Month: September 2018

Broome, Western Australia


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Obviously we have settled into the more relaxed pace of northwestern Australia as I realize it has been more than a week since the last blog post. Sun and sand and heat and the rhythm of the ocean will do that!

One quick story from Michael who we met at Kooljaman when he asked to use our air compressor to inflate his air mattress on which he and his girlfriend were going to the spend the night on the beach hidden by a rock formation. He asked how we liked the rooftop tent and I mentioned that it was good protection from the 12 species of poisonous Australian snakes. His mate, he recounted was sleeping by the side of the road in his swag (sleeping bag and personal belongings). Apparently a snake snuggled up beside him looking for warmth. When the friend rolled over in the night, the snake bit him – fortunately not a deadly one.

Indigenous culture goes back between 40,000 – 60,000 years in Australia but suffered from European colonialism as in Canada. A revival appears to be happening in Broome or at least in some of the indigenous families here. A highlight of our time in Broome has been the Cultural Indigenous boat tour with Bart Pigram. Of mixed ancestry including aboriginal and a Scottish Canadian who seems to have been a bit of a rogue Bart embarked on his own personal revival 10 years ago. From his father and his father’s 6 brothers, aunties and local elders Bart learned the Yawuru language, and by listening to the oral history of his people learned his history, stories, songs, ceremonies and sacred places.

Ten of us sat under cover on a catamaran that cruised through Roebuck Bay while Bart gave us the Yawuru names for important people, places, flora and fauna. My question, “what makes a place sacred?” elicited a long and thoughtful response. Sacred places, he said, are where ceremonies happen or where there is art, or which are associated with stories and songs. Some sacred places are only for women, others are only for men. Same with songs and stories. Not everyone has the right to a particular story. There is a reverence for the sacred whether places, stories, songs and traditions.

Have we lost that reverence, I wonder, that sense of the sacred, something that calls from us a response of awe, mystery, gratitude, perhaps the recognition that there is something/someone, some creative intelligence that is greater than our own?

The Dragonfly Café in town not only makes great English Breakfast tea but they present it with style. A bamboo tray has 3 circles, one for the pot with proper tea leaves, one for the cup and another tiny one for the milk, not cream (!). A spoon lies parallel to the long side of the tray. The pottery is turquoise. Ahhh…. Beauty increases the pleasure of food and drink.

Many afternoons find us sitting under the awning attached to the side of our truck, not at the campsite but on the north end of Cable Beach accessible only to 4WD vehicles. This afternoon most of Australia was rivetted to the national AFL footy finals, similar to the Grey Cup, which meant that the 15 km beach was almost deserted. Geoff ploughs into the surf while I wander in up to my knees, and devour books about one every 5 – 6 days. (Geoff: What we didn’t do was pay $90 for a short camel ride along Cable Beach, an iconic Broome touristic attraction




Broome is ideal for stargazing. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the west and the outback north, south and east, there is not a lot of ambient light. Greg Quick, who chafed against the academic study of marine biology (sorry Erin!) became a pearl diver where he learned about the moon’s influence on the tides, and later worked in the outback sleeping under the stars in his swag. So began his love of the movement of the stars, planets and the earth. He is a self taught practical astronomer who shares his knowledge and passion in a dynamic nighttime presentation. Using lasers he pointed out constellations, planets and the brighter stars. With about 10 very large telescopes for viewing we each looked at Saturn, the crescent Venus, Jupiter and its 4 moons, the rosy tinted Mars and open clusters of stars.

Greg’s “aha” that he shares is that our language and therefore our unconscious understanding of the universe is that it is the moon and sun that rise and set and that our earth remains fixed. We may “know” this is not true but we probably don’t give it much thought. By the end of his captivating presentation I had a very different sense of the movement and rhythms of the universe. Not that I understand it, but that I look at the heavens differently now, with a better appreciation of cycles and patterns.

Tomorrow (Sunday, Sept. 30) we leave this part of paradise to begin our adventure south.

Kooljaman Camping Resort at Cape Leveque, Western Australia


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Our vehicle is well and truly christened! Red Australian bull dust has decorated our formerly white vehicle. Of the 200 km from Broome to Cape Leveque half are unpaved with corrugated sections (Canadian translation: washboard) alternating with bull dust. Geoff likens it to driving in heavy snow that never lets up, sometimes with 2 wheels navigating corrugation and 2 in the dust.

Along the road we counted 14 abandoned and often burned out vehicles. It is cheaper to leave older ones than to have them towed out and repaired.

Mostly it is the noise I notice in all the jouncing about. The Land Cruiser is built on a truck chassis with only a metal grill separating the back seat from the camping storage. The noise level increases as gears grind up and down in 4WD, the diesel engine working extra hard, and the pots, plates and cutlery bang against each other – constantly. When a truck passes in the narrow sections the smell of dust makes this a full body experience!

“Don’t Trash Country” a sign reminds travellers that this is the traditional territory of the Bardi-Jawi people who live in communities down rough unmarked red tracks off the main road. “Country” in aboriginal usage is akin to “the Land” as understood by indigenous Canadians. Here is my limited grasp of this concept. It encompasses territory and all the plants, animals, insects, geographic features, stories and song that are inherent to the place, the food, medicine and sacred features that hold meaning. “Country” calls forth reverence. Far richer than the European/North American concept of nation or country it situates a people and all that makes them who they are in a particular place.

Kooljaman is a camping resort owned by the traditional owners of this land. Food in the outdoor but covered restaurant is exceptional. Lunch was grilled barramundi and pulled pork. Red peppercorns were dropped artfully alongside my tartar sauce.

We are in a palm frond covered shelter with a picnic table and simple outdoor shower overlooking the beach. We still sleep in the tent on the Land Cruiser roof. Yesterday we swam in turquoise waters warmer than Stoney Lake, read and napped. Calming, hot and restful.

The WIND! Oh my goodness, the wind that wakened us in the night kept us awake until dawn. The fly was beating against the tent slapping down, and just when it seemed the wind was dying, the pattern of lifting and slapping again resumed. All boat tours have been cancelled. Red dust gusts fog what was previously clear. Sand whips your legs and erases footprints along the beach. We are told it will last until tomorrow noon.

The blessing in this – I was up before 6:00 a.m. (!) and saw a whale, its tail breaking the water as it swam south. In other natural news: a fisherman caught a 23 kg Spanish mackerel. Hanging from the scales it looked to be almost as tall as Sean, our 9 year old grandson. There were teeth marks along its tail. The guide said it fairly jumped into the boat trying to outrun a shark. In the dishwashing sink Geoff looked into the eyes of an almost translucent green frog which promptly slid into the drain hole so only its head was visible. It was gone this morning.

The waiter wiped our table clean before we began lunch. As I finish writing this an hour and a half later, red dust covers the serviette I swipe across the table. The wind is unrelenting. Guess I’m more urban than I thought!

Broome, Western Australia


Monday, September 17, 2018

Noted along the drive outside Geraldton, this sign: Car Wash, Dog Wash, Car Detailing. Does the dog get the wax option too?

An expectedly tasty and healthy breakfast – a bowl of quinoa, turmeric hummus, spinach leaves, avocado, cherry tomatoes and poached egg. Geoff had smashed avocado, yellow peppers with chimichurri sauce on whole grain sourdough toast. The Quiet Café in Geraldton wins the Best Breakfast Award.

Water is a scarce commodity in Western Australia so toilets have two flush buttons, a full (4.5L) and a partial (3L) flush. A sign posted in the showers of the Carnarvon caravan park cautioned, “Please keep showers to 4 minutes and help us keep our environmental rating.”

We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn Friday morning and are officially in the tropics. We have, thankfully, left behind cool wet weather and embraced 35 degree sun. The landscape is flat with some vegetation and signs warning motorists to beware cattle and kangaroos on the road. For this reason car rental companies advise against driving at night in the outback.

Though the driving days are long, 850 kms and 610 kms, there are still the occasional pink, white, blue and purple wildflowers in this mainly flat landscape. The palette of colours holds my attention kilometer after long kilometer. Grey/blue plants proliferate, set off by green vegetation, straw gold/yellow grasses all set in the rich red Australian soil.

We were entertained by Outback Paddy, a transplanted Dubliner who has adopted this land as his own. We ate fish and chips under the stars at the Port Hedland Yacht Club with nothing between us and the Indian Ocean but Paddy and his 60’s and 70’s music, his own compositions and a few Irish tunes.

We’ve entered the land of red pyramid shaped termite mounds, home to an insect population that dwarfs the number of human beings in the world. Outside Port Hedland, an industrial town that supports the mining and natural gas industries (Canada’s Rio Tinto has mines here and TransAlta runs generating facilities), is a cluster of termite mounds with a miner’s hard hat atop each one. I wondered, was it a tradition to leave it there on your way home after your last shift?

In the 5 hours we travelled from Port Hedland we have seen only 4 cars travelling in our direction north. From the south cars pass by at the rate of 10 – 12 an hour.
As I was driving in the afternoon I saw a camel sitting under a tree. I looked again to be sure, and yes it was a camel. There are feral camels in the Australian outback but I didn’t expect to see them in this part of the country.

We met a man who lives near the ferry terminal in Melbourne. He sold a piece of land beside his house, bought a camper and is indefinitely travelling the country. We heard a similar story of a couple from Brisbane who left home 7 months ago and have no plans to end their Australian travels. Perhaps they are escaping winter but it sounds as if they are enjoying a nomadic life.

While we shared the driving on the long drive north, Geoff has been driving around Broome as if he lived here. Once he’s been somewhere it is imprinted in his internal map.

At church on Sunday, the same church I’d attended in 2015 a woman approached me after the service. “Are you visiting?” she asked. When I told her I was from Canada and had come to the church 3 years ago, she said, “I thought you looked familiar. You’re Catherine from Canada.” Utterly remarkable! How to make a person feel welcomed!

Broome is home to the world’s oldest operating garden movie theatre. The screen is in a garden with some canvas deck chairs outside and others under the roof. In the early days 1920’s and 1930’s everyone in Broome went to the silent movies and then the “talkies.” One resident remembers that the pearling families sat in the middle at the front with the Chinese, Filipino and Malaysians at the sides. The indigenous movies goers were relegated to the back.

We couldn’t believe our luck. In this iconic Australian movie house was showing Breath, an Aussie film based on the book of the same name by Tim Winton. The surfing scenes alone were worth the price of admission.

Tomorrow we are leaving to drive up the Dampier Peninsula on a rugged 4WD road to a camping resort with pristine beaches where we will stay for 3 nights.

Geraldton, Western Australia


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The plans for our trip have taken shape over the past year so we had no way of knowing that Western Australia was drenched with record winter rain this past August. Wildflowers have responded with their best showing in a decade, and lucky for us, our trip is taking us through the prime wildflower territory when they are at their peak. We didn’t know but learned this week that this part of Western Australia has more species of wildflowers than any other place in the world. And we are here now – this year!

The colours by the side of the road are glorious – fields of yellow flowers, not to be confused with the fields of canola, bushes flecked in gold, long slender wands of delicate blue, pinks and roses of all hues and carpets of white. Set against the red road shoulders and the green crops in the fields, it makes for a magnificent drive.

Tonight is another motel. Perhaps we are getting soft in our old-er age but another 5 degree night with wind off the water didn’t entice us to set up the tent.

This area of Western Australia, north of Perth on the Indian Ocean is the home of Australian author, Tim Winton. Named a “Living Treasure” by the National Trust, Winton’s books have twice been short-listed for the Man Booker prize for English literature. I’ve just finished Dirt Music whose characters continue to live on in my head and highly recommend it.

New Norcia, Western Australia


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

From Perth to New Norcia was a short 1½ hour drive. This is the only monastic community in Australia, and was created by a Spanish Benedictine priest in 1847. Our tour guide was a woman, previously a doctor from the Philippines, who lives in the village of New Norcia with her husband the chef, and her two sons 14 and 10 who serve as altar boys for the weekly mass. She told us about Father Salvado the founder of the community who was by all accounts a renaissance man: he composed original music and also transcribed indigenous music, guided the plough over unbroken fields; wrote books; set up schools for indigenous children (the school for European children was built later) and created a community with its own water system, olive grove, winery, flour mill (closed in 2008), bakery, apiary, flocks of sheep, monastery, chapel and homes for indigenous and European workers. He was respectful of indigenous culture and his goal, never realized, was to create an indigenous priesthood.

Was there abuse, as there was in so many Canadian residential schools? Fr. Salvado’s respect for the people seems to have prevented that, at least during his almost 50 years as Abbot. The local Noongar leadership has a strong working relationship with New Norcia and help teach school children about indigenous culture.

We stayed in the New Norcia Hotel (picture above) built a century ago as a hostel for parents to stay while visiting their children at school. Ceilings were 15’ high and a grand staircase designed to impress Queen Isabella of Spain, should she come for a visit, is used now for photographers to pose brides on their wedding day. The night was a cold and windy 5 degrees with a single electric heater for the room. My shower in the unheated bathroom was quicker than usual!

I went to the 7:30 a.m. mass/eucharist in the monks’ chapel. From a peak of 70 monks there are now 10. The good news is that this includes 3 novices, men who have come recently to join the monastery and who have yet to make their final vows. Chanting is Gregorian and some of the responses are in Latin. Thank you Serenata Choir for ensuring that I learned to sing the Latin mass!