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: Nature
My post on Ghost Gums has, for some reason, remained my most popular, despite the fact that I posted the entry more than five years ago. However, despite that popularity, it was still notable when it had more than 100 hits today. So I did a quick search on ghost gums to see what news might have triggered the avalanche. I was sad to learn that it was because of a particularly unpleasant act of vandalism: the twin ghost gums made famous by Aboriginal painter Albert Namatjira were burned to the ground. I’d seen these famous twin trees on two different trips to Australia. While all ghost gums are beautiful, the connection to Namatjira made these seem particularly evocative.
It’s hard to imagine what would drive someone to destroy these lovely, historic trees. It doesn’t even make a statement. It’s just mindless destruction.
For those who might be interested, here is a bit more on this incident and Namatjira.
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.
Back to Banjo Paterson again, who so beautifully captures the attraction of the Outback, either lyrically or humorously. I love this poem because I do still occasionally hear the echo of the “song” it describes.
Daylight is Dying
The daylight is dying
Away in the west,
The wild birds are flying
In silence to rest;
In leafage and frondage
Where shadows are deep,
They pass to its bondage –
The kingdom of sleep.
And watched in their sleeping
By stars in the height,
They rest in your keeping,
Oh, wonderful night.
When night doth her glories
Of starshine unfold,
‘Tis then that the stories
Of bush-land are told.
Unnumbered I hold them
In memories bright,
But who could unfold them,
Or read them aright?
Beyond all denials
The stars in their glories
The breeze in the myalls
Are part of these stories.
The waving of grasses,
The song of the river
That sings as it passes
For ever and ever,
The hobble-chains’ rattle,
The calling of birds,
The lowing of cattle
Must blend with the words.
Without these, indeed, you
Would find it ere long,
As though I should read you
The words of a song
That lamely would linger
When lacking the rune,
The voice of the singer,
The lilt of the tune.
But, as one half-hearing
An old-time refrain,
With memory clearing,
Recalls it again,
These tales, roughly wrought of
The Bush and its ways,
May call back a thought of
The wandering days;
And, blending with each
In the mem’ries that throng,
There haply shall reach
You some echo of song.
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.
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.”
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.
The fog didn’t keep us from exploring. Neither did the light rain that fell intermittently. Small towns with bookstores and tearooms helped when things were too wet to wander, but when it was simply damp and not actually raining, we continued on. Because it was gray and cloudy, there weren’t a lot of people, so we heard a lot more birds, including bell birds, which I loved.
The dampness highlighted the beauty of the mountains and the lush foliage, as you can see in the photo below, left.
Coming down the mountain, we stopped at an old, sandstone bridge. It is hard to identify things simply from photos, but searching for old bridges in the Blue Mountains, and comparing the photos online to the one I took (below, right), it seems that we had stopped to explore Lennox Bridge, the oldest bridge on the Australian mainland. (An older bridge exists in Tasmania — in Richmond — which I had seen earlier.) Built in the early 1800s of sandstone blocks, this bridge was for a long time the only way into Sydney for those traveling over the mountains. Today, it is still in use, though more modern bridges now serve busier highways. It has been designated a Heritage Site. But that first day, all I knew was that it was old and charming and looked oddly out of place, wedged between steep mountain walls.