TIME OUT: Sounds of Spring

This weekend's top activities include experimental drumming in Sydney, a hot new crime novel and a cool Perth hotel.

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Stop searching. We’ve found this weekend’s top five things to do:

1. New sounds in Sydney

"Experimental drumming” seems an odd concept at first. Stick drum = bang. Not too much unknown in that equation, surely? Shoji Hano would beg to differ.

Taught Japanese drumming as a child, he discovered Western jazz drumming through the music of Art Blakey and others. Bringing the two influences together was an experiment, a step into the unknown. But Hano wanted to take it further, and did so by developing his own improvised style based, he says, on the philosophical concepts of a martial art, Shintaido. Hano and his quartet will be demonstrating his unusual approach on Saturday night (September 20) at The Sound Lounge, downstairs at the Seymour Centre.

One of Sydney’s hidden performance gems, the Sound Lounge has all the niche, experimental, out-of-town, emerging and low-key music you could want. The basement of the concrete theatre bunker isn’t much of a space and the dcor is reminiscent of a 1970s school hall, but that’s not the point here; the chance to listen to something new and interesting is what this place is all about. As a bonus, the food is home-style, hearty and designed to share, the drinks are well-priced and the atmosphere is welcoming.

2. A charming Melbourne village for a rainy afternoon

On grey, low-energy days you feel like mooching about but don't want to stay at home. What you really want is minimum effort, maximum indulgence, which makes Rathdowne Village the perfect destination.

With a leafy green parade of plane trees down the centre and rows of Victorian shop-fronts and verandahs on either side, it’s got all the charm of 19th Century village but none of the chintziness. The quality of its retail and food offerings makes it a very appealing place to while away a few hours.

Start at North Cafeteria, a small, airy, relaxed space with hand-drawn wallpaper and '60s style. They do coffee, tea and things on toast really well, all day. Then it's on to Belki, with its stylish, quality range of bags, jewellery, homewares and adorable kids' things. Next up, spend some time exploring other lives at Alice’s Bookshop, a charming and archetypal antiquarian rabbit warren. Then it’s just a stroll to Cote Provence, where you can be inspired by French provincial furniture, linens and oddities gathered in a beautifully styled suite of rooms.

Book-end your visit with another meal. Will it be at buzzy La Luna Bistro, with its great MediterrOz food, happy crowd and a sense that someone really cares about what you're eating? Or perhaps you’d prefer the quieter and cosier Rathdowne Street Foodstore, where Ricky Holt makes food for every hour from breakfast to supper and every mood from tryst to we-have-to-talk. With options this good there are no wrong choices.

3. Scare yourself silly with Shatter

He’s written four novels; all of them have been heaped with critical praise and, between them, they have been published in 50-plus countries in 22 languages. Impressive. But take a straw poll on Australia’s best known authors and he probably won’t even rate a mention. Why not? Because Michael Robotham writes crime thrillers.

Very much like Ian Rankin, Robotham is a highly skilled writer who chooses to work within a genre that is rarely taken seriously. Must be something to do with the big foil letters on the covers. But like Rankin, he refuses to write down to his audience. And, like Rankin, he is reaping the rewards of that, with serious critics lauding his style and readers buying the books in droves.

His latest, Shatter, was short-listed for the prestigious Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award by the UK Crime Writers’ Association, with the judges describing it as "dark, deep and brooding; everything a psychological thriller should be”. Now it has been named this year’s Best Fiction in Australia’s equivalent, the Ned Kelly Awards.

Blood is certainly shed in his books, but what really interests Robotham is the psychological damage human beings are capable of suffering, and inflicting. He wants to make you think, even in the midst of heart-racing terror…and he succeeds. To get a taste of his talent, click here.

4. Feed mind and body at Riverbend Books in Brisbane

If you’re keen to get your hands on the latest Michael Robotham, or pretty much any other recent book of interest, in Brisbane you can’t go past Riverbend Bookshop. It’s been named Queensland Independent Bookshop of the Year again for 2008 — that’s the fifth time since 2003. And no wonder. The combination of great books, great conversations, food and wine on a deck under shady trees is unbeatable.

You step off Bulimba’s bustling Oxford Street up onto a wooden deck under a leafy canopy. Then it’s through to the spacious store and its careful selection of what's new and what's good. Emerge with your next read tucked under your arm and two paces away there's the Riverbend Tea House, with its small menu of beautifully executed fresh dishes and accompanying drinks.

Don’t be surprised if the experience of sitting quietly behind the white picket fence and glancing up from the page to take in the passing village life proves seductive enough to start you daydreaming about moving in around the corner.

5. Relax at Perth’s Outram Hotel

Perth visitors have waited too long for the kind of luxurious accommodation the Outram Hotel provides. Quietly poised on the sunny side of a side street, surrounded by small office buildings, it doesn’t need to call attention to itself or its guests. The drawcard is a level of comfort and service unmatched elsewhere in Perth.

Its rooms are few and well-appointed, with contemporary decor and all the media facilities needed for a trouble-free holiday or business trip. The private lounge and outdoor terraces are a welcome bonus — after all, it's not Perth if you can't sit outside any hour of the day — for breakfast, lunch or an evening cocktail or two. Click here for more.

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