We've been busy for the past several weeks, getting ready for Christmas in the Melbourne Mission. Sister Sobkowicz has been cooking and packaging 190 batches of butter crunch, to be included in a Christmas package for all the young missionaries in the area. She also organized all the music for a Christmas devotional that was held today, with solo, group and choir numbers. One of the highlights of the devotional was one Samoan Elder singing "Hallelujah" - using the Leonard Cohen music but with considerably modified "Cloverton" lyrics more in keeping with the nativity story. Elder Sobkowicz prepared a slide show of the early life of the Saviour to accompany the various musical numbers.
The church is promoting a #LightTheWorld initiative this Christmas, that we feel will help people to understand more about Christ and feel the true Christmas spirit. You can find out more about this by clicking on the following link:
Light the World
Here are 25 ways that you can Light the World this Christmas:
We have been singing in two Christmas choirs, which is a nice way to get to know other people in Melbourne and to share the beautiful feeling of Christmas through music. It's turned out to be quite a few performance dates, but it helps us not to feel at loose ends right at Christmas, when we are so far from family. It helps others to feel a good Christmas spirit, too. The community Christmas concert in which our church choir will be singing is December 23.
We have been visiting self-reliance classes and are pleased to see how well people are applying the principles in the courses. Lots of people are finding new jobs, starting businesses, or improving their family life with better education options. As we go hiking in the local parks, we also meet people who are interested in what we are doing and want to chat about our mission.
While we are well into the Christmas month (December), we are also well through spring and almost into summer. Even for someone brought up in the balmy climate of Vancouver Island, this is a shock to the system. Our bodies remember the many, many cold winters in Terrace, Edmonton, Fort McMurray and Calgary, setting up Christmas lights when it is -20 deg. or less outside, and shovelling snow into piles a metre or more high along the driveway. That is what our bodies expect at this time of the year, but what they are experiencing is an onward march of warmer and warmer days, usually with +20 to +30 deg. temperatures. Yikes!
Our Australian friends tell us that they have no carols about snow - only about hot, dry, dusty weather! Here is one you might find interesting. It is called "Christmas Day"; the words were written by John Wheeler:
The North-wind is tossing the leaves,
The red dust is over the town;
The sparrows are under the eaves
And the grass in the paddock is brown;
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child the Heavenly King.
The tree-ferns in green gullies sway;
The cool stream flows silently by:
The joy-bells are greeting the day,
And the chimes are adrift in the sky,
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child, the Heavenly King.
To give you an idea of how lush it is in Melbourne at this time of the year, here is a photo we took of some tree ferns in a gully at Grant's Picnic Ground, in the Dandenong Mountains, about a week ago:
Also related to the Christmas carol, here is a photo from 2009 in Sydney, which adds some meaning to "...The red dust is over the town...".
Here is a recent photo of a flowering tree (a late bloomer, as they say), that was just stunning. Again, not what a Canadian would expect in early December, but typical of the rich vegetation in the "Garden State" of Victoria.
Occasionally, people in Australia will ask us what our (current) home city of Vancouver is like, and we often say it is similar to Melbourne, but not as hot in the summer. It would be more accurate to say that they are both cities influenced strongly by the nearby ocean, with relatively mild climates, but Vancouver is at about 49 deg. latitude while Melbourne is at about 38 deg. latitude. That puts Melbourne at about the same distance from the equator as San Fransisco, if we are looking for a west coast of North America equivalent for Melbourne. Consequently, Vancouver is definitely not as hot in the summer and it is certainly a bit colder in the winter. We hear Vancouver is locked in a few cm of snow right now (granted, an unusual situation), whereas most people in Melbourne have never seen snow (last snow fall in Melbourne was 1952, and before that, 1866). Not having lived in San Fransisco, we can't really speak to it's climate.
We've seen some exciting birds since our last post - of some of which we have photos and some of which are too fast or shy to stay in front of the camera for more than a millisecond! We've included a few photos below. The first bird is an Australasian Grebe - a small, humble water bird, normally with drab, nondescript colours for most of the year, but with quite striking colours during mating season. We like this photo because we "caught" him before he dove (tricky) and because of the reflection:
The following guy is a blue-winged parrot (named for obvious reasons) - one of several "grass parrots", so called because they love eating grass seeds and spend a fair amount of time on the ground doing just that. Not that common in Melbourne, but we found this one in the Dandenongs:
The following is a Crimson Rosella - fairly uncommon in Melbourne but quite a few hanging out at Grant's Picnic Grounds in the Dandenong ranges. We felt we were cheating a bit with this photo, as someone had thrown a piece of bread on the ground and the bird could not resist grabbing it. But his colouring is so gorgeous, we just had to include him:
Now, we do look at other fauna than just birds, believe it or not. We were standing on this bridge over one of the tributaries to the Yarra River and Sister Sobkowicz pointed down at some foliage and asked "I wonder what is making all those trails?". Elder Sobkowicz just happened to be looking right at the perpetrator, quietly hiding under some overhanging bush. Do you know what this creature is? We'll give you a hint - its last name starts with a "W".
Here's someone who made us jump 3 m in the air when we first saw him, thinking we'd come upon our first snake. Fortunately, he is a much less threatening lizard, with a name that fits his most prominent feature - a Blue-tongued Lizard:
We saw the following pair at the end of a long walk, the first visible bird being the baby. Then, the papa emu reared his head to see who was there. We decided to keep a good distance away - he looks rather fierce. We were told afterwards that it is the father emus who look after the babies; mom's job is done once they hatch out.
Our next photo is of a baby possum. These creatures continue to haunt the top of our fences and our roof in the late evening, driving the neighbouring dogs crazy. Photo taken in the dark with only a flashlight as a light source. He did pose for a while, though, allowing us to get the spotlight just right.
We encountered a number of the following bird, a Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, by chance one day, hearing a baby squawking for some food. The adult birds were tearing various Acacia trees apart, stripping the bark off them to get at the sweet sap underneath. They were very efficient at it.