MAIL 9422 TO PU FROM: $ASWe accepted, of course. Lee had been longing for a trip to Australia, so when I got to work one morning a few days later, there was a huge bouquet of lillies on my desk.
I said last time I wrote that it seemed I only write when I need something. This time it's somewhat different. Our ASG president will be coming to SHARE 71 and will probably be approaching your Board and possibly yourself. Have you considered what you will be doing around the end of February, 1989? Melbourne, Australia, is at its best around then! Our President will be enquiring to see if the VM group of SHARE will be able to send a representative to ASG/20 who could speak on such things as What's happening in VM Overseas and hopefully on any other pet topics.
The name being pursued at the moment is one M. Varian of Princeton. I hope that getting SHARE to send someone equates to paying their way, because our VM Project is quite keen to hear from someone. I hope this will come to fruition and that you would be in the position to accept. I hesitated in contacting you during the preliminary stages, because I didn't want to raise false hopes (my fingers are well crossed!).
I must congratulate my Board for supporting the VM Project in this matter and trust that if all goes well you can avoid a few weeks of the northern Winter.
Regards (fingers still crossed)...
*** SENT 08/09/88 21:12:26 BY $AS ***
Since then, we've been devouring books and videos about Australia--history, art, wildlife--and Lee has planned a fantastic 3-1/2 week trip. Even with all our planning, though, the past few days have been hectic with last minute things to do: getting haircuts; shopping for shoes, clothes, suitcases, a camera; completing our presentations; sending Sandra a licorice-scented teddy bear for Valentine's Day (she thought she was imagining that she smelled licorice); and making goodbye phone calls to our families. (Our youngest nephew, Christopher, who is at Bates College in Maine, told us that his mother (my sister, Molly) had warned him that if he doesn't cast an absentee ballot in her election for City Council in March he may as well not come home again.)
By the time the ASG agenda came out, Lee and I were each scheduled to speak for an hour, he on directions in computing at Princeton and I on the history of VM. Since then, kind, patient Neale has been besieged with notes from me asking first for two hours rather than one, and then for permission to run beyond the two hours. He has maintained his cheerfulness through that and all my worries about having enough slide projectors, screens, carousels, etc.
I finally got my talk finished (or at least frozen) over the weekend and spent all day Sunday arranging my 300 slides. On Monday, more slides arrived in the mail, so I arranged my slides again. On Tuesday afternoon, I did my talk for some of my colleagues (where it was clocked at slightly under 3 hours) and then got back to my office to find that more slides had arrived in the mail. So, after rearranging my slides one last time, I headed home, leaving Lee still working.
I got to bed shortly after midnight this morning, after a frenzy of mending and washing and ironing, and woke up just before 5am to discover (not to my complete surprise) that Lee wasn't home from work yet. He replied to my messages with a promise that he'd be home in time to shower and pack. (He was "almost done", having spent the night finishing up his paper for ASG, a grant proposal, and our itinerary.)
Then, remembering the last thought I'd had before falling asleep, I sent mail to Dianne asking her to phone our veterinarian and ask him to hold our cat Pollywog's ashes (which we had forgotten to pick up last evening) for our return. (Polly had been suffering from throat cancer and a brain tumor and had finally reached the stage of not being able to eat even mint chocolate chip ice cream, so we had had to end her suffering on Friday, a few months short of her 16th birthday. Her only real regret appears to have been that she didn't outlast old Dr. Stultz, who is still going strong, despite all the times she bit him over the years.)
Dear Victor had offered to pick us up at 6:45 (he only recently learned that there is a 6:45 in the morning) to drive us to the Nassau Inn to catch the airport limo, and he arrived just as Lee was finishing packing--he managed to get everything (including my ton of handouts and slides) into "only" 3 large suitcases, a garment bag, and two briefcases.
The rest of the day was blessedly uneventful. One of the things still on our list was to get added to Continental's frequent flyer program. We got to Newark Airport in plenty of time to take care of that, but the Continental folks there were out of the necessary forms and suggested that we fill out the forms that we'd find in the in-flight magazine and hand them in at our next stop. Doing that became a game. I got out at Dallas/Ft. Worth, where the people were helpful, but were unable to make the computer credit us for the flight, but thought the folks in San Antonio might know how to do it. So, I got out at San A., where I was told they couldn't do it, but I could mail the form in. We tried again in L.A., where a nice man fixed everything up right away. What the world needs is more techies!
Being one of the unfortunates who can't sleep on planes, I had made sure I had an absorbing book to read (Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities), but by the time we got to Honolulu, I was really dragging. Lee, on the other hand, was quite chipper, even though he'd pulled an all-nighter last night. We had a couple of hours before our flight to Sydney, so I sacked out on a slat bench, and he went off to explore.
Sunrise over the South Pacific was astonishingly beautiful, as the tops of the clouds changed from black to purple to pink to gold. Shortly after that, we reached land, the eastern shore of Australia, then turned south and flew along above a mixture of land and water that is very similar to the eastern side of Florida. The sun was just beginning to rise as we landed in Sydney. Before they would let us off the plane, they had to exterminate it, which involved walking up and down the aisles spraying something smelly in the air while assuring us that the World Health Organization said it wouldn't hurt us. However, once we got out, the customs and immigrations people were about twelve orders of magnitude politer and friendlier than U.S. Customs, and they even let us keep our Hawaiian macadamia nuts after inspecting them. (Macadamia nuts are about the only native Australian plant that has become a cash crop elsewhere.)
As we stood outside in the taxi queue, we spotted at least three kinds of unknown birds in the tall eucalyptus trees across the street, but the Australian bird book we had so carefully acquired months ago was still packed away (along with our binoculars), so we don't know what they were (except that some of them were probably Indian Mynas). The queue wasn't long, and when our turn came the next driver jumped out and loaded our ton of luggage so quickly we hardly knew what was happening. Once we were safely out of the airport, he explained that he had been afraid that the taxi dispatcher would notice that he wasn't wearing long socks. He assured us that taxi drivers who wear shorts without long socks get "twenty days in the big house". There had been rain earlier, and everything was bright and clean as he drove us to our hotel, regaling us with droll Australianisms and showing us points of interest.
The hotel blessedly had our room ready, a very luxurious room with a fabulous view of Sydney Harbour. Moments after we arrived, there was a knock, and two waiters came in carrying a huge basket of fruit, strewn with small orchids, and a mirrored tower of chocolates and chocolate-covered strawberries, also strewn with orchids. The culprit was Sandra, of course, so we phoned Philly (where it was still Thursday) to thank her, but she was in one of her awful meetings.
We drew the heavy drapes across the glorious view and slept till the middle of the afternoon. By then, Lee had realized that the one thing he had forgotten to pack was his lovingly acquired collection of maps of Australia, so he headed off to find the Australian equivalent of the AAA, while I went back to sleep. Much later, I was wakened by someone who said she was bringing "the vase you ordered". Since I hadn't ordered a vase, I sent her away. Two minutes later, an enormous bouquet of flowers arrived, so I had to ask for the vase again, and they were extremely nice about it. The flowers were for Lee's birthday, from Sandra, who thinks of everything.
After arranging the flowers, many of them enormous things that I knew no name for, I gave Neale a call to let him know that we'd made it safely to Sydney and to confirm our dinner date for Sunday. Then, I pulled open the drapes and sat in the window watching the scenery. In the foreground is a large park; behind that, a series of ornate old sandstone buildings (a cathedral and the former Parliament house); behind that, a sweep of tall modern buildings on the left and on the right the Opera House, glinting whitely in the sun, the Harbour Bridge, and the Harbour. The Harbour is amazingly alive--full of boats of all kinds, ferries, sailboats, water taxis--and is very much a part of the city. The city is very green despite its being the end of Summer, and the residential areas are a sea of red tile roofs. From the window, I could also see commuter trains coming out of a tunnel at the edge of the park; they have double-decker cars!
When Lee got back, he reported that his feet hurt; in fact, he had a blister on one of them. As much as I love him, I couldn't help feeling a surge of delight--never, ever before have I felt I had a chance of keeping up with him on our walking tours! He got out a map of Sydney and showed me all the places he had walked, and I wasn't surprised that he had gotten a blister. He had finally found the Australian equivalent of the AAA, although he had been thrown off by the fact that it's called the NRMA. He'd found lots of maps and bookstores. He had also been to the train station to get schedules and his ticket for tomorrow. The ticket agent had apologized to him because there are "only 26" trains to Newcastle tomorrow, since it's a Saturday. (I wonder if there are 26 trains a day between any two cities in the U.S.?) We attacked the chocolate-covered strawberries while watching the sunset and then had a lovely dinner (veal stuffed with apples) before going out for a short walk, to check the hours for the Australian Museum.
Lee had bought some newspapers, so we looked through them when we got back. In one of them, almost all the headlines were dreadful puns. Indeed, Australian newspapers appear to be as bad as we had heard, but they do provide better coverage of the Solomon Islands than we get at home. (They've quite an involved scandal going on there just now.) It took me a while to figure out that "PNG" in the headlines stands for "Papua New Guinea".
A few more strawberries (we've always believed that chocolate-covered strawberries should be eaten only in bed), and we were fast asleep.
Lee returned late in the afternoon and settled down to tell me about his trip through the Kuringai National Park to Newcastle, which he had enjoyed very much. He'd had time to walk around much of Newcastle and had taken lots of pictures. (His feet no longer hurt, alas!)
Listening to the television news while we were dressing for dinner, we heard the bad news that the domestic airline pilots have called a one-day strike for Monday. So much for our plans to fly to Alice Springs Monday morning! We got on the phone to Ansett and managed to make reservations for the same flight on Tuesday morning, as well as reservations for a connecting flight from Alice Springs to Yulara (Ayres Rock). That means we will miss the bus trip we'd planned from Alice Springs to Yulara early Tuesday morning, but we should get to Yulara in time for the bus trip to the Olgas that we have planned for Tuesday afternoon. Grrrr! I talked to the tour people and found out where to catch up with the bus, which will get to Yulara about a half hour after we do.
We had made reservations for dinner in the restaurant atop our hotel to coincide with sunset. It was quite a good meal, steak with peppercorn sauce.
The ferry ride was very pleasant, with lots of excited children. People were very friendly and asked us about our trip and advised us on what to see. We have noticed that everyone wears hats here, and the hats for children often have flaps hanging down in the back to protect their necks from the sun. The zoo is on a cliff on the other side of the harbour. At the base of the cliff is an area that is being made into a sanctuary for seals and penguins and other marine life, but it's not in operation yet. We climbed up rock stairs, being greeted noisily by mynas, and took the aerial tramway to the top of the zoo. Looking back from the tramway, we had a spectacular view across the harbour to the city.
The zoo is beautifully planted and full of flowers. It has animals from all over the world, but we concentrated on the native animals (and especially the native birds). When we got off the tramway, we were hot and thirsty, so we stopped at a snack shop and got "Hearts" (which are like Eskimo Pies, but heart-shaped) and stood in a nicely shaded picnic area to eat them. There were birds all over the place, most noticeably a large number of Sacred Ibises. As we stood eating our ice cream, we watched a family sit down at one of the picnic tables and spread out their food. The little boy was just about to reach for his hotdog when an ibis jumped up on the table, grabbed his wiener in its bill and flew off to a tall tree pursued by other ibises. As the little boy sat there looking stunned, a peacock jumped up on the table and grabbed his bun and carried it off, pursued by more ibises. The child's parents picked up what was left of their food and moved off to another table.
We went off to the "Australian Walkabout" portion of the zoo, where we saw kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, platypuses (smaller than I thought they would be), dingos, Tasmanian devils, three very sleepy koalas, and a wonderful exhibit of night animals, such as sugar gliders and all kinds of possums. Then we started going through the aviaries, which are absolutely a birdwatcher's paradise. The aviaries are beautifully planted with the plants of the regions appropriate for the birds. Each section contains 4-6 species of birds, some of which are too well hidden to see, but most of which can be spotted with a bit of patience. The close-up view is great for the near-sighted. We saw about two hundred different species, most of them very colorful and unique to Australia. The parrots were probably the most striking; Australia has 40 species. There were also wonderful collections of native waterfowl, including black swans, moorhens with babies, huge pelicans, and Magpie Geese. After much patient waiting, we spotted a male Superb Lyrebird in the undergrowth--Lyrebirds are so named because of the male's beautiful lyre-shaped tail that is displayed during courtship. Several of the aviaries contained Victoria-crowned Pigeons, which are huge (2 ft tall) blue pigeons that have bright red eyes and a tiara of lacy, white-tipped blue feathers. When they coo, it sounds like you'd expect a bass drum to sound if it could coo.
Signs on many of the pens said that they contained Noisy Pittas, which are a small, ground-dwelling orange-yellow-blue-green-brown-and-black bird. Try as we might, we never could spot one of them. When we had gotten to the last aviary and were trying to distinguish between Scaly-breasted and Rainbow Lorikeets, a nice young Keeper came by and started talking to us. He couldn't believe that we hadn't been able to spot the pittas. He said that they had so many of them that they'd had to separate the males from the females. He also told us about some of their breeding programs for rare species, such as Mallee Fowl (which incubate their eggs by covering them with mounds of rotting vegetation and then uncovering them or covering them as required to maintain the correct temperature, which they test with their tongues).
Shortly after leaving him, we were shrieked at by an African Helmeted Guineafowl that was walking along one of the paths. (It definitely had the advantage of us, since it wasn't in our Australian bird book.) Just beyond it, we saw a mother Peahen leading her 4 chicks about and teaching them to look for bugs. By then, we were just about to the bottom of the zoo and it was just about to start raining, but we made one more side trip to see the red pandas sitting high in their trees, and then dashed for the ferry just in time to avoid getting soaked. (The zoo has also been quite successful in breeding the red pandas.) On the way back, an American man next to us was harumphing to his wife that he couldn't believe they'd come 4000 miles to go to a zoo.
The ferry took us past the Opera House, which is really fascinating. Up close, one can see that the roof tiles form a design, which I hadn't realized before. (All the tiles are white, but some have a matte finish and some are glazed.)
Once we got back to our hotel and had cooled down and showered we got to thinking that maybe we should make dinner reservations, since we had invited the Fergusons. So, I called the Centrepoint Restaurant (on the top of the Centrepoint Tower), only to discover that they were closed for the evening. We couldn't get hold of Neale and Helen, so we decided that the best thing to do was to go to the Tower and wait for them. I'd told Neale that I'd be wearing a yellow dress, and we assumed that we could spot them fairly easily because Helen would be on crutches. As it turned out, Neale had sensibly left Helen in the car while he came to look for us, since they too had called for reservations and found that the restaurant was closed. However, they had gotten us a table at the Summit, the second-highest (544 feet) restaurant in the city, and the largest revolving restaurant in the world.
We fetched Helen and went off for dinner, which was a very good buffet, and talked for hours as the city spun about below us. Neale and Helen are both very charming. He looks a bit like a young John Denver. She is delightfully wry. I was surprised to learn that Neale watches our Today show on television, which comes on at midnight in Sydney; he's a fan of Willard's. They were relieved that we'd heard about the airline strike, because they'd been unable to reach us earlier to warn us about it. They told us that every Australian family has a passionfruit vine, but our other mystery fruits were mysteries to them, too.
Reading the morning paper before we went to bed, we saw that yesterday the Sydney beaches had the worst infestation of bluebottles in ten years, and hundreds of swimmers required treatment for stings. It occurred in the midst of the Metropolitan Surf Lifesaving Championship, however, so presumably lots of people knew how to handle the problem.
We had lunch in the Australian Museum and spent the afternoon there going through the exhibit of Aboriginal Art, which is very good. I was particularly impressed by the wonderful baskets and nets. They showed a very gripping video about the forced "apprenticeships" of Aboriginal children as servants in the cities during the period when the government had been intent upon wiping out Aboriginal culture. There was also a striking poster celebrating "the Bicentennial of the Bicentennial"; that is, pointing out the fact that the Aborigines have been in Australia for 200 x 200 (40,000) years.
We had a quiet dinner (pork stuffed with apples and plum sauce) at our hotel and went to bed early.
I got back to our gate a couple of minutes before 10, only to see that our flight had been moved up to 10:00, and that Lee was not there. He showed up a couple of (very long) minutes later, having given up on finding me, and we dashed onto the plane just before they closed the door.
We spent the flight winding down and watching the fascinating landscape pass below us. Once we were past the hills outside Sydney, it was all red land, laced with dry rivers. We never saw the "dingo fence" that runs along some of the state borders, however. Toward the end of the flight, the crew announced that the connecting flight to Yulara was waiting for us. Hurrah! We got a good view of the MacDonnell Ranges as we landed in Alice Springs, then we ran across the tarmac to the waiting plane and actually saw our luggage getting on board before us. We were crammed into the last row of the plane, with no window, but we didn't care. (They had held the connecting flight for an hour.)
We had landed in Yulara by 1, and the day suddenly filled with peace. A nice man from the airport drove us to our hotel, giving us our first view of Ayres Rock out the front window of his van. The bus with our tour from Alice Springs hadn't arrived yet, but they let us check in and cool off in our wonderfully posh room.
Yulara is quite new and very high-tech. It was built about 20 kilometers away from Ayres Rock, in order to protect the environment around the Rock. (The older airstrip, motels, etc., near the Rock have been torn down, and the land replanted.) It's a very handsome town in the form of a large circle with the center left wild, except for a few footpaths. The buildings, which are all ochre-colored to echo the land, are arranged around the outside. There are accommodations for all pocketbooks, from campgrounds to luxury hotels. Many of the buildings are shaded from the sun by white canvas sails mounted horizontally a few feet above them, a very attractive arrangement, and all the buildings are very energy efficient. Those that aren't shaded by sails have solar panels or gardens on their roofs. The lights in our room can be turned on only if the room key is in a lock in the wall, to make sure that the lights won't be left on when the room is empty. The closet light turns off automatically when the closet door is shut; the air conditioning turns off automatically when the patio door is open.
Yulara has 600 permanent residents, which makes it the fourth-largest town in the Northern Territory. There is one phone book, about 3/4-inch thick, for the entire Territory.
Our room opens onto a central courtyard that is beautifully planted with desert plants. Right outside our door is a large bottlebrush plant, with big pink flowers that attract lots of birds, mostly Yellow-throated Miners. (Australia has an unusually large variety of nectar-eating birds and of the corresponding plants that depend on birds for pollination.) The swimming pool in the courtyard is said to be the largest body of water for 200 miles around. The entire resort, however, has added just enough water to make the desert plants thrive and to attract an astonishing number of birds.
After we changed, we went out into the courtyard to look at the birds. All along the walls of the hotel, there are shallow rock-lined ponds, which the birds love. In just a few minutes, we had spotted Willy Wagtails (wonderful little black-and-white fantails that dash about and then stop and wag their tails as they look about), dainty Magpie-Larks stalking grasshoppers in the ponds, more miners, and some puzzling ravens/crows.
About then, our tour arrived and we were off to the Olgas, which are a beautiful large red sandstone formation rising out of the flat desert, probably connected below the ground with Ayres Rock. Our bus driver, Graeme, is very nice and seems to respect both the land and the Aborigines. Our first stop was at a small hill between the Olgas and Ayres Rock, which we could climb up to get a good view of the countryside. Graeme noticed my sandals as I climbed out of the bus and warned me that they might not be a good choice for walking in hot sand. He was right! I ended up with little blisters all around the edges of my feet from sinking into that hot, hot sand. Pretty dumb! But the views were spectacular anyway.
The Olgas (Kata Tjuta to the Aborigines), are about 40 very rounded red lumps of rock, the tallest of them substantially taller than Ayres Rock. We drove all the way around them, getting out frequently to hike and take pictures. The Olgas have still-visible bedding planes that have been tilted about 20 degrees from the horizontal, and where there is a softer layer, small caves have formed. There are vertical streaks of black and green straight down the rocks, formed of algae and lichen that thrive briefly when rain streams down the face of the rocks (there is essentially no drainage pattern, except straight down).
We hiked into Olga Gorge and got a good look at the rock, which is a very interesting conglomerate. It is unusual in that the water-smoothed rocks and boulders embedded in the sandstone are themselves almost all a very similar sandstone, making it appear that the same mountains got recycled twice. I collected a small, smooth rock that had eroded out of the conglomerate, and Lee collected a small piece of the matrix. He also got to take lots of pictures of the beautiful white gum trees in a dry streambed and of the small flowers and melons that were abundant around the base of the rocks. (The white of the bark of the gum trees is an adaptation to reflect the heat of brush fires.) One of our party was convinced to taste the melons (called Paddy Melons) and pronounced them to be very bitter, but our plant guide says that parrots and camels love them. (There are supposed to be wild camels in the area, but we haven't seen any.)
The sky was the bluest I have ever seen.
Graeme then gathered us together, watered us, and drove us off to Ayres Rock to show us what the climb would be like. (Nobody climbs except early in the morning, when it's relatively cool.) There is a chain starting a few hundred feet up the very steep, smooth rock, and he suggested that we climb up to the beginning of the chain to get a feeling for what the climb would be like. I couldn't do even that in my silly sandals, but I was already convinced. After Lee had climbed up and come back down and read the signs with the dire warnings about heart attacks, he said reluctantly that he would skip the climb. Sigh. I was enormously relieved.
The Rock is really stunning--it is a monolith, just one big piece of rock. Its sides look very smooth from a distance, but up close one can see that they are exfoliating; that is, that thin layers are peeling off. Here and there, caves have been worn into the sides, both at ground level and up high. A few very hardy bushes have taken root in small indentations where they get a bit of extra water, but mostly it is simply smooth, bare, red rock with bedding planes that have been tilted almost perfectly vertical.
My first reaction was not to climb it, but to go over to an edge and brush away some sand to make sure it keeps going straight down, which it does, of course. It seems so unreal, though, projecting as it does from the huge flat sandy desert. (I also found a small piece that had broken off to take home for our rock collection.)
Back in the bus, Graeme lectured us on preparing properly for the climb, taking at least a liter of water per hour, dressing properly, and so on. He said not to bother taking a hat, because it would just blow away. The climb is only about a mile, but the first third of a mile is pretty nearly straight up; after that, there are yellow footprints painted along the top to guide hikers to the summit, where there is a book to sign. Graeme also pointed out the brass plaques fastened to the Rock, each one of which commemorates a climber who fell to his death.
Then he drove us off a kilometer or two so that we could get out into the sand and watch the Rock as the sun set. I was fascinated by all the tracks (birds and bugs) in the sand. Lee took the requisite once-every-five-minutes series of slides to record the dramatic changes in the apparent color of the Rock, which were really quite lovely.
After sunset, we drove back to Yulara, where the two of us spent some time soaking our feet together, before going to the hotel restaurant for a scrumptious dinner (veal with mustard sauce, followed by chocolate mousse). We were seated next to a window, where we could look out and see the tiny desert mice scampering about.
After dinner, we explored the hotel a bit more, to savor their fantastic collection of Aboriginal art, including a huge mural covering a wall of one of the restaurants, a wonderful series of bark paintings of fishes, and group after group of marvelous "burial post" wood carvings. (Despite all this, the restaurants have brass plaques at their entrances stating "NO THONGS", which is the normal ploy for denying service to Aborigines.)
Then we hiked over to the little shopping area to stock up on cokes and juices. (Hotel rooms in Australia all seem to come with refrigerators, which are such a convenience.) We have discovered that fruit juices in Australia are simply wonderful. We started with familiar things like apple juice (the best we've ever had) back in Sydney, but are now expanding out to the more exotic, such as orange-mango juice. Almost every little cafe or newsstand has a cooler full of juices, both in glass bottles and in cardboard boxes (known as "poppers" because after you've drunk the juice, you can pop the box by blowing on the built-in straw). We've already learned to hold the boxes by the corners when inserting the straw. (Holding them in the middle results in a sticky fountain of juice.)
We stopped at the Ranger Station to get bird, animal, and plant guides and papers on the geology of the area. The nice lady Ranger also gave us a checklist of the 300 (gasp!) birds we might be able to spot in the area. We seem likely to remain confused about the ravens/crows, as it turns out that they could be Australian Ravens, Little Crows, or Torresian Crows, depending on whether their call is "aah-aah-aah-aaaahh" or "nark-nark-nark-nark" or "uk-uk-uk-uk". Right! Apparently they are unable to tell one another apart themselves, as birds of each kind defend their territories against other birds of any of the three species.
The Ranger also sold us four of their NO SWIMMING signs. These feature a swimmer in a red barred-circle with a large crocodile nearby. A number of our guide books complain about irresponsible tourists who steal these signs and leave potential swimmers at the mercy of the crocodiles. The Rangers seem to have addressed the problem by selling the signs, so we got them for our nephews and for Victor. (We started giving our nephews signs years ago, when I was stuck for an idea for one of their birthdays and Lee came up with the nifty suggestion of wrapping up the DETOUR sign he had ripped off from in front of the Engineering Quadrangle when he was an undergraduate. That worked very well; it made such a mysterious parcel. But then, when the next nephew's birthday came along, we were really stuck. Neither of us had the courage to go rip off another sign (at our advanced age) to give to the next nephew, but we didn't want him to feel cheated. Then one morning shortly before his birthday, we spotted one of our colleagues walking into the Computer Center carrying a NO PARKING sign. He had found it on University property, where it had obviously been hit by a car and knocked over, so he was planning to take it to Grounds and Buildings so they could put it up again. Even though he was such a Good Samaritan, we managed to convince him that our need was greater, and we mailed the NO PARKING sign off as soon as we could wrest it from its post.)
Graeme picked us up about 8:30, and we drove along seeing flocks of budgerigars flitting around in the desert! It's a wonderful sight. They fly very erratically, but the whole flock stays synchronized somehow. When they turn at just the right angle, the sun on their wings sends a bright flash of their lovely yellow-green that is really stunning. (One of the politicians on the news the other evening was referring to his opponents as "a flock of budgies".)
When we got to the Rock, some of our new friends from the previous day were just coming down triumphantly from the climb. We congratulated them, and then we all set off to go around the Rock, stopping to see the rock paintings in the caves.
Ayres Rock (Uluru to the Aborigines) was returned to Aboriginal ownership in 1985, and there are now a number of fenced-in sacred sites around the base which are forbidden to other people. The caves and overhangs that contain the paintings are quite interesting, but these are not the great art paintings found in some areas, but really more "blackboards" that have been used in teaching young men sacred knowledge during initiation rites and other ceremonies. The cave walls are covered with layer after layer of ochre and white and yellow and black drawings, some quite representational, others more abstract.
Graeme had showed us photographs that he had taken of water streaming off the Rock in great silver cascades during a major rainstorm. This extra water around the base supports more plants and animals and birds than further out in the desert. We saw many hawks and a huge flock of Zebra Finches near Maggie Spring, the largest waterhole (not really a spring) around the base of the Rock. Even though it had been several days since the last rain, a tiny trickle of water was still coming down into Maggie Spring. Some of the paintings in the cave nearest Maggie Spring have been interpreted as a record of the water level over time. Graeme said that the Aborigines left the water in the Spring for the animals as much as possible and hadn't hunted near there, to keep from making the animals afraid of a place they had to come to to get water in order to survive.
After we'd been all the way around the Rock, we drove to the nearby Uluru Ranger Station to see the exhibits and then off to Yulara. After lunch, Lee and I set off around the resort for a very hot afternoon bird walk. Despite the heat, there were quite a few birds, including a Pied Butcher Bird whom we watched being outwitted by a grasshopper.
After a shower, a nap, and dinner, we went to the Yulara Ranger station for a star walk. The nice Ranger phoned to say he'd be late because he had had to kill a large poisonous snake that had gotten into his house. But then he took us on a wonderful tour. The sky was very, very clear, and we finally got to see the Southern Cross. (We had tried looking for it when we were in Sydney, but there was too much light.) We also saw Pleiades, Alpha and Beta Centauri, Orion (upside down), and many others, but not, of course, some of the most familiar stars from the Northern Hemisphere. Lee could see the Large Magellanic Cloud, but I couldn't, because of the full moon. However, we'll be in the mountains in two weeks, when the moon will be no problem, and now we know exactly where to look. I was able, for the first time in my life, actually to see the colors of some of the stars. They've all always just looked white to me, and I was never sure whether to believe people who said they could see the reds and blues and yellows.
We also saw some of the unidentifiable ravens/crows being chased away by smaller birds, which serves them right. The nice thing about them is that they have a call which expresses dissatisfaction vastly better than any of our crows (or bluejays) ever dreamed possible.
We got back to the hotel in time for the end of the wonderful fruit buffet, and then went sadly back to our room to shower and pack. We don't want to leave here! It is so beautiful, and there are so many birds we should have seen that we haven't yet, Emus, Galahs (rose-breasted cockatoos), bowerbirds, fairy wrens, Mistletoebirds, Rainbow Bee-eaters, and many others that are supposed to be common here.
Before leaving, Lee got out one of the two fruit juice bottles we washed and dried yesterday and filled it with Red Centre sand, which is surprisingly heavy. We then decided that we really had to buy one of the cans of Red Centre Beer in our "mini-bar" to take home to Sandra. Lee also went out with his camera for a few minutes to photograph the stunningly red Stuart's Desert Pea blooming a few feet from our door. We made one more trip to the little shopping area to buy T-shirts for brothers and nephews and to ask the nice people at the Post Office to use their special Ayres Rock postmark on our postcards and then went back to our hotel to get lunch and meet our ride to the airport.
Our driver was the local manager of the tour company, a jolly Dutchman named Hans. The sky was very bright, but covered with wispy clouds, and Hans said that that's why it is so much hotter today (36 degrees C.) than yesterday. We asked him about life at Yulara. He likes it very much but said that most people don't stay more than a couple of years; the isolation gets to them after a while.
Flying into Alice Springs, we got a good look at the CIA installation called Pine Gap, or at least at the large number of antennas that show above the ground. Apparently just about everybody who runs for Prime Minister promises he will reveal what Pine Gap does once he is elected, but they never do.
The bus from the Alice Springs Airport took us through Heavitree Gap and along the Todd River. The Todd is dry much of the year, and is now deep in dust, except for a few scattered pools. Trees grow in the riverbed. There were a good many groups of Aborigines sitting in the shade of the trees.
The river is the site of the annual Henley-on-Todd Regatta, during which a variety of boat races are held in the dry river bed. (The "boats" are bottomless, so that they can be carried along by the racers inside them.)
Our motel is set in a man-made oasis--lots of tall trees, grass, and lovely flower beds. Here, as everywhere else we've been, many houses are surrounded by flower gardens, much as in England.
By the time we got to the motel, I was very hot and tired, so I decided to stay in and nap. Lee took off for a 5-mile(!) hike all over Alice, including a climb up ANZAC Hill, which is topped by a war memorial and from which he finally saw one of the "road trains" (a truck with three trailers) which move much of the nation's freight. He also found the art gallery we want to visit tomorrow and the train station.
We had an elegant dinner (we continue to be surprised at how good Australian food is) under ceiling fans and then settled in for an early evening. One of the newspapers Lee brought back has an article calling the Olgas Road "a national disgrace" (it certainly was very bumpy) and another quoting from a speech by Stanley Tipiloura, an Aboriginal Member of Parliament, discussing the problem of Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Much of the time we were trying to work out the identity of the dozens of graceful little flycatchers that were darting around above us. They looked just like our book said Lemon-breasted Flycatchers should look, but those are supposed to be restricted to further north in the Territory. As we walked back to the motel, we noticed that there were more of them flying about above it, and when we got to the swimming pool we saw that they were swooping down toward it, skimming along the surface to get a drink of water, and then flying up again, all in one smooth movement that took about as long as the blink of an eye. At breakfast, we asked the waiter what the birds were that were drinking from the pool. He didn't know and asked several other people, none of whom seemed ever to have noticed that there were birds drinking from their swimming pool. (We haven't yet met any Australians who are interested in birds, except that nice Keeper at the zoo in Sydney, who greeted us with, "You look like members of the Audubon Society". (He pronounced "Audubon" with a long "u" in the middle syllable. Here the corresponding organization is called the "Gould League" after the man who described many of their birds, including the gloriously beautiful Gouldian Finches.))
We dressed and packed and then got thoroughly scolded by some magpies, because we made so much noise with the luggage trolley while taking our luggage to be stored for the day. (Australian Magpies are totally unrelated to the magpies in other parts of the world, but they are big and black-and-white, so that's the name they were given. Australia has lots of other black-and-white birds, such as the Magpie-Lark and the Magpie Goose, not to mention Pied Currawongs and White-winged Choughs.)
It was already blistering hot as we walked across the Todd to town. After stopping at the Tourist Center and then the Conservation Center to ask about the little flycatchers, we gave up on them and threw ourselves into a frenzy of shopping for Aboriginal art. Fortunately, we had been able to see the fabulous exhibit of Aboriginal art at the Asia Society in New York last December, and since then we've read several books about the art, so we had a fairly good idea of what we wanted.
The Center for Aboriginal Art was set up by the Government in 1971. We spent the rest of the morning in its gallery and finally settled on two paintings we particularly liked. (Both paintings are essentially sand painting designs expressed in acrylic paint on canvas.)
One, called Women's Ceremony and Men Hunting is quite traditional. The artist, Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, is an elderly man with a great shock of white hair and a trim white beard. The painting is divided into four sections. In two of these, men are preparing for a kangaroo hunt. In the other two, women are preparing for a ceremony, including grinding the ochre with which to paint their bodies and tying on their belts of white cockatoo feathers.
The other, called Snake Dreaming, is a contemporary painting by a younger woman named Jocelyn Naparulla. It represents snakes hunting and wallabies searching for a waterhole, all from the "Dreamtime", the original creation era.
Having sort of decided on those two paintings, we asked that they be set aside and then went off to explore Alice and get some lunch. We stopped at the Peace Center, which has a rather bellicose looking Galah as its logo. We talked for a bit with the nice lady there and got some small gifts for family members, including a T-shirt commemorating the return of Uluru to the "traditional owners" for our nephew Jim.
There were flowers and flower bushes everywhere, including a great mound of lantana blossoms that almost hid the Australia Post sign in front of the Post Office. The front of the building where we got lunch had quite a large mural painted by several local Aborigines showing women and children gathering Witchetty grubs.
After lunch, we visited a couple of other galleries and bookstores. We found a wonderfully bright hand-printed shirt (Tiwi tribe) for John Hartmann in one of them. In another, we found a really good collection of bird books (bought a couple) and of books on Aboriginal culture (a few of those, too). They also had a complete set of the books of Lee's favorite Australian mystery writer, so he got a bunch of those. We watched the nice, but clearly strong willed, old lady who ran the store negotiating with an artist for one of his paintings and scolding an elderly Aboriginal man who worked in her shop for having picked up something too heavy for him. She was more than a little paternalistic, but at the same time clearly cared deeply about the people. We left her shop with two shopping bags full of books. This is the first time we've let ourselves go in a bookstore here; knowing that we'll have to carry the books for weeks has been an inhibitor up to now. Books are also fairly expensive here; most of them are imported from Britain or the U.S., but even the Australian books seem expensive.
Back to the Art Center to buy the two paintings (plus a few more books and a wood carving of an emu's foot). Organizing all that took quite a while, so Lee went back to the motel to get our bags while I waited. When he got back, I had to tell him that the people had discovered that they couldn't mail our paintings because the large one is longer than a meter, so we are going to have to take them with us and hope that the airline will let us carry them aboard. He accepted that with good grace, and we dashed off to the train station to be there in time to see the Ghan come in.
The Ghan (rhymes with "man") is a legendary Australian train. Its name derives from the Afghan camel trains that it replaced. It goes 1555 kilometers from Alice Springs, in the middle of the country, to Adelaide, on the southern coast.
When the train pulled into the station, we saw that most of the cars are painted with the Ghan logo, a silouhette of an Afghan on a camel. (I took some pictures of Lee in front of one of them, but he started doing his corpse imitation, like he always does, the minute I asked for the camera.) At the end of the train are flatcars for the passengers' automobiles, which seems a common practice here.
While we were waiting to board, Lee went off to buy us some juice (it was so hot) and came back with both juice and a Ghan scarf for me. It's very pretty--the design includes both Aboriginal and Afghan elements, as well as the Ghan logo.
We have a really nice roomette, all done in the Ghan colors, cream and ochre, with the logo on everything. It is all both very posh and very efficient. (Best of all, we have our own shower.) The train pulled out a bit after 5 pm. As we got out into the desert, the sky was an amazing baby-blue with rows of puffy little clouds that appeared to be painted on. We watched the scenery until the sun had set and then went off to the real dining car for a very good dinner. We are in the "second sitting", which we must remember. We share a table with two nice older Canadian ladies who have just come from New Zealand and the Barrier Reef and who will get to Sydney in time to meet up with a friend who is coming in on the Queen Elizabeth II. They made charming dinner companions and had lots of good stories to tell, including some about their days as the dunces of the Computer Learning Center on board the QE II.
After dinner, we luxuriated in showers and then curled up to write postcards. We found two pieces of Ghan stationery, but only one envelope, so we decided that the person who would most appreciate a letter on the stationery would be Aron.
Just before dark, I spotted the Iron Man, a sculpture the construction workers had welded together from rails to commemorate the laying of the millionth concrete "sleeper" (tie) between Tarcoola and Alice Springs.
The steward has just come by to ask whether we will want tea or coffee when he wakes us at 6:30 in the morning. (Not being wakened at 6:30 doesn't seem to be one of the options.)
We dressed and resumed our search for wildlife while waiting for the second sitting to be called for breakfast. When we got to breakfast, a lady at the next table told us she had spotted a kangaroo earlier.
After breakfast, we returned to our roomette and I settled down to go through my presentation for ASG. I was reminded of our trip up the Rhine Valley on our way to SEAS in Zurich a few years ago, during which I was also nervously reviewing presentations. At first, Lee had pointed out every castle, but soon switched to pointing out only the most interesting castles, as there were so many.
On this ride, there are far fewer buildings than there were castles on the Rhine. But the desert is really lovely. Lee took lots of photos and then went off to the club car for a while to buy more Ghan souvenirs, including scarves for Sandra and for Carol Jobusch. After he returned, he suddenly called "Emu!" and we both leapt for the window. Fortunately, the train wasn't going very fast at the time, so we both got a good look at a flock of about 20 Emus, who were standing only a few yards away from the train, not seeming to be at all perturbed. An Australian poet once described an Emu as looking "like a Beatles haircut with a periscope". Actually, I think from a distance a flock would look a great deal like a clump of bushes. Later, when the train was stopped for a few minutes, we spotted a large flock of Zebra Finches, but that was the only other wildlife we saw.
The changeover in the landscape when we got to areas where sheep had grazed was quite obvious. The desert plants were much sparser, and we could see many erosion gullies.
There was a nice lunch, topped off with "Flinders Range Chocolate Mousse" and not long after that we saw the first ocean inlet. We were surprised that the desert continues right to the ocean. There was no indication that we had left the Outback--we simply ran into the sea. Further along the coast, we began seeing farms, but they looked very dry.
We got to Adelaide around 3 in the afternoon. We rented enough lockers to stow all our luggage, took a look at the statue of an Afghan camel driver, and then grabbed a cab to take us to the center of town. Adelaide is a lovely city, with a wide circle of parkland around the city core. It was a beautiful Spring-like afternoon as we headed for the art museum, which had a pretty park in front, with seagulls pretending to be pigeons and a fountain in which several Aboriginal children were splashing. We rushed through the contemporary Aboriginal art exhibit in the 15 minutes we had before the museum closed and then walked for a while through the city, which has many striking 19th Century buildings mingled in among more modern ones. After a good, spicy Chinese dinner, we headed back to the train station to take the Overland to Melbourne.
The Overland has much more impressive engines than the Ghan; it needs them for the mountains between Adelaide and Melbourne. Our roomette is not quite so fancy as on the Ghan, but is quite comfortable. The cars and the decor are red-and-white with the Overland's logo, a Kookaburra.
We had hoped to see the sunset from the first hills, but had to wait for the train from Perth, which was slightly late, so it was dark by the time we got into the hills. However, the view from there of the lights of Adelaide was really spectacular.
The steward has asked what we'll want for breakfast at 7 (Australian National Railways tolerate no slackness on the part of passengers), so we're going to make an early night of it.
The hotel, like many of the buildings in this area, has a gradual transition from outdoors to indoors. There is a large central atrium, called "The Great Space", surrounded by shops on several levels and full of plants. The hotel lobby and many of the conference rooms are on the atrium level; above that are 35 floors of commercial space; and above that, the hotel proper. In the hall between the hotel lobby and the conference area are two very beautiful (and very large) modern tapestries of Australian wildflowers.
When we checked in, we were handed a friendly letter from the ASG President, Ed Murray, welcoming us to ASG.
Our room on the 44th floor (generously provided by ASG) is nothing at all like a SHARE hotel room. It is quite large and luxuriously decorated in blond wood and pastel fabrics. I was impressed by the spray of orchids in a vase on the coffee table; then I saw the orchid in the bathroom! And shortly after we got there, a parade of waiters appeared bearing champagne and chocolates.
The view is great, too--the Yarra River, a large park, the Cricket Ground, and distant hills beyond the cityscape.
After a nap and lunch, we had a brief visit from Neale, who stopped by on his way to a committee meeting. When we asked after Helen, he told us that the cast on her leg had begun coming loose, so the doctors had removed it on Friday and had then found that her leg was too swollen to allow them to put a new cast on right away. Neale had had to leave her behind at her parents' home in Sydney with her broken kneecap protected only by an elastic bandage. Fortunately, friends had offered to drive her back and forth from work (she heads a day-care center) while he is away.
Neale dropped off the 300 buttons (called "badges" here) that Sandra had had made up as a gift to the ASG VM Project. They were all her designs, the Source Goose with the golden egg, the OCOmotive running down a teddy bear, and the "dead teddy bear" whose heart has been cut out by the OCO shears. (Sandra insists that the teddy bear isn't really dead.) We had mailed the buttons ahead to Robin Brown, the ASG Director of Divisions, who lives in Melbourne. Robin had charged a fee of only one each of the buttons for all the hassle of delivering the buttons to Neale.
Neale also dropped off a letter from Fred Jenkins, former President of SHARE, which had been carried to ASG by the current President of GUIDE. Fred had devised this scheme for getting slides of himself to me in time for my talk (having been unable to get them to me before we left home). I was glad to get a picture of him, since I was sure people would be curious to see a man whose mother runs TSO. So, I made one more slight rearrangement of my slides and then spent the rest of the afternoon rehearsing my talk, while Lee went off for a long walk around downtown Melbourne.
ASG Registration was very fast and easy. We were both given name tags with bright orange "Overseas Guest" ribbons as well as nice enamelled brass pins that say "ASG 20 Speaker". We, of course, promptly put teddy bear stickers on the name tags. As we were riding up in the elevator a while later, two other attendees saw our tags and started digging around in their registration packets to see if they'd been given stickers too (though they thought ours were koalas).
The ASG General Meeting was at 5:30, and we dutifully attended. We found that the ASG General Meeting is as boring per minute as the SHARE General Session, but it has the considerable advantage of being much shorter. At the end of the meeting, we got a chance to introduce ourselves to Ed Murray, who greeted us quite warmly.
The sit-down dinner for all ASG attendees began at 7. We met Neale and Michael Tanzer and several other VM Project members in the lobby and saw that several of them were already wearing Sandra's buttons. We bear'ed them all and then went into the banquet room to the VM Table Neale had arranged, where we quickly became engrossed in our first shop-talk in a long time. After dinner, the ASG President welcomed us all and presented awards to the five ASG speakers whose talks had been ranked the best at the previous ASG. He was followed by a guest speaker, a sports figure. After that talk (which was fairly incomprehensible to us), the tables settled in for more techie talk. While jabbering away, I suddenly found myself being the recipient of a big kiss--it was Robin Brown, who had won all our hearts when he attended SHARE at Ft. Worth last Fall:
MAIL 853 TO $AS FROM: PU
Hi, Neale, I had quite nice talks with Peter and Robin and Sue at the SHARE interim meeting in Ft. Worth. Sandra Hassenplug (former SHARE VM Group Manager) and some of the other VM Group rowdies took Robin out dancing every night and also convinced him to buy some real Texas cowboy boots. :-)
*** SENT 12/13/88 10:51:57 BY PU/MELINDA ***
MAIL 856 TO PU FROM: $ASWe gave Robin a hard time because he wasn't wearing the cowboy boots, but we let him have a teddy bear anyway.
I will enjoy reminding him of this when I next talk to him!!
Thanks and regards.. Neale.
*** SENT 12/13/88 14:58:59 BY $AS ***
Ed Murray also dropped by our table to chat for a minute. He advised us not to be hurt if some of the comments in the evaluations of our sessions should be unkind, as "we are very direct people." Gulp!
After more techie talk, we returned to our elegant room, where I made one last nervous pass through my talk (hoping to prevent unkind comments).
I was most interested in his discussion of improvements in program development productivity. He said that there will be slow improvements only. He cited a recent article by Brooks in which he said that there will be "no magic bullet".
The next session was the opening meeting for the VM Project. One interesting difference between ASG and SHARE is that instead of having an interim meeting in one location, ASG has separate meetings around the country. This makes it easier for people to justify attendance, but must take a great deal of coordination. We finished bear'ing the VMers before and after this session. Then the Deputy Project Manager for New Zealand convinced me to give him most of the remaining stickers so he can give them out at the next interim in New Zealand, since so few of the New Zealanders can come to ASG when it's in Australia.
The third session was Ron Kral, from VM Software, Inc., doing an overview of VM/SP Release 6. The most interesting thing about this was his handout: a "tattoo" kit, which can be used to apply "Born to code" tattoos. Kral took the opportunity to warn the ASGers that I would be propagandizing against IBM's (and VMSI's) Object-Code-Only policy. I was pleased to see that I wasn't the only one in the room who appeared not to be amused.
One other extremely obvious difference between ASG and SHARE is that ASG serves food on breaks, very good food, in fact. And, they also serve quite a nice buffet lunch, which means no hassle of rushing around in the heat trying to find lunch (and no hassle of trying to get somebody to decide on where to go for lunch).
Lee and I ate our lunch quickly and then went off to explore the audio-visual situation. On one of the morning breaks, he had found the room he'll be speaking in and the door to the stairs to the projection booths. A bit more exploring got us to the place where the hotel keeps its empty slide carousels, so we borrowed half a dozen and took them to the projection booth of the auditorium where my talk was to be (neither of us believes in trusting these things to happen by themselves) and started filling them with slides and testing out the projectors.
We had to leave to attend the next session (by IBM, on service tools) but then rushed back. I finished filling the slide carousels while Lee went to our room to get me enough Diet Cokes for a two-session talk (but I forgot to ask him to bring down my low-heeled shoes). The hotel's audio-visual people showed up in time for me to convince them that I couldn't use their radio-signal remote controls for the projectors, since I didn't want both pictures to change at the same time. They were extremely agreeable about this and went off to get a bunch of cables and started stringing them along one wall.
While they were doing that, I huddled with the ushers (ASG has quite a nice scheme of allowing junior programmers to attend free if they serve as session ushers) about my handouts. They usually hand the handouts and evaluation cards to people as they arrive for the session, but I had seven different handouts, including the three boxes of Sandra's buttons, so we arranged them in stacks on chairs where the ushers could point them out. Everything was all set to go five minutes before the session was to start (except that I was still wearing high heels). After that, it was all easy (except on my feet).
I managed to remain calm and did a much better job of handling the two projectors than I had done in my run-through at home, getting the slides out of order only once. (Someday I may even learn to chew gum and walk at the same time.) During the intermission following the first hour of my talk, somebody apparently stepped on one of the control cables, so when I started in again I had no control over the left-hand projector. Fortunately, Lee was up in the projection booth where he could keep me calm and the slides moving while the session chairman went off to find the technicians. My worst dread--a slide jam--never happened, so I was able to concentrate on talking. People really seemed to enjoy the slides (Thank you, Sandra and John and Joe and Stuart and Rich and Don), and I was relieved to see that the humor carried across the Pacific. Neale had warned me to leave out the line about "Aren't you glad you use DIAL?", so the only remaining slides that were intended to be humorous that didn't get laughs were the one in Latin and the one that says, "I'd rather be at SCIDS".
People applauded nicely at the end, but, more encouragingly, I was surrounded by IBMers telling me they agreed with what I had said. "How can we get this message to the rest of the company?" Relief! (I hate being viewed as a nut.) But maybe the nicest part of having it over is knowing that we won't have to lug all those handouts any further around the world! (We brought a hundred copies of each, and they totally disappeared.)
We got to SCIDS just before the doors opened. When they opened, we beheld a room full of smoke, with flashing lights and a band playing. As people walked in, they were handed wine in fluorescent glasses. The whole effect was quite different from SCIDS at SHARE!
We ran into Robin Brown just as the smoke was clearing away. He apologized for the plastic (fluorescent) glasses, saying that, "We never use plastic at SCIDS at ASG, but these were just too good to pass up." Sure enough, the elegant buffet dinner was served with real china and linen. People kept telling us that the food isn't always this good, and we kept telling them about how at SHARE 4,000 people share 15 bowls of potato chips.
Lee wanted to go back to our room to review his talk, so he filled up his plate and left as soon as he'd eaten. In our honor, the VM Project had decided to do things "SHARE-style" and go out for dinner. It ended up with 20 of us wandering around Chinatown looking for a restaurant that doesn't seem to be there anymore, so it was a genuine SHARE-style dinner, including the confusion in dividing up the check (called a "docket" here) at the end. It was quite a good dinner, and I got a chance to meet several more of the VMers, including a young woman from New Zealand (a "kiwi") who told me that all the people in my slides had "looked like sots"! Several people had suggestions for places we should visit during the rest of our stay. None of them had been to Ayres Rock. (We have yet to meet an Australian who has been to Ayres Rock, although Neale says his Mum climbed it.) When I mentioned the difficulty we'd had with those little flycatchers in Alice Springs, there was general astonishment. "You mean you're some of those people who go out with binoculars and look at the birds!?!"
Bird watchers are called "birdos" here, which may be why there are so few of them.
I think I will sleep much better tonight than I did last night.
The television news program this morning predicted a high of 40 degrees (Centigrade) in Adelaide today. That's hot!
When we got to the meetings, Neale greeted us with news from Helen. She had gone to get another cast put on her leg yesterday, whereupon they'd taken another look at the X-rays and decided that she never had a broken kneecap at all, so she needs no cast. They admonished her to exercise her leg as much as possible, since it is beginning to atrophy from being in a cast.
The first session of the day was Lee's talk, Directions in Computing at Princeton, which went quite well. Cindy's slides of the Princeton campus added a nice touch.
The next session was on running a CMS-only production shop. Having recently read all the VM sessions in all the SHARE Proceedings for CMS's first decade, I was reminded of the old days in SHARE, when some of the pioneers were proving that CMS could be a production system. The speakers at this session were their heirs, still coming up with innovative uses for CMS.
The third session was the VM Project's planning and requirements session. Neale gave a VMSHARE pep-talk as well. The main business was deciding what VM sessions were wanted for the next ASG meeting. As each session suggestion was accepted, Neale "volunteered" someone to speak, and the only ones who demurred were the ones who feared that their installations wouldn't allow them to travel as far as Perth. I was really impressed by the willingness of people to work for the Project.
When the question of getting IBM to send an "Overseas Speaker" to Perth arose, the Project decided that they wanted to hear about VM/XA and VM directions, so naturally I suggested that they request Joyce Tomaselli. I really hope that works out.
The Project also wants a session much like the one our old friend Jeff Gribbin, of Rolls Royce, is giving at SHARE this week, so I suggested that perhaps they should try to get him as the first official techie visitor from SEAS (the sister organization in Europe). I suspect that if Jeff ever gets to come here, he won't leave; he was really born to be an Australian.
Lee and I had just filled up our plates at the luncheon buffet when a member of the VM Project came to lead us off to the place they'd found where people can sit down at tables to eat. He said that the VMers always find the most comfortable places to eat, which is certainly a tendency I've noticed at home. Despite this, there don't seem to be any "VM heavies" here, in the double sense in which we use that term at SHARE. It must be because they're all so athletic. Almost everybody we've talked to has mentioned participating in sports.
At lunch, Neale mentioned that they didn't have the "score" for my session yet because the usher had taken the evaluation cards home with him when he found that the ASG headquarters had closed by the time I finished speaking. We are gradually beginning to comprehend ASG's approach to session evaluation, which is much more aggressive than SHARE's. The ushers hand out evaluation cards before every session and collect them quite persistently at the end. They then apparently rush them to the data entry office where they are keyed in right away. Typically, the results are available 2-3 hours after the session. The results are kept online, and the ASG officers seem to follow them closely. (They use a very Australian approach to encourage people to turn in the evaluation cards: every card has a stub which is torn off and entered into a pool for a lottery!)
The first session after lunch was a nice IBMer from New Zealand talking very enthusiastically (and very fast) about AIX. It was quite a useful session, though the pace was definitely "firehose to the mouth". ("AIX" in Australian comes out "aye-i-x".)
The speaker at the next session was Michael Tanzer, whom we knew as the first ASGer after Neale to start participating in VMSHARE. Michael had chosen a great title, VM Security and How to Prevent It. He gave a very good, very practical description of the security features available in VM, with some excellent tips on tailoring them to one's installation. His underlying theme was that the native security facilities provide all the security that most installations need, if used correctly, so that there is usually no real need to install one of the expensive add-on security products, all of which cripple useful features of the system.
Having faithfully attended all the sessions up to now, I decided I could forego the last session of the day, a presentation on VM RACF, IBM's expensive add-on security product. (My ulcer thanked me, since I can't hear about RACF without remembering all the bugs that RACF has introduced into CP.) I napped for a while, but then was wakened by the maid coming in to change our towels (which they do twice a day).
She handed me a couple of sheets of paper, saying that "a bloke" had just slipped them under our door. The bloke was apparently Neale. The papers were the tabulation of the session evaluation cards from my session yesterday showing my overall "score" to be 4.6 out of 5. There was also a listing of the comments people had written in. Reading the comments really made me feel naked. Fortunately, everyone had been kind and gentle, with only a couple of mild complaints about the talk being "longish". (I'm afraid people simply have to be prepared for that when they come to my talks--or read my electronic postcards.)
The score in the audio/visual category was quite good (4.8). This is a tribute to the generosity of the VM community. So many people went through their attics looking for old pictures, and others managed to appear to be so delighted at being pressed into service to photograph buttons and diagrams and other memorabilia. (After my talk, somebody said, "You must have been putting this slide collection together for years", but it actually took only a couple of months with everybody helping.)
Lee was in the other hotel all afternoon attending some good sessions on X.400. When he got back, we headed for SCIDS and the strawberries. (Can you imagine having strawberries at SCIDS at SHARE!?!) Robin found us there and gave us each a nice little gold pin with the ASG insignia on it and said, "You've done yourselves proud", which was really good to hear. He reported that Lee's score was in and was quite good, 4.5. He also said that my 4.6 is the highest ranking at the conference so far. (It makes me feel rather odd to know that the standings are all online, and the officers can pull them up and look at them all during the day. So far as we've heard, however, there is no betting on the results.)
Robin also made sure we saw that he was wearing his cowboy boots.
Just as we were about to leave SCIDS to have another VM Project dinner, Ed Murray asked me if I would draw the winning tickets for the lottery. (The "tickets" were the stubs from the session evaluation forms for all the sessions for the first two days.) We went up onto the little stage, where Ed proudly announced, "This time we have a real barrel". Sure enough, they had a real barrel of the kind one is supposed to use on such occasions, with a handle for turning it and a little door to open to draw out the winning tickets. Ed turned the handle, and I drew. We did this five times before finally drawing the name of a person who was actually there. We kept forgetting to latch the little door before rolling the barrel again, so by the end there was a great pile of little blue ticket stubs on the floor behind the stage, but as Ed said, "That's the luck of the draw". Eventually, we managed to draw four tickets belonging to people who were in the room, and I gave them all their prizes and a kiss, even though none of them was wearing a teddy bear sticker (which I heard about when we got to dinner).
We had two long tables at a good Italian restaurant and stayed there talking for hours. One really interesting conversation Lee and I had began when I mentioned that we were having difficulty finding a guide book that discussed the geology of the country. One of the ASGers said that this and our problem finding people who know about the birds are both symptoms of Australians' "cringing" view of the world. He said that his education, which was quite typical, had left him with the belief that Australia had little of which to be proud. He had been taught British history because Australia really had no history of its own. Australians had been taught to assume that their geology wasn't interesting--it was all just flat--and that their birds and animals weren't interesting--except for a few oddities. White Australians had been taught that their own culture was entirely derivative and that the Aborigines had no culture. Recently this has all begun to change, but they still have difficulty not falling into the assumption that they are inferior to the rest of the world. He seemed quite surprised when Lee told him that Americans typically view Australia as the last great frontier and Australians as strong and self-reliant.
Another dinner companion was a wonderfully curmudgeonly guy named John Mycroft, who mentioned to Lee that the configuration diagram that Lee had shown in his talk was "the 447th configuration diagram I've seen since I started coming to ASG". When the question arose of whether we should attend the ASG closing session tomorrow afternoon, Mycroft gave us a piece of advice: "I've discovered a way to make the closing session more interesting; I try holding me breath between successive uses of the word 'successful'." When we agreed to try this scheme, Neale threatened to asphyxiate us all by using synonyms for 'successful' when he does his wrapup for the VM Project.
The hotel changed our orchids today, in case we were getting tired of the old ones.
On the news this morning, they announced that today is the first day of Fall. We were rather astonished that they've decided just to ignore the solstices and do their seasons on month boundaries. We don't know if that's done throughout the Southern Hemisphere or just in Australia.
We ran into Robin on the elevator, and he told us that I'm now tied for first place with another speaker, "but he was a professional speaker giving a motivational talk, so you should still feel proud." I'm beginning to wonder how anybody who knows about all this in advance ever works up the courage to volunteer to speak, though I can see that it certainly encourages them to do their best once they have volunteered.
The second session was the VM Forum, which is comparable to the VM Free-for-All at SHARE. In the first VM Project session on Monday, the handouts had included forms for submitting questions to be answered. The ones that were submitted by yesterday had been printed up and were handed out at the beginning of this session. Neale and two of the Project officers and Tom Pauncz, their excellent IBM rep, were seated at a table in the front of the room to answer those questions. That appeared to be enough to break the ice; after that, questions and answers came freely from the floor.
The third session was on VM performance. There were two speakers. Neale filled in for a speaker who had cancelled and did a good job of discussing the changes in tuning parameters in HPO 4.2 that had impacted his shop. (He'd had the slides sent overnight and was pleased that this would earn him one of the "ASG 20 Speaker" pins.)
The other speaker gave a wonderful talk on the work his shop had done to modify VSE so that it could execute its re-entrant code out of a saved system. It was a really first-class piece of "bits and bytes" system programming that had kept their system performing well long after it would have been out of capacity otherwise. I was really impressed.
After another really good buffet lunch, Lee went off to a token ring talk and I went to an IBM presentation on Making the Support Centre Work for You. There I learned that IBM Australia publishes a calendar with photos of Support Centre personnel. This seems to be quite popular with customers. After the session, I asked the speaker to send me a copy of it. Another piece of news: they are about to start distributing software fixes electronically using the connections that customers' 3090s have to the hardware support center.
After that, we both attended quite a good VM/XA SP2 user experiences session by Ian Richardson, a system programmer on an internal system at IBM Australia. Ian told us afterwards that he has been approached about repeating this session at the next SHARE Interim meeting in Denver, but he suspects he won't get to go. I promised him we'll make him very welcome if he does. (Wonder if there's a good place to buy cowboy boots in Denver?)
The last coffee break of ASG was really spectacular: an array of exquisite fruit flans! After that, all that was left was the ASG Closing, which was friendly and brief. Neale was good to his word and didn't say "successful" once, though most everybody else did, with good reason.
Lee and I dropped our things off in our room and then went out for a walk, camera in hand. It was very, very hot, so when we got to the tram station, I bid him goodbye and went back to the hotel for a shower and a nap. He didn't get back until after dark, having gone clear to the ocean. He had photographed the amusement park there and sailboats and swimmers and runners and rowers.
Walking along the jetty, he had come upon a penguin nesting ground, with signs warning people not to disturb the penguins or their burrows. Although there are about 15 species of penguins that can sometimes be seen along the coast, the only species that nests in Australia is the Little Penguin (also called the Fairy Penguin), which is the smallest of the penguin species (about 15 inches tall). He saw no penguins, but tomorrow we are going to Phillip Island where we are guaranteed to see them.
On the way back, he took sunset shots around Melbourne's very striking Victorian Arts Centre.
Robin had invited us to a party in his suite this evening, but we settled instead for a quiet dinner in our room, as we want to get an early start tomorrow.
As we left the center of Melbourne, we went by the Arts Centre so I could see the handsome sculptures out front that Lee photographed last evening. It was a very sunny, very hot day, and the impression we were left with of Melbourne's residential areas was of roses in bloom.
We stopped at a small grocery (actually a "sub-news agency") to buy some ice cream and to stock up on boxes of orange-mango juice. When Lee stepped up to the counter and spoke to the little old lady who ran the shop, she answered with, "My what a beautiful accent you have!" Her accent seemed to be a mixture of Irish and Australian, and we had difficulty understanding her at first. She was very friendly, so we chatted for a while before going back out into the heat.
The shop next to hers was a pet store. There were two Long-billed Corellas (large white cockatoos with blue eyes and pink faces) sitting out front in very small cages. The head of one of them had been inserted through a hole in the center of a small plastic bowl, which formed a sort of collar, presumably meant to prevent the bird from biting people. I could hardly bear to look.
We were soon out of the city, and we continued on southeast about 90 miles to Phillip Island, a coastal island connected to the mainland by a bridge. Like other islands in this area, Phillip Island is formed from basalts that were laid down as lava flows during the period 60 million years ago when Antarctica and Australia were being ripped apart.
We stopped at the information center to get maps and a poster and more bird books. They also had a video of the penguins but were out of the proper version for the U.S. We really wanted to get one to share with our parents, so the lady called around and found another place where we could get it and gave us directions for getting there.
As we drove across the island to the small town of Cowes, we saw signs warning us to watch for koalas on the road at night. There is a large koala sanctuary on the island, but the population is declining due entirely to road kills. There have been 8 koalas killed by cars there so far this year.
Cowes is a very pretty little town. Its wide main street is lined with an interesting sort of pine tree, which is a bright yellow-green and grows into a broad shape with a flat top.
While Lee went in to pick up the video, I watched the cuckoos in the trees. Australia has a dozen species of cuckoos, but only four are found on Phillip Island. I think these were Horsfield Bronze Cuckoos, but I'm not sure. Whatever they were, they were very loud and jolly despite the heat.
We had a quick late lunch in an ice cream shop and then went to a park called Observation Point. The park is a narrow strip of land along the shore. The higher parts are well shaded by another interesting sort of pine tree, rather like a Norfolk Island Pine but not so extreme. I found a nice shaded bench and opted to stay there for a couple of hours reading my penguin book while Lee went back out into the heat to explore.
I kept being distracted from my book by the antics of the Silver Gulls, however. There were a great many of them in the park, and they were all very careful to sit in the shade. This year's babies were almost out of their brown-and-white juvenile plumage, but could still be spotted because they had a few brown feathers left among the silver-grey of their wings. Their black legs and bills hadn't turned red yet, nor had the white ring formed around their eyes. Some were also still demanding to be fed by the older gulls, but were getting nowhere with that. The gulls in general were doing a good job of convincing people in the park to feed them. Whenever a few scraps were thrown to one of them, there would be a great squawking, and gulls would fly from all over the beach. Seems like they should have evolved a pattern of keeping quiet about it.
I found a perfect silver-grey feather to keep for a souvenir.
When Lee returned, we went across the road to a restaurant for dinner, and he told me about his explorations. He had seen a large flock of pale pink parrots, which turned out to be Major Mitchell Cockatoos. He'd also seen lots of Muttonbirds, a kind of shearwater.
We had left our car parked at the edge of the park. After dinner, we got into the car and Lee got out a map to show me where we'd be going. While we were sitting there, a gull landed on the hood of our car and walked over to the windshield and began pecking at its reflection in the glass. It was a first-year bird; there was still one brown feather on its breast, and it obviously didn't have good sense yet. It kept fighting its reflection while Lee got out the camera and took picture after picture. In the meantime, an audience of gulls assembled on the stone wall a few feet away to watch.
After the silly gull flew away, we drove out to the Nobbies, a point at the very western tip of the island, which is a sanctuary for both seals and penguins. There are boardwalks through the penguin rookery, designed to prevent people from stepping on the penguin burrows dug into the sand and caving them in. I picked up a tiny penguin feather beside one of the burrows. It was just like my book said it would be, a normal bird feather, but with a downy "aftershaft" at the base of the feather to insulate the penguin in cold water.
The Nobbies rise about 75 feet above sea level to a treeless, windswept plain with low-lying vegetation and many birds. There were a few picnic tables, carefully attended to by Silver Gulls and Australian Magpies (the white-backed race). There were also signs warning of the "1080" poison that had been put out to destroy rabbits. (We have seen no rabbits at all in Australia.) We have read that there are also concerted efforts made here to destroy feral cats and dogs, which greatly menace the ground-nesting birds, including the penguins.
We regretted that we couldn't stay longer, but it was time to go on so we could get good seats for the "Penguin Parade".
The Penguin Reserve does an amazingly good job of handling the thousands of visitors who arrive every evening without causing great damage to the environment. The penguins continue to thrive despite being watched every evening for the past 50 years. The island as a whole has about 6,000 breeding pairs of Little Penguins. The population of Summerland Beach, where the "parade" is, is about 1000 pairs.
Access to the beach is funneled through a handsome ranger station which has some good displays (and a shop selling every conceivable penguin souvenir). From there, there are boardwalks through the sand dunes to the concrete viewing stands on the beach. As we were walking along the boardwalk, we got to a place where there was a penguin burrow at about waist height in the sand bank right next to the boardwalk. There was a penguin sitting at the entrance to the burrow being photographed and videotaped by several people. He didn't seem to mind.
This is the moulting season, and this penguin was on land during the day because he is moulting. Each year after the chicks are raised, the penguins spend a few weeks eating as much as possible to fatten themselves up until they have doubled their normal weight of 1 kilogram. Once they are sufficiently fat, they come ashore and start moulting. They must stay ashore until their new feathers are completely in and waterproof, which means they must go three weeks with no food. By the end of that time, their weight is back down to normal.
When the moult begins, the new feathers come in below the old ones and push on them, so before the old feathers drop out they fluff up. That was the state this penguin was in. It made him look much more bird-like than penguins usually do.
We walked on down to the shore and got a seat very near the front. There are two tiers of seats going up the sand bank about 50 feet apart. Between them is one of the pathways the penguins use to get to their burrows further up in the dunes.
We waited until dusk, scanning the surf for signs of the birds. Finally about 8:15 I saw the first one, looking not unlike a large duck out in the water. I kept losing him in the waves and was try to point him out to Lee when suddenly he appeared on the shore standing very still and straight right at the edge of the water. He stood there all by himself for another 10 minutes, not daring to take another step. He looked black-and-white in the dim light, although in fact these penguins have ink-blue backs.
Finally several more birds appeared, swimming back and forth in the surf making a quacking sound. They joined the first bird at the edge of the sand and stood there for a while occasionally being swept off their feet by waves. When there were enough of them to feel brave, they started waddling up the beach and then climbing laboriously up the sand dunes to get to their burrows. They passed very close by the viewing stands.
One of the early arrivals was just tremendously fat. The poor thing could hardly walk. It would take three steps along the beach and then lie down for a while. When it got to the base of the hill, it lay down for a long while, but then it persevered and finally made its way to the top. One of the Rangers said that this was doubtlessly its last trip out to feed before beginning to moult. He also said that about 90 per cent of the birds have already begun moulting so we wouldn't be seeing as many of them "parading" as usual.
Penguins continued to arrive over the next hour, quacking greetings to one another while they were in the surf, but then falling silent once they came ashore. They always waited until there were a dozen or so before they began to waddle up the beach, and even then they sometimes took fright and ran back into the water and stayed there a while.
I think I will always remember the sight of one of them walking bravely along the front of the viewing stand just inches away from us looking for the path to its burrow.
One of them got only a few feet from the water and then stood still for half an hour. When most of the other birds had gone up the hill, a Ranger went to check this one out and found that its feet were fouled in fishing line. She picked it up and carried it off to their penguin hospital.
After an hour, they asked us to leave, saying that they wanted to turn out the lights because some of the younger birds are afraid to come out of the water while the lights are on. As we walked back along the boardwalk, we could see the late arrivals waddling by below us heading for their burrows. Then, astonishingly, all the hundreds of penguins standing beside their burrows began to sing. It was unforgettable! Standing there in the dark, with a clear starry sky above, listening to the penguins sing was absolutely wonderful. Their song couldn't be described as beautiful. One mate sings a phrase while inhaling; then the other repeats it while exhaling. It was an eerie sound really, but quite haunting. I could hardly bear to leave, but it was time to give them some peace.
As we drove back across the island, there was ground fog, so we both watched tensely to make sure we didn't hit a koala. We were somewhat relieved to get back to the mainland, though we both wished we had another few days to stay there and look for more of the 200 species of birds that can be seen on the island.
We were all alone as we headed up into the mountains on gravel roads. The sky was wonderfully clear, but we decided not to stop to stargaze because it was so late. It was after midnight when we finally got to Healesville. We made a couple of passes through town before we found the road to the Sanctuary. Our motel is way back in the woods at the edge of the Sanctuary. When we arrived, there were no lights on at all. We finally found the night bell and rang it rather guiltily. We were beginning to believe that we were going to spend the night in the car, when a friendly lady in a pink bathrobe appeared and showed us to our room.
We went back to sleep for a while, then Lee went to breakfast, where he asked the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Dempsey, to let me rest today. After breakfast, he took me across the lawn to show me the bird feeder. As we neared it, several parrots flew away into the woods scolding us as they went. We think they were Crimson Rosellas (medium-sized parrots with red bodies and blue tails, wings, and chins, although the juveniles are predominantly parrot-green with red-and-blue faces) and King Parrots (males red with green wings and tails, females predominantly green).
At breakfast, Mr. Dempsey gave Lee the letters that had arrived from his parents. They had received the postcard we sent them from Hawaii. They had been having cold and snow while we were enjoying late Summer.
After Lee left, I virtuously did some laundry (why did I pack only one night gown?), but then went back to sleep. I spent the rest of the day alternately napping and reading (a book about Lyrebirds and a book called Don't Take Your Love to Town, the memoirs of an Aboriginal woman) until Lee came back late in the afternoon.
Today was his chance for another train ride, this time on the "Puffing Billy", a narrow-gauge steam train. When he got back, he settled down to tell me about the beautiful old engines and the gorgeous temperate rain forest the train went through. The first thing he had to say was that he now knows what made that noise this morning, because on his trip he had seen some more of them doing it: Laughing Kookaburras! We should have known. One of our books says:
Family groups, which consist of a mated pair with several of their offspring, advertise their territory by calling together, usually in the morning or evening. This display is often answered by other groups.That just about describes it! In Aboriginal legend, the Kookaburra's morning laughter is the signal for the sky people to light the great fire that illuminates the earth by day.
Lee hadn't taken a bird book with him so he wanted to look at the cockatoo section while he had a fresh memory of another pair of birds he had seen. Those turned out to be Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, very large black birds with yellow cheeks and tail patches.
He had also brought presents: strawberries (Australian strawberries are so good!) and a wonderful little cut-crystal penguin that matches the teddy bear Sandra gave me several years ago to celebrate our having found a new home for VMSHARE.
Before dinner, Lee took me to meet the Dempseys' Sulphur-crested White Cockatoo, a beautiful big white bird with a wonderful yellow crest and yellow patches under his wings. Although one thinks of parrots and cockatoos as being jungle birds, in Australia several species, such as the Galahs and the Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, have evolved to be able to survive in arid regions. This cockatoo was in a big pen among the lilac bushes outside the dining room. Mr. Dempsey told Lee that the bird gets lonely and likes to have visitors. He seemed quite friendly and came over to inspect us more closely, travelling along the wire mesh of his pen using his beak as a third claw. (That beak kept us from getting any closer ourselves.) One of the half-white and half-yellow feathers from his wings was on the ground outside the pen, so I slipped it into my purse before we went into the dining room.
Shortly after we sat down for dinner, the Dempseys' daughter went to take the cockatoo in for the night, much to his chagrin. He did not want to go in. He shrieked in outrage and continued to shriek as he was carried into the kitchen, giving all the guests the impression that there might be cockatoo on the menu this evening. (The best thing about being a cockatoo is that you can really give vent to your emotions.)
We had a nice chat with Mr. Dempsey while he served dinner. His wife is shyer and stays in the kitchen doing the cooking. They had escaped to Healesville from the city fifteen years ago and love it here but miss being able to go to concerts. (There was Mozart on the radio during dinner.) The dinner was very good, chicken with a celery sauce. Dessert was passionfruit pie, which was luscious.
We went for a walk along the edge of the woods after dinner, annoying more parrots along the way, and then returned to our room to write postcards and read until time to go to sleep.
Sherbrooke is a virgin temperate rain forest of the kind that covered much of this portion of Australia before the European settlers arrived. It is extraordinarily beautiful. The canopy is made up of very tall thin eucalyptus trees. The understorey is tree ferns and something that looks rather like rhododendrons. It all looks and feels so primeval! The tree ferns are shaped like palms, but are wonderfully lacy and don't grow more than about 25 feet high. Standing under one of them looking up at the fronds silhouetted against the sky is a delight. The ground is covered by a thicket of ferns, and the smell is wonderful.
The forest was full of birds. The Kookaburras were out in force, so high up in the trees that we never did actually see any of them, but there was no doubt about their identity. Among the birds we could see were Striated Pardalotes, Eastern Yellow Robins, and Crimson Rosellas. One of the pardalotes wasn't looking where it was going and almost flew into us. There were also many birds that we couldn't see but could hear singing in the heavy undergrowth, including, I believe, Golden Whistlers.
But we saw no Lyrebirds.
What we did see (and hear) were joggers pounding along the trail scaring the Lyrebirds away. Grrrr! Lee had to restrain me from tripping a couple of them.
However, the forest was so lovely that it was still a very memorable morning, and even though it was disappointing not to be able to see Lyrebirds in the wild, we knew we could see them back at the Healesville Sanctuary. (The book I read yesterday was written by an ornithologist who, as a small child, regularly played hooky from Sunday School so that she could sneak off to Sherbrooke Forest to see the Lyrebirds and hear them sing.)
Before leaving Sherbrooke, we stopped at the ranger station (to get some orange-mango juice) and greatly enjoyed watching the dozens of Crimson Rosellas, including young, at their feeding area.
We drove back to Healesville through more rain forest, with strips of the bark that peels from the eucalyptus trees draped over everything, including phone lines. In some of the drier, sunnier areas, there were vineyards.
As we drove into the parking lot at the Healesville Sanctuary, we heard another extraordinary sound. At first, we thought it was some sort of machine, but after we got out of the car it became clear that the sound was coming from the trees all around us. It sounded like a chorus of hand-bell ringers, but with each of them having a bell that played the same note. Put one bell ringer in each tree and get them to ring their bells one at a time all over the forest, and you'll get the idea. Standing under one of the trees in the parking lot, we finally spotted one of the birds that were making this sound when its turn came around. (We never did figure out how they decide whose turn it is to sing the next note.) It was another one of the miners, but much less colorful than the miners in the bushes at Yulara. This one is called a Bell Miner or a Bellbird, not surprisingly. They continued singing all afternoon all over the sanctuary, but we've never heard them at the Sanctuary House, which is only half a kilometer away.
The first thing we did when we got into the sanctuary was go to their nice cafe for lunch (and some air-conditioning). We had just been seated at a window overlooking a patio when we spotted a pair of Superb Blue Wrens. We'd been looking for these ever since we got to Australia, so naturally they disappeared immediately. (Australia has about a dozen different species of Fairy Wrens in an amazing variety of colors: blue, turquoise, violet, red, and even black-and-white.)
After a nice lunch of chicken with a mango sauce, we left to tour the sanctuary, stopping for a bit to watch the efforts of some ibises to come into the cafe through the automatic door. Healesville has ibises almost to the same degree as the zoo in Sydney and signs asking people not to feed them. However, there are no signs saying not to feed the Emus, and the Emus wouldn't care if there were. One of the first sights we saw was a family eating their lunch at a picnic table trying to ignore the three Emus standing at the edge of the picnic table looking hungry--hungry and big. The people tried to shoo the Emus away, but Emus don't really shoo all that well. Further on, we saw an Emu eating French fries out of a fast-food container; he'd obviously done it before.
This sanctuary is the first place where koalas were successfully bred in captivity (by Sir Colin MacKenzie early in this century). Their koala exhibit was very handsome, and the koalas were awake! There was a female with a half-grown baby clinging to her back. As we watched, the baby decided that it was brave enough to climb down the tree by itself, but thought better of it about half-way down and went scampering back to its mother.
There were a male and a female Australian Wood Duck wandering around in the koala exhibit, followed by their five ducklings. There are many free-ranging birds in the sanctuary, apparently attracted here by the food and water, though we are told that the number of ducks in the sanctuary increases markedly during duck-hunting season. Altogether there are 80 species of birds that nest on the sanctuary grounds, in addition to the birds in the aviaries. For the ones that are small enough to go through the wire mesh of the aviaries, this is really a luxurious place to live. After leaving the koalas, we went to the parrot aviary, where we watched Superb Blue Wrens and Bell Miners and several other small birds darting in and out eating the parrots' food and drinking their water.
As we were getting to the eagle aviary, we saw a hard-hatted Ranger go in through a gate. Shortly after that, a man and woman followed him, not realizing that it wasn't an entrance. As the Ranger rushed them out, we heard him say, "It wasn't the eagles I was worried about."
The aviaries here are as wonderful as the ones in Sydney, and there was surprisingly little overlap of the birds. One aviary here has several each of all the Australian cockatoos. That is a raucous place! There are also some very good waterfowl aviaries, with Straw-necked Ibises and Royal Spoonbills and Nankeen Night Herons and baby Plumed Whistling-Ducks and many, many more.
At 3 pm, there was a "Meet the Ranger" session scheduled at the wombat enclosure, so we went to that. Wombats are the marsupial equivalent of badgers, very heavy-built, broad-shouldered animals. Their pouches open backwards, to keep them from getting filled with dirt when the animal is digging its burrow. The Ranger had a year-old wombat that had been hand-raised at the sanctuary after it was found alive in its mother's pouch after she was killed by a car. The Ranger started out her talk by saying that anyone who hits a marsupial should always check for live babies and bring them to someone to raise. I liked the way she handled the little wombat, carefully keeping it out of the hot sun and brushing the flies away from its face.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Lyrebird aviaries. There were two of them, each heavily forested and containing a number of different large rain-forest birds (as well as the usual complement of small rain-forest birds who knew their way in and out). Many of the birds seemed to be unhappy about the heat, so there were sprinklers going in the aviaries to cool them off. Some of the wonderful birds we saw:
In the first Lyrebird aviary, the male was building a mound almost out of sight (they build mounds upon which to sing and display their tails). The female was wandering around where we could see her. Lyrebirds eat bugs and worms and things that they find in the litter on the forest floor. They have very large, very powerful claws. We watched this female dig a hole as large as herself in a couple of minutes. (We have read that a pair of Lyrebirds typically turns over the entire forest floor in its territory every two years.)
In the second aviary, the male was quite a showman and not at all timid. In fact, one had to be careful not to step on him. He didn't display his tail for us, but he did hop up onto a railing to pose for photos.
There is a third Lyrebird aviary, which is not open, where they have finally succeeded in breeding the birds. They found that the key factors seemed to be carefully protecting the aviary from predators and making a plentiful and varied supply of food available for the female. So far, only one chick has grown up, but they are hoping that they will now be able to breed more to try to save the birds from extinction.
We left just before closing time, stopping in their shop to get a Lyrebird video to share with our parents and an Emu poster for me. We left with the Bellbirds still ringing in our ears.
We showered and changed and went out to see the cockatoo before dinner. During the day he had lost one of the wonderful curled yellow feathers from his crest. It was on the ground inside his pen, so we conspired to come back later and snatch it while he wasn't looking.
Mrs. Dempsey had prepared another wonderful dinner, perfectly broiled fish. The dessert was apple cobbler with heavy cream. The music was Bartok. And the cockatoo was just as distraught at being brought in this evening as last.
After dinner we purloined the feather.
Then, once it was dark, we drove off to a nice open hill Lee had found to stargaze. There was some light from Melbourne, 65 kilometers to the west, but that interfered very little. We could see not only the Large Magellanic Cloud, but also the Small! And we saw the Milky Way as never before! It was magnificent!
When Lee was checking out, Mr. Dempsey asked him if New Jersey produces maple syrup and was disappointed to learn that it doesn't. Another American guest had promised to send him some, but never did, so the Dempsey's never found out what maple syrup tastes like. Lee can take a hint; he promised to send them some maple syrup.
Before we left Healesville, we stopped at Australia Post to send off our postcards. There was a big, old tree outside the Post Office from which a remarkable, rusty-bed-spring sound was coming. We had a hard time seeing what was making the sound, but decided that it was probably Magpies, though we didn't think that was how Magpies were supposed to sound.
We headed northeast from Healesville on the Black Spur Road to the Maroondah Highway. We agreed that the few miles of the Black Spur Road was one of the most beautiful places we had ever been. It was temperate rain forest, like Sherbrooke, but even more lovely. The road climbed a winding path through fern trees and Mountain Ash (a very tall eucalyptus that shows a lovely white trunk where strips of its deciduous bark have peeled off). The undergrowth was ferns and small bushes covered with white flowers.
After about five miles, we were across the Great Dividing Range, and the landscape changed very abruptly to a high arid plain. For the rest of the day, we were in very hot, very arid lands, where all the birds and animals made a point of keeping in the shade. In areas where there were enough trees, there were signs warning about koalas on the road. (There had been Lyrebird warning signs in the Healesville area.) I actually saw two koalas during the morning, fast asleep in their trees. They were easier to spot than I had expected, because they were sleeping in trees that had white bark, rather than brown.
Shortly after getting into the arid area, we stopped at a scenic overlook. The first thing we saw after getting out of the car was a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, looking quite beautiful, lying face down in the grass, obviously hit by a car or truck earlier in the day. Sigh. I didn't take any of its feathers (though my mother would have).
After a while, we began seeing some of the extensive network of reservoirs in this area. We stopped at one to look at the birds. As we watched, a White-faced Heron wading along the edge caught a small fish and gobbled it down. We also saw pelicans (the Australian Pelican is the world's largest) and a variety of ibises. There was one flock of Straw-throated Ibises that included a single White Ibis. They were very dramatic, wheeling about above us, all those big black wings with one pair of white.
We stopped for lunch in the town of Glenrowan, famed for being the site of the capture of the bandit Ned Kelly. There were 40-foot tall figures of Ned and the Sheriff and others atop the buildings in the center of town. One could buy all sorts of Ned Kelly souvenirs, including copies of the armor he wore during his final battle. What can I say? It was more tasteful than Dodge City. We were able to get quite a good lunch and some boxes of cold orange-mango juice to take with us on our hot, dusty journey.
As we were driving along in the afternoon, Lee spotted a camel, but I missed it. He also saw two wombats, dead on the road, which I was glad to have missed.
Last evening, as we were going over a map of our route for today, we noticed the town of Albury not far out of our way. We immediately decided to detour through Albury to get a postcard to send to Don Albury, in Media Services, who did such a great job on the slides for our talks at ASG. Albury is in New South Wales, just across the Murray River from Victoria. We spotted an information center in a pretty park right after we crossed the bridge. They had just the right "Greetings from Albury" postcard there, and a nice lady offered to mail it for us on Monday, so it would have an Albury postmark.
Lee then got out one of our suitcases and dug through it and pulled out the other fruit juice bottle we'd carefully washed and dried back there in Yulara. (You'd been worrying about that, hadn't you?) He left me standing in the park watching birds and our car (which we'd opened up to cool out in the lovely shade) and went off to the river bank to get a bottle of the Murray River for Clarence Brown.
(Just before we left Princeton, Jacqueline mentioned that Clarence had asked if we could send him a postcard of the Murray River, explaining that he was interested because of the Murray's literary prominence. (Clarence is a Professor of Comparative Literature.) When I told Lee about that, he got a mischievous look on his face and said, "We'll bring him a bottle of Murray River water!")
He came back from the river carrying a bottle of rather unpleasant looking water and sand and who-knows-what, claiming it would look better once it had settled. Then he led me to a tree he had spotted on his way back, where there were two Magpies making that rusty-bed-spring sound. We stood below them and watched, so there could be no doubt. This seems very strange, since several of our books refer to "the Magpie's beautiful dawn chorus". Maybe they sound better early in the morning.
We were just driving away from the park when I thought I saw a pair of Galahs flying by. These are another extremely common Australian bird that we had managed not to see at all so far. They are a large rose-and-grey cockatoo, with a paler rose crest. We have been expecting to see large flocks of them everywhere and haven't seen a single bird. Lee turned the car around and went in the direction they'd been flying, but we lost them. So we gave up on New South Wales for the time being and crossed back over the Murray into Victoria.
We stopped in the old mining town of Chiltern, which we would have taken for a ghost-town except for the beautiful flowers, especially the trumpet vines and the bright yellow-orange cannas. Otherwise, the whole town looked as though nothing had changed since about 1925, even the posters outside the movie theatre. The only other people we saw were an elderly couple sitting on a bench eating ice cream cones.
After a bit of wandering about, we found Chiltern's polychrome-brick train station, also surrounded by flowers. As Lee got out to take some photos, he saw a used railroad spike just lying there all by itself on the ground, so now our luggage is even heavier than it was before. We also saw a Crested Pigeon there, so pretty with its blue-brown feathers and red eyes.
We spent a long time driving past Lake Hume, an enormous reservoir. The number and variety of waterfowl along the lake were amazing--herons, pelicans, ibises, ducks, geese, bitterns. (It was then that we discovered that there are four plates of waterfowl missing from our new Australian bird book, the old one being packed inconveniently away.) I would have been happy to spend days there looking at the birds. The level of the reservoir was obviously far below normal. Much of the bottom was being used as cattle pasture, and we could see the old town of Tallangatta, which had been submerged by the reservoir, but was now exposed again.
Late in the afternoon, as we turned back into the mountains, the sky began to grow cloudy and dark. Then the wind came up and we were treated to a tiny bit of rain and a great deal of lightening. There was just enough rain to cool us and dampen everything and make the soil and the eucalyptus trees smell wonderful. We stopped at a mountain-top lookout near Koetong where we could see range after range of mountains and watch the storm rolling over. Much of the land in this area is in tree farms, which must be a tremendous loss of habitat for the native animals. (The trees are introduced species.)
As we neared Corryong, we spotted a forest fire high on a ridge, presumably set by the lightening. We could see the flames quite clearly, and there was quite a bit of smoke blowing in our direction. Right after we pulled off the highway to stop and look, a fire engine came racing up, turned off the road and headed cross-country toward the fire. In another minute or two, another engine came up from the opposite direction. It followed across the flat land between the road and the mountain and then started climbing up the mountain. Meanwhile, the smoke was blowing in the direction of a flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos who were sitting in some trees not far from us. They became quite distraught, although the fire was a mile away from them. Once the cockatoos started flying around shrieking, then a flock of Magpies also became hysterical, and pandemonium followed. The two fire engines continued to inch their way up steeper and steeper parts of the mountain. We finally left because we didn't want to be there to see the engines come tumbling down.
We got to Corryong just before dark and just before the storm hit here. Our motel, like many of the homes in this area, is very heavily planted, with lots of flowering bushes providing relief from the general aridity of the area.
We had dinner at a new restaurant with a very chic menu. Just as we were seated at our table, a flock of birds settled into the huge pine trees outside, only slightly visible through the heavy lace curtains. They were Galahs, at last, hundreds of them! It was just beginning to rain as I went out to get a better look. They expressed quite a lot of dissatisfaction about the rain.
Through dinner, Lee persevered in hoping that we would be able to go stargazing again this evening (we forgot last night to try to see Kappa Crucis, the "Jewel Box" star cluster below the left arm of the Southern Cross), but the sky is now completely covered with clouds, so we have settled down to read for a while before falling to sleep to the sound of rain on the roof.
The big news in the paper was that while we were idling in that peaceful park in Albury yesterday afternoon, a few blocks away the police were besieging a house in which a man was holding people hostage at gunpoint. None of this was apparent to us or to the families picnicing in the park.
The lady who owns the motel served us a nice breakfast in our room. Then, while Lee was packing (he prefers to do it himself), I went out to explore the area around the motel. The only birds I could see (I could hear lots that I couldn't see) were a bunch of Magpies.
They don't sound a bit more musical early in the morning.
I found a very small section of rain forest, carefully created by someone who needed an escape from all this aridity. It was constructed in and around a sort of cabin with only three walls and a slat roof. There was an artificial stream running across the dirt floor and out the open side. A continuous spray of water built up the humidity. The building was full of mosses and ferns, even things as delicate as maidenhair ferns. Around the outside were fern trees and other large rain-forest plants, all thriving in the shade of some large trees. The stream ran down to a little fish pond, whence the water was pumped back up to a point just behind the cabin. It was all remarkably pretty.
We headed east toward the Snowy Mountains. Shortly after leaving Corryong, we stopped for a few minutes in a pretty meadow to look at the birds. There we heard the Willy Wagtail's sweet song for the first time.
Looking toward the mountains from the meadow, we could see a great plume of smoke from another, larger forest fire. As we got closer, we could see airplanes and helicopters flying over the fire dumping chemicals. When we got to the entrance to the Kosciusko National Park, we stopped at the information center but found that it was closed, because it was being used as a headquarters for the firefighters. There were a few trucks out front and a small group of men standing on the porch drinking coffee. They were wearing fire-fighting gear and looked very tired and dirty. When one of them saw Lee about to snap their picture, he shyly hid behind the others and then got well teased about it.
This area is part of the massive Snowy River Scheme, which includes tunnels, dams, pumping stations, power stations, etc. Water is moved across the Snowy Mountains from the Snowy River, the Murrumbidgee, the Eucumbene, the Tumut, and others to the Murray River to provide both irrigation water and hydroelectric power.
We stopped to look at Murray 2 Power Station. It has an airstrip that was being used by the fire-fighting planes. Very near the airstrip, Lee spotted a pair of Masked Plovers (handsome brown-white-and-black birds with bright yellow facial wattles). He got out to take their picture, but they wouldn't let him get close enough for a really good shot.
We drove on further into the mountains and stopped at the Murray 1 Power Station, which is quite an impressive sight. Several huge pipes come down the mountain to feed water to twelve enormous generators. The water is then piped down to Murray 2 to generate still more power.
The fire was on the other side of the mountain from Murray 1. We watched helicopters flying over the ridge, dumping their loads, and flying back. Swooping playfully around the power lines from the power station were Welcome Swallows, pretty little grey-and-black swallows with rust-colored throat patches.
That's as close as we got to the fire. The plume of smoke was soon lost behind us as we drove further into the mountains through beautiful eucalyptus forests. The mountain roads were mostly gravelled and were quite dusty, but the scenery was wonderful. We stopped at one wayside park near the top of a mountain and had a wonderful view of several ranges. An Australian retired couple came along while we were there, and we chatted for a while. The man said that, "The nice thing about this country is that there is nothing that can hurt you." I mentioned that we'd read about the amazing variety of poisonous and venomous things in the ocean, and he agreed that it was best to stay out of the ocean. He also allowed as how both bushfires and crocodiles can be quite dangerous, "but we don't have Grizzly Bears or anything like that".
We stopped at another little park down low in one of the passes. There was a bright stream called Leatherbarrel Creek tumbling along through it, full of fish.
We also stopped at the Pilot Overlook, so we could take a picture of Pilot Mountain, "the headwaters of the Murray River", for Clarence Brown.
By noon, we were up quite high. The forest had thinned out. The trees were all alpine Eucalyptus species. There were many, many wildflowers in bloom.
We stopped for a good lunch of homemade soup at a fancy ski resort called Thredbo. Since it is late summer (I reckon according to the solstices), there was almost nobody there, but even so it was almost impossible to find a place to park. I hate to think what it must be like in the winter.
By the time we left Thredbo, dark clouds were gathering. It was pouring by the time we got to the entrance to the "Ski Tube" just a couple of kilometers further on. The Ski Tube is a rather amazing railroad that opened two years ago; it is about 11 kilometers long, mostly underground, through the Ramshead Range. Its whole purpose is to make it easy for people to get to the Perisher Valley and Blue Cow ski areas. It is cunningly arranged so that the station and parking area are below the snow line.
The Ski Tube station is a vast place, very handsome and very high-tech, done mostly in red and white, so it looks Swiss. There was almost nobody else there; we echoed when we talked. We got a "Ski Australia" sweatshirt for our nephew Christopher to wear in Maine.
Early in the afternoon, we crossed the dam that forms Lake Jindabyne. It is here that water is snatched away from the Snowy River, pumped up a ways and through some tunnels, and then sent cascading down the pipes to the Murray River on the other side of the mountains.
The rest of the afternoon, we were in rain or clouds driving across high plains toward Canberra. Again, the rain made the eucalyptus woods smell just wonderful. We were back in kangaroo country--we kept seeing signs warning of kangaroos on the road for the next n kilometers--but when at last I saw one, it was all crumpled up by the side of the road. An even more distressing sight was three Galahs hanging upside down from a power line, claws clenched tightly around the line, wings outstretched. (We assume that they were members of a big flock that settled on the line and weighed it down so that it touched another and electrocuted them.)
Arriving in Canberra right at the evening rush hour, after all these days in the bush, was a bit of culture shock. Canberra is located in the ACT, the Australian Capitol Territory, which is like the District of Columbia, but much larger and much newer. Yesterday the citizens of the ACT voted for their first local government, but many votes went to candidates from the three parties that are opposed to home-rule for the ACT, so they are now having difficulty organizing a coalition government. (The opposition to home-rule is based on a fear of increased taxes.)
Like most planned cities, Canberra feels a bit unnatural--things are on too large a scale. It also has a really confusing plan. It is divided into a number of roughly triangular sectors. All the streets change names as they cross the major boulevards that divide the city into these sectors! We had rather a trying time finding our hotel.
Nevertheless, Canberra is quite a handsome city. There are lots of trees and flowers, including more of those bright flame-orange cannas we've been seeing for the past few days. The New Parliament Building must be the only Post Modern parliament building in the world. It is quite striking (and maybe a bit pretentious, but nothing like the Rayburn Building in DC). There was an absolutely marvelous roadcut near it, only 10-15 feet deep, for a traffic circle. One could have taught an entire geology course using that cut for illustrations, but there was no place to stop to study it.
After we got to our hotel, Lee dashed off to the Friends Meeting House to get pictures of it before dark. When he returned, he reported that there had been a major bird fight going on in the park across the street.
We had dinner in our room, pretending not to notice that the waiter tracked in wet concrete. (When Lee phoned for reservations, they warned him that there'd be some construction going on.)
The newspaper this evening says that the Governor of Queensland was rushed to the hospital yesterday after having been bitten by a spider while planting a tree in his garden. I'm inclined to think that maybe Grizzly Bears aren't so bad after all. (When we were in Montana at the University's geology camp, we stopped for refreshments one day at a place called the Grizzly Bar. It had a sign up saying that no checks were accepted from Princeton alumni.)
Also in the paper this evening is a story about an 88-year-old woman named Nellie Bowley who raises cattle on her farm in Queensland. She claims to have shot 4,000 dingoes in her life, in the course of protecting her new-born calves. Her geese warn her when there are dingoes about. "They fly down to the house honking their heads off."
Tomorrow we will be back by the ocean again.
More wet concrete got tracked in when the waitress brought breakfast to our room, after which we had quite a struggle getting around/over the guys laying tile in the hallway as we carried our luggage out.
We really aren't ready to end our idyll in the bush!
Before leaving Canberra, we stopped by the Meeting House so Lee could photograph it in better light. We saw a flock of Galahs in the park across the street, so we walked over to see if we could get a good picture of them. They were in the shade of some big trees, so Lee tried to "herd" them out into the sunshine (he was using film designed for very bright areas). Every time he got close enough to make them want to move, they'd call him a lot of bad names in Galahese and then flutter over into the shade of another tree.
All this excitement attracted the attention of a pair of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos who began following us about, from tree to tree, yelling at us to get out of the park. Soon a large flock of Crimson Rosellas started screeching at us too, and then a mob of Magpies and some Bush Cuckoos. The park was becoming a pretty raucous place, but then we heard the sweet trilling of the pretty little Magpie Larks for the first time. We stood listening to them for a bit, while the Galahs flew off to find a better class of park.
Not far out of Canberra, we were again in open, arid plain, though the newspaper had reported severe flooding in the vicinity during last evening's rain. Driving along, we spotted a type of road sign that has become familiar to us: white with a silhouette of an airplane in blue and the words "Police Aerial Patrols Check Speeds". This particular sign had been enhanced with a wonderful graffito: "Pigs can fly!"
As today was to be our last chance to spot wild kangaroos, we kept scanning for them. By the end of the morning, we had seen 2 kangaroos and 1 wallaby, all dead on the road. A postcard we found in Yulara warned, "Don't Banga Kanga", but it does seem to keep happening.
We stopped in the small town of Braidwood to mail postcards. While Lee went to the Post Office, I waited in a park. Standing there in the shade, I noticed a middle-aged couple coming into the park, dressed in pants and matching T-shirts. I wondered whether they realized that the design on their T-shirts gave the impression, from a distance, of a swastika. Then, when they passed by me, I could see that their shirts said something about "Storm Troopers"!
When Lee returned from the Post Office, he described the town's monument to its dead from "The Great War". From a town that now has a population of about 1200, 250 men had been lost.
By late in the morning, we were again in temperate rain forest, as we descended toward the coast. There were ferns and fern trees, like those back in Healesville, but there was also a kind of plant that we couldn't figure out at all; it seemed to be a cross between a fern and a palmetto. We finally stopped and went into the woods to get a closer look, resulting in one of us becoming convinced it had to be a fern and the other becoming convinced it had to be a palmetto. We found out later, looking through one of our books, that it was a cycad--a really ancient plant, the first plant to evolve true seeds. It was indeed wonderfully primeval looking.
As the road descended toward the ocean, we began to see white lillies in bloom along the road and in the woods, hundreds and hundreds of them.
By lunchtime, we were in Bateman's Bay, a pretty little seacoast town. We had lunch in a small cafe from which we could watch the boats and the gulls and then stopped at a nice fruit stand to see if we could find out what mangoes look like, but the lady told us that they are out of season. So, we raided a used paperback bookstore and then drove on up the coast.
From then on, we were in areas that were very green, unlike all the rest of the countryside that we've been through since we left Sydney. As we got further north, we began to see palm trees growing wild. It seems so very odd to see a palm tree in the middle of a green pasture.
We stopped for refreshments in the afternoon heat and discovered a new treat: orange-passionfruit juice! The juice store was also selling gummy wallabies, so we bought some to take home to the other sysprogs.
We next visited a waterfowl preserve along the shore. The beach was basalt, no sand at all. (I haven't been able to figure out the geology here. I don't think this lava is the result of the splitting away of Antarctica. The east coast of Australia has moved over a mantle hot-spot during its current trip north, and that has created quite a few volcanoes, but I doubt it caused all this basalt.) Fantastic pine trees grew along the beach, and the gulls were enjoying life, thanks to the families at the picnic tables. We hiked out along the edge of the water to explore the tidal pools and then drove on again.
Soon we were passing through the industrial city of Wollongong. The air pollution there was astonishing, even to people from New Jersey! Black smoke was pouring out of smokestacks all over the area. However, half a mile away, we had seen a bay with dozens of ducks and pelicans and Black Swans, apparently in good health.
It wasn't far from there to Sydney. We soon met up with Peter and Carol Jobusch at their hotel in Sydney's Rocks area, the oldest part of the city, now nicely restored and full of tourist attractions. The hotel is right on the edge of the Harbour, within a few hundred feet of the Circular Quay ferry port and railroad station and within a few hundred feet of the berth where the Queen Elizabeth II is to dock on Friday morning. (That berth is now occupied by the Vasco da Gama.)
The Jobusches have been here since Sunday evening and spent today on a train tour to the wine country. The four of us went to dinner at a good Italian cafeteria in Circular Quay where they caught us up on all the gossip from the SHARE meeting in Los Angeles last week, including an account of the lavish 10th birthday party for REXX that was held at the Rex Restaurant in Newport Beach. (My fondest memory of the Rex is of white-chocolate ice cream with fresh raspberries.) After dinner, we went to their room to see Carol's evening gowns for their trip on the QE II (as well as Peter's cummerbunds). They gave us an itinerary for their trip, which is going to be fabulous; they stop at Brisbane, Bali, Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Taipei, and finally fly home from Japan.
I just gave Neale a call to let him know we made it back safely and to confirm our date for a real Australian "barbie" tomorrow evening.
The others picked me up about 3:30, and we headed out to the suburb of Wakeley. Even though we had a "Gregory's" (the canonical Australian city map), it was a relief to have Pete doing the navigating, as the route was rather complex. We were also glad to have taken Neale's advice to make the trip before the rush hour.
The barbie was at the home of Helen Ferguson's sister and brother-in-law, Fay and Graham Neill. (The plans had been made while Helen was still expecting to be in a cast.) The door was answered by a charming teenage girl, the Neills' eldest daughter--"My mother just phoned to say there would be four Americans coming." She did a very nice job being hostess until her parents got home from work. Meanwhile, her three younger sisters came home, too, and immediately headed for their backyard swimming pool.
Neale and Helen soon arrived, with Helen looking much sprightlier than the last time we had seen her. Neale presented Carol and me with koala "bears" from the ASG VM Project, and Carol presented Neale with buttons and bears from the SHARE VM Group, as well as a dozen of the new IBM (Kingston) VM poster. (She went on to explain that although the IBMers designing the poster had been ordered not to include any teddy bears, they had managed to work the constellation Ursa Major into the design. (Ursa Major isn't visible here, of course.))
We adjourned to the Neills' beautifully landscaped yard and were soon joined by two very charming New Zealanders, Phil and Judith Steele. (Phil is Neale's boss.) We stayed until almost midnight, talking about all kinds of things and having a wonderful time. (As Carol said, it was so nice to be able to visit "real people" in their home.) Helen and Neale and Fay and Graham are planning a 5-1/2 week trip to the U.S. and Europe this summer, so much of the talk was about their plans. Carol promised them a reciprocal barbecue when they're in Washington. We hope they will also be able to stop in Princeton; if they do, I will make them a Mongolian Firepot (a traditional American dish).
At one point I was talking about how much we have been enjoying the wonderful fruit and fruit juices in Australia and mentioned our difficulty finding out what mangoes look like. One of the children was immediately sent next door to fetch the Neills' very amusing "fruiterer" neighbor, Lindsay Tilbrook. (He is a fruit importer and exporter.) Lindsay brought over a bowl of excellent grapes and a book called Tropical Fruits for Australia. Now I know what mangoes look like, and all the other mystery fruits in Sandra's basket have been identified. Lindsay told us that thousands of hectares in northern Australia are now planted with mango trees that will start bearing in the next few years. The Australians plan to export much of the fruit to North America, so maybe we'll soon be getting orange-mango juice at home.
Another of the children was later sent next door to fetch Fergs, Lindsay's dog (whose name derives from the fact that he was born on Neale's birthday) for us to see.
Dinner was excellent, grilled steaks and sausages, with all the trimmings. Dessert was the "Pavlova" that Helen had promised us when we were in Sydney earlier. (Pavlova is a traditional Australian dessert, a very light meringue and fruit dish, the fruit in this case being passionfruit. Pete assured us all that it really should be called "Pavlov" since in the future he expects to salivate whenever he thinks of it.)
It was a beautifully clear evening, so we were able to show Pete and Carol the Southern Cross from the Neills' back yard before reluctantly saying goodnight.
The University was built way out in the suburbs so there would be room for expansion, but it has grown so much that now the buildings are tall and very close together. Even so, the campus is beautifully landscaped; there are many flowering bushes and many birds. We got to the University in time to visit two bookstores before our appointment at the Computer Centre. We found some nice bird books but still haven't found a geology guidebook.
We spent the rest of the morning talking with the system programmers for the University's 3090 VM system, two of whom we had met at ASG. We had lots of mutual problems to talk over. We also gave them a very hard sell on VMSHARE and BITNET. They had arranged for us to meet with some of their colleagues and managers during a delightful lunch in a room overlooking the University's beautiful grounds. At lunch, we finally met an Australian who had been to Ayres Rock! We also got advice on which are the best bookstores in Sydney and some recommendations about Australian folk music. We spent the afternoon in a conference room with the sysprogs and their managers and two systems people from MacArthur University, all talking as fast as we could. We could have stayed for days, but finally had to leave to get to the Opera House on time. Everybody walked out to "taxicab corner" with us, and we bid one another goodbye after exchanging electronic addresses.
During our cab ride from the University to our hotel, the driver was telling us that there has been an extremely large solar flare that is expected to disrupt radio communications during the evening and night. He was worried that he won't be able to hear when his dispatcher is trying to send him on a job.
By the time we got to the Opera House, black clouds were beginning to roll in. We met Pete and Carol out on a terrace. They were in formal attire, not having wanted to miss such a wonderful "photo opportunity". (Carol had persuaded Pete not to wear the Australian hat he had acquired during the day with his tuxedo.) We photographed them thoroughly and then went inside for a really good tour of the Opera House. A nice guide took us all over the building, including into some of the areas where costumes and sets are stored. He also described some of the controversy during the building of the Opera House. It was originally budgeted for $7 million, but finally cost $104 million, as the builders were having to invent technology as they went. (All but $1 million was raised by the Opera House Lottery.) The architect grew so tired of the criticism that he quit before the building was finished and has never been back to see it. It is difficult now to imagine Sydney or Sydney Harbour without the Opera House, which is simply splendid.
After the tour, we had dinner in the Opera House Restaurant, which has glass walls looking out over Circular Quay and the Harbour. Dinner was excellent, an Australian gamebird, with almond mousse for dessert. As we were eating dinner, we watched tugboats tie up to the Vasco da Gama. We were all glad to see that, given that Carol's father is supposed to arrive on the QE II in the morning. It was raining quite hard by then, but Carol dashed out onto a terrace to take pictures of the tugboats taking the da Gama out to the ocean. The rest of us watched from inside and politely refrained from eating her raspberries.
After dinner we did a bit of shopping in one of the Opera House shops. Then it was time for the performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers. The performance was delightful, very colorful and bright. They had done quite a good job working local references into the patter songs. One touch we particularly liked was that all the boats were built in the style of the boats for the Henley-on-Todd Regatta.
During the intermission, we went up into one of the lobbies and stood before the glass wall watching the storm over the Harbour. It was the most violent lightening storm any of us had ever seen and lasted for a very long time. The storm was stalled over the city, so the lightening appeared to be striking the same buildings over and over. Pete and I spoke with an Australian lady watching the storm next to us. She told us that the aurora is called the "Aurora Australis" in the Southern Hemisphere and that there would be no chance of our seeing it this far north, even after such a violent flare as the one today.
Fortunately, the rain had stopped by the time the performance ended, so we walked with Carol and Pete back around the rim of the Harbour to their hotel before catching a cab back to ours.
We saw our first sunrise when we got up early to sort through all our stuff and make out lists for Customs before packing everything again.
We stored the luggage at the hotel and began a very fast, very hot walking tour of Sydney. We stopped first at the Australian Museum to buy a few more posters. We were both delighted when Lee spotted some audio tapes of Australian birdsongs there. We got one with Kookaburras and Bell Miners to take home to amaze our friends with.
We walked on through Hyde Park, which was full of Silver Gulls and Sacred Ibises. The ibises showed a marked preference for perching on trash cans. We also got a glimpse of a flock of lorikeets flying over.
We found a fabric shop that had been recommended to us, and bought some peacock-blue Australian wool for John Hartmann. Next, we raided the Australia Post's philatelic center and then hit one more bookstore. We found a good book about the geology at last, as well as a book about a trip down the Murray to take to Clarence.
We stopped in the Victoria Arcade, a magnificent old shopping arcade that has been beautifully restored, so Lee could take a few pictures. We also took pictures of tree fern fronds unwinding in one of the parks.
We got to the Rocks area about lunch time, so we stopped at the Regent Hotel for a posh, air-conditioned lunch. Each table in the restaurant had a vase containing sprays of a tiny yellow oncidium orchid. The waitress said they were a native Australian orchid. I could hardly take my eyes off them.
After lunch, we met Carol and Pete and Carol's father at Circular Quay. Carol's father was a bit wobbly as the result of the violent storm the ship went through yesterday. The passengers had been asked to remain in their quarters and were fed on paper plates! Carol and Pete had been up to photograph the arrival of the QE II early this morning from the steps of the Opera House, where they had met a jolly group of people who had just finished striking the sets for one of the productions. The group asked Carol to find out whether anybody on board the ship had taken their picture and gave her an address to send it to, if so.
They took us aboard the ship and gave us an excellent tour. Their stateroom is huge. It even has a king-sized bed! Peter allowed as how they'll be thinking of us crammed into our plane while they're lolling about this evening. We also found the Computer Learning Center, which met even Pete's discerning standards for the latest equipment.
We bid them goodbye, took a few more pictures of the ship, stopped for some lemonade in Circular Quay, and then went off to look for a taxi to go to the airport. Before finding a taxi, we found a sidewalk fruit stand. I asked the man if he had any mangoes. He showed them to us, and I thanked him, explaining that we had just wanted to see what they look like. Instead of cursing me (as I would have expected in New York), he instead said, "Oh, here, smell one of them", and held one out for us to smell--quite lovely!
So, off to the hotel to pick up our bags and then out to the airport. To our great delight, Neale was there to bid us goodbye! We had only a few minutes to chat with him and thank him for his wonderful hospitality. Then I kissed him good and we said goodbye before going off to do all the necessary things: pay our Departure Tax, change our money, go through Australian Customs, and go through airport security.
The plane taxied out along Botany Bay, took off over the ocean, and then turned back past the city, giving us a splendid view of all of downtown Sydney, including the QE II.
We immersed ourselves in books as the plane headed toward the night and an ocean sunset.
When we got to Honolulu, we had to get off and ride some little buses to the U.S. Customs area, after which we returned to the terminal just in time to see a glorious Hawaiian sunrise, our second morning of March 10. We had breakfast in a restaurant looking out toward the mountains, and then Lee bought me a beautiful orchid lei before we boarded the plane to Denver. As we took off, we finally got to see something of Hawaii, including some fascinating volcanic craters.
The next thing we saw, other than the tops of clouds, was the Rocky Mountains. Beginning to feel a bit like Saint Exupery's Petit Prince, we watched a sunset over the Rockies from the Denver airport and then headed on away from the sun toward Newark.
We were up and packed in time to catch the 1:15 pm limo home to Princeton where Lee has just taken a picture of me sitting in front of our terminal reading my electronic mail attired in a flannel nightgown and my lei.
Love to you all,
- Wednesday, February 15: Aborigines from Northern Telecom install telephone cable in scenic Series/1 room.
- Friday, February 24: Aborigines installing new telephone cables turn off power in scenic Series/1 room without telling anyone. idunno response is very poor without power.
- Tuesday, March 7: FOUR ... FOUR. Four inches of snow on the ground ... wind chill factor of four degrees Fahrenheit.