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Australia. The Land Down Under. The only country that’s also a continent. Fascinating on a number of levels. "Discovered"
by Europeans in the early 17th Century (the indigenous inhabitants discovered it many thousand of years earlier), its coastline
wasn’t fully mapped until the start of the 19th Century, and European colonization didn’t begin until 1788.
Significant European interest in the continent probably began in 1770, when Lieutenant James Cook, having continued west after
mapping New Zealand, mapped Australia’s eastern coastline, claiming the entire area for Britain and calling it New South
Wales. Unusual for voyages of exploration at the time, Cook’s ship Endeavour carried two naturalists, Joseph Banks and
Daniel Solander, who had a very busy time documenting and collecting samples of the peculiar flora and fauna of the region. Some
years later back in Europe, England found itself in a difficult position, with a surplus of convicted lawbreakers and a scarcity
of places to put them. The North American colonists had had the temerity to revolt and establish their own country, removing
places like Virginia as potential dumping grounds for the convicts. "Prison hulks", or old ships used as jails, proved to be
effective incubators for a number of ferocious and deadly microbes. Joseph Banks, by this time president of the Royal Society,
suggested Botany Bay (named by Cook in honor of Banks and Solander, who were primarily botanists) on the east coast of Australia
as a likely place to establish a penal colony. Accordingly, an expedition of eleven ships, carrying mostly convicts, was put
together and sent off to Australia to do just this. The flotilla, now known as the First Fleet, arrived at Botany Bay in January
of 1788 but found the location unsuitable because of poor soil and difficulty in finding fresh water. They relocated a few miles
to the north, to another natural harbor called Port Jackson, which worked out much better. When it became time to name the
settlement established here, the name New Albion was considered, but instead the name Sydney (after British Home Secretary Lord
Sydney) was chosen, and the settlement has developed noticeably in the ensuing years. Many more convicts arrived at this and
other settlements over the next few decades, most of whom were treated badly. As were the indigenous peoples (collectively
labeled aborigines by their new neighbors), who were mostly on the losing end of various conflicts, both armed vs.
Europeans and unarmed vs. devastating European diseases. So for a time there was plenty of misery to go around. Australia
started moving away from being a penal colony around 1825, and has gradually developed into the cosmopolitan, multicultural
nation with the checkered past that it is today.
But with people being the creatures they are, practically every nation has a checkered past to call its own. Speaking for
ourselves, when we think of Australia, we think more of its natural history, which makes the country so startlingly unique. All
connection between Australia and other continents was severed many millions of years ago. Since that time, a vast number of
plant and animal species have evolved which are not seen anywhere else. Several climatic zones are also represented on the
continent, leading to great diversity in the life found there. The heartland of Australia is an immense desert, and it is
surrounded by less arid coastline which is cool in the south and tropical in the north, with intervening subclimates on the east
and west coasts, and life has adapted to all of these regions. Some of the more familiar animals include kangaroos, emus,
wombats, koalas, possums, dingos, tasmanian devils and cassowaries. There are also gigantic (and aggressive) salt water
crocodiles and insanely venomous snakes, spiders, jellyfish and octopi. And the odd great white shark also stops by for an
occasional visit. Humans are found throughout the continent, but most densely in the southeastern coastal area.
Planning a ten-day visit to Australia is not an easy thing to do. It’s simply impossible to cover a continent in ten days, so
one has to decide on a small number of areas on which to focus. We decided on two: Sydney and the Brisbane/Gold Coast
area. This was somewhat arbitrary, but we’d been to both places before and knew we wouldn’t be disappointed. Perhaps next time
we’ll be a little more adventurous. We decided we’d visit Brisbane first, and then fly south to Sydney via a commuter flight,
eventually returning to Los Angeles from Sydney. But first we had to take a flight across the Tasman Sea on a QANTAS 737 from
Auckland to Brisbane, a flight which took about four hours, crossing two time zones.
QANTAS 737 and Jetway, Auckland
Downtown Auckland and Harbour
New Zealand Coastline
Nella and Bob on Plane
Approaching the Australia Coastline
Immigration and customs in Brisbane were straightforward, as we’d applied and paid for visas on line in advance, and didn’t
attempt to bring any food into the country (they’re touchy about that, and might give you a choice between throwing it away
or eating it on the spot). We hit an ATM at the airport for some local currency and hired a taxi to take us to our hotel,
the Brisbane Hilton, in Brisbane’s Central Business District.
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