Friday, 20 November 2009

Mingenew in Western Australia's Wheatbelt

Greenough (pronounced 'grenuff') lies about 24 kms south of Geraldton with which it joins forces as a shire identity i.e. Geraldton-Greenough. It has trees that have bent to an angle of 90° due to the force of the coastal winds. Much favoured by photographers.
They also have a historic visitor site with a fine collection of period buildings.
The priest's home. It was Mgr Hawes last parish before he returned to the Bahamas where he became a hermit on Cat Cay.
The old police station
...and a friendly dunny!
The old school room today...
...and in its heyday.
We are in wheat country, should one have been in any doubt.
At harvest time.
Kangaroo Paw. To think that we hunted for these when we were further north; now they are abundant.
The township of Mingenew has an impressive display announcing its presence.
...and a wheat statue (know to the locals as 'big ears').

The origin of the town name is sometimes attributed to the aboriginal word Minganu which means place of ants. We can believe that. It now majors in sheep, lupins and wheat the latter having spawned the town's claim to being the largest inland, grower-fed, receival facility in Australia.
Emus used to be plentiful in the area and local myth has it that they used to hit balls of grass to each other using Mallee sticks. The mural made use of the myth and challenges the observer to 'name the emu'.
More Kangaroo Paw, this time the yellow variety.
A rather charming corrugated iron cow at Drovers Rest, part of a sculpture reminding visitors of Mingenews droving history. We love all the outdoor paintings and sculptures which are found in almost every town we visit. Sadly we cannot include them all, the site would overflow.
Enanty barn on the edge of town is one of the oldest buildings in the area. Built in the late 1800s as a shepherd and sheep facility you can see from the following note it was often pressed into service for other duties.

Visitors often had to sleep in the barns or outside. A petition by local homestead owners sought more wayside inns:

'We are compelled, at our own individual expense (and frequent inconvenience) to accomodate[sic] the majority of the horsemen and many of the pedestrians that are continually passing by our homesteads.'

Our reason for visiting Mingenew was originally to escape the wind on the coast. It has been blowing constantly since we were in Exmouth, apparently this is not unusual for this time of year but it does rattle the tent somewhat if the campsite is at all exposed, so we decided to go inland. Turns out this was a good idea , it was much calmer and we got to visit several charming towns too.

Rather like cruising most of the people we meet on our travels are heading in roughly the same direction and a family we first met in Kunnannurra told us in Perth they had stuck to the coast and only spent one night at the seaside towns Dongara /Denison before moving on to somewhere more sheltered in Perth.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Australia's Best Climate - Geraldton

The journey out of Kalbarri was punctuated by photo-stops for wildflowers. It was still astonishingly beautiful.
It was a lovely day (most of them are) and the rolling wheat fields with distant farm buildings made a fine landscape.
Passing a sign to Hutt River Province would not have caused much of a frisson of excitement, but having read the delightfully whacky history of the province (now officially called the Principality of Hutt River) outlining the series of events that led to Prince Leonard declaring his realm independent of Australia in 1970. It's a great tale, read all about it through this link.
Another feature on the starboard side is the pink lake. We were warned that it was pink, but we didn't expect it to be quite so really. Caused apparently by a bacteria (Dunaliella Salina) which gets trapped in the salt granules. Best seen at sundown, the guide book says, but we were quite impressed shortly before lunch.
The historic site of Lynton. The signpost probably tells the tale better than I could, must have seen its share of hardship.
When we visited it was totally deserted and although we did not venture along the dirt road to inspect the old Sandford House, the ruins themselves were in a beautiful state of decay.
Austere but very solidly constructed old buildings.
The gateway to the dirt road and the house boasted half a set of windmill blades as an embellishment.
Our first sight of the Western Australia Christmas Tree in full bloom. These became more abundant as we journeyed south and make for a brilliant splash of colour.
We met the North West Coastal Highway at Northampton. An impeccable small town which started life in the mid 1800's with lead mining followed by copper mining later on.
The old Roads Board Office now houses an arts and crafts centre and there are several other buildings from the last century and some interesting traditions are perpetuated, notably 'the airing of the quilts'. We missed it, sadly, but it is what it says. Colourful and intricate quilts are hung from the towns main buildings on a specific day each year, 'the airing' and it has become a tourist attraction.
It is time however, to introduce the exceptional and talented Monsignor Hawes. He was a priest who doubled as an architect. For Northampton he designed a church in Byzantine style with domes and rounded features - leaning towards the Greek Orthodox. It was not to the taste of the incumbent priest, Father Irwin who insisted on something more conventional, more Gothic. The result was a mixture of both, made in rough hewn stone (locally quarried) which gives it a 'hand-knitted' appearance. Monsignor Hawes left quite a trail however and we pick up on him later.

Geraldton is a large town [pop. 31,500] and according to some sources boasts the best climate in Australia and some pretty special buildings. The glorious tourist office for example, was once a hospital was from a style of a by-gone era.
We had to visit the old police station of course which is now a craft centre and the cells which were open to the public. Liz and I walked into a tiny cell and met a lady manning a craft display. "...and what crime did you commit to deserve incarceration here?" I asked. "My crime was to have a brother in law who makes models out of drink cans," she laughed.
Geraldton Museum had, amongst other things, relics of the Batavia which I mentioned in the last blog. A canon, but most strikingly...
...a stone archway. Carried as a collection of stones of course and originally thought to be ballast it was assembled at the Museum. The archway was destined for the important Dutch colonial port of Batavia, now known as Jakarta. The Batavia was not the only Dutch trading vessel wrecked on this inhospitable coast though its story does make it the most distinctive and the museum has treasures recovered from several other wrecks.
On a hill overlooking the harbour there is a monument to HMAS Sydney. On 19 November 1941, Sydney was involved in a mutually destructive engagement with the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran, and was lost with all 645 aboard. [Link to full story]
A poignant statue of a lady looking out to sea stands near the monument.
There's no escaping the Batavia story! The statue of Wiebbe Hayes celebrates the hero of the occasion. He was one of a group of soldiers who had been abandoned by the lawless mutineers and left to die. Fortunately he did not die and managed to alert the forces of the authorities who were seen arriving by sea. The mutineers were overpowered and brought to "rough" justice.
Geraldton has a fine collection of impressive buildings, one such is the Law Courts.
This bold red and white striped landmark has become something of a Geraldton icon, overlooking the blue waters of the Indian Ocean at Point Moore.

A pre-fabricated steel tower built in the UK, it was erected on site in 1878 and stands 34 metres tall. Its beam can be seen 26km out to sea. The recently repainted structure is the only one of its kind in WA.
As promised, a return to Monsignor Hawes and one of his creations on the grand style; Geraldton's St. Francis Xavier cathedral. This work was designed on the Spanish Mission style.
A view from outside the cathedral grounds.
Internally, it can only be described as bold and exciting. This is the original colour scheme.
Every year the fishermen in Geraldton scrub the decks and decorate their boats for the annual blessing of the fleet which has been running almost continuously since the early 1900's. We missed it by just one week and a great shame, by all accounts a splendid day, with excellent weather, record crowds and added attractions.
Using Geraldton as our base, we took a trip out to Mullewa, just a 100 km hop - hardly worth getting the car out, in Western Australian terms. At the approach to the town we spotted the street sculptures; a cow, a dog and a man on horseback straddling a dual carriageway.
This is another town on the Monsignor John Hawes trail, he appealed to us. He was a free spirit (in so much as he was allowed to be as a priest) talented, amazingly hard working and definitely quirky.
The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and adjoining priest house were designed and built by Fr. John. They may look as if they were transported from France or Italy, but they do add a little variety and excitement to the township. The priest house incidentally is now a memorial museum to the man himself.
We were fortunate that as we drove up a coach party with a booking for a guided tour had just arrived. We were welcomed by the group and it gave us the opportunity to see far more than we could otherwise have achieved. Including the church interior.
Not far from the Mount Carmel church there is a walking trail punctuated with distinctive shelters each one housing an information site relating to the Monsignor and his work.
...and also a little replica of his dog Dominie (in various poses) which used to follow him everywhere.
On our return journey we ran into some heavy skies and patches of rain. The sun still emerged through gaps in the cloud lighting up the wheat fields and providing a rainbow. Stand back ...we are amateur photographers.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Wild Flowers in Kalbarri

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with bleak and barren. But we saw quite a lot of it on the North Coastal Highway driving south from Denham. Then we turned right onto the Ajana Kalbarri road and very soon found a signpost with a camera - which as every tourist knows - indicates a photo opportunity. Quite frankly it didn't look promising. The highway was flanked by shrubs and there were no mountains at all.

We stopped and peered over the surrounding shrubbery and were astounded by the splash of colour that greeted us. Acres and acres of purple.
We later found out that the purple mass was Pink Morrison ...ok, so it was pinkish sort of purple. But there were more varieties of flowers everywhere we looked. What a change, in just a few kilometres.
Eventually, after repeated stops, we arrived at Kalbarri and took stock of what we wanted to see. The really big attractions; Eagle Rock, Natures Window and Z-Bend were only accessible by 4WD but there were a few historic sites and some wildflower reserves within driving range. However we discovered that Jan and Joe, whom we had first met at the Monkey Mia dolphin display, were staying at the same site and they offered to take us to see the off road sights in their vehicle next day. Thanks Jan and Joe, a great offer.

The Ross Graham Lookout
Even the route there was part of the pleasure. We had numerous stops more than that ...Joe spent some of the time standing up through the sun roof with his video camera, the rest of us just hopped out every few yards and took stills. This view is just a bit of context with the trusty 4WD.

Jan and Joe at Z-Bend.
This is a sample of the glorious richly coloured and wonderfully textured rock formations.
Pictured at Nature's Window. Joe became camera man to endless groups of young backpackers after this shot.
River Gorges galore.
...and yet more wall to wall Pink Morrison. (it's purple really)
Grass Trees are fairly common. Unusual in their appearance, they have a sort of pre-historic charm.
Just a few yards from the camp site, local volunteers host a pelican feeding and information event most mornings at around 8am. Next morning we were with quite a large crowd to see the spectacle. Some of us were trusted to throw the odd fish or two...
...and whilst Pelicans were the stars of the show, there were several opportunists just hovering around - and meeting with some success. A gull stole the fish Liz was offering to the pelicans straight from her hand with a fast dive and a faster getaway.
Setting out once again with Jan and Joe, we tackled another direction and a new collection of beauty spots. At an impromptu wildflower photo-shoot just five minutes into our journey, we disturbed a 'roo. A disappearing back view, I know, but isn't the grace in the sweep of that tail so elegant.
We drove to the southern end of the Coastal Kalbarri National Park to Island Rock.
Then gradually retraced our steps visiting several wonderful vantage points. From on high we watched a pod of dolphins making their way south and a whale spout further out to sea.
One of many breathtaking cliff views.
A photo-call at a cliff edge. It looks pretty tame here, but from where we stood it seemed a long way down!
Well, thanks to Jan and Joe for sharing the ride. The sign below warns us saloon car drivers when to back off, so we would have seen a lot less without their help.
Time to move on and our road out took us past a monument which recalls a fairly horrendous period in the regions early European history. It involves a sailing vessel named the Batavia in the year 1629, a ship-wreck and a mutinous band of men. Not a bedtime story for the under-fives, but if you're interested try clicking onto this link.