Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What I Learned From My Australian Guests

One of the nice things about owning a house and having a guest room is having the ability to bring the world to you. I have only traveled out of North America twice in my life. I cannot afford to travel the world much, but I can afford to bring the world to me.  We host exchange students occasionally and when we do travel overseas, we try to make friends with the hope of exchanging couches and/or guest rooms.  A few years ago, my wife and I did travel in Europe visiting the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and Hungary. It was an amazing trip. We made some friends with an Australian (not Austrian) couple who were also visiting Europe.  They visited our home in Vermont a few weekends ago. I learned a lot about Australia just in course of conversation over beer, wine and some Scotch ... a few meals too.

Australia is roughly the size of the United States. While we have 50 distinct states that have their own Constitutions and government, they have six. Five of the six states are on mainland continent: Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Southern Australia. Tasmania is the sixth, and like Hawaii, is an island. If you look at the map of Australia, you might think I missed one, the Northern Territory, which is a huge chunk of the continent. This is not actually a state, but a territory that is governed by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The ACT is a lot like DC (or District of Columbia) in the US. It is not a state and is so small, it looks like it should be apart of the surrounding states. The Australian capital, Canberra, is in the ACT.  The Northern Territory is sparsely populated with two district climate zones: tropical and desert.

I asked my guests about Australia during World War II. If you head north from the island nation, you don't have to go too far before you reach the Philippines and then Japan.  World War II was truly a world war in that most areas of the globe were affected. Still subjects of the Queen, Australia was pulled into the War along with the UK. Darwin is the largest city in the Northern Australia, but during the war, it only had about 5,000 people.  It has over 100,000 now. It only became a city in 1959. In February 1942, the same fleet of bombers that had attacked Pearl Harbor, a few months earlier, attacked Darwin killing 243 people. Like Pearl Harbor, it was ill-prepared. It was attacked 58 more times throughout the War but none were more devastating than the first which is still the most fatal day of war ever in Australia. After the initial attack the Allied Forces moved more Australian troops from the European and African theaters to support their homeland. 

Here in northeastern US, we have a problem with the collapse of the bat population due to white-nose syndrome. This is a big problem for us because the bats do a lot to control the insect population. The island of Tasmanian has a similar problem, not with bats but with the famous Tasmanian Devil. They are dying off of cancer or DFTD (Devil Facial Tumor Disease).  The cancerous lesions fill the creature's face until it is so swollen, it is impossible to eat. They end up dying of starvation. The disease spreads through biting and possibly through the sharing of a carcass. The disease has spread quickly. It was first discovered in 1996 and has now spread through at least 60% of the island with up to 80% of the devils affected. One of the reasons it spreads so fast is due to the lack of genetic diversity among the devils. They are an island creature, after all.

My friend Hugh was giving me an itinerary for my visit to Australia. It seems that my three week trip, may need to be extended to six months or so. I don't know when I will have that much time and the money to go, but I hope there will be some devils left by then.

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