Australia For Beginners

Imagine trying to explain the joy of eating ice cream to a person who has no idea what ice cream is. You can say it’s cold and sweet, and describe what it feels like on your tongue, but unless they taste it for themselves, you can’t do it justice. That’s how I feel about Australia. It’s like ice cream on my tongue, and while I’ll try to explain it to you, unless you’ve experienced it yourself, you can’t really know.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Arrival

In October 2022, my husband and I traveled to Melbourne to visit his family. We were greeted at the airport by Clive, who is married to my husband’s cousin Fran. Clive escorted us to his car and politely opened the passenger-side door for me, except it wasn’t the passenger side. It was the door to the driver’s seat, because in Australia, everything is upside-down and backwards. It caught me so off guard that I literally jumped back in surprise. It turns out, this is a little game Clive likes to play with foreign guests. He’s my kind of guy! So, our visit began with a good laugh.

My cheerful spirits were slightly dampened as soon as we left the parking lot. Clive was driving on the wrong side of the road, from my American perspective. Every turn felt like a head-on collision just waiting to happen. We were in Australia for two weeks, and I never quite got used to it.

Once we arrived at their home, and the imprints of my fingernails had faded from the palms of my hands, we settled in. Fran and Clive introduced us to two of their three daughters and two of their seven grandchildren. Delightful!

[Side note: I don’t know if big families are a “thing” in Australia, but I couldn’t help noticing the tremendous number of pregnant people we saw during our trip. Australia’s lockdown during Covid was quite severe, so that might explain it. Or, this baby boom might be part of an Australian plan for world domination, because there will be a lot more of them in the coming months. Time will tell.]

Coffee

The next morning, Clive presented me with a “cup” of coffee. There was barely enough brew to fill Tom Thumb’s bathtub. I asked if it was a child’s portion. To me, morning coffee needs to be at least eight ounces. That is literally a cup of coffee. 

Ever the gentleman, and perhaps with a hint of disappointment, Clive acquiesced to my American excessiveness and dug deep into the back of the kitchen cabinets to find a mug.

This is one of those Australian things that’s hard to explain. Don’t get me wrong. Coffee in Australia is delicious and they’re very proud of their baristas. It is as much a part of the Australian culinary culture as Lamingtons (which we’ll get to later). But you need a PhD in Caffeine Arts to order some Joe in a café. The menu options can be mysterious and confusing to the uninitiated.  For example, you can order a flat white, a long black, a short black, a piccolo or even a magic. A magic?  Yes. Don’t ask me what’s in it, but I had one and it was satisfyingly magical. 

Wildlife

Australia is a big, far-off country. Perhaps that’s why Mother Nature chose it to conduct her most deadly experiments. There are more natural things that can kill you in Australia than anywhere else on the planet. Among them are lethal jellyfish and eviscerating birds.

Nevertheless, don’t let that deter you from visiting. Just don’t go in the water during box jellyfish season. How will you know it’s box jellyfish season? Well, if you see a beautiful, pristine beach on a blistering hot day and there are absolutely no Australians in the water, that’s a dead giveaway (pun intended). 

As for those birds, they’re called cassowaries and they’re easy to spot. Standing at about six feet tall, they can jump seven feet into the air and have razor-sharp talons on their feet. You can’t outrun them because they can reach speeds of about 30 miles per hour. Oh yeah, they can swim, too.  But don’t worry.  You probably won’t see one.

In fact, it’s unlikely you’ll see any dangerous creatures, even when you want to.

Case in point: we went looking for crocodiles twice. We came up empty-handed on the first attempt. On the second, we spied a few pairs of eyeballs that were barely visible, in a body of water you couldn’t pay me to swim in.  So, unless you’re a fool and swim in water where crocodiles are known to be present, you’ll be just fine. 

Aside from those pesky species that could end your life, Australia is home of some of the earth’s most wonderful creatures.  Image a flock of gorgeous wild cockatoos, or colorful parrots flying overhead.  There are cuddly wombats, genetically confusing platypuses, ostriches, wallabies, quokkas, kookaburras, kangaroos and, of course, koalas.  As far as I’m concerned, the koala is the Queen Mother of all cute animals. Fran treated me to a hands-on  opportunity with one and that was an experience I won’t even attempt to define. It was far more magical than any magic coffee.

The Great Outdoors

Whether you want to go for a walk in a lush rainforest, along a quiet coastline, or down a bustling city street, Australia’s got you covered.  If you’re looking for adventure, you can go ziplining. Not your thing? How about snorkeling at the magnificent Great Barrier Reef? We did all of these things.

Snorkelers enjoying the Great Barrier Reef

Among the most amazing sights in the water were the giant clams. When I say giant, I kid you not. Some were big enough for me to have curled up in…if I wanted to…which I didn’t. They have a scalloped edge to their shells and the interiors are iridescent. Truly a marvel of the sea.

The Food

The food in Australia was fairly typical of what I’m used to, with some exceptions.  Take kangaroo, for example. You won’t find it on a supermarket shelf in Sheboygan, but most Australian markets carry it. 

Kangaroo Sausage

Before you gasp, “How could anyone eat kangaroo?”, let me put it in perspective for you. Kangaroos are to Australians as deer are to Americans.  They’re everywhere outside of the cities. So, when in Rome…

Yes. I ate kangaroo.  It was good.  Sorry, not sorry.

For dessert, with your long or short black, you might consider ordering some pavlova. Or perhaps swing by a local bakery for a Lamington – a tasty little snack cake dipped in chocolate and covered in coconut. At home, peel open a package of Tim Tams.  Fran introduced me to these delicious cookies (or biscuits – I’m unsure).  Although delectable, I’m grateful that they aren’t available near me. If they were, I’d probably wind up in Tim Tam rehab.

Lamingtons

The People

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to the people of Australia. Granted, I might be a bit partial because I was visiting family, but I found everyone to be lovely and gracious.  They are fun-loving and good-natured folk, and I could easily see myself living very happily among them.  I loved them all.  Period.

I know this has been an inadequate portrait of Australia because I can’t make you feel what I felt there.  All I can tell you is that since returning, people keep commenting on my appearance.  “You’re glowing! You look like you’re lit up from inside!”

“What’s your secret?” they ask.

“I’ve been to Australia,” I say. “And I’ve never felt more alive.”

I miss you, Gumnut!
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