Monday, October 20, 2003

Geography Lesson

As I will be travelling around Autralia and making references to places, I think, off the back of my mums assumption that Victoria was a town, I should give you a basic intruduction.

Australia is divided into 6 States and 2 Territories, as follows (each accompanied by it's abbreviation and capital city) :-

States :-
New South Wales (NSW) - Sydney
Victoria (VIC) - Melbourne
Queensland (QLD) - Brisbane
South Australia (SA) - Adelaide
Western Australia (QA) - Perth
Tasmania (TAS) - Hobart

Territories :-
Australian Capital Territory (ACT) - Canberrra
Northern Territory (NT) - Darwin (NT is also the location of Alice Springs / Uluru)

I don't know the full difference between the two, but I don't think the territories get as many political rights as the states. States and territories are the Aussie equivalent of UK counties or US states but are incredibly big areas of land!

To describe where all of these are, chop Australia into 3 equal vertical strips (I trust you can imagine the shape of Australia), the left strip is Western Australia, then chop the middle strip into two halves horizontally, the top middle sixth is Northern Territory, the bottom middle sixth is South Australia, easy so far, no? then divide the right hand third into three unequal horizontal chunks, give about 60% to the top, 30% to the middle and 10% to the bottom, in respective order they Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Tasmania is a state and island in it's own right off the south coast of Victoria, it is close enough to get a ferry to. Australian Capital Territory is a tiny area of land in the middle of the south-east of New South Wales (i.e. it is bordered by NSW on all sides), it was given to the government by the state of New South Wales in order to set up a parliamentary city, so they did, Canberra, and then the government created Australian Capital Territory as a political entity and re-assigned the land from the government to Australian Capital Territory - very weird.

Other notes :-

- All states and territory capitals are on the coast with the exception of Canberra.

- The "interior" means any area of Australia that is significantly inland.

- Manley, Bondi and Coogee and all beach suburbs of Sydney (Manley was a polular hang-out with Neighbours outcasts).

- Byron Bay is a beach resort just south of Brisbane and is popular with surfers.

- The gold coast is the coastline from Sydney up to Brisbane and is mostly Queensland.

- The great barrier reef is off the north-east coast of Queensland and is larger than the total land area of the UK.

- The total population of Australia is less than 20 million people and the country is so large it takes more than 4 hours to fly from Sydney on the east coast to Perth on the west, you could fly from London to Rome in less than that! The UK has 65 million inhabitants and you could drive from Lands End to John O' Groats in one long day.

- The south of Australia has quite temperate weather, with temperatures dropping quite low in the winter (they have skiing in NSW, VIC and TAS) and rising above 30 during the summer. The north of Australia experiences higher temperatures all year round, Darwin never drops below about 32 degrees during the day at any time of year, but they experience monsoon style downpours continuously in the rainy seasons and rain + heat = mozzies!
NSW Beer

In New South Wales beer is generally sold in 2 measurements, a Schooner (420ml) and a Middy (a little smaller), the only places that sold pints (568ml for reference) in NSW were tourist places in Sydney that were catering to the English tourists.

Draught beer in NSW was typically a choice of Victoria Bitter (VB, the most popular beer in Aus), Tooheys News, Tooheys Old or Carlton Draught. Tooheys has been around for decades, but they have recently rejiggled things and renamed their old beer Old and created a new one called New (they are marketing it really heavily), in fact you can just go into a pub and ask for a schooner of new.

Most people claim Carlton Draught is the best, but in my opinion they all taste the same. None of them actually are bitters or ales, they are all lagers and they all taste the same, maybe something along the line of Carlsberg in the UK. They also serve beer excpetionally cold, they chill the glasses and and the beer to a really massive degree which I'm not a massive fan of, I mean everything in moderation surely?

So far I have not come across, by British definition any stouts, bitters or ales on draught.
Wagga Wagga

Having been in Sydney for 2 weeks, knowing that I wanted to head down to Melbourne to watch the Phillip Island MotoGP on the 19th October and realising that the weather was going to get no better for the immediate forseeable anyway I decided to head off in my van on Tuesday 14th October. Having made the calculations and spoken the people that had made the trip by coach I realised that in one hit it was going to be at least a 12 hour trip, to be honest I didn't want to drive for that long, especially through the New South Wales interior. So I looked on my road map of Australia and found a place more or less in between the two called Wagga Wagga (pronounced Wogga Wogga) and known to the locals as just Wagga.

The Tuesday was exceptionally sunny and it was a lovely drive down through the NSW countryside, rivers, creeks, whole hills full of flowers, I got randomly breath tested by the cops going through some hicky little village but of course I was alcohol free. They are quite hot on speeding and drink driving over here.

Eventually I got to Wagga, it was my first introduction to a proper Australian town, completely free of city types and tourists, in fact all the people in Wagga that I spoke to were asking me why the hell I was there!

I stayed in a small guest house type place, upon arrival I was greeted by the owner, a proper Aussie bloke who looked like he had lived there his entire life. Upon pulling up on the driveway we exchanged pleasantries and he told me where to park my van around the back, this was on the basis of the fact that there was a young girl staying at the guest house who was very lovely, who he reserved the front drive for and with whom he didn't want to cause any trouble, but between you and me "she couldn't drive a stick up a dogs arse!". I had always noticed from day one that the Aussies were quite free and easy with their vernacular, even in traditionally formal scenarios but I thought this one was a cracker!

Once I had been shown my room I asked the proprieter where the nearest pub was that served food, he direct me to a place called the RSL Club which was just around the corner. It seemed to be some kind of bar / casino (loads of pokies) / sports bar all rolled into one, but the place seemed to be full of old folk who were watching a whole batch of other old folk playing lawn bowls. I thought I would hang around, have a couple of beers, have a bite to eat in their eatery type place (kinda half cafe, half restaurant), have a play on the pokies (I won 90 bucks in about 10 minutes, needless to say I cashed it in and quit the pokies there and then!) but the flood of crinklies just increased. So I asked one of the bar staff (who were all fairly young) where I could go to avoid these oldies, he told me there was a free bus from the RSL to the local hotel (all bars and pubs in Australia seem to be hotels as well) but that was it, so I figured if that was the only alternative I may as well give it a go. By the way, I discovered that RSL stood for Returned Servicemans League, i.e. ex-army servicemen, hence all the oldies!

On arrival in the hotel bar I figured that it looked like a much more suitable drinking establishment, people my own age and a layout like a normal pub, not a casino. Anyway, I ordered a beer and ended up chatting to three guys and a girl, the two guys were out of towners (Pat and Ben) but were in Wagga on business, the other guy and girl were brother and sister (Dwayne and Lisa, bet you couldn't guess they were locals?) and were originally from Albury which is just down the road but the girl lived in Tumbarumba. Dwane was in town getting a job and Lisa was up with him just for a break, Dwayne was proud to emphasize to me that Dwayne was spelt like Wayne but with a D and most people got it wrong.

Pat was actually from Melbourne and was a top bloke, he was also going down the next day as he had got a job working at Philip Island for the MotoGP, we traded numbers and agreed to meet up for a beer at some point in Melbourne.

Anyway we all got drunk on Jim Beam Cola, which is Jim Beam (JD-like Drink) and coke in a can. Dwayne was jesting that that in Albury the locals normally go for a FFF after the pub, I will interpret FFF for you, Feed - Fight - Fuck, I won't tell you exactly what I indulged in for the rest of the evening, but I didn't sustain any physical injury during the remainder of the night!

Anyway, I got up at abut 10am the next morning to coninue my journey to Melbourne.
Motorvehicular Transport

Having been in Sydney for a week I headed off with Andre and one of his friends to a place west of Sydney called Parramatta, it is where all the car dealers are and is nicknamed Auto Alley. We were both in the market for a vehicle and decided this was the best placed to go, so we got on a train and off we went!

After a lot of wandering around and dealing with shady car dealers in the blistering heat (yes, another freak hot day!) I ended up buying a 1987 Toyota Tarago for $4,800 (see pics at the end). It's a people carrier type vehicle, 2.2L petrol, air con, stereo, quite comfy and very posh in its day but somewhat agricultural to drive! Andre and his mate bought a Ford Falcon estate, the Ford Falcon is like the all round Aussie Ford vehicle, I think it started life like the Ford Granada and then became something like the Mondeo and now it looks like nothing in the UK.

When you buy a car you have to get your Rego, this is short for Registration and is pronounced with a soft G. Your license plate is proof that you have paid the authorities for the privelege of driving on the road, but rules in different states vary a lot. In New South Wales you have to take all your documents, and your license plates; yes, you have to physically unscrew them from the vehicle and take them into the RTA (Road and Traffic Authority) office to prove that they are legible and legal! Wheras in Western Australia you can do it all over the phone, and it's cheaper! You also have to pay a percentage of the vehicle purchase price to the RTA when you buy a vehicle, so lots of buyers and sellers blag the paperwork to give the impression the car was much cheaper than it really was so the buyer gets a lower bill from the RTA!

Ford, Holden and Toyota are the most popular car brands in Aus, Holden is the Aussie division of General Motors (Vauxhall). The most popular Holden is the Holden Commodore, the most well known Commodore in the UK is probably the Commodore HSV, which is like their super-powerful BMW M5 type thing but they are extremely rare, I have never seen one on the road yet.

The Aussie car market is a strange combination of the Japanese and American market, you get a lot of the crappy Hondas and Nissans and stuff everywhere and then the American style Fords and Holdens. The Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores all use the old American 4-5 litre V8 engines, which sound impressive, but they are not nearly as efficient at producing power as the modern european engines.

The body styling of modern cars in Aus is much cooler than the UK and the boy racer scene is just as big here as it is in the UK, body kits, big bore exhausts and dump valves a-plenty! Even the cops get in on the act, a lot of them drive the Holden Commodore SSS which I think is one step below the HSV, and even the cops have got body skirts, splitters and fancy paints jobs - Rob, think back to Need for Speed Hot Pursuit!

Anyway, having bought a vehicle I parked it in the Kings Cross car park which is secure and underground, this was costing me $16.50 a day (about 7 GBP) which was quite good for the centre of Sydney.

For your reference, the rego of my car is QIZ-357. The picture was taken at a service station on the way down from Sydney.

Sydney - Summary

Sydney is a very attractive city, some of the sights are amazing, the botanical gardens are exquisite and the harbourside location is beautiful. But the population of central Sydney suffers from the same lamaise as the population central London; the south side is like the west end of London in that it is full of backpackers and tourists, you think London gets hit by Japanese tourists - you wanna see Sydney! And of course, not many people actually live in central Sydney, it's all tourists, weirdos or exceptionally rich people. Of course most of the people that work in Sydney live in the suburbs, of which I haven't had that much experience but I would imagine that it's a little more normal!

There are a few things that I didn't do in Sydney due largely to the weather, I didn't go to any beach side locations (Manley, Bondu & Coogee) because the weather was crap and totally unreliable. I didn't do any of the speedboat rides or ferry journeys for the same reason, I didn't go the the zoo in Sydney (Taronga Zoo) or do the bridge climb (you can walk up the arched part of the bridge) partly because of the weather and partly because I never got round to it.

The food in Sydney was much like food in London. I didn't cook for myself at all, I nearly always ate out and as I discovered, there really is no such thing as traditional Australian food. Of course they are always having barbies, but that's becuase of the weather and they have the same kind of stuff on their BBQs as we would in the UK; you might see Kangaroo steaks on menus in certain places but that's about it (I will tell you what it tastes like when I have one). They have indians, chineses, kebab houses, pizza parlours, McDonalds, Burger King (which they call Hungry Jacks, due to some legal wrangle over the name years ago).

I have noticed that the Aussies abbreviate everything wherever possible, whether it's a slang abbreviation or an acroynm. Most slang abbreviations also end in "ies", for example barbies, sunnies (sunglasses), pokies (slot machines, typically video poker), et cetera!

For such a small city, Sydney has the most amazing array of public transport - buses, taxis, trains (both overground and underground), a monorail, ferries, water taxis, it's quite amazing! I'm sure the monorail is just to show off because it does such a small ciruit you could walk it in no time!

For your reference mum I haven't come across any deadly animals at all, the worst thing I have seen is a cockroach sitting on a wall; although I do shake my clothes before I put them on (on the advice of an Aussie I met at Heathrow) and shake my shoes upside down before I put them on (actually that's also partly because if I don't do that amazingly I always end up getting a stone or a fleck of something in my shoe anyway).

All in all Sydney is a cool place.
Sydney - People

There were a mixed bunch of people in the hostel, on the whole I got on with everyone but I preferred some people more than others!

I went out of my way to make myself known, but there was a tendency amongst some of the regulars (some people had been there for 3 months or more, weird!) to stay in a cliquey little group and just ignore everyone else unless they were directly spoken to. As I said I did get on with the regulars and occasionally hung out with them, but I did also go out of my way to talk to anyone that I came across, particularly if they looked a bit lost, 'cause I'm nice like that!

The first week I was there, 2 girls stayed in my dorm, Rachel and Melody (Mel). Rachel is originally from Torquay in England and Mel is a Kiwi (hence the weird name) and they both live in Melbourne, however Rachel had been hanging out in New Zealand for a few years previously and has a Kiwi passport. They were in Sydney because Mel's brother was playing some rugby for his school and they were up visiting him. They are both good fun, if not a little on the girly side sometimes and I think Rachel gets a bit hyper from time to time!

The second week I met a really nice batch of german people, initially I got to know Andre who is from the former East Germany and then he hooked up with some other people from various other places in the former West Germany. They are really cool and hopefully I'm going to meet up with them in Melbourne at some point, as they are currently doing a triangular type trip from Melbourne to Adelaide to Alice Springs (Ayres Rock / Uluru) and then back to Melbourne. Actually, the only work I have done so far while I have been here (a days work of gardening, believe it or not!) I did together with Andre.

A met a slightly odd girl called Zoe who was on a 3 month sabbatical from work. She was cool and I hung out with her a few times, she was my kind of age, I say she was odd because she was slightly weird and geeky for a girl. She flew from Sydney to Darwin because she was getting pissed off with the weather in Sydney!

Rather unsuprisingly I found that I got on better with people over the age of 25 rather than the 20 year old types. There was a lot of "get pissed, do some pills, go clubbing till 6am, try and get laid, go to bed, get up at 4pm the next afternoon" type people on the Sydney Backpacker scene, which isn't really my style, besides, you could do that at home anyway, but each to their own - and who knows what I might have been like had I come out here aged 21?

I also randomly met some annoying Kiwi guy in a pub who was in Sydney working on the tunnel (they are building a bypass underneath the city), he was OK to chat to for a few minutes, but then I discovered he was a 45 year old trying to relive his youth and decided that I was his ticket into the world of 21 year old girls and backpacker debauchery - needless to say I shook him off ASAP!

There was also a guy in my dorm called John, he kind of reminded me of Jeremy. He was hippyish and went everywhere with his guitar, was completely boracic. It was a bit odd though because he kept loads of stuff actually in his bed, like his guitar and bags and allsorts of stuff - whereas most people just put their gear on the floor! He could also play the guitar quite well, at least technically, but I never actually heard him play a tune that I knew, he just used to play random riffs and stuff off the top of his head all the time which wore thin pretty quickly - so I never actually discovered how good he really was! Some guy actually turned up at the hostel with an acoustic bass, which was novel and they jammed together which was pretty crap!!

A guy moved into my dorm a few days before I left, he was also called John and was only 18 years old. This made him about the youngest person I had met in the hostel, he was a bit odd in an 18 year old kind of way, overly self confident, a bit presumptious about the world and sometimes a little bit introspective. It's difficult to describe, but Rob, you remember what Matt was like when he was 17?

I also met a girl from Belfast called Liz, she was quite cool but a bit over-kind. You know the kind of people, that even if Satan himself was begging on the street she would still give him money. She used to give the Aborigines cigarettes, which in itself was a fairly innocent gesture, but then it meant that you got plagued by a bunch of winos and druggies for the next hour. I'm a generous person, but there is a line to be drawn between generosity and foolishness! She also tried to tell me that Irish people got a hard time around the world, if anything from my experiences I thought completely the opposite!!!

I'm sure there are plenty of other people that I met, but I will refrain from mentioning absolutely everyone because they aren't as strong in my mind as those I have told you about and I don't want this section to ramble on for too long!
Sydney - Weather and Places

On the whole, the weather in Sydney was quite poor. It rarely got too cold but quite often I had to go out in a jumper as a T-Shirt would not have been enough, it also rained more often than not with perhaps the odd sprinkling of sunshine here and there.

As I said earlier, my hostel was in Kings Cross, so the first things you see are adult shops, strip bars, hookers, druggies and winos. Unfortunately most of the druggies and winos are aborigines, they will try and hassle you for cigarettes or money - so needless to say they don't have a particularly good reputation in Sydney!

It goes without saying that I saw the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, both of them are very cool but I think I prefer the Harbour Bridge. It's very big and impressive, wheras the Opera House, despite its originality looks a little bit smaller and not quite as imposing the closer you get to it; that's not to say that it wasn't a significant sight none-the-less.

As you may know, Sydney is built on a river/estuary type thing which runs east-west and means that the centre of Sydney in divided into the north shore and south shore. I was staying on the south side, which is where most of the touristy things are, to draw a comparison with London the south shore is like the west end and the north shore is like the city. I never wandered around the north shore much as it is just full of office buildings and people in suits!

There are 3 main harbours on the south shore, these are Darling Harbour, Circular Quay and Woolloomooloo (pronounce Woolamaloo) Harbour. Darling Harbour is quite posh, ferry and speedboat tours operate from the harbour. It is also where you will find the Sydney Aquarium, which is quite cool, I saw sharks and turtles being fed (lucky timing) which was fun. It also houses the National Maritime Museum and a big shopping centre which I think (if my memory serves me correctly) is called the Riverside Wharf shopping centre. Circular Quay operates mostly ferries, some regular shuttles ferries and others are specific tourist trips, there isn't an awful lot of extraordinary things to do at Circular Quay, apart from get on a ferry somewhere! Woolloomooloo Harbour is also quite posh and little more out of the way than the other harbours, as a result there is less to do there; it does however adjoin the Royal Botanical Gardens and is also home to a naval dock. I actually went to a naval open day (which as luck would have it happened on a freak sunny day) which was a real event (for a naval dock), they had entertainers, BBQs and I got guided tours of HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Anzac. I did actually have a wander around the botanical gardens, but the weather was significantly lacking so it wasn't quite the experience it could have been. Word has it that Nicole Kidman owns an expensive penthouse type apartment at Woolloomooloo Harbour and something to do with Russell Crowe's wedding took place at the very posh hotel there too.

There is another swanky area of Sydney called the Rocks, which years and years ago in the days of explorers was a part of Sydney which was built on some rocks. Nowadays it is all posh restauants and bars and suchlike.

There is a tower in the middle of Sydney called the AMP Tower (AMP being a company), it sits on top of a few floors of offices which in turn sit on a multi-level shopping centre called Centrepoint. The tower itself is like a tall pole with a lift inside it and a restaurant, cafe and observation deck at the top. At about 1000ft above sea level the tower is the second tallest building in the southern hemisphere (the first being something in Auckland, New Zealand), but it is the highest observation point in the southern hemisphere, this is quite impressive but do bear in mind that most of the world is located in the northern hemisphere! It is very groovy though, because you can see for miles, sorry, kilometres from the top of the tower!

I also got talked into going to some chinese spa thing by my friends Rachel and Mel (I will tell you about people later), it was like pools, jacuzzis, sauna, steam room and all that kind of thing. It was separated into two by gender, when I went in everyone was naked, which I didn't expect and I'm sure at least half the guys in there were gay so I wasn't entirely at ease the whole time!

Sydney is a cool place, but it is much smaller than London. You can walk around the whole of the centre of Sydney in a couple of hours! It also only has about 4 million inhabitants, compared to London's 20 million!
Sydney - Personal Wellbeing

Weird title for this section, but it really sums up these brief nuggets of information.

The second day I was in Sydney I came down with a cold, there seemed to be a few people in the hostel that had a cold but there were also people coughing and hacking on my flight so I'm not really too sure where I caught it! I only shook it this weekend, so it's taken me just over 2 and a half weeks to get over it, never mind!

I also suffered quite badly with jet lag for the first week, I suppose jet lag means different things to different people. For me I don't just mean the time difference, although it probably contributes. Basically I would get up quite early and for the morning I was fine but when it got to about 2pm I felt shattered, not just tired, but completely zero energy. There was one point where I had just spent the last 2 hours walking around the Aquarium and it was about 3pm by the time I came out, as soon as I got to the end and stopped walking I felt so weak I almost collapsed, I had to prop myself up for 10 minutes and get some energy back!

I am glad to say that right now I am jet lag free and cold free, so all is well in the garden of wellbeing!
Sydney - Arrival

I know I have recounted my initial arrival in Sydney to a few people already, but with this Web Log I intend to start from the beginning so here goes!

The flight was horrifically long (20 hours actually on the plane with a 1 hour stopover in Singapore), but all told I slept for a reasonable portion of it which is rare for me so I was quite pleased. I arrived in Sydney at about 6AM on the 30th September, having left Heathrow at 10:30PM on the 28th! The weather wasn't quite as warm as I had perhaps anticipated, but then again it was 6AM. I rang my hostel which was called the Jolly Swagman Backpackers and arranged for my free airport transfer to the hotel, the minibus was full of Germans so it wasn't an exceptionally exciting bus ride.

Once I got to the hostel I checked in, the girl on reception seemed to be a bit on the miserable side. I later discovered that they only get paid $10 an hour which equates in the UK to about 4 pounds an hour, so maybe that was the reason! I was in a 4 bed dorm, which was comprised of 2 bunk beds, the room was quite small with a very tiny window so natural sunlight was quite limited! There were seperate male/female showers and toilets which were shared by everyone on the same floor, the hostel was quite big, it had 4 or 5 floors and I think could house up to about 140 guests. All in all though the hostel was quite good, the facilities were clean and adequate and it was in the middle of Kings Cross, which to those of you who don't know is the equivalent of Soho in London, so quite seedy but also slap bang in the middle of where it's all going on!

After I checked in it was still about 7:45AM, needless to say nothing was really going on and everything that I needed to do (supermarket, visa, bank) was still shut. I ended up going to a bar with one of the hostel regulars who I met outside. All of the bars and most of the pubs in the centre of Sydney are open 24 hours a day 7 days a week, licensing hours are entirely unregulated in Australia. Well, needless to say that wasn't the best start to the day and it just continued to go downhill, with me meeting more of the regulars as they woke up, the long and short of it is that I drank beer all day and evening and had a noteworthy hangover the next morning!
Hi everyone!

This is how I intend to communicate everything that is going on to me on my travels to everyone. I hope it doesn't appear too impersonal but I seem to end up repeating the same thing which is time consuming, also internet access costs me money here too! This doesn't mean that I am giving up on personal emails, just that the day-to-day stuff that's going on in my life will get posted here instead.