Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wierd as

[Michele, Robin, Will and Gavin]  For a while now, we have been compiling things that Australians do that seem weird to us.  At first blush, this list might seem judgmental but most if not all of these we found both weird and endearing. Ok maybe not number 3.

  1. When want to describe something as being very large or fast or (insert adjective), Australians will say that the something is 'large as'.  For example, in Robin's ballet class, the teacher told the class "If you want to jump high as, then you need to ...". Not "jump as high as say.... a walalbee" just 'jump high as'.
  2. Grocery trolleys with pivotable wheels on all four corners.  Work those abs while filling that trolley!
  3. Pronouncing Bianca to rhyme with Sanka, you know the pretend coffee, with a short 'a'.  Similarly Tanya is pronounced like the word 'tan' in America with the short 'a'.  Gives Michele shivers everytime she hears either of these words.
  4. Drink Driving checks (DUI checks) at 3 pm in the afternoon.
  5. light switches that are 'off' in the up position and 'on' in the down position.
  6. In the grocery store, paper towels, serviettes and tissues are in three entirely different parts of the store even though essentially any one of these could do the job of all three.
  7. We've gotten used to the tastiness of Tasty cheese. But Strong and Bitey cheese?  What?  Note: the Strong and Bitey cheese turned out to be quite good!  Equivalent of an extra sharp cheddar I think.
  8. Christmas cards with snow scenes even though it is 34˚ (93˚ F) outside.
I'm sure there are others. Maybe Chris and Pamela can add a few to this list.  Greg and Katie will probably add a few more when they are in a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Loud shirts for deaf and hard-of-hearing

[Michele]  Today was loud shirt day at Mission Beach State School.  The way this works is kids can wear loud shirts instead of the uniform shirts for this day. If they opt out of wearing their uniform then they should bring a 'gold coin' for donating to services for deaf and hard-of-hearing kids.  Gold coins are $1 and $2 pieces.  Have I mentioned how convenient it is to have coins for these instead of $1 bills?  No dollar bills here and no pennies -- it is brilliant!

But I digress.  Robin was so excited to tell me about the fund raiser and she was very eager to both wear a shirt and more importantly give to this cause that means so much to me and our family.

Well, this evening in a twist of strange coincidence I got my first exposure to Auslan (Australian Sign Language).  I have not met any signers here in far North Queensland, there just aren't that many people here. On television this evening was a special report on the devastating fires in New South Wales.  Many of you in the east coast of America may remember Lydia Callis interpreting though hurricane Sandy.  Well the Rural Fire Service had a press conference on the fires and featured a Auslan Interpreter.

She was fascinating to watch!

She was very succinct in her signs and used facial expressions very well -- just like Lydia Callis.  But for me the fascination was that I could understand a good portion of the signs.. that is up until she spelled something.  Many signs "fire" "defense services" (same as army), "information" etc were exactly the same as American sign language. Some signs like "question" were different but I could figure it out from context and lip reading the interpreter.  But then the interpreter would spell something and this would cause me to just laugh out loud.  Imagine someone speaking a language you know pretty well so you are following along Ok.  Maybe it is a Quebecois variation on the French you learned in school but you are getting most of it.  Then imagine that the speaker periodically breaks into rapid fire Urdu for a moment before returning to the French.  That is what it was like every single time she spelled something.

Auslan uses the British two-handed alphabet and to me it looks like gibberish.  So every time the interpreter spelled something I would exclaim "Look! She is spelling again!".

Look! She is spelling! Bah ha ha!
Auslan is a mish-mash of two languages.  Some of the language is based on British sign language (two-handed alphabet) brought over along to Australia with other quaint things like Parliamentary government and a love of yeast extract.  But many of the signs are from Irish Sign language, brought over by the catholic church and taught in catholic schools within Australia.  It is interesting that Irish sign language, due to its Catholic church roots, is derived from French sign language rather than British Sign Language.  French Sign Language, which has a single handed alphabet, is is also a major root of American Sign language (not for church reasons BTW).  On top of all that, recently, Auslan has also adopted a lot of American Sign Language signs.  So Auslan is a really unique mish mash .. and weird to watch!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Butterflies, Dragonflies and March Flies

[Chris] Today was an amazing day, and Michele was kind enough to allow me to be Guest Blogger for the day!  In the next installment of our amazing trip here to Northern Queensland, Michele planned a trip to a beautiful location west of Tully called the Tully Gorge (don't ask why it's called the Tully Gorge if it's west of Tully, these questions cannot be answered).  Oh, and for regular readers of Cassowary Tales, this will entry will sound a bit familiar.

The Tully Gorge is a National Park that caters to campers, hikers, mountain bikers, fishermen and whitewater rafters (as long as they keep an eye out for the crocs, which are in many areas of the Tully River). Once a day the river becomes much more interesting, thanks to a daily release from the Koombooloomba Dam (built to supply enough water to the Kareeya hydroelectric plant) which makes the Tully River a great place for whitewater rafters.  Michele had previously researched the timing of the release (it happens every day at 1:00 PM) as well as the rafters, so we aimed to get to the river just after the rafters left, but while the water was still flowing.  Our docket consisted of a picnic at a campground a few kilometers from the plant, then a short, natural, butterfly walk, followed by a short ride up to a swimming hole with a nice waterfall.  Sounds pretty awesome right?

We arrived at the campground right around noon and unpacked our food.  There's plenty of accommodations, including a picnic table and barbecue under an awning (helpful when it's hot and sunny).  Within moments we were swarmed by March flies
Evil, EVIL March Fly!  
(very much like horse flies from north America).  This was not part of the plan!  We ate quickly, and headed out to the butterfly walk, which was part of this campground.

For those who like butterflies, this would be a highlight of your trip.  The walk promised Ulysses, Blue Triangle, Cairns Birdwing, and several other varieties of butterflies, but we only saw a Ulysses and a couple of others that we couldn't identify, plus a few impressively blue dragonflies.  Butterfly photographers get mad props from us, they are tough to photograph!

Our walk now over, we were again accosted by March flies.  They are simply no fun, so we left for the swimming spot, only 5 minutes up the road.

Michele picked a great location, a small rafters' camp built into the forest next to the river.  Since she timed things so well, the rafters had left and we had the place to ourselves.  We marched the short path down to the river, where we were (you guessed it!) swarmed by more March flies!  I couldn't resist the beautiful, clear water so I changed and jumped into the water.
Tully River Waterfall
Chris swimming in the Tully River
The rest of the crew didn't want to waste such an amazing location, so they checked the scenery while swatting flies as best they could.  After about 10 minutes, we couldn't take the flies anymore so we left, bound for home.

While we were disappointed by the insect issue, the scenery was stunning and we really enjoyed the trip.  The gorge is (wait for it...) gorgeous and the surrounding flora constantly offers something interesting.  Mountains surround the area and we were never at a loss for something to look at while we were driving.  And as if to reward us, we made a new friend on the ride home.  :)
This rather suave fellow just sauntered across the road in front of us.

Let's say you were stranded on a deserted island

[Michele] What would you bring if you were stranded on a deserted island?   We got to put this question to the test as we packed for a camping trip to Wheeler Island, one of the Family Island group (see arrow on the map).

Because we were seven people and planned on bringing tents, kayaks and lots of assorted gear and food, we ended up splitting into two boats.  Pamela, Lexie, Robin and myself got dropped off by Mission Beach Charters while Gavin, Chris and Will went over in a hired tinnie.  Miles from shore, we had the entire island to ourselves.
Photo of our campsite stolen from Chris Oberg's facebook page

We snorkeled, ate, slept, kayaked, ate, read, swam, read, ate, climbed rocks etc.  For me the highlights were dancing in the moonlight on the beach, kayaking with a sea turtle and seeing a manta ray while we snorkeled.  But probably the best part was hanging out with family and soaking in the fabulous scenery and environment.  We'll remember this experience for a long time!

If I ever get the chance to be stranded on a deserted Island again I know I'm bringing family.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

angry birds, friendly birds, ugly birds and pretty birds

[Michele] A theme of our holiday in Victoria was birds. We saw lots of birds and had a variety of encounters with birds...

Angry Birds: OK here is the deal.  We were driving through the amazingly picturesque Strzeleki ranges and I wanted a picture.  I walked down the road a bit to better frame my hot and a magpie flies up from besides the road and tries to poop on me.  Fortunately, I saw the poop incoming and ducked out of harms way.  Ignoring Gavin laughing at me, I kept going for my picture.  But the bird wasn't done with me yet.  The magpie proceeded to dive bomb me repeatedly. Ughh!

I ran to the car and Gavin contained his laughter enough to drive just a little  bit farther for another attempt at a photo.   I got out and managed to get a few photos till you-know-who found me again!   In this photo you can see the magpie flying right at me.  Yes, I high-tailed it back to the car where Gavin was pretty much having conniption fits of laughter.

Friendly Birds:  Parrots outside our cottage in Don Valley were beautiful and friendly.  We had a blast feeding them each day and went through a hefty amount of birdseed.

Will feeds Lorikeets at the Healesville.  These birds were
in an aviary so it wasn't as cool as feeding the wild parrots.

Ugly Birds: Emus are ugly - it is true.  One of Gavin's earliest memories is being harassed by an emu at Healesville Sanctuary. So of course when we visited we had to make him reenact the scene.
Gavin shows some reluctance to see the emus.
Gavin reenacts the scene by regarding the emu from the
perspective of a a five year old.
At the time of the incident, people wandered
through the paddock so there wouldn't have been a fence.

Gavin has conquered his fear. Meanwhile,
the emu has lost interest and has wandered off.

Pretty Birds:  Without a doubt the  prettiest bird that I've ever seen is the Lyrebird.  Their tail resembles a lyre -- hence the name.  They are also amazing mimickers though we didn't hear them call... well we didn't think that we heard them call.  This picture is from the Healesville Sanctuary but we were lucky enough to see three Lyrebirds in the wild over a couple days.  Very cool!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

more mysterious trail signs

[Michele]  Another trail sign in Victoria.  What does it mean?

answer: Dancing cyclops to the left.

But is it a warning or an invitation to join in?

What has eight legs...

[Gavin] I ran across this eight-legged critter when I was jogging on the beach yesterday:

This morning we saw another eight-legged critter on our way to the market in Mission Beach:
Yes, that's a Golden Orb Weaver spider, of the "spider that catches and eats birds" fame, and yes, it really is about as big as Robin's hand.

I hope my luck at running across eight-legged critters holds-- maybe tomorrow I'll see an octopus!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Boomerang go boom!

throwing the boomerang 
[Michele]  While visiting Healesville Sanctuary we saw a boomerang demonstration and bought one that was made by the demonstrator.   Unlike the painted ones in the gift shop this one was shaped well for flight.   So while our clothes were getting washed in the laudromat, Will went to a park with a big grassy field to try out his boomerang.  He throws really well but his catching is not so good.  There were a couple of wild flights but many of his throws went around very nicely. Maybe there is some connection between his baseball pitching skills and his boomerang throwing skills.

Robin also gave it a go.  Her arm was  not quite so good and a wonky throw went very high.  Will tried to catch it but the boomerang got him in the forehead. uh oh!  Lots of blood.  uh oh!

Let's take a look. About 2 cm long. uh oh!  It is deep.  uh oh! You need stitches kiddo.  uh oh!

We asked a  nearby dog-walker where the medical center was and he was very nice to walk us there. Thank goodness it was just 1 block from the park.   When the receptionist saw the blood, she took Will right to the surgery.

The Russian surgeon and the nurse made various boomerang jokes.  "Good thing it wasn't a tomahawk!  You see, in your country it would be a tomahawk. Ha ha!" said the russian doctor.  I wasn't amused but made a 'hm' noise so he would cease this joke.

The Dr's accent was a bit thick and due some misunderstandings he ended up giving Will some thing like 7 injections of local anesthetic.  So when the actual sewing up started, Will hardly felt a thing.  The cut went all the way to bone so he will have these two stitches and the surgical strips on for 1 week.

The whole process went very smoothly.  We've scaled down some of our plans for the last few days of our holiday. Only short walks in the woods yesterday and no swimming in the hotel pool tonight.

So now Will gets a scar with a pretty cool story whether he choose to say that the scar was from Voldemort or from a boomerang.

I'm also thinking that when they teach you how to throw a boomerang, they should also teach you how to catch it!

[Will] Nana, if you are reading this. I'm feeling fine.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bunyip mischief

Between Fish Creek (red star at bottom) to Don Valley
(red star at top) is Bunyip State Park with Lawson Creek
falls (blue star)
[Michele] On Sunday we travelled from Fish Creek to Don Valley, Victoria.  Between these two towns is a park called Bunyip State Park which is reported to have a nice waterfall at Lawson's creek.  What a nice way to break up a 2.5 hour drive. We decided to head for Bunyip Park.

What is a Bunyip?  A bunyip is a mythical creature from Aboriginal mythology, said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks, riverbeds and waterholes (wikipedia).  This creature is reported to be an imposter who causes mischief.  In the location of Bunyip State Park, aboriginals told of many bunyip activities and warned that making ripples in the waters attracted the bunyips.

Bunyip State forest was logged until 1990 and the park is criss-crossed with a network of logging roads. Lawson creek waterfall is in the eastern end of the park far from the main park headquarters. Not a problem - our plan was to take the gravel road through the park and to the other side where we would meet the sealed roads to Don Valley.  Well this is a case of a little knowledge being dangerous.  We had a map of the park roads but not of the roads north of the park.  More on that later.

We drove along a gravel road to the trailhead. This was by far the least developed track we've walked in Australia. The first pictures shows the official viewing area for Lawson's Creek falls. The falls themselves were nice and we enjoyed the walk and visit.

Official viewing area for Lawson's Creek waterfall
Will in front of Lawson's Creek waterfall

Because I was wearing sandals that weren't ideal for scrambling on steep muddy slopes, I stayed at the official viewing area.  Well it turns out that this was not a wise thing. Moving around or maybe moving away from the damp area near the creek would have prevented the leeches from finding me. Australia is the only place that has land leeches, as opposed to water leeches.  They sit in damp soil and sense vibrations and heat to find red blooded creatures to suck.  The first one I noticed was crawling on my hand.  "Hmm, weird black inch worm" I thought.  Then a few minutes later another one was on my hand.  After some thought, I realized that those wierd black inchworms might have been leeches and checked inside my socks. Sure enough I found a third one there!  OK, at this point I had full on leech heebie-jeebies.  I didn't find any more and none of them got any of my blood.  *whew* Another tick mark on my creepy Australian animal encounter check list!

We continued up the road and reached a part of the forest that was very hot in the fire so that none of the trees survived.  It was a eerily beautiful sight.  Farther on, we finally exited the north end of the park where we thought we would reach a sealed road.  Instead, we saw more gravel road which was blocked by sign that there was a major landslip.  We had to go back the way that we came.. driving back through the large log that was in an earlier blog post and out the southern end of the park.
In the end, what should have been a 2.5 hour drive ended up taking 4.5 hours.  For this and the leeches, I blame the bunyips!

Penguin Parade!

[Robin and Will] On Saturday we went to the penguin parade on Philip Island.

[Will] I expected to see penguins come out to the water to the house. We would watch this and then leave.

[Robin] I expected to see a big wave of penguins come out of the water and up to the beach and... that's it. We would go home after that.

We had two choices for penguin viewing, jut sitting in the grandstand with the crowd or go on a ranger-guided tour.We decided on the ranger guided tour and it was well worth the expense.

Note: sign says no photography beyond this point so everyone
is taking pictures of the rainbows.
Once we got to the penguin parade place, we had to join up with our group.  About 8 people and the ranger in our group. The ranger taught us about penguins and she gave out seats and binoculars and headset to listen to her talk.

[Will] I felt kind of silly walking around with the headset and all this stuff around my neck.

[Robin] I felt kind of cool and special.

[Michele] The listening system didn't work with my hearing aids, which was frustrating. They should get t-coil loops!  I was able to use the system without my hearing aids and along with lip reading and I learned a lot.

When we were about to go down to the beach a double rainbow appeared.  A good sign of things to come.

[Robin] The penguins that we saw are the Little Penguins. The name kind of explains it all. They are the littlest type of penguin in the world and they are only about a foot tall. Victoria is one of the few places in the world that you can see penguins.

[Michele]  Can you see penguins any time of the day?

[R&W] Penguins are best to be seen at dawn and dusk because at dawn they go out of the water and then at dusk they come back to their homes.  They spend most of their time in the water eating. Coming in and out of the water, they have to cross the beach when it is dark because otherwise birds and foxes will eat them.

[Robin] Not many of the penguins came out of the water right in front of us, they were usually a ways down the beach. That is where the binoculars came in handy.

[Michele] What was the cutest thing you saw the penguins do?

picture stolen from the internet since no
photography is allowed
[Will] there was one penguin that go lost and it wandered in front of the grandstand.  It walked right in front of my feet.  Because we were on the ranger-guided tour, we got to sit in the very front

[Robin] The cutest thing that I saw was when we left the grandstand and saw the penguins coming to their homes.  There was one little penguin that was a couple feet in front of us (with a fence between us and the penguins) and it was gathering grass for its nest.  It would grab the grass with its beak and pull and pull and pull until the grass snapped off and take it back to his nest.  That was a male penguin decorating its nest impress the ladies.

[Will] It is breeding season so many females are pregnant.   Some of them walk towards the beach eating shells for the calcium to grow the baby penguins.  This is weird  because most of the penguins are walking away from the beach towards their homes and so when you see a penguin going the wrong way, you might think they are confused but they are just looking for shells.

[Will] Another way that we felt special was that about three times every ten years one of the penguin 'highways' (paths that the penguins take home) floods and becomes a stream.  It was flowing during our visit so we got to watch some penguins swim to their homes instead of walking.

[Robin] Another cool thing about the penguin parade is that it is on the very spot where G'ma Lorna and Uncle Larry spent summer holidays.  They watched the penguin parade too but there wasn't a grandstand back then.  They stayed at their auntie Lorna's house, which was where the gift shop is now, and they scrambled down the cliffs, exploring the penguin burrows and watching them come in from the sea.

The last cool thing is when we were going back to the car, we saw a lost little penguin wandering around in the car park.  Penguins make their homes in the same spot that they were born so when the car park expanded, it took over some former burrows. Some penguins keep trying to go back 'home'. They had to get a ranger to come and chase it to the park.

[Michele] So did the penguin parade exceed your expectations?

[Will] Yes, definitely! I would recommend that everyone have the ranger guided tour, you learn a lot and you get to see more penguins.

[Michele] We enjoyed the experience so much that we were among the very last people to leave the park.

Wilson's Promontory in Gale force winds

[Michele] Our first destination outside of Melbourne was Fish Creek, a small town in southern Grippsland and 1 hour from Wilson's Promontory (the prom).  We stayed in a solar powered house where all the water is collected from the roof and heated by solar power.  The house however is only heated by firewood and a couple of electric space heaters.  On the second night temperatures got down to 9˚ (48˚ F), which doesn't seem that bad but without heating and with single pane windows, the outdoor temp was basically the same as the indoor temp.  We made the best of it and wore a lot of layers during our stay at the beautiful place.

Despite rainy and windy weather we set off to enjoy Wilson's Prom.  Folks were a little cranky about setting out so I decided not to tell the rest of the family that there was a gale force wind advisory for the Prom.  They'd figure that out soon enough once we got there.

First stop was squeaky beach where we frolicked in the wind.  The brochure says that the beach squeaks when you step because the sand is all the same size. Hmm....  [nerdy section alert] I've been working with Betsy Madden and Justin Herbert on the generation of seismic/acoustic energy upon sliding and this explanation doesn't provide the whole story.  It must be cohesive strength that is lost when you step that provides the acoustic energy.  The small grain size of the sand may provide the high cohesive strength needed to generate significant squeak.  Too bad it was a national park and I couldn't take samples.  Then again, with my hearing loss I'm really not the person to study the variation of squeak in
Robin and Will's jackets look
a bit like flames
sand.  [end of nerdy section]

It was so windy that the only birds we saw (Cockatoos, Scarlet Rosella and Gallahs) were sitting on the ground. After a hot lunch at the park's cafe Will, Robin and I went for a walk in woods that are recovering from a fire in 2009.  The forest contains tall trees that survived the fire with green leaves in the canopy and blackened trunks scarred by the fire.  The tree ferns and bushes on the forest floor are growing back vigorously.

The views were fantastic and we were sorry that Gavin felt too sick to join us on the walk.
Robin attempts flight

Good things in Victoria

[Michele] After a few days in Melbourne we are now exploring rural Victoria.  This Spring holiday is a great chance for us to enjoy things not readily available in far north Queensland.  

Vistas of green rolling hills that look straight out of Lord of the Rings.

Some of my favorite beverages.  Lorna contends (and I agree) that Passiona has a much more authentic passion fruit flavor than the Pasita soft drink that is more readily available in far north Queensland.  Carlton Draught has been a favorite of mine since I saw their epic 'Big Ad' advertisement back in 2005.  The beer itself is also quite tasty.

We are also enjoying the cool weather.  We've been wearing jumpers since the first two days.  Since Victoria juts out into the Southern Ocean, like Tasmania and New Zealand, it gets slammed by high winds and cool temperatures.  The winds have brought down a lot of trees and branches.
As long as there is room enough for a car, she'll be right.