Under Strange Skies
An Australian Travelogue by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1999 Evelyn C. Leeper
"On the whole, as a place of punishment, the object is scarcely gained; as a real system of reform it has failed, as perhaps would every other plan; but as a means of making men outwardly honest, -- of converting vagabonds, most useless in one hemisphere, into active citizens of another, and thus giving birth to a new and splendid country--a grand centre of civilization--it has succeeded to a degree perhaps unparalleled in history. ... Farewell, Australia! you are a rising child, and doubtless some day will reign a great princess in the South: but you are too great and ambitious for affection, yet not great enough for respect. I leave your shores without sorrow or regret." --Charles Darwin
The answers to the most-asked questions when we told people we were going there are:
This trip was planned from scratch (as are most of ours these days). The basic book we used was the Lonely Planet guide. (We even got this one free because we had sent in five pages of updates to their Turkey volume, and if you send in enough, they give you a free guide of your choice.) Lots of material came from Usenet and the Web as well, and the Ansett representative's suggestion to bring net hats for the Olgas was much appreciated. And thanks again to Mike Resnick, who convinced us to do independent travel (and then I think got a little freaked out by how independent we got, especially when we went to India on our own).
August 6, 1999: Even though the airlines say to reconfirm flights 72 hours in advance, it is a custom more honored in the breach. Which is a pretty lame excuse for why I had not called until the night before our departure, when I thought I might as well just check. Thank goodness I did--they had switched us to a flight leaving an hour earlier! For other flight changes of two minutes on previous trips, they had notified us, but for a full hour change, they did not. I quickly called the limousine company and rescheduled our limousine. (This is actually a good reason to use limousines rather than friends--they are easier to reschedule at the last minute.) Then I spent three hours calming down from the feeling that we came very close to missing all our flights--not a good start for a vacation.
August 7, 1999: The limo arrived a little early and there was no line to speak of at the United check-in, so we got checked in plenty of time and were handed a stack of boarding passes (four legs each on United). The frequent flyer miles for this trip (counting the internal Australia miles on Ansett, which is a United partner) total 24,425 by my count. Since we each have a few thousand in our accounts already, this means we get a free United States trip out of this.
The out-going trip can best be summed up as "So many legs, so little legroom." However, we did have one enormous luxury--empty seats next to us for the trans-Pacific portion. The flight seemed only about two-thirds full, so the two middle seats in my center section and the middle seat in Mark's section were all empty.
August 8-9, 1999: We crossed the International Date Line at some point, so I have lumped these two days together. We had a short stopover in New Zealand, but decided it did not count as visiting there, so we did not have to buy a "tchotchke."
Australian immigration and customs was very fast and because we had no checked luggage, we had time to get money at the ATM and still beat the crowd to domestic Ansett check-in.
In Australia, chips come in the following flavors:
There are also "burger rings," which are a rice/wheat cracker that tastes more like the bun that the burger.
The money here was described by someone as plastic, and that may be accurate. There is certainly a see-through oval in the bills that is plastic, and it appears continuous with the rest of the bill, which also seems untearable. One Australian dollar is worth just about two-thirds of a United States dollar, which makes pricing things easy.
Our final two legs were in a very cramped 737 in which we had a window and a center seat. Recently, someone asked Janice Gelb what Cel-Ray was and she replied, "It's celery soda. It tastes better than it sounds." Three responses followed:
In the last plane, I said to Mark, "This is more comfortable than an Indian bus," and those three responses came immediately to mind.
When we finally arrived in Cairns, it was very tropical, with a terminal to match (walkways were not sealed, but had ventilated sides, etc.) We took a taxi to the Floriana Guesthouse; our taxi driver seemed to think we were happy to be away from Clinton and volunteered his opinion that if Clinton had known that Lewinski was going to talk, he would have had her "rubbed out."
We checked in to our room--actually two rooms, a bedroom and a sitting room/kitchenette with TV, sink, and microwave, as well as dishes, silverware, etc. The only lack is curtains--the windows are translucent, but that would not keep the light out. On the other hand, we figured we would probably need to get up close to sunrise anyway for our sightseeing. (After a couple of days, we noticed the other rooms had curtains and asked about this. Ours were being "repaired" but they gave us something for the one window with the street light right outside it and that helped.) The other problem is that the bed is very lumpy. There is an air conditioner, but the ceiling fan seemed quite sufficient, and indeed the nights turned out to be somewhat chilly. All this for A$70/night (US$46.50).
We walked towards town looking for a grocery store, but managed to find only a small kiosk, where we picked up some soda. Town is about a kilometer away and in the areas we walked, everything seemed closed by 7PM. There must be some restaurants open somewhere, but we had not brought a map (and were not greatly hungry, having had four meals on our flights today, or what passed for today).
I conked out about 9PM; Mark lasted until 11PM.
August 10, 1999: We booked our various tours this morning and while that was being done, went to the grocery store (an IGA!) around the corner (though away from town, which was why we had not found it last night) and picked up breakfast and snacks.
Breakfast was cheese, crackers, yogurt, and passion fruit. Afterwards we walked into town along The Esplanade and observed all the birds: ibis, spoonbills, pelicans, and a lot more I could not identify, as well as the more mundane pigeons and gulls. We saw something crawling around in the puddles left by the outgoing tide that could have been a lungfish, but who knows? (We later thought it might be what they call here a "tree-climbing fish," but at the Sydney Aquarium we finally discovered it was a "mudskipper.") There seemed to be a lot of conical shells, or mud deposits, or something that we could not identify either. This area is supposed to have some of the better bird-watching in the area.
We thought of going to the aquarium, but we had just missed the shark feeding, and A$10 seemed a bit steep for something that seemed to take thirty to forty-five minutes. Maybe Saturday if we hear good things about it....
I needed to buy a swimming costume (a.k.a. a swimsuit). I had not brought mine because I did not think I would be snorkeling (I cannot even swim) and also because it does not quite fit any more. But the Reef cruise we signed up for goes to a cay where you snorkel by wading and I figured I could handle that. I ended up with a discounted swimsuit from Woolworth's for A$10--I would not be a fashion plate in my lavender suit with yellow flowers, but no one there will ever see me again except Mark, and he had seen me in worse.
Our next stop was the Cairns Regional Gallery, which had a special Centenary Exhibition of British and French works, and "Danse des Insectes" (by the coincidentally named Lorraine Lamothe). There was another floor which was mostly closed due to the change-over of the exhibition there, but part had the usual inexplicable modern art known as "installation art," where apparently how it is installed is considered part of the art itself. The Centenary Exhibition was the best part, with works by Pissarro, Leger, Epstein, Rodin, Redon, and Renoir.
We had Thai lunch at the Sawasdee: green chicken curry and basil squid. The price was quite reasonable (A$16, US$10) and even more so when you consider that there is no tax or tip added on to that.
Cairns is a town whose main industry is obvious: tourism. As such it is okay as a destination if you want to do all the standard tourist things--go to the Great Barrier Reef, go to Kuranda, go to Daintree and Cape Tribulation. But if you are looking for someplace to go where you might find something new or unexpected, Cairns is not it.
After strolling around a while we went to a movie. Most of what is playing are American films that we had already either seen or passed up, but there was one Australian film, Two Hands. This seemed heavily influenced by Pulp Fiction and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, although the latter would seem too recent to have had any actual effect on Two Hands. Film prices are normally A$10 for evening shows, with matinees and Tuesday evenings at A$7.
Afterwards, we wrote a bit, then had a pizza at Pinocchio's and some ice cream at Baskin Robbins before the long hike back to the guesthouse and sleep. The pizza was a fairly mundane one--I did not feel up to the traditional Australian one, which has egg on it, and Mark voted against the one with prawns, scallops, and calamari.
August 11, 1999: We were picked up very promptly at 7:10AM for our tour of the Daintree Rain Forest and Cape Tribulation by Andrew of Billy Tea Bush Safaris. That is parsed (Billy Tea) (Bush Safaris), not (Billy (Tea Bush) Safaris).
Someone asked about sharks in the water and Andrew said that a study of causes of death in Australia and the South Pacific showed that there was a greater chance of being killed by a falling coconut or a lightning strike than by either crocodiles or sharks.
We headed north, passing fields of sugar cane. Because of the cyclone that came through here either three and a half months ago or in February (depending on whom you listen to), farmers are faced with the choice of harvesting sugar cane with too high a moisture content or waiting and risk losing some of the sweetness. We also passed an area full of termite mounds, though not as impressive as those in Africa (at least those shown on television).
We saw a sign advertising a "Country Music Festival." Is that the same music we call country music in the States?
After a very long drive (over two hours) we got to the Daintree River and our cruise. For whatever reason--the overcast day, the intermittent rain, the noise of the boat--there was not much wildlife visible. (Even though this is the dry season, it rained the week before we arrived and then again last night and the first part of today.) We did see two crocodiles, which are sort of the major game on people's checklists. Neither one was doing much exciting, just kind of floating there regarding us cautiously. We also saw a couple of common tree snakes and an amethyst python, as well as quite a few birds (egrets, kites, and so on). But this remained true to form for river (and bayou) "wildlife" cruises we have taken--one simply does not see much wildlife and certainly nowhere near the amount the brochures would have you believe.
We stopped at an ice cream company that made exotic ice creams and tried a sampler of macadamia nut, sour sop, mango, and black sapote ice creams. They were all okay, but the macadamia nut was probably the only one I would order again.
We had another quick stop at a beach on Cape Tribulation. This area is on the Coral Sea, but because of the Great Barrier Reef, never really gets any waves to speak of. In better weather we might have made time for a swim here, but with on-and-off rain I guess it did not seem likely. Also, I suspect most of the people on the tour were not into that--only a couple of us even took off our shoes and waded around. The very shallow water was warm, but as it got deeper (ankle-depth, for example) there was a definite chill to it.
Lunch was by a stream in the rain forest, where the water was even colder. The shore was very rocky, but the rocks were all smoother over by the action of the stream when it was higher, so I took off my shoes and waded in, then walked around barefoot. This surprised a lot of people, who seemed to think it was far too rough for that.
Andrew grilled steaks and there were the usual "sides." The Australian wine mentioned in the brochure was there, but it was one of those boxes of wine. Well, I was not expecting the best wine of the area, but this is another example of how the description in the brochure frequently leads one to a different expectation than what is delivered.
Lunch included tropical fruits, some of which not everyone had seen or tried before, including bananas, kiwi fruit, star apple, custard apple (sour sop), papaya, passion fruit, and pineapple. We also had Vegemite, which is actually fairly interesting, and not nearly as bad as everyone makes it out to be. You eat it by spreading a thin layer of butter on a piece of bread, then spreading a very thin layer of Vegemite on top. It is quite salty and tastes not entirely unlike hoisin sauce, but without the sweetness. While we ate, two meter-long goannas (lizards) kept trying to approach an make off with some food.
Andrew also made "billy tea," which is made by boiling water in a pail, then throwing in the right amount of tea leaves and whirling the pail over your head three times, relying on centrifugal force to keep the boiling water in the pail. It worked for Andrew, but he is a trained professional--don't try this at home, kids!
On the way back down, Andrew stopped the coach and let us climb on top for a good view of the coast. Not everyone availed themselves of this opportunity.
We then had a walk (along the Marrdja Botanical Walk) through part of the rain forest. Australia is known for its unusual biology, of course, but one of the more bizarre features of that is how poisonous/venomous everything is. Andrew said that a very high proportion of the plants in this rain forest (which is about 120 million years old) have arsenic, cyanide, or strychnine in them. For example, the Cooktown ironwood tree is the third hardest wood, and also so poisonous that termites never attack it, making it a very good building material if you don't mind sharpening your saw every foot or so. There are also plants like the poison walnut (distinguished by its three longitudinal veins with side veins in the leaf, rather than the almost universal single central vein). This has some other poison/allergen which causes itching, running nose, etc., after about twelve hours. Other plants have spines that you can catch on. All in all, it sounds a lot like Harry Harrison's Deathworld.
We saw a cycad that is estimated to be 2500 years old. In the United States we have them only as fossils--or did. There was at one time a Fossil Cycad National Park, but so many people carried off souvenirs that they all disappeared and the park was closed. (This is why the National Parks are so adamant about people not taking souvenirs.)
On the way back, we stopped at an animal sanctuary and fed some kangaroos. I am not sure how they got to the sanctuary, but some will be released into the wild, or at least the semi-wild; there are large sanctuaries where food is put out for the kangaroos, but they have to come for it. (It does not sound like it's very wild, actually.) Several of the kangaroos arrive here partially blind from being fed cow's milk by well-meaning people who did not know that kangaroos are lactose-intolerant.
We came back across the Daintree River by cable ferry and returned to Cairns about 6:30PM, passing what Andrew said were a couple of dingoes on the side of the road, but which looked just like dogs to me.
We did seem to have missed one rainforest walk mentioned in the brochure, though I am not sure when it would have been. It might have been in the morning when it was raining and was skipped for that reason, with a few of the other things extended a bit to make up, because it was not a short day without it.
August 12, 1999: We locked our valuables up in the guesthouse safe, since we had no idea what provisions there were for this on the boat. Our pick-up for Ocean Spirit arrived about fifteen minutes early at 7:45AM and we were off. The only thing putting a damper on all this was the fact that it had rained again last night (and this is the dry season) and it was gray and overcast. Still, it had cleared up yesterday, so I had hopes.
The ride out started smooth enough but soon became very bumpy. Since it took an hour and a half to get out, this made several people actually sick and me fairly unhappy. Sitting outside helped, but we were moving fast enough that any place other than the back of the boat behind the cabin was the only place not too windy (and wet).
We got to Michelmas Cay about 11AM. Because it was fairly chilly--though the sun had come out--we rented wet suits for the snorkeling. At A$5 each they were a good deal, as we would have been very cold when we came out of the water otherwise, and we could not dry off or change until we got back to the main boat. (There was a small "shuttle" boat to ferry people between the boat and the cay.)
I had thought that with the flotation vest and all I would be able to snorkel without too much problem, but the reef area had a depth of a couple of meters (and you cannot stand on the reef in any case) and as soon as I got out above my depth I had a lot of difficulty maneuvering. So what eventually happened was that the guide gave me a flotation bar to put under my arms and then she basically towed me out to the reef and over it, pointing out what there was to see below. This was a fairly short tour of the reef, as she had at least one other non-swimmer to do the same for. I was glad I had done even this much, but as far as snorkeling goes, I think I got more out of it in Cozumel, where one can just walk along in water at chest-level, look down into the water, and see all sorts of amazing things (which also means one can avoid the use of fins, which are another encumbrance). Mark did better here in that he could actually swim and maneuver on his own.
We returned to the boat at noon for the buffet lunch, where I concentrated on fruit and vegetables rather than food that might cause me problems on the ride back.
At 1PM, we took the "semi-submersible" ride. This is a viewing boat with large underwater windows, commonly known as a glass-bottomed boat. (As Mark pointed out, all boats are "semi-submersible," so it was not clear what they meant by the term.) This was definitely the best part of the day (and probably of our whole time in Cairns), as we cruised over several reefs (or several parts of the same reef). Without having to worry about maneuvering, breathing through a snorkel, etc., I could concentrate on the coral, the fish, the giant clams, and even the sea turtle swimming by. Although they say that even non-swimmers can snorkel (and are fairly insistent about it), I would recommend that non-swimmers look for a cruise that offers the most "dry" underwater viewing with both glass-bottomed boat rides and underwater viewing platforms. (The latter would be relatively fixed, so you would also want the former for variation in viewing.)
After that, we went back to the cay for the "bird walk." However, since all the cay except for the landing beach is off limits to people, this consisted of standing in one place while the guide described the various birds we could see which "inhabited" (or at least were currently sitting on) the island. Given the high wind and bird noise, we could not hear her very well and this part was pretty much a loss.
The ride back was equally bumpy and I suspect that a lot of people passed up the complimentary champagne. I tried the ginger tablets they had for seasickness, but they did not seem to help. There was also "live musical entertainment" on the way back--one person singing songs from the Sixties. I suppose he was okay, but I cannot say that it added all that much to the trip. He did close with "Waltzing Matilda," which the Australians may be tried of, but I enjoyed, though the words seemed somewhat different from what I am used to hearing.
As soon as we landed, I started feeling better. (Actually, I started feeling better as soon as we got to the inner harbor and the seas calmed down.) We had thought about staying in town, but decided that we really wanted to wash off, and probably were not up to walking back to the guesthouse in any case, so we took the shuttle back then. After freshening up, we walked over to the grocery store to pick up a few supplies. There was a King Kebab next to it which sounded appealing, so we each got a doner kebab for dinner. They were pretty big, and I ended up bringing half of mine back to the room, where we had it for breakfast the next day.
August 13, 1999: For a change we had good weather when we woke up; I hope this is a sign of things to come.
We had our 7:20AM pick-up from Trek North and after collecting a mini-coach full of people (including about a half dozen German tourists), we headed toward the Atherton Tablelands. These are about a thousand meters above sea level and support mostly agriculture.
When we left Cairns, we passed the Convention Centre, which is in the process of adding a basketball court (or "stadium," as our guide Graham called it). Apparently there is an Australian basketball league, the NBO, but Graham said that most of the teams seemed to be going broke, so he was not sure why Cairns was so eager to start one up.
Random note: "XXXX" outside a bar does not mean what it would in the States. It means they sell XXXX beer.
When we passed the shipyards, Graham told us about how the Australian Navy offered to sink an old Indonesian shipping boat that was due to be scuttled, but not only could they not sink it, they could not even manage to hit it. How embarrassing!
(Bret Hirshman tells me that the Navy did hit it--but they were firing armour-piercing rounds at a wooden boat, so all they did was riddle it with little holes, mostly above the waterline.)
We passed a drive-in theatre. Apparently they are dying out here (as they seem to be everywhere), but there are still some left.
Graham talked about the infamous cane toads. They were first released in the Mulgrave Valley to kill cane beetles, but nobody thought to recall that beetles have wings, so when the toads arrived, the beetles just flew to the higher parts of the cane. (The beetles were finally killed by chemicals.) The toads were not visible now because they hibernate in winter, but they are very poisonous throughout their entire life cycle. (According to a later guide, some of the crocodiles have figured out how to grab them by one leg and fling them side to side, which makes the poison fly out of the glands; then they eat the cane toad.)
We did finally see a kangaroo in the wild, but I am not sure a dead kangaroo by the side of the road counts, just as I am not sure if seeing dead armadillos by the side of the road in Texas counts as seeing them.
We learned about epiphytes and hemi-epiphytes. Epiphytes are trees that grow on other trees without drawing anything from them; hemi-epiphytes are similar but send down their own roots to the ground, however still using the other tree for support. The first one pointed out to us was a hemi-epiphyte, an umbrella tree growing off a eucalypt tree. We also saw some cycads, with very brown droopy leaves/fronds.
Graham said that all native mammals are monotremes (platypuses and echidnas) or marsupials. The only "native" placental is the dingo, and it is not really native--it came from Thailand, albeit a few thousand years ago. (Actually, this is not entirely true. There are native placentals: bats and rodents. These arrived/originated about fifteen million years ago. I suppose if they arrived from elsewhere, they are not "truly" native, but I am not sure exactly what the cut-off would be.)
We drove through Yungabarra and stopped at Lake Barrine, a volcanic lake. Here there were twin Kauri pines, very tall, and left for some reason when the rest of the Kauri pines were logged out. A little ways further was the Curtain Fig Tree, a fig tree that had started growing on another tree, sending down roots from all along the other tree's branches, and eventually killing the other tree while remaining itself with the "hanging" (now supporting) root system.
Graham had a lot of comments about the state of agriculture in regards to the land we were driving through. He said that the "Asian melt-down" had caused a big drop in sugar prices, the potatoes were all part of a monopoly by one person and could be sold only to him, the dairy farmers were having their prices cut by the big milk companies, etc., etc. He also thought that the Y2K bug was caused intentionally by the big companies.
We stopped at a fruit and nut stand in Atherton and had some star fruit (carambola). They also had rambutan, very colorful and spiny in the raw state. Peanuts are (or were) a big crop around here as well. We also saw tobacco, tea, potatoes, and mangoes being grown.
We had a brief stop at the Mareeba Heritage Museum, a collection of implements and such from the early settlers, including an old telephone switchboard. (Okay, so it was also from the not-so-early settlers.)
We got to the Skyrail about noon. The Skyrail is a cable car that travels above the rainforest the 7.5 kilometers from Smithfield up to Kuranda. (There are pockets of rainforest throughout the area, the one surrounding Kuranda being particularly large.) There are two stops along the way, one with a short guided tour of the rainforest. We learned that Australia has 1100 tree species, while the United Kingdom has 37 and all of Europe has between 200 and 300. On this guided walk alone, we could see (we were told) over a hundred species.
One of the main reasons for Australia's unusual flora and fauna is that Australia was isolated from the other land masses for 35 million years. The only similar situation was South America, which had very unusual mega-fauna until it joined with North America and then the fauna from North America moved down into South America and wiped most of the native fauna out. There is still enormous diversity in South American flora, however.
One of the plants the guides like to point out is the Lawyer Cane or "Wait-A-While Vine," which has thorns on trunk, leaves, and tendrils. They all point in one direction, so if you snag yourself on this, it is not enormously difficult to get detached, but the guide said it is called a Lawyer Cane because once it gets its hooks into you, it is hard to get them out.
There is also the Bumpy Satinash, which flowers on its trunk rather than on its branches. This attracts a different set of birds and insects to spread the seeds and is an example of how plants fill whatever ecological niches are available.
The guide also talked about pharmaceuticals. For example, the umbrella tree bark is an anesthetic, and if boiled in water makes an antibiotic solution. He was very negative about the practice of pharmaceutical companies coming in, asking the Aborigines about remedies and such, then going back and analyzing the chemicals and producing them artificially without giving any real payment to the Aborigines for their knowledge.
Another Aborigine trick was to crush the branches and leaves of the hard milkwood and throw them into a dammed-up stream or lake. This apparently de-oxygenates the water, and the fish become unconscious and float to the surface, where they can be scooped up.
(Bret Hirshman tells me that it actually coats the fishes' gills so they cannot extract the oxygen rather than de-oxygenating the water.)
One of the poisonous trees is the "stinging tree," which has heart-shaped leaves with hollow spines containing poison. This grows in sunlight in places where there is an opening in the canopy.
Kuranda itself is supposed to have an interesting market, but it is not a real market--it is a collection of stalls of tourist goods not unlike the goods in the stores that line the streets. At one we even saw boomerangs that had the URL of the company etched on the back! And Mark saw a vest he liked reduced to A$45 at one shop, but they did not have his size. The woman checked with the shop around the corner, which had the same stock at the same prices (including sales!), but they did not have it, and a third shop with identical stock and prices also did not have that size. Are all these shops owned by the same person, or are they just price-fixing?
We took the scenic train back the thirty-four kilometers into Cairns. The scenery was nice but could not compare with the Skyrail. Of course, the train runs all the way to Cairns, while the Skyrail runs just to Smithfield and you would have to take a bus the rest of the way back.
August 14, 1999: We began with breakfast courtesy of the guesthouse (free breakfast with every three tours booked). It was okay--muesli, fruit, toast, and coffee/tea--but not appreciably better than cheese, crackers, and yogurt in the room. Then we did laundry. (I really wish places would post how long the washer and dryer cycles are so people would know when to return.)
About 10AM we walked into town to "Rusty's Bazaar," a produce and general market. This was more authentic than Kuranda, with the majority of the stalls selling fruits and vegetables, some selling used books or new or used clothing, and only a few selling things aimed at tourists (like hats). It was fairly small, though, and we finished by 11AM, our only purchase being The Man from Snowy River, a book of poems by Banjo Paterson. Paterson is best known for writing "Waltzing Matilda." Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Paterson's best known poem is "Waltzing Matilda"; I doubt most people outside Australia have a clue as to who wrote it.
We picked up some vitamin C and some postcards, then bought a daily bus pass for A$8.95 and took the bus to Smithfield to go to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park. This is something that generated mixed feelings in me--on the one hand, it does explain some of the culture of the Aborigines of the area, but it also seems to be a bit like a theme park. The Creation and History Theatres are quite good, the Dance Theatre a bit more Hollywood (or Broadway--someone said that it was arranged by a New York choreographer), and the spear-throwing and boomerang-tossing definitely more entertainment than educational.
The entrance has a small exhibit of Aborigine artifacts from the area and murals depicting some of the legends of the Aborigines. The local tribe (the Tjapukai, spelled various ways, but as a tribe name pronounced "jabu-ganji") was divided into two lines, the Gurrabana (The Wet) and the Gurraminya (The Dry). The descent is patrilineal and marriages are exogamous: people must marry someone from the other line.
The History Theatre was a video-and-slide presentation of the effect that European colonization had on the Tjapukai, or as they call themselves, the Bama ("the People"). Not surprisingly, it emphasized the negative aspects of the Europeans and the positive ones of the Tjapukai. While there is a lot of truth to this, it is also true that indigenous peoples do not "live in harmony with nature" out of some proto-ecological bent, but because they did not have the ability to do otherwise. Many of the people in the United States who were so enthusiastic about Native American ways have become less so now that they have discovered that the Native Americans want to go out and hunt whales, and fish without regard to conservation laws, and so on. None of which excuses the Europeans, of course, but it is important to be accurate.
In any case, there seems to be more of a movement on the part of the Aborigines, or at least the Tjapukai, to assimilate into the modern world rather than return to their old ways. In part this may be pure pragmatism, since there is nowhere where they could return to their old way of life, but also there is probably a recognition that in many ways the old way of life was less than ideal.
The Dance Theatre showed some traditional dances (though I am not sure how traditional it was to have women dancing), and closed with the not-so-traditional song "Proud to be Aborigine" (available on cassette or CD in the gift shop). Throughout the show, as the narrator would give words in English, the dancers would call out the Tjapukai word. For example, the narrator would say, "We needed to make fire," and the dancers would say, "Biri" (the word for "fire"). When the narrator got to where he said that the song was available on "CD" the dancers all pretended to look confused and confer with him in Tjapukai about what "CD" meant. This is part of what I meant by a little bit Hollywood.
The Cultural Village had a dijeridu demonstration and a description of some of the foods and medicines used by the Tjapukai. For the dijeridu, the man explained that you need to find a hardwood tree that has been hollowed out by termites and then clean it out with a stick or with fire. He then explained how you blow into the dijeridu with your mouth while vibrating your lips and breathe in through your nose at the same time. Right. He also said that if you cannot find just the right type of tree, you can use other materials, and then proceeded to play a length of PVC pipe. This sounded (to my ear) about the same as the "real" dijeridu, so I am not convinced that the type of tree or the skill of the dijeridu maker is that critical. Then again, there may be nuances that I am not understanding.
The food demonstration was interesting. Because so much of the rainforest is poisonous, the foods have to be specially prepared. For example, the black bean is baked and the husk removed. Then a broken forest snail shell is used to grate the bean. The thin flakes are placed in a straw bag in running water to remove the poison, then what remains is ground into a flour that can be used to make bread. One wonders how anyone discovered this. The woman also said that the sour plum and the Burdekin plum were popular. Yellow walnuts could be cracked in the fire, and beach almonds were eaten also. Lemon myrtle is good for blocked sinuses (you can boil the leaves in in hot water and inhale the steam). Termite mound, being rich in calcium, iron, and magnesium, could be crushed into water and drunk as a cure for diarrhea. (I think I would have to be pretty desperate, and again, I wonder how they discovered this.) She also mentioned that the crushed leaves of the cocky apple (sp?) tree in water stuns the fish.
We tried our hands at spear throwing and boomerang throwing. Mark did so well at the boomerang throwing that the guy asked him what tribe he was from. (I told him later he should have said, "Levi.")
The Creation Theatre was a combination of live-action and optical effects, synchronized together very well, to tell the Tjapukai story of creation. I assume that the Creationists in the States trying to get laws passed to have the schools teach views of creation other than evolution plan to include this version in the curriculum as well, so I will not bother to relate it here. (And if you believe that, I have a bridge for you....)
At 3PM we finished up and went back to the highway to catch the bus. (During the week the bus actually pulls in to Tjapukai/Skyrail, but on weekends you have to walk back to the main highway.) We rode further north a ways, past James Cook University and Trinity Beach, but when the driver turned around, he dropped us off on the main highway and said the express bus would be along shortly. I do not know if he thought we wanted to get back faster, or if he was going out of service, or what, but the other bus did come along after about fifteen minutes. We got seats, but when it stopped in Trinity Beach, it filled up and about a dozen people had to stand all the way back, and several more had to wait for the next bus.
On the way up there were three travel agents from Canada who were trying to figure out what to do with their luggage during their last day in Sydney, because they had to check out of the hostel early and their flight was in the late afternoon. One thought the hostel might hold the luggage for them; I suggested the bus station would probably have a luggage check as well. I was somewhat surprised that travel agents would be this confused, but I guess they are used to dealing with everything pre-arranged.
We got back to Cairns about 5PM, and sat in ANZAC Park writing until 6PM, when we went to the Dado Korean Restaurant and had one of their dinners for two with soup, beef/egg sashimi, potato noodles, Korean pancake, hibachi chicken, kimchi, and tea for A$52 (US$35) for the two of us. Because there is no tax or tip added in Australia, this is really equivalent to a United States menu price of about US$14 each of us--quite reasonable.
After dinner, we took the bus back to within four blocks of the guesthouse, then packed and fell asleep.
August 15, 1999: We checked out and took a taxi to the airport, arriving much earlier than we needed to. Our flight to Alice Springs was fairly comfortable--it was a different plane and had wider seats.
At the airport we called and made a reservation at the Todd Tavern in the center of town--A$39 for a twin with shared facilities. Each room does have a fridge, a water heater, and a toaster, though, as well as a sink. It includes breakfast, which means they leave two slices of bread in the fridge with a couple of packets of butter, and instant coffee and tea. Not great accommodations, but acceptable for a couple of nights.
After dropping our stuff off, we walked out to see the town. The main street is Todd Mall, a street of shops and stalls which is basically a flea market. According to a signpost there, Washington DC is 16697 kilometers away.
We walked down to one of the booking offices and looked over the three-day camping safaris, settling on Sahara Outback Safaris, about which we had heard good things. We were able to book a tour for the next day, and by now I had come to the conclusion that Alice Springs as a town had very little appeal, so our plan became book the earliest tour possible, stay in a nicer place when we got back, and try to get our outgoing flight changed to an earlier one. This we were (luckily) able to do, so instead of leaving Saturday at 5PM, we were leaving Thursday at noon. This gives us two extra days in Sydney, where the time will be much better spent. Somehow, Alice Springs sounded more appealing and interesting than it actually is. Actually, the term that came to my mind was "hellhole." There was nothing really to do in town and, at least in the area we were in, there were a large number of street people wandering around with vacant looks and begging from tourists.
Anyway, given that we would be staying one night when we returned, we decided to stay someplace a little nicer and so walked down to the Desert Palms Resort and reserved a villa for Wednesday night. This is A$85 (US$56) for a twin room with a kitchenette, TV, and private bathroom--still cheap by American standards, but apparently fairly posh by Australian ones.
Mark decided he needed a sweatshirt (called a wind-cheater here) for the camping trip. We looked in a couple of tourist-type clothing, but they did not seem to have his size, and were fairly pricey as well (A$45 and up). After not finding anything in Mark's size, one clerk told us our best bet would be the Woolworth's one street over, since they were having a clearance on winter clothing. Sure enough, he found one there for A$5! We seem to be doing all our clothing purchases in Woolworth's, but it is saving us quite a bit.
We went back and finally paid for the room (everyone was too busy when we checked in). It was apparently the first time this clerk had processed a credit card and it took her several tries and trips to ask someone how to do it.
After a rest in the room, we went to the Red Ochre Grill for dinner. This is a chain that serves Australian food. (I should note here that the Outback Steakhouses in the United States are not Australian, and visiting Australians just think they are the funniest thing they have seen.) We were extremely unimpressed with Red Ochre--Mark's soup never arrived, his prime rib was not rare (as requested) but at best might charitably be called medium, and my barramundi was swimming in oil (as were Mark's roasted mushrooms). The only thing reasonably good was "Australian mash," potatoes and butternut squash mashed together. The meal was not grossly over-priced at A$52.50 (US$35), but the quality of the food and the service made it seem so.
When we got back to the room, we discovered that the light in the bedroom area of our "two-room suite" (really one large room, slightly divided) was burnt out, so we had to get it replaced, which involved sliding one of the beds out so they could fit a ladder in!
August 16, 1999: "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per un autobus oscuro"--which to the literary-minded may give a clue that this bus was filled with Italians. There were also some French and some Germans, and there was one Brit and one Irishman who spoke English (along with our guide Rick).
As we left Alice Springs at 7AM, Rick told us something about the history of the area. The McDonnell ranges were formed 350 million years ago, and at the time were the same height as the Himalayas. They have considerably eroded since then.
The plants have adapted to the semi-arid (not desert) environment. The gum trees have root systems that go down thirty meters to the underground water. Only five percent of the water in Australia is above ground; the rest is underground. The cleanest water is in Tasmania, but the second cleanest is in Alice Springs.
The plants all have small leaves to help them retain moisture, and the leaves also often have a waxy or furry covering as well. When it is very dry, the plants can go into a dormant state to wait for water.
The first non-Aborigine in the area was John McDouall Stuart, who walked from Adelaide to Darwin (though it took him six tries). The overland telegraph line was laid in 1871 along this route with forty thousand wooden posts and fourteen repeater stations (one every 250 kilometers); Alice Springs was number seven. Charles Todd was in charge, and the Todd River in Alice Springs was named after him; Alice Springs itself got the name from his wife. The town was actually named Stuart until 1933 when it was officially changed to Alice Springs. It now has a population of 27,000 and its main industry is tourism.
As far as animals, Rick said we would not see any reptiles because they hibernate during the winter. We would see a lot of cows and bulls, because we would be passing through twelve cattle stations. We might also see camels, kangaroos, wallabies, dingoes, and of course birds.
Well, our first stop was Camel Outback Safaris, a camel farm where one can ride a camel for just A$3. Of course, that is just around the paddock, and while it would mean I could say that I had ridden camels on four continents (previously I had ridden them in Egypt, India, and the Bronx Zoo), it was still not worth it.
Camels, not surprisingly, are not native to Australia, whose largest native land mammal was the kangaroo. The first camels (six of them) were brought to Melbourne in 1841; only one survived because the Australians had no clue as to how to tend them. So they also imported Afghan camel handlers, and camels caught on in 1860s. Camels are practical because they can go two to three weeks without water, getting water from the plants they eat and even by recycling their own urine for a short time. The hump is not water; it is fat, and they can go six to ten months without eating by using the fat in the hump, which would then completely disappear. They can also eat bark because of a special bacteria in their stomachs.
You cannot use a bit on them, because their mouth is too soft and it would choke them, but instead a nose peg is used to steer them. They cannot turn around a sharp corner or in a small circle, and hard surfaces wear their hooves away, so camel drivers would walk two hundred extra kilometers to avoid a rocky path. The train through this area was named the Ghan after the Afghans. After the train was put in, camels were not as necessary and because they were vegetarians and would not attack the indigenous animals, they were released into the wild. There are now about 15,000 wild camels in Australia. They have become a separate species, the Dromana Camel, which is so healthy and disease-free that it is exported to other countries.
We did not see much wildlife, just a couple of cockatoos, some cattle, and some wedge-tailed eagles, Australia's biggest bird of prey. There was also a dead something (cow?) half-decomposed by the side of the road.
I can see why they call this the Red Centre--the ground is very red indeed. Judging by the abandoned aluminum cans by the side of the road, some of this color may come from back from when beer came in steel cans.
We stopped at the Mt. Ebenezer Road House and got a Sno-Drop, which turned out to be red cream soda. This is part of the Mt. Ebenezer cattle station, which has 2,500 square kilometers (a little over 600,000 acres or about 965 square miles), and is therefore about the size of Belgium. The smallest cattle station in the Northern Territory is the Billy Todd cattle station (198 square kilometers); the largest is the Barrow Creek (?) cattle station (12,500 square kilometers). The largest in Australia is owned by the Kidman family and is 40,000 square kilometers.
(Quick geo-political summary: Australia has six states and two territories. Western Australia is the western third or so. The middle third is divided horizontally into the Northern Territory and South Australia. The east coast has Queensland to the north, New South Wales to the middle and south, and Victoria in the southernmost part. Tasmania is an island south of Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) is within New South Wales.)
There are no sheep in the Northern Territory, and the cattle are raised for beef, not dairy. In the 1970s there was concern that over-grazing had caused permanent damage, so cattle ranches were limited to one head of cattle for each two square kilometers. The Mt. Ebenezer is therefore allowed 1200, but actually has only 800. It turns out that the land is very resilient and is recovering under these limitations.
Mt. Ebenezer cattle station is owned by the local Aborigines, the Lurja. They do not own the road house, however, because of tribal custom. The Lurja kinship structure leads to a family consisting of 300-500 people. (Your father's brothers are classed as your father, so their children as your brothers and sisters, and similarly for your mother's sisters.) Also, all family property is owned in common. So if you owned a road house, someone in your family who would come in and ask for a pack of cigarettes would not expect to pay for it, because if it was yours, it was his as well.
About 1.5% of the population (or 300,000 people) are Aborigines; in the Northern Territory it is 22.4%, or 30,000 people. 30% of Northern Territory Aborigines live in towns, and most of the rest live in Aboriginal communities, but about 7000 live in outstations in groups of twenty to thirty and avoid contact with Western culture as much as possible. The best-known Aboriginal art-form from this area is dot-painting. And you will not find any dijeridus here--they are made from the buffle tree, which is a coastal tree. (Rick said that dijeridus are no more culturally significant here than the French horn.) Well, you will find dijeridus here, but they are all in shops to be sold to tourists.
The Northern Territory has been its own entity for twenty-one years now. It was formerly a part of South Australia (somewhat oddly named, as it then went all the way from the southern coast to the northern coast). But South Australia was so out of touch with the Northern Territory that when someone asked to have the paved road extended to Ayers Rock, the government there said, "Why would anyone want to go to Ayers Rock?" Now it gets 360,000 visitors a year.
We passed Mt. Connor, one of the three tors remaining in central Australia. The top twenty meters has had a chemical reaction which made it very hard and so it does not erode. The Aborigines call it Atila, for the dreaded ice man who lives there and covers the ground in ice for his ceremonies.
We made a stop to collect firewood, and Lorenzo (the thirteen-year-old Italian) was dragging back a whole dead tree before Rick stopped him.
Ernest Giles was the first non-Aborigine to see this area (in 1871). He named most everything around, but could not cross the salt lake west of the Olgas (which he named after Queen Olga of some German province), so did not see Ayers Rock. The Aborigine name for the Olgas is Kata Tjuta ("head-many"). It (they?) has thirty-six domes, the highest being 546 meters, and covers twenty-five square kilometers. It is made of conglomerate or "pudding-rock": granite, basalt, and some quartz. There are sacred Aborigine stories about the Olgas, but we are not allowed to know them. (No Aborigines other than the tribal elders are either.)
In 1873 William Christie Gosse saw Ayers Rock from Mt. Connor. Ayers Rock is 9.4 kilometers in diameter, and 348 meters high. Unlike the Olgas, it is a monolith of sedimentary sandstone. The Aborigine name for it is Uluru (oo-luh-ROO), which has no meaning--it is just the name. There are myths about Uluru, and some of these we are permitted to know.
To climb or not to climb? Most people apparently come to Ayers Rock to climb it. However, there are many arguments against this. First (to my mind) is that the Aborigines consider it sacred and would prefer people did not climb it. Second, it is dangerous. Thirty-four people have died climbing, some of heart attacks or asthma attacks, but some by falling off. (Almost all of those were trying to climb somewhere other than the path.) The climb is difficult, even with the chain which goes up most of the way and which you use to pull yourself up. And finally, the winds can get pretty strong and the Rock is often closed to climbing, particularly first thing in the morning.
The area around Ayers Rock and the Olgas was declared a National Park in 1958. In 1985 the land was returned to the Aborigines by the Australian government, which then immediately leased it back from them for ninety-nine years. In 1991, Ayers Rock and the Olgas were listed as World Heritage Sites; in 1995 (?) that was extended to the entire area. This created a bit of a problem, since no one (other than recognized national governments) is supposed to own World Heritage Sites. In particular, there was some feeling that the Aborigines should hand it (back) over to the Australian government. On the other hand, United States and New Zealand indigenous people are suing to get their tribal lands that are World Heritage properties back. (These would probably be primarily Te Wahipounamu and Tongariro in New Zealand and Mesa Verde, Chaco, and Taos in the United States, though it could be others as well.)
Anyway, the conditions of the lease are that climbing be allowed, though it seems as though that part does not run for the full ninety-nine years. There was a survey in the Cultural Centre asking if people would still come if the Rock were closed to climbing. Almost everyone has said yes, though one might ask if a survey taken in the Cultural Centre is self-selecting its participants. One suspects a survey taken at the starting point for the climb would produce different results. (Rick said that in particular the Japanese would stop coming as they come only to climb.)
We arrived at our camp and had a quick lunch of sandwiches. The camp looked like an army camp with all the tents lined up. Each tent had two camp beds with sleeping bags and we got sleep sacks for use within the bags. All the food preparation and clean-up is communal--everyone pitches in, though Rick directs everything. (Well, he knows what food we have, what the menu is, and where everything is.)
After lunch we went to the Olgas, where there are 8.5-kilometer, 6-kilometer, 3-kilometer, and 2-kilometer return walks. There are also four sacred sites, but the path stays away from them. We started on the 6-kilometer walk, but when we got to the point where you have to climb a 30-degree rock slope (about two kilometers in) we decided that was far enough. So we did a 4-kilometer walk. Well, the further you go, the more you see, and just because you do not see everything does not mean what you saw was not worth it.
We then drove to a point where we could join a thousand other people to watch sunset at Ayers Rock. The idea is that as the sun sets, the Rock changes color and the shadows shift, which of course would be true on any rock in the desert. Part of it is that, having gotten people to travel here (and if Alice Springs is "a bloody long way from anywhere" then Ayers Rock is "a bloody big rock a bloody long way from anywhere and then some"), the tourism industry has to give them more than "Here's the Rock; have a nice day." So there is the climb, sunset at the Rock, sunrise at the Rock, a base walk around the Rock, etc.
Dinner was "barbecue"--actually fairly tough steaks marinated in what passes for barbecue sauce in Australia and cooked on a griddle. If this is what they mean by a "barbie" in Australia, I am very disappointed.
We sat around the campfire a while, trying to communicate in our multiple languages. Mark and I were among the first to turn in, but I was awakened at midnight (or so) by the two Swiss guys in the next tent over, who were drunk and yelling something in what I think was German.
August 17, 1999: Sleeping in tents in the winter in the Outback is cold. Even inside the sleeping bag, it is very chilly, and you need socks so that when you shift around and your feet touch a new part of the sleep sack, it is not like stepping on ice.
We were awakened at 5:15AM and dressed quickly so we could warm ourselves by the fire. Breakfast was muesli, canned fruit, bread (or toast) and coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.
We drove to where the climb would start for those who wanted to do a sunrise climb, but it was too windy and the rangers were not allowing anyone to climb until at least 8AM. Rick was not too clear on what everyone's options were, especially to the people who did not speak English, but even I could not figure it out. I think people could do a full walk around the base instead of a climb or one of two partial walks and then a climb, or something like that.
Rick drove those of us not doing the full walk to the sunrise viewing point, which had a lot fewer people than the sunset viewing point did the previous night. Sunrise seemed to take a long time, though I am sure it took no longer than usual. I guess from the brightness of the sky it seemed later than it was.
After sunrise we walked about two-thirds of the way around the base of the Rock along a path that went by some rock paintings and interesting formations. Several sections were labeled as sacred sites and there were signs asking people not to photograph them.
We finished up at the climbing point about 9AM. They had opened the Rock for climbing at 8AM, and I think two people from our bus climbed, though everything was so confused that I am not sure. After everyone was collected from wherever, we went to the Cultural Centre. This had a fair amount of information about the Aborigines of the area and their way of life. They are called the Anangu (again, the People), though there are apparently two specific tribes with names I cannot recall. They exhibits talked about Tjukurpa, which is probably best described as "The Way." It encompasses culture, religion, the land, and the stories. Like Biblical stories, most of these stories about such ancestors as Kuniya, Liru, Kurpany, and Mala have a moral to them.
They seem to divide the tribe up into minyma pampa (senior women), minyma (women), kungka (girls), tjilpi (senior men). wati (men), and tjitji (children). It was not clear whether the latter included girls or was just boys.
One custom that evidenced itself was that the Anagu do not use images of dead people, so several of the exhibits which had photographs of people had one of the people covered with a card explaining that this person had died and so their image was being covered.
Uluru was described as a Tjukurpa Pulkatjara--a place with "big tjukurpa."
One of the fauna exhibits told us that the gray crested birds we had been seeing everywhere were crested bellbirds.
On the patio, we talked to Rick about the whole climbing thing, most of which I recounted earlier. He also talked about how Americans asked some of the silliest question of his brother when he traveled through the United States, like whether Australians had indoor plumbing and whether they rode kangaroos to school. I asked what I hope was not one of that sort of question, namely, when Rick's ancestors came over. He said his mother's family came over during the potato famine and his father's around 1800. I asked if the latter came of his own choosing and he said, "Yes, he freely chose to steal whatever it was that he stole."
We had a quick lunch at the camp and packed up to move on to our next camp at Kings Creek, stopping again for firewood on the way. I had hoped that Lorenzo would bring back an entire tree and save the rest of us the work, but no such luck.
There was a pen of kangaroos at the entrance of the campgrounds, so everyone got to see kangaroos. I suspect all the kangaroos we see will be in enclosures like this. (Okay, I was wrong.)
Dinner was a chicken stew cooked in camp ovens over the fire pit. The fire pit is apparently constantly extremely hot even when the fire is not glowing, so Rick warned us never to step in it. Of course, since they turn the generators (an lights) off at 11PM, that made everyone paranoid about having to go to the toilets in the middle of the night.
Rick also made "damper," bread cooked in a camp oven. I think he may have put a bit too much flour in it, as the resulting bread had a coating of loose flour that had to be shaken and dusted off. Or maybe it is supposed to be that way.
The stars were really amazing. Even with the camp lights on we could see the Milky Way and loads of stars, and Mark said when the lights were off it was even more fabulous.
August 18, 1999: We got up at 5AM, and even saw a couple of shooting stars before we left for our Kings Canyon walk. Well, "walk" is a bit of an understatement. Let's just say that Kate would have called this the Kings Canyon Deathmarch.
We started at the base and climbed 122 meters to the rim of the canyon, then walked along the rim, going up and down over the rocks. At one pointed we descended into the canyon to hike to a waterhole, then climbed back out, and hiked the rim some more before finally descending down "Heart Attack Hill." Coming down was actually fairly difficult because of my bifocals, which made it tricky to see exactly where the next step was. Even though we came very prepared, with fly hats, gloves, etc., we still had the problem that we had brought our 49-year-old bodies.
We started at 6:30AM and finished about 10AM. When we got back to camp, I took a quick shower and washed my hair, which dried by the time we finished lunch. After lunch we got as far as the camp entrance before we had our first stop, for ice cream at the shop. (Gianni, one of the Italians, was really a fan of ice cream ("gelato"), so I started thinking of him as "Gelato Gianni.")
After that it was pretty much just a long drive back to Alice Springs. We did, however, have the luck to see a herd of feral camels by the side of the road. A couple of people yelled out "photo stop" and Rick immediately said, "Okay, time for a cigarette break!" (Was that a hidden pun on "camel" as well, I wonder.)
The Desert Palms Resort was much better than the Todd Tavern. It was roomier, had its own bathroom and a kitchenette and a television.
What it did not have was a restaurant, and it was too far from town to walk, so we went to the casino two doors down. Unfortunately, it was their "seafood buffet" night, so it was crowded and we had to wait forty-five minutes for a table and a fair while more for our actual food. Mark had prawns over gnocchi and I had barramundi, which was much better than the one at the Red Ochre Grill, and the total was quite reasonable at A$33.80.
August 19, 1999: We slept in this morning--until 6:45AM. (Well, compared to the last three mornings this was really late.) We picked up breakfast stuff at the reception shop--cereal and yogurt, and Mark got instant noodles with curried prawns (four tiny prawns). We did a load of laundry as well, but mostly sat around resting.
I looked at the ingredients of the Fruita soda Mark got yesterday: "carbonated water, sugar, food acid 330, flavour, colours 102 & 110, and preservative 211." They do have a phone number (1-800-025-123) you can call and possibly find out what these codes mean.
In Australia, they do not fool around with wishy-washy warnings on cigarettes. They say things like "Smoking is addictive," "Smoking causes lung cancer," and "Smoking when pregnant harms your baby," and the font size is enormous (basically, the same size as the brand name).
We took the shuttle to the airport, checked our luggage (on Ansett they have really small overhead compartments, so unless you want to fit everything under the seat in front of you, you have to check your suitcase), and flew uneventfully to Sydney. We did have a great view coming in because we had seats on the left side of the plane. One strange note: Ansett had combination motion-sickness/rubbish-disposal/film-developing bags. Presumably the use of them for one precludes the other two.
Our first choice hotel (actually serviced apartments) was not available for the full time we wanted to stay. We called another hotel that did have rooms, but on arriving there we found the rooms (at A$75/night) not really comfortable and a sign posted that construction work began on the hotel each morning at 7AM. At this point we decided that we were not poor and were not young and could stay in a real hotel, so we went around the corner to the Southern Cross Hotel and got a room there for A$165/night (plus 10% room tax). Given room taxes and such in the United States, this is about equivalent to US$100/night. We knew about the Southern Cross because our friends Dale and Jo were staying there and we knew they would not stay someplace tacky. (Ironically, another friend had booked at the Park Regis but when she got there found the place tacky and far too noisy, and ended up moving to the Marriott, a similar upgrade in lifestyle. Finding cheap hotels in Sydney seems a tricky proposition.)
Since this was Thursday and hence the only night the Queen Victoria Building was open late, we decided to go there for the evening (and dinner). This is a very fancy multi-level shopping arcade with things like an antique carved jade bridal carriage, fancy clocks with various moving figures, and so on decorating the place. One item was a model of the Globe Theatre in silver and gold, done by Garrard. Unfortunately, the quality of the work was undercut by the very fancy calligraphed and embossed certificate of authentication, which misspelled both "assassination" and "Caesar."
While the cafes on the upper levels were fancy (though not high-priced by American standards), the lower level had the cheaper places, like the Malaysian House, where we ate for A$15.60 (US$10.40) for both of us. Mark had curried something and chili octopus over noodles, and I had prawn laksa.
We went to a bookstore in the basement of the building. I think it was a permanent store (it seemed to be called just "Basement Books," though an identical one across the street was Angus & Robertson Bookworld), but it was exactly like something we have in the United States that I call the "peripatetic bookstore." There is apparently a company that buys up remaindered books in large quantities, and then rents out empty storefronts for a couple of months each. They come in, set up long tables full of books, and sell them at highly discounted prices. There is no decor, just stacks of books on tables--it is even more warehouse-looking than the warehouse clubs. After a couple of months, they pack up and move on. Well, this was just like that. Now that we have finished our flying around Australia, we are a little more able to buy books, so Mark bought The Frankenstein Omnibus by Peter Haining and I bought a book of "corporate haiku." (Example: "Above the nest of/R&D, slowly circle/the marketing vultures.") Neither are available in the United States so far as I can tell, which is part of our criteria for what we were willing to haul back.
We also bought a couple of cassettes in the ABC store, ABC apparently being the Australian equivalent of our PBS/NPR. Mark got a BBC dramatization of John Wyndham's Chocky and The Kraken Wakes and I got the classic BBC show of Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas's Under Milkwood, which I had heard about for years but is unavailable in the United States.
Back in the hotel, we finally got our broken television replaced and watched a political satire show called Backberner that reminded me of That Was the Week That Was. Why don't we get shows like this back home?
August 20, 1999: After a quick breakfast, we walked past Chinatown to the Powerhouse Museum (A$8 each). This is a science and technology museum, but not limited to power--it is called that because the building used to be a powerhouse.
The first section was a special exhibit on cars. They had several old petrol pumps, but none from Gilbarco, which is the manufacturer one sees all the time in the United States. There were clips from Australian movies which focused on cars and driving, displays of picnicking kits, and so on. One display I found interesting was the Toyota Prion, which is apparently a new model that is a combination petrol and electric car, which turns off the petrol part when idling in traffic, then uses the electric part to accelerate until it starts the petrol part again. In turn, the electric part recharges itself from the running of the petrol part.
One of the museum's main exhibits is the History of Steam, including a original Boulton & Watt steam engine from 1785, the third such rotative engine built and the oldest still in existence. They also had film clips of the machinery sequence from Metropolis and "Life of an American Fireman" (to go with their exhibit of steam fire engines), and newpaper cartoons from the "Age of Steam" of such things as a steam-powered rocket.
There is also the Strasburg Clock, a scale model of a similar clock in Strasburg Cathedral. This tells the times, tides, planetary positions, and so one, as well as being elaborately decorated, and having a "March of the Apostles" every hour.
A section on innovation talked about advertising and we were able to learn some additional information about Vegemite. For a while, its manufacturer called it Parwill, with the slogan "If Marmite, then Parwill." It was created from leftover brewer's yeast and its nutritive value is in B vitamins. At the entrance to this exhibit was a display on how Australians perfected the tote machine (for betting)--how exciting. And they had something called a Splayd, which was a utensil that combined fork, spoon, and knife all in one to make buffet eating easier. I have seen a lot of plastic "sporks" at fast-food restaurants--those utensils that are both fork and spoon, but none with a sharp edge as well.
There was an exhibit on "Women's Work" all about cooking, washing, and so on, starting with colonial times and moving right up to all the "mod-cons" (modern conveniences). An exhibit like this in the United States would have ended with some display of women in space, or as firefighters, or some other politically correct concept, but that apparently has not gotten to Australia yet.
The "Universal Machine" was all about computers from Charles Babbage on, and did feature Ada Lovelace fairly strongly, as well as Babbage and Alan Turing. It was sponsored in large part by Apple, so there is a point in one of the audiovisual segments where a time-traveling Babbage asks about Windows 2100 and is told that Bill Gates was wrong--the future was Macintosh.
They had a robot (which was really just an arm and hand) named Isaac that did a variety of things, including a dance routine which included at times a disco ball and a mop head. They also displayed Asimov's Three Laws fairly prominently:
There was also a "Kings Cinema" which showed a series of early Australian talkies--mostly documentaries about crocodile hunting, early travelogues of Melbourne, and so on.
An "Experimentation" section was for hands-on experiments with light, sound, and so forth. For example, they had a display that had you smell both left-handed and right-handed carvone: one smells like spearmint, the other smells like caraway.
The final section we saw was the space section, with the obligatory space suit (worn by Australian astronaut Paul Scully-Power). The obligatory moon rock had been removed for study. The exhibit talked about the Australian tracking stations which we hope to visit. It also had more coverage of Chinese and Soviet/Russian efforts than one finds in United States museums, including samples of cosmonaut food and medical supplies, and souvenirs commemorating Dong Fang Hong 1 (launched 24 April 1970). I remember the latter because it was only a day or two before Arthur C. Clarke came to speak at the University of Massachusetts and he had earlier written a science fiction story about a Chinese satellite entitled "I Remember Babylon." They also had plaques commemorating the flights or works of Icarus, Cyrano de Bergerac, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells, as well as showing the complete Georges Méliès film, "Voyage to the Moon."
We had originally planned to see the Powerhouse, the Maritime Museum, and the Aquarium in one day. This was a bad plan, since we arrived at the Powerhouse when it opened at 10AM and left when it closed at 5PM.
We walked back through Chinatown and ate at the Hingara, a low-cost, no-decor Chinese restaurant which someone recommended as we were reading the menu in the window. (It turns out it was also recommended in the Lonely Planet guide.) They had dishes called Short Soup and Long Soup, so we ordered them to find out what they were. Short Soup is soup with dumplings; Long Soup is soup with long buckwheat noodles. We also had Sang Choy Bow, which is minced meat and seasonings that you eat by wrapping spoonfuls in lettuce leaves, and Mongolian Lamb, which is actually something we have in the Unite States. All this and three sodas came to A$36.50 (US$24).
While we were sitting there, someone came in who looked familiar but we could not be sure. After we finished we went over and asked him, "Do we know you from science fiction conventions?" It turned out that he had been eyeing us with the same thought, and yes, we did. It was "Wombat," (a.k.a. jan howard finder [all lower-case]). He was in Australia for the convention, but spending six months here as well. He asked if we were going to the Futurians meeting after dinner. I had known about it, but had not kept the information because we had not expected to be in Sydney this early. Since he was going and had all the information, we decided to join him.
The meeting was held in a room at the University of Technology of Sydney, and the Americans almost outnumbered to Aussies! In addition to Wombat and us, there was DUFF winner Janice Gelb (who was really startled to see us), Judy and Barry Newton and their daughter Meridel, and Michael Walsh, publisher and Chair of the 1983 Worldcon (Baltimore, Diamondvision). One odd note: there were no Australian women at the meeting.
People reported on various news. (Alas, I did not always note who said what, so a lot of this will be vague.) Someone said that a method was found to use the kinetic energy of hitting keys on a keyboard to recharge your laptop. Someone else wanted to know if the fact that all the short fiction nominees for the Ditmar are in Dreaming Down Under an indication of anything. My response was yes, it indicated that Jack Dann was a good editor. It was also suggested that the state of magazine publishing was so poor in Australia that someone who read this anthology could easily end up having all their nominations from it.
Garry Dalrymple of Basenjis Press was pushing for "Sydney in 2005" and also wanted to change how site selection is done. For Sydney in 2005, he did not actually want to run the bid, but was trying to convince other people to (especially the Sydney Convention and Visitors Bureau). He did have plans for producing a book of all the Hugo-nominated fiction so that people could vote intelligently. Of course, this year's Australian Worldcon barely got the ballots out in time--the idea that they could produce a book in that time frame is fairly amusing. (I strongly suggested to Gary that he talk to Brad Templeton, who produced a similar CD one year, which in many ways is faster than a printed book. However, Brad discovered that the time involved in getting all the authors to agree to it, and in negotiating royalties, and in all that other stuff, makes it virtually impossible.)
Someone reported that Australian fan Graham Stone is officially not interested in conventions.
Various comments about the Americans' (and Australians') perceptions of Australia followed. One of the Aussies said that XXXX beer was called that because Queenslanders cannot spell "beer." (The Lonely Planet claims that is an old joke, but about Aussies in general, not Queenslanders.) Janice had the best stories, including playing Scrabble with some Australian fans who did not like her spellings of "jailer" or "humor" and who spelled words she had never heard of. She also commented on getting used to light switches working "upside down" and having a switch on each electrical outlet ("point"). Wombat said he was getting the hang of this right-hand drive thing, and only turned on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signals two times out of three.
Someone reported that Ridley Scott was doing Asimov's The End of Eternity and (in another film) Arnold Schwarzenegger will play Doc Savage. There is apparently Clockwork Orange: The Musical. (To which someone else said, "It would have been better on ice.") It is being done at the Wharf, with a Japanese cyberpunk look. Matrix will have a prequel and a sequel. Someone (I think it was John August) described himself as an advocate of non-Einsteinian relativity in regard to his recently standing for office (when there were somewhere between forty-seven and sixty parties on the ballot).
Every meeting has a theme and this month's was "Displaced People in Science Fiction." This was, however, extremely vague and attempts to firm it up ("people who can't go home because it's no longer acceptable to live in") failed. All sorts of things were listed, including Jerry Pournelle's "Janissaries" series, Sean McMullen's Centurion's Empire, L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall, Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Robert Silverberg's Up the Line, Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed, Maureen McHugh's Mission Child, Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Edgar Rice Burroughs's "John Carter" series, Larry Niven's "World Out of Time," Leo Frankowski's "Crosstime Engineer" series, Jack Finney's Time and Again, H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds (the Londoners), Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life," Zenna Henderson's "People" stories, "Superman," Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer's When Worlds Collide, Robert A. Heinlein's Universe, and Isaac Asimov's "The Ugly Little Boy." Unfortunately, with this broad a topic, there was no time to actually discuss any of the works, just to list them. Still, it is nice to see science fiction groups actually talking about science fiction.
Around 10PM we finally finished and walked back to our hotel with Janice and Michael, who were staying (separately) at the Marriott.
August 21, 1999: After a quick breakfast we spent the entire day at the Australian National Maritime Museum (A$15), with most of that spent touring the destroyer H.M.A.S. Vampire and the submarine H.M.A.S. Onslow.
Although there is an audio tour for both, we also took a guided tour of Vampire, because it is a lot easier to ask questions of a guide. The volunteer guides are not happy about the audio tours, because it means a lot fewer people take the guided tours, and they feel the guided tours are better than the audio ones. It is difficult to say. The audio ones cover more of the ship than the "live" ones, and have various people who had served on Vampire (and similar ships) recounting stories about those times. On the other hand, they take a lot longer and there is no good way to skip parts of each stop. (They use CDs rather than audio cassettes, so you can do the stops in any order.) In the submarine, this is particularly a problem, since if you want to stop and listen to the entire description of a particular spot, there is no way to let the people behind you pass.
Vampire (named after an earlier ship sunk on 9 April 1942) was commissioned in 1959 with a crew of about 300. It was used in Vietnam but never actually fired its guns there. (Two sister ships did, however.) One of the things the guide pointed out very early was that all the stairs on the ship were added for the benefit of the tourists--there were only ladders on a ship when it was in service. As he pointed out, this made moving things from deck to deck a lot more difficult than we might think.
In the area surrounding the radar section, there are signs saying that sailors can work there only two minutes out of every twenty because of radiation. (I had thought it was cumulative, and it would not matter whether the same amount of time was spent there in an hour or a day.)
I will not even attempt to give a point-by-point tour of the ship or the submarine. (Aren't you relieved?)
We talked to another guide for about a half hour about Australia, the United States, politics, and all that. He thought that the Australian system, where everyone must vote or they are fined, was a good one. (He said it was the only one in the world. I seemed to remember that Ecuador was the same, but he said that Australia did it "without guns." I think this is an inaccurate view of Ecuador, but it was not worth arguing about. However, I do wonder if the remaining nomadic Aborigines also vote, or if they are not Australian citizens, or what. I will have to try to remember to ask someone.)
As we were walking around, who should we see through a hatch but our friend Dale and his son Sammy? We knew they were supposed to arrive today but had not expected to see them. The whole family group (Dale, Jo, their two children, and their two mothers) were all there except Dale's mother, who had missed her connection in San Francisco and was due in the next day. We arranged to meet them for dinner the next day.
The inside of the museum had some interesting exhibits ("The Navigators," about early Australian exploration, another about immigration, and exhibits on the ocean, yachts, and the beach), but did not take nearly as much time as the ships.
There was a United States of America Gallery donated during Bush's administration. One incident we do not hear much about was the Confederate ship Shenandoah, which was used for blockade-running. At one point it was in the South Pacific (getting materials?) and put into Sydney for repairs and replenishment. The United States claimed that the reception and assistance given was a violation of England's neutrality (Australia being a colony of England at the time) and was eventually compensated US$4 million.
There were also other boats moored outside as examples of various types (military and civilian). One was the Krait, which was built as an Indonesian fishing boat for Operation Jaywick, which involved sneaking into Singapore Harbour when it was occupied by the Japanese and blowing up ships. Its first raid was very successful, but it was captured on its second attempt.
We had dinner at the Nadaman (or maybe it was Madaman) Japanese Restaurant in the Queen Victoria Building. I had a sushi and sashimi special, Mark had the sashimi special, and the bill came to A$42.60 (US$28).
My dry cough drove me (and probably Mark) crazy all evening and night. I think it was the hotel room, since I was not coughing a lot outside either before or after.
August 22, 1999: We had breakfast in Chinatown. All the books talk about how popular "yum cha" is and how important it is to get there early. ("Yum cha" is what is called in the United States "dim sum," but in Australia the latter refers only to the dumplings.) Because we wanted to get an early start we picked one of the restaurants mentioned, the Golden Harbour, and got there at 9AM when it opened. However, at 9AM they were still setting up, and we could not go in. We finally went in about 9:15AM with still no sign of crowds.
To make a long story short, we ended up ordering off a menu of "yum cha" and when we had finished by 10AM, only one other couple had arrived. If they had carts that come around, they had not started them yet. The "yum cha" was good, but the only thing we got that we do not have in the restaurant we go to back home was Snow Pea Leaf Dumpling, and pretty much everything on the menu was familiar.
Afterwards we stopped into a bakery for Mexican Buns and Glutinous Rice with Red Bean Cake for dessert. They had a restaurant in back which did had a large crowd for "yum cha," and we were sorry we had not gone there, but it looked like just a bakery from outside. In general, it did not look as though the warnings about arriving really early were necessary, and were probably counter-productive.
We walked back to George Street and caught a bus for the Rocks, the oldest section of Sydney. In the 1970s there was the "Battle for the Rocks," where residents fought developers over whether the buildings in the Rocks would be razed and replaced by sky-scrapers. The residents wanted the Rocks to stay the way they where and to continue to provide housing for lower- and middle-class families, and eventually prevailed. At least that is the story the videotape and display in the Visitors Centre gives, though given the tourist shops, upscale weekend market, replica of the Bounty used for cruises, etc., one wonders just how much low-cost housing remains. However, the buildings were saved, which these days is considered important.
The replica of the Bounty, by the way, was used both as the Bounty in Bounty and as the Pequod in the Patrick Stewart version of Moby Dick.
The Centre had displays of the history of the Rocks, including an outbreak of bubonic plague at the turn of the century that I do not recall hearing about before. It was formerly an area where sailors newly arrived in Sydney went and got taken for all their money. Now it is an area where tourists go and .... Well, that is not entirely fair. There is probably a lot more tourist junk in some of the city center shops than in the Rocks, and it is certainly safe to walk around (in either area).
Part of what began the loss of the area was the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, which involved the destruction of the whole of Princes Street. (The loans for the bridge were finally paid off in 1988.) Known as the "Coathanger" for its shape, it was the longest single-span arch bridge at the time. We could see people doing the "Sydney Bridge Climb," where you climb/walk up the arch to the top. This is strictly controlled, by the way, with people having to pass a climb test as well as pay a hefty fee (I think someone said A$180), and they are connected by safety cable to the bridge at all times. I have no desire to do this.
After walking around the Rocks, we continued around the Circular Quay to the Opera House. The Circular Quay is the main ferry terminal, and on Sundays (at least) the surrounding promenade is full of street performers and such. There is also Writers Walk, a series of plaques set into the promenade commemorating Australian writers and writers who had some connection with Australia. For example, Mark Twain has a plaque for his writings about Australia in Following the Equator. Each plaque has a quotation as well as biographical information, and not all are literary giants. Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage) has a plaque with "I think that I could never spy/A poem lovely as a pie./A banquet in a single course/Blushing with tomato sauce."
We arrived at the Opera House and paid for a tour (A$12.90 each). We had hoped to take a backstage tour, but those are offered only occasionally and this was not one of the times.
Our guide told us the history of the Opera House, the cost overruns (the estimate was A$7M, the actual cost A$102M), and the various problems. At one point the architect was so angry at the politics of it all that he left, and has never returned to see the completed building. It is the world's largest non-pillared building and the "sails" are actually spherical sections that all fit together onto a single sphere. There are 347 kilometers of cables holding up this "laterally-stressed building." Of the materials used for the Opera House, the roof tiles are Swedish, the glass French, and everything else Australian.
I asked about the current furor over the acoustics and the orchestra pit. Musicians are saying that the acoustics need to be improved, and also complaining about the fact that much of the orchestra pit in the Opera Theatre is under the stage. Our guide said that in regard to the former, while the acoustics could be improved slightly, it would be a big expense for very little improvement, one that most people could not detect. As for the latter, the musicians had been complaining for years that they did not have enough room, so the pit had been extended back under the stage to make more room. This resulted in a "Wagnerian-style" orchestra pit, and also eliminated the use of the double revolve that the stage has. Apparently the musicians want the pit extended into the theatre itself, but this is undoubtedly not going to happen.
We started with the Playhouse Theatre, which seats only 398. It was originally used for chamber music, then was a cinema, and is now used for small plays. The library was recently moved to the New South Wales State Library to make room for another theatre for contemporary music, jazz, pop, etc. There is also the Studio, which seats 420, and the Playhouse, which seats 544. The latter is currently hosting Macbeth (or "the Scottish Play," as the guide called it). Because the ceiling in the Playhouse is so low at the back, refrigerated aluminum panels are used rather than standard air conditioning. Air conditioning is used everywhere else, and the water for it comes from Sydney Harbour. For plays requiring musicians, the first three rows of seats can be removed to form an orchestra pit, and the stage has a double revolve for scene changes rather than a curtain.
There is also the Concert Hall, seating 2679, which we could not see because it was in use.
The last stop was the Opera Theatre, seating 1547. The evening production was Don Carlo by Verdi, with a set done (suitably enough) in green marble (or at least what looked like green marble). Our guide said that the reverberation time in the Opera Theatre was 1.2 seconds, while in the Concert Hall is was 2.1 seconds. The difference is that the former used concrete while the latter used timber in its construction. The Opera Theatre has plain black walls--no marble or ornate decoration--so as to focus attention on the stage. They have added super-titles, though, and were one of the first theatres to do so. (The guide called them "sur-titles" but I think those would be under the stage rather than above it. He also said that all operas were performed in their original languages, but The Magic Flute is currently being performed in English, so not everything he said was entirely accurate.)
When this finished, we took a taxi to Speakers Corner. We knew it was in the Domain in the Royal Botanic Gardens, but not exactly where, so Mark suggested that taking a taxi would probably be better than wandering around. Unfortunately, the taxi driver had never heard of it, so we asked to be dropped at the Art Gallery in the Domain, and luckily enough, Speakers Corner was right across from it.
Speakers Corner may at one time have been a place to rally people to political ideologies, but these days it is pretty much a few people putting on staged performances every Sunday. They are heckled by a "listener" and then you see the two of them sitting together having a beer in a pub later as old friends. Whenever someone new shows up to listen, everyone focuses on him. Mark enjoyed this, of course, since he loves to debate with people. The first speaker was haranguing listeners about Gallipoli and the British; the second was more scattershot, commenting on current news stories and trying to sound radical without ever really succeeding.
In case you still had any illusions about the artificial nature of all this, one speaker handed out flyers for "Sunday Speaking," listing all the Speakers Corners around the world, and mentioning a web site (though it did not give the URL) and email address for this. Of course, the Web is one of the final nails in the coffin for this sort of thing--one can reach far more people far easier via the Web.
We returned via Hyde Park with its Archibald Fountain and tree-lined pathways, and met the Skrans for dinner, which we had at Hingara. Jo mentioned that their was a big gaming convention going on at the Entertainment Center, and we agreed that our friend Alan would be sorry he missed it, though not likely to fly this far for one.
August 23, 1999: We went back to Chinatown for breakfast. The "yum cha" restaurant we had seen active yesterday was empty, so we went to a regular breakfast place, the Superbowl, and had chicken congee, chiu chow dumpling, steamed rice noodles, fried dough, and soy fried noodles, at A$5.50 each.
Our first stop was the Australian Museum (A$5 each). This is basically a natural history museum, with a few ethnographic exhibits thrown in.
There was a large section labeled "Insects" but inside the full name was "Insects and Terrestrial Invertebrates of Land and Freshwater" so we can forgive their inclusion of spiders and other non-insects. The insects included such native species as the hairy cicada (Tettigarcta crinita), the upside-down fly (Neurochaeta inversa), and the Lord Howe phasmid (Dryocoelus australis), which may actually be extinct. About half the exhibit was closed for refurbishment or something.
There was a biodiversity exhibit, preaching the values of conservation and so on. One interesting display was a description of humans done the same way as we do for other species. For example, it talked about how human courtship rituals involve the female painting her face with bright colors.
As with the cigarette warnings, they do not pussy-foot around with exhibits here: "Evolution is a fact."
One display gave examples of the difference between analogy and homology. The bat's wing and the bird's wing are analogous structures, but the bat's wing and the human arm are homologous. That is, the bat's wing and the human arm derived from the same source, as can be seen by the fact that a bat's wing has a five-fingered "hand" and so on. The bird's wing does not have this, and is merely analogous to the bat's wing in its use.
There was a discussion of monkeys and apes. Monkeys have callosities on their rear ends and tails, while apes do not (except that gibbons are apes and do have callosities). They did not completely explain how tarsiers and lemurs fit in, though. Cladistics has not been incorporated in this exhibit yet, although there was some reference to the idea of certain characteristics indicating descent from a single ancestor. For example, all vertebrates descend from one point on the "tree," while all flying animals do not, or rather, do not descend from a common point from which no non-flying animals descend.
There was a section on race which began by saying that most of the things that people think of as defining race (such as color) have no scientific validity whatsoever. It pointed out that Caucasoids come in all colors from fairest Scandinavian to darkest Indian. What does define Caucasoid as far as science accepts is a prominent narrow nose, a vertical face without a protruding jaw, a pointed chin, wavy hair, and a hairy body. (An article I read said that genetically, humans can be thought of as being made up of four races. Three are African, and the rest is everyone else. A Swede and a Maori are closer genetically than a Bushman and a Masai.
And of course, there was the obligatory dinosaur and prehistoric animal exhibit. There was a Dromornis stirtoni (the largest known bird), a Genyronis newtoni (a dromornithid related to the moa), a Diprotodon optatum (the largest marsupial), and a Simostheurus (short-faced kangaroo).
A videotape described the four major causes of extinction--climate change, sea level change, extraterrestrial impacts, and volcanism. There have been five major extinctions: at the ends of the Cretaceous (130 families and 76% of all species), the Triassic (90 families, 76% of all species), the Permian (270 families, 96% of all species), the Devonian (120 families, 82% of all species), and the Ordovician (215 families, 86% of all species).
When I was in school, there were three kingdoms: animal, plant, and mineral. Now the first two are six: bacteria, single-celled life, algae, plants, fungi, and animals.
And speaking of minerals, there was of course a mineral exhibit, which confused me a bit until I realized that there was a part of Australia also called New England. There was a replica of the famous "Welcome Stranger" nugget from the Gold Rush.
There was also a display on "Indigenous Australians." (The term "Aboriginal" apparently does not apply to Torres Strait Islanders.) One might question why this is in what is basically a natural history museum, although it is more ethnographical than artistic.
After the museum we went to Dymocks, the big bookstore chain, to get a road map for driving to Melbourne. There did not seem to be a single map for that part of Australia. just maps for each state, and the selection for Victoria was not very good. A woman heard me asking the clerk and after he had left, she told me there was the main office of the NRMA on the corner and they had maps. I went there and not only did they have just the map I was looking for, I got it free as an AAA member (and he even took my word for that, because I had not thought to bring my card).
As for books, Dymocks was quite impressive, with a very good science fiction section. However, I was waiting until the convention and Melbourne rather than have to cart the books around.
There was a restaurant next to Dymocks called Sushi King that has all sorts of sushi rolls all priced at A$1.50. I do not think avocado and tomato is traditional.
There we went to the major event of the day, the Sydney Aquarium. This is a major "museum" but did not take nearly as long as some of the other museums--thank goodness. We did spend over three hours there, though. We started with the platypus exhibit. I had thought of platypuses as being about the size of raccoons, but these were much smaller, more like large rats, but cuter (as long as you do not think about the venomous spikes in their hind legs). (Oh, by the way, the plural is "platypuses," not "platypi," since the derivation is from the Latin "pus" rather than a Greek root.)
They were rearranging the scenery in crocodile area, and this involved one person holding a board between the pool and the people moving the scenery, and another standing at the far end of the pool and using a stick to hit the water and attract the crocodile over there. When they were done, they did feed the crocodile, so we did get to see him (her?). The view is actually much better from the area above the pool--you are a little further away, but can see the crocodile even when it is underwater.
There were a lot of signs up about how dangerous this or that animal was. I suspect Australia has the highest number of venomous/poisonous plants and animals of any country.
The seals were not dangerous, but not as frisky as some are, and the water was too murky to see them underwater unless they were within a couple of meters of the viewing windows.
There are also three walk-through exhibits: Sydney Harbour, the Deep Ocean, and the Great Barrier Reef. The latter is new and is probably why the admission was raised to A$17.50. These are where we spent the most time, watching the fish swim over, under, and around us. The Great Barrier Reef exhibit has a long living coral reef with tropical fish in additional other large tanks. They play classical music throughout; in the Great Barrier Exhibit they play Saint-Saens's "Carnival of the Animals: The Aquarium." This is very appropriate, and in addition keeps the crowds moving, because there is a limit to the number of times you can hear it played before going bonkers.
We finished just about 5PM and decided to walk back along the harborside and see if there was someplace to have dinner. And who should we see sitting in one of the outdoor restaurants there but the Skrans! Even given that tourists frequent certain areas, I still think that meeting them accidentally twice in three days counts as strange. It was a Japanese restaurant and we had just had Japanese food, but we figured we could stand it again and joined them. (People who know us know that having to eat Asian food frequently is not a hardship for us.) Mark got a sushi bento, and I got an assortment platter of grilled snapper, chicken teriyaki, and loin of lamb. Perhaps it was not completely Japanese, but neither was the feta cheese and sun-dried tomato sushi roll that Jo ordered.
August 24, 1999: After a quick, "normal" breakfast (eggs and toast, not congee and dumplings), we walked to the Hyde Park Barracks, one of the historic buildings of Sydney. Almost lost to urban renewal, it was appropriately enough hosting an exhibit of photographs of "Demolished Houses of Sydney."
(We were pleased to see that it actually opened at 9:30AM, instead of the 10AM that everything listed, although it turned out the extra time was not necessary. Still, it was nice not to feel rushed.)
The Barracks has been used for many purposes: convict barracks, asylum, law courts, government offices, .... (Regarding the latter, they had a quote from H. G. Wells: "A time may come when history ... will have more to tell about clerks & less about conquerors.")
The "renovation" of the building was done in an interesting fashion. In an attempt to please everyone, the ground floor was completely renovated and is being used as an art gallery. The second floor shows the various ages of the building, for example, by showing all the layers of paint through scraping, and has a display about the uses and aspects of the building through the years: Convict Culture, Immigrant Experience, Evolution of the State, Expansion of Law & Social Policy, Arbitration & the Struggle of Capital & Labour, and Modernism & the Heritage Debate. The third floor has the building as it appeared when it was first built.
Of course, this attempt to please everyone ended up pleasing no one, or at least displeasing everyone. Still, the notes point out that had they not been excavating to install air-conditioning (something objected to by those who wanted the building restored to its original state), they would not have found all the objects they did in the rats' tunnels underneath. Over the years rats stole and hid in their tunnels all sorts of things--bits of clothing, buttons, spoons, pipes, etc.--that archaeologists and historians are delighted to have.
We had hoped to squeeze in the Mint Museum after the Barracks, but that turned out to be closed for remodeling. So the extra time did not really help us.
We had extra time because the Great Synagogue can be seen only on a tour and those are only on Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon. The security is quite tight. There is no metal detector, but you must check all cameras and bags, even purses (they do say to remove your wallet and keep that with you). (I think one woman left because she would have to check her purse.)
The tour begins with a "sound and light show" telling the history of Jews in Australia and of the synagogue, named for the Great Synagogue of London. There was also a basic description of the tenets and principles of Judaism, which made me think they must get a fair number of non-Jews.
There were sixteen Jews on the First Fleet, but it was not until many years later that there were enough observant Jews in one location to have a congregation.
There is also a small museum, including the original plans, a model of the synagogue, the wooden ark from the first (York Street) Sydney synagogue, and various ceremonial and historical objects.
The Great Synagogue, like almost all synagogues in Australia, is orthodox. This means there is a separate balcony section for women, and women cannot be rabbis, cantors, or judges. (I was tempted to ask the guide how Deborah fit into this rule based on tradition, but restrained myself.)
After this we went to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which was a very nicely laid out museum with a lot of space. The European collection was small, but the main features of the museum are their Australian and Aborigine collection. I find that nomenclature interesting, since I would think the former term would include the latter, but the "Australian" galleries include only paintings and sculptures done in the European style, while Aborigine works, even modern ones, are in a separate gallery. (One could argue, I suppose, that Aborigine works from before 1962 were not done by Australians, because it was not until then that they were granted full citizenship. I would not argue this, but someone could.)
After we finished here, we walked to Kings Cross to pick up the car. (Warning to those renting a car here: CDW [Collision Damage Waiver] still includes a large deductible ["exclusion"], and there will be an extra per-day charge to bring that down.)
We drove around a bit, getting used to the right-hand/left-side driving (and killing time until 5PM, when the evening rate for the parking garage kicked in). It is actually easier to drive in the city where there are a lot of reminders of which side to drive on: cars in the lanes, traffic signs, parked cars, and so on.
Having parked the car, we walked over to an Indian restaurant we had previously seen. But they did not open until 6PM, so we walked around quite a bit, and eventually ended up at another Indian restaurant that did not open until 6PM. Dinner was a curried octopus appetizer, chana saag paneer, chicken in peanut sauce, lime pickle, rice, and mango lassi, all for A$33.40 (US$22).
August 25, 1999: We checked out and left the parking garage before 8AM (in after 5PM, out before 8AM was only A$5). Rather than leave Sydney right away, we drove up through the Royal Botanic Garden out to the tip of the Domain (there are two non-contiguous sections called "the Domain"--can someone explain what this signifies?). From here one gets a marvelous morning view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge to the west. The fact that it is to the west is why this is a great morning view for a photograph, and if you are here early enough, you can actually park the car to take it.
We decided to skip the Jewish Museum, because 1) it did not open until 10AM and it was now only 8AM, 2) there was probably no easy or cheap way to park in that area, and 3) there was probably a lot of overlap with the Great Synagogue and other Jewish museums we have seen elsewhere. (The museum is on Darlinghurst Road--or is it "in Darlinghurst Road" here?--which has a lot of interesting restaurants, shops, etc., but no real parking.)
So we left Sydney--which took the next hour. Sydney is a big city, with a population of about four million, and there was a lot of city to drive through to get out of it. (Think of leaving New York City by driving east through Queens or Brooklyn, or San Francisco by driving south on El Camino Real.) At least the signage was reasonable, since we knew that we were taking Princes Highway (Route 1) to Wollongong, and usually either one or both of those appeared on major signs. (Can anyone who was working with UNIX twenty years ago remind me what exactly Wollongong University was known for in that regard? All I remember is that we had large manuals for something from there, and it was referred to as "Wollongong [something].")
Part of this route we following Tourist Route 10, which was not marked on our map, but seemed to be going parallel to the actual Princes Highway, only higher up. We stopped at Bulli's "Sublime Point" which was 64 kilometers south of Sydney, at an altitude of 415.41 meters. At 34-17-55 South, 10-3-43 West, we could see from the coast for 176 kilometers from Port Jackson to Jervis Bay, including the towns of Thirroul, Bulli, and Wollongong. (This was off the signboard there, of course.) This point was apparently named and first "developed" as a site by churchmen, since there were several plaques an signs with Biblical quotes about the beauty and sublimity of God's Creation.
From Wollongong (well, more like from Dapto) we went east 68 kilometers on the Illawarra Highway (Route 48) to Moss Vale. What the map does not show you is that you are also climbing probably a thousand meters as well, though forests and over the Macquarie Pass. We then went west 77 kilometers on the Hume Highway (Route 31) to Goulburn, the main feature of this road (other than the forests on either side) being the wombat crossing signs. From there we headed south 63 kilometers on the Federal Highway (Route 23) to Canberra, driving next to Lake George through what appeared to be an enormous flat bowl surrounded by mountains.
Canberra is the capital of Australia and is in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). However, unlike Washington and the District of Columbia, the two are not identical; there are several other towns in the ACT, as well as Tidbinbilla National Reserve and Namadgi National Park.
We checked into a motel recommended by the Tourist Information Centre, the Dickson Premier Inn. Because they did not have a plain double room, they upgraded us to a spa room at no extra charge, just the standard A$75/night. We were out of Sydney now, that's for sure.
We ate a quick lunch at the Noodle Shop, a seafood laksa and a roast duck laksa with a ginger beer for A$19.80 (US$13).
We had bought a book called Canberra's Top Secret Tour which purported to tell all the secrets of the various buildings of Canberra, though it turned out that a lot of them were meaningful only if you knew Australian politics. We started following the tour, and eventually ended up at the Australian War Memorial about 3PM. We spent the next two hours there and only got about halfway through.
The Australian War Memorial is the major war museum of Australia, covering Australia's (or at least Australians') involvement in various wars, starting with Sudan and the Boer War and going right through to the current peace-keeping efforts. Though much of what it presents is familiar, there are some interesting points. There is a somewhat different version of Gallipoli from what was described in Turkey. At the Memorial there is no mention of sitting on the beach after landing instead of charging right up. There was no mention of the "separate peace." And although the Turkish guide said that the reason the Turks did not fire on the Australians when they were leaving was because that was all the Turks wanted, in Canberra the explanation is that the Australians rigged the trenches to appear as though they were still occupied. In any case, though, I noticed that the Australian War Memorial had pictures of the Turkish memorials at Gallipoli, but no pictures of any German war memorials.
We managed to see all the World War I exhibits, and about half of the World War II section before the Memorial closed at 5PM with "Last Post" (the Australian version of "Taps").
Normally this would be the end of the day, but we (well, I) wanted to go to the Canberra Observatory for a night viewing. The fact that this night was clear and rain was predicted for the next two nights meant it was tonight or never.
Although there are three viewings nightly (at 7:30PM, 8:30PM, and 9:30PM), during the school year the first two tend to get booked up with school groups. (Actually, this is probably more true toward the end of the school year, when schools from all over Australia decide it is time for a class trip to their nation's capital. We saw lots of these groups at the War Memorial as well.) So we had to return for the 9:30PM show.
This was not difficult. The Observatory was five minutes away from our motel.
This may seem strange, but it is partly because the Observatory is a privately owned facility. In fact, it is owned by the same group that owns our motel, the Trademen's Union Club. (They also own a bicycle museum.) The Observatory got its start in 1986 with Halley's Comet. The Club thought it might be a good idea to put some telescopes on top of Tradies, their restaurant/bistro/bicycle museum for people to see Halley's Comet. People started coming in large numbers, and even after the comet disappeared, people kept coming to look through the telescopes. The Club decided to build an observatory and managed to get a good-sized telescope from Questacon to whom it had been given as a gift, but who had no use for it. They eventually added a planetarium, an Antarctic igloo, and even a "spaceship." The spaceship is just a room added on in the shape of a spaceship, used for the introductory slide show. The igloo is a genuine used Antarctic research pre-fabricated igloo that was donated to them for some reason not entirely clear.
Through the telescope we could see Alpha Centauri (both stars of what is really a binary star system), the Jewel Box, Mars, and the Moon. Alpha Centauri is visible from the southern parts of the Unite States, but the Jewel Box is strictly a Southern Hemisphere constellation. Mars and the Moon are obviously visible from the Northern Hemisphere, but although Mars was still pretty fuzzy, we could see some amazing detail on the Moon. Viewing is actually better when the Moon is not full, because you get a lot more detail near the terminator because of the shadows. The Southern Cross was too low in the sky, and at any rate one would see only one star at a time through the telescope.
August 26, 1999: We started with Parliament House today. This is a very large building, with 4700 rooms, but does not seem that way, partly because the building is mostly within the hill it was built "on." It also has a large underground parking garage. (One nice thing about Canberra over Sydney is that traffic is less and free parking is readily available. Of course, Canberra has only 330,000 people to Sydney's 4,000,000.)
The building was built aligned with the cardinal points of the compass, and the axes were used to form continua. For example, going north to south one proceeds through time, starting with a piece of Aboriginal art, then architecture using European marble, and finally a room entirely of Australian materials, the Great Hall. (This was recently reopened after being cleaned and renovated.) In this was the world's second largest tapestry, designed after a painting by an Australian artist. The tapestry incorporates not only the cockatoo as a distinctly Australian bird, but also Halley's Comet, suggested by the weavers as a way of dating the tapestry (it was being woven in 1986). Astronomical phenomena are apparently a traditional way of dating tapestries.
We found out why most of the stars on the Australian flag are seven-pointed: there is one point for each state and the last is for the two territories combined. However, only four of the five stars are seven-pointed; the other is five-pointed and I do not know why. What will happen to the flag with its Union Jack if Australia votes in November to become a republic is not clear.
Australia has two houses, a Senate and a House of Representatives. In keeping with British tradition, everything connected with the Senate (seen as a parallel to the House of Lords, though not hereditary) is red, while everything connected with the House of Representatives (parallel to the House of Commons) is green. Each state currently has twelve senators and each territory two. Currently, the House of Representatives has 148 members, 14 for Western Australia, 1 from the Northern Territory, 12 from South Australia, 27 from Queensland, 50 from New South Wales, 37 from Victoria, 5 from Tasmania, and 2 from the ACT (unlike the District of Columbia, our "capital territory," which has no representation in Congress). The Senate is defined as half the size of the House, and the Representatives each represent a specified number of people, so as the population has grown, the Senate has grown as well.
We also went in to see the sessions of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Neither was very exciting, with only a few members present, though the people speaking in the House were fairly amusing, and the Senator (Bob Brown of the Green Party) seemed fairly single-minded about some reforestation review bill. (He later in the day was the only Senator to vote against the "statement of sincere regret" to the Aborigines for the "Stolen Generation"--the generation of children that was removed from their families and raised by whites, apparently because he did not think it was sincere, and it did not have any provisions for reparations.)
After this we went to the Old Parliament House, built shortly after World War I and always planned as temporary, though it was in use sixty-three years rather than the expected fifty. The guide here was very good, telling all sorts of stories about the various Prime Ministers, some of which were interesting even if you did not know anything about Australian politics. For example, Stanley Melbourne Bruce was the only Prime Minister defeated in his own seat. One other (William Morris "Billy" Hughes) had defected from his original party, and when a bust of him was installed in the main lobby years later, members from that party were still so angry that they used to stub out their cigarettes in his ear.
She asked the group (all Aussies except us) who was the first Prime Minister, and one person answered, "Edmund Barton. I've seen the commercials." They are running ads here for the centenary of Federation in which a boy asks his father who the first President of the United States was and he answers, "George Washington." The boy then asks who the first Prime Minister of Australia was, and the father does not know.
The guide also talked about Edward Gough Whitlam, who was the only Prime Minister dismissed by the Governor General (hence in effect by the British government), in 1975. One of his newly-appointed ministers passed him in the hall right after Whitlam got the message but before it was announced and Whitlam said to him, "You've been sacked." "What did I do?" was the anguished response, "I've only been here four weeks." A short while later the minister discovered that everyone had been sacked.
This was a very divisive issue at the time, and the vote for or against the republic will certainly be influenced by people's feelings about it.
There was supposed to be a "sound and light" show in the Senate chamber, but it was not working. We did see enough to discover that two consecutive Clerks of the Senate died on the job.
(The guide noticed I was picking up the information sheets about the various rooms, and gave me a complete set of information, including folder and postcards.)
We had a quick snack at Backbenches, the cafe in the building, then went back to the Australian War Memorial to try to see the rest of it. The Bradbury Aircraft Hall was closed for renovation or we might not have finished the museum, but as it was we managed to see everything, including the special exhibit, "Too Dark for the Light Horse" and the exhibits on involvement in British wars during the Colonial Period (primarily Sudan and the Boer War).
Dinner was at the Asian Noodle House near the hotel. The Laotian restaurant did not get our business because their music was way too loud.
August 27, 1999: Today is our 27th anniversary.
We started by filling the tank, getting 34 liters at A$0.765 per liter for the 395 kilometers we had traveled. I can deal with one "foreign" unit at a time, but two are tricky and three is really pushing it, so I will translate for the Yanks--that is 9 gallons at US$1.93 per gallon, and we got 27.33 miles per gallon for the 245 miles we traveled. We now return you to your usual metric station.
We were going to drive past the United States Embassy, but ended up driving past most of the other embassies as well because it was easy to follow the "Diplomatic" tourist route. The most interesting-looking was the Papuan New Guinea one, done in the style of a traditional New Guinea meeting house. We also drove past the Lodge (home of the Prime Minister) and Government House (home of the Governor General).
We then joined the "Science and Nature" tourist route to Mt. Stromlo Observatory. This is part of the Australian National University, and admission (A$5) includes a tour of two of the telescopes--all are optical, but some are reflecting and some are refracting telescopes. (Refracting telescopes are limited in size because when the lens gets too big it starts to sag under its own weight, while the mirror in a reflecting telescope is supported underneath.)
The main project being done here now is the MACHO (Massive Astronomical Compact Halo Objects) project, which in 1993 detected lensing by "missing matter." There was a display about this as well as several other displays and exhibits in the exhibit area.
There was also a slide show of space photographs with commentary. Our guide mentioned that there were a hundred trillion galaxies, but I do not know if that is an American trillion or a British trillion. He also said that they had recently discovered that the Milky Way will consume both the Greater and Lesser Magellanic Clouds. And he talked about new experiments on how to measure distances between astronomical objects.
I asked him what he thought of the Canberra Observatory. I had thought he might think it was not "professional" enough, but his first reaction was that he was jealous that it had a planetarium and Stromlo did not. He wanted Stromlo to be the major "space" destination for everyone in the area.
The gift shop's books included "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" books, as well as books by Arthur C. Clarke, Douglas Adams, and Kim Stanley Robinson. There were also non-fiction books, including several collections of essays by Paul Davies, and a book that I wanted to find back home, John Gribbin & Martin Rees's The Stuff of the Universe. (What I found was that it was in print only in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries.)
When we left the Observatory and got back to the main road, we immediately saw three kangaroos standing by the side of the road, our first (and probably last) wild kangaroos. We later saw some emus as well, but still no wombats or koalas.
Following the route, we came to the Canberra (Tidbinbilla) Deep Space Communications Centre. This is one of three such, the other two being Madrid and Goldstone (Mohave Desert). This is managed by managed by CSIRO for JPL. The major functions here are getting data from satellites and spacecraft, sending commands to them, and tracking them. For this there are several dishes of various sizes. The largest is a seventy-meter dish, weighing 3000 tonnes and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. This has a perforated dish to lessen the weight and allow airflow, but still reflects the microwaves, and has been in use since 1964.
There is also the dish that used to be at the Honeysuckle Tracking Station. At the space occupied by the Honeysuckle Tracking Station console is a plaque reading, "Here an Australian first talked to a spaceman." The spaceman was John Glenn, and while I am glad they saved the dish, it is a shame that they demolished the old tracking station. We might have driven to the location, but bushwalking in the rain to see the plaque did not seem worth it.
I should note here that although "spaceman" has its own problems, I think I prefer it to the whole "astronaut/cosmonaut" dichotomy.
The Mars exhibit in the Visitors Centre had several items relating to H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. It also had a comparison between the Mars Global Surveyor and the film Waterworld:
all dry, looking for water
all wet, looking for land
will last 5 years
lasted a little over 2 hours
produced by JPL
produced by Hollywood
Unfortunately, the Centre also had the possessive "its" spelled "it's" on a glossy display of a Mars mission--something I have seen several times on this trip, and not just on hand-written signs, but on fancy, glossy displays in museums.
Children everywhere seem fascinated by the gravity wells where you roll a ball around and it spirals into a hole in the center.
Dinner was at Pho Phu Quoc. We had garlic chicken wings, chili prawns, something else, and I had an avocado shake. It was the only non-fruit shake listed, so maybe avocados are considered fruits here. In any case, it did not really have a strong avocado taste.
After dinner we went over to the Bicycle Museum. To go in we had to become honorary members of the Tradesmen's Union Club, which involved signing in and getting a card good for two weeks. The display had about a hundred bicycles--more are in storage--including a pennyfarthing you can climb on to have your picture taken.
August 28, 1999: Today Mark was 18,000 days old.
Today was a lot of driving. We started north on the Barton Highway, then west on the Hume Highway, stopping first at Gundagai. Gundagai is known as the site of "the dog on the tucker box." This is the story of a dog who sat on the tucker (food) box of his master while his master's bullock cart was mired in the mud. What is not clear is whether the dog was trying to guard it for his master, or whether he was just refusing to help and trying to claim the food for himself. There are also other stories and songs about Gundagai, including "The Road to Gundagai," which was on the CD of Australian songs that we had bought.
We listened to the CD, because it turns out that there are many "dead" areas as far as FM reception goes. Unfortunately, the CD player in the car seemed to be defective, because it put a big scratch on the CD, and though it was fine the first time through, after that the second track started skipping. (I was hoping that a better CD player would compensate, because that is "A Pub with No Beer" and I like the song. It did.)
There are also "dead" telephone areas as well, by the way. For example, at the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Communication Centre there was a sign that there were no public telephones and there was also no mobile telephone service for that area. I have no idea if that is intentional or just ironic.
(Bret Hirshman reports that it is intentional, so as not to swamp the signals.)
We did not get to Wagga Wagga, pronounced "Wagga" (the second "Wagga" is silent). The exception is in the name of the organization Wagga Wagga Writers Writers.
We had a quick kebab lunch in Albury, and then stopped in Glenrowan, the town where Ned Kelly made his last stand. Ned Kelly was perhaps the most famous of the bushrangers, and known for wearing armor (fashioned from farming equipment). There is a giant statue of Kelly in the center of town. It is plaster rather than bronze, and I suspect was put up by the merchants as a draw rather than by the town historical society or some such. The shops also have all sorts of Kelly Gang souvenirs, including a rather nice T-shirt with the engraving of Kelly that ran on the front page of the newspaper when Kelly was captured. They also had a copy of A. Bertram Chandler's Kelly Country, which is how I first heard of Kelly. Kelly Country is an alternate history in which Kelly escaped police capture in 1880 and led a successful Irish-Australian rebellion against British authority. Written as a short story in 1976 and revised into a novel in 1983, it postulates that a mental time traveler causes Kelly's escape and wakes up in world where Australia rather than the United States is embroiled in Vietnam. (Of course, Australia was also involved in Vietnam, but never to the extent the United States was.)
We filled the tank, having gone 567.4 kilometers, for A$32.89 for 38.29 liters at A$0.859/liter.
In Glenrowan, we actually saw a rabbit by the side of the road. They are not quite as ubiquitous as they were previously, apparently. What did seem to be ubiquitous are sheep, which we saw everywhere.
The recent rains flooded many of the fields and the ditches by the sides of the road, but not the road itself.
We arrived at Bendigo about 5PM and checked in to the Central Deborah Motor Inn, named for the Central Deborah Mine, which was right next door. We had dinner at the Khong Restaurant, not all that great, but one of the few open. This was the off-season, and a lot seemed closed.
August 29, 1999: We got up early and decided to drive over to the Golden Dragon Museum and the "Chinese Joss House" to see what they looked like, but not to hang around for another hour for them to open. But when we got to the Golden Dragon Museum at 8:30AM, it was open, an hour early. So we went in (A$6).
The primary exhibit here is Sun Loong, a Chinese dragon a hundred meters long, with six thousand silk scales each with 23 mirrors. This is the longest Chinese dragon in the world and takes a team of 116 to carry it: one carries the 29 kilogram head (with five reliefs), 52 carry the body (with 52 reliefs), and one carries the tail (with five reliefs). This dragon is not carried for Chinese New Year, however, but for the Easter Fair to raise money for the hospital.
Sun Loong was first carried in 1970. Before that, Loong was carried, and he is also displayed. The fair started in 1869. The Chinese joined in 1871, and Loong appeared in 1892 and was thirty meters long. The Chinese community continues to grow the pomelo leaves that are needed for the awakening ceremony each year, but the Clan McLeod Pipe Band performs during awakening ceremony now to help out. In a rarely performed ceremony, in 1983 Sun Loong gave the Prince and Princess of Wales the "nine bows" that are reserved for heads of state.
Loong is now in the museum as well, and is the oldest Chinese dragon in the world. In addition, the museum houses the world's largest collection of Chinese processional regalia. This is in large part because almost all of what remained in China was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
There are also many artifacts of the Chinese community and the whole history of the Chinese in the gold fields and in Australia. There was a Chinese Symbols Exhibition, a description of the Three Philosophers (Lao-Tze, Confucius, and the Buddha), and a description of the Eight Immortals (poverty, wealth, age, youth, femininity, masculinity, aristocracy, and the common person).
Most of the Chinese came to the gold fields from Guangdong Province, where the area was called Dai Gum San (Big Gold Mountain). Only men came, and they sent gold home to their families; in 1857 205.454 ounces of gold were shipped back. In 1855, Victoria became alarmed at the number of Chinese, so they imposed landing taxes and limitations on them. So then the Chinese landed at Adelaide, in South Australia, and walked to the gold fields from there. In 1858, there were 33,600 Chinese in Victoria, and 3750 in Bendigo itself.
Though the Chinese were involved in the Federation celebrations, it did not help them, because the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 ("White Australia" policy) barred any further Chinese immigration, even for the families of men already in Australia. (In fact, it pretty much barred anyone "not of substantially European origin.") It was not until after World War II that this was eased. (The exhibit mentioned developing Australians' taste for Chinese food; I do not know if this was supposed to be a cause or an effect.)
It is also possible that the restriction was eased because of World War II. Australians of Chinese ancestry (or anyone again "not of substantially European origin" were theoretically excluded from the combat defense forces, but many fought anyway in both World Wars (not the same person in both, of course). There was a whole area about this, where they played the song "We'll Meet Again" over and over. Since it could be heard throughout the entire museum, we now cannot get this song out of our heads.
What seems unusual is that in spite of the "White Australia" policy, intermarriage between Chinese men and European women was fairly common. (Well, given that there were basically no Chinese women in Australia, perhaps it is not so surprising from the men's point of view.) What is not clear is how people viewed these marriages. From the pictures, I get the impression that the family was part of the Chinese community rather than being part of the European one.
All the signs in the museum were in both English and Chinese.
There was a cookbook from 1983 titled (humorously, I presume) How to Cook Numbers 19, 36, 55, an 98 in Your Own Home. Earlier we had seen a book of poetry titled Australian Poems That Would Stun a Sheep, so humorous titles are not unknown here.
What is referred to as the "Chinese Joss House" is actually the Bendigo Temple, dedicate to Kuan Gung, the God of War, who was an actual military hero in the Third Century, and who was adopted as the God of Miners. Since there is also a temple as part of the museum grounds (Gun Yum Miew [Temple of the Goddess of Mercy]) we decided to skip the Joss House, which was a ways out of town. The museum also includes a classical Chinese garden, Yi Yuan (Garden of Joy), with statues of the Eight Immortals, fish pond, and all the accoutrements of a Chinese garden.
We then drove to Ballarat ,117 kilometers away on the A300, arriving about noon. The main "attraction" at Ballarat is Sovereign Hill, an outdoor museum like Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts or Skansen in Stockholm. It represents a mining town of the 1860s or so. (They were not absolutely consistent in their chronology, having posters up with various dates on them.) We spent the rest of the afternoon here, panning for gold (well, everyone knows there is no gold in this stream, which is artificial anyway, but you get some idea what it was like), watching them pour molten gold into an ingot, taking the mine tour, and watching the Redcoats drill. The mine tour was probably the highlight, going into a real mine (although through newer, larger tunnels which meet rigorous safety standards). Our guide's family had been miners and he had various stories to tell, mostly about the dangers of mining. While gold miners do not get black lung disease, they get the equivalent from the silicon in the quartz, silicosis.
While they tried to have examples of all the businesses in the mining village, there was no "house of negotiable affection" (as someone once phrased it). As for the Redcoats, there were only four, and the presentation focused more on humor than on pageantry.
We found a motel and went in to town looking for dinner. A lot was closed, this being Sunday and the off-season, but we did find a Thai restaurant, Chok Dee, and had dinner there.
August 30, 1999: We stopped at the site of the Eureka Stockade before leaving Ballarat. There was a miners' rebellion here in 1854 over what the miners saw as oppressive regulation and taxation. According to the Lonely Planet, there was information on it in the Gold Museum, giving both sides of the issues. However, that had been moved to the new Eureka Stockade Centre--which was closed on Mondays. This was a Monday.
Without the Centre there was not much to see--just the granite obelisk with the names of those who died. These included miners (who "fought for freedom") and soldiers (who "died at duty's call"), and was more even-handed than most such monuments. Of course, in most cases, the monument is erected by one side or the other; here in a sense it was erected by both sides. The only thing similar I can think of in the United States is the Kentucky Memorial at Vicksburg, a single memorial honoring those from Kentucky who fought on either side during the battle. (The quotes, by the way, are probably not exact.)
This did not take very long. As someone on the Net said, "You get out of your car, take a photo, and that's it. Gettysburg it ain't."
We then drove down the A300 through Geelong to Queenscliff. We ended up arriving early for the tour of Fort Queenscliff, so we walked around the town, which in season on the weekends is quite busy, but during the off-season on a Monday is not. After a lunch of meat pies and ginger beer, we went back to the Fort.
The Fort claims to have fired the first Allied shots in both World Wars. On 5 August 1914 it fired a warning shot at the German freighter Pfalz, which was trying to escape from Melbourne Harbour through the Heads. And on 4 September 1939 it fired a warning shot across the bow of a ship that was not properly identified. It turned out to be the Tasmanian freighter Woniora. I claim that firing a warning shot across the bow of one of your own ships, however well-intentioned, does not count. (I also need to check when hostilities began for World War I, since I have always heard that it started 28 July 1914, and I would have thought that by 5 August someone on the "Allied" side would have fired a shot.)
The tour was given by Keith Davidson, whose "nom de tour" is "Mister Queenscliff." He has a lot of personal connections with the Fort. For example, his great-grandfather was one of the men firing signal cannon on the ship waiting at the north end of Australia for Burke and Wills. Those cannons were used as the original cannons for Fort Queenscliff and are still there.
Fort Queenscliff was established 23 June 1853, when the Crimean War started. However, it did not consist of much besides a couple of large guns and a part-time citizens' militia. Fortifications were added between 1860 and 1863, the batteries in 1879 and 1880, and the wall and the keep between 1882 and 1886.
The Fort commanded thirty-one guns as well as mines in three channels, making it the strongest fort in the Southern Hemisphere. (There seem to be a lot of claims here of the "largest/strongest/tallest/whateverest in the Southern Hemisphere." However, if you look at a map you discover that the only real competition is New Zealand, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Peru, parts of Congo and a few other countries, and some of the Pacific Islands.)
After the tour we talked to the guide a while, mostly about race and how it is perceived differently in our two countries. For example, "black" refers to entirely different groups of people in Australia (indigenous Australians) and in the United States (people of African descent). And Australia was far more predominantly British until very recently than the United States has been since at least our independence, when there already was a substantial German population. The massive influx of people from varied backgrounds that we got in the 1880-1920 time period, Australia did not get until after World War II.
Driving around and seeing signs for koala crossings made me suddenly realize that to Australian children animals like deer and squirrels that we see all the time are exotic animals.
We filled up again, 36.15 liters at A$.747 per liter for A$27 for 514 kilometers.
We then drove through Melbourne in heavy rush hour traffic to Healesville, getting somewhat lost in Melbourne in the process until we finally pulled over and checked the two-inch thick books of street maps for Melbourne to figure out where we were.
Our randomly chosen motel in Healesville was A$65 for the night, with the apparently standard refrigerator, coffee maker and materials, and electric blanket (actually bed warmer).
August 31, 1999: We spent the entire day at the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary. Unlike the Melbourne Zoo, which has animals from all over the world, Healesville has only native Australian animals (and they count the dingo as a native Australian animal). They also are a rescue park for injured or orphaned animals and attempt to rehabilitate them and release them to the wild if possible. Although snakes and such are in traditional glass-windowed boxes, Healesville does try to give the animals more room than zoos usually do.
One aspect that is different from traditional zoos is the ability to walk through some of the exhibits (the kangaroo exhibit and several aviaries). You can also pet the dingoes when the keepers take them out for their walks. (This means that the dingoes have a lifestyle similar to most domestic dogs--enclosed in a house-lot-sized space for most of the time, but taken out for a walk/run a couple of times a day.)
In one aviary we read, "The male [Red-Browed Firetail] won his mate by waving a long grass stem in his bill while leaping up and down in a frenzied courtship dance"--a sort of avian disco.
The Tasmanian Devils were asleep, but they were described as the largest surviving carnivorous marsupial, and also as having the strongest jaws of any mammal relative to head size.
Throughout the park we kept hearing Bell Miners, which are birds that have a call like a bell. After a while, it does get a bit tiresome.
There was an exhibit of night animals, where the lighting makes it night during the day and vice versa. We also saw echidnas and a wombat. The wombat was sleeping, and according to the keeper had been orphaned and was still a baby. Wombats are about the size of pigs; platypuses are more the size of squirrels. I mention this because I had always thought of their sizes being the other way around.
The koalas were asleep the first time we went through (they sleep about twenty hours a day because their diet does not provide much energy). We went through a second time and two of the four were awake. Well, actually there were five--one had a baby in her pouch which we could now see. And one actually got down on the ground to move to another clump of trees, something fairly rare as they are much clumsier on the ground than in the trees.
We also saw flying-foxes (fruit bats), and one can see the bones within their wings when the sun is behind them and realize that it is indeed a five-fingered hand, not a bird's wing. The "thumb" forms a small claw on the middle of the top of the wing.
As we were leaving, we went into the gift shop, where we ran into David Hartwell (an editor and publisher from New York). This seemed surprising for an instant until we realized that of course he was also attending the World Science Fiction Convention, and it was not so odd after all.
We returned to Melbourne and returned the car this afternoon instead of the next morning. This was Mark's idea, and a good one it was, too: we saved a day's rental and overnight parking costs. It was worth it even though the taxi from Avis to the hotel cost A$12.40 because of the incredibly slow rush hour traffic.
We went out for dinner, but the downtown area had no restaurants to speak of at the end near our hotel. So we went in the other direction to the Southgate Complex and Crown Casino. We ate at the Crown Casino food court--some pretty mediocre fish and chips.
September 1, 1999: We went back to the food court for breakfast and had congee--much better than the fish and chips of last night.
We waited until 10AM so we could register for the World Science Fiction Convention, then looked through the schedule before going out for our walking tour (from the Lonely Planet). This took us through various parts of the city center, and just coincidentally past Slow Glass, the Melbourne science fiction specialty bookstore. So we went in and in spite of the fact that they were hauling large boxes out to a truck to be taken over to the Convention Centre for the convention, I managed to find two books I wanted: Sarah Ash's The Lost Child and Leigh Blackmore's Terror Australis.
After walking around a while, we rode the Circle Tram around the center of the city. It is a tourist tram which in addition to announcing stops, tells you a little about what you are seeing as well.
We had lunch at the Oriental Bistro: snake soup and a barbecue pork, tofu, and mushroom dish for A$21.80 (US$14).
We spent some time resting up and then hanging around the convention area talking to other fans, and ended up at the Kings Buffet (A$9.90) with three Sydney fans (John August, David Bofinger, and Ian Woolf) and US fan Irwin Strauss.
September 2-6, 1999: [World Science Fiction Convention; separate log available on request]
September 7, 1999: We shared a taxi with two other New Jersey fans, but it was hardly worth it. First, we had to walk a couple of blocks to their hotel, then we collectively had so much luggage that they had to call a special taxi, and then Renee forgot her hat and had to go back for it. Luckily we had allowed a lot of extra time.
We flew to New Zealand, where I bought a postcard costing NZ$0.80 with a remaining Australian dollar and got NZ$0.30 change. I came back to the gate to find Mark over in a corner with a yarmulke on, davening mincha. No, he hadn't had a sudden vision; he had been asked by some Yeshiva students to help make a minyan.
We had a short delay in Los Angeles, but still got home about when expected, 11PM Tuesday night, and were back at work Wednesday morning.
Costs for this trip (in US$) are:
1472 (includes tours)
(The airfare costs were more than our entire three-week trip to Turkey last year cost.)