Trip 3:Wednesday, September 13

Awoke to the sound of kookaburras’ laughter. Always a happy way to be awakened. Had a more relaxed morning, with a bit of a sleep in and then a tour of Judy and Geoff’s lovely, mountainside property. This is a pretty piece of land, surrounded by tall mountain ash (another type of eucalypt) and decorated with indigenous and imported flowers. We hiked among the trees and around the shrubs, down the steep paddock, and through the gardens. Geoff showed me the wombat holes and possum nests, and pointed out the grevilleas and banksias (local flowering shrubs, particularly healthy ones here). When a family of maned geese appeared, Geoff related that these birds, also known as wood ducks, mate for life.

We stopped to have a “chat” with Rocky the Cocky (pet Sulphur-crested cockatoo), and then gathered for lunch on the deck. It was a perfect day, warm and blue-skyed. Bird song offered a lovely “soundtrack.”

After a light lunch, we jumped in the blue Land Rover and headed off to the Karwarra Australian Plant Garden and Nursery. This intensely planted floral reserve, set amid forests of eucalpyps, is dedicated to indigenous Australian flowers and plants. Some of the flowers were ones I’d seen before, but here I was able to learn names. Plus there were some that were unfamiliar varieties of ones I knew. Pink and white star-like flowers growing in masses turned out to be waxflowers (eriostemon). I admired deep purple baeckea ramossima, wispy, pink hakea sericea, yellow phepalium squamulosum, white thyptome, plus by now familiar waratah, acacias, heaths, and everlasting. And the gum trees were in bloom: wonderful, shaggy, fragrant flowers. One interesting display showed the progression of banksia from flower to spire to starting fruit to mature fruit (I’d only ever seen the flowers before).

There were a lot of birds, as well. Many were familiar and often mentioned through this narrative, but I encountered a new one: a wonderful little creature with a curving beak, which I learned was an Eastern spinebill.

Here’s a link to Karwarra, should you wish to visit or learn more—or just see a few photos. https://visitdandenongranges.com.au/activity/karwarra-australian-plant-garden-and-nursery

In addition to exploring and pointing things out to me, Judy and Geoff were shopping for their own garden. So they were taking home some lovely blooms, while I was simply taking home photos.

We stopped at a bakery in the little town of Olinda, where we enjoyed cream cake and coffee and picked up bread and rolls for the week ahead. Then back home. First priority was taking care of Rahmyl (horse), Bullitt (dog), and Rocky (cockatoo). Then into the kitchen to fix dinner.

Those of you who have read my book will know that I met Judy on a riding trip (she is “Judy of the white crash helmet” in the book). Because of this connection with riding, Geoff put on the soundtrack from the movie “The Man from Snowy River.” And for those of you who don’t know the significance of that choice of music, below is a link to a post I did on “The Man from Snowy River.” Because if you want to know Australia, you need to know this poem, which is iconic, and was the inspiration for the movie that gave us the soundtrack. (It was also, to a certain degree, the inspiration for my taking the riding trip on which I met Judy.) Horses play a big part in Australian history, and a surprising number of the great riders also wrote poetry, so the two are intertwined.) Anyway, here’s the link to the poem, its background, and even an excerpt from the movie.
https://waltzingaustralia.wordpress.com/2009/08/23/the-man-from-snow-river/

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Trip 3:Tuesday, September 12

Up early and on the road, heading for Wilsons Promontory, aka The Prom, the southernmost tip of mainland Australia. It sprawls out into Bass Strait, pointing toward the final bit of Oz: Tasmania. But it is a destination in its own right, not just because it is “land’s end” for the big island.

It was a glorious day and the drive east and then south was delightful. We passed a few places I knew from my first visit to Australia—through Tooradin, past the Koo-we-rup Swamp, and along the South Gippsland Highway—but then southward, farther than I had been before. Signs of civilization began to diminish. Emus began to appear as we continued on.

In three hours, we were entering Wilsons Promontory National Park and marveling at the beauty of the wild, rugged location. The granite mountains rise up out of the sea, and waves of vegetation overhang the roads. Plants surrounded us: banksia, melaleuca, eucalyptus, wildflowers in stunning abundance. Birds were everywhere: silver gulls and Pacific gulls, wattle birds, superb blue wrens, larks and magpies, crimson rosellas, striped thrushes, and more, some in great flocks. I was delighted beyond speech.

Judy and Geoff took me to all their favorite spots. We started with a long stroll on the long, curving beach at Norman Bay. There were even more birds here: sooty oyster catchers, crested terns, and more gulls. The terns in particular were amusing, scurrying about, staying just ahead of the waves that gently lapped the sand. On the far side of the beach, a trail led us up into the forested hills for even better views of the area’s beauty.

After a couple of hours of wandering, it was time for lunch. Judy had packed a lovely picnic, and Geoff drove us to a perfect spot for our meal. The thing that made dining something of a challenge was the abundance of birds. They were all very interested in our food, especially the crimson rosellas—though the gulls were pretty bold, too. Gulls walked across the picnic tables, but the rosellas perched on our arms and shoulders, to see if they could snatch a bite. A lovely little wattle bird simply looked at us wistfully until Geoff offered it a bit of sugar, which it happily lapped up. It did make dining difficult, but it was also very entertaining.

After lunch, we spent hours exploring. At Tidal River, in addition to admiring the beauty, I collected a couple of seashells and a casuarina nut. Squeaky Beach was remarkable for its huge boulders, but even more so for the fact that the white quartz sand actually squeaks underfoot as you walk across it. Oberon Bay, Picnic Bay, stunning beauty on all hands, as well as increasing amounts of wildlife, as the daylight began to fade. Wombats and kangaroos were grazing everywhere there was level ground and grass.

The sunset was spectacular, gold and pink and lavender over the water. But that meant it was time to leave. We drove out of the park as dusk began to fade into darkness. I could see the Southern Cross for much of our drive home. It is a sight that always pleases me.

We arrived back home by 8:30. Judy had prepared a lovely soup in advance, so all she had to do was heat it up, rather than cook a meal. Then a glass of port and some conversation before heading off to bed.

For those who might want more information, as well as a few great photos, here’s the link to the Wilsons Promontory National Park website: https://www.parks.vic.gov.au/places-to-see/parks/wilsons-promontory-national-park

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Restart

When Waltzing Australia was published in 2007, I felt certain that there would be a sequel—a book that covered the astonishing adventures I’ve had during return trips, each of which took me even farther afield.

But life intervened. I had to earn a living, so I began writing textbooks and magazine articles. Then I became increasingly drawn into food history, and a couple of books came out of that (Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland and Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs: From Wild Boar to Baconfest). As the years went by, it seemed increasingly unlikely that I’d ever get around to that sequel.

And so, I’ve decided that this blog will stand in for that second Australia book. The adventures are now a few more years in the past, but that’s the nice thing about falling in love with a really ancient land—if you’re considering a rock that is 35 million years old, it doesn’t really matter if a few years have passed since you last saw it. So I’ll be getting back to blogging here, though not perhaps so regularly, and probably with fewer photos, because I was still using film on those last trips, and scanning slides takes a lot of time. But we’ll see. Books without wizards or werewolves don’t make one rich, so I still have to earn a living “on the side,” so there is never as much free time as one would like. But I still want to finish recording the trips back, as there were so many wonderful adventures.

Wish me luck. And hope to see you as I continue the journey.

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Not Gone Forever

While I haven’t posted on this blog for a while (though have tried to keep my other blogs going, especially Midwest Maize, since that’s actually connected to how I earn a living, while this one is just done for love), I’m not gone forever. Two things have kept me from having the time to keep this going. I’m caring for my mom, who has dementia. And one of my Australian friends–Richard, who played such a big part in all my return trips–died of a heart attack last summer, and that just sort of took the wind out of my sails. But I still have information and a few adventures to share–including, alas, my last adventure with Richard. So I’ll be back. In the meantime, there are nearly 500 posts on this blog, so you should be able to find something interesting about Australia. Or you can check out my other blogs. But I shall return.

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Moving Right Along

It has been a while since my last post — and may still be a few weeks before the next post. I have just moved house, so everything has been chaotic for a while, and will be for a while longer — because getting back up to speed on the activities that pay the bills (writing and speaking engagements) has been my highest priority. But once I dig out from all this, I’ll be back with more tales of my adventures in Australia. So stay tuned.

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Trip 3:Monday, September 11

I slept incredibly well in the wonderful brass bed in the comfortable guest room. The fragrance of a bouquet of freesia and grape hyacinth that Judy had placed in the room was a delightful welcome to consciousness. Judy and Geoff are great gardeners, and there are flowers everywhere outside, but also cut flowers throughout the house.

The sky was overcast, but it was not raining, so we still had high hopes for the day. We had breakfast by the kitchen window, so we could watch the birds that gather here: crimson rosellas, magpies, gray currawongs, and a wattle bird. I love this place.

The sky began to clear, so we headed off to the Royal Melbourne Zoo. I had visited the Melbourne Zoo during my first trip to Australia, so I knew it was splendid, but it’s a fair drive from the ranch—almost all the way back to the airport. However, Judy and Geoff assured me that they were pleased to have a reason to visit, as they loved the zoo, too. So we were off.

The day remained a bit gray and quite cool, but that didn’t keep us from having a wonderful time. The zoo was even better than I had remembered, plus there were things I hadn’t seen previously. I was again dazzled by the astonishing walk-through aviary. Since the weather suits the birds there, it isn’t even really enclosed, just netted at tree-top level. As a result, there is almost no feeling of separation between the vegetation outside and that inside the aviary—and the large number of wild birds that gather nearby help bolster that feeling. Just astonishing, the variety and beauty of birds from all over Australia, swooping and perching and dining and preening their feathers and wading and showing off.

In the aviary


Big day for things with wings, as the butterfly house was next. I was ecstatic. There is something so ephemeral and ethereal about butterflies, it is a bit like touching a rainbow or a piece of sky. The numbers of butterflies made their beauty even more overwhelming. They were fluttering everywhere, some landing on me, many perching on the flowers that crowed around us, others dancing together. I was almost giddy with delight.

Judy and Geoff are keen on Aussie animals, so they were as happy as I was in the exhibits of local fauna. I have seen all these animals in the wild, but I never get tired of them. One behavior I hadn’t seen before (other than in videos) was kangaroos boxing. It’s likely the ones we saw were just practicing for the mating season, but these creatures can really fight when it comes time to divide up the ladies. Emus (birds, but not in the aviary as they are flightless) and a southern hairy-nosed wombat posed nicely for my photos.

Kangaroos boxing

Emu

Wombat


We also fit in some African and South American fauna. It’s too big a zoo to see everything, but we did our best, staying until closing time.

Then back to the mountains. We missed most of the traffic, so we got back to the ranch in just over an hour. Geoff built up a fire in the fireplace, Judy made tea, and we relaxed for a while before Judy started dinner. We then spent an amiable evening, talking about Australia and books, Judy’s horses and endurance riding and her and Geoff’s road rallies. It was a lovely evening. But then it was time for bed, as we have an early start tomorrow.

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Trip 3:Sunday, September 10

Leisurely morning–not up until 8:00. Because it was my last meal in their home, at least for this trip, Nikki and Richard created a really splendid breakfast and served it out on the terrace, so we could take advantage of the lovely weather. Then it was time to pack. Richard loaded my bag in the car, and we were off to Adelaide. Richard and Nikki had a few things they wanted to do in town, but Richard also had a couple of things he wanted me to experienced, things I had missed on previous visits to Adelaide. I happily left the day’s plans to him.

We did a bit of shopping along the pedestrian mall section of Rundle Street, where cafés and eateries appear to outnumber boutiques. No one really wanted to rush around, so after Nikki bought a few things she needed, we just ordered tea, settled at an empty table, just talked for a while. After having their carefully made plans go so terribly wrong, Nikki and Richard had been fairly stressed, but today, they were unwinding at last. Also, with Richard no longer in his outback guide role, he could relax. The conversation was both stimulating and light-hearted–and it would make it that much harder to leave.

Artwork on Rundle Street


But Richard still had those two things he wanted me to experience, and it was several hours before we had to be at the airport. First stop was the Adelaide O-Bahn, a “guided busway.” Buses pull onto the O-Bahn, and then, like a train, they are guided by the tracks. This takes buses out of city traffic, as cars can’t go on the tracks. No stop lights or competing traffic. No holding up cars when the bus stops. Nifty.

On the O-Bahn


We took a bus for the 12-kilometer/7.5-mile ride up the Torrens Gorge. Transit was smooth, swift, and safe, and the surroundings were beautifully landscaped. The bus simply pulls off when it reaches one of the stops along the route, and then pulls back on. Really brilliant concept. However, since our purpose was just using the O-Bahn, we didn’t disembark; we simply returned to our starting point.

For lunch, we enjoyed Indian food and more excellent conversation. Then we headed over to Victoria Square. I had seen the Glenelg Tram on my first visit, but just witnessed it stopping here at the square. This time, we would ride it. The tram is a classic electric tram—the last one in Adelaide. The interior is old fashioned and handsome, with abundant brass and wood and leather trim.

Glenelg Tram


The tram runs the 15 kilometers/9.3 miles from Adelaide city center to the Victorian-era, beachside town of Glenelg. The tram carried us through a trendy part of town into old suburbs, then to vintage rural areas to the seaside in a few minutes. But no time to linger in Glenelg. We had to return to Adelaide, get the car, and head for the airport.

As we drove out of the city, I wondered why I felt so much less like I was in Australia here than I did out bush. I love Australian cities, and Adelaide is a delightful place. But it’s the wild places that cling to my heart. Maybe it’s because cities are so much a part of “real life” that they don’t offer me the sense of escape that the outback does. I do realize I couldn’t live in the wilderness, but I do love the rugged beauty–and being truly “unplugged.” That said, I was quite happy with the things we’d done today.

Nikki and Richard came into the airport with me, and I bought coffee and tea, and we sat and chatted until it was time for me to head out to the boarding area. I left them hoping I’d see them again, and maybe even have new adventures. I feel blessed to have such friends.

The flight was bumpy but otherwise uneventful. It was raining as we landed in Melbourne. Judy and Geoff were waiting for me at the airport. They look great; semi-retirement clearly suits them.

They had gotten a new Land Rover since my last visit, though they assured me the one I knew was still at the house, reserved for hauling supplies for the horses and garden. We wound through Melbourne’s suburbs and out and up into the Dandenong Mountains, arriving at their lovely mountainside ranch at roughly 10:30 p.m.

The three of us enjoyed a cup of tea and talked about what we’ll do this week. Then I headed off to their delightful guestroom with its regally high brass bed. It’s good to be here again.

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September 9, Part 2

The weather was beautiful, the sky was clear, and it was, again, a lovely drive. Galahs, eagles, corellas, crows, ruins, flowering gum trees, mistletoe, sheep, horses, an ostrich farm. Always something to see.

Arriving in Quorn, we spent some time admiring the handsome, antique steam train that would take us on our tour. There is something evocative about its appearance and even more so about the sounds—the hiss of the steam brakes, the chuff, chuff, chuff of the engine. This is an important train-preservation location, so most of the people here are real enthusiasts—and those running the operations, from engineers to conductors to ticket sellers, are all volunteers.

The train was full, so they put us in the guard’s van, the car in which guards and break men traveled, in order to have a good view of any problems that might occur on the train. The open half-doors on both sides actually gave us a better view than the windows in the passenger cars.

And we were off on a brilliant one-hour ride to Woolshed Flat that took us through fields of wildflowers and among rolling hills.

The conductor said that, if I’d seen the movie Gallipoli (I have), I might recognize some of the countryside. I already knew from my last trip that Quorn, especially its train station, had appeared in Gallipoli, as well as numerous other Australian films, but learned that Pichi Richi Pass and parts of the Flinders Ranges also appeared in the movie.

We stopped in Woolshed Flat for tea and scones, then reboarded the train for the return trip to Quorn. (Different seats this time, so different view from and of the train.)

And then it was time to head for home. However, Richard took us by back roads, rather than the highway—more inland, and more scenic. Saw a few new places and some familiar from previous trips, and loved it all. Wilmington, Melrose (still lovely and charming, with old, well-kept buildings and massive river red gums), Murray Town, Wirrabara, Stone Hut, Laura (boyhood home of C.J. Dennis), and Gladstone—the point at which, at the beginning of our trip, we had turned toward Port Pirie. Charming old railway town, with wonderful Victorian hotels and train station. Through Georgetown, not stopping this time, retracing the beginning of our little trip.

We enjoyed an amazing moonrise—full moon hanging, huge and yellow, on the horizon.

Into Clare just before 7:00 p.m. We stopped for dinner at Bentley’s Bistro, in the wonderful, old, 1865 Bentley Hotel. Enjoyed our meal, but didn’t linger, as we still were an hour and a half away from the Barossa Valley.

Pulled into Richard and Nikki’s driveway after 9:00 and quickly unpacked the ute. Then we relaxed for a while, chatting, and looking at books about Australia, until we could stay awake no longer.

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Trip 3:Saturday, September 9, Part 1

After a good night’s sleep (beds are not a bad thing), we started the day with a good breakfast while watching the financial news. When we stepped outside, I dashed off to take a couple of photos–gum trees (eucalypts) blossoming–because even here, there is wonderful beauty. Then we packed the ute and headed out into the day.

First stop was the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden. Here, they showcase the plants that are ideally suited to climates like this one (green now, but most of the year is dry). They also encourage people to landscape with plants that do well in arid regions, to conserve water while still being surrounded by beauty.

Arid Regions Garden

We stopped next to check on the trailer and get an estimate for when Richard can expect to get it back.

Next, to the Wadlata Outback Center, a fascinating information center and tourist attraction that uses displays, videos, models, and slide shows to relate the history of the Outback. It covers Aboriginal Dreamtime, the geological history of the continent and region, explorations and explorers (Giles, Eyre, Sturt, and Stuart), homesteading, wool, wheat, disaster, plants and wildlife, the pedal radio, the School of the Air, the Flying Doctor Service, the Birdsville postman, trade, trains, and life in the huge iron-, gold-, and uranium-mining communities. Delightful museum.

Then on the road to Quorn, to catch our ride on the Pichi Richi railway.

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September 8, Part 2

We continued on into the Flinders Ranges National Park, past Rawnsley Bluff, the leading edge of Wilpena Pound. Wilpena Pound (aka Ikara) is a natural amphitheater of mountains in the heart of the Flinders Ranges. The entire area, but especially Wilpena Pound, are famous for both geological history and remarkable beauty.

Rawnsley Bluff


Driving along the hills of Arkaba, Richard pointed out trees he thought I might not know: Callitris, aka Australian native pine or cypress-pine. It’s evergreen and coniferous, but not actually a true pine tree. I’d seen the handsome trees before, but it was nice to have a name to attach to them.

Richard stopped near Arkaba Creek, and we had a picnic lunch in the dry creek bed, shaded by huge old river red gums. Then on the road again, headed for a small landing strip where 20-minute scenic flights over Wilpena Pound are offered. The little, single-engine plane had room for four, so Nikki, Richard, and I joined the pilot and taxied down the short, dusty runway.

Airplane’s Shadow


It was a mixed experience for me. The scenery was spectacular. The formation of Wilpena Pound is best seen from the air, and I got some great shots of the Pound, but the combination of thermals, wind, mountains, and a small plane made for a wildly lurching flight. Fortunately, I discovered that I could hold the airsickness bag with one hand and still take photographs with the other. But changing lenses was out of the question.

Flinders Ranges

Wilpena Pound from plane


After we were back down and I was more or less recovered, we drove into the pound. Beyond glorious. Greenery and wildflowers blanketed the “bowl” formed by the mountains, running up the stone walls that surrounded us. (The Flinders Ranges are, in fact, famous for their abundant wildflowers.) This time of year, the greenery softened the outlines of the astonishing geological structure. Richard stayed near the ute, to plan the rest of our trip (he’s been here many, many times), and Nikki and I headed off to explore the “bowl.” First stop was to study the sign of where the hiking trails might lead us.

We hiked for about 20 minutes along Wilpena Creek, enjoying the beauty of our surroundings. The sunlight was brilliant, and in one spot, made the tall grasses look like they were glowing. I took photos of trees and rocks and flowers–and even of lichens growing on rocks, because I like lichens. They grow in places where it seems unlikely anything would grow. But we couldn’t help but notice that the shadows were getting longer, so we headed back to where Richard was waiting. Getting back to Port Augusta before dark seemed like a good idea.

The trail

Grasses in sunlight

Lichens


The changing vistas as we drove back across plains and through mountain passes were spectacular, especially with the lowering sun making everything warm and magic. Reached the cabin just before sunset and started right away on preparing dinner: spaghetti Bolognese.

Richard turned on the TV, as he and Nikki are great gardeners and figured, since we weren’t sleeping in tents, they might as well catch their favorite gardening show. What made the show a bit more special is that the gardens being shown were in Mount Tom Price, in Western Australia, which Nikki and I visited together on my first trip to Australia, before she ever met Richard.

Not as wild and rugged as originally planned, but still a splendid day.

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