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Canberra May 23, 1988 - Tour of sheep ranch: journey to Canberra

By Bob Van Leer

MerinoRam  (CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA, May 23, 1988) - Our group left Sydney this morning at 7 for a trip to Canberra with a stop at a sheep station.

  It's not a long trip, 295 kilometers. A kilometer is about .6 mile. Australia has converted from the English system of measurement to metric in this generation and the older people are still having a little difficulty with it. Temperature in centigrade presented a problem but one of our bus drivers gave us a handy rule of thumb that gets us within a degree or two - double the centigrade reading and add 32. 

  Canberra is inland and south of Sydney and, this being fall, is much cooler. The high temperature today in Canberra was 11 and the low was 5 degrees centigrade. This evening we had a rainstorm that blew rather good. Incidentally, Canberra is pronounced with the accent on the Can.

  The country we drove through was rolling hills, good grazing country. Close to Sydney it was mainly cattle but gradually changing to sheep, mostly Merino. The type of cattle was different from Brisbane which is 850 miles north of Sydney. There are mostly Herefords; the Brahma influence is gone.

  The bus driver said he was reared on sheep stations. The one where he started work was 15,000 square miles in size. Shearing season lasted two months with 80 shearers working and sheep brought in from as far as 100 miles to be sheared.

  Lunch was at an old sheep station run by two elderly brothers. The ranch was settled in 1817 by their great grandfather. They still raise sheep and look the part but mostly they appear to be farming tourists now. Neither has heirs and they wouldn't discuss what would happen to the ranch after them.

  They have a small zoo for the amusement of tourists which includes a half dozen kangaroos. One of the brothers told me there were wild ones around, but they didn't come out during the day and the tourists would never see them otherwise. He said the only predators they had were domestic dogs from town (but if the brothers saw the dogs they never got back home).

  Kangaroos are a ranching problem, according to the brothers. They work a hole under fences and let the sheep out. A sheep was sheared for a demonstration and wool handling is different from home. In Curry County whole fleeces are tied and shipped to market. Here the fleeces are pulled apart, separated into grades and baled for shipment.

  Continuing on to Canberra, our bus drove us around the new Parliament Building, now almost complete at a cost of a billion dollars, and then to the old Parliament Building where the legislature is completing its last session in the old building.

  Canberra is a relatively new city, started in 1927. It sits in a small territory, not part of the surrounding state of New South Wales, very similar to the U.S. District of Columbia. Canberra has a population of about 250,000. Its industry is government.

  The government is modeled on the English system with Parliament, composed of a House of Representatives and a Senate being the powerful body. The voters do not elect an executive. The party that wins the most seats in the House of Representative names a prime minister and cabinet. The prime minister doesn't serve for a fixed term. He can be out of office if his party loses a vote in the house.

  Tomorrow our schedule calls for us to visit the Canberra Times, be briefed by government officials and finish the day with a visit to the U.S. Embassy and a briefing by Ambassador Laurence Lane, Jr., the long-time publisher of Sunset Magazine.

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