Other photos of Australia



       Sydney, Melbourne, Shipwreck Coast, Ayers Rock (Uluru) The Olgas, Alice Springs, MacDonnell Range,

       Darwin, Kakadu (to Irian Jaya via Papua New Guinea)

    April/May 2000


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 like "noy", Sydney is pronounced Seed-knee and Melbourne is Mel-bun. As we travel, we notice that everyone has an accent - except us.

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 U.S. Instead, you must "barrack" for your team. Barrack??


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 Victoria leads past the sites of 20 major shipwrecks, hence its nickname "The Shipwreck Coast." Most 18th and 19th century sailing ships to Australia - whether carrying cargo, convicts or customers - sailed from Europe around South Africa along the ice line in the south Indian Ocean, then caught the southerly breezes up through Bass Straight between Tasmania and Australia. This is where most of the wrecks occurred. The magnetic compass, sextant and chronometer of the day were imprecise, and over long distances the slightest error of measurement could cause a gross error in the estimation of a ship's position. Today, lighthouses punctuate the coastline like white mushrooms. (Lou is lounging against an anchor in front of one of them.)


In 1878, the sailing ship Loch Ard - carrying 34 crew, 18 passengers and a heavy cargo from England - ran aground in the night fog just a few kilometers from the Otway lighthouse. The passengers had just gone to bed after a party celebrating the completion of the tiring three-month journey and their scheduled arrival in Melbourne the next morning. The captain paced the deck all night, knowing that land was very near and worrying that his instruments were not perfectly accurate. Near dawn, the frantic cry came from the lookout on the mast: "BREAKERS AHEAD!!" The captain quickly called for the 28 sails to be set and tried to turn the huge ship in less than a mile. Too late. He then tried to set the sea anchors, but they slid along the bottom and wouldn't grab. Finally, he managed to get the ship to come about and narrowly missed a huge cliff - only to hit a submerged rocky reef jutting out from it. For three months, he'd sailed the length of the globe and missed making it to Australia by about ten feet! 

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 Carmichaels aboard; her entire family perished. Tom, an English commoner, was an apprentice crewman. He rode the churning waters to shore on the underside of an overturned dinghy. After her life vest disintegrated, Eva boarded a chicken coop - one of the coops that had annoyingly cluttered the deck for the past three months - grasping a spar in the middle about the time the men hanging on at both ends lost their grip. 

Safely 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 Ireland where she married and had a family. Tom went on to become a captain and master, surviving four more shipwrecks before dying of natural causes. 

Reaching the end of the Great Ocean Road at dusk, we entered Tower Hill Game Reserve and found ourselves all alone on the trails. The reserve is in a large, volcanic crater - a sanctuary for kangaroos, koalas and emus. We walked quietly along a darkening path and happened upon a family of three gray kangaroos, then a group of ten emus and finally came upon four sleepy-eyed koalas peering down from high in the gum (eucalyptus) trees. 


According to a wag, the Outback is like Texas with kangaroos. Well, no it isn't. 

Australia is huge. To try to "do" everything here would be like trying to "do" the U.S. in a month; the U.S. - excluding Alaska - is about the same size.) Can't be done. After 30 years of living in Hawaii, we decided to forego Australia's beaches and famed Great Barrier Reef in favor of the Outback - the vast, mysterious, scrubby, hot, dry, empty heart of the country. We're glad we did. Fortunately, we were there in April - after "the wet" and after the extreme heat of summer (December-February.) Six weeks before we arrived, this area got more water than it had seen in twenty or thirty years - waterfalls were even pouring off barren Ayers Rock! Two weeks after that, cyclones and drenching floods hit. But when we arrived it was a cool 75 degrees, the bush was an uncommonly vibrant green, the weather was perfect for hiking and there were no plaguing flies as there had been in New Zealand.  

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 Alice Springs is called. The guy could only pump $6.90 before his underground tank ran out of gas. We asked him what if we'd needed a full tank? The man was perplexed, and allowed as how he'd "have to get right after that." We imagined there would be some folks camped out around his pumps that night - waiting while he ordered up more gas! 


We flew to Uluru (Ayers Rock) from Melbourne via Sydney, rented a car and stayed two nights in a cabin at Yulara (aka Ayers Rock Resort) about 20 minutes drive from Ayers Rock itself. Late in the afternoon of our first day at Yulara, we drove 30 miles to the nearby cluster of dome-like rocks known as The Olgas (Kata Tjuta.) These rock formations were even more exciting than Uluru. We spent a couple of hours near dusk hiking among the domes through the Valley of the Winds. Then we gathered with the other hikers and camera buffs to watch the beautiful mounds turn orange, red, and - finally - deep burgundy in the sunset. A big WOW! (Notice the plumpness of Joan's face - the result of spending several months eating starchy food in Central Europe the year before. Near the end of this ten-month trip, she had her photo taken while she was being measured for clothing in Vietnam. She looked almost gaunt by then - after months of trekking through New Zealand, Australia and Irian Jaya.)

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.


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. 


Other photos of Australia

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 



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

(1999 Prices)

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     joanandlou@ramblingroses.net