In Australia, a ‘swag’ is a portable sleeping unit. They were originally a bundle of belongings rolled up to be carried by a foot traveler in ‘the bush’. These days they are a popular alternative to tents for camping.
Before motor transport was common, foot travel over long distances was essential to agriculture in the Australian bush. Swags have been carried by shearers, miners, farmer etc. some of whom were called ‘swagmen’. In other countries swags are sometimes called ‘backpack beds’, ‘cowboy bedrolls’ or just ‘bedrolls’.
Modern swags have become more like a combination of a small bed and a tent. They are made of waterproof canvas and are usually insect proof. Most swags include a foam mattress, pillow and sleeping bag.
When rolled up, swags are relatively lightweight and compact, making them ideal for storage and transport. They are usually quick and easy to setup and pack up.
Swags today are designed to be both rugged and comfortable, and are marketed towards people travelling by vehicle. Most of them are too heavy and bulky to be carried long distances on foot.
While bushwalkers and hikers use mostly conventional lightweight tents and sleeping bags, smaller swags are sometimes carried on motorcycles.
There are many caves worth visiting in Australia. Here are a few of the most famous.
Jenolan Caves, New South Wales
Around three hours from Sydney, the Jenolan Caves are some of Australia’s most popular. This ancient limestone cave system is found in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. It is one of the largest caves in the world and has more than 40 kilometres of multi-level passages and over 300 entrances. Scientists consider them the oldest discovered open caves in the world at 340 million years. The cave complex is still being explored.
Buchan Caves, Victoria
These caves are located in Gippsland, which is about five hours drive east from Melbourne. Discovered by Europeans in 1907, these ancient limestone caves were carved out by underground rivers long ago. There are many interesting calcite rimmed pools, stalagmites and stalactites. They have a total length of between 3 and 4 kilometres and six entrances. They are the largest cave system in my home state of Victoria.
Chillagoe Caves, Queensland
The Chillagoe Caves are located three hours west of Cairns in the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park. There are several spectacular limestone caverns, passages and stalactites, in over 700 caves -some of which run for 11kms. Chillagoe Caves are also a significant cultural site, containing evidence of Indigenous occupation which goes back 37,000 years. Located at the site are Aboriginal paintings as well as numerous examples of chipping rocks and quartz knives, which were used as axes in preparing food.
Mystery Creek Caves, Tasmania
Deep in Tasmania’s largest national park, the Mystery Creek Caves are home to many glow worms. They are part of the Ida Bay Caves which are said to be some of the longest in Australia and are not fully explored. The trail to the caves goes along an abandoned tramway track, with a limestone quarry and the cave at the end. Along the track you can find old tin cups, empty 1800-era bottles of whisky and tramway car wheels; all relics of a bygone era.
One difference between shopping in Japan versus in Australia is the number of second-hand goods stores. For example, there are a lot more used clothes shops here. On the economical end of the spectrum there are opportunity shops, ‘op shops’ for short, sometimes called thrift shops. Op shops get their stock via donations from the public. These shops are becoming more common and it is not unusual to find near-new clothes here for a fraction of their normal price.
Retro clothing stores also sell second-hand clothing, but they specialize in past fashion trends. Clothes from the 60-90s are particularly popular. Unlike thrift shops, clothing stock in these stores is very carefully selected, unique and often expensive. Central Melbourne has quite a few well-known stores that attract many fashion collectors.
Another type of second-hand store is the antique shop, which sells mostly old furniture. Visiting these in country towns is a popular weekend pastime for many Australians. No two shops are alike, and you never know what you might find. Some antique stores focus on particularly rare and beautify items but are often extremely expensive. These shops draw a lot of collectors but may only sell a few items a week.
On the other hand, there are recycling centres. These outlets have a much more unpredictable range of items and focus on value for money and high stock turnover. They are often part of council rubbish processing facilities and are sometimes funded by the city or staffed with volunteers. While some of these stores can seem to be a chaotic mess, at times valuable or useful items can be purchased for only a few dollars.
It is almost Christmas and once again and many beautiful light displays can be seen all over Melbourne. There is always something interesting to see at Federation Square and this year is no exception. It can get crowded at this popular location!
Not all the most interesting illuminations are in the central business district. Some people make a big effort and turn their homes into mini tourist attractions. There are even websites listing the best homes to visit and suggesting tour routes.
Flinders’ Street Station is an historic landmark worth a look any time of day. At this time of year and at twilight it is especially attractive. There is plenty of traffic around though, so you’ll need to watch your step.
Last, but not least, the Town Hall always puts on an amazing show. The nearby State Library and Princes Bridge are also lit up with colourful Christmas projections every night until Christmas.
As I write this, Victoria has had its 10th day of zero cases of coronavirus and zero deaths from the virus. After 15 weeks of strict lockdown, restrictions have eased, and life is returning to ‘normal’ for now. Congratulations Melbourne!
Many people are still cautious, but others have gone out and started to celebrate. Last weekend was the Melbourne Cup long weekend and many people got together in small groups to watch the race and bet on the horses. The racetrack was closed to spectators.
A lot of other people hit the beaches to enjoy the nice weather we have had lately. There are still strict rules about wearing masks and social distancing, so the police were out to enforce them. Understandably, some are anxious about seeing so many people close to each other.
Bars and restaurants are now allowed to serve customers again! However, they are at reduced capacity, and spacing must follow special spacing guidelines. Department stores, like Kmart, were extremely crowded after having been closed for so long.
The Ulysses Butterfly is a swallowtail butterfly found in and around Australia. They are also known as the Mountain Blue Butterfly or the Blue Emperor. They can have a wingspan of up to 13 cm. Males are attracted to the colour blue and will fly towards anything blue from 30 metres away.
The Red Baron dragonfly is bright red and usually found living around lagoons and ponds in Australia and New Guinea. Using its four long, horizontal wings it can reach fly up to 35 miles an hour and fly just as gracefully backward by lifting off vertically, helicopter style. Its compound eyes are so large they nearly touch, and each one is made up of about 28,000 single eyes, called ommatidia.
Australia has many colourful jewel beetles. In the past their attractive shells have been used as jewellery or in religious ceremonies. Their colours do not come from pigments but are due to light diffraction by the microscopic structure of their shells. Amazingly, they can greatly delay their larval development in bad environmental conditions for over 25 years! The single longest delayed emergence was a record 51 years.
The Giant Prickly Stick Insect is a large stick insect that can grow up to 15 cm long. The males are smaller than females but have long wings and can fly. Stick insects are nocturnal and docile by nature. They eat the leaves of blackberry, raspberry, oak, rose, hazel, and eucalyptus. They have an amazing defence strategy: they will curl up their tail to mimic a scorpion to bluff off predators when threatened.
Many Australians enjoy both sport and the outdoors. Rock climbing combines these and is therefore a popular pastime. While the state of Victoria may not have the beaches of Queensland, or the desert landscapes of Central Australia, some might say it has the best rock climbing terrain in Australia. One of the most famous areas is Mt Arapiles in the Wimmera plains. The plains are a beautiful nature conservation area, with 14% of Victoria’s flora species represented around Mt Arapiles alone. More than 3000 routes have been established on the many cliffs, crags and pinnacles, with something suitable for all levels of experience.
Mount Buffalo is also a much loved climbing destination. It is home to lots of interesting Australian wildlife and 550 species of native plants, including plants found nowhere else on Earth, such as the Buffalo Sallee tree. There are lakes, twisted Snow Gum forests and The Horn, the highest point in Mount Buffalo National Park at 1,723m. The huge area is known for it’s changable weather, which includes snow in winter, and a great variety of climbing experience can be found.
Perhaps the most famous climbing area in Victoria, the Grampians National Park is huge, breathtaking and a popular destination for climbers. In addition to all sorts of beautiful flora and fauna, this region is home many ancient Aboriginal rock art paintings and shelters. In order to protect the environment, many of the most famous rock-climbing areas have been permanently closed in recent years.
Some other great places you might check out if your are interested in rock climbing are:
Cathedral Range State Park.
Wilsons Promontory National Park.
Croajingolong National Park.
You Yangs Regional Park – just outside Melbourne!
Bush tucker, also called bushfood, is any food native to Australia and eaten by the indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Animal native foods include kangaroo, emu, witchetty grubs and crocodile. Plant foods include fruits such as quandong, kutjera, spices such as lemon myrtle, and vegetables such as warrigal greens and native yams.
Since the 1970s, there has been increasing interest in the taste and health benefits of native foods by non-Indigenous Australians, and the bushfood industry has grown enormously. One example is kangaroo meat, which has been available in supermarkets since the 1980s and is still gaining popularity.
“Witchetty grubs” are what Australians call the large moth larvae that feed on the sap from the roots of the witchetty bush found mostly in The Northern Territory. They were traditionally eaten by Aborigines in that region, often roasted in coals or over a fire. Some people say they have a nutty flavour.
The most well-known of Australia’s six species of native citrus, finger limes are considered a gourmet bushfood and are sought after by top restaurants around the world. They grow in the rainforests of south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales. The slender, finger-like fruit is 6 to 12 centimetres long and comes in a range of colours including black, green, red, pink, and yellow.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Australia was identified on 25 January 2020, in Victoria, when a man who had returned from Wuhan, China, tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Australian borders were closed to all non-residents on 20 March. Social distancing rules were imposed on 21 March and state governments started to close “non-essential” services. “Non-essential services” included social gathering venues such as pubs and clubs but unlike many other countries did not include most business operations such as construction, manufacturing and many retail categories.
Since I last posted on this blog, things initially got worse, but have now gotten a lot better. The infection curve has flattened out and the virus seems mostly under control. There have been a few worrying clusters popping up here and there, but these are being closely monitored with extra testing, contact tracing and quarantines. Still, the streets are mostly empty – very different to before Coronavirus.
Now there is new hope though, as the federal and state governments have started easing restrictions. My state, Victoria, released new rules 2 days ago. Basically, 5 people can now visit your house, you can go outdoors in groups of 10 for things like sport, weddings and funerals (you must still try to maintain physical distancing).
While you can drive as far as you like to go for a surf or a hike, you are not allowed to stay overnight. “AirBnb will not be taking bookings. There will not be bookings at hotels,” the State Premier Daniel Andrews said. “Camping will not be allowed.” Shopping is still only for essentials, not entertainment, so the streets are still quiet. Hopefully, the situation will continue to improve.
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.
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.
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.
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.