Helping Make The Magic Happen

We’ve just had a national election. I’m not here to opine about the result. (For the record, the incumbent conservative government was ousted on a wave of green and teal.)

What I am here to opine about is being a part of the magic that is a well run democracy. We are (increasingly, as it seems) lucky in Australia to have access to uncorrupted elections. Our electoral process is overseen by the independent Australian Electoral Commission. The AEC is responsible for maintaining voter rolls, drawing electoral boundaries to allow for equal representation and conducting federal elections. (Each state also has an equally independent state based commission to oversee state elections.)

Voting is compulsory in Australia (you are marked off the voter roll when you vote, sent a fine if you do not). You can argue whether this is overkill or not but I support the concept because it stops the major parties from only appealing to their base. There’s a vast middle ground that vote that they have to try and keep onside.

I have worked as a polling official at almost every state and federal election since 2007. In the beginning I loved it because it gave me a day away from the children with adult conversation and I got paid for it! But now, as a working mother of adult children, I love it because I get to help people participate in our democracy.

Last Saturday (did I mention that our elections are always held on a Saturday when most people are able to vote?) I was employed as an Ordinary Vote Issuing Officer (as opposed to a Declaration Vote Issuing Officer – as I’ve done in the past – which just means helping people outside the electorate of the polling booth cast their vote). This entailed not only issuing ballot papers to voters but also, on occasion, being Ballot Box Guard, Queue Controller or Hygiene Officer (this one is a new COVID role – wiping down polling booths, vote issuing tables and the pencils used to vote (sorry, did I not mention that all our ballots are cast on paper?)).

Why did I want to write this post?

Because…

I got to share in the excitement of those who were voting in their first election.* You could pick them. The excited faces, often accompanied by mum or dad (or both), the keenness to be a part of the process.

I was able to help a woman with an intellectual impairment undertake her right to vote with support from a carer. Those familiar with my blog will know that I work in Special Education. It thrilled me no end that I was the table this woman came to for her papers.

I loved the young families that came to vote. I would joke with the little children that they were here to help Mum and/or Dad vote and could they count to 9? (The number of candidates on the House of Representatives paper in that electorate. We have preferential voting and every box must be numbered to indicate your preferences. This is so that if your top choice doesn’t get enough votes to win, your 2nd, 3rd or 4th choice may get up.) On our Senate paper, you could vote ‘above the line’ for the parties or ‘below the line’ for the individual candidates. When I’d finished explaining this to one father, his little girl told me she could count to twelve. While Dad thought he should hurry her along, I waited patiently while she showed me her counting prowess. It filled my soul with joy and love.

During a spell as Hygiene Officer, I noticed an older woman spending a long time in the voting booth and she did look over at me a couple of times. I approached her and asked if she needed help. She was feeling very overwhelmed by the Senate paper and I worked with her patiently to number six preferences above the line (she had managed one but then got stuck). I did not, as is stressed in our training, offer any opinion on her choices but just helped her get to number six to ensure her vote was valid.

I arrived at the polling booth at 7am. Doors opened at 8am. We were flat out until at least 5pm and then voting closed at 6pm. That’s a long time for an introvert to have to talk to a lot of people. And yet, I was energised, not depleted. I guess that comes down to the servant gene taking precedent over the shy introvert.

After the polls close, it is then the role of polling officials to open the ballot boxes and sort and count the ballots under the scrutiny of party scrutineers. At one point I and another worker were sorting the smaller vote tallied candidates into the two party preferred (how the preferences flowed for the two candidates with the biggest first preference votes – usually the two major Australian parties, Labor and the Liberal-National Party Coalition) and we had about six scrutineers gathered around us. “I don’t feel intimidated at all!” I said. They had the decency to laugh. But I welcomed them because it is a part of the integrity of our elections. Scrutineers cannot touch the ballot papers but they are there to ensure that those of us sorting and counting are doing it right.

My day ended at 10.30pm. That’s a long day. But I was filled with happiness because I had been a crucial part of our democracy.

There’s a state election in November. I can’t wait to be a part of that too.

*The Youngest Son was voting in his first election too. But he was working at another booth so I wasn’t there to see it. He was also working in a booth outside his own electorate so he had to go through the process of an absentee vote. I could have taken him for pre-poll voting before the day but it just didn’t happen. In a way, I’m kind of glad he had to see how that side of the process works.

PS The Eldest Son also worked for the election, counting some of the pre-poll votes. And while the Middle Son did not work at the election, he took his role as voter very seriously and happily voted out an under-performing candidate in his electorate. There is a great gift in teaching your children that democracy is important and you have to be a part of it.

What has been your role in the pursuit of democracy in your country?

Great Ocean Walk – I’m Mad But Not Stupid (Mostly)

I just undertook my first solo multi-day hike, part of my new Do The Thing You Think You Cannot Do project. I spent seven days hiking the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria’s Otways National Park.

The recommended itinerary for this hike is eight days. I stuck one ‘double’ day (skipping a campsite) in the middle to keep the length down to a manageable level between Easter and the new school term starting. I was pretty sure I could handle 20+ kilometre days (having done the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker without sleep 3 times – you can read about two of them here and here) but this was my first ‘thru-hike’ and I thought I should give myself some room to manoeuvre, particularly because some of the sections involved beach walking subject to tides.

The verdict? I loved it! This is the beginner thru-hiker’s ideal trail. The distances are manageable, the campsites are fabulous and the signposting is the best I’ve seen.

Are there hard bits? Of course.

There’s beach walking. For anyone from outside Victoria, let me warn you, Victorian sand is brutal. It is soft, it is deep and it doesn’t care how tired you are.

There are hills. Some call them lung-busting. I call them glute-busting because that is the bit of me that hurt the most at the top.

There are stairs. Soooo many stairs in some cases. Pace yourself.

But because, on the full itinerary, the distances are pretty small (between 10-16 kilometres) you have the option to either push hard all morning and then relax in the camp for the afternoon (usually my MO) or to take your time, take plenty of breaks and still be in camp in time for an afternoon cup of tea or coffee (if you bring enough gas – more on that later). I honestly believe you could do this hike as a family with kids if you took your time. Of course, tide times come into it so you may have a hard push at times but there’s not that many compulsory beach walks that require such effort so don’t stress.

So, here’s a quick run down of my journey. Distances are according to the GOW guide, not necessarily what my Garmin watch told me. Times are what was on my watch but should be taken with a grain of salt because I more often than not forgot to turn it off when I got to camp.

Day 1 Apollo Bay to Elliot Ridge Distance 10km Time 2.5 hours

I was happy for this leg to be short because it started with a 2 hour and 15 minute bus ride from my home town. I also took time for a burger, fries and beer lunch at the Apollo Bay Hotel because you need carbs, right?

The weather on this day was not fab and by the time I arrived in camp things were decidedly damp. Each of the GOW campsites have fabulous shelters with benches and tables. Unfortunately, at Elliot Ridge, a mother and daughter had decided to set up camp in the shelter. Yes, including the tent. I can only be grateful that they were attempting to do the hike in, effectively, four and a half days so I never saw them again and they were gone by the time the rest of us in camp needed to pack up our tents in the rain. It’s useful to be able to store your gear in a shelter while you dismantle your tent.

It was at this camp that I met a couple from Melbourne who would be my company through the remainder of the walk (although we had a couple of different campsites in the next few legs due to bookings).

Day 2 Elliot Ridge to Blanket Bay 12km Time: 3.5 hours

I can’t say this was the most interesting leg, the bulk of it being along fire management trails. With the added rain, the only adrenaline was expended trying to pick my way across the muddy sections without getting my feet wet. (I choose to wear non-waterproof shoes – if you want to know why, there’s an explanation at the end of this post.) I did, at one point, fail in this endeavour and incur one damp foot but otherwise the wet didn’t really dampen the enthusiasm. [laughs at own wittiness with words]

A soggy tea break. Yes, I brought a chair. So sue me.

Blanket Bay was one of my favourite campsites. I really like that there are separate GOW campsites in places that also include a ‘normal’ campsite (for car and caravan campers and the like) in the recognition that GOW hikers are unlikely to want to party into the wee hours (well, at least until 10pm when it’s recommended campers consider others) and much more likely to be in bed by 8pm at the absolute latest. I loved it because it was, simply, beautiful. Especially when the moon began to rise over the ocean.

Day 3 Blanket Bay to Cape Otway 11km Time: 3 hours

Had I known (read ‘bothered to research’) that the Cape Otway Lightstation was closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays, I suspect I would have pushed on to Aire River on this day. What do you do with a whole half day when the main attraction is closed? I don’t completely regret it because Cape Otway GOW Camp is rather lovely but it did feel a bit like a wasted day.

Day 4 Cape Otway to Johanna Beach 24km Time: 5.5 hours

This was my long day and I knew that it would end with a long-ish beach walk and a river crossing at Johanna Beach. At this point, I will confess that despite growing up near the Victorian southern coast that coast often scares me to death. So I take high tide times seriously. Unfortunately for me, high tide on Johanna Beach was scheduled for 3pm. With a long hike ahead of me, I felt I had no alternative than to head off at some ungodly hour of the morning to ensure I hit the beach as far away from high tide as possible.

I got up, packed up and was away by 5:40am. I pushed hard. I ate pop tarts for breakfast without stopping. I got to Johanna Beach at 10:25am. Made it to camp at 11.30. The couple I met at Elliot Ridge came many hours later and still managed a calm crossing of Johanna Beach. So maybe the ultra-early start wasn’t totally warranted but on the plus side I got the best camp spot in the best campsite on the walk.

Million dollar views for $17 a night

And I’m not sorry I took the safe route. To be honest, Johanna Beach scared me. The power of the waves was both awesome and fearsome and I was left with no questions as to why this section of the coast is known as the Shipwreck Coast. Would I have loved a dip in the sea to feel clean? You bet. Did I take a dip in the sea? Not on your life (or, more accurately, mine).

A sound of the sea

(Not at Johanna Beach but just to give you an idea. Johanna Beach was much wilder.)

BUT. This was, by far, my favourite leg of the walk. If I had a friend who said to me “I just want to walk one leg, which one should I do?” this is the one I would recommend. It was the one that best showcased the Otways. There were sand dunes, there were cliff tops, there was rainforest, there was beach walking. If you only have time for one section of the Great Ocean Walk, choose this one. Plus, it ends with the most scenic of the GOW-dedicated campsites. So for all you ‘I’m on a limited time budget’ folks, this, THIS, is the leg you should do. IMHO, of course.

Day 5 Johanna Beach to Ryans Den 14km Time: 3.5 hours

If the previous leg was my best, this is my worst. The first 7.5km are basically along road.

I guess, if you’re foreign and kangaroos excite you (rather than being a rather tasty choice in the meat section of the supermarket) you may find it a tad more interesting but seriously, what hiker enjoys walking along a road for many kilometres?

The remainder was basically horrible hills and stairs. Thankfully, the campsite was lovely.

A sunset view from the campsite lookout

A note about GOW campsites: Some of the sites have ‘Group’ sites as you first walk in. These are designed, obviously, for groups. Beyond this, you will find individual numbered sites. There’s a helpful map at the entry to each camp so you can suss out in advance which is the best one to aim for if you’re early enough to have first pick. As an introvert, I loved the little tucked away campsites. If you are of the more sociable type, you could, at least in low season, set up your tent in the group section to join the gang. However, not all campsites cater to groups so at some point you will have to enjoy your own company. Although, in my experience, the bonding that goes on among GOW hikers means you’ll never really ever be on your own.

Having arrived early, as always, it was an enjoyable excursion to follow the Ryans Den Track to visit Ryans Den with a couple of my fellow hikers.

Bush Tucker – I was lucky enough to have connected with a hiker who knew a bit about indigenous food (bush tucker). As a consequence, I will never be able to hike anywhere without identifying Warrigal Greens, Australia’s indigenous answer to spinach. And a welcome addition of fresh greens to my evening meal. Pig Face is also edible, I believe, but I didn’t get the chance to try that.

Day 6 Ryans Den to Devils Kitchen 13km 3.5 hours

Once again, tides played into my plans. I was super keen to see Wreck Beach and the anchor of the ‘Fiji’ and the wreckage of the ‘Marie Gabrielle’. So my plan was to leave Ryans Den early, get to Devils Kitchen camp, dump my backpack in the shelter and then access Wreck Beach from the camp end, walk to the other end, and follow the usual trail back again to camp.

When I am motivated, I can move. I left Ryans Den at 6am and reached Devils Kitchen at 9:30am. Low tide being at around 8am, this was good. I took the path from camp to the beach – all downhill on a grassy slope so of course I ran it. And startled a couple of dropped-off day hikers in the process.

Sunrise on the way to Devils Kitchen

The shortened sleep, minimal breakfast (being half a protein cookie) and pushing hard were worth it as I got to experience the deep emotional input that is there for the taking on Wreck Beach.

My headmaster at primary school was Jack Loney. He had a fascination for the shipwreck history of the Victorian coast (and many other parts of Australia) and published many books, one of which I am proud to own. It has given me something of an emotional connection to the maritime history of my region and I am not embarrassed to admit that the wreckage of the Marie Gabrielle caused me a moment of great emotional anguish as I thought of all the lives lost along this treacherous coast.

At the other end of the beach, I took a moment. To think. To feel. And, to be honest, to enjoy a small snack in the rare sunshine.

My day ended with a climb up the many steps from Wreck Beach, a wander along to the Gables Lookout and then a leisurely stroll back to camp. The other couple were there, having chosen the option of leaving their packs at the top of the steps of Wreck Beach, walking the beach to the camp and now to walk back to pick up their packs. I let them pick their camp spot despite them insisting I got there first. As I had tried to explain to them on an earlier leg, I did not get to camp first to claim the best spot but because, as a runner, when I hit a hard section, rather than my brain saying “take a rest”, it always says “push through the pain and get to the end”. I had the best spots at the last two campsites. I am always happy to share.

Even the toilet had a view at this campsite

Day 7 Devils Kitchen to The 12 Apostles

With an agreed meeting time of 12 noon (at the 12 Apostles – get it?) with the Husband who was kindly driving down to pick me up, I had intended to leave by 8am. Unfortunately I slept through the alarm on my watch and awoke at 7am. I have never dressed and packed up my sleep system so fast (14 minutes). I still allowed myself breackfast, using the last of my gas to half heat my last cup of water and then submitting to failure and receiving some extra gas from a couple in camp to have my last cup of coffee.*

*I honestly had researched the minimum gas I thought I could get away with (weight always being a consideration) and that had resulted in me bringing one 100g canister. I was wrong. I could feel, by the night of Day 4, that my gas was dangerously low. Fellow hikers gave me boiling water for my meal on that night. But here’s the thing. Taking up solo hiking as a challenge means, to me at least, managing my choices. It was my choice to bring so little gas therefore it was my choice to have to deal with that. So, despite being offered boiling water from one hiking couple and gas for my stove from another, on my last night I chose a cold soaked couscous dinner (my emergency meal) rather than my scheduled freeze-dried meal. I skipped breakfast that morning and ate a protein cookie instead. Then I had only some granola to add cold water to on the last morning. But I was weak and desperate for a cup of coffee so I thought I would see if I could boil one last cup from what gas I had left. It half heated it, then ran out. It seemed such a waste to just let it go cold, so I dashed down to the gas canister couple expecting just to use their stove to finish heating my water. They had, however, already packed up, but were happy to donate the last of their second gas canister (being more savvy than I) to me. It was a win-win, really. I got a cup of coffee and they didn’t have to pack out an almost empty can of gas.

Soon I was on my way, and once walking, I can turn on the speed. I overtook the gas canister couple within about half an hour. The boiling water couple, who had left much earlier, I met at Princetown. They let me go ahead, accurately assuming I would be faster. I can be something of a homing pigeon and a scent of the finish line has me picking up speed. I made it to the Gibson Steps (where one can descend to sea level to view two of the remarkable stone stacks) at 11.30am. So, rather than risk a too late arrival tide-wise to visit the beach, I decided to walk down the eleventy-hundred steps to the beach with my pack for some memorable photos.

Then back up the steps (with numerous breaks, refer to previous reference to carrying my pack) and on to the 12 Apostles Visitor Centre, my meeting point for the family. I made it at 12 noon on the dot. They did not make it until 12.15.

The Husband and Eldest Son arrived to welcome the conquering hero and get a gander at the 12 Apostles that they had either never seen or had not seen for decades. (The Youngest Son declined to come stating, apparently “Why would I sit in a car for 4 hours to see a pile of rocks I’ve seen before?” Children…. who’d have them?)

We actually made it onto the beach again at the Gibson Steps but better safe than sorry, right?

And then we headed home and my adventure was over, just like that.

Post-Hike Blues

Of course, no one likes to tell you about the two and a half hours you spend after you get home unpacking and cleaning your gear.

Pack It In, Pack It Out, Leave No Trace

That’s the hiker’s mantra and promise to the environment through which we journey and marvel. There are no bins on the Great Ocean Walk because one, as a hiker of this amazing trail, is expected to care for that environment and take out whatever one brings in. I was quite pleased to keep my garbage to a minimum and pack out a not-yet-full ziplock bag of rubbish.

A Story of Stupidity and A Lesson Learned

With time to kill at Cape Otway, I went off for a walk, wandering back along the trail I had taken into Cape Otway camp in search of a decent view of the lightstation (inconveniently closed). Spotting a path leading off the main trail as many had before with a middling view within a metre or two of the trail, I followed it in hopes of a spectacular viewpoint. With each turn, I expected this will be it. Until, with sudden horror, I realised I was within about 5 metres of the edge of a very high cliff. I turned to go back, only to realise that the slope down that had seemed manageable, going up was almost impossible. I was on loose, slippery sand. There were tree branches but which were safe to hold without breaking? There was no option but to dig in my knees and carefully choose each branch or tree trunk that seemed least likely to give way and plunge me to my death. I had been carrying the GOW guide map book. I had to toss it ahead of me to a spot I was sure it would not slide away so I had two hands to pull myself away from certain death. I made it safely back to the main trail but I now have a healthy scepticism for any path that leads away from the main one with promises of a better view. I chastised myself for being so stupid but gave thanks that it ended not in tragedy.

So Why Not Waterproof Shoes?

I’ve done a ton of research on this topic, going back 10 years to my first attempt to complete the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km Challenge. The beauty of non-waterproof shoes is that should you get water in your shoes (and let’s face it, it’s pretty much inevitable on a hike particularly on the coast), it just leaks away and eventually the heat of your foot will dry both your sock and the shoe. If, however, your shoes are waterproof (usually by being treated with Gore-Tex), ain’t no water gonna leak out of that shoe once it gets in and you’ll be sloshing your way all the way to camp. If you have high boots, then I guess you can risk waterproofing because you’re less likely to get water in them in the first place but for someone who prefers trail shoes to boots, non-waterproof is definitely the go.

Should You Attempt The Great Ocean Walk?

Of course you should! I do believe that taken in its full 8 day itinerary this is a very manageable hike for moderately fit walkers. Of course, you don’t have to carry a full pack and camp out. There are many travel companies that offer full service or self-catered options who will drop you off at the start of a section and pick you up at the end to sleep in comfort. Personally, I think you miss a little something of the GOW community not staying in camp but take any method you can to experience this magical coastline.

Honestly, if beginner-hiker-50-something-year-old me can do it…

Goldfields Track Part 1

The Goldfields Track is a 210km network of trails that runs from Buninyong, south of Ballarat to Bendigo through the gold mining towns of Central Victoria. The trail can be covered by bike or on foot, in one large thru-hike or in small sections or day walks. It combines the Eureka, Wallaby, Dry Diggings and Leanganook Tracks to take you through varying landscapes on walking tracks, fire access roads and single track forest trails past the remnants of the historical era that formed Victoria.

I’m undertaking this track in two pieces, the first of which I completed last week with my brother.

Day 1 Outskirts of Ballarat to Slaty Creek Campground No.1 (We started on the outskirts because we are forest kind of people and chose to skip the city trails.)

Distance covered: 15.40km

Time taken (excluding meal breaks): 3hr 44m

Chapel Flat, once the site of a Wesleyan Chapel. Perfect lunch stop.

Day 2 Slaty Creek Campground No.1 to Mullens Dam

Distance covered: Official on watch 25.12km plus estimated 4km when I forgot to turn watch back on after lunch. Est. total: 29km

Time taken (excluding meal breaks and 4km pause on watch): 5hr 48m

Mullens Dam

Day 3 Mullens Dam to Daylesford

Distance covered: 22.51km

Time taken (excluding meal breaks): 5hr 10m

Lake Daylesford

Day 4 Daylesford to the Chocolate Mill

Distance covered: 20.00km

Time taken (excluding meal breaks): 4hr 49m

Can you think of a better end point for a 4 day hike?

Trails

The Goldfields Track is very well marked so it is not particularly necessary to take a map but there are some points where cyclists take a different route to walkers and while the signs will indicate this, we found it useful to have the map to check. We also changed our route a bit so a map was useful to find our way. You can get an excellent guide book with maps and points of interest from here.

For walkers, most of the trails are on bush tracks, usually single track so if you are someone who needs to converse to another person beside you, this may not be the hike for you. There are wider sections on fire trails and access roads. There’s also a rather horrendous (at least it was for us) 10km stretch of gravel and then bitumen road before Mollongghip. Thank goodness we had already decided to skip the township and cut through to Six Mile Siding on the way to Mullens Dam via Dredge Track in the Wombat State Forest. You could visibly see us relax the minute we stepped back under the tree canopy onto a dirt track.

Do be careful, though. The paths can be quite rocky and gravelly and it is easy to slip or trip. I almost headbutted a marker post when my foot slipped and I lost my balance. Fortunately I missed the post and landed on my backpack. No harm done. I recommend a hiking pole. (I had one but in this case it didn’t save me. It did a number of other times though so highly recommend at least one.)

If you want to chat, it will have to be to the back of the person in front of you. (Track following the original water race for the miners.)

Most trails are marked on the Goldfields Track maps so if you want to change your route and take some different trails it’s not too hard to do.

There are also several extra side trips you can make if you so wish such as a loop into the town of Creswick, a trip to Sailor’s Falls or to explore the Three Lost Children Walk.

Named after three small boys who wandered off from Daylesford and perished in the bush. Story here.

History

The most exciting aspect of this walk is literally walking through history. The remnants of the gold rush of the 1850s are everywhere. Shafts, mullock heaps, water races, building ruins and old tram and train lines scatter the landscape. Sometimes you have to shake yourself to remember that these remains are from people who lived, worked and dreamed of finding gold here more than 150 years ago.

Nature

You’ll rarely be bored on this walk as you journey through changing environments from the wet temperate forests near Daylesford to dry plains near Castlemaine, from deep creek gullies to wheezing hills, through towns built on the wealth of gold, past pine plantations and paddocks of sheep and cows. Animals and birds will also be in aplenty if you’re quick enough to spot them. I found talking to the cows a good way to take my mind off a tedious hilly road and who could ever tire of birdsong in the forest?

Sleeping

There are a number of campsites along the route and ‘wild’ camping is permitted in the Wombat State Forest under certain conditions. Check with Parks Victoria. (Pro tip: There are three campsites at Slaty Creek. Try and stay at No 1; it’s the only one with toilets.) We stayed at the holiday park in Daylesford and I have to admit I have never been so grateful for a flushing toilet, drinking water, soap and a hot shower.

Be aware that none of the Slaty Creek campsites have tank water and even creek water can be scarce. The creek was mostly dry when we were there. We managed to find a reasonable-sized pool about 150m up the creek bed to source water. (It had tiny fish in it so we thought it couldn’t be too bad.) All water will need to be filtered or treated. You can get mineral water via pumps at various points near Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. These are tested regularly so if the pump is operating it should be safe to drink. (I did.)

If camping is not your thing, the track goes through or near a number of towns that provide various accommodation options. There’s glamping tents at the Daylesford Holiday Park if you want the luxury camping option.

A Story

At one stage on the walk, we started to hear what sounded like someone operating a drill in short bursts. It went on for quite a while. “You’re killing the serenity!” I called out. My brother was sure we were about to come across someone riveting a million bolts into a new creek bridge. I found this a bit odd because I would have sworn the sound was behind us but it’s always hard to tell in the bush. When we stopped for lunch, the sound had mercifully ceased. Until I pulled my pack over to grab my lunch out of the top. The sound started up again. Inside my pack. It was my little rechargeable air pump. Something had obviously been banging against the on-off button, turning it on and off. So when my brother thought it was ahead of us, it was only because I was walking in front of him. We’d been walking for a good half hour, annoyed at a non-existent tradesperson when all along it was me.

Quiz

Can you see the animal in this photo?

“Maybe if I just stand very, very still they won’t notice me.”

Next

We are planning to complete the rest of the Goldfields Track in another trip sometime this year but in the meantime, I’ll be heading off solo along the Great Ocean Walk on April 18th. I’m feeling ready.

Does the Goldfields Track sound like somewhere you’d like to explore?

Do More Things

To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, “You must do more things you think you cannot do.”

In my last post, I mentioned taking on something I thought I could not do related to the music I share with the kids at my school.

I didn’t think I could do it but I did.

Okay. You did it. So now what??

Um. More things I can’t do?

A number of years ago, my ‘the thing’ was to run a marathon. It was meant to be one of those One-and-done-tick-it-off-the-bucket-list things for my 50th birthday. Right.

I’ve done six, including a 60km ultra marathon*. And one was a 44km extended version (standard marathons being 42.2km).

*This is only a kinda sorta ultra. It was the Great Ocean Road Virtual Ultra Marathon so I ran it around the river path near my home rather than the windy, winding GOR and it took me 7hrs15mins to complete, 45mins over the official cutoff time for the real event. But I still ran (and, cough, walked) 60km in one hit so it still kinda sorta counts.

Maybe it was all the virtual events or maybe I got sick of the river path or maybe I couldn’t be bothered anymore with hours-long training runs but I’m a bit over long distance running.

I need a new thing.

So I’ve taken up hiking. Solo hiking. Solo overnight hiking. Solo multiday hiking.

I keep my mind busy researching gear and food and trails so I don’t scare the bejeesus out of myself.

I did my first overnight hike last weekend. It rained. I got lost. More than once. The first time within the first hour. ūüôĄ

I learned a lot.

Like, how useful it is to actually use your compass so you don’t go the wrong way and add an extra 3km loop to your walk.

I absolutely loved it.

I mean, when you walk in a cloud of butterflies for most of it, how can you not?

Did being alone worry me? (I only saw two other hikers the whole two days and I was the only one in camp.) Nope. Not with birds and frogs to keep me company.

The loud one is a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, the jerks of the Aussie bird world.
Guess which one is the Pobblebonk? (Otherwise known as the Eastern Banjo Frog.)

When I got home, I rang a friend and gushed at her for a full hour. Then I booked the Great Ocean Walk (7 days 6 nights) for the week after Easter. I’m hoping to do the two week Great South West Walk in September. Everything is great around here.

So, enjoy some photos from last weekend’s adventure and I’ll see you on the trails. I’ll be the one checking my compass.

We’re Okay. Honestly.

According to some US media pundits, Australia has descended into a dystopian totalitarian hellscape.

That’s news to me. To most of us. Okay, to pretty much all of us except the twilight people who live in the far dark reaches of the internet and don’t get out much.

Have we been under a long and strict lockdown? Yes.

Have our state governments been introducing vaccine mandates for many sectors under a “No Jab, No Job” policy? Yes.

Are we upset about it? Nope.

Okay, yes, there have been protests but they have mostly been attended by those aforementioned drongos. I mean, to protest against a lockdown by doing the very thing that will extend that lockdown (by spreading the virus) takes a special kind of stupid. If you want to understand the kind of people who participated in these events (that, it might be pointed out, fizzled out after a few days), check out this Twitter thread:

At a press conference soon after the announcement of a vaccine mandate for all education staff, one reporter (undoubtedly a Murdoch subordinate by her obsession with ‘gotcha’ questions) asked the Deputy Premier and Minister for Education James Merlino what the government planned to do to replace all the teachers who would resign because they didn’t want to be vaccinated. Minister Merlino replied that in a recent voluntary survey responded to by 40,000 teachers, 98% of them were already fully vaccinated so he didn’t think it would be much of a problem. For some reason, she didn’t have a follow up question.

Our state has vaccinated at a record pace (since we finally received sufficient supply) and we are on track to be more than 90% fully vaccinated by the end of the year.

Living in a land that infamously tries to kill you every day (floods, fires and hurricanes, spiders, snakes and sharks, not to mention the drop bears and hoop snakes) tends to bring you together with your fellow survivors. There’s a very strong community ethos that flows through the Australian psyche. Given the choice between staying in our homes or watching thousands of our fellow Australians die, to us it’s a no brainer.

It appears that the global nature of social media has tempted some to import the more individualistic, personal rights and freedoms ethos of Americans into our country. You only have to look at some of the protest signs to see slogans more often seen at rallies of the former President. Even the red cap of such followers have been spotted amongst the protestors.(Seriously!) And in the absence of a Confederate flag (Australia never having had the need for a civil war), they chose the closest thing they could find – the Australian Red Ensign. I don’t think the Merchant Navy is very happy about it.

Does this flag make me look American to you?

What these nufties don’t understand is that the political ideologies of another nation won’t just slot into our own. (Ironic, really, when most of these people are part of the ‘if you come to our country you must act like us’ brigade.)

Some have tried to compare our pandemic safety measures to living under the Taliban in Afghanistan. But we have universal healthcare, our elections are run by independent commissions, abortion is a right given to all women and we don’t have to stare at the AR-15 hanging off the back of the person in front of us in the checkout line. (I don’t even know anyone who owns a gun of any kind. Unless Nerf guns or water pistols count.) And to date we’ve had 151,943 cases of COVID19 and 1590 deaths in total across the country (pop 25.7 million).

Does that sound dystopian to you?

Please don’t worry about us. We are fine.

(And in a final point of irony, the call to invade to save us all came on the day my state celebrated “Freedom Friday”. Having reached 70% fully vaccinated adult population, restrictions have eased and we are well on our way to COVID-normal life.)

We Are The Champions

Australians like to think of themselves as a sporting nation. We have our own native football game, a Formula One Grand Prix, one of the greatest horse races in the world and we tend to punch above our weight in the Olympics, at least in the pool. We even have Winter Olympic gold medallists. Not bad for a country with no snow for most of the year.

Steven Bradbury

At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Steven Bradbury won gold in the 1,000m short track speed skating event. He won because he managed to stay on his feet while all his opponents fell over.

In Australia, achieving something because everybody else failed is now known as “doing a Bradbury”.

 

Australians love a winner but we especially love a winner against the odds.

Anyone who knows me well will be wondering what on earth inspired me to write a post about sport because it’s not my favourite thing in the world. In fact, I actually loathe our national game. Living in a town obsessed with its football club, this is tantamount to treason and I’ve had many a robust discussion with fans about the (to me) undue influence the club holds (particularly on the local government purse strings).

But let’s not get into that.

So why am I talking about sport now?

Because Australia has just proved itself the true champion of the world with a spectacular win in an international sporting competition.

We just won the Quidditch World Cup.

Quidditch World Cup 1

Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

For the uninitiated (or those who have been living under a rock for the past twenty years), Quidditch is the sport played in the Harry Potter books written by J.K. Rowling. It’s been adapted to be played by people who can’t actually fly and is now an international sensation with sporting clubs all over the world.

I have felt compelled to share this news for three reasons:

  1. As a nerd, knowing there is a sport out there based on a series of books about wizards is pretty cool.
  2. I am in love with the national Quidditch team’s name. They’re called the Dropbears. Australians use the existence of the highly dangerous dropbear to scare tourists about the dangers of walking in the bush. (At least, we use it on those easily susceptible to bullshit.)
  3. The coach who led this team to victory over the until-then-undefeated United States is my niece. That is very cool.

That’s a sports victory I can definitely get behind.

Congratulations to the Dropbears and especially to their coach, Gen Gibson. You are the champions!

 

 

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They Speak A Foreign Language In America

As an Australian visiting the United States of America, I’ve been brushing up on my foreign language skills.

But you’re both English-speaking countries. Don’t you speak the same language?

Well, I think that’s a debatable point but I wasn’t actually talking about the spoken or written language.

Q: What’s the difference between a canoe and an Australian?

A: A canoe can tip.

If there is one thing that can strike more fear into the heart of an Australian visiting the USA than its lack of gun control it is the concept of tipping.

Tipping

Who to tip, when to tip, how much to tip‚Ķ. It’s all a mystery to the average Australian.

It has always amazed me that two countries that began life as colonies of the British Empire could evolve so differently. Perhaps it is because one was founded primarily by pilgrims and settlers and the other by the criminal refuse of the Mother Country.

Tipping does exist in Australia but it is confined mostly to high end restaurants. Cafés have started putting tip jars on their counters but the only expectation is that you might drop in the couple of coins you were just handed in change for your coffee.

Even in restaurants, a tip is not really expected. It certainly is not, as it was for us at a restaurant the other night in New York, included in the bill.

You may, if you felt the food was outstanding and the service excellent, add a little extra when paying. Rounding up to the next five or ten dollars is reasonable.

I often think Americans must excel in the mathematical topic of percentages, given they must constantly work out tips based on an expected percentage.

What I will never understand is the expectation of a tip even if the food was ordinary and the service indifferent.

It is not just the value of the tip that is confusing to Australians, it is how extensive tipping is across American society. Hotels are a particular case in point.

Leaving a tip for the person who comes in to clean your room is, frankly, a bizarre concept to us. There is an implicit understanding that, having paid hundreds of dollars a night for a room, all standard expenses related to that room are covered. Certainly, it is expected that the person who comes to clean your room is being paid a wage to do that job out of those hundreds of dollars you just handed over at reception.

But this is where I start to get an understanding of why tipping is so important in America. In Australia, we fight hard to ensure everyone is earning a reasonable living wage whatever their occupation. To be honest, we have some more work to do on that but the situation is nowhere near as dire as it seems to be in the USA.

The minimum wage in New York State is currently US$8.75/hour. It’s even lower in many other states and six states don’t even have a minimum wage.¬†(Ref.)¬†In Australia, the minimum wage applies across all states and is currently set at A$16.87/hour (US$13.07). (Ref.)

Australia also has universal healthcare, so even though the minimum wage is low, those on low incomes can access free medical care. In America, where much of healthcare is an additional cost to be borne (unless one is lucky enough to have employer-provided health insurance), those on even lower wages must rely on the generosity of strangers and tourists to help them cover these costs.

As an Australian, it’s hard not to see compulsory tipping as a form of legalised begging for the poor.

I hope we don’t see extensive tipping become the norm in our country. I hope we continue to try and ensure every person is paid a liveable wage.

But we will continue to leave a few dollars on the table for the person who comes to clean our room while we are visiting the USA.

Australians can tip. We just don’t understand why.

 

 

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Go Ahead. Tell Me There’s No Climate Change

Photo: Christie Panozzo

Photo: Christie Panozzo

Welcome to Australia, folks! Land of snow in unexpected places.

Admittedly, that photo was taken in Ballarat. It gets cold in Ballarat. Not usually this cold but, yeah, cold. Ish.

But this one:

Photo: Quentin Kelly

Photo: Quentin Kelly

That’s in Lorne. Lorne is a seaside town. It doesn’t often get snow as a rule.

So (if you’re not from around here and subscribe to the Oz stereotype), you’re probably thinking, “Well, there goes that Aussie beach holiday we were thinking of taking.”

Not a problem. Come in summer. We don’t get snow in summer. Not even on our highest mountain.

It’s hot in summer. In fact, last year was our hottest year ever.

Of course, if you come in summer, you’ll have to contend with the bushfires. Apparently, they’ve been getting more intense¬†and more frequent lately. It’s so bad in some places, it¬†makes the phrase “making a tree-change” sound like a death-wish.

cloud2-firetruck_0

Black Saturday Bushfires. Source: Herald Sun

According to our government, of course, this is all normal. Carry on, folks. Nothing to see here.

They’re so not worried about it, they’ve just removed our ‘price on carbon’ mechanism¬†that was actually reducing carbon emissions. That, you know, contribute to climate change. That, you know, is changing the Earth’s climate. That, you know, causes more bushfires, snow in strange places, floods, hurricanes, stuff like that.

But not to worry. Hotter summers means more time in the ol’ Speedos, right?

The Australian Prime Minister

The Australian Prime Minister

 

what me worry

 

 

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Yes, I Am Jealous Of The Fourth Of July

Me, aged about 10 months (Lexington, KY)

Today is the Fourth of July, American Independence Day.

I’m not American. The photo above was taken when we spent a year of my earliest life living in Kentucky. I spoke my first words with an American accent.

Australians know all about Independence Day. It figures prominently in Hollywood and every US television series from Leave It To Beaver to The Wonder Years to Modern Family has had at least one Fourth of July themed episode (or so it seems).

In some ways, I envy the USA and the passion they hold for their national day. Along with their Northern cousins, they celebrate a day they became a nation in their own right, whether through war and bloodshed or, as my Canadian blogging friend Joanne put it, by asking “our British Motherland for permission“.

I also envy them their flags, unique to their countries and flown so proudly as a sign of their independence and singular nationhood.

In my country, we celebrate our national day – Australia Day¬†– on the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove in 1788. We were still a British colony, a largely penal one at that and our indigenous brothers and sisters rightly refer to our national day as “Invasion Day”. It doesn’t make me proud; it makes me cringe.

Even our flag is under contention, a reminder of our British colonial past displayed prominently in the corner. I think it is a symbol of our never quite cutting the apron strings. There is a significant portion of our society that clings to our British roots despite the ever-increasing multicultural influence on our everyday streets.

If ever there were any doubts that we have never really left the nursery, confirmation came earlier this year when one of the first acts of our new Prime Minister was to re-instate knighthoods, previously abolished in 1983. With manufacturing in decline, spiralling youth unemployment, appalling conditions for our indigenous peoples and a widening gap between rich and poor in our country, this was one of his first priorities.

Every January 26th, there are rumblings about finding a more appropriate day. Federation¬†– our ‘independence’ day – came on January 1st 1901. Australians love a public holiday, particularly one that gives them a long weekend. Celebrating the¬†national day on a day that is already a public holiday and thus depriving them of an additional day off will not be tolerated. Some have suggested making ANZAC Day¬†our national day but celebrating ourselves as a nation on the anniversary of one of the biggest military stuff-ups seems absurd. And how do we include our new Australians who hail from Turkey on that day?

On 13th February 2008, our then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, offered an official government apology to indigenous Australians and particularly to the Stolen Generations for the treatment they had received from our forebears. Many have suggested this as a possible new national day. It has merit and may highlight each year the ongoing plight of the aboriginal people (we are yet to acknowledge their first ownership of the land in our constitution and their life expectancy is well below their non-indigenous counterparts). However, it does not acknowledge the many cultures that have come to make up our peaceful melting pot of a country. From the Chinese who came to dig the goldfields in the 1850s to the latest migrants from Africa and the Middle East, ours is a country built on difference. We need to find a day that celebrates that and a flag that truly represents who we are.

I’m not confident I’ll see it in my own lifetime but I think my children’s generation, brought up in an increasingly global society, may be the one to recognise the contribution of all the peoples of the Earth who have come to form our home and to celebrate that in unity and peace.

Every country has its problems. The United States has a growing underclass of working poor and their lack of universal healthcare leaves us shaking our heads. Canada’s current¬†Prime Minister is best buddies with our own so they have my sympathies. But both countries have a day that is theirs and theirs alone when they can feel proud to be an independent nation.

I wish I could say the same for my own country.

(I’d like to thank bikerchick57 for inspiring this post.)

 

 

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