Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: The lessons come early...
Date: June 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 try.

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 position."

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 misconception.

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. QED.

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 experience.

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 called "Pacific")

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
Population 863

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 options.

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 not.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --