30 August 2006

Your questions for Australia answered

Thanks for those of you who suggested questions--I'll pass them on. I realise you might have learned some of these answers in the past year, but for now, I will provide my answers, just in case. Here are the answers to the questions you asked, or someone else asked and you were too afraid to:

Is Mick Dundee famous in Australia?
People certainly know who he is, but he isn't exactly a celebrity. Kind of a sellout. Paul Hogan trivia: Before Hollywood, he used to be a painter on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

What's the weather like down there?
Nice as. Here in Sydney, we have a mild winter and warm to hot summers. In the northern part of the country, the summers are pure hot and winters are mild to warm. Further south, winters are cool and summers are warm.

How often do you see a kangaroo?
Every time I ride mine to work. Kidding. I saw one in Queensland near the crocodile farm, and a few weeks ago we saw quite a few on our way to the Blue Mountains. Outside of the cities there are supposed to be places where they are plentiful, but if you are asking if they hang out by the Opera House, the answer is no. Although that is a good trick to play on tourists.

Do people really use the phrase "Shrimp on the barbie?"
No. We don't even have shrimp here--we have "prawns".

Do toilets spin the other way when you flush?
No--too small. You are referring to the Coriolis effect, which does effect the rotation of hurricanes/cyclones in the Northern/Southern hemispheres due to the rotation of the earth. In your bathroom's sink/tub/toilet, however, the direction the water drains is determined by the size/shape of the device, how the plug is pulled and the direction the water was initially added. See for yourself: fill a sink with water with your hand over the drain. Twist your hand clockwise as you remove it from the drain and the water will spin clockwise. Now repeat counter-clockwise to reverse the effect.

Are the Wiggles big over there?
Big with the kiddies I guess. I'm sure Crocodile Dundee doesn't listen to them.

Does everyone there hate Steve Irwin as much as we do here?
Are you kidding? The Crocodile Hunter is tailor-made for the American audience. Australians can't stand him. If you do see him on TV here, his accent is much less pronounced.

Do they really eat those cute, cuddly kangaroos? Who could do that??
Yes, and me. Tasty. Actually, many Australians, especially in the city, are still hesitant to eat roo, but out in the bush, the animal is just another pest. Late last year, the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia held a contest to rename roo meat to avoid the 'cute animal' perceptions--think venison. 'Australus' won the contest, but has yet to be officially adopted by the KIAA. Personally, my favorite entry was "jumpmeat".

26 August 2006

Red Hands Cave

Last weekend Heather and I did some more exploring, this time checking in at Red Hands Cave. It was much easier to get to than Katoomba and Three Sisters since it is only an hour outside of Sydney rather than two hours. The trail itself wasn't as exciting and didn't offer the views of
other parks in the Blue Mountains, but the cave was very interesting. It is believed that the earliest of the red hands were first painted about 1600 years ago, which isn't really all that long ago considering the Aborigines have been here at least 40 000 years.
The hands were created by mixing ochre with saliva or blood, then putting the mixture in their mouths and blowing it over their hands held as stensils on the cave wall. A few hands were solid, created simply by putting the hand in the mixture and applying it straight to the wall. There were red hands, orange hands, yellow hands, left hands, right hands, adult hands, children's hands, narrow hands, fleshy hands. The variety emphasised the diversity and individuality of each one, reminding me that perhaps hundreds of people over a thousand years contributed their part to this site.
There was a barrier over the cave to protect it from vandals. Discovered in 1913, it was covered in charcoaled initials of visitors by 1934. Vandalism was so bad that it was taken off official tourist attraction lists. It has since been cleaned, and in 1987, the barrier was erected to protect it. It is unfortunate that this measure is necessary, but sometimes these things are required to preserve these sites for the future.

21 August 2006

Aboriginal story time

Two parts to today's post, both regarding Aboriginal story time.
First, the Three Sisters. I told you a few posts earlier about our trip to see them, but just now realised I never told you why they are called the three sisters. Aboriginal legend has it that three sisters from one band fell in love with three brothers from another. However, the men in their group would not allow them to leave and marry the brothers. These men attempted to take the sisters by force and were fought off. During the battle, the medicine man turned the three sisters into a rock formation for safety, with the intention of changing them back after the danger had passed. Unfortunately, he was killed during the battle, and the Three Sisters have remained to this day.
The second part of today's post concerns a movie called Ten Canoes that Heather and I saw tonight. I've searched imdb.com and there apparently aren't any plans to release this film in the States, but if you see it anywhere, on the screen or video, check it out. It is an Australian made film telling an Aboriginal story, and the first to be shot in an Aboriginal language, although there is an additional Storyteller "voice over" at times. It is revealing of Aboriginal thought and manner towards other people and their society, the land, storytelling, the past and life in general. It is entertaining and enlightening; thought provoking and funny. If you get a chance to see it, don't pass it up--it's a rare opportunity to learn about original Australian life.

18 August 2006

Wanted: Your questions for Australia

First, I made an addition to my list of what I miss about the USA--the Do Not Call Registry. We get calls all the time here and it drives me crazy.
I was asked by a student at school today what kind of questions he would get if he were to go to the States as an exchange student. I covered what I am asked here back in January, but he wanted to know what it would be like on the other side. So, I need your questions. This will be somewhat artificial since most of you have been reading these updates for a year now, but imagine this was all new to you. What do you want to know? What did you wonder about when we first got here? Maybe someone else you know asked a question when you told them you knew someone in Australia--what was it? Leave a comment asking your questions--the crazier the better.

13 August 2006

Wallabies v Springboks

Last Saturday Heather, friend
and coworker Andrew and I went to the Wallabies game against the Springboks of South Africa. We had excellent seats, sitting low and in the corner, right near the action. The Wallabies had beaten the Springboks a few weeks earlier 49-0 but this was a
completely different game. South Africa dominated play and field position for much of the game, but missed three goal opportunities in the first half, allowing the Wallabies the lead on a nicely played breakaway try. The Springboks efforts finally paid off in the second half when they took the lead on a try of their own and appeared to be in control of the match. After a few key substitutions, the Wallabies rallied for an exciting finish. Mat Rogers, one of the late subs, scored a try to steal the win with a little over three minutes remaining. The try was scored in our corner, so it all happened right in front of us. The best part about it was he had jogged around that corner a few minutes earlier before entering the game and had waved at some kids sitting in front of us. When he jumped up after scoring the try, he pointed triumphantly at the kids again. Must have been very exciting for them.
These kids were members of various rugby teams who provided our half time entertainment. We had noticed many of them were wearing rugby headgear and mouthguards in the stands and wondered why. The kids at our end were about five and none of them had headgear. Heather was outraged, saying, "They are so little! Why don't they have headgear?! They'll get hurt!" Turns out the little ones only play touch.
It was a fun evening and a good game, the rain held off and the Wallabies won. They also claimed the 2006 Mandela Plate, awarded to the series winner between Australia and South Africa. This took a little of the sting off of losing the Bledisloe Cup to New Zealand a few weeks earlier. If you look closely at the first picture, you can see the ball going through the uprights. Only the best for Look Right readers. Official game report can be found here.

07 August 2006


Last weekend, Heather and I went bushwalking, our first since the leech incident. We went to Katoomba, where we saw the Three Sisters (the first picture) and a lot of tourists (second). We were both reminded of the horse drawn carriage tour of Charleston where we saw old
homes, historic buildings, natural vegetation and a sidewalk chalk scrawled message reading "TOURISTS GO HOME". Once we got out on the actual trail, however, the tourist disappeared. Full of energy and excitement, we began our descent on the Giant Stairway, which is correctly named--over
800 steps. It weaves back and forth down the cliff face, hiding around edges and through the forest growth. At the bottom, we stopped for lunch. A couple tourists were right behind us (you could tell by their blue and pink Ugg boots). They spent a couple minutes catching their breath, then headed back up the stairs. Not sure why you would walk down 800 stairs and not enjoy the actual trails. We chose the Dardanelles Pass, named for the location in Turkey where the ANZACS fought during WWI.
You will notice in the next pictures how dense the canopy was by how dark it is--these pictures were taken in the middle of the afternoon an hour or so after the picture of the Three Sisters. The stairs back up traced a series of waterfalls coming down, and all of them were different. In the first falls
picture, you see me and a "standard" waterfall. The walking stick is Heather's. Be careful if you are ever walking up stairs on a trail behind Heather and her stick. She has a tendency to drop her hand to her side, thus bringing the business end of the stick very near your head. In the next picture is a beautiful, wide, trickling falls. The still photo just can't capture how it sparkled as it fell. Other than the falls, the way up was just like the way down: stairs, stairs, stairs. It didn't go up a cliff face, but at every
bend, there was another set. The last picture illustrates Heather's fallen spirits at a particularly long and daunting staircase with no sunlight in sight. When we finally broke through to the sun, she threw up her hands and yelled, "We made it!"

04 August 2006

Year One: What I don't miss about the USA

Here's a followup to my previous post--if there are things I miss, there are a few things I don't miss, too.
  1. Pennies and one dollar bills. It drove me crazy on my trip back having a pocket full of useless pennies and a wallet stuffed with singles. There is a movement to lose the penny in the US--support it. Rounding to the nearest nickel on cash transactions is wonderful. And while you are at it, recommend replacing the dollar bill with one and two dollar coins. If you are going to carry around all that change, at least make it worth something.
  2. $3/gal gas. And consider yourself lucky--it's the equivalent of US$6/gal here.
  3. Traffic. Yes, we have traffic here, too. But with a decent public transportation option, I don't have to drive a car. No matter how bad the streets are, trains keep moving right along.
  4. Large portions. You don't need that much food. Really.

Year One: What I miss about the USA

It was one year ago this fine rainy morning that Heather and I arrived in Sydney (it was fine and rainy that day, too). After a year here and my recent trip back for a visit, I have given great thought to the similarities and differences between the two countries. In recognition of our one year anniversary here, I have compiled this list of the things I miss about America.
  1. Family
  2. Friends
  3. Dr Pepper
  4. Real milkshakes-They make them here, but they are nothing more than flavored milk.
  5. Snow cones
  6. ESPN-Available here if you have Foxtel (cable), which we don't. But even then, it isn't the same. Everything is tape delayed, and you don't get the same variety. And forget ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, etc.
  7. Wal Mart
  8. TexMex-The selection is extremely limited, and we have tried a few of them, but don't get your hopes up. We can't even get the proper ingredients at the store to make it at home.
  9. Do Not Call Registry-We get sales calls here ALL THE TIME.

03 August 2006

Guest blog: Heather evades a $200 fine

Today I had to go to a statistics seminar hosted by a research group in the Mental Health Unit at Liverpool Hospital. I'd never been to Liverpool Hospital before, and my boss gave me a map. The map wasn't the best, as it only showed the hospital campus and didn't show the route from the train station to the hospital. But he clearly identified the location of the Mental Health Unit with large block letters highlighted in hot pink and circled in pencil.
I woke up this morning and realized I left my map on my desk in my office. I needed to take the bus to my office and retrieve my map before catching the train, and, with dinner plans in another part of the city later in the evening, I quickly tallied 2 bus trips and 4 train trips today. Since we live by Central, in the middle of the red zone, I congratulated myself on having the clever idea of buying a discounted red zone (inner city) weekly travel pass.
As it goes I was running late. At 8:30am, map in hand, I was in the train station looking at the schedule board when I realized I don't even know where the suburb of Liverpool is (FYI--southwest on the map). I found the Liverpool train on the board, not thinking it's called Liverpool because Liverpool is the end of the line, thereby meaning Liverpool is a LONG way away. And probably not in the zone of my red inner city travel pass.
Ride the train without a valid ticket and you'll get slapped with a $200 fine.
But at 8:30am it wasn't connecting for me. I was just trying to figure out if I would make it to my seminar by 10 o'clock, and I was very perplexed by watching the estimated time until departure for my train change from 7 minutes to 19 minutes to 23 minutes back to 3 minutes. I had to catch that train!
But the train was 20 minutes late. And it moved so slowly I could have hopped on one foot to Liverpool faster. At no point did I think 'I'm really going a long way. I bet this hospital isn't in the Inner West.' I don't wear a watch, so I had no idea it was after 10am until I saw the clock when I alighted at the station. And then I was really flustered because I was already late and I had no idea how to get from the train station to the hospital.
I rammed my red zone pass into the turnstile while fishing in my bag for the hospital campus map. The turnstile beeped 'INVALID TICKET' at me. The first transit officer came over, glanced at my ticket, saw the date was valid, and let me through. Then he said, "HOLD ON! Did that say red?"
"Yeah, it says red," I huffed with attitude. In the same breath, "How do you get to Liverpool Hospital?"
"Ma'am, you can't come all the way out here on a red zone ticket."
"What? OK. How do you get to the hospital from here?"
"Ma'am, it's a $200 fine."
"OK. I have a meeting at the hospital. How do you get to the hospital?"
A second transit officer comes over. "Ma'am, I need to ask you a few questions."
"OK. How do you get to the hospital?" I found my campus map in my bag at this moment and waved it triumphantly in the air.
"Ma'am, why are you in Liverpool?" Now there are 4 transit officers.
"I have to go to the hospital. I have a meeting."
"Do you ride the train often?"
"Never. How do you get to the hospital? I have this map, but it doesn't tell me how to get to the hospital."
I gave my campus map to the transit officers. They took one look at MENTAL HEALTH UNIT in block letters, highlighted in hot pink, and circled in pencil.
I got a smile and a wave and I was on my way. I walked out of the station and the hospital was across the street.