Friday, December 17, 2010


When I was 9 or 10 my grandfather, or sometimes my uncle, would occasionally take me to a race meeting at Harold Park in Sydney. It is a vivid part of my childhood memories. It was an exciting and different place to play, and it was fun trying to “guess” which number would win the next race. On the 17th of December this year I again attended a race meeting at Harold Park, again trying to “guess” which number would win the next race. However this was to be the last ever meeting to be held at Harold Park as the site had a few weeks earlier been sold to developers. Sports writer Michael Hutak described the night as “one of the saddest in Sydney’s cultural history”. It is the end of an era.

On the 4th June 1902 a group of 33 harness racing enthusiasts met in J. McGrath’s saddle and harness making shop. Donations totaling nearly twenty pounds were taken and on October 10th the New South Wales Harness Racing Club was officially incorporated. On the 19th November the club held its first race meeting at the Harold Park site, then called Forrest Lodge, a track leased from the Metropolitan Rugby Union. This first event was made up of five races with total prize money of 99 sovereigns. Two more races were held before the venue was switched to a course belonging to Kensington Pony Club. In June 1904 race meetings were again switched back to Forrest Lodge, which had had a name change and was now known as Epping.

In 1911 the track was purchased from the Metropolitan Rugby Union. In 1929, because of confusion with having the same name as a Sydney suburb, the track was renamed Harold Park. This name was inspired by world famous race horse, Childe Harold. The stallion had been bred in Kentucky and had won races all over the world, including in Russia, before being imported into Australia from Glasgow, Scotland, in 1882.

In October 1941 the NSW State Parliament passed legislation which made night racing possible. This gave harness racing, and Harold Park, a tremendous boost. Friday night racing became a very popular pastime and in 1974 visiting international drivers described Harold Park as “the best lit trotting track in the world”.

Several Inter-Dominion races have been held at Harold Park. In 1960 a world record crowd of 50,346 gathered at Harold Park to see the final of the Inter-Dominion. The two favourites were Australia’s Apmat and New Zealand’s Caduceus. The crowd was so large that spectators pulled down ply walls on the side of the grandstand to get a view of the race. The race was won by the New Zealander but was only declared after a protest by the Australians was dismissed. Other famous winners of this event have been Hondo Grattan (1973), Koala King (1980) and Our Maestro (1988).

However the best-known event at Harold Park was probably the Miracle Mile. This race was instituted in 1967. It has attracted some of the most famous trotters in the world, among these Paleface Adios, Hondo Grattan, Caduceus and Smooth Satin. Paleface Adios contested this race every year from 1974 to 1980. The last time this event was run at Harold Park was in November 2008; after that the event was moved to the new racecourse at Menangle.

In October 2008 the members of the NSW Harness Racing Club voted to sell the Harold Park site for a minimum of $150 million. The Board of Directors eventually accepted an offer from property developers Mirvac, believed to be close to $200 million. The ten hectacre site will be redeveloped into a residential area; there will be 1200 new dwellings in buildings up to eight storeys high, the historic tram sheds will be converted to retail and commercial concerns and thirty five percent of the area will be turned into public recreational area. Trotting will relocate permanently to its new home at Menangle, near Campbelltown. The sale and proposed redevelopment have divided the local community and the trotting community. Trotting officials see the input of cash as a means to revitalize trotting in NSW.

The last meeting at Harold Park saw eighteen thousand fans turn-out. The historic last race of the night was won by Karlow Mick. The winning posts were sold as souvenirs and were purchased by Ray Hadley for $10,000, proceeds going to Lifeline. Other spectators invaded the track after the last race souveniring items from the site, including one group who walked out with a large section of the running rail. Such was the scramble for a piece of history that during the next morning officials had to close the place and post security guards as souvenir hunters turned up in utes. The final word again goes to Michael Hutak , “we haven’t just shut down a venue , we have buried the trots in Sydney forever”.

Monday, December 6, 2010


If you travel over the Blue Mountains from Sydney via the Bell Line of road, about 20 kilometres from Lithgow, you come across the Zig Zag Railway. Here you can not only see a steam train in operation, but you can take a ride as the train 'zig-zags' down the step decent. The train operates every day of the year, except Christmas Day.There are also special events, such as Thomas the Tank Engine Day in January, train trips in period costume and the Footplate experience, where you stoke up and drive the engine.

A group of enthusiasts in period costume await the great train ride.

The original Lithgow Zig Zag Railway was opened on October 18, 1869. It carried the railway line down from the Blue Mountains into the Lithgow Valley. At the time it attracted considerable media interest, being described as "one of the most impressive sights and grandest bits of engineering in the world" (Sydney Mail October 24, 1891). The railway has a gradient of 1 in 42 and drops a distance of over 200 metres from the Clarence tunnel to the bottom of the valley. It passes over three sandstone viaducts and through the 164 metre long tunnel.The line is constructed through rugged terrain and virtually follows the original Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson track through the mountains. During construction the surveyors sometimes had to be suspended from the cliff tops by ropes.There were also two very public blasts used to clear rocks from the intended track route. These blasts attracted considerable attention and the second one was triggered by the Countess of Belmore, the governor's wife.

One of the engines working the line.

However the steep gradient meant that steam engines had to work hard to climb back out of the valley and it became a bottleneck in the system. The track continued in operation until 1910 when it was by-passed by a series of 10 tunnels. From 1910 to 1974 the upper levels of the track were abandoned with only the Bottoms Road section used in the new railway route. During World War 11 the Glenbrook, Clarence and Zig Zag tunnels were used to store chemical weapons for the Royal Australian Airforce. This included mainly mustard gas and phosgenes which were stored as bombs or in cylinders. These were all disposed of after the war.

John Compeagnoni on top and Wayne Eagle at the window.

In 1975 a group of enthusiasts decided to restore the line as a tourist attraction. Because of the difficulty obtaining rolling stock from the NSW government it was decided to use a different gauge, 1,067mm wide track rather than the original 1,435mm. Engines were acquired from Queensland and South Australia. The railway now has two operational steam engines DD17 1049 and AC16 218. It also owns a number of non-operational engines and a large collection of rolling stock and carriages.

The train' s furnace.

The line has gradually been extended from Bottom Points to Top Points, from Top Points to the First Clarence Railway Station and from Clarence to Newnes Junction. It now covers a distance of 7.5 kilometres. In 2003 the Railway was used in the production of a Hollywood movie, Stealth. The area represented the mountainous area of North Korea. Train engines were repainted with Korean Chosongul characters.

Carriages awaiting the arrival of passengers and the engine.

The tunnel, 3,658 metres above sea level, was reopened in 1987 after being cleared out by volunteers. Volunteer train driver Wayne Eagle started work on the Zig Zag laying track in 1975. He met his wife working on the railway but says the most exciting thing (after meeting his wife) was driving through the tunnel for the first time. This was the first time it had been driven through since 1916.

The AC16 218.

Damien Garton is another volunteer who is still only a young man. Damien, a train enthusiast, came up from North Rocks, in Sydney, with a friend to have a look at the railway. He was interested in the mechanical side of trains. He has been working as a volunteer fireman and guard ever since. John Compeagnoni has seen it happening since the beginning. He became associated with the Zig Zag in 1972 and continues to work as a driver and engineer.

The signal box at Bottom Points.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


"Tide's turn" by Peter Collins (NSW)

Sculptures by the Sea is the world's largest outdoor art exhibition. It evolved from an idea conceived by David Handley as he "played" amongst the ruins and art works of an outdoor sculpture park near the town of Klatovy, Bohemia in the early 1990s. David's idea grew and he was able to gain the support of artists and local councillors to run a one day event which attracted nearly 25 thousand people. This first event was organised over a ten week period in 1997. It attracted nearly one hundred artists and was run on a budget of $11,000.

"What have they ever done for us" Sasha Reid (NSW)

This year, during the 14th Sculptures by the Sea exhibition, over 100 sculptures of all shapes and sizes were laid out along the walkway from Bondi to Bronte. Artists from all across Australia and from eleven other countries, exhibited their work and competed for prizes. The exhibition has become a popular community event is expected to attract nearly half a million visitors.

"Mirroring 1995" Keld Moseholm (Denmark)

The prize of $60 000 went to the 75 year old Danish artist, Keld Moseholm. Moseholm has been showing his work in exhibitions in Europe and the USA for over 20 years. His prize winning work, "Mirroring 1995" showed two rotund figures engaged in a tug-o-war through a mirror. The work stands more than a metre high and is cast in bronze on a granite plinth.

"The Adaptable Migrant" Suzie Bleach & Andy Townsend (NSW)

The $5 000 Allens Arthur Robinson's People's Choice award was given to artists Suzie Bleach and Andy Townsend for their joint work "The Adaptable Migrant". This was a life-size steel camel. The camel had various objects in its stomach which were used and fondly remembered by migrants to Australia. These included a singer sewing machine, a ukulele, and a number of books.

"Bureaucratic tank" Edward Horne (NSW)

Another favourite was the life size army tank made from disused office equipment. The tank was created by artist Edward Horne and called "Bureaucratic tank". The statement in the catalogue really sums up this piece: "Bureaucracy is like a military tank. It won't stop for humanitarian values. It leaves a path of paper wherever it goes."

"Globoids" Marcus Tatton (Tasmania)

The average cost for an artist to create, transport and instal their work at the exhibition is approximately $13 000. This obviously varies with materials used, size of the sculpture and the distance it has to be transported, as well as the number of hours the artist has to put into creating their work. Japanese sculptor, Zero Higashida, is reported to have spent about four months creating his work "Portrait of Mr A", which was inspired by playwright Edward Albee. Victorian sculptor, Andrew Rogers was one of the first to sell his work this year. His piece "From optimism to hope", consists of three large flowers made of 24 carat gold leaf, stainless steel and bronze. The work took Andrew approximately half a year to complete. It has now been purchased by Canberra Airport at a price of $160 000.

"Splash" Tomas Misura (NSW)

There has been some controversy surrounding this year's exhibition. Many of the sculptures showcased are sold and the practice in the past has been to split commissions on these sales 50/50. However with tougher economic times it has been more difficult for organizers of the event to attract sponsorship. David Handley this year announced that the split would be 75/25, in favour of the organizers. It was claimed that this announcement was left until the last moment so that artists still felt obliged to display their work. It is claimed that four artists did pull their work from the show and that next year as many as 20 artists may boycott the event.

One of the figures from "Weeping Weeds" Jennifer Orchard (NSW)

While there was also some criticism of the sculptures this year overall the event achieved its aims despite difficult weather impacting on crowds. It has certainly made art and sculpture topical. It has brought sculpture to many people who might never look at or think about this art form, and it has continued to promote art as a topic for discussion. The fact that it still draws huge crowds to the exhibition each year makes it a major tourist attraction for Sydney.

"Lumphead" Fredrik Raddum (Norway)

Monday, November 22, 2010


Last night I attended the Opening Night Gala of the Japanese Film Festival as a guest of Mr Masanori Ohtani. It was the 14th time this annual event has been held. A launch was held in the foyer of the Sydney event centre, George St. After speeches from directors, critics and organisers, the party moved into the main theatre where a near capacity crowd saw the screening of the movie: About Her Brother.

About Her Brother was directed by accomplished Japanese director Yoji Yamada. The film explores the dynamics of a family as they deal with Tetsuro, a family member who is socially inept and continues to embarrass everyone. He is an alcoholic who becomes louder as he drinks. He has been disowned by many of the family members already, and finally is shunned by his sister who until now has been loyal to him. Finally the two are reconciled when she learns Tetsuro is dying. The story is sad, almost tragic yet is presented with a lot of humour and many laughs. It was a terrific film to open the festival with.

The VIP crowd enjoying some food and a drink before the performance.

The festival seems to have something for everyone. Confessions is a thriller mystery involving the murder of a four year old girl. This movie was a box office hit in Japan and is already sold out in Sydney.

Dear Doctor is a dramatic movie about an inspirational doctor who is loved by the whole town before his devastating secret comes to light which will change everything. This film has received awards for Best Actor and Best Film.

There is also the traditional samurai film in Sword of Desperation, while the film I would like to see is The Summit: A Chronicle of Stone. This film is based on the true story of conquering Mt Tsurugidake. It is inspirational and full of stunning scenery.

Ushers dressed in traditional costume added to the atmosphere on the night.

The festival is on in Sydney from 22 November until 28 November. It has already been on in Canberra; and will be on in Melbourne from 2nd to 7th december. An event well worth seeing.

A scene from the popular movie Shodo Girls.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


On Saturday 4th September 2010 the flag of Nepal flew proudly over Tumbalong Park at Darling Harbour in Sydney. The Nepal festival is held every two years, however this year was particularly significant as it marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Nepal. The festival aims not only to promote Nepal and Nepalese culture, but also helps to promote a sense of community amongst Nepalese people living in Australia.

The festival is jointly organised by the Non-Resident Nepali Association Australia (NRN), the Embassy of Nepal in Canberra, Nepalese Consulate Offices in NSW and Victoria and various Nepalese community organisations. While food is a big feature on the day there are also musical items, dancing, business information and an expo of Nepali culture. This year rain threatened to make the festival a washout, however after a slow start the crowd grew to near capacity spilling out of the park. A similar event will also be held in Brisbane on 11 September and in Melbourne on 20 November.

The festival was presided over by the President of the NRNA, Mr Dhuba. Official guests included MP Laurie Ferguson representing the Australian government, and my old friend Tony Stewart, representing the State government. Tony himself has been trekking in Nepal years ago.

The food was typically Nepali and I was very pleased to see a stall organized by the Gorkha Palace restaurants. It was good to have a feed of momos here and reminded me of making these at the children's home in Nepal. The Gorkha Palace restaurants are a favorite of mine and are located on Victoria Road at Gladesville and on Concord Road at North Strathfield. My good friend Saldap Lamichhale always makes you feel welcome and serves terrific, authentic Nepali food.

It was good to see traditional Nepalese dress being worn on the day and this added to the atmosphere. Dancers performed traditional dances as well as modern dances, but the highlight for many was the band 1974 AD who came all the way from Kathmandu. By the time they performed the crowd had swelled to some 20,000 people filling the park. There are a number of videos on You Tube showing the band in action.

One interesting stall in the park belonged to NetFox and MyTVchannel who are providing Nepali television channels in Australia.

Youngster are dressed in 'typical Nepalese spiderman' outfits.

Here I am pictured with another good friend, Narayan Mainali who was the Under Secretary in Canberra until recently returning to Nepal. Narayan had invited me to the festival.

Nepal is the only country in the world which has a flag which is neither square nor rectangular. Until 1962 the flag had human faces on it but these were replaced by a stylised moon and sun based on ancient Hindu symbols. The red colour of the flag represents the colour of the rhododendron(Nepal's national flower) and symbolises victory and bravery, while the blue border symbolises peace and harmony.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


A Roman signifer.

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ was a novel written in 1880 by American Lew Wallace. It is set in 26AD and tells the story of Prince Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy merchant born in Jerusalem. As the play opens he is reunited with his childhood friend, Messala, who is the commander of the Roman garrison occupying Jerusalem. Although they are happy to see each other again they are soon pushed apart by local politics. Ben-Hur is arrest and exiled into slavery. He serves in a Roman galley where he saves the life of a prominent Roman and is eventually adopted by him. Ben-Hur returns to his homeland where he drives in a chariot race against Messala. Messala is killed in the race but not before revealing that Ben-Hur's mother and sister are in a leper colony. All this is set against the religious story of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Roman soldiers at a well in the desert.

The novel was made into a silent movie in 1907 and again in 1925. In 1959 MGM again made it into a movie. The epic movie starred Charlton Heston and was on such an enormous scale that it has given rise to the saying "bigger than Ben-Hur". The film won eleven Oscar awards and is one of the most successful films ever made. In 2003 an animated version was created, and in 2010 a television mini-series. It has also been turned into a Broadway play. In 2006 Ben-Hur was turned into a live production at the Stade de France, a football stadium in Paris. In October 2010 the production was brought from France to the ANZ stadium in Sydney where it ran for two nights.

A gladiator fight.

The Sydney performance ran for 10 scenes, including an attack on a Roman galley, a gladiator fight and the famous chariot race. The performance lasted for just under two hours and was narrated by Russel Crowe. There were more than 200 cast members, 24 horses, 750 costumes and some amazing props used to recreate the action in Jerusalem, at sea, in the Roman Colosseum and the chariot arena in Antioch. Many of the cast and crew were from the French production but a number of local stars also assumed roles. Actor David Callan became the games master, while sports stars, such as Brett Kimmorley, Blocker Roach, Ian Roberts (all Rugby League) and Billy Brownless and Danny Frawley (AFL) played cameo roles. Amazingly also appearing in the performance was Giulio Pezzutti, a 76 year old resident from Fairfield West. Giulio, at age 19 had been an extra in the Charlton Heston movie in 1959.

A guest takes centre stage as the Emperor.

Before the performance on Saturday night some guests were entertained at the Emperor's feast. This was held at the stadium and hosted by Radio personality Alan Jones.Guests were also entertained by David Callan before dinning on eschallot tarte tatin with goat curd, crusted lamb and baked ricotta in true Roman fashion. The hall was decorated to suit the event and there were many extras and characters in Roman costume. One guest upstaged everyone by looking the part when he appeared in an amazing "Emperor's costume".

Chariots prepare for the big race.

The highlight of the show for many people was the chariot race involving six four-horse chariots. Most people in this day and age will never get to see a chariot race. The event was faithfully and painstakingly recreated in the stadium. The horses were 'auditioned', selected and trained by renowned Australian horse trainer Tony Jablonski. Tony has had more than 35 years working with horses in the entertainment industry but is probably best known for his work as the Horse Master of the Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony in 2000. Tony trained and put the horses through their paces at his Queensland facility before moving them to the ANZ stadium. The horse teams moved around the arena at an exciting pace which raised a cheer from the large crowd.

Roman efficiency.....clearing the arena.

The event was something very remarkable. It was the first time the Stade de France performance has been performed in english. At the stadium a performance area of 15,000 sqm was created. More than 2,500 tonnes of dirt had been used to cover a base of crushed bricks and red roof tiles in order to create an arena suitable for the chariot race. Digging up and replacing the dirt cost approximately $1.5 million dollars. Some estimates have put the cost of the whole production at around $15 million dollars. The Stade de France will offer more events to the ANZ stadium over the next four years.

The Roman galley.

The novel Ben-Hur was a best seller. It was the first work of fiction to be blessed by a Pope, being blessed by Pope Leo XIII.

Alan Jones.

Finale of the chariot race.

Monday, October 11, 2010


In 2006 the NRMA ran a campaign to attract young drivers as members. They offered one year free roadside assistance to all drivers under 21 years of age. This campaign was in response to a survey which found that almost one-in-five young drivers were worried about their cars breaking down.

The NRMA statistics also showed that 40% of young drivers had, in fact, at some stage broken down. Of those surveyed one in four had broken down on the way to a date, and that in many cases their date had not been impressed and wouldn't accept car trouble as a suitable excuse for being late. One in ten of those surveyed said that at some stage they had broken down on the way to a job interview and two thirds of these claimed it had had a negative impact on them getting the job. Almost one-in-five said they had broken down on the way to an exam.

Only 67% of these young drivers surveyed said they could rely on family or friends to help in the case of needing roadside assistance. The NRMA were concerned that there was a real safety issue when young people broke down and were left stranded. They hoped by providing free roadside assistance young people in trouble could call on one of their patrols for help.

Patrolman Matt Nesbit does running repairs on a motorised scooter at Crow's Nest in Sydney.

In 2010 it would seem the NRMA are targeting a different membership group. I recently observed an NRMA patrolman giving assistance to an elderly community member when their motorised scooter broke down. Patrolman, Matt Nesbit said this was now not an uncommon event.

The NRMA Motoring Blog refers to an interesting study done by Monash University. This study investigated the relationship between car colour and crash risk. The Monash study used statistics from two Australian states, Western Australia and Victoria. The study took into account driver demographics, light conditions at the time of the crash, vehicle type, crash severity and state of the road.

Earlier studies mentioned on the NRMA site found that white and yellow cars had a slightly lower risk of being involved in a crash (2002) and that silver cars were 50% less likely to be involved in a crash than white cars (2003). These findings may have been inconclusive as not all factors surrounding the crash were taken into account.

The Monash study concluded that compared to white coloured cars, black, blue, grey, green and red coloured cars had a higher crash risk in daylight hours. The fact that colours were less distinguishable and that headlights tended to negate car colour after dark made the difference statistically negligible. The Monash study further concluded that cars which were of a less visible colour had a higher risk of more severe crashes.

A spokesman from the RTA commenting on the study pointed out that while the results may be useful, other factors were more influential on crash risk. He emphasised driving within the speed limit, not driving after drinking and not driving when tired.

(None of the studies seemed to comment on the fact that red cars go faster and this may influence their performance as a crash risk!)

A growing problem in accident risk is the use of mobile phones. Research has found that driver reaction times are significantly reduced when a person is talking on a mobile phone (by as much as 35%) and even more when texting. Some reports have suggested that a driver who has been drinking has less chance of a crash than a driver using a mobile phone. A recent survey by Telstra revealed over a third of motorists admitted to reading or sending texts while driving. Some 30% of respondents in the survey also admitted to speaking for one to two minutes on their hand-held phones while driving. Around 46% of women admitted to talking on the phone while driving as compared to 28% of men.

However it is young inexperienced drivers who are of most concern. One report found only 28% of young drivers thought that using a mobile phone while driving was dangerous. Another Monash University study stated "The research found that when driving and sending messages at the same time, young drivers would veer out of their lane 63% more frequently. Think what would result if this happened on the Sydney Harbour Bridge". As it so happens I have seen a young driver texting and veer across two lanes on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.....fortunately it was at 4.30 in the morning and there was little traffic. At other times I have seen texting drivers go up onto the medium strip, and I frequently see drivers miss light changes because they are texting and not watching the road.

However to be fair to younger drivers, another source of driver distraction identified in surveys is children. An NRMA survey in 2005 claimed three out of five drivers have taken their eyes off the road to deal with children. Nearly one in five were guilty of swerving out of their lane due to being distracted by children. It seems fighting siblings(83%) and children interfering with the driver to be the main distractions. Fifty percent of drivers surveyed said they had at some stage stopped the car because they had been so distracted by children. In my family we always just threatened to stop the car, saying "you can walk from here", but I don't ever remember it happening.

An obvious victim of using a mobile phone while driving?

The NRMA Open Road website had the following tips to help drivers being distracted while driving:
*Keep children occupied with toys, tapes etc. and stopping regularly so they (and you) can let off steam;
*Let your phone go to voice mail. Pull over to make or answer a call or retrieve a message. And NEVER send an SMS while driving.

One final observation. I have always been in the habit of stopping to help a driver who is broken down or has a flat is the custom in the country. However these days it has become less common. Part of this may be because you are now never sure if people are broken down or have just stopped to make a phone call. I have twice now stopped to help cars which I thought were broken down(in particular one was stopped in a place you would only stop if the car did break down) only to find that they were simply using their phone.