Category Archives: Australia

Mungo National Park

Telegram for Mr. Mongo! Telegram for Mr. Mongo! I’m sorry, but the name Mungo reminds me of Blazing Saddles, and I had to get that out of my system before I could continue with the post. Damn you, Mel Brooks!

You get to Mungo after driving down 120+ km of dirt roads, punctuated by jarring cattle (or sheep) guards. There’s no water, no gas, and no store out there, so you have to make sure you bring what you need and head out with a full tank of diesel. But it’s well worth the trip – how often can you go someplace where they’ve found human remains over 30,000 years old? I can just imagine the ancient Aborigines running down the mega-fauna of the day – large pig-hippos, huge wombats, and giant kangaroos. The National Park mostly encompasses a few ancient lake beds – the floor has long ago filled in with scrub brush, but there still linger the remains of an ancient shoreline, and sand dunes where the westerly wind blew the soil to opposite shore. Within the past 200 years, the entire area was home to 50,000 sheep at one point, and a large shearing operation.

The lookout of Mungo Lake was our first stop. I think pictures with Dan in them look better. :)

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And I’ll just apologize right now – I’ve become obsessed with digital stitching and panoramas recently. But the Australian landscape really lends itself to these type of pictures – it’s mostly flat as far as the eye can see. And when you get cloudy days with the cloud-shadows on the landscarpe, it’s really pretty. Click on most of these pix for a larger view – they’re still somewhat low-res because it’s easier to upload, but you’ll get a better sense of scale.

Mungo Lake Panorama (Large)

We then drove around the self-guided tour of the 70 km Mungo Loop. It kind of went something like this: I’m pretending to be a rally car driver and driving a 1-ton rear-wheel drive ute with nothing in the back. It steers like a boat and the back breaks loose occasionally. We pass a small green sign with a white number on it – 19! – and screech to a halt. I speed-read the excerpt from the brochure, which usually is something like this: “The depression between you and the lunette to your left would commonly fill in with water to form a lagoon.” Or “You are now crossing the lunette and entering the habitat of Rosewood and Belah trees. Note the dense stand of Belahs to your right.” Dan would say something silly, resulting from being awake for about 30 hours at that point and having drunk 12 Carlton Draughts in the last 4. We’d race onward. And here’s what we saw.

Eroding sandstone at the east end of the lake. This formation is some of the only topography around. The brochure said it was nicknamed the “Walls of China” by the Chinese laborers that were used to build many of the buildings, water tanks, and sheds around the park. I’ve no doubt it was named that because of the laborers, but it sounds like a cruel joke perpetrated by the landowners to me. These “walls” are maybe 50 ft tall at the tallest. Regardless, it’s a beautiful natural feature.

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Then we drove around the back side of the wall, through mallee scrub and Belah trees, until we got to the northern sand dunes.

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When we got to these dunes, we noticed a lot of paddy melons. These are common throughout Australia – they’re a non-native species that does really well and sprouts up everywhere. They look like small watermelons, but are unfortunately toxic for humans. Surprisingly, we noticed that something had been eating the paddy melons. And then we saw a big flock of Galahs! Galahs are pretty cool – they’re pink-breasted cockatoos, but they have a much less raucous voice. These guys weren’t real tame, and flew away anytime I got anywhere close. So squint your eyes, and pretend these pictures aren’t blurry.

Paddy melons on the ground and Galahs in the tree:

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Even though these were pretty far away, they at least spread their combs for me. Check out the Galah in the tree! It actually has a paddy-melon:

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It’s very pretty to see a bunch of them flying – all you see is their bright pink underbelly as they fly overhead.

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After all the Galahs flew away, Dan and I spied the obvious high point:

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So we set out to summit Mt. Dune:

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I got distracted by the cool shapes the wind makes in the sand:

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But we did bag the peak:

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The light was nice on the way back down:

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And when we got back to the car, the sleepiness and beer took its toll, and Dan actually managed to fall asleep. And yes, I’m totally bombing down the road while stealthily taking this picture. :)

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I continued around the rest of the loop and back to the Mungo Lodge. Which was a “4-star resort” which charged the exorbitant price of $250 a night (yay for only being out there one night and it being my birthday present!) for staying in a nicely-furnished mobile unit. Seriously, it was a nicely-appointed desert shack. I mean, it would totally be worth $125 per night, but the chique image with the snooty French proprietor was just a little much. Dinner was super-good, and not all that expensive by Australian standards, so next time I’d bring a tent and just go there for dinner. Breakfast was super-expensive, and though they were the most perfectly poached eggs I’ve ever seen in my life, I don’t think eggs and bacon is worth $29 per person.

Anyway, I stopped by the Lodge because we forgot to bring lunch out there, and the loop spits you out not too far from it. I grabbed the cooler, pried Dan out of the bed (somehow he had made it from the ute to the bed while I was in the bathroom), and raced back out to the Walls of China to catch the sunset. Even Dan was glad I dragged him out, it was really pretty.

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I even managed to add a few more pictures of alpenglow to my repertoire! When we got there:

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And about 30 seconds later:

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Later that night, the stars were the best I’ve seen since I lived in the Caribbean. Even high-altitude in the Sierras can’t compare to it. It’s interesting – the hostel in Melbourne had a large picture behind the counter of the world at night. I’ve seen these before, but I never paid too much attention to Australia. It’s impressively dark. And there’s a big hole in ozone layer over Oz, so you don’t have as much atmosphere in the way. It was like the best of both worlds – the billions of stars you see in the Caribbean, but with that cold constant shine that the stars have in the Sierras. Dan and I laid out on a blanket outside of the room, just staring. He was snoring in about a minute, so I dragged him out of sleep for the last time, and into our over-priced bed. :)

Mongo like candy.

Ultra-fine Merino at Burrabliss Farm

Fleece pr0n!

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I knew that would get your attention. Now I’m going to blab a bit. :)

When I planned this trip to Australia, I kind of had this vision that Australia was land o’ sheep, and that there would be ranches everywhere and sheep around every corner. I guess that’s true for some parts of the country, but not of Robinvale, which is my base of operations since I have a free place to stay and half-paid-for groceries. Dan had assured me that he passed by several farms on his way to the Grampians, and saw a few signs for organic Merinos with phone numbers. But when we retraced his steps, we only saw one flock of sheep and one sign which had mostly to do with selling stud Merino semen. Not exactly the part of the sheep that I’m interested in. :) I had a lovely offer from ixchelbunny on Ravelry to come see her angora rabbit farm near Melbourne, but I unfortunately was only in the city for a few days and without a non-public mode of transportation. I was sorry to miss out on the chance to cuddle fluffy bunnies! So when I got back to Robinvale, I googled galore to see if there was anything at all within a single day’s driving distance. And I found Burrabliss!

Burrabliss Farm is in Lake Boga, near Swan Hill. At an hour and 45 minutes away, it’s practically right next door to Robinvale. :) I emailed with Tricia Pollard, she and her husband Bruce who own the sheep farm and a B&B, and set up a visit. I met them at the B&B, which is on the shore of Lake Boga. She has a garden full of beautiful and fragrant roses:

Burrabliss Roses

Alright, enough about roses, more about wool. :) They specialize in raising Saxon Merino sheep to produce ultra-fine fleeces – we’re talking below 15 microns, which is incredible for wool. Most merino falls in the 20-22 micron range, super-fine merino usually meaning 18-19 microns. So I was blown away when she said she had an 11.4 micron fleece! That one’s behind glass, so all I could do was drool, but I did get to feel a 12ish micron fleece. As you might expect, it’s heaven. Absolute heaven. Super-tight springy crimp and oh-so-soft. This is the type of fleece that spinners dream about, usually with a glazed look in their eyes.

So how do they do it? They raise their sheep according to the Sharlea method, which is a trademarked name for a specific process used to house, feed, and yes, clothe sheep so that they produce ultra-fine and very clean wool. The first ingredient is protecting the fleece from the weather. So all the sheep are housed in a large raised shed.

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The inside is penned, and there are probably about 12 sheep per pen. Even though the shed houses 500 sheep, they’re not packed in tightly or confined in any way. There’s plenty of space in each pen for the sheep to move around freely.

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The second ingredient is keeping the fleece clean. Each sheep is coated, of course, and the coats are changed every 3-4 months as needed.

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This little guy was pretty cute:

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And they are all guys, by the way, all wethers. I asked why no females, and it’s basically because a female sheep with that good of a fleece is better used as a breeder. And with any fiber animal, the fleece quality isn’t as good when a female is pregnant, because all the animal’s energy goes to the developing baby. Burrabliss doesn’t actually breed any of their own sheep, mostly because it would be yet another endeavor that takes up more space and time. As someone with a one-person business, I can understand that decision!

The floor is slatted, so that their dung falls through the slats onto the ground several feet below (you can see the piles under the shed in the first picture above). The feed is distributed along walkways outside of the pens, and each sheep has a spot to stick his head through the pen and eat. So the pens also stay free of hay.

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Sheep butts!

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Ingredient number 3 is a specially controlled diet. They buy feed in bulk for the entire year, changing to a new year’s supply just after shearing to maintain consistency. The feed is tested for protein, and supplemented with oats and vitamins. Each sheep is also weighed about 4 times per year, so they can judge the health of the animal and fleece growth.

Overall, these are some of the best-cared-for sheep I’ve seen. Some people may be upset that they’re “stuck in pens,” but you can’t argue that they get far more individual care and attention to health than 99% of free-range sheep. Tricia said that penned Saxon Merinos have a lifespan of about 8-9 years, vs. pastured sheep that have a life expectancy of 6-7 years. And frankly, the sheep didn’t really seem to care that they were inside. They have enough space to move around, they get high-quality feed, and they even have the radio to listen to. But maybe they need cable TV….

I did leave with some fleece. Not 11 microns unfortunately, I had to stick to fleeces in the “lower-priced” 13-15 micron range. In case you’re wondering, an 11.7 micron fleece goes for roughly $250 USD per pound. The fleeces tend to be between 1 and 2 lbs – the sheep are pretty small and the fleece is well-skirted. Burrabliss sells most of its fleece in bales at auction, but they have probably about 10 individual fleeces left, ranging from about 13 to 14.5 microns, and depending on weight & fiber, they’re approx. $75 to $150 AUD each (right now the exchange rate is about 1 USD = 1.1 AUD). And I know some of you have drum carders….a pound of fleece wouldn’t be that hard to process yourself…(enable, enable!) If you’re interested, contact Tricia for a list. She’s shipped to the US several times and will try to ship to just about anywhere.

updated links 07/10/2014

And some comments – I know this is bound to be a controversial subject.  I stand by my assessment that they were the best cared for sheep I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a metric fuckton of sheep.  Just to be perfectly clear – these sheep are not kept in the dark.  There is natural light coming in the windows, which are oriented in a typical passive solar design, which allows indirect sunlight in so the barn stays cool.  No, it’s not super bright, THAT’S THE POINT.  They aren’t kept hungry, though they are fed a special diet to maintain wool quality.  Pretty much any wool breeder, alpaca, sheep, you name it, controls their animal’s feed.  It’s well known for alpacas that too much protein will cause their fiber to be coarse, I’m not sure if it’s the same or opposite with sheep.  Anyway, you can totally debate pens or free range, but you can’t debate the quality of their care or living conditions.  This is not veal, people.


To the city! After spending many weeks in the country, it was nice to experience a big city for a few days. Shannon and I stayed at the Melbourne Metro YHA Hostel, which is just north of the main city. We were cheap and only bought one tram ticket the entire time we were there, so we got a lot of exercise by walking around. A good thing, because I didn’t skimp on the chocolate. :)

We got to the hostel on Wednesday night, and had dinner at a nearby pub. We talked to the cook after she was off, and funnily enough, she had seen us on the Today Show that morning. Celebrities! We were also cheap when it came to a room, and got beds in an 8-share for $29 per night. Unfortunately, the rest of the room were early-twenties douchebags, who were more interested in talking loudly in the middle of the night than sleeping. I kind of wish there were 30-and-over rooms at the hostels….yep, I’m becoming that old crumudgeon! :) But the hostel did have a cool lounge on the roof, with a 360 degree view of the city.

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The next morning we went on a hostel-sponsored tour of the Queen Victoria Market. The market was only about 3 blocks from the hostel, and it was fabulous. There was a huge section of your normal touristy crap – kangaroo hides, tacky t-shirts, “Aboriginal” stuff, plus toys that are big in Asia. These were kind of funny, though:

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I could care less for most of that stuff, but I could’ve spent all day in the food section. There were aisles upon aisles of fruits and veg, plus a small organic section. I was totally stoked because for the first time in about 20 years, I found real sugar apples:

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They’re called custard apples here, and Californians might think they know them by the name of cherimoyas. But cherimoyas are just cheap imitations. They’re disappointingly not the real deal, but the custard apples were. The inside is white, sweet, and slippery, and there are shiny black seeds throughout. You can eat them with a spoon, or make a mess with your hands (my preference). It was every bit as good as the ones I remember eating on St. John as a kid. I was always envious of my friend Abby, who actually had a sugar apple tree at her house. Sigh. They’re still my favorite fruit. Genips might be second.

I also saw a range of wild mushrooms. You can find slippery jacks at Dan’s grandparent’s ranch, and I just happened to catch an episode of Italian Food Safari where a chef cooked them with olive oil, garlic, white wine, and pasta. They removed the sponge part before cooking, to prevent the shrooms from getting too soggy. Mmmmm….

Melbourne Mushroom Mosaic

Then there was the seafood. Wow, the range of fish, crabs, shrimp, and etc. was amazing. I wish I had taken more pictures of the fish, but I got some good ones of crabs and scallops still in the shell. Pretty.

Melbourne Fish Market Mosaic

There was also the fresh meat, but I was too star-struck at that point to take any pictures. Everything you could possibly imagine, fresh beef, pork, chicken, kangaroo, and alligator! And then there was the “deli” section, with the preserved meats, cheeses, and spreads. Finally! Some non-perishables that I could actually buy! I loved the variety listed under “Fresh Game”:

Melbourne Meat Market Mosaic

I got kangaroo salami (of course) and it was delicious. That, some crusty bread, and goat gouda made an awesome packed lunch for the next several days. Shannon found olives that are exactly like the ones that Dan’s grandma makes. They’re called Sicilian olives and they’re minimally pickled. They have a great crunchy texture, and you have to work to get the meat off of the pit. Shannon got some of this sausage:

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We headed to Federation Square, which is mostly a big outdoor meeting space with free wireless internet situated around a few museums with interesting modern architecture. We went to the art museum there and that was kind of cool.

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Then we headed to Chinatown for dinner. We picked the place that smelled the best and was the busiest – it was called Spicy Fish and it didn’t disappoint. I was set on Szechuan beef until I saw – Szechuan kangaroo. Well, the kangaroo sausage was tasty, I thought, and really – when will I ever get the chance to eat Szechuan kangaroo again? It was a done deal. And it was some of the best food I’ve ever had. I even had leftovers for the next day!

And the next day I headed to the yarn shops. I still wanted to get an idea of what yarns and fibers were unique to Australia, so I didn’t go to the 2 larger stores in the main city, and headed instead to two other stores that are a little on the outskirts. Thanks to Ravelry, I can actually find out about those places in another country! It turns out they’re in the hipster part of the city, on Brunswick Street. I call it the hipster district because every other shop is a coffee shop, the ones in between are vintage clothing, and the ones in between those are ethnic food. And everyone is walking around in funky clothes and there’s a higher instance of dreadlocks there than anywhere else. Definitely a cool place that you could spend a long time wandering about. The first store, Beautiful Silks, was just that. They mostly had silk fabric, but also a small selection of hand-dyed yarn and roving (both wool and silk). The second was Precious Purl and it was a more typical yarn store. The selection of “usual” yarns was small, but the owner had some wonderful mohair yarn and roving. Well it turns out that she has 350 angora goats and dyes it herself. She also had some Australian-raised cashmere roving (not from her farm) that I couldn’t help picking up a small bag of.

I met back up with Shannon at Federation Square, where we saw a very odd street performer. I couldn’t figure out whether his jokes were really awful or brilliant. Anyway, after 45 minutes of confusingly awful jokes, he did finally manage to lay down stomach-first on a bed of nails that was on a pedestal, and juggle 3 batons that were on fire. I gave him a dollar.

Then Shannon and I went on a street art safari. We hunted down a few streets mentioned in a brochure that were famed for street art, and you can see Shannon’s nice pictures here. It’s interesting because Melbourne has a couple of city-sanctioned alleys that street artists are allowed to paint. There’s some pretty cool stuff, and some that’s just plain lame graffiti. I liked the actual pictures better than the stylized tags.

We attempted to find real sushi that night, but failed. There are a lot of what I’d call “take-out sushi” places, where all the pieces of sushi and rolls are pre-made and lined up behind a counter and you point to which ones you want. We did manage to find a place that had an actual sushi bar, but you couldn’t order directly from the chef (only through the waitress) and the sushi was pretty mediocre. Plus the wasabi wasn’t even slightly hot. I’m not sure how they accomplished that, but Australians seem to have a fear of spiciness.

The next day we headed to the Rose Street Artist’s Market, that was back off of Brunswick Street in Hiptown. Shannon was taking pictures of every piece of street art on the way, and just as we were about to walk into the market, I saw one and thought, “That’s a really nice piece of the fairy from Wizards.” Then I realized it was a huge mural of Wizards. Sah-weet! I made a huge deal out of how cool the whole thing was, to Shannon’s dismay. She hasn’t seen the movie. It’s one of my favorites, which if you don’t already know me means that it’s probably 1) set in a post-apocalyptic world and 2) weird. All I’m saying is that you should definitely see it, but not sober. Anyway, here it is, click thru for a bigger view:

Melbourne Wizards Panorama (Large)

We headed into the artist’s market, which was really neat. I got a shirt that has a line drawing of mushrooms on it, a light woven scarf from Cambodia, some goat’s milk soap, and I resisted the urge to get 2 really cool handmade bags. There was a lot of really cool handmade clothing too, but it was out of my budget. It was a neat market with a lot of unique stuff, so I really appreciated it. Handknits would have fit right in, even with reasonable pricetags. The market is every Saturday and Sunday and definitely worth a look.

After a quick trip back to the Queen Victoria Market, to buy some non-perishables to take back and share with Dan, we headed back to the hostel to meet up with the crew going to the footy game. This was the event I was most excited about. When we asked Megan in Halls Gap what we should do in Melbourne, she said, “Go to a footy game!” If you’re not familiar with Australian football, or “footy,” it’s pretty much the Australian national sport. It’s not soccer, not American football, and not rugby. It’s kind of like a combination of all of that with the physical contact of ice hockey thrown in. Sweet! It’s played on a circular field that’s larger than a football field, and the ball is more or less like a football (only yellow). I couldn’t begin to go into all the rules, but you basically pass the ball by kicking it (throwing overhand is not allowed), and you’re penalized if you get tackled and don’t give up possession of the ball. So it’s very fast-moving and active and fun to watch. The goal is to rack up the most points by kicking the ball between the opponent’s goalposts. We sat in the nosebleed section, but you could actually see pretty well. And it was fun to be close to one of the goals.

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The game we went to was Essendon vs. Hawthorne, both Melbourne teams, which have long been rivals. The crowd was pretty charged and there were 60,000 people in the stadium. The beer of choice was Carlton Draught and I ate my first meat pie. Tasty in a totally guilty fast-food sort of way. There were a few people who joined our group and actually knew a little about footy, so I got a pretty good feel for the game. There were only a few times that I didn’t know what was going on, but I didn’t feel bad because neither did they. Before the game, I had decided to – barrack – for Essendon and Shannon for Hawthorne solely based on the colors. Note that you don’t “root” for a team here, “rooting” means the same as “banging” does in the US. Anyway, Hawthorne’s colors were Charlie Brown brown & yellow, or wee and poo as one person said. Essendon was black, red, and white, had an airplane as their mascot (the Bombers), and were selling official plaid flannel scarves in the team colors, so it seemed like a natural for me. And Essendon won of course! Woo!

That brought the Melbourne section of my trip to a close – the next day I jumped on a train and headed back to Robinvale and Dan!

The Grampians

At long last, I got out of Robinvale and traveled a little! Dan actually had 2 whole days (well, nights) off, so we could really go somewhere. And where do 2 outdoor junkies go? To a climbing mecca of course, even though we didn’t bring any gear. We had to scope it out for next time, right? :) The Grampians is a National Park in the middle of Victoria, where mountains spring out of the otherwise flat-for-miles-around land. Dan and I got there on Sunday afternoon, after taking a network of backroads like this one. This is technically a 2-lane highway, even though there was only 1 paved lane.

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We drove in through the more remote west side of the park, mostly on dirt roads. When we got to a lookout in the main park, it was cloudy, but the light was nice:

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And this is a beat – uh – u can’t touch: (oh, oh, oh, oh-oh, oh)

Hammertime mosaic

Dan stayed up for a marathon 30 hours, then we got a few hours of sleep before picking up Shannon at the bus station in a nearby town at 3am. She’s a friend from California who had been working near Adelaide, and amazingly enough, that was the ONLY bus option! So we all slept in, then drove through the park and went on a few hikes. This is called The Pinnacle, and overlooks the town:

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The trails are pretty cool – this one in particular reminded me a lot of the via ferrata in the Italian Dolomites. There were metal stairs and ladders anchored into the rock, so that you could comfortably walk through canyons and up and down what would otherwise be chimneys and cliffs. It’s nice to have a few things accessible to the majority of the public.

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This was the only waterfall still going at this time of year, and it was pretty spectacular. Note the small pink dot of Shannon to the left!

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Dan had to drive back to Robinvale the next day, but Shannon and I decided to stay in Halls Gap for one more day. We hiked a cool loop from the town that went past a few waterfalls (dry right now) and up to a peak that overlooked town. And on the way down, I finally got my fill of kangaroos! There was a whole herd of them – 30 at least – hanging out on the edge of town. They were quite used to people, and Shannon and I watched them and took pictures for probably half an hour. I got some good videos of them hopping & boxing, but I’ll have to wait to post them until I’m back at home and don’t have to pay for bandwidth. :)

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I also checked out an interesting shop in town – it was a felting shop called Garments and Gadgets. Not a yarn store, a Felting store. The owners make really beautiful felted scarves by wet-felting and nuno-felting, and they sell a bunch of roving in all sorts of colors. I talked to them a little while and watched a felting workshop going on in back. It was pretty cool – you can make a nice scarf out of about 50g of roving. The ones that were nuno-felted – meaning that fiber was felted together through both sides of a porous silk scarf – were quite lovely. I was amazed at how light and airy those were, with beautiful drape. It definitely gave me ideas! Here’s a little sample of their wares:

Felting store mosaic

When we got back to our hostel, Tim’s Place, we invited our new friend Megan (pronounced mee-gan) out to dinner. She’s Tim’s niece and was watching the place for him. She said she’d go to dinner with us, if we’d go to breakfast with her tomorrow – and did we want to be on TV? It turns out that The Today Show, which I think is sort of like The Today Show or Good Morning America in the US, was filming the weather segment at Halls Gap the next morning. So Shannon, Megan, and I got up at 6, and were at the National Park Visitor’s Center by 6:30. And sure enough, we got our mugs on TV a few times. Too cool! I’m famous now. Well, not really, but I got to hold up a sign that said, “Hi, Dan!” and he actually saw it live. How funny is that? After those shenanigans, we hung out in town for a while, and I took pictures of a flock of cockatoos:

Cockatoo mosaic

Then we took a bus to Melbourne!

Grainy Goodness and bread. Two of my favorite things. I went to Mildura for both today – well, that and to replace our lawn chair that got broken during the BBQ the other night, and to get a french press that doesn’t suck, and to get some real coffee. But the beer and the bread were definitely the highlights.

Starting with…the bread!
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Chia is part of the barefoot cult, discussed in some detail in the book Born to Run. Chia seeds – and yes, we’re talking the same chia as chia pets – are an amazing source of omega 3s, antioxidants, protein, you name it. They’re awesome little bundles of energy that the Tarahumara mix with lime juice (which causes them to get gelatinous) and drink. Pete and I tried it at Mammoth with lemon juice – not bad! The seeds actually taste really good – kind of a light sesame flavor with overtones of strawberry seeds. So, thinking that this was some obscure new-ageish type thing, I was speechless when I walked into Baker’s Delight in Mildura last week and saw “Chia Bread.”

Me: “Wow, you’re making bread out of chee-a?”
Girl behind the counter: (looks at me a little funny) “Yes, we make bread with chai-a seeds”.

Right. Aside from pronunciation differences, there are a few other things different about the seeds in the bread. First, there appear to be no dark ones, which is odd because almost all the chia seeds that Pete bought were black. But there were tan ones too, and I remember reading that they come in a range of color from light to dark. Also, the ones in the bread don’t get gelatinous when you eat them, maybe because they’ve been baked and are a little dehydrated? They do still stick to your teeth a bit. Anyway, I only bought one small chia roll last week and immediately regretted it because it was delicious. I even saved a little for Dan, who agreed. So this time I bought 6 chia rolls and a loaf of multigrain chia bread, half of which is in the freezer. Tasty, tasty!

And the beer!
On my way out of town last week, I spied a sign for the Mildura Brewery. Eeeeenteresting. So I looked it up before I went and they serve lunch! Perfect! After my K-Mart and Chia bread runs, I headed to the brewery. I got a sampler platter of beer and a smoked salmon salad. I guess I’ll talk about the beer first, since it came out first. :)

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All in all, some very good beer. A bit on the hoppy side like a lot of American microbrews, here’s the rundown:
Sun Light – Light beers here don’t mean low carb – they mean low alcohol. So this is a 3% alcohol beer – not too flavorful, but decent for what it is. The weather here can get pretty hot in the summer – 120 degree days, so this beer would be perfect for that.
Honey Wheat – good, has the aroma and some overtones of honey, but isn’t sweet. Which is exactly what I look for in honified alcohol (unless it’s sweet mead!).
Pilsener – floral and hoppy and my favorite. I was very sad that it was a seasonal beer, only available in the brewery and not in 6-packs. :(
Desert Premium – a nice beer, reminds me a bit of Eye of the Hawk. Only 4.5% though. :) It’s lighter on flavor, but tasty. You could drink these all night without getting tired of them.
Storm – “US-Style” Pale Ale. Nice, really good citrus flavor that complements the hoppiness.
Mildura Bitter – too hoppy for me. Not much else going on.
Mallee Bull – A very flavorful, rich beer. Definite tones of coffee, nuts, chocolate, and malt. This is the kind of beer that I really enjoy drinking one of – sometimes even only half of. It’s too rich for me to get through a 6-pack, but I appreciated sipping the sample, and would appreciate drinking one every now and then.

I came back with a case – yes, because most times cases are significanly cheaper than 4 6-packs. I don’t know what this place has against the good old 6-pack, maybe they just like to encourage quantity….so I got a mixed case for $60 (hey, that’s only $15 per six-pack, a relative steal!), 2 6’s of the Desert, 1 of the Storm, and 1 of the Honey Wheat.

The salad deserves a bit of press too – it was super tasty. In land of schnitzel and gut-busting burgers, I really appreciate a tasty and not deep-fried fare. The menu had several tasty-looking things on it, and I went for the smoked salmon salad. It came with asparagus, a poached egg, tomatoes, roasted red peppers (they call them capsicums here), and a nice lemon sauce. Mmmm!

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The locusts weren’t too bad today – a nice break after several days of nonstop swarms, making it kind of nasty to go outside. The weather was overcast but nice all day long, and when I got back to Robinvale, it had obviously rained a bunch. It’s drizzling now, and I’m hoping that it rained enough for night shift to be cancelled tonight, but I’m not holding my breath. But it sure would be nice to enjoy some tasty beer and a tasty dinner with Dan.

Australian for Beer

I like beer. Beer is good. And I mean real beer, not crap beer. My favorite beer is Eye of the Hawk by Mendocino Brewing Company – it has a hearty but not overpowering flavor, isn’t overly hoppy, and it has a nice relaxing 8% alcohol content. As far as cheap beer goes – there are a couple times it’s OK to drink Budweiser, Coors, and the like, and those time usually have to do with A. Desperation or B. Physical exertion. So, stealing a swig of Coors from your buddy on a ski lift, or pounding a cup of Natty Lite at first and third bases are totally permissible. But actually buying it, putting it in your refrigerator, and drinking it for fun? No. Not so much.

Enter Australia. You might think from all the clever Aussie-accented marketing that everyone over here drinks Fosters. Well prepare yourself for this bombshell – Fosters isn’t even sold over here. It’s an amazingly effective and completely bogus advertising campaign strictly for Americans who want to pretend they’re Australian-tough and don’t know any better. Too funny. What they do have is a whole host of regionally-named beers – Melbourne Bitter, Victoria Bitter, Carlton Draught. Dan says that the guys at work are very territorial about their beer – they drink the one made closest to where they live because it’s “better.” Interesting, this would be the equivalent of being pro-Coors and anti-Budweiser because you live near Colorado.

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Dan somehow got tricked into thinking that all the above-mentioned everyday beer here is good. Since beer is freakin’ expensive here, I was happy at first to hear that the “cheap” beers were decent. Then I tried one. My first was Melbourne Bitter, and it really was bitter. I know, I am overly sensitive to bitterness (I can’t eat a lot of lettuces), but this was really nasty. It wasn’t even hoppy, it was just gross. I drank a second swig, thinking that maybe it was just the first sip that you had to get over. Nope. Still nasty. Third sip and I gave up and poured it. I know, alcohol abuse, but it just wasn’t worth the suffering.

Next beer – Victoria Bitter. This one comes in “stubbies”, slang for bottles here. Evidently all bottles are stubbies, even if they’re long-necks and not particularly stubby in appearance. Anyway, Victoria Bitter was at least non-offensive in its dismalness, it was just like drinking a Coors or Budweiser. No flavor, vaguely stale aftertaste. Ok, well at least I could pour a few of these down my throat, but not with any real joy.

So I ventured out and bought my first 6-pack for a whopping $15. It’s hard to get used to paying that much and not feel like you’ve been stabbed in the gut. But I was starting to get seriously cranky about the whole beer issue, so I handed over my colorful money. It was Cooper’s Pale Ale – I had heard good things about Cooper’s brewery in general and this was one of their staple beers.

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It tasted like a hoppy Budweiser and was only 4.5%. Now I was super-cranky about the beer issue, not only had I still yet to find a good beer, but I just paid twice as much for the Australian version of Sierra Nevada, and it was less than half as good as Sierra Nevada. Great. Ok, one more try.

I went shopping in the bustling metropolis of Mildura yesterday, mostly because it was getting pretty cold at night and we needed more blankets. I’m not even sure anyplace sells bedding in Robinvale, and it would definitely be way overpriced. I had a few other things on my list, like a bright floor light for the living room so I could see my knitting, so I went to K-Mart. It reminded me of living on St. John, and how you’d have to travel an hour to St. Thomas to get household stuff at K-Mart or Cost-You-Less. Except I never had to drive through a half hour of solid locusts to do that. The front grill on the Ute is solid yellow with bug guts. :)

Anyway, after a successful trip to K-Mart, I stopped into Woolworth’s (seriously, does this not remind you of old-time St. Thomas, or what?! Remember Woolworth’s?!) for some groceries and beer. The liquor has to be in a completely separate section of the store here, with its own checkout stand. So after buying groceries, I headed in to the vice room. I stared at the beer coolers for a while. Usually I’d just buy 2 or 3 6-packs of whatever struck my fancy, just to try out some new beer. At home I’m rarely disappointed in the quality of a beer – I may not like a random 6-pack but it usually just comes down to personal preference. Here, it’s all so expensive that I really didn’t want to shell out major bucks again and be really disappointed again. I was staring at the labels, trying to figure out which might be mass-produced and which might be microbrews, when the liquor store clerk asked if I needed any help.

“Yeah, I need some good beer.”
“Hell, no! That stuff sucks.”

After we clarify that I am indeed American and not Canadian, we talk about beer. I try explaining in general terms the type of beer that I like – beer from small breweries, that has a lot of flavor and is higher in alcohol content.

“Oh, you like boutique beer.”

Ah, now at least I know what to call it! He pointed out several, we talked about sweet beer, strong beer, “creamy” beer – I’m still not really sure what that is, establish that Guinness is more like a meal and I can get that at home anyway. He leaves me to ponder with several Australian recommendations. I see that the beer is priced individually as well as for 6-packs, perfect! So I got a selection:

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Little Creatures Pale Ale, Beez Neez Honey Wheat Beer, James Squire Golden Ale, James Squire Pilsener (not pictured), and a 6-pack of James Squire Amber Ale which I paid $20 for. Punch in the gut plus a stab in the ribs, I tell you. I drove back to Robinvale, hoping that $36 for 10 beers was going to be worth it. Which first? How about the Pilsener (yes, 2 e’s, they randomly add letters to things here), it’s a hot day. Bottle opener…..bottle opener…..dammit! The house doesn’t have one because all the dudes drink the canned crap or the crap with twist-offs. Good thing I brought my trusty flip-flops with beer opener bottoms.

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Crack-pchhh! Smells good……OH MY GOD, IT’S REAL BEER!!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!! It has flavor!!! Very nicely floral hops, refreshing taste, oh it’s so good!!! It’s still only 5.0% but I’m not complaining. It’s beer, sweet, sweet, tasty beer. At this point Dan’s alarm goes off, and I shove a beer in his face first thing in his morning, and say, “Try this! It’s real beer!” He takes a small sip and I see a light go off in his eyes – like “oh yeah, THIS is what beer is supposed to taste like!” I see him making sneaky eyes at my beer and I quickly steal it back. And have another! This time the Little Creatures Pale Ale. It’s definitley hoppy like a pale ale, so it’s not my favorite type of beer, but it’s still good. It has a little hint of fruitiness to it too. The alcohol content is still only 5.2%, but it’s the strongest of the beers above. I guess 6% is considered a really strong beer here. I call it good for the night, I want to savor my expensive beer and appreciate every moment.

This post was brought to you by the Beez Neez. This is a really great beer. Malty, which I really like, and don’t expect out of a wheat beer! Even though it’s made with honey, it doesn’t have the slightest bit of sweetness. It’s inspiring me to try making a braggot when I get home – a type of mead you make with malt. Again, Beez Neez is only 4.7% alcohol, but I’m trying to get over that. I think there must be some law or tax that discourages making stronger beers. Guess I’ll just have to drink more….and try to not go broke!

What I really think this all means is that it’s time to find some good wine.

Hamburgers and Emus

It was Dan’s day off yesterday, so he went to sleep for 4 hours after work, then woke up a little after noon and we headed out. He called in a hamburger order just before we left. Now I had been “warned” about Australian hamburgers, how they put all sorts of weird stuff on them. But Dan assured me that a hamburger with “the lot” was delicious, and since he had been dreaming about them for last couple of days, I figured I’d trust him. Besides, I was starving. Which was a good thing, because this is a hamburger with “the lot”:

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What’s on there? Let’s take it apart and see…

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Ok, normal hamburger stuff like a patty, cheese, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions. And a slice of beet, a fried egg, and a big slice of bacon (which is a little more meaty than American bacon, but not disappointingly ham like Canadian bacon). I think it was everything on this list, except for the pineapple:

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Sweeeeet. It was like eating breakfast and a hamburger all in one. With a side of beets. Good thing I like beets. I made it about 3/4 of the way through it before giving up. Did I mention I was hungry?

I was prepared for disappointment in the fry department – Dan described them as big steak fries which are my least favorite kind of fries because they’re too much like potatoes. I think fries should be a thing unto themselves, soaked through with oil, covered in salt, thinly sliced, and super-crispy. But I have to admit, these fries weren’t bad! They were definitely thick like steak fries, but the outer skin was nicely crispy, the middle just melted in your mouth, and they were loaded with some interesting type of salt. Dan said it was called “chicken salt”, I’ll have to look it up in the grocery store and read the ingredients. It’s more than just salt, and I don’t think it has MSG like the fries at Firestone. I’m intrigued by this new salty fry technology.

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After eating at a little pullout along the Murray River, we drove the rest of the way to Hattah Lakes National Park. We drove through a couple swarms of locusts on the way there – the sound they make when hitting your windshield at 100 km/hr is like hail. The park is a landscape of wetlands amid mostly flattish rolling hills. One of the lakes, Mournpall, was a bona-fide body of water, but the rest were more like marshy seasonal ponds. Dan at Lake Mournpall:

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There were a lot of birds, which are quite amazing down under. I’m not really a bird person, I hardly know any types of birds at home, but the ones here are just amazing colors and some have beautiful calls. There are a lot around the house (likely since the house is in the middle of vineyards), so I’m becoming better at recognizing them. There are magpies, which make the most amazingly beautiful lyrical music here, and they’re a very striking black and white. Cockatoos are white parrots, Galahs are pink-breasted cockatoos. We saw some brilliant green birds too, parakeets maybe? Anyway, the only ones that stayed still for the camera were the emus:

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I also finally saw 2 kangaroos! Or maybe they were wallabies, we’re not really sure as they immediately hopped away. So mostly I got a good look at their butts. Kangaroos are the animal I’m most excited about, so of course I’ve only got the one glimpse of them. Hopefully I’ll see more, rumor has it that they hang out by the river near sunset.

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