Journey’s end

One journey’s end is another’s beginning.

It’s hard not to look back at the last eleven years and wonder how else it might have all been if we had not flown out of this wide, red land to foreign shores. What fortunes we might have made and lost? What friendships deepened by eleven years of shared experiences in this adopted land I choose again as my home? What tears shed and soaked into the dry soil and what laughter might have shaken our bellies and wet our eyes around a campfire amongst the gum trees.

We are formed by the hammering and grind of life’s forge. Polished and shaped by the delicate brush of unexpected friendships, wherever we find them.We know not what we choose each instance, only what each turn we make leaves within us afterward.

It is only within the laugh lines etched around our eyes, the small scars of adventure left cut into our hands, and the conversations and half remembered voices from around the fires in campsites and backyards half a world away that we can begin to chart the course we have taken on the way to what we each are at this moment.

I don’t remember each detail in crystal clarity, but the overall impression is an artwork that I would not go back and recommission. It is as perfect as it could have been made, whether we like the end result or not.

Perhaps the last eleven years are my own personal Blue Poles. A wide expanse of many hues, expensive yet rich in all its colourful and splattered wealth. Sometimes we are unsure if we ought to have made the decision to “go for it”, but the decision made together some yesterday long ago it hangs there now iconically influencing what we represent today.

On the final miles to this journey’s end there lies behind us not a closing of a chapter nor a turning of a new page. There lies ahead only the continuation of the building of the final person we will each be when we take our last breath.

Behind us is only fluffy, white clouds. Ahead lies one more step in the next excellent adventure.

Are we nearly there yet?

Yes Dear, we are nearly there now.

NSW has sped by since Broken Hill. The relative nearness of Sydney has found us contemplating an ever more familiar vista beyond the windscreen, and the camera has remained in the boot. Perhaps we are bored with photography with the destination and all it means only a day or so driving away.

Posted in NSW

Trend setting


Days of blazing sun have left me with the peculiar raccoonish look that comes from wearing sunglasses all the time. It is one that ought to be very familiar to any snow skiers and boaty types.

It has become necessary to adopt a new approach so as to avoid further selective tanning.

Stylin’

The catwalks of New York, Paris and London – take note.

The Living Desert



Just outside of Broken Hill lies the sculptor garden called The Living Desert. Here, elevated spectacularly above the plain, are eight huge artworks cut by hand into boulders that weigh up to 8 tonnes. The sculptors were completed over the course of a month or so by an international group of artists, all of whom camped out on the mountain top from the start of the project to the finish.

Nature too has its sculptors amongst the stone monoliths. Branches stark against the blistering sky, while roots hug sinuously around the rock below, holding fast against the mountain wind.

Bajo el Sol Jaguar (Under the Jaguar Sun) is an apt description for the feeling as you stand looking down on the desert that stretches below from Broken Hill, back across to Adelaide and beyond. Ahead of us lies yet more sun scorched earth, before we reach the green belt of the coast line. The artist inspired to create this carving must have felt much the same; his creation captures well the challenge and beauty of the Broken Hill plain.

It was hard not to leave the garden without adding something. Now the Lady in the rock, and the other hand wrought forms stand together with an Inuksuk el Finn, baking together under a Jaguar Sun.

3 days to go, and 30+ blog entries to backdatedly post

Cobar tomorrow, and then perhaps Dubbo, and then I think we’ll be there. Meanwhile, there are a lot of posts and photos to upload and backdate. However if I stay much longer enjoying the generously provided wireless access of the Brokem Hill Junction Hotel, along with its fine cold beer, I will perhaps be unable to type very well anyway.

More later..

“Wireless you say?”

First internet access since we left Hamelin Bay, almost the breadth of a sea girted land ago. Lots of entries to catch up on, but before then I just wanted to make a quick comment about the apparent digital divide in Outback Australia.

More accurately I should say the “Accessible Outback” – this being how Broken Hill, NSW describes itself. It is here, in The Junction Hotel in Broken Hill that I type this entry. The beer is cold, the wireless is fast and free, the barman has a sense of humor, the bar stools are comfortable and the tables clean. What more could you ask for? So, if you are in Broken Hill, and you are looking for wireless access, may I recommend heartily the Junction Hotel at 560 Argent Street.

Apart from The Junction however, a search in Broken Hill for accessible broadband is not without challenges. It goes something like this:

Me – “Hi. I saw your sign that says you have internet access.”
“Yeah mate.”
Me – “Great. Do you have wireless?
Wireless? Yeah mate, we’ve got both AM and FM wireless out here.”
Me – “Eerr…I mean wireless internet access. Do you have a wireless network?”
Oh. No. Just those couple of machines over there you can use for $5 a minute. The Internet is down anyway.”
Me – (Thinking – Oh no….must be those evil Russian hackers causing chaos. There must be mayhem out there as a generation goes Twitterless and students everywhere have to try to use an encyclopedia to finish their homework. And here I am in Broken Hill missing it all.) “Do you know anywhere in town that has access?”
“Ummmm…..you could try insert-name-here-of-business

Then you could walk to said business, and have the whole conversation again. Five attempts later: Bingo. The Junction.

Gotta love it.

And what to make of Broken Hill’s moniker as “The Accessible Outback”. I figure it is sort of like “The outback that isn’t quite the outback, but at least it is a bit easier to get to”. Marketing genius. Pure, unadulterated marketing genius.

A red wind blows no good


Approaching Broken Hill from South Australia a dust storm brews above the desert. This one did nothing but boil itself out above the plains. Whilst Sydney still remembers with awe the red dawn of The Great Dust Storm of 2009, this daily lifting of the topsoil into the air serves as a daily reminder of the thinness of the soil and the sparseness of any roots to hold it. It is a thin crust upon which we travel and tread.

Humbled by Eucalyptus camaldulensis


There is nothing like a 500 year old Red Gum to make you appreciate your relative significance. There aren’t many left if this age and size. This one stands alone, spared from the loggers saw by who knows what twist of luck.


If trees think, this one probably wonders “Where has everyone gone?” Our small twittering is probably a blur of destructive activity between the slow beats of the heartwood and the infinitesimal bend of a 10.89 round trunk.

In another 500 years we will all be recycled fertilizer, but perhaps this Giant Red Gum will still stand. Assuming of course we have not managed to turn everything into a globe wide bowl of silent sterility.

Posted in SA

Purple Hearts beyond Adelaide

Beyond the spectacular folds of the Flinders Ranges lies some charming old, sleepy country towns, set amongst fields of purple that stretch to the horizon.

A rare radio signal found us listening to The Herd’s remix of Redgum’s I Was Only 19, the iconic and powerful song about the Vietnam war. As the signal blew behind us to static we swapped to the iPod and listened to a long ago recorded podcast that told the story of the original version by John Schuman, together with the story of The Herd’s revisiting and reworking of the lyrics.

Redgum was a soundtrack to many roadtrips back when I was nineteen or so. Now I’m not. The nineteen year old soldiers are still dying though for conflicted, confused and constructed reasons in lands they would have struggled to find on a High School geography lesson map. The whump of the Huey’s blades have been replaced by the thunderous scream of an F-16, and the ladders of falling explosives by laser guided missiles. Agent Orange might not be needed in the already defoliated hills of Afghanistan and the sands of Iraq, but we are still blowing up wedding parties and creating one legged orphans.

In the back the kids are bored and have lost interest for now in looking out the window. May they remain so, with all their limbs attached.


Outside this small circle of quiet there is a purple bloom for each spill of unnecessary blood. Lest we forget.

Fowlers Bay

Leaving behind Western Australia after four days of driving we hit South Australia and headed for our first night in the Central Australian time zone. Fowlers Bay is a small and sleepy township situated under the gritty shadow of an extensive dune field. The wind was thumping through the town’s wind generator blades and covering the car in a fine layer of grit by morning.

The sand of the dune field is so fine, dry and loose that it flows down the slope of the dunes like liquid when disturbed by your passing footprints. Each step is tiresome as your feet sink deeply in – a stark reminder of some of the reasons why the efforts of early European explorers just ended in bones and a lonely, torturous death.

The dune field quickly turns cold as the falling sun turns the sky an eerie blood red. Under the corpuscular skies your gritted eyes begin playing tricks, and soon you begin to see strange silhouettes stalking the dune lip as the wind blows the fine sand up and off into the sky.

Posted in SA

Fruit and vegetable entrepreneurship

At the border between WA and SA is a quarantine station for travellers heading West. No fruit and veg’ must be carried into Western Australia, due to the risk of importing fruit fly into the West of the country. For travellers heading East there is a fruit fly exclusion zone starting at Ceduna. While it is tempting to smuggle that lovely banana or apple across, it is very important for the agricultural economy to follow the rules. Eat it, dispose of it, and declare it.

Just West of the SA/WA border we stopped for a photo opportunity overlooking the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. Thoughtfully provided for travellers were a number of rubbish bins, many of which had been scrawled on by those making the crossing in an “I was here – 2007” kind of way.

However amongst the marker pen scrawl one thing caught my eye and my curiosity tweaked I crossed the 15 metres or so to the bin for a closer look – a small note had been taped to the side of the bin.

Now that is entrepreneurship!

Unfortunately, we’d already eaten the last banana, and cooked our last spuds on the BBQ at Eucla.

Bight me

Between Eucla and the South Australian state border lies the Head of the Bight. In the protected waters of the Bight are ancient whale carving and nursing areas. Here the mothers stay with the calves until they are strong enough to manage the migration South to the waters of Antarctica, where they can check out how much of the ice-field has melted this year. This mother whale is teaching her calf the correct way to float upside down and wave your fins in the air. Perhaps they are looking at the shells on the bottom and watching the fish swim by.

Unfortunately it was a hazy day when we passed through and the otherwise spectacular views of the sheer cliffs of the Bight were somewhat limited by the poor visibility. Nevertheless, the cliff faces are a suicide-by-jumping person’s idea of Heaven.

The wind blows relentlessly across the edges of the cliff. On the day we visited the wind was blowing in from the Southern Ocean. This was a good thing from the perspective of being able to get fairly close to the edges of the cliff. When the wind is blowing in from the desert you can unexpectedly find yourself airborne. This is not a good thing at all. Beware, keep young children close, and make sure that the person who has the car keys leaves you a spare if they plan to go close to the cliff edge.

The searing wind leaves only stubby and hardy bushes growing on the open plain leading up to the land’s end. Many of the gnarled shrubs have died under the hot sun and stand in mute and dramatic knots, their wood crisply dried.

Posted in SA

Of Eucla, frogs and Triumphs

Eucla has much to recommend it. For a start, it is not Caiguna. The Eucla roadhouse is spacious, clean, nicely appointed and sits up on the high ridge overlooking the distant dunes and the Southern Ocean.

Though the meals cost much the same (not much change from $10 for a vegie-burger) you at least get a few slices of beetroot along with the tomato and lettuce as a salad with the burger. There is also nice sit-down restuarant for the more well heeled traveller ($28 for “Seasonal char-grilled vegetables in a tomato sauce, with penne pasta).

Behind the bar/restaurant/take-away is a beautiful garden decked out with nice outdoor table and chair settings. Even better from the point of view of dinner, there is a gas BBQ and a few wood burning BBQs available for free use. The wood fires are not able to be used this time of year due to the blanket ban on the lighting of fires outdoors. The gas BBQ on the other hand needed just a clean up and we were ready to roll. Ask at the bar for a damp cloth to wipe down the tables, some paper napkins to wipe down the BBQ plate, crank on the BBQ to get the plate nice and hot, and then sacrifice half a bottle of your beer and wipe it all off with the paper napkins and “Bob’s ya uncle – looks just like a bought one.” Behind the BBQ pit is a pool, though we failed to notice that until it was too late for a swim anyway.

As Eucla was our last stop before hitting the quarantine zone, the BBQ was a handy resource indeed. We fried up the last of our potatoes, onion and garlic, which made a nice side dish to our burgers. Canny travellers i.e. those that have visited Eucla before, will take full advantage of these BBQs as you’d be able to cook yourself a great meal without spending a small fortune in the restaurant. Note that no BBQ tools are provided, but the bar will happily loan you cutlery and plates.

From the point of view of the kids, the best aspect of the garden surrounding the BBQ pit was the frog pools. The gardens include half a dozen landscaped ponds, heavy with lush water plants and home to a trillion, million, zillion frogs. Brown frogs, green frogs, spotty frogs, big frogs, little frogs and ones that might be a Prince in disguise. They hopped across our feet and sang us a lovely froggy chorus as we ate.

An entirely unexpected sight as we climbed back over the sand dunes from the beach, below the Eucla roadhouse was half a dozen lovely old Triumph cars. Stags, TR6s, TR8s and GTs. As it turned out, the Triumph car club was having a huge rally in Perth, and these drivers were on their way across the same route we had just travelled, on their way West. I hope they made it safely, Triumph Stags in particular are infamous for overheating.

ZZZZZZZZZ….splat!

This is going to take a lot of washing of the car.

I guess that my vegan karma is somewhat diminished by the trillion bug deaths I have caused on this crossing (and the two blue-tongue lizards I could not avoid who were warming themselves on the road, and the Notched Pigeon that flew into the roof box – I tried to avoid them I really did).

The desert wave

It became apparent that there is a Code of Conduct to be followed when driving through the empty expanse of the desert.

Namely, the Nullabor Desert Driver’s Wave.

The N.D.D.W. requires a simple lift of the right hand off the steering wheel in greeting to a driver coming in the opposite direction. If feeling particularly laconic, it is acceptable to just lift two fingers of the right hand.

There are subtle rules to the Official N.D.D.W. Protocol.
1. Always perform the N.D.D.W. to a driver towing a caravan, a trailer that looks like it is full of camping gear, or in a car with a roof box on it. They are likely to be fellow travellers.
2. It is not necessary to perform the N.D.D.W. to the driver of an oncoming 4WD, if the vehicle has no van, trailer behind, nor roof box, and the driver is wearing a wide brimmed hat whilst driving. Said driver is likely a local. They may or may no return your greeting. They are in fact probably going pig or roo shooting, or looking for left over bits of Skylab.
3. N.D.D.W’s should also be given to oncoming motorcyclists. Your greeting will usually be returned by way of a subtle nod of the helmet, though some may wave back with their left hands. See Protocol Rule 4 for exceptions.
4. Don’t bother waving to a motorcyclist on a Harley. They are too bad-assed to acknowledge the N.D.D.W. and are probably members of an Outlaw Biker Gang.
5. It is not necessary to greet the drivers of Road Trains with the N.D.D.W. You’ll be too busy getting the hell out of the blast of air that slams into you at 240 kms/h in their wake to take any part of either hand off the steering wheel.
6. If you see a cyclist do not perform the N.D.D.W. in greeting. Instead, pull over and prostrate yourself in total respect and bow your nose into the desert dust until they pass into the shimmering distance.

RESPECT!

Just before departing the UK I did the Palace to Palace with my good friends Tim and Dave. 46 miles (in just a few minutes over 3 hours) and a good time had by all of us. It was a particularly special bit of male bonding from my point of view to do this with a couple of mates just before leaving Blighty for ever.

The Palace to Palace ride sort of pales into insignificance however compared to the idea of cycling across the Australian Outback. I’d already had a brief chat with a young Chinese couple at Balladonia roadhouse (did I mention how lovely Balladonia roadhouse is? They have a museum. And a pool) who were on their way from Adelaide to Perth, a distance of approximately 2700 kms, or 1682 miles. Which is more than 36 times the petty distance of the P-to-P ride.

Those two intrepid adventurers where planning to take 23 days to complete the journey. Awesome, that is a lot of riding every day for three weeks solid. Parts of my body that shall remain unmentioned here are aching at the thought. That said, part of me is thinking about this….you only live once.

Tim, Dave, if you’re reading this start training and ask the wives if you can go for a little ride. You’ll be back in a month or so.

Here’s another fella doing the crossing the hard way.

What you can’t see on this photo is that there was a Danish flag stuck on the back of the trailer. What a great motivator – you’ve bought an air ticket into Perth and then one back home to Denmark from Adelaide. It’s a fixed ticket and therefore set for a particular day. You just gotta keep going, churning those pedals every day.

And I just set up a play list on the iPod to keep me pedaling for 3 and a bit hours.

Desert airstrip

If you have a medical emergency in the Australian Outback, say like getting bitten by a Desert Death Adder, your only chance of survival is rescue by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. As the name suggests, this is an emergency medical service that operates a small fleet of prop’ aircraft. Most roadhouses have a little charity jar to collect funds to keep the RFDS going. They are the Australian Outback’s equivalent of the dedication and total respect yaghties have toward the coast guard. They are heroes. Hard working. Life saving. Under supported.

More information can be found about them here.

If they need to fly in to save your sorry snake bitten life they land where they can. There are no handy airports out in the outback. So its clear the highway and landing gear down.

Esperance to Caiguna

Traveling East from Esperance,it is first necessary to leave the coast behind and head North toward Norseman, “The Gateway to the East”. Here we turned right, and into the desert proper. Just prior to the longest stretch of straight road in Australia (all 146.6 kms of it) we refueled in Balladonia.

Balladonia, like many “towns” in the desert is really just a roadhouse with attached accomodation. Balladonia’s particular claim to qurky fame is that a large piece of Skylab crashed to Earth in 1979, after streaking spectacularly across the Western Australian sky above Esperance. The recovered junk (and yes, it os fairly large) is on display in the lovely little museum that is part of the Balladonia roadhouse complex (free to enter).

My favourite part is that apparently then President Jimmy Carter rang the manager of the roadhouse to apologise for the near miss and the inconvenience. Balladonia it should be stressed is in the middle of nowhere. Here in 2009 there is no mobile phone signal, no internet connectivity (the internet booth, which kind of looked like a computer built into a Space Invaders game console, was broken), and runs on diesel powered generators. What it would have been like in 1979 boggles the mind.

The image of President Carter sitting in the Oval Office talking to the manager of the roadhouse kept me amused for quite a while as I headed down the straight stretch of road heading toward our destination for the evening; Caiguna. I could only begin to imagine how All the President’s Men even managed to obtain the number for the roadhouse, let alone get patched through – 1979 obviously being before the days of the globally accessible information sources we now rely upon ubiquitously.

Ah….and then we have Caiguna.

*LANGUAGE WARNING FOR MINORS*

Caiguna is a shithole.

Caiguna, like Balladonia, consist of no more than a petrol station with attached few rooms and a take-away style eatery. However, whilst Balladonia has capitalised on its 1979 brush with disaster and fame by building a quaint museum, Caiguna roadhouse looks like it hasn’t even been dusted off let alone painted since 1979.

Gee, I wish we had stayed back in Balladonia for the night (did I mention they have a swimming pool at the Balladonia roadhouse?). It was so bad it was sorely tempting to drive the 146 kms back along the road to Balladonia again on the off chance they’d have a room for the night. Caiguna roadhouse has to be the worst place I have ever paid large amounts of money to stay at and eat crappy food at. Just to cap off what was a thoroughly ordinary and dreary place, greeting us at the doorway of our (tiny, horrible, grubby, old, worn out, mean, ugly, single) room was a snake.


But it turns out that this was no less than an Acanthophis pyrrhus, or more commonly known as the Desert death adder.

DEATH!

ADDER!

Also known as the LIFE SUBTRACTOR.

www.toxinology.com has this to say:

“As with other venomous snakes causing snakebite in humans, death adders have complex venoms with many components. Overall death adder venom is highly potent. About 60% of death adder snake bites result in significant envenoming, requiring antivenom therapy, and envenoming is often severe and potentially lethal.”

Our friend slithered away after having its photo taken. Fortunately we did not cross paths again.

My advice is – do not go to Caiguna if you can help it.

PS. Apparently the town of Esperance fined the US government $400 for littering after Skylab scattered its myriad bits and pieces across Western Australia. Wahahahaha….

Posted in WA

Esperance

Whilst in the coast town of Esperance the need to decompress and clear the mind after a day at the wheel compelled me to flick on the TV that was in the room. One particular news story caught my attention – the results of a recently completed survey of bird population in the country’s South East state of Victoria. The survey was led by the Deakin University, and the for our feathered friends news isn’t good. More than 80 species of native birds are seriously threatened. Many, including the kookaburra are facing extinction. At this point in the newscast I was becoming twitteringly interested.

Kookaburras.
Extinct?
I just couldn’t wrap my laughing gear around the idea of putting those words in the same sentence.

Since landing in Australia the sound of the Kookaburra had soon sounded out from the branches of a tree in Perth’s King Park. It is an iconic and bone chillingly familiar sound. It is one of the natural tunes that instantly grounds me as being in this wide, brown, sea girt land.

Extinct?

After the Deakin professor has said his bit, the interview then turned for reaction to a bald bloke who looked a lot like Peter Garrett – ex lead singer of Midnight Oil. However I realised as soon as he opened his mouth and started spouting off nonsensical drivel to the effect that the Federal Government was of course concerned and that it was already thinking of setting up an investigatory group to look at establishing a working committee to review the findings and that was anyway all a fault of the previous Howard Government due to their Eggs Overbird policy and blah, blah, blah, that he was in fact not Peter Garrett at all. At this stage I had to run into the kitchen to retrieve the fire extinguisher as my bed was burning, so I missed the rest of what the Peter Garrett clone had to say.

A newspaper report from The Age on the report’s findings is here.

Kookaburras extinct, along with 79 other species. No-one’s laughing Pete.

What happens when you overfarm an arid land

When you try to draw too much water out of the arid landscape of the desert in order to water crops and farm animals, you stuff up the levels of the underlying artesian water table.

The result is a salt lake like this one, and a lot of salted up dead land surrounding it.

And a broken dream.

The unforgiving desert is full of broken dreams like this one.

Daddy emu


Emu eggs are nested by the male emu, with the female heading off for an extended shopping expedition with the Besties once the eggs are laid. The father hatches the eggs, and then rears the chicks through to adolescence.

This fella was giving his chicks a lesson in how to browse for emu tucker in a field near Albany.

Dads – you gotta love us.

Blowhole


Also in Torndirrup national Park is a spectacularly blowy hole. Basically it is a fairly nondescript hole in the rock platform, 15 metres or so above the water line of the surf below, and about the same distance in from the cliff face. As the swells roll in from the Southern Ocean waves compress air into a cave hidden below, forcing air out at high velocity. The day we visited it was fairly calm – the signs warn that on stormy days rocks can be projected out the hole. Nevertheless the rushing of air is like standing in the draft of a body sized, high velocity hand drier.

Woosh!

Posted in WA

Torndirrup National Park – Albany

Torndirrup National Park lies just outside the coastal WA town of Albany. It covers nearly 4000 hectares, and looks to be a wonderful place for long and short walks along a spectacularly rugged coastline.


The waters of South West WA are an amazing azure, crystal clear and to me – as a snorkler – very tempting. Unfortunately at this time of year they’re are also colder than a beer slushy, and with my wetsuit locked up in a shipping container journeying its way to Sydney there was zero chance of getting wet.

Two of the attractions of the Torndirrup Park are the Gap, and The Bridge. Along the road out to see these natural highlights lies Cable Beach. As well as being a beautiful stretch of clean sand wonderfully empty of humanity the beach is a salutary lesson in the power of the ocean.

Halfway along the beach lies a large, round boulder lying up on a rock platform. It is apparently 100 tonnes in weight, approximately the same as a diesel locomotive.



One day it wasn’t there.

The next day it was.

It was lifted up onto the beach by the wild waves of a storm that swept the beach.

Now that is a hell of a break to body surf!

The bridge is an amazing suspension of granite and gneiss, carved by the relentless pounding power of the same waves that can lift 100 tonnes of rock faster than Superman.


Eventually the same waves will erode The Bridge so much that it will fall into the sea. Though I hope to revisit it again some day, I do hope I am not crossing it when a loud crack sounds.

Skywalker

West Australians love to get high up in trees it seems, all without ever actually doing much climbing. The Walpole-Nornalup National Park is about an hour’s drive West of the town of Albany, and is home to the Valley of the Giants. Only a moment of disappointment as we realised that this was not in fact the home of Jolly Green Herculeans sniffing the air for the scent of an Englishman’s blood. Rather it is home to the Red Tingle tree.

Red Tingles have fat arses. Or to be more botanically correct, they have an exceptionally wide buttressed base, a result of them being shallow rooted, and having a heart timber particularly prone to termite and fungal attack. Once the ants and the fungus have done their bit the next passing fire guts the centre of the base of the tree. Amazingly however the outer layers thicken until the base of the tree is some 12 to 16 metres in circumference. This buttress then continues to support and feed the upper tree structure, and Red Tingles live to over 500 years in age often with massive cave-like holes tall enough to stand in at their base.
Weaving through these giants is the Walpole Skywalk. It is a walkway that rises to 40 metres above the valley floor and taking the visitor to the height of the canopy. The steel spans bounce and sway unnervingly and signs warn that no more 10 people can be on any given span at the same time. Lucky we’re all pretty thin!

65 metres up a gum tree


Karri gums are the tallest gum trees, with some growing up to the lofty heights of 85 metres or so. Karri trees used to blanket the South West of Australia, however most of them have been logged for their straight and strong timbers, mostly being used for railway sleepers or exported to England in the 1800s. The Leeuwin/Naturaliste National Park and around the South Western corner heading to Esperance stands the last of the Eucalyptus Giants.

Near Pemberton stands the Gloucester Tree. It is by no means the tallest, however it has the honour of hosting a fire lookout platform high in its canopy. The tree has been “nailed” in a spiral from the widened base all the way to the spread of its highest branches. There nestles three tiered platforms, which are entered via hatchways in the floor. Eventually a climber stands on the highest platform, some 65 metres above the ground and above all the surrounding tree crowns. The forest stretches out endlessly below, and the calls of the Collared Parrot and countless other birds are sweetly below your feet, hidden amongst the leaves.

Happily, there were no fires to be seen.

PS. What was especially humbling was that after climbing and descending, 2 elderly couples were just arriving. Perhaps late sixties in age, and with figures that spoke of a lifetime of meals and beverages enjoyed to the fullest. In reply to a question from her friend’s husband, who asked jokingly whether she’d be climbing the tree, the most generously figured woman huffed disdainfully and said “Narrr….I did that 30 years ago before they covered the ladder in that safety net caging. Now THAT was exciting.”

Posted in WA

Super snails

Back in England we always kept a jar of salt handy to kill the slugs and snails that attacked our vegie patch. In Hamelin Bay they obviously breed snails a little more hardy and salt resistant though. These little fellas sat happily salt encrusted, munching on the juicy stems of a dune plant, just beyond the sand.

Vegan bush survival skills


Not everyone in Australia eats Witchety Grubs and throws shrimps on the BBQ. Some of us elect to not eat Things with faces, or Things that come from things with faces.

Whilst veganism is a minority dietary choice in Australia, it is indeed possible to enjoy a varied and healthy diet sans animal produce, even in the harshest and most remote of areas. Surviving on vegan bush tucker is not only easy, it is also great exercise.

Here Naomi demonstrates the correct method for boomeranging a tofuroo. Meanwhile I am preparing to spear a lentilgator.

No animals were harmed in the making of this blog entry.

How to make a tool to remove the skin from a possum or ‘roo

When out in the Australian bush, surviving on your wiles and cunning, it may become necessary to manufacture certain tools. Unlikely as it sounds, the nearest Bunnings or Mitre 10 hardware store may be many thousands of kilometers distant, just as you find yourself in desperate need of a tool to remove the skin off a kangaroo or a possum.

Print off this blog entry and tuck it into the secret inside pocket of your wallet or handbag, and then you’ll always be prepared.

Essential ingredients:
– a straight stick, suitable for use as a handle for your completed tool
– an abalone shell
– a selection of stones to use in the construction
Equal amounts of:
– the dried resinous sap of the grass tree
– dried kangaroo poo
– charcoal

Method:
– grind finely the resin, poo and charcoal. Mix thoroughly

– light a fire

– evenly coat one end of the stick with the powder

– melt it to a smooth, glassy finish in the fire. Build up layer upon layer until the resign coating is about 1cm deep, enough to hold several chips of abalone shell.

– crack off several flat pieces of abalone shell, suitable for use as an axe-head shaped blade


– using more resin powder, stick the shell pieces into the resin you have already built up on the end of the stick
– use more resin to ensure a strong hold

– in case you need another fire later, wedge some hot coals into the seed holes of a Banksia seed pod.

Done.

I have no advice however as to the correct method for actually skinning a ‘roo or a possum. You are entirely on your own in that regard.

Good luck!

Where oceans meet

Cape Leeuwin is the point where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet. Apparently if you look carefully you can see the actual meeting place of the waters, as the oceanic currents swirl and mix warm tropical waters flowing down the West coast with the cooler Antarctic waters of the Southern ocean. Personally, it all just looked like one big, wide, blue ocean to me. The passing pod of dolphins and the seals frolicking around the rock platforms below the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse were a nice touch though.

Needed – a really, really big bottle of white vinegar

One thing I won’t miss about England is limescale, from the “hard water”. You expected me to say “the weather” didn’t you? Well, the weather just is. Whinging about the English weather is just cliched. Limescale on the other hand deserves to be highlighted as a phenomenally nasty and horrid aspect of Blighty.

There’s just something really off putting about opening the lid on the kettle to fill it up for the morning cuppa, and seeing all those scaly bits grunging off the (inappropriately named) stainless steel. You can’t help but think; “If it does that to the kettle, what is it doing to my insides?”

Fortunately, limescale is easily and cheaply removed from everything (but your insides) with a soaking in white vinegar. Forget fancy lime scale removing chemicals, just get a bottle of the cheapest white vinegar you can find and soak.

This is a hand Woman’s Weekly Home Goddess Tip of the Week that clearly is unknown to people in Augusta. Just passed Augusta is Cape Leeuwin, the most South Westerly point of land in Australia, and the point where the Southern and the Indian Oceans meet. A few hundred meters back from Cape Leeuwin lighthouse are the remains of the old water wheel, used in the 1800’s to power various aspects of white settler industry. The water from the wheel used to come from a bore, tapped into the artesian water table. The water table is much depleted now and to keep things happily touristy and the timbers of the water trough suitably moist, water flow is now augmented by an electric motor.

The wheel meanwhile no longer turns, being thoroughly encrusted by scale. Someone needs to soak it in a humongous bath of vinegar – that’d do the trick faster than you could say “Lime scale begone.”



Beach art and the hassles of working with seagulls

Seagulls are a bit of a bitch to work with. They demand to be paid in fresh fried hot chips (not too much salt). They always bring a boatload of relatives along to every project, who then having nothing better to do circle and squark and generally cause mayhem – demanding chips for doing nothing other than turning up uninvited.

This bird was at least accredited by the Seagull Performer’s Guild in still life posing. However it clearly failed the lesson on the subject on “You may not like the resulting artwork, but always remain polite, appreciative, and grateful for the opportunity to work with a talented artiste.”

This seagull, with whom we will NEVER work again, objected to the suggestion that seagull brains are made of the spongy roots of a soft coral.

The beach is the installation space.
Art darling.
Appreciate it you heathen bird.

False advertising

Dear Madam / Sir,
I am writing to you to bring to your attention a breach of the Fair Description in Advertising Act (1987, amended 2005) in relation to the Jetty at Busselton. Said jetty is advertised as follows: “Busselton – the friendly town is backdrop to the glorious Busselton Jetty. Extending two kilometers from shore, the jetty is the longest timber pier in the Southern Hemisphere. It has been full restored after a battering from Cyclone Alby in 1978. While the jetty is used for commercial operations including light ship loading, the jetty is open to the public.”

The jetty may indeed be constructed of timber, it is indeed located in Busselton. Beyond that it isn’t, it wasn’t, and you can’t. The jetty has more pieces missing than a pub jigsaw puzzle. Our plans to walk to the end and enjoy our packed lunch were thwarted by the solid steel gate erected across the jetty, preventing access to all but the burliest of jetty-repairers. Moored alongside the crippled structure was a gargantuan construction barge, which was hammering new creosote soaked timbers into the sand with hydraulic efficiency.

While the workings of the hydraulic ram was exciting to my young boy (boys do after all love machinery), and the sight of the Bonds singlet clad workers, muscles rippling and skin a deep bronze excited my wife, I was left coldly unimpressed. It was necessary to remove both said members of my family to a safe distance, where they could cool their overheated interest in the workings of the erection.

To make maters worse, the sorry state of the Busselton Jetty is clearly no surprise to locals. You can imagine our confusion as we arrived into the small, coastal town, packed lunch at the ready and walking boots firmly laced for our 4km treck (2 kms out and 2 back in). All we could see however was a gapped and decidedly dodgy looking pier (which I may add doesn’t even look two kilometers long on the best of days). Confused, I asked two young local lasses who where exiting their car to have a quick elicit seaside lunch, fag and gossip break. In answer to my question “Are we in Busselton? We’re looking for the Southern Hemisphere’s longest timber jetty?” they replied “Yeah. That’s it over there. Been stuffed for ages. They don’t advertise that its stuffed though so the tourists don’t know.”

There you have it! Proof positive that the claims of the Busselton Tourism Board are nothing but a pack of Mrs. Mac’s Famous Meat Pies (which, while I have your attention, I question aren’t as famous as Mrs. Mac claims – I for one have NEVER heard of them!).

Busselton Tourism Board is clearly luring unsuspecting and well intentioned tourists on the blatantly false premise that the town is home to the Southern Hemisphere’s longest timber jetty. If I maybe so bold to say (as a newly repatriated Aussie), this is a right load of Dingo’s Giblets.

Sydney may indeed have its Circular Quay.
Gladstone may have its Pier.
Busselton sir, has nothing but the dark stain of civic shame casting a pall over its clear ocean waters.

Yours sincerely,
Appalled.

Observations of Australia

Arriving back in Australia after 11 years living overseas, I can’t help but make some observations about the country that is again to be my home. The intervening decade-plus have brought some changes both in Australia, and to be fair – in the observer. One thing that strikes me so far though is how expensive Australia has become. For the Aussies reading this I have a message – “My fellow Australians – someone is having a lend of you!”

Aubergines – $9.90 a kilo
Baby courgettes – $14.00 a kilo
Bananas – $7.99 a kilo
A small jar of cashew butter – $7.99

And the vegetables are grown locally!

Blooming heck.

Lilies

Western Australia is a large, dry state. 1,021,478 square miles, you can drop the United Kingdom into it four times, and then fill out the margins with Ireland one and a bit times times. Or you could put Texas AND Alaska into WA and have room for lots of Russians to stand scowling around the edges staring at Dubya and Sarah Palins. The vast majority of the state is semi-arid or arid desert, with almost no precipitation falling in many areas. Australia’s largest state is however also home to 12,000 of the world’s wildflower species.

The South West corner is a micro-climate of lushness, albeit a micro-climate the size of several European countries. The ‘bottom, left-hand’ corner is a well respected wine growing region, as well as being home to hundreds of cattle stations, fruit and vegetable farms and a thriving tourism industry.

Tall stands of Karri Gum are the signature tree of the Cape Naturaliste National Park. Karri gums are the tallest of the Australian Eucalypts, and were prized by the early European settlers for their strong, straight timbers. Hamelin Bay beach is marked today by the remains of a timber pier that once extended 547 metres out, providing a berthing and loading point during the 1800’s for the ships taking on bellyfuls of Karri timber.

In the open flats extending beyond the Karri forests are extensive, flat clearings – cattle feed where only kangaroos once grazed amongst the original forests. Here and there lush, shaded wetland areas predominate. At this time of year in the shade of the gums water lilies stand tall, their roots standing in well watered and rich soil, with the white lily cupping the yellow stamen. The lowing cattle in the distance are collectively unimpressed, though the burbling, croaking, coughing frogs are numerous in their appreciative vocalization.

We passed this lily-grove yesterday. It was worth getting up early to capture it in early morning sunlight.

Wildflowers – Hamelin Bay






WA is home to the majority of the world’s wildflowers. Some 12,000 species of wild flowers are to be found across the expanse of the state, with 8,000 of them found in the South Western corner, and nowhere else. Anywhere. And that’s no Black Swan!

Along the 20 meters or so of sandy path from the carpark down to Hamelin Bay beach half a dozen or so examples are clustered amongst the hardy ocean side succulents. Only 7994 to go….

The view from the front deck – Hamelin Bay escape

Typical, everyone else is still asleep and I am up (6.30am). Time to make a mug of caffeine and go and see what the beach looks like. This is the view greeting me as I walk out onto the front deck of the little house we’re staying in.

And what can I hear.

Nothing.

Then a whoop of a currawong.

Nothing.

Lovely.

PS. That firepit is going to get a work out before the stay here is out.