How Big Is Australia?

It didn’t take me long to appreciate the size of the USA and all it has to offer. The contiguous US (the 48 adjoining states) is vast, covering an area that is a bit smaller than the size of Australia. Although I am now more familiar with the geography, history and culture of the US, I realise that many Americans know very little about Australia (most Americans don’t get to travel too much and seem to be indoctrinated from an early age that America is the greatest and best nation on Earth; they forget there is a whole other world out there and that the USA is just one part of it, not the centre of it). We have been asked many questions about our homeland, which we are happy to answer; on one occasion we were asked what language we spoke in Australia!  (Yes, it is English). So, I thought I would share a few facts.

Map of Australia

Map of Australia

Some in the USA do not realise just how big it really is, or the diversity we have. Australia is the smallest continent, yet the 6th largest country in the world. We have temperate and tropical rain forests, snow-capped mountains, and quite a bit of desert (~ 70% of the country). In fact, only 10% of the continent is inhabited and 85% of the population lives within 50km (31mi) of the coast.

For those who like a visual feast – check this link, which illustrates just how big Australia is. 17 Maps of Australia

How does Australia compare to the USA? Some facts and figures:

  Australia USA
Total land area 7.68M km2 (2.9M mi2) 9.16M km2 (3.8M mi2)
Ranking in world by area 6/194 3/194
Population 23.6M ~319M
Population density 2 per km2 (0.8/mi2) 34 per km2 (13.1/mi2)
Coastline length 25,765km 19,924km
Capital Canberra Washington
Number of states 6 (+ 2 territories) 50
Largest City (population) Sydney (4.5M) New York (8.4M)
Highest mountain Kosciuszko (2,228m) McKinley (6,168m)
Lowest point Lake Eyre (-15m) Badwater Basin (-86m)
Longest River Murray (2,375km) Missouri (3,767km)

Some more interesting facts about Australia:

Australia:

  • Is the driest inhabited continent on Earth
  • Is the only continent without an active volcano
  • Has the worlds largest coral reef complex – The Great Barrier Reef (off the coast of the state of Queensland)
  • Has the longest fence in the world – ‘The Dingo Fence’ stretches 5,400km from Queensland to South Australia
  • Has the largest cattle station in the world – Anna Creek Station in South Australia is 8 times bigger than the largest ranch in Texas, USA
  • Chose the Emu and Kangaroo for its coat of arms as these animals are incapable of walking backwards, so represented a nation moving forward!
  • Was claimed for Great Britain in 1770 by Captain James Cook
  • Was settled in 1788 (when the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay) as a penal colony. (Botany Bay proved unsuitable, so the colonists relocated to Port Jackson – now Sydney Cove)
  • Became an independent nation January 1, 1901. The Commonwealth of Australia was established as a constitutional monarchy. (Australia did not gain true independence until 1986 when the Australia Acts came into force, where the British government would no longer be responsible for the government of any state and the Westminster parliament could no longer legislate for Australia. Additionally, Australia took full control of all Australia’s constitutional documents). Ref.

I know Americans fear Australia because of our reputation as having some of the deadliest creatures on the planet. So, here are some facts about our ”deadliest creatures”.

Australia:

  • Has 4 of the 5 most deadly snakes in the world
  • Has the most poisonous spider in the world: the Sydney Funnel-web
  • Has the most poisonous fish in the world – the stonefish (in Australia, this is only found north of the Tropic of Capricorn, on the Queensland north coast).
  • Has the largest species of the Box Jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri)– the “most venomous marine creature” in the world, responsible for at least 64 human deaths since 1883
Sydeny Funnel-web spider

Sydney Funnel-web spider – image courtesy of Daily Telegraph

I came across culture guide to Australia web page that you might find interesting. http://www.australian-information-stories.com/

If you enjoyed this post, please like and share 🙂

Imperial vs Metric!

Why does the US persist with the Imperial system of measurement? It is archaic and extremely frustrating. The USA is one of only 3 countries left in the world where the Metric system has not officially been adopted; the other two are Myanmar (Burma) and Liberia!

I am constantly frustrated by the continued use of Imperial measurements in the USA. Whilst cooking the other day, a recipe called for a quart of water – I had to go and look it up – I had no idea (it’s just short of a litre, or almost 4 cups, by the way)! Using miles instead of kilometres is bad enough, but having to convert pounds and ounces, inches, feet, yards and miles and fluid ounces, quarts and gallons does my head in! Not to mention the use of Fahrenheit instead of degrees celsius – that is just annoying. Celsius is so much easier – water freezes at 0°C and boils at 100°C – simple! (For those curious, the respective values in Fahrenheit are 32°F & 212°F). But Americans are afraid of change (I’m hoping it’s not arrogance). So, let me reassure my Americans friends, there is nothing to fear – it’s easy – the Metric measurement system is all based on a factor of 10 – simple really!

The below image showed up on Facebook, so I’ve borrowed it from there to illustrate:

Imperial vs Metric

Imperial vs Metric

The metric system is used in the fields of medicine, science and technology and even in international sporting events like the Olympics (e.g. the running track is 400m). It is after-all, the International standard for measurement. So, when will the USA catch up to the rest of the world and switch to the International System of Units and embrace the metric system?

For those Americans who would like to know more I have added  simplified (I, hope) table to explain, otherwise –  here might be a good place to start.

Base units for each measurement type:
Length Metre (m)
Weight Gram (g)
Volume Litre (L)

What the prefixes mean:

Milli (m) 1/1000
Centi (c) 1/100
Deci (d) 1/10
Deca (da) x10
Hecto (h) x100
Kilo (k) x1000
* Deci, Deca & Hecto are not routinely used in everyday measurements

For weights and volumes generally only the base unit and the milli and kilo prefixes are routinely used in everyday measurements. For lengths – the additional use of centimetre (cm) is common. So, the most common examples would be:

Lengths: 1km = 1000m and 1m = 100cm = 1000mm

Weight: 1 kg = 1000g and 1g = 1000mg

Volume: 1L = 1000mL

🙂

 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?

I find myself frustrated by the issue of recycling here! It is not very well addressed in the USA, well, at least not here in north Texas; I don’t see much in the way of active recycling by anyone, businesses included. Recycling is not promoted like it is in Australia, where recycling is not only encouraged, but is aided through incentives like government provision of household recycling bins, regular collection of recyclable materials and recycling bins provided in public areas. On the whole, I think Aussies are more conscious of, better educated and more active in the process of recycling.

Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Reduce, reuse, recycle!

There is no recycling whatsoever in the city where we live (at least, none that I have seen) and there is so much to recycle, especially since everyone drinks bottled water here (town tap water tastes filthy – not so good). And it’s a good thing that it is cheap (~$4 for 24 500ml bottles)! We also use bottled water for cooking, etc. Therefore, we go through dozens of plastic water bottles each week. So along with aluminium cans, cardboard and paper etc., we produce more recyclable waste than regular rubbish (trash).

In addition, something that really needs to be addressed is the overuse of plastic shopping bags here. When you go to a supermarket, you often get only 1 to maybe 3 items per bag (they are so thin, they won’t hold more) and often your items are double bagged (or even triple bagged) – it is ridiculous how many bags are wasted. So many end up as litter, strewn around the shopping centres, on roadways, wound around power poles and fences, etc. It looks awful! Reusable shopping bags, which are widely used in Australia are not very common, particularly away from the major cities. Dallas city has only just started requiring businesses to charge 5 cents for each plastic bag issued to consumers. This was done chiefly to address the pollution issue, but hopefully it will encourage people to think more about recycling and using reusable shopping bags.

Keep recycling people (and if you don’t yet, make the effort to try it) and make the world a cleaner, more environmentally friendly place to live! 🙂

24hrs in Dallas

Just a quick post about our trip to Dallas last weekend. We visited a park, an Art Museum, an underground restaurant, the Farmers Market and the Arboretum.

So, although not the best weekend – overcast and rainy – we headed to Dallas for a quick break.

Klyde Warren Park

Klyde Warren Park

After checking in at The Fairmont in the Dallas Arts District we headed off to check out Klyde Warren Park (had heard a bit about it and it is ranked No. 6 in TripAdvisor’s list of things to see/do in Dallas). It is a 5-acre green space built over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway in the middle of the ‘concrete jungle’ of Downtown Dallas. I didn’t think this was anything too flash (there wasn’t too much going on when we were there), but I am sure it would be great in summer or on any lovely sunny day. A nice spot to relax, for the kids to play, listen to music, dine or even exercise the dog.

Following on from the park, just across the road, we took a look at some of the exhibits at the Dallas Museum of Art. Not just art, but ancient pottery and gold, sculptures, etc. It is an interesting place (we enjoyed it) and a really good way to spend an hour or two (particularly on a wet, bleak afternoon), and it’s free!

Dakotas

Dakotas Steakhouse – looking outside

Saturday night, we went to Dakota’s Steakhouse, a great underground restaurant just about 100 metres from our hotel – a wonderful find! Take the elevator from street level down to the delightful, somewhat upmarket restaurant that is completely underground. The history of why this is so is very interesting – it has to do with the church – read about it here. Part of the restaurant is open to the elements with a lovely garden, and waterfall fountain, which is lit up at night. This would be fabulous in summer when the doors are open and the roof is retracted. The complimentary bread served with balsamic olive oil was delicious and the pre-dinner cocktails were yummo! Dinner was divine (we both had the fillet steak) – I have not had a bad steak yet in Texas, and this was one of the best; the sides were equally great. Don’t miss this place if ever you are in Dallas – it’s a bit pricey, but really good!

The Dallas Farmers Markets were something we had heard a bit about and were told that they were great – so we took ourselves off to see them Sunday morning, walking across the city, figuring parking might be difficult. Since Dallas is a large city with a population of more than 1 million, I was anticipating something like the produce section of the Queen Victoria market in Melbourne (if you have been there, you will know they are fantastic). Unfortunately, I was disappointed – there was only one shed, consisting mainly of fruit and vegetable vendors and granted, they were very good, but even Newcastle Farmers Markets could out-do what Dallas offered.

Our final stop was at the Dallas Arboretum where we spent the afternoon before driving home. The sun came out and it was a spectacular afternoon. With Spring having sprung, the Dallas blooms were stunning. The tulips, daffodils and hyacinths provided a feast for the senses – the scent was heavenly and the colours provided a visual feast. This was our second trip to the Dallas Arboretum and it is definitely worth the trip and it is beautiful at any time of the year.

Hyacinths at The Arboretum

Hyacinths at The Arboretum

Texas Longhorn!

Texas Longhorn at Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

Pride and Patriotism

Today I went to see the movie American Sniper. Not what I had originally planned to see today, but one I had wanted to see anyway. American Sniper is a Clint Eastwood produced movie based on the autobiographical novel by US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (attributed as being the most lethal sniper in American military history). Chris Kyle was a Texan and started out as a cowboy and professional Rodeo rider before joining the military. I thought I would see this largely to improve my understanding of America, their gun culture and their seeming obsession with all things military. Watch the trailer.

Ok, so it is essentially a war movie. I hate war and violence at the best of times and I have a hard time understanding it. I am no film critic, nor professional movie reviewer, so I don’t really want to do a review, but I will say it is a very American film and very patriotic. Overall, I liked American Sniper and would recommend it. I’d give it 3.5 stars out of 5. And Bradley Coopers acting was excellent.

American Flag

American Flag

What it led me to was thinking about the Americans pride in their country and in their military personnel. I have noticed this on many occasions before. There is a great deal of respect and admiration directed towards anyone who has served (or is currently serving) in the military. You see it everywhere, everyday. Service men and women are offered discounts in most stores and preferential treatment at things like tourist attractions. I have actually witnessed military veterans being pulled to the front of a large queue, jumping many places because they are identified as having served their country (and most do not complain). They also get customised number plates on their cars, specialised caps, etc. Generally, they are well treated.

The level of patriotism in the US, on the whole, is supreme to anything I have seen anywhere else. Australians are very proud of their country, I can attest to that, and I am very proud of where I come from, but it is not like what I have seen here. National pride is overwhelming, particularly on days like Veterans Day and 4th of July, where I have seen virtually every house in a street with an American flag planted in their front yard. Patriotism is evident in the number of flags flying from buildings, painted on cars, printed on T-shirts or planted in suburban yards.

Texas flag

Texas flag

Aside from an immense national pride, Texans have great pride in their state; beyond anything I have seen Aussie states exhibit. Besides flying the national flag, the state flag of Texas is flown just as often, if not more! (How many Aussies can recall their state flag)? I partly attribute this to the simplicity of the Texan flag – it is easy to recreate and doesn’t have a coat of arms on it. And Texas is big, I think some amount of pride comes from that too.

Texans are also very Christian, very friendly, polite and show a good deal of respect. We mostly get addressed as ma’am and sir wherever we go, and although it took a bit of getting used to, I think I will miss it when I go home. All of these characteristics are endearing features – I have come to really like Texas and the people that I have met here, even though Texans have a reputation as being a bit “red-necked”, gun-toting, big-hat-wearing cowboys. Even though it will never replace the love I have of my home, Australia, Texas has won a little part of my heart!

Heart Texas

Love Texas

 

 

The Importance of a Credit Score!

We recently went to the bank to enquire about acquiring a credit card. However, to get a credit card, one must have a good “credit score”. This is not the first time we have encountered the need for a credit score – previously we have worked around it.

Now having a credit score (well, a GOOD credit score) is particularly important here in the US – there are even ads on TV advocating it. A credit score is needed to obtain any sort of loan (car or mortgage), or to sign any sort of lease or contract (mobile phone carrier, utility provider or to rent property).

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-poor-credit-score-hand-putting-check-mark-red-marker-evaluation-form-image34523229

A credit score is a numerical value between 1 & 999 and is calculated according to several factors, but is largely based on your debt history, how much debt you have, the type of debt you have, the length of time you have been in debt (the longer the better, by the way) and your payment history (i.e. paying on time, etc.). A good credit score is generally regarded as being above 720. A low credit score means you pay higher rates for insurance, mortgage, loans and even credit card interest rates!

So, as new residents to the USA, we have no credit history here. Even though we have a home loan, credit cards, a decent income and assets in Australia, this is not taken into consideration and hence, not good enough. When you move to America, “You start from scratch in building a credit history.” Click for more information.

So, one tip to build your credit score is to get a credit card – a vicious circle! For us, that would mean we would have to apply for a secured credit card, whereby we put our own money up as collateral; so even though you obviously have the money, you still need to use the credit card and pay off the balance to build your credit score. It’s all very frustrating to us.

Americans are actually encouraged to have multiple credit cards (to help improve their scores – as long as they pay the balances on time), whereas in Australia we are being encouraged to decrease the number of credit cards we have. Multiple credit cards actually goes against us in Australia in securing a loan, etc. as it increases our potential level of debt. To us Australians (I am sure most would agree), a credit score is a foreign concept – as long as you can prove you can make the payments (i.e. prove your income level, list your assets as well as your debt levels, etc.), then getting loans, credit and signing contracts with utility providers, mobile phone companies and renting is relatively easy.

All in all, I am sure the system works for those who are born and grow up in the USA (there are plenty of people who will default on loans and this is the system that was introduced (~1989) to help prevent that), but for those who are new to this country, it’s difficult and frustrating! More information for those interested can be found at Immihelp.

Pi Day

Did everyone know that it is Pi Day on Saturday March 14th (3/14) an event that is observed around the world each year? I did not know this until a friend brought it to my attention (Thanks Becky).

Pi – (the Greek letter “π”) is a mathematical constant – the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, most commonly represented as 3.14159. Surely everyone remembers Pi from high school maths? [The area of a circle = πr²].

The first 10 digits of Pi are 3.141592653, so this Saturday – 3.14.15 (March 14, 2015)  at 9:26:53am is a 1 in 100 year event when the date and time exactly correspond to the first 10 digits of Pi! Amazing!

Learn more about Pi at www.piday.org or at www.timeanddate.com

Pi = 3.14159265358979323

Pi = 3.1415926535897932384626433

Enjoy Pi day and eat some pie! 🙂

The Good and Bad of Having an Accent

G'day

Having an accent different from the locals certainly sets you aside (particularly when you are in a town in north Texas that doesn’t see a lot of foreign tourists). People notice you and engage with you when perhaps they otherwise wouldn’t. This is a good thing.

Ever since we arrived here people have been intrigued by our accents, a lot of people will comment upon it and try to guess where we are from. However, many do not get it right. The most common mistake is that people assume we are English! The Americans seem to have a lot of trouble differentiating The English accent from the Australian one (even though most English and Aussies would agree they are not at all alike). Still, the locals love our accent – it can be a great ice breaker or conversation starter. On one occasion we had a waitress who attended us with a dedication beyond expectations; she admitted it was just so that she could hear us speak. A lot of folks we meet just want us to talk, just to listen to the accent.

However, it is not without its problems and limitations!

Although we all speak English here (except for those who speak Spanish) you would sometimes question whether you are speaking a completely foreign language. We are often misunderstood, or not understood at all; we get blank stares, pleas to repeat or just a grunt of “huh?”. Once, in a retail store I asked an assistant a question – I had to repeat what I said 4 times! Perhaps on first hearing a different accent, they are taken aback and don’t concentrate on what is being said. It can still be very frustrating though. (Andrew has taken to speaking v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y when asked to repeat himself).

To be fair, though, it does occasionally go the other way. Sometimes we have difficulty understanding what is being said to us, generally not because of the accent, but due to the way some words are pronounced or because a different meaning to what we know is attached to a word. The whole subject of the Texan vernacular has had me pondering for some time – it deserves more consideration and a separate post – keep watching!

Looking Forward to Spring

Today is another miserable day here in Texoma (I think I have seen the sun once in the last 10 days) – it is wet and cold with more snow and ice predicted for tonight & tomorrow! I’m starting to look forward to Spring. Winter can be lovely, but it would now be nice to have a bit of sunshine and warmer weather. This weekend also marks the beginning of daylight saving here in the USA with Spring officially starting around March 20th.

Apparently the wildflowers of the Texas hill country are spectacular in Spring, particularly the Bluebonnets (state flower of Texas), so I am hopeful we can visit sometime around the end of March. Lady Bird Johnson (president Lyndon Johnson’s wife) had the highways of Texas seeded with wildflowers and was passionate about preserving America’s wildflowers and native plants, co-founding an organisation (now the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Tx) in 1982 for just that purpose. A weekend away enjoying the scenery (and the food & wine) wouldn’t be so bad right now!

Spring is also a great time to visit the Dallas Arboretum. We visited this wonderful 66-acre botanical garden last May – it was superb. If ever in Dallas, I would recommend a day here, it is beautiful. There are 19 different gardens for you to wander through, and if you like water features, there are quite a few water ways, fountains, lakes, etc for you to admire as well as some great sculpture pieces. The gardens are well set up and relatively easy to walk through with spots for a picnic if you desire, including an amphitheatre where concerts are sometimes held. There are also a number of places where you can buy something quick and easy to carry away and eat or a more formal restaurant dining experience where you can sit back and relax whilst someone waits on you.

Floral Peacock at Dallas Arboretum

Floral Peacock at Dallas Arboretum

Frog Fountain - Dallas Arboretum

Frog Fountain – Dallas Arboretum

water gardens

Water Gardens – Dallas Arboretum