Sunday, July 5, 2009

Down Under Times volume V

(See: Back from the Memory Hole for an explanation of why these are posted now...)

Down Under Times Volume V
June 2001
All the news that no one really needs to know, but is going to hear anyway!

Welcome to Winter
Well, we have the mid-winter blues here in Melbourne. As you are undoubtedly aware, the seasons here are reversed from the Northern Hemisphere, which means that as you northerners experience a beautiful summer, we southerners are amidst a gray and cold Australian winter. No one told us to expect weather this cold in Australia!

Now, there is cold, and there is cold. To Melbournians, cold means 5 degrees Celsius, or about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. On a really bad day, it might even reach 0! That would be the low temperature, however, and it rarely stays there during the day. Nevertheless, it does feel cold here, especially at night up here in the hills, where it is also quite damp much of the time. There were actually a few flakes of snow up here last week! (Emphasis on a few!) It's quite funny to witness the sensation a little snow caused.

We have had a relatively mild winter so far, however. Several weeks ago, we even had sun all day and high temperatures over 20 (68+ F), which led some northern smarty pants to quip "Melbourne winters are for wimps!" Seriously though, there is even a small faction of ski enthusiasts here (snow skiing, that is), and early June is the opening of the annual season about three hours drive north of Melbourne. Wouldn't it be interesting to say we skied in the Snowy Mountains of Australia! Stay tuned. . .

Advance Australia Fair
For those of you who do not know, Advance Australia Fair is the (very lovely) Australian national anthem. I mention this because most of you probably do not know this, and it is useful when learning about a country to at least know the name of its national anthem. I also mention it because Tommy and Sophie are rather proficient at singing it, which is really quite cool.

Snow? Ha!
Earlier, we mentioned that Tommy was in the Federation Choir, a group formed for the express purpose of celebrating Australian federation, when six independent colonies united under one federal government in 1901. Well, in early May Tommy's choir had their big concert at the Melbourne Concert Hall, and it was a smash hit! Quite a site to see 1000 people on stage off and on through the show (and at one point, all together at the same time!). Kate's parents were here at the time, and we all travelled into the city for dinner and the show. Universally acclaimed, we are now waiting with baited breath for the big Broadway debut….

There Once was a Swagman
OK, all together now:

"Once a jolly swagman camped
by a billabong,
Under the shade of a coolibah tree.
And he sang as he watched and
waited till is billy boiled,
Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda
with me?"

Sound familiar? This song was almost the Australian National Anthem, but was beat out by Advance Australia Fair by a narrow margin. Unofficially it remains the national anthem, because more people know Waltzing Matilda than Advance Australia Fair any how. Oddly, we have heard that few Australians truly know their national anthem. It's really quite a nice song, and we actually felt a sense of national pride when singing it with the audience at the Federation concert.

Tommy sang this song with the Federation Choir, as well as several others. He was also on stage that night with the smaller, more local choir just from Ferny Creek Primary School. They sang a song called Island in the Sky which is a testament to the determination of the people who live up in the Dandenong Ranges (where we live) who recovered after a terrible bush fire that raged through the area several years ago, destroying houses and killing three people. It's really a very moving and emotional song, and we find it very pleasing that Tommy and Sophie sing along with such enthusiasm for their adopted hometown, and that they will likely remember the song for the rest of their lives.

Castro Who?
So I've decided to take up smoking - my doctor says I'm not getting enough tar. (Thanks to Steve Martin for that funny.) But seriously, who is this guy Castro, anyway?? Doesn't he run some small, Caribbean country or something?

Without really realizing it when we decided to exchange here, we discovered early on that Australia does not impose the same economic embargo against Cuba like the US does. Of course this means that there is an ample supply of Cuban cigars available, and having never had the chance to sample one, we readily took up the cause. We now have what Kate calls the "Cuban Club", with Dave and our good friends Pete Goff and Alan Quigley (both exchangees as well) as charter members and a continually expanding membership. Applications are available upon request. J

Further evidence that what is denied often becomes what is most sought after….

Rome? When did we arrive in Rome?
We are clearly guilty of not fully appreciating the ramifications of our exchange when it came to Cuban cigars. Interestingly, we also were unaware as to how different things are between our two countries. After all, Australians and Americans come from some similar historic stock, and our national stories contain quite a few parallels. Like most species on the planet however, we need to adapt to our surroundings or perish (ok, so I exaggerate a little).

There has been lots of adapting going on lately, and we find that to make life easier for everyone involved, we must "do as the Romans do". This is particularly true when it comes to school, mainly since all four of us are intimately involved with schools on a daily basis with new schedules, new systems, and new issues. Dave's been happy with the Fairhills High School schedule and is able to do a lot of his planning and grading during the day, resulting in much less work brought home. Tommy and Sophie continue to excel in their coursework and have a busy network of lovely friends to play with after school. In addition to tutoring reading, Kate has also just accepted a part-time position at Fairhills working as an Integration Aide with one student who requires special, individual assistance.

Schools operate quite differently from what we are used to, at least the schools we are familiar with do. Probably the most obvious differences have to do with the school's annual calendar and daily schedule.

First, the annual calendars. Schools have four, ten-week terms separated by two-week holidays in between each term. The school year starts on about February 1st, and lasts for ten weeks followed by a two-week break. The pattern repeats itself until Christmas, when there is about a six-week break until the new school year starts again.

The daily schedule is quite different, and much more humane, than our schedule at home. Primary schools start around 9:00 am and finish around 3:30 pm, which is not a whole lot different than in Minnesota. However, since local school districts don't exist here (schools are either state of Victoria schools, or are Catholic or Independent schools), there are no local bussing problems since kids can attend from anywhere and often use public transportation. (What is that, by the way??) This means that secondary schools are not bound to start their day based on when busses are available to carry secondary kids to school, and therefore they can start whenever they want. Fairhills starts at a very reasonable 8:40 am, and finishes at 3:10 pm. Dave arrives at school around 7:30 am, which is still an hour early, but about an hour later than his usual arrival back in Minnesota.

Of course, there are other differences as well, but those will have to wait for another edition.

A Quirky Visit
We had an absolutely fantastic visit with Kate's parents, Tom and Barb Quirk, for several weeks in May. For the first time in her adult life Kate had time alone with her parents when the kids and Dave were in school. They spent time in the city and surrounds and had a great time visiting the local wineries in the gorgeous Yarra Valley, just over the hills from our house. Champagne lunches overlooking the vineyard - not a bad way to spend an afternoon!

We're so happy that they were able to make the trip to see us, and we thank God that our families remain healthy in our absence. Their visit meant so much to all of us and was a fantastic experience for the kids to say they had been able to do all these cool things with their grandparents while in Melbourne! We also celebrated our 12th anniversary while they were here; all six of us together in spartan, dorm-room type accommodations in the Grampian Mountains with kangaroos hopping past the windows. Heaps of fun!

Through the miracle of modern technology, we are embarking on our second two-week holiday as you read this.

Term two is finally over (can you say "Hallelujah!!!"), and we leave tomorrow to fly north to Queensland (the most northerly and easterly state here), home of the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rain Forest, among other gems both natural and man-made.

We will spend a wonderfully relaxing five nights in Port Douglas, just north of Cairns (pronounced "Cans"), the launching point for many Reef trips. Our intent (naturally) is to snorkel on the Reef and participate in day trips into the rain forest and to see other sights in the area.

We then travel by rental car south along the coast to an area known as the Whitsunday Islands, a series of 74 mostly uninhabited tropical islands that are said to be the next best thing to paradise on earth. We spend four nights there, and then fly south to Brisbane (the state capital) where we pick up another car for our trip to Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast.

The last leg of our holiday will be four nights in this Australian playground with the likes of Warner Brother's Movie World and Sea World Australia.

From this vantage point, anticipating which part of our vacation is going to be the best is an impossible task. I guess we'll just have to do it all and report back to you later!

Until July…
Well, it's a tough job but somebody has to do it. We are now just exactly at the six-month mark into this life-altering adventure. We continue to experience new and amazing things almost daily, and foresee that the pattern of excitement, exhilaration and challenge will continue until our last possible moment in Australia. (Hopefully these events won't involve salt-water crocodiles, sharks, poisonous snakes or spiders, or deadly jellyfish!)

Please keep us in your thoughts, as we think of you daily. Your continued correspondence and phone calls are fantastic, and we really appreciate hearing from you. Ooroo for now!

The Ferny Creek Panetti's

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