This year on our family trip we visited Australia, where we saw some unique wildlife, climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and got better acquainted with a nation that is playing an increasingly important role in helping solve the world’s big problems.
Most Australians live along the coast. On the east coast is the biggest city, Sydney, with a population of 4.5 million. It’s on the world’s largest harbor. I think Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Australia is almost as big as China or the United States in area, but its population is comparatively tiny, just 23 million people.
Jutting out into the harbor, the Sydney Opera House must be one of the best-known buildings in the world. We went there, and we went to a lot of Sydney’s museums, which are very interesting. My daughter Phoebe and I went to the Australia Museum. My son Rory and I went to the Powerhouse Museum, which has amazingly good exhibits on Australian history, science, technology, industry and space exploration.
The Harbor Bridge, built in 1932, is a Sydney landmark. What’s fantastic is that you can climb to the top of it.
They started letting people climb to the top of the Harbor Bridge about 13 years ago. This one guy campaigned for years to get permission to take people up, but the government had lots of objections. One of them was that having people up there would look garish. So when they finally gave permission, they required that everyone wear a gray jumpsuit, to blend in with the bridge. Today, everyone who goes up has to wear a gray jumpsuit. You’re hooked up to a cable the whole time for safety. My whole extended family went up. It’s incredible.
Sydney has a wonderful botanical garden with a kind of castle in the middle, which is the old mansion of the Governor General, now used by the state Governor of New South Wales. The garden is beautiful. My wife Melinda ran in the gardens every morning.
On our last night in Sydney, we went to an event at the opera house. It was supposed to take four years to build, but it took 16 years and went way over budget. It’s become an icon, though, the most famous symbol of Sydney, like the Space Needle in Seattle. It’s still very cool.
We made a side trip to Turtle Island, which has 5,000 people and 200,000 kangaroos. The kangaroos are amazing to watch. They’re marsupials, which give birth to relatively undeveloped young. Kangaroo babies couldn’t survive except they have a claw that helps them climb up into their mother’s pouch, where they drink the mother’s milk and grow until they’re ready to come out. Australia has other marsupials, like the wallaroo, but marsupials are rare outside Australia. In North America, the opossum is the only one.
On Turtle Island, I thought I heard my son say, “I saw a cheetah.” That surprised me. Actually what he was talking about was an echidna, which is a really unusual animal. It and the platypus are the only mammals that lay eggs. Echidnas are rare; many of the guides we met had never actually seen one in the wild. We got to pick it up and hold it.
We traveled north from Sydney up the Gold Coast, which has many theme parks, including the best dolphin shows I’ve ever seen.
My daughter Phoebe and I met with a group of Aborigines. We played the didgeridoo and talked with them about their traditions. Aborigines suffered a lot in the early days of European settlement of Australia. Today they’re a relatively small part of Australia’s population, but they still take a lot of pride in their culture, which is unique and very interesting.
Australia's contributions to global development efforts are very impressive. Australia is increasing its investments in foreign aid from 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent of GDP. And the government plans to increase aid to 0.7 percent of GDP, which would be great. Australia is smart about where it puts its money, too. It’s been a big supporter of GAVI and The Global Fund. Australians should be very proud of their role in fighting extreme poverty and aiding development.