On the Road: Overland Telegraph Line

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.

I may have been tireder than I thought -this image is a "bit" wonky.

I may have been tireder than I thought -this image is a “bit” wonky.

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.

Overland telegraph info

F is for Fannie Bay Flying



For most tourists to Darwin, the near-city suburb of Fannie Bay is visited primarily for its sea views and sunsets, and perhaps a visit to the local cafe where you can combine both.

However behind the suburban streets lies a wealth of aviation history –perhaps rather more than might be found in many places, or perhaps I’m being parochial. No doubt its claims to fame arise largely from its geographic location at the top of the country and hence the first landfall for many.

So what’s my evidence for saying Fannie Bay is so important to flying obsessives? I think even those indifferent to aviation will recognise many of these names with links to Darwin.

359 Great Race

On 10 December 1919, pilots Ross Smith his brother Keith, and their mechanics, Sergeants Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, won the £10,000 prize money for The Great Race, being the first to fly from England to Australia, taking 28 days. This amount, now worth about $500,000, must have been an amazing bonus for the men on top of their record achievement and coming at the end of World War I. They landed on the Parap Police Paddock beside the Fannie Bay Gaol, a site now marked only as a vacant block with a plaque and a sign, tucked among suburban houses.

DSC_0501502 Fannie Bay landingA more impressive memorial, erected by the Commonwealth, stands near the waterfront at Fannie Bay and the nearby Aviators’ Park memorialises Darwin’s aviation history. In a quirk of family history my husband’s great uncle, Colonel WEH Cass, was the chairman of the reception committee in Melbourne to welcome the aviators. Ross Smith was a hero as well as an expert pilot, being awarded the Military Cross twice and the Distinguished Flying Cross three times. He and his brother were both knighted after their international flying success.

339 Great Race Memorial

Ross Smith and Jim Bennett were killed in an aviation accident in England in 1922.

337 Ross SmithThis flight was just one of many to make the link between aviation history and Darwin.

Great RaceOn 22 February 1927, another famous Aussie, and Queenslander, Charles Kingsford-Smith, along with Charles Ulm, landed here during a round Australia flight.

In 1928, Bert Hinkler, from Bundaberg in Queensland, broke the Smiths’ record for a flight from England to Australia. However the record was beaten only a few years later by Kingsford-Smith and Ulm who shaved a further 10 days off the time.

In January 1930, Francis Chichester also attempted to beat Hinkler’s record and landed in Darwin – I found this interesting given his later sailing exploits. Chichester was British-born but had lived in New Zealand from the age of 18.

A few months later the women started to make their mark, with English aviator Amy Johnson landing in Darwin on 24 May 1930.

Amy johnson NLA

Modest Australian aviator, Lores Bonney, set forth on her solo flight from Australia to England on 13 April 1933. She was a force in Australian women’s aviation for decades to come, making a number of solo flights which created records. You can read more about her here, but how disappointing that she does not have an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography…. I feel quite indignant! She is also the subject of a book called Pioneer Aviator by Terry Gwynn-Jones.

Lores Bonney in front of her aircraft. NT Library image http://hdl.handle.net/10070/1348 Copyright expired.

Lores Bonney in front of her aircraft. NT Library image http://hdl.handle.net/10070/1348 Copyright expired.

Amelia Earhart in Darwin 1937. NT Library photo PH0122/0053. Free of copyright.

Amelia Earhart in Darwin 1937. NT Library photo PH0122/0053. Free of copyright.

On 28 June 1937, Amelia Earhart also stopped in Darwin on her attempt to fly around the world. A few days later she and her plane would disappear in the Pacific after leaving Lae in Papua New Guinea.

On 19 February 1942, Darwin would make both aviation and military history for being the first place in Australia to be bombed by the Japanese. During the bombing raid, the Air Force base at Parap (adjacent to Fannie Bay) was also bombed, damaging and destroying many of the Wirraways and other aircraft stationed there before they could get airborne.

Bombed Wirraway at Parap 1942. National Library Image, non-commercial use. http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/180015810

Bombed Wirraway at Parap 1942. National Library Image, non-commercial use. http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/180015810

Throughout the war, the runway ran through the centre of Parap towards Fannie Bay, on a street now known as Ross Smith Avenue. Taxiways ran along Philip St but all that remains of this history are plaques in the footpaths.
It’s probably fair to include the massive airlift of residents after the devastation of Cyclone Tracy (Christmas Day 1974) in Darwin’s historic aviation events. Some residents became refugees in their own country for the second time in their lives, once after the war-time bombing and once after Tracy. Many lost precious family memorabilia including childhood photos and inherited items. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory has excellent displays on the impact of Tracy, which hit Fannie Bay hard, but not to the extent of the northern suburbs which were nearly destroyed.

P1190247Darwin’s pivotal role in the country’s airborne defence is emphasised with biennial training for air forces in the region. Known as Operation Pitch Black, , this generates constant sound over the skies of Darwin. Although the airport is no longer at Fannie Bay/Parap, their proximity to one end of the runway (the other end is called Amy Johnson Drive) means that there’s plenty of opportunity to watch the Top Guns at work.

 Why visit: to celebrate the remarkable achievements of early aviation across vast distances. Throw in a sunset, a drink and a sea view and you’ve got it made!

FYI: There are a couple of maps on my A to Z planning post which will help you to pinpoint where today’s post is situated.


Fair dinkum: a compliment basically indicating the person’s honesty, integrity and sincerity. Also used to indicate patriotic nationality.

Flaming*: another Aussie swear word but not heard so often these days.

Flicks*: a word much in use in my childhood for the movies but now overtaken by “cinema”.

Flat as a tack: feeling a bit deflated personally or alternatively the tyre’s flat as a tack.

Flat out like a lizard drinking: busy as anything, too much to do.

Floozie: “No better than she ought to be”, a woman of low morals, a definite insult.

Fag: used for a cigarette (I’m going to have a fag) but also pejoratively for homosexual men.

Freshie: a freshwater crocodile –less threatening than the saltwater version but still wise to steer clear. Some billabongs in the Top End are cleared for salties (saltwater) crocs though there are known to be freshies in them. Definitely a word to have in your Top End vocabulary.

Fella: person or man eg blackfella, whitefella or “he’s a wild fella that one”.

D is for dallying in Daly Waters and the Devil’s Marbles

a-to-z-letters-dToday we’re going to head off down the Stuart Highway, the road that bisects the Northern Territory, north to south. You’ll hear about it a bit more later in the series, but suffice to say the distances are vast. Although there’s a tendency to have one’s motoring head down and notch up the kilometres, there are a couple of breaks worth taking along the way.


Around the 600km mark you can take a short right hand detour to Daly Waters. The historic Daly Waters pub is the sort you see in old movies of Australia….timber with a metal roof to flex in the heat and bougainvillea growing up to the roof. Inside, like every bush bar in the Territory, you’ll find quirky displays: in some it’s number plates, in one it’s cop’s badges, others have hats, caps or buffalo horns not to mention undies or foreign currency notes, and some like the Daly Waters pub include all of them!  There’s a great website hosted by the pub so I suggest you go for a short journey over there. I was very interested to learn of the role of the Daly Waters airstrip in early international flying from Australia to the UK.

Bush Pub Daly Waters

Fans of Bill Bryson’s books may have already encountered today’s D places in his book Down Under. Chapters 15 and 16 nicely account for Darwin, Daly Waters and the Devil’s Marbles. I love Bryson’s irreverent sense of humour and his search for a hotel in Darwin was truly (and aptly) hilarious, as is his story of an evening spent boozing in the Daly Waters pub.

If walls could indeed talk then the pub’s bar would have amazing stories to tell of travellers and tourists, soldiers and drovers. Standing at the entry to the treacherous Murranji Track, one of the fierce cross-country droving tracks, there’d have been many hard-bitten drinkers knock “a few” back at the bar before setting forth (always assuming the boss drover let them near the pub I suppose). Ted Egan, former Administrator of the Territory and a bush balladeer sings a song called “Old Paraway” which talks of these hardy cattle men.

Why visit: To get a taste of outback life, see a quirky pub and have a cold drink.

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.

A road train near the Daly Waters highway stop. This one is carrying petrol but cattle are moved in equally long road trains. Droving over vast distances is no longer economical.

A road train near the Daly Waters highway stop. This one is carrying petrol but cattle are moved in equally long road trains. Droving over vast distances is no longer economical.


If you don’t have your mind set on getting to Queensland, you might choose to have a stop-over in the Three Ways or Tennant Creek and from there visit the Devil’s Marbles, now known as Karlu Karlu National Park. I think it’s the contrast between the ochre of the rocks against a clear blue Territory sky that impresses visitors but for Indigenous people it has a broader meaning over centuries of journeying.

From the Devil’s Marbles you’re a mere “stone’s throw” to Alice Springs with under 400kms to drive.

Why Visit: To see a natural wonder.

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.

Devil's Marbles© Pauleen Cass 1994

Devil’s Marbles
© Pauleen Cass 1994


First horse out of the gate today just has to be drover given their importance to this country.

Drover: a person (previously mostly men) who moves big mobs of cattle across vast areas of land either to take up new settlement or to take the mob to the saleyards. Other places may call them cowboys but we don’t!! You can read about them more here. These days the drover is a dying profession as road trains transport live cattle to export.

Dunny: toilet, particularly an outdoor long-drop toilet complete with spiders. These used to be in back yards prior to the installation of sewerage systems. Old Aussie “curse”….”May your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny down!”

Dump: a multi-purpose word. A house might be a “dump” (not worth living in), a teenager’s bedroom might be a dump (stuff flung everywhere) or you might “dump on” someone (mock or mildly insult them or give them too much to do). For example, the teenager cleared up his dump of a bedroom then dumped all his clothes on mum to have them washed.

Desert pee: our family’s name for a facilities-free toilet break. When you do all these bush drives, there’s not always a toilet around when you need one, especially if you’ve been drinking lots of coffee to stay alert. Named after the flower Desert Pea.

Done like a dog’s dinner: Completely destroyed/ demolished or wiped out. Or perhaps just taken out of action by someone else’s behaviour.

 Drongo*: a stupid or silly person. While judgemental it’s not meant as a particularly nasty insult, rather in a “you’re hopeless” tone.

 Dinkum: True Blue/Ridgey Didge or Fair Dinkum all mean much the same thing: a person who is the genuine article and reliable. Sometimes used as a patriotic term.

 Dead as a dodo: the issue is finished, there’s no hope for it to be resuscitated in the future eg a person’s plans.

Tomorrow we’re back in Darwin, looking at some of its historic military history and a relaxing spot for a barbie.

A2Z Challenge: B is for Berry Springs and the Berrimah Line

A2Z-2013-BADGE-001Small_zps669396f9 (1)Today’s A to Z takes us on a short excursion south of Darwin – a day’s outing for a bit of R&R.


Since much of this series will be about the Northern Territory I have to mention this in passing. At one time the Berrimah Line was roughly the end of the bitumen heading south out of Darwin. It’s now about half-way to the satellite town of Palmerston.

Totally artificial, the Berrimah Line is a psychological divide. Some people live in the Top End without ever travelling south of the Berrimah Line either for shopping, work or tourism. Always used disparagingly by those who live much further south to imply that Darwin’s residents, especially politicians and bureaucrats, don’t have a clue about their world.


Berry Springs is a delightful swimming spot about 45 minutes drive south of Darwin. Fresh water springs makes it so relaxing to swim, and when you get out you feel like your hair has had a beauty treatment. Overhanging pandanus trees shelter birds which flit across the water picking up insects. It’s rather like having your own tropical swimming paradise.


It’s closed during the Wet Season (about December to April) as the heavy rains mean flooding and a risk of crocodiles. Once the rains have passed the rangers check the water and place traps to ensure they’re croc-free before once again opening it to the public. You might want to see my earlier post about Berry Springs here. The park also has a great BBQ area if you also want to have a barbie as well as a swim.

Why visit: For a refreshing swim in a safe, croc-free zone, to watch the birds as you float along and just generally chill out.

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.


Bloody: Australia’s all-time favourite swear word used in an infinite variety of intonations and meanings, some strongly aggro and some indulgent.

Blow-in: This is very much a Territory expression, used for those who arrive in the Northern Territory (and quite probably the Kimberley) and aren’t expected to stay. Blow-in status is a hard one to shake: I used to say facetiously I didn’t have long enough to live to cease being one, but now after 16 years perhaps I’m slowly getting local status.

Bloke: a man. It used to be in constant use when I was growing up but has been replaced with “man” or the more polite “gentleman” and with the <40s  has been Americanised to “dude” which sets my teeth on edge.

Back of Bourke: Used to signify somewhere miles away but most particularly far away in the Australian outback. Bourke is a town in western New South Wales.

Bastard: It has to be said, this is another pervasive Aussie-ism with vast nuances of meaning. It generally isn’t a reflection on parentage (though occasionally may imply that). It can be meant as an insult or affectionately –it’s all in the tone of the sentence.

Bonzer*: no longer in use. Once used often to mean something was great.  Probably replaced by “fantastic”.

Barbie: a BBQ not the doll of the same name.

 Bludger: Someone who doesn’t do any work, a lazy person. A real Aussie insult! No one, but no one, likes a bludger.

 Blow me down: an expression of surprise.

 Blue arsed fly: rushing around like a “lunatic”. “She’ll never get it done on time..she’s running around like a blue arsed fly”.

 Brass razoo*: money/coin. eg I haven’t got a brass razoo to give you.

 Basket case: Mad/crazy/pretty weird person, or sometimes just very distressed by something.eg “she’s been a basket case since she lost her job”.

 Banana bender: A Queenslander, someone born or who comes from the state of Queensland (count me in!)

 Bagged: gain or get eg “we bagged a bargain on that” or Bagging, which on the other hand means to be rude, dismissive, “sledging” eg  “that movie got a bagging”

Back hander: a compliment that doesn’t sound like one OR a bribe, kick-back.

Bull-sh**: Not polite, but a phrase that is commonly used to indicate the person is telling a highly exaggerated story or talking rubbish.

Tomorrow we’re off to Cooinda in Kakadu National Park, one of Australia’s World Heritage Areas.

2013 A to Z Challenge: Travels through Australia’s north

A2Z-2013-BADGE-001Small_zps669396f9 (1)It’s only a couple of days until 1 April when this year’s A to Z challenge commences. It takes determination to persist with the 26 posts, not to mention visit others who are blogging along with us.

As I’m something of a travel obsessive, the 2013 series will  have a travel theme, but this year I hope to introduce you to places you may not know, or even have heard about: Australia’s Northern Territory (NT) with skirmishes across into the top half of Western Australia (WA) as well. All the places will be ones I’ve visited and I’ll be including at least one photo of each place.

Like many places, Australia has its own language peculiarities so you’ll need to take along a little knowledge of our colloquialisms, which I’m going to call Aussie-isms. Each day I’ll give you a few catchy words or phrases that are needed if you’re not to be bewildered when you visit.

Map for A to Z

There are some distinguishing features common to the places I’ll be talking about and which differ from the rest of Australia:


Most of the time in the Top End (the top half on the NT and WA), it is HOT. Unlike other places we have two seasons, the Wet (December to March/April approx) and the Dry (April/May to August). Actually we have three seasons, though we try to ignore the September to December zone, as that’s the Build Up, sometimes known as Mango Madness because (i) that’s when the mangoes flourish and fruit and (ii) people go nuts because of the heat and humidity.

The humidity is the key difference between the two main seasons and temperatures which may look similar based on numbers can be very different on the ground.

And when we say, Wet, we do mean wet: cyclones, monsoons, and lots and lots of rain. Roads flood and become impassable and many tourist sites are inaccessible because of this and also the even higher risk of crocodiles. Lightning is a feature of the Wet as are monster storms with crashing thunder.

An aerial view over Darwin c2001. A Wet Season storm is brewing.

An aerial view over Darwin c2001. A Wet Season storm is brewing.

Dry means just that: brides-to-be can plan their outdoor wedding months in advance in the almost certain knowledge there’ll be no rain. We can go for months without a drop of rain.

Our temperatures are in Celsius which won’t be familiar to some people so here are some clues: 35C=95F;  20C=68F (and sees people reaching for Ugg boats and jumpers!) 0C=32F.


There’s an awful lot of wide open space out there and it’s a “long way between drinks” once you head out of Darwin. To reach two other capital cities, Brisbane and Adelaide, it is approximately the same distance as London to St Petersburg or San Francisco to Missouri.

Another factor of the distance is that Bali and Singapore are closer than, or as close as, other major cities in Australia, making them regular holiday destinations. As a result the Top End has a very Asian flavour.

Darwin area close


Australia has a bad reputation for having a lot of things that can kill you. Unfortunately they’re a less obvious than brown bears, for example. The northern half of the country is especially prone to hazardous wildlife: crocodiles and stingers outweigh the fear of sharks in the water so that few people swim in those beautiful blue waters; underwater there are  poisonous shells, deadly stonefish, particular tropical fish and sea-snakes not to mention lethal snakes, spiders and scorpions on land. Oh, sorry, that’s right I’m trying to encourage you to come visit our wide brown land!

On the other hand we have wide skies, vivid colours, stars dense in the sky and some pretty quirky mammals.

I do hope you enjoy your excursions into Australia’s far north and Red Centre. Thanks for joining me!

My A to Z series for 2012 was about the important places to my family history, both historic and recent. The 2012 series was on my family history blog, Family History Across the Seas. If you’re interested in reading any of the stories (V was very popular), you can find them through this link.