Tag Archives: Western Australia

X- An Xtraordinary Travel Yarn…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge.

Today, this this brings us to X, and not without a rather pregnant pause. Indeed, you could say that I’ve never been anywhere starting with X. Moreover, although I’ve had multiple x-rays, I could hardly say that I’ve been to xylophone, could I?

Even with a great theme, every year there’s always a few rubbish letters which no amount of creativity, imagination or roaming through the thesaurus can resolve. X is a frequent flyer. Or, perhaps I should say: “frequent failure”. However, if we were looking on the bright side, we could simply re-frame these difficult letters as “challenging”. After all, even I have to admit the finding an X has been “an education” almost every year. Anyway, that’s how I conjured up the idea of this year’s X being… (drum roll!!) An Xtraordinary Travel Yarn.

Here goes…

Back when I was a 21 year old university student, I caught the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth sitting up the entire way with a week off in Adelaide to break up the trip. Although I initially stayed with my uncle in Perth, I soon moved into the Youth Hostel. As an unabashed extrovert, I was like a pig in mud mixing with backpackers from right around the world, which was so exciting for someone who’d only ever been to Hong Kong. I loved it. It was a constant party and talkfest with all these young, mostly single people all thrown together and blowing along with the wind.

Map from Perth, Western Australia to The Pinnacles Desert, Pinnacles Dr, Cervantes WA 6511

Map Showing the Trip from Perth to the Pinnacles.

Anyway, an American, two Japanese and an Australian (yours truly) decided to pitch in and hire a car to check out the Pinnacles, a series of eroded limestone pillars, which resemble a haunted graveyard. The Pinnacles are located in the Nambung National Park, near Cervantes 192 kms North of Perth, making for a 2.25 hour drive via State Route 60.  Looking like somewhere straight out of Stephen King, the Pinnacles aren’t the sort of place you want to get lost, especially after dark. The bogey man, woman, or their ghost, could well be lurking around somewhere.

Rowena Driving Practice Youth Hostel Perth

Being a cautious bunch, the night before our big adventure, as you can see from the photograph, our American driver practised driving the Australian way in the courtyard at the hostel. For the uninitiated, that means driving on the left hand side of the road  while sitting on the right hand side of the car (Gee all that was confusing. I had to run that by Geoff to get it right.)

Pinnacles Western Australia

All went well at the Pinnacles. Conditions were absolutely perfect for photography and we got some striking, even haunting images. Indeed,  if we’d just turned around and driven back to Perth the way we came, there wouldn’t have been a story to tell. Just a handful of photos with smiling faces, these wacky limestone pillars and deep blue skies.

However, we looked at the map and noticed an alternative, much more scenic, coastal  route back to Perth via a tiny place called Grey, which barely seemed to justify its dot on the map.  Indeed, we should’ve known we were hardly heading for a huge metropolis when we spotted the “Bar” out the window. Taking rustic to the extreme, I jumped out and took a photo.

Bar Grey Western Australia

The Grey Hotel

Meanwhile, our travels along this exceptionally scenic road continued. By the way, I should point out that when we checked out the map, this road was marked “vehicular track. Local enquiry suggested.” However, we were young. Had no idea what that meant, and brushed it off. Whenever we hit a bump in the road, our fearless American leader calmly reversed back up and literally floored it right through the sand.  Indeed, I’m sure we all gave him a huge cheer, instead of questioning whether our humble Toyota Camry truly had 4WD capabilities and whether it was capable of pulling off this trip. After all, this was a hire car and family sedan. It wasn’t your classic Aussie paddock-basher, which could be abandoned by the side of the road when it failed to do the deed.

Rowena & Backpackers bogged WA

However, it’s so much easier to be sensible  when you’re 50 years old and enjoying the comfort of your lounge chair. It’s also easier in hindsight when you know that humble Toyota Camry along with the American, Australian and two Japanese onboard  are about to drive straight into a massive sand dune, where no amount of reversing was going to save the day. We were bogged.

Rowena bogged Western Australia

Not only that. It was almost sunset and all we had in terms of food and water, was half a bottle of diet coke and an apple. In other words, no emergency rations.

We were in serious trouble.

While we weren’t exactly lost, we were well and truly off the grid in a very remote and isolate spot with a very slim chance of anyone finding us quickly along our road less travelled. Indeed, this area was so isolated, not even the coronavirus could find it.

Anyway, the American and one of the Japanese guys did the hero bloke thing, and walked off in search of help while I stayed behind with the other Japanese guy at the car. I started wondering how long we were going to be stranded here, and that my parents back in Sydney all the way across the other side of the country,  had no idea where I was and how much trouble we were in. Indeed, I could go missing and never, ever be found all because we couldn’t read a map properly and opted for the scenic route.

Grey Western Australia

Spotted nearby. I wonder if this tourist ever made it home?

If the guys couldn’t find help, our only hope lay  back at the Youth hostel. I’d arranged to go out for dinner with a friend at 7.00 pm, and was hoping  she might raise the alarm when we didn’t get back. After all, this was 1990 and none of us had mobile phones. Besides, they wouldn’t have worked there anyway. Too remote.

Sunset Grey Western Australia

Sunset At Grey, Western Australia -taken while we were bogged and waiting for help to return.

Meanwhile the sun was setting. I photographed the sunset. As you can see, it was absolutely magnificent, an incredible golden glow over the ocean. However, I still remember the fear.  I also didn’t really know what to talk about with the Japanese guy, but he talked to me about work in Japan and he sang me a song which I think might have been from the company dormitory where he lived. I could well have recited Dorothea McKellar’s iconic Australian love poem: My Country, as I always love to educate people about Australia and share a bit of “us”.

However, all too soon, the sun had set. It was pitch black, and the others hadn’t returned. I think we had the lights on. After all, we were needing to be found. It was a very stressful time, particularly for me as the only Australian with any idea of just how dangerous being stranded in such an isolation place without adequate provisions could be.

Trust me. I wasn’t catastrophizing!!

Yet, then out of the darkness, salvation appeared. The guys had flagged down a local fisherman with a 4WD who towed us out…not without a bit of a smile either. Rotten tourists. We weren’t the first lot he’d towed out either.

Probably the worst part of this story, is that it along with the photos have been buried for almost 30 years. My kids have never seen them and boy did they have a laugh at my expense, especially our son who is about to head off and get his Learner’s Permit. My pathetic map reading skills and zero sense of direction are legendary around here, and this was just the icing on the cake. Trust Mum!

Indeed, while I can have a laugh at our ordeal, driving into a sand dune is even way too cringe-worthy for me, although I was but a humble passenger at the time.  Well, as the only Australian in the car, I could well have been the navigator and that in itself could well have been our undoing. I get lost even when I turn the map around the right way. Anyway, about five years later, I returned to Western Australia and all of this was well and truly swept under the carpet. Pinnacles? What Pinnacles? Moreover, I’ve never returned to the town of Grey either.

Do you have an Xtraordinary travel story? Please share in the comments down below and add any links.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

N- Australia’s Nullarbor Plain…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Day 14 of the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Today, we’re leaving Melbourne to the fashionistas, gourmets and hipsters. They can pine longingly for their lattes, smashed avo and empty cafes. Meanwhile, we’re boarding Morrie the Magnificent, our trusty Morris Minor with his zipped up Datsun 180Y engine and whatever it was which allowed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to fly, and we’re off to find Australia’s Yellow Brick Road AKA the Eyre Highway. Indeed, we’re off to cross the Nullarbor Plain.

Although I’ve also crossed the Nullarbor by train on board the Indian Pacific both with and without a sleeper (boy sitting up was painful and only the stuff of uni students and equally impoverished backpackers), I thought we’d go by road. So far, I’ve only done the road trip once. It was absolutely epic, and I’m longing to repeat the trip with Geoff and the kids. However,  of course, that will have to wait. Even travel within Australia is banned at the moment, and WA is more shut down than most. It’s even clamped down on travel within the state with an iron fist.

By the way, when it comes to social distancing and out-manouvering the Coronavirus, it doesn’t get much better than the Nullarbor Plain. With 200 km in between petrol stations, even the virus will run out of gas.

Nullarbour Ceduna roadsign

Road Sign Ceduna, South Australia.

The Nullarbor Plain covers a vast, almost incomprehensible distance, stretching about 1,100 kilometres (684 mi) kms at it’s widest point. The Eyre Highway, which is the main road (and indeed the ONLY road across the Nullarbor), is a staggering 1,664 km (1,034 mi) long. When you’re heading from East to West, it starts out in Port Augusta in South Australia and winds up in Norseman, Western Australia.

That’s a very long trip for Morrie the Magnificent to even consider, especially when he’s been rather unreliable of late and might not even make it past Woy Woy. However, since this is a virtual adventure, let’s look on the bright side. As Morrie mutters: “I think I can”, we can all shout out: “We know you can!!”

Eyre_Highway_route_map (1)

Map Showing the Eyre Highway, which crosses the Nullarbor Plain from Port Augusta, SA to Norseman, WA.

However, before we leave on the trip, there are a few things you ought to know. Firstly, no electronic devices, books or other distractions are allowed. While many have referred to the Nullarbor as the “Nullaboring”, there’s still a lot to see out there. Besides, that sense of never-ending salt bush and vast unending space, is something which needs to be experienced in its full glory. That’s even if you as the driver are going mad asking: “Are we there yet?” SORRREEE!!! No, you’re not!!! Stop being so precious and make the most of the experience. It’s like nothing else. You can be thankful when you get home, that it’s only the trip of a lifetime and you don’t have to do this journey everyday!!

Nullarbor Pink Everlastings

Pink Everlasting Daisies Flourishing Alongside the Eyre Highway.

My apologies, I got a bit sidetracked there. I was meant to be giving you what could amount to a lifesaving briefing about what you need to take with you. Given the Nullarbor’s absolute isolation, you need to travel with a good supply of water, extra petrol and food in case you break down. While there is other traffic out there and people are very mindful of stopping to help, it’s always better to be prepared and self-sufficient, especially if you’re driving at night. You have to remember there are stretches of 200 kms in between petrol stations, and there’s not a Maccas on every corner either. Rather, it’s a case of me, myself and I out there, which, as my Dad would say, could well “put hairs on your chest”.

One last warning, it’s not advisable to do this trip in the heart of our Australian Summer. It gets so hot out there, that even the flies refuse to travel.

As I said, I’ve only driven across the Nullarbor once. That was with a friend back in 1997. We were heading one-way from Sydney to Perth  via Adelaide, and sharing driving and petrol expenses. However, since my friend drove a manual Commodore, the trip also came with obligatory driving lessons and let’s just say it’s just as well the Nullarbor had no trees! I wasn’t a natural!!

Nullarbor Eagle

An eagle perched over roadkill.

To be perfectly honest, aside from never-ending salt bush, there’s not much report out here. Well, that’s until you come across an eagle perched on top of a dead kangaroo and  it’s fiercely defending it’s dinner from passing road trains and cars. It’s quite amusing to watch, especially after looking at salt bush for hours. It seems the Eyre Highway provides a sort of fast food service out here, and as you could imagine, nothing goes to waste.

Now, I’m going to start the difficult process of trying to reconstruct my memories into some kind of sequence, hoping I really don’t get things out of order. Indeed, I’m hoping that just this once, my photographs might be in the right order. That back in the days of film and printing out photos as they happened, that I won’t be left scrambling, cursing my scatter-and-shuffle brain.

Thinking back to our trip across the Nullarbor, there are a few places which really come to mind.

Rowena Great Australian Bight

The Great Australian Bight.

It’s a shame this magnificent stretch of plunging limestone cliffs is so isolated and difficult to reach. They’re breathtakingly beautiful and their sheer size and enormity blew me away. While I’ve heard it’s a great place for whale watching, we were only driving through, and weren’t looking for a more extended experience at the time. Meanwhile, I just loved the landscape itself.

Great Australian Bight truck

The road train parked on the edge of the Great Australian Bight here, gives some perspective on the enormity of the cliffs.

Eucla

The isolated town of Eucla might only be a quick 10 minute drive from the South Australian border However, it’s still a massive 1,430 kilometres from Perth. So, you’re not there yet.

Nullarbor Rowena Eucla

While in hindsight, it feels like we were hot-footing our way to Perth and didn’t stop long at any local spots along the way, we actually did check out Eucla’s impressive Bilbunya Dunes, which look like a scene straight out of Lawrence of Arabia. It reminded me of tobogganing down sand dunes on Glad bags back when I was at school, before dune rehabilitation became a concern.

Nullarbor Eucla Sand dune

I really liked this footprints climbing up the side of the dune. The lone figure at the top seems so alone and isolated and the footprints suggest a journey of self-discovery and introspection, as though they’re climbing up the sand and inside themselves. 

In addition to the dunes, we also checked out the Old Telegraph Station. I’m not sure how much was visible at the time. However, from the look of my photos, only a chimney was peering out above the sand. I’ll be writing more about the Old Telegraph Station tomorrow after I dug up a few old stories from the old newspapers. My goodness! They were great.

Nullarbor Chimney Telegraph Station

 

The 90 Mile Straight.

Once you cross the Western Australian border, the Eyre Highway itself becomes a sight to behold. Between Balladonia and Caiguna, you hit what’s colloquially known as the “90 Mile Straight” where the road stretches in a straight line for 146.6 kilometres (91.1 mi) without a bend. This is regarded as the longest straight stretch of road in Australia, and one of the longest in the world. That might not seem very exciting when you’re cruising along that endless straight line. However, once you finally reach that bend in the road, it’s a true Eureka moment!! 

The Nullarbor Links

Not being a golfer myself, I didn’t pay much attention to the Nullarbor Links on our trip. However, with my Dad being a passionate golfer, I couldn’t go past it now. The Nullarbor Links is the world’s longest golf course with 18 holes on the 1,365 kilometre course, stretching from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia. Plus, there’s an added bonus. You could well have Skippy the bush kangaroo and her  mates cheering you on.

Nullarbour Roadsign

Road Signs

Road signs along the Eyre Highway make for great photo opportunities and are landmarks in themselves.

There’s a lot more to the Nullarbour Plain for those who want to venture off the main road. However, that wasn’t my experience. So, I’ll leave that for someone else.

I would’ve loved to take you further down the track to Esperance. However, just this once, I’m going to stick to the brief.

Have you ever been across the Nullarbor Plain and if so, do you have any stories to share? Or, perhaps, this is a trip you’d love to make one day. Something to cross of your bucket list.

I hope and pray that you and yours are staying safe and well.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

G- Geraldton, Western Australia.

Welcome to the latest stopover in my series of Places I’ve Been for the Blogging A to Z April Challenge. Today, we’re be leapfrogging once again across the globe leaving Florence behind and heading off to Geraldton, Western Australia which might just need a bit of an introduction. Geraldton’s on the coast about 429 kilometres North of Perth. By the way, we’ll also be visiting Greenough, a little to the South.

Although it seems hard to believe now, I ended up living in Geraldton in my mid-20s after packing up the car and heading over there with a friend on an impulsive whim. Not that I was actually heading for Geraldton. I was actually heading for Perth, and somehow took a right hand turn and kept going. However, isn’t that always the way? That it’s just like John Lennon said:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Well, it isn’t that way for everyone. After all, there are those people who stay in the same seat all their working lives and never deviate from the plan.

However, I wasn’t being quite as carefree and fly with the wind as I thought. As it turned out what I’d put down to my stressful job in Sydney, turned out to be fluid on the brain, or hydrocephalus. So, I wasn’t just trying to escape from the rat race, but from myself. Or, to be precise, this alien invader which essentially all but killed me off, and sent me and the Mitsubishi Colt back to Sydney to start over and my Geraldton chapter came to an abrupt end. Indeed, it was ripped straight out of the book.

Naturally, even going back to Geraldton on this virtual tour is unleashing a kaleidoscope of memories, the way it does when a soldier returns to the battlefield. There were so many hopes and dreams which weren’t just tied up in that move, but were contained inside that beautiful, watery head of mine where I could actually do laps back and forth if I wanted to. Or, if the wind built up, I could even surf inside my head. How’s that for a unique talent? Isn’t that what everyone is striving for??? To be the very best at something and utterly inimitable? Humph! Perhaps, I should’ve picked a different box. Tried tap dancing instead. Having harbour views inside my head proved rather problematic.

Yet, there is always beauty. A bright side.

Geraldton has the most magnificent sunsets over the ocean, and a few white clouds just totally pulls it off. Moreover, in Spring Geraldton comes to life when a kaleidoscope of wildflowers explodes like fireworks across the landscape during wildflower season. There were also very special friends and nights out at restaurants and simply just being. There is always light and never complete darkness, no matter how we might feel at the time.

Anyway, you didn’t come to Geraldton to muse about my head. However, travel is as much about stories and those people you meet along the road, as it is about checking off your checklist.

I don’t know whether we should arrive in Geraldton by plane so you can have a sense of the local fly-in fly-out culture. Or, whether we should fly into Perth and drive up in what was my Mitsubishi Colt. While it’s probably been recycled into steel cans by now, I haven’t forgotten what it was like to overtake a massive road train in that little car better suited to inner city driving. I held my breath and muttered a few prayers as I pressed the accelerator almost to the floor to gain momentum. The steering wheel shook in my sweaty palms, and it felt like I was almost flying in a dodgy rocket. Yet, somehow we made it and drove on.

Geoff Greenough tree

The Leaning Trees are scattered throughout the Greenough area just South of Geraldton. The leaning trees are a bizarre natural phenomenon caused by the airborne salt content blown in with the winds off the Indian Ocean. The tree trunks lie horizontal to the ground and have become somewhat of an icon.

Before I moved to Geraldton,  the real estate agent warned us about a few things. There was this story about the wind being so strong, that you hang your washing out in the morning and pick it up from next door in the afternoon . My aunt also told me about these mysterious trees, which are bent right over and grow along the ground because the wind is so strong.  No one mentioned the balls of tumble weed which swept along the beach like soccer balls. They were visual proof that I was now in the wild West, and my days of swanning around Sydney’s Whale Beach were long gone.

However, what the real estate agent didn’t mention, was the heat. Being from Sydney, I thought I knew heat. However, the heat in Geraldton was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. In Summer, it was like living in a kiln, and it wasn’t uncommon for the temperature to hit 46°C in the shade.

To give you some idea of what it was like living in that kind of heat, there was an open air-car park in town where I parked every day for work. In that car park, there was only one covered car space, which in the manner of country towns, might’ve amounted to a couple of strategically placed sheets of corrugated iron. This shelter was certainly nothing approaching  a shed let alone a garage. Yet, in that intense heat, this shelter was hot property and a bit of a battle broke out for that parking spot between me and the guy who worked next door. I don’t remember actually meeting the man, but I knew his car, and as the temperature soared, we were getting to work earlier and earlier battling it out for that space. Humph…I wonder if he’s had it to himself all these years since I left? I doubt it.There’s always someone ready to take your place, especially in a car park.

Another really lovely aspect to life living in Geraldton, is the crayfish or lobster. For many it’s a way of life to put out a craypot and catch their own crayfish. Yum!

The Greenough River flows just South of Geraldton. I stayed stayed out there in a cottage on the river for a couple of weeks. I remember waking up before sunrise and photographing the black swans gracefully gliding upon its glassy, ink facade. It was incredibly serene and my friend was blown away by the photos. Geraldton with it’s railway line along the waterfront wasn’t always recognized for it’s breathtaking beauty. Unfortunately, I can’t quite put my hands on the photos atm,  but I’m on the lookout.

DSC_9094

Speaking of the Greenough River, I highly recommend visiting the historic Greenough village. It was my understanding that the village flooded and moved to higher ground, leaving the original village behind as a form of time capsule. When I was over there, the village was rather understated and almost blending in with the paddock like an old farm ute slowly rusting into the soil. Indeed, that’s what I particularly loved about it. I could discover and explore it for myself and feel like I’d found something, even if it wasn’t lost.

DSC_9091

Of course, we’re wandering all over the place in my usual style travelling from memory, rather than using a map and proceding in a logical sequence. However, I suspect reigning in this wandering spirit and subjecting it to a list, would strip away its soul and isn’t worth it, even if you would get from A to B faster and save a bit on petrol.

DSC_9097

St Francis Xavier Church, Geraldton

Culturally speaking, Geraldton was an interesting and a surprisingly diverse place. Part of that was thanks to the wind, which attracted windsurfers to the area from right around the world. That’s what took one of my close friends there and she still hasn’t left. The local farming and cray fishing industries also brought wealth to the area, and it was well known not to judge a book by their cover around town. That a farmer might come into town straight off the farm in their dungarees, yet have the ready cash to buy a brand new ute or tractor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A front view

 

This takes us back into town, now we’re off to St Francis Xavier Cathedral, which is absolutely magnificent. It was designed by architect and priest John Hawes, who built a series of Churches throughout the region, although this is clearly the jewel in the crown. really looks quite out of place in an Australian regional city.

Rowena Geraldton Gaol

Next, I thought we might go and visit Old Geraldton Gaol and Craft Centre. As you can see I got myself into a spot of trouble. These days, the cells are usually occupied by craft artisans, although the place is like a ghost town atm. Closed down thanks to preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

While I was checking out the Old Gaol online, I came across this fantastic video of the Pink Lake from Midwest Adventure Tours. To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember going there, and I’m kicking myself. So, I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did!

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed Geraldton. It’s been quite a journey for me, even cathartic.

I hope you and yours are keeping well and virus free.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

Greenough’s Leaning Trees

Photo of St Francis Xavier Cathedral – Nachoman-au CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=391469

Q- Queenie McKenzie – Letters to Dead Artists, A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to the latest installment in my series of Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ll be writing to Australian Aboriginal artist, Queenie McKenzie (circa 1915-1998) from Warnum in the Kimberly region of Western Australia, where there is a thriving Aboriginal Arts Centre.

The music I’ve chosen to accompany Queenie McKenzie is Yothu Yindi’s – Timeless Land

 

Kimberley Map

Map of  Australia Showing the Kimberleys: By User:Brisbane, User:Martyman –

Queenie McKenzie was one of the most prominent painters of the Warmun (Turkey Creek) community, and was born at Texas Downs Station on the Ord River. The daughter of an Aboriginal woman and a gardiya (white-fella) father, in her youth McKenzie was at the centre of a series of tense encounters between her mother and local government authorities, who sought to take her from her family, in line with assimilation policies of the time. On each occasion, McKenzie’s mother strongly resisted, even rubbing charcoal on the young girl in an attempt to conceal her lighter skin. As a young woman, McKenzie worked as a goatherd and later as a cook in the cattle mustering camps of Texas Downs. In her later years she moved to Warmun, where she became one of the most senior figures in Gija women’s law and ceremony. After witnessing the success of the male Warmun artists, and with the encouragement of Rover Thomas, in 1987 McKenzie was the first woman to begin painting in her community.

In little more than a decade of active painting, Queenie McKenzie emerged as a prominent and compelling commentator on the Aboriginal experience. Participating in numerous solo and group exhibitions, she created works that range in scope from the creation of the world, through the violent encounters of the colonial era, to the present day. Many of McKenzie’s paintings are autobiographical: depicting episodes from her life with her own people and with gardiya, on the remote cattle stations of the East Kimberley. McKenzie created a remarkable visual history of a life spent in two worlds: the sacred landscape of the Ngarrangkarni, and her working life on Texas Downs Station 1.

“Every rock, every hill, every water, I know that place backwards and forwards, up and down, inside out. It’s my country and I got names for every place.”

-Queenie McKenzie

Her painting followed Rover Thomas’ style, mapping country in natural ochers, blending landscape with witnessed or remembered events, family anecdotes and mythological information. Her landscapes are very distinctive, particularly her rendition of the Kimberleys. She used dots to delineate her simple forms, not as a form of intuitive primitivism, but as a link to the traditional work of the Turkey Creek movement. She became an active printmaker after producing her first prints in 1995 in collaboration with printmaker, Theo Tremblay. Her work has been widely exhibited since 1991. It was included in the exhibitions ‘Power of the Land, Masterpieces of Aboriginal Art’ at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1992, and she also had a solo exhibition in Melbourne in 1997. 2.

 

I wanted to incorporate an Aboriginal artist in this series, because Australians owe such much to the rich, Aboriginal heritage we have inherited as the Australian nation. I’m not sure that “inherited” is quite the world. Indeed, I’m struggling to find the right words for any of this and feel quite intimated as a white woman discussing the works of an Aborigingal woman. I shouldn’t because I should just be able to discuss the works of any artist and how they have impacted on me without judgement. Sure, people might say I’ve omitted some of the facts, or got my facts wrong, but you can’t stop anyone from looking at a painting and having an emotional response.

However, when it came to approaching Queenie McKenzie’s work, I had two hands tied behind my back and couldn’t get close enough to form my own assessment. I was shut out.

Jesus-Over-Texas1

Queenie McKenzie: Jesus Over Texas, (Western Australia).

When I was able to find some of her works online, I couldn’t understand what I saw. You see, despite being a middle-aged Australian, I virtually have no understanding of Aboriginal art. This is hardly surprising because we didn’t learn anything about Aboriginal culture at school, although Aboriginal dancers did come to our school when I was about seven years old. That was it. By the time I was at university, Aboriginal History was an option, although I pursued Australian Women’s History instead. My uncle is an Aboriginal man and my aunt has written the national history of the stolen generation so I’ve had more exposure to Aboriginal culture than most Australians of my generation. Fortunately, my kids have been more fortunate and Aboriginal culture and history is much more part of the curriculum now, than it used to be.

God sending the Holy Spirit Queenie McKenzie

Queenie McKenzie: God Sending the Holy Spirit

So, I pretty much have to approach Aboriginal Art the same way I would a very abstract piece with no overt meaning. That’s a real headache for me. I feel I should be seeing something that I can see, and it’s very intimidating, even humiliating. It doesn’t encourage me to spend more time there, get to know it better, unless there are more obvious features like the use of animal totems like the kangaroo, dolphin etc. This is possibly because I have a real respect for this culture, as I do for every culture, and I don’t want to get it wrong. It’s a bit like not talking to a friend who is dying or has been diagnosed with cancer, because you don’t know what to say.

Of course, I could find out more about Aboriginal Art and by this I mean the real traditional Aboriginal art. Indeed, to this end, I actually tried to find Queenie McKenzie’s works at the Art Gallery of NSW yesterday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any. I had intended to spent the afternoon there. However, I ended up having lunch with my mother and daughter at Barangaroo on Sydney Harbour, which only left me a few hours. Once I arrived at the gallery, I must admit I became rather distracted by both old friends and new. I also did a fleeting run through The Lady & the Unicorn Exhibition.

However, I did come across works by Munggurrawuy Yunapingu (1907-79).

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Munggurrawuy Yunapingu (1907-79): Lany’tjung-Barama & Gulparemun (c1960) Art Gallery of NSW.

However, perseverance and persistence paid off and I managed to find this online:

Queen of the Desert - Australian War Memorial AWM2017_665_1--1-.JPG

The Horso Creek Massacre has been described as one of the most horrific and defining events in Aboriginal/White relations in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The story of how a group of Gija people were shot and killed by white men for driving off bullocks has been passed down through the generations by word of mouth and Queenie learned of the story from her grandfather, Paddy Rattigan. Paddy’s father had killed a bullock and the white men were brutal in seeking their retribution. One old woman, not understanding what they were, is said to have given the men a bullet she found, which they then shot her with. The victims’ bodies were later burnt to hide the evidence. One boy managed to escape by hiding in the dead body of the animal and was later found by his mother. He was the sole survivor of the massacre 3.

When I was a kid, we learned nothing at all about such massacres. We were taught that Captain Cook “discovered” Australia in 1770. The trouble was that Australia was never lost, at least not to its own people and surrounding regions. It had its own people with their own history, culture and laws which was all written off when the country was described as “Terra nullus” and was in effect seen as a blank slate. A blank piece of white paper where the English could write their own story and do whatever they wanted…and they did. When the First Fleet arrived on January 26th, 1788 they began what is now considered an “invasion”. That is what’s now being taught in our schools. That is what my children are learning and I am also being educated along the way.

Anyway, unfortunately I don’t have the time at the moment to really do Queenie McKenzie or her people justice. So, now I’ll get moving a write my letter to Queenie McKenzie.

A Letter to Queen McKenzie

Dear Queenie

My name’s Rowena and I live way over the other side of Australia on the New South Central Coast, just North of Sydney. It’s such a long way from Warmun and your way of life…your art. I know the sea, and although I’ve been across the Nullarbor several times travelling between Sydney and Perth, I know nothing about the desert and its way. However, perhaps being aware of this ignorance and reaching out across the geographical and experiential gap, is the beginning of something new. We’ll have to wait and see.

I guess that’s what they call reconciliation, but it seems like such a big word for just getting on with the job. Why is acceptance and mutual respect such a big deal? Isn’t that just how you’re meant to treat people…the Golden Rule?

As a person living with a disability, I have seen that you can’t take these values for granted. That even when a parking spot is designated for disabled people, they’ll still think it’s their ordained right to park there. Or’ they expect people with disabilities to fly to gain access to a building, because they can’t make it up the stairs. We live in a world with warped values. What more can I say?

Anyway, I’m making a commitment to come back for a longer visit after this A-Z Challenge is over. I certainly couldn’t hope to get to know you in only one day.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Queenie McKenzie

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter and your efforts to try to understand my people, my country, our history and our art.

While much is said about getting to know someone by climbing into their skin or walking in their shoes, this is not so easy. You can not be me. I can not be you. I am a Gija woman.  I spent my entire life in the Kimberleys, a place you have never been, and I have never walked along your beach. Yet, for me, it all boils down to how you treat somebody. When you take the time to listen to someone’s stories and show respect for their ways, that is what matters.

Family is very important to me and love. When the Police were coming around and stealing our children, my mother painted me with charcoal so they wouldn’t take me away. Don’t ever take your family for granted and defend your people to the death, if that’s what it takes. Nothing is more important than your people.

Finally, what’s all this business of technology and screens. I knew my country like the back of my hands.

These children don’t even know their hands, let alone what’s going on around them. They need to wake up and get back down to earth. Feel the earth under foot at at the heart of their being for now they are floating like kites who have broken free from the earth and have no home. They have not only lost any sense of community. They have also lost themselves.

Best wishes,

Queenie.

References

1.Art Gallery of NSW- Queenie McKenzie

Map: Derivative of File:Northern Territory locator-MJC.png based on File:Kimberley_region_of_western_australia.JPG and File:Regions_of_western_australia_nine_plus_perth.png., CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14102655

https://www.facebook.com/warmunartcentre/

2. https://www.portrait.gov.au/people/queenie-mckenzie-nakara-1930

3. https://www.awm.gov.au/index.php/articles/blog/queen-of-the-desert

Surviving the Inferno…Sydney’s summer heatwave.

We have survived yesterday’s heatwave. There wasn’t any smoke or even a fire near us and yet the sky was a blazing inferno. We were down in Sydney and when I stepped foot outside beyond the air-conditioning, my eyeballs were burning. It was that hot! Geoff said it was like that rush of hot air when you open the oven door. At just under 43 degrees, it was obscenely hot even by Australian summer standards and we’re used to the heat!

As the day unfolded and the place began to heat up, the intensity mounted. Our local radio station was running a phone-in about whether you could actually fry an egg on your car bonnet. I found out today that a number of our local shops had closed. We live in a tourist area so when shops close during the holiday season, you know it’s serious!! One of my friends washed her sheets and they dried almost instantly but they were still hot when she was trying to get to sleep.

Ideally, we would have spent the day at home in the lounge room with the air-conditioner blasting away. However, as luck would have it, I was booked in for my regular blood transfusion and I also had the kids in tow. We had been planning to catch the train down to Sydney which would have had us walking from the station at midday (we have a saying about mad dogs and Englishmen out in the midday sun). So we changed plans and I took the kids to the air-conditioned shopping Mecca of Macquarie Centre before Mum could drive me down. While this was a great way to beat the heatwave, the kids were completely over-stimulated and wanted to buy the place out. I bought us some crayons to do some more crayon art and I did have to wonder whether the hairdryer would even be necessary. With this kind of heat, the crayons could melt onto the canvas all by themselves! 

My patience with the kids definitely melted but that’s another story…

In a past life, I used to live in Geraldton, in Western Australia. I have survived 46 degree heat over there and that was hot! Hot! Hot!!!! If I could survive Geraldton, I figured I could survive a relatively minor Sydney heatwave. I could survive this and I was somewhat right. The thing about the West Australian heat is that they have this phenomenon known locally as the Fremantle Doctor. It’s a very strong, cool wind that turns up like clockwork almost every afternoon and gets rid of the heat. That means you can usually get to sleep.

Not so with a Sydney heatwave. The heat sometimes just sits and waits, refusing to budge. At midnight last night, it was still 31 degrees and when I put the dog outside the heat was quite disturbing. We get quite a few bushfires around here and we’ve had some major fires under similar conditions. I was concerned and part of me was on alert. Not quite red alert because we don’t live in the bush but there’s a lot of National Park around here and fires are a community concern. I am also mindful of communities around Australia that are currently fighting real fires and there have been serious losses. In Tasmania, around 100 people are currently unaccounted for. My main concern was tossing and turning in bed feeling like a pig on a spit roast and I’ll survive.

Then somewhere in the middle of the darkness, I could hear something rattling and the sound of deep breathing. The cool change had finally arrived.

I could have sung the Alleluia Chorus!!!

Blue skies and sunny days can be rather over-rated.

There’s something to be said for grey skies…