And We’re Off

The day we leave Australia has finally arrived. As we sadly bid the country goodbye today, here are few stats from our time here:

  • States/territories visited: New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, Tasmania. We only missed Western Australia.
  • Major Australian cities visited: Adelaide, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne, Sydney. We only missed Perth and Darwin.
  • Other countries visited: New Zealand
  • Trips to the coast: 5
  • Seas/Oceans touched: 4. Coral Sea, Tasman Sea, Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean
  • Helicopter tours: 1
  • Unfortunate incidents with kangaroos: 1
  • Kangaroos hit by our car: 0 (thankfully!)
  • Close calls with kangaroos in the car: 3
  • Times we crossed the international date line, cumulatively: 14 (at least)
  • Once-in-a-lifetime experiences: snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, seeing Uluru, visiting Hobbiton, dance lessons on the Ambassador’s veranda.
  • Huntsman spiders seen: 3
  • Snakes seen: 1
  • Koalas held: 1 each
  • Number of Christmases spent in shorts: 3
  • 4th of July fireworks viewed while shivering in winter coats and hats: 3
  • Interesting wildlife crossing signs seen: 4. koalas, wombats, kangaroos, Tasmanian devils.
  • Number of times swooped by magpies: 2
  • New fruits tried: 4. passionfruit, dragon fruit, lychees, star fruit.
  • Number we liked: 1. passionfruit
  • Scariest drive: the road to Jenolan Caves.
  • Mountains summited (in the car): Mount Ainslie, Black Mountain, Mount Wellington, the Blue Mountains. Plus all of New Zealand.
  • Caves visited: 2. Jenolan Caves, Waitomo Glowworn cave.
  • Times taking the longest non-stop flight in the world, cumulatively: 6
  • Plays attended at the Sydney Opera House: 2
  • Zoos and wildlife reserves visited: 9
  • Au pairs hosted: 5
  • Longest drive: 9 hours to Melbourne.
  • Miles traveled: thousands. Wish we’d kept track.

Bye, Australia! Hope to see you again someday!

Regular programming to resume in a few months, once we’ve made it to the UK and have internet access again.


Australianisms, part 10

As enter our last week in Australia, I leave you with the tenth, and last, entry in the series of periodic posts on Australian expressions:

Australia US
gaffer tape duct tape
textas markers
diversion detour
booking reservation
to hire to rent
skittles things you knock over. Taken from the bowling-like game of the same name.
entree appetizer
 grizzle  cry or whimper (as in a child)
Manchester sheets*

* I have no idea why. Here’s the Manchester aisle in a local store:


Melbourne, v2

After our Great Barrier Reef trip in April, we took the second week of school holidays to go back to Melbourne. It’s one of our favorite places in Australia, and such fun to wander around.

This time, we hit the zoo, Scienceworks (the children’s/science museum), St. Kilda Beach, the Queen Victoria markets. We even got gelato from an interesting place that used liquid nitrogen to freeze it.


But the best part of our trip was a day we spent on Phillip Island, which is about 90 minutes south of Melbourne. The big attraction is to watch the fairy penguins come ashore at sundown. We did that, but you can’t take pictures of them, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that they were very cute and take a look at the website.

We made a day of it and were surprised to discover that there’s a lot more to do on the island. We visited a working farm, went to a koala sanctuary where the koalas got much closer to us than we had expected (but you can’t touch them, that’s only legal in the state of Queensland, and we were in Victoria), and had lunch at a wonderful little cafe. But the best part, by far, was a visit to the island’s chocolate factory. Their tour was fantastic–while you can’t actually go in the factory, they have a whole chocolate museum set up, complete with insight into how chocolate is made, chocolate statues, games, machines to make your own chocolate designs, a chocolate waterfall, and, the kids’ favorite thing–mechanical penguins that would give you chocolate on demand. We didn’t have high hopes for the place, but were very pleasantly surprised. We highly recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in that corner of the world!

Finally, I present you with the Dog on the Tucker Box, the most exciting attraction on the (very long, very boring) drive to Melbourne. It’s a bit underwhelming–literally just a statue of a dog sitting on a lunch box–but we got a picture this time, so you, too, can marvel at it.


Lake George

About 30 minutes outside Canberra is Lake George, a very unusual lake. I knew generally where it was, but had never actually seen it. I knew it was shrinking and just assumed that I had never managed to get close enough to the areas where there was still water.

But, no. As it turns out, I’ve driven by it many times. I just never knew it because it has looked like this the entire time we’ve been here:


That picture is taken from the highway on the way to Sydney, which runs right alongside it. The view is pretty much from the road directly to the left of the point on the map below.


That big blue thing? It’s the grass in the first picture between the camera and the wind farm. It has fences and animals grazing on it. Hence my lack of understanding that it was actually the lake. It is apparently not totally dry at the moment, but what’s there must just be in puddle form, way at the south end. I’ve never seen any evidence of water.

It turns out that the lake is a bit of an oddity that fills periodically and then dries out through evaporation, with the cycle repeating itself over decades. The last time the lake existed as Google Maps believes it to be and reached the highway was in the mid-1990s. It has partially filled and dried out at least twice since then, and we are currently in the dry phase.

The lake was one of the places considered for the new national capital when it was moved 100 years ago. It ended up in Canberra instead, complete with a man-made lake. I think that was probably for the best!

Update: It has been unusually rainy over the past few weeks, with torrential downpours the first week of June. We haven’t been by the lake since then, but, as it turns out, the rain was enough to briefly fill the lake. The water soaked into the ground by the next day, but we’re getting another big dose of rain this week, so it could happen again. I look forward to seeing it when we fly over it in two weeks on our way out!

election season

We’re in the midst of an election, but not the one you’re thinking of. Australians will soon be going to the polls to elect (or re-elect) their national leaders, too. Their election will be on 2 July, a Saturday, which was deliberate in order to make it easier for people to vote. And vote they must–voting is compulsory here, which means you’ll be fined $170 if you don’t.

The election is what’s called a double dissolution election, which means that ever seat in both houses of Parliament (the Senate and the House of Representative) is up for election. The election was announced in early May and the campaign period is unusually long–59 days. Everyone is complaining about how long this is and despairing that it’s like the election will never end. Oh, if only we could have 59-day elections. Instead, we seem to have 59-month ones now.

In the meantime, the government has entered what’s called caretaker status. During this period, the government can only do what’s necessary in order to keep everything running–no one can be appointed to anything, no new policies can be enacted, the government can enter no major contracts, etc.

Parliamentary elections are different from Presidential ones in that the vote typically revolves around the party, instead of individuals. The degree to which this is the case depends on the country and, in Australia, you can do either. The Senate ballot has changed, and there are notices everywhere instructing people on how they will vote for it this time. As they keep telling us, if you vote above the line, you’ll have to number at least six boxes. If you vote below the line, you’ll have to number at least 12. This makes no sense to us Presidential system people, so take a look at the ballot here. This is much more similar to how the rest of the world votes than how we do. It’s amazing that it works!

winter is coming

Today (1 June), in fact. Thought it’s already quite nippy, it’s now officially the frigid season on this side of the world.

Today is also the first day of our last full month in Canberra. We depart Australia in 36 days, sadly. The craziness of picking up your life and moving it halfway across the world (why must we always move halfway across the world?) has kicked in and our worldly possessions start heading out on boats and planes in a couple weeks. The aforementioned season is making it difficult for me to figure out what to pack to take with us on the plane–we will go directly from full-on winter here to the dead of summer in the US. It is some consolation that it will basically be fall weather when we get to the UK, so we should be able to get by with a combination of the two wardrobes for a bit. Wish me luck with that.

In the meantime, I leave you with a couple random tidbits. Recently, we’ve had several different businesses validate parking in a way that makes me laugh–instead of messing with any computerized way to deduct the discount on your parking ticket, they simply forgo technology and hand you a $2 coin. Simple and effective!

Speaking of coins, we’ve started digging out our US money to use when we’re back home. Oh, the pennies. Even though we haven’t spent more than a week at a time in the US for nearly three years, we still have tons of pennies. We’ve given the kids a bunch to play with in their toy cash register because, you know, they’re pretty much worthless, but they have still managed to multiply while we weren’t looking. Why do we still have these again? W throws his change in a tub every day, and, since coins here have actual value, at last count, that tub had over $100 in it. Not so with US coins. 100 pennies would be…$1. So not worth it.

Australia also used to have 1 and 2 cent coins. They came to their senses in the late 1990s, however, and melted them all down to make the bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I think we need to find a similar fate for our bronze metal clogging up the coin pockets in our wallets…