Thursday, November 8, 2012

Exploring Australia

by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
The thoughts about Australia prior to our visit there ranged widely from a country with a primitive road system to an advanced, modern, industrial society.  The reason for this wide range of thoughts (and emotions, too!) is simply that my family had no idea what to expect.  For me, it was a six-month sabbatical, and I had made contact at four educational institutions to teach or lecture.
For making arrangements from such a distance away, everything went surprisingly smoothly, and the three-out-of-four of our teenage children who accompanied us, loved the entire experience.  Our fourth child joined us with about a third of our trip left — and loved it, too.
One thing we have discovered from all our travels is that people are both friendly and helpful.  As an example, we were standing at the Sydney Opera House looking at a map, and an Australian who overheard our accident, came over to help us out and give us direction.  We were in Australia for about six months, and we visited most of the common tourist sites; however, in all of our travels throughout the country, we never encountered another American — not one!
We moved from Sydney to Manly Beach where we stayed for a week.  It is a major tourist destination, and our apartment there looked out onto the beautiful beach and the Norfolk Pines that lined it.  The Corso at Manly is a partly-malled promenade area between Manly Beach and Manly Wharf, an area of cafes, interesting shops, and street entertainment.
From Sydney — where I delivered several lectures at the University of Sydney — we traveled north to (Australia’s answer to Florida) Queensland (in a rental car) where I taught a course at Bond University in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.  It was a rhetoric course in which I taught a speech-communication component.
Bond University rented a place for our family in a luxurious, resort-oriented motel-like location nearby the university; thus, our family had outstanding accommodations where we could swim and walk just a short distance for groceries.  We used our “home” as a base for exploring Queensland — the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, the white-sand beaches, and some of the interior areas where “hippies” had created a self-sufficient lifestyle.  I also delivered one lecture at the University of Queensland.
Our next destination was Melbourne, and before heading there, we had to make some plans.  We had no place to stay, but we found one advertised in the newspaper in St. Kilda; we purchased rail passes for each of our family members — timing their purchase to cover our future trip to Perth. While in the U.S., we arranged a faculty exchange with a professor from St. Albans University.  It is located just south and west from Melbourne.  So, from Queensland, after our six-week stay was complete, we boarded a train bound for Sydney and then on to Melbourne. 
The faculty member from St. Albans, whom we never met, left us her car to use while there (it was a French Peugot), and her mother and father invited our family over for a typical Australian meal.
Just a quick aside here.  Every family we met thought it would be a special treat to give us a typical Australian meal; thus, we had lamb and potatoes and some kind of pumpkin for each of these meals.  The only exception was in Perth where we met one of my wife’s relatives who treated us to an American meal instead.
Melbourne is a large, diverse city with much to see.  One of our biggest treats was to travel to Phillip Island to see the fairy penguins (called that because of their tiny size).  It is the second most popular tourist attraction in Australia — second only to the Sydney Opera House.  Because our older son was not with us yet, our other three children traveled by train from Melbourne to Sydney to meet him and ride with him to where we were living.  Once they were all back in Melbourne, we went a second time to see these little penguins.
While in Melbourne, we traveled the Great Ocean Road (some call it the Great Coastal Highway), visited the Old Melbourne Gaol (Jail) — the site where 135 people, including infamous bushranger Ned Kelly, were hanged. — Flinders Street Station, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Ballarat (which has a topnotch historical park in Sovereign Hill in this goldfields town).  Ballarat has Australia’s largest recreation of a phase (1851-1880) in Australia’s history.
We had to miss a trip north from Adelaide to Alice Springs and Ayers Rock (Uluru).  With six adults, the trip on the Ghan Railroad, a stay at one of the Ayers Rock hotels, and a bus trip and tour out to see the Rock, was going to be far too expensive for us.  One website on the Ghan says, “The Ghan train fare is substantially more than what it would cost you to fly – and if you plan to stay over at Alice or Katherine you should make sure that your budget can stretch to cover the sightseeing activities.”
Instead of going north, however, we went west.  We took a three-day, three-night trip on the Indian Pacific Train from Melbourne, through Adelaide, across the Nullarbor Plain to Perth.  About this plain, Wikipedia says, “The Nullarbor Plain is part of the area of flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid country of southern Australia, located on the Great Australian Bight coast with the Great Victoria Desert to its north. The word Nullarbor is derived from the Latin nullus, ‘no,’ and arbor, ‘tree.’”
About the train ride, one website explains it in this way: “One stretch of track goes for 478km [297 miles] without curve, kink or bend. Dead straight, and the view at the start is the same as it is at the end. It may seem mind-numbingly boring, but the sensation, and the sense of achievement is what makes this one of the world’s greatest train journeys.”
We had two highlights of our trip to Perth.  The first, “Leaving Perth eastward along the Great Eastern Highway, as you drive up Greenmount Hill in the Darling Range, you are climbing up onto the oldest plateau on earth: a huge slab of granite, part of ancient Gondawana, sitting in the sun, wind and rain for more than a thousand million years. It has eroded down into the soils of the valleys, and the chains of lakes, and the old blind volcanos like Hyden Rock have been exposed.”  It is called Wave Rock, and is a site that must be visited.
The second highlight was our visit to Nambung National Park and the Pinnacle Dessert, one of Australia’s best known landscapes.  “Here, thousands of huge limestone pillars rise from the shifting yellow sands, resembling a landscape from a science fiction movie”
I delivered several lectures at the University of Western Australia, and our visit to Perth ended our six months in Australia — an interesting, spectacular, and memorable visit.  We did everything we could do within our time limit and budget, and it is a place to which we would gladly return.
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If you are planning a trip to Australia, make sure you visit Australia’s Official Tourism Website Not only are there terrific pictures, but the “Learn More” icon associated with every picture offers great information.

At the Viator website offers, “Top 25 Things to Do in Australia & New Zealand: 2010 Viator Travel Awards” (November 28, 2010) and provides much useful information.
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Copyright November, 2012, by And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.


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