off to the Emerald city…

Well, it’s really a town, but who’s going to quibble over semantics, when I’ve just made such a fun discovery? I didn’t think I was usually this slow on the uptake! Anyway, on May 1, I leave for Australia, a land known colloquially as Oz, and I’ll be living in the town of Emerald.Who’d-a-thunk-it?

Now, for years, I’ve thought that Australia was sometimes referred to as Oz because it seems to be this faraway place that we Americans only dream of visiting. Almost a fairytale land, as in the L. Frank Baum books. But according to what I’ve now read, it’s only because AUS (abbreviation for Australia) can be pronounced ‘Oz’. Or when we refer to Aussies (residents of AUS), it’s pronounced ‘Ozzie’. Maybe I’ve heard this wrong, as well. If I find out differently, once I’m there, I’ll let you know.

The town of Emerald, rather than being home to any wizards, is located near The Gemfields, a district known for its sapphire mining. Neighboring towns are Rubyvale and Sapphire. Until I found out that Emerald would be new home, I had no idea that sapphires come in any other color but blue.

Sapphires are the gemstone version of the mineral corundum, and can come in any color, but if they’re red or pink, then it’s a ruby. So, you can have a green sapphire which isn’t an emerald, but you can’t have a red sapphire, because it’s a ruby. Confused, yet?

Gem fossicking is apparently a tourism industry in The Gemfields, also. Isn’t that a wonderful word, fossicking? It refers to prospecting or digging for minerals, gems, gold, fossils, etc..  Apparently, in Queensland, you need a license to fossick, so if you want to try your hand at looking for sapphires, you pay for a license for a day or so. I hope I’ll get the opportunity to try this, so I can say I did it, and maybe I’ll even find something!

Emerald is located in Queensland, which is the north-eastern state in Australia. My friends keep asking me if I’ll be anywhere near Sydney, because they have no idea where anything is in AUS.

So, let me explain. The capital of Queensland is Brisbane (rhymes with Lisbon, not with insane), and that’s about 10 hrs from where I’ll be in Queensland. Sydney is in New South Wales, which is the state directly to the south of QLD. It’s an 18 hr drive to Sydney from Emerald. Inside of New South Wales is the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which contains Canberra (pronounced CAN-burr-a), the capital of Australia. Think of the ACT as something like the United States’ District of Columbia. And south of NSW and ACT lies the state of Victoria, home to the city of Melbourne.

I’ve done enough reading about Oz, by now, to know that Canberra and the ACT were created to settle the argument, between Sydney and Melbourne, over which would become the capital. So, Melbourne became the temporary capital, while Canberra was being built. And New South Wales set aside land to create the ACT, an enclave, being completely inside the boundaries of NSW.

I hope that I will be able to use some of my vacation time to visit Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra. I’d love to travel to Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, and Alice Springs, as well, but those might be beyond me for both travel time and cost.

I recently finished reading Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country, though, and now I want to see everything in Australia! If you’ve never read anything by Bryson, you should, because his books are both informative and hilarious. I wanted to take their trans-continental railway and ride it all the way to Perth, to visit the Great Barrier Reef (provided the sharks keep their distance), to drive to Alice Springs to see Uluru (Ayers Rock), etc… Maybe I’ll be able to stay for two years, and then see everything.

The foreword to In a Sunburned Country had a scrap of the poem My Country (Core of My Heart) by Dorothea MacKellar. Having looked it up to read the rest of it, and being told that it’s one of Australia’s best-loved poems, I found it beautiful. A country that can inspire such words, with such evocative descriptions, is definitely worth visiting. See for yourself!

“A stark white ring-barked forest
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes,
Where lith
e lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops
And ferns the warm dark soil.”

–Dorothea MacKellar, “My Country”

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