Good On Ya, Mate!: Australia
A lovely sunny country where the living is easy – that’s Australia. Clean, well organized, with good systems, traveling to Australia would be an excellent first choice for North Americans wanting to start a big trip. The culture is definitely different, but not too challenging. We had been to Sydney and Brisbane on previous visits and this time Melbourne was our base for our seven week stay.
We stayed with Ken’s son and daughter-in-law. It was wonderful to have space, laundry facilities, mail courier delivery and a land-line. Long-term travel requires an incredible amount of time for planning, researching, and decision making. We hammered out details for the next leg of our journey, and booked tours with the travel agent. We also arranged visas for India and Egypt, which meant several weeks with our passports at the various embassies and had our demagnetized and missing credit cards replaced. Ken also had day surgery, successfully, which involved a series of doctor appointments and two hospital visits. The quality of care was exceptionally good.
Melbourne: Situated on the Yarra River, Melbourne is an old town with many ornate Victorian buildings. Most of the houses are small, build in the last century with steel latticework decoration reminiscent of New Orleans, and have walled and locked small gardens. We enjoyed the possums that showed themselves at home in the garden at night. The city centre is vibrant. Along the Yarra River are dozens of big public buildings, such as the convention centre, aquarium, several stadiums, rowing clubs, as well as a massive casino. Important spots such as Federation Square, the Royal Botanic gardens, the wonderful National Gallery of Victoria are located there also, as is Southside shopping and a plethora of sidewalk restaurants. The grassed river banks have wide sidewalks and hundreds of people use this area daily to work, to jog, and to play. Sight-seeing passenger boats ply the waters. The Flinders train station is situated by the river as well and unloads thousands of people into the downtown area. Melbourne has an impressive 100 year old commuter system trams and trains throughout this city of three-and-a-half million people
Because of our long stay in Melbourne, we experienced city life more extensively. We made trips to the Docklands, reclaimed waterfront similar to Yaletown, fashionable and trendy South Chapel Street, in South Yarra, which is like Vancouver’s Robson Street, Chinatown and much of downtown. We spent an afternoon at St.Kilda’s beach, which is located on the ocean at Phillips Bay. The St. Kilda area is a popular spot, especially with younger people and the area is bustling with restaurants, a large outdoor craft market and throngs of people walking about, playing in the water or on the beach or chowing down, as we did, at an excellent seaside restaurant. This beach is not lined with high-rises but with large elegant old homes. We walked the decades-old pier where approximately 1,000 penguins live and where fishing and boat charters start.
The Melbourne Zoo is also popular, especially with families. I hadn’t realized just how long it’s been since I’ve seen lions, giraffes or elephants, and I’d never seen a gorilla. The large bird aviary was worth the visit alone. We also drove down the Mornington Peninsula to Rosebud, lunch and a winery visit.
Phillip Island, the home of Little Penguins, was our destination one weekend, which was coincidentally the same weekend Victoria State had its largest rainfall since 2006. Victoria State has been in drought for five years. However, the wind and rain was so harsh we could barely stand, and we were disappointed not to attend the nightly penguin parade, where about 2,000 little penguins, which are only about a foot long, come in from the sea to sleep on land. We enjoyed walking about the” Nobbies” and saw the silver gulls and mullet birds as they braced from the wind. Fortunately the hotel’s Christmas party that night had us meeting more Australians and dancing until the wee hours of the morning.
Christmas found us eating outdoors: a huge crayfish (like a lobster but without any claws) fresh raw oysters, smoked trout and gigantic prawns. We visited with the neighbours, had a great tree and watched on TV a carol concert attended by 100,000 people at the Myer Stadium. Christmas is well celebrated in Australia and we did our bit of Christmas shopping and enjoyed several musical performing groups set up downtown and at the city train centres.
We took off by 7 on the 26th, and drove nine hours, stopping or passing by towns with names such as Ulladulla, Mogo, Wagga Wagga and Eden. Our destination was a small town on the Tomaga River, close to Bateman’s Bay, in New South Wales, near where Michele’s father lives. The Australian coastline is dotted with dozens of small towns surrounding the hundreds of miles of curved bays and protected beaches. We were at peak summer holiday time and experienced the feel of beach life here. So far in our world travels it tops the list. Beaches are everywhere in the world of course, but Australian coastline with plenty of headlands and curving bays make these white sandy beaches more interesting than wide open areas with an unbroken expanse of sea.
We spent a couple of days at Oaks ranch – right next to a golf course populated by dozens of kangaroos. We saw many kangaroos in the woods the same way we might see deer in the woods back home, except they bound along, and made us laugh every time we saw them. We played and swam on the beach. Ken, Lionel and Tristan fished 15 flatheads – 10 inch white fish. Australia has something we’ve not experienced elsewhere – social clubs known as the R.S.L. or Returned Services League of Australia. There are about 1,500 of them in Australia, with around 250,000 members and these clubs have gambling, bingo, golfing, and was the only place we could buy a meal in the countryside. These clubs are not like Canadian Legions.
We then spent three days in a trailer “villa” at Eco Point Resort, in Murramarang National Park. We strolled the beaches and forest, and enjoyed a camping-like vacation albeit with a large pool where families enjoyed their Christmas summer vacations. In the morning we found dozens of ‘roos eating grass amongst the tents, and rainbow-coloured lorikeets, crimson rosellas, galahs, kookaburras and black cockatoos in the trees.
We drove to Canberra on the 31st and celebrated New Year’s there. Canberra partied with enthusiasm, with two sets of fireworks, at 9:30 and midnight. We viewed the large traveling exhibit of Degas at the surprisingly full National Gallery on New Year’s Day. Canberra is Australia’s capital is a planned city of the 60’s and reflects the pros and cons of this approach. It centred on an artificial lake and has wonderful wide avenues and excellent buildings, with suburbs ringing the city. Unfortunately, unlike Melbourne, it has little housing actually in the city and few restaurants and shopping near the major attractions. The public spaces are almost empty. Sterile is the word I heard quite a bit, but it could be fixed easily by modern planning of mixed-use restaurants, retail stores and apartments. In contrast, a half-million people celebrated the New Year on the Yarra on Melbourne and the Sydney display, at five million dollars, is watched worldwide.
We ended our last few days with a highlight and Ken’s long term dream – attending the Australian Open Tennis Tournament. I was a bit leery about spending days watching tennis but to my surprise ,I loved it. We saw both Serena and Venus Williams, Jo Tsonga, Andy Murray and many other players. On the Saturday we were there with over 66,000 other people. It was busy, but it’s a huge place with 21 courts going and lots of space.
The cost of living is not too bad in Australia, especially with Canadian or US dollars. Eating out is expensive, but the longer we were there the more bargains we found. Electronics are high but electricity and gas are not. Wages are higher than in Canada, especially at the lower end of the scale. After the last several months of such rough financial conditions we found the mood in Australia very positive, even though they have been hit as much as other nations. People were spending and the talk was not only of the terrible world conditions. Australians have fun personalities, a wild wit and seem to enjoy life immensely. They eat at fish-and chipperies, and ice creameries, buy petrol, bring their damaged cars to smash shops, and have overtaking lanes, but besides driving on the other side of the road, much of life is the same.
We will end our Australia trip with two days in Sydney before we board our cruise ship for a two week New Zealand tour. Our Internet access will be restricted more in the coming months as we travel to Hong Kong, and then join tours in India, Egypt and Jordan and Turkey. We are enjoying ourselves immensely.