21 September 2014
It’s been quite the busy week. A couple of boat rides and many, many train rides. Oh, a car and a bus, too. Pour yourself a cuppa and let me tell you all about it.
Sunday we were invited to a Dinner-For-Eight (which was actually a lunch). Our local parish organizes these groups, typically 8+/-people, and they get together on a monthly basis to have a meal. I think the group is together for about 6 months and then names are put back into whatever hat and redrawn, and new groups are established. It’s a really nice way to get to know people. Our Dinner-For-Eight was at Toni and Michael’s house (they just snuck us into their group). As it was a lovely day, Mark and I walked, over to their house from ours, passing through the Cronulla street fair (mobbed with people), past a car show and along the beach. Lots of families and surfers out to enjoy the sunshine and brisk spring air. We were only 7 at our D-F-E but had some quite interesting conversation. The Catholic flock in Australia seems to express much of the same disenchantment with the policies and attitudes of the Church hierarchy as do their American counterparts.
Monday Mark and I worked a bit at home and then ventured to the big mall a couple of suburbs over. It is undergoing major renovations and there are closed shops and scaffolding everywhere. In many ways it looks like a typical US mall with the food court, etc., however there are more grocery stores in the mall than we are used to seeing, at least in Washington and California. And the center-of-the-mall kiosk-type merchants aren’t just sunglasses or jewelry vendors – there’s a butcher and a cheese monger kiosk in the mall. And we found one store, very much like “Big-Lots,” but with a much better name – “The Reject Shop.” Really, doesn’t that just whet your appetite for the merchandise?!!
Speaking of groceries, we’re learning to adapt our recipes for what we can get. There’s plenty of sausage, but not quite the same taste or texture as I’m accustomed to back home. And I tried to by shallots. I’m used to the shallot that looks like a small onion covered in papery skin. Oh, but the “shallots” I found at Aldi grocery were scallions on steroids – as big around as a man’s thumb and 3 feet long! Every trip to the grocery is an adventure. [Mark, here – I feel compelled to note that not every trip to the grocery store is actually, strictly speaking, an adventure. I had one just this afternoon that was quite routine. I walked to the store and bought eggs, almond extract, and brown sugar. It all went more or less just as you would imagine such a trip would go. There was a noisy beer garden set up right outside the store but that is not as unusual as you might think because this grocery store is situated in an outdoor mall and there is a bar next to the grocery store. All right, that could have been a little adventuresome but it wasn’t. I passed it by and started walking straight home. I was just a few blocks from my destination when I spotted a mound of junk lying out in front of a house. I crossed the street to have a look. This is something one sees frequently in Australia – mounds of household junk in front of houses. It comes from a thing called “Council Cleanup.” The council is the local (very local) government and they take care of things like maintenance, infrastructure, infrastructure maintenance and the structure of maintaining inferences or something. It’s not clear. One of the things they do is Council Cleanup, wherein, anyone can put a mound of stuff they don’t want anymore out in front of their house and call out “Council Cleanup!” The council will, in due time, send someone around with a truck and take away the mound. There is an interval between the summons and the truck – usually a few days to a few weeks – and during that interval anyone passing by the mound can paw through it and supplement their own store of junk. It’s like a moving sidewalk sale where everything is free and has been left out in the rain. I had had significant and meaningful experience with council cleanup just a few weeks earlier having helped to make a very significant mound, more of a heap, really, a small mountain range actually, out in front of the house we are renting. Michael’s parents moved out of this house several months ago and loads of stuff was consigned to council cleanup. I added a great deal of vegetation culled from an extremely fertile front yard. Council cleanup, it seems, is ready for anything. But I digress. You will recall that I was on my way home from a routine trip to the grocery store and I spotted this mound of junk along the way. I crossed the street to have a look. It was about what you’d expect, a few old chairs from the 1970s, a child’s backpack with a broken shoulder strap, an old printer, a ruined bookshelf (Always remember, Friends Don’t Let Friends Buy Particle Board!) and some couch cushions, sans couch. Beneath the cushions was a black fan on a stand. I know that winter is on its way out and soon, instead of wandering around the house in a pair of mukluks and a sweatshirt because we have no heat (many Aussie houses are this way), I will be sweating and looking for a breeze. I began to pull the fan out from under the cushions. At this point I became aware of a guy, presumably the owner of the house, coming out of the backyard and headed for the mound and me. He was dressed all in blue: blue hat, blue, shirt, blue pants, and no shoes (many Aussie men are this way). He was also carrying a spray bottle (not blue) and was periodically aiming the bottle and squeezing the trigger, producing a stream of liquid that he directed at things on the ground that he found offensive, I guess. “Council Cleanup!” he declared by way of greeting. I wasn’t sure exactly how to respond so I went with, “Aw, yeah,” which is pretty generic and may be used for a wide variety of situations. I asked about the fan and was invited to take it. “Better you than the council, mate.” Lots of people are pretty derisive about “the council.” It’s a little like, “the man.” While I extracted the fan from the grasp of the cushions I was treated to an explanation of how the fan came to be in the mound. “Just moved from Oyster Bay,” declared the blue man. “We’ve got air con here,” he said, gesturing at the house, “so it’s all yours.” By this time I had the thing out and found that the fan was no longer one with the stand. It dangled by exposed wires, looking as though it had been decapitated by an inexpert executioner. I decided to leave it with him and told him so. “Well, it’ll be here until Wednesday if you change your mind,” a pause, “We’ve got another one inside but it’s broken.” This raised questions in my mind about why the broken fan was inside while, … this other broken one was here in the mound but I thought it better not to ask the blue man too much about his motivations. He eyed me and advanced a bit. “Think you might like that one?” The spray bottle was now aimed more or less at me and it occurred to me that I had eggs that were needed at home. “Aw, no mate. I’ll leave it with you, but, ahh, … Wednesday, right?” His eyes narrowed, his expression darkened and he brought the bottle up, aiming straight at my chest. I took a step back, still holding the fan, and tripped a little over the curb. He snarled menacingly and said, “It’s a lovely fan. Why don’t you take it, mate?” His trigger finger was tightening and goo was oozing from the barrel of the spray bottle. I brought the fan up so that it was between me and the bottle. “Did you say Oyster Bay,” I asked? “Right. What of it?” “My best mate is from Oyster Bay! Rolf! Do you know Rolf? I’ll bet you know Rolf. Everyone knows old Rolf.” “Rolf who?” he growled. “Rolf Boldrewood. Sure you know Rolf. He was in prison in Berrima in the late 1800s. He wrote ‘Robbery Under Arms: A Story of Life and Adventure in the Bush and in the Gold Fields of Australia.’ Good old Rolf. His dad was a cattle rustler but Rolf was alright. Except for the bits with the grog. Look, Rolf would want you to have this fan and, I’ve got to get these eggs home. Plus there’s almond extract, and you know that’ll go bad if you let it.” “What? Almond extract?” he asked. “It’ll go bad?” He seemed a little taken aback by this news and I seized the momentary uncertainty to cross the street. “Say ‘Hi’ to Rolf for me next time you see him!” I called over my shoulder. “Adios, amigo!” Pretty confused now, he turned back to his assault on the ground and I hurried on up the street.
We now return you to the letter Mary has written.]
My trip to the bank was a bit of an adventure as well. Mark’s university needed details of our Australian bank account months before we arrived, so we contacted a bank and got accounts set up. I say accounts, because we couldn’t get a joint account until both of us were here, so he started with a separate account and when I arrived we activated the joint account. They gave me a debit card and I set a PIN but they told me it would take an hour or so to activate everything so I didn’t use the card right away. A few days later I tried to use my card to buy a train ticket but it wouldn’t work at the ticket vending machine nor with the live agent. Maybe the systems were down… I tried again a few days later, still no luck. Maybe I had the wrong PIN… So Tuesday I went to the bank. The friendly teller, Gabby, checked – my PIN was right. Everything looks just fine. So I try to use the card at the ATM outside the bank. Nothing. I go back inside. Gabby thinks it must be the card and she can order a new one sent to me. But I’d still like to have a little money in my pocket . “Can I just get some cash from you, please?” I ask. “Certainly.” So she tries and my account is locked. Apparently my bank thought I only wanted to put money INTO the account, not take any OUT. Really?? Maybe that’s a thing here – you just let bank hang onto your money but you don’t spend it. Not for me, thanks. After a half hour with Gabby’s supervisor, and 3 trips out to the ATM with her, I finally got it sorted and my funds are now flowing in the proper direction.
When I went on my trip last week to the nursing exhibit with the genealogy group, I met Barbara Wimble. She mentioned that her husband, Warren, is involved with Probus, a senior group, and once a month runs “Two-fifty Thursdays.” The seniors here get a “concessions” card which entitles them to ride for an entire day on the trains, buses and ferries for a mere $2.50. So Warren plans monthly trips, offering scant details of the adventure – just “meet on this train at that time time, and maybe wear good shoes for walking and bring a light jacket because it might be cool.” The guests could have no idea where they are going, but they seem to show up anyway. Barbara had clued me in that the group was planning a trip to the Tulip Time festival in Bowral (http://www.visitnsw.com/events/tulip-time) and she took my phone and email for Warren to send me the details. I received an email from Warren, “On Wednesday 18th September we are going to Bowral…” with all the details. So Wednesday morning I was bright and early at the Wooloware station and off to meet the train at Sutherland. 8:28 the train pulls in, I board the second carriage as directed and head upstairs. There are three 60-something men, but not a lot of people. “Are any of you Warren?” I ask. Blank stares. [Now, as the trained academic, I feel compelled to point out that Mary is using metaphor in this story. Clearly Warren who invites the guests and provides for them but tells them little about their journey and nothing about the destination, is God. Barbara is a prophet, interpreting Warren’s word for those in the inner circle. Then Mary receives an e-mail. Whoa! And what about those three men with the blank stares? She meets them on the upper floor of the train, while on her own journey… Think about it!] I called Barbara. “Are you on the train?” I ask. “No. It’s tomorrow,” she replies. [Ha! Think about that!] (I checked my email, and yes indeed Warren had said, Wednesday, but senior moment… meant Thursday.) Ah, well. It’s now 8:35 and I’ve a decision to make – turn around and head back to Wooloware (to climb back into bed) or keep heading north and see what adventures awaited.
Since my role here is to be your foreign (except for you, Wayne, in W.A.) correspondent, I knew there would be far more fodder in the big city than in sleepy Wooloware, so on to Sydney it was. I detrained at Town Hall and went to The Queen Victoria Building. A beautiful piece of Victoriana from the 1890s, it used to house the early Sydney produce market but is now filled with trendy clothing and shoe stores. I wasn’t there for the shopping but to see the coolest clock in the world but unfortunately I missed being there on the hour (when it does its cool thing) both coming and going and so I missed the theatrics. I’ll just have to go back. I did however walk up to The Rocks, the original Sydney settlement from the early 19th century, and wandered through the little lanes to soak up some history.
Now to soak up some views. And what better place than “The Coathanger,” more formally known as the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Hard to believe that I since didn’t get to go to the tulips with the seniors, my fall-back activity had to be walking across one of the most iconic structures on the planet. Yes, this is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. History – check. Views – check.
Now to soak up some rays. (Yes, I wore my sunscreen.) It was a beautiful spring day and I spent the next three hours aboard the Pam Burridge, one of the smallest of the 28 Sydney ferries, zigzagging my way eastward along the water from Circular Quay, stopping at Darling Harbour, Cockatoo Island, Kissing Point, Sydney Olympic Park, and more, up to Paramatta and then returned to Darling Harbour to catch a train home. Lots of birds to look at on the snags and in the mangroves along the Paramatta river.
I made it back home but soon headed out again. Michael and I drove back into Sydney and picked up his daughter Chrissie for dinner and a little pub quiz at the Union Hotel in Newtown. A couple of Chrissie’s friends and her husband, Mark, [Let’s call him “Other Mark,” shall we?] joined us and I must say we rocked. Took first place quite handily, besting the second place finishers by 7 points. It was really a great quiz, lots of variety in the questions. We had the perfect demographics for a killer trivia team – 4 GenXers, (one of whom works for a magazine publishing company and knows all the celebrity scoop), plus Michael in his early 60s and your friend, the Yank in her mid-50s. We’ll definitely be back!
Thursday once again found me on an early train, and this time the people were there! There were 17 in our group, switching trains first at Wolli Creek and then at Campbelltown for the last leg to Bowral. We passed through some eucalyptus forest that had undergone a fire some years back. It was so interesting to see the way the trees regenerate, new leaves sprouting not just from the high branches but all along the trunk. Where you would expect to see bark is a mat of green leaves.
The company on the train was delightful. Fred and Dorothy [Let’s call her “Ginger,” shall we?], retired accountant and teacher, respectively, shared tales of many trips all around the world. Rhonda who was part of last week’s trip to the nursing exhibit, is an avid genealogist and proud First Fleet descendant. Warren is as reticent as Barbara is talkative, but still will share the occasional funny tale. And soon we were in Bowral.
Tulips, tulips, everywhere! The beds in Corbett Gardens in Bowral were filled with tulips of every colour. While the Southern Highlands Folk Dance Circle, a troupe of a dozen grandmotherly ladies clad in tulip vests and dirndl skirts, twirled this way and that, a handful of Year 4 school girls off to the side earnestly whirled right along with them. In the senior center on the grounds a choir of 30 or more sang show tunes from “The King and I,” “South Pacific” and other Broadway classics. They, too, wore vests, green with tiny tulips on them. [Trained academic here – I’ll leave it to you to consider the complex metaphor Mary has employed in the preceding description. Good luck and good night!] After our outing in the park, my friends and I boarded a much-delayed train, causing us to miss the bus over the winding Illawara highway from Moss Vale to Woolongong, but Warren’s got connections, [Ah ha!] and soon a special bus [Ho ho!] was commandeered to take us straight to Woolongong, [What?] where at least we were able to get a train back to the Shire.
And I arrived back just in time for a second evening of trivia. This time Mark [Real Mark, not Other Mark] joined in as we met some of Michael’s friends at the Wooloware golf club. It was a much tougher quiz than Wednesday’s at the Union Hotel. We made a valiant try but sorely missed having some Gen-Xers on the team, and finished out of the money by half a point. Good time, however and good company as well. [Real Mark wished there had been at least one or two questions about differential equations or even the Pythagorean theorem; he contributed nothing to the group’s point total.] We’ll get ‘em next time!
I must say, we live in a pretty cool place. On Friday morning, Mark and I walked 20 minutes and boarded the Curanella, the cutest little yellow, green and white ferry you ever did see. (http://www.cronullaferries.com.au/) She was commissioned in 1939 and is the oldest regular commuter ferry in Australia. We motored through Gunnamatta Bay, past dozens of beautiful homes on the hillsides and sandstone boatsheds at the water’s edge, crossing Port Hacking and soon arriving at Bundeena, gateway to the Royal National Park, the world’s second oldest national park. (Trivia buffs, one point if you can name the first.) We had a nice little hike along the beach and through the bush, hoping to see the famed Aboriginal carvings at Jibbon Point, but apparently, well, the carvings were just sitting out there where anyone could actually look at them in their orginal state and that will never do! The Minister of Improving Things and Making Everything More Special has decreed that construction projects must be constructed and access improved and until such time as they are constructed and improved no one shall be allowed to look at the carvings. Note that all the signs say that this improving and constructing will take place in June and July, but apparently such important operations take far longer than expected and even though we are nearly two full months beyond the anticipated completion of these special improvements, they are nowhere near being done. So we (and you) will just have to satisfy ourselves with the pictures from the interwebs.
Saturday Mark and I took a lovely drive through the Southern Highlands. Our first stop was the Kiama blowhole. (http://www.kiama.com.au/blowhole) It was a perfect day, the easterly winds blowing the waves in just the right direction to propel massive spray through the hole and high into the air. We left the coast and headed toward the little town of Berry then onto Kangaroo Valley but we saw no bounders. Rats! Nor did we see any wombats, despite the numerous warning signs. We did see several antique stores and cafes, however. The area reminded me quite a bit of Sonoma County, both in terrain and tourism. We soon found ourselves at Fitzroy Falls in Morton National Park, something of a rainforest area. We walked to a few viewing areas along the rim of the canyon but left the falls behind because we had a mission.
Our destination was Berrima, with it’s gaol, described as “the largest, most severe, the most dreaded of all prisons in New South Wales.” [Rolf Boldrewood really did write about this goal….] How could we pass that up?!! Well, of course we couldn’t. Only we couldn’t get in. But never fear, across the street is the famous Berrima Courthouse, an imposing sandstone edifice from the 1840s with quite a few stories of its own to tell. And boy, how they tell them! We took the self-guided tour. It starts with a 15 minute DVD presentation of the history of Berrima and a bit about the notorious serial killer John Lynch, and the murdering couple Lucretia Dunkley and her lover Martin Beech who were tried there in 1843. Imagine if you will, a film created by junior high school students with a Monty Python obsession. At the movie’s end, you wind your way through the judges’ chambers, the jury rooms, the cells, all leading toward the ultimate experience… “Treason, Treachery, Murder: Spectacular Sound and Light Show” in the main courtroom.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are there, in 1843. Twelve men sit in the jury box, considering the evidence. The barristers, one for the crown, one for the defense, stand before the judge. Several female spectators sit in the gallery facing the jury. A female witness sits to their left, giving testimony to judge and jury. And you can sit right in front of the dock, where the pitiful couple stands, Beech remorseless, Dunkley ever proclaiming her innocence and pointing the finger at her erstwhile lover. But please, don’t for one minute think you must imagine this scene. No, no, no. The jury, spectators, witness, barristers, and even the defendants are latex mannequins, clothed and coiffed just as they would have appeared in the mid-19th century. A tad shopworn, perhaps. The judge is (almost) alive, appearing on a video screen, first as a 21st century justice, explaining the proceedings (and making a bit of a plea for donations – funds are needed to repair many of the characters in the courtroom, after all). All the while spotlights come on to focus the audience’s (that would be the only living breathing people in the room, Mary and Mark’s) attention on the parties in the scene. At the same time random red and blue lights spin around the ceiling and walls. But soon our modern video judge dons the scarlet robes and full bottom wig of his 19th century counterpart. More white lights. More outbursts from Dunkley behind us that she didn’t kill her husband, it was Beech. More murmuring from the women in the gallery. And so many more spinning red and blue lights. You might even say they were spectacular. Maybe. But probably only if you were from the 19th century and had never seen electric lighting. Still, if you make it to Berrima, it’s not to be missed!
We completed our circuit of the Southern Highlands, passing through Robertson, a quaint little town, where the movie, Babe, (the talking pig, not the baseball player) was filmed. And after missing it on the bus on Thursday, I did get to experience all the twists and turns of the Illawara highway. Fine for us, but definitely not for the faint of stomach.
It’s now Sunday night. Today we hit our third national park in as many days, this one Botany Bay NP, just a short ride from here in Kurnell. We walked past Captain Cook’s landing place (the beginning of the end for the Gweagal Aborigines) out to the mouth of Botany Bay. The colors of the bay, the surf, the rocks, the tidepools, the trees are just enchanting. I’m itching to paint something.
On our way to Kurnell we passed an interesting fire danger sign. In western Washington I see many such signs, a semi-circle with four wedges, green, blue, yellow and red, reading from left to right “Low,” “Moderate,” “High,” “Extreme” and an arrow to indicate the danger. Today’s sign was a similar semi-circle, but its six wedges, reading left to right were labeled “Low-Moderate” (green); “High” (blue); “Very high” (light orange); “Severe” (dark orange); “Extreme” (red); and “Catastrophic (red with black lines). They certainly need to take their fire warnings seriously.
Pictures are hard to send in this email. I’ll try to post some on the blog. You can check it out at https://mroddyn3.wordpress.com/
More stories next week,
Mary [and Real Mark]