Tag Archives: Melbourne

Prawns and Prisoners and a London Souvenir

After a lovely day with Puffing Billy, it was time to face facts that we would leave in the morning.

I would fly to Cairns.

Heidi and Danielle were hashing out how to get each of them back to different places with one car in one day.  They could retrace the route we took to get here, with Heidi dropping Danielle off in Blayney.  But Heidi wanted to stop in Canberra to see her friend Moira. Danielle was up for that but it would add another day.

People everywhere talk about how to get from A to Z: should we fly or drive or take a train?  “If we drive, maybe we might as well stop in Hooterville since it’s kind of on the way.  But the train would be more relaxing…but driving would give us more control.  But flying would be faster…not really, when you factor in getting to the airport and getting through the lines, and we wouldn’t have a car on the other end.”

And so on.  People everywhere do this, but I think for Australians the stakes are higher and they spend more time thinking and talking about getting around.

But first, a farewell feast.  Dean would barbeque and we would contribute three salads.

I made tabbouleh, my go-to salad.

“I’ve got shrimps on the barbie,” Dean joked, “except we don’t call them shrimps, we call them prawns.  There was an Australian Tourism advert …”

“Starring Paul Hogan—Crocodile Dundee,” inserted Danielle.

“Where they had to say ‘shrimp’ instead of ‘prawn’ so you lot would know what it was talking about.  I’m also making sausages and grilled veggies.  We do make other things besides shrimp on the barbie.”

I noticed the box of red wine on the counter top.  “Oh, these are the crimes people could be sent to Australia for?”

“Yeah,” Lisa responded, and we read them out loud.  We had to Google a couple, like “Impersonating an Egyptian” (a Gypsy, or Roma, who were considered rogues) and “Embeuling Naval Stores” (stealing).

“Murder isn’t on here,” I commented.

“Aww, you would have just been hanged immediately for that,” Lisa explained.  “These are all mostly property crimes that poor people would commit out of desperation.”

“Yeah,” added Danielle as she reviewed the list, “Don’t threaten an English lord’s right to own everything, from your house and land to the fish in the river and the rabbits and firewood in the forest.”

Back in December at my cookie baking party, I provided a few bottles of 19 Crimes and visitors had fun with their very clever app which brought the convicts to life.

I couldn’t help snapping a photo of Lisa and Dean’s shopping list the next morning.

Heidi was up before me, undoubtedly anxious about the long day of driving ahead.  Dean had harvested some gorgeous lemons and gave her and Dani a supply.

It was frosty, and as we huddled in a circle drinking our coffee we laughed when we looked down at our feet.

“Socks and flip flops,” Danielle commented, “Australian spring fashion.”

“Not thongs and camel toes,” I quipped.

That killed the conversation.  Sometimes I go too far with my language observations.

“Can I see the cab before I leave?” I asked Dean.

“Yes of course, give me a few minutes.”

I wandered around outside, enjoying the fresh air and this quiet Kookaburra on the sign post.

Dean called me over to the garage, where he’d lifted the door to reveal the souvenir he and Lisa had brought back from London.

“I’m just waiting for it to be old enough to register as a classic car, which’ll make it a lot less costly to drive,” he said.  “I was thinking of starting a car hire business with it but maybe we’ll just have fun with it ourselves.”

Heidi and Danielle and I said our adieus; I would see Heidi again in Sydney. Then Dean and Lisa drove me to the airport, a 45-minute drive on this early Saturday morning. I always enjoy dropping people off and picking them up at the airport.  It reduces their stress and it’s nice to say good-bye and hello to friendly faces, isn’t it?

Puffing Billy

As we were enjoying our meal at the sidewalk café in Melbourne’s Little Italy, a woman came along with a little dog and started chatting up Andrew.  Now, Andrew is nice looking, so I didn’t blame her.  However she was at least 20 years older than him.  That’s even older than me, and it hadn’t occurred to me to chat him up.  She looked like she hailed from Los Angeles, with wide-frozen botoxed eyes, enormous puffy lips, and more make up than a Sephora store.  Her suit appeared to be spray-painted on, it was so form fitting, and she was swaying unsteadily on six-inch heels. Maybe she had really just stopped to grab the table for support.

Andrew seemed oblivious to her intentions.  Heidi and Danielle seemed to think nothing of the fact that a total stranger had budged her way into our conversation.  They oohed and aahed over the little dog, whose name was Charley.  The woman had the same lilting, posh accent as our botanical gardens guide.

Chah-lee,” I intoned nasally, and everyone started.

“Annie!  You’ve got a real proper Aussie accent!” said Heidi.

“Well that’s one word I can say but only because there’s a character on the Doctor Blake Mysteries named Charlie,” I confessed.  “I love the way they pronounce Charlie, so I repeat it out loud when I hear it on the program.”

Sadly, the actor who plays Doctor Blake was recently fired for #MeToo-style infractions.

We got home very late and reluctantly rolled out of bed the next morning to ride the legendary Puffing Billy Railroad.  Yes, another legendary Australian railroad.  This rail line was built to populate and develop the rural areas east of Melbourne a hundred years ago.  It was closed in 1954 but revived by volunteers, who operate it as a tourist attraction.

It was one of those activities where you scratch your head over the brochure unless you are a local who has ridden on it before.

Which is what Heidi did as we were trying to get out of the house.  “Dean said we should start at Belgrave, get off at Lakeside, then get back on and go to Gembrook.  We have to be at Belgrave at 10:30 or the next train isn’t until 12:30.”

“You can read more in the car,” Danielle urged.

“Or we can go straight to Gembrook ….” Heidi read from the back seat as she flipped the brochure over and attempted to trace the timetable with her finger as we careened through the streets to get to the station.

“How much does it cost?” I asked.

“It doesn’t say.”

“$77.50 per person,” answered the ticket seller when we arrived panting after racing several blocks from the parking lot.

It was one of those travel moments where everyone sucks in their breath and looks at each other questioningly while internally saying, “Jesus, that’s a lot for a train ride!”  You don’t want to offend the poor volunteer who is just doing his unpaid job, but you don’t want to be a sucker, either.

We compromised, forking over $59 each for tickets to Lakeside, then ran to catch the train. It was totally worth it.

There was the beautiful train itself.  There’s nothing like the sound of a train whistle, a conductor shouting “All aboard!”, and the smell of Sulphur from the steam engine.

We took selfies with Billy.

The volunteers were clearly into their work.

The scenery was stunning.

When we crossed this trestle bridge, people below waved and smiled.  Apparently it’s a local tradition to go wave at Puffing Billy.

“Imagine being a school teacher being sent out here in 1910,” I said to Heidi.

“Yes, it would have been very exotic,” she replied.

We got off at Lakeside and ate in the old tymie café while parrots begged us for scraps.  We strolled around the lake.

We did not rent one of these.

Fighting wombat mange could be another fun volunteer job, as long as it couldn’t be spread to humans.

I kept thinking of my nephews, who would have loved this day.  If I ever win the lottery, my first priority would be to take my nieces and nephews on trips like this.

Posh Birds

After the cruise we walked along the river to the Royal Botanic Gardens.  I am a crazy plant lady.  Or am I normal?  At this time of year I make several runs to my local garden shop and spend loads of money to surround myself with doomed house plants. Is there something in the human spirit, our circadian rhythms, or our sensory organs that craves green in the winter?  I think this is one explanation for the origins of the Christmas tree.

Anyway, I was in my glory in Melbourne as we boarded a trolley and listened to the silver-tongued commentary of our driver.  She had one of those soft voices that lulls you into a trance.

Once again, my photos were subject to that particular effect of the Australian sun that makes them look like my lens was smeared with Vaseline.  I kind of like it.

The guide said, waving toward a tree, “And here are some of our famous elms. We get lots of Americans coming here to see them,” she looked meaningfully at me.

Hmm.  We have elm trees in America.  A lot of them were wiped out in the 70s by Dutch Elm Disease, but we still have plenty. I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but I kept my mouth shut because she was obviously proud of those trees.

These are banksia nuts; what I would call cones.

I bought some diffusers in the gift shop made out of polished banksia nuts.  Normally I don’t like anything scented but I have one of these by my bedside filled with Eucalyptus oil.

These are banksia flowers, one of 70 varieties.

And gum nuts. I don’t know why Eucalyptus trees are called gums, or why their flowers are called nuts.  It kind of looks like the nuts burst open and flower.  So are they really nuts?  Who cares, they’re fantastic.

I don’t know what this was; all I knew was that anything that appears to be a 20-foot-tall asparagus spear must be photographed.

I snapped this shaky photo of a banyan tree from the trolley.  I wonder if the guide found me an annoying American due to the many times I exclaimed, “Wow!”

“I could have stayed on that trolley all day,” I said to Heidi and Danielle after we reluctantly disembarked.  The driver had politely but firmly said no when we suggested going around a second time.

“I know,” said Heidi, “Our guide had such a posh Melbourne accent.”

“Is that what it was?” I asked.

“I think so.  It’s hard to tell if she was putting it on or if that was her real way of speaking.  There aren’t loads of different accents here, like in the UK.  Mainly, we have regular … ”

“Like us,” Danielle interjected.

“Country,” Heidi continued.

“Like Crocodile Dundee,” said Danielle.

“And posh,” finished Heidi.

“That guide was posh, obviously,” said Danielle.  “I don’t think Melbourne is any different from the rest of the country.”

Heidi replied, “I guess I was talking about the lilt she had, like a bird.  Hearing all the birds of Australia—I hardly notice them but Annie, you’ve been bringing them to my attention—I wonder if our accent was influenced by them.”

She glanced at her watch.  “Oh my gawd!  We’ve got to meet Andrew!”  Andrew, an old uni chum of Heidi’s.  We raced past the Victorian keeper’s house and children’s garden.

We got to Lygon Street in Little Italy where, once again, I had a moment of disorientation where wondered, “Where am I?” because all the restaurants were Italian and people were speaking Italian.

We found Andrew and settled down at a sidewalk table with wine and pasta.  Andrew works for a Member of Parliament and commutes to Canberra during the week—a seven- to eight-hour drive or one-hour flight. We talked more about language.

“The state south of yours is the Mexicans,” Heidi said.

Fair dinkum means, ‘You’ve got a point’,” said Danielle.

“What’s a slice?” I asked, and was informed it was another name for a bar-type dessert, like a brownie.

“And tucker?”

“That’s just food,” Andrew explained, as he twirled his spag bol.

On the Yarra

I’m not a food snob.  I cook a lot but nothing fancy, and I enjoy whatever is put in front of me when I go out to eat.  Our meal at the Independent was memorable because the food was so flavorful.  We had scallop ceviche, maple-smoked carrots with coriander and peanuts and chili, crispy chicken with smoked eggplant, and on and on.  We had drinks and desserts and coffee and aperitifs. Being a tapas restaurant, we ordered a dozen dishes for the four of us, and I could hear a little “cha-ching” in my head with each plate we added.  This was a special meal, with friends I might not see again for a long time.  When we split the bill we each paid $60Aus, or $42US, for an amazing meal with great company.

On the subject of drinks, when ordering beer in Australia you must know the difference between schooners, pots, and pints. A pint is a pint—20 ounces—except in Adelaide where it’s an Imperial Pint.  A schooner is 15 ounces except in Adelaide, where it’s a pint. A 10 ounce glass of beer is a pot—not a half pint—except, apparently, in Canberra, where it may be called a middy.  Apparently you can order a seven-ounce glass of beer called (creatively) a glass or a five- (or four-) ounce glass called a pony depending on where you are.  There are also shetlands, middys, handles, butchers, bobbies, foursies, and small beers.  I ordered a local craft brew in a schooner because I liked the sound of it and hoped for the best.  It was good, but the waitress swooped it away before I’d finished.

The next day we were old hands at taking the train and got up early to get a move on.

We boarded a cruise ship on the Yarra River in downtown Melbourne and sat back to enjoy the scenery and listen to our captain, who was also a comedian.  I won’t attempt to reproduce his banter here but he really was clever, assuming you like jokes about drowning.  He had clearly made an effort to make what would otherwise be a boring job into something entertaining for himself and his passengers.

Melbourne is a deep-water port.  I write that as if I know what it means.  There were gigantic cranes everywhere; we didn’t see them in action but I guess they load and unload containers onto ships so we can all have our plastic pens and clothes and storage bins that will all end up in the Great Pacific Plastic Island some day.

There was an interesting assortment of architecture and many more cranes building new buildings in which more people can keep more plastic items.

There was a fabulous Aboriginal statue that served as a nonlinear counterpoint to the buildings.

My favorite building was this deserted, burned-out, graffiti-covered former plastics factory.

What does that say about me?

About 80 Japanese businessmen boarded.  They dashed around taking photos of every building and paid no attention to the commentary.

This building came with a long background story where every feature symbolized the Eureka Rebellion in nearby Ballarat.  I believe this was like the American Tea Party, except it was gold miners rebelling against the British over taxation without representation.

This bridge was unremarkable until the captain informed us that the pylons are one meter higher than Sydney Harbor Bridge.  That was the whole point of the bridge, besides getting cars from Point A to Point B.  They were not out to build a beautiful bridge, just one tall enough to best Sydney.

Melbournians are mad about sport.  We passed Melbourne Cricket Ground, and this is Marvel Stadium, formerly Emirates Stadium.  Maybe next year it will be Amazon Stadium.

“Those low-rises on your left,” intoned the captain, “are condos that’ll sell for $7 million once their finished.  Each one comes with its own private yacht berth.”

“Crikey!” he said next.  “I just got a Google alert that the Dow Jones fell 800 points today.”  This was not in the script, and he sounded genuinely alarmed.  “Good thing I didn’t invest in one of those condos.  It might only be worth $4 million now.”


Day 14 or 15 in Australia.  I was halfway through my time here.

In my last post I wrote that I’d gone to Greece with Heidi, Rob, and a second Aussie girl.  Her name was Melissa and I would not see her on this trip because it was just too dang complicated to get to her in Whyalla.  She’s a single mum who works full time so she couldn’t come to me.  Heidi and I had tried to work it out—I would have to fly to Adelaide, then rent a car and drive for five hours.  Heidi wouldn’t be able to accompany me so this could have been my initiation into driving on the left, but in the end there just wasn’t enough time.

I had bought a Minnesota baseball jersey for Melissa and a jersey from our soccer team for her son.  I stopped in the post office near the train station and mailed them.

The three of us then stood in front of the ticket machine at the station for 15 minutes trying to figure out what to do.  In Melbourne there is the Myki transport card, much like the Oyster in London or the Opal in Sydney.  You buy some initial credit then top up the card when needed.

Except there was no way to buy a card, and no information on where to get one.  Heidi and Danielle had Mykis from their last visit, but I didn’t.

“I’m okay with just getting on and talking my way out at the other end,” I said.

It took an hour to get into Melbourne, so I had plenty of time to come up with a sob story for why I had been unable to buy a Myki card.  But when the train deposited us at the Flinders Street Station, the bored guard just waved me out and over to a service window where I bought a card.

It’s a beautiful station.

This was my first view of Melbourne.  Immediately, I had the impression of a very cosmopolitan, bustling, super-charged city. Sydney is a big city, but it somehow feels more laid back.

There were construction cranes in every direction.  The banner on the old church said “Refugees Welcome,” which was good because blonde, blue-eyed Aussies appeared to be in the minority.  At one point I lost my bearings and wondered if I had somehow been transported to Beijing.

The streets were heaving with trams, buses, cabs, pedestrians, and bicyclists.  We made our way to David Jones, one of the big department stores, where I bought socks and boots for my cold feet.

“It’s almost racing season,” Heidi said excitedly, “so all the stores have their selections of frocks and hats on display.”

“Aww,” I replied, “I wish I could be here for that!  We could start an annual streak of dress-up sporting events, like Wimbledon last year.”  Yes, we had gone to Wimbledon in 2017, buying the cheap tickets and sitting on the lawn, drinking Pimms and watching the matches on the jumbotron.  It was a scene.  It was a blast.

I could have taken photos of frocks all day but Heidi and Danielle were on missions to find shoes for their dad and a watchband for their mum.  We went from store to store and never found either. I looked at jeans in Target but had no idea how Australian sizes correlated to American.

I was cold and tired.  Suddenly I that moment that comes during even the best trips, where I think, “I want to go home now.” And by home I mean my own home, with my bath and my bed and all my familiar things, where I can lounge on the couch watching TV in my pajamas while shoveling popcorn into my mouth.

Instead, we got on the train for the hour commute back to Dean and Lisa’s.  Their house was lovely and welcoming and comfortable, so if I couldn’t be taking the train back to my own home, theirs was a welcome second choice.

Within a few hours the five of us were seated in a cozy Argentine restaurant gabbling away over tapas and I was back to being the happy traveler.

Overlapping Circles

Under a heavy duvet I was warm but I knew it would be frosty once I got up that morning.

I’ve written about this before.  As I write this it is 13 degrees Fahrenheit (-11 Celsius) in St. Paul, Minnesota. This is normal.  It’s been cold and dark since November, and it will remain cold and dark until April.  And so there’s this psychological hurdle I can’t get over where I believe everywhere else must be warmer.  And mostly, everywhere else is.  But not Melbourne in spring.

I don’t know how cold it was in Melbourne last October—below 50F/8C in the house in the mornings, for sure.  I could hear a feeble whishing of air from a “heating vent.”  My heating vents at home issue forth gusts of hot air that could knock you off your feet.  There was no basement in Dean and Lisa’s house, and the windows weren’t double glazed, so any heat went straight out the windows, literally.

I summoned the courage to crawl out from under the duvet and made a run to the toilet room.  The dog, Penny, a black lab, came loping toward me and I hugged her, if nothing else for the warmth.  Heidi was up making a cup of tea.

“Oh hi there, how’d you sleep?”

“Really well,” I replied.  “I think I’m so tired here every night that even my Restless Legs are taking a vacation.”

Dean and Lisa had left for work.  They work at a nearby Aboriginal girls’ college, a boarding school, and—I’m not going to get this all right—but there is a branch component for Aboriginal kids in the outback.  So Dean flies to the back of beyond and stays for weeks at a time.  He loves the kids and the job, but there is nothing to do when he’s off duty.

“We don’t have a ute,” (a truck) he said, “although even if we did there’s nothing in town to do.”  Dean teaches maths and science and Lisa is the school’s e-learning coordinator.

Before leaving Minnesota I’d spoken with my cousin’s wife, who is Native American, about maybe bringing some Native American-related gifts for the girls at Dean and Lisa’s school.  “They’re Black, aren’t they?” she asked.  “Then get them some magazines like Ebony and Teen Jet.  They probably don’t see Black faces in ads or billboards or magazines.”

That was an excellent idea, so I had handed Dean a stack of teen mags.  But the one I had bought on a whim, a publication about how to live off the grid, would prove to be the most popular.  There was a full-page ad for guns on the back cover.  “But it’s got good articles on starting a worm farm and making lamp shades out of animal hides,” Dean had observed as he’d flipped through it.

How do we all know each other?  Simple.  Heidi was in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt looking to go diving and someone said, “You should go see Dean; he’s an Aussie and he’s the Mayor of Sharm El Sheikh.”  The unofficial mayor, of course.  Dean had been living there for some time and knew who to talk to.

Eventually they both wound up living in London, where Dean met Rob, who is from Bemidji Minnesota.  A mutual friend introduced me to Rob when I was living in Oxford, and one day he said, “Hey Annie, wanna go to Greece next week?  There are these two Aussie girls who teach with me who want to go and we need four to avoid the single supplement.”

Heidi was one of the Aussie girls.

Dean and Lisa being at work gave me the opportunity to snoop around. Not that I looked in any of their drawers.

The house is perched on a steep hill.

I couldn’t get over all the fruit trees growing—just growing!—in their yard.

This appeared to be a giant daisy tree.

I have this plant in a pot at home but it’s 12 inches tall, not twelve feet.

The three of us faffed about for hours, then Dean came home on his lunch break to take us to the train station.


We pulled up to Healesville Sanctuary at 11am, grabbed our rain gear from the boot, and ran for the entrance.  The line wasn’t bad, since it was raining. We were handed a map, which looked like a bowl of, well, spag bol.

So we ran headlong, following signs to the platypus show, and rocked up as an employee was securing a chain across the entrance.

“I’m sorry,” she said firmly, “but it’s 11:15.  You can stand here and watch.”  Really.  You give some people a bit of power and it goes to their heads.

Still, we were close enough to get the gist of it; a ranger stood in a tank playing with a frisky platypus named Milton, and after the “show” we were allowed in to take a closer look.  This was the best of my photos.

Did you know they are frisky as kittens? Did you also know they have a spur which can excrete venom that causes excruciating pain?

Milton sure looked like he was having fun.  The ranger had a devil of a time getting him to stop fooling around and get back into his pen.

You may be wondering, “what’s the difference between a sanctuary and a zoo?”  None, I don’t think, except branding.  I did some freelance grant writing for the Minnesota Zoo back in the 80s, and they were talking about it being a “living ark” back then.  That is, zoos/sanctuaries are the only place to breed endangered species until and if their habitat can be restored.

I’m sure they all struggle with conveying educational messages while allowing people to have fun.  And so there was the platypus show, a birds of prey show which was astounding, and all sorts of signage about not wasting water, etc.

At the end of the bird show they handed out refrigerator magnets about not using balloons at birthday parties.  One can only imagine what goes wrong when an eagle “captures” and eats a balloon.

It rained all day, but that meant we almost had the place to ourselves.

There were goannas and snakes.

And a building lighted with infrared, with every size and shape of hopping marsupial that lives in the Australian desert.

I have never claimed to be a great photographer, and they didn’t make it easy at Healesville.  I tried to just be in the moment.  When would I ever be back?

The bird area was a treat, at least for us humans.

I made a lot of—probably—annoying comments like, “Tasmanian Devils remind me of pigs!” and “I didn’t realize XXX were so small/big!”  But really I was delighted with everything; I really felt like a kid.

Did you know Tasmanian Devil’s ears turn red when they’re agitated?  I read that they make “spine-chilling screetches” but didn’t hear any that day. Goodness me—I just found a recording of the noise, and it is indeed frightening.

Milton was a hard act to follow, but as we left the Tasmanian Devils I gushed to no one, “Those are my favorites!”

Sadly, they are endangered by the highly contagious Devil Facial Tumor Disease.  This really is a case of separating out healthy individuals until a cure is found.

We had a late lunch in the nearly empty cafeteria while watching rangers play with echidnas.  That’s not a sentence you get to write every day.

I had really hoped to see a wombat, but only glanced the backside of one.

I felt sorry for the koalas until I read that doing nothing all day in a small space is their normal.

We sauntered through the kangaroo enclosure, then we slipped through a gate and there were the tree roos.  This really was my favorite.

After four hours on the road and five in the rain, it was time to leave for our friends’ house in Melbourne proper, which took an hour.  I was tired, but I managed to make conversation over a Thai takeaway before abruptly excusing myself and doing a face plant into bed.

Eternal Road Trip

Bedtime at the Paddlesteamer Motel.  The name makes it sound quaint, which is wasn’t. However, the décor was updated and it was very clean.

Heidi sat hunched over the guide book on the edge of the king-sized bed she would share with Danielle.  I had already crawled into my rollaway twin.  We were all testy after the long day on the road.

“We’ll need to leave here no later than 7am,” said Heidi firmly, not looking at Danielle.

“Yes, Miss bossy boots,” Danielle responded to no one.

Siblings. Heidi and Danielle got along remarkably well, considering the strains they were under.

I put in my earplugs, rolled over, and went to sleep.

We were up and out by 7am, Heidi stood at the open boot of the car and Danielle and I threw our bags over the balcony while the resident cat tried to trip us by threading our legs as we dashed in and out.

Our objective this morning was the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary just outside of Melbourne.

“The platypus show is at 11:15,” Heidi had read, “and it shouldn’t be missed.”

“We should be able to just make it, if we run from the entrance gate,” she went on.  “It’ll be close; I reckon it’s a three and a half hour drive with no stops.”

From my bolthole in the back seat, I panicked and leaned forward to get my head through the seats for maximum impact and whined, “But we will stop for coffee, right?”

“Eeyehsss,” Heidi confirmed, in that drawn-out way Australians say “yes.”

We stopped at a truck stop somewhere—Wodonga?  Wangaratta?  Benalla?  There were also English names along the route: Glenrowan, Swan Pool, Winton, Merton.

It was a truck stop like in rural America, with a couple fast food restaurants, a convenience store and petrol station, and showers and maybe nap cubicles. We had passed innumerable road signs that warned, “Trouble Concentrating?  Power Nap Now” And “Stop, Revive, Survive.” A couple of groggy, grungy truckers in baggy jeans, heavy boots, and filthy t-shirts stared blearily at the menus.

One moved ahead to place his order and I could tell he was speaking Aussie English but I couldn’t understand a word.

“What’s with the chicken schnitzel on every menu?” I asked Heidi as we gazed up at the board.

“I don’t know … isn’t that normal?  Don’t they serve chicken schnitzel at MacDonald’s?”

“No.” I replied. The undecipherable guy had left with his order and I asked Heidi, “Could you understand him?”

“Yes, but barely.  He had a real proper country accent.”

“Ah, it’s similar in Minnesota.  The farther from the cities people grow up, the more pronounced their Mee’-nah-soda accent is.”

We were up.  “What’ll ya have, doll?” asked the cashier.

I ordered a coffee and toast with butter.

The guy who was stocking the cooler nearby mimicked my pronunciation: buh’-der.  Aussies would say buh-ter’, I think.

Back on the road, and we listened to more Australian music.  “This one’s about the Vietnam War,” explained Heidi.


I was Only 19,” by Redgum, could win the “Most Depressing Song” contest.  The refrain is:

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
And night time’s just a jungle dark and a barking M.16?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me
I was only nineteen

It’s important, though, to listen and learn and it might sound Pollyanna-ish, but I’ve got four nephews and two nieces to think about, since women can now serve in combat.

Don’t think it could never happen again.

We made one more pit stop, at a road house that was frozen in the 50s and run by a wizened Indian guy who was muttering to himself in front of a wood burning stove.  I bought a box of Shapes which I imagined would be his only sale of the day and hoped they wouldn’t be stale.

We wound along the Maroondah Highway, passing Yarck and Alexandra, then entered the Dandenong mountain range.  Heidi was asleep in the backseat.

“We have to wake her,” Danielle urged. But we couldn’t, I couldn’t capture it on camera, and we couldn’t do justice to describing the scenery later.