14 February 2006

Antipodean sojourn VI: tying up loose ends

One month ago today I left for Australia. It thus seems appropriate to wrap up this series with a catch-all post to cover whatever I've not yet mentioned of my trip:

  • Melbourne is a traction fan's delight. It has a quite complete tram (i.e., streetcar) system covering the city and its surrounding suburbs. I myself have long been a fan of electric rail transportation, ever since as a child I discovered the remnants of one such line that went through my hometown prior to 1961. During our visit to the centre of Melbourne, Ken Dickens and I rode one of these trams twice.

    A tram on Spring Street, Melbourne; source: Koyzis
    A tram on Spring Street, Melbourne

  • Melbourne has a huge Greek community — making it by some accounts the largest Greek city outside Greece itself. I rather imagine I have relatives there and would be surprised if I didn't. However, given that our immediate family has not kept up with any of them, I didn't think it proper to dig too deeply into the matter and show up at the door of one of their — well, restaurants, expecting to be fed. At the end of our day in the city centre, Ken Dickens and I ate dinner at Tsindos restaurant.

  • At La Trobe University I was baffled to see signs for a MUSLIM MALE WASHROOM and a MUSLIM FEMALE WASHROOM. Do the differences between Muslims and nonmuslims really extend even to the processes of elimination?

  • The restaurant at the Holiday Inn at the airport serves a series of curry dishes, obviously indicating an Indian influence on the country's cuisine. Similarly, McDonalds restaurants in Australia — or at least Melbourne — have a tandoori chicken sandwich on their menu. If McDonalds of Canada served this, it might be enough to get me to eat at one of their establishments.

  • Between 1910 and 1966 the country's currency was the Australian pound, which was divided into 20 shillings, each of which consisted of 12 pence. Obviously modelled on the British pound sterling, this cumbersome system was replaced by the Australian dollar and a decimalized system of coinage. Today there are no one cent pieces, but there are 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins, along with one and two dollar coins.

  • Tipping for services rendered is not generally practised in Australia. It is expected that those waiting tables, cutting hair, &c., are already being paid adequately for their work. Moreover, sales taxes are not added to the price of something at the till; they are already incorporated into the listed price — something I quite prefer to North American practice.

    In the Legislative Council chamber, Melbourne; source: Koyzis
    In the Legislative Council chamber,

  • Thirty-one years ago today the Order of Australia was established to recognize citizens who have distinguished themselves in exemplary service to the larger society. Closely modelled on the Order of Canada, it originally consisted of four grades: Knights/Dames, Companions, Officers and Members. In 1986 the first category was abolished. One assumes this means that there will be no more Australians with "Sir" or "Dame" before their names.

  • The Australian Labor Party deliberately spells the second name of its title without the "u." Can we assume that this indicates a generally pro-American orientation on its part?

  • Some of the Transforming Education conferees told me that the federal government has mandated the posting of a brief document, Values for Australian Schooling, in classrooms across the country, including those of independent schools. The precepts contained in the poster seem decent enough, but one might well question whether the entire project is an example of the "unnecessary interference or control" condemned by the document itself.

  • All Australians of a certain age remember what they were doing when they heard that Governor General Sir John Kerr had dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on 11 November 1975. The ensuing constitutional crisis served to encourage republican sentiments in Australia. A referendum was held on the issue in 1999, but the motion to replace the Queen and her representative with a president failed at least in part due to disagreement over the means of putting such a president in office.

    Trams and Heineken at Swanston & Lonsdale Streets; source: Koyzis
    Trams and Heineken
    at Swanston & Lonsdale Streets

  • Not only did this visit mark the first time I had been to the southern hemisphere; it was also the first time I had crossed the International Date Line. Thus on saturday, the 21st, I left Melbourne early in the afternoon and arrived in Los Angeles in the late morning of the same day. After crossing the Date Line, it was friday again for a few hours, which meant that I had been flying since the following day. This probably isn't what H. G. Wells had in mind with his famous time machine, but it does play tricks with one's head.
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