Australia Chuckles Review

I love Neighbours (and I’m not ashamed to admit it)

Scott and Charlene
Scott and Charlene

It’s a well-known fact that the Aussie soap Neighbours has always been more popular in the UK than in Australia. Scott and Charlene’s wedding was watched by more than 20 million viewers when it aired in the UK in 1988. In the same year the entire population of Australia was only about 16.5 million people. So there were more UK Neighbours fans than inhabitants of the country who made it!

It’s kind of similar to what I choose to call the Hasselhoff Dilemma – the people of Germany have nothing but love and admiration for actor and musician David Hasselhoff, while his fellow Americans just aren’t really that bothered.

25 years later the UK is still big on Neighbours. They show it no less than 6 times a day – twice on Channel 5, twice on 5* and twice on 5* +1. And nearly everyone I speak to has watched it at some point in their lives – usually as a teen or while at uni. Plus there’s a brilliant and hilarious ‘Art of Neighbours’ group on Facebook, made up of dedicated fans who love to post about each episode and poke fun at some of the dafter story lines.

In comparison, new episodes of the show are only on once a day (once!) in Aus, and they can’t even be bothered to merge all the episodes into one programme for the Sunday omnibus – so you get the viewing pleasure of 5 sets of opening and closing credits.

But Aussies don’t care that there aren’t many chances to catch Neighbours because hardly any of them actually watch it! It seems to be their embarrassing relation that no one talks about, and whenever I admit to watching it I get a look of pity and the hint of a suggestion that I should see myself as a pathetic loser.

But the truth is, I love Neighbours, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’ve been watching it for about 26 years, and I’m not planning on stopping! It’s entertaining, with some great characters, and some I love to hate. It can make me laugh, cry and shout at the tv, all in one episode. Plus I don’t smoke, take drugs, or drink much, so as far as vices go, this one is pretty harmless!

In fact seeing as I’m in Australia for a year at the moment, I might make it my mission to get more Aussies to appreciate this fantastic show that they’ve so kindly given to the world. I’ll keep you updated on my progress. Wish me luck…!

Adventure Australia Review

White sharks are great

Last night Alex and I went to a brilliant talk about great white sharks at Melbourne Aquarium.

The talk was part of Melbourne Aquarium’s Marine Discovery Lecture Series 2013, and was given by Barry Bruce, marine researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).


The backdrop to the talk was Melbourne Aquarium’s 2.2 million litre Oceanarium – so every time Bruce mentioned sharks, a real life one was right there behind him (albeit a grey nurse or blacktip reef shark, rather than a great white!)

Barry Bruce is an expert when it comes to tagging white sharks, and is known as the Aussie authority on these sharks, no less. Not only that, but the great white shark in Finding Nemo was actually named after him! If that isn’t a claim to fame, I don’t know what is.

Bruce started his talk by saying that despite over 20 years of research, there is still much that is not known about these creatures. He added that he and his scientific colleagues prefer to call them ‘white sharks’ rather than ‘great white sharks’ because they are really no greater than any other shark!

He also mentioned that the media is responsible for the common image of white sharks (below) – launching out of the water looking scary and murderous – and urged us not to believe everything we read (as this news story proves).

Great white shark
Great white shark – as perpetuated by the media

Bruce went on to cover some facts that are known about white sharks, for example:

  1. They can grow to at least 6 metres (2000-3000kg)
  2. They possibly live for 50-60 years (although this isn’t known for sure – it might be longer)
  3. Females don’t mature until they are 5 metres
  4. They are warm-bodied (25-27 degrees) – so are more like mammals
  5. They produce few young and there is no parental care
  6. They eat fish and other sharks/rays when young (< 3 metres)
  7. They do not live at seal colonies – most of their time is spent elsewhere
  8. Some may not feed on seals at all.

The majority of the talk then focussed on understanding movement patterns – the first step in answering questions about whether numbers are going up or down – and that is where tagging comes in. In the words of Jennifer Aniston in a shampoo advert, here comes the science bit…

Acoustic tag
Acoustic tag

The main types of tagging Bruce and his team use are:

  • Acoustic tagging – a unique code is sent to a receiver whenever a tagged shark swims past;
  • Satellite tagging – the tagged shark links to a satellite whenever it comes to the surface (as long as a satellite is in range).

The first white shark ever tagged was in Victoria, and Bruce’s three tagging areas are the Neptune Islands (SA), Corner Inlet (VIC) and Port Stephens (NSW). From his team’s research he has been able to tell that white sharks travel large coastal distances and to tropical waters (eg Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef). It has even been known for a shark to travel from South Africa all the way to Ningaloo! The open ocean is an important habitat for white sharks, and some have been known to spend up to 2 years in open ocean before returning to land.

Bruce also discovered that, on the whole, a shark tagged in South Australia stays south and west, whereas a shark tagged in eastern Australia stays east. This means there are two distinct populations that don’t seem to cross the Bass Straight (the water between Tasmania and Victoria) – and they need to be looked at separately.

At the moment more is known about the eastern population of white sharks, and Port Stephens has emerged as a particularly interesting area. It’s hugely popular for swimmers, surfers and divers, but it’s also here that white sharks are often found in the surf zone just off the beach (compared to further north or south, where the sharks tend to stay away from the shore). So Bruce and his team locate juveniles here for tagging.

Juvenile great white shark
Juvenile great white shark

Port Stephens is known as a ‘nursery area’ for white sharks – mostly the sharks are 2 years old. (It is not a breeding area, as there are no new-borns – which also means there are no big adults around either!) Corner Inlet is another nursery area, and sharks have been tracked moving directly and rapidly between the two nursery areas.

Hawks Nest Surf Club in Port Stephens closed the beach 44 times one summer due to white sharks swimming between the flags. In fact if you type ‘Hawks Nest NSW’ into Google Earth and zoom in, you can see a white shark close to the shore – with a load of people just a little further up the beach.

But while white sharks meet people at these beaches every day, there has never been an attack there. So the answer to the question ‘what normally happens when sharks and people meet?’ is just ‘nothing’.

It was then time for some questions from the audience, and someone asked what Bruce thought about culling. This is a very topical issue, given there have been a handful of attacks in Australia recently, and many mentions of shark culling in the media as a result. Bruce responded that there have been very few cases when the shark responsible for an attack has been caught – so that sort of approach is just a waste of time and resources. He also said that there is no evidence that a shark that has bitten once will bite again. And the Port Stephens situation proves that more sharks does not mean more attacks. Given the audience was made up of shark enthusiasts, I think we were all please to hear from Australia’s authority on white sharks that culling is not the answer.

I then plucked up the courage to ask a question about cage diving. I’ve always wanted to do it, but was worried about whether it’s the right thing to do for the shark. And does chumming make sharks associate people with food? Bruce answered that cage diving is highly regulated in Australia. It takes place in the Neptune Islands, and there are always two days per week with no dives – which is for the benefit of the sharks, not the safety of the people. He mentioned that sharks sometimes stick around for a bit longer than usual at cage diving sites, but there is no evidence that cage diving leads the shark to associate people with food. In fact there’s so much going on, what with the noise from the boat and the smells, that the diver in the middle of it all is really no big deal. Plus there’s not much reward for the shark – they might get a bit of tuna off the tether, but mostly it’s berley (chum) to attract them, rather than real food.

After a couple more questions the talk came to an end. I left the aquarium feeling inspired and still can’t believe I had the opportunity to hear about these sharks from the country’s top white shark researcher. There is one thing I disagree with Bruce about though – to me they will always be great white sharks.

Australia Review

Why I need to get a job… and soon!

Seeing as I don’t yet have a job in Melbourne, I’ve had the opportunity to watch more daytime TV than anyone in their right mind would ever want to.

Morning and daytime TV across the world is of course always terrible. They try to include discussions about politics, current affairs and world news alongside more light-hearted content and lifestyle tips, but in fact most of the programme just ends up being idle gossip about celebrity fashion. Australian morning and daytime suffers from this affliction too, but they also do something even worse…

I'm your friend so buy this hoover
I’m your friend so buy this hoover

They follow a piece on Lady Gaga with a segment about hoovers or saucepans that masquerades as helpful consumer advice from presenters we have come to know and trust, but is in fact a blatant sales promo. It would be fair enough if we had chosen to watch an infomercial or home shopping show, but this is thrust in our faces in the guise of normal TV. And there are loads of advert breaks in the show anyway! How dare they!

Everything about these segments seems dishonest, from the mock living room sets to the fake spills. And don’t get me started on the stiletto-wearing female presenters and their ‘bloke next door’ counterparts, who have clearly never even used a hoover before.

They ramble on and on about whatever ridiculous product they are selling today, presumably hoping you will lose the will to live and buy it to shut them up. And the worst part is that they never seem to tell the viewer the real cost, instead preferring to blindside us with the special ’28 day trial price’ and ‘free gift if you order NOW’.

After just minutes of watching these segments I feel like I’m being manipulated. I think it’s strange how little the producers must value their viewers if they think we deserve to be tricked and conned into buying pointless, over-priced products in this way. Luckily I reckon most of us see it for the underhand sales technique it is and just change the channel.

I know I don’t have to watch it at all, but what else is there to do when you’re eating breakfast at 9.30am on a weekday morning? I just need to get a job soon so that I’ll be out of the house by 8am and watching dreadful morning TV will no longer be an option!

Australia Review

A Murder is Announced

Through a very kind acquaintance we managed to get free tickets to the opening night of ‘A Murder is Announced’ at the Comedy Theatre and it was an absolute treat.

(If we were going to choose any play to see during our first fortnight in Melbourne we might not have picked a typically British murder mystery, but free is free, and it really did turn out to be great!)

First off, it was a miracle that I’d never seen it before, as British TV churns out more Agatha Christie productions than Rod Stewart releases Greatest Hits albums. But every scene was a surprise, with twists and turns all over the place, and the production seemed genuinely original and fresh despite the play’s age.

It was the kind of production I love – where every scene takes place on the same set (the sitting room at Little Paddocks) – so there was none of that ‘I’m a stagehand moving furniture but I’m dressed in black so you can’t see me’ nonsense. On top of that, the costumes were perfect down to the smallest detail, and the sound effects and lighting all seemed to happen at the right times (which you would expect from a professional production, but I still always worry that something might go wrong!)

The all-Australian cast (including none other than Pippa from Home and Away) had perfected their English accents and seemed to give 100% to every scene. And (apart from the curtain call of course) there were a couple of occasions when every single cast member was in the scene – lined up and spanning the entire width of the stage – which really brought the diversity of characters and costumes to life.

It was a fabulous production, and everyone involved gave the audience a hugely enjoyable and suspense-filled evening.

A Murder is Announced
A Murder is Announced


Adventure Review

A free trip to Alton Towers for work (yes really!)

On 1st June I got to go to Alton Towers for free – for work!

Alex and I went up the day before and stayed at the Splash Landings Hotel. My cousin Abby was right – it looks and smells like a giant swimming pool – but the smell of chlorine aside, it was a very fun and cheery place. There were ducks waddling around on the patio! And cocktails! And a free all-you-can-eat breakfast!

On Saturday morning, after my free all-you-can-eat breakfast, I headed over to the conference centre for some presentations about Merlin partnerships and their hospitality areas (the work part of this trip) and my second free breakfast! Alex grabbed his free ticket and went straight to the park, then started texting me about all the amazing rides he was going on (with no queue time because the park wasn’t even open to the public yet!). The Merlin team were kind enough to keep their presentations short, so before long I was standing under the Sonic Spinball ride, waiting for Alex to finish spinning so we could explore the park together!

First of all we hit the brand new ride, The Smiler. It was supposed to have opened a few days before but was broken (eeek!), so we were among the first people to try it out. The queue was enormous – about 3 hours long – but we opted for the single rider queue and walked straight on with no wait at all! I screamed my way around all 14 loops, and then went on again straight afterwards like some crazy loon. I ended up sitting next to a teenage boy who worked at Alton Towers and had come in on his day off specially to ride The Smiler. When I spoke to him he was on his 6th go!

Having fun at Alton Towers
Having fun at Alton Towers

We then went on a multitude of other rides, including Oblivion, Air, Hex, Ripsaw, Nemesis and Nemesis Sub-Terra. Even though it was a Saturday we were very lucky with the queue times. We even got front row seats on the Runaway Mine Train, but were kind enough to give them up to a small child and his dad – making the little boy’s day and ensuring good karma for the rest of our lives I would think.

By the end of the day I was exhausted (and dreading the long drive home) but very happy that my first trip to Alton Towers had been such a blast – and free of course!


Gatsby? What Gatsby?

The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby

Sometime in the second half of 2012 I saw the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby for the first time, and I felt giddy with excitement. Not only is the book my favourite book of all time, but the trailer was amazing (and that’s not something I’ve ever said about a trailer before!). In fact the trailer was so good, I actively sought it out on YouTube and watched it time and time again. Here it is for your viewing pleasure: The Great Gatsby – Trailer #1

I decided I was probably going to LOVE this movie.

I eagerly awaited Christmas 2012, even wondering how I could wangle a ticket to the premiere. But then a friend mentioned that the release was being pushed back a few months because the studio bosses (or whoever) had come to realise that it wasn’t going to be a contender for any big awards – corroborated by The Huffington Post – and my heart sank. How could this happen to my favourite book? The trailer was so good!

In the end the film was released in the UK on 16 May. I purposefully avoided all reviews before Alex and I saw it the following day (at a special Gatsby-themed screening at Clapham Picturehouse). In true prohibition style, Alex had a mint julep and I had a glass of champagne, and I found that my excitement and optimism were back!

Gatsby and Daisy
Gatsby and Daisy

Given how many times I’ve read and studied the book, it was always going to be hard for the movie to live up to my idealised vision of it. But the party scenes were just as they should have been – over the top, glamorous and fantastic. And even though the music from JAY-Z, Lana Del Rey and Florence + The Machine (to name but a few) was anachronistic, I thought most of it worked really well. Plus we’ve already had an adaptation that stayed very close to the original text (Jack Clayton’s 1974 film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow), so this was Baz’s chance to put his own stamp on it.

Some elements of the film were pretty incredible, especially the cinematography, 1920s costumes and some of the acting – Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan in particular. I didn’t even hate Tobey Maguire’s Nick as much as most people!

The main problem I had with the film was how the book had been ‘dumbed-down’. I remember studying it for A Level English with my brilliant teacher, Mr Sheehan (and again at uni with my brilliant lecturer, Dr Bob Lawson-Peebles), loving the chance to discover and decipher the intricacies and symbolism of the prose. But with the film you don’t get this chance. Instead you get slapped across the face with it. In the scene where Gatsby and Daisy meet for the first time in five years (at Nick’s house for tea), Gatsby is uncharacteristically awkward and nervous. The book tells us:

the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers and set it back in place

But in the film this concept lacks any delicacy; instead Baz makes the clock scene loud and obvious, practically yelling from the rooftops ‘THIS BIT IS ALL ABOUT TIME! DING DING DING!’

So in the end, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t love the film after all. There were even a couple of moments when I worried I was hating it. In a way, my hopes and expectations about the film were similar to Gatsby’s hope about his reunion with Daisy:

…his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it.

Having said all this, I’ll probably ask for the DVD for Christmas –  just to make extra sure I don’t love it!