Monthly Archives: August 2008

To Snow or Not to Snow? That, My Friends…

False Alarm

A strange thing happened my first week in Sydney.  Or so they say it happened. I feel compelled to blog about this occurrence, because several people commented about it on one of my first blog posts.

What is this mysterious occurrence, you ask?

On Sunday July 27, the day after I arrived in Sydney, early reports indicated that it snowed in the city for the first time since 1836. (Just for the record, I toured the city the day before in shorts, while many of the locals could be seen in coats and scarves.)

It turns out, however, the mysterious precipitation was not snow after all. It was a form of hail that covered the ground in a soft white blanket. Similar to – but not exactly – snow. This happened in only a few suburbs not near me; so, unfortunately I was not able to lend my trained eye to the investigation.

I did, however, pull up this article by the Sydney Morning Herald, which suggests the snowfall in 1836 may  have similarly been a misdiagnosis.

For you Consumer Generated Media fans out there (fancy word for the work I do), further research led me to this discussion thread in which a few average folks discuss the prospect of snow in Sydney. Though you have to take what these people say with a grain of salt (after all, they are not all experts), you can read between the lines and come away with some pretty interesting insights.

The discussion, which took place in 2002, touches upon why it can get cold enough to snow in Sydney, yet snow never comes. It is a Catch 22 which works something like this…you need clouds for it to snow, but clear skies for it to remain cold enough.

In an unfortunate twist to this story, the Snowy Mountains region of Australia is recently witnessing one of its most deadly snow related winters in recent history (see Brisbane Times).

Snow is apparently making a big impact in one of the places least known for it.

Making Camp

Huge Freaking Bats

Huge Freaking Bats

The other day, I took a walk through Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens on my way to the harbor. I did not explore the entire Gardens, so when I do, I will dedicate a post just to them.

What I want to write about today is an interesting group of creatures I encountered as I took my stroll…a colony of grey-headed flying foxes (i.e. huge freaking bats) who have made the Gardens their home.

As I walked along the path in the Gardens, I was struck by a series of high pitched screeching sounds. When I looked up, I saw what looked like hundreds of large oval shaped fruits hanging from the trees about nine meters (30 feet) up in the air.

It wasn’t coconuts I was looking at.

It was an extensive colony of large brownish-grey slumbering bats, each one wrapped in a blanket of large black leathery wings. They looked to be about a half-meter tall (1.6 feet) from their feet down to their heads.

It was quite a grotesque sight, but a grandiose display of natural beauty nonetheless.

It was this group of creatures that collectively voiced the screeching noises I heard. So next time you complain about your partner talking in his/her sleep, just be lucky you don’t have to sleep next to one of these somniloquists.

Every once in a while, one of these slumbering creatures would rouse itself and fly around, showing off a magnificent wingspan of about one meter (3.2 feet). Wikipedia says these bats are among the largest in the world.

I decided to do a little research on this bat and I discovered this particular colony of bats is at the center of a controversy between the Gardens, who want them gone, and conservationists, who say the bats are a valuable part of the ecosystem.

Though the bats are growing in numbers at the Gardens (as well as in similar Gardens in Melbourne), they are declining in numbers elsewhere (National Geographic).

You may be wondering why, instead of making a mad dash out of there, I took the time to look up and observe these bats. Well…

On my plane ride to Sydney, I was lucky enough to sit next to another American transplant, who actually told me I would run into these creatures. My first question…

Do they carry rabies?

The answer… Australia doesn’t have rabies.*

That’s a good thing…considering Sydney also has huge freaking possums!


*Editors Note: As I looked for supporting information on the lack of rabies in Australia, I came accross this document from the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, which does, in fact, say that there are no rabies in Australia or New Zealand. However, it does go on to say the bats in Australia have been known to carry a separate but related disease called Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL), from which people have died.

The moral of the story…if you come to visit me in Sydney, you may want to do your own research on the native wildlife – instead of listening to me!

Relies on Fire

The Banksia

The Banksia

Today I met some Aussies who were no exception to the norm – very friendly. One of them worked closely with one of the ex-prime ministers of Australia. That explains why she was interested in hearing about my brother who lives in Washington D.C. The other is a cosmopolitan girl who introduced me to her friends and took me on a scenic walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee beach.

The walk from Bondi to Coogee is 6km long each way. For my American friends, that equals about 3.8 miles each way (go to to work out all sorts of conversions). Along the way, my new Aussie friend introduced me to a very interesting plant called the bansksia.

I was surprised to learn that the banksia plant relies at least somewhat on fire to reproduce. According to this wikipdia article, fire helps expose its seeds and creates a favourable environment for reproduction. Brush fires are common to Australia…and the fires serve a purpose; just ask the banksia. However, man’s presence has created too much of a good thing. Wikipedia goes on to say that man-made fires pose a threat to this genus of plant.

Although bears are not present in Australia (and no, koalas are not really bears), protection of the banksia sounds like a job for Smokey the Bear.

Smokey says natural fires only for the banksia, please.

Anyway, the walk was gorgeous. Along the way from Bondi to Coogee, we passed several beaches, all of them separated from each other by rock formations. For those of you familiar with the Carolina beaches, this was totally different. There were no miles long (oops, I mean kilometers long) stretches of beaches. Each was its own unique playground.

All of them ready for further exploration by this koalablogger…