Some things I learnt walking the Milford Track

I had the absolute pleasure of walking New Zealand’s Milford Track in April 2016. Here are some tips and observations.

  1. There is an inverse relationship between the amount of time you are from the start of the walk and the amount of attention you pay to the weight of the items you’re packing. For example a few weeks before it seems like a great idea to take clean socks, underwear, handkerchiefs and cravats for each day, yet the night before it seems like a great idea to leave behind everything but two freeze-dried meals and an A5 sheet of paper.
  2. Despite the aforementioned relationship there will still be a young Canadian guy who’s decided to bring all his food in cans, making his backpack weigh about 70kg, but forgotten his raincoat.
  3. Freeze-dried meals really are light but make extremely grandiose claims as to their contents. From my testing Mediterranean Lamb with Black Olives, Chicken Tikka Masala and Apple Pie all taste pretty much the same.
  4. JAFA – Just Another Fucking Aucklander – is a term of endearment other New Zealanders use for their beloved brethren from the capital.
  5. Sleeping at close quarters with 39 other people has its moments. While snoring, farting and body odour can be challenging nothing compares to the late-night rustle-schwustle-schwustle as your cabinmates turn over or move their bodies slightly. And the rustle-schwulstle-zzzzzziiiiiiiiiiiiiippp-schwustle of the sleeping bag as your they head out for late-night ablutions at regular intervals during the night.
  6. Each hut has a resident Department of Environment ranger with what looks like a pretty incredible job. Most of these rangers could move easily into a career in standup comedy.
  7. Just like school camp there are rules in some of the cabins. In one the ranger said there was to be strictly no reading in bed at night. Also like school camp collective mutiny trumps the rules and the soft glow of head torch inside sleeping bag is evident in the bunkroom.
  8. The many rivers, creeks and waterfalls you’ll be walking alongside, over and/or through are crystal clear and highly drinkable. There are plenty of opportunities to swim if you enjoy being Really Fucking Cold.
  9. For those choosing to undertake the journey to take a break from heavy drinking the many suspension bridges along the way can simulate the experience of being pissed.
  10. Dropping something important, for example an expensive camera, from a ridge over one of the deeper river crossings can be a fun challenge for those fellow walkers who enjoy a game of ‘how long can I stay conscious whilst diving 4 metres down into a freezing river’ but will probably result in the camera staying behind.
  11. You may come across clean-looking walkers with miniature day packs – these people are doing a guided version of the walk with a company that provides accommodation, meals, wines and showers at luxury eco-lodges along the track. As you stumble past, cursing the extra cravats and handkerchiefs you packed, you can feel superior in your rugged independence.
  12. Some of the shelters along the way have two clearly marked sections, one for the independent walkers and another for guided walkers. This is weird as, apart from the gold-plated taps, 18-year-old single malt and Beluga caviar, the rooms look identical.
  13. The one problem with the Milford Track, according to well-known naturalist Ridley Scott, is that there aren’t enough palm trees. Hence as we emerged blinking from our four day wilderness adventure and took the final crossing from Sandfly Point to Milford by boat, it was pleasing to see helicopters ferrying palm trees across the water to the film set for Alien: Covenant. Because you know, it’s an OK bit of wilderness but just not quite right.

Day2: Least flattering photo ever

Photos by Tim Scanlon.

Moments of joyous rock n roll anarchy on Australian TV

Australian TV hasn’t always been full of scripted reality cooking and renovating shows. Proof:

Iggy Pop on Countdown, 1979

Iggy’s manic interview with Molly and subsequent highly entertaining miming of I’m Bored. Iggy blames jetlag. I love the way the girls in the audience keep recoiling from the flailing mike stand.

Cold Chisel, Countdown Music Awards, 1981

Riding high on the release of second album East Cold Chisel closed out the Countdown Music Awards – where they took out eight awards – with half a song and then smashed the set and their gear. They say it was in protest against sponsors TV Week being involved in the awards. TV Week were not amused and weren’t involved again.

Billy Idol, Countdown Music Awards, 1984

Billy had “had some really heavy sex” in Australia.

Lubricated Goat, Blah Blah Blah, 1988

From an early episode of Andrew Denton’s Blah Blah Blah. Classic clip and song from a great Sydney band.

Ben Folds, Midday Show, 1997

For Kerri-Anne Kennerley it was “one of those days” when Ben Folds Five put in a spirited performance of One Angry Dwarf on Midday. Unhappy chappy Geoff Harvey: “I just don’t understand”.

(For a bonus Midday Show tangent there was also Normie Rowe and Ron Casey’s infamous 1991 punch-up).

John Spencer Blues Explosion, Recovery, 1998

Full of beans frontman John Spencer doing his thing on Saturday morning TV.

England, Europe, the Middle East by truck in the 1970s


Malcolm Coates

As a child growing up in southern England in the 1970s I knew my dad, Malcolm Coates, wasn’t like other dads. His job was driving trucks (or lorries as we called them back then) and he went  everywhere – across Western Europe, to Hungary, Romania, Greece and Turkey  and, as the years went  on, even further. By 1975 he was driving  to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran, spending weeks away at a time. His truck was his workplace, his bedroom and his kitchen (he fitted a  huge steel box and it was full of canned food and a primus stove).

As I got older I started spending my school holidays in the passenger seat of dad’s Volvo, travelling between  farms in the south of France, factories in Stuttgart, industrial estates in Denmark. I never got further than Europe though – before I was old enough to go the 1979 Iranian Revolution put an end to most of the Middle East trips .

We moved to Australia in 1982 and, despite short stints at ‘normal’ jobs,  it was inevitable that dad would end up on the road again. In 1985, en route from Melbourne to Brisbane,  he  was killed in an accident near Coonabarabran.

In a box under the bed I have a handful of memories of his  adventures in the 1970s: some photos, passports, diaries, an invoice book and an ageing Radclive Transport brochure. I’m sharing some of these snapshots of a truly unique way of life …


These are  vivid documents of their  time despite being poor quality shots that are showing their age. (They’re all undated and I don’t know where most of them were taken, apart from  two that have something written on the back, noted below).

Desert fuel stop, MIddle East
‘Fuel Qatar’ written on the back

Titled 'old road to UAE'
‘Old road to UAE’ written on the back


Our family: Steve, Val, Suzanne, Malcolm Coates, dog Bella – around 1978



Because he crossed so many borders dad’s British passport filled up before it expired so a second one had to be attached by the passport office.


Diaries and invoice books

1978-05-18-sm 1978-05-20-sm

Radclive Transport

Radclive operated  from Faringdon in Oxfordshire. Dad drove for  them from about 1974 and and eventually hung up his truck keys to become their Operations Manager in 1980. As much as nine year old me  enjoyed  having the run  of the Radclive yard  on the  forklift, working in the office didn’t  suit him – less than two years later  we left England for Australia, where he ended up doing  a different type of long haul driving. Below is a Radclive brochure from around ’77 featuring dad and his trusty F89 Volvo registration FJO 522S (he  was lucky enough to walk away from a serious accident in another Radclive Volvo  in the former  Yugoslavia,  an event accompanied by a fantastic story that  has been told in our family for so long  I’m not sure which bits of it are true).


Get in touch

I was 14 when dad died so I never got to talk to him as an adult about these experiences. I don’t know all the places he went, most of the people he met and how it affected who he became. If you knew him or were part of this world and would like to  share your experiences or  talk more about it please leave a comment below or contact me.

Twelve great podcasts 2014

There are so many great podcasts out there right now. Here’s twelve of the best, covering pop culture, daily life, indepth interviews, history, science and humour.

(As well as the convenience of listening when you want another joy of the podcast format is that when you one you like you can go back and raid the back catalogue, which for some of these shows is huge).

the list podcastThe List

Australia · Radio National · weekly · about 30 mins · website · iTunes · free

A summing up of pop culture happenings from the past week followed up with an indepth discussion on one or two specific topics. Funny and smart host Cassie McCullagh invites one or two guests per episode to discuss trends across music, books, movies, tv, fashion and wider impacts on Australian and global culture.

For example: What Miley Did Next, The Truth About Digital Dating, Selfies At Funerals

pop culture happy hour podcastPop Culture Happy Hour

US · National Public Radio · weekly · about 50 mins · website · iTunes · free

A round-table take on pop culture from a regular gang of US National Public Radio writers and specialists on film, theatre, books and music. Extended discussions around themes (pop culture punching bags, rites of passage, the rise of subtitled film and tv) are fun. Sometimes a bit too much focus on US television for me but the regular team riff together well no matter the subject.

For example: Disney princesses, How many band members have to leave before it’s not the band?

wtfWTF with Marc Maron

US · Marc Maron · twice weekly · 60-90 mins · website · iTunes · new episodes free / subscription for older/premium episodes

American standup conducts extended interviews with actors, comedians, actors and musicians in his garage. Maron’s style is rambling and slightly manic ; his openness with his guests is often reciprocated and along with the longer format results in some of the most honest and insightful interviews I’ve heard from his subjects. I cherrypick through his episodes and focus mostly on the musicians as I don’t know many of the comedians he has on.

For example: Elijah Wood, Moon ZappaIggy PopNick Cave, J Mascis (some of these are premium/subscription)


US · Nerdist Industries · weekly · 50-90 mins · website · iTunes · free

A similar extended interview format to WTF but with younger and zanier hosts, Chris Hardwick and buddies. At time of writing I’ve only listened to a couple of these, drawn in by the recent Neko Case interview.

For example: Neko Case, Daniel Radcliffe, George RR Martin

this american lifeThis American Life

US · WBEZ Chicago · weekly · 60 mins · website · iTunes · latest episode free / older episodes can be streamed on their website or purchased for $0.99

This long-running podcast deserves all the accolades it’s received – it really is extraordinary both in style and the range and depth of subjects covered. The house style puts the voices of its subjects to the forefront.

For example: Harper High 1 & 2, When Patents Attack, Middle School, Switcheroo

stuff you should knowStuff You Should Know

US · How Stuff Works · about 40 minutes · website · iTunes · free

Well-established, the rockstar of the How Stuff Works stable of podcasts. Hosts Josh and Chuck have a relaxed style and cover a huge range of scientific, historical and social topics of with insight and humour.

For example: How Barbie WorksWas There a Curse on King Tut’s Tomb?, Who Are the Amish?, The Real How Jack the Ripper Worked, Shark Diaries

stuff you missed in history classStuff You Missed In History Class

US · How Stuff Works · about 30 minutes · website · iTunes · free

Another How Stuff Works podcast covering a range of historical subjects. The show has had a number of hosts in its history – current hosts are Tracy Wilson and Holly Frey.

For example: Boudica, The Luddites

in our timeIn Our Time

UK · BBC Radio 4 · 40 mins · website · iTunes · free

Serious, no messing around here. Host Melvyn Bragg guides specialist academics – usually from Oxbridge – through indepth discussions of their specialty areas.

For example: Pliny the Younger, Social Darwinism, Chivalry

history of rome podcastThe History of Rome

US · Mike Duncan · about 15 mins · website · iTunes · free

A comprehensive and epic 179-episode series that took creator Mike Duncan five years to research and create. Covers more than 1,000 years of Roman history, from the founding of Rome to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476. Impeccably researched and presented in a easygoing episodic narrative style.

history of world war twoThe History of World War Two

US · Ray Harris · 20-60 mins · website · iTunes · free

Similar in approach and style to The History of Rome, an indepth account of the politics and events of World War Two. Hugely detailed – major events like Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain each get several episodes.

lexicon valleyLexicon Valley

US · Slate · 30 mins · website · iTunes · free

A word and language geek’s delight, hosted by linguist Mike Vuolo and writer and commentator Bob Garfield

For example: Etymology of the word faggot, DudeWhy is No among a Child’s First Words?

judge john hodgmanJudge John Hodgman

US · Maximum Fun · 60-90 mins · website · iTunes · free

A very funny fake internet courtroom in which the very witty John Hodgman passes judgement on petty disputes between couples or friends. Full of pop-culture references and judgements with genuine wisdom beneath the jokes.

The Book Case, Department of Corrections, The Right to Remain Silent, Backseat Jiver

Bellingen floods – when do bridges close?

Update: If you’re wanting to see where Lavender’s Bridge in Bellingen is open go to the Kombu floodcam.

There’s lots of information available from the Bureau of Meteorology website about river heights but I find that it doesn’t really answer the important question most people have: when can I get across the bloody bridge(s)? Below is a quick summary table pulling together in one place

  1. the main four bridges in and around Bellingen – in town, Thora (if this one’s under no-one can get in our out of the valley and/or Chrysalis and Orama schools), Glennifer and Kalang
  2. what river height they close at, and
  3. live river height data from the Bureau of Meterology website (click the small picture to see full size graphs)
Locality Bridge
where it is/river
Closes Live Data
from BOM
Bellingen see on map Lavender’s Bridge in town Bellinger River about 4.9 metres
Thora see on map Hobart’s Bridge near Chrysalis School Bellinger River about 3 metres
Gleniffer see on map Gleniffer Bridge near Gleniffer Hall Never Never Creek anyone know?
Kalang Moody’s Bridge Kalang Rd Kalang River about 3 metres on the Kooroowi gauge

Any feedback or corrections welcome, please leave a comment below.

Bridge locations on the map

View Bridges around Bellingen that flood in a larger map (in new window on Google Maps)

On the road 2010

My partner Annette and our two daughters – aged 14 and 11 – will be on the road through England, France, Malaysia and Laos for the next two months. Woo hoo!

We’ll all be writing about our experiences as we go.

Follow our adventures at On The Road 2010, our travel blog →

Luscious Juicy Delicate Ceramics Exhibition, Bellingen

Bellingen-ites – don’t miss this fantastic group exhibition, opening at Infusions on Saturday July 3. Ceramics by Nicole Stenson, Jennifer Chadwick and Annette Rogers, paintings by Beth Gibbings.

Here’s some shots of Annette’s work from this morning’s photo shoot. (Had to get some pics before they all get snapped up!)

Skype Spam

Has anyone else noticed an increase in Skype spam via instant messaging  of late? I’m getting lots of instant messaging Skype spam now as opposed to the calls/contact requests that seem to have been the first generation of Skype spam.

What I’m talking about is unsolicited Skype chat messages that pop up offering links to the usual types of spammy websites – viagra/cialis/wonder herbs, ‘male enhancement’, stock market stuff, porn, dating.

The penis enlargement/sexual stamina spammers often make use of Skype’s animated chat emoticons to, um, ‘enhance’ their spam.

There’s not a great deal you can do to stop getting spammed on Skype but if you do I recommend you immediately click  ‘Block’ and then tick the ‘Report abuse from this person’ checkbox to stop the person from contacting you again.

(More detailed instructions for both Windows and Mac versions of Skype is available on the Skype blog).

Are you a professional journalist? You write very well | Sneaky blog comment spam

Another kooky type of spam I’ve been getting a bit of lately is blog comment spam. This is where comments are left on a blog in the hope that they’ll be published and will then leave a link from the commenter’s name – which will always be keyword-heavy, something like ‘cheap viagra’ – to their dodgy website.

By writing meaningless, vaguely legitimate sounding and usually mildly flattering wording (“You write very well”, “I’ll add you to my favourites”) in their comments these spammers try to trick comment spam filters like the excellent Akismet (34, 769 spam comments caught on my eeny little blog in the past six months).

Here’s a sample of some of these spam comments left on this blog recently (all caught by Akismet). Of course I’m not going to publish the links but I will put the names left with each to give you an idea.

I read blogs on a similar topic, but i never visited your blog. I added it to favorites and I’ll be your constant reader.
singulair generic

Are you a professional journalist? You write very well.
cipro side effects

There’s a wealth of information here. I’ll be back again.
Business Man

Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!
physical therapist

If he doesn’t know what he is doing, mutual fund is the way to go. That might be counted as cheating in the class though.
reports from CEO

and my favourite so far:

Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!
School Grants

These are so transparent, lacking in imagination and clumsy in their attempts at flattery that I kind of like them. Sometimes a new one will come through in the spam comments list and give my day a little lift. Sad but true.

Update: May 30 – this very post has to date received 10 of these spam comments, about one a day since it was published. Thanks Mr Cialis, penis enlargement guy (no, I don’t take it personally) and friends…

The Curious Incident of Swindon in Popular Culture

I grew up near Swindon, a humble town about 120km west of London in the UK. Actually, I grew up in Wroughton, a village just out of Swindon but when you live on the other side of the world – as I have since the early 1980s – and people ask what part of England you’re from you say Swindon. (If that draws a blank you zoom out a bit and go for “sort of near Stonehenge”).

Even as a child I suspected there was something fairly unspectacular about Swindon. I don’t mean that in a nasty way – I just knew it didn’t have the exoticism or historical monuments or tourist drawcards of other parts of the world. For example, for a long time the most interesting things I knew about it were

  • The town’s most favoured son is19th century engineer and railway man Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Isambard was important enough to have the shopping centre named after him.
  • There is a crazy ‘multiple roundabouts’ roundabout in Swindon that locals call The Magic Roundabout. Family lore has it that my Nanna used to take the long way around town to avoid it. It was apparently voted ‘the fourth scariest junction in Britain’ in 2009 (putting it’s tagline in the same class as The Flight of the Conchords’ ‘fourth most popular folk duo’).
  • Kind of well-know 50s and 60s actress Diana Dors was from Swindon
  • Something crazy and complicated happened with Swindon Town Football Club in the 1990s that saw them move up and down the divisions in the league.

In recent years however this has all changed. It seems that no matter where I look in popular culture Swindon’s there, giving me a “and you thought I wasn’t cool” kind of glance.

One: The Office

It started with comic masterpiece The Office. In the Season One veiled references were made to the Swindon branch. In Season Two the branches are merged and the Swindoners become part of the team. Neil Godwin who becomes David Brent’s superior is heaps cooler than Brent. (That’s Swindon blood for you).

Two: Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next

Not long after this I started reading Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series of novels. For those who are unfamiliar the five six novel series (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten and First Among Sequels and One of Our Thursdays is Missing) are a bizarre mix of comedy and fantasy peppered with literary and other high- and low-culture references. They’re set in an alternate history version of today’s world. No prizes for guessing where most of the action takes place – the books are full of locations in and around the big S. Like Fforde’s books his website is a world unto itself, and includes a section called The Seven Wonders of Swindon.

Three: The Curious Incident

My third random brush with Swindon in an unexpected context – and the inspiration for me writing this post – came when I read Mark Haddon’s excellent 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time a few weeks back. Yep, set in Swindon. In a pop will eat itself bonus the main character Christopher even discusses another literary reference to Swindon to add to the list – in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Boscombe Valley Mystery Sherlock Holmes lunches in Swindon.

Where it all happens.

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