Australia 2 – Mackay

The kids took the standardized tests that I had ordered and Steve brought over.  Our school district is consistently ranked as one of the top districts in the state so I was not surprised when I got a letter saying that home schooled kids in odd numbered years have to give some sort of proof that they are, well, learning.  After e-mailing back and forth, I learned that Cobin and Marin could take a standardized test or be evaluated by a current teacher. 

My contact at the district told me that if they took the standardized test, they had to score above the 13th percentile to continue with home schooling.  Wait, 13%?  What’s the point?  I understand they want to keep an eye on the home-schooling kids so the evaluation makes sense but 13%?  How did someone decide that was a reasonable expectation?  I don’t want to belabor this point but it just seems really odd that we are all going through these rather involved motions (ordering for tests, paying for them, transporting them, taking them, returning them, grading them, sending in results, having someone examine, file, and remark upon them) for the sake of showing that our children can achieve at least the 13th percentile.  We joked that we should have ordered extra tests to allow a local kangaroo to take the test and see how it scored.

The kids enjoyed taking them and I got the results and, breath of relief, they cleared 13%.  They seem to be doing quite well although I know we have a few small things to take care of.  Marin came over during the test and said, “Mama, I think we need to spend a little more time on money.  I forgot what these are.”  Poor thing, she was stumped by the question on adding the values of US coins depicted in a drawing.

During our week or so at the apartment with the Hunsingers, we spent most days sightseeing.  Mackay is not on the main visitor track in Australia and so it’s a lovely place to visit because people just live there.  It’s primarily a mining (coal) and agricultural (sugar cane) town so it doesn’t have a lot of frills but it suited us just fine.

We visited the botanic gardens with some lovely trails and nice activities for the kids.  The mall and arcade were a big hit, as was laser tag.  Morgan has a secret talent of winning scads of tickets at the arcade and she generously shared them with all the kids so they could “buy” all the junk they were coveting. 

Joe took a morning off from boat projects and joined our posse and the World ARC folks for a 5 am departure to a kangaroo and wallaby event on the beach at a nature reserve about 45 minutes away.  The park rangers take food out to the beach and the wallabies hop out to eat it.  It’s a bit staged but it was still fun to see them hopping around in the dawn light.  Tully and the other kids followed a mama wallaby around, trying to get a peek at her joey. 

Afterwards, we had a delicious breakfast and met Molly, a wallaby whose mother was hit by a car when she was still in the pouch.  She was raised by the humans that were feeding us and they said they grabbed her right before some crows ate her (she has a notch in her ear where they had a nibble).  The man who helped raise her told me that she is very curious about humans.  He pulled me aside and said, “Watch this.”  A lady was jogging by and Molly looked at her for a moment, then started hop-hop-hopping after her.  The man told me, “That lady is going to get the scare of her life when she stops to tie her shoe or something and Molly runs into her from behind.”  That guy should mount a camera at his place and capture some of those “Molly moments”!

Joe also went with us to Eungella Park and Finch Hatton Gorge where we did a lovely hike up to two waterfalls.  Mason, the king of cold-water swimming, proved once again that he likes swimming more than he dislikes being cold.  He jumped right into the icy water and enjoyed himself.  Meanwhile, I tried to decide if the adorable tiny worm (maybe 2 cm long?) that Tully had discovered was a leech.  I let it crawl around on me for a while and decided it was a leech when one end with a sucker-like head kept trying to latch on.  Then I decided it wasn’t.  Then I decided that, regardless, I would get rid of it.  It was surprisingly difficult to get it off so I decided that was a sign that it was a leech.  No more jumped on us so I decided it wasn’t a leech. 

Later, we did the hike again with Aurora B and Tully went barefoot.  At the end of the hike, she noticed one of those tiny worms and then noticed a small hole between her toes that kept bleeding.  It was a leech!  I confirmed with an internet search later.  They’re just creepy, not dangerous in any way.  Actually, they’re pretty adorable.  At least, as far as blood suckers go.  Certainly cuter than insurance companies.

We stopped for lunch at Pinnacle Pies, famous for meat and other pies, and rightfully so.  Then we drove through the waving fields of sugar cane and straight up the side of a large hill to get to another part of the national park where we were lucky enough to spot platypuses.  The kids all cooperated and did their best to be quiet and it paid off.  We saw several platypus-shaped blobs appear in the water.  Tully told me they came up to chew their food and, sure enough, the sign confirmed that she was correct.  They grab delicious platypussy food items on the mucky bottom of the pond and bring them up to the surface to snack and breathe.  We saw them from a distance but it still counts!

The Hunsingers also joined the kids and me for a horseback ride which went well for everyone except poor Mason.  He had that horse that you have to cajole and wheedle to get to move at anything beyond a snail’s pace.  At some point, he said, “This horse moves slower than a worm cut in half!”  It still makes me laugh.  

We had some time to kill before our tour of the miniature sugar mill (very interesting, plus – free samples) so we stopped for lunch at a restaurant I found online.  It was originally a wheeled cart that served people on the railroad and then sort of took root at a place near the railroad tracks and got cemented into the ground and stayed there.  The food was reportedly good value for the money and the guy running it had a personality.  My kind of place.  Steve said he was up for anything so we went.

Restaurant might be a bit of an overstatement.  It was more of a shack.  For those of you that know the original King’s Chef, picture that, except without booths or sinks or bathrooms or . . . OK – just picture a shack.  With an outhouse out back.  No sink, no soap, no hand sanitizer – a real outhouse.  When we showed up, there were two guys sitting at the counter, reading newspapers and drinking coffee.  I didn’t see a sign anywhere and there was an old menu on the wall advertising kebabs so I asked one of them if we were at the right place (it’s called “The Diner”) and he said yes.  I asked him what was good and he suggested the “bacon” because it came with eggs and toast and tomatoes. 

That sounded good to me but it seemed like you couldn’t go wrong.  It was basic diner food.  After waiting a while, someone shuffled out from the back and, sure enough, it was the typical grouchy man you find at diners.  It was hard to tell if he was just grouchy or playing grouchy.  He muttered some things about not being McDonald’s and communication was difficult.  We seemed to have a language barrier despite all of us more or less speaking English.  He shuffled back into the kitchen.  As Steve said, it’s “all part of the adventure.”  One of the kids was dying of thirst so we asked for some water.  He brought over two well-used cups and some water.  Rather than pushing our luck, we just shared the cups and one water bottle between the six of us. 

When the food came out, we got a surprise.  Mason and Steve had ordered burgers.  Mason didn’t want salad on his but he did want bacon added.  Steve wanted the works.  Mason got a bun with a slice of bacon on it.  Steve got a bun with bacon and veggies.  Steve and Mason were perplexed.  Where were their hamburgers?  Ahhh – now it made sense to me.  I had seen the title “Burgers” on the menu and underneath it, had seen different options listed – bacon, cheese, mince, etc.  “Mince” is what I’ve learned to call ground beef since being in this British-influenced part of the world.  When I saw it on the menu, I wondered why it was called out in the burger section – what other kind of burgers would there be? 

Now it made sense.  In the US (and, to be fair, most places we’ve visited), we think of a burger as a ground beef patty.  But here, a burger was just a sandwich.  Inside your bun, you could have ham (a ham burger), mince, bacon or other fillings.  Morgan and Steve had ordered bacon burgers, so they got bacon inside.  Once we figured this out and asked the confused man to add mince patties to their buns, everyone was happy.  The food was good, the price was good, and we have a funny story to tell.  The miniature sugar mill had bathrooms with sinks and soap and Steve and I remembered to drive on the left side of the road all of the time that mattered so it was a good day.

We wished the Hunsingers a safe trip home and spent the next day with Ed, Gemma, Eva and Henry after they had spent several days packing up Aurora B to prepare her to be put on the market.  We visited Bredl’s Wild Farm where we got to pet, handle, and view all kinds of animals, including kangaroos, koalas, snakes, reptiles, baby and adult crocodiles, cassowaries, turtles, ducks, and dogs.  It was educational and satisfying and we have many photos of the day.  Afterwards we squeezed in another hike at Finch Hatton Gorge and some more pies from Pinnacle Pie.  We said good-bye to Aurora B although we are hopeful we will see Gemma again soon for the Atlantic crossing to Brazil.

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