Home Sweet Home …

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.

Eastern Yellow Robin

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.

 

Heave away, haul away …

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.

Kimba – Cam Scale

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.

Coonalpyn – Guido van Helten

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.

More than a few trees …

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).

Eucla
Telegraph Station ruins – Eucla
Bunda Cliffs

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

  1. it was nothing like I expected and …
  2. I’m looking forward to doing it again.

What comes around goes around …

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.

Albany – The Yok & Sheryo

Then on to Pingrup where the Miami artist Evoca1 has turned 230 litres of paint into scenes of local life.

Pingrup – Evoca1

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 …

Newdegate -Brenton See

… 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.

Ravensthorpe – Amok Island
Ravensthorpe
Ravensthorpe

You can learn more <HERE>.

Northam, another day out …

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.

Mute Swan

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.

Laughing Turtle-Dove

The pleasant gardens along the river were also home to some real Aussie birds including Ringneck Parrots and New Holland Honeyeaters.

For a Ha’porth of Tar …

… the ship was lost. On this occasion it wasn’t a ship or even a sheep it was the wheel bearings on the trailer and they became so warm that the assembly was welded to the axle. We discovered this about 30km west of Merriden on a Friday.

In an impressive display of alliteration the trailer was loaded onto a tilt tray tow truck and was delivered to the Merriden caravan park. A mechanic was kind enough to come and take off the axle. The search for a replacement could begin on Monday. But was fruitless and abandoned on Tuesday. On Wednesday it was decided that a new one would have to be fabricated. Thursday’s child has far to go. So do we and we are looking forward to it. Maybe Friday.

Merriden is located in the wheatbelt of Western Australia. It is a pleasant little town of just under 3000 people. It’s on the pipeline, the noisy rail line and a busy road, the caravan park especially. It has it’s own big granite rock collecting water by a system of walls, aqueduct and dam. There is a conservation park adjacent to the rock. The streets have well maintained grass verges and the Roy Little Park speaks of civic pride. It would be a worthy entrant in a tidy towns competition.

It has a painted silo.

The surrounding country side is green presently, it being winter. What was once mallee and Salmon Gum woodland has been cleared for wheat. People have to eat. The various rocks have escaped the clearing and most of them are busy collecting water. Some natural vegetation has survived around the rocks. From a conservation perspective it would be nice if there were more connecting vegetation. So far we have visited Karalee Rock, Bruce Rock, Eaglestone Rock, Elachbutting Rock, Wave Rock, Totadgin Rock, Baladjie Rock and Beringbooding Rock where the water is stored in the largest concrete water tank in Australia. Oh, and the Humps.

It’s not the style of camping that we enjoy and Merredin is not where we would choose to stay. If anyone had actually heard of the place it would be the butt of jokes like Christchurch (spent a week there one Sunday) or Blackpool (first prize a week in Blackpool, second prize two weeks in Blackpool).

Aside from the shower the nicest thing about caravan parks is the people. The salt of the earth stay in caravan parks and are almost always willing to engage in conversation and swap travel yarns. Almost no one stays more than one night here so every day brings new friends. The missing axle is an excellent conversation starter and the conversation always improves after they finish chiding me for my ha’porth of tar.

Gold and Water …

Our most northerly point on the journey through Western Australia was at Wyndham, a little port on Australia’s challenging north coast. It rose briefly to prominence as the entry and exit point for WA’s first gold rush at Halls Creek.

A string of other places on our route have also been gold towns, Marble Bar, Meekathara, Wiluna, Leinster, Leonora, Coolgardie, Southern Cross and of course the big one – Kalgoorlie. Rushes and even towns have come and gone but gold is still a very important money spinner for WA. In 2015-16 it was the third most valuable export behind iron ore and petroleum.

As Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie rose to prominence in the 1890’s insecurity of water supply became a significant issue. The Irish born Engineer-in-Chief, Charles Yelverton O’Connor came up with the solution – build a pipeline from Perth to Kalgoorlie. It would be more than 500km long, involve lifting water 390 metres over the Darling Escarpment and the cost would equal WA’s annual budget. Debate was fierce, the project was condemned as madness by many but the premier Sir John Forrest threw his weight behind it and work commenced in 1898. Water flowed out the other end in Kalgoorlie on January 24 1903.

Sadly, Mr O’Connor never saw the successful outcome of his great project. He committed suicide in March 1902.

The pipeline runs through the wheat belt and is still delivering water, 40% is used in Kalgoorlie the remainder is used along the way.

A busy railway follows much the same route. In the days of steam water was essential to drive the engines and they were very thirsty beasts. After Gayle’s encounter with the skimpy barmaid the night was spent at Karralee Rocks where an excellent example of water harvesting, although in urgent need of some conservation, is still just functioning.

Rain falling on a large granite rock is directed into a small dam by carefully contoured walls running around the perimeter. The dam overflows into an aqueduct that conveys the water into a large holding dam. From there it was pumped to the railway. We had 15mm of rain overnight and we were able to watch the process in action the following morning.