Who keeps the lights on

Australia is an amazing country and Victoria is a really nice state. And living in Melbourne is … well, what can you say about a city that has been deemed the most lovable city in the world for six years in a row. I agree. And I’m not really a city person. But then again, Melbourne feels more like a big village. 

But I have some concerns. It started with just looking around and seeing all the beautiful buildings and how clean the streets are. Everything well kept. The Melbourne star, a giant Ferris wheel merrily turning from 10am to 10pm, all lit up. Everybody unconcerned and happy. The smallest building project surrounded by friendly staff warning you of dangers and stopping traffic to ensure you cross safely.  

Set against an increasing unemployment rate, now around 6%, I suddenly wondered how they paid for it all. So who is keeping the lights on?

I just filed my first income tax declaration and was stunned about how quickly that was done and dealt with. I received my returns in the bank on the day I received my final statement and approval. All within a few weeks of filing. Interestingly, there was an accompanying letter, explaining where my tax dollars went. And here things became … weird.

Some 40% is spent on welfare. Okay, I get that. That’s what you see when you look outside. And slightly less than 20% on health. All good so far. 

Around 8% of income tax is spent on defence. Wait … WHAT? That can’t be true. But it is. I understand that I should look at the GDP number (more like 2%), but this looks like quite a bit of cash being spent. 

So how do they pay for all the other stuff? And how do they keep on doing that? I mean, this is a massive country with a very small population. So even when you compare all the numbers to EG the Netherlands, you’d have to factor in that everything here is bigger, further away, less easy to reach. 

I’m going to read a little more about this, as this is really interesting. Everything points towards a serious breakdown, like we had in Europe. Banks, mortgages, salaries, all way out of whack with how I perceive reality.

It must be me, not understanding. It can’t be them, can it? 

CBD energy


Docklands: I can hear the crowd yelling, 60,000 strong. Etihad stadium is about 1 k away and the wind is not favouring the crowd. Still, energising. Like a wave. It reminds me of the place we used to live, Wellington Crescent, on the east side of CBD. It was a rotten apartment, but we sure had some fun in the neighbourhood. 

Right after we arrived in Melbourne we were invited to go to the “footy” in the MCG. Our first Ozzie adventure. And as we lived right around the corner, we walked. It was a warm evening, September being spring. And the closer we got, the more I had the idea I was watching Star Trek or some other sci fi movie. Everything was vibrating, shimmering, out of focus. Lights and colours and noise and … overload of impressions.

Of course I brought my iPhone, it being my camera of choice. And right when we crossed the railway tracks I suddenly saw what I felt: a space ship arriving.

Click …



I remember my first camera, a grey and black plastic thing that had only three settings for the light available. With a crick crack handle to move the film forward. I can’t remember any photos I took with it. But at some stage, I think a birthday, I suddenly owned a real Canon 35mm camera. And I certainly remember all the captures from that one. Already playing with light and looking through what was obvious.

Then I lost it for years, to pick it up again during a trip to Costa Rica. With hindsight I should have spent some more money on that first new camera. But I was switched on.

And I slowly moved from entry level to more or less professional, at least camera wise. And I worked my editing skills to perfection. Reading stacks of books and articles. Even had two photos selected into a Leica year book. Bodies, lenses, tripods, Photoshop CS, Lightroom, an 8 colour printer and the best paper I could buy to be able to mount some of the nicest photos on the wall.

Then I got bored with it. 80% of the people around me couldn’t give a damn about it and the rest turned out to be pixel peepers. What should be creation became process monkeying to some kind of perfect standard. So I quit.

Im not sure when it started again, but I know my iPhone became my camera of choice. No more expensive SLR’s, no more fiddling. Just catching that moment or that special light, minimally working the photo became my trade. With one signatory addition: the white frame, based on the old Polaroid. Slightly more at the bottom. With a scribble to add some flavour.

And sometimes colour is enough, without anything to really capture your eye.


The light fantastic


The 15 minute walk back home at the end of the working day is really something special for me. I’m used to having to battle myself through traffic jams, losing up to 90 minutes one way on average. And although the first year in Melbourne was already a terrific change with me taking the tram most of the time, the move to Docklands was the best thing we did in a long time.

Imagine: you literally leave the hectic life of CBD behind you and walk through what is almost a time tunnel to the calm of the marina. Some wind on my face, kayaker bullying their way across the open water, people sitting on benches and enjoying the last sunlight.  And the light is almost always superb.

I think I could take a picture every day without ending up with one double. Which is not a bad way of ending the hectic working day.



I’m a lucky guy. Living about 15 minutes walk from work, that’s walking, no traffic jams or people breathing down my neck in a tram or bus. It would actually take longer if I’d use public transport instead of just let my feet do the work. Let alone trying my luck by driving my car.

The morning walks are Okay. Just slipping out of the building, head still somewhere between waking up and breakfast, already geared up for yet another day of lost souls trying to use me as a bouncing board towards whatever is their success of the day. Walking too fast to actually see my surroundings.

Early evenings are magnificent. I’m taking slower steps, somehow already gearing down and kind of moseying down the way home. Not in a hurry, as all is well even if I arrive a few minutes later. And the light is always a surprise.

I was a bit late for the last bits of the week and the walk home and didn’t really look around. Got into the hallway, up in the elevator, into the apartment. Jacket off, shoes off.


Until something red caught my eye, just there, right from the balcony.

O wow! What a way to start the weekend.

Weather closing in


I know I listened to Australian bands long before I even thought of the possibility to move to Melbourne. Some decades ago we already listened to Midnight Oil and Men At Work. Not really listening to the things they were trying to convey. Just appreciating the tune and the rhythms.

Like “four seasons in one day” by Crowded House. There’s a saying about Melbourne: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait for 15 minutes”. I guess they know what they’re talking about. Terrific weather in the morning is followed by showers in the afternoon (“arvo”), to be followed by quite a nice evening with a very nice sunset.


But sometimes the weather is just … drab. Gloomy. Dark. More like Europe.

Makes for a nice photo, though …

Old school


I am getting so used to flying jets, like the 737 or the A380, that flying a turbo prop feels like an adventure. And it rather is.

Just think: ony half a century ago, propellors were the normal thing and jets were … special. Flying a Pan Am 707 to New York was like being invited to dinner by Peter Stuyvesant … (no, not the cigarettes). Nowadays, nobody even thinks about airplanes. You just get in one and that’s it.

So I flew to Burnie in (or is it “on”?) Tasmania. A one hour flight with a Saab 340. Nothing wrong with that. Until I started realising that the last time I saw a Saab 340 was waving Christine good bye on some holiday trip to England. Some thirty odd years ago.

So it’s not only the music and the movies that go back decades the moment you leave the bigger cities of Australia. 

Old school flying. Nothing digitilised. Although I guess (and hope) they brought a Garmin GPS to point the way. Like the one you put on your bike. Stick and rudder. Like that Cessna I used to fly.

It is rather comforting to realise that the airplane I was flying in somehow survived all that modern crap and is still doing what it was made for. Bringing me safely from A to B.

B being Burnie, Tasmania. Which couldn’t handle any jet, as the runway is only 550 meters long.

Small adventures. Life is good.