 2014 8:09 pm

    You did a lovely job on Oz – now I’m looking forward to you coming to NZ and doing another rave write-up! Any more offspring to marry off? I could begin looking for prospective spouses for them!

  22. Christine Stovell permalink
    2 November 2014 8:03 pm

    Your enthusiasm for the country bubbles over in this wonderful blog, Liz. With that and those glorious photos, we’ll all be saving up for a trip to Australia!

  23. 2 November 2014 7:22 pm

    Now there’s a thought, John!!

    I was staying about four minutes’ walk from Harry’s Cafe de Wheels and all the Finger Wharf restaurants, and very close to steps leading to the Botanic Gardens. The location couldn’t have been better.

  24. 2 November 2014 6:18 pm

    What a great blog-entry!! You really did pack your time in – and it IS a great place to visit.
    AND you made it to Harry’s Cafe de Wheels!!
    If you ever move away from the romantic genre, you have a future in travel writing, I think 🙂
    Well done!

  25. 2 November 2014 6:06 pm

    Thank you so much for your comment, Barbara, and your congratulations. I shall definitely contact you before my next visit and very much hope we can met up. That would be wonderful.

    I went on the on-off bus hop on my first full day in Sydney so that I made sure that I got the feel of the city before exploring in more depth each of the planned locations. We had our morning coffee in one of the restaurants that were waterside in Darling Harbour, which we really enjoyed – that’s another area with a real buzz – before getting back on to the bus and later getting off to have our lunch in The Rocks.

    I run a monthly lunch for writers in the Oxford area (it’s under the auspices of the RNA, but we’re a broad church), and if ever you’re in these parts you must let me know.

  26. 2 November 2014 3:24 pm

    So glad you had a lovely time here …. I live in Sydney and a group of the Sydney ARRA ladies go to Darling Harbour once a month and meet for lunch … I originally come from England and when we have overseas visitors we go and visit all those places… Congratulations on your book and hope to meet next time you are here or can meet at one of our lunches.

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