Well, it’s one for the money,
Two for the show,
Three to get ready,
Now go, cat, go!
Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins via Elvis, 1960

Day One Hundred and Eight Three December 18th

Today is glorious with a touch of clouds.  Perhaps they don’t want us to forget about them.  It is almost as if they just want to show up for an hour or so to make an appearance.

Vince and I head to the beach for a morning of sand castles, trucks and jumping in the waves.  

This is really the first day we notice the flies.  The guidebooks leave this part out with good reason.  Apparently the black flies are particularly bad this year because there is a problem with dung beetles in this part of the woods.  Fly larvae live in dung.  In good years dung beetles happily eat the fly larvae and everything stays in check.  However, we are at the tail end of a drought that has somehow impacted the beetles so, fewer beetles means more of flies.  

To give some perspective, Vince and I walk from the car to the beach covered head to toe with blankets, t-shirts, hats and anything else we can patch together.  We have our heads completely covered and leave just enough room around our eyes to peer out at the path in front of us.  

Flies cloud around as we walk.  It is like some kind of Australian torture technique.  Here we are on one of the most beautiful beach on earth and you almost break down walking from the parking area to the shoreline.  The bussing is enough to push you over the edge.  Once you get there all is well, as long as you stay in the water.  If you sit in the sand you suffer.  Insanity lurks close by.

We spend the morning building sand castles, playing trucks and swimming in the “big ones”.  Vince runs up and down as the waves come and go, squealing with delight and excitement. It is fun to watch his comfort zone increase day-by-day, the more time we spend in the ocean, the more he loves it.

In the afternoon we switch it up and Adele and I had beach side for some boogie boarding.  The waves here are big.  They are like a good day at Jones Beach except the break is much closer to shore: here the ride in is short, steep and very fast.  We manage.  Adele is swimming so well that she can run down, dive in, dive under the break and pop up on the other side.  The small stuff in Malaysia was great prep for the real McCoy.

The only issues here are the undertow (always think of “under toad” from the World According to Garp) and riptide.  Once we get out beyond the break it is hard to get back in.  The ocean is funny that way, it lulls you into thinking everything is going your way and then you slowly begin to realize just where you are and what you are doing.  The waves are very strong, rolling in sets of threes and fours and they are clearly in control, not us.  It is hard sometimes to teach a nine year old that you need to surrender to nature and go with the grain not against it.  Their instinct is to mold the world around them, not be molded by it.  Wait maybe that’s mine, so hard to un-learn all those years of schooling.

That’s how we find ourselves on the front end of a double set with legs being pulled hard left, a wave breaking right, Adele clutching her board with a flash of real fear in her eyes and me pushing her up so her head stays above water.  The moment the second wave crashes into my back on an angle that somehow pushes my mid section towards shore while my upper body goes right and my legs move out towards sea I can feel the full force of the oceans fury.  It is there in an instant and then gone just as fast.  The impact however, will be felt for some time.

Adele takes no notice as somehow we manage to keep her head above water and she keeps her hands on her boogie board.  I know that something is tweaked out immediately.  Each step confirms that the bones got rattled at bit.  

It’s a small price to pay for swimming with your daughter beyond the break.  She doesn’t miss a beat.

Day One Hundred and Eighty Four December 19th 

It is cloudy this morning.  I must say it is a welcome relief from the endless sunshine.  Clouds bring cooler temperatures and a gentle breeze changing the look and feel of the coastline.  Today the water looks darker and cold giving us a glimpse of another side, the one responsible for the shipwrecks that line the coast. 

We decide to go inland and check out a play area / coffee shop designed for families.  They do this kind of thing over hear.  Land is plentiful and they can build out big open spaces.  This one has a hedge maze designated “kids only” as well as a large warehouse type structure with tables and educational toys set out and organized by age group.  The patio looks over a giant climbing tree and a play set big enough for hoards of kids.  The “coffee” shop sells beer and has nice tables and umbrellas for the parents to hang and waste away an afternoon.  We should do more of this back home.   

The interesting thing is that it is a totally safe environment.  Parents can actually look at each other and converse instead the usual half focus, one eye on the conversation, the other on the kids.  Here the environment is comfortable and safe for kids and you know others will watch out for them if need be.  People let their guard down, though I am not sure it was ever up to begin with.  The comparison to South Africa, where you never take an eye off your kids, ever, is striking.  

The fly issue has us searching for an alternative beach venue so we head off to the other side of our peninsula to see if the winds are more favorable and strong enough to keep them at bay.  The area we drive through all looks very “beach” with low lying scrub trees and a sandy base.  The drive covers twisting two lane roads with sparse traffic.  We are still getting used to the lack of people here compared to the rest of world.

The other beach is full of flies as well.  The water is beautiful and the beach perfect for the kids but the flies drive us all crazy and we need to leave.  I have no idea how or why these people sit there all day long swatting at flies.  Perhaps it’s the endless flow of beer.

The son of a local winery owner owns the house we are staying at so we head over to Wise wines to check out his dad’s vineyard.  The place is something.  It is set on a small hilltop.  The property spills out in all directions with rolling hills filled with vines, huge ancient oak trees and fields of grass.  The main building houses a restaurant and shop selling wine and local items from the region.  There are sculptures on the main lawn and small places to sit and sip tucked about here and there.  

You get the sense that this is a fine life that folks are living here in SWA.  It almost seems like a well-kept secret that they have no interest in sharing with the rest of the world.  They have excellent beaches, incredible surfing and fishing, great wines, olives and fruits, blistering sunny days, a moderate climate and a safe family oriented environment.  

Now if they can just import some more dung beetles to take care of the flies.

Day One Hundred and Eight Five December 20th

Can it be raining?  Believe it or not after all of the sunny days a rest day comes at just the right time.  The rain sounds nice on the roof as it wakes us up to start the day. It is a glorious rainy day!

Sheep.  Not just one or two, here and there, but zillions of them pretty much everywhere.  Today we are going to see how they shear them and process the raw wool at a real sheep-shearing shed just down the road.  

Typical of this neck of the woods we pull into a dirt parking lot and wander in to buy tickets at a little shop selling stuff made from authentic “Australian” wool.  Naturally, they claim this to be the best wool in the world.  Not sure I can agree until we get to New Zealand (where they have 30 sheep for each person) but we can confirm that it is certainly some of the most expensive!

An old guy welcomes us into the “back room”.  There are probably seventy-five of us all in, mostly families with little kids.  There is a mix of local Aussies a few Asians and a token European traveler.  We seem to be the only Americans.  

The crusty old guy in charge of the shearing looks like he walked off a movie set.  He is leathery and tan, nicked and cut, quick with subtle inside jokes for the parents, patient with the kids and full of information on running a sheep farm.   

We learn all about sheep and farming.  When we lose power for a bit, a common experience out here, he improvises with a “field trip” out to the herding pen where the sheep dogs put on a show.  They have one dog to bring the sheep into the pen and another to walk on top of them to keep them moving through the gates.  No joke, one of the dogs walks on the backs of the sheep to keep them in line.  It is amazing to see how well trained the dogs are and how responsive the sheep seem to be.  

We learn about herd management, who they are tagged and identified by age and sex, when they are “retired” to the table and why, how often they are sheared, etc.  It’s so different from home.  This is a network of small farmers feeding in to cooperatives. The concept of corporate mega farms has not yet taken hold and the family run business is still alive and well.  

Eventually we get around to the main event where he actually shears a sheep.  They have a machine they use that has not changed in almost a hundred years.  In fact it seems not much at all has changed here in the past hundred years.  The barn is well worn and full of history.  Years of “fixes” are evident everywhere, old signs hang here and there.   

The sheep is incredible docile and sits there without any fuss as the shearer shaves the wool off in one piece.    

We learn about sorting and bailing.  How the different parts of the wool are used for different things and worth different amounts at market.  This farm sells to middlemen who then sell to production houses for processing.   Adele gets to push a button and start the bailing machine!

Our lunch stop is a German brewery stuck right dab in the middle of wine country.  A prime example of counter programming: the Aussies love beer so the place is crowded.  We sit inside and let the kids play outside in the rain.  It is strange to be eating sausages and sauerkraut after the real deal in Germany.  It can’t compare and disappoints, though we should have known better.  

Later afternoon finds Teri out Christmas shopping in town and the rest of us home watching a Stuart Little movie marathon.  No better way to spend a rainy day at the beach.

Day One Hundred and Eight Six December 21st 

More rain.  It is a slow, lazy day around the house while we get ready to transition up to Perth tomorrow. Adele is under the weather again and she spends pretty much the entire day on the couch.  I try and catch up on the journal and pay bills while Teri and Vince head out to Christmas shop.

In mid-afternoon, Ron the owner of the winery and Tim the brother of Daniel the one who owns the house, stop by for a visit.  They do things like that here.  People stop by and hang out.  I have no idea why we don’t do more of this at home.  Maybe some do some where but not in Malibu. 

They come strolling up the steps in board shorts, bare feet and tee shirts.  We have a great few hours hanging out, popping a few tops and chatting about life and travels.  It turns out they are an old Perth family with strong ties to the US.  One of the kids is an actress living in West Hollywood.  The wine business gets them out and about and Tim is starting several online ventures, some based back in the states.  It is nice to visit with such positive and upbeat people.  They have a dry sense of humor and appear interested and fully engaged in life.  

Maybe it reflects the upswing that this area is experiencing overall with the explosive growth in minerals and mining.  All the money flowing from the record growth of the past few decades is spilling into all corners of everyday live and everyone appears to be profiting.  Housing is up, unemployment is nearly nil and you sense that there is generally an opportunistic outlook here.  The future is bright and the landscape wide open.  

I know it is not that easy but if you could figure out something to bring to market it feels like the money is here to support it.  A good pretzel comes to mind.  Since they don’t have pretzels I may become the first “Pretzel King” of Australia.  With twenty million beer drinkers, how hard could it be?

Day One Hundred and Eight Seven December 22nd

This is a transition day.  We are moving from the beach house in Yallingup to the beach house in Cottesloe, Perth.   In Australia something like ninety percent of the people live by the water.  Beaches and beach neighborhoods are life here.  The ocean is warm, the waves big, the winds are calm in the morning and whip up to small gale in late afternoon and the sun always shines.  

We drive mid-day and arrive at another beautiful modern home in late afternoon.  We could be in Manhattan Beach, twenty years ago.  Settling in is easy as it all feels familiar, very much like home.

A few random thoughts/observations that I missed earlier and that I keep coming back to and churning over:
In Laos we saw a crazy game that they should import to the States.  It is played on a badminton court (people play badminton everywhere in Vietnam and Laos) only with three people per side and they use a small soccer ball.  The same rules as soccer apply: no hands, feet and head only.  The serve is an overhead or sideways scissors kick and returns can be chest trapped but must not touch the ground.  We saw a group of young guys playing late into the night by our hotel in Luang Prabang, the pace is really fast and it is exciting to watch.

Uluru, the most sacred of all Aboriginal sites is one hundred and seventy kilometers from the exact middle of Australia.  That’s nutty when you think about it, one hundred and seventy eight kilometers is a rounding error out here.  In the forty thousand years that folks have been here the rounding error is probably due to natural movement of the land.  How did they know that the center of their belief system stems from a rock in the very center of the land they are one with?  It’s beyond my realm of understanding.  Something is happening at the rock.

The river system that flows through the town of Alice Springs is part of the oldest uninterrupted river system in the world.   It is part of a broader natural, symbiotic relationship between the elements.  I would say it is between man and nature but I am coming to understand that is a misrepresentation of what is going on out here.  In this world man is nature so it simply is, with out division or separation. Everything learned and known stems directly from the greater whole.   I have no idea what any of this means but I do have strong desire to become a Park Ranger.   

Day One Hundred and Eighty Eight December 23rd

Elvis’s car is parked in our garage.  It’s a convertible, probably late 1960s, dark bluish black with a tan interior, a gift from Elis to Pricilla.  It is one of those times in life when you wonder how and why thing happen to you the way they do.  I have the keys but don’t dare to drive it.  Instead the kids pose for a few pics and I sit in The Kings seat and hum a few bars of Blue Suede Shoes.

Perth is a pleasure.  It reminds us of Southern California down San Diego way.  BRUCE! Our little town could easily be Carlsbad or Encinitas.  It’s the same kind of vibe.  Very beach: with flip-flops and board shorts as the uniform.  

With Christmas two days away we head to the mall.  Everyone is there and it feels like we are in the Valley.  This year we drew names out of a hat and we each get to buy one present for our person.  I have Teri and Adele has Vince so the two of us head off in search of gifts.  We settle on pajamas and a hat for mom and a Lego RV for Vin.  

The place is hot and crowded with last minute shoppers.  Turns out we are not alone in waiting until the last minute.  After an hour or two we are exhausted and decide to head back home to recoup: its all too much interaction with the masses for one day.  Best to go to the beach.

Day One Hundred and Eighty Nine December 24th

Our new routine is to head to the beach mid-morning while the wind is still calm and the waves manageable.  The kids and I head over for a few hours of boogie boarding and sand castle building.  It is very hot here in Perth.

Teri heads back to town once again for last minute shopping and supplies.  Christmas is difficult when travelling.  Getting time to pull it all together is not easy when you are together twenty-four-seven.  

When we return from the beach we wrap gifts and put out our stockings.  The air is festive and we are all in the holiday spirit. 

As tradition holds in our family we each open one gift on Christmas Eve.  We have a little party and snack on crackers and cheese.  NORAD is tracking Santa online again and it is fun to see that we are one of the first stops he makes instead of being one on the last back home.  Apparently he is stopped in Fiji for a while, and why not?

Adele has asked for a silver cross on a chain from Santa which gets us thinking about going to a church service which is how we ended up in the WSA cathedral in downtown Perth at 7p.  

The place rocks.  It is like the larger cathedrals we saw in Europe only filled to the brim and with a choir that makes the place reverb with sound.  It is a classic Christmas service with ten lessons and hymns, all read by prominent members of the city: the Governor, ambassadors in residence (including one from the US), the Rugby team manager, a TV news caster.  We sit by a side door so we can escape with Vince when he starts to melt down: Adele sits fascinated with it all the entire time.  

Full of the Christmas spirit we say our prayers, head home to set out cookies and milk and try and sleep some which is very difficult to do when you are nine and four and wondering if Santa knows where you are.