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American Servicemen In Australia

The Japanese military attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, thrust the United States into WWII. It wasn’t long after that Australia and New Zealand found themselves also under threat of Japanese attacks. While the majority of Australia’s soldiers fought alongside the British Royal Army against the Germans in the Middle East and Africa, the Japanese made their way through South Asia and South Pacific with little resistance. It was then that Australia and the United States joined forces to stop their military expansion.

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My grandfather was one of a million American servicemen who found himself in Australia during World War II. While Australians had popular Hollywood movies to familiarize them with American culture, Americans knew very little about Australia or its citizens. Our soldiers were in a foreign land trying to make sense of the currency, a new environment, unfamiliar foods and, of course, colorful Australian slang.

On a trip to Canberra, Australia’s capital city, I visited the Australian War Memorial. I was beyond impressed and moved by the Australian War Memorial’s collection and its presentation of the artifacts. The memorial was filled with detailed dioramas and paintings that depicted battles, along with pictures of soldiers paired with stories of their bravery. Some displays left me speechless, such as the restored planes paired with a large screen that played re-enactments of air battles which brought the aircraft’s history back to life. Another exhibit – a wall of thousands of names of soldiers who died in battle – was decorated with small red flowers called poppies. The wall left me with an overwhelming sadness that I could only compare to what I felt on my first visit to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.

After spending the afternoon wandering through this shrine to Australia’s fallen heroes, my curiosity was piqued by a little blue book found in the gift shop. The book titled, Instructions for American Servicemen in Australia 1942 was reproduced from the original which was created by the Special Service Division, Services of Supply, United States Army, and issued by the War and Navy Departments Washington, D.C. Although our soldiers presence was mostly welcomed due to our countries’ common goal, that didn’t mean there wasn’t some tension. In order to try and avoid any unneeded drama, this small booklet was produced and issued to each American soldier arriving to Australia, familiarizing them with the Australian people, land, history and culture.

The book mainly focused on our similarities as relatively new countries with British roots. It described Australia as made up of proud, independent people who believed in the importance of personal freedom and democracy. A brief history was given of their involvement in past wars and their record as well-respected, brave soldiers who wouldn’t quit. All of the information covered in the book was used to build respect and a sense of common ground since they were qualities Americans also strived for and respected. More importantly, it stressed the fact we needed Australia’s help just as much as they needed ours.

While the book’s main purpose was to establish a sense of camaraderie between the newly arriving American servicemen and the Australians, at times it tried a little too hard to make that connection. I found some humor as it pushed our mutual love of sports and compared our carnivorous appetite. However, the part that really made me smile can be found at the back of the book, which covers Australian slang. After several of my own visits to Australia, it made me think back on all the words or phrases that ended in funny misunderstandings or left me scratching my head.

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Having a grandfather who spent a great deal of time in Australia during World War II, this book was a fun little find. Sometimes it seems as though our loved ones’ service in the South Pacific during World War II isn’t covered as extensively as our involvement in Europe. Not only is this booklet a piece of history, it allowed me a look into the lives of our servicemen; I can only imagine the mixed feeling of excitement for those who had never left the country before, while also knowing there was a chance they might not come home alive.

Here was a book that was most likely issued to my grandfather that found its way into my hands, 67 years after he served, in the country he fought alongside. There is not one day that goes by that I haven’t wished I asked my grandfather more about his service and his time in Australia. I know he really would have gotten a kick out of my trips to the country he always wished to return to for a visit. It is small unexpected surprises like this that help me put his story together and make me like to think he’s still with me.

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(Grandpa & I – Early 1980’s)

 

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The Parkes Observatory

July 20, 1969 six hundred million people worldwide sat glued to their televisions watching as Neil Armstrong emerged from Apollo 11. Making his way down the ladder, Armstrong’s feet finally made contact with the moon’s surface. What followed were his famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. Joined by Buzz Aldrin, the two men walked, hopped, and loped across the desolate landscape in ghostly black and white images.

In the short 2 ½ hours they spent on the moon’s surface, they worked fast to collect soil and rock samples, took photos, and raised the American flag. They also received a phone call from then president, Richard Nixon, who described it as “the most historic telephone call ever made”. The success of this historic event, which fulfilled the late John F. Kennedy’s mission to put a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s played out on live television for all the world to see.

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Driving through New South Wales, seven miles north of a small town called Parkes, I noticed a dish towering over a cluster of trees just off in the distance. Miles of flat open land stretched out around it, covered in a grass that gave off a golden glow in the late afternoon sun. Something about it just seemed so out of place-it really was in the middle of nowhere. Parking in the visitors’ lot, I couldn’t get over how enormous the Parkes Observatory was, and the more I got to know about it, it just continued to become even more beautiful.

The Parkes Observatory telescope was completed in 1961 with a 210ft movable dish. It is the second largest in the Southern Hemisphere and is still considered one of the best in the world. Although it has been involved in tracking many space missions over the years, its biggest claim to fame came in 1969 when NASA reached out to Australia asking for help with the Apollo 11 mission. NASA needed stations that could track Apollo 11 while the moon was over Australia.

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A total of three stations were used to track Apollo 11 while also relaying communication to NASA for the live broadcast of the landing. Originally NASA chose the Goldstone station in California and Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra, Australia as the main receiving stations. The Parkes Observatory was only supposed to be a backup station incase the other stations were unable to pick up signals from Apollo 11. However, that all changed when NASA realized the moon would be directly over Parkes Observatory when Apollo 11 was scheduled to land. Parkes then went from a backup to a main receiving station for the mission.

When the cameras on the Lunar Module were triggered all three stations picked up the signal. It was then up to NASA to bounce between each station to see who had the best coverage of the landing. The first eight minutes of the broadcast were carried by Honeysuckle Creek until NASA saw the quality of the images coming from Parkes. For the rest of the 2 ½ hour live broadcast, NASA stayed with Parkes’ signal. This made Australia the first to see the images seconds before the rest of the world. Due to the success of the Parkes’ telescope, NASA went on to build three telescopes for their Deep Space Network matching Parkes’ design.

Walking around the grounds of Parkes Observatory, I couldn’t help but imagine the excitement that went through the small town. Not only were they a huge component in the broadcasting of the Apollo 11 landing, their design went on to directly influence NASA’s program. It was definitely a huge accomplishment not only locally but for Australia as a whole.

The Parkes Observatory is just one of the many beautiful stops I would have never known existed if it weren’t for a little detour in my travels due to curiosity. With the success of Apollo 11, the stars were no longer out of reach of human contact. This one mission opened the imaginations from the young to old from 1969 to today. In that short 2 ½ hour live broadcast, all of those watching worldwide became one-we had done it.

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Australia: Driving On the Left

Taken by the Captain, December 2011

In Australia Driving on The Left, Taken by @CaptnWing_n_it, December 2011

Having spent a lot of time in Australia, I’d say the biggest challenge I have faced has been getting around my fear of driving.

Here in the United States, I love driving. It has always given me a sense of freedom and a chance to escape. Long stressful day at work? Disagreement with a friend, family member or your other half? Feeling stir crazy? The answer for me was always to jump in my car, blast some music and go for a cruise.

Although I had been to other countries before that drove on the left, I really didn’t do much driving in them. If I did, I was part of a five-vehicle convoy and all I had to do is be sure to not lose the cars in front of me and follow their lead.

Easy enough.

Australia is different. Its not a quick stop for work, it has become my second home. The Captain goes to work and when he does, I am on my own. Luckily he lives in walking distance to a ton of shops, restaurants and hiking trails. Beyond that, he had given me a bike for Christmas one year so I have used that to get down to Lake Burley Griffin and the surrounding museums.

After avoiding the challenge at all costs, the Captain insisted on my last trip that it was time for me to learn.

Working as a pilot, he can be away for days at a time, which left me at the apartment alone with no transportation while his car sat at work OR he’d take a cab to leave me with a perfectly good car, sitting in a parking garage that I refused to use. It was silly. I really couldn’t argue with him… don’t tell him I said it… but he was right.

It was time.

For someone who loves driving, what were my reasons for avoiding it in Australia?

  1. I was worried about ending up on the wrong side of the road, leading me to harm someone else, harm myself or damage his car. Sure, he had me on his insurance… but still.
  2. I wanted more driving time with him in the car to get used to the rules of the road as well as getting used to driving around Canberra.
  3. I was extremely worried about driving once I returned home, for the same reasons listed above in number one.

My third reason may sound a bit strange. However, I have found driving at home (on the right) can be dangerous following a trip that had you driving on the left. Why is that?

Think about it… Let’s say you go to Australia and you spend a week or two driving on the left when you are used to driving on the right. You are aware of the danger so you are overly cautious while driving. You are overly aware. You are constantly making sure you aren’t making any silly slip-ups that could have you on the wrong side of the road. After a few days, you become more comfortable and by the end of the trip driving on the left isn’t much of a worry.

Then you return home.

You’re now at home, where you are comfortable driving on the right. You know what you’re doing, at least you think you do. For those reasons, you don’t think so hard about it. You don’t worry. You’re not as aware as you were overseas and before you know it you’re driving down the left side of the road because that’s what you just spent the week plus doing.

It may sound silly, however there were several times I almost got hit just crossing the street once I returned home because I looked the wrong way first before crossing. This is a pretty common mistake that I have heard other travelers make upon returning from a trip.

Funny enough, the streets in Canberra have markers spray painted on the streets for morons like me-letting you know which way to look before crossing. Doesn’t do me much good once I return to New Hampshire (weekend spray painting project perhaps?).

How difficult is it to drive on the left?

Let’s start with the car.

  • You climb into the driver’s seat…on the right side of the car. Odd.
  • You go to use your blinker but instead turn on the windshield wipers. You go to turn on your windshield wipers and your blinker comes on. Yes…all those controls are in reverse too (in most cars).
  • You go to switch gears and surprise… if you use your right hand you’re just grabbing your door. You shift with your left.
  • Break and gas pedals are the same as home.

Doesn’t sound all that difficult?

Now add the above to driving on the left side of the street…

Tight left turns, loose right turns.

Going around “roundabouts” (rotaries) the opposite way (around clockwise rather than counter clockwise).

Add to the confusion (at times) by getting directions by a local. Example…

Captain: Go through the roundabout and take a right…

Me: Ummm… so, stay on the rotary?

Captain: No, take a right…

Me: Take a right where? The only right I can take is to continue around… I like the view and all but I don’t care to stay on the rotary all day…

That’s when he explained that in Australia you don’t see 4 way intersections like you do in the United States. Four-way intersections in Australia are turned into rotaries… So when he said, “go through the rotary and take a right” he meant “go through the rotary and take the 3rd exit” OR “take a right at the four way stop”. In most cases driving with a local is HUGELY helpful but be prepare for moments of confusion-even if you speak the same language.

Speed cameras everywhere that will “book you” (ticket you) for barely going over.

Sometimes there are signs warning you that speed cameras are coming up ahead-other times there are no warnings. Usually they are placed on a pole at the side of the road or at an intersection. Other speed cameras are sneaky… they have speed cameras that are placed in cars that are parked on the edge of the road. You drive by speeding thinking you’re just passing a broken down car but surprise… Your ass has just been booked!

Add street signs to the mix that you have never seen before…

One thing to be aware of is that in most places in Australia you cannot make a U-turn. It depends on the state but most states don’t allow it. However… if they DO allow it at a particular intersection, there will be a sign saying you can. I found this confusing since back home you can make U-turns at just about any intersection as long as there isn’t a sign saying you can’t. Again, it’s the opposite from home. Same with turns on a red… back home you can turn on a red unless there’s a sign saying you cant. In Australia you cant unless there’s a sign saying you can.

Seat Belts are mandatory-no ifs, ands or buts.

Sobriety Check Points…

In the states, an officer my lawfully stop you if you give them reason to (probable cause). You can then be subjected to a breathalyzer test if they believe you are under the influence. This is not the case in Australia. Everyone gets stopped at a Sobriety Check Point and EVERY driver is required to take the breathalyzer. There is no argument for probable cause-if you drive, you are subject to taking one. This is one of those times where you leave the “being an American” attitude at home because you are not in the U.S. Their country, their rules. Lesson being-Australia has zero tolerance for stupid.

The passing (or “overtaking”) lane on a double lane highway is located on the right.

At home the left is a pass only, in Australia the right is a pass only.

Finally add the lines on the street being different from home.

In the U.S. we have yellow lines that break up the two oncoming sides of traffic …in Australia it’s not like that. There are white lines everywhere, so I always have to be extra cautious since it makes me feel like I’m on a one-way street-when I am not. The only time I have seen yellow lines is to mark places not to park, stop, etc.

Best piece of advice for driving on the correct side of the road?

Regardless of whether you are in Australia driving on the left or the United States… the driver sits closest to the center line of the road. If you can remember that, it makes staying on the correct side of the street much easier (especially when it comes to making turns at an intersection).

Overall, it isn’t impossible. Be aware and be careful. If you have a GPS or map app that obviously takes away the stress of getting lost, then you can focus on safety. It took me only a few days to feel comfortable with driving on the left but I do want to stress the importance of being cautious when you return home.

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Australia: Scratching The Surface

Otway Lightstation, Australia

View From The Cape Otway Lightstation, Cape Otway, Victoria, Australia-Dec 2011.

If you were to look at countries as part of a family unit, Australia feels like a long lost cousin. There are many similarities between the United States and Australia while there are many things that make us very different.

As an American, what have I noticed about the country and people from my many visits?

Independent: Australians have a deep sense of pride in their country and are fiercely independent. Although they still have strong traditional ties to England-they are very much their own people and Australia is very much it’s own country.

Population: Although Australia just about matches the U.S. in landmass, it has a fraction of our population. As of 2013, Australia had a population of 23 million people… while the United States had a population of 316 million people. In Australia, the majority of that population lives on the coast since much of the interior is desert and considered uninhabitable.

The Good ‘ol Days: One of the many things I have noticed and loved about Australia is that it feels as though it is a generation “off” or “behind”. As strange as this might sound, it is meant in the most positive way possible. Many of the stories my Australian boyfriend tells me about his childhood sound a lot like the stories my parents told me about theirs. Many of the stories the his parents tell me about their childhood, sound a lot like my grandparent’s. Things seem off by a generation but in all the best ways. Things aren’t so rush, rush, rush-go, go, go like it is here in the United States. As a country, they still seem to have their innocence, trust and sense of humor intact.

Innocence: Although Australia did see some action at home during WWII they haven’t experienced an all out terrorist attack like 911. The country, for the most part, is welcoming and feels at ease, which is a nice change of pace. This is something you will notice right away when you experience the differences in airport regulations and security between Australia and the U.S flying domestically.

In Australia, you can still bring water through the security checkpoints, you don’t have to remove your shoes and your loved ones can accompany you to the gate to see you off. One of my least favorite parts is leaving but I must admit I am always glad to have my guy there with me as I sob like a little girl, stomp my feet and protest the flight home.

Sydeny Opera House, Australia

Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

This isn’t to say Australia hasn’t experienced any tragedy. On my last trip, I watched on as the Sydney Siege played out. I really felt for the country. It felt very much like watching the Boston Marathon Bombing unfold… the country was blindsided and beside it’s self.

The other tragedy that is mentioned most frequently is the Port Arthur Massacre, which was the cause of Australia’s strict gun ban.

Sense of Humor: On a lighter note! I love Australia for the fact it hasn’t been beaten to death with political correctness. Although they do strive to treat people fairly, they haven’t lost their sense of humor and they sure as hell aren’t afraid to use it. Evidence of this can be seen from TV to street signs. Many of the Australians I have met have a sense of humor that is very much like a New Englander’s… be prepared for sarcasm.

Humorous Street Signs, Australia

One of Many Humorous Australian Street Signs.

Language: Although Australians speak English… you may find yourself getting lost in their frequent and colorful use of slang. I cannot tell you how many funny and embarrassing misunderstandings my guy and I have had with each other even though we speak the same language (supposedly). I will share some of those stories with you guys in the future!

Of all the countries I have visited so far, I would say if you are an American looking to travel overseas, Australia is a great place to start. From the people, traditions, colorful slang, vegetation, wildlife, cities and beaches it’s different enough to be exciting and new. However, there are just enough similarities to put you at ease with international travel, which will help build your confidence before tackling a more challenging destination.

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Australian Food, Sweets and Spreads

Half the fun of traveling can be trying new foods… depending on the location. I can’t say I jump at the chance to eat fried guinea pig in Peru or fried brain in Serbia. In Australia, the craziest thing I have tried so far is Kangaroo. It was weird… and did not taste like chicken. That aside, I am not a huge foodie but I do like my sweets.

Here are just a few common Australian food, sweets and spreads I have tried on my travels…


 

SconesScone: Australians say scone… Americans say biscuit. Australians eat these things for dessert… while Americans eat them for breakfast. Either way… they are far from healthy.

So how do Australians eat scones (biscuits)? They cut them in half then put a layer of jam on each piece followed by a layer of whipped cream. Sounds pretty weird if you’ve never tried them that way but it’s actually pretty good!

For our Australian readers…how do Americans eat scones (biscuits)? We make a breakfast sandwich out of them! We’d cut it in half then throw on any combination of cheese, egg, sausage, bacon or ham… if you live in the south you could even eat them with gravy…

I’d say we beat the Aussies in making them more fattening.


 

VegemiteVegemite: Holy hell-can it be disgusting. Let me give you a little heads up so you avoid the mistake most people make when trying it for the first time… It is NOT peanut butter, jam or butter.

The more you throw on your toast, it will not-I repeat-it WILL NOT taste better.

Less is more with this evil salty spread unless you want your face to turn inside out. If you avoid the mistake of slathering it on-it’s really not all that bad but I’d still say it’s an acquired taste. You either grow up with it and love it or you wonder what the heck is wrong with some people’s taste buds.

Still interested in trying Vegemite? When the Captain made toast for me he threw some margarine on first then a THIN layer of vegemite on top.

Key word-thin.

I have just learned there is something called a cheesymite scroll, that is a spiraled baked bread with vegemite and cheese.

I have never had it-but now that I know it exists I may have to try it on the next trip!


 

Meat Pie: Yep. It sounds gross doesn’t it? Apple pie, yum. Pumpkin pie, yum. MEAT pie? Let’s say I was more than skeptical on this one.

So what is it?

You’ll find them mainly in cafes and bakeries; they are a great takeaway (takeout) option if you’re on the go. Meat pies are hand-sized and are filled with all sorts of good stuff, usually minced meat and gravy but there are many filling combinations. Once you get past the name-they are pretty damn good! Warm, flaky, meaty, gravy filled pies… yum.

A common condiment paired with meat pies is ketchup… but if you ask for ketchup you’ll be looked at funny. Ask for tomato sauce and you’ll avoid sounding like a tourist… minus the accent of course.


 

BeetRootBeetroot: I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the beetroot obsession. I can’t say I had ever tried it before visiting Australia either. Australians will throw it on burgers, salads and sandwiches… Usually when I find it in my burger or sandwich, I’ll get a few bites in then find myself picking it out of my sandwich. I don’t hate it… it’s just strange, not sure how else to describe it.

The added bonus… it can stain your clothes and fingers purple. Sexy stuff.


 

LamingtonLamington: These things are weird but the Captain has told me they are a pretty standard Australian dessert, one that makes an expected appearance at most holidays or get togethers. He bought them on my last trip and he insisted that we freeze them-he swears they taste better that way.

So what the heck are they? They are little square, two layer cakes made from what I think is sponge cake. Between the two layers was a layer of jam and the entire outside was covered in a very thin layer of chocolate sprinkled with coconut. He did tell me that some have a layer of cream in the center rather than jam.

They were pretty good but they weren’t my favorite. For a sweet tooth… I would have been happier if there was a thicker layer of chocolate!


 

MaltesersMaltesers: I must confess. I am a Malteser monster.

Although I have heard you can find them in Canada and parts of the U.S. they are not easy to find. In Australia they are about as common as Reeses Peanut Buttercup are in the U.S. They are every where.

Maltesers are made by Mars, Incorporated and are small, round, bite sized chocolates that have a center made of malt honeycomb. Love them.

For those who are thinking it… They are NOT Whoppers. Whoppers are disgusting… Maltesers not so much. If you are lucky enough to find them in the U.S.-grab ‘em!


 

tim-tamsTim Tam: I am a fan of Tim Tams. The Captain tries to stay away from sweets but this is one of the first he wanted me to try. They are a biscuit (or cookie as we’d say) and they are made up of two chocolate biscuits, separated by a layer of chocolate filling and coated with chocolate.

 

They are very common and easy to find. Tim Tams can be found in several different flavors too. I’ve seen white chocolate, dark, caramel, orange, original… My favorite is the chocolate/orange combo.


 

caramel Slice 2Caramel Slice: Evil layers of yum. I was first introduced to these in Townsville, Australia by the Captain. They are hands down my favorite.

If you have a sweet tooth, these things will destroy it. Layer of soft chocolate, caramel and a shortbread base. Sometimes the base will have coconut in it… which just makes it that much more evil.

These are not the type of dessert you could sit and eat several of in one sitting-they are heavy. I have made them several times at home now and have introduced my family to them in the states… they curse me every time I bring them to a family holiday but the plate always comes home empty!

And we all leave 10 pounds heavier.

Interested in making them? The recipe I use can be found here on Taste.com.au. There are a couple of things I do different though since some of ingredients are hard to find in the states.

If you are unable to find golden syrup you can use honey (although it will change the taste slightly).

For the top chocolate layer, copha might not be so easy to find in the U.S. so I substituted it with a recipe I use to make the center of my truffles. I’ll take a half cup of heavy cream and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract, bringing it just to the point of boiling I then remove it from the heat. Then I add a cup of chocolate chips, mixing until it is melted. Once it is melted, I pour it on top of the other two layers then place it in the fridge to harden.

These things are so worth the effort. If you give them a go, let me know how they turned out!

If you have any suggestions on other Aussie foods I should try, let me know in the comments below. I will be adding new foods as I try them, so keep looking back for updates!