A fiftieth reunion

I’ve been invited to a reunion. Fifty years ago (50) I was in my final year of high school, along with perhaps a couple of hundred other kids. I was sixteen, and I wouldn’t turn seventeen until my final exams were done and dusted.

It was a different world back then. Not everybody went on to the final two years of high school – many (especially girls) left school after three years of high school to join the workforce, or take up apprenticeships – for the girls, many saw that period as the hiatus before marriage and children. Those of us who did fourth and fifth year were supposed to be looking at university, or a professional career. My brother had to finish his Leaving Certificate (that was what it was called) to make the qualifications for pilot training in the RAAF. Me, I just wanted to go to university. I didn’t know what I was going to study, what I was going to do with that degree. A short term goal that led to a great deal of navel gazing a few years later.

It’s interesting looking back to fifty years ago. I’d attended the then brand new Bentley High School for my first three years. At that time it could not cater for senior students, so I had to go to Applecross High School, which my brother attended for all of his high school years. He’d left when I arrived, but his name was not forgotten, so I was ‘Fred’s little sister’ to several teachers. I was used to that from primary school. However, most of my friends from Bentley had gone to Kent Street High for their final years, so I knew hardly anybody, and the one friend I’d had at Bentley was in a different class to me. (She did maths and science, while I’d taken the ‘soft’ options of languages, history and the like.) But I knew two other girls who had been in my class at primary school, one of whom had been my best friend. They had been given special permission to attend Applecross for whatever reason. And one of those two was even in my class, so I became friends with her friends. Later, a new girl arrived from New Zealand. Although we weren’t all that close at high school, she became my very best friend during the university years, and after. (She’s the one who invited me to the reunion)

My BFF and I had attended the twenty-fifth reunion, but there were few people there we knew. Only one of my little clique turned up – the girl (woman) I knew from primary school. We chatted with several people, swapping stories, sharing reminiscences about some of the teachers. But we hadn’t shared many experiences with most of the people there.

I’ll share one little story. Quite a few of us (including me) despised sport, which happened every Wednesday afternoon. But there was a bright side – in Winter you got to pick a sport away from the school itself. My little clique decided we’d like to play squash, so we’d catch a bus to a local court, play a few games, then head off home. Needless to say, the games we played became shorter and shorter, or didn’t happen at all. Then one Wednesday afternoon, the entire upper school was ordered to attend a meeting on the oval. Except those of us who played hooky didn’t know. As I recall. the teachers were staggered at the number of no-shows. That was the end of our short Wednesdays. From then on if you didn’t play sport you did supervised private study in a classroom. (Even then, rock paper scissors was a popular subject for study. It worked fine – as long as you didn’t play it across the aisle between the desks.)

I don’t think either my friend or I were all that keen on attending the fiftieth. But she was persuaded to go by the woman who had been my best friend at primary school, so she rang to persuade me. The upshot is I’ll be going over to Perth in October to attend a reunion with a bunch of other old farts. It’ll be interesting to see who I recognize, and how much people have changed. And, of course, there will be people missing, people who didn’t make it to 2017, including at least one from my class.

As it happens, this year is also the fiftieth anniversary of my father’s sudden death. Ah, memories. He was only fifty-five. He wouldn’t have made it to a fiftieth class reunion.

Now for a few pictures.

A glorious winter morning at the beach

Clouds reflected in a calm river with boats

Have some fun – what are they talking about?

A win for the raptor – I THINK that’s a pigeon in its talons

 

A non-believer’s view of football

Sorry, folks, it can’t be avoided. Once again the Maroons have massacred the Blues in the State of Origin series. And without JT!

Actually, I have to admit I don’t much care, but watching Jonathon Thurston put his body on the line for an unlikely win in the second game even impressed me. I expected the Blues to win the third and  last match because JT wasn’t going to be playing. I was wrong. I’m sure I’ll get over it.

Why have I even mentioned it, you ask? It’s a topic nobody up here can avoid, really. Rugby League is something of a religion, just as AFL is in Melbourne. And it can all get very confusing.

I mean, why do they call it football?

The idea in rugby league and rugby union appears to be to tuck the ball under your arm and run like hell until a couple of guys on the other team throw you to the ground. If you’re in danger of getting mowed down you’re supposed to chuck the ball to somebody running a little bit behind you, and let them have a sprint. To score you have to ground the ball (that is, have it actually touch the grass) past the last line on the field, where the goals are – that’s called a try (which always reminds me of Yoda (do, or do not. There is no try)). Often tries are scored when the person carrying the ball flings him/herself at full stretch onto the turf. THEN you get your appointed ball-kicker to kick the ball, carefully positioned on a little mound, from a standing start. If the ball goes between the posts, you get two extra points on the four you got for the try.

The differences between rugby league and rugby union are a bit beyond somebody like me, who (don’t tell anybody) isn’t really interested in either of them. It has something to do with scrums (where everybody goes into a huddle with the ball in the middle until somebody grabs it) and line-outs (where everybody stands in a line and somebody throws the ball into the field and a player is lifted up by his/her colleagues to catch it). I think. And something about union being the upper class game and league being played by the working class. I’m not sure how the All-Blacks (who play – dominate the world – union) would consider that definition. But like I said – what would I know?)

Let’s move on to AFL, the Australian Football League. It’s a legacy of our colonial past, very closely related to Gaelic football and brought here by the Irish convicts. At least in AFL there’s a bit more of yer actual kicking than in rugby. But you can move the ball from player to player via handball, which is not the same as a throw (which is illegal). You kind of balance the ball on your hand, then punch it with the other fist. You are allowed to kick, though, which (usually) sends the ball a longer distance. Then we get to see some spectacular jumping to grab what’s called a ‘mark’. (That is, he caught it). Then they get a free kick for being clever. And you have to kick the ball to score a goal if it passes between the middle two uprights (six points), or if you only manage the outer two uprights, you get a point.

And now we come to the round ball game, played all around the world, where the best players can earn obscene amounts of money. Over in Europe and South America they call it football. Only the goal keeper can touch the ball with her/his hands. You can use your head, or bounce the ball off your body, but basically you’re supposed to kick the thing. So ‘football’ is actually a very apt name.

That’s why in Australia we call it ‘soccer’. After all, both codes of rugby, and AFL, are footy.

Yes, soccer is played all over the country, and is commonly played by school kids, but it’s very much second fiddle at the elite level. Our better players go over to Europe to make a quid, just as the basketballers go to America. Soccer is supposed to be a non-contact sport, which is why you see the play-acting on the pitch (or whatever it’s called) when somebody pretends to be kicked in the ankle. Union, league, and AFL are all brutal contact sports where they’ve had to bring in rules to prevent serious injuries. It’s a bit like gladiators, I suppose. Only nobody is supposed to literally, you know, die.

I guess in that respect we’re a bit more civilised than the Romans.

Lorikeets have their own form of contact sports. Here’s a few pictures.

 

 

 

I must be getting better at this

Melbourne Southbank

Like it says on the header – writer, photographer, animal lover, space nut. It has been a little while since I addressed the commercial part of ‘photographer’, so recently I decided to divert my procrastination in the writing arena into offering a few photos to the stock photo sites I use to sell my wares.

Most of the pictures I’ve had online have been of birds, insects, or whales. To be honest, I’d found Dreamstime (which is a large stock photo site used by a LOT of designers) wasn’t very interested in my landscapes and sunset/sunrise shots, so I stopped sending them. Then I figured, all they can do is refuse. They didn’t (!). There are millions of photos on these sites, many of the same place. I had a lot of excellent photos of our Rhine cruises refused because, “we’ve already got lots of the same subject and this photo isn’t better.” Which is fair enough. But it seems the Australian landscape category isn’t quite so full.

I’ve even added a few quite old pictures to my collection. That said, I can certainly see how the quality has improved over the years. What I might once have thought was an OK photo is these days relegated to the ‘meh’ basket. Or even deleted.

Dreamstime accepted all the pictures I posted – except one. That very nice (if I do say so myself) picture of Southbank in Melbourne was refused. I knew not to show any logos, and carefully removed the few that were visible. But even that was not enough. I would have had to obtain property releases (permission to use their building in a photo) for Dreamstime to accept the picture. I expect the main culprit for that one would be Crown Casino – but – it’s not that important to me.

Buildings can be copyrighted. You can’t sell a photo of the Sydney Opera House without permission, and that’s just one I know about, Here’s what Dreamstime has to say about these matters.

check carefully for copyright issues such as labels, logos, characters from cartoons or movies etc. Note that some buildings are protected by a trademark (such as new sculptures), cars like Ferrari and Porsche, Harley Davidson motorcycles, the Coca-Cola bottle, the Olympic logo circles.

Bright spinnakers contrast with the storm clouds in a yacht race near Fraser Island

This photo (above) was refused because of the spinnakers. There are no logos on those sails – just standard bought-from-the-shop colour. But as we all know, many racing boats have sponsorship. I might have tried explaining the issue didn’t exist for my picture, but honestly, I couldn’t be bothered.

And I suppose all this makes sense. If a designer bought an image with a logo on it, then used it to sell something which would impact that logo, the owner of the logo would have every right to be annoyed. For example, a BMW bike ad showing a broken down Harley-Davidson (or something), I’m sure you can think of others. Any photos with recognisable people in them need a model release for the same reason, if the photo is for commercial use. You may think that’s not really an issue for me. I don’t take pictures of people – but it’s a consideration even if the people are in there by accident. For example, a photo of a whale spy-hopping. It’s nice to include people in those scenes, but I’d need a model release if the people could be identified, even from the back, like in the photo below.

Whale spy-hopping

Before you ask, I don’t sell many images. My best sellers (ha ha) are whale shots. So why do I do it? Well, quite a few people asked me if I sold photos when I posted pictures on Facebook. That encouraged me to try a stock photo site, where I quickly discovered that the quality required was quite a few notches above ‘looks good on Facebook’. And in the end, that’s why I do it. I get a silly little buzz when stock sites accept my photos simply because it means they’re technically good enough to make the cut.

And while you might think that ‘technically good enough’ is the same for all sites, it’s not. I’ve had photos accepted at Canstock and not Dreamstime and vice versa. So I guess there’s an element of subjectivity in the process.

Of course, you can see most of these online at Dreamstime. But I thought I’d share some, anyway. And one that didn’t make the grade.

Late afternoon sun lights up the cliffs at Geikie Gorge

A contrail catches the hidden sun as the horizon lightens

Sunlight strikes the rocks around Wilpena Pound

A moss-covered tree in temperate rain forest

Millaa-Millaa Falls is the highest waterfall in the Atherton Tablelands. I took out the people in the image before I sent this.

3 lorikeets fighting for position. This one wasn’t accepted by any of the stock sites – too much noise, too much out of focus. But there you go – those aspects are what gives the image its sparkle (IMO)

My little mates

Alarm call!

Rainbow lorikeets are without a doubt colourful birds, all wearing the same uniform with gay abandon. But they’re not identical, even to our human eyes. Over time we’ve started to recognise individuals, but I confess only if the element that sets them apart is distinctive.

Spot the variations

The most obvious difference is the breast patch, which can be anywhere from almost entirely yellow to almost entirely red. The lower belly, which is predominantly purple, also varies according to how many red patches are in the mix.

Backs are mainly green

Then there’s the back plumage. It’s predominantly green in all birds, making them almost impossible to spot in their favourite trees. But even the back feathers have variations. There might be a sprinkle of orange dots across the shoulders, or a line of yellow at the base of a lower wing feather. One of our regulars we’ve called Nike, because he has a distinct ‘Nike’ shaped tick on his back. Another has a shallower scoop shape.

They’re not dumb birds – parrots never are. And although they don’t match the big parrots in longevity (they can reach their sixties and seventies) lorikeets can live into their twenties, although seven to nine years is quoted for wild birds. They come to our yard for food, obviously. But they also come because it’s safe. No kids, no pets. They’re not the only ones – we get injured birds coming here for that reason, like a magpie which had hurt its leg. (It recovered) The lorikeets are interested in us, too. When they get to know us, they’ll come and look in the French windows to see what’s going on. Often I suspect it’s just, “ahem, we’re here. Any spare food?” But on one occasion we left the glass door open because one individual so often came up to the glass, peering inside. He came in, flew around the room a bit, perched on a chair, then flew outside again, curiosity satisfied. I’m not sure I’d want them doing that as a habit, mind. They shit a lot.

Keeping dry

Another way in which the birds – not just the lorikeets – find our house useful is protection from the rain. They perch along the fence under the veranda, mostly in their usual pairs, preening each other.

The bird bath, of course, is very popular. Lorikeets tend to dunk a lot of themselves in the bath, splashing water everywhere. Unlike the miner birds, kookaburras and blue-faced honey eaters, they don’t bathe in the swimming pool. One did drown, but I think that was a young bird that happened in accidentally. Even so – curiosity can be dangerous. I noticed one bird showing a lot of interest in the pool, looking over the edge into the water. Not long after that I rescued a lorikeet who’d gone in and managed to struggle up onto one of the pool hoses. Unlike every other bird I’ve rescued from the Big Blue Monster, this little bugger wasn’t even grateful. He bit my hand before he waddled off into the hedge to dry off. (He never tried the pool again.)

So there you are – a bit more information about our little mates. They’re a lot like us – can’t tell them apart – until you REALLY look.

I’ve posted a bunch more photos to Dreamstime. And I’ve added some words to the developing new book. Read a little about that at Spacefreighters.

Keep well, folks. See you next week.

Afternoon tea

Line-up on the pool fence

Strange fruit

They start to gather a couple of hours before sunset, when the shadows start to lengthen and the light takes on that late afternoon glow. Sometimes there’s a line-up on the pool fence, sometimes it’s a couple of stalwarts clicking their claws at the feeding table. When I appear the tension ratchets up. As I pour the juice into the two bowls a couple of the bolder ones will sidle up, one red eye fixed on me, to steal a sip before the crowd arrives. But they’re already gathering, landing just outside my field of vision in a flurry of sound. I step back and there’s a rush, everyone trying to get their beaks into the juice. They drop down from the fox tail palm above the table, or the trees on either side where they’ve been waiting patiently. Bossy boots and his missus try to claim both bowls as their own, but while it works for small groups, the pair is overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

Afternoon tea time

A flurry of golden wings

The din is incredible, a cacophony of screeching that reverberates in my head. There’s more than thirty birds trying to reach two bowls of juice. They argue, push, shove, take off for a break or try to fit in, a sea of heaving green backs and golden wings. The light from the lowering sun is at just the right angle to make their wings shine golden, like bad impressions of angels. Drops of apple juice sparkle in the air. I swear half of it isn’t drunk at all. There are too many birds, too close together, so we toss out other enticements – apples cut in half, or a slice of multi-grain bread. That gives them something else to fight over, and lessens the crush at the table.

Sometimes one smarty-pants sends up an alarm signal and they take off in force, only to return in minutes as they realise it’s a false alarm.

Alarm call!

It’s almost hovering, looking for a spot to land

We’re out of juice (This Winky s/he only has one eye)

It’s over in ten or fifteen minutes. The juice is gone. Some hopeful souls bend over to look under the table to see if more is forthcoming. Others repair to the bird bath for a drink of water or a splashing soaking. Yet others return to the trees for a preen, with each couple doing that hard part at the back of their partner’s neck.

As the warmth of the day fades they’ll leave in groups of six, or four, or two, heading North to the trees along the foreshore or the major road, where they’ll roost for the night. There are a few more raucous fly-bys with their mates, a bit more pushing and shoving for the best roosting spots. Then after the last light has drained from the sky, the noise ceases for another night.

 

It’s time for the bats to venture out.

Another Saturday morning – refugees, terrorists and Masterchef

The full moon – taken with the Big Lens

Things have been happening in the world since we returned from holiday. I wrote my blogs, of course, as memories of our journey, but during that time, the world has faced new horrors. Especially in UK. We saw the brutal murder of innocent kids attending a concert in Manchester, the slaughter of people enjoying an evening near London Bridge, and now the terrible fire at the Grenfell Tower. This account in the Guardian is awful reading as people inside try to survive.

I’ve wondered for a while if I could be described as Islamophobic, and I think the answer is I’d probably be labelled as such. The Weekend Australian magazine today has an interesting article written by two people, a man and a woman, both born in Pakistan and raised as Muslims, who have renounced their faith. The woman’s story in particular resonated with me. She is a psychologist who has studied the Quran, and has lived in Muslim society, so she know of what she speaks. She says she is no longer a Muslim because Islam is essentially misogynistic. And I think she’s absolutely right. However, I’ll add that there’s a big difference between fundamentalist nut-jobs and people just wanting to live their lives.

I suppose some people will say the men who committed the murders in Manchester and London were nut-jobs. Could be, but people who shout Allahu Akbar as they shove a knife into somebody are terrorists. So is the fellow who took a backpack bomb filled with shrapnel to kill and maim as many as possible at a concert, in a location where it would do maximum harm. All in the name of God.

Man Monis, centre of the Lindt cafe siege which led to the deaths of two people, was undoubtedly a nut-job. But  people in Iran asked why we had allowed this known criminal to enter Australia? Apparently Iran had asked to extradite this man. If he’d been sent back, two people might still be alive, and a lot more would not have been traumatized.

Then we hear that men accepted into Australia because they feared being killed if they returned to Iran actually went back home for a visit, at least one to get married. When the minister cancelled their visas they appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, who overturned the decision. Here’s the article in the Herald Sun. These ‘refugees’ deliberately lied to obtain visas in Australia. They should be packed off back to Iran (or wherever they came from) on the first flight.

We allow men in Australia to flout our law by having multiple wives (married under Sharia law, not Australian law) and even support the women and their kids through CentreLink. In other words, they are ripping off our welfare system.

And just the other day the Queensland government was apparently left ‘red-faced’ when a dinner for ‘movers and shakers’ in the Islamic community to celebrate the end of Ramadan included sauces made with alcohol. Okay, devout Muslims don’t drink alcohol. That’s fine. I want to know why the Queensland Government is hosting dinners for Ramadan? Does it host dinners for other religious minorities? According to the census, 2.2% of Australians are Muslim. But 2.1% are Buddhist, 1.3% are Hindu. Does the Government host special dinners for their feast events? Or do we only do it for the Muslims to prove we’re politically correct?

All this talk of food leads me to Masterchef. I said in a post a few weeks ago that I enjoyed Masterchef because it was about the food. I’m sorry to say that’s no longer the case. While we don’t have the sniping between contestants that seems to be the appeal in My Kitchen Rules, Masterchef is not about food either. We still get the occasional challenge where contestants come up with clever dishes given a list of ingredients. But several times already in this series contestants have been asked to complete ridiculously complicated dishes created by professional chefs (and no doubt a phalanx of sous chefs making each of the components) in a set amount of time, having been given a recipe pages long, and a taste of the original. One professional admitted it took 45 attempts to get his creation right. And amateur cooks, working alone, are being asked to reproduce these constructions in as little as 5 hours. It’s commendable that some actually complete most of the steps. So once again, the ‘contest’ is about how the participants shape up under enormous pressure.

Speaking of pressure, let’s put it on the table; some of it is contrived. Last year one of the contestants was an airline captain. This year we have a doctor, a GP. Yet early in the piece we were expected to believe these men lost their composure completely. Over a mistake in a kitchen? If that was true, I’d rather avoid the plane and the doctor’s surgery. Masterchef has become just another ridiculous reality TV show. And now the Ten Network is in receivership, this might be its last hurrah. Such a shame.

And now for a few unseen photos from the recent trip…

Cobbold Gorge is very narrow

A moorhen scudding across the dam

Pink and greys at dawn

Stoney creek falls

A whistling kite

 

Time to go home

Sunset from the train. We’ll be home around sunrise.

Sunday was to be our last day in Cairns. Pete and I passed on the half-day city tour – we’d been up this way for a week just a few weeks before and we thought we’d like to check out the city for ourselves. There’s some lovely colonial architecture in the streets beyond the esplanade along the foreshore, and lots of restaurants and shops selling anything from massage to T shirts to local arts and crafts. We ventured as far as the shopping centre next to the railway station, then meandered back, soaking up the relaxed sub-tropical atmosphere. I’m sorry I missed the Cairns Botanical garden – it’s reported to be a lovely place, and the markets were on there.

We went into one arts and crafts shop, attracted by a magnificent bronze sculpture of two humpback whales. Out of our price range, and we really don’t need any more dust-gatherers. However, it was fun chatting to the lady at the counter. She had a very positive feeling about the outlook for Cairns. This time of year was the lull before the busy times, when the Japanese and the Chinese have holiday breaks. Here’s a bit of info about Cairns. With pictures. We didn’t take any this day.

Although Cairns is built next to the sea, the bay itself is pretty uninspiring, especially at low tide. They’ve built a great beach pool which is popular with adults and kids alike. It was great to see families enjoying the surroundings.

We walked up to the ferry terminal, where we’d gone for our boat trip the previous evening. The Pier shopping centre surrounds a hotel and right around the wide veranda restaurants offered a variety of cuisines. It was one option for tonight’s dinner. We’d decided to forego the tour’s dinner, preferring to do what we were doing now – getting a feel for the city.

Later that evening, after a drink at the Rattle and Hum pub, we went to pick a restaurant. One we’d had in mind, up at the Pier complex, was by now a jumpin’ venue for the junior dance crowd. Pass. None of the other restaurants appealed, so we headed into the back streets to look at a few of the places we’d passed earlier in the day. We picked one and sat outside on the pavement with a burger, fish ‘n chips, and a glass of wine/beer. Perfect.

The following morning we were back on the train. That 20kg limit for a bag is strictly adhered to; one woman was turned away to take 1.3kg out of her suitcase. She would have put the items in her carry-on. Um…

At least this time we got to see some scenery. Rainforest at first, then cane fields, pasture, wetlands in between stops. After dinner Pete and I elected not to turn our beds down. We hadn’t slept last time, and this time we were getting off at 4:57. Needless to say, we woke up at every stop to check the time, and a couple of hours before arriving we didn’t even bother trying to go back to sleep. We rolled into the station about half an hour late, and were home by 6:30 (approximately). Huge thanks to our mate and neighbour, Bruce, for hauling himself out of bed well before sparrow fart to come and pick us up.

Looks like a bit of storm damage in that paddock

Australian white ibises startled off a wetland

Serious wetland in late afternoon

A ploughed field, mackerel cloud

The sun has set – but the sky show’s not over. Look at the header picture

Thanks for coming with us. I hope you enjoyed the trip as much as we did.

It’s worth spending days in Herberton

The Barkerville pub – relocated to Herberton and still doing business

It was time to head home. After breakfast at Bedrock Village we packed our bags and ourselves in the bus and headed for parts East. Our only real stop (apart from morning tea at Ravenshoe)  on the way back to Cairns was at the historical village of Herberton. We’d heard good things about this place and were a little surprised we would only be here for an hour and a half or so. Once again, this was a labour of love built privately. Over the years, buildings and their associated artefacts have been added to the site, giving visitors a good look at what life was like for the pioneers and residents right into the fifties and sixties. For many of us, the items brought back memories of times past. The tickets last three days – and this site is well worth many, many hours. There’s so much to see. We only really scratched the surface and didn’t have time to go across the suspension bridge to the other side of the creek where more buildings and more collections hid among the trees.

Elderslie House – info further down the page

A side view of the house

Read all about it

The dining room

The childrens’ room

Where the poor people lived

Just a few of the shops and other buildings on the property

The Tin Pannikin pub, modelled on the Ettamogah pub in the long-running comic strip

All about the Tin Pannikin pub

The school house brought back memories

Could you pass this test?

Cobb and Co. did business in Australia for some time. This is one of their restored coaches from Victoria. Anyone else remember the TV show with Peter somebody?

Of course there was a farrier

Recruiting posters for WW1

Different sorts of recruiting poster

The toy shop had amazing doll collections

And teddy bears, too

I used to collect the flag matchbox tops when I was about 7

Cigarette cards were all the rage once

The dispensary was amazing with a hug range of bottles and jars, beautifully displayed

The butcher’s shop

The radio repair shop. Do you recognize any?

I remember these

I can’t recommend Herberton highly enough. It’s a credit to everyone who made it happen. I expect it will grow from here. One more time, here’s the website.

After our visit to Herberton we went to a historic railway station near a nice rest area at Atherton for a picnic lunch of sandwiches and cake before travelling the remaining distance back to Cairns. We made one unscheduled shop at a local ice cream maker. (Joe insisted). The ice creams, gelato and sorbet went down a treat. Pity I couldn’t take any home.

While we were there a few parrots landed in the tree in the property’s front yard. I ran for the bus for my camera and I’m informed that Jackie said to Lorraine, “I’ll bet they stay here till she gets back, then they’ll fly away.” And that, dear reader, is exactly what happened. I blame Jackie.

That evening we went out for a sunset dinner cruise. I don’t think anyone took photos. By the time we left port, the sun had set. The meal was a seafood buffet, the usual fare, including more fresh prawns. Entertainment was provided by a young man who played guitar and sang, but the music was so loud we couldn’t conduct a normal conversation at our table. I think most of us are well past that stage of our lives. A number of us walked the short distance back to the hotel, enjoying the pleasant tropical evening. The area between the CBD and the ferry port is lovely, so well developed with paths, lawns, gardens and water features.

Tomorrow would be our last day in Cairns.

Surprises and the Undara lava tubes

Yer ackshall Mt Surprise from a moving bus (Pete’s pic)

Today’s itinerary looked great, but sometimes things don’t go according to plan. This turned out to be one of those days. We all assembled dutifully to file onto our bus – driven today by Greg, one of Joe’s staff. Greg had been a bank manager in a previous life but he and his wife got sick of the vagaries of the big city, bought a caravan, and hit the road. They’d been itinerant for years, picking up work at places like Lawn Hill and Bedrock, conducting tours for people like us. He was probably around the same age as us, but also probably a bit fitter than most.

We were surprised to learn he’d be taking us on a tour of Mt Surprise! (Maybe that was the surprise) We’d already walked past the pub and the school, noted the other caravan park, checked out the gem stone store, and we’d been to the railway station. Then there was the remains of a WWII radar station designed to look out for attacks on Cairns or Townsville, and the monument to the miners who opened up the area. Still, we learned one teacher taught 21 kids from bubs to year six. Joe and Jo’s children both attended the school. Their son, Toby, was top of his class for all seven years. Of course, he was also bottom of the class, but they don’t talk about that. Which raises another point. When I was at school primary education was seven years. You went to high school in the year you turned thirteen (provided you’d passed – but that’s another story). That’s been changed so kids in year seven now attend high school. For bush families, that means another year of finding the money for boarding school – let alone the impact on an 11 year old forced to leave home.

Also, Mt Surpise has a second street! Which goes past yer ackshall Mt Surprise! As it happened, the flying doctor had just landed at the airstrip when we arrived there. The doctor was being driven into town, where a row of people waited at the clinic. The flying doctor comes here once a fortnight, so the locals need to organise any injuries or illnesses to suit.

On the itinerary we had expected to visit a cattle station to see dogs working cattle, and I had been looking forward to that. It seemed the arrangement with the dogs’ owner had fallen through, but nobody bothered to let the travel company (and its guests) know. So we had a couple of hours to kill before we visited the Undara lava tunnels – this one was on my bucket list. Yay! The word is pronounced un-DAR-a, by the way.

An Eastern grey kangaroo. She has a little one in her pouch. See the leg?

Here again, though, the itinerary had been changed. We had expected to take a walk up to the lip of the Kalkani crater, then visit three lava tubes. I’m not sure if changes were made since our party was in the older demographic, but we didn’t even see the volcano. However, Greg was good enough to stop the bus as we drove to the lava tubes so we could get some photos of kangaroos – one of the few chances I’d had on the whole trip.

The walkway into the lava tube. Note the lush vegetation in this microclimate

Greg took us to two lava tunnels, both fitted with walkways to take us down into the bowels of the earth. They were awesome. You can find out a little about the geology of the tubes here, or if you want detail, look here. But in summary, as the lava boils out of the volcano and pours across the landscape, the lava most in contact with the air cools and solidifies first, rather like the skin on a custard. Beneath the surface the heat is retained and the lava rolls on until the land no longer slopes down, or the volcano stops regurgitating molten rock. Behind the lava flow, a rocky tube has been created with a smooth floor. One of the lava flows extends for 160 km, making it the longest lava flow from a single volcano on earth*. Over the eons the tubes were covered, then revealed by erosion. Some of the arches covering the tubes gave way and these enormous caverns became home to bats.

Going down…

Note the little stream at the side. These tunnels fill with water when it really rains. Greg said he’d been swimming in some of them. What’s more, the roof provides no protection from the rain. It just drips on through.

The collapsed roof creates a pile of rubble. Without a walkway you have to clamber down those rocks

A lot of work has been carried out, finding and mapping the tubes. Greg told us geologists and speleologists are still finding more. In some of the caverns breathing apparatus is necessary, apparently because without adequate ventilation, bats using the tunnels use up the air and expel CO₂, which, being heavy than air, sinks. We were told a story about a man who went missing around Undara and was never found. It’s believed he entered one of these deep caves, went to sleep and never woke up.

The stories are endless. I asked about Aboriginal people and was told they fear the lava tubes, believing them to be the homes of evil spirits. A couple of Aboriginal women, training to be rangers, were brought down the tunnels. They were the last in and the very first out. That might also explain the indigenous stockmen avoiding narrow Cobbold Gorge. There’s a story about the walkway, too. National Parks employed men from a nearby minimum security prison to do the work. Most of the guys loved being out in the open air, doing something useful, but two of them decided to up and leave, taking the head ranger’s car, rifle, and credit car with them. They were eventually caught over in Western Australia, but not before they’d used the Nat Parks credit card to buy a bulldozer. The money was written off. The biggest headache, and the matter that attracted the most paperwork, was the theft of the rifle. The two abscondees were not returned to the prison – it wouldn’t have been safe for them, because, of course, after the escape, the whole project was cancelled.

It’s dark down there. Those are not paintings on the rock, it’s leached minerals

After inspecting the lava tubes we visited the Undara resort. Although the area is a national park, the Collins family, who owned the land until it became a park, had developed a resort for visitors. Being an enterprising man, Mr Collins acquired a number of railway carriages which were about to be burned for a nominal sum. He promptly sold the wheels and bogeys, and used the carriages as accommodation. Today cabins, a camping area, and a caravan park have been added to the carriages, but they’re still there, adding a bit of interest to the options. They’ve also been used to provide the dining area bar, and seating for guests.

The dining area

Seating in a railway carriage

The bar

We had lunch at Undara. I’m so sorry I didn’t take pictures. It was the best meal we had on the whole trip. We were served a simply delicious cream of root vegetable (I think) soup with a fresh warm roll. The main course was a variation on a ploughman’s lunch – a bowl of fresh, crisp salad placed in the middle of an oblong plate. At each corner of the plate was a small piece of ham and chicken, several cheeses, fruit, and condiments, all with another bread roll. It was lovely.

Undara resort was popular with the birds, too. A kookaburra and a currawong hung around, hoping for a morsel. I spied pale-headed rosellas, and a number of us tried to get a photo of a red-tailed black cockatoo who wouldn’t cooperate.

A kookaburra

Pale-headed rosella

Red-tailed black cockatoo

Later that afternoon Greg took as to White Water station for a late afternoon billy tea – properly made over an open fire. I suppose this was our ‘working cattle station’ visit. Sure, we saw some cattle. But our drive around Simon Terry’s place frankly provided more information.  Eventually, we came to a spot where a stream came out of the ground, forming a nice little creek. We stopped under a massive fig tree which must have been hundreds of years old. In due course the billy boiled. Billy tea is interesting. It doesn’t matter how black it is, it’s never bitter.

Greg lights the fire

The billy’s boiled

Once again on this trip I was surprised at the lack of wildlife. I’d taken my big lens specially and was grateful to the willy wagtail that performed a solo on a branch.

Willy wagtail

A bustard, well camouflaged in the high grass

Despite the disappointment of no working dogs and no trip up the volcano, it was a good day. And I can tick Undara off my bucket list.

Sunset at Bedrock Village

Mount Surprise and a trip on the Savannahlander

Elizabeth Creek at Mount Surprise

We arrived at Joe and Jo’s Bedrock Village at Mt Surprise in plenty of time for a shower before dinner. We’d stopped there briefly for lunch on the way to the Gulf, but we’d only seen the reception area and the shop. There’s much more to the property than that. You can read all about Bedrock Village on the website, but I’ll just add a few observations. This place is really well thought out. Joe and his wife, Jo, started with an empty 10 acre paddock and built everything on the property from scratch. Apart from bays for caravans, Bedrock Village offers cabins. Some have multiple bedrooms – little cottages, really. But most are meant for couples. The simple, oblong, corrugated iron building was really well designed, with a living area with TV at the front, a sink and fridge, ensuite with shower and toilet, and a large bedroom at the end. The little details are what made it stand out – the toilet roll placed where you could reach it without suffering a hernia, two towel racks far enough apart on the wall so both towels had a chance of drying, a liquor licence that covered the whole site so you could buy a bottle of wine to drink in your room or in the lovely gardens, nightly campfire singalongs (if that floats your boat). And the people are nice. There are no permanent employees. Like most of the North, Bedrock village shuts down for monsoon season, December through March. But quite a few itinerant workers come back for a number of years because it’s a great place to work. The property is a credit to Joe and his wife.

Mt Surprise is a tiny town with only 65 inhabitants and nothing much to offer apart from the fact the Savannahlander has a station here. We’d learned the reason for the name on a board at the mineral museum in George Town. I’ll reproduce it here because it says a bit about how the white settlers felt about the indigenous people. This account is in the words of Cook Firth, son of Ezra Firth who first settled here in 1864.

“…On the bank of the creek were fires smoking with wood on and fresh water mussels roasting on the coals. The Aborigines heard the dray rattling on the basalt and got away. They camped there that night and then on to a big open black soil plain. In front they could see a long low mountain, but darkness overtook them, and they had to chain the bullocks to a tree. There was no water.

At daylight in the morning the off side leader, a poley bullock, had slipped his head out of the bow and cleared. Tom was a bullock hunter and he had set out to find the poley. He was a great tracker and just went around and picked up the bullock’s track and followed it straight to the lefthand corner of the mountain, around and along the sandy ground to a lovely running stream of water. Here was old Nobby, full and content. Instinct eh!!

Well, Nobby found the water for the party. Tom gave his horse a real good drink and had one himself, and as he was bending down he thought he heard voices. Well, he got on his horse and went steady up the creek. And heavens here was a camp of real wild Aborigines. Tom lost no time getting away with Nobby. They yoked up and came on. Father and others caught horses and went on up to the flat, and here were over 100 Aborigines naked and wild. When they saw the horsemen ride up, many of them dropped everything they had in their hands, and cleared for the scrub quite close by, others crawled up trees and some hid in the grass. From that day on Father named the place Mount Surprise and it is known so today. This was about 1864 and father took up about 300 square miles of country and settled there.”

The stream the bullock found was named Elizabeth Creek (after Ezra’s wife, Lizzie). It is why the Savannahlander has a station at Mt Surprise, and it runs 300 metres down from the edge of Joe and Jo’s property. Pete and I went to look, slipping through the fence and down a rudimentary path through the scrub. It’s rugged going, picking your way between the basalt crags sticking out of the ground. Another person from our party walked down this path and fell over. We managed to make it unscathed to a lovely watercourse of crystal clear water flowing between reed beds and paperbarks. It’s one of the few permanent watercourses around here. I had the big lens with me, hoping for wildlife (there wasn’t any). It’s not good for landscape shots, but the picture at the top of the post shows the stream and the railway bridge.

Later that day we piled into the Savannahlander, heading for Einasleigh, where we would take a look at the nearby Copperfield gorge. The Savannahlander actually operates from Cairns to Forsayth, going up the track we went down in the Kuranda scenic railway stage of our journey, Our driver/host, Will, explained that the trip was less comfortable than usual because the train usually has three carriages, which gives it more stability, but the carriages were stuck at Forsayth.

The train at Einasleigh

The view from the train

The controls

Will entertained us with a few stories as we rolled along pretty slowly through the grasslands. A film crew came along on the train for several trips to make episodes for a series of programs about Australian rail journeys. This is unfenced cattle country, and it’s common to see cows. They usually have the smarts to keep away from the train. But one cow must have realised she had a chance to break into show business and cut across the tracks right in front of the train. Will jammed on the brakes, and managed to do no worse than smack the beast on the rump. Unharmed, she thought better of life on the stage and bolted. And that was the only time he’d hit a cow in 8 years on the line.  Find out more about the train here.  Or take a look at the brochure. They even offer an outback pub crawl!

We were supposed to end our train journey at Einasleigh, but that pesky rain event got us again – the bus couldn’t get there to pick us up, so we boarded the train for the rest of the trip to Forsayth, which included a climb over a fairly impressive range of hills. It would have been hard work to lay the track here, involving considerable earthworks.

The Einasleigh pub. One local rides his mower to the pub for a drink.

Copperfield gorge with the road and rail bridges in the distance. Einasleigh used to be a copper mining area and the town had its own smelter.

This place was fascinating. It was easy to imagine the lava had cooled a few years ago.

Rockin’ round the mountain

It’s a long way down to this creek. The water will probably disappear very soon

We were ferried back to Bedrock Village in the bus just in time for sunset. That evening Joe provided the entertainment, playing his guitar and singing country songs.

Can you make out the giant crocodile we had to pass to get back to Bedrock?