Sydney, Melbourne, Shipwreck Coast, Ayers Rock (Uluru) The Olgas, Alice Springs, MacDonnell Range,
Darwin, Kakadu (to Irian Jaya via Papua New Guinea)
NO WORRIES, MATE!
Aussies are always saying "No worries!"- even in dire predicaments. We went to see British comedian Eddie Izzard perform at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, and he jokingly presented several terrifying situations in which it would be more appropriate to say "Worries!" or at least "Medium worries!"
Although we share a common
language, Australian English varies as much from the original as American
English does. Australians sound funny, too. When they say "no" it sounds
The language gets pretty rough at
Aussie-rules football (called footy) games. We sat in a section filled with
highly enthusiastic supporters of the Hawthorne Hawks. Their language was over
the top, especially when they were taunting the white-clad officials: "You white
maggot!" "You one-third of an idiot!" (Is this worse
than being a whole idiot?) One thing we learned is that under no circumstances
does one "root, root, root" for the home team - as we unwittingly did, until laughingly
corrected. "Root" is the same as the f--- word in the
In Sydney, we splurged on $60 tickets, put on astronaut-type overalls and safety lines and climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The three-hour climb was an exhilarating experience; we were photographed at the top - 400 feet above the water. (The Bridge Climb jumpsuits make us look like escaped convicts!)
Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family
Robinson, the Titanic... tales of shipwrecks and castaways stir the imagination.
The scenic Great Ocean Road along the coast of
In 1878, the sailing ship
Loch Ard - carrying 34 crew, 18 passengers and a heavy cargo from
The Loch Ard ran aground on the
largest of the 12 Apostles (above.) These amazing limestone towers stand just
offshore from the rocky cliffs - their dark silhouettes are particularly
haunting at sunset. They were once
called the Sow and Piglets; the Loch Ard crashed into the Sow, and
everyone was lost to the sea except Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce, both aged 18. Eva, a young Irish lady of class,
was one of eight
ashore in a cave at the base of the cliffs, Tom heard Eva's cries and swam out to bring her to
the beach. (You can almost see Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet in these
roles!) He treated her shock with a bottle of brandy that had floated ashore.
After an exhausted sleep, he climbed out of the cove a few hours later in
search of help. In this sparsely settled wilderness, it is amazing that he was
found by two boundary riders from the Gibson sheep and cattle ranch. Eva heard
the men coming, and hid until she mustered the courage to ask, "Are you
Christian?" Her greatest fear was that "savages" would find her
before help came. It took a heroic effort to bring Eva up the steep cliff to the Gibson's
home, where - over several weeks - she was nursed back to health for several weeks. The former
Gibson home is now the state's Glenample Historical House, a museum that
engagingly recounts and displays the history of the Loch Ard. You can imagine
what the press of the day did with this "Titanic" story! There was a
great deal of speculation and public pressure for the two to marry. In fact,
Tom finally proposed but Eva declined. She returned to
Reaching the end of the
According to a wag, the Outback is like
Much of the highway is unfenced, and in five hours of driving across the Outback one day we passed three blackened cow carcasses and a dead kangaroo lying alongside the road - they'd been hit by cars. We didn't see any dead camels although feral groups do roam this desert. The dry, dusty landscape was enlivened by brilliant pink and white gullahs (parrots) and spectacular rainbow-colored lorikeets that flew squawking through the "bush."
There are no side roads, almost no signs of human
habitation, and lonely roadhouses with petrol pumps are spaced an
hour or two apart. We actually ran one of the pumps dry. Lou asked for $10 worth of
gas to drive the last hour into "The Alice" as the town of
KATA TJUTA AND A TOWN CALLED
We flew to Uluru (Ayers Rock) from
The next morning, we arose early and drove to watch the sunrise at Uluru. This megalith is a single rock that rises out of flat, shrub-covered plains. Its sandstone surface has oxidized to a soft rust color, which glows like firelight in the sunrise and sunset. Before we came to this area, we read that the aboriginal people who own Uluru ask that people NOT climb it. They themselves do not climb it, other than once in a great while when two male elders take up special ritual symbols to signify that a ceremony is about to be held in the valleys and caves around the base of the rock. Some 70% percent of the tourists could care less what the aboriginal people think, and climb it anyway ("testosterone poisoning" Joan calls it; another traveler calls it "eco porn".) We opted instead to walk the six-mile track around its base. We began with a 90-minute guided ranger walk, learning about Uluru's special watering holes and valleys, seeing its cave art and hearing those few aboriginal "Dreamtime" myths which the "white feller" ranger was allowed to tell. Then we continued on around the base of the rock.
We'd recently been living in Hawaii, with its on-going political debate on Native Hawaiian sovereignty and land rights, so the aboriginal situation here was particularly interesting. Around 1950 the Anangu people, the aboriginal owners of the lands around Uluru and Kata Tjuta, were rounded up and removed from the area because the ever- increasing tourists complained that they were being "bothered" by aboriginals trying to sell artwork or cadge alcohol. Various tribes from different parts of Australia were placed together in reservations, with the expected result. Imagine rounding up Italian Catholics, Japanese Buddhists, Pakistani Muslims and Indian Hindus and settling them in an unfamiliar restricted area and expecting them to dwell together productively and peacefully! Fighting and alcoholism became rampant among the aboriginal people - originally self-sufficient and resourceful. In 1985, the Australian government gave back many of the ancestral lands to the aboriginal groups. In the case of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, the Anangu now receive one-third of the park entrance fees plus additional annual sums, and are the only ones allowed to have shops and businesses within the park. The park is closed for one or two days every year or so, to allow the Anangu to hold ritual ceremonies there.
Bruce Chatwin's fascinating book Songlines vividly explains how the native people once sang their way across their land - recognizing each watering hole, gully, ridge and tree from the verses of the tribal song. They owned the land through their songs and respected the next group's songlines as territorial boundaries. (The classic film Walkabout offers a fascinating glimpse of aboriginal culture.)
Unfortunately, we saw evidence of the racial divide between the European-Australian and Aboriginal-Australian cultures in Alice Springs. Groups of poorly clad aborigines stupefied by alcohol sat in weed-filled lots along the railroad lines or staggered drunk through parking lots. We saw little evidence that aboriginals have been assimilated into the society as custodians or clerks - let alone as policemen or attorneys.
CROCS AND CAVE ART
Our last few days in Australia were spent in the north. We stopped in steamy, tropical Darwin for a Servas home-stay, then rented a car and drove on to Kakadu National Park to see 20-foot high termite mounds and crocodiles lounging in waterlily swamps, and to admire the magnificent, prehistoric, aboriginal cave paintings.
From Darwin we flew to Cairns to catch a flight to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. From there we headed into the jungles and swamps of IRIAN JAYA
DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
GUIDEBOOK: Australia (Lonely Planet)
BACKGROUND READING: Songlines, Bruce Chatwin, Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes
FILMS: Walkabout; Oscar and Lucinda; Rabbit-Proof Fence; My Brilliant Career, The Sundowners, and the haunting Picnic at Hanging Rock
GREAT OCEAN ROAD: Wongarra Heights Bed & Breakfast - balcony rooms with coastal view; good restaurant a few miles north.
ULURU: Ayers Rock Campground in Yulara - air-conditioned, pre-fab cabins with a small kitchen and four bunks $77/night. The bathroom building is 100 yards down the campground road.
CAR RENTALS: In Melbourne we arranged to pick up a car at Yulara airport and drop it off in Alice Springs four days later. $70/day. In Darwin, we rented a car for a three-day trip to Kakadu at a similar price.
KAKADU National Park: Gagudju Lodge - small, air-conditioned rooms (one-fourth of a metal freight-car type building!) ,$36/night. The bathroom building is across a large garden area. Beer and grill-it-yourself shrimp or steaks available in patio.
Joan and Lou Rose email@example.com