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March 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Robe, Australia)

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Yep, I know it’s been a while since my last update, but things here have been pretty busy.  I spend my days on the road and during the evenings, I plan the next day's adventure while poring over my maps and my "bible," the Lonely Planet Guide to Australia.  By the way, Lonely Planet is, hands down, the best Australian guide book on the market.  

 

I also spend a lot of time at night doing more mundane things, like washing clothes and working on my digital photos, so with everything going on I haven’t had much time to work on my website.  Even buying groceries can take a long time and ever since I left on this trip nearly a year ago, just about every trip to a new and unfamiliar grocery store has, for better or worse, been an adventure.  I’m starting to miss my Fred Meyer store back in Hillsboro where I know the exact location of each and every imaginable product ("Doritos -- Aisle 8.  Chocolate Pop Tarts -- Aisle 17").  I’m really behind in e-mail, too, and my In-box is starting to pile up.  I'm sorry if I haven’t written back yet, but I will as soon as things settle down a bit… I promise!

 

As you can imagine, the Australian group Savage Garden is really popular here, and I hear their music often on the radio.  Here's Truly, Madly, Deeply.

Requires a RealPlayerIf problems, see Help.

 

Anyway, I thought I’d celebrate March 1st, which Australians consider to be the first day of fall, by posting an update.  Yes, fall is in the air… the days are getting shorter, kids are finally back in school, and it’s cooling off a bit.  Actually, this has been the coolest summer in southern Australia in over 50 years but I’m not complaining, because temperatures have been quite nice -- between about 65 and 80 almost every day that I’ve been here.  Unusually cool weather on this very hot continent means that it’s just about right.  I’m really glad I wasn’t here last year, which apparently was the hottest summer in several decades. 

 

As fall arrives, the weather up in northern Australia, where I'll be heading soon, is getting a little more tolerable.  After visiting Adelaide tomorrow, I’ll drive up into the center part of the country – the real Outback.  Summertime high temperatures there can easily surpass 110 degrees, but this time of year I’m expecting highs of “only” around 100 or so.  Even farther north around Darwin, the monsoon season is drawing to a close.  That area, known as the "Top End," is quite tropical and has two seasons:  “The Wet,” from November until about March and “The Dry,” during the rest of the year.  It’s not a good idea to visit Darwin during the Wet unless you enjoy stifling humidity and sweating like a pig.  Sweating like a pig has never really appealed to me, so I'm not sure if I'm going all the way up to Darwin; I'll just play it by ear and see what happens.

 

Looking Back, and Ahead

I've been in Australia for a few weeks now and I've got about a month left to go here before I fly back to America in early April.  It's been a good trip and I really like this country, but I'm also looking forward to getting back to the U.S. and seeing my friends and family, playing some volleyball, and driving my pickup truck again.  Traveling alone overseas for several months is a bit more challenging than I imagined because I have to be totally self-reliant and, while I'm enjoying my time here, the idea of camping in a U.S. State Park, driving down the Oregon Coast, or hiking through the familiar Utah desert sounds pretty appealing right about now.  In fact, anything familiar seems appealing right about now.  Don't get me wrong, though, because although I miss the U.S., I'm glad I came over here and don't regret it for a minute.  

 

Although Australia is a wonderful country, it's a little different than I thought it would be.  I've been surprised so far at how many places in Australia remind me of Northern California, especially the Central Valley area around Sacramento or Redding.  I had images of red sandy deserts and the endless Outback but I haven't seen much of that... not yet, anyway.  Surprisingly, the most beautiful areas that I've visited haven't been near the coast but rather 50 or 100 miles inland.  With a few exceptions, the coastal drive south from Sydney is pretty boring because the road is hemmed in on both sides with eucalyptus trees and you can't see that much.  If you drive inland, though, you'll see lots of rolling hills, rivers, scattered trees, and interesting wildlife.  And, just like Northern California, you'll even spot some vineyards.

 

The people here are a bit different than I imagined, too.  As I'm learning, Australians in general have a good sense of humor and don't take themselves too seriously, which I like.  I didn't have any preconceptions of what Australian women were like (except that they all looked like Elle McPherson), but the guys here aren't as macho or chauvinistic as I thought they'd be.  I had images of beer-swilling guys wearing muscle shirts who tell crude jokes and slap you on the back, but I really haven't met anyone like that yet.  Most of the men and women I've met here are like... dare I say it... Americans -- although perhaps a bit friendlier and quicker with a smile, a laugh, and a handshake.

 

I’ve spent the past week driving around the Australian state of Victoria, which is about as large as Oregon.  I haven't figured this out yet, but for some reason a lot of places I’ve visited on my trip have been about as big as Oregon, including New Zealand.  Anyway, Victoria lies in Australia’s southeastern corner and, like Oregon, it has a lot of variety -- quite a bit more, in fact, than what I saw in New South Wales.  I haven’t been to the Great Barrier Reef yet, but after spending the past week traveling around Victoria, I think if I had only one week to spend in Australia, I’d probably go to Victoria.  Snow-capped mountains, rainforests, empty Outback desert, and one of the most beautiful coastal drives I’ve ever seen… it’s all here, as I describe in this update:

 

Up and Over the Great Dividing Range 

I wrote my last update in Bega, a small farming town in New South Wales.  Bega is quiet and peaceful but, frankly, not very interesting and I wouldn't recommend spending more than one night there unless you're, say, updating a website, like I was.  

 

After a couple of days there, I left Bega on a cloudy, drizzly morning.  I crossed over the Snowy River and headed up into the Great Dividing Range, Australia's longest and highest mountain range, passing by Australia’s highest peak, Mt. Kosciuszko (elev. 6,700') for the second time on this trip.  I still haven’t figured out why Australians named their highest peak after a Polish hero in the American Revolutionary War, but if I do, I’ll be sure to let you know.  Australians love to shorten names and add a "y" or "ie," so it's no surprise that they call this peak "Mt. Kozzy.”  Whatever it's called, it was buried once again in clouds so I still haven't seen it, but the locals assured me that it’s there.

 

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Above left:  Heading up into the Great Dividing Range.  Mt. Kozzy is up there somewhere.

Above center:  And dropping down onto the western side of the mountains.  This is the town of Bright, Victoria -- a pleasant summer resort town.  I could've spent a week here.

Above right:  A marsupial restaurant in Bright.

 

Ned Kelly:  Hero or Outlaw?

After dropping down the west side of the Great Dividing Range on a narrow, winding road, I drove into the town of Bright, which had a pleasant name and seemed like a nice place so I got a motel room there.  After chatting with the friendly owner and checking in to my room, I walked around town and spent a half-hour at a pretty downtown park watching some kids play in the river that cuts through town.  On the way back to my room, I stopped at a corner cafe to get some fish and chips, and that evening watched the Winter Olympics on TV.

 

I really love the Olympics, especially the smaller and more casual Winter Olympics, and Salt Lake City is only a two-day drive from Portland, so I wish I could've gone there to watch the Olympics in person.  I'm pretty familiar with Salt Lake City, since I worked there during the past few years on their new Light Rail Transit system, which they built partly because of the Olympics.  Now that I think about it, though, Salt Lake City isn't the most exciting place in the world, so maybe it's just as well that I didn't go. 

 

I was reluctant to leave Bright the next morning but I had to make tracks.  An hour after leaving, I stopped in Beechworth, a historic mining town in central Victoria.  Beechworth is in the heart of the Victoria gold mining country and reminded me of the California gold-rush towns that dot the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.  In fact, with the rolling foothills, golden grasslands, and scattered trees, this whole area reminded me of the Sierra foothills.  A lot of miners from California came to Beechworth in the 1850s after the California gold played out and, considering the surroundings, I bet they felt right at home here.  

 

Beechworth is probably best known as the site of the 1880 trial of Ned Kelly, Australia’s most famous outlaw, who was either a hero or a bandit depending on whom you talk to.  After the trial in Beechworth and one in Melbourne, the 24-year old Kelly was found guilty of robbery and murder and was hung in the Melbourne Prison.  His legend grew shortly afterwards and about a week later, I'm sure, the first "Ned Kelly" t-shirts and bumper stickers were printed up... a prolific marketing endeavor which continues to this day.

 

A lot of Aussies glamorize Ned Kelly, comparing him to Jesse James or Billy the Kid in the U.S.  That's not a very favorable comparison in my book, because those two American outlaws were simply cold-blooded killers and there was very little "noble" about them, despite the misplaced idolatry which lingers in their wake.  After visiting Beechworth for a few hours and visiting the court room where Kelly was tried, I couldn't decide for myself whether Kelly was really a hero unjustly accused for crimes he didn't commit or was simply a cold-blooded killer.  As you might say, "The jury is still out."

 

An hour after leaving Beechworth, I stopped in the small town of Glen Rowan, which is where Kelly was captured by the police during his last battle.  Glen Rowan really milks the Ned Kelly thing to death with lots of mugs, t-shirts, and even a play about Kelly using computerized mannequins, which performs every hour on the hour.  The Mannequin Play was pretty expensive and, from the pictures, it reminded me too much of wax museums, which I generally detest, so I didn't see it.  Well, O.K, it also looked pretty scary.

 

After walking around Glen Rowan for a while, I headed back to my car when I heard “Waltzing Matilda” playing over the loudspeakers of a nearby café.  "Waltzing Matilda" gets me every time so I popped into the cafe, chatted with the friendly owner (a woman in her 50's), and bought the CD.  As the owner told me, the CD was recorded by a well-known Australian folk singer named Lazy Harry (seriously, that's his name) who lives nearby.  For the next hour as I drove across the hot, flat farmlands of northern Victoria, I listened to Lazy Harry belt out “Waltzing Matilda,” “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” “A Pub With No Beer,” and 22 other Australian favorites.  

 

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Above left:  Beechworth is in the heart of the Victoria Gold Country.  The buildings here have been well preserved and it's an interesting place to walk around.  

Above center:  Australia's most famous criminal was Ned Kelly who, some say, made money the old-fashioned way:  he stole it.  After being captured in nearby Glen Rowan, Ned was brought to trial in Beechworth in 1880.

Above right:  A larger-than-life version of Ned Kelly in Glen Rowan, complete with his famous helmet and body armor.  During Kelly's last battle, a short ways from here, he was shot 29 times by the police but thanks to the armor he survived... only to meet his fate at the end of a rope. 

 

Going Down?  A Working Mine in Bendigo

The thermometer hit 100 degrees (well, o.k., 38 degrees centigrade) as I drove through the farmlands of northern Victoria that afternoon, and after listening to Lazy Harry’s CD for the third time (and getting a bit tired of "Waltzing Matilda," I must admit), I pulled into Echuca, a historic town on the banks of the Murray River.  Back in the 1800’s, Echuca was inland Australia’s busiest port and was, I guess, also a pretty rowdy place.  Today, Echuca is mostly a river resort town -- something like Yuma, Arizona without the RV's.  However, it retains a lot of its historic flavor. 

 

Being Australia's longest river and set in a desert-ish environment, the Murray is like a cross between the Colorado and Mississippi Rivers in the U.S. and Echuca was the scene of a lot of steamboat action back in its heyday.  You can still ride the steamboats there, which I did the next morning.  Listening to the paddlewheels slosh through the water while watching the gum trees on the banks of the Murray pass by was interesting, and for a time I felt like I was back in the 1800s.  

 

After spending a night in Echuca and taking the paddle-steamer cruise the next morning, I drove over to the gold-mining town of Bendigo.  Back in the 1800’s, Bendigo was the most active gold-mining town in Australia and, unlike a lot of old gold mining towns, Bendigo is still thriving.  In fact, with a population today of about 50,000, Bendigo is really hopping and the architecture here is quite impressive, with most buildings dating back to the opulent gold-rush days of the 1800’s. 

 

As I discovered in the Bendigo Visitor Center, there’s an active gold mine right in the middle of town called the Central Deborah that offers tours to the public.  I've been interested in gold mining ever since my ranger days in Colorado but I’ve never been inside a working mine, so I drove over to the Central Deborah and paid US$20 for a tour.  As it turned out, I was the only one on the tour, which was led by a couple of friendly retired miners named Roy and Brian.  After I donned my overalls and boots, Roy fitted me with a helmet light and the three of us got in a very tiny elevator cage and quickly dropped 300 feet straight down the chute.  During the rapid descent, Roy kindly suggested that I keep my hands inside the cage unless I wanted to lose them.

 

For the next two hours, I followed Roy and Brian through the mine, followed by a short break for tea, rolls, and jam while sitting at a picnic table 300 feet below the surface in the dark mine and talking into each other’s helmet lights.  As I learned during the tour, mining is VERY loud work, with air drills, rock blasting, and ore-carting, all of which (except for the blasting) I took a crack at.  It was an interesting tour and well worth the price… but I’m really glad I have a desk-job, because after spending two hours in the bowels of the Central Deborah mine, there’s no way in heck that I’d ever want to be a miner.  My ears are still ringing.

   

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Above left:  One of the many riverboats, or "paddle-steamers" as they call them here, on the Murray River in Echuca.  The Murray is like a cross between the Mississippi and Colorado River, and forms the border between Victoria (foreground) and New South Wales (background).

Above center:  Here's the pilothouse of the paddle-steamer I rode on the next morning.  Most of the paddle-steamers here, including this one, were built in the early 1900s.  Mark Twain would've loved this place.

Above right:  Big wheels keep on turning...

 

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Above left:  The historic port area of Echuca.  It was pretty darn hot in Echuca, but it was well-worth the visit.

Above center:  Railway station in Maryborough, near Bendigo.

Above right:  "Poppets" were used to drill shafts for hard-rock mining.  This is in Bendigo which, during the 1800s, was Australia's most productive gold-mining area.   

    

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Above left:  The Central Deborah is a working gold mine in downtown Bendigo.  Here's the change room where I donned my overalls, boots, and hard-hat.

Above center:  That's me ready to head down the shaft.  I guess most real miners don't carry cameras.

Above right:  Here's an old photo from my collection.  These are miners in Colorado during the 1880s standing next to their compressed-air drill.  They drilled holes into the rock, filled them with dynamite, blasted the rock, then repeated the process.  Gold miners today use this same drill-and-blast process.

 

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Above left:  Here's Roy demonstrating an air drill at 300 feet below the surface.  The spots are from the steady mist, used to capture the rock dust.  I operated the drill too, and my ears rang for quite a while afterwards.

Above center:  Roy operating a mucker, which picks up blasted rocks and throws them into a waiting ore car.  Like the air drill, this thing is incredibly noisy.

Above right:  It was an interesting two-hour tour.  Mining is loud, hard, and dangerous work... and I'm really glad I'm not a miner.

 

This is a pretty long entry so I've broken it into two pages.  The next page is at March 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Robe, Australia).  See you there!

 

 

 

Next News

March 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Robe, Australia)

 

Previous News

February 18, 2002  (Bega, Australia)

February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 2  (Taupo, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)  

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

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