Sunday, April 28, 2013

Penguin Humour

29 April 2013

Have you noticed that penguins have a sense of humour?


A man was driving down the road with twenty penguins in the back seat. 

The police stop him and say that he can't drive around with the penguins in the car and he should take them to the zoo. The man agrees and drives off.

The next day the same man is driving down the road with twenty penguins in the back again.

He is stopped by the same police officer who says, "Hey, I thought I told you to take those penguins to the zoo."

The man replies, "I did. Today I'm taking them to the movies." 

Update Sunday, 28 April

28 April 2013

We're winding down our time in Darwin, reading about crocodile attacks or captures (6 crocs caught in the harbour in 2 days!), a footie captain who died after being bitten by a snake, and an incipient cyclone brewing in the Coral Sea.

Oh yes, all that in one week.  One wonders why anyone lives in this crazy part of Australia!

But the days are hot and sunny nearly all year long - there are beautiful sunrises and sunsets every day - and when dry season is here, the humidity is gone and the temperature hovers in the upper 80s or low 90s, and it is, as one woman told us, glorious.

We're off to Singapore tomorrow afternoon, to meet our visa requirement of leaving the country every 3 months.  We'll be there for 2 weeks, then will return to Darwin for almost a week.

So - just wanted to let everyone know that we're doing well, and I'll report from Singapore in the next few days.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Beach Night Market, and the NT Art Gallery

26 April 2013

NOTE:  All photos are from the internet.  Can't take photos at the museum.  My camera is too slow to take decent photos of fireworks.  So - thank you to everyone who posts photos online for public use!

Last night we went out to Mindil Beach Night Market - it was opening night, since the market only runs from late April to November or so.  It was kind of like Carnival on St. Thomas - Food Fair and the Carnival Village, with the booths of food; a massive crowd of people; and wonderful fireworks over the harbour.  We had a great time!  There was music, including a man playing multiple didgeridoos, the Aboriginal reverberating tree trunk instrument - plus a few Aboriginal older adults "wukkin' up" to the cheering delight of the crowd.  (For my non-USVI friends, "wukkin' up" is dancing front to back, in very close proximity - the kind of dance that chaperones would faint over.)  We both are missing Carnival on St. Thomas, so were very happy to find the market and conjure up some Carnival magic for ourselves!

Today I went out to the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery.  This museum is famous for "Sweetheart" the HUGE crocodile who was caught near here and who accidentally died while being caught.  Since the croc died of somewhat natural causes (it was unclear whether he/she drowned or had a croc heart attack, even though there was a video), the decision was made to stuff it for the museum.  This really was a monstrous croc, probably a good 4 to 5 meters long.  You get a sense of Sweetheart's size in the photo of his/her set up.

The museum has exhibits on the natural history of Australia and especially the Top End, with rocks and minerals, prehistoric animal skeletons, shells, all that.  Birds, kangaroos and wallabies, moths, butterflies.  Then the inevitable - showcase after showcase of venomous and poisonous and toxic animals, insects, jellyfish, snakes.  Signs saying that Australia and this region in particular are home to more venomous snakes than any other continent in the world.  (This is following the tragic death of a local sportsman who was bitten by a brown snake and died this week.)  Baby crocs, stuffed and on display.  Various snakes.  Whistling spiders.  Box jellyfish.  Scorpions.  Other venomous spiders.  Assassin beetles.  (I never even heard of that one - I probably was better off before I knew they existed!)

That part of the exhibit was kind of scary.  Makes me glad we turned in the car tent and are back in Darwin and in a hotel again - I think I'm not ready to be hiking the Outback and encountering deadly animals, especially snakes and insects!

There were a great many examples of Aboriginal art, some with partial explanations.  I say partial because most of the Aboriginal art, like much African art, is tied to religious beliefs and sacred rituals, some part of secret societies - so the explanations, interpretations, meanings, and reasons for the art objects cannot be shared with the general public, or even with anyone not part of that society.  

Aboriginal art is very interesting, almost fussy in the detail.  Not fussy as in grumpy like a baby.  Fussy as in extremely detailed, requiring infinite patience to create.  There's the traditional dot painting, which is probably the best known.  There's also extremely fine cross hatching, which is believed to represent divine or heavenly radiance, according to the placards at the museum.  Some of the art represents religious beliefs, some tells the story or traditions of that particular tribe, some may be a map - there are as many interpretations as there are viewers.

I also went to the Year 12 student exhibit - again, it was amazing to see the work produced by the students.  I'm very impressed with the art curriculum in the schools in this country.  I also met the regional direction of art education, and we had a nice chat about art education in Australia, and in general.  

But I think my favorite piece in the museum/gallery was the Toyota pickup truck created by a group of women basket weavers, using traditional weaving traditions which were attached to an armature made by a woman sculptor in Perth.  It was funny, tongue-in-cheek, and a unique way of bringing traditional indigenous arts to a modern interpretation.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

ANZAC Day 2013

25 April 2013

 ANZAC Day is an Australian and New Zealand day of remembrance - remembering all their soldiers and family members who died in wars, from fighting alongside the British during the Boer War in South Africa, to WWI and WWII, to Korea and Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq today.

ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps - though as you can see from the photos, it isn't just the army, it encompasses the entire military services.

The date of 25 April was chosen for this day because 25 April 1915 was the day the ANZAC forces landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula (in Turkey) - this was the first time Australia and New Zealand participated in wars as independent countries, rather than under the UK flag - and it was a long and drawn out campaign.  The ANZAC forces were there for 8 months, and lost over 11,000 men.

So this is a very somber day, truly a day of remembrance, as well as a day of national pride.

The traditional activities of the day, all across the country, include a dawn memorial service and laying wreaths on tombs; a march of all military personnel, in full uniform, in various towns and cities - some of the people live in that area, others come for reunions with their platoon or squadron mates; then a big breakfast with one's military mates; and then either family or military get togethers.

I asked someone about the holiday, whether it was a happy holiday or something of a memorial day, like the US Memorial Day.  He told me that you go to services, then the march, then brekkie, then you "sit with your mates, have some brew, and talk about the blokes who didn't make it back."

We missed the sunrise service, as well as the Air Force jets flying overhead.  But we saw a bit of the military march - it isn't called a parade here, it's a march - and then we talked to some of the men and women in uniform, and they agreed to have photos taken for the blog.

One woman, hearing our accents, asked if we were from America, and she asked if we were here for our boys.  (The US Marines currently have some 200 marines here in Darwin, we aren't quite sure why - a joint military venture or something.)  I responded no, we didn't have any children, and Richard added that we're just tiki touring the world and happened to be here.

It really was an emotional experience, because these two countries had such heavy casualties in the various wars.  The British commanders sent the Aussies and Kiwis into battles they felt couldn't be won, or at least that's the sentiment here.  

And a little known fact to those of us on the other side of the world - the Japanese bombed Australia.  They bombed the city of Darwin, and up and down the north coast.  There are WWII airstrips all around this part of the country, where the ANZAC forces and their Allies were stationed and fought against in the Japanese in the Pacific theatre of the war.  

I truly had no idea.  The more I travel and talk with people, the more I realize that the "world history" I was taught in school was "world history as Americans were involved."  Not true world history from a global perspective. Not that the Japanese bombed anyone but the US ships at Pearl Harbor. (They bombed Darwin over 60 times. Just Darwin! They dropped bombs on other parts of Northern Australia - but 60 air raids on Darwin!) Not that Hitler turned against the Italians mid-war. I could go on and on - but the more I travel, the more I realize how myopic our American vision of the world truly is.

People who know me know that I've been a somewhat active anti-war protestor since the Vietnam era.  And so it might seem strange that I attended these activities.

But there's something about a day dedicated to "the blokes who didn't make it home" that is very moving, and I think the way a country remembers its wounded and lost is a strong indication of that nation's values.  So while there is a sadness to the day, there isn't a very strong sense of nationalism.  It's more a "let's not forget our soldiers" feeling, and not a "Rah rah Australia" feeling.  And there is a definite awareness of the atrocities of war that runs through the day's activities, from what is shown on television to what we've seen today.

So - two online friends posted this quotation from Ataturk that is often read on ANZAC Day, and that is written on a plaque in Canberra, the Australian capital:

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours... You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well." 

One hopes that sense of global unity and understanding remains and grows.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Waking Up With Wallabies

19 – 23 April 2013

Sorry to not have been in contact, we’ve been on the road and off the beaten path.  Actually, we’ve been on the standard path of Top End travel, but this really is out in the middle of nowhere.  There may be electricity, but our internet devices don’t pick up the satellite or wifi signals, so we’ve been out of contact with the world.

From Katherine, we drove north on the Stuart Highway and turned east on the Kakadu Highway, going to the Kakadu National Park.  We stopped at the Mary River Roadhouse, where one can find out what areas are open and what areas are still closed.  And buy the necessary park pass.

April is in the shoulder season – the monsoon rains of the summer are usually over, and the wetland parks are drying out.  Rivers return to their normal courses, roads are open, waterfalls are no longer raging torrents, and saltie crocs return to their estuaries.
Or not.

This year, the wet season wasn’t as wet as usual.  It was, however, later than usual.  Which means in April, much of the wetland area is still under water.  Park roads are closed.  Rivers as well as waterfalls are still raging torrents.  Canoes aren’t allowed.  Swimming isn’t allowed.  Roads and parking lots and campgrounds are still under water.  And saltie crocs are still swimming around, hoping for some unsuspecting tourists.
In Kakadu, about 75-80% of the sites are closed or inaccessible.  We chatted with the ranger at Mary River, and he showed us on the park map what sites and campgrounds were open.  (Not much.)  He also agreed with Richard, that it made sense to NOT buy the pass, drive up to the major visitors center, and get more information before buying the pass – since so many parts of the park are still closed.  So we drove in about 90 km, to the first campsite.  And circled.  It was about 4:30 PM, and the wallabies were just waking up – so we encountered some fifteen or so wallabies who stopped to watch us, a few bouncing off into the distance. 

We still had an hour or two of sunlight, so we drove up to the Yellow Water Billabong, to stand on the dock and look for crocs.  Except, of course, the parking lot was still underwater.  We drove on to Cooinda, a resort – and walked to their billabong (which connects to Yellow Water) to look for crocs.  (Didn’t see any.)   The resort had a dining area, a camp area (including unpowered sites for tent campers like us) – so we figured we’d stay there.  Turned out the unpowered site area was underwater until last week, so it’s still closed off and drying out – so we were told to park in a certain area and just not use the power.

It was fairly nice, and we were comfortable in our funny rooftop tent.  We hung out in the dining area for a while, and I met a funny little boy (he had me take his photo hiding behind a green frog) and his lovely great aunt, as well as her daughter.  They’re Aborigines and live in the area – Kakadu, like Nitmiluk, is Aborigine- owned lands leased back to the government and run as a partnership with the national parks department.  So this woman and her family were hanging around, and then heading home.  (I’m not quite sure if they lived in the park or not.)  She was so nice, and welcomed me to Australia and their park!

There were all kinds of crested white cockatoos, green and red parrots and lorikeets and rosellas and who knows what else – some green all over with red patches on the wings, some green on the top side and red underneath – all kinds of interesting birds.  Various hawks, buzzards or vultures, and even the wedge-tail eagle, which is beyond huge!  But my favorite was the little white and brown owl, who was sitting on a bench in the bus stop – he really was just sitting on the back of the bench, looking around, and didn’t seem to mind when I went over to say good evening.  He looked at me, looked around, looked at me, turned his head, and then went off flying into the night.

And there was some kind of bird that let out a shrill scream, long and lingering, into the night.  No idea what it was, but really sounds as if someone is being tortured or something.  Very eerie.
So we spent one night at Cooinda, in Kakadu.  The next morning we drove up to the main visitors center and found that more areas were closed than we thought.  Since there wasn’t any chance to hike, or swim, or much of anything else, we continued on the Kakadu Highway to where it meets the Arnheim Highway and heads west, back toward the Stuart Highway which sort of bisects the country.  More wallabies along the road, watching us drive by – and one adventurous wallaby later in the day who for some reason decided to cross the road in front of us!  Fortunately, we saw him from a distance and were able to slow down from our 120 kph – and wallabies are funny animals.  When they walk slowly, they use all four feet and look like hunched over old people limping across the road.  So he started like that, and we thought maybe he was sick or injured.  But halfway across, he stood up and looked at us – we stopped – and then he straightened up and bounced the rest of the way across and into the bush.  

We drove through bush, forest, over low rolling hills and across floodways, low spots in the road where there are measuring sticks up to two meters tall, so that you can see how deep the water is and decide whether or not to attempt driving across.  (Does anyone seriously drive through two meters of water???)  Kakadu is beautiful, very green and lush – and then suddenly we were in the wetlands, the marshes, where the trees stop and there are just miles and miles of bright green marsh grass, interspersed with ponds and puddles and lakes and billabongs.  Tons of waterbirds here – ibis!  Spoonbills!  Jabiru!  And of course great blue and great white herons, other various herons, small shore birds.  We saw all of them.  But no crocodiles crossing the road, or even looking up from their billabong.

We exited Kakadu and headed for Litchfield National Park, on the west side of Stuart Highway and a bit south.  We spent the night in the town of Batchelor – which has the funny entrance sign saying “Voted The Tidiest Town in the Northern Territory” – and it really was a very clean and tidy little town!  Found a nice campground on the road heading to the park, and settled in for the night, seeing more wallabies hopping around between trees and campers.  

And there were dingoes howling in the distance all night, in addition to the occasional screaming bird.

In the morning we had breakfast in the camp kitchen, and watched the wallabies bounding around in the fields surrounding us – big, medium, little wallabies, and my favorite: the mama and baby who came out of the bush, looked around, the baby climbed into his mama’s pouch, poked his little head back out, and she went bounding across the field.  I always wonder if the joey holds on inside, or yells “wheeeeeeee” as they speed along, or what!? 

We drove into Litchfield National Park, which in addition to the usual giant termite mounds in this part of the country also has numerous waterfalls and swimming spots – of course, most of them are still closed.  Still waiting for the summer flood water to recede.  Or to dry out.  Or the saltie crocs to go home.  So we drove to one waterhole that was open, and Richard did a little swimming in the cold cold water.  People weren’t really swimming, more like sitting in the pools and letting the river zoom by them.  It was like a series of shallow waterfalls emptying into pools, then a few rapids, a drop, another pool – and of course one had to climb over and down rocks to get into the water.  I skipped it, but Richard braved it.   For a short few minutes.

Well, since we had the same problem with not much to do in Litchfield, we left the park and headed south again on the Stuart Highway, to the town of Adelaide River.  It looked like a nice town when we drove by on the way to Katherine earlier in the week, so we thought we’d explore.  And we found another nice campground, with space for our funny little tent – this one is located at the Adelaide River  showgrounds, I guess like an annual or seasonal livestock show and fair, or something.  There seems to be a race course, which is fairly overgrown.  And overrun with wallabies – I walked out at sunset and saw wallabies in the fields, under the viewing stands, around the race course – and yes, a few bouncing and bounding along the course itself, racing each other. 

There are the usual white cockatoos, green and red rosellas and parrots and lorikeets, various hawks and eagles.

And Australia’s national bird, the mosquito.  The mozzies!  We’ve met them, up close and personal.  Endless legions of mosquitoes, who call their friends to sample the new blood that has shown up.  They bite through clothing.  Swarm car doors.  Swarm tent doors and windows.  And of course occasionally make their way inside.  Fortunately, they don’t like insect repellant, so we both stay sprayed up and sticky.  And the mozzies are worst at dusk and dawn – as the evening cools off, they slow down, and they disappear in the heat of the day.  But they are relentless little guys, and they really make the camping rather uncomfortable when they’re around.

But waking up with wallabies for three days in a row makes up for it.


On our way back to Darwin, we stopped in the town of Acacia for a bit of brekkie, because things were still closed in Adelaide River.  We had toast and tea or coffee, and were talking about where next.  A man came in, possibly the husband of the lady who made our toast, and asked if we were afraid of snakes.  We said no.  He came in with a baby python, a dark grey with pale grey zigzags, twining itself around the man’s fingers.  He showed us the little guy, we chatted about this kind of python (I forget which kind it was), and he told us all about the snakes to avoid because they’re so deadly.

I told the man this was the first snake we’ve seen in nearly three months in Australia.

So he turns to the little snake and says, “Look at that, you’re a celebrity!”

Oh this country cracks us up!

The Tent to End All Tents

23 April 2013

This really was a crazy but actually brilliant tent!

So the tent starts all folded up.  There’s an internal metal framework sort of like a fan, and the nylon tent over that.  There’s a solid base on both the top and bottom of the “fan” so that when closed it covers the tent, and when opened it creates a solid foundation to hold up the tent.  The ladder slides down to hold up the extended, folded out part of the tent (as well as going up and down, since the base of the tent is now about 6 ft above ground).

There’s a mattress that is stuck to that solid base, and it automatically unfolds.

The door and windows, as well as the “door” opposite the entrance door, have mosquito netting and nylon covers that we tied up to maximize the airflow, since this is summer here in the Northern Territory.  Or, they can be tied down for cold nights or during rains.

There’s a waterproof cover that unzips on three sides and then hangs over the passenger side of the car – when the tent is folded up, the cover keeps everything all tidy and closed up, with webbing straps that go over the whole thing.

Brilliant, isn’t it?  And look how roomy inside!

I’ll admit it was fairly comfortable.  The worst part was trying to get out and down in the middle of the night for a bathroom run.  Richard managed to go down the ladder facing forward (which really is easier for exiting from the tent).  I usually backed out of the tent to go down the ladder while holding onto the ladder – but that meant wiggling out of the tent to my bellybutton, at which point my legs could dangle down and reach the ladder.  Yes, graceful image, huh?

The other great part of being in the roof tent was that we were closer to the birds waking up each morning in the trees – I spent this morning watching the cockatoos preening before flying off, because, well, cockatoos know how pretty they are, and they don’t go out until those feathers are all in perfect array.

Anyway, that was our tent. 

Next blog – adventures in the tent!