When does a girl become a woman?

This weekend I flew to Melbourne with The Best Friend. She’s 50-years-old now, only a little bit younger than me. We joined forces with five other women from her university years to look at art and drink wine and, at the end of each day, sink into crisp hotel sheets on beds someone else had made.

Three of us started the weekend with hair appointments and manicures. There’s nothing like professionally styled hair and glossy nails to elevate a woman’s mood. Between appointments we grabbed a glass of wine and shared charcuterie at a Paris-like table in Degraves Street.

At nightfall we joined forces with the others at the National Gallery of Victoria to see the MOMA exhibition, an ‘Up Late’ event that included live music, wine and more cheese, olives and cured meats. The art was good, of course, but I’d have paid good money just for the company and conversation.

We stood close to Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory (the melting clocks are smaller than you’d think), scratched our heads at Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel and tried our hand at Space Invaders. I found myself separated from the crew after lingering too long in front of Robert Rauschenberg’s Surface series from Currents, 18 screen prints of American newspaper clippings from the Nixon era. Conceptually and aesthetically it spoke to me, a visual blog from pre-internet days.

Surface series from Currents, Robert Rauschenberg

Surface series from Currents, Robert Rauschenberg – MOMA exhibition, National Gallery of Victoria 2018

I wondered where the others were but didn’t try too hard to find them. Instead I answered a trumpet blasting from a nearby hall, where a pulsating audience echoed jazz beats with swaying torsos and upraised palms. I squeezed in among the crowd, soaking up the dying moments of the final song, wishing I’d arrived sooner.

In the gallery’s foyer our team reconnected to gather coats and venture outside, keen for more wine and hot chips. We found both at The Barre and settled in to discuss superannuation, divorce and our collections of multi-focals.

“This pair is for reading menus and looking at art, this pair is for driving at night and this pair covers computer work and watching TV.”

Sipping gin and dipping french fries in truffle-infused mayonnaise, I was struck by the collective wit and wisdom of this eloquent posse, as brutally honest about their worries as they were sanguine about their success.  They wore their fifty years like a technicolour coat, a patchwork of triumph and turmoil sitting comfortably on toned shoulders, now shrugged off and slung over the back of their chairs as they settled in for a weekend of fun.

The weekend’s architect, Kylie, is a senior vice president in charge of distribution across Australasia for a film and television production company. The platinum frequent flyer departs for a convention in Cannes later this month. It sounds glamorous, but Kylie’s been working the Cannes crowd for 25 years and she says it’s lost a little of its shine. And while the job does involve “getting off the island”, generally the Australasian SVP works from home, only shedding her slippers for the occasional lunch meeting and international jaunt. Mostly she works her magic through a keyboard and phone from her harbour-side apartment.

Also from Sydney, Nic is an advertising executive. She recently took a leap into unfamiliar territory, leaving the comfort of a behemoth agency to work for a digital startup. Nic says the move is about future-proofing herself against graduates paid pennies by a creative industry in turmoil.

The last of the Sydney crew, Helen, always called Melon, is a journalist. Funny and self-deprecating, Melon is freelancing after leaving her editorial job with Who Magazine earlier this year. She says by the time she left, staffing was so depleted she’d taken to unzipping her pants as she walked to the bathroom to save time.

“I don’t know why I was in such a hurry. It was only the Kardashians waiting for me.”

The Melbourne contingent, Jocelyn (Joss) and Mardie, are equally impressive. Joss is a commercial business adviser for a national trade organsiation and Mardie runs procurement for Jetstar.

Brisbane contributed Nancy, The Best Friend, an executive assistant at a private girls school. Nancy ran an audio post-production company in London before returning down-under to down-size her career and raise her children as a sole parent. And me. An aspiring writer.

The morning after the art show and late-night wine and chip fest, we’d arranged to meet in the hotel foyer for breakfast before a tour of the Mornington Peninsular. But I woke with a headache, so instead I disabled the alarm and rolled over for more sleep.

Another advantage of advanced years is having the courage to be a little self-centred.

After an extra 90 minutes of slumber, three Paracetamol, two Aspirin and a large flat white, I boarded a min-van with my fellow revelers for more wining and dining.

The day was perfect. Warm, blue sky, lush green grass in the peninsular’s paddocks and mint air courtesy of nearby Bass Strait – ideal conditions for sampling the region’s cool-climate wines. The bus hummed as we laughed and talked and texted reminders home to ensure dogs were walked and meals defrosted.

We approached wine-tasting with a no-nonsense impatience for mediocrity, sipping and spitting all but the brews that met our exacting standards. And when we found one that warranted a second tasting we bought a box and shipped it home.

The only blip on an otherwise perfect day was our charming but out-of-step driver. He persisted in calling us “girls”, throwing us back to primary school excursion days and causing us to wince behind our over sized sunglasses. He seemed like a decent man but was completely oblivious to our raised eyebrows and quiet sighs.

“Girls” – a collective noun to make a grown woman wince. We may have been girlish in our approach to the day’s adventures, but we’re all a few husbands, children and career u-turns beyond girlhood.

With our direct gaze and frank manner I suspect we were an intimidating bunch, despite our sneakers and frivolity. I wonder if the man-at-the-wheel needed to fall back on patriarchal bluster to bolster his own self-assurance.

If that’s the case I pity him. Perhaps one of us should have lent him our coat.

View at Port Phillip Estate Winery

Nic, Joss, Nancy, Melon, Kylie, Angela at Port Phillip Estate

 

Kathleen Quealy - Quealy Winemakers

Kathleen Quealy – Quealy Winemakers

 

Green Olive at Red Hill Winery

Melon, Nancy and Joss – Green Olive at Red Hill Winery

 

Mornington Peninsular Chocolates

Mornington Peninsular Chocolates

 

Nancy in Flinders, Mornington Peninsular

Nancy in Flinders, Mornington Peninsular

 

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Angela Bensted is Brisbane-based freelance writer who likes to listen first and struggle with syntax later. She pitches stories to magazines, sometimes successfully, and helps businesses produce compelling copy for print and online.

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