The first thing I got when I landed in Australia three weeks ago was a cold, which I nursed all the second week (Thanks, Tom- I would have preferred chocolates). I did get to enjoy cup after cup of coffee, compliments of Tom’s wonderful dad, Kim. He was my personal barista that week before he left town, and also loaned me a pair of binoculars
so I could while away the afternoon hours admiring the beautiful red and green Rosellas, the pink and white Galahs,the Kingfishers, Cockatoos, the big loud crows that sound an awful lot like yowling tom-cats, and of course, the three chickens in the corner of the yard. Endless entertainment can be found in that part of the lot. Eggs on the other hand, are a rarer find.
Once my nose was no longer a germ launch-pad and I was tired of looking up cute kangaroo videos like this one, Tom took me to his mom’s farm near Moruya, on the eastern coast, where it was sure to be warmer than Canberra. We navigated hours of dirt roads, playing a childhood game my dad taught us kids called “Zip”. It’s pretty straight-forward. You see a horse, you shout “ZIP”. As evening approached, we modified the game and kept our eyes peeled for lethal kangaroo instead, likely to bounce bounce bounce right into the hood of your car. This particular vehicle didn’t have a ‘kangaroo guard‘, the big metal frame on the front bumper that keeps your car from being smashed in (I made that name up, I have no idea what they’re called). Regardless, if you value your car, safety and ever leave the city, you’ll install one. You’re not actually even safe in the city- Roos show up in all sorts of crazy places, as seen in this great video! Really, if you didn’t click that link, you’re missing out…
Along the way, we spotted other wildlife, like this … What’s this thing called again?? I chased after it and it was, fortunately for me, too slow to get away. Instead, it dug itself a nice hole to wallow in, stuck its head and feet under it’s prickly body, and would occasionally peer out to see if I was still there. Which I was. Several times. It’s a “spiny ant eater”, and apparently, so I read on Wikipedia, lays eggs like a platypus. This Wiki quote has to be added, because it’s just that bizarre.
“Male echidnas have a four-headed penis. During mating, the heads on one side “shut down” and do not grow in size; the other two are used to release semen into the female’s two-branched reproductive tract. The heads used are swapped each time the mammal copulates. When not in use, the penis is retracted inside a preputial sac in the cloaca. The… shaft is covered with “penile spines.”
At the farm, we were welcomed by 6 Border Collies, two cats, Tom’s brother and two kids, and this little Kingfisher named “Butch”. Butch liked to frequent the patio, where he’d steal food from your hand. As you were bringing it to your mouth. His wings brushed my face as he swept in for the kill.
“Naughty bird” could be heard from Tom’s 7 year old nephew Lachlan sitting near me, his Australian accent making it that much cuter. Butch and I became close pals. Even the cats and dogs were used to him hanging around.
Another little animal encounter was with the Antechinus. They look similar to field mice, but are not rodents, and are more closely related to kangaroos. I didn’t have as much luck befriending the Antechinus’ we’d capture in the pantry, but I did get to see these little marsupials bound away through the tall grass once we released them. Excellent climbers and jumpers, they have a strangeness to them that rivals the weirdness of the echidna’s junk: Apparently, antechinus only mate once a year, in a 12 hour frenzy of activity. I thought this quote was especially disturbing: “Males live for exactly eleven-and-a-half months, dying from stress-induced immune system breakdown about two weeks after mating… A fortnight later, every male is dead, overwhelmed by the stress-related corticosteroids produced during the frenzy of mating”. Wow. The animals here just get weirder and weirder.
The farm was beautiful, and a real wooded wonderland with a cold, clean river meandering lazily through. I always imagined Australia to be more dry and barren, but instead I see vast expanses of land covered in rolling yellow hills, dotted with verdant eucalyptus trees, dense forests nestled in the valleys, livestock, horses everywhere, sheep, llamas and families of kangaroo all co-mingling in the paddocks. There’s so much wildlife and natural beauty everywhere you look; bright red, orange and pink sunsets lighting up the wispy cirrus clouds or fluffy cumulus, a fiery blaze piercing the blue skies. Dozens of bird species flutter through the air, diving, soaring, chasing, or drifting lazily in the warm sun. Even in the winter, radiant flowers abound between orange and lemon trees laden with fruit. Long glowing beaches stretch on and on, crystal blue waves crashing onto the fine, soft golden sand. The air is cold, but the heat of the sun is enough to keep warm, and sends Tom plunging into the surf.
My impressions of Australia are so far 99% positive, save a few serious concerns:
1. What’s up with the awful drivers in Canberra?! Tom tried warning me about them, and it only took a little driving to find he was not exaggerating about how aggressive and pushy they are.
2. Shit here’s EXPENSIVE. We’re talking $15-25 for a meal at any ol’ cafe. $9 for a slice of cake. And you know I love my cake. $4 for a “long black”, their (weak) version of an Americano. If you’re not careful, you’ll suddenly find you’ve spent $25 for one coffee, a tea, and a sandwich (although it was a really good sandwich). A 6 pack of beer is $18 for the cheapo stuff I’d never drink anyway, even if it were free. Which it obviously isn’t.
3. It’s freezing! Maybe not literally freezing, but really, really damn cold. The houses just aren’t ready for the cold months, as Tom has pointed out many times. In Seattle, you can walk into anyone’s house in winter and it’s almost always toasty warm. Here, the houses sometimes feel colder inside than out, which makes getting out of bed pretty tough. I’ve discovered the heater hits its peak heat at 9am, making that an ideal time to get up (poor me!). I’m using two comforters and my down sleeping bag on my bed. Luckily, Tom’s dad keeps the tea kettle and portable dining room heater going 24/7, making for a nice warm oasis.
Well, not much to complain about as you can see. Everything else has been great so far. Kim’s house is welcoming and homey, with an ever flowing supply of coffee, tea, treats and great company. I had some of the best Thai I’ve ever had in a town called Penrith, some decent cups of coffee here and there, and I’m learning where to grocery shop so as not to break the bank. Clothing seems to be ridiculously cheap for many things, and there’s a lot of it. Today I picked up a nice sweater for $14, as I’ve been freezing my ass off, and a beautiful pair of warm leather knee-high boots for half the price they’d be in the States (why didn’t I bring mine from home?! Because I though it’d be warmer). It seemed a little crazy to spend money on boots knowing it’s going to get brutally hot come… I don’t know when, but I’ve been so cold these last few weeks that it was worth it (and besides, I just bought a motorcycle to go with them! I mean them, to go with my motorcycle… 2001 KL250 SUPER SHERPA!!! With a name like that, how can you not love it? And it’s tiny. Both feet touch the ground with ease!).
Another great thing about this country is the ridiculously high wages. You can work at McDonald’s and still earn more than twice the average minimum wage in the U.S. Teachers start out making $60,000 or more, nearly twice what a US teacher starts out at. Even crazier, a sub makes $300 a day, which is about three times the amount in the States. I’m hoping to pick up some sub jobs, but the paperwork will take weeks or even a few months to processes.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue sleeping in until 9am, frequent Kim’s great espresso machine 10 meters down the hall, explore the ‘cheaper’ coffee haunts with my library books, find more neat critters, enjoy the many nice wooded walking paths Canberra has to offer, perfect my pizza recipe, and enjoy Tom’s homemade bread and the good company here in the ‘Can’.