Aussie note #4: Two beers dominate the market in Australia, Victoria Bitter (VB) and XXXX (4X). VB is brewed in the state of Victoria; 4X is made in Queensland. Victorians and Queenslanders are fiercely proud of their respective state's concoctions. (Personally, I like 'em both.) Only an unwise person would step into a pub in one state and declare that the other state's beer is superior.
Aussie note #5: Another source of competition between Victoria and Queensland lies in sport. Queenslanders love rugby, while Victorians love footie (they should, seeing as how they invented the sport). Herein lies the problem: For the past three years, the champions of the Aussie Rules Football League have been the Brisbane Lions (and they're looking strong again this year), a Queensland team. Victorians are, shall I say, somewhat bitter about this, as they've got eight teams in their state and Queensland's only got one.
We had a week of free time before we had to be in Melbourne for our next unit. The group split up and went in various directions. Many went to New Zealand. I flew north to Queensland to see what I'd been missing.
You see, our program had originally been meant to include four universities. However, the Australian Department of Immigration, in its infinite wisdom, decided at the very last minute that granting each of us four student visas (one for each school attended) was too many. Luckily, through many late-night phone calls and extensive negotiation, the representatives of all the schools involved managed to work out a new itinerary that had us staying an extra month in Melbourne while the professors from Griffith University who would have met with us in Queensland would come down and teach us there.
This was all well and good, but we were now missing what are regarded as some of the most beautiful and interesting places in Australia. Fortunately, we had the opportunity on this spring break to see them for ourselves, if in a much-condensed time span.
My trip took me from Cairns (pronounced cans), in the extreme northeast of the country, south to Brisbane, the state's capital. Along the way I saw tropical rain forests, reefs, acres of sugar cane, and more. I patted kangaroos, held a koala [Ed. note: That's Eric on the cover], fed a crocodile, cracked a whip, rode a horse, photographed a tree frog on a bush, swam in a pool less than a mile from the jellyfish-infested beach, reclined in the shade of our broken-down bus as I cracked open a coconut, and made sure to taste every kind of Australian beer available (my ratings: 4X Gold is good, as is Victoria Bitter, but my heart was won by Crown Lager).
Backpacking through Queensland, I met hundreds of people -- and liked most of them. The British university students taking a year off were the best. In the end, Queensland was everything that we were promised, and I do regret that we weren't allowed to spend a month there studying and living.
Peter Adams' Monument to life at Windgrove in Tasmania (left); making resin (center); exotic crossroads (right)
Back in Melbourne, it was all excitement as everyone shared the stories of their personal adventures while marveling at our new accommodations. The half hotel-half student lodge was a dream after the somewhat stodgy student share-houses of Tasmania. Here we were living with actual students, other people we could get to know, who could show us around Melbourne (and who, we learned, could drink us under the table).
Aussie note #6: Melbourne is the self-proclaimed culture capital of Australia. More significantly, it has been dubbed one of the "most livable cities for expatriates" in the world by an Economist Intelligence Unit (country analysis) survey. In good marketing style, every brochure that Melbourne's tourism board publishes translates this honor to mean that Melbourne is "the most livable city in the world." (Apparently it beat out rival city Sydney only because Sydney has a higher crime rate and more humidity.)
I found the Contemporary Australian Literature course, while less strange than science, a bit dull after one of the most exciting experiences of my life. But both our professors were understanding and patient; we read (well, read most of) six books, all written by Australian authors of varying importance. Also, a short field trip to the Melbourne Museum and a downtown art gallery helped to connect some of what we were reading to the real-life culture of Australia.
Indeed, there were many non-Aussies hanging around the place, but there was still this sense to the city that it was Australian to the core. Perhaps the fact that it has no fewer than seven of Australia's unique AFL teams helps. Perhaps the fact that a large portion of Aussie TV is produced in the city also contributes. Or perhaps part of what makes Australia "Australia" is that it is made up of different peoples, much like our United States. At any rate, I picked up an interesting piece of trivia: Melbourne has the largest Greek-speaking population outside of Greece.
Time passed quickly in Melbourne. Soon we were in the long-weekend break before our final full class. Most of us made tracks to explore what we'd missed during spring break. Some of us (including yours truly) were broke, so we stayed in Melbourne and explored everything a second time.
Our final four-credit course was an in-depth Aboriginal history class. The highlight was a three-day excursion to Halls Gap, a mountainous region north of Melbourne known for its scenery and ancient Aboriginal rock paintings. We were fortunate enough to see 3,000-year-old hand stencils and stick drawings cast in red, yellow, and white ocher.
Our final class drew to a close, and so did the adventure for some of us. Nine of us had signed on for a two-week photography course at the end of the trip. A tearful good-bye reminiscent of an episode of Real World, followed by a panicked effort to pack an entire room the morning of an international flight, marked the departure of the unfortunate four.