Sunset over Glenelg Beach (Glenelg, South Australia)
Australian Journal - November 2001
October 30-November 2, 2001 - Unpacking: We're making headway against the piles of boxes, but we're running woefully short of storage space.
Wednesday was Halloween - something that had slipped Tim & Sandy's mind (although not Clara and Lucy's). Clara and Lucy had just gone to bed when the doorbell rang - it was the two boys from two doors down (the younger one of whom had introduced himself to Sandy one day). Fortunately, there were exactly two candy bars left in the house - and those were our only two trick-or-treaters! In addition, our neighbors across the street had been waiting with anticipation to see how Americans celebrated Halloween - they expected jack-o-lanterns everywhere, Halloween decorations, etc. Unfortunately, the arrival of our sea shipment interfered with our ability to celebrate - but there's always next year!
We've been having a lot of rain since we arrived - especially considering that South Australia is the driest state on the driest continent. Everything is growing wildly, very green, etc. However, we've been told by the locals that this is actually not a desirable thing, since the fast-growing grass and brush will turn brown and dry out once summer arrives, making a tremendous fire hazard (ala Montana in 2000). We are not in a brushy area, nor one prone to fire, but there are parts of the state that will be at great risk this summer (and the wildfires are already starting in other parts of Australia).
Meanwhile, the election is almost here - one more week. Interestingly (to us) - the election is on a Saturday, rather than a weekday. Presumably this is since voting is mandatory in Australia - you are subject to a fine if you fail to vote!
Saturday, Clara went to a birthday party for a girl in her class - while she was at the party, Lucy and Sandy went exploring and found a great new park - the Dunstan Adventure Playground, apparently named for Adelaide's former visionary premiere Don Dunstan (essentially equivalent to a governer - note that the standard of governers has apparently slipped a bit since Dunstan - two weeks ago the current premiere resigned amidst a scandal). It lives up to it's name of Adventure - there is a 30 foot tall slide, a cable/suspension type bridge, a swinging log bridge (these "toys" are hard to describe - let it suffice to say that those faint-of-heart should not attempt them - nor watch Clara and Lucy tackle them!)
Tim and the girls returned to the park on Sunday, taking the girl's bikes along, since the park is also a handy access to the bike trail which follows the Torrens River througout Adelaide (as well as the O-Bahn tracks - the O-Bahn is an import from Germany - essentially, it is a set of tracks for busses, as opposed to trains, to run along at high speed and without interference from other traffic).
November 5-10, 2001 - Horse Racing, Santa Claus & the Election: Australia has a number of holidays which are centered around horse racing. Tuesday was the Melburne Cup - an excuse for everyone, regardless of whether they live in / near Melbourne to get together for a party. The Adelaide Cup is in May, and all of Adelaide pretty much closes down for the day, and folks wear fancy outfits and hats. Tim participated in a Melburne Cup Sweep at work - you buy a chance for a dollar or two, and draw a horse's name from the hat. His gambling luck ran true to form, and he pulled Kaapstad Way - which was scratched before post time. Also on the work front - the other two Boeing fellows Tim will be working with down here arrived, so he now has some fellow ex-pats around to kibitz with..
During the week, the girls continued to enjoy school - the study of Japan by Clara's class has continued (Clara had a fabulous time at the Japanese restaurant last week, and talked for days about it - and all that practice with chop sticks in the states paid off, as she was able to dive right in and eat with them). Clara has also been regularly bringing home origami that they make in class - birds, pianos, etc. And, every night, Clara has been practicing her violin, preparing for the big school Christmas recital coming up shortly (and both she and Lucy spend a lot of time singing, practicing the songs for the recital as well - or just singing for the fun of it). Lucy is also starting to blossom and is enjoying school, and comes home excited about her new friends. Both girls have been sounding quite Australian since the first week of school, although we notice the accent is strongest when we pick them up in the afternoon and tapers off a bit over the course of the evening.
Tim finally made a decision and ordered a TV and stereo setup. We decided to buy Australian-made speakers from Vaf as part of the outfit, so that we can take them home as a memory of our trip (and replace our existing 25 year old speakers) - but they are custom-made for each buyer, and take a while - hopefully they will be here by Christmas. Tim was pretty well sold on the speakers after reading about them and listening to them for a couple hours, but the clincher was when he spent some time talking with their designer (Philip Vafiadis) and found they shared common opinions on a number of soapbox topics close to both their hearts.
Saturday was a big day for a couple reasons - the annual Adelaide Christmas Pageant (Parade) which brings the city of Adelaide to a standstill for a few hours every year - plus the Federal Elections finally arrived. Our neighbors across the street shared the secret of a low-stress way to enjoy the parade - go 1-2 hours early, park along Greenhill Way (the major street that borders the southern edge of the belt of parklands south of Adelaide, and walk through the parklands to South Terrace, the street which borders the northern edge of the parklands, and which is used for a forming-up ground for the parade. This way, you get to see all the floats, clowns, bands, etc. as they are forming up (and. e.g., pet the camels, etc., if you want), and stake out a prime spot for the parade when it starts. It worked a treat, the girls had a great time, and we got to see the whole parade and still avoid most of the traffic and crowds. It is interesting just how much the northern European background of this culture shines through at a time like this - even though we are in the Southern hemisphere, approaching summer, with roses blooming everywhere and the lemon trees along the parade route were in full fruit, and it was a warm day (thankfully it was only warm today - maybe in the 20s Centigrade - like the high 60s low 70s Fahrenheit in the states - last year, it got close to 40 C on Pageant day - that's well over 100 F!) - but still, many (perhaps a majority) of the floats had a winter, snow-covered theme - even the huge koala was snow-covered! Sandy really chuckled when she saw some of the pageant princes and princesses pretending to shiver in the snow!
The story isn't so clear-cut yet regarding the Federal Elections - the race has been tightening over the past weeks; while the official polls have continued to show the Liberals (the majority party in the sitting Coalition) in the lead, albeit with a decreasing margin - the bookies have flip-flopped several times on who will win. Results will start coming in tonight at 6pm, when the polls close; there seems to be less exit polling than in the states - but the last-minute campaigning and ad blitz is little different. Sandy has been amused by the Labor Party candidate's positon to roll back the 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST) on a few specific items---high on his list is disposable nappies (= diapers)!
On the domestic front, we continue to learn our way around the area, and where to go for supplies; on Saturday, after the pageant, we went off to exchange the remainder of the green towels for yellow ones at the suburban David Jones store in Marion, then off to a Big W (the sundry, or K-Mart/Target-like side of the Woolworth's family of stores; the stores down here labeled Woolworth's are actually food stores) for some boxes for Sandy's quilting fabric stash (or at least that fraction she brought down under with her - it turns out that our landlady is a quilter as well, who works part-time in a quilt store - this could be a dangerous development!) Sandy managed to unpack all the boxes of kitchen items and found places for everything. She has found that our new kitchen seems to have been designed for cooks taller than 6 feet! She can barely reach the bottom two shelves of the upper kitchen cabinet (yes, that is singular). And in the pantry all but the bottom shelf require her to get out the step stool!
November 11-13, 2001 - Election Results: One of the issues in the election was that of public financing of private schools. Currently, some of the funding of private schools (approximately one quarter) comes from state and federal governments. The Labor government promised to pull that funding back to the public schools. There has been lots of rhetoric on both sides, and lots of concern from the parents at Wilderness, since it was one of the four "Class 1" schools in South Australia targeted by the Labourites for reduction. One of the reasons we chose Wilderness is that the parents seemed mostly to be "regular folks" - not pretentious, snobby, wealthy status seekers; a lot of them work very hard and sacrifice a lot to put their kids into Wilderness; an increase in rates to make up for a reduction in public funding might make it impossible for them to keep their kids here. In that case, the public loses as well, since that will be more kids returned to the public schools, requiring additional public funding for each of them. There's no good solution to the lack of funding for education - but clearly, something has to be done. Other disheartening signs are the termination of the local equivalent of gifted education programs at several of the local "magnet" public schools. This termination made us glad we chose Wilderness, as we were looking at one of those public magnet schools for the girls before we made our decision - and the existence of a gifted program (here called Students with High Intellectual Potential) was a major drawing card.
With 80% of the vote counted, it appears clear that the current coalition government (Liberals plus National Party) has been returned to power, with a slight increase in majority. Not surprisingly, the government here is more closely related to the British than the US model - the prime minister is a sitting member of parliament (MP), who is actually elected only by his local constituency, then selected by his party to be the prime minister. Similarly, the other members of the cabinet are also MPs who are selected by the party for their office after having won their local reelection to Parliament. So, in this type of government, the Prime Minister always has the support of the majority party in Parliament, unlike the US, where the president might well be dealing with a Congress controlled by the opposition. Of course, in the current Australian government, the ruling party is actually a ruling coalition; there are a total of 150 seats in the Parliament; the Liberals only control 68 of these - the remainder of the coalition is the 12 seats from the National party - so, John Howard, the current Liberal / Coalition prime minister, has to satisfy the Nationals as well as his own party. The quirks that result from voting for MPs as a way to elect a PM is somewhat reminiscent of the pecularities of the US electoral college. The 68 seats (45% of the total available) received by the Liberals is actually pretty good, considering that the Liberals received less than 38% of the vote. There is also the interesting matter of preferences, which is a way the minor parties can influence (and in fact change the outcome) in close races - unlike the role of third parties in the US, such as Ralph Nader's Green Party, which acted more as a spoiler in the last US election - here, voters do not cast a black-and-white ballot - they indicate first preference, second preference, etc. In the case that a candidate receives a majority of the votes, he/she is automatically elected - however, if no candidate receives more than 50%, then the preferences are used to "reassign" votes from lower-polling candidates to the other candidates until a majority winner is determined. So, in this case, a vote for a third (or minority) party is a way of indicating support for that party while not "throwing away" a vote, as in the US system.
Sunday, Clara went to her second birthday party, so her social life continues to grow. Sandy dropped Clara off, then found a quiet park nearby to study her South Australian Driver's Handbook while waiting for Clara. Tim and Lucy went exploring and found a new park in Unley - it actually had two playgrounds, one on either side of a footy oval / cricket pitch. While Lucy played, Tim watched a "sandlot cricket match" - he's still trying to figure out the rules, with very limited success.
Monday evening was very exciting - it was Clara's first participation in a musical recital at school. She and the rest of her Year 2 class were up on stage, most with violins, some with cellos, gamely playing along as one music teacher marked time and another accompanied on the piano. They did wonderfully, considering that they were all only 7-8 years old (and had, at most, been playing violin for 9 months - or, in Clara's case, 3 weeks!) They were followed by several additional acts, made up of students from Years 3-6 - with the standard of music improving as the girls got older. Quite a fun night. We happened to be sitting right behind the principal, the head of the Junior School, and another gentleman. Part way through, the gentlemen leaned over and introduced himself - he turned out to be the head of the school council / board - and, he recognized us since he had been on the same set of flights coming back from the US as we were on when we first arrived - plus, he had noticed us walking down the street for evening tea (dinner) one evening in North Adelaide - and wondered just who these people were that kept "following him around!"
We also heard an interesting / exciting rumour today, that the other half of our "pseudo-duplex" has been rented, and that the new tenants also have a four year old daughter.
November 14-18, 2001 - Sports Day: Thursday, Clara came home, crawled into a chair, and wrapped up in a blanket - a check showed a fever over 101 (F). This was worrisome, since Clara was due to participate in Sports Day at Wilderness Friday morning. She went to bed very early, and was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Friday was Sports Day at Wilderness. All the girls at Wilderness are assigned houses, as the basis for intramural competition in both academics and sports - Clara is a member of Sparaxis (or Sprackies, for short - the Australians have a tendency to abbreviate everything in this way - usually adding a "y" or ie" or an "o" after the first syllable - e.g., "rego" is short for registration, and "wedgie" is short for wedge-tailed eagle.) Clara was quite excited to bring home eight ribbons. But she and Sandy were both pretty well worn out by the intensity of the sun (it was in the 80s by the time the activities were over).
Saturday night was Tim's first hosted scotch tasting (other than an informal tasting he had a few Saturdays ago with a couple of the guys after they had spent an afternoon scouring the liquor stores of the western suburbs for interesting scotches.) Several of the regular members of the Earls of Zetland club came, and they had an enjoyable evening. The centerpiece of the evening was an experiment in effects of oxidation on single malt Scotch that Tim had been running for the last several years. This group came to a different conclusion than the Seattle group, which was that the use a a neutral gas preservative was not a useful thing for single malts. More experimentation is clearly required!
Sunday, it was off to the Art Gallery of South Australia for their exhibition entitled "Our Country: Australian Federation Landscapes 1900-1914", which consisted of paintings done shortly after South Australia became a member of the Federation in 1901. Clara was quite excited to find that one of the artists being exhibited was named Clara Southern- which she discovered for herself as she wandered around reading the descriptions of each painting (Tim was interested to note that a Henry Tebbitt was also a painter of this period). The most famous of the artists of this period, and one who really moved the art form towards an appreciation / celebration of the native South Australian landscape (particularly the gum trees, and the peculiar light of the region) was Hans Heysen (who lived in the previously-mentioned Hahndorf, where his house and studio are available for touring - along with a gallery featuring original works by artists in a similar school.) Several of his large-scale works were on display, and were as impressive in person as their reputation suggests.
November 19-22, 2001 - Thanksgiving Downunder: We forgot to mention in the last entry that Clara went to her third birthday party on Saturday, and came home with fancy braids and a well-painted face. This was a party for the older daughter of the New Zealand family who arrived not long before us, and whose two daughters also go to Wilderness. However, it looks like Clara really was quite sick after all - it is amazing that she can have both ears infected as well as a beginning lung infection and still be reasonably energetic! But that was the verdict of our family doctor on Monday. So, this time it is 10 days of antibiotic (which is quite a stretch for him, as he much prefers subscribing 5 days, and then having a repeat visit / re-prescription if necessary). Still, we're glad Sandy took Clara to the doctor today, as the boy across the street is just back from a week in the hospital, recovering from pneumonia (and his younger sister is just starting to cough, so she may be coming down with it as well!)
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Clara had to stay home, which quite upset her - especially since Monday her class was scheduled to visit the Immigration Museum downtown. However, she and Lucy & Sandy stayed at home and rested and worked on Clara's diorama. Her class is focusing on Japanese culture this term, and part of that will be reflected in their upcoming Christmas concert, where they will sing a Christmas carol in Japanese. Another part is that each of the children are building a diorama which is supposed to reflect a different Japanese celebtration. Clara's diorama is supposed to reflect the Japanese Kamakura Snow Hut Festival. It is built inside a copier paper box, painted royal blue on the outside, and a greyer blue inside for the sky, along with some stars (since this is a night time festival). She and Sandy made an igloo out of cotton balls, with 4 cute people inside made of popsicle sticks and felt for kimonos. Sandy also contributed a square of her quilting fabrics for a rug, and they made a lot of pretty, tiny candles to mount inside on the back wall of the igloo.
We've been having gorgeous weather this week - gorgeous for Seattle summertime, that is - 70s and 80s, blue skies, minimal clouds - it is very hard to believe Christmas is only 5 weeks away, in spite of all the decorations everywhere, with Christmas carols playing at all the stores. In addition, all the spring rain has apparently contributed to worsening pollen counts, and resultant increases in hay fever - we haven't noticed much yet, although some of Tim's coworkers have been sneezing pretty continuously - we're hoping that the normal approximately two year "amnesty" you get when moving from one location to another with substantially different allergens continues to hold - Sandy and Clara had quite enough allergies in Seattle to last awhile!
Another interesting event this week is the World Solar Challenge - a race from Darwin at the northern tip of Australia, through the heart of the Outback, Alice Springs, Coober Pedy, etc., terminating in Adelaide and held every three years - and the interesting part is that all the cars are solar powered. The surprise winner this year was a team comprised of Dutch students, whose car Nuna shaved a day off the previous record of approximately five days, with an average speed around 60 miles per hour over the four day trip!
We celebrated Thanksgiving at about the same level as we did Halloween this year, with delivered pizza - between Clara recovering from her illness, and Tim maybe coming down with something similar, plus all the other odds and ends to take care of, a fancy Thanksgiving dinner became one thing too many. Despite the lack of turkey and trimmings, we reflected on our many blessings and thought of family and friends scattered on other continents. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
November 23-27, 2001 - Weekend at home: Tim took Friday off as part of the transition between celebrating US and Australian holidays. Tim & Sandy dropped the kids at school, then headed downtown for a little Christmas shopping sans Clara & Lucy. However, it became clear that Tim was coming down with something, and he had minimal energy. We went home, and while Sandy went to get the girls at school, Tim took a nap.
Saturday, we had planned to make a quick trip to the Flinders, the mountain range immediately north of Adelaide, on the edge of the Outback. Unfortunately, Tim apparently has the same bug that hit Clara, so the trip has been postponed. We may miss out on the Flinders entirely this spring, since the conditions get quite hot and dry in the summer, making visiting in summer somewhat unpleasant, at least for those of us used to cooler climes! We're hopeful though, that we'll all be healthy, and the weather will cooperate, and we will be able to make it there next weekend.
Sunday morning, we went on a "behind the scenes" tour of the Adelaide zoo, where we got to meet some of the animals up close, including both large Nile hippos and small pygmy hippos. The large hippos are apparently of a friendly disposition, as long as you don't actively annoy them, whereas the pygmy hippos are quite territorital and aggressive, and will attack anyone who gets in an enclosure (even a large one) with them - "Not much fun to work with" as one of the keepers said. We also got quite a tour of the feeding areas - including the "Mouse House" where all the mice, rats, cockroaches (large American kind) and locusts are raised and stored. The lady in charge was very involved in her work, and was anxious to show and tell us all about the various "food items" she raised - "pinkies" (newborn baby mice, flash frozen) for some of the birds, whole rabbits for the anaconda, large American cockroaches (raised in large garbage cans) for some of the birds, etc. They also go through several horses a week to feed the large carnivores, and have a "gardener" who makes the rounds of woods and neighborhoods to acquire fresh bamboo, gum tree branches, acacia, etc., for the vegetarians four times a week. The hardest animal to feed is the echidna - in the wild, they eat termites, which the zoo is not allowed to bring in, so they feed them a mix of finely ground horsemeat plus a grain / mineral / vitamin mix. The echidnas seem to thrive on it, as they have had great success in breeding them, unlike most other zoos - they are currently running some experiments to try and figure out what exactly they've been doing right - as their success has been by accident / luck so far!
We continue to get ready for Christmas, slowly. The Christmas shopping for the kids is mostly done - however, Tim & Sandy haven't done any of their shopping for each other yet. The Christmas tree is up - but not decorated yet. We did find some Australian Christmas lights and some new garland, so hopefully we'll decorate the tree in the next week or so.
November 28-December 1, 2001 - Life as usual: Tim seemed to be getting better from the viral infection, then woke up Tuesday morning with the bacterial respiratory infection Clara was battling. So, he went off to the doctor up in the hills, and came back with a prescription. He took Wednesday and Thursday off (and, much to his distress, stayed home Wednesday evening from the Earls of Zetland Christmas Show that he had been greatly anticipating.) Sandy, however, kept things moving, and even managed to find time to bake her first cake (a Cranberry coffee cake, using a recipe from Tim's Mom), which she took to the New Settlers meeting Thursday morning. It was a great success, and she barely managed to save a couple pieces for Tim and Clara (Sandy and Lucy had their pieces at the meeting).
Thursday evening, Tim decided he was well enough to attend the Oddbins auction which was offering up the whisky collection of a local Adelaide collector. There were a few rare gems (a Black Bowmore and an old Cadenhead Ladyburn among them) being offered, which the high rollers (one in attendance from Sydney, a couple others via absentee bids) fought up into the stratosphere. However, there were also a lot of real bargains on very good whiskies not otherwise available in Australia, especially when compared to what the items would bring in the states (if they were even available there), so Tim added a number of excellent bottles to his collection, and was quite pleased with the evening's work. Friend Craig was also extremely active, snapping up bottle after bottle for himself, another absentee friend, and the Earls of Zetland working collection.
Friday night was Sandy's turn - she accompanied 16 other ladies from the New Settler's group downtown to a Spanish Tapas bar, where they spent the evening (and part of the night; Sandy called it quits relatively early, and was home by 11:30, while most of the group was still going strong). They sampled a variety of tapas offerings, along with various wines, and some music.
Saturday was a day for errands and chores around the house, followed by dinner out and a drive through the hills to explore some new roads (including an exciting one well-named Corkscrew Road). The Jacaranda trees are in full bloom now throughout the area - in the spring, they drop the last of their old leaves and seed pods, and the bare trees spring forth with magnificent purple flowers - and the old trees are just as large as, e.g., maples in the States, so they are quite spectacular. Then new green foliage comes out, and the purple blossoms drop off. Interestingly, they are one of many non-native species introduced by Europeans to Australia - these, at least, are less damaging to the native flora and fauna than many of the other imports.
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