Anyone want to go on a joyride with us?

Well folks, it’s time for another guest blog! That’s right.. one of the benefits of visiting us in Australia (in addition to Dan’s fabulous cooking and Lisa’s willingness to share a bottle of wine with you) is that you get the opportunity to share your thoughts with our many readers. This post was written by our friends (and fellow bloggers), Phil and Wade, who visited Oz in March. Enjoy!

When people asked why we were going to Australia I had a single favourite answer: we’re going to visit friends who live in Wagga. Where? Wagga Wagga, the place so nice they named it … after crows (look it up). Phil and I (Wade) had told Dan and Lisa that we would visit them when they left Edmonton and, true to our word, a short 18 months later, we had made it to Wagga.

We had spent a week in Sydney, then a few days in Jervis bay and Canberra before making our way to Wagga Wagga (read all about it at our own blog, www.gay-tripping.com). We arrived on a Thursday afternoon and retired to the patio to toast our arrival with a civilized drink of sparkling water with lime and ginger cordial. Cordial, apparently, is a big thing there and if there was room in the suitcase we would have brought some sarsaparilla cordial home. Alas, we’ll have to settle for Italian soda flavouring which may very well be the exact same thing with a different name. That tends to happen in Australia but make no mistake, tomato sauce is NOT ketchup.

When Dan got home from work we got ready for the night’s activity. The Wagga City Library’s Club Celluloid was screening David Lynch’s 1986 seminal feel good family classic, Blue Velvet. If you’re not familiar with this movie then I’ll point out that I’m being sarcastic. It’s a brutal movie with, as the woman introducing the movie indicated, strong language, nudity and a scene depicting non-consensual sex. In the basement of the public library we sat down in the back with our wine and snacks. In front of us sat row upon row of white haired ladies. As the movie was about to start we knowingly glanced at each other and silently made bets with our eyes on just how long it would take someone to leave. Full credit to the aging culturati of Wagga as it took quite some time until we lost one [Lisa edit: 22 minutes; yes, I timed it], but once the rape scene kicked into high gear a lady in the front row respectfully stood up and quietly exited. That apparently was the permission two others were looking for and moments later, after glancing at each other and agreeing (okay, count of three!), stood up and exited. These two were not as quiet and made the requisite old lady huff that says, “well I never!” with puffs of air. I made sure to affix on my face an expression of pure joy, like it was not only the best movie I’d ever seen but that I was somehow enjoying it too much. They weren’t going to talk about this movie with their society ladies on Sunday at the track, but maybe, just maybe, they would talk about the pervert in the back row whose eyes were wide with glee. We would have stayed for the debrief but we were hungry so we made our leave to The Thirsty Crow for beer (fantastic micro brewed to boot) and pizza (fun, experimental, and recommended). Dan and Lisa’s friend Virginia joined in the fun and we were treated to a nice taste of the local scene. From grey haired ladies to hipster beards, my kind of night.

After a few weeks on the road we were ready for a home cooked meal (which we ate outside), laundry facilities (with clothes dried on the line in half the time of a dryer) and wine (that was the deal: if we make it to Wagga, Dan and Lisa will supply the wine). We got to bond with the kitties and sit and do nothing. Some days there’s nothing better than nothing. It was perfect. When Dan got home he tackled the quintessential Australian meat tray. If you go to a pub quiz, that is the prize, a tray of meat. If you go to farmers market there might just be a lottery for a meat tray. Aussie’s love their meat trays. Dan got his from the butcher. We paired staring at the tray of assorted meats with bubbly.

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tray of assorted meats and bubbles

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Dan attacks the meat tray with gusto

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On the left, raw pistachios. You read that right.

On the Saturday we took a drive to the neighbouring town of Junee. Signs advertised that a Saturday Fete was taking place and you know what they say about fetes. Go to them. Apparently a fete is what you get when a farmers market, rummage sale and garage sale collide. Plus there was a band.

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Dan and Lisa are skilled negotiators.

One of Junee’s big draws is the Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory. I loved it. If you’ve never had fresh Licorice it’s damn good, unless you don’t like licorice, then it’s still terrible.

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This is how licorice is made. It’s mostly flour (shock!)

When we got back to Wagga we rushed to the butcher to fetch some items so we could fashion a charcuterie dinner in Bright, which we’d be leaving for the following day. In Australia you might see something similar on menus called a ploughman’s [lunch]. They vary greatly in what you’ll get on the plate/board so it’s always a fun surprise and a risk well worth taking. I should go back a step here, I’ve written the word butcher twice now. That’s the most I’ve used that word perhaps ever with the exception of the times I’ve complained how massive chain grocery stores have all but killed the profession in Canada. In Australia the profession is alive in well. We saw butchers in small towns and big cities and everything in between. There’s still a girl or guy behind the counter who actually knows where the top sirloin comes from. If you want a rack of lamb they can get you the size you want, trim it to your specifications, and suggest how to cook it. I like that. Of course they close at 4:00pm on Saturdays which I found weird. Apparently so did Dan because we just squeezed in the door as they locked it behind us. We also took a trip to the grocery store to stock up for our trip to Bright. I love going to food stores in every country and city I travel to. What is or isn’t on the shelves tells you so much about the culture; what they hold dear (TimTam), what’s popular, what isn’t selling well enough and so on. There’s also always the fun finds that would be jarring in your own country. I found it fascinating that they sell huge tubes of raw meat for dogs (clearly labelled, “not for human consumption”).

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I feel like this would go over well in Canada

Wagga was an adventure. It was leisurely and educational with a million little memories, like the overly thorough lady from the travel information centre who should be a SNL character or the adventure of figuring out the sizing of men’s footy shorts purchased with the expressed purpose of making an appearance at Edmonton’s next pride parade (they’re seriously short, seriously). Unlike most American and Canadian towns of comparable sizes, the downtown of Wagga is still bright and alive, presumably because a Walmart hasn’t been built on the outskirts.

On the Sunday we left for another adventure, off to Bright to bike, eat good food, drink amazing wine, and get driven around by a barman’s wife and a waitress (separate times). But those are stories for Bright Adventures and for another time.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Profapalooza – Part 2

A few months back, Lisa described a few of her visits to capital cities across Australia. This was interrupted by Profapalooza – Hurricane Edition, when she was caught spending time with Sandy in Baltimore. Since then, Lisa has continued her world tour, including stops across Australia and North America. Here, we present a few details on some of her recent travels.

Stop 4 in Australia was Adelaide, a number of months back, for a conference of researchers and practitioners in the information studies discipline. This visit was all work, so there is no photographic evidence that Lisa was actually there. Sadly, she saw the inside of a conference venue for the few days she was there… or so she says. She may have just gone to the spa.

Stops 5 & 6 were Brisbane – or Brisvegas, as our friends in Wagga call it. Now, as someone who’s been to Vegas (yes, right – for work, of course! Lisa traveled there with 9 other profs/deans of Canadian schools a few years ago. It was a very important bit of ethnographic research in fact… especially the trip to Chippendales. Good thing we weren’t blogging back then).

This is Brisvegas; it’s not Las Vegas (guess that’s a good thing) but a cool city, even so!

These trips were related to Lisa’s research, as she has made some connections at Queensland University of Technology and is now working on a project there. Brisbane is a really interesting city and – for stop 6 – Dan was able to come along, too (as a roadie – so carrying luggage and serving as a bodyguard). The climate is very different from Wagga; Brissy is in the tropical zone, so very humid and very lush. There area many birds… and, they have koalas!

Yes, on our most recent visit to Brissy we went to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. We weren’t sure about this visit… it was an ethical dilemma for us both, since we really love seeing animals in the wild, but we have some reservations about zoos – particularly those that allow “hands-on” activities with the wildlife (there are koalas in three Australian states: while Queensland still allows commercial cuddling, NSW and Victoria have banned it, so even though Lone Pine keeps the cuddles short, it still can’t be good for them). Seeing Koalas in this environment isn’t the same as seeing Koalas in the wild (still on our wish list), but you can get very close to dozens of sleepy koalas at Lone Pine. Very close! In fact, you can (pay to) hold one if you want. This is what all the big rock stars do, you know?

Isn't he cute? Koalas at the sanctuary are only a few inches away from you at any one time.

Isn’t he cute? Koalas at the sanctuary are only a few inches away from you at any one time.

Celebrities like Wayne Brady, Taylor Swift, Jackie Chan, Nine Inch Nails, Pope John Paul, and others have been photographed holding Koalas. But, not our resident Prof Star… she declined, since the koalas were clearly overwhelmed with the various tattoos on offer during our visit. You see, our visit was timed perfectly with SoundWave, where all band members get free admission to the park and free hugs with a koala. We quickly realized that Dan’s Inukshuk tattoo was not sufficient evidence of band membership… so we decided to just watch from the sidelines.

We also had the opportunity to eat at some amazing restaurants during this visit, including Ortiga, Urbane and 1889 Enoteca.

Of course, you shouldn’t think that the Profapalooza tour is all about watching the wildlife, shopping and spa visits. That’s really just reserved for the roadies (Dan) that accompany the main attraction (Lisa). These tours are all about working hard during long days, living out of suitcases, sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings (been in my own bed 8 nights in the past 5 weeks!), and missing the three fur babies (Ellie, Malachi and Lester) that normally share the bed. It’s great to be able to see the countryside together, but that’s not always possible.

These birds were having dinner and kept dive-bombing our heads. Beautiful... but dangerous!

These birds were having dinner and kept dive-bombing our heads. Beautiful… but dangerous!

Although it’s great for Lisa to have the opportunity to visit so many great cities and work with great people, it’s really wonderful when we can share these experiences together – and find the time for some RnR around the edges of a busy schedule. Such is the life of a rock star; it may be filled with tour buses, greasy food and cities that all start to look the same after awhile… but it’s a life we love, especially when there are Koalas involved.

So, where will the 2013 tour take her (us)? Well, Lisa has already been doing some touring across North America in the early part of the year, including Seattle Washington, Tuscaloosa Alabama and Toronto Ontario. During these visits we determined that Lisa has a(nother) super power – Weather Girl! We mentioned earlier that she was “caught” in Hurricane Sandy, but little did we know that Lisa may have caused this event.

Just a few minutes after this pic was taken, Lisa had to trudge through knee-deep snow to be rescued from the CSU Ontario carpark. Reinforced the decision to move to Oz!

Just a few minutes after this pic was taken, Lisa had to trudge through knee-deep snow to be rescued from the CSU Ontario carpark. Reinforced the decision to move to Oz!

During her most recent trip to the US, she was caught in a Tornado Watch in Alabama and a blizzard in the US/Canada… all of which came on the heels of a Cyclone that hit Australia just before she left the country. Hmm… as one colleague in Toronto noted, if you don’t want to attend a meeting, best to invite Lisa – it’s sure to be cancelled due to horrible weather! There will be other trips this year, certainly… so watch this space (or your local weather forecast) to see where Lisa will land. We’ll keep you informed of her (and Dan’s) travels… if only to ensure that you can be in another location, so that you don’t get trapped by Mother Nature.

Posted in birds, Canada, koalas, travel, weather | Leave a comment

You better run, you better take cover

We’ve had a few visitors since we got here, and more on the way. Depending on their itinerary, their travel experience, and their understanding of Australia, we have offered advice either before arrival, on arrival or not at all. But as more people plan to visit us, maybe this is a good opportunity to point out some of the things Lonely Planet and Bill Bryson (everyone coming here has read From A Sunburned Country, haven’t you? If not, ask the pilot to turn the plane around right now. Sorry, not ask, but TELL…you’re not prepared) might not have made clear.

OK, maybe more than knowing where we are, it is important to know that when you get here, you will be in serious danger

OK, maybe it is more important to know that when you get here, you will be in serious danger. The cuter they are, the more deadly – everyone knows that a snake or a spider is dangerous, but did you know that female kangaroos keep M-16s in their pouches? Yes, roos can get concealed carry permits…Australia is just like Texas.

First thing you need to know: Australia is in the middle of nowhere. No matter where you have been, where you have flown, it’s not going to compare. The Canada to OZ flight is better (faster) than it was in 2005 when we first came for a visit, but it is still horrible. Imagine 16 hours in a chair, with nowhere to put your feet. And that’s from coast to coast, Vancouver to Sydney.  Anywhere else on either continent (Wagga, Edmonton, etc) add several hours. At least doing it Canada to Australia, it starts at night and you will be tired and able to sleep. The trip home will be  a morning departure so you’re wide awake and stuck on a plane. I don’t know what else to say…except that, at the end of it, you will be greeted by a kangaroo. That makes it all so worth it!!!!!! Well, in reality you are greeted by a beagle. But a nice one, who doesn’t have an M-16, but  just wants to sniff your bag luggage and make sure you aren’t bringing in any lemongrass, pine beetles, or rabbits. Or cookies that your nanna made. Because cookies are dangerous. Snakes are protected, but yummy food is a danger.

A hat for every occasion. When we moved in, we installed a 'coat rack' in the entry way...it's become a hat rack. And Lisa has more in the closet, including one she wears under her bike helmet.

A hat for every occasion. When we moved in, we installed a ‘coat rack’ in the entry way…it’s become a hat rack. And Lisa has more in the closet, including one she wears under her bike helmet.

Second tip: It is hot and sunny. Really fucking hot and sunny. Sorry to anyone who finds certain words offensive (or is currently in Canada, where it is fucking cold and snowy), but hot and sunny are the only words that properly describe a summer day where the ambient temperature – the one they report –  is between 33 and 40 most days, and the sun makes the ground feel closer to 60. Or 70. Celsius.  And that’s the cool summer days. Ever experienced 44 Celsius.  Didn’t think so, unless you live in Australia. 44C, a bright sun and a bit of a breeze – imagine sitting in a convection oven for an afternoon. Welcome to Wagga.  We used to whinge, really whinge,  when it got up to 35 in Edmonton. Here, that’s a lovely afternoon temp. Bring it on.

And there is a big fucking hole in the ozone layer (sorry to anyone who finds the word ozone offensive, as in all you climate change deniers…this country had to add a new colour to the weather maps because of your spray bottles!) that means that gorgeous sun will kill you. Not ‘can’ kill you or ‘might’ kill you: WILL kill you. And in a way that you will wish that roo would have just pulled out her M-16 and taken you down quickly.

Until recently – so recently that we’re not sure if it has been enacted – the highest SPF sun block you could get is 30+. We used to buy 50+ in Canada, but the prevailing opinion here is that really, who cares…it isn’t that different. The amount of sun that a 30 blocks, compared to a 50, isn’t huge. The important thing is to remember the old Aussie adage of Slip Slop Slap. Slip on shirt, slop on some sunscreen, and slap on a hat.

This 1/2 litre jug of sun block is a life's supply in Canada. We go through a few a year here - we've each got one in our bathroom, Dan keeps one at work, and we also carry smaller ones in the car, on bikes, etc...

This 1/2 litre jug of sun block is a life’s supply in Canada. We go through a few each year here – there’s one in each bathroom, Dan keeps one at work, more in the car, small tubes on bikes, etc…

More recently it has been updated: Slip Slop Slap Slide Seek, with the last two warning to slide on some sunnies (sunglasses for the rest of the world, who can say words with more than two syllables) and seek shade.   It’s a brutal sun. We often have people pointing out that we (well mostly me,  Dan…I’ll revert to first person again as Lisa is still shirking her duty) are getting tanned. And that’s not a compliment, just someone who has grown up in this sun noticing. And I recently had a discussion with a work colleague about cycling in this sun, and she was thinking about buying thin sun-blocking sleeves – she’s a pomi (the Aus term for Brit, I think it means Prisoner of Mother England) and wants to retain her “pasty white european look” or, in other words, not have to have a melanoma removed.  So yeah, Lisa slops on a 30+ every morning, Dan not as vigilant but at least before he heads out biking he slops. We both wear sunnies most of the time. We slap (well, Dan does a lot, thinks it makes him look cool, Lisa’s still not a hat person). We don’t go out without shirts on.  Or shoes,  and even though it is common to see people barefoot all over Wagga, most Australians to have a tan line on their feet from their thongs. The equivalent of the Canadian ‘farmers tan’ I guess. Because regional Australia isn’t a  “no shirt no shoes no service” type of place.

Which transitions perfectly into service. Tipping in restaurants (or taxis or hair salons or anywhere) isn’t normal or expected. So you might think when you go into a restaurant that that the price listed on the menu is outrageous, but if you deduct the various Canadian taxes and the gratuity (15-20%), that $16 entré (wait for the next entry for an explanation about how the country with the weirdest English actually does French right) is now down to $11 plus tax and tip. Not that bad, and it will probably be HUGE. And servers here make OK money, probably about 2x what they would in Canada on ‘award’…silly term, Canadians would call it minimum wage…and more on  ‘penalty’ – extra pay for late shifts, weekends and holidays.  So you get people making decent, living wages for doing their job. But, the problem – and pointing this out specifically for W & P who are coming and will be spending time in touristy areas is that some restauranteurs have been caught not passing on tips.  Bondi and Manly are areas in/around Sydney that have been called out in the media for this. Since it is not normal to tip, if people – usually tourists – add a tip on the EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer at point of sale…say it phonetically, eff tt poss , yes you will need to know that one…which account: savings or credit?…PIN or sign?) because it went into the restaurant’s account it often doesn’t channeled back to the server who earned it. Servers wages are a huge huge HUGE issue here right now, with restauranteurs saying that the penalty rate (sort of a combination of what Canadians think of as overtime combined with a premium for working outside of standard 7 am – 7 pm Monday to Friday work week) is keeping them from opening on holidays like Christmas, Australia Day and Easter. Because, get this…servers on a holiday after 7 pm will be making more than $40 per hour, possibly as much as $50. How that compares to a Canadian server who makes about $9 or $10 per hour, plus tips, I don’t know but the restauranteurs say many operate at a loss on a holiday because they don’t increase their prices but have to pay outrageous wages. Good point… though some say they are willing to do it out of good will – customers want a place to go, and if you aren’t open and they go somewhere else, they might not come back. The issue of penalty and other Fair Work Australia policies is going to factor heavily in the upcoming election I think.

So that’s part 1 of a basic primer on coming to Australia to visit: be prepared for a long flight, plan for heat, and have a lot of room on your credit card.  Next up: driving/transportation tips, maybe some food basics, a more accurate perspective on dangerous critters, and some non-critter-related survival tips.

As an aside, for this post I was trying to find a picture that was floating around on facebook a few months ago, about how everything in Australia can kill you. I did find the picture I was looking for, but used the one with the over-armed emu instead because fewer people have probably seen it. But in my searching, I came across a discussion forum about moving to Australia and this post just fit so well after some of the shit that’s been going on here recently:

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Posted in Australia, danger, expensive, minimum wage, restaurants, shoes, small town culture, spiders, sun, visitors, wagga, wagga wagga, winter | 1 Comment

hey there little insect

There aren’t a lot of good things you can say about extreme cold weather, but the one positive of cold climates is there are fewer insects. In Canada, there were flies, black flies, and mosquitos, plus the occassional other annoyance in summer. In Australia, it never gets cold enough to kill things so there are a lot of different bugs. Flying bugs. Crawling bugs. Spiders. Flies. All varieties.  A common phrase in the house is
“Hey, wanna see the ‘coolest’  ‘most interesting’ ‘freakiest’ (choose one, or two, or all…) bug you’ve ever seen” and often it is cooler or freakier than the one that elicited that statement a couple days earlier. Here’s a rundown of some of our favourite, least favourite, and most interesting ones. Unfortunately, many of these are very transitory and also appear at night, so we don’t have a lot of good photos. Which we know you all really want to see! Some of the photos here are ours, some borrowed…

Beetles: By far the most interesting (well, maybe not, there are some fascinating bugs here) insect around. There are something like 2000 different beetles in Australia all falling under the generic name of Christmas Beetle, because in the two or three weeks leading up to and surrounding Christmas, they are everywhere. Everywhere.

This beetle (borrowed photo) is very much like the common ones around here. He's probably the size of a Canadian nickel.

This beetle (borrowed photo) is very much like the common ones around here. He’s probably the size of a Canadian nickel. They are really fascinating bugs…google Christmas beetle for some interesting facts. Or lmgtfy.

As night falls in Wagga, they wake up and get stupid, flying into lights, walls, people, whatever they can run into. If whatever they hit is hard, they bounce off and land on their back and then squirm around like a turtle for a while, trying to get upright. Dumb bugs. And if what they hit is soft, such as a person, they stick…to your clothes, hair, whatever. Lisa finds them annoying, partly because of how many there are – they chase us indoors in the evening, because on our little patio there could be upwards of 100 at a time, buzzing, bouncing, sticking… They sometimes would get into the house, if we had the patio door open or they could squeeze in other ways, and this thrilled Lester to no end. Mmmm, crunchy snacks!  Usually, these beetles only come out at night, but there are odd occasions when you will see them in the day – such as when we were down in King Valley for New Years and cycling one day around noon on the rail trail. They were out in abundance that day, huge ones too, bouncing off of us. It was like a game of frogger except with bugs and bikes.

This mantis came for lunch one day, enjoying our poinsettia as we dined on the patio. It may or may not be the same one that has been hanging around for the past 8-10 weeks...no idea of their lifespan.

This mantis came for lunch one day, enjoying our sole xmas decoration (thanks Joy) as we dined on the patio. It may or may not be the same one that has been hanging around for the past 8-10 weeks…no idea of their lifespan.

Jumping/flying bugs: We’re going to lump grasshoppers, mantids and crickets together. No reason really except sometimes grasshoppers and crickets look and act the same, and we’ve also been confusing our grasshoppers with mantises recently. We usually have a mantis of some sort hanging around the house. Usually literally hanging on…they like to be on the walls and windows. They are a lot bigger than the ones we were used to in Canada.

Thanks to this borrowed image, you get to see a brown matchstick on green grass. We could have just posted a photo of our brown grass or brown mulch and made you play Where's Waldo with the grasshopper.

Thanks to this borrowed image, you get to see a brown matchstick on green grass. We could have just posted a photo of our brown grass or brown mulch and let you play Where’s Waldo with the grasshopper. We do have green ones too, but not a lot of green grass right now.

At times, we have also thought that some of them – usually the brown ones  – might be stickbugs but are pretty sure they are just some sort of mantis. Then this year we’ve had a lot of matchstick grasshoppers, cool skinny stick-like bugs that are almost impossible to see until they move.  The green ones look like a blade of grass; brown ones blend in perfectly with the sugarcane straw mulch we have on some of the garden beds. Even when you see them go, you might see them land but not be able to find them.  Then there are the crickets. Big black field crickets, all over the place. They are in the garden, on the patio, in the garage…occasionally one gets into the house for Lester to play with. They aren’t a worry at all, and really no reason to write about them except to point out that they are huge. And they seem to have a short lifespan, and end up dying on the patio and front steps, where they get devoured by ants.

A blurry photo of ants eating a cricket! or a beetle...too blurry to tell, and too covered in ants to tell. Luckily these ants don't like the taste of human flesh. Or haven't needed it yet.

A blurry photo of ants eating a cricket! or a beetle…too blurry to tell, and too covered in ants to tell. Luckily these ants don’t like the taste of human flesh. Or haven’t needed it yet.

Ants: Everywhere. Tiny black ants, always seeming to be going somewhere in a long line, back and forth. And something we have learned about ants since moving here is that they are carnivores – at least these ones. Crickets, spiders, beetles, etc., when they die, quite quickly get devoured by a bunch of ants. Some days, it seems that there are endless trails of ants, scurrying about doing their ant business, back and forth on a very determined path. One day, it got a bit much…their paths were going over our feet on the patio! So Dan went to Bunnings for some ant spray and sprayed the patio. Well the ants are too smart for that: next few days, ants all over the table and chairs. Luckily the spray didn’t work to well and they are now back on the ground where they belong, keeping the other dead critters cleaned up.

This is a trio of mud dauber nest on the side of our house, in a window behind the barbecue. The top one recently hatched; the bottom two are still feeding, waiting to emerge.

This is a trio of mud dauber nest on the side of our house, in a window behind the barbecue. The top one recently hatched; the bottom two are still feeding, waiting to emerge.

Wasps and bees: There are some really cool wasps in Wagga: mud daubers and potters. Mud daubers are the most common, and they build little tube-shaped ‘nests’ or ‘cells’ out of mud on the brick of our house. They then sting a spider to paralyze it, put it in the nest and lay an egg on it, then seal off the cell. The baby feeds off the spider, then eventually emerges from the cell. Potters wasps are similar but the things they build are bigger and more like a dome. We haven’t seen many of these.

And then there are the many varieties of bees that hang out in the herb bed, harvesting pollen. They aren’t honey bees, as in a commercial colony nearby harvesting. And they aren’t all the same…some are really odd – that “hey you wanna see a cool bug” call-out one day was because the basil plants were infested with bees with purple spots on their backs. WTF?

A bee gathering pollen on a mint flower. We didn't even know that mint flowered...but like bugs, herbs also thrive in this climate.

A bee gathering pollen on a mint flower. We didn’t even know that mint flowered…but like bugs, herbs also thrive in this climate.

Anyway, there’s always a lot of bees playing around in whatever flowers, and they don’t seem at all dangerous.
We have some cool flowering ground cover in our garden, and there’s usually hundreds of bees swarming on it…Dan walks across it to get the newspaper (we think the delivery guy tosses it there as a challenge), or Dan sticks his hand into whatever bunch of herbs to harvest some. Notice we say Dan does…Lisa isn’t that dumb. But though these aren’t honey bees as such, we are really curious to know what happens with the pollen they gather – what would honey taste like made from a combination of mint, basil, and fennel flowers?

So that’s a bit of a quickie rundown on the bugs around Wagga.  A few of them anyway…we didn’t mention that potato bugs, the thrips, the week of little tiny flies that made us break down and by a bug zapper (that we were worried was going to blow from overuse on its first night), the cool ones with an X on their back (at some point the “hey, you wanna see the…” call will get answered with “that’s not as freaky/cool as the one with an X on its back”) or the various orange and black things flying around (not sure why, but those seem to be common colours…maybe there’s a footy team that most Wagga bugs follow), or the spiders. Because spiders aren’t insects…but we could tell you stories about how they’ve reacted to the heat…a fence covered in big black spiders, redbacks in the house (!!!!!!!), huntsman in the house (!). But those are tales for another day.

This can't be good. All three cats hanging out together by the door (i.e. a place that isn't sealed - remember, not a lot of weather-stripping in Oz) probably means something got in. Get the bug spray and a tissue...

This can’t be good. All three cats hanging out together by the door (i.e. a place that isn’t sealed – remember, not a lot of weather-stripping in Oz) probably means something got in. Get the bug spray and a tissue…

Posted in Australia, beetles, bugs, insects, Uncategorized, wasps | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Satellite of Love

Some of you have been wondering where we (waggadventure) have been for the last couple of months, so we’d like to take this opportunity to apologise. We’re sorry to be so quiet, but in June of last year we moved house. We thought we were moving to a new suburb in Wagga; apparently, we relocated to the outback of Australia… that dry, red desert of no internet connections! Yes, you read that right. We have been without reliable internet access for more than 6 months. Now, the important thing to remember here is that we live in a town of 65,000+ plus. We are not in the outback. In fact, service in the outback is probably pretty good — better than pockets of Sydney, Melbourne and Wagga, certainly. So, let us tell you about this longstanding adventure of the past few months.

This is a picture of our new house! We live in the middle of the outback with nothing but dust all around. Apparently...

This is a picture of our new house! We live in the middle of the outback with nothing but dust all around. Apparently…

Once the initial shock wore off, Lisa went into overdrive problem-solving mode. Our house is brand-spanking new, completed and put on the market by the builder in November 2011 and we moved in mid-June 2012. It’s all very modern and energy efficient, so we have solar panels on the roof, modern air conditioning and a contemporary open-concept kitchen/living design.  This is a new development, but the suburb got its start about 10 years ago. We have neighbours; new houses are still being built.  We are not in the middle of an empty paddock of sheep, but it sure feels that way.

In our last (rented) house, we had unlimited high-speed ADSL. We could download movies, Skype with friends, email at all hours of the day…you know, normal behaviour for many people. And essential behaviour for people like us, who work in internet-intensive industries. Lisa quite often major grant reviews using an online reviewing system and with a very tight deadline; not having the internet isn’t only restricting access to cute cat videos, it’s putting a major crimp into our working lives. Here’s why we’re in this mess…

We've been denied access to funny cat memes. The horror! The horror!

We’ve been denied access to funny cat memes. The horror! The horror!

Our house is on a system called “pair gains” (sadly, we’ve learned more insider language from the telcos than we ever wanted to know!). Basically, the developer didn’t run enough lines into the neighbourhood, so our house shares one line with the house next door, split in half to provide “service” (can they really call it that??) to both homes. These half-lines can only handle one service – i.e., a home phone. Now, we could really care less about having a home phone. We both have mobile (smart) phones and Dan doesn’t even know the number for our home phone. We have one, so that we can benefit from cheaper long distance to call back to Canada, but that’s not an essential service. So, when we first called Telstra to transfer our home phone/internet package, we were informed that we were SOL (shit-outta-luck) and could only have a phone. Here’s how the conversation went:

Lisa  (L): Wait…we don’t need a phone at all! We want to use our half of the line for internet.

Telstra (T): Nope.

L: Well, can you run another line… since, you know, it’s the 21st century and since, you know, there are a ton of new houses being built and we’re all going to need internet?

T: Nope. That’s too expensive. And since the government is bringing in the National Broadband Network (NBN) to hook up all households to the grid, we have no interest in paying for new lines.

L: Can we pay to have a line trenched into our house? Not sure what that might cost… but we’ll consider paying for that. We’ve been advised by the NBN that it’s a multi-year process and may take anywhere from 2 months to 7 years (!) to get to us.

T: Nope.

L: So, what can we do.

T: Move (laughs… Lisa’s blood pressure rises and Dan thinks he can see smoke coming out of her ears while her eyes turn a deep, blood red). No, seriously, we have mobile broadband, so you can flip over to that.

Much banging of head ensued...

Much banging of head ensued…

L: Well, no… that doesn’t work. Because not only am I living in the internet outback but my mobile service is really crappy too. Mobile broadband works off towers and there aren’t enough of those. After 7am (you know, when everyone’s awake) the system cuts out and may not come back until after midnight. So mobile broadband doesn’t work for us.

T: Well, according to our online service map there is great coverage in your neighbourhood. So you have to flip to our mobile system and continue with your contract; if you choose to break the contract you’ll have to pay $800 in fees. And that’s only if we allow you to break your contract. [Dan notices that Lisa’s starting to pace, voice rising, red eyes getting more intense…]

Another 30 minutes of arguing; supervisor gets involved; Lisa walks away having been released from the contract with no fee, but vowing never to sign on for Telstra internet if/when she gets on the grid; agrees to keep basic home phone to allow for long distance calls to family.

We start to wonder – who’s to blame in this situation? Telstra, for being so unhelpful and cheap? The developer, for being so cheap? Wagga Council for not treating internet services the same as other core utilities and demanding appropriate infrastructure? So many people have said to us… ‘But, you have water, right? You have electricity? How can you not have internet??’ Think about your own home… if you’re reading this, you have internet (duh!). You might be on your smart phone or on your home computer. We’re not. This is being written in a hotel lobby using their free — unlimited! — internet.

Dan was fully prepared to dig his own trench.

Dan was fully prepared to dig his own trench.

Once the blame game ends, Lisa gets back to business. Okay – Telstra’s not the only game in town, right? There’s Optus, iinet, TransACT… there are a ton of companies out there. Yeah, well, guess what? The telco monopoly is alive and well because they all rely on Telstra’s infrastructure,  piggy-backing on lines that are already there. Some of them talk about other possible systems… but none of them are available in our neighbourhood. We even investigated ‘naked internet’ (not what you think… this doesn’t mean that Dan stands on the roof naked with his smartphone, hoping for a signal); this would allow you to use the existing line for internet instead of phone (i.e., a ‘naked’ line, stripped of its home phone). Yeah, well… Telstra stopped offering that a couple of years ago. Probably wasn’t profitable or something…other companies say they offer it, but not on this kind of line.

After contacting every company that services NSW and the ACT, Lisa hangs her head in defeat… and waggadventure goes silent. All internet access is devoted to work, just to be able to keep up with things. Funny cat videos go unwatched; the family back in Canada will miss seeing us on Skype on Christmas Day. Finally, Lisa loses it… 20 December, just when Australia is winding down for the holiday break, she sends an email complaint to the NBN and to our local political representative. She mentions moving to Wagga from Canada, where even the polar bears have internet. She mentions her internet-intensive work and how this all makes Wagga/Australia look like a 19th century backwater (but using nicer language).

If Sam Neill doesn't come and build one of these in our back yard, we're moving to Parkes.

If Sam Neill doesn’t come and build one of these in our back yard, we’re moving to Parkes.

The very next day (who’s even working on the 21 December?) she receives a message from the NBN. They’ve investigated their files on our neighbourhood and determined that we won’t see internet here until at least 2015. However, based on the info provided (including her attempts to resolve with various telcos) they believe that we qualify for Interim Satellite Service (ISS) and we can call if we want more details. Lisa does this, immediately, and works through their eligibility interview. And yes, indeed… just like people living in the real outback, we qualify for ISS. What this means is that the government will pay for the installation of a satellite dish on our roof and the electronics to go with it, and we will just have to pay for regular internet fees, like every other person on the planet! This is an ‘interim’ service, so will be in effect until we can flip over to a regular NBN service.

Installation is planned for this week… so, with luck, we’ll be back on the grid and surfing the web very soon. Lolcats, here we come!

Dan’s addendum: I’m posting this over our new internet connection! Dish was installed this afternoon…dish isn’t quite as big as the one used to track the moon landing, but it dwarfs the television dish that is also on the roof.

Posted in internet, Moving, national broadband network, outback, rural life, satellite | 1 Comment

hot hot hot

OK, so it’s been a bit too long since we posted anything. At the time of last writing, Lisa was in Canada and Dan had been left behind to keep blogging. And now, she’s back in North America for a few weeks and Dan will be blogging again. Hmmm, seems like the failure to keep it updated when she is in Australia must then be hers!  And so this blog will be in first person again, with me/I being Dan.

This was before it got hot that afternoon...

This was before it got hot that afternoon…

So, what has happened in the 10 weeks since last post? Let’s see, we’ve learned a bit about heat. On Saturday, 5 January, 2013, we lived through the hottest day we’ve ever encountered when the temperature in Wagga hit 43.5 C. It was, barely, bearable. Thankfully we have refrigerated air con – we spent most of the day indoors. But wait, there’s more: Friday, 18 January was even hotter, topping out at 44.1. Not that it was noticeable – at that point, a half a degree makes little difference! But the opposite effect is that when it starts to cool off in the evening it becomes very noticeable, with Lisa running for a jumper when it got down around 25!

We also, in mid-December, learned that blinds are very expensive in Wagga.  We bought some new ones, better ones to replace the useless verticals that were here when we moved in, for the east facing windows. The purpose was originally to cut the morning light so we could sleep in, but now we’ve also realized how much heat they keep out. Those are the only windows that get a lot of direct sun, but we’ll do the rest of the house eventually. Without them, the air con would probably have been working even harder to keep us cool. Covering five windows cost us more than to do the entire house in Edmonton…but that’s Australia.

There is absolutely no point to this picture of a reindeer cakepop that my dentist gave me after a pre-christmas visit.

There is absolutely no point to this picture of a reindeer cakepop that my dentist gave me after a pre-christmas visit. It just happened to be one of the more interesting photos on my phone (that I couldn’t foresee needing later).

And how cool does it make the house on those hot days? Well, when it was 43 outside, we could get it down to a comfortable 23 or so indoors. Remember, as we wrote about in the winter, this heating system doesn’t really have a proper control, so we just turn it on and let it run. We’ve learned to use the timer to shut it off at night, otherwise we wake up in a 17 degree house.

Had a couple of visitors during the early January heatwave too. Nephew George and his partner Sarah are living in Australia on work tourism visas, traveling around working as much as they can (up to that time, picking fruit). Unfortunately most of the continent shuts down late December/early January so they had a bit of spare time to hang with us before moving on. Which seems odd because fruit and veggies are thriving at that time of year.

OK, so they might not look perfect but there's nothing tastier than tomatoes that actually ripen on the vine!

OK, so they might not look perfect but there’s nothing tastier than tomatoes that actually ripen on the vine!

Which leads me to a follow-up of a previous post about our garden. Still hate it…grass is pretty brown despite regular watering. But our tomatoes (I say tom-ay-toh, Aussies say to-maa-toe…) have done incredibly well. Initially we planted 8 plants, 2 got frosted and replaced…the result: 6 tomato trees that bore amazing fruit, one that didn’t do much of anything and one that produced fruit that rotted as fast as it ripened. Problem is, we didn’t keep track of which variety any were, so next year will be just as experimental as this season was.  And when I say ‘amazing fruit’, well, we’ve eaten home-grown tomatoes every meal for the past 6 weeks, and still have a couple weeks left. Last night I trimmed back some deadwood and got rid of the useless plants to make it easier to water. We’ve had luck with both cherry and full-sized tomatoes, some yellow, some almost black (intentionally).  They pretty much took over the little beds we have. And people often comment that we were lucky not to have fruit flies…just luck I guess. Nestled among the tomatoes were some salad greens that don’t do well at these temps, an apple cucumber vine (tasty, but a bit tough-skinned…still producing) and a sunshine squash plant that did really well. And we’ve got lemons and limes bigger than golf balls! COOL!!!!!!!!!

What else have we not told you? Well, with the heat comes things like fire and insects. Neither endangered us this year, but both can be a bit annoying. One of us will elaborate on that. And Lisa promises to write a post about the importance of satellites to regional Australia. I will write one soon about fast twitch versus slow twitch muscles and cadence versus power and how those affect speed and endurance.  And we’ll entertain you with stories of christmas beetles and really cool grasshoppers. Stay tuned; I promise it won’t take another 10 weeks (I’m sure you are all dying to know about slow twitch muscles!)

Following up on the last entry, I also have to say my prediction about Courtney Barnett doing well is spot on – she has become the most common search term sending people to our blog, overtaking ‘Bobs Birds and Pets.’  So hey, to direct more traffic to the blog, I’ll tell you about more music: just bought a compilation called Nuggets: Antipodean Interpretations of the First Psychedelic Era. Long story short, it is bunch of Aussie bands covering tunes from the original Nuggets compilation and while all of it is good, some of it is spectacular! I’ve only heard 3 of the 18 bands before (even own a disc by one of them, Pond…) so it is great to be exposed to some new artists. And by new, I mean that for many of them it is their first recording.  But I’m now looking forward to hearing more from, in particular, Pearls, Step-Panther, and Baptism of Uzi (who contributed an amazingly quirky krautrock meets blues instrumental of Baby Please Don’t Go).

And not that anyone cares I did manage to track down the Gareth Liddiard album I mentioned in last post. Ummm, hard to describe…glad I’ve heard it, but it is more political/socially conscious than the Drones albums…but it is in no way easy listening…interesting and good, but in a way that makes you just a bit (lot?) uncomfortable….

Posted in fruit, gardening, weather | Leave a comment

In the taxi home, I’ll sing you a Triffids’ song

We have a huge backlog of posts that are started and not finished, or thought about but never even started.  This is one that has been in the works for about 15 months; the origins of it are from before out ship came in and we had no television and no CDs. Our home entertainment was an iPod with a radio tuner. We listened to a lot of TripleJ radio. So we decided we should write about Australian music. We knew nothing about it really, but started a post about what we were hearing (too much Gotye!). Now, much later, it is Australian Music Month and time to resurrect this post.  Stuff in italics is from then…normal font is current… and FYI, this is mostly a Dan post (and those who know us know that Lisa hates a lot of what Dan listens to, so take all recommendations with that in mind) so switching to me/I, not us/we for much of it.

Australia is a long way from Canada, but with the internet and other forms of mass communication, you would think that Canadians would have heard a lot of Australian music. Not so, it seems.

Yes, there are the big names. It was pretty hard to avoid AC/DC, for example (Dan grew up with Back in Black and Highway to Hell). Crowded House were huge worldwide (though not as good as the Finn brothers earlier band, Split Enz, and actually from New Zealand). Midnight Oil were big for a while (lead singer is now in Parliament!). That Keith Urban guy is huge in country music, though we don’t think either of us have actually heard him (Kasey Chambers is an Aussie country musician Dan likes). And of course there is Nick Cave, the god of Aussie rock. And there are some other bands that Dan know, such as Saints, Hunters and Collectors, Hoodoo Gurus… So Australian music has made a bit of a mark in Canada. But not much.

But there’s some great unknown music down here, and every day we listen to the radio we marvel at how much of it there is, how good it is, and wonder why we don’t know more about it. Granted, we aren’t the most knowledgeable people about current music, but still, we didn’t live in a cave in Edmonton. We know some new music from around the world, but not much about the music from here.

Thanks to a really good national broadcasting system, that is changing. ABC is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It is something like CBC but good.

And that’s where it ended off last August. How do we feel now, more than a year later? Well, TripleJ gets a bit annoying in that it plays a lot of, well, music that is meant to appeal to everyone. It is quite mainstream, and very retro 80s synthy. And it says it is a youth-oriented station, but if youth really listen to music this safe and boring…well, then there isn’t a lot of hope!  And they have a tendency to rave about how fantastic bands are who are 1) quite mediocre and 2) completely unknown. “Their long awaited debut” is a common phrase – long awaited by who? The band?  Anyway, we won’t name all the Australian bands/musicians think are way way over-rated and over-hyped, but instead will talk about a few that we’ve discovered who are very good and, for the most part, not hear much (at least on jjj).

First off, Magic Dirt. Evolved from a noisy, grungy, lo-fi to a slightly more mainstream but still hard edged band. Right along the lines of what I like, a little bit punky a little bit droney and a lot of good. After the death of one of the founding members, their singer Adalita Srsen made a solo album that was very different, mostly just her and a guitar and a lot of effects and more ‘sensitive’ lyrics. Hearing her on TripleJ led to the earlier band. Like them a lot,  both the band and Adalita solo.  Here’s one of her own songs, Perfection,  but the real gem is an amazing Madonna cover, the first thing I heard on the TripleJ ‘like a version’ that happens every Friday morning. It can be heard here – Burning Up starts about 13 minutes in, her own The Repairer is at about 3 1/2 minutes, the rest is interview. And a whole bunch of Magic Dirt here.

The Triffids. How the hell did I not know about them before. I probably had heard them decades ago but forgot them. Still haven’t heard a lot of them, but what I have heard is great. They were around in the 1980s, playing what now seems like some odd post-punk roots hybrid. I don’t really know what more to say…there is something about it that makes it sound like Australia – big, stark, hard to understand, but wonderful.  Because of the era, there isn’t a lot available on youtube, but videos are available here and here, and the audio of two of my favorite songs are here and here.

Drones. I recently compared them to Tom Waits…and the person I told that bought one of their albums based on that. I should have elaborated that they don’t sound like him, but there seems to be some drunken earthy down-trodden thing that has the same vibe, but if Crazy Horse was backing him up.  I love this band!  Rock and roll by people who don’t give a fuck about about trends or sales or what anyone thinks about it, just making music because its in their blood. There is some video available but here’s just audio of my favorite song, Shark Fin Blues.  Good video of the band here and here. And I have to get around to buying the solo album by their main writer/singer Gareth Liddiard. It was recorded in a shed not too far from Wagga (well a couple hundred km) with an acoustic guitar and a lot of whisky. What I have heard sounds quite good.

Courtney Barnett. OK, so the others have been a bit more well known (or established) but  just recently discovered this young singer/songwriter/guitarist from Melbourne. She’s been getting a bit of play on jjj, first with a quirky but endearing reverby slightly twangy Liz Phair meets Dandy Warhols meets shoegazer Lance Jr. So far she’s released a total of 7 songs, but I think she’s got a lot of potential.  And there’s this odd thing…most musicians, I can’t tell where they are from. But I can actually here the Australian accent, especially near the end of her new single History Eraser (which ends with the lyrics that gave name to this post…which seemed quite fitting).

And while searching for material for this blog I found this gem: Adalita Srsen and Gareth Liddiard from the Drones doing a Saints song! Skip past the first 3 1/2 minutes of bad television for some great Aussie music.

Posted in adalita, Australia, courtney barnett, drones, magic dirt, music, triffids, triple j | 2 Comments