I found Nemo! (At the Great Barrier Reef)

First of all, it feels amazing just to get to go to the Great Barrier Reef. I feel so lucky that I get to see all these things that I’ve heard about for so long. But my first trip out to the Great Barrier Reef made me wonder about the health of the reef.  A lot of it seemed brown and white and covered in silt-  dead. One of the staff on the boat said that you have to have both dead reef and live reef, and that it’s balanced, but I just didn’t see the colors that I’ve always seen on tv/movies about the reef. But I DID see a lot of dead coral, which I’ve also been hearing about for years. Whether it’s due to run-off chemicals and pollutants, global warming, or even to invasive species (I’ve heard about a starfish that kills everything in its path), it’s definitely not as bright and colorful as I expected.

Is it just me, or does this look like Spaghetti Vognole?

My first reef experience was with a company that has a permanent platform on the reef. I’ve just read since then that this can be a contributor to dead reefs, as well, because birds perch on the platform, defecate, and instead of it ending up on the land and acting positively as a fertilizer, it goes into the water and the reef where the nitrogen and the toxins in it kill the coral.

But my second trip out to the reef was with a company that does NOT have a permanent platform- it takes its boats out to a small reef island, Michaelmas Cay, and drops anchor there for a few hours. This reef seemed more colorful and alive to me. I saw different fish on each trip, but it wasn’t until this one that I saw turtles and clown fish and even a ray hiding beneath the sand on the ocean floor. Oh, and the giant clams were amazing. Some have these iridescent spots that change from a greenish aqua to a full blue, depending on the light. The variety of coral was impressive, too. I even got to touch the coral, and to pet the friendly parrot fish!  It was like having a fish puppy.  😉

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Sorry for the radio silence. I’ve been spoiled by free cousin wi-fi in Sydney and Canberra, and the harsh reality of paying for it per minute in Cairns has led to some pre-written words here. So, look out for some photos of my Cairns highlights this weekend. I’m definitely looking forward to the reported near-ubiquity of free wi-fi in much of SE Asia… where I guess I’ll already be situated next week!

Cairns has been great. I’ve accomplished some serious highlights here! I’ve snorkeled and scuba-ed in the Great Barrier Reef, where I even got to pet some enormous friendly fish. I also got rained on in the Daintree rainforest and went crocodile-spotting on the river. I drank some rainforest tea and ate some rainforest-flavored ice creams. I’ve also had enormous bats swoop past my head, widely furling out their wings into the distinctive Batman/vampire symbol. When there are thousands passing over your head at night, as if on a night sky bat conveyor belt, it really does feel a little spooky. And today… today, I cuddled a koala!! Don’t I look happy? 🙂


The Spider that Ate Sydney

We took a nice drive around some of the northern Sydney beaches the other day, where I captured this shot of downtown Sydney’s impending demise (by giant spider monster). I’m sorry that none of you will get a chance to visit Sydney now, but if it’s any consolation, I did get some nice photos while it was still around.

This might be a good time to mention that Australia is sometimes called the world’s most dangerous country for its enormous collection of deadly animals, including tons of venomous spiders. I was disturbed to find out that one of them is named the ‘Sydney Funnel-web spider’, which is not the least bit reassuring to hear about when staying in Sydney.

They also happen to have all 10 of the world’s top 10 deadliest snakes.  Also… sharks! At the beaches! And people keep swimming there anyway!  What a ballsy lot. But on the other hand, the murder/homicide rate is pretty low, so all-in-all, it probably balances out.  😉


Wednesday, April 25th is ANZAC Day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps). It’s a public holiday dedicated to the anniversary of the WWI troop landing in Gallipoli in 1915, which was the first time that the ANZACs had fought a major military campaign together. After subsequent wars, the day became a way to honor all the people who fought or served for their countries. It’s also an identity thing about the meaning and spirit of being an Aussie; it occurred just 14 years after Australia’s states joined together to become a country.

It’s sort of like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day in the US, but people take it a bit more seriously or sacredly than I think the average American does. People wear sprigs of rosemary pinned to their lapels for remembrance today. This is even more meaningful because rosemary was found growing wild on the fields of Gallipoli where so many lives were lost.

Today they have parades, a dawn commemorative service, other services throughout the day (we drove past a few crowds, probably gathering at local war memorials in the little towns we passed) and… there are football and rugby games?  But they’re not a part of the tradition the way that football is on Thanksgiving in the US. After the services and parades, people tend to go to the pubs and reminisce and gather and drink together.  Which seems like a nice show of camaraderie to me. Plus, this is the time of year that you get to eat delicious ANZAC biscuits!

A little help from the Brits

Besides the fun of abbreviations, I’ve found some other interesting language differences. Certain things have entirely different names in Australia. I’ve mainly noticed this with food (shocker!). One of my favorite name changes is “fairy floss”. It’s such a cute name, and really conjures up quite the image. You can imagine that a kid’s imagination would go wild in thinking up how this treat came to be.

Anyway, in the US, it’s just cotton candy. Which, if you think about it, sounds a little unappetizing. Who would want to eat cotton? And, I suppose you wouldn’t want to eat something that a fairy might have flossed her teeth with either, but I was thinking more along the lines of a fairy’s embroidery floss, which is more creative and crafty, and less about hygiene. But what I really love about this is that there is no commonality between the terms cotton candy and fairy floss… unless you involve the Brits. In England, it’s called candy floss. Thus, we have the perfect bridge between the American name and the Australian name. Cotton candy = Candy floss = Fairy floss.  Ta dah!

Aussie Abbreviations

Like the Brits, the Aussies abbreviate many words. It makes the language more fun, and gives you interesting puzzles to work through as you listen to conversations.  Listed below are some common abbreviations that require a bit of attention and some problem-solving skills… I’m sure this will come in handy if any of you are ever on “Jeopardy”:

Arvo, sunnies, brekky, g’day, champers, cossie, mozzies, chooks, trackie daks, pressies, esky, Macca’s, snag, Chrissie, etc, etc.

Can you guess them all?

And EVERYONE gets their name abbreviated, often with an “o” at the end, or a “z” sound.  (So, Dave = Davo, and Karen = Kaz, and Sharon = Shaz).

And nobody actually says ‘throw another shrimp on the barbie’, not because they wouldn’t use the word ‘barbie’- because they would.  But they wouldn’t bother to put shrimp on it- shrimp (when they even use the word at all), are just tiny things, and here they eat prawns, which can be positively enormous!  And, as I’ve personally discovered: delicious.  🙂

Eating kangaroo

Originally, I wasn’t in favor of eating such an adorable national symbol. I mean, I was brought up to not eat cute foreign animals like koalas and kangaroos. It just didn’t seem right. But I keep seeing kangaroo meat in grocery stores, and, more importantly from my own perspective, I keep seeing them as road kill- struck by cars and laying dead at the side of the road. This made me realize that they’re basically the equivalent of deer in the US Midwest. They’re not rare or endangered, they’re not protected, and they’re certainly not sacred. And they cause a lot of car accidents! So, that brought them down from cute national icon level to common animal level. And from there, I guess it’s only a short leap to “potential food”. So, keeping in mind that Benjamin Franklin originally suggested the turkey as America’s national symbol (and we certainly don’t hesitate to eat them!), I decided it would be okay for me to try kangaroo meat this one time. You can see Robyn cooking the kangaroo meat on the barbie (above left)- next to the tasty onions and sausages.


This country is a bird-lover’s paradise. We were just driving down the road the other day, when we heard the usual rough squawks of cockatoos nearby.  But we heard a few more than usual, and they seemed really close.  Sure enough, we turned the corner, and came across a whole gathering of them! (I guess a group of parrots is called a pandemonium, but I can’t find a collective noun specifically for cockatoos.) Here’s what we saw (please excuse the shaky camerawork… it was done from the car window!)