Sydney or Bust (I think I mean “Bush”)

A fairly straightforward flight from Perth brought me to Sydney one Thursday afternoon over a week ago – and a rapid couple of trains got me via the centre of the City to West Ryde, the nearest train station to my friend Brenda.

I was so early (for that read ahead-of-my-gestimated arrival time) that she’d hardly got ready to meet me and it took longer to do the final 3 miles or so than the whole journey from the airport!!  Our reunion – after 11 years – was brief as an early night called.

We left Sydney at 6am Friday – the 13th – for what became an 8+ hour journey into the wilderness. We eventually arrived at Tom Groggin Station (google it if you like). An old property right on the NSW/Victoria border – indeed, the Murray River which marks the border thereabouts, actually runs through the property! Here are some photos I took there.

Please don’t think for a moment we were roughing it! This is the main house at Tom Groggin.

Below  is part of the old farm down the hill – where a famous Australian poem (and film etc etc) has taken it’s inspiration : called The Man from Snowy River (if you like poetry, Google that as well).

When you enter the property there is the working farm – “our”  house is a further 4 Km (2.5 miles) up the hill, across the River Murray and then across a smaller river (the Omeo) – twice! All our possessions were transferred to a 4-WD Toyota at the farm for the final part of the trip. When the water is too high at the Omeo – everything gets carried over this bridge – which of course we had to try. Terrifying for this townie!!

It’s really a home-made mini-suspension bridge and (as you might imagine) sways and bucks a bit as one crosses! The most disconcerting bit being to look down through the metal mesh and realise only a few Meccano-like screws and a single cable are holding you 40 feet above the rushing river! Oo-er….

Not sure whether to take it at a run – or tip-toe!!

This is some of the view from the house – we are next to a National Park, quite close to Australia’s highest mountain – Mount Kosiosko (not sure about the spelling) and have crossed the Great Dividing Range to get here – in the Snowy Mountains. We came through a snowline at about 5000 feet and are about 3000 feet now in a gentler valley. At night though it is close the freezing, so we are glad of the enormous log fire.

The house is owned by a wealthy Sydney businessman and has 5 bedrooms all with en suite bathrooms, huge lounge and dining areas (inside and out)  and some lovely pieces of modern Australian and other native art.  It has been an enormous treat to be here, watching wild horses (brumbies) grazing up and down the hill, kangaroos (natch!), emus and herds of Black Angus cattle – which also supplied some of our dinners!!

You never saw such clear skies and legions of stars in your life, I bet!! We even managed a full moon, by good fortune.

After a bracing and relaxing weekend away, it was back again to the bright lights of Sydney, including this awesome sign when we stopped to use a road-side service area loo!!


Good idea to look down the dunny (that’s Aussie for loo)  before using it!!

Pom Thoughts From Abroad

Well, so much for good intentions. Though I did manage a final India “roundup with photos” recently, I realise I have been here in Western Australia for more than a week. And as I haven’t done very much, I can only say that actually, my time here is really the first few days when I have actually felt able to do nothing. I am even doing some sunbathing (sunbaking! as we say here) even though the practice is largely frowned upon and people go to quite some lengths to ensure no sun-tanning gets done.  Kids appearing as white-faced ghosts, grown adults with silver or white cheeks and noses : they know from experience the damage that the sun can do, long-term. It’s not like Jan Austen – or India for that matter – where a pale skin indicated a non-outdoor working life; even the outdoor workers (lifeguards, gardeners etc) are covered up and protected in the main.

I tell myself that my half to one hour in the sun daily is just toning my skin up nicely!  I don’t want to arrive in Sydney looking that a pale Pommie!  See what a different culture I come from! It’s actually about 28 degrees here this week (a hot 82 in UK speak) and clear blue skies mostly. There has been a little rain shower or three, which they need, and (like India) it gets dark pretty sharpish at 6.30 pm.

Since I am a creature of leisure and my hosts have now returned to work, I’ve been borrowing a bicycle and cycling around and usually ending up in the nearest town –  Mandurah – almost daily.  For a proper barista coffee (they don’t drink it at the house) and usually a snack or cake (you know me!). And a leisurely exploration of the area. Mandurah calls itself a City – I think the population is around 85,000 and it is the biggest place in WA apart from Perth (500,000).  Mandurah lies 50 miles  south of Perth and has been quite lucky in recent years in obtaining a new highway, a new railway from Perth (very efficient) and some very smart marina and canal-side housing developments. There are some beautiful waterside homes at prices than can climb towards $2M but you would get quite a lot for that – probably 7 beds and baths, several reception areas, boat moorings etc.

The Indian ocean lies one side (west) and Mandurah sits at the mouth of a river and inlet complex which is pretty huge and includes several conservation areas and legions of birds, inc. ibis, cormorants, pelicans, parrots (of many types) and of course bush creatures like kangaroos.  Only today – as I returned from the cycle, not 200 yards from home, two kangaroos were browsing the grass verge, looking well-fed and sleek and with little interest ine me. They move with a strange, slow gait – almost gracefully for animals with such tiny paws and such large hind quarters!

Reaching for my iPhone to take a picture, I realised – to my utter horror – that I had actually left the phone on top of a publci phone box in the city- half an hour cycle away!  Being too budget-conscious to use the iPhone itself, I tried to call across country using a payphone and (James being James) when it didn’t work, I stomped the receiver down, took back my coins and cycled off – completely forgetting the phone propped up on top so I could read the number to dial! A fatal combination of impatience, irritation, forgetfulness, Jamesness.

But there is a God! Trevor was at home close by and we flew into Mandurah. Astoundingly, there was the iPhone, still sitting atop the payphone – and this on what is Mandurah’s main through road. Thank God – and I say that with humility and gratitude! – that most people have mobiles these days so pay phones get very little use.

I happen to think that Australia is (by comparison to England – and certainly London) a rather more moral place  and that a finder would have handed my phone in. But I am very grateful that I did not have to put that theory to the test. Phew!!

Meantimes, I have been doing a little research into the place called Australind  – almost exactly 100 miles south of Perth. It seemed to me that the name was of such significance (Australia and India – two of Britain’s major colonies) that it must have a special  place in Australia’s founding history.  The truth is somewhat more mundane and sadder.

Though first sighted in the 1650s by Dutch explorers,  no landings were made until about 1802 and only in 1841 did the british purchase (from whom??)  103,000 acres with the intention of settling and breeding horses. For use in Australia and in India – hence the name.  The settlement really lasted barely two years : as someone remarked, there was no rain in the summer and too much in the winter. The land (as it is all along the coast) was too poor to support crops etc and though 440 settlers came from Britain, the site was officially abandoned as a settlement in 1875.  The focus shifted a few miles away to Bumbury, but largely to Perth where the abundant Swan River allowed for an inland settlement and thus ensured its future as the state capital.

Some hardy souls clearly hung on – though it is interesting to note that as late as the 1971 Census, only 418 lived in Australind. Today that may be as many as 7500 but it will never be an important place and (indeed) is bypassed now by the “Old” Coast Road and by a new inland freeway and has no rail connections. I still plan to visit to see the 2/3 buildings that remain from that first attempt in the 1840s.

I realise that my daily cycles around the area are actually filling my mind and imagination with lots more to tell. Not to mention my first visit to Perth in 11/12 years. So I will leave you with an image or two :

a lovely picture  from around the time of the 1st World War  which captures the evening light and the trees that make this such a wonderful landscape to wander. Called ‘Droving into the Light’ by a German artist – Hans Heysen.

And I also include a shot of the ubiquitous local emblem – state, river and Brewery!! The Black Swan!

Keep me in your thoughts, as I do you in mine.

India to Australind.

I know, I know, some of my titling is excruciating – it can only get worse!!

And as for the content, for example:

You call that poetry?

No I do not

I call it verse –

which is far worse,

is it not?

Anyhoo – for my final blog that relates to India – this will be mostly photographic. I baulked – at the last minute – at packing my digital camera in my small case, so all the photos come via the iPhone. And in fact are not toooo bad despite that.

What they lack in composition and artistry, I hope, will be offset by the sparkling wit that goes with them!

Enough, already. Here are a few of my favourite things (apart from raindrops on kittens, bright rubber mittens – or however that song goes!):

This temple roof is completely covered with individual figures – and it all gets re-painted every two years! Talk about the Forth bridge Temple.

This is a proper Juggernaut!! Quite a painting job too!

And in the middle of the surrounding slums and chaos, this beautiful (and beautifully kept) temple in the middle of a “tank” – or water storage facility.

 And how about this for water management? As good (almost) as anything the Romans built – tho it hasn’t had to survive 2000 years yet – maybe 200 and is still carrying water to Mysore City from the mountains.

This is Tipu Sultan’s summer palace away from Mysore – on the river at Seringinpatnam (check that spelling!) where ultimately he was defeated by Wellington.

This stunning carving I mentioned in an earlier post – it is part of the wall / Water Gate at Seriningipatnam (etc!) but now – since the walls have fallen or been partly destroyed by the British, this piece sits at the River’s edge simple as a block of stone, which I stepped off into the River – as I bathed (a bit) to have all my sins forgiven. ;))

Things were not ALL bad! Here’s a solid gold throne from the Tipu’s other Palace!

This strange little house – right behind my “hotel” in Mysore – shows what life was really like for most people say half a century ago!!

I think I will send this to the London Zoo – as an example of how you can manage the litter and be subtle at the same time!!

And so, the Englishman abroad takes a break (in the Temple doorway) – certain sure that the Helpful Attendant will be returning the iPhone(camera) in a moment, together with a reminder that it’s always a good idea to make a small donation to the Temple (i.e. to him!!).

OK Folks – no more India stuff for the time being – until I start on my research for the Maharaja of Coorg (when I get home!).

Hope these give a little flavour of what a strange, smelly (in every way), entrancing and befuddling country India is.

I can only encourage you all to pack a small bag, forget about keeping too clean and laundered, don’t eat anything that hasn’t been cooked immediately before. Don’t drink the water – bottles are everywhere and price-controlled; only eat fruit you can peel. If you want to eat local (as opposed to air-conditioned tourist places) pick the busy places where there’s a queue of Indians.

Don’t expect NOT to be fleeced, no matter how kind and friendly your rickshaw driver / hotel front man / waiter is – you represent £££ or $$$ for them and they will – in the politest possible way – try to remove as much as possible from you. So I always try to keep in mind that – even if I am paying Rupees 150 for a ride that really should cost less than Rupees 100, the reality is, we’re arguing over 40p!!

(Given that there are 70 Rupees to a £1 and you can eat well for 200-300 Rupees!)

Hare Rama Hare Krishna  – from this old ex-hippy to you all!