Lined up at Camooweal, these big guys are best seen stationary. They’re scary critters, with their 176ft length, 115 tonnes and triple trailers. It takes a bit of getting used to passing them at 130kph (our legal speed limit) and you want to make sure you have plenty of clear distance and good visibility. Fortunately the drivers are generally very courteous and will sometimes indicate when it’s safe to pass, but still and all, make your own judgements.
Here are some official tips to pass them.
One of the hazards of trying to cover over 1000kms a day driving is that there’s not much time to stop and take in the sights along the way. On my way home from Queensland I was driving the last half on my own so making time for breaks was a good idea.
It was the first time I’d ever stopped for this memorial stone but although uninspiring of itself, the achievement behind it was staggering. This memorial commemorates the opening of the Overland Telegraph Line on 22 August 1872 (should have posted this last week). Working from both the north and the south, both ends of the line were connected on this day: an amazing achievement under any terms and even more so considering it was completed in two years!. Australia was no longer distant from the happenings of the world, and as with the internet today, became part of a world-wide web of information at the click of the keys.
It’s difficult to imagine the sheer commitment of the men who built the line over thousands of kilometres in some of the world’s most inhospitable and then-remote locations. Their hard work and dedication changed Australia’s connections with the world. On a domestic note, can you imagine the colour of their clothes after working in that red dirt for months on end.
My thanks to Helen Smith for her Facebook entry which alerted me to the anniversary last week.
Driving the Stuart Highway often introduces some unusual sights. On our drive to Brisbane back in June we came across this sight at the Daly Waters Hi Way Inn, where they have a light aircraft on display full time. However it’s not often you’ll see a military aircraft with its wings clipped, travelling on the back of a road train.
Why, you ask, was this happening? Well this old fighter jet is going to be part of the displays at Darwin’s Aviation Museum sometime in the future. It will be fun to see it again, with its wings restored. Conversations in Longreach revealed it had been languishing near the QANTAS Museum on its long drive. In its heyday this aircraft would have gobbled up the air miles, now it was reduced to covering the 3300 kms from Amberley Air Force Base in a slow and not-so-stately way.
Blow me down, by sheer coincidence, the Museum officially received the logbooks for the F111 on Saturday. You can read the story here.
Definitely one for aircraft junkies.
Way back at the letter C is for Cooinda I made reference to a touring feature based there. The Yellow Waters cruise is, for my money, one of the best things you can do in Kakadu National Park. For bird watchers or croc seekers it has plenty on offer. For those who want to chill out just pottering along through the waterways it’s just perfect.
Whenever you visit you’re bound to see something different because nature doesn’t run to a schedule of activities: we’ve seen a croc take a large barramundi, brolgas dancing, jabiru, pelicans (occasionally), azure kingfishers, sea eagles and a steady avian diet of cormorants, night herons and jacanas.
During the Wet Season the cruise is one of the activities that still continues but it is different because the water is so much higher, and with more water around, the birds are less desperate for places to hang out. On the flip side you may see magnificent wet season clouds, all puffy and thunderous against the sky.
As you cruise through narrow channels into the larger billabong and waterways I sometimes feel like I’m on a secret pathway. It’s a rare trip when we haven’t seen something special and on a recent trip (the first we’ve done for a while) we saw a gorgeous rainbow, tiny jacana chicks and a sea eagle up a dead tree with his capture of a file snake (good tucker for all apparently).
During the Dry Season the birds proliferate but then so do the tourists, but since you’ll be one you can hardly complain <smile>. The tour guides are very efficient and knowledgeable about the area. Our most recent guide (Mandy I think from memory) was the daughter of a traditional elder and she had lots to share with us. Some guides are more into birds, other into culture and Indigenous life, but all know that the average tourist is desperate to see a crocodile (count me out!).
I was saddened to learn on the recent visit that the boats can no longer get down into the Melaleuca “swamp” where it was rather like being a serene yet spooky forest.
Everywhere you will see lotus flowers, water lilies and other flowering trees like some of the mangroves. What’s flowering again depends on the season.
If you do travel to the Territory I hope you take this short voyage because it’s superb, and if you’re staying overnight at the lodge, perhaps book for the sunrise or sunset trip because you can either get a gorgeous sunrise through the mist which rises off the water in the Dry Season, or a blood orange sunset.
Why visit: If you love nature, birds or just the serenity of being on the water.
FYI: There’s are a couple of maps on my A to Z planning post which will help you to pinpoint where today’s tourist spots are situated.
Yarn: chat or tell a story
Yakka: a brand of men’s work wear
Yakka: logically enough, hard work.
Youse: vernacular plural of you (used by some people but sets my teeth on edge)
Yobbo: a rough and ready person, rough around the edges, uncouth.
Y is for Yeehaa! Only one more A to Z post to go!
Once known as Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park is a must-visit while you’re touring the Red Centre. It’s accessible by either 2WD or 4WD depending on which road you take. When we visited nearly 20 years ago it was a rather bumpy corrugated road but the Holden survived it happily, though our teeth had more of a challenge!
Watarrka continues the sub-theme of this challenge which appears to have been geological formations, as it seems I could have done almost a whole A to Z on “rocks and gorges I have known”.
For me what’s different about Watarrka is the colour of the Canyon rocks, a sort of dusty pink with splashes of cream, and the sheer cliff face. The Canyon walk can be both tedious and a bit daunting depending on your fitness or anxiety about cliff edges (one of my own phobias). However if possible it’s well worth the effort, but do plan to start out your walk early in the morning before the heat of the day kicks in. You can also go with a tour guide, for not much expense as I recall, but ours moved with a bit too much speed –it would have been nice to meander a little more.
At the foot of the rocks there are once again, hidden nooks, crannies and water holes which support a diversity of life and form a mini ecosystem. These low-level walks are accessible to the less fit or those who have walking challenges.
I notice on the park’s website they feel the need to tell people: Watarrka, as with all National Parks is a protected area. Disturbance of plants, animals and natural features is an offence. It is prohibited to: break branches for fly swats; write or etch names on rocks; remove or displace the natural landscape i.e. rocks or flora. Cigarette butts, tissue paper and orange peel are three common and unsightly forms of litter.
I’d have thought that would be self-evident, “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints” but obviously the park rangers’ experience suggests that many people still don’t get it. Also don’t forget to slip on your shirt, slop on some suncream, slap on a hat, and carry some water!
Why visit: To enjoy another magical place in the desert and see some quite different rock formations and a canyon (but not on the scale of the Grand Canyon).
Join me tomorrow for some culture of a different sort.
I doubt that some of these are exclusive to Australia but these are today’s offerings:
Won’t have a bar of it: won’t touch it.
Waddya: Aussies have a common habit of slurring or abbreviating words. What do you….waddya…..
Wig wam for a goose’s bridle: my mother used to say this all the time. In essence it means mind your own business.
Weak as cat’s piss: a pathetic person with no commitment, or an argument that doesn’t hold up to logic etc.
Waffle: not the food that people have with ice cream and honey or maple syrup but meaning “talks vaguely on, and on about nothing of importance”.
Wally: a silly person
Wog: an Australian name from the post-war migration when there was a significant influx of Mediterranean immigrants. Sometimes meant as an insult, but not always, but perhaps that depends on whether you’re on the receiving end.
Wuss: cowardly or timid person, much the same as “chicken”. A minor insult intended to suggest, quite often, that someone is “a bit of a girl”.
My post today combines the A to Z challenge but also the annual Trans Tasman ANZAC day blog challenge.
CULTURAL WARNING: This post contains images and references to deceased Aboriginal people.
Today is the 25th April, Anzac Day, which commemorates the landing of ANZAC troops on the beach at Gallipoli. For Australians this event has come to symbolise our practical emergence as a nation, only 14 years after being legally proclaimed. Many of the ANZAC traditions have been romanticised with less than perfect accuracy. As time passes the knowledge and research into our military history has become more mature revealing nuances which weren’t highlighted previously, and showing shadow as well as light.
Over the past 98 years Anzac Day itself has had a varied history. When I was a teenager it had lost its lustre, perhaps influenced by our involvement in the Vietnam War. These days it has a total resurgence of pride, aided by more Australia-focused history being taught in schools, rather than mostly the British history of my youth.
In this blog over the past weeks we’ve been visiting the diverse and magnificent scenery of the Northern Territory and the top, tropical, half of Australia’s two largest states, Queensland and Western Australia.
It’s appropriate today to keep our focus in the area but to look at how Indigenous people served their country during Australia’s war-time history. Traditionally overshadowed by the Gallipoli legend, the service of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been important in diverse ways.
At the time of World War I and II, Aboriginal people were not citizens in their own country, they were not counted in the nation’s census, they could not drink in public bars, nor did they have control of their own money or their movement eg they could not visit their own families at Christmas without the permission of the local Protector of Aborigines, often the local police constable.
As recruitment commenced for WWI, “full blood” Aborigines were not permitted to enlist as this quote reveals: “This decision definitely [excludes] the enlistment of full-blooded Aborigines, but instructions have been issued to medical officers that in deciding whether or not a person is substantially of European origin, they will be guided by the general suitability of the applicant”.
Not only does the quote illuminate a prejudiced and ambivalent attitude to Indigenous recruitment, it reveals how much it depended on a white person’s assessment of them. It also ignored whether the Indigenous community viewed them as being Indigenous, either Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
The very ambiguity reveals why some Aboriginal people did manage to enlist and serve side-by-side with their fellow Australians in all sites of war. Some 500 Indigenous men were among the 80,000 servicemen in the AIF, and 80 came from the Northern Territory[i].
In World War II the situation was similar though the fear for Australia’s northern shores meant that Aboriginal people were also at the forefront of the country’s protection, whether actually serving or not.
It was the missionary at Bathurst Island from the Tiwi Islands, about 30 minutes flying time north of Darwin, who radioed the news of the Japanese bombers flying in to bomb the city. . Unfortunately it was regarded as some allied aircraft returning and the warning ignored. The Tiwis also played a role as the Japanese aircraft returned to their carriers. A couple of Zero aircraft detoured to strafe the Catholic church at Nguiu and also a DC3 on the runway. One crash-landed and it was a Tiwi man, Matthias Ungura, who captured the first Japanese Prisoner of War on Australian soil, Hajime Toyoshima, who would later be a key instigator, and die, in the Cowra POW breakout. To this day the Tiwi Islanders commemorate the capture of the POW and their attempt to warn Darwin in time.
Matthias Ungura stalked the Japanese pilot who was armed with a revolver and a knife. He is quoted as saying “He got proper big fright”. “I take revolver from his right side near his knee. Then I walk backwards pointing my gun. I say ‘Stick em up…right up…two hands…no more holding hands on head”[ii]
Although still restricted in their ability to volunteer and enlist, some managed to do so, serving as officers, pilots and naval seamen. Others worked side by side with the extensive military deployment in the Northern Territory while some performed patrols searching out crashed aircraft and downed pilots, or monitored the coastline for Japanese military and naval activity. Their bush skills and knowledge of country meant that they could survive only on bush tucker and not need a supply line. Some women joined the Volunteer Air Observers Corp (as did my mother in Brisbane) learning to identify aircraft types and monitor the skies for enemy aircraft.
Probably the Indigenous men joined for many of the same reasons as the white volunteers: for adventure, seeing new places and defending their own country. However some would almost certainly have joined in the hope it might gain Aboriginal people citizenship rights on the land their ancestors had called home for over 40,000 years. This was not to be though, because that took another 25 years to come to pass, and it was not until the 1980s that they gained the back-pay they were due to put them on parity with their military peers and also official recognition of their service.
They returned home to the disenfranchised condition they had left, with few job opportunities, and extensive racial discrimination. Like their peers they had to face their wartime demons on their own –they couldn’t even go to the bar and have a drink with their former colleagues on Anzac Day, a traditional opportunity for the servicemen to re-bond and talk frankly among themselves, and have an equally traditional game of two-up.
The more you read of our Indigenous history, the more you appreciate why we have such a comprehensive social problem which seems almost unable to be resolved. As I’ve prepared this post I’ve come to realise just how paltry my own knowledge is, so my goal is to read more around the topic.
This is the first stanza of a poem called Black Anzac by Cecil Fisher.
They have forgotten him, need him no more
He who fought for his land in nearly every war
Tribal fights before his country was taken by Captain Cook
Then went overseas to fight at Gallipoli and Tobruk.
This Anzac Day, please remember our Indigenous servicemen who gave their lives, and their courage, to make life better for others.
LEST WE FORGET
[i] This story has been greatly assisted by a teaching resource Indigenous Service, a collaboration between the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance. It draws on an exhibition held at the Shrine in 2009 called Indigenous Australians at war, from the Boer War to the present.
[ii] Smith, Heide. Tiwi: The life and art of Australia’s Tiwi People. Edition Habit Press, Adelaide, 1990, page 25.
The Australian series of Who Do You Think You Are? have two excellent shows on Indigenous Australians, Olympic runner Cathy Freeman and footballer Michael O’Loughlin. Both were amazing for revealing what life was like for their Aboriginal ancestors, as well as their ANZAC heritage (Cathy Freeman) and cultural foresight (Michael O’Loughlin).
Or some of my own posts on Australian service during the war:
V is for the Valiant of Villers-Brettoneux (the 2012 Anzac Day post)
Fromelles, Lt WEH Cass and family collections (another exhibition at the Shrine)
Australia Day 2012: Life for toil on the railway (including WWI Railway military service)
S is for Ssssss
Australians do love to stir visitors with the threat of its slithery, snapping, stinging, stabbing venomous critters. You might even say it’s a national hobby. Yes, we also have those cuddly koalas and cute kangaroos but it’s the surreptitious creatures that strike fear into many hearts, visitors and locals alike.
Add that to an Aussie’s love of the beach and you’ve got a very unfortunate combination, especially in Australia’s Far North where there’s even more of them, or as one daughter once said “I’m going where there are fewer creatures to kill me“: she’d had enough of stingers, salties and king brown snakes! But the Territory was under her skin and she came back.
Now that we’re up to the letter S, you’ve seen a lot of gorgeous places that you might want to add to your Bucket List. Today’s post is the warning notice that comes with your booking….you know, the contract’s small print. You’ll soon realise why so many of us prefer the pool to the beach if we live above the Tropic of Capricorn. So what have you got to be afraid aware of? Apart from the length of this post, that is.
These are the party poopers of the natural world of our Tropical zone…you look out at those magnificent blue seas but swimming is hazardous. Apparently stingers are also literate because they only hang around in the months with an R in the name (September to April). We’re not talking blue bottles here, even though those can deliver a nasty sting to be remedied with your mother’s old blue bag from the washing. The box jellyfish of the tropical waters can/may kill you or, at a minimum, deliver an incredibly painful sting. Deaths may be rare but I know personally of at least one case where a small child died. Vinegar over the sting helps, but not going in the water helps even more.
Some beaches on the north east coast of Queensland are protected with stinger nets, but unfortunately the Top End of the NT and WA have such tidal extremes that nets are impossible.
Saltwater crocs abound in our waterways, especially since culling became illegal. All river systems, the ocean and many billabongs provide them with a lovely home and food source. They’re there and they’re dangerous…seriously dangerous. The local rag newspaper keeps track of how many are removed from Darwin Harbour each year: we’re already up to 59 this year….and that’s just the ones they’ve trapped.
Visitors to town can visit Crocosaurus Cove where you get an example of the fierceness and strength of their jaws –their “snap factor”. Where else might one’s small grandchildren automatically ask if there are crocs in a waterway and know that crocs will take their prey in a death roll underwater before stashing it under a log?
And if you’re camping make sure you’re not too close to a waterway unless you fancy being “human en croute” for Mr or Ms Croc.
If you’ve visiting Darwin, do add the Museum to your touring list. It’s an excellent tourist venue and you can see all these scary creatures safely preserved where they can’t hurt you! A popular feature is Sweetheart the saltwater croc which has an interesting story. (Have a coffee or lunch or smoko in the Cornucopia Cafe while you’re there and enjoy the great view of the Sea).
Australia apparently has more venomous snakes than anywhere else in the world (too far for St Patrick to get here it seems!). I grew up around a fair few snakes because we lived near a creek with natural bush. I have great respect, and a high degree of loathing, for them. My Dad’s advice was always to stand very still for a short while, then ever so slowly walk backwards for a way. My addition was “then run like hell”. This training proved very helpful one day at the beach when I found myself, in bare feet, less than a foot from a mercifully snoozy death adder. Mind you, I didn’t much like all my fellow wood-collectors screaming and shrieking at the same time.
When walking in the bush it certainly pays to keep your eyes peeled (and wear shoes!) as a sunning-itself snake can look remarkably like a fallen branch. Not to mention there are some cracker water snakes, all of which are venomous if the museum is to be believed.
Mercifully there are a lot of anti-venenes available for the most prevalent snakes.
The other scary water creature is the shark which is certainly out there in the tropical waters but takes a lower profile thanks to the stingers and salties. Further south, where they’re the main water hazard they have a well deserved reputation for dangerous attacks. Perth seems especially vulnerable. Coastal Queensland has some shark nets out past the surf which are monitored.
Spiders, Shells, Stonefish
Did you think I’d finished with scaring you?
We have more than our share of poisonous Spiders but really they tend to be played down in the larger scheme of things. Not to say they’re not potentially dangerous!
I love collecting Shells but even these have life-threatening potential. In my pre-ecologically-aware youth I used to collect shells from the reef at Magnetic Island. Cone shells have a barb that shoots out if you pick them up so you need to learn the correct way to do so (with the narrow end facing away).
Stonefish are another hazard of tropical waters and especially around Queensland’s north. They’re the ugliest creatures you might see and extremely difficult to spot at low tide huddled in the dark sand or mud. Stand on one and you’ll know all about it! Hence why wearing shoes is wise when roaming the reef at low tide.
Scared yet? How about some gardening?
Perhaps all these hazards of the natural world have frightened you off and you think a nice safe spot of gardening will do the trick.
Well no, because during the Wet Season there’s another hazard: Nightcliff Gardening Disease (after a Darwin suburb) is its common name but more correctly it’s Melioidosis. Most people aren’t susceptible but those with poor immunity or perhaps diabetes are at risk of infection and subsequently amputation or even death.
S is for the Stuart Highway
My original plan had been to talk about the Stuart Highway, aka The Track, which runs from Darwin south to Alice Springs then Adelaide. However, I decided to make S a more fun post and I’ll share the important history of the Track after the A to Z is finished. If you want to see where it is, and just how pivotal it is to touring the Territory: you can see the highway represented by a steady stream of yellow flags.
Why visit: For all that these risks are real, plainly they’re also not statistically high or Australia would have an even smaller population! It’s all a matter of common Sense and taking appropriate precautions. Surely all those wonderful Sights and Scenery outweigh a few risks.
Silly galah: a foolish person, might be affectionate, or not. After our vivacious and slightly silly pink and grey bird of the same name. Not too dissimilar to “as silly as a two bob (cheap) watch”
Shrapnel: small coins/change (I’ve got so much shrapnel in my purse my handbag is heavy).
Station: This is an important one! In this context it’s a large property for grazing animals. These are NOT called ranches in Australia.
Stockman: a person who works on a station rounding up cattle etc.
Sanger short of a picnic: a bit mad or crazy, not “all there”.
Snake in the grass: lying treacherous person
Scab: someone who works when other staff are on strike. This is a mega-insult. Alternatively “can I scab a few dollars off you” means “borrow”.
Skippy: Kangaroo or wallaby
Smoko: tea break –especially used by tradies or people on the land
Sweet: Not sure where this one came from but a more recent expression meaning “it’s all good” or “happy with that”
Join me Tomorrow as we Tarry in the Tropics.
O is for the OLGAS
The Olgas or Kata Tjuta, as this rock formation is now known, is part of the Uluru- Kata Tjuta National Park. Kata Tjuta’s more famous big sister tends to take the highest profile but if you’re heading for the Red Centre you should allow time to do both parts of the park. This national park is truly Australia’s red heart and is smack bang in the middle of the country and probably encapsulates the sense of the Outback more than anywhere else.
Kata Tjuta is all curves as each rocky dune looms against the vivid blue of the desert sky. The contrasting colours are magnificent with the green of the Spinifex looking almost lime-coloured on film and in some light. It provides its own dot-painting effect against the vivid ochre red of the rock formation. Tucked among the rocks are hidden spots where the desert animals can live, survive and even thrive. A quiet bushwalker has the benefit of hearing the birds and may even see some creatures as well.
The track through the Valley of the Winds is peaceful and restorative, as well as tiring! This is certainly an experience best savoured in the cooler months of the year when overnight it can be decidedly chilly, especially in a tent or swag. Those hot summer months (about October to April) are best avoided as most people will find them unbearable. Do plan to hang around at the Olgas towards the end of the day so you can see the setting sun light the dunes with varying shades of pink and red. Just magnificent!
O is for OPEN GARDENS
If you love gardens it’s always worth keeping an eye out for the local Open Gardens events when you travel – they’re a great Opportunity to see new and different garden designs as well as plants you may not be familiar with.
The 2013 season Open Gardens NT commenced last weekend and we have a feast of Top End gardens to choose from throughout the Dry. It’s one of our favourite weekend activities to visit a garden and have a coffee and cake while soaking up the ambience. You can see my stories and photos from 2012 through this link.
Why visit: To see a unique natural wonder of Australia and the amazing colours, vegetation and animals of the Outback.
FYI: There are a couple of maps on my A to Z planning post which will help you to pinpoint where today’s tourist spots are situated
On the turps: big drinking session
Old mate: A NT special gradually soaking into the vernacular elsewhere. A generic expression meaning, roughly, bloke, someone you don’t know. So old mate drove his (Land) Cruiser through the creek….
Outback: Australia’s vast interior. The iconic idea of Australia often completely unfamiliar to its many coastal dwellers. The people are typically unemotional and physically tough and laconic.
Ordinary: not the usual meaning of “normal” but also in the Aussie sense can mean sub-par, inferior, not much good. How’re ya going mate? Feeling a bit ordinary today…
I wonder where the letter P will take us tomorrow? How about back into the Kimberley?