The Blowholes, Quobba Station

When I was twelve, I went on a holiday with my parents. It was, I think, the last holiday I ever took with both of them. We travelled as far as north of Carnarvan, camping out, to Quobba Station, to see the blowholes there. There were no facilities much up there then — it was in the 1950s after all!

Somehow or other we received a message — I can no longer recall just how — that my sister was seriously ill with the Hong Kong flu. We rushed back, the holiday curtailed.  My sister recovered (many didn’t) and it seems fitting that she should be with me when I returned last month to The Blowholes.

I fell in love with the place when I was 12, so enamoured of the beauty of it that I painted a watercolour of the island. It looks calm enough here… but that line of white is a lot larger than it looks.

 The combers thunder in across the protective reef.

That is the island above, chiefly interesting to me this time because of the huge osprey nest. That blob sitting on the nest is actually a Brown Falcon. The osprey pair were not nesting and were quite uninterested in the falcon’s choice of perch.

Nearby, the blowholes — note the little ones poking up through a crack in the rocks

And yes, it is a dangerous coast. People die if they underestimate the unpredictable waves.

The waves pound in, out to sea the humpback whales pass by, and the water drains back like a  miniature Niagara Falls…

So many memories from so long ago. So many things forgotten. So many more people now. This time I came with a camera, not watercolours. I wonder what happened to that painting?

On that holiday — I think on the return because we didn’t stop to cook — I remember lunch in the Dongara Hotel. Cold meat and salad. I can see the oiled wooden floorboards of the cool, dim passageway extending from the front door. I can smell the place still, I can remember feeling so grown up.

Eating out? We never did that. There was never any money for such extraordinary extravagance.

I was twelve years old, and it was the first time I’d ever had a meal in a restaurant (well, the first time if you discount the dining car on the Trans, crossing Australia in 1953. Or breakfast on Kalgoorlie station while waiting for the Kalgoorlie Express because the Trans went no further. That was lamb’s liver and bacon, when I was eight…my eyes almost fell out of my head because there was so much on the plate. I finished it all, to my mother’s astonishment.)

Shark Bay to Carnarvon

A couple of random shots…

Peron Station: windmill, iconic symbol of Australian stations and outback wheatbelt farms
This one with the nest of a Little Crow
The old no-longer-used shearing shed at Peron Station

My sister and I were fascinated by a peculiar piece of mechanical machinery in the shed that had no label. Unfortunately I failed to take a photo, but it looked like a steampunk infernal machine. The best explanation we could devise (and remember we are the daughters of a sheep farmer!) was that it was a device to crutch sheep — that is, a circular wheel on which sheep could be hoisted, then cradled on their backs so shearers can remove the wool around their bottoms. Sort of assembly line in reverse–remove covering rather than add it. All part of preventing a horrible fly-blown death for sheep–i.e. to be eaten alive by maggots. (Townies from PETA, of course, would prefer this horrible death to the practice of tail-docking, which is another essential method to prevent maggot infection. Easy to see that PETA folk don’t have a sheep-farming background…or good imaginations…)

Shark Bay mangroves — clear water, so unlike Malaysian mangroves!
Gascoyne Crossing– birdlife, it always finds the waterholes
Hard to think that this bridge can and does disappear under flood waters
And emus everywhere…

Shark Bay…

Oddly enough, Shark Bay is better known for its dolphins than its sharks. This is the place where folk on boats used to feed the dolphins with fish when they came around their vessels, and this has developed into a managed tourism industry — managed to make sure that the animals are fed properly and not too much.

Birdwatching…Pied Cormorants

Years ago, I came here with my mother and kids, and — we fed the dolphins, standing waist deep in the waer with these gorgeous creatures swimming up to us to take the fish from our hands. We didn’t do that this time; instead we went for a long walk.

Denham rubbish bins
Our camp in the caravan park, Denham

Track near Monkey Mia
Cave near Monkey Mia
The red country…
Beach, Monkey Mia
Weird wave and water patterns, plus footprints (human and bird)
…and camels…
…and kids playing
Another beach. There’s a lot of them…
Denham sunset

…and here is my piece de resistance:

I saw it!!!!!!!!!
Saw it right in front of the bird hide, i.e., we were outside the hide…

And so, on to Shark Bay…

So, we drove away from Kalbarri, crossed the Murchison, where we did a spot of birdwatching where there were ducks, grebes and swans on the river and a hobby teasing a kite…
The next stop was Hamelin Pool, where we stayed at a caravan park the old Telegraph Station, now a museum.
Nostalgia anyone? You know, for those days I remember of telephones (attached to the wall) that you had to windup to get through to the postmistress who managed the switchboard… 
(Our phone number was Kelmscott 201.)
Hamelin Pool is also known for its shell beaches that I talked about before (July 14th)
…made of coquina shells, cut into building blocks

Mostly, though, Hamelin Pool is known for its stromatolites. It is only one of 3 places where they are found now, yet for 3 billion years or so,  cyanobacteria ruled the world, building these structures — thus making the world habitable for us oxygen breathers.

These guys are not all that old. 3,000 years maybe? But they are still pumping out the oxygen…

There are 3 types, and they are what has made this a World Heritage site.

These Red Caps, below, are dead or dying, because 500 or 1000 years back the sea receded a bit.

 The first time I came to Hamelin was about 1957. We stayed in the massive woolshed there, where bales were stored awaiting the arrival of boats to take of the clip in the days before the roads were reliable. (I thought that was really cool). Alas, they drove their drays over the stromatolites, and you can still see the damage, even though no one has done that for maybe 60 or 70 years…

 One of the things I will remember most about Hamelin was the constant call of the Chiming Wedgebill, with its pointed headgear and its: “Didja get drunk…didja get drunk…”

Although one of the people stayingin the caravan park thought it sounded more like a creaky old windmill turning in the wind.

Some of the things we enjoyed around Kalbarri

Like the wildflowers:

Murchison Rose
Detail of the plant above
Birds’-beak Hakea
Detail of the flowers of the Hakea

And the animals:

The big reds around Kalbarri were sometimes brilliantly red

And the birds:

Where galahs mow the lawn for you…
…or wreck your TV reception, just for FUN
These two just spun round and round for the heck of it
Welcome Swallow
Crested Terns and a Pelican
Total self-satisfaction of a well-fed bird

The birds of Kalbarri were great: the flocks of Galahs and Little Corellas ruled our caravan park, noisy both day and night. Pallid Cuckoos were everywhere, right down to the sea in the coastal scrub. Besides the Australian Raven and the Willy Wagtail, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes were the most common bird we saw roadside, all the way from outside Perth to Kalbarri…

In Kalbarri itself, there were so many seabirds and waterbirds, including gannets, the Osprey,  four species of cormorants…and other interesting stuff like Blue-Breasted Wrens.

And if anyone knows what the hell this is, tell me…

Kalbarri Gorges

So, the Kalbarri coastline was pretty spectacular, but the true glory of the area is further up the Murchison River: into the river gorges. We went for many walks and rambles and scrambles…
A Hans Heysen painting? No, maybe more Namatjira..
No photo can do the colours justice

Me and my sister

The road in: took this because of the colour — in such contrast to the reds around the gorges
Husband poses
And this is what was directly above his head in the last photo
Narrow gorge, looking strrraaiiiight down. That’s a long way

The Kalbarri Cliff Coast

Kalbarri had still more to offer us than I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Spectacular walks along the coast and into coastal gorges and beaches…like these:
Mushroom Rock

I know this looks as if someone dripped vanilla ice cream on reddish sandstone, but…

That white stuff is hard white rock embedded in millenia-ancient sandstone, and finally uncovered by erosion

No, no one painted the rocks with circles. These are the rocks, just as they appear.

And no, I didn’t adjust the colour.

Ok, this one had a bit of human help.

But not this one.

There is a coastal cliff walk which produces scenery like this.

And this.

Here, the path is made for you.

And this is what it looks like at sunset.
Tumblagooda Sandstone. It rocks…

Kalbarri, at the mouth of the Murchison

The Murchison River is supposedly 850 kms long (510 miles), the second largest river in Australia after the Murray-Darling. I say supposedly, because…well, in common with many Australian rivers, much of it is dry riverbed more often than not.

The river’s entrance can be as calm as a puddle, but more often, it’s a swirling, breaker-washed patch of water that demands a Z-shaped route through jagged rocks.

Here, you can see the rocks clawing out into the entrance; unfortunately you can’t see the humpbacked whale that was repeatedly breeching and whacking its tail right there. (Damn digital cameras that click after the action is over…)

Further upstream, life is calmer, with pelicans and Black-fronted Dotterels and Red-capped Plovers resting on a sandbar…

…while above, people picnic at the foot of Tumblagooda Hill. Tumblagooda Sandstone — 400 to 500m years old –gives it that red colour.

  Kalbarri and the Murchison at dusk.

And wow, it was a place of incredible sunsets.

And windswept shores.

We all had our hobbies to pursue, like me with my birding. Spot the cuckoo (photo, left)
A Pallid Cuckoo
Husband with 
his fishing.

A trip begins

If you don’t like blogs about places, then proceed no further. I’m blogging about our three week trip into the central districts of a state that is bigger than Texas, New Zealand, Japan and the British Isles combined, plus some.
Western Australia.
It’s a BIG place.

And this was Day One:
Fremantle to Kalbarri. Over 600 kms.
We left before dawn…
Just south of Geraldton, the trees all lean away from the coast…
…like this one. That’s the trunk on the lefthand side.
Lunch was a picnic north of Geraldton on the Chapman River
And this was our rig.
Some farming scenery north of Geraldton.
Still further north in the afternoon, the trees become bushes and the sky broadens and brightens…
And before nightfall, we were in Kalbarri. In the caravan park on the estuary.
And this was a Kalbarri sunset.

Revisiting the Inspiration for “The Aware”

Some of you will remember a village called Creed (if I remember correctly) in the first book of the Isles of Glory. The entire book was set on a sand spit called Gorthan Spit, and the village was built of blocks made of an accretion of tiny white shells, washed ashore, and then cemented by time…

Well, above and below is the quarry for just such blocks.
In the past, these blocks were used for every from gravestones of children or drowned sailors:

To Churches:


Houses or Restaurants:

With time, the white shells mellow, stained by the dust of red soils.
And so here I was this week, revisiting Denham, Shark Bay, Western Australia, where the germ of an idea originated and started a whole train of thought.

The result was The Aware.