It was my joy and my honor to spend two happy weeks in Australia in August 2006. This voyage was a combination vacation and beginning research trip for my doctorial dissertation on guerrilla warfare.
I was accompanied by two dear friends, the director of theatre in Motion, Ms. Leslie Feneli, and her daughter a promising artist, Ms. Hannah Feneli. This was the first trip I had ever taken that was not part of a group, or with a relative.
I knew my friends were as excited as I was as we moved through New York’s Kennedy airport onto a sleek Qantas jet. Seventeen and a half hours later, broken-up only by a brief change of planes and the drink carts of our host, we had done it.
Sydney Australia was just out the front door. We did a lot of amazing thing in this city. We shared a sea food lunch on the boardwalk, dreamed of wealth in the gem museum, and toured a barracks that was a home for newly arrived prisoners.
The country was settled by prisoners who were offered land instead of a jail sentence. The highlight of this part of the trip was the oztour, a light show and movement ride which simulates seeing the city from up in the sky.
Because the country is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. So it was winter in August.
It was a great source of joy to see a group of people who truly wanted to help. The national slogan, “Fair Go” seemed almost custom written for us.
Accessibility, while not perfect, is a national priority and seemed to me, for what its worth, to be ahead of the U.S.A. equal with the UK. and behind South Africa.
Then it was time to go to work. We drove from Sydney to Canberra the beautiful national capitol. Like Washington D.C., Canberra was created to be a capitol. It is a five hour drive between the two cities.
Like many former British dominions, Australians drive on the left side of the road, that took a little getting use to!
As a history professor and political junkie, the ability to meet with leaders and pour through archives was for me, the pleasure a child feels getting their favorite toy on their birthday.
We spent one of the happiest weeks of my life wandering through parliament, having lunch at the Imperial War Museum, and consulting with historians and politicians.
My two most interesting interviews were with two historians of Australia and the Viet Nam War, Professor Ashley Eakins, and Captain Derrill DeHeer. We talked about the Chieuhoi program to turn Vietnamese defectors.
On our second night in Canberra, we went to a buffet and ate Kangaroo. Believe it or not, it was absolutely delicious. It tastes like well-done steak, in case anybody wondered.
Having wondered initially about how I would get around, I was pleased to see how helpful everyone was. The friendly phrase “No worries mate” which I heard a hundred times smoothed things over again and again. The people fell over themselves to open doors and find whatever other help we needed.
It was such a joy to see Hannah’s artistic side blossom. She spent half her time helping me get around, and the other half looking at all the beauties this vast continent had to offer. She saw things as only an artist can.
The sky at night over there looks as if it came straight from the hand of God that morning.
I was also very pleased to meet with Ms. Mary Porter, an expert on Aborigine and disabled rights. She explained the similarities between these two struggles.
For too long the Aborigine people like African American’s, and the disabled in the U.S. have been treated like children and kept out of the mainstream of society. We were able to share our efforts to change society and end this immoral injustice.
All too soon, sadly, it was time to go home. I can assure you, my friends and readers, Australia will remain a source of memories and pleasures. As well as a place which understands our struggle and a place I long to return to.
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