This is a report of my trip to Australia and New Zealand in the early summer of 2002. As it serves as my own diary of my trip, it contains boring personal detail so read at your own risk!
I've also posted photos from the trip.
I wrote previously about the impetus for this trip being a combination of the New Zealand and Australian National science fiction conventions being held within a week of each other, my desire to go back ever since my DUFF trip, and the receipt of a $600 "bump" voucher from United on my way back from Chicago last year. Unfortunately, I was unable to use an international stopover in Auckland instead of immediately continuing on to Melbourne. Turns out that you can't use vouchers on codeshare flights, and United uses Air New Zealand flights to ferry passengers from Auckland to Melbourne. This turned the $600 voucher into $400 because I had to buy a separate, more expensive ticket AKL-MEL-AKL, but by this time I was committed to the trip.
I was also able to extend my stay without using up vacation days, thanks to Stephens suggestion that I ask my manager whether I could work in Suns office in Melbourne. He has connections there and once my manager was assured that they could find me an office, he magnanimously agreed to let me work for the three weeks between the Australian Natcon and a forced Sun week off around the Fourth of July. (The fact that wed just shipped our major product so things were slow, which probably helped :-> )
Much planning ensued, as six weeks is a pretty long time to be away and I had to figure out how to pay my bills as I'd miss a billing cycle, what to do about the newly acquired plantings on my deck, and how to most efficiently set up my working in Melbourne. Everything eventually worked out and I found myself having a calm afternoon on the day of my evening departure. Unfortunately, about 5 minutes before Rich arrived to take me to the airport, I brilliantly managed to sit on my glasses when perching on the bed to put my shoes on, and barely managing to get the screws to hold back into the frame before we had to leave. So much for a calm, considered departure!
Sunday, May 26
Unlike my last trip across the Pacific, both flights took off on time! My flight from SFO to LAX had been moved up 45 minutes, so I had a 2.5 hour wait in LAX for my flight to Auckland. It was almost worth the 50,000 miles I'd spent to upgrade to business class even before I got to business class just for the pleasure of United's Red Carpet Lounge at LAX, which rescued me from the noise and fast food of the terminal and deposited me in a quiet room with comfy chairs, cheese and crackers, and herbal tea.
The fare was not so good once I got airborne. Once again, despite having confirmed twice with United that I wanted vegetarian meals with dairy, my tray sticker read "vegan vegetarian." I'd asked the stewardess if she could tell me the numeric code for regular vegetarian as maybe that would work. Word spread, and a second stewardess came by after the salad and appetizer course (!) to ask if I wanted my main course. I told her not if it involved green peppers, couscous or bulgur. She looked at me strangely but sure enough, came back with the items, not "plated," consisting of two of the three. She was upset that I might go hungry (despite the fact that it was past 11 pm LA time) , Although I assured her I was fine, she reappeared a couple of minutes later, having inventively figured out that the pasta with one of the main courses was served separately from the shrimp, so she gave me a double portion.
Tuesday, May 28
I got to Auckland on time, but the flight to Napier was 30 minutes late thanks to a severe thunderstorm that broke out about 3 minutes after I got off the interterminal shuttle. Luckily, the person from the hotel had waited around and drove a very tired me to a very charming little motel with an extremely friendly receptionist.
Once I got to the room I wanted to write some notes down before I forgot them. That's when I discovered that one of my big nightmares had happened: I'd lost my Palm Pilot. *sigh* I immediately called United but they said nothing had been turned in from the flight. She promised to call the lost and found at Auckland airport to see if they'd found anything, but I didn't hold out too much hope.
I napped off and on for about two hours, then gave it up, took the shower I badly needed, and got dressed. My first errand was to get my glasses fixed. The motel sent me to an optometrist with an ingenious string-and-wooden-tray pulley system to get things back and forth to their technicians upstairs! The next errand was the use the phone card that I'd bought in the airport to let my brother know that I'd arrived safely.
Napier is like walking down a street in a Fred Astaire movie: the Art Deco buildings are less self-conscious, somehow, than the ones in Miami Beach. I had a salmon-and-camembert sandwich at a cafe. Then I walked down to the Art Deco Trust to find out if I needed to sign up for the 2 pm walking tour the next day. I also bought a book on Art Deco in the movies and some postcards.
The weather switched between rain and wind, and sunny. It went back to cold suddenly and I decided it was time to get back to the hotel. After watching the end of a Padres/Rockies game on Sky Sports (!), I popped down to the small motel restaurant and had some delicious herb bread and some more salmon. Flipping through the TV channels, I found an interesting 30s movie with Elsa Lancaster and Roger Livesey (whose voice I recognized from the film Stairway to Heaven even though he was much younger in the film and I wouldnt have recognized him). I managed to prop my eyes open until 10 pm, which I decided was close enough to local night for me to legitimately go to bed.
Wednesday, May 29
Thank heaven for earplugs, as there was both traffic and train whistles to combine for a restless night. I woke up several times but finally gave up at about 8:30 a.m. and headed off to downtown Napier. One of the first shops on the way into town was called Raphael Furnishing Studios. I went in and admired one of the most beautifully laid out stores of this type that I've seen: most antique stores are a hodgepodge. Not only were things laid out by type in this store, but also by color!
I complimented the elderly lady at the door and we chatted a bit. She is 83, her husband is 86 and, as she told me proudly, she'd been around the world 36 times! After a bit, she instructed her husband to take me down to "the museum" down in the basement. After a bend in the stairs, I saw a flash of yellow: a perfectly preserved 30s-era Chrysler! Reg said he'd owned it for 50 years and they still race it in road rallies!!! After poking around a bit more and taking some photos, I took my leave, pleased with the start to the day.
The next few shops were more disappointing. In my wandering downtown, I decided to start taking photos of some of the Art Deco buildings. I wasn't sure how many people would be on the tour and I didn't want to hold them up by taking photos. I finally stopped for a light lunch at a small cafe run by a nice but harried couple.
On the way to the Art Deco Shop, I passed a large antique store and finally saw the item I was looking for: an Art Deco figurine for Rich, who collects them. I wanted to make sure that it was not a reproduction but unfortunately their expert was out. I had to leave for the tour but they put the figurine aside for me.
There were three women customers in the shop when I got there and I assumed they were there for the walk. However, they were just there to buy maps and do the walking tour themselves as they weren't sure they'd last the full two hours of the official tour. So, that left... me! I assumed that they would want a minimum number of people for the tour. However, the retired gentleman giving it, Russell, said that his wife had just dropped him off before continuing on to her choir practice. If no one had shown up, he would have had to hang around until she returned so he was just as happy to do the tour.
He started with their usual slide show/lecture about the 1931 earthquake that had leveled the city and then into a bit about Art Deco itself. He'd already found out that I came from the San Francisco area so he knew that I was familiar with earthquakes; when we got to the Art Deco part, I explained that I'd grown up in Miami Beach, also a source of Art Deco architecture. He said he'd never had someone who knew so much about both sides of the lecture! I did learn some new things, though: I knew that there were Egyptian motifs in Art Deco but not why the King Tut tomb had just been discovered!
I was glad I took a guided tour and didnt just go on my own. Russell knew lots of neat tidbits about various buildings, and which interiors to examine. (I checked and many of his factoids were not in the brochure.) For example, two of the buildings were personalized: one has shamrocks to commemorate a family origin in Ireland; another had a thistle at the top for Scotland and, for the wife, lions for England. While looking at one building, he said that for years the city ladies wouldn't shop on that street because "the ladies of the night" gathered on its balcony :->.
He also explained why some buildings were very elaborate and some fairly simple. Earthquake damage wasn't covered by insurance policies of the time, so some people could barely afford to rebuild. Some people were very ingenious, though: he told me that some of the artistic ripple accents I was seeing were actually made with painted-over corrugated tin! There were also some travesties of buildings where most of the facade was gone but you could still see the leaded windows under awnings. The preservation society only started to get some influence relatively recently. Now, though, there are various city-sponsored decorative posts and the like.
Russell was very patient with my desire to take photos. I got some great shots of interiors that I would never have known were there. He also pointed out some of the leaded glass immediately above shop windows, and the ceilings of some of the walk-ways and buildings. The piece de resistance was a former hotel, the Colony, where the Queen of England stayed when she came to Napier in the 1950s. The lobby, staircase, and upstairs fireplace were all stunning.
Two entertaining hours later, we were back at the Shop, where the tour finishes off with a video that recaps the history and key building styles. I made the volunteers even happier by buying a book on Napier, a T-shirt, and some small gifts. Then I returned to an Internet cafe that I'd spotted earlier and logged into both work and personal email. I didn't really want to do the walk back to my hotel and then out again for dinner. So, as I hadn't had much lunch, I decided to have an early dinner.
I swore that the day before I'd passed an Italian restaurant in the vicinity, but after circling around several times I still couldn't spot it. The phone book wasn't a help because I didn't know the name. I finally gave up and, after checking several menus, ended up at a small Chinese restaurant where I had an odd but good New Zealand version of egg foo yung. Back at the room, I loaded the photos from the day onto my laptop and made a note of which ones I'd like to take again the next day. During this examination, Stephen called to chat, and I also got a phone call from Julian Warner, an Australian fan who was coming to the NZ Natcon with his partner, writer Lucy Sussex, who was one of the GoHs. I made it until 11 before falling over.
Thursday, May 30
My first errand was to the post office, to mail back the book and other stuff I'd bought at the Deco shop rather than carting them through the rest of my trip. Then I went back to the cafe from the day before fo coffee and a really good blueberry muffin. (Why are the baked goods everywhere else better than in the US?) I then tried to find the buildings from the day before whose pictures I wanted to take over again. I tried to get back inside the Colony Hotel, whose interior shots hadn't turned out that well, but the exterior doors were locked the two times I tried.
I had read about one more antique shop and wanted to check them out to see if they had a better figurine than the one I'd found the day before but despite a sign saying they opened at 10, they hadn't opened by 10:15. The next-door shop owner said they didn't usually open until 11. I used the time to check out a different Internet cafe, this one much faster than the one from the previous day. When it finally opened, the antique store was the typical hodgepodge of junk and decent stuff but no figurines.
So, I went back to the antique shop from the day before, where the appraiser told me that the figurine was authentic Deco, although its base had probably originally been marble rather than wooden. I searched around a bit for some glass for me and finally found a small, very period green vase. Weirdly, the price to ship the bronze figurine and the glass was the same as the shipping the book that morning!
I decided to return for a second salmon-and-camembert sandwich for lunch. Then I chanced the Colony Hotel doors one last time and amazingly, they were finally open. I took some exterior shots and headed back to the motel having accomplished everything I'd wanted to do in Napier.
My flight to Wellington was uneventful. Id written to someone from the South Island who posts on rec.arts.sf.fandom to let her know that I was coming to the Natcon. I had hoped we could get together but she had written back that she worked in retail so holiday weekends were not a good time for her to be away. Then, the week before I'd left, she'd written that she was coming to Wellington for training and would be in town on Thursday. I'd told her what time I'd get in but hadn't heard back. About 4 pm, an hour after I checked in, I got a phone call from her and she said she'd drop by the hotel.
She turned out to be a really nice woman who'd lived in Wellington for a bit. She played tour guide, showing me nearby restaurants and shops (and an Internet cafe). It was nice meeting someone whom I'd only known online, although she's pretty much a lurker so we didn't really have specifics to discuss.
Julian had told me that they would probably be getting into the hotel about the same time I did, but they still hadn't checked in by 7 pm. As I was still trying to train my body when to expect sleep and meals, I decided I'd better go out to eat without them. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants and cafes I'd spotted on my earlier trek that said "vegetarian" were either closed or only had one or two veggie things despite their signs. I ended up in what I thought was a vegetarian Chinese place but it turned out to be Malaysian. The fried wonton were fine but the "coconut rice with mild potato curry" had a curry that was too spicy for me. I made do with the rice and papadam that came with it.
Back at the hotel, I was waiting at the elevator bank when who should come round the corner but Julian, Lucy, and one of the con chairs, Simon Litten, with whom I'd corresponded! We all found it weird that I was the first person they should bump into. I told Julian that I would leave them to get settled and he should give me a ring after that but he misunderstood and I didn't hear from them the rest of the evening. I used the time to go through the newer photos and catch up on this trip report. Without my Palm Pilot I was afraid I would forget details, even though I'd been keeping notes in a small notebook.
Friday, May 31
I had intended to spend the morning at the Te Papa cultural museum, but had a terrible night, a combination of lack of sleep and this being a bad time of month for me. So, I decided instead to wander the streets in search of warm gloves and whatever else struck my fancy. The hotel was ideally located in the center of town between major streets and shopping areas. I found an Internet lounge and put up with pounding techno music long enough to suffer through a slow connection and read my work email.
After lunch, I realized that I needed to lay in supplies for the Sabbath. I was right near the hotel so I dropped back in to get directions to the nearest food market. As I turned the corner, there were Julian and Lucy, coming back with parcels that looked like food! Sure enough, they'd been to a market nearby. After putting their stuff in their room, we went out for lunch at a crepe shop and wandered a bit more, popping into interesting-looking shops. Eventually, I asked them to point me to the supermarket where I bought "savoury onion" flavored tinned tuna and some cheese spreads and yogurt.
After sunset, I hung around the lobby meeting the local fans. One of the committee triumvirate, Robin Clark, kindly agreed to add a panel for the fan funds that Id requested. I ended up in the bar with NZ fan Graham Edge, plus Joe and Gay Haldeman and Julian. We traded travel and convention stories for a while. Opening ceremonies were remarkably similar to those at US conventions: bad jokes and the sheepish participation of the guests of honor. After that was a fannish version of the Weakest Link , with another familiar touch: bad filking in the interval. (One poor contestant, who obviously had never read Terry Pratchett, got two Pratchett-related questions in a row.)
Yet another familiar touch was a fan who heard I was from America and started talking about how much nicer small NZ conventions were than American conventions because the guests could mingle with the fans and weren't just wheeled into program items. Further conversation revealed that he'd been to two American conventions: one for Dark Shadows and the other for Xena. *sigh* Attempts to explain that media conventions were different than regular fannish conventions were met with polite disbelief. And who knows the number of people to whom he's claimed this about "American conventions."
An ice breaker followed, which was actually a lot of fun. There were tubs of fantastic ice cream (I pigged out on a local honey flavor) and a pajama party where you voted with fake money for pinups of SF "hunks and babes," ranging from the traditional (James Kirk, Orlando Bloom from LoTR) and the less traditional (Beaker from Sesame Street :-> ) I stuffed the ballot by giving all my votes to Aragorn from LoTR (Viggo Mortensen) and he eventually won the hunks competition. (7 of 9 won for Babes.)
Saturday, June 1
After a thankfully restful night, I read the tourist information I'd brought with me from guidebooks and was pleased to discover that the Te Papa Museum was free, which meant that I could visit it on Saturday. The exhibits themselves were nicely presented, with real tribal artifacts, among them beautiful feathered cloaks and carved jade tikis, plus a full meeting house and storehouse. But the museum was not very well designed, with no clear flow through the exhibits and unexpected dead-ends from which you had to backtrack. One disappointment was that there was no exhibit or explanation of Maori face tattoos, which I'd hoped to learn about.
I had expected the visit to take several hours but one whole floor was for modern art and culture, which didn't really interest me that much, while the other floor for traveling exhibits was called "Reggae Explosion," which I wasn't that interested in either. So I was back to the hotel in time to chat with fans in the lobby about, hurricanes vs cyclones vs earthquakes, and bad road signage.
This would turn out to be the most observant Shabbat I think I've ever had at a con: dinner Friday night and lunch Saturday were all out of the supplies I'd bought, and the room keys were metal rather than electronic. I would have preferred hot dinner and more company but knowing I was not skirting the edge by having people front me the money for meals was nice too. After lunch I went to Lucy's GoH speech, which was an interesting mix of political commentary and a look at when fantasy and horror were split off into a separate genre than realist literature and when and where literary trends turned back.
Then it was off to one of the most interesting presentations Isaw: one of the fans, Norman Cates, was the person who did the prosthetic ears and noses for Lord of the Rings. He had examples of those, plus various stages of hobbit feet. He also passed around an example of the amazingly realistic chain mail used in the film, which was actually molded plastic covered with several layers of electroplate. He showed off some personalized gear hed gotten, like crew T-shirts and jackets, a book signed by the stars and a lot of the crew, and a small replica of Bilbos sword Sting, which the studio had made up in bulk to give out at the Cannes film festival.
He told some amusing stories about the actors and the shoot, including problems with Orlando Bloom's ears and the fact that Cate Blanchett said she did the film strictly for the ears. He said that reports of John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) being allergic to his makeup were not entirely true: his problems stemmed from the heavy latex pulling down loose skin around his eyes. The skin then rubbed against the interior of his eyes and caused irritation. Norman also revealed that the lava used in film 3 is actually tinted KY jelly!
After that, it was time to get ready for the banquet. I hadn't intended to go at first, as I thought I could probably get a better meal for the NZ$40 it was costing, plus the GoHs were not actually speaking. Then I realized that the people with whom I'd like to go out to dinner were all guests of the convention who had to be at the banquet, so I might as well attend. Luckily, the very nice con chair, Simon Litten, had checked and one of the entrees was a fish I could eat, which helped make up my mind.
The banquet turned out to be fun: I sat with some people I didn't know and the conversation ranged from light-sabre techniques to how much better New Zealand butter is than American butter. The food was fairly good for banquet food and there was pavlova, a local meringue delicacy, for dessert. Entertain-ment was a cute spoof by the two Fan GoHs on a supposed new sf television pilot, featuring a world in which astrology was real and the crew of a starship has to protect the earth from Mensa terrorists. It supposedly starred a former porn actress and a telepathic hippo.
After the banquet was a difficult trivia quiz where teams in the audience competed. Questions were multimedia, including one round for music with an sf theme and photocopies of artwork. One of the toughest rounds was filling out the names of authors who used their initials, like R.A. Lafferty and A.E. van Vogt. Julian was appalled at the music selections, all of which seemed to come from the 70s, such as a Blue Oyster Cult song. After a brief stop at a crowded room party in a tiny room, I went off to bed.
Sunday, June 2
I was virtuous and when I woke up at 7 a.m., instead of groaning, I got up and washed my hair. While it was drying enough to use the blowdrier, I scanned through my Napier photos and started to lay them out for eventual showing on my web site. I then went to the business meeting where the New Zealand fans were discussing refinements on the administering and awarding of their national science fiction awards, named after Sir Julius Vogel, a (Jewish!) former prime minister of New Zealand in the 1800s who wrote science fiction after leaving office.
Julian also attended the panel so we went out to grab breakfast (a healthy custard fruit tart for me :-> ) and then I went on to the Internet lounge. Luckily, it was empty and not only had a quicker connection than on Friday but a better choice of music, too, as the minder of the store had on a jazz radio station. I finally decided to look at my Smofs email, which in 5 days had accumulated 406 messages!
I walked down Lambton Quay mistakenly thinking that I'd get to the harbour that way, but instead I found a small arcade in something called The Old Bank building. There was a very large, very ornate onion-shaped clock in the center, with signs saying that the best viewing was upstairs every hour on the hour. I decided to wait the ten minutes until the hour but it wasn't until the time was nearly up that I spotted the brochure explaining the clock, and was very disappointed to learn that it had been built and installed in 1998! The insides, once the hour did strike, were concomitantly tacky: a voiceover explained the history of the site and the building of the clock, and the clock opened four petals and rotated to display really low-tech figures on metal rails showing the origin and history of the site and the building of the clock, including a construction worker figure who went up and down a sewer hole.
ASIDE: The national NZ rugby team is called the All Blacks. This makes for some weird juxta-positions: I saw one flier for an upcoming match that said "All Blacks vs. South Africa," and an interview with one player that had a graphic giving his position: "All Black hooker."
I stopped in a couple of stores looking for gloves and black jeans but to no avail. Then I scurried back for the 2 pm Fan Funds panel I'd asked them to add to the program. Sure enough, attendance was poor, consisting of two past FFANZ (New Zealand/Australia) administrators, me, Julian, and Lyn McConchie, a writer and backup administrator. The Australia end turned out to be holding up progress, as the person who won had not taken the trip... for three years! And they'd turned the money over to him. I was surprised that, number one, they hadn't taken the administration back from him and two, they were talking about pushing him to finally take the trip. I told them that if it was me, I would take the funds away from him and hold a new election -- as far as I'm concerned, he didn't deserve to take the trip at this point.
After the panel, I stopped in the supermarket to grab a quick roll to hold me over until dinner. I'd mentioned my abortive trip to try to see the harbour to someone, who told me that it was much closer to the hotel if I'd just gone another way. Sure enough, it was only about four blocks away. I took some photos and went back to the hotel. When I checked the schedule, I found that a cocktail party at a local bookstore, with signings by Joe, Lucy, and Dale Elvy was scheduled, so I went right back out again.
Unfortunately, Lucys books hadnt been ordered, as shed been told they would, so it was only Dale and Joe who were set up to sign. Joe did a nice few minutes on the connections between his Forever books and was amusing as always. They also had wine, beer, and munchies, which I found a little startling. Im not sure if I was a bookstore owner that Id want a bunch of clumsy people going down narrow aisleways with liquid in their hands near my merchandise!
After the event, I chatted with author Stephen Dedman and his wife Elaine Kemp, who had come over from Australia on a grant. We were eventually joined by Julian and Lucy and they were all nice enough to agree to go to a small pasta restaurant where I knew I wouldn't be faced with spicy ethnic food.
After dinner, we went straight to the masquerade. It reminded me of a Deep South Con masquerade, with very few entries, many of them kids. But the humorous entries were really funny, especially one supposedly presented by archaeologists of the future. One of the ones that was unintentionally even more funny to me was The New Atlanta, with a couple dressed in silver and pink semi-Victorian outfits doing a futuristic parody of Gone With the Wind. You haven't lived until you've heard a Southern accent attempted by New Zealanders :-> The MCing was a bit more crude than I would have expected, with condom jokes and a stupid scavenger hunt. Norman showed some short amateur films shot for past natcons, including a hilarious one called Night of the Living Barbie, where a Barbie that is regularly tortured by a girl's brother comes back from the grave to seek her revenge.
The nighttime programming was a choice between charades and an interactive Rocky Horror Picture Show video. I ended up chatting to Julian, Gay, and Australian fans before toddling off to my room, tired from my early start. Miraculously, about five minutes after I walked in, Stephen called to tell me that he probably wouldn't be able to meet me at the airport on Thursday as we'd planned. He was stuck going to Sydney. He did tell me about a shuttle bus to the con hotel, and said that he'd try to get a flight that landed the same time as mine from Rotorua, but neither of us were counting on that.
Monday, June 3
I got up early to do the 15-minute walk down to the Parliament buildings. I'd been pleased to find out that the tours were taking place even on the Queens Birthday holiday. I got there about 20 minutes before they opened, and was taking some exterior pictures when a tour bus drove up and disgorged about 25 Japanese men in suits. I decided that much as I wanted to see the interior, I couldn't face doing a tour that consisted of a bunch of Japanese guys and me. So, I did the walk back up to the hotel, stopping for some toast and coffee on the way.
I caught the end of the business meeting, where Norman announced that a proposed umbrella New Zealand fan organization (SFFANZ) had been approved by voters and a board elected. As I was chatting to Simon, Robin rushed up to say that there were no panelists on the international fandom panel. When Simon started running through the panelists in his head, they realized that most of them hadnt come to the con. So, he dragged me to the room and asked if Id do the panel with Gay, who had already bravely started the panel on her own.
Gay seemed to be doing fine and has a lot of international experience (Poland, Rumania, etc.) so I just sat in the audience. However, Simon showed up a couple of minutes later with Julian as the Australian representative in tow, and Julian literally dragged me up onto the panel. Gay said it was good to have someone to spell her, so we talked a bit about difference in fan conventions in different countries, and some cultural differences. Julian and I also put in a plug for the fan funds. Considering its beginning, the panel actually went surprisingly well.
The panel I was officially supposed to be on directly followed in a different room. I was on US Fandom with NY fan Lucy Schmeidler, but she tends not to talk very much so I ended up doing most of the panel myself. I described the different regional fandoms in the US, but most of the questions were about conventions and worldcons so the panel ended up being mostly about that. The approximately 15 people in the audience seemed interested so it went better than I had expected.
The closing ceremonies came into the room right behind us. The masquerade and other awards were given out, and also some gifts to people who had helped with the convention and to the guests of honor. These included the miniature Sting swords that Id seen at Normans panel. I hoped I might be able to buy or whinge my way into getting one for my brother, whos a huge LoTR fan, but no luck. A bunch of us, including Julian, Lucy, Phil Wlodarczyk, Frances Papworth, Steve Litten, and a woman named Gina, went off to a late lunch. They were out of the sandwich I wanted so I ended up with a large plate of French fries and dips.
Back at the hotel, I went off to do my laundry, but eventually joined the Dead Dog gathering in the bar. I spotted Norman and half-jokingly asked if I could bribe him for his second Sting replica to give to my brother , because I knew he already had one from the studio and had been given a second one by the committee for all his help. He told me that he planned to give it to his family. A bit later, I was in another part of the bar chatting with Graham, Julian, and Lucy, when Norman came by and handed me the replica. I asked him if he was sure, as I didnt want to take away a gift to his family. He said no, he wanted me to have it and he could always find other insider things to give to his family. I was really touched.
After Joe and Gay came back from a private tour of the LoTR workshop that someone from the con arranged, we decided to go to dinner. We started with a relatively small group, especially when Norman said he had to take care of his laundry and other things at home, but by the time I got back from retrieving my coat and purse from the room, the number had swelled to 13 people. Luckily, Robin Johnson had mentioned a Turkish restaurant that he and Alicia were planning to go to meet NZ old-time fans Merv and Janet Bennet. Gay remembered the name of the place and when she called, they said they could handle a large group so off we went.
Julian led the way, which was a little further than we expected, but the restaurant had a good and relatively inexpensive choice of food and we basically took it over. Merv and Janet were pleasantly surprised when they arrived and Gay spotted them! A little while after we ordered, Norman showed up saying that hed decided that he should enjoy his friends while they were there.
Conversation at the various tables ranged from comparative Australian and American electoral processes to old con war stories. I was glad at the end of the evening to be able to buy Norman dinner in thanks for his giving me his second Sting sword. Back at the hotel, I packed and listened to a phone message from Stephen saying that hed been able to get a flight from Sydney that arrived in Melbourne around the same time as mine from Auckland so we could travel into town together.
Tuesday, June 4
After a restless night, I finished packing and brought my stuff downstairs. I arranged for a shuttle through the front desk and went off for a last check of email. I also cleaned out the local philatelic post office of Lord of the Rings first-day covers and postage stamp sets.
Once again, I was surprised that domestic Air New Zealand flights had no security whatsoever, not even an Xray line. It was a relief after the second-guessing in American airports not to have to worry about my small sewing-kit scissors or crochet needle.Luckily, there was a SuperShuttle waiting at the airport so I had a quick trip into town. The hotel had by far the largest room I'd stayed in so far in New Zealand, with two large beds and a nice-sized desk. It was a bit further away from town than the Wellington hotel but still walkable. I wandered around for a bit before being picked up for my previously arranged Tamaki Tours trip to Maori hangi, or feast.
Several of the hotels,including my own, stage these, but I was told by people at the Natcon that Tamaki, owned by two Maori brothers, ]was the most authentic and least touristy. I was a little worried by the driver's shtick on the way out of town, but he grew on me after a while. The evening starts outside the village entrance: each bus chooses a symbolic chief and they meet the local tribal leader and indicate that they've come in peace. The whole thing sounds tacky but is done with great seriousness: they ask that no one move or laugh at the sight of the fierce warrior stance, which includes the famous bugged-out eyes and flicking outstretched tongue.
Once that's over, you move into the village itself, which for me was the most uncomfortable part of the evening, as small groups of two or three Maori are in front of little huts and dancing or singing. It felt a bit like watching animals in a zoo. I was pleased, though, when I came across one group of three warriors where one was obviously inexperienced and the other two kept walking him through the moves. After about 10 minutes, you're herded into the meeting house, where they ask that all hats be removed and only men are allowed to sit in the front row.
The next 30 minutes are a show of traditional songs and dances done by a cultural group that works at preserving the Maori culture. The songs and movements are reminiscent of other Pacific Islanders, including Hawaiians. The performers were really good and took things seriously, with speeches being delivered in Maori and then translated
The feast itself follows. I had been a bit worried about asking for the vegetarian option but a lot of the other tourists had asked for it as well. It was a choice between a main course of a large spring roll, rice, or a vegetable samosa. As it turned out, I needn't have worried, as the main meal, served buffet style, had plenty of steamed whole potatoes and sweet potatoes, plus carrots and cole slaw. The feast is prepared in the traditional way, in a pit with superheated rocks and steam, cooked for about 3 hours. (This was another advantage over the hotel ones, which are evidently cooked mostly in kitchens.)
The food was surprisingly good and they gave a demonstration of how the pits are prepared and the food laid out. The evening ended with the bus drivers giving a small sing-along concert. The concept of the war dance, or haka, had been explained and it really came to life when even the bus drivers did one before guiding us back on the buses. (The national rugby team has a haka written especially for them that they perform before every game.)
Wednesday, June 5
I had decided to book a half-day tour of some of the attractions and was glad I'd chosen the afternoon pick-up because I had another bad night. I spent the morning buying souvenirs, checking my email, and trying in vain to find a long-sleeve New Zealand T-shirt. I also walked to a nearby attraction not on the tour, which my motherly receptionist in Napier, who'd lived in Rotorua for 15 years, told me not to miss. This was an extensive orchid garden and included a really cool water organ: large jets of water with colored lights on them where the jets change pulsations depending on the music being played. The orchid garden itself was pretty pathetic, although a display of native plants and their uses by the Maori was interesting. The water organ was cool but the novelty paled after a while.
I got picked up at 12:45 pm as promised, and once again on my travels was the only one on my tour. This turned out not to be a big deal, as I discovered that mostly what I was paying for was the coach ride and admissions. The tours are given by people at each attraction, not by the driver, who just drops you off and picks you up. The "narrated drive through the government gardens and Rotorua Lakefront" was a five-minute drive through a local park.
The first stop was at the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, where I got to do the "touch noses" greeting with the receptionist. The admission includes the Te Whakarewarewa thermal valley. The Institute is less impressive than it sounds although a noble cause: they privately fund Maori students to learn techniques of carving (for three Maori guys a year) and weaving (for anyone). The Institute site includes a small meetinghouse and storehouse.
After that site, you get on an open trolley that takes you out to the thermal valley. They only stopped in one place, so although I saw boiling mud pools at a distance, I never saw one up close and personal.
I did get to see the Pohutu geyser, which sure enough was going full blast, and also to walk a little bit around some steaming pools. Then it's a quick trip through a darkened exhibit showing the flightless kiwi bird, which evidently is extremely sensitive to light and noise so no pictures allowed. It was crowded with the other people on the guided tour so I barely got to see the bird and kept bumping
Back on the bus, the next stop was the Rainbow Springs and Farm Show. The show was obviously scripted but still really interesting if you're mostly an urban creature like me. It is done from an ampitheatre looking out through large barn doors to the paddocks, so the dog-herding exhibition was a little hard to see. (I'd seen Babe so I had an idea what was going on.)
The next parts of the show were more interesting. The audience was too: there were group tours from Japan, Spain, and China, and they each had their own guides who spoke into simultaneous translation earphones for each group. The show begins with dog herding and cow milking, but then proceeds to more interesting stuff like a hand cream separator and butter churner, and a sheep-shearing demo. The latter was fascinating: the sheep's head is held between the shearer's legs and the sheep hardly seemed to mind the procedure at all. They are evidently shorn every six months or so and I guess that after a while they just get resigned to the whole business.
I walked across the street to the Rainbow Springs, just ahead of the Japanese group. This wasn't that interesting to me, as it's mostly a trout preserve and frankly I don't find trout that fascinating. There was an extensive garden of native plants and signs about what they are used for by the Maori, plus some local birds, pigs, and deer on display. The best part of this attraction was the fact that I was the only one in the kiwi bird exhibit so I got a good look at the birds foraging around for food in the exhibit. I also got to see some tuatara, prehistoric reptiles that are unique to New Zealand.
The bus driver narrated a bit about the part of town near the farm and kindly agreed to drop me off near a park I'd heard about from someone at the con. It was just as bizarre as she said it would be: you're walking along a footpath past normal grass and trees and all of a sudden there's a rock cairn with some steam coming out of it. The driver had told me that the people living in Rotorua, especially the ones who live near the lake like in my hotel area, are constantly having to check and replace their electrical equipment because of the sulphur in the air. I'd been warned about the smell, too, and it was pervasive but not that strong most of the time. (It probably was a mistake to stay so close to the lake...)
On the way back from the park I found an Italian cafe and had one of the best meals I'd had in New Zealand, with excellent garlic bread. Sated, I came back to the hotel to catch up on postcard writing (a bit more laborious without my Palm Pilot for the addresses) and to pack my suitcases, making room for my purchases of the day.
Thursday, June 6
I got up early to finish packing and head off to the center of town. After breakfast, I checked the Internet and found out that friends had just had a baby. So, I went searching for a baby gift that would say New Zealand and sent it off. Then it was time to go back to my hotel to catch the shuttle for the plane. At the airport, I struggled out onto the tarmac into the wind to get on the plane. This was unlike my previous Air New Zealand Link flights, which were about 40 seaters, with a stewardess and even snack service. For the flight to Auckland, I was confronted with a 19-seater that had a ceiling so low that even bent double, I barely fit. This was also by far the bumpiest flight I'd taken, and in such a small plane we felt every drop.
Ever hopeful, I used the time in the Auckland airport to check with the terminal police and United Customer Service whether perhaps a miracle had occurred and my Palm had magically reappeared. No such luck. My Melbourne flight was 35 minutes late taking off because the flight from Australia didn't arrive on time. The flight is three hours long and across the Tasman Sea, so I was on my first large aircraft in a while. They announced that it was so bumpy that they would not be able to bring out the drinks cart and the seatbelt light was illuminated for all but about 15 minutes of the flight. Compared to my flight in from Rotorua, though, I hardly felt it.
Headwinds meant that we lost even more time. By the time I got through immigration, I was feeling really guilty at having suggested to Stephen that he schedule his flight from Sydney so we could arrive at the same time. Luckily, his low opinion of Qantas was confirmed and he had landed only about 20 minutes before me, rather than the hour-something that I'd feared.
We took a taxi into the city to the con hotel. Justin Ackroyd, friend of DUFF and owner of Slow Glass Books, had told Stephen that he'd probably come back to the store after taking Joe Haldeman for a drink after his 6 pm signing. The hotel was nearby so after dropping my suitcases off, we headed in his direction. Justin doesn't have a mobile phone and we were just about to give up on him (given that it was past 9 pm) when Stephen got a call... Justin on Julian's mobile phone to say he'd be right there. He soon regretted it when his suggestions for spicy food were met with my counter of remembering a pancake parlour nearby, which is where we ended up. We then went back to the store, where Stephen basically spent more than the Gross National Product of some small African nations on books. We took his haul back to the hotel and given that by New Zealand time it was about 2 in the morning, I shooed him off home and went to bed.
Friday, June 7
This was by far the noisiest hotel I'd had on my trip. The windows faced out onto a street loaded with motorcycle shops and featuring a tram line plus ambulances coming from two hospitals at the end of the street. I finally gave up on sleeping at about 8 a.m. Luckily, the lobby of the hotel featured a nice little breakfast offering so I didn't have to search too far to find some stuff to eat.
After finding an Internet cafe and deleting the spam from my work list for the day, I headed off to the American Express office. Lots of people had been telling me that I should check whether the automatic insurance I take on every flight would cover the loss of my Palm. I didn't understand why, as it seemed to me that my own negligence wasn't the same as the airlines, but everyone assured me that it was worth a try. Unfortunately, my pessimistic view was correct and only checked luggage is covered.
ASIDE: New words I didn't hear last time: "hoon" for lowrider, "tracky dax" for track suit, guillotine (pronounced GILL-a-teen) for paper cutter, give way for yield.
From there, I went to the Capitol Theatre. While we had been waiting for Justin the previous evening, we'd stopped by the theatre so Stephen could see if the Melbourne Film Festival schedule was posted yet. The outside looked really cool and Stephen assured me that it was worth checking out by Art Deco fans and conveniently, their weekly tours are on Fridays. The tour was definitely worth it. The theatre was designed as a movie palace by Walter Burley Griffith and his wife, both architects who had designed Canberra, Australia's capitol city. The people commissioning the building wanted the feel of a crystal cave. Griffith gave it to them in full measure, with the coolest ceiling ever, complete with weird protrusions and color-cycling lights.
After going through several theatre owners (one of which installed a truly hideous carpet), the building is now owned by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. The tours are done by volunteers and they have photos of the original theatre in the 40s. As you walk through, you can see where parts of the original are left. Then you get to the main part of the theatre and flip over the ceiling. As Stephen says, you really don't care whether the film you're watching is any good because you can always watch the ceiling.
After grabbing a quick lunch at a food hall, I went down to the Queen Victoria Market to browse the stalls and eventually get some food to keep in the room for Shabbat. I wanted to get some of the gorgeous cheeses I saw at several stores but my metric experience in Israel was too far in the past and I couldn't remember the gram weights I wanted. I ended up getting pre-packaged foods so I wouldn't have to embarrass myself. Then I dropped the food off in the room and started my Natcon experience.
It was really cool to see the folks I'd worked with at Aussiecon 3. All of use commented that it didnt seem like three years had passed. At 6 pm, I did my first panel, on "your first convention." I'd been a little uncertain about doing this panel, because I was afraid that my expectations of what is common at conventions might lead me to talk about something that's common at US conventions but not Australian ones. Program chair Sue Ann Barber had assured me that the basic experience was the same and except for the lack of a con suite, that was pretty much true.
The other panelists were Gay Haldeman and local fan Danny Heap. We got an audience of about 9 - 10 people, and I think we helped orient them a bit. After that, I went down to opening ceremonies. Toast-master Jack Dann leaned a little more on the side of shtick than I thought was truly funny but he was mostly entertaining. Stephen had finally arrived from work and we decided to walk to an area of the city noted for its Italian restaurants. We came out of the hotel into a wind tunnel: the threatened storm for the day hadn't produced any rain but definitely had sent some serious air masses. After dinner, I sat around a bit talking to people who'd showed up while we were out and then went off to bed.
Saturday, June 8
We were repeating the newcomers panel at 9 a.m. Dinner had been so late the night before that I skipped breakfast and went straight to the panel. We had a slightly different and bigger audience this time, and managed to get most of the same information across plus some points we hadn't made previously. After chatting a bit with some people in the convenient open area behind registration, I finally decided it was time for the muffin I'd bought the day before.
Then it was off to a panel in the small fan lounge on the fifth floor of the hotel. Cathy Cupitt, the current Australian DUFF administrator, had sent email right before the convention saying that despite her plans otherwise, she wasn't going to attend the convention after all. So, I'd offered to show up along with Australian fan fund winners to talk about the fan funds. As usual, everyone who showed up was either a current or former fan fund winner or a friend keeping them company...
Back down to the gathering area, I chatted with Canberra fan Mark Loney and local fan Irwin Hirsch before going off to the convention auction. This was a bit different than the con auctions I'd ever been to, as not only were items up for the various fan funds, but also personal items from fans who pay a percentage to the convention. The most unusual item was the right to shave off Marc Ortleib's beard, which had grown to truly impressive proportions.
Once the auction was over, I, Stephen, former worldcon chair Perry Middlemiss, long-time fan Roy Ferguson, even more long-time fan Carey Handfield (whom I'd heard about but hadn't met at A3), and Irwin wandered the streets until we found an Italian restaurant. Everyone told me that going to the "street of Italian restaurants" that Stephen and I had gone to the previous night would not be a good idea because Italy was playing a World Cup game and things could get ugly. Sure enough, the next morning's paper mentioned a riot in the streets after favourite Italy was beaten by longshot Croatia and some Croatian fans decided to celebrate this news in the Italian neighborhood.
ASIDE: I had always heard about how encompassing the World Cup was in other countries and that is certainly true. Games were on two and sometimes three channels and CNN Europe covered injuries as if they were of international political significance. I imagine it would have been even more overwhelming had either the New Zealand or Australian teams been involved.
Conversation at dinner started with people asking questions about the state of ConJose, the upcoming worldcon. Eventually, it turned to a rehash of A3. Stephen had to leave to go back to work and fix some things he hadn't gotten to in Sydney. The lobby of the hotel was fixed up for a book launch of a local small press that had come out with its first set of sf humor books. I didn't buy any of the books but I did like their T-shirt and ended up buying one.
I went up to the bar staff hoping to get some juice and pointed to something asking whether it was apple juice. "No," the bar person said, "it's Solo." This was, of course, not very illuminating for me. I explained that I was sorry but I was American so I didn't know what that meant and she told me it was lemon squash. A woman overheard, came up to me, and chastised me for apologizing about being American. She turned out to be Mandy Herriot, the wife of Stephen's closest office mate at the office, Phil Ware. The couple are both fans, with Phil having taken over the DUFF administration a few years before when Roger Waddell, the administrator, died. I got to hear some stories from Stephens work from another perspective before fading and going to bed.
Sunday, June 9
I bumped into Mark Loney in the lobby and we went next door for some coffee. During the conversation, he told me about having gone to a conference where one of the speakers showed a slide from Coober Pedy (a mining town in south Australia) that also showed a spaceship! He said it looked familiar and asked the speaker afterward if he knew anything about it. The spaceship evidently was left over from the filming of a movie (Pitch Black) and it was easier for them to just leave it there.
I had to get back to the hotel for a panel on 1952 as a pivotal year in fandom (despite having told Irwin, who organized it, that I didn't know very much about the subject). It was originally scheduled for 3 p.m. but Irwin had plans to go to an Australian Rules football game so he'd checked with both panels and gotten it switched to 11 a.m.
Although this change was announced in the daily newsletter, it hadn't been put up on the change announcement list on the white board in the Reg area. As a result, most of the people in the audience expected the other panel. Given that they were both fan-history related, most of the audience stayed anyway. The panel went pretty well because British fans Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer had come equipped with data from Rob Hansen's history of British fandom which got the conversation started. Perry also asked some good leading questions from the audience. Gary Hoff, who now lives in Perth but grew up in Germany, provided some interesting information on early German and European fandom.
I'd been thinking about going to the footy game with Irwin and his two kids but decided that I was in town for a month but the convention was only that weekend, so I'd stick around the hotel instead. A bunch of us from the panel went around the corner to the Market for some lunch. I had some bad Turkish felafel and a decent juice combo while the table discussed Hangovers I Have Known.
Given that the Natcon Fan GoH audience had come to listen to my panel, I thought the least I could do was show up for their panel. Even though I didn't know many of the people who were proposed, I actually did recognize some of the names. I was also able to answer some questions about worldcon fan GoHs from the audience when applied to by the moderator, Sydney fan Jack Herman.
I ducked out to clear my email and came back for a while to chat with Stephen Mandy, and Adelaide fan John Packer, who'd evidently come out of semi-gafiation to attend the Natcon. Dinner was early, a 12-person extravaganza at a yuppie restaurant that we actually drove too (well, Justin drove us, anyway). I got to trade old movie recommendations with Jack, and compare socialized medicine stories with Perry. The masked ball was still going on but I decided that given that it was 10:30 p.m. it wasn't worth changing into the snazzy outfit I'd brought for the occasion.
Stupidly, I ended up staying up until 1:30 a.m. on one of the few nights that preceded a morning where I actually had to get up at a specific time. The conversation, with local fan Ian Mond and current NY resident and Australian expat Zev Sero, followed the raseff tradition of wallowing in Jewish minutia. It might have ended sooner except for a very large, very drunk, and very obnoxious fan who droned on, leaning on people and interrupting all conversations, about a local friend of his whom he'd been trying to convince to come to the con. Danny Heap came by with local fan gossip, but after that I finally gave up and went to bed.
Monday, June 10
I had to get up early to wash my hair and pack, but I still managed to make it downstairs in time for the business meeting. I wanted to see how it compared to worldcon and Westercon meetings. I was pleased to find that Jack, who was running it, was less wedded to parliamentary procedure than most other BM chairs I've seen. I sat in the back with, as Claire put it, the other "aliens" (Mark being the other). I had grabbed a copy of the minutes from the previous year and spent the first 15 minutes or so of the meeting proofreading them.
Much of the discussion had to do with resolutions regarding the wording of the Australian Ditmar awards, which only recently have been formalized with rules. There was also some discussion about a proposed resolution to "recommend" that Natcon bids use Easter weekend. After some heated debate, people finally came to the conclusion that I had reached when I first read it: why bother to add something to the constitution that has no binding power? Finally, site selection took place. It was less suspenseful than it might have been given that the first bidder, for Perth, announced immediately that the Perth bid was urging everyone to support the opposing Canberra bid! After some questioning of the Canberra chair, the meeting voted for that site.
I wandered by the dealers room at this point and found Justin talking to Phil, who was going to the cricket match with us on Wednesday to provide color commentary. He gave me a preliminary explanation in the dealers room, and had even brought a ball to show me. I also spent some of the day taking photos. As usual, I'd taken a lot of pictures of buildings but hardly any of people.
A 4 pm panel on preserving Australian fan history was really interesting. Mark had done some research and discovered that Film and Sound Australia had a whole preservation organization and they agreed that some fan movies from the first two Australian worldcon bids were worth of preservation. They keep them in an ideal environment, and made beta copies for accessing and distribution. Fan Susan Batho said she'd donated her extensive fanzine collection to the National Library, which had cataloged it and asked her to speak at a very well attended lecture on fanzines. The Australian community has many of the same problems as the American, with sporadic efforts being made but no real money or organization to make the effort more sustained. Even during the panel, people revealed items that they had in their basements that other people had been trying to track down!
Closing ceremonies immediately followed. The guests were thanked with personalized gifts, and then convention-related leftovers were put up for auction, including a nifty blinky arch modeled after the one in the Star Trek episode CIty of Forever, and the huge silver rockets left over from Aussiecon 3 (which went for $6!)
Mark Loney was going to be in town until Friday but was booked for every night but this one so we'd discussed going to dinner. By the time the party reached the restaurant, it had swelled to 12 people, including former A3 committee members Jamie Reuel and Nick Price, Claire and Mark, Julian and Lucy, and Roman.(This gave me a chance to formalize dates for my proposed trip to Adelaide, as Roman had kindly offered his spare bedroom for me to stay in during my visit.)
Some people asked what had happened in the business meeting, which resulted in a discussion of tacky ideas for Ditmar trophies, the most popular of which was a waving kangaroo paw with the required Southern Cross painted on its hoof, clutching a rocket. The restaurant was a bit loud so it was hard to converse with the whole table (or even someone more than one person away from you) so I ended up with a sore throat the next day.
Irwin kindly gave us, Mark and Claire a lift to and from the hotel. When we arrived back, I retrieved my luggage from the not-very-secure luggage storage area and then we took a taxi back to Stephen's relatively new condo. By this time, it was pretty late, and by the time I unpacked, Stephen showed me where things were, and we made up the bed, it was nearly 2 a.m.
The Pakistanis batted first and after their 50 overs came the tea interval. I got some fries and hot jam donuts, plus an Australian cricket T-shirt. Despite not very good fielding on the Australians' part, they managed to score enough runs in their innings to win and the game ended at a relatively early 9:15 pm. (Take that, American baseball fans who complain about 4-hour games!) Luckily, the rain had stopped and Phil kindly drove us home. On our way past the stadium, I noticed a lighted scoreboard: on the outside wall of the stadium!
Tuesday, June 11
Given my usual difficulty in getting to sleep in new surroundings, I felt like I'd been run over by a truck the next morning. However, this was to be my first day at work at Sun's office in Melbourne. Stephen and I walked the three blocks or so to the tram -- luckily, his office building is only two blocks away from Sun. David Purdue, the friend with whom he'd arranged for me to work at Sun, came and got me from reception but the admin who was supposed to find me an office was out of hers so I used a makeshift drop-in office until she came in.
Luckily, there was a vacant cubicle near the door that she said I'd be able to use for my entire stay. I logged in again and tried to read mail and do some work. This proved to be nearly impossible because of the really slow connection back to my California server. Stephen called to meet me for lunch, and then I came back to wrestle with the server again.
I finally called the regional support offices in Singapore and they asked me to file an official ticket for service. This proved nearly impossible with my connection. Coincidentally, while I was waiting for the application to load, David came by to see how I was doing. When I explained the problem, not only did he volunteer to file the ticket on my behalf through his login, he also offered to add me as a user to his local system. That made a huge difference and I was finally able to do work.
Stephen's friend Annette had asked us to meet her to see Spider-Man and although I was pretty tired I'd been wanting to see it. Stephen barely made it out of the office in time but thanks to the civilized custom of reserved seats in many movie theatres, Annette had good seats for us. Although it was true to its comic book roots, I found much of the dialogue really sappy. The costume was way cool, though, and I'm sure Willem Defoe had a great time chewing the scenery as the Green Goblin.
Back at Stephen's place, it was laundry time. I began to regret this decision when his dryer took about 3 hours to finish my clothes and it was another 2 a.m. bedtime.
Wednesday, June 12
Having the account on David's machine made all the difference and I was actually able to do some work even before Singapore came through with an official local account. I left early, though, because of one of the key activities I'd wanted to do on this trip: Stephen and Phil were taking me to a cricket game: Australia vs. Pakistan in a wimpy one-day match. These last only seven or eight hours, as opposed to test matches that last five days!
The game began at 2. We picked up lunch and Phil drove us down to Colonial Stadium, a newer stadium with a retractable roof. Thanks to winter the roof was closed, which we were thankful for about half-way through the match when we heard serious thunder and rain outside. The field is much bigger than a football or baseball field, with a thin rectangular pitch in the middle and rest of the field just grass.
Phil had given me a preliminary tutorial at the Natcon, but I still had a lot of questions as the game progressed. Some notes:
Thanks to the time change, attending my Wednesday 10 a.m. staff meeting meant that I had to get up at 3 a.m. on Thursday. I had set my alarm clock but before going to bed had noticed that it had reset itself back to 1 a.m. Stephen didn't have a spare alarm clock but this being a tech household the problem was easily solved by my borrowing his Palm Pilot and using the alarm! Usually at staff meetings we report on the various teams in which we participate -- I gave a report on the Australian cricket team instead :-> Everyone was very impressed that I had called in and was doing the meeting in my jammies.
This was my first real full day at work and I actually got some work done. Stephen met me at a main shopping drag, Chapel Street, so we could try to find a replacement for my Palm and get some food supplies. No luck on the Palm and I was a little too enthusiastic in my shopping. Poor Stephen ended up lugging the heavier of the bags back on the tram and the walk back to his place. His friend Jesper came over and we ordered pizza while watching a World Cup soccer game (Croatia vs Korea).
Friday, June 14
This was the day I was going to investigate the neighborhood containing most of the kosher shops so I could get food in for the Sabbath. I had assumed I could easily log in to work from Stephen's ISDN line but the connection not only took forever to get established but was flaky besides. I finally was able to respond to some email before giving up and walking to the bus stop.
Unfortunately, I hadn't thought to buy a map and couldn't find streets that Stephen assured me were right nearby. I did find a kosher bakery and a market of sorts so I was able to buy appropriate food -- even a kosher meat pie! I also found a kosher fast food place of sorts and got a burger and fries. Back at Stephen's I got a better connection to work and was able to finish going through my email before sunset. After dinner, I read one of the Hugo nominee novels, American Gods by Neil Gaiman. (I liked it but it didn't strike me as a Hugo-type novel.)
Saturday, June 15
A lazy day: I read another Hugo nominee, Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson (which probably will get my vote) but was unable to find the others on Stephen's shelves so I made do with some other stuff. We watched the second of the three-match cricket series, which unfortunately Australia lost.
Sunday, June 16
I woke up to a gorgeous day. I decided to do some personal housekeeping and went through the various bits of paper I'd collecting on my journey. One of the brochures I'd picked up was for an arts and crafts fair in the nearby neighborhood of St Kilda, which is on the beach. As I was checking the web to find out how to get there, Stephen serendipitously emerged from his room and gave me the tram directions.
The weather during the walk to, and wait for, the tram was so warm that I actually took off my coat and put it in my backpack. However, by the time the tram turned the corner to head down the long street to the beach, the fog was already rolling in. By the time I got off the tram, I was glad I'd put my coat back on, and also glad that I'd kept my wool cap in its pocket when I left the flat!
The arts and crafts fair was about typical, with the artwork of a slightly higher quality than US fairs I've seen. Otherwise, there was the typical silver jewelry, small furry toys, and cute plaques. I treated myself to a pastry in one of the numerous such shops on Acland Street, then headed back to Stephen's. On the way, I picked up a Sunday paper.
Dinner was at a very nice fish restaurant with Julian and Lucy, and Bruce Gillespie and Elaine Cochran. They all trooped back to Stephen's with us so they could marvel at his large tube television. After they left, I glanced through the paper and noticed that a large chain store, Harvey Norman, had a price on a Palm m500 that was A$150 cheaper than the cheapest price I'd found so far and brought it into the range of what I'd pay for the model in the US. Unfortunately, they are mainly a suburban chain and there was no branch nearby. Stephen suggested that we check at a couple of office supply places near work on Monday to see if they would match the price.
Monday, June 17
At lunchtime, we went to the office stores - the first one wouldn't match the Palm Pilot price but the second one, a larger chain store, did! So, the $1.50 I spent on the Sunday paper may have had the highest rate of return of any investment I ever made :-> I spent the evening playing with the new toy and trying to figure out why it insisted on a reset every time it synced, and why it took three times for all of my applications to come across with their licenses.
Tuesday, June 18
After work, we planned to go to one of my other requests: Gold Class cinema, which Stephen described as a moviegoers dream come true. However, there were no seats available so instead we went for dinner at a nice Greek restaurant nearby with decadent desserts. Stephen then broke the news that we would be unable to accomplish one of my objectives: going down to his childhood haunts out in the country so I could get to see a small town and some scenery from the train. He was so close to leaving work for good on July 31 that he was unable to get Friday off.
Wednesday, June 19
A couple of weeks before I left the US, at the urging of someone at my synagogue with whom I'd been chatting about jewelry, I had taken my diamond engagement ring, which had been sitting in various bank safe deposit boxes (to avoid paying insurance) and broken the diamond out into a pendant. I had decided to put an amethyst in the setting, but didn't have time before I left, nor did I want to invest the extra $175 - $250 that the jeweler said it would cost for the stone and having to put a new center setting in the ring.
For some reason, I was inspired to bring the ring blank with me to Australia, thinking that perhaps stones would be cheaper here. I'd stuck the ring in my backpack just in case, which paid off this morning, when I noticed a jeweler down the block from the tram stop. The jeweler said that he didn't think he'd have to change the center setting, and that the stone and the seating of the stone would come to, oh, around A$50!!!
This was the day of the third game of the three-game Australia/Pakistan cricket match. We watched the television coverage after the "tea break," which started at 7 pm, and within a few minutes it was clear that the Australians were screwing up big-time. Sure enough, they went out before the maximum number of "innings" allowed.
Thursday, June 20
Once again, I had to get up at 3 a.m. for my staff meeting. Unfortunately, when I'd synced my new Palm I'd forgotten to remove the meetings I wasn't going to attend, so the alarm went off at 2 for a different meeting that wasn't even being held. *sigh* The staff meeting was surprisingly contentious and lasted the full hour, plus I had to call someone afterward to finish a conversation privately so I didn't get to put my head back down to go back to sleep until about 4:45 a.m.
I did manage to straggle into work by 10. Thanks to being late, the jewelers where I'd dropped my ring blank was open. I'd gone to wear my black star sapphire ring only to find that it had bent in transit. I'd noticed anyway that it was getting too small for my finger if it was the slightest bit hot out. So, I decided to drop it off to be picked up with the amethyst ring, and size it up while I was at it.
At work, more good news about my Palm arrived by email: an announcement of a new promotion offering a free m125 handheld if you bought an m500 during June and July!!! I made sure to print out the offer and rebate form, with plans to submit it as soon as I got back. The offer said "For US only" but I hoped that meant the rebate part and not the purchase part. I already had the receipt in a safe place because I needed it to get the Australian tax rebate at the airport.
After work was the "make-up date" for our trip to the Gold Class at a nearby cinema. Stephen wasn't exaggerating: the theatre consists of 18 seats, three rows of six plush recliners with a small table every two seats. You place your order from a munchies/wine/beer list before the film starts, including the time during the show when you'd like the order delivered.
This show was even more luxurious than normal, because we were the only ones in the theatre. Given that the film was Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones, this worked out really well because we were able to make sarcastic comments without disturbing anyone else. (Plus Stephen was able to make some comments about things about to show up on the screen because he was heroically seeing it for the second time so I could experience Gold Class.) It was almost like watching a film in someone's really comfy living room, only with a full theatre-sized screen and someone else to go in the kitchen and bring you a drink.
Friday, June 21
I'd thought that I would have to get up for yet another meeting . Luckily, one of the key people was not going to be around so they were cancelling the important discussion until after the July 4 break when I'd be back in town. *whew* I got in by 8:15 so I could have some real-time email exchanges with co-workers. Plus, I actually managed to get some real work done.
I got a bunch of errands done in the afternoon, including buying an Art Deco figurine for Rich. Amazingly, an antique store that I passed every day while walking to the tram stop had one in the window similar to the ones he collects! The evening was spent watching World Cup soccer, including a close loss by the US to Germany, slightly softened by the fact that the commentators all agreed that the US should have won.
Saturday, June 22
I knocked off another Hugo nominee by reading The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, which was better than I expected it to be. (I have very low expectations for fantasy.) We also watched the second half of the South Korea/Spain match, which was decided by a penalty shoot-out. Stephen commented on how much he hates these, as you might as well just toss a coin.
After sunset, we took a taxi to the suburb of Collingwood to meet Bruce and Elaine, UK fans Mark and Claire, and Julian and Lucy at a crepe restaurant. Dinner conversation ranged from comparing crummy motorway foods in the US, UK, and Australia to Bruce and I trading old typesetting machine stories. Back at Bruce and Elaine's I got to meet their cats, pick up some fanzines, and see the cane-toad Ditmar awards handed out by the 1991 Natcon in Brisbane. Definitely not your average award design!
We walked to a major street to catch a taxi home and the driver told us that the company had radioed all drivers to avoid the local Turkish neighborhood. The later soccer match had featured Turkey and even though they won, the fans were pretty excited. We chatted for a bit about sports, and then he said "I don't understand those penalty shootouts, they might as well just toss a coin" :->
Sunday, June 23
The end of June is the end of the tax year in Australia. As businesses have to pay taxes on their inventory, they tend to have big stocktake sales during June. So we headed off downtown to see if we could spot any bargains. I came home empty-handed but Stephen replenished his sock and underwear drawer. I stopped at a couple of opal places for earrings to match the pendant Id bought on my DUFF trip, but most of the stores had junk.
Justin, his wife Jenny, and daughter Lucy came by for an early dinner. Unfortunately, the Mexican restaurant in this neighborhood that he likes didn't have much for me to eat. So, Stephen led us on a meandering walk through Prahran before I finally in desperation found a menu in an Italian restaurant that we could agree on. Dinner was fun, with Lucy coercing Jenny to draw menus on a pad of paper, and Justin and Stephen trading mild insults as usual.
Monday, June 24
I'd hoped to go to a fan gathering at Danny Heap's house but woke up not feeling very well. When ride Ian Mond told me it was a 45-minute drive away, I just couldn't face it. Instead, I stayed home for the evening and cooked some of the food I'd been keeping in the freezer. Then we watched Buffy, only the third episode I'd ever seen.
Tuesday, June 25
By the afternoon, I'd finished all the work that I was scheduled to do. Unfortunately, the deadline for the book I'd planned to index had slipped a week, leaving me stuck. I felt guilty just surfing the web and answering team emails, so eventually I sent an email message to my boss saying that I had run out of work thanks to the deadline slip but that I really didn't want to have to use vacation days.
I'd arranged to meet Michael Jordan, the A3 Hugo organizer, for dinner at the neighborhood rife with Italian restaurants near downtown. (He hadn't been able to attend the Natcon so I'd made sure to get \in touch so I wouldn't miss him during my visit.) I did some errands along the way and met him at the bookstore as prearranged. We dodged a few barkers trying to lure people into their restaurants, and finally found an unassuming place that had a wide pasta selection. We had a great time catching up
on the news of the past three years.
Back at the flat, Stephen and Michael also caught up, as they hadn't seen each other in a while. Jesper was over to watch the World Cup semifinal of Germany vs South Korea. Host South Korea's fairy tale came to an end when a boring German team with a great goaltender won by a single goal.
Wednesday, June 26
I got up early and checked my email in my pajamas in the vague hope that my boss would have responded to my email by saying, "Don't worry about it, just enjoy the rest of the week." No such luck, he was having a writer send me a small document and also asked me to design an internal form that we'd talked about in a staff meeting before I'd left (although he couldn't find his notes from the meeting and I really didn't remember very much about what we'd talked about). I answered a few emails and then caught the tram and went to work.
ASIDE: Although we have card-key entrance at the Sun offices in Menlo Park, security in the Sun building in Melbourne was much stricter. You needed a badge key to get into the area past the receptionist, and to get out! The bathrooms are also behind the security door. After hours, the front
door also has a button to press to get out.
As I walked past the receptionist, she said not to rush because the building's server was down. I found this timing amazing as it was the first morning that I'd checked email from home before coming in to the office, and if I hadnt, I would have missed the interactive window with California. After buying a newspaper at the shop downstairs and reading it with a cup of tea, I was debating what to do next when they made an announcement that they'd be shutting off the power for half an hour.
I decided that rather than sit around in the dark, I was going to go shopping! On Sunday, we hadn't wanted to brave the crowds at a department store that was going out of business. However, I figured that a weekday morning would be a lot calmer. So, I ducked out of work, caught the tram, figured out where to get off, and went through the rapidly emptying racks looking for bargains. Not much to be had, but I did score a Koala Classic tennis tournament T-shirt for half-off.
I made it back to the office within an hour to find the lights back on. I had a bit of trouble accessing my system, but a call to the support person and a few cryptic command lines later, and I was back in business. Editing the short document I got was trickier than I thought. Faxing it meant that (1) I never should have printed and edited it on double-sided, so I had to copy all the edits over, and (2) I had to cut off the tops of the A4 paper so the fax at the American end didn't cut off the bottoms of the pages!
Fellow observant Jewish fan Ian Mond had kindly offered to take me out to dinner at the local gourmet kosher restaurant. We met Danny Heap and his wife Sharon there, which was great as I hadn't had a chance to really talk with them at the Natcon. I was also able to get a taste of famous Australian lamb. Dinner conversation included trading con horror stories and dissecting the new Spider-Man movie. I got back in time to see the end of the other World Cup semifinal, Brazil vs. Turkey, a boring match that went to Brazil as expected.
Thursday, June 27
I woke up at 5:50 a.m. to a howling wind. When I finally dragged out of bed and stumbled to Stephen's office to check my email, I saw the first truly wintry day since I'd arrived. Luckily, there was still no rain on the way to the tram, but that changed during the day, to the point that the people at work seated near the windows on the seventh floor swore they'd seen a light snow flurry!
I finished designing the forms my boss asked me to do and sent them off around 4 pm, hoping that the next morning I'd be told that we could discuss them when I got back, have a nice break. I managed to get back to the neighborhood in time to pick up my rings. The amethyst was a good color, the black ring fit fine, and the whole tab was A$92, a mere US$54. I also caught a bus to the Jewish neighborhood to pick up some food for Friday night dinner, as I wasn't sure what my schedule would be the next day.
Stephen had been wanting to see Minority Report, so we left for the theatre right after I got home and moved the laundry that he'd kindly put in the washer for me to the drier. The movie was better than I expected, but still didn't completely work for me. (For example, why was the protagonist so upset that he might be killing someone in the near future when he showed no compunction whatsoever about smashing the heads of co-workers together in his flight to get away?) The sets and visual effects were certainly cool. Back at the flat, despite a head start, I still had to stay up until after midnight and a second drier cycle until I could rescue my clothes and go to bed.
Friday, June 28
The previous morning's winds were nothing on this morning: for a change, the stormy wind and rain lasted for several hours. I was very glad that I could check my work email from Stephen's computer and didn't have a compelling reason to go to the office first thing in the morning. Eventually, the rain let up and I went in so I could say goodbye to people and turn in my security key for the building.
I did some errands in the Jewish part of town and then returned before sunset. Stephen had decided that because I was a captive audience, this would be a good time to watch the tape of the six-episode mini-series of Dinotopia that I'd brought from the US. We were aggravated by the stupidity of the first 30 minutes or so, and after that it was less aggravating but still pretty stupid. None of the characters did or asked things that any normal person would do or say in a similar situation. The sets closes to Gurney's books but the costumes were a little too fanciful: no two people dressed in the same style.
Saturday, June 29
I spent the day reading through the Hugo nominees for short fiction, plus a Chelsea Quinn Yarbro book that I hadn't read previously. Inspired by the previous evening, I also looked through Dinotopia and its first sequel, The World Beneath. After sunset, I took Stephen out for a thank-you meal at the nice fish restaurant. We stopped at the Greek coffeehouse for their scrumptious desserts, getting "our" table again. The bar began filling up, and then we heard cheering: they'd just turned the television on to reveal that Turkey had scored in their World Cup consolation match against South Korea just 15 seconds into the match! We headed home to watch the rest of the game, which Turkey eventually won.
The Pakistanis batted first and after their 50 overs came the tea interval. I got some fries and hot jam donuts, plus an Australian cricket T-shirt. Despite not very good fielding on the Australians' part, they managed to score enough runs in their innings to win and the game ended at a relatively early 9:15 pm. (Take that, American baseball fans who complain about 4-hour games!) Luckily, the rain had stopped and Phil kindly drove us home. On our way past the stadium, I noticed a lighted scoreboard: on the outside wall of the stadium!
Sunday, June 30
My only "touristy" activity in Australia was a trip down to Adelaide to see Yvonne Rousseau and long-time fanzine fan John Foyster, who was unable to come to the Natcon due to a recent stroke and cranial surgery, and to go down to Kangaroo Island, which is off the nearby coastline.
While packing for the trip, I was disturbed when I noticed that I hadn't put my mobile phone on the recharger the night before. I was even more disturbed when I discovered that I couldn't find the phone anywhere! Frantic calls to the Greek restaurant (where I hoped that perhaps my coat had moved around on the booth seat next to me and disgorged the phone) were inconclusive: the manager with the key to the lost-and-found drawer didn't get in until noonish and I had to get out to the airport then. *sigh* Three weeks of carrying the phone around Melbourne and getting maybe five phone calls total, and when I would really need it out of town, it was nowhere to be found.
I arrived in Adelaide to find John Foyster and Yvonne Rousseau waiting at the airport for me. John had recently undergone a stroke and cranial surgery and was slowly recovering, so I was really glad to see that he felt up to the trip out to the airport. In the taxi on the way back to their place, we caught up on DUFF gossip (John having helped found that fund).
The next several hours were spent in continuous conversation, ranging from fan fund philosophy to comparing high school sports in the US and Australia (during which I learned that *gasp* John had been a "prop to the hooker" in high school - imagine my relief when Yvonne explained that it was a position name in rugby. Knowing the seriousness of John's medical problems, I was impressed that he remained alert and articulate for most of the afternoon and early evening. Yvonne called out for some takeaway pizza and we chatted away until my Adelaide host, Roman Orszanski arrived after having an early dinner with his mum.
John was tiring by then so Roman and I took our leave and caught the superfast O-Bahn bus back to his place. His house is in a relatively new development devoted to ecological principles. It is built of straw bales with a plaster overlay, recessed windows, no PVC in the pipes, and so on. Evidently, it's usually well insulated and warm but unfortunately for me, Roman had left a window open before leaving that afternoon so it was a bit chilly. We watched the final World Cup match, which Brazil won after their comeback star had two goals against the premier goalie of the WC this year, who plays for Germany. I decided that since I had to get up at the crack of dawn to catch the bus for my Kangaroo Island adventure, I'd better shower at night.
Monday, July 1
Roman considerately woke up early also and walked me the few blocks to the hotel where I was being collected at 6:05 a.m. The two-hour bus ride down to Cape Jervis, where one catches the ferry for Kangaroo Island, was marred by the driver's failure to obey his own statement that he would limit his conversation because he knew most people might want to snooze. His definition of "describing only interesting highlights along the way" ended up including things like the building where the first rotary clothesline was invented...
The ferry was only about a 30-minute ride. Given that the bus had stopped in a small town along the way to pick up the ferry's morning provisions at a local bakery, the sugar doughnut I got at the concession stand on board was really fresh :->
Two large buses and drivers were waiting at the dock, and I was pointed to the second bus when I showed my voucher for the tour for that day. Only five more people got on board: a woman in her late 50s from the Melbourne suburbs and her mother, and a couple from Singapore and their daughter who was just finished up her first year at Flinders University. We felt a little conspicuous on such a large bus but as the driver pointed out, some people were paying twice as much money as we were to get a 4WD "private tour" of the island, which would cover much the same sights, so we should be happy!
We were very lucky in our driver, who was a KI native who'd been a farmer until mid-March, when he and his wife decided to retire and bought a house just outside the main town of Kingscote. He chose to do the touring as a semi-retirement activity. He was very down to earth, not like some tour drivers who try to be cutesy or ingratiating. Plus, he really knew his stuff having grown up on the island. The weather was beautiful and he pointed out some trees and native animals while leaving the dock.
Kangaroo Island is 90 miles wide and 33 miles wide. It was discovered in 1802 and 1/3 of the island is conserved in national and conservation parks. Given that we were early, as he didn't have to marshal a lot of people, we got an extra stop at a scenic overlook before going to our first scheduled stop, at Stokes Bay. This seemed like a pleasant enough spot with a rocky hill on the water. However, our driver led us through a low, narrow passageway through the limestone boulders and we emerged on a beautiful white-sand beach with a spectacular view. Lunch was in a nearby cafe that also had a great view of the water. My vegetarian lunch was a fried King George Whiting fish that had probably been caught that morning. The other people on the tour were very friendly and the Singaporean family spoke excellent English.
The next stop was the one I was looking forward to the most: the Parndana Wildlife Park. The park is a really pleasant sanctuary, and a refuge for wounded or orphaned animals. You can walk among the kangaroos and wallabies, which are incredibly tame, and they even gave us some nutritional pellets to feed to the roos.
(On my previous trip Down Under, I'd visited a wildlife sanctuary in Tasmania and although you could walk among the wallabies and kangaroos, they seemed a bit tense and wary to me so I didn't really take advantage of it. The ones at Parndana were obviously human-friendly and very tame.) They also have a very extensive collection of birds, including a wedge-tailed eagle. I was very happy that we were such a small group: trying to get a glimpse of some of the birds and animals among a crowd of 30 or so tourists would probably have been frustrating.
We drove on to Seal Bay, the home of the second-largest breeding colony of sea lions in Australia. The Park service is a little nervous because the sea lions are getting used to human presence and they want the animals to stay as wild as possible. We walked down to the beach among them and some are so tame that they come up to the boardwalk to snooze, or come within a few feet of groups of people.
The next stop was one of several small businesses we would visit in the two days of touring. This one processed eucalyptus oil, produced naturally from narrow-leaf mally trees on the island. The business is totally self-sustaining and processes in old-fashioned ways with steam and pulleys. The oil is used for many different purposes -- disinfectant, insect repellent, insect bite soother, cleaner, and stain remover. (I almost felt like I was in a Saturday Night Live fake commercial: "It's a floor wax! No, it's a dessert topping!") The owner was a bit of a character, and also keeps emus. He had a breeding pair and took perverse pleasure into teasing the male who was sitting on the eggs and chasing the nervous female around their small paddock. They have a small shop and we were given samples of small cough drops that really soothe the throat, and a small bottle of the oil (marked "POISON").
From there, it was on to another business: Clifford's Honey Farm. KI is the only place where a pure strain of Italian ligurian honeybees are left. Evidently, they were deliberately brought to the island in the 1800s because there were no other bees to dilute the strain so beekeepers around the world could be sure of a supply of purebred queen bees. The owner showed us a small wooden case, about 3 inches by 1 inch, in which they ship a queen bee and two worker bees by regular post! They had different flavors of honey depending on the flowers or trees on which the bees fed, and you could really tell the difference.
This was the last stop, and we met another bus at the small airport so they could switch passengers to more efficiently drop us off at our hotels, which were in cities on different parts of the island. (I never did see a list of all the hotels and price ranges for accommodations included with the tour, as I'd found the tour originally through a motel web site, and the tour operator through which I'd booked assured me that it had a great view and was in the middle price range.) We dropped off the Melbourne ladies and the Singaporean family, and picked up two honeymooning Italian couples who barely spoke English. It made me realize just how lucky I'd been in my tour that day, as it would have been a real drag to have been stuck just with them all day.
The Sea View Motel lived up to its name. (Interestingly, it was founded by a widow in 1924 and has been continuously run by the family ever since, first by a son and now by a grandson.) The receptionist was the first bored, brusque service person I'd encountered in Australia. She handed over my key and the order form for the continental breakfast that came with the room. I quickly dumped my stuff and dropped off the breakfast form, filled out for toast and juice. Then I walked down to a nearby bigger hotel to get some dinner and check in for a fairy penguin walk. The tour driver had told me that I should try to get there a bit early as they only took the first 25 people on the 7:30 tour; anyone left would be taken at 8:30, at which point it would be even colder out.
I was later getting to dinner at the hotel that housed the tour than I'd expected, So I kept running up and down the stairs to the Wildlife office to try to check in for the tour but no guide had showed up by the time I finished, just 10 or so increasingly angry tourists. We finally decided to ask the hotel receptionist upstairs whether he knew anything. He took pity on us and made a few phone calls, finally finding a guide who was officially off that day but who agreed to come in to do the tour.
I wasn't able to take photos because the penguins dont like bright lights. The guide had an orange-light flashlight, which doesn't bother the birds. They had built some artificial burrows in the rocks at the shore to entice the penguins away from going inland and nesting under people's houses. Having a family of fairy penguins sounds like it would be fun but they bark a lot. Having them bark early every morning when they all parade down to the sea would be a major drag.
The penguins had cooperatively taken to the artificial burrows. We were able to peer in and see some families, some adolescents out for a stroll among the rocks, and some adults doing some early mating rituals. It was really neat, and much more natural than some of the "penguin parade" setups that just take you to a spot where they penguins come up from the sea in large groups.
Tuesday, July 2
The same taciturn receptionist brought my breakfast tray, which I was bemused to note featured not toast, but two slices of bread and a toaster!!! The tour picked me up right on time, but the large bus had been sensibly switched for a van, as we were reduced to four people this time: the Melbourne ladies, me, and a fiftyish woman from the Isle of Man, who luckily turned out to be just as friendly as the other ladies. She had also stayed at the Sea View and had also noticed the attitude of the receptionist. It made us wonder if maybe the unrelenting friendliness and helpfulness of everyone in Australia meant that when we went back home, normal behavior was going to seem positively surly in comparison!
Again due to our group's small size, our driver made an extra stop, this time at Vivonne Bay, which an expert who'd visited as many beaches as he could had proclaimed as the best beach in Australia. Although the weather report had called for rain, a bummer because this day was more strenuously outdoors than the previous day's itinerary, it started out really fine.
Our first official stop was at the Kelly Hill Caves, a system of limestone caves discovered when a man riding a horse (Kelly was the horse, not the man :-> ) fell in. Neither was injured. There are over 50 entrances to the caves, and the one we used was behind a regular door next to the coat closet at the interpretive center! The formations were really fascinating. The park service has made the cave accessible with footpaths and lighting, although they've tried as much as possible not to disturb the limestone formations themselves. These are "dry" as opposed to "wet" caves, so it was very comfortable to walk around, although not as comfortable when she asked if we wanted to experience what it must have been like for the early people who explored the cave with just candles.
Lunch was at the Western KI Sanctuary. While we were eating, we heard a noise at the sliding door to the eating hall and there was a kangaroo, cheerfully opening the door! The bus driver gave him a bread roll and he stood near the door calmly eating it. Dessert was homemade Anzac biscuits, which were so good that when we asked for the recipe, the hostess pulled out small printed recipes because she's been asked so often!
The nearby eucalyptus trees held several koalas and the dirt path through the trees was nearly blocked at one point by the local Tammar wallabies. It makes a big difference seeing animals just hanging out in their own environment rather than behind cages or in paddocks. Unfortunately, we'd seen a lot of roadkill because of this natural wandering about. The cars and buses all have sturdy metal bars in front of their grills because this happens so frequently.
We proceeded on to Flinders Chase National Park. The driver stopped at a scenic overlook of nothing but trees and scrub, which is basically what all of Kangaroo Island would have looked like to the early discoverers. He told us that the island was only half-cleared. It was done through a government program for servicemen after WWII: in return for clearing the land, they would receive parcels for themselves. He himself was the son of one of these early settlers. He remembered staying in the small camp that was the only inhabited spot for about 3 years until the land was cleared enough that people could start moving out. Some of these parcels are still in the families, but others were sold. (For example, one man who owned a lot of land had part of it dedicated to vegetables for the Islanders. But when he parceled off the land and sold it to his staff, none of them were interested in maintaining the vegetable areas so all vegetables are now brought in on the ferry.)
At the edge of the park are the Remarkable Rocks, a granite formation eroded by the Southern Ocean into interesting shapes. There is no intervening land mass between this shore and Antarctica. The rain had still held off but the wind had really picked up. We looked at the driver in disbelief when he told us, as we were clinging to handrails and trying to keep our hair out of our face, that "this wasn't too bad, it will be really blowy tomorrow."
The next stop was Admiral's Arch, a really tall rock arch formed by erosion from the pounding waves. All along the very windy walk up and on the rocks below the arch were New Zealand fur seals, and we got to see some adolescents bashing at each other, along with other seals playing in some naturally formed pools at the foot of the arch. We went on to a very impressive visitors center for the whole park which had only opened the previous week. It already had a couple of kangaroos hanging around the front entrance to get petted by the soft-touch tourists.
The final stop was a new business, a sheep dairy. The other ladies on the tour weren't aware that sheep could be milked. The owner said that was pretty common for tourists from the UK, Australia, and (she looked quizzically at me) American tourists. I explained that I'd lived in Israel so it wasn't news to me. The setup was very efficient and the samples of cheese and yogurt were really good. I'd have liked to take the yogurt back for dinner on the ferry, as the timing meant that we'd be leaving the dock at 6:30 but not arriving back in the heart of Adelaide until about 9:30. But the tubs were family-sized, and when I mentioned that she might do better with some smaller ones that tourists could buy on the way out to eat on the ferry, she was intrigued and said she would think about it.
The weather was steadily deteriorating on the 30-minute ride down to the dock. Considering it was the heart of winter, we'd really lucked out in getting sunny skies for both days. The Melbourne mum was a little worried about getting queasy on the ferry but it wasn't that bad. The conversation was mainly quizzing me on American politics and customs ("This Fourth of July: is that a family gathering holiday like Thanksgiving?" "Is everyone really nervous after Sept 11? What do you think of Bush?") It was pouring rain when we landed at Cape Jervis, so we were not pleased when we realized that the bus wasn't there yet and the crowd meant that we had to stand out in the rain to wait for it.
Roman has a weekly radio show that usually got out around 9ish. He said that he would meet me at the hotel before his crowd went out to dinner. Unfortunately, the lateness of the bus arriving at the dock was compounded by the fact that because the driver didn't know where my dropoff hotel was exactly and I couldn't tell him, I was the last to be dropped off. This meant that poor Roman waited an extra half-hour before I arrived. I was wet and really tired from the two days of touring so he and his friend Gavin kindly walked me back to his place before they went out for dinner. After a quick shower, I collapsed into bed. I listened to the howling wind and rain most of the night, leaving me to wonder whether I would be able to see downtown Adelaide as I'd planned the next day.
Wednesday, July 3
Even though we heard heavy rain while getting ready in the morning, luckily by the time we left for Roman to get to work, the rain had pretty much petered out. We stopped for breakfast and then took the free city-circle bus to the train station so I could put my heavy bag in a locker. He oriented me to the area around the station before catching a bus for work.
My departure time from Adelaide was 7 pm. When I'd originally booked the ticket I had no particular reason to get back to Melbourne early. I hadthought I might wander around downtown Adelaide and see John and Yvonne again. Imagine my annoyance when it turned out that Julian had mistaken the date of the monthly Nova Mob meeting in Melbourne when he'd told me that I'd miss it by a week, and it was this evening. I had tried to change the flight officially through Qantas but because it was an internet-special fare, they wouldn't do it, even though the 2:15 flight was at the same special fare.
Stephen had a guest pass for the Qantas members-only lounge, and he was sure that the desk people there had a lot more latitude and would be able to change the flight. I spent the morning checking my email at an Internet cafe, shopping at several bookstores that Roman had told me about, and continuing my quest for a winter scarf to match my purple coat.
At the airport, I confidently headed for the Qantas Lounge, only to be told by the nice hostess that she couldn't change my ticket either. They are so strict on preventing people from booking cheap Internet fares and then switching them that they monitor the records to make sure that no one is allowing passengers to switch. They kindly gave me my guest pass back. I checked my luggage at the airport and took the round-trip bus to the city for $12 rather than having to do another two $15 taxi rides.
Back in the city I shopped at the Adelaide Central Market, and stopped at a couple of Aboriginal art galleries before getting back to the train station for the airport bus. However, I'd misread the timetable and had 25 minutes to kill before the bus arrived. I decided to spend the time checking out the casino attached to the train station. "Pokies" machines and casinos are everywhere in Australia.
I don't understand why: they're basically electronic slot machines and really boring to play.
I had figured out that even with the late flight, I should be able to make the end of the Nova Mob meeting. I did make it, despite the flight landing 20 minutes late and a lost cab driver who had to keep consulting maps to find Julian and Lucy's place. Luckily I was in time to see everyone I wanted to see and have a chance to say goodbye before Ian kindly gave me a ride home.
Thursday, July 4
It was weird to have the Fourth of July be just another day! My plans were to take a picture of the Sun building, which I thought people at work in Menlo Park might appreciate, and go through the Queen Victoria Market. I had a great time at the market, with goods that ranged from tacky koala souvenirs to jeans to silk ties. I picked up a promised boomerang for Eve's son Micah (he'd broken the one she'd brought back from our A3 trip) and finally found a scarf, plus some other stuff for myself and people back home.
I headed back home to start the long laundry process and barely had time to move the clothes from the washer to the drier before walking down to meet Stephen, Jesper, and a woman named Marian from Stephen's work for a Gold Class viewing of Men in Black II. The plot and shtick were very similar to the first movie but there were some clever touches and lines and since we weren't expecting much more we had a good time. I impressed everyone when I spotted high school friend Allan Trautmans name in the credits. (He was one of the Worm Guy manipulators.)
Friday, July 5
This was my last full, active day in Australia. I spent it (how else?) doing more shopping, both artifact and food. David Purdue, the guy at Sun, and his wife came over that evening for delivery pizza and a movie. After watching some classic Simpsons episodes, we watched Gosford Park, which they hadnt seen and I was willing to see again.
Saturday, July 6
I read through the rest of the Hugo-nominated short fiction until Stephen emerged. Then we took a walk to Commercial Road and spent the rest of the day reading the paper (the big paper there is on Saturday - only recently have they even had a paper on Sunday) and chatting. I also got to try to cram everything back into my suitcase and duffel bag. Ill never insult expandable luggage again!
That concluded, we took a taxi over to A3 chair Perry Middlemisss house for dinner. His son, who was only a baby at my last trip, entertained us with the alphabet song (which in Australia ends with zed). Stephen and I, Julian and Lucy, Perry and Robyn, and fan Roy Ferguson and his partner had a great evening chatting and eating, pumpkin risotto for me and lamb for everyone else. Around midnight I had to remind everyone that I had to catch a flight the next morning and Lucy and Julian kindly gave us a lift home.
Sunday, July 7
Stephen very kindly had agreed to let me wake him around 6:45 a.m. so he could take my suitcase down the stairs and say goodbye. Melbourne airport security turned out to be better than either SFO or Heathrow, as they caught my crochet needle so I wasnt able to work on my project on the way home.
Amazingly, all flights were on time and although I got the more restrictive vegetarian meal again, there were other choices that made it tolerable. I was a little worried about the stopover in LA, as I had to go through immigration, claim my bags, go through customs and agriculture, and recheck my bags, plus go through security, all in 90 minutes. Luckily, the gate for the flight to SFO was just upstairs from immigration so I made it with a whole 10 minutes to spare. Rich was waiting for me when I arrived at 2:30 p.m. local time and I was glad to see that my bag made it too. I even managed to stay awake until 9:30 p.m.
I had a great time in both New Zealand and Australia. New Zealand was beautiful and very interesting culturally. It was also nice to go back to a time when conventions were small and everyone attending them had the same shared experience. Australia was full of friends and being able to see its wildlife up close and personal on Kangaroo Island was an unforgettable experience. This trip was very different from my DUFF trip, much as I enjoyed them both. It was interesting to see what it would be like to live in another English-speaking country.
I want to give special thanks to Stephen Boucher, without whose hospitality (and connections at Sun :-> ) this trip would not have been as long nor as fun. My manager was also very generous in allowing me to work in Melbourne for three weeks so I could do a reasonable trip without going into vacation debt.
Before I left, my Australian friends were all asking when I would be moving there. When I came back to work, my co-workers asked me the same! Melbourne is a charming place, especially when compared to the U.S. Its crme levels are low, most of its population is honogenous, you dont see homeless people on the streets, and (partially because people like waitresses and cab drivers are paid a decent living wage, I think) people are almost uniformly friendly and helpful. But its a little too far from friends and family, much as I certainly enjoyed my time there.