Australia: Entry 1

1 April 2003: Melbourne, Asutralia

Subject: Australia

The Land Down Under

So I have finally arrived in The Land Down Under - the land of deadly snakes and spiders, according to Bill Bryson, and the land of the Vegemite Sandwich, according to Men At Work and others. What do I think of it so far? Well here are a few first impressions:

As we approached Melbourne Airport the pilot came on to tell us that this was the last flight that they would be making in this plane from Christchurch to Melbourne, and that if we saw fire engines on the runway when we arrived not to panic because getting dowsed with water was just a traditional way to mark such an event. After we landed he said "Sorry there aren't any fire engines after all. They aren't allowed to spray us because there's a water shortage."

Melbourne has trams. A fast, reliable and easy way to get around the city. In the evening they even have a historic "Restraunt Tram" in which you can dine in style with a constantly changing view of the city passing the windows.

I am staying in Melbourne's Nunnery. Cool.

Could these be the most litigation-paranoid people on the planet, or are they taking the piss? I suspect the latter. I thought that New Zealand's Department of Conservation was doing well when, after a perfectly sensible warning to take warm clothes (fleeces etc.) with you when climbing a mountain, they continued with "WARNING: Synthetic clothing is flamable". But here they have gone one better. Inside the lid of the washing machine I used this morning it said "WARNING: Do not wash clothes that have been soiled with cooking oil, as some oil may remain after washing and when dry could present a risk of spontaneous combustion." Honestly.

We all know about Australia's weird and wonderful wildlife, but did you know that Victoria has the world's longest earthworms? Today I visited "The Big Worm", a wildlife park with a Big Worm sculpture, to learn all about them.

Afterwards I went to see the Penguin Parade at Phillip Island, when lots of Little Penguins march up the beach at sunset, bellies full of fish. Nearby there is a small seal colony on a rock out to sea, and a huge visitor centre has been built. Apparently the original plan was to build a viewing platform, reached by an undersea tunnel a few hundred metres long and complete with a mini-train. Thankfully there was a change in the state government at the new lot realised that this was a huge waste of money, and they have installed a few telescopes on the cliff top instead.

More news later.