The South Coast

10 Feb

Oh, my, so behind on the travelogue! Let me try to summarize our two weeks along the South Coast after we left Ulladulla/Kings Point.  The photos above are of the gorgeous beaches in and around Mystery Bay. Our friend Maggie Brady let us stay in her wonderful summer house there, and we liked it so much we stayed for almost two weeks! Mystery Bay is about 10 km from Narooma, the biggest town in the area. It is very popular with Canberrans–3 hours away–as a place to escape the inland heat and, if fortunate enough, to buy a getaway house.  Maggie and her late husband Alan were able to buy their house many years ago, when the prices were not so impossible. She has been very generous in allowing us to stay here. We like it because, unlike so many other houses that Australians build along the coast, it really is in the bush, designed to be unpretentious but functional, and it blends into the landscape. (It was designed by a German, and you can tell!)

The only drawback: there is no internet, no cell phone, no shops in Mystery Bay!  It really is, then, a getaway, but not conducive to long-time stays, unless one figures out how to get some reception.  A lot of the time we would walk up the hill, and then could make a phone call, and we had a portable WiFi device that worked some of the time.  This was indeed a good place to be for the lamentable period of the inauguration and the first disastrous weeks of the new U.S. presidency.

We saw some animals that we rarely had seen in the past: at 1080 Beach, the beautiful beach shown above, swamp wallabies roam calmly, undisturbed by people. And for me, most excitingly, ECHIDNAS are all over the place!  I think we had only seen one echidna in the wild before this:

In case you wonder what an echidna is, they are one of only 5 monotremes in the world–that is, egg-laying mammals–including the platypus.  Covered in spines, somewhat like a hedgehog, they will curl up in an impenetrable ball if harassed. They appeared in the front garden in Mystery Bay, sniffling around the vegetation, in the late afternoon.

As for the reason Mystery Bay is so named, here is the explanation, on a plaque at the beach:


The prevailing suspicion is that they were done in by miners who didn’t want to pay their assessed taxes!

Along with gorgeous beaches and fabulous fish, the South Coast region around Narooma includes temperate rain forests, at least one of which has been tended by the State Forestry Division.  It provides a magical walk through fern gullies and feathery palms.

Because of the lack of internet at our digs, we spent a lot of time at the Narooma Public Library–we weren’t the only ones!  The place was buzzing with activity, from children’s reading hour to art presentations.  Public libraries–the last openly free service to the public.  A godsend to the communities they serve! And here, outside the windows, I could watch the lorikeets sitting in the most beautiful grevilleas.

In our search for affordable housing–remember, that was part of the original purpose for making this trip–we had been advised to check out Bermagui, where we had been told old Canberra lefties were starting to retire, so there was a livelier cultural scene than its earlier phases could provide.  This is the town made famous by Zane Grey, who discovered it as a gateway to magnificent deep-sea fishing. We had visited the place often when we lived in Canberra. Somehow, we were not impressed. The wonderful old Bermagui Hotel is so tarted up it was virtually unrecognizable from its previous appearance as a small-town gem of a hotel, and we really didn’t see much of a cultural buzz anywhere. Never mind, our friend Tonia did introduce us to an amazingly good gelato shop there. Prices for housing were a little bit lower than further north up the coast (we did find that as soon as the rail line ended in Nowra, the prices of real estate began to drop)–but still fairly high for our tastes.

Finally, we decided to drive down to Mallacoota, in nostalgic recognition of a family expedition of many years ago.  When we were beginning our work on The Blue Guide in about 1992, we were in Melbourne, and were advised to visit the most isolated point in Victoria at Mallacoota. Max, at 10, was with us when we set off to go there.  We thoroughly miscalculated the amount of time the drive would take (this was in the days before Google Maps).  As it became apparent that we were still hours from our destination, Max began to whimper from hunger.  By the time we got to our hotel, it was absolutely pitch dark out and there were NO places open that had food.  The clerk at our hotel suggested we visit the golf club, which might still be open.  We made a beeline there, arriving just as they were closing. They let us have a prawn cocktail, which Max promptly devoured, and then roosongolfcourse2_mallacootaimmediately fell asleep.  In memory of this occasion we did revisit the golf club, only to find mediocre food at exorbitant (to us) prices. But there were still kangaroos on the golf course!

We had a splendid time in Mallacoota–stayed in a lovely AirBnB apartment on Bottom Lake, a bit to the south of the village proper. The village is indeed isolated, reached from Princes Highway after a winding 13-km. road.  According to Wikipedia, its year-round population is 970, a figure that swells to 8,000 in the summer. An enormous campground dominates the town. But the area is just stunning, with flocks of rare grey-headed flying foxes (they weren’t in residence when we were there, but we went to a very informative and well-attended talk about them, put on by the University of the Third Age, a very active group of older residents of the area), and magnificent gum trees. The larger image below is of the most venerable Mallacoota Gum, of which there are only 38 individual specimens left.

But our biggest excitement in Mallacoota came on a walk through the Croajingolong National Park, a section of which skirted the lake where we were staying. After a nice but rather uneventful trek up to The Narrows of the inlet, we were walking back to the car, when George yelled, “Erika, get your camera out quick!”  There in our path was an enormous goanna–at least 4 feet long, and flicking out his tongue furiously.

We kept our distance until he finally galumphed off to the water. We had never seen such a goanna so close by!  They are apparently quite common in this national park. Very exciting.

After two days in this little corner of Victoria–far too isolated to consider moving there permanently–we headed out up the Monaro Highway for Canberra.  The South Coast is a beautiful merging of sea and forest, green and clear blue waters, and still rather removed from what passes as “modern” civilization. That has distinct advantages, but for those of us in need of some cultural institutions–and at least reliable internet–it really is too far (Narooma is 5 hours from Sydney, 8 hours from Melbourne, 4 hours from Canberra). Definitely worth a visit, and we are so thankful that we had the opportunity to stay there for a while.

Immigrating to Australia

6 Feb

As promised, we will be looking into the procedures for seeking refuge in other countries should things in the U.S. under Trump become intolerable. Today we went to the desk-front office of Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection (that last little dismaying bit about “border protection” has been added in the last few paranoid years here, coinciding with the government’s horrendous treatment of desperate refugees trying to enter Australia by boat. Just an aside to let you know that the whole Western world seems to be going insanely xenophobic….). We presented ourselves as naturalized Australian citizens who would be moving back here, chiefly because of the election of Donald Trump, and asked for information on procedures for immigration by other Americans into the country.

First, the good news:  we as Australian citizens would be able to sponsor family members to enter the country and apply for permanent residency (although there are quotas, and it seems that every application is handled on an individual basis).  And Max (our son), as an Australian citizen, would have no trouble bringing his non-Australian wife and child; she would also be able to get work permits and permanent residency status easily once she was here.  But here’s the bad news:  we as Australian citizens would have no ability to sponsor friends or anyone else; they would simply have to apply through normal channels, following the procedures laid out on the Department’s website,  The cost of applications is much higher than it was when we applied, and the categories are more restricted. But if you are white, have money, and have desirable skills, it is still possible to be accepted. As of yet, Americans fleeing Trump’s America do not qualify for refugee status, but we will continue to monitor that situation.

There are now several categories of tourist and working visas, most of which allow for visits of up to 3 months, some for entry several times within a year, up to 3 months at a time. Word is that getting citizenship is far more complicated and much more expensive than when we became citizens. At that time in the early 1990s, we just had to have been in the country continuously for 2 years (this is after having working visas and permanent residency status). I think we also had to take a small test of some kind, agreeing to swear allegiance to the Queen of Australia, but I do remember that we weren’t even asked to sing “Advance Australia Fair,” the national anthem, of which I had memorized all the words in anticipation of having to sing it to pass the citizenship test

Advance Australia Fair!

Ruminations from afar

26 Jan


As soon as we arrived in Australia, we announced to everyone that we were refugees from Trump’s America. In Ulladulla, I went to a small AA meeting—with the always comforting mix of people, from sheep shearers to housewives and North Shore Sydney sorts here on holiday. When I said that we were escaping Trumpism, they all laughed in a kind of skittish solidarity. Even here, thousands of miles away and in a rural setting with little access to the internet or cell phones, one can’t entirely escape the terrifying news that the United States of America has gone insane and is attempting to jettison the last vestiges of liberal democracy. While Australians are happily going about their everyday lives in this salubrious summer season, safe and prosperous, the clouds of uncertainty and impending doom hover in the background.

Newspapers—and Australian papers are generally not known for their overly liberal views–are full of fearful analysis. The Australian Financial Review—the country’s equivalent of the Wall Street Journal—carries headlines such as “Turnbull scrambles to save TPP, condemns protectionism,” with grave warnings that “the prospect of some sort of trade war with China is now a very real risk.” Another article decries Trump’s “untruths”: “What we are witnessing is the destruction of the credibility of the American government”; for the writer of these words, the worrying aspect of this destruction is that American governmental honesty was the cornerstone for all other democracies. Without that model, then no government can be trusted anymore. No matter how one feels about specific issues such as TPP, the expression of these concerns is a vivid indication of the global impact of Trump’s irresponsible and impulsively demagogic decisions.

On the glorious upside of America’s global reach and the most positive aspect of globalization: the photo above shows the community bulletin board in the tiny beach town of South Durras, near Bateman’s Bay. Durras was our favorite summer spot when we lived in Canberra, so we had to make a nostalgic visit again as we drove down the coast from Sydney. Normally this bulletin board would announce community barbecues and town meetings. I was overwhelmed with emotion to see that even in this little corner of the country, women (and men) would be marching in protest of “Trump’s inhumanity.” Proof again that this is a global issue, not just sour grapes on the part of American “elites.”

I’m writing this (long-hand!) on January 26, Australia Day, which is in itself a politically vexed holiday on the national calendar. A combination of the 4th of July—barbecues and fireworks—and Columbus Day—a cringe-making imperialist celebration of European conquest of a “new” land, appropriately considered a “day of invasion” by the indigenous people so cruelly displaced by this arrival—the day really marks the end of summer holidays and the subsequent beginning of school terms next week.


A sign in a shop window in Bermagui, NSW.

We have been in four different communities along Princes Highway today, and none of them seemed to be celebrating much, at least not communally. I am choosing to see this as a positive step—that many Australians recognize the inappropriateness of festivities on this day, at least here on the South Coast, where many Aborigines live. (To be fair, Pearl Beach and many other places still have a community barbecue with traditional snags and onions and white bread grilled amid booths selling Lamingtons and hand-crocheted doily covers for toilet-paper rolls, and TV still broadcasts an Australia Day concert from Sydney). But it could also be a sign of the increasing unease, distrust and disconnect across all Western nations concerning the citizenry’s relationship to its governments. The shock of America’s descent into xenophobic extremism, the indecent reaction by so many Americans to a perfectly decent Obama presidency, is felt as strongly here as everywhere else. The whole world is girding its loins for the uncertainties and madnesses ahead.

Ulladulla & guinea pigs

20 Jan

We left our friends in Pearl Beach by train, picked up a car at the Sydney Airport, then drove down the South Coast about 4 hours to Ulladulla–well, Kings Point, actually–to the lovely cottages of our friends Chiaki and Colin. Ulladulla is an Aboriginal word meaning “safe harbor.” There was a long-standing myth that the name derived from the Aborigines’ pronunciation of the colonial era’s “holey dollar,” but that has been proven to be apocryphal.

Chiaki was my graduate student (by default: her advisor left so I took over, knowing nothing about Japanese art but something about Arts & Crafts), and we’ve been friends ever since. She is a serious scholar of Japanese art and its connections to Western art, has been a translator for Australian TV, and is a practicing Buddhist.  She is tremendously honored that a renowned Buddhist nun, Robina Courtin, once stayed here, in the very room where I am now sleeping. (  Her partner Colin was a newspaper photographer, and is the one who found these wonderful cottages in the bush. We find them to be the most inviting kind of beach houses, unpretentious and perfectly comfortable, unlike all the suburban-style houses that Australians usually build now in the bush and along the coast. Chiaki and Colin now live here full time, and each lives in one of the cottages. A nice set up, eh?


As Buddhists, they believe in killing no living creatures. That includes wasps, flies, cockroaches, ants, mosquitoes, and other beasties.  We are trying very hard to comply with the house rules. As evidence of their commitment to these concepts, I present the story of the guinea pigs.

Apparently one of their neighbors a few years ago was going to “toss” a pet guinea pig that they could no longer keep. Chiaki rescued the one, and put it in a big cage. Feeling that the male needed companionship, they got another guinea pig that they were assured was a male.  They were misled; within a few weeks, 4 baby guinea pigs arrived.  Ooops. Before they could correctly sex any of them, another 4 babies had arrived. Ooops.  They now have 10 guinea pigs, appropriately separated into girl and boy cages, and they are “determined to give them a good life.”  The care and feeding of guinea pigs now occupies much of their morning routines.  They give them all the best of food, and they even have a “camp-out” station on one part of the property.  I just think this is the sweetest story!

They also feed the birds, which means that they have an abundance of regular and very cheeky visitors. We’re thrilled to see again so many of our old bird friends, even the Gang-gang cockatoos, my favorites from our ACT days.

A nice environment in which to deal with the tiny fracture of my big toe (bye-bye, long bush walks!), my forgetting of my walking shoes in Pearl Beach, and a rental car that has some mysterious beep that won’t stop.  I am also finding it hard to get psychically acclimated–driving on the other side, for example,  has been particularly unsettling this time for some reason.  No doubt our fears for what will happen after tomorrow’s Washington “event” is contributing to this sense of unease. We are also appalled by the cost of things here now. Housing is through the roof; it’s true that there are NO HOUSES in Sydney under $1 million! NONE! The other night we went out for pizza and a few of us had a fish plate. For the 4 of us, with minimal drinks, it cost over $150. Yep, that’s right. For pizza. In a small beach town. Already it’s looking highly unlikely that we can afford to return here for any long stay, and even short visits are going to be dicey.

But there are the birds!

And the incomparable beaches!


Chiaki at Narrawallee Point, Ulladulla.

In Oz again

16 Jan

First of all, let’s just dismiss the idea that any 12-to-15-hour flight in economy class can ever be “enjoyable,” or even comfortable.  It’s just something one has to endure if one wants to experience the Southern Hemisphere.  We arrived this time via Auckland, which just added to the amount of time spent in transit.  Too bad we couldn’t have stopped for longer in New Zealand–perhaps another time.

So here we are back in Australia, our second home (we’re dual citizens), still in jet lag, and me with an airplane-induced cold. But it’s summer in Australia, and we are in Pearl Beach, a very upscale beach community about an hour and a half to the north of Sydney.  Our friends Bruce and Diane Swalwell have lived here in one place or another since we first came to Australia in 1990; we met them 40 years ago, when we were all dorm parents while in graduate school in Philadelphia. Our kids grew up together.  Pearl Beach is the most perfect beach for children, since it has limited waves, and a beautiful strand to walk on, plus fascinating rocks and tide pools to explore.  It received its name from Arthur Phillip, Captain of the First Fleet, in 1788, when he spotted the cove while exploring this part of the coast; he said the waves breaking against the beach looked like a strand of pearls. And they do!

And it’s high summer in Australia!  No better place to experience essential aspects of Australian life than at the beach in January:  kids playing cricket in the sand, families with all their beach gear walking and biking down the road, wet bodies walking up to the showers or to their cars.  And there couldn’t be a more salubrious setting than Pearl Beach, with its jungle-like bush around, and its overwhelming number of birds and wildlife surrounding the beach.  And to hear kookaburras again is just music to my ears.

The Swalwells’ house is a block from Pearl Beach’s Arboretum, a lovely left-wild but well-cared for parcel filled with the most glorious red gums and ferns and cabbage trees. The paths are tended by the village’s residents; flyers on the trails list the “Birds of Pearl Beach,” which number more than 100.  We didn’t see any there this time, but the vegetation was as beautiful as ever.

Oh, to be able to live here! But alas, as with most of Australia’s East Coast, the house prices are obscene, even for falling-down fibros.  So we will have to look further afield, even for rentals. But aren’t we lucky that we can visit this wonderful place?

Rocks 2016

28 Dec

Now that it is misleading to state that “it has been an age since I’ve put pen to paper,” do we say instead “it’s been an age since I’ve pressed keyboard to screen”? No matter, it seems as if many changes have occurred, many plans have been made, since my holiday missal on this blog.  I’m using this one as a bit of catch up on all that has transpired in the last few weeks.

The title refers to our most recent trip, from Oakhurst, California, where my sister lives, to Lakewood, Colorado, where Max & Dottie & baby Lyle reside. Our travels involved traversing lots of fascinating rocky territory!

We had already flown to Denver on December 14, so that we could celebrate George’s father’s 90th birthday–4 generations of Boecks in one place!  Pretty impressive.




Max’s car on the morning we had to get to the airport.

We had to return home on the weekend after that event because we had guests coming to stay at our house over the holidays–and we chose the day of a huge snow storm to do our travelling!

More weather-related fun was to come:  we had originally planned to drive to Denver for Christmas to be with the kids, but then things got complicated with visits, so we opted to fly out late on Christmas Eve, so that all the relatives would be together for the day. In the meantime, we went up to Oakhurst, to stay at my sister’s house, taking care of their 5 cats while they went to San Francisco (none of us are fans of Christmas sentiment, as you can tell). Conditions at their place, which is about 25 miles from the South Gate of Yosemite, was beautiful and clear, albeit cold, when we arrived. We planned to spend a few cozy days at their house before heading down to LAX and another trip to Denver.



Once again, Mother Nature intervened:  a winter storm in CALIFORNIA closed The Grapevine–the treacherous pass across the mountain from the Central Valley into Los Angeles–so we couldn’t get to the airport for our flight. We thought of taking the alternative route via the coast, but even that road was supposed to get floods and mud slides. So we said OK, it’s fated, we’re driving, I guess, and headed out on Boxing Day, December 26….

We were incredibly lucky with the weather: the sun shone the entire way through California, Nevada, a little bit of Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. Crystalline skies and bitterly cold temperatures meant that the snow already there stayed there, and all the rocky and tree-studded hillsides were covered in glorious white snow, causing a softening of the monumentally craggy rock surfaces. The photos above were all taken out of the car window as we drove on the 80-mph freeways through this magisterial landscape. I was fascinated by the patterns that the snowy backdrop created on so many surfaces that in the summer, when we last came through this same landscape, appeared rubbly, congested, and scratchy. I want to make wrapping paper designs or book covers out of them!

Except for my grousing about the bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way from Barstow to Las Vegas–I really do not like Vegas, although friends are trying to convince me that it has worthwhile cultural attributes–our ride was long but pleasant, and we arrived without incident nor storm into Lakewood after some 18 hours of driving in our 2011 Honda. We will be here, in the bosom of the family, for about a week, then begin our trek home by the southern route, hoping to stop in Taos and Tucson to see places we haven’t been to in nearly 40 years.  All of this because of one little creature who these grandparents can’t get enough of (the baby, but also the cat):


And then, my friends, the adventures continue!  True to our word (see the holiday letter), we are determined to be out of the country for what will surely be a torturous and lamentable 100 first days of this odious new administration. So far, we have arranged to be in Australia in January-February (in the wilds of the South Coast of NSW with no TV and no internet on Inauguration Day!); Mexico in March-April; and (hopefully) Europe in May-June. In each place, we are determining if we could live there more cheaply than in California (we can’t afford our house in Pasadena now that we’re on retirement funds only), but also considering places of refuge for friends and family should it come to that.

So the blogfest begins again!  Stay tuned!




Holiday Greetings 2016

2 Dec



George in St. Donatus, Zadar, Croatia


It was the best of times (travels in Europe, our first grandbaby), it was the worst of times (G’s operation, the election)…2016 has been quite a year for us, as most of you already know.  We began the year by flying from Vienna, where we had stayed for three months, to Lisbon–the most perfect weather in Europe! We spent then one month each in Lisbon, Barcelona, Athens/Andros Island, Dubrovnik/Mlini & Croatian coast, Trieste and Ljubljana. We also spent a little while back in Vienna and then in Munich and Bonn, Germany. We loved it all, and would go back to live in any of these places!  But home we came because of this event:


Lyle Albert Boeck arrived on January 13!  His family is now happily settled in Denver, having bought a house in Lakewood. Dottie is back to work now as a nurse, and Max continues his teaching at Regis University. We have spent some time there watching the baby grow–he’s got quite a personality already! We’ll be back in Colorado in a few weeks to celebrate George’s dad’s 90th birthday, and then will fly back to Pasadena only to drive back to spend Christmas with them.

In other news:  George went in for an angiogram, and ended up with two stents in his arteries, and was good as new the next day. Oh, the wonders of modern medicine! We are so grateful for these miraculous interventions and the great care he received.

Once we return from Colorado, we’re off again!  This time we’ll visit Australia, our second home, then take a jaunt down to Mexico, after which we decide whether to visit Puerto Rico or immediately set off for Vienna once more.  The aim is to be gone for at least the first 100 days of what will be an “eventful” presidential term, and to see where we might want to settle for the next year. We live in interesting times.

We love all of you, dear friends, and wish only peace, love, KINDNESS, and happiness for all of you in the new year.  We will keep you posted on our doings, as I hope you will let us know about your lives.




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