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.


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!



“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!}

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s