Tag Archives: Australia

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


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.]


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,



Postcard from the Future

3 Mar


“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


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


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.

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.

Bakery Lamington Roulette

8 May

An aside from the travelogue to fill you in on the challenge that Kill C. and I are embarking on: Find the best lamington.

The lamington is a square of spongecake dipped in chocolate and coated in coconut. The better ones are filled with jam or cream. I know this, yet on our first trip to a grocery store, I purchased a six-pack of grocery lamingtons, much to the horror of the NSOs at our first clinic. They kindly informed us that grocery lamingtons are far inferior to bakery lamingtons and that jam and/or cream-filled laminations are far superior to the plain lamington.

We’ve yet to find a filled lamington, though it’s not for lack of trying. Almost every stop we make, if fresh lamingtons are available, one or both of us are trying. It’s quickly become a game of roulette–take a bite and see if you’ve hit the jackpot.

Oh, sure, at a bakery I could ask. And we could purchase a tray of grocery-bought jam-filled lamingtons (and maybe Kill C. did), but what’s the fun in that? Besides, a bit of really good sponge cake is hard to turn down, especially when laced with chocolate and coconut. I suppose I could claim that I want to learn how to make them at home, so I’m, um, doing research. This is partially true–I wouldn’t mind learning how to make them, but after the amount I’m eating, whether or I not should is the better question.

We’re a few days in and still haven’t won. We’ll keep trying though. Someday we have to win, no?

Postcard from Illawarra

7 May

We’re now traveling south to Melbourne and have quite a few days to get there. The rule in our packed sedan of five (we are mastering the game of Trunk Jenga, in which you have to fit five suitcases, five backpacks, three skate bags and assorted groceries in a Toyota Camry. We’ve made it work) is that because time is on our side, we’re abiding by the, “If you see something, say something.” Except for us, it’s, “If you see something cool, say something and we’ll stop.”

wpid-img_20150505_111238201.jpgOvercoming Monday’s disappointment, we did get into Nan Tien Temple and spent some time wandering around the temple and pagoda. My buddy Kill C. and I rang the Gratitude Bell. I read some interesting sayings from the Venerable Master Hsing Yun and said a prayer for wealth. I looked at the calligraphy and chanting rooms. I tried to comprehend who all the statues were. I accidentally went into places with my shoes on.

I don’t know much about Buddhism, so I can’t really tell you about the quality of the temple, but for me it was a nice, peaceful stop, my puzzlement about a specific prayer for wealth notwithstanding. I’ll let you know how that works out. Anyway, it was a nice way to calm down before getting into the driver’s seat and driving up an incredibly windy road (make way for trucks around curves) to get to Illawarra Fly Tree Top Walk.

Along with the windy road, we ran into some construction, namely, I made a left turn and had to stop for a “Road Closed” sign that a construction worker was manning. The car that had been in front of us had just made a U-turn and went another way. I roll down the window.

“Where are ya goin’?” asked the construction worker most jovially.

“The Tree Top Walk thingie,” I reply.

“Oh, go on, then. No worries!”

I roll up the window. Immediately, Kill C. says, “A few worries…”

We managed to make it up just fine though–the road was closed for real just after the turnoff to the park, so we did all right for ourselves.

wpid-wp-1430900324684.jpegThe Tree Top Walk is one of these places where you walk along a series of bridges located in the middle of a rain forest. You could zipline through the trees, but we opted for the (cheaper) walk and made our way along a windy path lined with wooden cutouts that on their own were worth the price of admission. Some of the bridges sway, which can be fun if you don’t mind heights. This park also had a big lookout tower something like 35 meters above the forest floor. The view was stunning, the trees were pretty damn impressive (so impressive that some of them were clearly marked as dangerous), and we caught a glimpse of some wildlife that wasn’t necessarily in wooden cutout form. All of it was pretty spectacular.


wpid-wp-1430900340373.jpegContinuing on our journey, we spotted the world famous Robertson’s Pie Shop, which some Aussies had told us about. We hadn’t yet done the pie thing, so we made a sharp turn in and stopped for a second lunch. I wasn’t supposed to eat my entire chicken, leek and camembert pie, but I scarfed it down. Light, flaky crust, delicious filling–totally worth the stop. Later on we drove by the “world’s best pie shop,” but how it could possibly be the best, we didn’t know. We’re sure someone’s just making it up because I can’t imagine a meat pie being much better than what we ate.

One last note from driving: Since we’re American, we’re really stoked about seeing signs for wombat crossings (no wombats spotted–YET) and kangaroo crossings. The last time I was doing a road trip in Australia, we saw all of the signs and none of the animals. This time though, the Australian in our car mentioned that kangaroos tend to come out at dusk. Sure enough, we saw the kangaroo crossing sign, and BAM! Kangaroo spotted! Except that it was roadkill–poor thing had been hit by a car some time ago and was dead on its side. Hitting one of these is like hitting a deer in the States–you’re slamming into 200 kilos of solid animal that will screw up your car royally.

Before we could figure out whether or not that counted as a kangaroo sighting, we did see actual kangaroos in fields hanging out–probably contemplating whether or not to cross the road. Had I been quick enough with my reflexes, I would’ve pulled off the road at a turnoff so we could get out of the car and watch them in the wild. However, we also weren’t in the mood for potentially pissing off any kangaroos either. I haven’t practiced my left hook recently, and I’m sure some kangaroo would more than happily wallop me for merely looking at her joey. Better safe in the car, where we stayed until we got to our next stop: Bateman’s Bay.

Postcard from Wollongong – 2

6 May

One of the things we learned in Wollongong is that if Australia isn’t trying to kill you, it’s probably closed. We spent Monday in the city, and the one place on our list was the Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. Closed Mondays.

OK, well, the backup plan was to hit up a comic book store, seeing as how in a couple of weeks it’s Comic Gong. Comic book store is non-existent–it’s just a kiosk in the mall right now. Open Saturdays.


OK, backup backup plan: Visit gaming store. This to me wasn’t much–a bunch of shelves of games you could likely find in the US, a bunch of tables with people playing something or other (probably Magic), and snacks. I should’ve asked if the store made more money on snacks than they did on games. That’s my theory.

On the way to the gaming store, we ran into a couple of other interesting places: The going-out-of-business costume shop that was full of costumes that seemed to have a layer of dust on them, like the box of 1980s style leotards that may, in fact, have been from the 1980s. Masks you might be afraid to put your face in:

wpid-img_20150504_141123620.jpgBut it did have decent deals:

wpid-img_20150504_141253842.jpgA few doors away from the costume shop was a leather goods store. After looking at the professional snake fighting display in the front window, I was afraid to see what was behind the door:


Dude, it’s two snakes going after a meerkat (display is for sale, by the way). The tiger referee (in snake fighting, apparently referees wear bow ties) is obviously calling a penalty, but no snake is slithering off to the penalty box, which should mean an insubordination, but how do you enforce an insub on a poisonous snake? It’ll just bite you, and you won’t be calling penalties anymore, that’s for sure.

Our big activity turned out to be going to see Avengers 2. I haven’t seen Avengers 1, nor do I really follow this comic series, so I ended up using it as a nap opportunity.

Still, the day ended nicely with a couple of happy hour beers from Illawarra Brewery, where I nabbed a coaster that had a picture of the guy who took me skydiving last year, and we watched the moon rise over the ocean.

Even though it wasn’t to plan, it was still a good day–though being on vacation and in Australia, how could it have been a bad thing?

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