Australia (1984)

                                          The Land Down Under

I’m not sure where the idea to go to Australia first came up. . We’ve always wanted to go there and we thought that we should do something special to celebrate our big centennial birthday month but it was probably Jill’s enthusiastic reports for her trip to Australia the previous year that convinced us. Then, when Ron and Gay Baukol started talking about a trip Down Under to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, our decision was made.

australia1.jpg (77951 bytes) Sidney Opera House                                                                                                                                    Val's 50th Birthday Party - Barrier Reef

Sydney. Australia is a long way from White Bear Lake and so it was almost a day and a half after we left home that our plane finally touched down at Botany Bay in Sydney. We were relieved to discover as we got off the plane that, even though we were finally on the bottom side of the globe, we didn’t have to worry about falling off. Gravity works.

Sydney harbor has to rank among the most beautiful harbors in the world. It’s best seen from the water so our first adventure after catching up with Ron and Gay was a cruise to get acquainted with the harbor and it’s famous landmarks, the harbor bridge and the opera house. The opera house, which one person described as looking like seven nuns in a rowboat, is equally dramatic from the inside as from the exterior. We had dinner at the opera house one night followed by a performance of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" But the highlight of our stay in Sydney was a dinner cruise on a fifty foot yacht as tag-along guests of a 3M group. If the harbor is spectacular during the day, it is even more so at night.

We rented a car for the weekend and drove to Newcastle and the Hunter River Valley, a well-know wine growing region, where we did some wine tasting. But the most pleasant part of the weekend was an unexpected day with the Robert Clancey family, who invited us for tea . . . which then stretched out into an all-day outing into the mountains for a barbecue and wild flower search with a group of their friends. (Rob first met the Clanceys while hitchhiking in Europe two years before. He gave their address to Jill, who spent a week with them when she "stopped for tea" the following year. They typify that great Aussie hospitality which we found throughout our trip).

The Great Barrier Reef. From Sydney we flew north to the tropics, where we spent the next four days at a resort on Hayman Island in the Whitsunday Island group off the coast of Queensland. The island was about twenty-five miles from the Great Barrier Reef which is one of the true natural wonders of the world. Our first trip to the Outer Reef was by motor launch and we spent the day on the reef with Ron, Gay and Val snorkeling, sunning and reef walking, while I had a chance to scuba dive along the reef. It was a wonderland of coral and tropical fish and a thrill that I’ll never forget.

The next day was Val’s big birthday so we chartered a helicopter to fly back out to the reef where we got a view of it from the air and a true feeling for its size and majesty. We did more snorkeling and exploring before braking out the champagne bottle and glasses we’d smuggled aboard and toasting the birthday girl. I’m not sure what we’ll do for a birthday encore next year.

Brisbane.   Reluctantly we left Hayman Island after four wonderful days and flew to Brisbane, where Ron and Gay left us for Japan. We hated to see them take their leave. It would be hard to find more congenial traveling companions. We were met at the airport by Rev. Ray Thompson, who’d been our house guest last Spring while in White Bear Lake on a mission program. We spent a pleasant weekend with the Ray and his family including dinner at their home on Saturday night and a drive down the Gold Coast to see the famous Queensland beaches.

We finished the day with a visit to the zoo to do the things that all tourists to Australia do . . . pet a kangaroo and hold a snugly koala bear. Zoos in Australia are worth a visit. You see animals you don’t see the Northern Hemisphere . . . not just roos and koala, but exotic beasts like wombats, Tasmanian devils and duckbilled platypuses along with native birds like emus, cockatoos and kookaburras. Fun.

australia2.jpg (82179 bytes) Feeding the 'Roos                                                                                                                                                                              Koala Bear

The Outback. From Brisbane we flew back to Sydney to catch the train to Alice Springs located in the center of the Australian outback. It was a two day, two thousand mile train ride but it was a great way to travel because it gave us a true feel for the vastness of the Australian continent. From our very comfortable roomette, we could look out on mile upon mile of endless desert scenery without a tree or house for hours. We woke up at dawn each morning intentionally hoping to get a glimpse of kangaroos in the wild and were rewarded by spotting several dozen jumping through the brush in the early morning hours before the sun got too hot. As a bonus we also saw several emus loping alongside the tracks.  Alice springs is a remote outpost at the end of the railroad tracks. Only eighty years ago it was accessible only

by camel caravan. It has much the flavor of our old frontier and is the hub of the outback providing flying doctor medical services and radio classrooms to the bush families on the outlying sheep stations.

australia3.gif (246853 bytes) The Train to Alice                                                                                                                                                                       Aboriginal Boy

civilization in the last hundred years. Although most of them now live in town, it is a difficult adjustment both socially and economically. We spend a day in the bush with a bush ranger and several aboriginal families watching them throw boomerangs and leaning about their culture. The highlight was digging up witchety grubs and roasting them over an open fire. We both ate them but I think I’d still prefer a Big Mac.

Norfolk Island. Norfolk Island is a peaceful haven measuring only three by five miles and located 1000 miles from the nearest land. Initially a penal colony like Sydney, it became home for the descendents of the Bounty mutineers, who relocated to Norfolk from Pitcairn Island in 18546. The Bounty history is very much alive with the majority of the residents direct descendents of the original mutineers. Our room, for example, was in Bligh Court, which is located one street over from Fletcher Christian Road.

We were met at the airport by Marian Underwood, a spry, charming and youthful 78 year old cousin, who emigrated to Norfolk Island with her late husband from England twenty two years before. A super hostess, Marian arranged a full social schedule with drinks and dinner each evening with different friends which gave us a unique chance to meet some of the islanders.

During the day Val and I explored the historic and scenic spots on foot, on horseback and driving around in our rented car and tried to adjust to the relaxed lifestyle where excitement is going to the quay to watch the once-a-month-ship unload and transport it’s goods ashore by long boat. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place where I felt so completely relaxed and remote from the world. I wonder if we could retire to a place like Norfolk Island?

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Norfolk Island                                                                                                                                                                                          Fiji Island

Fiji Islands. After our four day stay we returned once again to Sydney for a final day of shopping before heading for home. Our final call was at the Fiji Islands, where we stopped off for two days on the way back to the U.S. It is a beautiful place but by then we were heading home and we did little more than just get acquainted. We have to save something for our next trip.

People ask which part of the trip we like the best. It’s impossible to make a choice between the charm of Sydney harbor, the grandeur of the Great Barrier Reef, the strange beauty of the outback and the idyllic isolation of Norfolk Island. All we can say is that it was one heck of a hundredth birthday party.

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