Monthly Archives: June 2011

Stamps—and How the World has Changed

About 35 years ago, an uncle left my mom his stamp collection. Mom wasn’t really looking for a new hobby, but she kept it for sentimental reasons. Now, all these years later, she is downsizing her life. Dad has passed away, and mom hopes to move into a condo. This means clearing out a lot of stuff one has held onto for sentimental reasons.

The albums are heavy, and mom doesn’t get around like she used to, so she has asked me to go through the stamps and try to determine if they can be sold. I’ve looked up a number of the stamps online, and nothing is astonishingly valuable–mostly just a couple of dollars each — but I do think someone will cherish these stamps. It is a fascinating collection that ranges from the mid-1800s to about 1930, and it is as much a history lesson as a stamp collection.

Going through the albums, the thing that struck me most is how the world has changed. There are pages and stamps for countries that no longer exist, for countries that were colonies at the time the stamps were issued, for countries that have broken up or joined together or vanished. And then there are the names that were spelled differently, such as Jugoslavia, Roumania, Porto Rico.

For Australia, the thing that I found interesting is that this far back, not all stamps were Australian stamps. There are several pages for Australia, but there are also pages for stamps from New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, and South Australia. Most of these stamps predate Australian federation, which occurred in 1901. It’s fun to note that, even though the styles and colors have changed, very early on, Australian stamps began to feature the motifs that have carried on through the century: kookaburras, gums leaves, kangaroos, and so on.

Part of me will be sorry to let this collection go–but like mom, I don’t have time for a new hobby, and I know someone will be delighted beyond measure with these stamps. However, I have enjoyed my little walk through history, and am pleased to have had the chance to be reminded how much the world has changed.

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Uluru

Our destination was, of course, Ayers Rock, or Uluru, as it is now more commonly known. Perhaps because this was where I first fell in love with the Red Centre, it seemed to be more wonderful to me than it might be to others. Still, it is imposing–far more imposing than you would guess from most photographs, which are usually taken from miles away, to take in the whole rock.

My heart sang as I saw it again. I was only a few weeks away from the end of that first, grand, six-month trip, and so I was moved by more than just the sight of the rock. My love for Australia, and the knowledge that I would soon be leaving, seemed to weigh more heavily on my here.

However, there was more rejoicing than sorrow. I was delighted to see the Rock again. Back then, during that first trip to Australia, we could still climb it. No one is actually forbidden to climb it now, but climbing is now discouraged. There are many reasons, many of them tied up with Aboriginal beliefs about Uluru, but many also tied up in people’s bad behavior.

Sadly, a lot of people over the years have shown, how shall we say it, a lack of sense. People wandering off the designated path or climbing while not adequately fit have increased the number of deaths on the Rock to more than 30. Another major issue is people who feel that it is appropriate to relieve themselves when they reach the top of the rock. Aside from considerations regarding what defecating on the Rock says to the traditional owners, it has created a serious health problem, as E.coli levels have increased in the watering holes around the rock, as rain washes poop down the sides of the imposing monolith. The water is often unfit for humans or animals to drink–and in a land that relies heavily on every water source, that is a big problem.

Unfortunately, the actions of some mean The Climb will no longer be one of the goals to be pursued when visiting the Red Centre. Before long, it is likely that it will not simply be discouraged, but will be illegal. So if you read of my climb in my book, know that it predates these recent concerns — and that I showed the utmost respect to the Rock when I did climb.

There is still the goal of walking around Uluru, a walk of about six miles, with many fascinating things to see, especially if you have a good guide book and can recognize features from Aboriginal stories. The images below show a few sights I saw as I circled the Rock that last time. Of course, the presence of so much water was remarkable, because of the recent rains. But “The Brain,” shown at right, can be seen whenever you visit. As much as it looks like a skull/brain to us, it is Ngoru to the Aborigines, the ritual scars on a young man’s chest.

Water and greenery at Uluru's base.

Mutitjula, aka Maggie Springs

Ngoru, aka The Brain

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Mount Conner

As we continued to drive into the much loved and newly green landscape of the Red Centre, our coach captain, Carl, encouraged people to keep an eye out for Ayers Rock and shout out when they saw it. I smiled at the little joke, knowing that most people, even most Australians, don’t realize the Ayers Rock is not the only great monolith of this region. It is, in fact, one of three monster rocks here. The first one to come into view, if you’re approaching from the Stuart Highway, is Mount Conner.

People began to point and cry out that they could see Ayers Rock. It was only after most of the group had turned their attention toward the south that Carl finally informed them of the flat-topped monolith’s true identify. It may have been the “wrong rock,” but we still stopped for photographs.

Called Artilla by the Aborigines, this most easterly of the three great tors is of different composition than the other two (Uluru/Ayers Rock and Katajuta/The Olgas). About 800 feet high and 2 miles across, Mount Conner was named in 1873 for a politician in South Australia. (South Australia governed the Northern Territory in the late 1800s, so most features in this region were named for politicians, explorers, supporters, or family and friends from South Australia.) Today, this rock, like others in this region, are more frequently called by their Aboriginal names, so if you take a tour now, you may find it being identified as Artilla.

In the photo below, in addition to seeing Mount Conner, you can also see how much greener the Red Centre had become, due to the recent heavy rains.

Mount Conner/Artilla

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