Welcome to my nightmare.

I tried Vegemite with my toast and tea this morning. Guess I never really knew what it was, but I assumed since it was a national tradition and a cultural icon that it would be, I don’t know, edible. Turns out it’s a bilious thick brown spread made of leftover brewer’s yeast extract. The Australian girl in the youth hostel kitchen snickered when she saw me spread it on my bread nice and thick, because she’s seen a million Dumb Americans do this for the first time. They usually spit it out. I swallowed, because I knew she was watching, and because I told Sarah I would eat anything once, but the greasy, slippery saltiness of it made me gag.

“Good source of Vitamin B,” the girl said, smiling.

“I sure hope so,” I choked out.

She went on to tell me that Australian babies are brought up on the stuff, and that we ought to start Hannah on it now. (Hannah has recently gone on an eating strike, and will only consume Goldfish™, so that’s an experiment we’ll have to try later.)

FYI: Vegemite is supposedly much smoother than Marmite™, which is so harsh that its British marketing slogan is: “Love It Or Hate it.” My personal slogan is “Won’t Try It.”

* * *

Go to sleep, or we’ll feed you Vegemite.

Four dollars for a load of laundry. That’s Australia in a nutshell. We’re currently spending almost as much on laundry and diapers as we are on our lodging, which is quite a change from my memories of backpacking around Europe in the same clothes for so long that people stopped sharing train cars with me.

Another big difference: Hannah keeps waking up at 3:30 in the morning, raring to go. But Sydney is a city that likes its sleep, so there’s nothing much to do but take the kid down to the lobby, feed her, and wait till the rest of the town wakes up. Most of those who are still awake at that hour are not really baby people. “It’s funny to see the faces of the drunk hostel kids wandering in from bars to find a sleepy mom in her scrubs with a baby chewing on a tea biscuit,” Sarah says. Somehow the sight of a baby seems to make them feel guilty, and they go straight to bed.

Something we learned at the Museum of Sydney a few days ago has really stuck in my head. In a nutshell, the first Europeans who arrived killed all the natives off with small pox and VD, then ran the rest off the land or massacred them, then starved, because they didn’t know how to make the land produce, like the natives did. Three cheers for colonization!

And then there was the senselessness of the original convict ships that came over in the 18th and 19th centuries. Here’s a brief bio of one of the unlucky voyagers, courtesy of www.convictcentral.com: “Ernest WENTWORTH was a Baker by trade, convicted of selling bad bread to royal establishment. Sent to Australia for seven years forthwith.” Maybe there’s a history major out there who can explain the economic basis for schlepping thousands of common criminals on an eight-month voyage across the world, battling scurvy, dysentery, and typhoid on the way. This has got to go down as the farthest any culture has ever gone to punish its people—ever. I suspect, also, that there was Vegemite involved.