Category Archives: Literature

Trip 3:Wednesday, September 6 Part 1

Up at 7:00, had breakfast, and got a tour of Nikki and Richard’s wonderful garden. (The hedges around the front gate are rosemary, so the place is fabulously fragrant.) Then we packed the ute (an Aussie pick-up/utility vehicle), hitched up the camping trailer, and headed out bush again. Richard’s years as a tour bus driver and outback guide were about to be put to good use.

We drove out of charming Nuriootpa, through delightful Greenock, among the rolling hills and spring-green fields of the Barossa Valley. Grazing sheep, vineyards full of awakening vines, and flocks of galahs alternated with small towns and large wineries.

Brief stop in Kapunda, where I photographed the town’s centennial statue of a miner. Before even bigger deposits were discovered in Burra, this was an important copper mining area.

Then on the road to Clare, rolling through a countryside that might be English but for the gum trees. Into Gilbert Valley, where large patches were brilliant yellow with canola flowers.

Into Auburn, birthplace of poet C.J. Dennis, author of The Sentimental Bloke. I’m a fan, so I was pleased. If you’re interested in knowing more about Dennis and his charming verse, I posted about the poet last year: C.J. Dennis post.

As we continued through the Clare Valley, we were surrounded by vineyards, but then we drove into a grain-growing region—one of the best in the world, Richard told me. Their specialty is malting barley that is so highly regarded it is even exported to Germany.

Before long, we could see the lower Flinders Ranges in the distance, across the miles of undulating, green farm land. We pulled into Georgetown, a classic little old town with buildings of field stone, with iron lace and wooden verandas much in evidence. We past the old railway hotel, a feature of most of these old towns, and stopped at the charming 1912 General Store. The interior of the store was as iconically rural Australian as the exterior. Here, we enjoyed a lunch of excellent meat pies with sauce and locally produced ginger beer.

Then on the road again, heading toward Port Pirie, across the hills, then swinging north, with the lower Flinders to our right and Spencer Gulf to our distant left. Yellow, gold, and purple flowers lined the road.

We joined Highway 1 and continued toward Port Augusta. We stopped briefly to watch stumpy-tailed lizards crossing the road. Samphire flats stretched toward the water. (Samphire is an edible succulent plant, sometimes called sea asparagus, pickleweed, or sea beans, that grows on some shorelines, marshy areas, and mud flats.)

The country not directly adjacent to the water was drier than that we had left behind. The mountains got closer and higher. Glorious flowering bushes surrounded us. We got closer to Spencer Gulf as got nearer to Port Augusta.

Not surprising, of course, but it’s quite a bit colder here than it was at the top of the continent. However, as we drive farther north, the clouds are clearing and the bright sun is warming things up a bit. Fortunately, Nikki was able to lend me some warm clothes for camping out in colder weather.

And into Port Augusta. Just a short stop, to buy groceries for our stay out bush—and to stretch our legs after the long drive. After buying food, we headed across the street to the grog shop, to buy some Strongbow cider. (I had learned to love Strongbow during my first trip to Australia–well before it was available in the U.S.) Then we were off again, heading for the Gawler Ranges.

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August 30, Part 2

The sky filled with clouds as the afternoon wore on, and then (as has been true every day) began to clear again. There were just enough clouds left to make a spectacular display as we drove into Mt. Elizabeth Station at sunset. Mt. Elizabeth is a working cattle station, but it also has facilities for visitors. This station has been in the Lacy family for two generations. Frank Lacy, subject of the book The Rivers of Home: Frank Lacy–Kimberley Pioneer, was born in New Zealand in 1899 and came to this region in 1923. He took up the lease on this station in 1945. He is the father of the current owner. Both Frank Lacy and his wife, Theresa, are buried nearby.

Frank’s son, Peter, now owns the station, but he is out with the stockmen, mustering the cattle, so we didn’t get to meet him. We were met by Peter’s wife, Pat Lacy, and her niece, Kim. We actually get to sleep in beds here, and Pat showed us to our rooms. After I dashed off to photograph the sunset and the gravestones of the first Lacys, I enjoyed a cold shower and then dressed for dinner.
mount-elizabeth-station-lighter mount-elizabeth-sunset-lighter
We were introduced to another “family member”—a pet wallaby. Pat explained that the wallaby had been hut by a car, and the Lacys nursed it back to health. This actually happens with some regularity, so Pat knows what to do—and what to expect. As soon as the mating season is on, the wallaby will return to the wild.

I was surprised to meet another American there: Will Chaffey from Boston, who is up here doing a story for Australian Geographic. He has had some remarkable adventures up here, getting stranded in the wilderness and being reduced to the point of eating grasshoppers–“going feral” as he put it.

Pat Lacy served us a lovely, civilized dinner, with tablecloth and china, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

We chatted after dinner, sharing tales of our own adventures around Australia (some of ours more amusing than Will’s, but he won for hardship). Then we returned to our rooms before the generator was shut down for the night at 9:30.

Nights get surprisingly cool, now, though not until about 2 a.m. It’s amazing that is still gets so brutally hot during the day.

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Trip 3:Friday, August 25 Part 1

Up at 5am–Northern Territory time. That’s 3:30am in the time zone we’re in. Hence, not only was it dark when we arose, it was still dark when we departed. The morning was delightfully cool and still, and as the stars faded, wonderful bird song started up.

We crossed the Ord Diversion Dam and headed out of town as the first light blushed across the horizon behind us. It was a beautiful dawn, offering another crystalline sky.

The scenery was spectacular, with red mountains rising on all sides, approaching and receding as we sped along. The mountains were higher than many we passed yesterday, but were still banded, worn, layered, undulating, and touched here and there with a haze of green foliage.

The gum tree savannah spread toward the mountains. The Victoria Highway turned south, and we followed it. Before long, we could see the sun rising over Lake Argyle, off to our left. Seeing a sign with the name Durack on it made me smile. Having read the classic book Kings in Grass Castles by Mary Durack, about the pioneering Durack family that settled this region, I was pleased to know that I was passing so close to this slice of Australian history.

Then out into the broad, ancient land. By 8:30, the brilliant day was already becoming uncomfortably hot. A few massive road trains passed us. They are so connected to Australia in my mind that even these pleased me. Morning break at the Turkey Creek Roadhouse in the community of Warmun, which offers a “last chance” of food, gas, and directions for those headed into Purnululu National Park—which was where we were going. A bit farther down the road, we turned east off the highway and headed across Mabel Downs Station, toward the park and the Bungle Bungle Range.

The sign at the turnoff said “Rough Road,” but that’s probably just because “Tortuous, rutted, rock-strewn gash in the hilly wilderness” wouldn’t fit on the sign. Weaving, dodging, jouncing, rocking, climbing, dropping, and fording streams made up the next two hours.

At last, the Bungle Bungles came into view. There were moments during the pounding, lurching drive that I wondered if it was worth the effort. Now I think it most definitely is.

And into Kurrajong camp.
Kurrajong Camp-lighter
We set up camp, had lunch, and then headed for the Bungles. We drove around the west side of the massive formation. The Bungle Bungles, which are the highlight of Purnululu National Park, cover about 173 square miles. The remoteness and difficulty of reaching the area are underscored by the fact that this formation was only discovered by Westerners in 1983. The area was named a national park in 1987 and was made a World Heritage site in 2003. Even now, there are extensive areas that are closed to visitors, as not everything has been explored.

The towering (600 to 900 feet tall), bizarrely eroded, banded range of rocks are made of sandstone, and Purnululu is the word for “sandstone” in the language of one of the region’s Aboriginal groups (Kija).
Bungles-Approach 1 Bungles-Approach 2

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The Sentimental Bloke

Australia is a land that loves its poets. Among the country’s best-known bards is Clarence Michael James Dennis, better known as C. J. Dennis, who was born in Auburn, SA, in 1876. He worked as a journalist but is remembered (and revered) for his generally humorous verse, and most particularly the charming book-length poem The Sentimental Bloke, which relates the life and love of a simple but solid working-class chap. It’s written in the working-class language of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so one occasionally need to turn to the glossary, which happily recent versions include. The spelling is as if the not particularly well educated hero was writing the poem–for example, cruel fortune is rendered “crool forchin,” but reading the poem aloud often helps.

This may not seem like much of a recommendation, but it actually is. It’s a delightful look at the heart and heartaches of a quite decent fellow. I love the whole poem, but particularly cherish the conclusion.

An’ I am rich, because me eyes ‘ave seen
The lovelight in the eyes of my Doreen;
An’ I am blest, becos me feet ‘ave trod
A land ‘oo’s fields reflect the smile of God.

So for those who might be interested in Australian classics, this is definitely one of them. And if you’d like to know a bit more about C. J. Dennis, you can find his biography here, at the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

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Midwest Maize

This is not about Australia–but it is about why I left the corporate world and went to Australia–to transform my life into that of a writer. Today is the official publication day of my book, Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland. Books have actually been shipping for about a week now–all those that were pre-ordered–but now the book will start to go to bookstores and libraries.

The book is a food history–where corn/maize came from, how it diversified and spread, and ultimately how it created the U.S. region known as the Midwest–not just the farms, but the cities, as well–cities that would vanish if they weren’t supported by the region’s sprawling farmlands. But it is also a history of agriculture, of food preparation, of the contributions of different ethnic groups to the food culture of the region, of fairs and celebrations, and of people who raise, work with, trade, process, and cook corn today.

There is more information, plus a few early reviews, on the University of Illinois website, if you’re interested. Plus I’ve started a blog, to relate all the traveling I did and discoveries I made as I drove around the Midwest, pursuing the stories that fill the book. That blog is also named, not too surprisingly, Midwest Maize. I’d love it if you bought the book, maybe even “liked” the Midwest Maize Facebook page, but if all you do is enjoy a bit of the fun I had exploring the Midwest, that would be okay, too.
ClampittS15-smaller-B

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Monday, September 16

This morning, Judy and I headed for Australflora and Gum Nut Village, a nursery that specialized in Australian plants, plus craft gallery and tearoom, all run by a charming, lucid man named Bill, who obviously knows Judy well. (Not too surprising, given how focused on indigenous plants Judy’s garden is.) We browsed for a few hours through the fabulous flowers, and I bought a few packets of seeds, to see if I can raise a few Aussie blooms in a pot back home. We chatted with Bill for a while, about local events, local folks, and how to care for a few plants Judy recently obtained. Then we headed for the giant “gum nut.” A gum nut is the hard, woody fruit of a eucalyptus tree—though in this case, it is a replica of said fruit the size of a small cabin. This gum nut houses the craft gallery as well as a lot of May Gibbs books and paintings.

May Gibbs was the artist/writer who, about 100 years ago, created a world of fairy folk that she dubbed gumnut babies. These delightful little creatures, who lived among and dressed in the flowers of gum trees (eucalypts), populated a series of children’s books, the most famous being Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, which appeared in 1918. Gibbs’s creations became part of Australians’ childhood heritage. In fact, so iconic was Gibbs’s work that she was honored with a Google doodle on her 136th birthday.

And in case you haven’t seen a gum flower before, here is one of the many varieties—and one can see how easy it was to imagine it as the attire of tiny fairies.
GumFlower-B
Judy and I had lunch in the tearoom then we headed back to the house. Geoff was waiting for us. We chatted for a little while over tea, then I finished packing. At 3:00 pm, it was time to head for the airport. Judy and Geoff have been so gracious and generous, as well as a lot of fun, that I really hated saying good-bye. However, I’m sure part of that is also realizing that the trip is nearing its end—too soon, I’ll be saying good-bye again to Australia.

It was dark by the time I landed in Sydney at 6:15. I caught the bus to the city then hiked the rest of the way. Fortunately, I have a suitcase that can convert to a backpack, and when the walk turned out to be longer than I’d anticipated, I made that switch. Still, even with the suitcase worn as a backpack, I was fairly weary as I climbed the stairs to reception at Sydney’s Traveller’s Rest Hotel. However, I was pleased to find that, though a bargain accommodation, Traveller’s Rest was clean and cheerful and quite comfortable.

After settling in, I walked toward nearby Chinatown, stopping at a place that offered an all-you-can-eat Cambodian buffet. Glass noodles with tree ears, curried eggplant and pumpkin, meat with chilies, tofu with veggies, and several other dishes made for an interesting and tasty meal. Then it was back to the hotel and early to bed. Tomorrow, I get to find out how Sydney has changed.

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August 23, part 4

Then it was back in the car, to try to “beat the sun.” I wanted to reach Nambucca Heads before it was totally dark. I just made it, pulling in at the Destiny Motor Inn just as the afterglow began to fade from the sky.

This place is a bit more flash than last night’s lodging. Not the Ritz, mind you, but there are more amenities and brighter décor, plus a patio overlooking a serene lily pond. Pleasant and comfortable. (I had picked my lodgings for this first part of the trip based entirely on location–proximity to things I wanted to see or simply “this is how far I think I can drive in one day”–so I really wasn’t certain what to expect.)

Of course, just as the motel is a bit more flash, so is the dinner menu. I had lamb loin stuffed with spinach and macadamia nuts. Almost ordered the whole baby barramundi with lime, ginger, and chive sauce. They also offered a pair of quails and a smoked venison platter among the evening’s half-dozen specials. Pretty impressive. But then I’ve always thought of Australia as an excellent dining destination.

They had a fire in the fireplace, since the evening is chilly. The hostess was charming and friendly, and as has happened often during my travels in Australia, she stopped to chat. She was originally from Sydney, but she likes living out in the country better.

There were not a lot of guests, which is a shame, since everything was so nice: cloth napkins, a bouquet of herbs and fresh flowers on the plate, the crackling fire. In fact, there was only one other couple. I’m always sad when any business is not doing well, but especially when it’s a really lovely operation, like this. But it is not the busy season, so I’ll hope that they do better at other times.

I had brought John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley along on the trip, to have something to read in the evenings. It’s the perfect book to read during a road trip. It is true, as Steinbeck notes in the book, that every journey has its own personality. Maybe that is why my heart only half recognizes where I am. This trip is so different from the previous one that it’s taking me a while to get to know it, to really feel like I’m back. It is like seeing the face of someone related to a cherished friend–partly but not entirely familiar. But the face is still beautiful, and loved.

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