A visit to Hunter Valley Gardens!

Yesterday (Saturday), I decided it was time to take a break from the stresses and frustrations imposed upon us for the past couple of months.

HVG_sign I was keen to revisit Hunter Valley Gardens, particularly since they had a Mega Creatures exhibition of large animatronic bugs and dinosaurs, which is scheduled to close in 3 days time. I loved the “Gigantabugs” exhibit at Fort Worth Zoo (read about that in my newsletter for Fort Worth), which we visited in July of 2014, so I was interested to see how they would compare.

There were some interesting displays, particularly the dinosaurs, and we heard several squeals of delight from some of the kiddies about.

HVG_T-rex I do think that the display we saw at Fort Worth Zoo, was probably a bit of cut above what we saw at Hunter Valley Gardens (HVG), but overall the Mega Creatures display was still entertaining.

HVG_fly

The day we visited Hunter Valley Gardens (HVG), was a day following a terrible overnight storm, so the gardens were no where near their best, and a few of the feature gardens (I note the “Rose Garden” in particular) looked a bit drab (probably due to all the rain and bad weather we have experienced recently). However, there is plenty to see and there are often special events hosted by the gardens. Entry cost is $28 per adult and $17 per child (family tickets are available). Allow 2-3 hours to walk around and explore and admire what the gardens have to offer. There is also a café on site if you really need a bite to eat or a rest and a coffee, but if you are looking for more of a good meal – head to one of the innumerable restaurants around the vineyards – there are many fabulous places to eat (but if you are visiting as a family with children, then the cafe in the gardens is fine). If it’s just adults visiting, my advice would be to visit the gardens before or after lunch. Although, HVG is no Dallas Arboretum, it can hold it’s own in the garden tourist-attraction stakes in Australia.

HVG_Hibiscus

HVG is situated at Pokolbin, in the heart of wine country in the Hunter Valley of NSW. The gardens are relatively quite young, being completed in 2003 after 4 years worth of construction on land that was originally horse paddocks and vineyards. The gardens cover an area of 60 acres and are made up of 6,000 trees, 600,000 shrubs and 1,000,000 ground covering plants with around 100km (62mi) of underground irrigation piping. 8 km (5mi) of walking paths will take you through 11 different garden areas. One of the most popular areas (especially for children), is the Storybook Garden, it is delightful – with childhood stories and nursery rhymes depicted throughout the garden.

HVG_Dish&Spoon

 

Spring, would probably be the best time to visit, summer can be very hot and humid in the gardens. However, every year from early November to late January, the gardens host the Christmas Lights Spectacular, which by all accounts is indeed very spectacular, with “millions” of lights, some wonderful displays and plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained. I aim to go this year!

Finally, I couldn’t travel up to the vineyards and not visit at lest one winery; so I chose to visit one I hadn’t been to in a long time. Wombat Crossing Vineyard, is the smallest vineyard (and one of the newest) in the region, but produces wine only from its vineyard. The wines are of a high quality (and not cheap) and I would definitely recommend a visit and some tastings – there wasn’t one that I tasted that I didn’t like. I really wanted to become a member and buy an entire case, but Andrew had to reign me in, so I settled for just 3 bottles – maybe next time! 🙂

wombatCrossingVineyard

 

Cirque du Soleil – a circus experience like no other!

Have you been to see Cirque du Soleil yet? If not, do yourself a favour and go!

CdS_tixI was a Cirque du Soleil virgin; I had heard a lot of hype about this performing troupe, and although I really knew very little about their shows (except that they were supposed to be spectacular), I had always wanted to see one. I really wanted to go when we visited Las Vegas the year before last, but my husband wasn’t too keen, so when I heard they were performing in Newcastle I resolved to go. I found a willing accomplice (and fellow Cirque du Soleil virgin) in my sister-in-law. So, I booked tickets and we went yesterday – Sunday.

After a rear-end accident on the way to the event, we eventually made it and sat down about 30 seconds after the start of the show. It was absolutely fabulous!

Now, I have to admit, I was a little concerned at the beginning – there are few words spoken and the singing that occurred was in French, I think, so I didn’t understand anything. I also felt a bit lost at the start because I couldn’t really follow the story line. I only knew what I had heard, that the show was essentially the world created as result of a young girls imagination.

The concerned feelings didn’t last too long, and I was quickly absorbed by the performances; there were amazing feats of strength, balance, coordination and endurance. There is plenty to look at, sometimes I didn’t know where to look on stage, there are often other skits happening in the background; even the transition between acts was well performed. Quite a few acts take place in the air with the performers suspended from the roof over the main stage on various types of apparatus that actually move across the stage.

Here is a brief (and incomplete) list of some of the acts on show:

  • an artist who performed in a large German Wheel, doing tricks, spinning and balancing throughout,
  • aerial acrobatics on ropes and red silk fabric
  • aerial hoops, suspended from the ceiling
  • a performance of Diabolo (Chinese yo-yo) where the artist manipulates a wooden spool balancing on a string that links two wooden sticks (handles)
  • a routine involving multiple skipping ropes operating simultaneously with about 20 performers interacting to produce an amazing skipping sequence (quite different to anything you would have done in the playground as a child, I can assure you)

Before I knew it an hour had passed and it was time for intermission. The second half of the show was just as good and passed just as quickly, but I think my favourite act was the “statue” couple – a man and woman who perform an absolutely amazing act of balance and strength as the two never lose contact, but create seemingly impossible feats of balance, strength and flexibility (I was in awe – I think everyone else may have been too).

The whole show was supplemented with some great music (which I found hard to pigeon hole – sounding at times middle Eastern, and at others like Irish folk music), but was perfect for the show and all performed by the live band on stage.

Taken at the end of the show - I was too engrossed to take pictures during the performances!

Taken at the end of the show – I was too engrossed to take pictures during the performances!

This was a great spectacle and definitely worth the ticket price. We had great seats, close enough to see the performers muscles rippling with strain and effort, but if I were to give one piece of advice it would be to sit on the right side of the stage (as you are looking at it) as there were one or two performances where you would probably get a slightly better view (and don’t get the premium seats on the floor in front of the stage – you can’t see the performers feet – which I, for one, like to see).

I would also recommend a little research first – so I have provided a very quick run down about “Quidam by Cirque du Soleil” and a link to a preview video if you would like to get a taste of it.

A few quick facts:

  • Quidam was the ninth stage show produced by Cirque du Soleil and premiered in in April 1996 as a big-top show in Montreal; it was converted into an arena format beginning in 2010.
  • Quidam refers to the feature character, a man without a head who carries an umbrella and a bowler hat
  • The word Quidam in Latin refers to “a person unknown”
  • The show is the result of the imagination of a girl named Zoe who is ignored by her parents.
  • There are also several other characters that make regular appearances throughout the show

If you want to book tickets to see the show in Australia, go to Ticketek, but you will have to hurry; the Newcastle season ends on January 24th and then the show heads across the Tasman to Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand. Prices vary from around $76 to $160 each for adults.

Summertime in Newcastle

Welcome to my first blog for 2016! I wish everyone a happy and prosperous new year and I hope that it brings all that you desire.

We have been back in Newcastle now for 6 weeks, so I thought I would post a little more about my home town. I have spent quite a bit of time in by the harbour and around by the beaches, mainly because I enjoy it so much – my heart lifts, my soul is revived and it makes me happy. But I also visit because I have been wanting to practice some photography. I have been doing the 52 week photo challenge, hosted by American artist, Ricky Tims and I have thoroughly enjoyed it – I have learnt so much along the way. He is running a similar course this year – if you are interested click here.

Anyway, I thought I would share some sights from around Newcastle:

Newcastle is home to the world’s largest coal exporting port, so you can sit and watch the ships come and go:

ShipEnteringHarbour_0781

Take a walk along”Honeysuckle“, harbourside (and maybe stop at any of the many restaurants along the way)

NewcaslteHarbour_towardNobbys

Go see the new ANZAC memorial walk where you can watch the hang-gliders above:

Hangglider_0644

or the people below:

BeachViewFromAbove_0669

A walk along the beach is always good: whether it is to watch the sun come up on New Year’s Eve:

Sunrise_0739

or watch the local bird life:

Seagulls_Sunrise_0765

and

CowrieHole_Pelicans_0641

or observe other photographers trying to capture the sunrise:

PhotographersAtSunrise_0707

You could also take a dip at the Ocean Baths:

Sunrise-Swimmers_0752

You might try your hand at surfing:

ContemplatingSurfer_0770

or try some rock fishing (wearing a life vest, of course – safety first)

CowrieHole_Fishing_0717pano

Away from the coast, you might also run into one of the locals (who came visiting one morning):

Kanga_0619

I hope you have enjoyed this visual display of Newcastle and I that I have maybe tempted you to come and visit.

Merry Christmas

Have you noticed that Christmas is upon us? Really, how could you miss it, there are reminders everywhere. As a result, I have been thinking a lot about Christmas lately and seeing all the hype and “joy” about, promoting happy families and good times it had me wondering how it affects people and how they celebrate (or not). The northern hemisphere celebrates a wintery Christmas, quite different to the summer Christmas the southern hemisphere experiences. I sort of envy the northern hemisphere where it’s chilly and white – a picture, postcard traditional Christmas. However, Christmas in the south can still be wonderful. You can sometimes even find Santa on the beach!
Xmas_noelLights

What does Christmas mean for you?
Is Christmas the season of cheer, merriment, fun, silliness with friends and family? Or is it a time of loneliness or sadness? It is easy to forget that for some, Christmas is a difficult time of year, whether they are alone, suffering illness, mourning the absence of a loved one or are missing family who are in another time zone; there are countless reasons really.

NYC_Christmas_NutcrackerI am one that finds Christmas a difficult time of year. I have not been fortunate enough to have my own children, so don’t have my own little family Christmas that most people enjoy. I have fantasized about having a full on Christmas, with a huge tree, presents all around, all the decorations, a big table beautifully set for a wonderful lunch with family. But that will never happen for me. At one point, I actually started trying to ignore Christmas; I didn’t decorate or put up a tree. However, I have come to realize, there really are no rules for Christmas; it can be whatever you want it to make it. So at Christmas, I swallow my sadness, put on a brave face and try to enjoy what I have; because even though it’s not what I would wish for, I am still grateful (honestly), for what I have. Last year we went to New York City to celebrate and the year before that we were in Cairns and spent the day snorkeling on The Great Barrier Reef. Pretty good really!

ChristmasWindowDisplay_Macy's_02

This year things are a little different.  When I was still in the US, I was looking forward to another northern hemisphere Christmas this year – I even bought decorations and was ready to decorate for the season. However, since our stay in the US was unexpectedly cut short and we returned to a hot Australian summer, Christmas seems to have lost a little of it’s sparkle this year and it just doesn’t feel like Christmas ought to. Maybe it has something to do with not being in our own home and still not having our goods with us, with them all still being in transit or in storage. Anyway, I am looking forward to a better Christmas next year, without the stresses that recent events have brought us this year. And I hope that your Christmas is everything you want it to be!

XmasBauble

I hope everyone has a wonderful, happy Christmas and that 2016 brings all that you desire! free-vintage-santa-clipart-jolly-with-holly

 

Wandering can be a great distraction!

This is a quick wrap up of our quick visit to the Mid North Coast and Northern Rivers area of NSW for a few days late last week.

While I am waiting to go back to work (administrative issues have prevented me from returning as soon as I would have liked) we thought we might take a few days away from the dramas of an international relocation, not having our own home to live in and camping with the in-laws, and waiting for our delayed and much travelled goods shipment (it went via Dubai from the USA on it’s way to Sydney) and get away from it all for a while.

We wandered up the coast of NSW, exploring some towns we haven’t been to before, as well as investigating possible job opportunities (Andrew still needs to find a job).

On our first day we drove up the coast along the much improved, but always under construction, Pacific Highway (now known as the M1 or A1, depending on where you are). After about 5 ½ hours driving, we landed in the NSW country town of Grafton; a place I had never visited before. It’s worth a look.

GraftonClocktower

Grafton Clocktower and one of the many pubs in the background

JacarandasEstablished in 1851, Grafton sits alongside the Clarence River and is home to jacaranda tree-lined streets (the jacarandas were originally planted in the 1870s by a local seed merchant). In spring the town puts on a spectacular display when the trees erupt in masses of mauve blossoms. During the last weekend in October and the first weekend in November Grafton hosts its famous Jacaranda Festival (Australia’s longest running floral festival); I’d love to check this out some time (we were too late in the season this visit, as the jacarandas, although still in bloom, were well past their best).

From Grafton we drove north through Broadwater, sweet town that it is – it’s home to a large sugar mill and is the center of the region’s sugar industry (lots of sugar cane growing in the Northern Rivers area) and then on to Ballina.

I’ve heard a lot about Ballina – it’s a coastal town and well known for its relaxed lifestyle, beaches, seafood, fishing and other water sports. Ballina is also home to the Big Prawn:

BigPrawn

Australia has a fascination with BIG things – besides the prawn, we have the Big Merino (Goulbourn, NSW), Big Pineapple (Nambour, Qld), Big Guitar (Tamworth, NSW), Big Galah (Kimba, SA), Big Lobster (Kingston, SA) and the Big Banana, which we drove past at Coffs Harbour (always a family favourite), just to name but a few!

BigBanana

Our last stop was Port Macquarie – this is a place I definitely want to return to for a stay of at least a few days, maybe a week! Established in 1821, Port Macquarie, like Newcastle, was founded as a penal settlement, replacing Newcastle as the destination for convicts who had committed secondary crimes in New South Wales.

Port Macquarie is an idyllic spot, sitting on the NSW mid north coast at the mouth of the Hastings River. It is home to some wonderful beaches and also to the Billabong Koala Park (I didn’t get to visit, but maybe next time), and the Koala Preservation Society’s Koala Hospital. There are also about 75 koala sculptures around the town – all uniquely decorated – fun!: PortMacKoala

StrawberriesGrowingJust outside of Port Macquarie is Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberry farm. This is definitely worth the visit (and a great family activity if you have kids in tow). There is a little café where you can grab some lunch and also pick up some of Ricardoes own produce: rich red tangy Tomato Relish (I got some of that), delectable rich tomato Pasta Sauce and unique Strawberry Conserve, and other local products including preserved olives and olive oils, and locally-grown macadamia nuts, honey and eggs.

Besides all of this, you get to pick your own fresh strawberries – yum!:

Strawberry – it was great fun!

CateStrawberries

 

 

Newcastle – my hometown!

This post has been a while in coming (and I apologise for that – settling back into life in Aus is taking some time) and this is a little longer than normal, but I encourage you to read to the end. 🙂

After being away for 19 months living in, and exploring the United States, I returned to the city of my birth and thought I would share something of my hometown for those who don’t know it (particularly my American friends).

Newcastle is generally much underrated; being relatively close to Sydney, it is often overlooked as a tourist destination. But let me assure you Newcastle has much to offer.

Newcastle Beach

Newcastle Beach

CargoShipNewcastle actually made Lonely Planets top 10 cities to visit in 2011 (the first Australian city to do so). It is a vibrant city, with a working harbour and some of the best beaches you will visit! The city is undergoing a bit of a rebirth at the moment; like many cities around the world it has had to reinvent itself in the face of economic changes.

NewcHarb_Panorama1

Newcastle is probably most famous for it’s coal. It is because of coal, that Newcastle was first settled. Whilst searching for escaped convicts, Lt John Shortland discovered the river (which he named the Hunter River), a deep harbour and an abundance of coal in the area. As a result Newcastle was established as a penal settlement – with convicts mining the coal – and gained a reputation as a “hellhole” – this was the place where the most dangerous convicts were sent, to dig in the coal mines as punishment for their crimes. Newcastle was built on the backs of convict labor and remained a penal settlement until 1822.

In later years, Newcastle’s backbone was the BHP steelworks, which operated in the area for 84 years (the steelworks closed in 1999 – marking a significant turning point in the city’s history). There is also a great interactive display at Newcastle Museum about BHP – check it out if you can. I think nearly everyone living in Newcastle either worked at BHP, or knew someone who did (both my parents and my husband worked for BHP in Newcastle). As a result Newcastle had the reputation as the Steel City – a very industrial city, and consequently, was looked down upon.

NewcaslteHarbour_towardNobbysIt has taken many years for Newcastle to emerge from the shadows of that dark reputation, but I think it is continuing to develop and reinvent itself and has emerged as a cultural, cosmopolitan place to live and visit. The historic wharf area and railroad workshops have been transformed; areas by the harbour are no longer dirty, industrial or rundown, but are vibrant and alive with new residential buildings, hotels, pubs, restaurants and public pathways and parklands. From where I lived it was a quick 2-minute walk to harbourside restaurants and a pleasant 15-20minute walk along the harbour foreshore to the beaches.

Here’s a quote from Lonely Planet that sums up Newcastle:

Newcastle may be one-tenth the size of Sydney, but Australia‘s second-oldest city is punching well above its weight. Superb surf beaches, historical architecture and a sun-drenched climate are only part of the city’s charms. There is fine dining, hip bars, quirky boutiques, and a diverse arts scene. And did we mention the laid-back attitude? Yes, Newcastle is definitely worth a day or two of your time.

With a wrap like that, why not come see for yourself and come visit me?

NewcastleMap

And just to finish up, here are some interesting facts about Newcastle:

  •  Founded in 1797, Newcastle is the second-oldest city in Australia.
  • It was a penal settlement until 1822
  • Awabakal is the name of the Aboriginal Indigenous tribe that lived on the banks of the Coquon (Hunter) River which flows past Newcastle (Muloobinba – place of the edible sea fern) on its journey to the sea.
  • Locals are referred to as Novocastrians
  • Newcastle is often colloquially referred to as “Newie” or “Newy” by locals
  • Newcastle Port is the world’s largest coal exporting port.
  • In 1989, Newcastle was rocked by a 5.5 magnitude earthquake, which became Australia’s worst natural disaster.
  • In June 2007 in the midst of a terrific storm, the bulk carrier ship, MV Pasha Bulker, ran aground at Nobby’s Beach after it failed to heed warnings to move offshore.
  • In 1911, BHP chose the city as the site for its steelworks due to the abundance of coal and opened in 1915
  • Stockton Beach is the largest moving coastal sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Sand from Stockton Sand Dunes is exported to Hawaii.
  • Newcastle’s ‘Bogey Hole’ is one of the oldest ocean baths in Australia and was built around 1820 by convicts for the personal use of Commandant Morriset. The name Bogey Hole is derived from an aboriginal term meaning ‘to bathe’.
  • There are 6 beaches within 5 minutes drive of the Newcastle CBD.Nobby's-beach
  • Merewether Baths is the largest ocean baths in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Arnott's Biscuits - A Famous Australian brand - founded in the Newcastle regionIconic Australian biscuit manufacturer Arnott’s traces its humble beginnings back to Newcastle when a small bakery was opened by William Arnott in 1865.
  • 2004 Miss Universe, Jennifer Hawkins, once a Newcastle Knights cheerleader, still calls Newcastle home.
  • Current population of the Newcastle LGA is around 555,000, with the city itself having a population of about 155,000

Some Historical firsts:

  • Australia’s First Export was a shipment of coal from Newcastle in 1799
  • In 1801 Australia’s first coal mine was established under the present site of Fort Scratchley using convict labour. The entrances were sealed in 1885 when Fort Scratchley was built.
  • The first and only time that Australian Guns have fired on an enemy vessel during war was when Fort Scratchley’s 6-inch guns fired on a Japanese submarine during World War II.
  • Newcastle was home to the first ‘lighthouse’ on the east coast – a coal-fired beacon at Colliers Point which opened in 1804. The famous Nobbys Lighthouse was turned on in January of 1858.Nobby's-Lighthouse
  • Newcastle East Public School, established in 1816, by school teacher Henry Wrensford and seventeen convict children aged 3 – 13 years, is the oldest continuously run school in Australia.
  • Joy Cummings was Australia’s first female Lord Mayor and the Lord Mayor of Newcastle from 1974 – 1984.

 

Here are some links with more information about Newcastle if you’d like to learn more:

Visit Newcastle

Wikipedia – Newcastle

Hunter Valley Wine Country

More historical facts

I would liked to have added some more/better photographs, but most are on my desktop computer which is still on it’s way to me from America; so, sorry for the ordinary (and lack of accompanying) pictures.

The Issue of Pie – not just a dessert food!

Note: Sorry for the lateness of this post – it was supposed to happen last week!

a tomato & onion pie for one!

a tomato & onion pie for one!

After returning from my recent trip to Australia, I had a longing for a good meat pie (having enjoyed a couple whilst I was there) – and since you cannot buy a meat pie here in Sherman, Texas, I set about making my own family sized meat pie (I added tomato and onion too, because that’s my favourite).

In America, a meat pie (as an Aussie or Kiwi would think of one) is practically unknown and although pizzas are sometimes referred to as pi’s, a pie in the US is generally of the sweet, dessert variety.

berry pie - courtesy of my friend Becky Goldsmith

berry pie – picture courtesy of my friend Becky Goldsmith

American’s love their pies and the research I have done indicates that there are dozens of favourite varieties including: pecan (definitely a Texan favourite), apple, coconut cream, custard and cream, strawberry, rhubarb, key lime, cherry, Mississippi mud, banana cream, blueberry, lemon meringue, peach, etc., the list goes on. However, in Australia, if you mention pie, most people would conjure up the image of a good old meat pie smothered in tomato sauce (ketchup). And a meat pie has a pastry top as well as a pastry bottom. A true meat pie should not be confused with an American “pot pie” which is served in a crockery pot with a pastry top (not a true pie)! Americans, please be advised –  pies are not just for sweet things and can be equally delicious when filled with savoury flavours (pumpkin and sweet potato don’t count).

One family sized meat pie!

One family sized meat pie!

The meat pie is a staple in Australia – a favourite at all sporting events (as Americans would consume hotdogs at the football, Aussies would eat a hand-held meat pie), it could almost be considered a favourite national dish. The traditional meat pie is made of diced or minced meat and is most often smothered in tomato sauce (ketchup).

Dinner: a slice of meat pie served with veges and a glass of red wine!

Dinner: a slice of meat pie served with veges and a glass of red wine!

Now meat pies are not solely made of beef; in Australia pies often contain other, flavour enhancing ingredients (mushrooms, tomato & onions, cheese, bacon, peas, carrots, etc.) or instead of the traditional beef, the main filling could be lamb, chicken or even seafood. The humble meat pie has come a long way in Australia; there are now many gourmet-type pies. (I should also mention this applies equally in New Zealand – where you can find some mighty fine and delicious pies. I know because I have lived there and enjoyed quite a few).

Meat pies also feature in an iconic jingle to promote Holden cars in Australia (made by GMH, a subsidiary of the US General Motors) “…football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars.” Perhaps Americans would recognise a similar jingle by American Chevrolet: “…baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet”?

Aussies are so passionate about their pies, there is an annual competition to determine the best pies in the land – The Official Great Aussie Pie Competition http://www.greataussiepiecomp.com.au/

Do you have a thought or comment about pies? I’d love to hear it. Post a comment below.

A visit to Newcastle Museum

Newcastle Museum Entrance

Newcastle Museum Entrance

Before I left Texas I visited the Sherman Museum, and since I was in Newcastle city, with some free time, I decided to re-visit the Newcastle Museum; so here is some information about the museum of my Australian hometown:

Originally established in 1988 as a bicentennial project the Newcastle Museum was initially housed in the former Castlemaine Brewery in Hunter Street and remained in that location in Newcastle West until 2008, when it closed so that it could relocate. In 2011 the museum re-opened at its current position (and incidentally, the original preferred site), occupying 3 National Trust buildings at the Honeysuckle Railway Workshops in Newcastle (namely: the Locomotive Boiler Shop, the New Erecting Shop and the Blacksmith and Wheel Shop). The museum is located just one street back from the harbour front and is close to some excellent harbour-side dining.

The museum hosts several temporary exhibitions which change regularly (check the museum website for a list of current Special Exhibitions) and is home to 3 permanent exhibits.

  • Fire and Earth – in this exhibit, two of the main industries that have played a part in shaping the identity and culture of Newcastle are brought together in an interesting display: the coal industry and BHP steel making. Included in this display is the BHP Experience – a dramatic presentation using “very theatrical sound, lighting, vision and mechanical effects to create an absorbing, up close experience of a steel pour”. 1.

    Part of the Steelworks display

    Part of the BHP Experience

Newcastle was known as the “Steel City” because BHP played a huge part in the development of Newcastle. BHP existed in Newcastle from 1915 to 1999 and was probably the backbone of the city employing thousands of Novocastrians. In Newcastle, you either worked at BHP or knew someone who did (both my parents and my husband worked for BHP). However, BHP closed down its steel making operations in Newcastle in 1999 and although traumatic for many at the time, the city is arguably better for it now!

 

Supernova – a hands on science centre (great for the kids)

  • Arnott's Biscuits - A Famous Australian brand - founded in the Newcastle region

    Arnott’s Biscuits – A Famous Australian brand – founded in the Newcastle region

    A Newcastle Story – examines Newcastle’s history, from early aboriginal history, convict origins and its cultural development through war, immigration, sports, etc. There are displays depicting famous Novocastrians, our sporting feats, our lifestyle and also a display relating the devastating earthquake Newcastle suffered in 1989.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm. Entry to the museum is free. The museum also has an excellent café “Sprout Canteen”, open from 8:30am serving breakfast and lunch.

1. Newcastle Museum

 

Settling back into life in Aus!

Finally, I am able to do a post – it has been a very busy week settling back into life in Newcastle, going back to work and catching up with family and friends.

Overlooking Nobby's Beach, Newcastle

Overlooking Nobby’s Beach, Newcastle

Being back in Australia has required some adjustments, surprisingly! I thought it would be so easy to slip back into Aussie life. There are some obvious differences that I have had to adjust to like driving on the left side of the road, seeing kph on the speedo and not mph, and not going quite so fast on the roads (60kph [~38mph] seems so slow when you are used to 55mph (90kph) most of the time). I also need to remember to TURN ON the power outlet and not just plug in my electrical device (in the US, there are no switches to turn power on/off – the outlets are live and you just need to plug something in). The light switches are upside down too! Up is off and down is on in Australia – and vice versa in the US.

Aside from the day-to-day activities, returning to life in Australia I have also noticed a few things about Aussies and Australia that I previously was unaware of (and some of them I didn’t like).There are a number of things I have certainly missed, but equally, there are some that I haven’t and even a few things that I miss about Texas and the US! All-in-all, however, I am still gratefully for many of my home country’s blessings. I thought I would share a few of my thoughts and realisations:

My first realisations were about the people of Australia:

  • Hearing that Aussie accent – after being away so long and listening to nothing but an American accent, it sounds odd, rough almost.
  • Australia is much more a multi-cultural and multi-lingual society than anything I have experienced in the US. Sitting at a café I heard 3-4 different languages (not just accents).
  • Aussies swear far more – I hardly hear any swearing at all in the US, but my first day back and I heard the “F” word dropped in general conversation more times than I could count – it’s really not a good impression.
  • I didn’t realize how often we Aussies say “no worries” and “mate”, often strung together (“No worries mate!”)!

Some of what I’ve missed:

  • Paying the just ticketed price (I don’t miss having to pay additional tax at the register)
  • Not having to tip
  • The scenery – the gums and eucalypts, the beaches and the harbour of my hometown, Newcastle. On my drive from Sydney to Newcastle, crossing the beautiful Hawkesbury river and seeing the wonderful scenery of the Aussie bush (nothing says welcome home than all the gums trees!) and the glistening river, whilst listening to some great Aussie tunes on the radio – I have to admit, that felt good and some of the tension just melted away! (And as I type this I am sitting harbour-side on a glorious sunny autumn day enjoying the views and sipping a cider – oh, yeah! 🙂 )

    Newcastle Harbour (the view from where I enjoyed my cider)!

    Newcastle Harbour (the view from where I enjoyed my cider)!

  • The food – not quite so sugary (a fresh loaf of bread was one of the first things I devoured). My list of goodies to take back to the US grows everyday.

    Arnotts biscuits - delicious!

    Arnotts biscuits – delicious!

  • The café’s – being able to sit in (or out of) a café, enjoying a drink and watching life pass by
  • Cadbury chocolate (YUM!)

What I haven’t missed:

  • Paying more for just about everything! In Australia, we pay 25-100% more at times. For example in the US – I can buy 20 cans of coke for $7, yet in Australia 2 x 10 pack coke is $16 on sale! That’s double – when on sale – I can get 3 x 12 pack (so, 36 cans) for $9 in Texas! Levis jeans – regular price in US is $40 but $80 here and that was on SALE!
  • The lack of service (generally) in retail outlets – American employees seem far more attentive and willing to help
  • The swearing – as I mentioned earlier – there is far too much swearing here (even in general conversation)
  • The general lack of respect for others – so different from in Texas where people are always polite, courteous and refer to you as “ma’am” and “sir”

I love Australia, my home, but I’ve also come to love Texas too!

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/

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