By Daggett Harvey
(Editor’s note: When we left Daggett and Yvonne Harvey last week in Hobart, Tasmania they had fascinated us with tales of wombats, echidnas, and that most famous Tasmanian devil. Climb back on board their cruise ship for Part 2 of the three-part series as we sail the South Pacific with these adventurers).
Days 9 and 10: G-day to Tasmania!
And so we bid G-day to sunny, rainy, lush, bucolic, Devilish, Tasmania — a lovely, beautiful, fascinating island.
I’d go back.
Or to put it in Australian, “A ripsnorter! I’ve had a fair sip of the sauce bottle, I might have me another. “
In some ways, Tasmania is to Australia as Hawaii is to mainland USA — a beautiful island vacation paradise with great variety, its own traditions, and the dreamed-about holiday spot. Better wine (than Hawaii) and a few more interesting indigenous mammals, or rather marsupials. (There are no indigenous mammals, let alone marsupials, in Hawaii).
Now off to Sydney, the largest city of Australia, population almost 5 million, 20 percent of the country. Also today one of the hottest— as I write it is 100*. It will be Yanks on the Barbie!
Australia-↗️US & ↘️UK?
In Australian eyes.
Along with its own headlines, “Humps Calm Notorious Boon Strip,” This country is fascinated with 2 others, US and UK. I don’t know whether it’s Hollywood, financial ties, Trump, Yank Tourists or WW2 but the USA has clearly attracted more attraction than “The Bloody Poms”. Not that Mother England has no followers. Afternoon Tea, Cricket, similarly lurid newspapers, and of course the Dickensian Cockneyesque accent. But the “Conquer the West, Conquer the Natives” history links Australia with the USA. As does the US Marine Corps, shielding this country in WW2, while most of the Aussie army was with the British 8th army in North Africa fighting the Germans and Italians.
Gallipoli and Coral Sea were the battles that caused Australia to look to America, not Great Britain. At Gallipoli, in 1915 Sandhurst trained British officers led New Zealand and Australia’s finest (ANZAC) into a Turkish meat grinder. (“Thank you Winston, for 8700 of us dead,” one Aussie said to me).
At the Battle of The Coral Sea, the American/Australian naval forces took heavy losses to block the Japanese route to Australia and Port Moresby, PNG. Yanks are actually popular here — most of the time.
In a few hours, I’ll see how popular Yanks are at the exclusive Australian Club.
Due to a good friend at The Chicago Club I have an invitation for luncheon with one of the board members. It’s alleged to be a sort of an Australian version of Boodles or The Reform Club of London.
Nothing like Boodles or The Reform Club at all! It is modern, sleek, in a high-rise with superb views of the park, waterfront with sailing race. I expected my host to be a deep-rooted Sydney type but instead was surprised to find a Pittsburgh Yank. I believe he ran the local Merrill Lynch office. Delightful conversation comparing Australian and American politics. (They complain of deadlock too, in Aussie phrase, “A Dog’s Breakfast. “) There’s huge curiosity in this country, and more than a little anxiety, about Mr. Trump, and China.
Food and Service — Sydney:
Whether it’s the relaxed egalitarian tradition or the non-tipping habit or something else, the food and wine are as good here as the service is not. Time after time one-hour meals would turn into 2+ hour marathons. But no worries as my mates provided ample entertainment — Derry Henderson, with keen political insights and Laurie Sudler, with stories on herself on how she failed to measure twice and cut once, a few times in the past, leading to problems.
And Louis entertains with his erudition and Navel stories. One should not forget that he really earned the title of Commander, USNR Reserve — which made me wonder if Laurie had been made an admiral.
Days 11 and 12: Sydney and the Zoo
Taking it easy and eating and eating in Sydney. Yesterday went to the modern art museum and the Sydney Zoo. Earlier had lunch and fell in love with a Dugong at the Sydney Aquarium. Dugong resembles a Manatee with a hangover.
And the Duck Billed Platypus — who wouldn’t love this gal. The tale of a beaver, the bill of a duck, who suckles her young after they emerge from their eggs! An all-around loving mother!
When Europeans first saw a dead Platypus in the late 18 century, they thought it was a fake animal or rather a combination of several other animals sowed together. They found out it was quite real when they encountered a live one and were stung by the venomous spur in its hind feet.
(Not a fake animal)
Dinner in Woolloomooloo tonight — I just had to write that word down.
Very good museum and a better zoo with all kinds of creatures, Australian and others, but I didn’t pay much attention to the others. Every zoo has monkeys but not every zoo has a Bush Tailed Bettong or a Red Tailed
Phascogale, and two sleeping Tasmanian devils, who didn’t look at all like Walt Disney’s whirling Mini-monsters.
But halfway through my Zoo Safari, the power went out. That was no big thing for those of us in the zoo but since you have to reach the zoo by a gondola or a large hill it was a great misfortune for families with little children. Lots of cockney screams as the kids were made to walk up the steep hill.
As I finally rode down in the gondola with an Australian family — they asked me where I was from, “Canada?” They asked. “No, USA,” I said. The little boys looked at me with new awe. “I want to be an American,” he exclaimed.
“Why? this is a great country,” I answered.
Then he said, to the great embarrassment of his father:
“Because it’s the biggest and strongest.”
“Quite a great responsibility,” his father answered. I winced at the truth and the responsibility of it.
Dinner at a restaurant called Quai was a Tour de Force of gourmet and gourmand delight. After a cruise ship which should’ve been named, “Ogre of the Sea,” moved, we had a clear view of the Sidney Opera House.
It’s aging quite well for a 57-year-old but has a darker suntan since the last time I saw it 15 years ago.
The Brobdingnagian Tour de Force consisted of the following:
Pippies, cured pork belly, almonds,
daylilies, fermented corn cream,
smoked pig jowl,
black barley, koji,
sesame, sea scallop
Sommerlad heritage bred chicken,
brioche, grains, morel,
coco button mushroom
And to top it off…
Snow Egg (cannot be described, from another planet, but yummy)
eight textured chocolate cake,
which became an active volcano, erupting when hot chocolate sauce was added.
Guess I’m getting short of news when I have to report on dinner but it was spectacular. So good it was that it came up and said hello several times during the night.
Days 13 and 14: At Sea
After champagne and the ship’s band playing “Waltzing Matilda,” we sailed under Sydney’s “coat hanger” bridge at 5 pm the day before yesterday; we are well on our way north, almost the full length of Australia on this very well-run and luxurious cruise ship, The Crystal Symphony.
Wi-Fi is weak and expensive so I am compelled by my basic frugality to be brief. Lucky you.
The food and service on this 20-year-old medium-sized giant (51,000 tons,) is little short of astounding. The crew is from all over the world, but a plurality from Eastern Europe — they wear badges with nationality listed — but it is still odd to my old eyes to see an obviously East Asian face over “Sweden” on the name tag. In one day I encountered all the six nations that made up what was once called Yugoslavia. Food is very fine, with many choices from Nouvelle Cuisine to Vielle Asian. Good wines are free (but if you wish, you can get Romane’e Conti La Tache ’05 at $6000 per bottle — wonder what happens if you send it back?
Thai, or any other beer from almost anywhere is free, too, as this company tends to favor the 3rd World. My Lipitor goes delightfully with last night’s Crab Tower and Steak Bernese, followed by panna cotta, cheese, and Tawny Port.
This AM practiced my golf on the top deck, watched deck tennis, and digitally walked along the San Francisco Embarcadero on the treadmill.
But not totally gone are the days of shuffleboard and deckchairs and unctuous Maitre d’s in cutaways so totally anxious to please. Can there be too much bowing and scraping?
Not on this boat.
Every night white and red wine glasses are placed and are not allowed to be empty. As is the case in much of the Western World, the employees are much better dressed than the guests. The clientele is not young, perhaps average 65-70, (no great surprise) maybe 30 % American, 30% Australian, 40% other, including noisy Chinese, dignified Japanese, and a loud Trump-supporting Punjabi Industrialist. You could, however, get run down by a rampaging wheelchair of any nationality. Getting out of the way of one I noticed a stowaway. A small Australian cousin of a Monarch butterfly. Where did he think he was going as we are 50 miles out to sea?
Speaking of butterflies, only two passengers admitted to getting up at 4 AM to catch the inaugural.
The first of today’s lectures by a wise old White House journalist (he had covered five presidents) whose title was “President Trump, American Renaissance or Armageddon.” While claiming neutrality he made a case for the latter. We shall see.
The second lecture, by Marine General (four stars, ret) Anthony Zinni “WW2 in the South Pacific” was a bit more upbeat (we did win that war), tracing the Japanese entry into WW2 back to the Japanese invasion of China, pre-1937. He will speak in greater detail on the New Guinea and Solomon Islands campaigns when we get there. Usually the speakers are very good and their sole compensation is a free ride — priests and rabbis also.
Tomorrow morning we get to the last of our Australian stops, in the form of Hamilton Island. Weather continues rainy so we bagged the sailboat ride on the Great Barrier Reef and will test the Malaria mosquitos’ hunger on our own.
Days 15 and 16: College at Sea
We left Hamilton Island early this AM. It is a small, lush, well-developed, Australian, volcanic island, well suited for what it is — a great summer retreat for mainlanders seeking peace — or tourists seeking the opposite on The Great Barrier Reef. Yvonne and I gave the small island 2 hours, spent between a bus ride and an ice cream cone and scone. Had a great chat on the way back to the ship with the terrific onboard ventriloquist and his animated friends, who spoke out of all four sides of his mouth. Mea Culpa.
At this moment we are 15* south of the equator, having come from 42* South in Hobart, Tas. We have about completed the South to North transit of Australia. The next port of call is Alotau, on the far eastern tip of mainland PNG, early tomorrow morning. We will take one of the many shore excursions, titled in the ship’s publication, “Turning Point, The Battle of Milne Bay.” It seems the guide didn’t do her homework. It was not the first Japanese victory; it was the first Japanese defeat, on land, in World War II.
Meanwhile, even though the sun has finally come out, Yvonne and I together attended 3 lectures this AM. The First, a brutal, graphic description, by the former American ambassador to Morocco, of DASH (ISIS). The second, a fine good-natured review by astronaut Mark Kelly of American, Russian, and Chinese Space Exploration (Plus the 16 nations cooperating on the Space Station).
And a third lecture — something on gems and jewelry, which I am avoiding as I would an occasion of sin. This afternoon lessons in CHA CHA CHA!
Days17-19: New Guinea or Guns Germs and Wash Wash.
Moving from the modern, manicured, prosperous resort Island of Hamilton, Australia, to PNG could give one a cultural stroke. Arriving in what the ship’s news described as a “rare idyllic tropical island,” (it’s not an Island!) Alotau, we found 300 yards of friendly but needy Melanesians lined up along the approach road selling everything from spent 50cal machine gun bullets, to GI dog tags, to Wash Wash Soap, to “come see the bones of Japanese soldiers,” to grass skirts, to Go-Go cola.
One old guy, of perhaps 55, latched on to me, introduced me to his family and became my guide or, more accurately, my protector from a mob of kids who wanted me to take their picture.
I’m treating the three PNG stops together in pictures because of certain similarities: many sellers of the above stuff, tours in old hot humid busses, and WW2 guides who spoke more Pigeon than English. Less than fascinating was Adm Yamamoto’s bunker in Rabaul, NewBritain, PNG. Someone had blown it up before we got there. The bay, however, which held the majority of the Japanese battle fleet, (some of which is still there, submerged) is something to behold.
Rabaul Harbor, alias Simpsonhafen, has had a tumultuous history.
Built by the Germans during their 30 rear colonial times in the western Pacific, ending in their defeat in WW1. Ceded to Australia in 1920, destroyed by a volcano in 1937, captured by the Japanese in 1942, taken by the Americans 1945, PNG independence in 1975, destroyed by the volcano again 1994 — at present invaded by scuba divers who keep a weather eye out at the 3 surrounding active volcanoes. Well they should!
About 25 ships of all sizes kept us company. One suspicious very old freighter had a large, brand new helicopter on it. Commander Bond should take a look. Of more interest was an earthquake warning center on New Britain. I doubt it works very well as a Richter 7+ earthquake occurred on nearby Bougainville last Sunday. It did some serious damage to local property and people.
We were also treated to a church group concert by kids from the local evangelical school.
From what and how they sang, I think, way back, their ancestors had a strong Polynesian exposure, not surprising as they are a seaside people and the Polynesians seem to have gone everywhere in the Pacific. I’m quite sure I heard the same tune last year in Hawaii. Along the coast of PNG, although the people look very Melanesian, their music and parts of their language sound pure Polynesian.
Even in the old days, music seems to travel faster than people.
Today is a full day at sea en route to Guadalcanal. When we have such days the ship is loaded with activities. Today we have lectures on “Trump Foreign Policy,” “The Future of the Press,” and “The NASA Mission to Mars,” (don’t hold your breath) astronaut Mark Kelly again, followed by a big game of Trivial Pursuit — our Anglo-American team of 6 ( Louis Sudler and I and four Brits) placed second out of about 15 teams!)
The question, “What is the Japanese word for empty orchestra?” was our downfall. Anybody want to guess? No Googling!
A PNG prize for the winner? No, shrunken head is not the prize.
In addition to lectures and games, there are today several very good comedians, ballet, Latin and Modern Dance performers, classes in the bridge, art, Spanish, hula hooping, pilates, computer, golf, and fitness. There is also a “Nordic Walking Program.” Perhaps that teaches people to walk like Liv Ullmann or Anita Ekberg — more likely Greta Garbo, given the clientele.
All this offered in 24 hours.
Tomorrow at 0800 we invade Guadalcanal, accompanied by 4*Gen Zinni, retired, military historian and former commander US Middle East Command.
Tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion of “Tasmania & Coral Sea Islands” AND the answer to the question, “what is the Japanese word for empty orchestra?”