In our backyard

After 22 years, it still astonishes us.

We live only 20 minutes from the centre of a big Australian regional city, but our front door looks onto farmland, rolling green hillsides, towering gum trees and astonishing birdlife.IMG_0559

Newcastle is a bustling tourism and industrial city on Australia’s eastern coastline, about two hours from Sydney.

The second biggest city in the state of New South Wales, it sits around a busy working harbour, with plenty of river and beach scenery.

Newcastle is also framed by hills and Lake Macquarie, the largest saltwater coastal waterway in Australia.

When our neighbourhood was developed in the city suburb of New Lambton Heights, local authorities had the good sense to set aside a section of bushland and rainforest as a community park immediately above our house.IMG_0558

Some landowners followed suit and, to date, have preserved a ribbon of former farmland.

This sums up what is In Our Backyard : a backdrop of towering gum trees, running streams and native birds mingling with the vibrant colours and scents of the lavenders, bottlebrush shrubs and camellias in the many big gardens.

We look out on native bushland from front and back and our street ends in fields and paddocks, creased by rocky outcrops and thick scrub.IMG_0562

It’s an honour to live amongst such natural splendour and even more so because we can still enjoy the attractions of the city literally right at our doorstop.

But, it is the community park that really adds the icing to the cake.

A refuge from the heat of the Australian summer and an ideal place to walk the dog or kick a football with the grandchildren, this parkland is our own little Wonderland – something treasured by the neighbourhood.

There is an open grassed area containing a picnic table and swings for the children.

But, the formal park area is surrounded on three sides by a green wall of white ‘ghost gums’, vines, creepers and strips of rainforest so dense that you cannot see more than two metres into the bush.IMG_0557

The area is dissected by a small creek that bubbles past, also unseen but audible clearly amid the tangle of nature.

We often visit just before sunset when the final rays of the day streak down between the trees and the bush turkeys come to the fringe of the scrub to scratch for food.

It’s a delight to sit quietly absorbing the beauty and solitude and listening to the chorus of birds farewelling the day.

Australia is truly blessed with natural birdlife and our backyard is fortunate to attract many species.

The ‘ping’ of Bellbirds; chatter of finches, sparrows and honey eaters; and coo of bush doves is ever present.

On most days, we catch sight of brightly coloured Rosellas and numerous species of bush parrots and, if we are lucky, there are also Kookaburras, whose distinctive laughter echoes back and forth through the area.

The area In Our Backyard also offers a superb front row seat to the legendary Australian sunsets, when the skies put on a show the equal of anywhere in the globe.

Our Backyard is special to us, but I doubt any words could adequately do it justice.

Aussie stories

Aussie music in Paris

The didgeridoo makes a distinctive sound all its own. You don’t easily confuse it with other musical instruments.

But you automatically associate the deep, earthy growl of the didgeridoo with outback Australia or with buskers in Sydney, Brisbane or Perth – certainly not glamorous Paris, France.

Imagine our surprise then as we came face to face with didgeridoo music swirling around the butte Montmartre, mingling with the chatter of tourists outside the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur.IMG_0900 We love Paris and, like most people, much of our passion is for the glamour, chic and carefree atmosphere of the City of Light.

With its secluded parks, artists’ studios, cafes and restaurants, Paris exudes romance like no other city we have ever experienced. We soaked it up – the delightful sound of the French language; the early morning smell of coffee and freshly-baked bread; and the colours of the artists and easels on Montmartre – the highest point in the city.

The romanticism of Paris couldn’t get much better. But then, as we paused to admire Sacre-Coeur, the drone of didgeridoo music took us completely by surprise.Sacre-coeur-interior Don’t get us wrong: it wasn’t offensive or overwhelming and didgeridoo music has long been a world sound – certainly not restricted to Australia.

It was just totally unexpected.

Here we were, a world away from ‘down under’, revelling in Parisian art and architecture, cityscape and riverbanks as we had earlier strolled along the Champs-Élysées and the Avenue de la Grande Armée – and ascended the Eiffel Tower. But suddenly, our homeland caught up amid our new-found bohemia.

image010We looked at each other and collapsed in laughter. The didgeridoo music – coming from somewhere below Montmartre – seemed so out-of-place echoing through narrow streets that had changed little since the 1800’s. In fact, when we thought about it, the situation was probably rather apt, given that the didgeridoo is an ancient instrument, possibly as much as 1,500 years old.

This incident made our visit to Sacre-Coeur all the more memorable. The Basilica is certainly stunning. We never tire of this marvellous icon in a city that also boasts wonders like the Palais Garnier opera house; Notre Dame Cathedral; the Louvre museum; and the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile.

Credit for photograph of Sacre-Coeur interior:   Nave, apse and altar of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, Paris, France. Date 9 May 2006 Source Own work Author Matthew Clemente

France 1 Paris 1

Accor continues to boost Mercure brand in Australasia

Accor’s network of Mercure hotels is continuing to grow in Australasia.

The latest Mercure hotels has increased the network to 49 across Australia and New Zealand.

The Ballarat Lodge & Convention Centre, in the Australian state of Victoria, has been rebranded Mercure Ballarat Hotel & Convention Centre.image003

This 71-room hotel is located opposite Ballarat’s popular Sovereign Hill attraction and boasts two restaurants, 24 meeting and conference rooms, a Day Spa and swimming pool.

Hotel Launceston in Tasmania is set to be rebranded to Mercure Launceston, complementing Accor’s other Tasmanian property, The Sebel Launceston. Located within the city’s business area, Mercure Launceston features 70 guestrooms, a restaurant, bar and a newly refurbished conference room.

The 74-room Best Western Goulburn, in New South Wales, has joined the Accor network under the name of the Mercure Goulburn. The hotel is located in the regional city of Goulburn, about 200 kilometres by road south west of Sydney.

In New Zealand, the Abel Tasman Hotel in Wellington is becoming the Mercure Wellington Abel Tasman. This 73-room hotel is located in the heart of Wellington’s business and entertainment district, and is within walking distance of Lampton Harbour. Facilities include a restaurant, bar bistro and four main function rooms which can cater for up to 120 people.

Chief Operating Officer of Accor Pacific, Simon McGrath, said that, by bringing internationally branded hotels into these areas, the company looked forward to “fostering and growing tourism in the regions”.

The four Mercure hotels will join Accor’s expanding franchise portfolio of over 70 hotels.

Hotel news

Australasia’s biggest Ibis

image002Brisbane has been confirmed as the site of the biggest Ibis economy hotel in Australasia.

Hotel operator, Accor, has announced that construction of the 368-room Ibis Elizabeth Street is expected to start later this year in central Brisbane.

Accor, which is Australia’s biggest hotel operator, says it has signed a management agreement with Middle East developer, Action Hotels.

The two companies have been working together in economy hotels in Australia and the Middle East since 2006 and, currently, have five Ibis hotels operating, with an additional three set to open by the end of 2016.

In Brisbane’s CBD

The Elizabeth Street development – said to cost $A90million and create more than 400 construction jobs – will adjoin the Myer Centre and Queen Street Mall in Brisbane’s heart.

image004It will also be within close walking distance of government departments and Brisbane’s casino.

When it opens in early 2016, the hotel will complement at least three existing Ibis facilities across the city, which is the capital of the Australian State of Queensland.

New Adelaide hotel

The Brisbane announcement is hot on the heels of last month’s  launch of the new $A70million ibis Adelaide hotel, with 311 rooms and facilities.

Accor Pacific’s Simon McGrath, says the company remains the leader in the economy hotel segment with 60 hotels in the Australian ibis ‘megabrand’ brand portfolio.

“Once operational, Ibis Brisbane Elizabeth Street will add another dimension to the brand growth as the largest ibis hotel in Australasia.

* Artist’s impressions provided by Accor