I took American Airlines to Los Angeles and flew Qantas down to Sydney, Australia. We crossed the equator and international date line at about the same place. I got a motel and took a train to Sydney Harbor. I saw the Opera House, Harbor Bridge and The Rocks (Old Town).
My purpose in going to Australia was to see the southern stars and constellations. Monte Wilson of the Astronomical Society of New South Wales picked me up at the motel. We drove through the Blue Mountains to Wiruna, the Dark Sky Site about 3 hours northwest of Sydney, for the South Pacific Star Party (SPSP).
I was lucky. The weather was great all 3 nights. I got to stay in the house, referred to as the "White House" because they let Americans stay there. There was a couple named Tom and Lucy from Texas who proved invaluable. Lucy actually grew up in Louisville around the Bardstown Road area.
I saw the southern stars. I saw the Southern Cross and the Coalsack next to it. I saw the Magellanic Clouds. They were fainter than I thought. I saw the bright stars Canopus, Alpha Centauri and Achernar.
Tom kept finding galaxies and nebulae in Tony Buckley's 20 inch. We looked at Jupiter and Saturn. Orion was upside down. Scorpius got straight up in the sky. The hub of the Milky Way in Sagittarius was high and prominent. I looked into our galaxy's thickest part, something I only saw along the horizon in the early 1960s.
The constellations were abstract. Tracing out even Argo and Centaurus would have taken more time. Seeing Scorpius overhead is what stayed with me, that and Scorpius and Orion in the sky at the same time.
The southern sky is more glorious than the northern because you also get the bright winter stars you see here.
I was impressed at how close Canopus is to Sirius and how the Southern Cross is not that far below Scorpius.
Treasurer Max Gardner drove me back to Sydney. He took me to his fabulous home and showed me some of the city. Sydney is beautiful. They drive on the left side. We crossed the Harbor Bridge.
Max explained that Australia is part of the British Commonwealth, that the Queen is the head of state. Australia is a constitutional monarchy.
I noticed a book about Alaska in Max's bookcase and wondered if that would be my next venture.
Crossing the Pacific again, I noticed how close we came to Hawaii.
I arrived back in Nashville on March 18, 2002. One week. Sydney is halfway between the equator and the south pole.
I will be flying to Australia on March 11 and will be there for one week. I found an astronomical society on the Internet based in Sydney. They host and international event once a year, and I will attend. I will see the stars and constellations which can only be seen from the Southern Hemisphere.
It hit me like a bolt from the blue the way Sweden did. Impulse seems to work. One day, I drove to the airport and got a roundtrip ticket. It cost about $1375 counting everything. Before 9/11, the price was about $1900. So, it came down enough to make a move. I found ASNSW, Astronomical Society of New South Wales, in the Internet. They have a dark sky site at Wiruna, which is a 3-hour drive northwest of Sydney. I began emailing 3 of the main guys in the group. Tony Buckley recommended motels in Sydney. He is trying to get me a ride from Sydney to Wiruna. That will help. This is an astronomy shindig which goes on for 3 days. Last year, 400 people showed up from around the world. So, I plan to learn everything the average person would want to know about the stars and constellations of the Southern Hemisphere. You would probably be interested in the night life of Sydney since you have spent time in Toronto. I suspect Toronto and Sydney have some things in common. They are both large. The flight to Australia is a killer. I will be exhausted when I arrive. I will seek out my motel and a long sleep. I will call Tony. I will roam the Sydney streets until it is time to head to Wiruna. One place I want to see is the Sydney Opera House by the Harbor. ABBA stood there when they toured Australia in 1977. Oh well, I only missed them by 25 years.
My first night at Wiruna was glorious. I walked out of the house and looked up at the night sky. The stars were brilliant. The Milky Way blazed. I saw stars and constellations I had never seen because the tilt of the earth in its orbit is such that the U.S. never dips low enough. We have to go to the Southern Hemisphere. I know you do not like astronomy but if you had been there, you would have felt the excitement. I saw the bright stars Canopus, Alpha Centauri and Achernar which I had known of since I was 16 but had never laid eyes on. I saw the Southern Cross. The Cross is a symbol to Australians much like the kangeroo. The hub of the Milky Way gets high overhead, and I was able to look straight into it, the center of our galaxy. It makes one realize how small and insignificant we are. The Australians are great observers. They were calling me to the telescope every few minutes to see some deep sky object, a nebula or galaxy. We looked at Jupiter and Saturn. My main interest was in having a naked-eye experience with part of the sky I had not seen. I could absorb only so much. The second night, I went to the observing field. People were camped out in tents. Telescopes littered the field. I mingled, talking to lots of people about lots of subjects. I had some wine (called port). It made me sleepy, and I napped in the back of Tom and Lucy's car.
I am back at the motel after the star party. Things have gone great. The Australians have treated me with hospitality. I am satisfied with the trip. My plane leaves tomorrow at 12:30 P.M. It will be March 18 here but March 17 in the States because of the International Date Line.
The spit roast was Saturday night. The food was good. The astronomy on the last night was a summary. I had done it. Sunday morning, I began looking for a ride back to Sydney. Max Gardner, the treasurer for the group, agreed to give me a lift. In Australia, they drive on the left side of the road like they do in England. I could never get used to that. Max and I talked on the return trip. I was told Australia is part of the British Commonwealth. It is a constitutional monarchy with the queen as head of state. Max is 70-years-old and a retired businessman. He owns his own observatory. We went to his home for dinner. I met his wife. Max gave me a scenic tour of the best parts of Sydney before returning me to my motel. The sun setting across the Harbor was beautiful. I hated to leave and was grateful for the hospitality. The next morning, I took the shuttle to Sydney Airport. I had a long way to go. Someone said there had been a bomb scare in L.A. I got tired on the return flight but kept coming. It is 12 hours and 7500 miles from Sydney to L.A. This time, the airport in L.A. was crowded. It was on to Dallas/Fort Worth. I caught the plane to Nashville. I took Grayline to West End and walked to my apartment at Vanderbilt.
Australia was a success. I did what I went to do. I saw what I went to see. I flew American Airlines out of Nashville through L.A. International. I flew Qantas down to Sydney. We crossed the International Date Line and the equator at about the same time. I was confused as to what day it was. I arrived in Sydney in the morning, got my motel and took a train down to the Harbor. The famous Sydney Opera House sits in the Harbor. I walked all around it and toured the general area. I saw what they call the Rocks, which is simply the Old Town. Coming back on the train, there was a fatality on the track. We had to get off the train and walk to the next station. I accompanied an Australian woman through the crowded streets because she knew the way. Suddenly, she yelled. I looked, and a man had been hit by a car. We hurried to the accident. He was Oriental. He lay motionless. He was hurt bad, maybe dead. People gathered around, so we went on. Back in my room, I talked by phone to my contacts from the Astronomical Society. The next day, Monty Wilson picked me up at the motel. We drove for more than 3 hours through the Blue Mountains northwest of Sydney. We came to a small area called Wiruna. Wiruna is an aborigine word meaning "sunset." It is the astronomy club's dark sky site, the location of the star party. Monty saw that I got a bed in the house (facetiously called the White House because they let Americans stay there). They took care of me. I met a couple from Texas who had lived in Louisville. Tom was a dentist. Lucy had lived in the Bardstown Road area and gone to Atherton High School. We 3 and a couple from Hawaii were the only Americans out of 300 stargazers. I got the prize for coming the fartherest.
I made it. It was a positive experience. As you said, the Australians are very friendly. They took good care of me. I was given a bed to sleep in the 3 days and nights at the dark sky site. There was free food, and the star party itself was satisfying. They said the weather was better than anytime in its 10 year history. I saw the Southern Cross and the bright stars Canopus and Alpha Centauri which never rise in the U.S. Scorpius got straight overhead. I could see directly into the hub of our Milky Way galaxy. Awesome! Scorpius and Orion were visible at the same time. I came the fartherest of the 300 people who showed up although there was a couple from Texas. These people are serious observers. Big telescopes littered the field. They were interested in deep sky objects. I was interested in a naked-eye experience with a part of the sky I may see only once. I had to do it and I am glad I did. Sydney is a beautiful city. That is something I rarely say. Stockholm had an odor. I walked around the Opera House which ABBA visited in 1977. I thought about Agnetha. I liked her because she was young and beautiful. Youth and beauty fade. The night before I left, an ASNSW member named Max took me to his home and fed me. He drove me around the scenic parts of Sydney. The Harbor was glorious in the setting sun.
I made it. I had 3 wonderful nights viewing the stars of the Southern Hemisphere with some very serious Australian astronomers. They took good care of me. I was driven around Sydney by a 70-year-old businessman who said he recalled the Americans saving Australia from the Japanese. He took me to his home and fed me. I walked around the Sydney Opera House and rode across the Harbor Bridge which is in all the pictures. Sydney is beautiful.