Home also means comfortable internet access albeit slow and restricted because of our remote location. It has given me the chance to launch my YouTube channel. The first video is up. Please have a look …
Home looked beautiful. In the winter the surrounding country turns so green that it would give Ireland a run for its money. OK I exaggerate a little and on close inspection the foot high grass surrounding the house was Cape Weed. And it was cold.
First job was to cut some wood and get the fire going then it was onto the mower for a first run round.
The creek was flowing and debris in some lower branches showed that it had almost overflowed its banks while we were away. One of the deeper pools had a couple of platypus swimming around. In summer you only get to see them at sunset and sunrise. In cold cloudy weather they can be seen during the day as well. In either case the light is never good. I’ll get a respectable photo one day.
My first visit to this property was about 30 years ago when it belonged to my in-laws. The creek is one boundary. Beyond that there is a nature reserve. On an early visit I saw an Eastern Yellow Robin in the reserve. That wasn’t entirely unexpected so I thought little of it.
Despite regular visits I didn’t see another one until this past summer when I encountered a pair on a number of occasions. One even had the audacity to venture briefly to my side of the creek and onto the birdlist for the property.
Thirty years ago the driveway was an avenue of flourishing wattle trees. The millennial drought and old age, wattles only last about thirty years, saw them die off. My father-in-law was talking about planting olives in their place. That spurred me to volunteer to plant some native trees instead (which may have been his underlying intention). I left the skeletons of the dead trees as perches and as an insect supply for the birds and planted Red Ironbarks in between. These are indigenous to the area and have deeply indented barks that are much liked by Brown Treecreepers. The Treecreepers were common enough in the reserve but rarely bothered crossing the creek. As the trees have grown so the Treecreepers have moved in.
And so, too, has an Eastern Yellow Robin. For the past few days he or she has been watching me at work in the driveway. I hope that the habitat is good enough that they stay and hope that they find a friend to join them. I wonder if this is the offspring of the pair I saw in the summer.
Watching me at work in the driveway? Well yes, there are these bloody wattle trees that keep falling over and need to be cut up! There are still a few more to go.
Bound for South Australia. Reference doubtlessly to the fact that it was such an awful place they had to tie up the settlers to take them there.
We made sure where we’d stashed the candles and crossed the border from WA. There was the minor detail of completing the Nullarbor crossing then we would be just a couple of silos from home.
First was Kimba. Once just a sleepy wheatbelt town with a big galah now it’s a sleepy wheatbelt town with a big galah and a painted silo. It’s become quite famous on the grey nomad circuit for its free camping at the recreation reserve. Free but a donation is expected and it seems a victim of its own success. You could not have swung a cat there when we looked. We settled for the caravan park.
As if to cock a snoot at the jokes about South Australia’s electricity supply the silo is lit at night.
The focal point is a child with an adult proportioned head. I find it slightly disturbing. Even more unsettling is that to my eye it bears a striking resemblance to Julia Gillard (before she developed the Pinocchio nose).
We detoured through the Adelaide Hills and Murray Bridge to reach Coonalpyn just after sunset. The grey nomads have not yet swamped the recreation reserve here. The donation of $21 is expected for an un-powered site. Very pleasant.
The silo here is cleverly organised so that you cannot see or photograph all of it from any one position. Some exercise is required.
Van Helten is also the artist responsible for the silo at Brim in Victoria which is one of my favourites. I don’t find this one quite as appealing but there are no mis-proportioned children here and their hair is portrayed exquisitely.
From there to home was just a hop, skip and a jump.
The Eyre Highway runs from Norseman, WA to Port Augusta, SA. It is very fittingly named after Edward John Eyre who was the first of the white colonists to travel the route.
He was just a young man of 25 when he accepted the chance to lead a party from Adelaide to the far west of Western Australia. Born in England Eyre had learned his bushcraft moving stock from Sydney where they were expensive, overland to sell in Melbourne and Adelaide where they were even more expensive. Following these trips he took cattle and sheep by ship to King George Sound – modern day Albany,WA, a fine natural harbour then overlanded them to the Swan River Settlement – now Perth. Whilst there he found considerable interest in the establishment of a stock route across the continent. When he got back to Adelaide he found a committee had been formed for that very purpose.
On 18th June 1840 Eyre set out as the leader of 6 white men including John Baxter who had frequently been overseer on Eyre’s previous ventures and two South Australian aborigines Joey and Yarry. A third aboriginal, Wylie, that Eyre had brought back from Western Australia subsequently joined the party.
The initial thrusts were to the north but were frustrated by lack of water. Progress, if it were to be made, would have to be nearer the coast. November found the party at Fowler’s Bay. Three attempts over the next few months won another 200 km to the Head of the Bight.
In February 1841 Eyre sent the majority of his party back. He and Baxter pressed on with the three aborigines and 11 pack horses. It was to be do or die. In March they found good water at Eucla. By April the going was exceedingly tough. Their load had been lightened to the extent that they now had inadequate clothing. The aboriginal contingent had consented to the doing but had probably not been consulted about the dying clause in the contract and friction arose.
On the night of 29 April while Eyre was taking his watch over the horses he heard a gun shot. By the time he made it back to camp Baxter was dying from a gun shot to the chest and the two South Australian aborigines had decamped with all the serviceable firearms and most of the provisions.
A grave could not be dug in the solid rock. Baxter was wrapped in a blanket and left on the surface. Eyre and Wylie pressed on to the west. On the 2nd June they encountered a French ship near modern day Esperance and they enjoyed some relief from their hardship. Eyre insisted on completing the overland journey, accepted some supplies and the pair pressed on.
On July 7 Eyre and Wylie stood on a hill overlooking Albany, their journey just about over. Wylie was greeted by friends and family. Eyre was left to ponder “the embarrassing difficulties and sad disasters that had broken up my party.”
Eyre’s trek, Adelaide to Albany via the modern Eyre Highway is 2,695km (1,675 miles). The journey takes you across the Nullarbor Plain. Between Port Augusta and Norseman I don’t recall seeing any surface water whatsoever, a combination of dry climate (<250mm rain annually) and the limestone geology. Nullarbor comes from Latin and translates as No Trees but in fact much of the journey is through mallee and on the South Australian end there are even wheat fields by the side of the road. Only on the clifftop section near the South Australia border do you really have a barren landscape (although on foot that would seem more than sufficient).
The entire highway is sealed (since 1976).
Norseman has a population of about 1000 people, Ceduna about 2,500. In between there is Caiguna (8), Cocklebiddy (19), Madura (18) and Eucla (53) for a total of 98 people spread over 1200km. Port Augusta is almost a metropolis at 13,500. Therein lies the challenge. This is not the place to breakdown or realise that you left your insulin at home.
There are two hills. Traveling west to east it seems as though it will be flat forever until the Madura Pass. Trucks are invited to take low gear and down you go. Off to the left now is a cliff that extends to the horizon, a reminder that sea level was not always what it is today. At Eucla you get to climb back up again.
Crossing the Nullarbor is on the bucket list for most Australians, it has an almost mythical appeal. Now that I’ve ticked it off I have to say
All good things come to an end. So too did our stay in Merredin. The boys from Carr Care fitted a freshly minted axle mid morning and we made a late start en route to Albany.
This phase of our journey was essentially a quick trip around WA’s silo art trail separated by some nice campsites where we might trip over some of WA’s special birds. Our first camp was at Cosy Corner at Kronkup, about 26km west of Albany. This is by the beach in coastal heath and although the wild flower season is well short of its peak it’s already very pretty.
In the morning we visited the silo in Albany. Artists The Yok and Sheryo present us with a Ruby Sea Dragon which given its jockey cap might be somewhat whimsically interpreted.
Then on to Pingrup where the Miami artist Evoca1 has turned 230 litres of paint into scenes of local life.
It seemed to me that the standard of art work and presentation had picked up considerably since Merredin and Northam (not to take anything away from Phlegm, from London where else -it’s probably the smog, whose flying machines had me thinking.) It was about to reach new heights.
At Newdegate Brenton See (from Perth and with a real name) has given us a water droplet, half fresh, half salt a Malleefowl, a Red-tailed Phascogale and a Western Bearded Dragon. Beautiful, accurate, evocative. He gets my nomination for best of the WA silos …
… although Amok Island at Ravensthorpe gives him a run for his money with charming depictions of Banksia baxteri, only found between Esperance and Albany. A cheeky little Honey Possum on one side and a New Holland Honeyeater shown on the other are its principal pollinators.
Northam is a town of about six and a half thousand people situated just under 100km from Perth on the very picturesque Avon River. When we had a camper-trailer with wheels it was on our itinerary for its silo art. Instead we made it a day trip.
The silos get mixed reviews which they thoroughly deserve. Parking and visibility are not good. At one end there is a collection of coloured blobs that are very colourful and the very epitome of blob whilst the other end is much more quirky and does engage the intellect more thoroughly.
We had a picnic lunch down by the river and admired the plastics. This is an Australian twitcher term for introduced species. The Mute Swan was introduced to Australia in 1886 and on further occasions until 1920. It has persisted at some of the sites to which it was introduced including the Avon at Northam. We hadn’t seen it in Oz before.
The Laughing Turtle-Dove was introduced to Perth from about 1898 and has been a much more successful immigrant having spread throughout the Western Australian wheat belt and beyond.
The pleasant gardens along the river were also home to some real Aussie birds including Ringneck Parrots and New Holland Honeyeaters.
Day trips from Merredin will take you through wheat fields to rocks, salt lakes or towns. Actually all of the above.
The most famous of the rocks is Wave Rock at Hyden. It is a working rock in so far as there is a wall and waterworks on it. Admission is charged and there is a cafe and caravan park. Dogs are permitted around the base of the rock perhaps for no other reason that they had run out of space on the sign …
It’s a popular spot, patience is required to get a photo that doesn’t include strangers.
The wave is impressive and not far away you can enjoy The Hippo’s Yawn and a short drive takes you to Mulka’s cave. Poor Mulka was the offspring of wrong-way copulation. This time the violation of skin group law resulted in a cross-eyed giant. Because of his eyes he couldn’t aim a spear so he took to eating the local children. His mother told him off for this so he killed her. There are hand paintings in his cave above the reach of ordinary people.
The story served to warn small children not to stray and older folk to obey skin-group law.
Famous but not my favourite. That honour goes to Elachbutting Rock. It has an excellent wave and there is every chance you can have it all to yourself. The dog though is not welcome.
Archie’s Pass is a narrow canyon that can be negotiated on foot. It’s dark and not entirely even, watch out for your ankles.
You can drive up onto the end of the rock and enjoy views of the surrounding country.
It’s a wild rock, no water works. There is a large area of woodland around the rock which gets to enjoy the rainfall. It looks in good nick and there is vegetation connecting it to another conservation area, Yannymooning Rock. The birding was excellent.
Watch out for the Ornate Dragon, they run too fast for easy photos, and look out for the Red-leafed Sundew – they’re not quite as pretty but they keep still.