Real Estate reality check – most Sydney houses are pretty strange

After spending two years searching Sydney for the ideal home, my wife and I are finally ready to delete the RealEstate.com.au and Domain apps from our iPhones. It has been an obsession that took us to dozens of Open Homes, hundreds of secret drive-bys and turned us into highly critical buyers and highly frustrated sellers. We also started cataloguing all the weirdest compromises people make.

Every home has something odd, if you look under enough rugs or check enough floor plans.

We found that over time, our standards dropped and our criteria loosened, but even still, some houses – even some we were considering bidding on – were beyond strange.

Here are some of the bizarro beauties we didn’t buy…

Barton Crescent Hurlstone Park

This is the house that got us thinking we should sell our home. Sure, it said five bedrooms but we figured that it was really 4 plus a study. Sure, it was hideous with wall-to-wall pebblecrete and would take years to salvage, but that would only turn people off, right? Sure, it was a good size block in a cul-de-sac near the train station, but if the agent says it’s affordable then… why did it get passed in for $100k more than what we were told it would go for? (To the agent’s credit, they refunded our building inspection.)

Here’s how we first saw it, followed by my own artist’s impression of how we may have saved it.

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Hampton Street Croydon Park
Again, we were on the lookout for 3BD homes but when a 5BD shows up in search results, you think you might somehow be on the only person to have spotted it. That is, until inspection day. This home had large living spaces, a pool, parquetry floors and off-street parking. And how many homes can offer you a fully-decked backyard! Every inch is ready to be oiled every year, allowing you to embrace the outdoors by standing, sitting in chairs, walking and chasing things your kids poke between the cracks.

Brighton Street Croydon
Despite my deeply held personal convictions, we even considered this 1980s McMansion. Miss-matched fences, seriously dodgy brickwork and a damp backyard aside, this ode to owner-builders had a sloping floor fit for Wet N Wild, plus more unfinished surfaces than a rock quarry. Plus, there were unfathomable decisions including a shower added to the rear of the kitchen. The kitchen! The laundry was nowhere to be seen but turned up hidden in the double garage – a garage to which there was no car access! Genius!

Higginbotham Road
Apart from the wood-panelled and windowed ceiling shown, this home had the strangest bathroom we’d ever seen. A fully moulded sky blue plastic shell, like a toilet cubicle from a 747. Easy to clean with no corners or crevices, but the feeling that the seatbelt light might come on at any time. And that was the ensuite.

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Barons Cresent, Boronia Park.
Even a driveway can make a house difficult to sell.
We really wanted this to work. We could get the kids into the great local school in this leafy suburb no one has heard of near Hunters Hill. This home ticked lots of boxes and then added a bunch more – bushy outlook, secluded property, north-facing, it even backed onto Lane Cove River which was visible beyond a mangrove boardwalk! Problem was, the house was on poles and the heavily sloping backyard was down 30 steps. The real dealbreaker came when we tried descending the narrow, steep battleaxe driveway in our new seven-seater. No guest would brave it, and I had palpitations just reversing out. No thanks.

Charles Street Petersham
Oddball from go to wo. It had enough character for me to ask for the contract while my wife was running for the door. This reasonably cramped semi featured the biggest walk-in robe we saw in any home. Outside there was an overgrown garden accessible only beyond a tree you had to limbo under. Their homemade glass atrium felt like an escape module. And then there was the garage, fit for a, err, shed.

Lyle Avenue Lindfield
The agent said it was an ‘idyllic bushland setting’, but being in Lindfield, that was a given. The house? It was a cool vintage number but the tree – a Myrtaceae myrtle – out the lounge room window was all we wanted. Yes, we genuinely considered buying a house way out of our area and out of our political and socio-economic comfort zone, all just to gaze at the most outstanding angophora we had ever seen. Its orange tones radiated like a bar heater. It was one of many on 1075 square metres. The house was a bit like Rose Seidler’s one up the road – with original furniture by the looks – and it eventually sold for less than $900k. Outrageous.

The tree was worth at least a million.

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The tale of my selfish urban vanity (SUV)

BUCKLEUP!

Light rain was spotting across the hood of my friend’s Alfa Romeo. The rain started coming in waves and might have even put out the fire flickering in the bush nearby – but considering what had just occurred, my friend wasn’t taking any chances.

He pulled my unconscious frame from the now burning wreck. All windows had been shattered and the windscreen was gone, allowing him to drag me over the dashboard and across the crumpled bonnet. The tree that had put a stop to our trip down the mountain was now skewering the back half of the car. I imagine I also looked like a wreck, bleeding from the ears, arm and with a serious seatbelt burn that had left parts of my neck skinless. The whiplash was severe enough to put me in a neck brace for a fortnight but it was the contusion to the side of my brain that would cause doctors the greatest concern.

My skull had made impact with the pillar beside the passenger seat. Ironically, this reduced the stress on my spine from severe lateral movement, the doctors told me some days later. Without that pillar, they believe my my neck would have snapped.

That was fifteen years ago. These days, some vehicles come with side (curtain) airbags.  Last month, I was in a used car dealership weighing up a truckload of factors; price, fuel efficiency, warranties, baby seat anchor points, cupholders, and curtain airbags, asking myself, “Am I seriously going to pass that up?”

—————-

suvs everywhere

The decision of what to drive sees personal responsibility ramming right into various measures of safety, convenience and economy.

That horrendous day I was in a crash was fifteen years ago. I can’t actually recall any of it – beyond getting into the passenger seat minutes before the accident – but it weighed on mind last month, I was in a used car dealership weighing up a truckload of factors; price, fuel efficiency, warranties, baby seat anchor points, cupholders, and curtain airbags, asking myself, “Am I seriously going to pass that up?”

As of December 27, three Australians have died in cars each day since Christmas Eve. This is appalling but it is actually less than the average for Australia  (3.5 deaths per day). On the list of countries by traffic-related deaths, we are 11th best. (By comparison, Canada is 22nd and Russia is 57th.)

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The push for more safety features in vehicles has clearly helped reduce fatalities, as have road safety campaigns, for which our nation is well known. One five-minute montage by Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission has been viewed 15 million times.

So the message appears to be getting through. Yet, I am still baffled by the decision of many people to purchase larger cars. Larger cars are not necessarily safer than smaller cars. SUVs are more likely to rollover.

Clearly, owning a jacked-up road-hog is no big deal for many Australians. A high-riding soft-roader is now the choice of many people over the old 5-door monsters of the eighties with SUVs remaining the fastest growing segment of the Australian market in 2012, with sales up 25.3 per cent over the previous year, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

I have railed against these north-shore tractors for some time – even in this very blog – so the choice creates a contradiction in my life bigger than a 2.7 tonne Lexus LX.

Climate change is real, humans influence it, and these gas-guzzling leviathans are certainly a detour on the road to cleaner energy. Plus, this is an issue of safety – for those travelling outside your heavy-metal cocoon; your limited visibility, greater weight and longer stopping distance, doubles a pedestrian’s risk of death in an accident. The size of SUVs also make them a menace to smaller vehicles, bikes, motorcycles or scooters. What risk am I happy to put other road users at?

WE WERE DUPED

In many ways, the car industry pulled an enormous swifty on buyers with the marking of such high-powered battle wagons. Just as petrol prices jumped and we all began to ditch larger family cars, and manufacturers were finding ways to pull greater performance from smaller engines, we were all sold a new fantasy that SUVs (Stupid Ugly Vehicles) could help us escape the monotony of standstill traffic with the option to go off-road at any time. It was as absurd as it was successful.

The do-gooders yelling, “Wait! Didn’t we spend the nineties mired in a hellish war over oil?”, were easily drowned out by the aspirated rattle of new SUVs leaving dealerships all over the world.

Take a moment to consider that a car ctegory that did not exist in the 1980s, now has seven sub-categories: Compact, mid-size, large, crossover, hybrid,off-road, and 3-row SUVs.

Many popular small SUVs fail a critical crash test (link below)

I would have preferred a station wagon renaissance – functional, practical, five seats and room for a late-night romp at the drive-in theatre – but no, we had to have more mountain-range Tonka toys. Thanks, Detroit.

HEY DUDE, WHERE’S MY CARGO SPACE?

The stupidity of most SUV designs is clear; more people equals more stuff, but manufacturers seem to think fifteen cup holders will do the trick. It does not. As a result, many SUVs now carry luggage pods on roof-racks. It’s madness. While no middle-class mother needs a 3-tonne vehicle to carry their kids to soccer practice, they do need more space. Families are buying an increase in height and weight – and nearly always a loss of fuel efficiency – along with much less boot space than a traditional family wagon or even some hatchbacks would have provided.

Bootspace in SUVs:

  • Volkswagen Tiguan (SUV): 395L
  • Mazda CX-5 (SUV): 403L
  • Subaru Forester (SUV): 422L

Bootspace in Non-SUVs

  • Mazda 3 hatchback: 430L
  • Commodore Sportwagon: 895L

This left me with three remaining issues.

PEOPLE MOVERS

The Honda Odyssey, The KIA Carnival, the planet-sized Mercedes Vito all offer at least seven seats but in the case of the Honda and KIA, the bootspace is sadly lacking and bizarrely, access to the Odyssey’s third row is restricted if you have kids in the middle row. This is akin to buying a bigger TV with an immovable sticker in the middle of the screen. Great… but, c’mon!

SEVEN SEATERS

So you want five seats AND a boot big enough for five people? I decided the best way around this dilemma was to get an extended SUV that has a large boot when you lie a third row of seats flat. I wish it were a seven seater station wagon but such models usually include after-market seats that face backwards. If your kid is blind, this is perfect. If they are not, they soon will be. I like to think of it as more of a people mover.

DIESEL POWER

I love diesels. They have less parts, travel further on a single tank and will last longer than your average petrol engine. Annoyingly, I am pretty sure that the week i bought my first diesel, the price of diesel fuel began creeping above the cost of unleaded and it ids often 5% above it.

Thankfully, How Stuff Works says “the diesel is hard to beat, delivering as much as 25 percent more mileage (on diesel fuel) than a gasoline engine of similar size” – something I have found to be true even when driving a car in the inner suburbs 80% of the time.

Diesels also offer our best chance of bio fuel becoming a viable option. There are some concerns about carcinogens in diesel fuel you should know about. If you think the smoke is brown, there is turbo lag or the engine noise is much worse than petrol engines, modern diesels have done away with all these.

More reading:

Your SUV uses more fuel (per person) than a Boeing 737

How to Buy A Fuel-Efficient Car

Diesel Emissions Spark Health Fears

American Gun Deaths to Exceed Traffic Fatalities by 2015 – Bloomberg

Bicycle sales overtake CARS for the first time ever in Europe

Popular small SUVs fail critical crash test

Cutting your car use

National holiday road toll falls by nearly half on last year

 

First World Problems? Get in line. On Twitter. At IKEA.

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Flicking through people’s complaints to IKEA is the best lesson in First World Problems you will ever have.

Costco – but at what cost?

Visiting Costco took more gusto than I could previously muster. But today, under the mistaken idea that the big-box store sold dishwashers, I headed into the fray.
I left thirty minutes later, concerned for our society, empty-handed and with bruised ankles.
Here’s how it went down…
1) Entering the carpark on a rain Friday at noon… I discover this is apparently the peak period for masses of adults dressed in smart casual to go bulk shopping in SUVs .
2) I find a car spot and a mega trolley. Costco trolleys are made to carry a month of shopping and a flat-screen TV. And I saw this proved time and time again. It also straps in two children and there’s room for two more. I also saw this fact proved. “Look how big their family is!” My 3-year-old said. And there they were, mum pushing all four kids in one trolley.
3) Entering the building is my first challenge. There are people everywhere but as I watch, none have any discernible direction. There are no signs saying SHOP ENTRANCE so I circle the entire carpark till I am drawn, inexplicably, along with another twenty trolley-pushers, toward what could only be the Death Star.
They all move as one up a long ramp. It feels like Aldi so far, except it’s not to scale.
4) I get inside and there are more trolley traffic jams. As I wait for movement up ahead, I am overtaken several times. It’s as cut-throat as the carpark. At least as shoppers, everyone apologises for ramming each other in the ankles.
Is this supposed to be fun, I wonder? I look around for motivation. Most shoppers look pale and bemused as if this is their regular routine. (If they know how this operates, why did they come in rush hour?) I bypass a woman checking for membership cards. At this point, Costco has gone from supersized Aldi-clone to cult, in my book. I literally whisper “I don’t have one, yet!” And the lady waves me through, explaining where to buy one when I want one. So, why check for cards if you don’t need one? I can only assume it is so that the CCTV operators know which of us to track. I have been marked.
5) As for prices, they are undeniably cheap. I found my TV for $150 cheaper than Bing Lee. Confectionery, coffee machines, dodgy barbecues, they are all 20% cheaper than I’ve seen. I could buy a 4-pack of toothbrushes what I assume is a good price, but who else sells a 4-pack? The same goes for a 500g pack of Doritos. Who ever wanted that much?
Sure, you could get back the $60 cost of membership in one vist, no worries, but it’s certainly easier the happier you are to suspend the belief that you can have too much of a good thing.
6) I told my kids to watch our for who has the fullest trolley. And there were many contenders. If you ever go to Costco, I urge you to play it. Over-consumption is out of control. I understand this could be a monthly trip for some, but seriously, if they offered bigger trolleys, I do think people would fill those too. The only reason I think some shoppers stopped, was because they’d have to leave a passenger behind to fit any more in.
7) I was consumed, but mostly by the scale of the place. They import it, put it on the shelf, it goes home in a huge trolley. If everything can be done this way, why would we need the corner store? Convenience? Cheapness appears to beat convenience, for lots of Costco shoppers.
Naomi Klein’s NO LOGO is a brilliant read on the dangers of Big Box stores and how they have killed off many small retailers across middle America. The true sadness is the service. We are substituting any personal touch for an extra 10% off. The man who owns the store with his son stacking the shelves is replaced by a nameless, apathetic salesman who’s real task is primary task is to maintain order while avoiding eye contact.
I talked to a staffmember – most of whom stand idly by, hoping not to be consulted, just like at Bunnings – who told me that while they didn’t offer dishwashers of ovens yet, they would soon. “They’ve really only just opened. They’re look into all of that,” he said. “Plus, they’re opening a new Costco at Casula, and that one will be bigger!”
Oh boy.
My father used to have a card for Campbell’s Cash and Carry. There were myths around about how cheap it was. In reality, my dad was just getting paper plates in bulk. Those were the days.
8) As I tried to leave, I did another circle of the carpark, unable to find my car. Then, I noticed the shopper ahead of me struggling badly with his trolley. As I got closer, I realised that the pathway, built to provide safe passage around the moving cars, included posts every few metres that made the path about two inches too narrow to allow the mega-trolleys to pass through.
The irony of inconvenience was too much. I gleefully dumped my trolley and headed home.

My grandfather’s hands and what they taught me

I took photos of my grandfather’s hands the last time I saw him.

I knew it might be the last time I’d see him, despite finding him in reasonably good shape for a 98-year-old recovering from pneumonia.

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The clock was ticking on the energy in his body right down to his lung strength and the nerves in his fingers. (He had just burned them on a cup of tea.)

In the 98 years prior to this day, this man’s hands had achieved a lot.

His role at family events was often as videographer. In fact, he was obsessed with filming life. He even took a very early video camera across the Himalayas. It was shoulder-mounted, so, lucky for him, the Sherpa carried it.

He enjoyed finding new tasks and interests in a way I never have. I tell people that apart from the internet, I have no hobbies. But I have become obsessive about posting everyday moments on the iPhone app Instagram.

So, I think that following my grandfather’s death, looking for moments to capture may be one way my grandpa has changed me.

During one of the final walks I took with him around his endlessly intriguing Japanese rock garden, he told me that he had started creating dioramas. They were slightly kitsch but elaborate and often complicated scenes which involved plaster, paint, cement and miniature homes and residents often engaged in a cultural activity. Some were skiing in the alps, others were Chinamen fishing or even Japanese Geishas at a tea ceremony.

I asked him why he made them.

To pass the time, he said gruffly. “What else am I going to do?”

Collage of garden

My grandfather's garden

“I’ve got to do something with my hands.”

And so he created a Mount Fuji, replete with miniature skiers, a village, a main street and a contemplation room for the locals.

I knew it to be a contemplation room – for traditional tea ceremonies – because he also created a full size one for himself in another part of the backyard.

I guess he also gardened to take up the time and to keep his fidgety hands busy.

It was his garden, with its countless bonsai plants, handcrafted waterfalls and ponds was a land of wonder for all his grandkids.

It has levels, layers, from skyscraping elm trees to crafted rock platforms and meditative corners.

The centerpiece was a red, hand-made wooden bridge over a fish pond into which a fountain cascaded from further up the yard.

We used to beg my grandfather to turn on the pump to get the fountain going. It travelled about five metres through crevices, under rocky tunnels and around shrubs.

Maybe my childhood fascination with this water feature explains why I spent two years getting a fountain in place at my home. It’s a pitiful replica of his remarkable creation but I got a sense of the satisfaction that you get when your own hands created something.

Grand Designs host Kevin McCloud has a special way of describing this feeling.

Kevin says that most people pursue ‘Dopamine’ hits. It’s a cerebral sensation that comes when you buy something and it feeds materialism’s hold on our lives. It’s immediate but it is temporary.

He prefers the joy of serotonin, that feeling you get when you complete a task you have worked at, it could be a house or a puzzle, the fulfillment of finding a new route or presenting a meal.

I think my grandfather understood this and devoted a majority of his time to seeking it out in new and increasingly creative ways.

I am going to take that lesson and apply it to my life – with the knowledge that creating with your hands can reach beyond personal satisfaction and, through family and relationships you nurture, it can even benefit others in a kind of shared, serendipitous joy.

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Tupperware or unaware?

Every marriage faces many challenges and one of the first and worst ones is whether you will buy Tupperware.

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I think Tupperware is a great choice … if you are UNAWARE of any alternatives.

Somehow, women everywhere are convinced it is a cut above anything else, like a Danish designed chair or German engineered car.

The latter may be an accurate analogy, it’s just that Tupperware has become the Kombi of kitchen hardware.

UNMICROWAVEABLE –
Some of their containers are not microwave friendly. What!? Why are Tupperware still making the kind of plastic that warps or leaches poison?
Just make the ones which I can zap in thirty seconds and eat it straight out off your opaque polymer plates.

UNRETURNABLE –
Lifetime Warranty? Pffft.
This is a very clever con because returning Tupperware is near impossible. Despite the 50s aura behind the brand’s success, Tupperware Ladies are not your best friends. They are peripheral friends at best and sometimes they’re complete strangers. Most likely, you’ve attended their parties out of guilt and the fear that no one else might turn up… but then you always end up buying three ‘little things’ and you leave $200 lighter.

Then, when all your marvelous Tupperware starts to crack you must now find and catch up with this “friend” who is now an acquaintance you haven’t seen in twelve months – and it’s only to return their junk. Awkward.

STACKABLE –
Geometry isn’t that hard, is it? We all made a tessellation in art class, didn’t we? Tupperware designers, space is at a premium. Some people only get one shelf in their share-house fridge!
Our cupboard is full of crooked Tupperware towers of blue sandwich containers and flattened bowls that no longer expand like they used to. Why can Decor and those blue clip-it containers – which are made by Kiwis you know, KIWIS! – manage to make everything stackable yet hifalutin Tupperware is often oddly shaped and is often unstackable regardless of whether it is empty or full .

LOSABLE –
We once bought those nifty little containers for about $10 each.They were supposed to store the unused portions of onion or lemon you lose in the fridge. Instead, we lost the containers.

EXPENSIVE –
Not just pricey, this stuff is exorbitant. If Tupperware was in a shop you’d just laugh and walk by. It’s moulded plastic, people. The only comparable product I can think of is those Kitchenmaid mixmasters that charge $800 when everyone else’s model is about $400. But at least they include heavy metal and mechanics.
The most complicated that Tupperware gets is a twin air-vent system to give my needy veges enough oxygen (don’t give them too much – they’ll explode! WTF?)

BREAKABLE –
So they say. Bollocks. I have proof.

Let’s leave Tupperware where it still is… in the fifties.

Sydney – where’s the colour?

Last night I found myself driving through the Sydney CBD at 4am. It was a worthwhile drive as I discovered two things.

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1) No one-year-old can stay awake with the monotony of the 702ABC graveyard shift and street lights passing by, and
2) There are still people sitting on the Town Hall steps waiting for people at four in the morning.

Apart from those stunning discoveries, I took note of Sydney’s colour palette. If you ever get the chance to, don’t. We are a city bathed in light, imbued with a harbour and buried in trees, but once development gets a green light, that’s where the colour stops.

I see concrete… concrete for miles. Our buildings, our footpaths and our monuments are grey, nearly without exception. Some of our older buildings may be Sydney Sandstone – the art gallery, the museum, the QVB – but the years and the traffic leave so much of it a dreary, dull tone. We have so little public art that the only thing punctuating our passion for grey is the electric blue sky. But don’t worry, we’ve done away with that too. Sydney’s latest shopping destination, Westfield Sydney at Centrepoint, is such a cave that I feel lost as soon as I enter and adding to the claustrophobia, natural light seems like a memory.

If you follow me on Instagram you will know I have a love/hate thing with Sydney. My photos of our hot, dirty town are either critical or adoring.

What is it with this city? Why did we make the plaza in front of St Mary’s Cathedral completely paved, unusable space? Why is the Cahill Expressway (below) still standing and, for that matter, Harbourside in Darling Harbour?? As monstrosities go, that one literally saps your soul just walking past it.

The Cahill could never look as good as Jeffrey Smart made out

The Cahill could never look as good as Jeffrey Smart made out

I am feeling the effects of reading Delia Falconer’s book ‘Sydney‘ which provides countless metaphors and historical tales telling how our great city functions and, more intriguingly, how it malfunctions. It misfires socially, spacially and structurally, but we still wouldn’t give it up for anything, not even Melbourne.

We insist on ugliness when all around us is beauty. We glorify Kings Cross, our dingiest strip. We have tainted the harbour since day one of European settlement and nowadays we just slap cookie-cutter real estate over one-time toxic waste dumps. (Hello Breakfast Point!)

I am also grieving the loss of enormous Wynyard Park, now a small strip of grade about the size of three acres. Last week I stumbled upon a photo of how large this invaluable green space once was – as big as a three football fields.

Now, at lunch hour, as office workers pile in, you struggle to find a square metre of grass.

I am also peeved that when given massive opportunities to impress, our planners entirely opt out. The City West Link is one such example with four-metro high concrete walls. Some of these lifeless panels feature a metal sculpture laid over them – it could be a stimulating addition until you realise it’s repeated like a stamp on one hundred subsequent panels.

Recently, the bus depot at Balmain Road had a makeover. I travel past this corner often so was eager to see what design they came up with.

Have you seen Silverwater Prison? It looks five times better. And, as they are made of wire, at least you can see through the first two maximum security walls.

The bus depot is grooved concrete all the ways round. Lifeless. Thoughtless. Practical. Well, we need walls don’t we. Must protect the buses.

Concrete panels - adlib to fade

My wife hopes that the grooves are meant to represent something – corrugated iron roofs perhaps? I wish it was corrugated iron. A least that would rust and we wouldn’t have to look at any more soulless concrete.

Nine of my favourite Blue Mountains activities

Looks like it’s time for me to write something a little more constructive than my last few blogs…

I had a chat with some tree-changers about my recent rant and while they love their new home in the mountains, they were actually yet to embrace what the area offers.

I grew up in the Blue Mountains – a childhood I loved, once I got over the lack of shopping centres and prevalence of gumnut mugs – and since then I have trashed the Blue Mountains for turning too bogan, and for being left to ruin by a council that is too conservative and small-minded .

So now, I am going to prove my deep adoration for the place where I was raised, and explain what you can do with your days if you do choose to move there, or what to do if you’d like to use it as an escape hatch to relieve inner city tension – as I do.

Everyone knows (and many abhor) the Three Sisters experience, the overpriced Scenic World, and the Leura Mall. For now, I’m leaving them to Sunday drivers and tour groups in buses that have koalas painted on the side.

Here are nine great Blue Mountains activities. They are things I enjoy and that you may not know of. Actually, it’s only eight and I want you to add a ninth in the comments…

1) Garage Sales

even hoarders gotts sell up sometime

Oi. You payin' for that?

The community in the mountains has a few humble features you might never discover without scratching the surface; The art being created, the organic food being produced and the garage sales!

Check the local paper – The BM Gazette – on Friday night and line up the best addresses on your GPS. Be ready to go by 8am – the pro’s start even earlier. I often get around to six or eight ten within a couple of hours and usually within just a few suburbs. Most garage sales are chockas with retro bric-a-brac that city stores charge you much, much more for.

Plus, you get to go in strangers’ houses! They don’t mind. Many residents see it as a social event and invite the neighbours over. It’s as if selling their junk is just an excuse to meet people. Get involved.

2) Mount Hay lookout

Hay, not bad

"It's been such an amazing journey" - Every evicted reality TV star

With countless lookouts to choose from, this one is well away from the traffic and tourists but you aren’t at risk of needing a chopper lift you out.  The walk out is pretty splendid too so park your car early and repeat the mantra “It’s all about the journey”  – this is especially useful if you are underwhelmed by wide vistas of mountains that aren’t really that blue.

3) Shop at Frou Fou.

Obviously if there was a bigger pic i would have inserted that one not this one

In the old location. Some might say, vintage.

The owner of this unique store (now on Raymond Road, Springwood) is Parissa, a friend of mine who used to run it out of a tiny space in Lilyfield. Parissa is so aesthetically minded she always looks like she just left a Parisienne street market in the 1950s. That pretty much explains the store too.

4) Wentworth Falls Lake

taken with a Canon 20D by someone better than me

The lake is better than the falls. but both work much better in daylight.

Many long-time residents of the mountains never visit this lake or the slightly less glorious Glenbrook Lagoon. I’ll never understand why. Each offers a much richer experience than those man-made ponds you find in new estates. Expect ducks, playground equipment, more ducks and barbecues.

5) Lily’s Pad Cafe 

pull up a leaf

The barista here is a cross between Michael Franti and Ghandi

Leura has many good quality cafes but the Mall is busy and full of Mosman mothers on the weekend but luckily most people don’t realise this one has the best coffee, the best outdoor area and the food is, well, it’s all about the coffee and the outdoor seating.

6) Birdwood Gully Glow-Worms

dont feed the worms

Everything I want in a bushwalk. Brevity.

How many places in Sydney boast a twilight glowworm bushwalk. Oh boy is this a cool walk, ideal for the young, old or infirm. Ok, maybe not the infirm – a wheelchair wouldn’t get beyond the first few metres. But this is a mostly level wander in a gully just a couple of minutes from Springwood’s town centre It lights up with the Aussie equivalent of fireflies at dusk. You’re all done in under forty minutes. Delightful.

7) Sassafras Gully

Elle not sighted

In Sassafras, no one can hear you ... at all.

Head to the end of Sassafras Gully Road in Springwood to discover the natural water hole made famous by my friend Doug when he initiated ten years worth of camping adventures for me and my friends. It was then made even more famous as the place where Elle Macpherson went skinny-dipping for the film Sirens. It’s about a two-hour round trip. There’s a reasonably steep walk out. Take the whole family or just your backpack – whichever is easiest to get in the car.

8 ) The Carrington

Pull up a sofa

Newspapers circa 1900 cited her as the only rival to Raffles within The Empire. Raffles!

Lay about with a glass of port in the one of the library rooms of Katoomba’s Carrington Hotel. Where else can you wander into a majestic old hotel, pull up a Chesterton lounge and dally for hours, completely unnoticed. The landscaped grounds offer more space to laze about if you get a sunny day. If you want something more high-brow, you could try Lilianfels but I imagine they’d throw you out if you had too much fun.

9) Your turn.

I want to know your secret Blue Mountains experience… PLEASE??!!
Use the comments area below.

Paying for your Tree-Change

Saw an article yesterday…

Families given $7,000 to leave Sydney

Riiiiight. Except people move to the cities and outer-urban areas for opportunities, not just the lure of good espresso and more schools to choose from.

Then there is the more moderate weather, the better health care resources, the beach…

Read the full story of the government’s latest cash-bonuses-as-social-engineering initiative.

Surely an attitude change would have to come first; like those perceptions that all folks in regional areas are short-sighted, uneducated or filled small-town busybodies and Fossey’s outlets.

However, other generalisations are based in fact.

People in regional areas of Australia tend to have broader accents, have the worn skin of years spent laboring in the sun and they more frequently wear shapeless fleece tracksuits in public.

So if you are planning on a tree-change to the outer-urban fringe, as several of my friends are, remember this:

1) Once you leave the urban property market, you may never be able to re-enter it.
2) If you’re moving to save money, and you only go an hour or two from the city, I doubt the relatively small savings on your cost of living and/or your mortgage will be worth the trade-off. This goes double if you are planning to commute from your now distant location.
3) The thrill of a move away from the crowded, over-priced, hectic lifestyle will eventually wear off and you may then regret leaving the diversity, opportunities and energy a city usually delivers.
4) People who love you will miss you.

There’s just so much fluff

I don’t know if there is a rule against filming inside people’s homes when they are open for inspection, but I have done it for some time.

There's just so much fluff

Fluffy Clutter

It’s only worthwhile when the houses have fantastic originality or good design ideas, but occasionally, like in the Balmain home below, they have quirks that are beyond belief.

This was a home of Pacific Islanders – who have long since moved out – with a serious passion for clutter, organised, sentimental and often fluffy clutter.

 

I have long been fascinated with the homes you pass by with possessions lining the verandahs and the door jammed open, often because it just can’t close.

A friend from school once took me into his mother’s room where she had magazines and papers piled higher than our heads. We stood before the madness sharing ideas on why she kept it all.

I am still none the wiser.

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