Stories About Wonder, Fireworks and Vegemite

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email.This week’s issue is written by Natasha Frost, a reporter in Melbourne.

At The New York Times, we call it “counterprogramming”: stories that may provide a breath of fresh air for readers exhausted by tales of hardship, peril and acrimony.

These stories come from Australia and New Zealand a little more often than you might expect. The countries, like anywhere else, have their own challenges, and we cover those too. But one of the great pleasures of covering this region, as my departing colleague Yan Zhuang wrote last week, is the capacity to write about joy, beauty and wonder.

Here are stories from the bureau that you might have missed from the last 12 months.

  • The Times went inside the world’s only Vegemite factory to celebrate the national yeast extract spread’s centennial.

  • Damien Cave, the Sydney bureau chief, took a pandemic-delayed journey to Australia’s Ningaloo Reef in a 21-foot recreational vehicle. Difficulties abounded — but so did sherbet-colored sunsets, whale sharks and a renewed belief in the gods of serendipity and adventure.

  • In Western Queensland, dinosaur discoveries have sent tourists flocking to paleontological digs.

  • Each July, residents of the vast and unpopulated Northern Territory have five hours when they can set off as many fireworks as they like. “You can’t tame the territory,” one reveler told The Times.

  • A community of secular Yiddish speakers in Melbourne keeps the language alive around multigenerational dinner tables, on stages and in classrooms.

  • In March, tens of thousands of tourists descended on the tiny Western Australian town of Exmouth for a rare total solar eclipse, one of very few places where the spectacle was visible from land.

  • Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Australia, celebrated and commemorated the life of John Joseph, a Black American gold miner who was buried in 1858 and who helped forge Australian democracy.

  • In central Australia, a visitor learned how Indigenous custodians and conservationists are working to protect an ancient land and its animal denizens.

  • For the first time in living memory, kiwi — New Zealand’s national bird — hatched eggs in the wild in the area around Wellington, thanks to a multiyear conservation effort.

  • Melbourne, home to thousands and thousands of urban bats, installed custom-designed showers to help these foxy-faced creatures cool down on dangerously hot days.

  • Early in the year, a Japanese tourist who goes by Uni set off on an improbable journey, traveling more than 2,000 miles across Australia on a child’s scooter. “I thought it would be a good challenge,” he told us. (He made it to his destination by June.)

The Australia Letter is taking its annual summer break. We’ll be back in January. In the meantime, enjoy the holidays — and don’t hesitate to send us your own examples of antipodean wonder.

Here are the week’s stories.

Australia and New Zealand

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