We’re now in “the land down under” “where women glow and men thunder.” After a couple days of rocking and rolling on the Tasman Sea, everything calmed down and we entered the fascinating world of Australia. Our first ports were striking contrasts to our final cities in New Zealand. Sydney and Melbourne are the two largest cities in Australia, and each city has more people than the entire population of New Zealand. So we dealt with a lot of urban traffic and busy streets for a few days.
Many in the US think of Australia and New Zealand as very similar—both were former British colonies and speak English, both drive on the left, and the timing of discovery and European colonization were similar. But the distance from New Zealand and Australia is greater than the distance between New York and Los Angeles, and there several interesting differences. Australia has about five times the population of New Zealand, but it is also more than 70 times as large, so it is much less densely populated. (Australia is about the size of the “lower 48” contiguous states, but its total population is just a little more than Florida.) The majority of the population in Australia lives near the Eastern coastline.
The history of the indigenous people in the two countries is also strikingly different. New Zealand was the last place to be settled, with the Maori arriving after 1200 AD. But the Aboriginal people of Australia arrived at least 65,000 years ago, and their earliest petroglyphs predate the oldest cave paintings in Europe. The differences in timing and geography also means that the native cultures developed very differently. The arid conditions of Australia led the Aboriginal people in Australia to live in small bands of families and clans that were semi-nomadic and generally isolated with less social structure and integration. Consequently almost 160 different languages were developed, and all but 12 or 13 of those languages are endangered or extinct. It has been interesting to see some of those differences revealed.
But on to our travels. Our first stop was Melbourne, on the South-East Coast. The second largest city in the country, and the Capital of Victoria, it has been called “the world’s most livable city.” Melbourne is a busy city with lots of traffic, an impressive skyline, a vital central city with lots of cultural institutions and big museums, and a very impressive collection of venues for sports. Some of these were built when the city hosted the Olympics way back in 1956, but they have been maintained and renewed and they demonstrate a commitment to athletics and sporting events ranging from swimming and tennis, to cricket, soccer, rugby, basketball, and Australian Rules Football. The city also hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2006. The cricket stadium holds over 120,000 fans, and I was told the rivalries with New Zealand, India and other Commonwealth nations was very intense. We took a coach tour of the city and saw the wide range of the architectural styles, visited the Shrine of Remembrance for the veterans of foreign wars, and spent some time in the Botanical Gardens, which included the cottage of Captain James Cook, that had been dismantled in Yorkshire, England and resurrected there. (An outstanding navigator and cartographer, Captain Cook’s three voyages of discovery played a huge part in the development of this part of the world. We have been basically following in his footsteps since our arrival in Polynesia.) After our tour, we stayed in the city for the afternoon to have a bit of lunch and explore a little. We even ran into a brief public dance experience near the Australian Center for the Moving Image. A nice day.
After a sea day (Australia is more spread out than New Zealand), we landed in Sydney, Australia’s largest city and the capital of New South Wales, where we spent two days. The first day I took a tour of the city and got an overview of the history of colonization there. Captain Cook first landed in Botany Bay in 1770. Interestingly, after the Declaration of Independence in America in 1776, England needed to find a new place to ship its convicts. [Yes, some of the early settlers in America didn’t come totally of their own volition—they don’t talk about that in the DAR!] So between 1788 and 1792 about 4,500 convicts were shipped to Australia, and they continued to arrive until the 1830s. The new residents found that the land near Botany Bay lacked fresh water and good soil, so they moved a bit north to the newly discovered Sydney Harbor, the world’s largest natural harbor. Apparently the punishment for the convicts was resettlement rather than prison, although an island in the harbor was used for repeat offenders in the new colony. Much of the earliest settlement happened in an area called The Rocks, a formerly rough part of town with many of the oldest pubs and a few remaining historic buildings near the Harbour Bridge. After the tour, and I spent time in the harbor for a bite to eat, a few photos of the Opera House, and a visit to the Contemporary Art Museum before taking a shuttle boat back to the ship. There were people from the ship climbing the Harbour Bridge while we sailed under it, and they can be seen in the picture below.
Jean took an excursion to the Blue Mountains, a beautiful scenic area about 90 minutes west of the city. She described the area as a combination of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Grand Canyon, with a chance to explore in cable cars, trams, and the world’s steepest railway.
That evening a number of people on board had purchased tickets to attend Carmen at the Sydney Opera House. Unfortunately I waited too long and the show was sold out. However, we were able to see a performance by a local troupe of indigenous performers on the ship, and it was fascinating. The performers with their body paint, sharp animal mime, short expressive songs, and the sound of the didgeridoo were very interesting. I have seen Carmen multiple times, but this was unique.
The second day in Sydney, Jean and I traveled together to see a bit of the city with a stop at Bondi Beach, a famous swimming and surfing beach in a Sydney suburb. Apparently since the 1980s, it has been optional to wear swimming suit tops on Bondi Beach, although when we visited there was a carnival that attracted several families, and the only people I saw who chose the option to go topless were male. The other major stop was a tour inside the Opera House. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the Joan Sutherland Theatre, home of Opera Australia and the Australia Ballet, because of the sets and people on stage, but we also went into the Concert Hall and we learned the multiple theatre spaces below the “sails.” It was a treat to explore such an iconic building, and it was fun to remember that I once shared the stage with Joan Sutherland, a native Australian who was famous around the world. (I was a “supernumerary” for a production of “Tales of Hoffman” when The Metropolitan Opera toured to Minnesota in the 1970s.) At the end of the day as we were leaving Sydney, the ship did a dramatic 360 degree turn around the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House to say goodbye to the city.
Brisbane, the capital of Queensland and the third largest city in Australia, was our third stop in the country. Located on the winding Brisbane River about 9 miles from the harbor, Brisbane is a modern city near the center of Australia’s east coast. It was the site of a couple tribes of Aboriginal people and the site of a secondary penal colony in the early 1800s. Despite occasional flooding (the most recent was 2011), there is a lot of building and it seems to be a dynamic city. Jean had been dealing with a cough and congestion for the past week, and after a trip to the doctor and a few prescriptions to help her improve, she was advised to stay in the room to rest and recover. So I took the ticket for her excursion to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the first sanctuary that allows people to see and connect with koalas, kangaroos, and other Australian wildlife. The temperatures were over 95 degrees with very high humidity, so it was very warm in the sun, but it was really a fascinating chance to get up close to some of the iconic Australian animals. I chose to not pay $20 and wait in line to get a photo of me holding a koala, but some of my travel mates got wonderful photos. I later regretted my decision, because I asked someone to take a picture of me standing near the animals, and didn’t check them until the end of the day. I ended up with two excellent photos of the animals, my stomach, and a finger print over my face! But I got to see several koalas up close, including a mother and a young one who emerged from the pouch as I was watching. I also got close to emus and lots of kangaroos. The kangaroos were incredibly soft, as I petted their ears and back and watched several people feed them. But I learned that the sanctuary only puts the females in the public fields, as the males are much more aggressive. I also saw the duck-billed platypus, wombats, wallabies, dingo, Tasmanian Devils, and several birds like the cockatoo and the kookaburra. However, I don’t get a lot of great photos. The koala and several of the other animals were sensibly resting and staying in shaded areas on such a hot day, and many are naturally nocturnal. But it was really fun to be able to see so many of those animals up close. I’m sorry that Jean missed it, but the day really helped her recover, and it was very interesting for me.
Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day was an appreciated sea day. We had a church service in the morning, several good presentations during the day, a great concert of love songs by the entertainment staff in the Atrium in the late afternoon, and a very nice dress-up Valentines dinner date at The Restaurant that evening.
An onward we go . . . #MyVikingStory