Certainly all Australians and probably many who are simply interested in Australia will have heard of the horrific problems created by the introduction of rabbits. With no predators to keep populations under control, rabbits became a genuine plague in Australia, destroying crops and native plants and out-competing indigenous wildlife. So, a few decades ago, an Aussie chocolatier decidesd it was time to step away from chocolate bunnies at Easter and honor a local animal that had suffered because of the rabbit invasion — the bilby. So now, if you’re Down Under for Easter, you can search out a confection that is not just a sweet treat but that also helps preserve indigenous fauna.
Here’s a video to show a bit more of that history — and so you know what a bilby looks like, if you get a chance to find one, either real or confectionary.
Shark attacks are part of the reality of enjoying the lure of the ocean. In Australia, as in the U.S., this is more common on the West Coast. A fair number of approaches have been tried to keep swimmers safe. On my first trip to Australia, I swam in a shark cage near Port Hedland, which did the trick but was fairly confining. Efforts to achieve safety have continued. After additional decades of effort, a new option was developed and tested in Western Australia (WA). The good news is, the Eco Shark Barrier works well and the company that invented it is now the world’s leading purveyor of systems that keep both swimmers and marine life safe. Check out the interlocking shark wall in this video.
In my book, Waltzing Australia, I include a fairly lengthy glossary of terms used in Australia. I also at one point discuss the Aussie tendency to make things charmingly diminutive (such as the saltwater crocodile becoming a saltie), which is covered in this video, but I also relate terms that came to Australia from South Africa, as well as Cockney rhyming slang. So there is a lot of information in the book (in addition to grand adventures)—but it doesn’t let you know what the words sound like. A language channel that I regularly watch just solved that problem for me. Here’s a video that relates the sounds of spoken Australian English.
One might think that after three trips to Australia, one of them six months long, I might be running out of things to see. Far from it. There is a fourth trip to report—and still things on my list that have not been checked off. However, before I launch into trip 4, I thought I’d just share a few interesting things I’ve run across online, mostly videos (since I was simply taking photos, which don’t necessarily convey all the drama and adventure).
There are so many wonderful things to see. I just saw a documentary on Australian parrots, so I thought I should focus on birds. Then I read an article about evidence that life on earth may have first emerged in Australia’s Pilbara region, but long research papers don’t lend themselves to blog posts.
So I settled on a video of a couple tackling the Gibb River Road, the road that made up a substantial part of the first part of Trip 3. It is not by any means everything I saw, but then the couple had to cut their trip short due to problems with their vehicle. If nothing else, the video underscores why it’s a good idea to not tackle this unless you really know what you’re doing. But it also underscores how remarkable the remote northwest of Australia is.
Judy and Geoff had picked a lovely spot near Gulf Station for us to enjoy the picnic lunch they’d packed. The weather was perfect. Food and conversation were excellent. But our next stop would really put the final touch on making the day perfect.
We drove a bit farther from the green mountains into an area of splendid, green vineyards, finally stopping at the Domaine Chandon winery. This winery is the Australian branch of France’s great Moët & Chandon. This winery, like its parent operation, specializes in sparkling wines. (Can’t call them champagne, of course, since we’re nowhere near Champagne.) One can buy bubbly by the glass, and it comes with a few elegant nibbles (we had a spinach and pine-nut dip with house-made crackers and a small cluster of lovely, chilled grapes). Our first sampling was of a Blanc de Blancs, which was lovely and light with tiny bubbles. Next up was a D.C. Cuvée Riche N.V., a rich, slightly sweet, elegant, golden delight that made a lovely dessert.
As good as the wine was, the view was better. Huge windows opened onto views across the sprawling vineyard and, in the not to far distance, the splendid greenness of the Dandenong Mountains. What a glorious day.
This video relates more about the Domaine Chandon vineyard, and offers enough of the beauty to help you understand how beautiful and perfect an ending to this sojourn this destination was.
Finally, back home for an evening of good food and good conversation. I learned that Judy, who raises a lot of heirloom plants, is hoping to trade some of her heirloom gooseberries for some of the quinces we saw today. We talked late into the night, despite the fact that I needed to pack. Oh, well. I can sleep on the plane.
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.
It was not a long drive this time—we were still in the Dandenongs. Our destination was the splendid Tesselaar Tulip Festival. This event, I was told, was started in the 1950s by a family of immigrants from the Netherlands who grew, not too surprisingly, tulips. The show was, in fact, really stunning. There were fun add-ons for those who want more than just flowers, but Judy and Geoff were there for the flowers—more than 120 varieties of tulip, plus daffodils, and hyacinths (one of my favorite fragrances in the world) spread in dazzling swaths of color across a 55-acre farm. It was glorious.
Here’s a video I found about the festival. It focuses more on those “add-ons,” but still gives one a feeling for the show.
Leaving the show, after a good, long exploration, we drove up the Silvan Reservoir catchment area (more interesting than that description sounds—a splendid area of gum trees and acacias) to the R.J. Hamer Arboretum, a place known for excellent walking trails amid delightful scenery. Geoff drove us to an observation point that offered a view over the broad, green valley toward the gap in the mountains through which we passed yesterday on our way to Beechworth.
Then, as evening approached, it was time to head home, to get a rug on Rahmyl, dinner for Bullitt, and a glass of port for ourselves. The evening again held an excellent dinner (Judy is an excellent cook) and much delightful conversation.
I am in Chicago at present, which means it’s well below freezing. Quite different from the New Year’s Eve I enjoyed several years ago in Sydney, Australia: sitting on the grass, glass of wine in hand, summer dress and sandals on, enjoying the parade of boats covered with lights, the bands on the moving stage provided by passing barges, and the astonishing fireworks show that concluded the evening.
So while I’m not there now, I’m still thinking of that warm, sparkly night–so wanted to share what it looked like this year with everyone. This is just a brief excerpt of the fabulous fireworks display, but it will give you a feel for the event.
If you’ve read my book Waltzing Australia, you’ll know that I have celebrated Christmas in Australia, and it was indeed a “scorching summer’s day,” as is celebrated in this fun, Aussie version of “Jingle Bells.” As for some of the terms in the song, if you’re an Aussie, you’ll know them, and if you’re not, check the glossary in my book. That said, it’s fun, regardless of whether or not you understand every word.
On my first trip to Australia, I was fortunate enough to witness the remarkable response to the annual running of the Melbourne Cup. It is called the race that stops a nation–and it really does. Businesses close on the day of the race. Traffic stops during the running of the race, which takes place at 3pm on the first Tuesday of November, and has done so for more than a century and a half. It is hard to imagine how far from civilization one would have to be to not hear the reportage of the race.
This year’s race was remarkable for two things: the horse that won, Prince of Penzance, was a 101-1 outsider, and the jockey was a woman–Michelle Payne–the first woman to win the prestigious race. Remarkable day.
And if you’d like to see the “surprise ending,” here’s the race.
Food, history, travel, farming and fun in the Heartland.
The World’s Fare
This is my blog about food, history, and travel to places other than Australia.
My Website–writing experience, speaking topics, and more.
National Library of Australia honors blog
In 2013, I was informed that “The National Library has selected [Waltzing Australia] for archiving because we have judged it to be an important component of the national documentary heritage. We want it to be available to researchers now and in the future.”