Australia’s House of Representatives: Canberra

One of the joys of travel is an opportunity to reconnect with old but distant friends. My travel buddy and I were doing a road trip from Adelaide to Sydney that allowed us to pass through Canberra, where both my he and I had friends. While there, my friend suggested that we attend go to the Parliament House and attend a session of the House of Representatives, which I was thrilled to do.IMG_8797.jpgThe building above is actually the NEW house of Representatives building, (opened in 1988 and cost 1.1 Billion Australian dollars to build — wiki) according to my friend. The Old Parliament House (below, built in 1927) sits directly across a green divide from the new one, with the two buildings facing each other.

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A picture of the old building from the opposite side, but you get the idea

My travel partner, Mik, had said to me that he couldn’t understand why they’d built the new building, when the old one still seemed perfectly good. I, however, have a theory. The old building has a stripped classicism style (the “rational architecture” style preferred in the 1920’s, and particularly embraced in Nazi Germany, that tends to reflect power the way a football linebacker reflects power); the new one reflects the old (both geographically and thematically, note the white pillars) while having a lot of “touches” that ‘honor’ aboriginal culture. [As I discussed in the blog post about the protest march I took part in the day of my accident, there seems to be a focus on appearances in how Australia addresses the political problem — on the world stage — of their relationship to their aboriginal population that eclipses the import of actions … and I think the new building intentionally includes these surface touches to show their ‘deep abiding respect’ for their native populations, without having to actually address the very real and substantive insults still happening today (see later in this piece).]

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Note the Aboriginal art in front of the main entrance for the building

Below is the front entrance of the new building… note how on thematic level it reflects the shape of the old building; note the up down and the negative/dark versus light working of the shapes; but is less about brutish power (like the old building)… and more delicate, and hence also reflective of the “pillars of democracy” appearance — that you tend to see in the greek revival preferred in American Government buildings.

IMG_2159also pay attention to how while the old building looks from this angle as though it is embedded in a mountain (photo above, entrance is just to the left of the photo); so that the new building is actually built into the side of a man-made hill, with the elevated flag sitting on the top of its peak. So ULTRA modern while still reflecting the old building and the “Natural” elements. (Why yes, I do have an undergraduate degree … a BFA… in Art from the Art Institute of Chicago, and yes I did also attend the Royal College of Art in London … why do you ask?)

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Got to love Aussie humor, I bought a box of the “Parlimints”

The interior of building is full of pillars decorated so as to bring to mind a grove of Eucalyptus trees … the one of the most common native of the Australian continent/country (so again, shifting the focus to the natural and native)

IMG_2161So for example consider the pictures of the tree on this website, and then compare it to the columns, and you’ll see what I mean. Once inside, we picked up our pre-reserved tickets to view the debates, and since we had time, so we explored the gift store at length, and then we went to have a snack at their cafeteria (which is REALLY nice and worth checking out.fullsizeoutput_4183.jpeg

THIS was my very first Lamington. One of the purposes of travel is eating new foods, and back when I was in Ballarat, my friend there had said that I needed to try a Lamington while in Australia. That said… when I saw they had one I ordered it for my tea, and had my travel buddy for this trip, Mik — an Aussie native, try it, and he deemed it to be a good Lamington …Not outstanding but good … I wasn’t impressed. 

When it was time, we joined the group booked to attended the House of representatives question time, and passed through a security check… unfortunately we were not allowed to take out our phones for any reason while in the observation deck, and there were staff member posted at the front of every aisle to make sure we didn’t… they even would come talk to us if we were sitting “properly” (no putting your feet up, etc)…. I did find a YouTube video of the actual debate we watched (released by the government), but it said these videos are only up for 6 months at a time, so I didn’t bother.IMG_2166.JPGAfter we were released from the  we did a guided tour of the building, as well as some free range wandering around … above the chamber there was the symbol of Australia but it was too small to see in the photo, so my travel buddy noted it was also on their $0.50 coin.IMG_2162At the back of one of the big rooms, there is a mural that the tour guide told us was actually very important, but because of a dinner event planned for that evening it was being blocked by a black curtain, the gold triangles, and the two projection screens hanging from the ceiling… I was however able to get a glimpse of it from behind the curtain… again, it looks like a natural Australian forest, and in it I spotted a Cockatoo (the white ones with the yellow plumage on top of their heads).IMG_2165

One of the amusing things the tour guide pointed out were these stickers across doorways,

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According to the tour guid they’d been put there by the U.S. President’s secret service when he came for a visit… they go through, made sure the place was safe, and then placed these stickers across all the various doorways and closets along his path to make sure that they weren’t accessed between the inspection and his arrival.

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after this we took an elevator to the roof of the building … in part because the building has that very interesting lawn roof, which is what makes the building look like it’s embedded into a mountain.

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According to my friend, when the building first opened up you used to have full access to the lawn and kids used to use it for fun (rolling down the hill of soft manured lawn). After this, as we were heading home, my friend took a route that brought us by the back of the Old Parliament building (picture above), and pointed out to me the Aboriginal Embassy encampment located in the park just across from it. I asked him if we could park and visit it… which I got the impression is something he’d never done before based on his response (he seemed a bit intimidated by the thought) but he agreed.

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So we walked into the encampment, while there we were called over to come sit with some of them who talked with my friend, while I listened from the edge, before hitting him up for money. To be honest they reminded me of my months on the Navajo reservation, where I was doing research on economic development there; it was just like any of the times I was around the alcoholic, out of work, vagrant Navajo who the were a source of anger and embarrassment to the other tribal members, the ones I was interviewing; these latter were the ones who were actually getting on with their lives and making something of themselves and trying to make life better for their people, rather than doing nothing while blaming others for their condition, well, nothing other than coming hands out and hitting up their more driven relatives for cash.

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… although I am guessing the movers and shakers do need to enlist someone to just sit there and do nothing (and who better?). After this, my friend seemed pretty deep in his thoughts as we headed home… we couldn’t really do much more at that point because I was utterly exhausted

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View of the Parliament building from across the river
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The view from our Airbnb

 

…..

The next day is when we went to have dinner with a very old friend of mine, Tat, whom I have not seen since my undergraduate days at the Royal College of Art, 30 odd years ago … which is where he and I met first while sharing a vat of photo chemicals in the dark rooms of the college. Yes, we’re that old…

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That said, somewhere in his files he has naked photos of me, because like the mutual friend of ours in the image behind us (we sent this photo to her), I also was one of his models — only no one ever wanted to put the pics of my body on a wine bottle like they did with hers (which is ultimately what made his career). Lumpy fertility goddesses don’t make for good advertising campaigns. That said we had a really nice meal together … with many of its ingredients coming from his own garden… and then we walked around his neighborhood (A Canberra suburb).

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My friend Mik petting one of Tat’s pet fish

This was a video I took of some cockatoos we passed on our walk

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Mongers Fish and Chips in Manly Beach, Australia

If you’re looking for a healthy meal to eat while at the beach, Mongers’ Fish and Chips is an option. That said, it is NOT the most amazing fish I have ever had, and it is NOT particularly cheap; as such, especially since they refer to themselves as “gourmet” I was expecting better (especially considering all the amazing reviews it had on-line). I chose it in large part because you had the option of frying OR grilling, and my diet required the latter.IMG_6725.jpg

On this day back in on January 24th, because the sky was blue and the temperatures were not too horrible, I had been touring around the greater Sydney area by riding on most of the various ferry lines. [Note: the 24th was the day before the horrific accident that gave me the horrible concussion that I’m still getting over 6 months later — including dental work to try heal my jaw which has been clicking since it got dislocated that day] This was in fact my 2nd time in Manly.

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The first time I had gone there… I think it was by car… with my travel buddy and his mom; we had dinner at an Italian place, whose name I’m sorry to say I no longer remember — it was actually pretty good. After he and I had taken the ferry back to Sydney (which is when I got the idea to at some point in the trip spend a full day just riding around on the them). This time, when I arrived in Manly, it was about my lunch time (which is normal people’s early dinner time), so I looked on yelp to find a decent fish place — which directed me to Mongers.

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I ordered the grilled Barramundi (which is native to Australian waters) with salad… but they removed the corn (carbs) and the pesto (oil) and got creative to make it a bit healthier with spices, and extra veggies in the place of the corn. I took my meal with me to the beach,

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found a nice bench to sit on and enjoyed my meal there. It was OK, not great… the fish didn’t seem particularly fresh to me (an attribute that glares loud when you aren’t covering it up with things like frying or pesto). That said, the view was steller!

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I remember I fed my leftovers to the seagulls, who apparently are not big fans of lettuce. Then, I walked around Manly until it was time to catch the next ferry back to Sydney.

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You know you are in a Jewish neighborhood when: Bondi Beach, Sydney Australia

Bondi Beach is one of THE places to go if you’re visiting Sydney; for instance, if you look at TripAdvisor’s top things to do while in Sydney, a trip to Bondi is #2 on the list. It’s a beachfront neighborhood in the greater Sydney metropolitan area. What most people when they come here would probably miss is all the clues that tell those of us who are MOT “members of the tribe” that this is also one of THE most Jewish neighborhoods in all of Australia.

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Like I said in a previous post, my decision to go to Australia was fairly last-minute. I had contacted my travel buddy, who goes to Sydney (his hometown) almost every year during their summer months (Dec through March) in part so that he can spend Christmas with his mother, but also just to be there. His mother lives in a retirement village in the suburbs, so he opts to stay in an apartment rental in one of his old stomping grounds.

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A mural adjacent to Bondi Beach, note my T-shirt

In this case, when I arrived he had rented a room in an apartment in an area called Bellevue Hill, right near St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, that is located just west of Bondi beach and just east of the Bondi Junction Train station — [The map refuses to embed, so please check the location via the link]. What I didn’t realize untill I had actually been there a few days and explored the place it was that it was ALSO spitting distance from The Central Synagogue, which is a modern orthodox congregation

AND Adath Yisroel Congregation / Tzemach Tzedek

AND The Sephardi Synagogue

AND an easy walking distance from the Chabad-Lubavitch House

In fact, there turned out to be about EIGHT … EIGHT synagogues all within an easy walking distance of our apartment …. Let’s put it this way, only the MOST orthodox of Jewish neighborhoods have that many synagogues so close together.

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Now granted, on the day when I first arrived, we took the train from the airport to Bondi Junction, at which point — because my friend seems to like to walk everywhere (even when lugging suitcases)

we walked first to this cafe, which he said was supposed to be good, in order to have a bite to eat. The place is called Savta Cafe (I was SO tired after my flight that my brain didn’t notice that Savta might be pronounced Safta — the hebrew word for grandmother).

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That said, the menu made it pretty obvious that this was an Israeli restaurant — something my friend had not realized. I got very excited and ordered the Shakshouka, a dish invented by Tunisian Jews, and pretty common in Israel.

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Not the best I’ve ever eaten (the mushrooms confused me) but it was ok…

But an Israeli restaurant does not a Jewish neighborhood necessarily make. The next hint however was SO in your face that I couldn’t possibly miss the implication. The next day he took me on a walk from our apartment to the beach, and we passed THIS house along the way…

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Let’s Welcome Moshiach with acts of goodness and kindness

For those who don’t know who this guy is, his name is Menachem Mendel Schneerson, also known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Many of his followers (I am not one) had actually believed that he was THE Moshiach (the Messiah, not to be confused with Jesus… even if the Chabad-Lubavitch are the most Catholic of Jews) at least until he died.

To tell you how Jewish I am, I’m one step away from Schneerson via more than a few people even though I am NOT one of his followers; most closely of whom was our family cardiologist (until he retired) who was flown in to be Schneerson’s cardiologist. Ira came to my father’s funeral, where he took me by the hands, looked me in the eye and told me how sorry he was to be out-of-town during my fathers final days, but that he had heard via the nurses and doctors at the hospital how I had been at my father’s side every day from his admittance until he died… and he said to me, “Rebecca, you have raised the bar in terms of how a child should be with a sick parent.” … to this day it is probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me, and just thinking about it makes me want to cry. Ira is a real man of G-d, instead of going to synagogue and making himself the center of attention, he spends every sabbath quietly in the hospital, saving lives.

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The next thing I discovered in Bondi was no shortage of Israeli restaurants. This place, Sabbaba — which not only had COMPLETELY authentic Israeli style falafel sandwich, but the manager was Israeli (I spoke Hebrew with him) and they were serving MALT STAR (a non alcoholic beer that is almost ubiquitous in Israel) to wash it down with!! (As it should be!) This turned out to be a local chain (there are a three of them scattered around Sydney,) but TWO in the Bondi beach area.

RIGHT across the street from Sabbaba I spotted a Kosher butcher, called, “Hadassa Kosher Butchery PTY Ltd.” and “Golds World of Judaica” where I ended up spending a few hundred dollars on Jewish things you can only find in Australia type gifts for friends and of course for myself…

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An Australian Kippah! Got more than few of these

At this restaurant, Lyfe Cafe, again the owner was an Israeli (again, I talked them in Hebrew) and I also tried their Shakshouka — a bit better than the last place, but still not “up to snuff” in my opinion.

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Finally, up in the mall next to Bondi Junction, there are three different supermarkets, and in one of them I found a MASSIVE kosher section

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Glenrowan, Victoria, home of Ned Kelly: Australia’s Billy the Kid

If you ever happen to be driving from Sydney to Melbourne (or visa versa — or looking for a day-trip from either), Glenrowan, the location of Ned Kelly’s final standoff with police, is a must see.  If you’ve never heard of him, Edward “Ned” Kelly (1854 – 1880) is a central figure in Australia’s ideology of self. At a relatively young age he became one of Australia’s last, and still to this day best known Bushrangers; he was also a cop killer, and ultimately the leader of his own gang — although he’s best known for inventing a suit of bulletproof armor to wear during a shoot-out with police. IMG_2011Every book that I read on Australian history (that covered that time period) before coming to the country (I’m that sort of traveler) talks about him, and he’s about to have the 11th movie made about him go into production in the coming months (and if you move very quickly, you could be in it).

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Portraits of Ned, his mother (who is a central figure to his story), and his sister

My travel partner on this trip and I were driving from Melbourne to Sydney (it was a really pretty day…

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. In spite of the fact that I was in I came here on February 25, 2018… a month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, by the end of day’s travel I wasn’t mentally able to mentally focus enough to do any write ups … At the time an outing like this one left me exhausted and more often than not next day was spent just resting … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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When we passed this sign, which he felt was really funny, and a good example of Australian humor (that an offical sign would look like this)… I didn’t get the joke

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So he explained that it kind of looks like Ned Kelly holding up a wine bottle… and that we were about to drive by the town of Ned Kelly a famous bushranger, and then he started to explain to me who he was. I stopped him and told him that not only did I already know… I had read about him in two different Australian history books, but that I was also about midway through a book devoted to his story (that had won the very prestigious Booker Prize), and could we please stop because I would really like to see the place… and anyways we needed to have lunch.IMG_2007

I had the “house made Pikelets” in large part because it would be something new (I learned while researching for this piece that they are Welsh in origin, and are often referred to as the ‘poor man’s crumpet’) but upon eating them, they tasted indistinguishable from pancakes — just small ones. I also had the pumpkin soup (which in Australia is served savory with a lot of pepper… never sweet, the way it is in the US) and a cup of tea … 

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Then we went to the museum dedicated to Ned Kelly’s story. So for instance I knew from the book I was reading that when Ned was very young, he became the town hero by saving the life of the son of one of the richest families in town (who almost drowned). As a reward Ned was gifted by the father with a purple sash. You’d think since he was very rich and Ned’s family very poor it would have been something more tangible, but it’s almost a symbol of inequality with which Irish immigrants …

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That said, the sash was deeply meaningful to Ned and a treasured possession that he chose to wear under his metal armor on his last day when he knew he would be facing impossible odds, and might well die.

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Mrs. Kelly, Ned’s elderly mother was a major element in his life. Ultimately she was arrested and thrown in prison, unjustly, as a way to capture Ned. He fought to have her freed, including writing a manifesto letter that he tried unsuccessfully to have printed, trying to make people aware of the injustice but failed. All that was printed were annotated summaries that distorted it’s meaning in a way that made the government look good and Ned look bad were printed.

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What happened is long and complicated, but the part that all Australians remember was the final showdown where he wore the armor, but was ultimately captured.

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Inside the museum were a large collection of collected object about Ned or his family, including a selection of items that were supposedly owned by them. My friend and travel buddy, was overwhelmed by seeing a plate that supposedly had belonged to his sister. As a child, he had learned about Ned in part by reading a book written from Ned’s sister’s point of view… so seeing something as simple as a plate, that she had actually, was an emotional experience for him.

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Behind the museum was a reconstruction of the Kelly Homestead, filled with the sorts of items they were known to have owned. The actual homestead is located about 9km away from Glenrowan and still owned by the Kelly family, and NOT open to the public. I remembered reading in the book about the walls covered in newspaper.

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Behind the house were some pet Cockatoos, pictured here because they’re cute

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Phillip Island, Victoria Australia: Fairy Penguin Parade

Both my travel buddy and the friend (the one who hosted me and showed me around while I stayed at her home in Ballarat) BOTH wanted to bring me to Phillip Island, to a section called Point Grant, but better known as The Nobbies in order to see the Penguin Parade. It’s about a day trip from Melbourne and is most definitely a must see on while on a trip to this part of Australia

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[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. In spite of the fact that I was in Phillip Island on Feb. 25, 2018 a whole month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, I still wasn’t mentally able to keep up with my write ups … At the time an outing like this one left me exhausted and the next day was spent just resting. At the time, if you’d seen me, you’d realize very quickly that something was off… my speech was MUCH MUCH slower, so that I was searching for almost every word (which was very weird and a bit frightening)… as such I was still in a very passive space mentally, and as such I couldn’t write about it then, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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We kept seeing these birds in Point Grant as we were driving towards the boardwalk and the Nobbies Center. I think they’re some sort of goose, but honestly I have no idea. I just thought they were cool. First we went into the center for a snack (I was good, I had a bowl of fruit and and iced tea) … the view out of its windows is absolutely amazing… IMG_8524.jpg

“Hell of a view” — was my friend’s comment when we sat down to eat (he had fries) — and, “a House with this view would be a lot more than $600k” (All through our trip along the Great Ocean Road we had been checking out the prices of beachfront real estate and fantasizing about buying a home with ocean views) 

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These platforms exist for multiple reasons, they allow visitors to enjoy the natural wonders of the area, while preserving biosphere of the area….

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and it keeps the visitors from disturbing the nesting grounds of the penguins.

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If you look into the holes of the boxes below the boardwalk you’ll see penguin chicks
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Each of these boxes/burrows houses penguin chicks

This being the age of the internet and live feeds of animals nesting being all the rage, some of these boxes have cameras inside them that allow you to watch the chicks. That said, not all of the penguins opt to house their chicks in the provided boxes, but instead will set up nests under the boardwalk.

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Note the penguin chick hiding out under the walkwayIMG_8541

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Once it started to approach sunset, and the time for the Penguin Parade (~8:30 pm), we left the boardwalk and the Nobbies center and drove over to where the Penguine parade happens, a short distance away… with ample time to get a snack & decent parking, etc.

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After the parade, it is important to check under your car and drive VERY slowly, in order to avoid killing any penguins

once you enter the building they check your ticket, tell you where you need to go come show time, and then you’re free to just hang out in the facility, where you have two food options (a cafeteria type place, and then a fast food cart), a gift shop, which had all things penguin, as well some really nice made in Australia goods, like beautiful Marino Wool sweaters, and outback/bush hats made from kangaroo leather.

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Some of you may remember there was once a call to knitters world-wide to produce sweaters for birds, including penguins, who had been in oil spills, intended to 1) keep them warm (the oil in the feathers negates the insulating power of the feathers), and 2) to keep the birds from in trying to clean themselves of the poisonous oil, and hence end up swallowing it. The resulting onslaught of bird sweaters greatly out-stepped the need, so since they need funding at this point more than they needed the sweaters, someone had the bright idea to put them on cheap stuffed penguins and sell those at a fund-raising markup price…

There was also a whole educational section devoted to both what we would be seeing, in terms of the Penguin Parade and what it is that actually happening…  (this is a natural behavior, not one that humans have trained them to do for our entertainment)

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And then information about the birds themselves

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And information about the chicks in the burrows, including some windows into some burrows the staff have set up to lure penguins into (which may or may not have chicks in them when you visit — below are pictures I took looking down on live chicks in said burrows/boxes)

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The first thing you need to know about penguins is that they are very loyal animals, and always return to their family members.

As this video explains, while emperor penguins, the biggest of the species can only be found in Antarctica, Australia is home to the Fairy or little penguin, the smallest of the species

At the doorway the guests are broken into three group based on the tickets they bought. The cheap seats, the best seats above ground (and open to the elements… which is the tickets we opted for), and then just below those seats there’s a viewing area at ground level where you are nice and warm, can’t see as much, but you’re right level with the penguins as they pass and are viewing them through windows.

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No photos are allowed past this white line

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Being the smallest, Fairy penguins are very timid, they wait until it’s dark enough that their predators are going to sleep before leaving the protection of the water, and it’s very easy to scare them back into the water — which, if they do means their chicks go unfed. As such, because of all the stupid humans who came before us who insisted on using flash when taking photographs — which freaks out the poor penguins — even after being begged to not do so, photography is now banned at the event … and there’s more than a few staff member watching the guests like hawks to stop them should they bring out anything in the way of a camera. As such, I found videos (all produced professionally).

 

Since you can’t get an actual photo of yourself with the penguins, you can either download professionally taken pics of the penguins via their app, or for a fee you can buy a green-screened and Photoshoped image of yourself with the birds. (If you look closely at the sign above the heads of the photo booth’s staff members, you can even get one where you’re smaller than the penguins.)

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These are the women who made our photo for us

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Phillip Island, Victoria Australia: Koalas

Both my travel buddy AND the friend I stayed with in Ballarat… told me that they wanted to bring me to Phillip Island. It’s about a day trip from Melbourne and (as this desire on their part evidenced) is most definitely a must see on while in this part of Australia. While both of them wanted to bring me here to see the penguins (see my post), my travel buddy and I got there early enough, that we had time to kill, so that we decided to go to the Koala Conservation Centre

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[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. In spite of the fact that I was in Phillip Island on Feb. 25, 2018 a whole month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, I still wasn’t mentally able to keep up with my write ups … At the time an outing like this one left me exhausted and the next day was spent just resting. At the time, if you’d seen me, you’d realize very quickly that something was off… my speech was MUCH MUCH slower, so that I was searching for almost every word (which was very weird and a bit frightening)… as such I was still in a very passive space mentally, and as such I couldn’t write about it then, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]IMG_1754My travel partner (Mik) and I have ONE major disconnect in our our travel preferences, I try to avoid extreme heat at all costs while he LOVES it; and he considers temps that most people qualify as in the mild to comfortable ranges, freezing. Doing our long-planned day trip to this island, Australia’s weather took a dip from “Oh my G-d it’s hot” to 66 F (18.9 C) which he considered FREEZING and I consider about perfect for dressing spiffy (a t-shirt, a light leather blazer and jazzy hat). (If you note the pictures, he ends up NOT wearing his jacket even though he kvetched about the cold… Men!)

Anyway, we bought our tickets for the penguin march later that night (cause they sell out), and headed to the Koala Center

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When you first arrive at the center there’s a big educational section where you can read up on all sorts of things you didn’t know about Koalas, such as the fact that they are going extinct because of a fast-moving strain of Chlamydia which is causing infertility and blindness (since my visit, there’s actually been some progress with private funding in sequencing their DNA, which they hope will lead to a cure before one of the cutest animals on the planet goes extinct)IMG_1756

Once you’ve cleared the educational bit, you walk into a two bits of protected habitat, where the Koala’s are essentially caged-in (partially to keep them in but also to keep other Koala’s infected with Chlamydia out) into a sufficient amount of habitat to keep them happy — with supplemental foods dropped off in areas close to but just out of reach of the guests.

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Note that some branches are wrapped in plastic in order to discourage Koalas from going out onto the boardwalk

Then you walk up along elevated (but handicapped accessible) boardwalks that bring you up to the level of the branches where the Koala’s like to hang out. So you can get close, but not too close.

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It’s easy to spot where Koala’s are because of all the guests collecting there

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Me and Mik, and Koalas (there’s one in every picture)

Here’s a video I took of an active Koala (most of them tend to be sleeping, or just lazily hanging out.

 

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This old guy (the staff member told us it was an elderly male), in spite of the best attempts of the staff to keep it from happening, had somehow managed to get from the tree to the ledge of the visitors section of the boardwalk. The guy in the light shirt standing next to Mik was in fact a staff member, who was blocking visitors from getting too close. He told us they had placed a tree limb across from the boardwalk to a tree, and he was just standing there waiting for the Koala to get the hint and cross back to the tree, so that he could remove it.

Ballarat: Wildlife Park

Just like pretty much every town in Australia, Ballarat has a wildlife park where you can get up close and personal (in varying degrees) with Australia’s wildlife. I had avoided the one in Sydney, hoping to actually see them in the wild —  rather than under zoo like conditions — but while convalescing in Ballarat my friend (who used to work as a nurse) convinced me to give her city’s one a try.

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[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was at the Ballarat Wildlife Park on Feb. 4th, 2018, only 10 days after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … At the time any activity tended to result in this really odd sensation of getting jittery, irritable, and with a sort of sickening tightening in my stomach… and as such if I did go out for an hour or two, that was pretty much all I could manage for the whole day… and I was in a very passive space mentally, and as such I couldn’t write about it then, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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One of the animals I was MOST looking forward to see “in the wild” was a Koala. This park had a few (and you could PAY to get your picture taken next to one … you would think that for $40 they let you hold it, but no — probably safety concerns; apparently while Koala’s are cute, they aren’t very friendly).IMG_1676The Koala’s that were in cages were very hard to photograph, in part because they were sort of hiding in the shade (while being grey), but mostly because of where the sun was relative to where I was made it so that in each case the lighting wasn’t conducive to it…

IMG_1674I however manage get one video but it wasn’t worth posting (mostly it’s of the back half of a Koala whose nose was stuffed into a bush… although it was close enough that you could hear it chewing).

This is a video that I took of a bird that is actually pretty common in Australia (as in I had in fact seen it in the wild), I kept seeing it in city parks, etc.,

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Some people in Australia have these as pets… let’s keep in mind my favorite animated character as a child was Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, and that in my storage locker waiting to be unpacked is a HUGE collection of porcelain and other type dolls made in her image

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These are the lizards from the Priscilla Queen of the desert dance routine


 

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I took two videos of these cutie pies….  they were really a lot of fun to watch

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This sweetheart was my favorite animal in the whole park, she “held” my hand as I fed her and was really very sweet

Even with taking it easy as possible I ultimately only managed about two hours at the park… The more tired I got the dizzier/sicker (like my head was buzzing) I was getting … so once we’d sort of seen it, we headed home and I went back to bed.

Katoomba: Scenic World Blue Mountains attraction

Scenic World is a family owned business located at the edge of a plateau near the city of Katoomba, New South Wales Australia, at the opposite end of the Prince Henry Cliff Walk from the Three Sisters rock formation, which is a huge tourist draw. For a fee, they provide three attractions: the first is a cable car ride that goes across the ledges of the rock’s face, thereby offering views that are otherwise unobtainable, and then there are two different way to the rainforest at the base of the plateau (where there is an elevated walking path through it)  either a very steep cable railway ride or gentler cable car option.

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The first time I got there was on a weekend day, and the line for a one day passes for Scenic World was very long, while the line for the yearly pass was non existent; and, since a one day pass was $44, and one year passes were $99 — and I was going to be in town for a full week, I opted for the latter. That and, normally you need to get there “first thing” in the morning to make a first come first serve reservation to go on any of their rides, and I was warned that these sell out very early in the day during tourist season, i.e., exactly when I was there. As my readers probably already know about me…. I don’t do mornings! With the one year pass, however, no reservations were necessary and when you add it gives 15% off of any purchases at the stores or cafés ….  and with the yearly pass I would get 15% off of tickets for friend who came with me (and my travel buddy had already said he wanted to come here towards the end of our trip — when his girlfriend from was going to join us for a few days) which ultimately didn’t happen …. I felt the $99 ticket was the better option. As it stands, since my accident negatively impacted my visit, my plan is to go back to Australia later this year (within the one year window), and I’ll be able to use the ticket again then.

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Views from the balcony building, and the gift shops

That said, since I HAD a year-long pass, and the weekend crowds were making the lines for any of the rides SUPER long, I opted to do just walk around checking out the facility, and then come back on a week day.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was in the Blue Mountains about 5 months ago, on Jan 12th to 18th, 2018, and since my accident, which resulted in a sever concussion, happened only 8 days later I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

Like I said the one year pass included a 15% discount from the gift stores (where I didn’t find anything I actually wanted), and from the cafe (where I did). That said, there are two food options, and small one offering coffee shop type foods and outdoor seating, and the Tuckshop which offers more in the way of hot food options, and indoor seating.

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This is the outdoor seating for the coffee shop (looking towards the building) but in the other direction it has great views — see the pics of me against a railing (above)

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The second time I went the weather was a balmy 70 F …  Although it was supposed to hit 100 F a few days later. And, way fewer people where there than had been there the previous weekend, as I had hoped.

First, I had my morning coffee while enjoying the view, and then I went down into the rainforest via the train ride

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Note me up at the top of this photo

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This train is so incredibly steep that you’re knees end up pressing hard, up against the safety bars, and more than few people felt the need to hold on to the safety bars above…

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These views go whizzing by so fast, that you’re lucky if you manage to get the shot
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You can see finger smudges on the glass walls

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IMG_1490The train drops you down into a rainforest, complete with vines that Tarzan would have loved and prehistoric fern trees.

IMG_1509.JPGAccording to a complex display at the bottom and off to the side of the tracks, they were first put in place to bring down coal miners.

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It was so frigging cold the first time I took the train into the rain forest that I was uncomfortable so maybe 62 F (a good 10 degrees cooler than higher up). I wasn’t dressed for it and my teeth started to chatter, so I opted to go back up and come back again the next day when the forecast promised warmer weather, and intended to dress in layers just in case.

When I came back the 2nd time, it was warm enough that I had to take off my 2nd layer (WAY more pleasant than Sunday’s temps). I did a 45 minute walk through the rainforest…

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Just to give an idea of how elevated some of the pathway was, I’m on one elevated point looking down at another elevated point

IMG_1544Firstly I was really excited to see the sort of vines I imagine Tarzan swung on, my first time outside of a movie or TV programIMG_1543These sorts of palm trees I was pretty sure I HAD seen before, but in the prehistoric dinosaur Garden in Disneyworld’s Animal Kingdom. There’s a garden there (adjacent to the dinosaur ride) that most people walk right by that ONLY has living plants that we know existed during the time of the dinosaurs.

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Here I’m looking up at the massive rock feature directly adjacent to the start of the ride, giving you an idea of how far down I am

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Algae, Lichens and Mosses… can we all say biodiversity?

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Ultimately I completed every ride and in every direction

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This is rock formation I was looking at from the ground, to give the distance perspective 

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At one point with all the running around I somehow managed to lose my sunglasses (called sunnies in Aussie) but they were turned into lost and found (shock and awe!)

Sovereign Hill: an historical amusement park near Ballarat, Australia

Sovereign Hill is located in Golden Point, a suburb of Ballarat (a small city located about an hour northwest of Melbourne, by train). This attraction is a bit like a Disneyland for history geeks, and probably the best living history parks I’ve been to yet, i.e., right up my alley and definitely would like to come here again.

IMG_1105To be realistic, in any other part of the world Ballarat is so small that it should have swallowed up Golden Point, making it a neighborhood within the city, the same way that for efficiency reasons modern Chicago has swallowed up what were its numerous surrounding villages, such as the Pilsen neighborhood, and New York has swallowed up Harlem, etc., … but this process of city expansion for some reason hasn’t happened yet in Australia. When I look at Melbourne and Sydney neither seems to have done the same to the towns and villages that surround them.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was in Sovereign Hill about 5 months ago, on Feb 13, 2018, which was only 19 days after my accident on Jan 25th which resulted in a sever concussion.  As such, I wasn’t really able to appreciated it in fullness (we were there only for about two hours, and it really was all I could manage at the time before having to head back to bed). That said, I would really love to come back here at some point, buy a one year pass and spend a good few days there, just like I do at Disney. BUT, that said, because of the accident I couldn’t really focus the way I needed to in order to blog about much of what I saw for the next month after, and as such have fallen woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

Sovereign Hill actualizes for its visitors the history of Australia’s Victorian gold rush (1851 – 1860’s) which had the same impact on Melbourne that Sutter’s Mill had on San Francisco.

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(The video above is a TV ad for the attraction, and while it won’t be AS inhabited as when you arrive, a lot of what it shows is in fact visible… candy being made, metal being worked, etc., as my pictures show)

This is a video I found on YouTube shot by a tourist

One of the distinct aspects of Sovereign Hill, is that while “visitors” of course includes basic tourists (both Australian and international), more importantly it means groups of Australian school children;

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One of the four school rooms in the park

they are sent here (and other not quite as nice locations scattered around the country, this according to my travel buddy for Australia, who is also an Aussie but who did not join me on this leg of the trip) to spend two days in (what my friend told me was) government subsidized experiential learning programs.IMG_1106.JPGThe above is the 2nd of the four schools in the park, located in an abandoned shop, and shows children lining up to attend a class; I spoke with the girls as they waited for their teacher and they said that each of them had been given a “story line” of who they were, and that all the students in this class were the ‘less affluent’ students in town, miner’s children, orphans, etc.

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They told me that these children (below), on the other hand, were playing children from more affluent families. The woman in blue is their actual accompanying teacher/guardian from home, while the man on the left is a teacher who works full-time at the park. I found this newspaper article about talks not only about him, but verifies some of what the children told me, and adds how the different groups have different curricula, with the richer students being taught genteel skills, like drawing and sewing, while the poor “ragged” students spend half their day being taught trade skills.

IMG_1107.JPGFor those tourists who don’t know what’s going on, these teachers and students just become part of the overall show

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The third school room (I never saw the fourth one), held in a church

The following is a video I actually took, and uploaded to YouTube of these kids being taught cursive (a form of writing soon to be relegated to history):

This next ‘Welcome to Sovereign Hill’ Video, is actually the seven minute introductory video shown to students when they first arrive. It gives an overview of the town with an explanation of the historical evidence they relied on for its construction, as well as some basic instructions to the students on how interact with the tourists they will be sharing the space with, who will think of them as part of the show and hence will want to take their pictures (the video is well worth watching):

In fact (according to my friend who brought me here who has worked here for years as volunteer) it is these educational programs, more so than general tourism, that constitutes the bread and butter funding for the park and keeps it profitable enough that they can keep it in top repair, and pay for things like upgrades to the experience and professional actors and animal experts to work there.

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The woman clutching the jug plays the role of the town drunk

In support of their educational mandate, Sovereign Hill’s web page also offers up a large selection of teaching/educational videos that they produce including various performances at the park’s theater, a musicologist discussing the songs miner’s sang, an informational video on how to pan for gold, a historian discussing how the industrial revolution changed Australian life, and a video that offers up quotes from writers of the time exemplifying how what the park offers is an “improved” version of history, etc.

Sovereign Hill is not only about the time period of the gold rush; because of its location, the park has a specific focus on the events of the Eureka stockade, which Australians are in general taught (correctly or incorrectly, historians dispute this) as being the birth of the movement towards democracy in the country.

This video (above) gives you an overview of the historical events that occurred not far from where the park is located (the specific location is still debated but it was definitely a location visible from the park)

While these video’s below talk the special ticket night-time sound and light show devoted to events of the Eureka stockade, which they call Blood on the Southern Cross

A vast section of the park is devoted to Victorian homes of the sort that more affluent town’s member might have lived in. Every home is decked out with historical elements designed to make it look as though it’s actually being lived in, but the owners just happen to be out at the moment.

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Other parts of the park are devoted to trades that one might expect to find in just such a town, in this case either there are people working there, or it tends to look more like a museum (with signs explaining what you’re looking at).

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bottom right is broken wheel, supposedly waiting to be fixed; this shop occasionally has a craftsman on staff explaining the craft, but not today
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The undertaker’s, my friend says no one actually ever works here

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One part of the mining camp section of town is the Chinatown district. While there was no one working in this section when we visited, it was clear that a tidy sum of money had been invested into its development, as each aspect of it comes complete with multimedia aspects to make up for the lack of staff.

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Inside the temple is multimedia show, worth listening to

IMG_1134.JPGWhen you stick your head into these tents, you’ll hear the voices of the non-existent Chinese miners speaking to each other. If you pay attention you’ll actually learn things about the prejudices and injustices these miners faced, as Chinese.

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In this tent you can listen to the Chinese miners arguing amongst themselves about the choices they were having to make, and about how they organised themselves into self-help organizations, since they couldn’t count on the white to treat them fairly. It was fairly obvious from the items in some of the stores to the composition of the tourists, that Chinese tourism constitutes a fairly large percentage of who comes to this park, and their concerns and interests were therefore fully met.

 

That said, Sovereign Hill, while it has a huge educational mandate and is a living history museum, it is also first and foremost an amusement park type attraction — A Disneyland for history geeks, and hence must provide its visitors with amusements. As such, it provides the obligatory schedule of free of charge performances that visitors can attend during the day.

 

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One of the interactive activities that the park offers is the opportunity to pan for gold in their stream. According to my friend, this isn’t a real stream and gold that’s there is seeded, but no one really cares. You’ll find any number of people happily devoting at least a good hour to panning for gold.

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If you want to cheat there’s also a gift shop set up as a miner’s tools shop, where you can buy little vials with tiny bits of gold in them, but what’s the fun in that?

And in addition, even though Sovereign Hill –unlike Disney — is a non for profit, they take every reasonable opportunity to separate you from your money after you’ve paid your entrance fee (which is almost as high as some of the smaller Disney parks). That said, most of the payment-to-go options (after the initial entry) are all very reasonably priced…

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Coach Rides: $5.50 Adult, $4.00 Child (5-15), $17.00 Family

There are also tours that take you into a genuine historic gold mine that sits beneath the entire park, and constitutes one of the other “highlight” things to do in the park

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There are three different tours; well, 1 tour, but with a choice of 3 different movie endings

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According to my friend all of the tour guides who lead chinese tourists through the park (this one is about to lead a group into the mines) are required to dress the way this woman is dressed, i.e., what is historically accurate clothing for a Chinese resident of the town, just as the tour guide for our group was required to dress the same way a miner of the day might have.

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Everyone takes the same walk through tour, lead by a guide

At the end of the tour you watch what is essentially a VERY fancy Powerpoint presentation with all the animation bells and whistles on one of three topics (see above). You do this while standing in a small hollowed out, rounded but still craggy space (with the evidence of it having been mined out), deep inside the mine.  The presentation is projected onto the craggy rock’s face rather than a smoothed surface, which is pretty cool. It’s supposed to kind of make you feel like you’re in it with them. My friend and I opted for the presentation called the secret chamber, about Chinese minors and their trials and struggles with local prejudice; is the story of two brothers one of whom went home rich, the other who died in a mine collapse.

IMG_1123After the presentation you walk past a past a large patch of exposed gold still embedded in the quartz, so that you can see what it looks like… but that you are separated from by a bulletproof-glass wall and a whole bunch of security equipment which they make sure you can see.

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After the tour you come back topside and are let out into the obligatory gift store, this one selling a lot of gold, with a very strong focus on their Chinese tourist customers (because I’m guessing they’re the ones most likely to buy some).

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The one thing I was tempted to buy was the snow globe full of gold flakes, the minor inside it looks SO happy, and it’s relatively affordable.

In addition to this obligatory “after a ride” gift store, there are two varieties of stores in town, those selling period specific goods that you could probably find outside of the park if you looked hard enough, but presented in the style of store in the 1800’s

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I love this photo, note my friend in the reflection
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We ran into this same guy working at three different locations, but he’s so pretty we didn’t mind at all; he’s behind the counter at the Criterion (above), this jewelery store, and the candle works (below)

[Regarding my friend, it was almost karmic good luck that I was scheduled to stay with her for two weeks at exactly that point in my trip. She’s one of the few Facebook friends I ever made (we used to play this same FB-game, one of those that necessitate that you friend complete strangers, and we found we had so much in common that we continued to stay in touch long after both of us stopped playing). She had invited me numerous times to visit her in Australia, and she lives quite near to Sovereign Hill. In addition to being a successful realtor who has returned to University to obtain her undergraduate degree in history, AND a professional psychic (see the blog post for the tour of a haunted former Nun’s abbey, that she guides)… she also used to work as a registered nurse — which was infinitely useful for me in terms of her being understanding the needs and limitations of my health predicament while visiting her.]

The second variety of stores are those selling items that were handcrafted by the skilled craftsmen demonstrating by hand what in this day and age are almost lost arts

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in the Town there are six different places selling food during the day (plus a seventh that’s only open for the sound and light show in the evening)

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A candy store with historic candies
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This bakery was selling a full meal in a bun: one end was the appetizer, the other dessert

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As we were touring through the town, my friend took me to the room where she would normally work while volunteering… the ladies lounge in the hotel. Normally my friend would sit there, doing needlepoint, and talking to any visitors who might wander in

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The day we visited we found this woman is doing what my friend normally does, so the two of them had a nice chat exchanging pointers.

Knob Creek, KY: Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home, from age 2

If you were on a Lincoln pilgrimage to the impressive memorial at Lincoln’s birthplace, and have some spare time, one of the places you might want to consider as part of your trip is  Knob Creek, KY, the homestead his family moved to when he was two years old; Granted, what’s currently there now is nowhere near as impressive as what stands at his birthplace, but it would have been the place he thought of as his childhood home, and unlike the birthplace, this is where he would have had an emotional connection to… and as such, it’s worth a few minutes.

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BOY do I fall behind in my “work” when it comes to this blog. WAY back in 2016 I visited this part of the country, and I had THOUGHT I had blogged about it, but when in 2018 I went to Springfield, IL, the site of Lincoln’s adult home, and his tomb… and found myself wanting to link to that blog post about the one I had done for his birthplace … and found myself wondering where in the hell that blog for it had gone to, only to realize I’d never written it … I decided to rectify that lapse (a few days ago), and today I’m doing the same for this satellite location where he grew up. That said, it’s been a LONG time since I was there, and although I’m looking back in my Facebook postings for notes, those were pretty scarce… so this post will mostly be about the pictures.

The site of Lincoln’s childhood home about 42.5 miles/about an easy 15 minute drive from his birthplace – where his family moved to when he was two years old. So if you choose to visit it (and why not) an important thing to keep in mind is that a horse walks about four miles per hour, and as such… in Lincoln’s time the distance between the two locations took was about 10 hours by horse, or about 14 hours by foot — so it’s likely Lincoln might have had no memory at all of the place of his birth, and as such, to him, Knob Creek would have been much more important to him emotionally.

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That said, it is a quick nine minute drive from Hodgenville, KY, a very small town of around five eateries (two being fast food) and little “commercial” museum (basically a business set up by a local). That’s also worth stopping in.

As you’re driving down road 31E watch out for this sign on your left, as it’s fairly easy to drive past if you’re not paying attention (like I said, it’s unimpressive).

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What you’ll see is a nondescript roadhouse type building that was built much later on the same property (sorry, I never bothered to take a picture of it, as it is NOT related to Lincoln) and some parking… At the time when I went to visit the building was essentially empty, but had some of these signs scattered around it explaining what it was

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Once you’ve parked and walked behind that front building, you’ll see this

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And then scattered around that are more official “tourist signs” offering information about the location.

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After that you might want to consider a trip back into Hodgenville for a bite to eat, and to walk around the little museum they have there.

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There are TWO massive statues in the middle of town….One is very similar to, but different from the at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.,  As I discuss in the blog post about his tomb, which I visited two years later, in Springfield, IL in 2018; one of the things I learned there from the docent giving the tour was that first statue of Lincoln that you see when you enter the tomb is NOT an exact copy of the one in the D.C., but rather a precursor to it… according to the docent, the artist, Daniel Chester French had actually presented various bronze versions of the statue, before one was chosen to be chiseled in marble, and the one in the tomb was one of them. I initially was guessing that this one here near the place of his birth was one of those other designs (because it’s almost a copy of it) …. but one should never assume, because according to Wikipedia, I was wrong…  I actually feel kind of sad for the artist of this statue, because AS a former artist myself, there’s nothing more disheartening than having a paying customer who only wants you to mimic someone else’s work.

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Not my image, borrowed from this open source website dedicated to US presidents

Than, across the park (?) from the much older Lincoln, stands a newer smaller statue of Lincoln as the young boy he might have been when he lived here, sitting on a log, reading a book, and looking across a street to the statue of himself as an adult… almost as though he were dreaming of who he might be when he grew up. It’s really a very nice juxtaposition… and I’m guessing that artist (of the newer statue) has a lot of pride in his new creation. In fact, AS a former artist, I think the new statue sort of redeems the copycat older one.

 

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Keep in mind, when this picture was taken, Obama was still President

As is visible in the picture of the statue of the older Lincoln, behind it there is a museum dedicated to Lincoln. In fact it’s a sort of shop, really; as, it is a commercial/private enterprise rather than professionally curated museum, which is pretty obvious once you get inside. That said, I think it’s still worth looking at, especially if you have kids with you who are just learning about Lincoln.

First when you walk in there are a wide variety of art type objects related to Lincoln that are scattered pell-mell through the front rooms (like I said, NOT curated in any way shape of form)

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One of my favorite pieces in the collection, it’s very conceptual and made with local stone

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Two images… the first is a print where the artist has created a montage of Lincoln’s face using a variety of actual photographs taken of him, the second is an image of him made up of Lincoln pennies

Once you pass this area you enter a back section where a LOT more effort was put into creating the area. Each section is full of life-size constructed vignettes or dioramas full of antiques (authenticity or period-correctness be damned I am guessing, but again I’m not sure) with semi-realistic wax dolls, sort of like a mini Madame Tussaud‘s dedicated to Lincoln, at different points in his life

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So, like I said, especially if you’re traveling with a child, and you know your history and can explain, I think the museum is definitley worth a walk through.