Tuesday, June 30, 2009


This is my public declaration that I intend to run in the Bridge to Brisbane 10K event in two months. Yes, on 30 August I will join thousands of other runners who will race across the Gateway Bridge on their way to the EKKA showgrounds. My plan is to merely finish. I haven't done any serious running for eight years, and my 30-min jog today nearly wiped me out. But, I'm determined to shake myself out of this sedentary lifestyle before it kills me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Humpin' My Bluey

Will and I were listening to "The Great Australian Songbook" this morning while playing with his trains. This album includes such classics as "Waltzing Matilda," "Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport," and "Red Back on the Toilet Seat." But I was pleasantly surprised when Track 11 came on--an Aussie version of "I've Been Everywhere." I knew it as an old song, and was most familiar with the Johnny Cash version that features in a Comfort Inn (I think) ad back in the U.S. It goes something like: "Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota, Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa...I've been everywhere, man, I've been everywhere..."

Well, it turns out the Australian version is the original version, as it was written in 1959 by Geoff Mack in New South Wales. It was later rewritten for a North American audience and recorded by Hank Snow in 1962. I had heard it on Telstra television ads prior to today, but just assumed that they were adapting the 'American' version for Australia. How wrong I was! According to this Wikipedia entry, the Australian version starts:

"Well, I was humpin' my bluey on the dusty Oodnadatta Road..."

The place names listed are:
Verse 1
Tullamore, Seymour, Lismore, Mooloolaba, Nambour, Maroochydore,Kilmore, Murwillumbah, Birdsville, Emmaville, Wallaville, Cunnamulla,Condamine, Strathpine, Proserpine, Ulladulla, Darwin, Gin Gin,Deniliquin, Muckadilla, Wallumbilla, Boggabilla, Kumbarilla
Verse 2
Moree, Taree, Jerilderie, Bambaroo, Toowoomba, Gunnedah,Caringbah, Woolloomooloo, Dalveen, Tamborine, Engadine, Jindabyne,Lithgow, Casino, Brigalow, Narromine, Megalong, Wyong, Tuggeranong,Wanganella, Morella, Augathella, Brindabella
Verse 3
Wollongong, Geelong, Kurrajong, Mullumbimby, Mittagong, Molong,Grong Grong, Goondiwindi, Yarra Yarra, Boroondara, Wallangarra,Turramurra, Boggabri, Gundagai, Narrabri, Tibooburra, Gulgong,Adelong, Billabong, Cabramatta, Parramatta, Wangaratta, Coolangatta
Verse 4
Ettalong, Dandenong, Woodenbong, Ballarat, Canberra, Milperra,Unanderra, Captains Flat, Cloncurry, River Murray, Kurri Kurri,Girraween, Terrigal, Stockinbingal, Collaroy, Narrabeen, Bendigo, Dorrigo, Bangalow, Indooroopilly, Kirribilli, Yeerongpilly, Wollondilly
What a silly American I am to think that the Aussies stole something from Johnny Cash! As penance, my goal is to memorise this version. I'll let you know when I do.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Perils of Preschooler Travel

We're back home in Brisbane. Once again, we're suffering the consequences of transoceanic flying. Jet lag is as rampant in our household as flies in the summer. I'm writing at 3 am because Will was wide awake at 2, just as he was the night before. He's watching 'Ratatouille' and asking why it's still dark outside. V returns to work later today, so I'm trying to let her sleep. I'm staying at home with Will because he's not allowed to go to daycare for a week, simply because he's been to the U.S.

Our trip back to Australia started this past Thursday with a four hour drive from Springfield, IL (where we had been visiting some friends) to Chicago's O'Hare airport. After checking our suitcases, V and Will went through security while I returned the rental car. I didn't return for over an hour because it took nearly 40 minutes in rush hour traffic to find a gas station to refill the tank. We then boarded our plane for Los Angeles. Things went pretty well on that flight, until the final hour when Will decided to empty his bladder on my lap (via a leaky diaper) while we were playing a game on my iPhone. V was able to change him in the plane's toilet (how she does that is still a mystery to me), but I had to wait until we could pick up our suitcases from baggage claim for my own change.

We then hauled our bags to the Bradley International terminal to check in for our Qantas flight. Extremely lucky for us, our tickets were upgraded to Premium Economy and we got to sit together. Our 11:30 pm flight was delayed 45 minutes, however, so by the time we boarded Will was acting like a drunk pirate. In fact, he fell asleep while the plane was still taxing. V and I got to enjoy a wonderful dinner (complete with a white tablecloth) and movie while Will continued to doze. It was about five hours into the flight, after all the other passengers had fallen asleep, that Will woke up screaming at the top of his lungs. He never really opened his eyes much, but he was completely unhappy with his seat. Because the fancy seats in Premium Economy don't have moveable armrests, I couldn't have him lie across my lap. He soon was bellowing at maximum volume, and we could do nothing to soothe him. I picked him up and took him to the lavatory. There I rocked him for about 15 minutes until he stopped crying and coughing (all those tears got him very congested). I was a little worried that a flight attendant would hear all the coughing and report us to the health officials when we landed. Alas, Will did finally fall asleep. I carried him back to the seat where he slept a few more hours. The rest of the flight went pretty well, even after he woke up again with five hours to go.

In Sydney we faced the same bedlam that I experienced 2 1/2 years ago when I came over for my job interview. Since then I have always flown directly to Brisbane to avoid the connection, but we couldn't do that this time. Sydney is the major entry point for Australia, and it appears that most of the international flights arrive there within the same hour each morning. With four or five 747s emptying their bellies at the same time, the immigration and customs lines quickly look like the freeways of LA at rush hour. Will soon became bored and we had to keep him from climbing between people's legs and opening their suitcases. The worst part about flying into Sydney, however, is the connection to the domestic flight. Qantas makes you take all your bags to the other side of the international terminal where there was a one-hour wait to drop them off (even though they had been tagged back in Los Angeles). While we waited, Will sat perched on top of two suitcases on a trolley, playing with my iPhone. As we neared the front of line, the staff suddenly called our flight (we were getting close to missing it by this point, even though I scheduled a nearly 3-hour layover). As we pushed our trolleys into the "express" lane, Will rolled off the trolley and hit his head on the floor. He was OK, but his crying alarmed the Qantas staff, who quickly put us at the front of the line. Gee, if I had known that a little head banging would have sped things up, I might have tried that trick earlier!

After finally taking a shuttle to the domestic terminal, we almost immediately boarded our flight to Brisbane. Will slept the entire flight, but was delighted when we pulled into our gate in Brissy because he knew we were home. He was smiling nearly the entire 40-min taxi ride to Graceville. When I unlocked the front door, he ran to his toys and immediately started putting together his train tracks. V and I hauled our five suitcases up the steps and then crashed on the sofa.

And they lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chigger Redux

Sure, we get all sorts of nasty bugs down in Australia. And, sure, we don't have window screens (a.k.a. "fly screens") on our house in Brisbane, thus making it that much easier for various antipodean insects to come bother us in our pajamas. But, none of those bugs are as irritating as chiggers in Arkansas! Amazingly, I mentioned this in a blog entry during our last family visit to Hot Springs two years ago, and here I am again scratching away as I write this.

Chiggers our particularly bothersome because you never see them. They lie in wait in the grass, in bushes, or benches, ready to leap onto your body undetected. They then lay larvae on your body, which crawl around until they find a cozy place to take hold. This description from an Ohio State website says it best:
The preferred feeding locations on people are parts of the body where clothing fits tightly over the skin such as around the belt line, waistline, under girdles and under socks, or where the flesh is thin, tender or wrinkled such as the ankles, in the armpits, back of the knees, in front of the elbow, or in the groin.

ChiggerChigger larvae do not burrow into the skin, nor suck blood. They pierce the skin and inject into the host a salivary secretion containing powerful, digestive enzymes that break down skin cells that are ingested (tissues become liquefied and sucked up). Also, this digestive fluid causes surrounding tissues to harden, forming a straw-like feeding tube of hardened flesh (stylostome) from which further, partially-digested skin cells may be sucked out. After a larva is fully fed in four days, it drops from the host, leaving a red welt with a white, hard central area on the skin that itches severely and may later develop into dermatitis. Any welts, swelling, itching, or fever will usually develop three to six hours after exposure and may continue a week or longer. If nothing is done to relieve itching, symptoms may continue a week or more.

I'm scratching in all sorts of difficult-to-reach places. Won't I have a fun time on our long plane ride back to Oz on Thursday night?

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Daddy Hung It

Our current stop on the Great Midwest Tour of 2009 is Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. For the past week we have continued to experience a wide range of severe weather wherever we go. On Friday morning, while we enjoyed our Holiday Inn Express breakfast, a huge thunderstorm went over us in Ponca City, Oklahoma. That same storm eventually found its way to Arkansas. In today's Arkansas Democrat Gazette, an article on the storm contained the following delightful passage on American patriotism and the weather:
A quick-moving Friday storm shook the [Chrysler] dealership and demolished one of the building walls, however, leaving no chance of sales Saturday.

"I just had a complaint the American flag was displayed the wrong way," co-owner Ethel Cook said. "It's insanity. I said, 'My daddy hung it for the people on the inside. We didn't know the wall was going to be blown out.'"
It must have been one of those foreign storms messing things up.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Whirlwind

The American ex-pats who live in Oz will greatly appreciate this picture. It was taken at a Kohl's in Coralville, IA, where V., Will, and I had a spontaneous orgy of shopping after discovering the store directly across from the gas station where I was filling up the rental car. It was nearly 6:00 on a Monday, and I said, "I bet that store is open until at least 7." Of course, we nearly went crazy when we saw the generous opening hours--and it was only Monday night! Back in Brisbane, there's usually only one evening any store is open (Thursday, in our neck of the woods), so we don't even think about shopping after 5 anymore.

My friend Diane will want to kill me when she reads this entry. You see, she lives very close to the location of this photo, and I had just told her a few days before that we weren't planning to drive through Iowa. Well, I had a very sudden change of plans, as I was really desperate to see Iowa again. We stopped briefly in beautiful downtown Iowa City for a cup of coffee at the Java House and a loud tantrum next to the Englert, and then we drove out to the City Park so that Will could have some time at the playground. And then we were off again...a total of 60 minutes in I.C., maybe, until we were detoured in Coralville. After saving nearly $250 there, by the way, we drove to a Des Moines surburb to stay at a Holiday Inn Express (how utterly luxurious!). Today we proceeded south on I-35 through Madison County (home of the "Bridges Of..."), across the border to Missouri, and straight on to Kansas City. Unlucky for us, we endured severe weather, complete with tornado watches and warnings, for the next six hours. We briefly stopped off in Lawrence, KS, to see the University of Kansas, and then it was on to Topeka (where there's actually a National Historic Site for the Brown v. Board of Education decision), and south to Wichita, and finally Ponca City, Oklahoma, where we rest now.  There were moments during the final hour of the drive that were utterly terrifying as the visibility dropped to about 10 feet in blinding rain. V. said it was the scariest 10-minutes of her life.

Next time, Diane, we will definitely stop by your ranch, I promise!

Saturday, June 6, 2009


It's 4:41 am in Rockford, Illinois. It's very early dawn, and I am listening to a lovely concerto of  North American birds singing outside the window. I've been awake for about three hours--ever since Will started playing with my toes at the end of the bed. I responded by lying down next to him until he fell asleep an hour later. Then I was too wide awake, so I came out to my brother's living room to surf the web. Our trip across the world on Thursday was very long. Our plane in Brisbane was delayed nearly an hour. Then our plane from Los Angeles to Chicago was delayed two hours due to a mechanical problem.  Will was excellent for the largest part of the 20 hours we travelled. He spent a lot of time watching the in-flight entertainment system, and he slept (on me) for nearly six hours during the first flight, and another two during the second. We couldn't sit together as a family on either flight because both planes were full and something happened to our original seat assignments. We finally got to Rockford at 10:30, but didn't go to bed until 1 am. All three of us slept until 11:30 the next day (yesterday).

That's a lot of detail about sleep. You can see what's on my mind. In fact, I'm suddenly tired, so I'm going to try to go back to bed before there's too much daylight.  Good night or good morning or whatever suits.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Romance of China

One my PhD students is working on a manuscript about her honours thesis, which looked at, in part, the implicit prejudice that White Australians may hold towards people who are ethnic Chinese.  Much like in the American West at the time, Chinese immigrants faced riots and other forms of severe discrimination in late 19th Century Australia.  This led to the "White-Australia" immigration policy of the country, which wasn't really dismantled until the early 1970s. Since then, the number of Chinese immigrants has steadily increased, and Chinese Australians are indeed a vital part of modern, "multi-cultural" Australia.  Still, ethnic prejudice exists, and my student did find that it predicted discrimination on a simple decision about whether an applicant should be given a scholarship.

More broadly, my beloved New York Times has a great article today about Australia's uneasy relationship with China. The article discusses Australia's heavy reliance on mining exports to China, which has been the primary reason why Aussies have enjoyed such a brilliant economy in the past decade. Now the Chinese want to increase those exports and own more of those companies, mines, and land that produce them. There's a slowly building antipathy towardsChina as a whole, which should have some interesting implications for how Australians view the Chinese (and Chinese immigrants) in the coming years.

Monday, June 1, 2009


I hope that one day George Tiller will be recognised by most Americans as the courageous hero that he was. His strong convictions to help others, even when he was shot at, repeatedly harassed and threatened, and finally, murdered, make me realise me how scared and selfish most of us really are.