THE FASCINATING DIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN AUSTRALIA
 
A JOURNEY TO ENJOY

 

Joe Paul

 

(Click here for the illustrated version)

 

 

Prelude in Adelaide

 

Klara and I arrived in Adelaide on a sunny afternoon. A friend picked us up from the airport and whisked us to the beaches of Glenelg and Henley. A chilly wind blew from the azure ocean, reminding us that spring in Southern Australia does not differ much from that in Wellington, our New Zealand hometown – at least not in coastal areas! Despite this similarity, I was dazed by the rapid geographical change across two thousand kilometres of Tasman Sea. Then the city embraced us with wide streets, green parks, tidy architectural relics and stylish modern buildings. We checked in at the Adelaide Central Youth Hostel.

 

“Drop the word ‘youth’. Just call it a hostel! There are too many old fogies!” somebody had written into the visitors’ book.

“At least, the oldies don’t steal your food!” somebody else had replied.

We were not surprised about this hostel’s popularity with travellers of all ages. It was clean and tidy, offered everything a traveller needs, abounded with valuable information, and was run by friendly staff. We chose it as our headquarters for organising, starting and finishing our trips. Adelaide is known for its culture, history, food, and wine. We started with the wine.

 

For wine tasting, the Barossa Valley is arguably best known. The name is a misspelling of Barrosa in Spain and I wouldn’t call it a valley. From Mengler’s Hill Lookout it presents itself as a rolling plain dotted with vineyards, about sixty of them. Obviously, we were unable to visit more than four and that was enough to make us happy.

 

The area’s modest Lutheran churches and old cottages remind of the original settlement in the 1840-ies. Religious refugees from Prussia and Silesia brought with them vines that happened to be excellently suited to climate and soil. Many places initially bore German names that had to be anglicised as a result of World War I.

 

Tourism has lured back some of the old names, though not necessarily in the Barossa. A good example is Hahndorf, east of the Adelaide Hills. The little picturesque village thrives on its German heritage. It may help that it was the home of Hans Heysen (1877 – 1968) whose paintings and drawings we admired in the Hahndorf Academy, at a later date. He immigrated from Germany at the age of seven, became South Australia’s best-known landscape painter and was knighted. He was also honoured by naming after him one of the world’s great long-distance walks: the Heysen Trail. It extends over 1200 kilometres from Cape Jervis at the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula to the Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders Ranges. We would cross this trail a few times on our first safari.

 

 

Journey to the Flinders Ranges

 

WILPENA POUND

 

The name Wilpena Pound had long fascinated me. The word pound had brought to my mind a confined enclosure like a pen, a coop, a kennel, or even a cage. Now we flew over it in a light plane, four passengers and the pilot. We could have looked down on an alien landscape. With tilts of our wings the cliffs reared forbiddingly, as if they were to empty the bowl they rise from. In a long swoop, we took in the expanse of this basin, huge and yet diminutive within the vastness of the Australian Outback.

 

The Pound covers more than 80 km2 and is 11 km wide. Although it looks like a crater, its origin is neither meteoric nor volcanic. It was a gigantic dome pushed up by tectonic forces 650 million years ago. When it collapsed, it left a rim of Himalayan proportions. Erosion has trimmed these massive mountains to a crown of cracked and weathered quartzite peaks, most of them not higher than 500m, but still guarding the interior by towering steeply above the surrounding plains.

 

There is only one easy way into the Pound, along Wilpena Creek, and that’s why early settlers used the Pound indeed as a sheep run, no fences needed. The original vegetation died. Now the Pound is part of the Flinders Ranges National Park and seems to regain some of its original appearance. We were there in spring and the Pound had burst into bloom with the delicate yellow of wattle trees. We descended far enough to follow speeding emus and skipping kangaroos, then gaining height, swept over yawing rock faces, bleaching in midday sun, spitting out rare shadows, but hiding their prowess to display a multitude of colours at dawn and dusk. In a last long round we dived past the guardian cliffs down to the airstrip in the plains to rejoin our guide Pete.

 

We were five in his party. Colleen and Rachel from the UK, Anita from Switzerland, and Klara and myself from New Zealand. We had travelled on a regular bus from Adelaide 300km north to Port Augusta. Pete had picked us up and taken to his hostel in Quorn. The following day we had left early and, driving through rural stations, as the immense Australian land holdings are called, we had made our way towards the Flinders Ranges. The countryside had still been reeking of spring, although the early wild flowers had gone. Now and then we had passed profusions of blue flowers, nicknamed “Peterson’s Curse” for their poison and awesome powers of proliferation. Much more rarely had the red beaks of Sturt Desert Pea glowed between brush and rocks. In Buckaringa Gorge we had spied on the rare yellow-footed rock wallabies. From rocky knobs we had sampled incredibly far-reaching views.

 

Now we wanted to explore the Pound from ground level. We followed Wilpena Creek that had shrunk to a chain of small dirty-yellow pools, but vividly showed off the consequences of a recent flash flood. Large gum trees lay slain across the creek bed, toppled across each other, their broken limbs spun into entangled meshes. Vapours of eucalypt oil hung in the air and swarms of flies vied for drinks from the sweat that glistened on our skins. I took off my tank top and let it dangle from my head.

 

Not far from the place where the gorge widens into the Pound, there is the homestead of the Hill family, the last grazers, now a historic place. The house sits in splendid isolation on a clearing surrounded by sparse gum forest and carpets of grass and flowers. Carved from a rock, two aborigines point the way to the Wangarra Lookouts. From there, the panorama of the basin was unobstructed and very different from the aerial views, boldly immediate, as if it were to tell us: “Come for a hike, but beware, I may be larger, drier and hotter than you think.” We would not have had time anyway. Pete wanted to take us to the Chambers Gorge for a bush camp.

 

 

CHAMBERS GORGE

 

Halfway between Flinders and Gammon Ranges National Parks sits Mt Chambers (409 m) keeping watch over its namesake gorge. Like most outback gorges, the entrance is a sprawling flood plain of sand and shingle interspersed with scrub and gums tenaciously anchoring themselves in the ground. Embracing rocks with their roots, trees gazed at their mirror images in puddles gold-plated by the setting sun.

 

Our 4WD lurched over naked slabs, ground through sand and splashed through forlorn rivulets. Pete stopped the car on a flat shingle bank, a long way up the gorge. “A good spot for climbing Mt Chambers to watch the sunrise tomorrow,” he explained.

“Shall we first put up the tents?” Klara asked.

Pete snorted: “Tents? They are for campers. We’ve got swags, the real stuff!”

“I know, swags are kind of sacs that you roll out to sleep in, but won’t we feel the gravel poking through?” I sensed an edge in Klara’s voice.

Pete chucked a swag in her direction. “Just open this one and check it out. You’ll find a pad inside. The handy thing is, we don’t need to mess with any pegs, poles, or strings. We can get a fire going and start cooking dinner.”

 

We all gave Pete a hand, but I don’t think we should take credit for the resulting great meal of tender roast beef and crispy vegetables. Darkness had snuck into the gorge. We sat around the fire, munching and sipping wine. Outback nights fall quickly and can be pitch black. Soon the stars blinked dazzlingly between branches and rocky walls.

 

We left our campsite and stumbled further up the riverbed. Eventually, it narrowed, squeezed by bluffs. Boulders tried to block it. Unexpectedly, it widened again and Pete pointed his torch at a rock face. “Look at these paintings. The aborigines would have done them thousands of years ago.”

 

Anita climbed up to a ledge right under the ancient works of art and caught the cameras we handed her. For fractions of seconds the pictures lit up, flushed out from the darkness. Then we lay down on sandy ground and looked up to the stars.

 

Back at camp, Pete pulled out a book of aboriginal legends. “D’you know that the stars of the Southern Cross are Mululu and his daughters?” he asked and read out:

 

“Mululu was the chief of the Kanda tribe. He loved his four daughters but missed having a son. When he grew old, he called his daughters together to talk about their future. He told them that he expected to die soon and was worried that they didn’t have a brother to protect them from the spite and jealousies of other women or from being forced into marriages with men they disliked. So he wanted them to leave the earth when he died and to meet him in the sky. He then explained that spirits of the night had led him to a powerful medicine man called Conduk; he would help them.

 

After their father’s death, the daughters set out to find Conduk. They had to travel many days north to reach his camp where they recognised him by the long thick beard father had described. Beside the medicine man they saw a huge pile of silver-grey rope which he had plaited from the hairs of his beard. One end of the rope reached up into the sky.

 

The girls were terrified to learn that the rope was their only means of reaching their father again, but with Conduk’s guidance and reassurance they were able to climb to its very top where their father was waiting. Now they are the four bright stars of the Southern Cross. Nearby, caring for them, is another bright star, Centaurus, their father.”

 

The night was dry, not as cold as I had expected, but seemed rather short.

“Joe, get up! We’ve got to go!” I heard Pete’s voice out of the ash-grey dawn.

I wriggled in my swag. “Sorry, I’ve decided to keep Klara company. She wants to see the rock drawings in the morning sun.”

Pete seemed a bit disappointed but soon left together with Anita and Colleen. Rachel had decided to stay behind as well, to spend a relaxing morning in and around our camp.

 

Beams of the still hidden sun ignited the walls and large boulders in the gorge, first at the top. Then the red, ochre and yellow colours flickered down, jumping from ledge to ledge, across obstinately dark crevasses and kept on dancing until the rising day bleached them into submission. However, the circles and lines, the animals with their x-rayed bodies, the spindly representations of humans and spirits that crowded the aboriginal gallery still stood out, trying to tell us their story.

 

Anita told a different tale. Though the climb had been steep and hard, they had reached the summit of Mt.Chambers just when the sun was shooting fiery arrows from below an orange horizon into the cloud patterned sky, washing the fluffy edges of the inky swabs glisteningly white. Slowly, the farthest mountain ranges turned purple, while the plains in front were still sleeping in darkness. Then the tops of nearby hills lit up and the floodgates of daylight opened.

 

 

FROM BARRARANNA TO BRACHINA GORGE

 

Barraranna Gorge was already “populated”. There was a man, a fly net dangling from his hat, resting on a boulder and looking out over the water hole below. A woman, apparently his companion, was ambling through the shrubs and trees along the other bank.

“If you want to have a swim, you better wait for these people to leave,” Pete whispered, “the National Park service discourages swimming here. We’ve got time till lunch. Explore and enjoy.”

 

There is something about the outback gorges that grips me. Rugged and massive, eroded and broken, silent and venerable, they display their ancient history. They may still come to life with roaring floods but, most of the time, they slumber, brooding in the relentless sun, barely fanned by cooling winds.

 

On two sides, colossal walls shot high up and contained a series of pools connected to each other. Straight ahead a lower rocky barrier was broken, chipped, and splintered. Occasional floods had eaten out a wide ravine, now baked dry. I forded the water at a row of natural stepping-stones and climbed through thorny bushes and broken rocks into the gap. The air there sat still, perfumed by parching vegetation. Only the occasional humming of insects or calling of a bird broke the uncanny silence. I turned back when the heat threatened to consume me.

 

The man with the fly net still had not moved. His more energetic companion was coming back from one of her strolls, clambering along the water’s edge on rocks that sloped moderately enough to allow access to the lower parts of the gorge. “Take care. Don’t slip!” she called out, when she saw me heading in her direction. I believed her. Where broken branches and mud-caked rock made progress risky, I took my sandals off and carried on barefoot. Rounding a corner, the watercourse widened, forming a beautiful deep rock pool. I undressed, put my swim goggles on and carefully dived into the pleasantly warm water, looking out for snags that often lurk under the surface and can injure or even kill.

 

Barraranna Gorge is only one of the picturesque places in the Arkaroola-Mt.Painter Sanctuary and was the northernmost point of our excursion. Four-wheel-drive “Ridge top” trips take tourists from the Arkaroola Resort through the wild mountain scenery. We did our own, bouncing up slopes so steep that the rocky paths seemed to lead straight into the sky. When the vehicle jolted to a halt, vistas instantly unfolded, vast, pastel-coloured and – empty.

 

The setting sun cast its evening gold on the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna where we stopped to have a look at the historic bar and sample its drinks. The restaurant serves award-winning camel, ‘roo, and emu dishes. However, I doubt, whether they would be any better than the bush “barbie” (BBQ) with skilfully spiced tender kangaroo steak that Pete put on after we had settled into our campsite in Brachina Gorge. Colleen got a lesson in how to make a genuine Australian “damper” as our dessert. This is a far cry from “anything that deadens or depresses” as explained in some dictionaries. It’s a loaf made from flour and water and baked in a camp oven. As a special treat, Pete shoved chocolate in. Then we left it to its fate, expecting it to be baked by the time we would return, and wandered into the night black gorge.

 

Klara and I had been discussing the unimaginable age of the local quartzite. We had been unsure whether or not 550 million years ago life existed on earth or not. The answer was awaiting us in this gorge on explanatory signs near a geological site. Not only did life exist, but it was already multicellular! One of the most significant events in the history of life on earth is recorded in a thin band of sandstone outcropping in this gorge. Fossils preserved in the Rawnsley Quartzite are the first evidence of “metazoans” on Earth. Many of them were similar to modern segmented worms, sea pens and jellyfish. These soft-bodied organisms lived on the shallow sea floor. Storms smothered them beneath sand that enveloped them and, over eons, turned them into rock. They live on as impressions on the bottom of sandstone slabs. Their imprints became eerily vivid in the light of our torches.

 

 

MOUNT ARDEN

 

We said good-bye to the Flinders Ranges from the most prominent hill on the way back to Quorn. Mount Arden is 844 metres high, but seems higher because of its commanding position and the long, steep, and bumpy access track. Its round top offered plenty of space for our 4WD next to some antennas and a tin shed. There would even be room for three, four vehicles more, but that would mean crowding it and obstructing the amazing view. It was virtually possible to stay in one place and, turning round, take in a 360-degree panorama.

 

It seemed a long time ago since we had left Brachina Gorge and yet, it had been only this morning. We had wended our way through canyons and over ridges. We had hiked to see more aboriginal paintings at Arkaroo Rock. We had deviated considerably to cross the farmland that surrounds the mound.

 

I looked back north towards the Flinders Ranges which had shrunk in this seemingly boundless land to a minor feature, almost hiding behind the preposterous, dull hillocks in the foreground. In the east, the track that had taken us here was snaking over hills and dales with almost impossible contortions. In the west, the salty expanse of “Lake” Torrens glistened. To the south, we could just about see Quorn, both starting point and journey’s end.

 

 

 

Adelaide Interlude One

 

When Klara and I stepped into the South Australian Art Gallery on Adelaide’s stately North Terrace, we could not but overhear an elegant elderly lady talking to a small group of people. She was one of the voluntary museum guides and what she said beguiled us. We followed her, accepting her choice of show pieces, but felt frustrated by having to pass by so many of the beautiful paintings, sculptures and elaborate items crafted from silver. We would visit the Gallery two more times with undiminished pleasure.

 

Another museum that attracted us more than once was the South Australian museum with a great collection of aboriginal artefacts, displays of South Australian fauna, flora, and geology, as well as a fascinating exhibition about the work of Sir Douglas Mawson who lectured at the University of Adelaide from 1905 to 1952. His scientific curiosity took him from the hot Australian outback to the frozen Antarctic, showing that the Southern Ocean, despite its vastness and ferocity, more links than separates these two continents.

 

 

 

Spring Weather in Kangaroo Island

 

 

JOURNEY TO PENNESHAW

 

“I reckon, you’re after the Leafy Sea Dragons,” our guide Jason declared, knowingly. I had told him, I’d like to include a dive in our safari. They are spectacular creatures, these little dragon-like seahorses. With their light brown leafy bodies they are almost indistinguishable from seaweeds. They allure divers into their marine habitats around Kangaroo Island. Of course, I had many other attractions in mind, like swimming with fur seals, besides, I had imagined semi-tropical waters. Now our little group was huddling together in a motorboat that battled through raging waves, occasionally dowsing us with chilly water. At every jump of the boat boiling clouds winked through the spray washed plastic windows of the tarpaulin.

 

Only a few hours before, we had stood on the huge granite boulders of the famous Bluff near Victor Harbour and looked at turquoise seas and sandy beaches under a sunny sky. Then we had crossed the southern tip of South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula to Cape Jervis and boarded the launch we were on now. The weather had changed dramatically, as if reminding us that we were going south, one step closer to Antarctica. Though thousands of kilometres away, there is nothing in between this icy continent and Southern Australia but ocean.

 

“You may be the only patron for diving,” Jason warned me. “It’s up to you, but if you shouldn’t go for it, you won’t be disappointed with the tour.” I nodded. We were already looking forward to making close acquaintance with one kind of famous residents the very evening.

 

From the Cape to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island it is only 13 kilometres. It seemed farther. Crossing this narrow bit of water by regular ferry service is not even cheap and so this large island of 4500 square kilometres with remarkable coastal rocks and sheltered beaches, forests and paddocks, red soil and white sand hills has remained quiet. The island’s comparative isolation has also protected a large variety of birds, land and sea creatures. Thirty percent of it is now National Park.

 

The island owes its name to English explorer Matthew Flinders. Allegedly, he and his crew enjoyed a feast of fresh kangaroo meat there. There are also many French place names. Coming from the West, French explorer Nicholas Baudin had started the first thorough survey of the island coast, almost at the same time as Flinders who came from the East. Eventually, the two geographers met up and swapped notes, gallantly ignoring the fact that their mother countries were actually at war with each other. The historic meeting took place in 1802, in a bay at what is now Victor Harbour.

 

Our small group consisted of visitors from the UK, continental Europe, an Australian woman, as well as Klara and myself. When our little boat tied up in a small cove near Penneshaw, we formed a chain to quickly get our packs, sleeping bags, food, cooking and eating utensils on land and to the trailer of a waiting landrover. Achim, a young German engineer, instructed Klara, how best to stow things, advice she did not accept kindly.

 

We checked into the Penneshaw Youth Hostel and eagerly awaited nightfall. Then a wide stretch of beach comes alive with Little Blue Penguins that have waddled home from the sea. They flap and shuffle about in and around their burrows, squawking and spreading their unmistakable odour. Boardwalks and dim lights allow sightseers to watch the little fellows without disturbing them.

 

 

CLIFFS, SAND AND SPLENDID ISOLATION

 

Cape Willoughby lighthouse has lost its human touch. Long gone are its keepers and their quarters have been turned into tourist flats. I understood that the Cape’s wild if windblown beauty can keep visitors spellbound for more than a day. The surroundings resemble an imaginative rock garden with flowers of many colours, herbs, and grasses peeping out from gaps and cracks. The cliffs of the Cape rise tall out of the sea that perpetually smashes into steep walls, caves and caverns, shattering its crystal blue waves into frothy white shards that float off just to reassemble. We balanced on the rocky verges of the promontory, not tiring of watching the spectacle below.

 

As we were driving away from the coast, the wind subsided, the landscape lay quiet. Paddocks and low forest took their turns. A lagoon lined with Australian swamp oaks licked far inland. Crossing the island to the northern shore, we saw no settlements before arriving at the little seaside town of Kingscote. Founded in 1836, it is the oldest town in South Australia, and the first free settlement in all of Australia. However, dogged by the lack of water and building materials, it was abandoned just four years later in favour of Adelaide.

 

We picnicked near the historic courthouse and a jail as small as a tool shed. Rapacious seagulls threatened to steal our food and, soon enough, Sally, a young woman from England, cried out when she lost a slice of nice ham straight out of her fist. I must not repeat what Kenneth, her companion, shouted in the direction of the cheeky bird.

 

We left the small place to its unruffled business and, driving inland, stopped at a honey farm where we took samples from an array of small jars, experiencing variations of the descriptive “sweet”. The bees are said to be unique in the world. They arrived in 1881 from the Italian province of Liguria. Since then, no other breeds of bee have been introduced to the island and all present-day bees descend from the original twelve hives. Ligurian bees are appreciated for their gentle nature and golden colour. These features, as well as the purity of their genes make them invaluable for breeding. Since 1931, importation of bees and bee-keeping equipment to the island has been illegal. This became particularly important after the identification of Foul Brood Disease on the mainland.

 

Licking honey icecream, we piled into our car and continued our trip. At Seal Bay we greeted the southern coastline a second time, but instead of towering cliffs we found a wide sandy beach where Australian sea lions enjoy a lazy life under the watchful eyes of park rangers. The animals don’t mind strolling visitors, as long as they don’t come close. Occasional sparring matches of annoyed males clearly demonstrate readiness to defend occupied territory.

 

We dropped most of our gear off in a lone cottage on farmland and Jason stacked sand boards into our 4WD vehicle. Our goal was an area of steep sand hills, appropriately called Little Sahara.

“Why haven’t you got snowboards?” I asked, baffling Jason.

“You couldn’t use them on sand.”

“On the sand hills in Namibia, we used real snowboard equipment and technique,” I insisted.

Jason shrugged his shoulders. “Just wait and see!”

 

The sand hills in Little Sahara were steep and not higher than 30 - 50 metres. We left our landrover at the end of the track and trudged through shrub-studded sandy ground towards one of the hills. Under one of the shrubs we spied a bundle of brownish spikes. We were lucky. It was an Echidna, a Spiny Anteater, an egg-laying mammal, one of Australia’s most unusual animals. It eats insects and earthworms and when threatened quickly burrows in the ground or curls up.

 

At the foot of the hill, Klara and Joan, a woman from Sydney, retired in the shade of a tree, cameras ready. Obliquely, a tired sun cast its rays through a misty sky, washing the sand almost white. The air was still and very warm. We would end up stripping down to shorts or bikinis, as appropriate. I found the climb increasingly difficult, as the slope steepened. Every step also meant sliding back.

 

When we all had gathered at the top, Jason explained how to sit on the board, pointing it straight down. I expected high-speed rides. Riding snowboards down the Namibian sand hills had been fast, despite doing turns and garlands. Not so here. Brigitte, the girl from France, even got stuck in the middle of the slope. I could not believe it until I was actually on one of the boards, trying to gain speed. Klara would get disappointing shots.

 

I felt that the sand of Little Sahara was heavy and sluggish like snow that warm weather has turned into porridge, is difficult to handle and can even break bones. The Namibian sand had flowed easily, perhaps because of its uniform, slightly coarser grain. Nevertheless, after some practice runs Achim and Mark, a guy from Switzerland, succeeded in standing up on the boards while sliding down, though in a straight line and slowly.

“Why don’t you wax the boards?” I asked Jason.

 

Back at the farm cottage, large sheets of shadow unfurled over paddocks and floated from treetops. We fanned out to gather firewood or to stalk kangaroos that nibbled at foliage. They never lingered enough to allow close-up photo shots.

 

Klara inspected the bunks and decided she would sleep outside.

“There are no swags to sleep in,” I cautioned, “what if it rains?”

“It won’t rain and I’ve got my sleeping bag,” was the bold answer.

The cottage also boasted a rusty bathtub with hot water trickling from a shower nozzle. Not even Klara spurned this facility.

 

For dinner, Jason treated us to kangaroo steak and vegetables that we ate sitting around a blazing campfire. We chatted until the fire died down. Klara yanked a mattress from one of the bunks and went searching for a spot “away from snakes and spiders”.

 

 

WILDLIFE AND WILD ROCKS

 

I dreamt I heard the sound of “pitter-patter” on the iron roof of the cottage. First, I was too drowsy to wake completely, but then I heard it more clearly: “pitter-patter, pitter-patter”. It was raining. I thought of Klara, dragged myself out of my sleeping bag and went to see whether she was all right. I found her already sheltering under the porch.

 

Daylight came with strings of water spilling from the edges of the cottage roof. The quad bikes destined for a morning jaunt around the farm cowered glumly in a corner of the yard. Nobody gave them a look. We lingered over our breakfast, packed up and drove off looking for koalas.

 

We found them sleeping in the rain drenched gum trees of the Hanson Bay Sanctuary. Koalas are safe here, but need to be contained elsewhere. Not native to the island, they devastate the big river gums through overeating. The mildly toxic leaves of these eucalypts are their only diet and low in nutrients. Besides, the koala digestive processes are slow. So the animals lack energy and need about fifteen hours of sleep a day. We strolled through an alley of tall trees, discovering quite a few of these winsome furry marsupials perched in the forks of higher branches. One had settled down close enough to act as a photo model. It even made the odd move, very slowly, while watching us with sleepy eyes.

 

We continued our trip into the extensive Flinders Chase National Park that takes in the island’s western end, 33,000 hectares of it. The lighthouse at Cap du Couedic watches over a wild spectacular coast. The sea moved back and forth, up and down, a steely sheet patterned grey and black, mimicking the tussle of the rain clouds before pounding the rugged cliffs. It was at its eternal work, sculpting out of the shore bizarre, giant works of art. One of them is the great Admiral’s Arch. Wooden stairs and walkways guide visitors across it and down one side. The arch appeared almost black against the enormous backlit window it framed. A large slab rested at the bottom, its smooth surface glistening in the rain. New Zealand fur seals basked there, looking nude with their wet shiny skin. Yet, they carry more fur than the Australian sea lions.

 

“I don’t think we’ll be going for a swim,” I pondered, turning to Jason.

“We don’t usually take visitors swimming at this time of the year,” he agreed. Then he added, jovially: “but there are sometimes hardy types that insist....By the way, you might not even want to have your dive. Our office in Adelaide has let me know that the weather is deteriorating and we’ll be lucky to make the trip back by boat today.”

 

A short ride down the coast lies a group of granite boulders aptly called the “Remarkables”. I was still busy taking photos of this unusual sight from afar, when I saw Sally and Kenneth already coming back, snuggled into their parkas. Others followed. I hurried up the granite hump. The megaliths loomed above and around me. The gloomy day gave them a touch of awesome magic and the space in between them was filled with mystery. I walked about spellbound. Then I heard Klara shouting: “Joe, you’ve got to come. It’s time to leave!”

 

In a shelter near the Park Headquarters we gave Jason a hand with preparing a barbeque lunch. A wet kangaroo arrived, begging for morsels. I struck up a conversation with Brigitte, as I had many times before, prompting her to practice her English.

“What did you like best on this trip?”

She gave me a charming smile. “Yes, I like.”

“You’ve got to say a bit more. Talk about what you liked.”

“Everything!”

Kenneth overheard us. “I’ll be happy when this tour will be over,” he said, morosely.

 

We returned to Penneshaw via American River, a small settlement that has little in common with America, apart from the fact that American sealers had built a boat here in 1804.

 

In the small cove where we had stepped ashore two days earlier a strong motorboat was tugging at its moorings. We threw our baggage on board.

“We’ll make the crossing. Don’t worry,” the skipper said.

 

 

 

Adelaide Interlude Two

 

When Australia commemorated its bicentenary in 1988, award winning South Australian architect Guy Maron came up with a futuristic structure. It is a conservatory that resembles an elongated pyramid and is set amidst tall trees in the Botanical Gardens. We chanced upon it walking there on a beautiful morning full of spring colours and scents. The building houses a tropical rain forest complete with birds and fish in ponds. Its size made us forget that we were in an artificial environment.

 

Adelaide’s history doesn’t go back 200 years. It was only in 1836 that the first English settlers landed at Holdfast Bay. Colonel William Light chose a site ten kilometres inland for the state capital and is credited with its far-sighted layout. Many migrants followed and forged the colourful ethnic mixture that is most obvious in Adelaide’s Central Market. The Migration Museum tells their story. Located in the beautifully restored and upgraded buildings of the Destitute Asylum, it is itself a symbol of South Australia’s path to prosperity.

 

The original inhabitants of Australia had nothing to celebrate. They were hunted down, died of introduced diseases and loss of their ancestral land led to cultural demise. Even until modern times, they were considered subhuman, categorised under native fauna, and had no voting rights. Fortunately, this has changed. Australians are rediscovering aboriginal culture and, to a degree, are even supporting it. In the State Library we admired a beautifully woven carpet with aboriginal motifs, covering an entire hall. In the National Institute of Aboriginal Arts, Tandanya, we watched enactments of aboriginal life and attended aboriginal theatre and didgeridoo performances. Next to the railway station we descended into a sunken garden; its semicircular walls were laid out with aboriginal mosaics. Next to it we discovered a small aboriginal art gallery that had opened only recently.

 

 

 

Broken Hill

 

North of Adelaide

 

We’ve left the afternoon rush hour bustle of Adelaide, in brilliant weather, under blue South Australian sky, pleasant temperate air falling from it. The rural countryside is flat, lush green with grass or beige with fields of grain, dotted with gum trees that remind us that we’re in Australia and not in the plains of Europe. Settlements are rare, but may surprise with decorative stone buildings dating from the 19th century.

 

Low on the horizon, the sun casts long shadows wherever something happens to stand in the way of its beams. Every tree has its own shape like a separate work of art. Now and then, Australian windmills - that pump water from the aquifers - turn their little wheels whose tails follow the path of the wind.

 

The dwellings in the little villages are modest, close together; the solitary farmhouses aren’t much larger either. Rural life is simple, in contrast to the City, where much has been embellished or created in the past few decades.

 

Nude hills take on the same shades in the sinking sun like in New Zealand. Groups of trees gather thirstily at the gentle beach of a wide pond. Sheep laze in paddocks. Trees marching in rows give away the bed of a lost stream. A pipeline follows the road, taking water to drier places. We pass the odd derelict building, bared of its roof and nibbled at by poachers of building materials.

 

A range of blue-grey mountains waxes from the horizon into the pastel sky and contrasts with the light hues of the plains. Fields of grain turn to gold and trees shroud their tops in mystery. A crowd of buildings heralds Burra, the historic copper mining town. Signs flare up in golden evening sheen. The town is quiet. Gone is its boom sparked off by shepherds who discovered copper ore in 1845. Soon after, Burra reached twice the size of contemporary Brisbane. Desperate for housing, miners dug caves into the steep banks of the Burra Creek. When floods swept cave denizens to their deaths, the mining company built houses for their workers, a first in Australia. The copper era lasted only thirty years but brought wealth and ambitious administrative buildings to Adelaide.

 

Behind Burra the sun finally vanishes behind hills that draw a wavy orange line across the sky into which lone trees paste their delicate crowns. Like in an aboriginal painting, dark pastel hues run across the downs. Slowly, the land ahead drowns in darkness. We drive into the night.

 

 

NOT JUST A REMOTE MINING TOWN

 

I turned off my tape recorder and put it away.

“What were you recording?” The driver asked, his head slightly askance. Klara and I were the only passengers in the small bus on its regular service from Adelaide to Broken Hill.

“I was describing what I saw, but now it’s got too dark.”

“Visiting Broken Hill the first time? OK, you realise, it’s not just a remote mining town. Many good artists have settled there, painters, sculptors, silver smiths. And we’ve got great history. D’you want to hear some interesting bits?

 

Well, there was this German, Charles Rasp, who came to Victoria as a young man. It was 1869, the year when they found the record-breaking gold nugget. It weighed 72 kg and would be worth four million dollars in our money, I’m told. Guess what that did to prospecting!

 

Now, Rasp was not a prospector. He wasn’t a geologist nor a miner either, just a boundary rider. But he was smart and observant. He got himself a copy of the “Prospector’s Guide” which he used to study the conditions around various silver mines in the district. When his duties led him to a rocky outcrop known as the “Broken Hill”, the insight he had gained made him suspect that the outcrop contained tin oxide.

 

In 1883, Rasp engaged two dam-sinkers to peg out with him a mineral lease at Broken Hill and soon after formed a syndicate together with them and four other men: the station manager on whose property the lease had been pegged, a sheep overseer, a storekeeper, and a station hand. The men agreed to put £ 70 each towards the mining venture.

 

Little more than a year later, contractors struck silver chloride that assayed thousands of ounces to the ton. The Broken Hill Proprietary Limited company was formed and by the end of 1885 had produced thousands of tons of ore worth tens of thousands of pounds.

 

Charles had it made. He married Agnes, a pretty German girl employed at an Adelaide coffee shop. They took a long trip to Europe and, upon their return, bought a gracious mansion in Adelaide. By 1890, the Rasp share holding was valued at £ 1¼ million, which allowed the couple to lead a life of travelling and social entertainment. Charles continued to follow his mining interests and became director of several mining companies. He died from a heart attack in 1907. He was only 61.”

 

“What happened to his wife?”

“Agnes went to Germany and married a count before the outbreak of World War I. Her husband died during the war. Agnes returned to Adelaide in 1920 a countess, but her marriage had made her an enemy alien and the Australian Government had confiscated her assets. Only by a special Act of Parliament did she regain most of her possessions. She died in 1936, at the age of 79 years.”

 

“Fascinating!”

“Isn’t it? Our “Line of Lode” proved to be one of the world’s richest lead-zinc-silver ore bodies and has generated already one hundred billion dollars, making Broken Hill a wealthy town. You’ll see some fine buildings there. I guess it may have contributed more to the Australian economy than any other place in the nation.

By the way, do you guys have any fruit on you? We’re just about to arrive at the New South Wales border and you’d need to hand them in.”

 

Klara passed on to the driver a bag with refuse that included the core of an apple. All this was gracefully accepted by the health official at the border.

 

 

ALL COLOURS BUT GREEN

 

Hot sunshine filled the wide avenues of Broken Hill already in the morning. Dominating the town is its famous hill visible from everywhere. It resembles a pile of brown rubble and is crowned by what looked to me like rusty contraptions. It’s a landmark that contrasts starkly with the well-maintained, pretty municipal buildings that give the town a well-to-do and historic appearance.

 

We followed the signs of the “heritage walk” round the centre of the town. We were captivated by the railway museum which not only boasts a rich collection of historic engines, carriages, and rail traffic paraphernalia, but also contains a valuable collection of historic medical equipment. Given the museum’s location, it may not surprise that it is also jam-packed with spectacular minerals. However, the exotic appearance of the “Hill of Rubble” lured us soon enough to its flat top and to BHP’s Delprat’s Mine.

 

The road up the hill is good and not steep, but completely devoid of shelter. We did not feel like being toasted by the early afternoon sun and called a taxi. The view from the mine reveals the total isolation of the town. The desert reaches right into the built-up area and from there to the distant horizon where land and sky merge in fine mauve mist. Even in the glare of the day, the earth showed colours, soft shades of cream, tan, peach, lavender, bashfully gentle until dusk when they turn to yellow, brown, orange and purple.

 

“That’s why we’ve got so many buggers here that splash paint on canvass,” our guide-to-be Don said, before he packed us into a cage that would slip us down the mineshaft. “What good are the colours on a scrap of material? They’re already here, all around us. I’ve lived here all my life, been down south a few times, got bored with all that green, just stinking green, no other colour!”

 

I smiled at Klara. She looked funny in a well-worn overcoat, helmet with headlamp down to her ears, weighed down by a heavy battery belted to her waist. “Don’t laugh, you look hilarious yourself,” she snickered.

 

We descended 130 m to the bottom where Don sent a signal to the surface by yanking a string that rang a bell inaudible to us down here. We then squeezed and crawled through drives and stopes. The original mining and transporting equipment was still in working order and Don explained the old mining methods.

 

“That was all we needed to get the job done,” he scoffed, “now it’s different with all the stinking modern crap. The miners sit in air-conditioned cabins drinking cups of tea while the machines do the work.”

“I have a feeling you envy ‘all the stinking modern crap’,” I teased him.

Don doubled over laughing. “Cheeky bugger!” Then, turning serious, he added: “the company now does everything with just a few people; not many miners have kept their jobs.”

 

Klara and I returned to our hostel just in time for an excursion to another hill not far from the town. Sculptors from all over the world had gathered here in 1993 for a “Sculpting Symposium”. The City Council had funded the transport of 52 tonnes of Wilcannia sandstone from far away to the level top of the hill. When it became apparent that ordinary chisels failed to dent the highly accreted boulders, former miners came to the rescue, resurrecting old tungsten carbide tools.

 

Twelve huge sculptures now grace the site, turning on their magic at every sunset. Then light and shadow play on the rough-hewn shapes, acting out the artist’s ideas. The surroundings change into a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes. Sculptor Dr Ahmad al Ahmad put it poetically:

“The Symposium is a necklace for a maiden – the maiden being the incredibly beautiful desert landscape around the mountain.”

 

 

A GHOST TOWN TURNED “ARTY”

 

Twenty-three km northwest of Broken Hill lies Silverton, the first mining town in this area. In 1889, its silver mines closed, everyone moved to Broken Hill and only the ghosts of the past haunted the slowly decaying buildings. Perhaps there was one exception: the Silverton Hotel. Australian pubs are the first to spring up in new places and the last to die. This one was brought to life and fame by the movie industry. So were the little church and one of the cottages.

 

Keen to see this place, we joined Will who had bought a large 4WD when he had retired as a miner and now shows car-less visitors round. He first stopped at a wreck of a railway ore-truck. “This is a historic place,” he stated.

 

It must have been the strangest place touched by the First World War and it happened on New Years Day 1915. A crowd of picnickers from a local club had set out in an ore train of the Silverton Tramway. They had only gone about two miles when they noticed an ice-cream cart flying the Turkish flag and two men with rifles. Shots rang out. A young man, a woman, and a horseman riding beside the train were killed. Others were wounded. The train sped out of shooting distance, but the attackers caused further chaos nearby before police overpowered them. They were identified as the local butcher and an ice-cream vendor, both of Turkish nationality.

 

Further away from the town, Will pointed out re-vegetation schemes, using native shrubs.

“During the early years, Broken Hill was not only known for its mineral wealth, but also for its dust storms and poor living conditions,” he explained. “The vegetation around the town disappeared in the mines and smelters that, in turn, belched noxious fumes into the streets. The bare soil fed dust storms that had been bad enough before, without human help.”

 

“Water is still scarce, isn’t it?” I asked.

Will nodded. “Yes, later in the day I’ll take you to the Umberumberka Reservoir. You’ll see only sludge at its bottom. However, we’re not too badly off, nowadays. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, shortage of fresh food and water even caused disease. A typhoid epidemic in 1888 killed more than a hundred people. Three years later, a private company built a reservoir and reticulation systems. By then, Broken Hill, with 21,000 inhabitants, was the third largest town in New South Wales. Progress continued. Schools, a technical college, the town hall, post offices and a gaol were built. Timber-and-iron buildings were reconstructed in brick and stone. Recreation reserves were developed for the public to enjoy. We still carry on this good work and tourism thrives.”

 

Silverton did not meet my ideas of a ghost town. Apart from a few ruins, there was just an enormous open space where the settlement had been. Widely spaced out, there were some restored houses, well maintained – and worth inspecting. They were galleries with displays of paintings and artefacts of their owners. I believe the present day population of Silverton is about one hundred and I would be surprised, if they weren’t all artists, not counting the publicans.

 

Klara and I returned to Broken Hill with time to spare for looking at art works before having to depart. The town hosts a plethora of art galleries, large and small. “Silver City” claims to be home of the world’s largest acrylic painting on canvass. It is 12 m high and 100 m long. In the “Silver Mine” we watched the smelting, casting and designing of local silver jewellery. One item has stayed with us lest we forget. Klara boarded the bus with a delicate necklace of semi-precious stones set in silver.

 

 

 

Adelaide Interlude Three

 

Perhaps Don, the miner, was right about the dominance of green in the South. No place in Adelaide is far from the parks that girdle the city. We strolled through the gardens that follow the banks of the river Torrens. Not far from the intersection of North Terrace and King William Street, we climbed up to a group of impressive modern edifices: the Festival Centre, the Playhouse and the Convention Centre. They are connected with flights of stairs and promenades decorated with modern sculptures.

 

There are alternatives to such cultural and artificial landscapes in the Adelaide Hills and they are accessible by public transport. We took a bus to the nearest one, the Morialta Conservation Park and hiked through Eucalypt forest. Rocky walls rose next to us until they joined, forming an amphitheatre. From its top rungs jumped a waterfall. Tracks connect the park with others and even lead up to Mount Lofty, with 727m the highest peak in the Hills. We would have liked to climb to the summit, but our time in Adelaide was all but over.

 

 

 

From Adelaide to Melbourne

 

 

THE MIGHTY MURRAY

 

“We’re driving towards the Murray River. It flows from the Great Dividing Range in north-eastern Victoria to Encounter Bay in South Australia, more than 2700 km, making it the longest river in Australia and the third-longest river in the world.” Paul, our guide and driver, rattled this off into his microphone.

 

The jabber in our minibus continued throughout Paul’s explanation. Most passengers were from Japan, three were Chinese.

“How’s your Japanese, Paul,” I shouted. “Or Chinese? It seems that Klara and I are the only ones who know what you’re talking about.”

Paul shrugged his shoulders and carried on, slowly, emphasising every word.

“Listen! this! river! is! the Murray!”

Everybody looked ahead. In the meantime, the stretch of tawny water before us had widened considerably within its low banks.

“Ah! Livah Mullee!” Ju, a young lively Japanese exclaimed.

“Yes! it is! the mighty! Murray!  It forms most of the border between Victoria and New South Wales! Before roads and railways crossed the land, paddle-steamers used to carry supplies to remote sheep stations and homesteads, returning laden with wool!”

 

“This is bolder?” Tai, a slender woman from mainland China asked, surprised.

“No, the border is a lot further east! The last stretch of the river lies entirely in South Australia.” 

 

Klara and I reminisced. Only two weeks ago, we had been taking in the riverine scenery and its peace, though not on a paddle-steamer, but on a small sightseeing boat. Behind the serenity hide problems. The graceful willows lacing the banks are now considered weeds, because of their proliferous growth. They had been planted to help navigation. Of concern is also the increasing salinity of the river on its long journey during which it is almost bled to death by thirsty communities and pipelines.

 

Paul picked up the microphone again: “We’ll cross into Victoria just a few kilometres after Bordertown. This is a pleasant little place to have our lunch. It’s now mainly known for its albino kangaroos and a bust of Bob Hawke, a former prime minister of Australia who was born there. During the gold rush the town played a major role. A lot of gold changed hands here and not always legally. In the afternoon, we’ll reach the Grampian Mountains; they have a few surprises in store.”

 

 

ANCIENT MOUNTAINS

 

Waterfalls attract visitors. Tumbling down from great heights, water shows its power. We feel how it shapes the landscape, though unable to fully grasp the time scale. A good place to stare at water’s destructive and, at the same time, creative force are the Mackenzie Falls in the Grampians, maybe because these mountains are already worn and broken, showing their great age. Relentlessly, the Falls are ripping into the weathered rocks, imperceptibly eating it away.

 

Other waterfalls may be bigger and higher than the Mackenzie Falls, but the scenery here is unique. We descended on well laid out paths and stairs, following the course of the water from the top to the bottom. At every turn, on every level, the views were different. There were liquid veils, drapes of pearls, thundering chutes, lively cascades, churning rock pools, fluid sheets glistening like smooth skin on stone, water dancing in crevasses, spray hanging in the air. All this watery action took place among greenery that blanketed slopes, was sticking out or even hanging over. Fronds, blades, and leafy twigs stirred in the breeze whipped up by the rushing water. The setting sun ignited the colours latent in the rocky walls, casually tinting some bouncy waves.

 

The mood of the dying evening turned sombre when we left the Falls and hiked across a high plain towards the Devil’s Jaws.

“Sometimes I walk here in fog and drizzle,” Paul said, “we’re lucky today.”

Drab stunted vegetation flowed gently towards a leaden lake that fingered into a range of distant hills. We crossed a stand of mangy trees and suddenly found ourselves at the verge of the plateau that nose dived here thousands of feet, opening up stunning vistas of dark plains, a lake shrunk to a grey watery line, and misty ranges touching the cloudy sky. Jutting out from our vantage point were huge rocky jaws, gaping as if ready to swallow some of the scenery.

 

That night we stayed in a pleasant wilderness lodge near a hill called Asses Ears. We sat down to a three course dinner, played pool and then retreated into the night to enjoy the intense sparkle of the stars that had by now pushed away their shrouds. Klara and I walked out into a paddock to dodge obstructing trees, when spectres darker than the night closed in on us. They snorted.

“Horses!” Klara cried out and disappeared over a fence.

 

The Pinnacles afford another far-reaching lookout. Breathtaking it may be, but it pales compared with the climb to get to it. Almost straight away, the track leads into a most unusual narrow gorge. The walls and cliffs are not rough and jagged, but smooth, almost polished, though layered and riven. In places, a stream washes the stony track, but only at first. Then huge boulders thrust it up and about, so that it needs steel barriers and strong rungs. Further up, the water rushes, faint and invisible, in the chasm’s bowels that might as well be bottomless. Eventually, the rift in the mountain widens to grant room to pretty little oases of woodland. Walls form roofs to give shelter.

 

All this changes near the top, reminding hikers of the mountain’s forbidding nature. A near vertical ladder allowed us to descend into the throat of a narrow gap aptly called the “Silent Street.” It spat us out not far from the summit. Ju scaled one of the weathered crags at the dizzying precipice and called for a photo. Young Tai arrived, out of breath. Shaking her head, she muttered to me: “You so old and so fast!”

“No Tai,” I retorted, “I’m not old, just old-er than you and I’m not fast, just faster!”

I scanned the spectacular landscape at my feet and began to understand what Paul meant when he promised us a beautiful ride from the Grampians to the shores of the Great Ocean.

 

 

A VOLCANO AS A REFUGE

 

Just off the Great Ocean Road between Port Fairy and Warrnambool, there is Tower Hill. This is neither a hill, nor is it particularly high: it is an almost perfectly round crater that violently exploded into existence about 30,000 years ago when basaltic magma welled up hitting the subterranean water table. The crater then filled with water that still gathers and vanishes depending on the amount of rainfall. Although Tower Hill became Victoria’s first National Park in 1892, grazing, crop growing, quarrying and rubbish dumping continued until the crater, its hillocks and islands were stripped bare and little wildlife remained.

 

This process of destruction has been reversed. The Park’s visitor centre displays the copy of a painting that helped in the recreation of the original vegetation. It was painted in 1855 by Austrian-born Eugene von Guerard who still saw the crater in its original beauty with trees like manna gum, blackwood, black wattle, swamp gum and drooping sheoak.

 

Revegetation of Tower Hill has given many animals refuge and habitats. If we hadn’t already seen koalas, emus, and kangaroos, we would have found plenty of them here, in addition to magpie geese, echidnas, possums, and water birds. 

 

 

A LIVING COAST

 

The Great Ocean Road traces about 400 kilometres of Australia’s coastline, strong contours of a landmass that abruptly breaks off and plunges into the Southern Ocean. While the interior weathers at geological snails pace, the coast is alive, rejuvenating itself with the sculpting force of the sea.

 

The coast’s limestone cliffs formed 10 to 20 million years ago, building up from the skeletons of tiny marine animals, later to be compressed into stone. Only about 7000 years ago they rose from the sea and erosion began.

 

We stopped at the “Bay of Islands” that has nothing in common with its New Zealand namesake. The “islands” here are stacks of rock that have persevered while their surroundings have been ravished by the greedy waves. These islets are not immune to further attacks; eventually they topple and die. The shoreline cliffs give birth to new islets that start off as caves and arches. This may take many years. However, some changes may happen while humans are watching.

 

“Next, I’ll show you the London Bridge,” Paul announced.

“London Bridge is falling down, falling down,” Klara sang.

Paul stayed serious. “It has fallen down, in 1990.” he stated wryly. “Half an hour before that I had strolled over it with one of my groups.”

I stared at him incredulously, but he was not joking. So I tried to make sure our Japanese and Chinese friends had understood as well.

 

“Nobody was hurt, but a couple that had been at the far end of the natural bridge had to be rescued by helicopter. They must have been extremely embarrassed when they suddenly found themselves in the centre of media interest. They had picked this remote spot so that their romantic encounter would remain secret.”

 

Since that incident, visitor safety has been reconsidered and many places along the coast that were freely accessible have been fenced off. However, I found access paths, boardwalks and stairs well planned, laid out, and maintained. Supplementary scrambling for more thrilling views seemed unnecessary.

 

Thick clouds prematurely dimmed the late afternoon when we arrived at Loch Ard Gorge, named after an iron-hulled clipper, the most famous wreck at the Shipwreck Coast that extends from Port Fairy in the west to Cape Otway in the east. This was a notoriously dangerous stretch of water in the days of the sailing ships, due to hidden reefs and frequent heavy fog. More than eighty vessels came to grief on this 120 km stretch in just 40 years.

 

The Loch Ard foundered off Muttonbird Island on the final night of its voyage from England in 1878. Only two people escaped the fury of the sea. One of them was the ship’s apprentice who rescued a woman whose cries for help he heard nearby. They were both very young, the same age, but no romance followed. Eva cursed the land that had taken away all her family and returned to Ireland. Tom stayed on.

 

We climbed down the stairs to the cove where Tom and Eva had crawled ashore and looked into the cave where they had sheltered. The following morning, we would also visit the place where Tom had scaled the forbidding cliffs to get help. Now there are stairs, called Gibson’s Steps after the man who had come to the rescue.

 

The best-known natural towers of the Shipwreck Coast are the “Twelve Apostles”. We had seen pictures of them, but the morning of our visit added several dimensions. Grey mist washed these limestone stacks, more guardians than apostles, standing defiantly in the waves as a silent group, looking out to the sea as if ready to fight. Smell of sea and earth filled our noses. Moist air touched our faces. Thunder from exploding waves rumbled below. No picture, not even a film can compete with such a multi-sensual experience.

 

Entering Cape Otway National Park, we left the Shipwreck Coast and walked into dense rain forest that thrives in this area of rich volcanic soils and high rainfalls. Despite intensive logging before it became a national park, massive trees still remain. Some mountain ashes soar over 100 metres with trunks up to six metres in diameter. Ancient myrtle beeches, some estimated to be 2000 years old, have twisted and turned themselves into extraordinary shapes. Tree ferns throng in between. Mosses and lichens have created drapes and wraps.

 

At Apollo Bay we reached the last leg of our journey, a stretch of coast that is popular with surfers and campers. Small townships boast pretty holiday homes of Melbournites. Near Eastern View we passed under a large wooden arch that commemorates the construction of the Great Ocean Road in 1919. Progress was extremely slow and arduous, especially for the thousands of returned service men debilitated by the war or unaccustomed to this sort of work, using picks, shovels and crowbars.

 

Torquay has become the commercial hub of the surf culture. We looked down on nearby Bells Beach, Victoria’s surfing Mecca, where large waves were dotted with surfboards. It was our last stop before continuing to industrial Geelong that appeared to us like an extended arm of Melbourne, our destination.

 

 

 

Postlude in Melbourne

 

 

Venerable Flinders Railway Station has a hypermodern neighbour the size of an entire city block: “Federation Square”. I understand that it is the Australian Federation the name honours, yet it sounds to me drab and colourless when I think of the daring and exciting creation of shapes, hues, and patterns that force light to perform a repertoire of dances depending on daytime and weather.

 

“Federation Square” opened in October 2002 and its development is hailed as one of the most complex and ambitious construction projects ever undertaken in Australia. It is dedicated to the fine arts, hospitality, and vibrant events. Klara and I became especially enchanted by the Ian Potter Centre that splendidly displays Australian art. The former National Gallery of Victoria on Southbank has been renovated, but with emphasis on international art.

 

We strolled in and out of the breathtaking structures of “Federation Square”, enjoyed the nearby bustle of the city and the view of the dreamy Yarra River. We crossed over to the Alexandra and Victoria Gardens on Southbank. The rains had stopped, the air was still cool, but sunshine touched us with gentle warmth. Tomorrow we would take a tram to the St Kilda beaches as our last outing before flying back to New Zealand.

© Joe Paul 2005

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