St Paul’s Cathedral
Melbourne is a great place to visit Churches. There are roughly 1230 registered churches in the city, which is only topped by Sydney which has around 1740. Some of them are amazing buildings with interesting architectures and histories. Of course, some of them are tiny buildings that look more like a local club house. I will introduce three of the older, bigger and more famous churches: Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Saint Francis’ Church.
St Paul’s is an Anglican Cathedral and is currently the seat of the Primate of Australia, who is the highest ranking Anglican in the country. When it’s central spire was complete in 1932 it was the tallest building in Melbourne – hard to imagine now, as it is surrounded by so many huge skyscrapers.
St Patrick’s Cathedral
St Patricks Cathedral (full name: Cathedral Church and Minor Basilica of Saint Patrick) is of the Roman Catholic denomination and is both the tallest and largest church building in Australia. When they decided to build the Cathedral in the 1840s, the Catholic population of Melbourne was almost entirely Irish, which is why it is dedicated to Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.
St Francis Church is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Victoria. Its foundation stone was laid in 1841. It was an official cathedral from 1848 to 1868 until that title was taken by St Patrick’s Cathedral, and now it is considered only a church. Today it is the busiest church in Australia, with more than 10,000 worshippers attending each week.
St Francis’ Church
A lot of people in Melbourne are enthusiastic about Christmas lights. There are also quite a few impressive public lighting displays, but this time I will focus on displays set up by everyday residents at there private homes.
Generally, people drive around at night and enjoy the light shows from their cars. When they find a particularly impressive setup, or a whole group of houses with lights, they might get out and have a closer look. Occasionally, some people open up their front yards so that anyone can walk around in their display.
Kids in particular get very excited about houses with lots of lights – the more the better! Some of the technology for making the lights flash in different colours, sequence and intensity is quite advanced and must have been expensive. Some areas are very competitive and every year try to built a better display than their neighbours and other areas.
Not everyone thinks it’s a great idea though. Some people are concerned about using so much electricity unnecessarily, especially considering concerns about global warming. I have noticed that there are a lot more solar panels and batteries used in the displays this year compared to previous years. Other people are not so happy about the extra traffic and all the fuel it uses.
It’s Christmas season again! Even though it’s still November (just), many people in Australia have already put up their Christmas trees. You can also see more and more decorations going up in Melbourne city. Of course, shops are already full of Christmas-themed products and sales.
Melbourne is famous for its patchy weather – sunny one day and rainy the next. This year has been no exception. Still, there are plenty of nice days mixed with rainy ones and excitement is starting to build towards another hot Aussie Christmas. Many people will head to the beach to celebrate.
Even though there is no snow here, most of our christmas tradition is inherited from countries in the Northern Hemisphere, which have Christmas in winter. As a result, pine trees, usually associated with cold climates, are still thought of as being the tree of Christmas. This means that Christmas tree farming is quite profitable. Quite a few people buy real, live pine trees from tree farms to take home and decorate every year.
I haven’t had a Christmas tree at home since I was a child. This year I have finally decided to get one! It is pretty simple at the moment, but I have a feeling it will get a bit more elaborate each year from now on…
Coober Pedy is a small town in the deserts of South Australia with a population of less than 2000 people. In spite of this, it is known as the “Opal Capital of the World”. The first opal was found in there 1915 and now more opals come from Coober Pedy than anywhere else in the world.
The town is in the middle of the desert. It gets very little rain and has very little vegetation – the first tree ever seen there was actually welded together out of scrap metal! Temperatures in summer have reached as high as 47 degrees.
Coober Pedy is also famous for its below-ground houses, called “dugouts”, which people build because it is so hot during the daytime. Building dugouts costs around as much as building a surface houses, but they remain at a fairly constant temperature all-year-round, which saves a lot of money on air-conditioning bills.
Coober Pedy is about half way between Adelaide and Alice Springs (near Ayers Rock), so it is a popular stopover point for tourists. I remember visiting as a child and having great fun searching for opals and running around in some of the underground shops and museums.
If you are ever in Victoria, you may want to make some time to take a trip on Puffing Billy. Puffing Billy is an old steam train that runs from Belgrave, on the east side of Melbourne, east into country Victoria. It travels through some beautiful forest and farmland and is especially popular with tourist and school kids.
Trip length is 3 hours return to Lakeside or 5 hours return to Gembrook. In both cases there is plenty of time to get off the train to have a walk around and get something to eat at the end of the line before returning the Belgrave.
The train pulls several types of carriage, and the number and type changes with the seasons and time of day. There are also special events, like murder mysteries, night journeys and packages including old-time dancing.
There is usually a dining car or two on the end of the train. You can book a table to have either a full meal or high tea, with dessert and coffee served on the way back. Last time I went on Puffing Billy I had the high tea – it was heavenly!
Let’s have a look at four interesting animals from Australia. This time we’ll focus on animals with fur.
Kangaroos are possibly the most famous Australian animals. There are many different types, with adult sizes ranging from about 45cm/1.6kg up to 200cm/90kg (that’s really big!). They are marsupials – animals that raise their babies in a pouch on the front of their bodies. 70% of the world’s marsupials are found in Australia.
Koalas are another possibility for most famous Australian animal. Their diet is almost entirely made up of eucalyptus leaves and they are asleep most of the time – they are only awake for about 4 hours a day! They are also marsupials, like kangaroos.
Dingos are Australia’s only native dog. They are a bit like small wolves, but less dangerous and they generally avoid humans. They don’t bark very often, but they like to howl and whimper. Dingos are found mostly in the northern part of Australia. I have lived mostly in the southen part of Australia and have rarely seen Dingos in the wild; so when I do it is quite a shock!
The Bilby is another small marsupial that lives in the desert. They get their water from the insects they eat at night, so they don’t need to drink. They dig tunnels like rabbits and live in underground cave systems. There is a movement in Australia to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby – because some people feel it is better to use an Australian animal.
A friend recently asked me about the difference between the countryside in Australia and Japan. One big difference is the general colour of the vegetation. Japan’s is mostly a deep or lush green, whereas Australia is dominated by gum trees and is more a muted green, olive or khaki.
Gum trees, also called eucalyptus trees, cover much of Australia and make up an amazing 75% of the forests here! There are over 700 species of eucalyptus and nearly all over them are native to Australia – only 9 species are exclusively non-Australian.
Gumtrees can be just small bushes or huge trees, depending on the species. One species, the Eucalyptus Regnans or Mountain Ash is the tallest flowering tree on Earth and one of the tallest trees in general. Compared to most other trees, they drink a lot of water, are weak against frost and cold but good at surviving fires.
Eucalypts are famous for a few reasons. Perhaps they are most famous for being the only food of Koalas. They are very important as sources of firewood, timber and oil in several counties. They are also know for their flowers, which can be white, cream, yellow, pink or red. They are nearly all evergreen, and with so many of them around they have a huge effect on the colour of the Australian countryside.
People often say that the night sky is particularly beautiful in Australia, especially in the countryside, far from the city lights. There are also quite a few famous dark-sky parks* here. So, what stars can only be seen from the Southern hemisphere?
This is the most famous star formation for Australians. Some people say it looks more like a kite than a cross though…
Carina (The Keel)
They call it the keel because the bottom stars make a ‘U’ shape that looks like the hull (keel) of a boat. I’d never even heard of Carina before I did a little research to write this post.
Centaurus (The Centaur)
A centaur is a mythical half-man, half-horse. You need to use your imagination for this one… I never talked with anyone about the stars in the sky at night in Japan when I lived there. I wonder if there any star formations named after mythical Japanese creatures, like the kappa or tengu?
Sagittarius is a centaur too! Though many people know just the bright stars in the middle as something that looks like a teapot. This formation can actually be seen from the Northern hemisphere as well, its just a lot easier to see it from the Southern Hemisphere.
Another picture of Sagittarius.
*Dark-sky park (also called dark-sky reserves/preserves): – an area, usually far from cities, that has local light restrictions at night so that the stars can be seen more clearly. They are popular with tourists and especially amateur astronomers and stargazers.
One of the things many visitors like about Japan is that there are many seasonal foods. I’ve been asked by my Japanese friends and students if Australia also has seasonal foods. In my opinion, we do, but it feels like it is much less obvious or culturally defined in comparison with Japan. Traditionally, many seasonal foods were based on seasonal crops and the markets would be fully of produce matching the season. These days agricultural technology enables growers to bring produce to market in the off-season, so it is sometimes hard to notice the variety of fruit in shops change at all. Still, things like fruit are cheaper when they are in season, so people use them in their cooking more at that time.
One well-known summer crop is apricot. Apricots are often used in deserts and are also a popular dried food. Dried apricot is common in Australian breakfast cereals – like muesli – and in trail mixes.
Some types of grape are best picked in autumn. Most of these are used in wine production, but many people enjoy eating them them raw. Some people like to make jam out of them or even use them in salads.
Kiwi fruit is still mainly only available in winter. They are mostly used in deserts or salads. They are also often seen atop Pavilova – an iconic Australian desert.
Strawberries are very popular and are abundant in spring. They are especially common in cakes and jam. Children seem to love them in particular.
Sometimes my friends in Japan ask me about Australian housewives: what do they do during the day? What are they interested in? And so on. It is actually pretty hard to answer without changing the terms a bit.
If we take ‘housewife’ to mean a married woman who stays at home while her husband works who also doesn’t have children, these people are very rare. Perhaps an example might be a women who was unemployed before she got married, someone injured or sick, or the wife of someone mega-rich. I don’t personally know anyone in this category and rarely hear of any one like this in real life. Generally speaking, marriage is not a reason for women to leave work in Australia. Like many Western countries, women are expected to contribute to both the family and to society, and therefore staying home (without children) is hard to justify. Most people, upon hearing about someone who left work after her wedding would expect there was a special reason, and be curious about the situation.
If we take ‘housewife’ to mean a married woman who doesn’t work and stays at home to look after her children, then there are many, but we call them ‘stay-at-home mothers’. However, there are significantly fewer stay-at-home mothers in Australia than in Japan. Dual income families are the norm here, perhaps becuase the cost of living is higher in Australia than Japan. This is in large part due to a very long housing boom (housing prices have risen rapidly since 2001). It is often a tough financial decision for a mother to leave work to raise children full-time.
During the day, stay-at-home mothers in Australia do much the same things as they do in Japan. Most of their time and energy is taken up with looking after their children and doing house work. Where they can, some like to watch TV or Netflix, others might read. As the children get older many stay-at-home-mothers no longer stay at home, but take on part-time work or study.
My experience is that the role of stay-at-home mother in Australia has much less status here than in Japan, and it is a smaller segment of the population, further lowering its position. Being a stay-at-home mum is not a fashionable or enviable role. It is rare here to see a group of mothers out of the house enjoying each other’s company noisily at a cafe or park like in Japan. The flip side is that compared with Japan, it is easier for women to get jobs in Australia, to hold a high position in the company, and to make a salary more or less equal to men’s salaries.