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You are normally not confronted by the question of your pet’s value until it reaches an age it would probably never achieve if it didn’t have things pretty cushy. The prospect of a move to Australia forced us to consider some big questions: what stays and what goes? Appliances of 110 voltage didn’t make the cut. The television stayed. It simply wouldn’t function down under. Our pets, on the other hand….

There seem to be two issues that make bringing pets into Australia both difficult and expensive. One is the simple fact that this is an island. Its distance from other land masses has helped protect it over the years from nasty things like rabies. The other issue seems to be that despite this huge moat around the island, Australians have been known to make some rather large mistakes importing flora and fauna over the years. They make Floridians look like pikers.

Jared Diamond was unkind enough to point out in “Collapse” that rabbits were imported three times! The first two species, introduced from the home country for a “spot of hunting” were not adaptable enough to survive the harsh new continent. A breed of rabbit was finally discovered in South America that was highly adaptable and incredibly destructive. This led to things like the infamous rabbit-proof fence. Of course, foxes were necessary to chase the rabbits. Despite their adaptability, it took sixteen years to get them permanently established. Now, there are permanent programs aimed at their eradication. The list goes on and on. Cane toads are the most egregious example this pattern.

When the opportunity to move to Australia came along, we were blessed with a dog and cat. Neither was distinguished by pedigree. The dog, in fact, had been my daughter’s rescue project at the Humane Society. He was a brindle mix, and he had some very attractive features, but he was an energy intense creature. Fortunately, through the auspices of a good friend in our neighborhood, he was offered a good home as a companion to another dog who got lonely during the day. That left our cat, Tibbey.

Tibbey came from a litter born at the Wolfville Animal Hospital in Nova Scotia. She is a Maine Coon mix of some sort. We may have paid as much as $35 dollars for her neutered self, with shots. Now you can add a couple of zeros to that figure. The problem with Maine Coon cats is that they are notoriously difficult to give away. My wife had another one in her life and tried to find her a home (for very good reasons) several times. The cat refused to accept its change of ownership.

To bring a cat to Australia, you need to start at least six months in advance. There is a seventeen page document that has all the instructions. The initial cost of the permit is $250. Then the real costs begin to mount. The pet will need a rabies vaccination and a rabies neutralising antibody titre test certified by the Department of Agriculture, a subcutaneous microchip, other shots, exams etc. You will need the expert services of an animal forwarding company, who will make the arrangements necessary to get the cat from Florida to Melbourne, Australia ALIVE. That is trickier than you might think.

Tibbey flew from Jacksonville to Houston, stayed overnight there, then flew on to Seattle, where she was picked up and brought to Vancouver. She was then returned to Seattle for her final flight to Melbourne, where she was transported to quarantine for thirty days. Fortunately, we were able to see her shortly after we arrived. Needless to say, she was not happy. The holding facility in the outskirsts of Melbourne was huge. We called to determine the visiting hours, then took a tram and train to Spotswood. Then we walked about a third of a mile. We made our way through security, and were shown the temporary quarters of our cat. It was not spacious, but it was clean and there was access to the outside.

Tibbey gave us a baleful look. She had retreated into the igloo, ignoring the cats on either side of her as best she could. We were finally able to coax her out, but it was obvious she was not pleased.  She had been in quarantine three weeks when we arrived for our visit. We could not bring her into our temporary accommodation at University College, so finding a new home became a very pressing matter. Moving her to another “cattery” was not a cheerful solution.

All’s well that ends well. Tibbey survived. She is only seven years old, although the trauma of this move may have cost her a life or two. Now she comes and goes as she pleases, walks all over me when I’m in bed, sneaks up on my pillow, curls into a ball and purrs. The purr is priceless.

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A swollen and tender scrotum might be seen as something of an embarrassment, not a subject to write home about. I don’t think I would have made a visit to the Royal Melbourne Hospital on a Saturday morning if my wife hadn’t insisted, going so far as to phone me Friday night from Mauritius. The swelling came on suddenly. It was puzzling but I am reaching an age when bodily breakdowns (both major and minor) are not unknown. I have generally been blessed with good health so sudden aches and pains are somewhat alarming. My wife was concerned about my heart condition. She could visualize a blood clot ascending from my leg straight into the aorta. I know better than to argue, so I assured her I would make my very first trip to an emergency ward in Melbourne.

I had no idea where that might lead, so I packed pajamas, a couple of books and a toothbrush, just in case. Then I bought the newspaper and hopped on the tram. We don’t have our medicare cards yet, but we have taken out private insurance. Australia has a two tier system– a state-run medical system as well as a host of private insurance plans. What is strange is that the state subsidizes the cost of the private insurance. The private plans offer choice: you can see the doctor you choose in the hospital where you wish to be treated, get a private room, etc.

I was visiting the emergency room of a public hospital, so there was no choice. In the US or Canada, I would expect to wait for a long time before being seen by a doctor. I was mentally prepared to wait. Fortunately, the attendant at the admitting window was male, so I felt comfortable explaining the “problem.” I was given the clipboard with the sheet to fill out. There was hardly anything on it! No request for the last ten years of medical history (please explain every visit to a hospital) complete with box after box to check or leave blank covering every conceivable medical condition. I turned it over thinking I was missing something, then turned it, feeling guilty. I had failed a final exam because I couldn’t see the questions.

I was stunned to discover that a male nurse was ready to see me straight away. What was going on here? He checked out the nether region as I explained what I think might have caused it, a sudden cramp in my leg that was so painful I threw myself to the floor. It was as if someone with a voodoo doll (of yours truly) had grabbed my calf and squeezed, very hard. I didn’t actually mention the voodoo doll to the male nurse, hoping to give him the impression that I was actually normal, not given to hallucinations. Not a writer, in fact.
After one more brief visit to the waiting room, I was called in for an EKG. The doctor slipped in while that was underway. Aside from his interest in my prostate gland (since it could be related to the swollen sac) the doctor was great. He was personable, informative and reassuring. He told me that a blood clot in my leg wouldn’t end up blocking my aorta. He concluded that this may have been triggered by a four hour bike ride I took the previous week, possibly compounded by the onslaught of the cramp that literally threw me to the floor. He prescribed and gave me a course of antibiotics and the name of a cardiologist for future reference.

I was in and out of an emergency room in an a little over an hour! I shook myself on the tram ride back home. Where am I? Down under? Have I died and gone to heaven?


What we have here is a water problem. It is one of the very first things we noticed on the drive in from the airport a little over a month ago. Our route took us past the entrance to the zoo, which resembled a savanna on the great plains of Africa. Parched.

At University College it was a common subject of conversation, triggered by news items such as the one about the residents of Toowoomba in Queensland, whose mayor attempted to persuade her constituents to drink up to 25% recycled water rather than watch their town’s reservoir go dry in a couple of years. The “yuck” factor triumphed, of course, and they voted for a dam instead.  [It is nice to have informed readers.  I stand corrected with regard to the citizens of Toowoomba; please see the comment below]

Australia is into its fifth year of a drought. Geography and meterology make this continent susceptible to long-term dry spells, but global warming is undoubtedly exacerbating the problem. The country hit a record high in November of last year, sending the yearly average 2.11 degrees Celsius above the norm. The result has been misery for many farmers, wildfires in the mountains, and serious discussion about water rights in the Murry-Darling river basin. Prime Minister Howard convened an emergency summit to discuss the problem, putting forth the proposition that the river was too important to be left to the States to control.

The same prime minister who, until relatively recently, stood shoulder to shoulder with Bush on global warming as well as Iraq. Australians are almost as profligate with energy as Americans, but they are beginning to be concerned about water. There are local celebrities who pride themselves on taking their showers straddling buckets, then using the water on the garden. Some rural golf courses are in desperate straits. Fortunately, there is a fund for disaster relief which includes gold courses.

For someone who considers himself a conservationist, this scarcity is troubling. It was a key consideration in my purchase of a washing machine, which can onlybe called an investment. The brand new, very expensive, front loading German machine uses only 63 litres of water for a full load. If the salesman is credible, I was using ten times that amount with our old Maytag.

We are well into a Stage 3 alert, possibly on our way to Stage 4. That means: no watering of lawns at any time. Gardens can only be watered by hand or a dripper system two days a week, two hours in the morning and two at night. Cars cannot be washed at home except to clean windows and remove corrosive substances. Commercial car washes are still allowed. No filling of new pools. Melbourne is contemplating a desalinization plant in the not too distant future.

Whoa, what’s that I hear– thunder?


Okay, I admit it– I am a homebody. Stretching out on the couch with a good book is bliss. When I was a lot younger, it could be anybody’s couch. Now, I feel that things are right when it is my couch in my personal space. I went back over to our new abode today and had a look around, trying to imagine actually living there. Many of you who have some sense of my personality may be astonished at my choice of living space for the next two years. This house is bizarre. The facade itself almost disappears among its neighbors. It may have had a number at one time, but it no longer chooses to reveal that information. You have to deduce it from the houses next door. Most of the space is taken up with a two-car garage and the front door, which has no knob, only a deadbolt. If you are very perceptive, you will have noticed by now that there are no windows facing the street. You may be thinking by now that this is the perfect home for introverts. No one to see in, no one to find you.

The house is located in a lovely little cul-de-sac that the British (and Australians) call a mews. There is a little play area and play-set for small children. Most of the other homes are fairly substantial, and quite traditional. Ours is not.

Come in, come in. You will notice, of course, that the entry is long and the ceiling is quite high. Black and white tiles cover the floor as far as your eyes can see. The house is fairly narrow, but quite long. To your left as you enter is a door to the most substantial space in the entire structure, a huge garage with a ceiling that is at least twenty feet. [Let’s face it, the man exaggerates.  The ceiling is actually fourteen feet]  This would be comfortable accommodation for an entire village in the third world.

The night before our movers were to arrive with our shipment, we learned to our dismay that the electricity had not been turned on. I don’t know if it was a slip up on the agent’s part or simply a misunderstanding, but DirectConnect, the service that was supposed to get in touch with me about getting the utilities turned on, failed to do so. For some reason I assumed that it was being taken care of. It wasn’t. Fortunately, the removal of a cotter pin saved the day. I was able to bypass the electric operation of the door and lift it up by hand. Not having access to the garage would have made the movers job much more difficult.

Just beyond the door to garage is an unusual room that is perfectly square, a small room with no windows, only pocket doors off the hallway. It was used as a study by the previous tenant, and it will be my study as well. When I feel too claustrophobic, I’ll work on the laptop somewhere else. The house opens up a bit immediately after the study. There is a nice size dining area that is quite light, thanks to a large inner courtyard. Glass doors from the dining area, the kitchen and the master bedroom offer access to the courtyard. There are some lovely plants, a stone Japanese-looking lantern, bamboo poles, and an electrically operated bamboo water device that fills up a stone bowl. The switch is in the master bedroom.

The kid in me loves this. But I am getting ahead of you. I can hear you asking about the corridor off to the left before the dining area. That leads, dear friend, to two bathrooms and the master bedroom. I can’t really explain why the two of us require two bathrooms, but it can’t hurt. They are both done up entirely in black and white. The first is quite large, and has a lovely tub. The wash basin is frosted glass, the fixtures first rate. There is no cabinet for storing anything.

The second bath is just off the master bedroom. It has a shower only, but it is spacious enough for two. It is adjacent to the closet, which has a considerable number of wire racks going all the way to the ceiling. Remember, now. The ceiling is twenty feet. I spent a good hour today going up and down our step ladder in the closet. Next to that, over the bathroom, is a store room for suitcases, perhaps.

The end of the bedroom gives on to the courtyard, which can get quite hot in the late afternoon. Fortunately, there are louvered blinds as well as an ingenious Australian invention– a sliding plastic panel built into a glass window or door for fresh air .

The kitchen is fairly narrow, crowded by the courtyard. And it is the single most designed room in the house. It is a wall of white panels, only suggesting a kitchen because the oven and the dishwasher are visible. Everything else, from the fridge to the freezer to the sink to the gas cook top, is concealed behind closed doors. The only counter space is a long white island facing the courtyard. I have no idea how practical it will be. There is a built in lava light. What do you think?

Step up to the sea of green. I forgot to mention the green carpet in the bedroom. It is the same in the other two bedrooms and the living room (lounge room as it is called here). You may have noticed that the living room has no windows. It is fairly large, running the entire width of the house. There is one straight wall, facing the courtyard, and a slightly curved wall facing it. There are built-in Bose speakers and a free standing woofer. The room offers a vast expanse of white, reasonably well-lit when the overhead spots are on, but obviously meant for a huge television set at the far end.

Behind the curved wall you will find two small bedrooms with high, rectangular windows. Between them is the third black and white bath, shower only. Squeezed into the exterior door giving on the back “yard”, there is a fine laundry area with a cat door. Yard is something of a misnomer. This back area is entirely enclosed. It has a Mediterranean feel to it. There are some lovely plants and a laundry line. That, and the cat door, will be getting heavy use.

Why did I chose this house, out of all the ones we looked at over two weeks of house hunting? I couldn’t tell you. Our antiques don’t look too bizarre. I haven’t had the courage to unroll a Persian carpet. The paintings? Especially the oils, they will look spectacular!

Maybe I’m regressing. Once an introvert, always an introvert. That couch looks awfully inviting.


The movers showed up late, of course. We knew they would. We got up at seven so we could be out there to meet them just in case they came at eight. We should have slept the extra half hour. They had split our shipment in two, loading half on one truck, with most of the large furniture ending up on the second truck. They came prepared to go to work right away. Cally spread out out the list of contents on the only flat surface available, the kitchen counter, and the guys started bringing stuff in, hollering out numbers. For the most part it worked pretty well. They soon discovered that it was easier to peel off the numbers and bring them in. One of our movers pasted them on his forehead. I tried to keep up with them, determining the destination of furniture and boxes. The second truck pulled in an hour or so after the first. Then we had a crew at work, and everything seemed to speed up.

They broke for tea and a couple of them just had to try my recumbent bicycle. Otherwise, they were a very dedicated bunch. They were curious about our situation and wondered what we were doing here and what we thought about Australia. By 4 o’clock nearly everything had been accounted for. It was a long day, not my idea of an ideal birth day celebration, but sometimes you just have to take what comes and enjoy it.

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