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Happy Australia Day Aussies! Our first Australia Day included watching the Royal Airforce Air Show over the Botanical Gardens, perusing hundreds of classic cars and even older forms of transportation, wandering through the Governor’s House (former home of the Queen) and its grounds, and watching some fantastic fireworks.

 In honor of Australia Day, a short history lesson on its beginnings.

Australia Day commemorates the anniversary of Captain Arthur Phillip’s landing and unfurling of the British flag in Sydney, proclaiming the land Down Under a British colony for the next, oh, 200 years.  That date was January 26, 1788.  That’s right, Aussies wouldn’t have (virtually) total independence from the Crown until 1986, roughly 200 years later.  But, never ones to turn down an opportunity to celebrate, Australia Day lives on and has been celebrated throughout the years by patriotic Aussies….

In the years after Phillip’ arrival in Britain’s newest colony, various English upperclassmen and convicts alike celebrated the date with “drinking and merriment”, complete with gun salutes, horse races and regattas, and toasts “to the land, boys, we live in!”.  Jan 26th 1838 marked the first public holiday ever in Australia, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Phillipp’s landing. Fast forward to the centenary, and all colonial capitals in Australia celebrated the public holiday with various ceremonies, parades, banquets, fireworks and church services.  (Yes, even convicts are a church-going people). During World War I, the date temporarily switched to July 30th (purportedly to raise funds by drawing on Australian pride at Aussie soldiers’ recent achievements in the war). And in 1930, Jan. 26th was officially named “Australia Day” — a holiday to be observed by “prominent display of the Australian flag.”

The 150th anniversary was celebrated with similar pomp and circumstance as the earlier mile-markers.  (It was also on this day, the “150th Anniversary of the Whitemen’s Seizure of our Country” that a group of Aborigines in Sydney unanimously passed a resolution protesting the white man’s mistreatment of Aborigines since 1788 and appealed for new laws for equality.)  And for the bicentennial, re-enactments of the original voyage, more drinking and merriment, and the naming of a Year of Mourning for Australia’s Aboriginal people. 

Fast  forward to 2011, and not much has changed.  Despite normal Melbourne weather (overcast, cool and gray), heaps of people (including us!) flooded the city for the festivities. 


Pictures from our day out and about at the Melbourne Zoo are up!

Wednesday is Jan. 26th, otherwise known in these parts as Australia Day.

It marks the anniversary of the arrival of Captain Arthur Phillip at Sydney Cove in 1788, who proclaimed British sovereignty over Australia.  (Oddly, they don’t celebrate the date on which Australia became a federation of states on 1901 and (mostly) independent from the British, or the series of dates over the next 80 years leading to the (virtually) total independence achieved in 1986).

So, in anticipation of the coming holiday, Aussies are stretching those vocal cords (and their beer bellies) and getting ready for a day of singing, flag waving, patriotic outdoor gatherings, and all sorts of drunken shenanigans.  And no, the national anthem is not “Land Down Under” by Men at Work.  So just in case you need a refresher course…

Advance Australia

Fair Australians all let us rejoice, For we are young and free;

We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil, Our home is girt by sea;

Our land abounds in nature’s gifts, Of beauty rich and rare;

In history’s page, let every stage, Advance Australia Fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing, Advance Australia Fair.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross, We’ll toil with hearts and hands;

To make this Commonwealth of ours, Renowned of all the lands;

For those who’ve come across the seas, We’ve boundless plains to share;

With courage let us all combine, To Advance Australia Fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing, Advance Australia Fair.


(NB: Advance Australia Fair has been the national anthem for less than three decades, replacing God Save the Queen in 1984.  That’s right, 1984.  Australia has only had a national anthem not dictated by a foreign, well, dictator, I mean, empire, I mean, nation, for about just as long as I’ve been alive.  God Save the Queen is still retained and used as the “Royal Anthem” for particular occasions.)

My pale skin is no stranger to a sunburn, but since we’ve been here we’ve noticed the sun is decidedly different than back home.  It is ridiculously strong, and can make the difference of 5°C if you’re standing in the sun or shade.  And it burns pale uncovered and unprotected sun in less than 20 mins.  Seriously hot.  So  I decided to investigate a potential cause for the difference in sun strength.

Australia is the driest inhabited continent, and has the highest incidence of skin cancer, in the world. depending on your source, either 2 out of 3 or three out of four Australians over the age of 65 have or will get skin cancer.  Either way you cut it, that’s a lot!  Sure, they like their outdoor and water sports here, but increased exposure can’t be the whole of it.

Turns out, a hole is the whole of it.  The Antarctic “ozone hole” or (more scientifically correct) “ozone depletion area” is so large that, although it doesn’t come close to touching the Australian mainland, it displaces and disrupts the protective ozone layer enough to significantly alter (i.e., reduce) ozone levels over Australia in the spring and summer months.

What is the Antarctic Ozone Hole you say?  ” The Antarctic Ozone Hole refers to a severe depletion of ozone which has been observed to take place over Antarctica in springtime every year since the early 1980s. After the ozone hole has broken up, parcels of ozone depleted air mixed with mid latitude air move northwards. These parcels move over the southern part of Australia and cause a reduction in total ozone values.” Insert government health warning NOW!

Read more about ozone depletion.

In addition to drought, Australia suffers from cyclones (due to warm sea temperatures), brushfires, and floods (when it actually does rain and the water quickly saturates the dusty soil), all as a result of its heat characteristics.   But, since Melbourne is the least sunny city in Australia–with an average of 5.7 sunny hours per day–hopefully I can avoid the fate of 75% of all Australians.  Compare this Darwin, the sunniest, which receives an average of 8.5 hours of sun per day.  Of course, a little spf won’t hurt either!

This was me today.

It’s a gorgeous sunny day, so I grabbed a Parisian from the Baguette Nazi and headed to Fed Square to chow down and catch some rays.  About halfway into my delicious baguette, I grabbed my iphone to check the latest in the NYT.  As I am juggling phone and baguette, a sneaky seagull totally came and snatched the remaining half of my sandwich from my hand!  He then threw it down at my feet, and proceeded to tauntingly consume it (and fight off other seagulls who quickly swooped in for a bite).  Seriously. not. cool.

(OK, so that’s not actually me in the picture, but this totally happened to me).  Props to Mel for laughing at me as I told my sad story, and then sending me this picture to rub it in…

Today was a perfect day.

First, we woke up to sun streaming into our bedroom.  As you may have heard, most of southern Queensland was under 6-8 feet of water this week from rampant floods, and La Nina also brought gray rainy days to much of the East Coast.  So after 6 days of rain, the warm sun was much appreciated and just in time for the weekend.  We took Bentley on a long walk and basked in the sun with a few lattes.

Then, it was off to N. Melbourne to bring home my newest love and visit Queen Victoria Market along the way.  Buying heaps of fresh produce is always one of my favorite Saturday activities, but this market trip was made all the more perfect by the discovery of something I’ve been searching high and low for since we arrived – black beans!  I thanked the man profusely, to which he said, “ya, you can’t get those anywhere in the city, eh?”  Eh indeed. In a city lacking authentic (i.e., West Coast U.S.) Mexican, I am a more than able cook now that I’ve found the most crucial ingredient!   

At home, my new beauty was torn apart, tuned up, then put back together.

Side note: the man who serviced her did a lovely job and made her sound even more rich and beautiful, but was totally off his rocker.  Topics of conversation while he tuned included the history of German pianos, Australian aboriginals, the move to a world government, his uncle’s funeral, blood alignment and homeopathic medicine, the use of “climate change” by the government to stick the man for carbon emissions, and his hatred for George W. Bush (which may have redeemed him and proved he was sane, just a bit off key).

We lounged in the heat for the rest of the afternoon, and I tested out the new ivories.  Serious perfection.

Here’s a question:  Why does Melbourne have so many gluten-free food products and cafes/bakeries/restaurants specializing in gluten-free foods?  I’d like to think the answer is, because our new home is super cool, food and health conscious, and ahead of the times in terms of gluten equality. 

What’s the real answer?  Apparently Australian wheat has a larger grain size that, when milled and processed, has a higher gluten content than other types of wheat.  As a result, many more Australians are sensitive to the gluten in wheat-bearing products and hence, Australian wheat wants to kill (or at least gastrointestinally discomfort) my gluten-intolerant sister…

(NB: This may or may not be true.  But it is straight from the mouth of the random baker I stumbled onto at the grocery store.  While trying to determine what type of biscuit (cookies in American English) to substitute for graham crackers, I picked on an unsuspecting couple who were also shopping the biscuit aisle and asked what they would use (Arnott’s Marie’s, for anyone interested, which worked perfectly).  The husband suggested a gluten-free alternative to the Marie’s and I, socially deprived and jumping at any chance to have a 10 minute conversation with random strangers, asked why there was so much gluten-free food in Melbourne.  His answer (the short of it), was the above. I thought it sounded pretty believable, and as he went on and on about wheat processing and byproduct etc., his wife explained that he is a baker…)  

Another fun fact: Australia is the world’s second largest wheat producer (after the U.S.) and exports 80% of the wheat produced. So think about how many super-sized wheat grains engorged with gluten are reaching your mouth!

After some holiday blog surfing, I realized that unlike most blogs, I have no purpose. To the blog that is. Since some topical focus would mostly likely only decrease my posting frequency and devolve back into my random rantings and life stories after, oh let’s say 2 weeks, I’ve tried to give the blog a more purposeful appearance instead. (also, hoping that by featuring recent comments boldly on the main page, some of you will upload actual pics of yourself as your avatar (instead of using the default flourescent Rorschach blobs)). Let me know what you think about the blog’s appearance/ functionality generally, especially the use of tags.

For those of you that frequent the photos and out and about page, I’m interested in feedback as to the interplay of the two pages and whether galleries (smaller scale, grouped photos so that you don’t have to scroll down) or slideshows (you know the deal, press play and photos rotate automatically) would be a better format to display photos? The two types pages were originally designed to tell our stories (out and about) and display our photography (photos) as we wander this great continent, but there’s a bit of overlap (which I’ve tried, in part, to manage through a summary posting. See, for example, this post).

from the date of January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011, I will…

1) balance my life (no promises on how balance will be achieved.  Right now I’m standing up straight, so I could be off to a good start in 2011.  1 down, 9  to go).

2) learn how to make pasta from scratch (and make things that are way more yummy than, for example, freshly-made squid ink pasta, which I always see at the pasta shops in markets.  Seriously, who ever thought that (1) squid ink is tasty and (2) black as death linguine noodles should be considered a delicacy instead of just moldy).

3) read Traffic, Tom Vanderbilt, Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace, On Love, Allan de Botton, Reading the OED, Ammon Shea, The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho, and A Long Way Down, Nick Hornsby, each of which has been on my reading list for nearly or over 3 years.

4) cook kangaroo (and have someone other than my loving husband verify that it actually tastes good).

5) ride in a hot air balloon.

6) blog at least once a week, and at least twice a month with a fun, interesting or unique fact about Australia (Steve has promised to post to the blog as one of his resolutions too). (NB: WordPress has issued “postaday2011” and “postaweek2011” challenges to its bloggers.  Totally on the same page as my blog host.)

7) take a wine pairing & cooking class, and try to remember something other than “hhmmm, wine good!”

8 ) re-learn the piano.

9) see a Tasmanian devil, the world’s most cartoonish carnivorous marsupial.

10) vacation more, for and with less (really, camera, birks, 1 pair pant, 1 swimmie, 1 tank top, 1 jumper (that’s a sweater to you Americans) and my straw fedora should be all I need for any good 4-day weekend in Oz. The straw fedora is perhaps the most essential, to mask the fact that I did not list soap, shampoo or brush among those items.  Oh, and Steve).

Here’s hoping my resolve in 2011 is stronger than in 2010.  I think I should be able to keep up with #6 (at least for a week or two…) Stay tuned.

that I may (or may not have) gotten a multihundred dollar ticket yesterday traveling out to the ‘burbs to test out a 2005 Lindahl piano that is in the running to be my new dining room furniture.

Melbourne has one of the world’s greatest public transportation systems, including the largest tram system in the world.  Trains shovel people from as far away as an hour and a half driving distance into the CBD every morning, and the ubiquitous trams clamber up and down nearly every inner suburb streets.  But, for a major metropolitan transit system, it operates more or less on the honor system.

You have to punch in and punch out at the train station, but one can, hypothetically, jump on the tram at Hosie and Bridge every morning and jump off at 101 Collins with nary a turnstile.  The city hopes that the threat of severe monetary punishment will keep you honest.

So, truth be told, I cheat the system.  I do punch my tram card at random intervals to keep some good karma, but certainly not every time.  And no one else seems to either.  But yesterday, I was a good citizen.  I punched my ticket as required at the Parliament station and was happily on my way to Heathmont, to set my fingers on some pearly whites.  That was, until train inspectors got on the train literally the stop immediately before my stop and starting checking tickets.  Obligingly, I handed mine over (somewhat smug that my good karma had paid off because I was prepared with a paid ticket when asked by the transit police). It was at this moment that the transit officer informed me I was in zone 2.  Staring at him blankly, it quickly became apparent that my punched tram ticket was not the “proper ticket” for zone 2 (wherever the heck that is) and I was in trouble.

He exited the train with me, and proceeded to take my credentials for his report (including calling Steve to verify my address, since I don’t actually carry anything on me that proves where I live). He then said “please state your reason”.  Come again?  “Your reason for not having a proper ticket.”  Um, hello.  Obviously American.  Obviously thought I had the right ticket.  Obviously never ride the train… I stammered on for awhile until he stopped me, and then strangely enough, gave me a free pass for the ride home back into the city (a proper zone 2 ticket).

Apparently I may (or may not) be assessed a fine via mail depending on the officer’s report; here’s crossing my fingers that they find my story believable (I mean, genuine) and don’t issue a fee.  Because although the first one is typically under $200, it doubles every time thereafter.  Which means I’d actually have to start punching my card on the tram daily…