Thursday, March 27, 2008

All Aboard for Canberra ...

We're off - it is a special train
For capitals we're looking
For many days, through devious ways,
And variegated cooking ...
Each hill and dale, each stream and lake
Seems all the more alluring,
When sandwiches and bottled ale
Alleviate our touring.
- Table Talk, 1902

It didn't take many days - just three hours - and we didn't go by train, but to Australia's capital we did go ... After a 7 a.m. presentation to the Blacktown RC we all threw our backpacks into a 12-passenger van and climbed aboard for the drive to Canberra. Along with us were Pete's hosts Trevor and Gloria, Jito from Kerala, India, PDG Warwick Testor and Marie.
I couldn't tell you for sure how many of us fell asleep since I was one of those who did, but it was a pretty quiet trip until we stopped at Goulburn, the sheep capitol of Australia and home to the biggest sheep in the world, the 15 meter high Big Merino. The main street looked like we had somehow landed in the midwest, South Dakota (yes, MJS, even Down Under, you can still find SD). We had coffee and scones at the Paragon Cafe, then moved on to Canberra and our first views of Lake Burley Griffin. We went through Parliament House and saw the Senate and House of Representatives, both modeled after the UK Parliament but with the red and green chambers muted to eucalyptus green and Uluru rock red. The view from the rooftop was magnificent, and it was interesting to see the entire planned city, and to appreciate the vision that the founders had. The city is laid out on a large flat plain surrounded by Colorado-esque mountains, all lazing under a massive sky and clouds that Mina, especially, found beautiful.
After lunch, across the lake, we stopped to admire the Australian-American war memorial, a 258 foot column topped by a giant eagle of which I'm sure George Orwell would be very proud (very 1984/Brutalist looking).
We had an hour to take in the War Memorial, an impossible task as one could spend hours, even days, reading the information, watching the videos, and contemplating the bewildering things that people can do to each other. One side of the building was devoted to WWI, the other to WWII, and there was even more I didn't get to. In the WWII section, I saw a BMW motorcycle that must be like the one Grandpa talked about riding across North Africa (though this one had a sidecar, which would have cramped his style outrunning the Bedouins ... ) Anyway, it was a beautifully designed presentation, and an interesting, different perspective from which to view events.
Mina and I bunked together at the Heritage Hotel, and the whole group enjoyed an al fresco Italian dinner in town. Slept like a rock and in the morning we were off to see all the embassies before going up the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain and getting an even better aerial view of the city.
We had a quick visit to the Australian National Museum, where I saw a lot of great quotes that expressed the exotic nature of Australia that the first settlers grappled with, both in their own words and in others:
Trees retained their leaves and shed their bark instead, the swans were black, the eagles white, the bees were stingless, some mammals had pockets, others laid eggs, it was warmest on the hills and coolest in the valleys, even the blackberries were red.
Earth red with a million years of fire. - Mark O'Connor
They made a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. - Sir John Forrest, 1903
A man's life is a small gleam of time between two eternities. - Thomas Carlyle, 1857
I have a strange idea that there is a central sea and I should go fully prepared for a Voyage. - Charles Sturt, 1844, an optimistic but ultimately disappointed bloke who actually dragged a whaling ship into the Outback in search of an inland sea that does not exist ... ooops!
The imagination has its own geography which alters with the centuries. - Graham Greene, 1952

We had a noon presentation at the Canberra Yacht Club, then piled back in for the return drive to Sydney. We did an impressive job consuming the piles of yummy cookies that Gloria baked for us (dare I say, the shortbread was Gloria-ous), I almost learned how to knit (help, it's still a mystery), and naps did happen.
I am beginning to feel human again after a couple days of subpar existence, so watch out Australia, I'm back. How lucky to move in with a doctor just as I began to dissolve; Sushilla set me up with the right stuff and her warm hugs and "Of course, my darlings" are good cures. Also, the Indian dinner she prepared for me, Mina and Jito tonight was beyond compare, I may never be able to eat in an Indian restaurant again because she has spoiled me for life. "Eat shamelessly," she told us, and did we ever! Yum, yum, yum, we stuffed ourselves. Jito was ecstatic to have food from home, and was very talkative. Dad, you would have exploded from the spice level : ) It was fantastic. She's writing up the recipes for us, fingers crossed it comes out half as good at home! One can only hope. Where does one get curry leaves in NH?!?
And now I'm the last one standing in this house at half past midnight. Tomorrow's - or rather, today's -plans are made, the bottle of Hungarian red is empty, the mango that grew just outside the door consumed, and everyone else is asleep. Sounds like a good idea for me, too. G'night.

In Australia alone is to be found the Grotesque, the Weird, the strange scribbling of nature learning how to write. Some see no beauty in our trees without shade, our flowers without perfume, our birds who cannot fly, and our beasts who have not yet learned to walk on all fours. But the dweller in the wilderness acknowledges the subtle charm of this fantastic land of monstrosities. He becomes familiar with the beauty of loneliness. Whispered to by the myriad tongues of the wilderness, he learns the language of the barren and the uncouth, and can read the hieroglyphs of the haggard gum trees, blown into odd shapes, distorted with fierce hot winds, or cramped with cold nights, when the Southern Cross freezes in a cloudless sky of icy blue. The phantasmagoria of that wild dreamland termed the Bush interprets itself, and the Poet of our desolation begins to comprehend why free Esau loved his heritage of desert sand better than the bountiful richness of Egypt. - Marcus Clarke

1 comment:

Kimberly said...

Hello Kate,

I'm finally catching up with you through the blog--was reading along last week and only now have a moment to say hello and let you know we miss you. What a great adventure you're all having--I'm just thrilled for you and your team members.

All is well here; as you probably now, winter continues to hold us tightly in its grip, yet there's hints of spring in the air, despite the three or four feet of snow on the ground. Today I set off on my bike despite the 37-degree temps, and it was exhilarating, despite cold ears and nose. Cabin fever has set in everywhere, and plans begin for commencement in earnest.

We're getting by without you, and I haven't run away yet, mostly because you did some much good work before you left. I'm glad you're all enjoying yourselves (and you even got to go horse-back riding!) and the sites and your hosts sound incredible. I look forward to reading more of your posts and seeing the photos and living in Oz vicariously through all of you.

Take care and be well,