This was to have been the first official competition day at WGC2017, but the weather wouldn’t have it. Benalla this morning sat squarely in the path of a large stream of cloud & rain marching in from the west, offering no hope for motorless flight. We are told to expect better tomorrow, as the problem weather draws away to the north & east.
This gives me a chance to describe some aspects of a visitor’s experience in Australia.
We’ve of course all had to get used to driving on the left, which can be done more or less safely from the get-go, but not without some persistent embarrassment. The telltale signs of the tyro are:
- Walks to the wrong side of the car
- Drives erratically through parking lots and other loosely structured areas
- Signals turns with wipers rather than flashing lights
#1 is the most enduring problem – it seems this operation is a deeply ingrained habit. Usually you notice your error before you actually start to get in the car, and you manage to improvise some sort of action that might plausibly have brought you to the passenger side, lest someone be looking. In bad cases, you get into the passenger seat and spend a few seconds wondering who stole your steering wheel before light dawns.
#3 is a reason to enjoy weather like today’s: the rain hides your error.
Roads in Australia are generally good, though off the beaten path many are unpaved. Speed limits are reasonable, though perhaps a bit lower than what might be expected in a country with vast wide open space. We’ve seen little in the way of enforcement, but there’s evidence it may be harsh: on major highways, you rarely or never see anyone doing more than about 5kph (3 mph) above the posted speed.
Breathalyzer stops are common – they can appear almost anywhere at any time. Pilots have reported being stopped near the airfield at 9am. It’s said that police authority extends to the gliding club parking lot (though we haven’t heard of that happening yet).
The local fauna should impress any visitor. Bird life is impressive: I’ll have a more detailed report at some point, but daily sights include parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, spoonbills, magpies, and a host of others (many of which are Australian specialties). I saw a couple of emus today (which I believe were domesticated examples). Soaring birds seem less plentiful, though wedge-tailed eagles are certainly possible.
Kangaroos are easy to see: the Benalla golf course is a “can’t miss” place in the morning. Unfortunately, they have little traffic sense: most visitors’ first kangaroo sightings are dead examples at the side of the road, and it’s rare to see a vehicle that spends any time in rural areas not fitted with “roo bars”.
Harder to spot are wallabies and koalas, but at the right place and time of day they are regularly seen. Hardest of all may be the duckbill platypus. These improbable beasts are not particularly rare, but are extremely secretive and stealthy. Yet there’s a certain bridge on a path near Lake Benalla (an easy 10-minute walk from town) that offers the patient platypus pursuer a good chance of sightings near sunset.
Pretty much all through Australia, flies are a problem – often a big one. By far the most common kind resembles a miniature housefly, and never bites. But they love to swarm around you, landing on any exposed skin (your face is choice territory). In normal quantities, they are seriously annoying. In bad areas, they can about drive you crazy. A headnet is a standard item for anyone who spends time outdoors. The flies haven’t yet been a big issue at the airfield (which is perhaps curious, given that this is an unusually wet year). But they are much in evidence, hard at work most days, and sure to be a part of every visitor’s memory of WGC2017.
Small quirks here include wall power outlets that are always individually switched, and a general switch convention that down is on, up is off. Supermarkets expect you to bring your own bag (they have them for sale to those who forget). Food is of good quality and attractively priced. Certain produce is notable, including outstanding mangoes and fresh passionfruit. Supermarket bread is a bit disappointing; local bakeries do better.
A difference nearly everyone likes is that quoted prices always include applicable tax, and restaurant food has the service charge built in. So no tipping, and if you order a meal priced at $22, that is the total amount you end up paying.
Australia produces lots of wine; both cheap and choice are good value here (wine originating much further away than New Zealand seems rare). Presumably lots of beer is produced as well, but it isn’t cheap. Even the inexpensive stuff bought by the case is rarely less than about 2 Australian dollars (~ $1.50) per bottle.
– John Good