Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Flinders, Heysen, Mawson, Elder et al

I don't think Matthew Flinders visited the ranges named after him. He certainly wouldn't have caught sight of them from his ship as he circumnavigated Terra Australis - confirming it as a continent. He would have been too busy charting the coastline of this wonderful country. But many an explorer trudged through the area including the famed inland explorer John McDouall Stuart. A visit to the old Blinman Cemetary includes a headstone from one of the team who died en route to the Centre.

The land is harsh and it's always a wonder to me how they managed - scarcity of water, no knowledge of the country, harsh terrain not seen in England's green and pleasant land, unfriendly 'natives' (dreadful expression) and the unknown of what they may or may not find or reach on the morrow. And they always seemed so ill equipped.

It's not just me that considers the Flinders Ranges magnificent. They are one of Australia's hidden gems. After all it was famed artist Sir Hans Heysen who said it was "where he found the bones of nature laid bare". He was one of the first artitsts to capture the raw beauty of the ranges - and others followed. 
The Hills of Arkaba (www.thesentimentalbloke.com)
I can remember many years ago visiting the famed Hills of Arkaba (part of the Elder Range - named after the Elder of Elder Smith Goldsborough Mort fame) and watching with my parents a painter - whose name escapes me - waiting for the light to change so that he could paint - and photograph those hills and valleys. Back then I don't think I had any concept of the difference that light and shadow can make but it was a great lesson watching the patience of an artist.
Sir Hans Heysen 1930

Sir Hans Heysen Aroona Valley 1938
If you're a walker (I wish I was) you can walk the extraordinary Heysen Trail which begins at Cape Jervis (where the ferry will take you to Kangaroo Island if you want to make a small diversion!) and ends in the Flinders Ranges at Parachilna. Its a mere 1,200 kms long (and is often completed in stages over many years!) After all it winds through the beautiful McLaren Vale, the Adelaide Hills, the Barossa and Clare Valleys - and that's before you reach the Flinders!
The famed Heysen Trail
If you're not a walker you might be a biker! If so you can ride the Mawson Bike Trail which begins in Adelaide and ends in dear old Blinman. I'm not sure famed Adelaidian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson would have enjoyed this raw country as there are no crevasses or icebergs here - although it felt as cold as Antarctica while we were there! This trail is a mere 900 kms long although it can of course be ridden in stages! Perhaps even a combination of Heysen and Mawson!
What a goal! - the end of the Mawson Trail in Blinman
Photos of my recent trip don't do justice to one of my favourite areas in the world (and I haven't even covered the extraordinary Wilpena Pound - next time) The rain and low cloud just didn't help!  But I'll leave you with a few!
Oh what vistas to behold
Them thar hills are old old old
So add the Flinders to your to do list. After all if Sir Hans Heysen can do driving up there in an old model ford so can you! And it won't take as long as it would have taken him! (unless you ride or walk!)
Sir Hans Heysen's Model A Ford and Camper 1932 - heaven!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Blinman Cottage in the magnificent Flinders Ranges

As I mentioned in a previous post I popped over to Adelaide to join my friends who were heading to Blinman, an old copper mining town of 17 people (from a peak of around 1,700 in the 1860's!), in the northern Flinders Renges to do a little maintenance to their short stay holiday rental property - a charmingly renovated 1880's miners cottage - Blinman Cottage (see the link here)
3 bedroom Blinman Cottage
Blinman is a 5.5 hour drive north of Adelaide and the Toyota was packed to the gunnels! Every tool imaginable was on board as well as a replacement clothes dryer (this cottage has all the mod cons!) Now this is a town with electricity provided by a generator - it ran out of petrol and we had no electricity for half a day/night until the tanker arrived from Adelaide - or was it Port Augusta - wherever - it could have been a dark cold night by torchlight - except that this cottage also has lovely old gas lamps - which were 'fired up' - great in an emergency! 
The rustic kitchen with an old wood burning stove plus all modern conveniences
And with a gas hotplate, lovely wood oven (the roast was fabulous), a magnificent open fire which burned continuously - it was so cold it felt like the Antarctic up there, where it gets to 50 degrees in the summer -  there was no need to use the microwave and electric kettle! We even had toast and chops prepared over the open fire! What an adventure!
'David-of-all -trades' grilling our chops over the open fire in the parlour!
The bathroom with 'emergency' gaslight above the mirror
Using our mobiles was a challenge. In order to get a signal we needed to drive 2.5 kms out of town, turn left at the dirt track (so well hidden we missed it the first time!), drive to the top of the hill, circle the scraggy tree and wave the phone in the air. If you're lucky you might just 'catch' the Telstra signal from the open-cut mining town of Leigh Creek a mere 2 hours north! My friend calls this wonderful and unreliable location 'the office'! There are landlines available for the locals and for those near the town wanting internet they need to use a satellite phone - but until Australia adds new satellite space (it's apparently full!) it's hardly better than 'the office'. It's a scandal with so many tourists in the area. Thanks Telstra!

The road through to Blinman has only been bitumenised (!?) in the last two years while the unsealed road from Blinman to Parachilna is 30 kms but takes around 90 minutes to travel. And don't cross the creek beds if there has been rain! You could get washed down stream. During the famed wet a few years ago David-of-all-trades even waterskiied behind a float plane on Lake Eyre!

It was just outside Blinman that we visited Mona the camel who featured in my previous post. There's much to do in Blinman - dinner at the pub with the locals, a tour of the old copper mine (it was the biggest in the southern hemisphere in the mid 1800's), a visit to the famed Gourmet Traveller top 100 Prairie Hotel at Parachilna renowned for its innovative dishes with Australian native and 'Flinders Feral Food' twists (try their FMG - feral mixed grill!) and explore the stunning Flinders Ranges including the awe-inspiring Wilpena Pound. 
Shards of the past which I collected on a previous visit and made into a mirror for my friends
I took a tour of the old Blinman Copper Mine - it was fascinating - and was surprised to learn that Alfred Nobel (he of Nobel Peace Prize fame) made explosives! 

Ooo - in I go to the old mine
Alfred Nobel (Peace Prize) made his money from selling explosives!!
The Blinman Hotel holds many memories for me. On my first visit with my parents we had booked to stay at the North Blinman Hotel - we drove straight past not realising that South Blinman no longer exists! Our rooms were rough and ready with kangaroos hopping along the corridor. Things have improved but .... On my second visit with my friends we arrived for dinner to be greeted by a head appearing out of the cellar "Get in there, you're late!" was our welcome. We were served what I would describe as 'smashed merino' as it was full of bones (roadkill??!!) However the cellar produced some amazing wines - all at bargain rates - they were old and the owner was 'getting rid of them'!!! On my next visit a few years later  we asked for a menu "Goat or not" came the reply. Obviously after much thought (!) we chose the goat and I have to say it was pretty good! Things have improved - it's now regular 'pub food'. It's not elegance personified. That's why the Prairie Hotel has a rather large edge over the local but it's not possible to pop over for dinner!!

And after dinner a comfy bed to snuggle into
The country is jaw-droppingly magnificent. I'll leave you with a taste of what's to come
On a clear day you can see forever - on a rainy day the view is 'softened'

Monday, 21 July 2014

Mona and David

For many of you the names Mona and David would be synonymous with the wondrous Mona (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart and David Walsh, the eccentric owner of the Museum and his massive art collection. Now I have raved about Mona before and I love it so much that I try to visit Hobart at least once every 18 months to see what new works he has in store for us. The collection is always changing as David's philosophy is to replace artworks that are too popular!
David Walsh's Magnificent Mona
But this is not about David or his marvellous Mona Museum. This is about meeting Mona - the camel who starred in the recent Robyn Davidson movie Tracks. And it's about seeing the extraordinary David Gulpilil in the new movie Charlie's Country. This is a man who brings the screen alight.

So to Mona the camel first!
For those of you who haven't read the book or seen the current movie Tracks - it's the story of 27 year old Robyn riding alone on a perilous journey across the Australian desert to the sea with only a four camel caravan and her beloved dog Diggity for company. Her 1,700 mile trek began in 1977 in Alice Springs and ended 195 days later on the shores of the Indian Ocean. 
Just a short 195 day trek of 1,700 miles
The book left a profound impression on me when I read it many years ago and I was loathe to see the film and be disappointed. But I was persuaded and if you haven't seen it then I recommend that you do!
Mia Wasikowska (Robyn) with Mona - she was always second in line!
The 'real' Robyn seen here said "I'd like to think that an ordinary person is capable of anything" (photo Rick Smollan)
Recently I was in the magnificent Flinders Ranges and we headed out to see the Cameleers - Ryan and Natalie - a young couple enamoured with camels. When we arrived at their camp we were greeted by the cutest baby camel and his mother. I learnt that baby camels are born without a hump which would certainly be easier for the mother giving birth! But it was the thrill of meeting Mona the film star in the movie that really excited me!  If you're interested in doing a mini-Tracks with Ryan and Natalie (they do 1 hour - 15 day trips!) - and perhaps meeting Mona then go to www.flindersandbeyondcamels.com
Now ain't that the cutest baby!
Smile for the camera - film star Mona
And so to David Gulpilil in the movie Charlie's Country (there's a giveaway below)
We have grown up with indigenous David Gulpilil - dancer and actor in movies including Walkabout, Storm Boy, Australia and Ten Canoes to name but a few. This was a man who was expected to take fame in his stride, the man who danced for the Queen at the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973 and the man who has struggled to move between two totally different cultures. 

David in Walkabout
In May he won a Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Charlie's Country the 4.5+ star film which goes some small way to tell his story. I found it majestic, confronting, sad, uplifting, devastating and yet there was a deeper understanding for me of the life he has lived and our impact on indigenous culture. I think it should be a must for all Australians - so I encourage you to see it if you can. Filmaker Rolf de Heer will be speaking about the movie at the up-coming Melbourne International Film Festival. I'll be there! If you want to join me then here is the link (but see the movie first!) You can read a fascinating interview with de Heer here
If you would like to see the movie here in Melbourne I have a 2 for 1 offer to see Charlie's Country - the first to email me on jangwilliams@iprimus.com.au - the ticket/s are yours!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

We woke to a different world

298 people murdered in the sky
28 Australians 
100+ delegates coming to the International AIDS Conference this weekend in Melbourne.
Flags fly at half mast
Opening conference fireworks cancelled
45 Melbourne landmarks came together to demonstrate support for the conference 
They now remain lit in remembrance
The inspiring spire of the Arts Centre
Beyond comprehension
A horror day for humanity

Monday, 14 July 2014

My fingers are crossed and I can't look!

Well I thought I was being clever last week - I headed off to the Flinders Ranges (more on that later!) and thought I had set this post to automatically send off to you as 'usual'. Oh woe is me. It didn't go! So although it is a bit out of date (I have briefly updated it) I am sending it in the usual manner. So fingers crossed (!) you get it this time

Do you have any superstitious foibles regarding trying to get your team over the line with a win? I certainly do! And with Wimbledon in full swing (pity about our new 19 year old 'sensation' Nick Kyrgios not making it further than the 4th round - but what a match!) the World Cup nearing its conclusion (well now concluded - the Germans won - again - and annihilated their Brazilian hosts en route) the Tour de France on the way and of course our dear old AFL footy (Go Cats!) just to name a few!
Eyes closed and fingers crossed - makes all the difference (I know!)
I was reflecting on the ridiculous lengths that I have been known to go to try and get a win for others (not me!) I recall a number of years ago watching Pat Rafter sadly lose the Wimbledon final. I was beside myself! It seemed that every time I left the room he won a point. So there I was in the early hours of the morning standing shivering in the hallway listening to the ball being hit on the television and waiting for the roar if he won a point (he seemed to be the favourite!) The result was that I missed a magnificent match, I was cold, out of bed and he lost anyway! 
After 5 sets our Pat had the charm to congratulate his mate Goran Ivanisevic (while I shed a tear!)
The same happens if I'm at home watching my beloved Cats footy team. They almost lost the other night (they scraped across the line as they are so often wont to do) and I spent most of my time with my finger on the remote control flicking to other programmes. My thumb was numb by the end of the match - with the net result being that I missed much of an exciting match. 

Of course yelling for Cadel from the comfort of my bed the year he won the Tour de France (2011) made all the difference to him 40,000 miles away!! I'm sure he heard me though! I'm confident that my 'instructions' was the reason he broke Andy Schleck on that final ride.(Go Richie Porte this year - even if he is riding for Sky and not GreenEdge)
Of course I yelled for Cadel and yelled to Cadel
Isn't this seriously pathetic!?! But I'm sure I'm not the only one. Come on admit you do it too!

The father of Nick Kyrgios keeps wearing his Akubra hat and the same white shirt (washed nightly I hasten to add!) while sitting in the crowd. His mother stays at home too nervous to watch, going to bed with headphones and her mobile off and missing his triumph (thank goodness for replays).

But I loved this article in The Age recently by Shane Green - and I quote. 'In the dying minues of the Socceroos game agains Croatia at the 2006 World Cup, Harry Kewell's equalising goal was enough to propel Australia into the last 16. Kewell's role in that famous moment is etched into our sporting history. What is lesser known is the part that I played. .... Rather than just sit on the couch under the doona with the family, I had developed a slightly manic personal involvement in a game happening on the other side of the world.

Many sports fans will know what I'm talking about. Since I have been sitting in this part of the room, my team seems to be playing better. Why did I go and make that coffee that cost us a goal? Sit down and get some shape back into the defence. .... Take the case of the Kewell goal. In a bid to ease the tension in our household, I had embarked on a dishwashing frenzy while watching the game. Call it co-incidence if you must, but my presence at the sink coincided with a surge from the Socceroos. I dared not move from my position. Pass the Palmolive. "Kewell!!!!" ..... At least I'm down for a goal-assist for Kewell. Bizarre ritualistic behaviour - will this make a difference to a team or a player on the other side of the world and in another time-zone.'
Harry Kewell celebrating a goal - aided by Shane Green and the Palmolive!
I won't even go on about the ritualistic behaviour of those playing the games in which we are 'participating from the couch'. Suffice to say we all know Rafael Nadal's routines which include the infamous adjustment of his underwear - it's called the knicker picker - to the fact that he never steps on the lines before or after any point and he makes sure that his right foot goes over before his left foot. If they help him to win then so be it.

The Knicker Picker
It reminds me of Christopher Robin in the A A Milne poem Lines and Squares.

Whenever I walk in a London street,
I'm ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, "Bears,
Just look how I'm walking in all the squares!"

And I often find myself doing it as I walk the pavements - ridiculous because I know there aren't any bears waiting!
The real Christopher Robin Milne with Bear
So if you are crossing your fingers and hoping no-one sees, walking between the lines, doing the dishes, and a host of other 'eyes-closed' situations just remember that you are not alone.

What are your superstitions. And how do they play out for you?!