A Road Trip



A Road Trip

Early this year my book The Poinciana Tree was published by Connor Court. I called it a novel but in essence it was a memoir of my family in the middle of last century. While the characters and events were real, their conversations and experiences were imagined, but I made sure that their responses to circumstances should be authentic to their personalities.

Though the book’s time frame stretched back to long before I was born and forward to the first twenty odd years of my life, I loved the process of delving into my earliest memories, especially stories and events told to me as a young person by parents and their friends at the time. Sally thought there were too many characters in the book, but if you are recalling and writing about your distant memories, there were lots of people I encountered who influenced me.

Sallys dear friend Cathy had been intrigued by my book and this November asked us to join her and her husband Lynn on a road trip through central west NSW and southern Queensland to visit places and surviving people featured in the Poinciana Tree. Just before we were due to go, to everyones dismay, they both came down with Covid, so after some soul-searching, we seized the moment and decided to go on our own.

We were away for a little over a week and it turned out to be an amazing experience, not just visiting old haunts, but the emotional response to finding the powerful reality of distant memories. We hear much about the traumas associated with terrible experiences from youth, but little about the forgotten happiness many of us had back then, maybe most of us. Even if those memories are parked in our brains somewhere, usually we have let the feelings go as we move through busy lives.

Our first night was spent in prosperous Mudgee, surrounded by vineyards; what could be better than steak and chips at Club Mudgee sitting on the lawn on a balmy evening? The next day took us to a different world of memory. We were heading for a sheep and cattle property called Talbragar. In the midst of beautiful green rolling hills, internet connection was lost and with it the map to our destination. Seeking help in a little town called Cassilis that seemed totally deserted, we finally found a friendly person who told us what road to follow and where we should turn off. After some wrong turns, we drove across a fast flowing stream and were met by Christine White who with her husband Henry, owns Talbragar.

What took city slickers like us to Talbragar? There is a back story. In the middle of World War II, families with little children in Brisbane where my family lived, were advised to evacuate to the country as there was grave concern that coastal Queensland might be invaded by the Japanese. My parents knew the White family, who insisted we come to stay with them during the war-time crisis. My father had a prescribed job in Brisbane so after much angst over leaving him behind, my mother took my baby brother David and me to Talbragar. We were there for almost a year and it became the first consistent memory of my life. Ever since I have remembered it as a place of excitement and happiness; the kitchen and its delicious smells, Bill and the blacksmiths shop, the store in the garden full of tinned and packaged food and drinks, the scary mustering yard for the cattle, and the fascinating coloured booklets from the Correspondence School in Sydney that taught me letters and numbers and how to write. Our hosts, the Whites had a son of my age, Michael and we became best mates. I have never been back to Talbragar and never again met Michael after our early boyhood, though I often saw his mother in later life when in a second marriage she became a well-known chef and journalist, Joan Campbell.

When Christine White took us up to the homestead, and round the side into the kitchen garden, I had a sudden emotional response. This was exactly the same place I had played In every day. The kitchen was the same, the garden store was now overgrown and full of tools, not tins of food; Bills shop was a rusty ruin, and the verandah where I did my correspondence hooks and numbers, was now enclosed. We sat under the vine-laden trellis with Christine, her husband Henry and daughter who works on the property. Sadly Henrys father, my childhood friend Michael, who lives in retirement in nearby Coolah, had got the date wrong and was unable to be there. We all sat there for ages, with these interesting people who had never heard of me before my self-inviting email a few weeks before. We talked of our pasts, our present, and our futures. I was able to tell them things about Talbragar from long before any of them were born; it was like we were all old friends. For me it was a revelation about the meaning of childhood.

We drove on to Goondiwindi that afternoon, via Coonabarabran, Narrabri and Moree, along recently flooded and potholed roads, through wide landscapes that constantly changed. Moree with its endless silos looked like the grain capital of Australia, then later arriving at friendly Goondiwindi, made famous by the racing exploits in the 70s of Gunsynd.

Arriving in Brisbane two days later was again a shock for someone who hadnt been to his home city for over ten years. We stayed a few days by the river near verdant New Farm Park. It was a blast from the past to see streets full of the flat canopied poinciana trees in full red bloom, one of which my father had planted in our front garden during the war.  Sally and I travelled up and down the river to the city and to see friends by modern fast ferries. This was new. Brisbane never did ferries; it was always the city of silver trams. When I was a boy, I would take my fox terrier Nick down to the corner of Sandgate Road and sit and watch the trams. I knew them all: the new silver ones and their individual numbers, the old grey ones with their curved brass armrests to stop you falling off, and best of all the ancient red ones that rocked on one bogie while the driver twirled the steering handles.

The views of downtown Brisbane from the ferries were astonishing. The skyscrapers seemed taller, flashier and far more numerous than Sydney or Melbourne. So many people must live on 45th levels with views to the bay or the Gold Coast and have boat ramps below. There were bridges everywhere, some just to walk across the wide river. In my day there were only three, the Storey, the Victoria and the Grey Street. This was not the sleepy, dusty city I knew; it was a metropolis. Even the thousands of rusty roofed Queenslanders I knew sitting on elevated wooden poles (stumps we called them), were gleaming white with sleek BMWs or Mercs parked underneath. As a contrast to the gigantic high rise building development and glamourising of old housing, it was wonderful to visit our old friends Sandra and Clark Ingram and see their beautiful little house nestling unchanged in its haven between rocky stone walls covered in lush exotics and vines. They wined and dined us and drove us around Brisbane as we marvelled at its transformation.

The new Brisbane is not an ephemeral high-rise city. Robin Gibson, the famed Brisbane architect who imagined and designed the marvellous Queensland Cultural Centre on the South Bank of the river, would be thrilled to see how it has developed into a thronging arts centre, superior in size, scope and elegance to any other arts centre in Australia, the white concrete vitiated by hundreds of colourful trees and shrubs, but most of all, its inter-connectedness ensures it is full of admiring people using and visiting its wealth of halls, galleries, and institutions.


Late in World War II, my father died, ending a deeply loving marriage, and casting my mother and her two young boys into poverty, relieved by her sewing and smocking baby clothes day and night for years. Our isolation and poverty was mitigated by family friends who took us into their orbit, invited us on holiday and provided emotional succour to my lonely mother. The family that I believe was dearest to her heart were the Browns, Tom and Betty. They had four children, two of my age and two much younger. They took us regularly to their little farm at Mt Glorious, in the hills fifty kilometres west of Brisbane. I loved the farm and all the Browns more than anything else in the world, except my dutiful love of my mother. One of the children, Erica, was my age and became my childhood love, nothing new for her as she was loved by everyone.

The highlight of our whole journey was a Sunday morning drinks gathering at our dear friend Margaret Moxons Clayfield apartment. Margarets late husband Simon was my oldest friend from my Brisbane days. Blessed with a keen memory for people, and a passion to keep in touch with old friends, Margaret knew exactly where to find people who were my friends in my youth, and mostly were friends of hers too. She gathered up a bevy of my old friends. The three surviving Brown siblings were there, none of whom I had seen since our youth: Thomas the eldest, and the much younger Sam and Deborah, Erica having died a few years ago. I had deep conversations with each of them, tracing our lives and memories. Deborah was much moved by my memories of her mother whom I had adored in my youth and was the one person of the older generationI could tell anything. The four of us belted out the ditty we had all been taught by our primary school teacher Gordo to remember the northern rivers of NSW:

Tweed Richmond Clarence McLeay

Was a hasty man.

He went hunting for hawks on the Shoalhaven.

They told me we must come up to the farm at Mt Glorious next time we visit Brisbane. There must be a next time.

On the way back to Sydney we stopped a night with my brother David who lives on beautiful Mt Tamborine which might be the most gorgeous place to retire anywhere in Queensland. He is now widowed but lives a happy contented communal life there. His five boys and their partners are nearing middle age and are close by. The drive to Sydney down the straight four lane Pacific Highway was a breeze compared with the inland journey north. On our last morning we made a brief detour to Tea Gardens to visit Margaret, widow of my closet school friend Ken Wyatt. She was in good form, enjoying living in a spacious retirement village. It was a perfect way to a memorable journey.

Antony Jeffrey

12 December 2022

Wagner: The Ring Cycle Tour. Berlin 28 October – 6 November 2022

Sally & Antony Jeffrey’s Musical Journeys

Wagner: The Ring Cycle Tour. Berlin 28 October – 6 November 2022

Our wonderful collaborator/ agent Claudia Czaak told me a few months ago that she had been offered a small swag of seats for the new production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Berlin’s Staatsoper in October. We said yes but wondered if it was a foolish idea as usually we need a year or more to plan one of our musical journeys. To sum up, it wasn’t a silly idea. We had a lovely group of 10 people who got on so well with each other and enjoyed 10 tremendous days of music, art, wine and food in endlessly fascinating Berlin.

To start with, Berlin in autumn is a terrific time and we were told, as we wandered around its green and gold streets, that this year it’s unseasonably warm and sunny. We stayed in the Australian owned Adina Apartment Hotel in Hackescher Markt, a perfectly location in a trendy, slightly down-at-heel inner suburb, rather equivalent to Newtown in Sydney, just 5 minutes walk from Berlin’s great boulevard, Unter den Linden, and another few minutes to the Staatsoper itself, Berlin’s oldest opera house, beautifully restored to its old glory. Berlin’s such an easy city to get around with it’s state-of-the-art public transport, wide streets, easy-going and friendly people from every corner of the globe, and above all its amazing musical and artistic life and institutions.

The Ring Cycle

In the absence of Staatsoper Music Director Daniel Barenboim through illness, Christian Thielemann, director of prestigious Semperoper Dresden conducted all performances. Everyone agreed his musical direction was superb and the cast of soloists nothing short of exemplary. The stage direction and design team was almost all Russian, led by Barenboim’s choice as stage director Dimitri Tcherniakov. Set out below are the casts. Especially noteworthy were the Wotan, Michael Volle; Brünnhilde, Anja Kampe and Siegfried, Andreas Schager. Singers like Rolando Villazón as Loge was luxurious casting. Newcomers like Vida Miknevičiūtė as Sieglinde and Mika Kares as Fasolt, Hunding and Hagen were superb. I have set out at the bottom the cast details for anyone interested.

Unlike our uniformly positive responses to the musical performances, the stage pictures and direction were controversial to say the least. Set in a complex labyrinth of indoor spaces intended to be the interiors of an institution devoted to the study and experimentation of human responses to all sorts of stimuli, it often bordered on the absurd, but in other respects if was really interesting to translate Wagner’s power games and structures to a modern, if rather bizarre setting. There was always something unusual happening, sometimes comic, and it was never dull. Rheingold in my opinion was the most successful, giving the audience opportunity to observe a contemporary version of institutional politics at work, drawn from Wagner’s ideas and dramaturgy in the 1850s. In the other operas, it worked less well. The solemn Todesverkündigung scene between Brünnhilde and Siegmund went for nothing and the staging of the Magic Fire Music by sketching flames on a glass wall with a red texta pen was ludicrous. Siegfried’s antics dressed in a bright blue track suit made him the epitome of the irritating anti-hero so that it was almost a relief for him to be despatched on a basket ball court with a basket ball pennant in the back. 

Berlin Philharmonic Concert at Philharmonie

After we’d seen Rheingold and Walküre, we had a very different experience at the Philharmonie, Berlin’s wonderful concert hall dating from 1963, the first of the modern-style concert hall of there ‘hanging gardens’ variety where the stage is almost in the middle of the auditorium and surmounted by a huge upside down mushroom that throws the sound equally in every direction.

We heard Berlin Philharmonic musical director Kirill Petrenko conduct the orchestra in an odd but brilliant program that started with a contemporary piece by American composer Andrew Norman called Unstuck, that banged, crashed and exploded into life showing the orchestra’s virtuosity to perfection. It was followed by Mozart’s first concerto of any kind, for violin composed when he was seventeen, with the concertmaster as soloist. A more complete contrast could not be imagined – sweet, lyrical, with the orchestra reduced to chamber size. The audience loved it so he played, in a similar vein, an encore by Hindemith of a set of variations on a tune by Mozart.

During the interval we wandered around the huge ground floor foyer, full every night with music loving Berliners and admiring tourists like us. Back in our excellent close-up seats, we now heard Erich Korngold’s last major work, his Symphony in F sharp minor dating from 1952. Another sonic tour de force, it’s an eclectic mélange of late-romanticism, sounding like a Bruckner slow movement, here, and a lush film score of sailors and pirates, there. For me the highlight was the conducting by Petrenko, driving the orchestra to extraordinary levels of virtuosity.

Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny at Komische Oper

Two days later we visited the Komische Oper, the smallest of Berlin’s three opera houses and devoted largely to musical theatre, operetta and contemporary music drama. Australia’s Barrie Kosky has until recently been director for many years, and Mahagonny was his last production while intendant of the theatre. It was a challenging production with a minimal black set and everyone wearing starry black costumes. A harsh driving score seemed monotonous and devoid of humour thus diminishing the effect of it’s 1920s era satire of indulgence and cruelty

Museums and Excursions

Some of our most enjoyable and intriguing experiences were on our daily excursions, notably visits to the art museums on Museum Island, the newly re-purposed and enormous Humboldt Forum, a cruise up the Spree, an elegant lunch and climb up the dome at the Reichstag, wandering up Unter den Linden and dining at two or three favourite eateries in Hackescher Markt close by. Perhaps best of all was our day out past Potsdam to the St Cecilien palace where the Potsdam Conference was held between Stalin, Churchill (and then Attlee after the former was ousted in the post war British election), and Truman. The magnificent mansion and gardens beside a lake were perfect settings for the post-war carve up of Europe taking place inside that we were able to inspect in detail. Despite it being a rainy day, we then took a bus to the Alexander House, a small holiday cottage on a lake built in the early 1930s for the family of a leading Berlin doctor who was Jewish. Despite his being one of Germany’s most honoured and successful doctors, by 1936, he was forced to take his family to England and there followed a veritable social history of war-time, post-war and GDR history through the vicissitudes and ultimate loving restoration of the house by a descendant of the Jewish doctor.page3image13679856

Cast of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Staatsoper Berlin

Musical Director: Christian Thielemannpage3image14117232

Director/ Designer: Dimitri Tcherniakovpage3image14118064

Costumes: Elena Zaytsevapage3image14114944

Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky

Video: Alexei Poluboyarinovpage3image14122640

Dramaturgy: Tatiana Werestchagina, Christoph Lang


Wotan: Michael Volle

Alberich: Johannes Martin Kränzle

Loge: Rolando Villazón

Donner: Lauri Vasar

Froh: Siyabonga Maqundo

Fricka: Claudia Mahnke

Freia: Annet Fritsch

Erda: Anna Kissjudit

Mime: Stephan Rügamer

Fasolt: Mika Kares

Fafner: Peter Rose

Woglinde: Evelin Novak

Wellgunde: Natalia Skrycka

Flosshilde: Anna Lapkovskaja


Siegmund: Robert Watson

Sieglinde: Vida Miknevičiūtė

Hunding: Mika Kares

Wotan: Michael Volle

Brünnhilde: Anja Kampe

Fricka: Claudia Mahnke

Valkyries: Clara Nadeshdin, Christiane Kohl, Michal Doron, Alexandra Iones, Anett Fritsch,

Natalia Skrycka, Anna Lapkovskaja


Siegfried: Andreas Schager

Mime: Stephan Rügamerpage3image14108496

The Wanderer: Michael Volle

Fafner: Peter Rose

Brünnhilde: Anja Kampe

Erda: Anna Kissjudit

The Woodbird: Victoria Randem


Siegfried: Andreas Schagerpage3image14121392

Gunther: Lauri Vasar

Alberich: Johannes Martin Kränzle

Hagen: Mika Karespage4image14109328

Brünnhilde: Anja Kampepage4image14117024

Gutrune: Mandy Fredrich

Waltraute: Violeta Urmana

Erda: Anna Kissjudit

Norns: Noa Beinart, Kristina Stanek, Anna Samuil

Woglinde: Evelin Novak

Wellgunde: Natalia Skryckapage4image14118272

Flosshilde: Anna Lapkovskaja


Antony Jeffrey November 2022



1930: Berliners concerned about the future  (Neue Nationalgalerie)

Here is a summary (and to some degree a review) of the recent tour to Europe to Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, Zurich and Lucerne, all wonderful cities purveying music and opera (and much else) at the highest standard. It was a very happy and companionable group; moving about, visiting museums and listening to music in these great cities was a constant privilege for us all.

Andrew Neill, prodigious music lover, writer on music and expert on Elgar and Strauss (president of the British Strauss Society to boot) has generously written and sent me a critique of most of the performances we attended so I have sprinkled this summary with many of his remarks, full of insights, and rather more critical that I have been. Thanks Andrew!


On 11 June, twelve of us gathered in Hamburg at the Hotel Henri in the centre of the city, a short walk from the Elbe. We found the Henri added something special with its decor,, spacious rooms and friendly reception area where you could eat, drink or just lounge any time of the day or night, and help your self on an honour system to something to eat or drink. I should say no doubt Judy will hold different memories towards the Henri  – bound to constant enquires and vigilance to locate her missing luggage.

In the evening Claudia took us to VLET restaurant with its view directly on to the river – a welcome dinner, almost at water level, where the food was delicious and we sampled copious amounts of Vlet Cuveè Rot and Vlet Grauburgunder before walking back to the Henri for a much needed sleep for those of us who had just arrived from Australia.

On Sunday morning, 12th, we set off with the sounds of Sunday morning bells ringing across the city for a walking tour of the inner part of the city in the excellent and humorous hands of our guide Jutta. The tour of the old Speicherstadt was fascinating with its grim warehouses and enclosed waterways, and moving to the modern residential district Hafen City, and finishing up at the amazing new Elbe Philharmonie, from the outside at least, looking like a ship about to embark down the river, maybe the most impressive new hall for classical music since the Sydney Opera House.

Speicherstadt, Hamburg

Our first performance that night, was at the Hamburg State Opera, rebuilt in the 1960s and in plain functional style from the traditional opera house destroyed during WW2. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro was a revival of Stefan Herheim’s controversial but also much praised  production featuring a box-type set covered in every direction in Mozart’s musical scores. Costumes, movement and settings were essentially of the period of the opera’s creation, but the presentation was totally original, almost like a toy theatre. But this eccentric appearance in

no way compromised strong characterisation of all key parts. While none of us had seen a Figaro like this before, it removed itself from a traditional comedy of manners and strongly brought out the clashes and conflicts that often get smoothed over. The most striking element to me was the

Marriage of Figaro – end of first act

presence of most of the characters onstage most of the time. It resulted in everyone on stage knowing and responding to what was happening in real time. I found this both entertaining and revealing though some of us found this confusing. Some also found the orchestra ensemble not quite up to the mark – not me with my defective hearing – but the singing and characterisation were good except for a lumbering Cherubino completely out of character.

We met Jutta again on Monday morning for an audio guided boat trip down the Elbe, past the huge container wharf infrastructure on the south side and premium residential districts on the north. Her commentary was informative and so interesting to add to our knowledge and an easy way to learn more: cold and windy sailing down river but warming up coming back with the wind behind us.

With much anticipation we headed to the Elbe Philharmonie for our concert that night. We entered through the red original foundation up an endless curving escalator to the top of the new section with magnificent views of the city and the river in all directions from a balcony around the whole building. Then an endless successive flights of light timber coloured stairs that make walking up SOH stairs like a doddle in comparison. The main auditorium itself, again finished in light coloured wood is very impressive and has a fine acoustic. The program scheduled was rather uninteresting – disappointing that something more dynamic was not available. The main piece, Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande seemed a heavy dreary work with little textural and rhythmic variation. The other pieces were popular orchestral show pieces as if it was for an audience strolling in the park.

As we emerged down the countless steps and never ending escalator, we thought it a spectacular but curiously user-unfriendly building.

                                                                                                                                    Elbephilharmonie, Hamburg