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A New Country and a New Lingo

G'day, mates!  This is my first update from the Land of Oz -- also known as Australia -- where I'll be for the next two months, until early April.  That's when I plan to fly back to the U.S. to take a four-month trip around North America.  As always, though, my plans are flexible.  If I like Australia, I'll stay here longer and if I don't, I'll leave sooner.

 

To practice your Aussie accent, here's Lazy Harry, an Australian folk singer, singing G'day, G'day.

 

It's mid-February which, weather-wise, is the equivalent of mid-August in the northern hemisphere.  I'm in Canberra now, which is roughly at the same latitude as my childhood home of San Jose, so I was expecting sunny skies and hot temperatures.  The weather's been pretty nice although surprisingly showery these past few days.  Despite the sunny-but-drippy weather here, Australia seems like a pretty nice place.  I enjoyed the two months I spent in New Zealand but there's a lot more room here in the land Down Under.  Oz, as I'm discovering, is a great place if you like driving on open highways.  But watch out for the kangaroos, or "roos" as they call them here.  Hey, maybe I should start calling my website, "Leu's Roos News."  And feel free to peruse.

 

Along with the open roads, another thing I'm trying to get used to here is the Aussie accent.  As I'm discovering, the accent here is a lot different than the Kiwi accent that I'd spent the last two months trying to figure out.  New Zealanders, as I noted a while back, turn the short "e" into a long "e."  For example:

  • "West" in New Zealand is pronounced "weest,"

  • "Best" is pronounced "beast," and,

  • "Yes" is pronounced "yiss" (and sometimes yisssss).

Here in Australia, though, the short "e" is pronounced "ay," while "ay" is pronounced "oy."  Therefore:

  • "West" is pronounced "waste"

  • "Best" is pronounced "baste"

  • "Eggs" is pronounced "oigs."  And in a real tongue-bender,

  • "Railway" is pronounced "rye-al-way."

As I'm also learning, G'day is the official greeting here.  That's short for "good day," of course, and it's pronounced "gudday."  It sounds stupid when an American says it, though, so I just say "Hello."  There's a lot of lingo in Australia -- or "Australier" as they call it here -- that I'm quickly learning, things like"fair dinkum," "pokies," "she'll be right," and "eskys."  What the heck is an esky?  Keep reading my website and you'll probably find out.  That's fair dinkum, mate.

What Happened to Tassie?

 

Astute readers will notice that I didn't include the island of Tasmania in my Australian route map above.  Tasmania is a beautiful state, from what I understand.  But unfortunately, my limited schedule here in Australia -- I have only two months to see the country -- precludes me from visiting it.  That's one reason why I decided to crop Tasmania out of my Australian route maps.  The other reason is that, because of the dimensions of my webpages, my Australia maps will be larger and easier to read if I don't include Tasmania.  So my profuse apologies to the wonderful island of Tasmania and the wonderful Tassies who live there. 

 

By removing Tasmania, you could say that I used a little "cartographic license" (a tongue-in-cheek term I learned back in Cartography 101 in college) to create my route maps.  To show you what you're missing, however, I'm including a map of Australia here showing all seven of its states, including Tasmania.  By the way, the authorities revoked my cartographic license several years ago -- but that obviously hasn't stopped me from drawing maps.

 

With that in mind, here's my latest update:

On to Oz

Above:  Saying goodbye to the wonderful country of New Zealand, my home for the past two months.

After spending two months in New Zealand -- the first one wet and the second one dry -- I drove to the Auckland Airport and boarded my plane bound for Australia, landing three hours later at the Sydney Airport.  I'd wanted to visit Australia ever since I learned to sing "Waltzing Matilda" in the First Grade and I was finally here!

 

My euphoria was brief, though, because practicalities soon set in -- like money, for one thing.  Following the advice of the travel guru, Rick Steves, I decided that I wasn't going to bring traveler's checks (or "traveler's cheeks," as they call them in New Zealand) overseas, nor was I going to exchange currencies in banks, two strategies that I've used during my previous road trips.  Instead, in each airport, I'd simply head to the nearest ATM with my bank card and withdraw as much cash as I needed.

 

I spotted an ATM while I was walking through the Sydney Airport, so I whipped out my bank card, popped it into the machine and -- nothing.  I removed the card, wiped it off, reinserted it and -- still nothing.  Apparently the card had gotten demagnetized or scratched or something, but no matter what I tried, I couldn't get it to work.  No worries, though, because, and again following Rick Steves' advice, I'd brought along a backup bank card.  This one worked (phew!) and I walked over to the car rental area.

 

Eucalyptus Trees

Southeastern Australia, where I am now, reminds me a lot of California.  One reason is the eucalyptus trees, which grow in abundance here. 

Having grown up in San Jose, I always associated eucalypts with California.  But as I discovered, they're actually native to Australia.  Eucalyptus trees were brought from Australia to California in the 1860s when the transcontinental railroad was being built across treeless Nevada and Utah.

The American rail barons needed trees that grew fast and large to make into railroad ties, so they imported eucalyptus trees from Australia.  The barons didn't realize, however, that eucalyptus is extremely hard and is nearly impossible to cut -- doh!  So as it turned out, the trees were never used for railroad ties.

The shaggy eucalypts flourished in California, however, and today you see them just about everywhere in the Golden State, from Eureka in the north to San Diego in the south.

Which brings me to the second issue:  the car situation.  Before leaving Auckland, I hadn't decided what to do about my transportation in Australia:  should I rent a car, which would be easier, or buy a used car and then sell it after my two-month trip around Australia, which would be cheaper?  I figured the best thing to do would be to rent a car for a week, check out the car situation in Sydney, then decide to either continue renting or to buy a car.  As I always say, "When in doubt, procrastinate."  So before leaving New Zealand, I had reserved a car online at the Sydney Airport.

 

I headed over to the Avis counter in the Sydney airport and talked to a friendly, young woman who, after doing some paperwork, handed me the keys to my week-long rental car.

 

I left the Sydney Airport (driving on the left side, like in New Zealand) and got on the freeway -- or "Motorway" as they call it here.  I was soon smack-dab in the middle of the afternoon rush-hour, however.  I usually plan things carefully when I travel, but as I was slowly inching along the congested freeway, I realized that I didn't have a clue where I was going to stay that night.  I just kept heading west and away from the congestion of Sydney, a city which reminded me of Los Angeles -- not one of my favorite places.  After about an hour on the Motorway, I got off the highway and found a motel in Liverpool, a city about 20 miles from Sydney and far from the madding crowd.

 

I unpacked in my motel room that evening, ate a quick dinner, then started scanning the local newspapers for cars on sale in the Sydney area.  I didn't find much, so I took out my laptop and continued the search online.  I discovered that cars are quite expensive in Australia, relatively speaking, so after about an hour I decided to rent, rather than buy, a car for my two-month trip around Oz.  I clicked on Travelocity and reserved a car from Hertz for two months, which I could pick up in a week.  I got a really good rate from Hertz, only US$17 a day for a brand-new automatic Toyota Corolla with A/C.  I figured that since I'd be spending a few weeks driving across the Australian Outback during summer, when temperatures can easily surpass 100 degrees, it would be smarter to rent a new car rather than buy a used car and put my life in the hands of a beater.  Yeah, I'm a wimp -- but I'm a living wimp.

 

Right:  As this map shows, Australia is about as large as the United States.  New Zealand, on the other hand, is only about as large as Oregon or Colorado.  I spent two months driving around New Zealand and now I have two months to see the much larger country of Australia.  I guess I'll just have to drive faster!

 

I had a week before I could pick up my Hertz rental, along with the boxes of camping gear that I'd mailed from Auckland to a post office in Sydney a few days earlier, so I decided to explore the Australian state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital.  I spent the next day in Liverpool getting ready for my trip, then I left on a sunny and warm Saturday morning and headed south on the Hume Highway, a four-lane freeway that links Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne.

 

I generally don't like freeways but after getting frustrated in New Zealand while driving on the seemingly-endless twisting and turning roads for the last two months, I really enjoyed getting on the Hume Highway and blasting past the eucalyptus groves at 65 mph -- or 110 kilometers per hour, as they call it here.  It felt like stretching my legs -- ah, relief!  After about an hour, though, I decided that I'd had my fill of "Life in the Fast Lane," so I got off the freeway and took the backroads to Canberra, which, admittedly, were much more interesting.

 

       

Above left:  On the three-hour flight from Auckland to Sydney.

Above center:  Formula One Motels, like this one near Sydney, are common throughout Australia and Europe.  They have tiny rooms for a tiny price.

Above right:  A parade in the small town of Moss Vale celebrating the local firefighters who had fought the massive bush fires near Sydney a few months earlier around Christmas time, the peak of the fire season.  There were celebrations like this all over New South Wales.  Good on ya', mates.

It's CAN-bra, Not Can-BERRA

A few hours later, and after driving past what seemed like a million eucalypts (apparently Australia's national tree), I reached Canberra, Australia's capital and its largest planned city with a population of about 300,000.  Like most planned cities, Canberra is a strange place, mainly because everything is so nicely laid out -- in this case, with concentric streets that radiate out from the centrally-located national Parliament Building. 

 

Before 1901, Australia consisted of seven separate British colonies.  But in that year, and with the blessing of England's Queen Victoria and the English government, the seven colonies became the independent country of Australia.  Ironically, the 81-year old Queen Victoria, who had ruled the English empire since 1837, died just three weeks later.  Melbourne and Sydney jostled to become the new country's capital, but instead a site was selected equidistant between the two and, voila, the city of Canberra was born.  The first thing I learned after stopping at the Visitor Center was that it's pronounced CAN-bra, not Can-BERRA, as I've always called it.  I had known that Brisbane was "Briz-bin" and that Cairns was "Cans," but this CAN-bra thing took a little getting used to.

 

Above:  The Australian Parliament Building (left) and downtown Canberra (right).  Canberra is the largest planned city in Australia.  With all the government buildings and concentric streets, it's also, as I discovered, a little strange.

I spent much of Saturday afternoon exploring Canberra's National War Memorial, a truly amazing building.  Being an avid history buff, I've visited lots of museums but I think the only one that has impressed me more is the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

 

The Australian National War Memorial doesn't glorify war; instead, it honors the Aussies who fought and died in global conflicts, starting with the Boer War in South Africa in the late 1800s and ending with Viet Nam.  That surprised me, since I didn't realize that Australians had fought in Viet Nam alongside Americans.  A large portion of the museum is devoted to the Battle of Gallipoli, with numerous maps, dioramas, and memorabilia of this failed Australian invasion of Turkey during World War I.  As I'm discovering, Gallipoli is a big deal in Australia.  You can tease an Aussie about their mother but never make a joke about Gallipoli. 

 

The most touching part of my visit to the War Memorial occurred late in the afternoon when, just before closing time at 5 p.m., all the visitors including myself were ushered out the doors where, in the courtyard by the eternal flame, a lone bagpiper played to honor the Australians who have died on battlefields around the world.  About 200 visitors quietly listened as the bagpiper played "Amazing Grace."  After he stopped, you could've heard a pin drop.

 

I got a motel room that night in Canberra and watched the first night of the 2002 Winter Olympics from Salt Lake City.  I've always been a big fan of the Olympics, especially the smaller and more intimate Winter Olympics, and it's been interesting to watch a different country's perspective of the games.  They have the same camera feeds here as in America, but the commentators are Australian and the focus is definitely on the small but proud Australian Winter Olympic team.

 

 

During my first week here, I couldn't figure out why they played the 1960s tune, Georgy Girl, so much on the radio.  Then I learned that the group who sang it, The Seekers, are Australian.  Here it is.

   

The American broadcasts of the Olympics are usually pretty intense, focusing on how many medals the U.S. athletes have won -- or why they haven't won more.  Here in Australia, though, the tone is much more light-hearted.  That's mainly because Australia, of course, doesn't have an abundance of winter activities, especially considering that most of whatever snow that falls in this vast country is confined to a tiny area near Mt. Kosciusko outside of Canberra which, at 6,700', is Australia's highest point.  Speaking of winter sports, the concept of skiing in July seems strange to me.  And skiing among eucalypts instead of pine trees or firs is really weird.  

 

Anyway, the Australian coverage of the Winter Olympics has been fun to watch and, though hopes aren't high for many medals, Aussies are quite proud of their small team.  After watching some American competitors mope and whine in so many previous Olympics, including Portland's own Tonya Harding (that baton-wielding, trailer-park skating girl and my former near-neighbor there), it's refreshing to see athletes -- and indeed, an entire country -- take pride in 10th- and 20th-place finishes.

 

Before I left Canberra (oops, I mean CAN-bra) the next morning, I visited a couple of sites that I'd heard good things about.  The first was the Australia National Museum, a multi-million dollar building with futuristic architecture that recently opened to the public.  The goal of the much-ballyhooed and modernistic National Museum was supposedly to tell the "story of Australia," but I thought it was disjointed and pretentious, emphasizing style over substance.  I was pretty disappointed.  Interestingly, the museum mentioned very little about Australia's convict past (the original settlers in Australia were convicts deported from England in the 1700s), nor hardly anything about the Aborigines, who weren't treated nearly as well by the English as Maoris have been in New Zealand.  I had planned to spend a few hours at the museum but left after 45 minutes.  I'm glad it was free. 

 

Above:  The Australian Parliament building in Canberra.  I spent a couple hours here and found it quite interesting.  It's very much like the U.S. Capitol building -- but, of course, without the nice dome on top.

My other stop that morning was much more interesting.  I couldn't leave Australia's capital without dropping by the nation's Parliament Building, so I drove over to check it out.  While the National Museum was a big disappointment, the Parliament Building was utterly fascinating.  I was going to pop in for only a few minutes but stayed for two hours, during which I joined a guided tour and learned a lot about the Australian political system. 

 

It seems that back in 1901, when Australia became an independent country, they looked around the world for an existing political system that would work in Australia and settled largely on the American bicameral system.  Australia adopted a Senate and House of Representatives, each similar to America's system, while retaining some elements of the English political system, with a Prime Minister (currently John Howard) who is a sitting member of the House of Representatives.

 

The Parliament Building is much like the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C., with the House and Senate located on opposite sides of the complex, but is much more modern.  And best of all, the Visitor's Gallery has cushier seats.

 

       

Above left:  When Australia's government was formed in 1901, they borrowed many ideas from America, including a Senate and a House of Representatives.  Here's the Australian Senate chamber, which is a lot like the American Senate.  Definitely better seats, though.

Above center:  On the road again, this is heading up towards the Snowy Mountains outside of Canberra.

Above right:  Even though it was now summer, the Snowy Mountains were actually snowy when I drove through.  The Snowy River is down there somewhere.  The highest peak in Australia, Mt. Kosciusko (6,700'), is hidden by the clouds.

 


 

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