Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Geelong Cup

Geelong Cup is a big event here in Victoria.  It's not an official public holiday, but it's common for people to be allowed off work for cup day.  I'm told that in the past, AAHL employees were given both Geelong Cup day and Melbourne Cup day off work, but in recent years it has just been Geelong Cup day.  I was lucky to be able to attend the cup with a group of people from AAHL.

I've never been to an official horserace, so I was really excited to attend my first cup.  Victoria is known for Aussie rules football (footy) and horse racing.  Gambling on the races is a big deal here, and for weeks leading up to the cup, I saw all sorts of "racing fashion" being advertised.  Nearly every storefront at the mall had mannequins wearing nice dresses with fascinators.  Everyone is encouraged to "frock up" to go to the racetrack.  Since I wear casual clothes to work everyday, it was kind of fun to get all dressed up for the big event.  Plus, I've never worn a fascinator - makes you feel all fancy.

Frocked up and "fascinating"
Like I said, everyone at AAHL gets off work to go to the cup, but lots of people just used the day off for other things.  I was eager to take advantage of the activity and went with a group of people from the lab.  We started off with drinks and snacks at one of the group members' house.  You're not supposed to bring alcohol into the racetrack, so the idea was to take advantage of our own booze before the race.  Of course, we still snuck alcohol into the racetrack, but it was fun to get together beforehand and enjoy snacks.

Most of the AAHL Geelong Cup crew

A quick carpool brought us to the racetrack.  They had a series of races from noon to 5, and the Geelong cup itself was towards the end.  I bet some small money on three races - all unsuccessful, but it was still fun.  A few people in the group had really good luck and won money, and two people in the group bet on the horse that ended up winning the cup.  It was pretty dang exciting, even though I didn't win anything.

She won on a horse!
We had seats underneath a covering (it was rainy all day, super whompy) and we enjoyed cheese and crackers that we brought in (as well as the booze we snuck in).  I enjoyed all the people-watching, but it was too bad that the weather wasn't better.  I'm told that the outfits weren't all that outlandish this year because of the light rain during the race.  Still - some of the ladies wore impressive hats.

Before the races started, we went down to the stable area where they had the horses out for show.  I found it kind of ironic that we were attending a horse race, since due to the nature of our work at AAHL, we're not supposed to get within a certain distance of farm animals and birds.  Still, we were able to walk around the stable area and still be a safe distance from the horses.

Geelong Cup winner: Ibicenco
Presentation of the cup
And of course, as the day wore on, people in the group seemed to have more and more fun!  The rain sure didn't seem to damper everyone's moods :)

Posing with the Police
Police horses!  (Still far enough away to be safe for work)
Once the races were over, part of the group headed over to Elephant and Castle, a nice little pub.  The place quickly filled up with racegoers.  And the sun came out!!

The bad part about the day - I woke up that morning with a sore throat, but my morning tea seemed to help.  Around noon I started to feel a bit tired and by 4:00 I was really dragging, feeling like the flu hit me hard.  I didn't stay at the Elephant and Castle for long - when the group left, I split off and headed home.  The day was a lot of fun, and I was sad to cut it short because I came down with the flu.

All in all a good day!  I look forward to attending another horse race in the future :)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Jirralingah Koala Wildlife Sanctuary

Last weekend I got a chance to hang out with a few of the students from AAHL.  It's been more difficult to meet people my own age that I expected, so when one of the students told me they were having a get-together, I was more than happy to come along.  We spent the evening at one of the girls' house in Clifton Springs, about a 20 min drive from Geelong.  I had a blast hanging out with the group and we made plans that evening to enjoy a breakfast in the morning and then head to Jirralingah Wildlife Sanctuary to see the koalas, kangaroos and other animals they have.

The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at The Dunes in Ocean Grove.  The restaurant is located right on the beach and we had a beautiful view of the ocean for our meal.

After breakfast, I wanted to check out the beach and watch the surfers.  The weather was absolutely beautiful, so lots of surfers were out enjoying the waves.  I'm told that the Ocean Grove beach is very popular with surfers, and they can get some huge waves there.  As this was the first really warm day of the season, everyone was out on the beach enjoying the sun.


The plan after breakfast was to head to Jirralingah, but when we arrived there we were told that it was closed for the day for a special fundraiser.  I was extremely disappointed, mainly because we had been talking about it all day and I was really excited to get up close to a koala.  Also, the wildlife sanctuary is quite a fair distance from Geelong, not a distance that I am willing to do on my bike.  Since I'm without a car here, it's hard to get around to places outside the city.  The lady at the front gate gave us a coupon for $4 off admission if we came the next day.  Thankfully Alannah, one of the girls in the group, was willing to come get me the next day to enjoy a visit to Jirralingah.

So Sunday morning, take two, Alannah and I headed to Jirralingah.  Admission was a bit pricey (normally $18 but $14 for us with the discount), but it was a special trip and I was really excited to get up close with some of the Australian animals.  There were lots of birds in enclosures all over the grounds.  Working within the lab at AAHL means I have to stay 3-4 m away from birds and farm animals, but we were still able to enjoy looking at the birds without getting too close.


The cockatoos were really charming to look at.  Most all of them had been pets at one time and arrived at the sanctuary because their owners couldn't care for them anymore.  Cockatoos are from Australia, and I find it so weird to see them flying around in large flocks, just like Canadian geese.  They're very pretty, but quite noisy.  I enjoyed seeing them at the sanctuary but I have no desire to have one in my own house (too noisy and dangerous, they can take your fingers off with one bite!).

They had a wide variety of birds, including galahs, different varieties of lorikeets (the rainbow lorikeets are my favorite) and cockatoos, kookaburras, budgies, cockateils, and others.

Rainbow lorikeets

Unfortunately I don't know much about the birds of Australia, so I can't enlighten you on all the species we saw.  If you'd like to learn a bit more, I recommend visiting my friend's blog,  Dr. Celia - she is a veterinarian practicing near Sydney, Australia (and also happens to be a KSUCVM 2013 classmate!)  She can tell you more about these birds (and in a much more entertaining way as well)

There were a few larger areas of the sanctuary with wallabes and kangaroos.  Perhaps this was naive of me, but I didn't realize that there are different kinds of kangaroos/wallabes, just like there are different varies of bears, turtles, etc.  The wallabes were really charming - they were in a very loose enclosure that allowed them to go onto the path.  They seemed quite content to graze in small groups, just like cattle.  Of course, I found the does with joeys in their pouches to be the most interesting

She wasn't too happy with me being close to her joey
Wallabe central
Kangaroos relaxing

The wallabes and kangaroos were fun to see, but the main reason I want to Jirralingah was to see a koala, up close and personal.  One of the keepers escorted us into the koala enclosure and told us a bit about the koalas they had.  Their large male, George, was the easiest to see.  They had a secondary area with females and their babies.  Ironically, baby koalas are called joeys - didn't know that until the keeper told me.  But then again, Australian animals aren't really emphasized in vet school in the states...

We weren't allowed to hold the koalas, but we got plenty close to them.  Since they're nocturnal, they were all napping when we looked them.  They looked quite peaceful, but I'm told that the males get really nasty when they fight.  Plus, they have some serious claws for climbing trees.  Regardless of them being dozy, I was happy to get to see one up close - part of "Australian bucket-list."

George dozing
Sharp claws for climbing


The keeper got other animals from the back for us to hold.  She brought out a possum, a bushbaby, two baby dingos and a joey.  The possum and bushbaby were fun to hold because they would cling to your hand.  The bushbaby was alert enough to demonstrate her prehensile tail for us, and the two dingo pups were exceptionally charming.  The joey was all legs - reminded me a bit of a foal in that respect.



Love those dorky ears!

The koalas were a blast, and being able to hold the possum and bushbaby was quite a treat!  I expected to find the koalas as my favorite, but I have a new Australian animal favorite: the wombat.  They are adorable little dense critters, like beavers without long tails.  They have rounded bear-ears with big claws and cute compact faces like guinea pigs.  I'm told they're quite friendly, but we didn't really get up close to one.  When we visited the area of the sanctuary with the wombats, they had just received their food, so they were very busy chowing down.

Chow time!

Napping dingos
All in all, it was a great day at the sanctuary.  It was nice and warm, but we had a good cloud cover so the sun wasn't too bad.  I'm so grateful that Alannah was willing to go back the next day with me to enjoy all the animals!!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Biking Adventures in Melbourne

Last Saturday was a full day of biking adventures.  I am part of a running group here in Geelong, Victoria, and Saturday was the celebration of 1600 runs.  Imagine that, 1600 runs have been done by the group.  Granted the group started back in the 1980s, but still, quite a milestone.  The group marked the occasion by planning a bike day in Melbourne.

We met up at one of the member's houses early on Saturday morning to load our bikes into the back of a large truck.  The bikes were driven to Melbourne by one of the group members while the rest of us (about 20 people) jumped on the train.  The train to Melbourne was a pretty good deal - $15.60 for a two-way ride, and then you can use your train ticket to get on the metro and trams.  We didn't do any of the public transport, but it was nice to use the train system once with the group so I can feel more comfortable doing it on my own in the future if I like.

Loading up the bikes
Arriving in Melbourne

After we got off the train, we quickly met up with the bike-truck at Mission to Seafarers.  It's an old mission from the 1800s located along the river that provided a place for people at sea to come and stay, as well as send letters communicating with their family.  The mission is now just more of a public house, and the group booked the back patio area to use.  The plan for the day was to ride our bikes along a trail and then end up back at the mission to eat.

Headed out for the day

The group started off on the trail - we followed the Capital City Trail, a 30km trail that was a great loop trail within the city.  The trail started off by the river in the downtown area and weaved through park areas.  We even biked past the Melbourne zoo.

Most of the group

The event was nautical-themed.  I'm not sure why they chose nautical, but lots of people dressed up in either sailor outfits or pirate gear.  I didn't have a costume, but luckily someone brought extra pirate hats so I was theme-appropriate with a hat.


We'd ride for an hour or so and then the bike-truck would meet up with us and we'd take a break with snacks and drinks.  It was quite a leisurely ride, not too taxing, but we did more than just the 30km loop.  In order to meet up with the truck, we had to get off the trail to a public road, so the 30k trial ended up being more like 40-45km, but it was still a great ride.

Enjoying a break along the way

When I heard that we were going to do a bike ride through Melbourne, I imagined that we'd be biking through metropolitan areas with a park every now and then, but that certainly wasn't the case.  The trail took use by multiple rivers and streams, as well as through so many parks.  We did eventually go through some metropolitan spots but it was only for very short parts.  Overall, the ride was very scenic and enjoyable.  We were super lucky to get great weather for the day.  And after working indoors in a lab for the entire week, there's nothing like getting outside to enjoy the sunshine :)

Everyone had a great ride, and there were no injuries.  We met back at the Mission to Seafarer and enjoyed a great BBQ meal before heading back on the train.  The day was an absolute success, and I spent the entire next day relaxing after such a fun day.  I hope to enjoy more trips to Melbourne in the future!!