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Uki Guesthouse: the home away from home

Regular readers of my blog will know that I occasionally write about accessibility challenges with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek.

I’ve given my disability dating tips, vented my frustration about disability parking and more recently, given tips for motel owners on how to make their disabled guests be spiderman.

This blog entry is different. This is about a place Andrew and I had the privilege to stay in for 2 nights: Uki Guesthouse.  Uki is a little village in northern New South Wales.

NimbinIt’s close to the rather infamous Nimbin which is synonmous with hippies and hash. Andrew and I drove through Nimbin to get to Uki and I took this photo of a house in the main street which really summed the place up.

Uki certainly had a different feel to Nimbin, although it was clear there was a very strong sense of community. The guesthouse is an old Queenslander which has been majestically transformed into accommodation suitable for people with disabilities.

For my overseas readers, a ‘Queenslander’ is a style of house typically made of timber, on stilts and with a wrap around verandah. The design is supposed to help keep cool in Australia’s more tropical areas.

The house was renovated about 7 years ago to ensure the best possible access.

Upon our arrival we were greeted warmly by Jules. She took us on a tour and showed us a couple of rooms and bathrooms and let us pick which suited us best. Pick up jaw off floor. This is the day after the bed shifting spiderman adventure and we are looking at a wonderfully accessible bathroom… not just one but 3 of them and we could have our pick! Talk about chalk and cheese.

We picked out a bedroom with tongue and groove panelling painted white going up to a very, very high ceiling. Jules told us we could move the furniture around in the room to suit us. You could turn the light off without getting out of bed – such a simple thing but just bliss.

The guesthouse also has an accessible pool. There’s a walk in ramp or a hoist and grab rails all around the pool. It’s the first time Andrew and I have been swimming together. In the pool Andrew could move his legs in ways I’d not seen before. The grin on his face was gorgeous. With the aid of water, he almost ‘picked me up’ in the pool. For me, it was one of the best parts of his 40th birthday. I felt like a normal couple in a swimming pool on a special birthday.

When we were done swimming, we ate out on the deck with a view of Mount Warning as the sun was setting.

Mount Warning

As if all that wasn’t special enough, Jules and Maggie cooked a magnificent meal for us for Andrew’s birthday. It was prepared with care and pizazz. It was perfect.

It was also the last time Jules and Maggie were to play host as the Guesthouse was up for auction on the Saturday after we left. I have no doubt that should new owners choose to continue to run Uki Guesthouse as a B&B, Andrew and I will be back. The house itself is wonderful and worth the trip.

However, the reason I used the word privileged to stay at this place earlier in this post, was because of Jules and Maggie. These two women made us feel so welcome and so comfortable in their home. We philosophised, we laughed hard, and we got to share a home created out of Jules’ and Maggie’s vision for universal access. It is indeed, a very special place.

40 words for 4

For Andrew’s 40th birthday, I decided in my ubiquitous fashion to engage in a bit of nonsense. Last time I did this, it resulted in a rather eccentric story about a transsexual budgie who eventually married a moose in an Elvis style Las Vegas wedding. This time, I’ve promised a story about Andrew. Thankfully, our recent road-trip has given me an extraordinary amount of material – so no made-up stories about budgies necessary. Instead these are the annotations of our trip.

We left Sydney on Thursday 23rd for sunny Queensland. The state which claims to be ‘beautiful one day, perfect the next.’ It was a time for typical holiday fare: a shift to a more languid pace; to cold motel toast, long drives and casual comfy summer clothes – t-shirts and the like.

Our first destination was Coffs Harbour, the town I selected as it was in the middle of the Sydney to Brisbane route, not because it had a giant banana. In fact, we didn’t even see the rotund banana; the closest we came were some banana trees, although I didn’t spy any fruit hanging from them. In contrast, we did get to see the big prawn in Ballina. Apparently there has been much debate about the future of the prawn with a campaign to move it to the Gold Coast; and another to retain it in Ballina. Either way, the prawn has suffered from a lack of maintenance over the past few years and has become a sun-bleached albino prawn. Perhaps they should have made it out of metal so even without maintenance it would have maintained a rusty orange appearance. Andrew was so disappointed he didn’t bother taking a photograph. I did.

the big prawn at Ballina

The Big Prawn at Ballina

From Coffs Harbour we made our way up to Uki, at the foot of Mount Warning and on to Brisbane to meet Andrew’s parents for the first time. Moments after arriving, Andrew’s mother inspected his attire and with a look of disappointment said:

‘Andrew, are you still wearing mismatching shoes?’

I had to tell her that far from being embarrassing, people seem to rejoice in the one orange and one green shoe. Perhaps people look at Andrew and think – I wish I could be that mischievous. They certainly don’t whisper as he passes by; they stop us and say ‘cool shoes’, or ‘you got another pair like that?’

When we went to the Art Gallery in Brisbane, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the shoes with the large geometric rainbow installation.

GOMA

Art Installation with Andrew's shoes

While in Brisbane, I met some of Andrew’s cousins, one of whom came bearing a cake complete with blue bear and cake pops. (If you’ve never had a cake pop, you’re missing out. These are filled with soft mellifluous chocolate. Delicious!)

Cake Pops

Cake and Cake Pops made by Andrew's cousin

Of course, I also had the obligatory tour of all the places Andrew used to haunt. For the most part I enjoyed the drive, except when Andrew made some unsuitable singing choices including yodeling ‘high on a hill with a lonely goat herd’. Marginally better than bagpipes, but only just!

The other part I didn’t enjoy was the 3 kilometre bridge joining Sandgate to Redcliffe. I don’t like being high up on a ladder and I certainly don’t like long bridges! This is a bridge Andrew has driven many times in his life. In more recent times they’ve changed it so pelicans can no longer perch on the street lights. As we were driving across Andrew was reflecting on one of his trips across this bridge with his dog, Boof, in the back of his old ute. Boof was a brindle dog. Somewhere along the bridge, a pelican did a poop and Boof turned into a dog covered in splodges; he was a Dalmation for the day. I imagine Pelican’s sitting on the electric lamp posts releasing poo whenever they feel like it, is not conducive to safe driving and that’s why the changed the posts to stop them resting there. Andrew seemed a bit disappointed. Approaching the bridge he told me there was going to be a great photo opportunity coming up. In the end it was ok, I’d already got the following photo of a gliding pelican at Bombah Point.

Gliding Pelican

Gliding Pelican, Bombah Point

From Brisbane we made our way back to Uki; went swimming and had a candlelight dinner on his actual 40th birthday. The trip had been fantastic. I was grinning from ear to ear, delighting in every day.

Then things took a bit of a turn: the effervescence went out of our trip to put it mildly. I had to go to a work conference on the Gold Coast for a day and therefore Andrew had the day to kill time. I’d given him some money for his 40th birthday and he used some of it to buy clothes and pay a bill. With the remainder he decided to get a tattoo. He had joked he wanted a tattoo of a whale the day before. I voiced my usual objections. I thought he understood how strongly I felt about them that he would never use money I had given him to acquire a new one. I was wrong.

When I arrived back from the conference, he confessed his latest ‘dermagraphic’ indulgence – which, I must point out Andrew, is not actually a word.

‘Where is it?’ ‘What is it?’ I asked horrified.

He revealed the lotus flower on his wrist.

A bitter, acerbic, almost hostile, exchanged followed. I was shocked and later, just plain miserable. I felt he had made me complicit in damaging his body. From his perspective, I’d given him the opportunity to make a permanent memory of his 40th birthday trip; a lovely work of art he could see each and every day.

For the last few days of the trip, every time he applied lotion to the tattoo I felt sad. It took a while before we could even begin to joke about it. At least it wasn’t a blonde mermaid or an aardvark; given Andrew’s already eclectic collection of body art, it could have been far worse.

In keeping with the change in our moods, the weather worsened on the way home. It rained for the last 400km, so our stops were few and far between. One of our last was to acquire a hamburger. Andrew had a craving for a burger – not a McDonalds one – a traditional road house style burger. We found it at Kew, in a slightly dodgy looking petrol station including a ‘dining lounge.’ Inside it sold not just burgers but very tasteful licence plates with words like porn star and V8brute. This sense of style continued to the toilet where there was a vending machine for prophylactic devices called ‘the screamer’ and ‘the french tickler’

Kew Road House

Kew Road House Style

Andrew assures me the burger was tasty. Well, at least that was something.

Wheelchair accessible accommodation: a matter of interpretation

I’m beginning to think the words “accessible accommodation” could just as easily be “flying pigs”. Finding accommodation suitable for someone in a wheelchair shouldn’t be so difficult! For our recent trip, I searched the web for places to stay. After finding very little, I co-opted my mother in the search and she too trawled the internet. Well, I can report that our trip was a mix of the splendidly accessible and the ‘tried but didn’t quite make it.’ I suppose I should give credit where credit is due. There are many motels in Australia who have not even tried to alter their rooms to make them wheelchair friendly. So I give the motel we stayed in an A for effort – at least they had a go.

In an attempt to turn some frustration, into some humour, here’s a little guide for how to make an ‘accessible’ room, just a little more entertaining.

Step 1: Put your bed on castors

Most beds come on castors. I’m guessing that many of them must have a locking mechanism. If you want to add some spice to the life of your disabled guests, don’t put the locks on. People with limited movement really LOVE when the thing they are trying to transfer from travels across the room. It makes the task so much more exciting. Perhaps you could add some fake screams so it really feels like a fun park.

Step 2: Make them be spiderman

Bed rails are for wusses! On this trip, I discovered Andrew does an exceptionally good spiderman. His ability to use the wall to ‘climb up’ off the aforementioned super sliding bed is positively jaw-dropping. I’m thinking that next time I should find a room which just has the bed in the middle of the room and see what magic trick he can perform then.

Step 3: If something is available, put it somewhere else

This one is my favourite. Walk into bathroom. Sign on wall says ‘if you require a shower chair, please ask at reception.’ Umm… the reception which had a step to get inside?

A similar story in South Kempsey park. Right beneath the sign which said ‘Please enjoy our park but be aware that this is a high crime area’ was another one which advised the key to the disabled toilet could be obtained from the visitor centre. I wish I could take a photo of Andrew’s face after he had pushed up the path to the bathroom only to be thwarted at the end. (This little helper went to collect the key to save him the effort of another push).

However, my favourite in this category is not an experience I had but one Andrew’s dad told me about. When he asked once at a motel whether they had a shower chair, he was told there were some plastic chairs out in the BBQ and pool area he could use. Hmm… I’m sure they would be high tech non-slip!

Step 4: Assume your guests can teleport themselves

We stayed in one hotel where the guests must certainly have teleporting powers. I’m not sure how else a person in a wheelchair with no capacity to stand was going to get in the shower. It had a full shower screen; a door which wasn’t even the full width of the shower; a one inch metal hob and besides the main rail holding up the shower head, no rails. In our case, it was actually ok as Andrew had enough mobility to manage this but I was appalled. If this had been the little country motel which had modified its existing room, perhaps I would have been a little less shocked. Instead it was in a major city, in a new building by a major hotel chain owned by one of Australia’s richest men. Surely, they could have got some decent advice about an accessible shower. If guests did teleport themselves in there, perhaps they levitated as well given there was nothing to hang on to!

Step 5: Add a few annoyances for everyone

Lastly, it seems you don’t need to be disabled to enjoy some motel madness. I like when you are provided with a kettle to make a cup of tea or coffee. Very courteous and thoughtful. If only the one sink in the room was deep enough you could get the kettle in it to fill it up. Once you’ve done a conjuring trick getting the water into the kettle, you get to play with the most ridiculous milk packaging of all time. You know those single serve long life things? About the width of a coin and the same in depth, they contain enough milk to ‘muddy’ your coffee. That’s of course if you can peel back the lid without losing the contents. In the end, we resorted to stabbing them with a knife. Just don’t be craving a latte, ok?

Genre a Month Photography Challenge: Travel

As February draws to a close, I think it’s about time I post my travel photographs for the month. During the month I’ve read a few articles on travel photography. All recommend trying to capture the essence of a place or a moment in a new way.

I have tried to take photographs during my travels (from Sydney to Brisbane) which sum up that place and that moment in time. Here are five of my favourites.

The Foggy Early Start

Foggy Morning
Andrew and I left Sydney at 4:55am when it was still dark. By the time we got to Newcastle the sun was finally making a decent appearance; hampered all the way by heavy fog.

Refuelling

Refuelling

It’s an obligatory part of every road trip: refuelling. Whether it’s just collecting petrol or stopping for some much needed food, there’s a certain atmosphere which comes with the ‘pit stop.’ It usually goes hand in hand with bad coffee, the smell of bacon and eggs and a feeling that everyone walking through this door is a transient.

Roadworks

Yet another lot of roadworks
Another inescapable experience of the road trip is the lollypop man. In the case of the Pacific Highway from Sydney to Brisbane, make that lollypop men (PLURAL!). Roadworks are more common on this stretch than roadkill. At one stop where we had to wait quite some time, Andrew took the opportunity to post a picture of one of these guys on facebook with the caption: ‘He wasn’t impressed when we offered him $20 to dance around the pole.’

The final two photographs I took at Bombah Point while waiting for the Ferryman. (He was reading the newspaper. You can’t rush a man doing that). I like these two shots as they were not only taken during my travels, but they are a means of travel in themselves.

So here are the last two: the Rusty Truck and the Bombah Point Boat

Bombah Point: Rusty Truck

Bombah Point

The belly tackles Peru

I have a boss with one main flaw. He’s not a clockwatcher; he’s not a beancounter; he’s not a bore and he’s not easily offended.

He’s ambitious.

The saying ‘eyes too big for your belly’ was made for my boss. My boss: the man with the big eyes and the very little belly.

I went searching for an image which could adequately describe that saying. I found the perfect one on a site called “I Can Has Internets” (surely a homage to I can has cheezburger the home of lolcats). The blogger – Heesa Phadie – names this little guy as the world’s most ambitious squirrel.

A squirrel and his nut

I know you are wondering – what does a squirrel, a big-eyed boss with a little belly and Peru have to do with each other. Well, the belly on legs (as I shall call him) has decided to go on a trek in Peru to raise money for The Shepherd Centre to assist deaf children.

It is admirable that our CEO will put his belly where his mouth is and volunteer to trek in the Inca trail and take his best shot at dodging Llama spit. However it’s not the belly on legs’ decision to hike in South America which has inspired me to write this post. It’s that he is doing it, as only a man with very big eyes can. To participate in the Peru Challenge, people must raise $5,000 for the nominated charity (in this case, it’s us).

My boss being the ambitious man he is, has decided he wants to raise $30,000. Now I may scoff and say that he has as much chance of doing that as the above squirrel has of eating that nut. But I won’t. Scoffing will probably see me with egg on my face. If someone is going to achieve it, the belly on legs will. I just chipped in a little to assist the big-eyed one in reaching his target. You can join me here.

Peru Challenge: Raise Funds for The Shepherd Centre

2012 Genre a Month Photography Challenge

Ok, a quick recap.

I’m picking a photographic ‘genre’ each month for the next 12 months in the hope that I will learn more about this media and different styles. I’d love people to join me and thanks to those who already have. For more on the rules of the challenge, how to participate and the topics, I’ve set up a separate page here.

So, 1 down, 11 to go.

February 2012 = Travel Photography.

Now, if you were planning on joining me but you’re not expecting to ‘travel’ anywhere this month, then I hope you’ll take on my ‘travel with a twist’. Whenever I think Travel Photography, I immediately think rich colours of countries far away; the bright colours of Indian Sari’s; the grittiness of some American cities; the historic buildings of the UK with some gloomy weather thrown in.

Travel photography for me until recently would have been impossible. I didn’t go anywhere. It wasn’t until I met Andrew that I started exploring places; first on short day trips and then overnight. We are about to embark on 9 days in the car together in mid February. (If I suddenly stop blogging, then check Australian newspapers for a story about a girl killed by her partner where he’s claiming justifiable homicide as she told him one too many times what the speed limit was!)

People take holidays for all sorts of reasons. Whether it’s to relax or trek the Inca trail (I don’t think the two can co-exist) people take a camera. Why? For the memories. To say ‘I’ve been there.’

What does this have to do with those of you not taking a holiday this month? Well, there’s another definition of travel. It is simply ‘to go from one place to another.’

Now unless your planning on confining yourself to your home for the next month, I’m presuming that everyone is travelling somewhere.

If I wanted to be especially pedantic I could claim that going from the living room to the bedroom constituted travel; it is afterall going from one place to another.

Travel Photography is often about memories and capturing the essence of a place. I think that’s what’s at the heart of travel photography and why I believe you can do a lot of travel photography in your own city. Indeed, your own street! When was the last time you really tried to capture the essence of those places? Well, February may be your chance! Become a tourist in your own city.

I’ve included a couple of photos I took at Bondi Beach this week. When people come to Sydney, Bondi is usually on their list. As someone who turns bright red quicker than you can say ‘cheese’, I’m not a fan of the beach. After this week, I’ll admit that it is a fantastic place for photography, particularly at dusk. There is so much on offer; so many ways to capture that place; Bondi in that moment. I’m quite happy to stand along side all the tourists with my camera and look like a blow-in from pommy land (I doubt they’d think I was from the tropics with my lily livid skin).

Bondi Beach Feb 2012 II

75-300mm lens at 190mm, f/5 for 1/125 sec, ISO 800, monochrome setting.

It seems the Bondi locals are very used to amateur photographers. No one seems to pay any attention to what you’re photographing. Their eyes are on the kid running through the sand; keeping the dog from inappropriately sniffing other dogs on the promenade or keeping your head above water.

So who’s up for the challenge?

If you are participating in the February Travel Photography Challenge, please go to this page and add a comment with a link to your efforts. 

Bondi Beach Feb 2012 I

75-300mm lens at 130mm, f/5.6 for 1/125 sec, ISO 800, monochrome setting.