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Jef in Australia - Feb. 21 - March 8, 2000

Australia in 2000.  That was my goal.  I had been thinking about it since 1998.  I was accruing airline miles ever since I was in Alaska and had not really used any of them.  I had enough for a round-trip ticket to Australia and thought that it would be something fun to do for the millennial-event of Y2K.  Had there ever been a time when I didn’t want to go to Oz - the land of kangaroos, exotic animals, aborigines, and natural wonders, etc.?  It was a someplace I had always dreamed about, a country both exotic and familiar (they speak English) and one of those destinations that held a romantic fixation for me - the outback, the interior, the barrier reef, etc.  Why not!?  Australia in 2000 would be a great way to celebrate the millennial event of Y2K.  I’d been saving airline miles for years and had enough to do it.  So, in 1998 I began plotting such a trip

Since the seasons are opposite our own, I would go in January or February, when the weather was at its worst and nastiest in DC.  It would be a great adventure, and there were enough Oblates scattered throughout the country that I would not have to worry about where I would stay.  In researching the trip, I learned about their Mardi Gras parade - the second largest in the world after Rio de Janeiro - and it took place in February.  That fit the initial plans I had made and so it sort of settled the timing for me.  I would go in time to welcome Lent through a weekend of debauchery and fun.

But those plans were put on hold.  In September of ‘99 I was asked to take over and coordinate our  Oblate Youth Pilgrimage and take on the new role and title of National Oblate Youth Director.  The pilgrimage was set to take place in July of 2000.  An event to which we hoped to attract about 1,000 young people and their chaperones.  There had not been any planning done prior to this (other than settling on dates, location and some of those basics) and so I was literally starting from scratch.  An event of this size really needs a minimum of 18-24 months planning - I was given less than eleven months.

I went into high activity mode.  Calling speakers (many big-time ones actually laughing at me for trying to book them with so little notice) and putting together the details of the trip.  Well, after months of working on it, after seeing how the little details were going to take so much time and energy, how dedicated I had to be to this effort.... come December it was soon apparent (at least to me) that going to Australia in February, in the midst of all this work, with so many things to be done - well, maybe 2001 would be a better time to go.  I put the trip out of my mind and resigned myself to other things.

Sometimes the fates are cruel, sometimes the fates are comic, sometimes the fates are amazingly kind and surprising.  About 2 weeks after I had made up my mind to postpone my trip to Australia, David Ullrich, the member of the provincial council who oversees the youth ministry and other foreign missions of the province was reading some material about a youth out-reach program that the Oblates in Australia sponsored.  It was a rather exciting effort that ran under the general title of “Rosies”.  Prior to this, David and I had often talked about ways to get youth involved in outreach programs, in “mission” works of some sort.  We had looked at efforts and programs that were taking place in different parts of the country, and were putting together various ideas.  Well, he approached me about the possibility of visiting Australia to see and learn first-hand about what they were doing, about Rosies - was there any time when I could see myself making such a trip - soon? 

Was there?  Immediately all my responsibilities, all my plans and good sense about not leaving the country for such an extended period of time were thrown out the window.  Of course I could make the time, of course the pilgrimage planning could be put on hold for a while, of course, of course, of course.  And could I find an appropriate time to go?  How about late February!?  I was typing e-mails in a matter of hours after my conversation with David - asking the Oblates there if it would be possible to “come and see” Rosies first hand ...  in late February.  As soon as I had confirmation from the Aussie Oblates that I would be more than welcome at that time, I was on the phone with the travel agent and making reservations for 2 weeks in Australia on a three-city tour - Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.  In less than 36 hours after speaking with David, t was set.  I was going to Australia.  On Monday, February 21, 2000 I was going to Australia.  Funny how things work out.

With tickets to Australia sitting in my desk, it became a spur to work even harder on the Pilgrimage - attempting to get as many of the details taken care of as possible.  February and March were going to be rather lost months for me in terms of planning and the ability to do much.  The week before my trip I was to be in New Orleans for our Area Oblate meeting.  I had missed the previous meeting and felt it would not be good to miss another.  I had also agreed, some months prior, to do a week of “mini-missions” to our parishes in L.A. the week after I was scheduled to return from “down under.”  So, that was not going to leave me a whole lot of time during those days to actually work on the pilgrimage.  There was also the matter of putting together and mailing out the March newsletter.

I had to get the newsletter out earlier than usual - about 2 weeks earlier.  I did not have as much to work with.  It is normally tough to get the Oblates to submit materials for the newsletter - they are often hesitant or forgetful about getting news items to me or meeting deadlines.  It seemed twice as tough when I was trying to get it out early.  I managed to stretch the materials I did have, dug up stories that I thought would be interesting, and got the materials to the printer early in February.  And then it was waiting time.  The printers could take anywhere from a week to 10 days to get it back to me.  Given that I was anxious to get it back and get it in the mail made the wait all the more painful.  Finally it arrived - on Monday the 14th.  I was scheduled to leave for New Orleans on Tuesday for the four day meeting.

After its arrival, Bro. Ben and I quickly put them into envelopes.  We managed to get all 2000 into envelopes by that evening and I left the envelopes with our secretary to seal and label them.  I thought that they would be done by the time we got back from Louisiana and then I could sort them and take them to the post office on Friday evening.  I was to arrive in town at 4:00 Friday evening and so I would be able to get them to the post office before their 9:00 PM closing... so I thought.  Sometimes the fates are fickle.  The plane was delayed for 3 hours.  I got back to the office and found that only about a third of the envelopes had been completed.  To say the least, I was a bit miffed.

The meeting in Louisiana was all right.  I had arrived the day before the meeting so I could talk to the youth of our parish in New Orleans and encourage their attendance at the Youth Pilgrimage.  The pastor, Joe, was interested in having his youth attend and so he had notified them the week prior that I would be there and he would like to have them come to this meeting.  I was there, and so were 5 young people.  I talked up the pilgrimage to that small group and then went to spend the rest of the evening prowling the French Quarters.  I do like New Orleans and the whole feel of the French Quarters.  The weather was especially nice given that I left DC in the 30's and New Orleans was in the 70's.

The meeting itself went rather smoothly and was pretty dull.  We were not in New Orleans itself but at the retreat house in the woods about an hour from the city - in Marrero.  We have a retreat house there that sits on the edge of a bayou. The men of the Southeast Area are a generally older lot - and sitting among the men, I felt much younger than I actually am.  That is one of the perks about sticking with the Oblates - I get to remain one of the “younger priests” much longer than my actual age might otherwise allow.


We did a have an extended “free-time” on Thursday afternoon, so I joined three of the men on a walking tour of a nearby bayou.  Part of the Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve, we walked a goodly portion of the Barataria Preserve Trails.  It was actually a rather interesting walk.  Part of the trail paralleled the Bayou des Familles, running between the slightly higher ground of the bayou’s natural levee and the lower swamp.  The trail took me on top of a portion of a man-made levee that I was told at the Visitor’s Center once separated plantation fields from the swamp.  The trail, a lot of it on boardwalk, led through a veritable forest of palmettos and maple trees.  I had taken a longer portion of the trail than the others, telling them I would catch up with them further on (I had wanted a longer walk in order to get a bit more exercise).  I had to move quickly in order to catch up with them, but I kept my eyes peeled (as per the advice of the ranger) for snakes and other creatures. 

I did eventually catch up with the others along the Bayou Coquille Trail.  This trail began at the site of a prehistoric American Indian village that they said dated from about 200-600 AD on the banks of the bayou.  The trail was often darkened by a canopy of maple trees and oak, with lots of palmettos and cypress on either side.  The swamp is a flooded forest of bald cypress and other vegetation.  The trees began to thin out toward the end of this trail and ended at an open marsh, a floating prairie of freshwater grasses and aquatic plants. 

The next portion of trail sat atop an old bank formed when the canal was dredged and dug out by loggers of the 1800's to gain access to the cypress of the swamp.  Here we began to see wildlife... snakes of various colors, turtles in little groups of two or three, frogs and of course, thankfully, with great excitement - alligators. 

As I walked, I had spied several small alligators close to the edge of the bayou.  Small things maybe one or two feet long.   It had a feel of being a bit unreal - to actually see them in the wilds.  I was excited about seeing these little ones, but then began to wonder where mom and dad were.  Although it was  great  to see the babies... I wanted the big boys.  And I got them.  Further on, crossing a bridge that traversed a portion of the canal, floating amidst lily-pads and water grasses was a full grown, at least 6 feet long, bumpy, mean looking as you would expect alligator.  It was such a thrill to see one in the wild, just floating there, in the open.  Of course, after several minutes of staring, I began to wish it would do something else... snap at a turtle, swim, anything but just sit there, however he was not going to accommodate my wishes and so I moved on to the end of the trail, spying a few more snakes, turtles and yet one more full grown gator.  It too held my attention for a bit, but again, it just laid there.  I took some pictures and then hurried up the trail to catch up with the others who had started back a bit earlier than I had.

When we got back to the retreat house, I had a phone message.  It was to inform me that my truck had been broken into at the DC residence.  What a bummer!  I tend to be rather possessive about my truck - I keep it clean with weekly washings and vacuumings.  I know every scratch and dent in its body.  The thought of it being broken into was pretty hard to rest easy with.  And being so far away, knowing that I would have little time to get it fixed upon my return, and all the other problems that go with the vandalizing of a vehicle.. I was pretty concerned.

The meeting was due to be over that evening, and so I tried to change my ticket to fly out earlier, but there were no seats to be had without substantial fees, and so I was stuck.  I made the best of it though and joined some of the others who were staying the night in their journey to the casinos.  I, of course, had no luck.  I have never really won anything at casinos and find them amusing but expensive.  The guys I went with won 500.00 and 70.00 each, I lost about 40.  Oh well, I had fun losing it.

The flight out on Friday was delayed 3 hours because of some severe weather in other parts of the country... and that did not help my mood at all.  I was anxious to get back to see about my truck as well as take care of the newsletter.  I got home to find out that the newsletter was only 1/3 of the way done, and it was too late to do anything about the truck.   The thieves had broken into the back passenger side window and gone through my truck - stealing a couple of knives I kept in there (including one that I have had since my college days) and a couple of pairs of expensive sunglasses.  They also found the keys to the camper in the glove compartment, opened it up and took out a tool kit and some other things that I kept back there.  I was surprised that they did not take the small CD player I keep in the truck, but I guess it was fate’s way of saying she was not TOTALLY against me.  There was lots of glass all over the place, scars in the body of the truck around the window and several rocks inside the truck.  I guess that they had broken the window by throwing rocks at it, and several of them seemed to have missed.   I went to bed - planning on an early start the next day in order to attend to these things the next day.

I spent Saturday morning calling the various window replacement shops and getting estimates.  It surprised me that the cheapest place (650.00 for that small window! ) was also the same place that came out and repaired it “on site,” of course, I would have to wait until Monday, but I would have had to wait for Monday even with the places that would have had me drive to them.

The rest of that day was spent licking envelopes, putting mailing labels on them, separating and bagging the newsletters, getting them ready to take to the post office on Monday.  After getting those all squared away, I went to the car wash to vacuum and clean out what I could of the glass in the truck.  The rest of that day was spent taking care of a back-log of emails, mail and other things that tend to back up whenever I am away.

Sunday was spent updating the web-site.  I try to do that at least weekly, and since I was going to be out of town for a couple of weeks, I wanted to make sure that this update was a major one, with lots of new stuff to keep people amused until I could get back to it.  That evening was time to do laundry and pack.  I packed and re-packed at least three times, determined not to carry too much with me.  Even though I kept taking things out of the suitcase, in the end it still seemed too much, and I was not fully satisfied, but I did manage to keep it down to one check-in piece and one carry-on.  That was a relief for me.

It struck me Monday morning that it was President’s Day.  I had a rush of anxiety about whether or not the bulk-mailing office would be open in honor of the holiday.  I made a call, discovered that it was open and so I managed to get the mailing done in good time.  Because of the holiday, many of the commercial mailers must have been closed, because I was not in line (as I usually am) behind people with semi-trucks full of postage and was able to get in and out in less than 45 minutes... a real record for me.

The rest of the day was spent at the gym, finishing some more laundry, taking care of some computer problems in the offices, and other small duties.  The people came and repaired my truck at about 1:30 that afternoon and were done in less than an hour.  My plane was to depart at 6 that evening, I had to be there by 4, and so that meant leaving the house at 3:00 in order to make the journey from DC to Baltimore where I was departing from.  The only thing I did not get done before leaving was a haircut.  I had been too long without one, but my stylist friend was too busy to see me that weekend or on Monday, so I left a little shaggy, figuring I could get it done in Australia.

Check in and the (more or less) five hour flight to L.A. was pretty uneventful... but about an hour late.  There was sort of a rush from the domestic airport to the international one, and the late arrival added to the tension of getting there on time.   I should have known though... that flight was also late, delayed an hour.

Finally allowed to board our direct Qantas flight to Australia, I took my seat at the end of a center row.  It was not too bad at all, and as the passengers continued boarding- and passing up my row, I thought that the fates were finally turning kindly.  It looked as though everyone was on the flight, and my row was still relatively empty.... only one other person in the row, and she was sitting at the opposite end seat.  I was already making plans for stealing another seat or two and stretching out a bit on the 14 hour trip to Sydney. 

Hope springs eternal, but does not always bear fruit.  Mere minutes before we were asked to buckle our belts in preparation for take-off, a steward came and spoke to my lone row partner.  He asked if she would mind changing seats so that a family of three could sit together... two parents and their small child!  I thought it was bad enough that there was a small child in the row in front of me, but to have another one beside me meant twice the danger of crying, screaming babies.  A danger that did eventually become a reality.  One baby would begin crying for whatever reason, and the other, out of sympathy or a desire for attention, would do the same.  This would turn into a contest of volume and endurance, the only losers being those who were sitting in the vicinity of the little screamers.  I know that parents can’t help it, that babies do cry, that there are times when planes are so uncomfortable I want to cry as well, but it seems to me that if they can block off a section for first class passengers with fancy curtains and such, that the airlines could do the same with screaming babies.  I mean, even churches often provide cry rooms.  Oh well, they only did this a half dozen times or so during the entire trip... so I guess it could have been worse.  The only help for it all was to turn the volume way up on the earphones for the movies - this could be a very long 7,501 miles (as the airlines so helpfully broadcast on the viewing screens of the airplane).

I had wanted to be in Sydney for Mardi Gras, and so that meant doing some odd in-country traveling - starting my actual visit in Brisbane (north of Sydney) and then traveling to Melbourne (south of Sydney) and then to Sydney.  It was a cause of discussion for the Oblates there, but I simply explained that although this was officially a working trip, I did have another agenda as well.  The Aussies seemed to understand that and asked no further questions (probably passing it off to Yank idiosyncracies).  This routing meant that I actually landed in Sydney and then had to catch another plane to Brisbane - but what the heck, after that many hours on a plane, what’s another hour or two? 


I arrived in Brisbane about 10:30 in the morning on Wednesday, February 23rd (having crossed the International Date Line some where in the air and lost a day).  There was no one there to greet me - at least no one that I could identify as waiting for me.  Not really knowing anyone in Australia, and having made all my travel plans and contacts via the internet, I really did not know who I was looking for.  I was hoping that as I got off the plane I would see someone either carrying a sign, dressed in clerical garb, or asking if I was me.  There was none of that.  Well, surely they would be down in the luggage pick-up area.  As I made my way to the luggage area, I was also looking into the eyes of anyone who looked like they were looking for someone else.  I got a few smiles that sent momentary shivers of hope up and down my spine, but all of them were fruitless.

I got to the luggage area and patiently waited for my bags to show up and continuing to scope out the folks.  All of them were strangers, any one of them could be the person that was looking for me, and there was that occasional almost-approach from several people, but I was never the one they were looking for.  Surely these locals knew their airplanes better than I did, they were probably timing their arrival perfectly - waiting for me to pick out my bags and make my way outside.  They would drive up in their car, making themselves known in some obvious way and whisk me away to their house.

Three cigarettes later, still standing out on the sidewalk, enjoying the heat (it had snowed in Washington just a few days before I left and this Australian autumn was glorious!), the airport now practically empty of passengers and people looking for passengers, I began to wonder what happened.  I decided to pull my file of printed e-mails out of my bag and make a few phone calls.  No sooner had that thought passed through my head when I was hit with a very sad reality... that folder was still sitting on my desk in DC, right next to my computer, right where I would be sure to see it, right where I left it.

What to do, what to do?  Luckily the airport had a number of pay phones and a whole bank of phone books.  That was a good thing.  It would have been a better thing had I remembered the name of my contact in Brisbane, or the name of the place that I was supposed to be staying at.  I exchanged money so as to be able to use the phone and made my way to the aforementioned phone books.  Brisbane is a very large city, with lots of suburbs as I discovered via the many phone books that I was beginning to thumb my way through.  Not being sure where to look, I started out by looking for any listings under the title of Oblate, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI, etc.  Nothing.  From there I looked up Churches / Catholic to see if any of their yellow page listings mentioned the Oblates.  Nothing.  Rosies!, maybe Rosies had a listing.  They did!  I called that number and got a lovely recording explaining that they were closed that day but I could call back on Thursday night when someone would surely be there.  Luckily the recording offered another number to call - and I tried it.  A live person actually answered the phone there, but they were not able to give me any local names to call and they were located almost 2 hours outside the city of Brisbane.  They did not seem much help.

I then turned to the Archdiocese.  Surely they would know where the Oblates were located in the area.  A very helpful secretary gave me the name and number of a parish that the Oblates staffed, though it was not exactly in Brisbane, and was quite a ways from the city, they might be able to provide me some help.  Explaining my dilemma to each of these people made the whole situation seem more and more ludicrous and funny... being thousands of miles from home, not knowing for sure who or what I was looking for, no names to ask for, not certain if they were even expecting me (my email correspondent had assured me that arrangements would be made for my arrival... but I began to wonder if that meant the entire trip or just my visit to his city... though he had my entire itinerary) but I persevered (that is the 4th vow of the Oblates).

I called the parish, explained my situation, they were not expecting me or even knew who I was but they were going to call the Oblates much closer to my location and ask if they knew anything.  I told them where I would be in the airport and what car rental booth I was closest to.  I hung hope, went outside for a diet coke and smoke and sent a series of prayers to whatever saint might be interested in handling this case.  It was now about noon, I had been on the phone for over an hour, the long trip, jet lag and lack of sleep was beginning to catch up with me And then, finally, some good news.  The agent from the car rental booth approached me, asked my name and said that she had a message for me... someone was coming for me.  What a relief!

About 12:30, a tall, gray-haired, spry gentleman dressed in coat and tie pulled up to the airport and asked if I were the American looking for a place to stay.  I told him I was, introduced myself, and he directed me into his car.  I put my bags into his trunk and made my way to where the passenger seat should have been, but it had been replaced by the driver’s seat.  The Australians drive and sit on the opposite sides of our American cars and roads.  It is rather unsettling to be on the “wrong” side of the street, and although we were going with the flow of traffic, my mind kept waiting for a car to come head-on at us.  Luckily, my host was a good driver and that never happened.

His name is Kevin Davine, an Oblate priest, local superior and head-master of the local, Oblate-run school called Iona College located on the outskirts of Brisbane proper.  He was very happy to have me as a guest but had not heard that I was coming nor who it was that should have been looking after me.  He asked for the name of my contact, but since I had had it in my Australia file, I never felt compelled to commit it to memory.  I am sure I must have sounded very odd trying to come up with names, and trying to explain my situation.  My answers to his questions (Who were you in contact with?  Who was supposed to have made arrangements?  Where did they say you would be staying?  Was it Paul, Pat, William, ...) were extremely lame and unconvincing... I would have been very suspicious if I were him.

The school was only about 45 minutes from the airport.  Kevin took me to the Oblate residence, showed me to a room, and then offered me something to eat and drink.  After being sure I was comfortable, he gave me a key and excused himself as he had some work to do. 

My room was quite comfortable.  A former seminary building, some remodeling had been done to form a series of suites (on three floors) with a sitting room, bedroom and bathroom, as well as a patio.  I was warned several times to be sure to keep the screens closed as the mosquitoes could be quite bad.  Sitting on the balcony and smoking I had a wonderful view of 2 of the 4 or 5 sports fields that were part of the school grounds.  There were students out on the fields playing cricket (Kevin had informed me that this was the cricket season) dressed in their school uniforms and wearing the round, wide brimmed hats in either brown or white that are stereotypically thought of as Australian hats - they actually wear them.  I was told the school required them to wear the hats when outside because of the sun - smart rule.


As I said, Iona College,  is located in the suburbs of Brisbane in a town called Lindum, though the postal address calls it Wynnum.  It is a huge school that the Oblates have been running for about the last 40 years.  The name is deceptive to my American ears, because it is an all boys school for grades 5-12 (college means something else in Australia).  There are about 1500 students.  The school is located in a rather industrial suburb, and lucky for me, the commuter train station was only 2 blocks away.  It is a huge and very green campus with a small river flowing through the woods in the back part of the property.  There is a magnificent, Olympic sized swimming pool, a very large very modern and very technologically current theater, science labs, lots of green space, chapel and many other buildings both necessary to a school and just nice to have.  It seems that private schools receive money from the government.  The government pays for teachers and some of the building needs, as well as automobiles for the main administrators. 

I was later told that this arrangement with the government came about in the 60's.  Almost half the schools in Australia are private ones, a majority of them, at the time, were Catholic.  One bishop threatened to not open any of the Catholic schools one year.  This would have severely hurt the government, as they would not have the facilities to accommodate the students they would inherit from such a closing.  As a result, the government agreed to paying for certain school needs, starting a trend that swept the country.

After cleaning up and getting familiar with the house, I decided to walk through the streets and property - just to get the lay of the land and look around.  Just in this rather short walk, I got to see lots of brightly colored tropical trees and flowers, flocks of bright-yellow-headed wild parrots and a number of other birds that were not familiar to me. 

Returning to the house, I was met by Kevin and Fr. Pat Dwyer.  Kevin basically handed me over to Pat’s keeping and charge.  It turns out that Pat is not only the counselor for the school but is the Oblate chaplain for the local Rosies group.  Since I had explained to Kevin that it was Rosies that brought me here, I am sure he felt Pat was the one to have me.  In a series of questions and answers I discovered that Pat was not the one I had communicated with about my visit, nor was he told that I was coming (at that point I decided that when I got home, read my file, discovered who it was that was supposed to have taken care of all this, I was going to be very upset at him).  Well, Pat, like Kevin, seemed to take it all in stride and good spirits and soon made me feel comfortable, at home and welcomed.

We had wine and cheese on the patio and he named the bird that was making all that chuckling and laughter-like sound.  It was a Kookaburra bird - and yes, it was sitting in an old gum tree (a very common tree in Australia).  I was thrilled.  I could see the bird quite clearly- medium sized, a dark mask surrounding its dark eyes and brown tail.  The most astonishing thing about it was that it’s rather large, wide beak made it’s entire head look too heavy and big for its body.  Pat and I spent quite a while talking about the Rosies program.  He is chaplain not only of the Brisbane group but also another group further up the coast.  We made plans for seeing both programs in action.  The nice thing was that Rosies is not, in most places, a 7-night-a-week program.  Usually the program runs a couple nights each week, and so there was going to be plenty of “free days” and time to do some sight-seeing.

Pat gave me a tour of the school, a driving tour of the suburb we were in, and then a trip to the bay to see the boats and the quite choppy waters.  In the distance we could see an island.  There is no bridge from this island to the mainland, but it apparently has a small village on it.  Pat tells me there are several kids who attend Iona College who live on that island.  This means a two hour commute each day by ferry, bus and train in order to get to school and then again to get home.

We returned to the house in time for supper and to meet the third Oblate who lives there.  He is a younger guy, tall, red-headed and freckled and very friendly.  His name is Greg Watson.  He was just returning from a week at the beach with a group of students who were attending some sort of school supported camp-retreat.  After dinner, we gathered in the television room for some news and conversation.  Sometimes the conversations were hard to follow because of the accents.  Kevin has a deep Irish accent and the Aussie accent of the other two did not sound all that much different.  Wonderful to listen to, but sometimes difficult to follow.  I was fighting to stay awake and go to bed at a “normal” hour, but I soon gave in to the fatigue and excused myself to bed.  It was only 8:00 PM.

I slept like a rock and was up and wide awake at 4:00 in the morning.  I did not want to go jogging before 5, so I spent the hour writing, sitting on the patio listening to the tropical birds and insects and watching the beginnings of the sunrise.  After jogging, washing and dressing I walked down to the convenience store I had noted during my jog and stocked up on some Diet Coke.  I joined the students at the morning mass.  Attendance at the mass is voluntary, but there were still about 30 students there.

After mass, Pat and I made plans for him to drop me off at the river where I could catch the City Cat - a catamaran that runs up and down the Brisbane river depositing and picking up passengers along the way.  I was going to spend the day sight-seeing.

Australia was originally founded as a penal colony.  Brisbane was a penal colony for the penal colony.  It was meant for those who had committed crimes after their arrival in Australia.  In fact, the Brisbane River was originally discovered by some escaped convicts as they were running from authorities.  It is the third largest city in Australia.  Apparently it had a very much “country” feel to it until massive renewal and renovation programs of the 70's and 80's.  Almost all the old buildings were torn down and new buildings and parks took their place.  It’s sort of sad really, as the city really does not have a “historic” feel to it; but it is beautiful.  Built on both sides of the very windy Brisbane river (a wide, muddy looking river, reminiscent of the Mississippi), the city is wonderfully landscaped, filled with all sorts of flowering and scented trees - all speaking of the fact that this is a subtropical region.  I was there right at the beginning of the monsoon season (which was, at the time, devastating northern Australia) and so the air was more humid than usual (so I was told) and they were having occasional rain.

Brisbane (pronounced “briz-bin”) is in eastern Australia, not too far from the coast and is in the state of Queensland ( a state that is more than 4 times the size of California).  The state is called the Australian Florida and makes much of its beaches and although the Great Barrier Reef lies off the coast of this state I did not get a chance to see it (reason to return).

This day was looking to be one of the rainy days.  The clouds were heavy, there was a slight drizzle, and I was just hoping that it would not turn into anything more.  The Cat took me through some of the suburban areas, under bridges, crossing from one side of the river to the next making its various stops.  It was actually a rather nice way to get a sense of the lay of the city along the river.  I finally got out at the city center and began my trek.  I had a couple of maps with me as well as the tourist guide, and no real agenda.

There is really a lot to see in Brisbane, but not much of any age.  As I said, much of the city had been rebuilt during the last 30-40 years.  That sense of “newness” was true throughout my visit in the country.  Australia is only about 200 years old and so there are not the ancient edifices and sites that mark Europe or Asia.  The country is not even as old as the United States.  I am sure that the more “native” areas might have a sense of age about them, but that was not something I got a chance to see on this trip.  (Another reason to return.)

The city seems to have been built on some rolling hills, and so walking is a series of rather gentle ascents and descents.  I made a stop at ST JOHN’S ANGLICAN CATHEDRAL - a very large building that was never completed, but in recent years they have resumed working on the unfinished western end of the building.  The deanery, inside the cathedral grounds, was the site from which the proclamation declaring Queensland separate from New South Wales was read, and for three years afterwards, it served as the seat of the new state’s government.

Having visited the Anglican Church, I felt it necessary to then take in something from my own tradition and so I headed on over to ST. STEPHEN’S CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL.  This church, given the Catholic proclivity for statues, icons and other images, was a bit more interesting than St. John’s.

In honor of this jubilee year, the cathedral is holding some sort of “in-church” pilgrimage.  There were stations set up all through the cathedral and people could go from station to station with a prayer card and meditation brochure that would allow them to make a sort of “mini-pilgrimage” right there.  The pilgrimage started at the “Jubilee Door” and made its way to different small chapels, the beautiful baptismal font and to the Old St. Stephen’s Church and its Mary MacKillop Shrine.

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the Baptismal Font are very modern and very beautiful.  They are in an area set off from the rest of the church with a wall that is carved with a rather abstract but quite nice rendition of Creation.  The wall incorporates various stones and other materials that make it look rather rough and intriguing.  On the other side of the wall, the blessed sacrament sits in front of a glass wall the glows with white light.  It is both bright, inviting and yet meditative.  Next to the blessed sacrament chapel is the Baptismal Font.  It is a magnificent, flowing, white marble sculpture seeking to depict the Church as mother.  It incorporates a womb shaped font for infants and a tomb-shaped font for adults and speaks quite well of the dying and rising of baptism.  It is very creative and quite worth the seeing.

Across the cathedral grounds lay the very small Old St. Stephen’s Church.  It is the original church on the site and is the oldest church (built around 1848) in Queensland.  It houses a chapel dedicated to Blessed Mary MacKillop - the first native Australian to be declared Blessed.   The center-piece of this chapel are four panels displaying images of her life and a very large, very heavy looking and feeling, very interesting wooden statue of the woman herself.  It is sculpted from camphor laurel wood and very much evokes the tough pioneering spirit that is attributed to her.  The making of the statue seemed rather incredible to me.  Apparently the artist began with the trunk of a hundred-year-old trunk.  He sliced it and hollowed it out and the recombined the elements into the present image.

This revered nun who was born in Melbourne and died in Sydney seemed to have been rather feisty.  There were two middle-aged women praying in the shrine at the time of my visit, and they were very excited to tell me about her.  Apparently Blessed Mary pioneered a new form of religious life in Australia to provide education to the families of the isolated colonial families of the time.  She and her Sisters shared the life of the poor and itinerant and paid special attention to destitute women and children.  The two ladies delighted in telling me that she did not put up with much guff from church authorities who sought to get in the way of her ministry, and she was even excommunicated at one time. The two ladies lamented the fact that Christians are such wimps these days and they wished that they had more feisty church leaders willing to take a stand and not be “such very conservative poofs.”  I liked those ladies.

By mid-day the clouds had broken and the sun was bright and hot.  I loved it!  I was hoping to get a little color while in Australia, and the sunshine indicated that it might be a possibility. 

When in a new or foreign place, there is nothing I like more than to walk through the city streets, seeing what there is to see, listening to the people speak to one another, walking in and out of shops - just looking.  There is something about being on the ground, not in a tour bus, and simply wandering here and there that I find quite satisfying and interesting.  Given the opportunity, it is nothing for me to spend 8 to 10 hours a day simply walking, walking, walking.  I have brought blisters to more than one set of feet of those accompanying me on such jaunts, and so it is sometimes nicer to do these walks alone and not have to listen to the complaints and belly-aching that inevitably comes after the 5th or 6th hour.  Brisbane was a wonderful place to walk in. 

I had decided that there were two things I needed - a haircut and a pair of sunglasses (mine had been stolen from the truck).  I decided I needed the haircut when I passed a barber shop that looked to have an empty chair and a barber not currently busy.  When I paid the barber for his services, I included a small tip, but he would not accept it.  He told me that it was not the custom to tip for such services in Australia.  What a nice country. 

The city buildings were an interesting combination of Victorian, Edwardian and high-tech architecture.  Many of the larger buildings housed small shopping centers in the basements or on the street level.  It seemed everywhere a person turned there was a new collection of shops and food courts.  I found this to be the case in all three of the cities that I visited.  There are many streets that are blocked off and turned into pedestrian malls with lots of patio cafes and eateries.  The city center had the feel of a sort of street fair - lots of vendors, people sitting in the patios, street performers, etc.  The hardest part of all this walking though was the fact that I had to remember to look in, what was for me, the opposite direction in order to watch for cars.  More than once I looked the wrong way and, thinking the coast was clear, ended up walking in front of a car.  Even the escalators were reversed in regard to which side was up and which was down and I would disrupt foot traffic by walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk.  Oh well, I guess it was never too difficult to pick out the Yank-tourist.

Another feature of these cities were their war memorials.  ANZAC SQUARE sits in the middle of the city.  Walking on the paths that stretch across bright green lawns, the eye, like the paths are directed toward this shrine to those killed in war.  Constructed out of sandstone, the circular structure is a series of columns and in the middle of the circle an eternal flame burns in memory of the Australian soldiers who died in World War 1.  In the crypt of the structure is the SHRINE OF MEMORIES.  The walls are lined with plaques and flags that indicate the various places
where Australian and New Zealand soldiers had fought and died.  There are also small urns of soil samples, each labeled “forever Australia” that were collected from the various battlefields where Aussie soldiers perished.  It was a very solemn, almost spine-tingling experience that spoke of the reverence in which these fallen heroes are held.

From the war memorial I made my way to the CITY HALL and its luscious surrounding parks where I became entranced by the long-billed, dirty white birds that I later identified as IBIS’s.  These birds have really become accustomed to the city, reminding me of the pigeons in DC who practically dare you to walk in their way.  These birds have the run of the city parks and fountains.  The City Hall is impressive, more a community center than a city government center.  The outer facade has the look of a Greek Temple, and inside the building is a small museum (at that time featuring a collection of photographs from Mexico), a circular concert hall with a magnificent grand pipe organ, an observation platform offering magnificent views of the city and an art gallery.  The building, the largest town hall in Australia, also houses a huge clock tower, home to one of Australia’s largest civic clocks.  As I was to discover, the Australians are very proud of their clock and bell towers.

Brisbane also likes its parks, and there are plenty of them scattered throughout the city and along the river banks.  They were especially proud of the CITY BOTANIC GARDENS, several residents and shop-keepers indicated that this was a “must” for any proper tour of Brisbane.  Well, a must is a must, and so I made my way there.  Very pretty, well manicured, what I would imagine English gardens to look like.  All sorts of water ways meandering through the gardens.  I was taken in by another type of bird swimming about the heavy growth of lily pads, and at times running over them in one of the ponds. It was a Comb-crested Jacana (as I found out later) and it had the brightest yellow comb on its head that I had ever seen, made even brighter in contrast to its dark body.  Not sure what it was about the birds that captured my attention, but they held it for about 20 minutes.

Although Brisbane is a bustling commercial city, with lots of shops and stores, there was not a lot of what I would call tourist shops - places selling all the touristy goods so common to popular destinations.  I appreciated that.  There were also a number of McDonalds and 7-11's but I was not overwhelmed by a flood of “American Places.”  The natives seem to take great pride in their country and their goods.  There were lots of signs indicating the difference between “made in Australia” (put together there) and “product of Australia” (the materials from there as well as put together there).  Many of the houses looked European in style, and quite a few of the older ones were built on pylons that allowed the air to flow all around the house and so keep it cooler.

I was rather intrigued by the old TREASURY BUILDING overlooking the river and surrounded by bronze statues.  It is a massive Italian Renaissance building which stands on the site of the original penal colony’s officers’ quarters and barracks.  In some grand twist of irony, the building now houses a large casino.  It tries for a dignified, European style of gambling rather than the Las Vegas glitz.  All over Australia they have small gambling parlors filled with what looks like slot machines but are a much more complicated form of that game - they are called Pokies.  During my time there, I did try to play and make sense of the machines on several occasions, but never did figure it out, nor did I win.  Of course, what is there to figure out, just like a slot machine, you put your money in, push the button and wait for the machine to tell you if you won or not... they never told me that I did.

Crossing the river on the bridge next to the casino, I headed to a large complex of rather modern buildings.  There was an art museum, gallery, the state library and a large theater.  The museum was hosting an exhibition of Roman and Greek statuary, which I was not real interested in, so I made my way to the bank of the river and decided to take a walk along the concrete pathway that ran the length of the river on both banks.  There were people walking or jogging, people on bikes and skates (I was wishing I had brought mine, and did not see a place to rent a pair) almost all of them heading west - so I decided to head east.

East was probably not the direction to be heading.  Walking in that direction for about 20 minutes, I turned a corner and immediately left behind the rather pretty, manicured and clean walk way into an area that is probably not often visited by tourists.  Old, stained, torn mattresses laid under the trees along-side the walk-way, piles of cans and bottles, people looking drunk or drugged also sitting under the trees.  I thought maybe it was time to turn around - and I did.  A group of the rather dirty locals who were sitting together under one of the trees must have sensed my discomfort and made some loud comments about my making a wise choice in turning around.  I wasn’t going to argue with them.

Walking in the opposite direction, the path soon wound its way through another park-land area called SOUTH BANK.  It seemed a rather popular place to be.  There was a sprawling artificial beach lagoon with swimmers playing in the water and on the sand, markets, green areas, cafes and restaurants, along with plenty of places to sit and relax.  At one corner of the park is the Convention and Exhibition Center and a maritime museum and there was also a Butterfly and Insect house that featured a lot of the critters and beautiful butterflies that could be found in the park itself.  By now I was wishing I had brought a bathing suit with me to enjoy the cool blue water - the clouds had definitely broken for good, and it was now very hot!

I continued on the path which led me out of the park area and continued along the river bank.  Metal sculptures dedicated to “Man in Motion” dotted the walkway - big, heavy, brightly colored, and some of them quite interesting.  Leaving the park behind, the landscaping was now allowed to be wild and natural - bamboo stands, scraggly little bushes, brightly colored flowers, and lots of river plants.  Soon, I found myself again captivated by the local wildlife when I began to spy on a regular basis some rather large lizards - some sort of monitor lizard.  Some of them were as big as kittens with long scaly tails, white stripes across their gray bodies and rather large mouths. One of them had had its tail broken off, the red, raw stump standing in sharp contrast to the gray of it’s body, but it did not seem in pain or particularly concerned about its loss.  They did not seem too alarmed about my presence and several of them allowed me to take their photograph without shying away. 

Having snapped enough photos of the lizards, I continued my walk and found myself between some rather sheer, tall rock walls on one side and the river on the other.  According to my map, I was now at the KANGAROO CLIFFS, and typical of the athletically-minded Australians (despite the huge number of candy stores and eateries, most everyone seemed to be rather fit) there were several rock climbers scaling the cliff walls.  I enviously watched them for a while before continuing on to another turn in the river where I ascended from the river banks and made my way across the Story Bridge which offered a great view of the city, river and many marinas.

Crossing the bridge, I was now in CHINA TOWN.  Lots of interesting oriental decor all around, lots of brightly colored and intricately carved pagodas that are so typical of china-towns around the world, and a large number of bars and clubs.  I later discovered that I was now in “the valley” - an area of Brisbane given over to bars, nightclubs, restaurants, etc.  Not so much geared for the tourist business as much as local enjoyment.  There was a certain dinginess and run-down feeling to the area, but it did not strike me as particularly dangerous.

I did stop at one establishment for an Australian beer (no, not Fosters) and it was pretty good... and pretty powerful after a day of walking around in the sunshine.  I sat at the outdoor table for a good while, trying to decide where I might go to eat, making some trip notes, re-organizing my back pack and simply relaxing.  Unfortunately, this bar did not offer any food, it was 6:30 and I was feeling hungry.  I finished the large beer, got my stuff all organized and decided to set out in no particular direction, hoping to find some sort of local-looking eating establishment.

I finally found myself in a small, dark, cool tavern that had a  varied menu.  I ordered what they called a “maxi-burger”- an Australian version of a cheeseburger with the works (I was to find it under a variety of names such as Aussie Burger, Big Australian, even McDonalds and Burger King had their own versions).  This is a burger with cheese, Canadian bacon, a fried egg, lettuce, cucumber, mustard and after that each one varied - I had them with guacamole, sprouts, and anything else that happened to be in the fridge at the time.  Actually, pretty darn tasty.

As I was eating this monster burger two guys and their dates struck up a conversation with me - wondering where I was from, why I was here, and what I thought of Oz.  (This is a common nickname that the Aussies used to refer to Australia - a perfectly suitable name, I thought.).  We got to talking and soon we were all seated at the same table, them laughing at my accent, me laughing at theirs.  One of the guys kept talking with great glee about his hoping to get really “pissed” that night.  Well, I was trying to puzzle out how anyone could be looking forward to getting angry, and why this was such a pleasurable thing for him.  Finally, unable to take it much longer, I asked about it.  This set the whole table to laughing and they explained that “pissed” meant “getting drunk”.  They discouraged their friend from getting “pissed” because he always became such a “nong” (silly or stupid person) when he did.  They explained to me that he was such an “ocker” ( a stereotypical Aussie - uncivilized and uncouth; also known as a “bushie” - someone from the backwoods) and they had to keep their eyes on him.  My vocabulary was expanding, but unfortunately, the more they drank, the more slurred their words became, and combined with the accents, I soon found myself understanding only about half of what was being said to me.  But they were having a good time about it all, so I did the typical thing - smiled and nodded my head a lot.  I was watching my drink intake, as I still had to get myself back to the school and had yet to make that journey on the commuter train.

Well, supper was such a pleasurable experience for them (me too), that they invited me to join them at yet another tavern down the road that also had one of those gambling parlors attached.  One of the couples was patiently trying to explain to me the intricacies of these funny slot machines.  We played the penny machines (you had to put in at least a dollar, but could play up to 20 cents at a time - they also had machines that went up to $5.00 a pop) and they tried to explain how the multiple rows of symbols could be combined in all sorts of intricate manners (the more you bet, the more variations were possible), but it still made little sense to me.  They finally gave up trying to explain it and just told me to let the machine tell me if I won (I had figured that tact out earlier in the day).  We gambled (I must have spent a whole $5.00) and drank and laughed and teased one another until it was time for me to find a train before they closed down for the night.  They kindly led me to the nearest station, helped me to find the correct train and purchase the right ticket, and I was off.  They were a great bunch and as I boarded the train they wished me a fun stay and hoped to see me ‘around the traps” (out and about).   I got home about midnight, washed off the swarm of ants that covered my bathroom sink and night-mouth-guard, (hey, it’s the tropics), showered, hit the bed and noted that it had been a very fine day.
I was up and about at 6 the next morning, took a quick jog, showered dressed, made a soda run, got into the school computers and read and replied to some emails.  This evening was supposed to be my first real introduction to the work of Rosies.  Pat was going to take me up to the Gold Coast and the Rosies team that works there.  I was excited.  I had heard about the Gold Coast / Sunshine Coast / Surfer’s Paradise and was anxious to see it ( as well as the work of Rosies).  We had planned to leave at 10 that morning, but as I was to soon learn, for Pat, time was relative.  We finally left a little before noon. 

The drive was about an hour and a half.  It was pleasant enough, the road winding through the suburbs and then into the country side and finally into the coastal plains.  There were wide open fields and forested areas all along the way.  As we got closer to the beach area we began to see the typical tourist and beach attractions- amusement parks, sweet shops, factory outlet stores, etc.  We got to the town of Nerang in the early afternoon and stopped at the Rosies headquarters located there.  A layman, Mr. Bob Boardman, is the administrator for Rosies in Queensland, coordinating the various efforts in that state as well as fund-raising and recruiting.  Bob, Pat, Jo (Bob’s assistant - the woman I talked with from the airport) and I sat for a while looking at various Rosie’s material, discussing the history of the effort and looking over different training manuals, discussing funding and stuff like that.  I was getting a pretty good picture of what they were doing.  Bob, Pat and I continued the discussion over a late lunch in town.

Rosies is a young adult lay apostolate that the Oblates started some 15 or 20 years ago on the Mornington Peninsula in Melbourne.  It started as an attempt to reach out to the students who flock to the beaches for their version of spring break.  It was originally a small coffee house located in a rather simple building.  The name of that coffee shop was Rosies, a name that has far outlasted the building that first bore that name.

The idea is a fairly simple one and is based on the twin ideas of community and service.  The young volunteers, usually from local universities and parishes, were to be an alternative presence and provide a safe haven where young people can come and talk, feel safe, avoid the pressures of drinking and drugs.  The volunteers were striving to give Christian witness through their sense of community with one another and their presence to those who came without preaching to them. 

It is this sense of community and the work done to engender that sense which is a very important part of this ministry.  In a very real sense it is as much a ministry to the volunteers as to the people they serve.  The often meet together for prayer, reflection and community building before ‘hitting the streets”, and then come together for a “debrief” session and prayer afterwards. 

Rosies has taken a number of formats and “ways of being Rosies” throughout the years and in the various places that this ministry has taken hold.  From the coffee shop notion, and the kids on the beach, it has grown into a street ministry to the homeless and other street people.  They still have extended “spring break” sessions for weeks at a time, but for the most part it is a ministry that takes place a couple of times a week.  The volunteers will initially gather at a church or other meeting area for their “pre-briefing” and then pile into a Rosies van with containers of hot and cold water, instant coffee, a type of kool-aid type of mix they call cordio, a sort of hot chocolate mix, lots of cups and napkins, and occasionally bread or rolls or some other food product.  They park their van at a designated spot, open up the side door of the van and begin to serve coffee, smiles and a caring ear to those who desire it.  Because they are always at the same place at the same time, quite a few of the street people, “streeties” as the volunteers call them, will be waiting for them and even give them a hard time if they are late.  They really look forward to the van’s arrival, and some of the streeties will make a 45 minute trek to be there.

As I said, there is no explicit preaching to the streeties.  The young people simply try to listen, offer a sense of caring for the people, and invite them to meet one another.  They try to pass on their own sense of community to the streeties with each other... and it seems to work.  The streeties certainly seemed to know one another, and when a new person would show up it was really interesting to see how the “regulars” would go out of their way to make them welcome and pass on some of the street knowledge important for survival.  Religion only came up if the streeties brought it up, as when I was asked what I did for a living, I would tell them and it would inevitably lead into a discussion of church, faith, spirituality and of course - America.  Pretty amazing really.

I was somewhat cynical at first, but then I was able to witness the fact that the streeties actually preferred our bad coffee and day-old donuts, but especially our company, to the offerings of groups like the Salvation Army (who one night parked their own van about a block up the street from ours) even though they were offering a much better fare.  I asked some of the streeties why they weren’t over there with them, and all they said is that at the Rosies van “they don’t get preached at; they can have the coffee without the sermon.”

After spending the afternoon with Bob, Pat decided to take me to the beach house where we would be spending the night so that we could clean up and get ready to go out with the Rosies crew that night.  The beach house was about half an hour from Nerang in another beach town called Currumbin  The house is a small condo right on the beach.  The Oblates own this house and keep it as a place for the guys to get away to on their days off as well as community events.  It is really very nice and quite comfortable.

Pat took me into the house, showed me around and then left me there while he went to visit some friends that lived further down the road.  Fine for me - I immediately hit the beach - a glorious beach with the whitest sand and the bluest water I had ever seen.  The waves were beating against the shore and in the distance I could see surf-boarders taking advantage of the waves.  I would have liked to have gone into the water, but Pat was going to be back in an hour and so I did not feel as though I had enough time.  That was all right, it was just pleasant to walk in the sand with the sun toasting me.

There is a life-guard center about half a block down the beach, and I watched a group of life guards go through their drills and exercises.... life guarding is taken very seriously in Australia with a vast number of life-guard clubs and organizations, many of them with their own recreational centers (often, like VFW clubs and the like, offering food and drink to the general public).  They also take their drills very seriously, with captains shouting out orders, marching in tandem, picking up boats with military precision, running in cadence, etc.  It was really kind of fun to watch.

After walking as far as I dare, I hurried back to the house and took a quick shower, very conscious of not wanting to be late when Pat arrived.  I was ready on time, Pat showed up about ½ hour late.  He is panicked about the time - he wants to clean up, dress, go to dinner, and still get to the Rosies group in time for pre-brief.  It’s obvious to me that we are not going to be able to do it, but I keep it to myself.  He takes a quick shower and then decides we should eat at the afore mentioned Lifeguard Club. 

We order what we hope will take the least amount of time to prepare, take our number (there are no waiters - they flash your number on a screen) and then we wait, and wait, and wait.  Pat got more and more antsy as numbers are called that are not ours.  It was not a bad place to wait.  We were sitting on the exterior patio of the clubhouse, overlooking the shore and under the night sky.  I had Pat point out the Southern Cross to me (it is one of those constellations that I had only dreamed of ever seeing since I was a child and was so captivated by space and the stars) and several other constellations and stars that I had never seen before.  It was a lot of fun - part of the amusement being Pat’s self-caused sense of being rushed.

Finally our number was called, we wolf down our food (so fast, in fact, that I am not sure if it was any good or not), and then take off.  Pat is not a driver who inspires great confidence in the best of times (as on the trip to the coast) but when he is in a hurry, the confidence level plummets almost by half.  He weaved this-way-and-that when he should have been going that-way-and-this, coming too close to other cars, changing lanes without warning, and generally being a menace on the road.  I was very much relieved when we got to the Rosies center.  We had missed the pre-brief and the volunteers were just beginning to load the van with the water containers, bread and other supplies.  We helped them finish loading the van and then took off.  Our first stop was in a park parking lot across from a rather large shopping area.  I did not think that we would find any street people here given that it was such a large park area next to a river and quite outside the city proper.  I was wrong.  In fact there were about a dozen people waiting for us as we pulled into the lot.  It seems there are many of them living amongst the trees and surrounding wild area.  They prefer it here rather than in the city as it feels safer to them. 

We spent about an hour and a half at this spot.  Talking, making coffee and chocolate, handing out the bread and rolls supplied by a local bakery.  The streeties were an interesting bunch, and they too seemed to enjoy my accent (MY accent!?  Don’t these people know that THEY are the ones with the accent?) and asked me to say any number of things so that they could note the differences in how I say them as compared to themselves.  It was an enjoyable time, the volunteers were very friendly, the streeties desirous of talking and being heard, all of them offered interesting stories of their past and their future plans and dreams.  After finding out I was a priest, several asked if I would pray for and with them.  It was quite touching.  One younger man was there with his dog.  He carried him in the basket of his bicycle, and when he saw that I had a camera with me, he asked that I take his picture and send it to him via the Rosies volunteers.  I did so gladly and have in fact sent him his picture.

I was touched by the care of these young people for the streeties, equally impressive was the care of the streeties for one another.  When asked where so-and-so was, they often knew, they were able to list off each others’ trials and tribulations and offered all sorts of help and advice to one another.

Eventually it was time to leave, so we loaded up the van and headed to SURFERS PARADISE.  This is a very popular section of beach that is part of the Gold Coast.  Supposedly, the Gold Coast was once the fastest-growing playground in Australia.  As a result, there are a lot of skyscraper condos fighting for waterfront positions and the streets are lined with souvenir shops, fast-food places and restaurants.  It is garish, glitzy and even crass... but it is not dull.  This is not a beach area to come to if you are trying to get away from it all.  With an average of 300 days of sunshine a year, it seems to attract a lot of activity and bodies baking in the sand under signs warning of the risks of skin cancer.

The Rosies van pulled up along the water front across the street from a pedestrian mall area that could have competed with the lights of Las Vegas.  There were hundreds if not thousands of young people, street vendors, bicyclists and skaters (note to self -bring skates next time I go to Australia), and everything a person would expect at a popular beach sight on a Friday night.  Many of the young people had obviously been drinking, and they, as well as others joined the small crowd that gathered as soon as the van parked and opened its side doors.

The rest of the night was spent handing out more coffee, cocoa, cordio and bread.  These young volunteers continued to amaze me with their enthusiasm and obvious care for the lost teens, the young pregnant druggie, the folks who just wanted to hang around, as well as the grizzled older streeties.  They played cards with them on the park benches, laughed with them, hugged them over some good news of one sort or another, and just offered a human touch to all who came by. 

Around midnight the crowds began to thin, the crazies who had shown up earlier (and were treated with the same kindness everyone else received) were now on their way to other places, and the coffee was about gone, so the crew decided to call it a night.  They bagged up and handed out the remainder of the bread, closed up the van and we returned to the headquarters building to clean the van and de-brief.  The de-brief includes a listing of all the folks that they knew by name and what was going on with them, listing any new names, asking how each person felt the night went, reactions to the nights activities and people, any time that the volunteers might have felt uncomfortable or in danger ( I guess it does happen at times, and they do have a policy and plan for dealing with such matters), other observations and prayer.  Again, I was very much impressed by what this program does not only for the streeties, but for the volunteers themselves.  After it was over, Pat and I headed back to the beach house, sat and had a beer on the back porch, made some plans for the next day and then called it a night.

I got up the next morning late - about 7:30.  The sun was already out and warming up the apartment.  It was a cloudless day and the water was busy and beautiful.  I had wanted to take a morning run on the beach, but Pat wanted to make an early morning of it (we had made plans to go sight seeing at 8:30) and so I dressed, found a store with Diet Coke, and much to my surprise, we were actually out the door at the prescribed hour.

Pat took me to THE CURRUMBIN WILDLIFE SANCTUARY not too far from the beach house.  A very large sanctuary that claims to have the world’s largest collection of Australian native wildlife with over 1400 mammals, birds and reptiles.  Our first stop was at the lorikeet feeding station where park rangers handed us bowls of some sort of bird feed and as we took them in our hands and held them up, multi-colored, parrot like birds swarmed us from the trees to perch themselves on our arms, our hands, the edge of the bowls and eat.  I have never seen so many bright colors in a single bird.  They are medium in size with a red bill, blue head, green underparts, red-gold breastplate and blue belly.  The wings seem to have bands of varied colors running the length of them.  They were incredible and all those with feeding bowls were having our pictures taken.. Including me and Pat.

After the birds tired of feeding, Pat and I moved on to the kangaroo area.  There we met and petted kangaroos of several types, wallabies and wallaroos.  I was tickled pink by being able to get so close and even to pet these fantastic creatures.  The rest of the park tour was just as amazing, allowing us to see up-close a whole menagerie of creatures - cute koalas, enormous crocodiles, Tasmanian devils (what a vicious little animal in the guise of a rather cute body), flying foxes, wombats, tree kangaroos (yes, kangaroos that spend 90% of their life in the branches of trees), great white eagles, and possums with beautiful, full fur that were nothing like the scraggly looking possums that I grew up with.  There were all sorts of birds and reptiles - including a rather stocky and very big (at least a foot from head to tail-tip) lizard called a “two-headed lizard” because it’s flat, blunted tail looks like another head.  There were dingoes and wombats, owls and cassowaries, goanas (another type of huge monitor lizard), and all sorts of other strange and marvelous creatures. 

It was very interesting to me how often the guides mentioned that these animals sleep a lot.  The koalas, many of the lizards, and quite a few of the other animals will spend a great majority of their time sleeping (the koalas will spend up to 80% of their lives asleep).  Part of it is due to diet, to the weather, and I guess, part of it is explained by the relatively laid-back lifestyle in Australia in general.

We stopped at a pond where a park guide was feeding pelicans.  As she was tossing fish to the large, clumsy birds my attention was caught by the churning of the water at the edge of the pond.  I kept looking, thinking at first that it was some sort of water pipe that was broken and gurgling, but as I paid closer attention I was convinced that it was some sort of very large, very long sea snake, but as I continued to watch, I realized that it was a swarming mass of thick, long eels, their heads occasionally poking out of the water showing small beady eyes and a mouth of very sharp looking teeth.  After feeding a number of the pelicans,


the guide than took a fish from her bucket and began to beat it on the side of the pond, next to the gurgling mass of eels.  The slithering beasts seemed to go into a frenzy, heads poking further out, at times coming half way out of the water, trying to get to the fish.  The guide continued to beat fish against the side and the eels continued to try to get the fish.  Finally the guide laid some of the fish on the ground and the eels came partially out of the water, snapping up the fish in their sharp-toothed mouths and retreating quickly back into the water.  The guide continued to play with the eels, sometimes letting them grab hold of the fish and then pulling them out of the water with the eel maintaining its hold.  They were huge!  It was fascinating.

After seeing the sanctuary animals, we made a stop at the rock shop where we learned all about the different kinds and types of opals.  Next to the sanctuary was a “honey shop”.  It was a place offering some 60 different types of honey for sale.  The nice thing was that they allowed you to taste the different types, and so Pat and I spent the next half hour or so squirting honey into our plastic spoons and tasting the difference between honey made from clover, from fireweed, cinnamon, etc.  I had no idea that honey could vary so much depending on the type of plant that the bees were using.  We called that lunch and then headed back to the beach house.

Pat and I went swimming.  We played in the surf, floated in the wonderfully warm water, fought the waves, and watched the great number of surfers riding the waves.  The sand was white and warm, the beach itself was phenomenally clean, the people were pleasant and friendly (though it was sometimes difficult to talk to those women who chose to swim without a top - and there were quite a few of them - but not wanting to be a prude, I went topless as well).  After a time of swimming, I decided to walk along the beach.  I could see a mile or so up the beach there seemed to be a lot of tents and people gathered.  I thought I would see what was going on.  When I got to the area, I discovered that it was a life-guard competition.

Teams of life-guards were competing with one another in their open faced kayaks, surf boats, running, life-saving skills, even some sort of marching competition and lots of other events.  It seemed as though there were several competitions going on at once, and I was not always able to choose which one to pay attention to... they were all a lot of fun to watch.  There were hundreds of the teams, all with colors and flags representing their various clubs and cities - they had come from all over the country to be here for the competition.  It was really a lot of fun to watch, and the crowds were going wild whenever their teams would score a big win.  I was not always able to tell what was a winning move or not, but the cheering always kept me informed about who was doing well.  One thing about it all - all those browned bodies certainly made me feel pale white, though by this time I was more lobster-red than sheet-white.  I was also discovering why
the round, broad-brimmed Aussie hats were so popular, they keep the nose and neck from getting burned.  I was wishing that I had had one.

Maybe it was simply because I wanted it to be different, but the horizon seemed so much closer than I had experienced at other beaches, there was even a greater sense of “roundness” to the horizon that was very striking, I could almost see the “bowl” of it at the edge of the sea.  I don’t believe I have ever seen so many different hues of blue in any body of water before either.  The colors made all the more vibrant in contrast to the white foam of the waves and sand, and all this set against the deep blue of the cloudless sky - it was like being in the midst of some great blue jewel, catching the light, highlighting different angles of the jewel, bringing all the varieties of blues and whites into much brighter relief.

After getting back to the house, Pat and I cleaned up (note - the water really does rotate in the opposite direction “down under” as it goes down the sink or toilet), packed up and headed further north along the coast (passing the site of the first and so far only Versace resort hotel - ooohhhh) to the border town of Coolangatta, the last Queensland town before entering the state of New South Wales.  It is also the site of the Captain Cook memorial at Point Danger (so named because of the number of hidden rocks in the water).  This was one of the sites where Captain Cook had landed when he first discovered Australia and he is commemorated with a large memorial and light house in the midst of a pleasant park.  We were on a bluff over-looking the water from at least 50 feet above the shore.  It was a beautiful sight.  It would have been nice to have spent more time along the coast, but we were scheduled to do a Rosies run, this one in the city of Brisbane itself, and so we had to head back.

Unlike the Rosies team on the coast, this group meets in a church hall that a local parish allows them to use on Saturday nights.  Pat and I got to the hall (late, as usual), walking into the middle of a training session for new volunteers.  Again, this is a lay apostolate, and so the volunteers are doing the training.  The program they are following seemed a good one and very complete.  It is a program that has been put together over the years out of the Rosies experience.

There were about 6 new volunteers, 4 of them about college age, the other 2 look to be in their late 20's or early 30's.  We got there as the team was explaining how to cut off conversations that might be getting a bit too long, or that are making the volunteers uncomfortable.  They have set up a series of signals to let other team members know that they need help or relief.  They also discussed what to do in danger situations or when they feel threatened.  These volunteers are on the streets, with street people that are often not the most socialized people, and so the Rosies training tries to cover all the bases, tries to prepare the volunteers for all the possibilities.  It was a very impressive training session with role-playing, spirited dialog, and some very well thought out tips. 

The training session came to an end, and soon we were divided up into two groups - one group of volunteers were going to take the trainees out on the street to discover what it might feel like to be one of the streeties - what they call a “street retreat”.  They were going to walk the streets of downtown, going from store to store, walking through the pedestrian malls, etc. and pay attention to the reactions they got from others, how they were treated in the stores, etc.  It was a way of trying to get a feel for what the homeless people might feel like.  The rest of us were going to go out with the van.  I am deeply impressed by these college age and young adults who give up their Friday and Saturday nights to be with street people - really impressive.

As in the beach town, there were a group of streeties anxiously awaiting the arrival of the van.  Unlike Surfers Paradise, this time we were in the middle of down-town, about a block away from St George’s Square, a popular pedestrian area of cafes, restaurants, bars and entertainment centers.  Though we were not as close to the action as we were at the beach, there were over 2 dozen folks waiting for us, and over the course of the night there were many more who came and went.  There were even a couple of aboriginal woman present.  These were the first I had seen since arriving in Australia, and I was taken by their tattoos and physical features - I tried not to stare, but ...

Pat and I did not stay for the whole night, he was feeling a bit tired from the weekend, and so we had taken his car and met the van at the site.  At about 11:00, he had had enough, and so we went back home.  It worked out for the best for me, as I was leaving for Melbourne the next morning, and still had some packing to do.  Pat had called Melbourne from the beach house that day to make sure that someone would be at the airport to pick me up.  It was a good time, and I only regret that I had not had more time to see more of the city, but as I keep saying... I will have to definitely go back.



Flying into Melbourne made me think a lot of Texas.  Big ranches or farms surround the metropolitan area.  We flew over large spreads of flat lands and hilly country, lots of land without any development but the occasional ranch house sitting in the midst of large pastures and fields, there are desert-looking areas, and great stretches of green, there are mountains, forests and coastal areas - really very varied.  The area closest to Melbourne really looked like the area around San Antonio and Austin, with the rolling hills and flat plains,.

Located at the southern end of the continent, Melbourne is in the state of Victoria and serves as its capital city. Melbourne considers itself THE cultural center of Australia (despite what Sydney residents might say) and there is some great pride in the fact that, unlike Sydney, their city was founded by free men and women who came to Victoria of their own accord.  The city had great growth and population spurts in the mid 1800's as part of the Australian gold rush centered itself in Victoria.  It is very much a sprawling city, stretching out in all directions and with about 3.5 million people, it is the second largest city in the country.  Like Brisbane, this is a city with a lot of parks, sporting fields and green areas.   I was told that more than 1/4 of the inner city has been set aside as recreational space.  The profusion of trees, plants, and flowers certainly helped to give a feel of rural tranquility within the thriving, busy city.  Also, the people know how to dress... even the business men were coming from their offices in shorts, comfortable shirts, sandals and those great hats (I determined not to leave Australia without one1).

I was picked up at the Melbourne airport by the Oblate Provincial for Australia - Fr. Pat Moroney.  We had met before on a trip he made through Washington, and so we were able to spot one another very easily.  Pat is a man in his early 60's and as spry a man as you would ever like to meet.  From Ireland originally, he still has a heavy accent and it makes the illusion of a rather tall leprechaun all the more real.  He walks fast, sometimes talks fast, and sort of just bounces from one thing to another, and in his talk from one subject to another.  We grabbed my bags and headed to his car - I was having to work at keeping up with him.  After loading my bags in his trunk and heading to the car door, he said that if I didn’t mind, he would drive.  Still not used to the passenger door being on the “wrong side” of the car.

Pat tends to mumble a lot when he’s driving, speaking to the other cars in the traffic, talking to his steering wheel, breaking into an occasional song and occasionally even talking to me.  He is a real kick to be with, lots of fun and quite amusing.  We were not in the car for more than 10 minutes when he was telling me jokes and had me in stitches.  He remarks that if I am the kind of traveler that he is, that all I want is a key to the door and directions to the commuter train, and to be left to my own.  He was right.  A man after my own heart.  His eyes grew especially bright when he saw that I had a pack of cigarettes with me and he insisted that we both light up.  He is not supposed to be smoking, and was glad to see that I did.  He claims to do most of his smoking in the car, where the others can’t see him, and so we rolled down the windows and enjoyed our smoke.  He seemed really grateful to have a smoking buddy.

We go right into the city of Melbourne as Pat had some errands to run - and run he did, I had a hard time keeping up with him (even without carrying luggage) as he would make sudden turns, changes of directions, and even turning all the way around without warning.  I just had to trust that he knew where he was going and how to get there, and that he would not lose me in the crowds (and there were crowds).  He is looking for a particular cell phone store.  We go through several large shopping malls that are in the lower floors of various office buildings in the city.  There are many of these, I will discover, and they all seem to be connected to one another via underground walk ways as well as sky-walks.  In some ways, the whole city seems to be connected through these walkways, one mall, shopping center to another.  I don’t know how all these Aussies stay in such good shape (and most of them seem to be) with all the candy stores, donut shops, ice cream shops and bakeries all over the place... and there are a lot of them!

After finally finding his phone store, taking care of that business, he takes me to yet another shopping plaza contained under a massive glass dome with an old red-brick clock tower in the middle of it where we are going to have some lunch.  After a delightful meal (I had the combination plate - emu, crocodile and kangaroo - it was great!) and catching up about some of the Oblates we both know, we head off.  We stop at a hospital and pay a visit to one of his men.  From there, we head to a Catholic Nursing Home that is run by an order of nuns and to which the sick priest will take up residence once he is out of the hospital.  Pat has to talk to the sisters there and make sure that everything is in order for his arrival.  It turned out to be a rather lengthy meeting and so I went outside to smoke and walk among the beautifully maintained grounds.

Finally, his business done, we get into the car, light up another smoke, and head out for the neighborhood of Camberwell where he lives.  The house is in a rather nice neighborhood, with lots of old Victorian style homes.  The provincial house itself is a 100 year old Victorian house with some later additions built on - including a long, 2 story, dorm like building where the other Oblates who live there reside, the two buildings connected by a glass enclosed walk way.  Pat is not only a smoker, but he also drinks Diet Coke and has fridge full of the liquid gold.  My kind of house!  In sharp contrast to the diet soda are the many containers all over the house filled with “lollies” - candy.  I don’t think there was a single sort of candy that wasn’t in the house.  Amazing.
I get settled into my room (it has an air conditioner!, unlike the one in Brisbane - though the tropical breeze and the shading from the trees did not make it necessary there) and then take a small walk around the neighborhood - finding the train station, the bus stops, all those things that I would need in order to be a proper tourist.  I get back in time to join Pat for the evening news and then he wants to take me out to dinner.  He drives as fast as he walks, and now his mumbling gets directed at the pedestrians who take their lives in their hands by daring to cross the street in front of him (despite the cross-walks).

He takes me to a popular strip of restaurants near the University of Melbourne.  It is a busy place with one restaurant right after another - a sort of shopping mall for eating.  Across the street is a large park paralleling the rows of restaurants and filled with people taking Sunday evening strolls.  It is quite a nice scene.  Pat ushers us into a busy, homey looking Italian restaurant filled with college students.  During the meal, Pat mentions that the plan is that after a day or so with him, that I would move over to the seminary where the people responsible for Rosies reside.  He tells me that it is quite a ways out of town and not on the rail system (well, that was not real exciting to hear).  He then goes on to let me know that Rosies does their thing on Wednesday and Friday nights.  I mention to him, given that fact, that there wasn’t a whole lot of reason for me to show up there before Wednesday then, was there?  He agreed with me, and offered to make those arrangements for me.  Another interesting bit of “Aussie-speak” - food is not made “to go” or for “take out” it is “take-away.”

Melbourne is quite proud of its trolley (tram) system, and rightfully so, it is efficient, clean, and it goes all over the place.  There is a stop right in front of the house I am staying at.  It is one of the world’s largest tram networks with more than 450 trolleys running regularly - day and night for the most part.  Pat made a big deal of showing me which one to catch to get into the city, and after morning Mass and tea with the residents as well as a brief tour of the provincial offices (all of Australia is a single province, and all the bureaucracy for the province is run out of this office on a part time basis, the secretary, the bursar, the fund-raising office, the archives, all of it is staffed only 2 days a week... and they manage to get ministry done as well, imagine).

During my walk the evening before I was able to see the tall buildings of the city center from the hill on which the residence sits, I figured that it could not be more than a couple hours walk, and on the basis of the previous evenings car rides, it seemed like a pretty straight shot down a single road, so I figured, why not walk it (after all, I hadn’t jogged this morning) ... it would be a chance to wander through the neighborhoods, the college area, etc.  So, I did. 

I figured correctly - it was only about an hour and a half walk through very pleasant and very nice neighborhoods, where people actually said “g’day” when I passed them by. There was not a lot that might was extraordinary about the neighborhoods.  They seemed rather European in look and features such as the gates and walls that shielded them from the street.  I guess that is what struck me most about them - they seemed so much like the neighborhoods I have lived in and seen in the states, especially the Texas and the southwest.  Being in a country, on a continent so very far from home, with flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world, and yet it was all so “normal” and familiar.  I don’t know what it is I wanted it to be, but I guess it just wasn’t “foreign enough.

I entered the city proper from the South-east, passing the huge MELBOURNE PARK, the site of the 1956 Olympic games which Melbourne still remembers fondly and with great pride.  In fact, all of Australia is very excited about being the host city for the 2000 Olympic Games.  It tends to be a very sports minded country, and it seems that they have a lot more sports that they hi-light and make a fuss about than do we - of course this observation is made by someone who never watches televised sports.  I passed through the parks and their very busy sports fields and gymnasiums and had to make a pit stop in the park bathrooms.  There, just inside the entrance was the “sharps box” that all the park bathrooms throughout the country seemed to have.  Australia has a needle exchange program and have tries to make things as safe as possible by providing such depositories for used needles.  I suppose it is better than having them tossed in the grass, but it doesn’t sit easy with me, it seems somehow too big a concession, too much of “giving in” to the social blight of drug abuse.

I walked along the Yarra River which runs through the city to the VICTORIAN ARTS CENTER, a garden area that houses the Melbourne Concert Hall, several theaters and the National Gallery.  Unfortunately the gallery was closed for renovations, but outside the building were several outdoor sculptures, including the brightly colored, multi-faced sculpture which is so much a symbol of Melbourne (not as much as its partner sculpture “Ophelia” located on the river promenade known as Southgate) but almost as famous... though Ophelia gets more press.  It is sort of a 3-D Picasso, the basic shape being that of a 4 legged beast with 2 heads and several faces.  It is a lot of fun to see.

Coming out of the park and over the Southbank Promenade, I had a grand view of the busy water traffic in the Yarra and the sparkling towers of the city.  It is a rather impressive sight.  I crossed the Yarra over a very ornate pedestrian bridge (Princes Bridge)  that took me to the railway station which marks one end of the city center.  It is called FLINDERS STREET STATION and much is made of the clocks mounted on the front of this grand Edwardian terminal building.  Several times people asked me if I’d seen he clocks at Flinders?  I have yet to figure out what the big deal is, they look like the round clocks that used to sit in the back of my grade school classrooms.  But, yes, I have seen the clocks at Flinders.

Across the street from the station is ST. PAUL’S ANGLICAN CATHEDRAL.  Completed in 1892, it is Gothic Revival and highly decorative inside, including intricately patterned floor tiles.  The organ is huge, and the entire building spoke of a certain majesty and “rightness” that seems so very characteristic of the Anglican Church.  Outside the cathedral is a statue of Matthew Flinders, apparently the first seaman to circumnavigate the Australian coastline between 1801 and 1803.

At the opposite corner from the train station is Young and Jackson’s Hotel.  The only reason I bothered with this place was that a lot of the brochures and tourist information kept talking about this pub as the home of the famous painting Chloe.  Never heard of it before.  In fact, I was going to pass it by all together, but signs plastered all over the outside of the hotel extolling the qualities of the painting were so much fun, I decided I had to go and see what all the fuss was about.  It is a larger-than-life nude, painted by some Parisian artist in 1875.  The depicted woman is rather plump and round, and not particularly attractive, but she has been scandalizing and titillating Melburnians for many decades, living on the wall of the hotel for over 100 years.  I suppose that in a more prudish era, and at a time when you had a lot of lonely gold prospectors and sheep herders, she must have been a great drawing card for the pub, but nowadays the magazine covers on the newsstand outside are far more provocative. It was not something I was going to dream about by any means.  Those Aussies of the past must have been rather hard up.

Having gone from church to bar, I supposed it was time to go back to church again and so I made my way to ST. PATRICK’S CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL.  Begun in 1858, it took 82 years for the cathedral to be completed.  Another Gothic Revival church, it is far less decorative than St. Paul’s (which is odd, the Catholic churches tend to out-decorate the Anglican ones).  There has always been a large Irish population in Australia, especially since the Irish potato famine and the church certainly shows its Irish roots.  A statue of the Irish patriot Daniel O’Connell stands in the church courtyard.

Melbourne is built on a coastal plain at the top of the giant horseshoe of PORT PHILLIP BAY.  The city center is an orderly grid of wide streets, framed by the Yarra river to the south and a string of parks to the east. Within this grid are the state buildings, lots of banks and corporate buildings and many splendid Victorian buildings that date back to the gold rush era.   Once you step out of the grid, the streets seem to get intentionally windy and confusing, I suppose it is in reaction to the orderliness of the center.  The center seems to be nothing but office buildings and shopping.  Lots and lots of shopping.  I have never seen so many blocks given over to restaurants, boutiques, malls, street vendors, etc.  Everywhere you turn, there is something to buy or eat.  But, it was not crass nor obnoxious.  There was plenty of room to walk along the sidewalks (walk towards your left), plenty of window shopping, and lots of benches to sit upon, monuments to look at, and interesting buildings to explore (all of them containing shops of some sort or another), the exteriors of many of the buildings were interesting to look at as well.  Not a whole lot as far as tourist or sight-seeing sites, but enough.  It was just so very pleasant to walk up and down the streets.  Having looked at the map, that is exactly what I did - walked every street in the grid - just to say that I had... I have.

One of the major areas of the city center lies at the center of its grid - the BOURKE STREET MALL.  Once, the busiest east-west thoroughfare in the city, it is now a pedestrian zone (though you still have to watch out for the trams).  It must be at least 6 blocks long lined with shopping arcades, restaurants, etc.  Lots to see, lots of things for sale, but not much as far as souvenir shops, which was sort of nice.

I did stop in at the RIALTO TOWERS.  It is one of the prestigious World Federation of Great Towers, an elite group of 21 towers across the world including Empire State Building, the Montreal Tower, The Tokyo Tower and others (I’ve now seen 9 of the 21 and will see the tenth when I move to Chicago and see the John Hancock Center - hey, another life goal). There is an observation deck that encircles the 55th floor of the building and affords a great panoramic view of the city and its surrounds.  You could see the Dandenong Mountain range from one side and deep into Port Phillip Bay on the other.  From up high, the city certainly looks like a sprawling mass.  This is another way in which this city, and later, Sydney, reminded me of the big cities in Texas.  It really has not built up as much as it has built out.  There is still a lot of land available in Australia and so the people like to have their own house and their yard, unlike the row houses, town houses and brownstones that are so abundant here in DC and along the east coast.  The city is the same way, although there are tall buildings (they call their skyscrapers “high rises”), the tendency is to have wider and longer buildings rather than taller.  I think it keeps the cities at a more human scale and does away with the canyons of tall buildings that are so much a part of other major metropolitan areas.

The expansive stretch of parkland known as the KING’S DOMAIN GARDENS is a huge expanse that envelops the Queen Victoria Gardens, Pioneer Women’s Garden, the Music Bowl, the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Alexandra Gardens (though where one ended and the other began was not always apparent) and  is also home to the Melbourne SHRINE OF REMEMBRANCE.  There is a floral clock in the Queen Vic. Gardens that not only tells time but talks - giving a brief recorded history of the gardens in and around Melbourne.  The Shrine is a ziggurat-type structure, rather simple and stunning.  There is an eternal flame burning in its forecourt and in the center of the main or inner shrine is a black stone marker calling its viewers to remember.  The building is designed so that at 11:00 AM on Remembrance Day - the 11th day of the 11th month - a beam of sunlight passes over this stone.  That was the day and time in 1918 armistice for WWI was declared.  I thought it was rather awesome.  In the crypt, the walls are lined with memorial plaques and flags representing the various branches of the military.  The whole thing is rather impressive and understated, and so all the more powerful because of its simplicity.

The old Observatory complex at the far end of the Victoria gardens was also pretty interesting.  Apparently the early colony did not have a way of maintaining a constant and “true” time (despite all those clocks in town and at the rail station- and there are a LOT of them) because there was no clock to synchronize against.  This seemed to be rather problematic for these 19th century residents.  So, astronomers were given the task of watching the stars and determining the time.  The complex is now a curiosity site and restaurant, with all the older buildings intact but used for different purposes.

Wandering out of the city center grid, I found myself in far more chaotic and rambling streets.  Quite often, it felt as though I had walked into an entirely different city.  I walked up and down streets that could have been transplanted from any small town in Texas.  Old buildings, converted hotels and garages, lots of awning over the sidewalks, little signs hanging from the building fronts.  It was all rather funky and sort of fun to walk through.  As I made my way through these areas of town, I found myself at the OLD MELBOURNE GAOL (jail).  It is quite a place. 

It is Victoria’s oldest surviving prison.  Originally (in the 1840's) it was designed to accommodate short-term prisoners and minor crimes like drunkenness, lunacy (that’s what the brochure said), vagrancy or bankruptcy (imagine going to jail for going bankrupt) as well as those awaiting execution (see, it really was meant for short termers).

When the gold rush started, a lot more people came to the area, and there was an accompanying increase in criminals and so the jail was made larger and it is said that it was one of the largest buildings on Melbourne’s skyline.  The cells were all built for a single prisoner, the prisoners were expected to work, and there was a rule of silence that was strictly enforced (as testified to by the collection of whips and cat ‘o’ nine tails).  When they left their cells to go to work, to the exercise yard or anywhere else, the prisoners were required to wear calico hoods that sort of look like KKK hoods.  It must have really been hot when they wore them. 

The Gaol was also the place where hangings took place... right inside the building.  The current building is only a wing of the old prison, the rest of it having been torn down some time ago.  It is 3 floors high and a long narrow hall with cells along the walls and a walk way that goes all around each floor. The roof is all sky-light, and so it was not too dark in the outer area, but there was not much in the way of windows in the individual cells... I guess there was no distinction between solitary and regular prison life other than a lack of privileges.  

The hanging room was on the third floor and it was a cell with a floor that opened up.  I guess they left the bodies to hang for a while as a deterrent and reminder to the rest of the prisoners.  The prison had a display entitled the “Art of Hanging” showing all sorts of artifacts associated with hanging.  There was even a book entitled “The Particulars of Execution”, which details the hanging process and autopsies of the 135 people hanged in the prison.  It was supposedly quite an art form. 

In one corner of the prison was also the lashing triangle - a device that the prisoners were tied to when being whipped.  Another major display was that of a famous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly.  He and his gang committed their crimes with rather impressive, specially made guns and they wore suits of armor, some of which were on display.  When brought to this jail, Ned met with his mother who was serving a sentence for attempted murder (one way of having a family reunion).  The reported last words of Ned when he was being hung were “such is life.”  I like that.
The next morning there was rain in the air, and quite a breeze to boot. I was rather disappointed, and was not sure what it would do to my day, but, after waiting for about an hour, the clouds broke, the breeze died down, the sun came out and I was out the door.  I was feeling rather brave this day, looked at the map and convinced myself that I could walk to town again via a different route and approach the city from another angle.  I was right!  I had a number of assignments for myself this day.  There were several sites that I read about the night before that I wanted to see, and I wanted to get a bigger back pack than the one I had brought with me - it was too small, and with my camera in it, there was barely room for anything else; and I wanted to go to the beach.

Well, it certainly warmed up quickly.  I guessed right about the alternate route and found myself walking through more neighborhoods that soon gave way to another business district where I stopped in at an internet café drank diet cokes and answered emails for about an hour.  I then continued my journey and soon found myself on the “world famous St. Kilday Blvd.”  I did not know it was world famous, had never heard about it before, but several signs said it was world famous, so I guess it is.

It is a very wide boulevard, lined with lots of trees, fine old buildings and houses which, as I got closer to the city, gave way to high towers, big office buildings and other such edifices.  Soon, I found myself, again, in the city center.  I found a new back-pack and some souvenirs.  I did end up spending another $5.00 at a Pokies parlor, only because I wanted to use their bathroom and it was meant for customers only.... so I was cleaned out twice in the same place.   I then jumped on the trolley and headed to ST. KILDAY BEACH and their esplanade.

St. Kilda is about 4 miles south of the city center and is a rather cosmopolitan bayside suburb.  It lacks the surf of the ocean, being on the bay, but it has restaurants that are innumerable and offering any and all sorts of cuisines and food-stuffs.  The beach is quite pretty and the sand quite clean.  The sand gives way to a great grassy park area and that is where most of the folks did their sunning - again, both the guys and the gals were sans tops.

I walked out on the stone jetty leading out from the esplanade into the water.  This jetty was built for the Olympics back in the 50's.  In 1993 biologists discovered a nest of Fairy Penguins roosting at the end of the jetty.  So, that end of the jetty is now declared a nature preserve and is fenced off in order to prevent people from getting too close to the penguin nests.  I scoured the rocks trying to see if I could see any of the furry looking birds, but never did.  I was also on the lookout for the Kilday rats - another rarity of this part of the world, but did not see them either, but from the descriptions that were posted, that was just as well.  I was told by some of the locals that if I waited patiently on the jetty I would see both penguins and rats swimming by - I did wait - patiently - and they didn’t.  Oh well, can’t see it all, I guess (but I sure wanted to).

At the far end of the esplanade is an amusement park modeled after New York’s Coney Island, with a big roller coaster, Ferris wheel, bumper cars, spook house and other attractions.  I walked through the park, but wanting to do other things, I bypassed the rides.  Instead, I decided to get some sun and laid out for about an hour, adding a sunburn to my sunburn.  Further up the esplanade, a film company was shooting some sort of televison show or commercial (I never figured out which it was), and they kept shooing us on-lookers away.

I headed back to town in the late afternoon, and on the tram, one of the locals explained to me why the shopping areas were so busy during the weekdays (it always looked like a weekend crowd in the states). Almost all the stores and businesses in Australia tend to close around 5 or 6 PM.  So, any shopping that has to be done, has to be taken care of during the “working hours.”  One day a week stores in the cities (this was true for Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, and from her explanation, I guess it is true across the country) stay open until 9 PM (this is usually Friday night) and on another night of the week (usually Thursday) the suburb businesses stay open until 9PM.

After getting back to the center, I headed over to the ROYAL ARCADE.  This long, highly decorated, glass-ceilinged building was built in 1869 and is the city’s oldest shopping arcade.  Outside of this historic fact and the many shops under its roof, the big attraction of the arcade is its clock.  It was rather impressive - two brutish, troll-like characters, wearing crowns stand on either side of a big clock.  It was built in the 1800's.  The two brutes are named Gog and Magog and they toll the hours with the hammers they carry.

From there, I was making my way back to the house and stopped in at another tavern to have a bite to eat and a drink or two.  It was a brighter and more spacious place than the tavern in Brisbane, and there were a number of pool tables set up.  Because of my funny accent, I was soon pointed out as a yank and spent the next few hours answering questions about the states, shooting pool, having drinks, and occasionally stepping out to the bus stop to remind myself what time the tram was due to come by.  I did not want to end up walking all the way home.  It was a really great evening, and as long as I kept talking and amusing the folks with my “Americanisms” I did not have to buy my own drinks.   I ended up not getting home until well after midnight.

The plan had been that someone from the seminary would come pick me up Wednesday morning in order to take me there and hook up with the Rosies folks.  So, after waking up, I cleaned up, packed and did my journal entries.  Pat dropped in about 8:30 in the morning to tell me that the plans had been changed... that I would not be picked up until about 6PM.  So, I stopped what I was doing, grabbed my pack and camera and headed back out to the beach.

I was headed toward what was called the Southern Beach (actually just the south end of St. Kilday) and, after checking the map, I figured I could walk it.  It was already hot - about 80 or so - and gloriously clear skies.  I took in a little more sun and walked around yet another park, looking at the sculptures, the fountains and the semi-nude sunbathers.  After seeing all I could stand, I walked through the business district, saw lots of interesting things, but nothing I wanted to buy and then headed back to the city center. 

The sunburn that I got that day on top of the other two finally convinced me that this was the day to buy my hat.  I wanted one of those neat, round, Aussie hats.  I checked out several hat stores, and finally found one I liked and now I own one.  It really did make a difference.  After spending money on a hat, I felt rather generous and decided to pick up some souvenirs for my brothers and sisters and some others (they have yet to be mailed) and so I spent the latter part of the day going from souvenir store to souvenir store - not easy to do considering how relatively few of them there were.

I finally got back home via the trolley with little time left to get cleaned up and ready for my departure... but the house was locked.  All the guys were gone, and the key I had did not work in the lock of the outer glass door.  Pat had mentioned to me that there was a key under some stonework, and at the time I did not pay a whole lot of attention.  Now, I frantically searched every nook and cranny of the direction in which I remembered him pointing and finally found the key.  I got cleaned up, dressed, re-packed and was ready just in time.

Right at 6 two college-aged students pulled up in the driveway, introduced themselves and then worked trying to get my bags into their car.  I really did not have much in the way of luggage, despite the new back-pack , but this was a college student’s car.  It was loaded with junk, clothing, boxes, plants and all sorts of other things.  After a bit of re-adjusting and holding one bag in my lap, we finally got me, them and my stuff in their car and we were off.

It turns out these students are going to be sharing a community life with Fr. Aldo - the director of Rosies in Melbourne.  They will work with Rosies as well as other forms of out-reach and share community life and prayer.  It sounds really neat, and Aldo and I spent quite a bit of time talking about his dreams and hope for this community.  It is an exciting and new way of doing Oblate ministry and community - I hope it works.

ST. MARY’S SCHOLASTICATE (home for seminary students) and Novitiate is located in a wooded suburb called Mulgrave some 30 minutes or so out of town at the foot of the DANDENONG mountains - really sort of out in the country.  The seminary sits on a large parcel of wooded land that very much reminded me of the countryside in Central Texas, with a great view of the mountains.

There are about 15 students and priests living in the seminary building, representing a number of nationalities.  The building is a sprawling one with lots of hallways and twists and turns, I got turned around several times.  After a great meal and answering a lot of questions about the states and what I thought of Australia so far, it was soon time to go to the Rosies pre-brief.  A room at the seminary has been given over for the Rosies ministry.  It is a place to store supplies and equipment as well as meet and pray.  Furnished with old stuffed couches and chairs, it reminded me of a college hang-out center, which in many ways it was. 

I helped load up the van and we headed back to Melbourne and parked right in front of the rail station.  The night was hot and there was no breeze.  This crew was a fairly small one and so I did not feel it would be right to leave the crew to find a cold soda.  This night pretty much went like the others, except we were joined by a nun who helps with Rosies.  She brought her own car that was loaded down with clean, used clothing and blankets which she gave away to those who wanted them.  This evening, in addition to the drinks, we were serving bread spread with Vegamite.  This is some sort of concentrated yeast extract that is very popular in Australia.  They spread it on toast or bread.  It has a sort of nutty, yeast taste to it, very good, but it is important to not spread it very thick or it gets to be a bit much.  While in Australia the Vegamite company was sold out to Kraft of the U.S.  This was upsetting to the radio commentators who lamented how many “things Australian” were being sold to the Yanks.  Vegamite was being spoken of by these commentators as some sort of iconic foodstuff that was key to the Aussie sense of identity.  Seems sort of over-blown to me.

This night we had “an incident”.  I was taking my turn serving cordios and making coffee when a grungy, rough looking, apparently drugged up young man showed up.  He pushed his way past me and started making his own hot chocolate.  He wanted it made in a specific way, and was making a mess of things.  Several times I tried to intervene and take over, but he would get rather upset, so with a nod of agreement from the others on the team, we let him continue but tried to help him not make such a mess.  At one point he left the spigot open and hot water ran all over his foot.  This upset him (no kidding) and he began to angrily cuss us for doing it.  Once we pointed out that it was he who let the water run, he seemed to calm down a little, but not much.  He was trying to fill a rather large bottle with the hot chocolate which was why it was taking so long.  Finally, he seemed to be satisfied and was walking away when he bumped into another streetie, dropped his bottle and spilled about a third of the contents.  It looked like this was going to lead to a fight, but we managed to calm him down, made him more chocolate (actually it is not chocolate, but chocolate flavored drink called Milo - sort of like Ovaltine) and then sent him on his way.  Everyone was a bit shaken up by it, but they let it go pretty quickly.  The nice thing was that a number of the other streeties had gathered around at a comfortable distance, and when it looked as though the guy was going to turn violent they were in position, standing in front of the volunteers to protect them, and ready to do whatever was necessary to prevent the young man from hurting anyone.  They were being rather protective of “their Rosies folks”. 

The rest of the night went quite smoothly and we were finished up and completed de-brief about midnight... spending a little extra time laughing and telling about other close calls that they have had in the past.  At the end of this sharing, Christian, one of the seminarians (he’s in his final year of studies) joined us and told me that he had volunteered to entertain me the next day.  He was very clear about not wanting to do things like hiking or other “exercisey” activities and asked if I would like to go shopping (his favorite thing).  I told him that I was not real interested in that, so we settled on a trip to the wine country and the coast instead.  That was more like it!

That night was bad!  I was unable to sleep because of the heat and I was in a room that defeated any circulation of air.  After tossing and turning a while, I headed for the TV room and tried to lull myself to sleep with something mindless - and that was all that was on... mindlessness.  I had a couple of beers, stepped outside and had a few cigarettes (what a bright, clear sky and the stars were amazing!), watched the ants crawling through the televisions room as well as some of the lizards dining on them, and eventually made myself tired enough to fall asleep.  I was then faced with the crisis of trying to find my bedroom.  I wandered through the halls, went in a couple of wrong directions and eventually did find my room. 

Christian and I were not going to take off until late morning, so John Maher, the director of the seminary decided to take me to the Oblate run school down the road, it is called Mazenod.  The school accommodated the same grade levels as the one in Brisbane, but it was not nearly as big or nice.  It was a bit more run down, but had an impressive offering of classes and almost all the equipment a school could want.  They not only get students ready for university, but they also provide alternative, trade school type of courses, so they have an amazing wood-working shop, kitchen and catering classrooms, electric and computer classrooms, etc.  It was really pretty nice, but John felt the need to show me almost every classroom, tell me the history of the schools multiple renovations and so on.  This was one tour that I could have skipped, though it was nice to meet the Oblates on staff (even if all they had to offer me in the way of sodas was Diet Pepsi - something I will not touch).  John wanted to follow this visit with a trip to the local Oblate parish, but I begged off, reminding him that Christian was probably wanting to get moving.

We got back about 11 and Christian and I were on the road by 11:30.  Given that it was a day, Christian was not moving too fast, and we finally got on the road until about 11:30.  We were heading through the Yarra Valley to the wine country and onto the Mornington Peninsula.  The Peninsula rings the southeastern half of Port Phillip Bay.

The drive was quite a pleasant one, winding over mountain roads, dipping into the valley, lush greenery on either side.  Occasionally a parrot crossed our view, and eagles flew high.  I saw all sorts of creatures on the edge of the road but, surprisingly, very few that had been run over.  Christian took me to a rather small boutique winery up in the hills over-looking the valley area.  His father is a wine expert of some sort, and so Christian is very familiar with the wineries in the area.  The place was a small, rough-wood structure on stilts that only helps to increase the grandeur of the already wide and beautiful view from this hilltop hideaway.  We sampled several of the wines that they make, settled on one for lunch, ordered some rather luscious salads and had a wonderful lunch in beautiful surroundings..  It was too hot for Christian (he really is not an outside person, as he tells me - making no bones or apologies about it) so we sit inside, but the view is still wonderful.

After lunch we continued on our journey.  We headed along the coastal highway and followed the curve of the peninsula.  It is a magnificent shore, and the road takes us through all sort of cute, picturesque villages and towns with lots of Gatsby-like weekend houses and stylish little restaurants spread all about.  We make several stops just to look at the shore and the surrounding countryside, it really is magnificent.  He points out to me the site that housed the original Rosies coffee shop.  It is located in the town of Portsea, at the tip of the peninsula.

The Oblates have, as they do in Brisbane, an “escape beach house” in the town of Portsea.  This one is not as close to the water (at least 2 blocks away) and is in fact a small house and not a condo, it has a yard, 4 bedrooms and is very nice.  The water is not as nice (again, we are still on the bay) and it is not as pretty a beach as on the Gold Coast, but it is wonderful nonetheless.  The water was cold at first (especially in comparison to the 90+ degree weather) but once we got in, it was absolutely refreshing.  We got to the water about 4:30 and just as we got to the waters edge, Christian announces that he wants to be on his way by 5:30 so we can get home in time for supper and the community meeting (I could have strangled him), and so I made the most of the time we had.

On the beach were a series of timber beach huts.  I had seen lots of others on the beaches during our drive.  Christian explained that they were bathing boxes - privately leased beach huts that are modern day remnants of Victorian life.  Looking into the open doors, some were being used to store grills or shading people from the heat, others were stocked with more equipment than an aquatic sports stores.  They all looked pretty much alike except for their colors, and they formed a string of buildings that seemed to go for miles. 

Christian and I played in the water for a while, laid on the beach and talked, and then hurried back home.  We were running late, and so we did not shower - the salt forming a light crust all over our bodies.  We rushed home for a big fish dinner.  Christian and I had earlier talked about my disdain for fish, so he took my helping and found me some cold chicken in the fridge... God bless them.  After dinner, it was time for the community mini-retreat and meeting.  I decided to do some laundry and take a walk.  As luck would have it, there was a small shopping center up the road, about a mile away, and so I was able to get some club soda for my bourbon (I had bought a bottle of bourbon in Brisbane in anticipation of a lack of alcohol at the seminary...good thing too!).  The washer and dryer were very small and the dryer did not seem to work too well, so I spent the next few hours doing loads, hanging things up that were only half dry, and doing some calisthenics.

About 10:00, the meeting broke up and it was now happy hour!  It is, as I said, a diverse community - Korean, Chinese, Polish, Aussie and a few others that I did not catch.  We all gathered at the back porch and had drinks and snacks.  Most of the community decided to call it a night after the first one, but Christian, Peter (from Poland) and I sat around and nearly killed a bottle of bourbon, not getting into bed until about 1 AM.  I did manage to sleep quite soundly that night.  I optimistically set my alarm for 6 but did not crawl out of bed until about 7:15 and just barely made it to morning prayer.

Mark (assistant director of the seminary) and I had made plans the night before for a day in the mountains.  After prayer and breakfast we took off.  It was a cloudy, rather misty day, but our spirits were bright and so it was not bad at all.  We drove into the mountains, and our first stop was at his parents’ home.  It is really quite a neat house, sitting on the top of a hill with a pleasant yard, patio made out of natural stone, and big lovely trees.  The mother was obviously a rather conservative Catholic and started to promote some cause or another that I was finding really off-putting.  I accepted a stack of reading material from her, Mark simply rolling his eyes (with Mark’s permission, I accidentally left the materials in his car).

We then drove high into the mountains amidst the grand gum trees, mountain ash, eucalypt trees and giant fern trees.  Mark had brought a bag of birdseed with him and after he spotted a flock of the colorful lorikeets up in the trees, he gave me seed to hold in my hands and poured some of it on the crown of my hat.  After patiently waiting for a few minutes, my hands and head were soon covered with the colorful birds, eating the seeds, pecking at one another, climbing up my arms, and just having a grand time of it all... as was I.  Although we had done much the same back in Brisbane, this was made all the more exciting by the fact that we were out in the wilds of the forest.

After depleting our supply of birdseed, Mark and I decided to wander through the forest.  We immediately got off the trail (on purpose) so that we could do some bush-whacking, see the small waterfalls in the area, get stuck by the spiny plants that were rather plentiful, and kept trying to scare up some wildlife.  Apparently, down in the valley there is a popular place for spotting wild  kangaroos, and he told me that, if we had time, we could drop by and see some of them as well.  We never made it there.

Although we did not see much in the way of wildlife (I think the misty chill was keeping them holed up) we had a great time tromping through the forest.  After wearing ourselves out, and finally finding our car again, we continued on the winding mountain road looking for someplace to take tea. 

We found a rather elegant wooden framed church turned restaurant.  It seems to be quite a popular place for wedding receptions and the like as the custodians were setting up for just such an affair and mentioned how regularly they had to do this.  We sat in the back yard - a very formal English garden with carefully sculpted bushes and hedges, some nice small fountains, and all the things one might expect of such a place.  The tea was served in a silver tea pot and fine china cups and saucers as well as linen napkins.  We had scones with our tea.  Once the tea was put on our table, I picked up the pot and began to pour for both of us.  Mark then informed me that since I poured the first cups that I must continue to pour and that I had taken the role of “mum”.  If the one who was “mum” failed to continue to serve, somehow it brought bad luck.

Having completed our tea, we then headed on over to the WILLIAM RICKETTS SANCTUARY.  This was really quite a place.  The sanctuary is a narrow strip of land that was once the home and garden of said William Ricketts.  There are walkways all through the property that lead the visitor to all sorts of little buildings and fascinating kiln-fired clay sculptures of Aboriginal figures all set and mounted into the rocks and tree ferns.  It was really very interesting how the sculptures very often looked as though they were simply growing out of the rocks and trees.

William Ricketts was considered eccentric.  He would go off to the interior for years at a time to live with aborigines and then come back and sculpt his pieces.  He built a huge, walk-in kiln on the property in order to fire his ceramics and then mount them on the rocks and trees.  He was fond of displaying them to all who would come and visit (and they apparently did come - by the hundreds).  He never did legally own the land that he was turning into this museum, but when the government threatened to evict him, the townspeople banded together to have him allowed to stay.  Most of his pieces were busts of men and women, and he even did a few of himself in a sort of aboriginal pose.  The busts were marked with the tatoos and broad nosed features that mark these people.  There were also many interesting sculptures that were meant as interpretations of the aboriginal legends and beliefs about nature as well as a number of animal figures.  He felt a deep spiritual empathy with the people he sculpted and worked very hard to have that spirituality come through in his work.  Many of the pieces were quite striking and beautiful, it was easy to get lost in any one of them as they were so full of expression, symbol and meaning.

I learned a little bit about the aboriginal beliefs as we walked through and read the information
about each piece.  A very common symbol was the concentric circle which is the symbol for sacred earth (called “pmara kutata” in the native tongue).  These Central Australian tribes believed every soul to be a circle, whose circumference was endless and eternal but whose center was located in the human body.  Since their land is a desert one, much is made of water for the aborigines, and William made many of his sculptures into water fountains- water for them was the symbol of life and of heaven.  The flame was a symbol for the law, especially the law of the spirit, so that someone shown holding a flame was holding the soul - a living flame.

After seeing the sanctuary, Mark and I headed back to his parents’ home for a sandwich.  It turns out that his mom and dad had met William Ricketts on several occasions (he did not die until the 70's) and were able to talk about how people thought of him when he was alive - quite a character, apparently.

After the sandwich we headed back to the seminary.  Once there, I stopped in to see Aldo.  He lives in a building separate from the main one.  Here he is establishing a small Christian community with the two college students who had picked me up from the provincial house.  As I mentioned earlier, he is the over-seer for the Rosies outreach in Melbourne as well as director of this new community.  We sat for several hours talking about Rosies and the thinking behind it as well as this new community he was starting up.  He is quite excited about it, and in fact, they were all just moving in... just beginning this new venture.  I wish him well.

I went back to the main building to clean up and pack, as I was leaving in the morning.  It began to rain in the early evening - a nice cool rain.  At about 9 that evening, I joined Aldo and a group of Rosies volunteers in the Rosies’ room to load up the van and head on over to a Melbourne church where we met up with the nun who was with us the previous night and some other volunteers.  We did the pre-brief there on the topic of Jubilee 2000 and the forgiving of the international debt.  After sharing around that topic, some prayer and prepatory comments about the evening we then hit the streets.  It had quit raining, but was still cool- luckily the group had brought along the official Rosies wind-breakers and ball caps. 

This evening we parked in a different spot (their usual Friday night spot) that was just a couple of blocks from another popular bar and restaurant area.  There were quite a few streeties that I recognized from Wednesday night, as well as a bunch of new faces (at least new to me).  One of the volunteers - “Ducky” they called her - had taken a real shine to me and made jokes with me all evening long - a lot of them at my expense.  She was really a lot of fun and shared that same humor and joy with all the streeties as well.  Our young trouble-maker came back, but he did not seem as angry or drugged up as he was the previous night (though he was by no means fully sober), and we immediately told him that we would make his drink for him - he didn’t argue with us this time.

There were quite a few more high-school age kids this night, including a pregnant girl who was especially cared for by the volunteers, quizzing her about her visits to the hospital, was she eating, staying clean, etc.  It was again, quite touching to see the care they extended to these often forgotten people.  One older gentleman had his guitar with him and set to singing old ballads, and never stopped.  I think he went on for about three hours straight, and though I never saw or heard him lift his fingers from the strings, he managed to drink quite a few cups of coffee as well.

We packed up the van about 12:30 and went back to the parish for de-brief and then back to the seminary to unload the van, take some photos and get a bit more harassment from Ducky.  Thanks to the earlier rain and the cooler weather, the house was a bit easier to sleep in that night - I even had to use my blanket.

Joseph, a priest from Hong Kong, took me to the airport that morning and dropped me off with great expressions of joy for having had me for these past few days.  It seemed a bit over-done to me since he and I really did not see that much of one another, but they really like their guests.

The day before, because of my story of my arrival, John had called the Oblates in Sydney to let them know I was coming and when to expect me.  When initially making my plans, I was told that there was “not much” Rosies going on in Sydney.  That was the reason I had made it my briefest stay.  But, John informed me, there was no Rosies at all in Sydney, it had died out about 2 years prior and the Oblates were only now beginning to make plans for re-starting it.  Oh well, I guess the Sydney stop would be all play and no work - I thought I could handle that (and it made my chances for getting to Mardi Gras all the more likely - though I was told that even by train, the city center was about an hour away).  John also told me that the provincial, Pat Moroney, had also called the Sydney house and told them that all I needed was a bed, a key and directions to the train - that they were to let me be.  I liked that as well.  This was turning into quite a pleasant venture.



Sydney was only an hour away by air.  I was met at the airport by Thomas Maher - John’s brother.  What a contrast between the two.  Whereas John was a sort of mousy kind of guy, with a nervous laugh and unable to stand still for more than 5 minutes, Thomas was a larger, more gregarious, more settled guy and laughed with gusto.  The sky in Melbourne had been bright and clear, here in Sydney it was overcast and gray and blowing quite a bit.  Thomas told me that they were feeling the effects of the monsoons further north.  In fact, the people in Brisbane had all warned me about the weather in Melbourne, especially after my raving how nice and warm it was in Brisbane.  “It won’t be like that in Brisbane,” they warned me, “it’s too far south (and so closer to the south pole), so it is going to be wet and cold and rather unpleasant.”  I had to keep reminding myself that their summer had come to an end and that they were beginning their fall season.  Well, except for the final half day and night it was exactly the opposite.  In fact, Sydney had the worst weather of my entire trip, and it never quite let up during my entire stay there.  I had to contend with rain almost daily.  The drive from the airport to the suburb of Sefton was about an hour, and led us right through and outside the city... though never fully.  From the air it was quite apparent that the sprawl I noted in Melbourne was about doubled in Sydney.  The city just goes on and on and on, covering miles and miles with houses, streets, buildings and other developed areas.  Again, every house has a yard (actually, apartment living is still a rather new thing for them) and there is plenty of green space, but it does go on.

Thomas set me up in the rectory, a nice, two story, comfortable building right next to the parish church and fed me a chicken meal that was quite good.  I then showered, changed and headed out.  I had thought that Mardi Gras would take place on Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, but at lunch Thomas had informed me that the big parade was in fact this very night.  He showed me where to go on a map, told me where the train station was (about a block and a half from the house), and that he expected things would begin happening about 6 that evening - it was now about 2:00 and so I had plenty of time to find the parade route.  Another bit of information that he fed me - something I had not known about the parade.  In Australia they call it Gay Mardi Gras.  Apparently it is a parade sponsored by and largely represented by the gay community of Australia.  He said it was still very popular among all the people of Sydney, but that it was definitely a gay event.  Oh well, it was still the 2nd largest Mardi gras parade in the world and the 1st largest night-time parade.  (Which meant that Thomas’ guesstimate of a 6 PM start was off by about 2 hours - they wait until the sun goes down).

It was a 45 minute train trip to the city and I got out of the station at just about 3:00.  I thought it best to familiarize myself with the area and check out the parade route before I did anything else.  Good thing too, by the time I got to the route area, people were already lining up and claiming their spaces along the streets.  The main street was absolutely packed and to move up and down the street was like fighting your way through the malls at Christmas time.  I don’t think I had ever seen so many people.  All the bars and restaurants and shops along the normally very wide street were completely packed with tourists, with locals, with the entire city it seemed.  Movement was very slow, and it was a constant game of pinball - bumping into people, pushed here and there, all movement at a snails pace.  People in costume, people already partying very hard, everybody in good spirits.  The weather was the only downer - blowing, occasional rainfall, even pretty cool - but none of it seemed to dampen the spirit of fun and merriment.  The people were of all sorts - obviously gay, old, young, husbands and wives, men and women, families.  It was a very universal crowd.

I made my way up and down the boulevard, looking in shops, staring at some of the folks in their get-ups, laughing with folks who spontaneously included me into their circle of comradery for a few minutes before breaking up and going their way - it was a true festival.  I kept trying to scope out a prime viewing spot, though the lines along the streets were already 2 or 3 folks thick, and so it was going to be hard to get next to the curb.  There were people standing on buckets, folks with small ladders, people with lawn chairs and ice chests.  Many had apparently claimed their spot quite a while ago, and the parade was not scheduled to start for another 3 or 4 hours. 

I finally found a spot, and it was 4:00 - early, but I stood there and claimed my space.  There was enough activity going on all around me, enough fun being had in all directions, and the spirit of the place included one and all that it was not so bad.  BUT - after about an hour or so, I felt the need for a bathroom break.  OH GOD!  Well, I tried to hold off as long as I could, but there was nothing to be done about it, I had to give up my spot and find a place of relief... and it certainly was not going to be any of the shops on this street.  I fought my way through the crowds, walked about 5 blocks away where life was pretty normal and the streets a lot less crowded , and the shops were all closed or closing.  I did finally find a restaurant that allowed me to use their facilities and then it was back to the parade route, with a new determination not to drink anything more between then and the end of the parade.

Looking for another spot was crazy, the crowd seemed to have doubled in the brief time I was away.  Finally, after about half an hour or so, I found another spot.  It was a mere few inches, in the midst of an American family and their 3 small children.  It was standing shoulder to shoulder, and I had to fight just to get my camera up to eye level, but I was in the




second row from the street and the folks in front of me were fairly short, so I had a pretty good spot from which to view the street.  Only 3 more hours to go. 

Luckily the American family was rather friendly and in good spirits.  They had come up from Kansas or somewhere in the mid-west.  This was their 3rd year of coming to the Mardi Gras - two brothers, a sister and their spouses and children.  They vacation each year in a different part of Australia, always ending up in Sydney for the parade.  They were a lot of fun and made a lot of funny (and sometimes very rude) comments and jokes, which made the passing of the hours a bit easier to bear.  There were a few occasions of brief, cold rain, which simply caused the crowd to push closer to each other.  Kept a body warm, but it did very little to prevent people from getting wet.

About 7:00 or so, a very drunk older woman and her unkempt male companion decided that they did not want to stand in the back, and so with a can of beer in each fist, she and he fought their way to the front line, pushing, elbowing, yelling and asserting their way to the front.  As they got to the sawhorses separating the crowds from the street, one young lady who had been standing up front said something to the two drunks.  I could not hear it, but the crowds around the couple were also making comments.  The drunken lady took a swing at the young one (she was still carrying her beer cans) and struck the woman across the head.  That set the crowd to a slight scuffle - jostling the crowds, knocking some off their buckets and chairs and ladders, but it broke up as quickly as it started, the crowds dissuading the two from a full out fight.  The young lady, instead of continuing the violence got the attention of some police officers and told her story, with the crowds corroborating her story.  The officers than led the drunken woman out of the crowd, her male escort was pretending not to know the lady and was trying to stay where he was, the crowd convinced him to do otherwise.  As the officers led the two away, the woman decided to have it out with them as well, and the next thing I knew, she and the man were on the ground, about 6 officers standing around them and the handcuffs were being put on the both of them.  That was certainly a bit of excitement.
There was a pre-parade parade made up of hundreds of lesbians on motorcycles.  They called themselves “dykes on bikes” and there were more motorcycles and leather clad (and partially clad - many of them bearing their breasts- but I tried not to notice) women than I had ever seen in a single place.  They drove all sorts of motorcycles, but seemed to prefer the ones with the long bent handles.  They carried signs and placards of pride many of them humorous.  They made
their way noisily up the street and back again.. I guess they were trying to fill in the time before the official parade began.  It was really quite a sight and they got a lot of cat-calls and all sorts of comments thrown back and forth, for the most part in good humor.





Finally, with a series of fireworks set off from some of the taller buildings along the street, the official parade began.  The parade went on for almost 3 hours solid - and it wasn’t that the floats were moving particularly slowly, it was just that there were so many of them that it took that long to go by.  There was everything and anything that you might imagine from a gay parade of this sort.  All sorts of costumes and barely costumes.  Huge gowns, lots of feathers, barely-there jock straps, floats proclaiming one city or another, marching bands, floats of great beauty and majesty as well as rather risque and quite bizarre.  There were costumes and masks, political jokes that I missed, floats and groups of people from all over the world.  It was one of the most colorful and exciting parades I had ever witnessed.  All the people cheered loudly for them, and despite some of the disparaging remarks made by some of the people around me; for the most part there was a real sense of enjoyment, support and good humor.  It was really a neat parade.  I was a little embarrassed for some of the children that were watching (like the ones with the family near me) because some of the floats were very sexual in nature and rather explicit, there were also things like walking penises (peni?) and other such things that made it just a tad above “G” rated.  I think the parents would have some explaining to do once they got home with their kids.

The apartment building balconies, the roofs of all the buildings lined up along the boulevard were crowded with people.  Gaudiness, cleverness, and bawdiness seemed to be the order of the day and was reflected in all the costumes (or lack thereof) as well as the floats. 

The parade came to an end with a spectacular array of fireworks from the roof tops of many of the buildings.  As soon as the last float passed by, the crowd started to move, and there was no fighting the wave of people as they flowed down the street carrying everyone in it’s path along with it - I could not have turned in the other direction if I wanted to.  The only thing that did get left behind were buckets, papers and a sea of beer bottles.  This was rather surprising - that they would allow bottles on the street, other places (like New Orleans) permit drinking on the street, but only out of plastic cups.  The sound of bottles being kicked and shattered, the crunching of glass, the shards of glass that were accidentally kicked around made me grateful that I was not wearing sandals.  With the bottles, trash, and even some of the clothing (especially shirts torn and ripped apart) there must have been a good six inch thick layer of debris on the street.  About half the crowd left the area, the other half stayed to dance and party. 

The streets were not re-opened after the parade, rather the barricades were simply broadened and the local bars and clubs sponsored huge street dances, with competing loud speakers blaring out music out onto the streets.  People continued dancing and partying all night long - and in fact, until Monday evening.  It was incredible! I walked around a bit to see some of the activity.  At one point I tried to get a drink, but after 15 minutes in a line that did not move more than a foot in that time, I figured I could do without and decided to head back home, the music could still be heard from 3 blocks away.  What a night!

It took me a while to locate the train station, and when I did, I was not absolutely sure which train to take in order to get back.  I asked one conductor who gave me instructions, telling me which transfer station to get out at and which train to take from there.  I took his advice, got out at the station he told me, but could not find the train he told me to take from there - it was not listed on the call board at the station.  I decided to see if I could find a cab.  I walked away from the station into a rather small business district of the suburb, but after several blocks, I found no cab.  It was getting late and the last trains would soon be taking off, so I hurried back to the station, a little apprehensive and asked the station manager how to get to where I thought I needed to be.  Having been mis-directed once, I took her information and then went to the station security guard and asked him.  He said that yes, my train was coming, but that I was on the wrong track, despite what the station manager told me.   I went to the indicated track and as the next train pulled in, the one I was told to catch, I asked one more time - this time the trains’ security guard.  He told me that my train was the one coming next, on that track.  This was just getting too weird.  The next train came, that train’s guard said yes, this is my train, I got on, and I got home a bit after 1 in the morning. 


I was awakened early the next morning by the deep, resounding, echoing voice of the bishop of Sydney, doing his best “official God-talk voice” (that deeper, authoritative voice that so many of my fellow preachers tend to fall into when pontificating - the voice that pronounces God as “Gawd”).  The window of my room opened onto the small patio walkway that separated the rectory from the church.  The doors of the church were wide open and the small patio area acted as a perfect echo chamber to the PA system of the church itself.  Since this was the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent, the bishop had sent an audio tape of a sermon to all the churches in his archdiocese to be played in place of the local priest’s own homily.  A shame - it was really very dull.

I got dressed, attended the next mass, got undressed (it was going to be a very warm day, and so I had to have my shorts) and then headed back into Sydney.  The trains are rather nice and comfortable.  Most of the them are double decker type cars, but I chose to sit on the bottom floor next to the map of all the stops - had to watch where I was going.  The stations, outside of the immediate city are rather simple.  There are no electronic signs about train routes and times like in the interior of the city, rather, the names of the city are printed on elongated wooden blocks  that are rotated by the station personnel to let you know the time and city that the next trains are going to.  I liked that - as modern as the city and train system is, there were still all these very low-tech touches that sort of kept it human and fun.

The oldest and biggest (over 4 million) city in Australia, Sydney claims to have the tallest buildings, the most expensive real estate, the finest beaches, and the seediest nightlife of any Australian city.  It embraces its harbor with a passion.  A shining gem, studded with small bays and inlets crowned by the billowing sails of the Opera House.  It is however, not the “real Australia” as I heard over and over again.  Like other major cosmopolitan cities, its character is essentially international.  It is a massive, sprawling city, and looking from its tall buildings, you don’t see an end to the city, except when it hits water (and even then, the many boats sailing and docked all around the water make it seem extended even into the water).  It stretches almost 60 miles from top to bottom and about 35 miles across.  The harbor separates the north from the south parts of the city, with most of the popular attractions on its south shore.

Although warm, the weather was wet all this day.  In fact, all my time in Sydney was spent with showers and cooler breezes.  For this reason I did not get to any of its world-famous beaches (yet one more reason to go back).  But, I did give the city a very good touring.  It is not as clean as Melbourne or Brisbane, and there is a lot more graffiti in all the usual places.  The mix of very modern buildings and Victorian and Edwardian structures makes it seem very eclectic.

One of the main city train stations lets passengers out at the CIRCULAR QUAY area.  This is a central point in Sydney as well as the docking area for the harbor ferries, and the Pitt Street Mall, the heart of the main shopping district as well as the Sydney Opera House.  I toured the area, looking through the shops, took some photos of the Opera House, watched the boats come in and out.  Sydney Harbor certainly deserves its reputations as one of the most beautiful harbors in the world.  It is truly awesome.  Houses could be seen all along the shore, many of them rather stately and elegant homes and government buildings of one sort or another.  They must have some regulations regarding upkeep and such, because they are very, very nice. 

I then headed on over to THE ROCKS.  Sydney is certainly a hilly city, reminds me a lot of San Francisco.  To make up for all the hills, there are lots of little side streets and alleys that cut across and ease the trek as well as lots of stopping places (with benches) and courtyards to the sides of the streets - very nice.

The Rocks are the sight of the first non-Aboriginal settlement.  Although its history speaks of open sewers, a raucous collection of convicts, officers, whalers, sailors and street gangs, overcrowding, and the bubonic plague, these days it is pretty much an area of shops and sites trying to take advantage of its history.  It is now a sanitized, historic tourist precinct full of narrow, cobbled streets, fine colonial buildings, converted warehouses, etc.  On weekends there is a street market with all sorts of garage-sale type booths offering antiques, souvenirs, art-work, craft items and food-stuffs.  It was a pleasant place to walk through and see what was being offered.

Walking past this market, I headed over to the famous HARBOR BRIDGE.  I walked up the staircases that lead to the footpath across the bridge and then climbed the 200 stairs inside one of the pylons for a more panoramic view of the city and harbor area.  From that vantage point I saw that there were folks walking on top of the bridge itself.  Well, that was something that I could not leave the city without doing, so I set off to find out how to join those human ants making their way up to the highest point of the bridge structure.

I found a brochure touting the bridge climb and the address of the ticket office, but even with that and a very good map, the office was still a bit difficult to find.  I caught up with a young lady bearing a large back pack who had the same brochure I did in her hands and looking just as lost.  We joined forces and eventually did find the office.  I bought my climb ticket and then, because I had about an hour to wait, I went over to SUSANNAH PLACE.  This is a terrace of 4 tiny houses in the heart of The Rocks dating from the 1840's that have been well preserved in the same condition as they might have been when they were built.  I guess these very small, cute and narrow houses were typical of the area.  There is a museum in the houses (I bypassed it out of concern for time) and an old-time corner store selling all sorts of “old fashioned stuff” as might have been found in the 19th century.  The houses still have the original brick privies that were sort of like boxes attached to the back of the building and emptied right into the rocks below.  There were also open laundries where clothing was boiled in tubs and rubbed clean.  I looked around, took some photos and then headed over to the bridge.

The Sydney Harbor bridge was built in 1932 and is called by Sydneysiders the “old coat hangar” because of its shape.  The bridge is 1650 feet long and is 160 feet wide - one of the worlds widest long-span bridges.  It contains two railway tracks, eight road lanes, a cycle way and a footpath.  The highest point on the arch of the bridge is 440 feet above sea level - and that’s where I was heading!  They have only been allowing people to climb the bridge for the past 18 months and the climb uses the ladders, catwalks and arch routes of the repair and painting crews.

The three hour adventure begins with an orientation film that tells you what to expect, warns you to pay attention to the guide and to behave yourself.  After viewing the film, we were led to the dressing room where we were given and instructed to put on a bridge-suit - a pair of overalls that went on over our regular clothing and zipped up the back.  The zipper had a rather large ring on it that was used for the rest of the get-up.   It was two-toned gray (we were told it helped us to blend in better with the gray of the bridge and thus were less a distraction to passing drivers).  Those who needed them were also offered a proper pair of non-slip sneakers.  After putting on the suit we were then led to the belt room.

In the belt room we strapped on a belt that had some sort of geared attachment that would hook us on to the life line that traced our route, preventing us not so much from falling as from getting off the path or jumping.  After that we were given a cap that had a hook which attached to the ring on our back zipper, anyone wearing glasses or sunglasses also had to slip a lanyard to their glasses and run the line through the ring, we were also handed a rolled up rain poncho that clipped to our belt, and finally a handkerchief (for sweat or rain) that had an elastic band that slipped around our wrist.  All our watches, rings or other jewelry had to be removed and put in our interior pockets or in the lockers that they provided for our packs and such.  We were not allowed to take cameras with us because they were not attachable.  Everything had to be attached in one way or another... this prevented things from falling or being thrown at the people or cars below us.  Falling things could cause a lot of damage given the distance that they would fall.  The guide and other tour employees would be taking our pictures - individually and as a group - along the way.

After being fully suited up, we then proceeded to a mock up of part of the pylon ladder where we practiced climbing the stairs, hooking ourselves onto the life-line and how to make the attachment go around corners and over rough spots, and other skills we would need in our ascent.  After the guide was satisfied about our abilities and willingness to follow orders, we were then given a two way radio that fit into a holster on the belt and an ear-piece.  The guide would be talking to us through this radio.  Fully dressed, hooked up and practiced, we then made the most difficult part of the trip - walking out into public in these outfits to make our way outside the building and to the beginning of the bridge trek.  It wasn’t too bad, as long as you didn’t look directly in the eyes of the folks on the street gawking at this bizarrely dressed group of people.

We began by ascending the steps from the street level to the catwalk that ran under the bridge road.  We could hear the cars above us and they gave a slight shake to the catwalk, but it was not any worse than walking along the road on the sidewalk.  We did have to squeeze around a few structures and duck under some overhangs, but it was a fairly wide catwalk and rather tame.  After making our way around the brick pylon that I had earlier climbed up on (these brick pylons are purely ornamental - playing no real role in supporting the bridge at all), we then climbed the ladders that led us to the arch.  At one point we were climbing ladders that were part of the pylons rising between two lanes of traffic.  It must look rather odd to drivers to all of a sudden see heads and then entire bodies come popping up between the lanes.  Once on the arch we began our casual walk up the slow incline to the highest point at the middle of the arch.  The walk was not all that intimidating at all.  It afforded some wonderful views of Sydney, the harbor, the Opera House and all around.  The arch has a rather broad walk way going up it, handrails all the way, and being attached to the life-line - made the entire trek non-threatening.  We stopped at several points, the guide telling us what we were seeing as well as feeding us information about the bridge itself and its history (it took 1400 workers 9 years to complete the bridge; 16 builders died in construction accidents;   it takes 10 years and 30,000 liters of paint to coat it; 6 million rivets hold it together; one of the rivets is said to be solid gold).

Even after getting to the high point of the arch, the sense of height was somewhat diminished by the wide walkways and the fact that you could not really look straight down at the water but looked out toward the water.  When you did look straight down you saw the highway and the traffic, and since they are not at water level, the feeling of height was somewhat diminished.  All that is not to say that it was not still a great thrill.  To stand in the middle of the arch, at its highest point, was still an experience that was breathtaking.  We took a number of group and individual pictures and began our trek back down.

The rain held off until I was safely back on the ground and once more wandering the streets (after purchasing several of the pictures taken on the bridge).  It rained pretty hard and came with a lot of thunder but no lightning.  The rain forced me to take refuge at times in the souvenir shops where I was very tempted to buy some kangaroo skins, but settled instead for some pouches made out of the scrotums of kangaroos (lots of kangaroos are neutered as a form of population control, and they have found some clever ways of using the cut-off parts of the kangaroos).

I also wandered through the QUEEN VICTORIA BUILDING.  It’s a building that occupies an entire city block and is Sydney’s premier specialty shopping arcade.  Originally the city’s produce market it has been transformed into a beautiful space with sweeping staircases, enormous stained-glass windows, a central glass dome, wrought iron balconies and Victorian-era bathrooms.  There is also the enormous, 1 ton Royal Clock, which is suspended from the glass roof.  Outside the building, in a grassy area is a huge statue of Queen Victoria sitting on her throne.
From there, making my way to the train station, I walked through Chinatown -dense with shops and restaurants - with its usual highly decorated pagoda in the middle of the area.  Lights were hung from one side of the street to the other and a large canopy of blue, green and red little lights that was very pretty. 

As dusk settled in, portions of the sky grew black with great flocks of bats flying all about the city, extremely large bats!  This was a time when it was very easy to pick out the tourists from the residents, all of us who were new to the city held our heads high watching the winged mammals making their way through the sky.  The sub-tropics sure grow these things big!

The train ride was not problematic this night, though I had two very large dogs follow me from the train station right to the door of the house.  I was a bit concerned, but they kept a constant distance between us, and so I tried to ignore them and made it on the other side of the screen door just before they made it to the top of the steps.  When I got in, Thomas was still awake and quite thrilled to see me.  He does not like to drink alone, and his housemate is somewhat of a recluse, so we sat up for several hours talking and drinking.  We talked of Rosies, the Mardi Gras, the bridge climb, Oblate community, the OMI’s in general and everything else.  It was quite a pleasant time, and did not get me into bed until a bit after midnight.  He really is a fun and engaging guy.

Up early the next morning again and returned to the Circular Quay about 9:30 in time to get a ticket for the 10:00 Harbor Tour.  I was taking the shorter tour (only an hour or so) as opposed to the 3 or 4 hour tour.  There are so many other things I want to see in the city.

The morning was gray and overcast, with rain in the air and occasional gusts of very strong winds, making the water a bit choppy.  The tour took us all around the main part of the harbor, past the ceremonial grand residence of the Governor of New South Wales and Mrs. Macquire’s Chair - a seat cut into the rock at one of the points of the bay which was a favorite resting place of Governor Macquire’s (1816) wife.  It was carved for her convenience so she could watch for her husband’s return when he was out on his ship.  The ferry then took us around a very small island in the middle of the bay called Fort Denison, also known as “Pinchgut Island.”  Legend has it that this was the place where the worst prisoners were kept, often chained to the rock of the island and without much food (so the pinching of the gut).  The name may also come from a nautical term for the narrowing of a channel.  There are cannons kept on this island that still fire at certain hours of the day. 

There are also several other small islands in the bay including Garden Island (the main naval base and dockyard of the Royal Australian Navy) and Shark Island (named after the large number of sharks seen in the vicinity - I never got to see one).  Up the sloping coast from Rose Bay, on a rather high point in the hills, we could see a very large, rectangular building which was an old convent.  Rose Bay is known for its high-priced real estate, some of the most expensive housing in Australia, and several movie stars from the States have homes in this area.  Well kept, beautiful homes dot the shore and are more than adequate as ‘get away’ homes - what a lot of money for a fishing cabin.  The cruise was quite peasant and allowed some close up views of a couple of tall ships sailing in the harbor as well as a variety of yachts and other ships kept at the various docks.

After the cruise, I wandered over to the world famous OPERA HOUSE for a while.  The walk from the ferry terminal to the Opera House is on a patio and walk way known as the Writers Walk.  It has small plaques set into the walk way naming famous authors, a minimal biography and a list of their most famous works.  The Opera House is situated at the end of Bennelong Point and its surrounding plaza offers a fine view of the water, the parks on other points of the bay and a view of the city itself as well as the harbor bridge.  It was rather pricy to get into, but worth it - after all how many times a year am I going to get to see it?  The Opera House is actually a complex of auditoriums, foyers, shops, etc. under the grand sail-like roofs of the structure.  There are 4 auditoriums for dance, theater, concerts and opera.  The Grand Organ in the Concert Hall is truly a marvel to behold with 10,500 pipes.  It is such a thrill to finally see some of these things that I have only read about or seen in magazines.  The sense of awe and excitement was very real.

From the Opera House, I headed on over to the HYDE PARK BARRACKS MUSEUM.  The building was originally a barracks built in 1817 to house convicts.  Between 1848 and 1887 it was a depot for female immigrants.  After several other uses, including a plague hospital, it is now a museum telling the stories of convicts, the immigrant women, and other residents of the building.  It was really  interesting and one intriguing aspect to the building was the great note of gratitude given the rats who lived under the floorboards and in the walls of the building (or at least used to).  These rats would take things from the residents of the building and use them to build their nests and such.  In taking apart these nests, scientists had prime evidence of what life might have been like at its different phases.  The social history of Sydney provided by the museum and its exhibits was quite interesting and enlightening.  One area of the upper floor of the barracks was simply a row of hammocks that were tied to posts at either side of the building in which the prisoners would sleep. 

Sydney, given its English roots, was at one time very concerned about the fact that the number of men so outnumbered that of women.  Because of the shortage of women, the men would often turn to “loose women” or homosexuality to take care of their sexual needs.  So, the state would import women, house them here to be sure they were free of disease and of “proper moral character” and then marry them off to the local men.  The exhibit made it sound as though the immigration house was also a display building for available, decent women.  I guess the men would tour the barracks (only the public rooms) or the courtyards and sort of just pick out a likely mate.

Continuing my walk down Macquarie Street in Sydney’s Eastside (home to a number of attractions, historical sites, and government building - the street is one of the city’s most historic and beautiful boulevards) I made my way to ST. MARY’S CATHEDRAL and Minor Basilica of Mary Help of Christians (patroness of Australia).  It is a beautiful example of 19th century Gothic architecture.  It’s front massive towers are still not completed, but the guides assure me that it will be soon.  The cathedral and the Catholic church in Sydney seems to have quite a history.  Due to the high proportion of Irish men and women in the convict population of the area, the Roman Catholic Church was often the voice of the oppressed in early Sydney, where anti-Catholic feelings ran high among the Protestant rulers.  In fact, the original church was burnt down (1821), and this is the second one on the site (begun in 1868).

The cathedral has 2 massive organs, but the church is so large that neither of the organs are loud enough to lead the congregation in song, so they are played simultaneously by 2 organists linked by headphones.  There are 6 altars in the church, including the ones in the side chapels as well as the main altar.  The stained glass windows are massive and wonderful.  They depict the fifteen mysteries of the rosary, the early history of the Australian church and various biblical figures and saints.  The more you looked around, the more you saw.  I couldn’t begin to count the amount of sculpted faces and images that were part of the stonework both inside and outside the church.  It would certainly be helpful during long, boring sermons.

Especially interesting is the crypt of the cathedral.  The floor of the crypt is a terrazzo mosaic floor.  At points along the length and width of the floor are beautiful inset stone medallions depicting in grand colors and images the story of creation and the titles of Mary.  The Irish background of the cathedral is also very apparent with all the Irish/Celtic symbols and scroll-work that are part of most of the images.                                                             

Across the street from the cathedral lies HYDE PARK with very formal gardens, statuary, tree lined walks (with a glorious section canopied over by the trees forming a true “roof” as they bend towards each other).  There is also a truly magnificent fountain depicting mythological characters and rivaling most fountains I’d seen in Europe.  In the southern section of the park is the 1934 Art Deco ANZAC MEMORIAL, paying tribute to the Australians who died in the service of the their country (it was during WW1 that the term ANZAC was coined - Australian and New Zealand Army Corps).  The building is a domed one, and on its interior are 120,000 gold stars - representing each man and woman of New South Wales who served in the ‘Great War”.  The lower level is devoted to an exhibit of war-related photographs.

By now it was really beginning to rain hard, and I was hungry, so I ran over to a series of street shops and cafes and sat outside under an awning and enjoyed a rather interesting chicken dish (I never was quite sure what was in it, but it was pretty good) and tried to write some postcards.  Well, it was so damp that the ink was blotting as I wrote, so I gave that up, ate my meal, drank a local beer, consulted my map and headed over to the infamous KINGS CROSS area.

“The Cross” is a very bizarre cocktail of strip joints, drugs, sex shops and backpacker hostels, with a handful of classy restaurants, designer cafes and gorgeous guesthouses, stately looking mansions and gardens, all mixed together in the same area.  Therefore, it attracts an interesting mix of low-life, sailors, travelers, suburbanites, all looking for some sort of entertainment (I thought the most interesting entertainment was the crowds walking around).   It is a brightly lit area, with Vegas-type signs (but much smaller in scale) buzzing on and off, there are folks trying to usher you into their particular strip club, bar or video arcade.  There are wonderful little eating parlors and sleazy looking joints that a cockroach might have a hard time being comfortable in.  It was quite an interesting place to be, and thankfully enough awning from the various establishments to keep a person dry when the bursts of rain came.  The novelty shops were always fun to look into and read their cards, play with their toys, etc., but I didn’t find anything that I could convince myself I needed from them.  I was told that the area was always pretty sleepy during day light hours, and that I should come back at night if I really wanted to see some interesting folks.  I sort of thought it seemed pretty active as it was.

From Kings Cross, I took a train to the City Hall - a huge government complex whose bottom two floors
house a huge mall and tunnels and passageways to other malls and shopping arcades.  From there I took the monorail over to Darling Harbor.  It is a huge, waterfront leisure park on the city’s western edge.  At one time it was a thriving dock area with factories, warehouses and shipyards lining Cockle Bay, but now it is all tourist attractions and entertainment centers, including the SYDNEY AQUARIUM.

The aquarium is home to everything from saltwater crocodiles to giant sea turtles, to small and delicate multi-colored reef fish, and some platypuses.  The highlights of the aquarium (other than the platypuses) are two transparent tunnels submerged in an oceanarium - a footpath that takes you through the water while sharks, eels, and stingrays glide overhead and all around.  It was really awesome and made for some rather interesting views of sea life that I probably would not see any other way.  I spent several hours in the aquarium constantly being surprised and fascinated by the many varieties and forms that life under water can take.  They even had a display of fish caught in the -10 degree water of Antarctica.  According to the display, there are some 50 different types of fish that live in those waters.  The tank was so cold, that it fogged up and made it difficult to see these fish.  I never would have thought of something being able to live in that temperature.

After the Aquarium, it was getting to be rather late, so I walked around the harbor a bit, determining to return in the daytime, and settled on a small patio bar (it had quit raining) and had a drink before making my way back to the trains and then home.   My legs were really feeling the days of walking and the hills of Sydney.  I suppose it would have been smart to take a day off from making such long daily walks, but I was only going to be here one more day, so that thought went right out the window... I could rest on the plane.

I started my last full day in Sydney and Australia back at Darling Harbor.  Most of the stores and shops were closed the evening before, so I thought this would be my chance to walk around the harbor and see what it had to offer.  My first stop was the MARITIME MUSEUM.  Since the life of Sydney and the country was so much a life on the seas, I thought that this would be a good place to get an overall picture of the place.  It is a soaring, futuristic white building (sort of mimicking the shape of the Opera House - as does the Aquarium) divided into six galleries that tell the story of Australia and the sea - from aboriginal canoes and the First Fleet to surf culture and the racing life.  There is a whole lot on Captain Cook and Captain Bligh (of Bounty fame).  In addition to figureheads, model ships, and the brassy tools of the nautical trades, there are
antique racing yachts, the jet-powered boat that holds the current water speed record.  They even have the fully rigged Australia II  - the boat that broke the U.S.’s hold on the America’s Cup in 1983 (they really like to point out anything that has bested the Americans in anything).  There was also a major display on the whaling industry which was finally completely shut down from the Sydney area not because of humanitarian reasons but because the residents did not like the smell.

Slaving ships, information on the beaches (tracing the history of beach life and fun - a lot of the exhibit given over to the life-saving clubs and life-guards of Australia), a fascinating exhibit about superstitions and legends of the sea and a lot of the religious ceremonies, articles and prayers that developed around the dangers and dreads of sea-faring life.  Of course there was information and interactive exhibits based on famous war ships and the Titanic and anything else even remotely sea connected.  It is a quite a thorough and fascinating museum.

An outdoor section features a number of vessels moored at the museum’s wharves - including the naval destroyer ship HMAS Vampire, the submarine Onslow, a racing yacht, a fishing boat that transported Vietnamese “boat people” to Australia in the late 70's, a northern Australia pearling boat, as well as an 18th century sailing ship and others.  The Vampire, the Onslow and the sailing ship were open for touring and crawling around on.  The price of admission included a free audio tour headset that allowed a person to listen to as little or as much as they wanted to - and it was done by people who took on the characters of the captain, a regular sailor, the cook, etc., it was rather cleverly done and quite instructive.  The nice thing is you could go at your own pace and did not have to depend on a guide or wait for a group.

I spent most of my time on the 18th century ship called “Batvaria”.  It was really something.  All the ropes, rigging, gears and such that it required... really incredible, I don’t know how they kept it all straight.  It was a highly decorated ship, with faces carved in a number of places and all along the length of the ship.  There were carved heads to look in all possible directions around and in the ship - they were to act as protector spirits of the ship.  One very interesting sculpture was of a court jester or fool.  His body was carved on the outside of the ship and his head stuck through one of the port holes looking in on the guy who ran the rudder.  This was done because traditionally the fool was the only one allowed to tell the whole truth (even to the ancient kings who put up with no criticism from anyone) - his job was to watch over the man with the rudder and his very critical work.
There was sort of a half-deck between the lower deck and the bottom deck - a space in which I was not even able to sit up-right in, and in order to move around, had to do a sort of duck walk, keeping my butt close to the ground (it is called the orlop deck).  This deck ran the entire length of the ship, though the mast poles also came through the deck to the lower portions of the ship.  Toward the very front of the ship, on this deck, was a space called “Hell” - it was where criminals were shackled - it was not big enough for a man to lay down or stand up, it really lived up to its name.

The guide claimed that 180 soldiers ate and slept on this deck.  They were housed here in order to keep them away from the sailors, as the two groups did not get along very well.  It must have been miserable being on that boat for any length of time and have to spend so much time in this very cramped space.  The ship itself was not terribly huge, and I would imaging that with a full crew working on the ship and the regular complement of sailors and such, it must have been a very crowded place to be - and that does not even take into account any goods or supplies that they must have hauled.

Another fascinating aspect of the ship were the “heads” - there were only 4 of them for the 200 plus men who would live on the ship.  There were 2 up front and 2 in back.  Basically they were holes cut into the decks of the ship that emptied out onto the water.  The ones in the back were for officers and special guests, these were slightly walled off in ceiling-less closets of sorts, the 2 in front, for everyone else, had no such protective walls.  All four or them featured a rope that hung down from above the hole, went through it and down into the water (some 20 or so feet below).  These ropes were frayed at the end.  The idea was that before sitting down, the person would haul the rope up, do his business and then clean himself with the frayed ends of the rope and then drop it back into the sea , where the churning water would clean it off for the next person.  There were 6 men to every eating bowl on ship and they were under penalty of punishment to eat their stewed prunes, oatmeal and citrus fruits that would keep them regular and prevent scurvy.  So, the toilets did have regular use.  Why do such things hold such fascination for me?

I then toured the warship.  It is the last of the big destroyers built in Australia and the last Australian example of a gun ship.  It served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1959 to 1986 in a number of roles.  It’s big guns, missiles and cramped quarters were a stark reminder of what a lot
of men had to put up with in service to their country - I don’t know if I could have done it.  Even as a tourist I felt too shut in and cramped.  It brought to mind those relatives and friends who served in the navy and what they must have put up with... a whole new respect for what they went through.

The submarine was even worse.  The ASPCA once did a survey and determined that the living quarters of those who served on the sub, were inadequate for the keeping of animals - but we certainly managed to stuff a lot of sailors in there.  No wonder the navy had a rather short height limit for its men!

After touring the ships and the museum, the clouds were sitting pretty heavy and there was a light rain, so I thought it would not be a good day to see the beaches (again - future trip) and so I made a full tour of the rest of Darling Harbor.  The sights scattered along the harbor included the world’s largest IMAX theater - offering several 3D movies, but I passed it up - did not want to waste any time in a movie theater.  There was also a massive casino with the Pokies and all the usual casino games.  This was a rather elegant building with great winding staircases inside and the quiet of a European casino.  I played about $2.00 in the Pokies machines and then continued my walk through the shops, exhibits and amusements that make up the harbor businesses.

After Darling Harbor it was time for the AMP TOWER - another of the “Great Towers”.  Larger than the Rialto in Melbourne (830 feet) it towers at an even 1000 feet above the street level. It brags about having the highest mailbox in the Southern Hemisphere and has a variety of postcards and stamps which they will gladly sell you in order to use that mailbox.  The building of the tower began in late 1970 and was completed in 1981 and of course, in this city of malls and shopping galleries, there was one of those at its base as well.

Like the other such towers, the golden minaret-topped spike contains an observation deck and rotating restaurant. The guides all bragged about the amount of fire protection equipment included in the tower which also houses a great deal of telecommunications transmission equipment.    The tower even has two fire isolated sets of pressurized stairs for emergency exits with some 1,504 staggered stair steps.  The panorama from the observation deck encompasses the entire Sydney metropolitan area of more than 600 square miles and you can see the Blue Mountains that lie some 50 miles to the west, south to Botany Bay, east across the length of the harbor to the headwaters of the Pacific Ocean.  What an incredible view!

In order to help Sydney celebrate its hosting of the Summer Olympics this year, in 1998 three athletic sculptures and a countdown screen were added to the exterior of the tower.  They are really quite nice sculptures depicting a gymnast in a handstand position, a sprinter and a wheel-chair basketball player ( I thought this was really a very nice touch).

From the tower, I just decided to wander and give up on the tour books and “destinations.”  I walked through a number of malls and shopping areas, I looked at the outsides of interesting buildings, I looked at fountains and marveled at the colors found in the gardens.  I eventually found myself in another area of small restaurants and cafes.  I decided to have one more Aussie burger (this one made of kangaroo) - basically the same as at the other places, but the avocados were replaced with pickled beets.  The burger was not bad at all, but the accompanying plate of nachos was terrible, soggy and flavorless.  As international as the city might be - they do not seem to have yet mastered Tex-Mex cooking - a notable lacking as far as I was concerned.  I also found that in the bars of Australia they are very precise about their mixed drinks - careful to pour not a drop more than a single jigger of bourbon when ordering such.  It makes their drinks weak - or expensive if you order a double in order to taste the booze.

After eating, I wandered through a few more shops that were still open beyond the 6 PM closing time and eventually back to the train station.  I wanted to get home before late this night so I could sit and have some time with Thomas.  He really seems to enjoy the company, and I enjoy him.  When I arrived back at the house, Thomas was out on some errands, but John McLaughlin was there.  He is the provincial of the Indonesian Oblates.  He lives in Jakarta and we talked quite a bit about the wars, the place of the church in Indonesia, the life of the Oblates there and many other things.  He was quite an interesting guy.  Finally, Thomas joined us and our conversation, and eventually he and John got to talking about things Aussie (John is from Australia originally and went to Indonesia when it was a mission of Australia).  The night came to an end about 11 or so.  It was sort of hard to get to sleep, thinking about leaving the next day and all that, but eventually I drifted off.

Ash Wednesday - my departure day and the first day of Lent.  Somehow the two seemed to twin together appropriately.  It rained cats and dogs all morning long.  I did make a wet run to the little town down the road in order to mail some post cards, but most of the morning was spent on the 2nd floor balcony reading, watching the birds flit between rain drops, looking at the parishioners make their way in and out of the church and writing notes about my trip.  The housekeeper was, like me, no great lover of fish and when I told her I didn’t care for it she made me a very tasty omelet - not sure what all was in there (I suspect there was some vegamite), but it was great.  I was then taken to and dropped off at the airport with enough time to spare to try and spend the last of my Australian money in the duty-free shop and got some really incredible Australian Whiskey, some kangaroo jerky, and some other small gifts.   Boarding the plane was difficult - first because it was a departure from Oz, and secondly because it was such a very long ride.  The trip was eased a bit by the 6 movies they showed us and the novel I had brought along.

I was treated to two Ash Wednesdays on this flight (crossing the date line again) and although I knew I did not need the extra penance, I bypassed the meat dishes on the flight anyway (and probably that was no major penance - given the quality of airline food).

There was much I did not see or do on this trip to Australia - but it was a working trip.  Next time - the beaches of Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, the Interior and the Outback.  Much left to see, much seen, and much more to learn about.  In his great books, Baum had Dorothy return to Oz several times - with any luck I will return at least once more.