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Postcard from Fremantle

31 Mar

Two words of advice: Always volunteer.

OK, maybe not in every situation–really, now that I think about it, there are plenty of times you wouldn’t want to volunteer, so let me qualify that: If you’re a tourist on a guided tour, and the tour guide asks for volunteers, do it.

That’s how I happened to get flogged while visiting Fremantle Prison.

My friend Connie took me to Freo on one of my off-days before the WFTDA Perth Officiating Clinic so we could go on a couple of the prison tours–the general Doing Time tour and Great Escapes, which focuses on the clever folks who tried their best to get out.

Fremantle Prison, when you really get to thinking about it, is a mind-blowing place. Unlike other Australian settlements, Fremantle itself wasn’t a convict town, but eventually the British started sending prisoners there. The prisoners even had to build their own prison, which they did in the 1850s. Fremantle Prison closed in 1991. During its existence, the original cell plan never got upgraded–i.e.–cells never had toilets. In the 1990s. Wrap your head around that one. Prisoners got two buckets: one with drinking water and one for personal waste. Heaven forbid you mix them up.

Anyway, during our tour, we stopped at the flogging station (or whatever the technical term for this was). Our enthusiastic tour guide (quick aside, but both of the tour guides we had were really informative and entertaining. If you like doing tours, go for the talent alone) asked for volunteers, and of course, I said yes. The last time I volunteered on a tour, I was at the Jameson Distillery and volunteering meant I got to taste a bunch of extra whisky.

Not so at Fremantle (had they had samples of some of the prisoner-made booze, I probably would’ve thought twice about my always-volunteer philosophy). Volunteers on this tour got to demonstrate prisoner punishment. So I was the brave prisoner who stepped up to endure the punishment, which was a set number of lashings, which my friend lightly “administered” (i.e.–barely touched me with the flogging whip).

The best part about being a volunteer is that you’re the unknown element for the tour guide. They’re in control of the tour–but not of what the volunteer does in the volunteer moment. As a volunteer, I know my job is to keep the show going in as entertaining a way as possible, so I committed to my role of punished prisoner and dutifully screamed with every tap of the whip and hung limply off the rack, to the delight of our tour guide.

But the flogging was only the first part. Prisoners have to come down off of the rack at some point, so I channeled what that would be like, which to me was basically collapsing down onto the ground like this:

To which, the tour guide responded (and these are the words you always want to hear), “No one’s ever done that on the tour before.”

I’ll admit I didn’t give a perfect performance. Our guide went on to explain the details of punishment by flogging. While a prisoner was getting the lashes, someone from the prison would monitor their condition and stop the process if it was getting too out of hand. So if you were sentenced to 97 lashes and you were nearing unconsciousness after 17, they’d take you down, clean you up and send you to the hospital part of the prison to heal.

Sounds OK in the grand scheme of things, right? Well, no. You still have 80 lashes left on your sentence, so when you’ve healed enough, they haul you back to the rig for more flogging. And the process repeats for as long as it takes to get through your sentence.

At that, I popped up and said, “You’re kidding me, right?!” (hopefully without swearing). Sure, it broke character, but I was truly dumbfounded–both at prison punishment and the notion of why anyone would commit a crime that would involve a prison sentence when this punishment–along with other horrible everyday occurrences–was a distinct possibility.

After that moment, my job was pretty much over. I hope my efforts were useful for the others on the tour. It was nice to know I raised the bar for other tour groups (our guide said the afternoon group was really going to have to step it up), but ultimately doing this also helped me remember the tour a bit better, and this was definitely an experience I want to remember.

Postcard from Victor Harbor

10 Mar

Ladies,

Let’s have a talk about childbirth. I’ve never been pregnant, so I don’t know what it’s like to put your body through pregnancy and childbirth. Nor do I have 24/7 hands-on knowledge of what it’s like to rear multiple children. So maybe I’m a little more wowed about what our kangaroo counterparts manage to do when it comes to reproducing, but perhaps you might be impressed as well.

The above picture is adorable, right? The classic roo with a joey in her pouch. So cute! Baby with mama, hanging out until it becomes an adult. But that’s only one-third of the story, as I learned from one of the keepers at Urimbirra Wildlife Park. Here’s the rest of the story:

When a female kangaroo is able to have children, she gets pregnant. She has the baby, and the baby (called a joey) hangs out in her pouch. It may leave and explore the greater world, but it’ll hop back in head-first, giving mom this lovely look:

 

For which joey won’t apologize until two decades later when on Kangaroo Mother’s Day, it sheepishly gives mom a “sorry I made you look like an alien” card.

Anyway, after it dives into the pouch, it’ll turn around at some point to be able to stick its head out and look cute (and make it easier to get out), even if it’s getting bigger and is more to lug around. While mom is carrying around joey #1, she gets pregnant with #2.

Joey #2 is born. Joey #1 gets pushed out of the pouch, and joey #2 takes up residence there. Joey #1 is still kind of a child though, so it’s also still feeding on mom. Meanwhile, mom gets pregnant again, so she’s got a bun in the oven, a joey in the pouch, and another on the teat.

When joey #3 comes along, it’s time for joey #1 to make its own way in the world, so no more teat for it. Joey #2 moves to the teat. Joey #3 gets the pouch. And mom becomes pregnant again.

This cycle continues for all of mom’s childbearing years. Yes, for the entire time you can bear children, you’re running this cycle of three at pretty much any given point in the year. [To be fair, I was so blown away by this that I didn’t even think to ask whether or not kangaroos can miscarry or if some are infertile, and believe you me, those questions are definitely on my mind now that I’ve processed the basics. If you have answers, I am all ears.]

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

The female kangaroo also possesses some magical superpowers that can determine whether or not its joey-in-the-oven is getting enough nutrients, and if there isn’t enough food or water around to allow for proper incubating, pregnancy will halt and remain in suspended animation until there’s food and water again. At that point, pregnancy resumes like nothing ever happened.

Did you get that? The female can put its pregnancy on hold. On hold! What if you were 20 weeks along, and suddenly there was a drought and you couldn’t get enough food or water? Would your body just turn off the pregnancy until it rained again? Would you want to have some suspended animation action all up in your uterus for who knows how long?

You let me know because right now, the kangaroo has earned my mother-of-the-year award for life.

Your pal,

Jill

 

Postcard from the Future

3 Mar

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“Shit! What day is it?” I’m panicked, thinking that it’s Friday and that I haven’t posted my weekly blog.

My buddy Seer informs me that it is Friday–at least here in Australia. I check my phone, and it tells me that back home, it’s still Thursday, so I’m safe. For what it’s worth, I’ve really been trying to stay on schedule with this blog, so keeping this Friday deadline is really important to me.

But it’s also kind of a relief to know that my deadline is safe. So hello from the future, dear Readers! I’m here to teach a couple of officiating clinics, and my Friday is consisting of finishing up lesson plans. Sure, I’m happy to be out of Boston’s weird winter weather and lounging next to a solar-heated pool at the end of an Australian summer while I’m doing it, but all the same, there’s a lot of PowerPoint in my day today.

And that makes me wish it was tomorrow, because I’d be finished with my lesson plans by then.

 

Winning at Lammington Roulette

4 Jun

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Back to Australia, where we’re on our last day on the road, and I still haven’t found a proper cream-filled Lammington. After leaving Buchan, we stopped for an excellent breakfast in Bruthen. I had high hopes for the small town’s bakery, but it didn’t even have Lammingtons. Onward.

We kept driving toward Melbourne and while going through the much larger town of Sale, I saw a bakery and we stopped. You know how you go to Europe and try to pronounce the name of something, and they have that way of correcting you where their tone of voice implies, “You ugly American. Our vowel pronunciation is much more civilized than your nasally twang. Always, always are our ‘a’s’ pronounced ‘ah”? It now doesn’t really matter where I travel, I automatically assume that if I’m outside of the United States and Canada, an ‘a’ is always pronounced ‘ah.’ Hence in Sale, I called it “Sah-lay.” Susy immediately corrected me. “It’s Say-el.” Gah! I’m showing not just my ugly American, I’m pulling out my ugly, pretentious American!

Anyway, Sale is where we hit the jackpot. They had Lammingtons! They had cream Lammingtons! They had cream Lammingtons in both chocolate and strawberry coating! JACKPOT! I got one of each–even though they were huge, I couldn’t resist–and back into the car we went. I scarfed down one of them throughout the rest of the journey and saved the other for breakfast the next day.

Both were fantastic–and they had jam in them as well! Cream and jam Lammingtons? BONUS JACKPOT! While they were completely delicious, I almost had to agree with Kill C.’s sentiment that, “The best part about finding cream Lammingtons is that I don’t have to eat anymore Lammingtons.” Until one of our clinic students found out we liked them and made a batch for us that night. Homemade, they were even better because the frosting was spread really thickly. Man, I can still taste those now. It’s a good thing I don’t have a recipe (yet) or that America hasn’t heard about this treat–we’re hip to the cupcake, whoopie pie and donut now. Lammingtons could be just around the food trend corner!

Postcard from Buchan

2 Jun

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In blog time, I’m still in Australia, near the end of our road trip. We had one more night on the road, and Susy found us a place in a tiny town (population: 326) in the hills called Buchan (rhymes with “truckin'”). We had to drive along many winding roads in the dark, and we actually had to deal with wildlife crossing the road several times. Twice, wallabies decided it would be fun to hop right in front of the car. Another time we had to stop for a wombat who darted across the road. Then we had to sit and wait for another huge wombat who decided it would take its own sweet time getting out of our way. The look on its face as it stared us down said a little more, but I’m not sure that’s fit to blog.

Needless to say, we weren’t quite sure what we were in for by the time we reached Buchan, but we knew instantly that we were in a place where we’d missed the dinner hour (earlier in the day we’d pretty much missed lunch and settled for a fried seafood feast in Eden, and we were all still hurting from that). Luckily, the lovely owners of the property where we were staying had some frozen pizzas on hand and beer and wine, so we paired that with cheese from Boden and had ourselves a little feast.

When we got to our cabin, we were sorely sorry we couldn’t spend another night here. The place had a great setup with three bedrooms, a living room, a rather large kitchen and an enormous bathroom with a tub and a separate shower that had body jets. We were all excited about the shower, although we were told to watch our water usage because it came from a tank attached to the house (and you wouldn’t want to run out in the middle of someone’s shower). Said shower was great until you opened the shower doors at the end and discovered that water had sprayed out all over the floor. Slight detractor on an otherwise lovely place.

The next morning, I took a little walk around the town, such that it was. It had a general store, a cafe (temporarily closed), a bar. Buchan’s known for its caves (which we didn’t have the time to visit) and it used to have a decent butter factory. I also found out that John Flynn, the guy on the Australian $20 bill, was a Presbyterian missionary in Buchan from 1905 to 1907. He later went on to work in the inland and became known for his work in setting up hospitals in the outback and creating the Royal Doctor Flying Service.

Sadly, that’s pretty much all the time we had for Buchan. A short, but glorious evening and morning in some beautiful countryside with sunny fall weather, cockatiels flying in the trees and a little bit of relaxation before we hit the big city of Melbourne.

The Anzac Biscuit that Got Away

20 May

I’ve been home for a week now, and I’m still thinking about this one Anzac biscuit that I did not purchase and devour. Mistake?

Let me back up for a second and explain the Anzac biscuit (note to Americans: biscuit = cookie). This biscuit is in honor of Anzac Day, which is on April 25 and honors the anniversary of Australia and New Zealand’s first major military action on Gallipoli during World War I (Anzac = Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). As time passed and the globe experienced another World War, the day’s come to be an honor and memorial to those who’ve served in the Anzac armed forces, To an American, Anzac Day is basically Memorial Day on steroids. It’s a big deal. BIG deal. Everywhere you go, you’ll see billboards and public transit ads promoting memorial services and marches. I think it’s pretty cool, and although I’ve never been able to be in Australia or New Zealand for Anzac Day proper, I can appreciate how they honor those who’ve sacrificed for their country.

One of the traditions that go along with Anzac Day is the Anzac biscuit. This is a treat I found out about on an earlier trip to Australia, and now I know that if I’m there in April or May, I can find them. I’m sure that food manufacturers and bakeries have found a way to offer them all year round, but I’d like to think of them as something special, like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg, that you only get once a year. The Anzac biscuit is a non-chocolate, non-egg cookie that was made for soldiers in the war. Eggs were in short supply, so they used a golden syrup to hold this rolled oat, flour, butter and coconut mixture together. The result is a golden cookie that I find to be pretty tasty.

Since I got to Australia after Anzac Day, I wasn’t sure I’d find them (my Qantas flight–sometimes a good source for them–didn’t come through, so on the flight over I thought I was too late); however, it didn’t take too long after we got off the plane to find a cafe that had a jar of them. After spotting a manufactured package of them at the grocery store, I have a feeling that they’ve turned into something similar to the Reese’s (insert holiday-shaped peanut butter cup) phenomenon, where you can buy them year-round. I kind of hope I’m wrong about that, but Aussie reader, you can clue me in. Of course, soon thereafter, I embarked on my lamington challenge, which pretty much took up the share of stomach I was allowing for sweets, so I eyed most Anzac biscuits from afar, including the one I saw at the Bodalla Dairy Shed.

Once we picked up our Bateman’s Bay cabin and packed up the car, we headed south. First stop: Cheese. The Bodalla Dairy Shed produces small-batch cheese and yogurt and milk (and delicious-looking milkshakes, which I also passed on). The cheese is delicious–and they have a bunch of interesting varieties. As we were checking out, I saw the Anzac biscuits. Big ones. Delicious-looking ones. However, I’d stuffed myself with kangaroo breakfast burrito and had just tried every kind of cheese they sold. In the back of my head, I thought about the amount of weight I’ve gained over the last few months and how I really should work on getting that back off at some point. I didn’t really need a giant Anzac biscuit. Even though I’m on vacation. Even though I don’t see them at home. Even though it looked absolutely fantastic. And in a major display of willpower, I passed.

At our next cheese stop in Bega, which was more of a commercial outfit than Bodalla, I caved and got a sugar cookie with Smarties in it. It tasted pretty bad, and I didn’t even eat it all. So much for will power. The bitter, crumbly disappointment of this disaster made me wish I’d just gotten the Anzac biscuit and somehow not gulped it all down right away. It was big. I could’ve portioned it out. So much for plans and futile attempts at personal improvement. So much for what may have been the best Anzac biscuit I’d ever tasted. Or maybe not. Maybe I took a tiny step in the right direction. Maybe that Anzac biscuit was just a concrete disk. Maybe it was the better choice after all.

There’s a Barbie–Where’s the Shrimp?

18 May

On our second night in Bateman’s Bay, we decided to make use of the big grill and picnic tables by our cabin and got all the fixings for a big communal dinner. For me, these kinds of dinners make the best memories. From the grocery shopping to doing the dishes, the entire process is completely enjoyable because you’re a group of five separate people and here you are building something together. Sure, it’s just a meal that you’ll end up consuming, which means after a day (including leftovers for the breakfast burritos), the tangible elements have disappeared. However, the sense of community you’ve built in those few hours remains–along with the knowledge that Susy knows her way around the BBQ and Panti makes a mean breakfast burrito.

Communal dinner starts with a trip to the grocery store, which is a highlight for me on any trip. When I travel, I like to see how other people live, which means knowing what they eat. In a different country, it’s fun to see how American brands are marketed (smaller bags of Doritos, for instance), and it’s interesting to see regional food differences. In Australia, the grocery stores are a gateway to Tim Tams, unusual flavors of potato chips (camembert and quince, anyone?), ginger beer, and Australian yogurt.

This dinner meant the opportunity to sample some kangaroo meat, which is probably easier to find in the grocery store than it is to find on a restaurant menu. The meat tastes a little gamey and can dry out quickly if you cook it too long, so marinade and quick cooking helped. We also had sausages, potatoes, corn on the cob and salad. Panti, who mainly eats vegetarian but does have fish now and then, decided he wanted to make shrimp shish kabobs, which Susy obligingly tossed onto the grill, much to our stupid American delight. We ate like royalty but still had leftovers for the next day’s kangaroo breakfast burritos.

Our little feast helped take the rest of the edge off of what had been a lousy morning, and I hope the memories will eventually completely overshadow that time so that I only remember the goodness of this trip.

Postcard from Bateman’s Bay

13 May

When you’re traveling, you can take a couple of tactics:

  1. Create a tight schedule and try to see everything.
  2. Don’t have a schedule, but also only try to do a couple of things a day.

Not having a tight schedule meant that when we saw how relaxing our hotel in Bateman’s Bay would be, we could add a second night. Susy, the Australian member of our traveling contingent, proved to have many talents on this trip. one of which was Hotel Discoverer. In Bateman’s Bay she found this resort on the bay and booked us a nice little cabin with a living room, kitchen and porch. I bunked out in the kids’ room (probably a good thing, since the bunks were pretty short). The place came with laundry, which was good, since I still had blood on my jeans from our first-day hike, where Panti, Kill C and I  climbed down and up a muddy Sublime Point. When we got back to our hotel, Panti and I discovered leeches all over our ankles. The jeans, of course, were the only pair of long pants I’d brought with me, so it was great to get them muddy and bloody on my first day in the fall weather of Australia.

At any rate, when we found out our digs were pretty good, we decided to stay an extra night and relax. The place came with easy-access wifi (at our Wollongong hotel, we got Internet access in increments of 30 minutes and had to use coupon codes to log on every half-hour. Great for getting work done. Even better when it’s 4 AM, you can’t sleep, and you’ve discovered that you’ve left your stack of coupons in the car and the key is locked in someone else’s room). We could buy food and cook it on the BBQ in front of our cabin. We could chill.

This also worked nicely because I was trying in vain to wrap up a project that was a good eight weeks overdue and had been causing me no end of frustration due to unending rounds of edits, document conversion and document merging. I’d been working on them the entire week–proudly saying, “I’m done!” after every time I shipped them out. Then I was bummed when they came back twice for more work, and by Wednesday morning I was in tears over document inconsistencies and pdf files that refused to merge.

wpid-img_20150506_140556123.jpgOf course, tears and Australia don’t mix (and they make your traveling companions mighty uncomfortable), so I wandered down to the bay where I walked over the piles of boulders that made up the revetment. I prefer this kind of walking along the water versus walking on the beach, partly because your shoes don’t fill up with sand, but also because you have to pay attention to where you walk, and it’s challenging to balance on the rocks. Focusing on the task at hand definitely helped take my mind off my troublesome morning. As a bonus, I ran into these pelicans who were chilling out on the rocks with some other little birds. I watched them sit for a while. Surprisingly, they didn’t seem to mind me–even when I got pretty close to take their picture (or tons of pictures, as someone with a digital camera is want to do). Then it was back to the revetment walking, which kept me busy and calmed me down a bit.

After I did a section of rocks, I decided to head back to the cabin, but I took a detour along an area of the beach that was exposed due to low tide. As I strolled along looking at the scenery, it dawned on me that the beach was moving. Upon further inspection, there were hundreds of little crabs (likely poisonous, I’m sure) scuttling around. I don’t know if I provoked some kind of major crab freak out that had them trying to escape me by running down to the water’s edge or slipping down sand holes. I think a couple of them thought their little crab world was at the end of days because they figured they’d better have sex one last time before this massive human crushed them (or caught them and ate them). Made me realize how big and small different problems can be, and helped to minimize the big weight of the project that I was carrying on my shoulders into a parcel I could more easily carry.

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