A Canberra Adventure: Floriade and Living Green

I want to take a moment out of the travel series but still in the theme to talk a little about our nation’s capital. I have a great deal of affection for Canberra, but it is often dismissed as a boring city full of public servants with nothing to do or see. Granted, it’s not a cultural hotspot like Sydney or Melbourne. It lacks the historic beauty of Adelaide, the tropical temperatures of Darwin or Brisbane, or the stunning natural beauty of Perth or Hobart. However, I think it has it’s own special something, particularly in October.  I acknowledge it is now well into November and I am very late posting this.  Blame my computer troubles.

Anyway, why October? Well, in October there are two festivals that are a wonderful celebration of my favourite season, spring.

The first is Floriade. Floriade runs from the middle of September to the middle of October each year, and is basically a big celebration of pretty flowers planted in themed gardens. The theme for 2018 was pop culture. There were displays of superheroes, including Wonder Woman, Batman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which made me incredibly happy. There were emoji flower beds, a Where’s Wally, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Pikachu. There were multiple tubs painted as minions.

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Whatever floats Floriade’s boat, I suppose.  [Imagine description: three tyres stacked on top of each other and painted to look like a Minion from Despicable Me, with flowers growing out of the top tyre.]
I have to admit that 2017 was kind of “meh” in terms of the display. I don’t actually remember the theme, which is an indictment in itself. This year, though, I thought was stunning. The colours were intense, the displays were riotously beautiful, and the scent of those massed flowers was delicate and glorious. Canberra is apparently having a nicely warm spring this year too, so the weather was gorgeous.

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Tulips are always the most-used Floriade flower.  [Image description: lots of flowers, mostly tulips, in pink, white and yellow].
The best way to really get an idea of what the flower bed designs are is to catch a ride on the ferris wheel. It can be a bit hard to see some of the designs from ground level, which is a shame, because the gardeners work incredibly hard to come up with clever, legible designs. From on high, you get to see their work properly. Tickets for individuals cost $9 and you get around 3 or 4 passes at the top.

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It’s much easier to tell that this is supposed be Wally of “Where’s Wally?” fame from above.  [Image description: a flower bed planted to look like a portrait of Wally from “Where’s Wally?”, surrounded by people.]
Floriade also has a number of stalls from small businesses in and around the Canberra region. My luxury-loving sister never fails to get a silky soft merino pashmina from Opal Merino. My mum recommends the nut stall for cashews, almonds, macadamias and walnuts coated in chilli or sugar. My dad enjoys the local craft beers from Bent Spoke Brewery and Capital Brewing Co. I’m a fan of some of the hand-made soaps and also the big curly potatoes on sticks.

Food can be a little tricky for vegans at Floriade, although there are generally some accidentally vegan options. Canberra is a pretty hipster city, so you’ll also sometimes be able to scrounge a deliberately vegan but overpriced buddha bowl or something from one of the food carts. There is also live music and the occasional wondering entertainer on stilts or in costume.

There are also activities, games and stalls for children, as well as activities that you can book in advance. Alternatively, if you want a more structured night for adults, check out Nightfest. The flowers get illuminated with hundreds of lights and there are generally special displays as well as comedy, musical and theatrical acts. Just be aware that Nightfest has a cost for entry whereas daytime Floriade is free.

Floriade by its nature involves a fair amount of walking. Parking can be a nightmare to get close, and the displays themselves are fairly sprawling. If your endo keeps you from walking easily, you may want to not do it all in one go. Alternatively, wheelchair hire is available for $12. Just be aware that some of the paths are pretty rough. We hired a chair for me and while I definitely needed it, there were times I wished it came with a seatbelt. Some areas of ground were quite hard for my mum to push me over. I definitely recommend going early in the day, too, as Floriade draws huge crowds that are not always alert to the needs of wheelchair users.

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It’s worth taking some time at each bed.  The displays en masse are beautiful but there are also some stunning individuals hiding in the crowds.  [Image description: a close up of a red flower with a black centre, and some smaller purple and yellow flowers below.]
If you tire of the flowers and the vistas over Lake Burley Griffin, or if you are a hungry vegan who wants more than nuts, popcorn and potatoes, take yourself across the lake to Albert Hall and the Living Green Markets.

Although far smaller and less spectacular than Floriade due to its rather niche nature, Living Green still makes for a great time out. With a focus on veganism and environmental friendliness, the main draw for me is the food. Canberra Magic Kitchen, Veganarchy (still no idea how to pronounce that), and Rainbow Nourishments are just a few of the stalls that set up with curries, soups, pies, sushi, sausage rolls, cakes (cheese, cup and full-size varieties!), chocolate, ice-cream and snacks. This year I indulged in a Magic Breakfast from Magic Kitchen, which involved the creamiest spinach and tofu scramble I’ve ever had. My non-vegan husband agreed – 10/10 delicious. It also had some sort of veggie patty and a flourless bread that were unlike anything I’ve tried before. Now I want nothing else for meals ever again. I also had a peppermint Belgian hot chocolate from Dream, which is one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had – sweet but not overly, no obvious soy taste, and none of that nasty sludge at the bottom. For dessert I tried the rainbow pear and chai cake from Rainbow Nourishments. You’ve heard me rave about her cookbook before, but trying her products in person is even better.

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Yes, it looked this amazing.  It tasted fantastic too, although the slices were very generous and I felt overstuffed afterwards.  The buttercream to cake ratio was perfect.  [Image description: a cake covered in pink,blue, green and purple slices of pear}.  Photo courtesy of Rainbow Nourishments.
There are also stalls to raise funds and awareness for all manner of great environmental and animal-related causes, including Little Oak Sanctuary, the Animal Defender’s Office, Australian Rescue and Foster, and the MAWA Trust. You can buy vegan candles, handbags, wallets, make up, hats, cookbooks, advocacy books, and all manner of treats both savoury and sweet.  There is live music of variable quality but always a lot of passion.

Living Green has a sense of happiness and bustle as a multitude of vegans and environmental activists gathered to shop, mingle and (mostly) eat. If you visit Floriade on the first Sunday of October (Living Green’s usual date), I highly recommend taking a detour over to Living Green as well.  If you miss out in October but think you’ll find yourself in Canberra on the first of December, there’s another chance to sample the Living Green Market then.

Parking is a bit closer for Living Green and the ground is flatter, but the more cramped conditions may give wheelchair users some trouble.

Note for both events: bring cash! Although many stalls at Floriade accept cards, some don’t, and most at Living Green are cash-only.

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One more picture of a flower, because they were so pretty.  [Image description: a pink flower with a black centre and squiggly yellow stamen.]
Have you ever been to Canberra or attended either of these events? Please feel free to share your photos in the comments!

Book Review: Eggshell Skull

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee is not a book I would recommend reading unless your mental health is in tip-top order and you don’t have trauma around sexual assault, self-harm or eating disorders, because that is what the book is about (and consequently also this review).  

The title refers to the Eggshell Skull principle of criminal law – that if you hit a man with an eggshell-thin skull and it shatters, killing him, the fact that you didn’t know about his skull being so thin is not a defence to murder.  The book itself is about flipping that principle and making victims of abuse and assault strong, and forcing their abusers and attackers to face them.

It is an incredibly hard read, emotionally speaking.  It’s biographical, and from the outset Lee is a very relatable character, particularly to me.  She’s fresh out of law school and has landed a coveted associateship with a District Court judge, and spends a goodly portion of her time doubting whether she is good enough for the job, struggling to keep up with its pressures, and envying her Type-A colleagues.  I’ve certainly felt that.  Regardless of career field, I suspect we all have.

From there Ms Lee is thrown headlong into the world of criminal trials – almost entirely sexual assault.  There is a depressing monotony to the cycle of abuse victims reliving their trauma in the witness box and men whom Lee is sure are guilty being let off because the victim is portrayed as insufficiently virtuous or attractive to be raped – she was either definitely just a slut having sex and then regretting it, or she was lying outright because who would succumb to uncontrollable passion for someone who looked like that?  It’s a damning indictment of how women are too often not believed, whether it is medical conditions or rape trials.

Almost as bad is when Lee does see men convicted; one is Aboriginal, and it is clear that there is a racial factor at play because the white man the day before gets away clean.  Another is revealed to be a truly evil man, but his little boy loves him.  Yet another is a violent rapist with two convictions whose girlfriend has his side completely.  It’s another slice of heartbreak and just shows how few winners there are in the criminal justice system.  It’s messy and horrible, and a good reason why I don’t practice criminal law.

Woven throughout this is Lee’s own story – her horror at what she sees in court everyday as it bleeds into her own traumatic experiences and growing self-harm.  We find these out both slowly and suddenly.  There’s no hint of her own traumatic background, and then suddenly she is talking about a trampoline in the back garden and you realise, “Oh my goodness.  Someone raped her there.”

The story from there is Lee’s battle with self-harm, bulimia and alcoholism and her own fears.  It’s heartrending to hear her thoughts about her perceived lack of self-worth, and how that drives her to purge, to cut and to drink.  In her mind at the time, it was logical and necessary, and it comes from a desire to make her “spoiled” self perfect for the people around her.

Lee makes it, though, and she makes it to the point of reporting her trauma and taking on her abuser in the courtroom.  She learns from the horrors she witnesses in the courtroom and is determined to be the strong victim who fights back against her abuser, years after the event, in the only way she can.

The book is very hard to read on a number of levels.  For me, as a lawyer, seeing the flaws in the system I’ve sworn to uphold is always painful.  It’s imperfect and the desire to see people convicted for their crimes is in tension with the knowledge that everyone is entitled to a good defence and that anyone accused is innocent until proven guilty.  I also know that the vast majority of criminal matters never make it to trial, because the cases are black and white and the defendant pleads guilty to get a better deal on sentencing.  I also know that sexual assault cases are rarely black and white, as the book discusses.  Establishing sex occurred is the easy part.  Consent, that barrier between sex and rape, is harder.  There’s no forensic evidence in most cases to help establish it.  Most rapes don’t involve physical violence.  If they did, we’d have a much higher conviction rate.

It’s also hard to see a young woman labouring under the horrible pressures of the legal system as one of its workers.  I’m lucky in that I’m not a Type-A, overachieving, highly ambitious person.  I realised relatively young that my sister is cleverer and a harder worker than me, and that I’d kill myself trying to equal her, so I learned to sit back a bit and prioritise my happiness over my marks (somewhat.  Marks still mattered to me, just not as much).  That attitude carried over into my career.  I want to do well and be the best I can be, but I’m not competing against anyone, and I don’t need to be a top barrister or partner of a huge firm.  I don’t need stacks of money and I’m not willing to work 14-hour days to get it.  In other words, I’m a bit unusual amongst the legal profession.

In law school I saw a lot of people who were the complete opposite.  They are willing to take the absolute punishment of body, soul and mind that is required to get to the top as quickly as possible and distinguish themselves.  There are some people who are born for that kind of competition and labour.  There are others who have simply been told they are, and break themselves trying.  Given Lee’s circumstances during the book, she ends up being one of the latter.  She does amazingly well considering, but the pressure is clearly killing her.  I know that the legal profession can do that and that we have stunningly high rates of suicide and substance abuse, and Lee’s experience is a good explanation of why.

Hardest of all, though, is reading this book as a woman and knowing that if I were ever raped, this is what I’d come up against.  I’d have to hope that the assault was a violent, stranger-danger attack rather than someone I know well.  I’d have to be completely sober, wearing a long skirt or trousers, and not at a party.  On my side is the fact that I’m white, in a professional job, married, Christian, and don’t have a long history of partners.  No one can call me a “slut”.  I’m a “good girl,” and if I end up as someone’s victim one day, that might be the thing that convicts him.  On top of that, I’d have to demonstrate impossible strength in the face of horrible trauma, and relive it again and again as a witness.

Bri Lee is an incredibly strong, brave young woman, and this book should be read by everyone.  However, I don’t know if everyone will be able to.  It will leave your heart raw.

On Top of the World: Booroomba Rocks

I write these posts on my weekend, and I’ve just written three back-to-back about work, so I think it’s time for a little holiday.  Last time I took you to far north Queensland; today, we go more than 2,500km south down the east coast and slightly inland, to the Australian Capital Territory.

In January this year, my four best friends and I travelled to a little campsite called Honeysuckle Creek.  If this was Australia in 1969, I think people would have gone, “Oh, that’s so cool!” My reaction in 2018 was just, “that sounds pretty.” (Spoiler alert: it is, although I did not find any honeysuckle).

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The elusive honeysuckle. I found none.

I did find a creek, though.  I don’t know if it is the Creek referenced in the name.

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A creek of sorts.

The reason it might have run bells is, back in 1969, Honeysuckle Creek was part of the NASA Tracking Network following the moon landing.  The movie “The Dish,” was actually based on events that happened at Honeysuckle, not out at Parkes in NSW.  Apparently it was a point of contention for the two stations.  Honeysuckle Creek relayed the first images of the moonwalk in Australia.

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Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station in its glory days.  The road, the base of the dish, the outline of the buildings, and the glorious mountains are all you will see there now.  Photo by Hamish Lindsay, originally published here: https://www.honeysucklecreek.net/station/index.html

Now, unfortunately, there’s nothing much left of the tracking station, but it is a charming campground.  It has one big area for camper vans and trailers, and some smaller areas for schmucks like us who used tents.

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If you stand where the dish used to be and look down, this is all that’s left of the building in the photo by Hamish Lindsay above.

It is very quiet and peaceful, with beautiful walking tracks, and kangaroos, wallabies and possums are pretty much guaranteed sights.  Unfortunately, so are redbacks, which were in the compost toilet blocks.  However, as long as you leave them alone, they leave you alone.  They aren’t hugely aggressive spiders and will generally just sit and judge you as you use the loo.  Mosquitoes are also a large part of the local population, so bring lots of repellent and anti-itchy lotion.

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Kangaroos just chilling around our firepit.  They later found the frying pan we hadn’t yet cleaned and supped on chilli-infused oil.  Two of them had a fight over it.  That night, a possum stole all our choc-chip biscuits then tried to run off with a bag of cashes, and one of my friends had to have a tug of war with it.

The campgrounds are surrounded by gorgeous walks in most directions.  You can walk in from Canberra itself, if you are a real sadist, climbing over a big old mountain to get there, but most people drive.  Alternatively, gluttons for punishment can use Honeysuckle Creek as a starting point for a 200km+ walk to the Snowy Mountains.  To nobody’s surprise, we did not do this.

Instead, we headed for Booroomba Rocks.  Most people drive in from Canberra, park at Booroomba car park, and then make the 2.5km climb to the top.  Instead, we walked the 5.25km from Honeysuckle to the carpark, then made the 2.5km climb.

The walk from Honeysuckle to Booroomba is beautiful and undulating rather than mountainous.  There were tiny gorgeous flowers poking out all around the track, multiple bridges over little streams, and dozens of native birds (mostly cockatoos, shrieking from the tops of trees).  On the way back, we saw a large red-belly black snake, but these are shy of humans and slithered off pretty smartly.  At one point, we stopped and introduced our most inexperienced friend to the joys of trying to pee in the bush (something she swears she will never willingly do again).  Ironically, had we just walked on another 100m we’d have been at Booroomba Rocks carpark and its compost loo.  We just couldn’t see it through the trees.

The walk up to Booroomba Rocks is also very pretty, but it is killer.  It is incredibly steep, alternating between little rocky steps and just plain old hill.  At one point near the top, we passed a tree with “send nudes” carved into it.  Comforting to know that the very best aspects of modern civilisation had made it into the Namadgi wilds.  At several points some of us nearly died from being unfit.

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A very sweaty me at the top of the climb.  Despite all expectations, including mine, I did not actually die.

When you do make it to the top, though, it is entirely worth it.  The view is spectacular.

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Misty mountains to the south.

You can see all the way to Canberra if you look north, or out over the Namadgi National Park to the east.  If you climb the southern tip of the rocks, which involves a fair deal of bush-bashing, you can see nothing but mountains and trees all the way to the horizon.

 

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Me on the southern tip, having nearly died once more trying to get there.

 

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Some bold adventurers scrambling up the cliff face.

Skinks of various sizes will keep you company on the rocks, and some mad rock-climbers will attempt the sheer cliff face on the eastern side.

 

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Lil’ skink buddy.

Would I advise someone who has recently had surgery or a bad flare-up to attempt this climb?  Heck no.  After we got back to camp (16km round trip for me because I stupidly climbed both peaks on Booroomba) I was in considerable uterusy pain.  I had to lie down and die some more for most of the afternoon to recover.  In retrospect, it was very silly of me to climb the second peak, particularly alone as I did.  However, if you have been going through a good patch and are relatively fit, and happen to be in the Canberra region at the time, this is a beautiful walk.

What about Honeysuckle Creek?  Well, you could camp there relatively comfortably if you aren’t suffering too badly.  You would absolutely want to bring a comfortable bed and buckets of peppermint tea, though.  And hand sanitiser or camp soap, because those are not provided.  That being said, if you are in enough pain that camping sounds intensely unappealing, camping is not for you anyway, and Honeysuckle Creek is no different in that regard. Camping is not endometriosis-friendly generally – there are no microwaves for our heat packs, no showers if you start bleeding, and the inside of a tent is not interesting at all if you do become bed-ridden.

On the plus side, it makes it easy to get that lost-in-the-bush, hours-from-civilisation feeling without actually being more than an hour away from the closest chemist, fast food store, and medical centre.  That makes it ideal for people with endometriosis who are relatively well, but want to balance safety with adventure.  It does have a compost toilet, which is a step-up from some camp grounds, and running water (albeit not much).  There are some gentle, easy local walks to try.

Ultimately, it has to be your call about your physical condition.  If you think it will be ok for you, give it a whirl, particularly if you are a Canberra local.  On the other hand, if you are in big pain, play it safe.

Have you tried any campsites that make camping more endo-friendly?  What walks in your area are worth the trip?