Posts Tagged ‘Australian Heritage’

As many of you may or may not know I do not contribute a great deal to this blog and this fault is mine alone. Of course I am part of this amazing journey with the best partner anyone could ever wish for but I do feel like I can’t live up to her amazing blogging abilities. This wont keep me from giving it a go every once in a while so let me take you on a journey deep into the world’s oldest rainforest.

Laura and I spent 4 hours in the rainforest and were informed by our guide that we were 1 in a handful of couples a year that journey that deep into the rainforest ever year. To put this in perspective we were 2 of like a dozen people that year that got to experience the awesomeness of the Daintree World Heritage Rain Forest. Yes I am bragging because this is a chance for us to say that we have done something that very little people do.

We experienced cassowaries, dinosaurs, snakes, spiders the size of my hand or others that were completely unseen until our guide nearly poked them due to their amazing camouflage capabilities and a multitude of fauna species.

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Walking through the forest with our guide, Neil, we were not only stimulated by everything the forest had to offer visually but also through sounds and Neil’s amazing intellect.

He spoke of how everything was tied together in one big chain. Everything had a purpose, minus the cane toads and wild pigs because they either were food for something else, helped pollinate the plants, or simply added to the constant recycling of the organic material that kept the forest growing.

The plants and trees in the rainforest have very shallow roots and this is due to the fact that all of the nutrient rich material is coming from the living animals and plants above ground. The trees are not strengthened by deep roots but by being interconnected by massive vines that intertwine the canopy into a giant rug of green. The plants below the massive canopy have developed over the many years to live in a low light environment and although they are small they could have been around for several 100s of years.

Like I said everything in the rainforest had a purpose; case in point, the plant below if touched by an animal would cause the animal stinging pains for 3-4 months and that is only if you were dumb enough to ignore its strong chemical signals like us humans telling us to stay away this part of the rainforest is under repair. This plant’s purpose is to help heal the canopy above that had been damaged by the most recent hurricane Yasi by keeping animals and insects away allowing the new plants and trees to grow and fill the space.

Laura and I have both agreed that this was by far our favorite part of the trip and I could go on for several more pages but alas this is a blog and is meant for short stories and not novels, so Laura tells me. 🙂  I hope you have enjoyed my rambling, our amazing photos and that this whets your appetites for adventure and exploring the unknown / little known about the world around us, only please do it with a knowledgeable guide like Neil!

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To kick off our Anniversary extravaganza we spent two days and one night on a sailboat (yes, sailboat, you heard right) at the Great Barrier Reef.  We booked with Vagabond Dive ‘n Sail per a recommendation from a fellow ex-pat blogger who had done the same during her family’s visit to Australia.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of over 900 places in the world to be deemed a World Heritage Site, in other words, “part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.”  We were beyond excited for this stop on the trip.

We ran into a few hiccups and without dwelling here let me just say that a torn sail, rough waters, a bit of seasickness, and sunburned feet did not get in the way of this amazing adventure.  That attitude is the only way to approach trips of this nature.  They are once in a lifetime for a reason and we chose to focus on everything incredible and inspiring from the journey.  After all, we were two of only a million people who get to snorkel the reef each year…that’s out of the over 7 billion people in the world.  WOW.

We left Cairns on the Vagabond early in the morning and departed for Fitzroy Island (due to the poor weather).  We snorkeled for a bit, took a nap on a nearby beach, had a lovely conversation with other guests and the crew — Skipper Paul, Bel, and dive instructor Jannick — ate dinner, watched the sunset, and then headed to bed.

On another major positive note, my dear husband has changed his mind about the necessity of buying a sailboat upon our return to the US.  Let’s just say that sleeping on a boat is not our thing and the smile is still on my face for dodging that bullet.

Snorkeling was, of course, awesome.  I laughed at myself several times thinking that we were swimming with the fishies, in a non-mafia-movie-sort-of-way. *Sorry about the poor photo quality.  Our underwater cover for our little digi-camera worked okay but those darn fish move around making it really hard to capture the awesomeness.

The tropical fish were expected but I was not at all prepared for the other incredible marine life, aka the reef.  Some of the reef looked like things you’d see under a microscope in a biology class but with more vibrant colors.

Each time I popped my head out of the water I couldn’t fathom that all of that life was just under my toes.  It’s a little unsettling but in a good way.  The next morning we woke up for brekkie, did another round of snorkeling, and then headed back to Cairns.  Because the Reef is a World Heritage Area no one is allowed to take pieces of the reef home for souvenirs even though there are tons of pieces and shells on the shore.  We as law abiding citizens left the reef intact for the many future generations and who knows, maybe we’ll be back for our 25th anniversary.

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We spent this past week in Darwin for one of Ryan’s work trips.  It was our first time to the Darwin in the Northern Territory — “The Top End” as it’s casually known – and per usual, I didn’t feel like we had enough time to get a total lay-of-the-land, especially this vast land.  But below I’ve summarized my top list of things to do or see while in Darwin.  I say “My” list because my dear husband had to work while I explored.  Don’t feel too bad for him, though, as we’re on our way to Tasmania later today for a proper holiday.

The Top Ten Things To Do or See in Darwin

*Disclaimer:  Before I start this list, I should mention that I thought everything is incredibly overpriced in Darwin so my tourist experiences were limited things I thought were not out-of-this-world-expensive or would not eat too much of my limited time for exploration.

1.  The Wharf Precinct Wave Pool aka Wave Lagoon:  Darwin is HOT.  One of the locals told me they have two temperatures, hot and hotter.  I hate to sweat, preferring to “glow” wondrously, but sweating is unavoidable in Darwin.  It just happens.  The Wave Lagoon, however, is a perfect place to cool off.  The Wharf Precinct itself is also very cool.  A newer part of town, the precinct is buzzing with retail and cafes.  Although I took the pic below at night, you get the idea…it’s a pretty neat place.

2.  Crustaceans or Fish ‘n chips on the Wharf:  While on the Wharf, grab dinner at Crustaceans where Ryan loved his grilled Barramundi (an Australian seafood staple) or a Fish n’chips from a chipper on the wharf.

3.  The double-decker tour bus – I took the 3-hour afternoon tour and found it the perfect way to hit the highlights of Darwin.  The guide was super friendly and informative.  I learned a lot about the history of Darwin, for example: Did you know the Japanese bombed Darwin 10 wks after they bombed Pearl Harbor?  There were also a good photo opp overlooking the city.  It was just a really good tour – I recommend it. The pic below was taken while on the tour, just across from the Museum and Gallery of Art.

4.  The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory – on the tour bus we made a stop at the Museum and Gallery of Art which was a great place to get a feel for the history of Darwin; everything from the rich Aboriginal history to the 5 metre (yes, that’s 15 foot) salt water crocodile named Sweetheart.  And remember the Barramundi mentioned above?  I learned that they start life as males but at around age 5 they become females.  Fancy that?!  There’s your useless fact for the day.  Most memorable was the room where you can hear the actual sounds from Cyclone Tracy which devastated the town on Christmas Eve and Day in 1974.   Eerie and Terrifying.  I lasted no more than 5 seconds in the room.

5.  Cullen Bay – Cullen Bay is a beautiful little section of the city with houses and a newer place of cafes and restaurants.  While I only drove by this on the tour bus, the driver highly recommended some of the restaurants there and the quaint and quiet feel made me wish I could stay.

I didn’t get to visit the 6th through 10th attractions because they were either closed, due to rainy season, or we didn’t have enough time but they come highly recommended by locals so I wanted to be sure I included them.

6.  Deckchair Cinema

7.  Crocodylus Park

8.  Kakadu National Park

9.  Mindil Beach and Parap Markets

10.  Darwin harbour cruises

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We’ve recently had visitors!  My mom, two aunties, an uncle, and my (second) cousin came to visit us in Oz and we had a blast!  Since their stay was only a short nine days I crammed our schedule full of activities.   We hit up the regular tourist spots, of course, and also enjoyed a few things that Ryan and I had not yet done ourselves.

The Puffing Billy Steam Train had been on our list of “to-dos” for some time so we were happy to have the chance to experience it with our family.  According to the website, ‘the railway was one of four low-cost 762mm gauge lines constructed in Victoria in the early 1900s to open up remote areas’.   The train and the stations still have the old-time feel.  In fact, I applied an “antique” filter in my photo editor to some of the photos and it’s not too hard to imagine the train in the 1900’s.

We hopped aboard the line at Belgrave towards Lakeside, through the Sherbrooke forest, over the Trestle Bridge, on to Selby, to Menzie’s Creek, to Clematis, on to Emerald, through Nobelius, and ended in Lakeside (Emerald Lake).  The total train-time was two hours but we also stopped in Lakeside for a quick a coffee and icecream.  Next time I could see bringing a picnic and staying in Lakeside for an afternoon.

The train chugs–albeit rather slowly–through the Dandenong Mountain Ranges so our visitors were able to see the beautiful fern gullies and forests, so different from the mid-west landscape of the US.  Another thing that makes this train special is that you’re allowed to hang your legs outside the carriage.  Side note: As an American I think it’s safe to declare this a major safety hazard, aka liability, as I was regularly poked with branches and could see how losing an eye or a limb wouldn’t be beyond imagination.

As we climbed some of the hills I could almost hear the rhythmic I think I can I think I can I think I can of the train’s engine.  This takes on a whole new level of significance when you’re one of the passengers with legs and arms hanging about, dangling on an old wooden bridge above what looks to be an uncomfortable landing zone.  Still, I joined the others in the experience…when (and only this one time) in Oz, right?

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I’ve never felt as unqualified to write about a topic as I do with this one.  This blog has been dedicated to our adventures in our time in Oz and we share our learnings and reflections with you, our readers.  And so it will be with this post.  Aboriginals in Australia, however, is something so complicated, so historic, so beautiful, and yes, sometimes so tragic and horrific, that I barely know where to begin or how to do it justice.  That caveat is the only way I could begin this post.

Let me just say that by far my favorite thing about the Grampians was the history of the Aborigines on the land.  The Aboriginal culture is the longest-surviving and living human culture on the planet and it was incredible to me that we could drive four hours outside of Melbourne and walk on paths that they had trod and appreciate some of their famous rock-art sites.

We left Hall’s Gap and headed towards the Gulgurn Manja Shelter, off Harrap Track via Glenelg River Road and Henty Highway. Once off the River Road and the main highway, the road became much more desolate.  I felt like we were visiting some remote time-warp since we traveled along a vast red dirt road and encountered more kangaroos, wallabies, and emus, than humans.

After a twenty minute walk to the shelter from the carpark we came upon the shelter, where it’s believed Aboriginals came to seek refuge from the elements.  Manja symbolises the link between the Jardwadjali (the Aboriginal group) and their land.  In the shelter there are 24 hand stencils, formed when hands were placed against the rock and a mouthful of ochre was sprayed around them.  The Manja shelter, I’m told, has more hand stencils than any other site in Victoria and it is believed that the hand stencils were a way of recording a visit to this incredible rock overhang.

The second shelter was visited was Billimina, a short 10 minute drive from Manja and also a twenty minute climb from the carpark.  This shelter featured human-type figures (which historians believe were specific to the Jardwadjali clans such as the Tukallut balug and Whiteburer bundidj).  This shelter also featured small bars which are common in rock-art sites in south-eastern Australia.  Many believe the strokes indicate how long the Aborigines spent at that site, the number of people who visited, or special ceremonial events.  These were formed with red ochre mixed with water, egg yolk or animal fat to bind into a paint.

Finally, we visited Bunjil’s cave, about 11 km south of Stawell.  The cave is one of the most prominent rock-art sites in Victoria.  Bunjil was the creator spirit or diety, according to Australian Aboriginal dream-time stories and the art depicts Bunjil with his two dingoes.

It was almost incomprehensible to be standing near these ever-important historical art sites which are believed to be 10,000 (some believe 20,000) years old.

It was serendipitious that during our visit I happened to be reading a book from an Aboriginal man, Ambrose Mungala Chalarimeri, called Man from the Sunrise Side which is a narrative about his experiences growing up an Aboriginal in Australia.

Ambrose talks about how many of the Aboriginal youth have little-to-no knowledge of their culture and history and therefore, much of it has been lost.  I found it interesting that one of the pamphlets in the region says that ‘much of the knowledge about the art has been lost but what remains is information passed down from generation to generation in aboriginal communities’.  And is often the case, I wondered what I could do to help to preserve the culture.

In the book he also points out how so many people have taken pictures of the art sites throughout Australia and have sold the photographs on postcards, in prints, and in other forms, of course, for a profit.  He expressed frustration that these people didn’t ask for permission to take photos and sell his culture’s “intellectual property” and I tended to agree with his perspective.  I, of course, just took photos for memories, and educational purposes, and to share with you.  I hope you find them as fascinating as we did.

Click HERE to read more about these Aboriginal rock-art sites

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As Christmas didn’t quite feel like Christmas to us we wanted to do something unique and memorable, something that we could say was perfect for our Australian Christmas.  If you ask Australians if there is something as a traditional Aussie Christmas you may hear of two different options; one, a day at the beach or two, Vision Australia’s Carols by Candlelight at Sidney Myer Music Bowl.  We opted for the latter.

In its 74th year, Carols by Candelight is put on in Melbourne by non-profit organization Vision Australia, who, according to their website, ‘are passionate that people who are blind or have low vision will have access to and fully participate in every part of life they choose’.  A Chrismas concert on steroids, this mega-event gets over 10,000 attendees and is broadcast all over Australia starting at 8PM Christmas eve.  As we found, the event is not only about the great music, for many it’s about the whole-day experience and we did it up in a-once-in-a-lifetime way.

We opted for the more cost-effective general admission tickets which gave us access to the big lawn on which to watch the concert.  Without assigned seats, however, we were told that people started queuing quite early to ensure good spots on the lawn.  Doors to the music bowl didn’t even open until 4:30PM but there was space for the queue at King’s Domain in the Royal Botanic Gardens.  This being our first time at the event, we arrived at King’s Domain to queue around 10:30 AM and surprisingly, we were not the first ones there.  Several people spent the night in tents to claim their spots as first in queue.  The queueing process as a mess and so disorganized and I hate to admit the bah-humbug came out in both of us when we remarked at how it would never be this disorganized in the US.  (But keep reading for our take on how what the Aussies do much better than us…)

Equipped with festival chairs, a blanket, two picnics (lunch and dinner), ipods, books, decks of cards, sunscreen, and plenty of water we set up camp waiting for the doors to open at 4:30PM.  We did enjoy a somewhat restful day reading and listening to music in the sun.

We were advised by some regulars that when the doors opened, one person should carry the bags and one person should run with the blanket to secure a good spot.  I was the runner, Ryan was the “pack-mule” as he likes to say.  Running, pushing and shoving aside, I managed to get a primo location right behind the assigned (read: expensive) seats.

The event began promptly at 8:00 with performances by the Australian Boys and Girls choir and the Carols by Candelight Choir.

We were serenaded all night with classic and contemporary Christmas songs sung by famous Australian artists including; Ricki-Lee Coulter, Marina Prior, John Foreman, James Morrison, Anthony Callea, Sylvie Palladino and many more.

As dusk settled upon Melbourne, people started to light their candles.

This was really something to see the darker it got.

The highlights for me were the Hallelujah Chorus and O Holy Night.

And both of our favorite part of the night was the last song, the Our Father.  A song like that would never be allowed to be the closer at a national event of this scale, at least not without a series of other politically correct songs accompanying it.  We were delighted and, quite frankly, admired the Aussies for ending the night with such a religious undertone and reminding us all what the night was about.  As Ameri-stralians, we were honored to have experienced Christmas in this Australian way.

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It’s the word that comes to mind when visiting Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance,  so much more than a war memorial.

Peace…in the quiet and beauty that surrounds the commanding building.

Peace…while approaching the Shrine, the way your mind settles and reflects on what’s been lost.

Peace…in such contrast to the battles of which the mighty balustrades are meant to represent.

Peace…in honor and gratitude that knows no international borders.  It’s humanity.  (Text at the bottom of the picture reads: “We will remember them.”)

Peace…in simple and profound phrases.  (Reads “Lest we forget.”)

Peace…in respect and remembrance…Courage, decency, self-worth 

Peace…a hope for the future

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I used to think “If you’ve seen one market, you’ve seen them all.”  I had to adjust my way of thinking since we learned that markets are huge in Melbourne and Australia and since we were about to encounter the biggest arts and crafts market in Australia in our visit up to the Sunshine Coast.

Our friends in Melbourne told us that we must visit the famous Eumundi (pronounced eyu-muhn-dee) Markets.  From our hotel in Coolum we took a quick bus ride to the markets.  The market boasts over 600 stalls and receives over 1.6 million visitors each year!

We spent over three and half hours meandering through the stalls.   We so enjoyed taking in all the sights, sounds, smells and colors.

It was all a bit overwhelming for us.  Who wants –or better yet, who needs– jumbo licorice or a wall hanging made out of cutlery?  Needless to say, we didn’t end up buying anything.   That said, the morning trip was so worth it.  We loved experiencing the markets and the small-town charm of it all.

Our favorite stall was the man playing the didgeridoos or didjeridu (pronounced didge-eh-reh-doos).  More accurately, he was playing the didgeridoo, the bass drum, and the guitar…all at the same time.  The didgeridoo is an instrument from the Aboriginal culture and dates back at least 2,000 years.  Some believe it’s been around for 40,000 years!

The man playing the didgeridoo at Eumundi was super talented and that talent coupled with the unique sound and tone of the didgeridoo drew the largest crowd of all 600 stalls.

If you’ve never heard a didgeridoo before, the sound is amazing and unlike anything I’ve ever heard.  View this quick video to listen and watch a quick sample although it doesn’t really do it justice.

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