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This Day in My History


Close your eyes and tap your heels together 3 times.


Yesterday's Entries

2001:  MQA
2002:  Number, Please
2003:  OK--It's Bad But I Did It


My article, of course!


No TV tonight.  I'm reviewing Antigone at the local theatre company


Breakfast:  Cheerios with banana and toast

Lunch:  Cottage cheese and banana

Dinner:  Lean Cuisine pizza.


Sunny and cool today



8 January 2003

My article on Australia appeared in the Davis Enterprise today. I told you that I’d share it with you after it made it to print, so in lieu of a regular entry today, I’m just printing my article. I’m very pleased with how it all came out!

* * *

There was a golden mist filtering through the eucalyptus trees. Chippa, the German Shorthair Pointer, had gotten wind of a kangaroo and she and Keno were off in a flash. We watched as the roo went bounding through the bush, the dogs in hot pursuit. We could hear the sound of crashing, but only saw bits of heads popping up now and then through the tall shrubs.

"I’ve a feeling I’m not in Davis any more," I smiled to myself.

The day before I had landed in Oz. Perth, Australia, to be more precise. I was here on a walkabout–traveling alone to visit Peggy, a girlfriend who had spent six weeks with us three years before. We had become the Thelma and Louise of California, driving about with our cameras photographing most of the Western United States and now we were about to film the sequel in the land down under.

When I told people I was going to Australia, they assumed I’d be visiting Sydney, but, in fact, I never got to the eastern part of the country. The state of Western Australia is roughly half the entire country of Australia and there was plenty to keep us busy without leaving the state.

Perth has been described as "the most remote city in the world," and the endless flight certainly underscored that fact. It was 18 hours from San Francisco to Singapore, 8 hours at the Singapore airport (from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m.), and then another 5 hours to Perth itself, plus an hour and a half going through customs before I was finally on Australian soil. I was certainly glad that I had planned for a 6 week stay, after traveling all that time.

I quickly adapted to Peggy’s routine, which began each morning with running the dogs in the bush. There is a great misconception about the Australian bush land. People seem to think that one "goes to" the bush, as one might go to the outback. In actuality, all of the state is bush land. Where civilization has built shopping centers, housing tracts, or parks, the bush disappears, but at the edge of any developed piece of land you find the untamed bush, low grey-green shrubs, and tall eucalyptus trees growing out of sandy soil, tiny wild flowers, and, if there is a misty morning, hundreds of intricately woven, perfectly shaped spider webs glistening with the morning dew.

So it was that we ran the dogs at Pinnaroo Cemetery. The cemetery covers many acres, only a small fraction of which have been developed into a neatly manicured memorial park. Where the park ends, the bush begins. The wild kangaroos live in the bush, and the adjacent cemetery is their Club Med, a lovely place to visit, enjoy the smorgasbord of fresh flowers decorating the graves, and, if the weather is pleasant, lounge about soaking up some rays. On a walk through the cemetery, one may encounter a family of roos enjoying their afternoon siesta, or mothers trying to get the young joeys to hop back in the pouch. It’s quite an amazing sight.

Our morning walk always ended at "the bird tree," a tall eucalyptus where a family of galahs had made their nest. The pink and grey birds are as prevalent as pigeons in San Francisco. White and black cockatoos would fly overhead and I learned that if the black ones sang, it meant that rain was approaching. My favorites were the cocky "28's," colorful parrots who also were found everywhere. In fact, on my trip to Kings Park, the largest central city park in the world, overlooking the city of Perth and the Swan River, a rather cheeky little "28" settled himself on our table and insisted on sharing my lamington (a coconut-covered, chocolate frosted Australian cake which can be purchased everywhere).

Our adventures over the next six weeks demonstrated the diversity of this land, and the wide range of landscapes. I fell in love with the Indian Ocean. The deep aqua blue combined with the crystal clear skies (no pollution in Perth) presented a scene of almost fairy tail beauty. I never tired of looking at the Indian ocean.

This is an area which, like Davis, values its bicycles, and so it is possible to ride for many miles on protected bike paths along the shore line, stopping now and then to let a bobtail (large stubby tailed lizard) cross the path, or for a break on one of the many nearly deserted clean white beaches.

I had come during spring (September-October) and when we took a day trip to New Norcia, Australia’s only monastic town, some 80 miles north of Perth, the scenery in spots was eye-blindingly beautiful. The canola fields were in full blossom and as far as the eye could see was a carpet of golden yellow.

New Norcia was established in 1846 by a Spanish Benedictine monk, for the purpose of christianizing the Aborigines. As aborigine couples married, they were given houses on the monastery grounds and over time, a village grew. The monks still live and work in the monastery, and its chapel is decorated with Aboriginal art. I particularly liked the stained glass Aborigine Madonna and Child, and the painted Nativity scene, complete with kangaroos.

Our first big trip was north to Monkey Mia, at Shark’s Bay. 'Mia" (pronounced "MY-ah") is an Aboriginal word meaning "place." Despite what one might think, this is not "the place of monkeys." The Monkey was the name of the ship which brought surveyor Henry Ommanney to Shark's Bay to evaluate the place with respect to fishing. The spot where Ommanney's ship docked became known as "Monkey Mia." The whole Shark Bay area became famous for both fishing, and also for pearling.

But we were interested in the dolphins. Sometime in the 1960s bottleneck dolphins started visiting the Bay and interacting with humans. Over the years this became a tourist attraction, carefully regulated by park staff. Up to 25 dolphins have been identified. They come on their own and are fed up to 3 times a day (they aren’t fed after 1 p.m., to prevent them from becoming dependent on humans for food.) Visitors to the park are invited to wade out into the bay and watch the dolphins swim around their feet, perhaps having the opportunity to feed one of them.

The trip north took us out of populated areas and into the outback. The coastline of Western Australia is almost entirely untouched by development. (In some 7,800 miles from Perth all the way north there are only three dozen coastal communities.) The roadside was at first carpet after carpet of wildflowers in yellow, purple, pink, and red, sometimes massed together to form a solid block of color, sometimes a mixture of several different species with strange sounding names–banksias, everlastings, kangaroo paw, wattles, morrisons, to name a few. Gradually the fields of flowers gave way to more desolate country, with its own unique beauty–red dirt, grey/green/black shrubs and occasionally groves of spiky "grasstrees" (known locally by the non-politically correct nickname "black boys.")

A danger along the road was the sudden appearance of a kangaroo. We never had a roadside kangaroo encounter, though did pass many dead roos in the middle of the road. We nearly hit an emu which darted out in front of the car one afternoon, and then disappeared into the bush leaving behind a cloud of feathers.

Before we reached Monkey Mia, there was Kalbarri National Park. Everything in this part of the world seems to be 40 miles from the main highway. (This "highway" is only two lanes all the way and sometimes we would go for miles without seeing another vehicle.) You’re already following an all but deserted, desolate piece of paved road, and then you turn off into an even more desolate piece of paved or unpaved road. Mile after mile of nothing but shrub and red dirt and then suddenly you are there.

Kalbarri is a major recreational area. (It should be noted that "major recreational area" is a relative term. The beauty of Western Australia is its lack of tourists. Even at the most appealing of tourist venues, there were never more than a few dozen tourists at any one spot. When the dolphins swam in to the beach, there were fewer than 100 people on shore waiting for them.)

While Kalbarri National Park offers water sports, marine life, and fishing, it is most notable for its gorge, described as "only a few million years young." The Murchison river ate through the tumblagooda sandstone to carve out this winding gorge which, while not as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, is gorgeous in its own way. The cliffs are a mosaic of color, formed by the bands of red and purple and white, rich with fossil remnants.

The road to the gorge was 20 mi of soft dirt and we seemed to be the only car to make the trip that morning. We found a parking lot and headed for "Nature's Window," a natural rock arch an easy 400 meter hike/climb down from the car park. The arch frames the view of the river below and is a perfect photo-taking spot. On our return trip, we encountered one of Australia’s more bizarre animals: the thorny devil, similar to a horned lizard but with four times the "horns."

We later took a charter plane to fly over the gorge and the cliffs and had an inkling of the vastness of this land. It is about as far from the main population centers as you can get in Australia and as far as the eye can see is nothing but the low scrub brushes and red dirt.

Our trip back to Perth included a stop at The Pinnacles Desert, part of the Naumbung National Park. Looking for all the world like a set for Star Trek, the Pinnacles consists of some 800 acres filled with thousands of limestone pillars, some rising up out of the yellow sand to a height of 4 meters tall.

Another week-long trip took us to SouthWestern Australia, an entirely different sort of landscape. Our first night was spent in the Margaret River area, most noted for being one of Australia’s premier wine producing regions. Since neither Peggy nor I drink, we did not take advantage of the many winery tours offered. Our interests were more in the natural attractions, such as Ngilgi Cave, one of 360 natural limestone caves which dot the area. Climbing up and down some 100 steps, we had a chance to view a stunning display of stalactite, stalagmite and helicitite formations in brief tour through inner earth.

At Augusta, the southermost tip of Australia, we stood at the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse and watched the steely blue Southern Ocean meet the warm aqua blue Indian Ocean.

In Pemberton we walked through a forest of Karri trees, the third largest trees in the world. While not as large as the sequoias, they reach heights of 250 feet, but maintain their girth from floor to ceiling, allowing them to be perfect as fire lookout trees. The Pemberton forest is home to the Glouster Tree, the tallest in the area, with 153 spikes circling the tree, leading up to a watch tower at the top. Tourists, if they are brave enough and don’t mind climbing over each other going up and down, are invited to climb to the top.

We had a four-day farmstay at the Settlers Run farm outside Mount Barker (a stone’s throw from the famous Goundrey Winery), where the owners Penny Elvard and Claire Amy Atkins (also a talented poet) raise miniature horses. We fed young lambs by bottle, collected fresh eggs for breakfast, and followed Indy, the border collie puppy through the daisy fields to the nearby river.

The last few days of my vacation included a whale watching tour during which I achieved a lifelong dream of seeing hump back whales up close and personal, and a second tour to the Caversham Wildlife Park, where I had the opportunity to pet a koala, have hungry kangaroos hang from my shoulders begging for food, and ride a camel in a downpour.

Then it was time to reluctantly click my ruby slippers together and find myself back in my own home in Davis. It may, in fact, be that there is no place like home. But I think it’s fair to say there is definitely no place quite like Western Australia either.


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