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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]

Letter #2: 21 September 2014

21 September 2014

G’day Mates,

It’s been quite the busy week.  A couple of boat rides and many, many train rides.  Oh, a car and a bus, too.  Pour yourself a cuppa and let me tell you all about it.

Sunday we were invited to a Dinner-For-Eight  (which was actually a lunch).  Our local parish organizes these groups, typically 8+/-people, and they get together on a monthly basis to have a meal.  I think the group is together for about 6 months and then names are put back into whatever hat and redrawn, and new groups are established.  It’s a really nice way to get to know people.  Our Dinner-For-Eight was at Toni and Michael’s house (they just snuck us into their group).  As it was a lovely day, Mark and I walked, over to their house from ours, passing through the Cronulla street fair (mobbed with people), past a car show and along the beach.  Lots of families and surfers out to enjoy the sunshine and brisk spring air.  We were only 7 at our D-F-E but had some quite interesting conversation.  The Catholic flock in Australia seems to express much of the same disenchantment with the policies and attitudes of the Church hierarchy as do their American counterparts.

Monday Mark and I worked a bit at home and then ventured to the big mall a couple of suburbs over.  It is undergoing major renovations and there are closed shops and scaffolding everywhere.  In many ways it looks like a typical US mall with the food court, etc., however there are more grocery stores in the mall than we are used to seeing, at least in Washington and California.  And the center-of-the-mall kiosk-type merchants aren’t just sunglasses or jewelry vendors – there’s a butcher and a cheese monger kiosk in the mall.  And we found one store, very much like “Big-Lots,” but with a much better name – “The Reject Shop.”  Really, doesn’t that just whet your appetite for the merchandise?!!

Speaking of groceries, we’re learning to adapt our recipes for what we can get.  There’s plenty of sausage, but not quite the same taste or texture as I’m accustomed to back home.  And I tried to by shallots.  I’m used to the shallot that looks like a small onion covered in papery skin.  Oh, but the “shallots” I found at Aldi grocery were scallions on steroids – as big around as a man’s thumb and 3 feet long!  Every trip to the grocery is an adventure.  [Mark, here – I feel compelled to note that not every trip to the grocery store is actually, strictly speaking, an adventure.  I had one just this afternoon that was quite routine.  I walked to the store and bought eggs, almond extract, and brown sugar.  It all went more or less just as you would imagine such a trip would go.  There was a noisy beer garden set up right outside the store but that is not as unusual as you might think because this grocery store is situated in an outdoor mall and there is a bar next to the grocery store. All right, that could have been a little adventuresome but it wasn’t.  I passed it by and started walking straight home.  I was just a few blocks from my destination when I spotted a mound of junk lying out in front of a house.  I crossed the street to have a look.  This is something one sees frequently in Australia – mounds of household junk in front of houses.  It comes from a thing called “Council Cleanup.”  The council is the local (very local) government and they take care of things like maintenance, infrastructure, infrastructure maintenance and the structure of maintaining inferences or something.  It’s not clear.  One of the things they do is Council Cleanup, wherein, anyone can put a mound of stuff they don’t want anymore out in front of their house and call out “Council Cleanup!”  The council will, in due time, send someone around with a truck and take away the mound.  There is an interval between the summons and the truck – usually a few days to a few weeks – and during that interval anyone passing by the mound can paw through it and supplement their own store of junk.  It’s like a moving sidewalk sale where everything is free and has been left out in the rain.  I had had significant and meaningful experience with council cleanup just a few weeks earlier having helped to make a very significant mound, more of a heap, really, a small mountain range actually, out in front of the house we are renting.  Michael’s parents moved out of this house several months ago and loads of stuff was consigned to council cleanup.  I added a great deal of vegetation culled from an extremely fertile front yard.  Council cleanup, it seems, is ready for anything.    But I digress.  You will recall that I was on my way home from a routine trip to the grocery store and I spotted this mound of junk along the way.  I crossed the street to have a look.  It was about what you’d expect, a few old chairs from the 1970s, a child’s backpack with a broken shoulder strap, an old printer, a ruined bookshelf (Always remember, Friends Don’t Let Friends Buy Particle Board!) and some couch cushions, sans couch.  Beneath the cushions was a black fan on a stand.  I know that winter is on its way out and soon, instead of wandering around the house in a pair of mukluks and a sweatshirt because we have no heat (many Aussie houses are this way), I will be sweating and looking for a breeze. I began to pull the fan out from under the cushions.  At this point I became aware of a guy, presumably the owner of the house, coming out of the backyard and headed for the mound and me. He was dressed all in blue: blue hat, blue, shirt, blue pants, and no shoes (many Aussie men are this way).  He was also carrying a spray bottle (not blue) and was periodically aiming the bottle and squeezing the trigger, producing a stream of liquid that he directed at things on the ground that he found offensive, I guess.  “Council Cleanup!” he declared by way of greeting.  I wasn’t sure exactly how to respond so I went with, “Aw, yeah,” which is pretty generic and may be used for a wide variety of situations.  I asked about the fan and was invited to take it.  “Better you than the council, mate.”  Lots of people are pretty derisive about “the council.”  It’s a little like, “the man.”  While I extracted the fan from the grasp of the cushions I was treated to an explanation of how the fan came to be in the mound.  “Just moved from Oyster Bay,” declared the blue man.  “We’ve got air con here,” he said, gesturing at the house, “so it’s all yours.”  By this time I had the thing out and found that the fan was no longer one with the stand.  It dangled by exposed wires, looking as though it had been decapitated by an inexpert executioner.  I decided to leave it with him and told him so.  “Well, it’ll be here until Wednesday if you change your mind,” a pause, “We’ve got another one inside but it’s broken.” This raised questions in my mind about why the broken fan was inside while, … this other broken one was here in the mound but I thought it better not to ask the blue man too much about his motivations.  He eyed me and advanced a bit.  “Think you might like that one?”  The spray bottle was now aimed more or less at me and it occurred to me that I had eggs that were needed at home.  “Aw, no mate.  I’ll leave it with you, but, ahh, … Wednesday, right?”  His eyes narrowed, his expression darkened and he brought the bottle up, aiming straight at my chest.  I took a step back, still holding the fan, and tripped a little over the curb.  He snarled menacingly and said, “It’s a lovely fan.  Why don’t you take it, mate?” His trigger finger was tightening and goo was oozing from the barrel of the spray bottle.  I brought the fan up so that it was between me and the bottle.  “Did you say Oyster Bay,” I asked?  “Right.  What of it?”  “My best mate is from Oyster Bay!  Rolf! Do you know Rolf?  I’ll bet you know Rolf.  Everyone knows old Rolf.”  “Rolf who?” he growled.  “Rolf Boldrewood.  Sure you know Rolf.  He was in prison in Berrima in the late 1800s.  He wrote ‘Robbery Under Arms: A Story of Life and Adventure in the Bush and in the Gold Fields of Australia.’  Good old Rolf.  His dad was a cattle rustler but Rolf was alright. Except for the bits with the grog. Look, Rolf would want you to have this fan and, I’ve got to get these eggs home.  Plus there’s almond extract, and you know that’ll go bad if you let it.”  “What?  Almond extract?” he asked.  “It’ll go bad?” He seemed a little taken aback by this news and I seized the momentary uncertainty to cross the street.  “Say ‘Hi’ to Rolf for me next time you see him!” I called over my shoulder.  “Adios, amigo!”  Pretty confused now, he turned back to his assault on the ground and I hurried on up the street.

We now return you to the letter Mary has written.]

My trip to the bank was a bit of an adventure as well.  Mark’s university needed details of our Australian bank account months before we arrived, so we contacted a bank and got accounts set up.  I say accounts, because we couldn’t get a joint account until both of us were here, so he started with a separate account and when I arrived we activated the joint account.  They gave me a debit card and I set a PIN but they told me it would take an hour or so to activate everything so I didn’t use the card right away.  A few days later I tried to use my card to buy a train ticket but it wouldn’t work at the ticket vending machine nor with the live agent.  Maybe the systems were down…  I tried again a few days later, still no luck.  Maybe I had the wrong PIN… So Tuesday I went to the bank.  The friendly teller, Gabby, checked – my PIN was right.  Everything looks just fine.  So I try to use the card at the ATM outside the bank.  Nothing.  I go back inside.  Gabby  thinks it must be the card and she can order a new one sent to me.   But I’d still like to have a little money in my pocket .  “Can I just get some cash from you, please?” I ask.  “Certainly.”  So she tries and my account is locked.  Apparently my bank thought I only wanted to put money INTO the account, not take any OUT.  Really??  Maybe that’s a thing here – you just let bank hang onto your money but you don’t spend it.  Not for me, thanks.  After a half hour with Gabby’s supervisor, and 3 trips out to the ATM with her, I finally got it sorted and my funds are now flowing in the proper direction.

When I went on my trip last week to the nursing exhibit with the genealogy group, I met Barbara Wimble.  She mentioned that her husband, Warren, is involved with Probus, a senior group, and once a month runs “Two-fifty Thursdays.”  The seniors here get a “concessions” card which entitles them to ride for an entire day on the trains, buses and ferries for a mere $2.50.  So Warren plans monthly trips, offering scant details of the adventure – just  “meet on this train at that time time, and maybe wear good shoes for walking and bring a light jacket because it might be cool.”  The guests could have no idea where they are going, but they seem to show up anyway.  Barbara had clued me in that the group was planning a trip to the Tulip Time festival in Bowral ( and she took my phone and email for Warren to send me the details.  I received an email from Warren, “On Wednesday 18th September we are going to Bowral…” with all the details. So Wednesday morning I was bright and early at the Wooloware station and off to meet the train at Sutherland. 8:28 the train pulls in, I board the second carriage as directed and head upstairs. There are three 60-something men, but not a lot of people. “Are any of you Warren?” I ask. Blank stares. [Now, as the trained academic, I feel compelled to point out that Mary is using metaphor in this story. Clearly Warren who invites the guests and provides for them but tells them little about their journey and nothing about the destination, is God. Barbara is a prophet, interpreting Warren’s word for those in the inner circle. Then Mary receives an e-mail. Whoa! And what about those three men with the blank stares? She meets them on the upper floor of the train, while on her own journey… Think about it!] I called Barbara. “Are you on the train?” I ask. “No. It’s tomorrow,” she replies. [Ha! Think about that!] (I checked my email, and yes indeed Warren had said, Wednesday, but senior moment… meant Thursday.) Ah, well. It’s now 8:35 and I’ve a decision to make – turn around and head back to Wooloware (to climb back into bed) or keep heading north and see what adventures awaited.

Since my role here is to be your foreign (except for you, Wayne, in W.A.) correspondent, I knew there would be far more fodder in the big city than in sleepy Wooloware, so on to Sydney it was. I detrained at Town Hall and went to The Queen Victoria Building. A beautiful piece of Victoriana from the 1890s, it used to house the early Sydney produce market but is now filled with trendy clothing and shoe stores. I wasn’t there for the shopping but to see the coolest clock in the world but unfortunately I missed being there on the hour (when it does its cool thing) both coming and going and so I missed the theatrics. I’ll just have to go back. I did however walk up to The Rocks, the original Sydney settlement from the early 19th century, and wandered through the little lanes to soak up some history.

Now to soak up some views. And what better place than “The Coathanger,” more formally known as the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Hard to believe that I since didn’t get to go to the tulips with the seniors, my fall-back activity had to be walking across one of the most iconic structures on the planet. Yes, this is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. History – check. Views – check.IMG_5375

Now to soak up some rays. (Yes, I wore my sunscreen.) It was a beautiful spring day and I spent the next three hours aboard the Pam Burridge, one of the smallest of the 28 Sydney ferries, zigzagging my way eastward along the water from Circular Quay, stopping at Darling Harbour, Cockatoo Island, Kissing Point, Sydney Olympic Park, and more, up to Paramatta and then returned to Darling Harbour to catch a train home.   Lots of birds to look at on the snags and in the mangroves along the Paramatta river.IMG_5407

I made it back home but soon headed out again. Michael and I drove back into Sydney and picked up his daughter Chrissie for dinner and a little pub quiz at the Union Hotel in Newtown.  A couple of Chrissie’s friends and her husband, Mark, [Let’s call him “Other Mark,” shall we?] joined us and I must say we rocked. Took first place quite handily, besting the second place finishers by 7 points. It was really a great quiz, lots of variety in the questions. We had the perfect demographics for a killer trivia team – 4 GenXers, (one of whom works for a magazine publishing company and knows all the celebrity scoop), plus Michael in his early 60s and your friend, the Yank in her mid-50s. We’ll definitely be back!

Thursday once again found me on an early train, and this time the people were there! There were 17 in our group, switching trains first at Wolli Creek and then at Campbelltown for the last leg to Bowral. We passed through some eucalyptus forest that had undergone a fire some years back. It was so interesting to see the way the trees regenerate, new leaves sprouting not just from the high branches but all along the trunk. Where you would expect to see bark is a mat of green leaves.

The company on the train was delightful. Fred and Dorothy [Let’s call her “Ginger,” shall we?], retired accountant and teacher, respectively, shared tales of many trips all around the world. Rhonda who was part of last week’s trip to the nursing exhibit, is an avid genealogist and proud First Fleet descendant. Warren is as reticent as Barbara is talkative, but still will share the occasional funny tale. And soon we were in Bowral.

Tulips, tulips, everywhere! The beds in Corbett Gardens in Bowral were filled with tulips of every colour.  While the Southern Highlands Folk Dance Circle, a troupe of a dozen grandmotherly ladies clad in tulip vests and dirndl skirts, twirled this way and that, a handful of Year 4 school girls off to the side earnestly whirled right along with them. In the senior center on the grounds a choir of 30 or more sang show tunes from “The King and I,” “South Pacific” and other Broadway classics. They, too, wore vests, green with tiny tulips on them.   [Trained academic here – I’ll leave it to you to consider the complex metaphor Mary has employed in the preceding description. Good luck and good night!] After our outing in the park, my friends and I boarded a much-delayed train, causing us to miss the bus over the winding Illawara highway from Moss Vale to Woolongong, but Warren’s got connections, [Ah ha!] and soon a special bus [Ho ho!] was commandeered to take us straight to Woolongong, [What?] where at least we were able to get a train back to the Shire.IMG_5434IMG_5465

And I arrived back just in time for a second evening of trivia. This time Mark [Real Mark, not Other Mark] joined in as we met some of Michael’s friends at the Wooloware golf club. It was a much tougher quiz than Wednesday’s at the Union Hotel. We made a valiant try but sorely missed having some Gen-Xers on the team, and finished out of the money by half a point. Good time, however and good company as well. [Real Mark wished there had been at least one or two questions about differential equations or even the Pythagorean theorem; he contributed nothing to the group’s point total.] We’ll get ‘em next time!

I must say, we live in a pretty cool place. On Friday morning, Mark and I walked 20 minutes and boarded the Curanella,TheCurranulla the cutest little yellow, green and white ferry you ever did see. ( She was commissioned in 1939 and is the oldest regular commuter ferry in Australia. We motored through Gunnamatta Bay, past dozens of beautiful homes on the hillsides and sandstone boatshedsSanstoneBoathouse at the water’s edge, crossing Port Hacking and soon arriving at Bundeena, gateway to the Royal National Park, the world’s second oldest national park. (Trivia buffs, one point if you can name the first.) We had a nice little hike along the beach and through the bush, hoping to see the famed Aboriginal carvings at Jibbon Point, but apparently, well, the carvings were just sitting out there where anyone could actually look at them in their orginal state and that will never do! The Minister of Improving Things and Making Everything More Special has decreed that construction projects must be constructed and access improved and until such time as they are constructed and improved no one shall be allowed to look at the carvings. Note that all the signs say that this improving and constructing will take place in June and July, but apparently such important operations take far longer than expected and even though we are nearly two full months beyond the anticipated completion of these special improvements, they are nowhere near being done. So we (and you) will just have to satisfy ourselves with the pictures from the interwebs.JibbonHeadSandstoneBeach

Saturday Mark and I took a lovely drive through the Southern Highlands. Our first stop was the Kiama blowhole.KiamaBlowhole1 ( It was a perfect day, the easterly winds blowing the waves in just the right direction to propel massive spray through the hole and high into the air. We left the coast and headed toward the little town of Berry then onto Kangaroo Valley but we saw no bounders. Rats! Nor did we see any wombats, despite the numerous warning signs. We did see several antique stores and cafes, however. The area reminded me quite a bit of Sonoma County, both in terrain and tourism. We soon found ourselves at Fitzroy Falls in Morton National Park, something of a rainforest area. We walked to a few viewing areas along the rim of the canyon but left the falls behind because we had a mission.MerAtFitzroyFalls

Our destination was Berrima, with it’s gaol, described as “the largest, most severe, the most dreaded of all prisons in New South Wales.” [Rolf Boldrewood really did write about this goal….] How could we pass that up?!! Well, of course we couldn’t. Only we couldn’t get in. But never fear, across the street is the famous Berrima Courthouse, an imposing sandstone edifice from the 1840s with quite a few stories of its own to tell. And boy, how they tell them! We took the self-guided tour. It starts with a 15 minute DVD presentation of the history of Berrima and a bit about the notorious serial killer John Lynch, and the murdering couple Lucretia Dunkley and her lover Martin Beech who were tried there in 1843. Imagine if you will, a film created by junior high school students with a Monty Python obsession. At the movie’s end, you wind your way through the judges’ chambers, the jury rooms, the cells, all leading toward the ultimate experience… “Treason, Treachery, Murder: Spectacular Sound and Light Show” in the main courtroom.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are there, in 1843. Twelve men sit in the jury box, considering the evidence. The barristers, one for the crown, one for the defense, stand before the judge. Several female spectators sit in the gallery facing the jury. A female witness sits to their left, giving testimony to judge and jury. And you can sit right in front of the dock, where the pitiful couple stands, Beech remorseless, Dunkley ever proclaiming her innocence and pointing the finger at her erstwhile lover.   But please, don’t for one minute think you must imagine this scene. No, no, no. The jury, spectators, witness, barristers, and even the defendants are latex mannequins, clothed and coiffed just as they would have appeared in the mid-19th century. A tad shopworn, perhaps. The judge is (almost) alive, appearing on a video screen, first as a 21st century justice, explaining the proceedings (and making a bit of a plea for donations – funds are needed to repair many of the characters in the courtroom, after all). All the while spotlights come on to focus the audience’s (that would be the only living breathing people in the room, Mary and Mark’s) attention on the parties in the scene. At the same time random red and blue lights spin around the ceiling and walls. But soon our modern video judge dons the scarlet robes and full bottom wig of his 19th century counterpart. More white lights. More outbursts from Dunkley behind us that she didn’t kill her husband, it was Beech. More murmuring from the women in the gallery. And so many more spinning red and blue lights. You might even say they were spectacular. Maybe. But probably only if you were from the 19th century and had never seen electric lighting. Still, if you make it to Berrima, it’s not to be missed!BerrimaLatexJury1

We completed our circuit of the Southern Highlands, passing through Robertson, a quaint little town, where the movie, Babe, (the talking pig, not the baseball player) was filmed. And after missing it on the bus on Thursday, I did get to experience all the twists and turns of the Illawara highway. Fine for us, but definitely not for the faint of stomach.

It’s now Sunday night. Today we hit our third national park in as many days, this one Botany Bay NP, just a short ride from here in Kurnell. We walked past Captain Cook’s landing place (the beginning of the end for the Gweagal Aborigines) out to the mouth of Botany Bay. The colors of the bay, the surf, the rocks, the tidepools, the trees are just enchanting. I’m itching to paint something.AKurnellBeach

On our way to Kurnell we passed an interesting fire danger sign. In western Washington I see many such signs, a semi-circle with four wedges, green, blue, yellow and red, reading from left to right “Low,” “Moderate,” “High,” “Extreme” and an arrow to indicate the danger. Today’s sign was a similar semi-circle, but its six wedges, reading left to right were labeled “Low-Moderate” (green); “High” (blue); “Very high” (light orange); “Severe” (dark orange); “Extreme” (red); and “Catastrophic (red with black lines). They certainly need to take their fire warnings seriously.FireSignNSW

Pictures are hard to send in this email. I’ll try to post some on the blog. You can check it out at

More stories next week,

Mary [and Real Mark]

Letter #1:13 September 2014

5 September 2014

G’day Mates,

So here I am back in the Shire. That would be the Sutherland Shire, an area in the southern region of Sydney, my home for the next 4+ months. The best part of being here is that Mark has been here for 6 weeks and I finally got to see him!!!! [Note: When I, aka Mark, chime in, I use square brackets to set my remarks apart, … yet within. It’s a dreamtime thing… So this is me chiming in and trust me, the excitement when Mer arrived was mutual.] He has settled us into our new home on Ocean View, which has no view to speak of, and is not exactly close to the ocean (but only a short 15 minute walk away, so it’s all relative.) We are living in Woolooware, a lovely little beach town just to the west of Cronulla where we lived on our last sabbatical.

We’ve got a cozy little house, lots of trees around, and as I sit here writing in the early morning hours (ah, jet lag… you never know quite when you’ll be awake and when you’ll fall asleep into your dinner), I hear heaps of birds outside. I don’t know who is making what calls, but I know on our walk to the beach yesterday I saw some galahs, magpies, sulfur-crested cockatoos and a lorikeet. We’ve got a little garden out back. It’s fun to think this is the house where our friend Michael grew up.
[The reference to a “cozy house with lots of trees around…” prompts me to say that when I got here, July 25, there were even more trees around. Trees, and bushes and grasses and all manner of growing things. In fact, if you use Google Earth or Street View to look at 16 Ocean View, Woolooware, NSW, AU, you will see more vegetation than habitation. A whole lot of hacking and bundling went on in the first few weeks. When the Google car comes by next time, it will capture an image of a place that is a little less a haven for birds but a little more habitable for a couple of humans. I also got a fair amount of work done inside, though more of that remains to be done.]

This is our first sabbatical without kids. I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about what that means. Kids are a great resource for helping you meet people. My dear friend from Ireland, Maura, became my friend because her son Robert and my Melinda were classmates together in junior infants at Monaleen School in Limerick. And here in Sydney I’ve got my friend, Heather, who is the mother of one of Melinda’s Year 4 classmates from St. Frances de Sales School. But now I’m on my own, and will have to find my own friends. (But if I fail, Melinda will be down here for the Christmas holidays, so there’s hope for me yet.)

I’ve been thinking I might like to find the local genealogical society, and maybe volunteer there or somehow get involved. I might make some friends of my own there. So I googled “Genealogy Cronulla.” My my. Not what I expected. The first result was “Revelations Psychic Spiritual Consultation.” Next was “Earth Angels” whose website says “We cater for all holistic needs such as:- Psychic/Medium Readings, Therapeutic Massage, Feng Shui Consultations, Holistic Healings including Reiki, Hypnotherapy, Crystal & Polarity Therapy,” and the next link led me to “NSW Clairvoyants.” Where are the census records and old city directories? Perhaps I have been going about this genealogy business all wrong and I should have just gone for a psychic reading. Oh, and to all my friends at Seattle Genealogical Society, you should ditch the county histories and just get some tarot cards.

13 September 2014

Well, now a week has passed. I’ve actually been here 9 days now, and figured I better write this darn thing and get it sent off! So let me give you a rundown of the week.

Sunday was Australian Fathers’ Day, so we were invited to lunch at Michael and Toni Downes’ home. We lived with them on our last sabbatical here. It was fun to see all the changes in their house. The flat in which we lived is quite different. Michael cooked a delicious leg of lamb – poor guy cooking his own Fathers’ Day meal, but it was quite good. I brought a German chocolate cake. [I helped by carrying it into the house.]
Quite an adventure cooking here. We have sort of a mishmash of utensils and cookery. No round pans but I had 2 square pans, one slightly larger, so the cake wound up something of a tiered affair. Mark went to the grocery to find the ingredients, but could not for the life of him find the key item of sweetened condensed milk. Really? Isn’t that pretty much a staple in a British Commonwealth, polar exploring, tea drinking culture? !!! But in the 3 (admittedly rather small) groceries in Cronulla, no one could come up with a can of the stuff. [I will note, in Australia’s defense, that they do have Minties  and my thought is that if you melt those down and don’t care too much, you could use them as a substitute.] So, for the first time ever, I made my own sweetened condensed milk from scratch. I had no idea it was possible to do such a thing, but trusty internet to the rescue and all was saved. Not quite as pretty and creamy white as the tinned version, but mix in a little butter, coconut and pecans and my frosting was just as tasty as any father could want!

Mark only has to go to campus Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday so Monday we took a nice walk around Cronulla peninsula. The Pacific Ocean is to the east (sounds so odd!), Port Hacking (and across from PH, the Royal National Park) to the south and Gunnamatta Bay to the west. I wish it would warm up a bit – one of my favorite activities when I was here before, was walking far, far into Gunnamatta Bay, its clear waters up only to my mid-thigh and all sorts of sea life on the sandy floor below. But it’s been a bit grey and chilly for a stroll in the bay.

But by Tuesday we were back to the real world and Mark left at the crack of dawn for campus and I was left to my own devices. [Before the crack, actually. Because I take the train to work and because that is not an especially rational thing to do, I have to get up at 5:24AM, drink coffee, walk to the Woolooware train station (about 15 minutes or so), ride the train for about 40 minutes to the Wolli Creek station, transfer to the line that runs out to the western suburbs, ride that for about 20 minutes to Panania (rhymes with inania), and then walk about half an hour or so to the University of Western Sydney at Bankstown. I usually get to campus around 7:45 … AM and have my first class at 9. So there. Back to Mer: ] I rang up Toni’s mum, Kath Hilder. She is just delightful. When we lived here before, she was always on the lookout for some activity I might want to do with the kids – perhaps a star-gazing event with the astronomical society or a local theatre production. Kath invited me to lunch at her home on the 5th floor (but us Yank’s need to remember it’s really the 6th – when you’re pressing that elevator button to go downstairs, don’t press 1, press G!). Beautiful view out over the ocean. My dad would have been in heaven! A trio of rare black cockatoos flew around the corner of the building and right in front of the window.

I’d had a bit of a visit with Kath at Fathers’ day, but it was nice to have a really good catch up. Toni had given me a few family history pieces Kath had written. So much great detail about her early ancestors to Australia as well as her parents’ lives and her own childhood in the 30s and 40s. She was a babe in her father’s arms on the bow of her grandfather’s boat as it dashed ahead of the official parade and was the first under the formally opened Sydney Harbor Bridge! We had a good long chat about family stories.
Wednesday I spent a little time following up on a few things in Kath’s family history, and found several newspaper articles online about her grandfather’s untimely demise as a result of a railroad accident. It’s fun to explore some new websites and figure out the history and geography of my new home.

But that only filled a bit of time, and soon I had my own little pity party on the couch. I don’t know anyone here. No friends to ring up and do anything with. Sniff sniff. (OK, cue the music from the world’s smallest violin – but you’re in flippin’ AUSTRALIA!!!! Get over yourself!) So I picked myself up and walked to the Wooloware train station to take the train into central Sydney. There was a talk at the state library that sounded interesting, “Frank Hurley’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition,” by Hurley’s biographer, Alasdair McGregor. ( (Faithful readers may recall our obsession with Shackleton’s Endurance expedition on our Limerick sabbatical, and apparently the theme continues here. Maybe for our next sabbatical we should just go whole hog and search for a position for Dr. Roddy at the University of Antarctica. [Dr. Roddy thinks this is a fine idea and will spend this evening and most of the night googling for mukluks.]) But the lecture got my butt off the couch and some new thoughts in my head. Pity party over. As fate would have it, on my return trip after the lecture, a really cute professor-type got on at the Wolli Creek station and sat down next to me. He was so cute, I even let him walk me home from the train!

As I mentioned earlier, my google search for genealogists nearby was unsuccessful, but Mark and I had popped into the library a few days later and the librarian pointed me to the Botany Bay Family History Society ( I poked around their website and discovered they were having an outing on Thursday morning to an exhibition, “Educating Nurses for War,” (

Let me digress a bit here. Again, faithful readers from our Limerick days might remember reading about my realization that history did NOT start with Columbus’ discovery of America in 1492. Emm and Garth’s Monaleen school textbooks covered all sorts of things that happened before that fateful day. And – major news flash – World War I didn’t start in 1917 when the US joined in. Down under, they were sending troops as early as September 1914! Which, as you accountants in the bunch can calculate, was exactly 100 years ago. So I am in hog heaven, plopped in the midst of a celebration, “History Week 2014” with events all over New South Wales commemorating WWI – the Frank Hurley talk and the Nurses exhibit being just two.

Not wanting a repeat of Wednesday’s pity party, I hopped onto Thursday’s 9:05 train from Wooloware, eager to meet the multitude (?) of genealogists who were scheduled to board the second carriage of this same train at the Sutherland station. As people boarded at the interim platforms – Caringbah, Miranda, Gymea, and Kirawee – I eyed them. Is that a notebook he’s carrying? Does that furrow between the eyebrows come from reading hundreds of microfilm images? Is that one of them thar genealogists? All the while looking for some kindred spirits. Finally as we pulled into Sutherland, two women in my carriage craned their necks to see a group on the platform. “Is that them?” one asked the other. Yes, Mary, I think you’ve found your group. “Are you with the genealogy group?” I asked. “Yes,” she answered. “Are you new? I’ll let you know when to get off.” Thirty minutes later I disembarked and was immediately welcomed into the new flock, who kept a watchful eye on me lest I get lost. Yay! New friends! (I think my pet name for the group might be the Barbara and Sue Society because those seem to be the most popular names among the members.) As we walked, I introduced myself to Barbara Wimble, our group leader for the day. “Are you that Mary Roddy person from America?”

What? My reputation precedes me? Only partially. On Tuesday as I looked around my quiet little house trying to figure how I might fill the next four months – a girl can only watch so many Rainbow Lorikeets and Noisy Miners in the trees out front – I emailed Jean, who seems to be the person who keeps the education calendar at Botany Bay Family History Society, to offer that I might give a lecture or two to their group while I was here, and maybe get a chance to see how they do things down here and they might learn a trick or two about what we do back in Seattle. I have yet to hear back from Jean, but apparently she and Barbara talked on Wednesday evening and Jean mentioned my offer. So Barbara knew just who I was when I turned up on the train Thursday.

The nursing exhibit was not quite all that – too few artifacts and too many display boards with too much text, but several of us had a cuppa at the café in the exhibition building and I learned quite a bit about the pecking order of the First and Second Fleet descendants (think the local equivalent of the Mayflower Society and the DAR.) [For a very amusing and sometimes informative encounter with Australia’s history, consider “Girt,” by David Hunt.] Afterward the group split, some off to Chinatown for lunch, some to the QVB (the Queen Victoria Building) for shopping, and Sue (my initial shepherd from the train) and I had a little picnic in the Domain and then went to the state library to see an exhibit of WWI diaries ( Really interesting exhibition. We rode the train together back to the shire and talked like we’d know each other for years.

Lest you think that was enough WWI history for dear moi, think again! Thursday night I dragged the professor to a lecture at Sutherland Library – “The Pristine Trousseau, The Black Dress, and The Gas Mask: Clothing of World War I.” ( Despite the lack of any gas masks, it was a great talk. I really wish Melinda could have been with us. She volunteered at MoHAI in Seattle in the textiles archive, and would have just eaten this up. Mark was quite the trooper, one of only 2 gentlemen in a sea of hens. [22 years in teacher education has prepared me well and I was fine.]

We are having a bit of a lazy Saturday here in the shire. But the clouds have finally burned off, so I think I will sign off (and let the professor have a go at his edit) and gather up a few more adventures to report on.

Until then,
Mary [and a little Mark]