Letter #16: 31 December 2014

31 December 2014

G’day Mates,

The last good day of the year.  Hard to believe tomorrow is 2015.  I am a bit late in getting this latest letter out.  It’s taken me too long to even start writing it.  And it’s not just because I’ve been busy (which we have), but I think I’m in a sad funk and I don’t want that to come through in my writing so I’m just avoiding the writing.  But the funk ain’t going away and if I don’t start writing something, I’ll be back in Seattle before you hear from me, and we can’t have that.

These sabbatical experiences are some of the most wonderful things I’ve done in my life, but the endings are some of the hardest.  I still feel guilty about the end our Limerick sabbatical – my friend, Sue, and her girls had come all the way from Seattle to spend our last week with us, and then the two families had travel plans for England and Scotland.  I spent her entire week in Limerick crying.  It’s not that I wasn’t excited to see her, but the idea of leaving Ireland, and more importantly the idea of leaving those people I’d come to know and love, was just overwhelming, and I just couldn’t muster being the excited, welcoming friend I should have been to Sue.

What it really comes down to, is that when I board a plane in Seattle, I have a ticket home and a date when I know I’ll return.  My leaving is only a temporary condition.  I’ll be back on January 7.  But when I leave Australia on 7 January I have no idea when I’ll return, when I will get to see my wonderful new friends again.  I hope in my heart that it’s a “when” and not an “if” but I just don’t know.  And that’s what hurts so much.  [Mary speaks the truth; she really does feel that way.  Leaving is so much easier if you are just a little bit socially retarded.]

OK, enough weepy.  Fans want the travel log.  I finished the last installment with our camping trip to Cockatoo Island.  On Tuesday, we got up (too early for Miss Melinda, I’m afraid) and boarded a train to Central and then another to parts north.  We were headed for the Riverboat Postman, a working boat carrying tourists and delivering the mail to small, remote communities on the Hawkesbury River.   (http://riverboatpostman.vpweb.com.au/)  As we departed Brooklyn, the journey started with morning tea and an Anzac biscuit, a delicious oatmeal-coconut cookie, sent by wives to their soldiers abroad during the Great War.  They are quintessentially Australian and just delish.  [These Anzacs were also thin, very thin, almost flat, very nearly without vertical development.  Seriously, they were about two dimensional.  Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.  I don’t think that the lack of verticality was a political commentary of any sort {although how great could the Great War have been, really?}.  I think it had to do with a lack of baking powder.  That’s my guess and I’m sticking with it.]

Our first stop was Dangar Island, where we were greeted by three kids and their mother, post mistress of this small community.  From there we continued on to Kangaroo Point, Milson’s Island, Bar Point, and further on, where the communities got smaller and smaller and the amenities fewer and fewer.  I think our guide grew up along the river and had many stories to tell of the locals and history – the women’s insane asylum here, the men’s further down and across the river.  In the 1930s two escapees from the men’s managing to swim to shore and scramble up the hill in the darkness, reached the road and a kindly driver headed to Sydney (and freedom) picked them up, but to the escapees chagrin, the driver just happened to be an off-duty guard and soon enough the pair were back where they started from.

On our trip, the tide was high, enabling the mailboat02FishermansPoint to reach one community where the shallow water at the dock often prevents the boat from getting in.  But given that it was only two days before Christmas the locals were anxious for delivery of some parcels and two gentlemen – 50% of the population of tiny Fisheman’s Point! – turned out to greet us.  The river was filled with Jelly Blubber jellyfish.  Most of these were brown03HawkesburyBrownJellyfish or tan with an “x” on top of the bell and about 10 squishy-looking cone arms hanging down, but some of the jellies were a beautiful blue colour04HawkesburyBlueJellyFish.  As we continued further up river we had a ploughman’s lunch, and turned back toward Brooklyn.  We stopped at the Republic of Millson’s Passage, where the king/president/mayor greeted us from his throne.  He’s quite a character and our captain got off with his wireless mic to have an entertaining chat with His Excellency so the mail drop there took twice as long as any other stop05MilsonsPassageMayor.  The houses along the river, most just summer cabins, reminded me a bit of our place at Hammersley Inlet (one of the good things about going back home that I’m trying to keep in mind as I prepare for my departure.)  We had a bit more tea and a chocolate before we once again stopped at Dangar Island – they receive their mail on the Postman’s outbound journey and get a chance to send out mail on the Postman’s return trip – and one of the “deputy” postmen who’d picked up the mail with his mum got a handful of chocolates in exchange as he handed back a bag full of letters to the boatman.

[I’m just going to break in here for a moment and report that I am sweating!  It’s 8:45PM January 1, the sun has set, the windows are all wide open and I am sitting at my spot at the table next to the biggest openest window I can find in a T-shirt and jeans, just waiting for a little breeze.  Folks it’s hot!  We went to the beach today and took the Polar Bear Plunge.  Isn’t that what you call it when you go swimming on the first day of the new year?  Well, we took that plunge along with way too many other people crowding the beaches.  I think I even got a bit of a sunburn.  How are we going to sleep tonight?

There; I’m through harassing those of you reading this back in WA {That’s Washington State, not Western Australia for folks from Oz} and other cold parts of the US.  I’ll join you in Gore-Tex and gloom in about a week.  May we not run out of sunscreen in the mean time.]

We returned from our river trip early enough in the day that I got to meet a new friend.  Deb is from Seattle and a good friend of my friend Carol, and she manages to come to Cronulla every year!!! not just one in seven like us sabbatical folks.  So Carol brokered the introduction and Deb and I met up at the RSL club for a drink.  Several of Deb’s Cronulla friends joined in for drinks and I was invited to a Christmas Eve celebration with them the next day on the beach at Gunnamatta bay.  Very fun.

We went to the children’s Mass on Christmas Eve.  It brought back some memories for us of when Melinda was the innkeeper for the same Mass nine years ago.  There were plenty of shepherds and angels milling about around the altar, but the flock seemed much more subdued than they were at our previous experience where conversation in the pews after communion sounded more like a cocktail party than reverent and prayerful reflection.  We came home and had a little dinner but I missed my traditional family treat of crab salad.  I think on Christmas Eve 2015 it will taste all the sweeter.

We spent Christmas with Michael and Toni and their family, a crowd of close to 30.  It was a great feast and the bad weather held off until late afternoon, just as we were leaving.  Toni and Michael’s daughter-in-law, Steph, and infant grandson, Jacob, had recently returned from a trip to the US, and Jacob came back with a virulent stomach flu, which unfortunately began to make its rounds in the Downes household on Christmas eve, so the festivities were a bit subdued and we all crossed our fingers that we’d be spared.

Boxing day signals the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.06SydneyToHobartYachtRaceStart2  Melinda had no interest in that, so Mark and I trained and bused to Watsons Bay.  We found a nice vantage point along Old South Head Road looking in to the harbour to watch the US entry, Comanche, fly across the line first with Wild Oats XI and the other supermaxis not far behind.  And since Old South Head Road runs along the top of the peninsula we could watch the racers and scores of fans in boats large and small round South Head and begin their journey south along the coast toward Tasmaina.  It’s quite a spectacle to see and thousands line up to see the show.  (Michael was in Hobart a few years ago for the finish and says it’s so much more low-key – he got a chance to see the boats cross the finish line, and then talk with the relaxed crews afterward.)  Once the largest yachts come around the headlands, from our vantage point and distance it was a bit difficult to distinguish some of the smaller racing boats in the fleet of 117 contenders from the fan boats cheering them on, so we walked down into Watsons Bay and waited in a looong line for07LineAtDoyles Doyle’s fish and chips, a 130-year-old Sydney institution.  The fish was tasty and hot, and reminiscent of Ivar’s on a summer’s day with the sun sparkling off Elliott Bay.  All those race watchers and fish eaters had to go somewhere and most of them appeared to be trying to get on the 2:30 ferry back to Circular Quay so we tried to keep clam as we queued up.  (Note to Aussie readers – not a typo in the last sentence.  Check out http://www.ivars.com.)  The ferry was quite packed, the race start having wreaked havoc on the schedules for the eastern wharves, but we snagged a couple of seats outside, just like we like ‘em, though the 15-knot winds sent heaps of spray over the gunwales and on to us and our neighbors, many of whom chose to find shelter indoors.  Wimps.

When Tori and Steve were here, we took a Port Hacking cruise and the guide pointed out a bottle shop (the Bottle-O) in Yowie Bay that puts on a sausage sizzle every Friday night, and since we only had two more Fridays, we thought we’d check out this quintessential Aussie rite, but out trip was for naught.  I suppose due to the Boxing Day holiday the sizzle wasn’t sizzling, and we’ve got plans for this Friday so I guess we’re just going to miss out.  We just sat on a bench for a bit and checked out the comings and goings at the boat launch and the fisherfolk on the dock and enjoyed the early evening light.

Saturday, unfortunately, Mark woke up, a loser in the great Christmas tummy-bug lottery, so we lay low on Ocean View street.  I had two choices, pack up to go home or search for dead ancestors.  Is there anybody out there thinking I chose the former?  Anybody?  Ah, you know me too well.  But I finally, finally, finally after years of research found my great-great-grandparents Johannes and Louisa (Hartman) Springer on the censuses of 1860 and 1865, and my great-grandmother, Frances with them.  I was pretty excited that a new (to me) database of Civil War draft registration records popped up and told me where “John” was in 1863 so I knew where to look for him on the nearby censuses.  Frances was listed as “Frank” and even identified as male, but I’m sure it’s her.  By 1870 John had passed away and Louisa was a young widow with three children, but next door is a Nicholas Springer, so I’m thinking John must have had a brother.  Now I’ve got a whole list of Springers in Salina and Liverpool, New York to track down!!!  Yippee!!!!   So, no, it didn’t bother me at all that my dear husband was sick as a dog and we couldn’t go anywhere.  [I wasn’t all that sick.  Sick as a Chihuahua, maybe.  Certainly not sick as a Springer Spaniel and nowhere near sick as a Portuguese Water Dog.  Still I don’t recommend it.]

As your Sydney tour guide, it is my job to let you know all the ways to squeeze maximum value out of an Opal card with its $2.50 all-you-can-ride train, bus and ferry deal.   Mark and Melinda, a Gemini and a Cancer, are not nearly as engaged by the water as your friend the Pieces is, so Sunday I finally tore myself away from the Springer research and took the train solo into Circular Quay to check several as yet unridden ferry routes.  My first ride was a little 25-minute ride on the Scarborough to Kirribilli, North Sydney, Kurraba and Neutral Bay.  BoatsNeutral Bay has an interesting history.  Back in the colonial period, ships traveling from Spain, France, Holland and other far away countries, after a journey of six months or more, would arrive in Port Jackson and could lay anchor in Neutral Bay and work out whether their country was currently at war with Britain.

I had scoured the schedules and come up with a plan that would send me on loops out from Circular Quay with just enough time between voyages to catch the next one on my list.  What I did not anticipate was 50 kajillion sightseers with a similar idea.  When I returned from Kirribilli and disembarked I had to work my way through a crowd at Wharf 4 almost all the way into the train station before I could determine I needed to get to Wharf 2 to catch the Mossman route, and by the time I got there, that ship had sailed.  Ah, but just on the other side of the dock, the Lady Northcutt was departing for Taronga Zoo so I hopped aboard, fingers crossed that I’d be back in time for the 4 pm sailing on the Mossman route (and that I’d be able to make it off one ferry on to another – it seems you might depart from one wharf but return to Circular Quay to a different wharf, the boat slated for another route.)  But the return from Taronga was a timely return to a relatively uncrowded Wharf 2 and soon I was on the Alexander toward Mossman.  It is just a stunning little bay with some of the prettiest houses I’ve seen.  I had a nice visit with an American physical therapist living in Port Macquarie and her mother visiting from Illinois.  By the time we returned from Mossman, the crowd had dissipated somewhat and it was an easy walk to the Sirius for the Darling Harbour run.  Four ferries, four and a half hours of fun, all for only $2.50.  (See how far that would get you on a commercial harbour tour!)

[Of course I know.  You are all aquiver, waiting to learn what Mark and Melinda did while Mer was riding the waves. 08RemainingSandhills2 Well, when we were here in 2005-06 the kids were all three here and all three were much younger.  I spent a good deal of time with them out at the sand hills north of Cronulla.  We lived then on the north side of town and we could walk to these giant dunes, some 20 or 30 meters high, in about 15 or 20 minutes.  Once there they could run up and slide down or trudge along the crest a09MelindaEmmGarthSandHills la Lawrence of Arabia, and so forth.  Melinda even took a photo of a sand-leaping Emmeline and won a prize when the picture was entered in a school contest!  She was keen to go back there so we did.  We followed that up with a10FruitBatsWaveHello visit to a camp of flying foxes – fruit bats – and I got a few more photos of these cool creatures.  There.  That’s what we did.]

Monday Mark and I helped Michael and Toni move their daughter, Jenni, into her new apartment.  Toni and I mostly unpacked and organized the kitchen and did a wee bit of decorating while Michael and Mark did the heavy work of moving boxes and beds and plants and lights.  [And heavies.  There were some heavies in there too.]  On about late afternoon, Toni suggested that she and Jenni stay and finish up while Michael took Mark and I home and he could watch a little cricket and then come back to pick her up later.  Well, Michael drove the ute to the GoGet return location (think ZipCar in Seattle) while Mark and I followed in Michael’s car, but Michael suggested that we just stop somewhere for a quick beer before we headed back to Cronulla.  Before we knew it, it didn’t make any sense for Michael to drive us home and then go pick up Toni, and the cricket was on in the pub, and I think you can extrapolate how the rest of the rest of the afternoon evolved.  [We are using that term in the colloquial rather than the biologic-scientific sense.  There was, to my knowledge, no genetic mutation and no one was sick as her majesty’s beagle.  But there was some natural selection.  I selected a dark beer.  Mer had cider.]

Tuesday we had to do a little reconnaissance mission to plot our New Year’s Eve strategy.  None of us were really game to start camping out on Tuesday morning at one of the prime locations for a Wednesday night event, but we checked the Sydney NYE website and found a large park that wasn’t expected to reach capacity so we scoped it out Tuesday morning and figured if we were there sometime mid-afternoon the following day, there was enough real estate in the park that we’d have a view, and we could probably find some parking within a reasonable distance – it might be a bit of a hike but that would be OK.  Since we were already in the general vicinity, we went to the Balmain East ferry stop to catch a boat to Pyrmont Bay and the lovely maritime museum.  It was a sunny and warm day, and we toured the magnificent replica ship of Captain Cook’s EndeavourIMG_033611ReplicaEndeavorYou know we love our tall-ships and this one’s a beauty, one of the world’s most accurate historical replica ships.  She’s sailing to Tasmania in late January – if only I had a few more weeks here I’d book passage.  We also went aboard the destroyer HMAS Vampire, built on Cockatoo Island where we camped just a week ago.  Inside the museum there was a great exhibit of life-sized whale photographs.  The signs and stories of how the photographer went about the project are almost as fascinating as the photos themselves (http://www.anmm.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/on-now/beautiful-whale).  It was a pretty nice way to celebrate our 31st anniversary, as you can see from our commemorative portrait! Anniversary portrait

Tuesday night we went to the movies to see Russell Crowe’s new movie, The Water Diviner, a (mostly) post-Gallipoli story of a father searching for his three sons on the Turkish battlefield a few years after the war.  Wavers a bit between action flick and love story, but I loves me a World War I story as much as I do a ferry ride or a tall ship so it was OK by me.  [And I loves me a WWI story about as much as I do celery with peanut butter which is to say that it’s not bad and I like it and all but there are better things, like carrots and saltines and ice water.  Nevertheless I can certainly enjoy celery with peanut butter if it’s offered.]  South Sydney Rabbitohs 21st premiership You beauties.

Again, I have been lying to you.  I really did start this letter on Wednesday the 31st but there were places to go and fireworks to see so I got partway and had to leave.  But now, it’s 2015 and my new year’s resolution is to FINISH IT and send it off!  After I saved the first 830 words and shut down my computer we packed the car and went to see Chrissie and Other Mark’s new home.  (As Greg and Steph are also relocating from Canberra to Tasmania, it seems that all the Downe’s children are “On the Move” but none thinks (Victoria) is “The Place to Be.” Too much referential humour?)  But Chrissie and Mark have just bought a new 1880s house in Granville, one of the western suburbs of Sydney.  Lots of painting and yard work ahead of them and dreams of fruit trees and a chookhouse with heirloom chickens, but with some time and elbow grease they will have a lovely home.  I’m really glad we got to see it before we leave and look forward to pictures of the progress.

Since we had a picnic blanket to lay and territory to claim in Birchgrove Park for the NYE celebration, they let us leave without having to do a lick of pruning or painting in Granville.  We thought we’d drop off a couple of people and our chairs, blanket, cooler and other assorted paraphernalia near the park, and then one driver would find parking somewhere close-ish (please oh please) and hoof it back to where the other two had claimed a patch of grass and were defending it against the throng of revelers, but Mark took a wrong turn a block from our destination and lo and behold there was a vacant parking spot with our name on it.  Score!!!  And the throng of revelers there to claim “our” land as those rascally Europeans had done 200+ years ago?  If you added up all the people on all the blankets and in all the tents at that time in the afternoon, there might have been a score.  Score!!!  We had our pick of prime real estate, and only 10 hours to kill ‘til midnight.  The “crowd” arrived a bit before 9 for the family show – about 10 minutes of booms and bursts and the rocket’s red glare.  Some families with little ones called it a night and more people congregated for a bit of flash and bang at 10:40 and then the main event on the stroke of midnight. 12SydneyNYEFireworks1 This city does know how to put on a fireworks show and uses their World Heritage listed bridge to its full potential as a launching pad (augmented by half a dozen barges up and down the harbour).  The waterfall cascade of fire pouring from the bridge deck near the finale is just spectacular and goes on and on and on.  We made quick work of the walk to the car and were home just after 1.  Not bad.

There.  I’m done.  Resolution kept.  We’re off to the beach and then Dr. Roddy will doctor the letter.  And then I’ll have no excuse not to pack.  Next letter I’ll be back among the Yanks.

See you soon,

Mary [and Mark]

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Letter #15: 22 December 2014

22 December 2014

G’day Mates,

I’m actually lying to you. It is not 22 December, this portion of the letter is being written 16 December. From the road. Literally. And that’s why I’m writing it now. Mark is driving our 2008 silver Toyota Corolla Ascent along the Princes Highway in southeastern Victoria. Much as I like the idea of a road trip and seeing new country, at some point, riding in the front passenger seat in southeastern Victoria becomes much like riding in the front passenger seat in southwestern Oregon, except that the passenger seat is on the left side of the vehicle. So for the last 2 hours and for the next 5 or so, that’s pretty much the only difference. [For you, maybe, but for me there is another key difference, that being the fact that we drive in the left hand lane down here. I’ve had plenty of practice by now and I feel like I’ve pretty much made the switch but every once in a while if I need a little thrill or to come fully awake, I look ahead for a blind turn to left. It works best if we are in the mountains or a forest and you really can’t see what’s coming up as you sweep around a left hand bend at 110 (km per hour). Then I place myself mentally back in my US driving mode. Suddenly driving is VERY EXCITING!!!! And I am wide awake for the next several minutes.]

Oh, but it wasn’t always so. Let me share with you life on the road – just a few random, intriguing thoughts, with little connection to each other or the world at large, other than that they occurred to me on the road. As you might know from looking at a map, and perhaps an encyclopedia or the interwebs, Australia is a large [It’s the 6th largest country in the world] and often sparsely populated country. [Approximately 80% of the population lives within 100 kilometers of the country’s coast.] Roads crisscross this land, but possibly due to the sparseness of the population, leading to a sparseness of tax dollars to support certain law enforcement activities, such as policing speed limits, they have an ingenious mathematical method. On the Hume highway, you will find the Safe-T-Cam speed management system, sets of cameras placed at various locations, which snap a picture of your license plate. If you arrive at the next photo bombing location in less time than the mileage and speed limit would dictate, obviously you sped, and quite likely will receive a ticket in the mail. Computer to direct the photography, computer to do the math, computer to order mailing of ticket and with essentially zero manpower cost, the government has (hopefully) made the roads safer and raised some revenue. Of course if you’ve got Aesop’s “hare” drivers speeding along at double the limit but stopping every once in a while to power nap (or write a letter to the folks back home), the math will let those ones off scot free.

More random thoughts jotted down so I would remember to share them with you. We’re using a combination of paper maps and Google maps on the iPhone. When we reached the New South Wales – Victoria border on Saturday late morning we got to switch over to a much more pleasant map. Same size map, smaller state means you zip across the map much more quickly. [The high tech equivalent is to open up the maps app on your me-machine {Thanks Joshua Ferris!} while you’re in a car, with “location services” turned on, find the blue dot that represents your position, and then pinch/zoom in so that your little blue avatar is zipping merrily across your screen, roughly following the road but often weaving through the weeds as the satellites try to keep up.]

Our car has the various gauges and dials that tell you speed, distance, etc, but the fuel economy is a bit upside down. Back home the fuel economy is measured in miles/gallon [High numbers – good. Low numbers – bad.] Here our fuel gauge measures it in litres/100 km. [Ratio inversion => High numbers – bad. Low numbers – good.] Right now we are averaging about 6.7 litres to go 100 km. My little brain has all sorts of new math to learn for comparison’s sake.

Yet more random thoughts, these concerning license plates: In our state, New South Wales, we’ve run across quite a bit of variability in these. Your basic “free” plate in NSW is either yellow or white with black lettering, and the motto “NSW – The First State.” If you’re feeling particularly flush or so fashionable that you want your plate to colour coordinate with your car, you can spring for any number of color combinations – imagine a black Range Rover sporting a black plate with hot pink letters. Stylin’!!!! But Victoria appears to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. We’ve seen three different slogans on the plates – there is the safety message, “Victoria – Stay Alert Stay Alive” (a good reminder). But the other two plates have made me wonder just what Victorians think of their home. On some plates they’ve got “Victoria – The Place to Be,” and the remaining ones say “Victoria – On the Move.” Really, if this is the place to be, why would you move?

Enough of the musings of a passenger. I shall now begin the travelogue you’ve all come to expect. We were on the road at 7 am Saturday, taking the most direct route to the Victorian gold country. Poor Melinda – she just finished her first set of college finals, then she spent 14 hours in a giant tube in the sky flying 7000 miles across 17 time zones, and we woke her up at some random time to climb into a compact box for another 800 kilometres bouncing along the Hume Hiway. She doesn’t know if she’s coming or going. We stopped in Goulburn to stretch our legs, visiting The Big Merino, Golburn'sBigMerinoone of the famous big things that dot Australia [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia%27s_big_things ]. Short petrol stop at Tarcutta Village “Halfway on the Hume” proclaim the signs on the freeway exit for those tracking their progress between Sydney and Melbourne, I guess its location makes it a filling site for the National Truck Drivers’ Memorial. (Yes I’m trying to pull anything of interest out of the four-lane monotony.) Finally we crossed the Murray River, the world’s third longest navigable river, which forms the border of the two states.

It would have been nice to explore a bit more but given a five-day timeline we had to hit the highlights, one of which is Glenrowan,Mer&NedKelly site of Ned Kelly’s last stand. When we were here nine years ago, I’m afraid I became a bit obsessed with the colourful outlaw, perhaps fueled a bit by Sydney Nolan’s series of paintings at the National Gallery in Canberra ( http://nga.gov.au/Nolan/ ). On our 2005 trip to Melbourne we even made it a point to visit the Old Melbourne Gaol, site of Ned’s 1880 hanging. But at Glenrowan Kelly and his gang, dressed in homemade metal armour and helmet, were captured after a shootout with police. The town now celebrates the notorious reputation and any number of tourist dollars can be dropped at the theme park or on tea towels and tchotchkes.NedKellyBar It was certainly a different time and place but as I write this some ten hours after police rescued a group of hostages held by an outlaw in Sydney, I somehow can’t imagine a theme park and commemorative tea towels in the Sydney CBD.

Finally, just in time for dinner, we reached Bendigo, our home for the night. And if the professor could find a job there, it sure would be a nice place to stay for quite a while. Gold was discovered in Bendigo in 1851 and it appears much of it was invested there in the ensuing decades.1BendigoDragons&Lion It is a charming town with classic public buildings mostly constructed from solid blocks of quaried sandstone and festooned with all sorts of Victorian adornment. Carved lion heads jut from above the windows and the corners of the Law Courts. Next door, a similarly graceful building, once1BendigoLion the post office, now holds the visitor center and a museum. As the visitors’ center and courts were closed, we explored the Shamrock Hotel just across the street. There is a pretty balcony draped in ironwork lace outside the upstairs bar and somewhere down the hall we heard what sounded like a wedding reception. We spent about an hour just walking around the streets and the park in the center of town gawking at all the remnants of gold rush history. I don’t remember any town like Bendigo near the California gold fields. Perhaps Sacramento might have had some of that, but it grew so much that what was once there has been lost or built around and overshadowed by the newness. Much of Bendigo seems lost in time. We went to Mass Sunday morning at St. Mary’s,1BendigoCathedral an enormous gothic-inspired cathedral. Its steeples tower some 87 metres high. Along the side aisles, in celebration of the Christmas season are displayed creches from various countries such as the Netherlands, the Philippines and even a local display of an Indigenous couple and the Christ child swaddled in wombat fur. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why, but I still feel a bit disturbed by what seems to be co-opting of the imagery of a people whose life and culture have been so disrespected by the “Christians” who snatched children from their families so that they could be “protected.”

We drove through more gold country to Ballarat. We skipped the theme park there, mostly due to lack of time to get much benefit from a $50 per person admission price. We walked the “heritage tour” of old buildings but they just seemed to pale in comparison to what we had seen in Bendigo. But that left us more time to spend a bit further south where Port Campbell and the Great Ocean Road beckoned.

We dumped our stuff at our Airbnb and had a cuppa on the deck overlooking the water. Then we set out, first to the tourist information center for maps and advice. The kind woman there pointed us a bit eastward where we stopped at Loch Ard Gorge, the site of an 1878 shipwreck. Image a ship full of passengers, crew and cargo, three months out of England, one day from Port Phillip and Melbourne. The wind came up and they were dashed upon the rocks. Of the 55 souls aboard, only two survived, managing to scramble up the steep cliffs to safety. For miles on either side, the coastline is dotted with the wreckage and ghosts of other ships which met the same fate. The car park and trails to the gorge overlook were rife with camera toting tourists (CTTs) but just a short walk away at Thunder Cave we had the place to ourselves.   But a bit further east, the CTTs once again converged, this time at one of the most photographed sites in all Australia, the Sow and Piglets.TwoApostles Actually, that is their former name, which apparently was not sufficiently compelling to induce tourists to stop to view the chain of limestone stacks dotting the coast, so they were renamed “The Apostles,” in 1922. Since that time, however, a bit of false advertising has gone on, and they became known as the Twelve Apostles, even though there were only nine, one of which collapsed in 2005, just three weeks before we arrived for our previous sabbatical. Quick folks, make your travel reservations – who knows how long before another Apostle disappears.FiveApostles [“Sow and Piglets,” or “X Apostles,” (where x stands for some whole number between 7 and 12, inclusive) I don’t get it. Call me literal but for my money they should be called “The Several Stacks of Limestone with Varying Calcium Carbonate Concentration Levels.” I’d drive a long way to see that!]

A bit further along the road, the Gibbons Steps provide access to the beach for a different perspective of these limestone stacks, but the myriad of tour buses don’t trust their patrons to keep to the schedule so they seem to bypass these steps, leaving the beach below delightfully empty for a few Seattleites who are game to make the trek. We drove on a bit further east for dinner at Princetown, which despite its name is hardly much more than a few cabins, two cafes, a caravan park and a rugby pitch.1PrincetownKangaroo But just next to the pitch is a bit of scrubby brushland where on about dinner time dozens and dozens of kangaroos congregate, RoosNearPrincetownspilling over into the caravan park with its delectable green grass to the delight of the campers and assorted American tourists.

With our cameras full of kangaroos, we headed back to the 12 Apostles to see them at sunset. [Sunset didn’t make them look any less like limestone sea stacks OR any more like disciples of religious whatnot.] Pulling into the carpark we had our first experience this trip with RBT (Random Breath Test) – the police officer armed with a box of pipettes and a yellow handheld device. “Been drinking, sir?” he asked our driver. “Not at all,” replied Dr. Roddy, who proceeded to prove that with a clean breath alcohol test, though his subsequent attempts, not once but twice!!!! trying to drive the wrong way through the carpark made us all wonder a bit. [To explain, I feel obliged to keep law enforcement officers on their toes. They must confront the reality that strange and pointless mistakes may spring from the sober mind as well as the soused.]

There were certainly a fair number of CTTs to see the twilit stacks12 apostles at sunset, but joining them were plenty of camera toting professionals, with enough fancy cameras and fancy tripods and fancy lenses to inspire some serious equipment envy in the professor. Nevertheless, we met quite a nice young man, an engineering student at Michigan Tech who’s spent the last four months at a university in Brisbane. He appears to have spent as much time investigating what camera equipment to buy as he has on his studies. He was generous enough to let Mark borrow his tripod for some long-exposure shots. After the sun finally dipped below the horizon and darkness began to envelop the beach below, the resident colony of little penguins came ashore. Two appeared to check that coast was clear, then they came in rafts of eight or soLittleBluePenguins4 and made their way to their rookery in the safety of the bushes at the base of the cliffs. We were quite far above the activity on the beach, but it was still fun to see them waddle their way across the sand.

When I woke up Monday morning, I had an email from Marian Pierre-Louis, the social media marketing manager for Legacy Family Tree Webinars. She wanted me to do a brief video promo for my upcoming webinar. I didn’t have any internet access for my computer, but we managed to make do with my iPhone, as I sat on the deck with the beautiful cliffs of the cove at Port Campbell in the background. Pretty cool to be 10,000 miles away from her and make a little movie together. With my recording duties completed, we hit the road, the Great Ocean Road.

The Great Ocean RoadGreat ocean road is the world’s largest war memorial, built between 1919 and 1932 by some 3000 returning WWI soldiers and sailors, it stretches 243 kilometers. Yep, that’s one big memorial. And windy, (long “i”) too! Along this windy road, there are frequent warning signs of a car or a motorcycle slipping on the pavement. I’m afraid Mark’s brain was more focused on thinking about how any vehicle might lay down such a strange set of tire tracks than it was on driving. Finally we just had to stop so he could photograph one, perhaps leading us to play with matchbox cars and a little paint to see if there is any way a car could really do that. [Eureka! It requires that you ignore the tracks that would come from the left side tires, that the slippage be quite extreme, and the willing suspension of belief in some of the laws of physics, but I think that TV has been good practice in this regard.] SlipperySignWhile he was snapping the picture Melinda and I waited in the car. All of a sudden there was a scratching noise. It was a fairy wren come to say hello, first to Melinda in the back seat, then hopping to my window, but he flitted off before I could get my camera out. It was so cool to see him just inches away, as if he wanted a close look at this human as much as she wanted to see his sparkly blue head.

With kangaroos and penguins checked off our bucket list, it was time for koalas. WildCreaturesSignWe were in just the right neighborhood. We drove the spur road to the Cape Otway lighthouse, our eyes peeled for the furry grey creatures, but we saw nary a one. We met some people at the visitor’s center at the lighthouse who tried to explain where we might find them, so we headed back to the main road. Thankfully the two carfuls of CTTs looking up into the trees were a dead giveaway that there were koalas nearby, so we knew just where to stop and we saw three! SleepyKoala1We continued on our journey and stopped at Kennett River, the other reported home to koalas, and the report didn’t disappoint. What the report failed to mention, however, was the colony of friendly King Parrots, tame enough that they’ll land on your head and shoulders and eat crackers out of your hand. Bus loads of sightseers have taught them well what the outstretched hand means. 1MerWithTwoParrots[The koalas know what it means too but they also understand that it’s the strict diet of gum tree leaves that keeps their energy1MelindaWithParrot level set at .002 on the energy-for-life scale and enables them to sleep their lives away – up to 19 hours each day. We could learn a lot from the koalas.]

We left the wildlife and nature behind and pointed the car to the St. Kilda neighborhood of Melbourne and a beautiful Art Deco apartment just a block from the tram line. We arrived late enough in the day that there wasn’t much time before closing to see any of the museums. Instead, we walked some of the tiny laneways in the central business district, crowded with holiday shoppers. Much of the Christmas decorations look strikingly out of place but we walked through one somewhat narrow arcade with its Victorian detailing where the garlands and baubles and greenery seemed right at home. Melbourne mallWe rode the trams around and thought of the old Melbourne cars on the Seattle waterfront, but most of the ones plying the tracks in the Victorian capital look more like the new trams in Portland or Salt Lake City than they do the classic vintage Melbourne cars we’ve come to enjoy in Seattle. We walked around the St. Kilda waterfront and thought we might try to see a few directionally-challenged little penguins who’ve come to make Port Phillip their home, but too much time in the car and the thought of a nice glass of wine on the balcony at the Art Deco flat nudged us away from the pier and back home long before the cover of darkness made the penguins feel safe enough to head to their beds for the night.

We had a long drive ahead of us, so we left Melbourne early and it was not long before I was climbing the walls of the Corolla looking for something, anything, to overcome the tedium and that is where I started writing. So now we’re all caught up. Actually, more lies. The battery of my computer died somewhere around the Ballarat point of my tale, and Melinda and I were once again vying for the Most Bored Passenger award while Mark greedily hogged all the driving, which at least gave him something to focus on. [Trust me, it’s better that way.] We rolled into our last Airbnb for the trip in Merimbula, a beachside town in southeastern New South Wales. It is telling just how blasé we have become at seeing kangaroos (or how tedious being in the car has become) that just shy of our destination, we passed a mob of them in a golf course along the road and we didn’t even slow down. Seen one kangaroo, seen ‘em all, apparently.

It is now early-ish on Wednesday morning. Until dark fell last night and since dawn broke this morning, the soundtrack of the world has been birds birds birds. The cheeriest ones are the bell birds whose chirps have given rise to their name. I have no idea what they look like, but the clear ring of their call [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_72WGRT0mJw ] seems much more like the bells of Christmas than did the sleigh bells of “Winter Wonderland” playing on the patio of the Malayan restaurant at dinner last night as we dined in shorts and t-shirts. The other bird serenading me this morning with his name is the whip bird. Crack that whip! [ http://home.iprimus.com.au/punkclown/Punkclown/Whipbird.htm Click the green button below the picture of the bird.]

A few days have passed. It is now 22 December, the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. However, it is not the first day of summer, as that occurred on 1 December. So let me fill you in on the rest of the happenings so I can get this letter finished and sent off.

We arrived back in Woolooware sometime in the afternoon on Wednesday. Road trip over. Thank heavens! Thursday we skipped the car all together. I woke up at 5 a.m. so I could put on a little makeup, get connected to the internet and do my webinar presenter gig. You have a few days to listen to it on the free side. After December 24 it will be behind the pay wall. But here’s the link, in case you’re interested. (http://familytreewebinars.com/download.php?webinar_id=225) It was a gas to do! I got really great feedback, and the audience said they wanted me back, but the 2015 schedule is all filled up, so only time will tell whether the company can find a way to squeeze another presentation into their packed agenda. Fingers crossed.MerWebinar0 [Mer was fabulous! If you know anything about her you know that she has a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of knowledge when it comes to genealogy. She brought them together beautifully in her webinar. I see more of these on the horizon!]

We took the train into Sydney Thursday afternoon. We took the train to Martin Place, location of the Lindt Café where the Sydney siege occurred on Tuesday. There were several flower memorials, growing even as we watched and morphing into one larger one. Though there were hundreds of people milling about, depositing bouquets, signing the books of condolence, it was eerily quiet. This incident has meant a loss of innocence for this country, sydney seige memorialas we in America lost ours 13 years ago. Please pray for peace in this world, and make peace happen in your own communities.

We took Melinda to the Art Gallery of New South Wales and then to see a play at the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. We saw Switzerland, a brand new play by Joanna Murray-Smith, commissioned for the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, and making its debut here in Sydney. Our friend Michael had seen it a few weeks ago and just raved about it, and since we thought it would be cool to take Melinda, who’s minoring in Theatre at the University of Portland, to see it, I got online and booked three tickets. They were front row seats, which some might be bothered by (which is probably why they were still available when I ordered them), but for this particular play, a two-character study of a young publishing assistant and crime writer Patricia Highsmith, author of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, they were just perfect. We could see every twitch and glint in the eyes as this Hitchcockian drama unfolded. [By the time it was over I felt that I had been spattered with drama and had to wring out my shirt.] The show was produced by Sydney Theatre Company which is run by Andrew Upton, husband of Cate Blanchet. When this show comes to a stage (and then a screen – maybe starring Cate(?)) near you, go see it.

Friday we lay low, running errands and catching up on things. I think it was nice for Melinda to have some down-time after a solid week of travel. Saturday I picked up a couple of kits to make bonnets for an art installation in Australia. Christina Henri (http://www.christinahenri.com.au) is a Hobart artist who has envisioned a project creating one bonnet for each female convict transported to Australia. Many of my friends from BBFHS have made them, and I thought it would be neat to leave a little piece of myself here, so I got kits for Melinda and I to make. I better get to work on the embroidery. My plan is to finish them before we leave, but time is flying. If we get them done I’ll post pictures. Melinda caught up with her friend Eloise, one of her Year 4 classmates from St. Francis de Sales school in 2005. Melinda was a bit apprehensive about meeting Eloise, having not really communicated much in the interim, but I think they had a pretty good day and Melinda didn’t get back home until almost midnight.

While she was off with Eloise, Mark and I went to the beach. We passed the Surf NSW Junior tournament at Eloura Beach. Tents filled with judges announced the results over the blare of loud music. We walked a little further north to Wanda Beach, looking for an open section to spread out our towels, passing several staked out “pens,” designed to contain what we could only guess. [I guessed something to do with beach wombats and was completely wrong.] We found our spot, spread out the towels. Mark went out on the boogie board, I just splashed in the surf a bit, and then lay down to read, but I was too captivated by all the activity. I watched a father and son arrive, dropped leave their cases of surfboards, don their swim goggles and walk into the surf for a little swim practice. Soon after, a band of 6-year-olds clad in matching red rash shirts ran north along the sand, one straggler encouraged by the equally straggling 60-ish coach. A few minutes later the runners passed again, headed in the opposite direction, the stragglers hand-in-hand and our attention was drawn to their goal. Those pens we saw? Now there was an entire carnival of Nippers on the beach – the little 6-year olds in their red rash shirts and hordes of older ones in neon-pink and blue and more. Then the father and son returned, the shivering 10-year-old discarding his neon green swimcap, but retaining the matching rash shirt, which did little to insulate his skinny body (reminded me of Garth’s shape – you could count his ribs at 20 paces!) Dad: “What do you mean you’re too cold? You don’t want to surf???” Son: “Um…” Dad won. I watched Dad coach as Son tried and tried and tried unsuccessfully to catch a wave. The 6-year-old runners were now two teams competing in a bucket-filling relay, dashing into the surf one at a time with a small pail, filling it, running back to pour the contents into a large container, and passing the empty bucket to the next in line. Their container overflowing, the victors jumped up and down in celebration. Beyond them older Nippers ran into the surf and swam out and around two buoys and back to the shore, supervised by coaches in boats around the course. It’s no wonder I didn’t get much reading done. Walking back along the beach to the car we were puzzled by a drill in another pen, eight 8-year-olds [in place of wombats] in pink neon lined up side by side in the sand on their bellies, arms crossed, chins on their wrists. As soon as the coach blew the whistle, they jumped up, ran 10 meters in the opposite direction and dove back to the sand to retrieve a hidden baton.   What the skillset derived from this exercise is eludes me, but I remember that Melinda’s friend Eloise was a Nipper when we lived here before, so I’ll have to ask her what she knows.

Melinda was still hanging out with Eloise, so Mark and I took the train back into Sydney and went to the Domain, a large open park just to the east of downtown (known as the CBD – Central Business District) to see Carols in the Domain, a nationally televised event,Carols in the domain drawing 100,000 live spectators to wear their shorts, T-shirts and Santa hats and watch and/or sing along as a dozen or so A- to C+ celebs entertained. The Wiggles were a big hit and Australians young and old were up and dancing and singing along to “Go, Santa, Go,” though the crowd wanted come, Santa, come and he didn’t disappoint, arriving with much fanfare. Disney, a sponsor of the evening, had a chance to hawk the new Cinderella movie and busted out a few fireworks to boot. We had an hour long train ride home so we ditched the mob a bit early, but missed the cast of Wicked. (After a stream of unknown (to me) singers, I’d totally forgotten that they were in the line-up. Rats!) Still, it was a fun, if crowded way to get a taste of Christmas in Australia. [The event began at 8:30PM and seemed to me to go on for quite a while but as night fell, a distinctly Australian touch was added when a few dozen fruit bats {aka Flying Foxes”} flapped their way across the sky.]

Sunday we packed our pack, stuffed to the gills with bedding and food for an overnight stay on Cockatoo Island (World Heritage listed, donchaknow) (http://www.cockatooisland.gov.au/) in the middle of the Parramatta river, four kilometers west of the Sydney Harbour bridge. Campers have an array of choices – bring your own tent, CockatooIslandCampingstay in one of the “camping packages” with its canvas tent, air mattress and camping chairs, or go the full Glamping route and get a waterfront tent with beds and linens, towels, sun lounges, an esky and a lantern. We picked the mid-range and stayed at tent #55.

ConvictGrainSilo

Grain silo. Part was cut away when land was cleared for building site.

 As soon as we arrived, Melinda parked herself in a camping chair and read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, but Mark and I explored 175 years of (recorded) history. The convict era on Cockatoo Island started in 1839, where the convicts built their own prison barracks as well as residences for the guards. The most interesting convict structures, however, are the remains of a set of 20 grain silos, hand-hewn by convict labor from the sandstone, 5 to 6 metres deep and about 7 metres across. Local prison officials took a proactive approach to store grain in case there could be shortages, but apparently the government back home had some issues with free market economics and the use of the caverns as grain storage was discontinued. Some of the silos were destroyed when shipyard facilities were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but some were cut in half and visitors can walk along a specially built walkway to see the hollows. After its stint as a convict prison the island served for many years as a ship-building facility, churning out barges, dredges and tugs.CockatooIslandSlips During the world wars, merchant ships and luxury liners were converted here into troop ships. Visitors can walk through the enormous turbine shop which at the time of its completion in 1946 was the largestIMG_9864 building in the Southern Hemisphere, and when the dockyard closed in 1991, it held the largest lathe in Australia. (Just a few more superlatives, in case you should be questioned at a pub quiz.) Two tunnels through the island’s central plateau of sandstone allow quick access from one side of the island to the other. We spent a couple of hours investigating everything there was to see.

We had a bit of dinner and watchedCockatooIslandDerelictCrane as the sun set and twilight fell upon the harbour and island. Dozens of flying foxes swooped overhead. Tour boats full of holiday revelers, perhaps at company Christmas parties, passed along our shore. We climbed into our tent but morning came early here on the longest day of the year. I spent a little time with my Dad this morning, at least in spirit. Dad passed away six years ago, but when he was alive, every Friday he’d cut the crossword puzzle out of the Wall Street Journal and set them aside for me and when I visited he had a stack for me. I thought I’d exhausted the supply years ago, but when I was packing up the house to move to Australia, I found another stash and brought them with me. Dad loved boats of every kind and as I sat and watched the rivercat ferries and a few sailboats pass by in the early morning light, I know Dad was smiling at how darn lucky we are to get the chance to live here, and how darn smart we are to take full advantage of the wonderful experiences Sydney has to offer.

We’ve got just a little over two weeks to wring out a few memories of Australia and then it’s back to Seattle. May all of you have a very merry and joyous Christmas. Until next time,

Mary [and Mark]

Letter #14: 12 December 2014

12 December 2014

G’day Mates,

I know I just sent out a letter on Monday, but Melinda arrived this morning and we’ve had a bit of a catch up and we will be up and at ‘em first thing in the morning for a whirlwind trip to Victoria, The Garden State.  I’ll catch you up on that trip and more with our next letter.

But let me tell about the last few days.  Monday, the family history society had a guest speaker, Mike Feerick, founder of Ireland Reaching Out (http://www.irelandxo.com/).  It’s a very interesting concept, based on the recognition that for all those people who left Ireland, their descendants are all somewhere, and there are groups of people at the parish level searching for those descendants, as well as being available as a resource for descendants to contact if they know the parish.  If you can pinpoint what parish your family came from, there could very likely be an 85 year-old-farmer, not tech savvy, but with a tradition of oral historical knowledge, who just may remember his grandmother telling him about the Roddy family that left for Ohio in the 1850s, but the brother didn’t go, and his great grandchildren are still around.  Irelandxo is just the kind of website to connect people.  I think I might look into how I might get more involved with them when I get home.

Before the speaker, I had a chance to visit with some BBFHS members, including Norelle who had come to my talk in October on the basics of US genealogical research.  She knew she had some distant relatives who had gone to the US, but thought she’d never be able to find anything on them.  She went home after my talk and armed with the resources I mentioned, she dug into records and found names and places and even pictures of her grandmother’s siblings (I think that’s the relationship).  Seems that Grandma was tired of waiting for that boat to America so she went to Australia, and her patient siblings wound up in Boston.  It was really nice to know that someone had gotten something out of my talk.  Made it all worthwhile.

Mark and I went to the beach Monday evening and collected a whole bunch of the light-weight pumice rocks that wash up on the beach.  We brought them home, drilled holes in them, and strung them into a garland for my twig tree.  I also hung a few shells we found.  It’s quite the arty tree, like something from a high-end home magazine.

I continue to be touched by the kindness of people I meet here.  I put out an email to a few friends asking if any of them might have a spare string or two of Christmas lights. Maree came by with a couple of strings and the next day Heather Clarey brought us a couple more.  I just feel so grateful that I have landed in such a welcoming place. Just three short months ago I didn’t know any of them, and now I can send out an email and I’ve got all kinds of friends here to make my world brighter.

Tuesday night Toni was off at work in Bathurst, east of the Blue Mountains, and her ticket to the ballet was going to go unused.  Lucky me, I got to attend in her stead.  Michael, Kath and I drove into Sydney, had a little dinner and then attended The Australian Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.”  It was absolutely beautiful.  The young woman who played Clara had such a lovely winsome quality about her.  Principal dance Madeleine Eastoe danced as the Sugarplum Fairy.  She was incredible to watch.  It was beautiful to see the male dancers lift the ballerinas as if they were nothing more than a ten pound sack of flour.  [My guess is that the ballerinas will want to be compared to something other than a sack of flour.  Perhaps a ten pound aerial surveillance drone, … or a ten pound shih tzu?] It was so nice to get another chance to be in that fantastic theatre, and enjoy the scenery of the harbour, complete with a cruise ship departing the port before the production, and then again enjoy the twinkling lights all around the water and the boats and ferries upon it at dusk during the interval.

Wednesday I had a lovely lunch with the committee at BBFHS.  (For my friends at Seattle Genealogical Society, that would be the same as the Board.)  There were eight of us, and many of the women were picking my brain as to what I thought about this and that in Australia and what might be the same about home and what might be different.  I shared one of my observations, that Australia is a country of superlatives.  Everywhere I go, I seem to find something that is the first, the oldest, the biggest, the longest, the deepest… whatever.  As you may recall from our Tassie adventures we ran across a national park that was “one of the first two” national parks in Tasmania.  If you can’t claim “first” then “one of the first two” is one of the two best things!  With any of these first, oldest, biggest things, you always have to keep reading, however.  It might be “the oldest surviving house in NSW” (that was built out of wood… by a red-haired man… named Charles.)  But if you go a mile down the road, you might find “the oldest surviving house in NSW” (that was made of stone… is still in its original location… and has never been [officially] inhabited by wombats.)  As I was describing the peerless nature of Australian braggadocio, Jean began to laugh.  “I have something for you and was going to give it to you later, but with what you’ve just said, here you go.”  I opened the prezzie, (complete with a lovely card, handmade by Jean), Bill Bryson’s Down Under.  Jean read aloud from the description on the back, “It is the driest, flattest, hottest, most infertile and climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents and still Australia teems with life – a large portion of it quite deadly.  In fact, Australia has more things that can kill you in a very nasty way than anywhere else.”  Yep, the most “-est” country in the world.  I might also mention that among the “-est”s, this may be the kindest country.  Members of BBFHS all have name badges and they wear them to events, including even a lunch of eight people where they all know each other’s names, but that guest from America might not remember all their names, so they put the badges on just to put me at ease.  Nice.

Thursday Mark and I were invited to lunch at Barbara and Warren Wimble’s house.  Barbara leads the monthly history walks for BBFHS.  I’m trying to figure how I can bring this idea back to Seattle – the lack of extensive public transportation options may be a bit of a hurdle to overcome, but I’m kicking around some ideas.  Anyway, Barbara invited us to a lovely lunch. They are quite well traveled, and it was nice to hear their stories about America and Ireland.  She fixed us a delicious Irish pie.

I had to make a choice for Thursday night.  It was the last week for trivia at Woolooware golf club and also the BBFHS Christmas party.  I didn’t think I could go to both, so since in October and November I’d skipped trivia for history, I chose the quiz this time.  But at my lunch with the genealogists on Wednesday, when someone mentioned “See you tomorrow night,” I sheepishly had to admit that I wasn’t going to be able to make it. “What?!!!! You have to come!” Oh, how nice to be wanted…  Let’s see, trivia starts at 6:30, the Christmas party at 7:30.  If I went to trivia, the questions might be wrapped up by 8:30 and I could make a mad dash a few miles down the road and catch the tail end of the party.  So I had a plan.  And that’s just how it unfolded.  It was nice that all in the core group were able to make it.  Cheryl on our team is just one of the sweetest people and her work schedule has meant that she’s missed the last few weeks so I was glad she made it. Trivia group

We had a great round one – shared the top score of 14 (out of 17) with a couple of teams.  We answered our round two questions, and then wrapped it up with the special bonus round.  Each week there is a 3-question bonus around. Each teammate kicks in a gold coin.  I have yet to see a winning answer sheet amongst all the teams since I’ve been attending.  The trivia host has collected all that money, donated some to charity (and he was still soliciting suggestions from the players for worthy causes to share in the bounty) and was able to award a top prize for the bonus round of $1,000 and $100 each for second and third place.  Cash money, not bar credit.  But for a grand, three measly questions just isn’t enough so the year-end bonus round was seven questions, among them “In what Christmas carol does Fanny Bright appear?”  Anyone???  Well the deal that I’d made with my teammates was that I could share in any winnings if I stuck around for all the questions, so I said my goodbyes just after we turned in our answer sheets, and made my way to Tradies in a torrential downpour. (I just heard on the news tonight that we’re breaking rainfall records.)

The BBFHS party was still on when I arrived, and they were in the middle of their trivia quiz!  When they were done, Jean invited me up and presented me with another gift, The Shire, a recently-released book about my adopted home by the president of the local historical society.  I’m really looking forward to reading it.  In another odd coincidence, my friend, Marilyn, was telling me about the cover photo – a sepia image of two boys wading, with toy boats in the water at their feet.  Marilyn knew a bit about who the boys were and where they had lived, in a house at Lilli Pilli just opposite the water.  A month or so ago when Mark and I were geocaching we went to Lilli Pilli.  We didn’t find the cache there but I did take a picture of a beautiful old home, just a classic piece of Australiana.  It is the only house down here that I’ve taken a picture of, but it was so charming and I indulged in a brief fantasy that someday, just maybe, I might come back and buy that house.  I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, but my dream house is the very same house that those two little boys grew up in.  It felt a little eerie that of all the houses in the Shire, the only one I’ve take a picture of had such a direct connection with the gift bestowed by my new genealogy friends.

Sometime during my second party, I got a text from Cheryl.  I glanced at my phone and she’d texted that we took fourth place at the quiz.  [For those keeping track, she’s referring here to the night’s first quiz, not the second.  Keep up!  There’ll be a quiz later.]  Since our quiz host had mentioned there’d be several prizes, I thought maybe there might be a bottle of wine or something for fourth.  Not too shabby for playing a game.  It wasn’t until I got home a while later that I read the full text.  Yeah, fourth in the main quiz… but we tied for first in the bonus round.  My team won 500 quid!  Speaking of not too shabby!!!!  I had a hard time getting to sleep last night I was so excited.

And today I got an even better prize.  Miss Melinda arrived, a little late, Mer and Melindabut none the worse for the wear.  So nice to see my baby again after such a long time.  She’s getting unpacked and repacked for our Victorian adventures.  A full report will be coming your way next week.

Until then,

Mary [and [just barely] Mark]

Letter #13: 8 December 2014

8 December 2014

G’day Mates,

Countdown, one month left to go.  Before I get started on the news of the week, I must attend to something left out of our last report regarding Thanksgiving.  We’ve only got two tiny little ice trays and we had lots of beer and wine and soda to chill so last Saturday morning Mark went to the store to find bagged ice to bring home.  He gathered a cart full of groceries and brought them to the checkout counter and while he was there, he asked the clerk where he might find ice.  The clerk just gave Mark a puzzled expression, so Mark took that to mean he hadn’t heard him, and so said a little louder, “Where can I find ice?”  The clerk still wasn’t getting it.  Mark finally realized he needed to add the letter to the “O” to the word.  “Oice?”  Then your man got it – “Oh, yeah.  Over at the BWS.”  Then Mark was a bit puzzled until the clerk pointed to the beer, wine and spirits store just outside the entrance to Woolworths.  Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi!

We’ve had a week of warm, humid weather with lots of lightning and thundershowers.  Just about every day we had some showers and some evenings we got quite the light show!  Mark had planned another overnight hike Monday, but deferred it until Tuesday due to the forecast.  I’ll let him report on the hike.  [It was the Coast Track again.  I just couldn’t get enough, though I think that now I finally have, at least for a while.  2 CoastTrackSemiDetatchedPointI got started pretty early Tuesday morning, walking to the train station and taking the train down to Otford, a little station and not much more, at the southern end of the Royal National Park.  The train pulled away. I shouldered my pack and made my way from the station, along some back roads across Lady Wakehurst Drive and onto the track.  1 OldCoastTrackSignIt’s a nice mix of up, down and flat, well posted, pleasantly unpopulated, and very, very scenic.  Ridiculously, even painfully scenic at times.  It was kind of a relief to see that the surf wasn’t as crashing and smashing as it was when I did this in November.  Also there was a bit of haze, particularly on the second day, and it was hot and humid as well.  Plus there were flies.  So with all that the walk-o-meter, rather than being constantly pegged at 10 out of 10, hovered around 9, dipping sometimes to the 8.5 range as I made my way north-east along the coast.  I spent the night somewhere in the bushes a little south of Wattamolla beach.  As I made camp I noticed that the clouds that had been building and bubbling all day were still there.  I passed an hour or so sharing my trail mix with a small murder of Aussie crows. 3 CoastTrackCrow They were happy to get handfuls of nuts and dried fruit while I got the M&Ms.  As it grew dark the storms off to the east and south put on a zappy show.  Lots o’ lightning.  They were far enough away that I could hear no thunder but as time went on the storms popped up around me and eventually I got a few raindrops.  I was prepared.  My tent and almost all of my gear is in Seattle but I did bring my pack and I had borrowed most of the other basics from Michael and Toni.  They did not have a tent and though Chrissy and Other Mark kindly loaned me theirs, it was bigger than I wanted to carry and I left it in Woolooware.  I had decided to try a low-tech tent alternative in the form of a big plastic bag. 5 CoastTrackCampsite We are talking a truly large and substantial plastic bag, such as might hold a mattress or a set of box springs.  I figured that, a.) it wasn’t going to rain, and b.) if it did, the bag was big enough to crawl inside and sleep.  And that’s what I did.  It worked surprisingly well.  {All you mothers out there need to stop freaking out.  I had my head out of the bag except when it really rained.} I got up the next day and was off to Wattamolla where I encountered a lizard 6 LizardAtWattamolla1big enough to … hmm … what is a big lizard big enough for?  Anyway, it was a goodly sized beast and it was happy to have its picture taken repeatedly so we will attach one here.  {If you want more pictures, not just of the lizard but it’s there as well, you can go to my Flickr photostream: https://www.flickr.com/photos/31074361@N07/?saved=1 }  As I said previously the second day was hot, humid, and a little hazy so by the time I got to Little Marley beach I was ready for a swim.  It was still pretty early on a Wednesday morning, the place was utterly deserted and I paid attention scant attention to all of the warnings but took nearly full advantage of the permissions granted by the very helpful sign posted at the edge of the beach.7 MarleyBeachSign  I was at the end of the track by 11AM or so and caught the noon ferry back across the water from Bundeena to Cronulla.  It’s a comparatively short walk from there to 16 Ocean View Street in Woolooware.] 4 CoastTrackSunset1

OK, so Mary’s now reporting… Mark left Tuesday morning so I went to the art store and bought some supplies for making my 2014 Christmas ornament.  As many of you know I’ve been making Christmas ornaments every year since I was 17.  Sometimes they are just something that looked pretty to me, but some years they reflect what has been going on in the world or in my life.  We’ve had some red white and blue Santas in election years and our Irish sabbatical year inspired me to make wire ornaments with the swirl motif found at Newgrange.  The list of recipients changes from year to year, but is somewhere around two or three dozen.  This year I’ve been puzzling for weeks about what to do, looking for inspiration at the beach or among the eucalyptus trees and lorikeets and not finding it.  The sunshine and flowers just don’t make me think “Christmas!”

But finally late late late Monday night my brain happened upon the one traditionally cold thing in this sunburnt country – penguins.  We so enjoyed our Tasmanian Fairy Blue penguin safari with Tori and Steve I knew just what to do.  Armed with a couple of penguin ideas I was off to Eckersleys to see what materials they might have to put some penguins on our tree. PenguinOrnaments I found some old fashioned clothes pegs and some coloured pencils.  That’ll do, but I needed a saw, and while Eckersleys has lots of drawing and painting supplies, they stocked only a few “craft” items and saws were not among them, but the helpful clerk pointed me to Bunnings Warehouse, the Aussie equivalent of Home Depot where I found the coolest little junior hacksaw with its own miter box.  When I got home and started sawing the leggy bits off the clothes pegs to turn them into penguins, I realized I had a two-fer on my hands. The sawed off ends of the clothes pegs looked just like cricket bats!  CricketBatOrnamentsWhile that idea gestated in my little brain I worked on the Fairy Blues.

Tuesday night saw me at the Oxford Tavern.  We had a great group – Michael, Martin, Chrissie, Other Mark, Steve & Cat, Jon and Cho and me.  [In case you missed it, Tuesday night saw me in a plastic bag in the bushes, all by myself.]  Michael and I were the first of our group to show and then Martin shortly there after.  The rest of the team didn’t show up until probably at least 7:35 for a quiz that nominally starts at 7:30.  Why is this relevant?  At the Oxford tavern, each team needs to come up with a new team name each week, based on the host’s topic idea.  Tuesday the theme was “What someone who attended Stereosonic wants for Christmas.”  For all you out there scratching your heads as to what Stereosonic is, join the club.  Michael recently celebrated his “Beatles birthday” and can no longer rightly say “WHEN I’m 64.”  I don’t know Martin’s age, but I’m thinking pretty close to Michael’s contemporary, and at 54, I’m the baby of this trio.  None of us had any idea that Stereosonic is a music festival until we Googled it, and even then we had no recognition of even one of the 68 bands who played the 2-day event (but in my defense I was busy cooking Thanksgiving dinner and that’s probably why I didn’t attend.  Probably.)  So we had a lame name and scored none of the bonus points in that category, but we did score enough points the rest of the night to tie for first (but placed second due to the LAME rule that tying teams must guess a number between 1 and 10 for the win and we seem to be a team that works better knowing things than just guessing.)  I was pretty chuffed.  Usually I’m not so good at Cinema Dyslexia, the anagrammed movie title to ponder between Round 1 and Round 2, but I had it in a matter of seconds.  Let’s see how you all do.  JEAN SUBLIME.  Put your thinking caps on.  [I got it right away. … “Ben Slime-Jau.”  It was a re-imagining of “Ben Hur” – fewer chariots, more slime … and jau.]

Wednesday I waited for Mark to return from his adventures in the wilderness, and spent some of my afternoon watching a pretty sad national event on TV.  Last week cricketer Phil Hughes, just 25 years old, was playing in a match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.  While batting he was struck on his neck, just below the protection of his helmet, by a bouncer.  He reeled and collapsed, and though doctors performed emergency surgery, he died a couple of days later.  The country and the cricket community around the world mourned with the family.  Prime Minister Tony Abbot attended the funeral, the Queen sent condolences to his family, and Elton John even dedicated the song “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” to Phil and reached out to 22-year-old Sean Abbot, the poor kid who bowled the freak ball.    Hughes reminded me a bit of my nephews, Jack and Tony.  He was just a farm kid, loved his Angus cattle and cricket, and his world and that of his friends and family changed in an instant.  One more reminder of how fragile life can be and that we should always let the people we love know how much they mean to us.

Thursday looked a bit like the North Pole around 16 Ocean View Street, if the North Pole were 85 degrees F and 90% humidity.  While I’ve got boxes and boxes of decorations in the attic in Seattle, and I drag them out every year [Umm, let’s be clear.  Mary does have boxes and boxes and they are in the attic but someone else – someone with a PhD (Petty hauling and Dragging) – gets the subcontract for the dragging them out part.] and fill up the living room and kitchen and family room and dining room and even the bathrooms with Santas and elves and bears and angels and snowmen, there’s not much of that just lying around our little rental.  I can’t bring myself to make too much of a financial investment in holiday paraphernalia that I can’t cart home, but being so far away from home and family at the holidays I really needed to do something.  Pinterest to the rescue.

Wednesday night I scoured Gumtree.com.au, the local version of Craigslist.  (They have CL here as well, but I’ve found it has pretty slim pickings and GT is much closer to the Seattle version of CL.)  Thursday we drove to a construction site about a mile away and picked up two pallets.  We put one of them in the car, but the other was too big to fit into the boot, so one of us [The one who is qualified by 7 years of study!] carried it all the way home.  I also found just the perfect dead bush there, and tossed that into the boot as well.  That didn’t seem to be on the Gumtree list of items, but I don’t think the workers minded having one fewer thing to dispose of.

Then it was back out for supplies.  I had a list of things to get at Spotlight which I thought might be a bit like Michael’s [The craft supply store, not the man who just had his Beatles Birthday].  It was quite a big store, but about 1/3 of it is devoted to window coverings, 1/3 is probably fabric, and the rest is pretty much a mish mash of things, very few of which were actually on my list.  I did get some paint (green and brown) and a bit of ribbon, though the selection was not all I had hoped for.   Found absolutely no string or even decent thick cotton crochet thread.  I did find DMC embroidery floss and nearly keeled over at the price $3.98 – per skein. (I just checked the price at Michael’s in the US – 39 cents!) Couldn’t find packages of white chalk unless I bought an entire kid’s blackboard set complete with a box each of coloured and white chalk and an eraser for $8.  I walked up and down every aisle looking for things, and the organization system of what items are grouped with what items totally escapes me.  The tools for the craft are in one aisle, some of the supplies are somewhere else and the rest are on the other side of the store.  I may miss some things about this country when I leave, but shopping ain’t gonna be one of them.  With another trip to Bunnings for a few more bits and bobs, we headed home for a marathon session.

I don’t know what kind of crafty drugs Mark slipped into my morning tea, but I was a woman on fire.  [Neither do I but I kind of hope they are all used up for the next few whiles.]  We scraped one of the pallets with a wire brush just to get the mud off and then I set to work fashioning it into a Christmas treePallet tree for the hall using nothing more than a bit of leftover ceiling white paint we found in our garage.  Total cost – FREE!!!.  Boards from the other pallet were removed and Mark cut them to size.  A bit of green paint, a few nails again from the garage, and soon we had a tree for the living room.green tree Total cost – $6 for paint, plus one $8 string of lights.  The dead bush wound up in the dining room in an old galvanized watering can filled with beach sand.  Tres artistique!  Total cost – Free.  A cork and some twigs were soon a reindeer for the pallet tree.  Some string dipped in Twig treeglue was formed into an ornament spelling JOY.  A bit of wire and my pliers and we’ve got an angel.  More wire and we’ve got a star!   My front door is graced with a tree made from my favourite new craft supply – the white pages, which showed up in our mailbox a few weeks ago.  I tore out a bunch of pages and shaped them into cones and glued them onto the construction paper body of my Thanksgiving turkey decoration.  I’ve also used the phone book to make fancy packaging for the ornaments I’m giving to friends down here.  More free!    Penguin&WrapperAn old coat hanger + aluminium foil and suddenly there’s a big star hanging above the door!  Wait, help.  I need a 12-step program for Pinaholics!  Whew!  finally it was time to head for Thursday Woolooware Golf Club trivia.  Who knows what terror might have awaited with one more telephone book page craft!  Not in the money at trivia but still quite fun and only one more week with them – the club takes a trivia break til after I’m gone.

Friday morning I was up early to do my pre-webinar technology check.  I’m presenting “Bagging a Live One: Connecting with Cousins You Never Knew You Had” as part of the Legacy Family Tree webinar series on December 17 at 11 a.m. Pacific time in the US (which means 6 a.m the next day for me).  If you’re interested in listening in, it’s free and you can sign up at http://www.familytreewebinars.com/webinar_details.php?webinar_id=225  Also if you can’t make it at that time, you can watch it for free any time in the first week after it airs.    Later in the day we ran some errands, and I finally got a library card.  We stopped in to visit Kath for a bit.  She’s always so interesting to talk to and reminds me a bit of my friend, Grace.  They’ve seen lots of changes in the world over the course of their lives and they both have a very good perspective on what’s really important.

Friday night we were headed out for date night to see a little music in Menai, but made a detour to Kareela for some wildlife watching.  Thursday’s Leader, under the headline “Bats’ Days Numbered,” reported that the Shire council will spend $415,000 to reduce the vegetation around a local school.  It seems the inhabitants of the trees, a local flying fox [aka fruit bat] community, are terrorizing the tots and their parents.  When we lived here before, a huge community of flying foxes lived in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney and often at dusk we would see many head down our way on their nightly rounds, but a few years ago the critters were evicted due to the damage they were causing to the heritage trees.  It looks like our local clan is also getting their walking (er, flying) papers.  But when we arrived at dusk, they were just beginning their evening’s adventures.  They’re pretty large creatures, at least from wingtip to wingtip and its quite something to see them fly overhead.  Unlike our bats at home who dip and dart in search of insects, the fruit bats fly and glide much more like birds.

We left the bats to their work and headed to Club Central Menai, owned and operated by the Illawara Catholic Club.  It’s far more glitzy than the ownership would imply – there are poker machines and keno lounges throughout as well as several bars and bistros.  If snooker is more your speed you can find that there as well.  But Friday nights they’ve got music, and this week it was my new local find, Luke O’Shea.  We had seen him in October in Cronulla with a band and I liked what I heard, but he’s woven some wonderful stories into his lyrics and the extra guitar, bass and drums drowned out too much of the words, so I was looking forward to hearing him solo.  Friday he was set up in a little corner of the place, really odd seating arrangement with chairs and 3-person sofas set up as they would be in a hotel lobby lounge for having a drink and chatting, not really for watching a performance.  No mood lighting, the place was almost harshly bright.  But once Luke took the stage, the atmosphere improved as he sang about drovers and widowed grandmothers and war heroes as well as a catchy tune about the love story of Wayne, a Queensland road crew “lollipop man” and Wanita in the red Suzuki (“a woman of large dimensions, and she kinda liked the way they got Wayne’s attention.)  But the tipsy ladies at the hen party further down the lounge wanted to dance, gosh darnit, and they pestered Mr. O’Shea to ditch all that sensitive crap and do something they knew.  “Can you play any Brad Paisley?”  Instead he indulged them with “Blister in the Sun” and “Sweet Caroline.”  In case you weren’t sure, yes, they sang along.  The whole vibe of the evening felt a little surreal.  [I’ll say.  For the last 20 or 30 minutes, I felt as if I had been infused into a scene written by Hunter Thompson in his heyday.]  I think I’ve been spoilt with the great shows I’ve seen at house concerts in Seattle, and I’d love to see him in that kind of a venue.

Saturday we drove back to Kareela to see die fledermaus in die daytime. 8 KareelaFlyinFoxCamp There are hundreds of flying foxes roosting in the eucalyptus trees.  They’re quite chatty, and seem to fight amongst themselves for the best branches to hang from.  We got close enough to see the contrast of their leathery dark brown wings as they wrapped them around their furry russet bodies.  I guess they could easily prove a distraction to tots on a schoolyard playground.  [I took some video with my camera and found out only later as I was looking at it that some of those upside down bats are clutching good sized baby bats to their chests, wrapped up under those leathery wings!  9 KareelaFlyingFox1So cool!  So Stellaluna!]

Saturday night we went out to dinner with some of Mark’s UWS colleagues.  It was nice to finally get a chance to meet some of them.  One of them will be editing a professional journal and it would be really great if Mark could continue to do some work with her in the future.  We opted to drive in, rather than take the train, but just as we left, the skies opened up and it poured.  Immediately the car windows fogged up, the first time we’ve really had it out in anything like this kind of weather and we discovered that the front windscreen defroster vents only clear about the lowest 10 cm of the glass.  [Actually, Steve, if you are out there, you may remember a similar downpour and a similar white-knuckle, scrubbing-the-windshield-with-what-ever-comes-to-hand ride home from the grocery.  What fun?]  Finally after 20 minutes or so, the rain let up slightly and we got the ventilation system working enough so that we were no longer a danger on the road.  I’ve been playing some trivia in Newtown with Michael, but this was a couple of miles north of the Union Hotel and in a really cool neighborhood.  It reminded me a lot of Portland.

Last week we wrote about our cheap date.  This week we did ourselves one better.  We hopped on the train from Woolooware early Sunday morning and switched to a “real” train at Central bound for Newcastle, about 175 km north of home.  We passed lots of new-to-us country, rivers and estuaries full of boats and woodlands full of eucalyptus.  Due to trackworks near the northern end of the line, we had to switch to a bus at Broadmeadow and as we got closer and closer to our destination we saw more and more motorcycles9.1 NewcastleChristmasCycle decked out with tinsel swags and reindeer antlers, some riders sporting Santa suits.  When we finally arrived, we saw Foreshore Park was hosting a fair and thousands of Harleys, Hondas, Triumphs and Ducatis had taken part in the Bikers For Kids 2014 Toy Run.

We walked up to Fort Scratchley, built in 1882 to guard the entrance to the harbour and the Hunter River.  We’ve seen more than a few abandoned forts in our many years of traveling but this one still has a pair of 6 inch Mark VII guns, not just the mountings where such guns would have operated.  We arrived just in time to witness the daily firing of the timing gun. 9.3 FortScratchleyTimingGun Back in the day, ports the world over would conduct the daily ritual of marking the time to allow mariners to check their chronometers, some by dropping a ball, some by firing a gun.  Newcastle started with a ball on the top of the Customs House, but found with a busy port full of 2- and 3-masted sailing ships, the view of the ball was hidden to many, so they added the cannon fire at Fort Scratchley, a tradition that continues to this day.

NewcastlePelicanFriends

A par of pelicans checkin’ out the chicks on the beach at Newcastle.

We walked back to central Newcastle and up up up the hill to the 1902 Gothic revival Christ Church cathedral.  Mark had read that they were having a 2 pm choir concert but when we arrived we discovered that the price of a pair of tickets was steeper even than the hill we’d just climbed and that totally defeated the romance of cheap date Sunday so we walked back down to town and had afternoon tea at a sidewalk café instead.  We sat outside the Customs House, now a restaurant and bar, and listened as a John Mayer soundalike entertained the patio diners.  And then it was back to the bus/train for our trip home.  350 km round trip and a historic fort for $2.50 each.  Can’t beat that!

I’ll sign off.  I’ve got a busy week planned and Melinda arrives Friday.  Can’t wait!

Love,

Mary [and Mark]

Letter #12: 1 December 2014

1 December 2014

G’day Mates,

This letter will definitely be shorter than last week’s.  No trip to Tassie, no animals (well, one, but his name was Tom and we’ll talk about him later), and few adventures.  But we still managed to entertain ourselves.

Tori and Steve left Monday morning so I spent most of Monday (and a fair bit of Tuesday) writing up the Tasmanian adventures (5400 words don’t magically appear on the page).  But much of the week was just plain blech weather, so it was OK to stay inside and write and work.  OK, Monday – write and work.  Tuesday, work and write.

Tuesday night I did get a little break for trivia at the Oxford Tavern.  Michael and I drove in and after a bit, Chrissie and Other Mark and Michael’s work colleague, Martin, joined us.  ‘Fraid we were far from the money, but surprisingly I spent way more than I thought I was going to spend.  When Michael and I got there I bought the first round, a schooner of James Squire One Fifty Lashes Pale Ale for him, and a pint of cider for me.  I’m not sure what the brand of cider is, but it is clear and colourless.  It looks like club soda, but definitely doesn’t taste like it.  And it certainly doesn’t cost like it.  I gave the bartender a 50 and got back a 20, a 10 and 3 coins.  It seemed an odd amount of change, but I still struggle with the money here.  (Please don’t let my clients know that their accountant struggles with money.) When you talk to Australians about money, they’re aghast – “Is your money still all the same colour?  And the same size??  How can you possibly keep it all straight???”  Here, the notes are all slightly different sizes and definitely different colours – 5s are purplish, 10s are blue, 20s are orange, and 50s are big and yellow.  But I struggle here with the coins.  They start at 5 cents, get larger through the 10 cent, 20 cent, and 50 cent, which are all silver in color.  They then switch to gold color, where the $1 coin is larger around but thinner than the $2 coin.  But that’s where I have my troubles.  First I still often forget whether the 1 or 2 is bigger, but more disturbing is that, because so much of your change at the till comes in the form of coins of $1 and $2 denominations, you can have a handful of coins that actually amounts to some real money, not like your 57 cent handful of coins in the US.  [By contrast, I have no trouble with the coins.  It is my considered opinion {and I have probably considered it more thoroughly than is really necessary} that the two-dollar coin has to be the smallest but the most substantial.  From as early as I can remember, two has been my favorite number and this is largely because it is just more concentrated, more whole, and more complete than any of the other numbers.  It also has a deep bluish tinge and a clear tone whereas a number like three has a brownish-orange cast to it and to the extent that is has any sound at all there is only that faint discordant jangle.  This explains a great deal, doesn’t it?]

OK, but back to the bartender.  He hands me my change and my brow furrows momentarily and I take my drinks back to the table, and Michael and I talked about this and that, but I kept thinking about those three coins he handed me, and only one of them was gold, and I think it was the bigger around gold one, and I’m sure one was a 20 cent piece and how could those two drinks, one of which was only a schooner forgoodnesssake, have cost so much?  He must have made a mistake.  It was still a bit quiet in the pub, and he was just wiping down the counter, so I went over and asked how much the drinks were.  “The schooner was $6.20 and the cider was $12.50.”  I don’t know that I’ve ever paid $12.50 for a cider, and I’m sure if I have, the atmosphere was slightly more upscale than the Oxford.  Note to self, drink this one sloooowly and savor every sip.  A few minutes later, just as Chrissie and Other Mark showed up, the bartender came over and apologized.  “A pitcher’s $12.50.  When you ordered the pint I should have just asked if you wanted a pitcher, cuz it’s the same price.  I wasn’t thinking.  Too much time in the sun today.  So here’s the rest of your pitcher,” and he hands me a jug of cider, two-thirds of the way full.  So I had to switch from sipping my cider to slugging it.  Don’t want to leave a half-full pitcher there on the table!

The quiz at Oxford is pretty fun.  There’s a 15-question Round 1 with a 5-question, multiple-choice express round (true/false, taller/shorter, capital/non-capital, Simpsons/Family Guy, etc).  Then there’s a break while you puzzle out Cinema Dyslexia – work out the film from the anagrammed title.  Round 2 is another 15 questions, followed by the MegaExpress Round with 10 multiple choice questions (dead/alive, male/female, Canada/America, NFL star/rapper, etc).  Both times I’ve been to the Oxford, the express round answers have been the same on the pre-printed sheet, just the question changes each week.  But I was excited to be possibly the only person in the room who KNEW (not just guessed) the right answer for “Humptulips” on the river/lake question.  Weren’t my teammates impressed!

Wednesday was work work work all day.  But Wednesday night I went to Writers’ Group at the genealogy society.  Maree who leads the group is so funny, and no nonsense, and says exactly what she’s thinking.  I met her first at the society meeting in October where she was part of the group that met for dinner before the meeting.  I liked her then.  As part of the society’s 30th birthday that evening, she was one of the speakers, and her talk was so funny I liked her even more.  And after a couple of nights in her writers’ group, I’m totally smitten.  This will be one of the many friendships I shall miss when I leave this place.  [I know at this point everyone is shouting, “Okay, that’s Mary’s Wednesday but what did Mark do?!  We want to know about Mark’s Wednesday!”  Well, I looked for Lebanese bread.  This was much more involved than it sounds and really quite trying as I struggled to make Siri understand that I had seen it recently for sale someplace within a 4.8 km radius of the house and that the store that had it was next to a tire and auto center, possibly affiliated with K-Mart.  We did eventually find it {and ate it! {the bread, not the tire and auto place}} and that evening while Mary went to writers’ group I took a nice long non-trying walk around the neighborhood.  Faithful readers will recall that “Council Cleanup” is where twice a year residents are allowed to leave a pile of stuff they want to be rid of in front of their house and the council workers {much like county workers in the US} can be scheduled to come and take it away.  In the interval between the piling and the taking away, the pile is there for the picking and on my walk that evening I found a box of wine glasses that someone wanted to be rid of and I selected two nice ones to bring back to 16 Ocean View Street.  I also read some more of my current book, “A Fortunate Life,” by Albert Facey.  I recommend it!  That was pretty much my Wednesday.]

Thursday I wrapped up my accounting work for the week, and began preparations to host a crowd for a good ol’ American Thanksgiving in Woolooware.  Tori had brought me canned pumpkin and canned cranberries when she came.  Had to settle for the canned stuff as the Department of Agriculture is quite particular about letting fresh produce and potential pests advance into Australia fair.  But there remained plenty of items to purchase for the feast, so we went to the mall.  We were able to get some of the items there – an aluminium foil turkey roasting pan and a large rectangular and some smaller rectangular foil pans for extra stuffing and whatever other things we might need pans for.  I also found some black construction paper (Mark had been out earlier in the week and found the other colours we needed but no black, and it took two craft stores at the mall to find it.) But I’m afraid aluminium pie pans were nowhere to be found.  Not at The Reject Shop. Not at Aldi.  Not at Target (same as US).  Not at Woolworths (different from US – it’s a grocery, not a Five & Dime.)  Thank goodness for friends.  We cobbled together what we needed – a couple of actual pyrex pie plates plus some pyrex lids for casserole dishes that would suffice to bake a pie in.

I went to trivia Thursday night, but there wasn’t one question about pilgrims or the Mayflower or anything American.  What’s up with that?  But Chuck and Alison had recently returned from a trip to Paris and then on to San Diego, so it was interesting to talk US impressions with them.  They had been in the US for Halloween and the mid-term elections.  [Both were pretty scary, as I understand….]

Friday I set to work baking – one apple, one pumpkin and two pecan pies.  And crafting – toilet paper tube turkeys and pilgrim men and women (hence the need for the black construction paper.)  PilgrimsI’m sure it would be impossible to find Thanksgiving decorations at any time here in Oz, but at the end of Spring, nobody’s thinking of the harvest-Indian corn-pumpkin kind of decorations so you make what you can, with what you’ve got.  I got the pies baked but with the turkey, beer and other ingredients chilling in my small refrigerator there was no way I was going to squeeze four pies in there.  So I called my friend, Kath, apologetic to once again be looking for something, but did she have a little room in her refrigerator for a couple of pies.  “Not a problem, Mary, I’ve got room.  And don’t hesitate to ask, that’s what we do in this family.”  Love that woman! Pies

We’d accepted an invitation for Friday night, just so I would have something to write to you all about.   Under any other circumstances I would have declined, but these days, when some odd or unusual or uniquely Australian event comes across our path, even though we might not be the target audience, if someone is gracious enough (or dumb enough) to invite me, gosh darnit, I’m going!  And so it was for Friday.  You’ve read about our Househunters International adventures.  When you go to an open house, there’s always someone at the door with a clipboard to record your details – name, phone and email.   I get several texts every week about this or that house on the market that would be just perfect for me. (Yeah, perfect if I had an extra million and a half just lying around.)  And Tuesday I got an email from adele@highlandproperty.com.au – “client christmas party – highland property agents would like to invite you to join us for drinks, canapes and entertainment to celebrate christmas and thank you for your generosity and support throughout 2014.  friday 28th november, 6 pm-8pm, in the highland property auction room.  rsvp to adele.”  Are we clients?  Hmm… I’ve been to several open houses. I don’t know if that quite qualifies.  But let’s see – I’ve got 20 coming for Thanksgiving dinner Saturday and you’re giving me an opportunity for free food and drinks plus something to write home about?   Hot damn! Yeah, adele, we’re in.

Somehow assuming there would only be a dozen people in the room, we didn’t want to arrive too early, but there was no worry of that – by the time we arrived the room was packed!  Champagne, beer and wine flowing.  Waiters passing canapes including norimaki rice rolls, cheese puffs, meatballs, scallops, and crackers with some herbed creamy cheese and beautiful smoked salmon rosettes on top. Yum!   The duo in the corner, he on the guitar, she with the vocals, entertained with stylin’ hits from the 90s to today.  I worried a bit that we might be pounced upon by hungry agents, but they were surprisingly laid-back.  We talked a bit with jonathan eyles, (highland  property agents, whether by email or via business card, apparently doesn’t believe in capital letters) an agent in his mid-20s, born and bred in Cronulla, mostly about our (imaginary) long-term plans to return to the Shire in our retirement.   He suggests we not buy right now – the market’s a bit high and unstable but perhaps we might be ready to buy 12 months from now? Um, yes, let us think about that and get back to you. There were lots of clients there. [I can quantify that if you like {and if not, just close you eyes until you get to the next right-bracket}; there were ~5.2 people per square meter of floor space.  By contrast, Montana has about .0000027 people per square meter.  I would have opted for Montana if given the choice.]  One couple I met had spent several years living in Japan where he worked for an American-Japanese joint venture.  They had two kids about the same ages as Garth and Emm and it was interesting to compare experiences of living abroad with teenagers.   Another woman had her fingers crossed – her house will be on the auction block on December 14.  I told her in the US, given the winter time and the holidays, the real estate market really slows down in December, but she said here, summer weather trumps the holidays so the sales are still hopping and deeds are changing hands throughout the Christmas season.

Saturday we got up and got the bird in the oven.  StoveSmall oven, medium-sized bird – came with no giblets and the neck still attached, and definitely not the Fred Meyer loss-leader on the weekly grocery ad.  This Tom was a $68 prize.  As I was stuffing him, the kookaburras in the gum tree in my yard laughingly taunted me to just try to roast him for a feast!

We’d borrowed so much from Michael and Tony – I’ve got a table with four chairs in my dining room and another smaller table and 2 chairs in the kitchen.  I’ve got 4 full-sized dinner plates and a few smaller ones and 4 each of knives, forks and spoons.   So Michael made several trips over with chairs and tables and crockery and cutlery.  Mark and I emptied the living room of its few pieces of furniture – a love-seat, 2 easy chairs and a sideboard with the TV on it, and we set up 2 tables in the living room and 2 smaller ones in the dining room.  One thing we do seem to have a great deal of however, is glassware – I easily was able to come up with 40 glasses for wine and water, but there were probably 15 different styles of tumblers and stemware.  So I set the tables with orange plastic tablecloths and toilet-paper pilgrims and turkeys [I made the toilet paper tube turkeys!!], and a mishmash of glasses and they made quite the festive arrangement.   My mother was a wonderful hostess and always set a beautiful table – I have many memories of my 8- or 10-year-old self ironing cloth napkins and learning to place the knives with the blade facing in toward the place setting, and using Tabasco sauce in the mashed potatoes so they would be fluffy and white and have no black flecks in them.  But I just had to let all that go and trust that my friends down here would overlook the minor faults and appreciate the love and tradition of the feast.  And that they did.

Guests arrived and we talked about the traditions of Thanksgiving and what things would be like in America, and what we did the same down here, and what we might do differently back home.  We gathered hand-in-hand to share what we are thankful for.  Greg and Other Mark even managed to download the Seahawks-49ers game to watch – it ain’t Thanksgiving without some football.  But I realized afterwards that something I just took for granted, that on Thanksgiving you eat at 4 pm, (sometimes it might be 2 or 3, but never noon or 6 or 7 pm!)  came as a totally foreign concepts to the folks down here, probably more odder even than making pie out of pumpkin.  Much as you try, it seems you can’t possibly explain all the traditions you’ve lived with your whole life, handed down from your parents and grandparents.  Dinner’s at 4.  It just is.

I have so much to be thankful for here among these people – a home to live in, and dishes and kayaks and tents to borrow, and trivia nights, and invitations to dinners and plays and ballets and Wanderers games, and travel advice, and genealogy research to do.  I must admit I was a bit blue after everyone left Saturday night.  Part of it was missing the kids – Emm was with her grandparents in Riverside and Garth and Alica were hosting Melinda and Alica’s family, and it was the first Thanksgiving in 24 years that we haven’t been with our kids.  But it was more than that… we’d been so looking forward to having everyone to dinner – we’ve been talking about Thanksgiving since before I even arrived – but now that’s done, and the calendar page has turned to the first of December.  Soon Melinda will be here and then it will be Christmas and New Year’s and then we’ll be on a plane home and I’m starting to realize that once again, I’m really going to miss this wonderful life I’m leading here.  I know I’m going back to a wonderful life in Seattle.  But I’m just a little greedy and I want both lives.

Sunday morning we woke up, and were probably a bit tired and might just as well have lazed about all day on the couch, but it’s really only a loveseat, not at all comfortable for a full day of lounging, and as I said in the last paragraph, we only have five more weeks of summer, so we better make the most of it!  So we each squeezed a small thick $2 gold coin and a larger 12-sided 50-cent piece for all they’re worth and had the world’s cheapest date.  The Opal Card is a rechargeable transportation ticket, good for the trains, buses and ferries.  There are some special benefits to the Opal card over just paying as you go – there is a bit of a discount with the card, if you make 8 trips in a Monday-Sunday period all the rest of your trips for the week are free (we haven’t hit that one yet!), and best for us, you can travel all day on Sunday for $2.50.  So we got on train from here to St. James station near Hyde Park.  Only apparently part of the reason Sundays are so cheap is because there might be trackworks on and you might not be able to get to St. James.  And you might sort-of find out about this when you’re on the train and the poorly enunciating, Australian-accented conductor announces on the semi-functioning loudspeaker that passengers for someplace and someplace else and someplace else should disembark at some station and change to some other line.  So we got off at Town Hall, rode another train to Central  which the platform reader board had said was going to Martin Place (near St. James) but  the actual train announcement  and reader board in the car said only Circular Quay, so we got off at Central, but as we read the 17 stations listed on the monitor for that train, and finally saw Martin Place in the revolving list of names, the doors to the train we’d been on (and should have gotten back onto) slid shut and we were left on the platform.  Oh, but there’s a bus to take you around to the stops that are closed due to the trackworks, if you can find the street where the bus is and the spot on that street where it stops, and if the bus isn’t full and actually does stop.  But haven’t we done this waiting-for-a-bus thing before? Oh bother, let’s just walk the rest of the way.  And so we did.  And it was a lovely walk through Hyde Park, seeing the ibises search for grubs in the grass amongst the bikini-clad, sun-worshipping Sydney-siders.

We reached the Art Gallery of NSW just in time for their free Sunday film series.  This week we saw the first colour Mickey Mouse cartoon, “The Band Concert,” and “Don’t Look Back,” a documentary about Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England.  Perhaps a film student would appreciate the pioneering cinematic style, or a die-hard Dylan fan could appreciate hearing “The Times, They are a Changin’” seven times in 96 minutes.  I’m afraid I nodded off a bit, but I’ll blame it on the tryptophan in the turkey.  [Not me! Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Donovan all enclosed in a single grainy black and white frame? Are you kidding? It brought me right back to when I was seven years old, living in Altadena, California where we sometimes saw the old lady with the leopard print coat out walking her ocelot.]  Not only is the film series free, the museum is, too, so we squeezed a bit more entertainment out of the afternoon and looked at some paintings and sculpture.  We found $1 chocolate waffle cones at Maccas (the silly nickname they have for McDonald’s down under). Opera house from Manly ferryAnd then, since we’d reached the maximum Opal cost for any Sunday we took full advantage and rode the MV Narabeen across Sydney harbour to Manly.  We managed to snag a seat up top, right at the front of the double-ender ferry.  That lovely view of the Opera House from the water, for free?  Can’t beat it.  It was late enough that we opted to stay aboard and ride the boat on her return to Circular Quay.  We moved to the formerly-stern-now-bow of the vessel and watched as 1100 surfers and sunbathers, having spent the day at Manly beach, crowded aboard, filling the ship to the gills.  November’s weather here is nothing if not changeable and by our departure from Manly there was lightning to the south and rolling seas as we passed the Sydney Heads and the opening to Port Jackson.  Sydney weather from ferry Nov 30Soon there was enough rain even for a Seattlite to retreat indoors.   We caught a train home in time for some Thanksgiving leftovers.  Trains, movies, boats, snacks and art for $3.50 each.  Quite a day.

I’ll sign off here, and let Dr. Roddy do his magic.  3800 words, nearly 6 pages.  And I thought we’d be writing about a dull week.

Until next time,

Mary [and Mark]

Letter #11: 25 November 2014

25 November 2014

G’day  Mates,

This week we’ve got a looong report – Adventures from Tasmania.  Lots of sights, lots of history and lots of animals.

We left very, very, early Monday morning, the only departing passengers to board the shuttle from the “Blue Emu” car park – the seven other people on board wore the black pants and white shirts emblazoned with SNP Security.  We arrived at the terminal in time to look through the mesh screen as those very same airport screeners calibrated the metal detectors in preparation to start the day of work.  Yes, the metal detectors work, but I found it very disconcerting that in both Sydney airport and Hobart airport, not once were we asked to provide any identification.  I had an SMS (text message) with our “boarding pass” on it, which I showed to the agent at the door of the jetway and she printed a boarding pass for each of us so we would know our seat assignments.  But she didn’t ask for an ID and the screeners didn’t even verify that we had boarding passes to get through security, much less check that we were who we said we were.  How very 1999 of them.

But soon (well, in a couple of hours, anyway) we were seated in a (that-aircraft –manufacturer-which-shall-not-be-named) A320 bound for Hobart, where we arrived so early that the Budget rental car cleaners were still vacuuming the fleet, but shortly we were on the road to the Tasman Peninsula.

On the way to Port Arthur we passed a lookout above Eaglehawk Neck with a view of Pirate Bay.  We drove down and took a look at an interesting geological feature, the Tessellated Pavement.  The rocks along the coastline are a mix of sandstone and dolerite.  Eons of salty ocean waves crashing over the rocks, have left bits of salt crystal which expand and contract leaving a series of straight-line cracks on the rock surface.   Today, the shoreline looks as if a tile setter had laid tiles on the beach, some slightly domed bread loaf shapes, where the cracks eroded more quickly leaving a curved top, and “pans,” where the surface eroded first, leaving the edges intact, raised above the flat base of the “pan.”  The lines are so straight, the giant who “laid” those stones must have been a master mason.

Back on the road we ran across our first wildlife – thank goodness we just ran across, not ran over! – an echidna.  They are slow-moving, egg-laying mammals, covered with spines.  Given how slow-moving they are, we had time climb out of the car, cross the road, and take some pictures.  Funny looking little things.  [As Mer indicated, we pulled over, got out of the car and crossed the road to take a closer look.  When we got near enough to be considered menacing the creature stopped, tucked its nose under its chest, and made itself into a little brown hemisphere studded with large yellow-gold quills, all pointing outward, a signal to the threatening world to back off.  We got the message and left it alone, though I did use the mysterious black box to steal its soul; the quills did little to discourage that.  It occurred to me later that I have known people {myself included} to adopt a metaphorically similar posture in similar circumstances.]

02EchidnaNearPtArthur

We continued on our way to the (you know the drill by now) World Heritage Listed… Port Arthur Historic Site.  The penal colony here was established in 1830, and by 1840, there were more than 2000 convicts, soldiers and civilian personnel living at the settlement.  Many of the buildings are still in existence, including the commandant’s and the junior surgeon’s residences.  These two are furnished much as they might have been during the early to mid-19th century – the bed in one room sporting a kangaroo fur throw.

The solitary prison, home to the most hardened offenders, however, was not quite so cozy.  The stone cells were small but serviceable.   Even in the chapel, the men were separated, attending the worship services in standing boxes- like little telephone booths.  The harshest punishment cells, perhaps 5 feet by 7 by 6 ½ lay behind four doors, and were completely sound- and light-proof.   It was haunting just to breathe the air on one of those tiny rooms.  I lasted 90 seconds with the door open before I had to get outside.

04AnIsolationCell

There is a lovely garden on the grounds, styled somewhat like an English garden, for the few officers’ wives to stroll in or sit and contemplate.  I think their lives must have been something of a struggle as there were so few women there, and they were responsible to attend not only to their husbands and families but also to their husband’s subordinates.  But whatever their struggles, they were nothing compared to those of the people in “the box.”

Part of the ticket to this site is a boat ride around Carnavon Bay, passing near Point Puer boys prison.  Lads as young as 9 years old were transported for various offences, most likely petty thievery.  Those boys had to be put somewhere, and for a while they were housed among the general prison population, which rather than have the desired effect of rehabilitation, became a school in how to commit more serious offences.  After a few years of that, one prison superintendent thought to separate the boys, placing them across the bay in their own unit.  This wasn’t standard prison procedure and he waited several months before reporting his experiment to his superiors back in England.  Our tour guide thought this was appropriately Australian of him.

The visitor experience at the site is quite extensive.  When you arrive you get your brochure/map, you get your lanyard and tour ticket, you get your boat ticket, you get your post card, and you get your playing card (for those keeping track, I had 20 items I had to disperse amongst our party of four, plus remembering the instructions of where and when to queue up for the grounds tour and where and when to assemble for the boat tour and my 3 a.m. wake-up call brain struggled a bit with these details.)  So what’s with the playing card, you ask.   Each card corresponds to a real-life prisoner.  You can find out who your guy was, and how he fared at Port Arthur.  I had the five of Hearts, Joseph Johnson, a baker from Portsmouth, England, convicted in January 1817 for an unknown offence, and sentenced to transportation for life.  He seems to have spent the first five years of his sentence at a penal station at Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Van Diemen’s Land (aka Tasmania), but he was sent to Port Arthur on 19 February 1833 for stealing a shawl valued at 7 shillings.  He worked in a timber gang there because there was no vacancy in the cookhouse but in mid-1834 a position opened and he was promoted.  And that apparently turned his life around.  He was recommended for release in January 1835.  (I didn’t see any more info easily available as to what became of him, but looks like I might have a bit of a genealogical research problem, should I choose to go there…)  [I, by contrast, received the ten of hearts.  It turns out this card is associated with a guy whose name actually was Ten and he lived in a small village of Hearts, east of Eden.]

We arranged all of our accommodations on this trip through AirBnB which turned out to work well for us.  We stayed our first night at cozy little Brick Point Cottage on the shore of Carnavon Bay.  (http://brickpointcottage.com.au).  Steve barbequed some chicken, and Tori used the ingredients in her Chopped basket to fashion us a nice side dish of carrots with a Coca Cola reduction.  Yummy.

Just down the road is something called The Remarkable Cave (http://tasmaniaforeveryone.com.au/remarkable-cave.htm).  Water roars through it from the ocean, the retreating water yelling “I want out!” and the advancing water shouting back “Not in my house!”  We walked down to the viewing platform where you can look through the cave out to Maingnon bay.  The opening at the end of the cave is a perfect outline of the shape of Tasmania!  05RemarkableCaveTassieOn our way back up we saw a small macropod, perhaps a pandemelon or potoroo. We asked it what it was but it was busy munching so it ignored us.  We also saw a Superb Fairy Wren, not to be confused with the Splendid Fairy Wren or the Lovely Fairy Wren.  What we saw was definitely superb!07PoterooNearRemarkableCave

08MaingnonBayMorning

Tuesday morning some of us whose names were not Mary or Steve got up and drove back to Maingnon Bay to see the sunrise. 06MaingnonBay At a slightly more humane hour, all of us vacated Brick Point Cottage in favour of one more site on the convict trail, Coal Mines Historic Site, which was another place to employ/punish the outlaws of Van Diemen’s Land.   Port Arthur has the crowds, the visitor’s center, the tours, the guides.  Coal Mines is a place to be quiet and contemplative.  There were no guides to be found, other than a few shy potoroos and some jittery fairy wrens, but there were some really interesting display boards.  Mark took the artsy-fartsy landscape photos but most of the snaps I shot with my iPhone were of signs.  Let me share a few…”Coal for kitchens and drawing rooms, Coal that crackled and spat, Cinders on carpets and crinolines, Sparks on the hearthside cat.  Far from the warmth of the parlours, Deep in a gloom hole, Down on their knees in the darkness, Convicts hacked out the coal.”  There were some descriptions of Joseph Lacey, whose record of conduct describes him as “a vicious, bad fellow.”  He was a brickmaker who dabbled in highway robbery.  At the Coal Mines, he was made head overseer, and though he drunkenly abused the superintendent and was thrown back into the can, so to speak, his mining knowledge was more important than his manners, and he was shortly returned to his position after making a heartfelt apology which reads, in part, “…had it not been for my state of inebriety I should never have been guilty of the late folly.  Particularly knowing the respect due to an officer of your rank.”  Quite the sincere fellow.  [The way in which the in information was presented was unusual.  Instead of the usual rectangular signboard held up at right angles to the ground, they often used bits of text and pictures attached to lumber lying on the ground or propped up at angles.  The impression you got from these was less rectilinear as well, like gathering meaning from stuff that is just lying around.  I liked it.]

04FroggartJamesUseless

We left the Tasman peninsula and headed north, skipping the main road and taking the “short cut” through the Wielangta forest.  The washboard road made no friends among the two butts in the back seat, and was probably not on the Budget rental agency list of approved roads, but we saw some unspoilt wilderness.  Though, I must say in an island roughly the size of Ireland or West Virginia, with a population of a mere 500,000, probably 90% of the land is unspoilt.  We stopped for a picnic lunch in Orford and continued north along Great Oyster Bay toward Cranbrook to taste some fine Tasmanian pinot noirs and chardonnays.

We first stopped at Gala Estate.  The green weatherboard tasting room there had been home to Theodore “Ted” Castle, and had few improvements made since the days of his pioneer ancestors.  Ted had continued to cook on a cast iron stove and heat his water in a copper boiler.  (https://www.galaestate.com.au/index.php/visit-us/4-visit-us).  He passed away in 2009, and now the property is owned by Adam Greenhill and his wife, Grainne.  As she poured her wines and told us about Ted, her Derry, Northern Ireland accent had Tori thinking we were at “Tad’s” place. (Vowels are hard – an experience later in the week with a Tasmanian named Murray had all of us confused at his pronunciation of his name which sounded far more like my own name than any Murray I’ve heard – I’m not sure how he pronounced my name.)

We were going to have a few more nights in Tasmania, so one winery was not enough and we stopped at Freycinet (Fray-si-nay) Vineyard for a few more sips and a few more bottles.  Soon we were at our home for the next two nights, Blue Waters, (https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/4113665) in the beach town of Bicheno.  Basset owns the home, but he’s off working in Queensland, so his very friendly mom, Gail, checked us in.  She gave us some great tips, most importantly letting us know we could skip the $30/head Penguin Tour and see the little critters all on our own, just half a block down the road, hang a left and walk ‘til you get to the beach.  And so after dinner, that’s just what we did.

Sunset was at 8:06.  The Fairy Penguin, also known as the Little Penguin or the Blue Penguin come in from a day of ocean fishing, just as dark sets in.  The 45 cm tall birds waddle up the beach, or in our case, rocks, in groups of 2 or 3 or a few more.  The four of us sat quietly on our rock and waited for the show.  The little critters didn’t disappoint.  Do you all have the soundtrack in your heads?  “Oh, it’s a jolly holiday with Mary, no wonder that it’s Mary that we love!”  We watched several groups pass by and when it seemed no more waddles of penguins would be coming, we headed off the rocks toward the bushes along the path, where the penguins make their homes.  It was a little too dark to take many worthwhile photos but I’ve got quite a few memories of watching the silly little critters shuffling along in the dark.

09BluePenguinsComeAshore10LittleBluePenguinNearBicheno

Wednesday was earth, sea and sky day.  We drove a few kilometres north of Bicheno to Natureworld, a wildlife park.  When we first began exploring the park, I think each of us was perhaps a bit disappointed with what appeared to be a bit run-down, tired facility.  But as we moved through the park coming upon the wallabies who were so excited to see the Roddys and Prestons with those little white bages of yummy roo chow, our impressions of the place perked up.  11MerFeedsWallabiesAnd by the time we got to the Tasmanian devil feeding with Chris, we were hooked.  14DevilsAndPossumTailTugWe all learned so much and really gained an appreciation of what places like Natureworld and the other wildlife parks of Tasmania are doing to address the plight of this endangered species.  12AJoeyAtNatureWorldAside from the wallabies and devils, we got to see emus, heaps of birds, kangaroos (more up-close-and-personal opportunities! – as I was feeding a doe, a young joey ambled over and disappeared into her pouch).  We also got some great one-on-one time with an 11-month-old wombat, orphaned after his mother was hit by a car. 13LittleWombatCU

After Natureworld we headed south to Freycinet National Park.  We’ve discovered that “national park” has a bit of an odd definition here.  The entry fee was a bit steep – $24 for a one-day pass – but they also have a $60 pass, good for 8 weeks.  We thought that might be a good alternative, considering that our daughter, Melinda, will be joining us soon, and we might get a pass and use it for several national parks while she’s here.  When I inquired about the pass, however, I learned it’s only good for the national parks… in Tasmania.  So really, it’s just a state park pass.  Not quite sure why they’re called “national” parks if they’re not part of a “national” system, but this may help to give a bit of an explanation to Mark and my question as to how there can be so very many national parks right here in our own neighborhood of the Shire – they’re more like Camp Wooten or Camp Taylor than Mount Rainier or Yosemite.  But back to Freycinet…  Yeah, even though it’s a national park for just Tasmania, I think this one would qualify as a national national park.  We had a limited amount of time due to a booking we’d made for 4 p.m. (more about that later) so we picked a short-ish hike, up to the Wineglass Bay Lookout.  (That’s where the sky part of the day comes in.)  Up, up, up the trail and the 300+ granite steps interspersed in various locations on the path, we made it up to see the beautiful panorama before us.  16WineGlassBayWe took a few pictures but didn’t linger long because we had a schedule to meet – it may be a jolly holiday with Mary, but you know she’s planned several activities, so no dilly dallying, Jane and Michael (or Tori and Steve).

Now for the sea…we drove to Coles Bay to rendezvous with Murray of Freycinet Adventures (http://www.freycinetadventures.com.au/freycinet-sea-kayaking) for our 3-hour sea kayak tour of the eastern coastline of Great Oyster Bay.  The Freycinet Paddle was listed as the #4 must-do experience in Australia on the Nine Network’s “Things to Try Before you Die,” so you know it must be something special, and indeed it was.  It was a glorious afternoon, and the wind was down (at least for most of the paddle.)  Our party consisted of three double kayaks for Mary and Mark, Tori and Steve, Kaylee and Ian (a couple from Brisbane) and one single for Murray.  After a brief lesson in paddling and getting out of an overturned kayak (just in case!) we put in at Muir’s Beach and crossed the water to Parson’s Cove.  There we saw the remnants of an early-20th century granite quarrying operation.  That very same operation provided the stone which lines the lobby walls of the Empire State Building. We beached the kayaks at Honeymoon Bay for afternoon tea break and then paddled back across the bay to get some great pictures of us in the kayaks18M&MKayakingBeforeHazardMtnsV2 with the Hazard Mountains (and the Wineglass Bay lookout where we had been hiking just a few short hours before) as a backdrop.  17Steve&ToriFreycinetKayakWildlife spotting included some sea eagles and a heron.  We treated ourselves to a nice dinner in Bicheno but by the time the meal was over, I’m afraid there was not much left in any of our tanks to go looking for more penguins and we just went home and crashed.  [In my defense as the designated driver throughout the trip I will clarify: I parked the car safely and appropriately and then went inside and was asleep in short order.]

Thursday we went back to Freycinet to drive up to the Cape Tourville Lookout.  Saw two wallabies along the way!  There’s a lighthouse up there and it appears you can see forever.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been photographing signs, and there was one there that had me laughing all day – “Freycinet National Park was declared in 1916 – one of the first two national parks in Tasmania (along with Mount Field.)”  ONE of the first two, eh?  Let’s all put our thinking caps on and see if between us we can figure out if it was the first or the second… hmmmmm, thinking…. thinking…  Well, I think we all have an idea, but anyone out there want to make a field trip to read the sign at Mount Field to confirm our suspicions?

The clock on our 24-hour national park pass expired so we left the east coast behind us and headed to Ross.  It’s a charming little historic village and in it you can find one of five Female Factories in Tasmania.  (No, they didn’t actually manufacture females there.)  A female factory was built to house women during the convict era who were waiting assignment with a private employer, awaiting childbirth or weaning children, or undergoing punishment.  The women would be taught useful skills and presumably improve their lot in life.  As with much of convict-era Tasmania, the factory today is mostly a ruin, with bits of the archeology preserved.

We drove on and reached Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, late in the afternoon.  I think we were all just happy to be out of the car.  We stayed at another AirBnB, Jacinta House (https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/4129750).  It had a great view of kunayi (Mount Wellington), but probably a better view when it isn’t obscured by the clouds.

19Tori&MerAtopMtWellington

Mary, on her way down from the top of the mountain.

We summited Mount Wellington Friday.  Twice!  Quite the adventure.  We drove to the carpark at the top, elevation 1271 metres.  We were ensconced in a cloud and the wind was howling.  There were a few flakes of snow coming down in the rain.  Steve had sense enough to stay in the car, but Tori, Mark and I headed for the Pinnacle, to scramble to the summit.  Mark took a picture of Tori at the very tippy top and one of me on my way down.  (I’m sure I was on my way down.  From the top.  At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)  We walked to the visitor’s outlook on the eastern cliff of the mountain, overlooking Hobart and the Derwent river, and all the way out to Port Arthur.  At least that’s what all the brass signs proclaimed.  All we saw was the inside of a cloud.

We headed back down the road toward Hobart and stopped at The Springs picnic area about halfway down the mountain.  There had been an old chalet/health spa that was destroyed in the bush fires of 1967, but we walked around the site, and tried to photograph the darting fairy wrens.  After a pit stop near the picnic grounds we got back in the car and in about ten seconds Tori realized she didn’t have her eyeglasses.  She’d taken them off and slipped them into her pocket when she was up at The Pinnacle because they were all wet, so they must have fallen out when she was in the bathroom or when got her camera out to take pictures of the wrens.  Back to the bathrooms.  Everybody out of the car and looking.  No glasses.  Back to the chalet and wrens.  Everybody out of the car and looking.  No glasses.  Back up to the visitor’s overlook.  Tori and I got out and looked while Mark and Steve continued on up to the Pinnacle.  No glasses in the overlook, but at least the clouds had parted just a teeny bit and I got a glimpse of the river.  Tori retraced her steps all the way up to the summit and there, just where she had slipped them NEXT to her pocket, not INTO her pocket, were her glasses.  That prayer to St. Anthony finally paid off.

Here’s one more instance where I love the fact that I have this weekly letter to write.  Imagine you’re on vacation, and you go up to the mountain viewpoint and the weather’s crappy and there’s no view and if that weren’t bad enough, your sister loses her glasses so you’ve got to go back up and waste more time looking for the darn things.  Grumble, grouse, grrrr. Right?  But no.  This blogging experience has totally put me into the mindset that nothing is ever really bad – it’s all just another story to tell.  So many thanks to all of you for giving me a Little Mary Sunshine attitude even up on the top of crappy cold rainy foggy snowy Mount Wellington.

And yes, it even got a little crappier on the way down – 90 seconds down the road from the top the skies opened up and we couldn’t see 10 feet in front of the car it was raining so much.  Yikes!  Thank goodness it didn’t last too long and chauffeur Mark got us all down safely.

Just at the base of the mountain is the Cascades Brewery, Australia’s oldest operating brewery, opened in 1832.  We thought it would be fun to see, particularly with Steve, the home-brewer.  Nearby is also the Cascade Female Factory, which at least one of us (ok, probably ONLY one of us) thought would be fun to see as well.  We’d booked a 2:15 brewery tour and given the Great Wellington Glasses Incident, there wasn’t time for lunch and the Female Factory visit, so while my companions dined on fish and chips and shepherd’s pie, I scarfed down a few more convict tales at the FF and met them back at the brewery just in time for the tour.  Note to tourists retracing our steps – don’t book the Friday afternoon tour.  It seems that sometime around noon on Friday, the brewers and bottlers have met their weekly quota of product and reached that well-deserved hour when they can stop making beer and start drinking it.  The tank rooms and machine shop and bottling line were as vacant as a Female Factory ruin, so we had to listen to our guide (not even a Tasmanian, he was a bloody Pom, for goodness sake!) tell us about what goes on rather than actually seeing it.  But still at the end of your brewery/ghost town tour, you get to spend those four tokens that come with your $25 tour ticket on some of the product.  Only, if you wait til Friday arvo to take your tour, the main tasting room might be taken up with a private party, so you might get shuffled off to the auxiliary bar, but maybe that room is full with the very raucous folks who just finished the Cascades Heritage Tour five minutes ago and they’re crowding around the bar and the one bartender to serve 45 people, so you might get shuffled further into some other room which has chairs lined up against the walls with some old historical photos hung above them.  The Pom did bring in a few pitchers of beer to serve us – gratis, didn’t even have to spend our tokens – until we could scratch and claw our way up to the bar like Tasmanian devils and order something from there.

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While Tori and I were scratching and clawing, Mark was out in the gardens and met 60-year-old Pete, the longest-serving employee of Cascade – 44 years!  Perhaps a bit disgruntled with life at Cascade, he’s seen many changes as corporate buyouts and automation have decimated the ranks of employees from 200+ line workers (plus the administrative staff) down to 60 or so total employees.  He laughed at the “factory tour” with guides brought in from elsewhere (like England) who’ve never worked in the brewery and simply regurgitate the stories that somebody told somebody to tell them to tell.  We sat for half an hour or so with him while he drank his pint (a real pint) and we sipped our sub-schooner sized glasses (token samples.)  He took a break from our company for another pour and asked if any of us wanted something.  My glass being empty, I said I’d like another cider and started to pull one of my tokens out.  “Nah, I don’t need that.  They just give me whatever I ask for.”  A few minutes later he returned with his pint and for me, a fresh glass and a full bottle.  “Sorry,” he smiled, “all I could get was the whole bottle for you.”    It was a nice way to cap off the afternoon – we started with kind of a theme-park perspective of Cascade but finished with an insider’s view.  [I will add that Pete was more than a little disgruntled.  I had taken a few pictures in the garden and was heading in to find the others.  I was about to walk by Pete when he spoke to me as I approached.  “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, mate.”  This was the beginning of a fairly scathing indictment of the corporate culture that, in his view, has oozed over, absorbed and pretty much submerged what was once a fine place to make a living.  Considering the comparable changes that are creeping across my workaday world in academia even as we speak, it made me sad.  But Pete has a relatively good attitude.  He has a life outside of work and he looks forward to retirement.]

The weather in the afternoon improved greatly and by dinnertime we supped on the Emmalisa, one of Hobart’s historic ferries.  [And, yes, if you are getting the pictures and you look even just a little closely, behind the Emmalisa you will the Sea Shepherd’s “Bob Barker.”  21EmmaLisaBobBarkerWhat was this modern day pirate ship doing in Hobart?  Only the Sea Shepherd wizards and the CIA know for sure but we did spy them anchored in beautiful Wine Glass Bay a couple of days earlier with their runabout zipping around.  Practicing maneuvers?  We can only hope…]  They have a 2-hour dinner cruise from the Victoria dock, north along the western shore of the Derwent past the botanical gardens and government house, under the Tasman bridge, across the river to Lindisfarne and Rose Bay and back under the bridge for a tour of the south end of the estuary and the view homes along Sandy Bay and the historical neighborhood of Battery Point and back to the piers.  We had a beautiful view of the top of Mount Wellington from the water, quite the reverse of our morning.22ToriSteveAboardEmmalisa1

Saturday we strolled through Hobart’s famous Salamanca Market, the most visited attraction in Tasmania.  Lots of jewelry, woodwork and food stalls – beautiful jams, chocolates and even a tasty salmon sausage.  Yum.  Picked up a few gifts.  We walked around the Battery Point neighborhood.  The roses in the gardens are incredible, huge blooms!  We looked at the art in a small gallery.  I didn’t care for the paintings inside, but the cottage was beautiful – 1840s bluestone, and there were some cool funky sculptures in the garden.  We made our way back to the airport and soon left The Apple Isle behind.

Sunday was forecast to be in the upper 30s so we thought something on the water would keep us cool and be a good final activity with Tori and Steve.  We boarded the Tom Thumb III, sister to the Curanella ferry, for a cruise on Port Hacking.  24TheCurranullaWe picked the 10:30 sailing mostly because it would leave the afternoon free if the travelers had any last minute packing or something else to do, but that had the delightful consequence that it fell at quite a high tide.  The cruise travels as far up the Hacking River as it can, but with the tide we had, we were able to ride it all the way up to the Audley weir in the Royal National Park.  The voyage was filled with sights of Shire folk enjoying a Sunday on the water –sailboats and motorboats of every size, jetskis zooming about, fishermen and fisherwomen and fisherchildren angling from the riverbanks or wading in the water, teenage boys doing flips and dives from high rocks into the river below, kayaking children and kayaking grannies, and even a stand-up paddleboarder balancing an Esky full of bottled beverages on his board.

High tide in the morning means low tide in the arvo, perfect to introduce Tori to the joys of a walk across Gunnamatta Bay.  As we walked toward the water, we passed boatless families enjoying the parks and beaches along the shoreline.  They had their floaties and fishing rods, their rugby balls and sand buckets.  In Gunnamatta park there were several groups of seven or eight people, young men and old ladies in burqas seated around a hookah, whiling away the afternoon.  Tori and I walked quite far across the sandy spit, water up to our mid-shins.  I know she found it a little unnerving to be in the middle of the water so far from shore, but she gamely forged on. Tori in Gunnamatta bay It was good we turned back when we did however, because as the afternoon progressed, the wind picked up and we felt a few raindrops as we reached dry land.  We rounded out the day with a picnic dinner on the beach, looking out across the Pacific.

Sorry to have been so verbose, but as you can see, we had many adventures.  Alas, Tori and Steve flew home Monday morning and I’m afraid I’ll spend most of my week catching up on work.  And preparing Thanksgiving dinner, Australian-American style.  I’ll have a full report next week.  In the meantime, enjoy your turkey and football.

Love,

Mary [and Mark]

Letter #10: 16 November 2014

16 November  2014

G’day Mates,

Tori and Steve left Monday morning for Queensland for the week and returned Friday, so Mark and I were on our own.  If I can talk Tori into being a guest columnist, you might get a taste of life in the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef and the World Heritage Listed Daintree Rainforest.   If not, you’ll just have my little Woolooware adventures to read about.  And my adventures were interrupted with spurts of work, but I’ll leave the gory details of that to your imagination.

Monday I had a lunch invitation from my new friend Heather, one of my genealogy buds.  She’s close enough that I could walk to her house so that’s what I did.  I headed south on Woolooware road and turned left on her street.  She’s at #4, down at the end of the street, on the water.  There’s a gate to the patio, a pool on the left and her lovely golden lab who is very pleased to see me and get a little attention.  I was wary about opening the gate, afraid that the dog might try to escape, but, I could see he’s a bit of an older dog, not likely to go anywhere in a hurry, so I rang the doorbell and while I waited, Rover took full advantage of all the attention he was getting, depositing a swath of golden hair all up and down the right leg of my nice black jeans.  I waited and waited.  I rang the bell again, and waited some more.  The dog liked all the head scratches he got as I waited.   Heather had originally invited me for 12:30 but called a few days earlier to change to 1 because she’d booked an appointment and wanted to be sure she was home in time, so maybe she’s just running a little late, I thought.  But I start to get this hinky feeling and pull out my iPhone, looked at the blue dot on my map app, and I’m at #4 alright.  On the wrong street!  Inside a complete strangers front courtyard, petting their dog.  I tiptoed back through the gate, looked around to make sure I had not been observed, and then confidently strode on to Heather’s, hoping no egg was showing on my face.  No dog there, but she’d invited her friend, Frances so we could meet each other, and I found yet another kindred spirit who loves to talk travel and history and family tales.  It could not have been a nicer afternoon.  [I must break in here.  Surely this is not true.  There must be some way in which the afternoon could have improved.  What if, for example, the dog had been a genie and rubbing his or her head had resulted in three wishes and you had not squandered them but rather had used the first to achieve enlightenment, the second to bestow the same on your husband and the third to reverse the democratic losses in the midterm elections?]

Tuesday evening I presented another lecture at Botany Bay Family History Society, where 18 people came to listen to my talk about Spreadsheets in Genealogy.  I’ve got a great example of a spreadsheet I used to track many of the 200+ men who donated skin to save Phil Redmond, a railroad fireman scalded in a 1908 train wreck, and when Tori came down last week, she brought the new issue of Family Chronicle Magazine which has my article about my research, so I had something to show off.  Everyone seemed pretty pleased with the talk, and excited to go home and try some of the new tricks.

It took a long time for the clouds to burn off on Wednesday, but finally they did and at about 5 o’clock Mark and I brought our books and a bit of a picnic dinner to the beach.  I read a little, but found myself too distracted by all I was seeing.  There seems to be a whole after-work surfing culture that blossoms right around knock off time at Wanda Beach.  Every few minutes another pair or trio of wetsuit-clad boarders would appear, stretch a bit this way and that, strap a leash (attached to the board) to their ankle and head out into the surf.  There were soon scores of them in the water. Beach picture from Mark

A bit further south from our perch, just in front of the Wanda SLSC (Surf Life Saving Club) a group of 8 or 10 people busied themselves with another water sport.  We couldn’t quite see exactly what the craft was – a long, sit-upon kayak maybe, or some other type of board, but these people would run with the “boat” into the surf.  When they reached the water, they pushed the boat, jumping up and down behind it as they propelled it forward into the waves, looking a bit like frogs as they did so.  When they reached some optimum depth they’d hop into the craft, much like bobsledders hop into their moving sleds at the Olympics.  Then paddles would appear – like I said, we were a bit far away, so I couldn’t tell if the boaters had been carrying them or if the paddles were clamped to the boats – and they’d paddle out some distance, turn, and then zip along with the incoming waves back to the beach.  When they reached the shore, they picked up their boat and ran with it back up to the gathering point in front of the SLSC.  We couldn’t figure out what the running was all about – perhaps some sort of a race, maybe training for a race, a lifeguard drill?

We saw a couple of other frogmen on the beach.  A pair of boogie boarders passed by, swimfins on their feet.  The one in green lycra leggings looked especially froglike (and a bit silly) as he high-stepped his way along the beach.  As they reached the water, however, the fins prevented much in the way of forward movement, so they waded backward into the sea, looking over their shoulders at the oncoming surf.  They were soon lost to us in the mob of wave riders.

Our ocean beach here is a long crescent of sand.  To the north stretches Kurnel peninsula and the shore extends south to the Hacking River.  Wanda Beach is the furthest north, then Eloura, North Cronulla, a bit of a rocky shoreline and then Cronulla Beach.  The shoreline south of that along the Cronulla peninsula is more rock,y with bits of sandy beach down to Bass & Flinders Point which marks the opening to Port Hacking and all the little bays and coves along it.   From our perch at Wanda we could see a flotilla of sailboats playing around the mouth of Port Hacking enjoying the wind and the late afternoon sunshine.

If the surfers and wave boats, frogmen and sailboats weren’t enough of a distraction from my book, the very water in front of me kept me entranced.  The colours are incredible.  I tried to think about what it would take to paint it, and I’d need far too many tubes of paint to get it right.  Just near the sand the water was mottled with blues and greys and purples and slates and the softest lavender.  Further out there were more greens and deeper blues and blacks.  Any painting, however, could only capture one second of the constantly changing scene.  Where the incoming waves meet the outgoing ones, a zipping line appears, shooting the water straight up.  It speeds down a straight line for 50 feet or more, looking like the flame you might see running along a fuse in an old western to blow up the mine.

Thursday I was work-crabby, but we went out in the afternoon and then I got play-crabby.  Play-crabby?  Yes, play-crabby.  When the kids were little, we used to geocache (https://www.geocaching.com).  It’s a bit of a treasure hunt, gets you outdoors, generally a pretty fun activity.  You bring your GPS device (old school) or smart phone (2014-era) and use the satellites or cell towers to navigate you close and then you hunt around for the container – a film canister, band-aid tin, or lunchbox which might contain a trinket or two to trade for, or perhaps just a log-book to record your successful find.  We thought we’d use that avenue to get us exploring a few local parks and watersides.  I’d wanted to see Lilli Pilli, a neighborhood along Port Hacking so we spied a geocache there on the website and set to work to spy it in real life.  We hunted and hunted, even going so far as to peek at the picture of where the treasure was reported  to be hidden.  We poked about in rock crevices and under piles of leaves, sometimes with a stick, sometimes with a bare hand, each time knowing there’d be a spider or a lizard or a snake ready to teach an unwary geocacher a lesson in property rights, bush-style, but we failed to find the prize.  Aw, that one’s just a film-canister sized one.  Let’s look for another cache that might be a bit easier.  It’s our first time doing this in years, we gotta warm up to this activity.  So we mapped out one at Willarong Point, a sandwich box sized container.  That’d be our speed.  Recent reports on the geocache activity log reported “…much easier than we thought,” and “spotted a likely place and had the cache in hand.”  Well, the professor and I spotted lots of likely places and wound up with NO cache in hand!  Each of those two unfound caches scored a 2 out of 5 on both the terrain and difficulty scale.  Really?  How many college degrees have we got between us and we can’t even find a 2?!!  Not yet ready to give up, we scoured the app looking for something easier.  What we wanted was a cache that would be bigger than a breadbox ,with a fluorescent pink ribbon tied around it lying in the middle of a flat playground – surely we could find THAT!  The map led us to a prize with 1s in difficulty and terrain.  Caching etiquette dictates that hunters be quiet and not draw attention to themselves or the cache to keep “muggles” away.  But we were nearly to the point we didn’t care who saw us hunting – we just needed to find the darn thing!  And lo and behold, we bagged us a cache.  Now I’ve got a little smiley face on the Geocaching app on my iPhone.  Enough excitement for the afternoon we returned home.  Later Mark walked to the grocery store and bagged 3 more by himself in mere minutes at each site.  [That is true. Not all geo-caches are created equal, or equally hard to locate.  The first of these three was located at the corner of a field.  That’s it.  I looked at the map, it showed the thing at the corner of a fenced rectangular field, I walked to the corner, bent down, and picked up the cache.  Yes, it was behind a brick, and yes it had half a dozen snails attached to it but they were easily removed and the cache was mine.  The second took all of about 30 seconds to find.  I went to the street corner shown on the map, looked under the ledge of a recessed utility meter of some sort and there it was, stuck there with Velcro.  I signed the log, returned it to its place and was on my way.  The last of these three required me to move a few leaves aside.  It was in a planter at the intersection of two streets, right where it was shown on the map.  The thrill was gone.  Also gone, however, was the unpleasant sense of defeat and unworthiness.  I signed the log, returned the cache to its not so hiding place and walked on.  I tried thinking of geo-caching as a metaphor for life but gave up on this after about a block and a half and concentrated instead on trying to get a Karen Carpenter song out of my head.]

I missed my Thursday trivia posse to attend the genealogy society monthly meeting.  The speaker told the story of the return to Australia of the remains of a WWI unknown soldier, fallen and lying in a grave in France for 75 years, brought to Canberra in 1993.  (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-11-11/what-do-we-know-about-australias-unknown-soldier/5081574) A very interesting story.  Next month BBFHS has their Christmas party the same night as the last Woolooware trivia of the year, so I’ll have a tough decision to make.

So now, (drum roll, please!) the guest columnist has a bit to say about our adventure to Queensland. . .

First off, if you ever plan to fly Qantas make sure you get online 24 hours before you fly. Steve and I being newbies to the world of Qantas failed at this, so we got the random middle seats. Steve found himself in 8B and I in 12B. 12B was not a bad place, but if you found yourself sitting in 8B, as Steve was, opening his tray table for the lovely Qantas Chicken and Cous Cous lunch involved an extra step of moving the belongings of the woman in 12C out of the way before the tray would lay flat. Let’s just say he was happy when we arrived in Cairns and didn’t find himself quite so restricted.

If you saw our Avis rental car, you might disagree about whether or not Steve was restricted. You see we rented a Nissan Micra. Steve says he does not even know what the equivalent of this vehicle would be in the States.  I thought the car was just fine for the two of us who weren’t even using our Rick Steve’s carry-on size bags. I was toting my tri-colored sporty Thirty-One travel bag and Steve has his trusty black Eddie Bauer backpack. They fit quite nicely in the limited trunk in the appropriately licensed 334 TAD Micra.  It turned out to be a great vehicle for us. We fit so well in the left hand lane that we did not even need to worry about accidentally knocking off the passenger side view mirror.

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The drive north to Port Douglas provided amazing views of the coastline.  We managed to navigate a stop at a place called Rex Lookout for which we quite proud.  We felt this way because getting out of the lane of traffic involved Steve actually using the turn signal lever on the right side of the steering column as opposed to the windshield wiper level on the left side. Steve was a star managing this feat and did it with such ease. Picture us stepping out of our on the left side of the road looking right then left before we dashed across The James Cook Highway # 44.  We wanted to stop in tribute to our dear friend back home named Rex Warren. Rex and his wife, Jo, have been our traveling companions on several trips, so it only seemed natural to stop. The really tricky part came after we dashed back to our car. Steve had to merge to the right from our parking spot into traffic traveling 80km(roughly 50 mph) remembering not to use his windshield wiper lever. Once again he magnificently rose to the challenge. [If you haven’t tried it you may not realize how impressive this is.  By comparison, it took me weeks to stop signaling lane changes with the windshield wipers.  Well done, Steve!]

Our arrival in Port Douglas led us to our thrifty Airbnb accommodations with Sian and Nolan, our young hosts and their two lively dogs Australian Shepherd and Cattle Dog mixes. Our room was a spare room in their apartment, complete with a bathroom, ceiling fan, air conditioning and outside refrigerator privileges for beer, cider, and carrots. We were good to go.

Tuesday morning found us on a snorkel boat trip to The Great Barrier Reef (That would be the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef.)  The crew members were pushing anti-sea sickness pills because there were 15 knots winds. My years sailing on my dad’s sailboat the Romavidi and Steve’s youthful experiences travelling on ships gave us confidence to go without. We were just fine and enjoyed the hour-and-a-half ride out to the first of three snorkel spots. We received the briefing on snorkel safety, donned our lycra stinger suits to keep the pesky jellyfish at bay, and slipped into the water to view beautiful fish and plenty of colorful coral. Upon hauling ourselves out of the water and back onto the boat, we had morning snack with blonde and chocolate brownies, fruit, and hot tea. Second stop brought more beautiful fish, more beautiful coral, and giant clams. Steve even managed to see Nemo’s cousin as he swam along the reef. A lunch of roast beef rolls, grilled chicken, deviled eggs, salad, grilled veggies, noodles and hot tea was waiting for us as we once again hauled ourselves out of the water. The thing about hot tea is that at some point there needs to be a trip to the loo. The other thing about that tea is that once you figure out you need to use the loo there is an invariably I need to go now moment. The problem with needing to use the facilities is that when you are in a lycra stinger suit, there is nothing quick about the process. The suit needs to be unzipped and peeled off to take care of business. When the suit is wet, which is the case after two snorkel swims, it is not an easy thing to get out of it. In the tiny head, there was some jumping, twisting, sighing, more twisting, and a couple of “Oh come on nows” before I managed to peel it off just in the nick of time. From then on, I had to limit my hot tea intake whilst in my stinger suit.  One more snorkel stop, provided use with bigger beautiful fish, more varieties of coral, and bigger giant clams. We hauled ourselves out of the water one last time and peeled off our stinger suits for the trip back to Port Douglas. At this moment, I felt I could comfortably have another cup of tea to warm up because I knew I did not have to worry about any jumping, twisting, sighing, or “Oh come on nows.” Oh, what a relief.

Wednesday this west coast girl had the treat of a lifetime. Arising at just after 5 am, I ventured out to the beach to watch the 5:25 sunrise over the Pacific Ocean. I have seen many pretty sunsets over the Pacific Ocean but never a sunrise. What a treat!

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“Doctored” speed-bump signs

The rest of our time in Queensland brought more great adventures. On Wednesday, a trip to the Daintree National Park (yeah, yeah, we know, World Heritage Listed…) yielded a cable ferry passage, an elevated walk among the trees at the Daintree Discovery Center, encounters with two monitor lizards,IMG_1813 a hunt for the elusive Cassowary bird, photos of various yet to be identified Australian birds, a four scoop sample of Wattle Seed, raspberry, mango, and Macadamian Nut ice cream, and  a sunset at The Tin Shed in Port Douglas. Thursday brought a swim in the Pacific, IMG_1832a swim in the Mossman River, a walk across the Rex Creek Bridge, a hike on a 2.8  km trail through the rainforest with Tori wearing her slip on Teva sandals and an Eddie Bauer above the knee  pencil skirt that made stepping up the hills quite a challenge, another sunset at The Tin Shed, and the music of the “Timber and Wood” band at the Capital Hotel on Macrossan Street.

IMG_1851Friday brought us back to the Cairns airport to wait for our flight back to Sydney. Listening to intercom announcements about flight departures from an Australian speaker requires the listener to get out of her seat and stand directly under a speaker to have a chance of understanding anything of import.  Needless to say, I was up at least a half dozen times before I finally heard enough information to grab Steve and jump into the correct queue to get on the flight to Sydney. Once we got on the plane, I figured we were set. Little did I know that our adventure to get back to 16 Ocean View in Woolooware wasn’t quite over.  We arrived at Sydney airport 20 minutes late.  I had prearranged with my wonderful brother-in-law, Mark, to call via Skype to connect for a ride home. I had a 30 minute window of free Qantas wi-fi at the airport and figured all would be good. I dialed Mark’s number. Then I rested the phone against my cheek so I could carry my sporty Thirty-one bag and my purse.  I was talking with Steve while I waited for Mark to answer. What I didn’t know at the time was that by resting my Samsung Galaxy 5 against my face while talking to Steve, I cheek dialed/texted  a crytic message of “Obi uh Oii” to Mark. Once that happened, I lost Mark’s Skype number off my phone. No problem I thought, I’ll call Mer. For the life of me, I don’t know how I did it but Mary’s number also disappeared from my phone. Time was ticking and I was beginning to worry a bit. Thank goodness I could still text.  Mer and I managed to connect long enough for her to tell me to go to the Public Pick-up lot. Fifteen minutes later we found Mark and got our ride back to Ocean View. Oh it was so good to finally be back at our home away from home.

OK, me again.  Mark and Tori and Steve arrived at exactly the same moment as our dinner guests, Toni and Michael.  I’d been planning for weeks to have them to dinner so my family could see how well cared for we are here.  It had been quite the hot day on Friday – 38 degrees. (I think we’d read that it was about 38 in Seattle, as well, but that number means something far different in the antipodes than it does in Seattle).   We sat out on our little patio out back off the kitchen for dinner.  A bit of a breeze developed during dinner, and by the time we were into tea and dessert we had a full force gale [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_Force_Gale ].  What they call a “Southerly Buster” had blown in, dropping the temperature dramatically, probably 10 degrees C in less than an hour.  Inside the house, the maps and newspapers that had been on the dining room table were scattered about the floor and a host of bugs and leafy bits sailed in through the open bathroom window, dusting the vanity and bathtub.

Saturday we went to Hyde Park Barracks (World Heritage listed, donchaknow!)  in Sydney, a convict barracks dating from 1819. (http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/hyde-park-barracks-museum)  As part of the experience, a visitor can borrow a personal audio-guide device.  Each room or exhibit has a number for you to type in and you can hear a 3 or 4 minute recording about a facet of convict history or perhaps the archeological discoveries uncovered as the building has been restored to show some of the uses the building has been put to in the last 200 years.  The archeological finds have been particularly interesting – bits and pieces that dropped into gaps between the floorboards or were hidden away by former inhabitants of the building, both human and otherwise.  The audio guides we used were for grown-ups and our numbers were found on the wall, probably 5-feet up, black numerals on a white square plaque.   But I noticed in many rooms, low to the ground, perhaps only a foot up, was another set of numbers.  No boring white plaques for here – these numbers were displayed on the silhouettes of rats.  The barracks held about 600-700 men at any given time during the convict era, with nearly 50,000 convicts in total passing through its gates, and the number of rodents far, far in excess of that.  These industrious creatures carted off any number of buttons, combs, food scraps, clay pipes and even lost teeth to their hidey-holes and the museum includes quite the collection of artifacts and remains of the carter-offers.  I was sorely tempted to swap my adult audio-guide for the junior version to hear some of those historical rat-tales!  [For reasons that are unclear {or perhaps nuclear} I was issued with one of these rat-tale audio guides.  It looked very much like the others, though it had a little white, hairless tail that twitched spasmodically and which should have been a clue.  It functioned much as the others as well and if you have ever used one of these you know the drill: you punch in a number corresponding with the one you see on the wall, the painting, the objet ‘d arte or in rare circumstances, the forehead of the person in front of you, and the thing is described, generally in Flemish and at full volume because you don’t know how to control the language and volume options on the device.  Anyhow, mine was loaded with the rat tales Mary described.  It turns out that Templeton (If you don’t know who Templeton is, shame on you and check with the ghost of E.B. White), was subject to various demons and would occasionally fall off or be thrown off the Charlotte’s Web book tour circuit back in the mid 1960s.  It was during one of these periods when he did a stint Down Under.  He was ejected from the tour somewhere near San Pedro by Wilbur’s manager and the next thing he remembered was waking up on a slow boat to Perth.  He landed in the summer of love, 1967.  The summer of love did not reach Perth until December, 1968 so this was the winter of mild discontent on the west coast of Australia and Templeton was put off the boat without so much as a farthing to his name. He scurried as far as Mundaring where he caught a cattle truck headed east.  Two weeks later he was in Adelaide and he spent much of the remainder of that year running the wharfs and accumulating a nest egg that would send him back to the states.  {He called it a “goose egg” and it eventually went quite stale but that’s another story.}  One of the gigs he had in Adelaide was doing voice work for BBC recordings and this lead to a series of audio recordings for the Hyde Park Barracks.  For these he invented a character he called “Goober,” who lived under the floorboards in the barracks in the late 1820s and who stole things from the convicts and secreted them away in his nest.  After listening to 3 or four stops on the audio tour I could tell there was something not quite right.  I became suspicious when one of the stories involved a long digression about a Huntsman spider that wove an enormous web spelling out the word “mercy” above the bed of a convict who had been sentenced to transportation {from London to Australia} for stealing a hairbrush.  When he used the term, “Yabbie Yakka” { http://www.koalanet.com.au/australian-slang.html } to refer to stale cotton candy found under the Ferris wheel at the shire fair I stopped listening.]

Right around the corner from Hyde Park Barracks we took our visitors to see St. Mary’s Cathedral.  On the steps just outside we counted three wedding parties and their respective photographers documenting a precious day.  I don’t quite know if they were just there for the exterior shots or if the church is running some kind of a fancy Las Vegas style wedding chapel with back-to-back ceremonies.  Seemed a little odd to me to have wedding pictures taken of the steps of a church you weren’t married in, but I’m not sure how they could get so many wedding parties through there in one afternoon, so I googled it, and found the 6 page document for weddings.  Brides, you can have your wedding at St. Mary’s but you might find your guest list includes a random smattering of camera toting tourists.  (http://www.stmaryscathedral.org.au/pdf/Weddings_at_St_Mary’s_Cathedral_140515.pdf)  Definitely not on the list of budget venues.

Sunday Tori and I had a lovely morning tea at my friend, Kath’s.  She has a commanding view of the ocean and off Cronulla beach there were half a dozen sailboats, heeled over in a very stiff wind.  In the afternoon, Steve stayed close to home and golfed with Michael, and Tori, Mark and I trained into Sydney to tick another must-do off Tori’s list – a walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  I expected to see more sail boats on the harbour but I think it might have just been too windy.  Out of the four sailboats I spied, only two had any canvas up, the others motoring along.

From the bridge, we watched ferries pulling in and out of the five wharves servicing the busy little harbour of Sydney Cove.  The cove itself is a u-shape, with Bennalong Point and the Opera House on the eastern shore, the wharves along the south and a bit of a promenade to form the western edge, which rises up toward the Rocks, a historical neighborhood, now filled with museums, shops and restaurants and weekend street markets.  Along the western promenade is the overseas passenger terminal, which today held the Diamond Princess, a 290 metre long, 65 meter high liner carrying almost 2,700 passengers on its 18-decks.  Sydney cove itself is about 250 metres from east to west and perhaps 500 metres north to south, so you can imagine how this ship overshawdows the entire neighborhood.  I guess the mucky-mucks in charge have determined that the dollars spent by those 2,700 camera-toting tourists provide enough of an economic boost to forgive what amounts to building a 18 storey hotel a full block long, right there at the edge of a bustling little cove, blocking the views of some of the world’s most iconic structures.  At least this “hotel” is only there temporarily, perhaps 14 or 15 hours at a time, ready to leave and take her ugly hulkitude with her.  There, rant over.

That’s it for this week.  I’ll send this off.  We’ve got an early flight to Hobart tomorrow, so our next installment will be filled with a week’s worth of Tasmanian adventures.

Until then,

Mary [and Mark] {and Tori, too!}