January 26th is Australia Day. Every year while we battle the cold winter weather, Australians are barbequing and having a ball, most likely on a beautiful sunny beach somewhere. If there’s any country in the world that knows how to party, it’s Australia (pronounced “Straya” by the locals). OHNY’s program coordinator, Jailee, spent a year living in Sydney and in celebration of Australia Day, she has written a post about her time and travels Down Under.

During my time in Sydney, I was lucky enough to experience Australia Day. Basically one big party (much like our 4th of July), Australians spend the day outside on the beach, at a barbeque with friends or like I did, at the Botanical Gardens located next to the Sydney Opera House. The holiday celebrates the day of the landing of the first British fleet on the country’s shores in 1788, marking British rule over the island.

It was a lot of fun. However, I learned that many Australians have mixed feelings about celebrating Australia Day because of the treatment of the Aboriginal people by the British when they took control of the country. I saw many Aboriginal flags flying alongside the Australian one throughout the day.

Aboriginal Flag


The beautiful Sydney Harbor Bridge was completed in 1932. It took eight years and 1,500 men to build. The locals refer to it as the “Coathanger.” It links North Sydney to South Sydney. It carries eight car lanes, 2 train lines, a pedestrian walkway and a cycle lane. Visitors can visit the South Eastern Pylon and climb to the top. If you are daring and good with heights (which I am not!), you can do a bridge climb. At any time during the day if you look close enough, you can see people moving about on the top of the bridge near the flags.


I managed to get away with not climbing the Harbor Bridge but you can only be a wimp for so long in Australia until someone calls you out on it. In my case, that was how I ended up signing up for Surf Camp. I spent one whole weekend learning how to ride (and not so gracefully fall off of) waves.


One of the many glorious things about Sydney is how the city is so connected to the beach. Minutes away from the downtown bustle are plenty of beaches, like Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach. Many of the names of places in Australia originate from Aboriginal words (such as Bondi) which are really fun to pronounce like Woolloomooloo, a harbor suburb of Sydney (which I believe is where Russell Crowe lives).


Just a few hours drive from the city, is the wine region of Hunter Valley. Here the most common grapes are Semillion, Chardonnay and Verdelho in the white varietals and Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the reds. Australian wine makers have pretty much abandoned using corked wine bottles and instead have screw tops, making it easier to have an impromptu picnic.


I also visited Tasmania. An island itself separated from mainland Australia by the large body of water Bass Strait, Tasmania is one of the states/territories of Australia. This is Wine Glass Bay on the Eastern Coast of Tasmania. Tasmania is named after Dutch commander Abel Tasman who originally named it Van Diemen’s Land for the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. Later, the British took over and made it into a penal colony.


Of course, what trip to Tasmania would be complete without seeing some tasmania devils? I saw these two at a wildlife park (not in the wild!).  They are normally no bigger than a small dog but have incredibly powerful jaws. At feeding time, I saw these little devils devour large pieces of meat, bone and all, in a matter of seconds. I can also confirm for those of you who are wondering, that they do make much the same sound as the Looney Tunes character, mainly when they eat.


And speaking of animals, the variety of wild life found in Australia is like no other in the world. I fell in love with the animals of Australia. Well, the cute, cuddly ones anyway, not the deadly and dangerous ones like the snakes, jelly fish, spiders, sharks, crocodiles, etc (play this funny spoof tourism song to learn about that type of wildlife).

This is a little wallabee I met on a hiking trail. She has a little joey in her pocket.


I never got over how kangaroos just lounged around everywhere, throughout the entire country. As a non-Australian it is so shocking to see them just bouncing around. You can understand how confused the British were when they first arrived. I heard on one of my many guided trips that when Australia sent over the first platypus specimen to England, scientists in England began cutting open the specimen looking for stitches. They thought it was impossible that such an animal existed and that it must have been sewn together as a joke.

I learned that a good place to find kangaroos was by going to the local golf course.


This is the only koala that I saw outside of a wildlife park. They are hard to spot in the wild as they usually sit high in trees. They are solitary animals and sleep most of the time. They survive almost completely on eucalyptus leaves that are poisonous to most other animals. Handling koalas, something that you can do in zoos as a tourist attraction, causes high stress levels in koalas and has been known to significantly lower their age expectancy. It is now a frowned upon practice but can still be found in some wildlife parks. Despite their appearance, I can say that they are not soft at all (I petted, but did not hold one) and their strong claws are not inviting in the least.


Exotic birds could be found almost anywhere. Cockatoos used to wake me up in the morning. They make the most terrible, screechy sounds and would perch right on my balcony everyday. I saw a rainbow lorikeet one of my first days in Sydney and I worried that someone’s pet bird had gotten loose, but they are, in fact, part of the local wild fauna.

rainbow lorikeet


Aside from the animals that we normally identify with Australia, they are plenty more that I never knew existed. This little guy is a quokka. Ever heard of a quokka? Me neither, until I visited Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth. I could go on and on about the animals!


This is Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands off the Great Barrier Reef. All together there are 74 small islands of the coast of Queensland, Australia in the Coral Sea, most of them uninhabited. It was like paradise!


Believe it or not, Australia has some pretty serious skiing. The mountain of Thredbo, just five hours from Sydney, is a popular spot in the winter months of July and August. I am from Chicago, but trust me, this was real skiing. The season is short, but there are are plenty of ski enthusiasts and affordable rental agencies that rent out not only ski boots and skis, but snow jackets and pants, that make skiing fun and easy.


Spending New Year Eve in Sydney was one of the highlights of my time in Australia. The city has an amazing fireworks display. They light fireworks off of the Harbor Bridge and all around off of other buildings. I took this photo while sitting on the beach in 80 degree weather.

Not bad, Australia. If only it wasn’t so very very far away!


1 Comment to Field Trip Friday: Australia

  1. March 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Those Tasmainian Devils are cute but nastier than the Honey Badger. And that’s saying something,

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