Pinara: In the Valley of the Living Dead

Sometimes, when travelling, one comes across extraordinary and special places. In this particular case not just because the place is, in itself, extraordinary and special but because it was empty. As I walked through the streets of this long dead city, following the footsteps of people who live 2000 years ago, there was an utter stillness, amplified only by a very gentle breeze and the distant sound of goat bells.

There was, literally, not a single other person in the entire city. Even the ticket office was deserted. It was empty of tourists, of noise, of crowds, of a single reminder of the crowded world we live in. Despite this you have no sense of being in a tomb. On the contrary one has the sense of being surrounded, everywhere by the Lycians and memories of their lives.

Pinara was settled when a group if Lycians decided that Xanthos, the largest of the Lycian cities was becoming overcrowded. It’s about 20 kilometres as the crow flies from Xanthos. The place they chose is one magical location.

(For more detail about the Lycians read this post)

Drive up over the crest of the hill and the whole of Pinara is laid out before you. Not in the sense that you can see the remaining buildings but, there, laid out before you, and completely surrounded by escarpments, is the bowl, in the mountains, which the entire city sits.

It’s impossible to know what the city would have looked like in it’s heyday, whether it would have been largely devoid of trees, but today it’s an enchanted circular valley full of fallen buildings, great rock tombs and pines.

Pinara

I arrived in Pinara, on December 5. It was a glorious winter’s day. Sunny. 20ºc. To get there you drive up the valley below, turn off the sealed road and go a further 2 kms along a roughish dirt track.

From the car park it’s about 800 metres to the Roman theatre. Above along the main road through the city lie all the main buildings, or what are left of them, scattered in among the pines. And, surrounding the city, the famous rock tombs, some hundreds of metres up in the cliff faces.

At this time of year the sun never gets high and at 2 pm it is starting to dip towards the escarpments which surround the city. As you walk through the fallen stones the sun pierces through the surrounding pines which, themselves, are being stirred by the faintest of breezes. You have that sense that you sometimes get, in a suddenly deserted house or building, of the original inhabitants being just around the corner.

If you get a chance to visit this magical ancient city, do so. But go in winter or when there are few crowds.

The full set of images of Pinara and other Lycian Cities can be found below:

 

Environmental Anecdotes (Episode 3) The Franklin Campaign: The Leaker – they came in the Dead of Night.

THIS IS NOT A HISTORICAL RECORD. AS PER TRUMPIAN LOGIC, NO APOLOGIES MADE FOR ERRORS, EXAGGERATION, OMISSIONS, BAD TASTE OR MISREPRESENTATIONS.

The call came from Canberra. I’d spent a year there as “National Liaison Officer” (NLO) for the Wilderness Society (TWS). A grand title but little else. I had been lobbying politicians and the media to act and write about the proposed Gordon-below-Franklin dam which, if built, would destroy the essence of the free-flowing Franklin River in south-west Tasmania.

But at the end of 1982 I’d been summoned by the cadres-that-be back to Tasmania to work on the Franklin Blockade. It was all hands on deck. The basic formula in TWS was this:

Take a completely inexperienced 20 something year old. Don’t just throw them to the lions but first make sure the lions are in a den of iniquity (eg Parliament House, Canberra). The goal you give them should be somewhere past the lions, over a bed of nails and a few burning coals.

Then make sure your chosen one comes un-armed and ill-equipped except, perhaps, with an unjustifiable over-estimation of their own abilities and worth. If they survive that experience then they probably have some worth to the organisation. Hence my summons.

Bob Burton, Vince Mahon, Karen Alexander, Tyndall Ranges
The cadres hard at work deciding who to order to where (L to R: Bob Burton, Vince Mahon, Karen Alexander). Some might argue that the level of organisation of the camp site reflects that in the Wilderness Society

But Canberra followed me to Hobart. The Leaker, called.

The voice on the line said “I have the Attorney-General’s opinion on the Federal Government’s responsibility, under the World Heritage Convention, towards South-west Tasmania and the Franklin River”.

This was, if we could organise it without the source losing their job, the smoking gun. A national story. A critical source of pressure on the Federal Government. The opinion was clear. The Commonwealth had an obligation, under the treaty it had signed, to protect world heritage. It could intervene to prevent the Franklin River dam being constructed.

This was an opinion and a document that, unlike the Loch Ness Monster, we knew existed but which, like the Loch Ness Monster, no one had ever proven to exist. The Government’s attitude was like the three wise monkeys. What opinion? See no evil, hear no evil and say nothing.

Loch Ness Monster
What Loch Ness Monster?

This was one of the most important outcomes of the year I’d spent in Canberra cultivating contacts and building relationships.

The source was clear, I needed to organise this, immediately and according to their instructions. It had to be done in secrecy. The journalists we were to use had to be completely trustworthy with no risk of the sources being revealed. It was on a need to know basis. Only a couple of people in the Wilderness Society were to be involved.

It was some compensation for my year of living ignominiously in Canberra. I was Mr “No, sorry, the Minister/the bureaucrat/the MP can’t see you.”

Robert the Bruce had nothing on me. The famous Robert took seven goes before he defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn. Smiting the English was nothing on getting a meeting with a politician who didn’t want to know. Paul Keating took me eleven phone calls and several informal meetings with his staffers before I bagged my target.

Loosely, you can describe this job as follows: Ask some 26 year old smart arse who thinks he knows everything, but actually knows nothing, to give up his (paid), but extremely tedious, job working on the Examiner Newspaper, in Launceston.

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Sending smart arse 26 year olds to Canberra; hubris always works well (source: Cartoonstock)

There, demonstrating overweening hubris, he feels frustrated because he thinks he should go from cadet journalist to senior investigative journalist in six months; reporting on country football is well below him. Offer him the opportunity to go to Canberra and live on the dole and an expenses stipend. Persuade him that, there, he will change the world. It would not appear to be the dream job. No office, no salary, no accomodation, no prospects and no friends.

 

When you are operating at this level of investigate journalism then almost anything looks good

Nevertheless at first sight this seems attractive. How many 26 year-olds are asked by a nationally known, and much loved, figure to take an apparently important national position and move to the national capital.  There, single handed, they will persuade the nation’s Government to reverse its long held position that the Franklin is a brown leech-ridden ditch which, more importantly, the Government believes, will not change a single vote.

In reality the job is to be the champion of, apparently, lost causes.

The role (because one could scarcely call it a job), for no salary, is to daily humiliate yourself before two groups of people, politicians and journalists, who, largely, don’t care about what you are asking, offering or telling. On the whole they think you are an annoying irrelevancy selling an irrelevant annoyance.

The cause you are championing, to protect, a small river, in a small state, at the arse end of the world, where it is cold, wet and miserable, 250 days of the year, is worth less than a politician’s promise.

Besides, there are virtually no voters living there and certainly none that are not so stupid that they can’t be persuaded that giving away free electricity to multinational companies is more important than some latter-day pseudo scientific concept of wilderness. And weren’t the blackfellas there first, anyway? So how can it be wilderness?

But you go, anyway. And very quickly learn the difference between big fishes in small ponds vs little fishes and large ponds.

There were exceptions to the rule about lack of political interest. Michael Hodgman, scion of a famous Tasmanian family. Now, while not wanting to speak ill of the dead, one has to say that Hodgman, who was the Minister for Tasmania, when such things existed in the Liberal Government, was one of the biggest media harlots of all time.

Hodgeman opens ACT office copy

Invite him to open a used septic tank and he’d come if it guaranteed publicity. He was pro-dam and widely detested but we invited him to open our new office and shop in the Monaro Mall, Canberra. He couldn’t refuse. This led to two things (1) good publicity in the Canberra Times and other papers and (2) widespread condemnation from colleagues as champion hypocrites (guilty!!).

The most difficult target of all, at least on the Labor side, was Paul Keating, the Shadow Treasurer.

Now Keating couldn’t give a rat’s arse for wilderness or the environment generally. If it didn’t walk, talk, vote and earn money then the Keating political radar couldn’t detect it. And if you were from (a) Tasmania (b) lobbying for an environmental cause you had less reason to attract his attention than a cockroach.

Cockroaches at least needed exterminating so someone could earn money from carrying out that extermination and that which was good for the economy. And the economy, to be clear, was, apart from antique clocks, the only thing on his radar.

After eleven phone calls and meetings with his minions, I finally organised a meeting to talk, I naively thought, about the economics, or lack of them, of constructing the Franklin River Dam and supplying its power to a small number of energy intensive, capital intensive and job-poor multinationals.

We met in King’s Hall, in the old Parliament House. It was to be an impromptu stand-up meeting. I was given five minutes to make my case. It was late 1982. I forget the date. But I remember the meeting well and the timing. I arrived at the scheduled time. Keating and minders arrived ten minutes late. He was en-route to another meeting. I introduced myself. No response, just silence for two seconds. “I, um, wanted to talk about the Franklin Dam…”.

Kings Hall, OPH
Kings Hall, old Parliament House. Ideal for the odd random meeting with the Shadow Treasurer

That was it. Keating started. Those fucking Tasmanians. They were a bunch of fuck-wits. There were worse terms. They were nobodies, knew nothing. It was a diatribe that lasted about fifteen to twenty seconds. Keating’s description of Tasmanians was not pretty and, I sense, much of his language was not generally heard in the Queen’s salons (see the collected insults of Paul Keating)

As for me? Well I got just enough time, after he’d finished, to advise him that the Franklin Dam made no economic sense before one of his minders intervened to advise he was already late for his next meeting. That was it.

But back to the Leaker. The terms were clear. The document could be removed from the office but it had to be done late at night. It could be out of the office for no more than two to three hours and had to be returned before first light in the morning. No more than two TWS people to be involved and a maximum of two trusted journalists.

The journalists could not keep the document but could only view it and make notes. And they could not name the source. They were to ensure that the relevant department was not named in the article. And it had to be done within the week. It was Monday October 4th . I made some very cryptic phone calls telling people I had something they wanted but they couldn’t know what it was or where it came from.

They were to meet me the following day for a briefing. I flew to Canberra the next morning. On October 6th, I met with the chosen journalists and one person from the Wilderness Society to brief them.

 

Meetings in the dead of night (L to R: Jennie Whinam, Crispin Hull, Simon Balderstone). Images: Russ Bauer (L), Others unknown.

On the night of October 7th, 1982, we met Crispin Hull from the Canberra Times and Simon Balderstone from the Age, in the offices of the Canberra Times. It was 4 am. Jennie Whinam from the Canberra branch of the Wilderness Society accompanied me. The fifth person was the leaker.

The journalists had 30 minutes to read the A.G.’s opinion and make whatever notes they needed. It was then to be spirited away. The stories in the Age and Canberra Times were to be published two days later, on Saturday October 9th. Crispin Hull and Simon Balderstone had a maximum of a day and a half to seek comment, do further research and write their stories.

At 5 am, the Leaker left the office to return the document. By 5.30 it was safely back in the office and locked away. I flew back to Hobart later than morning. Two days later the stories were on the front page of both papers. The shit hit the proverbial fan. But despite an intensive witch hunt within the Government the culprit was never found. Job done.

Previous Episodes in this series:

Environmental Anecdotes (Episode 1) :The Coronation Hill Campaign (Kakadu) Beating BHP with Bravado and Blue Tarps

Environmental Anecdotes (Episode 2): The Franklin The Law of the Land and other Legends in their own Lunchtimes

Images from these campaigns: Campaigns and Direct Actions

97 Days Adrift in Europe (part 14) Dubrovnik – of Wailing Walls & Howling Trains

I leave Budapest on one of the few rainy days of the trip, so far. And on a day that turns out to very Australian, based on the efficiency of my transport choice.

As you head south the trains head south too. Slower, rattlier, fuller. The reclining seats, the speed, the power sockets all disappear. The restaurant car feels like a bit of an old 1950s film with the red velvet seats and the full meals for less than $10.

Beer, slow trains, rain and more rain

The south of Hungary and the north of Croatia are emptier and older, too. We pass the rail yards at slug-speed – about the speed that Australian express trains travel at. The rail yards are populated, in the rain, with old fat freight cars looking like something out of star wars.

The trains are so slow as to be 19th century, they creak and groan and as they wend their way around the never-ending bends the wheels howl on the tracks like some lost soul in Trump’s nightmare America. I could be anyway in the Great Brown Land (that’s Australia, for those unfamiliar with the term). Except maybe for the rain.

Dubrovnik, dawn

I had hoped to travel all the way to Dubrovnik by nightfall but it turns out that the timetables and routes didn’t correspond with my reality. As the rain falls I ensconce myself in the dining car – the only place with a power socket – so that I can finish the unfinished travel stories of the last week or so. Invariably restaurant cars are the best place to travel, if you can. Proper tables, coffee, relative quiet and more space. You can read, write, eat, drink and stare out at the passing landscape.

Departing Budapest, in the morning, the trip to Split requires two trains, one to Zagreb, where a two hour wait ensues, and then onward to Split arriving at night. With the velvet seats, faux wooden panelling, soft lighting and falling rain it feels, not just 1950s-like, but like some experience out of Murder on the Orient Express.

As we moan and screech our way through the mountains this sense is elevated by the pantomime when, at each successive tiny station, regardless of whether we stop or not, the guardian of the station emerges replete with uniform and signalling flags and proceeds, like some character out of a historical railway pageant, to perform a marionette-like set of gestures with the two flags he(no women were seen) carries which signal, who knows what, to the train driver.

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Liberated from his flags, the railway station guardian relaxes at his station

There seems to be no logic or reason for these rituals other than to provide employment to, possibly, the only remaining inhabitant of the region. It does not appear that any trains have actually stopped at most of the stations since about 1860 and there is zero evidence that anyone other than the station guardian lives any near most of the stations.

It turns out that there is a music festival on in Split, something I find out when I start a discussion with my fellow travellers across the aisle about why the train is so full and where they are going. They proceed to attempt to reduce me, without success since I have been forewarned about East Europeans bearing gifts, to the same level of inebriation as they are enjoying. They do this with the offer of an unrelenting supply of beer – which no matter how much is drunk continues to emerge, like some liquid form of the Magic Pudding.

Around lunch time we arrive in Zagreb, which for the geographically challenged, is the capital, and largest city, of Croatia. I have nearly two hours to explore in the rain. Like all European cities its outdoor sculpture reflects the long centuries of military conflict and nationalism and its squares are strewn with men on horses. European history might have been much improved had they fallen off.

Men on plinths, men on horses, men with swords, men on plinths in gardens.

Leaving aside the stone horseflesh, Zagreb offers plenty of choice if you like old buildings, churches, monuments, gardens and squares – and all within a gentle 20 minute stroll – plus, of course, the ubiquitous daily market. I undertake a sprinter’s tour of the cathedral, which is particularly magnificent as churches go, the main street, and the market and locate something approaching a tolerable coffee. Then I was able to say “my work here is done”, my tour returning me to the station with 30 minutes to spare.

Zagreb Cathedral

We arrive in Split after dark. I have two choices. Stay at an hotel in Split and take the ferry in the morning or catch the bus down the coast a couple of hours later. The former is significantly more expensive and more hassle but has the attraction of a good nights sleep and avoiding two hours hanging around in the bus/train station. The bus station has all the charm of a Russian security guard and, if you want to eat, requires one to have a worse diet.

The Dubrovnik arrival is early in the morning, at the bus station next to the port. From here it is a 15 minute bus ride to my AirBnB. The first rule of Dubrovnik in regard to finding your accommodation is that there are no rules other than ‘don’t panic everything will come to those that wait’. Do not assume there will be street names. Nor should you assume that your AirBnB will actually be on the street which it claims to be. Even if it is, the actual entrance will be down a side alley, shrouded in bushes, through an arch and around several turns.

Dubrovnik at night

Under most normal circumstances you would ring and get directions:

“Hello, Goran, this is Chris. I’m in Dubrovnik near your place. I just need some directions…”

“Ok, hello, welcome. Where are you? What street?”

“Err, the street doesn’t have a name, we’re by a large square, next to….. (you give the name of a large prominent accommodation establishment just opposite).”

“I’m sorry Chris, I don’t know that place, please tell me what it looks like..”

Dubrovnik by night

” Well, it’s a square right under the city wall, there is the hotel (previously described), there is a shop selling vegetables, a house (#15 – the same number as are looking for), with two stone steps and many pots of flowers in front, there is a person selling shawls, there is another AirBnB, there are steps up to the city walls, there is a mural of King Kong, there is a lunatic asylum, four second hand London double decker buses, a model of an A380, a French patisserie, a statue of Winston Churchill and 15 black sheep and a camel grazing in someone’s front yard…”

En route to AirBnB #2, Dubrovnik

“I’m sorry, Chris, I don’t know that place, please tell me the name of the street…? Please wait.” For what, or why, we are not told. At this point the phone goes dead leaving us abandoned and with a $20 bill for an international phone call.

The point being that no matter how detailed the description you can be sure that “I don’t know that place” is the correct host response. Nevertheless, seconds later an elderly woman will emerge from the suspected doorway, which I had described in loving detail, and will embrace you, metaphorically, (sometimes literally) like her long lost child.

On this occasion, I am greeted not by an elderly woman but by a large man with exceptionally good English. He takes me to my extremely convenient AirBnB, just spitting distance from the main entrance to the old walled city, and deposits me in my room.

Dubrovnik night

This is AirBnB Turd…as opposed to AirBnB Mango (you see here my careful and clever use of lexicographical juxtaposition to make a contrast)  which is my normal, and positive, experience of AirBnB. To be fair that is a slight exaggeration but, nevertheless, the apparently spacious and airy room/unit with shared bathroom, turns out to be a poky flat with four bedrooms each occupied by at least two people. Which, had Idiot Traveller read further down the page which gave the description, instead of just looking at the pictures, I would have known

Use of the bathroom and/or kitchen require reservations about three months ahead and don’t plan on turning around in the dining room at dinner time or you are likely to get disembowelled by a fellow guest holding a sharp cooking knife.

I spend only one of my four nights here as, fortunately, it was only available when I booked for a single night. My second AirBnB is several notches higher on the approval rating with access to a great terrace overlooking Dubrovnik, its own bathroom etc. and it’s cheaper, too.

Night falls on Dubrovnik at full moon

Exploring the nooks and crannies of Dubrovnik is a real pleasure for anyone with an appreciation of culture, architecture, history, ambience, fantastic views, good food and for a myriad other reasons. It’s not without its drawbacks as described here in my post The Balkans: Beauty and the Beast – from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo on my visit, in 2017.

Chief grumble, for me, apart from the obvious over-crowding and the fact that almost no local people can afford to live in the old city any more (thanks to people like me) is that the city walls, which in the day time swarm with a non-stop stream of people, don’t open until 8 am and close at 7.30 pm (earlier at certain times of year). Given that dawn and dusk are the optimum time to be on the walls this makes no sense at all. You can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth of those refused access to the wall at the best times.

On the Dubrovnik walls at night

On the positive side, if you are prepared to risk life and limb, a quick shimmy up the walls in the south-eastern corner will allow you to get in free and avoid the crowds, as well as enjoying the best times of day. There is a silver lining to everything. So I found myself on top the wall, one evening, sharing the views and the soft evening light with two couples, one from Dubai and one Italian/Romanian couple.

This is one of the great places to enjoy sunset and dusk which, for me, came at the cost of just a pair of torn shorts. A slip on the pointed iron railings or off five metres of wall could have been more drastic.

Dubrovnik dawn

Dubrovnik is only a tiny part of the attraction of Croatia and, as with all of the world’s popular tourist attractions, a short trip away from the centre brings you to a largely deserted part of the Adriatic Coast.

The Adriatic Coast heading north – largely devoid of tourists (relatively speaking)

Having gorged myself on an overdose of old buildings and crowds that make Pitt St look like the Itidarod trail on a slack day,  I hire a scooter and head north-west along the Adriatic coast.

Once over the main bridge north, the traffic thins out and one has to resist the temptation, at age 60, to feel that one still has the reflexes of a young Michael Schumacher and that one is sitting on a Moto Guzzi, or similar rather than a scooter with notoriously bad cornering design. Still the curves are hard to resist as one slides down the roller-coaster road.

About an hour north of Dubrovnik is my destination for the day, Trsteno, and its Arboretum dating back to 1494. It sits just about the town’s jewel like harbour, a short walk down the road, where a handful of locals swim undisturbed by the, literally, millions of visitors to Dubrovnik less than an hour away.

Trsteno harbour and Aboretum

Dubrovnik has two million visitors a year of whom, it appears, about 75% visit in June, July and August. Each day brings a new swarm of 20,000 people to a town where the population is 28,000 and where you can walk from one end to the other in about five minutes.

Despite being well known, locally, it seems few tourists visit Trsteno even in the height of summer. This is another of the iron clad rules of tourism: more than a ten minute walk or a half hour drive and the visitation rate drops by 90%. Half cultural icon, stuffed full of old buildings and statues and half botanical marvel, the Arboretum Trsteno is one of those little gems that one should be prepared to travel for, with its old aqueduct that supplied water from the hills behind, its 150 year old trees scattered in among another 510 indigenous species.

Trsteno harbour and arboretum

I’ve seen other visitors comments complaining about the arboretum and saying that it is slightly run down. For me this is one of the attractions. The sort of down at heel, semi-neglected feel is precisely what gives it, its spirit and makes it well worth spending an hour or two.

The town features two other notable attractions: a beautifully crystal clear harbour to swim in and two of the largest old plane trees in Europe. At some 400 years old and nearly 50 metres tall they provide a great spot to sit and relax on a hot day. But take your helmet because a French tourist was killed by a falling branch a few years ago – arguably in revenge for Napoleon’s attempts to take Dubrovnik.

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By the old plane tree

From the gardens you can descend via a windy coast road to the small harbour below which is shared, largely, with a handful of locals cooling off in the clear and sheltered water of the harbour. To finish off the day you can return via some quiet inland villages which give one a different perspective to the coastal towns.

This is Part 14 of the blog series “97 Days Adrift in Europe”. Links to other episodes and related content can be found below:

  1. Part 6 – Travelling South
  2. Part 11 – Prague
  3. Part 12 – Travelling Crazy – Banks
  4. Part 13 – Budapest

The Flickr Archive of images used in this post can be found below:

  1. Croatia Coast (north of Dubrovnik)
  2. Zagreb
  3. Dubrovnik by Night
  4. Dubrovnik Dawn
  5. Dubrovnik general
  6. Dubrovnik Sunset and Moonrise

Europe 2017 (Episode 4): A Holiday Oxymoron – Visiting Mljet – another “undiscovered Mediterranean Island”

Like military intelligence, the living dead, found missing and Microsoft Works, the concept of an undiscovered Mediterranean Island is about as near to reality as Australia being the Clever Country. So it is with Mljet – our island getaway, just over an hour from Dubrovnik. To be fair, however, the claim was “European Islands without a lot of Tourists”. Mljet could fit that definition depending on your definition of ‘a lot’.

Regardless, if you are not seeking a wilderness experience, it is a little gem, with crystal clear water, picture perfect clifftop and coastal villages, great walking and riding and spectacular scenery.

Odysseus Cave, Mljet; deep blue clear, cool water

The ferry ride from Dubrovnik takes about an hour from the modern port by the local fast cat. Coming from the north you can also, get there via the catamaran service that comes from Split.

This is the only part of the five week trip that is largely unplanned, so we arrive at Sobra, on Mljet, with no idea how we will get to Saplunara, on the southern, and quietest, end of the island.

This sort of unplanned arrival is, theoretically, the best type of holiday, where one just travels and arrives on a whim and makes the best of the opportunities that present themselves.

Saplunara; the peaceful southern end of Mljet

In this case it is just an Idiot Traveller oversight of the sort that is eminently avoidable if only I had actually given some thought to our next stop. Had we arrived on a weekend it is likely no cars would have been available so we would have been largely marooned on one end of Mljet which would have been very useful as most of what we want to do is on the other end. As it is we are able to hire a car just at the port.

This is where my instinctive reversion to adolescent tendencies cuts in and I can’t resist hiring a convertible VW Golf. Most of the cars available are, in fact, convertibles but even so my latent male bogan tendencies allow me revert to my memories of screaming around the European roads in my old convertible Triumph Vitesse. Usually I was over both the speed limit and the safe alcohol limit – albeit this was before the days when there was breath testing and before anyone, apparently believed drink driving was a problem.

Triumph Vitesse

Look just like my old Triumph – you can take away the car but you can’t take away the latent hoon

It takes about an hour to drive from one end of Mljet to the other along winding roads, and we enjoy views which, if you bought properties that had similar views, would cost $10 million if they were anywhere near the coast in Australia.

We quickly discover that the VW has no synchro, limited braking ability and a hole in the exhaust. This gives everyone within five kilometres the impression that an entire fleet of Triumph motorcycles is passing in convoy. For us, in the car, the exhaust problem threatens not only deafness but early brain damage via carbon monoxide fumes. And this is leaving aside the damage to Kaylee’s perm, and to her complexion, caused by too much wind and sun.

Our AirBnB at Saplunara sits on a quiet dirt road about 30 seconds walk from a spot where you can plunge off the rocks or, in the opposite direction a two minute walk from a quiet, partially shaded beach. It’s not really my type of beach but Kaylee is like the proverbial pig in shit with the tranquility, the sunshine and the water. Plenty of time to relax and read. On top of all those good things, the local village about five minutes drive away has a restaurant with a great location and good food and wine like a scene out of the Lotus Eaters¹.

In the morning we roar off, literally, to the other end of Mljet. The northern end is mainly national park but, if you want the party scene, also has the town of Pomena, just on the tip of the island.

The only real attraction of Pomena, for me, is that it has the only dive centre on the island, and so I get to go diving on our third day.

The owner of the dive centre, dive-master, boat captain and laconic Mjletian is, Ive Sosa, from the Aquatic Diver Centre, who quietly tolerates my apparent inability to organise or put on any of my equipment in any sort of manner that will ensure my survival for more than a few minutes underwater.

In our modern world, diving is a curious anomaly. It requires a massive infrastructure of boats, dive shops, ports, and equipment and the consumption of huge amounts of fuel to get to the dive spots but is one of the most tranquil, peaceful and meditative experiences available to humankind.

You slide beneath the waves and are left with just the sound of the escaping air. Your vision is narrowed to just what lies in front and you descend into this almost soundless nether world of rhythm, soft light, and sensuous movement. Everything, even the divers, try to move with a minimalist elegance of effort, conserving air and energy.

Meditation, yoga, the mountains, the wild lands – all places or states to which people go to find some form of tranquility, a type of transformation in a society where there remain few quiet places. The rhythm of swimming gives a form of meditative state to some but there are few greater states of grace than that experienced below the water’s surface.

We dive on an ancient 5th century wreck which is still surrounded by the pottery and old bricks that were destined for the, now ruined, palace at Polace, nearby. Visibility is about 50 metres. At about 12 metres I understand why Ive insisted I wear a hood on my wetsuit when we encounter a thermocline and suddenly the water temperature plunges from a pleasant 20°c down to about 12°c in the space of one metre. Thermoclines are most evident during the summer; the first at 3 – 5 metres, the next one at about 12 metres, and another at 18 metres.

Diving Mljet, crystal clear water, few currents and multiple great dive sites

To get to Pomena, our route takes us along the eastern side of the mountain ridge and past numerous jewel-like coastal towns, sitting hundreds of metres below our route along the main road. Each town has its own perfect bay filled with million dollar yachts, .

We visit four towns, on our way to Pomena and back, Korita, Okuklje, Kozarika and Blato. They are all perched around their bays with crystal clear water and old stone buildings, largely unspoilt by the waves of tourism that have overtaken much of Europe.

We venture down to each in turn, over the next two days, to see what they have to offer. Each is quite different with the sole shared quality being those crystal waters and a bunch of perfectly located AirBnBs and cafe-restaurants.

Korita, tranquil crystal clear water, million dollar yachts

En route to Pomena we also do a side trip down to Odysseus Cave. The descent is down several hundred steps which is a fortunate deterrent to many. We arrive at 9 am and have the rock platforms and caves entirely to ourself. Here you plunge off the rock platform into fifty metres of clear water and then, in calm weather, swim into the cave. Inside are the remnants of the old ramps on which fishermen used to store their boats and massive falls of rock which have carved off the cave roof.

Okuklje

Our first stop in the national park is Great Lake, at the centre of the park. The lake is encircled by a walking and cycling track and its history is dominated by the ancient 12th century Benedictine monastery on the Isle of Saint Mary. It remained a monastery until 1808 when Napoleon decided the monks had better things to do with their lives and then subsequently became a hotel. It has only recent started being repaired after the Croatian Government returned it to the church. The lake and its surrounds provide a relaxing days cycling, kayaking, swimming and checking out the local history.

Great Lake and the Island of St Mary

Our return trip takes us to Blato. Unlike the coastal towns that have benefited from tourism, Blato, once a thriving town of 250 is now a largely empty and much abandoned old town of just 40 people. It was the third settlement on the island and is the location of one the islands perched lakes as well as being one of the main agricultural areas on the island.

Blato provides the Idiot Traveller with a standard travellers’ intelligence test. This requires us to work out how to put on the roof in order to prevent further carnage being visited on us by the intense afternoon sun.

Travelling in a convertible one quickly realises why they never became the dominant transport mode since there are only about two countries on earth where the climate is sufficiently benign to prevent you either getting fried by the sun or frozen in driving wind or rain.

Blato, once a thriving community of 250 now largely abandoned in the flight to the coast

From Mljet it is back to Dubrovnik. We drop the Suzuki off, which has replaced the VW Golf when we could no longer tolerate the sense of imminent death that the brakes of the Golf engendered. The return trip is on the catamaran from Split, which was probably built in Tasmania (the catamaran not Split), a trip we do in company of several dozen teenagers. They spend the trip taking selfies and the males spend the trip preening in front of the girls each like latter day versions of Warren Beatty, about who the song “You’re so Vain” was allegedly written (at least in part).


¹ In Greek mythology the lotus-eaters (Greek: λωτοφάγοι, lōtophagoi), also referred to as the lotophagi or lotophaguses (singular lotophagus /ləˈtɒfəɡəs/) or lotophages (singular lotophage /ˈltəf/), were a race of people living on an island dominated by lotusplants. The lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food of the island and were a narcotic, causing the inhabitants to sleep in peaceful apathy.

This post is the fourth in the series Europe 2017 – From Corsica to Bosnia – links to previous posts in the series are below:

  1. Corsica
  2. Florence
  3. The Balkans

For the Flickr archive that contains all all the images from which the photos in this post were selected click on this link

Europe 2017 (Episode 1): Corsica for ……short people, the credit card-less and mirror manufacturers

Somewhere in Corsica you will find the bodies. The poor fools that travelled up the Cap Corse without cash. Ostensibly we are in France a modern, 21st century nation. But not in Corsica. No you are in anti-France where the French are just more foreigners, credit cards are a yet to be discovered means of paying for things. Alternatively they are a trick played on innocent Corsicans by tourists and the Italians (Genovese) who were simply invaders that happened to hang around for a century or four.

Bastia & Bastia street photography

In Corsica, cash is still King. Moreover do not assume that in the absence of credit card facilities, the natives will provide ATMs. No, for the idiot traveller if you do not bring cash from one of the major cities, tough. You shall neither eat, nor drink, neither shall you refuel your vehicle or pay for a camp ground.

And do not question the natives about why they do not accept cards, for they will simply make like Atlas did, shrug their shoulders and say “C’est le culture, Monsieur”. And good day to you, please die quietly if you find yourself stranded in our fair land with no fuel and no food. That cash culture has, of course, nothing to do with the fact that the Corsicans are the nearest thing you can find in France to the Sicilians and like the Sicilians they have a similar aversion to the tax man.

The absence of modern day credit is, arguably, yet another symptom, of Corsican resistance to outsiders. Ask mainland French people about the idiosyncrasies of Corsica and they will simply shrug and say “Mais, c’est La Corse”. In other words..it’s Corsica, shit happens, as the Corsican resistance will explain to the French.

Bastia

During the centuries of occupation, variously, by the Genoese, the French, British, Italians, Germans etc the Corsicans have quietly gone about their business resisting all of them with the leading “hero” being Pasquale Paoli. Language signs are frequently in Italian and French and Corsican, which is a variation of Italian and which is still spoken if not widely then, at least, as a symbol of Corsican resistance. A sort of “fuck you” to outsiders.

Various movements, calling for either greater autonomy or complete independence from France, have been launched, some of whom have at times used violent means, like the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC). In May 2001, the French government granted the island of Corsica limited autonomy, launching a process of devolution in an attempt to end the push for nationalism.

Other than the risk of starvation and general penury Corsica also offers death by cliff diving. Somewhere, over the cliff, lie the broken vehicles and battered bodies of tourists who were too nervous for Corsica roads. The secret to driving on Corsican roads is to have nerves of steel and never to assume that around the next “s” bend a Corsican driver will not appear, on the wrong side of the road, attempting to overtake a tourist in a camper van.

Drivers of camper vans, are the devil incarnate. A brief conversation with a very pleasant Corsican shopkeeper revealed yet again the fundamental truth of tourism. Yes, they love tourist dollars but hate tourists and hate the drivers of camper vans most of all. Especially the big fat camper vans like the one we were driving. While not quite the cause of the last two world wars, tourism simply perpetuates the bad feeling created a by a plethora of historical invasions.

This van was supplied by a Portuguese company which, rather in the way God/Allah visited religion on Earth as a permanent scourge and bad joke, decided, as another sick joke, to visit on planet earth and, especially Corsica, vehicles that are fundamentally unsuitable for Corsica.  These vans are at least a foot wider than can reasonably be accommodated by Corsican roads resulting in thousands of tourists being permanently psychologically damaged by their driving experiences . 

Porto

The principal beneficiary of this decision by the car hire firm are the manufacturers of wing mirrors. Scattered along the roads of Corsica are about half the vehicle wing mirrors ever produced in the history of human kind, each one testimony to a soul permanently scarred by their experience of driving on Corsican roads. If the mirrors could speak they would record a multitude of humans now permanently scarred with anxiety about plunging off mountainous roads and a myriad of relationships damaged forever by arguments over whether to risk a head on with oncoming vehicles or a side-swipe with adjacent cliff faces.

The other trick the Portuguese visited on us was to decide that no one over 170 centimetres should hire their vans but they failed to tell the potential hirers of this limitation nor to explain why it was imposed.

Perhaps they decided that “short people got no reason to live” as advocated by Randy Newman so they planned to hire their vans only to short people who then kill themselves driving vans that are too wide for narrow roads. Regardless, as a person of “normal” height, as a result I spent the entire trip around Corsica sleeping in a semi-foetal position due to the shortness of the bed.

The upside of all this is a land of spectacular mountains, crystal clear creeks, alpine lakes and ancient hill top towns. Corsica is nothing if not a paradise for those who love the outdoors. Some of Europe’s best walking, paragliding, canyoning, cycling, diving and much else.

The GL20 is reputed to be the hardest long distance walk in Corsica along the spine of the island. We are somewhat less ambitious in our walking plans primarily because the inside of my right knee, according to the specialist, looks like the human knee equivalent of Pompeii after Vesuvius erupted. Almost nothing left and what is left is in complete ruins.

Our mini tour of Corsica starts in Bastia, where our host deposits us in one of the best AirBnBs ever, brand new, luxuriously appointed and overlooking the main square and hills. We try and overlook the fact that some poor Corsican is probably living on the streets as a result. Our vehicle is a Fiat rented from Indie Campers.

Once I have picked it up,  I am almost immediately forced to perform my first idiot tourist manoeuvre. Just as I am planning to enter a bypass tunnel with my 2.75 metre van I note the tunnel is only 2.6 metres high. There are cars behind me. I cannot go forward and I cannot go back. The only way out is over the 20 centimetre high concrete dividing strip which I have to hope to pass over without either losing the exhaust, rupturing the tyres or compressing the entire underside of the van.

Bastia’s main road comes to a standstill as I perform my escape. Had the dividing strip been just 2-3 cms higher I would have ended up trapped on it with the van balanced half on one side and half on the other, and unable to go either forward and back. My excellent judgement and driving skills, however, avoided that fate.

Cap Corse

After this auspicious start we head across the island to Saint Florent. We have been advised that there is a “sauvage” (wild) walk along the coast. Very gorgeous we are told. And so in a way it is. But sauvage it is not.

That is unless would describe as “wild” a coast dotted with tea cafes and water stops and populated by, apparently, half the population of Corsica. Even were the coast wild there are, immediately offshore, more yachts/boats than were sent to Dunkirk to rescue the British expeditionary force. The only thing deserted about the allegedly deserted beach is the presence of sand. No mind, we shall not whinge and we shall enjoy the water.

The next day takes us on our credit card and cashless tour of Cap Corse along the spectacular winding roads and through a plethora of fantastic hill and coastal towns. The highlight of the day is our visit to Nonza perched spectacularly above it’s black pebble beach and its iconic white stone “angel” laid out in white rocks on the black bench.

It’s actually intended, we think, to be an image of St Julia the patron saint of Corsica who was martyred in Nonza in the 5th century and after whom the Nonza church of St Julie is named. In keeping with the Corsican tradition of trying to ignore foreigners, such as the French, there are no explanatory signs.

Nonza

The legend tells that after she was martyred (crucified) her breasts were cut off and thrown at the rock, which immediately and miraculously gave rise to the natural water springs at the site. If you descend to the beach along the path you can drink at this spring in celebration of the inhumanity of the Pagan Romans towards the Christians.

A level of inhumanity which of course the Christians have repaid in spades by continuing to murder people of other faiths for centuries right up until today. At the beach you can inspect the beach drawings, made from white rocks on black, including that of Julia. It’s also a good spot for a swim on a calm day, despite the multiple admonitions not to swim due the dangerous currents – of which we found no evidence.

Nonza is also famous for the heroics of a lone Corsican soldier who, after all his colleagues had deserted, held out against the French invading forces. He, Jacques Casella, is celebrated as a Corsican hero and honoured by a plaque in the hilltop fort. Apparently he managed to persuade the French army that there were several dozen Corsicans firing on them.  Given that when the average French person takes their one hour lunch break they come back three hours later we can assume the French are not good with numbers.

Nonza

From Nonza we circulate around the Cap Corse, getting progressively more hungry and thirsty before finally at about our tenth attempt we find a bar which accepts credit cards.

The route off the Cape takes us back through Bastia and then on up to the mountains south, heading for Lac Melo a popular walk not far from Corte. The last 5 kilometres or so is a narrow one lane road. Negotiating this road involves a lot of luck in not meeting a vehicle coming the other way.

The principal goal here is to play a good game of bluff and chicken in which you try to get the other party to back up. If I fail to intimidate the oncoming driver I have to reverse my overlarge vehicle for dozens or more metres down a road where even going forward you require centimetre perfect judgement to avoid going over the edge. Apparently there used to be a shuttle bus with no vehicles allowed, but the Corsicans have decided life is more amusing watching the tourists negotiate the road and, hopefully killing themselves doing so.

Lac de Melo

Eventually we stop and hitch the last two to three kilometres because the signs all tell us that no camper vans are allowed further up the road. When we arrive we find, of course, that almost everyone has ignored those signs which reminds me, once again, that it is best to sin first and ask forgiveness later.

We walk to Lac Melo, a two hour walk which we share with a good proportion of the Corsican population as well as half of the visitors to Corsica, all of whom appear to be following us from place to place. On the walk up I admire the mixture of absurdly old and overweight people and tiny children who are struggling up the walk. They are probably thinking the same of me….look at that old bastard going to the lake.

On our return we hitch back to the vehicle where we stop and spend two hours lolling around in the mountain creek that runs out of the lake. This is one of the great joys of Corsica; a plethora of beautiful crystal clear mountain creeks with icy water warmed just sufficiently by the summer sun to allow pleasant swimming.

Even better there are multiple large flat rocks suitable for sun-baking and reading. We sleep by the banks of the same creek with the soothing sound of running water outside the van, after consuming a great wood fired pizza at the ‘Camping de Tuani’ campground cafe.

From here our trajectory takes over to Ajaccio and up the west coast of Corsica, stopping at Cascade des Anglais (the waterfall of the English), Piana. Porto, Ota, Venaco and back to Bastia from where our ferry leaves for Italy.

The only thing English about the Cascade des Anglais is, arguably, the crowds. We don’t come across any English people and the weather, mountains and forests are very un-English. Apart from anything it’s in Europe which the English, except arguably geologically speaking, are not. This central area of Corsica contains some of the best walking in Europe. Despite the teeming hordes we spend a pleasant half day in the area which includes sampling the local Corsican gelato which, for information, is nothing special.

Near Piana, which boasts some magnificent blue gums, we walk out to Capo Rosso (Red Cape). The full walk takes one to the old hill fort tower on the highest point. Very cleverly a combination of Idiot Traveller timing and lack of preparation, ensures that we reach the most exposed, steepest, part of the walk at the hottest time of day. Here my errant right knee decides that more than four hours walking is too much. These multiple misfortunes combine to stymie our effort at peak bagging. So an hour short of our target we turn around.

Capo Rosso

This is fortunate because with only three hours water for a six hour walk we just manage to avoid the European equivalent of the headlines one sees often in Australia. By that I mean a newspaper headline where some Idiot Travellers succumb to heatstroke and die because they thought that Uluru was only a short stroll from Alice Springs. Despite our attempts at an early death, we return having enjoyed a great walk perched high above the Mediterranean Coast with stunning views back across the bay on which Piana sits.

Piana, itself, is one of those small unspoiled clifftop coastal towns of the sort that one finds scattered throughout Italy. Unlike many of the beachside towns it is relatively uncrowded and the locals haven’t been overrun to the degree that the only people one meets are tourists.

We stroll the narrow streets down to the magnificent red cliffs which drop sheer to the deep blue hundreds of metres below. The contrast between the ocean and the cliffs is why Piana is considered one of the most scenic towns in Corsica. Almost every house has magnificent views and relative to Australia prices are cheap – only $1.1 million for your four bedroom holiday home…

Restonica

After Piana, we drop down to Porto and imbibe a bit of local history at the ancient Genoese fort (built in the 16th and early 17th centuries to protect the Genoese occupiers from invaders), including such useful information as the fact that the name of the French resistance, the Maquis, comes from the impenetrable local scrub. The port is a gem but the town itself has been partially ruined by too many ugly tourist buildings that don’t fit in.

Then on through the mountains via Ota and Evisa via the Gorges de Spelunca. The gorge itself is a popular stopping point en route through the magnificent scenery of the area. The track up the gorge follows an old route between the villages. It passes over the Ponte à Zaglia bridge which was built four hundred years ago to make life easier for the locals who traded and passed up and down the track.

It’s an easy walk up the gorge as far as the bridge and because the majority of people can’t be bothered to do the simple 60 minute walk many of best swimming holes away from the bridge are relatively uncrowded. For those with more time there are longer multi day walks through the river gorges.

Spelunca Gorge

From here it is back to Bastia for a final overnight stay before heading for Italy. The last night in Bastia is supposed to be a relaxing evening of dinner and drinks but we arrive to encounter one of the banes of AirBnB…a host that isn’t there and doesn’t answer her door, despite having replied 30 minutes earlier and said she would be.

At this point we have no vehicle, no patience, no vehicle and lots of luggage (that being a relative term – in fact we have two main bags each less than 10kg and two hand/man bags). We ring, we phone, we text. We contemplate a bomb scare to get everyone to evacuate on the basis that we can then ask around and find our hosts. We can get into the building and we can get to the correct floor but can find no door with the correct name.

After 3o minutes I go looking for other hotels. As I return I get a phone call – since Kaylee is not, apparently, an Idiot Traveller*** she has worked out that there are two halves to the building. In our initial exploration we were only looking for name plates on the the flats on the eastern side. Having found the flat Kaylee has managed to waken the hosts from their primordial slumber.

***Note: Kaylee avoids being an Idiot Traveller by not doing any travel bookings. With her latent (and largely un-used) internet booking skills if she were to actually try and book anything one can be sure that she would end up in Sydney, Canada, rather than Sydney, Australia and/or Paris, Texas rather than Paris, France.

It turns out that one of hosts had fallen asleep and the other was outside on the front verandah where, allegedly, she could not hear the bell. This is despite the fact that when we eventually get to her door and ring the bell half of the living dead are also awoken from a centuries long sleep.

We enter the flat and it is clear to the host that Kaylee is not happy – the host gets a frosty reception and starts to apologise profusely. Fortunately, it turns out that they are both very pleasant so normal relations are quickly restored and we soon decamp to one of their recommended restaurants where we are entertained by multiple street bands and good food and wine.

This is the first post in the series of five entitled: Europe 2017 – From Corsica to Bosnia

You can find the full archive of the images used in this post by clicking here:

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 24, Horizontal Falls)

Cape Leveque and Horizontal Falls

The arrangement for Roger’s and my trip to Horizontal Falls is that we will fly out from Cape Leveque and that Kaylee and Jill will drive back to Broome. We question them about their confidence in changing the vehicle tyres, given the weight of the wheels and other assorted potential mishaps but are assured that anything Roger and I can do they can do better. It turns out that the main benefit of the solo trip home is that Jill and Kaylee are able to play Abba for two hours and that, that event, led to no intra-party arguments. That’s what happens when cultural guidance is removed.

Kaylee and Jill having departed, Roger and I depart on our boys’ own adventure. Departure is by sea-plane from the airstrip near One Arm Point. There are twenty of us in two planes and it’s relatively clear that the trip to Horizontal is a bit the Kimberley equivalent of going to Disney World, only more regimented.

King Sound
King Sound

After a half hour flight over the Kimberley coast – which arguably is the highlight of the trip, we land next to a floating city onto which a new load of sightseers is disgorged at about half hour intervals. From there, after a short wait, one boards a jet boat for the trip through the falls – which can only be taken at set times when the falls are neither two large nor too flat.

Generally I am a great believer in the power of cameras to focus ones attention on things that one would otherwise miss. While some may argue that if one spends one time looking through a lens of a camera, you don’t spend much time enjoying the scenery, I have discovered that looking for beauty that is photographable makes one see many things that one might otherwise miss.

King Sound
King Sound

Horizontal Falls, however, proves that there are exceptions to the rule. Altogether we do five round-trips through the two sets of falls, two through the wider falls and three through the narrower; so ten runs in total.

King Sound
King Sound

Having completed the ten runs, I realise that I didn’t really get to see the gorges or falls at all because I have spent my entire time trying to get video of them. And being a crap videographer, the end result is to have managed to spend a few hundred dollars on several very bad videos of out of focus rock walls and water.

IMG_2340
Through Horizontal Falls

There is probably some form of photographic narcissism involved. In an effort to get the best possible images, all you end up seeing is the inside of a camera and, in the process, you miss the beauty all around.

IMG_2343
Horizontal Falls

After our trips through the falls we have lunch and are served beautifully cooked barramundi. Our co-passengers on the trip are largely blue-collar retirees blue and not altogether politically correct. My dinner companion responds to my praise of the barramundi by telling his wife that she will now need to improve her cooking of barramundi. I respond that I would have thought that cooking barramundi was ideal for the barbie and that, that should be his domain, perhaps? He responded, thoughtfully, by saying “No point in having a dog and barking yourself, eh dear?” Sometimes very little changes in life.

Back to Broome

Roger and I fly back into Broome, getting a good aerial view of Cable Beach, as we land, after our trip to Horizontal Falls and get the bus to drop us at the tourist bureau which is our pre-arranged pick up.

Broome Beach
Cable Beach, Broome

After 15 minutes there is still no sign of our lift, so Roger texts to find out what is causing the delay. There is no reply so we wait on a while longer and try again. This time Roger gets through and is told that the delay has been caused by a puncture on the vehicle which Jill and Kaylee had to fix. They will be many minutes longer. Roger and I decamp to the pub.

 Thirty minutes later the Nissan pulls up. Interrogated about the supposed flat tyre the story falls apart like a putrefying carcass in the sun. But any story will do to hide the fact that our long wait was caused by a shopping trip among other things.

While Roger and I have been away the two women have been shopping together. A part of the length of time taken is Jill’s approach to shopping. We are back to the list conundrum. Kaylee believes that the purpose of a shopping list is to describe what needs to be bought. Jill believes that the purpose of a shopping list is to write a random list items that have no bearing on what she will buy. Hence they go shopping with a list of three items and have emerged with thirty.

We confer on options for dinner and decide that it’s time for a Thai dinner.. After numerous campground dinners a bit of variety is in order. At the restaurant, Jill orders a hot soup, which turns out to so hot that she, can barely eat it. So she orders a lassi to help take the edge off. The waitress looks extremely bemused wanting to know what a lassi is? Jill is equally bemused that an Indian does not, apparently, know what a lassi is. I point out to Jill that it is a Thai restaurant not an Indian one and that the Indian food she is eating is actually Thai. Fortunately Jill is not appearing any time soon on any reality cooking shows.

It’s not the end of our Thai restaurant confusion. I ask one of the other waitresses to confirm the name of the Thai King. But she doesn’t know. Scarcely surprising, since she is Indian but I can’t apparently tell a Thai from an Indian. Confusion reigns all around.

Roebuck Bay - Broome Bird Observatory
Roebuck Bay – Broome Bird Observatory.

After our meal we head out of town for the Broome Bird Observatory where we will be staying the night.

 We arrive late at Broome Bird Sanctuary and have to unpack in the dark. This seems to pose special challenges for some. Most of us have had doors closed on our fingers at some point in life, but Jill is the only person ever known to have caused herself brain damage by actively smashing a car door down on her head by closing it while remaining standing directly underneath. Apparently she hadn’t worked out that it’s best not to close things while standing directly in the way of the closing object.

Roebuck Bay - Broome Bird Observatory
Roebuck Bay – Broome Bird Observatory

At the sanctuary we are allocated a cabin. Each hut is named after a different bird. Very appropriately our cabin has been named after at least one of our number and is called “Grey crested babblers”.

The Bird Observatory is a well equipped establishment with a kitchen that comes with all mod cons including no less than three espresso makers and, of course is laid out with the express purpose of allowing twitchers (bird watchers to the non-cognescenti) to eat and watch birds at the same time. Breakfast conversation is not only limited but tends towards the mono-cultural.

Compared with Broome camp grounds, this is a great place to stay and, even for those not addicted to bird-watching, it provides an eye opening experience of the variety of Australian bird, particularly water birds, of all types.

Broome Bird Observatory
Broome Bird Observatory

It’s unknown whether Jill, at this point had some form of unpleasant experience with bird-watchers or birds, possibly feeling that being assigned to a cabin called “Grey Crested Babblers” was some type of deliberate punishment for unknown sins (although I, for one, could list them)…but my notes simply say “Kaylee on the other hand is going the other way”. It is apparent that she has experienced a form of enlightenment about the possibilities of marital nirvana that might be possible with twitchers, who after one days interaction with them, are clearly the world’s best people.

She has her eyes on one in particular, who is our neighbour, Rod Warnock. Kaylee has decided that some form of pre-arranged marriage with Rod would clearly be better than another week with me – despite her observation at some point that one of the amazing things on the trip is that I have been so nice to her. Apparently a new experience after only twelve years of non-marital bliss.

Observing at Broome Bird Observatory
Observing at Broome Bird Observatory

Kaylee’s instantaneous morphing into a potential twitcheress as a result of her overwhelming attraction to the fraternity is somewhat surprising given some aspects of the kitchen. It is a paradise for existing or potential sufferers of OCD, since every available drawer, cupboard, shelf and implement are labelled to within an inch of their incorrect usage. Who knows, perhaps short sighted twitchers have attempted to mount the rolling pin on their camera instead of the telephoto? Normally however, a labelling frenzy such as this would send Kaylee running a mile but clearly the delights of the twitching world have overcome her distaste for too much order.

For dinner that night I cook wraps. In common with many experiences in life (relationships?) I still haven’t worked out that doing the same thing many times and expecting a different outcome is not good thinking. In this case I learn once again that hot stoves are hot. One might think that after 40+ years of cooking that this would have been a pre-learned lesson. But no, put on the gas, drop vegies down under the cooking pan hobs. Lift up hobs with fingers. Find out that gas flames make metal hot. One thinks of the famous observation, wrongly credited to Einstein, about idiocy, repeating things and expecting different outcomes.

On waking in the morning Kaylee requires defrosting, having been cold in bed. According to my notes this is because (a) Jill and Roger refuse to let us have the bed and (b) take all the blankets. This is exactly the behaviour one might expect from Roger who, is well known for his inordinately selfish behaviour, the type of behaviour that Jill, Kaylee and I are paragons at avoiding.

Again it’s a little unclear what exactly happened, as 12 months after the event the memory is a little sun bleached and the memory synapses faded. Not to let that get in the way, we can assume that there was one double bed and two singles. Roger, no doubt, in his self centred way decided to take the double bed and having done that needed twice as many blankets. This probably left Kaylee and I with two single beds and one one blanket between us.

At this point there is a random note about Kaylee’s feet which states, inter alia, “Kaylee’s beautiful mud-packed feet but Roger’s fire fucked them”.

Famous Feet
Famous Feet

What precisely this means, where it occurred and why is unclear but for your elucidation we here include, above, the quote and a picture of said feet to be included in the Museum of Random and unattributed quotes and images.

Prior to leaving the Bird Observatory we all decide to increase our worldly experiences with some bird banding of migratory water birds. This is to occur at midday, we have been told, and so we gather at the office to be given instructions. It’s apparently a team effort with multiple people. Some are required to shift the net, some to hold birds while they are placed them in bags and still others to transfer them to holding cages for banding. It appears, however, that the birds themselves have not been advised of their role in the team effort and, after two hours of fruitless waiting for uncooperative and ungrateful shorebirds, we depart. It appears that our feathered friends don’t realise that being captured under a net, stuffed in a bag and “man” handled into a box is all in their best interests. Ungrateful ingrates.

Time to head south.

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 23 – Cape Leveque)

North to Cape Leveque

After our brief stay at James Price Point we head north to Cape Leveque. The plan is to take a couple of nights on route to sample the delights of the Dampier Peninsula. More than anything, the Cape is an area both rich with a living Aboriginal society and culture and with one of the most beautiful coastal environments anywhere in Australia. Soaring red rock cliffs, huge tidal races, endless beaches; it is one of those environments where if you move more than a few metres from the camp you can have solitude and space which is an increasingly rare commodity, especially near the beach.

Pender Bay Beach
Pender Bay Beach
Whale Song Shower
Whale Song Shower

 

Full Moon Whale Song WA
Full Moon Whale Song WA

First stop is Whale Song Café, on Pender Bay. Pender Bay is a Humpback whale nursery and resting area. This hidden gem with a small café (run by Jacinta) which, among other things makes mango smoothies. The campground, with only six sites, is a couple of kilometres off the main road. Perched on the cliffs overlooking a spectacular and deserted beach, surrounded by rock pools and sandbars it’s a fantastic spot to while a way a few days. We were fortunate enough to be there at full moon and the light over the waves managed to create a iridescent tableau which can only be experienced and not described.

Pender Bay (Whale Song) at Sunrise
Pender Bay (Whale Song) at Sunrise
Pender Bay
Pender Bay

Add to this the birds, the café and one of the world’s most funky showers and you have one of a holiday’s most special experiences.

It’s at this point in our story that the author will finally admit to some degree of licence with the truth, every previous word having been gospel. However, due to delayed memory ejaculation with the passing of time, and inadequate note taking, from here on in the story may either be thin on the ground, be invented, or there may be little relationship between the specific anecdote and the actual trip.

IMG_2106
Full Moon at Pender Bay (Whale Song)
The Daily Plait
The Daily Plait

En route north we pass and stop into two Aboriginal settlements, Beagle Bay and Lombardina. The Beagle Bay community was established by Trappist monks around 1890 and features the famous Sacred Heart church with an altar made from pearl shells. It also has a shop which sells ice creams, which on a Kimberley trip register about a 9 on the trip priorities scale (coffee and tea each also being a 9 or 10, depending who is counting).

 

We don’t stop for long since we need to find a campsite for the night and are, in any case, returning later but we were required to pause for coffee and cake; in the “remote wilds’ of the Kimberley no opportunity was to be missed for the rituals of civilisation. On departure, after some poking around, we eventually stumble on Gumbarnam, not far past Cape Leveque. The two main features of Gumbarnam were the fantastic sea-scape, including a fringing reef and a small tidal race between the mainland and adjoining islands, and a wind that made James Price Point feel like a light breeze.

Pender Bay at night
Pender Bay at night
Sunrise Whale Song
Sunrise Whale Song

Not understanding that the strong wind we experienced, on arrival, would increase to near hurricane force, we picked a nice spot in the open with a view of the ocean. The rest of the day, after putting up camp, was taken up with visits to the Trochus Shell farm at One Arm Point and to the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.

The former is run by the local Bardi people from the Ardyaloon Aboriginal community, from which a couple of young Aboriginal women gave us the full run down on the venture and its success including the re-seeding of the reef with Trochus. The latter is run by the Brown Family and is Australia’s oldest pearl farm. More importantly, is was the proud owner of an espresso machine and the provider of a passable latte and a good lunch. One Arm Point is named after an unfortunate pearler who had an accident with dynamite whilst attempting to catch fish using explosives in the bay.

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Roger and Jill praying for better traveling companions
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Lombardini Church

 

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Lombardini

 

Following the success of our exploratory expedition to Cygnet Bay, that tracked the only good latter north of Broome, we returned to the Cape for the afternoon for a quick squiz.

At this point we have no information on what activities Jill and Roger may have engaged in, but Kaylee and I walked on past the lighthouse to the beach the other side where we squatted in one of the beach shelters for lunch and then checked out the luxury camping units at the top of the hill. These are, to the average two-person tent, what Versailles Palace is to the average bush donga. Carefully supervising Kaylee due to her light-fingered tendencies to make off with every piece of commercial soap, shampoo, cream etc. ever provided any accommodation complex, we sneaked into give them a once over and decided that this was the perfect location to come with our rich Beechworth friends, Jenny O’Connor and Michael Bink. They can rent the chalet and entertain us for dinner every night and we can rent the cheap beach shacks and entertain them for free swimming.

Gumbarnam
Gumbarnam
Gumbarnam brain coral
Gumbarnam brain coral

We find on returning to Gumbarnam for the night that the wind has decided to see if it can escape the limitation of the Beaufort scale.

Gumbarnam Giant clam
Gumbarnam Giant clam

It is unlikely that we would actually have been lost to human kind due to the entire truck being blown out to sea, as a result of the near hurricane force winds. Nevertheless trying to sleep, or rest, in the vehicle was to experience the type of motion that made it seem like the entire Indian nation were engaged in trying out every position in the Kama Sutra simultaneously. A move was in order.

 Come late evening we had made a last minute retreat to a more sheltered spot, sans view. This was fortunate for many reasons but none more so that it appeared to reduce the inflow of grit into Roger’s teeth. As it was there was enough whinging and sufficient grit that it appeared we had the entire British nation around the fire, as well as sufficient sand supplies to re-build Dresden.

Gumbarnam sunset
Gumbarnam sunset
Gumbarnam sunset
Gumbarnam sunset

 

Gumbarnam coral
Gumbarnam coral

The following morning we de-camp to go to Middle Lagoon, on our way to Cape Leveque. This is yet another gorgeous coastal spot but is fisherperson central (mainly fishermen). Judging by the number of four wheel drives, giant fridges, eskis and generators it’s a veritable fish slaughterhouse.

Gumbaram fringing reef
Gumbaram fringing reef

We get to Cape Leveque at lunchtime. Seeing as Roger and I had our boys own adventure to Horizontal Falls to get excited about, Jill and Kaylee decided that they needed something to get vaguely excited about, so Roger and I were treated to long discussion about the charms of the cute pilot at Cape Leveque. Here I note, as exhibit A, that there was no interest whatever in his potential intelligence, emotional or otherwise, or his ethics or morals, or even of his potential income generating potential, but only and solely his physical charms and whether this would translate into acceptable child making activity.

It seems that this was a to be a pattern repeated, since my notes indicate that at some unknown point Jill and Kaylee also got excited about a bunch of male diners during a lunch in Broome. This led to a long discussion about their role in life, given that all of them had biceps, each one of which, had roughly the same muscle mass that both Roger or I possessed in our entire bodies. Not being able to decide on whether they were oil rig workers, male prostitutes, gym owners or some other paragon of the male species, I was forced to go and ask, and explain the source of the interest, much to the embarrassment of our female dining companions.

Sadly it seems that Roger and I were and, presumably remain, a very poor second in the muscle and machismo race

Full Sets of images here:

Whale Song Cafe/Pender Bay

Lombardini

Gambaram

 

 

 

 

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 22 – James Price Point)

From Broome we head north up the Dampier Peninsula to Cape Leveque. First stop is James Price Point, famous for Woodside’s proposal to build a completely unnecessary gas terminal that would destroy both one of the most magnificent parts of the Australian coast and a plethora of important Aboriginal sites and dreaming (about the JPP conflict).

The Moon and its Phantom
The Moon and its Phantom
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James Price Point, cliffs, backing dunes and beach

It is difficult to describe the hard beauty of JPP. This is not a soft place. The blood red sand cliffs dip to a beach of red/brown sand and miles of rocks stretching out to sea. There are three other camps on the cliffs above the beach but otherwise the seascape stretches for miles apparently devoid of human life or footprints. The colour of the cliffs and beach backed by the green of the coastal plants and the backdrop of blue sky makes JPP the sort of dramatically spiritual vista that is rarely encountered. For us it is doubly special because we arrive on the full moon which, of course, rises as the sun is setting and, as it rises, turns the the landscape into a different sort of wonderland.

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James Price Sunset
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JPP Campsite
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Beach and rock pools at Sunset JPP

 

We spend our afternoon and early evening wandering the beach, dunes and fronting rock pools which are battered incessantly by wall of white driven by a westerly wind. It’s hard to imagine a place more evocative of its long and continuing Aboriginal occupation.

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James Price Point
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Lunch JPP

Our night at JPP is someone disturbed by a howling gale which whips around the tents making every available bit of canvas moan like a witch at a séance. We all have a disturbed night that is not helped by the full super-moon.

 

Morning at JPP arrives with no respite from the wind but no one cares given the scenery. All the chairs have collapsed into the fire pit that allows Kaylee to enjoy her moment of hubris since she insisted on my putting the fire out last night despite my observation that there was nothing flammable within 20 metres…apart from the chairs of course. As with all famous events in history this example of my wilful obstinacy will no doubt be repeated at every public event until the second coming.

Our main obstacle to relaxation in the morning is that any item including every chair, the stove, drinking utensils and every other moveable object decides to have a mind of its own and seek to escape from captivity. Nothing is safe from the wind.

On the plus side we are all witness to famous plastic bag escape during which, tea in hand, Jill attempts to re-capture an errant bag and avoid it entering the ocean and thus killing a passing dolphin.

For those who don’t know Jill this exercise involves a very short human moving erratically in a half crouch, one eye on her tea and the other on the bag. The state of the morning’s first cup of tea and ensuring it is hot, full and of appropriate strength is a mission more important than the search for the Holy Grail. In fact it is the modern day equivalent of the Holy Grail. No mission since the search for Bin Laden has taken on greater urgency than a good cup of early morning tea.

Megan and Jill hunt for tea

The difficulty in the plastic bag pursuit is that as the bag changes course, the terrain underfoot alters and so the risk of unacceptable tea loss escalates. It is unclear if Jill is more concerned about the imminent plastic bag death of the last living James Price Point dolphin or potential loss of a mouthful of tea. The terrain situation is compounded by the need to alter posture to grab the bag at the critical moment. This difficult manoeuvre occurs about five times since, just as the final lunge is about to occur, the bag moves on and/or the tea lurches unacceptably such that the bag grab must be aborted. Were Jill a low flying aircraft, all on board would be dead.

 

Despite the attractions of staying longer at JPP we must move on as we have trips booked further up the line. There is a long drive ahead but fortunately the howling wind leavens our drive by prompting the telling of the The Black Hole story; this is a true story that begs no embellishment. Principally it involves a baby cot masquerading as a pre-ironing clean laundry store but which is actually a black worm hole in space which starts in Kaylee’s laundry. Clothes travel down this wormhole never to be seen again; a Hills Hoist masquerading as a implement for drying clothes but is actually a feeding facility for sheep; clothes pegs masquerading as instruments with which to attach clothes to the Hills Hoist but which are actually secret agents for the sheep and, finally, a bag of single socks which, having escaped being eaten by sheep, end in the Black Hole where they live a long but single life.

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Kaylee with sock-searcher looking for escaping socks

One of the principal faults in Kaylee’s upbringing is that her Mother failed to teach her how to peg clothes on the washing line. As a result clothes are pegged haphazardly, some with no pegs and some with only one. On windy days (such as that at JPP- hence the connection) the socks seek to escape their fate of ending in the Black Hole by using the wind to escape over the neighbouring fence/border.

These escapes over the fence/border leave a large number of orphaned socks which are then captured by Kaylee and imprisoned in the Black Hole. Anything imprisoned in this black hole is at risk of never ever being seen again. Meanwhile the escaping socks some are eaten by Death Cult sheep in the neighbouring paddock since, unbeknownst to them, the clothes line doubles as a mechanism for feeding sheep. Periodically Kaylee, being a compassionate person, rescues a few of the socks from the Black Hole and attempts to reunite them with their relatives – unfortunately unbeknownst to her most have perished at the hands of the Death Cult Sheep.

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Hills Hoist with sock guardian
Killer sheep
Killer Sheep

This story serves no useful purpose other than to amuse people in long motor vehicle trips and as a moral about hanging out clothes properly. It also serves to annoy and frustrate Kaylee through its frequent re-telling and allows anyone to point out that you can use any useless story as an analogy for refugee/terror threats.

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Pt. 21 – Broome)

Disclaimer: My fellow travellers have indicated that they feel there is an element of hyperbole in my description of Broome. For those from Broome who feel that their town is misrepresented please bear in mind that this blog only has the accuracy of the average Murdoch rag.

 

Also Kaylee would like it known that I refused to enter the water, initially, at Cable Beach, due to stingers (according to her three harmless brown jellyfish) and she feels that this demonstrated an almost unbelievable level of wussiness. But why anyone would go in the water with stingers when there is no surf, beats me?

 

Broome provided some of the more interesting behaviour patterns by our small group of travellers.

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Our campground was about 5 kilometres out of Broome but on the main town bus run. This allowed us not only to avoid having the collapse the roof tents every time we wanted to go somewhere but also for Kaylee and I and Roger and Jill to all operate fairly independently of each other.

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It also provided one of the more interesting examples of strange behaviour. Kaylee and I went to town for shopping and coffee. I required more reading glasses, a new camera filter, new sandals and shorts as I am now on my fifth pair of reading glasses for the trip and stocks are rapidly depleting.

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We decide to go the evening showing at the local cinema and propose to meet Roger and Jill there. We call them and they tell us they are in town and are also going. So Kaylee and I jump on the bus to go back to camp to shower and get warmer clothes. On boarding, we are surprised to encounter Roger and Jill who have clearly decided to spend their entire to visit to Broome sitting on a bus, as exiting the bus involves a 1% chance of Jill encountering a sandfly. As a result they have been doing blockies of Broome by bus and are on their fifth circuit of Broome by air-conditioned bus and thus entirely sand-fly free. Jill later tells me she is allergic to sand-flies and then a single sand-fly bite could be fatal.

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Bus rides are somewhat unusual in Broome in that that the drivers can be quite eccentric. Ours not only kept up a running conversation simultaneously with all five locals that he knew on the bus but interspersed it with various pithy comments and asides about Broome such as the ‘fact’ that the only croc farm still contains four old crocs over 5 metres. He claims that they lost the occasional tourist who decided to camp in the abandoned grounds but that no one minds since it saves on croc food. It’s best not to take his bus too often however since he is, apparently, on repeat rather than shuffle.

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It’s not only the buses that are a bit off the norm in Broome. According to Jill and Roger the taxis are also unusual as they act as a de facto delivery service for pizzas, alcohol, lost dogs and any other short term need that the average punter might need at short notice in Broome. Their taxi driver’s most bizarre evening was repeated condom deliveries to one customer. It’s unclear if it was an orgy in process or if the customer and partner were using up the condoms faster than the driver could deliver them.

 

20140807_174640Something in the Broome air also seems to have gone to Roger’s head. Alternatively it is the fact that we must spend four days in town so that he can do a job interview on the following Monday. At any rate we are all seated in the kitchen when Roger arrives. Proceeding briskly to other side of the camp kitchen he faces the microwave and proceeds to commence worshipping the it. Standing directly in front he commences genuflecting, raising and lowering his head in some form of ritual, repeating the exercise on numerous occasions. The entire kitchen stops to observe. Roger later claims his phone was on charge next to the microwave and he was merely looking at the phone but we know better.

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Being marooned in Broome for four days we need to find thing to fill our days. Both Kaylee and I decide a haircut is in order. Mine takes 15 minutes and costs $20 and Kaylee’s takes 90 minutes and costs $120. It is quite min-boggling for this average male that it could conceivably take 90 minutes to cut a few strands of keratin. What is it about the female psychology that allows them to accept being ripped off by the retail industry to such an absurd extent. It occurs with hairdressing, clothes, manicures, cosmetics and a myriad other things which, if you are male, that cost a fraction of the price, than that charged to women.

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Broome is not far from the end of our trip and we are rapidly managing to destroy the majority of items that started on the trip. Aside from cups, the chairs are deteriorating, the chair covers are ripped in numerous places, the kitchen implements are now operating in separate pieces, such the potato masher that fell apart in mid-operation. The coffee perc was destroyed by Kaylee in a fit of strength and is now handle-less (resulting in numerous burns). The stove has been dropped and is an advanced state of deterioration, the aerial is in two pieces, the kitchen boxes are mostly in two or more pieces, the bonnet has dents, the tent covers have holes and zips that don’t work properly, the external light has a switch that only operates when it’s in a good mood and there are numerous burn marks in every plastic surface due to my tendency to place the coffee pot down in a hurry. We hope that Nathan has good insurance/depreciation schedule

IMG_2406Broome is, possibly, the most over-rated tourist destination on earth. It’s hot, it’s windy, it’s flat, it’s architecture is so boring the Gold Coast seems inspired. Its tourist description should be “Boring Broome, come just so that you can bugger off to somewhere more interesting”. Sure it has Cable Beach but all that has is some nice white sand. It hasn’t seen decent surf since Jesus was a boy and even in winter they have ugly brown blob jelly fish which sting you. If Jesus turned up it’d be, in Australian vernacular “Jesus, can’t you do something about this place…?”. “No, my son, your trick with the loaves and fishes was easy, this would be impossible!”

 

You can’t even get decent coffee and you need to see the bank manager before you can afford it anyway. Either than or you need a job in the average WA iron ore mine. Ditto toasted sandwiches which have the world’s highest markup. Kaylee managed to purchase two bits of white bread, a bit of highly processed ham and ditto cheese, all very lightly toasted (why waste energy?) for $10. Total cost of ingredients about 65 cents, electricity 5c, overheads 5c, labour three minutes at $20 hour = $1, total cost $1.75, mark-up $8.25. Good money if you can get it.

 

What else? Dinosaur footprints you can only see every two years when the tide is low enough. A spot of whale watching; but then whales are so common these days it’s more interesting watching the planes land at Sydney airport. 200 a day passing Byron. It’s like plane, white plane, silver plane, spy plane. Just fat things that swim up the coast.

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What can they do? Jump, flap their tales and spy hop. They need to add to their repertoire. Someone should invite the Japanese over to do some research. “Excuse me sir, why or you watching whales? Don’t you have anything interesting to do?” Or perhaps they can ask the whales since they are supposed to be so intelligent “Do you have anything interesting you can do?”. While the Japanese are about it they can do some scientific investigations of Australian politicians and see if they can find out why 95% are complete morons. It’s likely that even the whales have lost their way. When they spy hop near Broome, it’ll be “What the fuck is this place? Oh shit did you turn right when we meant to turn left, we’re supposed to be at Byron”

 

And the caravan parks? Given they have squashed 30,000 people into a town built for 10,000, you are so squashed together you can even hear your neighbour thinking.

 

Broome does, however, have one of the world’s best cinemas, called the Sun Pictures. It advertises itself as the world’s operating garden theatre. This fantastic outdoor cinema shows film as it should be; surrounded by film paraphernalia from the 1920s onwards, you sit on extraordinarily uncomfortable chairs but nothing detracts from the setting and a good cushion more than compensates for the chair discomfort. The cinema also has the rather dubious but bizarre added bonus of being right at the end of Broome runway so that, while watching some sequence of film form the 1890’s you wonder why the director has put in sound of a 737 landing until suddenly the plane appears, just skimming the cinema screen on its final approach.

 

The relationship of the cinema and planes landing does have the added amusement that Jill is probably the only person in known history to miss almost the entire film due to running outside every 20 minutes or so to try and take a picture of a plane almost landing on the cinema. While there is no evidence that the plane was white and therefore especially exciting to Jill, it can nevertheless be marked against the special Jill Everett strange behaviour catalogue that I am running.

 

In fact there is a good argument in favour of NSW, ACT and Victoria (and potentially SA) seceding from the rest of Australia. That way all the Queenslanders that are making Byron crowded can be sent to Broome instead. They’ll never notice the difference. Because Broome is a bit like Brisbane really, flat, no surf, they both begin with Br….and for all the Bryon residents who register their cars in Queensland to save $40, tough. That’ll teach them to be tight arses. And the WA citizens who have been whingeing about paying too many taxes to easterners can try and survive once the mining boom dissipates and there are no eastern states to subsidise them as happened for the 120 odd years prior to the mining boom.

 

So it goes….

 

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