Had a great time catching up with the family and getting acquainted with Mei and Tasha and Poppy, the dogs.
Has to be said, the latter were easier to cope with, apart from their attention seeking and fondness for stealing my stuff: 5 shoes, 1 pair of socks and a pullover but at least the worst they did was slobber over them a bit, unlike one of Mum's shoes ;-). There was also the chocolate bar Tasha nicked - first we knew about it was when we spotted her on her sleeping mat furtively licking a plastic wrapper!
Mei was very cute but also rather prone to mood shifts - smiling and gurgling one moment, howling the next. Still, at least I didn't have my usual effect on babies (make them cry) but seemed to amuse her more than anything!
- The Vietnam War Veterans Museum out in Phillip Island - still in its early stages and so still wonderfully ad hoc (e.g. there was a Cobra gunship there which wasn't used by the Australians in Vietnam but the US had offered the museum that as they didn't have any UH-1s which they had asked for!). Very much set up from the veterans' perspective - Parents observed I appeared to be the only male visitor who wasn't a middle-aged white guy. One of the curators seemed to thus take an interest in me and gave me a mini guided tour! Took an awful lot of photos, of course...
- The Royal Australian Armoured Corps Museum - more tanks than you can shake a stick at. Interestingly, the collection also included several German, Japanese, North Vietnamese and Iraqi vehicles captured over the years. Bit intimidating getting there though - it's in an active army base so photo ID required and stern warnings to only drive straight to and from the museum! Needless to say, took lots of photos again - want to see what the firing ports on a BMP-1 look like? ;-) However, this reminds me that I *still* haven't been to the Tank Museum at Bovington!
- Going with Ling and Duncan to take the dogs for an outing to the "doggie beach" where they're allowed to run around off the leash. Hilarious watching them going mad in the sea and playing with all the other dogs.
- The James Squire Brewhouse - originally set up by a convict turned brewer and now provider of one of the better ranges of beers in Australia (according to Duncan whose judgement seemed pretty sound), the Brewhouse is a microbrewery pub/restaurant in the Docklands with the great idea of sampler paddles so you can explore their full range.
- Catching up with Pat - musters won't be the same without her now she's gone back to Australia. Met initially at Young & Jackson's (apparently the oldest pub in Melbourne) for a few beers and to have our photo taken with Chloe, the nude painting which once scandalised Melbourne society and then lunch (and more beers) on the South Bank. Rest of the family seemed stunned that I knew anyone in Melbourne!
- Did a fair bit of shopping, aided by favourable exchange rates, especially clothes and Australian country music CDs! That said, I did also buy myself a Creative Zen W while transiting through Singapore...
- Still don't top the Golden Gaytime ice cream but other great examples of Australian marketing: a lollipop entitled Starburst Sucks, a linen shop called Holy Sheet and the Harold Holt Swim Centre (Holt was the Australian PM who went for a swim in 1967 and never came back!)
- The entertainingly distinctive Australian English. Just when I think there can't be any more words that can be contracted with an -o or -ie on the end, along comes something like "scratchie" for scratch card...
- Lot of civilised evenings sitting out on the porch with book, MP3 player and cold beer, watching the dogs playing in the garden (and occasionally having to stop them digging their way to freedom). Pool was handy for cooling down on hot days too.
- I love GPS. Ling's Tomtom was invaluable for getting me to places like the Vietnam and RAAC Museums
Not so high-lights:
- I was asked to bring in some hard-to-find (in Australia) cereals - ended up getting 4.5 kg of Alpen confiscated by customs because they contained dried skimmed milk powder from the UK, a non-approved country!
- I am astounded at how early things close out there - Chadstone, a shopping mall the size of a Heathrow terminal, closed at 5-5.30 on a Saturday. The local newsagent opened from 7.30-93.0 AM on a Saturday!
- Failed to make it up to Sydney to see Ursula :-( but at least we managed to talk on the phone
- Dogs' tendency to perform certain bodily functions when taking them for a walk as we have to clean up afterwards. Eeewwww...
- More weird than a problem - in some ways, Australia seems very American. One clear example - inevitably being greeted in shops with "Hi, how you going?" That I can cope with, it's follow ups like "So, what you do this morning?" Maybe I've been in the UK too long but my first reaction was usually "I'm sorry, have we been introduced?" Weird getting into a conversation about where we lived (or had lived in her case) in London when all I wanted to do was buy a pair of USB plug cufflinks!
- Seemed straighforward enough - there's a thesis on the ARVN at the University of New South Wales, I have 2.5 weeks so I order a copy. Then began the process of figuring out what an ABN was (Australian Business Number), convincing them I didn't have one (they thought I must be ordering it for business reasons because I had a .com domain which said I was a management consultant!), signing and faxing declarations and so on. At the time of departure, I still hadn't received it but, fortunately, it'll be sent as a PDF on a CD-R to London. Damn, this thing had better be some first rate work after all this grief. Makes me think that, if I want a decent book on the ARVN, I'll have to write it!
- One reason I couldn't emigrate to Australia - broadband is charged by the data transferred. No Bittorrenting unless you're ultra-rich!
So, a lot of fun but really wish I'd managed to get up to Sydney to catch up with Ursula as this was most likely my last trip to Australia for quite a while as Ling and Duncan may be moving soon.