Archive for the ‘Travel in Australasia’ Category

I first visited Australia in 1964, mainly because my brother had emigrated there with his family.  Since then I’d visited a number of times, travelling within Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, and Tasmania.  During these trips I’d seen few Aboriginal people.  In the early 2000s at a Conference in Melbourne I was surprised and pleased to find the local indigenous people briefly acknowledged.  It seemed that Australia was well behind Aotearoa in including indigenous people and customs.

This month I visited South Australia and Northern Territory and gained a wider perception of Aboriginal heritage.  On our Murray River cruise we visited the Ngaut Ngaut Aboriginal Conservation Park which is one of the most significant archaeological digs in Australia.  The tribal elders have returned both to protect their Dreaming place and to share its mysteries with others.  We had a guided boardwalk tour to view ancient rock carvings and learn about the Aboriginal history of the area.

Aboriginal carvings at Ngaut Ngaut

Aboriginal carvings

The sun symbol denotes that this was a women’s area

During a Murray riverbank walk we saw a tree from which Aboriginal people had made a bark canoe.

Canoe tree

You can see the scar on the left hand side of the trunk.  Canoes were constructed from a single piece of bark.  An outline was cut in a tree, and stone wedges were inserted around the edges and left there until the bark loosened.  The bark was softened with fire and folded and tied at both ends with plant-fibre string.   The tree continued to live without the piece of bark – great sustainability!

When The Ghan stopped at Katherine, the fourth largest settlement in the Northern Territory, we were able to take a cruise down the Katherine River through the Nitmiluk Gorge.  The name Nitmiluk means place of the cicada dreaming, and the land has recently been handed back to the indigenous Jawoyn people, who own and run the cruise boats.  The landscape in the gorge is incredibly beautiful.  One boat took us through the first gorge, then we walked over rocky terrain to where the boat for the second gorge was waiting.  Here are some views of the gorges:

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On the way back the guide pointed out a fresh-water crocodile lurking under a ledge.  He told us it’s usually safe to swim with freshwater ones.  It’s the salt water crocodiles that may attack.

Crocodile lurking under ledge

In Darwin we found there was a strong Aboriginal presence which was different from other Australian cities I’ve been in.  I enjoyed listening to the local Aboriginal radio station.  Darwin seemed very laid back, and very hot.  The population is only one-third that of Christchurch, and there is little traffic.



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When The Ghan stopped at Alice Springs I was whisked away in a mini bus with seven others for a camel ride in the outback with Pyndan Camel Tracks.  Two couples rode tandem, while the rest of us each had our own camel.  Mine was Tjala, a female born in 2003 at Mulga Park Station on the Northern Territory/South Australia border.  She sat down while I mounted, then we were warned to hold tight and lean back while the animal rose.

Me and my camel

The six camels were strung together and Ben the Cameleer led us on foot.  The pace was slow and steady with no need to hold on.  It was hot (41 degrees) and I kept brushing away flies, even though one man had kindly sprayed under the rim of my hat with fly-spray.   In Darwin I later saw people wearing nets that covered their head and neck, and I think one of these would have been useful.  We walked for an hour which was quite enough in that heat, and Ben kindly took photos of each of us.

Camel train in front

On the camel track

Tjala’s head

Camel train


When we returned and dismounted we were given cool wet cloths and cold lemonade or beer which were very welcome.  We were driven back to the train terminal where we were again given icy cold drinks while we waited to re-embark.

Alice Springs Station

Riding a camel is definitely something to cross off the bucket list.  This same day I ate kangaroo (like lean beef) at lunchtime, and a slice of crocodile sausage as dinner entree.  No camel on the menu I’m pleased to say, although we’d seen camel mince and diced camel on a stall at the Adelaide Central market.

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We boarded The Ghan train in Adelaide at midday on Sunday and found our allocated berth – number 5 in N carriage.  It was small but adequate, with an ensuite, a bench seat, and a good sized window.  Definitely no extra room for cat swinging.  We were pleased to find we were travelling forward as requested.  There are 36 carriages and the train is almost one kilometre long (902 metres), with an average speed of 85 km/h.

A lounge had comfortable seating and drinks available at all hours with meals served in the adjacent Queen Adelaide Restaurant.  These two cars serviced four carriages (80 people) with similar lounges and restaurants scattered all along the train.  While we had dinner our beds were made up.  Being more agile than Stephen I took the upper bunk and climbed the firm ladder to get there.  The bunks were actually longer than those in the ‘Murray Princess’, a relief for Stephen, and both had a bedlight and a little shelf for glasses and MP3 player.  The light was only just adequate for reading. I’ve been in a sleeper berth with a toilet and basin before, but never one with a shower as well.  This worked fine, but had no indication which way was hot and which way cold.  Consequently my shower was warmer than I needed.

We were already up when our early morning call came at 6am at Marla.  Most people trooped off the train, and followed a lantern-lit path to an area with picnic tables and seats, beside a bonfire.  We were served juice and coffee, plus a picnic breakfast, and able to watch the desert sunrise.  The red earth was different, and the sky clear, but I have to say the sunrise was not as spectacular as many we get in Christchurch.

Bonfire at Marla

Sunrise at Marla

Afterwards we returned to our cabin, where beds had now been stowed away, to pass through miles of flat red desert sparsely sprinkled with trees and bushes, occasionally a rocky mound in the distance.  Very occasionally we saw a few cattle.

Outback desert

More desert

Carriage N on The Ghan – note red soil

The growth was tropical as we neared Darwin


Tuesday morning there was more vegetation as we neared Darwin. Along the way there were hundreds of red termite hills.  Unfortunately my photo from the moving train isn’t very clear.

Termite hills

These mounds were all kinds of shapes, some at least a metre high.  Some were cone shaped, others like sculptures of people, or indeed the Venus of Willendorf.  I suggested they might be Goddesses.  Stephen said some looked phallic.  Towards Katherine the growth looked green and the soil very red.  Occasionally there were Brahman cattle, pale as though they’d been bleached by the sun.  During the whole journey Stephen saw just one kangaroo, but I didn’t see any.

The whole trip was an amazing experience, with lavish meals.  More to come about Alice Springs and the Nitmiluk Gorge at Katherine.

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The highlight of our Australian holiday was the seven day cruise on the Murray River in South Australia.  Our cabin was spacious, and located conveniently close to the dining room and bar.  I wasn’t able to share photos at the time, but here are just a few of many that I took.

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On our last full day in Sydney we took a three hour bus tour.

Waiting for tour bus

This started in Hyde Park and took us around eastern Sydney with plenty of stops for photo opportunities.  Martin, our guide gave lots of information and told good stories, although his heavy accent made him hard to understand at times.  Here are some images of the places we saw.

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The news of the terror attack in Christchurch had come just the day before and I found that when people asked me where I was from I almost hesitated to say ‘Christchurch’ because the immediate sympathy made me want to cry.  One woman told me she’d seen our P.M. speaking on television and admired her greatly.

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After five hours sound sleep we walked round the corner to Darlinghurst Road, the hub of Kings Cross and found a cafe for breakfast.  Bacon and eggs for just $6, plus another $6 for a freshly squeezed berry and watermelon juice.  The waiter then brought me another small glass of the juice which she said was the ‘extra’.  We’d heard the juicing machine grinding and obviously there was some left over.

Sydney - breakfast @ Apex cafe (Small)

Breakfast at Apex Cafe

Sitting outside on a busy road, just down from El Alamein fountain, Sydney was a stark contrast to Darwin.  Much, much busier, continual traffic, no Aboriginal people, few bicycles, and people walking dogs.  The temperature today was a pleasant 24 degrees.  I watched two ibises crossing the road on the pedestrian crossing – how do they know? – and the traffic avoided them.

At Kings Cross station we bought Opal cards (like Metro or Oyster cards) and took the double decker underground train to Town Hall to explore the central city.  After we’d admired the magnificent Queen Victoria Building Stephen was tired of walking and we parted company.  I looked at Myer, then headed down to Darling Harbour.

Sydney Darling Harbour (Small)

On my return to George Street the school strike protest (Extinction Rebellion) was in full cry with placards and chants.  Many were protesting against non-renewable energy sources, especially a large group of Sydney Knitting Nannas.  Young people carried placards, e.g. ‘Take care of Earth, it’s not Uranus’.

Sydney - Knitting Nannas protest (Small)

Sydney Knitting Nannas

I saw a few Lime e-bikes, but no scooters.  As I was eating a sandwich in the Pitt Street Mall a light rain started.  Outside Tiffany and Co there was a machine dispensing plastic bags and a sign asking customers to please wrap their wet umbrellas before entering the shop.

Sydney - sign outside Tiffany & Co (Small)

Umbrella wrapping outside Tiffany’s

I headed to the train station in Martin Place, passing a memorial to those killed in the Martin Place siege a few years ago.  This took the form of flowers encased in glass tiles in the pathway and proved particularly poignant as when I returned to the hotel I learned of a mass shooting today in central Christchurch.  My thoughts are very much with all the people of my city.  It seems unbelievable that we should again be going through a crisis.  I’m aware of all the blank space on the Earthquake Memorial Wall which to me looks as though it’s waiting for more names to be added, and I’m aware that today is the Ides of March.

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Our flight from Darwin to Sydney was supposed to take four and a half hours, and arrive at 7.45 pm.  However, when we got to Sydney there was a serious thunderstorm.  We could see lightening flashes, and the Captain announced the airport was currently closed and we were going into a holding pattern for an hour.  If we weren’t able to land by then, we would divert to Canberra for re-fuelling.  After the hour he told us that Canberra airport was full, and we were now diverting to Melbourne for re-fuelling and a return to Sydney provided that airport was open.  We landed at Melbourne at 10pm and waited to hear whether we’d take off again or be ‘overnighted’ in Melbourne.  I was glad I had a thick novel to read, and another one in my cabin bag.

The plane finally returned to Sydney and landed at midnight.  The Captain said it was the longest domestic flight he’d ever done.  By the time we’d collected our bags and queued for a taxi it was 1am.  We arrived at our Quest Potts Point accommodation at 1.25am and found it locked up with a sign saying Reception would be staffed again at 7am.  I’d tried my cellphone in the plane at Melbourne, and discovered the battery was low (after we’d used it to take photographs at Alice Springs).  There was an emergency phone number on the Quest door, and our taxi driver kindly phoned it.  While we were standing there, a rat ran across the footpath (ugh).  The person on the emergency number gave us a code to a lock-box where we retrieved our swipe cards and were finally able to get to our room.  I made a cup of tea, and at 2am we finally fell into bed – the latest we’ve been up for some years.

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