Halls Gap & Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia

If you’re traveling around the state of Victoria in Australia, and want to visit Grampians National Park, which lies about three hours northwest of Melbourne, or a full five and a half hours drive south-east of Adelaide, take my suggestion and seriously consider a stop in the small town of Halls Gap. Based on my own perusal of google maps, of all the various ways into the park (which is a fairly large 646 square miles), Halls Gap is the only one ‘organized’ to support tourists’ needs. It is located on the side of Grampians that is closest to Melbourne, and its the only place where I know of where you’ll find a specially trained and staffed “Information Office” who are ready to provide you with suggestions of what to do while there; and it’s also where you can pick up things like hiking or driving maps, or arrange for various tours of either the parks or of one of the nearby vineyards, book a golf time, book lodging for the night, etc. (If it’s anything like the information offices alongside Roosevelt National Park in the states, their computer’s are organized to tell you which hotels still have availability for that night — but don’t hold me to that as we weren’t looking for lodging.)

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Our first stop was at the information center for maps, and then we went to the nearby Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural center & Bush Tucker Cafe, for a bite to eat (I strongly suggest checking out the Cafe as it specializes in the unique foods and flavors that the native Aboriginals and original European settlers to the Bush would have experienced.. but, that said, the cultural center was kind of a major let down and only suggested if you have time.)

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After that we drove into the park itself….. Because this visit was on February 10th, only about two weeks after I fell down and went boom on Jan 25th, giving myself the worst concussion of my life, our visit was limited to easily accessable by car locations… so no hiking for me, not even a little bit. Just sitting in the car, being driven around and seeing new things was exhausting for my brain at that point. Getting out of the car to experience the lookouts was about all I could manage.

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Our first stop was at Boroka Lookout

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The first time I tried to take a picture of the friends that I was visiting the park with they had their faces completely in the shade, making taking a photo of them almost impossible. The picture of me (above) was me trying to show them an awareness of light what was necessary in order for them to be well-lit in this harsh/high-contrast light situation (things photographers know); that said, the woman on the left is the friend who I was staying with (who serendipitously for me was a former registered nurse, so she perfectly understood my limitations at that point).

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Before this photo I had them do a little dance (“go left, no, not that far, yah stay there”) in order to make sure they were well-lit

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Our next stop was at Reeds Lookout and balconies …. apparently from the car park & lookout there’s an easy walk to the balconies, but like I said, I was not physically able at that point to do even that. That said I found a REALLY well done video on YouTube that someone made of the walk and the views I would have seen had I done it:

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That said, we met up with a fairly large group of bikers, while at the lookout
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After this we headed to Bunjil Rock Shelter, one of the many Aboriginal religious sites scattered throughout Australia, and then home.

 

 

Big Mac Museum; Irwin, Pennsylvania

Everything is invented somewhere, and while you might think that the Big Mac, the signature burger for McDonald’s might have been created by Ray Kroc, the chain’s founder, or the two McDonald brothers he had partnered with (it was they who had invented the business model) and whose business interests he ultimately bought out… or maybe at their food labs in their global headquarters in Oakbrook, Illinois, you’d be wrong. The Big Mac was invented in Irwin, Pennsylvania by a franchise owner by the name of Jim Delligatti in 1967…

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To be honest, I don’t think I’d eaten a big mac in 20 years (I tend to go for the quarter pounder with cheese) but since I was here, I felt it was obligitory.

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Different containers the Big Mac came in, my favorite is the tin one
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McDonald’s collectables, I THINK they’re figurines of corporate managers
I am deeply embarrased to admit that there’s a 14 foot Big Mac somewhere on the property and I missed it… it is my intent to go there again at some point and take a picture of it.

 

 

Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural center & Bush Tucker Cafe: Halls Gap, Victoria, Australia

Brambuk National Park & cultural centre is about a 3 to 4 hour drive away from Melbourne, and a 5 hour drive away from Adelaide, so if you haven’t made the effort to road trip between the two (or live in the area), odds are you’ll miss this National Park. Along with the natural wonders of the place, and a host of optional activities (which I will discuss elsewhere), there is a must see but ultimately highly disappointing Aboriginal cultural center, a really wonderful little cafe with very unusual foods, and of course a pretty good gift shop.

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From my first days of planning my trip to Ballarat, my friend who was hosting me had been describing this place to me, and it was one of the things I insisted we had to do, in SPITE of the fact that I was pretty much laid up because of the sever concussion I had suffered not two weeks before.

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TThe cafe and gift shop building

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They have a large selection of gelato available in flavors native to Australia fruits and spices… Golden Wattle seed, Quandong fruit, Strawberry Gum,  Desert lime, Macadamia nut (which is actually native to Australia, not Hawaii), Riberry and Davidson Plum

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As part of my experiencing Australian pies, I ordered a “Skippy” pie (you have to love the perversity of Aussie humor — check the link), which I shared with my friends (one of whom at 99% of the chips… I only ate two)

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we passed on the Lemon Myrtle scones and instead opted for the Wattleseed Damper w/Quandong & Peach Jam and Wattleseed cream (because I had no idea what a Damper was). After checking out their menu, we decided to go for the Bush Food Platter

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which had a little bit of everything (Kangaroo, Emu sausages, Crocodile, Wild Duck (Australia has a few different breeds, they never told us which one we were eating), 2 Bush Food Chutney’s (again we never found out which flavors) & a Garden Salad w/Bush Tomato & Balsamic Dressing) which is intended for two people, so we shared it between us. DEFINITELY worth trying, if only for all the new flavors. (see below for what some of these things look like)

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some of the spices and seeds mentioned above

While waiting for our food we raided the gift shop, which had a very good selection of items (many of which were made by Aboriginals with the proceeds going to them).

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At first I thought left versus right-handed boomerangs was a joke on the tourists, but no, apparently they need to be designed differently. That said, I was tempted to buy this map of Australia (below) showing all the native tribal lands… but didn’t.

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Once done at the first building you walk down a path to the cultural center

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The real disappointment of this visit was the thing that should have been the star, the cultural center. Even though pretty much all they have in there is photographs, we weren’t allowed to take any. There was a movie on Aboriginal culture but you had to pay to see it (and it wasn’t cheap, so we skipped it).

According to their website’s description, “The Brambuk Cultural Centre is the longest running cultural centre still operated by Aboriginal people. Come here to explore the culture, its traditions and various multi-award winning architectural establishments.” So, you’d think this would be a place where politically motivated local Aboriginals would choose to work in order to teach interested visitors about the grandeur of their own culture, and share their love of their own history.

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Note how faded and worn the sign is

But here’s the thing… the odds are when you get there, you won’t spot a single Aboriginal …  not even one with an ancestor four generations back so that all of the distinctive, but also  highly recessive, genetic traits have been bred out — lord knows we didn’t find any (and we asked).

[Rant: Firstly, let’s keep in mind that I have spent months of my life, studying, living and working on the Navajo reservation, and to this day still maintain some VERY close friendships with Native Americans I met during that period of my life who are to this day deeply involved with trying to improve things for their people. What I am not is a knee jerk liberal who attends protests and talks the talk, but has never spent more than a day or two being a tourist among said people, and has therefore never really walked the walk, let alone never spent any real-time talking to said people, whose rights they are so moved to protect; and hence doesn’t even really know who they are let alone understand their problems, and what these people might want for themselves vs., what you the privileged white person might want for them. That said, one of the things that kind of annoyed me while visiting was my observation that in the modern-day Australians (who by all appearances as white) seem to take extreme pride in any small amount of Aboriginal heritage they can claim. Keep in mind, in the case of Aboriginal Australians, that by the third generation, such heritage is difficult to identify visually, and unlike with African genes it can’t “pop up” unexpectedly — where two seemingly white parents can give birth to a dark-skinned child, the same way two brown-eyed parents can have a blue-eyed child. So for instance, I, while researching this piece, learned about a European/Anglo member of the Tasmanian government, by the name of Jacqui Lambie, who offended the Aboriginal community by claiming she was one and therefore could represent them, and then went so far as to get her DNA tested to try to prove it. While this on the surface might seem to be not unlike Americans who point to Native American roots that their ancestors would have tried to hide with embarrassment. The difference is that … where as in America that person might take pride in being “part” Cherokee, they rarely if ever have the audacity to claim the state owes them something for prejudice that they themselves never have had to face in their daily lives because of that genetic heritage. In Australia, however, they will; in the current age they will describe themselves as simply Aboriginal, not as ‘part’ Aboriginal, because it is now not only COOL to be Aboriginal, but again it comes with all sorts of benefits designed to provide a ‘leg up’ in a society that has heretofore condemned them. I was for instance more than a little ticked off to see Aboriginal art, which is sold as such rather than just as art, and it’s a big deal to be able to PROVE the authenticity of said art… only for the photo of the artist to be of someone with blond hair and blue eyes. Think Iggy Azalea, the Australian rapper who claims aboriginal heritage who couldn’t understand while Americans took issue to her calling herself, “black” and hence being an ‘authentic’ rapper…

In the US, the TRIBES would never allow such a thing, for the obvious reason that funding is finite and every kid who is part Native, but has suffered none of the deprivations of that ancestry, who takes that funding is in effect taking it out of the mouths of the folks who really need it. And now that the tribes themselves have found creative ways to pull themselves out of poverty, they are getting EVEN FIERCER about who does or does not get to call themselves “Native America” versus, being of Native American ancestry. It would be a bit like the Johnson’s (African American family, founders of Ebony and Jett magazine and first African American to make make the Forbes 400 list), who used to live near me — and walking distance from one of the very best high schools in the country — had mansion on Lake Michigan, with a swimming pool and tennis court, and had the Commodores (Lionel Richie‘s band before he went solo) play for their kids sweet 16 party taking advantage of preferred places and funding at Universities, intended to help cure socioeconomic disparities that exist in the African-American community]

According to the staff member we spoke to, while the Aboriginal community gets the final say on what happens there, and everything is done with difference to them… sadly, their interest sort of ends with that, and is mostly focused on the money generated by the place… although one of the staff members said if we signed up for the classes and performances that we had read about and wanted to see (which weren’t happening at that time, and hadn’t happened in a while, and he wasn’t sure when the next one might be), we MIGHT (but not would) see Aboriginals working those events.

What displays they had were placed kind of hap hazard, so that it didn’t tell any sort of meaningful story. Overall, it was kind of massive waste of time

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having trouble embeding the map (follow link to google maps):

 

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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The Convent: Daylesford, Victoria Australia

You wouldn’t think it, but Daylesford is actually a major tourist destination in Australia. By all appearances it’s just another small Australian town, indistinguishable from many of the other small towns in the area… but it has the advantage of sitting on the edge of what is now an extinct volcano, and as such it is one of the few natural spa towns in the country… known for it’s 65 naturally effervescent (bubbling) springs. Among its many attractions, is a historic (and haunted) nun’s convent that has been converted into an art gallery and wedding venue.

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(Based simply on how the people in the town preferred to dress — unstructured simple flowy garments made from natural materials, I told my hostess that I felt like I was back in Mill Valley, CA — a highly affluent town just north of San Francisco known for its concentration of New Agers, movie stars and retired Hippies … to which my friend responded that I had perceived correctly, as this town has very similar demographics, and has an Ashram a Yogi, etc)

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I was brought here by the friend I stayed with for two weeks in Ballarat. She is a woman of many talents: a former nurse, a real estate agent, an entrepreneur, and about once a month she guides collections of tourists through this convent, as she is also a psychic and medium, a talent she has had since her early childhood.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit so I’m a bit vague on the details of what ghosts were where. I came here on February 9, 2018… only about two weeks after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … but a good 6 months later, and 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.]

As we were driving around my friend told me that this is the second gay capital of Australia (Sydney being the first), and based on the number of rainbow flags I was seeing I don’t doubt it. She said that there are more gay people than straight people in Daylesford. fullsizeoutput_4145.jpegWe came to this former convent, which during the day triple duties as an art gallery, a wedding venue, and a hotel ….. because in the evenings is when its fourth duty comes into play, as a haunted structure… and my friend has been hired (because of her particular talent), to lead a ghost tour here on a similar regular basis. That said, the woman who normally comes and helps her lead the groups through the structure couldn’t be there that night, so since I had asked if I could come see the place (anyway) she’d tasked me with walking at the end of the group and making sure there were no stragglers (or folks who were breaking the rules and taping the tour without prior permission — photos are allowed). IMG_2078

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As we walked through the hallways of the building, my friend would describe various ghosts that are known to regularly haunt different parts of the building.

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This top floor of building was used as a hospital ward at one point, and she had interesting details to share of how the nuns managed this (getting the bodies up and down, etc.).

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These small rooms off of the larger main rooms were nuns bedrooms. One of them in particular, the one everyone is lining up to get into… is haunted by the ghost of a woman who (I think) had committed suicide there, or some such… (I’m really very blurry on the details at this point — it’s 6 month later — of the specifics of her story, but my friend explained it at great length…I remember it was very interesting and sad)

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IMG_2083I think I remember she said that this church part of the convent was haunted by a former Priest, or maybe it was the head nun… again, I’m very foggy on the details so I suggest if you’re in town you take her tour. IMG_2084At this point my friend was giving a very long story, and I was getting tired and wasn’t paying close attention anymore, and was focusing mostly on taking pictures… but as you can see more of the tour group were riveted on what she was saying

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This painted door, according to my friend, has a particular energy embedded into it, which both my friend and another psychic both had felt independently (I forget what it was, again, you should sign up for the tour to find out), and she was explaining about that during the picture above. She was also leading us into the basement which had been used for some horrible purposes over the years, lots of ghosts… and while we were down there a lot of people who were on the tour came out of there having experienced something…

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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Clunes, Victoria, Australia

The friend who hosted me in Ballarat brought me to visit a nearby town called Clunes, Victoria (there’s actually more than one Clunes in Australia). The town (like many in the area) was once a gold mining town, but its current claims to fame is that it has been used many times in movies and TV shows, and they hold the largest yearly book fair in Australia.IMG_1860

Movies and shows shot in this town include, Ned Kelly (with Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush,  & Orlando Bloom), Mad Max, HBO’s the Leftovers, Amazon’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, and a large selection of Australian TV shows, etc. In fact there’s a new big budget about to be filled there about the life of Ned Kelly staring Russel Crow, that’s currently looking for extras.
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Other than being very picturesque Clunes seems to be just a quiet little Australian town. I could see why film studios like the place, there’s very are lots of very nice building but not much going on that a filming would disrupt.

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What to do with a horse troth? Fill it with flowers

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Bunjil Rock Shelter

Bunjil Rock Shelter is one of the many Aboriginal religious sites scattered throughout Australia. In is located in the Black Range Scenic Reserve, and according to this academic report, “It is the only known site in Victoria to contain bichrome [2 color] figures and an anthropomorphic figure whose identity is known…The site is generally regarded to be one of the most significant of the 150 or so Aboriginal art sites in Victoria, and yet its management has been characterized by nagging doubts about its authenticity.”

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Bunjil is one of their creator deities of the Aboriginal world (see image below), and is often described as a Wedge-tailed eagle, the largest bird of prey in Australia (see image above)

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Bunjil Rock Shelter was one of the meaningful (to me) places my host (while in Ballarat) took me to; she was driving me around and always keeping in mind my highly limited post concussive energy limits (the glorious serendipity of staying with someone who used to be a nurse). She said this was one of those places she’d always wanted to go to, but never had — so it was good for her too.

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My host and her friend, who joined us on this trip,v standing in front of the fence the protects the rock cave (just left of them)

Inside the cave there is an “Ancient” Aboriginal painting (according to my friend its had touch ups so that kind of screws with the ancient part)IMG_1873

Unfortunately I was the only taking pictures this day, and I was already seriously fatigued from our other stops, so I didn’t remember to ask someone to take a photo of me….

[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 9, 2018… only about two weeks after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, I was only able to do this trip because my friend drove me around, and I actually spent very little time on my feet. Once back home I 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 … 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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Personally I really loved the huge rocks in the area… although you have to wonder where they came from…

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Warning… if you decide to come here… whoever set up the signs leading to this historical site needs a good whipping. We had a really hard time finding it, and actually passed it twice.  It’s a relatively small sign placed well away from the road, on a side road that doesn’t really look like road… 

Link to the map

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.