Downtown Katoomba, Australia

Katoomba is a cute but small town, located about an hour and a half by car from Sydney (or 2.5 hours by train) about 2 kilometers from one of Australia’s natural wonders (which I of course was visiting), whose major industry is tourism. It’s a lot less tourist-trappy than most towns of this sort, while still having a sort of enough to keep visitors happy.

IMG_5567.JPG

NOTE: I’m writing this blog post well AFTER the fact. I was In Katoomba from January 12th to 18th of 2018 — about 5 months ago. BUT, because of the massive concussion I suffered only one week later, on Jan 25th… I have fallen woefully behind on the posts for that 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) I am taking the opportunity to rectify that…

The downtown area begins, essentially, at the top of a VERY steep hill, where it runs a bit alongside the rail road tracks, and then extends about a half mile South, down hill, in the direction of the natural attractions. (Other than a local movie theater, there’s little of any interest to none locals on the north side of the tracks).

Getting around:
And of course I am ASSUMING you don’t have a car… if you do you can just skip this part

IMG_5568

Getting from Sydney to Katoomba by train is actually a rather easy and enjoyable ride (see blog post). One of the things to remember is that IF you’ve already been in Sydney over the course of a week, and have actively been using the rail systems “Opal” transit card, once you have used it for eight trips in the course of one week (Monday to Sunday) you to qualify for 50% off on all trips for the rest of that week…  including the price of the rail trip out to Katoomba and back.

IMG_5571

That said, while there are also some bus routes you can take from the station to get you to your Airbnb or hotel, most of them stop running around 6pm … which I learned the hard way, when I arrived on a 6:30 pm train and ended up having to drag my heavy suitcase the 20 minutes it took to walk (almost a full mile) to my Airbnb… Luckily it was all down hill or I would broken into tears (the Airbnb host had COMPLETELY neglected to mention that fact in spite of my having told her what train I would be arriving on).

That said, I soon learned (not from her) that there are TWO 24 hour taxi services which will pick you up from pretty much anywhere, and run you home (I STRONGLY suggest keeping their phone numbers with you). The one you’re most likely going to be using is the Wentworth Falls Taxi, +61 (0)2 4782 1311; as the other, Blue Mountains Maxi Taxi, specializes in large wheelchair accessible vans that can accommodate up to nine passengers, +61 423 890 670, although they’re perfectly happy to pick up just one.
Places to eat:

Sanwiye Korean Cafe:

IMG_5839.JPG

First off, this place is TINY and popular. As such, unless you come on a non-vacation weekday and get very lucky… you WILL need a reservation (call +61 405 402 130) The time I opted for the basic home-style dishes my ex-boyfriend’s mother used to make regularly…   Mandu-guk (it’s a dumpling soup) and Japchae (which they spelled japjae)… I also ordered Kimchi, as this is the first Korean place I’ve ever been too that does NOT include the obligatory Banchan side dishes for free… and an order of Ginger Tea. That said, if you look at the reviews on Trip advisor, and pay attention to the ethnicity of the writers, you’ll see the western customers seemed to be way more enamored with the place than the Koreans (did I mention no obligatory Banchan?). For myself, the Madu-guk and Japchae were fine (they are two kind of hard to screw up dishes) but the Kimchi is SO incredibly mild that I could not smell it, or taste any of the red pepper.

For those who don’t get what I’m talking about, proper Kimchi should STINK, and at least mildly burn your mouth with the heat of the pepper. I had a Korean roommate back in college who initially kept a small bottle of Kimchi in our fridge, which because of the layout of the dorm room was in the same tiny room as our closets… we quickly banned the practice and forced her to keep it downstairs in the dorm room of some other Korean girls, because the stink had passed through the refrigerator’s walls and all of our clothes were suffering from Aux-d’kimchi. Additionally — keep in mind I lived in South Korea for almost three years while working as a professor, one of the first signs that I was back ‘home’ after spending some time in the States visiting my other home, was walking into an EMPTY elevator and being accosted by the scent of the Kimchi that some previous occupant had left behind (usually sweated out, like an alcoholic’s stench, or way too much cologne)

 

Paragon Cafe:

This restaurant would have been worth trying if only because it’s a piece of Australian history.  IMG_6067.JPG
It was the countries oldest continually serving Cafe (101 years when I went), the place is quaint beyond belief and is like a walk back in history to the 1900’s.

IMG_1906IMG_6069

established 1916 … the place had changed hands at least four times already, and according to this new report, shortly after I visited the current owner was being forced to leave by May 27 (over a week ago) because the business owner could no longer afford the rent, and whether the place will be maintained in its current form is in doubt.

IMG_6077

That said, I thought the food here was ok, WOEFULLY overpriced, and in spite of that nothing to write home about (the fact that it was struggling was therefore not a surprise). If you look closely at this menu (below) you’ll know what I ordered.

IMG_6070

Here’s hoping ….

 

The Gingerbread House:

When I finally spotted this place, located at the far south-east corner of the downtown area I decided that I was in love; This is a former church that for lack of congregants was converted into a cafe, that surrounds a gingerbread house/shop devoted to all things ginger!! (And as my friends know I LOVE ginger.)

IMG_1910

IMG_6110

IMG_1909

While there I found what may be the ultimate ginger drink, it’s called Rochester Ginger and (according to the company), it’s recipe is based on one made by Dickens himself … which I would happily drink regularly but for the fact that it’s $9.40 for a small bottle, about as pricy as wine …  when I got home I found Amazon has it  for slightly more. … By the way 1 cup = 236 ml, so this stuff is a bit over 177 calories a cup (while Coke is about 96 calories a cup)IMG_1907.JPG

they also had me try this organic ginger ale assuring me I would love it, but it was blah.

IMG_6114

There was also a ginger flavored Turkish Delight which was ok, but after the Rochester everything paled.

https://www.google.com/maps/place/The+Gingerbread+House/@-33.7172034,150.3120487,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0xaaf95d3e9b389737?sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjFo57m88nbAhVD3VMKHfpPAGEQ_BIImQEwDw

Avalon Restaurant:

Based on the amount of business they do, this restaurant located not far from the train station seemed to me to be one of the most popular places in town. Their “specials” didn’t seem to change much Kangaroo burgers and pancakes with ice cream), and what finally drew me in was the burger. (Not my first taste of ‘skippy‘, which is what all the locals seem to call it, that was at Pins On Lurline, an upscale restaurant located outside of the downtown distract in what was once a private home … hence not included in this blog)

IMG_1911

The burger was less a burger than a sliced meat sandwich, with little rounds of kangaroo meat… not all that tasty and very chewy. While sitting there waiting for my food, I spotted this girl sitting next to me. I asked her if it was alright for me to take the picture and she allowed it…

IMG_6301

 The picture is completely untouched … the light was just perfect … and I of course allowed her to send a copy of it to herself.

 

Carrington Hotel
Let’s hear it for hotels that could not afford to update their facilities, until the fact that they had not becomes they’re selling point. Looking at the Carrington it’s pretty clear that’s the reality.

IMG_6298.jpg
I of course don’t know this for sure but after walking around the place I’m willing to take a bet that once the building was old enough to qualify for a World heritage landmark listing, and restoration funds that come with it, that that was probably the first time since 1927 that any serious renovations of the property happened…. and we should all be grateful because walking through its doors is like stepping back in time. According to Wikipedia it’s the only 19th century grand hotel still in use in all of New South Wales.
IMG_1912
IMG_1913
IMG_1916.JPGIMG_1917.JPG
This massive hotel property is located right in the downtown area, a meer steps away from the train station.

 

The Yellow Deli
The interior is VERY cute and Hobbit-warren like, and every food program (Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc) ranked it as the most popular eatery in town (must number of reviews, with almost all of the people giving it positive votes).
IMG_6036
I had arrived in Katoomba on a Friday night, and was mystified to find this place closed, but once I finally stepped inside I understand why. Every single man working there had a beard, a pigtail and was wearing very similar natural fiber clothes; That and the fact that women were all dressed akin to Mormons in terms of coverage, sent off a bell in my brain saying, “this is a restaurant owned by a cult.”
IMG_1904
So I asked, and it turned out they’re a religious group founded in Chattanooga Tennessee. They keep sabbath Friday night to Saturday…. like Jews, but they are not vegetarians like the 7th day Adventists (of whom there are many in the Chattanooga area)… at least based on the menu of what they were serving. They only believe in the old testament not the New Testament but don’t consider themselves to be Jewish… but rather they consider themselves to be Christians. The guy I spoke to, the manager, who was VERY excited that I had keyed into the cues that they were probably a religious group and asking about their beliefs, gave me a bunch of reading material
All that said, they make a very good Carob hot chocolate.
I really liked this place, I liked it enough that I ordered their fresh watermelon & ginger drink more than few times. You tell them what you want, and they throw the ingredients in a blender and serve it up.
IMG_1903

Australia and The Big Merino, World’s biggest Sheep (?)

On the drive from Canberra to Sydney is a tourist shop that is something of an Aussie institution; properly called The Big Merino, it is a shop which “celebrates Australia’s fine wool industry” …. and is fronted by a “Big Thing”/tourist trap that stands 15.2 meters, or 97 feet, tall (probably the biggest sheep statue in the world, but that hasn’t been authenticated), that the locals have nicknamed “Rambo.”

fullsizeoutput_3a16
The tiny person standing below it is me

The statue stands along side the store, which sells a whole variety of VERY upmarket Australian made items (there are no bargains here, but what they have is VERY nice) mostly made from Marino wool, such as socks, scarves, boots, knitting wool, and coats, etc.

IMG_8862
A super soft, thin to the point of transparent marino wool scarf with a digitally printed image on it was selling for about $80 (Australian)

My favorite item, which I forgot to take a photo of and did NOT buy but simply drooled over), was an $1,800+ lambskin/shearling jacket (made from super soft lambskins with the wool still attached).

IMG_8860

In fact, the only things I bought for myself were an assortment of draw string bags with really pretty Aboriginal designs on them, made for protecting your sun glasses, out of the same microfiber material of the sort used to clean glasses (so doubly practical) for $9.90 (AUD).

fullsizeoutput_3a17.jpeg

We went here, not to please my obsession with big things, but rather because it’s a regular stop for my travel buddy who LOVES the Big Merino because it’s the only place he knows of that reliably has nice thick Marino wool socks his size… men’s XXL (size 13 Australian, 15 US and 49 European, i.e., he almost never finds socks his size).

If you’ve never purchased a pair of merino wool socks I STRONLY suggest you do. First time I ever saw them was at a sort of outdoors/athletic/hiking type shop located in Evanston, IL, near my University. “$15 for a pair of socks, you have GOT to be kidding me?!” I said… but they assured me these socks would change my life (??) and that I should buy one pair and wear them for 1 week solid without changing them, and then sniff them, and if not impressed I could bring them back. (No seriously, that’s what they said!) Suffice it to say, they won that bet and now pretty much all my daily wear socks are now made of Merino wool. Not only do these suckers wick moisture away from your skin, and take a good two solid weeks of my wearing them on a daily basis to start to smell (I’ve tested them), they also LAST for YEARS!! That first pair took a good five years of regular abusive wearing before they wore out! Not only that but I’ve noticed that since I’ve started wearing them I’ve not had a single blister on my develop on my foot, even if wearing new shoes. Seriously, these are a different category of sock and totally worth the price.

According to my friend it was a shame we hadn’t arrived at the Big Merino after dark because at night the security lights give it the effect of appearing to have glowing eyes… What he didn’t know, and I just found out by googling it (while writing this blog post) is that you can actually climb up statue and look out through those eyes to the road.

The One picture I should have gotten but didn’t, was the back of the sheep… a view which Australians with their sense of irreverent humor seem to love to the point that it has it’s own Facebook page.

Australia, New South Wales’ Koala bridges

Although Koalas while cute and cuddly, and tourist draw to Australia’s shores, they are in fact in serious trouble. Not only are they dying for the obvious reason of deforestation, attacks by dogs and being killed in car accidents, they are also most notably being killed off by a chlamydia epidemic (seriously!) so much so that in 2012, the Koala was added to the threatened species list. The dogs and the chlamydia epidemic locals experts seem to be clueless about how to address, but they HAVE begun to make inroad on the threat of car accidents…. by building Koala Bridges over highways.

IMG_8694.JPG

As my friend and I were road-tripping in New South Wales — and it was a BEAUTIFUL day, we kept passing what he explained to me were bridges that were built over the highways for the use of the Koalas.

IMG_8692.JPG

After we had passed a few of them I had him pull over at a rest stop that immediately after one of these things … and, after taking advantage of the facilities (it had cold metal seats and these leachy looking worms all over the ground… leaving me more than a bit grossed out) I trekked back along the edge of the highway to take some pictures of one.

IMG_0688

I was really skeptical that the Koala’s would know to these things …. but my friend swore that he had on occasion seen Koala’s on them … and then, when googled the topic I found this article about an ecologist who had to eat his own words of skepticism on the topic, when they found Koalas were in fact already regularly taking advantage of them… and after only three weeks … apparently, Koalas are pretty smart (oh, and they aren’t stoned, that’s just a myth).

On a racetrack in Melbourne, Australia

We’re not sure how this happened but the cool factor DEMANDS that I blog about it for posterity…. Somehow… and we’re not sure how this happened… we accidentally — possibly were directed there as a detour … but oh my lord… we’re driving on a formula 1 race course.

IMG_8413.jpg

Apparently there’s a Formula 1 racing track just south of central Melbourne in a place called Albert Park, and in our drive south to see the penguins we got diverted away from some construction on to it. It’s one of the few circuits that is on public roads, and when it’s not being used for a race is publicly accessible…

IMG_0714.JPG

But admit it… this is COOL! (although granted we were driving it at much slower speeds)

IMG_8416

 

Australians like big things too… who knew?

I’m no longer sure WHO started the trend, if it’s an Americana tourist trap thing that Australians began to copy because it draws in the tourists, or visa versa … but I’m happy to announce that the Australian countryside is just as inundated with these big fiberglass monstrosities as the US is, there are in fact 150 of the things scattered around the mainland, according to wikipedia.

fullsizeoutput_39b4

The first big thing I spotted was via the window of a bus/coach that I was taking from Ballarat to Adelaide (it actually involved a one hour train ride and two connecting busses — bleh) … my friend in Ballarat, knowing my like of these sorts of things, had mentioned the bus might pass it… but the driver offered no warning and sadly the it only pit-stopped at the location in order to pick up new passengers, with no chance given to get off and take pictures… so this is the best one I managed to get (there were two others but they were all blurry because the bus was moving).

And then earlier today while road tripping on Australia’s Great Ocean Road with my travel buddy (so far it’s all good, hoping we do this regularly), we unexpectedly drove past a second big thing, a Lobster by the name of Larry …  who according to Wikipedia is the worlds largest lobster!!!

IMG_8237
Size is a bit distorted as I’m actually standing a bit in front of the thing, see next picture down to see how big I actually am relative to the thing

IMG_8234

IMG_0583
I’m 5’4″… my friend who is 193cm (or 6 feet 3 inches) wasn’t able to touch the bottom

IMG_8238

Ballarat’s loud fence: Civil protest against the church in Australia

I’m currently spending about two weeks in the town of Ballarat, about an hour south of Melbourne, Australia by train. Ballarat is currently known for two things, 1) once upon a time it was Australia’s Sutter’s Mill — a gold rush that utterly changed the nature of Australian settlement, and 2) more recently it has become ground zero for the Australia’s version of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal. To quote an article by Australia’s ABC news network: “Catastrophic failure’ of Catholic Church leadership in Ballarat caused ‘irreparable suffering’: royal commission

IMG_0592

My friend who lives in Ballarat had been regularly posting ALL the updates about the child sex abuse scandals there to her facebook account, so I was well aware of the issue before I arrived. And then December 17, while I was beginning to plan my trip to Australia to meet up with my traveling buddy, he sent me a text: “Ballarat doesn’t make national news very often. Kinda sad reason for it today,” which included this linked article:

After I arrived in Ballarat, ever time my friend (who I was staying with) and I passed a Catholic Church, convent, or convalescent home for retired priests and nuns, she would repeatedly tell me about how the victims of the abuse, and how the families have been kind of playing a game of wack-a-mole with the church (one that the media has dubbed “Loud Fence”). The families and victims have been repeatedly tying ribbons to all of the wrought iron fences surrounded churches and church properties as a silent protest, and the church has been repeatedly taking them down.

IMG_0593

As part of explaining the scandal to me, my Ballarat friend started to explain to me about Cardinal Pell who covered up sexual abuse of children by priests in Ballarat and in “punishment” had been elevated to one of the highest offices of the Vatican, namely as its Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, and was now deemed by the Vatican as being “too sick” to come home to Ballarat to face charges. (Pell should not be confused with Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law who pulled the same crap, and as his punishment was also moved to Rome and given multiple high prestige jobs.) She then played for me this song by a popular Australian Comedian that became a major hit, to the point that when she walked around she was constantly hearing people play it –its a VERY funny song, so please listen to it:
Apparently, the Vatican believed that if they forced the hearings to be moved to Rome, because Pell was “too sick” to be flown to Australia, this would avoid the disruptive and media magnet protests of the victims. When the song became a hit, Minchin — the artist — donated all the proceeds to pay for victims to be flown to Italy to be there for the trial…

One day, on the way back from an afternoon out — where we once again passed first by the retirement home for priests and nuns, where she again told me about how they’d taken down the ribbons that victims of abuse and their families had tied to the iron gates … we passed the local cathedral…  where I noticed that the back was clean of ribbons…

IMG_7344

the side gate however had them… and then as we were about to the church entirely we noticed a woman with a huge basket busily tying ribbons to the gate.

IMG_7339

We quickly parked and I went to take pictures. Turns out a loved one had been a victim and committed suicide…. and in the category of there are none so blind as those who will not see… at one point a parishioner came up to the woman who was doing it asking her for what reason was she was putting ribbons up…  There are none so blind as those who will not see… 

Happily…  Pell ultimately DID come home to face charges, and the case is currently making it’s slow path through the Australian courts

I fell down and went boom: my experience with the Australian health care system

Well yesterday did NOT go as planned…

MVIMG_20180126_171153

I just spent a good six hours in the emergency room and my travel plans for the next month or so may be royally screwed up (or at the very least some rescheduling may be required).

So, yesterday in Australia was a national holiday called “Australia Day,” which commemorated the landing of the first boatload of convicts on the shores of what is now Sydney; it is Australia’s equivalent of American’s 4th of July & Columbus Day combined, only it would be like our celebrating the landing at Jamestown, which we don’t do.

My friend that I’m currently traveling with is a first generation Australian, and he wanted to start the day attending an event in support of the Aboriginals. which began with a rally, followed by a march, which ended at a park across the street from some government building (where families with grievances presented them to the powers that be). In the park there were actives, performances, political speeches, and myriad of booths selling or advocating things that would be of interest to the folks who participated in the rally and march.

It was a very hot day, we had gotten up unusually, and in-spite of wearing a hat, and having done a fairly decent job of staying hydrated, I was tired. After, as we were walking around the park, we stopped at this one booth that was selling T-shirts with pro-aboriginal/political “stuff” on them, and at one point I took a step backwards; too late I realized I had just unwittingly stepped backwards off of a lawn and over a curb to a slightly sunken street … backwards… so that right away I was put off balance; and THEN … just to put a cherry on an already bad situation, I spotted the baby carriage that had hooked itself under RIGHT under my foot JUST as I had stepped back to ensure that I would have NO chance to catch myself. My friend described it as a slow motion “arse over tits” moment; he saw what was about to happen but couldn’t stop it…

27990252_10212881308521896_269148247_o (1)
About three weeks later my friend spotted this safety advertisement and said, “I’m afraid this poster gives me flashbacks to your accident a couple of weeks ago. The moment when you were in pretty much this position was frozen into my memory. And I felt as helpless as the guy on the escalator.”, it’s so perfect that I’m adding it to this post.

Apparently he was not alone in this, he said that a bunch of people were like, “oh shit”… while my body was airborne, and before my head hit the ground/pavement with an incredible THUNK (before my body had finished the trip — see above).

Don’t be horrified for the baby, it was fine; the pram was of the sort where the wheels jet out in front of the carriage, so tipped over them without upsetting the baby… it wasn’t hurt. In fact I have been calling then incident a “hit and run by a baby carriage” because the mother didn’t stick around more than the amount of time it took her to make sure her baby was fine. According to my friend she stayed around only for a few minutes after that and then she took off … probably afraid of being blamed.

That said… I lay there for all of a moment in shock, and then began to cry out and curled into the fetal position; my head began to throb and I checked the back of my head for blood (there was a HUGE lump from a acute subdural hematoma, but the skin had not broken, so no blood gushing out of me… but as soon as I turned my head a little to get access to the lump the world began to spin sickeningly. My benign positional vertigo, which had for the most part left me alone these past two year was back with a WILL. Before I was aware of much, a woman was by my side proclaiming herself to be a professional nurse and folks were yelling for help; and not too long after that the emergency staff for the event joined her, took over, checked me, declared no blood, and that they were happy that I hadn’t passed out. (Turns out I’d fallen only a few steps away from their tent, and they’d just been complaining about how bored they were because no one had needed them).

The medical personnel in the course of checking my condition asked me to open my mouth and close it… and right away there was a massive CLICK sound; the force of the impact had essentially “sprained” the tendons that hold the jaw to the rest of the head, and my jaw was dislocating when I opened it. Not good!  Then they asked me a series of questions about my preexisting conditions which I rattled off as best I could (I was having a bit of trouble answering them)…  then after a bit I remembered to tell them that I have a history of herniated disks in my neck which I have had extensive physical therapy for (in my car I even carry around a Saunders Cervical HomeTrac Traction Device, just in case). As such, they weren’t taking any chances, and put me in a head brace and then told me to straighten my legs and not move.

[My friend, who (and I did not know this before the trip) has been an active member of the New South Wales State Emergency Service (NSW SES) ever since he was in high school (and continues to be, checking in with them whenever he’s in the country) … was absolutely great! He held my hand to sooth me when he could and knew when to stay out of the professionals’ way when he couldn’t (all of which makes him doubly useful as a travel companion). That said, at a certain point he began to feel useless and a bit helpless … but remembering how I like to document everything, he started taking pictures to show me later. This made me very happy.]

So… from my perspective the next thing I knew was they were crossing my arms and rolling me on my side in order to put something hard under me (my world began to spin sickeningly) … and then lifted me on to some sort of conveyance, at which point they moved me, telling folks to get out of the way.

IMG_0569.JPG

To quote my friend, I got the fancy police escort through the event to where the ambulance was parked, at which point they transferred me off the jeep, and then essentially tipped me off of the hard plastic orange stretcher and onto the ambulance’s white wheeled one. If you look closely at my face you’ll see I a was NOT enjoying myself… the whole world was spinning sickeningly and at various speeds depending on if they had just tipped me or not, not to mention that my head hurt.

IMG_0570

IMG_20180126_150801

Then they took me to the hospital for a CT scan again tipping me to transfer me between beds… It was NOT a happy time. (Having my friend there with me the whole time, holding my hands and making sure none of my stuff got lost in the fray — he held on to my hat, my cell phone, etc., was all a huge help and a major stress reducer.) … Once they’d finished testing me the good news was no visible brain bleeds and they released me … the bad news was that my positional vertigo was back with a will… really horrible spinning that actually had me dry barfing into a bag just from being repositioned from reclining to sitting (again my friend seeing my distress grabbed me and held me till the spinning stopped, which was a mercy)… They had kept me for 6 hours in a neck restraint; I was not even allowed to bend my knees to try to get comfortable, and let me just say that peeing while laying down is a bitch.

Once we finally home, in order to keep me in a elevated position as I slept, my friend (on my instruction) put a couch cushion on the bed, and I used his travel pillow to support my head … putting the pillows that would normally be under my head under my knees. I know from pervious experience that I’ll be needing to sleep like this for the next few days (it keeps the head steady, because the spinning that would happen as the head normally moves around during sleep could result in my barfing while still asleep — VERY Dangerous — and even if you don’t barf it keeps you from sleep well, which slows down the healing.

As of today the dizzy was so bad I can barely walk… so as to my trip, we’ll see what happens… but we may need to completely redo our plans if my brain doesn’t adjust to the new normal quickly enough ….

That said, the ER visitbecause I’m not an Australian citizen and do not qualify for their national insurance policy, has so far only cost me $138 AU (112.07 US) out of pocket (Jaw drop… ) for having seen the doctor, and while they haven’t charged my card yet, they said because of the CT scan and two other tests, there would be 3 more charges of that amount… so $552 AUD total (or … $432.23 USD!!!)

Seriously, this is the information they handed me about the fees I would have to pay:

From the Hospital’s Medicare ineligible patient fees list (Basically everyone from an overseas country that does not have socialized medicine and a reciprocal agreement with Australia):

Everyone pays a consultation fee of $138.00 AUD  (or 108.06 USD!!!)

Then, for tests:
Pathology test, $138AUD
ECG $138AUD
X-ray $138AUD
etc., (I was assured my CT was the same amount)
Inpatient accommodation for one day (had I needed it would have been): $2,214 AUD
ICU accommodation for one day: $5,616 AUD

Now, let’s keep in mind that in the USA the average cost of an ER visit is about $1,233 USD ($1,574.41 AUD)
… that’s JUST the visit, and maybe a blood test or something…
Then you have to add the AVERAGE cost of a C.T. scan, which is around another $1,200… so about $2,500 for my visit if I’m lucky …. and while based on Obamacare my insurance would have had to pay for it, because of the size of my deductible… which is a whopping 7K — I’d still be paying out of packet … so… other than that amount being applied to my maximum out of pocket, which is also 7k (seriously)… if I were healthy the rest of the year my insurance would essentially pay nothing.

The big unanswered question is how much the the ambulance will cost me. According to my friends THAT is the really expensive charge in Australia, but according to the hospital staffer, he thought it might be only another $200 over that because of how close we were to the hospital, and the fact that I fell down at an insured event (they would according to him pay the lions share of the charge).

but those bills to my card have yet to process — but if what they said holds true my out of pocket in the US WITH insurance covering parts would still run me a heck of a lot more than this will have … and if it that’s the case I’m not even going to bother dealing with the international travel insurance for reimbursement … going to save it for when I need something a hell of beans more expensive.

 

Invasion day/ Australia day: A Rally in support of the Aboriginal population

 

26168255_585319435144528_5797177957101119331_n
The black above, red beneath with a yellow sun in the middle is the flag of the Aborigianl

While the PLAN had been to spend the whole day attending a series of events that were scattered around the city through to the massive fireworks display at night, the only thing we managed to attend was a rally in support of the Australian Aboriginals (because I fell down and went boom). However, while at the march I learned that, their presence on the land, for a myriad of reasons, is STILL not legally recognized, either NOW or historically, because of a legal declaration made by the British 200 years ago that the Australian continent was terra nullius (i.e., empty of humans). The mind boggles, really it does.

On top of that, a major issue that apparently hadn’t really BEEN until just this year, was the fact that Australia day, which celebrates the landing of the first boatload of western settlers is also, from the Aboriginal point of view the day that marks the west’s invasion of their historical lands (kind of like Columbus day and the 4th of July rolled into one).

IMG_6839

Anyway, my friend that I’m traveling with is fairly solidly left wing in his politics, and told me that while I didn’t have to come with if I didn’t want to, this is the event he would be attending first thing in the morning (as in we had wake up way earlier than I’m used to in order to be there on time, which may have been part of why I tripped), but since I didn’t know much about Aboriginals, in spite of my background in Native Americans, I decided I should go with him. AFTER we were going to go do all the more sort of normal celebrate the day things.

The following is the details about the rally from their facebook page:

“Invasion Day 2018 rally:
The war on Aboriginal people continues… Sovereignty and Justice Now! This rally will mark 230 years since British military forces invaded Gadigal land and declared British rule over this continent, along with Aotearoa and other Pacific Islands. While colonial regime continues to hold a day of celebration, we resist the ongoing war against Aboriginal people. From the brutalisation of black youth in detention, the murder of men and women in custody, the theft of children from families, the destruction of Aboriginal lands to feed corporate profits, the apartheid NT Intervention, the forced removal of communities,First Nations on this continent are under heavy assault from a new wave of dispossession. But the fightback is also growing and urgently needs your support. This rally has been initiated by Fighting In Resistance Equally (FIRE), a coalition that organised last years impactful and successful “Invasion Day 2017 rally – no pride in genocide!”
Also the last two successful marches on human rights day, December 10 last year and this year.

FIRE believes that standing against the colonial system and the racist mindset that was brought here in 1788 is crucial to all struggles against oppression and exploitation.”

IMG_6837

 

So yesterday, before I hit the floor and went boom, at the march/protest in support of Aboriginals … I had questions.

Firstly I must admit that my eyebrows went up when we first arrived to see what was clearly socialist types coopting what was supposed to be a pro aboriginal thing with their own stuff… HATE when that happens in the US when whites try to co-opt Native American protests… Or the way I learned that moveon.org, after I signed their initial petition about how the Feds should “move on” from being obsessed with Clinton’s sex life, felt that as I had signed ONE thing they believed in that give them the right to put my electronic signature on EVERY petition they were coming up with … so that now I just won’t sign any of those things anymore and at one point sent MoveOn an angry cease and desist email.

IMG_6841

And then I was SERIOUSLY put off by the fact that they put up a Palestinian guy to speak who was making false comparisons (if you support the Aboriginals you must support the Palestinians) and blaming the Israelis for atrocities that WERE done to the Palestinians, no doubt … ONLY it was by their Jordanians and Syrians “brothers” rather than the Israelis who had done them, but rewriting that history to put it all on Israel’s back… and he even had the audacity to claim we’d done child abductions, when the PLO had ACTUALLY been abducting Christian Lebanese children and turning them into child warriors before the Lebanese war …. I think he thinks that when Israel offers free health care and university degrees and such, we’re abducting their kids… and watching all the young hipsters nodding their heads with how right he was… set me off no end…

Basically (and modern genetic testing techniques back me up on this) we were arguably there before the Palestinians — although more than a few Palestinians would be shocked to learn, and the genetic testing also backs this up, their ancestors had been Jews and were forcibly converted to Islam generations ago at the point of a sword — and we were driven off our land by waves of invaders, and from my perspective Palestinians are a bit like… well some time in an alternative reality future, white people — many of whom are actually have Aboriginal ancestry they have forgotten about — being pissed off because Aboriginals who had escaped the genocide in Australia, got rich, came home and bought up all of Sydney and then declared an Aboriginal state, saying the white people could continue to live there but they would have to adhere to aboriginal law. It in fact would make a pretty good alternative reality book…

Add to that the fact that I was tired, and it was really hot, and I was NOT in a happy mode towards the start of that day…

So I immediately had some doubts about pretty much anything I heard after that… There was a chant, “always was, always will be aboriginal land” which I couldn’t quite make sense of. If it were true, does that mean all the young middle class hipsters who were chanting it were willing to contact some suffering Aboriginal families and put their money where their mouth was? “Hey, I’ve been chanting this, I own a couple of properties around Sydney I inherited from my family…. I’ve decided my family stole it from you guys so HERE, take my property I’m sailing back to the UK?” Don’t think so… so WHAT in fact did the chant mean?

My friend who I travel with was trying to explain it to me, but then a complete stranger who was walking near us, was this nice guy called Luke who offered some very coherent explanations, and for the rest of the march he became my teacher, explaining in a lot of detail stuff I had not known.

With regards to the chant, NO, Luke agreed I was right, none of these guys were likely to hand over their homes, but it was more of a constitutional issue. Until quite recently there hadn’t even been any discussion that the Australian constitution should even recognize Aboriginals as having been there first (which in this day and age is kind of head scratcher, and completely inconsistent with how the rest of the world views Australians), and the constitution here still doesn’t although discussions have commenced. (I did note later to my friend that the ONLY reason the US constitution is any different, in case you didn’t know we have always legally recognized the tribes as “dependent sovereigns” even if we didn’t stand by our words, is because at the time of the founding we were at war with the French and NEEDED the tribes on our side in that war.) But there’s apparently push back from the sort of Australians who would have voted for Trump (the sorts who were wearing Australians flags yesterday, instead of showing up at pro aboriginal protests), who like in the US don’t tend to be the folks living in cities — although some of them do (and it’s pretty easy to spot them on Australia day). To paraphrase his friend Sonja, who we met up with at the event, there are 3 sorts of Australians… the all white and claim their ancestory to early settlers “we’re Australians! This is OUR land” crowd… then there’s the urban yes we’re Australians but we feel really bad about what was done to the Aboriginals crowd, and thirdly the more recent recent immigrants and or refugees or first generations folks who are of the “we’re just happy to be here” crowd…. but then we agreed there’s a 4th group, the “who gives a fuck about politics this is just a day off work” crowd. And I learned there’s a Northern territory that isn’t actually under the same laws as the rest of the country (from a legal viewpoint a bit like Louisiana which has a completely different legal system from the rest of the USA, or Canadian territories which aren’t actually states) and in these Northern territories some pretty gruesome stuff is still happening, kids still being separated from parents without due process, etc — which I had not ever heard about before.

So I learned a lot. It was good… and after that we attended a thing in a park where aboriginal dance groups and singers performed, and various aboriginal artists exhibited their works

IMG_6850

After, I found these articles about the march in Sydney and some others around the country… was kind of hoping I’d spot me of my friend in the march, but so far no luck.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/jan/25/invasion-day-rally-where-protests-will-be-held-across-australia

http://www.news.com.au/national/nsw-act/hundreds-gather-for-invasion-day-protest-march-in-sydney/news-story/fb0f514ff0088107a2b6b0b307d6bb1a

http://www.news.com.au/national/hope-australia-burns-to-the-ground-tens-of-thousands-protest-across-the-country/news-story/558c5aabea78c258cdf9c155259497c4

http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/invasion-day-rally-in-sydney-draws-thousands-of-protesters-20180126-h0orw4.html

IMG_6852

Observations about Australia

One thing I’ve learned: the Australian government offices have the good sense to set up customer support booths for various services that need to be completed on-line, and they do it in city malls (next to basic needs things, like grocery stores — which are ALSO located in said malls)…. how brilliant is that?!

IMG_5114IMG_5112

In addition, a lot of the post offices are ALSO in these same said malls (buy your gifts and send them without having to leave the cool embrace of central air) … I’m thinking with the way malls are going in the US currently, maybe our government/postal authorities should be thinking about doing the same thing. Just saying.

And a 2nd thing… Just like in Canada, pretty much every point of sale in Australia allows you to tap your credit card to pay (instead of swiping like in the USA). For folks who are using credit cards, they still need to put in a pin… but for those of us using our phones, or the Apple watch, no such 2nd step is required (because the pin or thumbprint we have to use to open said devices is functionally the same second verification of ownership).

Shop staff here in Australia are used to the credit card and pin (which is the norm in most of the rest of the world — US is behind on this), and have gotten somewhat used to people who use their phones instead, but I’ve lost count of the people whose faces have lit up with delight and “wow, I’ve never seen that before” or “we’re in the future now!” or “COOL!” at seeing me do it with my Apple watch.  EVEN drink machines at train stations accept a tap from my apple watch! So no more digging for coins, or having to break up larger bills… in fact because of the fact that tap us used almost EVERYWHERE here in Australia, during the last few weeks I’ve only accumulated THREE coins in my pocket!!

IMG_5047

And as someone who has a LONG habit of losing her credit cards (a trait that is particularly painful when traveling internationally), the fact that I’ve only had to pull that sucker out of my wallet twice in the last three weeks has made my life SO much easier and more secure.

 

BATS!!! Sydney, Australia has VERY big bats, and a lot of them

BATS!!!!! Great big flying bats!! And I mean they’re huge,

IMG_6481

Apparently the locals call them “Flying-Foxes” and there are three different species in town

IMG_6489

I’ve seen them in zoos, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in the wild… and its not just one or two, it’s like there are thousands of them and they just don’t stop coming

IMG_6487

I can’t know for sure but I’m thinking these ones might be the Grey-headed flying foxes which apparently are the biggest variety living in Australia… cause they’re frigging huge…. and they just kept coming and coming… I was standing there shooting picture of these guys for like 20 minutes, just mesmerized.

IMG_6484

My friend, who is from Sydney said he’s never sure when he sees this nightly display — which happens in parts of town that the bats seem to prefer — if its thousands of them or if its the same bunch just circling

IMG_6465

However, according to what I read while prepping this post, there aren’t as many bats as there were a few weeks ago. Earlier in the month, while I was at the sea shore and Sydney had that record breaking heat wave, the bats were literally dying on the trees where they hung.