Sunday, April 27, 2014


Ninety-nine years ago, on the 25th of April, 1915, Australian and New Zealand forces landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, in Turkey.  Most of the young men who landed had never seen combat before.  Their allies, the British, had declared war nearly a year before.  Half a world away, the young Aussies had signed up to help, with the hope of seeing the world, experiencing adventure.  The battle at Gallipoli, however, was a drawn out, bloody failure for the allied forces in World War I, with huge losses on both sides.  And although the ANZAC forces (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) were allied with the winning side in the war, nearly one hundred years later, the 25th of April is still remembered with sadness and solemnity as a time to honor those who gave their lives in service. 

I hadn't heard about ANZAC day before we arrived in Australia.  However, I've come to learn that it is one of the most important Australian holidays.  We live a 15 minute walk from the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.  I've written before about that building.  It was dedicated in 1934, built to help ease the ache of a nation that had lost one fifth of its young people in far away countries in the Great War -- the war to end all wars.  The monument was to stand forever as a reminder of service and sacrifice.  Their motto:  Lest we forget. 

Every year on the 25th of April, the Shrine hosts a dawn service at 6:00am.  Since we only live a fifteen minute walk away, I wanted to participate.  To also remember. 

I went with Jonathan, one of his friends from school and the friend's mother.  We left our house at 5:15 am.  As we arrived, large busses full of people were pulling into the nearby roads, and the sidewalks were packed with people in the cold and dark.  I read later that around 60,000 people attended.  As for us, we found a place to stand in the crowd with a view of the front of the Shrine several hundred meters away, near the flags (British, New Zealand, Australian) hung at half mast. 

At 5:45am the pre-service started, with a voice telling the stories of a few of the people we were honoring.  The official ceremony began at 6:00 sharp, with a minute of complete silence.  And 60,000 people gave their offering of silence to the pre-dawn starlight. 

After that, there were words spoken and music offered.  I knew the hymns:  Abide With Me, and Be Still My Soul.  Towards the end, they sang the national anthems of New Zealand and Australia, and a pipe band played. 

One of the speakers asked us to think of ten friends, to represent those who went to war in 1914.  Of those ten, two did not return.   Four more returned permanently injured: blind, missing a leg, etc.  One more was mentally unstable.  They were known as the lost generation.  The young men had set out seeking adventure.  But one year became two, which became four.  There was no adventure.  There was death and pain and sickness, influenza.  And grieving families at home.  And that was the end, said the speaker, of blind patriotism in Australia.

The end of blind patriotism. 

The Australians have fought in every major armed conflict in the world since 1914, and the shrine now remembers them, too.  For example, at the base of the shrine burns an eternal flame, to remember those killed in World War II.  ANZAC Day is not just about those who died at Gallipoli.  It is also to honor veterans who have served and sacrificed since then, and who serve and sacrifice now.  But now, they serve less blindly.  Their choice to serve must be honored at least as much.  Maybe more.

What does the US have that compares?  On Memorial Day in May we think of our dead, and on Veterans' day in November.  In some places in the US there are marches and ceremonies, but this was the first I have attended.  In contrast, such dawn services were held last Friday all over Australia.  The children of Australia learned about Gallipoli on Thursday in school, even in Jonathan's class, in fourth year of primary school.  Lest we forget.

I've walked the battlefields of the American Civil War, reflected with solemnity of the lives and deaths of thousands at Gettysburg, their sacrifices honored in the words of Abraham Lincoln.  In Washington DC there are monuments and memorials, built to honor and remind.

And yet I was impressed at the nearness that the Australians hold ANZAC day.  They seem to hold it close, to follow the instructions given them by their grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents.  Those who died in the first world war are now several generations past.  They would have been long dead by now anyway.  But their sacrifice is still remembered carefully, and honored carefully, in the pre-dawn starlight.  By 60,000 people of all ages with bowed heads in the cold and dark, offering their complete silence in remembrance. 

Lest we forget. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Good Friday

Holidays are taken seriously here.

On Friday, I walked into work in the rain.  When I arrived, my building was locked shut for the Good Friday holiday.  This was not a surprise to me.  I had been warned.  I took out my key card for access into the building.  The surprise was that my key card didn't work.  I know that in January it was set up to have access into the building, but I haven't ever tried to enter before on evenings or weekends.  So maybe it was never set up correctly.  In any case, it did not work.

I used the weak wireless signal that came through the windows to send emails to cancel my meetings with students in the US.  Then walked home again.  In the rain.

Just like on New Years Day, the city was shut down.  Actually, maybe it was even more shut down than on  New Years Day.  The major grocery stores were all closed.  The Melbourne Central mall across from the State Library of Victoria had one of its major entrances completely shut off.  You could still get into the mall, and the train station in its basement, but only through the approved entrance that sent you in diagonally and around.  Traffic was about as quiet as I have heard here, with trams gliding quietly around the empty streets on a Sunday schedule.  The gates of the Botanic gardens were open, but the ANZAC Memorial was shut. 

There was a gathering of people at a central church, with prayers and singing.  But mostly people seemed to be away. 

If Good Friday is such an important holiday, you ask, then can you imagine Easter? 

On Easter, the grocery stores are open again.  Yesterday, Jonathan and I walked past a museum which prominently announced it was open every day of the year except Christmas and Good Friday.  So it's open again on Easter.  Apparently Good Friday is a bigger holiday.  That kind of makes sense, given that Easter is always on a Sunday.  If you are going to have a holiday, make sure you get work off for it. 

How does one celebrate Easter in Australia?  At our church, announcements were advertising an Autumn Easter Dance for the young singles.  The stores have been full of foil wrapped chocolate eggs.  In spite of the fact that they are trying to kill rabbits to extinction in Australia[*footnote], the chocolate rabbit seems to be a staple of the day.  And giant dressed up psycho rabbits appear in advertising photos. 

(Easter bunny for hire, from
Dyeing eggs?  Not much of it, as far as I can tell.  Fresh eggs are a little pricey here -- high quality, free range, farm grown, and almost all brown.  After paying eight dollars for your carton of eggs, you would have to dye them for a long time to stain the brown.  Although maybe people do it.  I don't know. 

Jonathan announced after church that he was the only kid in his class who didn't start the day with an egg hunt.  We spent the morning saying farewell to Marcus and Dawn, Tim's friends who have been visiting us in Melbourne since Wednesday.  We had the chocolate, waiting in the fridge for Easter, but we didn't hide it before church.  After church, Jonathan created his own egg hunt around our apartment.  He's the kind of guy who would rather hide the eggs than find them anyway, at this point. 

And that sums up our holiday.  Hopefully.  The university is still closed today, Easter Monday, so I still can't get in.  I'll be working from home.  Also, this is the last day of Jonathan's two-week fall break.  So he'll be doing a few chores with me to get ready to go back to school tomorrow.  And my fingers are crossed that everything will be back to normal tomorrow.


[*footnote]  While walking around Sydney, we spotted cut up carrots in a few places on our path.  And near those carrots was a sign saying the carrots, untainted, were part of a rabbit elimination plan.  Presumably, the rabbits get used to finding carrots in particular places, and regularly feed on them.  In a few weeks, untainted carrots will be replaced with ones that are ... ? coated with? ... a deadly rabbit virus.  Then the rabbits will eat the carrots, be infected with the disease, and all die.  No more evil rabbits in Sydney.  Germ warfare.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Everyone's photos look professional in Tasmania!

When we last left off, reader, we were in a hotel on the River Derwent in Hobart, Tasmania.  If you missed that post, you might want to start with our first day in Tasmania, here, or our second, here.

At this point in our journey, reader, we had an important decision to make.  Either we would spend a large part of the day at historic Port Arthur, an old penal colony and prison on the southernmost peninsula on the southernmost state in the southern country of Australia, or we would drive north and east to the ocean country near that night's bed and breakfast. 

We saw a lot of convict history sites in Sydney.  We opted for ocean. 

But before we left, we spent a very short time in inner city Hobart, walking past the Salamanca Market (actual market is only open on Saturdays, and it was a Monday)...

... playing in the park at the edge of Battery Point ...

... and taking our picture next to this cold looking guy, Roald Amundsen, who led the first known human party to reach the south pole, in 1911.  Roald Amundsen was Norwegian, not Tasmanian.  But there at the tip of Hobart is an important Antarctic study center. 

We decided not to bother with the GPS Karen, but just to hop on the A3 and follow it out of town and all the way to the town of Swansea, where our bed and breakfast was located.  However, although Hobart, with just over 200,000 people, is not extremely large, the signs marking the way out of town are placed a little too late on the road to be very helpful.  So when we knew we had missed our turnoff, we followed signs to a lookout instead, and took stunning pictures of Hobart from the other side of the river.

Hobart, under Mount Wellington.

"Have you taken the photo yet?"
We decided we'd better enlist Karen's help to get out of town.  But Karen, like the signs, gave an important direction just a little bit too late, and we found ourselves retracing exactly the same roads that led to the lookout.  Again. 

We didn't actually stop twice at the lookout.
Finally, the second time through, we escaped.  And from there, the driving was uneventful, with spectacular scenery.  Until we reached our destination on the east coast of Tasmania.

First stop (after lunch at a bakery):  Freycinet National Park, and a hike between the Hazard Mountains.  The first overlook on the hike was towards Coles Bay to the west.

The final destination, however, overlooked Wineglass Bay to the east, toward the ocean (technically, the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand).

Jonathan was not very keen on hiking.  But luckily, this was a short enough walk that everyone survived.

Survivors eating Tasmanian apples at the top.
Aside from the bay and the ocean off in the distance, the scenery looked remarkably like Wyoming.  Or home. 

This bench was not actually comfortable.
So in order to find something completely different, our next turn off in the national park was toward the Friendly Beaches, so named because the natives met the white people with relatively little conflicts upon first landing. 

The Friendly Beaches were gorgeous, and completely empty, aside from ... us.

Don't these photos look amazing?  Tasmania sprinkles magic dust upon even point-and-click cameras.

I, Artax, took this picture.
The sun sets early now that we're off daylight savings time.  We made our way to our bed and breakfast in Swansea ...

... and ate dinner at a local fish and chips shop.  Jonathan, who does not eat fish, ate chips.  Tim, who does not eat fish, tried the meatloaf sandwich.  I tried the fried flake, as well as three oysters, fresh from Oyster Bay, presumably, which is Right. There.  In Swansea.  My friends, it did not cost 30 dollars per plate.  At less than 20 dollars per plate, it was a bargain.  And someone running the shop had a strange sense of humor that I could understand. 

Breakfast in the morning.

Then a quick hike around the headland in Swansea, because how could you not take the walk with that name when you are right there?

Loontitetermairrelehoiner.  Say that ten times fast.

At Loontitetermairrelehoiner Point.
It was the last day of our vacation.  We had to get back to the ferry by 6pm, and we had three hours of driving for that, at least.  But it continued to be spectacular driving!

To prove to you that I took the above photo, I present the next, with Tim and Jonathan. Not photoshopped in.

We decided to see beaches on the way back.  On the recommendation of Gail, our hostess at the bed and breakfast, we stopped at three different beaches.

First, Bicheno.  Say BEESH - uh - no.  At Bicheno, there were huge granite rocks ...

... and a blow hole.

The large waves would bounce around a crack in the granite, spewing water high and far. 

We watched and climbed around for a while.

The next beach was just north of Bicheno: the abandoned white sands of Denison Beach. 

Jonathan wrote in the sand.  I took off my shoes and waded in the waves. 

And Tim searched the beach for stuff, like this guy he found up on the sand. 

Third beach: Falmouth.  Recommended for shells. 

And indeed, there were many shells.

From Falmouth, Tasmania (not Cornwall), we turned west, back toward Devonport.  We arrived early, and so explored one last beach for an hour ...

... before checking in on the ferry.

Cabin shot.

The trip back was uneventful.  The seas were calm.  We slept the whole way. 

Sunrise in Melbourne. 

Welcome back, Real Life.  *Sigh*. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tasmania and the Mines of Moria

Remember how we fired Karen, our GPS guide? Well, we were planning to do a little internet research from our hotel in the evening to decide exactly where we were driving the next day and exactly what we wanted to see. Unfortunately, there was no mobile phone reception in the middle of nowhere, so we couldn't get an internet signal. So rather than plan the next stage of the vacation, we lounged in the hotel hot tub. It wasn't really that bad of a trade.

Until the next morning.

Tim found that we could actually get mobile reception if we were outside in the car, rather than indoors under the hotel roof. So I pulled out my tablet to figure out where we were going to go for the day. At my request, Tim asked at the desk about a driving map of Tasmania. But it cost nine dollars, and we had already spent the navigation allowance on renting the GPS.

"We'll be fine," we said.

And then Tim started driving.

"What are you doing? I haven't figured out where we're going yet!"

"You can do it while we drive."

What, on the tiny mountain roads? While we wind up and down and around animals and traffic? That would make anyone car sick.  I put away the tablet. We would have to go with Karen again.

Karen started out responsibly. From the small mountain road, we turned onto the wider highway heading toward larger towns. After a while, however, she instructed us to turn right onto a tiny, steep and narrow winding road. Tim drove up it for about sixty seconds, then pulled over in a turnout.

"Ok, where are we really supposed to go?"

We could get mobile reception from the turnout, although weak, and so we pulled up a real map of Tasmania. Indeed, this narrow winding mountain road appeared to cut a little bit of distance off the journey. Google maps estimated it would take us about 15 minutes more to go this way, however.

We fiddled with the GPS, trying to type a partial destination into the device to see if it would send us back to the main road. Instead, it told us to continue for a few meters, and then turn right onto Unpaved Road.


We tried again. Continue on this road, said Karen, and then meet up with the main road. We talked about it, and decided to go with Karen this time. Plus, what was 15 extra minutes? And what else did we have to do? We hadn't planned anything for the day except our destination in Hobart.

On the road Karen recommended.

I would like to interrupt this narrative of our driving woes with another amusing story. When we purchased our National Parks pass the day before, we got a little booklet with all the national parks of Tasmania listed inside, each with its special representative symbol. The symbol for Cradle Mountain National Park was a Tasmanian devil, for example. Freycinet, also on the itinerary, had a picture of a sea eagle. Others had a seal, a wombat, pretty flowers, tall trees, a kangaroo. One of the symbols was not like the others, however. One of the parks had as its symbol a creepy looking spider.

Icon from Australia Parks & Wildlife Service.
Ha ha. We laughed. Who would ever go to a national park whose symbol was a spider?

Winding up the narrow mountain road, into denser and darker forests, we passed a small sign informing us that we had just entered Mole Creek Karst National Park.

Indeed. The park of the spider.

I read on the parks pass that Mole Creek Karst was a network of limestone caves.

"Where is the GPS taking us?" asked Tim. "Into the Mines of Moria?"

A sign indicated a tiny road to Marakoopa Cave.

"Let's go, while we're here," said Tim. And off we went.

It was just after 11am when we arrived. We purchased tickets for the next tour, at noon. The park ranger suggested a stop at a local cafe while we waited. That sounded nice, so we drove back up the road past someone's farm ...

... to someone's roadside farm cafe, run out of their house.

The neighbors.
It was there, at the Marakoopa Cafe, in the family garden, where we ate the most delicious scones in the whole wide world. I know they were the most delicious in the whole wide world, because I have eaten scones all over the world, in multiple hemispheres and longitudes and stratospheres. And these, with cream and homemade apple jam, were the most delicious anywhere. And Karen, our GPS guide, had found them for us.

Jonathan and Tim, looking a little stripy, as they eat the most delicious scones in the whole wide world.
Next: Through the ancient rainforest ...

... where dinosaurs walk, toward the caves.

First, a little introduction to the famous park fauna.

The cave was wet with streams and dripping limestone. 

We only saw one spider, and it definitely didn't have the 14 centimeter leg-span that we had been told the spiders could have. (Largest in Tasmania!)

The insects we finally did see, though, in abundance, were amazing.  On our way out, the guide shut off all the lights, and we saw, across the ceiling like stars, thousands and thousands of glow worms, lighting the way of other bugs ... to dusty death.

We couldn't take any pictures, but the light of the glow worms was amazingly cool. It was the highlight of the day, even, except for maybe the best scones in the entire world.

After the caves, we stopped at a local farmhouse for a one day apple tasting event -- it's apple season in Tasmania, and Tasmania grows a lot of apples. The apple tasting was crowded with locals, but it wasn't as interesting as the glow worms. Sorry.

Jonathan tasted every one of them.  Twice.
They did, however, have the most stunning looking mushrooms growing in their front garden.  At first we thought they were fake, but no.  These guys grew out of the ground.

Who grows mushrooms like this?
And then off again! Fed, happy. Next stop, Hobart, three hours to the south.

Karen was very well behaved for the first hour. She took us directly to the small town we had typed in, part way along our journey, on the side of the Highland Lakes Road.

"Great!" we said. "Now let's type in the rest of the journey!"

"Turn around here," said Karen, "and go back the way you came."


Instead, we followed Google maps this time, along the Highland Lakes Road. It was labeled as highway A5. An A-level highway sounded totally respectable. Whereas Karen had put us on B's and C's up to that point.

Within a few meters, the A-level highway lost its pavement. Maximum speed 80 on gravel roads, read the sign. That's 50 mph.

"What? 80 really?" said Tim, as a ute drove by (I think "ute" is short for "utility vehicle" here, just to add in a little vocabulary) and whipped gravel at our car. Maybe Karen actually did know what she was talking about.

But we persevered. And the lake views were spectacular. The elevation was high, much higher than we'd driven before. (High enough, said a woman later, that they actually are covered with snow much of the winter, as opposed to the rest of Tasmania/Australia.)

Great Lake of Tasmania
You can see from the photos that the land there was completely barren and desolate, presumably because of the cold and elevation.  Compare that to the rain forest and farm photos, taken just an hour before. 

Gravel road, and ... nothing ... off in the distance.
I must say that we were very happy to meet pavement again. And then as we approached the capital, Hobart, the roads finally widened, and even split into something approximating a freeway. And just as the sun was beginning to set, we found our motel, on the side of the Derwent river.

Dinner. Now with full internet reception, we did a quick search. Tim refused to drive any more. That meant we would eat at ... the riverside restaurant attached to the motel. At 30 dollars per plate. Again!

Later, ducks wandered up from the river to ask for food at our porch. No way, ducks. Not at 30 dollars per plate. You go eat grass.

This post is long enough. We shall stop here and continue again.