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.
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.
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.
George Royter’s Cooper Creek
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.
Filed under Australia, Book, Food, Geography, History, Literature, Lore, Nature, Poetry, Travel, Writing
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.