Australia - The First Bit

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10/7-10/9 Melbourne – Belgrave -The Dandenongs

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Our arrival in Melbourne was uneventful, but it was a tiring 30 hour overnight of planes, trains, and automobiles before we arrived at our destination in Belgrave outside of Melbourne. 

Coming from the subtropics, through the tropics we were unprepared for the change in climate. It's spring here and the Melbourne area can fluctuate wildly. Yesterday was 35C (95F), while today the high is only 18C (64F). We quickly bought some flannel jackets, got our phone working and headed up to the hip little town of Belgrave to meet our friend Michael. On the train ride out we were struck by how intense the transit police were with a girl who didn't have her 'concession' card. I guess she was riding with a discounted fare, but didn't have the proof that she qualified. There were four officers, which seemed excessive, but at least they were polite as they read her her rights and escorted her off the train. I remembered the trip out to The Dandenongs from Melbourne 10 years ago: skyscrapers give way to concrete walls with every inch covered in graffiti, which gives way to suburbs (and more graffiti, and finally giving way to semi-forested, hilly rural landscapes.

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Just like our last Aussie trip, Michael got us out to the Dandenong wilderness right away for a breath of fresh air in an ancient forest that reminds us of something form the Jurassic period with its massive ferntrees, and eucalypts sloughing off strips of bark to reveal a smooth, white skin below.
When you see trees filled with cockatoos and parrots are eating from your hands you know you're in an exotic land.

The next day, after we'd slept off our jet lag, Michael took us on a tour of the surrounds. We got a lookout over both the Yarra valley and the Dandenongs.

We learned that Melbourne was almost named Batman -seriously! The founding father of Melbourne was named John Batman. Look it up!

We saw the local rainforest with a look you could even more easily imagine dinosaurs roaming. We did some amateur spelunking in a little known cave system near  a place called Shiprock Falls (there's a huge rock that looks like a ship). Michael also took us to a hidden redwood forest that most of the locals are even unaware of. It was the kind you'd find in the pacific northwest only young and planted all in rows. It was eerily quiet as apparently the local fauna have no idea what to do in this non-native forest. There were many rings of branches amongst the trees that people had created for doing pagan ceremonies. Michael, Sam and I had a bit of communion with the ancients. We also had a bit of 'bush tucker', tasting pepperberry leaves with a flavor of fresh peppercorn combined with cinnamon.

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We stopped at a bakery in the rural town of Warburton and discovered a wonderful little music venue downstairs and around back called The Who Club. I went inside to check it out and met the Owner Freddie and local artists Rich. Looks like we'll have a show there when we pass back through in early April.

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Michael is an ethnobotonist (among other things), and specifically he's an expert on the uses of plants by different cultures for medicinal and shamanic uses. Walking through the forest with him is an enlightening experience and his small home garden is a nice presentation of some of these special plants with a special emphasis on cacti. 
That night we had a BBQ and a house concert with Michael, his lovely family and some of their friends that live in the area. Very fun, and Michael's son Magnus makes a great monster!

Next morning we were on the first train back to the city to make the connection to Australian Capital Territory where we'll head to a rural orchard in Wallaroo near Canberra and do some WWOOFing for close to a month waiting for the CDs to come (finally), and rehearsing for the performance series beginning November 7th.  

Samantha Chappell