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Thursday, November 30, 2006

3rd Japanese Midget Sub Found

Here's my take on the vibe in Australia in 1942:
Holy shit.

That's the vibe, as I imagine it. Why? Well, in 1942 Australians were still technically British and Churchill was demanding that Australian troops be sent to defend India while the Japanese moved farther and father south towards Australia. Thankfully the Aussies essentially flipped Churchill the bird and sent troops into the islands north of Australia. With some help from the US (and not much help from the British), Australia kept the Japanese at bay until the end of the war. What many people don't know is how close the Japanese got to a full-scale invasion of mainland Australia. One person who definitely did not realise that or, more likely, chose to ignore it, was Winston Churchill. If you have not guessed, I think that the American inflation of this man's character is unfounded and that his treatment of Australia and Ireland set him far below the bar of the ideal leader.

Back to the topic at hand:

1942 - Darwin Bombed
On 19 February Darwin suffered the first attack on mainland Australia. In less than two years following, the Japanese led 97 raids on Northern Australia. By this time, MacArthur's headquarters was in Australia, and the Aussies were doing a good chink of the Allied fighting in that part of the world.

1942 - Sydney Harbour Breached

Now the moment you have all been waiting for... three Japanese midget subs enter Sydney Harbour. There was a net set up and that caught one - so the guys in that sub killed themselves by blowing up the sub. The second fired two torpedoes: one struck the Kuttabull, killing 19 Australian and 2 British sailors, the second torpedo aground and failed to detonate. This sub disappeared for over 60 years. The third sub was discovered before entering the harbour. Depth charges disabled the vessel and the sailors onboard shot themselves.

A combination of the first and third subs is on view at the war memorial in Canberra. They mish-mashed the recovered subs into something that makes you not want to ever get into one. What happened to the second one? It was lost... until last week.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Helicopter Ride Over the Twelve Apostles

While touring the Great Ocean Road, Jim treated Dana and I to helicopter ride. Neither Dana nor I had been in a helicopter before. Dana was a bit scared, and I was a bit scared for Dana. As it turned out, Dana fared very well on the flight and even hinted at wanting flying lessons afterwards! The flight was amazing. It was brief, but we saw so much during the time that recalling it is more like recalling an entire vacation.

We set off near the tourist centre for the Twelve Apostles (which has no trash bins, but does have a squater-friendly toilet for our Asian friends) and flew south. If you've never been in a helicopter (toilet-free, squatter or otherwise), the feeling is like weighlessness. The pilot has complete control over front/back, left/right and up/down motions. Besides giving us the most spectacular view of the Twelve Apostles and its surrounding area, the trip gave us an entirely different view on gravity. So easily defied! You silly law, gravity. Silly, silly law.

Click here for shots of Loch Ard Gorge, Mutton Bird Island (Seahorse Island), fleeing cows and more!

Some Sort of World Record

I believe today was the 70th day in a row that the same song popped into my head. It's a great song, so it's not like I have "Hit Me Baby One More Time" playing in an incessant loop in my brain. Still, I fear the song could become unpleasant to me or at least drive me mad. What's the song? "DARE" by The Gorillaz. The song is multi-layered and video, which comes to my mind with the song, stars the legend from Happy Mondays, Shaun Ryder.

The entire video is here:

Please leave my head now, "DARE". Please. Make some room for DJ Shadow's "Organ Donor," I hear it may be moving back in.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Adventure Tours Waiting Game

Not long ago Dana and I (and Dana's relos) took a bus trip from Adelaide to Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road. The tour guide and scenery were fantastic, but we had some legitimate complaints about the lodging. Last week I sent an email to their customer service:

This past weekend I took the 3 day Great Ocean Road trip from Adelaide to Melbourne. The scenery was beautiful and the guide, Jen, could not have been better. Unfortunately, the trip was seriously marred by the accommodation and, apparently, how the accommodation details had been communicated to us.

About six months ago my parents were visiting from the US. I planned their Australian trip and sent them on this same tour as part of it. They are active adults, but since they are not used to hostels I booked them the accommodation upgrade. They loved the trip, especially the guide, (Jen was their guide too), and said the accommodation was nice. Knowing this trip is a backpacker trip, no one expected the hotel/motel upgrade to be anything luxurious, but they were certainly satisfied with what they got.

A couple of months ago my partner was planning a trip for her father and three others travelling with him. Remembering what a great time my folks had, she booked the trip for them, and for us to accompany them. All six of us opted for the upgrade.

The first night we stayed in the Happy Wanderer in the Grampians. My partner and I stayed in a freezing campervan. There was a\ private bathroom, but it was not connected to the campervan. We had to walk outside and around the back: it was essentially a ni e outhouse. While we were not thrilled we accepted the accommodation and laughed it off. I seemed awfully cheap considering the two of us together had paid $150 for the upgrade, but we were certain the hotel or motel the next night would be an improvement. What's more important is that my partner's visiting relatives had nicer rooms.

During the early afternoon on the second day, our guide called my partner aside to make sure she knew we would all be
staying in the hostel that night. This was a surprise and, concerned for the comfort of her relatives, she was very upset. Our guide called the office to confirm what our booking should be. The employee at the office said this had been clearly communicated to my partner. Obviously it had not. For the next few hours we tried to sort things out. It was very distressing and neither one of us were able to enjoy the afternoon - the Twelve Apostles, London Arch, etc. Jen put herself out, giving her private bathroom to our older traveling companions. She would not let us refuse the offer. Still, they stayed in the hostel but in a private room. We stayed in a private room and used the shared facilities. While the hostel was a nice one, we would not have paid $150 extra for this.

We booked our trip through this site: you click on the "hotel" link on the right side of the page, thedescription is "Hotel/Lodge Accommodation - Generally 2-3 star standard withprivate facilities." This is not what we had. I did some research on these places. Here is a breakdown of accommodation costs for this trip:

Night 1 - Asses Ears: $22/Person
Upgrade - Night 1 - Happy Wanderer:
$48 for Two in a Campervan ($24/Person)
Hostel - Night 2 - 13th Apostle:$25/Person
Upgrade -Night 2 - 13th Apostle: $30/Person for a Private Room

I believe all six of us deserve a refund for the upgrade of this trip:
The upgrade accommodation is valued at $7/person more than standard accommodation. Adventure Tours charged us $75/person for the upgrade. Nowhere on the booking form does it say that the upgrade may include shared facilities.

The fact that we would be staying in a hostel and have shared facilities was not effectively communicated to my partner when she was booking the trip. Dealing with the issue during the trip was stressful and resulting in a major lack of enjoyment with a significant portion of the trip.

I look forward to your response.

Denis Hurley

No reply yet - a week later. Photos of the trip itself will be posted soon, once we agree on which 75 of the 7500 we took.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

My Spoon Is Too Big

My Spoon Is Too Big!

The King and His Banana

Today I ate my first banana in eight months. I felt like a king. Here in Australia we used to enjoy inexpensive, healthy bananas on a regular basis, but Cyclone Larry changed all that. Cyclone Larry sounds like a friendly kids birthday party clown, but it was actually a horrifically destructive storm that hit Queensland (North-east Australia) early last year.

Cyclone Larry
95% of Australia's banana plantations were destroyed by Cyclone Larry. Needless to say, the cash crop for many farmers was no more. Australia, in a long-standing effort to prevent foreign diseases and insects, does not import bananas, so this particular produce was essentially unavailable to the people for quite some time. Bananas started to show up on the market - for about $14/kilo (about $6/Pound) - but these were small and bruised. Some did purchase them to support the farmers but the quality was not the same as those old Aussie bananas, so sales were low even for what little was produced.

So city-dwelling Australians felt the impact of Cyclone Larry "at the grocery store." I felt like a king when I ate my banana today, but the bulk of the farmers in Queensland are still struggling to get by. Even after the crops have recovered, the infrastructure will need many more years to recover. A sick clown has destroyed the livelihood for many people.

The Drought
The farmers in Queensland are still reeling from the effects of Cyclone Larry, and farmers all over Australia are reeling from the worst drought in Australian history. Even before spring is over, plans are being made to cart water into entire cities. Can you imagine living in a city of hundreds of thousands of people and running out of water? And these people wash, scrub and rinse the dishes all in the same water! And shave and brush their teeth in that water too! OK, maybe not really that last part. Or maybe they do now.

The drought is bad and the resulting bushfires may be even worse. The photo above is of the currently burning Blue Mountains - just an hour or two out of Syndey. As I write this in the centre of Syndey I can smell those fires.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Face Recognition - Finding Out Which - Who Do I Look Like?

I've always been told I look like some celebrity, but never the same one:
"You look just like that doctor from ER!"
"You look like Gary Busey's son!"
"You look like that communist dictator in Cuba!"

And so I've taken the matter into my own hands and entered a few photos into a celebrity facial recognition program. I know that there is no way one photo could deliver accurate results. Two should do it.

Run1 - Straight-faced:

Run 2 - Smiling:

The only person who came up both times is NSYNC's Joey Fatone. I had no previous knowledge of this individual, but he's not a bad-looking guy. Yeah, he's Italian-American and I'm Irish-America, but we're both from New York and baritone and were teenage hearthrobs.

Honestly I think the greatest similarity is to Fidel Castro: in terms of facial bone structure, that is... and possibly in terms of political views as well. The word on the street is that there is some Spanish blood in my family on the Kelly side. Supposedly a Spaniard swam ashore to Ireland after the Armada sunk and entered into the ancestry of my mom's family. I like to think of this guy as Juan Pablo Kelly.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Sydney Monorail

One fine day in 1988 Lyle Lanley visited Sydney and sat in on a town hall meeting. Here is the recorded testimony:

Miss Hoover: I hear those things are awfully loud...
Lyle Lanley: It glides as softly as a cloud.
Apu: Is there a chance the track could bend?
Lyle Lanley: Not on your life, my Hindu friend.
Barney: What about us brain-dead slobs?
Lyle Lanley: You'll be given cushy jobs.
Abe: Were you sent here by the devil?
Lyle Lanley: No, good sir, I'm on the level.
Wiggum: The ring came off my pudding can.
Lyle Lanley: Take my pen knife, my good man.
I swear it's Sydney's only choice...
Throw up your hands and raise your voice!
All: Monorail!
Lyle Lanley: What's it called?
All: Monorail!
Lyle Lanley: Once again...
All: Monorail!

And so it was set to be. Leonard Nimoy presided over the opening ceremony, and Homer saved the runaway monorail by sinking an anchor into a giant donut. Of course none of this is true... except for the fact that a monorail was actually built in Sydney and it still functions.

I have not been able to find any information about how they decided to build it or who funded its construction. I have heard rumours that the monorail was a gift to Sydney from South Korea for the bicentennial. I have also heard that the city gave the monorail to itself for the occasion. The monorail is mainly a tourist attraction but some Sydney-siders who live on the line do take it to work. It snakes through CBD, Chinatown and Pyrmont amoung other places. It's worth a ride if you're in Sydney.

And so I sign off of the least investigatory blog I have written. Needless to say, there is more to come.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Greetings from Sydney

Jim Vetrecin, Gail Weisse, & Kay and Wally Reuter are wrapping up their trip to Australia. More photos to come soon, but here is a shot from just about now:

That's a bit more welcoming than this photo:

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

7 More Bridges Walk

I'm recovering from my huge loss at the Melbourne Cup - no, celebrating my huge win... OK, I bet nothing. I wanted to get to my local TAB to have a punt but I just haven't had a moment free! Well now I do, so back over to the grand 7 Bridges Walk that was nearly ten days ago:

Now where was I.... ah yes we had just crossed the Anzac Bridge. I must note that the friends who accompanied us on the walk were kiwis, and kiwi Glenn pointed out that there is another difference between the Australian flag and the flag of New Zealand, besides the one star lacking on the kiwi flag: The stars on the NZ flag have a red border. This difference between AU & NZ culture is just the tip of the iceberg. I think, someday, I shall dedicate an entire blog entry to such differences.

The next bridge to cross was the first on the agenda that none of us had already crossed at some point - the Iron Cove Bridge. "The bridge is comprised of aesthetically distinctive piers and abutments which reflect the Inter-War Art Deco style." Yes this is true, but what's interesting is that construction on this bridge began in 1947 and completed in 1955. Does "Inter-War Art Deco style" refer to that period of architectural history between WWII and the Vietnam War? Perhaps. Or, more likely, this bridge is as much an example of "Inter-War Art Deco style" as it is an example of how behind the times Australia was back in those days. Either way the bridge is attractive, and the view back towards the city is beautiful.

After this we have the least aesthetically distinctive or aesthetically pleasing bridge of the walk: the Gladesville Bridge. This bridge does the job, of course, but approaching it you would not know you were about to cross any water. OK, OK, but "at the time of its completion in 1964, Gladesville Bridge was the longest single span concrete arch ever constructed." Considering this statement, much to the chagrin of the fans of the Gladesville Bridge, since then the following has happened, in order:
-1. A longer single span arch made of something other than concrete has been constructed. (Before the Gladesville)
1. A longer single span concrete arch has been constructed.
2. A longer single or multiple span concrete arch has been constructed.

-1: A steel, longer arch was actually build well after the Gladesville Bridge, in 1977 over the New River in West Virginia, USA, and is featured on the West Virginia quarter.
1: This has not happened.
2: Nope. Good attempt in Croatia, but not quite.
So this bridge is actually a feat of architecture. At the time it was built, the theory behind the structure was completely untested and a major construction record was set. Why do the Aussies downplay it with so many clauses? I don't know.

Sadly the two bridges immediately following the Gladesville are less technically impressive. The Tarban Creek Bridge looks like a weak imitation of the Gladesville. The Fig Tree Bridge looks like it was built by scouts. Both of these two bridges were build to connect with the road from the Gladesville and form the Great Planned North-Western Expressway Linking the City With The Sydney-Newcastle Freeway. Never happened.

After crossing six of our seven bridges, two sepos and three kiwis found themselves climbing up and down suburban hills 10 kilometers from home in search of the next bridge and challenging each other as to who could hold off the longest without a bathroom visit. This was a fun challenge since giving in pretty much meant knocking on someone's door. Chris gave in despite the offer of $50 from Fiona. This happened to coincide with our discovery that there were more than seven bridges in the walk. Channel 7 sponsored the event, and so it was called the Seven Bridges Walk, but we actually crossed NINE bridges! Maybe Channel 9 was too cheap to fork over the cash, but the two extra bridges kept us entertained, along with Jackarandas, Taliban Streets, and Scenic Car Parks.

Finally we reached the homestretch: the amazing Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is "the world's largest (but not the longest) steel arch bridge." The longest, when the Harbour Bridge was completed, was the Bayonne Bridge, which opened just before the Harbour Bridge. Since then the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia and the Lupu Bridge in Shanghai have surpassed it. However, judging by photos of these bridges, and in some cases experience, they can't compare to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This bridge's magnificence is on the scale of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. This bridge was built by a young country during the Great Depression. It hosts the most fantastic New Years fireworks in the world. You can legally climb it. Can you beat that?

After this enjoyable/treacherous walk, the sepos and kiwis kicked back for a few beers at the Australian. Click here for all of the photos.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Melbourne Cup

The Melbourne Cup will be on Tuesday, 7 November this year. This horse race, held at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, is one of the biggest sports events in Australia. The tag-line is "The race that stops the nations"... and it pretty much does. The day, always the first Tuesday of November, is a holiday in the state of Victoria. Most of the rest of Australia stops whatever they are doing to watch the 3PM race. Many Australians, being Australian, decide to precede the viewing with a champagne lunch, starting at noon and ending sometime early the next morning. Not much work gets done on Melbourne Cup Day. Logical to have such an event on a Tuesday, isn't it?

The first Melbourne Cup was held back in 1861 for a gold watch and 170 pounds. Last year the prize was over $5 million. In 1861, 4000 people turned out for the race; last year over 110,000 turned up for the race itself and nearly 400,000 the Melbourne Cup Carnival. Now I don't know why more people who attended the Carnival didn't crane their necks to watch the race. Perhaps 290,000 of them were busy ordering a round at the bar. Last year, the horse Makybe Diva set a record by winning the cup three times. He's not running tomorrow, and I've yet to put my tips in... so I'll just pick on number, name or colour like usual.

But what is the Melbourne Cup really about? I think largely an excuse to wear a big silly hat. But Mark Twain attended the Cup in 1895 and had this to say, "Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me." If they wore the hats back then, they too would have astonished Mr. Twain.