Friday, May 31, 2013

31 May 2013 - Advent Park, Maida Vale, Perth, Western Australia

We woke to 3 degrees, just when Chris had tried to assure me that Perth was warmer than Canberra, where today those in the country’s capital enjoyed a balmy 6 degrees. He was mistaken as are those who try to promote this city in the west as warm and sunny. We wrapped ourselves in a multitude of layers and hats and ventured out on foot.

Today I took my husband into my Perth, that part of the city I have discovered for myself over the past two weeks, because it is indeed two weeks today since we arrived. He gazed out the window of the buses recognising very little but then decided that since this had been his original point of entry to Australia forty three years ago, he was more taken with the unpeopled beaches and the warm sun rather than all the details we note now as we travel about. We also understand that travelling youth have an entirely different appreciation of new places than more mature travellers.

We went in search of the Hotel Britannia somewhere north of the railway, Chris’ first place of residence in Australia, and decided that multi-story parking buildings have taken its place. A visit to the council office sometime over the next couple of weeks may solve the mystery.

Lunch was consumed while we sat in Forrest Place, the entertainment today a repeat performance from the WA Police Pipe Band. We sat some distance from the stage area between the water feature and the bright green sculpture; Chris is not as passionate about the stirring of the pipes as I. He has no Scottish blood flowing in his veins.

We visited the Art Gallery of Western Australia during the afternoon and found, unsurprisingly, it rates on our layman scale rather below those galleries in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Ballarat. In fact for the first hour, I was particularly uninspired with the lesser works of well-known artists, however further corners of the gallery turned up some delights.

As we have discovered so oft during our travels, Year 12 students include some very talented artists, and here today we saw more brilliant work. Many of these students will make their names on the greater stage in the years to come.

We also enjoyed the exhibition in the basement titled “Your Collection: 1800 – 1920; Here and There” which included work by Frederick McCubbin, Auguste Rodin, Hans Heysen, Arthur Streeton and the like, and not so much that titled “Your Collection: 1920 – 1960; Many Modernisms”, but that would be because we are really very conservative sorts if you had not already worked that out for yourselves.

Both feeling rather weary, we rushed to the street side bus stop in St Georges Terrace and stood in the cold longer than expected, waiting for the 299, which did finally turn up.

Back at camp we found ourselves sharing the pine tree lined driveway with a convoy of cars heading into the park. It seems that the Adventists have a gathering on this evening; maybe a prayer meeting to convert the infidel caravanners on their patch?

Chris is not feeling altogether wonderful this evening; I do hope he has not caught some lurgy on the air flight. It is Saturday tomorrow; we will have a more relaxed day. It takes some days to recover from these long international journeys.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

30 May 2013 - Advent Park, Maida Vale, Perth, Western Australia

Heavy rain commenced during the night and continued on through the morning. We were woken at about 8 am with the telephone ringing. The folk at the National Warranty Company down in Victoria had decided it was time to make contact with us once more, this time offering a settlement $200 more than the last. Co-incidentally we had assembled our paperwork for the Financial Ombudsman just yesterday afternoon and posted it all off. Needless to say, Chris told them their offer was still unacceptable, advised that we had lodged a formal claim with the Ombudsman and suggested they put their latest offer in writing. It always pays to have a “paper trail” of these matters even if that paper is a series of emails through the strata-sphere or where-ever emails come and go to.

I had planned for us to take the bus into town this morning and do an overview exploratory tour, retracing much of my own trails over the past week, and had even prepared our lunch in anticipation of a prompt getaway. However neither of us were particularly excited about the prospect of walking and waiting in the cold rain. We dallied with alternatives that still included venturing out into the inclement weather, albeit in the car.

Then finally after glimpsing a small patch of blue sky over lunch, we decided to head out for a drive into the Perth Hills, the No 1 Pump Station at the Mundaring Weir our main destination. The road to Kalamunda was familiar, and then we took the Mundaring Weir Road, the obvious route, of course.

The weir or dam was built across the Helena River way back in the late 1890s however it has undergone modification over the intervening years. Work commenced to raise it in the late 1940s, completed in late 1951, and then in the early 1970s, the downstream dam was constructed.

We had a brochure on the Pump Station inviting us to visit this amazing engineering project with apparently “the longest freshwater pipeline in the world”. We do question that, knowing that water is piped from the Murray River to Woomera in South Australia. Anyway, this pipe line, otherwise known as the “Golden Pipeline”, delivers water from Mundaring to  Kalgoolie and Coolgardie in the Eastern Goldfields, a distance of 560 kilometres. On average, ninety million litres of water are pumped through the pipeline, in an engineering feat that has continued uninterrupted since 1903. 

Unfortunately all the entrances to the pumping station and the parts open to the public were closed off today, so we had to satisfy ourselves with a walk across the top of the weir from where we noted the water levels of the reservoir were quite low despite the rain of the last few weeks, and a walk from the village up on the opposite hill.

The whole area including the Beelu and Kalamunda National Parks are just beautiful, bush clad hills with a carpet of grass trees (note I am being very politically correct and not referring to them as “black boys” anymore). There were turn offs all along the route leading into picnic spots and parking areas to access the network of wonderful walks available. The area is well worth a return visit, in better weather and with correct walking gear.

We carried on to the end of the Mundaring Weir Road, arriving at the village of Mundaring, a delightful place with an excellent array of shopping and services, amidst the hills and bush, quite contrary to the satellite of Perth I was expecting. There we wandered about, purchasing the newspaper and checking out house prices, which were as we expected; expensive.

The fastest route back to camp would have been via the Great Eastern Highway, however we returned by way of a series of small roads, meandering our way along the lower edge of the Hills, past residences established on one acre sections among the trees, through localities called Mahogany Creek, Glen Forest, Darlington, Boya, Helena Valley and finally our own Maida Vale.

The rain had held off and we are in a better frame of mind to take in the busy city streets tomorrow. I will prepare our lunch tonight in anticipation of an early bus trip.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

29 May 2013 - Advent Park, Maida Vale, Perth, Western Australia

The day has been pretty much as expected, quietly moving back into routine and coping with jet lag, not mine, but my husband’s. The pickup last night went without hitch however it was midnight before we arrived back at camp.

This afternoon we took advantage of the sunshine and a desire to do something of note for the day by driving across to Guildford, the one here in Perth, not the one in England which has come up in conversation through the years.

The entire town of Guildford is classified by the National Trust, one of two towns in Metropolitan Perth to earn such classification. “Earn” suggests such a positive result, however I suspect heritage status is an absolute nightmare for property entrepreneurs. One of the hotels in the township stands heavily scaffolded on a corner bearing rather derogatory banners about still missing a roof. No doubt the bureaucrats have been making life difficult for those attempting a rejuvenated interior.

Guildford is located on the Swan River, upstream from the Perth centre and was once upon a time an inland port. This was put paid to when the railway was built in the early 1880s, and even worse because the line was built right through the centre of the town, not at all popular with the residents of the day.

The area here and up river was settled way back in 1829, particularly attractive with its permanent water supply. Much of the infrastructure and building was undertaken in the township after the arrival of convict labour after 1850, and accelerated before the end of the free labour source in the late 1860s.

Interestingly the Swan Valley vineyards we travelled through as we drove down into Perth over a week ago were first established about 180 years ago when a botonist named Thomas Waters planted rootstock from South Africa, thus making the region the oldest in Western Australia. Later around 1915 and again after World War II, settlors from the old Dalmatia came with their homeland knowledge of the industry and transformed the valley into the vineyards they are today.
We wandered along the Town Walk, starting with the heritage precinct which was set aside in 1829 for civic and government buildings. The first government buildings were built in 1841 and include two prison cells, a constable’s room and a set of stocks. We wandered past the Mechanic’s Institute, the Post Office, chapels and churches, the Town Hall, Pubs, the Commissariat Store, past many shops selling second hand goods, and quaint cafes.
We stood outside Brockman House and read how the long-time resident had once, with her aboriginal servant, saved shipwrecked souls off the SS Georgette in 1876 at the tender age of sixteen, so impressing a young man who lived far to the south, that he hurried to meet this heroine and was to subsequently marry her. They lived happily ever after in this quaint cottage and what a story they had to tell their grandchildren!
We passed the Guildford Primary School just after the last bell and watched the cavalcades of cars arrive to collect the little darlings, all clad in red and blue. This school is historically significant, being the oldest school in Western Australia and still retaining part of its 1868 structure. It is also the oldest continuous operating state school in the state and the third oldest in Australia.
It was a most pleasant outing and was beyond our expectations. Perhaps historic Guildford is omitted from the tour schedules of most Perth visitors? Such a shame. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

28 May 2013 - Advent Park, Maida Vale, Perth, Western Australia

The rain started soon after midnight, falling loudly on the caravan roof and disturbing the sleeping birds in the trees all around, who made sure we were all aware of their annoyance. That surprised me more than the rain, however not enough to keep me awake.

On rising, I promptly went on line to track progress of my husband’s flight to learn that it was running half an hour late. He would be happy with the delay, making the connection so much more relaxed. His sister in England spotted I was on line and gave me a call, which was just lovely but did make for a rather hurried breakfast.

Soon I was out the door and on my way into the city, arriving at Forrest Place just before our arranged rendez-vous time of 10 am. And there she was, Jess, looking so lovely and so familiar. We spent over four hours wandering about, taking coffee and then later, lunch, riding the buses and chatting, before parting company at the railway station. She was to catch the train heading south and message her friend to collect her from the suburban station, and I impulsively decided I would also catch the train, mine to Midland, where I hoped I might find a bus connection back to camp.

Jess & I in Forrest Place
We have travelled on the city rails in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne, all excellent services and all in similar carriages. The carriages in Perth are however quite different, a little like those in an air freighter where the passengers are strapped along the side walls of the fuselage, facing toward the centre. So it is with the rail cars here. It means that we all sat in two long rows sharing amusement or disgust at any oddball passengers. I did wonder if there was going to be a massive scene when a tall pleasant looking young man boarded the carriage with his bike and began to make random loud remarks to everyone. There was a silent collective agreement that we would look out for one another, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when he alighted.

The connecting bus left the station half an hour after my arrival and was full of school children, and I mean absolutely full. The trip was like being in a zoo cage of chimpanzees and I was very pleased to identify the street corner not far from the camp and enjoy a quiet walk the rest of the way.

Back home, I checked Chris’s progress to find that this second flight was running late as well, his plane not touching down before 11 pm. I have moved the landcruiser beyond the security gate; I have no wish to fiddle with the pass so long after the fall of darkness. It looks like it will be a long night.

Monday, May 27, 2013

27 May 2013 - Advent Park, Maida Vale, Perth, Western Australia

My feeble attempt at exercise was limited to a six kilometre walk to the High Wycombe Village and back, a futile trip as it turned out. I discovered that the Weekend West I had purchased on Saturday was missing several sections, the weekly TV guide in particular. I retrieved the receipt from the rubbish bin and set out to complain and have the matter resolved. Without complaint and comment, nothing changes, so I am told. 

Alas, Coles was closed when I got there, and not opening until 11 am, their Sunday hours. I was not prepared to wait around so returned to camp having succeeded only with my daily dosage of sunshine and ambulant exercise. At home, I satsfied myself with those parts of the newspaper I did have.       

My absorption of the opinion columns was interrupted by the arrival of a woman who began by remarking on the wings our landcruier wears on the roof rack. These are the insignia for NZMCA members, the New Zealand Motor Caravanner Association, which we put on the vehicle way back in November 2011 when we were in Alice Springs, in the hope fellow Kiwi travellers would recognise a familiar sign and engage with us. Granted, the sticker is quite small, however we have been very surprised that only one person has, in the intervening months and years, remarked on them and followed up with travel chat. That was at Marley Point in Victoria about five months later.

The next time was yesterday when this woman arrived at my awning entrance to start conversation. It turns out that she and her partner are from KatiKati, a town close to our daughter’s home and where my parents spent many years. In fact our son-in-law had done some work for her, so fancy that! We chatted for some time and when she eventually left, I realised it was well after midday. Social chitchat has a tendency for making one lose track of time although it doesn’t happen often, except in laundries and in Informaton Centres.

Carol told me that the people in the large rig that had moved out just a couple of days ago had also been Kiwis, so it goes to show that you don’t need wings to connect up with compatriots, just a more open manner. Chris and I are just too antisocial; our loss, not theirs.

This morning I dragged myself from the Skype calls and chats with family in both the United Kingdom and New Zealand and caught the early bus into the city. I disembarked at the Victoria Park Interchange on the southern bank of the Swan River then set off on foot across “the causeway”. I find this term quite confusing because in reality there are two bridges linking Heiressen Island to either shore of the river. There are park lands at both bridge approaches and across the entire island. Bike and walking trails abound, and given the excellent public transport I have enjoyed, there seems little use for a private vehicle. Perhaps that is getting a bit carried away; God forbid that I start sounding like a Greenie!

I had measured the distance left to walk on my map, however this had assumed I would follow Adelaide and St Georges Terraces. The walking paths veer away from the busier streets and take one along the riverside, a pleasant and attractive alternative, but somewhat longer. Still, after having spent two rather sedentiary days, it was time I extended myself a little. In the city I walked about, enjoying the ambiance and buskers once more, and this time ventured across the rail-line to the Cultural Centre. I was averse to actually entering the museum or the Art Gallery; these should be left for when Chris returns.

After a haircut,  I ate my lunch listening to my old mate on the accordion then caught a series of buses back to camp. The forecast is for rain over the next few days and as I travelled through High Wycombe, I noticed the dark clouds gathering in readiness for late showers. However after I had successfully tackled emptying of the toilet cassette, my first solo attempt, the forbidding skies had cleared and the day remained fine.

As I write this, my husband is winging his way toward Hong Kong, a flight of eleven and a quarter hours. From there, after an eight hour interval, he will fly the second leg on to Perth. But his arrival is tomorrow and I have tomorrow’s meeting with my de-facto daughter-in-law to look forward to before then.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

25 May 2013 - Advent Park, Maida Vale, Perth, Western Australia

The morning arrived with no further inspiration than a reminder to top up the diesel tanks of the landcruiser and replenish provisions. From the bus I had seen that Gull in High Wycombe was offering the best price per litre, however that was yesterday and this morning it was up a cent. Fuel prices are so varied, even between the same brands. I also discovered that my local Gull Service Station is not really a service station at all, just pumps and computers on the corner of the street. That accounted for the fact I was unable to pour any fuel into the tank before prepaying by card. And prepay is an absolute menace; how on earth are you supposed to know how much fuel the tank will take? And worse still, in my very limited experience of filling with fuel here in Australia, the clicky thing on the handles do not stay put and click off when the tank is full, as they do in New Zealand. So you have to hope like hell you can hear the whoosh before it all comes back out at you. I guess I do have an advantage here; I use the same sound gauge for filling the water tanks on our motor home in New Zealand. I ended up putting some of my pre-allocated fuel allowance in the main tank, just in case. That will stuff up Chris’s fuel consumption records!

And I have spoken the “N” word; I am not supposed to compare anything with New Zealand. I had been so good about that!

In fact it was not really my day with electronic service; at the supermarket the self-checkout computer kept asking me stupid questions such as the weight of cornflake packets and the like and each time I had to get the “helper” to wave her authority pass over to clear this nonsense  She is of course not there to help at all, but to see that people cheat the robot. She would have been glad to see the back of me today.

The rest of the day was spent turning my eyes square in front of the computer screen, messing about with genealogy  with such an opportunity offering one could hardly do otherwise. I had been tired after all the walking of the week; one slack day is excusable, tomorrow had better be more active.

Tonight there is action on the caravan roof; possums or nocturnal birds, I am not sure, nor am I willing to go check it out. In the distance beyond the camp boundary, the youth of Perth are proving they are as every other hoon around the country on a Saturday night.

Friday, May 24, 2013

24 May 2013 - Advent Park, Maida Vale, Perth, Western Australia

The weather has held out yet another day; bright, sunny and cold in the morning, perfect autumn weather. I had no plans for the day.

Over breakfast I checked my emails and the bank accounts, as one does, and found an extra $100 in our bank account. Now this is a story that must be told, especially since the only other is of a more negative kind.

After the business with Batavia Coast Caravans, the grizzle about the price and the subsequent breakdown caused by shoddy workmanship, we emailed them with photos to prove our story and suggested they refund us the equivalent of their hourly rate for the two of us spending half an hour rectifying the problem. And guess what? They have. What a brilliant goodwill gesture! Good on you, Batavia Coast Caravan Land of Geraldton.

More than I can say about the National Warranty Company who still have not got back to us. We emailed the Financial Ombudsman again, and they came back to us asking for a case number and attaching a dozen official forms which we have to complete.We had understood the Ombudsman had this all in hand given the chap from NWC had been in touch with us prompted by a call from them. So we have to go back to square one, the forms demanding that the whole story be told from woe to go, hand written, when we had already sent copies of every email. It would appear that the Ombudsman made initial contact with NWC in the hope that an unofficial solution could be arrived at, and now since it has not, we have to go through the hoops and official channels and everyone is no doubt hoping that we will simply give up and go back into our hole. They don’t know us! We did not get where we are today by letting people walk all over us.

Anyway, this morning, the one victory reminded me that I had yet to print off all those dratted forms, so I googled Officeworks and found one in the city, or at least in East Perth. A glance at the time suggested I might just make the next 299. Once in the city, I caught the Blue Cat,  hopped off near the railway and set off on foot. The distance was less than the map had suggested, the job soon done and the return to Forrest Place all before midday.

I wandered about the various malls, shopping for a few small bits and mostly taking in the ambiance and the buskers. I was pleased the South American flautist was back; I do love the music of the Andes. The other day I had stayed a while to listen to an old guy playing Parisian style music on an accordion,  shades of Edith Piaf, Jaques Brel, Charles Aznavour, et al. Today he had been relegated to a shady corner down in St Georges Terrace where people were too busy scurrying about on their way to here and there rather than  pausing to listen. I felt sorry for him but was too cold to linger myself.

While I was sitting in Forrest Place enjoying the sunshine and the very beautiful water feature along with like minded souls, a small but very loud group of aboriginal protesters marched through and into the Murray Street Mall, one flag and megaphone announcing their presence. “What do we want?” they shouted. “Bring him home!” they answered themselves. Their banners repeated the refrain as well as another saying “Innocent until proven guilty”

What was it all about? I have absolutely no idea and I suspect very few did. Subsequent research has shone no further light on their very passionate stance. And sadly for them, after they passed on into the mall, we all just carried on doing what we had been doing before the interruption, perhaps just a little more confused at what life throws up in our path.

Signs were being out up everywhere in preparation for the HBF Run for a Reason to be held on Sunday. Dozens of folk in skimpy running gear were all about doing dummy runs, however I was not at all inclined to join them, staying well wrapped up in jeans, jacket, cap and scarf. Walking is more my style.

I caught the bus home again mid afternoon, catching up with Olly on Skype, keen to relay the events of the day, always busy and sometimes quite alarming with two very active little boys; a day without the support of his partner. Jess has safely arrived right here in this city, something we were able to monitor on a live air flight tracker website he put me on to. That will be handy when Chris flies back to Perth.

Tomorrow is the weekend, when the buses have lazier schedules. Maybe I will give the landcruiser a run, somewhere. Inspiration over breakfast perhaps? 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

23 May 2013 - Advent Park, Maida Vale, Perth, Western Australia

Yesterday ended with a bit of an unexpected bonus; a Skype call from my husband who advised that his flight had not been so bad after all, and that he had managed to find his way to the Sussex country village where his sister lives without a navigation device. He was altogether upbeat; a great relief after his negative expectations.

This morning I popped over to see the camp manager and paid up for a further two weeks, which we will surely need if we are to visit all the attractions on my list which is growing every day. Back at the caravan I decided I should be able to catch that same bus, the 299, I had caught two days ago. By the time I reached the bus stop, the bus had gone and I waited in the hope another might come before the next scheduled 299. Alas no, so I sat there in the sunshine, watching the golfers doing their rounds on the course across the road, searching for the birds in the gum trees opposite and breathing in the exhaust fumes from the city bound vehicles. Eventually I was joined by an elderly woman who was familiar with all the routes and timetables, and her visiting Scottish daughter. The 299 duly arrived and we all headed into town.

I alighted where Adelaide Terrace morphs into St Georges Terrace, and wandered past Government House and the Supreme Court Gardens, then shouted myself a cup of coffee at the Scottish restaurant. I checked out Hay Street looking for the QII Plaza in the mistaken belief that it was a shopping centre, and instead found where many of the smart city hotels are situated, then walked to Northbridge, wandering up and down James Street which is home to backpackers and ethnic restaurants and feels altogether different from the malls and places on the southern side of the railway.

I sat in the Northbridge Piazza, eating my cut lunch, enjoying a concert put on by the WA Police Pipe Band, winners of the 2012 Grade 1 Australian Pipe Band Championships, who have performed in New York, Edinburgh, Moscow and Ballarat, according to the big screen promo that was playing above the stage performance. Policemen (and one woman) do look rather odd wearing their police caps, police shirts and Napier tartan kilts. Thank goodness they had left off their gun holsters! I did wonder whether their time would be better spent catching criminals, but then perhaps this performing is all done in their own time?

I found the Cinema Paradiso in James Street and purchased my ticket before checking out the location of the nearest Blue Cat bus stop. It turned out that I was the only person in Perth discerning enough to watch Claude Miller’s last film Therese Desqueyroux today. I am a great fan of Audrey Tautou, as were those who wrote the encouraging reviews I read over the past month. I enjoyed the film immensely, however it is probably just as well I went alone.

Returning home before dark was a simple process; the free bus to the Esplanade bus terminal and straight onto the 299 for home.

An excellent day made even better by encouraging Skype calls. This morning I learned that little Aurelia is now walking, her big sister Bella is enjoying kindy and their father is off to a boatshow on the Gold Coast tomorrow, just a few hundred kilometres across the continent. This evening I learned that Charlie is at last settled at school and that he and his brother are delighted with their two new kittens. Their mother will be on her way to Perth in the morning; I hope we can catch up with her during her holiday. All is well in my world; I will sleep well tonight.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

22 May 2013 - Advent Park, Maida Vale, Perth, Western Australia

As I lay awake this morning, I came to the realisation why so many surviving spouses beyond child rearing age, follow their spouses to the grave so promptly; they freeze to death! It was 7 degrees, not as cold as Canberra but still astoundingly so for a place that boasts a Mediterranean climate.

Over breakfast I tuned into the television news reports and was pleased to learn the human toll of the Oklahoma City tornado was less than first reported. It makes my complaints about little puffs of wind pale when I hear the Americans faced winds of over 200 mph; note that is miles per hour, not kilometres per hour.

Of course, I also checked my Facebook page and learned that my husband was safely in the arms of his extended family, perhaps I will sleep better tonight. Bed socks and the extra duvet will help as well.

It is also astounding how focused one can be without the distraction of a husband; I amazed myself how efficiently I whizzed through the morning’s chores and some, well before mid morning. Energised from the effort, I set out for the shops at High Wycombe where I posted some mail, bought a local newspaper and had some photocopying done, all back within the hour and before lunch.

The afternoon has however been spent in a far more slovenly manner, dealing with administrative matters on the computer and planning an afternoon at the movies for tomorrow, co-ordinating bus times and routes with the one session, hopefully managing to be home before dark. Something to look forward to, the film that is, not returning in the dark.

In the meantime a couple more camping parties have arrived, one a small camper-van now parked far too close for my liking. There is a whole park to choose from!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

21 May 2013 - Advent Park, Maida Vale, Perth, Western Australia

Yesterday morning we were up bright and early to meet our friendly booking agent at Kalamunda’s Flight Centre, to find she was off sick. Instead we were served by an equally affable young woman and came away with tickets and car hire all sorted.

Although the day was set aside for organising this rather spontaneous trip to the United Kingdom, just as the day before had been, there was time to kill and there would be enough waiting for Chris en route without kicking about here bored all day. So we decided to check out the Art Gallery and Heritage Village in Kalamunda.

The gallery was in the process of an exhibition change; surprise, surprise, the story of our lives. But we did come away with invitations to attend the opening of the next exhibition in early June. It might be rather nice to attend a formal opening with nibbles and drinkies thrown in.

Although the Heritage Centre is normally open at 10 am on a Monday morning, it was not yesterday. Perhaps it was open only to the bus load of little children dressed in period costume whom we saw arriving as we headed for the travel agent? They did look rather cute and I had thought they would add to our enjoyment of the museum. Alas, it was not to be.

After lunch we set out for a walk, ostensibly to find the local convenience store so that I could include it into my daily routine and exercise plan during Chris’ absence. We walked for a full hour and during that time, did come across a small shopping centre in High Wycombe. We also walked through a number of streets lined with inorganic waste awaiting collection: worn leather sofas, portable cots, obsolete computer hardware, woody garden prunings, you know the kind of stuff. The concept is a good one in that it encourages people to legally rid themselves of their junk, but in practice, it creates an eyesore. We decided too that Perth folk must drive to their local store for the last minute bottle of milk or the daily newspaper.

It had rained heavily through the previous night but the rain stayed away all day, a relief for me as I readied myself for the airport run. This in fact turned out to be a complete non-event as far as the mechanics of the operation were concerned, but of course a wrench to send my best friend away, even for a week. It is the first time we have been apart since we retired nearly three years ago, and since then, travelling as we are and constantly under one another’s feet, it is rather a shock to the system. However people deal with this every day of their lives, and I, unlike those who lose their partners for ever, have only lost mine for a week.

This morning I caught the bus into Perth, a trip of just over three quarters of an hour from here. It was interesting to note that had Chris and I chosen to take other streets yesterday, we would have come to the real High Wycombe village with a comprehensive shopping centre, and not so very far from camp after all. I look forward to checking that out.

It should also be noted that it is a silly idea to stay on the bus until the terminus here in Perth unless you intend to connect with another bus. This is like a little island, not really pedestrian linked at all. However it does have a very nice man in the office from whom I purchased one of those snappy little SmartRider cards of the kind we had in Brisbane. The problem with these is that you inevitably end up leaving a city with an unused balance still on the card and probably will never use it again.

We had been alerted to the free buses that travel loops around the central part of the city, three separate route in all, a welcome alternative to the commercial tours, and I hopped on and off a couple of these during the course of the day as well as wandering through the pedestrian malls and listening to buskers. Perth is just lovely and I look forward to exploring it further, now I have a rough understanding of the layout. Chris had made the comment yesterday about Perth being a lovely city, however I did remind him at that stage we had seen but a tiny corner of it. I am sure when he sees what I saw today, he will be amazed that it has changed so much in the intervening forty years, but will be as equally impressed as I was.

Tomorrow morning I will check my Facebook messages and hopefully learn that my husband has reached his sister’s place safely. From Perth, the actual air travel is only about twenty one hours, a lot shorter than from Auckland. Now that’s a positive thought.

Outside the cockatoos, kookaburras, crows and magpies are making sure there is no absolute peace here. But then I expect little else here in Australia and would think it strange if there were not that ruckus, sometimes more so in the cities and towns than the country.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

19 May 2013 - Advent Park, Maida Vale, Perth, Western Australia

 Day two in Perth coming to a close and we have done little of interest to share as tourists. 

Yesterday morning we headed on up Kalamunda Road, on which this camp is located. Five kilometres uphill took us past very smart suburban residences to the charming Perth Hills’ village of Kalamunda, where we found an  excellent supermarket and all other services one would require. Outside the Flight Centre window, seeing an amazing deal for return flights to the United Kingdom, we were drawn inside to learn that this price was for flights toward the end of the year. However our interest was caught and soon we had a quote for more immediate flights. Discussions over lunch ended in a decision; Chris would fly out to England on Monday night to attend his sister-in-law’s funeral.

Later in the afternoon, after a second trip up to Kalamunda, we drove back to camp via an alternative route, following the zig-zag railway which was completed in 1891 as part of the Upper Darling Range Railway line, built by the Canning Jarrah Timber Company to supply sleepers to Perth’s growing railway system. Nowadays the steep section is a one way sealed scenic road offering fabulous views over the city.

Today we drove out to the airport, a distance of less than fifteen kilometres, and then back to camp and along to Midlands where we discovered an excellent service centre complete with a large shopping mall and an excellent little hairdresser where Chris had a professional cut to iron out any residual hiccups from my novice attempts.  Needless to say, I did all the driving today in practice for the delivery to the airport late tomorrow night. Night driving has never been my passion, least of all in a very strange city.

Chris is packed ready to go, we have made Skype contact with all the children and my parents, making the most of the good reception we have here and we are set for a different nine days ahead.

Friday, May 17, 2013

17 May 2013 - Advent Park, Maida Vale, Perth, Western Australia

We have arrived in Perth at last, thus completing our visits of all mainland state capitals, however for now are just happy to be parked up in this very pleasant and unusual caravan park. We have weeks to discover all that Perth has to offer the likes of us.

Last night we did venture out after dinner and stood above the weed shelf, gazing out at the far off gas flare under the stars and moonlit night sky, as great flashes of lightening added to the light effects. Back in the caravan, we tried to listen to the television but gave up as hail fell noisily on the roof, the first we had experienced during our Australian adventure. Instead we settled for an early night, and were back out on the road before 8.30 am, soon heading on south past Leeman and Greenhead,  pulling into Jurien Bay, touted as the”Jewel of the Central West Coast”. It may well be, although as we whistled through this little settlement of 2,000 people, seemingly more modern than Dongara and no less so than Port Denison, we were not drawn to linger.

Instead we carried on a further twenty kilometres to Cervantes, named after an American Whaling ship which was grounded  off the coast in 1844. It was not however until 1962 that Cervantes became a township which would account for the fact that this place is also quite a modern little settlement. Note I use the word modern loosely: anything my age or younger is modern.

We pulled into the tiny centre of this settlement, alighted from the cruiser to find the Information Centre and were intercepted by a stout untidy local who was concerned about our caravan. He had heard a terrible rattling in the wheels. We drove a few metres with the windows open and could indeed hear something, perhaps a handful of bearings rattling in the hubcap. The caravan has very smart mag wheels, the sort that require the entire wheels to be removed to check the hubcap. We asked about garages in the area and were told that there was one chap back up in the light industrial area who charged like a wounded bull. I suggested we do it ourselves, an operation that was not so hard after all, and there we discovered the cover over the ball bearings was rattling around inside the hub cap. Fine workmanship indeed by Batavia Coast Caravan Land! I am sure I do not need to tell you what Chris said about all that!

The amazing  Namburg National Park
Aside from being our makeshift workshop space, we were interested in Cervantes as the gateway to the Namburg National Park and also, in part, to the fact that Lake Thetis, located one kilometre from the town’s centre, is one of the four known locations in the world where stromatolites can be found. You may recall that we visited these riveting living creatures in Shark Bay? Even Chris who was more excited about them that I, was not prepared to drive the short distance on dirt road for a repeat performance so we left them for others who may not travel beyond Cervantes.  

However we were both excited about seeing the famous Pinnacles Desert, an area of varying coloured sand bearing thousands of limestone pinnacles which range in size and shape, some as tall as five metres and some up to two metres thick at the base. They are as varied as the stromatolites in Shark Bay, but much more impressive.

Aboriginal stories have it that the desert was tabu, and yet young delinquent males would disobey this edict and simply disappear. The “pinnacles” are their fingers as they attempt to claw their way to the surface as they sink into the sand. A gruesome picture which surely would deter errant children.

In geological terms, the pinnacles are very young and scientists today are just beginning to unravel their many mysteries. The pinnacles are believed to have formed underground, possibly up to 500,000 years ago during the Ice Ages of the Quaternary period. They may have been buried for most of this time, or have been repeatedly exposed and buried again over the millenia. Evidence suggest that they were exposed around 6,000 years ago, but were again covered by shifting sands until only a few hundred years ago.

Like the other national parks we had left unvisited as we drove down this coast, the Namburg National Park is also well-known for its wild flower displays, but not today. It is one of the “pay” parks so again our pass served us well. While you can drive through the pinnacles on the one way track marked out by stones, you may not tow a trailer or caravan. We chose to walk the trail through the park and were fortunate that the intermittent showers of the morning stayed away while we did so. We also spent some time in the excellent interpretative centre with wonderful displays of flora and fauna. There I learned a few more gems to add to my cerebral library:

·         The bobtail skink, with its wide stumpy tail, which we have come across several times at the roadside in the past couple of days, is the only reptile species known to form long term monogamous pairs. Around September, the bobtails form mating pairs, staying together until December, and have been known to reunite each following year. Isn’t that sweet?

·         The tiny honey possums feed on the nectar and pollen of the lovely sawtooth banksia, this particular banksia so much more attractive that the variety that populates the eastern and southern shores of this land. The possums probe the flowers with their long mouth and brush-tipped tongues; they are the only mammals in the world to feed exclusively on nectar and pollen. They are only found in south-western Australia and measure seven centimetres in length, making them the smallest possum in the world. It has the smallest newborn of any mammal but the largest sperm. The male’s testes are a significant portion of its body weight. Now that’s very interesting.

The whole park, established in 1968, covers an area of 17,487 hectares; the pinnacle area alone, approximately 400 hectares. Although there are apparently a great number of creatures lurking about the park, hiding in bushes, behind rocks and generally out of view of the interlopers, we tourists. We spotted emu tracks and little else.

We had lunch in the car park and discussed our options for afternoon travel. We had discussed the possibility of staying in this caravan park when we eventually arrived in Perth, having spotted it in Camps 6 and received positive comments when chatting with the Tasmanians last night. I had also emailed them for tariffs as well as a few other parks about the city. The response from here was most welcoming but we were reminded that the park is owned and run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. This means that alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and dogs (the latter nothing to do with their religion) are all banned and the office has limited opening hours and is closed on Saturdays, their day of worship. None of this was a problem except for the Saturday closing; could we get to Perth before 5 pm Friday? We consulted TomTom and all agreed it was possible, so set off down past Lancelin and Ledge Point and turned east toward Guilderton through to GinGin. It was a relief to leave the sand plains of the Indian Ocean Drive, although south of Cervantes, we had been delighted to see the great forests of black boys (or grass trees). Even as we drove through the sheep grazing country inland, these fascinating plants were still everywhere, surely the bane of farmers lives?

Near GinGin we turned south having rejoined the Brand Highway, and then at Muchea, the highway joined the Great Northern Highway. There we joined the busy traffic as we headed into the Swan Valley, travelling through great areas of vineyards as far as the edge of the city. Soon we were pulling into this park and pleased with our first impression. We will be sharing the park with a group of Scouts this weekend, a school group next week and another the following weekend should we choose to stay on. But for now, we have only booked for one week, leaving our options open.

16 May 2013 - Cliff Head North, Indian Ocean Drive, Western Australia

The caravan was booked for service at 10 am however we were up and away early and around at Batavia Coast Caravan Land by 9 am. They seemed happy to accept the job early and told us it would be ready in three hours, but would telephone us when it was finished.

St Francis Xavier Cathedral
I had decided the morning could be filled with a little cultural sightseeing; the Art Gallery followed by a visit to Hawes’ master piece, the St Francis Xavier Cathedral. We parked near the cathedral and walked around the block to the Art Gallery to find it closed with a large notice plastered across the windows “the Gallery will be closed from 15 May to ….” Why did they not warn of this several days ago when I was planning today’s itinerary? There was much mumbling and grumbling from us both. So much so that even a suggestion from me that we pop into the nearby McDonalds for a coffee, went on deaf ears. Instead we headed back to the cathedral, the outside truly impressive. However, on entering the building, we were hugely dismayed at the decoration. The orange, white and blue/grey 250 mm wide horizontal stripes made a mockery of this otherwise unusual and lovely interior. Surely it was not Monsignor Hawes who had designed the interior like this? Surely this was a more recent innovation?

Alas, subsequent research proved that it was indeed Hawes idea; the idea of “zebra striping” of the interior cane largely from Italy where Hawes studied for the priesthood.

It was now only mid-morning; we purchased the day’s newspaper and retreated to the waterfront, sitting in the car out of the wind absorbing current affairs. By 1 pm, we still had not heard from the service people so took it upon ourselves to check progress out.

The caravan was sitting in the yard awaiting pickup; I never did learn how long it had been ready. Chris returned from the office grumbling,”We have been ripped off”, a sentiment that he had also made clear to the service people. We had been quoted about $340 and charged $492! We had apparently required full replacement of the bearings, which to me, an absolute ignoramus on such matters, sounded feasible  they had been last changed in Port Pirie and that was a very long time ago. That had cost us $260, yet further proof that everything is so very expensive in Western Australia!

And so we left Geraldine with a bitter taste in our mouth, heading south on the Brand Highway, down past Greenough (pronounced Greenuff) noticing far more ancient building remains and wind-bent trees than we did yesterday.

Dongara sits on the coast sisty four kilometres to the south of Geraldton, another old settlement now fuelled by crayfish and tourists, although neither were greatly evident today. We drove through the township up to the lookout over the Irwin River, the mouth of which Dongara sits.We also remarked on the restored grain mill as we came into the town, and later, when we called into the small Information Centre, read an article about the couple who bought and undertook that renovation, restricted by the heritage listing. It reminded us of the television series “Grand Designs” that both Chris and I enjoy.

We crossed the river and drove down through Port Denison, the large marina clearly visible from the road along the seashore, several serious fishing boats tied up to the wharf. We drove on, looping around through white sand dunes, rejoining the Brand Highway. Soon we turned on to Indian Ocean Drive and came to the track into this camp.

At first we only noticed the toilet block, two motorhomes and one caravan rig, then after we were set up, we walked down along the beach, a beach of seaweed rather than sand, and saw all of the other campers tucked away in the scrub. This is surprisingly a very popular place, and it seems that many have been here for more than a night or two. Out to sea we noticed what appeared to be a massive bird sculpture on the horizon, standing tall in the deep ocean. Chatting with a couple of Tasmanian fellow campers, we learned that it was an offshore gas rig. Later after dark, we would be able to see it flaring. The bugs don’t seem too bad here so we just might venture out after dinner to see for ourselves.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

15 May 2013 - Belair Gardens Caravan Park, Geraldton, Western Australia

Today we took advantage of the clear skies and headed east to explore the north west wheatbelt, a part of the state that is easily missed if one travels down the coast highway.

Mullewa is ninety seven kilometres east north-east of Geraldton, best known for its wild flowers in the spring. Again we have mis-timed our own exploration of the region, however places have many faces, a different one for each season, and it is as if we are seeing towns and country without their makeup. However we would have to say that it would indeed be a delight to re-do today’s trip at the right time of the year and then we would probably have the caravan in tow and stay in Mullewa for a day or three.

Apart from the seasonal floral show, Mullewa is the service centre, of just eight hundred people, 60% of whom live in the town, for the cereal crop growers and the iron ore which is carried through via rail and road from Tallering Peak sixty five kilometres away.

On arrival at Mullewa, we headed up to the lookout and were treated to a wonderful array of interpretative panels about the history of the town, how European settlement began when pastoralists arrived in 1869 to take up leases, how in 1894 the rail from Geraldton reached the town in the same year the town was gazetted and the problems with water or the lack of. Returning to the main road, we had to wait for a train which had stopped right across the crossing, waiting for a worker to come and change the points by hand. I thought this was all done electronic nowadays? We counted thirty eight wagons, all branded with the CBH Group, which we subsequently learned was the logo for a wheat syndicate.

We drove up and down the street and then around to the Church of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, one of the many churches and other buildings designed by Monsignor John C Hawes, Mullewa’s first priest. His story is wonderfully interesting and the town has seized the opportunity to adopt it as his own.

In a nutshell, John Cyril Hawes was born in 1876 near London in England, trained  and worked as an architect, before being called to the ministry. He entered Lincoln Theological College and was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1903 in London where he worked among the poor.

Church of Our Lady of Mt Carmel
In 1909 he was invited to join a mission in Barbados where many churches had been damaged by a hurricane. There he ministered to his native parishioners, repaired churches and designed and built St Pauls in Clarence Town. A couple of years later he converted to Catholicism, then roamed and worked mainly in Canada, looking for direction in life. Then in 1913 he entered The Beda College in Rome and was ordained priest two years later. It was in Rome he met Bishop Kelly from Western Australia and was recruited for the Geraldton diocese, where he was able to pursue his two passions: as outback missionary work and architect with a commission to design a cathedral. It is this cathedral, here in Geraldton, we hope to visit tomorrow morning. I am looking forward to that.

He is responsible for many other buildings in Western Australia, including churches in Carnarvon and Northampton which we missed as we passed through.

In 1939 he returned to Barbados where he built a hermitage on Cat Island and attempted to live as a hermit under the name of Brother Jerome. However he ended up spending most of his time designing churches and supervising building there and in Nassau. Finally worn out through hard work and a severe life, he was carted off to hospital in Florida where he eventually died just short of eighty years old. He was buried in a cave on Cat Island as per his instructions.

A large nutshell I am afraid, but I did find his life story, which is told in far greater detail along the 590 metre Monsignor Hawes Heritage Walk, very interesting.

Mullewa was very quiet today, just a dozen or so young aborigine people walking about pushing pushchairs along the very tidy paths through the attractive parks, resplendent in colour; the bougainvillea and roses blooming. Wild flowers were not required.

The town is bending over backward to attract tourists and has worked very hard to provide facilities and information. We hope the folk flock in the spring, stay and spend a penny or more, to reward all the hard work that has been done.

We sat in the landcruiser out of the breeze eating our lunch in the park, then headed south toward Mingenew, across wide open fields of recently harvested wheat. Forty or so kilometres south, we gave the Coalseam Conservation Park a miss; it is best visited in the spring. Instead we headed west toward Walkaway / Greenough, soon passing the Mungarra Gas Turbine Station and arriving at the Alinta Wind Farm, the largest in Western Australia with fifty four turbines. The operation supplies Perth and the south west interconnected system.

Greenhough's Historic Settlement
From here it was a short drive down to Walkaway, a small settlement, which together with Greenough just a few kilometres away, combines with Geraldton to make up that population figure I quoted of 33,000.  In 1857 the first of the European settlors moved into the wide valley that lies between the sand dunes and the hills which now support those many wind turbines. There is lovely pastoral land through here, today grazing a few cattle and more sheep, along with the alpacas at the Historic Settlement. During the 1860s Greenough became a thriving agricultural area but the threat of rust on the wheat crops combined with drought, flood and poor prices for agriculatural products led to the areas decline. Now the main industry is tourism, including a wildlife centre we did not visit, the award winning Central Greenough Historic Settlement, now heritage listed which we did  and enjoy enormously and the Leaning Tree, one of the many Eucalyptus camaldulensis trees bent by the prevailing strong and salt laden winds of the area.
The Leaning Tree

From here it was just twenty seven kilometres north, back to Geraldton and camp for our last night in this surprisingly interesting town.