It is hard to read any Australian history without bumping into Burke and Wills. I saw several places associated with them on my first trip to Australia, and an account of their exploration and tragic end is included in the appendix of my book, because it’s something the curious about Australia need to know. I had always hoped to visit Cooper Creek, where they spent their last days, and I finally reached it on my fourth trip to Australia. It was moving to see the DIG tree and know that lives had hung in the balance here, but it was also an amazingly beautiful, peaceful location. An Aussie videographer named George Royter has done a nice job capturing the beauty of Cooper Creek in a video on his blog. Note, however, that when my friends and I camped there, we had the place to ourselves, so it was even more peaceful than indicated by the video.
Category Archives: Book
It has been a while since I posted. I’m still mighty busy, but I missed posting. So I’ve thought of a few things that won’t take up too much time, but that I think you might find interesting — things that couldn’t be included in my book–in this case, sound. In the book, I relate how didgeridoos are made, getting shown how to play the didgeridoo, and even buying my own didgeridoo. Here, I thought I’d post a video from YouTube of someone playing a didgeridoo. Hope you enjoy this as much as I do.
In the early days of Australian settlement, it was not very easy to convince skilled tradesmen to migrate. With the American colonies, promises of land and wealth and freedom, combined with the relative proximity of being only one ocean away, made it easier, but Australia was just too far and, in the early 1800s, did not have a great reputation as a destination. So certain people responsible for finding the needed skills for the new colony hit on a plan. They would hire beautiful, young women to hang around bars and buy drinks for tradesmen with the requisite skills. When the tradesmen were adequately anesthetized, these girls would plant on them something stolen from someone else, and then immediately report to a conveniently placed constable that a crime had been witnessed. The targeted tradesmen would be caught “red handed” and still under the influence, and within days, he’d be on a ship bound for Van Diemen’s Land, as Tasmania was originally called.
This practice was popularly memorialized in the song “The Black Velvet Band,” with the velvet band in question tying up the hair of the lovely young maiden employed in rounding up tradesmen. Most versions start with the story’s events in Belfast, but there are versions of the song that replace this with any number of locations in the British Isles, as Ireland was by no means the only target of the practice. Today, it’s hard to find an Irish or Australian folk band that doesn’t include this song in their repertoire.
There are many versions of the song on YouTube and other sites, but here’s one from The High Kings: The Black Velvet Band.
If you’ve read my book–or if you grew up in Australia–you will have encountered the stories about Adam Lindsay Gordon. He is among Australia’s greatest poets, and among those poets who celebrated the wide open spaces. He actually wanted to be known as a great horseman, which he was, but it is his poetry that lasted past his sad end. Actually, I have quoted him previously in this blog, as well. Excerpts from his works have become almost proverbial in Australia.
Because of his melancholic inclinations, little of his poetry is cheerful (in pretty sharp contract to Banjo Paterson). My book only included a few excerpts, because Gordon’s poems tend to be long, but here, I can give you a full-length work that reflects both his love of the bush and his melancholy tendencies.
The Sick Stockrider
Hold hard, Ned! Lift me down once more, and lay me in the shade.
Old man, you’ve had your work cut out to guide
Both horses, and to hold me in the saddle when I sway’d,
All through the hot, slow, sleepy, silent ride.
The dawn at “Moorabinda” was a mist rack dull and dense,
The sunrise was a sullen, sluggish lamp;
I was dozing in the gateway at Arbuthnot’s bound’ry fence,
I was dreaming on the Limestone cattle camp.
We crossed the creek at Carricksford, and sharply through the haze,
And suddenly the sun shot flaming forth;
To southward lay “Katawa”, with the sandpeaks all ablaze,
And the flush’d fields of Glen Lomond lay to north.
Now westward winds the bridle path that leads to Lindisfarm,
And yonder looms the double-headed Bluff;
From the far side of the first hill, when the skies are clear and calm,
You can see Sylvester’s woolshed fair enough.
Five miles we used to call it from our homestead to the place
Where the big tree spans the roadway like an arch;
‘Twas here we ran the dingo down that gave us such a chase
Eight years ago — or was it nine? — last March. Continue reading
For those of you who prefer electronic books but don’t have Kindles, Waltzing Australia is now available at Smashwords. That means it is now in forms that will work in Nooks, iPads, and any other device on which books can be downloaded.
If you’re interested, you can find it here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/143849
So now, everyone can have access to the adventure, the joy, the history, nature, and lore of Australia that flows through the pages of Waltzing Australia. I’m pleased that the delights of the land Down Under can now be shared with an even wider audience.
Of course, I’ll still keep posting peripheral material here — all the things that wouldn’t fit in the book. So you can continue to enjoy and learn about Australia, even if you don’t latch on to the larger story. But, of course, I do hope you’ll join me on my 20,000-mile trek around and across a country I found so enchanting.
In my book, I mention that, during a final venture into the Outback, as the rain began to make travel increasingly difficult, our driver put on a Slim Dusty tape and played “Send ‘er Down, Hughie” — a splendidly funny song about a truck driver trapped on a muddy road during a torrential downpour, who decides he’ll just have to lighten the load to get the truck out of the mud. The load just happens to be beer, so lightening the load is no hardship.
I’m certain that Slim Dusty’s popularity is strongly anchored in shared experience, because his songs capture so much of what Australia is like. For those of us on that bus, it was being trapped by a flood that made this more than just an amusing song — it was what we were living (well, except for the truck full of beer part).
It has been a few years since that first, glorious, six-month trip around and across Australia. However, as soon as I had gotten my new writing career off and running, I headed back. I can’t stay away for too long. I do realize that part of the magic is that in Australia, all I’m doing is traveling — no job, no housework, just get out into the wilderness and immerse myself in the beauty and wildness of this remarkable land. But that is not the only thing, because I have vacationed many other places, and nowhere else has really captured me the way Australia did. So I keep going back.
Some things have changed. I note in my book that we could see the markers in Kakadu showing that things were scheduled to be “improved.” They have been. There is a hotel now at Cooinda where I had slept so peacefully beneath the stars. Boardwalks have been added in a few of the places in the Red Centre where we had to scramble and climb. The cities are bigger. And yet the things I love about Australia remain unchanged — primarily, the ease with which one can escape into the wilderness. I have returned to the rainforests, to the rugged coasts, and, of course, to the outback. I’ve seen places I promised myself for “next time,” and returned to places I love. Soon, I’ll begin recording those return trips, with photos and tales gathered on each adventure. Before then, I want to share a few bits of Aussie culture that I found delightful — music, poetry, history.
Now, however, I’ll just mention a few more changes — ones not mentioned already in posts on this blog. The contents of the Geological and Mining Museum that I loved so much in Sydney have all been transferred to the Power House Museum. So if you look for the museum I named, you won’t find it, but you can still find the wonderful minerals and displays of gold history. The place in the Argyle Center where I bought the golden wattle perfume has closed. I have found other perfumes that call themselves golden wattle, but never again one that smelled so perfectly like the wattles blooming in the mountains. On the other side of the continent, in Fremantle, the convict-era prison was at long-last decommissioned, and it is now a museum.
The food scene, while great when I first visited, keeps on improving. Australia never had a shortage of great eating options, what with the ocean so close at hand for most of the country, the warm weather offering glorious year-round produce, proximity to Asia and a migrant population contributing to the wonderful variety, and wine regions just about everywhere one turns. But since that first trip, more and more up-scale places have opened, and Australia is now a major foodie destination, with truffles and wagyu beef, and cutting-edge chefs taking advantage of all that land and sea have to offer. In fact, my second trip back, it took a bit of effort to find a humble meat pie — but I did succeed.
The cities are still handsome, and most offer delights not available on my first trip. However, most of what I enjoyed is still there, from the historic buildings to the great zoos, museums, and galleries to the ethnic diversity to the open-air markets.
Leave the cities behind, however, and nothing has changed. The land is still huge and open and compelling. I got farther out with each subsequent trip, seeing more beauty and wildlife, and falling more in love with “back of beyond.” As I wrote near the end of Waltzing Australia, “I wondered again, as I have wondered before, why this place moves me so. I am drawn to the remoteness, to the vigor, the fierceness, and the unfettered innocence of this land, and its spirit whispers to my spirit, and its song sings in my veins. I don’t know if this is cause or effect, but I do not need to know. I simply surrender myself to the pleasure of feeling it one more time.”
And each time I leave, I hope there will be “one more time.”
The photo below is of Sydney from the Kingsford Smith Airport. The saddness or sweetness of the view depends on whether you have just arrived or are departing. When I took this photo, I was leaving. It was the end of my first long, glorious trip to Australia. At the time of the photograph, I could not know that I would get to come back again — three more times (so far). So for me, it was a sad view. However, I did return to Australia, and I shall shortly start on tales of those subsequent trips, though with a few interesting tales in between.
One such tale is in regard to the name of the airport from which I was flying. Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport is named for one of Australia’s many aviation pioneers: Charles Kingsford Smith. Having served in the Royal Air Force during World War I, Kingsford Smith taught aviation after being wounded. However, it was after the war that Kingsford Smith gained international fame. Among his several remarkable feats of aviation, he was the first to cross the mid-Pacific Ocean by air.
In October 1933 Kingsford Smith completed a solo flight from England to Australia in seven days and five hours, and in 1934 he flew with P.G. Taylor from Brisbane to San Francisco. Sadly, in 1935, Kingsford Smith disappeared and a companion disappeared during a flight from London to Australia.
If you’re keen on aviation history or biographies of people who lead dramatic lives and helped change the world, you can go here to read more of Kingsford Smith.
Shortly after my book, Waltzing Australia, went live for Kindle readers, Kindle Digital Publishing asked me if I’d consider giving them exclusive rights to the book for the next 90 days. So a version for other ereaders is being postponed. However, there is good news for Kindle owners who are also Amazon Prime members: you can check Waltzing Australia out of the Members Lending Library for free.
Both the print version and Kindle version will still be available for sale, if you aren’t an Amazon Prime member — or if you simply prefer to own the books you read. But for anyone with Amazon Prime, you can now read Waltzing Australia for free, as one of your membership benefits.
I hope this leads to many more people sharing my adventures, and that more people will find out what a dandy travel destination Australia is.