A Pacific resident who recently made her ninth trip to Australia says she has gotten accustomed to seeing kangaroos bounding along the roadside, but still loses her breath at the sight of a flock of white crested cockatoos.
The beautiful white birds with yellow feathered crowns and flash of yellow under their wingspan are exotic in the U.S., but in Australia they’re everywhere.
The first time one flew close to her, JoAnn Brown thought someone’s pet parrot had escaped, but she soon learned that the beautiful birds are as prevalent in Australia as sparrows are in the U.S.
“They just take your breath away,” she said.
In Australia, JoAnn and Lou Brown visit their daughter, Julie McPhail, her husband, Tony, and their two daughters, Matilda “Tilly,” age 8, and Wilhemena “Willa,” age 5.
The couple recently returned to Pacific from a month in Wagga Wagga, an inland city in the state of New South Wales (NWS), which occupies the southeastern corner of the island nation.
Even though NSW is closest to the U.S., getting there is no easy task.
The trip starts with a 36-hour long flight from St. Louis to Sydney, Australia’s largest city that boasts the world’s biggest natural harbor and one of the most photographed buildings in the world — its famous opera house with roof of overlapping shells.
On other trips, the couple would stay overnight in Sydney after the long plane flight, but this time they opted to make the five-hour drive to Canberra. This is a cross-country drive that took them through towns with the exotic names of Yerrinbool, Mittagong, Wollogorang, Currawang and Bywong.
Canberra, Australia’s capital, has all the grandeur of a national capital and is located in its own bordered-section of NSW, Australian Capital Territory.
“Sydney has gotten pretty expensive over the years,” Lou Brown said. “Canberra was more affordable.”
The couple spent two days with their daughter and two granddaughters touring of the capital that included a wildlife refuge, due to Julie’s work with an animal rescue service.
With a population of 400,000, they said Canberra is a beautiful modern city on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. It is home to the Australian national gallery, national library, national museum, old and new parliament houses, and the Royal Australian Mint.
The family also toured the Royal Australian Mint, with its displays of new coins in silver and what looks like gold.
“They have two, five-dollar and 10-dollar coins,” JoAnn said.
On the third day, the family headed to the McPhail home in a suburb of Wagga Wagga.
“The name is hard to pronounce but means City of Crows,” JoAnn said. They drove 2 1/2 hours to the McPhails’ two-acre property where the household includes two pet sheep, three dogs and an unnumbered flock of chickens.
Julie works as a supervisor in an animal rescue pound caring for dogs and cats. Tony is a heavy equipment operator who also volunteers for emergency services.
The couple met online after Julie graduated from Pacific High School, earned an associate degree from Jefferson College in veterinarian technology and was working at the St. Louis County Animal Hospital.
“She just thought she wanted to meet someone from outside her life,” her mother recalled. “Although she always loved Australia she wasn’t expecting to meet someone from there.”
To the family, it almost seemed like a fluke.
“When she was little, she always favored koala bears over teddy bears,” her mothers said. “When she told us she was visiting with this guy in Australia online, we said, ‘OK, this is interesting.’”
After a short online friendship, the couple decided they should meet, which led to a real romance and Tony and 14 members of his family traveled to Pacific for the 2001 wedding in the Pacific City Park.
The trips to Wagga Wagga are second nature now.
While the Browns were there, Julie and Tony went to work every day. Lou painted the girls’ playhouse and JoAnn sorted through the bolts of fabric she took along to make quilts.
Even the weather, which reached 107 degrees one day, with humidity that rivals that of Missouri, is no deterrent.
“We put a load of clothes on the line and it was so muggy we wondered if they would dry” JoAnn said. “We said, ‘Well this is a Missouri day.’”
As a reminder that this is permanent, Julie, who is still an American citizen, is beginning to get a bit of Australian twang to her voice.
“This is her home now,” her father said. “She wouldn’t think of home anywhere but Australia.”