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Australia – Part One — Melbourne and Surroundings

It’s time to start writing about Australia before the memories fade.  So, I went to Australia for the World Science Fiction Convention.  I was determined not to miss this one.  I had been invited to be GoH at the national convention a few years back, but family problems and a cancer scare made that impossible.  This time I was going.

I started planning early.  I was on the phone to American Airlines 11 months before I left so I could cash in miles for business class tickets.  Parris gave me guide books over which I poured.  I enlisted the aid of the amazing Pat Rogers, former travel agent, to help plan my trip.

And now it was time.  We took advantage of the non-stop flight from Santa Fe to L.A., but it left us with an almost nine hour lay over.  Fortunately we were rescued by our friend Michael Cassutt and we wiled away the hours visiting with him and his wife, Cindy, our friend Chris Valada.  We ate dinner, took a walk around the lovely neighborhood in Studio City where I once lived.  (Regret tinged the memories, but I won’t go there.)

Then it was time and Michael took us back to the airport.  The tickets were on American’s partner, Quantas, and let me tell you Quantas is a fabulous airline.  (It didn’t hurt to be in business class.)  First wonderful thing, the seats reclined until they were completely horizontal so I could sleep, and they gave you pajamas.  Soft, grey with the leaping kangaroo on the pajama top picked out in black.

After a very nice dinner, I put on my jammies, popped a sleeping pill, laid back the seat and slept for the next six to seven hours.  When you’re traveling for fourteen hours you want to sleep away a lot of them.

We got into Melbourne around eight am, got to the hotel and checked in.  Then we went out wandering because I was determined to get onto Australia time as quickly as possible. 

Melbourne is a beautiful city, elegant, modern buildings, a vast bay spread out at the city’s feet, lots of old Victorian buildings.  What did startle me is that it was sparsely wired.  Getting internet access became a constant and very expensive struggle.

The next day the convention began, but before the festivities started we headed out to this observation deck at the top of Melbourne’s highest skyscraper.  We paid to go out on the glass deck but it wasn’t as cool as I’d hoped.  They had a grid of metal over the glass floor.  I was hoping it was going to just be a glass box so I could pretend to be Superman and that I could fly.  The views were spectacular, and they make a production out of the whole affair.  The box is initially inside the building, then it is extruded with the glass opaque.  Then they suddenly remove the film and your (sort of) hanging in space.

We returned to the convention center to pick up our badges and plunge into the convention.  I had dear friends who were running the con, and had hoped to spend time with them, but alas one of their volunteers had fallen down on the job, and they spent most of the con fixing the mistakes.  Behind the scenes there were fried, but none of it showed to the folks attending.  It’s a testament to how hard they worked and how organized they were that they could repair what could have been a disaster.

I did a lot of programming.  I moderated a lot.  Which is a lot of work if you actually try to do it well.  Plan out questions, keep control of the other panelists without coming across like a teaching nun with a ruler in hand, take questions without allowing an audience member to become a de facto member of the panel.

One of the highlights for me was being interviewed by my dear friend George R.R. Martin.  I don’t know how it was for the audience, but we had a lot of fun.

I met a lot of marvelous Australian writers, and the British contingent was very well represented.  We had a Wild Card dinner though we didn’t get much done in terms of talking about the upcoming books.  There was the dinner out at Rockpool where I had the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my life.  And that’s saying a lot because I don’t really like a big hunk of moo, but this was so delicious.  Paul Cornell and Stephen Boucher livened up the evening mock arguing over the merits of the Australian versus the British cricket teams.  Many insults were exchanged to the delight of the rest of us.

Melbourne is very tourist friendly.  There is a free trolley that runs a circuit around the downtown area.  We took a ride, and checked out the Queen Victoria Market.  It used to be a place where meat, vegetables, etc. were sold.  Now it’s a giant flea market, and since I’m not really into shopping it was a little disappointing.

After the convention ended we had two more days in the Melbourne area, and we booked a couple of tours.  The first one made for a long day — eleven hours as we explored the Great Ocean Road, but it was amazing.  We visited a famous surf beach, a trailer park where the trees were filled with Koala’s.  As you can see from this photo they tended to pose for me.

There was an add on tour of the Twelve Apostles by helicopter.  I’d never ridden in a helicopter, but Ian had, and he said we had to do it.  It was incredible.  It was one of the highlights of the trip.  I want a helicopter.  I want to learn to fly a helicopter.  Here are some photos of the Twelve Apostles from the air.


There was the bay where the only two survivors of a shipwreck came ashore. 


They huddled together for warmth is a cave just off the cove,

and were rescued a day later.  In a novel they would have fallen in love and married, but the young woman had had more than enough of Australia and returned to England.  The young man went on to survive _two more_ shipwrecks.  I can tell you if I’d known he was on a ship I’d have wait for another ship.

The rock formations and the natural beauty of Australia was on full display. 

This is the London Bridge.  It looked more like a bridge until a big section of the rock collapsed into the water. 

Turns out it stranded a couple out on the point, and they had to be rescued by helicopter.  One problem, they were having an affair, and the man’s wife had thought he was at the office.  Whoops.

In addition to rocks and ocean we visited a rain forest filled with fern trees.  It was like the Land that Time Forgot with these ancient plants still growing today.  We learned that this entire ecosystem is threatened by climate change.

The second tour was more inland, wine country (not of huge interest to me), a ride on the Puffing Billy, an old steam engine, a stop for tea at a place that was just filled with birds.  The birds of Australia are amazing, multi-colored, fearless, beautiful.  The day ended with a visit to the Healesville animal sanctuary.  It was there I got my first glimpse of the Tasmanian Devil which became my totem animal.  I love the little guys.  They are not at all what you expect.  Here’s a photo.  

We learned from a worker that a Devil had been born that was a hermaphrodite.  It was information that would turn out to be important later in the journey.

I also saw Dingos and they look amazingly like huskies.  They are late comers to Australia having been brought over by people’s from Indonesia. 

The other animal that won my heart was the echidna, an egg laying mammal that looks rather like a porcupine. 

Thursday was our final day in Melbourne before we took the night ferry to Tasmania.  We spent in wandering a bit in the city.

I had a vague notion that I might buy an opal while I was in Australia, but as usual my champagne taste kicked in.  We found a wonderful store run by an eccentric gentleman who used to mine opals, but now sold them.  When he found out we were writers he had to tell us his theories about U.F.O.‘s, etc. etc.  In addition to wild ideas he had a private menagerie of big bugs and big lizards in his office.  The Huntsman Spider was — impressive.  I held one of the lizards, and he was a cutie.

Then we looked at opals.  You really can’t evaluate them unless you are in the sunlight, and naturally, I loved the black opals the best.  The one I wanted was way more than I could comfortably afford, and I realized that I didn’t wear the jewelry I currently owned so why buy such an expensive stone, then have to have it set in the U.S.?  But man, that rock was beautiful.

Then it was time to pick up our luggage, find a cab and go to the docks to board The Spirit of Tasmania

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