Monday, May 30, 2011


A Cabin at Kiama

Last week we went down to Kiama on the New South Wales south coast; the Oldies, Scruffy, Milkshake, Blu (a new member of the crew), and I. It is only a 3 hour drive from Canberra and there are only a few kilometres of the drive that are a bit scary for small critters. That is the drive down Macquarie Pass. The road there is very bendy and narrow and huge trucks use it; we met one of them on a hairpin bend and just managed to squeeze past between the truck and the drop over the cliff edge. Scruff had his eyes closed during the dangerous bit. Anyhow, Kiama is a beautiful place. We stayed in a cottage with a view out the front across the small harbour and the ocean. Guess what was only a few hundred metres behind the cottage? A lighthouse! We could watch the light come on and start flashing just after sunset. Mum, as usual, took dozens of photos of the lighthouse in all sorts of weather; we had a couple of days that were cloudy and windy and a couple of calm clear ones. That makes 76 Australian lighthouses that Mum has taken us to visit, and leaves only 3 more before her NSW collection is complete. It was Blu's first trip and he didn't get car-sick at all so we will take him with us again.

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Monday, May 23, 2011


Critters in the Cabin

Here are Milkshake and I in the cabin of "Puffing Billy". The driver let us try everything while he was getting ready to go. You get a good view of the train and the tracks from the cabin of a Baldwin like this one, except for immediately in front. The view from most steam trains is like that and that explains why Australian trains have hit so many kangaroos and sheep. The controls of a steam engine are really pretty simple, the main ones are a brake, a throttle and a forward - reverse gear lever. Milky and I tried to get the train moving. Milky was handling the gear lever and I was at the brake and throttle. We could reach the main bits OK, but our legs just aren't long enough to reach the floor and get enough push to move things. I love steam trains. They have much more romance about them than diesel or electric ones. And I really like the smoke, the steam and the chuffing noises. Full marks to the Oldies for always taking me on steam trains whenever they have the chance.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011


Top of The Queen

Here's a photo of Mum and me at the very top deck of the "Queen Mary 2". We were trying to find a place where we could do a "Kate & Leo" pose like in the Titanic movie, but all of the very front deck is out of bounds to passengers. So we went up to the highest open deck we could find. It is not a very big deck, just a small platform near the big indoor pool and one of the radar domes. From here you can see all that is happening on the sports decks, except that on this day it was cold and windy so nobody was doing anything up there. However, we got our wind-blown, lean into the wind, shot (unfortunately, the wind was behind us). The photo gives you one more example of the size of the Queen, this spot is just about at the middle of the top deck; it is a long way to either end.
The bottom photo shows the extra care that Cunard puts in to the comfort of its small passengers. In our cabin (sorry, stateroom) there was a shelf just the right width for small critters to sit on, and it had a rail around it just the right height to stop the critters sliding off in rough weather. Obviously the designers of the ship had small bears in mind when they did the cabin layout. Scruffy and Milkshake spent a lot of time there; they could watch TV and see out of the balcony door. I preferred to get out and see the rest of the ship. It is a gross misinterpretation of fact to suggest that I am just a bit too big around the tummy to fit comfortably behind the rail.

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Monday, May 16, 2011


Puffing Billy

One of the things we did in Melbourne was to go for a ride on Puffing Billy. This is a historic steam train that used to link Melbourne with towns in the Dandenong Ranges from 1900 to 1953. It is a narrow gauge railway, just 2'6" (762mm) between rails. The track, bridges, engines and rolling stock have been carefully restored by volunteers and the trains now run from Belgrave to Lakeside or Gembrook several times every day. During the summer steam trains can't run as the sparks from the funnels could cause bushfires, so diesels do the runs. We wanted to go by steam train, so last week fitted in well; it was really cold. When you get to Belgrave station on the regular suburban train, you have a short walk to Puffing Billy station. There is a good path all the way, but it is not quick enough for impatient small bears. You can see the train down a nice straight, flat cutting, while the footpath has ups, downs and turns in it. So I left the Oldies and Milkshake to go by the path while I clambered over the fence and went straight for it. Actually, the Oldies got there quicker. I think that small bears are handicapped by having such short legs. Anyhow, we met up and had a good look over the loco, no 6A, an NA class Baldwin built in 1899. Puffing Billy Railway has 5 of these in service. Here are Milky and I sitting on the toolbox at the front of the engine. Just after this photo was taken the driver invited us into the cabin and showed us how things worked, so next time I will show you a photo of us at the controls.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011


Treasures of Tut

Did you guess where I was heading after the last posting? The Oldies and I went down to Melbourne to see the "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" exhibition. We weren't allowed to take photos inside the exhibition, so here are some that the Oldies took when they were in Egypt back in 2007. The statues are of Tutankhamun and his queen, Ankhesenamun. You can see this statue in the Luxor Temple. Tutankhamun is buried in the Valley of the Kings, across the Nile from Luxor. Lots of Pharaohs are buried in this valley, which has a mountain shaped like a pyramid at the end. You can go into his tomb and see his mummy case (he is back inside it now), but can't take pictures. Most of the treasures from his tomb are in the Cairo Museum and, guess what, no photos allowed there either. So if you want to see some of the treasures you have to go to Cairo, or see the exhibition if it comes to your country.

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Sunday, May 08, 2011


Bear Archeology

I will be away for most of this week. You should be able to guess where from the two clues. One clue is the photo, and the other is this name:

Back next week, after Mum and I learn more about this stuff.

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Saturday, May 07, 2011


Binnacle Bears

Scruffy and I are examining the binnacle compass on the "James Craig". In the days before GPS and radio compasses, these compasses were the main way of navigating a ship. Because the ship bounces and rolls in the waves, the compass is mounted inside a pair of hinged rings that let it stay level all the time. The compass body is made of brass. If it was made of iron it would muck up the magnetic compass needle. In fact all of the metal in the ship has an effect on the compass needle, so it has to be carefully measured and balanced out. The two metal balls on the sides of the compass stand are part of the magnetic balance system, making sure that the needle always points north. Scruff and I figured out how this one worked and had a bit of fun balancing on the moving rings as the ship rolled, but eventually the helmsman (who was a lady) made us get down so that she could see the compass without a small bear being in the way.

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Blade Art

How's this for using spare parts as artworks? On the front of the promenade deck of the "Queen Mary 2" is a set of 4 big, shiny, curved thingies. They look as good as some of the so-called art that our local government clutters up our parks with, but these have a really useful reason for being there. They are the spare propeller blades for the ship's azipods. QM2 has 4 azipods. They are the main propulsion units for the ship, and have the very useful feature that they can be turned in any direction. That means that the ship can be pushed sideways as well as forwards or reverse. With the bow thrusters at the front of the ship, this makes the QM2 so maneuverable that it can spin in its own length. Sometimes it gets a little help from tugboats, but only in really tiny harbours. The only problem with these blades was that they are too slippery for small bears to climb on, and bolted down so tight that no matter how I tried I just couldn't undo the nuts.

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Monday, May 02, 2011


Ready at the Ropes

Scruffy and I were always ready to help the crew of the "James Craig". Up to the time things got rough anyway. Here we are standing by some ropes as the ship is getting ready to leave the wharf at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney. Actually, we weren't sure just what these ropes did, but we were ready to haul them in or let them loose whenever we got the command. The big wheely-thing behind us is one of the pumps. If water starts to come into the ship, sailors slip handles onto the square ends of the axle and turn them as fast as they can manage. The heavy wheels store energy and keep spinning during the short times that sailors are changing over. We didn't have to do that during our trip, but there were times when huge waves looked like they were coming over the deck so it was good to know that the pumps were ready. How did Scruff and I cope with the big waves? We settled down in Dad's backpack and let him worry about them.

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A Beautiful Bunyip

Our local government here in Canberra has a policy of putting sculpture in public places in the city. Some of these sculptures are cute and quirky and some are frankly horrible. The newest one is the best, in the opinion of this small bear. It is a statue of Alexander Bunyip, a character in a series of kid's stories by Michael Salmon, so it is outside the new library at Gungahlin. In the first of these stories Alexander, who is a short-sighted bunyip, comes to live in Lake Burley Griffin, the big lake in the centre of Canberra which has most of our iconic buildings built close to it. Being short-sighted, Alexander mistakes the buildings for food and proceeds to eat most of them before he is captured and sent to the zoo. You can see some of the buildings behind him; the Telstra tower that he thought was an ice-cream, the National Library that he thought was a cake and the Academy of Science dome that he mistook for a pie. It is a funny story for kids and small bears that live in Canberra. Bunyips are mythical creatures that the aboriginals say live in rivers, lakes and billabongs. They roar loudly at night and chase and eat people who stray from the camp at night. Nobody has actually seen one, and if they did catch one I am sure that it wouldn't look like my friend Alexander.


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