Healesville Sanctuary

To see the wide variety of Australia’s unique wildlife, go to Healesville Sanctuary. When I was there I got to see kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, which are little mammals that lay eggs, platypusses, the other mammal that lays eggs, kookaburras, pelicans, wombats, enus, all kinds of snakes and more.


an echidna

The sanctuary offers animals a naturalistic environment with some amenities like awnings that keep the sun off them and spray water periodically to keep them cool.

There are cafés with decent food, but you can bring your own for a picnic. Admission is $32 (Australian) and kids are free during school holidays and on the weekend and $16 .30 Monday – Friday.  There are discounts for seniors, full time students and others. You can pay with credit cards.

The Spirits of the Sky (see below), a birds of prey show, offered twice a day is not to be missed.

Healesville is near Melbourne and can get quite sunny and hot so bring water, a sun hat and sunscreen.

Australian Wildlife


Ibis in Hyde Park, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Some of what I saw around Australia.

More From Hyde Park Barracks


Female Convict clothing and belongings


Female dormitory, Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney Australia


Painting of an execution, Hyde Park Barracks Museum

Hyde Park Barracks Museum


To get a good understanding of Australia’s convict history, visit Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks Museum. An UNESCO World Heritage site, the Hyde Park Barracks Museum shows how the convicts lived in the 19th century.

A Short History

Until the U.S. won the American Revolution, England sent convicts to the American colonies. After the U.S. became independent, England had to find a new place to get rid of its convicts and with the recent exploration of Australia, that became the place.

At first convicts could live wherever they liked, but in the early 19th century the governor of Australia figured it would be better to put them in barracks. In 1819 the Hyde Park Barracks was completed and opened.

Over the years it was used to house convicts, Irish orphans, and poor women before becoming a court house. (For more history see: http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/hyde-park-barracks-museum)

The Museum

The Hyde Park Barracks museum is a bright, well curated museum offering well designed exhibits that provide facts and narratives so that visitors get a good grounding in the history from a wide and personal perspective. You’ll learn about Bennelong, an aboriginal man who was friends with Australia’s first governor, Arthur Phillip and about a woman who managed the women’s dormitory while raising 14 children.

When you pay for your ticket, the clerk will offer you a free audio guide in the language of your choice, this guide enhanced the experience giving still more interesting insights into the history.


Bennelong – far right

Admission: Adults $12, Families $30, Concession (not sure what that means) $8

Silent Sunday



The Distinguished Citizen

The Distinguished Citizen is one bold movie that answer the question “Can you go home again?” as well as the question “Should you?” From Argentina, it’s the story of a Nobel Prize winning writer, Daniel Mantovani who’s been turning down invitations to speak left and right. He’s dropped out of the literary circle and he hasn’t returned to his home town in decades.

For some reason, he does accept an invitation from the mayor of his hometown to participate in a series of cultural events. It’s not for nostalgia or to see family since both his parents have died long ago. He’s been questioning fame, literary awards, writing and culture for some time. His ideas are unique and not easy to take so you expect trouble when he gets back home, and you’re right to do so.

Mantovani lives in a sleek, ultra modern home in Barcelona. While he’s not lavish in his tastes, it’s clear that he’s sophisticated and used to his travels going smoothly. From the time he arrives at the airport, a six hours drive from his town, things are off. The mayor sent an irresponsible driver whose car is a beater to pick Montovani up. The rust bucket does break down in the middle of nowhere on a “short cut” and the driver doesn’t have a cell phone. We’re set to expect a terrible time for this trip.

Though his assistant has secretly written the town and hotel with a list of his usual requests, e.g. a latex mattress, taboo questions, special food, he seems embarrassed and doesn’t care or want such things. So we figure Montovani won’t be a bad guest who needs to learn something from his former neighbors and friends, which is the usual way such films move.

Montovani is no angel and in fact can be hard to like. He brings a lot of problems on himself like when a teenage groupie throws herself at him in his hotel room. He soon learns she’s the daughter of his former girlfriend who’s married one of his childhood friends.

The film’s full of bold, controversial lines about culture, i.e. how it’s not necessarily a fragile, feeble thing that needs our protection. I didn’t necessarily agree with Montovani all the time, but he made me think and The Distinguished Citizen kept me interested from the start.



A Must: I’m Free Tours in Australia


I love a good, freebie and so when I saw a write up in my Lonely Planet: Australia for I’m Free walking tours of Sydney, I starred the entry. I’m Free general walking tours are offered at 10:30 and 2:30 everyday and operate on the idea that you should experience the tour first and then pay what you feel it’s worth. When I went to the Sydney day tour, there were around 100 people who met in the plaza between Town Hall and the Episcopalian cathedral. We were divided up into groups of say 25 and got our guide. In all my 3 I’m Free tours the guides were born in the city and had a thorough understanding of their city, past and present. The Sydney day tours cover a lot of ground starting at the area near Town Hall, going to the Queen Victoria Building, pointing out the beautiful Victorian and modern buildings in the CBD (Aussie for Central Business District, i.e. “downtown” for Americans), taking in the flora and fauna in Hyde Park before winding up at the harbor where the iconic Sydney Opera House graces the scene.

I learned a lot. First of all I learned that before England sent convicts to Australia, the American colonies were used as a dumping ground. Fifty thousand convicts were sent to those colonies. Wonder why we don’t learn that. Anyhow, after the U.S. gained its independence that safety valve was shut off. So the Brits figured the new lands which James Cook explored in 1770 would suit the purpose. In 1778, over 800 convicts were shipped down under led by Governor Arthur Phillip.


What I particularly enjoyed were the off-the-beaten-path stops. Like many 18th or 19th century cities, Sydney has a network of tiny lanes or alleyways. Cars can’t fit down them so what do you do with them? Sydney’s imaginative solution was to create art installations in them. Sadly, most installations were temporary but a couple still exist including “Forgotten Songs” which consists of numerous bird cages hanging over the walkway. These cages play recordings of native birds and depending on the time of day, you’ll hear different birds singing. On the ground there are the names of the different birds which were once (some still) around the area.

Another use of these lanes was to permit small, secret” bars to open. While these aren’t truly speakeasies, they offer a pseudo-speakeasy feel, which is entertaining.

The three hours flew by and gave me a good grounding in Sydney helping me decide where to explore in more detail. The morning tour also piqued my interest in the 90 minute evening tour of “The Rocks.”


The Rocks is a rocky area where convicts and low income settlers lived, while the more wealthy settlers got the better land. Isn’t that always the way it goes? Small homes, tenements really, where built and colorful lives were lived out. Here we saw Miller’s Point, a neighborhood full of the government owned row houses where current residents are fighting to keep their homes as the city, hungry to cash in by selling to developers, relocates them. We saw Execution Hill where citizens would go to watch the many frequent hangings. (Seems our current low brow TV programming isn’t a new low.) We got a perspective on current development and how the activism in the 1970s known as the Green Ban, when builders cooperated with locals to stop the bulldozing of old buildings.

The guides earn a generous tip and the program allows travelers of all budgets to connect with the city.

Novotel: Central Sydney


For its downtown location and good price, I chose to stay at Novotel’s Central Sydney. I’ve been happy with the size of room and the modern bathroom and stylish room. It was just an 8 minute walk from the train station.

My first night I tried to order room service, but no one would answer the phone. It wasn’t a huge problem. I decided to eat in the restaurant and my fettuccini with sun dried tomatoes was great and could have served two easily.


Silent Sunday



The Fortunes of the Rougons

What a crazy family! Well, that’s not quite right. They aren’t outright crazy, they’re just greedy, selfish, venial social climbers for the most part.

Emile Zola’s 20 novel series, Rougons-Macquart, begins with The Fortunes of the Rougons, which I’ve relished. I’m on determined to read all 20 books about the two sides of a family descended from Adelaide Fouque whose legitimate son spawns the Rougon side of the family and whose two illegitimate children are the start of the Macquart side.

Set in provincial France, the story opens with two young lovers, Silvère and Miette, marching with hopeful revolutionaries participating in a coup d’état led by republicans trying to wrest power the elites who’ve neglected the needs of the working class.

The story shifts back a generation to Adélaïde Fouque, who marries Rougon, a gardener, and they have a son Pierre. When Rougon dies Adélaïde takes a lover, Macquart, who’s a drunk and something of an odd ball. With Marquart Adélaïde has two illegitimate children, Antoine and Ursule. Antoine and Pierre are particularly at odds with each other especially after Pierre fools his mother into giving him control of her money.

This first book sets the stage for struggles and troubles to come as I’m seeing in the second book, The Kill. Zola’s style moves fast and I find learning about the French history of the Second Empire.

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