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]

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