The lessons come early...
29, 1994 15:48
10:09 Kingscliff, Australia :: 24 JUN 94
Never, never purchase cheap electrical socket adapters. No savings is
worth this hassle.
22:28 Kingscliff, Australia :: 24 JUN 94
Australians don't use RJ11 phone plugs either. Pretty much anything a
Canadian might want to plug into a wall requires an adapter. I've added
another adapter to a growing collection.
I just connected to CompuServe to transmit and receive mail. You should
have seen my Sister's fiancee and I trying to figure out how to connect
my computer to FALNET via his parent's phone lines and Australian Telecom.
See, their house phones are part of a rather obsolete business phone system.
In order to get a dial tone at any phone you must first lift the handset
and then press the 'Line' key to get a line out of the system. Well, we
couldn't figure out how to make the modem fake the system into believing
it had virtually pressed the 'Line' key. After much trial and error we
managed a success after: we opened up the RJ11 adapter and the wall socket;
Rob held the appropriate leads now dangling from the gutted adapter to
the terminals in the naked wall connector to which the telephone plug
was still jacked in. This left us with two devices connected to the one
circuit. I then lifted the handset and pressed the telephone's 'Line'
key while simultaneously initiating the CompuServe connect sequence from
the computer. A split second before the modem started dialing, I disconnected
the telephone from the wall socket so that the phone system wouldn't get
confused between the telephone and modem. We got it right on the second
Of course this left Rob holding those two wires firmly against the terminals
for the next 3 or 4 minutes while mail was up- and down-loading. Shortly
after the celebration over the successful connection Rob realized this
and muttered, "Hmmm, you know I'm not holding these in the most comfortable
Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of technological backwater will keep
mail from my inbox.
6:47 Kingscliff, Australia :: 25 JUN 94
Wedding day. The sun rises over the Pacific. Cool, clear, calm. The ceremony
is to be held this evening at an old plantation house seated on the rim
of an immense volcanic crater. A Justice of the Peace will read the vows
on the front lawn while behind him the sun sets over Mt. Warning, the
cinder cone marking the center of the 250 kilometer wide volcano. This
is no Mount St. Helens either. Valley and mountain are lush green, the
rich volcanic soil cultivated by farms and plantations.
We have collectively pondered the wisdom of celebrating the so-called
"final leap" at the edge of a volcano called Warning. Too late
to change venues now.
A few truths and misconceptions about "Down Under." First a
I'm sure most of you have heard the urban legend about liquids draining
in opposing spirals on either side of the equator. Well, it's not true.
I've tested this using the most stringent statistical methods: in three
identical trials I filled the bathroom sink with water and with my sister
Kathleen, the Bride-to-be, observed the motion of tissue bits suspended
in the water while the basin drained. (The tissue bits were my clever
idea to assure the observers would not be fooled by any visual abnormalities.)
On each of the three trials both observers noted that the tissue bits
circled about the drain in a clock-wise spiral of decreasing radius until
finally being sucked into the Kingscliff wastewater treatment facility.
I did bring up the possibility that some strange Southern hemispherical
anomaly might have confused the observers into perceiving anti-clockwise
as clockwise. As an example I offered the strange behaviour of early F-16
fighter planes whose inertial guidance systems became unhinged upon crossing
zero degrees latitude; they would suddenly flip the aircraft upside down
on each crossing of the equator. After a brief metaphysical discussion
(in which the observer-to-be-wed suggested her brother watched too much
Star Trek:TNG), the observers came to the amicable conclusion that the
possibility, however nifty, was not in fact likely.
On the other hand, it seems entirely appropriate that Down Under you
flick a light switch up for off and down for on. Also, each electrical
socket, called a "power point" here, is mastered by a switch
right next to the socket. That is, power won't flow through the power
point unless the switch is down. Fortunately a small orange dot is uncovered
when the socket is switched on. For example, camcorder batteries charge
only when an orange dot is visible. I can attest to this from personal
Whenever space permits, commodes are generally housed in a room separated
from other bathroom fixtures. This seems eminently civilized although
it would be nice to have a sink and fan in both rooms. Rather than a fan
these rooms employ screen insets high in the window to provide permanent
ventilation. Since it's relatively warm here year round, none of the homes
have central heating, or air-conditioning. Australians regulate home temperature
through architectural design: high ceilings and short walls, or perhaps
vents above the door, assure that air can circulate through the room even
when privacy warrants closed doors. Newer buildings use masonry as a primary
construction material and brick often forms interior walls to maximize
the cool advantage of it. All floors consist of poured concrete, even
in single family dwellings.
Well, particularly south of Brisbane, the winter nights can get rather
brisk and all that architectural design works extremely well to assure
that the inside stays at least as cool as the outside. Brrrr. Because
ventilation in the bathrooms is permanent you'd best prepare yourself
for an awakening experience on your midnight trip to the commode. And
don't forget to close the door behind you when you leave unless you've
a mound of blankets on your bed. You'd be amazed by how much heat drains
out of a 3"X14" screen.
With the older wooden buildings, the entire structure is built on stilts
allowing air to circulate around the entire structure. These one-story
"Queenslanders" often predate electricity and thus rely heavily
on design for comfortable temperature and light. The front door opens
into a wide foyer that forms a sort of sitting room. The doors of all
other rooms in the house open onto the foyer. The front door is invariably
left open so that opening a window in any room immediately provides cross-ventilation.
Ceilings often exceed 10' in height. Walls usually consist of vertically
arranged tongue-in-groove pegged to a light supporting frame totally unlike
the post and beam construction to which we're accustomed. A high, wide,
screened verandah surrounds the living area keeping direct sunlight out
of the rooms while allowing plenty of ambient light to filter in and breezes
to flow through. Most rooms have a private door onto the verandah.
Typical of the film industry, Paul Hogan's famous "Shrimp on the
Barbie" is a complete fabrication. They're prawns not shrimp (even
the minute ones are still called prawns) and they are rarely, if ever,
subjected to an open fire or hot coals.
Contrary to what overzealous advertisers would have you think, Foster's
is Australian for Michelob Light. That is, serious beer-drinking Aussies
(I haven't met any other kind) don't touch the stuff.
3:17 Kingscliff, Australia :: 26 JUN 94
Just arrived back from post-wedding festivities. Cam and I had to beat
Giles and John in pool, best-of-five. Since they were all 'gilled' and
I couldn't make the cue ball meet anything but bumper it took a while.
I put it together in the fourth and final game and managed to sink the
8 ball without also potting the cue. We took the match 3 games to 1 (although
our other two wins came on 8-ball scratches).
Anyway, that explains the late hour. The wedding itself was fine. There
were five of us Jennings' and 76 Withey&Co. In the end the Jennings'
won due to a higher per-capita speech ratio; we got to make four, 80%
of the total Jennings population, while the Withey clan made 5 which only
represents 6.6% of their population.
Actually, what can you say about a wedding? The bride was beautiful,
the groom nervous. The best-man got rip-roaring drunk and the Bride's
maids, along with all the Mothers, cried. Later, the band played easy
listening hits from the '70s. It was a wedding like most others.
Well, some mild controversy developed. After the meal at Australian wedding
receptions, toasts are proposed to the bride, the groom, the bride's maids,
the parents... The toastee has the right of response. Traditionally, if
the toastee is female one of the males at the head table will speak for
them. This didn't sit well with my sister, Louise, who asked simply, "can't
the brides maids speak for themselves?" Eventually the answer became,
"Yes," but not without a bit of tradition bending. The bride
responded as well, which really threw a few people for a loop, though
the "youngie" females, and a few well-adjusted males, applauded
enthusiastically. Of course all this had been arranged before the wedding
but it was easy to see during the reception that not a little bit of surprise
was generated when first a bride's maid then the bride herself stepped
up to the mike.
Good on ya' Louise.
An interesting difference between Canadian weddings I've attended and
this one in Australia: in the Great White North there's usually something
the guests can do to encourage the Bride and Groom to kiss. Often this
is accomplished by simply clinking glasses until the entire room joins
the chorus. Another method involved an entire table of guests standing
up to sing a song. Well, they don't appear to have this quaint little
tradition here in Oz. Indeed, if you start clinking your glass you'd best
prepare yourself to propose a toast. Good thing I asked first.
5:47 Kingscliff, Australia :: 26 JUN 94
The bride and groom don't share the first cutting of the wedding cake
either. That is they don't feed it to each other. Robert and Kathleen
broke that tradition here. My sister Louise, the maid of honour, was surprised
to find out that she was to distribute the cake after it was cut. Hmmmm.
Seems to me more than a couple of Canadian weddings supported that little
tradition. Well, Louise is an American after all.
The most significant difference is that the gift giving begins with the
announcement of intention to marry made at an Engagement party. This event
is eclipsed only by the wedding itself in pomp & circumstance with
most family and friends invited and expected to bring tithings. Of course,
no wedding would be complete without stags and stagettes though here they're
called bucks and hens. These events are generally held a week before the
wedding, presumably to assure appropriate recovery time before the nuptials.
We don't really share the same language, Aussies and Canucks. You don't
cut your bangs here since the hair dipping down from your brow is called
fringe. Hearing "fringe" used in this way never fails to remind
me of the fringe trailing at the back of a Surrey girl's boots. Australians
think our constant usage of "neat" and "cool" is quaint.
I can just imagine the image generated in their mind's eye when we suggest
we can't go swimming without changing into a suit. Queenslanders call
swimming trunks togs though other provinces use different terms like "costume".
What's really odd is the blighters think we've got accents!
18:19 MacLean, Australia :: 27 JUN 94
On our way to Sydney and Canberra (pronounced canBURRa, with the emphasis
on the second syllable-it sounds much like the Scots pronounce Edinburgh).
We'll be there on Wednesday, today being Monday. Overnighting tonight
in a Motel along the Clarence River. MacLean's one of those small towns
that makes its primary living from supporting sugar cane plantations and
prawn trawlers with a side-line in the tourist industry. Most of the retail
shops line the main drag, the malls being found in neighbouring Yamba
where the Clarence finds the ocean.
A couple video lessons in the last couple of days: carry at least one
spare tape wherever you go and carry the camcorder wherever you go. And
I know better. The latter lesson proved a particular disturbing one to
be reminded of. Standing at the head of the Clarence tidal estuary with
the sun setting beside fiery orange thunder heads, dolphins surfaced in
the sky reflecting tidal flow.
It may well have been the video clip of the trip. <sigh>
Surface travel in Australia just ain't up to the standards we in North
America have come to expect. They surface most roads here with bitumen,
a combination of pebbly gravel and a substance like roofing tar. The tire
roar can be deafening in cars lacking good cabin insulation, and the rough
surface is rough on tires, and bare feet if you've got to cross one. Further,
road beds do not receive the preparation we give ours resulting in a roadway
that breaks down quickly. Finally, even the super highways like Pacific
Highway 1 provide only intermittent passing, or "overtaking,"
lanes and narrow shoulders. Something on the order of Highway 99. This
is not due to unmanageable geology since hills along the coast are relatively
gentle. (It's kinda weird traveling down an East coastal highway
20:57 MacLean, Australia :: 27 JUN 94
Let's get back to this little burg in which I will spend the night. I
mentioned earlier this evening to my travel mates, my sister Louise and
our parents, that MacLean is an Australian version of Tilton, a minute
town in my old stomping grounds of rural New Hampshire. In the early days
of industrialization the river running through town drove Tilton Belt
Factory to prosperity. It's been on a slow decline ever since. The townspeople
make a meager living off the tourists that travel through town but rarely
stay or even take the time to visit. The living is meager only because
the townsfolk tend not to be the traveling types themselves-after all
they still live in Tilton-and so fail to understand what the barely tolerated
vagabonds are really willing to pay for. Oh, the useless knickknacks,
placemats and 15 year old postcards that beg the question, "Where
the hell is...?" or are even so bold as to ask it out right, as if
obscurity itself were cause for notoriety. Often the snow-storm shakers
and native art (made in Taiwan) gather a ridiculous amount of dust. It's
apparent the manager gave up all hope of selling such items. Completely
at a loss for an erstwhile replacement, the unattended shelf just continues
to gather dust.
I don't know how retailers survive in these towns. In MacLean there are
only two motels (neither of them offer Shangri-La for $40 a night) and
a caravan park (something like a campground with hookups but uniquely
Australian in that the park owns many of the trailers and hires them out
and tenting is frequently verboten) and there appears to be no objet du
tourisme so I don't see that anybody would care to tarry here. It certainly
can't be the food.
In MacLean you will find 3 restaurants and a neighbourhood pub that serves
up cigarette smoke and grease in equal measure and in an atmosphere punctuated
with exclamatory verve by the scent of stale beer wafting from indoor-outdoor
rug. One of the restaurants serves Chinese, always a bold dining risk
in a town with no Asian population to keep the proprietor honest. Another
perches beside one of the two junctions connecting either end of the town's
main drag to the highway that once ran right through town but now bypasses
it altogether. This restaurant is neat, clean and bland just like the
food it serves. It earns its keep by luring hungry road-warriors with
its tidy appearance. Once through the door the weary traveler immediately
recognizes their mistake but is too embarrassed to backtrack or too hungry
to care: they are trapped. If they are fortunate, the meal will be forgotten
after another 20 kilometers back on the road.
Indeed, some government agency or association of businesses awards the
moniker "Tidy Town" to those municipalities meeting or exceeding
an evidently arbitrary guideline of cleanliness. The happy winners proclaim
their standing proudly on signs greeting you at the town line:
Welcome to Yamba
A Tidy Town
But that is an aside. We were getting to MacLean's third restaurant.
It is not a diner. It should have been a diner. Every town like Tilton
has at least one diner, except MacLean. If this is true of all Australia,
that towns have no diners, then I am in culinary trouble. George Bush
would be better off in San Giancomo, California, the self-proclaimed broccoli
capitol of the world, than I am in a small town without a diner. A diner
always serves a decent club sandwich. In the morning you can get a decent
Western omelet, or serviceable eggs and hash browns, but all other meals
at a diner should be a club, preferably toasted in case the bread is stale.
But the third restaurant in MacLean is not a diner, it is Italian.
Were the proprietor Italian, it might be OK that MacLean has no diner.
The flyer produced by the local Chamber of Commerce and available free
in our motel room quotes a Sydney paper as reporting that MacLean is "the
Scots town of Australia" and that it provides "the second most
beautiful views in all of Australia." Did all other towns tie for
first? However, the flyer says nothing about the fine Italian food one
will find in the restaurant that should have been a diner. Even the manager
of our motel suggested the tidy/bland place on the highway as serving
the best food in town. I believe I even saw club sandwiches on the tidy
and brightly back-lit plastic wall menu with pictures of tidily arranged
dinners when we stopped in there. But my travel-mates never feel trapped
by such places so we beat the hasty retreat and checked out the other
About the pub I've said all I care to say-I'm about to eat breakfast
and don't wish to disturb my appetite. Fortunately even my fellow travelers
understand the perils of small-town Chinese, so we didn't cross the threshold
there. This left only the third restaurant in MacLean, which should have
been a diner, but as I mentioned before, it is Italian.
At least that's what it claims, but I don't know any Italian restaurant
that serves potato and leek soup. As I recall, that's a rather British
combination. And steak with béarnaise really doesn't strike me
as a roman dish. Granted there was lasagna and carbonara, bolognese and
linguini, and such would be expected as regular fare at an Italian restaurant.
As far as I'm concerned, apple pie is diner food - especially if you have
a choice of cream or ice-cream to go with it. But "The MacLean Pizza
Restaurant" had no club sandwiches on its menu, so it most definitely
could not claim to be a diner. On the other hand, it's claims as pizzeria
and purveyor of "Italian Cuisine" require some review.
18:28 Sydney, Australia :: 29 JUN 94
Well. Finally gotten to a phone line and a local call to CompuServe.
You'll have to hear the rest of the MacLean's Pizza Restaurant story later. It should only take me a couple
more days to finish telling it! <sheesh>
8:22 Sydney, Australia :: 30 JUN 94
Hmmphhh. It was going to happen sooner or later. As those of you with
CompuServe IDs will well know, the initial password you receive with your
account is temporary. The permanent password is mailed to your home. Sometime
after that the temporary password croaks.
Apparently that event occurred sometime in the last week. <sigh>
It took 0.5 hours to get a line to the US to acquire the permanent password
from CompuServe customer service. So now I'm back on line.
Also, Gayla Boritz has agreed to be my journal conduit so you'll be receiving
my trip reports through her. See, CompuServe charges me (per page) * (per
recipient) for transmitting mail: I have to pay for eMail; Gayla does
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