Tuesday 6th to Friday 9th January
Driving West of Sydney, all those images of Ayers Rock, arid desert lands and shark-infested seas, are quickly driven from your mind. The Blue Mountains are the ridge of hills to the West of Sydney which are so called because the light gives them a tinge of blue (one thing I have noticed is how literalistic many of the names are in Australia). The town we stayed is was Katoomba, the capital of the area. It is a town of about 8,000 people that relies the tourists who come to walk, abseil, and sight see in what is an incredibly beautiful area.
The Greatest Hotel I have ever stayed in
Our first surprise was the place where we were staying – the Carrington Hotel. A mere description will not do it justice. It had a grandiose entrance, a lift that had just been modernised so that when you closed the second door, it actually worked; our room had neither air conditioning nor a chest of drawers; and horror of horrors, it did not have a toilet or shower – instead the whole of our floor had shared male and female bathrooms. And we loved it. Hotels are normally places I stay in because I am on my way somewhere. The Carrington is a hotel that I would travel TO, in order to stay there. It was something out of another era, an Agatha Christie Novel. I expected Miss Marple to join us in the lounge for afternoon tea, or Hercule Poirot to be sitting reading his newspaper as we ate our breakfast in the grand dining room, with its balconies and massive clock. The handlebar moustached manager only added to this image. Sitting out on the entrance porch, drinking coffee of some decent Aussie beer (and yes there is some – though not the stuff we generally get in Europe), was one of those small pleasures in life that make you smile.
The Greatest Shop
At first glance Katoomba itself does not look promising. It is clearly a tourist town full of places to eat (71 according to Trip Advisor) and shops designed to get incomers to part with their hard earned cash. Initially it struck me as a kind of down market Keswick (the beautiful town in England’s Lake District). But it really grows on you. There are some fascinating places to eat and they are generally reasonably priced. And there are some unusual shops – none more so than the Hattery, which has to come close to being my favourite shop ever (given that I hate shops I admit that the competition is not exactly massive). This wonderful store is as you might have gathered, devoted to hats. A local family business, their staff are experts in all things ‘hat’ and what they sell is good quality. There is a wonderful Canadian hat called the Tilley, which I could not afford this time, but will hopefully return to…its kind of the BMW of hats. But I did purchase a Bahrman kangaroo leather Aussie cowboy hat and Annabel very kindly bought me a cap which made me look as though I just walked out of the Great Gatsby – it fitted well with the hotel. I was also amused by the Catholic bookshop that sold almost no books, and the various bohemian style eateries and clothes shops. Because Katoomba does seem to be the last refuge of the 1960’s – a place where aging hippies and those who want to find their inner spiritually (aka Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance) head. Kaftans, joss sticks and marijuana are de rigour.
If you want to experience this somewhat esoteric town I would encourage you to do so ASAP – because I suspect that the McDonaldisation of the Blue Mountains cannot be too far away. Just as in the UK every high street is being turned into every other high street with its uniform chain stores, coffee shops and eateries, so even the independent spirit of the Aussie, is succumbing to the corporate sameness of big market capitalism. Whilst our media luvvies speak of ‘diversity’, their paymasters hate diversity because it just isn’t as profitable as ‘mono-versity’.
We were in Katoomba because my daughter’s family come here every year for the Church Missionary Society annual missionary conference. For those who know the British evangelical scene this is similar to the Keswick convention. 3,500 Christians (mainly Anglicans) gather in this beauty spot in order to hear good bible teaching (past speakers include John Stott, John Lennox and others of the great and good in English speaking evangelicalism), hear about missionary work throughout the world and commission missionaries to go from this furthest flung part of the earth, to other furthest flung parts of the earth. It was interesting to hear of Australian missionaries in Spain and Germany. We could do with some more in Scotland! You can read more of CMS here – http://www.cms.org.au/
CHurch Missionary Society
We attended CMS for only one day but I have to say it was impressive. The praise was quality – an Anglican songwriter called Rob Smith seems to be the Stuart Townend of Aussie evangelicalism – a couple of his songs we heard were absolutely excellent. The main teaching was from John Yates from the US. It was typically Stott-style bible teaching – clear, concise, contemporary. We don’t really hear much of the state of Christianity in Australia – why should we? Our secular media have no ability to understand and no desire to communicate. But my initial impression is that Christianity in Australia is far healthier than in the UK – and much of that is to do with the impact of the Sydney Anglicans.
It was good to share, even for a brief time, with like-minded brothers and sisters. My only disappointment was the bookstall – which had some excellent books but for me lacked evangelistic books about Jesus (as opposed to the many books about evangelism). I did not have the nerve to offer them Magnificent Obsession!
After the wonders of Sydney and the beauties of the Blue Mountains, it was now time for us to head down the mountain and down the coast to the metropolis of Nowra. What would we find there?