That’s Australia, mate

One of columnist Gord Turner's semi-weekly submissions, about a recent trip to down under.

It’s a land down under, they say. It’s basically a desert, they say. It’s clearly a flat country, others comment. From my point of view, Australia was a whole lot more than these descriptors indicate.

For example, it didn’t feel “down under” to me. It felt exactly the same there as it does here in Castlegar. I really didn’t feel upside-down. In fact, some alien looking at our world from outer space might have Australia at the top of the globe instead of the other way around.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

Nor did I see any sign of a desert. Granted, we didn’t wander into the interior of the country, having spent all our time along the eastern coast between Cairns and Melbourne. We drove through green spring-like countryside with azaleas in bloom everywhere. Our Rotarian friends’ gardens and yards were lush and brilliant with colour.

Before visiting in Australia, I had the sense that Australia was quite flat. This impression was jolted from my brain on the first day near Melbourne. Our hosts drove us along river valleys and up winding roadways into mountain country. In many places along the east coast, the country was similar to that in British Columbia, just a bit abbreviated.

Several times we found ourselves in ski country. There were ski lifts, a bit of snow, and clearly ski towns that were at the end of the Aussie winter of May to October.

Along with the orchards, the dairies, and the wineries, what struck me about Australia was the personal touch. The people we met opened their arms and their houses to us. Everywhere we went we were treated to such excellent meals and such fine wines that it’s difficult to find a label to describe Australian hospitality. We felt as if we had been friends of these people for a long time.

Three different hosts in three different locations heard I was interested in golf, so they went out of their way to find courses for me to play. I played just outside Melbourne (not the Royal Melbourne of President’s Cup fame), at Myrtleford, and at Shepparton. In Myrtleford, the chap I was playing golf with presented me with one of his hybrid clubs because I liked it so much.

We became good friends with our Rotarian bus driver, Gilles, from Eltham, and while we were having dinner at the Eltham Rotary meeting, I admired his lovely Aussie-designed tie. At the end of the evening, he presented me with his tie. Fortunately, I had a top-notch Canadian maple leaf tie with me, which I gave to him the next day.

Another host family had the honour of preparing an elaborate dinner for our 10 visiting Rotarians, the 10 hosts, and a few other Rotarians. Maggie and Phil, our hosts, cooked and decorated all day while we were out touring Mount Buffalo National Park with its white gum trees and incredibly erratic boulders.

Maggie and Phil had prepared an amazing alternate dinner. We had never heard of such a dinner, but it is considered the way of formal dinners in Australia. I was served incredible roasted lamb chops with assorted vegetables, while Alexia was served roast beef with the trimmings. And so it went around the table.

When Phil served each person a dessert, the alternating pattern continued. I had a remarkable peach dessert with mint sauce, while Alexia had a chocolate mousse.

To cap off our Rotary friendship exchange, when we visited Albury-Wodonga at the border of New South Wales, we planted a tree (see photo on page 5) which was emblematic of the many friendships we’d developed on the other side of the world.


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