Paralympics - Sydney, Australia

Link to Pictures

The Paralympics are held in conjunction with the regular Olympics about three weeks later. I had a chance to work at the Olympics but events leading up to the games prevented me from doing so. But the event coordinator asked if I was interested in helping with the Paralympics. I said I would be delighted!

October 17.
I left Houston Tuesday afternoon around 4:10 pm and arrived in Sydney Australia Thursday morning around 7:10 am. 

When I arrived in LA, my luggage did not. The Southwest terminal was only a hundred yards or so from the Air New Zealand terminal so I walked over to find the place in case things got in a hurry if and when my luggage arrived. Luckily, there was another flight coming in from Phoenix a half-hour later and it had my bag so that was okay.

I boarded the New Zealand 747-400 Jumbo Jet and we left around 10:30 p.m. After a two-hour movie and dinner, I settled in for a long ride and continued reading a book I started earlier in the flight called "AIRFRAME!" It is about a plane that almost crashed due to instrumentation problems. Just the book to read while flying. 

The flight is projected at 15 hours but the pilot claims closer to 14. I set my watch on stopwatch mode so we shall see. Too hard to keep track of where I am and what time it was so I set my watch to hold one time to Sydney time and the other Houston time.

It wasn't a full flight so I moved to a row of four seats that I shared with a gal from San Diego. We took turns using three of the four seats to stretch out. She is going camping in the outback with some friends for a couple months. She works part time in Bali as a clothes designer. 

Not having a cigarette is killing her but has no trouble knocking down the wine and knows a few four-letter words, but other than that, she is okay for company but definitely a free spirit. 

There were a total of five movies on the flight and the whole time it was dark. I guess the 9 1/2 and 11-hour flights to and from Budapest in February was a good training flight for this longer flight. Reading "Airframe" made me think of something: the airplane supports the wings while on the ground but when in the air, the wings support the airplane. Scary thought!

The airframe is suspended between two finely crafted wings that bend, twist, and oscillates as the wind flows above and below. Wings are not symmetrical but flat on the bottom and curved on the top. The faster moving air on the top crates a partial vacuum while the air below creates a slight pressure. The difference in pressure causes the plane to lift.

We crossed the equator before crossing the International Date Line where we lost a day, so Wednesday didn't exist very long on the westward leg of the trip. After we flew over New Caledonia, we entered the South Pacific Ocean at an altitude of 11,600 meters. The outside air was -53C and the ground speed was 800 km/hr.

I don't remember the second movie and slept completely through the third one. The fourth movie was a special "Southern Cross" which was like a documentary and it was similar to the ECO CHALLENEGE with biking, swimming, hiking, canoeing, running, traversing, etc.
I did watch a Jackie Chan movie after which we had breakfast. A cheese omelet, stewed tomatoes, slice of ham, roll, fruit cup, blueberry muffin, O.J., and milk. While awake, I walked up and down the aisles to keep the blood flowing and minimizing stiffness.

SUNRISE on Thursday
The sunrise from the port side of the plane at 32,000 feet was stunning! A true rainbow of colors starting with a dark set of clouds, fiery red, yellow, a cool azure and tailing with a chilling blue violet. Breakfast was over and the sun hasn't peeked above the clouds yet. 
But the arrays have changed to a soft purple and magenta, then a creamsicle orange, a haystack yellow, then a soft blue.

The kids on the flight seemed somewhat somber and mellow with hardly any horseplay at all. Try keeping a kid in a seat for 15 hours and tell them to behave!! On one of my excursions around the plane, I found a small staircase that led upstairs near the tail. I ascended the stairs and found the crews berth. A small compartment big enough for four sets of bunk beds and also room for four on the floor is needed. While they are working, I could come up here and stretch out - I will have to remember that on the return trip.

We landed shortly after dawn a bit ahead of schedule. The flight from LA lasted 14 hours 27 minutes over the ocean. I left Houston 22 hours and 45 minutes ago.

Local time: 7:05 am Thursday. 
Houston time: 4:05 p.m. Wednesday.
Absolutely no trouble getting baggage and zipping through customs. Although a narc dog (beagle) sniffed out an apple from a lady standing beside me. The apple was confiscated. 

Outside the luggage area, a thin chap bore a card misspelling my name. Danny welcomed me to Australia and apologized for the gloomy, rainy day. I said it looked fine to me as I had better view of the morning from the plane - a magnificent sunrise!

The airport is on the southwest side of Sydney but the archery venue is on the northwest side. First we went to an abandoned train station to pick up my clothing issue and credentials. 
Great! I got my photo taken after being up for 33 hours, I had slept in my clothes and I had stubble. The photo came out just fine or as fine as possible considering the subject.

We received two polo style shirts with nice splashes of color, a hooded nylon jacket in the same style of the bush jacket complete with a shoulder flap to keep off rain. Two pair of pants, a hat, a couple pair of socks and a bum bag - also known as a hip bag or fanny pack.

We drove by the Olympic stadium and I saw the flame. The archery venue was huge with pointed tents all over the place like you would find in medieval times. 
The main stadium with the Olympic flame was clearly visible behind the archery targets, which afforded for a wonderful view!

The security at the venue was thorough and quite adequate. Although I was only a volunteer and a worker, I did have accreditation that allowed me free roam of the place and thanks to Jim, I could take all the photos I wanted.

The grass used on the field was a type of rye and a winter grass. It grows great in the shade but not so well under direct sunlight. It has the capability of growing several inches overnight. 

In the early afternoon, the rain went away, the sun came out and it was a beautiful day. I finally met my host (Jim) and his wife (Jenny) and reintroduced myself to the person who allowed me to be there (Terry Reily). I met Terry in Atlanta at the games where I was a judge. I told him then that if he could find me a place to stay, that I would come to the Sydney games to help out. 

Another fine gentleman I met was Pavlov. He is in charge of the archery venue in Athens, Greece for the 2004 Olympics. We did a lot of chatting that week and it looks like I might as well place that on my calendar in four years. 2004 looks to be a busy year as the IFAA World Field C-ship is in Argentina. 

I said that if I ever get that far down in the world, I would take a side trip and visit Antarctica, wouldn't that be cool??? That and Africa would give me all seven continents. I now have five. When in Budapest, I found out that the Danube River goes right through the city and divides the continent. Buda is on the west and in Europe and Pest is on the east and is in Asia but some day I would like to visit Asia on the East Side. That may happen next September as the IFAA World Indoor championship is in Singapore.

After the pleasant greetings, I received a tour around the complex and it is a perfect place for the parlympic archers. For the uninitiated, the Paralympics is for athletes of varying disabilities. Para means it is in parallel with the Olympics. The classifications will be covered in the magazine story. 

Jim Larven, the event coordinator and my host, was still a bit busy at the end of the day so I rode home with Jenny and their daughter. I had been up for about 33 hours so I was feeling a bit bushed. They have a nice quaint place with lots of dogs in the back yard. I dropped my stuff in my room, got a quick tour of their home and lay down for a few minutes before dinner. That was a little after 5 p.m. (2 am EST) but the meal I woke up to was not dinner but breakfast. I had slept for almost 11 hours. 

I S-S-S and packed a day bag for the first day of competition. Outside of the Larvens house is a big tree with lots of birds in it, especially the magpie and cockatoo (which happen to come from Tasmania.) Jim tells me that the insurance companies encourage the people to feed them hard foods and discourage them from feeding the soft foods. The bird's beak will grow long with soft food but not hard food. When the beaks get too long, they may eat parts of the house. With hard foods, it keeps the bill from growing and ensures safekeeping of the house. It is quite common for a flock of cockatoos to lite in your trees and devours everything overnight.

Along the way to the venue each morning, we would pick up three more volunteers: Donna, Danny, and Emerson. All three of them are from Tasmania and came up to help out. They were here during the regular Olympics and here again for the Paralympics. I will visit Tasmania at the end of the week.

The Australians decided to honor their athletes by printing the Gold medal winners on stamps. When I went to the post office to mail some cards, I used archery stamps featuring Simon Fairweather. I bought a sheet of stamps for myself as a souvenir and had Simon and the coach sign it. Simon came to the venue to wish the Aussies good luck. His coach, Korean Kisik Lee also signed the stamps. In the US, you have to die to get your mug-shot on a stamp. 

Just like in Atlanta, it seems popular to build an archery field over some sort of dump. In Atlanta, it was built over a landfill. The ground was transformed into a wonderful Olympic venue, spent 6 or 7 million dollars for the archery and cycling venue. Then after the Olympics, the land was reclaimed back to how it was before.

In Sydney, the landfill was a toxic dump that has been reclaimed for the Olympics at quite an expense. The good news is that this venue will be kept as an archery facility.

Rather than create a whole new story, I decided to incorporate what I already written for THE USARCHER, THE GLADE and THE ALTOONA NEWSPAPER. Then fill in some of the other details before and after. 

Due to contractual agreements with two major archery magazines, I cannot print any of the Paralympic archery results at this time.

Sydney, Australia
By Rick Stonebraker

Please read the upcoming issue of the "USARCHER" magazine Jan-Feb issue for Paralympic archery results or tune into their home page at: The spring issue of the "GLADE" will also have complete results: Thank you! RWS

Most of the time the weather was perfect: blue skies, some puffy white clouds and in the high 60;s and lower 70;s. I remember looking at the sky, taking a deep breath and exclaimed: "I can't believe I am in Australia!"

Even the porta potties got my attention. Over here they are called "port-a-loo!" Loo is British was toilet. Anyway, the port-a-loos have a small sink built into them so you can wash before leaving, how cool is that? AND, there is a lever you pump once and it flushes in clean water.

Many of the tents are set up with one or several monitors that have live feeds from other venues. 
When ever possible, I watch as much as I can. I am in awe of these athletes! We watched some discus throwing. They have an apparatus built with a chair fixed to an apparatus in the throwing ring that holds them in pretty tight while they throw as hard as they can.

Tandem cyclists include a lead rider who is sighted and the rear rider is totally blind. In this division (as well as others) if a person has partial sight, they mask them so they cannot see a lick. They can choose whomever they want as the lead rider, the same in running. The runner's are tethered together with a loop of string around adjoining wrists and they go stride for stride down the track. How would you like to run flat out, entrusting your whole world to a person beside you? 

Watching swimmers with one arm go at it like they are possessed. One-armed butterfly swimmers, swimmers with no legs just pulling themselves through the water and swimmers with no arms kicking their way through the water. Another event I watched was the 10k. Always trusting their sighted partner.

Some of the items on the menu during the week were interesting, We had baby octopus for lunch one day. It was a bit chewy and rubbery but quite tasty. I chewed off one leg (tentacle) at a time and nibbled my way up to the body and stopped. Some of them I could chew the heads off but a few was too chewy so I left that portion on my plate. The lunches and dinners here are not catered but cooked right here at the venue. Kind of makes the box lunches at Atlanta pale in comparison.

Another beautiful day in Australia and another interesting lunch - pumpkin soup with a beef & mushroom pie. They serve donuts for lunch but they are nowhere in sight for breakfast or morning tea. "Life is short, so eat your dessert first" takes on a whole new meaning at lunch because they give you your paddle pop with the meal instead of afterward so we tuck it into some napkins as an insulation so it doesn't melt.

The first night I went to sleep around 9 and awoke at 5:30 so I am already on some sort of schedule.

I was assigned to the IBM results test as part of the QC process. (Quality control). When an arrow hits the target, a scorer writes it down on a score sheet and enters that value in a scoring box. After each end is complete, the scorer and judge verify at the target. [An end is either three arrows or six arrows]. The scores in the box are then SENT to the computer. 

The actual score card comes into the IBM tent to be matched with what is on the computer and a results sheet is printed. The score cards and results sheet comes to me and I verify they match and make sure all the boxes are filled in and signed by the proper person. When I affix my initials, it becomes final. This has to be done very quickly. Then I am free until the end of the next match so I can go out into the stands and watch the action or take photos or whatever. I traveled half way around the world to do the same QC work that I do at NASA!?!?!
Everyone is friendly and most problems are handled with ease. The Aussies are a bit laid back - no worries mate!

Sydney is the largest city in Australia with 3.4 million people in the metro area and the most expensive. Very few apartment complexes and even the poor live in houses - partly subsidized by the government. A moderate dwelling is about $AUS150K to $AUS300K. I never did get to the see the rich side of town where the luxury homes are.

Watching the monitors in the dining tent, I saw more Paralympic events that were happening in the main stadium like running and long jumping. 

They have many classes of Paralympics from those with physical disabilities to mental disabilities and even those with minimal social skills. The dining tents have three monitors with live feeds for many of the events but no sound so it is hard to pick up the effects but you can still see the great competition. 

A "wheelchair board of directors" will classify a persons division due to the nature of the injury or incapabilities. Some archers and other athletes were either born with the problem or it may have deteriorated over the years. In many parts of the world, the injuries are inflicted due to the war(s). One archer from Iran is a star basketball player but the Iranians did not field a wheelchair basketball team so he is shooting archery. According to the story, he was shot three times during the Iran-Iraq war and each time he was sent back into combat. He stepped on a land mine and that took him out of action.

While riding to the event one day, I asked Jim why I didn't see anyone driving with a cell phone in his or her hands. It is a $250 fine if you get caught dialing and driving. BTW, a lawyer over here is called a Solicitor and they do simple legal work like wills and things. A lawyer who does trials and the like is called a Barrister.

Some of the classifications for Paralympic athletes - other than archery:
F11-13 different levels of sight impairment
F20 Intellectually disabled
F33-38 Cerebral palsy
F42-46 Amputees and others
F51-58 Spinal cord injury

It was election day on the way to the venue and I remember Jim telling me that voting in Australia is compulsory and if someone failed to do so, it could result in a $200 fine.
For events in Australia, paying spectators are required to have an individual seat. Bench seating is only allowed for free events. The seats in the archery stadium are quite comfortable, even if they are only molded plastic, as they flex a bit and can lean back some.

The design of the main Olympic stadium is such that the roof will capture rainwater and recycle that water to be used in the restrooms of the stadium. 

NOTE: Even though they practice daylight savings as we do, they moved it up a month so that the Olympic athletes would have more daylight in the morning.

During the last day of the event, I met a chap from Melbourne, Steve Sommers. I picked him out because he had a nice green design polo shirt and I asked if he was interested in trading for one of my blue design shirts. Steve was there for the Olympics as well so he had four shirts: two Olympic design with Olympic rings and two Paralympic designs with the Paralympic crest that excludes the Olympic rings.

He mentioned to me that he was in charge of the archery event in 2002 at the master's championship in Melbourne. I remember this event being in Brisbane in 1994 and thought about attending but I was out of archery at that time and did not feel like I could shoot at that level with only minimal practice. But I would be ready in 1998 when it would be in Oregon. Then I found out some of the "lower profile" sports were dropped and archery was one of them. 
So now I get another crack at it; taking on archers in my age group 50-54 in Melbourne in October of 2002 so it looks like I will return to Australia sooner than I had anticipated.

The Paralympics were over all too soon and the last night of the event was topped off by an Australian style B-B-Q which is nothing like a Texas B-B-Q but we get spoiled here in Texas. We had a great time, the food was plentiful as well as the Australian beer. Some a bit stout for some of the Americans and it didn't take much to make a few archers tipsy. 

I noticed a gentleman following the Americans around and when I asked why, they told me all the Americans and Israelis had security. 

One of the chaps had a DIDJIRADO and was doing quite well so I asked to take a turn at it. Everyone laughed as I struggled to make a sound but I stayed at it for nearly half an hour before I finally got some tone out of it. I also got some puffy lips. A DID is a branch from a tree that was hollowed out by ants. About 4 foot long with a large opening on one end and tapers. 
The other is narrow but Beeswax is used to narrow down further place the mouth against and make sounds or "outback" music.

A fellow emerged with a searchlight and directed everyone's attention down to the targets, 80 plus yards away. He turned on the beam and four streakers emerged from the side of the field, ran across the front of the target line and then down the field towards us. They stopped about twenty yards away, turned their backs to us and then bent over. The word ARCHERY was painted in yellow and green on seven of the eight exposed cheeks. We roared with laughter as the chaps headed back out into the darkness!

Music broke out and the wheelchair archers starting dancing in their chairs. Popping wheelies and just having a good ole time. Then more competition broke out, just like all archers like to do - name something and someone will try to do it better. There was a huge flowerpot sitting in a pit of smooth stones smaller than a golf ball. The pot was taken out to expose a pit of four feet by four feet and six inches deep with pebbles.

A "long jump" competition was about to unfurl. Archers in their chairs would push themselves as fast as possible toward the pit and at the very last second, pop a wheel to avoid the small front wheels getting stuck and see how far they could go across the pit. Obviously out the other side was the goal. 

Arthur Fisk weighs in at close to 300 hundred pounds and when his chair hit the pit, it sunk in the entire way and four people had to pull him and his chair out of the pit. It was hilarious. Aaron made a good run of it by flying through the stones to within a foot of the other side. 
A non-wheelchair archer mounted a chair and zipped the whole way across but that didn't count. After a couple more unsuccessful tries from dozens of wheelies, Arthur gave it another try and angled his chair at the last second and was able to get one front wheel out of the other side of the pit and declared the winner! It was absolutely hilarious!

I had three days before heading home so I hopped a plane for Tasmania. Why? I don't know, but it sure sounded interesting at the time! 
I could have stayed in Sydney and watched more wheel chair Olympics or I could have jumped on a train for the interior or north to the great barrier reef but Tasmania was stuck in my mind and that is where I was headed.

Jim dropped me off at the airport and I left at 6:30 a.m. Due to a windshift, we had a 7-minute taxi ride (in the plane) to a new runway built out over Botany Bay. Blue skies and a sunny day made for a wonderful view of Sydney harbor and the city by air. We hugged the coastline for quite awhile before heading out to sea. Very nice view of the coast! 

Dropping into Hobart was like when I arrived in Sydney, under cloudy, rainy skies. Once we dipped under the cloud layer, the lush, green of Tasmania appeared but it was still raining. 

In Tasmania as well as the mainland, a strict quarantine is in effect and I had to surrender a tangerine that I had planned to eat. A one hundred dollar instant fine if you fail to surrender food products or plants. Remember this if you plan to travel with an animal, a dog will get quarantined for 6 months upon arrival in Australia! Horses about one week and a month for cattle and sheep which normally is not done because they export both/ The prized Marino sheep is a major export to the rest of the world. I also found out that if you had a choice of wool, choose the winter wool as it comes in thicker and is a tighter knit than a summer shear. 

Hobart has a population of around 100,000. They have independent laws as well as commonwealth laws. The population of Tasmania is around 450,000 and is about the same size as West by-god Virginia - 26,000 sq miles. 
In that small area, Tasmania is crammed with a rugged west, a central plateau broken by steep mountains and narrow river valleys and an eastern coastal region offering a more gentle pastoral beauty. Tasmania is one of seven states in Australia. The others being: New South Wales, Victoria, the Northern territory, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.

A boot is the trunk of a car and the bonnet is the hood. We saw poppies everywhere as it is a controlled drug and is used in pharmacuitical needs and strictly regulated. 

Murray Frith was at the airport to pick me up. I had no idea what he looked like. I was browsing the internet one day looking at Tasmanian stuff when I found several Tasmanian archery clubs. I sent some e-mail to the members and I received two answers: One was from a chap named Danny who happens to be one of the volunteers I met at the venue. The other was Murray. He said if I ever come to Tasmania, I am welcome to stay at his place for a couple days. Murray looks like Sean Connery or Rene' Angelil (the husband of Celine Dion). 

We tooled around Hobart for a short time before heading up the mountain for a magnificent view over Hobart. The drizzling rain prevented that view as it was raining worse up in the mountains and visibility was less than five car lengths. The wind was ripping and we had to walk backwards into the wind and fog. He apologized for the nasty day and said it was not necessary because I was having a great time on vacation and it can't be perfect all the time.

Heading up the east coast of the country was beautiful! It reminded me of the New England coastline. The rain stopped and it was still overcast but it was real nice. He stopped several times for me to take photos and I marveled at the country. Each town has a set of signs on a post that told you where the school is, restrooms, gas, library, the market, etc. Each town had a public toilet and it was very clean. 

We stopped in a small town along the way to visit with his daughter for a few minutes and then back on the road again. In the mountains, we stopped for brunch at the Elephant Pancake Barn. Very interesting place as the interior motif was like found on the African plains. I had apple cinnamon pancakes topped with ice cream and a cup of hot cocoa!

The Frith's live in the northern part of the state in a town called Launceston. The Frith's home is a quaint place on the side of the hill that is charming with a wonderful garden out back. Some of the evening veggies came straight from that garden. 

They had an excellent B-B-Q that evening and invited over some friends: Linda and Patrick Farrington, and Ray Denton. Murray had to leave Friday afternoon for a conference in Sydney so I was only going to have a different host the next night. Patrick and Linda would be my hosts the following evening. Murray cooked up some delicious venison burgers, sausage and steaks on a homemade grill out back. It was excellent and the company was delightful!

Like everywhere I go when I am around archers, the subject turns toward archery and I never at a loss for words about archery but I was eager to hear about some of their archery exploits so we shared experiences and had a great time! These are strangers I just met and it seemed like we knew each other for a long time. The camaraderie amongst archers is incredible! 
I was almost halfway around the world and I felt like I was at home. 

Being with people like this is ten times better than staying at the fanciest hotel, drinking the most expensive wine and eating the best food that is to offer. What you can't get is a homey atmosphere with real people and I was around salt-of-the-earth real people. I wouldn't trade that for anything! I am a bit of a lucky chap I am!

In the morning, we went downtown Launceston to pick up a few souvenirs and mail a few more postcards before going over to Rays place. Murray headed off to the airport and Ray was to drive me around during the day while Patrick and Linda worked. We headed off across the wonderful countryside to the Moler Creek Wild Life Park. I petted a Wallaby, a kangaroo, a Koala and a wombat. We also saw a pair of Wedge-Tail Eagles, an Echidna, and Tasmanian devils - yes, there really are such animals.

The devils were in a pitted enclosure as was the echidna. The eagles did not seem to have a tether so I suppose they were free to leave at anytime. The kangaroos and the wallabies wandered around the park as free as we were. I took a roll of film and got some interesting photos. 

From there we headed to the Solomon Cave but did not go in. The landscape was a mix of tropical rain forest and alpine. It was really thick around the caves as we took a good long walk. 

I noticed several four-wheel drive vehicles with the extended raised exhaust stakes for crossing high water. My kind of vehicle!

We stopped for some petrol and I couldn't believe my eyes. I got an ice cream bar called a Magnum Almond. That is the exact same thing I had in Slovakia at the place we stayed - "Chateau Lucky." I also remember what I did with the sticks, I used them for splits the next day when I almost broke a finger on the ski slopes. No worries this time. 

Tasmania has the distinction of having disease free plants. Ray mentioned he brought in a rose once from Melbourne and had to have it certified as disease free and declare it through customs. It could not have any soil on the roots. 

After driving mile after mile of spectacular scenery, we headed back to Ray's place to meet his wife and son. Their house sits on the side of a hill and you can see the entire valley below. They also have their own garden.

Ray took me over to Patrick and Linda's after work and we had a nice chat before eating. 
They also invited some folks over for the evening and we had another wonderful conversation. I met an optometrist who offered a few suggestions about shooting with my eye problem. I also met Clint Freeman who holds the world's record with a compound bow. A young fellow, very well mannered and a delight to chat with. Absolutely no arrogance behind this fellow that usually comes with being a champion, like a few Americans I know. 

After another good night sleep and then we headed out to their archery range in the morning. Right past the Gunpowder Mills we crossed a bridge over Cataract Gorge. There is a path that goes up into the hills that I plan to hike the next time I am there. We drove up into the hills overlooking Launceston. The range is beautiful, the sky was blue and they tell me wallabies cross the archery range all the time, like giant huge rabbits. 

Their club is set up for Saturday mornings so that anyone can shoot. They have a dozen or so beginners that can shoot and get instruction for five dollars. You can't beat that anywhere. They are a very energetic group of people who go out of their way to promote the sport they love. I couldn't help but string up a bow and shot a few arrows. 

I did a "walk-about" to photograph some wallabies. I spotted about 20 in an hour's walk. You can find wallaby droppings everywhere. I am told that the first person to the range in the morning will see a dozen wallabies sunning on the range before scampering off. 

History will tell you that Australia was a penal colony for England. That is where they sent their prisoners. They then sent the worst of the worst to Tasmania and then the worst of that lot was exiled to an island half the size of Alcatraz off the coast of Tasmania. When white folk first settled in Tasmania, they herded the aborigines off cliffs into the sea. Not a single one survived and there are none in Tasmania today. At least we Americans forced out indigenous species onto reservations. 

During my walk-about, I stopped for a moment to listen to the quiet. I heard about a dozen distinct different birds and of course, I couldn't identify any of them. But I did carry my compact binoculars and spotted a few of them. 

I heard the word POME a few times and asked what it meant. Ray said it stood for: "Prisoner of Mother England!" I was not able to make a reservation out of Launceston as recommended so either I was going to take a bus or we would have had to make the 2.5-hour drive back to Hobart but first, we stopped by the airport to chat with a friend of Patrick's. John did some quick typing and made a connection from there to Melbourne and then onto Sydney. 
So, my friends did not have to make a drive and we could spend another hour or so before departing. Good to know people who know other people.

We drove around the countryside and I took some more photos of the wonderful place. We saw some Oreo cows and it was obvious they didn't know what I meant. An Oreo cow is black at both ends and a white band in the middle. One of the correct names is Dutch Belted Cows. It appears as if they never had an Oreo cookie which explains. So, when I got home, I sent off some Oreo cookies along with a Christmas card.

All too soon, I had to leave this wonderful country but I plan to return and was told I was always welcome. I think a person needs at least a week to see this place. 

A cloud cover prevented an aerial view of North Tasmania but coming to the coast of Melbourne was nice. It was clear enough to see huge waves starting to break about 100 yards as 5-6 waves line up to crash onto the shoreline. 

After a quick stop in Melbourne to change planes, I was off to Sydney once again. Coming into Sydney gave me a great view of the city and I fumbled around trying to get the camera out before taking a decent photo of the skyline. 
I was surprised how well it came out due to the scratchy reputation of airplane windows.
Jim picked me up and off to his place for one more night in Australia. We watched an Australian movie called "the castle" that was hilarious, bordering on ridiculous but clever in the same light. One of those movies you could watch a couple of times and still get some laughs over. We chatted about he awesome British actor - Benny Hill and I mentioned our Gallagher and they never heard of him so I will make a tape of some of his episodes and send it over their way.

Sunday morning.
Shower, shave, breakfast and time to pack for home. One last photo of some cockatoos in the front yard and a photo with Jim's torch. He was one of the official relay runners and each of the 12,000 relay runners had the option of purchasing their torch. He figures it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so he forked over the $Aus350.00 I don't blame him a bit.
I packed light on the way over knowing I might bring a few things back and I had it stuffed to the gills. Jenny dropped me off at the airport and I couldn't begin to thank them for their wonderful hospitality, charm and Jim's wit. I have heard that Aussies were friendly but the archers in Australia and especially the Larvens' are absolutely awesome! Thank you so much!

The return flight was almost full with few empty seats. I was near the tail of the plane where it tapers from three seats to two so I had some room to my left and was able to turn a bit and place my feet in the window. I didn't get as much sleep on the way back as I did on the way over and my seatmate was bigger than I was.

One hour into the flight, we flew over a series of atolls. I zoomed in with my compact binoculars 10x25. The islands were relatively flat and the colors of the water darkened as the water got deeper. Absolutely beautiful!

Lunch was a choice of entrees - grilled chicken or lamb. Because there were only so many of each, those at the back of the plane might not get their first choice but we were guaranteed our second choice. We ate while we crossed over New Caledonia. Looked kind of mysterious as it looked uninhabitable followed by another string of atolls. There was just enough earth sticking above the ocean to form a ring with blue/green water inside. On some of the atolls, it hardly seemed like any land was rising above the water at all. But the water got lighter in color and then you could see small waves breaking so there must have been some land???

Our route would take us hundreds of miles north of Fiji and just north of Tijvalu and then cross the IDL. It was dark on the way over and now we could see when we crossed the IDL. I left Sydney at 11:30 am and would arrive in Los Angeles five hours earlier than when we left. 

The sunset was spectacular once again at 10,000meters. A cloudy black bottom layer as the floor, with a thin yellow at the horizon blending into a lemon yellow, then lime green, aquamarine, light then dark blue finishing with a clear dark look of space. I happened to look back near the rear of the plane and saw a sliver of the moon. It was the first time I ever saw the sliver on the bottom of the moon and I would assume it has to do with us being near the equator. 

When we crossed the IDL, it was Sat evening all over again. An hour or so later, we crossed the equator. A few hours later we crossed near Palmyra about one thousand miles south of Hawaii. It is the last remaining free pristine environments in US tropical waters. It is a string of atolls that cover only 680 acres but has 15,512 acres of reef. Annual rainfall of 15 inches nourishes lush tropical forests that is home to 1 million sea birds, sea turtles, and a multitude of invertebrates, including giant coconut crabs. It is also home to the rare Bristle-thighed curlew and the red-footed booby.

During one of my hourly walks around the plane, I found the video center. It was tucked up near the staircase to the upper deck and their sleeping room was directly below the staircase. There are two people manning the movies. 
One on duty and one off duty. Lucky for them that their seats fully recline! 

The upper deck had seats for 25-business class plus the flight deck. I have seen a flight deck before when the space shuttle Columbia came back from California when it landed at Ellington near Clear Lake south of Houston. We got to take a tour and the crew chief allowed us to go upstairs and even sit in the controls of the 747 that had a space shuttle on top. 

There was another business class section forward and then first class. Those seats also fully recline. The Boeing 747-400 has four engines, 392 to 421 seats, cruising speed of 920 km/hr and a max fuel capacity of 216.847 liters. There are currently 10 of these planes in the Air New Zealand fleet. 

After we landed in Los Angeles, this flight was continuing onto to London. That is one long flight, almost 29 hours worth. I wasn't as lucky on the way back as we did not land where we took off but rather at a sister airline terminal - United Airline. As it turned out, I was as far away from Southwest as was possible. LAX is arranged in a horseshoe and I was at the ends and no way to cross over. I had a 4.5-hour layover so I was not in any hurry. I arrived safe and sound back in Houston Sunday evening.

Houston to Phoenix 1020
Phoenix to Los Angeles 370
Los Angeles to Sydney 7487
Sydney to Hobart 644
Launceston to Melbourne 294
Melbourne to Sydney 429
Sydney to Los Angeles 7487
Los Angeles to Austin 1238
Austin to Houston 152

GRAND TOTAL: 9 planes, 19,121 miles.

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