Scenes from Sydney

The New South Wales Department of Education and Training invited exchange teachers to Sydney Friday, February 17th for a one-day workshop, so we booked a hotel room and decided to stay the weekend and explore the city!  Everyone was pumped!

Our day started off with a bang, as the alarm clock did not go off as planned!  I awoke with a start at 5:55PM – our train to Sydney was leaving at 6:30AM!  That meant a mad rush to get everyone dressed, teeth brushed and out the door by 6:20AM to drive to the train station in Blackheath.  Luckily the bags and breakfast had been packed the night before!

The quick start was rewarded with a slow, leisurely train trip into the downtown.  We enjoyed our breakfast and the view from the upper level of the train.  Train travel in Australia is so civilized!  Trains depart regularly, even from the top of the Blue Mountains!  And for less than $8.00 we can travel to downtown Sydney in roughly 2 hours.

Once downtown, we found the location of the workshop and left Matt with his fellow exchange participants, and the kids and I hooked up with Wilma and Robyn (former Australian exchange participants) for a guided walking tour of the city.  We started at the Customs House and walked “on top” of Sydney!  They have a full-scale model of the city under glass on the floor, so you can literally walk on top of the city!

Our tour continued into the famous Rocks area near the harbour, and after a quick stop at a souvenir shop, we were at the base of the steps to climb up and walk along the Harbour Bridge.  The day was perfect for walking, and we were amazed at the awesome views from the bridge.  Cohen loved the water taxis and boats below!  We walked the full length of the bridge and back again with only minor whinging and lots of snacks.  We meandered back through the Rocks and then had lunch at Circular Quay.

Following lunch, we walked over to the Opera House in the harbour and then enjoyed a leisurely afternoon in the Botanical Gardens in downtown Sydney, where we saw flying foxes (massive bats), eels in the ponds, a photo art exhibit on Lake Eyre, a succulent garden, climbed a few trees, and had an ice cream before heading back to meet Matt at 3:30.

Matt enjoyed meeting fellow exchange participants and the opportunity to talk about the rewards and challenges of teaching in another country.  It’s always refreshing to know that you are not alone and that your experiences can be similar to others.

We stayed the weekend at a great little hotel in Surry Hills, a block away from Oxford Street where there is some great shopping and eateries, and great scenery!  The hotel had 1 bedroom and a pool – always a pre-requisite with kids!

On Saturday the kids were awake at 5:30!  Go figure!  They’re never up this early at home, but alas, it made for an early departure from the hotel room and meant we could pack more into the very hot and sunny day!

First stop – Circular Quay to catch the ferry to the world-famous Taronga Zoo!  We could have spent the whole day on the ferry and the boys would have been happy – what a highlight that was!  We got to the wharf at the base of the zoo and the next highlight was the cable car that takes you to the top of the zoo!  The zoo is on the side of a hill in Sydney opposite the Opera House which means the animals have the best views in all of Sydney.  And the zoo is designed such that you take the “Sky Safari” to the top and then make your way down the hill to the base of the zoo and the wharf.

What a fantastic zoo!  This was my second visit and it was much more spectacular going with kids!  The highlights were the snakes, baby elephants, the tigers, the ½ hour seal show, and the Tasmanian devils!  We spent 4 ½ hours meandering through the zoo and the displays and had a picnic lunch right in the middle of the zoo and by the time we got to the bottom, everyone was exhausted!

But not too exhausted to take the ferry back and the bus down to Bondi Beach!  The kids were amazed at the waves and spent close to 2 hours running in and out of the waves!  Both Leina and Cohen got mouths full of salty water and Elijah spent most of the time running away from the water creeping up onto the beach.  And Matt and I just enjoyed the eye candy!


We had a Thai dinner down on Campbell Parade before heading back on the bus to our hotel.  And after a quick dip in the hotel pool to rinse off the last of the salt and sand, we all crashed as soon as our heads hit the pillow!

Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel and walked down to Darling Harbour for some play time in Tumbalong Park (a very large outdoor playground), and a walk through China Town, and Paddy’s Markets.  We were meeting at Merril’s place for lunch in the Glebe, so we caught the bus up to that area of town just before noon.

Merril is the woman who I was a nanny for 15 years ago.  She has moved from her sprawling home in Woollarha and now lives in another beautiful area of Sydney.  We were welcomed into her stunning home for a scrumptious lunch of homemade salads, and bread and cheese and fruit platters.  Merril’s oldest daughter Miranda came with her daughter Asha, and Miranda’s friend Liz.  Merril had also invited her convivial neighbors Matt and Nicky and their two children.  The wine and conversation flowed all afternoon and if it wasn’t for our 5:18 train back to Blackheath, we would have stayed all evening!

Sunday is ‘Family Funday’ in Sydney and surrounds, which means that for $2.50 per person an entire family can enjoy a fun day out with unlimited travel on Sydney’s buses, trains and ferries!  It was a “Family Fun Weekend” for us, and the kids are already asking “when can we go back?!”


The Wheels on the Scooters Go Round and Round!

We have received a special request from Leina, Cohen and Elijah’s Nana!  Nana has asked that we send photos of the route we take to school every day, so I thought I’d turn the photos into a blog post and share it with everyone!

Our journey starts at least 20 minutes before the bell rings, which means leaving the house by 8:30 every morning and after our steep descent out of our driveway, we turn left down First Street.

The steepest part of our journey is up Cleopatra Street, which is the next left.  The scooters are often walked up this part of the route and there is a lot of whinging from Cohen at this point!  It usually sounds like “my legs huuuurrrrrrrt”!!!  I’ve been walking this route almost daily for the last couple of months and I’m still out of breath at the top of this hill and I too can feel the lactic acid building in my legs!

We turn right onto Govetts Leap Road and there is little bit of a reprieve from the last hill, but not for long!  Govetts Leap Road is very hilly, so the scooters get walked again!

And we often take a break half way up the hill!

We pass by ‘Parklands, Country Gardens and Lodges’ every day.  Word on the street is Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman honeymooned here many moons ago!  Check it out at

We take a little break on the lovely bench on Govetts Leap road – nicknamed the ‘Eina and Ooie Bench’ by little brother Elijah!

Our journey continues on Govetts Leap Road until we turn left onto Prince Edward Street and travel along past one of the kids’ favourite parks “Jubilee”.

 We make a wide right turn onto Leichhardt Street from Prince Edward which is the street that Blackheath Public School is on.  Leichhardt is a gentle and gradual up-hill climb past beautiful trees that are just starting to change color.

We cross Clan William Street, and then safely cross Wentworth street at the designated “zebra crossing” just outside the school grounds.

We walk down Leichhardt Street past the front doors of the school….

and we’ve arrived at the gates of Blackheath Public School!

Sometimes Elijah and I walk back home through Blackheath’s downtown, which is a very neat walk past little cafes and shops and at the end of the day we do it all over again!  We leave the house by 2:30, sometimes waking Elijah from his afternoon nap, and get up to the school for the bell at 2:55.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our little journey to school by scooter!  I “reckon” this little walk will be missed when we get back home to Canada!

Thanks for your request Nana!  If anyone else has a special request for a blog, please forward it along, and provided it is appropriate for posting, we may happily oblige!

Hill End

“Hill End unravels the myths surrounding the gold rushes in order to reveal the hidden histories of the Wiradjuri people….of the multicultural gold boom community and of the subsistence community that endured for generations after the boom had passed”.

We strolled back in time in what was once the booming mining community of Hill End, NSW.  Most of the friends we have made in Australia so far were wonderfully shocked to hear we were heading to the town of Hill End for a “picnic”!  “Why Hill End?” they queried!

The NSW Exchange Teachers League, made up of Australian teachers who have been on teaching exchanges all over the world, organizes events throughout the year for exchange teachers and their families who are visiting Australia.  A couple from Mudgee, both teachers, were the ones responsible for the invitation to this historic and remote location for a picnic gathering.  And what a warm and welcoming afternoon it was!

We were fortunate to meet 4 Australian families who live in the area who have been to Canada on exchange before.  Two teachers had been to Calgary (one family had just returned at the beginning of this year), one to Oakville, and the coordinators of this local group who had been on exchange to Ottawa.  And we also got to meet 2 other teachers who are here from Canada on exchange in Dubbo, NSW, about 3 hours from Blackheath.

We regrettably missed morning tea with the group, as the ride up to Hill End through Ilford and Sofala took longer than we anticipated, and it required frequent stops due to carsickness, and bathroom breaks!  What should have taken 2 hours, took closer to 3!  It didn’t help that the roads up to Hill End are windy and narrow and in some parts gravel and sheer cliff!  It was an “interesting” drive to say the least.  Matt described the air as “blue” when the car doors finally opened in Hill End;  you could have cut the tension with one of the picnic butter knives!  But we made it and we were glad to be there.

As soon as we arrived in Hill End it was immediately evident that the town was historic.  Those of you from Glengarry and area will understand when I say that Hill End reminded us of a gold mining version of Upper Canada Village in a sense.  The town has historic significance as one of the largest inland towns in NSW due to its’ rich gold discoveries of the 1870’s.  We were amazed to find some of the old historic buildings still standing, some of which have been restored and adapted for other uses.  The remainder of the town is dotted with historic plates describing the building that once stood in that location, with a photo accompanying the description.

The town is still thriving today, though barely.  In the 1870’s the population of Hill End was 8000, and the town boasted 2 newspapers, 5 banks, and 8 churches.  When the gold gave out, the decline was dramatic.  In 1945 the population was 700, and today there are maybe 200 people who call Hill End home.  At the main crossroads, there is a general store, where the front verandah was occupied by a group of “good ‘ole boys” drinking a pint at noon, with the country tunes blaring from the old ute stereo!

Across from the general store is ‘The Royal Hotel’, the sole survivor of the towns 52 pubs!  Someone had rode up on their horse and was taking advantage of a sunny Saturday afternoon, and it was here that we also imbibed an Australian cold one, before having our picnic.  No kids allowed in the pub, so we had to drink our pints out behind the hotel!

We thoroughly enjoyed meeting this wonderful group of people who had tales to tell from their Canadian adventures, and suggestions to make as far as travelling around Australia.  The lunch was absolutely delicious – homemade salads, and roast chicken and rolls, and lovely squares for dessert.  And the kids enjoyed kicking the soccer ball around with some other little kids while the adults visited.

It was a treat to get out of the mountains and into the gentle rolling hills and to experience a town that we probably wouldn’t have taken the time to visit otherwise.  Hill End’s houses and buildings are full of stories and we felt privileged to have experienced this extraordinary town and to have met some great people.

Teaching Upside Down

So I guess it is my turn for a blog update.  Getting ready for this exchange has been very exciting for our family.  The idea of travelling to a land far away, experiencing a new community, meeting new friends, and discovering new and exciting places have been the things that jump to the front of my mind when asked about our exchange adventure.  I must confess to having put aside what has allowed us this wonderful opportunity and that is a teacher exchange to a new country.  Our lives were so filled with the logistical details of departing our home and then arriving in another that it was difficult to prepare myself for what was to come in the classroom.  It wasn’t until the night before I was to face my new students that it really started to sink in as to what I had gotten myself into.  This really was like starting a new job.

I have been teaching for 4 weeks now and finally feel as though I am settling in.  The first two weeks I definitely felt like a new teacher.  I was arriving an hour before work, staying an hour after work, getting home and spending an hour or two doing additional school work.  Thankfully things have settled down a bit now.  Hopefully it lasts!

Coming to teach at a new school in a new country has many challenges, but for me the two that stand out the most are dealing with a different class timetable (schedule) and teaching at different grade levels than what I am used to.

The school I am at is Lithgow High School which is a state run school with about 850 students about 25 minutes from where we are living.  Their school year runs on a two week schedule over 4 terms which means that I have roughly 6 classes that I see three times a week for the entire year.  It has been hard getting used to all of the classes I have running at once.  Because I have twice as many students as I am used to at one time, learning everyone’s name has been a challenge.  As has been trying to figure out where I am supposed to be when.  Sometimes I have 6 classes in a day which really makes my head spin.

The second part that I have found different is teaching grade 7 and 8 students.  I have never taught this age group before and was not sure what to expect.  I had been told that it is a good age to teach because they are young and keen.  I am currently running a wrought iron sign project with the three grade 7 classes and they are definitely keen which is great.  But they are also young which has some implications that I was not expecting – like for instance the other day I had a student crying in one of my classes.  I have never had to deal with a crying student before.  My two year 8 classes are a little more challenging both because their hormones are starting to kick in and because I am teaching them technical drawing which requires patience and precision – both of which are in short supply with this age group.  The last group of students I teach is a stage 5 (year 9 and 10 students) in a Timber technology class which is similar to the Woodshop class I am accustomed to teaching in Canada.  I have found these students to be keen and engaging which is great.

Being a new teacher in a high school means that you are fresh meat not only to be tested, but also to be explored.  Students have definitely been interested in where I come from and what I sound like.  I have fielded lots of questions about what ‘life in Canadia is like’.  The questions range from ‘do you know Justin Bieber?’ to ‘do you get lots of snow?’ to ‘do you know Doug and Sharon?’ to ‘have you ever seen a moose?’ to ‘can you say Mars Bar?’.  Many of the students cannot get over my accent which is why the Mars Bar question is a funny one to field.  Apparently enunciating your ‘r’s’ is funny to Aussie year 7’s!  To them it should sound like Maaws Baaw.

The staff at Lithgow high school has been very welcoming.  The Technology faculty has been so helpful which I am very thankful for.  Many have been open to share ideas and projects to run for classes which has made life easier with regards to starting in a new school.  As well, the rest of the staff are always asking how things are going and giving us good advice on where there are good spots to visit.  I have had numerous offers to carpool which is really nice because it frees up the car for Alyson to drive the kids to school when it is raining.

Next week I have been asked to give a presentation to the school on ‘Canadia’ where I plan on pulling out every single Canadian cliché possible in order to give these young Aussie minds an idea of what the real Canada looks like!  The list of topics includes tobogganing, skiing, skating, shoveling, skidooing,  because these ideas are all foreign to them and I will include extensive elaboration on Canadian delicacies such as Poutine and Maple Syrup.  I have thrown in a couple of pictures of a moose and squirrel and some hockey fans to top things off.  It should prove to be a presentation worthy of consideration by the Canadian department of Citizenship and Immigration for their indoctrination programs.

Last week the school hosted its annual Swim Carnival.  This is a whole school event that sees the entire school go to the local outdoor pool and participate in not only swimming competitions, but also fun activities in and out of the pool for non-competitive swimmers. The school is split into four different houses that compete against each other for bragging rights in various activities throughout the day.  It was a real eye opener for me as in Canada we usually run the complete opposite activity in the form of a winter fun day.  It was a great day that saw excellent participation from the students and great activities that everyone enjoyed.  One of the highlights for me was the cork scramble where hundreds of corks were dumped into the pool and students from different houses had to collect as many corks as possible in a given amount of time.  It was mayhem to say the least!

The days have been flying by at school as we are almost half way through the first of four terms.   Sometimes I find myself so busy that it is difficult to remember that I have been given this wonderful opportunity to teach in a new school in a new country.  Although the experience has been a challenging one thus far, I am finding it rewarding to learn about teaching new age groups and subjects in addition to learning about the intricacies of teaching in a different country.   Teaching here in Australia is similar to teaching in Canada, but it is also different, and that is a good thing.