updated: Feb. 14, 2003

Final Report from the land of Oz

We flew from Alice Springs to Sydney. What a beautiful city. We were immediately captivated. Best food (especially Zenbu, where we got complimentary neck and back massages while waiting for our delicious Asian food); lovely waterfront, and of course, the Opera House. The kids really wanted to experience the Opera House, not just view it, because you can do that from a postcard. So we all went to 'Amore' an evening of love songs from famous operas and symphonies. We all got dressed up, ate at a fancy restaurant and had a very 'grown up' evening out. (This was after we treated all five of us to back massages; after all our hiking and shlepping, we were all very appreciative to get the kinks out.)
There were many buskers at the waterfront. The highlight was one artist who played the didgeridoo, an aboriginal instrument made from a termite-hollowed branch. He imitated Australian animals musically and told stories with the aid of the instrument. We're only sorry we couldn't have recorded it.
From Sydney we flew to Brisbane and then drove up the Sunshine Coast to Noosa- a beautiful resort that sort of reminded us of Boca: nice shops, great beach, boogie boarding and GREAT food. From there the real highlight was flying (eeks- the smallest plane Elyse has been on) to the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef. A beautiful coral tropical island called Lady Elliot where only 100 guests stay at a time. For those of you who know it- it reminded us of a tropical version of Geneva Park. It was magical- snorkelling the reef from a boat, and in a sheltered lagoon just seconds outside our cabin. The reef we snorkelled from the boat was only ten years old and was new growth from the reef that had been destroyed from a hurricane in the 70s. Because it was so new, it was colourful and filled with hundreds of different fish we had not seen at Hawaii. After Molinkini, with crystal clear water and dozens of beautiful fish, we thought we would never be able to top it. But we did. The Great Barrier Reef was one of the highlights so far. The big excitement for Elyse was when she saw a 5 foot shark swimming beside her. (Don't worry- it turned out to be just a reef shark- but it still made her jump out of the water and fly back to the boat in record swim time!) We bought a 'one-time use' underwater camera, and took a roll of pictures- we'll see how they came out, and whether we can scan any of them to put online. There are some amazing underwater pictures from Sydney's aquarium that Noam took in our Sydney album.
At low tide, we WALKED through the reef flat looking at starfish and coral and sea cucumber at our feet. In the afternoon, we went on a bird walk to learn about the avian life. One more highlight. The education centre on the island taught us that sea turtles nest in the months of December and January, and turtle hatchlings can be seen in February. Baruch desperately wanted to see one- and waited for an hour on the beach with no success. But as he returned to the cabin, lo and behold, a baby had been confused by the resort lights and was walking on the path. He ran and collected our family, who escorted the turtle (the size of a golf ball) back to the ocean using our flashlight. We watched it swim away in safety. We're only sorry we don't have a picture of the event.
In Brisbane we got our first rainy weather but on the one sunny day, we took a lovely riverboat cruise to Lone Pine Koala sanctuary, where we encountered Koalas close up and personal. They're koalas, NOT koala bears, as we were corrected. They are of course marsupials, and as cute and cuddly as they appear. The sanctuary is one of the only places where it is legal to touch or cuddle koalas as they are now protected (once being hunted for their fur). This sanctuary is careful to rotate the animals, so they only are handled for 30 minutes every few days. Please check out the pictures of us holding them. A great ending to a great experience in Australia. We loved the country, the people and all the experiences. Our next report will be from China; stay tuned. The Red Centre

We're now in Sydney after a few days exploring the outback of Central Australia: Alice Springs, Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. The sand was red because it the sandstone contained iron which rusted. The red centre reminded us of Mars, because it was red, rocky and barren. It was very hot while we were there: 40 degrees celsius everyday.
We had a very pleasant surprise. The Friday morning we flew from Melbourne to Alice Springs (population 2,000), in the airport, waiting for the plane with us, was a young woman who tentatively approached me and asked, "Are you Rabbi Elyse Goldstein??" It turns out that she was a Kolel student! She was as hungry for Jewish companionship as we were, so we said, "Will you join us for Shabbos tonight?" She practically leapt for joy and said, "oh yes, I was hoping you'd say that!" We had some grape juice from last week and in the supermarket we found braided dinner rolls, so we were off! Beth and we made a hostel two-burner feast, and together with the kids we sang Shabbos songs and lit candles, made the blessings and had great dinner conversation. As she left, the kids said to Beth, "It really felt like Shabbos tonight because we finally had a Shabbos guest!"
We were surprised to see both domestic and wild camels- they were introduced by the British who were familiar with them from Pakistan and India. The camel population is very healthy- as they have no local diseases or predators and are now exported back to countries that use them.
We were also surprised at how easily a fire started. At our campsite, we simply threw some sun baked and bone-dry logs into the fire pit where there was a hot ash, and the whole thing ignited in minutes without a match!! We saw lots of evidence of areas that had been burned; a cigarette carelessly thrown out could easily start a fire. It is so hot and dry, everything catches fire. Some plants have evolved to withstand small fires (eucalyptus) and some plants even need a fire so that there seeds can sprout (sort of like a plant phoenix). This is the way many plants regenerate so we saw many dead black burnt trees with the beautiful new green growth coming out from the bottom.
Uluru (the native name) or Ayer's Rock is a majestic red monolith in the middle of nowhere. The Aboriginals believe it was the trail of spiritual beings (much as we leave footprints when we walk on sand) at the beginning of time. The Aboriginals interpret different markings in the rock, (like a hole, or a squiggly line) as part of a creation story which they tell in words, music and dance.
We spent our last half day in Alice Springs learning about Aboriginal culture and their way of seeing the world. It included an opportunity to taste "bush tucker" (pronounced by Aussies as 'bush tucka'- and meaning "nature's food - ie. food found in the bush). We had bush tomatoes, which tastes like a cross between sun dried tomatoes and raisins, and honey ants which are ants whose abdomens are full of honey which can be sucked out. We passed on the witchety grubs- but be sure to check out our "new foods" album where we posed.
A few things really struck us as Jews:
1) their creation story has three stages of time very similar to our Bereshit story: at first the world was formless and void (like our tohu vavohu), next is creation of spirit, life and energy, but trapped underground, which escaped and went (called "dreamed") all over this formless land, in the form of spiritual beings, spending their life energy along the way, while creating a trail like we leave footprints when we walk, except their trail was the entire world: mountains, stars, trees and waterholes, which contains their energy. All of life just borrows that energy. The third part is now, after "dreamtime" called "the legacy".
2) Their concept of memory is fascinating and so different than the Jewish one. When someone dies, they are commanded to erase all memories of that person, to never mention their name, to destroy their personal belongings. (At the visitor centre at Uluru, there were panels with quotations and pictures from Aboriginals who had recently died that were covered in order to follow this custom). It seemed so strange, until it was explained that this was to prevent the soul from wanting to come back all time, and then they can't rest in peace because we keep "calling their soul back" every time we mention them. This is so totally foreign from Jewish ideas of memory, it made me think!
3) Their history is totally and completely oral, they have no written Bible or book. And, their concept of history is very present-oriented. In other words, their history is only to live in the "now period" of creation, that is, in the legacy. The past and the future have no meaning to them, as they are unknown and unchangeable. They teach their children the creation story only through songs and dances, so that it can never be made different from person to person. To live only in the present is their rule of life, and the foundation of their "religion." In other words, although now of course the last two generations have been heavily impacted by 'modernity' and western/English society there would have been almost now difference between the generation of 100 years ago and the generation of 1000 years ago. When they were first met by Europeans, they we were living in the Stone Age. As Jews, that is so interesting, for we so solidly live in the past and the future that sometimes our present escapes us!
4) Because of how different their society is- adapting to the harsh conditions of the outback required valuing things that help you live (remembering where the water holes are) and not valuing things that don't help you live (the latest material possessions- in fact, possessions were more of a liability), it is almost impossible to imagine how they can live in both worlds. There are many examples of 'successful' Aboriginals, that is, Aboriginals who have gotten modern educations and are now lawyers or doctors, but they by definition no longer live the traditional life style which is dying. Yet, to continue to live in the stone age the Aboriginals seem (at least to us) to live highly disadvantaged lives. On top of this dilemma, it is unfortunate that the Australia's policies have not always been benign. To have your culture so threatened, so devalued by those around you (they too were put into residential schools, separated from their families, and forbidden to live their traditional ways like our Canadian system did to Canadian native peoples) and yet to survive, and then to teach those very same white people your traditions, your songs and beliefs, that we could relate to! The kids kept wondering what it would be like as Jews be told "now you have to be like us, you have to eat pork and have your Sabbath on Sundays" and then fifty years later to be told, "oh, we made a mistake, you can be yourselves again!" and how would their kids feel? Would they want to go back to their traditional Jewish ways or just "blend in" with the majority culture they had been taught to emulate? These aboriginals, like us, straddle a fence between modernity and tradition, and boy, is it hard.

updated: Feb. 6, 2003

Tasmania Highlights

G'day mates from Australia. We've just returned from an action packed 6 day tour of Tasmania, the island off the south east corner of Australia. Tasmania, or Taz/Tassie as it's known to the locals was a wonderful (and do-able) introduction to Australia. Although it is part of Australia (and has kangaroos and wallabies, for example, though no native koala's except in nature reserves) it has its own unique flavour- including unique animals- such as the 'Tasmanian Devil'. It also has a remarkable history which we learned quite a bit about. The people are genuinely friendly- and quick to smile. I don't know if we're charmed- or it's just global warming, but we were in places where it rains 300 days a year, and 60 are either snowing or just cloudy. We were fortunate to continue to have hot, sunny weather everywhere we've been here. We're hoping for a cold front to move in as we continue on to Alice Springs where we hear the weather is 40 degrees plus- but I doubt the weather will not be boiling.
We arrived in Hobart and visited the beautiful, historic synagogue - the oldest in all of Australia, founded by Jewish convicts (what- they have to pray, also). It's built in the Sephardic style, and we were sad that we were not able to join them for Shabbat services. There is a tiny liberal community and a tiny Orthodox community which share the building- pluralism in action- we doubt any other synagogue on the planet manages to do that! We also visited the Cadbury chocolate factory- leaving with pockets full of samples- needless to say a high point for the kids.
Highlights of our tour.
We travelled in a mini bus with a small group of backpackers from England, France, Japan and Germany, and stopped every day for several walks, hikes, or climbs. Some were 15 min. to a wonderful waterfall, (Nelson's waterfall on the west coast); others were 2 hours climbs to magnificent panorama's of Wineglass Bay on the east coast, where we were rewarded by a fabulous swim in the bay with 'monster' waves that refreshed us for the return 2 hr. hike! Let's just say our family got their 'phys. ed' that day.
A highlight for the family was our invention of 'double-hulled canoeing' on Lake Rosebury(2 canoes held together by Micah in the middle) with parents in back and the other boys in front all paddling like mad. We also tried 3 new activities: horseback riding, (Carmi's horse was called Trouble!), sandboarding (snowboarding on sand dunes) and fishing (although the fish weren't biting- it was a pleasant hour on a boat).
On our hikes, we encountered kookabaras, pademelons (small, cat-sized, wallabies- very cute), Bennet's wallabies (dog sized), and red kangaroos. We even saw an echidna scramble off the side of the road (but another close up at a rescued wildlife centre), where we also saw the obligatory koalas, Tasmanian devils, wombats, and cockatoos. The kids were particularly excited to be able to hand feed the wallabies on site, as well as feel the baby echidna's not too sharp spines. In the late evening, we had a real treat, as we stayed in Bicheno, home to a small colony of Fairy Penguins. The penguin touring company takes great pains to help this colony continue to flourish, and we learned a lot about both the penguin's and the ecological challenges human impact has made. It was amazing to see these tiny, fascinating sea birds, in their own habitat. All penguins (now mostly in Antarctica) have evolved from these original creatures.
Our last day's stop was a fascinating tour of Port Arthur - the convict colony disbanded in the late 1800s. The description of the conditions and the human cruelty displayed was quite a 'civilization's lesson' for the kids. Most impressive was the chapel- constructed so that each convict had a separate 'cell' seats separated by wooden partitions to prevent conversation and maintain the isolation that they were subjected to.
We now continue to the 'mainland' and the outback, and hope to update the site after a week of touring there. Our apologies, but finding time/computer access prevents us from uploading the many fabulous pictures that accompany this journal entry, but we will notify everyone when our pictures are online.