Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Look for the Bare Necessities

Another weekend, another adventure.  This time we boarded the bus and headed south about 5km to La Perouse on Botany Bay.  Botany Bay serves as Sydney's main cargo seaport and also happens to be the site of Captain James Cook's first landing on the continent Terra Australis (Land of the South) in 1770 by the HMS Endeavour.  The sheer amount of amazing plants led Joseph Banks and Dr. Daniel Solander, the resident botanists on the ship, to call it Botanist Bay.  In true Aussie fashion this somehow was shortened to Botany Bay.

Congwong Bay
Bare Island

I must say it's an amazing feeling to try to imagine what they must have seen coming into the Bay.  If the Brits had only seen it with their own eyes I would think that they would have packed up, moved and left Britain for the convicts instead of the other way around.  

View across to Kurnell, location of Captain Cook's first landing
Very popular area for scuba diving.  Fun to see these guys come out of nowhere.

Captain Cook saw a 'small bare island' and naturally named it Bare Island.  What ingenuity and imagination the early Brits showed in naming things.  We took the tour of the fort that was built on Bare Island.  It was seriously one of the most entertaining tours I've ever taken.  Not because of the subject but because of the tour guide and other people on the tour.  I never knew what was going to come out of any one's mouth.  Most tours I've been on people remain somewhat silent and occasionally ask questions.  This had kids running around, a crazy old man offending several nationalities in one fell swoop (I'll come back to this) and a tour guide who would bust out laminated, black and white photos and simply say, "this is what it looked like".  It was kinda awesome!

View from a cannon station to Congwong Bay

The tour starts by coming into the main area of the fort and the guide explaining that whoever built it wasn't smart.  They knew this was Sydney's back door and needed to be fortified but they used poor quality concrete.  A big factor in having a secure fort would be that it is actually secure.  Oops.  They realized their blunder quickly as it literally started crumbling from the inside out.  It obviously can't be used as a proper fort so it was abandoned.  

At some point they began using it as a veterans home.  Weird to see pictures of families that made this concrete island fort a home.  At some point it became empty again and passed into the National Parks system.  There is actually a caretaker that lives there now.  Very surreal to take a tour of a home that is basically a big, cold, empty, crumbling concrete fort.  

This is the caretaker's home

Let's get back to the people on the tour, shall we?  I'm a big people watcher so as Sean ran to get tickets for the tour I stayed by the gate and assessed my future tour mates.  I immediately focused on an older man that basically looked like an Australian Santa Claus in regular clothes.  He was complete with an oil-skin Australian slouch hat and sandals with socks.  I was really hoping he wouldn't disappoint my expectations of him.  I shouldn't have been worried.

Within five minutes of starting the tour our guide informed us that we should never let the truth get in the way of a good story.  A great way to start a historical tour I say.  I'm thinking Aussie Santa didn't agree.  He begins grilling the guide with all kinds of questions about the cannon.  Is this the actual cannon?  Because he didn't see this part (he points to the picture).  Our guide, Guy, tells him yes, that part is hidden.  Why?  Because it is.  He doesn't get it. We move on to the next room.

The infamous cannon that has been moved to show its "hidden" components

After having time to think about this encounter Guy tells us that he is wearing underwear.  But we don't know that because they are hidden.  We just have to take his word.  That is exactly like the cannon in the other room.  I am speechless and can't even laugh because I am stunned taking it all in.  A girl then points to the wall where there is a plaque talking about the crumbling concrete.  She tells us this is because a cannonball hit it and they all had to run into a different room when it happened.  No one corrects her.  Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.  I think she gets it. 

I like the cannon story better...

We continue on the tour and Guy tells us we should come back at the end of the month.  They are having a battle reenactment.   The British will be fighting the Americans on the island.  Yes, this makes total sense.  A historical reenactment of two countries that never fought each other on the island let alone this country.  Oh, and they are reenacting Waterloo next month somewhere else.  I guess this is what war buffs do when they live in a country that has never really been attacked and has no battles on its shores. Must be strangely depressing. You can't really be sad about it and yet, what do you do with your weekends?

I actually got Guy telling Aussie Santa (on left) about his underwear!

But this opens the door for talking about Americans.  Anyone who says that Australians like Americans are obviously not Americans living in Sydney.  Yes, they secretly love our culture, consume our entertainment, wear our clothing and are taught about how the Americans are responsible for saving them from a Japanese invasion but don't let this fool you.  Some Aussies make no bones about telling us Americans how messed up our country is.  People hear my accent and I swear I can feel some of them rolling their eyes.  Let me just say I will strive to never let anyone feel this way when I return to America.  Thanks for opening my eyes, Lord. 

Guy tells about how the Americans may have rescued Australia from the Japanese but they also came and took the women away.  Aussie women married American soldiers because they had bubble gum and smokes but they were actually womanizing jerks.  Huh? Where did this rant come from?  Is this part of the history of Bare Island?  Aussie Santa takes the bait and begins to say this beauty,  "They may have saved us from the Japs, perhaps, but now Australia is too yankful to be thankful."  Oh yes, the gauntlet has officially been thrown down.  Do I speak up?  No, I choose to understand that nothing I said would change Aussie Santa's mind and let Sean's motto win.  Don't get involved.

Since coming home, I have searched for the "too yankful to be thankful" bit as I didn't think that he was smart enough to come up with this on his own.  Sure enough, this is taken from a Brisbane poet in 1942 who wrote this about the increase in prostitution and resentment towards the Aussie women wanting to be with the American soldiers: "They saved us from the Japs, perhaps, but at the moment the place is too Yankful for us to be sufficiently thankful."  Ah, context.  Aussie Santa was showing us how much he knew by taking a quote out of context and making it sound like it was about today.  He didn't add any historical background to say that it was in response to Guy's remarks.  The rest of us on tour were supposed to know about it already. What a tour!

Baddie headquarters in MI2

Showing my American roots, my favorite part of the tour was finding out that Bare Island was the bad guys headquarters in Mission: Impossible II.  Sweet!  I remember that.  I'm going to go watch it again now. Oh and I'm writing this while watching my New York Yankees take on Arizona on free TV.  Obviously somebody likes America here! 

Sean surveying where Tom Cruise drove his bike off the island onto the walkway

No comments:

Post a Comment