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Queensland, Australia

June 16, 2006

Cairns, Queensland, Australia. For those of you partial to the “clock” system of geography, Queensland is the state that’s around the 1-2 o’clock area on the continent of Australia. Cairn is one of the larger cities in Queensland and it’s on the northeastern side of Queensland. It’s also the city that’s closest to the Great Barrier Reef.

We returned our Thrifty rental car in Perth prior to boarding the plane from Perth to Cairns. I know I said that the evening flights are tough on people, especially families with kids. And this is a true statement. But there is a plus to these night flights—the rental car companies don’t check your car when you return them. And I admit that we had a small scratch on the driver’s side panel, and I scratched the hubcap pretty good one morning. So we didn’t get nailed for these scratches, and they can’t bill our credit card they have on file because that card was stolen and the account was closed!

Actually, I don’t think either scratch was bad enough to warrant any kind of fee from us, so I don’t think we really go away with anything. But it was comforting to know that we could have stuck it to the Man…

So we’re in Cairns in a great caravan park. This is the place where we’ll stay for a week and use as our base of operations from which we will take day trips to see the greatest that Northern Queensland has to offer. BUT…

  • Kurunda Village is much touristier than we ever thought possible (I originally wrote this sentence as, “Kurunda Village is much more touristy than we ever…” MS Word told me that the phrase, “more touristy” should be replaced by the word, “touristier.” Who knew there was such a word? I figured that I was making up the word, “touristy” in the first place, so I was digitally encouraged to replace it with an equally obscure word. Go figure).
  • A day trip to the Great Barrier reef for families is close to $600 and extremely touristy. It’s so touristy that the boat comes with its own Tourist Information Center; they give you your own Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts, black socks and instamatic camera. Oy!
  • An Aboriginal show was $80 per person! And they had tourist busses outside all the time. Talk about touristier. Oy! Skip that.

So we pretty much took a week and just vegged. And we took pictures of Dominique and Annette, our 6 and 4 year old girls respectively, looking like call girls:

crazy Dom
crazy Annette

That must be their mother in them.

We did nothing touristy, or touristier. Instead we did laundry, bought some extra clothes, stocked up on some books, hung out at the pool. The caravan park had broadband internet access so we caught up on our website and emails. And we had fun trying to pronounce, “Cairns:”

  • Carns
  • Caerns
  • Cannes
  • Canola
  • Canoe
  • Eucalyptus

The caravan park came with its own Cassowaries. If you’re not familiar with these beasts, they are Australia’s largest birds weighing in at a little smaller than a Boeing 747. Actually they’re a bit smaller than an ostrich, but much more vicious. These guys are man-killers. They can use their large middle claw to disembowel a person, much like a Velociraptor. Except that this is not the Cretaceous Period. And we’re not Cretaceous, uh, things that are alive and that Velociraptors eat and/or disembowel. So this makes Cassowaries even more dangerous.

Cassowaries have been known to disembowel a man even before the man has proven himself as a cocktail party bore. It’s unfortunate that we can’t teach these birds to discriminate in their gut-ripping powers. It might be good to have them concentrate on door-to-door salesmen or obnoxious lawyers. Or lawyers of any kind.

But make no mistake about it; these are huge, dangerous birds. They’re a throwback to times long gone. Picture a huge turkey with deadly feat and a blue head. Look at this mug:

cassowary

AND they’re running loose around the caravan park. Talk about living on the edge… I thought I should be walking around with a spear and a can of mace. And maybe a bottle of barbeque sauce…

June 24, 2006

Daintree, Queensland. We are in the edge of the rainforest and the heart of the sugar cane fields. Unfortunately, they don’t allow kids on their tours of the cane plants or factories, so our trip up here was pretty much wasted since that was our main goal. The town of 150 people in Daintree Village wasn’t enough to stimulate our children, so we fed them a boatload of the sugar cane. Once they were stimulated, we hightailed it outta there after a short two days.

June 25, 2006

Today we experienced an Aboriginal walk and we entered the Australian Rain Forest.

It’s kinda damp in the Rain Forest. Maybe that’s why they call it the Rainforest. But it doesn’t rain that much, it’s just damp and it drips a lot. Perhaps they should call it the Constant Drip Forest, or the Perpetual Dampness Forest. I like to all it the Automatic Drip Forest, a salutation to our coffee-loving nation.

We took an authentic Aboriginal walk today. The fact that our authentic Aboriginal wore Levi’s jeans and had a Rolex watch was not lost on me (he didn’t have a Rolex watch, but I couldn’t come up with a better metaphor about a “native” Aboriginal living in “today’s” world. Maybe something about a Blackberry, or some comment he said about Brittany Spears. Perhaps it might have been something about how video games are zapping our youth of their short-term memories, but I forgot about what I was talking about).

The guy was extremely knowledgeable and the walk was really cool. Most of what was said is now lost on me, but the overall picture of the walk is that the Australian forests will either kill you or maim you or leave one of your appendages in a withering black state. This was a typical conversation with our guide:

Guide: See this tree? It’s called the, “Painful eye rot tree.” If you so much as look at it, the tree will shoot down some spikes into your eyeballs and the spikes will drain your eyes of all the aqueous humor, which despite the name isn’t really very funny. Then you’ll have a devil of a time trying to find your tribe.”

Group: ...Staring at the tree that will blind us, thinking that this tree looks exactly like the tree that he said would make our arms wither if we touched the leaves...

Darren: This tree looks exactly like the tree that you said would make our arms wither if we touched the leaves. What’s the difference between the two trees?

Guide: Uh, the difference is too small for your Western eyes to see. You must be of Aboriginal blood to tell the difference. Make sure that you neither look at nor touch any tree that looks like this.

Darren: Ok… But does it make good firewood?...

disease

This tree sounds a bit painful to me. I think that it might be best to avoid the rainforests in Australia, but that’s just me being a bit concerned about my aqueous humor, and the condition of my limbs. I prefer my limbs non-blackened. Oy!

This place is so dangerous that the huge stones are famous for interrupting human life. Take a look at our guide as he stabs a huge stone that threatened our lives:

Stabbing_a_Rock (147K)

June 26, 2006

The place at which we’re staying at has a nightly routine of feeding the Red-legged Pademelons and Sugar Gliders.

Red-legged Pademelons are wallabies; wallabies are small kangaroos, about the size of rabbits. These guys are really cool. They have a very hierarchical society and by their eating habits you can see who is high up in the pecking order. They have scouts that patrol the perimeters and warn the rest of the group if there’s any danger. The eating arrangements are strictly enforced by stares, growls, and a quick attack. Each wallaby has his/her own eating area and nobody is allowed to come into that area. It’s like the Cone of Silence, except it’s really the Cone of Eating Space.

pademellons

Video: Pademelons

Note: if you can not see the video, download QuickTime and view the movie with it.

quicktime logo (4K)

So every night around 7pm the owner of this place turns on the outside lights and we see about two dozen little kangaroos on his front lawn. They’re waiting patiently for the owner to come out and throw chunks of potatoes to them. The feeding frenzy is amazing to behold. It’s nature, red in claw, at its best. The head dude commands a free and clear space in which to eat. You can see him eye any wayward melon that might stray into his cone of eating space. When/if this happens, you see the following in succession:

  • Glare of the eyes. It’s not a subtle thing. If this doesn’t work, then:
  • There’s a growling that’s menacing even for a rabbit-sized being. If this doesn’t work, then:
  • The boss moves in for a quick nip at the offender. If this doesn’t work, then:
  • The boss steps back and lets two missionaries from the Church of Latter Day Saints step in to do their thing. This, inevitably, makes the offender run away and lets the boss eat his dinner in peace.

June 27, 2006

This is our second full day in the Automatic Coffee Drip Forest. Things are quite damp here. We’re finding that we need to keep the ceiling fans on full, keep the windows open, and blast the heaters in order to get our space to anything outside of sleeping in the shallows of a stream.

The other half of our wildlife experience here is feeding the Sugar Gliders. Sugar Gliders are the Australian equivalent of the American Flying Squirrel. Neither fly; they glide, so the American name is a misnomer. Actually, the Australian rodent doesn’t eat sugar; it eats honey, so that’s a misnomer as well. I guess they should both be called, “Rodents with Extra Flaps of Skin between Their Front and Back Legs That Allow Them to Catch Air Drafts and Fall with Style.” Yeah, I think that’s a more appropriate name.

I think their scientific name is “Sucrose Gravitos,” but I’m just guessing here…

sugar gliders

So the owner of the place would take organic honey and smear it on two trees that were “reserved” for Sugar Glider (ie. Rodents with Extra Flaps of Skin between Their Front and Back Legs That Allow Them to Catch Air Drafts and Fall with Style) feedings. These Gliders would fly in from Mexico, Aruba, and California to feast on the buffet that is the Australian tree sugar. It was actually pretty cool to see these guys jump in from a tree that seemed to be way too far, then calmly scamper down to the feeding trough.

June 28, 2006

Today we toured a milk factory. I’m upset about this whole deal because they wouldn’t let us take pictures, but we didn’t cry over spilt milk (Ha!).

NOTE TO READERS: My lovely wife Nicky was reading this text and she thought that I would put a “spilt milk” joke when I was describing our milk factory tour. My original draft had no sort of bad milk puns or cow jokes, which are udderly ridiculous and overused. In fact I had a cow joke in there but I moooooved it to a different place on our website. This is true—no bull about it. So Nicky told me that she was a little disappointed that I didn’t do the “spilt milk” joke because she thought it was so obvious and a good fit. To put her in my good graces again, I put her joke in the text. I’m not sure if it works, and if for some reason you feel offended by it or want to give feedback, please send any comments to: Nicky.

This ban on pictures immediately made me wonder if the old rumors were true—do they spike our milk with chemicals to make our children less-excitable and easier to control?! Verily, I say this: if this is true, then our kids are not drinking the right milk.

The tour was really cool. This is a VERY small factory in American terms, but big in scope for Australia. They service all of Queensland, all of the 4 million people in the 1.8 million square kilometers. And… uh… I’m not sure what else to tell you. A tour of any factory is pretty cool, but outside of seeing those huge machines that take an empty plastic container and fill it with a liquid and seal it and wash it and put a label on it in the span of 20 seconds, I’m not sure what else there is.

Email me if you want to see the secret pictures that I took…

June 29, 2006

fig tree

This is a picture of a Curtain/Strangling Fig Tree. These bastards take root high up in a regular tree, and once they’re situated, they slowly drop their hundreds of roots down to the ground and “strangle” a living tree. This is one of the more impressive and older Curtain Trees that we’ve seen.

How a Strangler Tree gets born:

  • A bird, possum, tree kangaroo or rat drops a strangler fig seed in the top of a tree. This is the forest equivalent of littering.
  • The seed gets covered with leaf mould and it grows. My wife Nicky says I do the same thing. Something about mold and it growing.
  • The roots of the seed grow down the side of the host tree until they reach the ground.
  • The initial roots take root in the ground, while more and more grow down the sides of the tree to the ground.
  • The roots eventually totally enclose the host tree and the host dies. It’s like loving the tree to death.
  • The tree that remains is totally the strangler fig.

And the male of the species is usually stuck with a boatload of alimony payments…

June 30, 2006

We tried to do a quick trip to Mareeba to do a coffee plantation tour. Unfortunately, we were late and Annette was on fire (ie. very active). So we thought that we’d do a tour of Mount Hypipamee, a lava crater that was formed by exploding gas.

Not dissimilar to the Rousseau everyday experience--with exploding gas, that is. We try to avoid lava as best we can. But as long as Daddy continues to drink milk, exploding gas is impossible to avoid.

But I digress. This was a great hike to a volcanic crater that really showed the force of Mother Nature. This is a tube/crater that’s about 70 meters across and at least 150+ meters in depth, much of it being underwater and not measured.

Again, similarities could be made to Daddy being in the hot tub (ie. underwater) and great pressures from gasses being forced upwards.

It’s crazy how real life simulates, uh… real life, huh?

July 1, 2006

Today our family experienced a great day of exercise. This means that we took a brisk walk around the lake (Lake Eacham, a 3 km walking track) and that we had to carry both kids during our trek. This really means that Nicky and I experienced a great day of exercise.

Dominique was actually pretty good. She actually jogged a bit, walked a lot, and because of that I was encouraged to carry her on my back for a bit. She also doubled as our botanist because she named a lot of the larger trees. Not only was she inventive and descriptive, but also accurate. Here’s a small sample of some of the names that Dominique gave to the trees, and their actual scientific names:

Dominique’s Name Scientific Name
Limbo Tree Dead Oak Tree that fell across walking path
Reggie Tree (The spiky leaves reminds me of Reggie that was in my class that had spiky hair) Pine Tree
Slim Tree A Branch
Rasta Tree Strangle Tree (see above)
Bendy Tree (because the tree is bent) ????

July 2, 2006

Today being a Sunday, we looked for things to do. We had heard good things about this place called Paronella Park. This park was established by a Spanish dude that built a castle in the middle of the Australian Rainforest and did some pretty cool things here.

Hey, it’s open on a Sunday, and it’s only about 45 minutes away… We were not disappointed.

The experience started when we entered the parking lot. We were approached by a guy (later to be identified as the owner) and he explained how awesome the place was. Rope bridged, stone castles, underground love nests—the kids would love it. He gave us a discount and threw the kids in for free, and we decided to take the grand tour.

The tour for a family of four was quite expensive ($60+), but since he let the kids in for free it was more affordable and he was a really good salesperson.

This place is the coolest/weirdest place in Australia. Picture some driven Spaniard (i.e. Mr. Paronella) coming to Australia as a young adult to work the sugar cane fields and get his fortune on the farms. Years of hard work and saving his money allowed him to buy his own land, plant his own sugar cane, and get some money with which to buy some land to build his home. He chose a piece of land in the middle of the rainforest with a waterfall and started to build his castle.

paronella

This dude had to build stairs to get the sand to bring up to the level of the castle. All by hand. He had to fell trees, divert streams, and build everything from concrete, all by hand. When he was finished, this Spanish immigrant turned sugar cane cutter turned land owner turned castle builder turned park owner had a restaurant, movie theatre, banquet room, waterfalls, tennis courts, even a “love tunnel.”

paronella

What a crazy place: Paronella Park

July 3, 2006

Today was a travel day to Mt. Surprise. I understand the name now—when you get there, there’s a huge Surprise—there’s no town!

Mt Surprise

But prior to arriving at No-Wheres-ville, we drove by a local wind farm. This is a curious phenomenon. They actually advertise this in the local Tourist Information pamphlets, which is great. I’m all for wind farms. But I continue to be disappointed when we arrive at such a farm and all there is a bunch of windmills. I wanted to see a bunch of little tornadoes and hurricanes. If they advertise a wind farm, I want to see some little bits of wind!

windfarm

Our stay a Mt. Surprise was awesome. We stayed at a great caravan park in a town of 75 people about 100 km from nowhere. The place was warm and they welcomed us, AND they had campfires every night! I guess that I should explain that most of Australia is very dry and many places have water restrictions; fires are against the law unless you have a license.

As a red-blooded American, building fires is not only a right and a privilege, it’s a commandment: Thou shall make fires. It’s burned into our veins; fire boils in our blood. To camp and not to fire is as ridiculous as to camp and not drink beer. Fortunately, the Aussies aren’t THAT crazy—they have beer at everything. I think the holy water in the churches is actually beer.

So we gathered around the fire at night and I brought my banjo and we jammed to a bunch of Slim Dusty tunes and some good ole’ American Bluegrass banjo tunes. Great time. This place would have been a highlight of my time in Queensland had it not been for the Undara Lava Tubes…

July 4, 2006

Today we paid $120 AUD to visit the Undara Lava Tubes for a two hour tour. Usually we celebrate America’s Independence by setting off fireworks; I thought it appropriate to celebrate by visiting an historic place of natural fireworks. This place was the heaviest advertised and marketed place in Queensland. They made it sound so cool, and we actually tried to get a place to stay here because they had nightly campfires with songs and cookouts.

Man, what a rip-off. The Aussies here really stole the book from Americans on hyping something way better than it really is. And making us pay for it. This was a total waste of time and money. I would have been happy to pay $15 for our entire family to be subjected to the boredom and ludicrousness that we experienced. Instead, I received the pleasure of random talks about bats, natural cave colors that have been interpreted as cave paintings, and about 7 minutes of actual lava tube history and geology:

  • A volcano erupts.
  • Lava flows down.
  • Sometimes, there are channels that the lava does not fill, but covers.
  • Then there are tubes that are created.
  • These tubes might go on for miles and miles.

The highlight of the tour was when the tour guide shown his flashlight on the ground and Annette started making shadow puppets by the light. She was actually quite good, and the crowd saw it, laughed, and the guide was good-natured at her antics.

I’d put a picture here, but I’m afraid that we’d add to their already-over hyped advertising, and I’d hate to encourage people to go here.

What’s interesting is that Undara claims that they have the longest lava tubes in the world. This is curious because a tube, by definition, is an unbroken structure. The Undara tubes are broken and closed at many, many sections. I can’t understand why a tube would be called a tube if it’s closed/collapsed/sectioned off from another. That kinda goes against the definition of a “tube,” right? Thieving bastards…

I should have alerted their VP of marketing and advertising on the line and let him/her know of another natural gas eruption happening in Australia. Then I would have imbibed about 2 gallons of whole milk and invited him to our cabin. That’ll teach them to do creative advertising…

July 5, 2006

Today we drove about 5 hrs. from Mt. Surprise to Charters Towers. What a cool place is Charters Towers. First, it’s a cool name. Second, they have over 500 KM of tunnels underneath the town from gold mining. The entire town is over a beehive of old and unused tunnels. It’s amazing that the entire town didn’t collapse, although some portions have.

Here is a bit from the Charters Towers website. Loyal readers of this site will know that I usually don’t do the big copy/paste thing from websites, but this is particularly interesting. As a reader, I would usually skip this part, but I urge you to read it. It’s pretty good and I’ve put a couple of jokes in there for your reading pleasure:

Hugh Mosman, George Clarke, John Fraser and Horseboy Jupiter had been prospecting away to the south of what is now Charters Towers when their horses scattered during a fierce thunderstorm. It was while searching for the horses next morning that the first Towers gold was discovered. The discovery was at the end of the year 1871 or the very beginning of 1872.

The party returned to Ravenswood to register their find which they named Charters Towers.

Charters: for W.S.E.M. Charters, the Gold Commissioner - the big man from the Cape (Charters was said to be about 6'6" tall and weighed some 20 stone). 20 Stone is about 280 pounds or 127 kilos for our international readers.

Towers: because of the conical shaped hills in the vicinity of the discovery.

A rush of ‘fortune seeking men’ quickly followed and a small settlement named Millchester formed on the water at Gladstone Creek. By the end of 1872 some 3000 souls inhabited the new field. The alluvial men left early on for the Palmer River discoveries but the hard rock miners remained, seeking the gold in the deep veins underground. Charters Towers rather than Millchester soon became the main settlement.

Literally 100's of shafts were sunk during the lifetime of the field and the ore raised was processed through many large Treatment Batteries. It is estimated that 6,000,000 ounces of gold was won in the first 40 to 50 years of the life of the Towers.

Sports, music and the arts all had fantastic followings. It was said that everything you might desire could be had in the Towers. There was no reason to travel elsewhere for anything. This is why the town became known affectionately as ‘The World’.

OK, I lied about putting some jokes in there. But it’s an interesting story if you toured the town. Since you, the reader, most likely haven’t toured Charters Towers, you might be feeling one of the following:

  • Suckered into reading something that you had no interest in reading.
  • Thankful that I led you to something that was intellectually stimulating.
  • What the hell am I doing here?!? You bastard!!!!

Any of these feelings are valid and you should embrace them. From my Yoga exercises I feel it’s appropriate to share with you the best way to enhance and control your thoughts and feelings.

Feel the warmth as your understanding courses through your veins. Let your spirit be free as you experience the oneness of open thought. Breathe in good air and let out the congested, ignorant air by breathing out through your nose. Honor any feelings of resistance.

OK, now that we’re all refreshed and you’ve forgiven me for duping you into reading something you probably didn’t want to read, back to website commentary:

Since this was a pretty good driving day, we took it easy at our caravan park. Saw a bit of the World Cup Soccer game, then the girls and I enjoyed a truly American experience—a drive-in Movie Theatre. This is one of only two in Queensland. What a cool deal. It was a pretty weird cartoon movie called “Howl’s Moving Castle” a Japanese Anime movie about a dude that had a castle that could change shapes. And the dude called Howl could also change shapes. But “weird” is part of the definition of Japanese Anime, right? The character of “Fire Wizard” was played by Billy Crystal who added some comedy relief. Despite the weirdness of the movie, it was a cartoon; we were in the car watching a movie in our pajamas. What’s not to love? And it gave Nicky a night to herself. Score one for the big guy. Uh, the big guy here is me. And the wife part is played by Nicky in a cameo role.

July 6, 2006

We’re still in Charters Towers and we took advantage of their rich history. This is a mining town, or was a mining town. We toured the city as well as the famous Charters Towers Battery.

Huh? A big battery that gives light to their houses you ask? Nay. In a gold mining town a battery is a plant that crushes your rocks and separates the gold/silver/tin/precious metals from mere rock. Oftentimes the supporters of gold mining make the riches, not the gold miners themselves. The Chinese people learned this lesson very early on and made fortunes in Australia, New Zealand, San Francisco, and many other places. They moved to support the mining industries in businesses like restaurants, cleaners, builders, manual laborers and playing checkers—very few actually worked in the mines.

battery

So, again, a Battery is a place where you, as a gold miner, would take your huge amount of stone-like material that you mined (hopefully there’s gold in there) and will separate the precious metals from the stone. Here’s the process at this battery:

  • You dump all your stony material into the battery’s hopper where huge crushing wheels will smash and grind all particles to about sand size. As a beer brewer, I’ve used a hopper to crush grain with which to make malt. So it’s very similar—taking something with very little value (i.e. stone and grain) to make something of high value (i.e. gold and beer).
  • All of this sand-sized grist would be mixed with liquid mercury and formed a watery fluid. The mercury adheres to the gold dust and settles to the bottom because gold is heavier than stone. Did you know that gold was heavier than stone? If not, take a look at the following chart of weights of stuff that I think will be interesting to you. It puts the whole gold battery thing into perspective:
Item Pounds per cubic Foot
Helium -0.3
Air .078
Manure 25
Poop 32 (figure it’s somewhere between Brick (125), and feather (2.23). Plus it’s gotta be less than human density.
Darren Rousseau 58 (figure 6’ x 1.2’ x .5’ to get cubic foot)
Coal 90
Lead 710
Gold 1,206
The Movie, “Memento” 2,000 (this movie was really heavy)
Australian Road Train with 66+ wheels 2,200
Black Hole Infinity... Plus one.
  • This slurry was run over huge tables which moved in a circular motion to mimic the hand-held gold panning. This allowed the heavy gold to settle to the bottom.
  • I can’t remember how the gold was separated from the mercury, but it’s probably some sort of process that would go against the Geneva Convention and all modern Workplace Safety rules. Just like the entire Battery process.

The end result is usually 1 ton of stone = about 10 ounces of gold. The entire process takes about 2 days, assuming that the battery runs continuously. I cannot see how people got rich doing this.

More on Queensland, Australia --->

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