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: Geography
Thomas Keneally is great at capturing telling moments, poignant details, emotional impact, and he’s exceptionally good at transmitting them to the reader. Who wasn’t impressed with Schindler’s List? Keneally writes a lot about history, but he also writes a lot about his native Australia, and in his book Outback, he captures so much of the essence of the country’s rugged interior that it has become one of my favorite books about Australia.
Keneally writes in the book’s forward, “It is as if in the immensity of outback Australia, people’s temperaments expand like yeast to occupy and give point to the immensities of space. It is hoped therefore that in these pages you will visit an enchanting and unknown country whose customs, secrets, ironies and landscapes you could not previously have guessed at.” Because I’ve visited that enchanting country, I can attest to the accuracy of Keneally’s observations, at least as far as the wonder of the land and friendliness of the people.
Outback is out of print now, or at least it’s not carried on Amazon, but there appear to be scads of people selling second-hand copies. If you’re interested in Australia, I encourage you to track down a copy.
I am often asked when and/or how my interest in Australia got started. As with so many of my interests, it started with books. Between his service in the military and his career in business, my dad had gotten to know a fair number of Australians, and as Australians are great book lovers, books were what they most often sent as gifts. The one I remember most vividly was a magnificent volume titled The Australians, with gorgeous photography by Robert Goodman and wonderfully crafted text by George Johnston. It came out in 1966, and today you can only find it in secondhand shops, but during my childhood and into adulthood, I returned to it often. I’m sitting now, flipping through the book, and smiling that I have visited so many of the places that captured my imagination when I was a youngster.
Many other books followed, but it was about 10 years later that I saw the first images that suggested to me that Australia was actually a potential travel destination. John Denver shot a TV special in Australia, and he took a gaggle of celebrities on a tour to some of the most interesting places. Among those places, the one that was burned into my memory from that program was Ayers Rock/Uluru.
It was many more years before I finally got to the place where I needed Australia–really needed to go and explore it for myself–and understood that it was okay to go. That was the trip, of course, that changed my life, the trip that became my book Waltzing Australia — the reason people ask me how my interest in Australia got started.
I like to think that someday, someone else will be asked how their interest in Australia got started, and that for someone, it will be with my book or my blog. We’ll see.
Anyway, John Denver really liked Australia, so he went more than once. In fact, the John Denver CDs in my collection were purchased in Australia– which means they have songs that I don’t think many folks in the United States have heard, including Sing Australia. It’s not my favorite John Denver song (hard to pick a favorite, though if I had to, I’d say Calypso), but it’s definitely the most Australian of his songs. You can check it out here– with a nice slide show of Aussie images.
A lot of folks ask me what writers I’ve enjoyed who write about Australia. So far, I’ve shared some of my favorite Aussie poets (and I’ll share more in the future), but this time, I thought I’d recommend a book that I particularly loved. It’s Tracks by Robyn Davidson. A few years after Tracks came out, images from the adventure were released in a collection titled Alice to the Ocean. The photos are great, but for me, the original book meant more to me.
I actually didn’t read this book until after I returned from my own transformational, solo wander around Australia, even though Davidson’s journey took place well before my own adventure. I don’t suppose it should come as too much of a surprise that a woman who wandered around Australia would enjoy a book by another woman who wandered around Australia. I really found myself drawn into Davidson’s book. Her descriptions were wonderfully detailed and evocative, and they recalled for me places I’d been and things I’d felt. For me, the book did more than simply entertain–it resonated. It reflected some of the mystery and wonder that I had experienced in the Outback.
While Tracks will not really introduce you to Australia, that wasn’t its goal. I went to discover Australia; Davidson went to discover herself. Also, she had backing from National Geographic, and I paid my own way. So the trips are quite different–and yet there is a connection with the land that very much reflected my own experience.
Tracks remains one of my favorites among dozens of books I’ve read that are set in Australia. I definitely recommend it, but especially for those who enjoy travel or love Australia.
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.
I do a lot of educational writing, including textbooks, but one of my favorite assignments in this line of work is the student reader. These readers are single-subject books for kids to read independently, and because they are intended to encourage reading, they need to have topics that will appeal to kids. I just finished writing one about dangerous things on the Great Barrier Reef. I included sharks and rip currents, of course, but most of the reader was taken up with things that are venomous–and the list is pretty impressive. The stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world. The box jelly (aka sea wasp) is the most venomous jellyfish in the world. And the list goes on.
As an avid collector of seashells, I also included one of my favorite shells–the cone shell– which I’ve had the good fortune to only encounter in shell shops. The snail that occupies the most handsome of the many possible cone shells is also among the deadliest. It reminded me of why the rules for reef walking include wearing shoes and not picking anything up. If you want to see the cone snail in action, check out this National Geographic video. (And while the venomous harpoon system is amazing, the size of the snail’s mouth is also pretty stunning.)
So remember not to ever pick one of these up if you’re on the Great Barrier Reef.
Often, when I write or speak of Australia, I will include a phrase about loving the “sunburnt country.” While most Australians would immediately understand the allusion, most folks outside Australia would not — though some might think I’m alluding to Bill Bryson’s book The Sunburned Country (which was released in Australia with the title Down Under). In fact, both Bryson’s book title and my comments are allusions to a famous Australian poem by Dorothea Mackellar.
Mackellar was born in Sydney in 1885 and went on to become one of Australia’s most notable poets. The poem for which she is best known was written when she was only 19. Actually, the poem itself, titled “My Country,” is rarely quoted in its entirety. It is the second stanza of the poem that almost everyone in Australia learns by heart growing up.
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror–
The wide brown land for me!
This stanza has been set to music, and the “sunburnt country” phrase appears regularly in tales of the land Down Under. A hundred years after its writing, it remains an iconic tribute to Australia.
Should you wish to read the rest of the poem, you can find it here: “My Country.”
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.”
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.
For those of you who may have been holding off on buying my book until there was a Kindle version — the time is here. Waltzing Australia went live on Kindle a couple of days ago. You can find it listed on Amazon — a search turns it up right after the print version of the book.
For anyone who has a different ebook device, I hope to have the book available on Smashwords soon, which means it would be available for most other ebook readers (including iPhones).
So if you’ve got a Kindle, I’m ready for you now: here. (And be aware — even if you don’t own a Kindle device, you can download the Kindle software for free on your computer, and then just read Kindle books there.) For other devices — stay tuned.