That’s us on the road! Our big trip around Australia has finally started. A few weeks ago we took our van Gecko for a trial week because we wanted to detect any rattles and shakes that needed sorting out. It’s so much easier doing this in Perth rather than somewhere in the back and beyond. Where we are just now wouldn’t even supply us with a litre of milk, never mind a new CD player for the van… But more of ‘now’ later. So we trundled off south to the Peel Inlet, Busselton and Denmark.
Despite the fact that packing up took longer than we had anticipated, I think that we had also procrastinated. Leaving was a big deal because it marked the end of something and the beginning of a whole new way of life for the foreseeable future and letting go is always hard, even when the next step is exciting. The first two days were therefore also a little bit ‘scratchy’ until we had shooggled together and found our way. After that, though, it was brilliant and we loved every minute, to the extent that coming back was an anti-climax and the flat felt unnecessarily spacious.
The time back in Perth was spent repairing and replacing some items in the van. Roddy fitted his secretive roofbar antenna which, together with his invention, the Q-Mac HF90, will allow us to call the Flying Doctors in remote areas and connect with other HF radio users. I organised my paperwork that should allow me to teach as we travel in other states. I met up with my friends and both Jane and Alex had their wisdom teeth surgically removed which was a bit traumatic. Jane and I spent some real quality time together, which was lovely and it made leaving easier, knowing how close we are.
On Friday 12th May we set off after another morning of schlepping our belongings from the flat back into the van and a last, thorough clean of the flat, ready for the tenants who moved in the following Monday. Our first stop was New Norcia on the Great Northern Highway, only ca 120km north and east of Perth. We stayed for two nights to help us get into the swing of being back in the van. It is winter here in Australia and during the first night it got so cold that my head hurt! I chose therefore to use my sheepskin to sleep on, donned jammies and socks and even kept my wooly hat handy. It was like sleeping on a cloud and I will stick with that for the foreseeable or rather until we hit the tropics.
New Norcia is a settlement around a Benedictine monastery. There used to be a boys’ and a girls’ school too but they closed some time ago. The buildings are now used for school excursions and camps. A Spanish monk named Salvado founded the place in 1846. As the first abbot he had good intentions (apart from the old converting trick which I personally abhor!) and Salvado had a real interest in treating the Aboriginals fairly, paying them white men’s wages and training them in useful skills – quite unusual for the time. New Norcia
The photo above shows Salvado with an Aboriginal man. The ones below show depict the six seasons of the Aboriginal year, focusing on the plants and animals that are available to hunt and eat during these months.
Benedictine monks must live self-sufficiently, take no money from Rome and have no hierarchy other than the abbot being in charge. This means they have carpenter monks, baker monks, brewer monks, painter monks, shepherd monks – you get the idea. Apparently the second abbot was quite different, a vain architect – he tore down Salvado’s simple houses and replaced them with grand Spanish palacios which are still there today. The third abbot lived there during the two world wars. He was a miser, which was handy as he made sure the monastery survived hard times.
Nowadays there are only 11 monks and the monastery was in the news recently due to historic allegations of child abuse – that’s almost to be expected, isn’t it? Perhaps I am being too judgemental here… After our tour of the monastery we went to a meeting with one of the monks and diplomatic Roddy urged me not to bring up the child abuse trials. I bit my tongue. The meeting was quite disappointing though, as the monk was rather disengaged with the small group of people we were part of. He ran his spiel but his answers to our questions remained fairly evasive and general. It was not the dialogue we had expected but living a reclusive lifestyle does not prepare you very well for engagement with people at large, I guess. Funnily enough he said that some men escape real life when they have debts as these somehow magically disappear in the same way as wealth does when you join the monastery – you have to give it away when you monkify yourself. All was forgiven though when we tasted the Abbey Ale, which is juicy, fruity, potent and bloody expensive.
After two nights in New Norcia we drove to Lancelin via Gingin to see the Gravity Discovery Centre. This was Roddy’s idea (as if you hadn’t guessed that) and proved to be interesting in a geeky way. I always try to understand the mysteries of the universe but find it really hard to get my head around it; it’s just so abstract. What it did illustrate to me, though, was that if you look at the big picture, the Big Bang and the Cosmos, humanity seems but a by-product of cosmic evolution. We should therefore not take ourselves so seriously as we hardly matter in the grand scheme of things. Humanity and the Earth itself will be gone one day but new life forms will begin somewhere else and probably do exist anyway because it makes no sense that we are the only ones, the selected ones.
The Gravity Tower
Later that day we landed on a beachfront campsite in Lancelin and it was becoming obvious that we were in for a windy and wet night. The campsite was almost deserted apart from some grey nomads like ourselves and a couple of kitesurfers who loved the blustery weather – I noticed that they were Scottish and had probably learned their skills at Troon beach. That night we learned that our bathroom roof window leaked a little – another wee job for Roddy. He got a bit stressed out about that and, as we were still having some relationship adjustment matters happening, I took myself off for a cycle round the town and to see the inland white sand dunes. These are quite fascinating and attract sand dune surfers!
Roddy and I are good now but this time it took us almost the whole of the first week to get our balance back. We growled at each other several times! It sounds strange when you haven’t experienced it and when a trip like ours is the dream, but it is a shock to the system to realise that you won’t be back for many months, that you have to stay organised in the van (because mess affects your mental health in this enclosed space), you have to compromise more often, and there is a fear factor too – the fear of the unknown perhaps and of the loss of the routine. However, I will not dwell on this because it is very much a first world problem and, after all, it’s that loss of routine and the thrill of the unknown, that makes us travel.
After two sandbaked and wet nights in Lancelin we set off 200 km north to the beautiful wee seaside town of Dongara which is linked with Port Dennison. I was there a few years ago on a roadtrip with Jane and fell in love with the place. We stayed on a posh campsite called Seabreeze and had an ensuite! A small bathroom cabin next to our motorhome – the luxury of it! We explored the area on our bikes and managed to find the first of the great Aussie landmarks, the Big Cray. The town is famous for its rock lobsters so it fits. I dutifully had a photo taken with the iconic lobster and tagged my Shenton line manager in it on facebook. I promised her I would have photos taken with the Big Cray and the Big Pineapple but I don’t know where that is, yet. I was going to dress up as Captain Scarlett for the occasion – don’t ask – but I didn’t have my outfit with me. Must try harder next time.
Dongara is a small, beautiful town with some old charm buildings, a vibrant tourist and fishing industry. It has a beautiful marina and beach. The pace is slow and relaxed – to be recommended. Every night the owner of the campsite lights a fire in a brazier next to a beach hut on the dunes overlooking the Indian ocean – bliss! Then he goes down to the beach and casts his fishing rod to fish in the dark. We do choose our own lifestyle – it just depends what’s important to us.
Exploring the area:
Talking about ‘work’, yesterday I contacted a few schools in this area in order to get some money in the bank – and in order to widen my horizon! One of my young colleagues at Shenton, Abbey, has not just one but two parents who are headteachers in the small town of Morawa, just over 100km inland from Dongara. I emailed them and was offered 5 days starting next Thursday and taking me to the end of May. I shall be a science teacher and a kindy teacher. According to Abbey, 60% of the students are Aboriginal so that will be interesting!
Having arranged this work stint, we decided to go bush for a while and drove via Geraldton, a big town four hours north of Perth, to the very small village of Yalgoo. Many people find outback places dull and they are to an extent. They don’t have the thrill of the ocean. However, they are fascinating because they are so gung-ho. Plus, I love the red dirt! Many campsites inland are run by the council, catering for grey nomads as well as some mine workers and gold prospectors! There is nothing here apart from a small Aboriginal population, a few streets, a primary school, the Yalgoo Hotel (Happy Hour between 5.30 and 6.30, tap beer only! We will be in there later on), a basic town museum with some agricultural tools, but also fascinating old photographs of the town’s people and local history.
Some of the group photos in Yalgoo museum reminded me of Banjo Paterson’s poem The Geebong Polo Club. So this seems like a good way to finish off for today:
It was somewhere up the country, in a land of rock and scrub,
That they formed an institution called the Geebung Polo Club.
They were long and wiry natives from the rugged mountain side,
And the horse was never saddled that the Geebungs couldn’t ride;
But their style of playing polo was irregular and rash —
They had mighty little science, but a mighty lot of dash:
And they played on mountain ponies that were muscular and strong,
Though their coats were quite unpolished, and their manes and tails were long.
And they used to train those ponies wheeling cattle in the scrub:
They were demons, were the members of the Geebung Polo Club.
It was somewhere down the country, in a city’s smoke and steam,
That a polo club existed, called ‘The Cuff and Collar Team’.
As a social institution ’twas a marvellous success,
For the members were distinguished by exclusiveness and dress.
They had natty little ponies that were nice, and smooth, and sleek,
For their cultivated owners only rode ’em once a week.
So they started up the country in pursuit of sport and fame,
For they meant to show the Geebungs how they ought to play the game;
And they took their valets with them — just to give their boots a rub
Ere they started operations on the Geebung Polo Club.
Now my readers can imagine how the contest ebbed and flowed,
When the Geebung boys got going it was time to clear the road;
And the game was so terrific that ere half the time was gone
A spectator’s leg was broken — just from merely looking on.
For they waddied one another till the plain was strewn with dead,
While the score was kept so even that they neither got ahead.
And the Cuff and Collar Captain, when he tumbled off to die,
Was the last surviving player — so the game was called a tie.
Then the Captain of the Geebungs raised him slowly from the ground,
Though his wounds were mostly mortal, yet he fiercely gazed around;
There was no one to oppose him — all the rest were in a trance,
So he scrambled on his pony for his last expiring chance,
For he meant to make an effort to get victory to his side;
So he struck at goal — and missed it — then he tumbled off and died.
By the old Campaspe River, where the breezes shake the grass,
There’s a row of little gravestones that the stockmen never pass,
For they bear a crude inscription saying, ‘Stranger, drop a tear,
For the Cuff and Collar players and the Geebung boys lie here.’
And on misty moonlit evenings, while the dingoes howl around,
You can see their shadows flitting down that phantom polo ground;
You can hear the loud collisions as the flying players meet,
And the rattle of the mallets, and the rush of ponies’ feet,
Till the terrified spectator rides like blazes to the pub —
He’s been haunted by the spectres of the Geebung Polo Club.