Category Archives: History

Trip 4:August 6, Part 2

Walked all over downtown, through areas partially familiar, with new buildings or new names on old buildings, but much still recognizable. Each time I return, more has changed. Definitely bigger, but still vibrant. I found a post office and mailed off cards to friends back home—sending them early in the trip, to make sure the cards arrive before I get back home. Rain picked up, and while I had an umbrella (thanks to Brian), I figured this might be a good time for lunch: lamb kebab in a bustling food court. Then off again.

Next stop was the Powerhouse Museum. Like the city, this has grown immensely since I first visited it, on my first trip to Australia. It has absorbed or linked with other collections and museums I saw on previous trips, and now has a number of outlying locations, but I was set to explore the Ultimo location, the main campus of this sprawling Museum of Applies Arts and Sciences. It’s called the Powerhouse museum because this building once housed the electric dynamos that powered the city’s electric tram system.

Spent several happy hours at the museum. Fun and fascinating exhibits on computers, robots, the senses, history of experiments, cooperage, cars, medicine, domestic skills, porcelain, and the astonishing Strasburg astronomical clock. That’s barely a hint at what I saw, but here’s a video I found that shows a bit more.

On my way back to the train station, where I was meeting Brian, I stopped to pick up a comic book for a friend back home and some flowers for Mardi. Then Brian and I headed back to the suburbs, where Mardi awaited us. A bit of conversation and the evening news, and then we headed out to their favorite curry restaurant. Jolly evening.


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Trip 4:August 6, Part 1

Up early again and into town with Brian. The day was a bit gray and threatening rain, so I left my camera at the house. A repeat of yesterday’s train ride brought me again to the Wynyard station, from which I set off on foot. I made my way up George Street, turning in at The Strand, a favorite from previous trips. Built in 1891, this splendid Victorian arcade is home to high-end clothiers, impressive jewelry stores, fun gift shops, and charming coffee shops. To clarify, this is an arcade not in the American sense of a place with games to play but rather in the British sense of a narrow “side street” that takes advantage of the space between larger buildings and offers opportunities to smaller businesses. It’s elegant and bustling, and because arcades have roofs, one can window shop on damp days and stay dry.

Then onward to Market Street and the State Theatre. Didn’t have plans to see anything, but based on its reputation, I wanted to at least take a peek at this opulent venue. Timing wasn’t good for a tour, so I just admired the foyer and then continued on.

Next stop was the QVB—local shorthand for Queen Victoria Building. With that name, one could reasonably guess Victorian era, and one would be right. A full block long, the magnificent building offers not only lovely shops, but also with stained glass and grand staircases. The clocks are mechanical wonders—chimes and “action figures” portraying events in English history. I was fortunate to be standing right next to one of the clocks at 10:00, when it struck the hour, and so enjoyed the “show.” Most of the shops I passed were upscale, and on the upper level, most focused on Australian goods. There were also exhibits, from ones on Queen Victoria to ones on Chinese culture. But the building itself was the chief delight, with wood trim, high domes, carpeted floors, with a piano playing in the background. Just lovely.

On the lower level, it was a bit less posh, but offered a lot of little places to eat. I grabbed some chicken satay and a cappuccino for breakfast. And then I was off again.

But before I share the afternoon’s adventures, here’s a video to give you a bit more info and insight on the QVB. I think it does a pretty good job of capturing the experience.  

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Trip 4:August 5, Part 2

Leaving the Observatory museum, I headed down the hill and through the Argyle Cut to the Rocks. There, I did a bit of wandering. The Argyle Stores are much more posh and upscale than when I was there before (and, to me, seemed less fun). But a bit farther along, I found plenty of more fun, less posh shops. Hmmm. I may have to buy another t-shirt. But as I shopped, I suddenly became acutely aware of hunger. Time to look for lunch.

I turned in at the charming, old (1844) Orient Hotel. The grill was advertising a special of Australian beef, which sounded like a great option. I entered a bright, spacious room of tall windows, white table clothes, crystal, silver, and great service. A pianist was playing. Perfect. The menu offered many appealing dishes that utilized Australian ingredients: king prawns with macadamia nuts, wild barramundi with quenelles of bush tomatoes, and red curry of Balmain bugs. Wow. However, after a bit of an internal debate, I went with my first choice—the beef. Good choice. A lovely steak arrived piled high with sautéed onions, with tomatoes, zucchini, and au gratin potatoes. Lovely. And a final nice touch was the chocolate that came with my coffee

Then I was off again, hiking through the Rocks, around Circular Quay, to the Opera House, and then up into the Botanic Gardens. The birds were abundant today, and they always delight me. The gardens are extensive and glorious, and so consumed a fair bit of time. Noteworthy (other than the general beauty) was the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates. This 148-year monument is a copy of one built in Athens in 334 b.c., and the splendid Greek confection looked quite comfortable surrounded by palm trees. Another delight was coming across a “bird man” feeding his large fan club—dozens of white cockatoos, Australian mynahs, and ibises, plus, of course, pigeons and sea gulls.

About 5:00, I started to make my way across town (it has gotten more built up and more crowded) to Chinatown (which has expanded considerably), to meet Brian by 6:00 p.m. We strolled around looking for a likely spot, finally settling on a Chinese restaurant Brian had heard about. Kung pao lamb and stir-fried prawns with garlic sauce were a good choice.

Chinatown was selected both for the reliably good food and for its proximity to the Central Station, so it was only a short walk to where we could catch the train back out to the suburbs. One final fun adventure (or at least the sort of thing I always enjoy): we headed for Wooly’s for grocery shopping. (Wooly’s is short for Woolworth’s, which in Australia is a grocery store chain unrelated to F. W. Woolworth in the U.S.). I always enjoy a good grocery store, and here, the fun was in both seeing things I remembered from previous trips and checking out the unfamiliar. Couldn’t help but notice that the lamb section was much larger than it would be in any mainline grocery store I know back home.

Then back to the house and to the waiting Mardi. Tea and conversation filled the rest of the evening. Lovely day.

And because it’s always fun to learn a bit more about a specific location, here’s a video of the Orient Hotel, where I enjoyed lunch and a bit of history today.

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The Observatory

Just to help you imagine the visit described in the previous post, here is a short video that shows the observatory, a few of the displays, and the ball that was dropped to tell the time. Enjoy.

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Trip 4:August 5, Part 1

Cool, dazzling morning. I was up at 7 and off to see Sydney. Had a cup of tea and toast with Vegemite, and then Brian and I headed for the train station. The magpies were caroling and gum trees lined the streets. Glorious. I am wildly happy to be back.

Pleasant train ride into the city, through rambling suburbs and over the Parramatta River. Disembarked at the Wynyard Station. Even the shops in the underground station made it clear that I’m “somewhere else,” and I was nearly giddy with delight. Did I not believe I’d be able to return?

I emerged from the station to the bustling streets of downtown Sydney. Heading over to George Street, I turned toward the harbor, walking down to Circular Quay and along the shore, through the Rocks, up under the Harbour Bridge, past Dawes Point, and into to the Miller’s Point area. This stroll took me through an area that is impossibly rich in Australian history—and it was a piece of that early history that drew me on.

Australia’s history is rather anchored in stargazing. The coast was first mapped by Captain Cook on a trip that had sent him to the South Seas to observe the transit of Venus. During the 1700s and 1800s, both navigation and scientific curiosity were turning eyes skyward. Australia’s first observatory was built almost immediately after the arrival of the First Fleet by Lieutenant William Dawes on the point of land that is now known as Dawes Point. A larger and more formal observatory was built in 1858—the Sydney Observatory —and it was here that I was headed.

The observatory itself is quite wonderful—a heritage building on a historic site—and the museum it contains is delightful. I browsed through the often beautiful antique orreries, clocks, models of the solar system, telescopes, and other devices used in the 1800s for studying the motion of planets. I enjoyed the displays and videos that offered detailed insights into not only how the tools helped with research but also how observations fit into everyday life.

I learned about Australian astronomer and meteorologist Henry Chamberlain Russell. He began working at the observatory when it first opened in 1858, as a calculator, back when humans did the work machines do now. By 1862, he was the working director, and in 1870, he was appointed the official government astronomer. He took some of the first photographs of the southern skies—and the images were outstanding.

Russell increased the number of meteorological stations and worked on making measurements of time more precise. These were astonishingly important things for a world bounded by water. I learned that a brass ball on top of the observatory was dropped every day at exactly 1:00 p.m., so that all the ships in the harbor could set their chronometers accurately. The observatory’s telescope (among other things) made it possible to calculate time more accurately.

On display was the Earnshaw 520 Chronomoter, made by British watchmaker Thomas Earnshaw. This was one of five chronometers used on the voyage of explorer Matthew Flinders—and is the only one still working at the end of the three-year voyage (1801–1803) that first circumnavigated Australia. Also on display was a book on longitude, published in 1808, in which Earnshaw related to the public his contributions to the development of chronometers, particularly making them more cost effective and therefore more widely available. It reminded me that things we not take for granted were once new and rare.

So much more to see and learn, but those (and a display on the transit of Venus, important to both Cook and Russell) were among the most significant early histories of the place. The rest needs to be seen.

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A Treat from 1930s Australia

As a food historian, I always enjoy learning about old recipes. I’ve tasted and tested recipes from a wide range of nations and time periods. Today, I saw a video of a recipe from Australia’s past, and while I haven’t tested this one myself, as is often true of people who cook a lot, I can “taste” it based on what I know of the ingredients. So I’ll add it to my “try soon” folder—but today, as it is from 1930s Australia, I thought I’d share it here. This is a channel created by a Canadian gentleman (which the pronunciation of words such as “about” will make clear) who specializes in dishes from old cookbooks. He also shares a bit of background on the dishes and how foods evolve, which is also fun.

A perfect little something for an afternoon tea. Enjoy.

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Trip 3:Saturday, September 16, Part 1

It’s the last full day of this trip! How, when I have waited so long for this, could it end so quickly? I realize that no one back home will sympathize in the least that I had “only” a month away, but it certainly seemed like “only” as I arose this morning. That said, I am immensely grateful that I had the opportunity to return. Australia has become such a large part of my life, I have to believe this won’t be the last trip—but if it is, it has been a remarkable one.

After breakfast, Geoff and I headed down to the far paddock so I could photograph the pair of maned geese and their eight “littlies,” as Geoff calls their offspring. Then it was back up to the house to prepare for another day of delightful exploring. Judy packed the picnic hamper into the Land Rover, and Geoff readied the “hardware” for the al fresco meal we would have later.

We wound along the lovely, tree-shaded mountain roads that now seem so familiar, out through Yarra Glen, and to the wonderful historic Gulf Station. I love history and really enjoy historic venues where one can “visit” another time. This station was built in the early 1800s, and we learned that it is one of the only historic stations in Australia where all the original out-buildings are intact.

To recreate what it would have been like at the time, not only are the buildings kept as they were, but the plants (fruits, vegetables, flowers) and animals are all appropriate to the time period. Judy pointed out the lovely, pale pink, rose-like flowers growing at the front gate and told me they were heirloom quince. That explained the flowers, as quince is in the Rose family. Really beautiful, and you get fruit, too. Among the heritage animals there were bronze-winged turkeys, Berkshire pigs, Ayreshire cows, and Clydesdale horses.

I found this short video that looks at this delightful historic venue. It’s very short, but it gives you a feel for how beautiful this historic place is – so definitely my cup of tea. 

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September 14, Part 2

Leaving the park, we headed for the center of town. Beechworth, the one-time center of a booming gold rush, is really beautiful, and its historic places and feeling have been wonderfully preserved. Even here, birds were abundant, and I was delighted to see king parrots and rosellas in the trees.

Judy and Geoff recommended the tour of the old town, and so we set off with a very knowledgeable guide. The previously mentioned Ned Kelly was a big part of this town’s history, as the abundant gold made it a desirable target for a bank robber. Among the Kelly-related destinations here, we saw the jail cell in which he was eventually confined, located beneath the Shire Hall, and we also visited the Court House where Kelly was tried.

The guide shared that, while Kelly was charismatic and was often able to charm people in the towns he robbed, he was most definitely not the Robin Hood figure some held him to be. In fact, he robbed from both the rich and the poor, and then kept it. He was also a cold-blooded murderer. So, while he had some fans, he was no hero.

We walked through the historic district, viewing buildings that were important during the heyday of the local gold rush, which took off in 1852. We learned that the streams around Beechworth yielded four million ounces of gold in the first ten years. Impressive.

Then we parted company with our guide and did a bit of shopping—primarily for rocks. The rugged hills around Beechworth hold more than gold and the quartz that held it. Also found here are jasper, citrine, amethyst, rock crystal, agate, turquoise, chalcedony, tourmaline, cairngorms, garnets, and various conglomerates. The garnets take the form of marble-sized crystals that are held in the granite of the nearby hills. Just wonderful. I love rocks and minerals and was delighted by everything, but my only purchase was a handful of rough garnets. But I was very pleased with those.

Next stop was the Burke Museum, named for the famed but ill-fated explorer. This is an excellent regional museum that covers history from Aboriginal pre-history up through the gold rush, also covering, of course, Ned Kelly and his gang. The brochure said they had 30,000 items, which gives some idea of the level of detail on offer. Next, to the historic brewery, which now creates only soft drinks, including sarsaparilla and ginger beer. Then past the Power Magazine, en route to the award-winning Beechworth Bakery (said to have the best pies and bread in the state of Victoria), where we stopped for cake and coffee.

The surrounding countryside was inviting, but there was already too much to do, just seeing historic sites and shops. Geoff did a good job of selecting a scenic route that showed some of it, but by 6:00pm, the sun was low on the horizon, soon to set, so it was time to get on the road for the long drive back home. Being in the country, the stars were brilliantly visible for most of the drive, but then we were near Melbourne. And as we climbed back into the Dandenongs, clouds again obscured our view. But what a splendid day. Really feeling blessed to have such friends.

Just in case you decide to visit, here is the town’s tourism page, with info on hotels and restaurants, as well as, of course, the historic sites.

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Trip 3: Thursday, September 14, Part 1

We were up early to get down from the mountains and through the city before traffic started to build. We were headed for Beechworth, a historic town roughly 177 miles northeast of Melbourne. It was cloudy as we left, with a threat of light rain, but the forecast for our destination was more promising. As always, the birds were up early, as well, and walking to the car, we saw corellas, magpies, black ducks, and wattlebirds.

The light rain that began made the greenery of the Dandenong Mountains even more beautiful than they were already. Even Melbourne looked lush and green as we passed through and out through hills and valleys and into the surrounding countryside. The entire drive was splendid, with green fields, wild flowers (especially heaths and acacias), and paddocks with grazing horses, sheep with lambs, cows with calves. Surprising number of Sulphur-crested cockatoos—and I never get tired of seeing them. We passed through Yea and headed into more mountains. The eucalypts began to change (with so many hundreds of varieties, each area tends to have its own).

Short stop in Seymour. Needed a break to stretch our legs and refresh our driver (Geoff). Then onward, now on the Hume Freeway. After Euroa, the land flattened out and the sky began to clear. We entered “Ned Kelly Country.” Kelly was a notorious but charismatic bushranger/outlaw in the late 1800s, and this was the center of his area of operation. We passed Glenrowan, where Kelly and his gang made their last stand. Kelly survived the shootout because of his homemade suit of armor. He lumbered out of the house where the gang was staying, with only a remarkable helmet visible, as a long coat covered the body armor. The police were surprised by bullets bouncing off the coat, but they quickly figured out that the armor didn’t cover his legs, so they just wounded him enough that he couldn’t run. He was arrested and thrown in jail in Beechworth before being taken to Melbourne to stand trial.

Mountains rose up off to our right, misty and blue, at the far side of the green plains. Weather was lovely by this point. Passed Wangaratta. I was delighted by the large number of corellas and magpies. Exited on the Ovens Highway and continued east, finally pulling in at a park just outside the city of Beechworth. After four hours of driving, we were delighted to walk around and stretch our legs. Judy had packed a lovely lunch, and we enjoyed a picnic at the park before continuing on into town. But I’ll tell you about that in the next post.

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Trip 3:Sunday, September 10

Leisurely morning–not up until 8:00. Because it was my last meal in their home, at least for this trip, Nikki and Richard created a really splendid breakfast and served it out on the terrace, so we could take advantage of the lovely weather. Then it was time to pack. Richard loaded my bag in the car, and we were off to Adelaide. Richard and Nikki had a few things they wanted to do in town, but Richard also had a couple of things he wanted me to experienced, things I had missed on previous visits to Adelaide. I happily left the day’s plans to him.

We did a bit of shopping along the pedestrian mall section of Rundle Street, where cafés and eateries appear to outnumber boutiques. No one really wanted to rush around, so after Nikki bought a few things she needed, we just ordered tea, settled at an empty table, just talked for a while. After having their carefully made plans go so terribly wrong, Nikki and Richard had been fairly stressed, but today, they were unwinding at last. Also, with Richard no longer in his outback guide role, he could relax. The conversation was both stimulating and light-hearted–and it would make it that much harder to leave.

Artwork on Rundle Street

But Richard still had those two things he wanted me to experience, and it was several hours before we had to be at the airport. First stop was the Adelaide O-Bahn, a “guided busway.” Buses pull onto the O-Bahn, and then, like a train, they are guided by the tracks. This takes buses out of city traffic, as cars can’t go on the tracks. No stop lights or competing traffic. No holding up cars when the bus stops. Nifty.

On the O-Bahn

We took a bus for the 12-kilometer/7.5-mile ride up the Torrens Gorge. Transit was smooth, swift, and safe, and the surroundings were beautifully landscaped. The bus simply pulls off when it reaches one of the stops along the route, and then pulls back on. Really brilliant concept. However, since our purpose was just using the O-Bahn, we didn’t disembark; we simply returned to our starting point.

For lunch, we enjoyed Indian food and more excellent conversation. Then we headed over to Victoria Square. I had seen the Glenelg Tram on my first visit, but just witnessed it stopping here at the square. This time, we would ride it. The tram is a classic electric tram—the last one in Adelaide. The interior is old fashioned and handsome, with abundant brass and wood and leather trim.

Glenelg Tram

The tram runs the 15 kilometers/9.3 miles from Adelaide city center to the Victorian-era, beachside town of Glenelg. The tram carried us through a trendy part of town into old suburbs, then to vintage rural areas to the seaside in a few minutes. But no time to linger in Glenelg. We had to return to Adelaide, get the car, and head for the airport.

As we drove out of the city, I wondered why I felt so much less like I was in Australia here than I did out bush. I love Australian cities, and Adelaide is a delightful place. But it’s the wild places that cling to my heart. Maybe it’s because cities are so much a part of “real life” that they don’t offer me the sense of escape that the outback does. I do realize I couldn’t live in the wilderness, but I do love the rugged beauty–and being truly “unplugged.” That said, I was quite happy with the things we’d done today.

Nikki and Richard came into the airport with me, and I bought coffee and tea, and we sat and chatted until it was time for me to head out to the boarding area. I left them hoping I’d see them again, and maybe even have new adventures. I feel blessed to have such friends.

The flight was bumpy but otherwise uneventful. It was raining as we landed in Melbourne. Judy and Geoff were waiting for me at the airport. They look great; semi-retirement clearly suits them.

They had gotten a new Land Rover since my last visit, though they assured me the one I knew was still at the house, reserved for hauling supplies for the horses and garden. We wound through Melbourne’s suburbs and out and up into the Dandenong Mountains, arriving at their lovely mountainside ranch at roughly 10:30 p.m.

The three of us enjoyed a cup of tea and talked about what we’ll do this week. Then I headed off to their delightful guestroom with its regally high brass bed. It’s good to be here again.

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