Life in Oz

Five Places You Must See in Western Australia

The holidays are winding down and real winter…unrelenting winter…freezing, ice-scraping, too many clothing layers winter…is making itself entirely too much at home.  You are thinking of escaping. To anywhere that has sunshine.

Welcome to Western Australia, the sunniest state in Australia. Its land mass constitutes nearly a third of the whole country and its topography runs the full gamut from lush green to desert.  Whether you are escaping now or planning for next year, here are some of WA’s ‘hottest’ spots to visit.

  1. Karijini National Park.   Amidst the red earth of the Pilbara area’s mineral mining mecca is this jewel.   Almost nothing but sun as you dip into any (all!) of the park’s incredible rock pools, walk along the trails leading to waterfalls, abseil a few gorges and marvel in this desert oasis.  Make a point to visit Oxers lookout, where four separate creeks merge to form an incredible waterfall.
  2. Shark Bay World Heritage Area.  Swim with whale sharks at this area that attracts thousands of domestic and foreign travelers each year.  Don’t miss Shell Beach.  The ‘sand’ is made up of millions of tiny cockle shells and stretches for 70 miles. There are only two like it in the world. Drop  into Pearlers restaurant in Denham which is made entirely of shell blocks carved out of the beach.
  3. Kalgoorlie.  The wild west of OZ- just stroll the town’s historic main street and you’ll see it is so.  Visit Australia’s largest open-cut mine, The Super Pit.  It is said to be visible from outer space.  This is Gold Country so plan on striking it rich while panning for gold and learn about WA’s rich mining heritage.
  4. The Great Southern region.  Head south for a bit of green and cooler temperatures.  WA’s diversity is evident with a trip through the majestic Karri forests near Pemberton.  The Karri tree is the third tallest in the world.  Further south in Denmark (the city, not the country) to walk along the famous Tree Top Walk through Tingle trees.  It’s also a great area to do some apple picking- Pink Lady being a regional favorite.
  5. Margaret River.   A southern wine region spreading inwards from the Indian Ocean that is developing an international reputation and certainly gives the eastern states’ wine regions a run for their money. Nearby are some ancient caves waiting to be explored.

This is a huge state with much to offer but is often overlooked by tourists to the eastern cities of Sydney and Melbourne because of the distance away. Don’t be lulled by an opera house away from this greatest of Australia’s jewels.  Plan on renting a car and learning to drive on the left side of the road for an experience like no other.

One Thing Found in Every Aussie Home

There is one thing sure to be found in every Aussie home.  I’ll give you a hint:  it is a book.

If your first guess was the Bible, a natural choice,  it is an incorrect one.

It is, in fact, a cookbook.  The Country Women’s Association, guardian angels of women and children all over this sunburnt land, publishes a cookbook.  Actually, each state’s organization publishes their own. Western Australians have been clutching  a dark blue book with white lettering  now for 75 years.  This was a lifeline for rural and remote families who needed resources and reassurance which could not be found close at hand.

And while there still are families in remote areas – indeed, much of Western Australia is “remote”-  modern technology has closed the distance.  Still, the familiar blue book remains in memory and in practice an integral part of Australian living. People can quote you the page number of their family favorite [“page 109, Chocolate Sauce Pudding”] , they’ll want to make sure the Yorkshire Pudding recipe [page 56] is right or the real name of Lemon Fizz [Lemon Swiss, page 140]. Microwave instructions have brought it up to date.

It’s not all recipes.  Starting on page 379 are special hints on banishing cockroaches (boric acid), washing sparkly glassware (lemon juice in rinse water), cleaning wine stains (tomato juice) or curing warts (lime powder).   For the still self-sufficient remote resident, there are instructions on how to make soap and weave doormats from “motor tubes”.   Want the instructions for Dry Tanning sheepskins?  Look it up on page 385.

You’ll be pleased to hear that it has an international section. I find it rather …interesting…that recipes such  as Chop Suey, American Hamburger and a two ingredient (?!) Waldorf Salad are included in the American section.   A rather interesting window on how Australians view our cuisine.

And a rather interesting book.

Melbourne Cup

November   – the height of the Spring season.  Nothing gets in the way of its traditions, including work.  Well, almost.  On the first Tuesday of every November, the seventh race at Flemington in Melbourne is known as the Melbourne Cup.   If you are staying in the Mornington Peninsula then it is a great opportunity to participate in an exciting day and experience a little bit of history. It has been running since 1861 and over the years a certain tradition has developed on this fine day.  Ladies wear their new hats and frocks for an all-day strolling fashion show.  Some guys wear outfits they wouldn’t be caught dead in at any other time or place, be it outrageous or impossibly British formal.  The champagne flows, bands play, celebrities mug for cameras and money passes the tote.

A grand diversion with a grand consequence.  So focused on frivolity  (instead of working) were the residents of that city that it became an official day-off work holiday.  Woo hoo, no more need to think of a bogus reason to skip work to watch the ponies!  But why celebrate this two mile race in just one day? The party at Flemington lasts for a few days, giving ample opportunity for corporate sponsorship and desperate to be seen glitterati to milk it for all it is worth.

“That’s Melbourne,”  you might say.  Why would other states care? Well, everyone wants a shrimp on this barbie.  And as no one else gets the day off from work, they take the party to work.  Every workplace has some sort of race sweep going. Walking through the Central Business District of any city are many ladies wearing fascinators (a mini-hat of frothy feather and ribbon)  fluttering like butterflies on the side of their heads.  Party pies, cake slices and the occasional bottle of bubbly appear in work lunchrooms—proper accoutrement to the race doubtless playing on every available television screen.

It is often referred to as the “race that stops a nation.”  Indeed, for a short while, it is.  While you make think it is odd that a people would take a day off work for a horse race, Melbournians think it odd that  on this very same day Americans do not get the day off to vote on Election Day. Go figure.

Introducing Tasmania

First things first:  Tasmania is NOT a foreign country floating somewhere in the Andaman Sea.   It is the island state of Australia at the country’s most southern point it is further south than Mornington Peninsula.   Actually, it’s a collection of islands much like Hawaii but that’s where the similarity ends.  There is nothing tropical about the weather at this last stop before the Antarctica, rather entirely more like Wisconsin or Michigan in weather . The western 37% of Tasmania is reserve land,  mountainous and snowbound in the winter.

Most of its half million people reside in the eastern and northern part of the state.   An interesting bunch, this lot.  Almost everyone is related  to a crook.  Tasmania was settled by the British as a penal colony,  and where this was once a fact to be hidden, most people today embrace their … colorful… ancestry.  There is a lot free spirit found here in the form of ageing hippies and their organic produce and earth friendly products.  Despite the rumors you’ll hear on the mainland, no one in Tasmania has two heads (a not-so-veiled hint at small island inbreeding.)   The state seems to be losing heads to the mainland anyway.   Unemployment in Tassie is the highest in the country.  The apple, beer (Cascade and Boag) , cheese (King Island cheese & beef is second to none!) and tourism industry cannot make this beautiful state more attractive to young workers and industries that would employ them.  Retirees, however, find this a most suitable place.

Another misconception to correct is the Tasmanian Devil.  Warner Brothers got the strong jaw and irritable temper correct but the rest is a bit fanciful.  The Tassie devil, found in the wild only in Tassie,  is small and black with a white collar. It is also suffering from a facial tumor that has been spreading like wildfire for 15 years now.  Conservation and breeding programs are a high priority for the residents of the state.  Unfortunately, this has also brought out bogus organizations looking to capitalize on people’s concern and generosity.      Also capturing the natives’ fancy is the Tasmanian Tiger—more of a canine with stripes and huge mouth than a big cat.  The last Tassie Tiger is said to have died in 1936 but tragics still hold out hope that their sightings and scat collections will resurrect the state emblem.   And for all you wombat fans ,  wombat poop perfectly square bricks so identifying their scat is easy enough.

Some famous Tasmanians:  actor Errol Flynn,  actor Simon Baker (from  “The Mentalist”) and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark  who met her handsome prince during the Sydney Olympics.