"All The World's a Classroom"


Western Australia

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

G’day Mate! We’re in Aussie land, Western Australia!!! I feel like we’re at home because they speak our language here. If, of course, you think quips like, “Good on ya, mate!” and, “How ya’ goin’, mate?” is anything like American English.

To get you acquainted with Aussie talk, I created this handy chart that should make you feel comfortable during your time in Australia:

Australian saying American translation
Ablution Block is on the left soid of your caravan. The nearest restroom facilities to your camping space are located to the left of where you parked your camper. Good day to you!
Put another shrimp on the barbie Carefully place additional meat on your barbeque grill, preferably shrimp. Thank you for doing so.
I feel like a Vegemite sandwich I would enjoy feasting on a sandwich made with a thinly spread layer of beer yeast on bread. Yummy!
Toilet Toilet
Crikey! Oh my!
Blimey! Oh my!
Mate (two-syllable word: Ma-ete) Buddy, friend, pal
Damper (pronounced “dam-pah”) Bread cooked in a cast iron pot that’s buried in a hole lined with coals.
Nappies Diapers
Toss it in the boot, eh? Please gently place the item into the trunk of the car.
Good night for a little footy! This is a fine evening for us to gather together as friends and enjoy some Australian Rules Football on the television.
No worries This is the champion phrase of the Aussie language. Traditionally it means, “Please, do not worry about it,” but colloquially it means, “You’re Welcome.” This is a phrase that everyone uses ALL the time. Methinks it’s an overused phrase, and has lost some of its traditional meaning. I say this because in it’s current vernacular, it has multiple meanings:
  • That’s OK
  • No big deal
  • Whatever…
  • Huh?!
  • Pass the Peanut Butter please
  • I have to go to the toilet
Ta (I think this is short for THANKS): Thank you for visiting our establishment. Please enjoy your time here, and patronize us again at your earliest convenience.

Australia is made up of states, akin to the US. I thought these were territories, but they are states with separate state governments and state taxes. Western Australia is the largest land mass of the states, the largest money producer, host to only about 1.5 million people out of the ~20 million people in Australia, making Western Australia one of the least population dense places on the planet, and the first of our stops in Aussie land. We arrived in Perth, Western Australia at 11pm on May 19, our anniversary. How romantic—to celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary by spending 4 hours at 26,000 feet in the air with 150 strangers. Plus our kids. Acht!

Oh, now that we’re in Australia we need to change our exclamation to, “Oy!” I think this is the national Aussie exclamation that’s fit for G-rated audiences.

We had booked a rental car from Thrifty on the night of our arrival, mostly because they had a competitive price for a Toyota Corolla sized car and they were open at 11:30 pm which was our arrival time. Unfortunately we arrived about 30 minutes early—Oy! (I think our early arrival time is due to my time in the cockpit with Captain Gavin and Co-pilot Anton and my suggestions about prevailing tail winds and the Coriolis force. At least this is what I told Nicky, and she reveres me for my scientific knowledge, so don’t spoil it for her).

Thrifty did not pay attention to the arrival time of our flight and there was no one manning the Thrifty car counter upon our arrival. I saw a phone on the counter and called the head office. They said that they were running late and they did not know that our flight arrived early. I thought, “What a waste of money that the airport paid for the flat screen monitors above your head that indicate departure/arrival times…” But they said if we took at taxi to the domestic terminal that they would reimburse our taxi expense. No problem, or “No worries” in Aussie talk.

Got a decent Hyundai Sonata with a huge trunk, the smallest car that will, I think, take our two large suitcases. But Thrifty didn’t reimburse us for the total taxi ride—I tipped the dude $3 AUD (10%) and when I turned in the receipt to the Thrifty counter they said that people don’t tip in Aussieland. So I wasn’t reimbursed for the $3 tip I gave the taxi driver. That will make me re-think our rental car choice for the Cairns area…

We had directions and reservations at a farm stay outside of Perth, in a little town called Gidgegannup. The cottage is called Lilly Pilly on the Shenton Vineyard Estates. We arrived a little after midnight and there was a handwritten note saying hello from Ray and Manuella and Family, some homemade bread, some fresh goat’s milk, some fresh eggs, and everything setup for a quick fire in the fireplace. It was a bit chilly so we made a quick fire to warm the cabin. The place is very cozy. Nicky and I took the master bedroom and right outside that were two twin beds that the girls took. There was a small electric heater that serviced both rooms so we were very warm despite the cool temperatures (about 50 Fahrenheit, 10 Celsius, although it did get as cold as 41 Fahrenheit, or 5 Celsius during our stay).

We really didn’t know what to expect from this farm stay outside of the fact that Ray and Manuela Shenton have a farm, they home school their 9 children, and they are very good about responding to emails.

About 10am the next day we heard a knock on the door. We’ve been up for a while and I’d started coffee around this time. Ray is at the door—the picture of what I imagined him to be. He had the Aussie hat, the flannel shirt, the jeans, and the boots. When I opened the door he took off his hat in a gentlemanly gesture of greeting. Wonderful greeting, and we spoke for a while and I felt an immediate connection with him. Nicky came out and met him and felt the same. In fact, we were invited to their Sunday home made pizza dinner, which we were told later that we were the only family to be invited to this treat.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” If you believe this, then you can tell how much we appreciated the Shenton’s hospitality because we had booked for 3 days but we stayed for 10. Nicky and I were blown away by this family’s cohesiveness, their love of one another, and their openness to us.

After enjoying their home made pizza (they grind their own wheat, make it into dough, and bake it in their wood-fired oven!!!), we invited them to an authentic North Carolina dinner of Chicken and Cheese Grits. Fortunately, this turned out pretty good although all of our arteries will be complaining for quite a while. But the dinner seemed to be well-received, probably because of the 5 pounds of bacon in the dish—who doesn’t love bacon?!. This particular night we tried to share our American heritage by playing the banjo, making an American dinner, singing American campfire songs by the fire, and making ‘Smores. The night was made more special (ie. loud) by Ray and Manuela’s sharing their wine made from their vineyards—they grow their own grapes and make organic wine. Their kids stomp the grapes!!!

We continued to trade off lunches and dinners during our stay, and the time together was very special to us. They served us healthy lunches and we served them artery-clogged North Carolina home made beans and pig pickin’. Ah, the kids are young, they’ll rebound…

Joel is the 16 year old son that is interested in cars and robots. He has plans to build his own roadster, as well as compete in a robotics competition. He hosted several, “Darren, let’s go shoot something that’s alive and you can skin it and eat it” outings. Actually, since I’m a suburban guy and I’ve only shot just a couple pistols and rifles in my life, I thought this might be fun. So we went out several nights to hunt rabbits and ducks.

Tonight I killed a rabbit, skinned it, ate its liver and sucked the blood from its still-beating heart.

Well, I did skin it.

Actually, I shot a rabbit while I was hanging out from Joel’s car, going about 20 km/hr. on a very bumpy road, at night, using a spotlight, with a slingshot. It stunned the rabbit and I had to get out of the car and club it. Oh, and I was eating a sandwich and had a beer at the same time, while talking to my parents on speakerphone.

That’s the story that I thought would be interesting to tell. Actually, Joel grabbed the .22 rifle and shot it. It really was an amazing shot, very quick, and very accurate, under difficult conditions.

Prior to our killing spree, I had asked Joel and Seth that I would very much like to skin our kill. I feel that I need to know how to prepare killed meat to fulfill my lifetime learning on this earth. Hey, we have a lot of traveling ahead of us—this might become a valuable skill. If nothing else, I’ll put this on my resume.

So we get back to the farm with the dead rabbit in the trunk of Joel’s car and I’m the person in charge of preparing the rabbit carcass for eating. Joel talks me through the process and, although there are a couple of smelly bits, it was doable and I didn’t hurl my dinner. The amazing thing for me was that both Joel and Seth (14 year old) knew the anatomy of the rabbit much better than I.


Instructions to skin and prepare a rabbit for eating:

  • Grab a bit of fur on the belly portion of the hare lengthwise and pinch it between your fingers. The direction of the pinch should be from head to tail.
  • Make a slit with a sharp knife perpendicular to the pinch. Once you let go, you should have a small slit that runs across the belly, from left to right.
  • Insert your knife into this slit and continue cutting the pelt all the way around the body. When you’re finished, you will have a cut that goes all the way around the belly of the rabbit. Think of a belt that goes around your waist; now think of that belt being a cut that’s only skin deep. It’s actually not a belt, but the opposite of a belt, right? The un-belt of the rabbit.
  • Using both of your hands, take each half of the skin and pull apart. One half of the skin will come off on the hind end; the other half of the skin will come off at the head.
    • Like a banana, you’re peeling the skin off of the rabbit. It takes a bit of effort, but it’s easier than I thought it would be.
    • Actually, it’s not like a banana at all; it’s more like a rabbit that’s getting its skin pulled from its body.
    • If you think about pulling apart lint from the lint catcher in a clothes dryer, then you’ll understand the opposite of skinning a rabbit
    • I’m trying to think of a good example or analogy. Maybe this will help: lint pulling from the lint catcher in a clothes dryer is nothing like pulling the skin from a rabbit as reading Shakespeare is nothing like to mowing the lawn. If you can understand this very bad analogy, then you might be able to understand what pulling the hide off a rabbit is like.
    • Because it was less difficult to pull apart than I thought pulling the pelt from a rabbit would be, but much more difficult than peeling a banana I thought I’d call this maneuver, “rabanana” pulling.
  • Current situation: we now have a skinned rabbit. The end result right now is a rabbit that has no fur (obvious, eh?). Except for the head and the feet, there is no fur at all. Picture a rabbit that’s just all muscle—that’s what we have. The bit of fur on the feet we’ll ignore, and we need to chop off the head because that’s not edible and the eyes are still staring at me which is weirding me out.
  • The next step is to gut it. Oh, before we do this, you need to cut off the head. It’s amazingly easier that I ever thought it would be. I thought I’d have to get an axe to lop it off; actually a sharp knife that’s pressed between the vertebrae will cut the head off very quickly with a modicum of pressure
  • Cut a very shallow slit from the throat to the anus. VERY shallow. Any piercing of the vital organs might make for a messy and smelly procedure. Any green worm-looking like things you do not want to pierce. There’s nothing but smelly bits in there.
  • Pull out all the guts. Make sure you get the lungs as they are deceptively small and very Coleman-mantle-like in size and thinness. You need to scrape the chest walls to get it. Picture a wet plastic bag that’s pasted against a hard surface—you know what I’m talking about.
  • If you puncture the intestines during this process of cutting/gutting, you’ll enjoy quite a distinctive smell. Joel was a superior teacher in this entire process, but his advice was a bit late on this particular subject, “Oh, you shouldn’t have cut so deeply. Yeah, that smells quite bad. Try not to do that in the future.”
  • Rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse, cook, eat.
  • Wash your hands with acid-based products or similar. I didn’t tell the Shentons but I drove to the Perth Airport, boarded a plane to New Zealand, traveled to the closest active volcano, and used hot lava and pumice to clean my hands. Then I returned in time for lunch the next day.


Dominique is their 14 year old daughter that’s interested in art and is a wiz in the kitchen (beautiful name, eh?). She did the load of the work for the two dinners that we cooked. She also handled the oven, which is a bit of old-time beauty. They use a wood-fired oven/stove that’s on 24 x 7. When the heat isn’t used for cooking, it’s used to heat their water.

Seth is the 12 year old boy that takes care of most of the animals on the farm. He also asks the most interesting questions:

  • What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
  • Has an animal ever attacked you?
  • Have you ever been in a car wreck?
  • How old do you think the earth is?

He’s an enthusiastic hunter and helped me to understand the nuances of trapping and hunting. Mostly things like, “Darren, it helps if you actually hit the animal that you’re trying to kill” And, “OK, you should not have cut the rabbit there…”

Amity is 10 and her name means “friendship.” She was so great with both Dominique and Annette that I was about to leave both of our girls in her care. She gave both girls a couple of rides on their horse, and she learned how to tune the banjo during our stay there. All with a great smile on her face and an enthusiasm in her heart.


Veronica is the 7 year old that’s built of smiles. She was wonderful sharing her toys, clothes, and enthusiasm with our kids.

Richard is 5. He’s great. He didn’t talk very much, but entertained himself when he wasn’t entertained by our kids. But he and Annette seemed to form a bond:


We learned many things from our Down Under friends, least of which are:

  • How to throw a boomerang
  • How to milk goats
dom-goat milkomg
  • Help feeding the horses
  • How to dress like a Princess
prince & princess
  • How to win in 3-legged race
winning team

Australia is very similar to the US in many ways, but here are a couple of the ways that we differ:

  • The Aussie shopping carts have swivel wheels on all four wheels. For the non-US people that might be reading this, the US shopping carts have swivel wheels on the front, and static wheels on the back. This allows us to turn the tight 180 degree turns when going up/down the shopping aisles. In contrast, the Aussie-style carts (and South African-style carts as well) are VERY difficult to turn the tight corners, but they are easy to “shove” to the side. There’s the plus and minuses of shopping cart wheel-turnability.
  • There are NO cents in Aussie shopping. They either round up (60% of the time) or round down (the remaining 40% of the time). Let me explain:
    • Aussie coin currency consists of $2, $1, 50 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents and 5 cents.
    • Given these currencies, retailers continue to sell things at $5.98.
    • This creates a conundrum—how do you handle the 2 cent difference if you don’t have cents as a medium of financial exchange?
    • Here’s what they do in Aussie land at the check out counters: they round up or down. If the cents are 6 or 7, they’ll round down; if the cents are 8 or 9, they’ll round up.
    • It’s amazing how often the cents round to 8 or 9 cents, so they will round UP instead of down.

We really enjoyed our time at the Shenton’s farm and left feeling good about the world. Now we start our trip into the Australian Outback.

May 29, 2006

Kalgoorlie Gold Mines

Kalgoorlie is almost 6 hours east of Perth, heart-smack in the Australian Outback. I found out that Australian Outback is defined as any place that you need to drive on a dirt road. In Western Australia, this makes about 97% of the state defined as Outback.

This is a trip to yesteryear. Kalgoorlie is a 140 year old town that grew up around gold. It’s still a thriving town of 1600 people and it has a character that reflects its history. They have a working goldmine and celebrate the fact that the town grew up around the gold mining industry.

kalgoorlie street


Today, Kalgoorlie is still very much a mining town, but the income comes from the superpit.

The superpit is huge and needs some huge machinery. Are you kidding me? Take your Queen Elizabeth II ship (the largest of it’s day), put some wheels on it, plus a huge bucket. Then put it through some sort of, “Huge Enhancement” ray which increases the size of the vessel by 4 times.

They had an observation deck above the superpit, but that was as close as we were able to get. Here are some poor quality pictures that should give you an idea of the size of these machines. The quality is a bit poor because it’s actually pictures of pictures, but you get the idea:



mining truck

big dig

big tire

big wheel

Now you have a sense of the size of these machines.

The Superpit is a gold strip mine. Gold? Strippers? Where do I sign up?

Unfortunately, the term, “strip mining” refers to the method of gold extraction, and not scantily clad women. HOWEVER, Kalgoorlie is an authorized city for brothels, so there is still hope…

Brothel tour

While in Kalgoorlie, I took a tour of a brothel (Questa Casa, Italian for “This House.” They have brothels here?! Still working brothels?! AND they give tours? Sign me up.

Maybe they give free samples, right?...

No free samples, but very informative. While not legal in Australia, brothels are given the “blind eye” in Kalgoorlie and some other remote areas. The going rates are $100 for 15 min, up to $200 for 1 hour. The madam took me on a tour of all the rooms and told some entertaining stories of some of the crazy antics that have happened there. Still, no free samples, so it was quite a disappointment for me.

More on Western Australia --->

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