Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Bungle Bungles

Before Western Australia is left behind, I thought I’d mention that I have gotten back. On my third trip to Australia, I enjoyed a remarkable trek across an even wilder and more remote landscape than before, when I traveled through the Kimberleys, an area about three times the size of England located at the top of Western Australia. This region is so remote that they haven’t even named all the plants yet—and aren’t sure they even know everything that lives there.

In this region of astonishing beauty and strangeness, the Bungle Bungle Range is a standout. The size of the Bungle Bungles underscores the area’s remoteness: they cover about 173 square miles, but were only discovered by Westerners in 1983. The towering (600 to 900 feet tall), bizarrely eroded, banded range of rocks was named a national park in 1987 and was made a World Heritage site in 2003. While these formations are widely known as the Bungle Bungles, their official name, and the name of the park that contains them, is Purnululu, which is the word for “sandstone” in the language of one of the region’s Aboriginal groups (Kija).

It was a simply glorious area, though not easy to cross. Most of the area has no roads, and the road that does exist—the Gibb River Road—is almost proverbial as car wrecker. But with a good guide, it was possible, if not always comfortable.

I’m hoping to write a sequel to Waltzing Australia, to share with you more of what I discovered in this astonishing region. And, of course, I’m also hoping to get back to WA, as there is still more to see. But there must always be something for next time.

Bungle Bungles

Bungle Bungles

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Talking About Writing

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Paula B. on “The Writing Show.” We talked about nonfiction writing, as I’ve not only done a great deal of it, but I’ve also taught it to a few people. If you’re interested in hearing a little about the world of publishing, my “Five Rules of Nonfiction Writing,” or horror stories from the front lines, you can visit “The Writing Show” and listen to the interview.

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Last Day in WA

It had been three weeks since a Greyhound bus had carried me across the border from the Northern Territory into the far north of Western Australia. I’d certainly covered a fair bit of territory in those three weeks, from the top of WA to the bottom. There were still things I’d like to have seen—things I’d still like to see, next time I get to Australia—but it was time to pack and get ready to say farewell.

I spent most of the day hiking around Perth, taking a last look at all the places I’d enjoyed and photographing places I wanted to remember. Once again, I was delighted and amused by the juxtaposition, in the realm of architecture, of traditional Australian with modern international, often within a block of each other or on opposite sides of the street. It added a lot to Perth’s charm, this blending of old and new. It was (of course) a splendidly sunny day, as it so often is in Perth, so it was perfect for that last impression of this lovely city.

The images below show off both the contrasting architecture and the blazing blue sky of this westernmost Aussie capital.

The traditional...

The traditional...

and the modern

and the modern

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Wave Rock

As noted in earlier posts (most especially the post on Standley Chasm), much of what you see in Australia, as far as landforms are concerned, has been formed by erosion. From the sea-battered coastlines to the rain- and wind-sculpted interior, this place is paradise for those who like nature-carved rocks.

Near Perth, I had the opportunity to wander through the crystalline wonderlands of extensive underground caves and visit fascinating formations a bit farther out of town. One day, I booked myself on what was billed as the longest day tour in Australia—the 430-mile round-trip drive that took me out to Wave Rock.

The whole day was a delight, and not just because of Wave Rock. We saw amazing wildflowers (often stopping for photographs), flocks of cockatoos, farms, and charming towns. We also learned an immense amount of Aboriginal lore and tales of Australia’s past. So the transit time was well spent.

The 47-foot-high, 300-foot-long granite “wave” that is Wave Rock (pictured below, on the left) is the superstar rock formation in the area that was our destination, but there were numerous other formations nearby that were, though less stunning, still fascinating. Among those, I was particularly amused by one called the Hippo’s Yawn (at right, below), because it really did look like quite a bit like the open mouth of a yawning hippo.

Wave Rock

Wave Rock

Hippo's Yawn

Hippo's Yawn

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Victoria Wildfires

With news coming in hourly about the rising death toll in the current, horrible fires sweeping across much of Victoria, I could not bring myself to post a cheerful little entry about some pretty spot I visited while touring Australia. I’ll start that again in a few days, but right now, my mind is filled with images of devastation—lives lost, homes destroyed, forests consumed. I have friends in the area that is ablaze, and I can’t reach them. I pray that they are safe, but I am deeply saddened by the loss of even those I did not know. I have met so many people in this region, and they were on the whole cheerful, kind, hospitable people. It is heartbreaking to think so many are lost.

Reports say the authorities are closing in on the arsonists who set the blaze. I hope they catch them soon. It will not bring the people back, but justice needs to be done.

Pray for Australia. If you were planning a trip, definitely still go — they’ll need the income more than ever, now, and the fire is not so widespread that it is likely to affect your plans.

If you live in Sassafras, let me know if the area is okay.

I am heartsick over this loss.

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Cockatoos

Australia is sometimes called the Land of the Parrot, and wherever I went, from the tropics to the deserts to chilly mountaintops, I could always find (and was always delighted by) at least a few species. I’ve already written of the stunning crimson rosellas and nearly ubiquitous galahs in earlier posts, but there are vastly more species than these.

Among parrots, few are more iconically Australian than cockatoos. (However, though primarily found in Australia, there are a few species that live on nearby islands.) There are 21 species of these handsome parrots, which are best known for the crests that they fan so expressively.

Cockatoos are fairly large birds, ranging in size from about 14 inches (including tail) up to the nearly three-foot length of the great black cockatoos of the north. Cockatoos have powerful beaks for cracking nuts, digging up roots, or prying grubs from wood. They are sometimes seen singly, but are usually seen in groups—and sometimes in large, noisy flocks, which can actually include two or three types of cockatoo. Like most parrots, cockatoos live long lives, with life spans generally running around 40 to 60 years, depending on the species—though some in zoos have been known to live close to 100 years.

Cockatoos are tree nesters, so even though I saw some in the desert, they only live in areas where trees exist—even if the trees are dead. In fact, I have often seen dead trees in arid regions covered with cockatoos, looking from a distance like a springtime floral display.

On my third trip to Australia, in Windjana Gorge, I was overjoyed to see thousands of cockatoos gathered for the breeding season. The courtship rituals we witnessed were charming—heads bobbing, small gifts being offered and accepted. Just adorable.

Of course, being adorable is one of the reasons cockatoos are popular pets. Being clever and affectionate is also appealing. Not all species adapt well to human company, however, and some are difficult to train.

One of the ones that are difficult to train is the glorious Major Mitchell cockatoo, also called a Leadbeater’s cockatoo. Pity, as they are so lovely, with their pale, rose-colored bodies and splendid yellow-and-red striped crests. But they are aggressive birds, and they don’t make particularly good pets. The aggressive nature of the Major Mitchell cockatoo pictured below manifested itself in its unwillingness to let me spend too much time photographing other birds, as I wandered through the aviary in Perth’s Cohuna Wildlife Sanctuary. It chased off its rivals for my attention, and then posed while I took several photos.

Major Mitchell Cockatoo

Major Mitchell Cockatoo

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Perth’s Old Mill

There is a saying I’ve heard that sums up comparisons between the United States and Europe: Years in Europe are like miles in the United States. That is, they have vastly more centuries of history; we have vastly more space. The same comparison could be made to Australia—another big place where “ancient history” is 200 years ago.

The Old Mill, just off of Mill Point Road in South Perth, was built in 1835 to grind wheat for local settlers. Built by a young engineer named William Kernot Shenton, it was the colony’s first successful wind-powered flour mill—and it is the oldest industrial site in Western Australia.

The area that is today known as South Perth was originally used primarily for farming and growing fruit. It was one of the earliest areas to be developed after the Swan River Colony was settled in 1829. When he built his flourmill and its attendant cottage, Shenton became the first permanent resident of South Perth. Shenton’s mill went on to play an important role in the survival of the young, struggling colony.

The site for the mill seemed perfect—right on the Swan River, for easy transportation to settlers, and in a breezy spot that supplied enough wind to keep the sails turning. At its peak of productivity, the mill produce more than 1,000 pounds of flour a day. However, as additional mills were built and roads were improved, making proximity to the river less of an advantage, the mill became less profitable, and it stopped production in 1859.

The mill was a solid, handsome structure created from heavy stones. It was built to last, but in the 1950s, its continued existence was threatened by a proposed freeway project. But local residents and the Western Australia Historical Society united to save the mill. In 1957, Shenton’s mill was restored and became a museum of local history. Then, in 1992, care and protection of the Old Mill was passed on to the National Trust. It still houses artifacts of the area’s fascinating and sometimes difficult history, and it is one of Perth’s most popular landmarks.

Perth's Old Mill

Perth's Old Mill

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