Monthly Archives: August 2010

Wildlife Reserve

I’ve been to some pretty wild and remote areas of Australia—even wilder and more remote on trips back than on that first trip. I’ve seen just about all of Australia’s famous and fascinating wildlife out where it lives. However, my love of these creatures is such that my delight is hardly diminished by seeing them in wildlife reserves. Of course, these reserves have the tremendous benefit of having experts on hand who can tell you all about the animals, so one gains a great deal by visiting them. (And that’s without even talking about how many reserves are rescuing endangered animals.)

Within two days of arriving in Sydney, I was at a wildlife reserve in Kuring-Gai Chase National Park. This park is both mountainous and heavily forested, and is a glorious setting for viewing critters. (And it is worth noting that this wilderness area is within a couple of hours drive from downtown Sydney—and the relatively close proximity of urban benefits to wilderness escapes is one of the chiefest charms for me of Australian cities.)

The wildlife reserve had all the animals one hopes to see: cockatoos, emus, wallabies, wombats, koalas, kangaroos, and lots more. Below are images from that day of an emu mom with an already impressively large chick, a sulphur-crested cockatoo (I am endlessly astonished by the pristine beauty of the feathers of this bird), and the sad little ‘roo that I compared to Eeyore.

Emu with chick

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo



Filed under Australia, Book, Geography, Nature, Travel

Full Circle

Just a few days shy of the four-month anniversary of my arrival in Australia, I would complete the circle. In August, I had viewed Sydney Harbour, the Harbour Bridge, and the Opera House as I flew over. Now I would see them again, this time from the ground. It was not a truly significant event, but I was still quite tickled at the thought.

Of these sites, the first that would come into view was the Harbour Bridge. It was surprisingly imposing. It’s one of the largest single-span bridges in the world, and it made an impressive backdrop to Sydney’s historic district, The Rocks, as I approached along Macquarie Street.

The photo below is from a different day and a different perspective than that first approach, but I like it, because I think it gives a hint of the size of the bridge. It is not too hard to see how it got it’s nickname: the Coat Hanger.

Sydney's Harbour Bridge

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Filed under Australia, Book, Travel

Into Sydney

While in Canberra, I had gotten a lot of sleep and largely recovered from the exhaustion, injuries, and illness that had put something of a damper on my time in the capital city. I’m certain that sleeping in a bed (after five weeks in a sleeping bag) helped, too.

The lovely drive up the coast of New South Wales gladdened my heart, and I greeted Sydney with considerable enthusiasm. I checked into the tremendously cheap hotel/hostel I’d found (thanks to a recommendation from the NSW Tourist Office in Adelaide), and set about exploring my surroundings. I was in a very multi-cultural part of town, just a couple blocks from Chinatown. It was a vibrant area, with myriad shops and ethnic eateries. It was also convenient to the train station and bus stop. So it appeared to be an ideal spot from which to explore the city.

Sydney's Chinatown


Filed under Australia, Book, Travel

Observations Before Moving On

Before the narrative moves from Canberra to New South Wales, I thought I would once again pause to make a few observations on blog statistics. It has been about two years since I last did this, but one thing remains the same: eucalypts are still the top hit, by a mile. Other trees, such as banyan and screw palm, are also popular. Overall, flora leads fauna, but water buffalo seems to be second only to eucalypts. I would have thought Tasmanian devils would have done better. Among other topics, the Australian Impressionist painters, Joseph Banks, the Gold Rush, and Mark Twain in Melbourne are the leaders. After that, hits seem to be fairly evenly spread across the hundreds of other posts.

While the site has visitors from all over the world, most hits come from Australia. I had intended that my book and this site would introduce the world, especially the United States, to Australia, but I realize in retrospect that not a lot of people outside of Australia would, in fact, ever be searching for Charles Sturt, banksia flowers, or Arthur Streeton.

I have been delighted to discover that there are schools and universities that link to this site, which gladdens my heart. I always like to think I am helping readers understand how wonderful the world is. Even when hits to the site don’t come from a school link, I can usually tell when there has been a homework assignment on a topic I cover, as there will suddenly be 25 queries on “When was X introduced into Australia?”. Good fun.

It will be interesting to see what the next two years bring. I’m hoping more connections to people—and maybe more adventures to share.


Filed under Australia, History, Nature, Travel

Anthony Bourdain Challenge

I love writing about food just as much as I love writing about travel and Australia. So when I read that there was a contest being run by Tony Bourdain to write about why we should cook well, I couldn’t resist. Of course, the real purpose of the contest is to get people to flock to the publisher’s website, but my reason to join is that it would be nice to have Tony put in a good word for me somewhere, if he did like my writing.

So how do you win? How do you win any contest these days? You get people to vote. This is kind of American Idol for food writers—except without the recording contract or any real degree of fame. That said, I’d still love to have you vote for me. Here’s the link to my essay: The Thread of Life.

Thanks for any and all votes.

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Filed under Food, Writing

New Page

Thought I’d point out the new page I just created: Requests. I get a lot of requests from readers, book clubs, book stores, and libraries, so I thought it would be good to have a page where people can post requests. Not earth-shattering news, but I’m hoping the page is helpful.

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Filed under Australia, Book, Travel

Vietnamese Food in Canberra

One of the joys of just about every city I visited in Australia was the easy availability of a tremendous range of ethnic food, especially Asian. It was not just in restaurants, but in shopping mall food courts and even street corner food carts. I’d grown up in a family that had broad experience with ethnic foods, and I had seriously pursued various cuisines myself since childhood. However, thanks to its proximity to Asia, Australia offered an abundance of foods I had either not encountered previously or didn’t find so readily available back home. In Canberra, the populations represented by the many embassies made the variety of ethnic offerings even more abundant than I had seen it elsewhere in Australia.

Vietnamese food was among those cuisines not experienced prior to that first trip to Australia. Since that trip, a growing Vietnamese community in Chicago has made both restaurants and ingredients available, and I have even had the delightful opportunity to experience Vietnamese food in Vietnam. However, my very first Vietnamese meal was on that first trip to Australia, and it was in Canberra. It was a cuisine that I liked immediately, and I have pursued it since then, both prepared by others and in my own kitchen. While the recipe below does not reflect that first experience in Canberra, it is a dish I now prepare regularly at home. Vietnamese food is bright and flavorful.

Warm Beef and Watercress Salad
3/4 lb. beef tenderloin, sirloin steak, or filet mignon
1 Tbs. green peppercorns, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 stems lemon grass (white part only), very finely sliced
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 tsp. ground black pepper
8 oz. watercress (about 1-1/2 average bunches)
4 oz. cherry tomatoes
4 scallions, sliced
2 Tbs. lime juice

Cut the steak into thin slices. Combine the green peppercorns, garlic, lemon grass (or rind), 2 tablespoons oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add the beef and mix well. Cover and allow to marinate, refrigerated, for 30 minutes.

Wash and drain the watercress. Remove sprigs from the tough stems, breaking up any sprigs that are large. Arrange the watercress on a serving platter. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and place the halves around the edge of the watercress.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or frying pan until very hot. Add the beef and marinade mixture, and stir-fry quickly, until beef is just cooked. Add the scallions to the pan, mixing them in with the beef. Pile the cooked beef in the center of the watercress and sprinkle the lime juice over the top. Serve immediately. Serves 2–3.

Note: Green peppercorns, which are simply unripe peppercorns, come one of two ways: in brine or freeze dried. Either is acceptable for this recipe. If you use freeze dried green peppercorns, simply add 1 tablespoon of dried peppercorns to a couple tablespoons of hot water, and let them sit for 5–10 minutes. Then drain, chop, and add to recipe as needed. The ones in brine need no preparation—just drain and chop.

If lemon grass is not readily available, you can substitute 1 slightly rounded teaspoon of finely grated lemon rind.

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Filed under Australia, Book, Food, Recipes, Travel