Australia beckons couple for three month stay

By Page H. Gifford

Instead of tourist traveling as we know it, Al and Sue Mink choose two places each year to live and work for three months at a time. They call it “nesting.” This past spring, they “nested” in Sydney, Australia. This is their ninth trip of living for three months somewhere abroad.

One of the reasons they chose Australia for their ninth nest trip was that Rotary International held its annual conference in Melbourne at the end of May. Al is a board member of the Fluvanna Rotary Club.

“As Rotarians, we were warmly welcomed by the Rotarians in Sydney. We made new friends and were invited to activities – living even more like locals,” she said. “We served breakfast to Sydney’s homeless population about half the Saturdays we were there. We sailed on a masted schooner that Rotary sponsored for underprivileged youth. We sold sausages and drinks to raise money on Anzac Day, which is a national holiday there similar to our Memorial Day and Veterans Day combined.”

 Situated on a 21-square-mile harbor, Sydney boasts miles of walking trails and spectacular beaches right within the city limits. The Minks had an apartment in the area of the city called Paddington, about a 20-minute walk from the Central Business District in the direction of Bondi Beach, which is one of the most famous beaches in the world. Their apartment was a few blocks from Centennial Park, the largest park not only in Sydney but the largest urban park in the southern hemisphere.

“Walking through the park to get groceries, Sue would regularly see flocks of rainbow lorikeets, kookaburras, and even sulfur-crested cockatoos. The beautiful birds were one of her favorite things about their stay there,” said Al.

 “In many ways, we found Sydney to be similar to a city in the U.S. Australia’s history has some parallels, both were originally British colonies, both have a difficult history of dominating the native population, and both imported people from other nations, usually against their will, for hard labor,” said Sue. “Australia’s penal colony history was short compared to slavery in the U.S. While many of the people who had been brought to Australia as prisoners were brought for very minor or even fabricated infractions, when they were released, they assimilated into the population fairly easily.”

Sue adds that nowadays, Australians consider it a point of pride to have a convict as an ancestor. Australia is also working hard to honor its indigenous population, the Aborigines. She says there is an interesting governmental ritual — before every event or meeting, and in every public building — that the speaker declare the land belonged first and foremost to the Aboriginal people.

Sydney is an impressive city clustered around Sydney Harbour. Two iconic harbor landmarks are the Barbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.

“It’s hard not to take photos every time you see them. You can join a tour to climb along a metal beam to reach the very top of the Harbour Bridge where you’re rewarded with a spectacular view of the city,” said Sue. “We learned a secret climbing to the top of the bridge pylon without a tour guide, provided a spectacular view at a tenth of the cost and included access to the bridge museum yet was not nearly as scary.”

Sydney Harbour is also home to Cockatoo Island, the largest island in the harbor teeming with history. It was first a penal colony and then transitioned to shipbuilding, as many penal colonies did.

“Currently it is a park, where you can take a ferry and explore the prisons and the dystopic-looking abandoned shipyards.”

They have upscale camping or “glamping” facilities on the island, but the Minks booked one of the few historic apartments that are also available for nightly rental.

“We secured lodging in the home of the former ferry captain. It was one of the most memorable nights we spent in Sydney, and we highly recommend Cockatoo Island to anyone who is thinking of visiting.”

 “At the Sydney Opera House, our long stay enabled us to become “Sydney Insiders” to attend a symphony performance in the Opera House and tour backstage tour. We also scored great seats to Madame Butterfly, which was performed by the Opera House but performed at their outdoor theater, with an incredible view of the bridge and the opera house lit, glowing in the light from fireworks launched as part of the performance.”

Sue said the influence of British colonization shows in the language and driving habits.

She said food is like that offered in the U.S. and a trip to the grocery stores will show many of the same brand of groceries available in America.

“The biggest difference is that in most, you can also get kangaroo meat, which tastes a lot like leaner, denser beef. There’s also a lot of really good Asian food there, as they have a large population with Asian heritage.”

 She says one of their most memorable experiences was being invited to three nights at a friend’s 600-acre cattle ranch located three hours south of Sydney.

“Our new friends took us to a spectacular beach where we played with kangaroos. We also observed the destruction from the devastating fires of 2019 – flames that came within yards of our friends’ house and killed most of their cattle.”

Through Rotary they also visited Tasmania with other Rotary members. South of Australia, Tasmania is an island about the size and population of West Virginia. A total of 46 percent of the island is a national forest featuring a huge range of different biomes.

“We were in a rainforest and then an alpine meadow on the same day. Tasmania also has unique and very varied wildlife such as penguins, colorful parrots, Tasmanian Devils, and platypus,” she said. “This Australian island is one of the most unspoiled and beautiful places we have ever experienced. It should be on the short list of anyone who loves outdoor adventure.

They finished their three-month stay in Australia with a week in Melbourne at the Rotary conference, meeting up with three other Flucos — Rudy and Catherine Garcia, and Andrea Kojan.

“Melbourne is a little edgier than Sydney and is very proud of its artistic heritage. It also has the largest market in the southern hemisphere, selling meats, fish, fruits, and veggies, as well as everything you could ever want as a tourist – even kangaroo pelts,” she said.

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