Emjay goes back to uni….


When we were in Oz last month the first week we stayed on the campus of Macquarie University (Sydney).  The same university that my father deposited me to at the end of February 1976!

The day before the journey was spent packing my “stuff” into the back of the old Ford ute and I effectively left home forever the next day.  There were many tears shed as my father left me there with fairly pitiful possessions, and drove away.  I knew no-one and it was a very long way from home.

The manservant and I stayed in a place which is run by the School of Business Management and which didn’t exist way back then.  I lived in Dunmore Lang College a student accommodation facility within walking distance of the university.  And, it still looks exactly the same:   This is the entrance walking from the uni.

The carpark where I tearfully waved goodbye to my father still looks  depressing.   This is actually the front entrance – a sort of abandon hope look:

Yes I went wandering around the campus on the *ONLY* rainy day of the entire month home!   This building is new….

Student Centre and the all important Student Bar:   Many student protests were held in this area (though it didn’t have that fancy “ground” then);  save the Franklin River and gay rights featured during my years there.

I had classes in these buildings – they look a little like bunkers don’t they!   Few windows mean less distractions I’m sure…. Dunmore Lang is a little hike through parkland from the uni and it was freaky walking home after late classes or after a night at the student bar!    I didn’t see additional lighting this visit that would suggest anything has changed!.

Imagine what this was like in the dark!!  I’m trying to remember if we even had asphalt way back then – it think it was just a gravel path!

This was actually the scariest part of the walk as it was easy to imagine trolls living under this bridge  – that’s Dunmore Lang in the background:


My dream life…..


I tend to think that I just don’t have dreams – but probably more correctly I don’t remember them as others seem to remember theirs.

Last night/this morning was an exception – a night of dozens of dreams fragmented by tossing and turning until eventually it was time to get out of bed.

Stringing them together shows I had a busy evening:

I invited my best friend over so I could meet her new boyfriend  –  he was not quite what I expected as he morphed into a garden gnome.

I decided that I needed to order hundreds of boxes of copy paper before the price went up.

A long ago friend (that I had neglected to contact on my recent trip home) turned up with a *lot* of her relatives who set about wrecking the garden. (probably looking for the gnome!!).

I was in an old bus parked on a street at night – it was totally dark and there were others in the bus.  There was a series of “pops”  around us and someone said “I think those are gunshots;  I’m going to lie on the floor”…  we all hit the deck.

Back home there were children I did not recognise playing with our cheque books on the floor.  They were colouring-in the pages and going “outside” the lines all over the carpet.   Leonard Cohen was singing “Bird on the Wire” way too loud.

I was looking for important documents in a spam filing cabinet!  My head was hurting.

I woke up with a killer headache and a bad attitude!

No, I had not been to a pub last night and over-imbibed ….  but it’s about time now to work on that bad attitude.

These shots were taken in Australian country towns.

Who’s tired……


I really should stop whinging to everyone about how tired  *I* feel…

On Tuesday 28th September I waved goodbye to the manservant at Sydney airport as he flew back to DC.

On Saturday 2nd October, as I flew back to DC, he flew off to South Korea.

He arrived home late Tuesday night and went into his office first thing Wednesday morning and again today…

I think that means he flew about 30,000 miles in a week.   On a selfish note that’s a lot of miles towards my next trip home!


I took 1,434 photos while I was home – this is the Myall River at Tea Gardens  (about 140 miles north of Sydney)

Back in DC…


Why the hell does one feel so terrible after basically only sitting around for 25 hours.    Sitting reading;  sitting with headphones on; sitting, sitting, sitting.   The most exercise I got was walking between terminals in Los Angeles.

When I landed I got the one taxi driver who’s only been taxi-ing for 5 minutes; after only being in the country for ten.  He also apparently only lives a few miles from the airport and rarely comes over the border to DC.    Lots of extra sitting on the way home!

Got to bed about midnight and was wide awake at 4am thinking that I’d had a  (long)  afternoon nap and that it was now time to go out wining and dining!

I think it’s going to take a lot of caffeine to get through my first day back in the office tomorrow.

Any jet-lag remedy suggestions?

Open! sez a me …


Most of the times I’ve been to Siding Spring Mountain the weather has been too bad to open the telescope … and even when it *is* open it’s dark so you don’t actually see a lot.  But, when I went back at the end of last week to pick up the manservant I arrived to see the slit open:

And, as you can see,  it is broad daylight.  There is a telescope in there…..

There was an infra-red study of Venus going on which does not require darkness – the sky was so bright though we could barely make out Venus with the naked eye.

We walked around the interior walk careful to not get squashed by anything moving ….  and there are lots of moving sections inside a telescope dome.

…. a bit of scientific humour: Gascoigne was the commissioning astronomer on the AAT – it was his job to get the telescope built and then sign it over to the Observatory. Gascoigne fell 6 metres off the walk during the period the telescope was transitioning from engineering to science operation. The rail was installed the next day.   It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo but the sign is on the railing and the bottom of the dome is way down there…  

Sidney Charles Bartholomew (Ben) Gascoigne (1915-2010)  had gone out one of the four doors onto the outside catwalk somewhere near the control room. He closed the outer door and walked around the catwalk.  He re-entered the dome through what he thought was the same door and avoided switching on his torch  because he knew someone was exposing a red sensitive plate. But, he was 90 degrees off in azimuth ( yes, I had to look that up) and in the dark, he opened the nearest gate in the railing of the interior catwalk and stepped out into nothing.  He was found unconscious between some steel beams on the dome floor.   He survived with only some damage to his arm and was said to be quite proud of the pin inserted in his elbow.

We walked out onto the outer catwalk – something that I’m not keen on as I don’t like being able to see through the metal grating all the way down….. 

The view and sunset over the Warrumbungles was beautiful 

I’m sorry that I am behind in responding to comments and to visiting your blogs.   I head back to the United States Saturday and back to work on Monday – I will work on catching up with everyone once I’m back on my own computer!

Fields of yellow…


OK – enough chilling.   I’ve now collected the manservant from the top of the mountain and put him on a plane back to work in DC.  For the remaining few days of my annual holiday I’ve moved back in with my son, daughter-in-law and snakes….  and slightly better internet.

On the drive out to Coonabarabran there were occasional paddocks of gorgeous yellow that, from a distance,  looked like a paddock full of wattle ….  though it wasn’t …..


This is wattle (a common name for trees & shrubs in the genus Acacia) along the side of a country road:


The paddocks were flowering rapeseed (Canola oil).   Soon your chips might be bubbling in oil from here: 

Rapeseed has been grown commercially in Australia since 1969 when farmers sought to reduce their dependence on cereal crops.  The industry was decimated by blackleg (a fungal disease) early on and scientists set about developing disease resistant varieties.  In the 1990’s Rapeseed became more commonly referred to as canola and became a major crop in southern Australia.  Now we harvest about 2 million tonnes of canola a year – most of it is exported.

New Room-mates


I have left the manservant (and the laptop) on the mountain and have moved in with my son & his wife  for a few days.  They live in a flat (condo) in one of the outer suburbs of Sydney. 

There is quite a nice outlook from their balcony. Lovely gum trees and plenty of fresh fruit and veggies just across the main road:

A bus stop directly outside – the people we see waiting here provide great fodder for stories:  

And, there is pretty good Thai restaurant across the side street:

So, all in all pretty good – I won’t starve and I could ride the bus if something happened to the rental car.  The only thing I’m not so comfortable with are my new room mates:   Two Stimson Pythons! 

The female:

The bigger, and not so friendly, male: 

I’m not keen having them so close to the spare bed that we can stare into each other’s eyes and I hope that I’m a bit big for either of them to squash me to death if they escape!   Now that I’m looking at the photos though I think they actually might fit around my neck!!   

Emjay goes looking at stars…


or she might if the weather was better!        We are now at Siding Spring Observatory outside Coonabarabran (NSW).    The observatory is  1,165 metres (3,822 ft) above sea level on Mount Woorat which is also more commonly known as Siding Spring Mountain.    There are 12 telescopes on the site and the mountain overlooks the Warrumbungle National Park.


The mountain is in deep cloud tonight and the 3.9 metre Anglo-Australian Telescope, which the manservant uses when he is in his guise as astro-dweeb, will not be opening.  The telescope was commissioned in 1974  and was one of the last large telescopes built with an equatorial mount while it was one of the first telescopes to be fully computer-controlled.  The light was really fading when I took this shot – but you get an idea of the size of the telescope compared to the house – which is a good sized house not a little row house!

This is the SkyMapper 1.3 metre telescope.   Its mission is to robotically create the first comprehensive digital survey of the entire southern sky:


And this was the SkyMapper in the distance at sunset:

Also on the mountain is the ANU/Mt. Stromlo 2.3 metre telescope.  This is Mt. Stromlo’s main research telescope even though it is not actually on Mt. Stromlo! 

Then we have the UK Schmidt 1.24 m telescope which is operated by the AAO.   Schmidt telescopes have a very large field of view allowing them to see much more of the sky in a single shot than a normal telescope.  Popular Australian astronomer, Fred Watson,  is one of the observers using this telescope for the 6DF program

And, the Faulkes South 2 metre Telescope.  This is owned by the Google billionaire and operated by his Las Cumbres Observatory in Santa Barbara.  The Faulkes Project provides access to the Faulkes Telescopes (North in Hawaii and South here on Siding Spring) for schools and groups involved in education.  This opens from the centre outwards:

Also on the mountain are hundreds of kangaroos!   See the joey leaning out of the pouch for dinner:  (you might have to click the photo to make it bigger if your eyes are like mine!)They are curious creatures:

The Wimp’s Bridge Climb…


If you have $200+ and nerves of steel you can climb over one of the Harbour Bridge Arches..     If you have neither, you can take the wimp’s climb to the top of one of the Pylons.

Sunday was a beautiful day and I was able to drag the manservant away from astrophysical stuff and head off to Sydney Harbour.   As this was going to be a strenuous activity we fortified ourselves with breakfast in The Rocks first:  (the bridge is just peeking through at the end of the street)

The manservant had a proper breakfast of bacon and eggs while I went for the more high energy apple strudel: 

And then we headed off to the bridge: .

Plenty of wire stops those of us who might be tempted to jump over – either onto the roadway or into the water:

There are 200 steps from the pylon entrance (road level) to the top  – they are open metal, and although this photo is looking upwards, if you looked down you could see a lot of open space which made me a little giddy (an excellent indication that I would not be able to do the arch climb!!)

About a third of the way up (70 steps actually) there is a little historic display with info about the building of the bridge.   No “charming attendants” today, just a couple of guys sitting behind computers at a counter; no pashometer and no telescopes!

A gold watch must’ve been a really high priced commodity way back then – but what a way to get one!:

This handy little device is about half way up the climb  – luckily we did not need to rip it off the wall:

200 steps later we came out onto the pylon lookout – at this point we are 87 metres above the Harbour.  The arch is 134 metres above the water.   There are 6 million rivets holding this bridge together!!  Apparently welding of the 1920’s was considered too unreliable and nuts & bolts were too expensive.   Work started on the bridge in 1924 and it was completed in 1932  –  7 years and 356 days.

Here are some arch climbers – they look like ants on the right hand side:

The views from here were fabulous  – though I’m sure they are better from the top of the arch you are not allowed to take a camera with you on that walk (another reason for me not to go LOL)….     This is the city of Sydney  –  the roadway on the right is what goes over the bridge – not much traffic on a Sunday but it is clogged on work days:
Of course when you are up there you have to take shots of the Opera House: 

Ferries & boats coming into Circular Quay:

From up here you really get an idea of how big Sydney Harbour really is.   The Harbour holds 500 gigalitres of water apparently …  this is also quoted as being 400,000 acre feet.   Whatever, it is a bloody lot of water!

This is the view towards Parramatta – one of these waterways is the mouth of the Parramatta River: 

This is the view towards Darling Harbour,  Anzac Bridge  –   the sky was looking really cool here:

This is something well worth doing if you ever visit Sydney and I think it must be a little bit of a well kept secret because there were hardly any people up there at all….   it costs $9 each.   My father took us up here in the early 70’s  – the walk up was not on fancy steel stairs then but I bet I climbed it  little easier!  Mind you, my mother would not have let me eat a breakfast of pastry back then!!


Dee Why Beach


I grew up in middle-of-nowhere-town in the state of NSW, but every year between Christmas and New Year we would undertake an odyssey to Sydney to holiday at the beach.

We 4 kids would squish across the back seat of the station wagon, there was a overloaded luggage rack on the top and the little section behind the back seat would hold an esky full of sandwiches and drinks for the journey, and, our family dog (a doberman who would return to her breeder’s kennel for her own little holiday).  One year we even took some poor teenage girl along to help my mother when Cat was a toddler.  I really have no idea where she sat but suspect that one of us kids had to sit in that back section with the dog.  It was in the pre-seatbelt days anyway.

It would be hot as hell, (no airconditioning) the tarp covering the luggage would develop a sail bubble at some stage and thrash loudly about above our heads, there was no radio reception for most of the way and there was a lot of squabbling in the back.  My father would swear a lot and threaten to turn around for about the first 4 hours.

The journey would take anywhere between 8 and 10 hours and must have been truly torturous for my parents.  But, the instant we saw the ocean a transformation occurred and we were all happy little campers.

For many years we stayed in holiday homes between Manly and Narrabeen Lakes but for the last 5 years of our family vacations we stayed in the same house in Dee Why. (when I was about 17 our parents decided to move the annual vacation to various spots around Nelson Bay).

The origin of the name Dee Why is not definitively known –  the first reference found to it was a pencil note in surveyor James Meehan’s field book “Wednesday, 27th Sept, 1815 Dy Beach – Marked a Honey Suckle Tree near the Beach”.   From 1840 the name was recorded as one word “Deewhy” but was split in two during the 1950’s

As a continuation of her birthday celebration I took the Princess and her Godmother, Kate, to lunch at Dee Why beach:

View from the table to the water: 

After a delightful lunch we walked some of it off along the concourse and beach:   


.   Rocks  – there’s a pool in there: 

My cousins used to live in this house on top of the cliff.   Before there were too many siblings we used to stay with them.  There were many, many, many steps from the roadway to their house so I’m sure my mother was happy when we stopped staying there.   Back in the old days the house used to have bright orange trim!   The cousins kept goats which used to roam over those green areas – this was my first experience with goat milk (yuk) and goat’s cheese (yum)

It was a little cold so there were very few in the water…  you are meant to swim between the flags because this is usually the safest area and the area where the Lifesvers are meant to run out and save you as you go under for the last time.  My father used to insist that we go to the beach every day no matter what the weather was ….  there must be some family photos out there of four little very goose-bumped kids!