Entries Tagged 'Australia' ↓

Holiday stories 2

Still on the road – Alice to Kings Canyon

On the roadWhen we last saw our intrepid traveller, he was taking the northern fork of the road, following Namatjira Drive to the west, on the way to Kings Canyon via Glen Helen Gorge.

Namatjira Drive “hugs” the McDonnell Ranges, which means that it goes through a slightly less dry area of the red centre; the rain that falls on the Ranges flows onto the adjacent terrain and provides enough water for a fairly decent vegetation cover. One side effect of this is that almost everything that is built around that area has to take into account the possibility of rain and the consequent flash floods. This is very visible on the road, in fact: every few kilometres, one will see a sign saying “DIP” and the road will, well, dip. That’s where the water will go through when it rains. (One will occasionally see signs such as “So-and-so Creek” followed by a dip on the road — not a bridge, as one might expect, as the so-called creek will be dry most of the time)

The section of the road before the fork was reasonably deserted; I saw cars going the other way, but not very often — say, once every 5 to 10 minutes. Every single person who drove by me waved; I guess that’s what one does when there is limited human contact. The following section was even more deserted, if that’s possible (and, yes, people would still wave).

On the roadAnd this is a good thing: the view is so beautiful that one can’t help but look away from the road with an alarming frequency. The colours, the mountains, even the vegetation, everything was different from what I’m used to, and very beautiful. I stopped several times on the side of the road to take pictures, and every single time I saw many, many animal tracks on the dust. Not many tire tracks (but a disturbing number of beer cans and cartons), and almost no roadkill — I guess not many people drive through there at night (the insurance on my rental car specifically forbade driving from sunset to sunrise outside urban areas).

Serpentine GorgeThere are several turn-outs on the road leading to local attractions, usually towards the mountains. I didn’t have time to go to all of them, but I did stop at one: Serpentine Gorge. I have to say that I almost gave up soon after I left the road, as the track leading there was unsealed and, honestly, not very good. The gorge is some 6km away from the main road, and it’s a beautiful place, with a good parking area and wide, marked walking tracks to the gorge and to a lookout located high on the hills. When I arrived, I found two tour vans already parked there, and some 20 backpacks simply lying on the ground of the parking area — with not a soul around. I did see the tour group later, coming back from the gorge while I walked in the other direction. Very trusting people, apparently.

I tried following the track up to the lookout, but had to give up because it was quite a steep and rough climb; I stopped when I reached a sign pointing straight up where I couldn’t discern anything remotely resembling a track. I had a good view from there anyway… and then I went back down and toward the gorge, which is beautiful — it’s quite a contrast, in fact, to find what amounts to a small lake in the middle of all that dryness.

Other notes from this road:

  • On the roadI didn’t see any native animals other than birds, but I did see cattle crossing the road in front of me (plenty of time to stop, though — it is a very straight road)
  • what I didn’t have time to stop for was a big piece of rubber that detached from a truck tyre and that was on the middle of the road just after a blind dip/curve; I drove over it doing about 90 (the speed limit is 110km/h), but it wasn’t a problem for the car (I did stop to drag that off the road)
  • didn’t see any police cars either
  • but I did see many signs delimiting aboriginal areas and indicating that alcohol and pornography are prohibited there (I can understand alcohol, but pornography?)
  • there’s not a single petrol station between Alice Springs and Glen Helen Gorge; that’s why everyone says that, in the Northern Territory, you should refuel your car at every opportunity…

The “good” portion of the road ends in Glen Helen Gorge, which is another gorgeous (ha, ha) place about which I’ll write in the next instalment.

Holidays stories

Isn’t it amazing how time flies? It’s been almost three months since I went on holidays, and I guess it’s time to concede that I probably won’t write much about them. Still, people have been asking for pictures and stories… well, ok then.

The short version, for those without much time (or interest): in early June I flew to Alice Springs, drove from there to Uluru and back, then flew back home; some of the pictures of this trip are here. A few days later I flew to New York, spent 10 days there just walking around and looking at cool things; a very raw set of photos is here (no descriptions, not much editing, ordered by date taken); then I flew to Las Vegas, where I spent three days having fun at the Amazing Meeting (photos here – also unedited, and frankly a bit boring), then came back home.

Now, for a bit more detail…

Alice Springs

I still find it a bit strange that this is a town of just over 20,000 people. Still, it’s the largest human settlement in central Australia, and when you’re flying there you can see why: it’s just a big desert all around. The city is in an area that is slightly less dry than average, thanks to the McDonnell Ranges just north and west of there, but it’s still very, very dry. Even though the very green lawns all around town can make you think otherwise.

Todd RiverBut, really, it’s just a regular city. It does seem to survive mostly on tourism, and mostly thanks to people stopping by on the way to Uluru: there is a very large industry dedicated to offering cheap accomodation, desert tours and other traveller needs (such as Internet access). Other than that, Alice’s strongest claim to fame is the Todd River (picture), which cuts right through the city. True, it’s dry most of the time, but they seem to like it (one week after this picture was taken it reportedly was flowing, due to heavy rain just outside of town).

I didn’t do much in Alice; I arrived there late in a Saturday afternoon, and the city seems to close down at four on Saturdays. So, I just picked the car up, walked a bit around the city centre, bought some supplies and rested a bit so I could wake up at dawn the next morning to take the road.

On the road – Alice to Kings Canyon

On the roadThere are two roads you can follow to go from Alice Springs to Kings Canyon. To take the first one, you go south on the same road that would take you to Adelaide if you drove long enough (Stuart Highway), then after some 160km you turn west on Lasseter Highway, which will take you to Uluru if you drive long enough. After some 100km you turn north on Luritja Road and drive some 150km more, and you’re there. This is a long but easy path, sealed all the way through and with (relatively) lots of traffic (so, if you car breaks down, someone will stop to help soon enough).

The other option is to drive straight west out of Alice Springs on Larapinta Drive, and just keep going. The road forks after a while, and you can choose between staying on Larapinta Drive to go through Hermannsburg, a traditional German town, or taking Namatjira Drive to stay close to the mountains and drive through Glen Helen and other similarly scenic places. Whichever path you take, the roads rejoin and eventually turn south and lead you straight into Kings Canyon after a bit over 300km… some 200 of which are unsealed. It’s not exactly a comfortable drive, and I wouldn’t recommend doing it without a four wheel drive vehicle (or after rain), and you do need to buy a permit ($2.20) as you’ll be driving through aboriginal land, and you’re not going to see much traffic in either direction at any time. Still, when it was time to choose, “I took the one less travelled by”… but I’ll write more about it next time.

Plan for broadband

I’m a bit ambivalent about Labor’s plan for a funding a national broadband (FTTN) network with public funds. On one hand, I agree that Australia has a seriously antiquated communications network and that retail broadband services are way behind much of the developed world; some of that comes from the mix of the regulations placed on the telecommunications industry with the characteristics of the country (quite a few people living in very remote places). Telstra has rejected the idea of building a FTTN network due to the possibility (almost certainty) that there would be restrictions on the pricing it would be able to charge to allow competitors to have access to its network, and I can’t say I see a fault with Telstra’s argument.

On the other hand, I don’t like many of the (limited) details of the plan that came forward. The new network would work as a enforced monopolistic resource, with the possibility of Telstra (if it is not responsible for building the network) being forced to be a customer and prevented from building a competitive network. I can see why the Liberal Party would be against a plan like this, and it also rubs me the wrong way.

Worse than that, the idea of using money from the Future Fund to build the network is very, very bad (not to mention legally debatable). The Fund is money set aside for a specific purpose, and that does not include building infrastructure (or funding private companies building it); if they open the doors to use this money, I can see it being used for other ends in the future (and Labor has hinted that they plan to do it) and creating social security problems for the current employees of the public sector.

So, in principle, the idea is not that bad. The proposed implementation, though, is not very appealing; as always, the devil is in the details.

In any case, listening to politicians talking about megabytes per second in Parliament is highly entertaining.

On kids and cars

Sometimes I think that the best argument against having kids is the behaviour of some parents. I mean, it does look like having kids turns you into a raving lunatic — at least for some people. Case in point: an ad for Hyundai was pulled from Australia TV after stations received complaints from parents. The ad shows a very young kid (two, maybe three years old) driving a Hyundai SUV, picking up a girl of the same age on the side of the road and going to the beach to surf.

The parents complained because, among other things, the ad — get this! — promotes under-age driving. Now, I can’t imagine that a 12 or 13-year-old, who might be physically able to actually drive a car, will be compelled to do so after seeing a toddler driving on TV. And a toddler just won’t be able to drive! Not that a toddler will fell inclined to do so, anyway.

Now, to be fair, part of the problem, supposedly, is that the kid is shown wearing a seat-belt, instead of the obligatory child-restraint seat (well, duh! how would he be able to drive from the child seat?) and that contravenes the advertising rules for cars. But it’s a two-year-old driving! How much less real can you get?

The ad is still running in New Zealand, apparently. And, of course, it’s in YouTube (that’s the NZ version; the Australian one was identical except for the URL, the voice-over and the sign the girl was holding — it read “the beach” here). And, as far as I know, no one complained about a toddler going into the sea unsupervised.

P.S.: SWMBO thinks that the parents who complained might have a point, as a slightly older kid (say, 5 or 6) might be encouraged to at least ask his parents for a chance of driving after seeing a toddler doing so; I remain unconvinced.

P.P.S.: then again… Toddler driver pins mum to wall

ABC plans to open archives online

Good news… ABC (that’s the Australian ABC, not the American one) plans to follow the lead of the BBC and open its archive of TV and radio shows for download. They now offer several shows as podcasts and video podcasts and, reportedly, more than 2 million files are downloaded every month.

The possible catch is that they may charge for old shows; that would be a way to improve the financial health of the network, which is fully supported by taxpayers at the moment (ABC broadcasts no ads in any of its TV and radio stations, but it’s been exploring the possibility of displaying ads in its web site). The BBC does charge for downloads of shows that have been broadcast more than a week ago, but I don’t know how much money they’re making out of it.

Bloody ads

You have to hand it to Tourism Australia: if the intention was to attract attention to Australia, the recent “where the bloody hell are you?” campaign is probably the most successful ever.

Not only that, but headline writers are having a field day:

  • “Now the bloody Canadians have a problem with the ads” (The Age)
  • “Bloody Canadians reject hell of an ad” (again The Age)
  • “What the bloody hell is wrong with these people?” (ABC Radio, talking about the rejection to the ads in the USA)
  • “Now US objects to bloody ad” (Daily Telegraph)
  • “Now the bloody Yanks are offended” (Sydney Morning Herald)
  • “Bloody hell, now it’s the beer” (Border Mail)
  • “Have a beer on Australia? No thanks, says Canada” (Reuters)
  • “Hell, now Canada has problem with ‘bloody’ ad” (ABC)

For those keeping track: the UK objected to “bloody”; Canada to “hell” and, curiously enough, to the beer; and family groups in the US complained about “bloody” (“it’s foreign to us and, therefore, offensive”), “hell” and to the girl in a bikini.

PETA is expected to complain any day now about the reference to shampooing the camels.

The Flying Car of Perth

Anyone in Perth? The Register is reporting that you can see a picture of a flying car in Google Earth (or Google Maps) right there in Perth. It does look like on, but it could be anything… (the shadow does seem to be in the right place, at least judging by the trees nearby).

So, if anyone could cruise by the end of Honour Avenue, in Point Walter, and see if there’s anything there that could look like a flying car when seen from above, that would be very interesting (of course, the satellite images are probably a few years old).

Depending on how old the images are, in fact, this could be related to the Destination Day of last year. Forrest Place is not that far away from the supposed car, especially if you’re flying.

Meteorology

From the BoM forecast:

Forecast for Melbourne Issued at 1050 on Tuesday the 24th of January 2006
(…)
Thursday
Fine. Min 19 Max 40

I fail to see what is “fine” about that.

Random comment about the summer in Melbourne

There’s no manly way of shooing flies away from your face when you’re walking on the street.

The Sydney events

Everyone seems to be talking about the Cronulla Beach events, so I thought I’d add my two cents…

It’s an unusual situation because you can’t really choose sides: everyone who was involved in the incidents is wrong. The allegedly Lebanese gangs who assaulted the lifeguards (and that, reportedly, have been causing problems for Cronulla residents for a long time) deserve nothing but contempt from Australians and immigrants alike, but because they’re criminals; not because they’re Lebanese. The same applies to the people who retaliated on Monday night by attacking people, cars and houses in mainly Australian neighbourhoods.

Similarly, the white Australians who ignited the violent protests last Sunday (fueled by lots of alcohol) should be despised by everybody, regardless of origin, but because they are violent racists; not because they are white Australians. The fact that they’re using the Australian flag (and the Eureka flag!) as a symbol is no defense, but further indictment: they are violating a symbol that does not stand for that kind of behaviour or opinion (the old “White Australia” policy notwithstanding). I agree with John Howard that no one should be censored for being proud of the Australian flag, but these people should be strongly and publicly censored, even by the PM, for associating the flag with racism and violence.

White Australians who attack people of non-European appearance for no reason other than their origin deserve going to jail just as much as immigrants who retaliate indiscrimately against caucasians; both groups are equally criminal and should be equally rejected by the Australian society.

Next stop, Germany!

SocceroosAfter a very tense match, Australia beat Uruguay and qualified for the 1006 World Cup finals. Uruguay won 1-0 in the first match, in Montevideo, which required Australia to win at home by at least two goals to avoid extra time and a penalty shoot-out.

I have to admit that the Australian team surprised me. They were clearly nervous at the start of the match, making several dumb mistakes and allowing lots of free kicks (which is especially dangerous, as a foolish foul is what gave Uruguay its goal in the first leg). But, after 30 minutes, when the coach replaced one of the midfielders with Harry Kewell, Australia started moving forward and scored very quickly, in a beautiful play.

From that moment onwards, the game was Australia’s. The Uruguayans seemed tired, and the Socceroos pressured them during whole of the second half. Uruguay was only a threat on quick returns, and a major threat at that, but they failed to score on all attempts (with a few good saves by Australia’s goalkeeper).

The only problem for the socceroos was actually scoring: they took to long to shoot the ball, and they did it from too far away or with little accuracy. They still scared the Uruguayan goalkeeper quite a few times, anyway. Despite the pressure, regular time ended 1-o and they moved to extra time. The final thirty minutes were a little more balances, with good attack from both sides, still with Australia having a little more edge. A little too much at times, though: they had five or six offsides during extra time, all of them correctly pointed by the referee. Extra time ended with no goals, and it was time for the penalty shoot-out.

The hero was, undoubtedly, the Australian goalkeeper, who saved two shots; one of them right after a missed shot by Australia’s star scorer, Mark Viduka. At the end, 4-2 Australia, and the 83,000 people present in the stadium started a party that would last the whole night.

With Australia qualifying for the World Cup finals and the success of the A-League, it looks like soccer is taking off in the country. No one realistically expects great results in Germany, but you never know: Guus Hiddink, Australia’s coach, is the man who lead South Korea to a finish among the top four team in 2002. To repeat what was in the player’s shirts last night, never say never.

Australia’s Brainiest Kid

For those outside the country: Australia’s Brainiest Kid is a TV show that will allegedly choose the, well, you get it. I’m not sure if other countries have similar shows, but I guess it’s likely.

I watched most of the show this weekend and parts of it on the weekend before; they were two of the “preliminaries”, and only one kid from each goes to the final. There are seven preliminaries and one grand final, with nine children (11 or 12 years old) in each (the final two spots in the final are “wildcards”, apparently selected by the producers from among the kids who failed to qualify). The prize is a $20,000 trust to be released when the kid reaches 18 (plus a laptop for the winner of each preliminary).

I really like the idea of the show. Most of the kids are really smart (not just knowledgeable about some specific subject; they seem to be actually able to think, rather than just collect random facts) and likeable, although you also get one or two arrogant brats (and boy, do those look arrogant) in each lot (they didn’t win either of the shows I watched). And more than a few of them are really disappointed, or even surprised, when they don’t win; some are clearly holding back tears while Sandra Sully congratulates them on getting that far.

I’m guessing that many of those — not all of them — are somewhat geeky (or even nerdy) and don’t hang out with many similarly smart kids, so that show may be their first contact with children that are as smart as or smarter than themselves. And that can be a shock, especially for a 12-year-old, and especially if they find this out by failing at an intellectual challenge, possibly for the first time in their lives. Those are kids that breeze through school without really studying all that much; not being able to win can come as a surprise. I know this from my experience going into college: what do you mean, just going to lectures and browsing the textbook is not enough to get an A anymore? (well, at least not in some Math subjects) That was an awakening. And I was 18; at 12, it’s almost cruel (but, then again, maybe the sooner the better…).

That said, the producers need to work a little more on the questions. In the first round last Sunday, one of them asked who was the winner of this year’s Big Brother. Come on, I would give points to kids who didn’t know that! (they all did, alas) Big Brother, as Australia’s Brainiest Kid, is on Channel Ten.

One other question gave away one of the major plot points of the latest Harry Potter book (and all of the kids knew the answer to that as well); ok, it is a well-known book among kids by now, but I think it’s still a little too recent for them to give part of the ending away on national TV.

Now it’s Uruguay

After the final round of the South American World Cup qualifiers, it’s defined: Australia will once more play Uruguay for a spot in the Cup finals. Uruguay beat the Socceroos in 2001 (Australia won 1-0 in Melbourne and lost the return match 3-0), and they are confident of repeating the result; Australia, after beating Jamaica 5-0 in a friendly match last week, is “cautiously confident” that it can do better this time.

The matches are set for 12 November in Montevideo and 16 November in Sydney’s Telstra Stadium; Football Federation Australia intends to arrive in Uruguay as late as possible for the first leg (and leave just as quickly) to try to avoid incidents like the ones that happened in 2001, when Uruguaian fans attacked the Australian players outside the stadium before the match.

This is the last time Australia will have to face a South American opponent to get to the World Cup finals: from next year, Australia will join the Asian football federation and will play the qualifiers for that region, competing for one of four spots (and with a chance of facing off a North American team for a fifth spot). While the Asian teams are certainly tougher opponents than most in the Oceania group, Australia probably has a better chance of scoring a spot in the finals through that route than by playing South American teams…

Soccer news

First things first: I will refer to this sport as “soccer” to prevent any confusion with the peculiar brand of football (a.k.a “footy”) played in Australia.

As most people with any interest in the sport already know, Australia ended its participation in the Confederations Cup with three losses, having conceded a total of 10 goals (and scoring 5). Of course, in a group including Argentina and Germany, no one seriously expected the Socceroos to advance to the next round; and, in any case, they did quite well against both Germany and Argentina (especially Germany). However, the loss against Tunisia was unexpected to me; I’m less than optimistic about Australia’s chances of qualifying to the 2006 World Cup.

Of course, the other green-and-gold team (Brazil) didn’t do so well either: they lost to Mexico (hardly the end of the world, but unexpected) and tied Japan (a little more worrying), and will now face Germany in the semifinal.

In somewhat better news, the qualifying tournament for the Club World Championship (to be played in Tokyo next December) was won by Sydney FC, as predicted, and they will represent Oceania against the champions coming from the other five continents. I wouldn’t serioulsy expect Sydney to win the tournament, but it would be great if they would at least advance to the second round, where they would play against the champion of either Europe (Liverpool) or South America (still not decided).

There is talk of Australia leaving Oceania for Asia when trying to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. I’m not sure if that would also change how clubs would qualify for future Club World Championships, but I think it would be a very good move for the Socceroos: Asia qualifies for teams for the World Cup (while Oceania may not qualify any teams), and playing better teams (as compared to most of the Oceania teams) will help the Australian team to improve.

Autumn colours

Fitzroy GardensWinter has officially arrived already (on 01/06), but the autumn colours are just now reaching their peak. The city looks very beautiful, the parks are decorated in several shades of yellow, orange and red and there are leaves all around. It’s times like these that make me happy I don’t have a backyard to clean…

The photo, taken last Saturday, shows the Fitzroy Gardens, one of the parks around the Melbourne CBD and one of the most popular places for wedding photos all year round (click on the photo for a larger version). The park was covered in leaves, lots of kids were playing around in them (sort of doing “snowball fights” with the leaves) and many tourists were taking pictures.