All developed countries care a lot about road safety, but I think Australia is obsessed with road safety. Though USA and Europe also have rest areas for drivers, I found that in Australia, you have them every 20 or 25 kms. The rest areas have tables/chairs for eating and toilets. They are generally very well-maintained. There are a lot of road signs that exhort drivers to 'stop, revive and survive'. So whenever we went out, we used to carry all the food in the boot of the car and we could eat at the right time as we were never far away from a rest area. And another unique Aussie feature are the driver reviver stations, where everyone is served coffee/tea and biscuits. These are manned by volunteers from Lions' Club or similar organisations. You can make cash donations which are optional. Of course these are not found every 20-25 kms. But you can come across one every hour (about 75 kms). When we stopped at one on way to Coffs Harbour, most of us opted for coffee, which was undrinkable for us. Raghu who opted for tea praised it. So we quietly dropped the coffee cups in the litter bin and picked up tea. We were also amazed by the cleanliness of the portable toilets and the sincerity of the lady who was cleaning them.
Australia has the highest percentage of home-owners in the world which is perhaps not surprising. One of the important resources for houses,viz., land is available in plenty. A comparison of the size and population of Australia with India is very revealing.
||Area (miilion sq.kms
||Population Density (millions per sq.kms)
The density of population in Australia is almost 1 % of that in India. Because of the easy availability of land, it is rare to see multi-storeyed residential blocks. Most houses are single or at the most double-storeyed. The main material of construction is treated wood. The number of houses made of bricks and mortar is quite low. An interesting feature for a home-buyer is the display home. Every builder has a big area in which the houses in different stages of construction including the fully finished ones are displayed. Every item of raw material that goes in the making of the house - wood, cement, sand, stones, electric conduits, switches, water pipes, in fact every single item is displayed. So the customer knows beforehand what would go into the making of the house. We visited a display home site which was interesting. The civic authorities in Australia are very strict. Permission for construction can be obtained only after proper fencing as well as the installation of portable toilets for the construction workers are in place. I asked my brother-in-law whether termite problem exists because of the usage of wood. He said that anti-termite treatment is regularly done and that the houses are guaranteed for a hundred years.
"Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it." This statement attributed to Mark Twain (though it was written by someone else) highlights that all of us love to talk about the weather. Our strongest memory of Melbourne is the heat wave that we faced while coming out of the airport. Since we mostly stayed in Sydney, we did not feel the heat. Sydney's temperature seldom went above 300C during our stay. We also had rain on a few occasions. When we went to Jenolan caves, we forgot to look up the temperature there in the Net and were caught totally unprepared for the rain, wind and cold and had to cut our visit short. Even on days that were hot, we found the nights in Sydney to be cooler. On 12th Jan when we got off the flight in Melboourne, we felt we were being roasted. Later we learnt it was 430C. But the very next day, we were shivering in 180C in the rain, wind and cold when we visited the Great Ocean Road. You can gather that there is a wide variation in weather in Australia from day to day. Australia is also said to be affected by the depletion in ozone layer. I read that the cases of skin cancer are very high in Australia and experts are unable to say whether this is due to ultra-violet radiation or the fact that Australians by nature are outdoor types and expose their bodies to the sun much more than any other nationals. As a result, the sale of sunscreen lotions and other similar products in Australia are among the highest in the world. Rukku would not step out of the house in the afternoon without applying sunscreen cream. In fact, there is a clause in Australia's IRS (Income Tax) which reads thus.
17.8 Does the nature of your employment require you to work in an
environment that exposes you to sun and ultra violet radiation?
(Sun Protection Products)
If Yes, you may be able to claim the costs of sunscreen lotions, hats and
sunglasses. Please provide details of expenses incurred. If you have not
kept receipts you can make a reasonable estimate of up to $85.00.
No wonder sunscreen products sell well!
'Were you not bored in the nearly two months that you spent in Sydney?' was a common question to me and Amritha. When we look back, we realise that at no time we found time hanging heavily on us. Firstly we were 12 of us including two kids for the first two weeks that time just flew. Secondly we were frequently travelling. Out of the 52 days, we spent 10 days outside Sydney (4 days in Cairns, 3 days each in Coffs Harbour and Melbourne). Even in the remaining time, we travelled to a lot to places in and around Sydney as well as Canberra and Bowral. Our typical day would start with treadmill and walk by my wife and sisters-in-law and reading Sydney Morning Herald for me. The Newspaper is very securely packed as a roll in cellophne paper and delivered by a person driving a car. It used to take a couple of minutes for us to open it. The paper carried a cryptic crossword of good quality and had two Sudokus, Kenken (another number puzzle), jumble etc. Once a week it carried a Samurai Sudoku (which is a 5-in-1 Sudoku). I was also regularly reading the Hindu, Times, Daily Thanthi and a few other Indian Newspapers on the Net. My brother-in-law and niece together have a good collection of Tamil and English books. He also has a e-book reader that has over 400 books. My wife and sister-in-law used to read the e-books regularly. I forgot to mention under Fauna that there are a lot of flies in Australia in summer. So I used to tell my wife and sister-in-law who used to have a paper book in hand while reading the e-book ,'ஒரு கைல e-book, இன்னொரு கைல ஈ ஓட்றதக்கு ஒரு book'. Of course my sisters-in-law had the store catalogues to read as well. All of us would help in household chores like cooking, washing utensils, sweeping, mopping and vacuum-cleaning the house, washing the clothes, shopping etc. We could help in the mowing of lawn just once. My wife and sisters-in-law cleaned the lawn a few times. Another important activity was cooking and packing for all our outdoor trips.
My brother-in-law has a 55" TV and a very large collection of old Tamil and Hindi movies. The DVDs of new ones reach Sydney from Singapore within a week of release and are available in Indian stores for 2 A$. We saw over a dozen movies. We were also talking regularly to our close relatives in India and USA thanks to Skype. And invariably, the day would end with all of us playing Mail, a game of cards which is our family game. In the 51 days that we stayed in Australia, we played 52 games of Mail. With an average of 20 deals per game, it came to more than 1000 deals.
Above all, we cherish the trip for the people who made our stay memorable. I do not think I have met a more gracious hostess than Chandra, my sister-in-law. She was managing the kitchen, taking care of us, taking care of the Ashram's needs and going to the office which was super-human. Raghavan, my brother-in-law and Chandra had planned our trips meticulously so that nothing went wrong though we went out very often. Vidya and Nitya, my nieces were also working, but walked the extra mile to keep us happy. Vidya had also driven her car with us to Canberra as well as Darling Harbour. Nitya had driven us to a number of places in and around Sydney. We cannot also adequately thank Charles, Raman, Asha and Hari who went out of their way to help us. There are many others, but I would like to mention two persons. Chris, a taxi driver in Melbourne who picked us from the airport to the hotel on 13th Jan and from the hotel to airport on 15th Jan. He was a good conversationalist and an extremely interesting person. Another was the coach driver who took us on the Great Ocean Road Tour in Melbourne. He was an ideal tour guide combining professionalism with entertainment.
I am never tired of saying that life consists of experiences and memories. We had very good experiences in Australia and shall always have fond memories of it. Will we ever go back? Who knows? But one thing is certain. The magic of this family reunion in 2009 in Australia can never be recaptured.
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