We went on the Great Ocean Road wanting to learn about Australia, and more importantly what it means for someone to be Australian. Paul Anderson from Escape Discovery Adventures helped us achieve that. We had an unforgettable day out with Paul, an extremely genuine and sincere man, and it was evident that he has put a lot of personal effort into making his business venture a success and we personally wish him to continue succeeding. There were 10 of us (all fun people!) in total that day from the U.S., Ireland, and Brunei. Of course, Paul was Australian. We appreciated the tiny details that Paul thought of from providing hand sanitizers to an informative collection of articles about Victoria that we read while riding in the van. He was passionate about his country and tried to represent Australia the best he could. What made it most special was the personal touch that we will always have to anchor our memories of Victoria.
It is no secret that there has always been is a competitive love-hate relationship between Melbourne and Sydney. Everyone knows that. Paul joked that if we thought Sydney was the capital of Australia, he would have been very upset. Interestingly, T and I experienced first hand a couple times this competitive relationship between Melbourne and Sydney. We were departing Sydney and making our way to the airport for our flight to Melbourne when our taxi driver spent almost the entire journey basically telling us that Melbourne was no fun and going as far to proudly proclaim that despite living in Australia for more than 20 years, he had never set foot in Melbourne and does not intend to. When T and I were in Melbourne, we were in a shoe store and when the very friendly owner found out we were just in Sydney before, he went on to ask what we thought of Sydney. And of course, he offered his two cents that Melbourne was a much better place than Sydney. Oh, those Melburnians and Sydneysiders!
We made our way out of the city of Melbourne and passed Geelong (pronounced juh-long, NOT jee-long). A port city just outside of Melbourne, we were told that people from Geelong (population of 200,000) have a distinct identity of their own and would never say that they are from Melbourne because well, Geelong is Geelong. The culture to strive for distinct identities (with some jealousy involve!) dates back from the early days of the Gold Rush. Geelong could have very well turn out to be what Melbourne is in present day but alas, during the Gold Rush days, false maps were created to imply that the Ballarat gold mines were located closer to Melbourne than Geelong which led to the influx of arrivals and population growth in Melbourne. Interesting what a silent lie could do. Melbourne then had a huge immigrant influx and the biggest immigrant community were made up of the Chinese who helped shape Melbourne to what it is. Melbourne also went on to become the capital of Australia until 1927 when Canberra was established as the new capital of the country. The reason for this change was that as Melbourne was booming with commercial activities, the government wanted to separate administration and commercial activities to prevent corruption. Old parliament buildings are still seen and preserved in Melbourne today.
Today Australia is made up of many thriving ethnic and immigrant communities but the country at present still faces reconciliation issues which began in the early days between the European settlers and the aborigines. One of the factors that make reconciliation difficult is the very different thought and philosophy between these two groups. While the government has tried to offer monetary compensation to the aborigines for their loss of land ownership, the aborigines believe that they actually do not even own the land but instead belong to and are linked to the land. Therefore, the aborigines believe that monetary compensation is not the answer to their lost connection to the land.
Admittedly, there is little that people today know about the aborigines but it is the oldest continuously living civilization in the world. Although Australia is a relatively new country, the land area existed long ago. According to the aborigines map, this land area isn't just one country which the settlers call Australia. Instead, on the aborigines map, this land area has 300 "countries" divided by culture and language. With great diversity in culture and language within the aborigines, one small area settlement could be a different "country" from another nearby settlement separated only by the bay. Whatever bits of knowledge Australia got to learn about the aborigines culture, it was thanks to William Buckley the notorious English convict back in the 1800s who escaped prison and traveled from Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road. He lived with the aborigines and for a white man to be accepted into the aborigines community was a very huge deal. After many years of living and speaking their language, Buckley returned to Melbourne only to realize that he had forgotten how to speak English. The authorities pardoned him and made him a conduit and bridge between the aborigines and Europeans. It was through Buckley's documentation that the Europeans in Australia gradually learned about the aborigines culture.
We were there in summer and appropriately, got insight on the Australian heat. Australia reportedly has the harshest skin cancer rate in the world, especially in the state of Victoria. Due to the intense heat in the country and as the most arid place in the world, there is not a lot of livable land in Australia. Considered as the most sparsely populated country in the world, 70% of the Australian population are crammed onto the strip along the east coast where the air is cooler near the ocean while the great dividing mountain ranges inland have even higher temperatures.
We made a stop at Anglesea Golf Club, the only club in the world with rules that golfers must give way to kangaroos. These kangaroos are part of the wildlife and do not belong to the club. They were enjoying the tranquil morning near the golf bunkers and flag poles. These kangaroos from the east coast were brown and almost representative of the color of a tree trunk. Different from these are kangaroos with redder skin from the outback which portray aggressive tendencies because of the need to forage for food in the harsh lands.
One might have noticed that Australia's Coat of Arms includes the kangaroo and emu. Of all other Australian wildlife, these two animals were specifically chosen to represent the coat of arms because the kangaroo and emu are the only Australian wildlife that do not travel backward. With these animals' ability to only move forward, they were meant to represent Australia as a progressive country. Who would have known?
Morning tea was at Buff Beach in Anglesea where we were treated to goodies that could not have been more Australian. Thanks to Paul's wife, we savored some homemade ANZAC cookies. There were the legendary Tim Tam biscuits, as well as lamington, a traditional sponge cake covered in chocolate and rolled in coconut flakes. We were told that every school girl in Australia would have baked a lamington at least once in her life.
Those who were not big fans of Vegemite, a quintessential yeast extract in Australian households, could not escape even a smidgen of it that morning as we were all given a cracker smeared with a thin layer of Vegemite. I actually requested for a second helping as it started to grow on me. Admittedly, the pungent taste is not for everyone but the thought of Vegemite as a yeast extract gathered from the bottom of beer barrels is interesting in itself.
Listed as an Australian National Heritage, the Great Ocean Road spans about more than 150 miles and took 13 years to complete. The Great Ocean Road was built by soldiers of ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) who at that time recently returned home from battling World War I and for independence from the monarchy. As the Great Ocean Road was a way to give employment to the soldiers who had returned home, it also became a war memorial to commemorate their fellow fallen soldiers. Hence, the Great Ocean Road embodies the Australian spirit that fights against the odds despite being a small country.
At Kennett River, we saw more wildlife. First things first: it's just koala and not koala bear. In fact we were told that only tourists say "koala bear" although there is not a single trace of bear in the koala genes. As a newborn, the koala is only the size of a jelly bean without fur. After 7 months, it is then considered a young koala also known as a joey, taking on the same name as a young kangaroo.
Koalas only feed on eucalyptus gum tree leaves which contain high levels of nitrogen. Interestingly as Mother Earth would have it, the koala is the only animal with a digestive system that can handle this high level of nitrogen. The gum tree leaves are just about all the koalas eat and these creatures don't need to drink water.
Koalas always come off as calm and gentle because of their sleepy demeanor but what people do not realize is that these creatures are very territorial and will go to the extent of killing each other to protect its territory on the tree. The koalas also don't move all that much once it has claimed its territory and could potentially starve to death. To mark its territory, the koala stains the tree by rubbing its chest against the tree.
These gorgeous king parrots have such rich beautiful colors on the feathers that it was hard not to admire them. We had kernels on the palm of our hands and it didn't take long until we had a parrot land on our palm for food. The parrots intelligently opened the kernels with their beaks and ate the seeds.
One way to differentiate the king parrots is that the males have an orange head while the females have a green head.
We pulled over at Cape Patton lookout near Apollo Bay just along the Great Ocean Road for scenic coastal views before making our way to Otway Forest.
At Otway Forest we were on a guided walk. This is a cool climate forest that got lucky with a good geographical location and climate. With lots of good luck, Forest Otway gets a lot of rainfall every year and thus creating damp soil. Although not immune to the notorious Australian bush fires, the damp soil protects the forest from it.
Although the trees are tall in height and the trunks are very thick, they are not as strong as they appear to be. The roots of these trees grow above the ground (like in the above picture) making the trees less strong to hold up. Despite their majestic height and size, these trees can get toppled easily by strong winds.
One of the very unique things about the beautiful Otway Forest is that these trees and plants help each other out and not compete for nutrients. Plants and trees gradually form conjoined roots while growing from the same base in the soil. In nature, even plants and trees learn to share.
After we left Otway Forest, we were well on our way to Port Campbell for the highlight of the day...