Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Botany bay is actually a bit south of Sydney. Sydney was built around Port Jackson. The first fleet landed at Botany bay, where Cook landed, hoping to settle there but found it too difficult and so sailed up the coast to Port Jackson. But even though no one actually lived there, Botany Bay became a generic term for the colony.

Botany Bay

I just got back from spending 5 days in Sydney. The harbor (harbour?) bridge and opera house were, indeed, stunning. After little Adelaide, which has a population of 1 million but has a city center of mainly 2-story 19th century buildings, Sydney felt like a proper metropolis. While the city was full of anonymous glass and drab 70s skyscrapers, its location of being spread out across various inlets and a peninsulas still made it incredibly scenic. It was also very green, which added to its attractiveness. From what I've heard, it's a more humid climate than Adelaide, and certainly, for 3 of the days there was a fairly constant drizzle. Most surprisingly, it was quite hilly, and in places it felt like San Fransisco (especially to my knees).
But underneath the modern glitz, Sydney has a lot of historical significance, as it was where the first fleet landed and set up camp in 1788. Unlike other countries, Australians haven't been too keen to glorify their convict origins, and much of the original city was torn down. We did get to see the preserved barracks, built in 1819 to house prisoners working for the state (most prisoners were assigned to a free family basically as slave labor. Some prisoners, generally the most recalcitrant ones, remained in the government's direct control to do public works). We spent a lot of time staring at things and squinting, trying to imagine what the land would have looked like 200 years ago.
We also saw the first Catholic and Anglican cathedrals built in Australia, an exhibit of Islamic Art at the art gallery, the house of the governor of New South Wales (not to be confused with the premier of NSW, who actually controls the government.) The governor of NSW is much like the Governor General, except on a state level instead of a federal one. In other words, it's an archaic and symbolic role characterised by incredible pomp and circumstance and excessive Anglophilia. The house, built in 1845 and located in the botanic gardens only a spitting distance from the opera house, was designed by an English architect who never set foot in Australia. The result is a Scottish castle, which is dark, formal, and apparently unbearably hot in the summer months. Outside it looks completely out of place next to the gum trees, and inside it looks like a 1960s movie set of a castle done up in the Georgian style (complete with gratuitous portraits of obscure British royals), due to a misguided attempt to 'contemporize' the furnishings. Dave thought it looked more like a VIP airport lounge. It was interesting though, to see oil portraits of the early governors from back when the governor of NSW was the governor of Australia. I especially wanted to see Governor Bligh, of mutiny on the bounty fame. After the mutiny, he became governor of Australia. He looked short and unpleasant, although apparently his harshness and competence served him better as commander of a penal colony than it did as a ship's captain.

We also went to the Sydney zoo, which is quite large and spread out through beautiful parkland. It was full of lots of Aussie animals, including 11 of the 15 most deadly snakes, saltwater crocodiles, which 'only' kill 1 person a year, according to the sign, a kangaroo with a joey in her pouch, and ridiculously cute koalas. The animals did their best to give us a show, one that would probably earn an R rating if it were broadcast on television. Highlights were: (stop reading if you are easily offended or under 17) An escape-bent emu intimidating a group of Japanese business men in the petting zoo, a bit of sexual role-reversal involving a very frisky lioness and a quite grumpy lion, and a chimpanzee digging around in his butt hole, pulling out a big shit, and then eating it. Didn't realize chimps ate their own feces, though maybe it was deranged behavior as a result of confinement. More tamely, both the tiger and the cobra were came up to the glass to let us get a good look. My one disappointment was that the dingos didn't make an appearance.

On our final day, we took a ferry to Manly, a little resort town about 30 min. There was a very scenic 9 km hike that we did part of, but after 5 days of 8 hours of standing/walking straight, our feet started to rebel. We did get to see a bit of what the natural landscape around Sydney looked like though. Again, it was amazing how lush and green it was, and also how deceiving the landscape is, as it is almost completely unsuitable for agriculture.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

where the bloody hell are you?

is the Australian government's official tourism slogan.

In South Australia, our slogan is "Welcome to South Australia, now officially the poorest, most drug ridden state in the nation." (Well, at least until Northern Territories decides to join the federation. But as that's not looking too likely, our reputation is safe.) The most recent census data has just been published. Adelaide is the oldest capital city in terms of residents' age, and we just beat out Hobart (Tasmania) by $5 a week for the lowest average income. The federal government has asked the SA government to take special organized crime action against biker gangs, called bikies here and to stamp out a burgeoning meth, or ice, epidemic. (The two seem to go together.)
The opposition leader in the state government has just called for a crack-down (no pun intended) on a supposed rash of drug-addicted women who have children for the $5000 baby bonus. I'm highly skeptical, of course. If you're a drug addict and want some fast cash, holding up a pub or convenience store would be an easier option than getting pregnant, waiting 9 months, and then having and raising a child. (You don't get the baby bonus if you're not actually going to be raising it, of course.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bad Carma

There's some Chinese saying about "bad luck comes but in threes, happiness comes but alone," or something like that. Anyways, now is a bad time to be a car in the Lewis family. About two weeks ago, I had a why-don't-I-sink-into-the-ground-and-die moment when I got into a minor car accident in Dave's mother's car (a combination of a moment of spaciness and driving while American). No one was hurt, and both cars involved were still drivable, but I did manage to rack up a pretty penny in damages (who knew a little plastic thingy could be so expensive??) Insurance covered most everything, though I did have to pay a hefty "you're young and irresponsible" surcharge. Dave's parents, and the other driver, I might add, were remarkably nice about the whole thing. (They probably realised that the humiliation of having to explain to the police AND the insurance agent that I was "the son's girlfriend" was punishment enough.)
However, the whole family is doing their part to make me feel better. Dave's brother managed to also get into a fender bender in the family's pick-up truck (called a Ute over here) only a few days after mine. And then to top it off, Dave's sister's car broke down on Wednesday and will need $800 dollars of repairs, none of it covered by insurance.

And it's not just cars. On Thursday the meat toaster (it looks like a big toaster, but it grills meat instead of bread) exploded. No one was injured and nothing was damaged besides the appliance itself (even the lamb inside was ok), but it sounded like a rifle shot. Dave's mother said sadly after it happened, "it was a wedding gift, and they don't make them any more." (Gee, can't imagine why not. Maybe it has to do with the whole exploding thing.)
And today, one of the taps in the shower broke. The taps are old and irreplaceable and completely calcified, so fixing the problem involved four hours of wrenching them apart, decalcifying the taps and then trying to put a million fiddly little parts back together again.
This is all in the past two weeks. It doesn't even include the TV breaking. Anyways, I'd better stop writing before my computer combusts or something.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why live in Portland Oregon...

...when you can live in Portland, Australia?

Pushing up the roses?

In the Zoroastrian religion, dead bodies are left in tall "towers of silence" for vultures to pick apart. In the Lutheran faith, we turn bodies into mulch.

I just read that Swedish scientists have discovered a a way to compost human bodies, which is a more environmentally-friendly burial method than the old 'sticking a body in the ground,' as it avoids release of methane gas and other harmful chemicals a decomposing body lets off. To do so, first the body must be frozen, chopped up into tiny particles, and then finally placed in a potato sack (that's the main gist. There may have been one or two more steps.) Although distasteful to some, the Lutheran Church of Sweden has officially endorsed the new method. (Of course, it does help that the church has a 5% stake in the company.) The benefits of this method are unmistakable--not only can you save the environment, you can get a bumper crop of tomatoes, a fact probably not overlooked by those ever practical and thrifty Swedes.