Category Archives: Australia

In which the human lizard attempts to explain AFL

Before moving to Melbourne, I had a vague idea that there existed a thing called Australian Rules Football, which was played with a rugby ball and was a bit like Gaelic football.* After nearly four years here, I am a big fan of the sport (with the pajamas to prove it) and am therefore qualified to explain it to newcomers.

Warning for Australians: It’s safe to say I still don’t understand all of the intricacies of your beloved game, but I’m OK with that. I work with a former AFL umpire and a former AFL player so could easily have checked a few things with them… but I did not.

OK, here we go.

In the same way that Chinese people don’t call it “Chinese food”, Australians don’t call it “Australian Rules football”. Instead it is just footy, or AFL. AFL stands for Australian Football League (which is the top level of the game, like the Premier League**) but you can call all levels of the sport AFL. I don’t know how that works.

There are 18 teams in the AFL; my team is Geelong. This year sees the first ever AFLW (womens) and they have started out with just 8 teams. Geelong don’t have a team yet so I’m going for Adelaide – more on that another time.

The pitch is an oval shape. It has nice grass. I wish our grass looked like that. (Green, that is. I could take or leave the oval shape.)

The goals are similar to rugby goals, except that there are four posts at each end and no cross bar. You get 6 points for kicking the ball between the middle posts, and just one point for kicking between the outer posts or if you hit one of the posts. An illustration would be helpful here.

Sketch of an AFL goal

There are no ‘own goals’. If you kick or hit the ball through your own goal, that is just one point to the other team. So it’s a defensive tactic that can save you five points. Maths.

The ball is indeed similar to a rugby ball, but to watch the players scrabbling around after it, you’d think it was covered in butter. Further investigation is needed to confirm this.

The umpire starts the game by bouncing the ball in the centre of the field as hard as they can so that it bounces high in the air and a player from each team jumps in the air to try to thwack the ball to their team. This bit is like basketball.***

When the ball goes off the field, the boundary umpire stands with their back to the field and throws the ball over their head towards the players. This is my favourite bit as they look so absurd. Depending on how the ball went out, one of the players might get possession from the side line instead of the umpire doing their backwards fling. That is quite boring in comparison.

In a rule seemingly designed solely to make things more complicated/subjective for the umpires, the ball is only ‘out’ if it goes over the line, not if the player holding it goes over the line. So, your feet can be ‘out’ but as long as you hold the ball ‘in’, you’re all good.

In this sport, a handball is a good thing. In fact, it’s the way that you pass the ball with your hands. You hold the ball in one hand and then hit it with your other hand, kind of like serving in volleyball. Except not really.

If you catch a kick that has traveled at least 15 metres, that’s called a mark. The ball is yours and no one can take it from you. You can either play on or take your time to set up a kick. The rest of the time, if you have the ball, you can be tackled. This is most definitely a contact sport.

You can run with the ball but once you’ve been running for a bit, you have to bounce the ball on the ground and then you can keep running. Now, let me tell you, bouncing an oval ball and getting it to come back to you is much harder than bouncing a round ball. And they do it while running. I can only conclude that there must be some sort of witchcraft involved. Or maybe magnets.

sketch of footy player bouncing an AFL ball with the aid of a magnet

So there you have it – a comprehensive and mostly accurate (maybe) understanding of AFL. You are quite welcome.

* Things I know about Gaelic football: there are no things I know about Gaelic football.
** To further put my sporting knowledge into context, I just had to Google ‘Premier League’ to check I had it right.
*** Let’s pretend for a moment that I know what basketball is like.

In which the human lizard gets married overseas and it is very easy

union jack, australian flag and new zealand flag decoration

I’ve never been too keen on the idea of overseas weddings but when you are from the UK, your partner is from New Zealand, and the country that you live in won’t let you get married, you don’t have a great deal of choice. The choice that we did have was whose country to go for. When it became clear that I had quite a few ideas about how I’d like my wedding to go, while kiwi gf had LITERALLY NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT IT, the decision became a simple one.

From there, we found that planning a wedding is incredibly easy.

Here’s a rundown of how the planning process went after we told my parents that we wanted to have the wedding in their part of the beautiful English countryside.

  • Parents emailed us a list of venues they thought would be good. We looked through the list and picked one. They visited and booked it. Tick.
  • Decided to have the reception in the village hall. Mum spoke to her next door neighbour who does the bookings. Tick.
  • lazy beaglesMade cute photo of our beagles into a ‘save the date’ email that most people didn’t actually get. Tick.
  • My sister said “Please, please, please can I decorate the village hall?” Tick.
  • Went through pointless process for kiwi gf to get a marriage visitor visa for UK. Tick. Twice. Tick.
  • ‘Gave notice’ of our marriage, with extra scrutiny because of kiwi gf being a dirty foreigner. (Luckily, as the lady later told us, she could tell our relationship was genuine as soon as she saw us in the waiting room – rather than holding hands and looking all lovey dovey, we were playing on our phones.) Tick.
  • Asked my bestie if her defunct function band would get back together to play for us. Tick.
  • Ordered ten dresses from the internet. Liked one but it didn’t fit. Ordered different size. Tick.
  • Went with kiwi gf to a dress shop where she spent 20 minutes trying on dresses (10 minutes of which was spent trying to work out how to put on one of the dresses) before choosing one. Tick.
  • Bought an $11 Word template on Etsy for the invitations. Sent invites. Tick.
  • Ordered two pairs of shoes from the internet before returning them and deciding to wear a pair I already had. Tick.
  • Went shoe shopping with kiwi gf who bought the second pair of shoes that she tried on. Tick.
  • Tried to arrange hair and make-up. Failed. Mum booked for us to go to a hairdresser in the nearest town. Tick.
  • Mum sent an email with food options for the buffet. Chose our favourites. Tick.
  • Asked my awesome friend if she would bake the cake, also to be the desert. Tick.
  • Put together our one real contribution to the proceedings – party bags (which we forgot about until half our guests had already left). Tick.
  • Copied and pasted vows from the internet. Tick.

bunting and fairly lights

Based on our experience, I would offer the following tips for planning a wedding on the other side of the world:

  • I suspect this has already become clear but, outsource. If you are very lucky, you’ll have a mum who loves to plan things, as well as friends and family who have talents that they are happy to share.
  • Give those people the freedom to make decisions, and trust them to get it right. When my sister asked what the colour theme was, we said: “You choose.”
  • Prepare yourself for the reality that some people will simply not be able to come. Find the silver lining: these people will get you the best gifts.
  • Decide the things that matter to you and scrap everything else. Wedding favours? No. Chair covers? Hell no.
  • If your parents aren’t big drinkers, make sure they are clued up on how much alcohol you and your friends can get through of an evening. On a related note, big thanks to my bro for doing a beer run.
  • Film it. We set up a video camera to film the wedding, speeches and some of the dancing. The end product is of dubious quality – not unlike the dancing – but it was great to be able to do a screening for our whanau (family) who couldn’t be there on the day.
  • Relax. Most of the arrangements are out of your control so just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Remember when it wasn’t cold all the time?

It’s winter at the moment. It is raining and it is cold. Seems like as good a time as any to recall the joys of summer.

My first Australian summer saw me living in the country and hanging out with livestock. As fun as that was, the next time summer came around, I was keen to see and do everything that Melbourne has to offer at the start of the year.*

I then remembered that I am really lazy, and so “everything” quickly turned into “a few fun things when it’s not too hot”. Here are some of those things.

Moonlight Cinema

This is an outdoor cinema in the Botanic Gardens and runs on nights throughout the summer, except when it rains. A pretty familiar set up you might think, as indeed I did when we went along to see The Theory of Everything. But no, this is Australia and so the girl next to us brought her pet snake with her. Not cool.

Cricket

After England’s disappointing performance in the tri-series and abysmal performance in the World Cup, I think it’s best that I focus on the Big Bash League here. As mentioned previously, we support the Melbourne Renegades. We went to all but one of the home games, decked out in our red t-shirts, sometimes with a small child, always with snacks. Our team didn’t do particularly well – we decided their motto when batting is “Everyone gets a turn” – but it was always good fun to watch and we’ll be back next year.

Zoo Twilight

A picnic and concert at the zoo, with lions roaring in the background. What’s not to love?

Water fights

I’m lucky enough to have a really mature fiancée who does things like coming back from the supermarket with two big water guns. The joy of a Melbourne summer is that it’s actually hot enough for a water fight to be refreshing, rather than something that leaves you shivering and grumpy.

The dog beach

The fun thing about beagles is that if you let them off the lead, they will pick up a scent and run and run until they are dots on the horizon and you are a sweaty mess trying to catch up. A fenced dog beach is, therefore, a magical thing for a beagle owner like myself. They get to run around and you get to enjoy the beach – everyone’s a winner.**

The Australian Open

So, I didn’t actually go to the tennis this year either… but I saw a bit of it on the TV. Did I mention that I’m really lazy?

* Which, dear international readers, is when summer takes place in Australia. Madness, I know.
** Except for the jellyfish Jasper rolled around on. Because it is dead.

In which the human lizard embraces Australian sport

It came as no surprise to me to find that Australians love sport. What came as rather more of a surprise was quite how fully I have embraced their sports since moving here. The following is a summary of the teams that I now barrack for.

Go Cats!Geelong Cats – AFL (Australian rules football)
In Melbourne, if you’re asked which footy team you support and you are foolish enough to answer, “I don’t really have a team”, the person you are talking to, whether man, woman, small child, old granny or human lizard, will give you a lengthy speech about the merits of their team. The popularity of AFL varies around Australia but here in Melbourne, it is MASSIVE.

I chose Cats while at a sports bar watching the British and Irish Lions beat the Australians in the rugby last year. At the same time, another screen was showing Geelong beating Hawthorn and so the Australian in our party convinced me to become a supporter. I jumped on board and was quickly singing the Cats’ song, despite knowing neither the words, nor the tune. It must have sounded amazing.

Melbourne Storm – NRL (rugby league)
People round here don’t really care about rugby – I’m told it’s much bigger in Queensland and New South Wales. Nevertheless, I have pinned my colours (purple and gold) to the mast and perhaps we will get along to a game one of these days.

Melbourne RenegadesMelbourne Renegades – Big Bash League (Twenty20 cricket)
Regional work kept me away from the Big Bash games last summer, though I caught a few on TV. It’s a bright, brash and neatly marketed T20 league and it’s great fun to watch. Unfortunately we picked Renegades before realising that they were the crapper of the two Melbourne teams, finishing second from bottom in the competition last season. However, the recent signing of Kevin Pieterson to the Melbourne Stars has somewhat validated our choice.*

Auckland Blues – Super 15 (rugby union)
Super Rugby is a rugby union competition played by teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. That’s really all I know about it but Kiwi Girlfriend has told me that I support the Blues.

Greensborough 5 – Northern Netball League (netball)Greensborough Netball Club logo
Netball is really big here – the league I play in, which is just for Melbourne’s northern suburbs, has eight divisions. Eight! I joined Greensborough Netball Club after the season had started and was placed in team 5, which competes in division seven. While that sounds incredibly unimpressive, it’s a good team and we made it through to finals. And, more importantly, I have a training top WITH MY NAME ON THE BACK.

* In case you don’t follow cricket, Pieterson used to play for England but he has always been a bit of a prick. He was fired from the England team for…  well… being a bit of a prick.

In which the human lizard ends her career in farming

At 5pm last Thursday I finished my last day of ‘regional work’. I celebrated with a fist pump followed by a triumphant three-hour drive home from Gippsland. I feel like I should be sharing some reflections on the whole experience but really it can be summed up by saying that some of it was fun… and a lot of it wasn’t. Instead, I will share some selfies from my last farm. 

Human lizard and Triple B the ram

Human lizard and Triple B the ram

Human lizard and Hereford cows

Human lizard and Hereford cows

Human lizard and Baboss the Maremma, my best friend in Gippsland

Human lizard and Baboss the Maremma, my best friend in Gippsland

Thanks for reading about my adventures in regional Australia, I do hope you’ve enjoyed the cute animal photos if nothing else. We now return to regularly scheduled programming, whatever that is.

Regional work part 3: Gippsland

First things first, if you missed it on Facebook, do take a look at this little video I put together as my time on Bruny Island was coming to an end. Video production is not a natural talent of mine but this film does have piglets, ducklings, goats and, more importantly, my face. Enjoy.

My accommodation: basically a garage

But what of my new farm? Well, I’m now in Gippsland, about a two and half hour drive from Melbourne. I’ve traded pigs for sheep and have swapped damp caravan with no power for cold garage with no power.

The farm is incredibly picturesque with rolling fields for the sheep to frolic on and mountains off in the distance. Unfortunately my ability to appreciate it has been somewhat dampened because I am super tired from being woken up every night by various loud and annoying noises. When the rain stops hammering on the tin roof, the dogs that protect the sheep start barking at something they’ve seen. When the dogs stop, the rooster starts up. Dude, it’s 3am, pipe down.

Selfie of the human lizard on the new farm

The exciting part, however, is that the end is sight and I have just nine more days of regional work to plough through before I can go home and get back to real life.*

* The other exciting part is that the first job for tomorrow is to feed the eagles. That’s just not something you often get asked to do when you work in an office. 

In which the human lizard tells you about Bruny Island (because you were itching to know, right?)

It didn’t take living on an island to make me realise that I never want to live on an island. Despite growing up in the countryside – or perhaps because of it – I’m a city girl through and through. Nevertheless, Bruny Island is stunning and my time here is giving me an interesting glimpse into island life.

The human lizard with Bruny Island Neck behind

Bruny Island is about 100km from top to bottom. It’s made up of North Bruny and South Bruny, which are connected by a thin strip called ‘The Neck’. Bruny is a real island, ie there are none of those newfangled bridges connecting it to civilisation. Oh no, getting there means taking a good old fashioned ferry. The novelty of this wears off really quickly and it’s often quite the pain in the arse.* Also, a lot of the roads, including stretches of ‘Main Road’, are unsealed and a bit of nightmare to drive without a 4×4.

The human lizard and other WWOOFers walking out to see at low tide at Great Bay, Bruny Island

The tourists, most of them Tasmanians, come for the walking tracks, the beaches and the wildlife. Being an island, Bruny obviously has a lot of beaches and they are quite lovely. Some are all about the surfing, others involve a 2km walk to get the water above your knees at low tide.

Bruny has only 600-ish residents, meaning that everyone knows everyone else, and their business. There’s one policeman, one pub, one off-licence, one place to get petrol. It’s the kind of place where everybody helps each other out. So, a local might travel back to Bruny as a foot passenger, knowing that they’ll find someone they know on the ferry who can give them a lift home. And the guy from the nearby cafe leaves loaves of bread in our letterbox at the end of the day.

Island life. It’s different.

* Especially when you miss the ferry by about two minutes and have to wait over an hour for the next one. And the cafe has closed** so you have to wait outside in the rain. Yep, it’s raining at this point. Of course.

** Why does everything in Tasmania close at 4pm? Not cool Tassie, not cool.

In which the human lizard posts photos of tiny, tiny piglets

Jessie and 10 of her 11 newborn piglets

So the big news from the farm is that Jessie, pictured with me in my last post, has had her piglets. Here are 10 of the 11 piglets, just a few hours after they were born.* They are, of course, incredibly cute and we have considered, in some detail, the practicalities involved in keeping one as a pet. Sadly, I have had to accept that I am entirely too lazy to bottle feed a piglet every couple of hours so, for now at least, they can all stay where they are.

In other piglet news, the little ones in the pen next to Jessie continue to be cute. Tikka, the Kelpie, is quite fascinated by them and it’s really rather lovely.

Tikka the Kelpie with three piglets

Hmm, what else? I’ve been on the pig farm for three weeks and, to be perfectly honest, I’m kind of over it. The problem is, the animals expect to be fed EVERY morning. Selfish bastards. I’m powering through my 88 days though, and am well over halfway there. Yay me.

* It’s quite hard to get good photos of the piglets as Jessie does not like us getting near and she is so big that you really don’t want to piss her off. While not great, this one is much better than my first photo, which I later realised had four dead piglets in the foreground. Nice.

Regional work part 2: Tasmania

After the ridiculous heat of Taggerty, I thought I would make Tasmania my next stop as it is generally cooler than Victoria where I have been melting. My new farm is on Bruny Island, an island off the south-eastern coast of Tasmania, not too far from Hobart. It’s not just cooler, it’s actively cold at times, but it’s really rather beautiful so I shall forgive it.

My caravan

My accommodation is a caravan about 100 metres from the farmhouse. While it’s great to have my own space, that 100 metres feels like a bloody long way in the middle of the night. It’s also too far away to get help if you encounter your first huntsman spider late at night. Given my history with spider invasions, I was surprised and impressed with how calmly I dealt with the situation and killed that scary bastard.

Me and Jessie

The farm is mostly about pigs and our main job is feeding them all in the morning and evening. Pictured here is Jessie, a heavily pregnant piggie. The photo doesn’t quite convey it but she’s actually the size of an elephant. We’re expecting up to 19 piglets from her at any moment and have been taking our cameras with us every time we feed, so watch this space. Or something.

As well as the pigs there are also goats, sheep, chickens, guinea fowl, ducks, peacocks and emus. More about them another time.

I’m feeling pretty positive about Bruny Island after the first week and expect to be here another three, by which time I will be quite the expert on rearing free range pigs. And eating them.

Regional work days update: 42 down, 46 to go.

In which the human lizard is too lazy to write much

I’m now in my last week working on the olive grove and find myself too tired to write a proper post. Instead, here are a few decidedly average photos from my adventures in Taggerty and the surrounding area.

Millie the maremma sheepdog

Millie the maremma sheepdog

Lake Eildon, Victoria

Lake Eildon

Stevenson Falls, Marysville, Victoria

Stevenson Falls, Marysville

Selovers lookout, on the road between Healesville and the Black Spur

Selovers lookout, between Healesville and the Black Spur

Cool clouds over the olive grove

Cool clouds over the olive grove