Among the first Australian originals to which foreign tourists are introduced is Ted Egan–at least if those tourists go on a tour that takes them anywhere in the Outback. Egan is a singer, songwriter, activist, author, politician, and hardcore enthusiast and promoter of the more remote regions of Australia, especially in the Northern Territory. While he has created documentaries about Australia and campaigned on behalf of the Aboriginal people, he is most often encountered in the form of a couple of humorous songs that are almost inevitably played by the coach captains who ferry visitors around the Outback — probably because one of the songs, titled “Our Coach Captain,” is about how how lucky we are that our current coach captain has let us come along for the ride.
When he sings, Egan most commonly “plays” an empty beer carton–which seems the perfect “instrument” in the rugged locales that are both backdrop and subject of his songs. I had heard many of Egan’s songs during my first trip to Australia, but it wasn’t until my second trip that I saw him perform live–just outside of Alice Springs.
For those of you who don’t know Egan, the following videos offer a brief introduction to an iconic Aussie. For those of you who do know him, it’s always fun to see him again.
The trailer for his TV series:
Singing along while playing on a beer carton: (Note: In this song, Egan mentions Jeannie Gunn, who was the author of the Australian classic “We of the Never Never,” and the Fizzer is one of the people in Jeannie’s life, as she learned to adapt to the Outback. VRD is Victoria River Downs, a large cattle station in a remote part of the Northern Territory.)
It kind of sounds like the name of a rock band–underground orchid–but it is, in fact, a real plant. If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that while I was in Western Australia, I visited the town of Babakin, which is located in the modest range of this rare flower. Rhizanthella gardneri is its scientific name, and, as its common name suggests, this orchid lives underground.
For a long time, if one saw an underground orchid, it was by accident. Then, once people figured out that these orchids grew among the roots of a specific plant (broom bush), they could be searched for with some hope of finding them. However, scientists have now found that they can locate the orchids using radioactive isotopes–which in turn led to the discovery that these odd little orchids are even rarer than original imagined–only about 50 known plants left in the wild. (When I was in WA, I only saw photographs, as these orchids are too rare to dig them up for the amusement of tourists.)
I imagine you’d like to see an underground orchid, so I’ll send you to a site with a photo (and more info), as I don’t like “borrowing” photos that are not my own or given to me by their owners. The tiny, white flower is remarkably pretty, so while I hope you’ll come back here to explore further, I do also hope you’ll go check the photo.
Western Australia’s Underground Orchied, at Science Daily.
Male bowerbirds are birds that build bowers, structures designed to attract females and used for mating. The bowers are not nests, though they are elaborately constructed of twigs. Various types of bowerbirds build different shapes and sizes of bowers and collect different items to adorn the area around the bower. The male satin bowerbird, which is a shiny blue-black, builds a bower that is an arched tunnel, and he collects only blue items to attract the olive and yellow-colored female. (If you’re in their territory, don’t set down anything blue that you don’t want to lose. They’re adept thieves.)
I had read about the satin bowerbird long before I saw one, and saw one long before I heard one. However, I finally heard what is often described as the “starter motor call” on my second trip to Australia. The satin bower bird uses this odd call to woo the lady bowerbird he hopes to win. While I’m sure it must have some appeal for the lady bowerbird, I find it highly amusing. The video below shows a few of the blue items a satin bowerbird has collected, around the lacy bower. Then, when the female appears, you get to find out how the mating call got its name.
The video below is a National Geographic talk on Douglas Mawson and what the speaker labels “the best survival tale you’ve never heard.” The speaker, David Roberts, himself an adventurer and author of a book on Mawson titled Alone on the Ice, makes the interesting observation that the reason the whole world hasn’t heard the story is largely because the explorers were Australian, and back around 1900, Australia was still being pretty much ignored by the rest of the world. That’s not the only reason, but it’s definitely part of it.
It’s an incredible story, and well worth knowing about. Hard to even imagine surviving something like this.
One of the things I emphasize when I do presentations about Australia is what an awesome dining destination it is. You’ve got all the great seafood everywhere (not just fresh, but awesome in variety), wonderful beef and lamb, tropical fruits in the north, great wineries and cheese makers in the south, Macadamia nuts in Queensland, and a combination of world-class chefs and the input from the many cultures that have settled in Oz. Just an amazing place to eat.
One of the more recent and more newsworthy developments in the culinary realm is that Australia has actually been successful in growing truffles. This is something many countries have tried without success. Tasmania had the first success, and their French Perigord black truffles have people comparing them favorably to winter truffles from France. Today, truffles are actually growing in many of Australia’s states, and their fame is growing. In fact, Aussie truffles are sufficiently awesome that Thomas Keller of California’s legendary French Laundry is now sourcing truffles from Australia.
Truffles are seasonal, but the seasons are reverses in Australia, so just as truffles vanish from European sources, they are becoming available in Aussie sources. Best of all possible situations for truffle lovers the world over. And big enough news to make it into the papers: World’s Best Sniff Out Aussie Truffles.
So one more reason to love dining in Australia.
Fortunately, one can still get a nice meat pie from time to time. But the high end keeps on getting higher in the land Down Under. (And did I mention they’re raising Wagyu beef?)
Filed under Australia, Food
When L. Sue Baugh announced to the writing group a few years back that she and her friend Lynn Martinelli wanted to document the oldest places on earth, there was no way for those in attendance to know how serious she was–and how glorious the results of that project would be.
Sue and Lynn sought to experience landscapes that resembled what ancient Earth might have been like long before humanity appeared. Their search led the two women into remote regions of Western Australia, Canada, Greenland, the United States–and eventually into territory not marked on any map.
The outcome of their research is Baugh’s book Echoes of Earth: Finding ourselves in the origins of the planet. The work combines science and philosophy, but it is dominated by the photographs that so gloriously capture the primitive beauty of the places explored. The book is remarkable not only in its subject matter and beauty, but also in its format. There are die cuts, half pages, and fold-outs, making the book an interactive experience.
While Baugh says she loved everywhere she visited, she said Australia was the place that most captivated her. She relates, “I don’t think my heart ever fully came back from there.” Of course, that’s a sentiment I share with her.
The book is not just getting noticed by Baugh’s associates in local writing groups. It has in a short time racked up an impressive number of awards:
• A silver medal for Photography/art from the Nautilus Book Awards
• Awards in two categories from the Benjamin Franklin Awards (Baugh is happiest with the award in the nature/environment category).
• A gold medal for science/nature/environment category from Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Not too surprisingly, the book is available on Amazon. However, if you want a signed, numbered version–with additional materials–you can go to the website for Wild Stone Arts.
A few days ago, I received a very encouraging bit of recognition: The National Library of Australia was requesting permission to archive my Waltzing Australia blog.
I was informed that “The National Library has selected your publication for archiving because we have judged it to be an important component of the national documentary heritage. We want it to be available to researchers now and in the future.”
Lovely to have one’s credibility affirmed like this. Thank you, NLA.
I think this will help me stay motivated to keep this effort going. I have lots more to share, as I’ve visited so many places and studied so much about Australia. It’s good to know that it is proving useful for some folks.