Melbourne. Again…

OK. I know I was talking about never wanting to go to Melbourne ever again (see here), but as Dani’s cousins were here I got dragged into it. We spent a couple of nights in Melbourne taking in the city sights (such as they are) and took a day trip over to Philip Island for the penguin parade.

Original ironmongers work on the lights and bridges along the Yarra river
Statues at the docklands plus three corners near Flinders Station
Dani with the most famous suit of armour
The free trams around the city centre are understandably popular
The Lego shop tram was also very popular

Victoria State Library

The Victoria state library is worth a visit. Just for a walk around to marvel at the fantastic Victorian (era) architecture. They just don’t build them like this any more. It remined me a lot of the big city libraries in the UK. Notably the libraries in Liverpool and Manchester which have similar large, round and domed reading rooms. (I am sure other UK cities too.)

The fabulous dome reading room of the Victoria state library
Ground level view
First level
Second level
Top level view

The library also houses the famous suit of armour worn by that most  infamous/heroic/notorious/famous (you choose) of bushrangers, Ned Kelly. It is instantly recognisable to anyone who knows only the slightest piece of Kelly’s story.

Ned Kelly’s instantly recognisable suit of armour

Which brings me nicely on to the next port of call…

Melbourne Old Gaol

The bleak outer walls of the old gaol. Inside was even bleaker.
The old and the new. Changing Melbourne

This is the place where Ned Kelly was hanged – Melbourne Old Gaol. This place obviously never changes. I first visited it back in the 1990s. It is a typical Victorian era gaol with three floors of small cells with small windows. Very grim and similar to the old prisons in the UK. We also did a tour of the next-door holding cell area which only closed in the mid 90s (we were told). That part I do not recall… But here are some photos from our visit.

The kids in padded cell plus other cells

The hanging floor where Ned Kelly met his end.
Dani with one of his heroes (well sort of)
Mug shots. Susana is almost a complete head taller than Dani
Dani at the gallows

Nearby, we passed by the old swimming baths. Nice to see this fantastic piece of history still standing and going strong. The inside remains almost as good as I remember it, with only some modernisation. We only took a quick peek.

The majestic old Melbourne Public Baths

AC/DC Lane

Almost certainly the most famous band to come out of Australia, AC/DC are well-known the world over. So their home city was bound to pay some kind of tribute. They did so by renaming a narrow backstreet after the rock group.

AC/DC Lane. Renamed, formerly known as Corporation Lane

The street has several bars and restaurants and soon became a beacon for wall art (aka graffiti) – although originally done with the best intentions. A bit like the silo or water-tower art we have seen so much of in the countryside. Blank spaces of wall were offered to artists as blank canvasses. Here is the result…

Malcolm Young. Deceased AC/DC guitar player
Just like the silo art some of the work in this area is quite good.

Statue (built into the wall) of Bon Scott, the legendary original singer of AC/DC who died in 1980
Some of the artwork on AC/DC Lane

John Murray’s ‘Elvis Emu’. Just like the one in Parkes for the Elvis Festival

Not far from AC/DC Lane lies Hosier Lane. Another long backstreet that has been handed over to would-be artists who seem to have sprayed crap over some of the better work. It all starts to get a bit messy around here. But the tourists seemed to like it still and took every photo opportunity they could. Odd I thought but hey…

Hosier Lane
This is one example of a complete mess (side street off Hosier Lane)

It is quite something to say that one of the biggest attractions (if that is even the right word) for tourists seemed to be this area of graffiti covered old buildings. But this definitely looked to be the case. There were tourists aplenty, some even on guided walking tours. Some of the graffiti is clearly artistic and I have no problem with it but there is now more that is basically just wonton vandalism. Still there were plenty of tourists taking the same photos as me. And I seriously doubt many were AC/DC fans.

Penguin Parade

I wish I had some good photos of these little creatures but sadly I don’t. Most were out of focus or too far away. I honestly remember this tourist trap being really good with lots of penguins and even being able to walk amongst them in the nesting areas. Getting really close to them now is a matter of luck it seems. First of all there were not that many penguins emerging from the sea – at least on the night we went. I understand that number can vary day to day, but I seem to recall there being quite a lot when I first came here all those years ago.

Secondly unless the penguins walk right alongside the boardwalk you don’t get close at all. Is my memory clouded in nostalgia I wonder? I am convinced it was much better than this. Anyway, the kids were thrilled with the few penguins we did see, and as that was the main reason for the trip it has to be considered ‘mission accomplished’.

Sorry but this is the best photo we got. Not great but…

On reflection I would say that Melbourne really is a more ‘liveable city’ than Sydney. I think it is much easier to get around (suburbs etc included) and that count for a lot. But if someone was to come to Australia for just a few days I would recommend Sydney. It is more “visitable” (is that a new word?).

So, will I go back to Melbourne ever again? I doubt it. But as the saying goes; ‘never say never’.

Athletics Carnival and the Dreaded Parents Race

Yesterday was the school’s “athletics carnival”. Sports day we used to call it when I was in school back in the UK. But, just like the ones I remember from all those years ago, it is not just any sports. It is really just track and field athletics.

I had not been looking forward to it since Dani found out there was a parents race. He insisted I take part. Which I did. Reluctantly and under duress. More on that below.

The “Carnival”

The sports day was held at an athletics track near the Centennial Parklands. One side had a large covered seating area for spectators, and of course the screaming kids from each of the school’s competing houses.

They managed to get through a full day of events where every child participated in three track races (100m, 200m & 800m) plus three field events. To finish there was a series of relay races; the teams made up of the best runners from the previous 100m races. It was complete chaos but somehow they managed it. In fact some of it was comedy gold as it was clear that many of the kids had never tried the (more technical) field events.

The long jump was more like a long hop off the take-off board for many (Dani included). But the high jump would have made for YouTube blockbuster footage. I wish I could have sat there and recorded the whole event close up. Hilarious.

It is hardly surprising that the kids had no idea how to do a long jump or high jump. This was the first time many of them had seen or tried them. This whole sporting event had been cancelled the previous two years due to… Well, you know. The “C” word… Heaven forbid the kids might partake in a bit of sporting activity, keep fit in the fresh air, enjoy themselves and pick up a little dose of vitamin D while doing so eh? Who on earth would want that? Just as well they locked them all up and stopped all such activities instead eh? Anyway, I digress… (yet again).

Parents Race

I never wanted to do it. I hadn’t even done any jogging – let alone trying to sprint – for about a couple of months. And I honestly can’t remember the last time I ran 100m flat out. Would my back hold up? (I have had a little trouble recently.) Will I pull a muscle? Could it be even worse?

I expected a little help. I thought may be there might be some kind of age related handicap. I thought a head-start of 5 metres per year over the age of 40 would be about right. That would put me 90 metres ahead of the (official) start line and the youngest competitors. With only 10 metres to run. I would walk this race. Literally (just to take the piss!).

Alas, no such luck. When I suggested it to the sports teacher he laughed. That ‘yeah mate, piss off, we still have the relay races to run’ kind of a laugh. Not even one metre per year. So much for sportsmanship and fair play eh? I was f*#ked and I knew it!

I lined up with 9 others and the race was underway. I started OK (so I thought) until I saw everyone else ahead of me. I just tried to get into a fast but short stride not wanting to pull a muscle. As it turned out it only lasted a little over 10 seconds. No, no, no! I am not claiming some Olympic qualifying time here. I mean, I was about 10 seconds into the race when I realised I was going to finish last.

About the same time (and by my reckoning at the 80 metres mark) I could feel a little pain in my lower back and some muscle where I didn’t even know I had one. (Somewhere between the groin and top of thigh?) Anyway, I had to slow down. The race was already well and truly lost by that point (just in case you were wondering).

It was not a case of how my fast-twitch sprinting muscles would respond. It was more a case of ‘where the hell were they?’

On the plus side; the oxygen mask I thought I might need at the finish line was not required. In fact I was not even slightly out of breath. Was I really running that slowly? No, I was not. My stamina (lung capacity) was clearly still there but the legs and back simply did not want to play. I think I could have ran a whole lap (400m) at that pace. Could those parents who finished ahead of me? I like to think they would have tired after another 50 metres. Well, it helps to think that. My attempt at a moral victory.

While watching the final (relay) races I caught up with Dani. He seemed disappointed – if not embarrassed. “You came last. You were not very good” was all he had to say. I think I had let him down so tried to put it into some perspective. Mine at least. “Ah well,” I replied, “I was the oldest in the race, by some way.” But he seemed to brush that excuse off quickly.

I suppose that’s another bonus to take away from today. Dani is very unlikely to ask me to join in any ‘parents race’ in the future. But part of me wouldn’t mind trying a similar race again. But only if I had time to prepare properly. I definitely wouldn’t do it again unless I knew I was able to really go for it. Ah… We shall see… I won’t lose any sleep over it either way.

Sydney’s Most Iconic Landmark?

Sydney is synonymous with two iconic man made structures. Everyone the world over will shout them out as soon as the city’s name is mentioned. One is the harbour bridge and the other would be the Opera House. But there is a third. And for me, this one is more interesting than the other two and no doubt has far more visitors. I am talking about Luna Park amusement park.

Luna Park?

OK I know what you are thinking. An amusement park? How can that be compared with the bridge and opera house? Well first of all let me say this. Not only do I think it is right up there, I would actually place Luna Park above those other two. That said, my immediate reaction when we visited was; What a waste of money! More on that contradiction to come. First, let’s look at this fantastic landmark…

The famous Luna Park face
The two lesser Sydney icons viewed from the best; Luna Park

Luna Park – Quick History.

First thing: Get a perspective of exactly where Luna Park is and go to that trusty favourite – google maps. It is located at Milson’s Point right on the north side of the harbour bridge. It is visible from various points on the south side of the bridge (namely The Rocks observatory and Circular Quay in the CBD).

Park employees doing their thing

If you zoom in on google maps you can still see the (original) ‘Olympic Pool’ right next to Luna Park. An old open air, Olympic-sized swimming pool right at one end to the harbour bridge was itself an iconic landmark for many years. The old pool is now being refurbished (work started some time ago) so we never got to swim in the original. But I am sure it will be equally spectacular when work is complete.

The history of that “iconic” entrance mouth
“Coney Island Fun Land” A fun-house as we used to call them
Steep slides inside the Coney Island fun-house
Another attraction inside the fun-house

The park opened in 1935 just a few years after the harbour bridge opened.  Most of the original has been replaced or rebuilt over the years but it has managed to maintain it’s art deco charm and many of (what some might call) the old fashioned rides and attractions.

Top of the Wild Mouse ride viewed from ground level

There is a definite historical feel about the place coupled with that eye-catching retro styling that can transport us older people back in time to our own childhoods. There is certainly something appealing about the park that makes it as exciting a place for adults as it is for kids.

Park employees perform various shows as you walk around

Should we pity the residents who live in this ‘highly desirable’ part of Sydney? Who wants a roller coaster running past your windows and balcony? Then there is the noise and the flashing lights. These apartments must cost millions of dollars. Or is it a case of ‘more fool them’?

You have to feel for anyone who has paid millions to live here. Don’t you?

Luna Park could have been demolished. In fact it is nothing short of a miracle, in a city with some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, that it has survived at all. In fact it came close to disappearing when in the late 1970s most of it was demolished and then rebuilt following protests to save the park. It was only saved when the Luna Park entrance face became an item of national heritage by the National Trust of Australia. The park as a whole was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 5th March 2010. That should protect it for many generations to come (and probably beyond).

Why a ‘Waste of Money’?

OK let’s now address that seemingly contradictory point. We paid in advance. Online. Like pretty much everyone else who was there – and it was busy. Yet when we arrived there was an horrendously long queue to pick up your tickets – actually bar-coded wrist bands to allow access to rides. Although the cost was more if you pay on the day, there was hardly any queue, so effectively you spend less time waiting in line and more time in the park having fun. We waited almost 40 minutes!

Those old school clowns
If the clowns don’t scare you then these fellas probably will

As just about everyone queueing said out loud; “what a waste of time booking online!” You pay up front but lose time in the park hence there is a slight waste of time/money involved. But there is another reason I said “what a waste…!”

Basically, as an adult, it is unlikely that there will be any ride in this park the likes of which you have not been on in the past. It is mainly for the kids. I would have been quite happy to just watch the kids having fun. There is nothing stopping you entering and walking freely around the park. Free entry into a world of nostalgia. Why pay? So for adults it is pretty much a waste of money. But of course there is another side to the story…

As fate would have it Dani is still too small for some rides and there were others where the smaller kids needed adult to accompany them. I was that accompanying adult of course.

So if your budget is tight and you have done these rides before I would say do not “waste” your money. But then there is no substitute for sitting next to your child when it is their first time on a scary ride. Not quite seeing them take their first steps or say your name for the first time but it is up there…

Light Up The Park…

As interesting as the park looks during the day it almost takes on another identity when the sun goes down and the lights come on. The mix of the coloured lights on those 1930s style buildings (and amusements) is sure to make you want to walk around the whole park again.

‘Coney Island’ fun-house lighting up as the sun goes down

Comparing Sydney Icons

Look the bridge is just a bridge. Get used to it. There are plenty of bigger and more eye-catching bridges the world over. It serves a transportation process in a big city. For me that’s more or less it.

As for the Opera House I have to say it is impressive and certainly different. But it is only adults that are impressed. Ask any child under (say) 12 where they would rather visit. Make that under 18 even, who knows? My point is that the Opera House is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. Photogenic, yes. But to go inside? Most people who make a B-line for the Opera House to photograph it do not go inside. It may as well be a sculpture.

On the other hand: They just don’t make places like Luna Park any more. It is a place for all the family, young and old. You really cannot say that about the Opera House. Of course both the Opera House and bridge will be by far the more photographed (often together) but Luna Park will have more paying visitors. (A bridge technically does not have visitors in the same way.) And for it to be located smack in the middle of a city of 5 million people!? That has to be near impossible nowadays.

Of course all this is just my personal opinion. Feel free to comment if you disagree… or comment even if you agree…

The Daintree Rainforest

Daniel had studied the Daintree Rainforest in his first school year here in Australia. I distinctly remember him telling me all about it. That was two years ago and he has all but forgotten most of what he learnt but he remembers that after those lessons he wanted to visit the place.

Queensland coastline north of Cairns

The rainforest is named after Richard Daintree, an Australian geologist and photographer. The Daintree region is in the northeast coast of Queensland, north of Mossman (which is itself about 75 km north of Cairns). It covers an area of around 1,200 square kilometres (460 sq miles), which makes it about half the size of Luxembourg. Daintree is a part of the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest in Australia. The tropical forest runs along the coastline north of the Daintree River and grows right down to the edge of the sea.

View to the mountains from the Daintree River

This area is home to salt water crocodiles. These scary creatures live along the coast and spend plenty of time in the Daintree River where we took a kind of croc-spotting cruise. Of course the river and its banks are home to many other animals but everyone was mainly interested in the “salty” (as the salt water crocodile is often called) – the largest member of the crocodile family.  We were not disappointed.

An adult crocodile facing into the river
There’s young crocodiles in these two pictures…
…apparently about one year old. Can you spot them?
A bigger specimen
A closer look

These trips do not throw food out for the crocodiles so they never approach the boats as they have become accustomed to doing in other parts of the country (namely Northern Territory). That means that we don’t get to see them  jumping out of the water like some circus act. As exciting as that can be I do think the Daintree park way is a more natural approach.

An even larger crocodile. Likely to be one of the alpha males
… and here he is close up

Into the ‘Jungle’?

Is a rainforest jungle? Or is a jungle just one type of rainforest? I really don’t know and although I did try to find out I could not find any really conclusive answers. I use the terms interchangeably (rightly or wrongly).

At the top of the rainforest covered mountain

The rainforest itself is similar to others we have visited but definitely seemed a lot more dense. The vegetation is incredible. There could be an animal only a few metres away and you would never see it. As luck would have it, we never saw much in the way of animals…

A basket fern

Basket ferns grow on tree trunks and form their own little environment for other plants to sprout as well as a place for animals like birds, snakes, frogs and insects to live. They thrive at all levels, but when you look up you will always see them struggling for light near the top of the forest canopy.

Basket ferns high up in the canopy

Deep inside the forest
A python curls up on the rainforest floor
Dani above the canopy

The one creature I really wanted us to see was the cassowary. A large flightless bird unique to this part of the world. Not only Australia but this specific part of Australia. Sadly we never got to see one. So, as the saying goes, we need to try again. So here’s looking forward to another trip to the north Queensland ‘jungle’.

Cape Tribulation

The rainforest spills down the mountainside to meet the Pacific ocean. One of the places where this rainforest meets beach experience can be witnessed is at Cape Tribulation.

Cape Tribulation beach
Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation was named by Lieutenant James Cook on 10 June 1770 after his ship hit a reef north east of the cape. Later the ship ran aground, on what is now named Endeavour Reef (after Cook’s ship). The ship was badly damaged, but Cook and his crew famously managed to refloat it the following day. Cook named Cape Tribulation because, as he wrote, “here begun all our troubles“.

At one end of the beach there is a great example of a mangrove forest. The word ‘mangrove’ does not actually refer to one specific plant or tree but is a generic term for any plant that can survive in saline waters.

Cape Tribulation mangrove forest

Cape Tribulation beach above the mangrove forest