Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Lake Boga

Three years ago, when Victoria was still in the grip of a severe drought, I posted a photo of Lake Boga when it was bone dry. When we saw it on Sunday it was full. It must be a relief to the numerous residents who live on its shore but we noticed that quite a few houses had 'For Sale' notices. 

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Murphy's Laws

So, now that we are nearly home and can officially call ourselves grey nomads having been on the road for nearly eight weeks, I feel confident enough to advise future travellers.

1. Dust will get into the van no matter what measures are taken to prevent same.
2. If there is a bad pothole in the road you won't be able to avoid it because there will be an oncoming car.
3. If you are towing a van or camper trailer it is mandatory that you wave to all oncoming drivers of same. (A full wave, not just a lifting of a finger - and no, a trick hand stuck on the dash doesn't count.)
4. Trucks own the roads, especially b-doubles and road trains. Don't argue.
5. If the bitumen narrows there will be an oncoming car at that exact spot.
6. There will never be a safe pullover spot at any interesting swamp or wetland that's covered in birds.
7. And re #6, if you do spot an interesting something-or-other there will be no chance to do a u-turn withe the van in tow for at least 5 km.
8. Birds show their backsides only as they fly, never front or profile in good light.
9. The wind will pick up as soon as you set up to taken a macro flower photo.
10. If there is a photo op for a beautiful landscape the sun will be in the wrong spot and you won't have time to hang around.
11. Chat to a couple in the Broken Hill caravan park and they will be camped next to you at Cloncurry for sure.
12. Willie Wagtails are everywhere.
13. It never rains in QLD, NT or SA.
14. Grey nomads know which station in town sells the cheapest petrol.
15. People are friendly everywhere.
16. Make sure you have fuel in the spare container.
17. Australia is big.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Varied interests

Sometimes my interests coincide. Proof?

Bottle-nosed Dolphins when I was chasing up the Matthew Flinders story at Port Augusta.

A beautiful salt lake at Locheil (and the Loch Eil Monster) when I was chasing a geocache.

Sadness at the amount of the weed Patersons Curse when we visited the old Ghan railway station at Quorn. It might look pretty but ...

I used to be a cemetery walk guide and old isolated graves like that of Jimmy Finn in Pitchie Ritchie Pass are hard to resist. Never seen one like this before.

Unexpectedly a bearded dragon in a senna bush when we were checking out an old rural school site near Port Germain.

At the School of the Air in Longreach we discovered that Southern Cross windmills have three legs and Comet windmills have four. So we've counted windmill legs ever since and pondered on the importance of artesian water in the outback.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Arid lands

Flinders was here before me. In 1802 the Investigator dropped anchor in Spencer Gulf near where Port Augusta is today and while Robert Brown led a group from the ship to climb a nearby hill Flinders and another group rowed further up the gulf to see if it turned into something interesting. They climbed a small, red sandy cliff to get a better view but the water narrows to a muddy tidal mangrove and samphire swamp rather than a big inland strait or lake or river so they returned to the ship.

We also had a look at the view from the top of the cliff by driving to it through the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden, and this morning we went up to the same area by boat. We were told that the Grey (White) Mangroves are gradually encroaching naturally on the area and parts of the cliff are collapsing (as cliffs do) so in the future this area will not look as dramatic as it does now.

At the lookout on top of the cliff a group of plants have been planted to commemorate those that Robert Brown, Ferdinand Bauer, William Westall and Peter Good found when they were climbing the mountain that now bears Brown's name. They found, collected and drew many new plants and 200 years later the climb was commemorated by a repeat climb and collection. What a great idea.

We read all about it in a display at the Arid Lands garden and then bought quandong-flavoured icecreams to eat as we explored the eremophila walk. There are longer walks to explore as well as bird hides but we'll have to do that another time, and of course it would be great to revisit in a different season.

Monday, 22 August 2011

South to Port Augusta

According to the map we've been driving in a prohibited area even though we were on the Stuart Highway. There is a good little museum at Woomera, the town where all residents have a job - you're not allowed to rent a house from the owners, the Defence Department (I think) unless you're working. So there aren't many elderly people in Woomera. We met one volunteering at the museum but he's only there because he lives with his son. The museum details the huge areas put under restriction when the rocket testing programs started after WW2, it details the lives of the highly educated community that lived at Woomera in the 50s and 60s, it has collections of photos and maps and memorabilia and in the park outside there are real rockets. We enjoyed our visit and stayed longer than we had intended.

Then today we travelled south to Port Augusta. It's not very far but it took us all day because the landscape is so interesting. At one stop we met an interesting resident, a cross and brilliantly-coloured stumpytail looking wonderful on the red sand.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Gibber plains

The gibber plains between Coober Pedy and Woomera are covered in very low saltbush and other small shrubs. Is it always like this? They've had some good rains here the last couple of years so it could be unusual. At a glance the vegetation appears a uniform dark grey but actually the colours are varied and subtle, and many of the shrubs are flowering as well. We stopped for a coffee break in a group of sheoaks and sat and watched Budgerigars, Red-capped Robins, Grey-crowned Babblers, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes and woodswallows all around us and threw crumbs to the ants at our feet.

As we neared Pimba we saw the first of a series of salt lakes, the water brilliant in the sunshine. Those of you who have travelled this road, and some will have done it many times, will know these lakes and the gibber in various guises - all equally beautiful I'm sure. And we crossed the one and only railway line, the one that goes to Perth and branches off to Darwin. The scale of the landscape is humbling.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Facets of Coober Pedy

I can't get excited about opals but I quite like opalised fossils. These shells are in the wall of a museum we visited in Coober Pedy - about four metres underground. And we've seen other fossilised marine animals and plants as well as trees and plants.

We drove around Coober Pedy to see what the real estate is like, and decided that we'd quite like to live (for a little while you understand) in a large and comfortable underground mansion dug into a north-facing hill that overlooks the plain below. It would be interesting to know if they are freehold and what they're worth. It takes a while for the visitor to actually recognise what they're seeing - the cars and mining equipment are parked on the flat apron in front of the houses which are only evidenced by a front door and a window or two or a verandah.

Of course the environment is cactus, both underground and above ground. Mullock heaps everywhere.

Water is a precious commodity here. It's piped in from the artesian basin, desalinated and filtered through a reverse osmosis filtration system so it tastes very sweet. We needed to top up our water containers so we went to the only water-filling station in town and paid 20c for 30 litres. Imagine what it was like here in the 'olden days' when water was even more precious.

We also drove out of town on the road to Oodnadatta to see the dog fence. After watching a farm dog at 'Melrose Station' near Winton walk across a cattle grid, slowly and carefully placing all four feet on the grids, I'm not convinced that this one would stop a determined dingo from crossing to the south side.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Following the Ghan south

In Alice Springs we sat at a railway crossing on Larapinta Drive while the Ghan slowly pulled into the station -  22 carriages and somehow looking very majestic. We could see passengers eating lunch, chatting to each other or watching Alice Springs pass by. I wonder if any of them got on at Marla. I wonder if any realise that the countryside is blooming.

Further down the Stuart is the opal town of Coober Pedy where, to escape the heat of summer like all sensible desert creatures, the humans live underground. Only the vents indicate their presence. In theory. Actually mullock heaps, rusted machinery, take-away shops, signs to attract tourists and a convoluted street system are also very much in evidence.

Late this afternoon we drove out to the Breakaways - unexpectedly beautiful and the flat, flat horizon a reminder that this land is big. And even in this distant place there is room for political graffiti.

Monday, 15 August 2011

MacDonnell Range

This is the original Alice Spring (that isn't really a spring) in the Todd River near the old Telegraph Station. The following are all rocky places in the MacDonnell Ranges east and west of Alice Springs. Imagine the forces involved in moving vast sheets and layers of rock from a horizontal position to near vertical and then the wearing down in the millions of years since. Fascinating. And every one of these places is still culturally significant to the local indigenous communities.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Ochre Pits

A visit to the West MacDonnell National Park west of Alice Springs includes the gorges (Ormiston, Glen Helen, Stanley, Simpson and Ellery) that are all very beautiful. And it also includes the Ochre Pits.

These pits are in a short section of a river cutting, the sides of which have been mined for thousands of years for the ochre that is present in a variety of colours. Aboriginals used ochres in ceremony, weapon and utensil decoration and medicine. It was traded across the country and some ochres were more valued than others. The red ochre (with a high percentage of the iron oxide) was most valuable and the white (which has a high kaolin or clay content) the most versatile. And there are yellows, browns, creams and oranges as well. Ochre pits are common across the country but some are more special than others.

The patterns of the swirls of colours of the ochres in this spot are impressive and it is humbling to stand in the creek bed and ponder on the long geological history as well as the long cultural history.

As I was walking back to the car I saw another section of a creekbed where the geology is exposed - layers of smooth pebbles above a layer of clay or ochre. Everywhere I look in central Australia I see interesting land formations, most of which I barely understand.
Now I think it's time to upload some more pretty flower photos. These are some I've seen in the MacDonnells.
Hakea sp., a Corkwood.
Pale-leaf Mistletoe

Ptilotus sp., Silver Tails

Swainsona sp. (possibly flavicarinata). This was a stunning little plant with many coloured flowers from cream through red to deep purple.
Leaves of a pond plant floating on the water surface (with reflections of a red gorge).