Month: October 2015

Rockingam to Clifton Lake Caravan Park near Mandurah

Thursday, October 22, 2015

DSC_0067A short five minute ferry ride from Rockingham is Penguin Island, though it might more aptly be named “Seagull Island,” given the raucous flocks that cover this nature reserve. The smallest of the 17 species of penguin, the “Little Penguin” hides in the DSC_0068underbrush here – all 1,200 of them. Slow on land they dart remarkably fast in water. We also learned that in the last 10,000 years the sea has risen 120 metres (360 feet give or take). Penguin Island was once part of the mainland.

DSC_0076Though I’ve read all about the poisonously creatures of Australia, I have yet to encounter a spider or a snake except for one slithering across the road a few days ago. In the Northern Territories we even swam in a plunge pool with a crocodile, though it was a freshwater, non-aggressive one. But I was more than a little taken aback by a sign at a beach with the most glorious clear turquoise water and white sand. The notice had the usual rip currents and rocks, but this one included snakes. Swimming with crocs is one things but swimming with snakes – I think not.

Cervantes to Rockingham

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

DSC_0020One of the pleasures of caravan parks is the ”leave one, take one” pile of books. The joy of discovering a hitherto unknown, good author is balanced by the disappointment of poor writing. This trip my hits have included M. L. Stedman, Tim Winton’s DSC_0022Cloudstreet and Erika Swyler’s The Book of Speculation.

Tucked in off the highway north of Perth are The Pinnacles. Sticking out of sand dunes are columns of limestone anywhere between half a metre and 3 metres tall. Some DSC_0031are simple columns, others are hollowed and some are in groupings, so that like clouds it is fun to imagine what they represent. And they go on for acres and acres, short and tall, slender and chunky, mostly vertical but a few horizontal, set DSC_0043amongst bushes or simply rising from the sand.

As the wind re-shapes the sand dunes, new ones appear and existing ones becomes shorter in an ever changing and otherworldly feeling place.

Perth to Cervantes (Election Results!)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

DSC_0015We’ve traded in the every so practical 4WD Land Cruiser with rooftop tent for a more conventional camper with sink, microwave, fridge, inside lights, table and bed. This means that on cool nights like last night and tonight with a low of 11 degrees, we are sitting inside comfortably with lights on reading and typing.

As a longtime political junkie (as a young teenager I would sit glued to the radio listening to election results and making notes – yes, truly, truly nerdy) my only demand for this part of our trip was that I could listen to Michael Enright on CBC radio for as long as it took to get the results and hear the leaders speak. For four glorious hours we sat in The Coffee Club in Kalamunda, Perth, (thank you Coffee Club staff) me with headphones and Geoff’s computer. Once a nerd, always a nerd. But this time I had no rhubarb chiffon pie. Note: I once ate an entire rhubarb chiffon pie while listening to the election results when Joe Clark lost the election he ought never to have had to call in the first place. Our family jokes that I am now unable to get through election night without a pie.

From Perth we drove through the Swan Valley wine country, with trees covered in spring blossoms of purple, red, yellow, white and orange through pastoral land with cattle, sheep and horses. This is a beautiful time of year to be here.

A weekend in Broome

Friday, October 16 to Sunday October 18, 2015

DSC_0013Not that I’ve been pining for creature comforts but oh how I love our one bedroom suite with living room and kitchen facilities – and did I mention fans – and air conditioning? Such luxury! And more Australian mangoes from the grocery store.

DSC_0010Broome boasts the world’s oldest outdoor picture theatre in the world. Since 1916 when it started showing silent movies, Sun Pictures has been a fixture on the main street. Luck was with us because on Friday night they were showing a recently released 20151016_175432Australian movie Last Cab to Darwin. It’s about a cab driver in Broken Hill, New South Wales who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides to drive to Darwin, Northern Territories where a doctor is preparing to 20151016_175537offer euthanasia. Driving via the Oodnadatta Track through the outback he has a series of adventures and makes the decision (SPOILER ALERT) not to avail himself of euthanasia but to drive back home to die. That synopsis doesn’t do the film justice with colourful outback characters, the  quintessential Australian cross continent trip and a conversation about what in the end is truly important – relationships, honesty and love.

The screen is set outdoors with green mangoes hanging off the tree to the right of the screen. Will they be offered to movie-goers when they are ripe in November? One can hope. Six rows of old cloth deck chairs are outside and the rest are under cover which makes sense for the wet season up here. It looks unchanged from how it must have been in 1916 with an old wood floor, cheesy posters from 60 years ago and corrugated steel roofing, the only difference being the quality of screen, sound, picture and movie. Oh, and the sound effects of the jets landing at the nearby Broome International Airport (where I am writing this waiting for the flight to Perth) is a newer addition. The flight path is directly over the theatre and the planes could not have been more than 30 seconds from touchdown, maybe a few hundred feet above us. Several times they completely drowned out the dialogue, but hey, it’s part of the charm.

We walked to the Matso Brewing Company for a ginger lime cider for me, a chilli pale ale for Geoff, lamb curry and Szechwan pork belly.


Broome has an “old west” history with its origins in the 19th century pearling industry. Dominated at first by Japanese pearl traders, it has a shady past. Pearl divers were recruited from Japan, China and Indonesia. In a disgraceful part of Australian history that was replicated the world over, the indigenous people were “blackbirded” i.e. kidnapped, made to walk from their inland homes to the coast in painful leg irons and made to work as divers. Many died. The result of all this is that Broome became the most diverse town in Australia. Sun Pictures is in the old Broome Chinatown. Sadly, Broome is also populated with an aboriginal population that is impoverished and marginalized with aboriginal people sleeping in the parks and on the cricket oval.

On March 3, 1942 the Japanese air force attacked Broome. When Indonesia was about to fall to the Japanese, a concerted Allied naval and air force effort ferried between 7,000 and 8,000 (imagine any small town in Canada receiving such a refugee influx today) mostly Dutch citizens in a two week period from Indonesia to Broome. Just as the refugees believed that they had come to safety the Japanese strafed the flying boats in the harbour still sheltering women and children, and the entire Allied air power in Broome. It was all over in 90 minutes leaving Broome battered, an estimated 100+ dead, countless others injured and Australians fearful of Japanese invasion.

As in Canada and in the United States, citizens of Japanese heritage were considered a security risk. One of Broome’s most successful and supportive pearl traders of Japanese origin was sent away from Broome to the country in Victoria where, unaccustomed to the cool climate, he succumbed to pleurisy and died. His sons however, having been born in Australia, were permitted to serve in the armed forces. All over the world we seem to find it necessary to divide the world into people “like us” and people “not like us” and so very often we get it wrong.


DSC_0001Sunday morning found me back at the Anglican Church where I’d been so warmly welcomed the Sunday before by Paulina and Joy. Dean, the newly arrived interim minister welcomed me by name (!) and gave a thoughtful, compassionate sermon on Ephesians where Paul exhorts women to submit to their husbands, children to obey their parents and slaves to submit to their masters. I’ve always found this an appalling passage but Dean likened it to workplace and family relationships that are to be based on respect, letting go of a “me first” attitude and living out of a Christ-like way of caring for others.

DSC_0012I can’t imagine that there are too many phone calls between Broome and Alexandria, Egypt but Sunday I talked to my sister Judy who with her husband Graham is teaching there for two years. We’ve shared our lives for 64 years and how I’ve missed our weekly phone calls since August 11th.  They are off to Cairo, the museum and pyramids for a short holiday, and we’re off to The Pinnacles north of Perth this week.

Kooljaman to Broome

Thursday, October 16, 2015

DSC_0713Sigh…today was the last of the red dirt 4WD driving. No more struggling to hold the wheel steady through rutted sand or jouncing over washboard sections or having visibility disappear in the dust of a passing vehicle. (Geoff’s note: The front number plate on the LandCruiser is missing – having vibrated off on one of the more corrugated roads.)

DSC_0717On our way down the peninsula we stopped in to Beagle Bay where Roman Catholic priests and brothers built a church decorated with shells showing mother of pearl in the early 20th century. By chance we arrived just as elementary and high school students from the church run school next to the church were attending a mass to celebrate the beginning of the 4th term. The student band and choir led the singing and there was a liturgy that sounded familiar. They sang The Aboriginal Lord’s Prayer. It truly felt like worship.

This is our last night in the tent that has served us so well. Given the increase in humidity and heat as the northern part of Australia makes the transition from the dry to the wet season, I’m glad to be moving south in a few days. I can appreciate though that your body can become accustomed to heat. No need ever for sweaters, gloves or winter boots. This kind of life comes with a welcome informality and freedom.

Tonight we walked out to Cable Beach for the sunset and saw the iconic camel train. Every evening tourists ride camels along the beach as the sun is setting across the Indian Ocean. Camels were brought to Australia as reliable forms of transport across the desert. Some have become wild while others have ended up on postcards in Broome.