Category Archives: Other

On food and being an immigrant

Vegemite jar pictureI was discussing Vegemite with some online friends recently. It’s quintessentially Australian, an icon which I’m delighted to say after having been purchased by an American company some years back, has now reverted to an Australian company. Unlike the happy little Australian Vegemites of my generation, I didn’t like the stuff at all. It had the colour and consistency of axle grease and tasted worse. We didn’t grow up with it, you see. I’ve acquired a taste for it, but it took a long time.

The spread’s origins are explained in the link above, but I reckon Terry Pratchett’s theory that failed wizard, Rincewind, invented the stuff by boiling copious quantities of beer in a billy is much better fun. As well as pretty close to true.  In fact, if you want to know how most of Australia’s icons originated, you can’t go past his book, The Last Continent. It’s actually about Forex (XXXX), not Australia, but that’s close enough. After all, XXX is Queenslandish for beer.  Here’s a spoiler-filled article all about the book.

Anyhow, back to food tastes.

Mind you, the Australians had their doubts about what we Clogs ate, too. You eat raw fish? Yes, yum, roll mops. And as for salted liquorice… at least if I had that with me on school excursions, I had it all to myself. I remember one friend asking to try it. I told her she wouldn’t like it, but she insisted. The look of dawning revulsion on her face was a picture.

Mum, of course, cooked the meals she and Dad were used to in Holland at home. She got a job as a cook at a school for nurses not all that long after we moved to Shenton Park and she had to learn a whole different cuisine. But we ate Dutch food, or at least, food prepared in a Dutch way. Potatoes formed an absolute staple and some of my favourites were variations on ‘stamppot’ – basically potatoes mashed with other vegetables, with some added bacon or some such. I loved hutspot, which is potatoes, onions, carrots mixed with chopped fried bacon. But really, stamppot can be made from potatoes and anything – sauerkraut, leeks, cabbage, whatever. Served with Dutch smoked sausage and mustard. Or there was hashee, which is basically a cheap cut of beef cooked slowly with lots of onions and served with potatoes and veg. Soup was another staple, often made with little or no meat, such as bruine bonen soep (brown bean soup) or Dutch pea and ham soup, thick enough to stand a spoon in.

Then there were the cakes. The Dutch used marzipan for chocolate letters or filled pastry during Sinterklas (their pre-Christmas celebration)but it also had pride of place in lots of every day cakes like gevulde koek. The first time I went back to Holland for a brief visit I walked along a street past a few patisseries – I don’t know what else you’d call them – and they were just putting out the freshly made cakes. The smells were incredible. You don’t get that from packets of imported cakes bought from the supermarket. Find out more about what floats the culinary boat in the Netherlands from this article. It has pictures.

Mum always used to make soesjes for birthdays. They’re profiteroles, not specially Dutch but quite delicious. I used to watch her make up the choux pastry, half cooking it on the stove top. Then she plopped shapeless lumps onto a baking sheet and after half an hour in the oven out would come these golden brown shells of nothing, ready to be filled. I got to smother the tops with chocolate icing and spoon cream (whipped with a smidgen of sugar and a hint of vanilla) into their middles. And then… and then I got to lick the cream off the beaters, and use my fingers to wipe off the mixing bowl for the chocolate icing.

Dutch apple tart was another all-time favourite. I made this just a week or so ago. Note the cinnamon. It gives the apples and raisins a lovely flavour. The lattice isn’t perfect – but what the hey – it just gets eaten. Best served warm with a dollop of cream or ice cream.  This is the recipe I used.

 

 

Our place in the Universe

I’ll admit it. I don’t have much to say about anything this week.

Cassini, the probe that has been exploring Saturn for the past several years is on its last hurrah. It will be ring-diving for a few more weeks – if it doesn’t hit anything in the process. And then it will take its final plunge into the planet’s atmosphere. You’ll find out all about Cassini here.

You know, when you see Planet Earth from that distance, a tiny dot glimpsed between the rings, it makes you realise how insignificant we really are. Carl Sagan said it better than I ever could. If you’ve not seen/heard this before, from his wonderful series Cosmos, take a look. Sagan: the pale blue dot

And now I think I’ll just share a few photos with you. (I didn’t take all of them)

This is where we live – NASA

Dawn

Moonrise

The enormity of space

This is a very distant star cluster. Take the trip click on the picture

The perils of house-hunting

It was a long, hot, dry summer in Hervey Bay this year. In some respects the arrival of Cyclone Debbie was a blessing. Don’t misunderstand, I have the deepest sympathy for all those people who endured the lady’s fury. But Hervey Bay is too far south to feel the full fury of a tropical cyclone, and when Debbie became a deep low, bringing high winds and flooding rains to the Sunshine and Gold Coasts and into NSW, we were protected by Fraser Island. We didn’t mind the rain, though. We had just had the driest summer since we’ve lived here, and summer is supposed to be our wet season.

Be that as it may, the weather has cleared, all the plants heaved a huge sigh of relief, and the birds abandoned us. If you’re one of those people who think feeding birds is a bad thing, rest assured they still prefer their natural food. The callistemons are in bloom, and we hear the birds; we just don’t see them. When the flowers die off they’ll come back for a spot of apple juice, or a nibble at an apple, or some multi-grain bread.

One thing about an absence of lorikeets is that we can be visited by some of the shyer species. We have nesting boxes in our trees, and although one is a long-time abode of a possum, one is empty. A pair of pale-headed rosellas have been eyeing it off. She goes for a look, while he waits below, giving advice.

There has been a pair of rosellas around as long as we’ve lived here, and every few years they’ll be looking for a nest. The first year we lived here was interesting. The house had one of those pot-bellied space heaters, with a round metal chimney up through the roof, fitted with a raised cap like a Chinaman’s hat. That sort of arrangement was perfect for birds who nest in hollowed-out branches in trees. The female bird slipped under the gap between the raised ‘hat’ and into what she would have thought was a log – and slid right down to the bottom. We couldn’t reach her in the stove – she was above a flue. What to do? Pete got up on the roof and took off the cap, but the bird had nothing to climb up, and of course couldn’t fly. So we lowered down a thick rope with a knot on the end, hoping she would cling to it and we could draw her up. The male bird was watching all this from a nearby vantage point, no doubt worried out of his little bird brain.

It took a couple of goes. She caught on quite quickly, and Pete drew her up almost to the top. But she let go too soon. The next attempt was a success. As soon as she could spread her wings she and the hubby were off.

We always thought the heater was a waste of space. I think we lit it twice in all the years before we got rid of it when we replaced the roof. The nesting boxes are much safer, of course, designed specially for birds of that size. Lorikeets have used this one in the past. I’d love it if the rosellas took up the tenancy – but lorikeets are aggressive little shits, so I doubt if it will work out.

In other news I had a brush with melanoma. Like most Australians my age who grew up in the surf and the sand, spraying our bodies with coconut oil to work up a lovely golden tan, I’ve got plenty of age spots and moles. One large spot on the side of my jaw appeared to be falling apart, so I went to see the doctor. He said it was a squamous something-or-other and not to worry. But since I was there, he checked the collection on my back. Nothing nasty. Then (as a bit of a joke) I pointed at a tiny spot on my left arm just above my wrist. It was circular, not lumpy or misshapen, about the size of a pin head, but it was black – therefore unlike any of the other blemishes on my skin. The doc’s body language changed remarkably. “I think we should take that out,” he said. Who was I to argue? So we made a time and he punched this thing out, so small it didn’t need stitches, and sent it off for pathology.

The wound required 8 stitches. It has healed nicely

You know it’s not a good result when the surgery rings you to make an appointment. I was told that tiny spot would have become a melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. He thought he’d got the lot, but he suggested he remove a bit more skin to be certain. There would be a scar. So now I have a scar above my left wrist. But I don’t have a melanoma. Fair trade if you ask me.

And I wrote a review of the latest Star Wars novel, Thrawn. It’s over on my other blog if you’re interested. Here’s the link.

 

Who was Jack the Ripper?

Not so long ago I was browsing through Facebook (as you do) and came across a post about famous crime author, Patricia Cornwell’s, new book about Jack the Ripper. I’ve long had an interest in the case, probably like most people who read crime fiction. It’s intriguing how this serial killer who committed his crimes starting in 1888, still holds the public imagination. I hasten to add I’ve not researched it, and I didn’t know the details of the murders – just that they occurred in London’s East End, the victims were all prostitutes, their bodies were mutilated, and the killer was never caught. I also knew that many people had raised theories about Jack’s identity. I remember a two-part mini-series in the eighties (I think) dramatising the events, and nominating Sir William Gull, the Queen’s physician, as the murderer. Then there was the story the police were covering up for the Queen’s grandson, the Duke of Clarence.

And so it goes. I was certainly interested in Patricia Cornwell’s take on events. She’s well known for her series of books starring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. She apparently isn’t the first to point the finger at Walter Sickert, who is a famous Victorian painter (who knew?). She released a book in 2002 entitled Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed. She might have thought the case was closed, but, as she says in the article, her hypothesis was ripped to pieces. She learned from at least some of the critics, realised she’d left holes in her argument, and had another go. Her reasoning is explained in Chasing the Ripper, which I downloaded from Amazon for free. It’s short, and well worth your time. Her new book Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert is available in print, but not yet as an ebook. I’ll read it when it is.

Discussing the Cornwell article, one of my FB friends asked if I’d read They all Love Jack: Busting the Ripper. I hadn’t, but I have now. Bruce Robinson has gone to extraordinary lengths to re-examine primary evidence – what’s left of it – and built a compelling case. He has a very poor opinion of Britain at the end of the nineteenth century, most especially of the ‘ruling’ class clustered around the widowed queen and her son, Edward, the Prince of Wales. He makes particular reference to the influence of Freemasonry across all important roles in Government. The Prince of Wales was the Grand Master of the order. Reading the book, I enjoyed the insights into Victorian society, especially because of Robinson’s delivery. This is no dry history book, despite the facts it brims with facts and black and white photos. Robinson builds a case that the Metropolitan police, under the guidance of Sir Charles Warren ( who broke up protesters in Trafalgar square with cavalry), didn’t catch Jack because he was a fellow Freemason, a gentleman whose arrest would have rocked the core of London’s elite. He maintains that all the Ripper’s murders were based on Freemason rituals.

Reading about the Freemasons was fascinating, not least because, as I read about their hierarchies and rituals, my mind was drawn to the secret society in Terry Pratchett’s wonderful book, Guards, Guards! It was clearly written as a send-up of the Freemasons. Ahem. I digress.

If you’re at all interested in true crime and corruption, or even simply Victorian history, this is a great read. It’s a fat book, and not cheap as ebooks go, but I’m happy to have foregone the cost of a cheapish bottle of wine. I have no doubt I’ll read it again. Robinson builds a meticulous case which is hard to refute. In proper academic style, he provides footnotes and references for all quotes, and in cases such as the Ripper’s mocking letters, the documents are reproduced as images.

I’ll admit in the early chapters as the author delves into the history of Warren and of Kitchener, I wondered what all this had to do with Jack the Ripper. A lot, as it happens. It’s backstory, detailing the setting in which Jack played his monstrous game. We’re not talking about gaslight and shadows, more the society, the people, the expectations. A tiny fraction of wealthy aristocrats governed, and owned, just about everything, and nobody else mattered. Especially not middle-aged whores in the East End of London.

And by the way, the author doesn’t stop at the usual five whores murdered in London. Robinson believes Jack continued murdering. After I’d read about the killing of a child in Bradford, for which an innocent man was  very nearly hanged, I needed a break. The author’s contempt and loathing of a corrupt system which orchestrated this train of events is understandable. Jack should have been caught before he left London. And the system contrived a case against an innocent milkman because they would not admit that Jack was back, Fortunately, the accused had a decent lawyer to help him, and the case petered out, as had the London investigations into the Ripper murders, into official bafflement.

Be warned, the writer’s style is acerbic. He doesn’t miss anybody, least of all the many, many people he thinks have deliberately obfuscated what happened at the time of the murders, and the many people over the years who have clearly not examined the known facts to reveal obvious deceit. He also frequently uses big words like feasance and egregious, as well as the occasional, well-placed ‘fuck’.

Here’s a random quote

“As an addendum to the above, in reference to MacDonald’s law-breaking haste, we read in The News From Whitechapel that ‘Later writers have tended to view his actions with suspicion, but this shows a misunderstanding of Victorian inquests, which typically ran for only one or two sessions.’ [reference provided]

A critic of less generosity than myself might dismiss this as bollocks. Wynne Baxter [the coroner] held a total of fourteen sessions for his three victims – four for Nichols, five for Chapman and five for Stride. On that form MacDonald might have pushed his enquiries somewhat beyond the recollections of a drowsy woman with a kitten on her tit. A nobbled coroner and a mute press are hardly the handmaidens of justice. The Ripper made a mockery of a court, silenced Fleet Street, and brought about the dismissal of the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police.

Not bad going for a serial murderer.”

For me, this book is a resounding five stars. Of course, after 130 years, there is no certainty, and there never will be. Of course there are questions I would ask the author. And while I think he has constructed a case which seems to me has elements for which I can see no other reasonable explanation, I’ll still read Cornwell’s book. She, too, believes Jack didn’t stop murdering after Mary Kelly was slaughtered.  I’d like to do a comparison. And after I’ve done that, I’ll share my opinion.

It’s the least I can do.

 

Because it’s real

Ripples in a pond

Take a stone, any stone you like, Feel the weight of it in your hand. Is the surface smooth? Rough? Is it heavy? If you’re not happy with it, pick up another one. Because it’s going to be you.

Happy with your stone? Now find a lake, or a puddle. Somewhere with still water, and throw your stone out there. Watch the ripples surge away from the rock that is you.

Those ripples are the people you know. The closest circle isn’t necessarily your family, although for most of us it probably is, while we’re young. It’s the people you’re closest to, your very best friends, your partner, maybe your kids. The next ripple is friends and people you don’t see so often, but you share time with. Beyond that the ring widens to include people like your doctor, or accountant, people you know from work. And so it goes. The further the ripple is from you, the looser the relationship.

That’s just as true in Facebook as it is in real life.

Make no mistake, Facebook IS a slice of real life and for many people, it is a large part of their social life. I have Facebook friends all over the world. Some I’ve met, many I haven’t, and never will. The interesting thing is that where I have met people in real life, it has been exceptionally easy. I already knew them, you see. From Facebook.

I’m writing this today because one of my Facebook friends lost her battle with cancer a few days ago. Jo was diagnosed early last year, and went through a harrowing round of chemotherapy and radio therapy before modern medicine could do no more. She died at home, surrounded by her close family. Jo had many more Facebook friends than me. She connected readily with people. And she shared her cancer experience via her blog. Her stoic courage shone through in her words, admitting to tears, but always being upbeat, always being sure she could win. In an incredibly brave move, she wrote her final post and told her husband to publish it after her death.

I first met Jo online when she lived in Victoria near Hanging Rock, not far from Greendale, where Pete and I had lived. We shared stories about gardening, and weather. Coincidentally, Jo had grown up in Queensland near where we live, then lived in Perth for many years. I had grown up in Perth and now lived in Queensland. When Jo announced she and Tim were leaving Victoria to move back to her roots in Queensland I knew we would finally meet. I visited Jo and Tim at their home in Maryborough before they’d had a chance to make the massive changes they had in mind. It’s a beautiful old Queenslander with its cool, elevated veranda, high ceilings, and horribly overgrown garden stuffed with palm trees and bromeliads. They set in to make changes, bulldozing a dilapidated shed, removing the palm trees and bromeliads, and getting rid of some of the trees. Now there was room for a lawn and a cottage garden – place for the daisies Jo loved. I recall Jo’s blogs about painting the new white picket fence – during which process she broke her wrist. Jo visited me at home while her little white terrier, Daisy, was having her coat groomed in Hervey Bay.

The next time I saw her was in a ward at Hervey Bay hospital, when she was finally on her way home to Maryborough after months of treatment in Brisbane. Sure, she’d lost her hair, she was thin and weak, but that spirit shone through. She hadn’t been in the hospital long, hadn’t had a chance to get to know the staff. Because she’d come from another hospital, staff had to take special care to prevent any bugs being transferred. I waited outside while two nurses carried out a procedure, and heard her talking to one of them, asking about him, where he lived, his job. The young man opened up, and Jo had made another friend.

To reach an understanding of this lady’s impact all it needed was a visit to her Facebook page. All through her ordeal people shared uplifting messages with her, pretty pictures, videos of cats and dogs, jokes. She loved jokes. I’m sure those messages helped to give strength. When she died, her page was flooded with messages of sorrow. For very many people, all around the world, that loss was real.

Say what you like about Facebook. Yes, some of it’s yucky. Some people are horrid. Some people believe things I cannot. Some of my friends are devout Christians. Some voted for Trump. Some loathe the man. But that’s life, a slice of real life with all its warts and troubles and people struggling with everything the world throws at them. For me, Facebook is a learning experience. Every day I read what people share about their lives. I know a lot more about autism because one woman has shared her journey. I feel for friends who lost their homes in floods, people struggling with mental health.

Much as I dislike some aspects of social media, I’ll stay with Facebook. Because it’s real.

 

Summer’s not far away

Sunrise in the desert at Border Village, SA

Sunrise in the desert at Border Village, SA

The travel blogs are finished for this trip and it’s time to get ready for the summer here at Hervey Bay. It never gets especially hot – not much more than mid-thirties – but the humidity is a killer, so we avoid too much labouring outdoors in the heat of the day. And for me, it’s time to get back to finishing another book. I had a few things to say about that over on Space Freighters Lounge, where I have a weekly spot that I devote more to the books and writing caper.

I’ll bet I’m not the only one who will be overjoyed to see the end of the Don and Hillary show. But I also suspect the after effects will linger on long after the election is won and lost. Do I care who wins? I suppose, yes. The sad thing is that the anti-establishment folks have picked someone like Donald Trump to represent them. I’ve said before that the whole of the western world is becoming heartily sick of “democracy”. Then again, I’m not too impressed with the alternative choices made by places like Russia and Turkey.

I’m also a bit cynical about the coming ‘defeat’ of ISIS, when Mosul is finally taken. Anybody taking bets that the Kurds, the Iraqis, and the Turks will be fighting within a month?

On a happier note, here’s a few more holiday snaps that didn’t make it into blog posts.

From Hawk's Head on the Murchison

From Hawk’s Head on the Murchison River

The cliffs at the mouth of the Murchison River (Kalbarri)

The cliffs at the mouth of the Murchison River (Kalbarri)

Esperance coastline in late afternoon light (and blowing a gale)

Esperance coastline in late afternoon light (and blowing a gale)

The muddy Moonie and its old bridge

The muddy Moonie and its old bridge

Announcing Book 2 of the Prophecy series – preorder now!

Salvationfinal2Salvation

Book Two of the Prophecy Series

A blessing and a curse…
Seven years ago, a single moment changed the course of Nicholaus Bock’s life forever—the moment his preternatural Gift to heal awakened in him. A gift that made him an invaluable commodity to the known galaxy. Now his mentor’s intriguing and secretive new student goes out of her way to challenge his loyalty to everything he values.

A dark secret…
After facing death and destruction during the Anferthian invasion, Sakura Yamata revels in her new-found Gift to heal. Helping Earth’s survivors keeps her mind off the loss of her family, and the memory of the terrible choices she made. Nick could penetrate her defenses and discover what she’s hiding. She must not let the handsome healer close enough for that to happen.

A race facing annihilation…
When a mysterious disease strikes the hidden sanctuary of the Anferthian dissenters, Nick and Sakura are called in to help. But someone is going to great lengths to ensure the dissenters don’t survive. Nick and Sakura must set aside their differences and work together to save them before the fragile peace between three worlds is shattered.

Coming October 18, 2016
Available for pre-order now at Amazon  B&N  iBooks  Kobo

Excerpt from Salvation:

Very slowly, he reached out until his palm brushed hers and her fingers curled around his hand. A gentle tug from her urged him to follow her. She led him out of the lab and across the common room to the couch.

“Sit.” She patted the cushion next to her. “Right here.”

To say his curiosity was piqued would be an understatement. He lowered himself until he perched on the edge of the couch.

“Now, put your head in my lap.”

“Excuse me?” This adorable stranger looked an awful lot like Sakura Yamata, but was saying things to him she’d never say. “Are you serious?”

“Serious, yes. Thrilled, no. Do not read too much into this.”

He swallowed back a laugh. It’d probably be inappropriate to ask “face first?” She’d slug him for sure then storm to her room without showing him whatever it was she thought was so all-fired important.

“All right.” Nick moved slowly as he stretched his body the full-length of the couch, in case she changed her mind.

Once his head rested on her lap, he met her gaze. Her eyes were such a deep brown they appeared almost black. Studying her face, he saw things he’d never noticed before. The arc of her eyebrows, the sweep of her lashes, the heart shaped bow of her pink lips. How had he lived with all this beauty for weeks and not really noticed?

Author Bio:

Lea KirkLea Kirk loves to transport her readers to other worlds with her science fiction romances. Her fascination with science fiction began at six years old when her dad introduced her to the original Star Trek TV series. She fell in love with the show, and was even known to run through her parents’ house wearing the tunic top of her red knit pantsuit and her white go-go boots pretending to be Lieutenant Uhura.

In January of 2016, she published her well-received debut novel, Prophecy, Book One of the Prophecy Series. She followed that up in April with a short story, All of Me, set in the Prophecy Series universe. Another short story, Space Ranger, will be released October 11, 2016 as part of the Pets in Space Anthology. Salvation, her second full-length novel comes out a week later. The third book in her series, Collision, is scheduled for 2017.

Ms. Kirk lives in Northern California with her wonderful hubby of twenty-six years, their five kids (aka, the nerd herd), and a whole slew of characters just itching to have their stories told!

~*~

Contact Links:

Website: http://www.leakirk.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LeaKirkAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LeaKirkWrites

~*~

Other books by Lea Kirk:

Prophecy, Book One of the Prophecy Series

Amazon Universal Link: myBook.to/ProphecyLeaKirk
B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/prophecy-lea-kirk/1123164930
iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1070616637
Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/prophecy-47?

All of Me, A Prophecy Series Short Story

Amazon Universal Link: myBook.to/AllOfMeLeaKirk
B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/all-of-me-lea-kirk/1123494973
iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1091353723
Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/all-of-me-35?

Space Ranger, A Prophecy Series Short Story
(Part of the Pets in Space Anthology)

Release date: October 11, 2016

Marree to Wilpena Pound

MapIt’s day 5 of our Lake Eyre adventure. If you’ve missed the previous episodes, here’s day 1, day 2, day 3, and day 4.

We landed back at Marree after our final flight over Lake Eyre and boarded the truck for the next part of our journey. But first we saw a couple of Marree landmarks. One of them is the MCG. It’s a little bit different to the one in Melbourne, but it has the same initials. (I mentioned the outback sense of humour, didn’t I?) Another is the start of the Birdsville track, but I showed you the other end last time.

Marree from the air

Marree from the air

The MCG (not the Melbourne Cricket Ground)

The MCG (not the Melbourne Cricket Ground)

We were off to Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheater in the Flinders Ranges and another of my bucket list items. Most of the ‘mountain’ ranges we saw on our travels were part of the Flinders Ranges, although some have local names. The formation of the ranges is fascinating. Unlike many other ranges like the Himalayas, the Flinders wasn’t formed by tectonic plates bumping into each other. Rather, a geosyncline was formed when two parts of a continent split apart. The resulting chasm was filled with debris, which was later thrust up, twisted and buckled. This article does a pretty good job of explaining the geology. It’s one of the planet’s oldest mountain ranges, and home to some of the oldest animal fossils ever discovered. Although the ranges aren’t very high, when they were formed 540 million years ago the mountains were the height of the Himalayas. Erosion is a powerful force.

On our way south we came across some amazing cloud formations. We could have been forgiven for mistaking them for space ships. Cue X Files music.

Alien invasion

Alien invasion. The flat-topped pile on the right is material from the Leigh Creek coal mine which is on the point of closure.

A close up of the space ships

A close up of the space ships

I loved the Flinders Range. Apart from the spectacular scenery, it’s full of river red gums and cypress pines, and home to lots of wildlife. Here you’ll find eastern grey kangaroos, the big red kangaroos, euros, and the lovely little yellow footed rock wallaby which has been rescued from near-extinction. If you’re not familiar with the many different species of ‘roos, this article will help. The big roos are in no danger of extinction. They have benefited from humans through pasture lands and water supplies such as dams. The smaller marsupials are in very great danger from loss of habitat, and predators such as feral cats. I like cats – but not in the bush.

Red kangaroo. They can be grey, as it happens. But reds have a different head to the eastern (or western) greys

Red kangaroo. They can be grey, as it happens. But reds have a different head to the eastern (or western) greys

This is a grey kangaroo sitting outside our room at the Wilpena resort.

This is a grey kangaroo sitting outside our room at the Wilpena resort.

That formation that looks a bit like a uterus is Wilpena Pound

That formation that looks a bit like a uterus is Wilpena Pound

We would spend two nights at Wilpena. But on this, our first evening, we drove to a lookout to see the walls of Wilpena Pound. The name ‘pound’ in this context means an area where animals are kept, as in ‘dog pound’. There’s only one way into the formation, so it’s a natural stock barrier. In fact, there was a station in there. But although it’s pretty, it’s harsh country, subject to the cycle of drought and flood so common in Australia, and after one flood too many, the property owners gave up. Read more here. There are grazing properties still in the Flinders Ranges, but they work in with the national parks people to try to preserve this natural wonderland.

The walls of Wilpena Pound

The walls of Wilpena Pound with grass trees in the foreground. (We used to call them blackboys, but that’s no longer politically correct)

Birdsville and more Lake Eyre

It’s day 4 of our Lake Eyre adventure. If you’ve missed the previous episodes, here’s day 1, day 2 and day 3.

Birdsville from the air. All of it.

Birdsville from the air. All of it.

The Birdsville pub

The Birdsville pub

We landed in Birdsville and I get to cross another entry off my bucket list. Birdsville is probably THE hottest place in Australia. The official highest recorded temperature is apparently 49.5 – but that’s in the shade.

It was Good Friday, one of the few days of the year when everybody shuts up shop. The pub’s front bar was closed, but since we were guests we got to use the Lizard Bar. This is another tiny outback town which has made a name for itself. People come here from everywhere on the 1st September for the Birdsville Cup, a gazetted thoroughbred race. The population swells from about 160 to eight to ten thousand. Then they all go home and it’s over for another year.

I was a little bit bemused at learning we were going to be taken for a half-hour bus tour of the town. But it actually turned out to be a heap of fun. We were shown the race course, and the permanent lagoon (part of the Diamantina river), and the nearby camping ground. Our guide explained that the influx of visitors for the Cup puts a strain on the town resources, especially the rubbish tip. The burning of rubbish is forbidden (OH&S) but as it happens the Birdsville tip seems to be struck by lightning every Wednesday at 2pm. Act of God, know what I mean? We saw the standpipe where the town’s water supply comes up steaming from the artesian basin. The water goes through a cooling tower and filters before it’s pumped to houses, but it’s never really cold. We were taken to admire the new street lights in a housing area at the edge of town. No houses, but nice lights. Our guide explained that there are about 4 rateable properties in Birdsville, so most of the town’s money comes from grants from drought or flood. The lights were from one grant, the streets were added later from another grant. They’d like a flood, please. They’ve had enough drought for now. Then we popped into the Birdsville Bakery for a chance to buy a curried camel pie and other tasty goodies.

5V3A4859

The racetrack

5V3A4860

The Birdsville Track, made famous by Tom Kruse on the longest mail run in Australia

5V3A4861

Birdsville’s town water supply comes up from the Great Artesian Basin

    The Birdsville Bakery. And that gentleman with his hands on his hips is Trevor Wright, dictator of William Creek

The Birdsville Bakery.

Our guide epitomised the kind of people you get in the outback – tough, resilient, with a wicked sense of humour. They have a cultivated disdain for bureaucracy, which is understandable. Rules and regulations dreamed up by clerks sitting at desks in air conditioned comfort in Canberra or Brisbane just don’t make sense out here. Practicality is the name of the game.

And then it was back into the planes for another look at Lake Eyre before we met out trusty guide at Marree. This time we also flew over the part of the lake where Sir Donald Campbell broke the land speed record in Bluebird in 1964. This flight I was even more impressed with the scenery as aboriginal art.

5V3A4904

This is a cattle station with a serious airstrip

5V3A4928

5V3A4927

There’s algae in the salt, hence the pink colour

5V3A4920

5V3A4918

5V3A4915

The water won’t last long

5V3A4900

Reminds me of the Nazca plain

5V3A4896

Chaos theory in action

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Eyre to Birdsville by air

lake EyreIt’s day three of our journey to see Lake Eyre in flood. If you missed day 1 you’ll find it here, and day 2 is here. Today we leave Marree and travel along the Oodnadatta track to William Creek, where we’ll catch a plane.

We’re really in the outback now, surrounded by barren plains with maybe a range of low hills on the horizon. It’s dry out here. Marree’s average annual rainfall is 160mm (6.3″). The vegetation is tough. There’s a lot of salt bush, and plants with leathery, greyish leaves. But there’s water, if you know where to look. Australia is host to the largest artesian basin in the world, and the road we’re following is there because it follows the water. Many towns up here have ‘wet’ words like creek or well in their names, places where water can be found. We stop in a particularly desolate area to look at the mound springs – places where the mineral-filled water bubbles up to the surface. Over thousands of years the minerals were deposited and the mounds built up. You can see from the pictures that around such springs the ground is lush with plant life. These springs have had to be protected from cattle, which trample the edges and muddy the flow.

Maybe they need to be protected from people, too. The settlers didn’t understand this country. Read the story on the information board and you’ll see what I mean. The aboriginal people called these places home, and they looked after them. Water, after all, is life.

This barren country is where you find mound springs

This barren country is where you find mound springs

That's a mound spring. It's a long way to the top

That’s a mound spring. It’s a long way to the top

5V3A4742

This spring is known as the bubbler. You can see why.

Read the story on the left next to the blue map

Read the story on the left next to the blue map

But it’s not just humans who need water. We crossed a creek full with recent rain. It teemed with little fingerlings all fighting for a chance to get to lake Eyre. And surrounding this crossing were hundreds of silver gulls. The nearest coast is at Port Augusta, around 450km away. How the gulls knew the water and the fish were here is a mystery.

Silver gulls in the desert. There's a little fish stair to help the fingerlings cross the road.

Silver gulls in the desert. There’s a little fish stair to help the fingerlings cross the road.

The tranquility of water in the desert. Soon it will be a dry bed again.

The tranquility of water in the desert. Soon it will be a dry bed again.

We arrived at William Creek (population 12) just before lunch, served (of course) in the pub. The owner, Trevor Wright, basically owns the town but he doesn’t like to be called king. He reckons he’s more of a benevolent dictator. He’s a big man with a shock of white hair and he operates the planes we’ll use over Lake Eyre. He likes to talk, too. One of his pilots came in to give him a hurry up call. The planes and the pilots were waiting.

5V3A4762

William Creek

5V3A4770

All you need to know about William Creek

Six of us 5V3A4771(including the pilot) crammed into a Cessna 210. I was in the last of 3 rows of seats and I won’t pretend it was comfy. The outside temperature was in the late 30’s and the cabin wasn’t air conditioned. We took along bottled water and frozen wet towels to keep us cool. I found the best way to avoid dwelling on discomfort was to watch what was going on below. It’s 450km as the crow flies from William Creek to Birdsville – and a bit more when you’re sight seeing. The journey took about two and a half hours and I don’t mind admitting I was pleased to stagger out of the plane at the other end.

The following day we did it all again, flying from Birdsville back to Marree, where our driver picked us up. There’s a lot to say about Birdsville, but I’ll do that in another post. For now, let’s take a look at Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

5V3A4777

Heading towards Lake Eyre

The sky reflected in shallow, calm water

The sky reflected in shallow, calm water

 

More reflections

More reflections

Flocks of pelicans. That's why we're up at 500ft. If we hit one of them we'd end up being permanent residents

Flocks of pelicans. That’s why we’re up at 500ft. If we hit one of them we’d end up being permanent residents

Pelicans floating on the water. Nobody knows how they know the lake is full

Pelicans floating on the water. Nobody knows how they know the lake is full

The Diamantina flows into the lake

The Diamantina flows into the lake

Trevor said he'd never seen the desert so green. This is the Diamantina

Trevor said he’d never seen the desert so green. This is the Diamantina

The desert. It doesn't look like the Sahara - but there are sand dunes

The desert. It doesn’t look like the Sahara – but there are sand dunes

It looks like fabric, or an aboriginal painting

It looks like fabric, or an aboriginal painting

Red sand of the Simpson desert

Red sand of the Simpson desert

This is 'Big Red' a sand dune 30m high.

This is ‘Big Red’ a sand dune 30m high.

Coming in to land. That's the plane's shadow on the ground

Coming in to land. That’s the plane’s shadow on the ground in the middle of the picture