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.

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