Great Barrier Reef

Today I went to see the Great. Barrier Reef. Many of you know that I keep tropical fish. Well, its not entirely true that I keep them. More often than not I kill them, but the term is flexible. When the Archdeacon asks: me do you have a hobby?’ The answer is fish-keeping. He or she does not have to know that my hobby is fish killing. I would never get a job on that basis!

Incidentally, I was very excited on my birthday when I heard that Sue and the boys had clubbed together to get me a new tank, as my old one was slowly leaking.

This picture actually says everything you need to know about our church office: microwave on the left, fish in the middle and wine on the right! Work never really features anywhere nearby.

So, when I was planning the trip the idea came to me that I should come to see the barrier reef. It is a long time since I kept marine fish. I usually keep tropicals (freshwater), which typically come from Lake Malawi. Better still if they are British bred, as the attrition rate in transporting fish from Africa is appalling. But anyway, there is no point in spoiling the story by adding facts! I am a fish-keeper.

I was picked up by coach and off to the harbour. I had worked out last night that it is in fact three minutes walk away. The coach collects from hotels all over town, which is a great system, but I chose to walk home this afternoon as it was much quicker. Even at my (now) senior citizen pace.

The company really has got its act together. Everything went smoothly and I had a wonderful time. I ‘splashed out’ on a digital waterproof camera hire. (Yes, the puns don’t get any better just because I am a long way away). I now have a disk of pictures which I took, but I can’t access it through my iPad, so you may think you are spared. Well, not quite. Here are some I took on the phone. My iPhone does not like water, so the others will have to wait.

The photography company are crafty and take pictures as well as renting out cameras, so the cost of the photos was probably more than that of the trip itself, but this was too much to resist. I took the plunge (yes, another pun) thanks to Sue! She knows what I mean. But here am I arriving, suited up and swimming. I apologise for the fact that the suited picture makes me look like a beached whale! Oh, and it too complicated to turn them round. I just wanted pictures of me to turn your head!!

So, three times today I got into a wet suit and snorkelled on the reef. I am tired. The swimming was easy, but getting in and out of a wet suit is a nightmare. All the other people were in couples or families. The trick is to get someone you know well to yank the cold soggy wet suit off your back, where your own arms won’t reach. However, travelling alone I did not have the ability to exercise this plan of action, so I took ages getting in and out of the wet suit. Now that is one picture which you do not want to see. Praise God, you really are spared, as no-one was there to take it. They were all struggling with their own wet rubber issues!

So, anyway, here are some pics. We sped off out of the harbour and got to the reef, where we all went swimming. I was in there before I got out and took this one!

There was lots of help from the staff team with food, and advice, and instruction, and much castration of the English language. How are you buddy? (When did I become her buddy in the previous 30 minutes in which our lives have crossed?) Cool, man! (I was warm and I already know that I am a man!) Awesome guys! (Well I am sure that I am, but it is aggravating to hear it in that accent). If I hear that phrase one more time I may need therapy.

Now here is a piece of advice for Sandy in Florida. When she sent me snorkelling there I kept getting water in the mask. This lot gave me a pot of Vaseline to liberally smother on my moustache to keep the top lip water tight! It can be difficult being a Brit abroad. You try to keep a stiff upper lip and then discover that what you really need is a greasy upper lip. Sandy, next time – provide Vaseline please. (And thanks for your email yesterday). BTW, my moustache has never been as soft as it is this evening!

It was choppy waters on the way out and back. I am glad I was inside.

Here is a crucial picture from the trip back. The waves in the distance are where you fall off the world (or a least the continent). If your intellectual level is as low as mine, think ‘Finding Nemo’. Where the reef ends and the deep ocean starts. The waves break above the beginning of the reef and cause this effect. It is amazing in real life, but not easy to capture in a picture.

Then we got back to the calm of the harbour and it was all over.

The apartment I am staying in is wonderful with a really helpful staff member called Amanda, but the WiFi is hopeless, so I am due to add pictures to this while I have dinner. Bad form at Mansion House, but probably acceptable behaviour in Port Douglas.

I am going to send this while I have a slightly stronger signal. E&OE as they say!

The day has been awesome, guys! (Aaaagh)

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Port Douglas

I was up early today to get back to the airport. I flew from Melbourne to Cairns, and then on by mini-bus to Port Douglas.

On the flight we were given complimentary snacks. It included this snack. I read the package and hoped that it did not taste as awful as it sounded. Well it as not as awful as it sounded. It was infinitely worse! I don’t think I have ever tasted such a weird snack!

I managed the check in process without too much trauma. The only moment was when the X-ray machine ground to a halt and an alarm went off. The lady looked at me and asked: have you got sparklers in that bag? Now I can quite see why a packet of sparklers would not be a good thing on a plane. Fortunately I managed to work out quick enough what she had spotted: my pipe cleaners. One glance inside and the conveyor belt moved on! Phew!

I was also pulled over for a gunpowder check! Perhaps he had heard the word sparklers. The previous person in the line, who was African decent as if that mattered, was shouting the odds and being highly abusive about being checked. I was cleared and I thanked the guy for looking after us all by being so careful. I hope that restored his equilibrium for the day!

I then got the coach from Cairns to Port Douglas. We travelled up the Cook Highway, a most beautiful road which hugs the coast on the way. It’s not easy to get a picture from inside a mini coach, but this gives you a bit of an idea. Along the way we passed through a world heritage site where noo development is allowed to protect the rain forest. more on rain forests in a couple of day’s time.

Pics

I arrived and checked in. Once again I have an amazing apartment. It is a series of self catering rooms around a pool.

Having unpacked I went off for a walk around Port Douglas. There is a wonderful beach on one side of the peninsula and a marina on the other.

I also did a video.

On the beach there was a most encouraging sign. Vinegar is available free!

Tomorrow I am doing the Great Barrier Reef!

Moving on – again

The next couple of days are going to involve more travelling. I am looking for somewhere warm! Unfortunately I came south. Nangus was 8 degrees and Melbourne is no better. But tomorrow I head north. This is a very good thing and a very bad thing. Good, because it will get warmer. Bad, because I am leaving my Australian friends and heading towards London very slowly. Helen and Beth and their respective friends have given me so much love and care and hospitality. I will forever be grateful to them!

This morning Helen went to help Robert move some sheep. Real farming continues despite everything. A man is coming tomorrow to do ultra sound checks on the ewes to see who is in lamb. They get two chances and then they are out! Poor things. He will do 2500 sheep in a day. I am not surprised that Helen prepared about 100 bread rolls for the guy. He must need constant feeding.

While she was doing that I sat and thought. Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit.

Before Robert headed off to the farm he showed me the rain charts for the last three years. They record the rainfall every day. It is a reminder as to how very important this is for the farm and the land. I will write more on that in a reflection paper I am writing as I go along. Yes, I am not just writing this endless waffle: I am also reflecting.

Helen and I then headed to Wagga for lunch with their daughter Susan, who has also stayed with us in London. Then she took me to Wagga Airport. Now, if the word Airport conjures up any image in your mind at all, you need to put it aside. This is a coffee bar with a few very small planes dropping by from time to time. If you ever did Lego in the past then that is the average size of a plane at Wagga.

I got my flight and we headed (late) towards Melbourne. It seems that in a plane this size even the clouds are a bit tough to get through. The flight was late leaving, and later arriving. You know the old saying: air traffic control has asked us to fly a holding pattern! That was OK, but once the beloved ATC said come and land it turned out that the clouds were more robust than the plane and we bounced off them several times! Well maybe I am exaggerating, but you get my drift. This inexperienced traveller was somewhat alarmed.

But…

Then we landed. The hotel where I am staying overnight sent me a phone number to get a free ride to the hotel. It would not work on my UK mobile. So I queued for a taxi. The taxi man loaded my luggage and then I told him where I wanted to go. He got my luggage back out of the boot and pointed me in the right direction. I was thrown out of the taxi! How humiliating!

I still got lost on the way to the hotel, and walked through a McD car park and a BP garage before crossing a major road with my cases and nearly getting run over. I eventually arrived and collapsed in a distressed heap in reception!

When checking in they wanted to know what flight I was on tomorrow morning and did I want a lift? Yes, I said, but I have not yet recovered from arriving. I will come back later and book my departure.

Then I needed food and drink. Robert would have been so proud of me. I ordered lamb. And I have to admit, it was very good.

So, I am now about to collapse, with a very early alarm call, before the next stage of my journey. But you will just have to wait and see what that is all about. Patience dear reader!

PS. No pictures today. I could take a picture out of my room window of the hotel car park, but I suspect this would not excite you enough!

Saturday – just a couple of passing thoughts

Not a lot to report today. Helen and I drove back from Sydney to the farm. We drove through heaven showers, and got back here to sunshine. After just one week on the farm I am practically a native and am fixated on the weather and whether it is going to rain. 50% chance of rain later this afternoon. They need it so badly.

Last night I watched the stars in Sydney. I counted three! Now back in Nangus and it turns out there are thousands of stars. Come on Sydney: why is your sky not ‘Vivid’?

Oh well. It’s no good trying to photograph stars, so here are some more Sydney harbour pictures from the boat trip.

It is possible to do a Sydney Harbour bridge walk. I did not!!! But these people did.

Update just before posting. Yay!

Sydney

Last night we went down to the harbour for dinner and saw some of the light show called Vivid.

We stopped on the way at the film festival where James’s company, igloo, is one of the sponsors.

Then we went for dinner before heading off to the lights. James found a lovely steak restaurant.

Then we walked, and walked. We enjoyed seeing the light displays, although I am not sure that my pictures do it justice.

This morning I woke up in time to see the sunrise over Sydney.

We then headed off to be tourists for the day. It was a glorious sunny day and about 20 degrees.

We started by walking through the City to the oldest part near the harbour called The Rocks. We went on a breakfast hunt and had a great brunch, by the time we found somewhere. We walked down under the Harbour Bridge and started to see the amazing views of the bridge and the Opera House. I took a short video of the harbour as we walked.

We then decided to go on the Big Bus tour of the City. I took various pictures along the way.

The green building is a wonderful example of a vertical garden up the side of the building. It is entirely watered by the rain from the roof, and is famous as one of the largest vertical gardens in the world.

This afternoon we went on a boat trip around the harbour. I took loads of pictures so I shall have to just choose a few, or you will all be bored to death.

I so enjoyed the trip and indeed the whole day. But it was not over yet. Next we walked to the Opera House. I took a couple of very clever pics to prove that I am now an accomplished photographer.

By this time the idea of full sunshine and 20 degrees was long gone. There was a big black cloud, which was not in the weather forecast, and a howling gale. So we abandoned the waterfront in our quest for dinner and instead headed into the town where it was more sheltered. We found a nice Italian Restaurant.

We are now back in our room and both agree that we have aching feet, full stomachs, and wonderful memories!

Tomorrow we travel back to the farm near Wagga Wagga, so there may not be a lot to say, but I will do my best to entertain you tomorrow evening!

Guildhall studies

We were up early this morning to set off to Sydney. Helen drove us down. We stopped briefly at a town called Gundagai. Here is a famous memorial to a local dog. The dog on the tuckerbox. He stayed by his master’s side after he died. My theory is that the tuckerbox had doggy treats in it!

Then we got to about half way and stopped at a bakery at Goulburn, a well known stopping point as they do lovely food.

We drove on over the inovatively named Great Dividing Range. Creative thinking obviously was not part of the mindset of whoever chose that name. Then on to Sydney.

We walked around the city for a while including one of the poshest shopping Malls ever. Then down to the harbour for a quick glance. We shall do it properly tomorrow.

I can’t believe I am actually in Sydney. How brilliant is that. Thanks Helen!

We walked back trough the Botanical Gardens. Wonderful and green, and they had a display of orchids. This one is for Mum who grows orchids on her windowsill.

This afternoon I met Professor David Blaazer of New South Wales University. He wrote to me just after I left London. He is doing some research on Guildhall, and we agreed to meet so that I could give him some local knowledge. We had an hour together, and there is no reason why you would be interested in what we discussed, but it is just a chance for me to justify my trip. It is Study Leave, not a holiday! (Yeah!)

We came back and checked in to our room. We are on the 38th floor and have amazing views, including a tiny squint of the Harbour Bridge.

Tonight James is meeting us for dinner and then we are going to look at some of Vivid, a light show in the City. I will try to take some pics for you!

A three joke blog today.

First, something strange happened about the blog from 10th June. You may get it a second time. I am not sure, but I apologise if it pops up a second time.

The VIEW event went well last night. They are a great gang of ladies who seek to support young people in their schooling, and we had lots of laughter and fun.

Helen ran a quiz during the evening.

Question 2: what colour is a welsh poppy? Mmm. Unfortunately I misheard the question and thought at first it was: what is the colour of a welsh puppy? At the same time she poked me and said that this was one for me. So then I thought it must be a parrot. So I said green. I now know she meant it was one for me, as I am from the UK. However, at the time I assumed she meant: it’s a parrot. I was traumatised when I discovered the real question was about a flower not a puppy! So I ended up explaining to the ladies that I thought the question was about a puppy, and then they all asked me why I answered green? I obviously saw too many lambs yesterday and was in baby animal mode when she asked the question. Much laughter followed.

By that stage I was so confused that I forgot to take a picture of the dinner, so here instead is a picture of a welsh poppy. For the sake of complete clarity this is not a welsh puppy.

I also said yesterday that I would update you on the kangaroo hunt from last night. Nothing! I was by then sure they don’t really exist, although everyone keeps telling me that they saw one earlier. I think it is a conspiracy to keep British tourists exploring. All Australians are trained to ask: have you not seen a kangaroo yet? That way us Brits think we are missing something and keep looking.

However, today we were driving along when Helen suddenly jammed on the breaks. There in the field were some real live wild kangaroos. They do exist! Although they only exist in the distance. With the naked eye they were wonderful and bounced along just as they should. To the camera they were just a distant blur. You may not be convinced, but I am a convert: kangaroos really do exist.

Today Helen and I went into Wagga Wagga. Thanks to those people (Rachael, Cortland and Tim R) who responded to a previous blog about how to pronounce Wagga. The most humiliating response to my suggestion that I could not think of an A pronounced like an O was from Tim who reminded me of the rarely used word ‘was’! How did I miss that one? So, it is Wagga as in was.

We went to see the town first, which is on the Murrumbidgee River (ref a previous blog). We walked around the town and saw a pelican, a couple of museums (no pictures allowed inside), a glass display, an open air theatre, and the wonderful memorial gardens. A lovely walk. There is also lots of outdoor art and sculpture.

We then walked by the river.

After a visit to the RC Cathedral, we went over to St John’s Wagga Wagga where Helen had arranged a meeting with the Archdeacon. We had a good look around the church and I got very excited by the newest of their stained glass windows.

Look! Can you see? There were parrots at the resurrection! Unlike most of the pictures, I have not reduced the size of this one. I am there!

I met with Archdeacon David Ruthven, Rector of Wagga Wagga and an Archdeacon in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn. I gave him greetings from Bishop Sarah, and Archdeacons Luke and Rosemary in London. We chatted about church law, how parishes keep going financially, London Diocese Capital Vision 2020 and a range of other subjects.

So, time to pack. Helen and I are off for a short trip tomorrow. I can’t tell you where to yet, as that would spoil your anticipation, but it involves opera and a bridge!

A diamond geezer!!!

Last night we had dinner on the sheep farm in NSW. Guess what? Lamb!

Then today. – I’m 60! Its my birthday. I have had such a wonderful day.

They have bought a ton of wine for m w and port. Beth has put together a wine label jut for me.

I had a message from Sue this morning saying that my birthday present from her, Tim and Jon was new fish tank. I was very excited!!!!

Then today I had a BBQ on the farm with friends and family. It was amazing. The smoking butcher came and cooked.

Helen set up everything outside, with a little help.

It was the most amazing fun and everyone was so welcoming. The caterer was wonderful and Helen and Robert and friends were so kind to me. If I am ever 60 again I am coming back here for a part!

Thank you to everyone for making my 60th so special.

Farmer David!

Bree was insistent that I had to try the classic TamTam biscuit. I tried one this morning. Just like a Penguin biscuit in the UK.

Then this morning Helen gave me a full tour of the farm. It is fascinating to see all the different fields and paddocks. They have 6000 acres and usually about 8000 ewes. Currently some of the ewes are lambing so the actual number on site is higher.

She then drove us on to Junee On the way we spotted a lamb which was in a ditch having somehow escaped from a field. Despite it not being one of theirs, Helen went on a rescue mission! I managed to video it. She is so cute. So is the lamb!

Then we went on to Junee. We went to the big tourist attraction of the town, a chocolate and liquorice factory. We found more sheep there, but I think these two were there for the tourists rather than the table.

Then to the Roundhouse Museum. The largest Roundhouse ( turntable) in the Southern Hemisphere.

Then after lunch Robert took me out to feed the sheep. We loaded up the mixer with two sorts of feed before setting off.

Then we visited 10 different paddocks and fed the sheep. They see us coming and all run after the feeder to wherever Robert releases the feed. Some of the lambs chased after the white car, which led me to conclude: they can’t tell a sheep from a jeep!

Many of the sheep are lambing at the moment so we saw lots of lambs, some just minutes old.

Once the feed is laid they all get very excited!

I had a wonderful afternoon hearing Robert talk about the farm and show me how some of the things work.

Now back briefly at the farmhouse to change before Helen and I go off to a group called VIEW, back in Junee. This stands for Voice, Interest and Education of Women. It has 300 branches across Australia who raise funds to support poorer children to get help with the inevitable extras for schooling. I think this is a great piece of work. I am their after dinner speaker. I shall call them Very Important Eminent Women! I plan to talk about the Livery Company’s charitable work and then about the work at St Paul’s, Delray Beach in Florida which I blogged about early on in my trip.

On the way Helen plans to take me past a place where she thinks I may see kangaroos in the wild. I shall report on that tomorrow.

All in all another wonderful day!

Farewell to the Melbourne gang

Beth, Tim, James, Bree and Caspian all left Wagga today to travel back to Melbourne for work tomorrow. It was sad to think that I shall not see them again for some time.

My day started with breakfast on the patio. It was glorious and warm, despite the fact that everyone keeps telling me that this is winter and that they are cold.

Then Bree and Caspian went off with Robert to feed the sheep. My farm day is tomorrow, as there were others who wanted to go with Robert the last two days.

I sat and enjoyed the sunshine and then after lunch one of the friends from the party yesterday, Margaret, came to pick me up and take me for a drive around the area including their own farm.

We drove through the area, where some roads are made up and others are not.

This road used to be the main highway between Melbourne and Sydney. One of the houses is an old staging post which still bears the sign. You will also note the fact that today was yet another wonderful sunny day.

We then stopped at the small Chapel where Margaret worships, St. Peter’s. They only have a service there at Christmas and Easter, and have trouble finding a minister to take it. I feel a plan coming on, since I don’t do either Christmas or Easter at SLJ. I could pop over here and help them out! Anyone willing to sponsor the flights?

We then stopped by the Billabong Creek and walked along Margaret”’s land as far as the Murumbidgee River. This junction of the creek and the river is the family’s favourite spot for a picnic.

After that we went back to the farmhouse, which is named Billabidgee, a combination of the two names. The walk involved a rather precarious stepping stones crossing over the creek, and an extremely risky climb over barbed wire, which she negotiated with more poise than I did!

It was a wonderful afternoon, thanks to. Margaret.

She even talked me into taking the pictures she thought were best, including this fine specimen of the ubiquitous Red River Gum Tree.