A Travellerspoint blog

Australia 3

Australia, an afterword


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Australia blows you away. It's full of amazing stuff to see. The flora and fauna are breathtaking - all sorts of superlatives are needed for the trees, birds, animals, butterflies and plants. Everything is larger than life and/or at least twice as strange. And the vivid landscape in north Queensland - red earth, turquoise sea, silver beaches, intense green jungle. So many times I found myself saying 'Wow, that's the most [adjective] [noun] I've ever seen'.

After the technicolour intensity of Queensland we had a couple of days seeing friends in Melbourne, a city whose cool climate and urban culture we could feel instantly at home in as Londoners. (Several people told me I would really like Melbourne, so I was quite annoyed to find I actually did). It was a good opportunity to reflect on the past couple of weeks and to analyse what had been bugging me about the Australia we had seen so far, much as I enjoyed the whole experience.

The biggest thing was what I saw of and heard about how the indigenous people people have ended up living. They are largely invisible, under a virtual de facto apartheid arrangement. In two weeks I saw a guy playing a digeridoo in a shopping precinct to the interest of no-one, four people sleeping in a disused petrol station forecourt, some kids eating McDonalds in park, some shoeless people in dirty clothes and and a couple of women working in the gift shop of the visitor centre celebrating the natural beauty spot that had been stolen from them and concreted over. The invisibility alone is disturbing, but add to that for example: being denied the right to vote until the 1960s; being officially listed as part of the native flora and fauna before then; the Stolen Generation children forcibly taken from their families to be 'brought up as white' by white families; language and history erased; culture shattered and its remnants theme-parked. And so, so much more - the list of crimes over the last two centuries is unspeakable. The recent formal apology by the government was seen as an irrelevance by many whites apparently. According to one Australian friend, a lot of people felt that the atrocities committed by their forebears had nothing to do with them so what did they have to apologise for? She viewed this as analogous to seeing someone who had been attacked lying unconscious on the ground, and taking their wallet. I have to agree.

In my simplistic and under-informed view, a good start would be reversion to traditional place names, as a very visible recognition of the ancient history and land ownership that preceded the British prison colonies and fortune hunters of very recent times. Ayers Rock is now rightly known by its traditional and far more evocative name of Uluru, but why stop there? We visited the Daintree rainforest, Mossman Gorge, Townsville and numerous other victims of British imperial renaming. Messrs Daintree, Mossman,Towns et al have enjoyed their moment in the sun - now I think the original names should be revived. I would especially recommend starting with the suburbs of Melbourne, which were alarmingly named after some of the most unlovely areas of South East London - Camberwell, Croydon, Eltham. Camberwell! Come on Australia, you can do better.

/Lesley

Posted by mountaingoats 05:00 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Australia 2

Road trip, eclipse


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The somewhat un-Australian gothic crumbling ruin of Paronella Park first stop on our little Queensland road trip. Built in the 1920-30s by Spanish romantic visionary/architectural fantasist Jose Paronella as a symbol of his love for his fiancee, he became so engrossed in the construction of his magnum opus that he neglected to write to the lady in question, who after waiting patiently in Spain for seventeen years for word from him, understandably assumed he had lost interest in her and married someone else. The building he lovingly designed and constructed entirely from iron and concrete more or less single-handed contained the seeds of its own demise, as the local sand he used contained a corrosive element that began eating away at the internal iron structure as soon as it was completed, the tropical rainforest climate hastening its downfall. The story of Paronella Park is tragi-comic, and the ruin itself is a little kitsch, but the planting is spectacular - huge idiosyncractic native rainforest species are planted in formal European style designs, with plenty of wild jungle growth for contrast. An altogether magical place.

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A visit to the Cathedral Fig and the Curtain Fig, two giant trees colonised by strangler figs whose aerial roots have formed bizarre and sinister structures around the engulfed host trees. I became fascinated by these plants while we were here - in fact I would say one of the best things about Australia is its trees.

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Through the rolling verdant countryside of the Atherton Tablelands to Cape Tribulation and another rainforest stay. The Daintree forest is the oldest existing rainforest, and is advertised as 'Where the rainforest meets the reef' - which it does quite literally as the jungle extends right to the seashore. Mangroves are colonising the beach, creating a truly surreal seaside landscape. Clear skies meant wonderfully dizzying stargazing on the beach, the first time we've seen the southern sky properly - Venus on the horizon so bright it reflected on the water.

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On to Cairns, with a planned stop at Mossman Gorge. This natural beauty spot now boasts a vast car park, a monstrous visitor centre and an expensive restaurant, while claiming to be an 'Aboriginal cultural experience'. It's true in a way - it illustrates the theft of their land and exploitation of their shattered culture very well indeed. We didn't stay, and this spectacle left a bad taste. We also drove past Cape Tribulation's own nasty little human zoo, where tourists can pay to watch Aboriginal people do dances. Everything I saw and learned about Australia's treatment of the indigenous people past and present appalled me, to be blunt.

On to the final destination of our road trip, Cairns was the chosen spot for viewing the total solar eclipse on November 14th. After extensive research of local beaches (a terrible hardship) we found a good one with a clear view of the horizon, as the eclipse would occur just after sunrise. We booked into a lovely hostel and everything was set up nicely - except the weather. Torrential rain the night before, and thick cloud on the morning of the big day did not bode at all well. We staked our place before daybreak on the seafront, with all the other eclipse geeks (mostly middle aged men for whom open-toe sandals with socks, long fingernails and wispy ponytails were de rigeur). The sun rose - shrouded in cloud, and still bigger clouds were drifting in its direction. The beginning of the eclipse is dusk-like, and so the light of the darkening sun from behind the clouds was very eerie indeed. And just at the moment of totality, when the moon fully covers the sun and the perfect ring of light is formed - the clouds parted. Only a choir of angels was missing. /Lesley

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Posted by mountaingoats 02:56 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Australia 1


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After a four-flight epic journey to the other side of the world, we're in Australia. We're staying with Caroline's sister and brother-in-law in North Queensland who happily have beaches, national parks, rainforests and teeming flora and fauna on their doorstep. Once you get past the endless suburban sprawl anyway. An early morning walk yesterday - river turtles, flocks of breakfasting cockatoos and two kangaroos. We wake up each day to a crazy dawn chorus of tropical squawking, chirruping and whooping, and at dusk big fruit bats come out in flocks, slowly flapping like crows. Hawks circle the beach.

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Massively excited to see a family of three kangaroos, who stood obligingly still for a few snaps before taking off. Didn't expect to see them just standing around in a field. Or hanging around in the suburbs for that matter.

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Paluma National Park is made of real rainforest - a first-time experience. Deep silence, apart from faint rustlings and occasional startling screeches; incredibly dense webs of trees, ferns, creepers, lichen, fungi (which perform nocturnal glowings apparently) - all sorts of intertwined growth, huge and tiny, all shrouded in eerie mist. A primal fear of being lost, straying too far from the path.

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And to gorgeous Magnetic Island today. A haven for koalas - we didn't see any though. We did see some cute rock wallabies, and some canoodling galahs however. And some seriously beautiful beaches.

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Next: a road trip up the Coral Coast, via the Great Barrier Reef, to a solar eclipse...

Posted by mountaingoats 04:36 Archived in Australia Comments (4)

Departure lounge


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So the day after tomorrow, November 1st, we set off for our big trip that we've been planning, saving for and dreaming about for over a year. Here's the plan. A couple of weeks in Australia seeing family and friends and a total solar eclipse. Then a month in Vietnam, a month in Laos and a month in Cambodia - all overland. From Cambodia we fly to Burma for a month, then on to India for six weeks, and back to London at the end of April.

Some FAQs during the last year:

Q: So, looking forward to your holiday then?
A: It's not a holiday. Really. Yes it's six months of not going to work, which will be wonderful, but 'holiday' as in relaxation and getting away from it all - absolutely not. A few lazy weeks are dotted through the itinerary admittedly, possibly involving beaches, hammocks etc. Otherwise it's going to be, well, intense.

Q: What are you actually going to, like, do there?
A: Tramp round cities, towns and temples. Cycle through countryside and villages. Hike though jungles. Develop my photography, especially people/street/documentary photography. Do some work with a couple of literacy projects and permaculture ventures, I hope. See what poverty, globalisation and 'development' actually mean. See how Buddhism and communism co-exist. Record lots of ambient sounds in the streets and temples and jungles to work with when we get back. Try and understand about cultures and ways of life I currently know very little about. Try and be open to everything and take nothing for granted. Look, listen, learn, read, write, think, cry, laugh. And find out what what I have left when almost everything that gives me a sense of security, familiarity and certainty has gone.

Q: Why did you decide to go to those particular countries?
A friend pointed out that we have chosen to go to countries with amongst the world's most horrific recent histories. The Vietnam war (or American War to the Vietnamese); the 'secret war' on Laos in which the US dropped more bombs on a country the size of Britain than were dropped on the whole of Europe in WW2; the Pol Pot reign of terror in Cambodia that caused the deaths of nearly a quarter of the population in just four years, and Burma with its brutally repressive military still in control, albeit with a recent change of window dressing. We didn't know much about this region when we made the decision to go there - it wasn't a case of 'Ooh let's visit the most bombed country in history'. Rather that we wanted to be immersed in completely new cultures and experiences and ways of being. Our shortlist was South America or Southeast Asia. It came down to six months of spicy food or six months of refried beans? No-brainer.

Q: Isn't it going to be dangerous?
A: We live in Peckham.

Q: No, but seriously.
OK, Peckham may have its problems but unexploded landmines, poisonous spiders, snakes, typhoid, malaria or rabies aren't among them, at the moment. We are both quite sensible really and are as prepared as possible for forseeeable hazards. My mother's advice from growing up in India will remain with me - always shake your shoes out before putting them on in case there's a scorpion in there.

/ Lesley

Posted by mountaingoats 13:14 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

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