Category Archives: Lore

Trip 3:Friday, September 8, Part 1

We’ve decided to stay where we are, since it’s a nice little cabin and quite near the Flinders Ranges. But first things first. After a hearty breakfast, we jumped in the ute, took our damaged trailer to the repair shop, and spent a couple of hours immersed in insurance forms (though I was just there for moral support—Nikki and Richard did all the work). But that out of the way, we headed for the mountains.

Approaching the Flinders Ranges

Road into Flinders Ranges


On the far side of Pichi Richi Pass, with stopped in Quorn, to buy train tickets for tomorrow—because Pichi Richi is not just the name of the pass, it’s also the name of the railway that was built from Port Augusta northward. The Pichi Richi Railway, opened in 1879, was originally intended to stretch all the way to Darwin, though that never happened. However, it did make it to Alice Springs by 1929, and it became an important route, especially during World War II. Service on this line ended in 1957, but that was not the end of the railway. Local train enthusiasts formed the Pichi Richi Preservation Society and, since 1974, the rails have carried historic steam trains filled with visitors to the area. (I wondered if Pichi Richi Pass was named before or after the train reached Alice Springs, where Heavitree Gap, the break in the mountains that gives access from the south to the Alice, is also called Pitchi Richi, with the added “t.” It was explained to me on my first trip that Pitchi Richi means “break in the range,” which is certainly also appropriate for Pichi Richi Pass, so perhaps it was geology rather than the connection that led to the similarity.)

Quorn Railway Station


We drove across the Willochra Plain, passing the Kanyaka ruins, which we visited on my list trip. Showing nothing of the harshness that led to the ruins, the plain today was very green, with orange, yellow, purple, and white wildflowers running riot over the rolling terrain. Birds were everywhere, not just here but throughout the day: galahs, corellas, kites, eagles, kestrels, magpies, Port Lincoln parrots, and more.

We stopped briefly in Hawker, where Richard was greeted warmly by friends from his days as a guide in this area. The roadhouse at the center of town had a display of souvenirs and photos from the making nearby of the film “The Lighthorsemen.” One of Richard’s friends pointed out the locals who had bit parts in the movie—all much younger in the photos than they are now, as they movie was made a while ago. But it was a remarkable bit of history, and I have no doubt taking part in reproducing it would be a memory not readily given up. (If you have any interest in the history behind the movie, as well as a clip of the key battle, I posted about it after mentioning a monument to the Light Horse that I had seen in Western Australia. You can see it here.)

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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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August 28, Part 2

We finally stopped at a remote spot where incredible rock formations surrounded us. We were here to explore Wanjina rock art. The Wanjina are mythical ancestral beings, elemental spirit beings that originated in the sea and sky. It is believed the older paintings are at least 4,000 years old, though some paintings in this region are made or renewed even today. The figures are alien-looking beings, with large eyes and no mouths.

Wanjina Spirit Figures

Wanjina Spirit Figures


After spending a fair bit of time examining and learning about the paintings, we continued exploring the area. The rocks are astonishingly shattered and worn, with roots prying open cracks and trees perching on ledges. One rock looked to me like a huge face. We saw a gigantic spider–bigger than my hand, even with fingers spread—and gave it wide berth. (We were later told that it was not a type we needed to worry about.) Everything else was fascinating and quite wonderful.
mitchell-rocks-1-lighter mitchell-rocks-2
Then on to our campsite, which was not far beyond, at a site on the King Edward River. Here, rocks jut up at one end of camp, and the river runs along one side of the small bit of flat area where our tents are to be put up. Pandanus and huge paperbarks cluster along the riverbanks, and rock slabs rise up from or slope into the water in various places. Large numbers of ducks sat on the far shore, watching us was we set up camp.
King Edward River

King Edward River


With camp up, it was time for a dip in the clear water. The submerged parts of the rocks along the water’s edge were covered with some sort of moss or algae that made them unbelievably slippery. If a rock was at a slant, you couldn’t stand, or even sit in one place—you’d just keep sliding. It made getting into and especially getting out of the water a bit challenging–though it was definitely worth the effort.

As the sun began to approach the horizon, more birds began to arrive and/or began singing. Butcherbirds, whistling kites, cockatoos, and myriad unknowns joined us in camp. Other than the heat and flies, this could be paradise.

The sunset was beautiful. The moon was the tiniest sliver in the darkening sky. The cockatoos have squawked good night. Mim is preparing damper for us to enjoy after dinner.
king-edward-river-sunest
The heat from our cooking fire drove a big spider out into the open, and it disappeared in the dark. Then a grasshopper jumped down the back of my neck. These generated a half hour of bug and spider stories. But then conversation returned to adventures in Australia–those we’d all had and those we anticipated in the morning. Nice evening.

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Trip 3:Thursday, August 24 Part 1

(This time, part 1 of 4)

Woke to the caroling of butcherbirds and the harsh call of the blue-winged kookaburras (which are as raucous as laughing kookaburras, but have a different call—just noise, no laughter). The ground is littered with the orange flowers of the woolybutt gum trees that surround us.
Woolybutt Flowers lighter
The caroling of the butcherbirds increased as the sun rose and was joined by other bird songs. The sun coming up on the red rock walls around us was dramatic and beautiful. The air is fresh, and cooler than it has been. An all together delightful morning.

Then on the road again. The stark, magnificent beauty of this strange land draws me in again, deeper with each passing mile. I thank God for this trip–not just returning to Australia, but the opportunity to go farther out.

We drove to a parking area that identified itself as the access point for Nganlang, another Aboriginal art site. (I’m including a photo of the sign, because I’ve found that it is often spelled differently online—one site says “now known as Nganalam.” And yet Nganlang still shows up on some academic sites. So name change or just perpetuated error? I may never know.)
Nganlang Sign
Red-winged parrots fluttered nearby, as we hiked the estimated 10 minutes to where we’d see the art. Brilliantly weird, majestic, worn and shattered rock was so remarkable that it would have been worth the visit without the art. (Be sure to click on the thumbnail images, to see the photos at full size, or you’ll miss the details. These rock formations are worth seeing.)
Nganlang Rocks 1 Nganlang Rocks 2 sharper Nganlang Rocks 3
However, the rock paintings were wonderful, as well, strange and otherworldly. Trusting the information panels at the site, I feel fairly confident saying the two large figures with rays or feathers coming out of their heads are Gangi Nganan, said to be the very first of the Mirriwung, an indigenous group in this region. The second photo features many layers of paintings, showing that the site was used for a long time. Here, mythic creatures blend with everyday life and food animals. The first images were scraped into the rock, while the white, yellow, and red painted images were later (though still, in most cases, centuries and even millennia ago).
Gani Nangan figures Newer Aboriginal Art
Another delight was coming across a cluster of empty mud nests built by fairy martins. Fairy martins are members of the swallow family. They build their remarkable nests on vertical rock walls, though generally in protected areas, such as a caves. On my first trip to Australia, I had seen fairy martins dashing in and out of a cave in Katherine Gorge, but did not see the nests. This time, I saw the nests but not the martins.

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Lance Corporal Bacon

I always like to remind people that, despite what most of us saw in textbooks long ago, history is not a line; it is a web. Everything is connected to myriad other things. I was reminded of that today, when I ran across an item about Lance Corporal Bacon. I’m working on a book on the history of pigs, which will be something of a companion volume to my book on the history of corn (Midwest Maize), since, at least in the U.S., pigs and corn are close to inseparable.

Reading a book on bacon, I ran across this bit of information: that the ANZACs, during World War I, gave a nickname to bacon that was almost all fat but with just a single, thin stripe of meat across the otherwise white slab. Because a lance corporal had only one stripe on his sleeve, the long streak of meat in the bacon became identified with that lone stripe of rank, thus making the fatty slab Lance Corporal Bacon.

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Australia’s on the Wallaby

Another of my personal favorites from Slim Dusty is “Australia’s on the Wallaby.”

“The Wallaby” in the title is short for the Wallaby Track–which really is no track at all, but refers to the roads and wilderness walked by itinerant works and dispossessed families in search of work. The term dates to the 1800s, and was even the title of a poignant painting –On the wallaby track — created in 1896 by Australian artist Frederick McCubbin. The painting shows a young family alone in the bush, with the wife holding an infant and her husband boiling the billy can over a small fire. So the term predates the Great Depression — but during the Great Depression, people again took to the Wallaby Track, though in greater numbers than ever before.

During the Great Depression, 1 in 3 Australians became jobless, and so a stunningly large percentage of the population was wandering in search of any kind of work that paid. Australia was, indeed, on the Wallaby. A book titled On the wallaby: a true story about the Great Depression in Australia in the 1930s, by William Kidman, reinforces the identification of the term with this period.

The “cooee” in the song is a cry used in the Australian bush to connect with other wanderers, to attract attention, or to indicate one’s location.

This particular video is not in particularly good shape, but you can hear the song clearly. I hope you enjoy it as much as I always have. The song is, like most Australians, cheerful despite difficulties being faced.

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G’Day Blue

Continuing the Slim-a-thon, here’s another Slim Dusty Classic. My dad was still alive when I first went to Australia, and this was one of his favorite songs, once I introduced him to Slim Dusty.

“Blue” is an Australian nickname for guys with red hair. The word can also refer to anything from being glum to a fight to a type of Australian cattle dog, but if you use “Blue” as a man’s name, it means he’s a redhead. (Because calling him “Red” would be too obvious.) If you’ve read my book, Waltzing Australia, you’ll know that I encountered a couple of Blues on my travels, which probably also contributed to my enjoying this song.

In this song, Slim sings of the virtues of a man named Blue, saying he’s never on the bite and never a skite. On the bite means looking for loans, and a skite is a braggart. So, lacking these vices, Blue is a good bloke to have as a mate.

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