Get out of jail Freo

Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 16, 2008

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Flag of Australia  , Western Australia,
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's called Aussie Rules football, but to be honest we're not entirely sure what they are, or even in fact, if there are any. Having wanted to see a live game since Brisbane (how many years ago was that?) we finally found ourselves near a venue on match day and joined 34012 other people to watch the Fremantle Dockers take on St Kilda (The Saints) from Victoria. We made our way to Subiaco Oval, not at all sure what to expect and as we took our seats in the stands the teams came out on ot the pitch.

We decided to back the home team (Freo Dockers) mainly because they play in purple and for the first quarter this seemed like a good move. The first 20 minute quarter lasted almost 28 minutes, the four (maybe six) referees blew their whistles frequently during the game but play didn't stop, goals were kicked, some of which scored six points and some only one and it seemed like organised chaos without the organisation.

A couple of locals who actually knew what was happening tried to enlighten us during one of the breaks (by which time the Dockers were losing) but we still couldn't really claim to know what was happening. It's kind of a cross between football (or soccer, whatever the hell that might be) and rugby and teams all over the country have a passionate following.

Despite not really knowing what was going on all the time we still enjoyed ourselves. Not sure if we'd go again but it was good to see this unusual sport. Aussie Rules - Clear as mud!

After browsing around the shops of Fremantle, a short train ride from Perth, we ventured through the castle like gate house of Freo Prison. Built as a convict establishment by convicts in the 1850s and later becoming Fremantle Prison, the maximum security facility was used continuously as a place of incarceration and punishment for almost 140 years, before being decommisioned in 1991.

We were taken on a couple of tours which covered a brief history of the jail, daily prison routine, a few colourful characters and their less successful escape attempts, and the very sobering death row and gallows.

It's really difficult to imagine trying to survive in the harsh, sometimes brutal conditions - being locked outside in the yards for at least 8 hours a day in the freezing cold or blistering heat with no shade or shelter and nothing to do but play cards, write letters or watch the latest exercise yard brawl. The tripod whipping post and stark solitary confinement cells must have been quite a deterrent from breaking the rules - the cells are claustrophobic enough with the door open, it must have driven people insane being closed inside for 23 hours a day.

Until just before the prison closed it was forbidden to mark cell walls, but with the imminent closure and probable demolition of the buildings inmates for the last few months were allowed to draw or paint on the walls and some of what remains is quite remarkable.

These days the prison is one of WA's most popular tourist attractions and it's not unusual to have ex inmates visit and take the tours. You can even hold conferences, birthday parties and wedding receptions there or tie the knot in the prison chapel - not everyone's first choice of venue but it would certainly keep your party talked about for a while and the fees help preserve this National Heritage listed site and keep it open to the public.

Proving that we haven't lost our knack of stumbling across random "what are the chances of that" events a shopping trip into the centre of Perth proved a lot more interesting than it sounds. It turned out that the city was hosting a "Happy Homecoming" event for the Australian Olympic and Paralympic Teams and we managed to bag ourselves a front row spot.

The event began with a couple of song and dance acts and then over sixty members of the Olympic team, many proudly sporting their medals, were welcomed one by one to the stage, to cheers and applause from the gathered crowd of office workers, school children and anyone else who found themselves in Perth this Monday lunchtime.

There were a few speeches and interviews with the athletes and a couple of rousing singalongs including "Waltzing Matilda" before the team left the stage amidst cheers and streamers and green and gold confetti and set about signing autographs and posing for photos with as many of the crowd as they could.

Scruffy made some new friends and got closer to Olympic gold, silver and bronze than we ever thought possible... then Cameron McKenzie-McHarg, one of the silver medal winning rowers swapped our camera for his medal and took a picture of us, holding an actual, real life Olympic silver medal. Us, Julie and Paul from sleepy old Norfolk! As if the day wasn't already random enough, Julie was interviewed briefly by Channel Ten for their evening news and waffled admirably with no preparation whatsoever. Working at Argos was useful for something after all! Shopping trips will never be the same again.

Now to end this final Australian Travelpod here would be amazing, but you know us... we decided to end our time in Oz on a high... followed by a low about five minutes later. Those of you who know Julie won't believe this until you see the pictures but.... we went up to 14000ft and got out of a perfectly good aeroplane! How insane are we? VERY!!!

Our crazy day started outside the WA Skydiving Academy office waiting for the shuttle bus, where we met a camera crew filming a segment for a TV travel show. No, we don't know how we do it either. The presenter and camera man joined us on the bus and did a short interview about why we were doing our skydive and how we felt - more random gibberish spouting with no script... we should turn pro!

After the longest hour long bus ride ever we made it to the Drop Zone in Pinjarra where after the necessary paperwork we were briefed on the positions we'd need to take up during exit, freefall and as the chute opened. We also did a comprehensive landing simulation by jumping off a bar stool!

We were set to jump after Fiona, the TV presenter and her camera man so we knew we were in for a little wait, but just as they were suited up, strapped in and ready for the off we were informed that there would be a half hour wait while a military aircraft cleared the airspace - not what any of us wanted to hear. They passed the time with some more interviews and pieces to camera and eventually they were away, leaving us on the ground peering into the sky waiting for them to come into view.

It wasn't long before we heard the elated screams of Fiona, who had been so nervous and not at all happy about the prospect but clearly loved every minute of it. We watched them come in to land right on target and started to get really excited - we were next! Or so we thought. Unfortunately the wind had got up to unsafe levels and it was just too gusty and unpredictable to work with so we were grounded.

Talk about deflated - all that build up just to be put on hold indefinitely while the wind howled around the hangar. So we paced up and down, and sat dejectedly on the couch and paced up and down some more and the crew nipped out every now and again to take wind readings and almost three hours later as clouds began to gather and we were sure we'd lost out chance, Rob, the pilot, came in and announced that we were good to go but we had to be in the air within five minutes or more military activity would shut us down for the day.

We frantically pulled on our jump suits and our Tandem Masters harnessed us up and we were finally inside what felt like the world's smallest aircraft, slowly, oh so slowly climbing our way to 14000ft. Wayne (with Paul) and John (with Julie) were capturing the anguish on video and doing their best to relax us and eliminate any nerves, which rather strangely neither of us really had, we were just determined to get up there and get out of that plane!

As we reached 14000ft last minute safety checks were done and the door was opened - the wind rushing by was so loud! Wayne had a quick look out to make sure we were in the right place and then Paul gingerly eased himself out of the door and on to the tiny step. Julie looked on as Wayne gently rolled them both forwards into the air and they were away, plummeting towards the Earth at about 200kmh (120mph) for the next 60 seconds. She didn't have any time to dwell on that, as John moved them into the doorway and all she could think about was "Oh my God, here we go!"

Before she knew it she too was whistling towards the ground at an alarming rate, cheeks flapping wildly (not very flattering), mouth as dry as can be but attempting against the odds to smile and take in as much of the experience as possible. After the quickest 60 seconds in the history of time our chutes were deployed and we could actually hear again and it was time to breathe a sigh of relief, sit back and enjoy the ride.

We were handed the controls for a short while and then Wayne and John took the lead again as the landing area came into view. The ground seemed to approach very quickly in the last few seconds and all we could do was keep our feet up and hope. Both our landings were pretty good and it felt great to be back on something solid.

We were both totally amazed and elated and so proud of ourselves for going through with such a daunting experience. Thankfully we have our DVDs to fill in the bits our memories couldn't absorb at the time and to prove to everyone else that we did it!

We couldn't think of a better way to end our fantastic year, yet another thing we never dreamed we'd be doing and even more incredible memories to last us a lifetime. There's nothing like ending a holiday with(out) a bang!
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