Tag Archives: Waltzing Australia

Trip 3: Monday, August 21, Part 1

It is 6:30 am, and I am packed and at the door, awaiting my departure. It is a remarkably beautiful morning. The moon, a huge crescent, has not yet set, and the sun has not yet appeared, though the sky is silver and orange at the horizon from its approach.

The cascade of bougainvillea just outside the door, the palm trees outlined against the brightening sky, and the chirping and singing of dozens of birds make the difficulty of getting here kind of dissolve into unreality. I am overjoyed to be back.
By 7:00, I was safely planted in a khaki-colored 4WD and on my way. We rolled around town, picking up other travelers. We stopped outside the Hotel Darwin, which I’d hoped to visit when I thought I’d be arriving much earlier yesterday. Sigh. Through the front doors, I could see the ceiling fans of the Green Room, which seemed unchanged from when Judy and I had enjoyed drinks there during my first trip.

Then we were on our way, heading south on the Stuart Highway. The weird beauty of the surrounding savannah delighted me: the slender gum tress, the palms and pandanus, and the stretches of dry grass and brown-red earth. The air is wonderful, clean, and scented by eucalypts.

Termite mounts, from little ones all the way up to the giants, are now frequently visible from the road. Paperbark trees and yellow-flowered kapok bushes also appear on occasion, but mostly we just see miles of various gum trees and dry grasses spreading across the plains and blanketing the frequent hills and ridges.

We drove through Adelaide River, a tiny town that became remarkably important during WWII. It was a huge center for troops and airfields, especially after the Japanese bombed Darwin, and it became an important supply and communications base for the Australian armed forces. Along the road, we saw signs identifying where each of the many WWII airfields was once located, as well as a sign for the Adelaide River War Cemetery. I think much of the world forgets (or never knew) the impact the war had on Australia.

As we drove, I began to get acquainted with my traveling companions. All were from Sydney, it turned out, with the exception of our guide and cook. John, our guide, originally lived in London but now makes his home in Darwin. Kate, our young, vivacious cook, hails from Victoria. The Sydney-siders included Don and Leslie, Graham and Shirley, Hazel, Marianne (Mim), Athena, and Belinda. Everyone of course thought it rather remarkable that a woman from the Chicago area would be on a trip that would be heading into such a remote area of Australia. Little do they know…

We had a morning break in Pine Creek, an old gold mining town that is a popular place for travelers to stop—largely because there aren’t that many places out here where you can stop. While the population is less than 700, it still manages to rank as fourth largest town between Darwin and Alice Springs. I was amused by the roadhouse, which identified itself as a “Hard Rock Café.” While food and drink were on offer, as is the case with so many of these remote outposts, it also serves as post office and market for both locals and travelers. Deep pink bougainvillea, wildly perfumed pale pink frangipani, and noisy birds made the small settlement charming.

In Pine Creek

In Pine Creek


Turning westward, we left the sealed (paved) road behind, so transit became a bit bumpier—but for me, that always feels like adventure. It was a spectacular, brilliantly clear day, with the sky a fabulous, unblemished blue. We continued to be surrounded by that strange, undulating sea of eucalypt-dotted dry grass savannah that could not by any means be described as beautiful, but which delighted me none-the-less, since it carries so many memories for me. Large birds—I’m guessing kites—gracefully dipped and rose on rising thermals, sailing over the dry land in search of food or perhaps looking for a mate.

Lunch was at a beautiful location on the banks of the Daly River. As always in arid regions, one can recognize a watercourse from a distance because of the sudden intensifying of vegetation. Here, bright water wound between flourishes of green and stands of gum trees taller than those that dot the dry plains. It looked inviting, as the weather was hot, but we were warned to stay clear of the water, as it is inhabited by saltwater crocodiles. This is definitely a region where it’s good to have a guide.

Daly River

Daly River


(By the way, if I use words that aren’t familiar, my book Waltzing Australia has a glossary of commonly encountered Aussie terms, and you might find it a useful resource—and it gives a bit more background on Australia in general.)

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Dieseline Dreams

As I mentioned previously, Slim Dusty sang as often about those who drive trucks as he did about those who ride horses.

Slim Dusty’s songs about truckers range from the humorous to the romantic to the tragic. “Dieseline Dreams” falls into the romantic category (here meaning “romance of the road,” not “boy meets girl”). I love the sense of hope and joy conveyed by the song.

On the trip recounted in my book Waltzing Australia, I first encountered road trains in a local tourist magazine left in my motel room in Alice Springs. It advised that drivers should make sure they have lots of room if passing, as road trains average 150 feet in length, and then warned to never force one to swerve off the road, as the amount of rock and gravel its tires will throw up could shatter your windshield. I would, during my six months in Oz, see many road trains. This video offers several views of this outback monster, with their multiple trailers. They’re only found on long, straight roads with little traffic, as they’d be completely unmanageable otherwise. But they are mightily impressive, and I imagine driving one would be as exciting — and unnerving — as riding a dinosaur.

Oh — and dieseline is a diesel/gasoline blend that is cleaner/greener than standard diesel fuel.

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Reflections on Life, Travel, Work, and Australia

I feel I should mention that, despite the sadness expressed at leaving Australia, I have, since my first trip Down Under, created a fulfilling life focused on things I love: writing, sharing, history, food, culture, travel. I’ve been to dozens of other places (see my The World’s Fare blog for some non-Aussie travel tales), and I’ve had an additional two trips to Australia (which I’ll be sharing here). I had some amazing experiences on those trips.

But home is not bad, either. Like most people who are self-employed, I work harder for less money than many in the corporate world, but I’ve had the joy of being able to pick work that I find rewarding. I feel as though I’m living my favorite Teddy Roosevelt quote: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” (I have become insanely frugal, however, which allows me to live better on less money than many people do who earn far more than I do.)

While I’ve written books (including, of course, Waltzing Australia) and hundreds of magazine articles, a large part of my writing has been in the realm of education: history, geography, and language arts. I’ve worked for every major educational publisher in the U.S., including the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and National Geographic Learning. Sharing what I’ve learned in my travels and research is always a joy. I’ve even gotten to write student readers on topics related to Australia (one on the Great Barrier Reef, one on the platypus, and a couple on Captain James Cook).

For the last 20 years or so, in addition to education, I’ve been working in the arena of food history. Much of my travel has focused on place where food history is anchored: Mexico, South America, China, India, the Spice Route, and so on. More recently, I’ve been focusing on history closer to home. The combination of food history and home focus has resulted in my newest book, Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland. If you look at the list of links at right, you’ll see I’ve also started a blog to support that endeavor.

So it did hurt to leave Australia, but I’ve found that joy can be found anywhere. It is not a place; it is a mindset and a journey and a feeling that one is contributing. Still, I will never stop loving Australia, and I delight in sharing its beauty, wonder, and friendliness with others–something I do not only through this blog but also through slide shows and speaking engagements. Australia is the anchor of my current life. It will always be part of me.

And there is still vastly more I want to share about it. So please do keep coming back.

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Filed under Australia, Book, Food, History, Thoughts, Travel, Writing

Friday, September 6

Up early, to finish packing for my departure. Rae and Bert had kindly volunteered to drive me to the bus depot for my 9:00am bus, and this made heading out much easier. So, again, I said good-bye to good Aussie friends and continued on my way.

Barry, the driver of the Adelaide-Barossa bus, was an amiable man who informed me of much of what we passed, as we headed out of Adelaide and into the Barossa Valley–wine country. We drove through charming old Gawler, then Tanunda, a finally into Nuriootpa, where Nikki was waiting for me at the bus stop. (If you’ve read Waltzing Australia, you might remember Nikki from my tour of Western Australia. She was one of the English women with whom I became friends, but unlike the other English women I met, she did not return home, having fallen in love with someone in Australia–Richard–shortly after I last saw her in Perth.)

We drove to her absolutely delightful house, on the edge of town. It is light and airy, very Australian, surrounded by gardens, and filled with Nikki’s fine needlework, travel mementos of hers and Richard’s, and charming antiques. I loved it. (And I could move in tomorrow, without even having to change the books or music CDs.)

Nikki took me on a whirlwind tour of the Barossa Valley, showing me the sorts of things I would never have seen on the wine tour I took during my previous visit to Australia. We drove through small, tidy towns, past lush vineyards and sprawling wineries, and up to a few impressive, hill-top lookouts. Near Springton, Nikki stopped to show me the Herbig Family Tree.

The Herbig Family Tree is a large, ancient red gum (eucalyptus) that is estimated to be somewhere between 300 and 500 years old. In 1855, a young immigrant named Friedrick Herbig made the sprawling, hollowed base of this tree his home. When he married in 1858, this is the home to which he brought his bride, and their first two children were born while the couple was still living in the hollowed out tree. It would hardly have been weather proof, and with a base that is about 23 feet in diameter, it would really have only offered space for sleeping and maybe a few possessions. Finally, in 1860, Herbig managed to build a house nearby. Apparently, descendents still show up every few years for a family reunion. Fun story, but looking at the tree, it’s hard to imagine living there. That said, I guess it’s no harder to imagine than the dugouts in riverbanks that some inhabited in other areas I’ve visited. (See my “Digging Burra” post if you haven’t seen photos of dugouts.) Still, it’s the tree and its story are quite remarkable.

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September 3, part 2

After an hour and a half, I began the walk back to Toddy’s. I noticed that there is a motel now on the site where we camped in Heavitree Gap, during the “flood trip” that capped my first trip to Australia. It made me a little sad to think that others will not be able to camp here, between the towering, ragged, red rocks and the banks of the Todd River.

I stopped at a small shop on the way back to Toddy’s, to buy some fruit and a sandwich for my lunch, then continued on. The office at Toddy’s closes at 1:00 pm, and they had my luggage, so I had to get back. I made it, with a little time to spare. Then, after rescuing my luggage, I sat in the sunshine and ate my sandwich, enjoying my last minutes before the airport shuttle would arrive.

Leaving is acceptable only because I find it impossible to believe I won’t be back someday. Good-bye, Alice—till next time.

Wow. Security is tighter at the tiny Alice Springs airport than it is in Chicago. They went through everything, measuring the length of my pocketknife, making me remove the lens from my camera. Seriously, how many terrorists come through Alice Springs?

The flight was pleasant, with the red land flashing past below me. Landed in Adelaide (10 minutes early), grabbed my bags, and headed outside, just in time to see Louanne coming across from the parking lot. We headed out to North Haven, where Louanne’s mom and dad, Rae and Bert, were waiting for us.

(For those of you who have read my book, Waltzing Australia, you may remember Louanne from the trip to Kangaroo Island, as well as my meeting Lou’s parents when I returned to Adelaide from the KI sojourn.)

After dinner, we spent a few hours looking through photographs of Rae and Bert’s two-year, around-Australia wonder. They saw some places I visited on my previous trip, but they also visited a lot of amazing places I haven’t seen and now want to visit. They have a 4WD Toyota Landcruiser, so they can go almost anywhere—and they did. Wow. We also looked at photos and heard tales from Louanne’s “gap year” wander around Europe. Hardly a surprise, then, that they’d welcome a wanderer into their homes, having wandered so much themselves.

The evening was spent, as it had been on my previous visit, in delightful and enthusiastic conversation. Part of the time was given over to discussing news events in Australia, along with updates on other people I met on that first visit and questions about my own travel plans. They described some of the local places they wanted to show me, and then we headed off to bed, so we’d be ready for an early start tomorrow.

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Kindle in India

Because a fairly good number of visits to my blog are from people in India, I thought it might be worth noting that Amazon has just announced that the Kindle version of Waltzing Australia is available through Amazon India. I hope that proves to be good news for some of my readers.

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