"Now warries, Mite!"
Second only to our neighbor to the north, Canada, Australia is the foreign country I have visited most often—fourteen times if my count is accurate. And for a country as distant as it is, the culture and people are as similar to us as those of Canada—but not the language! Australians, particularly Western Australians, can be very difficult to understand. They make "a" sound like "i", "o" sound like "ow", etc., with the above quote from Paul Hogan being a good example of the vernacular.
My first trip was in April of 1981, combined with a side trip to a conference in New Zealand. Three later visits followed, after which my company closed its factory near Melbourne due to a market slowdown, leaving me to expect no more excursions to the land down under. However in 1989, I was asked to give a series of annual seminars there for a professional training company, in two locations each year. In June of 1993, Betty and I visited the country again on a tour which included Fiji and New Zealand. In 1996, I completed my eighth and last seminar tour for that company. But after giving up hope of returning, I was invited by an old friend to give seminars there in 2002, sponsored by his company.
The flight from California to Australia crosses both the Equator and the International Date Line. When I first began traveling this route, there were no nonstop flights, so I chose to stopover first in Tahiti, and later in Honolulu. Now, the nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Sydney leaves around midnight and arrives at dawn—two days later, with no day in between. I would usually leave home on Sunday and arrive Tuesday morning, without experiencing Monday. Departing Australia on my return flight typically on Thursday morning, I would see the sun go down and rise and it would still be Thursday. The flight would arrive at LAX before departure time from Sydney. It was possible to reach home the same day I left.
Those who travel far south of the equator will notice many things that seem to be reversed. The seasons, for example. It can be refreshing to leave the U.S. at the end of summer and arrive in Melbourne to smell the first flowers of spring. But it can be disconcerting as well, shivering with a sunburn in a hailstorm. Try to remember that April = October, June = December, etc., to properly prepare yourself.
The night sky will also be completely unfamiliar, with the Big Dipper and Polaris replaced by the Southern Cross as shown on Australia's flag. The "man in the moon" will not be recognizable, as his face is tipped sideways almost 90 degrees—you will have to turn your head by the same angle to see it. But even the daytime sky will confuse, as the sun appears in the north rather than the south. Its travel through the sky from east to west moves from right to left rather than the familiar left to right, which can easily disorient the visitor from the northern hemisphere. Water goes down the drain clockwise rather than the familiar counter-clockwise (they say anti-clockwise), too, but this is less likely to be noticed or to cause confusion.
Arriving in Australia, you will quickly realize you are in a different world altogether. The landscape, the trees, the buildings—everything will be unfamiliar, especially the animals. Row houses are common, low, two-story units packed tightly in blocks, very narrow but deep, wrought-iron gates their only decoration. Red roofs are tile or metal. There are no native deciduous trees here, or conifers either, although some have been imported from Europe and elsewhere, but look out of place. The dominant species of tree is the eucalyptus or gum tree, with many varieties in different parts of the country. The impact is especially keen in the Australian Alps in winter, to see broad-leaved green trees surrounded by snow. The only familiar birds are pigeons and seagulls, and all the mammals are marsupials.
Sydney, New South Wales
When I first began traveling down under, flights from California to Sydney had to stop for refueling, either at Honolulu or Tahiti. This was a great opportunity for a stopover to "wind the clock," and I did stay a day in each of those ports on my first two trips. Later company policy eliminated stopovers, making the trip from home to my hotel in Sydney about 32 hours long. Now, Boeing 747-400 aircraft fly the routes between San Francisco and Los Angeles and Sydney non-stop, negotiating the 7500 miles of Pacific Ocean in 14 hours. This reduced my travel time from home to hotel to 28 hours. The flights arrive in Sydney at about 6 AM when the curfew ends. I can still see the city from the plane as it circled in the twilight of early morning, so many, many September mornings. And I can still feel the loneliness creep over me as I looked down on those white houses with their red tile roofs. This was at the opposite end of the world from home, and my loneliness certainly increased with the distance.
Upon arrival, I followed a regular routine—pass through immigration; then stop at the duty-free shop for a bottle of vodka, which cost about a third as much as downtown; then pick up my luggage and go through customs. During my series of lecture tours, I only needed enough money changed for a couple days, as I would be getting an expense allowance on the first day of class, and this I would have done in LAX prior to departure. For only $6 Australian (about $5 U.S.), and $10 return (round-trip) you can be delivered to your hotel from the airport on a shuttle bus, but it may be the only bargain—you will pay twice as much for food and drink as in the States. Incidentally, when ordering from a menu, Entree means precisely what it says--starters, not the main course as in the States.
Arriving at my hotel at about 8 A.M., I would take a bath (after 30-some hours in the same clothes) and go to bed, with the alarm set for noon. Upon waking, I would dress casually, and walk the two miles or so to the Circular Quay (pronounced "key") where the ferries landed—it lies between the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. Next came lunch in an outside café, followed by a walk past the Opera House and through the Royal Botanical Gardens, resting for awhile on a bluff overlooking the harbor traffic. The difficult part was staying awake until the end of the afternoon, trying to last until supper. But sometimes, after a drink, I would go to bed without supper. On my first couple trips, I would allow an extra day to help adjust to the time, but concluded that this was just a wasted day. So for the last several years, I would arrive the morning before my seminar was to start.
Not far from the quay is "The Rocks," the oldest part of Sydney dating from the early 1800s, now restored to shops, hotels, restaurants, and museums. Adjoining the Opera House is a large park containing Government House. In the center of Sydney is Hyde Park and St. Mary’s Cathedral, where I would go to Mass as often as I could. Another interesting walk is west across town to Darling Harbour, home of the Exhibition Centre, Aquarium, Maritime Museum, and more shops and restaurants.
When Betty and I were there in June of 1993, we visited the Taronga Park Zoo, by ferry from the quay. It was a delightful zoo, and the ride itself was scenic. We posed alongside a sleeping koala (they are nocturnal creatures) for a picture taken with our own camera. Other ferries take you to Manly and points further north, where there are miles of beautiful beaches.
Sydney's weather is quite dry, with cloudless skies common, especially in winter. Temperatures are mild enough that palm trees flourish, and flowers bloom through the winter. The eucalyptus trees are reminiscent of northern California, but the climate is more like southern California.
In September of 1990, Betty and I spent a week in Hawaii—Maui and Honolulu—before I left for Sydney. I left our hotel in Honolulu at night, and she left the next morning. I really hated to leave her, and the loneliness set in before I had reached the airport. That year I stayed at the Airport Hilton, which I really didn’t like, as it was so isolated. I had a day with nothing to do, so I walked to the airport, rented a car, and headed for the Blue Mountains. There are almost no expressways around Sydney (although that may have changed by the time of the Olympics in 2000), even between the airport and the city. Driving on the left is always a traumatic experience for me, but by renting a car with a manual transmission, things became more complicated. The gear shift must be manipulated by the left hand, and the levers for the directional lights and windscreen wipers were opposite from normal. The right turn is the more difficult when driving on the left, and several times I signaled a right turn by turning the wipers on!
The Blue Mountains are about an hour's drive or more west of Sydney, where deep ravines drop from an escarpment in a blue haze of eucalyptus oil. Many expensive homes line the ridge at the top, closely bordering the park. Hiking trails travel both the plateau and the depths of the valley, connected at one place by several hundred stairs. There are many waterfalls in the area, dropping precipitously over ancient rock walls, though without a great volume to any of them. Wentworth Falls and Bridal-veil Falls are two worth seeing. A couple hours hiking and a picnic lunch proved a memorable way to spend the day.
I always experience a letdown at the end of a seminar, as all the students leave and I am left alone. On the Friday afternoon ending that seminar at the Airport Hilton, I took a walk, but it began raining before I was able to get back, and I was soaked. Then I ordered a room-service pizza for dinner, and broke a tooth on an olive pit. About three in the morning, I was awakened by a call from Betty that her mother had died—it was not unexpected, as her health had been failing rapidly since we celebrated her 80th birthday in May. What a dismal week!
Next morning, I drove from Sydney to Melbourne, stopping overnight at Mount Beauty, a ski town on the edge of the Alps. The distance to Melbourne is about 1000 km (600 miles) with the stopover just about halfway. The skiing season in Australia runs from July to October, and I had a little trouble finding accommodations for the night. After locating the Catholic church and noting the time of Sunday Mass, I had dinner and went to bed. Next morning after Mass, I had a little time to visit the ski slope at Fox Creek, where there is a good view of some mountains. They are not very rugged, the summits rounded and now snow-covered, with no steep slopes at all. These mountains were mostly in the 6000-7000 foot range, with tree-line and snow-line meeting at about 6000 feet. From there, I continued south to Melbourne, arriving in the late afternoon. Although most of the distance was on a divided highway, there were frequent traffic lights—no expressways between Australia’s principal cities.
Melbourne is a more cosmopolitan city than Sydney, more British in appearance, and more temperate in climate. Having been there in August and September, I found the weather sometimes downright inhospitable, with frequent downpours driven by cold winds, and even occasional hail. How its few palms survive, I cannot guess. Melbourne has some beautiful parks and gardens, one of which contains the reconstructed cottage of Captain Cook, removed stone by stone from its original site in England. Huge yellow-crested white cockatoos are frequently seen flying through the parks. The Hilton hotel, where I often stayed, is in the next block. The Melbourne Cricket Grounds, where Australian-rules football is played, is across the street—their playoff games are in September. I often walked downtown to St. Patrick’s cathedral to early morning Mass.
Some of Melbourne's streets have trams—electric street cars on tracks, common in American cities until about 1950. Before I left Sydney to drive to Melbourne, someone warned me about right turns on streets having tram tracks, but at the time, I didn't understand what he meant. When I finally arrived late on a Sunday afternoon, I needed to turn right on a street with trams. There were other cars ahead of me with their right blinkers on, but they pulled into the left lane, so I followed. A police officer directing traffic let all the other cars pass, and the tram, finally directing us in the queue on the left to take our right turn!
On a cold, rainy Saturday, I was looking for somewhere to get a pub lunch similar to those in England. Entering an old hotel, I failed to notice a sign in the door prohibiting anyone 18 and under from entering. Prostitution is legal in Australia, but I didn't realize it at the time. There were some very weird-looking people in that pub—I left without finishing my lunch.
Geelong is a small industrial city to the south of Melbourne where a Shell refinery is located, where I was required to give a seminar in 1985. A little further south lies a long line of unbroken beach. At the time of my Geelong seminar, the forests along the south coast were beginning to recover from a devastating fire that had burned thousands of acres. It spread so fast, leaping from tree to tree, that it caught some unfortunate victims, and even jumped over others. When we visited the area, the blackened landscape was sprouting with new shoots of vivid green, most of the trees surviving.
One weekend while in Melbourne, I took a tour to Ballarat, site of an old gold mine. Australia's gold rush came just after California's, and probably burned out as soon. This original mining village has been reconstructed to represent what it looked like during its heyday. A favorite watering hole is the United States Hotel, modeled after San Francisco hotels of the period. The village includes a Chinese compound which accommodated the large number of those immigrants who came to work in the mines. A steam engine pumped hundreds of gallons a minute of water from the shafts, and horses worked down there alongside the men, but were never brought back up until dead.
On that same tour, we visited a private wildlife park where there was a very complete selection of reptiles, including some nasty crocodiles. Australia is home to six of the ten most poisonous snakes in the world, and the park had to have anti-venom serum for all of them. Also on display were Tasmanian devils, the only marsupial carnivore. About the size of a small dog, they must be fed whole rats to remain healthy. A pet wombat was carted around in a wheelbarrow for the children to pet; they are burrowing animals much like ground-hogs, but on a much larger scale looking more like a black bear.
The Australian Alps
The Australian Alps lie about halfway between Sydney and Melbourne, straddling the NSW-Victoria border. In September of 1993, I had the occasion to give seminars in Sydney and Melbourne. As planned well in advance, a friend picked me up at my hotel in Sydney and we drove to Thredbo where he had rented an apartment for the weekend. We picked up some rental cross-country skis for me in the village. Next morning, we took a chair lift from the village to about 6000 ft elevation, above tree-line. This was the beginning of a downhill run back to the village, but we set out upward instead for Mt. Kosciusko, at 7310 ft the highest peak in Australia.
My wife had warned me to watch out for these Australians, as "they're fit!" My friend was, in fact, a marathoner, and soon left me way behind, although the trek to the summit was probably only about 5 miles and not all that steep. He waited for me there. It was a grand view from the summit, the only clouds being beneath us. We stopped in a sheltered spot a little below the summit to partake of some lunch.
This was a new experience for me, skiing above tree-line. In New Hampshire, cross-country ski trails wind through the forests, and are very well-defined. Here, you can ski anywhere you want, and that's what the Aussies do. But watch for the drop-offs, because they are hidden. I tried to follow my friend down, but some of his turns and drops were too sharp for me, and I fell several times. Toward the end of the day, however, I began to get the hang of it and managed to stay on my feet over some fairly steep downhill grades. Along the way we had to wade across the flowing Snowy River—it was impossible to cross without filling your boots with water. But the weather wasn't particularly cold, so the wet feet survived. We eventually ended up in Charlotte Pass at a ski lodge where my friend held a membership; I was beat.
A local newspaper at the time reported on a medical study that listed cell oxidation as a chief aging factor in athletes who exercise aerobically—marathon runners, for example. It recommended taking anti-oxidants after exercise to reduce cell loss, and noted that alcohol is among the most effective. That evening, we consumed a couple cold beers before a hot tub, then some mulled wine with hors d’oeuvres, as our tonic.
When climbing into bed that night, the touch of the sheet against my face bought a familiar sensation—I was sunburned! We had skied all day in the sun on fresh snow, but I thought that my broad-brimmed Australian hat and ski goggles would protect me. Not so! Australia is the skin-cancer capital of the world, owing to the ozone hole in the atmosphere of the southern hemisphere. Bring your sunscreen! I would have to lecture in Melbourne the next week with a peeling face.
It was snowing the next day when we started out, and it continued—just barely freezing, sticking to our faces and our skis. We bypassed the summit on our way back, heading directly for the chairlift. As we rode the lift down toward the village, it suddenly stopped, and we hung in the sky for what seemed like twenty minutes. At that point, the snow changed to rain, leaving us soaked before we reached the bottom. We changed clothes at the apartment, and my friend drove me to the airport at Cooma, where I boarded for the short flight to Melbourne.
Adelaide, South Australia
After my seminar in Geelong in 1985, I flew to Adelaide for a one-day seminar. I actually didn’t stay there long, so I remember little of the place. This, however, was the point of departure for a weekend at Kangaroo Island, spent with a company host and another customer.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia
A short flight from Adelaide, in sight of the mainland, lies Kangaroo Island, about thirty-miles long. My host rented an old Datsun at the airport and we proceeded to a resort on the far side of the island. The kangaroos may now be outnumbered by sheep, for they certainly are less visible, but their habits are similar to deer, coming to graze principally in the morning or evening twilight. We later drove to a beach on the southern coast where huge sea lions basked by the hundreds. You could walk among them and even touch them, as they seemed so placid. Signs warned that the bulls, weighing several hundred pounds, could be vicious, but we saw no evidence of it on that day. Black swans graced tidal inlets along our ride back to the resort.
The next day, Sunday, afforded me my first opportunity to drive on the left. We had stayed up late drinking the night before, but I was determined to get to church on Sunday. So I rose early, took the keys to the Datsun, and headed for the principal village of the island, Kingscote, 20 miles away. There were no maps, and I had no directions; I didn't even know if there was a Catholic church there, much less if it had an 8 o'clock Mass. But I followed the signs to Kingscote, being careful to stay in the left lane—fortunately there were no other cars about.
After reaching the village, I began a cris-cross search pattern, looking for church steeples, and finding a couple, but the wrong ones. My search carried me to the far side of town, and then back again, with no luck. Even a telephone directory was of no help. So I headed back to the resort, as it was now 8 o'clock, having at least tried. At the last intersection in the town, there was an arrow directing me to the church, three blocks away, and Mass was just beginning! Sheer luck, or Divine guidance?
Queensland is a very large state stretching from NSW on the south all the way to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north. It is tropical, and mostly wild. The name of the airline QUANTAS is actually an acronym for Queensland And Northern Territory Air Service. Brisbane is Queensland’s capital and principal city.
I visited Brisbane on four occasions. The first time involved a project at an oil refinery, and we didn’t stay long. A souvenir from that trip was an orange juicer handmade from pottery, bought at a shop in Surfer’s Paradise, a resort village south of Brisbane.
At my request, a seminar was scheduled for Brisbane in 1991, following one in Sydney. On the night following my seminar in Sydney, I was invited to stay with a friend at his vacation home on the Hawkesbury River. We dined on oysters and prawns, washed down with a local Chardonnay. After breakfast, I drove to Brisbane, about the same distance as to Melbourne, but in the opposite direction, with a stopover halfway at Coffs Harbour. There were no expressways on this route, either.
Coffs Harbour is a small summer resort which was not busy in the off-season. I had no trouble finding a motel room, and a place to have dinner. A walk on the beach ended the day. Next morning, I attended Mass at the local church, and proceeded on my way north.
Arriving at Brisbane in the late afternoon, I had only a little trouble finding my hotel. It was located next to a beautiful public park shaded by huge fica trees strong enough to bend the wrought iron fence around the park. The hotel and park were right on the river—a nice location, where I could jog for a couple miles in pleasant surroundings. Later in the week, a fair opened in the park. Unfortunately, the attendance at my seminar was only half as great as at Sydney and Melbourne, so that this was my last seminar of the series in Brisbane.
After my seminar in Melbourne in 1992, I was invited to visit Mt. Isa Mines to give a one-day seminar. So right after finishing in Melbourne, I flew to Brisbane, where I met the engineers who had scheduled my trip to Mt. Isa. I had dinner with them, and stayed overnight in Brisbane, flying with them to Mt. Isa the next morning.
Mount Isa, Queensland
This lonely outpost in western Queensland owes its existence to rich veins of minerals mined and refined for export. I was invited to tour the mills and give a seminar at Mount Isa Mines, located just south of the town itself. The most prominent feature of the place is a smokestack about 500-feet high. The prevailing northerly wind carries smoke from the smelters south, away from town and over the vast and empty outback. On the few days of the year when the wind comes from the south, the plant shuts down to protect the town. Silver refined there is alloyed with lead produced, for shipment to the U.K. where the two metals are separated, the alloying preventing pilferage of the silver.
The lead mill was the dirtiest plant I have ever visited. We had to don coveralls and air filters when entering the facility, and remove them upon departure. Everything was charcoal black—the floors, walls, stairs, railings, elevators—everything, and of course toxic as well. The copper mill did not require the same protection, but was virtually as dirty. Some black ore fines dripped on my clothes, and no amount of laundering could remove them completely. That evening, we had a big party at the local hotel—can those Aussies drink! But two days there were enough—my hotel on the beach at Cairns was welcome after that.
If you pronounce this as it is spelled, Aussies will not know what you mean—they pronounce it "Cans." Arriving in the evening from Mount Isa, I only had time for dinner and bed before leaving the next morning for Honolulu. But I returned with Betty the next June (1993) from Sydney on our grand tour of the South Pacific. Our tour didn't stay there, however, but motored an hour north to a resort at Palm Cove.
Palm Cove is a tiny village on the Coral Sea, consisting of a few cottages and some shops. The beach there is not particularly attractive, but our resort had a beautiful swimming pool to make up for it. The temperature was in the 70s, as it was winter, but warm enough for swimming. While sitting on our balcony over the pool enjoying a drink in the evening twilight, we noticed large birds beginning to emerge from the bush and cruise across the horizon. At first I thought they were gulls, but they were darker and didn't fly the same way. We identified them as bats with six-foot wingspan! They are called "flying foxes," fruit bats out cruising at treetop level for food. I felt a little apprehensive when I had to walk to the village a quarter mile away to pick up a pizza for dinner, but they weren't interested in me—or my pizza either, fortunately.
The Great Barrier Reef is the only living structure on earth visible from the moon. The next day we went to Port Douglas, where a wave-shearing jet-powered trimaran waited to take us to the Outer Barrier Reef. The trip took about two hours through some heavy seas, but at the reef, it was much calmer. There was a platform anchored there, which we moored alongside. The platform had an underwater observation station, a canopied picnic area, and a place for divers to leave and return. Scuba equipment was available for rent, and masks and fins were free for anyone to snorkel. I chose to snorkel and was delighted with what I saw. The bottom, about twelve feet below the surface, was covered with every shape and color of coral, along with giant clams—some empty, but others lined with a living coat of red velvet. Fish of every size and color cruised around us, some even bumping us.
I had noticed underwater disposable cameras for sale on board our ship, and asked Betty to get one for me, as she was watching from above. With the camera strapped to my wrist, I swam about taking pictures of all this beautiful scenery. After about an hour of snorkeling, I was exhausted, and stopped for lunch. After lunch, we took a ride in a semi-submersible vessel powered by an outboard motor, that had been moored at the platform. It took us to other parts of the reef where there were vertical walls of coral and a wider variety of fish. We took more pictures both with the underwater camera and with my own. This would make a fine collection of prints of scenery which was just spectacular.
Unfortunately, we would be disappointed with the prints from both cameras. Ordinary daylight film was used in both, with natural lighting from the sun filtered through the water. The blue of the water filtered all the light entering the cameras, so the prints turned out blue—the yellows, reds, purples, and greens were completely missing from them. The kaleidoscope of color I saw was not captured by the film. This was particularly disappointing, in that the day at the reef was the highlight of my trip, but it was not surprising. I was simply hoping that the Fuji underwater camera would have contained a film suitable for the underwater lighting, whereas it had the same daylight film as my own camera. I have seen beautiful underwater pictures taken by my sister-in-law while scuba diving at 30 feet or more, recorded on standard daylight film, but taken with a yellow strobe light—it is the lighting that makes the difference.
While in Queensland, we were entertained by some players reminiscing about aboriginal prehistory, which they call the "Dreamtime." Australian aboriginals are a very primitive people, and Tasmanian aboriginals considered the most primitive on earth, not even having had a means to clothe themselves. The entertainment included a solo on the "digeridoo," a long (6 ft) wooden tube made by burning out the center of a tree branch. The player squats on the ground and blows a monotonic tune of rhythmic pulses having a vibrant ring reminiscent of a jew's-harp. The instrument and the player are painted with scribbles and dots of various earthen colors highlighted by white chalk.
Another aboriginal invention is the boomerang; there are various styles and sizes, not all of them of the returning type. A large field like a ballpark is required to practice your skills with this instrument, but it is not difficult to throw to achieve a reasonably accurate return, as I found out after a few throws. The non-returning type used for hunting requires more skill to achieve accurate results. Boomerangs and digeridoos are both available for bringing home to impress your friends. Other favorite souvenirs are opals and sheepskin boots, both obtainable at half what they cost at home.
Alice Springs, Northern Territory
On a trip from Sydney to Perth in 1995, I stopped over for a day and a night at Alice Springs, deep in the red heart of the continent. The city is located in a gap between the East and West MacDonnell Ranges, barren cliffs about 3000 feet high. A river runs through it, but only occasionally. When I arrived on a September afternoon, it was just a bed of beach sand, bordered on both sides by gum trees. Bushes of red, wild hops bloomed along the banks. A single causeway across the river bed connects the two sides of the town, but it is paralleled by other paved roads running across the shallow river bottom, which are presumably open most of the time. The streets were surprisingly empty on this afternoon, but it was very hot. A broad-brimmed hat is essential, and over the course of a couple hours, I drank over a liter of water. Here and there, one or two aboriginals would huddle in the shade of the gum trees.
After attending Mass that evening, I walked down the main street to the Overlanders Steakhouse, for their special "Drovers Blowout" barbecue. You can help yourself to portions of crocodile, emu, water buffalo, camel, and kangaroo, along with the more common beef, lamb, and barramundi (an Australian marine fish). Camels were introduced during exploratory expeditions in the mid-nineteenth century, and escaped into the wild to propagate—this was the one dish which did not appeal to me. The crocodile was like alligator, sweet white meat definitely in the seafood category. Emu, like ostrich, is a lean red meat, sliced thin and juicy like London-broiled steak. Kangaroo is tender, fine-grained red meat like lamb, but without its strong flavor; in fact, its mild flavor usually calls for a spicy sauce like peppercorn. The water buffalo was done as a rich pot-roast. After dinner, I sat on the porch of my hotel room, watching the sideways moon wend its way from right to left across the northern sky.
My brief time at Alice included a bus tour of Standley Chasm and Simpsons Gap, places where I could climb around some rocks and view the flora and fauna in the wild. Many wildflowers were in bloom, but the only fauna to be seen was a dingo (a wild yellow dog), and a couple of rock wallabies which were so well camouflaged that they failed to appear in the photographs I took. The sky was cloudy and much cooler than the day before, comfortable for walking in the bush. Yet when I returned to town, the aboriginals I had seen the day before were wearing parkas and woolen hats!
That afternoon, the sun came out, so I went to the swimming pool for an hour. The water and air were warm, but when I came out of the water, I shivered. The temperature of my wet skin approached the wet-bulb temperature of the air, which at that low humidity was about 30°F below its dry-bulb temperature. Leaving for Perth that afternoon, I was able to see and photograph Ayers Rock, a red monolith 1000-feet high and a mile long, located 200 miles southwest of Alice.
Perth, Western Australia
This city is the farthest destination on earth from my home in New England, located on Australia's Sunset Coast. Western Australia is absolutely huge, larger than Texas and Alaska combined, yet in 1996 having a population of about 1.6 million people. Of that total, Perth had 1.1 million. It is a thoroughly modern city with an international airport and new skyscrapers, but those are not its attractions for me, at least. A few miles out of the city in any direction is outback, native bush, untamed Australia. Getting to Perth, and especially getting home is the problem. The coast-to-coast flight from Sydney is about 5 hours, only slightly shorter than New York to Los Angeles. But total elapsed time for me to return home from Perth, whether via Sydney, Hong Kong, or London, is from 36 to 44 hours, or more.
Perth's weather is mild, never cold. Winters are rainy, but after the season is over in September; there may be no rain at all for six months or more, similar in that respect to northern California. The city is located on a wide course of the Swan river, a placid stream flowing slowly to the sea past Fremantle, several miles away. The latter is known as the home of Australia's successful contender in the America's Cup sailing races. The Aussies were very proud of that feat, and I heard about it on my subsequent visit to Perth.
There is a 10-km (6-mi) jogging path which crosses the river twice, returning to its starting point. I have done it a couple times. And always met by smiling faces and friendly greetings. St. Mary’s cathedral in Perth is much smaller than the one in Sydney, but centrally located, and I have attended Mass there many times.
A few miles north of Perth, the vegetation changes from the tall gum trees and mixed bush, to a coastal heath, with open reaches of sand and even shifting dunes of some size. In this area, close to the sea, lies a forest of conical, petrified tree stumps known as the Pinnacles. They vary up to a man's height or more, and have some of the grain of wood which has been penetrated with lime from the sea and scoured by blowing sand. From a distance, the scene appears to be a great ancient graveyard on a hillside, whose weathered tombstones are scattered randomly about and tipped by the forces of nature.
Four-wheel-drive tours are available to the Pinnacles from Perth, which I took on my last trip there in 1996. We traveled by bus on the main road north, while the other half of the tour group four-wheeled up the back roads. After changing places at the Pinnacles, I was able to sit up front with the driver in the 14-passenger four-wheeler. We headed south through Nambung National Park along a rutted, stony, sandy, puddled road at what seemed breakneck speed. Passengers were strapped in to keep their places, but limbs still flailed around wildly at every bump and turn. This went on for an hour before we emerged at a beach. We then continued south on the sand between the bluff and the surf, occasionally being splashed where the passage was narrow, but unable to stop lest the sand be sucked from under our wheels. Eventually we left the beach, arriving at some high dunes. Our vehicle then became a roller-coaster, climbing the dunes under full power and plunging headlong down the other side, passengers screaming with delight. Several times we stalled before reaching the top of a dune, having to back down for another try. After leaving the dunes, we proceeded down another rutted back road, finally emerging at a town where we rejoined the highway. The driver had to stop there at a garage to reinflate the tires--air had been let out for better traction--and to rinse the salt from the vehicle. This turned out to be a very tiring ride, one-way being quite enough!
Rottnest Island, WA
Less than an hour from Perth by boat is an isolated ecosystem well worth visiting. Rottnest is the Dutch word for rat's nest, named by a 17th-century Dutch navigator for the multitude of what looked like rats seen from his ship. They weren't rats at all, but quokkas: knee-high wallabies unique to the island. Having read about the island in National Geographic, I took the boat from Perth with an unsuspecting colleague, during my first trip to Western Australia.
No private motor vehicles are allowed on the island, so we rented bicycles at the boat landing. Being about 5 miles long, it can be visited in its entirety by bike on an afternoon. The island is owned by the government, and is used entirely for recreation. Campgrounds and cabins are available, along with two small hotels, and now some beach apartments. Fresh water is at a premium, being collected as rain into cisterns.
We bought the ingredients for a lunch at a local grocery store and looked for a quiet cove to sit and eat. Our presence—or more likely our lunch—attracted a flock of red-eyed gulls happy to share the bounty. Before long they were eating out of our hands. We then continued along the north coast road past tidal inlets and rocky promontories. Showers broke out now and then (common weather in WA in August) sending us for cover under the scattered trees. While walking my bike past a tidal pool, I caught a glimpse of a flurry of activity which suddenly stopped. Waiting a few minutes, I saw it gradually resume: orange-legged crabs creeping out from under rocks feeding on what the tide had left behind. But the slightest movement on my part would send them scurrying for cover.
At the far western end of the island was a gun emplacement intended to protect Perth from a Japanese invasion during World War II. It was never used in battle and was in disrepair. We returned along the south coast, but eventually took a left fork toward the center. On this road, we entered some dense bush where a number of other cyclists had stopped ahead of us. My colleague wondered what the attraction was, but I knew right away: it had to be quokkas! "What are quokkas?" my friend responded, but he soon found out. Several had come out from the protection of the bush to beg for food from the passers by. We had nothing left from our lunch but orange peel, but that was quite acceptable to them as they took the pieces from our hands. They are cute little creatures, quite friendly, appearing as baby kangaroos. Yet they were fully grown at knee height, one even carrying a curious joey peeking out from her pouch. Yet the impression of the Dutch explorer is fully justified, for with their dull grey fur, long tails, and pointed ears, from a distance they certainly look like huge rats.
There is no land west of this place across the Indian Ocean to the coast of Africa, and no land south across the Southern Ocean till Antarctica. Surely, this is one of the ends of the earth!
In September of 2001, I received an e-mail inviting me on another trip to Australia, after I thought I would never see the continent again. My acceptance was conditional, in that I had been suffering from a pinched nerve in my spine, although it was gradually improving. A seminar tour was planned for March, 2002, originally to include Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, and Melbourne. As the days passed, my condition continued to improve, so that it would pose no problem for me. However, as the appointed time approached, there was insufficient enrollment in Perth and Sydney, and the Adelaide group had to be included in the Melbourne seminar.
My mother died February 22, 2002, the Friday before my Tuesday departure. We drove to Buffalo on Sunday for the Monday funeral. We returned home Monday just before midnight, and I left for the airport at 8:00 A.M.Tuesday. I flew from Manchester, NH to Los Angeles, and then non-stop to Auckland. From there I continued to Brisbane where I was met by my host on Friday midmorning, 38 hours after leaving home. We went to the office for the balance of the morning, then to lunch. After checking in at my hotel, I kept active, walking around the nearby parks until dinner with business associates. Although quite tired by this time, I slept well, and woke at the usual time in the morning, with very little jet lag.
On Saturday, we drove north past the Glasshouse Mountains, so named by Captain Cook as they resemble furnaces used to make glass in England at that time. Clouds covered the mountains and limited the visibility. We continued north for a couple hours, stopping at a small lake near the coast for lunch at a restaurant owned by a colleague. Although it was late summer, the weather was cloudy and windy.
On Sunday, I joined some others from my host’s company for church, and then we had lunch in Redcliffe, a resort town on Moreton Bay. The restaurant had an adjoining fish market with the most complete display of seafood I have ever seen at one time. I ordered the Pacific platter, which included some huge prawns, and a pair of Moreton Bay bugs–lobster-like crustaceans that are very sweet. It was the among the best seafood I have ever had.
On Monday, I gave my seminar, and finished the day with a delicious dinner of broiled kangaroo. The following morning, we left for Tasmania. On the way to the airport, my host pointed out a hill where MacArthur’s troops were quartered in 1942-3. My uncle Jerry was at my mother’s funeral the week before, and recalled being in Brisbane preparing for the invasion of New Guinea, and again before moving on to the Solomon Islands–he would have been on that hill.
Tasmania is an island state, hanging from the south coast of Victoria like a shield, with King and Flinders Islands located like hooks on the west and east, respectively. It was discovered by the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in 1642, and named Van Dieman’s Land, even before discovery of the rest of Australia, which the Dutch then called New Holland.
Our original plans called for a weekend break in Tasmania, but with the schedule shortened, it would be a midweek break, between seminars in Brisbane and Melbourne. But we encountered flight delays in Brisbane, having to take a later flight to Melbourne and a still later connection to Launceston (pronounced Lawn-cés-ton), in north-central Tasmania. The terrain here is rolling golden grassy hills dotted with green trees, very much like Northern California in the summer. Our plans were to drive to a retired colleague’s place on the north shore, near Burnie, and then proceed south to Cradle Mountain together. Because of our late arrival, my host changed the meeting point to a highway exit to save time, using his cell-phone. We met as arranged, arriving at the Cradle Mountain Lodge about nightfall. As we approached, we could see Cradle Mountain silhouetted against the darkening sky, in the form of a cradle, pointed at both ends and drooping in the center; it is one of many 5000-ft mountains on the island, the highest being Mt. Ossa at 5305 ft. They are worn, craggy granite peaks, not unlike those at home in New Hampshire.
The lodge is well-known, having been widely advertised in travel brochures. We arrived just in time for the last sitting in the dining room; the dinner was excellent, and the dining room well-appointed with large bouquets of fresh flowers. After dinner, our colleague and his wife took leave of us, and we proceeded to a two-bedroom cabin on the grounds reserved for the night. As we began unloading luggage from the car, we were met by a possum–much more attractive than ours in America–who was very interested in what we were doing, and even tried to scoot through the open door of the cabin.
Next morning, we encountered three wallabies on our walk to the dining room for breakfast–they are pint-sized kangaroos. While this was a promising aspect to our day, it would be the only wildlife we would see. After breakfast, we checked out of the lodge and took a short walk through the local bush. A more promising trail beckoned around Dove Lake, where there would be views of Cradle Mountain. However, low clouds obscured the mountain, and rain threatened, but nothing more than a light drizzle developed. It took us about an hour to circle the lake, after which we drove on to the west coast.
Our next stop was Zeehan, a still-active mining center in the west of Tasmania. We spent an hour or so at a mining museum, reading about a disastrous cave-in a hundred years ago, where many lives were lost. That night we spent at Strahan (pronounced “Strawn”), the only seaport on the west coast–actually on MacQuarie Harbor, a tidal bay. This was once a busy port when the mining industry was in full swing, but now was more of a summer resort. It was busy enough that we had to wait an hour or more to be seated in a local restaurant for dinner, but the fish was good.
In the morning, I called Betty by cell phone–there was only a small window when we were both available due to the 15-hour time difference. Then we headed east, stopping first at another mining museum in Queenstown, where the hillsides were quite stripped of vegetation for miles around. One of the interesting items at this museum was a report on the Japanese bombing of Darwin during WW II. It began in February, 1942, with the sinking of nine ships, including a U.S. destroyer, and continued sporadically until November 1943.
We then drove through a wilderness area, where the clouds continued to obscure the mountains, and rain fell from time to time. We worked our way southeast, finally returning to civilization as we approached Hobart, Tasmania’s capital city–it is quite modern and well-developed. We continued south through apple orchards and vineyards to Huonville, where we stopped for lunch. There, my host had prearranged to meet an old friend, a woman who was the district nurse. She gave me a booklet she had written on boating safety for children–I found it very well written, containing quite a lot of local color, and passed it along to my grandchildren. From there, we drove to Cygnet Bay, which opened to the Southern Ocean, where she and her husband lived and sailed. From there, we headed northeast back to Hobart to catch our plane. One of the sights along the way was a shot tower, about 200-ft high, used for making lead shot during the last century.
We arrived in Melbourne in the late afternoon, and taxied to our hotel downtown. Not having been to Melbourne in about 8 years, I didn’t recognize my surroundings in more than a general way. Next day, my seminar went off well, and the following day, I left alone for the airport and my flight to Auckland. My next flight to Los Angeles stopped for an hour or so at night at Rarotonga in the Cook Islands during a tropical downpour, but continued on schedule. It would take 48 hours to reach home from my hotel in Melbourne–my longest travel time yet. The rest, as they say, is history.
New Zealand lies about two hours by air off Australia's east coast. Its principal city, Auckland, lies on the major air route from California to Australia through Tahiti, but the nonstop flights which became available beginning about 1991 bypass it. New Zealand is volcanic in origin, with many dormant and even active craters such as Mt. Ruapehu at 9000 feet, and hills made of pumice. Roads sliced through the hills feature grass growing on walls which are nearly vertical. The North Island has been converted almost entirely into pasture and pine forests, with very little of any native bush remaining. Radiata pines grow about three times faster there than anywhere else on earth, and so are planted in vast acreages for feeding pulp and paper mills which export all over the world. The pasture land supports principally cattle and sheep whose meat, wool, and dairy products are also exported, but deer are also being introduced as a commercial product. The South Island is more mountainous and less cultivated, but never having visited there, I cannot comment on it firsthand.
The climate on the North Island is wetter and cooler than that of Australia, although Auckland is about the same latitude as Melbourne at 38°South. On our 1993 tour, flying in from a very hot Fiji in late June, Betty and I arrived at Auckland in a hailstorm. It was wet and cold that entire week, not unusual for the beginning of winter. The South Island even has some glaciers surrounding Mt. Cook, its highest peak at 12,000 feet.
The native population, the Maori (pronounced "mouwree"), is quite large and prominent. They are a polynesian people, brown of skin and round of face and figure. While not completely integrated into society, they are much more visible than the aboriginals of Australia, typically living in their own villages, governed by their own elders. Once a fierce and warlike people, they have been converted principally into Protestant Christianity; their churches painted very elaborately in bright patterns, mostly of red and white.
The British population (also known as kiwis after the flightless bird unique to the country) has been characterized as "more British than the British," in retaining the customs, dress, and traditional behavior of their mother country. My first visit, in April of 1981, coincided with that of the Prince of Wales. There were parades and celebrations galore, with kiwis dressed up in their Sunday best gathered along the route of the motorcade to wave at the prince. He was honored as a guest speaker at a pulp-and-paper industry conference I attended, at a hangi–a huge feast prepared in the Maori tradition. He was more than an hour late, and we couldn't start eating until his arrival, so quite a few of us had more than enough wine that evening. The wine industry in New Zealand was in its infancy at that time, so the quality of the product was not particularly high–it has since improved measurably. Maori entertainers sang and danced, putting on quite an enjoyable performance.
New Zealand's principal city is not large by world standards, with skyscrapers or industrial complexes. It is quite hilly and green, and even has a small crater in one of its parks. The city is spread out along a peninsula between a tidal lake to the south and a harbor and gulf to the north, which makes sailing a very popular sport, and has produced some great racing hulls. Industry is not centrally located, but distributed to the suburbs and outlying areas. The country's small population can only support one steel company, one oil refiner, one aluminum company, etc. But they are a very industrious people. In fact, I was kept so busy during my three trips there, between seminars and visits to paper and board mills, power plants and dairies, that I saw very little of the country.
One thing I learned in Auckland was how the kiwis eat kiwi fruit. Rather than slice or peel it, they cut it in half and scoop the flesh out of the skin with a teaspoon. It's easy and clean.
About 3 hours by road southeast of Auckland lies Rotorua, at the center of thermal activity in the North Island. It lies by the shore of a vaporous lake where rocks along the shoreline are yellowed with sulfur. Steam vents are common sights, and at the time of my 1981 visit, every home had a steam well piped to the kitchen for cooking. My understanding is that this practice is now being discontinued because this resource is becoming depleted. In 1981, a new geothermal power plant had recently begun producing electricity from steam gathered by insulated piping from wells all across the area.
Not far east of Rotorua, Mt. Tarawera blew its top in 1886, filling the nearby lake of the same name with enough rock and ash to raise its level nearly 40 feet, flooding nearby villages. The mountain no longer has a peak, but only a long, ragged ridgeline. The scene was placid enough when I was there, with black swans gliding across the glassy surface of the lake in the evening twilight. But the active volcano on White Island, in the Bay of Plenty to the north of Rotorua, though only 1000 feet high, was fuming when I last saw it.
Lake Taupo lies a little further south, and beyond it, Ruapehu volcano. Pictures of the crater show it rimmed with snow and filled with hot, acidic water. Skiers and hikers have warmed themselves there before its recent eruption. Its summit was hidden in the clouds the only days I was in the area, so I never saw it. Taupo at about 39°South is the farthest that I had ever ventured in that direction, until a later trip to Chile.