Mar 11

Parking desperation

Picture this: it’s a rainy Saturday afternoon at Leichhardt Aquatic Centre. The Tigers are playing the Warriors at Leichhardt Oval next door, so parking – often a challenge in Leichhardt – is at a premium. A chap who has been at the pool with his kids returns to his neat European car, parked without a permit in a disabled space, and finds 2 parking officers booking the car beside his, which is also parked illegally. At this point, most people would count their blessings at returning in the nick of time, look embarrassed and get out of there as quick as possible. But not this fellow.

‘That’s really rough’ he says to one parking officer. ‘We haven’t booked you’ she replies. He continues that they are still way out of line, because ‘there’s absolutely nowhere to park here when the football is on’. He’s aggrieved on behalf of the person parked beside him! He gesticulates in the direction of the general car park ‘why don’t you do something about them?’. (I’m not sure what a parking officer is supposed to do about 500 cars parked completely legally.) His complaints increase in heat as he gets into his car. He then winds down his window and shouts abuse at the parking officers as he drives away.

Disabled parking spaces exist for a reason. Many people with a disability cannot park elsewhere. Normal parking spaces may be too far away, or too narrow to unload a wheelchair, or without gutter ramps, or the ground too rough to traverse. Able-bodied folks face no such issues. There were parking spaces near the Aquatic Centre that day; they were just further down the hill, necessitating a walk back up the hill in the rain. That’s a pest for a person who walks, but an impossibility for many who don’t.

Sitting in my wheelchair, watching this nasty event unfold, I wondered what this fellow’s kids took away from the encounter. Did they learn to respect authority and uphold the law? To control their anger in public? To appreciate the needs of others? Perhaps to put things in perspective? In a city where a good parking spot can move some people to tears, I’d like to hope their dad later reflected on his tirade and told them it was an example of how not to behave. But, somehow, I doubt it.

Mar 11

Stewart MacLennan – oh, what a life!

I very rarely feel envy, but today I heard a story on radio that made me green. Stewart MacLennan and his wife Lesley, are traveling on a purpose-built, wheelchair-accessible 36 tonne barge, cruising the rivers of Europe. Stewart and Lesley have an excellent web page and regular blog, so I’ll let them tell their story themselves.


Feb 11

Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe, Opera Quays

If you enjoy chocolate and good coffee, this place is a must-visit. It is located at Shop 10, Opera Quays, so the view, as you’d expect, is wonderful. You can sit indoors or outside. With a group, I’ve always preferred outside, but there’s good circulation space inside too and a number of smaller tables if you’re sitting alone.

While the primary foods served are sweet — chocolate, cakes and desserts — you can also have a light meal, a beer, glass of wine or champagne. They also serve a full breakfast. The incredible Dark Chocolate Milkshake ($9) is truly to die for.

Access is no issue inside or out. Everything is flat, and there is an excellent accessible toilet inside (no key required), just to the left of the main service area. Given the dearth of accessible toilets around Circular Quay and the Opera House, this one is worth remembering.

Given the location, it’s no surprise that nothing comes cheap in this cafe. However, it’s a special place to take visitors to Sydney, before or after a show at The Opera House, or if you just feel like some decadence with your coffee.

Nov 10

Getting off the train, no ramp

I saw something pretty amazing on the way home from work today.

When I boarded in Chatswood, I noticed another guy in a chair in the cabin. He was tucked between the seats near the guard’s compartment, and as the cabin was quite full, I wondered how he would get out when he needed to. I was also partly blocking the way, so kept an eye on him, ready to move when I sensed he was getting off.

As we pulled into Town Hall Station, he moved, and as many others were getting off too, I didn’t need to make room.

I was looking over his head, expecting the attendant to arrive with the ramp for him to roll off. Then I realised he wasn’t stopping at the door. Smooth as silk, he just lifted his front wheels off the ground, balanced, and lowered himself to the platform below on his back wheels. It was a pretty impressive manoeuvre; one I’d not seen before. As well as strength, it would have taken great control. I can’t imagine the guts required to do it for the first time. Town Hall is one of the biggest drops from train to platform of any station – about 20cm I’d guess. And there’s also the gap – at least 10cm.

As we approach The International Day of People with Disability (3 December) it made we wonder how relevant our definition of ‘disabled’ really is.

Nov 10

Willowview Farmstay, near Marulan, NSW

We were looking for somewhere to stay within reach of Burrawang, and had a tough time finding anything. Links House, in Bowral, was an option, but it really wasn’t suitable for a young family. It looked lovely for a quiet weekend away. Eventually, we settled on Ferndale Cottage at Willowview Farmstay, just out of Brayton, on the border of the Southern Highlands and the Tablelands: 40 minutes from Bowral and 20 minutes from Goulburn.

Farmstays can work well for us. It’s a different environment, because we live in the city; the kids can explore and have some space around them; and they are usually incredibly quiet places. 

Set on one hundred and thirty acres by the Wollondilly River, the late 19th century cottage Ferndale offers uninterrupted views of the property and escarpment beyond, as well as a whole host of activities.

Ferndale at Willowview

The access and disabled facilities are pretty good too. It’s not perfect, but owner Jan Scali has made a good effort to turn an historic farmhouse into an accessible facility.

The shower is especially well designed, with a very solid bench seat, plenty of space and well positioned rails. The rails for the toilet were, however, a bit limited and need some attention.

The house is nearly all accessible, though sometimes via circuitous routes. There is a large step going from the lounge to the hall leading to the veranda. You access the veranda by going out the front door and down the side of the house. There is also a step down into one bedroom and at one entrance to the bathroom. But these things are understandable in a building of its age, and the steps taken to work around them are largely successful.

The entrance to the house is simple and well designed. You park around the back and the entry is smooth, though slightly hilly.

The only lack of access that irritated me was the brick platform surrounding the stove. It meant I couldn’t get close enough to the stove to cook.

Another extra is that the farm is pet friendly. There is an enclosure with room enough for any dog to enjoy all the comforts of home.

We had prior arrangements which meant we couldn’t sample the range of activities on offer, but they include swimming in the river, fishing, horse riding, bushwalking and much more. It would have been nice to stay longer. We did have time to relax on the veranda and enjoy the magnificent view.

In all, Willowview is a welcome addition to the range of accessible properties and an example of how many holiday locations can be amde accessible with a little effort. While the access isn’t perfect, there has been an honest attempt to make it as accessible as the limitations of the property allow. Jan Scali should be applauded for her efforts.

Oct 10

Be Careful What You Wish For

A funny thing happened on Tuesday afternoon. That was the same day I’d had my Heckler article published in the SMH (see Sorry, Mate, below) and, among other topics, had criticised drivers for saying ‘sorry’ to me when I thoughtlessly cross the road in front of them.

I was out walking the dog again, and received a message from my wife that my son was already home from school and waiting at the front door with his driver. I wasn’t far from home, but I wasn’t there, so I had to hurry.

Blossom (the dog) was keen for a run, so we covered the last 2 blocks at full speed, and had only to cross the last road to be at our house. As we crossed the road, in my peripheral vision I could see a car turning into the street, but cars always stop for me. Hell, they stop and apologise for just being on the road. But I’ll admit, I didn’t stop and really look. I kept on and crossed the road.

Now, the car was perhaps a little closer than I had anticipated, but we missed each other comfortably enough. As usual, he wound down his window and shouted several words. ‘Sorry’ was not among them.  It can be hard to discern all the words shouted from a moving car but I caught ‘idiot’ and ‘statistic’, each preceded by an extended form of the most popular four-letter-word in the English language.

I wonder if he’d just finished reading my article. I he had, I’ll call that one an instant success!

Sep 10

Byron Bay Rainforest Resort

Byron Bay Rainforest Resort – originally known as ‘The Wheel Resort’ – is somewhere I had long wanted to stay, but never had the opportunity. At last, a driving holiday to Queensland, to experience the ‘Worlds’ on the Gold Coast, provided that opportunity. We stayed 10 days, and enjoyed our visit immensely.

There are nine self-contained cottages set in the seclusion of 35 acres of remnant coastal rainforest, 3km from Byron Bay and only 300 metres from the ocean. Three are one-bedroom cottages and six are studios. We stayed in two different one-bedrooms and one studio. The one-bedroom cottages are certainly my preference. The extra space, and being able to put all of our gear somewhere out of the way made a big difference.

Interestingly, the cabins are all different, with quite different standards of access, though all have wide doorways, no steps, handrails in the bathroom and several cottages have lowered kitchen benches.

Owner and host, Murray Carter, tells me that the cottages were built over a period of time and some have been renovated since, which explains the variation. Murray is happy to discuss a guest’s specific needs and locate them in the best cottage for them if possible. My vote would go to cottage 8 as the most accessible, and I would ask for it again when next we return.

Cottage 8 has well positioned rails for both the shower and toilet. The shower head can be set high or low, which is a great idea. I was able to transfer to the toilet, back to my chair and onto the shower chair unassisted, which is a big achievement. The kitchen faces the same design challenges of every accessible kitchen (storage v bench usability) but in my view gets it right. And while the benches are high, because you can wheel under them, they can be used to cook or wash up. The floor is cork which is great when I drop things – they bounce rather than break!

I found cottage 2 the least accessible of the three we stayed in. In the bathroom, the rails were too short and the sink too high to use. The mirror was also too high for shaving. The shower can only be set at one height (too high) or hand held. We also stayed in cottage 6, which was in between in terms of access. My advice is to book early and talk to Murray before you arrive to ensure you get the cottage most suited to your needs.

One word of warning. The water in the bathrooms is HOT. Start with the cold and add some hot water, not the other way around.

The whole place has a very relaxed tone. Well behaved dogs are welcome. All the staff were friendly and very helpful – especially Murray who has owned the resort since 1995. We found him to be always around and very attentive, but he seems to implicitly understand some guests like to spend time alone. When we arrived (quite late at night) we expected to find everything shut up for the night, and a key left for us. Amazingly, he was there waiting, and helped us with our luggage and to get settled – a huge bonus. When we needed to move cabins, he moved all of our gear – without us even asking.

The grounds have excellent, smooth, clear paths leading between cabins, and decent dirt tracks to the beach and deep into the bush. Though a relatively busy road is nearby, the place is very quiet – sheltered by large stands of native trees. The resort property consists mainly of wetlands with extensive stands of large Melaleucas, stands of Bottlebrush, Banksias and littoral rainforest. There’s also a variety of birdlife.

The swimming pool is a special feature; a lovely 20m pool with gentle ramp and a sturdy rail. This is the first time I’ve seen a resort pool with such an entry. To me, hoists just add indignity to entering a pool. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never used a hoist in a calm, relaxed fashion. It’s a physical process. If more pools had ramps, I’m sure I’d swim more often. Unfortunately, the days we spent in Byron coincided with the coldest weather SE Australia has had in years. Pools in Byron Bay don’t normally need heating (and this one isn’t heated), but during our 10 day stay, I wish it had been.

There’s also a pleasant and very warm spa, which has a hoist. The Cabana, attached to the pool, is a good place to relax, play pool or cards, read a book, cook a group meal, or sit by the fire in winter. I could imagine if you were travelling with a group and occupying several cottages, this would be an excellent meeting point.

Next door to the resort (a short wheel along a pleasant bush track) there is an excellent little shop/grocer where you can buy general supplies, a few delicacies and fresh fruit and veggies. If it sold good coffee, it would be perfect! The nearest coffee is in Byron – a drive.

There are shared free laundry facilities and free WiFi.

Murray is careful not to raise expectations that his resort is any kind of haven for people with disabilities. He knows well that everyone’s needs are different. And of course there are things I would change about each cottage we stayed in. But overall, Byron Bay Rainforest Resort is a wonderfully peaceful and very accessible retreat where you can relax and revitalize. We found it hard to leave!

Sep 10

Wheelchair access to new Waratah trains in NSW

There’s some controversy today over the boarding procedures for the new Waratah trains, to be delivered to RailCorp in NSW starting in late 2010.

Wheelchair-users will have to flash cards to board trains

  • Wheelchair-users forced to wave cards
  • They will have to wait at end of platforms
  • Move slammed as “embarrassing”

A RAIL operator wants commuters in wheelchairs to wave a “high-visibility” card to warn train guards they need a boarding ramp.

Disability groups are outraged that wheelchair-bound passengers in Sydney will now have to wait towards the end of the train platform – without shelter or safety lighting – in a so-called BAZ area (boarding assistant zone).

Read the full article here.

I note that much of the criticism stems from the proposal for ‘wheelchair bound’ passengers to carry a flag or card to alert station staff or guards to their need to board. Personally, I’m not overly bothered by that. Because I don’t speak, I already carry a series of tags around my neck, stating where I want to go and what train I want to catch. Another (and one that is universally recognised by staff) is no big deal for me.

However… I also see that the new Waratah trains will have the guard in the rear cabin of the train. To me, that seems a major error. Currently, at most stations, wheelchair users are assisted to board by the station staff, not the guard. You need to go to the platform office and bang on the door to get attention and they bring out the ramp. Most platform offices are located (sensibly) in the middle of the platform. And guards are located in the middle cabin. That makes it a very short wheel from the office to the train. But now, we will have to alert the staff, and then push our way back down the full length of the platform to the guard’s cabin. On a busy platform, with many people rushing to board, this is going to be slow, hazardous and impractical.

I suspect what will happen is that wheelchair users will be asked to wait for the next train if times are tight or we will continue boarding in the middle carriage, far distant from the guard. Neither is a good option. Being distant from the guard increases the chance of being left on the train when your stop comes, and if you are not near the guard’s cabin, it’s very hard to alert them to the problem. Security too, is better near the guard’s cabin.

The end of 2010 is fast approaching. This needs some quick attention.

Aug 10

Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo

This story will appear in a different form in the excellent magazine Out & About With Kids. Visit

A visit to Western Plains Zoo, in Dubbo, is almost a right of childhood. Since taking delivery of a wheelchair accessible van, we determined to take our kids – Mary, 10, and Daniel, 8. But when one member of the family (me) uses a wheelchair, and another (Daniel) has autism, it takes more than determination to make such a trip happen. It takes planning, a sense of humour and a bit of luck.  

After a lengthy search, we found an accessible cabin in the Big 4 Parklands caravan park. It had everything we needed, as well as being less than 2km from the zoo. There’s a pleasant pool, and an incredibly popular jumping pillow. The grounds are all accessible—there’s even accessible camping (with shared accessible bathroom facilities).

In Dubbo, we were joined by family friends and their three kids. Don’t let anyone tell you teenagers are sullen and unhelpful! When it comes to chasing an adventurous 8-year-old, who has no sense of danger, a fit 16-year-old is an absolute Godsend. Patrick, as well as his brother Ivan and sister Niamh, were amazing in their ability to engage with Daniel, which was as refreshing as it was helpful.

Photo by Julia Loughran

It rained most of our first day in Dubbo. The next day, as we ventured to the zoo at 6am for the early morning feeding tour we thought it might end in disaster. I had visions of my wheelchair bogged in the mud. Surprisingly, though it was quite muddy, and most paths are dirt, nothing was impassable. We were able to access all exhibits and, more importantly, see all the animals.

The morning tour is great because you have an experienced guide and see the animals when they are most active. Despite the best efforts of our guide to keep us together, Daniel decided to explore a less-trodden path. My wife, Ruth, and Patrick gave chase.  By the time they caught him, the group had moved on and they were lost. It’s at this point you realise how big the zoo really is. Aided by phone instructions from our amazed guide ‘how did you get there…’ they eventually met us at the end of the tour. They saw parts of the zoo the public never sees!

The zoo is impressive. Most enclosures are surrounded by water, meaning there is uninterrupted viewing of animals from every angle. Because most animals won’t cross the water barrier, fences are light and the animals come right up to you.

Photo by Julia Loughran

Before we went, people had warned us ‘other than the zoo, there’s nothing in Dubbo’. We didn’t find that to be true at all.

The city of Dubbo is incredibly accessible. In the main street I couldn’t find any shop with stepped entry, which is great for prams as well as wheelchairs. It helps that the geography is flat, but you can also see there’s been a conscious effort to remove steps, which is to be commended.

The Old Dubbo Gaol is an excellent attraction and well worth the $10 entry. It also has surprisingly good access for a heritage building. We especially enjoyed the lifelike animatronic models which tell stories of famous inmates. It’s an enjoyable two hours.

Dubbo is also blessed with some very attractive parks, walks and cycling tracks. Elston Park (also known as the Water Park) had water spraying equipment that was of great interest to Daniel.

Despite best laid plans, the combination of a father using a wheelchair and a son with autism can lead to some interesting events. Such as the morning Mary and I were watching Daniel on the jumping pillow and he got away from us, darted into a nearby caravan (unseen even by the owners, who were eating breakfast in the annex) and emerged with cheeky grin and two Easter eggs. You can only apologise, explain as best you can and move on.

Caravan parks are friendly places and people tend to understand you are doing your best.  The Big 4 Parklands in Dubbo is no exception. It was the perfect base for a great family holiday.

Jul 10

Heritage Park, Lismore

Heritage Park

If you ever need to spend a half day in Lismore, I can recommend a park that is great for kids of all ages, has pleasant spots for adults to sit, eat and watch, and is perfectly accessible to boot. Heritage Park, on the corner of the Bruxner Highway and Molesworth St, is also right next door to the Lismore Visitor Centre. There are well maintained accessible toilets (MLAK) at the base of the Visitor Centre.

The playground has a great range of play equipment, including rides, slides and activities for all ages. There are separate sections for bigger kids and tiny tots. For kids of all ages (and from what I saw, quite a few adults!) there’s a wonderful miniature railway ($2 per ride). For the most active, there’s also a skate park.

For picnics, there are free barbecue facilities and a generous number of tables with bench seating.

Best of all, there’s abundant open green space with large trees — just what you need if you’re taking break from a long drive. It’s a location well worth noting if you need to meet friends or family in Lismore.

Jul 10

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

Free-flight bird show

A visit to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, 8km north of Coolangatta, isn’t part of the regular ‘worlds’ circuit. But that doesn’t make it boring day out – far from it. With hundreds of native Australian animals on display in natural bushland and rainforest settings, Currumbin provides a rare opportunity to get up close to some amazing native wildlife. Upon arrival, we watched the excellent Free-flight bird show, where everything from pelicans to wedge-tailed eagles were on display.

Set within 27 hectares of lush eucalypt and rainforest, there are tens of kilometres of paths, trails and boardwalks. While these are all, in principle, accessible, unless you are in a power chair or scooter, or else in pretty good shape, some of the higher walks would be very challenging. They are very steep, and often unrelenting. In the power chair, however, I found them fun. The rewards are significant too. The boardwalk takes you through subtropical and tropical averies where the birds are quite beautiful. Note also that that many of these averies are ‘double gated’ – you need to close one gate before opening the second. I found coordinating this tricky in the chair and was appreciative of help.

There are a number of trails around the Green Challenge circuit marked ‘pedestrian access only’; these I found only passable with great care. For those sticking to the lower tracks, there’s still plenty to do and see. I’d especially recommend the kangaroo enclosure, just beyond the Green Challenge circuit.

There’s also a train that circumnavigates the sanctuary, and while it can carry a wheelchair, you need to be able to transfer into a seat.

Accessible toilets are dotted throughout the sanctuary (not MLAK) and are clean, useable and well maintained.

Green Challenge

If you (or more likely your kids) are looking for exhilaration the Green Challenge high ropes adventure course has giant flying foxes and a tarzan swing. The Green Challenge takes participants higher and further into this spectacular natural setting. Of great interest to parents waiting at the bottom, there’s excellent coffee at the base station cafe.

For smaller kids, the Wild Safari playground offers excellent options. There’s a flying fox, a series of tunnels, a spider’s web and various climbing equipment.

Overall, I think it’s well worth a day trip to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s an interesting, active, educational, and accessible day out.

Jul 10

Seaworld on Queensland’s Gold Coast

As we stood in the queue to enter Seaworld, it looked like a mobility equipment convention. There were wheelchairs, manual and electric, being driven by fit looking young men and others being pushed by friends and carers, as well as scooters and walking frames. My first thought, I’ll admit, was purely selfish. ‘Long queue for the accessible loos today…’ But I need not have worried. Seaworld caters well for wheelchair users. And there’s an accessible toilet around every corner.

There’s almost nowhere a wheelchair user can’t go in the entire park. Although all disabled parking spots where taken when we arrived, general parking is plentiful and close. On entry, we were given a hefty discount on the ticket price without any request for ID. There is ramped access to any elevated platform and reserved, designated front row seating at shows and performances. There’s plenty of room for turning and manoeuvring, even in tunnels and isles. In general, I found a good attention to detail in the access design. Bizarrely, I found two shops in the piazza with a step at the front. One was a gift shop and the other served food.

In principle, while I saw no rides specifically designed for wheelchair users, I guess there’s no reason why a wheelchair user couldn’t also go on most of the rides, assuming you had enough helpers to get you in or on the ride. Me, I chose to watch. I watched my kids go on rides, I watched the dolphin show (very impressive), I watched the fish from the underwater viewing tunnel (also excellent). There was plenty to keep me interested without scaring myself witless on a roller coaster.

My wife observed that power wheelchairs should be marketed as a tool for families for just such outings. At one point I was loaded with all the bags, three raincoats, spare jumpers as well as a child on my lap and a coffee in my tray holder. Try doing that with two arms!

Overall, Seaworld is a good, and very accessible, family day out.

Jun 10

Sampling the Best of Byron

I know, Byron Bay isn’t what it was. It’s now flashier, more expensive, less … Byron than it was 20 or 30 years ago. But change also has its benefits, especially in terms of improved access. Today, we spent the afternoon in Byron’s main street and out on the point – Cape Byron – and at every stage access was excellent. We had an excellent lunch at the Hare Krishner cafe just off the main drag, where you get kofta, dahl and rice for under $10. There’s a nice ramp to get in and the person behind the counter didn’t flinch at my written order. The outdoor tables where a good height and far apart enough to allow circulation.

From there we moved to Cape Byron to try to spot a few whales. As we drove to the cape, I was delighted to see a good path following the road for the entire distance. I assume it was built for cyclists but it would be ideal for a chair or scooter too. Once on the Cape, there are good paths running up to the lighthouse and down to an accessible toilet, built since the last time I was here, some years ago. There’s also a nice cafe – Cape Cafe – that I don’t recall being here last time. Sitting on Cape Byron, cappuccino in hand, watching five or six whales move slowly north, it’s hard to imagine much is wrong with the world.

Jun 10

June Opie Cottage, Christmas Cove Caravan Park, Laurieton, NSW

The outlook

When you arrive at Christmas Cove Caravan Park near dark, as we did, it’s not an inspiring sight. It looks rough, with several dead caravans littering the landscape. I feel it’s seen better days. Likewise, June Opie Cottage, with broken tiles in the bathroom, a slightly stale smell and a very 1970s feel about it, is nothing to write home about. But to only see these things is to miss the real beauty of the place. June Opie Cottage has a setting that is really quite lovely in daylight. From the verandah, you look out at a scene of remarkable tranquility. I envied the lone fisherman out in his small punt, on a perfect early morning, maybe 500 meters from shore.

When you look closely at the access setup in June Opie Cottage, it’s actually pretty clever. For a place clearly designed 40 years ago, there are some nice touches. Open shelves and recessed kick boards in the kitchen for a start. And nice ideas like putting the tap at the front of the sink, where I can reach it!

The hallways and doors (all sliding) are wide, allowing easy circulation and turning, even in my big powerchair.

The bathroom isn’t much to look at but it works. The bars are in the right places and there’s (just) enough room to get around. You can tell someone using a chair lived here long term. This is a practical setup, not an architect’s design.

I went for a big wheel around the grounds and it’s all pretty good. You share the road with cars but it’s very quiet. There are more residents here than visitors, I suspect, at least mid-week, when we were here. Aside from some deep gutters and high speed humps, the roads are easily usable by a wheelchair, as are some of the walking paths.

Now, it’s time to pack up and head for Byron Bay.

Jun 10


Bulahdelah seems a pleasant country town, set on the banks of the Myall River, 2 1/2 hours from Sydney, and the spot we’d had recommended by our NRMA serviceman as having a great bakery. We decided to stop, let the kids have a play in Wade Park, and use the public facilities there, which my iPad National Public Toilet Map app had told me were accessible. The Public Toilet Map is a brilliant tool, but even it can’t deal with just plain dumb facilities usage. You see, the problem was that the accessible toilet was locked. Not with an MLAK key, just locked from the inside, so no-one had access. Perhaps they were out of order (though as the only accessible loos in town that should be very rare). Perhaps the lock had been vandalised, though that’s still not excusable, as there should be regular inspections by council. Whatever the reason, it’s not good enough.

Jun 10

Spotted Today in Summer Hill

Where's your sticker?

Now, I don’t mean to say there should not be police with disabilities driving around in patrol cars, but IF there are, this one didn’t have a sticker.

Jun 10

The Long Way Home

This story occurred a few years ago, when I both drove and spoke (though neither especially well). I’ve been meaning to share it for some time. The launch of Barrier Free has given me the forum to finally do so. Enjoy!

The day started simply enough. I needed to visit Concord Hospital to have some stitches removed, so, knowing how bad parking was there, I left my car at home and took a taxi to the hospital, intending to return later to pick it up. I was early, the appointment was on time, and I even found time for a coffee with an old work colleague I ran into in the lobby. I headed out of the lobby and a wheelchair cab was just dropping off a passenger. I was on fire! At this rate I’d be at work early.

As we headed along Concord Road on the 15 minute trip home, the driver saw a car pull out from a side street. He braked hard, perhaps a little harder than was required, and we jolted to a stop. He had just motioned ‘sorry’ to me in the back when we heard the screech of tyres and then felt a hard bang into the back of the taxi. Someone had run up our rear end.  

The driver got out of the taxi and walked to the side where the other driver met him. I heard him say ‘oh, the owner won’t like this mess’. And her reply ‘well, it’s not my fault’. From there the argument started. First shouting, then screaming, then she tried to kick him, then he tried to restrain her. Not a pretty sight. And the two cars are still parked in the middle of the road, while these two nutters go at it and the traffic builds up for miles behind us.

Eventually, the police arrived, first one officer on a motorbike and then a car load. Things eventually calmed down and the officers’ attention turns to me, still sitting (increasingly impatiently) in the back.  

The policewoman spoke to me, slowly, very deliberately and somewhat louder than normal speech (no doubt assuming I was hard of hearing) ‘Sir, you’ve been in an accident. We’ve called an ambulance to take you to be checked at the hospital.’ I explained that I didn’t need an ambulance. I wasn’t hurt. I was just sick of waiting while this mess was sorted out. I needed to get to work. The policewoman then offered to arrange for a taxi to take me to work after the hospital. Again I said no thanks. I needed to go home and get my car. I would drive myself, thanks all the same. ‘You drive, Sir?’

I figured the best solution was for me to simply get out, find another taxi and continue my journey.

It was then that we realised the damage to the rear of the taxi had a terrible consequence. The back hatch would not open and I was stuck.

Eventually, with the help of two police officers and a passer-by, the hatch was opened, and it was reattached sufficiently for the further 10 minutes drive to my house, which was uneventful. As we unloaded, the driver informed me that because of the mess up he’d only charge me $20, rather than the normal fare of $30. My voice was a little worn from talking to the police so much but I think my cry of ‘WHAT!’ was heard in the next suburb. He left without charging me.

Relived it was finally over I loaded my chair into my car and headed off to work. I’d already missed one meeting. I turned off Parramatta Road and into West Street, Petersham, following a tray top van with a load of windows. As I did, a car came out of a side street and collected the window van immediately in front of me. They weren’t going fast, but there was a huge mess and glass everywhere.

Finally, I made it to my office carpark and stopped the car. I needed a moment to compose myself. I realised then that I had the radio tuned to an FM station I never normally listen to. A breathless traffic announcer was giving the wrap-up; talking loud over the chopper noise. ‘Well, it looks like that smash and fracas on Concord Road has finally cleared but now there’s a doozy at West Street Petersham with glass all over the road. You should avoid that one at all costs’. I followed his suggestion.

May 10

A review of Clark Bay Cottages – Narooma

This post appeared in a different version in the magazine Out & About With Kids – highly recommended. Visit

The advertising flyer for Clark Bay Cottages says ‘another day in paradise’ and that parallels my memory of Narooma; the town where I grew up, but then spent 20 years away. Those memories were long before having kids, long before our son, Daniel, was diagnosed with Autism, and long before I used a wheelchair. I was fascinated to see how it would work now.

Clark Bay Cottages

Clark Bay Cottages

Family holidays can be a challenge for us, especially finding suitable accommodation. As well as needing wheelchair access, we need to satisfy Daniel’s sensory needs. He loves water, so we need a pool. He loves being in the bush, so we look for a bush setting. Above all, he needs space – to run, jump, yell … and just to be free and safe. Clark Bay Cottages are ideal. The pool is gorgeous, looking as it does over Wagonga Inlet; one of the prettiest stretches of water you’ll find. There’s also a mechanical hoist into the pool and spa. The entire place is ramped, allowing a wheelchair user to explore any part of the facilities, including the games room and tennis courts.

Clark Bay Pool

Clark Bay Pool

Clark Bay is set on 20 acres of partially-cleared temperate rainforest, so there are many places to bushwalk, explore and just be close to nature. It is incredibly quiet. Often, the only sound is bellbirds calling. We noticed how calm and relaxed Daniel was there and wondered how much the stress and noise of the city affects his behavior.

Narooma also claims to have the mildest climate in the country, and it’s a claim I believe.

The four cabins have been built on ‘universal design’ principles, which means they are completely wheelchair-friendly, including rails in the bathroom, wheel-under kitchen benches and one cabin has a hoist from bedroom to shower. There are many other thoughtful touches, including electromagnetic cooktops, fully adjustable kitchen benches, 1/4 turn batwing taps and electronically adjustable beds. Despite these excellent facilities, nothing about Clark Bay Cottages is unsuitable for families without special needs. For most families, it’s just a great place for a holiday.

The town of Narooma is also a surprise. It’s a hilly place, but the local council and businesses have done a great job of making nearly everything accessible including shops, cafes (including some very good coffee) and services. Every park we visited (there are several excellent playgrounds and picnic spots right by the water) had accessible toilets. A special treat is the boardwalk that has been built from the centre of town, north to Bar Beach; a distance of six kilometres. It’s all accessible and hugs the water the whole way. While undertaking this walk, our kids were fascinated to watch a huge Stingray feeding in the shallows.  

Narooma is a little far from Sydney (5 hours drive) to receive weekend visitors. And that’s part of the beauty of the place. Life moves at a different pace there. Once you’ve arrived, reward yourself and stay a week.

Apr 10

Paradise Afloat – Houseboating on the Hawkesbury River

When an old mate from university contacted me and said he wanted to get a group together for a boys’ fishing weekend on a houseboat on the  Hawkesbury River, just north of Sydney, my immediate reaction was to politely say ‘no thanks’. When he further informed me that he’d found an accessible houseboat, I was alarmed. Most non-wheelies definition of accessible is very different to my needs. I asked him a few questions, and when his response was ‘don’t fret; you’re not heavy, you’re our brother’ I said ‘ok, I’m in’ and decided to figure out the practicalities later.

I need not have worried. Paradise Afloat Houseboats, based at Lower Portland in the upper reaches of the Hawkesbury, are the first operator to focus on the needs of wheelchair-users in a houseboating environment. Their two houseboats are specifically designed and built around the needs of people with disabilities. They offer:

  • Larger hallways and doorways
  • Spacious outdoor decking areas with safety rails
  • Wheelchair-friendly layout in bathrooms and bedrooms
  • Purpose-built accessibility to kitchen & dining facilities
  • Wheelchair-friendly helm & controls so you can be Captain of your own ship

Our trusty vessel

I found most of these facilities excellent. My only complaints were that the rails in the shower were insufficient, but as this was a boys’ weekend on the river, hygiene was not high on anyone’s priorities. If we’d stayed longer, I’d have needed help to use the shower. As well, the access to the kitchen is not great, with limited circulation space and high benches. But all things considered, they have done their boats extremely well. I was also impressed with the way Kellianne (one of our hosts) responded to my constant emailed questions, and sent photos and full answers, not just perfunctory replies. That matters.

Their entire establishment at Lower Portland is also wheelchair-friendly with access ramps to all areas, restroom facilities and the licensed Paradise Café & Pizzeria (which also serves excellent chili prawns).

The crew

So for two-and-a-half days we fished, played cards, told stories, relived Glory Days, relaxed and cruised the beautiful Hawkesbury. It’s too easy to forget how relaxed you can feel in the company of friends you’ve known most of your life. While the bounty from the sea was minimal, the bounty in terms of enjoyment was plentiful.

We’ll definitely do it again, next year and hopefully every year until we are old and grey (or is that older and greyer?).

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