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.
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.
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.
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
On my second trip to Australia, I stayed at a wonderful “resort” in the Red Center, in the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges. (The quotes around “resort” are because this is far from what that word might conjure in other locales — this place is a bit rustic, though in my case, rustic was what I was hoping for.) Ross River Resort offered me a cabin not too far from the original, historic homestead, and I spent three remarkable days, hiking around the fabulous rock formations, enjoying the bird life, learning about the area’s history–simply perfect. At least one bird photo (Galahs) that I’ve posted previously is from Ross River, as is the “Cabin ‘roo” I wrote about some time ago–with a photo of the large kangaroo that was waiting on my cabin doorstep when I returned from a hike one day–in case you want to see anything from the resort that was. It was a memorable location, and I’d always hoped to get back.
However, in January of this year, brush fires in the region swept through the area, consuming the cabins, camp grounds, and other facilities at Ross River. The original homestead appears to have survived, but the property is ruined, from the standpoint of continuing as a resort. I am hoping they rebuild, as it was such a splendid place to experience the solitude of the Outback — without having it be too much solitude. (That is, spend the days wandering alone in the wilderness, but have a few folks around the fire in the evening with whom one can recount the day’s adventures.)
The thing that makes it a bit more dramatic is that firefighters thought they’d saved the resort. The fire had been stopped. It had rained. But then the wind picked up, and suddenly, the fire was roaring again.
For more details on the fire, here’s an article from the Australia Broadcasting Company: Outback Resort Devastated By Fire.
Really sorry to lose this place. Hope they stage a comeback.
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.
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.