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Once a year at about this time, my blog takes a back seat to tax preparation. This year has been onerous because we have been away from our files for a long time and our situation is complicated. I’m pleased to say the work is almost done and I should be able to produce more frequent posts for the next nine months, anyway. I owe the title of this post to Tim Flannery, who wrote the book on the subject.

Australia woke up to a new government. I suspect that some of those supporting Tony Abbott never went to sleep, so woke up may not be the best phrase. Australians like to PARTY when it comes to victory, either on the playing fields or after an election. According to Tony Wright, who writes for Melbourne’s newspaper of record – “The Age,” the Coalition’s election eve blowout at the Four Seasons hotel in Sydney was a thousand strong, beefed up by circulating trays of wine. When Kevin Rudd’s concession speech came on television (which was carried live in the ballroom of the hotel) two enthusiastic young, blondes leapt on stage hoisting a large banner saying “It’s time for Tony.” The women hollered and gyrated as if they were on M.T.V., drowning out Rudd’s voice and revving up the crowd.

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Abbott gave a brief acceptance speech, noting with some satisfaction that Rudd had actually conceded defeat during his fifteen minute speech, just in case anyone was in doubt. Afterward, during the Abbott family photo session, a young man rushed the stage and managed to insert himself into the group before being tackled by security police.

It is just the seventh time in Australia’s electoral history that the government has changed. So, what does it all mean? I’m not a political junkie by any means, but it looks to me like the country is getting ready to take a step back to the time of Abbott’s political patron, John Howard. By most accounts, this was an election fought by two unpopular politicians. The younger people in this land seem to have been completely turned off by the negative campaigning and the focus on personalities, not policy. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke had this to say: “I really believe this is an election lost by the government rather than won by Tony Abbott.”

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Julia Gillard’s role in all this cannot be discounted. By agreeing to help topple Rudd from the helm and take over the reins of government, she created a profile of a Lady Macbeth, a politician misogynists loved to hate. Australia has more than its fair share of women haters. Rudd’s comeback and his treatment of others cemented the image of a party whose leaders were more concerned with stabbing each other in the back than leading the country to bigger and better things. Abbott has committed his party to scrapping both the carbon tax and the mining tax and to stopping the influx of immigrants who arrive on these shores seeking asylum. Turning back asylum seekers seems to be the extent of his foreign policy.

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Australia uses the preferential method of voting in elections. This means that voters are required to number the candidates on the ballot paper in order of preference. To win, a candidate needs to secure an absolute majority, or 50% plus one, of valid votes cast. If a candidate does not secure an absolute majority of primary, or first preference votes, then the candidate with the least number of primary votes is eliminated and his/her votes reallocated in accordance with their second preferences. This process continues until a candidate has secured 50% plus one of the total votes. Hence, a winning candidate’s majority may be comprised of primary and preference votes. The system ensures that the candidate who is most preferred or least disliked will win.

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“Until mid-2014, the Senate will remain under the control of Labor and the Greens. Control could then pass to a mix of the Greens and small parties of the right. They might vote with the Coalition to repeal the carbon price, but if Labor holds firm, that is no certainty. But it’s not hard to see them blocking the Coalition’s plans to scrap the government contribution to low-income earners’ superannuation, or to cut $1 billion a year from tax breaks for small business.”

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The quote above is from Tim Colebatch, economic editor of The Age. According to him, the economic outlook has worsened for China, India, Indonesia, and the developing world… The world is not becoming riskier, but the risks are shifting closer to Australia. Australia’s economy is leaping from one phase of growth to another, with no certainty that it will grab the trapeze bar. Last week’s capital expenditure figures suggested that the mining investment boom is receding slowly, rather than being in free fall. But fall it will, and as Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens put it recently, ”it could be quite a big fall in due course”.

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Does this spell the beginning of the end for the “lucky country?” A writer by the name of Donald Horne branded the term in the consciousness of the country nearly fifty years ago. “In a hot summer’s night in December 1964 I was about to write the last chapter of a book on Australia. The opening sentence of this last chapter was: ‘Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck… I had in mind in particular the lack of innovation in Australian manufacturing and some other forms of Australian business, banking for example. In these, as a colonial carry over, Australia showed less enterprise than almost any other prosperous industrial society.”

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Australia, Horne argued, developed as a nation at a time when Australians could reap the benefits of technological, economic, social and political innovations that were developed in other countries. Those countries were clever: Australia was simply lucky. In a land that is going to be profoundly affected by global warming, a country that could use all the cleverness and smart immigrants it can get, this election looks like a giant step back. At least Melbourne residents voted for Adam Bandt, a Green candidate. Good on ya.

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On our previous trip to the Grampians we had been so enchanted we decided to return. It was a last-minute decision and I wasn’t sure we would even find a place to stay since the school holidays have kicked in. In Australia, you are considered somewhat mad to go anyplace that might be attractive to children during the school holidays. The Grampians offer campgrounds, cockatoos and kangaroos, challenging hiking trails and overlooks, beautiful waterfalls and a zoo, so it falls into the category of child magnet.

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Despite the odds we did find a place to stay and I was even able to secure a Victorian Seniors discount. Our new abode was at least three degrees fancier than our previous accommodation, which was little more than a large trailer with amenities. This place had a working wood stove and a DVD player as well as a Queen-size bed, a full kitchen and bath. Even though it was a log cabin, the cabin was roomy and light. Outside, a ten meter stroll toward Fyans creek and you were in the middle of a mob of kangaroos. A couple of youngsters were sparring, an activity I have never witnessed before.

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We packed a dinner to heat up in the cabin rather than attempting to make a reservation at one of the restaurants in Halls Gap during school holidays. On the drive up, I was once again struck by the alarming signs indicating a nation of narcolepts. “A micro sleep can kill in a micro second,” said one. “Don’t sleep and drive,” said another, which seems a little too prosaic for signage. Most of them urged drivers to pull over and have a “power nap.” Not one mentions the Dreaming, but the ubiquity of the signs do make you wonder about the state of your fellow drivers. How far gone are they, a mere microsecond away from oblivion?

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You can never reproduce the magic of seeing a place for the first time, but we did do some things we missed on the last trip. We walked down the steep staircase that leads to the bottom of Mackenzie Falls, hiked the trail to the look-off over Lake Bellfield, followed the loop walk along Fyans Creek and revisited the Botanical Garden, an oasis of peace even during school holidays. Most of the trails in the Park are simply too difficult for someone like my wife, with no depth perception and little ability to deal with high contrast, but the enchantment of the Grampians lies above and beyond spectacular views at the end of a tricky trail.

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Check out the photos by clicking on one of the pics running alongside this post, or plug in http://www.flickr.com/photos/jhalbrook/sets/72157630924994030. All the best pics are on Flickr, user name Red Flier, the Grampians set.


If you get out on any stretch of highway in our part of Australia, you might easily come to the conclusion that this is a nation of narcolepts. Road signs leap out at you alerting you to the dangers of dropping off into oblivion. “Drowsy Drivers Die,” reads one not-too-subtle injunction. “A Micro sleep kills,” reads another. “Power nap, now!” I am not entirely sure what a power nap is, but it sounds essential to maintaining one’s consciousness on Australian highways, which seem to have the ability to knock each and every driver out for the count.

It seems a bit much, really, considering where we are. This is the state of Victoria, which is very, very small. Take a look at a map. We are not driving one of those roads in Western Australia where you come across warnings that the next petrol (and beer) is 300 kms away. Where the view out the window is nothing but termite mounds for hours on end. Where you really could nod off and massacre millions of termites with no trouble at all.

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We had decided to make a pilgrimage to the Grampians, a small, but rugged National Park three hours to the west of Melbourne. The only town within the boundaries of the Park itself is called Halls Gap. Since it is winter here, I expected to see more kangaroos than people, but I had not counted on the intrepid Australian campers or dedication of North American and Japanese tourists. For them, it is the height of summer, a fine time to visit Australia without the crowds.

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The Grampians form the western extremity of the Great Dividing Range. The sandstone ranges took shape some 300 million years ago. A series of low-angled sandstone ridges run roughly north-south. The eastern sides of the ridges, where the sedimentary layers have faulted, are steep and spectacular. The southern edge of the Park is nearly 100 kms from the Southern Ocean, due north of Port Fairy, where we once joined hordes of folkies for the famous festival. Forty million years ago the Southern Ocean covered all that land and the waves lapped at the base of Mount Abrupt.

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The ranges were named in 1836 by Surveyor General of New South Wales Sir Thomas Mitchell after the Grampian Mountains in his native Scotland. They are also known by the name Gariwerd, from one of the local Australian Aboriginal languages spoken in the area. It was an inviting landscape for the natives, rich in fresh water, wildlife, medicinal plants and food. They have left evidence of their 10,000 year habitation in one of best collections of rock art sites anywhere in Australia. The elegant Brambuk Aboriginal Centre provides a glimpse into the native heritage.

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The first European settlers used the “gap” to pasture cattle, then grow wheat. They were soon followed by logging companies who came in to take the tall, straight trees. The sandstone was cut and shipped out for the grand buildings going up in Melbourne, Ballarat and Ararat, thanks to the gold rush. Now, the gold arrives in the pockets of bush walkers and climbers, tourists attracted to the area for the spectacular views, wildlife and waterfalls.

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In January, 2006, parts of the Grampians were devastated by fire, five years later came floods that tore apart gorges and sent trees toppling over waterfalls. Many of the famous walks are now closed, pending the time and money to repair the trails. But when Spring rolls around, it will be wildflower season in the Grampians.

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We’ll be back. Now, if only I can stay awake long enough to drive there. The road is a long, drawn out whisper, “You are drowsy, now, you are very, very sleepy.” I must be in Australia. It’s the Dreaming.

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There are a number of myths which appear to have captured the collective imagination here in Australia. The idea behind the slogan in the title is that all newcomers get an equal opportunity to make something of themselves in this, the “lucky” land.  It is not dissimilar to the notion that drives the dreams of Americans.  Mark Watson, a historian from this country who spent a long time in America, found it deeply embedded in the psyche of just about every individual he met there. It amazed him that someone living inside a box on Broadway could still believe in the American dream, and tout the glorious opportunities at hand in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The mythology is a little more mundane here.  Perhaps the lack of a Hollywood dream factory, Silicon Valley phenomenon, or “Horatio Alger” myth (Australian readers will have to look that up) dilutes the dream of the yellow brick road.  But the idea of equal opportunity does have a certain amount of credibility in this country.  A recent survey by the OECD gives Australia high marks for social mobility.  Surprisingly, parents’ incomes and education had little bearing on the success of their children, and the gap is actually narrowing between rich and poor.  That is not something Americans or Canadians can claim.

Australia funnels cash benefits for the disadvantaged to low income households better than any other country in the OECD.  It is not a good place to get old, however.  Half of Australia’s singles over the age of 65 are living in poverty.  That may be why is almost impossible to immigrate here if you are over the age of 40.  This is a land for the young and able.

Like many Australian television viewers, (albeit a distinct minority). I have been captivated by a new series on SBS called, simply, “First Australians.”  I read that it was patterned after an American series documenting our natives.  What astonished me was the surprise registered by reviewers of this fine series.  No Australians appear to have learned any of this history in school.

It is almost as if a collective denial has taken place in the educational system, along the lines of Japan’s denial of the atrocities of World War II.  It is understandable that descendants of the white settlers of Australia would want to absolve their ancestors of cruel, bloodthirsty behavior, but the atrocities did  happen.  What happened to the aboriginals of Tasmania was tantamount to genocide.

The treatment of natives in Victoria was no less cruel, simply more measured. The numbers tell the story.  In a very short time, the aboriginal population of Victoria dropped from 60,000 to 2,000.  The “Protection Board” had Orwellian implications.  Its purpose seemed to be tormenting the handful of aboriginals who survived.  You can download all the episodes of the series at:  http://www.sbs.com.au/firstaustralians/

Some years ago, when we were living in New York, an odd series of circumstances took me on a journey to Newfoundland.  I visited a band of Micmac Indians living a hardscrabble existence in the South of the island.  Their people had come from Nova Scotia.  The first people in Newfoundland were called Beothuk. It is believed their use of ochre to paint themselves is the reason we call native Americans “red” Indians.

They were hostile to the Europeans, and their encounters with fisherman from England, France, Spain and Portugal often led to bloodshed.  By 1829, the Beothuk had been wiped out.  I suspect that most people today would be as horrified as I to learn of the casual genocides that were conducted by our ancestors on the natives of these lands.  So, perhaps we have made some progress.  “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives,”  said Abba Eben.  I’d like to think we have come to that point.

We need a future that is no longer claimed by the past. The natives of our planet need a fair go from all of us.


It is hard to reconcile the beautiful weather in Melbourne with the economic hurricane devastating the world economy.  The skies here are pigeon-egg blue dotted with puffy, cotton ball clouds.  The temperature is perfect.  The flies and fires haven’t hit yet.  If it were possible to ignore the media, (which seems to have more than its share of bad news at the moment), it would be an excellent time to be in absolute bliss.

I headed up into gold country a couple of weeks ago to help a cycling friend celebrate his 60th birthday.  He lives on a farm in the country now and there were two lambs, just a few days old, gamboling in the paddock.  The sun was out and it cast a spell of enchantment.  Everyone seemed to be in a good mood.

The birds go berserk at this time of year.  The squawkers get up at first light, but they also make sure you know when the sun is going down.  Magpies dive-bomb cyclists under the mistaken impression that their nests are under attack. Lorikeets and parrots fly in colorful formations, but the bell birds are my favorites.  Riding through trees full of bell birds is like being delivered into a temple in Bangkok.  The tones are resonant and beautiful and stay with you long after the birds have gone.

The Arts Festival and the racing season have just started.  I mentioned in a previous post that this city is simply inundated with events.  I managed to catch two films in the Italian Film Festival but I missed at least two other festivals and the State Fair.  I stumbled across the furniture exhibition of the city’s Fringe Festival (perhaps its least interesting feature), One look at the catalog of offerings put me into a catatonic state.  I was simply overwhelmed.

We did make it out of the house to see some dance/theater last night and we have tickets for an evening with Philip Glass doing the poetry of Leonard Cohen.  We have to give our favorite Montreal poet a hearing. It is a city that has given us many good memories and Cohen is its most unlikely songbird.

I just got a lovely email from a friend there who is soaking up some balmy fall weather, thanks to a warm surge from down south.  He’s a Scot, a golfer naturally enough. Some foxes have been frequenting the golf course of late and a few have become quite tame. Not a good thing for the long-term health of the animals, but it allowed him to get a fine photograph.

by David Robertson

by David Robertson

It is difficult to ignore the local news, though.  It lands on the doorstep every morning and itches like a patch of poison ivy.

The bitter debate on Victoria’s controversial abortion bill continued this week.  The tragic fate of a lovely, 21 year-old Australian girl who disappeared in Dubrovnik on September 18 was just revealed.  Another Qantas flight turned into roller coaster ride when it plunged 1000 feet over Western Australia and had to make an emergency landing.  A quarter of the planet’s mammals are under threat of extinction; Australian mammals are the most at risk in the developed world.  The Australian dollar got hammered.

If you want to come see the wildlife or the race horses, now would be a good time. It’s Spring and the weather is perfect.


Wall street’s implosion has brought an economic thinker by the name of Nassim Nicholas Taleb back in the news.  A little over a year ago, his book, “The Black Swan:  The Impact of the Highly Improbable”  garnered a certain amount of attention in North America because of its startling implications on an American mental landscape dominated by ideology.  Taleb’s thesis was that we humans are highly susceptible to getting caught out by random events because we have such a strong tendency to discount their existence.

If you have spent your entire life in the northern hemisphere, you will conclude that swans are white.  And that will be true as long as you never go to Australia, where swans are black.  The difficulty is that we seem to be psychologically programmed to confuse improbability with impossibility.  Taleb suggests that this may be because evolution does not favor probabilistic thinking.  Not every snake is deadly, but those who avoid snakes may have more offspring than those who don’t.  Particularly in Australia.

Taleb is also highly suspicious of historians who analyze events (like the start of World War I or the Great Depression) in great detail and then reconstruct the dominoes leading up to the disaster. They assume that they are reconstructing the reasons for the event, when in fact, they are simply predicting in reverse.  There were plenty of crises in the Balkans that did not lead to World War I.

Taleb suggests that the real world is much messier and less predictable than historians, economists, social scientists or politicians believe. Perhaps my exposure to other parts of the planet at an early age made me less resistant to the black swan, and more skeptical of collective wisdom.  I am inclined to believe that  most conventional wisdom is wrong, but willing to entertain the idea that it may, occasionally, be true.

There are black swans, kangaroos, cassowaries and (the most unlikely of all), platypuses.  The animal with a bill like a duck, that lays eggs like a bird, but is a mammal and suckles its young.  And just for good measure, is venomous.  European naturalists who never visited Australia maintained the animal was a hoax, concocted out of the parts of other creatures.

What is less easily understood is how the wizards of Wall Street did not see this particular disaster coming.  This was not a black swan.  This was home economics.  It must have been obvious to people on the ‘street’ that the financial meltdown was coming.  There was the Savings and Loan Crisis, after all, the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management.  Did anyone really think that allowing the biggest brokerage firms in the world to take on extravagant debt in derivatives was a good idea?  What about selling houses to people with no ability to repay mortgage loans?

I never saw an emu eye to eye until I arrived in Australia, but its African relative, the ostrich, must have been lurking all around me in North America, brilliantly hidden by human forms.  Bipeds with their handsome heads in the sand, blinded by a belief in free markets and deregulation, cutting taxes for the rich, taking on the world’s bad guys with smart bombs and spy satellites, and going shopping to keep the economy strong.

I was born at the beginning of America’s powerful march toward world leadership and I never thought I would witness its finale.  But this may be the end of the American age.  The fate of empires can be sealed by greed, hubris and a blind march down the path of crippling debt and disastrous wars.

It is time for Americans to wake up and resume their vital roles as caretakers, creative thinkers, practical tinkerers;  to re-engage with the world around them rather than trying to control it.  We are all interconnected.  There are black swans everywhere.


There is a nice, neat hole punched through my Florida driver’s license now. Bottom right hand corner. That license, like the proverbial parrot of Monty Python fame, is expired, defunct, no longer valid. The upside of this is that I was able to get a permit to drive in the state of Victoria without doing any tests whatsoever. I did not have to demonstrate my ability to navigate a vehicle on what I consider the “wrong” side of the road or explain the finer points of the infamous “hook” turn. The downside is that the picture makes me look older (for some reason) and goofy.

This is not the first time I have driven on the “wrong” side of the road. I went to film school in London some forty years ago where I became infatuated with an adorable little car called a Super Seven. It was manufactured by Lotus and built from a kit. This one had even been raced on occasion. For some reason the builder (an amateur mechanic and racer) had neglected to install the windshield wipers. That was not to blame for my mishap, however.

One night, after hoisting a few too many pints with some Irish friends, I took a suburban corner a little too fast and actually hopped the kerb. The couple out for a stroll must have been a little disturbed to see a yellow race car following them up the sidewalk, but they took it very well. They ran back and asked me if I was all right.

Despite the excellent public transportation system, we owned two cars during our stay in Hong Kong. The first had a leaky sun roof and ended up rotting from the inside out one summer when I was in Nova Scotia. It sat too long in the sun and sprouted strange life forms. The other was an ancient (by Hong Kong standards) Daihatsu with fuel injection. It was perfect because it was so small and nimble. I loved driving it but there was no where to go.

On one of my first forays out in the City, I turned into the right (wrong) side of the road. Fortunately, there was a bus stop 100 metres from our apartment complex. I can still see the horrified faces of the commuters. They raised their hands in unison and pointed left in exaggerated pantomime. I got the picture and switched lanes. Others were not so lucky. One night I woke to the sound of a crash. An inebriated gweilo (white foreign devil) was driving home on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately, both the drivers were in Mercedes and neither was injured.

Driving down under has presented certain problems. When I was out house hunting in a rented car, I turned the wrong way into a one-way street. I frequently encounter difficulties negotiating busy round abouts. Some of them have stop lights, dividing the circumference into thirds. I seem to lose my way with alarming regularity despite downloading maps to my destination. I have yet to do the infamous “hook” turn that involves going into the far left lane to make a right hand turn.

And the car itself seems to trip me up. The gear shift is on the “wrong” side. I automatically hit the wand for the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal. At least the pedals are in the right position on the floor. We have purchased a vehicle which can, in theory, be driven off road. That may be the safest place for me to be.


Despite the fact that our rented residence has a very minimal garden, it needs water (during the two hours of the two days we are allowed to water). My wife insisted that it also required mulch and the dispensation of hard-earned Australian dollars (see previous post) at the local nursery, which seems to do a fantastic business despite the drought, thank you very much. I was the designated pack animal for the big bags of mulch and nicely polished black and white rocks which are part of the garden decor. At the nursery, Poyntons of Essendon, I noticed a small sign: Fall is Here! My God, I thought, Easter is still a month away.

Being down under does a number on one’s notion of seasons. We arrived shortly after the New Year to a heat wave. It was their equivalent of high summer, after all. There were a few days during that first month when the afternoon sun was absolutely oppressive. On Junuary 16th it got up to 105 degees Fahrenheit, but it felt like 125. It did not take long to discover that summer is not necessarily synonymous with shorts and T shirts. The weather of one day could fly through all four seasons without stopping for lunch.

Today is Labour Day in Victoria. Easter is in the fall. Christmas is in summer. June and July will bring in the dark days of winter, which are affected by the low latitude. In the dead of winter, there are only nine hours of sunshine, thirteen to fourteen in summer.

The idea of antipodal points comes to us from the Greeks, apparently. Each place on the planet had a correspondent point on the opposite side of the Earth. You just needed a good drill and a gift for languages. The British liked to think that Australia and New Zealand were their antipodes, but Auckland, New Zealand actually corresponds to Gibralter, and most of the north island of New Zealand corresponds to Spain.

Since most of the land masses on the planet are in the Northern Hemisphere, their antipodes are in the oceans. If we were to float the continent around to the other side, it would end up smack in the middle of the Atlantic. There’s plenty of room and I’m sure we would get more rain. Christmas would be in winter, once again.


They have funny money here in Australia.   The notes come in peculiar colors and they are very, very slippery.  As if to make up for the apparent flimsiness of the the bills, the coins range from the insubstantial five and ten cent pieces to the heavyweight hitters of the coin world– the one and two dollar coins.  The two dollar coin is like a small, brass-colored black hole in the monetary universe.  It is useful for tram tickets and parking, built like a tank.

The reason for the slipperiness of the notes is the material they are made of– polymer.  It is plastic money.  Australia was the first country to switch over completely to the durable stuff.  It lasts four times as long as paper money, is difficult to counterfeit, and it can be recycled.  So far, it Australia  has turned on sixteen countries to the advantages of plastic notes.

Australia changed over to decimal currency in 1963, and the “dollar” was chosen over 999 other submissions.  Smart choice.  A $100 note features the soprano, Damne Nellie Melba on the front and Sir John Monash, a soldier, engineer and administrator on the back.  I am pleased to say that there is a poet on the front of the $10 bill.  AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson is back to back with Dame Mary Gilmore, who was also a poet, among her many other accomplishments.

It is the fifties that concern us, however.  They are the bills dispensed by the ATM machines, the ones that seem to disappear so quickly that it is difficult to believe they were ever in the wallet.  The fifty is graced by David Unaipon (the first Aboriginal author to be published) and Edith Cowan (the first woman member of parliament.)   David was an inventor of note (the Leonardo of Australia);  Edith was a dedicated social worker and feminist.  These were people who defined their lives by deeds, not status or public relations.   Neither was slippery in the least.

Of the two heavyweight coins, the one dollar is larger in diameter, but less thick.  There are five kangaroos on one side, the ubiquitous Queen on the other.  The two dollar coin depicts an unnamed Aboriginal elder set against a background of the Southern Cross.   These two coins are mostly copper,  The lighter coins offer a window on the animal world.

The five cent coin depicts an echidna, a spiny ant-eater.  The ten cent coin shows us a male lyrebird and the twenty cent coin offers up the platypus.  The fifty cent coin shows us the Australian Coat of Arms, supported by a kangaroo and emu.


When you move to a new city in a new land, you don’t arrive with any prejudices about the myriad of communities which make up the place. Melbourne is very spread out. With its 8,800 square kilometres, it is twice the size of Sydney. Despite a tiny central district, greater Melbourne eats up more land than London. The burbs spread in every direction for kilometers and kilometers, serviced by an extensive train system. Most of the homes in the older suburbs are quite small, but everyone who settled here wanted to have his own roses, his own backyard and his own garage. For 3.2 million people, that takes a lot of land.

You can get a strange look when you say you are living in Essendon. Everyone seems to think it is far away, although it is only 9 kms north of the main station, a twenty minute train ride. From where we live, the tram is more convenient, but it takes twice as long and can be held up by heavy traffic. Two weeks ago, my daughter’s tram was hit by a car, which was being driven somewhat erratically, according to her firsthand report. Perhaps the driver was on drugs. Drugs might be another reason for the strange look when you admit you live in Essendon.

A lurid story was splashed across the newspaper the other day about an underworld drug dealer who had apparently ordered the deaths of at least ten rivals. He has been behind bars for the last two years, but he just pled guilty to three of the murders and been sentenced. He may get out of prison before he dies. His name is Carl Williams.

In 1999, an amphetamine dealer by the name of Jason Moran shot Carl in the stomach. They were rivals and there had been some disagreement about finances. Jason thought that the shooting would give Carl a message that the Moran gang was not to be trifled with.

Instead, the baby-faced Carl decided to wipe out Jason’s gang. When you read through the long, dismal background of the murders, investigation, etc., it slowly seeps in that much of this sordid story took place in our area. The children of both drug dealers were enrolled in the same private school in Essendon. In one desperate attempt to bring Jason out into the open, William’s wife picked a fight with her counterpart out in front of the school. It didn’t work. When Carl’s hired killers finally caught up with Jason, the murder occurred at a football practice field in Essendon North.

Our placid-looking suburb would appear to belong to the pages of Miami Vice. Mind you, the gangland slayings over the last eight years don’t put Melbourne on the world’s murder map. In 2003, there were 302 murders in all of Australia. 12,658 in the United States. This country does have a much smaller population, but you can do the math. In terms of personal safety, we’re in Disneyland here.

Essendon is also known for its airport, its football club and its big box stores. It was the launching point for the Victorian Exploring Expedition– the disastrous trek across the Australian outback now known by the names of its ill-fated leaders, Burke and Wills. More about that in the next post.

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