Like in the U.S. Christmas ads come early to Australia. But the ads are quite unlike anything you would see in the U.S. because it’s summer here like June. I can’t get used to the swimwear being advertised with the Christmas decor.
Friday evening Dec.4th, Elder Leota had invited us to a special performance of the Messiah to be held at the Parramatta Town Hall. This was a Public Affairs event carried out by the Sydney Public Affairs person Emily Kwok.
Since the Checketts (Mission Pres) and the Willises (Public Affairs) were also invited we decided to go together. Shirlee Willis found a restaurant in Parramatta for a pre-event meal, and we all set out for an evening on the town.
Parramatta is a large suburb which is doing a lot of building. They are putting in thousands of high rise apartments along with office and retail space. It is projected to continue to add population until it is enormous, like unto Sydney. Historically it is almost as old as Sydney, established in 1788. It was originally established as an agricultural location because grain would not grow so close to the ocean salt water area. Parramatta is upriver from the Pacific and to the west. The colonists could grow grain where the water started to be fresh.
Parramatta now is an interesting mix of new and old, wealthy and struggling, very culturally diverse. It is not as trendy as the beach areas. In fact several months ago, downtown Parramatta became infamous because a Muslim teenager who had become radicalized picked up a gun at one of the mosques and went over to the police station and shot and killed a young police clerk who was leaving the building.
But some of the old buildings remain in town square, and there is a lively downtown and several streets where scores of curbside restaurants flourish. We ate at one Crostinis billed as Italian with pizza, steaks and pasta. It was nicely decorated with old brick walls and big, wood plank tables, kind of a hip vibe.
A note here: when you eat out in Australia, you just have to suck it up and expect to pay a lot of money. Joe had octopus pasta, ($16); I had an appetizer portion of octopus and calamari in a red sauce ($19) and we shared a pear gorgonzola salad. ($19) All were pretty good. Willises shared a platter of steak and ribs ($49) and the Checketts had a big hamburger and salad with equally high prices. The sad thing for the Willises was that the steak tasted like nothing. (We’ve pondered about the lack of flavor in Aussie beef steak. Some say it is because the meat is grass fed, rather than finished with grain. Joe says that is not it. He thinks it has to do with the lack of aging) The exorbitant prices are eased somewhat because there is no tipping (minimum wage is $17 per hour) and the Aussie dollar is worth only 70 cents. But we keep going out to eat, and we keep having fun. At another time I’ll tell you about our favorite restaurant.
After dinner we went for a little stroll up several streets to Town Hall where the performance was to be staged. The Messiah is held every couple of years here and is produced by church members who are extremely talented. The three lead singers are all operatic quality, and the orchestra members are equally gifted. Full length Messiah performances of this group are held in two of the stake centers. This “reception” performance is scheduled so that government and education leaders can get to know a little more about the Church. Elder Leota, an area seventy and our boss, gave a little introduction and specially welcomed a group of guests.
Town Hall is one of the old Parramatta buildings, and it is very ornate and beautiful. Unfortunately, it is not air conditioned, and it was very warm. All the men took their coats off. Nevertheless, the performance was exceptional and it was accompanied by lots of the YSA serving fruit drinks and water. The guest list included all the stake presidents and some of their guests. It was pretty much a who’s who of the church leaders in Sydney. We saw lots of the leaders we’ve been meeting in stake conferences. Most of them know each other because they have coordinating councils several times a year.
After the performance, they had a real nice reception with sweets and little sandwiches. But we were still pretty full and ready to go home. We did have an interesting chat with a member of the Syrian refugee relief fund to whom the Church presented a big check. This guy was very nice. But when it came time to leave, he shook Joe’s hand, but declined to shake mine. They apparently don’t touch women.
Kelly Willis who is the former mayor of Snow Flake AZ, and the biggest sweetheart of a guy you can imagine, got into a quarrel with one of the church members who was playing in the orchestra. This member came up to Kelly and shouted, “What is wrong with you Americans?? Why don’t you get rid of your guns?” Kelly who is about as patriotic as they come did not take well to that. But luckily, this discussion happened during intermission and everybody calmed down when the performance started.
After we came out onto the square, all the Christmas lights were on and the old buildings were lit. Apart from being about 80 degrees, it looked quite Christmassy. Kids were splashing in the water fountain and people were eating pleasantly at the restaurants.