Monday, April 30, 2007

A drive to Jervis Bay

Conversation with the cockatoo
The last weekend that David was in Sydney, we decided to rent a car and drive down the coast of New South Wales. Our first destination was the Royal National Park. Just south of the city, this is the second oldest national park in the world, after Yellowstone: it dates back to 1879! The park has a wide variety of terrain, and in spite of the growth of the city, it is still home to a wide variety of plants, animals, and birds. We stopped briefly at the Visitor Center, where Meghan enjoyed a conversation with the cockatoos, and then we continued on our drive.

On the Grand Pacific drive
The Grand Pacific drive leads south from the park, through coastal towns, lush vegetation, and sweeping views of the ocean. The most famous part of the drive is the Sea Cliff bridge, which hugs sheer cliffs and sweeps out over the open ocean for 665m (about half a mile). It makes for breathtaking vistas...

Sea Cliff bridge, Grand Pacific drive

Jervis Bay
After a longish drive (on the left side of the road!), we arrived at Jervis Bay. The Jervis Bay territory has an odd history: it was bought by the Federal government in 1915 so that the landlocked capital at Canberra would have access to the sea. Once the Capital Territory became a state [Correction: Became self-governing. Thanks, Anonymous] in 1989, Jervis Bay entered a weird limbo. Most of the bay is either a navy base, or protected as part of the Booderee national park. With its clear water and white sand, Jervis bay is a beautiful, unspoilt bit of Australia.

Please don't feed the birds
The national park is also home to a lot of wildlife. As we pulled into the parking lot, we surprised a wallaby, which quickly bounded away, and friendly (but non-native) lorikeets swarmed over us looking for food as we set out on a short walking trail. The path led us out to tidal rock flats, with their bizarre sculpted shapes and hollows.

Tide pools at Jervis Bay
But we still hadn't seen any kangaroos or wallabies since the first one in the parking lot. As we continued on our walk, dusk set in rapidly, and we started hearing suspicious rustles in the bush, and even the crash-boing-boing-boing of a startled 'roo fleeing through the shrubbery as we approached. And then, finally, we heard a rustle less than 10 feet away from us, and froze. As we slowly inched our way forward, we saw a couple of kangaroos (or wallabies?). They took a while to decide that we were harmless, but after that, even flash photography didn't seem to faze them...
Kangaroos grazing at dusk

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cockatoo Island

Our deck looks out over part of Sydney's inner harbour, and we've always been intrigued by Cockatoo Island, with its abandoned industrial buildings. It just so happens that the Harbour Trust recently opened up the island to visitors, and so when David was in town, we took a ferry and set off to explore the island with him.

At the end of the rainbow On Cockatoo island
Left: The view of Cockatoo Island from our deck; Right: On the island.

Cockatoo Island is the largest island in the harbour, and its history is fascinating. It was used as a prison from 1839, and the convicts reshaped the island extensively, quarrying stone and building silos, tunnels, and docks. The convicts were finally transferred to the mainland in 1869 because of "poor living conditions". One can only imagine how appalling the conditions were! After that, the prison was converted to an Industrial School and Reformatory for girls, and in what must count as one of the dumbest decisions ever, a training ship for delinquent and wayward boys was anchored off the shore at the same time. Sure enough, there were "unauthorized visits" back and forth, and that arrangement didn't last long.

Abandoned dock Cranes on Cockatoo island
On the island. Notice the Sydney Harbour bridge on the left. On the right, behind the cranes, you can barely see our apartment complex in the distance.

Cockatoo Island came into its own as a shipyard and a naval dock in the early 1900s, and during World War II, it was the most important dock and repair facility for the Allied forces in the Pacific, especially after the fall of Singapore. There were Japanese submarine attacks, as well as air raids, and the tunnel dug through the island by convicts was used as an air raid shelter.
Air raid shelter and tunnel
After the war, Cockatoo Island continued as a Navy facility until 1992, when it was shut down. The island was abandoned, and the massive cranes and docks and workshops just sat there and rusted. When we walked around, it was an eerie experience: what once used to be a hive of activity now lay echoing and empty, an industrial wasteland.
The turbine workshop
There are big plans afoot, though. The massive turbine hall has been used as a concert venue, and there was a already a small art exhibition in the jail facilities. While parts of the island will be preserved as a Heritage site, Sydney is seeking bids to convert most of it into commercial and retail space. I think we got to see it at a rare moment, open to the public but not yet fully reclaimed and Disneyfied. Let's see how things develop.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Manly Sea Eagles

Australia is crazy about sports, and "football" means different things to different people here. There's rugby league, rugby union, and Aussie rules, all of which are full-contact sports, as well as soccer (no hands!), and even some American football. Each game has its own devoted following, and somehow, none of this gets in the way of people following cricket too!

Bryan is a hard-core supporter of the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, a rugby league team based in the Northern beach suburb of Narrabeen. When our collaborator David visited us from Boston, Bryan took us to watch the Sea Eagles play the Gold Coast Titans, so that we could experience this essential bit of Australiana for ourselves.

Astronomers at the Manly game
Astronomers observing (sports) stars in the field.
Shami, Bryan, David, and Stephen: Photo by Meghan, caption thanks to Stephen!

Bryan gave us a quick rundown on the rules of the game, taught us the catch-all statement for the game post-mortem ("The big guy had a great game, eh?") and even loaned us Manly regalia for the full effect, and then we were off!

Mid-air acrobatics
It was a cool, rainy afternoon as the Sea Eagles played the visiting Titans. It was a fast and athletic game, with plenty of acrobatic moves and bone-crunching tackles. The stands were packed with Manly colors, and there was plenty of hearty cheering for the home team and booing of bad calls by the referees.

A flying tackle Crowds at the game

Fortunately, Manly won a famous victory, scoring 3 tries and 3 goals to 1 and 1, and the final score of 20-6 made for a happy crowd at the end of the game!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

April gatherings

This April we enjoyed a few get-togethers with friends and family. Here are pictures from a couple of these gatherings.

On Easter Monday, my cousin Sue invited us over for lunch with her family. We got to meet her wonderful parents, Julie and Gordon, who were visiting from the U.S. Afterwards, we all went to tea at her friend Annabelle's house. The kids enjoyed swimming in the pool while we had tasty desserts and tea. As well as being a scientist, Annabelle is a wonderful artist and illustrator.

Easter tea at Annabelle's
Photo: Gordon, Annabelle, Mark, Mia, Sue, Meghan, Julie.

The next evening we had Sue and her family, as well as Sean and Jeanine, over for dinner. Here is a group photo of all of us:

Family gathering in Sydney
Back: Sean, Jeanine, Meghan, Shami;
Front: Gordon, Chiara & Cary, Kacy & Sue, Julie.

Sean and Jeanine have been living across the harbour in a suburb called Mosman. They recently had us over for dinner, and to see their fabulous view of the Sydney city skyline. On our way back home, while waiting for the ferry, Shami and I were treated to an unexpected fireworks display! It was quite a show, made all the more special because we were the only people enjoying them from our vantage point...
Fireworks over Sydney