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Sydney Mates

New South Wales Part V
         One part of Sydney that has not changed is the natural generosity of its people, some of them our long-time friends.
         We can't talk about friends without a conversation about our two newest friends: Jasper and Shadow. They are Jasper, the dog, and Shadow, the cat. Both reside with Nancy and Bruce.
         Shadow, a black cat with white fur on her chest, was a stray that allowed our friends into her life in return for food, water and place to nap in the sun. When N&B were away, we fed Shadow, which usually entailed pulling a can of tuna or sardines out of the fridge combined with some dry cat mix. There was a musical choreography to this event.
         Meow, meow, meow.
         Yes, Shadow, I see you and hear you.
         Meow, meow.
         Kathy, I have your glass of wine.
         Meow, Meow, Meow.
         Shadow would then get in the way, just in case I didn't get the message.
         Once she had eaten, she would silently glide to where I was seated and sit on my foot. I had never known such a friendly cat. Even Kathy, who is usually allergic to cats, would say "Hello, Kitty, Kitty."
         Since Shadow is pretty old by cat standards, I assumed she was deaf. But, Kathy was convinced the cat responded to her name to tell us she was locked in the garage and would like to be released.  Who knows?
         Jasper definitely knew his name. And, Jasper, a schnauzer, knew when someone was going to take him for a walk. He would leap in the air and sprint to the front door. Maybe because Ron went on some of those walks, he started to recognize Ron's voice. Recognize, but not necessarily respond.
         "Jasper, Jasper, come here."
         No Jasper.
         "Jasper, Jasper, Jasper."
         No Jasper.
         Bruce: "Jasper the pup, Jasper the pup."
         Usually, the charcoal-colored curly-haired dog responded. And, on we marched.
         On our next to the last night, Jasper sensed we were leaving – he knew the omen of suitcases coming out. He curled up outside our room as we went to bed. He was there again in the morning.
         As we moved our bags to the front door staging area, both Jasper and Shadow appeared and sat down. The dog, I get. The cat: somehow we connected with her.
         We looked down at them and gave Jasper a rub. Shadow allowed Ron to stroke her coat.
         "Did we hear them say something like "we'll miss you"?
         I know we'll miss them.
         Of course we have more than four-legged friends in Sydney.
         We had emailed our buddies in Sydney that we were in town for a month and would love to see them. The response was fabulous.
          Our good friend, Janine Perrett, invited us to Cafe Sydney, perched on the top of the Custom House above the tourist scrum and dash for the ferries in Circular Quay. While we enjoyed the harbor views, Janine entertained us with Sydney news.  We ate gnocchi with pumpkin cream, grilled flathead with mussels and Ora king salmon with potatoes, peas and curry spices.
         Janine must have missed our New York accents because she invited us to lunch a second time at Catalina, which reigns over the beach at Rose Bay. To get to the restaurant, we grabbed the ferry from Mosman to Circular Quay, where we caught another ferry to Rose Bay - one of Sydney's Eastern suburbs. There is nothing quite like some time on the water. We wish New York did a better job with its ferries and waterways.
         Catalina's stucco white building perched on stilts above the beach could just as easily have been on one of the Greek isles. Our table was just inside the patio giving us the illusion of eating outside but without having to deal with the sea breeze and pelicans.
         Janine was in full journo-mode: an investigative journalism team from El Jazzera had caught the leaders of a Queensland political party asking the US National Rifle Association for money so it could attempt to overturn Australia's strict anti-automatic weapons laws. We were lucky that Janine stayed for her toothfish with mushroom dumplings and dashi consomme. Ron enjoyed the yellow fin tuna with wild rice and compressed watermelon, and Kathy had the sphagettini with mushrooms. Then, we hopped the ferries back to Mosman.
         Our good friend Nicola Wakefield Evans invited us to dinner at China Doll, on the wharf at Woolmooloo with her four sons. Since we had not seen most of the lads for many years, it was great fun to catch-up. Nicola had actually been to New York while we were in Sydney and was heading back again in a week. Don't ask. We caught up with Nic's husband Kym (with youngest son, Riley) about two weeks later once he sailed their newly- purchased 36-foot sailboat from Melbourne to Sydney. It sounded like an exciting and daunting trip: gales on the Bass Strait and wind on the nose all the way up the coast.
         When Kathy worked at Citibank in Sydney we became friends with John Needham and his wife, Jenny. Last year we were pleasantly surprised to get a call from Elise, their younger daughter who was on holiday in New York. We went to dinner and enjoyed her company. But, we hadn't seen Elise's older sister Clare since she was quite young.
         John and Jen invited us to spend the night with the family in their cottage in Manly. Jen, who has a certain yoga-like calmness, cooked a fabulous dinner, which seven of us consumed at a long table built for a festive occasion.
         Clare has grown up and is now a trader at Citi. She loves to play tennis, fantasizing that she would be invited to play in the US and be beaten by Serena Williams.
         Elise is making discoveries in the science lab while working on her PhD. Any spare time she spends with her boyfriend who is studying to be doctor. We got a chance to meet James after Elise gave us a tour of Sydney's inner West – including the White Rabbit, a Chinese museum filled with art that would not be available on the mainland. Elise told Kathy she hoped she would return to Sydney for her wedding. Fine with us.
         Back in Manly we felt like part of the family. In the morning, we went to a local bakery for savories and sweets before John left for work. Kathy and Ron changed into swimsuits and walked through Manly with Jen, checking out many houses Jen and John had bid on. Ron spent half an hour diving under the waves at Queenscliff beach (the north side of Manly).  The little sojourn reminded us of all the times we hopped in the car and drove to the northern beaches for a few hours of beach fun.
         We enjoyed Manly so much we returned later. John and Clare rode their bicycles down to the beach and we walked to Shelly Beach (south Manly).  The water felt like the temperature we have in Oyster Bay in early July - brisk but not freezing. Then, Ron got a few more minutes diving under the waves at North Steyne beach.
         As you could tell from our sailing adventure with the McCanns, we had a fabulous time with Kate, Matthew and their daughter Sarah. They were generous with their time and toys. We especially enjoyed a trip out to Castlecrag where they live.
         Castlecrag is a beautiful little suburb on a peninsula sticking out into the harbor. On either side of Edinburgh Road, Sydneysiders have built beautiful homes.
         The McCanns once owned one of those abodes. But when neighbors put their house up for sale, the McCanns realized a new owner could potentially build on land that would block their harbor view. They decided to sell their home, which looked like a Frank Lloyd Wright design - a low-slung house (almost all glass windows looking out at the cove below). They bought the house next door and are now designing their new digs. We're hoping to see the new house on the next trip. But, probably not in time for Elise's wedding....
         Then there were our friends Nancy and Bruce, whose hospitality was over-the-top.
         N&B literally gave us the keys to their house so we could come and go as we wanted. To help us traverse the city, they gave us fare cards that automatically deducted our fares from their bank accounts. Do you want to visit the zoo? Here are passes, good for a reduced rate.
         Bruce, the oenophile, would dig through his wine collection looking for old bottles of wine.
         "Here's a 1992 Elderton Command Shiraz we should drink at dinner tonight....I thought we should try this bottle of Pinot Noir with our salmon tonight...Do you remember when we visited this vineyard...this bottle of Greenock Creek is not too shabby."
         Yes, anybody who shares his collection of old wines with you is your friend, your really, really good friend. A really, really good friend who shares his birthday celebration with you at a fabulous Sydney restaurant, NOMAD.
         Yes, a night at NOMAD where we started the feast with: Cannellini Bean Hummus & sourdough, and housemade NOMAD Charcuterie.  The shared plates included Burrata, caramelized onions, and zucchini flowers with Pecorino truffle honey; Grilled Eggplant, black garlic, pickled chile and Jersey yoghurt; Godiva Pipis with okra saffron butter; Wood roasted Rainbow Trout with agradolce eggplant; and BBQ Lamb Rump with sugar loaf cabbage and bagna cauda.  Before we were finished we shared the Olive Oil Parfait and Turkish Coffee Tiramisu. To celebrate, we toasted with a sparkling Daosa Natural Reserve from Picadilly Valley, SA; a Pinot Noir from Place of Changing Winds "Between Two Mountains"; and an Aniquarian Barossa Shiraz. Quite a gastronomic adventure in Surry Hills, where NOMAD centers around the large open kitchen and bar situated in a turn of the century warehouse.
         Nancy knew we were interested in pearls. (No jokes please about pearls before swine after NOMAD!) After we reported a less than satisfactory visit to one major pearl jeweler, Nancy suggested we meet with her supplier of beautiful pearls. This led us to David Benn, which led us to some gorgeous Australian pearls. We're sure some of you will see them on Kathy in the future.
         Both Nancy and Bruce were more than perfect hostess and host. We got to see how they generously donate their time and lives to other people. Bruce has early breakfast meetings with members of their church. He works on the church's finances. And, in his teaching at University of Technology Sydney, he set a goal of helping his students get the highest marks on their exams.
         We couldn't even keep track of all the different ways Nancy helps other people. Just a few items: in Mt. Wilson she helped establish a visitors' center, which included Nancy donating her time. She and Bruce are both involved with the Mt. Wilson fire brigade. She is actively mentoring young business-women. And, she actively supports members of her family in their time of need.
         In short, they are not just good friends but they are also good people.
         So, when anyone asks us what we enjoyed the most about Australia, we tell them "the people." Throughout our trip we made new friends and reconnected with old mates. They all helped to make our trip special. Thank you!
Xo Xo
Kathy and Ron

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NSW IV Let's Go Sailing

New South Wales Part IV
         Sydney is a sailors' harbor.
         On almost any Saturday, mainsails are hoisted, jibs winched in and sailors jockey for position at the starting line. At times it can appear quite chaotic: there is a fleet of small lasers with only one person on board racing in one direction; in back of them there could be a dozen thirty-foot racing yachts heading for a different mark. In the same part of the harbor even larger yachts fight for position as they head for a mark further down the harbor. Add to this mayhem the ferries, power boats and cruise ships. We loved it and got to see it close-up several times.
         When we lived in Kirribilli (looking out on the harbor), we used to walk down to the Sydney Flying Squadron, which was very close to our apartment, to take the "betting boat" to watch the 18-foot skiffs scream across the harbor. On board the betting boat, old timers would be betting on the races while listening to the horse races on the radio at the same time. We kept our money in our pockets. We just loved being on the water and watching the races.
         We eagerly repeated the experience on this trip, only without the betting. (We don't know why, but betting is now limited to the last race of the season).
         After a lunch of fish and chips at the "Squaddy," Kathy and I climbed to the top deck of the Regal II, possibly the same boat from 1991/92. This time, we would be watching wooden replicas of famous 18-foot skiffs that sailed between 1900 and 1950. The boats had names such as Scot, Britannia, Aberdare, Alruth and Australia IV.
         The crews were a mixture of old timers and younger tars. All would get "wet behind the ears" on these boats. In fact, one crewmember seemed to be assigned the task of continuously bailing, since the lee-cloths were only partly successful at keeping water out of the boat. (We watched one crew tread water after they capsized. Later a crewmember said the capsize was a combination of a lee-cloth failing and a wave hitting the boat at the wrong time. The boat was towed to a beach where it was refloated and sailed back to the Squaddy by a very wet crew.)
         When we returned to the club, we had a drink and watched the crews dismantle the boats for the next week's racing.
          We were out on the harbor that next weekend with a very different perspective.
         Our friends Kate and Matthew McCann invited us out on their 50-foot X Yacht, Carabella, a sleek greyhound tied up at a marina.
         The four of us, plus Matt's sister Daria, left on Saturday when a blustery front was forecast. Before the system arrived we unfurled sails and tacked up the harbor past expensive homes in Balmain and historic Cockatoo Island, where the English once sent convicts. Australia later built warships on the island. Today, ferries take tourists to view the island.
         Off to our starboard was an ugly gray cloud. Was this the beginning of the front?
         Matthew decided to come about to head down the harbor away from the cloud. The wind was picking up, and Matt furled the jib. The wind kept rising. We were making about eight knots under the main sail alone. We sailed down the harbor past the Opera House, Kirribilli and Mosman Bay. We ducked behind the headland at Port Jackson, furled the main and raised the dodger. The wind was now gusting to about thirty knots and was blowing the spray ten feet across the bow. We could see the wooden skiffs from the Squaddy flying through the waves. I'm sure the crews were bailing as fast as they could.
         Matt decided to motor across the harbor to look at Aquijo, the 87 meter (287 feet) ketch (49.6 feet beam!) that was anchored off Rose Bay.  A sloop that was just barely under control sailed past us on the starboard. A small J-boat suddenly tacked right at us. The skipper must have never seen us. Matt yelled and they tacked back and he grabbed the wheel from Ron to avoid a collision. Does this sound like chaos?
         In front of us a small wooden boat lost its mast. Its five crewmembers were in the water. Kate tried to reach the maritime authorities to get help to them. She was put on hold and told to call back later. Fortunately, a rescue boat arrived. Maybe we didn't need to spend much more time looking at the giant yacht, which Ron and Kathy had seen when it initially motored into the harbor.
         We started back to the slip under power. The wind was a steady thirty-four knots gusting to forty as we went under the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Carabella was hard-pressed to make 5-6 knots directly into the wind. But the marina was nearby and Matthew expertly backed Carabella into its slip.
         There is nothing more relaxing than a quiet sail... We actually did wind down with pizzas and wine.
         The next morning Matthew picked us up in Mosman Bay with his 21-foot RIB (rigid inflatable boat). With a powerful outboard on the stern it didn't take long to get to the Middle Harbor Yacht Club, where Kate was rigging the Melges 20 on which she would be the mainsail trimmer.  Kate and three other women were competing in the Manly Yacht Club's Helly Hansen Women's Challenge. The course was a series of three windward and down wind legs between Manly and Balmoral.
         While the women sailed to the starting line, we motored across the harbor to pick up Sarah McCann, their oldest daughter. The four of us then headed out in the choppy seas. Ferries sped through the water leaving wakes that had to be dealt with.
         The wind had moderated from the prior day but still had plenty of 20-30 knot gusts in its system. The powerful winds made it difficult for the lightweight Melges to stay upright. Twice the boat suffered a knockdown, that is, it was overpowered by the wind and ended up on its side.  On one of the gusts, Kate reached out and pulled the owner and skipper Michelle back into the boat. Michelle laughingly referred to it as being rescued by the "hand of God".
         Matt, a competitive racer himself, provided play-by-play commentary. "Get your weight back," he would mutter. "Oh no, don't tack in front of the ferry." "Tighten the main."
         Of course the women couldn't hear him. And, they won their class. Go girls!

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NSW III Brown is Green

Australia, which from the air is mostly red and brown, is turning increasingly green.
         Green, as in the way people think about the environment.
         We saw it in many different ways. While New York is just banning plastic bags, Australians have been bringing "carry bags" with them to the grocery store for the last few years. If you forget your carry bag, you get charged for a plastic bag. We became regulars and packed an extra carry bag with us.
         Our friends Bruce and Nancy also have multiple wheelie bins (moveable garbage cans) that collect garbage for the landfill, recyclables, or garden debris and compost. In their house, they keep separate areas for various plastics. When they go for a walk with their dog, they routinely pick up any plastic bags (plus Jasper's deposit and other dogs' poop) they find.
         Nancy, who is an avid gardener, told us how the world of potting and clipping has changed. At a major gardening show she attends, growers no longer use plastic pots. Some of the replacement pots are made out of newspaper, moss or other materials that decompose in the ground. ID tags for plants are no longer plastic, but are made out of wood tongue depressors or popsicle sticks.
         On a visit to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, you can fill your water bottle (either plastic or reusable) at refilling stations. When you leave, you can drop your plastic bottle (5 cent deposit) at a bin where the deposit goes to support the zoo. Straws are made of paper. Eating utensils at the zoo were made of wood or bamboo, not plastic.
         Sydneysiders used to drive their cars to the airport and valet park them. Increasingly, they are doing what are friends do: take a ferry to Circular Quay where they catch a fast train to the airport. There are no traffic worries or parking tickets. (We were an exception: our bags were so heavy with three months worth of clothes, cosmetics, purchases, etc. that we used the old-fashioned way to get to the plane. But, we did take public transportation a lot around the city.)
         This is not to say that Australia is a totally green paradigm. The country still uses a lot of coal for its power (a big debate) and public transport is mainly centered in the big cities. One morning we woke up to a neighbor using a two-cycle lawn mower that spewed fumes. And, every day cruise ships (which emit pollution) were docked across from the iconic Opera House.
         But, Australia is a lot greener than it was when we lived there – leaded fuel was still the norm. And, their environmental focus has made us look more closely at how we live in New York.

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New South Wales II
         Our first clue of what is happening in Sydney came about twenty miles from the city. We started to see cranes, cement trucks, and lots of people in hard hats and neon vests. This was the expansion of a light rail line north and west of the city. As a result of the new transportation link, developers are erecting new office parks, shopping centers and housing.
         The construction crane, the state bird of NSW, is also quite noticeable as one enters the city on the ferry. A very large skyscraper is in the process of being demolished. There are probably half-dozen other new buildings going up with sidewalks closed on many streets. A new tram line, under construction, will take people up one of the main thoroughfares.
         To the west of the city, we walked along the Barangaroo Reserve, a mini-park built along the harbor. We were nearly the only people walking on this beautifully landscaped area filled with native vegetation. Then, we walked further up the harbor to another Barangaroo South.  This area is filled with high-rise office towers and housing that looks out on the harbor. Construction was on-going at the Crown casino, which will be relatively close to another casino, the Star. Yes, Australians like to gamble. But, a lot of the customers are expected to come from Asia.
         The thrust to attract Asian customers was one of the new developments that we noticed. Jewelry stores offer glittering objects that seem designed to attract people looking to move cash to objects. When we went into one of the old-line department stores there were almost as many people of Asian descent shopping as Caucasians.
         In fact, the Asianization of Sydney would be one of the biggest changes we saw.  At bus stops, in the stores and restaurants, on the ferries, at
the beaches, in the airports we saw far more Asians than when we lived here.
         One of the benefits of this demographic change is some fabulous restaurants. At Lotus Barangaroo we joined Sydneysiders on the promenade to feast on BBQ Duck and Spinach Dumplings, Crispy Pork Wontons, and delicate Prawn and Ginger Dumplings.  Each bite was more delicious than the last. 
         We visited Yang & Co in Castlecrag and were wowed by Malaysian-born Chef Lex's Red Braised Duck Spring Rolls with Sambal Mayonnaise, Lemongrass Marinated T-Bone Steak with Vietnamese Salad, and the fabulous Roti with Chili Caramel Pork Belly and Kim Chi. Chef cooks "Australian Asian" cuisine using local and sustainable produce to bring back memories of the Asian flavors he grew up eating.
         We met five friends at China Doll, a long-standing favorite on the Woolloomooloo Wharf where you eat at harborside as the sun sets over the city skyline and ogle mega-yachts in the adjacent marina.  With a party of seven, we were able to sample many "Modern Asian" savory dishes: Duck Pancakes with Hoi Sin Cucumber and Shallots; Fried Tofu with Five Spice Salt and Ginger Soy; Salt and Pepper Prawns with Chilli and Garlic; Crispy Pork Belly with Chilli Caramel and Nam Pla Phrik; and Beef Fillet with Oyster Mushrooms – to name a few favorites.  We topped off the feast with Lemongrass Pannacotta with Ginger Crumble and Orange Caramel and Sago Pudding with Vanilla Coconut Cream and Passionfruit Syrup.
         Lankan Filling Station in East Sydney serves dishes that are inspired by Sri Lankan flavors, brought to Australia by the many immigrants who have fled economic and political violence. We enjoyed the merriment of fellow diners and the hospitable help from the service staff.
          Our dinner started with Devilled Cashew Nuts (seasoned with mustard seeds and chilli powder), Acharu (pickled pineapple and cauliflower), and Crab Cutlets (with curry powder, green chilli and dill).  Next, Curries and Sambals are served in a Hopper – a traditional Sri Lankan bowl-shaped savory pancake made from a fermented batter of rice flour and coconut milk with crispy, latticed edges and a soft doughy crumpet-like center that was a delicious base for Red Hot Chicken Curry with Tomato, and the Black and Dry Pork Curry with Sweet Spices. On the side, we had Raita to cool the chillis, Pol Coconut Sambol, and Hot & Sharp Onion Katta Sambol.  All the flavors mixed and contrasted when scooped with pieces of Hopper.

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New South Wales Part I

New South Wales I
         When we lived in Sydney over 27 years ago, we visited towns both north and south of Sydney. We made a few forays to the Blue Mountains, which is west of the city. But, we never made it deeper into the state except for a trip way, way west to Broken Hill and Wentworth.
         We can't say that any more.
         Thanks to our friends Nancy Fox and Bruce Arnold, we have now spent time in Dubbo and Orange. Dubbo is the location of the Taronga Western Plains Zoo, which is a satellite of Sydney's Taronga Zoo. Nancy had arranged for us to "glamp" at "Zoofari Lodge" for a night. At first Ron had visions of pup tents that smelled of wet canvas. Food would come out of a can (think of Dinty Moore Beef Stew) and we would be issued canteens that dispensed plastic-tasting water.
         The "tents" are world-class hotel rooms with A/C, fridges, showers, choice of pillow softness, beautiful bed linens, comfortable beds (no cots, thank you), a beautiful deck to sip a glass of wine and watch ostrich, giraffes, various African antelopes and zebras as they walked around the savannah munching parcels of chow left for them. Dinner was in a "guest house." Instead of mess-kit sludge, we ate salmon, lamb, pork belly and chicken. No one had to do KP (clean-up) after the feast. Instead, we piled into a bus, which drove us for a night meeting with an Asian elephant, a rhino and a pair of lions.  The hippos decided to take the night off.
         The next morning, before the gates to the zoo had opened, we hopped in the bus again. First stop: feeding the giraffes. We held some carrots and these long-necked gentle animals bent down and ate the orange roots with their blue prehensile tongues. While they ate, we learned a lot about them. For example, those weird looking things on the top of their head are horns for fighting. So much for being gentle.
         We met an adolescent rhino. When the Dutch first saw the beasts they referred to them as "wit" or wide-mouthed. The Brits then renamed them "white" rhinos and "black" rhinos. We watched as this rhino kept swiveling its ears. It turns out rhino hearing is quite good.
         Next stop was the elephant barn where we watched the large animals gently lift-up their legs so their toenails could be cleaned up and trimmed. Yes, a spa morning for the elephants.
         The hippos that ignored us the night before came out for a morning feed with a keeper. These massive animals waddled out of their pond and slowly closed in on some food parcels. We were told how sensitive their skin is which is why they tend to stay mostly submerged most of the day. 
         The Dubbo zoo also has a group of Bongos, a beautiful brown (with white stripes) endangered rain forest antelope. These animals have long horns and a beautiful brown and white mane that extends down their backs. One of the goals of the zoo is to try to give some of the endangered species a safe environment to breed and live. Besides the Bongos, the zoo has such other endangered species as orangutans, lemurs, Southern Corroboree Frogs, Sumatran tigers, rhinos, and the Przewalski's Horse (Mongolian) among others.
         After breakfast, we packed our bags and drove to Orange, a lovely country town.
         Just outside Orange we went to one of Bruce's favorite vineyards, Printhie. The area has some elevation, which is beneficial to its white wines, such as Pinot Gris and Riesling. Dave Swift, one of the owners, gave us a bottle of sparkling wine, which was a delicious blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Kathy enjoyed the reds and rosés. Ron decided the vineyard was one of the best of the trip and asked Dave to please consider selling his wines to the US. If you ever see the wine, you know who to thank.
         Nancy booked a cottage at Mayfield Vineyard, which was about ten minutes outside of Orange. Kathy, one of the owners, describes it as "country cottage accommodation" with "rustic charm." That means you get chickens on the veranda and freshly laid eggs for breakfast.
         One of the reasons for going to Orange - aside from the wines and good food - was to enjoy a performance of the traveling Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. The talented players used original or replica instruments and performed French and English (early and mid-18thcentury) music. Almost every performer talked about their instruments so the performance was educational as well.
         As we drove back to Mayfield that night we could see a massive thunderstorm well to our east. Sydney got torrents of rain. Orange, which needed the water, got nothing except a good light show.
         The next morning we headed to Nancy's country home in Mount Wilson. We had a lunch break at Millthorpe, another lovely (much smaller) country town that catered more to tourists than Orange. This meant we had to wait for a table to open up at a local eatery.
         By the time we left Millthorpe rain was falling for the first time in many weeks. It continued to rain all the way to the Blue Mountains. Much to Ron's chagrin the heavy rain kept the wombat population in their warrens. Nancy drove her SUV up and down the road outside her home in an effort to see these nocturnal marsupials. Kathy ended up spotting a young wombat that streaked into the vegetation but Ron missed it. Nancy did her "drunken" drive crossing from one side of the road to the other looking for wombats. Ron tried singing wombat lullabies. As the great bard once wrote: wombat, oh wombat, where art thou? However, sadly, we had no other wombat sightings.
         The next day it cleared enough for Nancy to give us a tour of her gardens which include Yuzu trees, a citrus that has long spines protecting them from the birds. In 2011 Nancy convinced a grower in Queensland to sell her some trees. Two years later a bush fire destroyed most of the orchard. But, Nancy persevered and the remaining trees started fruiting in 2016. Nancy found eager buyers at Japanese restaurants in Sydney. We saw lots of green fruit as we walked through the orchard, so the 2019 harvest should be good. The fruit is usually used as a seasoning or as a marinade.
In restaurants we have seen Yuzu mayo and Yuzu pepper salsa. We enjoyed a glass of Yuzu Choya (a Japanese liquor) with Nancy and Brucen.
         Nancy gave us a tour of Mount Wilson, a picturesque community of about 80 homes that has spectacular views looking down at the lush, deep gorges. The village is famous for its cool climate and exotic private gardens, which are frequently opened to the public in the Spring and Autumn. 
         Off in the distance was Sydney, where we once lived. We would leave the next morning.

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Tasmania Part III

Tasmania Part III
Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, is an old friend. We've visited this city at least four times but each visit has resulted in a different experience.
We remember spending time in Hobart with Ken and Sue. We went to the annual dahlia show where Kathy and Sue happily journaled all the exhibit categories so Susie could stage a dahlia show in Bucks County.  A generous participant gave Sue one of his beautiful flowers, which he decided would not be show-worthy the next day. We carried that beauty around in a coke bottle, and finally handed it off when we checked in to our Sydney flight.
The dahlia show would also stand out in Ron's memory for another reason. The Gulf War was about to begin. But one of the local papers made its front page story: "Dahlia Queen Named." On page two, readers found out that one million men were set to square off in the desert. Call it Tassie perspective.
Another time Kathy and Ron looked down the harbor and saw a strange, nefarious-looking craft approaching. All we could see were two knife-shaped hulls. As it got closer and closer it became clearer: we were seeing some kind of strange catamaran. Then, as it turned we saw it was a gray US Navy ship that had come back to Hobart for maintenance.
During another visit we stayed at a vineyard, Moorilla Estate, which produced very good pinot noirs. But, their homes were even more amazing: A-frames that were cantilevered over the Derwent River. The bedrooms, the bathtubs, almost everywhere had a gasp-producing view. 
We experienced a version of all three of these events on this trip.
Once we checked into our hotel, the MacQ01, we made plans to visit the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) the next day. To get there, we purchased tickets on a high tech catamaran, the MONA1. Maybe it wasn't quite a US Navy ship but it was built in the same boatyard and brought back memories.
Those memories were once again renewed when we arrived (and met Adrienne) at MONA. The modern museum is built on the grounds of ...Moorilla Estate. The prior owner had sold the land to a man by the name of David Walsh, who made his money in on-line-gambling. Walsh promised to keep the vineyards intact as well as the A-frames. In fact, he even added more river-fronting lodging.
To get to the entrance meant climbing about five stories of stairs. Then, we toured the museum, which is built into the earth. Walsh's unusual views of what constitutes art reminded Ron of the Tasmanian newspaper's view of what was news: perhaps a little offbeat. Walsh has said if some of the art was too popular, it probably didn't belong in his museum.  
There was a man-made waterfall that randomly formed words as the water dropped about thirty feet. A bloated red Porsche was called "the car that ate my life." A huge Sydney Nolan work, called "Snake" that took three years to complete stretched across an entire gallery. A Nolan nude study had Dylan singing "Lay Lady Lay" on the audio guide. That wasn't the only music. Damian Cowell's rap songs with a disco background enlivened some of the art. One of verses went: "Imagine publishers looking for talent, not marketability. We'd have to pump financial assistance into the self-help industry." Ron, the writer, likes this lyric.
MONA had a large exhibit of the Zero art movement, which played with perception.  In the gallery housing Light Rain, we walked among rods suspended from the ceiling that shimmered like rain when you brushed against them.  Depending on where you stand, you see yourself in every mirror of Mirror Environment – or not at all.  Metronomes lined the shelf in a stark, white gallery, each one happily keeping its own rhythm, taking me back to years of piano study with Mrs. Shaw.
Some of the art was definitely weird, stretching the mind. There was a man seated in a zen-like position, back to the viewers. His back was one large tattoo canvas. David Walsh had purchased the man's back in an auction. Well, Tasmania does have a history of treating convicts like slaves.
Kathy felt the museum specialized in disorientation. There are no wall labels for the art and one gallery may lead to three or four others, or none.  If you try to re-trace your steps, the room you last saw in a saturated yellow color has transformed into intense grass green.  Was I here before?  A long, dark claustrophobic tunnel (one of four dead-end alleys in the Pharos) led to Faros, the restaurant that floated over the Derwent with the huge white orb "Unseen" in the center and windows on three sides.  The theme of darkness leading to light is one of Walsh's mantras. By the way, there is no way out of the restaurant except to return through the tunnel and try to find your way through the maze of galleries.
We had no trouble discerning reality in the Tassie food scene.
We have to try to become Tasmanian poets when we talk about the Mountain Pepper Fragrant Eggplant at Aloft, a restaurant situated upstairs on Brooke Street Wharf, only ten minutes from our hotel.  Somehow Chef Ryan coated the silky eggplant in caramelized native pepperberry, without turning the dish into a dessert.  Each bite melted and then lingered with the eggplant and pepper the stars.  I have never enjoyed beef (with black bean) tartare as much - the flavor and the textures were ethereal.
Chef's magic was also waiting for us at Fico. The crispy polenta disc topped with pecorino and fried quail egg was a bite of delight.  The pumpkin and goat cheese tamale at Faros was a surprise on the menu – and delicious.  Likewise the cauliflower croquette with purple garlic at The Glass House was inspired.
We seemed to recall lots of good art galleries in Hobart. Our first go was a bit of a bust with just touristy paintings of fairies or cats. We eventually made our way to a gallery called Art Mob, filled with artwork by the original Australians, the Aboriginal people. Jake, who was the sole person in the store, started to pull out artwork, several by Rosella Namok from Lockhart River in far north Queensland. Kathy fell in love with "Chilli Crossing." Ron loved "Out at Sea - Stinging Rain." We ended up buying them both and hope everyone reading this comes to our house for an Art Mob showing once the paintings arrive.
As we left Hobart for Sydney, we felt like we could have spent more time there. Maybe that's how it should be when you are visiting an old friend.

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Tasmania Part II

Tasmania Part II
The Road to Cygnet
A long, long time ago, the Wagyl - also known to some native people in Australia as the rainbow serpent - slithered around the earth, creating many of the landforms. His tracks, dating back to the Aboriginal Dreamtime, can still be seen.
In Tasmania, the Wagyl's handiwork is the road between Strahan and Cygnet. As Adrienne's Civic charged up the road, we could look back on the blacktop the car had been on only minutes earlier. Up ahead, make that overhead, we could see where the road was going. On the passenger (left) side of the car was a rock face. On the other side was an abyss with no guardrail. Ask any Tasmanian if they had ever driven the road and they smile. We think they are smiling because they survived.
Only about twenty minutes after leaving Strahan we took the goat path...err, B24 road...to Queenstown, a community on the western slopes of Mt. Lyell and Mt. Owen. As we zigzagged up the face of the mountains, we admired the pink and gray rocks, only about a foot away from the side of the car. Kathy thought she was looking up at a white picket fence marking a walking trail going up the mountain. But, she soon realized she was seeing the zigzag road reflectors where we were about to ascend. Holy Kangaroo!
There were few trees or shrubs to admire: they had all been hacked away to fuel the copper smelters. What the miners didn't kill, the sulphur fumes did. Heavy annual rainfall caused yet more erosion. What does this all add up to? An amazing man-made moonscape bordered by a sadistic highway.
Once we got to the top, we could have stopped in Queenstown (pop. 1,975), which has lodging and restaurants. But, we needed to keep going because we were due in Cygnet (pop. 1,559 ) that evening. So, we continued on a new road, the A10.  We drove past huge hydro-electric generating stations fed by immense pipes dropping down the hillsides of the Nive River Gorge. High tension wires carried the electricity all over the state. There was a lot more Wagyl on the way down. Finally, we left the Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers National Park.
The road coursed over the Central Highlands, an area of rolling hills, which were golden, in drought. The late-day sunlight accentuated the folds of the land. We didn't see very many people or even other vehicles. We drove through the small communities of Derwent Bridge, Ouse and New Norfolk. We reached the suburbs of Hobart. A quick trip through the city led us to the road to Huonville, where we stopped to pick up a bottle of wine before everything shut down. It started to rain as we left Hobart. And, the Wagyl returned. Rain, lots of turns. We were relieved when we rolled into Cygnet. The owner of the Cygnet Old Bank Bed & Breakfast greeted us with a cheese platter. We drank some wine. Adrienne's friend, Bob, arrived and drove Adrienne to his place in Petcheys Bay. For the time being we forgot about the Wagyl.
The owner of the B&B had warned us about the bank building being old and making weird noises. That night as the wind picked up, we started to hear a low shrieking noise. The spirit of Tasmania?  Probably just the whirlybirds (ventilators) on the roof. Anyway nothing was going to keep us from falling asleep - we weren't driving on the Wagyl anymore.

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Tasmania Part I

Tasmania Part I
         Once we boarded The Spirit of Tasmania in Port Melbourne we wondered what exactly was the "spirit of Tasmania", aside from a very large car ferry that would take us on a nine-hour trip across the Bass Strait.
          The crew on the vessel seemed very helpful - here are your recliner seats, lunch will be served in an hour, we'll try to get the grease stains out of Adrienne's jacket during the ride. (After three washes, they were successful.) Maybe the spirit of Tasmania was "helpfulness."
         Kathy drank some Tasmanian gin. That was probably not the spirit(s) they were referring to.
         The trip itself was relatively easy: a little rock and roll from a swell, which eventually flattened out. One of our fellow travelers pointed out the shoals, which stretched far out into Port Phillip Bay where he and his friends did free diving. He told us one day he dove at a spot which had a seaweed-covered marker: it memorialized the area - near the wreck of the Cheviot - where Harold Holt, then-Prime Minister of Australia, disappeared under the waves in January of 1967 while free-diving. As we watched the waves break at the entrance to the bay, our vessel sped towards Tasmania at 27 knots. Dolphins rode our waves. "Hey, we've been waiting here for two hours," I think one of them said.
         The dolphins were right...we arrived in Devonport about two hours late. The sun was down as camper vans (one of them looking like a house!), scores of motor cycles, refrigerated trucks, SUVs and at least one antique silver Rolls rolled off. Our modest Civic was just about last off the boat. Hey, we get no respect around here.  That can't be the spirit of Tasmania.
         We immediately drove to Penguin, a beach community about 40 minutes away. We had booked a stunning two-bedroom, two-bath apartment that looked out from the second floor to the beach. We knew we were in the right place when we saw the News Agent (newspaper and magazine store) on the first floor.
         By the time we arrived, we were tired. Terri, the owner of the unit, greeted us as we drove into his parking area. We needed a drink. I asked if we could buy a bottle of wine from Terri and he gave us a delicious bottle of Tamar Valley pinot noir. Maybe generosity was the spirit of Tasmania?
         The next day, after a walk along the waterfront, we headed south and west to Strahan. We had never been on the west coast of Tasmania. When Ken and Sue Simmons visited us in 1992, we went on a food treasure-hunt in the Great Western Tiers, in the middle of Tassie. Handmade chocolates at one stop; Ron-picked (and ate as he picked according to some sources) raspberries at a farm; fresh bread and smoked salmon somewhere else. Then, we drove to the Bass Strait where the flies were so thick we had to eat our feast in the car. We headed back to Hobart on the east coast. So, the terrain and towns in the west would all be new to us.
          At some point on our way to Strahan, we pulled over and Ron started driving the Civic. Since we owned a Honda Accord with a stick shift when we lived Down Under, driving the car was not totally alien. It all came back relatively quickly. No grinding of gears, no riding the clutch. Adrienne, who owned the car, remained calm.
         Australia has a long history of mining. Somehow when the continent was formed millions of years ago, it ended up with a lot of minerals everyone needed. Gold, copper, iron ore, tin, and silver were discovered in many locations. Large coal deposits blanketed the nation. Tasmania got more than its share of the mineral wealth. We passed signs for mines and even stopped at a petrol station located right next to a mining complex. The road eventually led down to the shore - our goal.
         Strahan is on the north shore of Macquarie Harbor, which is six times larger than Sydney Harbor. The town was initially founded to support the copper mining in Queenstown and the logging around the Gordon River. Today, the primary activities are tourism-based with restaurants, hotels and tour boats.
         One of the highlights of Strahan was the play, "The Ship That Never Was," a two-person play (billed as the longest running play in Australia) that tells the story of how some inmates built a wooden ship to try to escape from Sarah Island, a dreaded prison in the harbor. Since the number of inmates was far greater than the two paid actors, the cast co-opted some of the audience to become part of the action.
          Adrienne was given a vegetable steamer and a seat on a box. By opening and closing the strainer she became a jelly fish - a box jelly fish. Other members helped pump the bilge. Some played British bad guys. And, when a big storm came (it was in the play), everyone was given spritzers to emulate the falling rain.  (Yes, we got wet).  It was all great fun: maybe the spirit of Tasmania is not taking itself too seriously.
         The next day we got up early to cruise the Gordon River on a very modern catamaran. First, we went out into Macquarie Harbor. During the steamboat era, a British engineer realized the harbor would silt up unless a long jetty was built that made the currents scour the bottom, keeping the channel open. I think it's one of the longest jetties in the world. Maybe the spirit of Tasmania is innovation.
         As we got out to the narrow harbor entrance, the waves became more noticeable as we entered the Southern Ocean. A lighthouse warned mariners of a shoal only a few meters from the mouth of the harbor. On a gray and misty day, the Ocean looked formidable. Kathy had always wanted to "sail" the Southern Ocean. Okay, maybe watch a sailboat on YouTube in the Southern Ocean. We now had the tips of our toenails in this violent body of water. Maybe a little adventure was the spirit of Tasmania.
         The ship turned around and headed back across the harbor to the Gordon River. The color of the water went from blue to brown. It was not pollution: tea trees lined the river, and the roots stained the water. Tea anyone?
         Our catamaran shifted from diesel to electric as it moved up the river.
         In the 1970s/80s, the Gordon became an international cause celebre. The government of Tasmania proposed erecting a dam on the Franklin River, a tributary, to provide hydroelectric power. Without the dam, the premier (governor) warned that Tasmania might not have enough electricity to keep the lights on.
         Environmentalists rallied, chaining themselves to bulldozers and trees. The protestors became known as the "greens," marking the start of worldwide eco movement. The anti-dam people ultimately won (and by the way, Tasmania has not gone dark - they have enough electricity to recharge a cell phone.) Maybe the spirit of Tasmania is respect for the environment.
         Finally, we pulled up to a dock where we were able to follow a boardwalk into the forest primeval.  Early explorers of Tasmania discovered the Huon pine trees, magnificent giant trees that grow to over 130 feet and live thousands of years. The pine is unique in that it floats while it is green. It also resists insect attacks and won't decay for a very, very long time. On the trail we saw a 90 year-old Huon that looked like a sapling. In New York City we're happy if a tree lasts 20 years.
          The other remarkable insight from the walk was the density of the ground cover. The early settlers would have been hard-pressed to walk 100 feet, not to say 10 miles.
         We all imagined how discouraging it would have been to be a convict sentenced to Sarah Island. Even if a convict escaped the island, traveling anywhere else would have been nearly impossible on foot. Having said that, one individual did escape and somehow made his way to Hobart and then Sydney where he was recaptured. But, his sentence was not too bad: he was assigned to help survey some of the unexplored country in New South Wales. Clearly this was an individual who could survive in the bush. Perhaps perseverance is the spirit of Tasmania?
         The next stop on the catamaran was in fact, Sarah Island. Initially, the convicts received harsh treatment: many men crammed into unheated cells. Solitary confinement was a dark room the size of a coffin. British bullies used their cat-a-nine-tails liberally.        Eventually, the men started to build boats out of the Huon pine. They concocted ways to make money off their labors. A master boat builder from the USA arrived to take advantage of the wood. He paid the men for their wood-working skills. Whipping went way down. The food improved. Men committed crimes so they could be sent to the island. Maybe crime does pay. On a nice day, you could imagine the convicts joking about being sent to the Sarah Island Resort and Casino.
         When we returned from the trip we piled into the Honda and took off for Cygnet, only five hours east. Nothing to it, right? Little did we know.  Maybe that's the spirit of Tasmania...heading out to who knows where without really knowing what to expect. 

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Melbourne, VIC
One of the features of being an Australian is having "mates." These are your friends who do more than drink a beer with you, more than inhabit the work space next to you, more than someone who friends you on some social web site. We think a true Australian "mate" is someone who is there for the long-term; someone who has your back; someone who will trust you with their 1998 Honda Civic (stick shift) with over 200,000 kilometers on it, driving on dark, winding, wet roads. Oh, did I mention the steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle?
That would be our friend and mate Adrienne Jones.
We don't know when we first met Adrienne. She was with the Australian Information Service in New York in 1979 when Ron was traveling to Australia as a journalist. She was in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia in 1991 when Ron was there with the Monitor.  Over the years we have spent time with Adrienne in the Blue Mountains, Sydney, Batemans's Bay, NSW and Margaret River, Western Australia. This trip made for our time with Adrienne in Melbourne and then Tasmania.
Thank goodness, we took our last Regional Express (REX) flight from Mildura to Melbourne where Adrienne and her good friend (probably a "mate") Linda met us at the airport with her four-wheel drive Nissan Patrol. We could fit our two over-weight (by REX standards) suitcases, shoe bag and carry-ons all in the back with enough room left over to add a kangaroo, wallaby and wombat.
Adrienne organized lunch at Yerring Station, a restaurant housed in an arc of glass that looked out on the dry Yarra Valley farmland. In the distance, we saw a huge mushroom cloud - called a pyrocumulus - from a bushfire that was about 25 miles away. (The prior evening the Victorian government had warned residents near the fire it was too late to leave—just shelter in place.)
Adrienne included some of her friends from her days as a public servant, some former "journos," and special Melbourne friends. Adrienne thought it would be fun for us to meet new friends. Many of the Aussies had lived, worked, or even came from, New York. We started with a toast to and remembrance of one of Adrienne's former bosses and mentors, Herschel Hurst, who also helped Ron in his travels Down Under. Herschel was a classy man who loved his country and helped reporters understand it better.
Not far from Adrienne's house in Eltham was the Heide Museum of Modern Art, which gives visitors a view of the intellectual life in Melbourne circa mid-1930s. John and Sunday Reed, heirs to a fortune, hosted artists and intellectuals. Kathy read "Sunday's Kitchen" years ago and enjoyed visiting their library, which included a shelf of Sunday's healthy eating cookbooks, and walking through the bountiful garden that featured in Sunday's Kitchen. The Reed's had an "open" relationship. Sunday seemed to have multiple affairs with various artists. John seemed to have his own interests as well. Yes, holy kangaroo!
As we left the museum with Adrienne, we were hit with mid-90s temperatures. We knew the heat wave would not last long: we were sailing on the ferry "The Spirit of Tasmania" to Tasmania the next day – a nine-hour sail. Tassie would be far cooler. And, we knew we had some challenging driving ahead of us. But, we would be doing the trip with a "mate."

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Mildura, VIC.

A cabal kidnapping babies uses Aboriginal “magic” to present the babies to new mothers under an ancient gigantic gum tree. Footprints in soft sand lead a detective to the top of an ancient series of white dunes stretching for miles. And, a young man who has inherited an enormous sheep station from  Read More 
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