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Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Saturday January 24th

Happy birthday to my sister Lisa and apologies for not calling, but today I was stuck with another load of strangers on a three day trip to the Great Ocean Road and Grampians National Park. There were 16 of us in total including a few Brits, Dutch, Germans, Danes, a Swede and a 'seppo' (Australians shorten a lot of words, so 'seppo' is short for 'septic' which is half of 'septic tank' which is Cockney rhyming slang for Yank). Finally there was J'ai L'eau, a French girl with a grande derriere a la Jennifer Lopez.

The Great Ocean Road southwest of Melbourne twists and turns along the Southern Ocean coast making for some stunning scenery. The first stops were the beaches at the town of Torquay, famed for it's surfing. Nearby Bells Beach is the venue for annual world surfing championships and is also where Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves compared the size of their surfboards in the movie Point Break. Today there were only a handful of surfer dudes trying to 'hang ten' or whatever as the waves came curling in, but it's a few months until the monster waves roll in.

After lunch and a bit of wild koala spotting in a eucalyptus forest it was off to another beach where the girls challenged the boys to a game of football. It was very hard work and after ten minutes I was struggling to run, but I did manage to avoid getting kicked by the mad Dutch lesbians. They were kicking everybody in sight, so I didn't feel bad about flicking sand in their face as I scored the winning goal.

The evening was spent in a bunkhouse where most of us pitched in to cook dinner and clean up, although the Dutch lesbians didn't lift a finger to help (insert dyke joke here, or maybe I already did).

Sunday January 25th

Up early to continue along the Great Ocean Road and the Shipwreck Coast. The weather can be a little unpredictable in these parts but despite overcast grey skies the rain stayed away. The coast was treacherous to shipping in the 1800s because of the numerous submerged rocks and the powerful ocean waves, but it's these waves that have formed the unique coastline. Over thousands of years the limestone cliffs and been eroded to create stunning formations such as the Twelve Apostles, the Bay of Martyrs, and London Bridge. It was only in 1990 that the span connecting the 'bridge' to the mainland collapsed leaving a man and woman stranded at the end. He had told his wife that he was on a business trip, so when TV helicopter cameras showed him with another woman the bridge wasn't the only thing that had collapsed!

As impressive as they were, our interest in seeing more limestone erosions had, um, eroded after a few hours. It was time to leave the Great Ocean Road and head inland to the Grampians National Park where were to spend the night at a bush camp. The tour company had their own camp deep in the woods beside a reservoir, complete with bikes, kayaks and even a steamroom - but no toilet facilities other than a traditional 'dunny.' After collecting firewood and getting lost on a bike ride (I knew I shouldn't have gone alone!), it was time for dinner and beers around the campfire. Once again our Dutch friends didn't do anything to help and in doing so claimed the World Idle title with still a day to go.

Following spaghetti, it was time to get the bush steamroom up and running. This is basically a big barrel of water over a campfire with a pipe leading the steam into a heavy canvas tent. Even the Scandinavians thought that it got a bit hot in there. I managed to stay in for about 15 minutes before jumping into the reservoir, which was about 14m 30 secs longer than the seppo.

Soon the beers were finished and it was time to roll the swags out and stargaze before falling asleep.

Monday January 26th
Australia Day

On this day in 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip landed at Botany Bay near Sydney and said something like: 'What a great place to send all our convicts. We'll take it!' Naturally the Aborigines didn't like it but they didn't have much of a say; to them January 26th is known as Invasion Day. Being a national day and public holiday it's just another reason for Aussies to get drunk around a barbecue, which is what they do most weekends anyway, only this time there are fireworks. (Once again I asked myself the question: why is England one of the few countries in the world that doesn't have a national holiday?)

Breakfast was followed by a quick kayaking trip around the reservoir before packing up camp and driving through the national park. We stopped at scenic overlooks and a waterfall or two before heading back. Eleven of the 16 were catching a connecting overnight bus to Adelaide from the town of Ballarat, but the remaing five of us made it back to Melbourne in time to see the fireworks and Roger Federer kicking Aussie punk Lleyton Hewitt's arse in the tennis.

Tuesday January 27th

Very lazy day spent reading and internetting. The papers were full of the Aussie tennis crisis - both Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis lost on Australia Day - so God knows what they would make of Henman and, um, however else (since his drug offence Greg Rusedski has been given back to Canada).

One cool thing did happen today, however. Whilst walking in the city an Aussie Open Sponsor's car pulled up and out stepped Roger Federer and entourage fresh from last night's victory. I said something like, 'Congratulations, Rog' and he then became the first Wimbledon champion to shake my hand, the lucky dog.

Wednesday January 28th

Despite there not being a game on, today I went on a tour of the venerable Melbourne Cricket Ground, the home of the sport in Australia (it's also the home of Aussie Rules football but seeing as all the people on the tour were poms our 90 year old tour guide showed us only the cricket stuff).

At a capacity of about 90,000 for both cricket and AFL, it's a massive stadium. In 2006 it is hosting the Commonwealth Games so half the stadium is currently being rebuilt. Tomorrow there is a one day game (that unfortunately I can't make it to) between Australia and Zimbabwe so we were not allowed out into the middle or into the dressing rooms, but I did get to see Zimbabwe practicing in the nets. I certainly wouldn't mind being here when England next play in the Boxing Day test at the end of 2006.

On the way home we drove by Ramsay Street, the setting for Aussie soap 'Neighbours.' It's a sad fact - and another reason why the Aussies think we're mad - that it is more popular in England than here, and I was one of only a handful of English that didn't go on a tour.
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