Saturday, January 13, 2007

In the Land of Oz (Part 3 - Am I blue? Maybe, maybe not!)

On Monday, we decided to get some real Aussie culture, so we headed off to a really interesting – and free! – exhibition at the State Library on convicts who escaped (sometimes successfully, more often not) from the penal colonies. The stories were like something out of a "boys own" adventure - ranging from crossing the Pacific in an open rowboat to cannibalism and adoption into aboriginal tribes. Fascinating tales, each and every one, and they really gave you a sense of the character of the place at that time. Which was, in a word, NASTY!

Tuesday we took a very educational and entertaining day-trip to the Blue Mountains – this huge mountain range about an hour and a half west of Sydney. [The Blue Mountains are, by the way, neither blue nor mountains, as it turns out. Who knew?]


Our small tour - about 20 people or so – was led by a really great guide, who also happened to be a proper Aussie bloke. Among the highlights were the sheer cliff-faces of Table-something-or-other Mountain,


a bush hike with a rather sad-looking waterfall at the end of it (caused by very low water levels due to a severe drought),


a rather-too-exiting ride on an incline railway (which seemed almost perpendicular to me!)

followed by a really interesting and informative walk through a temperate rainforest.

Oddly, it reminded me a lot of the west coast of Canada (except for the giant fern trees and the lyre bird we spied among the undergrowth). The walk finished up with a cable-car ride back to the summit of the mountain.

We also got to view a 400+ year-old aboriginal rock carving of a kangaroo - I was amazed to find it was just off a little side street in a residential area. No barriers or anything!


Then we visited a National Park where we got to view the real thing – wild kangaroos! – up close and personal. Because they’re protected as long as they’re in the park, the kangaroos didn't have any fear of humans and just ignored us as long as we didn't get too close. One of the kangaroos had this enormous joey in her pouch, but all we could see were these huge feet hanging out almost to the ground. I could understand the long-suffering look on her face. (Sometimes it's just impossible to get the kids to leave home!)


On the way back down the mountain we got another taste of true Aussie culture. It was Melbourne Cup day (the premiere horse race Down Unda – its something like Ascot Day in Britain: hats, alcohol and horses), and our guide turned on the radio so we could hear the race. To our delight, the race ended with a nose-to-nose finish with two relative unknowns taking the prizes. The Olympic Stadium (our next stop) was a bit of a bust after all that excitement, but we did enjoy the ferry ride back to Sydney down the Paramatta River.

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