Category Archives: Uncategorized

Letter #9: 10 November 2014

10 November 2014

G’day Mates,

First some apologies.  I realized as the week progressed that I had totally fallen down on the job with my email last week.  I failed to give you a rundown on Halloween, Aussie-style.  We bought our bags of candy and waited for ghosts, goblins and Ellas to ring our doorbell, but alas we got zero, zilch, and nada.  There were a few groups we heard walking down the street, but since it is Spring here in the antipodes, carvable pumpkins are in rather short supply, so it was a bit difficult to signal to trick-or-treaters that 16 Ocean View was open for business.  It felt a little creepy to go out into the street to flag them down (See Emm and Melinda, even your stalker-Mom has her limits!), so we were left with 70 mini Cadbury Dairy Milk bars.

And my second failure as your Australian correspondent was my lack of reporting on your favorite soccer club, the Western Sydney Wanderers and their Asian Champions League final against Al-Hilal.  As you may recall, the Wanderers took game one of the series here in Parramatta and then traveled to Saudi Arabia for the second game on 1 November.  Despite being visitors at the 67,000 seat King Fahd stadium in Riyadh where the home team is unbeaten this season, despite laser pointers being used repeatedly to target the pupils of Wanderers goalkeeper, Covic, despite visa restrictions which allowed only 14 Australian fans to enter the country, the Wanderers held Al-Hilal to a 0-0 tie and carried the trophy home.  The trophy looked shiny enough, but the Saudi club launched a stinging tirade against the refereeing claiming “It was a looting of the right of an entire people who has been waiting for happiness and enjoyment of fair competition.”  The Japanese ref, Nishimura, might want to steer clear of the Middle East for the foreseeable future…

Whew, now that I’ve got the back stuff cleaned up, I can move on to another exciting week in Sydney.  Tuesday, the first Tuesday in November, signals Melbourne Cup, the Race that Stops a Nation.  It seems that every venue in the land was running some sort of function.  In the weeks’ run-up to the race, every Tradies, RSL, golf club, river cruise, restaurant and pub bore tantalizing signage advertising the celebration – sweeps, raffles, best-dressed contests, premium dining, bubbly and post-race drinks.  Since I hadn’t packed a fascinator and the ticket prices for many of the events were high enough to choke a [race] horse, we took the celebratory but low-key event at UWS-Bankstown.  It gave Mark a chance to show me his …. office? Um, no.  His … cubicle?  Um, no, but you’re getting warmer.  His … “hot desk”?  Bingo!  Fancy digs there for your professor in the trenches of Bankstown.  [Hey, when I arrived they tried to put me in a “cold desk.”  Tired and jet-lagged though I was, I fought back and said “No!”  A couple of other casual academics were given “crummy desks.”   I fought on, moving up from “dinky, wobbly desk,” and “moderately reasonable desk with no view” all the way to “Hot Desk #4.”  At that point, I had regained enough of my self-esteem so as to stop stuttering in class.]  I got a little campus tour, and then we joined in the festivities with some faculty and staff.  I suspect that the mere fact that these people were attending the abbreviated campus party rather than knocking off work at 11:30 or so for lunch, and drinks, and a fashion contest tells you enough about these nose-to-the-grindstone types to give you a sense that this particular party might not be one to stop a nation, but there were cheese platters and champagne and a bit of fun.  And even though there were only two hats in the entire room, when the raffle tickets were pulled, the first dozen wild and crazy winners each selected a bottle of wine as their prize and left those four boxes of chocolates for the poor souls whose tickets were drawn last.  Your correspondent’s ticket, however, was never drawn and she will have to get by with her leftover Halloween candy.  [It’s actually my leftover Halloween candy but I generally share well.]

My sister, Tori, and her husband, Steve, arrived Wednesday morning so we had much showing-around to do.  A little bit of jet lag and a lot bit of thunderstorms on Wednesday put the kibosh on much sightseeing that day, other than a twilight walk on Cronulla beach (which ain’t shabby…) but Thursday had us headed via foot and ferry to Bundeena and a walk in the Royal National Park.  We walked out to Bundeena lookout and then southward through the heath to the next access point on the rocky shelf above the coast.  We had a nice little picnic and enjoyed the stunning views. Steve&Tori

Thursday night Tori and Steve were game to have a go with my Thursday trivia posse at the golf club.  Tori wasn’t so jet-lagged that she couldn’t come up with several good answers.  She recognized Tommy James and the Shondells in three notes!  We won no mony mony but still a good time.  Tori and Steve will be away in Queensland this week and we’re off to Tassie [Tasmania] next so this was the one chance to get in a quiz night.

Friday was a fine day with lots of walking.  Walked to Wooloware train station, train to Bondi Junction and a bus to Bronte Beach to start on the Sculpture by the Sea exhibit.  The clock was ticking on Sydneysiders’ chance to see the artworks so they were out in force, complete with prams and dogs and cameras.  Probably twice as many people as when Mark and I saw it a week and a half before.  It was lucky Mark had taken so many pictures on our first walk because it was difficult to get close to some of the works to take a picture and if you did, you’d inevitably have half a dozen tourists photo bombing you. SculptureByTheSea On our ferry to Bundeena Thursday we’d met a couple of Germans working their way around Australia doing a gap year, and their current job was working at SbtS – she was on the installation/take-down crew and he spent his shifts reminding tourists to heed the signs and keep their grubby paws off of the shiny stainless steel “wind stone – the threshold of consciousness.”  It was fun to get a bit of an insider’s perspective, and to fantasize about what it would be like to be 19 again and traveling around Australia guarding art and picking fruit and whatever random employment might come my way. MerWithSculpture

We found a café with a view over Bondi Beach for lunch and then walked the one kilometer golden sand beach teeming with volleyball players, tourists, surfers and sun worshippers.  Mark discovered that sometimes, when you’re trying to take an artsy-fartsy picture of that beautiful wave in front of that beautiful cliff, your brain has sent the impulse to your trigger finger to depress the shutter button on your camera, and there’s simply no way to stop that click, even when a leggy, bronze-skinned blonde in a teeny weeny bikini just happens to step into the frame and block your shot of the wave.  Honest.  That’s really [pretty much] exactly how it happened.

We rode a bus up to the top of the hill to Macquarie Lighthouse and walked along the cliffs, spying a dozen or so sailboats out on the ocean.  [More importantly we spotted a Kookaburra, also known as the ”Bird With The Impossibly Big Head,” sitting on a fence looking out to sea, possibly contemplating what it would do if it won the lottery.]  KookaburraOnAFenceFrom that ridge you can see the Pacific to the east, Manly Beach to the north across the opening of Port Jackson, and Sydney harbour stretching to the west, the top curve of the bridge peeking above the top of Bradley’s Head [on days when Bradley is there], and ferries criss-crossing the water.  There’s an infamous cliff, the Gap, which has the sad reputation as the preferred jumping spot for those intent on ending their lives.  There’s a memorial to a man named Don Ritchie who lived across the street and talked many would-be suicides back from the edge with a few kind words and an offer of a cup of tea.  We wound our way down through Sydney Harbour National Park to the shops, restaurants and ferry wharf where we boarded the Susie O’Neill for Circular Quay, stopping at Rose Bay and Garden Island on the way.  As we approached our destination, we watched a tug nudge the P&O cruise ship Pacific Pearl away from her berth at the international cruise terminal. PacificPearl

Let’s see, we had feet, train, bus, ferry… but wait, there’s one more conveyance we experienced, and it’s a classic.  As we boarded the tall ship Soren Larsen SorenLarsenCampbell Cove for a dinner cruise, we watched another P&O liner come from Darling Harbour, under the bridge and head out to sea.  Friday at 5:30, the sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and the harbour was filled with sailboats, some kicking back after the work week, others in serious training mode.  The Sydney to Hobart race is a mere seven weeks away and crews are fine-tuning their roles and responsibilities.  Wild Oats, the 7-time champion and race record holder (1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds – pull that one out at your next pub quiz!) zipped past our starboard side.  We saw the black-sailed Perpetual Loyal and Victoire cross our paths.  I think each of us picked out what Steve calls a “lottery boat,” something to spend your winnings on when your numbers come up lucky.  I’ll take IndianSoManyShips [I failed to pick a lottery boat, opting instead for a “lottery half-ton International Harvester pickup truck.”  I hope that’s okay.]  Mark and Tori crewed a bit, helping to raise the sails as we rounded Shark Island and headed west.  AboardSorenLarsenAndrew, the same charming host on the Soren Larsen as was on her sister ship for our cruise a few weeks ago, emceed our evening but with more passengers and more sunshine he had even more stories to tell.  I wanna go again.  Can I?  Please, oh, please????  [No.  Your sailing days on the Soren Larsen and the Southern Swan are over.  You may, however, spend more time at Bondi Beach and you may wave to Andrew as, and if, he sails by.]

Saturday we headed westward up into the Blue Mountains.  Oh wait, I mean the World Heritage Listed Blue Mountains.  Eucalyptus fill the valleys between rocky cliffs, the oil droplets from their leaves filling the air, giving it a distinctive blue haze, hence the name.  Waterfalls tumble here and there down to the valley floor below.  There are classic viewing spots at Wentworth Falls, Leura Falls and Echo Point, which of course means there are hordes of camera-toting tourists (CTTs) all looking for a parking spot and an unobstructed view.  [Hey, I resemble that remark!]  Good luck with that.  But patience and time generally prevail so we got some of the obligatory shots.  The two sisters went to the Three Sisters but we missed our sister, Diane, back home.

Imagine Diane under the hat!

Imagine Diane under the hat!

We took a bit of a walk-through and had lunch in Leura.  Some charming shops, perhaps a bit like Jacksonville, Oregon or Kinsale in County Cork.  [or Chula Vista, CA.  Wait…]

We went to Scenic World in Katoomba which seems to have grown exponentially since last we visited the Blue Mountains with my brother, Dick and his wife Suzanne in 2005.  All Mark and I could recollect was bit-rickety very, very steep railway.  The railway is still there, though the cars would do Mr. Disney proud (and they come complete with the Indiana Jones soundtrack.)  But joining the rail cars is the Scenic Cableway, descending to the rainforest of the Jamison Valley, where you can walk on the Scenic Walkway back to the Scenic Railway which you might ride up to Scenic World Top Station where you can catch the Scenic Skyway (complete with a glass floor!) across the valley.  As you might guess, it’s a scenic area.  Lest you think this is your run-of-the-mill ordinary Scenic World, I’ll have you know that the Scenic Railway is the steepest passenger train in the world (52 degree incline), the Scenic Skyway is the highest cable car in Australia (270 metres), the Scenic Cableway is Australia’s biggest cable car (84 passengers) and the Scenic Walkway is the longest elevated boardwalk in Australia (2.4 kms).  Truly superlative, as you can tell.

I suspect most CTTs end their westward journey at Katoomba and return again to the big city to find more famous camera worthy sites, but we continued onto Blackheath, in search of the ever-elusive kangaroo, who remained elusive.  We did, however find the Evans lookout with nary a CTT in sight.  OK, maybe one, but they left before we did so we had the whole view to ourselves.  The geologic features in the Blue Mountains are so striking we wished Mark’s astrogeologist father was still with us to share some knowledge.  I guess we could go home and read Wikipedia but it just isn’t the same.  We stumbled up a great Indian restaurant in the village of Kurrajong, out in the back of the beyond before heading home to Wooloware.

Sunday we took the train to Circular Quay and one of the world’s most famous buildings out on Bennelong Point, the World Heritage listed Sydney Opera House where we saw Bell Shakespeare’s presentation of Henry V.  (  The director based his production on the true story of a group of boys stuck in a bomb shelter for 71 days straight in 1941 in London during the Blitz.  On Thursday nights they would gather the other people in the bomb shelter and present a play they’d rehearsed for the previous six nights.  On this “Thursday” we were their audience, tasked by the Chorus in the prologue, “Think when we talk of horses, that you see them, Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth; For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings…” This few, this happy few, this band of brothers brought Shakespeare’s history to life and left me wanting more.  I was so glad to be able to see a production there – the only place in the world where you can leave the theatre for the interval, walk out the door onto the plaza and gaze over the harbour, the bridge, the ferries and up at the white roof of that magnificent icon. Mer and Tori at Opera house [Which icon, hath sprung from the mind of Jørn Utzon, who ate an orange and did to the rind appeal (oh lowly chortle) for inspiration.  Note thee well, had not that fruit been fare for fair Dane we might have watched the play played in a pasture or a mixed-use building and had no tale to send as we do now to distant shores for your digestion.  So in all and with the world content, have a care when next you do spy the lowly orange and move toward it, if move you must, with pigeon steps and with your shield like a sail set to savor the wind, nay the very zephyrous gale that bears you on toward those perilous shores whence came the valorous bears and forebears before thee and who now afford thee but a dim and noxious light.  For in the seeds of the fruit shall you find a succulent and voracious marvel, and that which means much and ever more ‘een beyond the rim of our simple stage.] Tori and Steve at Henry V billboard

I’ll sign off here [and I’ll go back to reading Henry V] and try to send this.  I’ve got to spend a bit of time rehearsing my next talk for Botany Bay Family History Society, which I’ll be giving tomorrow night.

Until next week,

Mary [and Mark]

Letter #8: 2 November 2014

2 November 2014

G’day Mates,

Another week down.  My time here is about halfway through.  It will go by fast.

Tuesday we went for a walk in Burnum Burnum sanctuary in the Shire, a park on the Woronora River, just a bit west of here.  Part of the park fronts Bonnet Bay and an eerie a landscape of mangrove trees.  The trail looked much longer on the map, but it was kind of interesting to explore. Mangroves

As in any place, it’s always interesting to know how a place got its name.  Mark looked a little into the man known as Burnum Burnum.  He was born in the mid-30s and christened Henry Penrith, but he took the name of his great grandfather which means Great Warrior.  Burnum Burnum spent his life as an activist, actor and author.  His most famous achievement occurred on Australia Day in 1988.  Australia Day commemorates the landing of the First Fleet of convict ships, which pretty much signaled the end of life as they knew it for the Aboriginal people.  To commemorate the occasion, Burnum Burnum planted an Aboriginal flag on the white cliffs of Dover, claiming the island of England on behalf of his people.   You can read his declaration here (   He was much admired by the people of the Shire where he lived out his later years and they honoured   him by naming the park after him.

Tuesday night I met Michael, Chrissie, and some friends at the Oxford Tavern for trivia.  Probably the most fun quiz I’ve done since I’ve been down here!  Lots of interaction.  Spot prizes for goofy things.  Several video questions.  Some lightning rounds.  We did well on the first round, winding up in second place but totally tanked in Round 2, finishing in second place… from the bottom!  The quiz was probably geared for a younger crowd, but I’ve now got a kernel germinating in my head to start a pub quiz company when I get back to Seattle.  I know I’ve got some research to do.  Hmmm… how many nights a week can I find my way to a pub? (Yeah, yeah, I know, I know… with a pub quiz every night, how many nights a week can I find my way home?!)

Wednesday morning we started on the train together but Mark went one way and I went the other (and my way was far more entertaining!)  Mark went to campus to turn in his papers.  As we said earlier, he spent a full work-day or more for about 3 weeks straight, seven days a week, marking papers.  When we had dinner with Bronwyn and Hal and Michael and Toni a few weeks ago, Mark commented how hard he was working to grade all those papers.  [Most of the time goes into trying to figure out what each individual student knows and is able to do as they head toward their first year of teaching.  It’s a tricky business as you try to provide little written signposts at key points throughout the paper, pointing them in directions they need to consider and congratulating them on things they seem to have figured out.  It’s time consuming.  So, … ] He turned a bit green around the gills when Bronwyn said “…If the students even bother to pick them up.”  But Wednesday he took the whole lot of student work, augmented with his fine, professorial wisdom and left it all on the Bankstown campus.  Now he is truly on a bit of an academic break.

As for my entertainment, I joined BBFHS for one of their monthly outings, this time to historic Hunters Hill (the writer in me wonders why there is no apostrophe, but that’s what it is!)  Hunters Hill is a leafy suburb,  (Sydneysiders use the term suburb much as a Seattleite would use the term neighborhood, so think Ballard, not Bellevue…) filled with many old stone cottages and homes, many with tales to tell.  The Treasurer of Australia and actress, Cate Blanchet, call Hunters Hill home. HuntersHillHouse

One of HH’s early residents was Mary Reibey who arrived in 1792 at age 15 as a convict but went on to become a successful retailer in Sydney.  Her picture is on the Australian $20 bill.  Barbara Wimble, our trusty guide, had all sorts of historical details to share, and you can’t walk far in the suburb without stumbling upon some beautiful architecture, garden or harbour view.  We walked around the outside of the (locked) Anglican church and Barbara read to us about its stained glass windows, but  from the outside looking in, without light shining through them one can’t see the beauty in them.  We continued on around the corner but a few stragglers in our group were still taking photos when someone from the church office offered to open it up for us.  It was certainly worth the walk back – the east window above the altar depicts the Crucifixion and the Last Supper and is particularly beautiful.   Everywhere you turn, every window has a message written in the glass, every lectern, font and cross in the building has a shiny brass plaque on it, each starting “To the glory of God and in memory of…”


To the glory of God and in loving memory of Charles James Manning 1841-1898 and of his sons Captain Guy Owen Manning 1881 accidentally killed 1915 and Major Charles Edye Manning 1879 killed in action in France 1916

It was a beautiful day, and I worked in four modes of transportation – train, bus, ferry, and of course the shank’s mare (or shank’s pony as they say locally,)  Of course the ferry was my favorite – it’s always a good day on the water.  [Those of us who are sometimes subject to sea-sickness beg to differ.  I have a distinct memory from 1978, crossing the North Sea from Harwich (England) to Esbjerg (Denmark).  I was a 20 year old, on my own, heading to Europe for the first time to live with my friend, David Prout, whose family was in Aarhus.  David’s father was on sabbatical.  It was a dark and stormy night, the ferry was rocking and rolling, and I was sooooo sick.  It was not a good night on the water and if it had been a day it would have been just as bad.]  My fellow historians, jaded locals that they are, crossed to Circular Quay inside the MV Scarborough, but I wear the T (for tourist) with pride so I sat up top in the sun and wind to take some pictures for my followers back home.  I just marvel at how the few dollars of a ferry fare can make me feel like I own the world!


Thursday night I met my Thursday trivia posse, The Late Blakes, at the Wooloware Golf Club.  It was my night to shine.  For whatever reason, the host drafted a particularly American-centric quiz.  I racked up heaps of points for us on those questions, and my teammates had the Australian media, politics and sport well enough covered that first place was ours at the end of the evening.   As we were leaving, a table of competitors congratulated us and my friend Cheryl kindly said they couldn’t have done it without me, and I got an offer to move to their table next week, but I’m a Blakie through and through!

I had a lovely afternoon Friday.   Sue picked me up and we met Marilyn at the Miranda World War I Memorial.  John Gilbert Ferguson, the man they needed a bit of help researching because he’d gone to America in 1911, is one of the names on the memorial. Miranda memorial It was great to see it with them.  The two of them have spent the last several years researching the memorials and the names inscribed on them, and are filled with an endless supply of information.  There’s nothing like a pair of passionate tour guides to bring that kind of history to life.  Afterwards we went to Audley in the Royal National Park (stopping by the Audley Memorial, as well – more great stories!) and had lunch on the patio of a cafe near the Hacking River.  That area of the park has a resident coterie of sulfur-crested cockatoos, tame enough that they land on tables waiting for a handout.   I watched the people at the next table feed one bits of fruit, and as we walked back to the car, a family standing near a tree had several of the cockatoos on their shoulders.  When you get that close to them you can see how big they are and just how white their feathers are.

We had arranged to borrow Bronwyn and Hal’s kayaks Saturday morning.  They have a pair of Hobie 11s – really a nice setup with wheels you can attach so that you can roll them the block or so from their garage to the water’s edge.  Then when you’re in the water, the wheels store above board right behind the seat.  The paddle clips onto the side for transport, they’ve got a couple of hatches for dry storage.  They’re not fast boats but very solid and stable.  We paddled across Gunnamatta Bay, and headed south hugging the western shore, trying to gain a little shelter from a rather stiff breeze out of the north.   I’ve got my eyes on half a dozen properties I’d like to own, but I’m afraid it will take several lifetimes of trivia winnings to make a dent in the mortgage.  We paddled south out of GB, whipped along by the wind at our backs and headed west in Port Hacking toward Buraneer Bay, into a fierce headwind but we so wanted to say we made it around the bend.  We made it to where we could just peek around into the bay and turned back toward home.  The tail wind helped a bit but once we got back into GB it was all we could do to fight our way back to the beach.   There were several moments where I thought we had no business being out in the wind, but we finally made it back.  We cleaned up and stowed the kayaks in the garage and Bronwyn and Hal invited us in for a bit of refreshment where we sat in their living room and watched the sky darken and lightning and thunder fill the air.  Made it back just in time, apparently.  Next time we take the boats out, we’ll pick a better weather day.  But even with the wind, it was great to be out on that clear, clear water.

Cronulla staged a beach fest over the weekend.  My adventure on the water took pretty much every ounce of stamina I had, so we skipped the booths and car show but managed to rally in time for the fireworks.  We found a nice spot in the sand and watched them explode right over our heads.  I can’t ever recall being so close to the action that there isn’t any delay between the flash and the sound.   It was quite a treat to be watching fireworks on a beach in November!  [Now this brings up another memory from way back.  It’s a set of memories actually and they come from the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The Roddys used to make an annual pilgrimage from the west, California or Arizona depending on where we were living at the time, to the mid-west.  Springfield, Ohio for my paternal grandmother and great grandmother, and Elmhurst Illinois for my mom’s family.  The route home generally took us through Missouri and I seem to recall Mississippi, Alabama, and so forth though these seem geographically unlikely.  Regardless, at least a few times we were passing through them on July 5th or 6th and I had money given to me for my birthday by generous grandparents, sometimes as much as 15 or 20 dollars!  Now, on July 5th, way back then, a few dollars could buy you a scandalous lot of fireworks as these folks tried to close down their stands.  And this is back when men were men and fireworks were a lot more lethal.  I could get packs of firecrackers that would actually blow stuff up for something like 25 cents.  A dozen bottle rockets were not much more.  A cherry bomb, said to be equal to a quarter-stick of dynamite, was maybe 50 cents.  I bought whole shopping bags of fireworks.  So many fireworks.  I took them back west and sold some of them to kids at my elementary school for a significant profit (This was the pinnacle and in fact my only experience as an entrepreneur, explosive or otherwise.).  I also remember using my dad’s map tubes as launching devices, having shooting wars with friends across the fields in rural northern Arizona.  Good times.  The smell of fireworks as it wafted over the beach on the night Mary described took me right back :-)]

Today one of us had more fun than the other.  My side is this… I got up early, drove Mark to the Royal, dropped him and his pack off at the Burgh Ridge carpark and after a slight detour to check out the view over Garie Beach, I headed back to Ocean View street to view… invoices on my computer screen.   Once in a while, my real life catches up with me and I’ve got to get a little work done.  But I appreciate that I’ve got clients who are willing to put up with a bookkeeper 7000 miles away.  So, four hours of work, a walk to the Tonkin oval to watch a pitch full of lads dressed in white play a little cricket, then a stroll through the final hours of Cronulla BeachFest 2014, then home for a bit more work, and my Sunday is complete.

Since I can hardly end a letter on a work note, I’ll leave it open and when the wandering hiker returns with tales of rabid koalas and wombats, you’ll have a chance to hear all about them first hand.

[So, I guess that’s my cue.  I am back from my wanderings.  Life is not without its challenges but I am a lucky guy in many ways.  One of them is that I was able to walk the Coast Track from just north of Burning Palms, all the way thorough to Bundeena, just south of Woolooware.  (We live in Woolooware, you may be aware)  It’s not exactly the Pacific Crest Trail; the total distance was only about 22 km (13 miles or so). But I did a shorter stretch nine years ago and I remember it as a Very Good Thing.

Mary dropped my off and I made my way down the Burgh ridge to pick up the Coast Track just north of Burning Palms.  From there the track did what it would do for the rest of that day and part of the next, leading me generally north east and up and down along what has to be one of the most stunning stretches of coastline on this planet.  I took a great many pictures.  We will put a few here and if you need more they will eventually make their way into my Flickr photostream:

The only place they (the park service) wants you to camp these days is in the campground at North Era Beach.  I passed North Era by 10:30AM so that wasn’t happening.  I had seem quite a few signs advising everyone in the park that the last 10 km or so would be closed because of brush reduction fires they would be setting beginning the next day.  Another set of signs advised us that the whole park was closed from 7:30PM – 5:30AM because of deer reduction shooting they might be doing on any given night in the spring months.  Cheers, Bambi.  I interpreted all of these as signs that I should push on, find my own campsite, and then get out early-ish the next day.  That’s what I did.

The day was beautiful for hiking with a high around 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) and enough of a breeze to, well, I was going to say that it kept the flies down but as far as I can tell you cannot keep a good Aussie fly down.  Once the weather warms up they always rise to the occasion.  And the occasion always seems to involve my face.  They were there and that’s probably ‘nuff said.  They did not dampen my enthusiasm. GarieBeach I passed through South Era beach, North Era beach, Little Garie beach and then Garie beach.  There was steep climb out of Garie followed by a long stretch along the high sandstone cliffs heading north east.  There was Eagle Rock, there was Curracurrong Gully and Wattamolla Beach.CliffsToSouthWest1  You can get to Wattamolla by car and on Sunday afternoon the place was loaded with folks from the city.  I climbed out of Wattamolla around four in the afternoon and was soon back up on the track along the cliffs.  I got to Little Marly and them Marly Beach, splashed across a little stream and climbed up to Marly head. CrashingSurf By that time it was around 6:30PM and I started to look for a place to stop for the night.  This proved more difficult than I expected and it was pretty near dark before I found a little patch of sand in a long stretch of white sandstone.  It looked like it could be home for the night and so it was.  There was a beautiful moon and all those southern stars.  One of my favorite constellations is Orion, the hunter.  You can see Orion from here and it’s the same set of stars, I suppose as those I know as Orion back home.  But here Orion is upside down!  I love that!

The next morning was beautiful and I spent some exploring and taking pictures.MorningClouds1  All good things must end, though.  I know that, and I packed up and left by about 9AM.  I added a little to the walk by going out around Jibbon Head and back to Bundeena via Jibbon Beach.MarleyHead  I took the ferry from Bundeena back to Cronulla and that was that.  If you are still reading, congratulations!  You now know why I am a professor, or at least you know why Mary writes these letters and I just comment.  Sorry for the l o n g comment.  Cheerios.]

Until next week,

Mary [and Mark]

Letter #7: 27 October 2014

27 October 2014

G’day Mates,

Sorry to be so tardy.  Most of last week we had little to do (except for those of us who had papers to mark) so there was little to write about.  But as soon as Mark had the marking complete [and the crowd cheered!!!!!!!], we took full advantage of the opportunities for outings.   In fact we have been so busy activity-ing that there has been no time to write.  So I’ll try to squeeze in a bit of writing time this afternoon.

We did get some very sad news from home this morning.  Mark’s step-brother, Chip, finally lost his long battle with cancer.  Our prayers are with you Shawn, Andie, Bonnie and Elaine.

The pre- post-marking week was not entirely devoid of activity.  Tuesday I cemented my qualifications as an international genealogical speaker.  I presented a talk on the Basics of United States Genealogical Research to the Botany Bay Family History Society.  I think the 14 attendees were pleased and learned something new.  Several people said they planned on going home and taking another stab at their US families, so I think they thought it was worthwhile.  The following evening I went back to the writers’ group at the society.  Structure-wise it was a bit different from my writing group in Seattle, but once again, I found the people here so welcoming.

Thursday was another sunny day, and the professor was able to take some papers with him to the beach to grade while I read and relaxed in the sun.  There were plenty of school kids playing beach volleyball and many more walking on what looked like some alternative kind of PE period.  Lots of surfers, as well.

I missed one of my trivia sessions due to my talk on Tuesday but I met my other posse for trivia on Thursday.  They are so nice.  I’d mentioned last week that I was looking for suggestions of things for me to see, and they had heaps of ideas.

Friday, Mark went to a workshop at the Penrith campus of UWS, so I went for a walk.  [Don’t tell Mary I put this part in.  We have both been waiting and wanting to see wild kangaroos and have been all but completely unsuccessful so far (Faithful readers will recall we saw one wallaby on our trip up the Hawkesbury a few weeks back, but come on, it was a wallaby! We want a real roo!).  But one us was fortunate to be walking from the train station in Werrington to the campus, about a 30 minute amble across a very extensive set of open, grassy fields with ponds and trees and whatnot, and saw half a dozen kangaroos.  It was around 9 a.m., they had finished breakfast, I guess, and were considering their next move.   I was pretty pleased to see them and took a few pictures with my phone.  Two other people who had also got off the train and were headed toward the campus were walking nearby and could sense my American excitement at the sight of kangaroos.  One explained that this is a resident mob and, “look, over there!” She directed my attention to a grove of trees quite close by, where a couple of big roos were chillin’.  It was a great start to the day and the workshop unimpressive by comparison.  On the way back that afternoon I was surprised to see them out again in the heat of the day.  I got some video and you can find it here:   Back to Mer:]  The map showed a wildlife reserve of some sort at the end of the Wooloware peninsula, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to access it without a trek down an overgrown and perhaps perilously steep path, and since I was by myself and no one had any idea where I had gone, I decided discretion was the better part of valor and ventured no further

On my way back, I discovered a little bench overlooking Gunnamatta bay, with a plaque on it dedicated to the family who’d owned the lot years ago.  It made a nice spot to sit and read for a spell.  And I found another little wildlife reserve (probably just a bird reserve), down a little laneway with the back gardens of probably a dozen houses surrounding the park.  It’s interesting to see the backsides of some of these swimming pools.  Much of the area here is sandstone with a very thin layer of soil on top.  Apparently it’s not an easy proposition to just dig a hole in the stuff, so several of the pools were set shallow-end into the hillside, the outside of the deep-end just hanging out for all the world to see.  I guess it makes it easy to see where the leaks are.

I saw a pair of birds on the ground, pretty little things with a crest on their heads, but alas the bird guide was at home, so I snapped a picture with my cell phone (ah, the wonders of 21st century technology).  At home, I looked in the indexes of common names and Latin names, but there was no entry for “Crested Thing, pretty little,” so I had to page through all 778 species, comparing them to my crappy little backlit snap  (ah, the wonders of 21st century technology) until I found my pretty little bird was a Crested pigeon, aka topknot.  Not the exotic new species I’d hope to discover.  But a pretty little thing, none the less.  Speaking of birds, today I heard one, didn’t see it.  This will be even harder to find in the trusty Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight Field Guide to the Birds of Australia.  Now I’m going to have to read through every call looking for the Mozart bird who sings “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro.”

On Friday Mark took the remainder of his marking on the train with him and by the time he got back to Ocean View Street, he was done.  Emancipation!!!!!   Which for you, dear reader, means many more adventures to detail.

Starting with… Saturday.  We took the train to Town Hall and arrived in time to see one of my favorite Sydney sights, the Royal Clock in the Queen Victoria Building (QVB).  Hourly one can view dioramas of six of the highlights of British history, most with mechanical animation. 650 years in just minutes!  Watch King Cnut vainly hold back the tide, King Harold die on the battlefield at Hastings, King John sign the Magna Carta, Henry VIII surrounded by six, count ‘em, six wives, Queen Elizabeth knighting Sir Francis Drake (nine years after he landed at Point Reyes!!!), and my personal favorite, the execution of Charles I – you can even see his little head plop off!

The next few hours, however, were Tourism Gone Wrong.  Upon leaving the QVB we saw a free bus, which if you believe the advertising on the side, takes you from place to place in a loop around the Central Business District (CBD – Australians pride themselves on their use of initials, apparently).  We hemmed and hawed, but it was hot and muggy and we thought we could see some sights and wind up at Circular Quay, which is where we wanted to wind up.  So we crossed the street and headed south, in the opposite direction of Circular Quay, but, hey, that’s how we can see all the sights.  Where oh where is there a bus stop?  We finally saw one, just in the next block but the walking man had turned from green to flashing red and we obeyed.  Huge mistake!  At the next light the bus zoomed past us and picked up his passengers and was off like a rocket.  Of course, just then a half dozen Sydney police officers cordoned off the block to allow 7 billion members of the “Common People/Common Dreams – Walk T<3gether” coalition to take to the streets and walk with Spiderman, Batman and Superman together into a future where diversity is celebrated, fear is replaced with welcome and where everyone belongs.  But no one can ride the bus, because even though it is scheduled to run every 10 minutes, it will be an hour before we see one heading in our direction.  The comings and goings of the Saturday crowds on George Street, however, provided quite a diverse fashion show.  Finally the 555 arrived, Mary got on.  And Mark [who was too politely letting one other somewhat pushy person get on before following his dear wife]  was left on the curb watching the crowded bus drive away.  Ummm…  I dare not get off at the next stop, because I had visions of Mark trailing me on an equally crowded bus which would not let me on if I were to wait at the next stop for it.  So I stayed on my bus until it reached a point and the driver demanded all passengers get off.  But wait – isn’t this a loop?!!  Can’t I just stay on and ride back north to Circular Quay???  Apparently not.  But Mark’s bus driver kicked everyone off his eventual bus, so we crossed the street and waited and waited and waited for the northbound 555, squeezing ourselves with the other sheep into its confines.  It stopped several times along George Street, mostly to let the hordes waiting to board know that there was no room aboard, and then zipped away, the driver cackling with glee.

We finally reached our destination, the Chalk Urban Art festival at Sydney Customs House (  We had a great time posing amongst the sidewalk art,Mark street surfing Mer diggingand even got our picture taken in the giant 3-D artwork, but echoing our “luck” with the bus, apparently the camera was only pretending to take pictures when we were actually pretending to be hanging over a cliff into the children’s tea party.  Ah, but we’ve got the memories.

We waited in line and all we got was this lousy picture of us waiting in line (lower right corner).  Just imagine us hanging from the cliff...

We waited in line and all we got was this lousy picture of us waiting in line (lower right corner). Just imagine us hanging from the cliff…

The next item on our itinerary for the day was a big soccer game between the Western Sydney Wanderers and Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.  We hopped on a ferry, which could not quite complete its run due to extreme low tide, the Parramatta not navigable even by the river cat boats, so everyone had to disembark at Rydalmere and take a bus in order to complete the journey.  The bus didn’t go quite to the ferry terminal and I worried that from some random drop-off point we might have a bit of trouble finding our way to Pirtek stadium.  No worries, however.  Just follow the sea of red and black jerseys – they all know how to get to Wanderland!  And the Wanderers didn’t disappoint, Juric scoring the sole goal in the 64th minute.  Sing with me now, “Come on you wanderers (clap clap), Come on you wanderers (clap clap), We’ll always love you, never betray you, Come on you wanderers (clap clap)”  Now you’re all ready for the second game of the match, early Sunday morning in Riyadh (that would be early Sunday morning here, check your local listings for broadcast times in your area.)

I’ll throw in a little aside here.  I feel like I owe you, dear readers, a bit of gratitude.  I woke up late Sunday, had a bit of a lie-in as they say, and really might have been quite contented to just loll about the house all day long.  But how can I possibly write about that?  I’ve got my audience and they’re expecting adventure!!!  So I got off my butt, grabbed the sunscreen and a hat and we headed to the Royal National Park and hiked through the rainforest.  Nice little hike, not too hard, lots of bird song and filled with ferns, palms, fig trees, eucalypts and red cedar trees. ForestPath Sign ForestPathWalk1 The lushness of the landscape made us feel like Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games, just waiting for the tributes from District 1 to take a shot at us or Seneca Crane to conjure some giant man-eating echidnas running amok along the Hacking River.  (Much more fun than having to think up entertaining ways to describe my grey 60s carpet with the brown, gold and beige swirly things on it.)

So our weekend had art, sport, hiking… and we rounded it out with a bit of music.  I’d read in the paper that the Brass Monkey, a club in Cronulla a bit like a small version of Seattle’s Tractor Tavern, was celebrating its 15th birthday by bringing in some favorite artists.  The description for Sunday’s line-up highlighted a singer-songwriter-storyteller, Luke O’Shea.  I’d never heard of him, but a larrikin who sings about drovers and Anzac heroes is my kind of guy, so expecting a big crowd, I ordered a pair of tickets.  (Somehow I failed to uncheck whatever teeny tiny box there was on the order form and wound up purchasing “Event Ticket Insurance.”  An hour after my purchase I got a charming email – “You will find attached to this email the following documents, please keep these documents in a safe place: Certificate of Insurance and Combined Financial Services Guide (FSG) and Product Disclosure Statement (PDS)” – 8 pages!!! which promise to “indemnify me for the purchase price of my ticket in the event of among other things a medical emergency to me, my Immediate Family or Companion, a Mechanical Breakdown of the public transport taking Me or My Companion to the Event, Jury Duty (on Sunday night?!), or Redundancy or Relocation of My or My Companion’s Employment.”  The fine print and the hidden charge are alive and well in the antipodes!

But back to the show.  The night started with a girl and her guitar. She was OK. The next band, the Flood, ( played some great get-up-and-dance rock and blues.  Yes, it was get-up-and-dance music, but the quiet crowd didn’t.  Crazy good man, Rex Goh, on the guitar – not their regular guitarist but such a treat to hear.  [They Really Rocked one of my favorites “Way Down in the Hole”!] Then Mr. O’Shea ( took the stage backed up by a guitar, bass and drums.  I think I’d probably like him better on solo guitar – the stories were drowned out by the back-up.  And just my humble opinion – he was a little distractingly handsome for me to focus too much on what he was singing about.  But he stuck around for a little charming conversation after the show and we bought a couple of CDs.  We might try to catch him at a solo show before we leave, and perhaps I’ll just have to leave my glasses off so I can focus on the lyrics.

Combined a bit of a coastal walk with some art appreciation on Monday.  Sculpture by the Sea ( follows the pathPeacock between Bronte and Bondi beaches.

Real bird on artistic birdhouse

Real bird on artistic birdhouse

There are about 100 sculptures in the collection.IMG_6256  I won’t describe too much, IMG_6370words can’t really convey as well as the pictures.IMG_6377  But it made me think fondly of my artist friends, Anna Skibska (  and Martin Blank ( back in Seattle.  (And John Price – I think one of these pieces would fit perfectly in your front garden!)

IMG_6354As we finished our walk I ran across my first rude Australian.  This country is really populated by the nicest collection of people.  To a man we have felt nothing but welcomed.  Until I met the volunteer in one of the Sculpture by the Sea kiosks.  The media has been highlighting this great event on TV, newspapers, and via email, and there was a photo of a staircase ascending to the vanishing point I was really looking forward to seeing.  I worked my way through the entire 1.5 km exhibition and didn’t see it so I stopped to inquire.  I asked one of the two ladies running the booth if she could tell me where it was.  She wasn’t familiar with what I was talking about and asked her companion.  I tried to explain to the companion what I was looking for, and while I was doing so, a man walked up and began talking to the first volunteer about the exhibit.  Well apparently I somehow just disappeared in the eyes of Volunteer 2, and she felt she needed to team up with Volunteer 1 to address every need of the solitary man to my left.  I looked down and saw a brochure with the very sculpture I was asking about, and I pointed at it and asked “Is this, …” but before I could complete my question, V2 looked down her nose at me, delivered a scathing “Nyooooo,” and apparently I could just take a dive off the cliff behind her, thankyouverymuch.   “Yeah, thank you, too.”  Still, nearly two months here and this was my first brush with rudeness.  Heck, in Paris I think I got snotty attitude and more in my first two minutes!

Hugs to everyone at home and in Riverside, Medford and Arizona.


Mary [and Mark}

Letter #6: 19 October 2014

19 October 2014

G’day Mates,

Wild and wooly weather this week.  Tuesday night we had a storm of near biblical proportions.  There were gusts around 160 kph and in the 24-hour period 9 am Tuesday to 9 am Wednesday we had 140 mm (about 5.5 inches) of rain, though most of it fell between about 7 pm and 2 am or so.  It was quite the adventure here at 16 Ocean View Street.  Our home is a nice solid 1-story brick house.  Over the small front porch there is a roof, which perhaps slopes a few degrees away from the house, but it is essentially flat.  If a sufficiently strong wind is blowing from just the right direction (like from due west at 100 kph), that negligible slope loses all effectiveness and water moves down through the porch roof at the seam with the house and begins pouring through the door jamb into the house.  In less than a minute we had a pool on the carpet at the base of the door.  I grabbed a beach towel and jammed it against the doorframe over my head to staunch the flow.  That was helpful… for all of about 45 seconds until the towel reached saturation point and the water began flowing down my arms.  We brain stormed (emphasis on stormed) and I dashed into the bathroom and took down the plastic shower curtain.  There are random pushpins in a few door casings (not sure why they were there) but I amassed a small collection and returned to the scene of the deluge where we did what we could to attach the curtain with the hopes of somehow channeling the water out the door and away from the carpet.  Our shower curtain hangs to the floor in the bathroom, but when we hung it above the door, it was perhaps half a meter shy of reaching the floor, and with the wind blowing it toward the front door, it was only partially effective.  I held this edge with my hand and pushed that section with my knee and held the other corner with that hand, essentially playing a game of vertical Twister (in the twister?) while Mark ran out and rummaged around the garage for whatever might fall into his line of sight and spark a solution.  He soon returned with a piece of sheet metal maybe 2 feet by 3 feet and a couple of large watering cans full of water.  We rigged up a Rube Goldberg solution, the metal plate sandwiched between the watering cans, their weight holding it upright just outside the door and the shower curtain (and the downpour) cascading over the plate and down the outside.  The contraption worked pretty well but it also blocked any ingress or egress through the door, so in order to make any adjustments one of us (guess who) had to walk out the back door and around to the front of the house in the gale force wind and rain.  Oh well, he needed a break from grading anyway.  I wish we’d snapped a picture.  Oh, excuse me Ansel, I mean “captured an Image.”  [I did need a break from grading.  I still need a break from grading, but that was a break to remember.  We don’t get such storms in Seattle.  The winds were huge, the lightning was frequent and the thunder boomed, but the rain was what really struck me  – and then soaked me to the skin during the 2 or 3 seconds it took to get from the house to the garage.  It was really like walking not under a shower but under continuous buckets being poured by an angry or perhaps a chuckling god.  I was surprised to see that we still had trees and birds the next day.  How those things survived that night is not clear to me.]  Most of the rain had stopped by Wednesday morning, but we paid a visit to Cronulla beach to spend a bit of time watching huge waves roll in.

On 21 October I will be presenting my first lecture to the genealogy society on using United States records, so I spent a couple of afternoons at their library working on a few Australian families who appear somewhere in the periphery of my family tree, trying to get some understanding of what kind of resources and record types my friends down here word with in their research.  [Getting back to that notion of Mary’s family tree, maybe you’ve heard that there are some kinds of trees that look just like a bunch of trees but in fact if you look underground (because you are superperson and you have x-ray vision) you see that they are all connected through their one distributed root system and they are all clones and so the whole grove, covering some 100+ acres and encompassing thousands of trees is really just one Ginormous Tree.  Well, Mer’s family tree is getting a little bit that way.] I can’t say enough about the kind and generous guidance of the library volunteers in helping me discover more about the record sets they have available.  In the US we are so fortunate to have 15 decennial federal censuses which we can use to track families decade by decade and generation by generation.  A few censuses were taken in the 19th century in Australia and a policy of decennial counts was established in the 20th century but whether due to “lack of storage facilities” (really??!!) or a convict-descendant mentality of government mistrust, once the statistical data was extracted, all personal information taken on the censuses was destroyed.  It makes my cry just thinking about it [It makes me, … wait, … no, it doesn’t make me do anything.] and what a loss such a policy is to family historians (and how lucky we are in the US to have such wonderful documents to use.)  But they’ve got a collection down here of passenger manifests with details on ancestors I’d give my eye teeth to have on some of my peeps in the US.  The records I get at home tell me name (James Ahern,) age (22), gender (male – yeah, in case the name wasn’t a dead giveaway), occupation (laborer – as is every other person on the manifest) and nativity (Ireland – ditto).  Unless you have some diary or you can find an entire family traveling together on the same ship, there is absolutely no way you can identify which of the many James Aherns on the many passenger lists is your man.  But the records here, even in the 1840s, give the full name and baptism date of the immigrant, his parents’ names, occupations of both generations, where he was employed in the old country, his religion, his character and names of the person who certified his baptism date and his character.  So, though no country seems to have a full set of all the data one might want, I guess each place has some pluses and minuses.

Friday night we went out to dinner and a play with my friend Kath.  We saw “The One Day of the Year,” by Phillip Seymour.  Written in 1958, it chronicles a few days in the life of a family.  The father, a working class WWII veteran and his son, a university student, clash over the celebration of Anzac day, a quintessential Aussie holiday.  The themes of the generational conflict, the class conflict, the rejection by youth of the institutions of their parents ring true across time and space.  It was so lovely of Kath to invite us. Again and again we feel so welcomed by our friends here in so many ways.

Saturday night was dinner out at Bronwyn and Hal’s.  Bronwyn was responsible for our discovering Cronulla in the first place.  She is a dear friend of one of Mark’s Seattle colleagues, and when she heard that Mark was looking for a position in Australia nine years ago, she let him know about an opening at University of Western Sydney where she teaches.  The stars aligned then, and we spent a semester here in 2005 and again, with her help we’re back for the sequel in 2014.   They have a lovely place, looking west over beautiful Gunnamatta Bay.  Michael and Toni joined in the great food, great wine and great company.

And today we hosted Dinner for Eight, (this time there were nine [I have a degree in mathematics and I can tell you that nine is much the same as eight – except when you are planning a dinner for eight and it’s actually nine, in which case it’s exactly one more than eight and because dinner rolls come in bags of a dozen, in order to make this come out even you have to find the LCM (least common multiple) of 9 and 12 or it’s just going to bug you so you buy 36 of these huge puffy things and you lug them home.  They are like a Serta Sleeper Sofas, each one, and then before Mary can see what you’ve done, you jam them into the space behind the refrigerator because who really needs that many dinner rolls the size of sofas anyway and when it comes time for the rolls you claim to have forgotten about them but really they are doing some sort of re-rising fermentation thing back there because it’s warm and the electricity is like pulsing through them and they are starting to push the fridge out in to the middle of the room inch by inch so you’re leaning casually against the fridge when Mer comes in to see if you have got the serviettes (Did you know they call napkins “serviettes” here?  They do.) and you gesture toward the little table where they are and she looks at you kind of funny and says, “Well, … can you get them please?  We need nine” so you really haven’t got a lot of options and you go for the serviettes but the fridge slides across the floor, propelled by this mass of doughy white goo and it’s hissing – gas is escaping and it actually smells fabulous but really alarming at the same time so you grab the napkins (“serviettes” sounds like some kind of legal document, and not a good one) and you run out of the room propelling your wife in front of you and you slam the door and that takes care of that.]).  I served up an American dish, pulled pork.  Most of them had seen the words on a menu somewhere or on some cooking show, but nobody had tried it.  It’s kind of fun to bring something new to the table.  It’s my little chance to be multi-cultural! [I’ll bring you something new to the table! I don’t know about multi cultural but it’s about to break down the kitchen door!]  Really such nice people.  [They’re about to be smothered in mutant dough! Run!!] It was nice to have kind of a medium-sized party here.  We’ll be hosting Thanksgiving for about 25 and the dry-run today gives me some ideas about how I’m going to seat all those people.  [Serta Sleeper Sofas come to mind.]  Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to get the birds cooked.  Yes plural – you can’t get a big turkey here in November.  [I know where we can get the dinner rolls.] Christmas, yes, but for some “random” dinner in late November, you’ll have to settle for a couple of smaller ones.  But this way I’ll have two wishbones to make my dreams come true.

Mark is making progress on the box of papers.  Hopefully in a week or so, I’ll be able to report on some adventures a bit further afield.  Until then…

Mary [and Mark] {and Pop! It’s the Pillsbury Dough Wombat in Oz!!]

Letter #5: 13 October 2014

13 October 2014

G’day mates,

We had kind of a quiet week.  Mark wrapped up his last week of actual teaching but he’s in the thick of marking papers. [He is, in fact, currently and for the foreseeable future confined to a dry, dusty, sullen, and dimly lit portion of life known “marking miasma.”  But he’s not bitter about it.  Not much he’s not.]

So Tuesday I took the opportunity to make a solo repeat of an activity which, as you recall from last week’s missive, Mark is not so fond of – a walk in Gunnamatta Bay.  The low tide was at a .2 metres, and that exposes even more submerged and yet walkable areas.  I was in the water for at least an hour, just walking and walking.  I can’t put the picture in the email but if you check out the blog at you can see the path on MapMyWalk.  Map my walk gunnamatta bayI wonder what Gunnamatta Bay would be without human intervention.  If you look at the picture you can see white dots in the water near the top end of the picture (north end of the bay), as well as along the east and west sides (right and left) of the dark blue section of water.  Each of those white dots is a boat at anchor.  I’m assuming they dredge out the center of the bay, but I don’t know how often, nor what it would look like if they didn’t.  But as you can see at the south end of the bay, there’s no dredging and at a .2 metre tide, a girl can walk in the water to her heart’s content.    [A boy can do the same but they understand that they are in mortal danger of having a foot hacked from its unsuspecting ankle by sinister flapping devil fish hidden cunningly in the muck, and therefore abstain, … and grade papers.]  I walked almost all the way westward across the bay, stopping only when I was forced to at the edge of the deep water channel that allows all those white dots to move in and out of the bay.   (I’m trying to figure out how I can meet a white dot owner and get to go for a boat ride.)   It was a little breezy on the walk, so even though the water is quite clear, with the wind skipping across the top of the water it was a little more like looking through bubble wrap than clear glass.  But I still saw a few sting rays [Arggh!], one quite large and kind of colorful.  And lots of little translucent white jellyfish and schools of little fish.  There was a pelican, this time just standing ankle deep in the water, and he didn’t let me get quite as close as he did last week when he was safe atop the piling, but he took off and flew low over the water – quite impressive to see the strength in his powerful wings – a few flaps and he’s covered in ten seconds the distance it took me ten minutes to walk.

Thursday night I attended the monthly meeting of the Botany Bay Family History Society.  Their library is not a large place, so they hold their meetings at Tradies, something of a social club, maybe sort of like an Elks club.  Tradies started out as a Trade Union Club where members could talk politics or make industrial and social connections.  There’s another “line” of clubs, down here, the RSL – Returned Service League – I guess kind of like a VFW club.  But both of these institutions seem to have evolved into a more social club atmosphere.  You pay a small annual membership fee and you can use the facilities, join in the raffle, and partake in the spirit of mateship so common in Australia.  It seems like a larger percentage of the population belongs to a club of some sort than I’m used to seeing back home.

OK, back to BBFHS – so Sue, one of my new genealogy buds invited me to join her and some friends for dinner before the meeting.  We had seven family history buffs at our table, and many other groups from the society were scattered about the brasserie.  The topic for the society’s monthly meeting was a celebration of their 30th birthday.   Several of the charter members spoke and ran though the history and progress of the last 30 years.  I’m sure it was great fun for them to reminisce amd as an outsider, I learned all sorts of things about them, things I’m not sure I ever would have learned just hanging around the library.  Jean, the emcee for the evening, introduced me to the audience and gave a bit of a sales-pitch about the two lectures I’ll be presenting in the upcoming weeks, and then she called me up at the end to draw the raffle tickets.  I felt very welcomed.  Because it was such a celebration and so many people spoke, the program ran quite long.  I was there until 10 and I was nowhere near the last to leave.  But therein lies a real difference between this group and Seattle Genealogical Society.  Genealogists on both continents are pretty much the same demographic, and your 54-year-old correspondent is definitely on the younger end of the age range in either place – certainly not the youngest but definitely skewing toward the left.  But that room was full – probably 80 people at least, all of whom gladly showed up to a meeting that didn’t start until 7:30 pm!   So often in Seattle I’d hear, “we can’t have that meeting at night because no one wants to drive home in the dark.”  I don’t know what they’ve got in the water here, but we need some of it back home to get those Seattle grannies out after dark.

And speaking of driving, I drove!  I don’t know why I have been so timid about driving.  When we were here before I had no choice – I had kids to chauffeur to school, but this trip my first time behind the wheel was just last Sunday when we went to Kath’s family reunion, perhaps a kilometer from home, and that was with Mark in the car coaching me.  But Thursday I drove all by my lonesome, so I think I’m over the hump.  Now if I can only retrain myself on the correct hand to use to operate the turn signals… I’m forever randomly running the windscreen wipers!

Saturday was “House Hunters International – The Sequel.”  I think I mentioned before that some properties are sold here, but many more are auctioned.  And we went to two auctions Saturday morning.  The first was just around the corner from us at 84A Burraneer Bay Road at 8:30 in the morning.  Buraneer bay auctioneerThe house as described in the flier was “Current unliveable structure in need of extensive carpentry.  2 bed, 1 bath, 1 car garage.  Land of 229 sq metres” (about 2450 sq ft), so a tiny lot.  Apparently there had been an issue with water (flood) as well as termites.  Ah, but it’s a blank slate! Think of what you could do with it…  And walking distance to the shops and restaurants of Cronulla.  Just think, next year you’ll be right here, right in Cronulla when the Sharks take the premiership cup (chortle, chortle) The Shire is growing ladies and gentlemen, and this is prime location.  So said your auctioneer, dressed in what I’m afraid reminded me far too much of a funeral director’s attire.  Fifteen or so potential buyers milled about.  The auctioneer laid down the ground rules – all buyers must be registered, the lucky winner will need to deliver 10% of the purchase price today, the auctioneer can make one bid on the property at any time he wishes and must inform you at the time he does so that he is exercising that right.  Mr. Mortician was looking for an opening bid, somewhere in the neighborhood of $550,000.  Anyone?  Anyone?  “I thought this might be a problem…” he commented.  And at that time he exercised his option and put down a bid of $600,000.  Wham bam, thank you, ma’am.  Wha?  Lesson one, we learned from another lookie-loo at the auction as we chatted on our walk home afterwards, is that this particular tactic is used by sellers who want more money and will now use this figure in negotiations with interested potential buyers who have been to see the home in the few weeks’ run-up to the auction.

But still we felt a little cheated by the experience – where was the bidding war?! Where was the action??!!!  Lucky for us, Saturday was a HUGE day for auctions in the shire, with some 115 or so property auctions to occur that day.  And one of them was 26 Loch Lomond Crescent, which, faithful readers will remember, we toured in episode 1 of House Hunters International (please see my 28 September letter if you need a refresher.)  So at 10:15 we found ourselves, and some 40 other people, on the lawn of this diamond-in-the-rough, awaiting the start of another auction.  We saw at least 2 potential buyers with bidding cards, one numbered 8 and one 9.  Hmmm, I looked around for other numbers… we might see some action.   Your man laid down the same ground-rules, but did not look quite so mortician-y, in a suit but with a loosened neck-tie and unbuttoned collar.   And he was assisted by an attractive young woman who appeared to be an escapee from the Robert Palmer “Addicted to Love” video (  As in the video, she was silent, and rather than play a guitar she was there to keep track of the bids on an iPad.  And soon she had something to keep track of.  “Can we start the bidding somewhere in the low twos?  Maybe $2.1 million?  Anybody?”  [Mark raised a large wad of the papers he should have been marking.  He was willing to bid them all.  No one understood and he was ignored.]  Number “8” raised his card. “Two million.”  Number “9” countered, “Two million, ten.”  Robert Palmer drew “8” and “9” along, sometimes in $20,000 increments, sometimes in $5,000 ones.  “9” looked like a contractor, in his mid-30s conferring occasionally with someone I suspect was his father.  “8” looked like he was buying for himself and the smiling woman standing behind his left shoulder.  At about $2,200,000 as Robert Palmer continued to play “8” and “9” against each other, and looked to another couple it seems he thought might enter the fray, a bald man, likely a listing agent, said “Wait,” and walked toward the garage.  Palmer didn’t respond and just continued his patter.  Agent again spoke, unwilling to make his exit until Palmer nodded in acknowledgement.  A few minutes later Agent returned and whispered in Palmer’s ear.  Palmer smiled,  “Ladies and gentlemen, we will be selling today.  Is there any advance?”  Apparently the reserve had been met.  Bidding continued, “8” and “9” exchanging bids on up to $2,200,000, but much as he tried Palmer couldn’t coax another $5,000 out of “9” and his father, so “8” and his lovely wife had the winning bid.  A year from now, and with another million into the property, they are going to have some spectacular place!  [And I will still be marking these dadgum papers.]

Since Mark is marking and can’t devote massive quantities of time to sightseeing, he graded for a bit more and then we went to see a couple of more open houses, just for the heck of it.  The open houses here are only shown for about half an hour, so we went to one on Cross Road and then walked around the corner to Harris Street see another, but had to wait a bit for the agent to close up Cross street and bring his keys an “open” sign and let us in.  These houses don’t really have a stated price on any of the materials.  You’ve got to ask the agent and he’ll tell you “Somewhere between 1.5 and 1.6” [That’s millions, folks.] for Cross Road  and 1.4 to 1.5 for Harris.  We really were quite confused.  A couple of weeks ago we looked at a brand new development and toured the show house there.  We spoke with the agent and she told us the starting price on the various models they had was around $200,000 but with some of the upgrades they might get up in the neighborhood of $300,000.  “That’s for everything?”  I asked.  She said yes.  We just haven’t been able to grapple with how that brand new 3-bedroom could cost $300K but this 4 bedroom on Cross Road is $1.5 million.  Yeah, the neighborhood is different, but not THAT different.  So when we were touring the Harris street house, we started to chat up some other lookie-loos and asked them about it.  At first they couldn’t understand what we were talking about.  We explained the houses and what we’d seen, and how we were so confused.  But then they figured out.  That $300,000 house?  It’s just the HOUSE. No land.  In a separate transaction, you’ll be buying the $800 or $900,000 lot that it sits on.  Oh… now I get it.  [But it raised some questions in my mind about whether one could, if one were so inclined, buy the house – just the house- and then stuff papers that one is supposed to be marking under the foundation so as to raise it up off the land and thus avoid both the need to purchase the land and the need to mark the papers.  This seems like something I should look into right away.]

This kind of thing is one more reason I’m so thankful we’re having this opportunity to live here rather than just visit as tourists.  I’ve got a couple of friends who I know hit up art and antiquity auctions when they’re off touring in Paris or London, but few tourists would spend precious travel days touring homes for sale.  But it really gives you a sense of what day-to-day life is like in a different country.

Again in sticking to home mode, Sunday we [got up and started marking papers and then we graded more of them and more and then sighed and graded another and then] took a short trip to the EG Woodhouse Camellia Gardens (  I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of this when we last lived here, probably because I was busy carting teens and pre-teens around and I’m not sure they would have enjoyed looking at plants, but this is just a beautiful garden.  CameliaGardenTreesThe camellias are pretty much done with their season, but there was plenty of other greenery, some quite tropical, interspersed among meandering brick pathways that would be quite easy to get lost on. CameliaGardenFlowers There are little streams, home to ducks of various species, and ibises.  I think some day when Mark has to work, I might just bring a book and plop myself on a grassy patch or a bench somewhere and while away a few hours in the fragrant atmosphere.  [I’ll be sniffing toner dust.]CameliaGardenDuck

I fear I’m getting a bit homesick.  Not so much for my home, but so much for my kids.  I know even if I were home I would still be away from Emmeline at LMU, but maybe just knowing that she might visit at Thanksgiving, or that I could drive to Portland to see Melinda or Everett to see Garth and Alica would take the sting off the distance.  But here I just feel so far away.   This experience is teaching me that those “Retire cheaply in Belize” fantasies, might not be all they’re cracked up to be.  [If you are still reading kids, it’s time to call your mother.]

That’s it from Cronulla.  More in a week…

Mary [and Mark]



5 October 2014

G’day Mates,

Another week down, but this one had one fewer hour in it for us to pack in all our adventures.  New South Wales sprang forward last night, so now we are on daylight saving time, and my mental calculation of what time it is back home has shifted and will shift once again in a few weeks’ time when the US falls back. We were +7 minus a day, we are +6 minus a day, we will be +5 minus a day.  I’ll leave your own math to you.  {Mark here: I recommend the use of the Laplace transform, and I have a Masters Degree – in science!}

Monday I visited Botany Bay Family History Society (BBFHS).  I contacted them my first week here about maybe giving a lecture or two while I was here, and they have taken me up on the offer.  At first Jean, the woman who schedules the classes, didn’t want anything “American,” but after she spoke with some other members, it seems just about everyone has something, maybe not a full-grown branch of the family, but at least a twig in the US, so I will be lecturing on the basics of US genealogical research on 21 October and then I’ll give a lecture on spreadsheets for genealogy in November.

The spreadsheet talk is something I’ve presented several times and have on my computer, so I’ll just need to run myself through the slides a time or two and I’ll be ready.  But the US genealogy talk is not one I’ve given before, so I had to formulate it from scratch, with an Aussie audience in mind.  It’s taken quite a lot of time to create it, but I did make a discovery in my own family when I was looking for examples of US records to present.  I’d known everyone in my great-grandmother, Mary Agnes Ahern’s family (to the extent that you can “know” people who were born in the 1860s and 70s and all died before WWII).  But several years ago I discovered a new brother, John, born 1861, with the first, last, and only record I’ve ever seen for him, a baptism in New Brunswick, New Jersey on 7 April 1861.  I assumed he must have died in New Jersey, but I had no idea – was he an infant? a two-year-old?  But when I was looking for just a sample mid-19th century death record to show the genealogists down here, I ran across a record for his death on 28 April, just three weeks after he was baptized.  My lecture, a random act of kindness for the folks down here, has filled in some of the blanks in my own tree.  A delightfully unexpected payback.  {I can verify that Mary was excited when she made this discovery.  I was working at the table in the dining room. Mer was in the recliner in the living room.  I heard her say “Holy Skamoley!!” and you could feel those two exclamation points as they smote the air, so I knew it was significant.}

Monday evening was the coolest!!  Actually it was quite warm, which is part of what made it so cool.  The low tide was around 5:30 pm, so Mark and I walked to Gunnamatta Bay, about 15 minutes away, and then we walked IN Gunnamatta Bay for an hour and a half or so.  The beach and park near Gunnamatta Pavilion were filled with mums and dads and kids enjoying the second week of school hols and heaps of teenagers doing what teenagers the world over do when their mums and dads aren’t around.  But we left them walked and walked far out into the bay, with the water never much above my knees.  There were plenty of stingrays – definitely watch where you’re walking and you’ll see them flap away ahead of you.  They want no more to be stepped on than you want to be stung.  The water is crystal clear, and we saw dozens of worms – they look like a thin rope, extending sometimes a metre or more along the sandy floor, but if you touch one, they quickly retract themselves into their little holes in the sand.  {I have to say here that while I am a very big fan of walking in general, walking in water up to my knees in water shared with several-foot-long tube worms stretched across the sand, stingrays that are doing their best to remain hidden on the bottom until the last moment when they can see (and I probably can’t) that “it’s no use, he’s going to step on me! Flee!!” as well as whatever the aforementioned teenagers left behind, … hmmm … we’re talking about water here, … yes, walking in water that’s it, and why I am not as big a fan as Mary.  She was brought up next to the ocean.  I was brought up in the desert southwest.  I’m fine with Diamondbacks and horny toads.  And while I appreciate stingrays in the abstract and particularly in aquariums, I am less enthusiastic when they are flapping around my ankles.  The long and the short of it is that Mer traipsed happily through the water for quite a while, and when she looked back she saw me trudging more or less gamely along, trailing about ten steps behind, trying to step in the spots that had already been cleared of the deadly squirming stingray demon fish.  Back to Mer, happily traipsing:}  The highlight of the walk was meeting my friend, Mr. Pelican.  There is a piling a ways off shore, with a 4 kph speed limit sign for boat traffic.  Given the low tide, there were no boats around to heed the warning, so Mr. Pelican parked himself atop the piling for a little rest and preening.  I waited and waited just below him, hoping to see him fly off, but my presence there didn’t bother him a whit and he didn’t budge.  Mark had a bit of flotsam he’d picked up on the beach and he tossed it this way and that to try to attract the pelican’s curiosity to investigate it, but Mr. P was quite happy to stay just where he was.  It was pretty cool to be just a few feet away from such a large bird.  We could even see him blink!  {BTW, Pelican eyes are way weirder than you might imagine.  Ours had the yellow eyes, or so it seemed, and if you don’t have one handy for close inspection, you will likely want to do an image search for “Pelican eye.” Why wouldn’t you?}

Tuesday and much of Wednesday were filled mostly with accounting work.  This is our third sabbatical and it is striking the difference that technology has made in my experience.  On our first, to Limerick, I did just a wee bit of work.  On the second one, down here nine years ago, I did a bit more, but not more than two or three hours a month.  But the internet of 2014 is a mixed blessing – sitting on my couch in Wooloware I’m able to do pretty much exactly the same client work I do sitting on my couch in Seattle, only here the birds are prettier.  Lorikeets and rosellas crawl through the crimson bottlebrush tree just outside my window, keeping me entertained as they look for a tasty nugget.  So while I may have to spend some of my beach time working here, it gives me a little jingle in my pocket and happy clients that will still be keen to see me when I head home.  All in all, it’s a pretty nice gig.

Wednesday was not all work, though.  Late in the arvo (afternoon) I got on the train at Wooloware bound for Wanderland.  My Wednesday trivia buds had secured tickets to see the Western Sydney Wanderer’s ( host FC Seoul in the semi-final of the Asian Champions League.  Michael, Chrissie, OtherMark and a couple of their friends and I were there to see all the action – well, not quite ALL the action, because the queue to get it was quite long and we got to watch as three – that would be all three of the bag-checking guards at our gate – confer for several minutes as to whether the wording on one particular ardent fan’s sign fell within whatever appropriate or inappropriate criteria there are for fan signs.  After much pointing and conferring and perhaps a consultation with a dictionary, they let the bloke in and the line once again shuffled forward, where just as we reached the gate we heard the crowd’s roar as the Wanderers scored.  But we saw a second goal by the local boys and that was all she wrote for FC Seoul.

My Seattle Sounders FC fans would be right at home here with the Wanderers crowd.  Although Pirtek stadium in Parramatta is quite a bit smaller than Century Link, the supporters were out in force.  “Who do you sing for?” “We sing for the Wanderers!” “Who do you sing for?” “We sing for the Wanderers!” “Who do you sing for?” “We sing for the Wanderers!”  And then you sing.  I have no idea what exactly the words of this song we sang are, but that is hardly the point.  Just sing.  We plan to sing with them all again on 25 October when they face the Saudi Arabian giants, Al-Hilal, in the first leg of the grand final.  The venue for the match is still undecided, however, because, while the Wanderers want to support and be supported by their own local crowd, the league mucky mucks want to be sure that there is adequate security, and apparently more importantly, sufficiently fancy food and beverage service, for members of the Saudi royal family in attendance who will most certainly NOT be singing for the Wanderers.  But will the guards let them bring in their cheer signs?  I’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, I have to say, I felt quite decadent.  We took our towels and books and walked to Eloura beach and laid out and read for a couple of hours.  Imagine that, on a Thursday in October, I’m lying on a sunny beach reading.  What do I think I am, on vacation or something?  Yep, when you get your work done on Wednesday, you get to play on Thursday.  Ain’t I lucky…

Since we were busy with the Wanderers on Wednesday we missed trivia at the Union Hotel, but we met our Thursday team at the Wooloware Golf Club.  This time we had a few extras.  Since it’s the school hols, Chuck’s son, Brendan, Brendan’s American wife, and her college friend were also at the table.  They’re in their late 20’s and both Brendan’s wife and her friend are Wellesley alumnae.  We pretty much had every demographic you’d want on a trivia team, and found ourselves well and truly in first place at the end of the evening.  When the host came by with our winnings, he tossed the gift cards on the table and teasingly said, “Yankee, go home!”  No such luck, Mister.  I’m here for several more months.  {When he said that, he was looking straight at Mer.  He later came back around and offered me gift cards if I would stay and play for teams that needed to be taken down a peg or two.}

Friday I helped my friend Kath with some of the table details for her family reunion.  More about that later.  But since I hadn’t quite gotten my fill of sport this week, Mark and I headed back to Pirtek, this time to see the Greater Sydney Rams ( face off against Brisbane City (no website given, I’m nothing if not a loyal, home-town fan).  First a bit about the journey.  We were a little late getting out of Wooloware, but we determined if we didn’t catch the ferry at Circular Quay where the run starts, but instead picked it up at its first stop, Darling Harbour, we’d have just enough time to make the boat, the last ferry of the day to service that route.  We made it to the pier with plenty of time to spare.  While we waited for the green and gold Sydney ferry to arrive, a Captain Cook Cruise boat docked and people got off and on.  “Last call for Parramatta.”  But no, that can’t be our boat, Captain Cook is a private company.  Off they went, and immediately, the “4:20 departure for Parramatta” listed on the reader board disappeared.  Uh-oh.  Back to the ticket agent who looked at us as idiots – how could you idiotic Americans possibly not have seen that boat??? –  but who eventually assured us we could take the next boat, get off at the Sydney Olympic Park stop, and get a different boat from there to Parramatta.  Mind you this boat was not listed on the handy dandy iPhone app so with trepidation we waited, not quite sure of just where we’d be spending the next several hours.  Boat came, we hopped on.  Off at Olympic Park.  No ferry to Parramatta, but there was one to Rydalmere, part-way there, so we boarded that, rode up to Rydalmere, disembarked and soon our third ferry arrived and took us the rest of the way.  Sort of a slow boat to China but we made it.  And it was probably a good thing because we would have had several hours in Parramatta waiting for match time.

Finally our Rams took the field, urged on by their… adorable???… mascot.  I wish I could fully capture the disconnect between the 30 specimens of virility out on that field, the tight jerseys filled near to bursting with solid muscle (is it getting hot in here?), and the fuzzy white creature skipping up and down the sidelines, with his? her? long eyelashes and a pair brown ram’s horns bobbing up and down like curly pigtails on a seven-year-old school-girl.  But such an enthusiastic display of support inspired the Rams to victory.  And I got myself a souvenir, an orange fleece hat with blue ram’s horns.  Seattle’s in for some bobbing come January.Mer in rams hat

Mark got the dreaded e-mail Friday night.  The 100+ school assignments he is responsible to grade {More like 140 but who’s counting?) are ready.  So he’ll be nose-to-the-grindstone for the next several weeks.  Vacation mode is temporarily off the agenda (at least for one of us.)  So Saturday had us lying low around home.  {I am driven to remark that there are a remarkable number of ways to engage in grading-avoidance behavior here in Australia – even more than there are in Seattle. I could write about them for hours ….}

But today Mark did take a bit of time off for us to attend Kath’s family reunion.  Again, I cannot hope to express how very lucky we are to have met the Downes family.  We’ve got a lovely little home to live in; the loan of anything we don’t have that we might need; invitations to trivia, and sport, and most heart-warmingly, to family functions.  There were about 100 people there today, ranging in age from Michael and Toni’s four-month-old grandson all the way up to Michael’s 91-year-old father, and we were embraced right into the family picture with all of them.

We sat at the random cousins’ table and had great company.  I mentioned a few episodes ago that I had met a really nice woman, Sue, on the day of the BBFHS trip to the nursing exhibit.  She and another woman are writing a book of short biographies of the 450+ men (and a few women) whose names appear on the four WWI memorials here in the Shire.  They were having a bit of trouble finding info on one man, John Gilbert Ferguson, who had emigrated to America with his family, but his name is on the memorial here.  Did he really serve, or did his name wind up on the monument because his cousins had served, and they were a prominent family, and you know… surely he must have served so the family connection got his name on the monument?  Well I offered to put on my US genealogy hat and see what I could come up with, and I found some census records of his parents and sisters, some passenger manifests and a few death records, and finally the smoking gun of a newspaper article about a WWI benefit gala for the troops in San Francisco in 1917, where a Hilda Ferguson was one of several young women from Australia and New Zealand who were working at the Anzac booth at the gala and “each of them has a brother serving in France.”  I sent the info to Sue, and she said she’d share it with Marilyn, her co-author.  Well it seems Marilyn’s husband, Ross, is a cousin of Kath, and Marilyn and Kath had worked on some genealogy together, and who should wind up sitting next to me today but Marilyn.  Needless to say, we had lots in common and heaps to talk about.

Now it is Sunday evening, and once again, Super Bowl Sunday.  What?!!! Two weekends in a row??!!  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is no limit to the lengths Aussies will go to gather in a stadium and sing the national anthem.  This week is the Grand Final in Rugby League, the South Sydney Rabbitohs versus the Canterbury Bulldogs.  I will spare you the detailed timeline, but pre-game highlights included performances by Slash and Train.  There was a parade of retiring players, though apparently rugby is easier on the body, because while the retiring AFL players were driven around the stadium in trucks, the NRL players could actually walk in by themselves.  And there was a bit of a pre-game ceremony centering around a bell – something like an old-fashioned school bell, that was rung by the Rabbitoh’s owner and #1 fan.  For the win in trivia this week, can you name him?  I’ll leave it to you to work that out.

I forgot last week in my descriptions to share with you our surprise when we heard the fight songs of the AFL opponents.  I don’t know what the words are for either team, but the melody of the Sydney Swans song is the Notre Dame fight song, and the Hawthorn Hawk’s theme is sung to Yankee Doodle Dandy. Today we were again struck with the same curiosity, when the Rabbitoh’s took the field to “Glory glory to South Sydney, glory glory to South Sydney, glory glory to South Sydney, South Sydney marches on.”  I think you can come up with the melody for that one.  Poor Bulldogs, however, had to rely on the baseball walk-up song of the self-absorbed “Big Dog” himself, Pay-Rod.

That’s it for this week.  I’ll leave it to Mark to doctor my tale {Consider it Dr.’d. I have a grindstone to get back to.} and by the time he’s done, we should be able to report the final score of the rugby game.  With 18 minutes to go, Rabbitohs up 12-6.  Go Bunnies!

Mary {and Mark}

The rabbits won!  And, Th Th That’s All Folks!

Letter #3: 28 September 2014

28 September 2014

G’day Mates,

Another week gone.  This was kind of a nice one as it was the School Hols.  For those of you not familiar with Australian, you either shorten the word and add an “ie” – (bacon and eggs for brekkie) or you just plain shorten it – hence Holidays becomes Hols.  It’s essentially Spring break Aussie-style.  So Mark was off school all week and we were able to see a few more local sights.

Monday morning I woke up and began looking on the interwebs for a whale watching trip.  Apparently with the school hols we should have planned ahead, as I couldn’t find an available boat for us.  But, I ran across a Groupon for a dinner cruise aboard a tall ship in Sydney Harbor, and spit spot we were reserved for Monday night.  Weather was beautiful and we were promised champagne and a beautiful sunset on the water.  We took an early train in and walked around Hyde Park where we saw lots of ibises.  Such unusual looking birds and these were not a bit shy. IbisNear Sydney Harbor

We walked across the street to Saint Mary’s Cathedral where we saw an interesting juxtaposition of theatre advertising and religion.  The cathedral is a huge and imposing sandstone structure, all right angles and arches soaring up toward heaven, and just outside the door hanging from the street light is a fifteen-foot-high banner, the green face of Elphaba in all her glory and the title, “Wicked” across the top.  I couldn’t help but see a message (perhaps from a higher power?) in the placement of the sign.  “Feeling it?  Let us help.” StMarysCathedralWicked

We walked through the Royal Botanic Gardens.  Beautiful, but alas, the flying foxes have been relocated since we last lived here.  We used to enjoy seeing them in the park, and even some evenings we’d see them flying south from Sydney at dusk in search of a meal.  But apparently they were wreaking havoc on the precious heritage-listed specimen trees and so were given their marching orders a few years ago.  The place is not the same without them.

We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day.  We walked along the water out to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, past the Opera House and around Circular Quay.  Dominating CQ was the enormous, gargantuan, colossal (need I go on?) gigantic, tremendously big (Can I stop now?) cruise ship, the Carnival Legend, her first day in port for the summer cruise season.  She even made the opera house look small.  Finally about 5:15 it was time to board, our (slightly smaller) barq, the Southern Swan, built in 1922.  We had a two-hour tour of the harbor, first to the east to Vaucluse and around Shark Island, the westward wind from the east filled (sort of) our sails and propelled us under the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  All the while we were wined and dined and entertained by pleasant company and an able crew.  It was so fun that on our way home we bought another Groupon to enjoy the same trip when my sister and brother-in-law, Tori and Steve, come to visit in November. SouthernSwanMerOnTheSouthernSwan1OperaHouse&BridgeByNight

Tuesday we took a drive along the Hawkesbury river valley.  First stop was Windsor to see the Macquarie Arms Hotel, built in 1815.  [Actually the first stop was along some grubby street somewhere in some Sydney suburb and was undertaken because the car in front of us had also stopped, pretty much for the same reason, which is to say that the traffic was unpleasant.  Many stops followed that first one.  The system of freeways in this portion of the world is underdeveloped by some standard, mine I guess, and we often avoid the good ones that are here because they often have tolls and we don’t have the electronic tag that allows you to scoot along and pay automatically.  So, anyhow, traffic was bad in the big city and I was driving on the left side and sitting on the right.] [I’ll stop complaining now.] [The rest of the day was fabulous.] [Until we had to drive back through Sydney suburbs on the way home…]  We drove northeast, stopping at the Australian Pioneer Village – Hawkesbury Heritage Farm to see the Rose Cottage, RoseCottagethe oldest timber slab dwelling in Australia.  We (sort of) lucked out, in that normally this pioneer village would be closed on a weekday, but given the school hols, it was open, (but filled with school kids).  We left them to the crafts-making and sheep shearing demonstrations and meandered past the 1809 Ebenezer Uniting Church, EbenezerChurchWisemansFerryCrossinga beautiful sandstone building.  We crossed the Hawkesbury four times on little cable ferries.  After our third crossing we snaked up along the west side of the Macdonald River to the little town of St. Albans with its 1836 convict-built sandstone inn.  On our way back down the east side of the Macdonald we stopped at the St. Albans Old General Cemetery, a graveyard with inscriptions dating back to 1833, including the grave of First Fleeter, William Douglas, from 1838.  Oh, and we saw our first kangaroo, this time around but he [or she!] bounded off through the lush green grass, ducked nimbly under a barbed wire fence and was off into some scrubby trees before we could snap a picture.  [I will add here that we do not “snap pictures” anyway {sniff}.  We may capture images if given sufficient time and motivation but when one owns a camera such as some of us do, snapping is right out.] Settlers InnWilliam Douglas grave







Have you seen the House Hunters International episode with Mary and Mark, the couple from Seattle shopping for waterfront property in Cronulla and Wooloware – with a budget up to somewhere around $4.5 million?  That’s how we spent our Wednesday (and a little of Thursday).  First we went to 6 hazel place, buraneer (note the lack of capitalization on the uber-fancy brochure).  (  The house was probably built in the 40’s.  The brocade wall-paper and orange tile in the 70’s era kitchen will have to be dealt with, but this potential buyer will be spending most of her time at somewhere in the lower forty, in the pool just above the waters of Gunnamatta Bay.  Oh cabana boy [or girl!], another margarita, please.

Next, our buyers headed to 26 Lock Lomond Cresent, also in Burraneer.  This one was probably built in the 1950s or 60s and has not been touched since.  (  Well, maybe a little.  Someone has built a deck on top of the unused swimming pool.   Oh, but the property… west facing toward Port Hacking.  And we could put in a little jetty down on the water, just perfect for the yacht we’ll be shopping for in next week’s episode of Yacht Hunters International.

Thursday your faithful house hunters switched focus to a brand new property, the last remaining unsold unit in the Bathers Beach Residences in North Cronulla (  And just like all good house hunters, we must like this one because it has stainless steel appliances.  Ooooh.  It’s got a lovely view of the ocean, not much between you and the sand, except a fence.  The professor can see over it, but I’ll have to wear some high heel shoes.

Shopping for property here is quite different.  Many properties, half? maybe more? aren’t sold, they’re auctioned.  So you really don’t have much of an idea as to what they will cost.  Only the last of these three properties was actually priced, $2,750,000 but our man, Gus, the agent, let us know it’s the last of the lot and the developer’s anxious to be rid of it, so you might get a deal…

Wednesday night saw Toddler Fight Club again victorious at the Union Hotel trivia contest.  This time the professor joined in (due of course to the school hols).  And your correspondent won one of the spot prizes, a jug of beer, by being the first to answer just one simple question, “Who was the fourth wife of Henry VIII.”  Tudors.  Totally in my wheelhouse!  Yes!!!! [The professor, that’s me, was mostly slumped in my chair at the end of the table throughout the contest.  My ears, though they appear quite large and functional are really not as useful as they might be in a noisy environment such as this.  I was kinda out of it.  I did perk up when I managed to hear the central phrase in one of the questions: “… Indian mammal known for its ability to kill cobras…” I know that one, I thought, and yelled out “Rudyard Kipling!”  The people at the table next to me who had become accustomed to my lassitude were alarmed by this outburst and called for more beer.  My teammates were confused, but being nice people they gave me a moment.  I could tell I was wrong. “I mean, Rikki Tikki Tavi!” I yelled. They looked away and somebody wrote down, “mongoose.”  I slumped back into torpor and remained there throughout the remainder of the evening.  We won anyway.]

Thursday and Friday we kind of stuck close to home.  Mark worked in the garden and made a new friend.  I’ll let him take over here for a bit.  [Well, three new friends actually.  And those of you who are able to keep up with the incredible stream of information that I post almost fortnightly via Facebook (It’s like a fire hose really, just not hooked up right) know that we are talking Australian Magpies here.  I was out in the back weeding the rose beds.  Here, “weeding the rose beds” means rediscovering the rose beds, as they had been completely obscured by a luxuriant emerald growth of grass.  Goats were needed but when you don’t have a goat, an associate professor will sometime do.  Anyway, I was pulling out weeds by the armful and disturbing a great many ants, grubs, slugs and bugs in the process.  The birds in Australia are extraordinary and I had been entertained throughout my time in the back yard by the comings and goings of Lorikeets, Wattle birds, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Noisy Miners, Currawongs, and now I heard the whoosh of Australian Magpies flying in.  Three of them took their places in a gum tree nearby and seemed keenly interested in my work.  It was just a minute or two before they swooped down to make a meal of the unfortunates I was exposing.  I had my phone with me and I got video of the whole episode.  You can see it here:  They have returned on several different occasions.  We are buds.]

After a couple of days of kind of foul weather at week’s end, it cleared up Saturday for a nice walk on the beach in the morning, and your house hunters toured yet another property.  This one was again in Cronulla, just a few doors north of the Bathers Beach, and yet worlds away.  (   When you check out the website, read the caption under the photos – “Virtually furnished.”  Ladies and gentlemen, this is not what we saw. This one bedroom, one bath unit in an aging surfer’s paradise building, however, is much more reasonably priced.  It’s expected to fetch a mere 500,000 quid at auction later this week.

After our walk we had to dash back to see the Aussie Super Bowl – the AFL Grand Final, Sydney Swans versus Hawthorn Hawks.  It came with all the requisite pageantry, starting at 9:30 in the morning.  As game-time approached, the excitement built!  – 1.30pm: Retiring players motorcade. 1.36pm: Ed Sheeran and Tom Jones.  2.02 pm: Mike Brady performance.  2.12pm: Umpires enter arena on cue / delivery of match footballs.  2.14pm: Hawthorn enters arena on cue/team photo.  2.17pm: Sydney Swans enter arena on cue/team photo.  2.25pm: Premiership Cup arrival.  2.26pm: National Anthem (Olivia Newton-John).  2.28pm: Two sirens – toss of coin.  2.30pm: 2014 Toyota AFL Grand Final commences.  For those of you still awake, thank goodness for cut and paste – I found a website that can show you, faithful reader, just how organized these Australians can be when they put their minds to it.

The game was something of a blow-out, reminiscent of Super Bowl XLVIII but I’m afraid our team was on the losing side of the equation this time.    The whole commercial thing is different here, mostly because it certainly is a different game than American football.  There is just enough time after a goal to squeeze in one 30-second spot while the umpires get the ball back to the center of the field and play resumes.  And I learned one thing watching the commercials – most measurements in this country are metric – my car drives in kilometres, I buy gas in litres, I bake my scones in degrees centigrade – but if you’re shopping for a TV, you’ll be looking for one measured in inches.

Today we went to the flea market in Caringbah.  (I bought a straw hat.) Then we walked across the old railroad bridge over the Georges River.  Nice lazy day. MerAtCaringbahFleaMarket

More next time,

Mary [and Mark]