Dirt Roads and Rainbows
A journey around Australia in September-October 2009 by Philip & Barbara
Marriage, Adrian & Audrey Young and George Hammond — three ex HMSO
designers who have been friends since they first met in the Atlantic House studio
in the early 1970s
This account is based on a series of emails sent back to family and friends from ‘P
the Pom’ and begins with Philip & Barbara flying in from Singapore. George,
together with Adrian &Audrey joined them ten days later when they reached
Adelaide, but first the Northern Territory . . .
Australia was in darkness as Barbara and I flew in from Singapore so we were
grateful for the prompt bus from the airport into central Darwin and the driver’s
shout of ‘Mantra’ as we drew up outside the hotel at 3am. There we were greeted
with the news that we’d been upgraded to Room 808, on the eighth floor
overlooking the bay. Sleepily we searched for our room, finding 806, 807 and 809.
The door in-between carried no number but was signed ‘The Lameroo Suite’ so we
quietly tried the key — and gained entry. A corridor led to a kitchen area, then a
huge lounge with flat-screen telly on the wall and bedroom off plus a balcony
overlooking who knows what in the darkness. Another door led to a corridor with a
further bedroom and two bathrooms. We couldn’t have had a grander introduction
We awoke to explore our Penthouse Suite in daylight. The panoramic views from
the balcony were indeed spectacular over the Lameroo Beach and Frances Bay
from the Larrakehah to our right and Port Darwin to our left. After breakfast we
decided to brave the heat and explore a little more of Darwin. In the lift stepped
Ben Gun, or rather a reasonable impersonation — sandals, shorts, vest and a grey
straggly beard down to his navel. We chatted, and eight floors later learned he was
a businessman from ‘Melb'un’ who'd just recruited a Londoner to work in his
business — labour was a problem in Melb'un he added before bidding us cheerful
G'Day and wishing us a good time in Australia.
The heat, around 34C, and high humidity was difficult so our stroll was generally
from one shady tree to another as we worked our way along the Bicentennial Park
overlooking the bay. The wildlife was impressive, all sorts of large colourful birds,
some with enormous curved beaks, strutting their way beneath the trees. At the
Cenotaph there was a gathering of veterans with medals jangling. Nearby display
boards told the story of Darwin's near destruction during the Second World War
when the Japanese bombarded the city for over sixty days.
Parliament House seemed to have survived however in a gentle colonial style but
the Parliament Building and just about everything else in Darwin was modern
following the city's second destruction by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Since then the
city has been rebuilt and expanded three-fold with a population of around 114,000
today including many different ethnic groups with refugees from Africa,
Afghanistan and Indonesia in addition to a fair percentage of Aboriginal people.
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Darwin has a pretty laid-back attitude to most things, having survived near
destruction twice and having to annually survive the 'Wet Season' when the heat
and humidity rise to even greater proportions. However our reason to be in Darwin
is to be able to explore the Kakadu National Park and that expedition starts early
DARWIN TO KAKADU
Up at 6am, packed and was in the midst of checking out when I was addressed by a
burly man with a military bearing dressed in bush gear — shorts and wide brimmed
hat, shaved head, drooping white mustache with a theek Franch accent. This was
Guy our leader for the next four days. We climbed aboard the bus — a newish
military-style truck with a box on the back fitted for passengers. It had a capacity
of 26 people but there were just a dozen of us, two Australians chaps from
Brisbane, a young Swiss couple, two French couples, and another English couple
plus Barbara and I — so half English speaking and half French. Guy had an excellent
command of English (or Australian rather) having lived in Australia most of his life
but had never lost his accent.
We drove southwest out of Darwin, through the suburbs and the early morning
traffic commuters, past cattle pens and sheds, transporter lorries and into the
bush leaving signs of modern civilisation behind. Mile after mile of trees and
bushes — thicker undergrowth than I had imagined but this after all is a rain-forest
environment when the Wet Season arrives in a month or so.
Breakfast at the Corroboree Park Tavern, a small roadside halt, then continued
into more savannah-like country with clusters of termite mounds, past occasional
ponds or pools which Guy was keen to point out all contained crocodiles, not that
we could see any, but that's the nature of the beast. About 9.30am we stopped at
a large billabong off the Mary River for an arranged trip on the water. A hand-
painted sign near the water's edge said 'Dead Slow, House Boats Don't Leave a
Bloody Bow Wash!'. Stan, the owner of the boat gave us some safety instructions as
we settled on his flat-bottomed tin tub — something about not dangling your hand
in the water, or rocking the boat by moving around, else the 'crocs will 'ave you!’
Indeed he was soon to point-out a huge Saltwater Croc slumbering seemingly
peaceably beneath overhanging trees and not far away several Freshwater Crocs,
smaller with a longer pointed snout. However their teeth still looked as
formidable. What impressed me however was the abundance of bird-life around
the water's edge — herons, storks, cormorants, egrets, ibis, lily-trotters all sorts of
waterfowl and the occasional wallaby and overhead kites and eagles. For an hour
or so we pootled around the water's edge photographing everything that moved.
The highlight for me was a pair of Sea Eagles and their nest — magnificent birds
disdaining to watch us as we idled by. On the way back, Stan, with typical Aussie
humour, offered anyone who wished a snorkel set for a closer look at the
underwater life. ‘Never seem to get the snorkel back’ he muttered quietly.
Back to the bus and on to a lookout over the East Alligator River (inappropriately
named as there are no alligators in Australia). Here the road crosses the river and
in the middle the water passes over the road. 4WD pass through at speed creating
a mighty splash and ordinary saloons gingery edge their way through — not a place
to get stuck as we could see a Freshwater Croc a few feet away from the road's
edge waiting patiently just in case. There were plenty of warning notices about
the dangers 'Crocodiles inhabit this area. Attacks cause injury or death — Don't
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enter the water, keep away from the water's edge, Don't clean fish near the
water's edge, Remove all fish and food waste’. However we noticed fishermen
dotted along the water's edge, some with children.
We continued our drive and reached Ubirr where we were promised one of the
finest collections of rock-art in the world and some of the best views over the
Kakadu landscape. We were not to be disappointed.
UBIRR to JABIRU
People have been living in Australia for 60,000 years at least — that’s been known
since human remains were found at Lake Mungo (which we plan to visit in a couple
of week’s time). The Aboriginal people developed their unique culture, values and
traditions over millennia spreading over the entire continent. When the first
Europeans came in contact with them they were seen as backward savages —
except by Captain Cook who perceptively noted that they seemed happier than
most Europeans and had no need for any of the gifts, other than an iron axe, he
offered them. They were in harmony with their environment but all that was to
change with the coming centuries. The depth of Aboriginal people’s bewilderment,
shock, anger and resentment since can only be imagined.
With no writing all their knowledge had to be memorised or recorded in dance,
song or painting. That's why the elders in their society were so valued — they had
the knowledge and were special. Only they knew the true meaning of the rock art
which was painted, and repainted, over the centuries. Even today the elders only
explain a little of the sacred meaning of the rock art to outsiders and it is not for
everyone to see
At Ubirr a trail through the bush led to rocky overhangs and the first of a series of
rock paintings. Guy was clearly knowledgeable and went to some lengths to explain
something of the background to this ancient art. We call it art but to the
Aboriginal people this is simply their way of recording their knowledge. One of the
paintings showed a 'White Fella' with his hands in the pockets of his shorts —
probably a buffalo hunter from the 1880's. Somewhat older was another painting of
a Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) which became extinct 2-3000 years ago.
The late afternoon sun brilliantly illuminated the East Alligator floodplain from the
high sandstone bluff we climbed. On the horizon a plume of black smoke drifted
into the sky from a bush fire, probably burning by the local Aboriginal people to
keep the amount of brush down and regenerate the land. Nearby was a notice with
this message from an elder of the traditional owners of Kakadu who have leased
their land to the Australian Government 'for everyone to care for and enjoy'.
My People . . .
We getting too old.
Young people . . .
I don't know if they can hold onto this story
You responsible now.
You got to go with us to Earth.
Might be you can hang onto this story to this Earth.
Reluctantly we trooped back to our bus and on to Jabiru and our overnight
campsite. It was dark around 7pm. Guy prepared dinner which was eaten with a
glass of wine in a Mess Hut. It had been a long, hot, tiring yet memorable day and
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we were ready for bed by 9pm. In our tent the night-time noises seemed close by,
owls screeching amongst the trees, cicadas keeping up a constant accompaniment
and shuffling outside the tent which we trusted was nothing more than Wallabies
padding around in the darkness as we drifted off to sleep.
There were Wallabies around the camp as we departed not long after dawn,
making the most of the cooler early morning air, to Jabiru a town in the centre of
the Kakadu Park. Spotted rummaging amongst the bush was a wild boar with three
legs — the other likely inside a croc mused Guy — however it looked plump and
active so was making do, but well away from the water holes.
We arrived at the Jabiru escarpment home of the Warramai people, now gone, and
looked after by neighbouring clans. A trail led to Nourlangie Rock a sandstone
outcrop, beautifully bathed in yellows and greens in the low early morning sun.
The Aboriginal people like to refer to this place as Burrunggui, for the upper area
and Anbangbang for the lower area which contain rock shelters and some of the
best-known galleries of rock art. We learned that Aboriginal people have no past or
future — just the now. Further on the trail finally led to Gun-warddehwarde
Lookout with panoramic views across to the Arnhem Land escarpment. There was a
welcome breeze to ward off the constant flies as the temperature rose.
After lunch Guy, our tour leader, took us to one of his favourite spots, a rock pool
deep in the bush fed by a waterfall. Some (including Barbara) swam whilst others
(me) explored the area with a camera. Lots of big colourful spiders. Guy assured
everyone that the pool had been checked after a five-metre croc had been found
in a nearby river. Leaving Kakadu we drove onto Pine Greek, an ex 1911 Gold-Rush
town, deserted apart from a bar for a welcome drink and natural break (signposted
'Drip Dry', and 'Shake Dry). Two of our party left us here to be picked up and
returned to Darwin to catch the Ghan down to Adelaide. The remaining ten of us
continued on to the Nitmiluk National Park and Leliyn, home of the Jowoyn
People, and another swim this time in a large pool (we would call it a lake)
surrounded by cliffs and fed by the pretty Edith Falls. Reassuringly a notice read
'Freshwater Crocodiles feed at night. Please do not enter the water between 7pm
and 7am'. You just trust they don't feel a little peckish during the day.
Overnight at Springvale Homestead just outside the town of Katherine and the
Nitmiluk National Park. The park is dominated by the towering walls of thirteen
sandstone gorges cut by the Katherine River. A flat-bottomed boat, skippered by
'Mark' (from Barcelona) took us up Katherine Gorge pointing out tempting little
sandy beaches at the water's edge. However each carried a notice saying 'Crocodile
Breeding. Do Not Enter' (now would you?). There were traps along the riverbank to
catch the large 'Salties' after each rainy season, however the Freshwater crocs are
left alone. Figs and large Fruit Bats hung from overhanging trees. We changed
boats in order to get further up the gorge where we were able to see rock art that
had been dated back 10,000 years.
Later, over lunch, we met 'Manuel', an Aboriginal artist from Arnhem Land, who
demonstrated something of his technique which we tried (and mostly failed) to
emulate. This was our first opportunity to speak with an Aboriginal. He was
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articulate with an easy manner, the kind of natural communicator who would be
successful in any walk of life. He'd chosen to become an artist and was scornful of
those of his people who have turned to alcohol. It was a pleasure to listen to him.
We discovered that 'Manuel' was only one of his many names. Aboriginal people
have a complex family naming system which guarantees that family members do
not inter-marry. Through this complex naming system, and memorised knowledge,
some can name their ancestors back a hundred generations we were told.
Our next stop was at The Grove Hill Hotel, next to The Ghan Railway line, a
historic building largely constructed in corrugated iron (the vernacular building
material of older Australian buildings) well away from anywhere. The lettering of
the hotel sign was made up from bits of rusting iron, chains, spanners and the like,
below which a fading painted sign proudly proclaimed that it was 'Under New
Ownership: Stan & Mary' even though the sign had been up a decade or more. To
the side of the hotel was a field with a dozen or so old cars and trucks, all
completely paint free, sandblasted by the desert dust, and deep brown with rust.
They looked as if they could have been there for fifty years or more.
Next to the rusting vehicles was a campsite and I chatted with a chap who
answered my query about what bought him to such a remote spot by saying he'd
dropped by to see his son who was prospecting for his company nearby. 'Found
Uranium' he proudly told me. 'So is it time to buy some shares?' I enquired. 'Sure is,
they're only 35 cents.' I made a mental note as we watched the Ghan thunder by on
its way southwards to Adelaide.
LITCHFIELD TO DARWIN
Our final day exploring the national parks of Australia's Northern Territory started
in the comfort of the 26 seater bus with only four passengers — our six French
speaking companions over these past three days departed separately for Darwin
the previous evening. Those of us remaining took it in turns to sit up front with
Guy, and that's how we saw our first snake of the trip. He braked heavily and in
the road a few feet from his enormous truck was a King Brown, one of Australia's
most deadly and classed as 'Dangerously venomous, capable of injecting more
venom than any other Australian snake’. Guy slowly reversed his truck then
carefully weaved around it, adding ‘Has as much right as we have’, and we were
on our way again.
Litchfield National Park is known for its cascading rock pools and waterfalls. Our
day began at Buley Rockhole, a 'spa' with some of the cleanest water around fed
from springs just upstream replenished each wet season. Barbara swam for an hour
or so, in each of the cascading pools whilst I hunted dragonflies with my camera.
We then moved onto Florence Falls, via Shady Creek Walk, where we gazed down,
from a high lookout, to a large plunge pool fed by two high waterfalls, before
ambling our way down to the valley bottom and following the river back to the
bus. The plunge pool was a super place to swim but that pleasure was saved for
our next stop at Wangi Falls where water cascades into a huge plunge pool
surrounded by cliffs and trees full of Fruit Bats. 'The most wonderful best place
ever to have a swim' declared Barbara (apart from the Hindre Virus carried by the
bats, rather lethal with no known cure).
We then began our way back to Darwin with just one final stop — at a flood plain
with 'Magnetic Termite Mounds' dozens of mounds unusually shaped like a thin
shark's fin, each about 8ft high and 1ft thick narrowing to a razor's edge at the top,
all aligned ten degrees off true north. The reason, explained Guy, for this peculiar
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alignment is nothing to do with magnetic north but rather each new termite colony
making the mound with the thin edge facing the midday sun, with the broad side in
shadow. If they fail to get this right the colony fails so only the successful survive
to grow to this great height. Guy returned us to our hotel, unfortunately not to the
luxury Penthouse 'Lameroo Suite' but to a room overlooking the back yard. Such is
ALICE SPRINGS TO KINGS CANYON
We flew from Darwin at Australia's 'Top End' to Alice Springs in Australia's 'Red
Centre', some two hours in the plane which gives some idea of the vastness of this
continent. Next day we picked up a hire-car, an automatic Toyota Corolla, and
headed south on the Stuart Highway towards KIng's Canyon and Ularu/Ayers Rock.
The weather was still blisteringly hot, in fact we read later that the night we
arrived in Alice Springs had been the hottest September night on record, at 27.4C,
so we were grateful for the air-conditioning.
Around midday we turned off the Stuart Highway following a sign to the Henbury
Meteorite Crater. This seemed like a nice idea when we examining the map — after
all how often do you get the chance to examine a 4000-year-old meteorite crater?
However the tarmac finished after a few hundred yards and we were on a dirt
road. This wasn't so bad providing we kept the speed down and were careful to
miss the largest ruts, but soon the smooth dirt degenerated into ridges about a
foot or so apart and the car vibrated at every bump. By then we'd travelled about
half-way to the craters and were reluctant to turn back so persevered with the
constant shaking and bumping until we eventually arrived at a small car park then
a 15 minute walk to the crater's rim. In the midday heat that was quite an
achievement especially with the exercising right arm to swish away the ever-
We walked around the rim of the crater which was impressive enough though much
eroded over the intervening years and now full of trees and bushes. We returned to
the car and the relief of the air-conditioning. A bumpy ride back eventually led us
to the Stuart Highway again and time to reflect that what we had just done wasn't
the most sensible thing as a breakdown or puncture would have been most
inconvenient. There's no passing AA vans or mobile phone coverage in the outback.
We would have had to wait until somebody came along and then trust them to get
a message back
Another hour or so's drive saw us turn west at Eridunda onto the Lasseter Highway,
through Mount Ebinezer and then northwards on the Luritja Road through a small
dust storm towards King's Canyon. It was late afternoon when we noticed, with
alarm, that the fuel gauge was getting low. A quick consultation with the map
revealed that the next petrol was still some way off at King's Creek Station, so we
switched-off the air-conditioning, wound down the windows and crossed our
fingers. Before long the dashboard warning light came on and we were running on
empty. 'We won't die out here, but how embarrassing', said Barbara 'if we end up
at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere waiting for someone to come
By now it was late afternoon and the sun low on the horizon. I uncrossed my
fingers as I saw signs to King's Creek Station only 10K then 5K away and then
suddenly it was behind us — we'd missed it! I was expecting some kind of township
as King's Creek Station was in big bold letters on the map, and that was when we
learned another lesson — it was only big and bold because it had water and fuel.
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We turned around and found a small side road leading to a shop, bar, cafe and
most importantly a petrol pump. It was with great relief that we filled-up and
watched the sun go down in a brilliant sunset and we covered the remaining few
miles to our overnight stop at King's Canyon. It had been a day with some fantastic
memories but not without it's dramas. Our next was to be equally exciting.
Barbara spotted Dingoes in the early morning light prowling around outside our
room at Kings Canyon Lodge, there were signs everywhere saying not to feed them
and the communal washroom had a gate to keep them out. However dingoes play
their part in the desert ecosystem, being at the top of the food chain they keep
feral cats and foxes down as well as rabbits and kangaroos, so it's a difficult
decision to cull them.
Making more of a fuss was a mob of Galahs, cockatoos with a crest, quite pretty
but very noisy swooping around the car park like a group of excited eight-year olds
at a birthday party. It was fun though to watch them fighting over top spot on the
lampposts. One would land at the top of the curved metal pole leading to the
lamp, then another would land next to it nudging it aside so it would lose its grip
and slowly slide down the curve of the pole valiantly trying to arrest its slide with
its beak on the impossibly smooth metal pole.
Kings Canyon is part of the Watarrka National Park and made up from ancient
sandstone walls, carved by the weather, rising up 270m to a plateau of rocky
domes. There were two walks signposted, one steeply up to the ridge to the
canyon rim and around, and the other along the valley floor. With Barbara's new
knee less than a year old we chose the latter which meanders along Kings Creek
ending at a lookout at the valley end. We could see walkers looking down on us
from the ridge high above.
An hour or two later, after we'd completed the walk, I paused near a tap of
drinking water provided for walkers, to photograph finches drinking from a pool
there. Suddenly I felt something brush past my trouser leg, heard a loud skidding
noise on the gravel followed by a thump and my viewfinder was filled with the
sight of an enormous lizard, motionless except for a squirming critter in its mouth.
The hind legs and long tail of the unfortunate victim (a small lizard) were still
visible but then the squirming slowed and inexorably the body was consumed down
the lizard's long throat. I started taking photographs, grateful that my telephoto
lens allowed me to keep a distance for the lizard was about a metre long. After a
few moments a crowd gathered and I asked one chap if he knew what it was? 'I
think it's a Perentie, but I've never seen one before' he answered.
And so it proved, as I read later the Ngintaka-Perentie, Giant Lizard, at two metres
long is Australia's largest, and the world's second largest lizard, only surpassed by
the Komodo Dragon of Indonesia. This one was smaller but no less fearsome as it
slowly turned and waddled off into the undergrowth with its forked tongue tasting
the air. Fortunately they leave people alone. Somewhat reluctantly I returned to
the car and prepared for the next leg of our journey, the 300k drive to Uluru-Kata
Tjuta National Park.
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The drive to Uluru (Ayers Rock) from Kings Canyon took us back down the Luritja
Road past Kings Creek Station (where we'd so gratefully filled-up the previous
evening) to join the Lasseter Highway near Curtin Springs. It was near here that we
saw in the distance a vast reddish mountain suddenly appear out of the flat plain.
We stopped to look more closely and it was clear that it wasn't Urulu, being a
table-top shaped, and our map told us it was Mount Conner (or Atila) 859m, a
lesser known cousin to Uluru which never seems to get a mention in the guide
books but is no less impressive.
We drove the remaining 270k to Yulara and the Desert Gardens Resort with Uluru's
massive 348m high bulk dominating the horizon. It was late afternoon when we
arrived so, after quickly booking in to our hotel, we set out to the National Park
entrance to witness sunset. There was already a fair crowd of cars in the sunset
viewing area, many with cameras or camcorders on tripods, all trained on Uluru as
its colour gradually changed from red to orange then purple as the sun dropped
below the horizon. It was a memorable sight.
We'd planned to be up before dawn the next morning to see the sunrise over Uluru
but the excitement and long drive of the previous day ensured we slept in well
past dawn. After breakfast we drove back to the National Park and spent time in
the Cultural Centre, learning a little about the Anangu people, the traditional
Aboriginal owners. Their people have been in this area for at least 22,000 years. In
1985 the land was given back to them and they, in turn, leased the land to the
Federal Government for 99 years. It's now run by both parties under a 'joint
We spent the next few hours driving around Uluru, stopping occasionally to take
photos or try one of the many walks. A favourite was the Keniya Walk, past a rock
shelter containing art to a waterhole surrounded by trees and vegetation. I was
photographing a gorgeously coloured bird (later identified as a Rainbow Bee-Eater)
when I noticed a movement of the undergrowth and a large Goanna slowly
appeared — not as large as the Perentie seen a couple of days back, but big enough
to keep my attention as it waddled down to the waterhole for a drink. Once
satisfied it turned, quite unconcerned, and disappeared back into the
Our last stop was at the point where people climb Uluru. There were large
information boards, provided by the Aboriginal owners, at the start of the climb
saying 'Please don't climb Uluru' and politely pointing out that the climb is not
prohibited but has great cultural significance as it is the traditional route taken by
ancestral Mala men upon their arrival at Uluru and, as guests on Anangu land,
visitors should respect their law and culture and not climb. As far as I could see
most people just strode on by, ignoring the request, keen to get to the top.
The traditional owners (as ever) seem to have it summed up:
‘That's a really important sacred thing that you are climbing . . .
You shouldn't climb. It's not the real thing about this place.
The real thing is listening to everything.’
About 32k from Uluru is another great series of rocks — Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)
more eroded than Uluru, less well known and less busy. It seemed as if we had the
place pretty much to ourselves much of the time but more people started to turn
up as sunset approached. We didn't stay for that but returned to our hotel to
prepare for tomorrow's early morning long drive back to Alice Springs and thence
to Adelaide to meet up with our friends and the next phase in our adventure.
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A long day starting with an early alarm at 4.15am. We quietly left the Desert
Gardens Hotel at 5am still in darkness. The roads were empty beneath the
blackness of a desert sky filled with stars. We'd seen plenty of Wallabies on this
trip so far but no Kangaroos until one was lit by the headlights, bounding down the
other side of the road, then a couple more on the near side and a little later we
had to swerve to miss another in the pre-dawn twilight on a completely empty
road — in fact it was an hour and a half before we saw another car in either
direction. Just as the sun came up we stopped to watch two Wedge Tailed Eagles
feasting on a fresh kangaroo road kill at the side of the road, unfortunately the
first of many road-kills on the long drive back to Alice Springs Airport arriving just
after 10am, all told about 450k, five hours driving.
We were leaving Australia's Northern Territory tropics to arrive in South Australia
and it's more temperate climate. The flight to Adelaide was uneventful — apart
from a little murk in the air following the great dust storm that hit Canberra,
Sydney and the headlines a few days back — mostly over the red centre desert with
little sign of water or life, endless reddish-orange dunes and rocks. We landed
about 2.30pm to a comfortable temperature of 18°C beneath a clear sunny sky and
received a text message from Adrian to say they would pick us up from the
Our Australian friends, Adrian and Audrey, trained as teachers before travelling to
the UK in the late 1960s. Adrian then completed a course at Hornsey and joined
HMSO Graphic Design under John Westwood in 1970. We worked together in the
same team and soon found we had mutual interests — music, guitars, badminton,
photography amongst others and became good friends. George also joined HMSO
around this time and lived near Adrian & Audrey in Buckinghamshire so we spent a
good deal of time together outside the office.
In 1973 Adrian & Audrey returned to Australia where Adrian worked for a short time with John
Pitson (ex HMSO) in the studio at the Australian Government Printing Service in Canberra
before moving to the Australian National University. Over the years we kept in touch with
letters and audiotapes and started to share holidays around Europe and then further afield.
George and Daz managed to make it to Australia back in the 1980s, but this time Daz decided
that long-haul and outback temperatures weren’t for her. For Barbara and I, this was our
opportunity to take up an invitation first offered 35 years earlier
We waited a few minutes outside Adelaide airport before spotting Audrey with
George (who'd arrived a week earlier), waving in the distance then Adrian drove up
in a massive Nissan Pioneer 4WD, already smeared in red dust from the two-day
drive over from Canberra. We booked into the Majestic Hotel and relaxed over
drinks on the roof terrace, catching up with all the news. It was good to be
amongst old friends again.
Is that rain? Australia is the land of sunshine, but we indeed awoke to the sound of
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heavy showers, just like Spring in the UK, and the temperature dropped to around
12C. Australia has been experiencing a drought for some years and an excited
Adrian checked to see if it was raining in Canberra to save his parched garden. It
rained on and off most of the day, however it didn't prevent us doing a little
shopping whilst in the big city — George for a new hat (very smart), and Barbara
for a warming jumper as the temperature plummeted.
Barbara had also taken the opportunity to trace members of her family living in
Australia, Vi an elderly lady and her daughter Marilyn. Audrey had checked the
Adelaide telephone book and found the address so Barbara rang and found a
remarkably lively and alert 91 year-year old excitedly keen to meet. So, after
lunch, we met Marilyn at 'Windy Point', a rendezvous with a panoramic view over
the whole of the city to the water estuary in the distance. It would have been a
great view if it hadn't been for the drizzle and overcast sky. Marilyn then drove us
on a scenic drive to her Mum's house and we met Vi, a small lady, bright as a
button with a ready smile, which belied her age. For the next four hours she and
Marilyn hardly stopped talking, going through Vi's diaries, photographs and
ephemera since arriving in Australia in May 1952. Vi insisted we stay for dinner so
we departed about 8pm with Marilyn returning us to our hotel where we hurriedly
packed ready for an early departure tomorrow to The Clare Valley and its wineries.
We left Adelaide on an overcast and cool morning, the Nissan packed with the five
of us and all our luggage, past the Adelaide Oval cricket ground with its statue to
Don Bradman and into the suburbs on the Main North Road and thence into the
countryside. Dark and stormy skies contrasted with bursts of sunshine as we left
the flat farmland north of Adelaide and found ourselves rising to higher and hillier
ground and fields of vines came into view. The creeks and rivers were full of
water, with pools at the side of the road — a sight Adrian said was so rare in recent
years that he floored the Nissan through each one like a youngster splashing
The Clare Valley wineries, north of Adelaide, grow less than three per cent of
Australia's wines but have gained a worldwide reputation especially for Rieslings.
The Jesuits first established Sevenhill Cellars around 1850 planting vines to make
sacramental wines. Soon they were supplying the locals and now there are over 40
other wineries in the valley.
We spent the next couple of days sampling the delights of various wineries in the
valley, from the original Sevenhill Cellars (Manager: Brother John) to Taylor's large
Chateau Clare Estate and the many smaller 'boutique' wineries like Tim Gramp,
Crabtree, Jeanneret, Jim Barry or Paulett Wines. At Jeanneret I particularly liked
the names given to their wines — 'Big Fine Girl', 'Oakey Dokey', 'Stumbling Block',
'Hummer', 'Denis', 'Doozie', 'Grace & Favour', 'Dilly Dally', 'Curly Red', 'Rank & File',
'Fancy Pants' and 'Hawny Tawny' Port. I asked the owner where the names came
from, and he replied ‘They usually come about 2 o'clock in the morning'.
We were based in Watervale, in a restored 1870's stone cottage with all the
original features including a huge enamel bath and cast-iron fireplaces — it could
have come straight out of an English Country Cottages brochure. Glancing through
the visitor's book my attention was caught by a recent entry ‘Wonderful place,
delightful surroundings, good food, fine wines and great sex! What more could a
girl ask for?’ Now you don't find that kind of recommendation in English Country
10AUSTRALIA 2009 10
Driving northwards from the Clare Valley it was clear that we were leaving the
sophistications of big city Adelaide far behind, and even the rolling hills of the
Clare Valley gave way to prairie-like small-town Australia. One such was Terowie,
with a population of 220 all but three of which seemed to have disappeared when
we stopped in the late afternoon. It was if we were in a time warp with much of
the town built in the 1880s — a general store, blacksmiths, and Printing Office —
like the set of a Spaghetti Western. The railway made Terowie a regional centre
until droughts and rabbits led to its decline and when the railway was removed
there was no reason for the town's existence. It had become a ghost-town,
underlined by a field of old cars and trucks slowly rusting away.
We stayed overnight, a little further north, in Cradock, which was also once a
bustling township boasting a school. Police station, two hotels, three churches,
two stores, two blacksmiths and a saddler. The Australian Government supported
grain production in the area but this failed and so did the town. Now there's
nothing but the Cradock Hotel with a population of three. I noticed a couple of
photos, one showing the 1925 Cradock Cricket team full of hearty chaps from the
outlying farms, with alongside the 2006 equivalent with nine chaps and a boy — not
quite an eleven.
It was good to wake up to blue skies again and some warmth after the wet. Whilst
Barbara and I had been sweltering in the tropical Northern Territory much of
south-eastern Australia had been experiencing storms, high winds and rain. To
Australia eyes the water was manna from heaven after so much drought but to
English eyes it didn't have quite the same excitement. ‘Look at those green fields’
Adrian would cry, ‘It hasn't been like this for years.’ I have to admit it did look
nice, with lush spring flowers by the roadside and a sheen of green across the vast
prairie and tall gum trees standing aloof — much like the manicured estate of an
British stately home.
Before leaving Cradock we stopped at the cemetery just outside town, to look at
the few graves mostly from around the 1890s onwards, some of heartbreakingly
young children. The graveyard had been overrun by rabbits and the few standing
tombstones were at all-angles. However, given the isolation they couldn't have had
a more magnificent resting place with the backdrop with the Flinders Ranges in the
distance. We drove on and reached Wilpena around midday, bought a pass to the
Flinders Ranges National Park ($8) and arranged a scenic flight over the Wilpena
Pound in a small six-seater for the afternoon.
Wilpena Pound is one of South Australia's most recognised landmarks — a natural
amphitheatre of rugged weathered mountains about 17k in length and 8k wide and
our flight was for 30 minutes around and over the peaks. After the smoothness
through the air of today's big airliners, our little light aircraft was quite different
and we felt every bump and jolt down the dirt runway, and every bit of turbulence
through the air. However we did have the best possible view of the Pound and its
highest peak, St Mary (1170m), before our young lady pilot returned us safely to
earth. Audrey then took us on a scenic drive around the Bunyeroo Gorge using the
dirt roads inside the Pound, with glowing views in the late afternoon light.
11AUSTRALIA 2009 11
Kangaroos are becoming a common sight and today we spotted Shingle-back lizards
by the side of the road and our first wild Emus.
Blinman (population 20) is the nearest town north of Wilmena Pound in the heart
of the Flinders Ranges, on the edge of the South Australian desert. We stayed a
couple of days in Blinman Cottage, a restored 1800s miners stone house with
corrugated iron extensions and original gas lights. George noticed with some
concern a sign on the back door which led to his bedroom: ‘Please close the fly-
screens at all times to keep out the snakes’.
This is mining country and Blinmen once boasted a mine where 10,000 tonnes of
copper had been extracted. Consequently the natural water is contaminated and
the kitchen sink had three taps — hot, cold and drinking. Nowadays there is little
left, just a General Store, Pub (we would call it a hotel), Post Office, Memorial
Hall, Gallery and Internet Cafe (useful for sending back these travelogues). A small
stone building with a corrugated iron roof was once the local hospital and a chap I
spoke to mentioned that the local community (all 20 of them) wanted to restore it
but couldn't trace who owned it. In the High Street (the only street) was a British-
style Red Telephone Box — made of wood.
Breakfast brought the quote of the trip so far, with the tempting smell of bacon
coming from the kitchen, ‘Put it in front of me and I'll eat it!’ has been repeated
with regularity since.
We made one expedition out from Blinmen, about 60k north-east to Chambers
Gorge, along the creek bed in the 4WD and then a walk to find Aboriginal
petroglyphs carved on the rocks. These were made by repeatedly hitting the rock
with a harder stone to produce a series of interconnecting pits forming geometric
circles and other symbolic shapes. It was also in Chambers Gorge that Audrey and
George heard a rustling in the undergrowth and on investigation spotted an
Achidna (like a large hedgehog) rummaging for a meal. We followed it for some
while but it never fully appeared out of the dense bush for our cameras. On
returning to Blinman we stopped at an old wind pump, slowly revolving in the
slight breeze, creaking slightly on its foundations and uttering a gentle squeak at
every turn. Adrian will be working on an exhibition of outback life after this
holiday so we recorded the sound on my camera. My fee will be modest . . .
To IGA WARTA
We left Blinmen out through the Parachilna Gorge on rough roads, stopping for an
hour to explore the dry creek bed, lined with tall Gum trees. Then on to Parachilna
itself, nowadays a ghost town, but in its heyday an important hub as the rail and
road link between Port Augusta and Leigh Creek. The Prairie Hotel is the only
substantial building and we took refuge there lunchtime as a fierce dust storm
swept across the flat land around. I was taken by the menu: 'our signature dish' the
Road Kill Grill (FMG — Feral mixed grill), Prairie Burgers (Kangaroo, Emu, Coorong
Angus Beef), Hearty Kangaroo Tail soup or Emu Liver Pate.
Then up to Leigh Creek, a coal-mining town moved in 1982 from its original
location to allow expansion of the mine, and at this point we took to the dirt road
to Iga Warta. Most of the driving since leaving Adelaide had been on proper tarmac
12AUSTRALIA 2009 12
roads with just the occasional off-road excursions around Bunyeroo Gorge and
Chambers Gorge. Now the driving was on dirt roads and Adrian was in his element.
He'd study the maps with a magnifying glass, looking for a line of little dots which
indicated a rough track across the bush, and plan the day's drive using them. He
had a theory that you had to keep up a reasonable speed when on the roughest
roads to skip across the top of the ridges rather than drive up and down every one.
When George had a drive he took to this 'drive fast across the top of the ridges'
theory with alacrity and even Adrian needed to caution his enthusiasm — at times
we were shaking so much I expected the doors to fall off.
Iga Warta is a campsite in an Aboriginal community setting, run by an Aboriginal
family, set amongst the northern Flinders Ranges and means ‘place of the native
orange tree’ in Yura Ngawarla, the language of the Adnyamathanha people. We'd
arranged to eat at an evening 'Cookout' and watched a Kangaroo joint being
wrapped in Tea-Tree bark and Eucalyptus leaves before being placed in the embers
of a camp fire for a couple of hours. We duly returned just after the sun had gone
down, gathered around the crackling fire to listen to Johnny Couthard, our host,
and his campfire stories.
A G'night story
Johnny could tell a good yarn and this one concerned one of his mates:
‘. . . well you see also like, he drank a lot of whisky, and he used swags — ya know
to sleep on the ground and that — he never used to roll it up. He went out with
his gun, probably huntin', then came home, liked drinkin' whisky, and jumped
straight into his swag with his shotgun by his side and there was a Mulga snake at
the bottom of his swag. He started kickin' around and the snake bit him a couple
And what happened was that the snake — a big snake — rose up and lifted up the
bottom of his swag and he was still laying down so what he done was he shot the
top of the swag and blew the top of the snake's head off. And it was summer time
— that's when the King Brown snakes come out — and that's when we get all our
floods and that. All the communications were out and Wilpena was probably 30-
40ks away and they couldn't pick him up on the radio, but someone, way up in
Northern Territory, sorta got his call and they got the message back to
Wertaloona Station, said there was someone out there got bitten by a snake.
But he made it, he drove though the creeks which were coming down with water
and that, like the creeks were down with floods, so he crossed those creeks and
got to Wertaloona. They saved his life, they got him to Leigh Creek and I don't
know where they took him, Adelaide I suppose and that. All the leg was just
killed, all black and there was nothin' in it. And another mate was working with a
Ranger and he went up to have a look at the snake with the head shot off, and it
was like this long’ [arms wide].
And the moral of this story? Always go to bed with a shotgun.
THE YUNTA ROAD
More dirt roads led out of Iga Warta through the Gammon Ranges National Park
slowly leaving the mountains behind and once more we in the flat prairie-like
country. Clouds of red dust billowed behind the car as we travelled south, around
13AUSTRALIA 2009 13
Lake Frome, on the road to Yunta. After a couple of hours we stopped to stretch
our legs and Adrian noticed tracks in the sand leading to a low concrete water
culvert beneath the road. Thinking it might be a lizard, George was dispatched to
the other end of the culvert to see if the tracks came out. They didn't, thus
leading to the supposition that the critter was still in there. George crouched low
down with his camera and fired off a couple of shots using flash, but didn't spot
anything in the gloom. Only later, after he'd downloaded his pictures, did he
discern a series of Swallow's nests glued to the culvert ceiling just inside the
entrance and the shape of a snake curled up in the dirt beneath.
Gold was found in this area in the 1890s, and remote though it there was a
settlement of 600 people at Waukaringa. We stopped at The Waukaringa Hotel now
just a ruin with an Eagle's nest in the tallest chimney stack. Nearby was the
remains of the cab of an old truck, riddled with bullet holes. Wind whistled
through holes in the metal pole of a signpost, Arkaroola 266k north — Yunta 35k
south, (nothin' in between). The whistling post offered another opportunity to
record the unique sounds of the desert before we made our way to Broken Hill.
This is mining country and the world's richest silver-lead-zinc deposit yet found is
at Broken Hill. If that fact had escaped you then the street names might give a
clue — Crystal, Argent, Cobalt and Beryl Streets leading to Bromide, Sulphide,
Blende, Chloride, Oxide and Wolfram (yes, I didn't recognise that one either,
another name for tungsten).
We stayed in The Imperial Hotel, which sounds very grand and was after the
simplicity of Iga Warta's tents. It must have been built around the beginning of the
last century, with a painting of Edward VII and his family over the main staircase.
It had a Billiard Room with full-size table and we had a suite of interconnecting
rooms with our own sitting room. Most grandly — like many historic Australian
buildings — it had a veranda that offered protection from the rain, and more
importantly the sun, and a delightful setting for breakfast. The Imperial also
offered a wi-fi service for the Internet so we could be in touch with the outside
I don't remember now who first suggested we buy some shares but after I told the
others about my conversation with the chap behind the Grove Hill Hotel up in the
Northern Territory, Adrian looked up the mining company's share price. They'd
risen to 43 cents and each day we'd check the price, and each day they'd risen a
little more. By the time we reached Broken Hill they'd reached 49 cents so Adrian
Skyped his somewhat bemused broker and in no time at all we were the owners of
2000 shares, dreaming of untold wealth . . .
TO LAKE MUNGO
It rained overnight at Broken Hill but was brighter when we set off to Menindee. At
a petrol station there I noticed a sign 'Proceeds from empty bottles and cans left
here will go to the Royal Flying Doctor' (good idea). From Menindee we took a dirt
road to Pooncarie stopping for a bite at a cafe next to The Old Wharf by the
Darling River. The chatty owner asked us about our trip so far, and when he
discovered we were on our way to Mungo National Park he telephoned ahead to
check the state of the dirt road as it had been closed earlier because of the heavy
14AUSTRALIA 2009 14
rain. ‘OK in a 4WD so long as you are careful, but watch out for water!’
Adrian took over the driving and he was careful, though the back-end twitched a
few times and we had a couple of suicidal Kangaroos race across the front of the
Nissan in the twilight. We clipped one but not too badly. There was a lot of water
around and occasionally we'd have to skirt off into the bush as the track was
completely under water.
In the evening gloom, locating Mungo Lodge and our accommodation was proving
difficult and we had to backtrack to find it. However our lodge, once found, was
modern minimalilism in style with elegant furniture, crockery, cutlery, flat-screen
telly on the wall etc. It had a price to match. It seems many people fly into Lake
Mungo's small airstrip rather than take the rough road — but then they miss all the
adventure. George watched a party of oldies taking off in a light aircraft, noting
that the pilot seemed to be the only one carrying a parachute. ‘Perhaps they all
hold hands if they get into trouble’ he mused.
We spent the next couple of days exploring Lake Mungo, an ancient lake bed which
dried up about 18,000 years ago. It's now a World Heritage Area as the earliest
traces of Aboriginal people have been found here, maybe 50,000 years years old,
and the first known example of cremation in the world, dated around 26,000 years
old. We took a 70k signposted circular self-drive across the lake floor to the 'Walls
of China' lunette, high eroded, walls of sand built up at the lake's edge. We
clambered and climbed up the enormous dunes for views back across the dry
lakebed whilst Adrian sketched. Barbara is particularly interested in primitive early
man and looked around carefully for signs of one — in the meanwhile she has to
make do with me.
MUNGO TO DIMBOOLA
Before leaving Mungo we looked around an old woolshed, thought to have been
built in 1869 and made from local Murray Pine, with nails and spikes forged at the
station's smithy and a corrugated iron roof probably transported by paddle-steamer
from Adelaide via Pooncarie and thence overland to Mungo. The power was
provided by an ancient traction engine made by Ruston Proctor of Lincoln —
goodness only knows how that made the journey.
On the dirt road from Mungo to Mildura, Audrey (who was driving) spotted a King
Brown snake sunning itself by the side of the road. She jammed on the anchors and
quickly reversed but by the time we all rushed with our cameras (why do we do
this?) it had slithered across the road and was rapidly disappearing beneath a
fallen tree. We didn't follow it into the undergrowth.
After lunch in Mildura we continued on good roads south to Ouren, the 'Vanilla
Slice capital of the world' but every shop we tried had sold out.
Ouyen also had a Stump Meter Weather Indicator:
If this stump casts a shadow it is sunny
If this stump moves about it is windy
If this stump is wet it is raining
If this stump has no shadow it is cloudy
If this stump is red it is dusty
If this stump is white it is frosty
If this stump is not here it is stolen
15AUSTRALIA 2009 15
The stump meter was outside the Police Station.
We continued south, stopping at Rainbow, a colourful little town with a number of
old shops and a grand pub complete with veranda and wrought iron decoration.
Next through Jeparit which boasts the birthplace of Sir Robert Menzies. Another,
less well-known, character had decorated the outside of his house with all sorts of
signs: 'Beware of the wife, enter at your own risk'. 'Lost cat: 3 legs, blind in one
eye, scar on throat. bullet wound behind right ear, left ear missing, tail broken in
three places, no teeth, recently castrated. Answers to the name of Lucky'. We
finished the day in Dimboola's Victoria pub for the night. Shares up to 54 cents —
DIMBOOLA to PORT FAIRY
Dimboola is a small town with a population less than two thousand yet a reputation
far greater than this would imply, largely due to the book (and later film)
'Dimboola' by Jack Hibberd, and the landscapes by Sidney Nolan the noted
Australian painter who was stationed nearby in WW2. In November 2009 it
celebrates it's 150th anniversary. A sign outside the Post Office points 16586k to
However while we were there, there was only one topic of conversation — the
recent rain, the first for years had brought life to the area and the river was
running once more. Indeed the front page of the 'Dimboola Banner' read:
‘Wimmera River flows on and on — All roads led to Dimboola over the weekend
when the news spread that the river was flowing and it was heading for Dimboola.
The town was abuzz with excitement. People came in car loads from Dimboola and
district, surrounding towns, including Horsham to see the river flowing, something
that hasn't been seen for many dry years. This was one of the biggest events on
the river since the townspeople crowded the dry river bed for a mass photo in
Over breakfast in the High Street we saw a file of school children being led down
to the river by their teacher. The river had not flowed through their town in their
lifetime. We too had a good look at the river and it was indeed flowing with a
couple of people canoeing — probably practicing for the now expected Regatta. At
the river we recorded the sounds of 'Pobblebonk' frogs so-named after their
The rest of the day was spent driving south through the mountains and valleys of
the Grampians National Park, though we did not see them at their best in the
overcast conditions, down to picturesque Port Fairy on Victoria's coast. Somehow I
was disappointed that we'd left small-town outback Australia behind.
Port Fairy is a pretty little coastal town where the Moyne River meets the Southern
Ocean. Our house overlooked the river with a lovely views around. It was nippy
though, as Adrian pointed out, there was nothing between here and the Antarctic
and if the wind blew from the south it was going to be cold.
16AUSTRALIA 2009 16
The highlight of the stay was the arrival of the ‘Mutton Birds’. These are
Tasmanian Shearwaters, Australia's most abundant sea bird, and the Tourist
Information Office assured us that is was a sight worth seeing. So we duly
positioned ourselves near the dunes which they use for nesting and waited 'till the
sun went down. It was freezing with the Antarctic wind whistling straight off the
sea. It started to rain, almost sleeting, and we were on the point of returning to
the warmth of our house when George spotted a single bird heading towards the
dunes. In moments the sky was black with birds flying in, around and over our
heads — literally thousands and thousands of them. It was certainly a sight worth
THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD
Just up the coast east from Port Fairy is Warnambool, known as the nursery for
Southern Right Whales. The whales often swim close to the shore and can be
spotted from a specially constructed viewing platform on the cliff top. We had our
binoculars trained on the sea and sure enough spotted the humps of several
whales, maybe a hundred metres off shore, with the occasional smaller hump
The Great Ocean Road along Victoria's south-west coastline is recognised as one of
the world's most scenic drives, stretching 240k from Warnambool to Torquay near
Geelong, past beaches, up headlands, along cliff tops, across rivers, through lush
forests, offering stunning views of the Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean at every
turn. The road was constructed to provide work for returning soldiers and
dedicated as a Memorial to those killed in the First World War. We were lucky with
the weather as it was sunny again, though still chilly, but the light was excellent
for photographing the 'Twelve Apostles' — a series of limestone sea stacks carved
by waves from the sheer white cliffs.
Our day finished at Cape Otway Lighthouse where we stayed in one of the old
lighthouse keeper's cottage. In the forest leading to the lighthouse Koalas could be
seen in the branches. We'd been told earlier that we would be lucky to see a Koala
in the wild on this trip — so many had been lost in the bush fires of recent years.
However as we explored more carefully we spied lots, at least six in one glade
alone, some with joeys tucked up close to their mums, both seemingly asleep.
CAPE OTWAY to MORNINGTON PENINSULA
George got us all excited as he returned breathless from his early morning walk,
saying that there was a snake just up the path near our cottage so we quickly
grabbed cameras and raced off. It was sunning itself in the undergrowth next to
the path. Adrian later identified it as an Eastern Tiger (dangerously venomous). It
quickly tired of our attention and silently slithered off into the bushes.
After breakfast we toured the lighthouse — Australia's oldest surviving — built in
1848 after 350 souls were lost in one sinking in the narrow straits between the
Cape and King Island where the Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean meet. This was
Australia's worst maritime tragedy. Until the lighthouse was built for many
immigrants Cape Otway was the first, and last, sight of land after months at sea.
Nearby was a plaque recording another loss, that of Frederick Valentich who, in
October 1978, was flying a Cessna aircraft when he ‘changed direction to south
17AUSTRALIA 2009 17
from the lighthouse to the sea. Twelve minutes later his radio transmission was
cut off and in his last radio contact he said 'that strange aircraft is hovering on
top of me again, and it's not an aircraft . . .' After an extensive search no trace
was ever found of the Cessna nor of Frederick Valentich, and to this day his
disappearance remains a mystery.’
And another UFO legend was born.
THE OTWAY RANGES
Mid-morning we left Cape Otway and its historic lighthouse travelling eastwards
along the Great Ocean Road to Apollo Bay before turning inland into the Great
Otway National Park on gravel roads along the Aire Valley. The rich volcanic soil
and steep valleys, combined with a lush wet environment, has produced striking
waterfalls, fast streams, and extensive rainforests filled with tall eucalypts, beech
trees, shrubs and dense tree-ferns.
We stopped for a while at a clump of sequoias, Californian Redwoods, planted in
1938, part of a plan to create new plantations and employment during the
Depression. Here these towering trees sheltered us from a mist of fine drizzle as
we strolled from glade to glade on a red carpet of spongy fallen leaves.
We returned to Victoria's south coast, past Lorne, then into sunshine at Torquay
(the end of The Great Ocean Road) to watch surfers on Bells Beach for a while
before heading to Queenscliff in time to catch the ferry across Port Phillip Bay to
Sorento on the Mornington Peninsula. On the horizon in the hazy sunshine we could
just make out Melbourne’s skyscrapers.
FLINDERS (MORNINGTON PENINSULA)
We spent a couple of days in Flinders, a quiet little town on the Mornington
Peninsula in a house not far from the sea. Indeed the house was so interesting in
the range of books on the shelves, binders of old newspaper cuttings, magazines
and memorabilia to the owner's family, that we could have spent a week there.
George, a keen bowls player back home in Norfolk, rang the Flinders Bowls Club to
see if he could get a game and was made welcome. He decided against wearing his
'England 2 Australia 1' Test T-shirt, but must have represented the old country well
enough as their parting shot was ‘Can you come back tomorrow? We can get you a
shirt.’ Unfortunately he couldn't, for we had a long day ahead through Victoria's
'High Country' heading for Mount Beauty.
We left quiet little Flinders on the Mornington Peninsula, heading east along
Victoria's south coast before turning north to join 'The Great Alpine Road' at
Bairnsdale. Lunch at Sale and afternoon teas at Omeo. The cafe at Omeo looked as
if it was well used by bikers as there were plenty of them around, and pictures of
Harley Davidsons on the wall. The owner looked the part too with tattoos up and
down each arm, earrings, shaved head and beard. As we left I took a photo of the
18AUSTRALIA 2009 18
cafe's name, carefully painted on the roof — Twinkles!
At Omeo we turned off the main road to take a smaller road Adrian had chosen
through the mountains to Mount Beauty, our overnight stop. The road twisted
higher and higher with spectacular views to the valleys below, past Anglers Rest
and up to the point where we joined the high mountain road to Mount Beauty.
However that's as far as we got for a sign across the road said ‘Road Closed at Trap
This presented us with a dilemma. The day was drawing on and it would soon be
dusk. If we returned the way we'd come it would be too late to get to our booking
at Mount Beauty. However we had no choice and reluctantly turned around and
drove back to Anglers Rest. There we found help at The Blue Duck Inn for,
although they were full so couldn't put us up for the night, they did let us use their
phone to contact The Golden Age Hotel in Omeo where we were able to book three
beds. Relieved we then ate a hearty dinner in The Blue Duck, by a log fire, before
driving back to Omeo. On the way we spotted a Wombat in the headlights trundling
towards us at the side of the road. As fast as we reversed it speeded up and was
soon away in the night.
THE GREAT ALPINE ROAD
We never got to the bottom of why the road to Mount Beauty via Trap Yard Gap
was closed. Some said it was because there was three metres of snow, others that
the road had been tarmaced but this hadn't taken and now there was a dispute
over who was responsible. In the event it meant we had to make our way to Mount
Beauty starting from Omeo.
Omeo is now a peaceful little town surrounded by mountains and farmland,
however when gold was found here in 1851 it becoming infamous as one of the
toughest and most lawless goldfield towns in Australia. Its fortunes ebbed and
flowed until the gold finally ran out and it's a long time now since its last Golden
Age. Nowadays it acts as a centre for the local cattle, sheep and timber industries
and as a tourist centre for those seeking alpine pursuits, trekking, fishing and
The Great Alpine Road, through Omeo, is Australia’s highest year-round road and
as such was an easy scenic drive past lofty mountains and deep valleys with snow
increasing either side. It seemed amazing that just a short while earlier we'd
experienced Darwin's tropical rain-forest and now this alpine environment —
Australia is certainly a land of contrasts. We stopped at Dinner Plain, a
recreational village for winter sports, now empty, and enjoyed a snowball fight in
the sunshine (it's what oldies do, when there's nobody watching). The views around
were spectacular, though even at this altitude there were signs of the great fires
that have devastated much of the countryside in the recent dry years. Great
swathes of hillside were completely grey — trees that had been burnt, left standing
but dead. We drove on to Mount Beauty, nestled at the head of the Kiewa Valley,
beneath Mt Bogong, Victoria's highest mountain at 1986m (6250ft), to find The
Mountain View Motel and make our apologies for our non-appearance the previous
There's no mountain called Beauty. The township of Mount Beauty was founded in
1949 to house the thousands of workmen building the Kiewa Hydro Electric
Scheme. Many of them stayed, and who would blame them in such stunning
surroundings with lakes, forests, snowfields and lofty Mt Bogong as a backdrop. It's
19AUSTRALIA 2009 19
now a centre for tourism and part of the Alpine National Park. This area was first
settled by Europeans in 1835 but had long been used as a meeting point by
Aboriginal tribes to perform rituals and settle disputes. They would also collect
Bogong Moths which they found delicious when roasted. We made do with dinner at
the Bogong Hotel.
MOUNT BEAUTY to CANBERRA
We left Mount Beauty by a dirt track, heading west through alpine forest to the
little rural hamlet of Mitta Mitta, so named by the local Aboriginal people — Mitta
Mitta meaning ‘thunder’ a reference to the local river at full tilt. We had coffee in
the General Store/Cafe/Newsagent/Post Office and eavesdropped on the unique
singsong conversation between the storekeeper and customers — pure Aussie. She
obviously had a sense of humour as there were posters on the wall, one of which
read ‘Tips to look after your wife’ then underneath ‘There's only one: Do as you're
This sense of humour was also obvious in the next couple of towns in which we
stopped. In the little town of Corryong a shop displayed a poster
proclaiming:’Special Offer — Free ride in a Police car if you steal from this shop.’
And another ‘If you intend stealing from this shop, please smile for the camera.’
Corryong makes great play on the fact that Jack Riley, the hero of 'Banjo'
Paterson's famous poem 'The Man from Snowy River', is buried here.
The next town, Adaminaby, had even more funnies: ‘Mothers of teenagers know
why animals eat their young.’ and ‘Teenagers — Tired of being harassed by your
stupid parents? Act now! Move out. Get a job. Pay your own bills. Do it now while
you still know everything.’ or ‘I may be schizophrenic, but at least I have each
other.’ and my favourite, ‘In Memoriam: With all the sadness and trauma going on
in the world at the moment, it's worth reflecting on the death of a very important
person which almost went unnoticed last week. Larry Laprise, the man who wrote
'The Hokey Kokey' died peaceably aged 93. The most traumatic part for his family
was placing him in the coffin. They put his left-leg in — and that's when the
trouble started . . .’
The countryside was green with the recent rain but Adrian had one final rough road
up his sleeve. ‘What other capital has dirt roads to take you in?’ he remarked as
we headed across the Namadgi National Park and saw the signpost for Canberra.
This was the end of the exploration part of this trip. I reckoned we'd slept in 22
different beds in 32 days. Time for a holiday . . .
P (the Pom)
20AUSTRALIA 2009 20