Friday, December 30, 2011

The Pilbara trip


Friday 7 October

The morning is spent doing final packing. We’ve already installed a metal roof rack on top of the Pajero and I've filled it with the second spare tyre, two metal jerry cans, a half sized plastic jerry can, two water bottles and the kangaroo jack. This is all in readiness for our foray into the Rudal River National Park, a remote park 270 kilometres east of Newman in the central Pilbara. Inside the vehicle I pack a toolbox, a box of emergency gear like a tyre repair kit, an Engel fridge, an esky of veggies, a box of food stuff, a box of cooking utensils, a hot pot, a two burner gas stove and gas bottle, a tent, a blow up mattress, two more water bottles, two suit cases, a shoe bag, two pillows, two iPads, my drawing folder and pastel pencils, a box of sample postcards, my camera, our personal bags and last, but not least, an outdoor kitchen sink. Will there be any room for us?

Sox, the half breed Corgi/Sheep dog cross, has to sit on the passenger floor until we get to Muchea where we leave him at Prideland Kennels. The rest of the journey to Geraldton is uneventful except for a stop to take photos of roly poly hay bales that stand out like sentinels in the late afternoon sun. The Best Western Hospitality Inn is a welcome stop.

Roly poly hay bales, Greenough Flats

Saturday 8 October

After breakfast we walk over the road to look at The Hermitage, a small building built by Father Hawse which he used as his Geraldton residence. Father Hawse built many churches and priest houses in the Midwest in style that mixed European fairy tale with practical hands on construction. You can organise a Midwest trip just around looking at his buildings.

The Hermitage, residence of Monsignor Hawes

We have to go into town as Lexie has to buy some bathers. While she is shopping I drop off sample Midwest Postcards to likely buyers then its back on the road to Carnarvon.

Main street, Northampton

The road meanders through farming country until we get to Northampton where two big dog sculptures in the middle of town take my eye. They’re really for advertising but we like them just the same. After we leave farming country the rest of the journey is a long straight road through flat country decorated with wildflowers and stubbly trees.

Wildflowers, North West Coastal Highway

We stop at Billabong Roadhouse for fuel and lunch and it's very busy. The parking area is full of trucks.

Billabong Roadhouse, NW Coastal Highway

It's a relief to get to Carnarvon and after checking in at the Best Western Hospitality Inn, I take the drive out to the one mile long Carnarvon jetty. The jetty train has been packed away for the day but some folk make the 1 mile trek to the end on foot.

One Mile Jetty, Carnarvon

Back in town Lexie and I go for a walk around the fascine in the late afternoon sun. This is the palm fronded, walled part of the estuary that gives Carnarvon its distinct maritime focus. Boats are moored in the estuary. People fish off the wall. The place is a picture. By the time we get back to our room the sun has set.

The Fascine, Carnarvon

Sunday 9 October

Fueling up at Nanutarra Roadhouse

It’s a straight through run to Nanutarra Roadhouse, 370 kilometres down the track. On the way out we pass roadworks and rebuilding after the devastation caused by the floods earlier in the year. The only stop is at Minlya Roadhouse for gas and a cup of coffee. Nanutarra is crowded with trucks and four wheel drives vying for space. I wait my turn to fill up with gas. We take lunch indoors, which costs us an extra $2.00 each for the airconditioned convenience.

Red sand hills, NW Coastal Highway

The road cuts though red sand hills that run east/west, a feature of the western desert.
After Nanutarra we turn right off the North West Coastal Highway taking the Nanutarra Wittenoom Road with Tom Price as our destination. Fortunately the road is bitumen so it’s a pleasant drive. We pass hills with European names like Mt Edith, Mt McGrath and Mt De Courcy. We take a shorter gravel road instead of going through Paraburdoo and pass Mt Samson until we get to the Tom Price Caravan Park at the foot of Mt Nameless. Seems they ran out of people to name hills after.

Pilbara hills, Nanutarra Wittenoom Road

Our accommodation is a green, one room dongar with kitchen and bedroom in one. It has an ensuite, air conditioner and TV so we can’t complain.

Monday 10 October

The plan today is to go out to Hamersley Gorge where I want to revisit some photographic shots and produce a drawing, probably of the waterfall further up the gorge from the main water hole. The gorge is about 70 kilometres north of Tom Price so we leave around 9.00 am to get here in good time. Most of it is gravel so we drive slowly to avoid problems. When we get to the turn-off to the gorge we are confronted with a Road Closed sign which doesn’t impress us. It would have helped to have a sign on the road out of town.

Hamersley Range, Hamersley Mt Bruce Road

We turn back and take the next turn off the Nanutarra Road that takes us along the southern edge of the Hamersley Range, eventually meeting up with Karijini Drive. We take the next turn down Banjima Drive which gets us to the Karijini entry station where we pay $11.00 in the honor box and then drive 40 kilometres to the Oxer Lookout parking area. The lookout gives a view where the three gorges, Hancock Gorge, Red Gorge and Weano Gorge, meet. It’s a spectacular sight that calls for a photograph or two.

Where the three gorges meet, Oxer Lookout

Back at our car we load up with water bottles, hats and cameras, and take the climb down into Weano Gorge. The water level in the gorge is higher than the last time we were here and I find myself walking through chest deep water holding the camera above my head. Lexie chooses to swim as she is using the water-proof camera. It’s good to cool down but after two forays through water we decide to turn back as I don’t want to get the camera wet.

Lexie swimming in Weano Gorge

I select a spot further back in the gorge for a drawing where there is a lovely water hole and we go back to the car to get my drawing gear. Lexie decides to stay and read while I make the long climb back down into the gorge to do my drawing. I’ve suggested that it’ll take me around an hour to sketch the main details onto my A2 sized drawing paper so I settle in on my little stool and go to work. It takes longer than anticipated and an hour an a half later I arrive back at the car. I really needed three hours so I’ll have to work from photographs to complete the task.

Weano Gorge pool

On the way out we stop at the Savannah Camp Ground and Eco Retreat to see if it might be a good place to bring a caravan and are pleasantly surprised. It also has a dining room and bar so we might look into it on our next trip to Karijini. The drive back has the afternoon sun shining on the twisted, white gum trees that are a feature of the Pilbara so we stop for some photographs. We get into town around 4.00 pm and pick up some more provisions and a bottle of red wine.

Gum tree, Karijini National Park

Tuesday 11 October

On the way out in the morning I decide that I want to take a photograph of Mt Nameless for possible postcards so we turn down the Mt Nameless Walk Trail until I get to a place where I can take a photograph. The morning sun is shining on the west side and it looks great. The road is rugged but we make it back to the bitumen and head for the Shell service station to fuel up.

Mt Nameless, Tom Price

After fuelling up, an Aboriginal lady points out that our front tyre is flat. It must have happened on the off road drive. We call the local Tyre Company and they promise to come and fix it. I put CRC spray on the wheel nuts but can’t move one of the nuts. Two hours later I try again and this time it moves. The Tyre Company hasn’t arrived so I take the tyre to them and they fix it there. I also get the wheel nuts loosened so I won’t have the same problem out bush.

Fixing the flat tyre, Tom Price

This has put us way behind time and we get to the Karijini Visitor Centre around 2.00 pm to have a look. The display features the Aboriginal connection and the environment which is very interesting. There is also a shop selling local Pilbara material. We decide to have lunch at the Dales Gorge car park. After taking photos of Circular Pool we sit in the shade and eat our lunch. It will take at least two hours to get to Newman where we have agreed too meet up with Scotty, our friend and guide into Rudal River National Park. We need to be there in time to set up our tent and camp at the Kalgan Rest Tourist Park in Newman.

Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park

We get in by 5.30 pm and Scotty meets us and we set up camp. It takes a while and in time we’re able sit down and catch up on news with Scotty.

Wednesday 13 October

Breakfast at Newman

Today we drive into Rudall River National Park so before we leave Newman we stock up on provisions and visit the Newman Visitor Centre to get some maps of the park. They kindly photocopy a handmade map which does help to identify some landmarks and where they are situated. After fueling up at the Capricorn Roadhouse, 8 kilometres out of town, we head north up the road to Marble Bar. About 50 kilometres along the road we turn right on the Ethel Creek, Jigalong Road and are now on gravel that has been newly graded. It’s a good road cutting through sparse, flat country. 

Smoko stop, Ethel Creek Jigalong Road

A left turn down Balfour Downs Road gets us to a right turn down the Talawana Track which will take you all the way to the Canning Stock Route. We have been following Scotty in his Toyota Hi Lux as he knows the way.

A bit further down the road Scotty pulls over near a windmill and tank and shows us the Len Beadell cairn and plaque. Beadell was the surveyor who surveyed the Tallawanna Track and other tracks in the western desert. I remember reading his books as a kid about his exploits in the desert and found them fascinating.

Len Beadell cairn, Talawana Track

After a lunch stop at the Oakover River, just a dry, sandy creek, we continue on until we get to the Rudall River turnoff, around 310 kilometres out of Newman. On the way we have counted 17 dead cars by the side of the road.

Desert oaks, Talawana Track

We pass two Park Ranger 4 wheel drive Toyotas filled with Aboriginal people who kindly get off the road to let us pass. It’s just a two wheel sandy track. The first stop in the Park is at the Handpump which has been installed by Rio Tinto Mines to give travelers a ready source of water. There is a grove of twisted, white gum trees and a camping area but we decide to press on.

The road is fairly rough but I stay in 2 wheel drive as we have two back tyres that are bigger than the two front tyres; an oversight by our garage. This means that too much use of the 4 Wheel Drive function could damage the transmission, or so the tyre man in Newman reckons. We get to a very sandy section and we start to drift so I stick it in 4 WD and manage to get out. All a bit hairy! We pass two more Ranger vehicles and when we get to the Rudall River Crossing we see that they have just apprehended two renegade Bush Turkeys as their feathers fill the sandy riverbed. There’s no water here so we press on to the Desert Queen Baths turnoff, with a couple of stops for photographs of the limestone cliffs that glow in the evening sun.

Limestone cliffs, Rudall River National Park

The road now gets really rough and we slow to a crawl. Scotty is looking for a good place to camp and finds one in a grove of trees off to the left near Compton’s Pinnacle, a distinctive, limestone hill that is featured on the hand drawn map. To get in we drive across spinifex and park under the trees. Scotty clears away some grass and we set up camp. Lexie is too tired to cook so I cook up some spuds, sweet potato and green beans, plus baked beans from a can and Scotty cooks his steak. We are a tired bunch of campers but the beer and glass of red make up for the full day.

Compton’s Pinnacle

Track into Desert Queen Baths

Thursday 15 October

Today we are going into the Desert Queen Baths. It’s only about 11 kilometres from our camp at Compton’s Pillar but the road is so rough that it takes a good hour to get there. A break in the sandstone range reveals our destination. We’re not alone as there are two 4 wheel drives parked under trees along with tents. We park and walk a kilometre into the first water hole which has an impressive red cliff backdrop. Folks are swimming in the pool and it looks inviting.

Entrance, Desert Queen Baths

Our destination is further up the boulder strewn watercourse so, shouldering our loads, we press on. Scotty has kindly agreed to carry my drawing board kit. I’m carrying my pencil kit, my folding seat, camera and waterbottle. Lexie is carrying her bag, camera and waterbottle. It’s an arduous trek. We pass waterholes where we take a break, but Scotty assures us that the main waterhole is worth the walk. At one point Lexie stops and says she can’t go forward and she can’t go back. What are we to do? After a rest we push on.

Rockpool, Desert Queen Baths

It takes abut an hour and a half of stumbling over rocks in the hot sun before we reach our destination but it is, indeed, worth it. There is a big pool that is surrounded by high red rock cliffs with white gum trees growing out of the crevasses. We strip to our bathers and jump in for a very refreshing swim. The water is great.

Top end pool, Desert Queen Baths

I take the underwater camera and swim across to the other side of the pool, clamber up and go exploring further up the gorge. There are a couple of smaller pools and then it’s just more rock so I make my way back trying not to hurt my tender feet too much. Back on the other side I set up to do my drawing and begin. It’s a fairly complicated scene and after an hour and a half I’ve had enough. I’ve got a good sketch and will need to finish it off at home.

Lexie cooling off, Desert Queen Baths

We have lunch and after, another swim, start the long walk back. It doesn’t seem so far this time but it is still hard scrambling over rocks. Back at the first pool we have another swim to cool off and then join Scotty for a coffee boiled on an open fire. It’s around 3.30 pm when we set off for camp and get back around 5.00 pm. After setting up camp I go for a walk to photograph Compton’s Pillar glowing in the late afternoon sun. It’s good to rest and chat over dinner.

Turn-off sign, Desert Queen Baths track

Friday 16 October

It's time to leave Rudall River National Park, so we pack and head out on the track to the Desert Baths turnoff. We take a photograph of the makeshift sign to help us remember where the turnoff is should we feel inclined to return. We stop to look at the cairn above the Rudall River crossing which tells us the Aboriginal name for the river, which is Watururra/Karlamilyi.

Southern hand pump, Rudall River National Park

I use the 4 wheel drive facility more and the drive to the hand pump is easier and seems quicker. We wash our faces in the water from the pump, fill our water containers and drive out to the Tallawanna track. The drive back is good as a grader driver is out grading the road. A fairly lonely job I imagine. We stop for lunch at the Opthalmia Dam on the Fortesque River which supplies Newman’s water needs. It’s a pleasant break before the drive to the Capricorn Roadhouse to fuel up.

Fueling up at Capricorn Roadhouse, Newman

We’ve made the decision to drive to Meekathara where we’ve booked a room for ourselves and one for Scotty. It’ll be nice to have a shower. We’re driving into the sun and find ourselves competing for space on the road with countless road trains carting dongas and machinery for the mining industry. The shear number of trucks on the road indicates just how enormous is the growth in mining in the northwest is. I give up trying to pass the trucks and settle in behind a truck with three dogs. It’s a long run through very flat country but we make it into Meeka by 6.40 pm in time to shower and order dinner. The receptionist tells us that orders close soon after 7.00 pm and last meals are served by 7.30 pm so there’s no time to lose. We’re seated by 7.15 pm when Scotty arrives and heads off for a shower. It’s a nice way to finish the trip even though the bottle of red costs $35.00.

Mulla Mulla, Great Northern Highway

Saturday 15 October

We pass on breakfast, except for a grapefruit and an orange, and after saying goodbye to Scotty, are on the road by 7.00 am. The Mulla Mulla wildflowers our out in strength adding colour to the roadside. The next town is Cue, a particularly interesting place full of old buildings from the glory days of gold. We detour to photograph the Cue Masonic Lodge which has been restored to its former glory. I think it’s probably the only Masonic Lodge I’d bother to photograph as they are generally appallingly morose buildings.

Cue Masonic Lodge

Payne’s Find Mine

A stop at the Mt Magnet Roadhouse yields us a hideous toasted egg sandwich and cold coffee. When will they learn? The Payne’s Find Roadhouse looks deserted and the Payne’s Find Tourist Centre is closed, another victim of changing times. The gold battery is still standing, a testament to another age.

Roadtrains taking mining gear north

Oversize trucks with escorts cause us to pull over often and at one of these stops we pull up at the Rabbit Proof Fence or what’s left of it and I take a photo of the newly erected plaque. The notion of building a fence across this vast country to keep out rabbits still amazes me.

The Rabbit Proof Fence

The wildflowers are out as we pass through Wubin. We try for lunch at Dallwallinu but they don’t have anything we can eat at the local cafe. We try again at New Norcia but the roadhouse doesn’t serve lunches after 2.00 pm. The next stop is Bindoon Bakery and we luck in here. It is now called Bindoon Bakehause and is in new premises. The range of food is wide and we are served at a counter with a touch screen that adds up all the ingredients that we will have in our wholemeal roll. This is city service in the country. Now all we have to do is pick up Sox from Prideland Kennels and then head for home.

Other blog travel articles
Sydney trip January 2011
Melbourne trip April 2011

Joel Smoker

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Melbourne Trip, April 2011

By some reasoning only known to the higher thinkers in the Education Department it was decided that this year Term 1 should run for eleven weeks and two days. So having got to the end of this stint, Lexie and I were ready for break. A fortuitous meeting with Melbourne resident, Suzanne, earlier this year, ended with an offer to stay at their place in St Kilda and we decided to take them up on their generous offer and booked tickets to Melbourne for the first week of Term 1 break.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

I’ve made it to the end of Term 1 without punching anyone’s head in and it’s time to jump aboard JetStar for our flight to Melbourne. Lexie took Sox to the dog kennel at Muchea this morning and I ran around in the dark after work watering all the plants and the seedlings in the veggie garden so hopefully they’ll survive the eight days we’ll be away. I’ve packed more than I need as usual whereas Lexie has left space in her case for the results of her planned shopping expedition to Bridge Street. We drop off our luggage at the JetStar counter and buy coffee and hot chockalott. I say hello to a friend, Mark, another teacher who's flying east too. On the way to the 11.00 pm boarding check in I chat with another Mark and his partner Eva, teachers too, who are on their way to Brisbane.

There’s not much leg room on JetStar so we spend the night’s flight sitting bolt upright trying to get some sleep. It’s a good flight and the pilots get us into Melbourne around 4.00 am, Melbourne time.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

We collect our luggage from the luggage rack and make our way outside. Suzanne has suggested we catch the airport shuttle bus to Spencer Street Station in the city so we drive through the night checking out the big sculptures that are a distinctive part of the highway landscape on the way in to town.

Out on the street we try to figure how to catch the tram to St Kilda and with some advice from a local find a seat and wait for the No 96 tram. The street cleaners are out and kindly wipe down our seat before we sit down. Seems someone comes through in the early hours of the morning and hoses the city down. We throw our luggage on the tram. I’m carrying far too much gear; that includes a camera case, a laptop computer, my man bag and my suitcase. We figure how to work the ticket machine and settle in for the ride. Close to our destination, we panic and jump of the tram only to find we’re a few stops short. A kind man shines a light on the tram info map and advises us where we should get off, so we wait and catch the next tram.

Acland Street at daybreak

Walking through St Kilda Botanical Gardens

We breakfast at McDonalds as they seem to be the only people open at daybreak and then make our way up Acland Street to the St Kilda Botanical Gardens. Walking through the gardens in the misty morning we get to Mozart Street and ring Suzanne and Ian. They’re not expecting us so early but get up and graciously let us in. The house is an older Federation era house that takes up most of the inner city block. It’s full of art, a lot of it Aboriginal, collected from their decade or so in the Top End when Ian worked as a lawyer for the Northern Land Council and Suzanne established her reputation as a playwright. Suzanne is also an avid collector and bunches of interesting things fill the house including old suitcases, masks, dillybags, hats, baskets, books, ceramics, artefacts, Indonesian textiles and instruments. I could spend the whole week just looking at this stuff.

Luna park entrance

After settling in we take a walk back down Acland Street and check out the shops, stopping at a Mexican Restaurant for lunch. Acland Street is colourful and interesting. We’re taken by the large number of wine bars and restaurants where people hang out cheerfully. The ambiance of the place is infectious. Walking to the end of the street we get to Luna Park and join the mobs of kids having a great time. I try to photograph the Mad Mouse carriages as they fly past with screaming kids.

Mad Mouse, Luna Park 

Across the road is the grand old Palais Theatre that looks like something out of an old Hollywood movie. We wanted to locate it as we have booked tickets to a Gospel show in the evening. The line-up includes the Blind Boys of Alabama, who we’ve seen before, along with Aaron Neville of the Neville Brothers, a band from New Orleans and Mavis Staples, from the famous Staples family gospel band.

Luna Park and Palais Theatre

Back at Mozart Street, we try to get some sleep before showering and changing for the concert. It’s raining by the time we leave, so Suzanne sets us up with raincoats and umbrellas and we head back down Acland Street. Entering the Palais Theatre is like entering another time period when ornate ceilings, marble columns and gold drapes were the order of the day. It takes until 8.00 pm for the auditorium to fill up and Mavis Staples and her three-piece band and three singers take the stage. They belt out Gospel numbers ranging from old Staples numbers to tracks off her new Grammy winning CD. The music is great and the singers are in fine voice. Mavis engages the audience with stories of patting kolas bears and kangaroos and as the concert progresses incorporates more audience participation with call and response similar to what must go in black churches back in the U.S. After a while this gets a bit repetitive. How many times can you say you’re having a good time? The singers leave the stage to the three musicians who give us extended solos that take an inordinate amount of time until Mavis and her singers return for a big finale number.

After interval the lights go down and the MC announces the Blind Boys of Alabama. On come four elderly black gentlemen in white suits, lead by a big black man in black, each with their hand on the shoulder of the man in front of them. These guys really are blind. One of the old men takes as seat at the drums and the other three take seats at the front of the stage. Other black guys in white suits make up the band and after saying hello the middle singer kicks off the show. For a bunch of old guys they have strong voices and turn in a very energetic performance. Having three singers helps as two take a rest on their chairs whilst the other one sings. When singing the songs straight the performance is exhilarating but eventually they resort to audience participation too and it all becomes very repetitive. The crowd seems to love this but we find it pretty boring.

The highlight of the night for me, and Lexie, is when Aaron Neville comes on. His high vibrato voice is magic and he sings with a sincerity that indicates he really believes in what he is singing, at least that’s how I read it. He stands to one side for his performance but fills the stage. The Blind Boys of Alabama provide harmonies and it is truly an uplifting experience. I could listen to him all night. The Blind Boys take over and the middle singer takes an extended walk through the crowd assisted by his minder. Although the crowd participate well I find this a bit boring, but they finish with a very rousing old Gospel number. Aaron Neville rejoins them for an encore, Hank William’s I Saw the Light, and it tops the night off well with each singer taking a different verse. It’s 11 O clock and we’re tired. I can only image how tired those old guys are.

Back out on the street, Acland precinct is full of people and they’re all having a good time, but it isn’t noisy and we feel completely safe.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Suzanne has arranged for me to do an interview with a friend of hers, Dr Jaqueline Healy, to hear my recollections of the start of the Aboriginal Art programme at Balgo Hills, an Aboriginal Community in the east Kimberley. I visited Balgo Hills a number of times in the early 1980’s when working as an Arts Advisory teacher for the Education Department of WA. When possible I shared the travel expenses with John Hutchinson, the TAFE officer for the east Kimberley, and it was he who liased with Sister Alice, the nun who ran the TAFE annex at Balgo Hills. Included in her Adult Education programme was an arts programme that was very popular with the locals. I was able to wander around the group and make suggestions on how they could improve on what they were doing.

Jacquie arrived promptly at 10.00am bringing hot cross buns with her which we ate with morning tea. I learnt as much from our interview as she did from me and it was good to go over my memories of those exciting times. Jacquie acquired her doctorate by researching the Aboriginal Art industry with particular reference to the Kimberley and now she was researching the first major exhibition by Balgo Hills artists which was why she wanted to interview me. Listening to her I realised that this was someone who knew a heck of a lot about the development of the Aboriginal Art industry in this country.

Boo Radley shop, Bridge Street

After our interview Jacky offered to drop us off where we wanted to go next. Lexie wanted to visit the Boo Radley clothing boutique on Bridge Road in Richmond and Jacquie was able to take us right there which saved us a lot of messing around. I left Lexie to try on clothes and went for a walk down Bridge Road, a location known for its clothing and shoe shops. Passing a shop with a big sales sign outside I saw a blue and grey checked, fleecy lined shirt that looked just the thing for a fashion conscious bloke and I went inside and tried it on. At $20.00 I couldn’t pass it up and emerged the proud owner of a Bridge Street fashion purchase.

Lexie was happy with her purchases so we picked a nice café to celebrate and have lunch. Walking back up Bridge Road to the city centre we passed a shoe shop that was having a sale and I saw some red Nike sneakers that I had eyed off in Sydney but couldn’t come at the $90.00 price tag. The sneakers had been reduced to $65.00 so I took the punt and tried them on. They looked good so I added them to my Bridge Street collection and we continued into town.

Downtown Melbourne

We made our way to Federation Square and watched a street artist juggle ping pong balls out of his mouth and then juggle batons which was all very impressive. He then got a man up out of the audience and set him up with a headset that altered his voice when he spoke, much to the merriment of everyone listening. After getting him to answer a number of questions the performer was then able to play back to him a recording of his funny answers and most likely gave him a CD to take away of his performance. The Melbourne Comedy festival was celebrating its 25th anniversary and this act appeared to be one of many taking place around the city.

Ping pong ball juggling
Catching a tram back to St Kilda we surprised Suzanne at how quickly we had been able to do our shopping run. I went back in to the Acland Street precinct, that’s what they call these shopping areas here, to buy some groceries and a couple of bottles of wine for dinner, which Suzanne was preparing. On return I found that I had forgotten to buy the Gugel Hopf cake from the Monarch Cake Shop. “Now how are you going to remember such a mouthful as that”, I ask? This time Lexie and I go back to buy the cake and I drop off a copy of my The Kimberley Series book at one of the bookshops for the owners to look at in the hope that they want to stock it in their bookshop.

Catching the tram to St Kilda
Dinner with Suzanne and Ian is a leisurely affair and I learn that Ian had spent some time in Halls Creek recently, mediating in a land dispute with people that I know. We talk about the Moola Bulla story and I show them a photograph of my father in the Moola Bulla story book. We also play the Aaron Neville gospel CD, I Know I’ve Been Changed, which we bought for them at the Palais Theatre concert. It’s a great CD. We then get on to the topic of Mary and Elizabeth Durack, both of whom I knew when they were alive and I learn more things I didn’t know. A very pleasant evening indeed.

Friday 22 April 2011

Suzanne and Ian are going to their other place on the Mornington Peninsular for a well-earned break. Lexie and I have decided to have a rest day today. Good Friday is the day in the Easter story where Christ was killed so it’s not a day for partying.

I decide to catch up on some reading including Jacquie’s PhD on Aboriginal Art Centres where I fill in the gaps in my knowledge since leaving Waringarri Aboriginal Arts in 1991.

Sometime in the late afternoon Lexie and I take a stroll down Acland Street and drop into an Asian Restaurant called Kotaraya where we are served with an excellent vegetarian meal.

Saturday 23   April 2011

National Gallery of Victoria

Today is the day that we have planned for our visit to the National Gallery of Victoria so we catch a tram down St Kilda Road and jump off outside the gallery. The two special exhibitions that we visit are the Man Style exhibit and the Deep Water exhibit. The Man Style exhibit features men’s fashions from the 18th century to now and is fascinating. I particularly like the Vivien Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier pieces. The Deep Water exhibit features photographs from the collection which are divided into freshwater and saltwater images. There are the Ansell Adams images which should be in any collection and are of course, great. I particularly like the Frank Hurley images from the Antarctic expedition and there is an underwater image of surfers on their boards which is particularly good. This is an exquisite little show.

We have a look through the permanent collection and are impressed by the range of paintings from the Impressionist and Symbolist artists that the gallery owns, courtesy of the Feldman bequest. There is also a display of artworks by Australian artists purchased from this bequest including the Rover Thomas painting of the Willy Willy that we sold to the NGV from the exhibition that we held at the Deutscher Contemporary Art Gallery when I was working for Waringarri Aboriginal Arts. It’s a bit like meeting an old friend again. There is also an interesting 19th Century ceramics and glass collection on display from the Dr Robert Wilson Collection. The NGV collection rivals any international collection as a result of bequest such as these.

There is also a smart tea and coffee café which we visit and are treated to cakes that are presented as works of art, tasting as good as they look, with coffee and hot chockalott that matches.

The Yarra River

Next we walk over the bridge on the Yarra on our way to the other NGV gallery at the Ian Potter Centre in the Federation Square complex. We see a familiar face on the way there and identify Rod Quantock taking a bunch of people, all wearing funny noses, on one of his guided tours with a difference; all a part of the 25th anniversary of the Comedy Festival. In the Federation Square concourse the Comedy Festival has an open air stage so we stay and watch an act that involves two people spitting bits of banana into each other’s mouth. It’s all quite clever but a bit out there.

Rod Quantock tour

Banana spitting duo

The special exhibition that we have come to see at the NGV gallery is the Eugene von Guerard, Nature Revealed exhibition that features over 150 works by this important 19th Century Australian colonial painter. I particularly want to see this show as von Guerard is one of the artists that we study in our Year 11 Visual Arts course at school. The exhibition is exhaustive and features not only painting but his sketches which he kept in small sketchbooks and on larger sheets of a paper which he glued into manuals. Von Guerard accompanied explorers on their trips into the hinterland and made meticulous sketches of what he saw which he used a source material back in his studio when composing his paintings. It was great to see these actual drawings.

Federation Square

I was particularly pleased to see his “North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko” painting which he painted in 1863 after a perilous trip to the Kosciusko plateau as it is one of the paintings that we analyse in the school art course and I haven’t been able to identify all the details of the work because of the limitations of reproduction. I’ll be able to speak with more authority about the work having seen it in the flesh so to speak. 150 works is a lot of art to look at and by the end of this we are starting to tire. We have a quick look at the annual student exhibition and the contemporary works display and have seen all the art we can cope with for one day.

We meet Matt, the chaplain from my school, along with his wife, outside. They are here to catch some of the Comedy Festival acts. We chat and then head for the tram stop. It’s enough to catch the right tram and get back to Mozart Street before the light goes.

Sunday 24 April 2011

Suzanne has kindly left her car keys with us with the offer of using her car, so today we are going to drive to the outer north-eastern suburbs to visit the Heide Gallery, the previous home of John and Sunday Reed, famous benefactors who supported the artists of the Angry Penguins group; modernist Australian artists and writers from the mid 20th Century. To get there we are going to have to buy a Melbourne street directory and map so this necessitates another walk down Acland Street to Readings bookshop. We hang out a coffee shop until the bookshop opens and then make our way back to Mozart Street.

After plotting our journey we set out along St Kilda Road and make our way through city traffic, Lexie providing the directions and me making the turns as directed. We get there by 12.00 am midday, the stated opening time, only to find that there is no parking left, so we have to drive round and round through the parking area until someone leaves and creates a space for us to park. There are three galleries at Heide; Heide 1, the original weatherboard homestead that John and Sunday Reed lived in when they moved to the property in the Yarra Valley in 1935, Heide II, the new home they built on the property in 1963 and Heide III, the gallery that the State Government of Victoria built in 1993. The state government acquired the property in early 1981 from the Reeds. John and Sunday Reed moved back into the original home and lived there until their deaths in late 1981.

We visit Heide III first, pay $12.00 each and view an exhibition of works by Albert Tucker, one of the Angry Penguin artists. The show consists of paintings and works on paper from his Images of Modern Evil series (1943-48), developed in Melbourne during World War II. These works were prompted by Tucker’s revulsion at the antics of Australian girls who entertained the American GIs and Australian troops while on leave from active service. He famously used symbols such as a crescent mouth, eye on a stick and distorted figures to depict the characters in his compositions. The works remain suitably grotesque, with dark backgrounds and lascivious figures acting out their wartime narratives. Tucker managed to hang on to the works for more than thirty years until most were acquired by the National Gallery of Australia, ensuring that all locatable works could be displayed together in this exhibition. For my part I find the works interesting but not something I would want to view for an extended period of time.

Heart Garden, Heide I

Next we visit Heide I where there is an exhibition of mixed works by Mirka Mora, another well known Melbourne artist and personality who was befriended by John and Sunday Reed. Heide I is famously known as the place where Sydney Nolan painted his Ned Kelly series of paintings, using the dinning room table as his studio, so it is special to enter the dining room and view the table where this historic event took place. Unfortunately I’m not allowed to photograph the dinning room but I can take photographs of the outside of the building which I do with the intention of showing these to my students when I get back to Perth. It is intriguing to wander through the rooms of this beautiful building and imagine the discussions that must have taken place here amongst the artists and writers who lived here with John and Sunday Reed at various times in their lives; people that included Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, Sam Atyeo, Moya Dyring, Charles Blackman, Mirka Mora and Max Harris. Nolan’s long-term affair with Sunday Reed only adds to the intrigue.

Veggie garden, Heide I

Heide II is different again. This is a modernist limestone block building which the Reeds originally built as their new dwelling but lends itself to being a gallery with its white walls and cubic forms. The exhibition on display is titled Born to Concrete and consists of works from the Heide Collection produced by the concrete poetry artists, an avant-garde Australian art movement from the 1960s. Included amongst these artists was Sweeny Reed, the son of Tucker and Hester, who was adopted by the Reeds. Basically the art is word art, with words arranged so that they illustrate the content of the words. These works were influenced by poets such as ee cummings and I find them interesting, whereas Lexie says they look like stuff that she has done with her primary school students over many years. Most works are on paper but others are three dimensional and made out of wood and Perspex. One series makes a play on the word horizon, which I quite like.

Montsalvat entrance

We try to book for lunch at the Cafe Vue but are told that we will have a 45 minute wait so we decide to take our chances for lunch at our next destination, Montsalvat, an artist’s colony further up the Yarra Valley. We luck in as Montsalvat has a café that serves high quality food and wine in an outdoor setting that is charming and pleasant. Montsalvat was established by Justus Jorgensen on 12 acres that he purchased in 1935 and consists of a series of mainly stone buildings constructed over an extended period of time. Jorgensen was an architect, writer and painter and famously studied under Max Meldrum, a well know teacher and artist from the early 1900’s. He had a vision to create a place where artists could live and work and expended much energy on realizing this vision. His goal has been achieved as artists and crafts people as diverse as painters, jewellers, musical instrument makers, a sculptor, a dress maker, a multi media artist and even a wine maker all work at Montsalvat. 

Montsalvat village

The buildings look like something out of a European medieval village and include a Great Hall, a Barn Gallery, a Long Gallery, a decorative pond, a Chapel and Sacristy, a Stone House and a series of artists studios which would have originally been a dairy, a barn, stables, silos and storehouses when Montsalvat was a largely self sufficient farm. The colony is now managed by Jorgensen’s son, Sigmund Jorgensen, who reckons he’s been there for 71 years, so there’s a bit of history there. We meet him at the Main entrance in the Barn Gallery where we pay the $14.00 entrance fee per person and view a printmaking exhibition, which is currently showing. It is an exhibition of great diversity and high quality. We are able to wander around the property at will and all in all, it is a great experience and well worth the entry fee.

The Great Hall, Montsalvat

Inside the chapel, Montsalvat

Montsalvat artist's studio

It is late afternoon so we figure we’d better get going so that we can find our way back to St Kilda while it is still light. Lexie plots another route back and I follow her directions. She finds the journey stressful, especially when I divert back up the Esplanade to see if I can locate the Esplanade Hotel. I don’t actually see it, as I’m too busy negotiating the traffic, so eventually we make our way up Fitzroy Street and back down Carlisle Street to St Kilda. We’re happy to get home safely.

Monday 25 April 2011

Esplanade Hotel

Today I plan to take a walk along the St Kilda foreshore to see if I can get some good photographs of this seaside suburb. Lexie isn’t interested in a long walk so I leave her at the end of Acland Street and walk on up the Esplanade past Luna Park and The Palais Theatre. Many of the buildings that front the Esplanade are Art Deco in architectural style and give St Kilda its distinctive visual character; a bit like stepping back in time. I discover the Esplanade Hotel which is just waking up from another night of excess. The staff member I talk to says they won’t open until 12.00 am midday and will then remain open until 3.00 am. I check out the band list for Monday evening but don’t recognize any of the bands. We’ve got tickets booked to the Leon Russell and Little Feat concert at the Palais tonight and I thought we might chance a listen to some local bands at the Esplanade after that. We’ll see how the night pans out.

Fishermen, St Kilda Pier

I cross the Esplanade and walk down some steps that take me through the Catani Gardens to the water’s edge. Walking back towards St Kilda I come to the St Kilda Pier and walk out to the café at the end taking photos along the way. Fishermen have framed my walk along the pier and with their white plastic buckets they become part of the subject matter for my shots. The cityscape is shrouded in mist and makes a great backdrop to the sailing boats moored in the harbour. Beyond the café there is a boardwalk that takes you down to the water’s edge and acts as a barrier protecting the colony of Little Penguins that live there amongst the rocks. They remain well hidden at this time and only come out to eat in the early morning and late evening. Boats are moored here as well and I make a mental note of a scene I’d like to come back and draw sometime.

Yachts and city skyline

Back on the beach I walk along the boardwalk dodging bikes, joggers and rollerbladers, past cafes and restaurants, until I get to the St Kilda Marina. I walk up Blessington Street to Mozart Street and convince Lexie that she should come on the
seaside walk to the pier for lunch. We retrace my steps and back on the boulevard the sun is out and lots more people are out walking or just hanging out. There is a pleasant atmosphere about the place as folks make the best of the Monday holiday. We sit in a sunny spot for lunch at the end of the pier and enjoy the view across the bay to the folks on the beach. My brother John sends us a text about what he’s doing in Perth and we text him back, letting him know where we are and what we’re doing. He’s suitably impressed.

Fishermen, St Kilda Pier

On the way out we pass a fisherman just as he snares a seagull and the terrified creature starts screaming as it tries to raise itself out of the water. I offer to help so he gets me to hold the rod while he pulls in the seagull. Fortunately the hook isn’t lodged in the seagull but rather the line is tangled around its leg. We get the seagull down on the jetty and I hold its head with a cloth while he untangles its leg. Then it’s just a case of throwing it off the jetty and it flies away. By this time as small crowd has gathered so we make our way around them and back down the pier. A leisurely walk back down Acland Street, dropping into bookshops and clothing shops, completes the morning’s excursion. It’s a tiring business enjoying yourself; so we rest up for the afternoon reading books.

In the evening we make our way to the Palais Theatre and settle in to catch the first act, Little Feat. They’re a six piece, southern boogie band that used to be fronted by the brilliant, but erratic, Lowell George who wrote some of their most memorable songs such as Willin’, Dixie Chicken and Fat Man in a Bathtub. He’s been dead some thirty years but the band has been going strong since then. I’m expecting a run through all their hits. They come on quietly, dressed in jeans and checked shirts, and start playing without any announcement. The first song takes more than ten minutes and is mainly instrumental played to that southern boogie beat. The playing is virtuosic. This is no three minute pop song band; more an orchestral band. The songs really are there to provide a skeleton for the music. They do play Dixie Chicken but it takes about fifteen minutes and the lyrics come and go around the music. They play for an hour and fifteen minutes and we are treated to some of the most accomplished musical performances that I’ve heard in a real long time. They do this without any sheet music or a conductor. There’s some humour there too making it a very pleasurable experience all round.

After intermission a four-piece band come on stage and plug in. They’re followed by Leon Russel who is using a walking stick to get up to his piano. His long hair and beard are white. He’s wearing a billowing bright coloured shirt, a white cowboy hat and dark sunglasses. They get down to business straight away with Delta Lady, one of his early hits. Songs follow in quick succession and his voice is a strong as ever, though he doesn’t hold his notes for long. He may be old but he can rock. When he plays Back to the Island, I feel I’ve had my money’s worth, but that’s what it means to be a fan. Russell tells some stories in between songs that put him in to rock and roll history, with names like Gram Parsons and Bob Dylan in the stories. They vary the pace a bit with the lead guitarist playing a blues number by himself, followed by a solo performance by Russell on piano and vocals. The full band comes back on stage for a grand finale and the crowd cheers. Russell says that he can’t abide contrived encores and they play out a medley of rock and roll songs before leaving the stage for good. The lights go on and we realise that it’s probably the last time we’ll see him perform. It’s like witnessing the passing of a legend.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Suzanne has recommended that we visit the Tarra Warra Museum of Art in the Yarra valley so that is our destination for today. To get there we decide to go via the Dandenong Ranges and this necessitates planning a route that takes us east up Toorak Road until it becomes Burwood Road and eventually we get to Ferntree Gully, a name I know from the von Guerard drawings. It’s a long run that takes us past the splendid mansions of Toorak and Kooyong.

We take the Mount Dandenong Tourist Drive that winds its way up the Dandenong Ranges passing forests of fern trees and Mountain Ash gums. I can see why von Guerard chose this place as a subject for his drawings and paintings. We pass small villages with names like Sassafras and Olinda and we realise that this is an area that deserves a more thorough visit at another time. We pull over to a parking area for the William Ricketts Sanctuary and decide to stretch our legs. I’ve seen photographs of the artworks from this sanctuary so I figure it will be worth a look.

William Rickett's Sanctuary

We cross the road and walk up to the entrance that is crowned with fern trees. The people at the counter are pleasant and explain the path of the map around the sanctuary. Surprisingly there is no fee. Ricketts was a sculptor who lived and worked at this property from 1934 until his death in 1993. It is now managed by Parks Victoria who maintain it as place to preserve Rickett’s vision. We follow the map around the property and find ceramic sculptures by Rickett of Aboriginal and European people, including Ricketts himself, which are attached to rocks and exposed to the elements. Ricketts was a skilful sculptor but some may find his portrayal of the Aboriginal and European subjects somewhat eccentric. The sanctuary is well maintained and judging by the number of people visiting, well patronised.

Aboriginal sculptures, W. Rickett's sanctuary

Female figure, W. Rickett's Sanctuary

After leaving the tourist drive we make our way through pretty vineyard country until we get to the Tarra Warra Museum of Art, a new purpose built gallery and restaurant outside of Healesville on the Healesville-Yarra Glen Road. The gallery was built by Eva and Marc Besen to house their art collection of post 1950’s Australian Art. It is a large modernist building designed by the architect Allan Powell and sits comfortably in its rural setting of vineyards and freshwater lake. The current exhibitions included a series of tapestries of Australian artworks and abstract paintings by Rosslynd Piggott as well a set of 70’s artworks from the TWMA collection. We have had to book a seat at the restaurant and have half an hour to wander around and view the three exhibitions. I particularly like the tapestries as each has been based on completely different artworks that have to conform to the technique of tapestry production. My favourite is the Wolseley piece as his work is generally so dependent on his sketches and collected objects. The tapestry makes his drawing/watercolour become something completely different. The originals are displayed with the tapestries so that the viewer can make the comparison.

Tarra Warra Museum of Art

Courtyard, Tarra Warra Museum of Art

Lunch isn’t prepared after 3.00 pm so we get back to the restaurant just before 3.00 to order lunch. The vegetarian meal is delicious but expensive. We figure that this is our last meal out for the trip and worth the cost. It’ll be back to work in a week’s time so we can afford to treat ourselves. We take a different route back to Melbourne by following the Maroondah Highway. Along the way we stop and watch two hot air balloons come to rest in a paddock. The drive is long and as we get into town it becomes very busy with people in football colours filling up the footpaths. It looks like Victoria’s favourite game is on tonight. We get back to St Kilda by 6.00 pm and are pleased to purchase some take-away vegetarian wraps from the Lebanese Restaurant down the road and a bottle of red wine and take it easy.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

This is our last day in Melbourne so we take one more walk down Acland Street to buy tram tickets and catch up on some last minute shopping. I purchase a Rockabilly 3 CD set from Readings and by chance get to meet the store proprietor who returns as I’m about to leave. I introduce myself and talk about the The Kimberley Series book that I have left for him to consider. He sounds interested so I hope he can stock it in his bookshop. Lexie buys a red Indian skirt that has been reduced to $49.00 so we’re both happy with our purchases.

Acland Street

The Acland Cake Shop

On the way back we read the plaque outside the house in Blessington Street where Albert Tucker lived before he died. The stables up the back were where he had his studio. We join Suzanne for lunch with the soup that she left for us to eat over the weekend, which we clear forgot about. It just got better with age. We gather up our bags which have got heavier with our Melbourne purchases and after saying goodbye to Suzanne we trundle off down the road to catch the tram to the city.

Spencer Street Station

It’s an uneventful trip to the airport and after checking in we have an hour to relax whilst waiting for our flight. On board I take out the book I bought at Heidi, The Heart Garden - Sunday Reed and Heide, a book about Sunday Reed written by Janine Burke and find out who Sunday Reed was. It’s an absorbing read and helps pass the time. At about an hour and forty minutes into our flight the Captain comes on the intercom to say that the aeroplane has experienced some difficulties with one of the hydraulics, necessitating a decision to turn around and fly back to Melbourne. He tells us that there are four hydraulics on the aeroplane and it would be possible to fly to Perth with three operational hydraulics but in the interest of passenger safety we are following the said course. There is a lot of chatter in the aeroplane but we have to accept the decision so we settle in for the return flight. Back in Melbourne we are all given a $10.00 food voucher and go and find something to eat. Lexie and I also purchase a $10.00 mini bottle of wine each. An hour later we board another flight to Perth and take our seats, hoping there are no problems this time.

JetStar, Melbourne Airport

We do encounter some turbulence on the way back which I find unsettling so I just keep my head down and read my book on Sunday Reed. I don’t like being bounced around in mid air. Arriving back in Perth at midnight, Melbourne time, we find it is raining which will be good for our veggie garden. After collecting the car from Airport Parking I pick up Lexie and all our baggage and we head for the hills. It’s great to go away but it’s sure nice to be home too.

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