Sunday, June 30, 2013

30 June 2013 - Bunbury Glade Caravan Park, Bunbury, Western Australia

It would be remiss of me not to mention that the Wallabies turned the tables on the Lions last night, scoring the only try after a series of scrum caused penalties in a scrappy game, winning 16:15; leveling the test series until next week, an excellent outcome. I accept that this is sickeningly PC of me to make such a statement.

The Tour de France kicked off in Corsica with the Australian team support bus getting caught up under the finishing posts and upsetting everyone. But again, in true PC mode, everyone was given the same time so no one could complain about unfair treatment.

What a night!
Cormorant drying his wings

And all the while poor old Nelson Mandela holds on to life, albeit with medical support, while the world waits for the next big news.

We extended yet again, for a further three days for the price of two. Who would not when there is so much to do and see here?

The weather today has been wonderful, the temperature up to 21 degrees and not a cloud in sight. Despite the excellent weather, we spent the morning about camp, me trying to devour the weekend papers, while Chris attended to maintenance matters. It was time again to flush the waste pipes of the caravan and I did assist in a small way, turning the tap on and off, however only he could repack the spare wheel and diesel canisters on the roof. The latter are now lying down which means we might squeeze into more of those covered shopping mall car parks while they stay empty.

After lunch we ventured out to take the air, as they say, starting with a walk around the Big Swamp. This reserve is not far from the caravan park and adjacent to the Wildlife Park highly recommended by the camp manager this morning. We poked our noses in the gate to check out the entry fees. At $8.50 this is probably quite acceptable for those who have never seen the wildlife of Australia, however we have seen so much for free in the wild. But I would be a little disappointed if I learned the place was full of quendas, quokkas and quolls, all very shy and absent from our list of seen animals.
Bunbury's Big Swamp

Instead, we walked the two kilometre circuit of the conservation wetland, out to the end of one boardwalk, and out to the bird hide on another. We passed through stunted melaleucas, red flowering bottle brushes and yellow flowering wattles and saw black swans, swamp hens, coots, cormorants, crows, kookaburras, willy wagtails and an egret, but no turtles or snakes which are about at the moment. It is interesting to note that we have seen more black swans here than in the Swan River for which it was named.

Our next destination was the Bunbury Regional Art Gallery housed in the distinct pink former convent in the centre of the city. The galleries are situated all about the rambling old building which was completed in 1897, and today one of them was in the midst of change; the normal state of affairs for art galleries when we call. However we enjoyed those exhibitions that were open to view; A Case of Déjà Vu by Thomas Horeau, a Perth artist and brilliant colourist, another titled Star, a variety of unimpressive work, and Time and Footprints by Dominic Trovato, again impressing us with his skill with colour.

Bunbury was very quiet today although the main street was a lovely sight with its brightly coloured sail shaped flags hanging from the light posts in the bright sunlight. The city boasts a population of 31,865, with nearly 25,000 more in the greater region. The Leschenault Inlet in which Bunbury is situated, was one of the many discoveries by Nicholas Baudin who sailed about the west and south of Australia in 1803, at the same time as Matthew Flinders. I have reported this ad nauseaum so shall say no more except to say that Baudin’s ship was the Geographe, hence the name of the bay  to the west of the city, Geographe Bay.
Bunbury Regional Art Gallery

Bunbury, or rather Lieutenant Henry William St. Pierre Bunbury was one of Stirling’s men and blazed a trail through from Pinjarra, where we were before travelling on here, and was given, as a reward, the honour of lending his name to what had previously been known as Port Leschenault. That same Bunbury recorded in his diary of the day that he thought the district would become a thriving and important part of the colony. And indeed it has, now the regional capital and gateway to Western Australia’s South West.

We drove a few blocks and parked beside the Leshenault Inlet, then walked along the path that follows the shore right around, across a couple of bridges and through the mangroves. Actually we only walked a couple of kilometres before heading back. Chris suggested we should do the full five kilometre circuit another day in the morning, however I am sure we will run out of days and it is not sitting on my must-do list.

Back at camp we caught up with Larissa and the children on Skype, in time to wish them good night as they headed to bed. It was good to hear from them and catch up with their latest news which included holiday plans for October this year and July next. We have not planned beyond Wednesday!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

29 June 2013 - Bunbury Glade Caravan Park, Bunbury, Western Australia

Sunshine! How welcome that was this morning when we poked our heads out the door. All the more because I had another drive tour planned. By 10 am our diesel tanks were replenished and we headed south on the South Western Highway toward Donnybrook, passing through Boyanup, a small highway side township of less than a thousand people. It sits on the banks of the Preston River which we followed on down to Donnybrook.

Donnybrook is an absolutely charming town, again situated on the highway with about three times Boyanup’s population. There are several beautiful old oak trees in the town, one bearing a plaque celebrating its planting in 1890. The riverside parks and roadside gardens were full of flowering roses and pansies and it was easy to overlook the fact that many of the once busy service shops are now home to second hand shops and those selling spells, fairies and the services of clairvoyants. The once busy rail yard has now been redeveloped into tidy car parks, unlike so many that are left as an eyesore. There are still plenty of packing sheds from where the fruit grown in the area is obviously dispatched to market, and the light industry in the town is all about the agriculture and horticulture. We called into the bakery, something that looks like it might become a bad habit as it was when we were in Canberra, and bought a huge bun which would feed some families of four or six. We shared it later after our sandwiches. How is it that when one is lamenting the creeping numbers on the scales, one sneaks further calories into the diet?

Donnybrook lies thirty six kilometres south east of Bunbury and is surrounded by stunning forests, winding rivers, and rolling hills, which is why we had targeted the area for our tour today. Donnybrook claims the Granny Smith apples as its own, however the truth is that the tree was brought in from elsewhere and then the fruit renamed here and the rest is history. Today Donnybrook is considered the apple growing capital of the South West and grows many more fruit varieties than the Granny Smith apples. Lady Williams and Pink Lady apples are grown as well as pears, persimmons, olives, vegetable and grapes. 

We wandered along the street, soon accompanied by a Doonybrook bogan carrying the dearest little dog, a Maltese Shih Tzu, lovingly named Cheeky Bitch. We were not impressed with the owner or the name and just hoped the new owner of this delightful little puppy would find it in their heart to rename her with something more befitting and elegant. I spotted the Information Centre and we made our excuses, wishing him luck with finding a good home for his last puppy of the litter. As it happened the Information Centre was closed, obviously not open on Saturday mornings.

We left the South Western Highway a little south of Donnybrook, and drove eastwards along the Doonybrook - Boyup Brook Road, through beautiful farmland, past dozens of apple orchards and called into a farm gate where we picked up a large bag of Pink Lady apples, probably 5 kg, all for $4, which is what you generally pay in the supermarket for just one.

The lush green grass shone in the sunshine, all the more for having been rained on overnight. In New Zealand, you would expect to find such a landscape full of dairy farms, but here there was a huge variety of activity.

At Mumballup, a locality like Lowden also passed through, with nothing really to announce its presence apart from a modest sign, we turned north toward Collie. A little way up the road, we pulled into the Glen Mervyn Dam, a popular water ski and swimming lake. Today there were quite a few vehicles across the lake, parked on the muddy shore. The forest surrounds the lake closely and there appears to be little evidence of the picnic areas suggested in the tour brochures. We did not spend too much time here, deciding the water was obviously not used for drinking given the invitation for interaction. Completed in 1969, it was built for irrigation purposes.

The Dam might have been our lunch venue, but as I said, it did not overly impress for our purposes so we continued on the twenty kilometres to the southern outskirt of Collie then turned south west onto the Mungalup Road, and soon found ourselves at the Minninup Pool, a wide stretch of the Collie River which lends itself to picnicking, kayaking and swimming. By the time we had our eski unpacked, we were the only ones there apart from three magpies who sat at the end of the table singing for their supper. Their harmony was faultless but we were too greedy to share, so they eventually gave up in disgust and left us to our coffee. It really was a delightful spot, and we were surprised that it was not busy with weekend leisure seekers.
Our first encounter with Jarrah

From here we continued on down Mungalup Road, soon on to lumpy dirt road, through patches of pine plantation dotted through the eucalypt forest. We stopped to photograph the carpet of small pink flowers filling the border between road and forest, and then continued on until we became a little lost. Navigating through the forest on the maze of poorly marked roads was like doing an orienteering course; however we did not lose too much in duplication, soon finding our way through to the King Tree.

This majestic Jarrah tree can be found up Kingtree Road which is little more than a narrow forest track, and could well be considered a disappointment if you value the destination more than the journey. This tall straight specimen might be as old as 500 years, and has, during its life, been subjected to fire, insect attack and storm, and now the gaze of those who bother to come see it. The tree is accessed by a short bitumen path and an even shorter boardwalk, ending in a platform with seats where one can consider its majesty. Perhaps we would have reacted differently if we had never seen the massive kauri trees of New Zealand’s Northland forests.

Our next destination was only a short distance away, Gnomesville, and nothing could have prepared us for this apart from having googled it first, but even then, seeing is believing. The brochure says that this is “a fun and whimsical place which is home to thousands of gnomes from around the world. The young and young at heart will enjoy a visit to Gnomesville”. This is all true, as is another that says it is a “magical home to over a thousand gnomes who have migrated from all over Australia and around the world…… You’ll enjoy the clever gnomish puns and who knows, you may decide to return to contribute a gnome of your own.”
Weird and whacky Gnomesville

The last bit is not true of us, however it is worth the drive even if you are not dazzled by the natural beauty of the area as we were. There were possibly about twenty of us wandering about this village which just goes on and on, and everyone was laughing and happy; you could not fail to be otherwise in such a place. One of our fellow tourists had been told there were three thousand gnomes in residence; I would suggest that was a year or two ago, because there must be far more now. Many of the families or houses bear dates of arrival, and a huge proportion of these are dated 2012 and 2013. So by the time you get there, the village will have become a city and have spread up into the Wellington Forest. There are already some more independent gnomes who have set up life style residences beyond the village boundary despite notices warning that they are not to do so and despite the fenced detention centre for those rebels already incarcerated.

Gnomesville began as a political commentary against the roundabout planned for the intersection of Wellington Mill and Ferguson Roads. It’s kitsch, quirky, untidy, colourful, funny, could be mistaken for a tip, amazing and lifts one’s spirits. It should be a mandatory journey for the depressed; better than Prosac I am sure. We loved it.

We were surprised that no enterprising local farmer had set up a café and shop selling gnomes. Perhaps someone will read this and take the initiative.

We finally tore ourselves away from this “whimsical” spot and headed down the Ferguson Valley, past many vineyards and cellar doors, most busy with weekend connoisseurs. We paused at Dardanup for a comfort stop and could see it was similar to Boyanup passed through this morning.

Turning onto the Boyanup - Picton Road, we headed back home to camp to find there had been quite an influx of campers in our absence. We have still much to see and do in Bunbury although we are currently scheduled to leave tomorrow morning. I think we will extend a further three days. We will decide in the morning.

In the meantime the second rugby test between the Wallabies and Lions is about to start in Melbourne, the Tour de France later this evening and the tennis at Wimbledon continues; such a busy time on the sporting calendar!

Friday, June 28, 2013

28 June 2013 - Bunbury Glade Caravan Park, Bunbury, Western Australia

The sound of rain was disappointing this morning, and did not look like clearing for some time. We had an errand to do in the city before heading further afield and while the rain did hold off, making our umbrellas and rain coats redundant, it was still a very dismal picture.

We headed off up the highway, turning east onto the Coalfields Highway, an excellent wide road, fairly recently realigned, taking us up into the Darling Scarp which still continues to protect the Swan coastal plains from the extensive inland. Despite the low cloud and busy windscreen wipers, we could see that we were passing through a very picturesque landscape; rolling hills, farmlands and thick jarrah and marri forests.

Eighteen kilometres from the South Western Highway turnoff, we turned south into the Wellington National Park, passing through a further twelve kilometres of dense forest, until we reached the Wellington Dam.

This was completed in 1931, constructed in less than two years, a project providing work for the unemployed during the Depression years. In 1944 the height of the dam wall was raised by a metre, and in 1960, a further 15 metres. The wall is now 366 metres across and 34 metres high. Big gates keep the curious out; we were unable to walk across the wall as I would have liked. The reservoir has a capacity of 186 million kilolitres of water when full, however was far from that today.

The dam provided drinking water for inland towns, with a pipeline built to Narrogin in 1956, and later extended to other towns. Western Australia’s second hydro-electric power station was built on the Collie River about 400 metres downstream from the dam in 1956, and is still in use today, able to produce enough power to supply 1,500 homes.

The total catchment of the Collie River covers about 4000 square kilometres, all eventually flowing into the Leschenault Estuary we visited a few days ago. The river flows have been boosted since 1903 with water pumped from the coalmines near Collie, however lower rainfall since the 1960s has reduced the amount of water flowing into the Wellington Dam. Widespread clearing for farmland in the catchment over the past century has caused salinity levels in the water to rise. In 1976 clearing controls were introduced and in 1979 a re-afforestation program began in an effort to control this common problem. However the salinity levels continued to rise to a point where the dam could no longer be used as a source for drinking water, for which it was originally built.

It is hoped that with continued re-afforestation work, salinity will be reduced to an acceptable level and fresh water will once more be available from the Wellington Dam.
Rain cloud

We jumped the puddles down to the lookout from where we watched the rain mist lifting from the heavily wooded gullies and out over the reservoir with its exposed muddy banks. This seems to be the norm for most reservoirs seen on our travels apart from those in Queensland we visited in early 2011 after the floods. We looked for the brochures detailing the walks on offer in the National Park but were unable to find any.

We back tracked to the Coalfields Highway and pressed on a further eighteen kilometres to Collie, an inland town located 204 metres ASL in the Scarp with 9,000 folk whose economic wealth comes from coal and related industry. That comment tends to make one think of a dark dirty dismal industrial centre, however this is not the impression one gets either entering the town or spending a little time there. I can well imagine this was not always so, because for many years Collie was also a rail centre with twelve lines running through the centre of the town. It still does but the trains are fewer and far cleaner. The streets are wide and clean, and while it would be an exaggeration to suggest it is a “lovely” town, one cannot say anything negative about it. In fact the residential areas we passed through were most attractive, with many lovely modest new houses and according to those advertised in the real estate agent’s windows, all reasonably priced.

Collie also lies on the Bibbulum Track, one of the world’s Great Walks, that which starts at Kalamunda in the Perth Hills and finishes down in Albany, stretching nearly one thousand kilometres. As we left the Information Centre, four young men arrived, all with heavy packs on their backs, all wearing woolly hats, having walked through from Dwellingup, where we were just a few days ago. The Track brings business to the town and to every other place along the route, walkers requiring accommodation, hot showers and decent meals to supplement the plain fare one eats on such a hike.

Back in 1839, the Governor of the Swan River Colony offered a reward for the discovery of a significant coal deposit. Coal was accidentally discovered in Collie by George Marsh in 1883 while shepherding for Arthur Perren who had a pastoral lease on the Collie River. Marsh had gathered some black “stones” from the Collie River bed to place around his campfire to boil his billy, when to his amazement they caught alight. Uncertain of the significance of his find, he reported the matter to Perren who realised it was coal. The source of the discovery remained a secret until an exploration party organised by David Hay found coal in the river in 1890. Meanwhile George Marsh had gone west of the state shepherding, where he died of typhoid in 1892, none the wiser of the significance of his own discovery. The reward for the discovery of coal was claimed by Perren and Hay. I guess the good part of this story, even for the dead Marsh, is that he is remembered for having missed out on the glory, and the reward. But then as they say, you can’t take it with you.

And just in case you have been thinking that Collie is named for its coal or the colliers who worked the mines, it is not. The Collie River was named by Dr Alexander Collie, RN who discovered and named the river in 1829. In summer, in its natural state, the Collie River was a series of pools as so many rivers and creeks in Australia are. Now, with massive human intervention, it can be manipulated to whatever state the bureaucrats decree.

The coal fields were developed in the late 1890s, but then that early mining was rife with cave-ins, fires and other horrors. I suspect if we had bothered to visit the museum I might have learned a whole lot more about these early years, however it was not really until the middle of the last century that there was really significant development.

Collie’s coal mining did not really take its rightful place in Western Australia’s economy until the settlement was connected to the rest of the world. The first rail line was completed in 1898 and CY O’Connor, the Commissioner of Railways, whose name seems to have been popping up all along this coast as I immerse myself in its social history, saw the coal fields as an essential element in the development of Western Australia. He considered that if the agricultural lands of the state were to develop, they would need transport in the form of an efficient rail network and he saw Collie coal as the most logical fuel option.

The Collie rail marshalling yards, in their day, the largest in the state, were an important source of employment for the town and an essential link in the state’s economy for over seventy years. But from 1970 onward there was a steady decline in the size and importance of the Collie rail operation, mainly due the growth of road transport and the use of diesel for locomotives.

In 1950, Wesfarmers Premier Coal commenced business as Western Colliers, producing energy resources for Western Australia’s mining and electricity industries, principally supplying much needed energy to the Kalgoorlie Goldfields. The first coal was produced by open cut mining at Collieburn before the introduction of two underground mining operations in 1952. The second of these mines, Western No 2, would become the State’s largest underground mine, operating for forty two years to produce more than 14 million tonnes of coal. The biggest single mine was the Western No 5 open cut operation, established in 1970, which produced more than 20 million tonnes during an operating life of twenty seven years.

In 1989, Western Collieries was acquired by the diversified agricultural and industrial corporation Wesfarmers, that which owns Coles and Target, introducing the modern era of coal mining at the Company’s Collie operations. Underground mining closed in 1994, and all production was relocated to the efficient open cut operation at the Premier mine site, ten kilometres east of the Collie township.

Today Wesfarmers Premier Coal is the State’s major coal producer, supplying fuel for 45% of electricity generated for the South West Interconnected Grid.

On our map we noticed other industries near the town: the Worsley Alumina Refinery, the Bluewaters and Collie Power Stations and the infamous Muja Power Station.  This last station is currently very much in the news, having undergone repair and upgrade at enormous expense to the tax payer and while partly operation, is unlikely to ever be brought up to its full capacity. Here in Western Australia this is as big news, just as are the revelations of the country’s new Prime Minister as he scarmongers using words like “conflict” in an international context. Still these are early days, and all so interesting.

We walked up and down the main street of the town and patronised several businesses, including the busy bakery for calorie ridden pastries.  We were delighted to learn about the rather strange sculpture of the bookmaker, titled “The Book of Odds” in the main street to celebrate the obscene amount of unchecked betting activity that went on in the middle of the last century. In 1948, a policemen sergeant reported that there was evidence that about fifteen bookmakers were in operation, and that of a population of about 6,000 adults, he estimated that 1,500 or maybe 2,000 bet regularly. It was police practice to turn a blind eye.

Now after midday, we headed twelve kilometres north to the Harris Dam for lunch and a bit of exercise. While the rain had cleared, the picnic facilities up at the Dam were wet, so we ate inside which we seem to do more often than not these days. Then we donned coats and sturdy walking shoes and set off to walk part of the Bibbulum Track, just four kilometres toward Perth, as far as the Harris Dam hut, and what a beautiful walk it was! 
Walking the Bibbulum Track

We climbed above the dam through forest with an under-story of bracken, banksia and palms along with the usual sort of small scrub that seems to survive anywhere. Everywhere there was evidence of past logging, ancient stumps still standing testament to the industry that took place here and sometimes great dead trunks which would have barricaded the track had Park staff not come through and cut corridors through the girth. The fallen trees are left to decompose where they once stood, as they would if humans had never come this way although it seems such a shame that excellent timber goes to waste. Further along the track we were pleased to see the grass trees again. At one point I saw a kangaroo bound away, disturbed by our presence. We spotted a Scarlet Robin, such a beautiful bird and a Superb Wren, but the other fauna we might have seen including the normally elusive Red-eared Firetails, Chuditch and Quenda, were all exactly that; elusive.

I was interested to read on one interpretative panel that there are around one hundred bird, twenty seven mammal, forty reptile and thirteen frog species within the forest, but that “foreign species like foxes, cats and kookaburras” threaten the survival of many of these native creatures. I had never considered kookaburras to be a “foreign” threat to its fellows.

Further research revealed that the Laughing Kookaburra is in fact only native to eastern mainland Australia and has been introduced to New Zealand, Tasmania and Western Australia. Individual birds were released in Perth in 1898 and it is the descendants of these that are considered the enemy of the Department of Environment and Conservation. I was very sorry to learn this; I do so love these wonderful birds.

It took us nearly an hour to walk in because I was constantly distracted by the wonderful fungi along the side of the track as well as some surprisingly lovely flowers, too early for the spring flower season for which this coast is well known. Arriving at the hut, a three walled shelter complete with wide bunk shelves, a water tank, a fireplace and a lonely long drop dunny far away up a track in the bush, we found a sleeping bag that a tramper had dropped as they left or forgotten to pick up after a last minute dash into the bush. We moved it out of the rain but thought it unlikely the owner would return for it. Such is the life of consumables these days; he (or she) will simply buy a new one.
More lovely funghi

Our return took us just over three quarters of an hour and we enjoyed that as much as the walk in. We were so impressed with this short section of the Bibbulum Track, we thought we might look out for more southern sections, and would, in theory, love to do the entire walk. Perhaps we would just walk through forest sections or perhaps just recommend it to those younger and fitter than ourselves.

We drove up to the lookout over the dam and walked across to the other side. The Harris Dam was completed in 1990, and like the dam it replaced, took just two years to construct. It supplies drinking water to approximately 40,000 people in more than thirty towns and small communities on the Great Southern Towns Water Supply Scheme, including Collie, Narrogin and the far away Hyden near the famous Wave Rock which is currently on our “Shall we or shall we not” list.

The dam’s catchment area is 321 square kilometres and it is capable of holding 72 billion litres, making it the second largest dam in the South West Region after Wellington Weir. The dam wall is a 37 metre high earth embankment. We stood at the end of this and looked down upon the wide spillway which looks as if it has been dry for many years.

Our plans for the day had been far more extensive than that so far, however the day was already well done and we decided we did not want to rush through the other attractions on our list. We would leave them for another day, and so we came on home, just in time to miss the rain which had held off for most of the day after all.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

27 June 2013 - Bunbury Glade Caravan Park, Bunbury, Western Australia

Before breakfast we telephoned my mother on the occasion of her 82nd birthday. She reported that the weather in Whangarei today was such that they would stay inside, warm and dry, until they ventured out to dinner tonight. I did not tell her that here the sun was shining and the day looked promising indeed.

Turning on the television to follow the political upheavals, we also learned that Sharapova, Federer and Tsonga had all been beaten by lesser beings in the second round of Wimbledon. This added to the tragedy of the very recent champion of the French Open, Nadal, having been thrashed in the first round by an unknown Belgian, just the day or so before. It has been indeed a night of dramatic coups.

With the washing on the line, and having watched the new Prime Minister give his initial address to the Parliament, we popped out to buy a newspaper before they all sold out, although in all fairness, not all Australians, or even visitors such as ourselves, are fanatical followers of politics.

Then over lunch of fresh bakery bread we watched Question Time televised from Canberra, tragics that we are, and continued to do so for the rest of the day, the valedictory speeches coming from one third  of the Gillard Cabinet Ministers and half of the Independents,  while I shuffled the washing from line to line, chasing the sun, spooked by the darkening clouds and weather forecast, neither of which became a real threat until the laundry was dry, folded and stowed away.

We also spent some time pouring over maps and brochures covering the Margaret River area, trying to assess the amount of time we might like to stay there, what we might have to pay having heard absolute horror stories about caravan park tariffs, and whether Margaret River really has that much to offer us anyway.

Tomorrow we will make better use of the day, although some may say, we made well of it today. Different strokes for different folks. We have extended a further three days and I wonder whether even then, that will be enough to explore the hinterland. I suspect Bunbury is really more appealing for us than the famous Margaret River.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

26 June 2013 - Bunbury Glade Caravan Park, Bunbury, Western Australia

What a day! Not only does the 26 June this year mark our second granddaughter’s fourth birthday, but it is a momentous day in the political history of Australia, but more about that later.

We set the alarm because we no longer trust our ability to walk at a decent hour; obviously retirement has deeply embedded itself now and there is no going back. We were expected for morning tea at 10 am down in Peppermint Grove Beach and were relying on our not-so-trusty Tomtom to find the address. But not before posting a Happy Birthday on Bella’s mother’s Facebook wall.

Peppermint Grove Beach lies about ten kilometres to the west of Capel which in turn is about twenty kilometres south of Bunbury and is known for its long white steep surf beach. Apart from those who live there in houses on the ridge between the sand dunes and the inland Stirling Wetlands and enjoy the cooling sea breezes and the distant views of the Indian Ocean horizon, it seems that the beach is also popular with surfers, some of whom were waiting for The Wave this morning when we checked the beach.

We took the Busselton Highway south toward Capel, an alternative route to the South Western Highway. It passes through more lovely lush pastureland populated with cattle, both beef and dairy, and a surprising number of sheep. Turning off that highway toward our beach destination, we passed the northern reaches of the Tuart Forest National Park and mobs of grey kangaroos in the lush grassy paddocks.

Apart from a small mob sighted from the bus window on our rather impromptu mine tour a few days ago, we have seen so few wild animals since leaving the wilderness far to the north of the state. One might have been forgiven thinking that roos did not live down here in the more populated part of Western Australia, however the locals would tell us otherwise. In fact we have been told that there is an over population of these creatures, and after today I can see that might be true after all.
Lauren, Logan & I

Lauren is the sister of our daughter-in-law, her three month old son, a cousin to two of our grandchildren, so she can be considered family, albeit rather extended. It was so lovely to see her, looking so well, to meet little Logan who was more interested in his digestive system than we two oldies, and to see their lovely home. Sadly, for us, Ben was at work, so we will have to meet him some other time, however we did acquaint ourselves with Jessie, the dog, and the colourful snake whose name escapes me. I was fascinated to learn that the pet food for the snake is kept in the freezer; dead mice sourced from a pet shop. I remarked that I would be far more fearful of that pet food live, than any non-venomous snake. We were treated to home baked peanut brownies and coffee as we like it and learn about life in Peppermint Grove Beach and the Bunbury region. After spending a very pleasant hour, we left Lauren to attend to her important work, giving her attention fully to little Logan and we headed off to explore Capel.

Capel is a very small township, centre of the shire of the same name, with a library, a small supermarket, a newsagent and a few other services. I am sure it serves the community well and no doubt will, in time, be the place of education for little Logan when the time comes.

We called into the Shire office in the absence of an official Information Centre, and asked about walks in the nearby Ludlow Tuart Forest. The helpful woman behind the counter was possibly happy to have something to do, because she searched the council’s website for proposed trails, printed off a screed of possible options and sent us on our way with best wishes and happy travelling.

Our first stop was toward the southern end of the Forest, near the heritage listed Wonnerup House, at the Malbup Creek Bird Hide where we lunched and then took the two walks on offer.
Black Swans at the Malbup Creek Bird Hide

The bird hide is one of the best designed we have encountered and even better, is in the middle of a wetlands well populated by water birds; principally ducks, swans and shags. A loop walk begins on the same access track, wending its way through the forest, below the towering tuart trees, through the fallen elders, and through mobs of numerous kangaroos. All those missing as we have travelled south have congregated here, it would seem, some having been bowled over on the way. We had seen their carcasses on the roadside on our way to Lauren’s. We also delighted in the miniature wild flowers along the way including everlasting daisies too small to photograph.

But the primary focus of this particular little circuit is the possum population. Research has found that the Tuart Forest National Park contains the largest population of ringtail possums secure within the conservation reserve in the State. This area also contains the densest population of brushtail possums ever recorded in Western Australia with up to forty five animals in three hectares. This fact would make a New Zealander splutter into their coffee cup; remember that possums are a major pest in that country and the environmentalists pray for possum annihilation. The Park acts a bit like an island of fauna surrounded by a sea of farmland and increasing urban development.

Much of this region was victim to milling however the same Charles Lane Poole, Conservator of WA Forests, mentioned a few days ago, dedicated 542 hectares of Tuart Forest in Ludlow as State Forest No 1, the first in Western Australia. More surrounding Tuart country was purchased by the government, and all of this, 2,880 hectares, formed the Tuart Forest Reserve, 2,049 hectares of which were declared a National Park in 1987.

Tuarts grow naturally only in the South West of Western Australia, on the coastal limestone band from Busselton north to Jurien Bay, over four hundred kilometres. It is the largest naturally occurring tree on the Swan Coastal Plain. Tuarts grow in many forms but here at Ludlow the tallest tuarts are found, single stemmed and up to forty metres tall. The tallest of these was 39.6 metres in height, had a girth of 11 metres and was thought to be about 500 years old.

Prior to colonial settlement there were over 111,600 hectares of tuart woodlands. Today 30,316 hectares of tuart woodlands remain; 9,482 are protected in parks, State Forests and Reserves with 2,049 hectares in the Tuart Forest National Park. It is one of the rarest forests in the world. Unfortunately, tuart is a species under threat due to lack of regeneration, canopy decline, property development, faster germinating weeds and weeping peppermints that can out complete young tuarts.
A tall tuart tree

After this delightful walk, we drove north through the forest, up through the abandoned township of Ludlow, once a hive of milling activity, now harbouring a few diehard occupants. Further north, just past the turnoff to Peppermint Grove Beach, having now driven a long loop, we pulled into the most northern section of the Tuart Forest National Park and walked for an hour along The Avenue, a sandy track through weeping aromatic peppermint gums, off a Trails Master Plan, dated February 2009, given to us by the woman in the council office. We heard kookaburras, saw dozens of tiny birds, flitting about too fast for identification, deep tracks from 4WDs, and foot prints of roos, horses and ourselves.

It was a concern to see so many signs about warning of the danger of the mosquitos in the area. Of course, when you consider the geology of the area, all the way down from Mandurah with the series of lakes and wetlands, it must be an ideal home for such critters and we had certainly seen them about. In fact when we lunched before the walk out to the bird hide, we remained inside the vehicle because of the marauding masses. At the council office, we had been handed a leaflet explaining the dangers in the area of contracting Ross River Virus and Barmah Forest Virus, two mosquito borne diseases which exhibit “symptoms including emotional distress or depression and can effect family, social and work relationships”. These I found quite fascinating given that these “symptoms” are so often attributed to one’s economic situation, occupational or marital stresses rather than a tiny leggy insect. The signs did suggest that the disease was more likely to be transmitted in the spring and summer, and in the hours of dusk and dawn. Given we were in the area around midday and in the winter, we felt quite safe from being thrown into the depths of depression, although realised we were still likely to receive their unwelcome love bites. I can report that we did heed the signs, cover ourselves from tow to wrist with clothing and smother ourselves with insect repellent, both which proved effective.

Back home we turned on the ABC News 24 TV channel and learned a leadership spill was about to occur so have remained fixed to the screen ever since. As I write this Julia has fronted the media and spoken graciously and bravely under the circumstances of her defeat. Now she has just been seen emerging from the Governor General’s residence, having attended to the constitutional processes required and soon we will hear from the new leader of the Labour Party, the soon to be caretaker prime minister or perhaps the fully fledged prime minister depending on the GG’s decision. These indeed are interesting times to be in Australia.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

25 June 2013 - Bunbury Glade Caravan Park, Bunbury, Western Australia

The bad weather was not done with; it returned in yesterday evening with great gusto, or rather, gusts of 50 kph. I was glad we had chosen not to erect the awning or we might have been out in the dark wrestling with the wind and the canvas, something all too familiar.

By the time we were up this morning, the day looked much better, although we took no advantage of it, apart from taking a carton load of books across to the recreation room in return for about five fresh volumes. This has lightened the load somewhat and should be exercised more often. Books are to be passed on and shared, rather than squirrelled away in collections under the bed. I should remember that.

The rest of the morning was spent attending to admin matters, tedious but necessary, and the after lunch we headed into town with a long list of chores, all undertaken with success.

With the day still young, or at least not yet gone, we drove up the Leschenault Estuary to Australind, and stopped at the Waterway Discovery Centre which is the starting point for a walking path across causeways and bridges out into the Inlet.

This estuarine lagoon is approximately 13.5 kilometres in length and has a maximum width of 2.5 kilometres, covering an area of twenty five square kilometres. The lagoon is separated from the Indian Ocean by the thin sandy Leschenault Peninsula. The Collie River enters the lagoon just south of Australind, now since harbour works for Bunbury, it finally makes its way out to sea through The Cut.

More or less opposite the Discovery parkland, one can see the chimneys of an industrial complex for Cristal. Subsequent research has revealed that this facility produces titanium dioxide, a bright white powder made from titanium ore that has the ability to pigment any material. Chris knew the product from its role in pigmenting paint; it is also used in printing inks, paper, ceramics, glass, leather and synthetic fibres.

We came on home via main routes not otherwise taken, discovering that there is a shopping centre just metres back down the road from us, far more convenient than the others we had called into nearer the town centre.

This evening Nelson Mandela is still hanging on to life, although by a thread it would seem, and Julia is still hanging on to her prime ministerial position, albeit by knitting yarn. I suppose that it is a little distasteful of me to mention these two celebrities in the same breath. But I do wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Monday, June 24, 2013

24 June 2013 - Bunbury Glade Caravan Park, Bunbury, Western Australia

This morning, we found the rain gone, although dark clouds hung about the skies, just teasing. The wind has yet to abate and perhaps it will be some days before the last of the storm is gone. We packed up and left our camp in Pinjarra, only regretting parts of the region left unvisited rather than those fellow campers we are not likely to ever see again. After picking up some fresh bread from the local supermarket, we headed off along the South Western Highway, following the southern edge of the Darling Scarp, travelling through delightful verdant pastoral lands. The dry stock eventually gave way to dairying, and we went on down alongside the railway which was surprisingly busy with trains pulling bulk minerals, presumably the bauxite from the mines we had visited yesterday.

Catching up with cousin Cy and Maria

At Waroona, we stopped and telephoned a cousin of mine whom I had not seen for about forty years. Cy answered the telephone and said that he and his fiancée were home and would love to have us call. Harvey lies less than thirty kilometres south so we were soon parked up outside their new home, new in that they have only been in it a matter of weeks. We spent a wonderful hour chatting with these lovely young people, twenty and more years younger than us with more in common with our children than ourselves, however there was a lot to catch up on and it was uncanny to catch glimpses of my older son in Cy’s mannerisms and attitudes. Given that my Kit is unlikely to remember ever having met Cy, it just goes to show that nature is often stronger than nature.

Cy came to Western Australia about twenty years ago and has spent most of those years working in the mining industry; tomorrow he flies back up to work in the Pilbara for another week of twelve and a half hour shifts. We were lucky to have caught him at home.

We managed to extract ourselves from the reunion just before midday, with hopes all round that we might catch up yet again before we leave the area entirely. He and Maria think nothing of jumping on their motorbikes and riding long distances, and since we travel so very slowly, there is every likelihood of this happening.

Harvey looked like a lovely rural town to see more of, with a population of 5,500 apparently with an Italian heritage. None of the guide books offer more of a light on this statement except that I did read that Harvey was the site of a World War II internment camp for German and Italian immigrants, as we have seen before. This camp also hosted 123 German POW seaman, more survivors of the HSK Kormoran and 818 Italian men. Perhaps it was these Italians that stayed about to change the nature of the town? I am sure it will be a lovely backdrop for their wedding planned for November.

We arrived in Bunbury early in the afternoon and Tomtom took us through to this caravan park via a maze of streets. Without a map we could only defer to his greater wisdom, however later when I was armed with a map, I could see I would have plotted a very different route. We chose this camp because it offers three nights for the price of two, thus costing $23.33 a day. No other camp can match this tariff and now we are set up on the wide grassy spaciousness, we are well satisfied with our choice.
Views from Marlston Hill

There was still time for a quick trip into the centre of the town; we headed across to the ocean shore and followed the road northward, noting the wild pounding surf on to the long sandy beach and the six ships far off shore waiting their turn for loading at the port.

We drove up to the Marlston Hill Lookout, the original lighthouse site used by the early whaling fleet as a vantage point for whale spotting. The Lion’s spiral lookout tower offers 360 degree views over the town, the wild coast, Koombana Bay and the Leschenault Inlet we have yet to explore. The strong wind hurried our departure after a very quick look all about.

Down the hill in the old railway station, we found the Information Centre where we were loaded up with brochures for this and that, activities to fill a week or two unless we are very clever with our planning. I will have to spend some time sifting through all the information I have, however we are happy to stay a while here if needs be.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

23 June 2013 - Pinjarra Caravan Park, Pinjarra, Western Australia

I need to start by mentioning that the Lions did beat the Wallabies last night, 23:21, in an excellent game that could have gone either way, but more in the favour of the Wallabies had three of their team not been carried off on stretchers or the kicker not had a hoodoo spell cast on him by the red jersey wearing spectators, otherwise known as the Barmy Army. We enjoyed the excitement in the comfort of our caravan.

This park, despite the bad rap I have given it since arrival, has proved to be a peaceful place to pass the nights. I did hear the faint sound of wind chimes in the early hours of the morning, heralding the beginning of the inclement weather. Soft rain fell for a short time, but on rising, the day looked much like yesterday; neither fine or otherwise.

We decided to extend so I set out my plans for the day; a drive up to Lake Banksiadale, then south through Dwellingup, down through the Lane Pool Reserve to Nanga, a walk or two around the historic area, on to the Waroona Dam, then time permitting, westwards to Lake Clifton to see the thrombolites to discover whether they were any more enthralling than the stromatolites much further north. 

Soon out of the park, we were distracted by the subdivision closeby and drove about looking at the new homes for sale, deciding that this would be quite a lovely place to live, close enough to commute on one’s mobility scooter; an academic observation, of course.

We headed north up the South Western Highway, then noticed the sign pointing to the Fairbridge Village. I had remarked on this as we came south from Perth, having been made aware of the significance of the name “Fairbridge” near Molong in NSW and having read again about the scheme in the Immigration Museum in Melbourne.

Fairbridge was one of the institutions that took in child immigrants who were brought across from the British Isles. Kingsley Fairbridge was probably no more of a fine decent man than any of the other instigators of such schemes, however he was not backed or driven by any single religious body. Even at the age of twelve, the formations of his own “Vision Splendid” began to evolve. In 1903, at the age of seventeen, he had developed a passion to develop this vision further, to see ‘little children shedding the bondage of bitter circumstances and stretching their legs and minds amid the thousand interests of the farm”. His aim was “to provide children with a sense of self-worth and the training and skills necessary for their future in the sparsely populated rural areas of Australia.” A fine aim indeed!
Buildings still standing at the Fairbridge Centre

From 1913 until 1982, the total number of children assisted by Fairbridge to his farm school was 3,580. He himself expired in the 1920s, much mourned by his “children” however his tradition continued on. After several years of closure, it was reopened to provide a service to young people in an environment rich in heritage and tradition with a focus on the future, and continues on today. Again, a very fine aim.
We drove into the farm and reception where we learned that we were welcome to wander around the village site and the museum which would be open at 10 am. With so many children being accommodated through the years, the extent of the complex should have come as no surprise. There are some fifty two buildings in the village including a lodge, at least twenty three houses, club house, dining halls, community education centre, chapel, theatrette, all for hire at prices set out in a thick hand out. The houses can accommodate from two to twenty four people, and have between one to nine bedrooms. Chris and I decided it would be an awesome place to hold a family reunion, although a very faraway place for our own family.
The museum was closed on our first circuit of the village however when we called again on the off chance it might have since opened, we found a couple of Old Fairbridgians, the President and Vice President, the latter an ex-inmate. Pat arrived here in 1954, not much more than a toddler, her family circumstances inviting institutional aid. We spent a couple of hours chatting with them both and pouring over the memorabilia and stories available to the public. It is a heart wrenching story, one that has deeply affected all those who passed through its gates, and even Pat, who only ever really knew Fairbridge as home, who was not abused in any way, is only now, at the age of sixty or so, coming to terms with her past. 

Like so many museums not within the State umbrella, this struggles to retain its records in a manner available to all now and for the future. Money is always a problem and of course, the aging interested. We would recommend a visit to this fascinating place, although the museum, for now, is only open on the weekends and on Public Holidays. We were lucky to have happened upon this on a Sunday.

Interestingly the farm, initially covering 3200 acres, is now owned by Alcoa, the company operating three refineries in this state and the associated bauxite mines.

It was well after midday by the time we returned to the landcruiser and we could see that our plans might be a little ambitious. We decided to head directly up into the hills toward the lake and after taking a wrong turn and ending up at the gates of Alcoa’s Refinery, we soon found ourselves driving along a ridge through beautiful forest, with glimpses of the landscape below slowly being swallowed up by the gathering mist. The Alcoa Lookout suddenly presented itself to us, and we drove into this lovely picnic area and parked under the trees to eat our lunch. By this time it was raining so we picnicked in the vehicle, before dashing out to the lookout platform in the hope of better seeing the patchwork of refinery waste lakes below. By now, all was concealed by the rain cloud and we decided we would press on to the lake, then review our options.

Lake Banksiadale is the rather quaint name for the reservoir formed by the dam on the South Dandalup River. The 43 metre high earth-filled dam was built in 1971 as part of water supply for Perth. The reservoir is twenty two kilometres long and has, when full, a surface area of twenty one square kilometres, a feathery form through the hills of the Darling Scarp, but today seemed almost empty. We drove across the 268 metre wide dam to a rather attractive picnic area, where in better weather, one might be encouraged to enjoy walks into the forest. However today there was no such appeal; I took a quick photo through the rain and we headed for home, but contrary to our original plane, we headed north to return through the rural locality of North Dandalup, then south on the highway to Pinjarra. The weather was set in; the day had turned to custard. We still had the weekend newspapers to get through.

As we neared Pinjarra, I asked Chris to pop into the old railway station, where I believed there was some sort of information centre for Alcoa. It seemed like a safe indoor activity to finish the day with. And just like Fairbridge had intruded into our plans, so did the next episode.
Our junior fellow tourists offer a sense of scale

There was a group of people in the centre who were on a tour. The bus driver asked us if we would like to join them. There was no mention of cost, just sign the paper and get on the bus. “Okay,” we said after little consultation with each other. We were invited to go see the cockatoos in the other room and were there introduced to two very large black birds, one a Red-tailed Black Cockatoo and the other a Long-billed Black Cockatoo or Baudins. It was lovely to see them so close, and I would have reached out and stroked them had the two girls handling them warned me against doing so. Their beaks were strong and could do untold damage.
We had gate-crashed an Alcoa staff and family Sunday outing, with an emphasis on protection of the fauna and flora by a conservation minded mining company. And indeed they do exist, they have to these days or their licenses to rape and pillage can be rescinded by the stroke of a pen.

Alcoa has the rights to mine bauxite from a strip down the edge of the Darling Range, about three hundred kilometres long by forty kilometres wide. Much of this runs through State Forest and is watched closely by all sorts of conservation minded agencies and persons.

We were taken by bus up through a muddy haulage track into the forest to see a tall marri tree bearing a man-made nesting box, part of the scheme to provide nesting environments for the endangered cockatoos. We were told about the eighty possible trees that were tagged as no-go places for mining, about the habit of the cockatoos, those we had seen down in Pinjarra and also the Carnaby’s, to nest in trees that were two hundred and fifty years or older. Given that trees have a tendency to fall with age or burn in wild fires, younger trees have to be also protected for future use. As we stood out in the mud, the rain having conveniently abated for our emergence into the wild, a couple of nesting cockatoos of the red-tailed variety flew squawking overhead to give credence to the spiel we were hearing.

Back onto the network of bitumen roads, purpose built for the mine, we were taken through to a work shop to see massive machinery, a crusher and the many kilometres of conveyor belts that tale the crushed bauxite down to the refinery nearer sea level. Re-vegetation was explained to us and we had to agree that reforested areas gave no evidence of past mining.

Not only did we have a couple of excellent guides who were informing the staff of aspects of the industry that they were not necessary privy to, we had a variety of staff who were happy to tell us about their own tasks. It was all very interesting and we were delighted to have happened upon our second surprise event of the day.

It was after 5 pm by the time we were returned to the railway station, and made our way straight back to camp. The rain had persisted but we had still been able to have a wonderful day, even if it had little relationship to the original plans I had hatched.