Saturday, April 26, 2008


So two months in, we're slowly becoming integrated into Aussie society. As Laura mentioned, we're now on track for permanent residency and symbolically, we did our first very-Aussie thing last night - we went to a rugby game. And let me tell you, it was something. Testosterone laden, fast, hard-hitting action, with a crowd slightly inebriated, plenty of good heckling, all told a fun and fascinating experience. We were watching our hometown Brisbane Broncos take on the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium. The latter are best known as Russell Crowe's favorite team, but they are struggling this year, having lost their first 7 games. Brisbane happens to be one of the more dominant teams in the 16 team league, in fact they've won the Grand Final (the league's version of the Super Bowl) three times in the past ten years and currently sit near the top of this year's standings. So needless to say, we were expecting a blowout. However, the Rabbits held their own and the outcome remained in doubt until about 10 minutes were left in the game. Nevertheless, Brisbane prevailed in the end, much to the delight of the hometown crowd. Final attendance: 34,112. Final score: Broncos 32 Rabbitohs 18. Final number of new ex-pat Canadian Rugby fans: 1 (me). Final number of ex-pat Canadians intrigued by the sport but mortified by the violence and likely to suffer nightmares about possibly having a son or daughter who grows up to play it: 1 (Laura).

To take that last point home, there was a devastating hit on Brisbane's center early in the game that required his removal on a stretcher. He's out for the season with a torn ACL. So that kinda sucks. The other part that Laura didn't care for too much was the dominating presence of two sets of cheerleaders wearing neon-pink bikinis and boots and not much else. Personally I think cheerleaders are lame, and I'm not just saying that because my pregnant wife will be reading this blog shortly. I just think they are a distraction, and this is coming from a guy who once had his picture taken with the Buffalo Jills cheerleading squad.

For those who pay attention to this sport, it was Rugby League we were watching, as opposed to Rugby Union (slightly different rules but I believe the version played in New Brunswick) and Sevens (fewer players on the field), and of course Aussie Rules, which will get its own blog posting in due time. I must admit, for a long time I dismissed Rugby as a sport played by people who didn't play any other sports and one that held little value relative to hockey and baseball. But my short trip to New Zealand in 2004 gave me a new perspective on the sport and I'm now prepared to commit to it as full-time fan. Sure, it'll never approach the intensity of chanting and beating a garbage pail while rooting for the Canadiens with Greg, but since I am so isolated from the Habs and their current playoff run, it'll do in the meantime.

I'm off to Darwin again this week for meetings, and starting field work in the Mitchell River near Cairns the following week. I've done about all the training I can possibly do (occupational health and safety, boating licence, crocodile awareness, 4WD). Now's the time to try my hand at Australian field work. Just so you know, the likelihood of an incident with a crocodile remains very low, but they do represent a substantial risk while doing field work in these tropical locations if you're not careful. To give you some perspective about the size of some of these monsters, stand up from your computer and take five strides away from the desk. Now turn around and look at the desk. You are standing on the snout of the croc and its tail is at the desk. Not a bad size huh? If one that big gets ahold of you it's light's out. Having said that, I'm probably more likely to get run over by one of the drivers here who don't stop for pedestrians (especially Canadians who forget which direction to look when crossing), so the risk is all relative and you needn't worry about me. I'm now a trained professional. Yikes!

My time away means I won't be posting for a while, but I'm sure Laura will have plenty to talk to you about, including our second ultrasound last week that was pretty cool. She is flying up to Cairns to meet me at the end of my two-week field excursion and we're planning a three day drive back via the Queensland outback. Looking forward to it!

Friday, April 18, 2008

And there was great rejoicing

Hello friends,

I started this on Wednesday…

Well, today is a big day to celebrate for us. It represents the “almost” end of almost a 4 month struggle for us. We finally have access to medicare in Australia!!! I realize that this doesn’t sound all that exciting to most, but brother, it is for pregnant foreigners. And despite the fact that it is temporary at the moment, it will cover our butts at least until our wee one is born. It would take me a day and a night to describe the decisions we’ve had to come to, choices we’ve been forced to make and fitful nights with niggling thoughts of “what will we do if…”, over the short time that we’ve known that we were going to have a baby knowing that we were moving to Australia. So I’ll spare you. I’m just thankful that this means that we can register at a hospital in the public system, so we for sure won’t be having a baby on the side of the road somewhere (well, we might, but it wouldn’t be planned that way), or paying 1000-3000$ a night in a private hospital (that cost is for 1 person, and a baby counts as another…it would add up quickly). Mom and Dad Jardine, please breathe a sigh of relief with us, and maybe klink a glass of Amstel Light or two...Or Elephant. Whatever’s in your fridge these days. I think that the wee one must be happy to have some of the pressure off, I felt the critter moving around lots today. Perhaps klinking their own glass. Tim and I are going to eat steak later. A great way to celebrate. A celebratory cheeseburger might enter the picture later on this week as well. As for now, I’m contently listening to John Prine with a smile on my face and a bit of weight off of my shoulders. Feeling quite thankful.

Tim is a smart bickie (Aussie term for cookie) and has taken a keen liking to navigating around the country, if only in theory, since we’ve arrived. I calculated the other day that of the free time that Tim has, roughly 30% of it is spent either looking at the city maps book, or online checking out busroutes. Actually, he cut his morning busride down by ½ and hour over this past week due to some hard-core research. The other day a new friend of ours (Peter, a former Vancouverite who owns a car but chooses to use the bus system for the most part), gave us a ride home from a late-night meeting. The whole conversation home was between Tim and Peter about which buses were the best to take from the city to the university. I’m telling you, this was no amateur bus conversation. Bus numbers were flying left, right and centre. I actually couldn’t contribute anything to the conversation (and felt slightly intimidated) because I take 3 buses in this city and for the life of me couldn’t tell you what their numbers were. Especially in a fast-paced bus conversation. I should tell you that Peter is very eerily similar to Tim. Right down to the short-sleeve scientist shirts that make up the majority of Tim’s wardrobe, and neutral nature…Peter’s hairline is a bit more advanced in recession though. We do like Peter a lot.

I should also say that Tim’s new-found hobby of navigating has made our traveling a lot easier. We never wait for busses long, and he knows exactly where we’re going, all of the time. It actually makes me a better navigator as well. So our experiment in public transport isn’t going all that badly, although we’ve had our eyes on the used car section in the weekend paper. Just in case.

So what we’ve done these past couple of weeks…I’ll start with last weekend, when we visited Lone Pine Koala Park. Yes, we are still on the hunt for a Koala in the wild. And we were led to believe that this is what we would find at Lone Pine. Unfortunately, we discovered when we got there that it was another glorified zoo. It’s hard to believe that in Australia, the land of Koalas and Kangaroos, that we’re paying to see them in captivity. Do people pay to see moose in captivity in Canada? I think I remember seeing a moose at the zoo at Upper Clements Park as a kid, but I led a sheltered life…It just seems like an odd thing to have in a zoo... Either way, we saw lots of Australian animals at Lone Pine (Dingoes, lizzies, crocs, etc.). And actually the Kangaroos were kept in huge pastures where you could actually walk around and mingle with them. So I tried to mingle best I could. See picture. We decided following that trip that we would go back to the Koala Rehabilitation Park that we’d gone to weeks before (where we unsuccessfully sought Koalas in the wild), crossing our fingers for better luck. It was a nice walk despite our lack of finding Koalas, so I think we’re gonna do that soon.

And finished this on Friday…

This past weekend we only had a part of Saturday to explore the city as Tim had to attend a “crocodile awareness training” session, to get prepared for his fieldwork coming up in May. He’ll relay his croc related survival tips in a later entry. I’ve really wanted to take the train since we’ve been here (the only train I’ve ever taken is the SkyTrain in Vancouver, which is more bus-like than train-like…or so I thought), so we decided that we’d take the train to an area called Cleveland for a Saturday afternoon jaunt. It was nice. Cleveland is basically an area along the Queensland eastern coastline that’s sheltered by Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island, which actually makes the beaches along the Cleveland coast quite rocky (not as much wave action on the shores). The heart of Cleveland is really a man-made delta of sorts, containing lots and lots of winding channels which allow more water-front properties to be developed and sold in the area. Tim and I aren’t typically impressed by that sort of thing, it was rather surreal to see so many huge mansion-like houses side-by-side along the channels, each with their own private dock for their own private boat. It makes me wonder how people do it, but maybe we’ll feel differently when we’re ready to retire, who knows? We spent most of our time in a park along the coast, trying to identify birds and soaking up the rays on that beautiful day. Perhaps the best part of the day was when we stopped for supper on the way back. There is a little place nearby called Thai Flavors, and it’s amazing. The restaurant itself doesn’t hold more than 6 tables inside of it, with some tables outside as well, but the cute little husband and wife team have a great rapport with customers, that might be the clincher. We’ve only been there once, but we’ve been told by others that once you’ve had a conversation with them they don’t forget names, no matter how long it is since you’ve been there. The food is amazing, and this is in a land where you could get Thai food around every bend, so it says a lot that it actually stands out. And despite the fact that there were other patrons in the restaurant when we got there, and there was always a line-up at the counter for take-away orders, we were served very well. It’s yet another place that I will take anyone who decides to make a jaunt over to this side of the planet to visit. Are you enticed yet?

These past couple of weeks Tim and I have both had meetings that have brought us into the downtown area at night. And we’re discovering that the city itself actually holds just as much promise for adventure as perhaps the wilderness that we’ve been seeking. Neither of us have ever been around such a huge hive of activity and simply for people-watching, it offers a vast array of interesting features. One place that we’ve had to be a lot it seems, is an area of the city called the west-end. It’s full of a lot of our favorite things, namely great restaurants, but lots of great art places, fair-trade type shops and maybe it just has a vibe of a way of life that we like. It seems like people care about issues like food production, treating all humans as human, etc. There’s a market there on Saturdays that we’ll be checking out this weekend. It could be interesting as it’s been described to us by a number of people as “an attractor for ‘weird’ folks”…I think that might translate into “people that attend that market are different than me and I don’t like it”, but we’ll see. Maybe it is a freak-show. We’re excited to see! Maybe we’re weird too. Who knows? Who cares?

Speaking of city incidents, last night I was coming home from a meeting in the city and was waiting for the bus chatting with a friend who was also attending the same meeting. In mid-sentence I screamed out loud…We’re not talking a little scream here, it was an “I’m petrified” scream, I even shocked myself. It turns out that while listening to my friend, I was subconsciously watching a group of business-type people j-walk across the street from the opposite side that we were on. There were 2 guys and 2 girls, all businessed up. Three of them were quicker than one of the ladies. This was on a straight street, so all cars would have been able to see them. But as they were about half way across, this bus starts barreling towards them. I was watching this, and half-listening to my friend at this point, but I couldn’t believe that the bus was actually picking up speed. I thought for sure that the 3 in front would be hit, there was just no time for this bus to stop, but they made it across, and then you see this girl, like a deer in headlights trying to get across the street in what seemed like slow-motion, trying to get out of the way of this bus, which she narrowly did, and that’s what led to my involuntary scream. And people around me were laughing. Apparently hitting pedestrians is a game for drivers here. Maybe I’m not cut out for the city life afterall. I think I could have delivered a baby in my shock. But I didn’t, thankfully.

We’ve got our 20-week ultrasound coming up on Wednesday, which should be fun. We had one before we left Canada at 10 weeks, which was good to confirm that I wasn’t just getting tubby because I was eating too much, but the baby really only had ‘buds’ for arms at that point, and should be a bit more developed by now. At this point we could find out whether we should be referring to ‘it’ as a she or a he, but we’ve decided not to find out. I’m sure that will be a lot harder once we are in the ultrasound room. We like the idea of a good surprise though. And since we’re halfway through the pregnancy, it should all be downhill from here now, hey? Speaking of babies, we live in a great neighborhood.

I’m not sure whether it’s a function of the weather here, but people that live near each other seem to know and like each other, which is more than we could say about Fredericton. We liked our neighbors, but we rarely ever spoke to them, especially when it wasn’t necessary. Looking back, it just seems weird as we typically think of Canadians as friendly. But really, do you know your neighbors? Do you ever invite each other over for supper? Do you ever talk to them for any other reason than either asking them for something or discussing property rights? I am sad to say that in Fredericton, our answers to those questions would have been kinda, no, no, and no. It just didn’t happen. Here, we’ve already dined with 2 of our closest neighbors…And we socially interact with 3 of them on a regular basis. It’s like we have friends living next door (which is what I thought that grown-up life would be like). And how does this tie in with babies? Well, for one, there are a lot of young couples in the area with either children on the way or with small kids. That’s nice. Pretty much any time of day you can see a mom or a dad walking the dog and children around here. Secondly, we had steak the other night (on our celebration of medicare approval day) with our neighbors who were expecting their first child yesterday (the day after we had supper with them), but so far haven’t had it yet. They are fantastic! Admittedly we didn’t know them well prior to the other night, but we had an amazing time with them. They’re ex-pats from Birmingham, England and have been here for about 5 years. So they know the whole deal about leaving family behind and all that goes along with that…it just seems that we had a lot in common. And I guess we do. Even aside from the baby commonality, it seems we’re cut from a similar cloth in relation to life experiences, outlook, etc. We’ll enjoy getting to know them, and their new addition better over at least the 12 months that we’re tied in to this house.

Tim and I have noticed the neighbor thing before (the friendliness here, and less-friendliness in Canada) and we think it might be tied to the fact that because it’s always sunny here, people aren’t dealing with the lack of sunlight blues that I think we all get in Canada over the winter months, and people tend to be outside a lot more, and year-round. There’s just more opportunity to interact. So far we haven’t met anyone that lives nearby that we don’t really connect with, but I’m sure it will happen. For now, we’re just enjoying the fact that we don’t have to go far to enjoy others’ company.

One more thing before I go…I’ve discovered the mumu. It’s hot here, and I’m not getting any skinnier, and big cotton dresses are good for heat and belly-gainage. I tell Tim that me and the old lady across the street (who also has a fondness for the mumu) are on to something.

Lots of love to everyone, our lives are getting busier by the day and we’ve both got lots coming up that is sure to entertain. Hopefully the stories will have nothing to do with encounters of the crocodilian nature. Take care, and come visit!

P.S. Tim and I had some grocery shopping to do this evening, and because of our lateness and our good reasons to celebrate this week, we decided that cheeseburgers would make a nice Friday night supper. We stopped by the Seafood Platter on our way home from the bus station and I went in to order. The girl at the counter said “two cheeseburgers, right?”, and I immediately turned red. She knows what I order. This could mean a couple of things…1) I eat too many cheeseburgers or 2) I’m a tubby pregnant lady that people notice when ordering. Either way, it’s embarrassing. When our order came up she asked “Are our cheeseburgers good? It’s all I ever see you ordering”. Double humiliation. So I could now officially go down there and order ‘the usual’, and they would know what I’m talking about. I sure hope that this cheeseburger thing ends when this pregnancy is over. Otherwise I’m gonna be in trouble.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Water water everywhere......

Yet the municipal supply to Brisbane remains at less than 40% of capacity. It seems as though we've had a fair amount of rain since we've been here; the problem is, just because rain is falling on the city doesn't mean it's falling on the catchments that drain to the city's three reservoirs. This creates a paradox of lushness out the window (after all, Brisbane is a very green city, with plenty of parks and lots of large trees) coupled with a region-wide drought advisory. Given that we're coming to the end of the wet season, the first true one in several years according to the locals, the water situation is bound to get worse over the coming months.

So with this information in hand, you would think the Australians would have a long history of astute water conservation. After all, one of the many enduring images of Australia is the continental map, showing the thin band of green along the coast where the people live, and the parched, brown interior, the dreaded outback where snakes and lizards scratch out a living and humans dare to venture. So shouldn't Aussies have been conscious of their precarious hold on this modern, wealthy society and the resources that support it? The answer would surprise you.

As recently as a few years ago, the average Australian consumed over 300 litres of water per day in the household. Those figures put it on par with Canada, the US and Japan as the world's biggest water pigs. The latter three countries have no excuse for their consumption either, although with the exception of the American southwest, water is relatively abundant in their part of the world. I was as guilty as anyone when we lived in Fredericton, where water seems limitless. I did very little to conserve, and I’m not sure I needed to do so. But moving here, I was absolutely paranoid about wasting too much water.

Since the onset of this most recent drought and the awareness that water is a finite resource for the growing population, Australian residents have come to their senses and dramatically reduced their consumption. Recent figures here in southeast Queensland have the average at about 130 litres per person per day, an impressive cutback. This has been in response to the city's public awareness campaign called Target 140. City personnel monitor consumption and if you are using far more than the average they will come and tell you to reduce it (perhaps crack a few knuckles as well). I’ve seen the “Water Patrol” wagon around town a few times, but it hasn’t come knocking on our door yet. While this campaign clearly is working, no doubt aided by the occasional “water rage” incident where vigilante justice can make people paranoid about publicly consuming water, it may not be enough to avoid the problem in the future given the region’s growing population and the possibility of global climate change which figures to hit Australia hard (Check out Jared Diamond’s book collapse for a chapter on that exact issue). One of the problems, as I see it, is that water rates here are comparable to those in Canada, in other words, they make up a very small fraction of the household budget. This means there is little financial incentive to conserve. While I would never advocate privatizing the water system, it might help things if local governments hit us in the pocketbook a little harder. Why do you think Europeans use so much less gasoline compared to North Americans? Answer: it costs $2 a liter in Europe! Maybe water supply and demand will eventually kick in here when the reservoirs drop below 10%, but by then it could be too late and our high quality of life may begin to be affected.

For now, Laura and I will continue to try and be good water stewards. 140 liters per day is more than enough to keep you clean and happy. Just ask my parents who rely on a rainwater tank in Bermuda and have to buy water when it runs out during dry spells. Who knows, maybe we’ll be singing a different tune when the new addition to our house arrives in September and there are vomit-covered clothes to wash. It should be fun!

Before I forget, here are your monthly Aussie quirks:



Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Hi folks!

It’s another week for us in Brisbane, and more fun and not-necessarily-exciting stories to tell you all about that we’re gonna tell you anyway. First things first, we’ve been writing these stories for a while now with the goal of keeping people up-to-date with us livin’ in the land down under. I’ve recently been saddened to realize that when I ask certain people whether they’ve been following our blog, I get the “the what, now?” response. “The blog”, I say. And I get the confused and slightly disgusted look (or at least that’s what I imagine the look to resemble). So it seems to me that the word blog, is a very unattractive word. I’m going to pull a Tim on everyone here and insert the origin of the term according to our good friend Wikipedia. For some reason, somewhere, someone felt like recording their thoughts and posting them on the web would be a good idea. And it appears that other people like the idea of reading these posted thoughts, and the concept of a web-log was born. And given that we’re all lazy by nature and love to shorten things if we possibly can, especially here in Oz (perhaps it was an Australian who was responsible…wouldn’t surprise me one bit), we get the word blog. Ugly, ugly word. No wonder people who haven’t been introduced to the concept of a blog, don’t generally have great feelings towards it. Regardless, I hope that these adverse feelings can be overcome. On with our week!

So, I think it’s official, this past week was a bit of a downer. Whether it’s the residual effects of jet-lag, or we just miss home a lot, or because other outside circumstances are rather unpleasant right now, I think it was my first week of real-life sadness in Australia. A very close friend of ours lost her father early last week, and I think that it really set the tone for the week. It made us (or at least me) insanely homesick, and we really just wished that we could have been home with our friend to help her through. On top of that, I was dealing with what we’ve now figured out was an all time low point for hemoglobin production in my body. Meaning, I didn’t have enough iron in my blood (due to baby production) to even give me the energy to get out of bed, so I couldn’t eat, which was in turn making me more anaemic, a yucky cycle. Thankfully, we got to the bottom of that quickly, but it was a very scary couple of days for me. I had horrible thoughts of what might be happening to the wee one inside simply because I felt so wretched. It turns out that the wee one was living the high life off of my iron reserves. In some ways, a baby is a bit like a parasite in that it lives off of your nutrients. It gets the goodies first, leaving me with the leftovers. I suppose that’s best in the long run. And maybe the parasitism never actually stops…I think this is where my mother starts smirking because I realize now what raising a little ‘me’ might entail.

So bad things considered, we didn’t actually do very much at all last week. No adventures to fruit-themed parks, no fun hikes or swims, etc. But, as the week went on we were both feeling a little more energetic and decided to try to explore more city on the weekend, as there is lots we haven’t yet seen. Our plans, I think we can safely say, were thwarted by the bus system. The metro here runs a reduced schedule on the weekends, especially Sundays, and I think that without pointing any fingers, we “miscalculated” the time that it would take us to get to where we wanted to go. So we didn’t get far. Actually, we didn’t even leave the bus stop on Sunday afternoon…We gave up after waiting for 40 minutes for a bus that wasn’t coming for another 20 (after we realized, again, not pointing any fingers, that that bus ran every hour on Sunday’s, not every half hour).

Overall, we can say that we got to have some down-time last weekend, which I think was well needed. It also allowed us to start to tweak a new hobby here in Brissy. I like to call it BATWATCH. When we first got to Brisbane, I noticed one night as I was walking to the food mart, that there were lots of very quiet crows flying overhead. Except these crows looked like the symbol for batman, and were silent, which should have tipped me off, I suppose. I didn’t think too much more of it until Tim and I were on a walk on another night and he noticed these crows…And then we both realized that we were being idiots. These were bats. The biggest bats we’d ever seen and there were tons of them. I don’t know much about these critters, or why they like the sky over our place, but every night around dusk, there are droves of them that fly overhead. It’s like we live under a freeway for bats. Some of them are low flyers, but most stick pretty high up and I know that bats are kind of scary, but you’d be amazed to see this in real life. They’re not diving for our necks or anything, so I think they’ve got to be quite harmless and probably much more interested in the bugs than the humans. Let’s hope. So we’ve actually been trying to capture them on film for the purpose of allowing you guys to see what we see every night…But our efforts have been in vain. Most digital pictures are completely black, or have a little speck in them that you might think was a bat but can’t really tell, and our efforts to capture the event on video camera gave even poorer results. You can see a plane going by, but nothing else except for some clouds really…And there’s the fact that we both sound like wieners on video camera, and are just terrible bat commentators. We’ll work on our bat photography, but in the meantime, check out this link. Apparently there’s someone in Brissy who thinks that batwatch is a fun hobby too.

Another fun thing that we’ve been able to observe here in our own house is what we think is a family of lizards. The first time one darted down the wall, I thought that it was kind of weird to be sharing our house with lizards that we’re not sure aren’t poisonous or something. But the more I’ve seen them, the cuter and cooler they are. Most nights I end up in a staredown with one when I turn on the bathroom light, it is a bit freaky when it first happens but I guarantee that these little guys will win your hearts.

So ya, come and visit! We have bats and lizards.

The nice thing is there has yet to have been any spider incidents or sightings in or near the house. I figure that as long as we support the bats and lizzies, the spiders will be taken care of. Predation can be a very good thing. Go predators.

I think that I’ve started to gain a baby belly. I certainly have the trucker’s appetite to support my new weight gain, and I love the excuse of eating for two. To Tim’s dismay, I’m actually competing with him for food right now…Meaning if I get to the leftovers first, there’s no question that there will be nothing left when I’m through with them. I think I shocked him the other night when I asked if he would stop eating so that I could have more leftovers in the morning. Poor thing. He’s been hounding me since he first met me to eat more, he had no idea what he was asking for. Since we’ve been asked by a number of folks, I’ve added a belly shot so that you can all get a good look at my progress in chubbiness. Belly shots are hard. As you’ll see by the picture, I cannot keep a straight face while Tim is taking a picture of my belly. I either look really mad or can’t stop laughing. We did have a doc’s appointment the other day and were quite excited to hear the baby’s heartbeat. It’s fast. I think we’ll have a livewire on our hands.

That’s about all for this week.

Please keep in touch and take care. Lots of love.