Rotary Trip to Australia Gets Press

Thought 574b77db94030.imagewe’d share a few clips about our adventure to Australia for Rotary International.  Here are two nice stories from our local publications.

Business reporter Mai Hoang of The Yakima Herald Republic  did a feature May 29th. Click here to read.

That was followed up by a front page story in the Yakima Business Times.

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Australia Rotary Trip Featured At Yakima Valley Tourism Annual Meeting

20160525_101811Our Rotary Vocational Training Trip to Australia was featured at the Annual Meeting of Yakima Valley Tourism (YVT) today. Team leader and YVT CEO John Cooper gave a twenty minute program on the trip for the 120 people in attendance. In addition, the theme for the event had a ‘down under’ flavor in decor and music.

Also part of the agenda was a presentation on Alaska Air by Mark Bocchi, Managing Director of Sales and Community Marketing for the airline. Alaska recently underwent a new branding effort and announced they will purchase Virgin America.

Here are a few pictures from the luncheon:



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Australia and U.S./Canadian Rotary International Vocational Training Teams Meet

The Australian team meets the U.S. and Canadian team in Yakima, WA

The Australian team meets the U.S. and Canadian team in Yakima, WA

This past weekend, the 2016 Vocational Training Teams from Rotary International Districts 9500 and 5060 came together in Yakima WA for the District Conference of 5060.  It was a great time of fellowship and learning as the teams attended conference events.

In addition, the Aussies toured a number of wine and agricultral related facilities in the Yakima Valley to learn about the region and industries aligned with their careers. Activities included a meeting with the Washington State Tree Fruit Association CEO, a vineyard tour with renown wine grape grower Dick Boushey, tours and meetings with staff at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research Center near Prosser, tastings and tour at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center plus visits to wineries, ranches and farms.

The team being interviewed by Dave Ettl at KIT Talk Radio

The team being interviewed by at KIT Talk Radio

They were also featured on KIMA TV in a news story about a local music festival they attended plus they appeared on KIT Talk Radio for a 10 minute segment about their trip.

From Yakima they journey North in District 5060 for stays and technical touring in Moses Lake, Wenatchee, Omak, Osoyoos, Penticton, Kelowna, Kamloops and other communities in Washington and British Columbia. Happy journeys team.

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The Aussies are Coming!

VTT Rotary District 9500Rotary International District 9500 in Australia is sending a Vocational Training Team (VTT) of five to visit and learn about their professions in Rotary International District 5060. They arrive May 10th and will be in Washington and British Columbia through June 8th .

Jim, Reto, Lynn and John from our VTT are actively involved in hosting and planning their activities during their visit. Both teams will meet up and present during the Rotary International District Conference in Yakima May 12-15th.

Follow their adventure through their Facebook page.

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Our Final Days in Australia

Next up in Adelaide was a day out in the country (Tuesday April 12th). This time it was “all about Jim” as the emphasis was on smaller operations in the fruit industry. But first was a stop at Mt. Lofty to get a sweeping view of the city and beyond.

The first farm visited was Flavells Apples. Though I was unable to attend this session, Jim reported it was a great visit.  We did reconnect at the Lobethal Bakery in the Adelaide Hills for lunch.

On tour at Chamberlain Pears

On tour at Chamberlain Pears

Afterwards we were off to Chamberlain Pears and their Paracombe Premium Perry operation.  The facility is nestled on a gently rolling hillside covered by their pear orchard. We met with Damien McArdle, a fourth generation pear grower who is expanding the family business to make perry, an alcoholic drink similar to hard cider made from apples. He toured us through their production facility and grounds. Then we sampled various perries along with hand crafted pear ciders. I really liked the Triumph, a semi-dry variety made from Packham Triumph pears.

The next day we headed south to the Langhorne Creek Wine Region and Bleasdale Vineyards for an intensive three hour workshop on pruning and plant care, put on by the local wine association. Now Reto was in his element as he discussed with other growers best practices in viticulture.

35Afterwards we toured and tasted at their winery. Bleasdale Vineyard has been around since 1850 and is the second oldest winery in Australia. The most fascinating thing I saw was their red gum lever press built in 1892 and used until 1962.  Made of hand-hewn timbers of the red gum that dots the landscape, it’s modeled after the much smaller European screw presses. The massive press stands in the cellars along with large red gum vats. Lunch was at nearby Lake Breeze Wines in their scenic dining room overlooking vineyards dressed in fall colors of gold and red.

Thursday we toured Flinders Ports in Port Adelaide, a privately held company with a variety of port facilities in the area and South Australia. Quite different how the private sector manages much of the waterfront in Port Adelaide versus public held ports here in Washington state. That was followed by a Rotary meeting of Port Adelaide where we made a brief presentation.

Meeting outside the Urrbrae House, built by Peter Waite in 1891.

Meeting outside the historic Urrbrae House, built by Peter Waite in 1891.

On our final day of the trip (Friday April 15) we spent the morning at the Waite Research Institute of the University of Adelaide. The facility is a partnership of educational, industry and government entities that conduct research for the benefit of Australia’s agriculture, food and wine industries. It is located on 500 acres of land gifted to The University of Adelaide in 1913 by Peter Waite (see Waite History). We had a succession of meetings and tours with wine focused staff and researchers. Following lunch, we split up. Jim and I went to meet Damien Keto, the CEO of the Adelaide Convention Bureau while Reto and Lynn went to historic Penfolds Winery (ironically, our host at the Convention Bureau served us some very fine Penfolds wine while we were with him!)

Final night goodbye dinner.

Final night farewell banquet.

And so, as the saying goes, all things must come to an end. Our final event was a farewell banquet with many of our Rotary friends, hosts and families from the trip coming to Adelaide. We shared our stories and pictures, memories and laughter.

In the morning we boarded our planes as District Governor Doug Layng and local hosts waived goodbye. While Jim, Lynn and Reto went home to Yakima and British Columbia, I went on a post-trip to New Zealand.

Now we are back to our lives and daily routines. But we will always remember and cherish the time we spent ‘down under’ and most importantly, the great people of Australia. As they say in the sun burnt country… Cheers mate!


FOOTNOTE: Come back to this blog in Mid-May as Rotary International District 5060 will host a group of five Aussies for similar vocational training experiences in Washington State and Canada!

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Learning and Exploring in Adelaide

Our final leg of this journey takes us where it all began, Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia. It was quite a change coming from the hot Northern region to coastal fall weather. We went our separate ways to settle into our new homes and get to know our local hosts. I am staying with Neil and Julie Merkel of the Henley Beach Rotary Club. Neil says he’s retired but when he rattles all he does from shuttling grand kids to Rotary duties I think he works more than I do. Julie is a practicing psychologist, which is probably why I got this placement!

Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills of Australia.

Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills of Australia.


Cheers mate!

The following day was free time, so Neil and I met up with Reto and his home host John and we headed up to Hahndorf. Settled in 1838, this small community outside Adelaide was a farming community settled by migrating Germans. Today the tree lined streets and old buildings attract thousands of visitors annually. We spent a few hours browsing the stores, touring galleries and museums and of course, hoisting a few beers in a 150 year old pub.

The next day (Monday) we had a full slate of events. First up was a visit with botanists at the Botanic Gardens of South Australia in downtown Adelaide. We first met with Martin O’Leary, a specialist in Acacia and Eucalyptus species. He walked us back stage through their massive (one million give or take) collection of cataloged specimens including trees, plants, algae, mosses, lichen and the like. There are some 5,000 plant species in Southern Australia of which around 800 are the Gums/Eucalyptus. In case you have not guessed yet, “Eucalyps” are a favorite tree of mine. When I was a young kid, I lived in the Los Angeles area. Our yard was bordered by the massive trees, so I have many fond memories of them.

Martin talks botany with the team.

Martin talks botany with the team.

We then went up a floor to visit with staff collecting and preserving native species seeds for future regeneration, should the need rise. For fourteen years, the South Australian Seed Conservation Centre has worked to conserve South Australia’s threatened plants and support on ground restoration. To date, more than 200 million seeds have been collected and stored, including seeds from nearly 70% of the States threatened flora.

At lunch we walked downtown to meet with staff of the Government of South Australia staff directly responsible for the primary industries of agriculture, food and wine. They gave us an excellent overview of the industries, statistics on the industry and the roles they play in building these sectors. They shared with us their relatively new website AgInsights. This data rich and robust site offers potential investors and other with detailed, real time data ag related resources.

David shows the team and hosts the tasting area at the wine centre.

David shows the team and hosts the tasting area at the wine centre.

We closed out our busy day back at the botanical garden for a session with David leach, also with the Government of Australia who focuses on the wine industry. He toured us around the impressive new National Wine Centre of Australia. designed to resemble a wine barrel turned on its side, the facility has more than 12,000 bottles in storage for events and tastings, massive halls for trade and consumer rentals plus a walk-through tour of the country’s wine industry and regions. The highlight of the facility is a self-serve tasting room that, for fee, you can taste among some 120 wines “on tap” in pressurized dispensing units. Naturally we ha to try the system out!


It was a great start to the week. In future entries I’ll discuss our trips into the country and down to the sea.


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The Australian Outback: Day Two and Three

Rise and shine! To wake us at 5:00 a.m., Kate played her favorite selections of ‘get up and go songs’ from her I-Pad, from the Lion King “Circle of Life” to the Beatle’s “Here Comes the Sun” she had us going in the pre-dawn darkness. After breakfast we went a lookout on a mound close to our campsite for an Uluru sunrise. A bit cloudy that morn so not as dramatic, but still worth it to see the big rock materialize from the dark.

12983958_1113295778693548_2535190384637775668_oThen we took off to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) for a 7km trek through the “Valley of the Winds”.  The Olgas are a group of large domed rock formations about 365 km (227 mi) southwest of Alice Springs, and 25 km (16 miles) from Uluru. In this vast park there are 36 of the domes, all conglomerate or sedimentary rock masses consisting of cobbles and boulders of varying rock types including granite and basalt, cemented solid over the eons by sandstone. They are some 500 million years old and the wind does blow through the paths and gaps we explored.

Water hole at Kata Tjuta (no I am not filling up my water bottle)

Water hole at Kata Tjuta (no I am not filling up my water bottle)

As there had been recent rains we found a fair amount of seasonal flowers, grass and plant life. Kate told of how some 60,000 years ago or so the area was much more lush and mega-fauna like giant kangaroos creatures roamed the canyons before being their debated demise. Our trek took us about 7.4 km (around 4 miles) over rocks, water and crevices.

After that journey we headed back to camp, but first had a stop at a roadside cattle station that has a store and area

My make-shift fly net.

My make-shift fly net.

for a barbecue lunch. The flies in Australia can be fierce and very aggressive, so many folks take to buying these nets to drape over heads and hats to keep them away. Unfortunately, you do have to peel them back to eat, so a bit defeating. And at this station the flies were the most persistent we had seen to date. I had not bought a net, so instead jokingly created a temporary one to ward of the pests (see picture). The gang thought it was quite hilarious, but it did work (though a bit hot)!

Again, back on the road. Near sunset we arrived at Kings Creek Station for a relaxing hour of goodies and for a swim in the pool, then off a way back into the station to our outback bush camp. Unlike the camp the night before, which was one of many tour camps clustered in the same campground, this new camp was just for us, miles off the road. We arrived around Outback Camp April 2016sunset to a dozen tents, campfire area and a kitchen/eating shed. It was rustic yet very clean and the setting stunning. Down a trail from base camp was a toilet that flushed (no ‘long drops’ as outhouses are called here) and a hot water shower that looked out into the bush.

For dinner Kate cooked up here special bread and a tasty vegetable medley with kangaroo meat. Before heading to bed we sat around the fire telling stories about our lives. Found out that teal member Jim Blonde attended the real Woodstock in 1969!

As others retired to their cabin or to a swag around the camp fire, I wandered down the dirt road a few hundred yards to soak up the night. I have camped many times in my life all over the West, from the deserts of Arizona to the Cascades of Washington, yet I have never seen a night sky like I did that night. The land around the camp is flat and in the middle of a vast desert with no towns, villages or cities for hundreds of miles. All around me it was black, like I stood in a darkened closet. But there was light: above me was brilliant sky of billions of stars, more stars than I have seen before. The Milky Way was a stream of white and the Southern Cross stood proudly over her land. With no mountains or hills the stars stretched to the horizon. No aircraft flew above, only one satellite crawled by yet oddly, no shooting stars. I stood transfixed for nearly and hour, knowing this was a special place and time to remember. Later as I crawled into bed I heard dingos howling in the distance.

Kate had talked our group into getting up even earlier (4 a.m.) to head to Watarrka (Kings Canyon) for what their brochures describes as “a mind-blowing 6km walk through the towering walls, crevices and plateaus of Watarrka.” So once again, we awoke to music. As it was still pitch black I looked up at the stars. All the constellations had shifted with the earth’s rotation, but I did see two shooting stars this time.

We arrived in the dark, the first of anyone to the car park. A strong wind blew and Kate gave us the run down of the hardest stretch of the hike, the ascending of “heart attack hill,” a scramble up a wall of natural stepping stones. But after thirty minutes she said we had finished the hardest part and I was surprised: The climb did not seem bad at all. Guess the cool weather helped.

The Ampitheatre at Kings Canyon

The Ampitheatre at Kings Canyon

For our early morning sacrifice we were rewarded with predawn light and no people as we continued along the rim of the canyon. As the sun crested the horizon the colors of the canyon came to life. We stopped at the ‘Amphitheatre’ at sunrise (a bowl-like area of the canyon with sheer cliffs), and then headed to the tranquil ‘Garden of Eden’. We descended a set of wooden stairs into the canyon to where water, Eucaplyptus, palms and shrubs resided on the cool canyon floor.


The peaceful Garden of Eden in the Kings Canyon.

After a snack break and contemplative time in the garden, we descended another set of stairs and were soon walking through the ‘Lost City’ , which are beehive like mounds of layered sandstone rock that dot the South flank of the canyon walk. After that, a series of descending rock steps lead the troupe back to our van. By now it was about 10 a.m. The trip had taken a little over 3.5 hours and we all agreed it was spectacular.

We journeyed back to Alice Springs mainly along dirt roads. Along the way we stopped at an overlook of a meteorite created mountain (sorry, forgot the name) for lunch. We arrived back by late afternoon and sadly separated from Kate and our new friends on the tour.

It was an amazing three days full of adventure, friendship and fun. On behalf of the group we thank Rotary District 9500 and the Peter Sutton Memorial Safari Trust for this life enriching experience. If you visit Australia, Uluru, Kata Tjuga and Kings Canyon are a must see adventure.



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