Q’s オーストラリアレポート

High School Entrance Exams in Australia?

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While I lived in Japan I’d see junior high school students studying furiously every year to pass exams to get into their preferred high schools. This was unusual to me, as in Australia, students generally don’t do that at all. Mostly, they just go to the high school nearest their house. Quite often, junior and senior high schools are the same place so students don’t have to change schools at all.

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There are some exceptions. Some parents choose to send their children to private schools, which are more expensive than state schools. Also, a growing number of students are home schooled.

When it comes to high school students studying to get into university however, things are much more like they are in Japan. High school students are much more stressed about their future. One difference is that students’ scores from the internal tests and assignments of their high school classes are used to rank their eligibility to enter universities. Generally, each university doesn’t have its own tests like many do in Japan. Another difference is that the most important final tests for Australian high school students are in November.

La Trobe University, Bendigo - My mother and I both went here.

La Trobe University Bendigo – My mother and I both went here.

One final thing of note: It is quite common for people to attend university later in life in Australia. For example, after high school, some may forego university and instead take up a trade, travel the world, or start a family. Then when they are in their 30s or 40s, go back to university and complete their degree. These are called “non-traditional students” or “mature-age students” in Australia, but they are common. I rarely heard of this happening in Japan. Around 40% of Australian tertiary students are between 25-64 years old. As a matter of fact, my mother went to back to university in her late 30s to study to be a high school teacher!

Valentine’s Day Down Under

What do you imagine when you hear the word “romantic”?

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For English speakers, the word “romantic” carries the image of a happy couple, enjoying a date in a beautiful location. Maybe there is wine, good food, laughing and light-hearted flirting. February 14, Valentine’s Day, is one of the most romantic days of the year! It is a day that celebrates romantic love. Restaurants, parks, and movie theaters in Australia will be crowded with couples on that day.

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In Japan, people celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving presents or chocolate to all their favoured coworkers and friends. But Valentine’s Day in Australia is mostly just for partners in a romantic relationship. In addition to romantic dinners, couples in love in Australia might give each other chocolates, roses, bottles of wine, or cards. (If you give chocolates to every girl you know for Valentine’s Day, you may find yourself in a bit of trouble J )

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Of course, not everyone is in a romantic relationship. Many people are single, windowed, divorced, or uninterested in romantic relationships (And everyone deserves a day especially for eating chocolate!). So, some people decide to celebrate other types of love on Valentine’s day, such as love for friends and family. In addition to couples at restaurants, you may see groups of young women out, dressed up in their most beautiful clothes, having a “Gal*-entines Day” celebration. They might even buy each other cards, roses, champagne and desserts in order to say “I am thankful to have you as my friend.”

Whether you have a new crush on* someone at school, are in love with your spouse of many years, or just thankful for the love of your best friends, make sure to tell your loved ones “Happy Valentine’s Day” today!

*Gal- slang word for girl.

*To have a crush on- when you like or are attracted to someone you know

Australia Day!

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Last Friday was Australia Day, forming the Australia Day long weekend.
There were all kinds of celebrations, parades and community events. Australia Day itself was a pleasant 28 degrees but two days later on Sunday it go up to 38 degrees – so hot!

From left to right: meat pie, fairy bread and lamingtons.

From left to right: meat pie, fairy bread and lamingtons.

Some people have a tradition of eating Australian foods on Australia day. I had some friends visiting from America so I found a bakery and had them try some Lamingtons. They are cubes of sponge cake layered with jam, dipped in a chocolate sauce and covered with coconut. They were well received but I can’t vouch* for their healthiness.

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Not everyone was light hearted and happy though. There were some big marches and protests by the Australian Aboriginal people and those sympathetic to their cause. They took to the streets to raise awareness of racism and native land rights.

*to vouch for – to guarantee something or someone, to assert that it is true based on personal experience

New Year’s Eve in Australia

For many countries, New Year’s Eve is the most important holiday. It represents a new start, a chance to reflect on our lives at the end of a trip around the sun, before beginning another. Australians love celebrating the New Year just as much as everyone else!

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In almost every area in Australia, whether it is a city or a rural town, there is an exciting way nearby to celebrate the New Year. If you are an Australian who lives in a rural place, chances are you will meet up with a few of your friends on New Year’s Eve for a barbecue, bring some beer, and stay up until midnight. When the clock strikes “12:00” you’ll just make a lot of noise — bang on pots and pans, sound alarms, sing song, or run around your neighbourhood to welcome the New Year. Fireworks are illegal for individual use in Australia. Even so, you might still see a few rebels lighting them up in parks or anywhere far from buildings.

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In the cities, there are always exciting New Year’s Eve events to attend. If in Sydney, be sure to catch the sparkling fireworks display by the Opera House. On the Gold Coast, there are more than 30,000 fireworks set off in time with music during the annual lights display. Melbourne’s fireworks festival is held on the banks of the Yarra River and has a “carnival theme” — rides, musicians, and entertainers of all sorts are there for the celebration of the new year. All the way over in Western Australia, Perth has a yearly street party, where thousands of families gather to enjoy watching street performers, outdoor movies, and the best indie and rock bands. No matter the city, everyone is excited to eat and celebrate with loved ones as they welcome the New Year!

Christmas Lights in Australia

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December 25 is an exciting day around the world. But 24 hours goes by pretty quickly! In order to extend the excitement many countries, including Australia, begin to create a Christmas feel several weeks before Christmas Day. In English, we call this “getting into the Christmas spirit.” It can be done by baking Christmas treats, reading traditional Christmas stories with family, listening to Christmas music, putting up the Christmas tree, and decorating houses inside and outside.

Sometimes, entire cities will “get into the Christmas spirit” and adorn government buildings, schools, churches, and entire neighbourhoods in lights. In Australia during Christmas season, families and friends like to drive around in the evening to look at these displays of lights. They can be very impressive!

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As you might expect, many Christmas lights displays are in the shape of Santa, snowmen, the nativity, reindeer, or snowflakes. But these may not feel quite right to Australians, who have Christmas during the hottest time of the year! So we make sure to include some crocodiles, kangaroos, or other very Australian things.

In my city of Melbourne, the town hall is decked out* in Christmas lights. Other cities decorate their most iconic buildings or areas too, as you can see in this picture of the Sydney opera house.

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A recent problem Australians have encountered with Christmas illuminations is that they use a LOT of energy. As with other nations in the world, Australia is experiencing an energy crisis, and many families are trying to find ways to cut their energy usage. So what is a Christmas-loving family to do? Use solar panels, of course! Warm, sunny southern-hemisphere summers bring lots of light with them. Many families use solar panels instead of traditional electricity. But if you do not have solar panels installed at your house, not to worry. It’s pretty easy to buy solar-charged Christmas lights. Place them outside your house during the daytime, and they will be ready to use by night!

**To be decked out = fully, impressively decorated.

Christmas in July?

The Christmas Bush, a native Australian plant used for decorating during Christmas time.

The Christmas Bush, a native Australian plant used for decorating during Christmas time.

What do you think of when you hear the word “Christmas”? Snow? Santa? Pine trees and sweaters and reindeer? That may be a good image of Christmas in Japan or America, but in Australia, Christmas day is usually 30 degrees celcius or hotter! It’s too hot to even THINK about sweaters!

Seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere. As a result, Christmas falls in the middle of Summer in Australia. Not to worry, though – of course we still celebrate it. We just do it in different ways.

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Like many western Northern Hemisphere countries, Christmas is still a very special time to gather with friends and family, share a meal, and give presents. We still enjoy lighting decorations and putting up a Christmas tree in our homes. We still exchange presents among family members. Because of Australia’s European heritage, we still have the same Christmas songs, and a few of the same dishes at Christmas dinner. We eat turkey and potatoes, and have Christmas fruit cake for dessert.

But since it is so hot, we also have lighter options for Christmas dinner. Seafood is a popular choice. Christmas is at the beginning of summer vacation for school children, so some families go camping or have a barbecue on the beach. Also, the story that we tell our children is that Santa’s reindeer have a rest when he arrives in Australia, and he switches his sleigh to kangaroos (He also changes into some Summer clothes!).

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Don’t worry, though. Living in Australia doesn’t mean missing out on cozy, winter-themed celebrations of Christmas. Sometimes Australians have “Christmas in July.” July is the coldest month of the year, so we gather with friends to have hot, mulled-wine, roasted ham, fresh bread rolls, and hot pie for dessert. While “Christmas in July” is not a national holiday like December 25, I am excited to live in a country where there are 2 chances for Christmas every year!

Organic Food in Australia

When you go to the supermarket, what is important to you about the food you are choosing? Price? Convenience? Health value? Deliciousness?

Is it important to you to buy organic foods?
 

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In Japan I sometimes saw organic produce at the supermarket, and I understand there is a small segment of the population that is passionate about buying and eating organic food. (This article says that organic foods are about 0.4% of the total food market in Japan, although this was in 2014).
 

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I had gotten used to eating natural (non-organic) food in Japan, and it was no problem. However, when I returned to Australia, I observed that there had been a massive upsurge in organic food since I had left, so I decided to check out the reasons behind this.

 
 
 
 
I learned that there are numerous reasons to eat organic food:
 

Organic 2 -Food tastes better without chemicals
-Your body is healthier without chemicals
-Your body can absorb nutrients better without chemicals
-In order to avoid unwanted hormones, antibiotics, and drugs that are given to livestock, and exist in our meat products.
-To protect the environment. Chemicals have a detrimental effect on the land around them, and, although the process is very complicated, contribute to global warming.
-To support local farmers who cannot compete with large supermarket chains
-To protect the future for our children, who will be affected by global warming.

Organic food in Australia is sometimes (though not always) more expensive than non-organic. But for me, it seems the benefits of buying organic are worth the cost. Would you buy organic? Why or why not?

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Interesting fact: Australia has the largest area of organic farm land in the entire world – 22 million hectacres, according to this article.

Try these Australian Desserts!

Since coming back to Australia, one thing I have really enjoyed is traditional Australian desserts. I am usually a person who enjoys salty flavours more than sweet ones. But there are some Australian sweets that I can never pass up!* I missed many Australian desserts during my 6 years in Japan. Below are some of my favourites:

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Lamingtons are one of the most famous Australian desserts in the world. They are small squares of very, very soft vanilla cake. The outside is a thin layer of chocolate. Finally, they have dried coconut flakes sprinkled all over them. I would like to eat lamingtons everyday… but they are not very healthy.
 
 

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Pavlova is a dessert is for special occasions. It is round like a cake but served in slices. The outside is a meringue, which is stiff egg whites with a bit of sugar, baked at a low temperature. Pavlova is filled with heavy whipped cream and has fresh fruit at the center.
 
 

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Vanilla Slice tastes nice with coffee, and is often served at coffee shops. It is made in a large pan, and served in medium sized squares. There is a top and bottom layer of pastry crust, and the filling is -of course- vanilla pudding! Many cafes also put powdered sugar on the top.
 
 

Do you like foreign desserts? Of these 3, which one would you choose?

*To “never pass up [noun]” = “I always say yes to [noun]” What food can you never pass up?

The Lookout from Dandenong Ranges

Tea with scones-- my favourite!

Tea with scones– my favourite!


 
 

In my quest to become acquainted with my new city of Melbourne, last weekend I looked up “cafes with a good view” near me. (Google maps is so handy!) I love to drink coffee and tea, especially in beautiful places, so I thought it was a good place to start.

 
 
 


Majestic view from Sky High lookout

Life-sized maze behind the lookout point

My search took me to a little café on the side of a mountain, located close to the Dandenong Ranges West of Melbourne. They had a great deal on* tea and scones, which is one of my favourite breakfasts. I ordered a pot of hot English breakfast tea with milk, and 2 scones with thickened cream and raspberry jam. It was absolutely delightful on a cold, misty morning in the mountains.

 

Life-sized maze behind the lookout point

Life-sized maze behind the lookout point

About 10 minutes’ drive from the café, there is a famous lookout point called “Sky High Mount Dandenong.” I drove there, and paid a little money to go to the top. From there I could see a panoramic view of Melbourne; from the Mornington Peninsula all the way to Port Philip Bay, over to the You Yang ridges on the South side. It was amazing.
 
 

The Giant's Chair

The Giant’s Chair

 
 
Although I unfortunately didn’t have time to visit them, there looked to be other interesting attractions at the Sky High site. There was an English garden maze. It had very tall bushes (200 cm+) that were trimmed into a maze pattern. You have to try and find your way from the maze entrance to the exit, and it is very challenging. Also, there was also The Giant’s Chair—wish I had gotten some photographs here. Maybe next time!

Tulip Festival – Melbourne

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When was the last time that you moved to a new place? Did you move to a new house? City? A new country?!
This year I have done all 3! I love moving to new places because I get to explore all the interesting new sights and areas. My new city is Melbourne, and it has been voted one of the world’s best cities for several years in a row. I am keen to find out why!
 

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To begin with, it seems many people like Melbourne because there are heaps of interesting things to do. In particular, FESTIVALS. Whether it is comedy, music, arts, film, design, or nature, Melbourne always has some type of festival happening.

 
 
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Right now, the world-famous Tesselaar Tulip festival is on everyday between September 14 – October 15. Each week or weekend has a different theme; One weekend is Jazz themed, one is especially for children, and the other weeks have around-the-world themes, such as Turkish dancing, or Irish music to enjoy while at the farm. Of course, on any day you can simply go with your friends and stroll through the flowers, drinking wine and taking pictures of yourselves.
 

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This kind of festival sounds like a dream to me—so fun, relaxing and beautiful. Are you into festivals**? How do you find new and interesting places to visit in your city?

**“I am into festivals” means “I really enjoy festivals.” What are you “into?”