Leaving OZ

A crisp autumnal breeze blew in my face as I yanked my backpack out of the cab.

Flinders Street Station

Flinders Street Station

Even Melbourne’s weather seemed to be pushing us onwards, to a new place where summer wasn’t ending. Having spent a month scraping the last tasty bits of the Australian summer from the pan, the eucalyptus-tinged breeze confirmed what I already knew.

Center of Melbourne

Center of Melbourne

It was time to go.
***********

Honest travel engenders a comfortable familiarity with the world. It reaffirms the greatest of instinctual human truths; that which differentiates us is far less than that which we share.

Australia proved this to me again and again. From a people as generous as they were curious to watching NBA basketball with nearly every group of 20 something Aussie men that I met, there was never a shortage of common ground. Time and time again, there was either a nostalgic appreciation from a trip to America, or an earnest desire to visit. I was amazed at the near universal depth of knowledge about the American political system. I am afraid that many Aussies have a more well-informed opinion of what ails American democracy than my countrymen do.

Australia and America are separated in ways akin to two different cooks working from the same recipe. Our shared beginnings as British colonies left us with the same base ingredients, differentiated now by local spices and the unique iterations of generations past. The inconsequential distinctions between us betray the existence of our shared history. America and Australia are brothers without a doubt, largely identical at a glance, with the same temperamental distinctions that have separated brothers since Cain and Abel.

Australia has been an amazing part of the Conquest. From Chad generously opening his home to us in Perth, to Nick’s genuine joy in showing us around the Whitsundays, to being fussed over by Ben’s Nan in the Gold Coast, we’ve been graciously seen to by people whose all-encompassing definition of hospitality would teach a Southerner a thing or two.

The people I’ve met here have scraped away a bit more debris from those universal truths that we so often claim as unique to ourselves.

The perfidy of differing perspective afflicts fathers and sons the world over. Those malevolent shadows on the wall could be dispelled with a mere step or two, but fear calcifies into the anchoring rage that holds us fast to the spot.

A daughter’s struggle for parental affirmation might manifest itself in various fashions, but the moral of the story is always the same.

The best part of my Australian experience wasn’t the phenomenal beaches or outstanding concerts. It was the opportunity to step into several different families and see the same familial dynamics as the ones I know back home. The location and accents may be different, but the human condition is universal.

True villains are as rare in the world as blameless heroes, but the shared myopia of humanity all too often makes monsters out of the unfocused shapes in the distance.

Every road leads one closer to somewhere. Proximity is the panacea for myopia, that erstwhile creator of monsters.

***********
In one month on the ground, Ben and I have seen no fewer than 12 beaches, seen 23 musical acts, swam in two oceans, visited 6 cities and stayed under 9 different roofs (or lack thereof in the case of the boat.) It has been a rock star tour of the “lucky continent.” Upon landing in Singapore this morning, we’ve now travelled together on 4 continents, a feat unto itself.

Now it is onto a different part of the world, one still bears both the physical and cultural scars of unenlightened colonialism. Seeing a culture so dissimilar from my own will again act as a focusing agent, forcing me to again check those truths I’ve held as universal.

Here’s to dispatching more monsters in the distance.

************

Here were some of the highlights of Australia in picture.

Look at that spinnaker

Look at that spinnaker

Looking towards Perth proper from our apartment

Looking towards Perth proper from our apartment

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West Coast vs. St. Kilda

West Coast vs. St. Kilda

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Kiteboarders off Cottesloe Beach

Top of Hamilton Island

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Mudcrab in Shanghai Sauce

Marina the Day After

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Sweet Home Chicago

Sweet Home Chicago

Byron Bay

Bright Lights

Bright Lights

Byron Bay

Most Eastern Point of Continental Australia

Most Eastern Point of Continental Australia

Flinders Street Station

Flinders Street Station

Yarra River

Perth Skyline

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ANZAC Day and the Price of Peace

For all of the methods of discerning a society’s civic virtue, few are more effective than gauging the treatment of veterans. The esteem with which a society holds those individuals who fight on behalf of their fellow citizens is an unparalleled bellwether. Seeing ANZAC Day (Australia/New Zealand Army Corps) was a truly eye opening experience for me.

ANZAC day is best described as a combination Veteran’s Day/Fourth of July/Memorial Day in the states.

Now for the obligatory Conquest history lesson.

On April 25, 1915, the ANZACs stormed the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. The objective was to establish a beachhead from which the British Empire would overrun Constantinople, forcing the Ottoman Empire to withdraw from the war and clearing Russian shipping lanes through the Black Sea.

Landing a mile north of their intended jumping off point, the ANZACs were under heavy fire from the moment they reached the beach. In a force of 16,000, there were 900 killed and 2,000 casualties. However, they established a beachhead, and defended it the next day against a massive onslaught of 42,000 Ottoman soldiers. While casualties were high on the storming, this is considered to be one of the greatest victories in ANZAC history.

By the end of the Gallipoli campaign however, more than ⅔ of the ANZAC force was either killed or wounded. This lead to the World War 1 total of 145 deaths per 1000 mobilized for the Australian military, the highest of any British Commonwealth force.

40% of men from the age of 18-44 years old participated in the war. 1 out of 6 never came home.

Hell considers itself insulted by comparisons to war. Your mates don’t disappear daily in Hell.

Both Australians and New Zealanders have held ANZAC Day in the highest regard since 1916. Every town in Australia big enough to warrant a post office also has a war memorial. Dawn service is proudly held at each one. 10,000 civic pilgrims head to Gallipoli annually to celebrate Dawn Service at ANZAC Cove. Demand is so great, that ANZAC Cove has a lottery to determine attendance.

When I compare this to Memorial Day/4th of July/Veterans’ Day in the states, I’m more than a little embarrassed. Much like we’ve taken the Christ out of Christmas, we’ve largely neutered the patriotism that these holidays were meant to engender. A prayer and flyover prior to a sporting event is lip service, nothing more.

The US Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that there are an average of 22 veteran suicides daily. A veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is ⅔ more likely to be unemployed than a civilian counterpart, and untreated PTSD has cost a generation of our service people and their families an incalculable sum.

As the brother of a veteran and friend to many more, I find America’s civic efforts to our veterans to be inferior at best. Given the real issues facing those whom we have asked to fight on our behalf, our efforts towards veterans have been sorely lacking. Those who volunteer to vouchsafe our freedom deserve better than the insufficient scraps that DC has seen fit to give.

The cost of these wars has been greater than the 4-6 trillion USD shown in the liability column of America’s balance sheet. The cost has been in lives, whether destroyed or irreparably changed by conflicts which have dragged on without conclusion for far too long.

Any society that doesn’t spend the time to reflect on the true cost of war will inevitably find itself misunderstanding the pricelessness of peace.

When I see the 10,000 Aussies crammed around the Victoria War Memorial at 4:30AM on a public holiday, I see a population that truly values the sacrifice of its veterans. Good on you Australia. I hope that my country can learn from your example.

On the Beach in Byron

Sorry for the delay between posts. 5 days in Byron and some additional travel have kept me away from solid internet and my computer, so heaps have happened in the interim.

Byron Bay

Got up to Byron on Thursday afternoon. Took a bus from Ben’s grandmother’s down to Byron, which took a little over an hour and a half. The drive down was beautiful but strange. The landscape reminded me very much of home, but with more variation in elevation. Most of the land was agricultural, probably 90% pasture and 10% cultivated. Cattle were everywhere on the green rolling hills, and the cultivated land was mostly sugarcane.

Bit of a difference however, between the “beach” at the Williams Dam, and the outstanding coastline that abutted the farmland in New South Wales. The agricultural land went all the way to the ocean, only being bisected by the highway. This concept seemed absolutely mental to me as there is no where in the States that has good weather and 70 consecutive miles of beautiful coastline that hasn’t been developed. Not sure whether it was the sea air or the cowshit, but the Conquest smells an opportunity. Might need to recruit a Spreen for this one though. I’m still rating “Unsatisfactory” with my gentleman farming skills, so I’ll defer to the experts.

The Lookout

The Lookout

Upon arriving in Byron, we checked into our hostel and went to have a look around. Again, the beaches were beautiful, but Byron was the busiest beach we’ve seen by far since I’ve gotten to OZ. Between 35-40k people a day attended the Blues and Roots Festival, and Byron Bay is a town of 9,000 people. It was absolutely packed to the gills as it was also the Easter Holiday weekend, and families from around the area converged as well.

Byron Bay

The hostel was well appointed. We basically had a 2 BR apartment with kitchen, sitting room, and a deck. Our bedroom was 2 sets of bunkbeds which we shared with a rotating cast throughout the weekend. The other bedroom was a single full bed, which was occupied by 3 different couples. We were about two blocks from the center of town, with bikes and surfboards available for free through the hostel.

Hostel LIving

Hostel LIving

One morning I jumped on one of the beat up beach cruiser and headed up to the beachside market. Every handmade good imaginable was on offer, from hand pressed natural antibiotic from tea trees, to painted concrete mushrooms, all the way to some of the most beautiful sunset surfing pictures I’ve ever seen. The whole atmosphere is one of community first, sales second. There are booths stretched for over a half mile, and people are elbow to elbow moseying through, arms full of artisanal this and that, cash being put into the hand that made the product.

Not a bad little economic system they’ve worked out there on the beach.

Byron is the most easterly point of continental Australia, and on Monday morning, our Kiwi roommate Ryan and I headed out to go take a peek from the point. A friend of mine from home, Jade Wagner, had also suggested this, so I figured it was worth the time. The view was phenomenal, about 200 feet above sea level looking down over Byron and then Tallow Beach to the south.

Most Eastern Point of Continental Australia

Most Eastern Point of Continental Australia

Beyond the point, there is a group of about 800 dolphins that congregate in the area. Unfortunately without a telephoto lens, I couldn’t get the pictures to turn out very well, but I saw heaps of dolphins swimming just northeast of the point. To see 10-15 fins going around was outstanding. We were too early (or is it late since winter is beginning here) in the season to see the whale shark migration, but if anyone ever has the desire to see it, Byron Bay would be an absolutely outstanding place to do it from.

Now onto the colorful cast of characters. From the hostel, we had a super friendly New Zealander and a standard polite but mirthless German. Also had two girls from Brisbane in the second room, who brought along with them a fantastic complement of local professional hippies/buskers (street performers.)

From these guys, I got to hear about Nimbin, the local hippy run town, complete with police force, post office, etc. It is just a wild place where anything goes, drugs are available anywhere you ask, and people just generally hang out and make handmade goods for sale at local markets. I also got to hear about the busking end, one of the guys, Yamos, has been a “professional busker” for over 30 years. He’s a Greek from Devonport, New Zealand originally, and he is absolutely terrified of cities.

“Man, Melbourne. Place just about brought me to tears with all the people bustling around. Scary scary place man.”

“Nimbin, ha. They’ll sort you out man. Just get sorted…then go out to the waterfall.”

Heaps of surfers

Heaps of surfers

Yamos was really interesting though. Coming in sporting a thin blue headband over his neck length white hair, Yamos gave me the flavor of Byron. First he started talking about the population growth in Byron (a town of 9,000 that is aggressively trying to thwart a western “suburb” which would increase the population to about 12,000 total. He also talked about teaching music in Devonport, and his friendship with “Ellie” a woman who would become Lorde. She was a child prodigy discovered at age 9, and would give free concerts in town often until she signed with Universal at the age of 13. Yamos said she is absolutely brilliant scholastically as well and that she’d be the biggest star in the world someday. Considering her fame at the age of 17, I’d say he’s got a decent chance of being right.

Yamos and John also talked about cops and busking. Byron recently passed a shire wide ordinance requiring buskers to be registered. This…displeased the local busking population. After the festival one night, I saw 3 cops busting two buskers on Jonson Street about 2:30, and hiding around the corner in an alley was…John. Just refused on principle to register, so he was playing cat and mouse with the police all night. Yamos told me that he typically makes 250-350 most nights he performs, so John’s ideological purity was costing him mightily.

These interactions are really the best part of travel.

You might have worn the same 2 shirts for the last week and smell a bit like that kid in 3rd grade everyone avoided, because you don’t have access to a washing machine. The limited sleep you catch, on a sweaty twin sized mattress, in a camp style bunkbed, is punctuated by a couple of new strangers every night. Checking in at the airport, tells you you’re going to Sydney, not Melbourne, then routes you back through Adelaide and double charges your card, pushing you off on an exasperated check-in girl at the end of her shift. Two hippies roll up to your unlocked hostel room in the middle of the afternoon and seem to know no one.

Waking up to see this

Waking up to see this

Then you talk to the two hippies who have made a life of singing on street corners, and have every line on their face and a roach burned thumb to prove it. The sweaty stranger above you becomes a buddy, and you find out about how life is for a gourmet dog food sales rep in New Zealand and Australia. A couple of British birds come in in the middle of the night, and give you an arms length list of things to do in Vietnam. That horsed up flight gets fixed by that exasperated girl, and you end up getting a direct flight that lands 3 hours earlier.

It is all worth it.

The stink, the shitty beds, and the 6AM bus rides, every bit is worth it because you’ve experienced something. You look back in a month and say, “I remember exactly what I did that Thursday, I hiked in the morning, swam in the ocean in the afternoon, and saw an 80 year old named Buddy Guy do things to a guitar that seem impossible. Then I walked over 200 yards and watched a coked out of his mind John Mayer entertain 20k people for 2 hours. Yeah, I remember last Thursday.”

Sure as hell beats your average Thursday.

Byron Bay

All Blues in Byron

Byron Blues and Roots was a fantastic 5 day festival. The lineup was absolutely incredible, and it was a total bonus on this trip. Ben got a Facebook message offering him VIP tickets when we were in Perth, looks over at me and said,

“Hey, what do you think about doing Byron Blues and Roots? Only cost is accom.”

Keeping in the spirit of the trip, I just said yes.

Getting the chance to see Buddy Guy, Gary Clark Jr. and the Doobie Brothers at the same venue as John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews Band and John Butler Trio wasn’t something I was planning on passing up. The only problem with this festival was that there were too many artists we wanted to see in 5 days.

The weather was perfect (for the first time in 5 years from what we were told) and the music was amazing. The festival is intended to hold 35,000-40,000 people or so a day, and being the 25th anniversary it was sold out for at least 3 of the days.

Bluesfest

The festival itself was on a specifically designed site. A local businessman bought a tea farm about 7 miles outside of Byron Bay and excavated everything perfectly for a huge festival venue. From the culverts to the stage location, everything about this location was designed with this purpose in mind. About 60% of people camp at this festival, so you’re looking at another 20,000+ campsites plotted out as well.

The music was spectacular. From John Mayer being ripped out of his mind, singing jumbled up “dream songs” in between his hits, to John Butler Trio having 30k people sing “Betterman” we couldn’t have asked for a more outstanding musical performance.

Before arriving, we jotted down ten moments in the festival that we were particularly excited to see. At least one of us made one of them.

1. Jack Johnson- Flake

Flake

Flake

2. John Butler Trio- Better Man
3. Matt Corby- Souls A’fire
4. Buddy Guy – Sweet Home Chicago (my personal highlight of the week)

Sweet Home Chicago

Sweet Home Chicago

5. John Mayer- Who Says

John Mayer, telling 20k people about his "dream songs"

John Mayer, telling 20k people about his “dream songs”

6. Dave Matthews Band- Space Between

The Space Between

The Space Between

7. Erykah Badu- I Want You
8. India.Arie- Video

India.Arie

9. Gary Clark Jr.- Bright Lights
10. Chali 2na- Comin’ Thru

If anyone is a guitar fan and has a chance to see Gary Clark Jr., for the love of all that is holy go do it. He is an absolute legend with a guitar in his hands, and it is a truly incredible thing to see him go nuts.

Bright Lights

Bright Lights

Past that, we were pretty pleased with everyone’s performance. It was my first DMB concert, and I was impressed, if not obsessed with them. Great act, just not sure what the absurd cult-like following is about.

All and all, couldn’t be happier with the 5 days in Byron. More on the actual town to follow.

Leaving Paradise

I suppose if I set up permanent camp this quickly into the trip, the Moorman Conquest would have to rechristen itself the Moorman Siege. It almost happened with Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays. Rarely if ever have I been to a place more beautiful and untouched by human hands, and that beauty truly spoke to my soul.

After riding out the hurricane on Sunday, we piled into the boat and commandeered a mile of totally untouched beach on Monday. Seeing no one for miles on a perfectly white beach with sand so fine that you could buff the face of your watch was a nearly surreal experience.

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We set up camp with a huge spread of food, drink and sporting equipment. Between biscuit (tube) rides behind the jet ski, snorkeling on the reef, a heated game of beach Foursquare, and a bunch of Aussies teaching me to how to properly kick a footy, we entertained ourselves for hours on this pristine coastline. I couldn’t believe that we had such beauty all to ourselves.

Snorkeling

Snorkeling

Snorkeling

After that, we headed up to a lookout point over Whitehaven Beach. The tide was nearly completely out when we got there and there were hundreds of thousands of Soldier Crabs scurrying about looking for a meal before the waters came rushing back in. Seeing these palm sized crabs in such staggering numbers was a sight in itself, but then we got to the lookout point and got a better perspective on the enormity of the Whitsunday Island chain.

Uninhabited islands abounded in the area, from small hard spits of land no bigger than a semi-trailer, to massive miles long islands jealously keeping wildlife and waterfalls underneath a lush green canopy of deciduous and coniferous trees, there is a biological diversity that few areas can match.

Tuesday night, we celebrated my 27th birthday with a phenomenal Greek dinner of zucchini fries, mudcrab and lamb chops. Nick once again outdid himself, making a feast that most professional chefs would be proud to call their handiwork. God also jumped in on the birthday celebrations, leaving a beautiful lunar eclipse to be viewed over the vibrant blues of the ocean. It was just one more reminder of the amazing beauty that abounds in our world.

Look up from that iPhone screen, you might see something breathtaking.

Put down the iPhone

Put down the iPhone

Wednesday afternoon, we left for the Gold Coast en route to Byron Bay for the Blues and Roots Festival. While I hope I someday see the Whitsundays again, as Frost so eloquently stated in his immortal poem, “The Road Not Taken”,

“Yet knowing how way leads onto way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”

I suppose I should be thankful that I took the road less taken to begin with. The twinge of regret on the road not taken would be nothing compared to having never seen the fork.

Upon arriving to the Goldie, as it is affectionately known, we were taken to yet another beach lookout, where the full moon illuminated a massive swath of dark water into a lighted southeasterly arrow. I took some time to glance at a few of the constellations that I’ve been trying to learn (I’ve got you now Gemini and Cancer) and took in the pounding of the massive waves. Our friend Brittney asked if I was sick of ocean scenes yet, and I laughed that after spending 22 years living in the midst of cornfields, it would take a whole lot more than 3 weeks in OZ to lessen my appreciation for a lungful of salt air and the rhythmic onslaught of waves on rocks.

We stayed with Ben’s grandmother in the Gold Coast, a wonderful woman of 78 who made me realize that whether in the US or OZ, grandmothers know no borders.

I can’t act as if I wasn’t jealous, seeing a grandmother interact with her eldest grandson as I had so many times with my own, but it made me again appreciate the 26 years that I got to spend with the sainted women that called me their grandson. As with my trip to paradise, all things end.

What we so often fail to realize in our own lives, whether a relationship, a job, or a friendship is that an end does not diminish the good that was. I think it is an important lesson to reflect upon.

After the Storm

Growing up in the midst of cornfields, my experience with hurricanes has been limited to watching Jim Cantore get blown all over Florida, and a dud of a hurricane named Irene while I was in NYC. Tropical Cyclone Ita was a bit of a dud as well. It wasted a full day blowing around palm trees and lashing everything with a deluge of water, but there was never a period where we felt the awe inspiring power that hurricanes can sometimes bring.

Tropical Cyclone Ita

Storm rolling in

Tropical Cyclone Ita

Waking up Monday morning, the sky was an unmarked crystalline blue. Aside from a few rangy clouds on the western horizon, there was no mark of yesterday’s storm. As I read my book on the balcony this morning, the sun poked out from behind the mountain on Hamilton Island and bathed the marina in a gentle light. Gorgeous is not an adequate word to describe the illuminated palate of blues and greens.

Marina the Day After

Birds were everywhere, singing and making up for lost time by eating anything and everything. A cockatoo played chicken with me this morning on the balcony. Lithe as a gymnast on a balance beam, the cream colored bird trapezed along the aluminum rail as if I was the intruder. He would sidle up next to me as I read, only to scurry further away if I paid him any mind. His talons on aluminum made a very distinct noise, keeping time as I flipped from page to page. Occasionally I would look up to see him pacing back and forth, throwing up his neon mohawk whenever I took a few steps towards him.

Good Morning!

Part of the group is leaving today to head back to Melbourne, and the rest will be departing tomorrow. Even with the rain, we’ve had a good time drinking and feasting around the island. Nick seems to want to get out to the reef this week, so hopefully we’ll have time to get out about 50 nautical miles to see the heart of the Great Barrier Reef before Ben and I head down to Byron Bay for the Blues and Roots Festival.

Hook, Line and Sinker

There is no shortage of beautiful places on Earth, but the Whitsundays has to be among the most gorgeous. The blues, greens and inkstained blacks are as vivid as I’ve ever seen. Imagine the Caribbean in HD with hundreds of uninhabited islands just waiting to be explored.

Top of Hamilton Island

Ben and I landed in Hamilton Island midday on Thursday. His good friend Nick was there right away to pick us up on the golf cart (buggy in OZspeak) and whisked us away to the boat. After a few preliminary boat preparations, we were off to the reef. Nick had caught a few mudcrabs earlier in the day, and he was itching to catch another few fish for dinner. We trolled for Spanish Mackerel on the way out, but unfortunately we didn’t catch any monsters.

We pulled into a small bay just as darkness started to fall, and immediately started bottom fishing for some Red Emperor, which are among the tastiest fish in the sea. After lacing a squid onto my hook, I tossed it out and took in the multitude of stars while I waited.

With Tropical Cyclone Ita coming in, the fishing wasn’t great, but after about an hour, I yanked out a beautiful emperor, which Nick started cleaning as soon as I removed the hook. Nick is a phenomenal chef in his own right, and he was cooking up an absolute storm.

Red Emperor

As I stood at the back of the boat trying to get another emperor before dinner, I was completely sidetracked by the smells wafting up from below deck. Nick prepared the mudcrab in a mouthwatering coconut based Shanghai sauce, which was among the best I’ve ever tasted.

Mudcrab in Shanghai Sauce

Now we’ve just got to get that mackerel. Hopefully this tropical cyclone gets out of the way soon.

Brisbane Hostel Life

After saying goodbye to Chad in Perth, Ben and I jumped on the overnight flight from Perth to Brisbane, landing at 5AM local time. Needless to say the 4 hour flight wasn’t the most conducive to sleeping, so we headed to the hostel to try to catch a few hours worth of Zzz’s.

Brisbane is a much more mature city than Perth, as evidenced by the architecture and city feel. In the oldest part of the city, streets are named after British Monarchs, with female streets running parallel one direction and males the other. When our waiter told us that at lunch, it definitely made navigation a ton easier.

Queen Victoria

Benny and I wandered down through the center of town, eating lunch near St. George square. Benny had a quick errand to run for some paperwork at the Medicare office, so I got a quick glance at completely socialized medicine. It was in the middle of the shopping center, and run like a DMV. As far as efficiency goes, we were in and out in 10 minutes, so I considered it a win.

We met up with some people for dinner, eating at Breakfast Creek, one of the oldest continuously run establishments in Brisbane. Open for 125 years, it has a fair share of ghost stories, high water marks from floods, and a cracking good petit filet.

Brisbane at Night

The hostel we’re staying at is attached to a bar, which leads to some late night comedy that money can’t buy. Stumbling drunk Asian guys hitting on standoffish British girls, the three angry looking German dudes standoffishly bogartting a corner, two dreadlocked hippies dancing in their own little world and everyone’s favorite, the selfie snapping American girl up from her study abroad program in Sydney.

The best thing about hostel life is that there is no social order going into an evening, so everyone just tosses themselves together with reckless abandon, and sees where the night is going to take them. Tomorrow there will be a whole new crew. Hilarity inevitably ensues.

Heading to Hamilton Island tomorrow en route to the Whitsundays. Looks like Tropical Storm Ita is going to be heading considerably north of us, so we won’t have to worry about that while we’re out on the boat. Internet will be scarce, so it might be a bit before the next post, but it will be full of pictures from the Great Barrier Reef.

The Conquest Witnesses Footy

We’re winding our time down in Perth and leaving for Brisbane tonight at 10:45 PM. We’ve had a great time here in Perth for the last 10 days. The people have been stunningly accommodating at every turn and staying with Chad has really given us the local flavor of the place.

The last couple days were spent running around Perth, from the outstanding weekend market to my first footy game which morphed into a late night out in Mount Lawley.

After we got going on Saturday morning, Chad took us 3 blocks from his flat to the Subiaco Market, which is a combination farmers market/international food fair. The food was fantastic and completely ethnic. There was a huge paella stand next to a Greek souvlaki place. Just down the row from them were two competing Indian vendors who were staring at a Vietnamese joint which shared a wall with a Turkish shop. I ate paella on Saturday and got a sampler from the Exotiful African Food stand on Sunday. When I asked Ben if he wanted me to get him anything, he said a club sandwich or something easy. The closest thing I found was a handmade Turkish diced chicken pocket. Standard food was no where to be seen. Turkish Stand

Turkish Stand

The place was completely bustling both days I was in there. There is also a huge fresh fruit and vegetable stand next to a fresh fish monger.

Subiaco Fresh Market

The whole scene was alive with color, chattering masses and some crooning Aussies covering Johnny and June Cash’s hit “Jackson.” It seemed that nothing made sense, but it was so haphazard that nothing seemed out of place either. All and all a great experience, which properly summed up the Australian culture as a nation of immigrants.Exotiful African Food

After the market, we met up with Ben’s Perth counterpart at Future Music, and had a few pints before heading to the footy game. The neighborhood around Patterson grounds isn’t exactly Wrigleyville, but all the pubs were jam packed with Eagles (West Coast) supporters prior to the game. The girls were sitting in the box for one of the big newspapers, while Benny and I were sitting in some seats arranged by Chad.

West Coast vs. St. Kilda

West Coast vs. St. Kilda

West Coast vs. St. Kilda

West Coast vs. St. Kilda

West Coast vs. St. Kilda

West Coast vs. St. Kilda

We weren’t expecting much, as St. Kilda were 58.5 dogs and 13:1 to win. However, the Saints gave it a real smashing effort in the early going, which helped keep us interested in the game. I was still fascinated that a sport that attracts 40k+ people 26 games a year is virtually unknown outside of Australia.

After the game we had a little vinyl party pre-game with our newly fixed record player. I think I might have to invest in one when I get home and settled. Quite a different sound than the digital we’ve gotten used to, and people seem absolutely fascinated by the things. After that Ben and I headed up to Mount Lawley with Sarah and Kate, where we had a good night and met up with some other people from the music industry.

Sarah is actually a top PR person for Western Australia tourism, so it was very interesting to hear her perspective on both the perceptions and reality of tourism in this part of the country. Most Americans tend to head to the east coast of Australia when they come down on holiday, so WA has made a big push into trying to capture part of that market. From what I’ve seen, they shouldn’t have too much of a problem attracting visitors. It is truly a beautiful and vibrant part of the world. She told me about a NYTimes article comparing Perth to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. She took it to be a compliment, which in some circles, I’m sure it is.

Yesterday was reserved for taking it easy on Cottesloe Beach and watching Essendon beat down on Carlton in the late afternoon footy game. Cottesloe was a gorgeous beach, which appears to be a real hot spot for kiteboarding. The sky was full of kites south of the break, and watching these guys go at it at pretty substantial rates of speed made me want to develop a new hobby. Kiteboarders off Cottesloe Beach

Benny and Chad went and punched it quite hard with some of Chad’s mates after the polo game, but I stayed in to catch up on some writing and sleep.

Brisbane tomorrow for a couple of days, then off to the Whitsundays, where we’ve heard that Tropical Cyclone Ita is going to come join us at least temporarily. We’ll keep an eye on it, but as of now it looks like it will be heading a decent bit north of us. Time will tell.

Well I’m sure everyone wants to get back to Game of Thrones so I’ll sign off. Next stop Brisbane!

More Sports from Down Under

Benny and I moved from our rented flat in Rivervale to his friend Chad Fletcher’s place over in the Subiaco neighborhood. Subiaco is quite a bit more urban, with a ton of development going up everywhere. Chad has owned his flat for 7 years, and he said that the area has really grown up around him, obviously to the benefit of a property owner.

The neighborhood is a nice mix of cafes, independent retail shops and a few Australian chain restaurants. Very clean and modern. Benny and I actually found a pretty funny coffee shop around the corner from Chad’s, a joint called Tickle My Bean, which we thought was hilariously suggestive.

Little suggestive isn't it?

Little suggestive isn’t it?

Australians are a bit coarser in their sensibilities over here, with newspaper articles printing a profane quote by merely dropping a couple letters from the middle of a four letter word.

Chad got in last night from Indonesia, where he’s been surfing for the past two and a half weeks off of Bali. Every surfer I’ve spoken to here raves about the surf in “Indo.” Tickets being around 300 round trip and accommodations being on the $10/night side, it isn’t tough to see why. If I can get my surfing up to scratch on this trip, I am going to make an effort to go spend a week.

I was speaking to another bloke yesterday named Jason, who like many in Western Australia, works in the mines. He talked about the good money that the miners make, and how the “really huge money” is being made in offshore mining. Apparently there has been a big operation opened off of the northwestern corner of the country, and guys over there are making $275,000 annually, working a 26 days on/ 9 days off schedule. He says the money is great, but it is grueling 14 hour a day work. It really shows on the faces of the miners, there is a tradeoff there between your life expectancy/quality and the cash. For that kind of money though, there are no shortage of men willing to make that trade.

He gave me a very cursory overview of where most things are mined in Australia. The northwestern quadrant near Broome is mainly iron ore while the eastern side is largely gold and diamonds. The project he was about to leave on was an absolutely desolate location where they were mining for nickel.

Hearing about mining as such a lucrative enterprise was a first for me, as American miners have fallen on hard times lately, especially in the coal industry. He also spoke of oil and gas developments off of that northwestern side, but there does seem to be a more pronounced opposition to offshore drilling in OZ than back in the US.

Past the mining conversation, we got into surfing and he was very adamant about not surfing Western Australia any longer. Apparently the Indian Ocean side of Australia outlawed the hunting of Great White Sharks while paring back fishing to replenish natural fisheries back in 1998. Since then, the shark problem has become pretty fierce, with 6 meter (nearly 20 foot) great whites being seen within 100 meters of shore. This coupled with the 8-10 shark attacks reported annually have really damaged the reputation of Western Australia for surfing. Jason was another avid proponent of Indo for surfing.

This morning after Chad woke up from his 5AM re-entry from Indo, we spoke a bit about footy. Chad played professionally for West Coast Eagles and it was interesting to gain the perspective of someone who played for 11 years in the league. He spoke of how different the game is today from even when he retired 7 years ago. He also spoke of the real problems with former footy players reintegrating into the workforce after years of being professional athletes. Footy players over here make good money, with 8 players making more than 1 million AUD/year in the 2012 season, and the fat part of the bell curve being between $100,000-300,000.

These numbers seem downright paltry compared to the 25-30 million a year that American superstars make. A few reasons for wide pay discrepancy include the very powerful club culture in AFL; players being far more likely to stay with a club their entire careers, and a strict salary cap which doesn’t allow for extreme pay for superstars. There is also a Father-Son clause during the draft which allows teams to take the sons of former long time players (100 games played) to take the son prior to the draft. This kind of cross-generational connection to the club is really interesting. I suppose the closest parallel in US sports would be sons playing for their father’s alma mater. No correlation professionally.

Chad actually spoke about the team taking cross the board paycuts in order to keep the club from losing players to free agency. The club went on to go to back to back Grand Finales (Super Bowl equivalent) and Chad said that he would gladly give back 50k of salary in order to be on a squad competing at that level.

I laughingly thought about Lebron leaving his hometown Cavaliers for the money. Villian would’ve been too kind a word for Lebron in footy culture.

Learning more by the day, fascinating to learn something from scratch like this, even if it is just sports.