Didn’t Every 12-Year Old Do That?

The latest installment of the Grimm Trip Report references one of the flights my family took aboard a U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter. This warrants something of an explanation and a brief anecdote.

As you can gather from these reports, my father was stationed at a military base in Central Australia. Being the middle of nowhere and not being able to utilize commercial transport, the facility was supplied weekly by this cargo aircraft. As ‘perk’ of being stationed in Alice Springs, for a nominal fee my father and his dependents could hitch a ride to and from the Richmond Air Force Base outside of Sydney. I’d say over the years we probably took advantage of this opportunity maybe four or five times. It was definitely a no-frills adventure.

Thankfully, the plane was usually empty of passengers so we could use one of the two dozen or so actual airplane seats, though the seats did face the rear of the aircraft. All the other seating comprised of jump seats. The aircraft was not noise insulated whatsoever. We would be issued with earplugs when we got on, and eventually we took to using the over-ear hearing protection used on rifle ranges. Communication required shouting over the wind & engine noise or in writing so I suspect my parents got three relatively undisturbed hours when we flew on the MAC.

Obviously, there wasn’t much in the way of in-flight entertainment or snacks These flights pre-dated portable audio devices like the Walkman, though I do think we had a couple of hand-held video games. That said, the young Air Force officers always did their best to make us feel welcome. This extended once to letting me and my six-year old brother, “fly” the Starlifter. In hindsight, this was insane but I have to tell you it may be one of my favorite childhood memories. The pilots turned the controls over to us (it was on autopilot) and showed us how to waggle the wings of this massive cargo plane. Which we did.

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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Australia, Travel


April 1987: Alice Springs

We are moving into winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, and although we don’t expect any snow, we have had some chilly nights already – when I say chilly I mean high 40’s-low 50’s F. Yesterday and today we even had some rain – the first in a long time. It is actually a pleasant change to see a bit of rain and gray skies -it breaks up the monotony of those beautiful sunny days with an incredibly blue sky that we take for granted in Alice Springs.

With the cool weather, some activities fall off (I believe the town pool closes this weekend) and other activities pick up. For instance the world-renown Camel Cup is coming up the weekend of May 16-17. The Australian-American Association is getting its act together to host the U.S. Ambassador, William Lane, here in town that weekend. We have scheduled a dinner for him Friday night, a champagne breakfast at the Old Telegraph Station (a historical reserve which is also a favorite place for picnics and barbeques for Alice Springs residents) on Saturday morning and a barbeque outside of town in a dry creek bed Saturday evening. In the interim he will be an official guest at the Camel Cup on Saturday afternoon. In case you are wondering about the barbeque in the dry creek bed, it is a great place to have a barbeque. You can just dig a hole in the sand, pull some dry wood from under one of the trees nearby over for the fire and throw a metal plate over the pit to cook on. Since you are in the creek bed there is no worry about starting a bush fire. There are a number of places you can do this not far from town, but far enough from the lights of the city that if you just walk a short ways from the fire you have an excellent view of the southern night sky, and if you have never seen it there is no way to describe it. One night out of town to see the unpolluted night sky with the Milky Way stretched out across the entire sky makes the entire trip here worthwhile. But I am digressing …

A number of significant events have occurred in Dwight’s life. His mother finally gave in and allowed him to drive her car by himself. He took his girlfriend to dinner and a movie (in the same building, the Community Arts Center, which has a Bistro), which is located a whole 7 blocks from our house. I kidded Dwight that he had to call when he arrived, but his mother wasn’t kidding when she told him to. He called and I said, “Grimm’s Wreckers” Dwight did not think that was funny. Anyway, I had to ask him if he had locked the car and turned off the lights. I am glad Dorothy was not my mother.

Dwight has also won second prize for one of his photographs in a Territory-wide contest and in another contest which just ended, we haven’t heard who the winners were, but Dwight sold one of his photos to a couple from Sydney. So, now he qualifies as a professional photographer.
Toby has quite a few activities still going on – guitar lessons one day a week at school, bowling on Sunday evenings, French lessons and computer classes (after school) as part of the extension, or advanced classes he attends part time, and Sunday school. He is also the Captain of the “B” chess team of his school and they just had their first match against another school and did very well. He is justifiably proud that he is not only the only sixth grader on the team, but captain of the B team.

There are times when we don’t see Dorothy for long periods of time. The weekend before last, the Australian National Folk Festival was held here in Alice Springs and Dorothy almost lived down on the grounds where it was held. The activities ran almost full time from 9 a.m. until well into the night Friday-Sunday. Then, she put in a lot of hours at the office typing up the articles about the Festival. I keep wondering if she is so busy now writing articles for a paper that is only published twice a week, how she is going to manage if and when they start publishing five days a week, as planned.

It appears that we are finally going to get out of Alice Springs. We are tentatively planning to fly on the Air Force plane (which flies into and out of Alice every Monday) to the RAAF base outside of Sydney in July. There we will rent a car and drive up into the northern part of New South Wells and perhaps all the way to Brisbane and back to Sydney to return here on the Air Force plane again. (I had thought about flying commercially out of Brisbane until I found out it would cost almost $1000). Anyway, I have put in for leave and if it approved I will start to plan the trip in detail. I am looking forward to it – we have been here in Alice for almost a year without leaving.

Well, I can’t think of anything else fit to print so I will end my part of this letter and turn it over to Dorothy.

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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Australia, Travel


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Alice Springs, March 1987

I’ll try and bring you up to date on the Grimm adventures in the outback. Following the summer school holidays, which ended at the end of January, Dwight entered the llth grade and Toby started the sixth. Dwight actually is putting in some work and-according to him is learning something. He has two math courses that he says are not easy, economics that is his favorite (he sees himself as Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties), chemistry and technical drawing, which he appears to like. At this point, he has changed his mind about school and says that he does not really want to come home to finish at St. Stephens, but would prefer to stay here at least an extra six months to finish high school here. Discussions on that subject continue in the Grimm household and further episodes will no doubt be forthcoming – stayed tuned.

He is also working part time in the Alice Springs Camera Shop on Saturday mornings, if for no other reason to finance his passion for photography. He used the money he made during the summer to purchase a really good camera and is known all over town for his enthusiasm. Several of his pictures have been used in the newspaper. Dwight turned 16 in February and got his learners permit to drive. His mother started to teach him to drive, but for a number of reasons (nerves or lack thereof, as well the fact that the Datsun 210 is left hand drive) caused her to seek the aid of a professional driving instruction school – driver’s ed is available in school, but you have to sacrifice a regular subject and Dwight wasn’t willing. He finally passed his test to get a “provisional” license (the same as a regular license with some restrictions.) He got it last Friday afternoon and by the time I got home from work he and his mother were already at each other about him taking over the car. I love to start the weekend off with a good argument!

Anyway, things have calmed down for now and we will make an effort to see that he is allowed to get some experience before venturing out by himself. Dwight is still dating the same girl (Katherine O’Donoghue) he has been seeing for about the last six months and at one point in the scene last week Dorothy was encouraging him to get married and leave. Fortunately, I think, Dwight has more sense – though if I had a cute sexy girlfriend like Katherine when I was his age, I may have been tempted.

Toby appears to like school and is doing well. He was upset at the start of the term that many of his friends were in another class but has gotten over it. He is still taking guitar lessons, though with somewhat less enthusiasm. We are having one minor problem in that the teacher; he has doesn’t like guitars with steel strings (versus nylon or whatever) and for a while wouldn’t let him use his own guitar. We ignored her and last week he was able to use his own guitar. I am waiting to see what she says today. Toby was the only sixth grader to be selected for the school chess team (all the rest are 7th graders). Toby turned 11 about two weeks ago and asked if he could have some kids sleep over last weekend. I told him it was okay, but didn’t realize the full extent of his plans. The party ran from 2 p.m. Saturday until almost 2 p.m. Sunday and involved seven 10 and 11-year old boys! We had hot dogs and sloppy joes (which are unknown to Australians) for supper and chocolate doughnuts and “junk” American cereal for breakfast. We rented a number of videos to keep them from tearing the house apart, and I took them bowling for a while, an experience I have vowed I will not repeat. I must admit I lost my patience Sunday morning when they woke me up at 6:30 a.m. (all yelling at once). I threatened to call all of their parents right then to come get them! That worked for about 10 minutes.

Dorothy keeps busy at work. She is always rushing out of the house, more times than not with camera in hand to take her own photos, to cover some event. She is well known in town and people, more and more, are requesting her by name to cover some event. The newspaper, which only publishes twice a week, currently, is making plans to go to a five-day schedule in the not too distant future. I believe they have already contracted to have a new building, all their own, built-for this expansion. It will be interesting to see how things will change.

I have also been busy. The Australian-American Association has become involved in more things. We hosted a group of Smithsonian Associates who were on a tour of Australia and who spent 24 hours here in Alice Springs. A group of about 10 of us met them at the airport and really impressed them. No one had met them anywhere else. We rode with them on their bus to a nice little restaurant outside of town and had lunch there. Then, we rode back to town with them and the bus dropped them off at the Casino, where they were staying, and I went home. That evening we had a barbeque for them at the Old Telegraph Station and it was really a nice evening. The weather was just right and we had a lady who is a member of our association and runs a couple of restaurants in town cater the food and it was very good. We also had a park ranger give them about an hour tour of the Telegraph Station and surrounding park area. Finally, and for me the highlight of the evening, was the participation of several members of the local astronomical society. A couple of members brought their large telescopes out and set them up and the first thing they showed us was the super nova (exploding star) that became visible here in the southern hemisphere not long ago. I may have missed Halley’s Comet, but the last super nova observed was almost 400 years ago. Anyway, the people with the telescopes were really very patient and showed us a lot of sights in the sky – I could have stayed there for a long time, but we finally had to leave since the park closes at 9.

The Australian-American Association has also officially invited the U.S. Ambassador to Australia to be our guest here the weekend of the annual Alice Springs Camel Cup (a day of camel races), May 15-17. We are now getting ready for that. I made the mistake of attending a meeting for parents of kids who are in the talented and gifted program here (Toby is involved). A friend nominated me for secretary of the organization and I couldn’t think of an excuse. One of the first assignments I had was to write a letter to the Minister of Education of the Northern Territory asking, once again for an additional teacher for this program – there is one teacher now who works a couple of hours a week with these kids in grades 4-7. There are no provisions for younger kids and they are dropped after grade 7. I can see ‘that this organization may keep me busy. Otherwise all of our regular activities continue (camera club, writing group, etc). We, at least the kids and I, watch quite a few videos, but haven’t seen anything really memorable lately. The Community Arts Center is also running movies most weekends now and we have seen a number of films there, as well as some plays. Dorothy got quite involved with the cast from the last play that was quite controversial – about Aboriginal land rights. She even gave them a ride in her “left-hand drive” Datsun. Many Australians are intrigued by that feature.

We still have not been anywhere outside the immediate Alice Springs area, nor have any plans. I asked Dorothy about going over the short school break in April, but she explained that that was the week of the National Folk Festival here in Alice Springs. My God, we wouldn’t want to miss that and, of course, no one but her could cover it for the newspaper – it’s tough to be indispensible.

Well, I think that is about all I have. I am sure Dorothy will have something to add to this, so I will leave room for her comments.

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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Australia, Travel


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Bush Trip 1986

(* Editor’s Note: I consider this the first true Grimm Report. While notes were taken and written records filed previous to this account, the spirit of the Grimm Trip Report starts here)

I had promised Dwight that if we returned to Australia we would buy a 4-wheel drive and go out bush so that he could, look for rocks (a pastime called “fossicking” here. I have to admit that I was not actually looking forward to, the time that I would actually undertake the first venture, since I am not and never have been an outdoors type, nor am I mechanically inclined in case of trouble. So I was more than a little apprehensive about our first trip, and as it turned out -rightfully so – it turned into a disaster, though it could have been worse.

Dwight has been planning trips every since we arrived and eventually talked our friend, Ronnie, into going with him, taking our van, while I kept her Old English Sheep dogs. Dorothy said she would keep the dogs and I could go along. I still hadn’t, decided, when Ronnie got sick and the doctor told her she could not go that weekend. I didn’t want to disappoint Dwight so I said I would take him, I prepared the van, and in doing so found the spare tire was no-good, so bought a new tire and figured I was in good shape. I also put some gas in the extra tank that is in the van and that is when the trouble started. I wasn’t even sure the tank was working properly and I thought the valve was in the off position. It wasn’t, so about an hour after I brought it home from the service station, I tried to restart it and it wouldn’t start. After trying for several minutes, I found gas leaking onto the ground. So I guess that the gas from the extra tank was pushing more gas than necessary into the engine, flooding it. I turned the valve off and figured that after the extra gas evaporated it would start again. More on that later. Dwight did a pretty good job of rounding up the necessary supplies, with the help of Ronnie. Our base here has camping supplies and she had reserved a lantern, sleeping bag, an iron cooking plate and some gas cans, which we ended up not using. Dwight planned, the remaining supplies, including the food. I guess by now it is clear that Dorothy and Toby were not going to make this trip. Dorothy doesn’t trust my driving out bush, and Toby is not that interested.

We planned to leave as soon as I got home from work on Friday, so by the time I got here, Dwight had the van pretty well packed. I went to start the van and it still wouldn’t start, which gave me an uneasy feeling, but I figured if I got it started, it would sort itself out. I did eventually get it started and we left. We drove north for about 70km, then turned east, still on a sealed road (not really macadam, more oil and gravel and basically one lane wide) for another 70km. At that point we turned back a dirt road (past Mud Tank Bore – bores or water holes are key landmarks here) for about 10 km to the zircon fields. There were about six other groups camped there so I didn’t feel too isolated, figuring if something went wrong I could get help.

It was dark by the time we arrived, so the first test was to pitch the tent by the light of the lantern and cook a meal. I got the tent up by myself while Dwight scouted for some firewood, which wasn’t that easy. Since a lot of people camp there, there was not a lot of wood close by, but we eventually found some and got a fire started. You have to realize that I was never a scout and never camped in the “wilds” in my life. The only camping I have ever done was in organized camping sites in Europe, which have everything from stores to indoor facilities, so this was a challenge for me. We survived that evening and went to bed. Dwight slept in a sleeping bag on top of the van. I tried sleeping in the tent, but shortly after going to bed, the wind began to blow and even though I made the tent as tight as I could, it still “rattled” so I finally gave up and moved into the van for the remainder of the night.

The next morning, Dwight got up and started the fire and cooked breakfast. He made “jaffles” which are a sort of toasted sandwich made using a jaffle iron (a hinged long-handled implement you stick in the fire). They weren’t all that bad. We spent several hours after breakfast, digging for zircons. We found some, but none that are of any real value. The temperature wasn’t too bad, but the flies were terrible. There were always a half dozen or more buzzing around your head. We left the zircon fields and drove back to the “main” road – the sealed one on which you do see an occasional car – and drove another 24 km to the east, and shortly before our destination, some garnet fields just off the highway, the road turned to dirt. The other thing to mention is that this is considered a major road in this area and is called the “Plenty Highway.” We spent about an hour and a half looking for garnets. Dwight found some very small ones; I found none. We ate lunch and then headed to the place that Dwight was most anxious to get to. This was the area I was a bit nervous about. It was some distance off the main road and not visited as much as the first place we had gone to. We turned off the main road and headed back dirt road. It wasn’t a rough road – I never had to go into 4-wheel drive.

The only tricky part was a dry river bed. Dry river beds are a usual hazard here in the outback, because the bottom is loose sand and so it is easy to get bogged in them. One interesting feature we had to negotiate was a mob of cattle that we literally had to plow our way through – they wouldn’t move. We continued on back that road for 23 km until Dwight spotted the area where he wanted to stop, I had to drive about 200 meters cross country through a fairly open area to the base of a hill topped by a beautiful column of quartz. It was a remarkable chunk of quartz and pieces of it lay scattered all over the hillside. We parked the van and walked across to it and up onto the hill. Dwight really wanted to go on to the next hill which was the location of a different type of quartz known as smoky quartz – it is a dark brown opaque rock which I believe is only worth something for specimen value I unlike zircon and garnet which can be faceted for jewelry.

After Dwight wandered off, I started to look around and noticed all of the many types of wildflowers on the hill, and. then gazed off into the distance and realized we were in a really beautiful area, surrounded by mountains in the distance, with wide open I fields close by, also full of wildflowers. I also noticed that I could pull the van closer to the hill so I would be able to be close to a supply of rocks to build an enclosure for a campfire later, so I walked back to the van to move it and also to get the camera. Dwight joined me about that time to get some more gear out of the van. That was when the fun started. The car wouldn’t start. I readily admit that I was in a state of panic. I am not a mechanic, and I knew we were in an isolated area – we had not seen another car on that road. I told Dwight he could go back to the hill to look for rocks and I would stay and try and start the car I told him that I was sorry, but I was too nervous about this situation and if I got the car started I thought we should leave. About 25 minutes later, the car finally started after I played with the carburetor and kept trying to start it. We started back to the main road, and although I did not relax, I did breathe a sigh of relief.

However, it was relatively short lived. About 7-8 km up the road I had a sinking feeling that I had a flat tire. I stopped and asked Dwight to check. He jumped out and looked at me and said, “You have two flat tires.” Although I didn’t doubt him, I couldn’t believe this was happening, so I jumped out and checked. Well, I had several choices – we could walk the estimated 15 km back to the main road, I could put the one spare I had on for one of the tires, but I didn’t want to turn off the engine to do it and didn’t think it was a good idea to change it with the engine running. Instead I ran on the tires, knowing I would ruin them, but figuring I could get us closer to the main road, before they fell apart. I got to within about 2-3 km before I knew I couldn’t go any further. You can imagine what the tires looked like.

Dwight said he would go out to the road and try and flag someone down. I couldn’t think of any better idea so after he left, I figured I would go ahead and take the wheels off so I could give them to whoever came, to take back to Alice Springs. This was one of those times when you wonder what else can go wrong. The lugs were rusty and two of the 6 snapped off while I was trying to get them off. I got the spare on the back and had no trouble getting the front tire off and left the van on the jack. I was almost finished when a carload of people pulled up with Dwight, They were going on in to Alice Springs and offered to take Dwight and the wheels with them, I have to admit by this time I was in a mild state of shock and didn’t even get their names.I told Dwight that I knew it was too late to ask Dorothy to come back out that night and besides she may have trouble finding tires, so I would stay with the van overnight and she could come out the next day.

The car, with Dwight and tires, left me at 4 p.m Saturday afternoon. After they left, I just sat in my lawn chair and fought off the flies. I was really too depressed to read the book I had brought with me. It was like I had taken a course and when it got to exam time, I flunked. My first bush trip and I had screwed it up royally. I figured I would never hear the end of it, including the money it would cost to buy two new tires. As it got darker, I had to make a couple of decisions. Should I set up the tent? I decided I wasn’t up to sleeping out there by myself in a tent, I would feel safer (I don’t know from what) inside the car. I did start a campfire, but decided it was too much trouble to cook the steaks that we had brought for supper that evening ,and besides, by that time I had started to worry about Dwight, and I didn’t feel up to eating. I worried that the two couples were trustworthy – reason said that since there were two couples and they had brought Dwight back to me to pick up the tires that they were OK. The other thought was that the Northern Territory roads are not the safest and I had no idea how good driver the guy was, except that they had traveled all the way up here from Melbourne, through some very desolate country, so guess they were OK in that respect, as well. Dwight told me later that they drove about 140km/hour (over 80 mph) on the way back. Leaving me for a moment, Dwight arrived back in town about 5:30 and as expected there was some question about getting tires on the weekend. They (he and his mother) were unable to find any that night, but located some the next morning at a Shell service station.

I guess the attendants got -a good laugh at the condition of the tires. Meanwhile, that evening, Dorothy was covering a big social event in town – a 4-hour fashion show and she and the photographer from the paper talked to a lot of people about finding tires. At the same time, Ronnie was calling all over town trying to find some help. I was sure the big news in town that night. I was, however, unaware of what was happening, and after the daylight faded, and I was even more alone with myself, my worse fears began to surface – not about myself, but whether Dwight was OK. I got some sleep throughout the night, but I was a nervous wreck by the following day.

Although Dorothy had located tires, she was afraid to drive her Datsun the 200 km to deliver them. To be honest, the car does not ride well. I think both front tires need to be replaced, Dwight called up a good friend of mine who volunteered to bring he and the tires out to me and brought his family with him to make it an outing. (After dropping the tires off he and his family had a barbecue at a place just off of the main road.) They arrived about noon. Although I had reasoned with myself that it probably would be noon or thereabouts before someone got out, I was starting to get a bit frantic, again not about my situation, but because I still didn’t know if Dwight was safe. I had not seen another soul since the people had left me Saturday afternoon. No one came back that road from the time we drove onto it, so I’m glad we didn’t wait for help to come in that manner.

Needless to say, I was very glad to see Dwight when the car arrived, We put one of the new tires on the front, and I started the car. Ironically, it started immediately. At that point, my friend Jeff, thought one of the other tires looked low also. It turned out it was only a couple of pounds low, so it must have been the way the car was sitting. However, I now had to worry about the wheel with two missing lugs, whether another tire was low, whether the car would restart if I had to stop it for some reason, and. whether the gas would indeed flow out of the extra tank because there was not enough gas in the main tank to get us back to town. Especially because of the missing lugs, I did not drive very fast back to town only about 60—70 km/hr so it took almost 3 hours. But we arrived, back in-town safely. Dorothy was glad to see us, and didn’t even give me a hard time about my ruining two tires. I have to admit that I am not anxious to go back out bush, but if someone with-another vehicle, asks us to go with them I will consider it – but no more–trips with just one car.

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Posted by on March 18, 2012 in Australia, Travel


By the Light of Glow Worms: New Zealand 1983

January 1983

New Zealand

New Year’s Day we flew out of Hobart to Christchurch. The weather was clear over N.Z. so we got a good view of the Southern Alps. It was a fantastic sight. Some of them still had snow on them. Budget Rent-a-Car picked us up at the airport, took us to their office, where we got a Toyota Corona wagon. We found a motel and went to look for a place to eat. We walked around the downtown section. The wind was very cool but it wasn’t too bad in the sun. The city center is Cathedral Square and the area around the Cathedral reminded us somewhat of European cities. We ate at a place called “The Jail” which the boys enjoyed. The partitions are bars and a noose hung over the table at which we ate (at the insistence of Toby and Dwight). The customers are also allowed to write graffiti on the walls in chalk. We also found a place selling “American hotdogs,” which was the closest thing to the real McCoy I’ve seen since we left the states. Later that evening Dwight and I went for a walk in the park across from the motel. We walked along the Avon River and noticed a lot of ducks on it, which we ran into later on our trip.

January 2nd we drove to Hokitika over Arthur’s Pass. The first 100 km were through flat farm or pasture land before the road started into the mountains. There are many, many streams with rock streambeds so the water is incredibly clear, in places appearing to be greenish blue. The road was not bad except there are quite a few one-lane bridges and signs warning of wandering stock. (I felt like we were back in Queensland.) The road rose gradually to Arthur’s Pass and like I said, for the most part, was not too bad. We stopped at the visitor’s center at the Pass and saw a movie of stage coaches going across the pass in the old days. It was hard to believe it was possible. Past the pass the road descends rapidly with many steep curves and descents. The road eventually leveled off before we reached the west coast where we turned south to Hokitika. This small town is famous for its greenstone factories. Greenstone is a type of jade (nephrite) and most of this particular type is found in the district around Hokitika. After getting settled we walked along the beach for awhile. There was a tremendous amount of driftwood , as well as lots of rocks which kept Dwight busy. We visited the greenstone factory (and the next day Dorothy went back and bought some), and then visited a museum. That night we drove a short way out of town to see a glowworm dell. We walked back through an area between high banks to a circular area into which fell a small waterfall. At first we saw nothing and were about to leave when some people pointed out a small blue.pinpoint of light in one spot under a plant. As it got darker, more and more of the little lights showed up.

The next morning we left Hokitika and visited the Blue Spur Gold Mine. There are lots of old tunnels you can walk back into and with water dripping down from the ceiling and no light except from a dim flashlight it was eerie enough, but when I shone the light on the wall and saw a large strange bug, I decided I didn’t need to see any more mine shafts. We wandered around looking at an old prospector’s shed, a windlass over a mine shaft, numerous mine shafts, and a rock dam the miners built to provide their water. I took the kids for a ride in an old ore cart. We also watched a guy demonstrate a gravity-fed “sluice,” then we got to the part the kids had waited for — panning for gold. Thanks to the help of the guy there, each kid left the proud owner of some small flakes of gold.

We drove on down the coast, up and down mountains, along winding roads and across many one-lane bridges, one of which was different – railroad tracks ran across it. At one point we turned off the main road and drove back to the Okarito Lagoon (10 km of gravel road) to see the white herons that nest there part of the year. We saw one, so it was successful. We drove on to Franz Josef Glacier. We couldn’t see it for clouds. We started to drive back the road to the glacier, but the road was being rebuilt and was in pretty bad condition and trying to go through a stream, I hit the car bottom on the stream bed, forcibly – what a racket. So I decided to turn around. We drove on to Fox Glacier and settled in a motel and headed for the glacier itself. We drove back a dirt road as far as we could and walked from there. On the way back to the glacier signs along the road mark the points at which the glacier has terminated in years past. It’s amazing how much it has receded since 1790, and even since 1960 it’s quite a bit shorter. We walked far enough that we were able to get a good view of the lower part of the glacier. To have walked up onto it would have required much more effort and no one really wanted to do so, so we looked at it, took pictures, the kids threw rocks in the very rapid stream coming off the mountain. I fished some pieces of ice out of the stream for the kids and we headed back. Toby carried a piece of ice back but it melted before we got to the car. The valley carved out by the glacier is bounded by quite steep walls and numerous long waterfalls come down off the mountain to empty into the stream which flows over a stream bed composed entirely of rocks. On the way back to the main road we stopped at one place where a wooden, cable footbridge crosses the stream (or now more like a river). The bridge bounced up and down and sideways and it’s a very strange feeling (fear?) crossing it. We made it across and walked through a beautiful rain forest — fantastic ferns, moss covered rocks and trees and lovely little streams. I was able to thoroughly enjoy it knowing N.Z. has no snakes. We climbed a hill which has a good view of the entire glacier. Although the top of the mountain was still cloud covered we were able to see a good bit of the top part of the glacier. That night we saw more glowworms in a spot near the motel.

The rain finally caught up with us the next day (Jan 4th). We spent the day driving from Fox Glacier to Queenstown (33.0 km). During parts of the trip on the road we played a guessing game of how many km to the next town. The road was two way except for about 30 one-way bridges and some narrow curves up and down the mountains which were marked “single lane.” The scenery was varied, but there were few straight sections; some through mountains, some dark tree-lined corridors, sections running right along the rocky coastline, broad valleys with streams and fields full of sheep. It rained hard for part of the trip causing countless waterfalls off the mountains. There was a picture at almost every turn, but we only took a couple of shots. There was one section 50-60 km of gravel road including sharp narrow single-lane curves. I almost got wiped out once by a bus and by a car shortly thereafter. Fortunately, I was on the inside, next to the mountain, instead of next to the cliff. We stopped in Wanaka for lunch and it was a beautiful location, on a lake, but is a favorite vacation spot with swarms of people. Toby and Dwight fed ducks and went down a slide in a playground that was built in the form of a dinosaur. Toby through that was great. We finally got to Queenstown after a 5 and a half hour trip. We didn’t do much in Queenstown that day. We did find a very American-type restaurant were almost everyone was satisfied with the food (Toby didn’t like their hot dogs). That night we finally got to see at least part (episodes 3 and 4) of “A Town Like Alice.”

January 5th was not a big day for sightseeing. We drove to a small town about 20 km away, called Arrowtown, which used to be a gold mining town. It is one block of little shops and a nice little museum. Back in Queenstown we took the cable car ride up to the top of one of the mountains from which you can view the entire Queenstown area including practically the entire lake on which Queenstown is located. Later that day the weather fumed extremely cool.

January 6th was almost a total loss except we got to Te Anau about noon and were able to find a motel (we had no reservations). We tried to get on the boat to the glowworm caves but it was having mechanical problems so it was cancelled. Then the weather turned bad and it rained off and on all day and was cold enough that we needed our jackets. One man told us it was the worst summer in the 20 years he had lived there (my black cloud strikes again). We did go to a trout observatory (I was not impressed). Later in the day we tried to get on the boat again but it was fall.

The next day we drove to Milford Sound. We woke to cold wet weather with fresh snow in the mountains. Dwight had a terrible congested cold and put on his dying routine. The first part of the trip to the Sound was not too bad — paved road, relatively flat, and then some short distance of unsealed road. We finally got into the mountains. At one place there was a valley full of pink and purple wild flowers by the Mirror Lakes. It was obvious that the lakes were very clear because there is a sign on the far side which has “Mirror Lakes” printed on it in reverse so it reflects in the lakes. It didn’t that day due to the rain. The rain and low clouds only allowed glimpses of the mountains. The road finally started to go up and by the time we reached Homer Tunnel it was snowing! The tunnel is only one lane wide so the traffic goes in one direction for 25 minutes of each hour followed by a 5-minute break before the traffic flows in the other direction. We had to wait for about 5 minutes before we could go through and while waiting a Kea landed on our car and began-to investigate it. He first landed on the hood, jumped to the mirror and looked in and then jumped onto the roof and peered in over the edge to look in. They are very curious birds. Dorothy-opened the window a crack and held out a piece of bread and he took it. After coming out of the tunnel we began the descent around very sharp curves down into Milford Sound. When we got there some of the bread was still on the roof.

After settling in the Milford Hotel, we took the 2-hour cruise out into the Sound, clear out to the Tasman Sea. Even with the rain, the view was fantastic. The clouds occasionally broke giving glimpses of snow-capped mountains rising almost vertically out of the Fiord. There are several permanent waterfalls, one over 500 feet. But with the rain there were many, many waterfalls, some running for thousands of feet down the sides of the mountains. It was a beautiful trip and standing there on top of the boat shivering in the rain I felt that the whole trip was worthwhile just to have seen Milford Sound. (That was Jack’s opinion.)

We didn’t see any of the dolphins which sometimes swim by the boat, but we did see one seal laying on a rock. The rest of the day we spent in the hotel because it rained, sometimes poured, all day. The one day record rainfall for Milford Sound is over 20 inches and the total rainfall for 1982 was over 339 inches. I heard later in the day that it was still snowing in the mountains by the tunnel. I ate in the hotel restaurant and had a delicious fish dinner- grouper with anchovy butter. Then apple pie with whipped cream and ice cream. One of my truly memorable meals. We spent the rest of the evening loafing around the hotel — one TV channel (probably a tape), other entertainment included lawn bowling on the carpet in the hotel lounge.

We awoke the morning of Jan 8th in Milford Sound concerned about the road conditions at Homer Tunnel so we got on the road as soon as possible. When we got to within a couple of km of the tunnel, the road had two inches of slush and was very, very slippery. Fortunately, there were no other cars on the road to worry about on the hairpin curves leading up to the tunnel. The road wasn’t nearly as bad on the other side of the tunnel, and eventually the weather cleared up. We were then able to see the entire range of mountains leading back toward the Sound and amazingly they were all snow-capped thanks to the unseasonable weather. As a matter of fact, after we got back to Te Anau, we could see snow-capped mountains all around the area. On the way back to Te Anau, we stopped several times to take pictures, including Mirror Lakes.

In Te Anau we finally took the boat over to the glowworm caves. The boat motored up the lake for 35 minutes to the caves, which are located on the other side of the lake. We all piled off the boat into a little cottage where one of the guides gave a talk on these living caves, which caves were used by a Maori tribe to hide for years from another hostile tribe. They eventually left there to become the lost tribe. Then the caves were lost for years and years, but were mentioned in Maori legend and were finally rediscovered not too many years ago. Groups of 14 people left 10 minutes apart to go into the caves. We walked to the entrance and had to stoop over for about the first 30 feet, then up past a 5-ft waterfall. From there we got in a boat which was pulled along hand over hand using a chain strung along the cave. We got out and walked some more. The water rushes through the cave very, very fast and at one place it swirls into a whirlpool before falling 16 feet and continuing on down the cave. The highlight of the caves, of course, is the glowworm: area. You climb into another boat and that one is pulled through, in total darkness and surrounding you are thousands of glowworms. The rocks are sometimes so close that if you’d try to stand up in the boat you would hit your head on the cave walls. With the rain the area had been getting there was quite a bit of water dripping from the roof. The part of the caves that we saw was a very small part of the entire system. You need a permit to go further, and besides you have to go underwater to go any further. There is one small stalactite (1.5 inches) in the cave which is 350 years old. That was the extent of our sightseeing that day.

The next day we drove from Te Anau to Dunedin in a little over three hours (about 290 km). The land almost the whole way was basically pastoral with sheep, sheep and more sheep. We crossed another one-laned road/railway bridge. Dorothy and I liked Dunedin so much we both feel that we could live there. It’s a good size town (120,000) – not too big or too small, and is a college town (Otago University with about 6000 students). The town is built on a number of hills surrounding a beautiful blue harbor. We drove up to Larnach Castle via a road running across a series of hills and the view was fantastic. Larnach Castle is a neat old place that was built in the mid 1800’s but had fallen into disrepair. It was bought in the 1960’s and apparently restoration has. been going on ever since. It’s in pretty good shape now but still needs work. We toured it and climbed to the tower from which there are excellent views of the coastline and harbor. The outstanding characteristic of the house is wood carving (furniture, panels, ceilings) done by one man who was employed there for some time.

We left there and drove down to the harbor side of the coast. (We were on the Otago Peninsula and the Pacific is on the other side.) We stopped at an aquarium run by the Otago U. It has a very good variety offish and other marine life. We continued on down the coast, stopping to look at an old Maori church, and finally reaching the tip of the peninsula, where there is a protected Royal Albatross Colony. Unfortunately it is only open a couple of days a week and then only to small tours so as not to disturb the birds. The tour is expensive and we heard the birds are still hard to see. Around the curve from the Albatross colony is a farm which borders a part of the coastline where seals and penguins live. We drove the 3 km of dirt road up and down some steep hills, through wandering sheep and horses, until we reached a parking area near the coastline. I hadn’t really expected much but there on a rock lay 10 or more seals and walking around the hill we almost stumbled over one. I took a picture of the kids close to him and he sat up and acted like he was posing! We also saw a whole colony of strange looking birds called Shags which were roosting on the side of a cliff. We then walked over to an area up on the side of a hill overlooking a long flat beach which backed up to a steep sandy bank. On the beach waddling back and forth between the water and the bank were four, possibly more, penguins. Unlike the seals, we were quite a distance from them so we couldn’t see them all that well. The amazing thing was that the penguins struggle up that steep bank to roost in the plants at the top of it. We finally drove back to town. The tide was out leaving large flat areas, and there were thousands of sea birds either looking for morsels in the sand or circling overhead looking for food.

The next day (Jan 10th) we roamed around Dunedin, going to the bank, post office, book stores, tourist bureau and finally stopped at Qantas to confirm our flight back to Australia. They supposedly had no record of our booking. I left them to sort it out and later that day I got a message through our motel that we were confirmed on the plane. At the tourist bureau we got tickets for an excursion train which was to run up the coast to a beach that afternoon. We returned to the motel and changed to shorts and bathing suits and returned to the train station. The train left promptly at 1 o’clock. It ran all along the coast for an hour and a half, up and down hills, through tunnels and along the edge of a 300 m cliff overlooking the water. We finally got to the beach town and got off the train, but we still had to walk about 1/2 mile to the beach. The kids thoroughly enjoyed it. Toby had a ball in the surf, and Dwight and Dorothy had a good time looking for shells. (I took pictures and also looked for shells.) We found some little round shells that have what looks like mother of pearl on them. When we returned to town, we stopped at Pizza Hut for a pizza. (Unlike Australian pizza places, they actually had beef and onion pizzas.) We took the pizza back to the motel and ate it in front of the TV, while Toby and Dorothy ate sandwiches. That night we saw the last two segments of “A Town Like Alice.”

A note on Australian and N.Z. motels – most of them only have showers (no tubs). They do have refrigerators which is great for keeping drinks. Since Toby is really too small for showers, I came up with a method (plastic bag over the drain held down by a soft drink can) to fill up the -shower floor (which is usually several inches deep) and Toby uses it as a tub. A couple of places had full sized bath tubs and Toby was overjoyed.

January 11th we went to the Otago Museum, made a quick stop to double check on the plane tickets and to pick up a book Toby had asked for and then headed north. The road was good. We passed through a number of small towns and drove along the coast for a bit. We stopped for the night in Timaru and there we visited another animal park. It was not all that impressive. The only thing that stuck out for us city folk was watching a brand new lamb struggling to its feet for the first time, and seeing a good sized elk with a fantastic set of antlers. (Teddy Roosevelt gave some to N.Z. and they were almost ovenrun with them.) We also saw the movie “Slap Shot” at the motel.

The next day we drove to Christchurch. There were more small towns to pass through and traffic got heavier and faster. It was a beautiful day in Christchurch – warm and sunny. We rented two-man boats and spent an hour paddling up and down the Avon River through the botanical gardens. The river is only a foot or so deep. There are fish in it and lots and lots of ducks. At some places trees overhang the river (which is about 15 to 20 feet wide) so you end up ducking branches. There were many boats on the river and a lot of the people were not good at using the two bladed oars so collisions were frequent. Dwight acted as a coxswain to the utter dismay of his mother. We finished wet and tired. We spent the evening watching videos at the motel.

The next day was wet and cold. We drove to the QE II Park (where the Commonwealth Games had been held in 1974) to see the hydroslide at the in-door pool. Dwight declined to go in. Right next to the pool was a kids drive-it place. They had mini-racers, mini-bikes and mini construction equipment. Dwight and Toby got on a mini-racer together. Toby sat in front and drove while Dwight worked the accelerator. That went okay until the accelerator stuck and Toby ran them into a wall. That finished that ride. Then Dwight had a turn by himself. The rest of the day was spent shopping and arguing about what we were going to do. The boys watched two videos at the motel while Dorothy and I went shopping unsuccessfully.

Jan 14th was a much more successful day. We drove down to the botanical gardens, parked there and walked to the museum. The gardens are really beautiful and many flowers were in bloom. The museum had a very interesting Antarctic exhibit and some fantastic Maori carvings. Another section was built in the style of old (1890’s or so) Christchurch. It had a cobblestone “street with shops on both sides of the street. ‘Each shop or shop window was fall of merchandise from that time. We left the museum and walked back toward the parking area, but detoured to a beautiful play area. There were lots of people – kids playing, people having picnic lunches. I left the kids to play, Dorothy to hold the fort and went for sandwiches, which we ate there. Sandwiches with just filling and fresh bread purchased in halves are very popular and prevalent in New Zealand. After lunch we spent two hours downtown on a very successful shopping spree. From there we drove to yet another animal reserve, the big feature of which was one of those areas in which you drive in amongst lions roaming free. While the park was not that great, none of us had gone through one of those areas before. The lions didn’t approach the car but we drove within 10 feet of one cat lying in the grass looking at us. That was too much for Toby and he yelled at me to drive on. Back in town we fed some ducks on the Avon, turned in the car (2300 km) and were taken to the airport. Reluctantly (at least for me) we left N.Z. The trip to ‘Melbourne was on a 747 and was very smooth. We stayed overnight in Melbourne and there we watched Johnny Carson live on TV. The trip back to Alice the next day (Jan 15th) was somewhat rough – we wondered if the pilot was learning.

P.S. Although the weather on the west coast was miserable for the majority of the time we were there, we were still lucky, because the roads were at least still passable. After we left there it continued to rain until roads and bridges were washed out stranding people at various places along the west coast, and an earthslide closed the road to Milford Sound for a couple of days, stranding people there also. Queenstown also had problems. The lake rose to a record level, – flooding some of the shops nearest to the water. Also the glowworm caves at Te Anau had to be closed due to flooding.

Notes during the typing in this format in 2011….

Prince Edward walked the Milford Track around the time we were (or just before we were there) and there is a myth that bad weather occurs when a member of the Royal Family is in N.Z.

I also didn’t mention that when we were in the glowworm caves in Te Anau I heard whispering in the dark. It was Toby and when I asked what he was saying he told me he was counting the glowworms. And according to Toby he liked the ham sandwiches in N.Z. but didn’t like the ham sandwiches when we got back in Australia.

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Posted by on March 13, 2012 in Travel


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Nail in the Coffin of Homesickness

The Baroness and I went to see Aussie music icon Paul Kelly at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA tonight. We were very fortunate to see him in such an intimate venue. If this had been Australia, he would have been playing to a much larger crowd. As it was, I think every Aussie ex-pat in the greater Washington D.C. area was on hand for his stellar performance. Walking into the bar it was as if we’d traveled through a rip in the planet and left the Virginia car park and walked into a nightclub in Melbourne.

I held my homesickness at bay until he hit this song. (recorded at a previous event in Chicago)

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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Australia, Music, Travel


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Of Devils and Lavender: Tasmania 1982.

Dec 1982/Jan 1983


We left Alice Springs at 12:15 p.m. on December 27th and flew to Adelaide where we stopped for 30 minutes. A friend of Dorothy’s from the newspaper (?) met us at the airport to say Hi. We flew on to Melbourne where we stopped for an hour and a half before flying on to Hobart. The good thing about going to Hobart is that it’s located at the southern edge of Tasmania so you get a good view of the whole island as the plane descends into Hobart. Enroute we had two snacks and a complete meal. The South Australian Rifle Team was on the plane to Hobart. At the airport we picked up a brand new bright yellow Holden Camira (Australian built/GM product). It was cool but pleasant as we drove the 20 km into Hobart. The road to town goes over the high arched Tasman bridge and just on the other side of the bridge is a fairly high hill in the Botanic Gardens. Driving toward the bridge, that hill and Hobart in the background present quite a view. That night we stayed in a hotel which had been booked by the airline and it was very expensive.

The next day we found another motel, stopped at the Tourist Bureau, and left for Port Arthur. The trip took a couple of hours (on a two lane road) and much of the countryside was pastoral. We stopped at a place called Eaglehawk Neck, on the coast. The erosion patterns of the rocks were very interesting and a tunnel through one rock to the other side produced what is called a blowhole, in which the water from the sea comes rushing through the tunnel to spray against the rocks on the other side of the hill.

We drove on to the Tasmanian Devil’s Park. It is privately owned and the setting is very rustic but nice. It was here we saw the first signs of the island-wide drought. The trout stream through the park was completely dried up. We saw Tasmanian Devils, wombats, wallabies, birds, etc. There was one small wombat in a cage out in front of the place and one kid picked it up (apparently it is OK to do so) and then handed him to Dwight. Dwight said that he wiggled. We moved on to Port Arthur and tried to find something to eat, which presented a constant problem throughout Tasmania (and New Zealand) due to the lack of American type fast food places and my family’s problem of finding things they like. We finally found some hamburgers and took them to Port Arthur and ate them at a picnic table (it was windy and very cool). Port Arthur was a penitentiary for criminals too tough for the penal colony at Sydney in the early days of Australia. It was quite a sizable place with a number of the buildings, or parts of buildings (the dormitory, hospital, church) still standing; however most of them are in very sorry shape. They are trying to restore them, but it looks like a large-scale project is needed. We returned to Hobart and that night saw E.T. (for $19.50).

December 29th we drove to Launceston, about 2 and 1/2 hours and approximately 90 km. Most of the area we saw was hilly (some flat plains) not heavily forested. We arrived at Launceston, got a motel and drove out to the Tasmanian Wildlife Park This is also a private park. Many of the animals roam free and we were able to feed kangaroos and wombats by hand and Dwight and Dorothy were able to hold a wombat. A girl from the park fed Tasmanian Devils by hand and then brought one out so everyone, could pet it. Devils are thought to be vicious, but these have been raised in such a manner that they can be handled. Later she showed the wombat that Dwight and Dorothy had held. Toby tried to hold it but it was too big and Toby was too unsteady with him. The girl also brought out a koala to be petted. She was very good talking about the animals and had a good sense of humor. We returned to town, spent about an hour trying to find a place to eat and ended up eating in the room.

Breakfast presented special problems. Most motels we’ve used in Australia and New Zealand only serve breakfast by room service and it’s not cheap, so we look for alternatives. In those motels which have kitchens, we make ourselves something to eat. The other problem is that people in Australia and New Zealand eat things like steak and eggs for breakfast, and have never heard of anyone eating sweets for breakfast. So it’s almost impossible to find doughnuts. Anyway, on December 30th in Launceston we had 3 lamingtons (sponge cakes) and two eclairs for breakfast. We then drove out to the Waverly Woolen Mill. A cute female guide showed us through the various buildings, some of which are original, dating back to the mid 1800’s. In one shed different types of sheep and a type of goat which provides the raw material to the mill were displayed. From there we were shown the scrubbers which washes the wool before it’s processed. From there the wool is dried and stored until needed. It is taken from storage, combed, then turned into thread. We saw the looms where it is turned into material and then ended up at the shop where they sell some of their goods. One item which I thought was a neat idea was a blanket for picnics, etc. which had a rubber backing. We bought one, and a woolen tie.

From there we drove out to the lavender farm that Dorothy wanted to see. We finally got there after driving 50 km through mountains and back a dirt road. It is the biggest lavender farm in the southern hemisphere and is only open Christmas to January 23rd. The lavender fields were quite extensive and the lavender was either in full bloom or close. The cutting hadn’t started yet. The part of the plant beneath the bloom, not the bloom itself, produces the oil. There were thirteen different colors, including white. We drove back to Launceston, (tried a short cut and ended up on a dirt road which eventually disappeared), stopped at Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch and headed toward Hobart. We stopped at a town called Ross, and saw an old bridge built by convicts in 1834. We saw some more old buildings and another old bridge in Richmond before reaching Hobart. We ate supper in the Godfather Pizza Restaurant where they show videos (slang for video tape recorded movies) and Dorothy finally got to see at least part of the “Muppet Movie,” which has a Studebaker in it.

December 31st we spent the day shopping – stamp stores, book stores, etc. We walked down to the harbor to see all of the sailboats which had taken part in the Sydney-Hobart and Melboume-Hobart races. Looking for one book store we ended up on a hill (or mountain) in the outskirts of Hobart from which you could see the entire harbor area, Tasman Bridge and suburbs and it was quite a beautiful sight. That evening we just stayed in the motel. At midnight we were awoken by people celebrating New Year’s so we got up and looked down toward the harbor and saw fireworks being put off over the harbor. I guess we should have kept the kids up and joined the mob scene at the harbor to see the fireworks.

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Posted by on March 11, 2012 in Travel