This next edition is dedicated to the most gorgeous gals in Butte, Montana, my amazing Grandmother Elizabeth Parker and her friends Winkie and Georgiana.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

This Tiny Box

How very odd.  The year ended.  I guess that happens all over the place, but it's not easy to say farewell to such an extraordinary experience.  We seized every moment without hesitation,  did so many unique and wonderful things, and met amazing people!  The speedy pace at which is came to the finish line though was totally unexpected.  It all started happening when Brian put up the 5 weeks til departure list on the fridge, which I kept posting things over top of with magnets, for it only to reappear again.  Hmphf.  I wasn't ready to face any of that 'leaving' thing.  But as the weeks drew to a close, I realized that I couldn't fight it back.  Start saying good bye to things and people slowly.  The last times started presenting themselves in a series of events like, this is the last time we'll go to Emma and Bonnie's school, the last trips to shops, and so on.  Then the packing started.  We declared one space under the air conditioner as our docking station.  Belongings and gathered souvenirs started appearing from the bedrooms and shelves that we'd been displaying.  Clothes started to accumulate and shoes, and books, and chocolates, and gifts that we started receiving.  As the week went on, we came to understand the metaphor of this whole experience.  How do you transport all of these magical memories into our 4 suitcases.  How will we ever fit everything with such magnitude into small spaces.  And then I gave myself the ultimate challenge.  I needed to find one word that would fit into a tiny box that would describe my Australian experience.  One word that when thought of would transform my mind to all of my Australia into a small tiny box.  This tiny box is filled with one word:

The last few months were filled with some seriously great times. And as any school year ends at home, we start to finish off curriculum, starting report cards and are looking towards tying up loose ends.  At Grahamvale, it was no different except it was getting hotter and Christmas was approaching.  How strange to see all of the decorations appear on the streets, and people putting up their trees.  I am glad that we didn't have to wrap our sweating heads around the Christmas rush.  We decided to forego any gift giving and pocket our cash for the stop over in Los Angeles on the way home.  Plus, our luggage would NOT have forgiven us had we even added a paper clip to the pile.  It would have been like the 'I'm  too full' scene in Monty Python.  Disaster.  In any case, who would have thought that I could fit in a couple of school camps as well!  I must say though, that these were top notch highlights of my year and I'm totally grateful to those who organized them and better yet, got me on board.

Somer's Camp
I was SOOOOO lucky!  Every two years, Shepparton area gets to go to Lord Somer's Camp which is on the south coast of Victoria on the Mornington penninsula.  Schools in the area pick 5-10 deserving kids to take the nine day vacation off of school, and then 8 visiting teachers are selected from the region to attend as Hut Leaders and pastoral care providers (pastoral care means general well-being of kids).  So, I think because I was an anomaly AND my principal let me attend, I got to go!  Brian and the girls were taught how to boil water and add pasta, and my ducks were all in line, so 7:00 am on Melbourne Cup day, Brian drove me to the meeting place and there were hundreds of pacing parents, 180 happily bouncing grade 5 and 6 children, and me. 
We all piled our bags on the buses and off we went.  I love driving on buses into the unknown.  Three hours later, and thankfully no sickies (you get the picture) we arrived at Lord Somer's Camp.  It was once a training station for the RAAF set up by Lord Somers who wanted to replicate a training camp in the UK.  Since 1929, it has been operating.  This camp is funded by the Victorian Education Department and they certainly don't skimp out on anything.
Me dropping from 20 metres.  Good thing you can't hear what I'm saying
The activities and scheduling was smooth sailing...surfing lessons, boating, high ropes, giant 20 metre drop swing, archery, nature studies, art, drama, a farm complete with 100 guinea pigs to hold, pet and weigh, 2 goats and designer chickens, biking, bird study, rock climbing, library and writing time, amazing food and tons of night time activities that topped the chart of happiness!  Also, after our huts were snoring peacefully, the visiting teachers would get to go up to the 'Teacher's Lounge'and relax with a supper (cheese, crackers, chocolates, and wine).  It was all too sweet, but I knew the days were ticking by and fatigue was getting harder to quell.  The day before we left, I woke with the loud hand bell summoning all happy campers to breakfast, and after my shower, I closed my eyes, just for a few minutes of extra relief and reached for my face cream, which turned out to be a handful of toothpaste spread across my face.  I rushed out of my private room with my eyes closed and all of my charges ran up to see what was going on.  I told them to smell my minty fresh cheeks!  They guided me to the basins for a clean up. 
I truly bonded with those 20 girls!  I read a novel to them every night as they would beg me to read so they could hear my weird accent.  We would have nightly sharing meetings, try very hard to win the daily cleanest hut award, and play a watered down version of cricket during free time.  
I asked a permanent staff member how one became a resident teacher.  He said that they all lived on site in houses and only if someone retired would a position open.  They had mostly been there for at least 20 years.  Amazingly talented staff!  And the food was incredible.  The kids got breakie, lunch and tea which was friendly kid fare, but we got fine cuisine from the kitchen on a daily basis--organic muesli  organic eggs, toast, fresh fruit, grilled salmon, and the list goes on.  I can definitely see why it's hard to be chosen for this secondment.  There's even a waiting list to be a supply teacher on call!  I told them, in any case, if they were stuck for a replacement staff, that I would just need a few days notice and I would fly over.  We'll see.

Sovereign Hill Camp

Mrs. Butterball and Mrs. Ramsbottom melting
Gold panning
Australia's history is deep, deep meaning apart from the British Convicts taking up residence, the gold rush in Victoria. The first gold was alleuvial and found a couple hours south west of Shepparton which turned into the city of Ballarat.  Two shepherds, in 1850 or so, were out tending to their sheep when they noticed gold sparkling in the waters.  So, they headed off to the pub to celebrate and just happened to be sitting next to a journalist.  They spilled the beans on their find and within months, the rush began! People from England, Ireland, China and the USA came in to find their wealth.  Most didn't get rich but a few had a lucky find.  The main site, which is now Ballarat is home to one of the world's biggest nuggets, the Welcome Nugget.  It weighed 71 kilos. Another one, found farther north 3 cm under the ground weighed in at 72 kilos.  I've heard that there is more out there, but given the heat, snakes and fact that I have to work, I decided to stick to the game plan.
Me and Mrs. Ramsbottom walking our classes
Sir  (Mr. Fyfe)
The grade 5 students get to attend the camp and I and another grade 5/6 teacher got to go, along with the vice principal of Grahamvale.  When you arrive, you stay in hotel like lodgings on the Sovereign Hill site, which is very much like where I grew up in Butte, Montana.  Everything is olden days, streets, buildings, people in costume role playing.  The best part, was that we and our classes had to wear period costumes and walk through the town site to our school.  We weren't allowed to show any form of modernism and had to keep our cameras, phones and any other time cheaters, in our purses.  The children were to be dressed in head to toe, 1850 costumes, boys in knickerbockers, shirts, kerchiefs  and girls in frocks, aprons, pantelets, sleevelets and bonnets.  Teachers were the same.  There will be many Japanese tourists with our faces on their cameras! It was all fun and games until the thermometer rose to 39 degrees ( 102 for Farenheiters) and girls started feeling woozy.  On the second day of old time school, one girl needed a reprieve from the costuming and Sir, Mr. Fyfe, our distingushed classroom teacher, agreed that she could remove her apron.  I was in constant sweating state, and often lifted my skirts to catch a WELCOME breeze.  I got in a heap of trouble though from Sir, as I allowed the girls to remove their pantlets for the recess break and run around.  Sir stated clearly, that he had never come across such 'inappropriateness' in all his days as a school teacher!  But, under his breath, he gave me a nudge and said, 'Of course, a Canadian would be to blame.'
Mrs. Ramsbottom and Mrs. Butterball climing the hill

Some hot boys
My name was Mrs. Butterball, the wife of a confectioner and my partner was Mrs. Ramsbottom, wife of a wealthy squatter.  We were both on the look out for new staff.  Me, looking for a boy to work in the confectioner's store and she was looking for a house maid.  After the 2 days, we had to choose one of our students to fill the roles.
We learned to gold pan, embroider, make medicinal remedies (cooked cow pie applied to a bald head would deliver death to all lice), and use Victorian script with a dip ink pen.  We also learned how to make candles and the importance of keeping a horse in fine form.  It was a great time, and before bed, we would all meet for supper (cookies, bickies, and cakes). 
I loved this camp. I felt like an 1850ish woman on a mission and it was a sweet trip.

Goughs Bay
I loved that Brian got a job in Shepparton.  Ya, the extra money was good to burn up on the weekends, but it was the people that he worked for that were the best bonus!  John and Sue were extremely generous to us all!  First there was the amazing Christmas party out on their patio facing onto a serene city lake.  Then there was the pizza farewell party which made me laugh.  It was one hot night, 36ish or so and we were all looking forward to a cool air conditioned restaurant but as fate would have it, the air conditioner was out of order.  John said, 'Right, 6 of us are air conditioning specialists, we should be able to fix it.' So they all went over to the machine, all sweaty pizza customers watching hopefully and after a few minutes of prodding and quiet discussion, John turned around and announced, 'Yep, it's done for.' And he gave the manager his card.  Then, the next week they had yet another going away lunch for Brian.  I think they secretly hoped he would change his mind and stay which he would have, expect for that little document called a 'work visa'.  
John and his boat
One of the most picturesque places though was their home in Goughs Bay, a couple of hours from Shepparton.  It's on the way to the ski mountains but of course, it was in the high 30's that day so there would be no skiing, just tubing!  On the lake that is!
Frog  stalking the elusive stick
The interesting thing about this lake is that it was only a year ago that it was empty!  The droughts of 10 years before had claimed it and John said that it was a big canyon.  If you wanted to go boating, you basically had to drive out and DOWN at steep grade to get to the middle.  After the very wet winter season, it refilled.  Now, it's like a sanctuary of clear amazing water.  The thing I loved about it was that because the drought had been so long, trees grew on the lake floor.  They are now submerged for the most part, but the tops of them are exposed and the birds love it!

Australian Advice
At the Christmas BBQ for school, I asked one teacher what I should know about Australians before I go home.  She said that every one in Australia is as good as anyone else.  'In Australia, we are all the same no matter what, regardless of money, race, status. We don't talk down or up to people. We are all the best!'  I agree.
Bonnie's wet Farewell Party
Emma's huge and GORGOUS clay pot
that we had leave behind
Another of Emma's clay pieces which we sent home
Gloria the spider coming out to say goodbye
Saying Goodbye
Every Australian I met said that Goodbye wasn't in their vocab.  We say Farewell with the intention that there may be another chance to see one another again.  It's a bit like ripping off a bandaid quickly.  OUCH!  That hurt, damnit!  But, that's basically how we left.  Finished school, packed last minute bags, said farewell to the friends, magnificent gum trees and magpies, hopped into our friend's van and got dropped off at the Shepparton Train station.  Sometimes difficult things are just easier when done so quickly that you can't stop to think about it.  The only thing I remember truly about that day was the heat.  I said that I couldn't leave Australia without feeling 40 degree--that's 102 F,  sun on my face.  It did get to 39 a few times, and when Brian would pick me up from work, I would get in the car and look at the temperature.  Oh, it's only 35, I'd say.  Before, anything above 28 was worth mentioning.  But, as 35 became bearable and regular for my reptilian blood, I needed HEAT! On that last day, we sweated ALOT!  The neighbours invited us over for a swim in their pool and the thermometer read 42!  YIPPEE!!  I can go home now. 
Arriving in Sydney

Stop Over
The blow of leaving OZ was lessened by the fact that we got to spend a few days in Los Angeles and surrounds. Beautiful brain busting theme park blitz was needed badly. 
Brian was indeed the hero and knew that we would need a sweet fix before heading home.  Our flight was long, and tiring.  I kept putting in my head all of the things I missed from home.  When I was thinking about snow I fell asleep and thanks to the great travel sickness pill I took, 13 hour plane ride went by rather fast.  The problem though was when I woke up, I was bleary, weary and covered with snow.  So weird...I brushed off the snow, only to realize that my neck pillow had exploded and I was covered with static electricity ridden styrofoam balls, as were everyone else in the vicinity.  OOPS!  The flight attendants forgave me, bless them.  I think that they were calling me names under their breath.

me and my cats!

Giant water tank on Long Beach

barf coasters
Howard, the pelican
Our hotel on Long Beach overlooked the Queen Mary cruise ship and because I got to have my birthday in 3 time zones, and I was still awake, we went out to Bubba Gumps for dinner.  Nice, but between mini-jet lag naps and deep fried shrimp, the girls told the waiter that it was my birthday.  Suddenly a crew full of happy tip-hungry waiters came in singing, holding my birthday sundae.  They were singing and the verse was that if I ate the sundae before the song was done, I could have another sundae.  Hmm...we must be in America!
The next few days were spent at Universal Studios flying through crazy 3D rides, shopping, and Six Flags which was totally a full on 'Disney on Steroids'
My New food group
Bad drivers
crazy overdose. 

I panicked in the lines just waiting to go on those rides!  We did manage to go on 6 of the 8 Extreme Rides, but then the lines were getting seriously long--2.5 hours.  Emma stated it clearly enough. 
 Mom, Melbourne was 2 hours away.  Waiting in this line is like going to Melbourne for a 30 second visit.  So, we went back to the Mexican restaurant strip and totally PIGGED OUT.  
By far the creepiest scariest ride I've ever been on

When we got home the next day, back to a balmy -4 degrees and some light snow, Brian's parents were there to pick us up.  There is nothing more extraordinary than seeing familiar faces waiting on the other side of those doors.
I seem to remember a stuffed bulldog on the first day of our journey
This guy was real.
And so, once again, we are on home turf.  Slobbery dog kisses, catching up with beloved friends and reacquainting ourselves with our lives. was stunning and warm and there are at least 2539 reasons why I loved being an Aussie.  I kept telling people to stop giving me reasons to love it so.  They didn't, but I will make a list of reasons for living here in Edmonton, Alberta and the list will be extensive.  

And in the end, making a snow angel is easier than a sand angel.  The snow that goes down your pants melts and of course, sand has to be rinsed away in the ocean.  Hmm...

This star on Hollywood boulevard says "Jean Parker'' who I always knew was a star, MY star.  Love you Mom.
Thank you for reading my blog, my dear wonderful Grandmother Elizabeth and her friend Georgiana.  We'll miss you Winkie.

And lastly, what's a blog without a Frog...Farewell dear doggie! 
Until Next Time,

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Dags, Duffers and Dingoes


Happily snoozing roos

Notice the joey doing baby yoga?

More baby yoga

Well, that went quick.  It seemed that Dad and Marilyn were here one day and gone the next, with only a mere 16 days of hoopla fun and frolic in between!  
First, I must mention that they have earned their super traveller badges. As well as their, ‘I will not complain’ badge, followed by their stunning ‘I survived the whirlwind tour of Melbourne in the rain’ badge, the ‘I am addicted now to Tasmanian wine and Timtams’ badge and a whole slew of others.  Wow!   And to think that they made it back home safely after a mere 28 hour trip and still love their daughter.  Gotta love THEM!
I was especially proud of them both when they said, ‘Yes, we’d love to go’, to my invitation to the Grahamvale School Concert, just an hour after their arrival.  Sheer bravery I say!  But, they were forging through the jet lag and enjoyed the concert, even from the last row in the back.  Brian only had to wake them up once, but it goes to show, that jet lagged travellers and babies can sleep through just about anything. 
GPS Amazingo Kids!

I must mention this extraordinary event.   I mean, HOLY COW!  When we do a concert back home, it’s big.  Lots of planning, costumes, singing and practicing.  That’s for an hour show on the gym stage.  This production didn’t cease to amaze me in watching it’s development.  First, the brilliant music and drama teacher, with some help from a few others, scripted a show for the Preps to 2 grade called the Grahamvale Circus.  Then, another completely different show for the 3-6 grades called the ‘Amazing Race’.  And, amazing it was!  Each class moved to a different country, just like in the TV show, and teams were eliminated.  A song and dance and very cool costumes accompanied each act.  Then, to start off the show, each student had a drum made of some sort of bucket or container, and did a Japanese intro song.  Blew me away!  In the end, it was the octogenarian team who won the race.  Good on ‘em, I say!

Ballarat Visit

Dad and Marilyn had a day on the ground and then we headed off for our Aussie/Tazzie tour! Our first stop on our journey was in Ballarat, Victoria.  The gold town!  Seriously, one gold nugget mined weighed 152 pounds!  That gold rush was Victoria’s birth as a state really.  So many immigrants from all over came to find their luck.  But, we found our luck there by meeting two gorgeous people, John and Noel.  Also known as Frog's Grandparents and Grandparents to Meg, our teacher exchange partner's daughter.  We had a great time sharing stories and learning about the area with them.  Noel and John are both retired school teachers and live in Mt. Helen, which is NOT Mt. Saint Helen's as I mistook a few times.  It's a beautiful area, hilly and full of flowering trees and plants.  In fact, John has a collection of a huge variety of iris plants from all over!  They even have their own pedigree status and one can check their ancestral chart to find out their history. Noel is an expert skilled quilting expert and walking through their home is a terrific treat!  Her quilts all have themes, like an Australian aboriginal quilt--GORGEOUS!  She then showed us a work in project, which is highlighting her favourite story books.  
Kookabura looking over the little snugglepots and cuddlepies
The first thing I spotted was a rather unusual looking character, known as Banksia man.  Upon further research, May Gibbs, in the 1920's- wrote books with this and many other characters based on Australian flora and fauna. Banksia men are scary spiky men based upon the banksia tree seedpods.  They steal small babies hiding in the gumnuts. 
Banksia man
 I love this!  May Gibbs was writing before her time as her books are freaky and seriously give a few nightmares to unsuspecting audiences.   
Banksia Tree
A most special event occupied when we were leaving.  John had us plant a commemorative Rhododendron!

Planting the Rodododo!

The Great Ocean Road

Going to the GOR was not too far from Ballarat.  I think we were never went farther than about 150 km on this leg of the journey.  Our people mover van was comfortable and thankfully, Brian chose to drive because when our GPS told us to go down Wild Dog Road in the dusk, we obliged.  Never doubt the Satellite Navigating machine he said, they know the roads better than we do.  That black line is the diabolical dirt road we did in the dusk with a preponderance of pesky wallabies doing the late day road cross.  By the time we arrived at our vacation house, we were all ready for a big drink.

That's me
Apollo Bay was our first stop.  This is a smallish fishing village but grows to 10 times the size in the summer months, which are November-February. A trip to the Otway National Park was our first stop-- a rain forest with THE MOST AMAZING trees I have ever seen! Canada and the US have it's share of beauties, I must admit, with the Cathedral Forest, and the Sequoias, but these gum trees grow extraordinarily fast!  The girls and I took the flying fox (aka zip line) tour and Dad, Marilyn and Brian ventured out on the treetop walk.  We learned that only a mere 45 years ago, the forest was burned to the ground.  Because these gum trees need a fire to release the seeds, it started a new growth and they actually grow about 1 meter per year!  We zipped between trees, enjoying the marvellous display of foliage and occasional land yabbie diggings!
Also, these towers that lead you through the forest are built with the ecosystems in mind.  They are attached by clamps that expand as the tree grows and not drilled in or damaging to the forest.  

It was really spellbinding for us to be zipping around AND at each stop there were so many different birds giving us the evil eye.

Being brave 30 meters up

The Otway light house
A drive down the Great Ocean Road the next day proved to be yet another adventure!  We were heading toward the Twelve Apostles rock formations, but got sidetracked and went to the Otway Lighthouse.  As we headed out to the peninsula, we suddenly ventured upon a forest of almost leafless gum trees.  Look no further than UP and there was a large consortium of koalas resting and munching peacefully above us.  Of course, we stopped.  As we wandered around, they sleepily looked down, bums resting in the crouches of tree branches.  Bonnie and I planted ourselves under one gum forest patron who seemed to be in a heavily induced snooze and no sooner, we heard and FELT the ploppings, of well, little koala pellets.  Thankfully they poo out little round balls, and not huge piles of plop!  Umbrella recommended next time.  But, we did then see a mom and baby crossed the road.  Man, those are cute!  And I'm glad to see them in their natural environment, eating and flushing out copious amounts of gum leaves.

The Otway Lighthouse is a very historic place and has saved many lives.  The lighthouse keeper told me that hundreds of ships arriving during the gold rush, and incoming convicts, crashed into the rocks and reefs just below where the light house now stands. It is a WINDY and STORMY place I tell ya!  We were there on a peaceful day and I felt the gentle gale force winds.

We continued on to the Twelve Apostles and the rain and wind picked up.  I now know why there are only eight or so apostles still standing after Emma and I braved the walk out to the lookout.  I felt like I could be blown down, but it was a staggeringly beautiful scene below.  
Lighthouse snack break
Sadly on the way back to Apollo Bay we witnessed a heartbreaking scene.  We've been fortunate in not hitting a kangaroo, although there have been a few close calls. But, the people in the other lane coming towards us weren't so lucky.  As soon as dusk approaches, the kangas and wallabies start their late day strolls.  In anycase, one was hit and teetered around in the middle of the GOR.  So, I slammed on the brakes, pulled off to the side and ran up the middle.  Dad, of course, came after me yelling to stop.  (Yet another badge earned--Chasing Crazy Daughter Badge).  In the end, I just lifted up the special friend and placed him onto the grasses on the other side.  Later, I found out that if you come across these unfortunate animals, that you are to check their pouches for a babyroo. And I guess that you are supposed to carry a can of pink paint to spray on their bodies to show they are joey-free and have been checked.  WAHHHH!  Canadians just carry extra OHenry bars in case they slide in the ditch.

The next day sunnified!  (That's a new word, not Aussie slang, I just made it up.)  I woke Dad up bright and early for a deep sea fishing adventure.  I'm not sure if he was relieved that it was warm or disappointed.  I knew his feelings about getting seasickness, but we went armed with KWELL, an anti-nausea pill, which did the trick!  This trip was too much darn fun.  First of all, we met a great family of three.  Rose, her 12 year old son Ashley and their exchange student Jean-Pierre from Columbia who was 17.  So, we all boarded the fishing troller with about 10 other people.  The first thing they said was DON'T TOUCH a fish that you catch before they see it because one of the fish, is called a 'mother in law' fish, and the reeeel name, I can't remember.  In any case, these little orange spiny babies will cause you enough pain with their stinging spines to make you want to be eaten by a shark.  Thankfully, I don't have a mother in law that makes me feel this way!!!  Mine is a lucky catch! In any case, Dad caught one right off the bat!

Then, we all waited for the perfect catch.  I caught a dog fish, one guy on the other side started catching flatheads, but apart from that and the occasional MIL (mother in law), we weren't having much luck. About this time, a sassy albatross came flying in with his 5 foot wing span and gave us the evil eye!  I gave Dad a tap and pointed to the bait that lay on the deck.  He tossed me a fish and I, in turn tossed it to the albie.  Suddenly, there were a few more.  WHERE THE HECK DID THEY COME FROM?  Needless to say, we bonded.  A few more stolen bait bites and we were friends for life.  But, still no fish.  Then, it was time to start heading back.  On the way, the boat slowed and suddenly Jean-Pierre scored BIG!  He reeled in a gorgeous bream which made everyone seethe with jealousy.  As soon as this happened though, we all started feeling tugs on our rods.  Seems they had stopped over a reef.  My beauty was delightful!  He was an iridescent large bream, and after I got him high enough to make everyone jealous, I told our guide that I'd rather let him go and be free where fish were meant to be.  Ya, right.  As soon as he was set free, that albatross flew up and literally gulped my first deep sea fish into his already filled gut!!  Everyone cracked up, except me. 
My bream...notice albie on the bottom left?

Dad's first catch, a mother in law

My dogfish being released by our guide
A random retriever watching Emma, Bonnie, Jean Pierre and Ashley at a surfing lesson

In the end, we invited Rose and the gang over to barbeque Jean-Pierre's bream and it was that TASTY!

I did not take this photo of Hobart! I left it to the professionals.
I just love the sound of this...Tasmania.  Sheesh, what comes to mind?  Tasmaina Devils and a very far away place for us Canadians.  It's like the farthest reaches of antipodal existence that I'll probably ever get to set foot on. We flew from Melbourne to Hobart, in about an hour.  Now, Hobart is a beautiful city!  It's a top spot in travel magazines for being one of the most picturesque places, and I agree. We were lucky enough to be there on a Saturday for what is Tasmania's most famous market, Salamanca Market.  It runs down near the harbour front.  But, sadly it started to rain and blow--that seems to be a common thing we found out.  But, when the stalls started to blow away, the shop keepers hastily gathered up and one lady said to me that they had just announced a storm approaching with gale force winds.  We all ran to the car with many umbrellas flipping upside down.
Off to our next destination was in order anyway.  

Port Arthur

Going to places you've never been is also risky, especially when you book everything over the internet and just base things on pictures.  We were very fortunate in all of our accomodations though as every place we stayed was comfortable and interesting.  

After we arrived in Stewart's Bay Lodge, we knew we were in for a treat!  Dad said, Hey. let's just stay here for the next week!  It was a log cabin nestled in a gorgeous gum forest with a treasure trove of little bays surrounding it.  The sergeants' wives of the penal colony at Port Arthur, would use the little coves to swim far away from the wandering eyes of the convicts.
Shell show that we put on
Unusual rock formations on beach
Bonnie, Emma and I wandered down to the shoreline.  We started stumbling upon some amazing finds.  There abalone seasnails shells tossed upon the rocks and the occasionaly sea urchin that had gotten a ride in with the tides.  We kept snooping around looking for the sea urchins as they are this beautiful dark purple colour and interesting patterned spines when suddenly Bonnie screamed!  My first thought was SNAKE!  She yelled for us to come and see the giant sea urchin!  Emma and I stumbled over the rocks to get a peek and she smugly smiled, It's not a sea urchin.  Look!  It's an echidna!  Wow!  Sure enough, there was a hefty echidna snuffling around with its long nose, quite oblivious to our presence.  
Remains of the Penitentiary

Port Arthur is a dichotomous tale of tragedy and of the sublime.  When you walk into the area, and see the stone buildings, cobbled paths and manicured lawns surrounded by glorious giant trees, it's hard to believe the stories that unfold about this first settlement of Tasmania.  

Remains of the church
The British, upon landing there, were drawn to the timber.  A settlement soon developed, but then it became a convict settlement for the British and Irish offenders, some as young as 9 years old.  They would arrive at the port which is a stunning view to behold and then realize the life they were destined for.  Some of the crimes committed were so petty, that you realize there was more to sending them there than meets the eye.  For example one young boy of 14 was sent from Bristol England because he stole a women's handkerchief.  It was a way of clearing the unwanted out. Not many people escaped but a few tried.  One in particular, fled on foot, and reached the only route to escape called the Neck, which was a highly guarded isthmus. The clever lad watched for days to figure out how to get by the dogs and finally came up with a plan. He found a dead kangaroo, skinned it and got inside.  He hopped along until the dogs started barking and alerted the guards.  At first the guards paid no heed as they said, Only a 'roo.  But one guard then had the idea that it was a mighty big 'roo and would make a good stew.  So they raised their rifles.  The convict quickly yelled for them to stop!  The guards laughed so hard at the circumstance that when they took him back to the colony, they said, Be soft on this man!  So, he only received 20 or so lashes as a punishment.  
The juxtaposition of the guards homes sitting above the overcrowded penitentiary was hard to swallow.  After the colony closed, the whole area became derelict and different parts were sold to private owners. In the end, it's a open museum that runs solely on the money collected as admission.  It is definitely worth further researching.

On to Freycinet National Park along the East Coast of Tasmaina.  We arrived near dusk, and you know that means only one thing!  The drive out to Cole's Bay was only about 25 km, but due to a prolific assortment of happily jumping and scurrying animals, it took us about an hour.  Plus, the only light we had were the stars which I must say are OUT OF THIS WORLD!  You see, the road to Freycinet Forest has only been open since 1980.  Before that, it was a winding unsealed (gravel) road that ended badly for many.  
In any case, it's an absolute beauty.  
There are plenty of beaches to wander around on and trails to hike.  One trail in particular,led us up one side of the mountain and at the top, there's a look out down to a crescent beach called Wineglass Bay.  You can only get there by hiking the steep rocky trail or by boat.  But, in the end, it is worth climb and you are greatly rewarded at the end.  Truly crystal white sand as soft as baking powder between your toes, a light clear crystal blue water with nothing but sand and a few fish scooting about.  Mmmm...and even though it was extremely cold, I jumped in!  Hey, you can't go all the way there without doing a polar dip. Also, the welcoming mama wallaby was very sweet! 
This water though, got its name from the early days when all sorts of whales would pull in to rest on their migration.  And, didn't those whalers know it!  Sadly, they were killed by the hundreds for their blubber which was sent back to England to burn in lanterns.  Thus, the wineglass bay name-- the waters were a red wine colour due to all of the whale killing.  I guess the locals still find whale bones scattered on the beaches and take them for keepsakes in their yards. 
Creatures of the Night
One night, Emma and Bonnie and I went out in search of snacks.  There wasn't much open but we did drive down into the park for a night explore.  Within minutes, we came across the first of many possums.  Now, these guys are about as big as a cat.  And, they have feel the threat of nothing.  So, as we saw the eyes on the road, we slowed down to have a great view of this one grooming himself.  He eventually scooted off into the trees.  A bit farther up, the same thing happened.  But, they didn't always venture off!  Some just sat staring lazily at us as if to say, What do YOU WANT?  Finally, Bonnie leaned her head out of the window and gave the greatest feral cat meow that a human can do.  Well!  That possum suddenly realized the threat and bolted up a tree like lightening.   Now, you may think I'm silly in comparing a possum to lightning, but the next day on our Sea kayak tour, our guide told us that those possums can run as fast as Usain Bolt!  Hard to believe.
Bonnie with a dog named Bonnie who's the same age as Bonnie
And as you can imagine, there are many animals that succumb to car deaths.  Our guide also told us that because most of the Tasmanian Devils have died on the east coast due to viral facial cancer, the road kill doesn't get eaten quickly. This used to be the Devils' job.

Bicheno and Surrounds

Weirdly enough, we spent the days wandering around and finding fun.  Not hard to do on this land!  We hiked along the coast near a town called Bicheno.  And took in a penguin night walk.  WoW!  Those little guys work hard.  And they've been doing the same thing for hundreds or more years.  Following the same path out to sea two hours before sunrise, swimming out 20km for food, and back again at night, only to have to climb enormous boulders to their roosts.  The guides for this operation have strict rules--no cameras, quiet shoes and must stay in designated areas only.  They are retired teachers and take this job seriously, I'm glad to say because these little fairy penguins are a society of creatures that need protecting.  They mate for life, build homes, look after and wait for each other, work in packs and are easily lost.  If dogs or feral cats get at them, they can kill 
up to 20 per night. 
So, the next day, a few wineries, serious yummy eating and a great time was had by all!     
Boulders in and around Bicheno
Back in Shepparton
As you can imagine, the party didn't end with us arriving back in Shepp.  Now, TimTamming is a new sport which I plan to carry on the spirit of when returning home.  You simply bite the corner off of a timtam at each end, then slurp up your favourite liquid--milk, tea, coffee or port.  Seriously good and deathly addictive!  We had to hide the Tim's after awhile because early morning kitchen snooping and tamming was taking place.  The culprit, and winner of the TimTam award goes to...DAD!  He could find timtams with in the dark, silently and stealthily without making a sound.

The next weekend we went down to Melbourne to do some sightseeing and crammed in alot!  Brian was the hero of the weekend though as he ran a half marathon!  He came in 5,693! (Out of 35,000 various competitors)
And sadly, they had to go home.  But, we had a great time!  And with their added new suitcase filled with goodies and Tazzie wine, I know that they left with fond memories of Australia!

Healesville Sanctuary
One of Emma's photos
One of Bonnie's photos
We made sure that Happy Trip Hangover didn't hit us too hard.  I figured we would all be having fun withdrawl so I booked the girls into a photography day class with none other than my wildlife hero...STEVE PARISH!  He's David Attenborough famous in the Australian wildlife world.  So, it was thrilling to see my girls get to learn some photography skills with him and about 15 other kids. And when I picked them up, I GOT TO MEET HIM!  And I got kissed by a dingo.  Both were extraordinary moments for me!

Me and Steve and some other girls

We tried.  We resisted with all our mights! We even avoided the candy isles in the shoppes.  But, in the end it GOT US!!  Halloween was celebrated by, well, us. Now, let me tell you about Halloween here. Some people are TOTALLY against it as it represents the taking off of yet more American ideals.  Then, there are a few people who are trying to rev up the action.  I was hoping for a year off in all honesty, but then some friends said, Hey! Don't make plans for Halloween. We're taking you to a party!  We gratefully accepted, and I was overcome with dread.  Costumes!  UGH!  Well, Emma and Bonnie took Brian shopping (I claimed illness and feeling faint).  They did all of their own prep.  And in the end, I thought we were all pretty gorgeous.  But the funniest thing was yet to happen.
Our friends picked us up and we drove off into the sunset along unsealed roads to...AN OLIVE FARM! Well, I cracked up!  Their hall was decorated with bats, witches, and various scary displays.  There were about 5 long rows of tables in which a demure crowd of normally dressed seniors were all chatting.  When we walked in, they stared, mouths open.  Uh, hi?  In any case, we had the BEST time!  Our table was quick to share their BYOB wines, the food was fabulous--all you could eat homemade pasta and salads and olives, all prepared by the owners.  They were darling! Barely able to speak English even after all of the years here from Napoli, they were great fun!  They had also rented a karaoke machine and one witch, about 80 years old, serenaded all of us with some great tunes!  The four kids, well, teenage zombies, got colouring books and a surprise present.  And, we all won bottles of their Rainbow Gold Olive Oil for dressing up. We laughed all night and when we left, I told the couple that I would be coming back next year!

Notice the knife sticking through the Monsieur's head?

And on the topic of scary things...

There's a place about an hour away in Euroa, called Polly Mcquinns.  It's a beautiful weir in the river with rocks and waterfalls and a giant boulder to jump off of.  Bonnie's friends took her so I investigated further to see what it was all about.  Seems, years ago, when gold miners were passing through, they used this as a bathing spot.  There's one particular place where supposedly it is bottomless.  And, to boot, there was a miner, who couldn't grow a beard, named Polly Mcquinn.  Bravely, he jumped off the infamous rock and never emerged again.  His ghost roams the area, although I didn't see him.  Emma, and her friends, Keenan and Leah (German exchange student) climbed to the top of the boulder.  I wasn't comfortable with them leaping off into the abyss, so I said that I would see if it really was bottomless.  I wandered out onto the rocks below and hit a slippery section and went D...O...W...N....  It's a murky little area, so I stayed under just long enough get their goats!  And as far as I could tell, it was bottomless!
taking a leap of faith

Froggit enjoying the view at Polly Mcquinn

And who needs to buy Halloween stuff when you find this in your bedroom!  There's a funny story to this one!  Emma, Keenan, Leah and Bonnie were all hanging around in Emma's room and Bonn's fell asleep with her face near the wall.  Leah, who's just learning English, looked towards Bonnie and saw this Goliath climbing up RIGHT next to her sleeping beauty face.  She could only utter strange noises but that got the attention of Emma and Keenan.  Suddenly, I hear an ear piercing bloody murder scream and go running.  Bonnie is just opening her eyes and if you ever seen a person jump up fast, it was HER!  Anyway, turns out to be a harmless huntsman, with spider webs caught all over his legs.  He's probably been living there over the winter months, I imagine.  I tried to get him onto Emma's card bookmark, and the thing was so heavy, it bent and he fell!  He was as big as my palm spread out.  But, for all of you spider lovers, you'll be glad to know he arrived outside safe and sound. 

And here's the email we got from the office's...SNAKE SEASON!


Principal:  Lynley Eadie                                 Assistant Principal:  Peter Frizzell

During recess and lunch breaks students need to be reminded to stay away from the fence line as a preventative message. Where balls are to be retrieved, teacher permission must be obtained and students are reminded to check for snakes before entering the orchard.
The following steps should be taken if a snake has been seen anywhere within the GPS school grounds:
  • The immediate response is to move away in a quiet and calm manner to a safe distance.
(Where possible have students return to their classroom or work area.)
  • Do not try to catch or kill the snake.
  • If possible do not take your eyes off the snake.
  • Under no circumstances should you follow the snake.
  • As soon as practical, notification should be made to the office.
(This could be made through a yard duty teacher, phone or sending a message with a student.)
  • Office staff will notify Senior Staff of the sighting of a snake.
  • Once assistance arrives all students and staff must move away from the area.
In the event of a snake bite occurring, the following treatment must be undertaken:
   Use D-R-A-B-C approach (assess Danger, check for Response from the casualty, check Airway, Breathing, and Circulation) to assess the situation and the injured person.
  Seek medical aid urgently. Use the red ‘alert’ card in the Yard Duty Pack or classroom and send to the office area or phone through to the office. First Aid procedures will be implemented and office staff will phone for an ambulance.
   Calm the bite victim.
  Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage over the bitten area and around the limb.
   Apply the bandage firmly enough to compress tissue, but not so firmly as to restrict the flow of blood to the limb below the bandage.
 Where the bite is to an arm or leg, bandage from the bite to the fingers or toes, then up to the armpit or groin.
  Bandage as much of the bitten limb as possible.
   Apply a splint to the bandaged limb with a second bandage.
Do not remove the splint or bandage once applied.
Continue to monitor the vital signs using “A-B-C” (Airway, Breathing, Circulation).


Never wash the venom off the skin as retained venom will assist identification.
Never cut or excise the bitten area.
Never try to suck the venom out of the wound.
Do not try to catch the snake. However, a description of the snake may assist medical aid.
Bandages applied during field treatment should not be released.


You won't find dag on this fine fellow!

If you live way the heck out in the woop woop, you live waaaay far away.  But just crank your ACaDaCa really loud, like maybe my favourite, Thunderstruck or TNT, and you'll have some serious duff duff to pump you through to the woop woop.  Your car speakers might blow up though.  When a kid's been naughty, they look sus which usually gives them away.  And if you drop your grey lead in class, just bob down and pick it up.  Running around on the playground playing chasey can be a dangerous sport, especially if you bash into someone and stack it!  Just pull yourself off the ground and brush off.  Kids cop flack for running too fast if they get caught. Now, hens lay bum nuts, dogs lay barker's rolls and dag is poo stuck to sheeps' bums. A duffer is a foolish guy who tries to steal a dag bummed sheep.  I'm not too flash about the whole idea myself.  And sometimes too much family time feels like you're living in each other's pockets.

What happens when you have too much fun.

This baby magpie has taken to sitting there and playing with the flower

Bird bath is getting a bit crowded these days.

And, this pretty much sums up the experience over the last few weeks...
Dad, Feeling the joy
Until Next Time,
PS.  What is wrong with this picture?PPS:  Huge hugs to the Big Sky Girls, Elizabeth, Winkie and GeorgianaPPPS:  Happy Birthday Lizzie!  We love you!