Saturday, February 1, 2014
Our last day in Melbourne was just as full of activities as all our other days. Our plane didn’t leave until 10:30pm so we had a full day. Our first stop…The Victoria Mounted Police. Did you really think we would leave here without seeing some horses??? Sadly, all the horses had the day off, but our tour of the facility was very special. Horses have been a part of the Victoria Police since 1836. Their barn, built in 1912, is located in the heart of downtown. The horses are brought here from the farm as they are called to duty. Unlike our Houston Mounted, they are not on duty everyday. More of an as needed basis. Also, the barn is only open to the public one day each year. A special thank you to the Houston Mounted and Smash, for getting us this connection! The barn is massive, with 3 sections for horses. There was a breeding program up until 2006, but now they purchase their horses. Uniformity is everywhere, even in the storage areas. I could have gone through boxes and boxes of photographs and ledgers of material dating back to the 1800’s. Katherine presented them with a Houston Police charge and a Smash rookie card and they gave her a Victoria Police patch. If we are able to come back, we have an open invitation for a day of training and visiting the farm. Next stop, the MCG. If you remember we visited here at the beginning of our trip. Peta Phillips, one of the sponsors with The Lord’s Taverners, is also the Research and Administrative Officer with the Melbourne Cricket Club. She was kind enough to invite us back for a tour of the library which is located in the stadium and the bowels of the stadium. Don was thrilled to see how this stadium compared to Reliant. Strangely, if you were in the basement of this stadium and didn’t know what city you were in, you would guess Reliant. It was almost a mirror image of ours. Even the grass company for the field was the original one reliant used! Back at the library…..Established in 1873, the collection is one of the most sport’s comprehensive in the world. It is primarily for the Cricket Club members, but can be used by non members on non match days, by appointment. Some require gloves to read. The collection of tennis items was amazing and we had a good time trying to find people we knew. The large table was formerly used for a massage table for cricket players back in the early 1900’s. We briefly lost Katherine. The entire trip was wearing on her, so she just decided to go to one of the stacks, pull out a book and start reading! I profusely apologized, but Peta said to leave her alone. All Katherine wanted to do was stay there and read. So, Katherine is exempt from the white gloves! Another very special invitation was extended the players and their families. a visit to the office of the Consul General of the USA, Mary Bruce Warlick. Mrs. Warlick and her staff were so excited about having a USA delegation in The Open, they came over to watch us play earlier in the week and invited us to her office. There are not any photographs because of security reasons. After going through several security sections and I am sure a through background check, we were taken up to the Offices. More scanning and questions because we were going behind the “hard line.” The best way to describe the yellow line across the carpet is extremely secure!! Very thick steel doors and bullet proof glass are on the other side. There are so many fascinating things that go on the other side of that yellow line, but the one I will share with you is about a visa. Visa applications are reviewed by 3 people in this office. They get about 1000 requests a month. A face to face interview happens and after that it is determined if a visa will be granted. It takes about 2 minutes for the interview. Most of the time the person being interviewed is not even aware the interview is taking place. The people performing the interview have had hours of facial expression and body language training, so they can tell pretty quickly if this person will be allowed a visa. I suggested parents get a modified version of this training! Blank visa paper is quite a commodity. Each 8x11 sheet has a black market value of up to $50,000. The sheets are kept in a safe at all times, only taken out to print a visa. We got to hold a sheet and I have to tell you the paper in nothing more than peel and stick sheet. However the layers of ink and threads printed on it are extremely detailed. All I could think about was how many tennis events we could attend if we sold just one sheet. Gabrielle and Nicola continued our tour. We were allowed to look at the small building on top of the roof which is where all mail is opened. Everything is hazard material tested before it comes into the building. A little creepy, but necessary. At this point Mrs. Warlick, this is how you speak to her, but if you are addressing an envelope it would be The Honorable J, invites us to her office. Katherine and Ben take a seat on her couch and that was just about it for them. Since Katherine see everyone on one level, why wouldn’t it be just fine to catch a nap on her couch! We had a lovely visit and after 2 hours it was time for us to head to the airport.
Our last days in Melbourne were just as packed with activities as the all the other days. We returned from Benalla around noon and boarded a bus for Phillips Island. We drove along the coastal highway which gave us a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean. Our guide was exceptional. He had a thorough knowledge of the history of Australia, past and present. I wish I could his presentation on tape. He was that good. Even when he was talking about the plant life, he took the time to stop the bus, get samples of what he was talking about so we could actually see and touch the plant. He also brought photographs and maps to pass around. This extra effort on his part made for lasting impressions on Katherine. Flies are a problem for this part of Australia. Mostly due to the increased cattle population and the fact they are not allowed to use any pesticides. Bats were imported but they soon found out the vast, flat land and lack of trees and foliage for the bats, made it difficult for them to fly long distances. The farmers willingly gave up parts of their pastures to allow the government to build bat refuges for them to land in. As you drive along you can see sections of pastures fenced off and large bushes and plants for the bats to land. Our first stop was the Koala conservation Center. I thought Katherine was going to get off before the bus came to a stop! She has wanted to hold a Koala for as long as I can remember. After playing with the Koala we went into the petting zoo. It was full of kangaroos, wallabies, kookaburras and Cape Barren geese. It was a hot day so many of the Kangaroos were under a porch. No problem for Katherine. She just climbed under it to be surrounded by them. A girl and her animals! Check out the albino one. Our next stop was a favorite surfing spot and a point where there is a hole in the ozone layer! Our driver said you can burn in just 5 minutes and a bad one at that. Did you know Australia is boarded by 2 oceans and 3 seas? This stop is the Tasman Sea and a segment of the Pacific Ocean. The water is cold but that didn’t stop the surfers. We arrived at Phillip Island’s famous penguin parade. Home the penguins, smallest of their species. You are not allowed to photograph so I have included a video so you can see what we saw. Our front row seats on the beach made us feel like we were in a Disney movie. You stared so hard at each wave and just as the wave breaks, the penguins just pop up. They waddle to the dunes and some how manage to find there own burrow, every time. Katherine had her own penguin encounter. A penguin came up to within 1 foot of her and they just stared at each other. I wish I could have had a photo of that. I have included a link so you can see what we saw. Our day ended at 1:00am. Way past my bedtime but well worth it!