Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Maryborough, Queensland, Australia

On our way up to Hervey Bay we stopped at a small town called Maryborough, and discovered a relic from the Colonial Days in Australia. Located north of Brisbane, the town came into existence as a thriving port located on the Mary River. Local industries such as farming, fishing and logging contributed to the growth of the town to the extent that for the last half of the 19th century it was the second-largest settlement in all of Australia; only Sydney was larger

. As a result, it was home to many Colonial offices, and was poised to become the capital of the new state of Queensland in 1859. However, political interests stepped in at the last minute and shifted the new capital to Bisbane; which secured that town's future and put an end to the bright prospects for Maryborough. However, it remains a pleasant and cozy little town with some marvellous Victorian architecture and beautiful parks; a glimpse into the Golden Years of Australian settlement during the Victorian years.

Photo Above -Flood Markings from the rise of the Mary River; there are several even above this Photo.

A gun battery from the mid-1800s that guards the Mary River;

The Customs House

A typical traditional Aussie Pub;

A fountain and the Bandshell in a riverfront park; a miniature railroad runs through it;

Aussie Oddities

Maryborough boasts the oldest still-operating Post Office Building in Australia;

The first telephone exchange in Australia was located here;

The author of Mary Poppins was born and raised in Maryborough;

This is a $7 lunch in the old pub in town
; not only is the burger quite large, the bun is fresh, and it is served with that Aussie staple for steak and hamburger, (other than chips); cooked beets. For $7 you get the Burger smothered in fried onions, a salad, and the requisite side of chips; all served with a glass of draught beer!;

An old cannon discovered in the nearby waters in 1877. It was produced prior to 1755 and was carried aboard a Portuguese East India Trading Company vessel that plied the waters in the pre-settlement era. Likely it was jettisoned from a trading ship in an attempt to dislodge itself from an off-shore reef.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hervey Bay

One of the great things that we have noted here in Hervey Bay is that the town provides covered BBQ kiosks all along the beach. These are plumbed for gas, and are free for public use; complete with shade/rain cover and picnic benches; very nice!

Every once in a while there is a discovery that makes you go 'wow' and we found one right here in Hervey Bay. What Queensland has is a marvellous marketing tool called 'Clearskins”. A clearskin is a bottle of wine made from excess production. The wineries generally market and contract for what they expect to grow in a year; with a safety margin in case they have a shortfall. This ensures that they can meet their contractual obligations to supply wine at a fixed price to volume venders. The excess is then available for sale to other wholesalers, merchants and direct to consumers through the estate wineshop. However, in many good years there is often a sizable glut of wine on the market, (as there has been for several years now worldwide), and the excess is not easily sold. In such cases the winery will then contract with the private liquor stores in Queensland (there are no government liquor stores), to sell the bottled overproduction as 'Clearskins'.

A Clearskin wine can only be identified by varietal (Merlot, Shiraz, Savignon Blanc, Chardonnay, etc.), Region, (eg. The Claire Valley), and the year of production. One can never know exactly what is in the bottle and who produced it, but the big draw is the price. A 26 oz bottle of quality Shiraz goes for $2.90!! We took three Clearskin wine bottles to an Italian Restaurant last night, (it's permissible to Bring Your Own Bottle to many restaurants in Australia), and the most expensive was $6. All were excellent; at least the quality of a wine running from $25 – 35 in Canada. Even the regular wines a
re cheap; a bottle of Wallace Shiraz from the Bourassa Valley, (which we know and enjoy very much), will cost $40 in Canada and only $17 dollars here (The Aussie and Canadian dollars are pretty much at par). Likewise for the exceptional New Zealand white wines. The catch is with the spirits; a bottle of Blue Sapphire London Bombay Gin is $27 in British Columbia but $45 -49 dollars here! So forget the spirits, and forget even the excellent value wines; we are totally taken with Clearskins! At $2.90 a bottle, the wine is even cheaper than a bottle of Coke at $3.29! And just to seal the deal; the vendor will even return the purchase price if you actually don't like the wine (we have yet to find one that we didn't like), as long as you have not consumed more than to the top of the label on the bottle. You simply can't lose with Clearskins!

April 25 is Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand; their equivalent of our Remembrance Day. The day commemorates the first big battle of the Australian – New Zealand Army Corps [ANZAC] in World War I. This was the ill-fated Gallopoli Campaign in Turkey that took place in 1915, and it marked the coming-of-age of the two Nations. The day is very different from our service; it starts with a 5 am service at dawn; the very hour 95 years ago that the Aussies and New Zealanders stormed the beaches. From there the vets repair to the local RSL (Returned Servicemen's League) establishment – our Legion on steroids, for a breakfast and a pint or two. Then, at 9:30 am there is a parade of all vets, police, bands, girl guides, sea scouts and the air league, to the cenotaph for a more formal service. The whole thing is over by 11 am, and then it is back to the club! Quite unlike Canadian memorial services, it was a very hot and humid 30 degrees for the ceremony!

Aussie Oddities

The Aussie National Anthem is relatively new; it was introduced in 1984 – replacing God Save The Queen;

As mentioned, all Aussie bottle stores are privately owned. Oddly, a law in this State insists that they must be attached to a working pub! Now why this is deemed a necessity entirely mystifies us.

This is a curious device that sits in the middle of a kitchen counter. Can you guess what it is? We couldn't. A ring is hinged on top; rotate it and lift. Presto, a 2 – prong electrical outlet emerges from below and is now available for use on a busy counter top. Naturally, it stores away when not needed; we must have this in Canada!

Photo Right - The only way to check your e-mail outside on a sunny day!

The sign is quite clear on this - if you thought you could get away with launching your nuclear-tipped missiles from the pontoon – think again! Obviously a major problem in this part of the world.

Ever wonder why they called it Pelican Beach!

Animals of Australia

Being an island Continent, Australia evolved many unique forms of wildlife. Naturally we were naturally eager to try to find them. Some of them found us instead. We have been Down Under for 4 weeks now, and this is a sampling of what we have found so far.
· Roos, Roos, and MORE ROOS! They are everywhere, as long as you stray off the beaten track, as we tend to do. If you take the major motorways the likelihood of running into this symbol of Australia, (both figuratively a and literally), is not very high. But out in the quieter stretches of roads they can be seen in great numbers at dawn and dusk. The locals think of them as pests;
· The Koala; very hard to spot in the trees;
The Wallaby; a smaller version of the Kangaroo.
· The Wombat. It is much bigger than we thought; sort of like a big beaver without the tail;
· Pink Parrots; they are everywhere as well; if you want to get up early each morning, live in an area that they do.
· Pelicans; they are quite amusing to watch as they go about their business of catching fish;
· Possums; we had two of these little fellows in our backyard at Byron Bay, but they quickly scrambled up a tree when we became interested in them;
· the Kookaburra; a noisy bird that loves to hang around the BBQ in case there is a spare morsel of meat to be had;
· the Ibis; a strange bird that inhabits both the city and the country;
· the Aussi equivalent of the hedgehog, only bigger; the Enchenida;
· the crocodiles of Dundee;
· A Wild Turkey;
· Bluebottle Dolphins;
· and many other animals, whom we do not recognize.

Aussie Oddities
· a BBQ stand on the beach at Hervey Bay; they are supplied free of charge by the town, and are complete with a shelter built overhead as protection from the rain and the intense sun. Not only that, the gas is piped in, free of charge! The Aussies love their BBQs!;

· A sign that tells it like it is. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way and the motorists are quite aggressive in enforcing their rights. At Manly Beach I walked into a crosswalk with the nearest car over a half block away. The disgruntled driver had to stop, but was shaking her head at me in disgust!;

· We are not sure of the purpose of the blue metal attachment on the park bench, but it appears to be a mini-table on which to place your drink.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Noosa Heads, Queensland, Australia

This week finds us north of Brisbane, in another one of those coastal towns located all along the East Coast of Australia. This one is called Noosa Heads and it has more of those great Aussie Beaches to explore. Driving up the coast from Byron Bay we passed through the heart of what is called the Gold Coast; a large, American-style community with the requisite tacky main drag, the large high-rise apartment buildings right on the beach, and the core downtown area devoted to the automobile and clogged with upscale franchise stores. So desperate is the place to be another slice of Americana that the communities have even named themselves after the iconic image they yearn to be; Palm Beach, Miami Beach, and even Surfer's Paradise. With a large commercial airport right near the beach, the Gold Coast caters to the massive holiday crowds from nearby Brisbane and elsewhere in Australia. And it also offers theme parks that cater to the young families – Water Slides, Amusement Rides, and even an MGM park.

Fortunately, Noosa Heads is located further north; on the Sunshine Coast. It is not so in-your-face tacky as the Gold Coast, but it does have a touch of Rodeo Drive chic. Once again the town economy relies on the influx of tourists and vacationers, and is a collection of restaurants, surf shops, convenience stores and cafes. The biggest single difference is that for the most part the Backpacker Crowd has been left hanging out on the Main Beach down south at Byron Bay. As a result, the accommodations, restaurants and shops are decidedly upscale, with prices to match.

We have noted that the Aussies appear to be big on markets, so we had to check out one at a nearby town called Eumundi. It contained the usual farmers produce, hand-craft stores (or at least stores hawking what is supposedly hand-made – usually in China!), and the necessary food court to dole out the ice cream, coffee, pies and sweets. But down here in Oz the local markets also feature a sprinkling of the mystical - tarot and palm readers, massage kiosks, aroma therapy clinics, crystal tuning, aura re-alignment, foot tickling, feather dusting, wand recharging – you get the idea. The market connects with the town's main street; a charming collection of old buildings that harken back about 100 years. The photo taken on the main street shows how the first petrol (gasoline) stations worked; you just pulled up curbside at the General Store, grabbed a pump and filled up your lorry – and they are doing exactly the same thing today!

Elsewhere, the enterprizing Aussies even have a different spin on the factory outlet mall; an entertainment / outlet park. Someone assembled a parcel of land in the country and convinced a bunch of local outfits to set up shop there. Thus you have a combined factory, warehouse, commercial outlet and tourist trap all rolled into one! So instead of having to trail all over the countryside you just drop by the entertainment / industrial park and let the fun begin. And there is a world of fun to be had since the centre contains a coffee producing plant, a Macadamia Nut Factory, a Ginger Factory and a Chocolate Factory. You can ride a Miniature Railroad to your destination, take a Bee Tour (?), see how ginger is made, sample some of the amusement rides, and shop the tourist shops for indulgences normally forgone in everyday life. Me, I settled into a chair and enjoyed a coffee with a Ginger Scone, served with fresh whipping cream and ginger marmalade.

On the other hand there is still the beauty of the local beaches and scenery to be had for free. And as usual there is an abundance of good local food available; excellent steaks, seafood and produce. However, the national dish appears to be french fries; chips as they call them. They come with almost everything, and even when you don't order them they appear; its understood that chips are a must. They do have a dish served with melted cheese but when we explain the addition of gravy to make poutine, a unique Quebec contribution to the culinary arts, they are mystified. To some, this alone justifies a trip to Canada! Pictured here is a $10 order of chips being devoured by 5 young ladies; the white container at the side contain Feta cheese for dipping.

We are staying in the penthouse of a three-story apartment block and have a complete rooftop plaza for our own use. It has lounging and sitting chairs, a BBQ, a built-in sink and a Hot Tub. So we can sun, hot tub, and dine in the fresh air. Two issues have cropped up in our time down here. First of all, the sun is on the north and not the south. To someone who has only lived in the Northern Hemisphere this is very disorienting and destroys your sense of direction. Second, we went through a change of time last week, and although it is April, it is Fall down here, and the clocks went back one hour, meaning that it is now dark at 5:30 pm. These two things take some getting used to.

Aussie Oddities

It was a Dark and Stormy night
...... no, not the opening to a turgid murder mystery novel; a Dark and Stormy is a local favourite drink. It consists of rum mixed with Ginger Beer, and it is very good as long as the mix is not too sweet.

Is it just me, or would you feel a little uncomfortable leaving your life's savings in a bank called Nab? There is a national chain of banks here called National Australian Bank, [Nab], and it doesn't seem to strike anyone else as a bit sinister. Talk about truth in advertising!

A Shopping Cart? Nope; in Oz it's called a Trolley!

Aboriginal Clap Sticks. Used by the women for food preparation; it can grind, break seeds, roll dough and squeeze juice from fruit. Male members of a tribe cannot speak to a woman until she receives her set of Clap Sticks; usually at the age of about 13. In the evenings the female members of the tribe use the sticks to beat out rhythms to songs passed orally from generation to generation.

We also found out what the Aboriginals call a boomerang that doesn't come back – a stick!

More roadsigns; do you get the feeling that the area is teeming with wildlife?