Christmas Down Under

Christmas 2013 was a brand new experience for me – 30 degree heat in Adelaide instead of the usual 8 degree chilliness of the south east of England!

I was feeling a little apprehensive about my first ever Christmas away from home, especially as we hadn’t seen much evidence of a love of the festive season in Aus so far. For one thing, their Christmas adverts were nothing like the emotional roller-coasters that John Lewis and M&S come up with in the UK every year. And hardly any houses seemed to be decked with holly. And I hadn’t heard much Christmas music.

I was worried that Christmas in Aus might not be a big deal – but I was determined to be excited anyway!

Alex and I flew from Melbourne to Adelaide at 7am on Christmas Eve and immediately met up with my sister, Nicola, and her boyfriend, Alex (who had flown in from Ethiopia the day before) for a day of Christmas shopping! This was reassuringly familiar, as we’d probably have done the same thing if we were all in Guildford (albeit not wearing shorts and flip flops!)

Christmas Day itself was totally different but brilliant! After brekkie at the hotel we were picked up by Nicola and Alex for a trip to the beach! Alex T went swimming, Alex C fished, Nicola sunbathed and I had a quick dip and then a lie down. It was incredible to be lying on the soft white sand, watching the bluey-green of the ocean and clusters of other people going about their Christmas morning beach antics.

Then we headed over to Alex C’s family home for Christmas Day proper! Alex’s mum and sister, Wendy and Jessica, were busy creating mouth-watering smells in the kitchen, while the rest of us drank sparkling Shiraz and Pimm’s on the patio and then sampled some delicious canapes, including cherry soup and soft-shell crab! All the while the BBQ was sizzling away behind me, but it was only when we sat down to lunch that I discovered what had been inside…

Turkey! And it was delicious! Plus there were prawns, salads, potatoes, extra canapes, fine wines and great company, which all came together to create a fantastic festive feast.

After lunch it was present time, just as it would be in the UK, but then things took a slightly different turn as we walked to a nearby lake to check out the local population of hermit crabs!

Hermit crab lake
Hermit crab lake

After that it was just the right time to Skype our parents in England to wish them Happy Christmas. Unfortunately they were in the midst of a 36 hour power cut and were having to boil water on the BBQ for their morning coffee! But despite their trials and tribulations, it was lovely to speak to them!

Finally it was time for Alex and I to head back to our hotel. There we lay on our giant bed, too full to move, and reflected on what a top day we’d had – thousands of miles from my parents and Alex’s family, but still surrounded by lovely people and festive cheer.


I hate running

One of my least favourite things in the world is running. I really hate doing it. I wish it had never been invented.

I only do it because it’s free exercise and without it I would be even curvier than I already am.

My guilty conscience is telling me that I need to go on a run today – it’s been a few days since I last exercised, and it’s going to be too hot later in the week (35 degrees!) to even contemplate any outdoor exertion. So it has to be today.

But it’s so hard to make myself go, because I know what will happen. Within minutes my face will be so red and sweaty that it’ll look like I’ve been stewed. My running style will be so bad that other runners will look at me with a mixture of pity and disgust. Members of the public will wonder why anyone ever goes running when I make it look so hard.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at this selfie, taken just after my last run:

Emma after running
Emma after running

That run was only 3.5 miles (and was very slow because I can never run fast, even when I’m being chased) – yet my face is drenched in sweat, I’m red as a beetroot, and there’s a blister on my foot.

I know today’s run won’t be any better.

I’m really dreading going.

Maybe I just won’t go?

No one’s making me.

I’m not training for anything.

I could just not go 🙂



Believe it or not, I did actually go running after all that! First of all I put on my running clothes, then I wandered around a bit saying ‘I don’t want to go running’ and trying to decide if I had a sore throat and/or leg. But then, in the words of Nike (sort of), I ‘just did it’.

And miraculously, it wasn’t as bad as I dreaded it would be!

Australia Chuckles Review

I love Neighbours (and I’m not ashamed to admit it)

Scott and Charlene
Scott and Charlene

It’s a well-known fact that the Aussie soap Neighbours has always been more popular in the UK than in Australia. Scott and Charlene’s wedding was watched by more than 20 million viewers when it aired in the UK in 1988. In the same year the entire population of Australia was only about 16.5 million people. So there were more UK Neighbours fans than inhabitants of the country who made it!

It’s kind of similar to what I choose to call the Hasselhoff Dilemma – the people of Germany have nothing but love and admiration for actor and musician David Hasselhoff, while his fellow Americans just aren’t really that bothered.

25 years later the UK is still big on Neighbours. They show it no less than 6 times a day – twice on Channel 5, twice on 5* and twice on 5* +1. And nearly everyone I speak to has watched it at some point in their lives – usually as a teen or while at uni. Plus there’s a brilliant and hilarious ‘Art of Neighbours’ group on Facebook, made up of dedicated fans who love to post about each episode and poke fun at some of the dafter story lines.

In comparison, new episodes of the show are only on once a day (once!) in Aus, and they can’t even be bothered to merge all the episodes into one programme for the Sunday omnibus – so you get the viewing pleasure of 5 sets of opening and closing credits.

But Aussies don’t care that there aren’t many chances to catch Neighbours because hardly any of them actually watch it! It seems to be their embarrassing relation that no one talks about, and whenever I admit to watching it I get a look of pity and the hint of a suggestion that I should see myself as a pathetic loser.

But the truth is, I love Neighbours, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’ve been watching it for about 26 years, and I’m not planning on stopping! It’s entertaining, with some great characters, and some I love to hate. It can make me laugh, cry and shout at the tv, all in one episode. Plus I don’t smoke, take drugs, or drink much, so as far as vices go, this one is pretty harmless!

In fact seeing as I’m in Australia for a year at the moment, I might make it my mission to get more Aussies to appreciate this fantastic show that they’ve so kindly given to the world. I’ll keep you updated on my progress. Wish me luck…!

Adventure Australia Review

White sharks are great

Last night Alex and I went to a brilliant talk about great white sharks at Melbourne Aquarium.

The talk was part of Melbourne Aquarium’s Marine Discovery Lecture Series 2013, and was given by Barry Bruce, marine researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).


The backdrop to the talk was Melbourne Aquarium’s 2.2 million litre Oceanarium – so every time Bruce mentioned sharks, a real life one was right there behind him (albeit a grey nurse or blacktip reef shark, rather than a great white!)

Barry Bruce is an expert when it comes to tagging white sharks, and is known as the Aussie authority on these sharks, no less. Not only that, but the great white shark in Finding Nemo was actually named after him! If that isn’t a claim to fame, I don’t know what is.

Bruce started his talk by saying that despite over 20 years of research, there is still much that is not known about these creatures. He added that he and his scientific colleagues prefer to call them ‘white sharks’ rather than ‘great white sharks’ because they are really no greater than any other shark!

He also mentioned that the media is responsible for the common image of white sharks (below) – launching out of the water looking scary and murderous – and urged us not to believe everything we read (as this news story proves).

Great white shark
Great white shark – as perpetuated by the media

Bruce went on to cover some facts that are known about white sharks, for example:

  1. They can grow to at least 6 metres (2000-3000kg)
  2. They possibly live for 50-60 years (although this isn’t known for sure – it might be longer)
  3. Females don’t mature until they are 5 metres
  4. They are warm-bodied (25-27 degrees) – so are more like mammals
  5. They produce few young and there is no parental care
  6. They eat fish and other sharks/rays when young (< 3 metres)
  7. They do not live at seal colonies – most of their time is spent elsewhere
  8. Some may not feed on seals at all.

The majority of the talk then focussed on understanding movement patterns – the first step in answering questions about whether numbers are going up or down – and that is where tagging comes in. In the words of Jennifer Aniston in a shampoo advert, here comes the science bit…

Acoustic tag
Acoustic tag

The main types of tagging Bruce and his team use are:

  • Acoustic tagging – a unique code is sent to a receiver whenever a tagged shark swims past;
  • Satellite tagging – the tagged shark links to a satellite whenever it comes to the surface (as long as a satellite is in range).

The first white shark ever tagged was in Victoria, and Bruce’s three tagging areas are the Neptune Islands (SA), Corner Inlet (VIC) and Port Stephens (NSW). From his team’s research he has been able to tell that white sharks travel large coastal distances and to tropical waters (eg Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef). It has even been known for a shark to travel from South Africa all the way to Ningaloo! The open ocean is an important habitat for white sharks, and some have been known to spend up to 2 years in open ocean before returning to land.

Bruce also discovered that, on the whole, a shark tagged in South Australia stays south and west, whereas a shark tagged in eastern Australia stays east. This means there are two distinct populations that don’t seem to cross the Bass Straight (the water between Tasmania and Victoria) – and they need to be looked at separately.

At the moment more is known about the eastern population of white sharks, and Port Stephens has emerged as a particularly interesting area. It’s hugely popular for swimmers, surfers and divers, but it’s also here that white sharks are often found in the surf zone just off the beach (compared to further north or south, where the sharks tend to stay away from the shore). So Bruce and his team locate juveniles here for tagging.

Juvenile great white shark
Juvenile great white shark

Port Stephens is known as a ‘nursery area’ for white sharks – mostly the sharks are 2 years old. (It is not a breeding area, as there are no new-borns – which also means there are no big adults around either!) Corner Inlet is another nursery area, and sharks have been tracked moving directly and rapidly between the two nursery areas.

Hawks Nest Surf Club in Port Stephens closed the beach 44 times one summer due to white sharks swimming between the flags. In fact if you type ‘Hawks Nest NSW’ into Google Earth and zoom in, you can see a white shark close to the shore – with a load of people just a little further up the beach.

But while white sharks meet people at these beaches every day, there has never been an attack there. So the answer to the question ‘what normally happens when sharks and people meet?’ is just ‘nothing’.

It was then time for some questions from the audience, and someone asked what Bruce thought about culling. This is a very topical issue, given there have been a handful of attacks in Australia recently, and many mentions of shark culling in the media as a result. Bruce responded that there have been very few cases when the shark responsible for an attack has been caught – so that sort of approach is just a waste of time and resources. He also said that there is no evidence that a shark that has bitten once will bite again. And the Port Stephens situation proves that more sharks does not mean more attacks. Given the audience was made up of shark enthusiasts, I think we were all please to hear from Australia’s authority on white sharks that culling is not the answer.

I then plucked up the courage to ask a question about cage diving. I’ve always wanted to do it, but was worried about whether it’s the right thing to do for the shark. And does chumming make sharks associate people with food? Bruce answered that cage diving is highly regulated in Australia. It takes place in the Neptune Islands, and there are always two days per week with no dives – which is for the benefit of the sharks, not the safety of the people. He mentioned that sharks sometimes stick around for a bit longer than usual at cage diving sites, but there is no evidence that cage diving leads the shark to associate people with food. In fact there’s so much going on, what with the noise from the boat and the smells, that the diver in the middle of it all is really no big deal. Plus there’s not much reward for the shark – they might get a bit of tuna off the tether, but mostly it’s berley (chum) to attract them, rather than real food.

After a couple more questions the talk came to an end. I left the aquarium feeling inspired and still can’t believe I had the opportunity to hear about these sharks from the country’s top white shark researcher. There is one thing I disagree with Bruce about though – to me they will always be great white sharks.