BMcG Travels

At least my 3rd attempt at a Travel Blog

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been keeping a fairly low profile, by my standards.

I’ve found myself simply enjoying the city and planning for the excitement to come — My calendar between now and August 1st is getting so full that I’ve taken some time to nap, recharge and watch some playoff hockey.

But, between napping, I have had some fun — going up the tallest building in Australia

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And finding my Birthday Tree! (As you may recall, my dad sponsored a tree in my name for one year in the Royal Botanical Gardens here in Melbourne)

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Because this is a shorter post, I want to give you a sense of what’s on my schedule in the coming months (Get ready for some more exciting posts with lots of pictures!)

  • Most importantly, Ari is HERE!!
  • Sydney
  • The Great Barrier Reef
  • Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation
  • Darwin
  • Kakadu National Park
  • Litchfield and the jumping crocs of Adelaide River
  • Crocosaurus Cove! – Where I’ll be entering ‘The Cage of Death’ to swim with a crocodile (I have an adoration for crocs that I’ll get into later)
  • And, of course, plunging into the deepest, darkest jungles that Sumatra, Indonesia have to offer

Just typing the list above gives me such gratitude. I can’t believe all of this is on the horizon!

To end, I’d like to share some random thoughts I’ve had:

  • Since it’s release, I think I’ve listened to, or watched, ‘This is America’ by Childish Gambino every day — what a moment in music
  • I’m still getting over the latest Avengers movie
  • I’m desperately doing everything to appease the hockey gods, but, if they aren’t going to smile on my team this year, there isn’t a more long suffering team (and town) than Washington
  • Australian Rules Football is rapidly ascending my list of favorite sports to watch
  • Westworld is still great, but Billions is probably the best show that gets no love or buzz
  • Looks like we have ourselves a hockey series
  • All my love and energy is directed to my sister and brother-in-law, who are expecting their first any day now — even though I’m far away, my heart is with you both!

On my ride back from the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians, one thing we discussed stuck with me and nagged me throughout the week.

When speaking about the history of the Aboriginal cultures prevalent in Victoria (and Australia), I was told that, until 1967, Aboriginal Peoples were classified under the Flora and Fauna code — relegating them to the status of animals.

 

Through further research, I found this specific point to be a myth (as the cited article rather too gleefully notes). (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-20/fact-check-flora-and-fauna-1967-referendum/9550650)

 

And yet, after visiting the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Melbourne, I found the truth to be no less troubling.

 

While Aboriginal Peoples may not have been classified as animals (officially), the fact is they were treated as such. Invisible until in the way.

 

The truth is the indigenous cultures of Australia were massacred, raped and enslaved over hundreds of years of colonization.

 

The truth is many of the rolling hills and serene landscapes I passed along my drive through the Great Ocean Road and Grampians were the sites of these massacres  — without a single plaque or marker to give an ignorant tourist such as myself even the slightest hint of the past. (https://cv.vic.gov.au/stories/aboriginal-culture/indigenous-stories-about-war-and-invasion/massacre-map/)

 

The truth is there are still many living victims of ‘The Stolen Generations,’ the result of a policy where, from 1910-1970, indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families in an effort to assimilate and erase all trace of their culture. Through this policy, children were separated form parents, and siblings torn apart and spread across Australia. All in the name of ‘improving their lives.’ In 2008, Kevin Rudd, then Prime Minister, apologized for the government’s role. His apology was met with opposition, including Tony Abbott (Prime Minster 2013-2015) who stated, “Yes, some kids were stolen and this is shameful but many were helped and some were rescued.”

(1. https://www.australianstogether.org.au/discover/australian-history/stolen-generations  — 2. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/feb/11/australia)

 

The truth is many histories of massacres and injustices are simply not acknowledged because Aboriginal history is largely based on oral telling, and the old world rule still applies — if it’s not written down, it doesn’t count. (http://theconversation.com/oral-testimony-of-an-aboriginal-massacre-now-supported-by-scientific-evidence-85526)

 

I don’t mean to spotlight Australia as the lone perpetrator of injustice. The United States’ track record of past and ongoing inequity towards, not only indigenous groups, but, quite frankly, all those of none white/European descent, is equal parts abhorrent and depressing.

 

What I do want to do is bear witness. To share the history I have learned.

 

I want to share my belief that trauma is transferable throughout generations. That, aside from the obvious economic and social effects that are still ongoing, and despite the arguments about whether trauma can be epigenetically transferred;  the shared, collective trauma of indigenous whitewashing, religious persecution, sexual orientation/gender discrimination, slavery, Jim Crow and police brutality is real. And, through that, I posit, that as a descendant of white Europeans, should I not share some of the responsibility for past injustices?

 

Most importantly, I believe the onus is on me and people who come from my background, from a point of inherited privilege, to be mindful of the past. Not to try to historically compartmentalize, but to learn and, most importantly, listen, lest we be damned to ignorance and the continuation of a cycle that has caused nothing but torment.

 


 

Following my visit to Bunjilaka, I walked clear across town to Yarra Bend Park — the supposed location of a camp of Flying Foxes.

 

I used photography to ground myself and reflect, letting the slow breathing that comes with holding a heavy zoom lens steady to meditate on what I saw and learned.

 

As is it seems, Australia’s nature found me first as I stumbled into the snoozing camp of the Flying Foxes.

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Lots of Flying Foxes…

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Now, to be clear, these bats (Grey-headed flying foxes, to be exact) are not “GIANT VAMPIRE BATS” as Indiana Jones would scream-shout at you, but rather harmless pollen and fruit eaters that, at their worst, are kind of noisy and smelly. But still, to see them in the hundreds was a bit imposing. Especially when they showcased their 3.3ft wingspan.

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Nevertheless, I was happy to watch them glide off to seize the night and figured that was my cue to start to make my way back to Melbourne for my own rest.

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I shot awake in the predawn hours to laughing.

Not a giggle, or even a belly laugh, but a true cackle.

The laugh ‘that relative’ makes after too many chardonnays on Christmas.

“A kookaburra,” I thought to myself. “I’m literally being woken up by a kookaburra in an old gum tree…”

As I stumbled outside into the cold on my way to the shower, I was greeted with a foreign landscape that was hidden during the drive in. Dense forest surrounded me with a barrier of steep cliff-side just yards away from where I slept.

The rest of the natural world had come to life as well. Bird calls dominated the morning, with tropical flocks bursting from trees overhead. Seeing birds that I normally associated with cages high in the treetops was incredible.

(Galah & Sulpher Crested Cockatoos)

As the group gathered, our first short walk was to find some Kangaroos. And find them we did. After the previous night spent dodging them in the dark, it was a thrill to get up close to the animals in a more peaceful state.

Carefully creeping forward, and cautiously making sure I didn’t put my hands on any resting snakes, I was able to get up close to an Eastern Grey Kangaroo and her joey.

Soon enough, the ‘roos had enough of me and hopped off into the bush and we were on our way up the mountain.

I was again struck by how different Australia is. Every plant and tree (let alone the animals) is unlike anything I have seen before.

As we crept above the treeline, we were greeted with unparalleled vistas of the Grampains Mountains and surrounding valleys.

The cool morning quickly warmed up and I was allowed the opportunity to break away from the group and plow ahead for some solitude. I found myself grounded and grateful for such an opportunity in a year where I figured “I wouldn’t be traveling too much.”

As I walked around the edge of a cliff and down towards the waterfalls below a few things because clear. The first, my right knee had not, in fact, miraculously healed with another year of age and I should have been wearing my knee brace. Second, I am going to need some good cardio training before my 5-day trek into Indonesian Jungle in July (more on that later).

Nevertheless, the view from the bottom did not disappoint.

Though I could have easily disappeared down one of the many trails splintering off from the falls, I figured that wouldn’t be too kind to the group or necessarily good for my career and I begrudgingly made my way back up the mountain.

As is the nature with tours, we had to begin to make our way back to Melbourne, but not before I was greeted with another uniquely Australian scene — Emus.

Though they were too far and fast for a picture, let me iterate how big these birds are. Standing 6 ft. tall, emus are imposing and quick. I began to understand how the Australian Army had lost consecutive conflicts with the birds in the 1930s.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emu_War)

On the long drive back, I enjoyed more great conversation with Pete about everything from Pink Floyd albums to psychiatric hypnosis and, by the time I arrived back in Melbourne, I was exhausted but thrilled by yet another great week.

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Maker:S,Date:2017-2-23,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y,E-ver:20180127.4571296.001.002

My week consisted of birthday calls and celebrations.

If you’re a fan of your Birthday, I’d recommend moving to a drastically different time zone. I received calls, texts and notifications between the 16th and the 19th, each from family and friends who were certain they had reached me on my b-day. My answer to each of you is, yes, you did, and thank you!

Here in Australia, the team was more than happy to put me in the spotlight (my favorite) on the 18th, with a cake  — to which I responded with my normal grace of mumbling, practically forgetting how to sit down and almost tumbling out of my office chair as my coworkers sang (trust me, there’s a video). On the night itself, Andrew and his wife took me to the immaculately decorated George’s Place (name after the greatest George of all, Costanza)  for some trivia, where we summarily wiped the floor with the opposition.

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“Brendan is starting to get upset!”

The real treat would be my first foray outside of Melbourne over the weekend.

A two-day, one night tour of the Great Ocean Road and Grampians.

You may have noticed a word above that is not normally in my travel lexicon — ‘tour.’

I typically abhor group tours. I don’t like the pace or lack of independence. But, being in a new place with vastly different climates, animals and driving sides, I determined that I would best maximize my time by signing on and enjoying it.

I rolled out of bed for my 7:45AM pick-up and met the driver/guide, Pete. I was the last person on and, thereby, up front for the ride. My fellow passengers were two french women, some American college students, an older German couple, a Thai family and an American woman with her octogenarian mother (or, my spec script for Murder on the Orient Express 2: Australian Boogaloo).

From the start, Pete and I hit it off. An avid traveler who was working three jobs to launch his business, he clearly loved the outdoors and nature in general. As he learned that my politics weren’t of the gilded suntan variety, he relaxed a bit more and we were well underway.

Pete explained to us the history of the Great Ocean Road and how, originally built by soldiers returned from World War I, the road itself was now the world’s largest war memorial. As we moved further outside of Melbourne, the landscape began to change and we made it to our first stop, the surf coast.

Coming from Florida, I was used to the ocean and beaches, but not like this. The Southern Pacific was a shimmering blue, with massive strands of kelp swirling beneath the waves.

As the name would suggest, surfers abound. And, despite my best efforts, and the pleading insistence of her exasperated daughter, I simply could not convince our minibus’s elderly matriarch that I was not, in fact, a tour guide. So, handing out paper towels, water, or whatever else she asked for, and trying to answer questions as best I could, we snaked our way down the coastline. (Pete, the real tour guide, thought this was quite hilarious).

We made a quick stop to look for some Koalas, but alas, none were to be seen.

After a quick lunch, we moved inland.

It’s amazing how different things look after a few minutes driving in Australia. The coastal shore gave way to farmland, and, eventually, dense temperate rainforest. The forest, known as Maits Rest and part of Cape Otway National Park is one of the oldest on the planet. Massive green ferns cut out nearly 90% of sunlight and huge, hollowed-out beeches dominated the upper canopy. Pete recommended walking barefoot through the green and barefoot I walked, with each breath feeling rejuvenating as we went.

Allegedly, the forest is home to a rather vicious, carnivorous snail that sneaks (slowly) up on its prey to deliver a piercing blow with its one sharp tooth. Fortunately for all, the snail is nocturnal and we barely managed to escape with our lives.

As we drove on, the scenery changed yet again.

We had arrived to the shipwreck coast — home to the famed 12 Apostles. These rock formations, originally known as the Apostles, were later re-named the 12 Apostles for obvious, albeit ill-informed, reasons as there were only ever 9. One has since tumbled back into the sea, leaving 8.

Numerical semantics aside, the views were the highlight of the day.

We stopped several times along the road, with each vista truly more breathtaking than the last.

Stopping one last time to view the sunset over the waves, we turned inland for a dinner stop. After dinner, Pete started to get serious.

I, he informed me, was to be on ‘road watch’ as we drove into the bush. Having my earlier wildlife aspirations spurned (no koala and no carnivorous snail), I was excited to see what Australia at night would have to offer.

“ON YOUR LEFT!” I yelled as the 23rd kangaroo of the night bounced out of the underbrush and right into the headlights.

Pete, being experienced at this game managed to swerve at the last moment, leaving a confused ‘roo to hop across to the other side.

As the entire van slumbered and we plowed deeper into the wild and toward the mountains it became somewhat of an odd silence, only punctuated every two minutes by quick lines like: “Wallaby on the right,” “Possum,” and “WTF is that?! Oh, an owl with something in it’s mouth.”

Australia truly comes alive at night and, with no animals harmed in the making of this story, we arrived to our site a little past ten.

Moments after my head hit the pillow and seconds before I fell asleep, a single thought crossed my mind, “Maybe tours aren’t THAT bad.”

Part II coming soon!

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Friday night hit me like a brick.

After work, I zombie walked to the apartment with my brain hinting that it needed a break. Going full-tilt since I landed, my body, mind and soul were screaming for a day in the dark watching movies/shows.

But, fortune favors the bold, and with an Australian Football League game on the docket for Saturday and a trip to the Thousand Steps in the Dandenong Ranges on Sunday — I was ready for another full weekend.

I woke up to creaking.

As my mind caught up and reminded me that I wasn’t indeed on a ship, I strolled out of my bedroom to look out the window and was met a smattering of rain, with the buildings around me suffused with fog.

The clouds above raced by at a clip I hadn’t seen outside of hurricane season in Florida.

As another low creak sounded, it hit me.

“I’m definitely swaying.” I said to no one. (I need to get a cactus or something so my musings can at least have some direction)

On the 27th floor of a massive building, I was experiencing the fun movement that comes with being in a skyscraper in high winds — fortunately this is exactly what is supposed to happen and doesn’t indicate any structural problems, but still, a very odd feeling.

Checking weather.com, I saw the gale & thunderstorm warnings and was greeted by another warning that could only come from Australia. Emblazoned in red across the top of the screen was a ‘SHEEP FARMERS WARNING,’ alerting farmers that their sheep were in danger of being blown away or caught in dangerous storms.

“Great day for a footy match.” I said to my unpurchased cactus.

Nevertheless, part of any sporting event is braving the elements to see it.

I threw on an excellent travel coat my mom bought me for my birthday and forged into the sheep snatching wind. Note: I swore that I definitely didn’t need the coat and I would be fine. Thanks mom, you still dress me better than I dress myself.

That’s when the rain started.

Torrential doesn’t do it justice. Nor do buckets, cats and dogs, or men. Uninterrupted curtains pounded from the sky.

The coat held and I made my way to the information center in Federation Square to meet Andrew,  a coworker/friend who graciously offered to introduce me to the game where his beloved Brisbane Lions would take on the Richmond Tigers (Richmond being a neighborhood of Melbourne).

When he arrived, I nervously asked, “So, do they, uh…play in this?”

Giving me a laugh and nod, Andrew explained that it would take a lot more than a little rain and wind to stop Australian Football. With that, we walked down the Yara to the famous Melbourne Cricket Grounds.

For the uninitiated, Australian Football, or ‘footy’, is played on a massive circle. Players advance the ball with precision kicks to forward teammates who have the chance to catch the ball. If within striking distance, a player can kick the ball towards goal. If it sails through the narrow uprights, it’s six points — if it only makes it through the wide uprights, it’s one point.

I know it sounds complex, but do yourself a favor and watch a tutorial and some highlights on Youtube. Few rules and whistles mean an intuitive game that has a constant flow like soccer. Combine that with the strength needed to fend off, or make, heavy tackles, constant running, and leaping to make a catch (or ‘Mark’ as it’s called) — I started to think these might be the most fit athletes in the world (next to hockey).

Richmond made it easy to get a handle on the game, with the toothless Brisbane team putting up little fight. (Andrew assured me they were mere years away from competitiveness. Competitiveness with what, I’m not so sure.)

Dustin Martin, last year’s MVP, put on a clinic, with a 5 goal performance. And in typical Melbourne fashion, by the second half, we had sun.

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Final Score: Richmond 110 – Brisbane 17

We followed the match with some great Chinatown Dim sum (really, some of the best Chinese I’ve had outside of China) and dessert.

I rolled on home happy and full.

On Sunday, more rain and wind slammed the city — the Dandenongs would have to wait.

I secretly thanked whatever wind patterns and evaporation granted me the day because did I ever need it. Were it a sunny day, I would have struggled to motivate myself. My brain had had enough and, in the end, the glorious lure of streaming entertainment was within my grasp.

But. There was one thing I had to do.

Something I truly hate.

Anywhere in the world, it’s the same result. As I got nearer my throat got dry and my palms and back started to sweat. The steady stream of people heading in the same direction made my chest get tight and my breath shorten.

It had to be done. I had to go to a mall.

With the press of the Fez Medina sans culture and good food, I mashed my way through throngs of shoppers from every part of the world — many of whom had decided it was the perfect place to let their sticky, screaming children run wild.

I sped through this nightmare with a singular purpose. Jeans. And in that regard I was successful, finding a pair that neither looked painted on, nor like it would tear when coming in contact with a twig.

As soon as my receipt was printed I was out the door, out of the mall and back to the apartment.

Deciding not to write, look at work emails, read or leave the place for the rest of the day, I opened up my laptop and drifted away into the world of Netflix.

Random Thoughts:

  • While my birthday coat that saved my body was mentioned. I’d be remiss not to mention the gifts that have had equal impact on my mind and soul. The Nintendo Switch given to me by Ari has saved my mind (I need my games), while the gift from my father, received today, of a 1-year sponsorship of an ancient Red River Gum Tree, known as the Lion’s Head Tree, right here in the Royal Botanical Gardens, has done a lot to boost my spirit. (I intend to go and take some good pics of my B-day tree) — Thank you all!
  • Because of where I am and space time, my true birthday will fall on April 19th this year (born 10:20AM EST on April 18 translates to 12:20 AM Melbourne time on April 19th)

Note: This weekend I am doing a Great Ocean Road drive with an overnight in the Grampians National Park, followed by some hiking until late Sunday. There will probably be two posts with a lot of pictures coming towards the middle of next week.