Monthly Archives: March 2009

John McDouall Stuart

Back in January 2008, I introduced you to explorers Charles Sturt and James McDouall Stuart, including both in the entry to make it clear that Sturt and Stuart are two different people, not a typo. Of the two, James McDouall Stuart would become the more important—and would, in fact, open up a route to the north that would make it possible for Australia to connect to the world.

Technically, John McDouall Stuart was not the first person to cross Australia south to north. That honor belongs to the Burke and Wills expedition. But two things established Stuart as the greater explorer: he actually blazed a useful trail across the continent, and he survived his trip.

It took Stuart several years of exploring the remote regions of South Australia to find a viable route north, but by October 1861, he was ready to make the crossing. Eight months later, on July 24, 1862, he reached the Indian Ocean near present-day Darwin.

The reports and maps with which Stuart returned opened up the Northern Territory. The British Government was so impressed, it added the entire region to South Australia shortly after Stuart’s return. By 1872, the Overland Telegraph had been strung across the continent, closely following Stuart’s route. This wire stretched across the outback, from Adelaide to the Indian Ocean, linked Australia to England and the world.

The names of South Australians—from supporters of Stuart’s expeditions (Finke, Chambers) to politicians (Ayers, Todd) still dot the Northern Territory. However, South Australians felt the region was far too large to handle effectively, and the Northern Territory eventually got its own local government.

If you’d like a bit more detail on Stuart’s life and explorations, there is a good article at the Flinders Range Research web site: http://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/stuart.htm

Though Stuart returned to his native Scotland for his remaining years, his name is still strongly linked to both South Australia and the Northern Territory. The statue of Stuart shown below is in Adelaide’s Victoria Square.

John McDouall Stuart

John McDouall Stuart

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North Terrace

Adelaide’s North Terrace, one of the boundary roads of the original city planned by Colonel Light, is not the only place one finds impressive buildings in Adelaide, but it does offer one of the city’s most concentrated collections of imposing architecture. Lining this handsome, mile-long boulevard one finds Parliament House, the University of South Australia, Ayers House (the former mansion of a past governor of South Australia), the Art Gallery of South Australia, the South Australian Museum, and more, interspersed with fountains, churches, and monuments. The architectural styles almost make North Terrace look European—except for the palm trees.

While I ran out of time on my first trip, and didn’t get a chance to visit more than a couple of these North Terrace destinations, I have had the good fortune to explore most of them on subsequent visits. The collections were excellent, and filled with “old friends” from my studies. Each place deepened the layers of information and understanding I have absorbed about Australia and its history. But on that first trip, I simply strolled along North Terrace, admiring them, as I headed for the impressive Botanic Garden. There are simply too many things to do in one trip.

The South Australian Museum

The South Australian Museum

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Rundle Mall

At the heart of every large Australian city, there is an attractive pedestrian mall—but Adelaide’s Rundle Mall was the first.

As is true of most of these pedestrian-only streets, Rundle Mall is lined with department stores, boutiques, specialty shops, book stores, and eateries (coffee shops, delicatessens, restaurants, milk bars, and food courts). When I was there, Rundle Mall was also dotted with booths and stands selling fresh fruit and cut flowers, which added to the generally festive ambiance of the place. The fruit stands in particular became favorite stops on the way back to my hotel.

Rundle Mall was a great place for people watching, as it was always filled with a mix of young and old, tourists and locals, serious shoppers and folks hanging out, just enjoying the weather, the street musicians, perhaps a cappuccino, and the general cheerful bustle.

In Rundle Mall, while some of the large department stores are newer and more modern, most of the buildings are older and exhibit more traditional architectural design—and provide a handsome backdrop for the modern art that dots the mall. The shiny orbs below are among the most commonly photographed pieces of public art in Rundle Mall—and it’s easy to see why, as it offers you both the view ahead and the reflected view behind.

Rundle Mall

Rundle Mall

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Festival City

For much of its history, Adelaide was known as the City of Churches, and indeed, there is a surprising number of impressive church buildings in the old part of the city. However, as with many of the early American colonies, this did not simply show the presence of religion, but also represented political freedom, freedom of religion, and increased civil liberties. The original settlers of Adelaide were largely British citizens breaking with the Anglican Church and German Lutherans escaping persecution, and they showed their delight in being free to worship as they wished by all building their own churches. Of course, freedom wasn’t the only reason people came—there was also the possibility of building a better life. Again, not much different from the American colonies, just farther from England. (And for those who never thought of it, there’s a really good reason the settlement of Australia started right after the American Revolution.)

More recently, Adelaide has come to be known as the Festival City. It is a city with a lively arts scene and major arts festivals. One of the city’s centerpieces is Festival Hall (pictured below), which is more modern and has more innovations than what they refer to as “that other place” (i.e., the Sydney Opera House). Though less iconic than Sydney’s dramatically sculptural harbor-side center, Adelaide’s Festival Hall is a strikingly handsome building and a splendid venue for the performing arts.

Adelaide's Festival Hall

Adelaide's Festival Hall

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Opals and Inlays

When one mentions opals, most people think immediately of precious opals, the gem-quality stones that tend to show up in pieces of jewelry. It is precious opal that possesses the flashing, shimmering colors—the opalescence—that make the stones so lovely.

While opals are found in a number of places around the world, the finest gem opals are found in Australia. Because South Australia is one of the key locations for the mining of gem-quality opals, Adelaide is pretty well supplied with jewelry stores that specialize in opals.

I talk a fair bit about opals in the book, so I won’t repeat it all here, but I did want to show you a photo of the splendid “pseudomorph”—a fossil shell formed entirely of opal—that caught my eye while I was browsing through Opal Field Gems in Adelaide. You’ll see it below, mounted in a necklace—a perfect cockle shell shape, all of opal. (Actually, there are two cockle-shaped pseudomorphs in the photo, but the one that really captured my fancy was the one in the necklace.) The gorgeous black opals that I so admired can also be seen—the ones that look like molten emeralds and sapphires mixed together.

One of the stories that didn’t make it into the book, however, is that while I was browsing through the store, it suddenly occurred to me that, with a few relatively settled days in Adelaide, I could take care of some business that had been delayed by all my wandering. While I was still on the camping trip that carried me down the rugged west coast, someone had offered me a particularly sticky candy called Milk Shake—the sort of thing that pulls fillings out. Or, in my case, an inlay. I had been trotting about the countryside now for several weeks with about half a tooth missing. Well, not entirely missing, as it was in my purse, but I wanted it where it belonged. So I asked the charming sales manager at the opal store if she could offer any recommendations. She wrote down the address of her own dentist, whose office was just a few blocks away.

I found the dentist, and his receptionist was able to arrange an appointment only a few days later. By Tuesday of the following week, my inlay was back in place. I only mention this because it has afforded me some amusement over the years. Often, people who know of Australia’s gold rush ask if I have any Australian gold in my teeth. I smile and reply that, no, I don’t, but the gold I do have is held in place with Australian glue.

Australian Opals

Australian Opals

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Paterson’s Curse

As I traveled into the countryside outside of Adelaide, I was amazed to see fields everywhere blanketed by lovely, tall, purple-flowered plants that were identified as weeds called Paterson’s Curse (Echium plantagineum). Also known as Salvation Jane, this relative of borage, introduced from Europe in the mid-1800s, has become widespread in temperate Australia. It blankets millions of acres—about 300 million—and costs Australians vast sums of money each year, in efforts to reclaim farmland and in lost or sickened livestock. Because even though this attractive Mediterranean native is nutrient-dense, it also contains alkaloids that act on the livers of some animals (especially horses and pigs; sheep, goats, and cattle are affected, but not as much). If grazing animals consume much of the weed, many weaken, some die.

Plants grow quickly and develop large taproots that make them drought resistant. They also produce prodigious numbers of seeds, thus multiplying rapidly. In addition to threatening grazing animals, they also crowd out indigenous plants, grasses, or crops.

But not everyone hates this plant. It is cherished by beekeepers, as bees love it. Which is why there was an ongoing battle for many years about the use of herbicides. Now, attempts are being made to control the weed with non-toxic methods. Because the plant is kept in check on its home turf by insect predators, scientific organizations tested the practicality of introducing insects that would feed on the plants. (A similar approach helped Queensland control a stunning plague of prickly pear cactus—the Cactoblastis moth was introduced and helped reclaim millions of acres of land that had been lost to the introduced cactus.)

Because the flowers of this plant are lovely, people who don’t know what it is think it’s a nice decorative plant. As a result, it has found its way into other ecosystems. Oregon is now fighting infestations of this broadleaf weed. Which is just another example of why, when those nice people at the airport ask you if you have any plant material in your luggage, you should tell the truth—or, better yet, don’t have any. The ecology you might be destroying could be your own. (Most seeds for this particular weed are, in fact, transported in dried plants, so don’t think it’s safe just because it looks dead.)

And here you thought it was just rabbits that became a problem in Australia.

Fields of Paterson's Curse

Fields of Paterson's Curse

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Into Adelaide

Thanks to the vision of Colonel William Light, Adelaide is a wonderfully laid-out city, with abundant gardens and parks, remarkably wide streets, and attractive squares every few blocks. Colonel Light chose the city’s site in 1836, and soon handsome, imposing buildings began growing up along the sweeping boulevards and amid the parks he had mandated.

Born in Malaya, Light spoke several languages and was a gifted artist. His life might best be described as unconventional, with more numerous career changes than were common at the time, a number of marriages, and a fair bit of international wandering. However, he distinguished himself in the military on numerous occasions, and most especially while attached to the illustrious Duke of Wellington. He was also very bright.

When John Hindmarsh (with whom Light had served in Egypt) became Governor of South Australia, he recommended Light for the position of Surveyor General—which led to Light’s involvement with the founding of Adelaide. In addition to determining the location of Adelaide and laying it out, Light named numerous locations in South Australia, including the Barossa Valley (which would become one of South Australia’s premier wine regions), after a valley in Spain where he had fought while in the military.

Colonel Light’s brilliance was not universally appreciated. In fact, he found himself coming under increasingly heavy criticism, which escalated into attacks. In his own defense, he wrote, “The reasons that led me to fix Adelaide where it is I do not expect to be generally understood or calmly judged of at present. My enemies, however, by disputing their validity in every particular, have done me the good service of fixing the whole of the responsibility upon me. I am perfectly willing to bear it; and I leave it to posterity, and not to them, to decide whether I am entitled to praise or blame.”

Sadly, Light did not live long enough to see his enemies’ opinions discounted. He died of tuberculosis in 1839. But even at his death, he was acknowledged as the founder of Adelaide—and his funeral procession indicated that, though his foes may have been vocal, there were hundreds who admired him. Today, pretty much everyone who visits Adelaide considers Light’s plans to have been inspired. It is a truly lovely city.

The picture below is of Victoria Square, named in early 1837 for a princess who would soon be England’s Queen. It is one of five squares Light placed in downtown Adelaide, and is the center of the city’s one-square-mile grid. Both historic and modern buildings can be seen beyond the Three Rivers Fountain, which represents the three rivers from which Adelaide gets its water.

Adelaide's Victoria Square

Adelaide's Victoria Square

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