Q’s オーストラリアレポート

Corona Virus in Australia

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Just like most other countries, Australia is now struggling to contain the outbreak of the corona virus /COVID-19. The government is recommending social isolation and has closed the border to all non-citizens and non-residents. Most public events have been cancelled, sports events are being held without spectators if at all, and live TV shows are recorded without audiences. At this point, Australia has more than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The number is increasing quickly. Everyone is hoping that the strict measures put in place will flatten the contagion curve, but it is not looking good.

street

Where possible, people are now working from home. Because most people are trying to stay indoors as much as they can, many usually crowded tourist sites, cafes and restaurants are closed, quiet or empty. Many people employed in these industries are worried about their jobs and the government is being asked to assist.

shelves

Unfortunately, there has been some panic buying and many supermarkets have some empty shelves. Things like toilet paper have sold out due to bulk buying, even though it is produced domestically and supply was not expected to be affected by the virus. Delivery and pickup services at super markets have stopped due to over-demand. Opening hours have been significantly reduced to allow supermarket staff time to disinfect stores and restock shelves.

masks

Life in Australia is changing in many ways as a result of the outbreak. These days it is not unusual to see people wearing masks outdoors and on public transport. It is still far from as common as it is in Japan, but it is something I thought I would never see here.

Animals of Australia #2

Australia is home to many interesting animals. Let’s have a look at 4 more.

echidna

Echidna’s have spines like a porcupine, a beak like a bird, a pouch like a kangaroo, and lay eggs like a reptile. Also known as spiny anteaters, they’re small, solitary mammals native to Australia and New Guinea. They eat ants, worms and insect larvae using their long sticky tongues. Their spines are actually modified hairs and they also have the lowest body temperature of any mammal, 32°C. Echidnas are powerful diggers and despite their appearance, are capable swimmers.

platypus

The platypus is famous for its strange appearance. It is duck-billed, has a beaver-like tail, lays eggs, has otter-like fur and webbed feet. They are only found in small rivers and streams in in eastern Australia. Platypuses and echidnas are related and are the only two mammals in the world that lay eggs instead of giving birth. Male platypus have a back foot ankle spur which contains a venom that is powerful enough to kill small animals like dogs. Also, platypuses close their eyes and ears when under water and then dig up muddy river beds with their bills, detecting the electric fields of their prey by using their sense of electroreception!

wombat

Wombats are small marsupials that look like a cross between a bear, a pig and a gopher. They can’t climb trees like their closest living relative, the koala, but they are good swimmers, and can run up to 40 kph. They are built for digging, and like other marsupials, they have a pouch. However, wombat’s pouches are backwards and their poop is cube-shaped! Wombats live in burrows, which consist of many tunnels and sleeping chambers. Some tunnels can reach up to 200 meters in length. Wombats are herbivores, which means they only eat vegetation. They get most of their water from the foods they eat and can live years without drinking water.

emu

Emus are the second largest bird in the world, just behind the ostrich. They can grow up to 2m tall and are covered in soft fluffy feathers. Emus can’t fly, but they can run up to 50 kph using their powerful legs. Their powerful kick is also handy for keeping predators at bay. They have two sets of eyelids, one for blinking and the other for keeping the dust out. Emus lay their eggs in large ground nests, after which the male emus incubate them for about seven weeks without drinking, feeding, defecating, or leaving the nest! Some people farm emus for their meat and eggs – one emu egg can make an omelette big enough to feed 4-6 adults.

Fire map

While not as common as in Japan, Australia too has its share of natural disasters. Currently, there a great many bush fires burning here, especially on the East Coast. Some of them are so big that they can’t be bought under control, and firefighters must wait until conditions change before they can deal with them.

Danger sign

There are many factors that increase the risk of and intensity of fires. Long droughts, the amount of dry vegetation, wind and extreme heat during heat waves are some examples. When many of of these factors align the chance of fires occurring is very high. Signs displaying the current fire danger can be seen all over the country.

Smoke

Smoke can be seen and smelt even in places that are a long way from the fires. The smoke is unpleasant, can cause health problems and interferes with flights. Sometimes it can be seen from space. This happens most years, but this year it feels worse, and the smoke seems to be everywhere.

Fire

Firefighters from places like New Zealand, Canada and the USA flew over to Australia to help. Australia often sends fire fighters to these countries to assist when they need help. Many people think that due to global warming there will be more fires in the future and that they will be even more destructive.

Historic Theatres in Melbourne

For those who love to see shows at the theatre, there are many great venues in Melbourne, both new and old. Four of the most famous, old-style theatres are the Forum Theatre, The Princess Theatre, The Palais Theatre and Mer Majesty’s Theatre.

Forum Theatre

The Forum Theatre (originally called The State Theatre) was Built in 1929. At that time it had the largest seating capacity in Australia, holding 3,371 people. Like the other Theatres in this post, it is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. It has been owned by different people over the years and was both a cinema and church for a time. It has hosted famous acts like Oasis, Madonna, Katy Perry and parts of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Princess Theatre

The Princess Theatre is a 1488-seat theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District, and is the oldest continuous entertainment site on mainland Australia. It is also listed by the National Trust of Australia. It opened in 1854 and then re-opened on 18 December 1886 after renovations. It had Australia’s first sliding or retractable roof and ceiling which provided ventilation from the auditorium. The theatre has hosted many famous musicals over the years and is currently showing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There have also been several reported ghost sightings.

Palais Theatre

The Palais Theatre (originally called Palais Pictures) is an historic Picture Palace located in the suburb of St Kilda. Replacing an earlier cinema of the same name destroyed in a fire, the new theatre opened in 1927. With a capacity of nearly 3,000 people, it is currently the largest seated theatre in Australia. Next to the beach, Luna park and the famous Acland Street restaurants, it is very popular with locals and tourists alike. The Melbourne Film Festival was based at the Palais from 1962 until 1982. Over the years it has hosted many famous international bands, ballets and film premiers.

Her Majesty's Theatre

Her Majesty’s Theatre is a 1,700 seat theatre also in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District. Built in 1886, it is classified by the National Trust of Australia. The legendary Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, captivated Australian crowds at performances in 1926 and 1929. It is said this led to the creation of the Australian dessert ‘Pavlova’ which I have blogged about previously.

Phillip Island

wool

Phillip Island is a popular tourist destination about 140 km south-southeast of Melbourne, Victoria. The island was named after Governor Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales, by explorer and seaman George Bass, who sailed in an open whale boat, arriving from Sydney on 5 January 1798.

bridge

The island’s permanent population is about 10,000. During the summer, the population swells to over 40,000 people. The only road to the island is a 640 m concrete bridge that connects the mainland town San Remo with the island town Newhaven.

Penguin Parade

Phillip Island is probably most famous for its colony of fairy penguins which are the world’s smallest penguins. Depending on the season, 300 to 750 of them come ashore at Summerland Beach at sunset after swimming 15-50km a day to fish. The penguins tumble ashore to waddle up beach tracks to their burrows in sand dunes, stopping along the way to preen.

track

The Island is also well-known for its international race track which hosts world-championship 500cc and Superbike events and national touring car races. The track is set amidst some picturesque farmland, which is not surprising as 60% of the island is devoted to the grazing of sheep and cattle.

seals

There is a lot of wildlife present on the island like kangaroos, koalas etc. Something a bit more unusual can be seen at Seal Rocks, at the western end of the island. Seal Rocks hosts the largest colony of fur seals in Australia – about 16,000 of them! Tourists are able to take a cruise which takes them very close to the seals.

Top Australian Universities

Australia has many excellent universities and they are extremely popular with international students. Australia is the 3rd most popular destination for international study in the world, following the USA and the UK. Education is a very important export for Australia and is actually the third biggest export sector behind Iron and Coal. Let’s take a look at the 5 highest ranked Universities.

Queensland

5. The University of Queensland ranked 48th in the world in 2019. UQ is mainly based in state capital Brisbane and has been responsible for a number of recent research innovations, such as the cervical cancer vaccine.

NSW

4. The University of New South Wales, located in Sydney, retained its position of 45th in the World University Rankings in 2019, and is a founding member of the Group of Eight, a coalition of Australian research-intensive universities.

Sydney

3. The University of Sydney climbed eight places to rank 42nd in the world in 2019, and is the oldest of these top Australian universities (established in 1850). Sydney was Australia’s highest-ranked entrant in the QS Graduate Employability Rankings 2018 at fourth in the world – meaning it is a great uni* if you want to get a job!

Melbourne

2. Up two places to rank 39th in the world in 2019, the University of Melbourne achieved positions in the global top 20 for its reputation with both academics and employers. The university has a very diverse student body, with nearly 40 percent of its 50,270 students coming from outside Australia.

ANU

1 . Continuing to rank first among the top Australian universities, Australian National University ranked 24th in the world in 2019 and claims one of the country’s highest scores for research impact (citations per faculty member) and percentage of international student indicators. ANU is located in Australia’s capital city, Canberra.

*Australians often say ‘uni’ instead of ‘university’ when speaking informally.

Victoria’s Crazy Winter

1 Storm

Victoria, and especially Melbourne, is well-known for having varied and rapidly changing weather. In winter there can be all sorts of severe weather ranging from gales to fierce thunderstorms and hail, sudden temperature drops, and heavy rain.

2 Mount Feathertop and Razorback

The coldest month is July. Melbourne temperatures get down to lows of around 0°C: -2.8°C is the lowest on record. Some towns in Victoria are even colder than Melbourne and some places have intense frosts. It is even colder up in the Victorian Alps of course. The lowest winter temperature ever recorded there is -12.8°C at Mount Hotham.

3 Frost

Speaking of the Victorian Alpine climate, there is usually plenty of snow up there in winter, and Victoria has seven snow resorts. Skiing is more expensive here than in Japan, partially due to transport costs with the resorts being further from the cities. Sometimes it snows in Melbourne as well, but it is extremely rare.

4 Fog

Melbourne has a reputation for having “four seasons in one day”. It often rains multiple times in one day as well as there being quick changes between periods of sunshine, fogs, mists, gusts of wind, sudden temperature changes and even hail storms.

5 Hail

On the subject of hail, occasionally the hailstones reach amazing sizes and do a lot of damage, especially to cars. In the 2010 Victorian storms, Melbourne was hit by hail averaging between 2cm-5cm in diameter. There were reports of 10cm stones in Ferntree Gully, not far from my house!

Australian Television

TCN Tower 1956

Television has a long history in Australia and is still very popular. Most people here call it ‘TV’ or ‘Telly’. The first TV broadcast occurred in 1929 and the first real TV tower was built in Sydney in 1956. As in every country, there is a lot of news and sport on TV. Over the years there have been many other TV programs produced here, but with such a small population, there is much less variety compared to countries like America or Japan.

Russel Crowe in Neighbours

Russel Crowe in Neighbours

Australia has produced quite a few TV dramas. Two of the most famous and longest-running are Neighbours and Home and Away. Many young actors started in these shows and later starred in international movies or became famous singers. Neighbours: Kylie Minogue, Guy Pearce, Natalie Imbruglia, Russell Crowe.
Home & Away: Chris Hemsworth Heath Ledger, Guy Pearce (again!), Isla Fisher, Naomi Watts, Ryan Kwanten.

cook

Australian TV often airs cooking shows. Series from other countries are popular, as are Australian remakes of famous shows like Iron Chef or Master Chef. There are also several well-known cooking programs produced here, like My Kitchen Rules and Food Safari.

voice

Like with most countries, there has been a lot of interest lately in shows about amateur singing. Australia has its own versions many famous overseas shows such as Australian Idol, The X Factor and The Voice. In this genre, domestically produced series haven’t really succeeded yet.

house

Another staple* of Aussie TV is the home renovation show. One reason they are so popular is that most Australians aspire to own their own home and many people choose real estate as their investment strategy. House Rules and Backyard Blitz are two of the most famous series.

*a basic or necessary item

Organic Food in Australia

org 1

Organic food is very popular in Australia. In Australia, ‘organic’ means that the food was grown without the use of synthetic chemicals or genetically modified components (GMOs). These products are usually more expensive that non-organic varieties. Many people are willing to pay the extra cost for health or environmental reasons.

org 2

Fruits and vegetables are the foods most associated with being organic here. However, many other types of product are sold with that label. For example: Meats (from cattle feed on organic grass), detergents, oils, chocolates, teas and coffees.

org 3

Unfortunately, the term ‘organic’ is not closely regulated, and some companies call their products organic when in fact they use chemicals while growing them. Many people are unaware of this, and there are regular news stories about products being exposed as not really being organic in spite of the label and high price.

org 4

Some people don’t trust the supermarkets, and go directly to local organic farms to buy their food. There are many small businesses all over Australia setup to appeal to these customers. Even though the situation is not perfect, the demand for organic food is increasing, and the law regarding it is steadily improving.

Famous Australian Music

Like most people, Australians love music and our musicians have produced an enormous amount of it over the years. And like in most countries, only a tiny amount of it breaks out and becomes famous internationally. The international music scene has changed dramatically since the arrival of the internet which makes it hard to judge relative popularity. I will focus on music made mostly before that.

ACDC

The rock group AC/DC is likely the best example of Australian music succeeding internationally. Some lists rank their album ‘Back in Black’ as the 3rd highest selling album of all time. I read that they were always ‘small in Japan’ even though they tried hard to promote themselves there. This is the opposite of groups like Cheap Trick and Bon Jovi, who were ‘big in Japan’ before they became popular in America and the rest of the world.

Bee-Gees

The Bee Gees (pop/disco) are another internationally well-known Australian group. They are also the group with the most success in Japan. Their 1978 album ‘Saturday Night Fever’ sold 1250000 copies according to the Oricon charts, which makes it the 20th highest selling (foreign) album of all time in Japan.

The Wiggles

The Wiggles are popular worldwide for their children’s music and TV shows. They started back in 1991 and are still making DVDs and performing live today. Currently, the group has only one of it’s founding members: Anthony Field.

John Farnham

John Farnham is an example of an artist being huge in their home country, but relatively unknown outside. His 1986 album ‘Whispering Jack’ is the greatest selling Australian album of all-time in Australia and 2nd greatest selling album in Australian history (2nd to Meat Loaf’s ‘Bat out of Hell’ album).

Honourable Mentions
INXS, Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel, Olivia Newton John, Kylie Minogue, Savage Garden, Delta Goodrem, Crowded House, Tina Arena, Icehouse, Missy Higgins, Jet.