A Taste for Australia

I spent three weeks in January, 2017, traversing Australia with my husband and son. We flew from Boise, Idaho, USA to Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia  for 4 nights to Cairns for 3 nights and to Melbourne for 3 nights.  My husband left us in Melbourne to return to work.  My son and I rented a car and spent three nights driving the Great Ocean Road and Australia’s outback.  We ended our trip with 3 nights in Adelaide, considered some of Australia’s best wine country.  All totaled we traveled about 3,780 miles in Australia and saw major cities in the East and South along the South Pacific, Tasmanian and Indian Oceans.  We moved from sea coasts and rain forests near the equator to beaches where wind from the arctic oceans cooled the air.  While we covered vast expanses of land, we saw less than half of the country, none of western or northern Australia and none of the interior.  Here are some of my observations:

1.Kangaroos are old hat, quite literally. You can buy men’s hats made from kangaroo. Kangaroo pelts are for sale everywhere. Weird tourists gifts like kangaroo balls made into flasks are on display in tourist shops. Kangaroo filet is on some menus. At the Sydney Zoo, I heard a mom shout to her child, “You don’t want to look at that—it’s just a kangaroo!” We saw only four kangaroos hopping in the wild. The one’s I saw were magical. One was as tall as my son, 6 feet 3″. He turned and glared at those of us who had jumped out of cars to watch. The animal troupe made short work of hopping across the pasture, across the road and into the bush. When we drove the outback, I expected to see lots of kangaroos and emu. We saw lots of warning signs to watch for kangaroos and we saw at least five dead ones by the side of the road. But I only spotted one kangaroo in the bush and no emus outside the zoos. As an animal advocate, I worry that all the tourist items will make the kangaroo, like so many other sought after animals of yore, into a an endangered species.

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Kangaroo staring down my son and standing over 6 feet (picture by S. Kozisek)

2. Koalas are as cute in person as in pictures. These fascinating creatures are said to be “punch drunk” because they sleep about 19 hours a day. We paid for pictures with them both at the Sydney Zoo which did not allow you to touch them and in the Kuranda Koala Gardens where we were allowed to hold the Koalas and feed wallabies and Kangaroos. Koala fur is not as soft as kangaroos’ hair. The only way we saw koalas in the wild was when other cars were stopped to view them. We would jump out, ask where the koalas were and people were kind enough to point them out nesting in the high tree branches. Their gray fur blends in with the bark. My old eyes weren’t good enough to spot them from the car as we drove along. The process reminded me of when bears or moose are spotted in Yellowstone National Park. Everyone pulls their cars over and jumps out to spot the animal and if possible capture them on film.

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Koala, outside Apollo Beach (taken by S. Kozisek)

3.Visiting Australia is like falling down Alice’s proverbial rabbit hole. When we left Boise, snow was falling and the plane had to be deiced to make it off the ground. When we arrived in Sydney it was summer and 80 degrees. Christmas decorations were up everywhere we went but it never got colder than about 60. Not only were we visiting in summer, the continent was headed into fall starting in about March. We heard on several tours how gorgeous the fall colors on the trees were in late fall (beginning in March). Australia broke away from Africa over 400 million years ago. The warm climate led to the evolution of an econ-system different than anywhere else in the world. Australia is home to fabulous creatures living on the Great Barrier reef, in rivers such as platypuses and crocodiles (both fresh and sea water) to billibies to emu to wallabies, to koalas, to kangaroos (just naming a few).  I had one lady on a bus who wanted to discuss deer with me because she had never seen one in the wild. I, on the other hand, wanted to discuss kangaroos.  Apparently, kangaroos are like deer in Idaho.  They are pretty to look at but can get in your yard and eat your flowers and trees. Australia was settled in 1788 by the British as a penal colony after the American War of Independence when the U.S. refused to take any more English convicts. As an English colony everything in Australia like England is focused on the left. You drive on the left and walk on the left. Signs are posted on the roads to remind you that you are to drive on the left. While everyone speaks English, we sometimes couldn’t understand what was being said. Australians can understand us because American movies are everywhere at the same time as they are released in the U.S. but Australians have their own unique accent which becomes more pronounced in rural areas.

4. Australia’s diverse  and unique ecosystem encompasses vast expanses of mountains, rain forests, beaches and scrub bushes.

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My son, Scott, at Blue Mountains outside Sydney, Australia

 

  • Blue Mountains: During our time in Australia, we visited the Blue Mountains outside Sydney. The mountains are named for the blue mist created by oil from the Eucalyptus trees mixing with the environment.  While touring the mountains, we saw a burst of white birds rise from the trees far below circle below us and disappear into the rocks.  The sight was breathtaking and mystical in its beauty and silence.
  • Great Barrier Reef: We took a tour boat to visit the Great Barrier Reef.  Snorkeling the reef was the first time, I personally realized the power of the ocean.  At our first snorkeling site, the crew started shouting “Current!” and throwing out ropes to the divers.  When  I got in the water, I could barely swim the current was pushing so strong against me.  The divers used the ropes to pull themselves down to the reef. Fortunately, the other two snorkeling spots were less strenuous.  The Barrier Reef is clearly suffering. There are large expanses of white or dead reef and the colors are not as gorgeous as we saw when snorkeling in November in Hawaii.  There may be no reef to see in 20 years from now.
  • Rainforests: The rainforests flourish throughout Australia’s costal areas.  There is beach at the sea and a few miles in major forests where ferns weighing as much as a thousand pounds hitch a ride on the top of a tree to sunlight.
  • Oceans, the defining boundary: Cairns was so humid my swim suit wouldn’t dry and when we reached the Great Ocean Road, the wind from the arctic was so cold one had to push into it head first to make it to the look-out stations.  Along this rugged coast, the twelve apostles, large rock formations carved from limestone stand guard against the crashing waves of the ocean. Beaches in the city are jammed but the beaches near the outback are long, beautiful stretches with almost no visitors.

5.Australian cities are home to amazing architecture. Most people are familiar with the iconic Sydney Opera house, a multi-venue performing arts center at the heart of the Sydney harbor, graced with a roof of sails rising towards the sky. The Sydney Opera house is just one of many architectural  symbols of Australia’s technical and creative achievements, we saw during out trip.  We were more amazed and delighted by how much creative architecture is found throughout Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide. The buildings are multi-shaped, decorated in bright colors. Some feature art, others host glass triangles or pyramids for windows. We visited open-air malls in Melbourne and Adelaide which were full of wonderful sights, sounds and smells and gorgeous to boot. We saw elaborate winding staircases of shiny aluminum and pure wood in the universities.  Seemingly  weightless bridges soared over harbors and rivers. The city skylines were traversed by  huge cranes building new towering edifices. Australia is a country that is growing in a vibrant, creative way we do not see in America.

6.Australia is a good place to call home.

  • The cities  have excellent infra-structure. We were able to get everywhere by mass transit which was either affordably priced or free in certain areas of the city. Some of the cities provided free wifi through the downtown but even when they didn’t, wifi was readily available whereever we went. Walking paths with lots of green spots and benches to take in the moment, clean public restrooms and facilities to fill water bottles were available everywhere tourists might be. Street concerts, modern art displays, and sporting events, including the Australia open meant something was happening all the time.
  • The food is  diverse and we found universally great. We ate everything from dumplings in China town in Sydney to hot curry Tia in Adelaide to pizza covered with greens in Robe, to salads packed with delicious nuts and berries in Cairns–all excellent and different. Our last night in Australia, my son and I treated ourselves at a high end restaurant recommended by our hotel (Blackwood) for a true Australia meal. My son is a vegetarian and had potato gnocchi and I had fish cheeks made into some type of fried cake delicacy over green beans. It was a great ending to our adventures.

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    Sydney had the first China Town in the West
  • The cities are safe. When we were getting off the plane in Sydney, one of the American tourists said he came every year to Australia and he loved everything about it, “except the gun laws. The Australian gun laws are terrible!” This led to extremely odd looks from the Australia citizens on the plane because the gun laws are one reason Australia is so safe. Australia first introduced its gun laws following a tragic mass shooting  in April 1996,  The government responded by banning all rapid-fire long guns, including those that were already privately owned, and introduced strict punishments for anyone caught in possession of the weapons – including jail time. In the past 20 years, since the passage of this law there have been no mass shootings.
  • Pay is good. My son visited a friend who he met during a semester abroad in Spain. She was working part-time as Christmas retail assistant making $55 Australian dollars an hour for retail services (holiday pay), a lofty sum in our minds. She told Scott she wouldn’t work for under $17 an hour.
  • Health care coverage is available for all. Australia provides national health insurance to its residents but encourages higher income families to purchase private insurance by penalizing high income earners using public insurance with additional taxes.
  • Australia is expensive to visit and to live but the high quality of public services makes up for much of this cost.

scan0011Final Reflections: This trip had been on my bucket list since 1984 when I saw an exhibit about Australia at the New Orleans World Fair. Thirty-three years later, I was able to take the trip I had been planning for  about half of my life. I could write on for hours about rain forests, riding on trains to the Blue Mountains, women striding through city streets in the shortest skirts and highest heals I’ve every seen, gliding through tree tops in gondolas and watching thousands of bats take flight at sun down in Cairns. But I know there is a limit to what a reader will read and I have far surpassed the usual 800 words. I had a wonderful time on a trip of a life time.  I think the best recommendation for those considering a trip to  Australia is I would do it again in a heartbeat even though the flight over and back is over 25 hours each way and it took me several years to save the funds to go.

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Kayla

Kayla is my adopted 17 year-old daughter from China.  She came to America when she was 8 months old. She weighed 9 pounds, couldn’t sit up because she had been confined to a crib most of her short life and had no hair, head sheared to avoid lice.  The poem below was written about her.

A small sprout transplanted from China,

you toppled out of the crib, raced out the door, dashed into sports,

embracing soccer, track, cross-country, skiing, volleyball,

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Cross-country meet, fall 2016

 

running, jumping, digging, striking;

fierce, competitive, impatient, aggressive, bold.

 

Spanx and sports bra, the daily uniform,

going all out–all the time.

Building strong biceps, sinewy tendons,

Nature’s glitter ; translucent shimmering sweat

crowns your brow, glazes your arms.

 

A flourishing STEM bud, nurtured in curiosity,

math and science are puzzles to solve.

complicated chemistry formulas,

elaborate derivatives–no problem.

English and history–suet for the birds.

 

A stunning tiger-lily,

rooted in fairness and compassion

your heart, a vibrant piñata,

burgeoning with raw emotions, jumbled together;

happy, confident, sad, anxious, angry, loving.

 

You’re an authentic explorer,

propelled by your virtual pinioned,

zeitgeist cloak of inquisitiveness;

restless to break free,

soar, create, love, and chase your dreams.20161120_130321

 

The Return of the Graduate

The blog that drew the most views (160) in 2016 was “Top 10 ways I know my son is home from college”.  This high readership is either because my son is so popular  his friends wanted to read about the chaos he creates when he returns home, a whirlwind on steroids would do less damage.  Or there are many frustrated mothers of college-age children who read my blog and were comforted to learn that they are not the only ones spending a small fortunate on their college-bond children only to have them turn into untidy aliens who lock themselves in their room and listen to loud music late into the night. Said music seeps through the floor into my office and sanctuary, making  me even more irritable than usual.

Homecoming:

I would like to tell you this is a passing phase, but my son just graduated, December 2016, and the house is even more of a wreck since he brought  his stuff home (I learned a bicycle and bed were left in Moscow to be fetched at some later date) . After spending $68,000 on his education, he “needs to decompress.”  He will be starting his job search in February because we are spending the month of January exploring Australia. He actually could have had a job. He turned down a very good job with a local company after interning there two summers because “it wasn’t interesting enough and he wants to live in Seattle.” 

The job fairy told him his first job out of college would be fascinating, with lots of challenges, great benefits and highly paid. This same  mythical creature informed him that needy employers would seek him  out making him adverse to filling out any applications. We live in a bold new world where talent seekers find us in the wilderness.  They go out into the streets of rural America and when miraculously a new college graduate is sighted  (there are very few in Idaho), they shout; “Yo! I got a good one over here.” Unfortunately, these creatures have not stopped by my house yet.  Do you think it’s because we look too well off to need  work?

Scott spent the first days after finals skiing in McCall, staying at our cabin and using a season ski pass his father bought him. When he came home from his ski vacation, he dropped everything in the front door and went back to McCall skiing.  His father and sister, serfs to my commands, transferred his many boxes of junk upstairs so our weekly cleaning crew could get into the house.  The cleaners only clean the main floor because my children “maintain” their living area, the entire upstairs.  I rarely venture upstairs into the” adult free zone”. I m always amazed at the disaster my children find is acceptable cleanliness.  Periodically, I pay extra for my cleaning crew to do the upstairs in the hopes that they will find the wild animals, vermin,  and various insects that might be residing in this delectable space before I do.  After all there is food, plates, forks, glasses, empty cans, used towels, dirty clothes, old pizza boxes and things I’d rather not identify just lying around.  Even my dogs, who are known for the devilish tricks do not venture into the “Scott Zone.”

I should not be surprised possessing a bachelors degree has not changed my son’s life style. After all, fraternity houses are probably not the place to learn  the social etiquette of maintaining a high end house. When he arrived home from school after the ski trip, he dumped everything from his  many boxes on the landing floor(he noticed his possessions had levitated to the upper regions. He acted surprised,  attributing the transfer of his possessions to the house wizard. (You know the one who did the entire pick up when he was about 3) He was looking for his toothbrush and deodorant, neither of which materialized in the pile of belongings the size of a mini Mount Everest.  After taking a new toothbrush from our stockpile. He miraculously found his deodorant (Thank you to the arm pit gods!) properly spoofed-up to be in public, he took off to see friends again, leaving his belongings unbound.

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Clothes jumping out of their baskets.  This havoc is done by the nasty basket troll.
Christmas:

On Christmas day, I moved all his stuff into the guest bedroom so his sister could get to her room unencumbered.  I was tired of hearing her daily status report.

“Mom, he has dumped more stuff!”

“ The stuff is creeping towards my room.”

“ The mountain collapsed and you can’t walk around anymore.”

“It’s awful having him home!”

“When is he going to find a job!”

The day after Christmas, he left for skiing again.  His refunds from taxes and his summer 409B plan are funding his activities. After skiing, he touched down in Boise to gather more friends and spent New Years  snow shoeing into a yurt, exact destination unspecified since he is an adult and “on his own”.

This scenario caused me to gnaw on my arm until it is bleeding, like a dog with fleas and I have a acquired a terrible pain in my neck on the right side.  Meanwhile, my 70 year-old husband goes out to work every day.  Am I wrong in thinking there is something askew in this description of familial bliss as we enter a new year.

New Years:

The first week of the New Year, he has shaved off his mustache and other facial hair revealing a new face and new attitude. He has talked to friends about living arrangements in Seattle and Boise.  He has been working on a rough agenda for our trip to Australia, a graduation gift for him and a check on life’s bucket list for me.  We are gone three weeks in January.  The creeping clothes have managed to sidle up into his drawers and his TV has been placed on a stand on his desk,  stopping the loud sounds permeating my sanctuary below. My daughter has stopped complaining about his return and gone back to lurking in her bedroom, door closed, texting friends, and reading the Harry Potter series from start to finish.

Summary: All is well that ends well.

 

 

The Work in the New Year

world-of-christmasChristmas may be over but  the work of Christmas is just beginning; to help those who are most vulnerable.   One example  of need in our communities  is Flint, Michigan’s water problems. No public official in  Michigan was deliberately trying to poison children in Flint. There is no public enemy number 1;  rather we see a series of bad choices   and then a cover-up. “Administrative Evil”  is normal administrative professionals engaging  in evil acts without being aware that they are doing anything wrong (Adams, Balfor 2009). 

My poem “Flint (2014 ongoing) captures a real case of administrative evil in action.

Flint (2014 ongoing) by Julie Robinson

 WATER

purveyor of health

taken for granted

streams out of taps

into our mouths

circles down drains to

contaminated rivers

 WATER

cycles around

no filters in place

brackish, brown, stinky

budget reductions

a public disgrace

 WATER

none of it safe

flows through the body

poisons children

irreversible harm

WATER

restricted to bottles

apologies abound

costs unpredictable

 WATER

nature’s gift

public malfeasance

 WATER

vital, virulent

Water!

Summary of the Flint, Michigan Water Issue

My husband, a physician, frequently says the United States health system is more dependent on our high quality public health programs than on our abundant supplies of physicians and hospitals. One example of this is  drinking water from the tap.  If you have travelled in other countries where the water is undependable such as Mexico or China, you know what a gift it is to be able to drink water directly from the faucet in the U.S.  Of course, that is not true everywhere is the U.S.  The place that has received the most publicity for public health problems over the past few years is Flint, Michigan.  In Flint, a decision was made to move the drinking water to the Flint River in 2014.  This decision was made to allow time to build a pipeline to connect to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). 

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Some children in Flint are still restricted to drinking bottled water.  High lead levels in the water may have impacted as many as 12,000 children.

 

Mayor Walling explained the decision as follows: ‘It’s regular, good, pure drinking water, and it’s right in our backyard… this is the first step in the right direction for Flint, and we take this monumental step forward in controlling the future of our community’s most precious resource.’ “

Rather than testing the water first to make sure the public was safe. The City chose to take a less expensive route of “waiting to see” what happens.

High lead levels started being documented in February 25, 2015. This information was deep-sixed by public authorities. By December 2015 as lead levels continued to climb, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency over the elevated lead levels in the city’s water. “I am requesting that all things be done necessary to address this state of emergency declaration, effective immediately,”

The water continued to be unsafe in Spring 2016. Both Presidential candidates Trump and Clinton and President Obama visited to symbolize their concern.  Concern is not corrective action!  By July nine public officials in Michigan had been charged with criminal offenses for the problems with Flint, Water.  These public officials were charged with misconduct and misuse of public funds.

By December 2016, four officials — two of Flint’s former emergency managers, who reported directly to the governor, and two water plant officials — were charged with felonies of false pretenses and conspiracy. They are accused of misleading the Michigan Department of Treasury into getting millions in bonds, and then misused the money to finance the construction of a new pipeline and force Flint’s drinking water source to be switched to the Flint River.

Today, filtered Flint water is safe to drink but not everyone, especially low income families, have access to working filters. The courts have ordered that these individuals be provided with bottled water.

A $170 million stopgap spending bill for repairing and upgrading the city of Flint’s water system and helping with healthcare costs was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 8, 2016.[8] The Senate approved it the next day.[9] $100 million of the bill is for infrastructure repairs, $50 million for healthcare costs, and $20 million to pay back loans related to the crisis.

 

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Flint Protesters

 

 

Reflections on 2016

2016 was my first full year of retirement. Over the 2016, my top ten best memories are:

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Loosing 10 lbs is like dropping this cat off my waist.

10:Meeting  my two personal goals for the year,  writing  a weekly blog and  working  out regularly.  I managed to achieve both of these, posting  78 blogs with 2,782 views and 1639 viewers and loosing ten pounds along the way.  For 2017, I have the single goal to loose 10 pounds more.  I remind myself that my goal is the same as dropping my white cat Angel off my waist.

9: Growing my hair long for the first time in more than 30 years. I was able to compete with my son this summer in the man bun/mom bun contest. At a Christmas party, someone asked my sister for the name of her daughter (me).  Fortunately, my sister has a good sense of humor and this made both of us laugh uproariously.  My older sister, Jane, was my idol growing up and remains so today.  I am three years younger than she. I have found people do view women with long hair as younger.

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My long hair and sister with Mrs. Claus.

8: Taking up a new hobby, paper mache which I have now renamed paper sculpture. Late summer and early fall, I made whimsical cats, dogs, and angels, a statue of Trump and a Boo-tiful Witch scarecrow all of which amuse me.  Along the way I raised a few dollars for charity. In 2017, I will be developing stories for my creations and working on showcasing them better.  I am planning on making cats with cowboy hats.  My productions may be called “Cowgirl Ugly”.

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My paper mache collection, sent across America for Christmas.

7: My pets continue to amaze and amuse me. I was so thankful when Violet, my rat terrier, was returned after she was stolen this summer by a marijuana dealer from Oregon.  But since her return, she has transformed again to her Devil Dog ways.  I have to remind myself sometimes that I felt really, really, sad when she was gone.

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Violet, the devil dog at home

6.I have volunteered helping refugees learn English and been blessed to see how much we have in America from the eyes of someone who has just gotten here. I sometimes forget that I have coats for rain, wind, snow, and fashion. My car rolls out of my warm garage when I go to tutoring while some of the people I tutor have come by an undependable public bus system in inclement weather. They always seem to be so pleased to be in America and have the chance to better themselves.

5: I have had the opportunity to travel to Mexico, Canada, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Hawaii.   I always enjoy these adventures but I love to walk in the door at Ashtree Way and feel the warmth of a home filled with love and kindness.

4: I find great joy in my friends who live both in Boise and far away.   In 2017, I hope to get to Colorado, Wyoming, Portland, and Arizona to see friends.  My best days in retirement are when I have Bible Study, lunch, coffee, or  a project scheduled with someone I hold close to my heart.

3: My son graduated from college. Living in a state where only 1 in 10 students graduate from college, it has been wonderful to have him beat the odds.

2: My family and I stayed healthy. As I  age, I am glad to wake up every morning and get out of bed. I struggle with some chronic conditions, particularly my declining ability to stand for any period of time but I can still walk, swim, dance and bicycle.  I enjoy any day where I am able to move in the out of doors.

1: I have had the opportunity to be married to my husband for 27 years and have a kind, smart adult son and strong-will, brilliant, beautiful 17-year-old daughter. We are an inter-racial family. My daughter was adopted as an infant from China.  In a country where race has become divisive, I am pleased to let you know that it makes absolutely no difference to the heart and should make no difference in our politics.  Our family loves each other fiercely through good times and bad.  We have shared many small and large moments of joy this year. We never consider race to be a factor in who we are. We are simply the Robinson/Kozisek Family.

Wishing you the best in 2017 from Boise, Idaho

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Julie, Scott, Peter, and Kayla at Scott’s graduation from the University of Idaho, December 10, 2017