Zoo with Nana

Backlogged Day 4 of Nana/Papa visit.

After our fun weekend, Daniel went back to work and the rest of us tried not to rub it in too much that we were either (a) on vacation (my parents), (b) working a job that lets us go outside and explore the city (me), or (c) so young that every day is vacation! (Naomi)

To get a bird’s eye view of the city, Sher struck out on his own and rode the ferry alllllll the way to the end (which, in a harbor like Sydney’s takes a really long time – at least an hour one way from our place to the most inland point, and we are far from the coast.)

Meanwhile, Mom, Naomi and I headed to the zoo. We managed to catch the one bus that goes from Kirribilli to the zoo (a switch from the ferry, which is how I usually get there, which goes every hour or so). This saved us about 30 minutes, and we arrived right as the zoo opened. On the bus, we just so happened to sit across from a young mom with an infant and a toddler. This young mom happened to be someone I’d seen at the church play group last week, and since we remembered each other and chatted for awhile, it made me look like a real local to my mom. That was kind of funny, considering how not local I feel. :)

The bus driver was very helpful in telling Mom and I when to get off for the zoo, since we really had no idea what we were doing. As a side note, are most bus drivers such kind, friendly and helpful people, or is it just Australian bus drivers? I see them helping people (including me) all the time. Usually this puts them in a very positive light in my opinion… except for one driver. Get ready for a little off-topic back story.

Back in August when Daniel, Naomi and I first arrived in Sydney, we went to Costco one evening and took a bus back to the train station. We sat near the front of the bus. After we had seated ourselves and arranged all our belongings and groceries, the bus driver told us we needed to pull Naomi’s stroller out from where we’d wedged it, move 3 of the seats near it, turn it around 180 degrees, and lock its wheels completely before he would continue driving, in order to make her as safe as possible. It was slightly embarrassing, but I did appreciate his considering my daughter’s safety. Moments later, at the next stop, he picked up a young lady, and I heard him quietly telling her something as she climbed on, that dimmed her smile somewhat. I caught the words, “out closer to the street.” Then, at the next stop, the driver had another word for the next passenger embarking – this time it was clear: “Mate, you were out close by the street, but if you want to be more visible, wave your hand.” This trickle of unsolicited advice continued throughout the next several stops, and the ante was upped each time – everyone had something they could do to improve their bus hailing technique. If one waved down the driver, they could have flipped open their mobile phone to wave like a torch (flashlight) instead; if another used their mobile to wave, they could have worn a white shirt to be more visible. Personally, I found this somewhat supercilious. He was so courteous in his manner, telling each one this, but it was kind of funny to wonder just how far he took his job as a public servant.

Anyway, back to the zoo.

Nana and a squirmy Naomi in front of the Sydney skyline.

This was the first zoo visit when we encountered a cassowary. I did get pictures, but I was thinking I wouldn’t subject you to them, since they are just that bad (you know, overexposed and subject-is-so-small-that-it’s-just-barely-visible-even-if-it-had-been-facing-me-which-it-wasn’t. Those kind of pictures.) Besides, Daniel got some great shots of a cassowary in Cairns that I will hopefully be posting soon. A cassowary is an Australasian bird similar to an ostrich or emu in its build, except that it’s absolutely brilliantly colored, with deep blues and reds, and a big mohawkin’ horn coming out the top of its head.

Cool, huh.

Cassowaries are also dangerous, as they can inflict serious injury on humans and animals with their kick (like an ostrich). And apparently, there are several species of rain forest brush that cannot spread their seed and reproduce unless those seeds have first passed through the digestive tract of a cassowary. That lends a new prestige to fecal matter, eh? AND. Cassowaries swallow things whole, and you can see the object go all the way down its long turkey throat – apple halves and oranges and mangoes and things. They are pretty cool birds. Have I made you impatient to see Daniel’s pictures of the cassowary in Cairns yet? :)

After the cassowary, Naomi tootled around a bit. (What better audience than your mom and grandma, who will applaud no matter what you do?) We paused by the male elephant enclosure, but for some reason Naomi was adamantly opposed to staying – still not sure why, since she generally likes “effunts.”

A gibbon, the smallest member of the ape family.

But the gibbon in his tree caught her attention for some time. Perhaps because there were so many words within the realm of her vocabulary that could describe him – he was “up” in a “tree,” eating “yummies,” and beneath him was a pool of “wawa,” with [kiss-kiss sound… this means fish] swimming “in” it. In fact, Naomi even pointed out to us that one of the koi fish was all bloated and dead, floating belly up in the water. Not that she knew he was dead, she just pointed out that he was a “big dadn” fish (anything remotely large these days is proclaimed to be the big daddy). And he certainly was big and swollen. Yuck.

Nana & Naomi watching the gibbon.

After that we took a break near a pair of statues – a gorilla mom and baby, and a human mom and baby. Naomi was completely enamored and spent a good deal of time patting all of them, giving them each lots of kisses and hugs, and pointing out each part of their anatomy, making sure they all had the basics (eyes, ears, noses, mouths, hair, etc). Unfortunately she kissed the human baby statue a bit too exuberantly and biffed her mouth on his concrete head. Poor little affectionate girl.

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Then it was on to the real gorillas, where we stayed for some time. This exhibit is always a personal favorite of both Naomi’s and mine. Mom enjoyed watching them too, and found the silverback a bit alarming when he finally emerged. Quite. I had the same reaction when I first saw him. It reminds me of how I felt the first time I saw Mont Blanc – we were driving through France when suddenly there it was, lunging at me and filling the sky. It silenced me with it’s grandeur. Likewise with the Taronga Zoo silverback – he is definitely sobering, and is someone you do not want to mess with.

After awhile we heard the seal and sea lion show starting behind us, so we peeked in there briefly.

The Californian Sea Lion made us all feel closer to home!

Mommy & Naomi watching the sea lion show. Thanks Mom for getting me in a photo!

Naomi’s narration of the sea lion show:

“Eh! Eh!” (Look Mom! An animal that I don’t know the name for!)

“Up! Up!” (Now he’s climbing up onto the platform!)

Mommy: “Yes! I see him! Is he going to jump in the water?”

Naomi: “Yeah!” [No jumping; meanwhile the trainer is talking about saving the oceans and marine life by being more ecologically minded.]

“Dupp! Dupp!” (I want him to jump into the water! But that lady is still talking.)

“Dupp! Dupp!” (Enough with the talking, lady!)

[Sea lion finally jumps. Naomi watches silently with mouth open, even after everyone has started cheering.]

“In! In! Wawa!” (That animal jumped in the water!!)

“Mommy! In! Eh! Eh!” (Did you see that Mom?!  That was insane!)

“Mah! Mah!” (I want him to do it again!)

After that, though, we needed to hustle to catch our ferry. We were so set on hustling that Mom and I teamed up to carry the stroller down one persnickety flight of stairs that has thus far been resistant to all my attempts to find a completely stroller-friendly exit route from the zoo. At least this time I had another set of arms to help carry it. Except … when you work with another set of arms, you have to think about coordinating, which we didn’t exactly succeed at. The result was Mom slipping and the stroller lurching forward a foot or so. :( It left both of them completely unharmed, but pretty startled (one of them in particular, namely the one in the stroller). So we took some time to comfort and calm down, and then made our way home.

Something of a harrowing ending to an otherwise fun-filled day. Naomi and I went to the zoo again a few days ago, and she happily babbled about when we came here with Nana, so I know she had a really good time as well. (Unfortunately, she also got scared of that same flight of stairs, so I think that memory was vivid as well! :( )

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Springing Ahead

Yesterday was unexpectedly Daylight Savings here in Australia. We had absolutely no clue, except that our computers are both smarter than we are, so when we noticed that they had jumped ahead an hour in about the middle of the day, we were baffled.

The mystery began several weeks ago when we were booking a flight for this coming week to Brisbane (we’re heading there for a few days this Thursday). The flight was supposed to be 1.5 hours from Sydney, but all the flights we were looking at landed only 0.5 hours after departing. We looked online to see if Brisbane was in a different time zone. It’s slightly east of Sydney, but it didn’t seem far enough to merit an hour’s difference, especially when east of Brisbane is… nothing. So it’s not as though it would make sense to begin a new time zone there on the coast. But we just booked the flight and figured we’d find out when the time came.

But then yesterday Daniel noticed that his computer was an hour ahead of his watch and began to suspect. Of course the omniscient Internet gave us the answer, when we sought its counsel. But it meant we’d already missed church. Bummer.

It’s still so odd to me – not only that their Daylight Savings is so early in the season (a full month earlier than California, and that’s even after the US decided to begin Daylight Savings a few weeks earlier than it used to), but also it just feels weird that in October the move would be springing ahead rather than falling behind. Of course this makes sense when you realize we’re in the Southern Hemisphere. And …that it is Spring here. The crazy thing would be if they set their clocks back right now, when their days are just starting to get longer.

I guess it’s just evidence that I’m still sort of in denial that Spring is taking place in my favorite month of the year. Nothing against Spring, of course – just that it still feels as though it has no business popping up in October.

I guess I’m still an American at heart.

P.S. I was still wondering about that whole Brisbane thing, so I looked it up online and found my explanation:

Daylight saving is not observed in Queensland, the Northern Territory or Western Australia.

Brisbane being in Queensland, there lay my answer.

P.P.S. Another thing about Daylight Savings. Please consider this map of Australia:

If Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland all refuse to participate in Daylight Savings, that essentially means that the majority of the continent does not observe it. And the dividing line between those states that do and those that don’t? Runs mostly east/west, rather than north/south, meaning that states getting the same amount of light on a given day at a given time (South Australia and Northern Territory, for example) will have their clocks set an hour apart. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?

Actually, I guess the US has Arizona, so I can’t just point the finger. In fact, I suppose Australia may have an even better explanation: with so much of the continent being rural desert where no business owners are trying to save costs on electricity, why do they need Daylight Savings in those states? So …Arizona, what is your excuse? And don’t tell me you aren’t very entrepreneurial or something because the only place in your state that does participate in DST is the Navajo Indian Nation, and I’m guessing they have fewer electricity costs to worry about than you. Well, maybe there are some casinos to consider… but still, if you call yourself rural you have nothing on Montana. Please explain.


P.P.P.S. Upon further inquiry, I find that not only do the Australian and US Daylight Savings dates differ, but the European date is different still! In 2011, the US and Canada will set clocks back on November 6. Europe will do so on October 30. Australia set clocks ahead on October 2.

I guess it’s true then: nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. Not even Daylight Savings.

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Those Australian Meat Pies are Yummy Afterall

After trying various meat pies here I wasn’t very impressed with this Australian “national dish.” That is, until we went to the famous Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. They were excellent. Lots of well-known people have eaten the pies here, including Colonel Sanders of KFC fame. Check out the inset image for a closeup of the classic “Tiger Pie” on the left which has mashed potatoes, and the “Pie & Peas” on the right. Both feature mushy peas, which aren’t as bad as they sound. There are many other varieties available which you can see on their menu here

Harry's Cafe de Wheels. Click for a bigger version.

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A view inside the Opera House

One thing I like about the Opera House is how the inside structure complements the unique exterior design. My goal in this photo was to give a view into the interesting concrete ribs, glass, and metal that you see inside while showing the outside at the same time. This is the “backside” to the smallest of the 3 matching Opera House structures. This building houses the Bennelong Restaurant where one of Australia’s most popular and celebrated chefs, Guillaume Brahimi makes his home. See a larger version of this photo on my photoblog.

Guillaume at Bennelong Restaurant HDR at Sunset

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Festival of Winds at Bondi Beach

This blog is in serious need of some Ex-lax. I’m having trouble remembering back two whole weeks to all the fun things we did when my parents were here, but it’s simply got to move along because it’s getting very behind. So here goes.

Day 3 of Nana and Papa’s visit we took the train out to Bondi Beach for their annual Festival of Winds – a kite-flying festival! It was a perfect day for it, as it was very windy, sunny and mostly clear. With hundreds of young families out there on one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches, it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

We decided to go to the early service at church that day so we could get out to Bondi sooner. Afterwards at morning tea (the Aussie version of coffee hour) we finally met one of the other American families at our church (they’re from Tennessee). Since they have lived here almost 10 years (but still retain their American accents), I figured they could be trusted to know what they were talking about. Thus I was finally convinced that Daniel is right and the city of “Cairns,” where we would be heading later in the week, is actually pronounced “Canns.” (This put an end to a firm disagreement we’ve had for the last 6 weeks.)

Then we found our way to Bondi. It took a bit of work to figure out which bus would take us to the festival from the train station, but once we got that sorted out, there was no mistaking where the action was.

Right away, Naomi was enchanted with all the bright colors flying up in the sky. She had no hesitation about what she wanted to do: head straight into the fray. The only thing she couldn’t make up her mind about was where to look – in the sky of course were all these amazing colors and shapes flying in the breeze, but then on the ground, kids were running every which direction – and some of them were even flying those amazing colors and shapes. It was all very exciting.

Her favorite spot, however, and where she landed for quite some time, was a cluster of several 10-foot tall bright yellow banners stuck like flags in a circle in the ground. She has begun to learn her colors, and far and away her favorite is “yeyow.” In fact, for about a week, no matter what color we pointed at, it was proclaimed to be definitely “yeyow” (still happens if you catch her in the right mood, even though she knows blue quite well and red and green are growing on her). That, combined with her love of climbing on poles, made that particular area her little heaven.

Mesmerized by the kaleidoscope sky.

Eventually, however, other things caught her fancy and she moved on. And understandably so – there were some pretty neat kites there. Some of the larger kites included a blue whale, a killer whale, and some massive dragons. And then there were a few kites flying really high – like so high you could hardly see them.



Naomi failed to get her nap that day, so I took it for her. One thing I enjoy about my parents is that they love just sitting back and relaxing. While Naomi and Daniel went to see all the kites up close and personal, Mom and Sher and I dozed on a nice spot on the grass. It was so peaceful, and I noticed myself unwinding more than I had in perhaps weeks. It made me realize that, despite staying pretty connected to friends and family at home via Skype, and despite making new friends here, it really has been a lonely month and a half. There is something exciting and fun about going to a new place to live for a time, and I really appreciate it and am enjoying it; but it’s truly no substitute for relationships. Not that one can’t build new relationships if they move, but close relationships are something we have been missing. Given that, a visit from my parents was definitely what the doctor ordered!

Give this girl some sand and she's happy. At least for about 10 minutes or so.

After awhile, we got hungry so we picked up some sandwiches at a nearby shop. I have a dim memory that, waaaaaaay back 2 weeks ago, I had planned to write about how good they were, but all I can remember now is that they involved sun-dried tomato, melted cheese and herby spreads, and that they were good. (Daniel is now reminding me that I’m actually remembering the sandwiches that he and my mom got… my own sandwich ended up about half-eaten because it was kind of a flop.)

Doesn't my stepdad have the greatest smile? Even with his mouth full of sandwich. :)

We ate our lunch in front of this cool bungee-jumpy trampoline place that was set up. At $10 for 4 minutes I actually thought about doing it. Mostly because I saw a little 7-year-old girl learning to do flips and have always wanted to try that, but then lost my nerve later. Well, that and the line had about 40 people in it, and I wasn’t really that interested in trying a flip for the first time.

The sandwich shop actually sold yogurt too (like freshly made yogurt!) so I bought some yogurt and blueberries for Naomi for her lunch, not realizing that it was sweetened (rather than her usual plain). Quite sweet, in fact. So sweet that I’d say she basically had dessert for lunch. This did not help her nap-less, kite-crazed, sandy state. If I remember right, it wasn’t too long after that when we decided to head home. Not to place blame, but I do believe this had to do with the youngest member of our party being the loudest and most influential. (Not that she wanted to go home – no sir!)

If we had stayed a bit longer we could have seen some kite fights (!) and other kite-flying demonstrations that sounded really neat. But even without those, we had a wonderful day.

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Opera Bar Panorama

I just posted a new photo to my photoblog showing the Opera Bar at night with its incredible views.

Opera Bar Panorama

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Photos from our first month

We just posted a new set of photos – our first month in Sydney, and our visit to the Blue Mountains. See the photos here.

Photos from our first month in Sydney

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Harbour Bridge Climb

When he heard she was coming to visit us in Sydney, my mom’s boss dared her to climb the Harbour Bridge. When news of this reached Daniel and I, we immediately wanted in. So last Wednesday, the day before we left for 6 days in the Great Barrier Reef, all 4 of us (my stepdad Sher, my mom, Daniel and me) signed up to do the Bridge Climb. We had to stagger our time slots in pairs so that someone could watch Naomi, since we believe our 1-year-old should only tag along on activities involving a harness when the potential fall is less than 440 feet. So Mom and Sher signed up for a 5 pm night climb, and Daniel and I signed up for an 11 am “Discovery Climb,” which differed from the standard climb in that it takes climbers through the inner arch of the bridge as well as the pinnacle, and explains more of the history of the bridge.

Daniel and I barely made it on time to the obscure Bridge Climb office that was lost in a tangle of side streets in The Rocks area of Sydney near the southern end of the Bridge. We showed them our printed out receipt for the ridiculously high price we’d paid online for the climb, then gulped down our sandwiches before they rushed us into a briefing room. There we were given time to fill out some forms in 60-second increments, interspersed with explanations we were supposed to be paying attention to. But with 14 foreigners (most of us not fluent in Australian), you can imagine how well that went. I was really glad that the girl running us through the briefing was not our guide for the climb, because in addition to the zippy schedule she was trying to keep, her personality made me feel like someone had jammed meth up my nose, and if I took 5 seconds too long in filling out my form I was going to fall off the top of the bridge. The big smile plastered on her face and the squeaks in her voice didn’t really do much to ease this sensation. She was a little stressful.

One last shot in the locker room before we have to put away all our personal items for the Climb.

After a “team-building” get-to-know you exercise with the other 12 people in our group, we were herded into dressing rooms with the big baggy coverall suits they gave us, along with strict instructions to remove everything from our pockets and arms. When we came out, we were all checked and finally introduced to our guide, who was much calmer and more easygoing than our previous guide (to my relief). She took us into the prep room, where we all learned how to put on our harnesses and the headsets that would enable us to hear what she was saying on her mike while we were all out on the bridge. Then we were hooked into the bridge for the next 2.5 hours.

Our harnesses had sliders on them that were latched onto a static line that ran the entire length of the climb. Daniel and I had both been surprised that the harnesses only went around our waists (rather than also looping around our legs), but I guess that just shows how much more dangerous we both expected the climb to be. In actuality, there were railings the entire way, and the parts of bridge that we walked along were really quite wide. I never felt like I was teetering or hanging on by a thread. I’m very glad of that too, considering how strong the wind was blowing along the way up.

I felt a bit nervous starting out – especially at the beginning of the climb on the sections of catwalk that were nothing more than a see-through grate with holes so big you kind of felt like there was nothing beneath your feet between you and the water 150 feet below. Or when my safety line got stuck and tugged on me. But it helped that Daniel was having a GREAT time, and after a bit I relaxed and enjoyed it more. We were both surprised to discover that there was actually a lot less wind at the highest point on the bridge, as compared to the lower and middle sections.

The view from the top really was awesome. What impressed me the most was how absolutely HUGE Sydney Harbour is. It’s one thing to look at it on Google Maps – things always look different in person. But even in person, all I usually see of the Harbour is a 2-mile long section of it out my window every day. It’s another thing entirely to see almost the entire expanse of the Harbour with your own eyes, and realize how massive it is, and how twisty-turny it is, with so many nooks and crannies and all kinds of interesting bridges and buildings and parks tucked into all of them. Sydney Harbour really is a truly beautiful and interesting body of water.

The low point of the climb for me was the last 10 minutes. Not only did this include my scariest moment on the climb (see below), but after prepping and climbing from 11 am to 2:30 pm, that big old sandwich I wolfed down back at 10:45 got used up about 30 minutes before we were off the bridge. Daniel knew something was up when my responses to new sights or comments became less and less varied, until finally all I was saying, in response to anything he said, was, “I’m so hungry.” One benefit of being married to someone for 10 years is that he knows this means danger. Now, I’m sure the people at the Bridge Climb aren’t actually so cunning as to schedule our climb at a time that will force us to buy something from the cafe in their shop, but when you are as hungry as I was, you are convinced that the whole reason they even have a Bridge Climb is to get you so hungry that you will pay anything for a feta and spinach puff in their gift shop. But after that puff was in my stomach, I turned back into a normal human being again. (Off topic, I bet if I did one of those “word clouds” for this blog, the biggest word in it would be “overpriced,” followed by “expensive.” I don’t know how many times I’ve said that on this blog but I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about it.)

Overall we loved doing the climb. Since becoming parents, we haven’t gotten to do things like this much anymore, and it was a great way to see Sydney from a different perspective.

Since the climb took so long and the ferry doesn’t schedule itself around our agenda, by the time we got back home it was just in time for Mom and Sher to head out for their climb. Their climb was at night and they had a blast, as you can see below:

As we climbed, we learned a lot of interesting stuff about the construction of the bridge.

It was built in the late 1920’s and early ’30’s. I find it frightening and a bit appalling that the men who built the arch had no harnesses, no safety lines, no railings, absolutely nothing to ensure (or even attempt to ensure) their safety. They just walked out on the steel beams and tried to keep their balance. Um…. WOW! Being up there myself, with the wind blowing firmly (and it was not a particularly windy day), I felt really nervous even though I was harnessed in! I can’t imagine doing that day after day. I have a lot of admiration for those men.

"Up there with the riggers" Photo by Ted Hood. c. 1930-32

Can somebody please tell me why these guys are wearing hats? My own hat (which was tied to me) was blown off my head about 4 times during the course of the climb (on our not-particularly-windy day), and each time it happened I felt like my stomach had dropped out of my body, because it felt like I was falling. I can’t imagine keeping my sanity with a non-tied-on hat on my head.

Our guide told us that the 6 million rivets in the bridge are solely responsible for holding it together. The riveters worked in pairs, and each pair had a tiny oven they would bring out with them as they climbed around on the steel beams. They would heat the rivets in the oven until they were red hot, and then they would stick each rivet in its hole and pound it through. For the rivets on the more narrow beams that ran between the larger frame of the arch, one riveter would climb out onto the narrow beam while his buddy, perched on the outer frame, heated the rivet in the oven. When the rivet was hot, his buddy would throw it to him, and he would somehow manage to catch it and pound it in. All without ropes, harnesses or railings. Apparently there are several hundred rivets in the bottom of Sydney Harbour as a result of this technique (and there were several injuries as well), but with 6 million rivets actually making it into the bridge, this isn’t that bad.

Riggers riveting the red-hot rivets on the lower outside south chord. 1930-31. Photo by Sam Hood.

Photo looking into the arch by Ted Hood.

The above photo was taken by Ted Hood, who hung upside down from the other side of the arch to get it. He explains:

North side creeper-crane driver, 6’2″ tall “Bluey” Wilkinson, held on to my legs as I leant over the big pulley wheels at the tip of the jib, dressed in a boiler-suit. The Melbourne “Argus” [daily newspaper in Melbourne], who retained Sam Hood as their photographic representative in Sydney, used the best picture – 8″ deep x 5 columns and sent me a present of 4 guineas!” ($8.40).

I’m glad Ted was excited about his 8 bucks. I personally think it’s a shame he didn’t get more than that for this amazing shot!

Beginning to build the platform beneath the arch. Those are the "creeper-cranes" on the top of the arch. © Commonwealth of Australia 2006

The most interesting story to me (and my scariest moment of the climb) was hearing a story when we were nearly off the bridge. Our guide stopped the group when were about level with the platform (about 150 feet in the air) to tell us the story of the one man who survived a fall off the bridge during construction. (Apparently only 16 people total died during bridge construction, and only 2 of those deaths were due to falling from the bridge, not counting this man who survived). He fell from about the same height we were at right then (which is why it was the scariest part of the climb for me – remember what I said in a previous post about how emotionally engaged I get with stories?) He’d lost his balance while walking along a beam with a hammer in hand.

Now, falling into water from that height is basically the same as falling onto concrete. But apparently he’d been an experienced diver in his school days so, in the seconds during which he was falling through the air, he somehow managed to think clearly enough to pull some of his old diving tricks out of his sleeve to soften his fall. We didn’t hear all of them, but I’m assuming one of these tricks was making his body as straight as possible, feet downward in a vertical line. (That’s the only thing I know to do, although I’m quite sure that if I actually fell from a bridge I would fail to think of this in time to actually do it.) Then, moments before he hit the water, he strategically tossed his hammer at the spot in the water where he saw he would be hitting, so that it would help break the surface and soften his landing a bit. Despite all his tricks, however, the rubber boots he’d been wearing split all the way up to his thighs, and doctors had to surgically remove the soles of the boots from the bottoms of his feet. That’s quite an impact. He was given 2 weeks’ paid leave from work, after which he was of course expected back on the bridge to continue working.

Um… excuse me?

The only thing I find more astounding than that, was the fact that he actually went back to work on the bridge. I would have been terrified to get back up there. I guess he also got some kind of medal. But no workers’ comp, no litigation, nothing. This to me speaks of what difficult times the world was facing during the Great Depression – that jobs were so scarce that there was no shortage of workers for even this kind of dangerous work – and it also speaks to me of what amazing people Australians are.

Harbour Bridge under construction on July 29, 1930. Photo credit.

The day the Bridge opened in March 1932, Sydneysiders all over the city hung out of their windows banging pans, and marching bands and floats paraded through the streets.

I thought it was cool that so many Sydney residents were so enthusiastically involved in opening day. There are actually several things that Australians have done in the name of national spirit that I think are pretty cool. An event called “Breakfast on the Bridge” was part of a city-wide food festival in October of 2009. The city of Sydney chose 6,000 people from a ballot of 45,000 to win a morning picnic on the bridge. They closed all 8 lanes of traffic on the bridge, rolled out 10,000 square meters of grass, and set it up with tables and chairs and delicious food. Apparently there was live music and even a small herd of cows. Not sure if the cows would have actually added pleasure to the experience or not, but still – isn’t that creative?! I think that would be an awesome experience.

"Breakfast on the Bridge" © 2009 ABC

Another fun thing is that every year on Australia Day (Jan. 26), all the ferries in the Harbour are festooned with streamers and decorations all day.

Or how about this: on the 75th anniversary of the bridge opening in March 2007, the bridge was closed to traffic and opened to pedestrians to walk across all day long, from north to south. About a quarter of a million people participated, and they were all given commemorative hats. Loudspeakers were set up at intervals along the bridge, north to south, each set to play sounds and music from a particular era (like King Edward VIII’s abdication speech, or a famous 1975 speech by Australia’s prime minister), so that one “heard” the progression of history as they walked across the bridge. After dark, special hats replaced the earlier hats, each with an LED light inside. Such a cool and creative idea.

75th Anniversary Bridge Walk.

Other random facts:

  • The Guinness Book of Records lists it as the widest long span Bridge in the world (161 feet wide). Its total length is 3,770 feet long, making it the fourth longest bridge in the world.
  • I thought it was kind of interesting and humorous that the 4 big concrete and granite pylons on the bridge (the big chunky posts sticking up vertically at either end of the bridge) are entirely unnecessary, structurally speaking. The weight of the bridge is supported by the arch and the abutment towers below the platform of the bridge – the pylons (sticking above the platform) were added later, to give the bridge aesthetic balance. I guess the locals complained that it looked unstable so the pylons were added to make them feel safer about crossing the bridge. They don’t even touch the bridge, except at street level!
  • The bridge is repainted every 25 years, but it takes about that long to complete the job.
  • There is a toll to cross the bridge by car, but you may walk on foot or ride on a bike for free. There is a special pedestrian walkway (part of what’s called the Cahill Walk) on the east side of the bridge, and a bike path on the west side. If pedestrians are found on this bike path by the officers who patrol it 24/7, you are fined $300. I found this out about a week after we moved here when I went for my first jog across the bridge on, you guessed it, the west side of the bridge. Thankfully the officer who pulled me aside could tell that the remorse and utter surprise on my face were genuine, and he was also compassionate, simply giving me a warning instead of charging me the $300. I was very grateful.
  • A few of the famous people who’ve climbed the bridge include:
  Nicole Kidman
Will Ferrell
Al Gore
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York
Robert De Niro
Laurence Fishburne
Teri Hatcher
Bette Midler
Bruce Springsteen

Okay. Now that this blog post has wandered so far and is so mammoth and sprawling, I will sloppily wrap it up by tacking on two quotations about the bridge:

…you can see [the Harbour Bridge] from every corner of the city, creeping into frame from the oddest angles, like an uncle who wants to get into every snapshot. From a distance it has a kind of gallant restraint, majestic but not assertive, but up close it is all might. It soars above you, so high that you could pass a ten-storey building beneath it, and looks like the heaviest thing on earth. Everything that is in it – the stone blocks in its four towers, the latticework of girders, the metal plates, the six-million rivets (with heads like halved apples) – is the biggest of its type you have ever seen… This is a great bridge.

–Bill Bryson, Down Under, (2000).

To get on in Australia, you must make two observations. Say, “You have the most beautiful bridge in the world” and “They tell me you trounced England again in the cricket.” The first statement will be a lie. Sydney Bridge [sic] is big, utilitarian and the symbol of Australia, like the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower. But it is very ugly. No Australian will admit this.

–James Michener, Return to Paradise, (1951).

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Shimmering Opera House

It seems I will never get tired of shooting the Sydney Opera House due to its interesting shapes and the way it catches the sunlight. It seems there is always a new angle or different light to capture. The sun was bursting through the clouds this particular day. Shot from one of the Sydney ferries as we took our usual trip to Circular Quay from Milsons Point. See a larger version of this photo on my photoblog.

Shimmering Opera House


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National RUOK Day

Just learned something new today, and had a mystery solved at the same time. The first day my parents were here two weeks ago, while walking home from the park we were delighted to see a plane writing something in the sky.

I always love sky writing – wondering what they’re going to say, watching the perfect little stream of white puffiness streak across the sky. Once, in high school, my sister and I saw someone’s marriage proposal written in the sky – that was exciting.

But this one was more ambiguous than exciting, because we weren’t sure what it was supposed to mean. The airplane wrote, “RUOK?” And that was all. It was such a windy day that the letters only lasted moments before getting pulled hither and thither by the wind currents, streaking into crazy slants.

We wondered if it was supposed to be some kind of advertising campaign, but I didn’t think that was very effective since there was no mention of a company. Or maybe it had something to do with 9/11, which was the next day, but honestly that felt more like one of those things that an American abroad would think, rather than being the real reason.

I forgot about it until one day this week when I looked down into the courtyard of the boys’ school next door to us, and saw the same letters taped up on a balcony: “RUOK?”

This got me wondering again.

Well today, I learned what it meant. Australia has a national RUOK? Day, which is “a national day of action which aims to prevent suicide by encouraging Australians to connect with someone they care about and help stop little problems turning into big ones.” As they explain it, on this day they encourage everyone across the nation to ask family, friends and colleagues, “Are you okay?” It began in memory of a successful business management consultant who unexpectedly took his own life. Apparently they have had a pretty widespread participation in the last 3 years it’s been going on.

I thought this was a neat thing, although I still wonder if it was more an indication that Australia just has a particularly high suicide rate or something. The RUOK? website says 2100 Australians commit suicide each year, while another 63,000 attempt suicide annually (and fail). But according to my trusty friend Wikipedia, Australia is only #45 on a list of 107 countries in terms of suicide rate, which is 6 slots lower than the US. So I guess it’s just a neat thing. Go Australia!

PS – Thanks to this source for the skywriting photo.

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